I decided to get a puppy over a dog, as I naively thought that getting a puppy was a bit like a blank slate – and to some extent that is true, but like humans, dogs have their own personalities. They are shaped a certain way before you even get them. Those vital 8 weeks they spend with their litter mates as their brain develops. Even pregnant stress and early stress can effect how certain systems develop – just as it is seen in humans. They have a personality that is determined by genetics. That’s not to say you cant re-shape it – but it effects how they learn.
Dogs have their pre determined personalities before they come to you. Do they prefer toys or food? Are they super confident when they see a strange object, or do they bark at it? These little bits of information are so important in how you train and treat your dog.
When we first got Buddy, one of the things he would do is drop to the floor at bum wiggle up to new people, flip over and act all goofy. We thought this was super cute – it was actually a sign of how unconfident he was, he literally melts and goes – “eeeek I don’t know what else to do FLOP”
He was super anxious around new objects, bark at them etc. So we wanted to help him become more confident, we put him into as many situations and places as we could to help him. Or so we thought we were helping him.
Even though we were trying to do everything as carefully as possible, it didn’t really work.
I always relate a lot of dog training to parenting! I have a child with sensory processing issues, who from time to time can suffer from anxiety as a result of this. When he was a toddler, we made a star chart, to record the good behaviour, no matter how small, to build his confidence etc. Getting the stars would result in a big reward at the end of the week.
This had the total OPPOSITE effect on my son. The pressure of NOT getting all of the stars, what if he didn’t? What if he didn’t get the reward at the end of the week? ‘But you will’ I would say, ‘You’re a superstar look at how well you are doing’ I would even change it so he got the reward at the end of the day. The anxiety and worry it induced was SO BAD he would have a COMPLETE meltdown with worry – I threw it in the bin.
Back then I spoke to a number of different experts and some advice I got was to give INSTANT surprise rewards. No pressure, there is no anticipation, so when he did a good thing, he got an instant reward! It worked a treat!
What I’m trying to say is that for some children, a reward chart works really really well! But some thrive better with instant rewards. This is simply because everyone’s brains are wired differently and react differently to learning and rewards.
When we know that research has been done to PROVE that you can have a dog with pessimistic tendencies, or a dog with optimistic tendencies, that then suggests that training them in different ways is also going to help shape them. Training them in the WRONG way could actually have the opposite effect. Which was the way we were going with Buddy.
So before you start to train your dog, make sure you spend some time understanding them. Understand what they find rewarding – what do they find punishing. Are they confident? How do you actually know? Making a few adjustments to your training could have a HUGE effect.