On one of the Yahoo! Groups I’m a member of, somebody recently wrote:
“I want my dog to work because he wants to please, not because he has to”.
I responded: “Just a point on semantics: a dog will never find pleasure in pleasing others – they are not altruistic”.
This, as always, got me thinking. Even if dogs do find joy in pleasing others, I don’t want my dogs to work with me because it makes me happy. I want them to work with me because they’ve found the joy and value in the work for themselves, not to mention it would be nice to think they want to spend time with me doing what they enjoy doing – whether that’s playing around and figuring out what it is that will earn them their next reward; or whether that’s taking part in something more structured such as obedience or agility trials, sheep herding, trick training, scentwork, and the list goes on.
To me, if a dog is doing something “to please” someone, then it means that or doesn’t want to do that task in the first place – as a child I’d clean my room “to please” my mother, but you can bet I didn’t enjoy it and would rather be doing something else! And if a dog isn’t enjoying herself, it’s often quite obvious, whether it’s the low posture and tucked tail of a dog who may have been trained with aversive tools or methods, or whether it’s the reluctance of a dog only ever trained with kibble or commercial dog treats.
Below is a photo of my with my first dog, Spirit. I love this photo because we are engaged, you can see we’re a team – he loved playing (training) with me, and was quick to pick things up.
This is what I want to see from my dogs, and from other dog/handler teams too. Happy dog, happy handler, happy team.
Or, for a more recent example (thankfully not really featuring me!), take a look at this short video. This was Starr’s second introduction to the balance disc, on Tuesday evening. Her first was the night before, and she wasn’t all that sure, though we didn’t have quite as much space to play in.
What do you think? Is she happy to play on the disc? Would you be happy if your dog was giving you this ‘performance’ during his or her early training sessions, either with or without a piece of equipment?
What about you? What do you like to see from your dog when you’re with them? What do you do to get those things you like to see – do you have a special toy, special treat, or perhaps you do something that gets them excited about the training process?