I have been a fairly tenacious advocate of training early, training often, and training with intent.  My dogs began training the day they came home at about 8 weeks of age.  We began with the basics, Sit, Go Potty, No Bites…you get the drift.  Shortly thereafter, I began Scent work training.  Within 6 months, we also mastered most of the CGC tests, even though the test couldn’t be taken at that age.  Everywhere we went was a test of behavior, obedience, or socialization.  Many of the books that I read strongly encouraged that “Time for training must start early, you have very little time, hurry, hurry, hurry!!!”   One of the most desperate sounding was Ian Dunbar, who seems to believe that dogs stop learning at 9 months old.  Fortunately I have learned that the mind-set and methods of Dunbar and his followers is  incomplete, and based on questionable conclusions.  Dogs can learn everyday of their life, and they do.  There’s a better way, and “Science” backs this conclusion.

I wish now that I had focused more time and attention on interactive “Play” between us during the first year.   I was fortunate in this:  My style of training was (and is) more centered on “fun” than most others.  I love watching the dogs just being dogs, chasing toys, chasing each other, playing tug-of-war with various items, digging for hidden rewards, and wrestling with me on the ground.  There is one central reason that PLAY is so important to the development of your puppy.  This ingredient will affect your relationship as a team for the life of your dog.  What is this ingredient?

           You Must Be The Most Interesting Thing In Your Dogs Life.  

Are you naturally drawn to an employer that piles work on you every minute of everyday?  Your dog, especially puppies up to about a year old, are hard-wired to Play.  It’s a combination of Exercise (or Stress Relief, a topic upcoming here) Discipline (Time to “release”  the toy) and Affection(rolling around on the floor letting the dog search you for a toy, or playing Tug are Rewards!!)  Your dog will celebrate every time you walk into the room because YOU=Playtime!!!!   This developing focus on you will create a dog/human team that are completely in tune with each other.  There will never be a problem with a distracted dog, because YOU, (Not food treats, and certainly not Clicking) will be the center of his world.

I’ve written about what follows in “German Shepherd Adventures” a couple of years ago, and it raised eyebrows in some.  That’s okay by me, because I’ve seen the results of my practice.  I’ll repeat what I wrote then for the benefit of those who may have missed it. The most important game you can develop properly with your dog is a good old-fashioned game of “Tugging”.  I know, I know…Many of you are of the belief that this creates an aggressive dog, .  You believe that you are developing a dog that is capable of dangerous reactions. You may believe you are creating a “reactionary” dog… You are, in fact, doing just the opposite.  Notice this quote from  Jean Donaldson, a positive training maven, writes that tug games “are not about dominance and they do not increase aggression. These are myths.”  (Quote from this source-(http://www.leecharleskelley.com/top10myths/dontplaytugofwar.html

You are in fact, creating an “Outlet” for your dogs “prey” instinct, while using the natural, inborn inclinations of your dogs “Hunting” instincts to relieve , (Here it comes…) stress. To quote Kevin Behan in “Natural Dog Training”, –Many parents may be nervous about this whole notion of prey instinct. We are not creating the prey instinct: it is already there. We are channeling it into an appropriate activity. This way it is not as likely to go where it does not belong, such as after a child’s hand. Otherwise, you are leaving it up to the dog to decide what he wants to do with his prey instinct.

Okay, I’m springing something new on you.  The idea that your dog has stress, and is better off with an effective way to release it.  That’s going to be the subject of another post.  Energy and Stress, and your dogs “Natural” state of being a “Predator”, are going to be major subjects in the near future here.

As part of the Communicative Approach, Tugging games build a bond between Handler and Canine.  During these games, your dog’s focus is %115 on YOU!  Remember, a tug toy, rag, or sleeve is a lifeless object UNTIL you pick it up!  Then you become the life of the party!!!  The practice will soon eliminate distractions, and improve recalls, and obedience.  I have always played serious tugging games with my protection dog “Hans”.  Without really knowing “Why”, or “How”, I’ve raised an obedient, focused dog.  Looking back, I realize that we bonded over this type of play.

Now, for my heretofore failure, and its recent resolution:  Our young female GSD, “Holly”, now 18 months old, was slated specifically for Therapy work, and as an experimental “Cancer Detection Canine”, (A newly developing study.) from 8 weeks of age.  My wife would train her, and I’d promise to not teach the pup to tug, chase me, or anything else resembling “aggression”.  Holly did fine for about the first year, earning CGC status, passing TDI training, and doing well.  But she never quite earned our trust in “Off-Leash” activities, such as fetch.  She suffered a lack of “Focus” being easily distracted at times.  Outside, her “recall” was questionable, but inside was fine.  She seemed “bored” while working my wife opined…CarolAnn actually became very distressed over this lack of enthusiasm, and Holly’s lackadaisical response to obedience while unleashed.  She actually “borrowed” a friends Vizla, to make her Care Facility rounds for two weeks while we investigated this occurrence.  Well, of course, Holly became despondent and a little destructive at home.  Some how we were not fulfilling her needs, while we were protecting her status as a Therapy Dog.  All bad things.  Hans had never been thru anything like this in his training, and we were searching frantically for answers.  Thinking that “Physical Activity” was the missing ingredient, we enrolled CarolAnn and Holly in Agility training.  In good portion, it helped.  Holly does well, has no fear, and loves to burn off steam.  But her “focus” on her handler was still an issue.  It was during this period that picked up on “Natural Dog Training” by Kevin Behan, and the work of both Lee Charles Kelley and Neil Sattin (found here: http://www.naturaldogblog.com/

What I read and digested was very similar to the way I had raised and trained Hans.  Different terms were being used to describe what I was developing on my own somewhat lacking method, but the same spirit was there.  We decided that I would recreate with Holly, what I had done with Hans.  “Pushing”, a training technique that “Natural Dog Training” emphasizes is one such example.  I called it “Keep Away” with a high-value item.  (There’s a lot more to explain “Pushing”.  Check the link above, Please)

I also introduced Holly and CarolAnn to Tugging Games.  My wife at first resisted mightily, being wisely aware that Holly had grown some impressive dentition.  I began to play tug with Holly everyday for a week, which is more time than needed.  Within that time, her behavior turned 180 degrees about!!  Her recall reminded me of a Sparrow missile inbound…I pushed her training to things she had been taught NOT to do, such as giving Dad a Big stand up hug as she saw Hans do everyday with me.  Holly was shortly going after an Arm-sleeve with a gusto that belied her hitherto somewhat (Bored! Unfulfilled!) gentle nature.  But the fuzzy little phoenix was rising from her own frustrated ashes…Everything changed about her behavior.  I chalk it up to fulfilling her natural instincts.  Period.

So go out and play with your dog.  Learn to play Tug safely, and properly.  Again I will provide some links below for this purpose.  The result will be Focus Focus and more Focus from your dog, and the end of many behavioral problems!!!!

http://www.naturaldogblog.com/blog/2007/07/how-to-play-tug-of-war-with-your-dog-and-have-the-happiest-dog-on-the-block/

My beautiful, Natural Trainee, Holly...

My beautiful, Natural Trainee, Holly…

© Robert W. Vaughan and German Shepherd Adventures {2010 to Current} Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert W. Vaughan and German Shepherd Adventures  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Comments
  1. Natural Dog Training Conference 2013 at Wolf Park & Prophetstown State Park, Battleground, IN is the place to be to learn first-hand from Kevin Behan about Natural Dog Training. August 22-25, 2013, Kevin will be instructing, demonstrating and discussing new innovations in his philosophy and methods. The cost is $350.00 for a multi-day conference for trainers and the seriously interested. Please spread the word! See naturaldogtraining.com, contact@sondrabehan.com or jeanmarie_thompson2000@yahoo.com

  2. Excellent blog entry! Play is extremely important between handler and dog.