Dogs and Car Washes

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Rotating brushes inside a conveyor car-wash.

Image via Wikipedia

The other day I picked up Bentley from day camp then decided to get the car washed on the way home.  This was Bentley’s first time through a car wash.  Despite his namesake, he did not like it at all.  The poor thing was whimpering and panting out of anxiety.

This is a tough situation to be in.  Our first inclination is to hug or pet the dog and tell him it’s ok.  Try to soothe him, try to calm him.  But all this does is reinforce in the dog that being scared of this strange thing is ok!  We do NOT want to reinforce scared behavior.  So, difficult as it was, I didn’t cuddle my poor puppy.  Instead, I tried talking to him in an upbeat voice to reinforce the fact that *I* wasn’t scared and thus there was nothing to be scared about.  He made it through the brief ordeal unscathed, and has not somehow developed a fear of the car.

DON’T REINFORCE SCARED BEHAVIOR!

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Positive Training vs. Corrections

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So I have been trying a new tactic with Bentley lately.  Previously, I was trying to use ONLY positive reinforcement with him for training.  This works brilliantly for teaching commands and tricks such as “sit” and “go crate“.  But it doesn’t work quite as well with general behaviors such as getting him to stop jumping or to be gentle when taking a treat.  So I have started using corrections with Bentley.  Out in the wild, wolves don’t learn everything by positive reinforcement.  They are corrected, first by their mother, then by litter mates, and then others in the pack.  You cross a line, you get a correction. Life goes on and the pup learns not to do that again.

So I’ve started working on using some corrections with Bentley.  They are sharp, but not harsh. It is very interesting to see the reaction. He is VERY surprised at being corrected, as I don’t think his previous owners ever did. He also doesn’t quite like it. He tries to fight back. But it is absolutely amazing the difference in him when I don’t back down.  You will recall I previously tried to teach him the “leave it” command.  It was kind of working, but he would still jump and lunge at any treat.  Using correction, I was able to within 5 minutes get him to lay down and I could put a treat on the floor and he would not go for it.  I can also now walk him with a loose leash about 80% of the time.  (Still working on ignoring neighborhood dogs, cats and squirrels)

The corrections I’m using are either a snap of the leash or a quick jab/poke in the side of the neck. They are sharp and startling to the dog, but they don’t hurt him at all.

Now, I’m not giving up on the positive training methods for teaching him his commands.  But for a well-balanced dog, you need a mix of both types.