Archive for the ‘Cynopraxis’ Category

One of the benefits of writing for the public eye, is the learning that I do with every post or article.  The feedback you get is revealing, and sometimes deeply poignant.  Other replies are so angry that you feel the heat coming off the computer screen…In the other parts of my life, I have the privilege of doing a lot of public-speaking to groups.  My particular speaking- style involves being  quite informal, and occasionally leaving my prepared comments for  brief forays into “straight from the heart.”   I also learn a lot from these events…

The biggest lesson I’ve gleaned over the years?  Words and Thoughts are Tangible things that affect the souls around you.  Use them Wisely,  Kindly, and Judiciously…

Okay, what does that have to do with being seen naked by your dog?  Good Question…I’ll try and make this simple.  And the good news is this:  You won’t feel like you need to hit the gym or the Weight Watchers section of grocery store because of your dog.

As we learn to communicate with our dogs on a level beyond food treats, clicking, and leash techniques, it becomes evident that most of the communication is a One Way street.  The street leads from YOU, downhill, to the Dog.  The dog reads you perfectly, but the reciprocal is mostly non-existent.  The dog sees right thru every emotion, tension, and joy that you feel.  He expertly bases his every move based on the emotion pouring out of his human like a faucet on the sinking Titanic…They sense our “energy”, and they read it fluently.  And this works with every human they encounter…The energetic output of the human person is an open book to our dogs…Have you ever sensed that your dog doesn’t “Like” someone?  Sure you have…How does the dog know???  HOW does the dog know???  It’s because we are all Naked in the eyes of the dog.  At least figuratively…

Dogs are Mental beings, much as we humans are, with some differences.  Dog actually determine the value or threat of  humans in very short order.  Humans?  We get fooled all the time, and that’s how large bridges get sold, and fake Rolexes end up on unsuspecting wrists.  Go ahead, try to sell a dog the Golden Gate Bridge…He won’t go for even the best bargain basement price!

But seriously, think about this…Has your dog ever reacted to a stranger in such a way that you wondered what was wrong with that individual that seemingly, did nothing to provoke any reaction?  We humans broadcast our every emotion to the far reaches of the galaxy because we can’t help ourselves…Happy, Mad, Glad, and Sad, we BROADCAST all of it.  We are mentally NAKED to the most pedestrian of dogs.  Even more so to those dogs with training in protection and experience.

Another good example of this can be seen at any dog park.  There are always people to be seen, yelling or cursing at their own dog when it refuses to come to them.  Other transgressions are also met with snarly remarks, name-calling or even swatting the dog.  The dog reads this stuff like an eviction notice, and refuses to submit to it.

The fact that our dogs can see us as the naked, emotional, unstable, humans that we are, makes one correction necessary.  As handlers, trainers, or just owners, we do our dogs a giant favor by simply learning to calm our inner selves, and providing a calm, supportive, atmosphere.  I’ve observed a young handler at an Agility competition that further supports me.  The young lady had a wonderful Aussie that clearly loved the competition ring.  That day, the handler was upset about something, perhaps outside of the competition.  I don’t really know.  But between runs, she talked to several different people and it was easy to see her anger was hanging out all over.  The dog had begun hanging back from her on his leash, trying to avoid her emotional thunderstorm.  As the day progressed, the dogs performances got steadily worse.  As that happened, the handler became less and less patient.  Her own performance became quite unsteady, and they both went home disappointed and angry.  A earlier, that same team had won a national level competition.  This was about what the dog was seeing in his “Naked” owner.  Emotional Energy of a negative charge…

Think about this whenever you are with your dog.  What energy am I transmitting to the universe?  What naked appendage is my dog seeing?  We need to put on a coat of calm, with a nice turtleneck of positive attitude, and a pair of comfortable, confident, loafers.  Or some high energy, supportive and active Nike’s…

Again, this will take work and effort on our part as humans.  After all, the dog can’t help but see us “naked”…Lets show our dogs the best parts!!!

embarrassed-chimp

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If you work with, or just walk a large, black, German Shepherd around in public places, you will eventually be asked, “Does your dog bite?”  I guess that’s to be expected.  Owners of Pit Bulls, Malinois, and several other breeds suffer just the same line of questioning.  Time was, I would assure the questioner that my dog was definitely not a Biter, and yes, they could pet him.  Well, hindsight is 20/20, and I may have done my dogs a disservice.  Education has lead me to another path, and my answer to that question is far different today.  Not because Hans nailed some poor unfortunate, thank goodness, but because I’m more tuned into the true nature of the dog.  And you may not like what I’m about to expound on here, but facts are facts, and it will serve us all if we take responsibility for the predator on the “other end of the leash”.

The next time I speak to a group about dogs, or dog bites, or whatever, the response will go exactly this way, especially if it’s a group of children:

“Mr. Vaughan, does your dog bite?”

“Thank you for that excellent question!  Let me answer it this way.  How many of you have a dog at home?”  The audiences always have  more dogs than not.  “My answer is this:  Yes… undeniably, unequivocally, absolutely, and honestly, my dog bites.  And whats more, so does the dog you have at home that licks your face when you get home, and sleeps on your bed.  All dogs can and will bite!”

There will be gasps from the front row, and from school administrators worried about liability of such a beast loose in their school.  First, because Hans will probably be sitting nearby, off-leash, with that German Shepherd look on his face.  Secondly, because very few people believe that their Cocker Spaniel has any notion of biting anyone or anything.

The response I’ll give has a two-fold purpose.  First, I don’t want any child, or any adult to suffer a dog bite.  They are singularly unpleasant, and tend toward scarring and infection.  Please be careful when you approach any strange dog that you don’t know.

Secondarily, but far more interesting and perhaps more controversial, Your Dog Bites Because It’s a Predatory animal, and it enjoys Biting.  It’s the end result of his Predatory Drive.  Chase a ball, bite it.  Chase a rabbit, bite it.  Find a bowl full of kibble, bite it.  Wave little hands in front of a puppies face?  Probably gonna bite it.  And therein lies the problem.

The question before you as your dogs leader is this? ” How do I allow my dog the natural outlet of biting, without the biting being inappropriate at best, and tragic at worst?”

We struggled with this when we first had our German Shepherd, Hans.  He is a working dog and has the instinct to chase and bite.  The interesting thing was this:  Hans never bit me.  Not once.  However, my poor wife carried some bruises and bite marks that would horrify a coroner.  The bites were never delivered in aggression, but always happened when she would attempt her version of play.  Run away from him with the ball,  throw the ball and chase him when he wouldn’t give up the ball.  When he did bite, she would grab the dogs snout and say, “NO!” gently but firmly.  Hans saw that as a challenge.  Our 6 month old German Shepherd got a reputation with my wife.  “Why doesn’t he bite you???” she would cry.

Well, we figured it out eventually and Carol has since become a very fine trainer, but she learned the hard way.  It had to do with how I played with, and responded to his instinctual behavior.  Our play involved allowing him to fulfill the ultimate release of his instinctive behavior to hunt, that is to bite something.  When he was under a year of age, I used a five foot long, flexible fiberglas rod with a string attached to it.  The business end has a chamois cloth tied to it.  We would flip that chamois around around like it was crazed, and Hans’ job was to catch it.  The game finished when Hans was told to release the prize.  When he did, the game could resume, drop the chamois produced another round of catch it.  He picked up the game and the “Out” command very quickly.  This game also built his prey drive into something that could be readily utilized into his training.  As he grew older, I used a 24-inch , two-handed ,leather tug toy.  The idea was to grab the tug, bite it hard, and take it away from me.  I always allowed Hans to win this game after a bit of wrestling, and he became confident, and he knew when and what he was allowed to bite.  As an aside, this game also taught me how not to get bitten during this exercise.  I learned his approach, the look in his eyes, and his timing.  We developed his “out” command during this play consistently.  He will drop anything he has in his teeth upon command, and I do mean anything.  We practice this “out” even with raw turkey drumsticks.  Did the play create an aggressive dog?  Absolutely not.  And we’ve found a way to do what comes naturally to a predatory canine.  Teaching not to bite by teaching when and what to bite.

 

After his first year of life, we moved into bite sleeves and decoy work.  He loves these exercises, and he has tremendous recall off an attack, because we allow him to do what comes naturally in the first place.

Many will give the advice, “When a puppy bites, grab his snout and prevent him.  In my observation, you are retarding his instinct by doing this, and he’ll become frustrated quickly, leading to continuing problems.  You are better off to do what his litter-mates did when they bit each other to hard, give out a blood-curdling “Yip!!” that says, :That’s too hard!! Stop!!!”  The dog will often step back from you, shocked.  This is how you speak dog…Dogs teach each other the limits of biting, very early.

The key to outliving your puppies “biting/nipping” habit, is to teach him that biting is only for certain toys, and certain times.  The way to control it is natural…Find an activity that allows him to use his teeth for the purpose that God gave them to him.  As always, the secret to most dog training, is too spend the time necessary to work with, and understand your dog.  Find help when you have questions.  It will allow your dog to be his best!

 

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

There are times when I watch my dogs and try to imagine what they are thinking.  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.  But in that simplicity is a real command of Living…

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 believe that it’s time to allow myself to become  a mirror of my dogs mood and mental state, for my own good.

Like so many people, or maybe 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 to make these responsibilities even more palpable by the inclusion of an electronic array of devices that society tell us are necessary and 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, 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 Iphone, 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 others.  Look around for someone of 25 years of age or under without a sweaty ear-bud inserted, spewing out racket at 140 decibel.  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…

Zendog

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?”  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 gate open.  I’m going to master just focusing on whats really  important.  I’m going to imitate my dogs and learn to “Be”…

lifepup!!

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