“Look To Me For Help…”

Animals don’t trust a human to make decisions, right off the bat.

An animal trusting us to make decisions, and looking to us for help, is also an “obedient” animal. They do what we ask of them because they think, “She (or he) has my best interests in mind.

I’ve been keeping this in mind while I train. Training my guide dogs is a tough balance. I need to ask them for something and allow them to do it as if I don’t see them, and then correct as needed. For example, I might ask the dog to go straight ahead, along a path, but if there’s a curb there, the dog has to stop. They can’t just lead me in to the road, so they look up at me and “ask”, “So… What now?” They need my help to figure out the rest of the puzzle. But they only ask for help when they really need it.

In one of Maike Nowak‘s books, she talked a few times about working with dogs who came from an animal rescue. Some of the dogs would be shipped over from Spain, Romania – all over. They had bad experiences with humans, or bad experiences with everything, or no experience at all because they had been locked inside all their life – which means they were scared of everything… So think about that: how would you get a dog who has been through all of that to think, “Humans are so great!” and ask a human for help?

She had this exercise that I really like and used to play with my puppy, Mowgli (for him it was just fun). You hold a treat in a closed fist (preferably something smelly, so they really want it – like meat), and bring it towards the dog. Slowly, but surely, they’ll inch their way toward it and try to get to the treasure. They might cautiously lick, whine, nibble, and so on… But there will come a moment (that might come in a minute or in 5 hours) where they’ll look up at you. It could be a glance that lasts a millisecond. In that millisecond, open your hand and give them the reward! After a while, they will automatically look up at you when they don’t know how to proceed – looking to you for answers.

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