Alternate Route Available

Wrong Way road signI learned to drive in Boston. I’m proud of this fact because it means I can drive almost anywhere in the world and be unfazed by the culture of the roadways.

In Boston the use of directional lights is often an afterthought and don’t even think someone will slow down enough for you to change lanes and get to your exit in time. One must be careful, but be bold. I drive a fair bit in Puerto Rico as well and if the dented front fenders of many of the cars is an indication of anything, it’s that they’ve upped the ‘bold’ a notch. The main difference I’ve noticed between Boston and San Juan is that there seems to be less lingering animosity when one cuts someone off in San Juan. I’ve wondered whether climate has anything to do with it. But I digress, a comparison of the driving habits of New Englanders and those in the Caribbean was not my topic for the day.

I am neither proud nor embarrassed to admit that I am what I call a ‘directional dyslexic’. That some people can find their way back to locations they’ve traveled to once, or remember which direction they originally came from when leaving a shopping mall has always been a source of awe and envy for me. One of the biggest complaints I had about my years of driving around Boston was the ‘one detour sign’ rule that seemed to apply to roadworks. If a road was closed there was one obvious sign pointing drivers to a DETOUR. After that you were on your own. I was often on my own and lost.

One of the challenges dogs face when they are punished for performing inappropriate behaviors is that they, like me driving around, end up going the wrong way before stumbling on the right way. The alternate options may seem obvious to us, sit instead of jump, don’t pull rather than pull, move away rather than lunge, etc., but they may not be obvious to our dogs.

It’s helpful to show dogs the alternate routes available to them for getting what they want or need and what we want or need from them. Teaching dogs a variety of skills can help build a repertoire of behaviors we can steer our dogs toward when detours are necessary. Start at home and then take training on the road. Our dogs are often looking for the signs pointing them in the right direction. Make it easier for them to see them.

14 comments so far

  1. KellyK on

    I definitely share your frustration with those detour signs. Right up there with street names that are too small to read until *after* you need to commit to turning onto the street. (Though at least in Maryland, streets are labeled. In rural PA, where I grew up, not so much.)

    And I love the idea of making it easier for dogs to go the right way, rather than punishing their missteps.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I know what you mean! Thank goodness for GPS units.

  2. rangerskat on

    As a fellow sufferer of directional dyslexia I can totally relate. Probably that’s part of the reason I try so hard to make it clear to my dogs what I’m asking them to do and why I am not a purist in training. With Ranger I can actually chain a series of action simply by showing him with my eyes where I want him to go and what to do–run to this jump, over, run to stump, paws up, say your prayers–but we’ve been partners for five years now and he reads me like a billboard. But even Finna is beginning to realize that I am trying to help her figure out what I’m asking her to do. She doesn’t always understand what I’m trying to tell her but she does seem to get the idea that I’m offering useful information.

  3. engineer chic on

    Those detour signs are an endangered species, we can’t go wasting more than 1 on a construction site 😉

    I have found that when it comes to S’s fearful behavior I can only train him what TO do, as opposed to what NOT to do. If punishment comes from me when he’s already scared, alarmed, whatever it just sets our relationship back. The exception to that is when I taught him to NOT bark at the neighbor on his lawn mower. That was a combination of a citronella collar when we were not home, and a quick (mild) reprimand from me EVERY time it happened when I was home. The reprimand was me going outside and walking to him, a 1-finger tap on the snout and saying No Bark in a quiet, but low tone. Then walk back in the house (without playing with him).

    He’s smart and learned he could grumble his dislike all he wanted, just no barking. Which is perfect, he communicates his feelings (and a warning) without annoying the neighbor to death.

    But outside of that instance, i have to think about what I want him to do instead of what I want him to not do. It’s hard sometimes (worth it, but more mental energy is required).

    • fearfuldogs on

      So that’s the deal with those signs (or lack of them)!

  4. Lynn on

    Today is Tulip’s second anniversary with us (and therefore her 4th birthday, by our count). I just felt like sharing that with other fearful dog owners, especially as she still very much needs all the directional signs I can figure out. She’s already come a long way, though.

  5. thelittlebeardogblog on

    Great post. On a dog handling course last year we all had to play the clicker game. You may all be familiar with it already, but you’re basically paired up and given an action to perform e.g. sit on a chair with one hand in the air – your partner plays trainer and can only say yes or click when you, the dog move in the right direction.

    It was exhausting, frustrating and infuriating and everyone got so desperate for a yes that we ended up leaping around like complete fools!
    It certainly gave me an insight into the the frustrations our dogs must feel every single day.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Great game. I’ve also played it with people only being told NO when they do the wrong thing. Many people give up trying. One boy almost cried. I felt bad.

      • thelittlebeardogblog on

        That’s says a lot doesn’t it? And yet dogs have to put up with that all the time.

  6. Debbi on

    What a perfect analogy!! Great blog post. And warning that I don’t want to drive in Puerto Rico! LOL!

  7. Kim B. on

    can you help? neutered male dog – not quite 2 – reactive(as in will lunge towards in a fierce display of *I will EAT YOU ALIVE* barking, even air snapping, to other dogs – progressed has been made to this point – primarily male dogs – if enough distance – he will sit beside me, possibly whimpering trying to (stay), – until dog passes by – (heaven help the “my dog wants to play with your dog” people).

    I’m winging it a bit – he’s 73 pounds of muscle. I’m 104 pounds of petite.
    He’s a foster – and the rescue group wants to send him to Boot Camp. I use keeping him under threshold to practice – and at this point he trusts me not to put him in a dangerous situation.

    I recently insisted that he get checked out by a vet — and voila — hip dysplasia (right leg), and spinal sclerosis (lumbar sacral junction).

    Rx: 2 weeks of rest, & Rimadyl, and I’ve gotten him to acupuncture – there’s someone knowledgeable who donates acup. to foster dogs in rescue groups for free.

    I use non-aversive, non-compulsion, training. I don’t know anymore what passes for “positive” training. Working on teaching him life skills to manage in the world. Looking at me, instead of charging a dog — gets him a great reward of whatever is floating his boat at that moment — whether it’s a yummy something or a real life reward of something else he is wanting to do…. i.e. follow the track of something he smells….

    Perhaps this is a crazy place to post this question to you — and my apologies if that’s the case…..

    Been reading your posts ….. your blog …. and this guy deserves a great home. He has heart, spirit, beautiful manners. A gentleman in many many ways.

    Likely pain was at least a part (large?) of his reactivity — now it’s being addressed ….

    Any suggestions?

    thank you.


    • fearfuldogs on

      I’m not sure what ‘boot camp’ means but it does conjure up images of having someone scream in your face and threaten you. There are no magic bullet cures for reactivity. Many dogs can change. I’d look for a trainer with experience using protocols such as ‘look at that’ and BAT. Both of these work on changing how a dog feels about a trigger while building appropriate responses.

      Almost anyone can hold a gun to someone’s head and get a behavior. But take away the gun and the original returns. We want to take away the threat of punishment and build a new skill set. Even then there is the possibility for the original behavior to emerge if enough pressure is put on a dog. The question I’d have is whether this dog is going to be an appropriate pet for someone looking for one?

    • KellyK on

      I would be really really skeptical of any “boot camp” training program to deal with reactivity. If they’re using heavy-duty punishment, it’s very possible to get what *looks* like a calmer better-behaved dog by scaring them into compliance, all while making the underlying issue worse and setting the dog up for a situation where they’re so terrified they feel they have no choice but to attack.

      I think that any training program, you need to ask the trainer questions about what their methods are, how they work, and why they use them, and then decide if that’s something you’re okay with. Fostering is always tricky because it’s not your dog, and yet you’re responsible for caring for them

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