While watching the World Series I’m realizing just how intricate the game of baseball actually is. It’s a delicate balance of physical skill, timing, and strategy. How different is dog training really? Sometimes, a lot, sometimes it’s a pretty good metaphor. So humor me, and perhaps this will help you to make some associations that make sense to you.
In baseball, you have to be able to throw a ball, hit a ball with a bat, catch a ball, and run short distances, among many other physical activities to play the game. Physically, when training a dog, you have to hold onto a leash, go for a walk, and play with your dog at the very minimum. There are plenty of humane tools (Front Clip Harnesses, Head Halters, fences, baby gates, etc.) that make it a possibility for anyone to do the basics. These physical basics help your dog maintain physical and psychological health. Okay, so both can be physically demanding although dog training can be “modified” so just about anyone can do it.
Timing in baseball is more important than it initially appears. When the ball is released during a pitch, is the difference between a strike, a foul ball, and a homerun. When training your dog the timing of the click can be the difference between getting a sit or a down. Timing can also be the difference between getting a calm quiet dog in a crate and a dog that barks and whines to be let out. The nice thing about dog training and positive reinforcement is that if you make a mistake, you get a second chance. Baseball is much less forgiving when it comes to giving up home runs or strikes.
Now we come to strategy. In baseball, pitchers manage the hitters, sometimes allowing them to walk when they suspect the hitter will get a home run, and watching the runners on bases to prevent them from stealing bases. The amount of communication on the field is amazing. Communication thru verbal methods as well as hand signals galore. Everyone knows their role and they are constantly moving to cover each other’s backside (although they always appear stationary to me, until the ball is hit that is).
Strategy in dog training is just as important. Depending on each dog you need to have a plan before any training session, before any walk, or anytime someone comes over the house. Is your dog friendly, overly friendly, insecure, reactive, or dangerous? If you want your dog to greet people at the door calmly, without barking perhaps a management strategy (put your dog outside, in a crate, or in a back room when people come to the door) while you train your dog to relax on a mat until released in training sessions. Real life settings are often not good times to start training your dog, instead practice, practice, practice and when you know your dog has the skills to perform then apply it to real life. After all you wouldn’t expect a 5 year old to play in the World Series, he needs time to develop his skills and to learn about timing and strategy.
Anticipation. Anticipation is a huge part of strategy. Hitters don’t hit balls because they are fast enough, they can hit balls because they read the pitcher’s movements and anticipate how fast the ball is coming and where the ball will cross the plate. Fielders try to anticipate where a hitter will hit the ball, where a bounce might take the ball, and if the runners on base will try to steal a base or if they’ll play it safe. When I walk my dog, even though she is not reactive (other loose dogs might be), I watch for open garage doors, open gates to backyards, open front doors, heck I even look for open car doors. I watch people walking their dogs. Is their dog on a fixed leash or a flexi lead? Do they have control of the dog or is the dog pulling them across the street? Is their dog on a front clip harness, head halter, flat collar, or is the dog wearing a choke chain, prong collar, or electric collar? (Dogs that wear aversive training tools tend to appear suddenly aggressive because they have no warning signs.) You can also anticipate what your dog will do when you are gone. Do they eat your shoes? Pick up your shoes and put them behind a closed door or use a crate or confine your dog to a single room until they can be trusted. Perhaps you know your dog will need to go to the bathroom after they eat. You can anticipate this need and take them outside to relieve themselves. So take some time to observe your dog and the things you like and don’t like. Good observation skills will help you to anticipate the good behaviors to reinforce and the bad behaviors so you can redirect or prevent them.
So is dog training really like baseball? Yes and no… Ultimately, dog training is like a lot of things in our lives because the same basic rules of psychology that apply to us apply to our dogs as well. Enjoy the world series!