‘Molding’ Causes Your Pet Discomfort

Dear Flora: 

My name is Betty Beagle, and my guardian is a really good guy.  I gotta say, I don’t know why, but when we are out for a walk, he sometimes places his foot on my back near my tail, pushes down with his foot, and says “Sit, sit, sit!” while he’s doing it! 

Other times he will pull on my leash from my collar to the ground while saying “Down, down, down!” and push between my shoulder blades. I hate these words because I associate them with discomfort and sometimes pain. I’m an old grey-haired Beagle willing and able to learn new tricks, but this just isn’t fun. What does my guardian need to know? 

— Betty Beagle

Ms. Beagle: 
 

It sounds like your guardian is trying to “mold” your behavior.  Molding is a technique that was widely used before luring became popular. Molding is pushing or pulling you into a position and then rewarding you. 

Luring is a fantastic technique for teaching many different obedience commands and body positioning behaviors. Where the head goes, the body will follow! You can quickly learn how to sit and lie down in a couple of quick sessions with a lure, and in a few more sessions you won’t even need the food to lure you into position, because by then you will have learned that the luring motions turn into hand signals and eventually you will understand the words “sit” and “down.” 

The three main reasons why luring is highly preferable to molding are: 

1. Molding is harder on your body and mind, more uncomfortable and stressful. This can lead to slower learning and/or defensive aggression: Hey! Don’t be pushing me around! 

2. You will learn slower because you are forced into position instead of making the decision on your own. 

When a lure is used you become an active participant in learning. Ask your guardian to think of how distracting it is if someone is touching you and moving your body around to teach you something — it makes learning much more difficult because you’re distracted. 

3. It is harder and slower to get you to sit and lie down without the pushing and pulling motions, ‘cause that’s how you were taught, so you’re not used to doing it without them. 

Believe it or not, scientists have made pawsative discoveries about how we learn. I’ll be glad to point out some key items for your guardian to know and learn. As you and I already know, we will do almost anything if we are motivated. 

First, your guardian needs to know what really motivates you. What do you go bonkers over? High-value food like small pieces of cheese, turkey, or chicken are great “session rewards.” We get these special treats when we are in training sessions.

When displaying the behavior that is desired, we immediately get a marker like “Yes!” and a piece of turkey. I’ll do it again and again for that piece of cheese or bit of turkey! 

You see, I’ve learned that I’ll get that super treat each time I do the behavior requested. Food is a primary reinforcement, “Yes!” or “Good dog!” is a secondary reinforcement. 

Here is the really important tid-bit: We don’t understand English, or any other language! Words have no meaning, they are just a bunch of sounds. But, when words are paired with food or a pat, we learn to associate praise with good things. We learn by associations and consequences.

There are four major training methods. To that end, there is no “perfect” method, it all depends on how you learn, and it is important to find the best approach for your learning style. So, here is an abbreviated version of two of the most common training methods. 

Capturing: We get a treat every time the behavior occurs. Your guardian is “catching” the behavior in action. Your guardian needs to be patient, and attentive too. He or she must be ready with a treat for the very moment you display either sitting or lying down and pay you for it on the spot. 

Luring: A treat is used to lure you into a lying down position by having you follow the treat from your nose to the ground. Once you are on the ground, you get that treat! 
Remember, learning should always be fun, and this is a great way to strengthen your canine-guardian relationship by building trust. 

For more pawsitive training techniques, have your guardian contact mine — you’ll both be glad he did. 

Barbara Gallardo is a Certified Dog Trainer Professional from Catch Canine Trainers Academy, A certified dog walker by DOG*TEC in San Francisco, PET CPR & First Aid Certified, and Friends of Alameda Animal Shelter Canine Volunteer. Free training sessions for Canines Adopted from FAAS, all other service fees are donated to FAAS. My guardian adopted me from FAAS and now I am AKC Good Canine Companion-Certified, and I had tons of fun learning!