Zen Dog Training Way
Manage | Train | Interrupt — these 3 training options encompass Zen Dog Training
You can learn more about the Zen Dog Training approach in our How to Have a Zen Dog Podcast.
Managing means focusing people on creating situations where they control the outcome. This option depends on people optimizing the environment so learning happens naturally.
Instead of trying to train dogs in the moment, when people might not have the time or ability to train, the focus is shifted to carefully managing situations to guarantee desired outcomes. For example, using a dragline, crate, confinement area, treats, or baby gates helps people more quickly interrupt, prevent, or guide dogs away from getting away with unwanted behaviors.
The secret to Zen Dog Training is to focus on creating environments where learning happens naturally or unwanted behaviors can be avoided.
As explained in the ZDT Secrets Comic, using the right tools and equipment is the easiest way to ensure people are successful when training. In fact, from teachers, to therapists, to law enforcement to kindergarten classes, focusing on creating an environment for success is the cornerstone of good instruction, governance, and performance.
When clients are taught how to use the right tools and equipment to optimize the environment for training, they speed up the learning process and make training easier and more effective at the same time.
There are two ways to manage: by controlling the environment to prevent unwanted behaviors, or managing situations to create teachable moments where owners can control the outcome to drill in lessons.
Training is the hard part, because people need to learn how to act in counter-intuitive ways to better communicate with their dog. Getting people to learn a new way to communicate and interact with their dog can be tough!
In many cases, the biggest challenge is teaching people to notice what their dog is doing and remember that allowing unwanted behaviors essentially trains their dog to misbehave. Dog training is often counter-intuitive. Instead of yelling, scolding or giving dogs dirty looks, people need to first understand their dog’s motivation for acting and account for their emotional state (are they scared? excited?) before they decide on the right approach.
Short clear signals like, “Yes” or “Ouch” make it easier for dogs to understand. Most importantly, people must learn to not just give commands, but also, follow through consistently with actions and consequences to ensure their words have power
“If you say something, you must do something.” Zen Dog Training encourages people to take action and reinforce the rules with consistency.
People need to learn how to act and react to their dog in ways that help their dog better understand them. Training requires clear communication. People must notice the behaviors they want to encourage (or stop), and use the right signals, best timing for communication, and to patiently follow through with rewards and consequences.
Training is the biggest category of solutions, and includes the basic principles of:
- How to understand dogs
- How to use positive reinforcement and negative “punishment”
- Teaching commands
- Leash walking and obedience
In addition, our methods include special training plans for:
- Puppy training
- Solving separation anxiety
- Solving demand behaviors like barking and play biting
- Helping dogs with their anxieties and fears
- How to manage and improve dog/dog reactivity
Interrupting unwanted behavior is what differentiates Zen Dog Training from other dog training programs and methods. Beyond positive reinforcement, we teach owners simple and effective ways to stop unwanted behaviors.
Interrupting is the most important technique for solving difficult behaviors. Clients learn how to physically intervene to stop unwanted behaviors without triggering the fight/flight/freeze fear response.
Rather than depending on corrections by startling, scaring, scolding, or punishing dogs, people must learn how to gently and physically stop their dog (without getting angry, aggressive, or mean).
Interrupting is not punishing. At Zen Dog Training we define interrupting as physically stopping an unwanted behavior with as little force as possible, but with as much effort as necessary to ensure the unwanted behavior actually stops.
Interrupting is counter-intuitive
People’s natural response to stopping unwanted behaviors tends to be verbal or based on eye contact. They may want to yell or scold, to punish their dog.
Trying to correct a dog in this way may hurt the dog/human relationship. Since dogs are bonded with their owners, the extra attention dogs get when people yell or get angry (eye contact, scolding, or even poking or grabbing them) can be misunderstood as a reward!
Why? Because when dogs act out and become the center of attention they learn that doing unwanted behaviors gets them attention. Being noticed and getting negative attention for acting out can encourage more unwanted behavior.
Worse, if people choose to correct their dog by physically punishing them, dogs tend to associate the punishment with their owner’s angry face, and not connect the punishment with the action they took. This is due to how dogs learn. They live in the moment and they tend to associate this kind of punishment with their owner, not with the bad behavior.
This means, your dog might learn that people get angry and yell, but not understand why. Therefore, correction-based training is not advised because of the side-effects; triggering the fight/flight response tends to make dogs scared/fearful. Gently and consistently interrupting unwanted behaviors and refocusing is the Zen Dog Training approach.
Beyond Positive Reinforcement
“What you allow your dog to do, you train your dog to do”. This is true because dogs learn based on trial and error. What dogs are allowed to get away with quickly becomes a habit. Ingrained habits are hard to break.
The Zen Dog Way is easy. We encourage people to create situations in their dog’s daily routine that prevent unwanted behaviors, support good behaviors and help teach lessons with as little effort as possible. Training happens when dogs and owners practice enough times to drill in lessons so dogs learn there are consequences for behavior, and become more likely to listen in difficult situations.
When solving unwanted behaviors, clients learn ultimatums and consequences such as, Out of the Pack, or The Last Resort, our proven method for time-outs that can help people create teachable moments.
Once again, the focus is on getting people to set up situations where dogs can be rewarded for good behavior, and gently interrupted for making the wrong decision. When people have the upper hand, repeating lessons and being consistent with rules, boundaries, and follow-through is easier.
Zen Dog Training focuses on helping people understand how dogs learn and see the world, and encourages people to act in ways that help dogs better understand what people want from them.
Understanding the options; managing, training, and interrupting, is the first step to a relationship where people have the tools to train their dogs.
Dog training can be counter-intuitive for many people, due to the way dogs learn (via actions and results; not words), and the natural ways people teach and talk to other people. Our methods ensure people know the best ways to communicate with their dogs so they can train with compassion and mutual understanding.
Training the Zen Dog Way does not depend on a fixed idea of what training should be about. Rather, it is an approach to dog training that is infinitely customizable to the unique needs and ever changing goals of people and their dogs.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” – Lao Tzu