Archive for the ‘“Best Practices”’ Category

Recently, a certain Facebook page has been a battle zone because an individual posted questions about breeding her German Shepherd.  The poster was obviously new to the idea, uneducated, and woefully unready for the task ahead. I’m not saying she was “unworthy”, but that’s the way the boards took it. As can be expected,  she got flamed by several hundred people from every strata of the dog community.  Many of the comments were heated, many were unprofessional, many were quite correct.  What was accomplished?  Absolutely nothing of value.  I’m positive that it will be her last post on what is the largest and most popular German Shepherd page on Facebook, but I think we’ve once again shot ourselves in the proverbial foot.  Here’s why:

Every professional breeder of dogs stands by their dogs as “The Finest”, “Exclusive”, “Best Temperament”, ” German Lines”,  “We sell to the US Military” or some such other claim, whether true or not so…And we ask some fairly high prices for our product.  Which is fine.  If an individual will pay $30,000.00 US Dollars for one of your dogs, more power to you.  That’s wonderful.  And I’m not going to ask anyone to stop pushing that envelope…If you can get a Million Bucks for a dog, Yippeee!!!  I’d take it in an instant.  By my crude calculation, we will have cornered 0.00002% of the Canine buying market that can afford those prices.  I know as well as you that breeding and caring for a new batch of puppies from a fine pedigree is NOT a huge money-making scheme with the overhead involved.  Veterinary bills, food, kenneling, and other sundry expenses eat profits like potato chips.  If we sold our dogs for too little, we’d be paying people to take puppies.  Too much, and we’d have no facility to properly keep them.  You’d end up on an episode of “Hoarders” or the local 6 ‘o clock news.  Therein begins the problem…

We all get on Facebook, or our websites and extol the virtues of our German Shepherds.  We do all the right things for them, and  produce beautiful, well performing, temperate dogs.  Then we charge $2000.00 for a pup.  Untrained.  For many prospective buyers, that’s pretty steep.  Especially if the buyer is NOT interested in PSA, or Schutzhund, or any other discipline.  They just want a family dog.  But,  “$2000.00??!”   they’ll moan.  “Well I can find a German Shepherd in the newspaper for $100.00!”  And they’re right.  Because there’s a market for them.  Yes, those dogs aren’t fit for breeding, working, or many times, trusting. However, outside of our collective of serious, professional breeders, trainers, and handlers, there’s a lot of customers waiting.  And there are, and always will be, less than concerned people who are willing to do volume business over anything resembling improvement of the breed.  These people skip the overhead, feeding the cheapest “food” they can find, skipping veterinary care, proper whelping facilities, and socialization.  Proper care?  Fat chance when they  have 10 litters on the ground…Some of these even have the temerity to register their litters with AKC.  To a large part of the population, “AKC Registered” means much more than it deserves.  It’s nothing to BYB or Puppy mills but a “Selling Feature”…

There will always be people to whom a “German Shepherd”, (or any other breed) is a status symbol, or a weapon in untrained hands.  They give no regard to the fact that some of us value the quality of our dogs.  They don’t care if we ridicule them on Facebook either.  What can we do about it?  Not much. Trying to stop them with legislation doesn’t work.  Ever seen those signs around schools that declare a “Drug-free, Gun-free Zone”?  Yeah, I’ll bet those signs made every parent of a child  in that Connecticut Grade school feel safe too…It’s the same effect.

We, as protectors of the breed, could also use some lessons in diplomacy.  When people ask uninformed or outright ignorant questions, it does NO GOOD to flame them out, and tell them that  they’re idiots.  They WILL find a dog somewhere, and the cycle begins again.  Frankly, I don’t know how to stop substandard breeders and their ragged product.  Give Well-Bred dogs away?  Not Likely.  Lower our prices?  Not practical or advisable.  Hunt down and eliminate back yard breeders? Torch the puppy mills?  Enjoy prison.  Some of them have great dog training programs for inmates.   Legislate spaying and neutering for every dog that doesn’t meet a “Standard”?   Just whose standard shall we use???

I’m convinced that the only thing we can do, is educate, educate, educate.  Calmly.  Professionally.  Thoroughly.  Train our dogs well, and use every opportunity to show the interested the how and why of our well-bred dogs.  For those who have the means, find a young person that would love a dog, but may not have the means, and make an apprentice out of them for a couple of hours a week.  Everybody wins in that situation.  There has to be more ways to encourage preservation of the great dogs, than just the petty warfare so often found on the internet.  The real effort may be in the losing of EGO among some of us…Every Facebook page, and every forum has several “EXPERTS” only too happy to spew vitriol at anyone they deem unworthy.  Who died and made them God?  I don’t know, but I do know that we, and the breed, will lose this war if we don’t find a more effective way of causing change.

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The main focus of my canine-training, is, and always has been, scent-detection/Search & Rescue and nose work.  Barely 2% of my time is spent with Protection, bite work, or anything of that type.  Yes, we play some fairly aggressive games with our dogs, answering their need to express their “Prey Drive” emotion adequately.  These games involve lots of Tugging games, Goose-chasing, (I balk at calling this “herding” because Hans likes to go straight ahead and make the buggers fly off in a panic, rather than round them up), and occasionally some sleeve work, to keep his skills sharp.  But when you have a large, black, german shepherd, non dog-people will always assume that he is a Trained Weapon of Mass Destruction.  And even if he is, they will have a completely mis-guided, uninformed idea of what it takes for a dog to do protection work.

There will always be that type of person that observes a working dog performing protection work, that say’s, “I gotta have me one of those…”  Not only do such people completely misunderstand the work, the responsibility, and the sweat-equity involved in such training, but they demonstrate their COMPLETE ignorance of dogs.  (By the way, The National Rant Service is hereby issuing a “Impending Rant Warning” for this blogsite effective immediately)

The question that set this off went this way,  verbatim:  “How do you make your dog mean enough to do Attack Dog stuff?”  If this was a one time only, unique question, I probably would have given a calm answer.  Explained the truth behind what we do…but the question, and the assumption, keeps rearing it’s ugly head.  It’s time that it was addressed…

Yes Virginia, there are Mean dogs.  They might also be called “abused” dogs, not-withstanding physically ill or mentally damaged specimens.  Such dogs are to be found tied-out behind garages, shut in cages, or simply abused by ignorant and evil humans.  This is often how members of the “Innocently ignorant” public feel about dogs trained as protectors, or sport dogs.  They must be “Mean” in order to do protection work…(This is where my aneurysm starts).

Let me be succint.  A Dog that is “Mean”, is an untrained dog and has no right to the title, “Protection Trained.”  An owner that goads, teases, or abuses a dog to the degree that it is “Mean”, reactive, or untrustworthy around other living souls, is an evil person.  They are not “trainers”, “Handlers”, or any other sort of “Expert”.  In fact, if you train dogs by being abusive, you are wholly, morally bankrupt.  And mentally deficient in more ways than I can say…Don’t call yourself a Dog Trainer.  Ever.

Now, back to my calm, professional demeanor…

Most trainers of true “protection” dogs are producing dogs that will fit into the mold you could easily call “family” dogs.  These dogs are calm, obedient, social, and love children.  They are also healthy, mentally and physically.  Yes, when so directed, they will do what must be done to protect and serve their family.  But you will rarely see this displayed, because the dog is “trained”.  Normally, I fall back on my own dogs as examples, but this time I want you to meet a dog and trainer that meets these standards perfectly!  The dog’s name is “Valko”.  He is dark sable German Shepherd.  He was trained by one of the finest trainers on planet earth, Mr. Wade Morrell of Ohio. https://www.facebook.com/Priority1Canine   The dog is sharp and tough, and will fight like a lion under the proper conditions and permission of his handler.  He has earned his “Protection Dog” title.  This same dog, was recently placed into a family, to serve his purpose.  (I’m not using names, because they don’t know I’m using them here.)  The family has young boys, about 5 and 9 years of age.  Too watch this family with this dog, you would be lead to believe that that they’ve owned the dog since it’s birth.  They are, impressively, bonded as a family circle.  No small feat, as this is pretty much the family’s first dog.  The big Shepherd watches over those children with the eye of a Guardian, as well as the parents.  Out in public, the dog is social, even gentle, to new people that are given approval.  “Valko” is obedient to a fault, but retains something that tells you he is still a “Dog”, given to stealing corndogs, and rolling over expecting belly rubs from any available fingers.  Can I give any higher praise to a “Protection Dog”?  I don’t believe it possible…

This short example is just one example of the many finely trained protection dogs out there.  There is no “Mean” about them…Only protective, and very capable of stopping harm to his own.  This is a topic I could write on long, and enthusiastically.  But I’m going to end it on this note:

“Properly trained, a Human Being can be a Dog’s Best Friend”.

"Mean?"  Or well-trained?  Don't jump to conclusions.

“Mean?” Or well-trained? Don’t jump to conclusions.

We just can’t seem to describe our dogs in terms that are simple, clear, and easily understood.  Some of the descriptions defy reality, some invite us to see our dogs as humans in furry suits, and some are the detritus  of misguided “science”.

I’m talking about terms like, “Hard”, “soft”, “dominant”, “submissive”, “aggressive”, “fearful”, “neurotic”, ” “drivey”, “lacking drive”, and you know even more.  These  attributes are supposedly “inborn”, and only nominally controllable by human intervention.  Let’s talk about that…

Recently, I have personally met four different individuals that have new puppies at home, between 8 and 14 weeks of age. (They all happen to be German Shepherds, but this applies to any breed of dog you may choose too varying degrees.)  I also know that there are many others waiting on new puppies, so it seemed to me that this discussion is timely…

Which quality do you want your new  puppy to have the most?  Obedient? That’s certainly welcome.  Protective?  That can be tremendously comforting.  Driven? For a working dog, that’s the favorite of many.  Affectionate?  Many want a source of warmth and unconditional  love without the burden of mind games…Friendly to everything and everybody?  Playful?  Happy?

Which qualities would you say are unwanted in a dog?  Aggression?  Fear? Nervous?  Unpredictable? Lazy?  Crazy? Neurotic?  All things that we want to not have in our dogs.

The problem with this list, is that we as humans make ALL of these attributes very difficult to achieve successfully.  We couch our “training” and “discipline” in overly complicated methods that please only the Trainer and the human ego.  The dog is overlooked in the process, as long as basic commands are obeyed to some degree. The permissiveness that we produce in these methods is making life difficult for all the involved people and dogs.   We use the unnatural in an attempt to produce natural results, and it starts on the first day we bring our puppies home with us.  The simplicity of the solution is staggering.  The way to achieve success in raising a puppy to be what we most want is equally uncomplicated.  It’s the actual execution that eludes most of us…Follow me here.

What your new puppy, soon to be a full-grown dog, most needs to learn from you, his master, his teacher, his Leader, is CONFIDENCE.  That single quality will deliver you both from years of frustration, anxiety, and stress.  It would also keep dogs from being rejected, abandoned, and even killed as untrainable or aggressive, or neurotic, and unpredictable.  Don’t doubt this somewhat simple assertion that CONFIDENCE is the answer to a happy, fulfilled dog.  There’s evidence galore…

That being asserted, how do you raise a confident dog?

The  most expedient beginning, is to hire  a Good, Reputable, Breeder, meet the breeders breeding stock, and build a relationship.  With dogs AND the breeder.  You’ll be assured that the utmost care has been taken in the genetics and general health of the dog, and that the utmost care has gone into the first 8 to 12 weeks of your puppy’s care.  Believe it or not, research into breeders and their operation is usually overlooked to a great degree by standard issue family-dog owners.  Dog sport people or those who work dogs are usually better at this.  Some of us have more fun researching breeders and dogs than we do any other part of the experience…You meet the most interesting people!  (But I digress…)

Before somebody grouses, I’m not ignoring those nice people that rescue dogs, foster dogs, or otherwise save the unhomed dogs.  I salute you and thank you for your hard work.  It’s just a bit more difficult to judge a dogs temperament and confidence when it’s past is either unknown, or so terrible that the human involved can’t put the past behind them.  Trust me, if you spend your time feeling sorry for the dog, or its past perceived suffering you will never have a confident dog.  The Past is the Past, get out of it Fast…

Just today I saw a blog post that is antithetical to what I’m putting out here, and without directly attacking the viewpoint, I want to correct it.  The blog author asked a simple question.  “Is it possible to reinforce fear in a dog?”   As an attempt at humor, I suppose, the blog entry read only this pithy answer:

“No”     End of Post.

The author did begin a secondary post, with explanation, but it was the same level of nonsense…

These are the people that hug a dog tightly when the Thunder rolls across the sky in July, allowing and “re-inforcing” the fear of loud noises.  These are the same people that create frustrated dogs by their using an approach that tells the dog it’s okay to be fearful, quivering, and weak.  Yes, Virginia, you CAN reinforce FEAR in your dog.  It’s proven everyday.

I’ve digressed somewhat from my original intent, but for good reason.  MOST dog owners have no idea that Self-Confidence is so important, nor do they know where it comes from.  The dog is the victim…So back to where I was headed.

Hopefully, your breeder was the best sort, and raises the pups she oversee’s with her heart, her hands, and her mind.  Her dams are so trusting of her that the breeder is able and welcome to touch each and every pup soon after birth.  Your breeder should be a surrogate thru the entire process, while still allowing the mother to do her job naturally.  The pups will become confidant and trusting towards humans, naturally.  During the first eight weeks of life, I hope you are  able to visit the litter for yourself, sit in the whelping area with them, pet them, allow them to explore you, chase you, and yes, even give you a little bite on the fingers.  (More on puppy biting in the future.  I’ve come to believe that we’ve been fighting this tendency entirely WRONG)   By the time your pup is ready to go home,  it will have had a good start on being confident in new situations.

The trip home is another consideration.  I’m not a fan of bundling a young puppy into the cargo hold of a jet for hours.  I wish we could all drive our car a comfortable distance to collect the little fella ourselves.  My best advice here, is too not reinforce any fear or nervousness by coddling and cooing over a distressed puppy.  What we often consider “comforting”, is telling the dog that it’s just fine to whine and whimper and be afraid.  Your CALM presence and energy output are really enough to comfort an animal thats so plugged into “energy” that you are left in it’s dust psychologically.  Allow the puppy to Cope…Focus his stress as well as you can, by showing the pup a toy, or chatting to it happily,in a cheerful tone of voice.  Make it know that it’s safe by your own feelings of safety.

That takes care of an hour or so…Ready for the rest of the dogs life?  While I don’t want to micro-manage this for you, there are LOT’s of confidence builders that need attention everyday…

When you arrive at home, allow the puppy some supervised “Private Exploration” around the yard, the house, wherever it wants to go.  The pup may decide to find a place for a nap…If so, introduce it to his crate, his private place of comfort, his den.  When introducing the pup to other four-legged housemates, let the process go naturally.  Do be careful, but don’t project fear or nervousness, as this newly forming collection of energies is able to care for itself.  Be watchful, be confident, and watch the dogs work things out themselves.

At night, I personally recommend using a crate.  I guarantee that you’ll lose some sleep listening for a puppy that needs to relieve itself anyway.  But the crate is for the pups safety during it’s puppyhood, and a confident adult dog always has a private place to escape to in need or want.  The crate is a “Good” place, always, not a place of punishment.

Another way to build a confident dog, is “Play”.  Chasing a ball a short distance, playing gentle games of tug with a soft towel, always allowing the puppy to win and give his victory lap.  No, this most assuredly DOES NOT create a dog that is aggressive or prone to bite.  It will, in fact, create the opposite.  The act of biting is fulfillment to a puppy, a way of connecting all the circuits in it’s behavior.  But it IS something you will need to control, and that will be a seperate discussion here.

Another “game” that will build a more confident dog isn’t really a game at all, but a response to the most basic of instincts in your dog.  When it comes time to feed your dog, avoid keeping his dishes in the same place!  Allow your dog to “hunt” for his food, and open up that conduit of energy.  As a puppy, don’t make the hiding too difficult, but do make the pup work a bit.  As he gets older and more experienced, you can make this game more complex, and his success will give him confidence that you will be very surprised to see.  Your puppy, your “dog-to-be”, is above all else a Hunter, a predator.  The only “drive” that matters is the “prey” drive, and this game allows that drive to be opened wide…

The best way to create a confident dog is to never neglect daily training, and walking together.  Your dog needs a Leader, an emotional center of his universe.  This is NOT the traditional “alpha-dog” paradigm, but rather, you being the the dogs central focus.  The social dog wants to be part of the whole, and that collective needs a focal point.  When dogs make up the entire group, they will actually follow the lead of a different member when their energies are the most pronounced.  When you are part of the whole, focus your own energy to feed your Leadership.  You dog will thank you, and repay your efforts by being a well-behaved and confident companion.

I’ve given some basic ways to build a confident dog, starting as a puppy.  This is by no means, a complete program, but essentially,  is a beginning.  Throughout the dogs life, there are many other things that you can do to maintain a dogs confidence.  But the greatest journeys begin with first steps.  Get started on the first day that you meet your new puppy…

confidentdog

                                      “Do you enjoy training with your dog?”

That’s my official first statement of every training session, private or group, with the Detection Sports Association.  It alone sets the tempo, the mood, and the foundation of my training philosophy.  It transcends, magnifies, and enhances any and all  “types” of training method.  Your dog is your “mirror”, (To borrow a profound phrase) and if you don’t enjoy it, neither will the dog.  It’s as plain and simple as that.  I don’t care if you are teaching a Schit-zu to “dance”, a Border Collie to run an agility course, or a German Shepherd to earn a Schutzhund title.  If you can’t muster up enthusiasm, joy, and make yourself burst with fun, you will fail…and your dog’s potential will be wasted.

Be warned, I may  slip into Drill Sergent mode with this question.  If students don’t react with an enthusiastic answer to the positive, I’ll keep asking until I get the loud firm answer I want to hear.  Your enthusiasm, or lack thereof, will always and forever affect the way your dog performs, and from the very start, I intend for you to put away any shyness, self-imposed “dignity”, or fear of looking silly.  Many first timers to one of my latest seminars start out reserved, nervous.  But by the time 30 minutes have gone by, there are No More Reservations.  You figure out quickly that we are here to “feed” your dog, open up the tap on his energy flow to full force, and have FUN!!!

This post was hatched in the last month as I’ve seen three separate examples of students that simply couldn’t (or Wouldn’t) give their four-legged partner PRAISE for a job well done.  One was on a cable network show called “Alpha K9”.  A student handler was repeatedly cajoled by the instructors to praise his dog, and he simply refused to drop his tough-guy persona, and “feed” his dogs energy level.  Finally, the student made a mocking, sarcastic, attempt to comply which fell flat.  The student gave up and quit the program, his reasons unspoken.  Maybe he had personal issues at home, maybe he just wanted the dog to be another sidearm…I don’t know.  But the dog would never be a success without his handlers help, and that well had run dry some time ago.

The other example was a private student for scent-work.  The dog knew it’s job well, and did it well.  But the middle-aged lady handling him simply could not see the benefit of an “over-the-top” celebration when the dog performed well.  After every sweep, it was simple to see the dog look to her for the payoff in this game, and there was none.  It had all the celebratory feel of a Prostate exam.   After four sweeps, the dog lay down and simply didn’t want to play anymore while she held the leash.  “See?  She just gives up too quickly and won’t play anymore!  What is her problem??”  she lamented to me.

I always try to react to such questions gently and professionally.  Sometimes I fail.  “Why do you pay me to get together with you and “Shiloh”?  was my inquest.

“So she’ll learn to do scent-work, so we can compete…but she won’t work!”

My first reaction was to internally begin singing, ‘Swing loowww, Sweeeeet Chaaarreeee-ottt, a’comin’ for to carry me ho-wwmme!’ ( I tend toward old spirituals when I’m fighting to not slap someone upside their head.  Keeps me out of jail.)

“Okay, lets make things plain and simple. “  A very good start for me, considering. ” Shiloh is a great dog that already knows everything there is too know about scent-work.  She learned it as a puppy…What she’s missing is “incentive” to sniff out a Birch scented piece of cotton in a drawer.  There’s no fun here…May I show you what I mean?”

“If she’ll stand up and work, be my guest.  Good Luck!”  She answered.

I grabbed my leather tug toy from nearby and teased the German Shepherd  into grabbing it firmly, beginning a tugging game that I knew would spark a reaction of enthusiasm.  I whooped and laughed with her, making myself the center of her universe. I must have appeared silly to the lady, with my “Good Girl! Get the toy, Get the toy!  Good girl….!!!”   It was Canine-Mardis-gras as far as we were concerned, without the beads.  I allowed her to successfully take the toy from me when she pulled hardest, followed by the traditional German Shepherd  circle parade with the absconded toy.  As quickly as she returned to me, I attached her leash, and walked her to the small “scent-arena” that we use.  “Search!”  I commanded.

Shiloh’s eyes blazed and she nearly yanked the leash from my hand.  She worked a bit more frantically than I prefer, but I was making a point to a non-believer here.  When the dog found the birch scent, hidden in a top drawer, she hit the floor immediately in a tight indication.  I first made sure that she was “obedient” to the scent by pulling the leash, trying to take her out of the scent, (Yeah, I need to explain this at some point)  When I was satisfied, I whooped for joy and yelled “Good Girl Shiloh!  Good Girl!!!”  Then I produced the tug-toy and celebrated a bit more with the eager dog.  The lady actually laughed at our display at first, but when I repeated the game 5 more times in rapid succession, my point was made.  “Why did she work for you?  I don’t get it…”  The poor woman looked past the obvious.

She didn’t work for me, technically speaking”,   I began to open the door of understanding for her,  “…she worked because of the energy between us, because of the enthusiasm pulling her in, and because it’s just plain Fun!  Shiloh was bouncing on her front feet at my front position by now.  “Understand what I’m saying,  “Praising your dog is the foundation of your communication with your dog, and Communication is the foundation of successful dog training!”

After that session, the lady began to loosen up, and she’s starting to see the results of simple Praise and personal enthusiasm.  Further on, I had her visit a local Agility trainer of my acquaintance, for an observational lesson.  Just pure observation…Watch and Learn.  I did this because I believe that Agility trainers and Handlers are head and shoulders above most other trainers, based solely on the unbridled enthusiasm and energy that they put into training with their dog.  They are unfettered by feeling self-conscious of their actions in the training ring, and the energy level is palpable during practices and competition.  I’ve learned to watch the trainers and they are teaching a truly effective mode of operation.  Praise, Party, and Praise some more…Followed by a brief period of Praise.  Food treats aren’t even necessary, as the dog soaks in the energy of praise, and it shoots thru him like Ice Cream thru a lactose intolerant 5-year-old…

Practice your praise.  You’ll find that your training becomes more fun, more productive, and you’ll both look forward to it!

Thanks to Ammo the Dachsund! www.ammothedachshund.com

Thanks to Ammo the Dachsund! http://www.ammothedachshund.com

What I’m about to publish is not a conclusion I’ve drawn.  There’s no need for rebuttal, argument, or mudslinging.  There’s also no need for praise or accolades.  It is merely a Question I’ve been formulating for some time.  It started before I began to learn about Natural Dog Training, and it actually has it’s roots in the earliest days of working with my dogs.  It’s something I should have done much earlier, but hadn’t yet the insight to, ‘ take the road less traveled.’

For the large part of dog training history, “Drive(s)” have been a central tenet.  Which “Drive” controls or manages a particular behavior?  How can I build more ” Drive” in my dog?  How can I diminish a certain “drive” in my dog?  Look at the long list of “Drives” that certain “”experts” have identified, qualified, indemnified, and quantified.  Ball drive, Play Drive, Prey drive, Hunt drive, food drive, sex drive, pack drive, fight drive, tracking drive, ad infinitum.  Some insist that all of these drives are involved to varying degrees when training a dog.  Others postulate that only a single Drive actually exists, and it is labeled Prey Drive.  At the moment, I’m not pressing either opinion as most accurate, although I’ve trained in both theories, and the middle ground between them.  Maybe all  of this talk of “Drives” is meant for the human on the “educated” end of the leash…Something that helps us identify what’s happening in our dogs head.  Maybe it’s a handy way to project blame for our failure as trainers onto a dog with a “lack of whatever drive the dog should possess.”  Is it possible that our dogs don’t self-govern by the use of irresistible urges, or inborn, “Drives” at all??  Is there something less quantifiable at work?

I do know this:  Your dog doesn’t care which theory, or theories, that you subscribe too.  The dog cares only that he works off energy, feels safe, and has balanced emotion.   Your emotional state affects what your dog feels all of the time, like a ephemeral mirror of emotion.   And frankly, he can’t even tell you that this is what he needs in words.  Your dog has the wonderful ability to just “Be”.  It seems to me that if we, as humans, learn this skill equally, we’d all be better off, a little less tightly wound-up…

I’ve written several times on the subject of “building drive”, or “Training in Drive”, so this supposition that I’m postulating has been a personal struggle.  But something that I’ve learned has beckoned to me from behind a dark curtain…Dogs “organize” themselves in a group and accomplish what they need in the mindset of which individual “wants” something the most.  They rest will fall in line to support that “need”.  The individual  “alpha principle” within a group of dogs changes and flows with that energy.  There is no single alpha dog, but rather, a different member with the most energy at a given moment becomes the leader.  It’s an emotional response to whatever is of current interest.  Batteries have positive and negative charges that need to work together to produce a release of energy.  That’s what we may be mistakenly describing as “Drive.” 

Doesn’t “Drive” describes something that is answered to without hesitation or forethought?  When a dog has pent-up “energy”, and is looking for the opposite polarity to release that energy, he’s ” thinking” about the end result.  Not reacting mindlessly to external stimulus.  Too further the analogy, I will be attempting to discover a way to define this mental exercise going on within the dogs mind…Rather than a “Drive”, which confines the dogs abilities to mere evolutionary instinct and reaction, I’m theorizing something else.  In short and simple terms,  Your dog has an “intelligence”, uses it, and is not a helpless pawn to a “Drive.”  It knows what it wants, needs, and requires, and builds it’s “energy” to acquire it.  Often, thru the completion of the circuit emotionally, we help release the supplied energy.

The most difficult part of this “theory” is suspending our lofty, human approach to working with a dog.  That’s why this post is probably  going to draw the ire of so many.  Because humans are superior in intellect, we relegate our dog to the position of the lesser.  This causes us to believe the dog needs to respond to our wants, and ignore the dogs.  Maybe the best way to train is too become our dogs “completed circuit.”  When we work together, and take the lead, the dog will support the strongest “want” in the group willingly and naturally.  Again, this is “our” responsibility as trainers and handlers.  The dog will follow and reflect us without hesitation.

  I know this sounds very Unscientific to many.   But remember, Science Insists, It dismisses the unquantifiable, It denies the existence of the anything that can’t be charted or graphed. 

 

Oh, the things you overhear at dog events…I was sitting at an obedience trial practice not long ago.  A well-dressed lady of about 30 years old, was observing intently, as though she was sizing up the competitors.  As the handlers and dogs went through their (mostly) precision routines, she sighed, and looked dismal.  I heard her words before she even turned to this stranger and said them.  “I wish my dog could do that!!”

Well, I happened to be the stranger she was speaking to without her knowing that I was one of the event proctors.  When I proctor, I will frequently wear a jacket over my event supplied “official” shirt, identifying me as an official.  You hear far more important, and interesting,  things when you become one of the observers, rather than an official.

I decided to go all-out  “Tony Robbins” on this lady, because I had observed her dog earlier, and wanted to meet the beautiful, dark sable German Shepherd that she had brought.  My original assumption was this was probably a well-trained dog that I would be seeing a lot of during this event.

“Are you competing today?” I asked her.

” I wish…” she started slowly.  “But we just haven’t been able to get Loki trained well enough to even think about competing yet…she’s just way too hyper.”

“Who are you training with?” (Cue my best Tony Robbins voice)

“Well, I bought Loki from a breeder in southwest Ohio, and they recommended a trainer in Athens.  The lady there told me that Loki was too “High Energy” to be trained for obedience or Agility…she was just not suitable.  After that, we tried a Petsmart and they used a clicker.  It kind of worked, but Loki was just not going to stay still long enough to learn.  They asked us to leave because she was disruptive…They said that the breeder was probably a puppy-mill and bred poor quality dogs.  They wanted me to report them…”  she explained.  “We attend these competitions because I enjoy watching the dogs so much, but I’m paying for buying the wrong dog I guess.  But, I love her to death, so I’ll just deal with it…”

Oh, these are the times that try men’s souls…

“Okay,” I started, “Let’s talk about this.  Can I ask your name?

“Karen”, she offered.

” I personally know the breeder that Loki came from.  I can tell you that he is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a puppy-mill.  And even more, his dogs are well-bred and very capable of taking on any work you would like, and excelling at it…”

” I don’t know…” she seemed doubtful,  “the trainers have been right so far.  She just doesn’t respond to anything we’ve tried…she’s got a mind of her own…”  she seemed resigned to this conclusion.

This was going to be a tough case, but I plowed ahead.  “I’ve  learned something about dogs and their people Karen.  The dog feeds off our turmoil, joys, and emotions.  We usually end up creating the dog we think we have…you sound convinced that Loki will never be capable of anything you want her to do…If I may be so bold, I’ll say this…Keep feeding that mind-set to her, and she won’t ever amount to anything, but it’s nobody’s fault but yours.”  I was being more forward than I was comfortable with, but this was a tragedy waiting to happen.

“What do you mean by that…?”  her response was better than I had hoped.

“Well, we communicate with our dogs everyday, whether or not we know it.  Our human emotions, attitudes, and feelings affect them as well or better than vocal communication ever could.  When you  say to people that Loki  can’t learn and perform, and you Believe it yourself, you’ve  created a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It will happen just as you believe it will, because you gave up.  You surrendered to what some mis-guided and mis-trained “expert” wanted you to believe because they failed you and Loki and their ego doesn’t allow them to admit it.  They can’t possibly be the problem because they are trained and certified in the latest, most comprehensive scientific dog training method available.”  This was turning into a rant.

“Can you help us?” she implored me, looking for a miracle.

Better, I can help you understand how to help yourself.   Loki needs you to help you.  But I can help you change your mind-set.  You have to provide her with opportunities to do what she already knows how to do naturally, and let her energy have something to focus on.  It’s no harder for you to make her a success at Obedience, than for you to make her fail.”

“It’s sounds too simple…”  Karen said with a hint of doubt.

“First of all, start all over from this moment on with Loki.  Forget everything that the failures have said to you.  Start Believing that Loki and you are going to be successful at whatever you want to do.  Believe it in your heart and your mind…This is the most important first step of a journey that’s ahead of you both.  Loki is waiting for you to communicate to her thru your energy and demeanor that you Can do what you want to do.”  I was now repeating what I had heard a mentor of my own say to me a long time ago.  It just took me awhile to get it…I pass it on now with gratitude to my mentor.

This was the first conversation that Karen and I have had.  There have been others since, and Loki and Karen are making progress with  a good trainer.  Loki is not only a good dog, she is a great dog with unlimited potential.  A large part of communication is our attitude,  our belief in what we want to do…Our dog reads that far better than we seem capable of, and it’s our fault.  Every thought that crosses our mind affects our physical demeanor, and dogs are body language Masters.  “Belief” may sound like  psycho-babble or rhetorical non-sense to you at this point.  That’s fine, but in continuing to allow  that mindset, your feet are walking above a treasure horde that lies buried out of your reach.  Science cannot, and should not, be the end-all, be-all of our training with dogs.  Allow the idea that dogs have “emotion” to drive them, and “energy” to use in their activity.  You can tap into it, but you  need to learn that the energy and emotion you are putting out can sabotage your efforts.  Believe…

It’s important for you to know that I lived this experience myself.  My 3 and a half year old German Shepherd, “Hans” was described by our first trainer as too “soft” for schutzhund or protection work.  His temperament was too “social” and “pliable”.  This trainer told me the only way to train him was to make him “meaner than a snake”.  That trainer was an idiot.

I understood  that every dog has the heart of a hunter, boiling inside of him.  I just needed to learn how to allow him to use this energy when called upon to do so…My journey began with Believing he could be trained without being abused by stupid human tricks.  Today, I can walk into a public demonstration of dog skills and allow my boy to mingle without fear, as we’ve learned to communicate thru the Heart.

But when I allow Hans to “release the beast”, he is  fear-inspiring.  The energy flow from this big, black, teddy bear/werewolf combination proves out that a positive belief in your dog can produce minor miracles.  An understanding of what is happening within the dogs Heart, and then adding your own positive attitude (or belief) to his energy flow is something truly special to see. 

Because of my observation, I am convinced that a vital first step in communication is a belief in, around, and through the dog from the handler. Give it a try by adjusting your attitude.  If you care to test my conclusion, try jumping my “soft”  German Shepherd that an expert told me would never do protection work.  But wear a bitesuit…

believe

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
―    George Bernard Shaw

All training has, or should have, a foundation built on communication.  Every method of dog-training claims to be based on communication between dog and trainer.  Every Trainer claims to be in communication with the dog while they’re training together.  It’s a universal hubris that we share. “It’s as though my dog knows what I’m thinking before I give him the command.” we find ourselves saying.   I’ve begun calling that hubris, for simplicity sake, a delusion.  That delusion is costing our dogs dearly in emotional fulfillment.

Strangely enough, I’ve learned much of this truth  from an individual that lays no claim to ever having been a  “trainer of dogs”.  In fact, most of her dogs have never had “formal” training at all.  They’ve been allowed to live as dogs will, within the confines of what their “leader” will accept as proper, and she understands that dogs are motivated by “feeling”.  Everyday, on this breeders ranch property, you may find as many as seven or more intact male German Shepherds, milling about together with both human family, and visiting strangers of the human persuasion.  When the brood bitches are not in heat, you may very well also encounter them on the property beside the males.  From puppy to a nearly thirteen year old unfixed male German Shepherd, (A dog that has earned the right to be crabby at times), they live and thrive under the guidance of their emotional leader, a small, slightly built lady that lays no claim to being anything but a farm girl (a compliment if I ever gave one)that loves German Shepherds. (And makes AWE-INSPIRING Banana Cake.  But I digress)   Yet, the dogs watch her for every move, as though she looks down from Olympus itself, casting thunderbolts into the sky.  When she walks the property, her dogs are at her heel.  When she is in her kennel office, they swarm around her waiting for and receiving the support they seek.  And none of them has ever had a day of “sit”, “down”, “stay” formal training from a “trainer” that has a certificate of achievement, boasting that they are a “Master Trainer”.  In fact, among other signs in her office is one that say’s “Ranchin’s Hard Work.  Y’wanta?”  Which I believe says more about Mrs. Rhonda Sellers than necessary to back up my position that she is one of the finest trainers I’ve ever observed.  She works hard at understanding and communicating with dogs on a level that goes way beyond the “technique” of any Training modality.  She understands what her dogs “feel”, and understands them.  It’s that simple.

So what does that say about those of us that have “credentials”?

We need to work on our communications skills.  Not our dogs…they’re doing just fine waiting for us to catch up to them, like a rider waiting in a downpour at an open bus stop.. We need to re-define what “training” means. Are naturally performed commands sit Sit, Stay, and Down really Trained into our dogs?  Or are they just methods by which a dog relieves stress?   We need to accept and embrace the process of understanding that dogs “Feel”.  That the concept of what “drives” a dog has been made so complicated by well-intentioned but misguided “experts”,  that recovery is difficult at best.  The Operant Conditioning crowd has used the misnomer “Scientific method” as a billy club to convince the gullible that a clicker can accomplish miracles.  A supposition proven fatally flawed time and again, by the failure to help dogs with behavioral problems.  Our problem is education, NOT lack of it.  So many  “Trainers”are “educated” to do things incorrectly from the point of view of the dogs.  Not to put too fine of a point on this, but “Petsmart” store type “training” has done more damage to the dogs than a plague of distemper.

It’s just as big of a mistake to assume “human” tendencies in our dogs.  They are, in the end, still dogs.  They need and want us bi-pedals to get with the program already and respect their true “Dogness”.  I define that as realizing what motivates  our dogs in the real world, not the man-made world of guesses and theories, top-heavy with bias and egotism.  It’s so much simpler that we will make it, with our technologies, scientific thought, and Behavioral studies that are more about humans than dogs.

This thought process has shaped and cut away the useless chaff of my training regimen.  Gone are the overuse of treat morsels, gone are the toys at every success.  My dogs, and a few practitioners of real  canine communication have guided me down this road, and I’m determined to share it with others for the sake of the dogs.  Current methods allow a permissiveness that  is harming the mental strength of our dogs, especially those breeds that relied on the inner calm and heart of the trainer/handler, to perform important jobs.  It’s our fault as dog people, that this communication has waned, and only  when we rediscover a more natural way to listen and communicate will we understand where we have failed.  In this case, failure is a beginning to a better way for our dogs.  In my next post, I’m going to show you the steps I’ve taken specifically, on the journey of true Canine Communication.  I call the first step,  “I wish my dog could do that!”

Thanks for reading, it’s great to be back…and thank you for your support!  We have eclipsed 35,000 readers!!!