It’s not easy being positive sometimes. It’s fun, it’s makes me and my animal partners feel good but even all these years later sometimes it’s a LOT of work.
Sally celebrated her 12th anniversary with us this weekend. I had started to move strongly towards positive training when Rufus joined our family in 1991 (he was not a dog who handled a rough hand well – why he came to us actually) and rarely turned to an aversive with Laurice, or Brody. Thea is 15 now I had decided she and I would focus on positive methodologies – to be totally honest it’s impossible to imagine deliberately punishing her ever though. The incomparable Sally was the dog who made me say – I will embrace positive training wholly and with full thought. And then Sally got healthy. And smarter than me. And it got harder than I imagined. Luring, shaping, capturing behavior, understanding reinforcement, figuring out Skinner, and Premack and Bailey and more all became terms and training I explored and learned to use.
There were days I lost my temper and shouted. Sometimes I told Sally NO and then had to think fast.. There were even times when I grabbed her collar or banged a crate door shut much more aggressively than I would want to admit. Twelve years is a very long time to live with a dog smarter than you – of all the dogs to decide that positive was all we were doing Sally challenged my thinking, sometimes multiple times a day. What do you do with a dog who opens fridges? Manage of course …but what else? More reading, more talking, discovering more great trainers who left me with pearls – “positive is not permissive” (Pat Miller for me) “Your dog is constantly trying to start the good stuff, (and) end the bad stuff” (Jean Donaldson) “Success is important” and “It is my job to put the animal in a situation where she can learn what I want her to know as quickly and easily as possible.” (Sue Ailsby aka Sue Eh) and so so many more contributed to my thinking … and the dogs certainly honed my doing so too!
The days it comes together though? Those days make it worth it. This weekend had a fair few of those moments.
Sally is feeling wonderful .. and so in tune with me – we aren’t training anything new as I’m still cautious of her neck but we had fun playing. She is quite positive she is CURED and did everything in her power to get to do more, MORE, MOAR! Hand touches, stays, some fetch and going to place all had us both grinning ear to ear.
The little dogs worked hard to help me figure out more about treat magnets. Dora is much less likely to throw behaviours out – her tail never stops wagging though. Yen may never slow down enough to think but she’s so much fun to work.
Wiser (the newest horse here) and I have really clicked this week too. He is a great example of how time and positive training can lead to great results. Riding can be onerous for a horse and Wiser has worked hard his whole life. Here we use a lot of rewards and softness to illustrate to the horses what we are asking for. Even as we never forget positive is not permissive – horses are huge and a thoughtless horse can be dangerous. Last night we danced together and it felt wonderful.
So today I celebrate the tiny little successes that have us all happy to work together and thinking of work as play. I am so very glad to have moved to positive training so many many years ago. The challenges are real … so very worth it though. Not just for me – for my animal partners too.