Flashback Friday: Corrections, Play, and Remembering the End

Original Post Date: 6/3/2009

I never thought I’d hear someone tell me that I was too soft a disciplinarian. Most of my life I’ve been told I’m too harsh, too sharp, too hard on people. But what I’m hearing from Brian right now is that my corrections are wimpy.

What is a correction? It’s my response to Prada misbehaving. I don’t punish her, I correct the behavior. I really like the way TSE teaches pack discipline. It’s a 3-step process of gradually escalating from a verbal correction to more physical ones. But the ultimate goal is not to punish the dog but draw its attention away from unwanted behavior and reward focus on good behavior.

Step #1: Pfui!

“Pfui” is a German word that means roughly “not good.” TSE prefers to use it instead of “no” or “bad dog” because those words are used commonly in conversation (well, maybe “bad dog” isn’t quite as common, but it can give onlookers the impression of aggression, and TSE really cares about that. See this post).

So, if you encounter a TSE graduate whose dog has thrust its nose toward an unsuspecting trash can, stolen a kiss from. A passer-by, or zeroed in on a feline intruder you’ll hear them his, say, or shout “pfui!” (pronounced “fwee.”) I use the elongated ‘phooey” when describing this in conversation so Prada won’t think she’s in trouble.

Ideally, “pfui” should be issued in a sharp, commanding tone of voice. It’s the verbal equivalent of a Gibbs smack, primarily designed to get the dog’s attention. In theory, the dog will snap back to what it’s supposed to be doing, at which point it receives praise, pets, and sometimes even treats. But sometimes that trash can is just too tempting…

Step #2: The Leash Correction

The most important part of this is dropping the harness handle – without dropping the leash. The harness is NOT for correction. It is for guide work, and should NEVER be associated with anything negative if at all possible. So, if Juno just can’t get her mind off that cat preening itself up on the porch, drop the handle but keep the leash firmly in your grip.

Then jerk straight backward on the leash.

Honestly, the physics of this gesture never made sense to me. The human arm isn’t meant to travel at speed with power backward with the point of motion being the elbow. Given that the neck muscles are a dog’s strongest muscle group, this hardly seems unlikely to produce enough force to catch a distracted dog’s attention. I’ve tried different alignments of my arm relative to my body, stepping back with the gesture versus standing fast, and still it seems a weak way to move.

Yet the technique has worked for thousands of graduates and trainers over the decades. And, in theory, I’m doing it right and applying plenty of force. I did very well correcting a fake dog, and Brian said he didn’t see that I’d done anything different between using the fake dog and working with Prada.

Yet Prada still doesn’t respect my leash corrections. I’ve had to escalate to a consistent use of the two-handed leash correction to get her nose on the job…

Step #3: The Two-Handed Leash correction

It’s the same as the one above, but uses two hands to apply additional force. Again, the force is applied in a single instant. It is not a pulling motion, but a single jerk. The momentary shock of sudden pressure on the neck muscles is supposed to break the dog’s mind loose from its fixation. Sometimes the dog is physically yanked backwards, but the trainers assure us that the school’s done its research. This does not injure the dogs. And, they have thousands of happy, healthy  working pairs to point to as evidence…

I have long since suspected that my corrections back then were sufficient, that it was my unstable energy Prada rejected rather than my adequate back-swing. I worried every second of every minute of every hour of every day during training, and most of our partnership, that I would do something wrong, was doing something wrong, and would ruin our bond. I could project commanding energy when giving a command, but the minute I let the projection go all that Prada had left was me anxiously exuding, “do you love me? Am I enough?”

Why indeed? I couldn’t think of a reason at the time. I could project confidence and command all day if I had to, but the moment I let my intention go my façade slipped. All that remained was…me. Everyone else seemed to be doing just fine, and I did everything they were doing but for some reason it just wasn’t enough. As usual…

I still use this 3-step escalation process with Greta, but I’m a lot more focused on catching her when she’s about to be distracted and encouraging her to resist, or to break her attention away of her own volition. See This post for further details.

It was around this time I finally figured out how Prada liked to play. She loves to wrestle,. She loves to fight my hand with gentled jaws and flailing paws, pouncing and springing and snarling with delight. The enthusiastic energy pouring off of her ignites my own desire to fling propriety into the wind and give in to a more primal bond. My wrist now has tiny dents from where she held me with restrained grip (she never broke skin) and it’s sore and bruised, but the pain is worth the pleasure of being puppies with her.

I had grander plans for this post than what you see tonight. I had video and photos and a long history of play-styles, centering around an oven mitt. I wrote the first half of this post weeks ago, and thought it would be easy to just touch up for tonight.

Then I realized it was February 4th. It’s the 6th anniversary of Prada’s death. I’d been feeling depressed all week, and now I know it’s because I’d been unconsciously anticipating a resurgence of grief.

That pretty much took the wind out of my sails. You’ll get cool videos and cute photos another night. I’m going to go hug Greta and eat chocolate. Your favorite blindfluencer needs some self-care, and recommends the same to you.

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