Thinking about Think Like Your Dog And Enjoy The Rewards, by Dianna M Young with Robert H Mottram
Before you casually dismiss Think Like Your Dog as old fashioned because the author, Dianna M Young, uses the words “dominant” and “alpha” to describe dogs, consider her more than 30 years of professional experience and accomplishments.
Then, remember, as you read, that her training message is one of balance and choice with the end goal ” … to build a relationship with your dog that is constructed on trust and on mutual respect.” (p. 91)
If you’re a first time dog owner, pay careful attention to chapters one and two. The relationship that you develop with your dog hinges on how well you understand leadership fron a dog’s point of view and how well you execute that principle.
“In every dog-and-handler team, without exception, there is a leader and there is a follower.”
It’s a pretty straightforward formula: you are in charge or your dog is in charge. Keep in mind that dogs establish leadership without the power of human speech. How do you think that happens?
Two words: body language.
Benefit from Young’s experience and carefully read her descriptions of the types of assertive body language that dogs use to establish leadership. Some of their signals are so subtle that they’re easily overlooked.
Realize that your own body language signals whether you are a leader or a follower to your dog; that if you act like a follower, your dog has no choice but to step up and lead.
Later in the book, Young illustrates what can happen when a dog steps into that leadership void because its owner didn’t understand how to assume that assertive role. She makes it clear that teaching dog owners how to change their body language is part of her teaching program.
Realize that how you handle yourself sends all kinds of messages to your dog. Young will give you examples of good and poor leadership throughout her book; pay close attention and be open to learning more about this aspect of dog training.
Chapters 3-6 cover material that is considered standard housekeeping for new dog owners: how to choose a puppy or adult dog, information about canine temperament, getting ready for bringing your new dog home, collars, leashes, house training, etc. Young illustrates her points with examples taken from her experiences as a trainer, always reinforcing what she’s discussed in the first two chapters.
The next logical step is training and, here’s where things get interesting. Young prefers to work with a training collar (a linked chain with a metal ring on each end), and leash when she’s introducing a dog to household rules or to any other type of training. She writes:
“In order to train your dog in any aspect of life with people, you must gain the animal’s cooperation. Then you must reinforce that behavior. You do this by administering corrections and rewards.” (p. 76)
One way that dogs learn is by making mistakes; the classic example is the dog that likes to counter serf in the kitchen. Typically, this starts when the dog jumps, putting its front paws up onto the counter. It’s important, writes Young, to correct a dog within the first 3 seconds of any unwanted behavior. More than 3 seconds and you’ve lost the opportunity to teach.
Young does two things whenever she writes about unwanted dog behaviors. She uses conversational language to describe the action, the correction and the underlying philosophy behind it. She always suggests that a dog owner work has the option to work with a professional trainer.
Despite all of her careful language and clearly made points, this type of training is dicey because it can quickly become an abusive “correction.” Let me be clear about this section: none of it is taken from Young’s book. It comes out of my own experience as a dog owner.
In my own 20+ years of living with dogs that includes taking dog obedience classes from the 1980’s – 2013, I’ve watched a lot of training methods come and go. Several of my dearest friends are dog behaviorists/trainers and, over the years, we’ve shared a lot of stories about dogs, dog behavior and training.
The correction depends on timing, having the right equipment, the dog and knowing precisely what you’re doing. All of this requires that you do not try this on your own, especially if you are a brand new dog owner. So, the most important element to this training method is having a professional trainer who comes as close to Dianne Young as you can get.
Where it gets interesting?
This form of training totally contradicts what’s happening in dog obedience today. But, that doesn’t make it wrong.
So, what’s happening today in dog training?
Young mentions it as one of the four psychological approaches to dog training in Chapter 9. Not so surprising, clicker training per say takes up 9 sentences in this section, including her suggestion that if this method interests you, that you find a professional trainer that has a “proper foundation” in it.
Part of Young’s dissatisfaction with clicker training might stem from its reliance on all positive reinforcement and the fact that the clicking sound is the reward and not the voice of the trainer. (Again, my opinion but in this case, I’m basing it on what Young writes about.)
By the time we arrive at this chapter, Young has already given us her opinion on what she feels is the best kind of praise for a dog (verbal praise or time spent with a toy or ball) and, she’s clearly demonstrated her preference for teaching dogs using basic leash work.
Her last word?
Chapter 9 ends with a section titled “Reinforcement,” which lets Young have the last word on correctional reinforcement. She starts out by stating that her preference ” … is to provide a positive training experience for both handler and dog,” bringing some of her earlier points into play: the handler-dog relationship is one of trust and mutual respect, the handler is the leader. Young writes that “… a normal, stable dog” can handle a few corrections.
“My favorite positive reinforcement is an expression of approval through physical or vocal communication. The farther one strays in training from approval and correction, the farther one gets from the way dogs naturally behave with each other.” (p. 97)
And then she brings her message home to what I hope is an audience of dog owners and dog trainers:
“Dogs usually learn best when they learn in a manner for which they already are behaviorally hard-wired. And I prefer to communicate with my dogs not with cheese treats or mechanical clickers, but rather in a more natural way, with vocal inflections and body language. While I consider my approval one of the most desirable and effective currencies to use most of the time, however, it may not work in every case. No single currency does. In that event, a trainer must be flexible and resourceful.” (p. 97)
That last phrase, “a trainer must be flexible and resourceful,” is key to understanding why this book deserves to be read and discussed among Young’s peers. Young never writes that her training methods are absolute. She’s careful to write that what works for one dog may not necessarily work for another.
She’s not afraid to say what she thinks and, because it’s her book, she gets to do just that. She sums up her own training philosophy by referencing Chapter 9 in Chapter 20, reminding us that she did write that “… all of these (training) styles work with some degree of efficiency, either more or less, comparatively speaking. Recently, one of these styles has caught a wave of popularity. It involves liberal use of food as a motivator, and shuns the use of corrections.” (p.195) This is clicker training.
“Both my background and my experience have taught me that a better-balanced approach is more desirable.”
She illustrates her point with an example using a child’s game that I’m sure we’ve all played – the game where someone has to leave the room while an object is hidden. Upon that child’s return, he/she has to find that object following only the verbal cues of “hot” and “cold.” Young changes the rules midway through her example, and then brings her illustration to a close by asking a question – a question that deserves a thoughtful answer.
In order to fully understand the importance of that question, you have to clear your mind of all preconceived notions about the phrase dominant dogs, and read the book.
One housekeeping note of my own: I did receive a copy of this book from Maryglenn McCombs. She didn’t ask me to review it. That was my own idea!