No matter how rotten you may think your dog is – pulling on leash, barking, bouncing, jumping up on people – I guarantee that there are remarkable moments throughout your day with your dog.
What are remarkable moments? Moments of desirable behavior, no matter how brief, that we can mark and reward (aka mark and remark on). Whether those moments are marked with a clicker, a word, many words, a treat or a special pet, we need to let our dogs know that they do sometimes do something we like.
Case in point – I see a very bouncy, high energy young gun dog. This is a dog that constantly makes me think “how interesting”, as she has an amazing range of high arousal/aggressive behaviors. Every time I see her, her behavior has improved vastly, thanks to her parents and a clicker. When I last saw her, she actually lied down on her own accord and relaxed. As my jaw hit the ground and I pointed as if David Duchovny had just walked through the door, her parents looked at me with a quiet smile of uncertainty. I indicated that we should give the dog something – a barbecue chicken would be appropriate for such a brilliant behavior she chose to do on her own. The moment was fleeting – I tossed a mixture of jerky and kibble her way. But wouldn’t you know – she did it again, and her guardians tossed her a goodie. We were then back to bouncing, lunging and barking, but choosing to lie down twice – those were absolutely remarkable moments for that dog.
We have to be able to see these remarkable moments – this means paying attention to our dogs when we are out and sometimes having a pretty broad spectrum of acceptable behaviors. Carmac usually doesn’t get paid for the look at that game, because he is so good at it, but if Shorty spots a scary, black poodle and checks in without me asking then I tell her she is brilliant, possibly the very best pit bull x corgi ever, and I fish the smelliest, softest treat out of my pouch.
In a tricky and distracting situation (aka a situation where we haven’t practiced our usual perfect canine behaviors), maybe what qualifies as a remarkable behavior may not be our usual remarkable benchmark – an ear flick for a call in the dog park is pretty darn good if we’re new to recalls in busy areas, a slight pull and whine instead of the usual lunge and bark towards the scary neighbourhood patrol dog – these behaviors are all remarkable in their own ways, given the situation. Your criteria for remarkability should be fluid and changing, just like the environments we live in with our dogs.
Get out there with your dog – whether out there is a walk on a busy path or a quiet trail, in the parking lot of the pet store or at puppy class – look for those moments of greatness and mark and remark on them. Your dog will thank you for it!