Author Topic: Sample 2015 Seminar group post  (Read 1007 times)

Sharon Nelson

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Sample 2015 Seminar group post
« on: November 04, 2014, 09:48:23 AM »

I was asked by a student if I would post one of our topics from the seminar list to the general list to show people the type of things we are working on.  I agreed to do it, but it will be a locked post, which means that no responses can be posted to it.  I would love to be able to answer every post that people write but in reality, there is a limited amount of time that one has for that task, so questions and responses will be limited to the threads on the seminar group.

Thanks, Sharon

Hi, group!
   Welcome to the start of the 2015 seminar group posts.

   Today I would like to talk about our "relationships" with our dogs.  Sometimes people get confused when their wonderful personal pet goes racing off course or won't let them catch them at the end of a run, or bite their leg during the run.  How could this awesome dog that sleeps on the bed, watches TV together on the couch and stares adoringly for a shared bite of dinner do that to them on an agility course?

    It's easy.  Every dog will have three different "relationships" with a person.  There is a personal relationship, a social relationship and a working relationship.  In each of those relationships, they are using a different set of thoughts and brain patterns.

    Personal Relationship.   

   When we talk about our personal relationship we are talking about those times at home, around the house, playing in the yard.  A very familiar environment in which the dog is comfortable and the stress level is low (hopefully!)  The dog shares our space and we do set rules for them and the manner in which all members will be happy together.  They learn whether or not they can get on the couch, how to stay out of the garbage and off the counters.  Everyone has guidelines for all members of the "home society" including all that live within the house, both canine and human.  Children, spouses, housemates all learn how to get along cohesively and respect each other to live under the same roof.  In the perfect world, everyone gets along and no one ever encroaches upon another one's space in a rude manner that is outside the limits of the rules of the household.

    In the personal relationships of the household the dog will engage in an entirely different relationship with each member of the household, which includes other canines.  They learn that one human member gives them snacks during dinner and another one never does.  But they might also choose to cuddle with the one that doesn't give the extra snacks.  The giving of the snacks has to do with eating but cuddling is a totally different part of the relationship.  And if the humans put their egos aside, they often find that it is fine if the spouse lets them in the kitchen, sneaks a snack to them under the table and lets them get on the couch.  When it is time to relax in front of the TV and relax or take a nap, the dog chooses their companionship more.   In other cases, the family might find that the constant breaking of little rules by some members of the family does do harm to the overall mental health of the dog and that the rules must be consistent amongst all members of the family.

    For some dogs, they get very confused if some family members allow breaking of rules and others don't.  Other dogs can have every member of the family have a different set of rules and the dog learns to live happily and comfortably with multiple sets of rules in the household.

    There are no "absolutes" with dogs.  It is about learning how to read your dog and learn the signals as to how comfortable they are in their home environment.  You will learn what type of dog you have and how to apply more guidelines to his home environment or maybe remove a few guidelines and let the dog relax out of "working more" around the house and just enjoy the personal relationship.

    Social Relationship.

   In our social relationships with our dogs we are talking about adding in "external" factors.  It might be a visitor at the house or a walk in the park.  It includes either the dog leaving their own space of their home environment or having a non-household member enter into their home environment.

   During our social relationship times the dog might totally ignore those that are important in their personal relationships.  They might get very clingy and insecure and want to be even closer than normal to those that they have a personal relationship with.

   For some dogs the social relationship is a joyful time for them and a miserable time for the human partners.  Many dogs are very secure in their current personal relationships and invest all of their time cultivating new relationships.  For those dogs, they gleefully greet new people, take their toys to the new people instead of their owners, and spend a lot of time ignoring their owners and engaging only with new acquaintances.  From the human perspective it appears to them that their dogs "like" other people more than they like the owners.  In many cases the dogs totally disconnect from the personal relationships they have with their owners and focus purely on the social aspect of "new".

   For other dogs, leaving their secure area or having someone "new" come into their personal environment is overwhelming or at the very least, uncomfortable.  Depending upon the stress level, they may become defensive or offensive as a reaction to the stress induced.  For those dogs, they do not have a positive social relationship and it may also start to hurt the personal relationship they have with their handlers if they are subjected to too many unpleasant social events.

   Working relationship.

    The dog's working relationship is different from their personal relationships and their social relationships.  The dog has a clearly defined job in which there are clear expectations from both the dog and the handler.  The duration of the working relationship must be no longer than the mental and physical strength of both the dog and the handler.  If either one is having a bad day then the team will suffer in the relationship.  If either one is pushed beyond their current mental or physical limits then the team will suffer.  The "team" has the working relationship.  The dog should be alert and enthused and ready for instruction.  It might be something as simple as a sit or it might be an eight minute heeling pattern.  But the dog and human must be able to stay alert and enthused during the duration of the exercise, whatever it is that they are working on.

    While being involved in a working relationship the dog should be totally focused on the handler and have no displays of "social" activity when they are in a working relationship.

Some people replace the work "relationship" with the word "mode".  So they refer to their dog as being in "personal mode" or "social mode" or "working mode'.  We are still talking about the same things and we don't need to get into any special terminology arguments.  If you follow along you will find that I also might change which term I use.  If I say that the dog needs to be in working mode, then it is the same thing as having a working relationship and vice versa.

If I take Busi for example our personal relationship is at 100%.  Does that mean that we never make a mistake?  Nope.  She might steal a treat and I might let her ride in the front seat to the mailbox.  But I smile when she enters the room and she brings positive into my life by her presence.  I believe that she feels the same way from all indications.   

Our social relationship sucks.  She still irritates me when she jumps on new people when she knows better.   She grabs a toy and rudely shoves it into their lap instead of gently placing it in their hand.  She shows NO respect to strangers and invades their space without permission.  I always have to tell her twice if I want her to do something or stop doing something.

Our working relationship is awesome.  Once I indicate to her to get into working mode, she is at 100% and eager and willing with a great attitude.  She will do everything she can to follow commands and do it in a very willing manner and end with a smile in her body language and stay connected with me even if a run is over, until I switch her back out of work mode.

Should I fix our social relationship?  Maybe.  Do I care?  No.  Having really bad social skills doesn't hurt our personal relationship nor our working relationship.  We rarely have visitors and I am not one of those people that go to classes or stand in line for 20 minutes before a run.  So we rarely have our icky times when Busi is interacting with new people or dogs.  If we did, then I would work on improving our social relationship so that we both enjoyed being in public.  But for now and probably forever, she will be rude and invade people's space when she shouldn't and jump on them.  It happens in ours lives so rarely, I don't spend a lot of time fixing it.

Other dogs I have do have an awesome social relationship.  With others I might need to focus on a better personal relationship or a better working relationship.

But you can have a poor personal relationship and still have a great working relationship.  You can have a great personal relationship and a very poor working relationship. 

All of those relationships are independent and work off different parts of the brain and the reactions from the brain patterns and the hormones produced from each change of brain activity.

In the perfect world, all of the three relationships we have with our dogs would be perfect.  Sometimes one or two of them are more important than a third one.

You must decide what is the most important to you and your dog and most likely try to strengthen all three relationships.

In old time training, owners were led to believe that if you didn't let your dog sleep in your bed, then you would get higher obedience scores because you had shown them that they had to respect you as the leader and the one who got the bed.  The same for going through doorways or eating first.  The truth is, those might strengthen your personal relationship and it might also be that it won't either help or hurt.  That is it just another set of guidelines.

But making sure that you eat first to show your pack order to the dog will never help you with a start line stay or a missed contact.  Those are working relationship skills.  But having a great personal relationship is the first and foremost.  Your dog will spend the majority of their lives in a personal relationship environment.  Only a small part will be about the working relationship.

Yet we see more and more handlers that only focus on the working relationship.  At that time one wonders about whether they own a dog or "sports equipment".

Our intent with this group is to work with the teams and create dogs that can be as happy and relaxed in "working mode" as they are during personal time.  To get a dog to be able to work without an adrenaline rush and all of the health risks associated with adrenaline rushes.

If you have a dog that shows you no respect in the ring and also no respect at home, then we want to improve that personal relationship first.  The personal relationship is one that exists at home, with no adrenaline and no outside drama.  Just the family members and no outside influences.  If you mess it up a bit, it is pretty easy to back up a step and regroup.  That won't fix your start line, but during the process you will learn to read the small signals and learn what does and doesn't work in teaching your dog to have perfect home behaviors.  Once you hit working mode and mess up, you have a much bigger issue to resolve and it will take much longer.

If you watch the videos on the very basics, you will see a lot of time invested in personal time and only a minimum on working time.

I would love to have our students work through this process so that the majority of what used to be "working mode" becomes a very relaxed and easy "personal time" with no stress and many of the jobs are replaced with games you play together.

The one relationship that I will warn you about is the social relationship.  That is the tricky one.  For some dogs, like Busi, she can take treats from other people, play with their dogs, jump upon the people with joy and lick their face but when I say "Wanna work?" then all of those people and dogs are gone in her mind and you can't get her to even look at another dog or person.  You could run multiple dogs on the course with her and she would ignore them and only see me.  But many other dogs, once in social mode, cannot switch back out of social mode and the handlers have not taught the skills to engage them into working mode.

So many times training classes change in the dog's mind from a "working" environment to a "social" environment.  And working a dog that is in social mode is totally different from working a dog that is in working mode.  So many handlers go to class to socialize their dogs but never learn the skills that switch them from social mode to working mode.  And what you end up with when you start to trial the dog is one that instantly disengages from the handler and responds to the environment instead of the handler.  That environment might be other dogs, other people or just equipment.... whatever it takes to disengage or disconnect from the handler.  If the handler is asking the dog to work from a part of their brain that they are not used to communicating with the handler from, then the dog must instinctually disconnect from the handler as part of basic survival skills.  The disconnect might be as simple as wandering away to sniff, to doing the zoomies. to racing around on the equipment with no regard to where the handler is or what cues they are giving.

Even though all three relationships are separate, they can build upon each other to create a complete package of harmony.

We will be discussing the three separate relationships and how they might apply to you and your dog in the upcoming weeks.  In the meantime, sit down and write an evaluation of how you feel you and your dog fit into each of those three relationship categories.