Archive for the ‘Dog Training’ Category

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:


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…


                                      “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!

Thanks to Ammo the Dachsund!

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…


“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!!!

After a somewhat prolonged hiatus from writing here, I am finally back and rarin’ to go.  With my Fathers death and memorial service behind me, I am now ready to think about other things.  Thank you to everyone that sent notes and e-mails of condolence.  Of Dad, I will offer you only this:  It is beyond wonderful and inspiring to know and see that your Dad was loved and admired by so many people, for so many years. 

Some of you dear readers have mentioned that you prefer me to write  posts that reveal my thoughts and methods on dog-training rather than describing my experiences currently taking place with Kevin Behans Natural Dog Training (NDT).  Some even noted that I sound like a religious convert, ready to abandon my own thinking in whole.  Well, no apology here.  NDT works, and it reflects so much of my own thinking and efforts.  However, rather than attempt to explain what Kevin has developed, I will strive to explain my own viewpoint of what NDT is accomplishing with my dogs.  If I occasionally stray from how some members of the tight-knit and very welcoming NDT community would explain NDT, I offer this:  Understand that I see NDT from a different vantage point, for now anyway.  I am neither philosopher nor scientist, just a Canine handler looking to share my experience.  I’ll continue to grow, but I must be what I am…Watch me grow.

As I’ve developed my own approach to dog-training, begun to absorb NDT methods  and reviewed my own experiences in depth, my thinking has evolved along several unexpected pathsThe poets would label this serendipity, and so shall I. This journey has turned up some unexpected and wonderful experiences.  After all, if we do not learn, change and grow from our efforts, we will certainly stunt our own development as trainers and human beings.  One such road involves something that is recommended in the raising of dogs and human children.  The word itself seems to shout success to every dog person I know…


Consistency, Thy Name is Bull!!!



Or “Be Consistent” or “Develop a Consistent…” whatever.   I want to challenge certain elements of that philosophy now.  Not the elements such as Potty-training, tooth-brushing, (What do you mean you don’t brush your dogs teeth???  Prepare to be lectured soon!!!) ear-cleaning or social skills.  Teaching these things consistently will help ingrain them into your dog brain.

I’m talking about your training in Obedience, Scent work, Schutzhund, Agility, Rally-O, or other activities of the sort.  Consistency can become boring, and in turn prevent your dog from using the energy that needs to be worked off.  Stick with me here…This partially coalesced for me with a fellow trainer  (we’ll call him Bruce, because thats his name)  that complained  one day that his dog knew everything they were going to do before he had opportunity to communicate with him.  The dog was becoming listless and distracted in his work, and his playtime.  The dog showed no real motivation when put on a trail, he’d drop off your arm during bitework and walk away.  First, he had Bongo checked over by his Vet to reassure himself that the dog was healthy.  One Hundred over One Hundred…Bongo was perfectly healthy.  This called for thinking the problem thru, so we hied ourselves off to the man-cave, with two glasses of distilled conversation starter and the two dogs.

Before a serious analysis could begin, we made ourselves comfortable.  Shortly thereafter, Bruce produced a clip-board with a printed,  dog-eared, daily schedule attached.  “What’s that Bruce?’ I inquired, snagging a piece of pickled baloney for myself from the canister in the refrigerator.

“Bongo’s training schedule.  We follow it everyday.  Consistency is everything in training a dog.  We follow this religiously.  Bongo practically goes from exercise to exercise without direction from me.  If  I skip something, or go too long, he gets all giddy and I lose his attention…How can you eat that stuff?!”   Bruce explained while snorting at my Up North delicacy.

“Let’s practice together tomorrow, and maybe we can figure something out that will help him.” I offered.  “And don’t insult my pickled baloney ever again.  You can be hog-tied to the hood of a truck for saying that in Michigan.”

The next morning, we practiced together.  Watching Bruce and Bongo together, many would say, “Wow…What a Team.  They react to each other so precisely, like they read each others mind…”  Even their play session was predictable and the energy level never changed. There was no ebb and flow, high or low. It was choreographed and performed by rote.

I would have never noticed this before beginning to understand the tenets of Natural Dog Training.  One of those tenets is Emotion.  Bongo was devoid of Emotion while they worked.  So was Bruce.  In simple terms, they were bored out of their minds!!  At this point, I had the thought that they were being consistent in their training, just as they had been trained.  Bongo and Bruce  were acting like  graduates of the Karen Pryor Click for Tricks School…Bongo had been “shaped” into a bored dog, and Bruce wasn’t far behind him.  It was all “Perform, Treat,,, Perform Treat, ad infinitum.”  The “Consistency” was hurting both of them…

It took me a few minutes to consider how to help them, but it finally hit me.  “Hey Bruce!  Bring Bongo over here!  I want to try something…”

Normally, we don’t trade off dogs for practice sessions, (though I think we will begin this practice shortly) but I was having  an active epiphany.  I grabbed a 24-inch leather tug-toy from my bag, a toy that Bongo had never seen before.  (In fact Bruce had been using the same Kong toy exclusively, as well as his barrel sleeve, the whole day.)  “Let’s try something off-the-grid…Lets see if the wild-child is still living inside of your dog…”

Bruce released Bongo from his leash and the dog looked confused.  “Now what do I do???”  Bongo looked at Bruce.

I rushed the big Malinois with the leather toy provocatively, and he immediately engaged with all of those glimmering white teeth flashing.  We began a rough and tumble game of” tug and push” (for more explanation of this important technique, see the NDT websites and written materials) which I repeatedly allowed the dog to win.  He transformed into a different dog nearly instantly.  Here was “Emotion” pouring out of this recently listless animal like a volcano.  I ended up working Bongo for an hour, doing things he had done a thousand times before.  Except this time, I was changing up, no, IGNORING  consistency.  My advice to Bruce was simple and direct.  “Throw away the clipboard and schedule, and have some fun with your dog.  Consistency is poison to the dogs mojo!”

I took this thought process away with me and began to observe other trainers and how they work.  Most had “Consistencies” that they never changed.  Always reward with a treat, always reward with a toy, always use the same toy, do obedience drills in the same order, feed the dog at the same time everyday, and on and on…Most felt that this “Structure” was good for the dog.  I now disagree with this wholeheartedly!!!  Much of this boils down to “Communication” with the dog.  Rote behavior, good or bad, is still rote behavior.  Behavior by Habit.  Completely dismissive of allowing your dog to answer his Drive, and the communication between handler and dog…Building a frustrated dog if you will.  I am now focusing on motivating my dogs by being the most interesting, compelling thing in their lives.  That doesn’t require toys, food, e-collars, or plastic clickers.  It requires that my dog and I Communicate together.  Giving my dog the “anticipation of the unexpected” (I need to trademark that phrase quick!) has turned them both into dogs that adapt quickly to change in or on the field, practice or real-time.  Does this sound impossible?  Well, it’s not.

However, it does require that you take a different approach.  Rather than teach a dog to drool when it hears a bell, sit when you click, or track piles of food in clear footprints or trenches, develop your dogs motivations thru bonding.  The Natural bond between human and canine is proven by time immemorial, but humans have complicated or even dismissed this relationship.  Let’s  stop training in a way that is unnatural to their mind, and stuffs their emotion back down the blackhole of scientific “theory”.  Stop relying on Consistent Habits of Behavior science.  Remember this too…Your dog will reflect your mindset.  If you are bored, your dog will follow suit, etc, etc,.

The next time you work or play with your dog, leave the toys and treats at home, and get your dogs attention by being worthy of his focused  attention.  Play hide and seek,  chase something different than usual as a toy.  Use a DIFFERENT ball than usual,  put the consistency aside and surprise your dog, AND Yourself!  Learn to enjoy the adventure of finding new ways to play and work together…This adventure, depends on your imagination as a handler and a trainer.  Focus on building that bond and you will both grow!