Blazing the trail

trail marker on rockIf you’ve ever gone for a walk in the woods or in the mountains and followed a well-used trail, getting from point A to point B is just a question of glancing down now and then to make sure you’re still on the path. In some areas there are blazes on trees, stripes of paint or slashes in the bark, which highlight the correct route. In the mountains we look for cairns, piles of rocks which previous travelers or rangers have built to mark the route.

When I think about dog behavior I often think of it like a path in the wilderness. Either the trail is worn and easy to find or else a new trail needs to be started. The trail that is easy to find, perhaps even deep and rutted from use, might lead to the correct destination, or it might not. It’s not easy to get dogs or people to veer off their beaten path, even if we know that the views are better when we take a different route. It takes trust, practice and convincing that this new path is in fact better.

Many of the training techniques that work best with fear based behavior challenges begin by flagging the correct route. Leslie McDevitt’s ‘Look at that’ activity comes to mind. We are starting at the very beginning of the trail and marking the first step of simply looking at a trigger and creating or rewarding a positive response. Once the start of the trail is obvious we can move further along and continue to mark the route. But like a route in the forest, until it has been well traveled, it can be easy to miss. It becomes important to be consistent so that the path becomes obvious and easy to follow.

In my life with Sunny I have tried to lay down a path for him which gets both of us to a destination we are happy to arrive at. The times I have led us off a cliff, we’ve been lucky that whatever damage done was not irreparable. When I led him down the path of aggression it could have been the case. Fear aggressive dogs are not easy or safe to live with. If we don’t take the time at the beginning to ensure that we are flagging the correct route, or put our dogs into situations in which they have to choose their own path and they lack the directional skills to do so safely, we can begin to see aggression or other inappropriate behaviors.

It’s helpful to remember that even small steps in the right direction get us closer to our destination.

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6 comments so far

  1. honeysjourney on

    Great analogy following a well used or to blaze a new trail. If you have ever been totally lost in the mountains or woods, remember how that felt and what it must feel like to a fearful one.

    When blazing a new tail, we need to mark the trail well as we move forward in order to find the way back if the new way isn’t the right path, back to the comfort zone at the beginning of the new trail head.

    • fearfuldogs on

      ooh yes! Getting back to the beginning if we need to. Love it.

  2. Kristine on

    I love this analogy. It’s so true. Even if the steps are tiny, they are still in the right direction. Sometimes it takes a little time in order to make sure we are heading in the right direction.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and commenting Kristine. Better to take the time to start off in the right direction than to race headlong in the wrong.

  3. melfr99 on

    Wow. Great analogy Debbie. I like the idea of marking a path over and over until it is well-traveled to describe consistency on training. I’ve done that with some things with Daisy, but what I am starting to realize is I need to be more consistent so it becomes well worn and she can see the way more easily.

  4. Mary Doane on

    This is beautiful symbolism and as a result, those of us with fearful, shy, or just plain undersocialized dogs can gain a very concrete picture of where we are going in our goal to help our dogs acheive. Aaron and I started right at the beginning of a path that for me was not well worn. In fact I had no idea where it would lead. We take steps backward no and then but for the most part we’re headed in what seems like the right direction. Thank you for your help with him, Debbie.


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