Handling Our Frustration with Our Dog’s Behavior

Those of you who read my blog regularly know by now that I have been struggling with Deuce’s and Rio’s “performance” or interest when it comes to flying Frisbees.

Well, this morning was one of those mornings. I am gathering the Frisbees and the energy to start working with these guys. Both Deuce and Rio appear excited at this point. Good, I think. I throw my first air born Frisbee for Deuce and he remains standing looking at me as if asking me what do I want him to do about that. What??? I recall yesterday you were chasing Frisbees as fast as you could when we were practicing in the back porch and today??!

I call Rio and she kind of gives me the cold shoulder and begins to sniff the air amused by the freshest smell in her vicinity. I up my enthusiasm by running away from her, yeah; look it is really fuunnn – I am almost out of breath; still, she snobs me.

Darn! Okay, I actually thought more than that – but I will keep it civil here. I am now really frustrated. I proceed to tell the dogs to get out of the field where we are “working” and to my surprise they both obliged wondering what is wrong with me that I have turned into a Meany. I think to myself: plan B… but, what is plan “B”????

I proceed to call the dogs one at a time as the other one watches. I then get all excited as to convince them that they are the lucky ones by being summoned to play.

NOTHING! Once again I tell them to go outside as I began to practice my Frisbee throw. I nail a few throws but thanks to Rio’s obsession in chewing them they now fly haphazardly.

No point in buying new and expensive Frisbees if my dogs don’t want to play – I sulk.

I am done having fun at my party-of-one and I collect my mauled Frisbees. I pass by the two of them who are now lying in the shade waiting to see what’s next. I give them a glance and I tell them harshly that we are done playing. They both kind of don’t believe me since this rarely, very rarely happens. I ignore their doggy-plea for an explanation and I put the Frisbees away.

Believe me when I tell you that I was very frustrated. I was actually so frustrated with them and my ill attempts in getting them motivated to play that I decide to basically ignore them. I am dog less now. And that suits me just fine.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in this mode also trying to figure out what is behind my strong inclination in playing Frisbee with them. I ponder upon my goals and in the process I am feeling kind of bad that I am doing something I do not want to do: I am thinking of my pups as robots or tools that must conform to my wishes and perform as I see fit when I do.

I also tell myself almost admonishingly that all training and learning MUST be fun or at the very least intimidation free! This is something I really believe in and now I am turning into something I don’t like.

I also recognized that I did the right thing by not taking too much of my frustration on Deuce and Rio. Yes, my less-than-fun body language reveled to them my current state; but no one got yelled at, or physically abused, but since my “ignoring” mode very rarely happens with these two, I guess they were caught by surprise and took notice.

I decided to cut myself some slack, but investigate further. These are some of the thoughts that came to me as part of my process of learning about myself, my expectations and how to deal with frustration with my dogs and their behavior:

  1. Dogs are not tools. They are sentient beings with whom we should enter into some sort of contractual agreement when we want them to do something such as catching the perfect thrown disc, remain next to us as we navigate the world of disability, search over and over again for possible victims in search & rescue teams, win the Iditarod or the Agility competition.
  2. Learning should be as stress free as possible and without intimidation.
  3. Learning should consider the needs of the learner with the “teacher” observing and adjusting to fit the lesson’s goals as well as the needs (emotional, cognitive) of the one learning.
  4. Learning and training MUST be enjoyable and as equally important…
  5. We will NOT succumb to the reinforcing nature of punishment. This is actually why punishment (presentation of an aversive) abounds in animal training, children rearing and life in general: Because it is reinforcing for the one administering the aversive.

One of the things I enjoyed most about my job is that I get to trouble-shoot and find the many “whys” why dogs rather do something else at a given moment than what we have in mind for them. As well, I miss finding the motivators to have them happily comply with us.

Sure enough, by our next training session, I had come up with a plan “B” that I could live with. This training plan had fun, had knowhow, but above all it was fair to the dogs.

Stay tune for next week’s installment.