Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Home2K9 Helpful Hint: Contrast.

We learn by experiencing contrast. We don't understand hot without cold, light without dark, or that something is good if we haven't experienced the bad. Contrast frequently comes in the form of consequences, showing us how certain choices produce desirable results (ie: $, stability, happiness, friendship, job success...) while other choices do not (loss of $, instability, loneliness, strife...). 

For our canine pals in the wild, the contrasting results of good and bad choices can effect basics such as food, shelter, or socializing, but are frequently about life and death. Dogs in their natural environment THRIVE on clear and consistent contrast, especially when learning how to be balanced, calm, and safe. A curious puppy for example, who sticks his nose in a snake hole, and receives a startling and potentially HOT bite, learns clearly about where not to stick his nose in the future. Puppy will very likely learn in that one contrasting moment (above ground = good, below ground = bad) to avoid snake holes all together, forever. Through the snake, a consequence, and not a sweet or passive negotiation, takes place with black and white clarity. Our wild little puppy brain says "got it, stay out of holes that smell like that one." 

We can be so much more fair to the natural learning process of our dogs, if we offer contrast clearly and consistently, placing an equally steadfast "do not enter" in conjunction with bad behavior, as we assign "yes, you may" to good. Tell them when they choose correctly, and tell them when they do not. If you never give clear/firm/nonnegotiable feedback about the "no's" in their world, then EVERYTHING is fair game, and there is literal danger in that. If anything is possible and nothing is off limits there's a LOT of arousal and excitement to combat, it's hard for any dog to relax and feel balanced without the clear boundaries and consequences they crave. 

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