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When to say "NO!" -- literally.

 If I had a broom, and the nasty habit of sneaking up behind you and whacking you, would you want me to say "Duck"...

  1. Before I hit you
  2. As I hit you
  3. After I hit you


If you are like most people, you will intuitively get this right. Unless I say "duck", BEFORE I hit you, you cannot use the information to change your behavior i.e. get the heck out of the way of the broom. Since all creatures in the  natural world must obey this rule, we shall call this the "natural" solution to the problem.

The unfortunate aspect of this tidbit of behavioral knowledge is that almost no one actually does this in real life.  Dog book, after dog book, after dog book, gives this information incorrectly. Since a choke chain is the primary tool of traditional training, you will often find the phrase "jerk the chain and say NO!" Since this is the most  common use of this information, we shall call this the "common sense" approach to giving a correction.

 About  one  hundred years ago, the  Russian  physiologist  Pavlov studied  how  animals learn about the  environment.  He  suggested that  if a dog had to wait for the claws of a bear to  sink  into his  flesh before running  from the danger, he could  never   survive. The  fact is clear - the signal must come before  the  correction. Since  this answer seems absurdly obvious, you might  wonder why all those experts haven't figured it out yet. The answer is that "common sense" most often "ain't natural."

 For a natural look at this oddity, consider the "nature" of human beings. Language  and speech are learned behaviors. Until we are about  a year old, we do not use language. We instinctively grab and  push things long  before we learn to ask for them. When confronted with new situations, we fall back on our instinctive reactions -   we jerk  the chain first, and then warn the dog. This is identical to  the old saying about closing the barn door after  the  horses are gone.

 All  this natural stuff is well and good, you might  say,  but what  does it mean in the real world? Is common sense really invalid? How can the timing  of  my  warning change the effect of the broomwhack?

 To answer these questions, lets look at a really common dog problem—rushing to the door when a guest arrives. We need three things to get started with our little experiment – a "whacker" ( a soft throw pillow), a dog who  rushes to the door, and a warning signal . (NO!) We will use the pillow as a gentle "punishment" for wacky behavior – judge the size and force of the pillow to match the size of the dog – the idea is to create the same level  of safety that you would expect in a human pillow fight. The idea is to startle the dog without causing injury.

For a test of the process, we have an assistant ring the bell. The dog flings itself toward the door, barking and  fussing. By the time we can get to the door the dog has been displaying the behavior for about 10 seconds. End of repetition number one. Now we know what the dog is likely to do in this situation.

 On the next repetition, we try the "common sense" way, by offering the "whack" before the "NO!" This time, Fido rushes the door. It takes you ten seconds to get there and throw the pillow at the dog. (Why do you think they call  them "throw" pillows?) Then we say "NO!" The result: You might as well skip the word, no, it hasn't given you any advantage over just throwing the pillow.

 Now we try the theoretically correct, natural approach to the problem. This time, as the doorbell rings, Fido again starts to rush the door. At the first instant of rushing toward the door, we say the word "NO" to identify WHICH  behavior causes the pillow to fly. We then throw the pillow at the dog. You will see the advantages of this method on the next repetition.

 Now, something unusual happens. When the bell sounds, and you say "No", the dog checks for a second. Instead of worrying about the door, he is suddenly concerned about that blasted pillow. The use of a warning signal  BEFORE the actual correction, has disrupted the behavior, effectively. Over two of three additional trials, the behavior of rushing the door will disappear. This is the time to start doling out treats and affection for the new,  passive behavior.

Learning some simple rules of behavior can help you develop long lasting and effective ways to control your pet's  behavior. Relying on advice merely because "everyone" suggests it, may be a mistake. It will not benefit you to use "common sense" to solve a problem, if it "ain't natural."


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