Originally posted October 2010
I have been happily hooked up with John for over fifteen years now, and yes, I put my toothbrush in the holder. Why might you ask do I put my toothbrush in the holder? Because it matters to him. I can leave my dirty boots on the kitchen floor, I can leave dog training gear on the floor of the truck. I don’t have to make the bed when I get up in the morning, but I DO have to put my toothbrush in the toothbrush holder in the medicine cabinet above the sink.
John on the other hand parks close enough that the passenger can get out of the truck directly onto the grass. I don’t mind if he makes a mess in the kitchen, I don’t mind if he keeps the shower curtain open after a shower, I don’t mind if he leaves his pillow on the couch. But I DO mind if he parks so that I have to step out into a puddle or onto the gravel.
It is the minutiae that make up the fabric of our lives. When you live with another being, you learn important things; keep the toilet seat down at all times, put the soap back in the holder, clean up after the dog’s mess, close the gate to the chicken yard, put the chainsaw back where it belongs and don’t leave the lawnmower out of the barn. Check if the dogs are contained before letting the chickens out. Put the key on the key rack.
This is also true of every dog and dog owner relationship. You and your dog have agreements to keep the peace. Your agreements may be simple-sit and I will put down your bowl. Or they may be really complex-stay out of the dining room if there are people sitting at the table and food is being served, but it is okay to go in the dining room if no one is there.
At the moment I am struggling with an issue with Deef; he doesn’t come when called when we are on our farm. He would rather go swim in the pond, roll in dead stuff or hunt up interesting things to get into. It isn’t that we didn’t teach him to come when called, but rather that over a period of years, I have allowed things to fall into a routine of “good enough”. I always tell my students that if they still have their dogs, they have a 100% success rate on their recall. By this standard, I have a dog who eventually comes when called. The problem is that if he thinks that his fun is coming to an end, he is not going to come when called.
Training is merely the systematic process of deciding what agreements you will have with your dog. When I train a dog, I decide ahead of time what I want to agree to with the particular dog. In D’fer’s case, I have decided that I want a recall with lower latency (that is just trainer speak for “come back faster than you used to”). You have to be clear about what you want in order to train that. This is very similar to formal training, but it is also a bit different-because I am not going to frame it in training sessions. I am going to frame this in terms of everything I do in my life to contribute to a better recall.
To start with, I decided that every day, I would spend a little bit of time playing Frisbee on the side lawn between the house and the barn. I also decided that if Deef took the Frisbee down to the pond and stayed down there, I would wait him out. The first day I did this he played a LOT of keep away, but by the third day, he was coming very reliably back with the Frisbee and only going down to the pond to drink and cool off, and coming right back.
Time will tell, but being aware of the toothbrushes, where you park the van, the house rules on laundry help you to form the culture of your relationship with your dog. Paying attention to the criteria is the first step towards re-forming the behaviour you want to change. Setting up training sessions helps, but honestly, the most important part of training the dog is living the training that we set up. Teaching behaviours for the sake of teaching behaviours will not result in change within your life. The only thing that will do that is living your training. And remembering to put your toothbrush in the cupboard. At least at my house.