ClickerExpo (CE) is a fantastic conference where animal training and behavior experts converge. We talk about horses, assistance dogs, birds, and of course, pet dogs and their people. This year was CE's 10th anniversary and there were lots of special topics, surprises, and guests.
Tango and I (left) presented at Expo together this year -- we've done it once before and I really enjoy the chance to take the stage with Tango. He soothes the frayed nerves, the trouble with the microphone, the pressure to get the talk delivered within the allotted time -- all the things that go along with presenting.
I can't count the new things I learned at CE, that's how much I learned. And I go to this conference every year! That's how good it is and how much new research is conducted each year.
My epiphanies came from several sources and many of them hooked up with one another even though they came from different lectures and from different topics. That's you know it's really good -- when different speakers lead you to the same place.
Both Ken Ramirez and Kay Laurence talked about the true nature of dogs and how some pet owners really just want a stuffed animal. The owners don't want their dog to jump. Or bark. Or dig. Or pull on the leash. But every one of those behaviors is natural dog behavior. And -- even worse -- we (the ones who don't want the behavior in the first place) actually reward the very behavior we say we don't want.
Example: The dog jumps, so we look him in the eye, push him off, and tell him he's a bad dog. Instead of getting rid of the behavior, we just made sure that behavior will come 'round again. We rewarded the dog for jumping. Yet, we'll push him harder and yell louder the next time. And when that doesn't work, we may actually get physical with the dog and knee him, pinch his toes, or -- heaven forbid -- get a shock collar to "teach" the dog. And really, when you get right down to it, WE'VE reinforced the jumping, yet now the dog will pay.
I was thrilled to watch Kay Laurence's "Connected Walking" seminar where she relies on nothing more than silence and warm affection to teach the dog to connect with his owner so they can both enjoy the walk together. This requires some adjustment on the human's part. Quite a bit of adjustment, actually. For connected walking to happen, the dog needs to care that the human is at the other end of the leash. To get here, the human has to change his (or her) expectations.
The first thing to get tossed is the idea that the walk is for the human. N-O, no, says Kay. The notion of going for a walk should be for the dog's enjoyment and enrichment. Taking time to smell the fence posts, the sign posts, the fire hydrants, the bushes, the pile of poo -- THAT'S what a walk is all about. Not about walking at your side, devotedly staring into your eyes.
I've advocated for sniff-walks for years now. My dogs get to lead the way on our walks. Because the walks are for them! If I need exercise, I'll go by myself and really step it off. Not hurrying my dog from one bush to the next, pulling and tugging on his collar to get him to move it along.
No way! If I'm walking for me, I'll walk by myself.
Kay's analogy goes like this: what if someone kept your iPhone from you all day, save for 15 minutes three times a day. And then, when you were in the middle of checking your email, they'd take your iPhone away after you read the subject line? How satisfied would you be with that setup?
Neither are our dogs when we herd and pull them from one "doggie email" to another.
I came home with lots of ideas for new articles, so stay tuned for lots of blog posts referencing CE!