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  • Richard Chan

Please control yourself!

When you ask your child to go to his room to study for his exam and he is really focused and studying really hard, in the midst of his studies, will you go to his room with the latest video game and ask him to play with you instead? If we keep distracting him with high value items, he can never focus on his studies. And if he keeps getting rewarded with video games once he stops studying, why would he want to study? We should just leave him alone so he can learn and practice how to stay focused. When our dogs are on place and is trying very hard to stay calm, please leave him alone. Do not keep trying to talk, touch, hug, or kiss the dog. If you want calmness from your dog, you need to reward calmness with calmness. Your look, your voice, your touch...can all be high value rewards for your dog. If you keep giving him these high value rewards when you want him to stay calm, he will break his calmness and get rewarded for being excited. It is counterproductive because we are reinforcing the opposite of what we want to teach our dog. For example, let's consider this scenario: l want to teach a dog to stay calm outside of a coffee shop. This dog is very anxious and used to get spooked very easily. He used to growl, bark and lunge at strangers out of fear but he is doing much better now. I ask this dog to go into a down and stay there. He is doing really well. Slowly, he starts to relax and no longer feels so tense. Then, someone l know comes and he really likes my dog. He gets down and starts to hug and kiss the dog, telling him what a good boy he is and how much he misses him and so on and so forth. What he is doing is actually really selfish. It makes him feel good (I.e. he feels that this dog loves him unconditionally...and things like that) but it does nothing positive nor constructive to the well being of this dog. His physical touch and high pitch voice just snaps the dog out from the proper mental state l want this dog to learn (I.e. neutral, aloof, calm...). Not only that, all his emotions (i.e. " O, l miss you so much, you are so awesome, give me a kiss...") will be perceived by this fearful dog as unstable energy. Anxious dogs do not feel safe next to an unstable being, especially in an environment that makes them nervous. His emotional and unstable energy just makes this dog anxious again, and the high value rewards (I.e. physical touch, voice, hugs, kisses...) he gives this dog as the dog is anxious rewards the dog with the wrong message that being anxious is good. Now, the dog is anxious, he gets up from place and starts to scan and pace. He growls, and is corrected with a "no" by the same person who has been petting him. If l keep distracting my child who already has a hard time focusing on his studies by showing him all the latest video games, and then get mad at my child when he wants to play rather than to study, is that fair? If l keep correcting him for getting distracted by distractions that l have created, am l setting him up to succeed or to fail? Will he actually enjoy and learn how to focus if l keep doing this to him? Often we are selfish as owners when we pet our dogs. We just want to feel good and we think it makes the dog "happy". But a "happy" dog will not always act anxious, hyper, reactive...etc. If we have such a dog, then we need to pay close attention to the mental state when we try to pet or talk to this dog. We can confuse him and make him worst by rewarding and reinforcing the wrong state of mind. When a dog is on place or is trying to hold a command or cope with a situation, leave the dog alone. Give him a chance to learn how to be calm. Instead of projecting unstable emotions, project calmness to let your dog know how to stay calm. Calmness is self rewarding. Help your dog to control his emotion by controlling your own. Do not impulsively touch and talk to your dog with high pitch voice whenever you want. Everything you do or not do to your dog is programming something to your dog, please be mindful of what you are inputting into this program. Just as the output of a program is a direct result of your input, the behaviours of your dog is a direct result of your own behaviour. Thank you.


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