Restraint – noun
- A device or means for restraining, such as a harness for the body; “please fasten your restraints and put your seat in the upright and locked position”.
- The state of being physically constrained; “the prisoner must be kept under restraint at all times”.
- Discipline in personal and social activities; “he was a model of polite restraint”.
One word, three definitions and two very different meanings.
Two kinds of restraint are important in dog training. To differentiate between them, I’ll refer to the kind of restraint defined in the first two examples above as “restraint” with a small r. This kind of restraint includes behaviors consciously controlled by outside forces. It is a reactive force and it includes management of problem behavior. I’ll refer to the type of restraint defined in the third example as “Restraint” with a capital R. This form of Restraint is an intrinsic value, a way of being and the goal of effective dog training.
We need to use restraint as we raise and train our dogs. Sometimes a young and/or untrained dog has to be kept away from things and situations he’s not yet prepared to deal with. But – mistakenly thinking that they don’t have the time to use everyday situations as training opportunities, many dog owners never move past restraining their dogs to avert misbehavior. This is unfortunate because restraining a dog simply forces him to comply, it doesn’t teach him any real manners.
When we train a dog we need to offer him guidance and information. If your dog is going to learn Proper Restraint, he needs to know what you want him to do. A bit of restraint combined with a healthy dose of patient guidance (involving Restraint on your part) will teach your dog how to make better decisions on his own. Manhandling him won’t.
When you rely too heavily on restraining your dog, it puts you in a reactive instead of proactive situation and makes your dog think that he’s in control of the situation. And if you repeatedly restrain a dog without giving him guidance or release, he’ll become frustrated. This frustration can produce hyperactive or even aggressive behavior – and even if it doesn’t, it certainly isn’t conducive to learning.
So how do we move from restraining our dogs into teaching them Restraint? You probably won’t be surprised to find that the first step is to learn to exhibit it yourself.
When people sign up for my obedience classes they typically show up with a vague idea that the class will be a sort of doggy social hour. They expect to let their dogs play together and seem to have almost uncontrollable urges to pet and fuss over each other’s dogs. Because they haven’t learned Proper Restraint, their focus is on the other dogs and people in the room, not on their relationship with their own dog. Some of them are offended when I explain that I enforce strict rules that prohibit them from letting their dogs so much as sniff at each other and forbid them from touching or talking to any dog but their own without my permission.
Despite much human whining, I maintain these rules because I’ve found that when I restrain the owners from engaging in these kinds of distracting behaviors they learn to focus on their own dogs and begin acquire a sense of Restraint. This not only sets them up to be more successful handlers, it sends their dogs the first steps down the road to acquiring a sense of Restraint as well.
Moving from being reined in by restraint to earning the liberties that come with a well-developed sense of Restraint is a vital part of growing up. As dog owners we start out with a puppy or newly adopted dog that is, in many ways, a blank slate. At this point in our relationship much restraint is necessary to keep the dog and his surroundings safe. It’s also a time when we need to exhibit a lot of Restraint because our dogs are more likely to frustrate us since they don’t yet know the rules. As we move forward in the relationship, our dogs should begin to exhibit more Restraint and need less restraint. In a healthy training relationship our dogs earn liberties – and those liberties are far more satisfying to them than any treats ever made.
Effective training teaches your dog to use his mind to solve problems. Effective training doesn’t shackle or browbeat a dog; it frees him by providing him with a moral compass to navigate this strange human world — and it’s the most wonderful gift you can give him.