I recently returned from a training workshop with Sylvia Bishop. Sylvia is highly accomplished in Britain in AKC obedience. She has titled many dogs and was a wealth of information regarding how to create a better performance in the ring.
As the weekend progressed it became apparent that the advise for the competition ring was pretty much the same as it is in the pet training, behavior modification world….that being, that are dogs are a reflection of what we the humans are teaching them. It really isn’t about the dog not understanding what we want, it is about the dog doing what we are showing them. And most of the time we are *showing them* the stuff we actually don’t want.
We give them cues and signals all the time that are in conflict with what we actual would prefer them to do.
Let me share an example. Many of the handlers from the weekend had problems with getting their dogs into a proper competition heel position. Their dogs either lagged behind, forged ahead, swung wide or crowded the handler. While Sylvia shared a wealth of lovely ideas on how to fix the positioning problems, the ultimate solution always resided with the handler changing the body cues they were giving their dog.
Dog’s are masters of reading our body language. Our thoughts create our body’s response to a situation and we follow that thought. So in the instance of a dog lagging in the heal position, the handlers were consistently looking slightly down and back toward the dog, which tipped the left shoulder. I imagine the prevailing thought they had in their mind was *my dog always lags, let me keep an eye on him so I can correct it when it happens”.
However, for a dog that body language (our eyes looking at him/or the floor in front of him) suggests that there is something of interest there and it puts a bit of psychological pressure on the dog to *stay back*. The simple fix for the handler was to look ahead, focus the thought and attention on the path you are just about to travel. That small shift in focus, shifted the dogs response and they all begin to heel properly and the lagging went away.
The same happened for the dogs who swung wide on about turns. As soon as the handlers shifted the focus of their eyes, their own bodies made the turns properly and the dogs adjusted accordingly.
It was quit interesting to see the same phenomena time and time again. And of course the moral of the story is *our dogs never lie.* They are true to what we have taught them.
My own dog, Tommy was very clear about his desires as he discovered my intentions to leave him at home when packing for this trip. I nearly finished packing when I came into the room and discovered he had very precisely placed his Kong inside my backpack. Despite my best attempts not to fuss about leaving him behind, I am certain my body language gave away my bit of sadness that he wasn’t coming with me this time.
Perhaps the Kong was just his way of saying *look you can take this to cuddle with if you like.” Or maybe it was a hopeful message of “let’s not forget to pack this mom!”
In either case, remember that you really can’t fool your dog. They read you to a T every time and they’ll always keep you honest!