Amazing Analogies To Support Your Dog
Amazing Analogies To Support Your Dog

Amazing Analogies To Support Your Dog

When it comes to understanding this “new”* way of dog training, one where we are guardians of the dog rather than it’s owner, one where we ask for behaviours rather than give commands, one where we assume the dog is doing it’s best with the tools they have in any given moment, and one where we believe in reinforcing good behaviours rather than punish the bad ones…. Sometimes things are just easier to understand when there is an analogy to help it make sense. 

*Also, it’s not really “new”… It goes back almost 100 years ago, to B.F. Skinner’s research in the 1930’s and 1940’s. it’s just becoming more accepted and promoted as we get more science and studies to back it and prove it’s best for our pups. To see some of these sources, refer to our resources page.

Amazing Analogies

There are many fantastic groups on Facebook for like minded people, and in one of these groups, someone asked the question “What’s your favorite analogy to share with clients when it comes to training concepts or processes?”

Some of the comments were too good not to share, so with permission (and a link to the original post, which is public), I’m going to share some of the amazing analogies here!

** This one is Your Happy Dog Coach’s Favorite! **
“When I talk to a client about the power of reinforcement and relationship building, specially when they don’t want to treat the dog because the dog “should know how”. I ask them…
  • “If a stranger on the street came up and asked you to wash their car, would you?”
  • They always say “no”
  • “What if they paid you a thousand dollars?”
  • They smile and say “yes”
So here we talk about how it’s clearly a motivation issue and not a “not knowing how” issue, but what would happen if…
  • “Our fond elderly friend or family member asked them for help washing their car?”
  • They always smile and agree they would do it without payment
So here we discuss how the dog might “know how to sit”, but if he is not motivated by payment or by the bond of their relationship, it shows.
Cooperation will always be better than compliance.

For e-collars that are “nice” cause they don’t “shock them” or “only vibrate.”

Your 4 year old is terrified of the dark and wakes up screaming in fear. You go in and shake the bed like there’s an earthquake (or scream in her ear for the beep or spray sulfur in the room for citronella squirts). You’ve done nothing to allay the child’s fears but you’ve guarn-damned-teed the child won’t ever talk to you about them again.”

“I like the “pairing scary monsters” analogy of: going to a job interview in the city.
It’s on the 5th floor of a high rise.
You get into the elevator on the 1st floor, and on the second floor a stranger gets in, touches your arm, and leaves.
This happens until you get to the 5th floor – how do you feel by then?

Now consider the same situation- but the stranger gets into the elevator, touches your arm, hands you $100, and leaves.
Next floor, same thing.
How do you feel about this scenario by the 5th floor?

*In greater detail*
…so you are on an elevator on your way to a job interview.
(A situation where you are most likely on High alert to begin with- so comparatively, maybe the park, a walk, etc)
The Stranger is a “scary monster” (so whatever the dog is afraid of, for example: dogs, humans, bicycles, kids etc.)
Teaching the dog that scary monsters = something great. (High value reward.) *This is not at all contingent on their behavior.*
It helps pet family understand we are not “rewarding them for losing their minds” we are “pairing” to change how the dog feels (as it would likely change how you feel if people kept coming into the elevator and giving you 100).”

Self-reinforcing emotionally-driven behaviors– compare them to human coping addictions like nail biting or smoking. Phrase them as addictive habits, not individual mindful choices.
Tell me to stop and cool, I’m on board for a couple of days, but the behaviors still pop up when I’m stressed and not paying attention, or when I’m in tricky situations. 
But paint my nails bright colors and give me a cinnamon stick to chew on and praise how pretty the long nails are, and invite me out for tons of activities with non-smokers in non-smoking areas, and give me a nicotine patch and the habit lessens over time. 
What you *don’t* do is stress me out and then leave me alone in a room with a pack of unattended cigarettes.
“I reference all of the normal behaviours that owners want to change (digging, jumping up, etc etc) as ‘right handed behaviours’ (once I confirm if the client is right handed). We need incentive to change from being right handed to left handed.
‘You are right handed, you pick up the pen with your right hand naturally. You go to work on Monday and your boss calls you in to their office to tell you that your role has changed and you now have different responsibilities, and also that all employees now needed to be left handed.
You’re not getting paid any extra money for the new responsibilities nor for needing to become left handed, you should want to do it because you enjoy working for the company and you like your job. How do you feel?
Would your feelings change if someone were paid to stand at your desk and for every single word you write with your left hand, they praise you and place $1 on your desk.
Now how do you feel?’
I go into a little more detail depending on the client but you get the idea. Most people get it quite quickly and obviously I change left / right handed depending on the persons preferred hand.”
“Us talking to our dogs, all they hear is Charlie Brown‘s teacher until we teach them what certain words mean.
Also, reaching out to a dog that is scared, or nervous, is like if you were afraid of spiders and someone came out you, arms extended, holding a tarantula. You’d probably react a certain way too.”
I use an Indiana Jones analogy to explain why forcing a dog to endure/”power through” something it finds scary will NOT magically make the fear go away.
I ask clients if they’re fans of Indiana Jones movies. Even if they’re not big fans, they’ll generally say they’re familiar. So then I ask, “Ok, what is Indiana Jones afraid of?” And usually, sometimes after a little prompting, they can get to snakes … as in he always says “Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?!”
From there, I’ll remind them that in every movie, Indiana Jones is exposed to snakes in a horrifying and uncontrolled way. And guess what? He NEVER gets over his fear of snakes!
I explain that it’s the same with dogs. You can’t just force a dog to power through something that it finds uncomfortable or scary and expect that next time, they’ll just magically feel better about it. There are ways to help dogs change their emotional responses to scary things, but that repeatedly forcing them to endure that scary thing and not allowing them to get themselves away from that situation can actually make the fear much worse.
I then suggest that if Indiana Jones had been able to have slow, controlled introductions to snakes paired with lots of positive reinforcement for just doing little things like looking at them, he might have realized that not all snakes are scary and that he can exist alongside them without always having to be on high alert. And if you’re going to help a dog change their emotional response to a scary thing, that’s how you have to do it. You can’t just be like “IF YOU DON’T START TO LIKE THIS THING YOU FIND TERRIFYING, I’M GOING TO KEEP MAKING YOU ENDURE THE THING YOU FIND TERRIFYING!”
The one I loved using and got a great response was actually in a puppy class. There was a parent who is a psychiatrist so believed (and told me) that this was all beneath her because she knew behaviour this was just for her children (who were present)
She did the whole “say the cue 10 times getting louder and angrier but not giving the puppy any other information” because “he knows what I want”.
So I asked what languages she knows, and she replied, so I said “did you know all of that language when you started?”
Then asked to play a game.
I started saying a word in French, over and over and over. “But you should know it, I’ve said it many times. I even said it louder”
Then I went over, pulled out a chair, gestured to her and then to it and repeated the same word in a calm tone. She and the class did the “Ahhhh” realization  moment
“See, I can yell sit at you in French as much as I like, it’s just going to make you frustrated, like me less and you’re still never going to understand what that means… until I show you. That’s the same with our dogs. Help them learn!

“Training in the situation / over threshold is like trying to teach someone to swim in the deep end , they are too busy trying to stay afloat and survive whilst being terrified to learn any of the skills you are trying to teach, you learn better in the shallow end with someone you trust supporting you , you can then transition down the pool towards the deep end but if you have a fright or a set back you need to go back to the shallow end to practice again … also you don’t learn maths in a math test!”

“Yelling at/punishing a puppy/dog for eating something they shouldn’t or chewing on something they shouldn’t and then not giving them a more acceptable substitute is like us staying in a house where we don’t speak the same language as anyone else and getting yelled at for eating off of the wrong dishes because we don’t know how to find the correct ones.

Of course we’d keep messing up and getting yelled at if that happened. And how simple would it be to fix the problem if instead of yelling someone would just show us the correct dishes to use?”
“I have a game I play with them. It’s to show them how useless “NO” is. I tell them I have a behaviour in mind but they will only get “no” or “yes” as they try to work it out.
Normally they get frustrated fast. They we try again with shaping and positive reinforcement. It’s changed so many peoples minds.”
One of the best sayings that’s stuck with me in my long and sometimes frustrating journey with an anxious and reactive pup is that “they’re not trying to give you a hard time, they’re having a hard time”.

It really helps shift perspective from thinking “oh this is a naughty dog and they’re misbehaving” to “how can I help support this creature that’s struggling in this scenario”

“About how much freedom you give to a dog that is in process of learning:

You wouldn’t give a teenager with a new driving license you Porsche keys and say have fun. They have to prove they are ready for that kind or responsibility, with making good choices. I think it comes from Susan Garrett.
Another one about arousal states – you have your PJs on or your disco pants. I heard it at Absolute Dogs.”

Punishing their behavior is like putting a bandaid on an infection. It’ll cover up the sight for a while, but the underlying cause isn’t being treated and, can often get worse.

Expecting them to do things just for praise/pets, is like you going to work just to get a good word or high five from your boss.

Emotions aren’t under their control to punish or reward.
It would be like telling you to knock it off when you’re grieving losing someone.

Expecting a dog to be able to follow obedience when emotionally overwrought is like asking you to do fractions when you’re being held up by a mugger.

They don’t generalize like humans do.
You can understand a new language outside, in another country, or while reading.
A dog can usually understand a new concept in only the classroom, and only exactly how it was taught.
“Extinction burst is mine….
Go to work every day, pop a dollar in the soda machine, get your pop.
One day it doesn’t work. Nothing happens. What do you do?
Yep. And some people toss the machine out the window 😉
It’s good for a laugh.”
“My go-to analogy for the training regression that comes with the teen years is:
Think of the dog’s brain as a major 5-6 lane highway. In the beginning all cuing, learning, retention is good just like a good flow of traffic. Then you hit major highway construction (7months-1 1/2 years ish) and now traffic is super backed up and slow (the regression) but once construction is completed, traffic returns to normal (adulthood)
Stay consistent and get through the traffic jam and then the dog training is smooth sailing then on out.”

“…  interesting! I have a different take on adolescence, but I love the analogy!”

“My take was to bridge the understanding of why training regression is a normal phase during their hormonal maturing period, so they understood why training seems more difficult to complete or “my dog used to d X cue so well and now they seem to have forgotten!” It’s not forgotten, there’s just a lot more mental construction going on and a new blossoming open world instead of just owner and house to focus on 🥴

“Yes, plus they are also hard wired to explore and adventure and, to some extent, form (break) new social bonds at this time.”

“I liken the adolescent brain to a disorganised filing cabinet. The behaviours you began filing away with your puppy have all been shaken up and chucked around, so the files are still there, but you may need to help them look for it, or even start again and write a new one because they can’t access it right now.”

“I explain going over threshold / spiking cortisol levels / providing appropriate time for reset and recovery to baseline to humans getting heat stroke… what that continuous escalation cycle does to the body if not allowed appropriate reprieve.
You get it once and you’re more susceptible to heat injuries happening in the future – at a lower threshold and with more intensity. It’s something you will always have to manage and monitor for, and can creep up on you.
Helps people understand stacking and that their dogs sometimes need a good 24-72 hour recovery period after a stressful or arousing event.”

“Oh, I have one for that too!

Wake up, missed alarm. Rush to the bathroom to get ready, stub your toe. Prepare your breakfast and the milk/creamer is spoiled. Long line at the coffee shop, stopped at every light, got cut off and now late for work.
Arrive 15 minutes late a meeting was moved from the afternoon to first thing. How prepared are you to go into this meeting? What is the rest of your day and week like?
Then the weekends are not enough to recover and you need a week vacation, just to get back to normal.
But! If you had paused when waking up late and taken a breath and sorted out your day, you would have not stubbed your toe, might have checked the milk before putting it in your coffee, realized you had a meeting moved and called your assistant/coworker to grab you a coffee and managed to arrive on time. Now how is your day?”


That was a lot, eh!
But they help things make sense, don’t they?

If you have any to add, I’d love to hear them!
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