Since Hans passed, it seems that nearly everything in my life has changed.  So many changes that they just weren’t processing in my head.  I wasn’t quite sure how I would ever get around all of them…

First, we’ve finally made our much desired move back to my favorite place in the entire world, Northern Michigan.  I’ve joined a wonderful Boarding /Training facility there, called Paws and Claws, and it already feels like home.  CarolAnn has joined me in working there as well, and that’s a unique pleasure.  Many other changes have taken place in living arrangements, our regular worship, different friends, new friends, new challenges…But Hansie’s death still hangs over me, like a wet blanket.  He’s not where he belongs.  He’s not where I need him.  Mostly, I realized, he’s not where I want him.  But there’s nothing that I can do about it.

The curative power of place seems to help.  A couple of days ago, I awoke early, even for me, an avowed morning bird.  There was only twilight, sprinkled with birdsong, as I dressed to walk into the morning.  I had slept lightly, the world whirling in my brain most of the night.  I don’t know what was moving me to walk, but here I was.  As I walked to door, I saw Hansie’s leash hanging in it’s place, a black mark on the wall behind it from constant rubbing against the drywall.  It hadn’t been touched since his interment in the glade where I put him to his rest.  Somehow, this morning, it seemed to call to me.  I took it down, put the loop over my hand, and went out the door.  Just me and a leash that was firmly attached to eight years of intense memories.

The path thru the pine forest is well worn, pungent with earthy smells, and alive with bird calls.  Hans would be here, nose to the ground in a better world, a world where he was still alive.  But that is not to be, and I feel diminished.

I sense that it’s time to move ahead  with life. For the time being, I’ll give Holly, our other German Shepherd, more attention, and there are lots of other dogs at work to focus on.  Our return home has had the positive effect of rejuvenation on me though…Out of the city environment, away from the traffic and grayish brown air, there’s a new enthusiasm for…WEll, just everything.  My work at Paws and Claws is actually fun, and I feel motivated to do my work again.  Our circle of friends has grown as well, and our circle of old friends has taken on added importance.

Still, I hold an empty black leash in my hand.  I have decided to hang it in a our new home on a peg with the other leashes.  Will I attach it to a new puppy anytime soon,?  Or should it become a memory that stays where it always belonged?  I haven’t answererd that question yet…But I have finally come to terms with the world as it now is for us.  I’m glad to be home, happy to be alive, and once again feeling like writing.  Life goes forward, and I’m ready to move with it.

Thank you Hans, my dear friend.  You will always be on your leash at my side…

Effective care of Paws…

Posted: May 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

Source: Effective care of Paws…

The dog training world goes thru waves of adjustment on a continual basis. One week, everybody is fighting over technique or method and which is “The Best”. Or which is “Science” and which is the complete opposite. You can’t put 3 dog trainers together on Facebook, or a chatroom, or Instagram without starting a veritable war of words. It’s taken me time to gain experience, training, and observation to finally figure out what’s really important to be a dog trainer. I consider this hard won and well earned knowledge. And when I reflect on my own work, I can identify six qualities that make it possible. They have nothing to do with training method, types of tools used, or being a natural-born trainer. Most individuals are capable of cultivating these qualities, with just a little thought. And maybe just a bit of personal introspection. It seems to me that these qualities apply to a great many human pursuits, take your choice, but I am applying them to dog trainers. These traits, when applied by more of us, would lessen, if not eliminate the atmosphere of the dog training community at large. Let’s face it, we are frequently less than welcoming, egotistical, and sometimes just downright mean. Not ALL of us, but still too many. But I don’t need to describe the Dog-Training industry in all of its less than professional behaviors. You already see it clearly yourself. Even the dogs know the best from the worst…Especially, do the dogs know.


Above all else, a Dog Trainer must possess 5 qualities.  Patience, Kindness Persistence, Reasoning Ability, Excellence in Communication, and Humility.


There is much more to training dogs than pure technique. These qualities will also make us better people.  And after the last year or so, our society needs better people of every stripe.

As individual trainers, it should be safe to assume that we have all raised dogs of our own. (If you haven’t, then it is impossible to call yourself a “trainer”.) You’ve enjoyed successes, and failures with your dog. You have learned the eccentricities and personality of “Your” dog. You have seen your dogs personality and temperament, and learned to adjust his training, (or lack thereof) to that set of variables. You have spent many hours with your dog, working, playing, relaxing, traveling, and just “being with” your dog. Without concentrating on it, you have developed a “Relationship” with your dog. Without “relationship”, neither you or your dog will be truly happy or fulfilled. This important fact must be taught to every student that you work through your program. That begs the question, “How do I teach my students HOW to build a relationship with their dog?”

The 6 qualities above are the foundation. We do not consider them as a “Secret” formula that creates a good dog. They do not “anthropomorphize” the dog, (Treating it as a human being). They DO allow a dogs willingness to learn and comply with us, to fully blossom. They do allow for us to provide discipline to our dogs. Discipline that makes many useful behaviors possible. Let’s discuss each quality individually, and learn how each is vital to practice.



No dog is perfect. They are a living beings with drives and motivations uniquely their own. Never expect a dog to perfectly obey all the time. When the dog doesn’t perform as you want, consider what outside influence may be affecting the dog at the moment. Do not yell at the dog, as this is simply ineffective at best. Never hit a dog with hand or stick, out of anger. This builds distrust. And this is not how discipline works in a dog’s mind. Failure to obey on a dogs’ part is usually the fault of you, the trainer. The dog may not understand the meaning of your command yet. There might be other factors. LOOK for them, and see things from the dogs standpoint. Adjust your technique according to the needs of the dog in front of you. They are individuals with unique needs.

Patience is also important to demonstrate with your human student. Some people will understand your direction with ease. Others will take longer to understand, and imitate your example. Some of them might even disagree with your method. Be patient and prove yourself by showing success with their dog. There are many examples of this that can be cited. During a Scentwork class, a certain dog owner was adamantly opposed to any sort of “Clicker Training”. The masterful trainer that was teaching the seminar, patiently demonstrated the Why and How of using his technique, demonstrated the mechanics involved, and by the completion of the class had won over the gentleman. As trainers, we will always find that people are more difficult to train than dogs. Humans have the attributes of Opinion, Bias, and Ego. Dogs are not burdened with these “higher functions”. But people are, including yourself as the trainer. Be Patient, Be skillful with your technique, and convince quietly.




This is basic Human behavior 101 for anybody. Humans AND Dogs. Any need of bullet pointing features of “How to be Kind” would be an unnecessary burden. And maybe even boring to you. And the techniques are surprisingly similar between people and dogs. Ask yourself these questions: Does this action help and encourage the dog/person? Does this action demonstrate the needed behavior clearly? Will the dog/student leave my class anxious to continue training with me? Will my actions cause my student to enthusiastically recommend my services as a trainer to other people? Does the student feel free to ask me questions, or even question my method in a reasonable manner? Does my customer feel that my fee was money well spent? How do the dogs respond to my approach?



Failures are inevitable. Either with a dog, or a student. Nothing and No One is perfect. How you handle failure or disappointment is the true indicator of being a Good Trainer. Never give up, especially if the problem is a human being. You will eventually encounter a human being that will try to convince you that you are a terrible trainer. This person will also try to convince other people that you are a terrible trainer. That’s the nature of this business, and many others. Learn, Practice, Train, Observe, and Convince yourself that you are doing good work. Be willing to forge ahead, while being humble enough to know that there’s always something to learn from someone else. But also work on being convinced of your method as a successful method.

You will eventually encounter a Dog that refuses to respond to you. It might be a personality clash. It might be a technique that doesn’t quite fit the dog in question. Persistence demands that you try a different technique. Which might require more effort on your part. If it’s a personality conflict, then persistence might require that you promote the dogs success by passing the dog along to a different trainer. That requires humility, but demonstrates that you want the dog and trainer to be successful. You are Persistent in making your customer successful by whatever method necessary. Dogs are a terrific example in the art of persistence. If something doesn’t work for a dog, in gaining what it wants, it will continue to try other methods. They waste no time in repeating methods that don’t work. They have no EGO that controls them from trying something different.


Reasoning Ability:

As a dog trainer, there is great value in just STOPPING. Think about things without the burden of having a decision that needs to be made NOW. We can all benefit from systematically solving problems, and celebrating our successes. An unreasonable person focuses on the negative. A reasonable person finds something positive in each day that bolsters our enthusiasm for our work, and indeed, our life. When a problem presents itself, and it will, reason your way through it. Stop, make a list of possible solutions, make a list of people that might be able to help you solve the problem, make a list of why this problem needs to be addressed, or reasons why you can ignore it as unimportant. Train yourself to react to everything in a controlled way. Ways that don’t make the problem even worse. Be systematic with your difficulties in training, running a business, or dealing with people.



Excellence In Communication:

Most failure has roots in poor, or at least unclear, communication. A dog that doesn’t obey a command doesn’t have a full understanding of the command. Or hasn’t had the consequences of disobeying the command clearly communicated. People are much the same. When they don’t follow our lesson properly, we may be lacking in clearly teaching it. Communication that works successfully requires us to “Think on our Feet” at times. If the student (dog OR human) isn’t getting it, change the communication to fit the student. You will be required to figure out the “why” of the problem. Don’t let a dedication to a particular method stunt your appraisal. Be willing, and capable of learning an alternative if it seems more effective. You might be lead toward something entirely foreign to your current methodology, and that should be acceptable to a real trainer. Above all, take the time to observe, question, listen, and ask someone for help if you can’t solve a problem. Every successful trainer, every famous trainer, has been in that position. Every one of them used their power of communication to move forward. They were then capable of communicating more clearly with their students/client.



Humility used to be a prized possession. It was an admired quality, a gold-standard of how a person was viewed by others. Human society, fueled by bad influences from powerful forces, tends to evolve in what is and isn’t acceptable. The attitudes of media and political figures has degenerated into an egotistical, self-aggrandizing, circus of “Me-First” and “I’m the Greatest____________ in the World.” Today, humility gets you pushed aside by the more aggressive, domineering, and self-absorbed individual. When we should ask, “How can I improve myself?” we tend to find justification for believing that we are special and therefore superior to that trainer. A lack of humility may not affect the dogs you are training at all. (Though it can.) But it most assuredly affects the people we train, the trainers we work with, our employees, our employers, and the training community in general. If you can learn and practice humility, you will find that you will collect the very best trainers and people to your side. They will help you, and you will help them. Our profession will be much improved, and pleasant to be associated with, if not society in general. Personally, I have four individual trainers of my association, that have shown me the value of Humility. Each of them is a far better, more experienced trainer than myself. But each of them has allowed me to stand by their side and learn without feeling lesser of myself. As I gain experience, I know that I will also demonstrate this towards those that I may influence in whatever small way.




I hope you find some value in what I’ve written here. In what is now my tenth year of working with dogs full-time, I now feel that this has come full circle back to me. I have been blessed to meet many outstanding people while learning and growing personally. In many ways, this post has been the longest in coming to fruition. It has quite truly taken me 30 years to write this piece. That long to absorb, observe, and finally accept much of what I’ve written. I’ve seen the Best and the Worst of this industry, and a couple of others as well. So many stories that need to be told, so many that should never see the light of day. In order to honor my mentors, carry on their example, I need to light my own torch, raise my own banner into the wind. We should all attempt to put our best foot forward everyday, and I sometimes despair that the world has lost any interest in this simple task. My small, perhaps insignificant, contribution to this noble responsibility may sway or convince no one. But I’m doing it anyway, because I can. And should.


Just as a sailboat needs wind to drive it forward, your dog needs motivation. Much discussion of “drives” takes place across the spectrum of canine training. What motivates a dog to certain behavior. What causes a dog to act in certain ways. I am convinced that “emotion”, from a canine point of view, is very powerful. In relationship training, it is foundational.
Humans are emotional beings. We would be incomplete if we weren’t. Without emotion, there would be no poetry, music, or art. Granted, there would also be no war, broken marriages/families, or other assorted poor decisions. There are emotions both pleasant and poisonous.
Part of the research for this post caused me to ask the questions, Can you be calm, when you are emotional? Can you be emotional and calm at the same time?? Are calm and emotion mutually exclusive? And does our emotion affect a dog? How do dogs deal with emotions? And what part does emotion play in our communication?
We have no doubt that dogs exhibit and “feel” emotions. Not in the same manner as humans, but they do experience some type of internal motivation. When we watch my two German Shepherds chasing each other around the training field with wild, reckless, abandon, we feel their “happiness”. We make special effort to “share” their emotion, by taking part in their celebration, offering them behavior that allows them to continue their games. Positive “emotion” if you will. Encouragement at the least. We work at observing emotional response in the dogs, and then reciprocate that back to them. It affects their sense of well-being, and helps us communicate with each other. We are telling them, in effect, I understand what you are telling me, and I’m sharing it. Dogs are better behaved when we connect on an emotional level. This is a daily exercise, and requires that you see through your dogs eyes sympathetically. And we know it’s impossible to do that perfectly. But you can learn to identify your dogs state of mind! It’s similar to becoming engaged and eventually marrying another person. You do everything in your power to learn about, and understand another person. You learn what makes that person happy, sad, angry, the entire gamut of emotional feedback. How do you do that? Observation, conversation, and honesty. Effort, motivated by love. It’s defensible to say that our dogs are “aware” of our desires much of the time, even if they don’t necessarily try to fulfill them. Some will bolt away from this next statement, but as far as social behavior is concerned, each and every member of a group or family is sensitive to the current tide of emotion within that collective. That includes both two and four-legged members. Don’t believe this to be true? Find a place where several dogs are together peacefully, and then introduce an unbalanced, or otherwise unsteady dog. The reaction is immediate and undeniable. Negative emotion, tension, and angst easily permeates any group of sensitive living creatures. The same is true of positive emotions, relaxed mind-frames, and smiling faces. Emotion communicates. Try the same experiment with human interactions with dogs. The next time that one or more members of your human family are exhibiting strong emotion, thru some disagreement or family tension, observe what most dogs do. A majority of them will excuse themselves from the raised voices and discord, and find a spot to lay low.
Emotion is a key to developing a communicative bond with your dog. Always approach training, or socializing, with an even temperament of your own. If you feel frustration develop, or heightened excitement, take a minute and chill out. Each of us will need to explore and develop our own individual means of “calming” our human selves. It is important. Dare I say, vital.
Other evidence of this emotional bond can be observed between dogs playing together. If they are on the same emotional level, you will observe harmony that resembles a huge flock of birds flying together. Rolling, twisting, and diving, they never seem to run into each other. How? It’s God-given in my opinion. When my dogs work together, it’s a sublime example of “oneness of mind.” When I’m involved in it with them, it’s absolutely “Next Level Cool.”
My advice is quite simple: Share emotion with your dog. If you observe him gnawing on a nice meaty bone, express the the emotion that he is. Is that bone goood? Ooooh yummmmy! Thats a Goood Boy! It’s beneficial to include yourself in his pleasure. It’s okay if you sound like an idiot talking to your dog in this manner. Dogs don’t care about that. They care about interaction with the most important person in their life, you. Celebrate the fun of playing ball together. Not including your dog in your activities is a sure fire way to frustrate your friend and it affects your relationship. Just examine a dog that suffers from Separation Anxiety.
Go ahead, encourage your dog often and eagerly with words and tone that make him feel good about himself. I have been able to observe the power of this conclusion training for Agility. The most successful trainers are ridiculously happy while training, even if the dog is less than perfect. The least successful are those that emotionally punish their dog if they missed a tunnel or jump the wrong bar. “Stupid Dog!”, they’ll spit, as though the mistake were the dogs fault.
In fact, and this is something I admire in the sport, foul language and yelling at the dog can result in points lost, or even disqualification of the team. This is where a positive attitude is of the highest value. Be in the moment with your dog, and make it uplifting in dog terms! Your assignment today, and for the rest of your time together is this: Watch for your dogs emotional output, and support it. We have all seen our dog smile about something. When you do, smile with him.

There are times when I watch my dogs and try to imagine what they are thinking, feeling, even emoting. Ears back, eyes closed, a deep sigh. Ears pricked straight up, eyes like lasers, a slight whine. Flat out laying on the grass completely supine, mentally and physically. Ready to pounce at the instant I produce a ball, intending to throw it so that their energy can find fulfillment.
The dog you live with, is an incredibly…simple creature. However, that simplicity is amazingly misunderstood by those of us with only two legs. It is complex beyond our grasp, because we are not masters of our emotions. In that hazily understood condition, we continue to choose the dog as a companion and friend. Perhaps it’s because we recognize that in their simplicity is a command of really living, really feeling. We want to understand that mindset, and emulate it for ourselves.
I consider it an unrelenting truth that our dogs reflect us like mirrors of mood, emotion, and mental state. They become us by proxy, and we affect every minute of their day. Now, I have come to believe that it’s time to allow myself to become a mirror of my dogs mood and mental state, for my own good. This being the opposite of what I’ve been doing, wanting the dog to emulate me…
Like so many people, all people, I am physically affected by the stresses and pressures of life. Our lives are busy in an unprecedented manner, with jobs, families, school, worship, and the myriad of responsibilities that are all too common to the human condition. We choose, and allow these responsibilities to become even more palpable and burdensome by the inclusion of an array of electronic devices that society tell us are necessary, even vital. Cell phones that demand we answer them, “Right blessed now!” whether it be another person or a text message. I-phones with complete access to every form of communication known to man. Check the Weather! Check the Market! See My kid at Soccer! Look at the cute kitty on Facebook!” The cacophony of distractions is varied and undeniable.
We enter our homes, our cars, our offices, our recreation, with phones, Ipads, Kindles, notebooks and other assorted electronica firmly clutched in our sweaty hands, or stuck in our ear canal, reluctant to disconnect from knowing what someone we “friended” had for lunch. Many of us can’t even operate a motor vehicle without the ridiculous panoply of I-phone, navigation, I-this and I-that robbing us of the attention required to aim a 3000 lbs bullet safely at 70 mph. Some have even paid for this necessity with their lives or that of others. Look around for someone of 25 years of age or under without a sweaty ear-bud inserted, spewing out racket at 140 decibels. It’s harder than you think. It’s not uncommon for us to have televisions in every room in the house, including the bathroom. All of this noise and “information” overload, is killing us. Or at the least, driving us toward a psychotic episode. That’s where the dogs enter the picture.

Your dogs mind and heart are capable of something that humans seem to fight: Contentment. Tranquility. Focus. Satisfaction with what it has, not yearning for something it doesn’t need.
I’m told that dogs seldom have high blood pressure. How many humans can say that truthfully? True, dogs have stresses of their own to deal with, but they’re usually from a human source ignoring the dogs being.
Dogs flow through life. They accept what they cannot,(or do not know they can) change. They content themselves with the warmth of their social group, or even find comfort in the solace of aloneness. Dogs are blissfully unaware of the political and social issues that swirl about them. They have no idea what CNN is, who Rachel Maddow or Rush Limbaugh are, and they care not one whit about gay marriage. The only quality they care about in humans is the one that takes care of them properly. Dogs don’t care if you are a vegan, if you support the second amendment, or if you are a progressive/socialist. They don’t have Twitter feeds or hash-tags. They don’t have Facebook pages or blogs unless a meddling human sets it up. They have more important things on their minds, like, who’s going to feed me supper? Who’s going to throw this ball for me? Is my Mom or Dad on the way home yet? What’s for supper? They are focused on important things, not what others say is important.
I’m going to be more like my dogs. For my own well-being. Unplug, stop worrying about what idiots are saying about useless issues, sit in the grass in the sunshine on a spring day, romp in the mud because it’s fun, play like somebody left the garden gate open. I’m going to master just focusing on what’s really important. I’m going to imitate my dogs and learn to “Be”.

When the word “Parenting” is attached to training a dog, it may cause doubts in the mind of serious dog trainers. Many will dismiss the product as “anthropomorphizing” the dog, trying to make the dog into a furry little human. The dog training world loves to fight about verbage and the meaning of phraseology. Everybody wants to make words support their individual viewpoint. But wait just a minute, and hear me out. This 90 minute video, by trainer Angie Ballman-Winter manages to include both words into it’s title, and it does so admirably and convincingly.
German Shepherd Adventures was honored to be invited to a preview of the nearly finished video recently, and we came away very impressed by what we saw, heard, and learned.
The video presentation is titled “Puppy and Dog Parenting Program”, and is the second release in the Angie4dogs video library. Angie has created a well-thought out, easy to follow, and effective instructional resource.
Intended for pet owners and their dogs, professional trainers might easily find much of value within, and they should not dismiss this video out-of-hand as below them. Angie is an experienced, competent, professional trainer, worthy of your attention.
Her special talent is working with everyday dog owners, teaching them to build a relationship with their pet that benefits them for their entire life. Her practice focuses on working with people and dogs in their own home, together, rather than excluding the human family in a “Board and Train” situation. An approach that we admire and support fully.
The contents of the video are divided into sections entitled, “Puppy Rights”, “Puppy Rules”, “Potty Training”, “Kids and Dogs”, “Chewing”, “In The Car”, “Yard Manners”, “Other Dogs And Cats”, “Guidance”, and the wrap-up, “Balanced Dog Parenting Plan”. I won’t give away the contents of each and every heading, but every one of them is discussed and described with a kindness ,thoroughness, and spirit of fun that makes 90 minutes pass quickly. The tone of the instruction never talks down to the viewer, whether new or experienced. There is a great feeling of conviction in the presentation, born of practical experience on the trainers part.
Two other headings are especially helpful, one titled “Puppy Practice”, and best of all, “People Practice”. Both practical hands-on approaches that produce results for both ends of the leash. Enabling the pet dog owner to continue what they learn after the trainer has gone home. The tone of these chapters works hard to build confidence in even the newest dog owners, that they can be successful creating a well-behaved and mentally balanced pet.
Two other subjects were of special interest, and may be something that Angie can build on in future videos. Brief mention is made of “The Touch”, and the “Mother Dog-Hold”, techniques that enhance “Guidance” and “Communication” with and for puppies. I believe that she may have much more to teach on those subjects.
Well designed, clear, graphic presentations are used throughout the presentation, which makes them wonderful resources for recall of important points. There’s no fluff here, everything needs to be where it has been placed. The presentation is thoroughly professional, and her technical film/editing crew are simply top-notch. Unlike so many dog training videos produced today, this is a work of art technically speaking. Everything looks and sounds like is was photographed ad produced by people who care about the art of making instructional video.

There, that finishes my “professional, journalistic” review of the “Puppy and Dog Parenting Program”, by Angie Ballman-Winters. Now let me gush about the video as a customer. This is a great video that deserves a place in every dog owners library, and every professional dog-trainer will certainly benefit from it. The discussion of “Parenting” a dog, (or puppy) is convincing, and may well influence your own thinking, and approach to working with any dog. This is not a “New-Age”, fluffy subject, but rather a proven way to build a better relationship with the dog.

The video will have multiple ways of access when finished this spring, streamed on-line, and as a physical DVD. As the release is finalized, GSA will give further instruction so that you may purchase this wonderful program!

The Power of a Quiet Presence.

I witnessed the convergence of two very profound truths before this post was written. They came together quite organically, leaving me with little doubt as to their validity. I’d like to share it as a part of my “Communicative Approach” to training dogs, which I hope you are reading with an open mind.
You see, all of us fall into the habit of yelling at dogs. Whether you work in a boarding kennel, as I have, or with your own dogs at home. Whether you train in agility and rally, obedience, IPO, or dock diving, or any other type of training involving dogs. We humans are a noisy bunch, tightly wound and often stressed by life, as it comes by us at 400 mph every day. Oh, we try to relax and be calm, but we fail as often as not. And like it or not, it affects our training, and the relationship we have with our dogs. And if you work with dogs in large or semi-large group situation, it probably happens to you a lot.
The fact of the matter is this: When we allow ourselves to become frustrated, excited, and loud, the emotion and energy transfer immediately to the dog or dogs. They interpret our energy as excitement and the need to get their energy to another level somewhere above what we are putting out. Sometimes way North of where we want them to be.
Everyone understands the tenant of “The Golden Rule”, “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” Now let’s look at this from the dogs point-of-view. Suppose you have a problem with unwanted barking behavior, and want to eliminate it. Your solution is to yell loudly at the dog every time it begins to bark. “QUIT THAT %#$$@*&^%&&$ BARKING or I’ll &^*(%^$ you until the ^&&%#$ and the handle breaks off *(&$$% and the base cracks in half %#^^&*!!!!

Do you really believe that the dog understands your words?
Do You really believe that the dog understands your intent and tone?
All the dog hears is, “ARRFF ARF ARRFF ARF ARFFF ARF ARRRFFF ARF ARRFF ARF ARFARFARF AARRRRFFF!!!!!!” Which the dog then interprets as, “HEY!! I’m trying to be louder than you, and joining you in the Bark Fest!!! It’s time to be loud, obnoxious, and boisterous with my human!!! Here’s my best shot!!” Epic Failure to Understand Your Dog.

I have observed this phenomena first hand. I’ve been guilty of it myself. But I’ve also tried and succeeded at the polar opposite. At my place of employment, we regularly placed 15 to 40 dogs in an open grassy enclosure for what’s called “Day Camp”. The dogs are allowed to interact, play, and socialize. I know that many of you in the Day Care industry are horrified by the very notion, but believe me, it works quite successfully. When the entire Dog Day Care industry accepts and utilizes the concept, the dogs will thank you. Yes it does require that your day care workers be more than high school children without canine experience, but that’s only a good thing.
Every large group of dogs will be made up of different breeds, temperaments, and behavior types. Even when groups are selected carefully for compatibility, there will be situations. Period. How it’s dealt with will be the largest factor in peaceable (and bloodless) resolution. Running across the field yielding a club, yelling like Attila the Hun, will only make it worse, and raise the excitement level. Once the emotional energy is released (from the human), the dogs will pick it up, and take it to a greater level. Not only will you fail to stop the altercation, you may very well make it worse.
As I often do, while reading various and sundry pieces of literary works, (anything from MAD Magazine to Atlas Shrugged and beyond), I come across truly profound passages that defend or even deny suppositions that I arrive at. This post was inspired by a passage in the Holy Bible, (Don’t Leave, It won’t hurt you!) and is found in the book of 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 4.
The good apostle, who had a bit of a reputation as being a bit impulsive in life, (cutting off the ear of a Roman Soldier with a sword as example) talked in that verse of a “Quiet and Mild Spirit” that was part of a “secret” that is kept within a persons’ heart. Something that normal persons can possess and display. He even said it “pleased God” to see this spirit displayed by the individual. Whether you value the message or not, I have seen the value and power of reacting and displaying a quiet and mild presence among groups of dogs, and over single dogs. Truth be told, the same mental attitude tends to work on humans as well. If you want to continue an argument with someone, by all means raise your voice, stick out your chest, or threaten violence. If you want to calm down an encounter, remain quiet but without cringing. Violence begets violence, and calm produces calm. Don’t believe me?
As I did my job every day, I see this on a constant basis. I often find myself in an enclosed space with 15 to 25 unleashed dogs playing and interacting. Sounds like a recipe for chaos doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. Unless…
The ability to keep some measure of control over such a group starts with the person or persons overseeing the collective. Can you manage to control your emotions and output of stress? Can you avoid yelling, shouting and the hyper-kinetics of your own stress? Is anger a common emotion that you harbor? Will two dogs wrestling in play cause you to boil over? If not, then don’t expect the dogs to remain calm either. You’re the catalyst. Stay out of the pack until you can master your own feelings.
Okay, I hear people say that, “I can’t help myself, I care about the dogs, and I’m passionate about taking care of them. I don’t want them to get hurt, so I express myself loudly.” Mule Muffins.
Let me explain it this way: Anger, displayed by yelling or chasing dogs with intent, is like a thunderstorm. Unpredictable, dangerous, and out of control. Passion is a waterfall. Ever-flowing, steady, and predictable, yet powerful. Too many people can’t tell the difference. The dogs pay the price.
I know that I’ve written about this subject before, but my research and application has only reinforced my belief in it. Try caring for your dog or dogs without speaking sometime soon. Use body language, try using your eyes, try developing a calm demeanor. Try to picture the behavior you desire from your dog in your thoughts, and do so without negative thoughts.
A “Presence” of leadership is something palpable and powerful, but never threatening. Not only will it help control frenetic, frenzied activity, it also makes shy, nervous dogs, respond to you. For instance, in my work, we sometimes encounter dogs that are quite reluctant about coming out of a kennel. They may be frightened of the environment, they may be shying from the loud barking in the kennel area. Taking the time to enter the dogs enclosure slowly, and sitting quietly and patiently will quite often bring the dog to your side. Don’t react too quickly, as the dog needs time to trust this new presence. It might take several minutes, even multiple sessions. But the quiet presence will eventually produce results.
Another example of this is my work with blind dogs. When first encountered, some dogs lacking sight react to strange presences by being defensive, even nipping or worse. Allowing your presence to be felt thru scent, and a calm voice, will allow you to work with such a dog. As trust grows, your calm protective presence will allow you to walk such a gentle soul. The dog becomes confident that it is in no danger with you, and that your presence is trustworthy.
There is great power and strength in a quiet and mild spirit. With dogs, and with people.

I have the opportunity to observe a large variety of people with their dogs every day. At work, at play, or just hanging out. In fact, much of the development of the communicative approach to dog-training was born of these sessions, by simply watching both human and dog interact. No matter which method of training you choose to discipline your dog in, you must, must, must, be able to communicate effectively. Not just trainer to dog, but also in the reverse, dog to trainer. I suppose that it should have been an early lesson in the Communicative Approach, but these things often arise only in retrospect, or hindsight. And so it is with Self-Control. And by that, I mean your Self-Control as a trainer, handler, or human being. But what is Self-Control? Let me start at ground zero for the definition as it is intended in this context.

Do you find yourself yelling at your dog?? Do you yell at the dog(s) you work with? Do you believe that yelling at dogs is in anyway helpful? If so, you lack self-control.
Observing kennel workers on a regular basis, I see more reliance on the high volume human voice than any other method. Closely followed by such silliness as spray bottles, and “time out”, which means banishment to a kennel or a crate. All three of those methods show that “self-control” has degraded into eliminating what annoys the human involved. The dog learns nothing except that the human doesn’t understand the first thing about dogs or their training. Will yelling at a dog (or a pack of dogs) quiet them for any meaningful length of time? No, simply put. In fact, it probably has the opposite effect. If you try to prevent unwanted barking by yelling at the dog, the dog thinks that you are taking part in the barking, and will amp it up accordingly. If you are trying to eliminate an unwanted behavior in your dog, will yelling stop the behavior? No, and it likely will raise the dogs anxiety level. Not only does the dog not understand your words, your volume confuses his ability to read your body language.
The only humans that really need to yell, are military drill sergeants. But they have a different goal, and a very different individual in front of their steely gaze. That may be why some dog trainers confuse yelling with a useful tool. It works with people that are being conditioned to obey commands in the stress of combat. For the most part, your dog is just not under the same demand. Nor is the dog as intelligent as a human, that can understand the “why” of such conditioning. All a dog knows is the energy or emotion that your yelling produces.
Some of the most self-controlled dog trainers that I’ve watched, have been the Decoys in top level bite work. They understand how to raise a dogs level of excitement to a given point, and just as efficiently lower it back to what I’ll call, “Petting the dog is now possible” level. They use their own body language and energy to slow the dog, often without using the voice at all. Yet they use their voice to raise the dogs level to the attack level.
Another great place to observe self-control with dog training is agility. The best competitors never yell at their dog, mistakes are corrected by hand signals usually, but also with contact of an instructive nature. Not striking, but guiding. Yes, I know that yelling can be heard at any of these events at some point, but not everybody is thinking properly.
Want to observe “lack of self-control” in its native habitat? Try a dog park on a Saturday. Lots of dogs, lots of distractions, lots of dog owners struggling to keep their dog under control. You can always observe somebody chasing a dog across the field yelling at the top of their lungs to “Get back here you stupid dog!!!!”
Communication that truly helps is always given in a calm manner. Yes, the intensity level, not the volume, can be properly raised by the human, should the lesson require it.
I use as an example the “down-stay”. Which is actually a misnomer. The dog should be taught that “down” means “stay until otherwise told.” The release from down is always another command, whether verbal or visual. But that energy level comes from the trainers physical demeanor. Anger, which almost always begets yelling, has no place on the training field or while working with your dog. Your dog reads anger in only a negative sense, never as a response to the knowledge of how important a lesson may be. Dogs don’t process things through that prism. They sense your emotion as raw, intimidating, fearful. Not protective, which may very well be your intended purpose. The dog cannot delineate between anger and a high priority command, because the concept is beyond his cognition. Yelling at a human child to “Stay Out of The Road!” might work because the child can be taught to think of the inherent danger of such actions. Not so your dog. Truth be told, yelling at your child or any other human being is generally counterproductive as well. Learning to calmly discipline and instruct will make all of us better at life’s varying situations. There will always be that one boss, parent, trainer, or other human that feels that a loud voice is the most effective tool. They are usually the most avoided and lonely people. We simply don’t enjoy being pushed around by aggressiveness, and we usually respond badly to such treatment. Put yourself in an empathetic mode with your dog, and develop self-control, or risk living in a state of constant non-compliance with dogs.
Occasionally, you will see a human lose their cool at a competition, practice, or training session. They might call the dog names, throw a leash, or kick an object because of some perceived failure of the dog, or the stark realization that the failure was purely on themselves. This is not as common at competitions, but it does happen in practices with others at a class, and it definitely happens in the privacy of their own sessions. Maybe you’ve had a rough day at work, on the crowded roads, or with a friend or family member. It happens to all of us. Sometimes life just happens that way. Pop culture psycho-babble would advise “letting off steam”, maybe even busting things up and relieving the stress of anger. Fortunately, we’ve moved beyond that sort of craziness.
Our emotions flow thru our dogs, and once you’ve lit that spark, it’s going to burn. The Book of Proverbs, 14:30 in the revised standard version Bible says it clearly: “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot.”
Way too many people think of anger as passion. Overflowing enthusiasm. But it’s not. Anger is just frustration that blocks even flow of energy and emotion. It has a place, but not in dog training. If you find yourself angry, put your dog up in a calm place, walk away, and find tranquility. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s a better way.
Take notice that I haven’t discussed anything about hitting or kicking a dog. I shouldn’t have to really. You know better. And if you don’t know better, leave dogs alone and start a tree farm in North Dakota. I’m talking about violently taking your anger out on a dog, not physical corrections that involve correcting a dog. A small tap on the ribs is not out of line, though some might believe it is so. Punching with the fist, kicking hard enough to move the dog, or pinching an ear are what I’m referring too. If you are a Cesar Millan hater, don’t bother me with your complaints, because that’s way below the level of what humans are capable of doing. I’ve yet to see the man harm a dog out of anger, in spite of what you might want to convince others that he’s doing. I may not entirely agree with him, but I recognize that he’s been attacked more because of political correctness than his methodology.
By choice, I write predominantly about Working Dogs, not Aunt Mable’s fluffy, white, cockapoo, though the point still applies. Large, driven dogs correct one another with far worse physical correction than we should, so small physical contact is not described as losing one’s self-control.
I have observed what I’m discussing here first hand. Outsiders will observe bite work for instance, and believe that the training is vicious, or out-of-control. They see a wild, angry beast, attacking an equally angry human being. They always miss the subtle scritch between the ears that the handler will give to the dog when commanded out to a sit position. The dog is not out-of -control at all. The same applies to the Handler. The phrase “controlled chaos” is often used in K9 circles, and a well-respected family of trainers even use that as a name for their business enterprise. Their dogs live in their home with their daughters very successfully. My conclusion is that the family has mastered calmness of heart and self-control with their dogs. And those dogs are at the top of their game. That style probably permeates their home, including raising their children.
I’ve talked to my own dogs about self-control. I’ve asked them, “How do I train you in the best way?”
They’ve shown me by their behavior, which mind-set produces success in training, and working. The answer is always the same. “Keep your Cool Dad. I understand you, and if you listen calmly, I’m communicating with you in return…listen closely!”