By Chris Bach and The Third Way – The Next Generation in Reinforcement Training
In the October Training Tips for the Paws-A-Tive Pooch, Chris shared Part 2 of her “Problem Solving Checklist”. This month marks the beginning of a new series of articles by Chris Bach, The Four Keys to Problem Solving.
KEY #1 – THE DOG IS ALWAYS BLAMELESS
One of the most important beliefs of THE THIRD WAY is that dogs are always BLAMELESS. Every dog is PERFECT at being a dog and perfect at being him or herself. Each is perfect at functioning with what NATURE and NURTURE have provided. Because dogs are also perfect at ONLY being dogs, people must take complete responsibility for problems and for their solutions.
What Nature Has Provided
An individual dog is the product of a predetermined genetic template, in other words, what Mother Nature has bestowed upon him. This includes specific physiologic traits and characteristics such as the dog’s biochemistry, developmental onsets and offsets, structure, behavior motor pattern onsets and offsets, and thresholds between one response and another with a behavior motor pattern.
A dog neither chooses nor has any control over what NATURE provides or deprives. Therefore, a dog is totally blameless for problems that develop between themselves and people as a result of what nature has or has not endowed.
For example, Pal the male mongrel is born with a high sensitivity to novel stimuli. He did not stand in line to get this quality! It was not his choice. His owner, Ralph, wants to be able to take Pal anywhere and have him maintain a calm, quiet and accepting demeanor. Pal will be unable to do so. His high-level sensitivity will not allow it. This is not Pal’s fault or his choice. However, Ralph will consider it Pal’s “problem” and will make every effort to change Pal into the dog he had in mind. The fact is that Pal is not a problem dog. Ralph’s unrealistic expectations of Pal are the real problem.
What Nurturing Has Provided
Dogs are also perfect at being themselves in response to how people have NURTURED them. Included in this category would be things such as proper early socialization and enrichment. During the critical stages of mental and facilitation development, appropriate exposure to animate and inanimate entities and objects are a must. During this developmental stage dogs must learn that people, other dogs, another animals, and novel stimuli will facilitate pleasure, not cause fear or pain.
Nurturing also encompasses how skillfully a dog has been trained and what the dog has learned at the hands of people. Just the same as a dog is subject to NATURE, a dog is also totally influenced by how well people have NURTURED him.
Unfortunately they are as equally a product of how poorly their nurturing may have been administered. It does not matter that people intended for things to go right, but instead accidentally went wrong. The fact is that improper NURTURING has consequences and the bottom line is that the dog is BLAMELESS for problems that arise from them.
Ralph got Pal at eight weeks of age. The puppy was purchased from a “puppy mill” so early nurturing was almost nonexistent. To compound the problem, Ralph became ill and could not take Pal out of the house for two months. Ralph feels bad because he had not intended for Pal to be deprived of early socialization experiences. But it did happen, and now there are serious consequences. No amount of guilt or wishful thinking on Ralph’s part can change what has happened or its results. There is little chance that his puppy will ever be able to relax and be calm in unfamiliar places.
Accepting What Nature and Nurture Have Provided
Accepting the fact that dogs are completely BLAMELESS is the most precious gift any person can bestow upon a dog. It immediately improves their lives and their relationship with people.
For a person who is striving to be the best problem solver possible, it is the most valuable pearl of wisdom he will ever receive. Taking this belief into their heart will change a person’s perception of dogs forever. That person will no longer be content with the idea that any problem is the dog’s fault. They will instead begin to search out what a person is doing or thinking which is creating the problem. The idea that a dog ever deserves to be punished or suppressed because he is being bad will be abandoned forever. And the disempowering belief that a dog can ever be changed into the dog that a person has in his or her mind will be reconsidered.
When a trainer opens the doors to the discovery of more accurate facts about dogs, he can better understand a dog’s behavior. Rather than be limited with the traditional “bad” dog solution, he will constantly be looking for alternative and more realistic causes. Armed with better, more accurate information he can come up with more creative and worthwhile programs. This enhancement in problem solving regimes will result in better lives for dogs and people.
In the case of Pal, if Ralph tries to blame him for being silly or stubborn about how he responds to new experiences, it will be a costly mistake. Ralph would be inclined to try solving this problem by making him cope or correcting his escape or avoidance behavior. This strategy would cause irreparable harm to Pal instead of providing a solution.
However, things would be different if Ralph accepted the blame and took on the responsibility to help Pal deal with this limitation. First, Ralph would need to recognize that he chose the wrong puppy from the wrong place to meet his expectations. In spite of his best intention, his puppy suffered even further enrichment deprivation because of his illness. Once Ralph takes responsibility for his choices and actions, he can make viable choices about how to provide Pal with the best possible chance at a pleasant life.
He could choose to find Pal a home with someone who just wanted a “stay-at-home” pet, or he could choose to leave Pal at home and find another canine partner for his outings.
(c) THE THIRD WAY ~ Chris Bach ~ 2002. All rights reserved.