Monday, March 24, 2014

The Best Things In Life Are Free

In December, I read two great books, which I enjoyed for very different reasons: A Grumpy Book by Grumpy Cat and Plenty In Life Is Free by Kathy Sdao. 

Plenty in Life is Free is meant to call into question the dog training philosophy Nothing in Life is Free (often abbreviated NILIF, which I pronounce in my head as "nil if", which made me wonder if PILIF should be pronounced like pilaf?). As Kathy Sdao points out, trainers and veterinarians (Ashley The Vet = guilty!) love to espouse NILIF to get people to take back control of their ill-behaved dogs. She gives a great explanation of the downsides of complete NILIF, although I can’t imagine anyone took my advice that seriously. I was just hoping dogs might learn something if their owners asked for a sit before dinner. Nonetheless, her arguments are solid and her solutions are just as easy to implement. 

I love the straightforward, simple-yet-scientific approach, particularly her concept of SMART. SMART stands for See, Mark, and Reward Training. See your dog doing something you like? Mark the behaviour and give a reward. I've consciously tried to incorporate SMART into my daily life with my dogs (using whatever treats come in our monthly Bark Box), with great success.

For example, I've made a point to reward the dogs on and off for checking in and waiting for me on off leash hikes (called a variable reinforcement schedule). This is actually a throw back to "old fashioned" dog training. When I got my first dog at 9 years old, my grandma told me to keep a bit of food in my pocket and every time the dog came up to me on her own, give her a piece of food. This was how my grandpa taught all his dogs to stick close to him, while farming in the 1940s and 50s. Now, I have to tell Tiki “Go” to send her back out for free time when she constantly checks in, because OMG FOOD!!

If you have any interest in dog training, definitely read Plenty in Life is Free. And before you think that I am some sort of master dog trainer, please note that as I sit writing this in a coffee shop, there are visible bite marks in the bottom left corner of the book, courtesy of whichever one of my dogs grabbed it off the coffee table while I was at work.

Still, it was better than their review of the Grumpy Cat Book...