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Dog Training Jargon Confusion – I Can Hardly Control Myself!

self control 1I’ve joined the Facebook 🙂 and for the past two weeks have been enjoying the interesting, touching, wacky, and in some cases downright stupid, musings of fellow “posters”.  See, I’m picking up the jargon already (LOL).

Jargon is great, if you are one of the cognoscenti, but might be less than helpful if you aren’t. You see, the purpose of jargon is insular. It is words or phrases used as a sort of short-hand by the in-crowd of any group or profession, but can cause confusion when misinterpreted by those not in the know (like when David Cameron thought LOL meant “Lots Of Love” – you can just see the text… sorry to hear you lost your job, LOL, Dave).

Dog training is stuffed with jargon, because a lot of the words and phrases come from learning theory and behaviourism. Using words like “reinforcement” and “punishment” between those who have a common understanding of what is meant by them is great, because it saves explaining ourselves each time, but meaning doesn’t always transcend the knowledge gap that exists in places like Facebook. Jargon doesn’t always translate easily.

The whole of the internet is changing the ways in which people gather and understand information in many wonderful and useful ways, but because people at so many different levels of competence and understanding readily discuss complicated concepts there is the potential for the underlying meanings in jargon words to fall through the cracks. Then there is the descent with modification genetic aspect of the meme – by which I mean that each time something is repeated there is the potential for some of the information within it to be lost or changed (but of course you knew that because you understand the jargon, don’t you?)

Take for example the behaviourists’ use of the word “control” in relation to behaviour modification. How could a simple word like “control” be jargon? Surely everybody must know what it means? But no, to my dismay I find that “control” of a dog has recently become a dirty word, WIGTTFOOS! (Well I’ll Go To The Foot Of Our Stairs – did you not know that one?) Apparently some trainers relate it to alpha rolls, leash-jerks, attention-withdrawal and other less enlightened “methods”.  In their jargon, “control” of a dog is oppressive!

Well, I want my jargon back please. All dogs benefit from control if the method of control is appropriate – otherwise they would be out-of-control. It is the methods used that are questionable, not the desirability of control.

So what do I mean by “control”? Simples (insert your own Aleksandr-meerkat noise here). “Control” means: taking control of the circumstances so that you arrange for your dog to want to do what you want her to do.

self control 2It doesn’t mean yanking her head off with a check-chain, it means her walking with you because she wants to be with you. It doesn’t mean turning your back on her when she jumps up because of the maxim, “Ignore behaviour you don’t like” (DEGMSOTO!! – Don’t Even Get Me Started On That One – don’t you know any of these?), it means her sitting to greet you because that’s what gets her the attention.  It doesn’t mean banishment to her bed when she barks at the door, it means her jumping onto her bed when someone comes to the door because she knows it will earn her a reward. It means her backing off and offering deferential behaviours rather than barging and grabbing, because they lead to the outcome you both want.

It doesn’t mean correcting her when she has got it wrong, it means pre-empting what she wants and arranging for it to happen according to what you want. It means arranging your life together so that she exerts self-control to get the result she might otherwise push for; guiding her in the right direction and rewarding her.

Forget the punishments, banishments and push-me-pull-yous of the DBs (Dog Botherers– surely you knew that one). Let’s explain the jargon and put the “self” back into “control”.

4 replies on “Dog Training Jargon Confusion – I Can Hardly Control Myself!”

As an ex deputy head teacher, used to seeing how schools got confused with differing behaviour and educational theories, I decided to retire and follow some dog activities. My problems really started with a very hormonal, sensitive/bossy,hyper Labrador with many issues which I had made worse by many mistakes. I set out on a quest to help us both. This led to me becoming much more knowledgeable about dogs, but not before I made another big mistake, bottle feeding a friend’s (guide dog trainer) GSD pups, took one to join the family. If any dog in the world doesn’t need a zany, dog aggressive mentor,it’s a gsd!. Now in double trouble I set about trying to learn what the trainers and behaviourist know. Loads of books, dvd’s, courses and five years training (gold good cits), and eventually running a dog club and doing KCAI plus loads of other courses, I know more but still feel very confused about “the right way”. I agree all animals, humans included need control, also purely positive can’t work as Karen Pryor states. Equally I love my dogs and don’t want to hurt them, but I have friends with exceptionally naughty children because they tried reasoning with them too young.
I believe all animals need loving care, but as I help in a dog shelter some just needed a bit more control. Every dog is different and sweeping statements will never work, but maybe we can standardise terms, look at what is done for different scenarios and really look at the language and then the action. I am finding sometimes the language is different but the action the same (eg a hook or ring on a wall near dogs bed to prevent hyper behaviour to visitors).
I am a long way from the finished trainer, and I still have dogs with issues(will I ever solve them?)but I will keep trying to find an acceptable route and to solve my own dogs(my mission in life!!). Why is it so much easier with other peoples dogs?. It would be so much easier if you guys at the top of this profession could sort things out so us newbies or wannabes(jargon?)could walk an easier path.

Some good points Jackie, but if you thought human educational theories were confusing, welcome to the world of dog training and behaviour! I agree it would be great if there was some form of consensus, but there also has to be room for dissent, otherwise there would never be any progress. Only by challenging the status quo and not taking things for granted because “we’ve always done it that way” will anything improve. The problem at the present time is that the modernisation of dog training is being held back because of disparate individual vested interests who can’t or won’t change their methods – not helped sometimes by the confusion between television and real life. My own view is that all dog trainers need a sound underpinning knowledge of learning theory and domestic dog ethology, combined with a compassion for dogs and their owners.

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