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Will 'watch me' really benefit your dog?

With the approach of Autumn, and planning for Natural Dog Learning classes in full swing, thoughts are turning towards dog trainings 'old chestnuts'. An old chestnut is a training protocol that was appropriate for its time, but now that we know more it can be retired. Unfortunately, many of the old chestnuts are still being taught in training classes. This week the 'look at me' or 'watch me' old chestnut protocol came up. If you're young enough not to know what this protocol is hint here

Like most of the old chestnuts that have survived, good intentions are firmly at the root. Watch me, came from a desire to create safety, a good reason for training a behaviour. However, with the benefit of hindsight we can do better.

The first question to ask is ''does looking at a person really help"?

The behaviour was recommended for dogs that barked or lunged, particularly when on lead and for dogs that became 'easily distracted'. The thinking was that if a dog was looking at their person they couldn't do any of the other behaviours. On the surface this looked good, but we learned that we weren't really resolving the issues causing the behaviours. To feel safe and in control we needed to constantly apply management or the behaviours would pop up again.

This can be likened to the recognised speed camera effect. When the cameras are present drivers change their behaviour, but when they are absent and the driver is in a hurry old behaviour will resurge. The immediate threat of consequences provided by the speed camera, do not create longer lasting safe behaviours.

We now know that safety for dogs and safety for us comes from the relationship, the human and canine bond. To build a safe relationship with a dog we need connection to each other. Commanding a dog to look at us is not a sign of connection, and in my experience it isn't even necessary. When working with dogs and their people, the dogs willingly offer connection by choice and our job is to be ready to notice and reward. This is how we do it

The bulk of my work is with dogs that are showing behaviours known as reactive or aggressive. Very often these dogs are anxious and very sensitive to changes in the environment. The dogs are very aware of other dogs, people, wildlife, vehicles etc., they need to learn to process what is happening, learn how to evaluate their own safety and receive feedback from the environmental expert - you! Taking away the choice to do this risks increasing the dogs stress, leading to an increase in reactivity. This is what I teach Processing the environment

As we move forward into a new season I'll be continuing to help people look at 'old chestnuts' with fresh eyes. If I can help you do this please drop me a line

Can I help?

Think your dog might be struggling with their emotions, a 1:1 session would give us time to talk about what is happening and put some tailored strategies into place. work-with-me

Not sure if a 1:1 is for you, get in touch to discuss further

For a supportive group of people and more hints and tips join our Facebook Group, The Dog Learning Space

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