Borrowing from human psychology, we can understand dogs better. They are intelligent and creative beings just like us. They experience stress hormones and the physical affect they have upon the body. Ask any dog lover and they will tell you dogs are emotional creatures.
This chart is based on the Russell Dimensional Model. It diagrams how humans, and by extension dogs, live in the emotional states of either Fear, Excitement, Worry, or Calmness. Just like us, dogs tend to make poor decisions while in a state of fear or worry, and make better choices in an excited emotional state-with practice, but the best choices are made in a state of calmness. Our job, as dog caretakers is to help them find calmness as the default emotion. Some dogs are lucky and just naturally chill out in calmness, others struggle to even find a moment of the respite offered by calmness.
Research also shows that just like a beams of light, emotions travel in straight lines. Think about it. It's much easier to move directly from worry to fear than fear to calmness.
Add in a general state of pleasure or displeasure and the dog settles in as an optimist or pessimist. In the chart this is expressed as the left side being displeasure and the right side being pleasure. Finally, emotions move up and down with the increasing or decreasing brain activity. If the dog is in a mindset of Pleasure it functions on the right side of the chart where things are happy and bright. If the dog is displeased it is functioning on the left side. Increase the brain activity of a dog already displeased and you get fear. Lower the brain activity and the emotional state returns to worry, but it doesn't have to stay there. Through Games Based Training the dog will move to the right side of the chart and settle into calmness where all those good choices begin.
This is not to say that dogs should spend all their time in calmness. They need active brains or life would be nothing but boredom. Dogs are curious. They love to play and they will invent their own games if need be. Brain activity is good. Fear and worry have their place as well. Those instincts have kept the species alive.
All four emotions are necessary. It's our job as Games Based Trainers to teach our dogs to spend nearly all their time on the right side of the chart, and to ultimately teach them through Games to default to Calmness where all good decisions can be made.
We've been lead to believe that some dogs are born knowing what to do, others, not so much. But the truth is that dogs, learn all the time, and exciting new science proves that we can facilitate that learning from energetic puppies to delicate seniors, by understanding how Concepts affect behavior.
Concepts like Confidence, Self Control, Focus, Optimism and others work in concert to help dogs cope with our human world. Every second of every day, our dogs make choices until thousands of behavioral decisions are made every day. It's impossible to intervene each time. Instead, dogs either choose something we deem appropriate, or they don't. They're not doing it out of spite. It just happens. UNLESS, we give them the tools to naturally choose behaviors we like.
This is definitely not about forcing a dog into a behavior, and it's certainly not about teaching a behavior to be preformed on command because none of that transfers to real life. It's about making good choices as natural as breathing with or without us being involved.
Think of it this way. Inside your dog's brain is a series of tunnels, and at the end of each of those tunnels is a behavior. One leads to bark, another sit, and still another to do nothing. The tunnels are nearly endless. Through Games, we teach our dogs which tunnels lead to rewarding behaviors and which don't. I like to imagine tiny creatures vigorously remodeling the tunnels that lead to behaviors we like while the other tunnels, the ones leading to something we don't like, become overgrown and dark. Simply put, the Games turn the lights on and lay out the red carpet. They lead our dogs to the right behavior naturally. Games Based Training lays a new map. Once we start to understand how Concepts affect Behavior, we play carefully designed games (because dogs love to play) that enhance those brightly lit tunnels reinforcing that the right choices continue for a lifetime.
Why do they choose the wrong tunnels?
Dogs are efficient. They quickly learn what makes them feel better, and if they find their way down a tunnel to something that made them feel better, even if only for an instant, they are more likely to take the same tunnel in the future. It doesn't matter what behavior was at the end. And sometimes, the behavior can be very strange. Spinning, chasing shadows, biting their tail, all these are behaviors, too. The troubles begin when the tunnel that made them feel better leads to a behavior we find annoying.
How do I lead them to the right tunnel?
This is where it gets exciting! The Games are carefully designed to lead your dog to the right tunnel and once there, they race toward the behavior we desire, and because we reward them for racing down the correct tunnel, they feel better and thus they race down the tunnel more frequently! Dogs love to play these games simply because the reward is too wonderful to resist. Sometimes it's a toy, or a portion of their normal dinner, and sometimes it's you! Yes, you, because the Games also help you build a fantastic relationship with your dog. You become the Reward!
Let's go back to the science to drive this point home. Dogs will do what makes them feel better. And the more often they do the thing that made them feel better, the more apt they are to do the same thing again. So by training with Games, your dog learns to choose the right behavior simply because it makes them feel better. It's a Win-Win. The dog does something that makes her feel better while at the same time it's something that makes you happy. Now, that's cool!
Do I have to wait until my dog chooses the wrong behavior for this to work?
Absolutely not! In fact, the Games can be played with very young puppies all the way through the golden years. In fact, using Games to develop strong concepts in puppies almost always leads to the perfect bombproof dog you dreamed of when you first brought your dog into your life. The Games both build great behavior from the start and help address behaviors that need revisiting at any time. In seniors, the Games work to stimulate older tunnels that may be fading as the dog ages. In many cases, elderly dogs return an almost puppy like state. They need the Games just as much as the little ones do. And by stimulating a senior dog brain, you improve your friend's life.
What are the concepts?
The list of concepts is a long one: Proximity, Desire for Reward, Patience, Determination, Enthusiasm, Thinking in Arousal, etc. And the list of Games is even longer. The Games list grows all the time as my fellow Games Based Trainers around the world get more and more creative. It might seem an overwhelming task to learn it all, but the beauty of Games is that they often work on several concepts at the same time. And you won't need to learn them all. There are a few truly powerful Games every dog should be playing, but with a long list, we add in variety to keep it rewarding. We don't believe in boring old drills, and neither do your dogs.
What if I don't have hours to play with my dog?
No problem. I don't either. The Games are designed to be played in super short segments of 30 seconds to 3 minutes and they don't require any special equipment. I'll show you how simple it is to incorporate the games into every day life. Soon you'll be playing on walks or while vegging on the couch. In tiny bites, you'll train perhaps a total of 15-30 minutes per day.
Which Game do I need?
There is no single Game that will help every dog find the right tunnels that lead to the right behaviors. Instead, I'll teach you to train the dog in front of you, and you'll be amazed by how easy it is and how much fun you'll be having along the way to a amazing relationship with your dog. After all, isn't that why you invited your furry friend into you life?
Let's talk. I'd love to help.
Rebecca Porter has been fascinated by dogs for decades, but it took a frantic mixed breed to send her on a journey into innovative and real life solutions in dog training.