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Is your dog a left brainer?

Ask yourself this question. When you buy a car do you:

A) Research the model. Read safety reviews. Test drive 3 times over the course of a year. Have family weigh in on the color and stand and stare at the car statically for 40 minutes before finally purchasing.


B) Buy the red one....cause the red is slick. If you identify more with A, you may just be a left brainer! Of course this is an overly simplified test. Remember doing those tests back in school to gauge whether you were left or right brained? You may have seen a chart similar to this:

I remember thinking 'Wow sweet I like art, I like photography, I like the colorful side of this chart...I'm a RIGHT BRAINER HUZZAH!!!' (I especially like the 'I am the sound of roaring laughter' above haha) Later in life, while being taught more about right vs left brain I was asked this question by a wise man (talking to you Jeff Minder) 'Chris, do you see yourself as a left or right brainer?'

I took a deep breath and began to think to myself...'Well I tend to read a lot before I buy things...I was a producer for a long time because of my organization skills...BUT I HATE MATH and majored in photography for crying out loud!' My thoughts drifted out loud before Jeff interrupted me... 'Chris, you just spent the last 30 seconds ANALYZING the question...You are one of the more left brain people I know...'

Here is the thing about left brain/right brain. We are all both. We use both sides to navigate our complex lives but we DO lean more one way over another. Even if you are 51% left 49% right you will analyze situations very differently from someone who is 49% left and 51% right.

I will let you in on a little secret. If you are still reading this blog chances are you are more of a left brainer ;)

Enough about humans though lets talk dog.

Meet Gracie Meet Jake.

Now I had the pleasure of working with Gracie and Jake (and their families) last winter. They both successfully completed a 4 week program with RYP and are both rockstars.

***FUN FACT Coincidentally, these 2 are also next door neighbors that reached out for training independently. The two households now work together to continue their training which is super cool!

Understanding left and right brain functions has been super helpful in my quest to be a better human instructor...but I believe it carries over into the canine realm as well. Take Gracie and Jake for example. Both are fantastic dogs but each learned a bit differently…As a 5-month old high drive lab Jake was essentially a walking stomach that was eager to work. He would generalize concepts very fast. If I told him ‘down’ he would drop down and I could quickly rifle through proofing (adding in distractions) and expand his understanding of the behavior in short order. Gracie, however, required a different approach. She was CONSTANTLY analyzing change in consistency. If the picture of training changed even a tiny amount I had to take an extra beat to clarify and remind her she was doing well.

To give an example – transitioning these dogs off leash progressed like this:

JAKE (right brainer): removed leash and started with short distances and low distraction. Reward. Boom he got it and we moved forward.

GRACIE (left brainer): Clipped leash to treat pouch so the only change was the picture of the leash no longer in my hands. Then we worked with the leash dragging a bit. THEN we began small steps without the leash.

Gracie’s owner and I would laugh during sessions about how analytical she was. She was not being stubborn or aloof at all – she just needed some smaller steps in picture change to make sure she was doing things correctly. I use these 2 dogs as examples of right and left brain because it was fun to have them both in for training at the same time to see the contrast in analysis each offered.

When working your dog, regardless of whether they are more right or left brain, it is important to see them as amazingly perceptive animals. I mean canines are currently being used to:

-Find cancer in patients

-Detect leaks in underground pipelines

-Find dead bodies under water

-Tell owners they are about to have a seizure

-Track lost hikers

-Find bed bugs

-Detect potable water in the backcountry

The list is long.

Just think of how many different communication patterns (knowingly or unknowingly) you present to your dog on a daily basis. If you and your pup are working on maintaining a down stay as guests enter your home be aware that a human’s perception on change and a dog’s can be VERY different. ESPECIALLY with a left brain dog. A person walking through the door is not 1 single change to the dog. You may need to break down that session into tiny steps:


  • Doorbell rings = reward for holding position

  • Door handle jiggles = reward for holding position

  • Door opens = reward for holding position

  • Guest walks 1 step = reward for holding position

  • Guest walks 2 steps = reward for holding position

And so on…

It is all about baby steps Dr Leo Marvin (What About Bob fans will get that reference).

So to all you left brainers that made it to this last paragraph…consider your own dog. Would they buy a car based off color and style? Or would they gather years of market research and grind down the salesman before pulling the trigger. Manage changes in training on a level that is fair for your dog and their particular brain... And for all you left brainer humans (like myself) that may overanalyze consistency in training...wrap your head around this little nugget…Every time you grab the leash a left brained dog may pay attention to the fact that your clothes are different, the lunch you ate today vs yesterday, your current blood pressure, breathing patterns, sweat output etc etc. Complete control over consistency in training is impossible – Just respect the dog’s abilities and be fair with what you ask of them…

…And just do the best you can to minimize inconsistent human F*#k ups :)

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