Relating stress to learning

All learning is stressful. For many people, us included, one of the most recent stress-inducing learning experiences was brought on by the computer revolution. In our case, plenty of times during the learning process we were tempted to throw the agonizing contraption out the window. At that moment, learning, and the ability to think rationally, had stopped. There was no point in trying to go on until the body had the chance to rebalance itself.

When you train Buddy, you can't prevent him from experiencing some stress, but you can keep it at a level where he can still learn. If you find that your dog is overly stressed during a training session, stop the session. At that point, your dog's ability to learn is diminished, and neither of you will benefit from continuing.

Instances are going to occur when Buddy just doesn't seem to get the message. They can happen at any time, especially when you're working with distractions. Nothing you do works, and you feel that you're not making progress.

"What can I do?" we're often asked. "If I stop, Buddy will think he has won and he will never do it for me." This line of thinking presumes that you and Buddy are adversaries, in some kind of a contest, such as, "you'll do it no matter what." If you approach training with this attitude, you're doomed to failure; at best, you'll have an unrewarding relationship with your dog.

Training Buddy has nothing to do with winning, but with teaching. You can walk away from a training session at any time, whether or not you think you've been successful. When you see that no further learning is taking place, stop! If you don't, and you insist on forcing the issue, you'll undermine both your dog's trust in you and the relationship you're trying to build.

Let Buddy rest for four hours and try again. You'll find that the light bulb suddenly seems to turn on. By having taken a break at that point, you give latent learning — the process of getting the point through time — a chance to work. Our advice is to quit training when you find yourself becoming irritable or when Buddy starts to show signs of stress.

Konrad Most, considered to be the "father" of modern dog training, recognized the importance of maintaining the dog's equilibrium. In his 1910 training manual, he wrote, "Good training needs a kind heart as well as a cool and well-informed head . . . ." Anyone can dominate a dog by physical or mental pressure, but only through the building of confidence by positive reinforcement can reliability and enjoyment of performance be achieved. Buddy must perceive you as trustworthy, or he'll begin to exhibit neurotic behaviors.

A stressful first impression

Making a good first impression is so important. A classic example of the impact of the first impression is the following incident: Pinny had entered her 1-year-old Landseer Newfoundland, Immy, in a Newfoundland Club of America Water Test. These events test the dog's rescue abilities and, when found satisfactory, result in a Water Dog title, attesting the fact the dog is a water rescue dog.

The Newfoundland Club of America conducts Water Tests where the dogs can demonstrate their water rescue abilities. Two levels exist: Water Dog and Water Rescue Dog. The Club also conducts Draft Dog tests.

The first part of this test is on land, where the dogs are expected to demonstrate a passing familiarity with basic obedience commands, such as "Heel," "Come," and "Stay." Immy was very well trained to do these tasks.

When Pinny and Immy approached the area in which they were to be tested, which had been roped off into a large square with yellow tape, she noticed that Immy was becoming extremely agitated. He outright refused to get close to, much less into, the roped-off enclosure. His eyes rolled back in his head, he wanted to bolt, and he became almost uncontrollable.

Pinny walked away from the area, calmed him down, and tried again. No way was Immy going close to the yellow tape that was flapping in the wind. Pinny didn't push the issue, but Immy went on and did the water part of the trial with great success.

Driving home, Pinny tried to think why Immy was so frightened of the yellow tape. And then she remembered. When Immy first came to her, he was already 6 months old. He was a tall and gangly puppy with lots of energy and a propensity for jumping straight up in the air. It wasn't long before he took this great talent and experimented with jumping the fence in the back garden. He took himself for a nice walk around the neighborhood and found visiting other dogs lots of fun.

Living on a rather busy street, Pinny was worried that he would get run over. So she came to the conclusion that an electric fence was the best solution to her problem. When the salesperson installed the fence, he asked Pinny if she'd ever trained a dog to the fence before. She answered that she had not. "Don't worry, I'll show you how to do it," said the salesman. He took Immy on a leash, went up to the fence, which had yellow flags on it, and as Immy approached curiously, he yanked him back as hard as he could, and screamed "no." Immy fell to the ground in shock, and Pinny was horrified.

Looking back, Immy clearly associated this most unpleasant experience with the yellow tape, and when he encountered it again at the Water Test, he wanted nothing to do with it.

Dog Potty Training

Dog Potty Training

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