This post has been in development for several years, waiting to finally make it onto the blog .  Frankly, it’s been driving me crazy as I just can’t seem to get it “Right”.  I know what I want to write, but I want it to sound less like psycho-babble, and more of what it really is, which is behavioral understanding…  Admittedly, I know that this post will not be the definitive description of The Bond, as I’m describing it…there’s much more to learn.  It’s going to be a life-long pursuit…But if I can start others on this journey of discovery, then I’ll be happy…There might very well be others that already recognize the “Bond” for yourself.  You may have your own description for it, your own way of developing it.  That’s wonderful…Hopefully this piece will help someone else find it for themselves and their dog…

I remember that day so vividly.  It was the first time that I saw “The Bond”, living, breathing, buzzing with a gentle hum.  I couldn’t explain it, even if I had known what I was seeing.  I’m not saying that I understand it fully even now, but I do “see” it, and my best mentors are teaching me about it…It has been theorized, and I believe substantially “proven” that dogs are all  about Energy and Flow.  (To read more, check out Kevin Behan’s Blog.)   http://naturaldogtraining.com/blog/    That’s a major part of this “Bond”.  But I’m getting the cart before the horse…Come back with me, about 6 years ago, to the beginning of my dog career…

I had already spent 6 months actually visiting GSD breeders in my research.  I had driven to, as I recall, 13 different breeders..  During that time, I was not yet shopping.  My mission was to meet as many breeders and their dogs as I could, and form my goals clearly.  I met many wonderful dogs, two or three very nice breeders, a couple of  “questionable” breeders, several breeders that shouldn’t have, and at least 2 ego-maniacs, with delusions of god-hood.  I learned a lot…I also unlearned a lot.  (Think, “never judge a book by its cover.”)  One of the breeders that I met came right in the middle of my search, sixth or seventh in line.  She was not famous, she didn’t import dogs from the finest Germanic Lines overseas, she had absolutely no pretense about herself.  But she did have an encyclopedic knowledge of her dogs and their behavior.  Her name is Rhonda Sellers, and what I saw at her facility will forever be a part of my own work with dogs.  Her farm is located in a rural area, an island in a sea of tall corn, and waving hay fields.  There’s a gate to enter as you arrive, and when I passed thru, my car was engulfed in German Shepherds.  One or two barks alerted the mistress of the property, but no excessive, anxious carrying on by the 8 German Shepherds now giving my car the 5th degree.  I admit it now, I was hesitant to open the door and get out.  I needn’t have worried though, as the Pack leader walked out onto her deck, and without word, the dogs went to her without question or hesitation.  They were protective of her, but they also knew that she was here for them.  There was nothing to worry about…

Rhonda is a slightly built lady, not imposing in any degree physically.  She could be 30 years old, or she could be 60…(Much close to 30…LOL!)  But to this pack of German Shepherds, she was the center of the universe, and their behavior was controlled by what I can only call her thoughts.  She talked to them like mature children, and they swirled around her.  As our “interview” proceeded, I recall that each dog checked me out individually.  I had come here with some very specific needs and wants.  I was honest and forthright with my strengths and weaknesses as a dog owner, and what I planned for a dog.  While Rhonda listened intently, it was easy to see that she was watching each dog in turn.  In hind sight, I think the dogs were talking to her on a whole different level, unheard by me, but ABOUT me…To this day, it was one of the strangest experiences that I have felt.  And if this sounds somehow fantastic, it’s true.  My observations for that first day are still fresh.  Rhonda moved about her large property, and the dogs moved with her like a flight of birds.  When she sat back in her chair, talking, the dogs showed the exact posture.  When she leaned forward to press a question, the dogs followed suit.  That was “The Bond” in living, breathing action.

I still had other breeders to visit over the next few weeks, and I saw some very fine dogs.  But I found myself comparing every one (dogs AND people) back to Omorrow, that small farm in the cornfields.  I even returned to a couple of those breeders from before Rhonda, to use what I had observed.  I then returned to Rhonda and made my decision, but that wasn’t the end of my experience.  Over the next few weeks, I visited and re-visited.  I thought I knew what I wanted, and was convinced.  To my surprise, I learned that this wise and experienced dog-person was deciding what I really needed.  I had decided on a pup from a large and curious Black & Tan male, with a beautiful female that looked similar.  On one visit, I was introduced to a large, solid Black male.  Certainly an imposing creature, and a first time bred female, also solid black.  Rhonda suggested one of these upcoming pups, certain in her appraisal of me.  I was mesmerized by the relationship that existed between her and the big German Shepherd, and I began to adjust what I was thinking…Suffice to say, I listened and trusted.  I have never regretted trusting her.  But that was only my first exposure to “The Bond”, that hidden state of understanding and communication that is achievable with a dog.

The next time I saw it, was with a small, but energetic fire-ball of a terrier on an Agility course.  This time I “saw” it as an identifiable energy between dog and human.  As the dog ran the course, there was no talking, no flailing hand signals by the handler…I noticed that the pair rarely were separated at the eyes…They watched one another for instruction, explanation, and yes, celebration.  It was uncanny in my thinking, and I knew that I would need to speak with the handler.  That took some time, as the duo won everything that day, and were deeply involved in the accolades heaped on them as prizes were handed out.  The handler was a very fit lady, 63 years young, well into her second adolescence.  The first question I asked her took her by surprise I think.  Usually she hears, “How did you train your dog?”  Somehow, I got it right this time, and asked, “What was going on between you and Sammy (the dog) out there?”   She laughed out loud at the question, not rudely, but in relief.  “You mean,  ‘how does he know what I want him to do?”

“Yes, exactly…you never lost your eye contact with him…It looked like you willed him thru the course.”

“Well, that’s only sort of true…We’ve worked together for 5 years now, and we have a “connection”, I’d call it…”

Our further conversation revealed that something beyond “Training” was, and had, been going on for those years.  “It’s more than mastering a specific method of training, or strict method.  A good trainer will observe the dog, motivate the dog, and allow each dog to be an individual with unique needs.  It’s a lot more work than using clickers or food or toys exclusively…but the connection is stronger.  It eliminates behavioral problems.  You learn it by living with your dog, working with your dog, and understanding where his energies flow most freely.  When both dog and handler have matching energy, you have success.  But it’s more work than most trainers want to put in, time wise.”

It should be re-noted here that I have great admiration for trainers in Agility disciplines.  They are unafraid of looking inward for better ways to relate to their dogs and the training needed.  The “bond” between dog and handler is paramount to the most successful competitors…So many other dog sports and the trainers there, are mired in tradition or “science”.   Many, (certainly not all), practitioners of Protection sports and Schutzhund, and others look tom the past for training.  Many such dogs spend more time in kennels and crates because they are unable to socialize out of fear that they will harm someone.  But it’s being proven time and time again that such dogs can be perfectly capable not only of “Family” life, but walked in public.  Such dogs are competitively successful, and well-liked and trusted out in the community.  Because the trainers/owners/handlers are using “relationship” as part of their program.  Building a “Bond” with the dog, not treating them as a tool to be used and put away.

The next time I was struck by this “Bond” was with a Sheriff’s Department K9 Unit patrolman.  It was during a simulated live  fire exercise, with a closed environment apprehension.  Officer and canine communicated silently from room to room, up two separate stairwells.  The dog was put “on point”, leading the 3-man unit in the search for a supposed armed perpetrator.  As I was the tail-end observer, I had a close view of how the dog and Handler communicated with the smallest of indicators.  I, in fact, missed the most important signal of all given by the German Shepherd.  I learned about it sometime afterward talking with the officer.  He described it this way.  “When we were in the stairwell, the dog kept his nose upward, testing the next level.  If he moved without hesitation, and avoided eye-contact, it was safe.  When he slowed, or caught my eye, he was unsure and became cautious.  When we finally reached the door where our subject was concealed, he stopped and stared at me for direction.  It was a full 30 second, unblinking stare.  But since Casey (the four-legged officer) couldn’t open the door he didn’t bark or alert.  He avoided alarming the suspect, and told me that somebody might easily be on the other side.  As you saw, he was right…That communication doesn’t just happen, and training it has no methodology.  The Deputy graciously offered me this explanation for the bond between him and his dog.  “It starts the day you meet your dog.  You begin to grow into each other.  First thing that I recommend a new Handler/Canine do together?  Play ball together, get out a tug-toy, and wear each other out.  If it takes an hour, do it for the full hour.  If you can’t do that, you need to be in better shape anyway.  Play is the foundation of your team training.  Everything in the dogs future is a game to him.  Forge that bond immediately and build it everyday.  Invent other games, and work out at things that make the dog rely on your communication for what you want him to do in a given situation.  Try to do some of this without using your voice, just facial expression or hand signs.  Build this relationship strong enough, and you just might get the urge to take a dump in the backyard, just like the dog!”

Okay, that may be more information than necessary, but the officer was making a point.  Relationships are made by working, playing, and being silent together.  In other words, Living together.  Getting inside the others thoughts and intentions.

I’m still trying to understand if this type of “bond” is possible with every dog owner and their dog.  It might the possession of only a few special people and their canine.  Certainly, far fewer have it than claim to have it.  That much can be observed at any dog-park on the Blue planet we call home.  This bond cannot be forced into existence, nor commanded, nor willed by force.  It cannot be forged by the fire of passion, but rather, appears to coalesce, like fog in a boreal forest.  Slow, quiet, not observable except by those that recognize its unique properties.  And it certainly cannot be rushed.   But I  know that we can all pursue The Bond.  I don’t believe that it’s only a matter of how much time we spend with our dog to achieve it.  Certainly that helps, but the quality of time and work and drive to learn together is a huge part of the equation.  We all eventually get the dog we deserve, and the end result is squarely on your human shoulders.  Give your dog your very best, and never stop pursuing, The Bond…

 

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