Wednesday, May 09, 2012

My Journey Begins with a Click

So, what's my story?  I am just another of those weirdos who refuses to grow up.  I hear it all the time.  However, I am doing some sort of growing. Sure, I'm not letting myself get all tired and old.  Sure, I'm never going to lose this sense of wonder I have about me toward the world, but I've noticed that, as much as I'd hate to admit it, I am growing.  And, since I'm not growing down, I assume I'm growing up.  Or sideways.  That's always fun, too.  And it all started with a dog named Oats...
The one responsible for this whole thing and I love him for it.

Oats & Clicker Training

Oats used to be the quintessential bad dog.  He ate trash, chased cats (and neighbors), and was a mess whenever I took him anywhere, so I stopped taking him anywhere.  Training methods ranged from correction collars to dominance-based training.  And, they'd suppress bad behavior, but it would always come back with a vengeance.  But I had it in my head that my dog was too stubborn, too willful, too independent, and too dominant for softer, gentler methods.  It was what everyone told me.  "Oh?  He's a chow and dalmatian mix?  I heard both breeds are stubborn and dominant, you have to show him that you're Alpha!  Show him you're boss."  And Oats, my wonderful little Oats, took all of it.  But not without fallout.  By the end of the regimen he was still the quintessential bad dog, but now he was also a reactive mess as well.  People told me who my dog was because of his mix and because they saw his behavior through dominance-colored glasses.  But bullying my dog into submission did not match my personality at all.

I researched and found this funny thing called clicker training.  When I mentioned it to my dog-training friends back then, replies ranged from "oh, that doesn't work" to "oh, it works, but the dog doesn't work for you" to "well, it's awesome for tricks, but not serious behaviors."  However, I found this YouTube channel called Kikopup.  The bond that Emily Larlham had with her dogs was one that I wanted with Otis.  If you remove the treats, the collars, and the tools, all that was left was the bond with the dog, and her dogs were bonded.  The look of adoration in their eyes proved that her method not only worked but her dogs worked to connect with her.  This was what I was looking for.  I picked up a clicker and started trying out this clicker training thing.

I noticed a trend in my behavior ever since I did this thing where I picked up a clicker and started training my dog with it.  And the whole concept was rather easy:  Click the dog when he does something good and reward him.  But it didn't work until I did a paradigm shift.  It wasn't just about clicking when my dog was good, but being aware of every moment where he was good.  Then, I started to enjoy him more.  How often are dogs "bad" really?  Not very.  But my eyes were opened.  I started catching more instances when Oats would want to connect.  Because I was waiting for him, I was able to reach out and meet him halfway.  Our bond grew because of it.  He wanted to spend time with me more and I enjoyed him so much more--finally being able to take him to public places.  I worked actively on his fear-aggression that developed because of prior training methods and he's made vast improvements.  Suddenly, he wasn't a stubborn, stupid, dominant dog.  Now, he was an inquisitive, precise, and emotionally complex partner teaching me more than I was teaching him.

Lessons My Dog Taught Me

My journey began with a *click*
My journey began with a click and it is carried by lessons my dog has taught me.  I am not only waiting for instances when he would want to connect with me, but also when the world opens itself up, asks me to jump in.  Oats brought me back to the stories of my childhood, where I learned I was supposed to follow my heart.  I used to be a Biochem major at my school, but my keen interest in Psychology made me ache to learn it.  I've jumped, made the switch, and it feels so right.  Opportunities present themselves and I notice them when I used to not before.  I'm now a member of Psy Chi.  I can say that the old Nucky would have ignored that opportunity.  I've started on my old hobbies again because I found that I should always do what feels right, not what other people tell me is right.  The simple paradigm shift I had to do in dog training just to accommodate the clicker training method has affected the rest of my life for the better and I love it.  And I love Oats for it.  Because of him, I've got to meet some amazing people.  Kim, a trainer from my own state.  April, a wonderful friend from Texas.  I used to keep myself from people, but now I'm bursting with confidence.  

I don't know what lies ahead in this journey, but the important thing is that every step I take is the one I was supposed to take.  Every person I meet, I was supposed to meet.  And every moment is one that I can claim, at any time, as my own--capturing it like capturing my dog's fleeting behavior with a click.

Other Stories and Responses

I think it's important to share our stories with each other and with the world.  How we figured out our paths and also the moment we realized what our dogs were telling us.

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