Hello New Year. Welcome. I am excited. Yes, of course I intellectually comprehend that the difference between December 31 and January 01 is just a day, but I become all chipper with the beginning of each New Year nevertheless. I am thrilled about exploring new ideas and opportunities, meeting new people and dogs, having new experiences.
At the end of each old year I gift myself with a fancy “Windows to the World” calendar with beautiful photos of doors, bridges and windows from around the world taken by John and Debora Scalan, I'll delight in each day, each month.
Who knows what windows and doors will open in 2012 – for you and for me. I will surely keep my eyes peeled and stay alert. That is my nature, not a resolution, but like many people I have some. Although firmly stuck in my mind, experience tells me that most will likely slide in the ditch by the end of February, and that’s okay, because there aren’t any big-deal issues that I need to change. Thankfully, cause I hate pressure.
New Year’s Resolution has such a negative connotation, doesn’t it? It sounds coercive, and the ones we impose on ourselves are often indeed a slog; something that we ought to do but don’t really want to tackle at this point. No wonder a lot of folks conveniently ignore it early on in the year. After all, avoidance is a common side effect of compulsion.
So, how about a resolution that is fun? How about teaching the pooch new things? Training is, should be, quality time spent together, and as a bonus you get better behavior, less stress and an improved relationship. Tricks are great if your dog already knows all the basic stuff. If not, the New Year is the perfect opportunity to make up for what was missed. And yes, even an old dog can learn - new tricks and behaviors.
There are seven behaviors that, if the dog performs them reliably, make life with a pooch really easy and very pleasurable. I like to call them taproot behaviors - taproot as in: the main and deepest root of a plant. It was the fabulous Steve White I heard use that term in regards to dog training a couple of years ago, and he generously granted me written permission to use it too. That makes me happy, because I have not yet found a better analogy to illustrate what every dog should know.
Picture an upside down pyramid with seven poles vertically pointing downward, each one representing one behavior. In case you need a visual, check out Steve White’s graph at www.i2ik9.com/TAPROOT-plain.pdf. If you do, you will notice that he has five taproot behaviors: Attention in the middle, flanked by sit and down on each side, and then heel and come. I have seven - the middle pole, the longest, stands for unprompted attention like Steve White’s, the two next to it, name attention and come, are not quite as long and although still super important, not as much as offered attention. The behaviors next to those, the off-switch “all-done” and one position, either sit or down, are a little shorter still, and on each end we have the shortest ones: leave and give, again very important commands, but not quite as much as the all other ones. I believe I addressed all of them in detail in past posts, and because of their importance might do so again sometime in the future. Today, I want to stick with the taproot analogy.
Here is where it makes so much sense: like the taproot keeping the plant alive and healthy, the most important behaviors, when solidly established, keeps the relationship between you and your dog healthy and mutually gratifying. And like the roots that demand nutrients and water, those crucial behaviors you want in your dog require your attention, and must be nurtured and reinforced.
Although I believe, based on my experience, that my seven taproot behaviors are the most important ones, they are not set in stone, and of course there are others as well. You decide which are the principle ones for you, and it is you who best knows your dog and what to practice more - and what less because he might do them naturally. It is common sense that if you own a pooch who is innately very attentive and won’t leave you out of his sight, and is forever soliciting for interaction, that you should emphasize “all-done” more than name attention, and a position stay more than come.
Back to the taproots and how the analogy can help with training. The poles remind you that each time you practice one of the outside behaviors, you need to return to one on the inside. If you’re thinking with me, you understand that the behavior representing the middle pole needs the most work. In other words, the longer the pole, the more repetitions, the more effort and consideration you’d give it. It could look something like: attention-come-attention-sit or down-all done-name attention-come-attention -leave it- attention-give and so on. To stay on target, make yourself a taproot graph with the seven behavior poles, and then create a separate chart with horizontal and vertical lines to checkmark each behavior as you practice it.
Once you get into the swing of things, you likely won’t need the visual reminders any longer, and you can have some real fun and take the show on the road. Practice randomly wherever you go, and your dog will be attentive and listen anytime and anywhere. If you start now and stick to it all year long, by 2013 you will have the best mannered pooch ever. You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood.
Our Will knows all the basic stuff. Congratulations if your dog does too. Then your New Year Resolution, like mine, could be to teach new tricks. Because I am not very imaginative, I ordered a trick book I am determined to tackle. Here, another fun resolution: reading more books.