Not too long ago, I was asked about a specific bit of training. The questioner posed in very jargonistic terms, "So what you're saying is that you are free shaping that behavior?".
I was taken aback, and had to pause a bit to explain my instant response of "No, that's not what I mean at all!" I had to examine why I find such jargon so off-putting and, most importantly, inaccurate.
Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that I think more along these lines: the dog is a complex, sentient being making choices. I also recognize that just like us, at times a dog may be out of options and needing help. My role is to offer new choices that I know will work to the dog's benefit, that offer him comfort and certainly provide him with new options and coping strategies which his behavior clearly says he needs.
More than anything, I think in terms of responding to the dog, that moment, and the place I'd like to help the dog find where he can regain or maintain his balance (whatever that means for that dog, whatever is possible at that moment, in that situation.) I'm constantly assessing, second by second, whether or not what is happening is moving that dog toward balance. If not, then it's time to change something.
I'm really all about the conversation, the communication, the relationship, the social interaction. I'm interested in the handler truly being there for the dog and with the dog, and in the dog truly being aware of the handler, truly with the handler - and willingly including the handler in a shared moment because the dog chooses to.
Because it works for him on so many levels far past a food treat or "reinforcement" (such a cold word). Because above all, a dog is a highly social animal, a creature of relationships that define his world.
These words I choose to describe how and why I do with dogs are chosen with great intent. For me, this goes way past mere technicalities or jargon and right into the heart of the often unspoken but nonetheless real and present aspects of our relationships.
Quantum physics keeps showing us that intent is truly a powerful force, thus I try to choose my words carefully in trying to maintain in my descriptions the fullness of my intent when I am working with a dog.
Granted, my attitude often upsets, annoys or even outrages those purists of operant conditioning who shudder at the thought of guessing at a dog's motivation, or at the thought of animals as emotional beings, or those who reject anthropomorphism even when objectively applied with a solid feedback loop that never fails to ask the animal "Is this true for you?".
Fascinating to me how labels and jargon can box us in and befuddle us even as we try to use them to classify and clarify. Unfortunate that we are sometimes afraid to speak in ways that echo what our hearts have to say.