In my last blog, I talked about leadership. The importance of reacting when things are happening around you, whether talking about a dog or a child. Nothing screams lack of leadership like an absence of behavior or direction, so that is to be avoided. I also suggested that exactly what you did to intervene mattered less than the fact that you intervened.
Now, I don’t exactly believe that 100%. I do think it matters how you intervene, but I am also pragmatic. Some dogs (and handlers) have absolutely no training so my preferred forms of intervention won’t apply (because they require some prior training). I consider the damage done with a dog misbehaving and receiving no human feedback against the damage done of a handler dragging a dog away by the collar. In my mind, lack of feedback is the greater sin. Not to mention – the one being yelled at has some rights too, and deserves relief.
So let’s call these worst-case scenarios; something has to happen, and neither the dog nor the handler know what that might be. In the name of leadership, I’m expecting the human to step up. To handle the matter one way or the other. This is going to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Remember, no training, and the dog and the handler are equally naïve. Now what?
First I need to point out that in last blog on leadership, I sort of asked a trick question. I gave a number of scenarios with a child who was struggling, and I suggested that we might want to look at each one and decide how we would handle it. If you did that, did the reason for the child’s misbehavior matter to you?
How I handle behavior IN THE MOMENT has very little to do with what caused it; I take a one-size-fits-all approach. I’m going to handle it exactly the same no matter what caused the behavior because I’m in management mode. Training is a whole ‘nother story, but right now we are not talking about training, were talking about what to do when misbehavior is in progress.
So here’s the answer:
Get out of the situation however comes to your mind first. It’s that simple. I don’t care if your child or dog is yelling because they are afraid, or angry, or jealous, or pretty much anything else. It does not matter. What does matter is that the more an individual practices a behavior and experiences the related emotions, and the more time you stand around acting like you haven’t got a clue, the more likely you are to see that behavior again. That’s bad.
So you need to get out of the situation.
How does one get out of the situation?
Well, anything you do that inputs into your dog senses is going to influence your dog’s behavior. If your dog hears your voice, you’re interrupting what is happening in front of them. So if your cheerful talking interrupts your dog’s behavior, great! When the dog looks at you, backup as fast as you can and get out of there, so it doesn’t start up again. But what if your cheerful voice does not interrupt your dog? Fine. Try your not cheerful voice. You’re irritated hey what are you doing now? Voice. And when your dog looks at you? Get out of there.
And if that doesn’t work, because your dog is not influenced by your voice or is too far gone? Fine. physically touch or pick up your dog, or physically block your dog from whatever they are looking at. You tap your dog on his rear end, and it causes your dog to turn to you? Great! Talk cheerfully to your dog and start backing up – talking and moving the whole while. And if that doesn’t work? Get in front of your dog and block him from whatever it is that is upsetting him. If he can’t see it, it’s going to be a lot harder for him to be yelling at it. So shorten up your leash, hold him back, and get it front of your dog’s face. If that doesn’t make your dog look up at you, walk into his space until he looks up because now you are his problem. He looks up at you? Great! Now get out of there, back away from the situation and bring him with you. If your dog looks back? Block your dog and repeat this. Get out of there! There is no reason why this will ever take more than five seconds if you were paying some sort of attention in the first place.
Notice that in none of these examples did I mention putting a cookie in front of your dog’s face. Considering that would actually be my preferred relative novice answer, that’s sort of a strange thing. Why didn’t I mention that?
Because your average newbie handler does not have a handful of cookies at the ready, and if they did, then that’s not a naïve dog and handler team; that’s a dog with some training and a handler with the foresight to have a pile of cookies. We’ll get to that in the next blog.
All I want to do now is instantly stop the behavior that is taking place, so that the dog is not rehearsing it, and I want to communicate to the dog that the handler is paying attention. That’s all.
And when I say get out of there, what does that mean? Exactly that. Get out of there. How far you have to get out will be determined by the dog’s behavior – maybe 100 feet will do the trick or maybe you’ll be back in the car. Where your dog is looking is the key to the correct distance. If your dog is still looking continuously in the bad direction, you’re not far enough. Go back more.
What you decide to do next is not within the realm of management; that would be training so we won’t discuss that here because “it depends”. Now you have the luxury of time to develop your training plan – call that friend or mentor or dog trainer and see about that. For now – just get out of there.
In the next blog, I’ll consider a dog that is naïve, but with a handler that has a little bit more knowledge and awareness. What can we do for those people?