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All righty, time for the magic!

I assume if you are reading this that you have done your prep work outlined in the previous post — dump your stories; open your mind; watch, listen and learn from your dog; accept this is about CHOICE not FORCE.

If you haven’t: What are you doing here? Stop being impatient! Get back to Part Two and DO THE PREP WORK. Now!

Are they gone? Okay! Welcome to the rest of you. Congrats on doing the prep work that will set you up for success as we move into this first SIMPLE Sequence: How to Teach a Physical Skill.

In the old, outdated, creaky days of yore, these things would be called “obedience.” But since we are no longer desirous of bending our dogs to our will, but rather seeking partnership through proper communication, the more accurate label is Skill.

Physical Skills are all the standard actions most of us want to teach our dogs: Sit, Down, Come, Walk, Stay, Leave it, Drop it, etc. They are also the Tricks we like to teach them like Shake, Roll over, etc. There is NO DIFFERENCE in your dog’s mind between Skills and Tricks. Hence, there is no need to teach them differently. (We do though, which is why Tricks are usually more reliable than Skills. More on that here** if interested.)

Now, important clarification coming: Skills are not at all the same as Behavior (ie how your dog thinks about/feels about/reacts to a particular situation).

If your dog is not Behaving acceptably, you might be able to control Behavior in the moment through requesting a Skill, but you will never permanently change Behavior with a Skill. (This is why, for example, a jumpy dog will “get down” but will never stay down. For more, see “WORDS MATTER: Knowing the difference between ‘behavior’ and ‘Behavior’ can mean the difference between frustration and success” (available as a blog post and as Appendix D: behavior vs. Behavior in my book I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This!)

Think of Skill as learning how to hit a tennis ball, and Behavior as how you play the game.

This post is about teaching basic Skills. The next post will address Behavior.

Basic Physical Skills: Four Simple Steps

Think you know this one already? Bet you don’t!

Review Figure 3.1. See that second step there, “Mark”? That is usually not included in standard teaching. It should be, because it is the gold in that sequence! 

Also, notice that initially there is no word attached to the Skill (eg Sit). Waaah? Why?

Because it’s the fastest way to teach it, that’s why!

Let’s break it down: 

You Create the Skill, without a word attached to it, using any of the methods listed. Most can be achieved through luring (see treat, follow treat). Note there is nothing approaching force described here! 

The Mark tells the dog what he just did that you loved — and that he will get a Reward for — so he doesn’t have to guess! It is applied at the precise moment the dog does that thing — butt or belly touches floor, takes one step toward you, walks beside you one step, etc. When the Skill happens, the Mark happens!

(I highly highly highly recommend using a one-syllable verbal Mark you can say quickly and happily. Examples: Yes, Yay, Bam, Nice, Wow. Smile when you say it! It’s the start of the party, after all!)

The Reward(s) come after the Skill is Marked. Reward in at least two ways at first: Food and Praise/Toy/Pet. Always Food at first — it seals the deal at the highest level! Imagine getting $100 every time you sat down. How eager would you be to sit? 

Finally, once you’ve told your dog to do that, you have to tell him when to stop doing that. So Release him from the Skill. Then do it again — another chance for a party!

Once you both are on auto-pilot with the sequence, then you can label the Skill with a word, phrase, hand signal etc.

Remember: This will go much faster if you think of every Skill you teach as a Trick. In other words, have fun with it! The more fun you both have, the more reliable the Skills will become — for both of you.

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**Tricks are usually taught with lots of fun. We laugh; lots of food is generally shared, if mistakes are made, oh well, try again, all part of the fun — Tricks and Parties go hand in hand! Is it any surprise that Tricks end up on auto-pilot, happily offered by your dog without being asked, because she is expecting something good might happen every time she does it? 

On the other hand, Skills are usually taught like orders — You will comply or else! No! Wrong! Bad dog! When Skills are given as orders, your dog is often unsure what will happen — will it be good or bad for her? When they don’t know what to expect, dogs are likely to hesitate or otherwise not respond properly. Then we get mad/stern, cementing in the dogs’ brains that hearing that word from us means bad things for them. That makes them even less willing to respond.

Teach everything as if it were a Trick. You will have a crazily responsive, happy dog!

Next/Final: Part Four — Teaching How to Behave

Have you seen these ads telling you there is a SECRET to training? And that for $$ the keeper of the secret will share it with you? 

Well, I’m here to share the REAL SECRET to training — at no charge!

Why am I being so generous? I’m not, really. That’s because the secret is… there is no secret. There is, however, a big myth to bust about training, and it is this: That there is some hugely complicated system that trainers need to use and/or owners need to master in order to get their dogs “trained properly” or “behaving well.”

I’m here to toss the BS flag on that. Take that myth, launch it over the railing, and let it fall. Buh-bye.

Look, I know it’s tempting to deify someone who can do something you can’t — I have been called a dog whisperer, a magician, a genius, as if I’d solve som great mystery of the universe — but honestly, folks, it isn’t that mysterious or complicated. Once you pull the curtain back, you realize the basics of training are, well, pretty basic. 

The Siriusly SIMPLE System of Teaching a Dog Anything

After nearly two decades of dog work, I have reached the point of intolerance. For people. Who think they are properly addressing their dog challenges but actually are making them worse (one reason I wrote my first book, Reverse Dog Training, was to show parent/owner/guardians [POGs] that, to deal effectively with common problems, they needed to do literally the exact opposite of what they were doing).

When I hear people describing their dog training challenges, be it basic techniques or problem behaviors, I fight the urge to grab them, shake them, and scream STOP COMPLICATING IT!!! (See, intolerance. Which is why I’ve retired and taken up meditating. Is “Grrrrr” a good mantra?) 

Oh, the stories we tell about our dogs. These long, detailed soliloquies about what and why  and how. So heartfelt. And so massively unimportant, misdirected and often untrue.

What do I mean by stories? A sample:

 – He’s doing X because he is mad/sad/vengeful/stubborn

 – She knows this, she’s just not doing it

 – He does X because he was abused/X happened before we got him. (Even though I got him as a puppy and he’s five now.)

 – She’s okay, it just takes her awhile to warm up to you.

 – He was abandoned as a puppy and been in 12 homes so that’s why he’s eating my couch.

 – She’s aggressing because she’s protecting me.

These stories are our attempts to analyze and/or rationalize what we see. And look, I loooove to analyze behavior; it is one of the funnest things about training. But when POGs are faced with a training challenge, this is what I tell them: We can analyze it to death, or we can take care of it. Wouldn’t you rather be done with it? (If your answer is not emphatically YES, then I suggest therapy.)

The clean, clear unshakeable basics

Fact: Everything a dog does benefits him/her somehow. 

So, if you teach them something and clearly identify the benefit, the dogs will do that thing most of the time. 

The way to do that is incredibly simple.

Want to teach your dog something? Follow 4 basic steps.

Want to change your dog’s behavior (ie “fix” something)? Follow 5 basic steps.

That’s it. No psychoanalysis, no angst, no drama. Simplicity.

Are there nuances? Sure. Every dog is different, so some tweaking is inevitable. But THE BASIC STEPS DON’T CHANGE. If you want to establish an unbreakable, effective communication system with your dogs that can take you practically anywhere you want to go with them, burn these fundamentals into your brain. 

Will your dog do everything right, every time? Of course not! Will you? Ha! What you will do is get moving in the right direction as quickly as possible, with less frustration and confusion and much much more DogJoy! Along the way, you will do massively more good stuff than bad, and everyone will be happier faster.

Are there dogs that these basic steps don’t work for? Yes. Exceedingly rare, but yes. Usually they have a medical issue. But for healthy dogs with working brains, I have never seen a failure. In the dogs, that is. Humans are another matter entirely.

SIMPLE doesn’t mean easy

Are you now wondering why you haven’t heard this from other trainers and animal professionals? Me too. I have my theories.

First, I must include my standard disclosure: My brain works differently from most other humans. I have been told this often, and I have noticed it myself. When the machine works differently, unusual things are produced. So there’s that. 

Beyond that: There are many trainers who unfortunately are stuck in old-school thinking land, where they learned a way to do things years ago and it brought them success so they just kept using it. Unfortunately, the stuff they are using, perhaps on your dog right now, is outrageously outdated. Rooted in misunderstanding, like the dog knows right from wrong (she doesn’t). Or that she’s being stubborn. Or that you have to be tough with dogs and show them who’s boss. Trainers have stories they need to let go of too!

Even wonderful, progressive, up-to-date trainers have stories. They might lean more toward overanalyzing (every dog is sooooooooo different we have to come up with a different plan for each). I used to think that too. Give me a progressive trainer to work with any day, but these complicated storylines can really monkey up the works and slow the teaching to a crawl. Well-meaning, but in the end, not as useful as it could be.

Give up your stories, and you can start writing your dog’s tale of success!

It is SO SIMPLE. However, I must caution, SIMPLE does not mean EASY. (I was an English major; I choose my words carefully.)

Because these stories are deeply rooted, often passed down through family and shared by peer groups. And assumed to be proven, true, fact. So they are very hard to give up!

Here’s a fact that may help: Everything we believe about dog training right this second is based on theories, which we strive to prove through experiments and research. Thank heavens for science! It has finally confirmed a lot of the theories progressive trainers have supported for years, and it has also disproved a lot of the long-held beliefs of others. (See pack behavior, dominance, aversive training, for example.) Your stories, in many if not most cases, come under the heading of disproved long-held beliefs.

“But but but!” I hear you sputtering. “X worked with old Sparky. It didn’t hurt him and he stopped doing X. So it was the right thing to do.”

Oops, another story emerges. Sure, intimidation tactics work on a lot of dogs (though not as many as you might think, and certainly not in the way you think). A leash jerk, a sharp NO, a light smack on the butt, may well get your dog to stop what he is doing, or do something he doesn’t want to do. I would argue that instead of fixing one problem you simply added another, one connected to fear and distrust. If I shove you into a chair, sure, I got you to sit down, but what else has happened? In both cases, the end does not justify the means.

There are other, so much better means. Let go your stories, open your mind. Your dog will love you for it.

Oh, I forgot! I do have one more secret for you: This stuff works for any being, furry or not, with a working brain. 

Ready? Let’s go!! See Part two: First SIMPLE Steps

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