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Responsive VS. Robotic Training

When you get a new dog home, whether it’s a puppy or an adult, it is important for them to understand one thing - learning to listen to you and your entire family. Each species comes with their own instruction manual of handling crisis and celebrating victory based on their natural instincts. If you think about it, each of them have a different method of training and communicating with one another. Just how you cannot train a human baby how dogs train each other, similarly training dogs through positive reinforcement techniques and negative punishments may not always be the best solution to train them. To keep it simple, we become a dog to train a dog!

How do we identify the best training method?

STEP 1: Recognise the reasons behind training your dog

First, we understand what is it that you would like to train them in. Tricks may seem fun for you, but what we need to ask ourselves is, is it something that our dog appreciates? When we make him dance around with a treat, is that really helping anyone? Sure, some dogs love performing, just how some of us do too, but not all dogs. Training is not about how well you can control your dog, training is all about giving your dog the desired freedom at the same time making sure he listens to you at the time of need because he trusts you to know better.

When you are looking for the best training method for your dog, it’s essential to list down pointers on what would you like to train him in, for example, our team at All Ears focuses on a training curriculum that comprises of teaching the dog what is acceptable and what is off limits to him. Moreover, we focus on working with him to not run out of open doors or jump into the kitchen when the food is being cooked. These type of training commands along with obedience training builds a strong foundation for a puppy right from a young age and stays with him for the next 12-15 years of his life with us, this is what we call as Responsive Training.

To share with you a snippet from one of our training sessions with Joey, a young adult Labrador, who partnered with us to train his entire family. We did not involve any tricks or treats in the entire session course, rather focused on real-time issues and concerns. His one major issue was that he barked back quite frequently when they would ask him to do something, and had other minor issues of not letting the family touch the sensitive parts of his body like the ears, mouth etc. The temporary solution to these problems would be a one-size-fits-all training method which can be categorised as Robotic Training as it does not go into depth of understanding what your pet is truly feeling or saying with his actions. Following the rule of thumb of training where barking can be stopped by an ABC technique and to de-sensitise him towards touch, follow the XYZ method.

Our team decided to do it a bit differently. We analysed the reasons for Joey to behave the way he did, hear his side of the story and transition it to ideal behavior with training. We learnt that his actions were simply reactions to a bigger problem he was trying to convey to his family, which was lack of trust and guidance. Once that was established, Joey felt more open to seek direction from his humans and instil his trust in them, permanently. Today, he walks off-leash with his parents and responds when called back or asked to sit, down and stay.

STEP 2: Choose between Robotic and Responsive Training

Moving ahead, it is important to make a conscious choice between the two. You may think to yourself on how can you take this decision, so we’ll make it easier for you, ask your dog!

As pet parents, we take responsibility for our pet’s health and happiness, so why take such a major decision of his life on his behalf? We believe in partnering with our pets to learn from them on they would like to be trained. With no animal being one like the other, our dogs come with a personality unique to their own. While some may like to be obedient and learn the command quite easily, at the same time there would be another who would break the rules with every chance he gets. This is why a robotic training method where we train all dogs to respond the same way may not always work as a favourable solution to the animals.

Let’s take an example here of a command Fetch. One of our training partner, Chelsea, an adult indie rescue, has a distinctive personality compared to any other dog we’ve come across, he loves to come up with his own ways to entertain himself and its amusing to watch him get creative at play! He would run to grab the ball and then be on his own trip, sometimes throwing the ball on his own, barking in excitement and chasing it. So when his parents asked us to teach him how to Fetch on cue, we spoke to them about robotic vs. responsive training. Training, in its truest essence, is about building a mutual bond of love, respect and trust with your dog. When we teach them commands such as staying at one spot or coming when called, they learn to trust us over their own instinct of running to the problem we intend to keep them away from and respect our decision. Playing fetch is a fun activity for a dog where get a chance to embrace the uniqueness of our pets. While some may like to run with the ball in their mouth, others would like to spit the ball on our feet demanding to engage in a game of catch. Accepting their originality with open arms is a better choice for you and your dog, rather than making even a fun game of play mechanical under treat based training, and that is exactly what his family chose to do, embrace what made him special!

STEP 3 (The most important one): Don’t forget to have fun!

Your training sessions should be expressive and interactive for both, your dog and the family! The relationship your trainer shares with your dog plays an important role in shaping his behavior. If the commands/techniques remain robotic and unemotional, you may lose out on what the dog was trying to say, hence it’s important to respond to your pet and his needs as much as possible, because happy puppy, happy you!

So we’re saying…

Our pets trust us to make the right choice for them and the only way we can do that is by listening to what they’re saying, through their actions and reactions. Let’s be mindful and present to serving their needs and meeting them half way to help them learn ours through the art of responsive training.

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