Archive for the ‘Dog training Research & Development’ Category

It’s July in Ohio.  It’s hot, it’s humid, and the air hangs like a mouldy blanket left at a Boy Scout Jamboree 2 weeks hence.  Walking, exercising, and training with the dogs during the day becomes uncomfortable if not dangerous.  Personally, as someone that prefers the climate of the northern Great Lakes, this place is only 2 steps from climatic perdition…That’s why our activities have taken place very early in the day for the last month or so…when it’s only 85 degree’s outside.  Sorry Ohio, I dislike your climate even more than I dislike your college football team.  (That which shall not be named here.  LOL)  But I digress into humor when my actual point is quite serious.

A pre-dawn walk is a riot of peacefulness.  Birds swooping over the lawns searching  for breakfast, a whitetail deer crossing the golf course with her two late spring fawns, a pattering of a light rain shower on the leaves,  the river running with the recent overflow of water.  A mother raccoon and her kits are busily eating my neighbors sweet corn crop in his fenced backyard. I can hear the babies cooing with delight at each juicy morsel they inhale.  Momma raccoon purrs with satisfaction, knowing that her babies will soon leave the nest and move on to their own devices, freeing her from the burden.  It’s noisy, but it’s natural.  By my side are the two German Shepherds that my wife and I share our lives with, both looking up at me wondering, “Where to today, Dad? Huh? The river? Chase the geese? Huh? Huh?”

Normally, I walk each dog individually, giving them ample time to do as each wants.  Those walks are often distracted by training or exercising some skill or behavior.  When I walk them together, I’m searching for something else.  Inspiration.  Clarity.  Prayer.  Or maybe something I can’t describe.  At any rate, it’s not about physical exercise…and the dogs are with me to be observed for whatever they can teach me…

My recent writing about the “Bond” that we all want to develop with our dogs has been on my mind like an icicle growing on the eaves of the house.  Dripping, growing slowly, drip, drip, drip.  There’s much more to be written and pondered, and this current walk together has been a catalyst of thoughts.  Now if I can only manage to get them on the screen with some sort of clarity…

When you sit in a forest in the anthracite black of night, or walk  in the twilight of the approaching dawn, and you really focus, it becomes obvious that all living things are interconnected.   All things living are symbiotic in some way…True, humans are closer to the animals than we are to the trees, but we are all part of, and dependant on each other to varying degrees.  How could we not be?  We all come from the same Creator.  He alone understands the full measure of the bond between all living things. ( Okay, if you don’t accept that there is a God, a Creator…then what I say here probably won’t be your cup of tea.  Just give me a listen anyway.)  That’s your loss…those that believe that this all came about by chance, by evolving are missing something wonderful.  Namely this:  All Things Have A Purpose.  The belief that all of this came about by chance takes away all meaning in life.  There would be no reason for it, and it would eschew responsibility for anything.  Nothing to look forward to…Be born, live a while, and die.  That’s a sad way of life, and I fear that more people live it than we realize.

Faith tells me that not only are all living things dependant on each other, but some of those living things were meant to have special and fulfilling relationships.  Like Humans and dogs…humans and horses…humans and fresh strawberry pie.  (Sorry, strawberry pie isn’t a living thing, but I do feel a very deep relationship with it.  Digressing again)     That’s what I was thinking as I walked with the dogs this morning.  I realized that as we have been overtaken by technology, science, and the human insistence on making work easier, we have abandoned this bond between all living things.  The Clan of All Living Things has been fragmented at best, and shunned at worst.  Horses were working partners, as were dogs.  They lived to serve their keepers, and their Keepers cared for them as cherished work mates.  There are still people who treat their animals this way, and you’ll find that they have the best ” Bond” that can be had.  Training methods are NOT the key to the Bond,  and such people prove this everyday.  Sensing the emotional output/input of the dog is the key.   Allowing the  energy between master and canine to flow unimpeded…What I mean by that is simple.  “Training Time” is time to train.  “Bonding” time is time to observe, listen, and understand.  Yes, training does aid in creating bond, but it’s only part of the equation to that end.  I’ve been reading the book, “Rin Tin Tin, the life and the legend”  by Susan Orlean,(http://www.amazon.com/Rin-Tin-Legend-Edition-Hardcover/dp/B00BR5G9M0/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top and I was surprised to learn about the “method” (or lack thereof) that Lee Duncan used with his beloved dog.  Duncan describes it as their “Wanting to please each other, and see the other happy.”   Okay, that quote screams of esoterica understood only by the quotee, but something about it rings true.  Duncan and Rin Tin Tin were together constantly.  They communicated on the dog’s level, in language and behavior that the dog understood.  Duncan never made Rinty a small human in a fur coat.  They had, “The Bond”…(A reading of this interesting book gives a bit more insight, but it is ultimately a very sad story.)

What I take from the story is that their relationship was not “Built” by any training method.  “Built” has a connotation of forcing or shaping  something into existence. Often with resistance from the subject.  Duncan gave credit to the deep bond they shared for Rinty’s huge bag of talents.  He states that they never learned “Tricks”.  Certainly there had to be some form of training, but they mention little of it.

Again, I’m not offering any strident method to building a bond with your dog.  My suggestion is only this:  Put aside the training and the discipline for a few minutes a day, and just be with your dog.  Observe (don’t sit there trying to interpret body language) Talk to the dog, (No, he won’t speak back), but he’ll become accustomed to knowing that he has your undivided attention aside from everything else.  Turn off the science and try to feel the flow that moves your dog…My suggestion for practicing this is to sit out in the dark some night this summer and just Listen…You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.  The same thing goes for the dog…You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed while you were busy working at having a dog, instead of enjoying the dog just being with you…

As a final thought, I want to state that I now believe that this “Bond” cannot be built, as though from a blueprint.  Rather, like most natural, created things, it “develops” in a time and manner uniquely to itself.  Allow yourself to watch it develop, and stop trying to force it…That doesn’t mean I’m foregoing “Training” and “Working”, not by a long shot!  But there should certainly be time to just watch the passage of time,  the learning process, and your own growth as a dog trainer.  Treat yourself and your dog to this simple pleasure…

 

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I am an admirer of the contemporary essayist and writer, Edward Hoaglund. (If you’re interested, here’s more info.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montaigne)    Chances are, you’ve never heard of him, but thats’ why I’m writing this post.  Mr. Hoaglund was born in New York, New York in 1932.  During his early twenties, he took a job at the Ringling Brother and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus  tending to the large cats that took part in the circus acts.  Pretty exciting stuff for a young man looking to find a voice in the world…Thats a side note regarding my admiration for him, as young Edward had a speech impediment, a severe stammer.  He is quoted as saying, regarding this problem,  “‘Words are spoken at considerable cost to me, so a great value is placed on each one. That has had some effect on me as a writer. As a child, since I couldn’t talk to people, I became close to animals. I became an observer, and in all my books, even the novels, witnessing things is what counts.”

You see, he and I share a speech impediment.  His,  a stammer making speech unintelligible at times.  My own is a strangulated vocal chord sometimes making my voice too weak to be heard, or hard consonants impossible to form.  So we’ve both bonded with the written word, in order to bring to life what we observe, feel, and need to express.  We also share a great love of canis familiaris, and we sate our love for them by writing about them.  I was ruminating over my recent post on “The Bond” we all seek to form with our dogs, and it occurred to me that Edward had written something quite profound in the same vein.  I frantically tried to remember where I had read it, but couldn’t find it for Part 1…Well, I finally found it in my journal, where I recorded it, and it will be central to the rest of this post.  Here’s the quote:

“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human.  The Point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog!” – E. Hoaglund.

Pretty profound if you’re asking my opinion.  And yet, it’s almost a completely ignored concept in the world of dog training today.  An examination of specific modals of contemporary “training”  show a heavy and misguided reliance on  pure “Science”, which ignores that dogs are bound, or even freed, by the emotional capacity that they have.  Science and Behavioral Theory ignore the true source of the bond that human and dog can achieve together, namely a flow of energy that produces positive action between the two living souls.  Heavy reliance on clickers and food treats(and the crazy idea of ever increasingly, “high value”  treats)  to achieve obedience, or tricks, or whatever actually blocks the ideal flow of energy thru the dog, by interruption.  Therefore such methods are more like bandages on sucking chest wounds, unable to stop bleeding because of inadequacy.  Training our dogs should more properly focus on the personal trust and bond that we build with our dog from day one together.

The $100,000,000,000.00 question is this:  How do I develop my own “dogness”, a state of empathy (as opposed to sympathy) with my dog?  And can we achieve that state?  Truth be told, I don’t know…but I’m trying anyway.

I’ve noticed a recent proliferation on the internet of sites that focus on “Observation” of canine behavior.  Body language and physical reactions that reveal what’s going on between those fuzzy ears.  Facebook has a page that shows photo’s of dogs and page members post their interpretation of different “signals”.  I believe that careful observation is an important part of developing “dogness”, but from reading the various posts, it seems to me that “Human Psychological”science is encroaching  on the discussion.  Some of the observations turn the dogs into furry humans with human reactions to various situations.  It becomes so complicated, burdened with way too much  minutiae, that the salient points are shrouded in “What does that mean?”  But I do believe that some of it is on track.  Most especially those observations that are simple.  Those that allow dogs to be dogs.  Those that understand that dogs are really very simple, uncomplicated, creatures.  It is only human science that turns the mind of a dog into a convoluted labyrinth of difficult to understand behaviors.  Becoming aware of your own “dogness” may well be a result of your own willingness to be simple and straightforward in your own thinking.   Again, this is a major obstacle to most people who call themselves “Trainers”, or  “Behaviorists”.  They want canine behavior to be complicated, understood only by people with degrees and formal education.  Many want to put dog training into the stratosphere of professions so that those who have only experience are cast aside as “wannabees”.  But I’m telling you, dogs are much happier as simple thinking souls.  That’s not to say that dogs are stupid, or mindless.  They do have intelligence, that much is rock-solid.  But when we understand their inherent simpleness, we can approach what Hoaglund was speaking about… becoming partially “dog”.

The first thing that I’ve attempted in gaining this bond, is to simplify my own approach to training.  I took every book on training and understanding dogs that I own, the notes from every seminar I’ve attended, and tried to distill them into one, simple truth.  I began with the concept of “Drives”.  There are behaviorists and trainers that will assign a different “drive” to every behavior.  In my thinking, they all can be refined into a single motivator, a single “drive”.  It’s called “Prey Drive”.   The drive to hunt, search, eat, and play for one essential reason.  Your dog is a “hunter”.  Operating off this conclusion has allowed me to ask simpler questions of why my dog does what he does.  “Why would a born-hunter react in this way?”  “What would a simple hunter do in this situation?”  That’s my approach…Not everybody subscribes to what I do, and that’s fine.  You find your way…Ask yourself this:  How can I see the world in the same way as my dog?  How do I suspend the human tendency to judge and analyze everything that comes before me, and react like a dog would?  How does my dog communicate with me?  Am I trying to see things from his viewpoint, or am I forcing him/her into some wayward, human paradigm like Operant Conditioning or pure Pack Behavior?  Have I ever tried to duplicate my dog’s way of communicating?  For instance, have I ever tried to duplicate a “play-bow” to my dog?  What was the reaction?  Try not speaking to your dog, and communicate thru body language…or facial expression.  Closely observe how your dog reacts to your mood…If I get frustrated or even angry about something, what does my dog do?  Hide?  Growl at me?  Suspend your adulthood for a few minutes, and pretend to be a dog!  Sniff at things, roll over on your back…whatever a dog does during it’s time.  (I’d not recommend that you  go around humping things like some dogs are wont to do, as this could lead to legal and ethical, not to mention social complications)  Find a way to Be Dog.  It will open up a whole new understanding of your canine friend!

(P.S.-  I’d also not recommend allowing someone to lead you around on a leather collar and leash in public.  More complications that you don’t want.  I’m just sayin’…)

 

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.

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.

First off, I want to say that my experience with Autism is limited.  If I don’t know the lingo behind the condition, forgive me.  And correct me if you know…There’s a world of misunderstanding that surrounds what is known as Autism, and while I’m learning about it, maybe others will too.  I see that as a win/win.

My wife and I have made several observations lately on how dogs react, and pro-act, with people who are autistic.  It  intrigues us as we watch the dogs behavior change, as well as the change that comes over a child, or even an adult, that has autism. ( I’m having a difficult time writing the sentence, “…suffers from Autism.”  My untrained and neophytic observations of those with autism, don’t reveal any suffering in the classic sense…Frustration at times, even anger…But most of the children and young adults I’ve met are actually fairly happy people, with the provision of understanding and compassion from others.) 

We’ve watched autistic children, that would seem to not have social skills of any sort, suddenly become calm and controlled around dogs that pay attention to them.  We’ve  watched “high energy” dogs suddenly become sedate and supportive, even instructive, to these children…helping them cope with the outside world.  What the heck is going on in their minds?     Do dogs think in the same way as the Autistic?  Do those with autism think like canines?  Is there some symbiotic relationship possible there?  These are the questions that prompted me to start researching this intriguing research.

It wasn’t long before the name Temple Grandin popped up in my search.  The research monkeys were immediately shuttled over to the public library, to begin reading everything this earnest and brilliant woman has written.  If you are unfamiliar with her work, believe me, she’s a prolific writer.  Everything from multiple books on multiple subjects, to scholarly peer-reviewed scientific papers.  Figuring out where to start was problematic, because everything I picked up had snippets of wonderful insight.  Unlike my usual approach to research, I didn’t try to focus on any single subject.  I allowed myself the luxury of letting Dr. Grandin introduce herself from the many sides of her work.  There were several, what I’ll call “dichotomies”, to begin with.  She is a staunch advocate for the proper treatment of animals, (Not necessarily an “Animal Rights” nut.)  Yet her career has been as a designer of equipment that is now widely used in processing cattle into that beautiful steak on your grill.  She simple loves animals of all sorts, but realizes that certain species serve mankind as protein.  If they are to be processed, (go ahead, say it…) If they are to be killed, then do it as humanely as can be.  Some reading this will balk at what she does, but it’s life in Reality-ville, and Doctor Grandin holds no contempt for non-meat consumers.  She thinks of the cattle with respect and dignity.

The woman who has a penchant for hand-sewn Western-style shirts, (Picture Marty McFly in Back to the Future 3.)   also has a gift for interacting with other animals.  Her book “Animals Make Us Human”, discusses livestock both domestic and completely wild.  Most important to this writer, she discusses canines at great length.  I could go into more detail on this, and I may in another post, but don’t forget the real point of this post.  Dr. Temple Grandin is Autistic.  This fact would fade into nothing if you allowed it too.  But her autism is the catalyst for much of her writing, and it serves her well.  She seems to have a different wavelength in her mind when she deals with dogs, cats, cows, or chickens.  She admittedly, and quite candidly, writes about her life long struggle to understand people nearly as well as she does the animals.  We mystify her with our human behavior…

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, my purpose in taking on this subject is not to offer advice, counsel, or direction.  I have none to give in my experience with Autism.  I’m searching for knowledge from those who know it first hand…But there’s something of value to be found here, I know, and if I can drag a few of my readers along for the ride, I will be happy and satisfied.  I’m not even sure how the “Autism community” feels about Grandin’s work, and I’m looking for other perspectives to round out the knowledge.  Help me out!

This much I have observed, and know.  Dog’s and autistic children interact in a very unique and special way that fulfills something for both.  How can dog owners with willingness to become involved?  What is there to learn from the interaction of these two very different species?  What can it teach us about the workings of the human brain and psyche?  How can it help find a cure for Autism?  What do we learn about the canine mind?  I’m looking for these answers, and insight from as many as possible…

For more on Temple Grandin:   http://templegrandin.com/

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