Thursday, September 18, 2008

What to do when someone tells their dog "Easy!"

Firstly, hello! I am Emily Larlham a clicker trainer from San Diego.  This blog is going to be full of helpful tips and cutting edge training ideas for the average dog owner to the professional clicker trainer.  

After just returning from a stroll around our neighborhood, I can't help but share my worry about owners and trainers using the word "gentle" and "easy".  I believe these are the main cues that owners say, WITHOUT training the dog what behavior they want the dog to do when they say them!  Instead the owners say it EVERY time the dog is NOT being gentle, or THINKING about not being gentle. So they are in fact pairing the word 'EASY!' and "GENTLE!" with the behavior of being overly aroused, mouthy,reactive, or aggressive.  

So I stroll by this park, and there is a Shepherd off leash lying in the grass.  My dog had met the Shepherd once before.   I myself am shy so didn't say "screw off!" to the owner with her dog as they came happily to meet us. I could see that both owner and dog were relaxed and calm, and the meeting would go well.  HOWEVER, as the Shepherd and my Border Collie were interacting, the owner suddenly burst into a repetitive chatter of " EASY! EASY! EASY!"  I could see the dogs body which was relaxed and calm stiffen at the sound of her 'command' and then he suddenly did an aroused chomp on my dogs neck.  Luckily his cue 'EASY!' means 'time to play in an over-aroused state' and not something like 'time to eat the other dog'.   Splash my BC,  has acquired great dog to dog skills, so did some calming signals back to the Shepherd.  At that point, I backed away removing my dog, and yet the woman wanted them to interact more.  Finally I had to excuse myself, and my dog.  

So the moral of this tale- What to do when someone says "EASY!" is- quickly and politely excuse yourself from the situation! "Oh my gosh! Look at the time!" Better safe than sorry! Don't feel pressured for your dog to  be the experiment dog of someone's mad science project of 'perhaps THIS time the dog will actually understand English!'...

Another pairing that owners do is - "It's ok! It's ok! It's ok!" which dogs learn very quickly to mean, 'It is definitely NOT ok! Time to panic!'  Instead owners can have a cue like 'Go check it out!' or 'Go say hi!' that they have paired with good things, and they can reward the dog for being confident and relaxed while doing.