Archive for the ‘“Don’t give up on that dog”’ Category

This will be my 200th post of “German Shepherd Adventures.”  A bit more than 4 years worth of reporting, editorializing, opining, teaching, learning, screwing up, eating crow, declaring victory, and growing.  The blog has changed as I’ve learned and changed, and it’s dug in its heels where I have lead it.  I’ve enjoyed it all.  I’ve hated some of it.  Its grown beyond my wildest expectations, and I hope to welcome member # 100,000 this Spring.  There are 168 different countries in the subscriber list, including someone from McMurdo Sound, an Antarctic Research Station!  (That thrills me to no end!)

The Good has far outweighed the Bad parts by a long shot.  I’ve been fortunate to make friends with, and make mentors of a few very talented writers, trainers, and others.  Imagine how thrilling it was for me to exchange thoughts with Mr. Ray Bradbury before his death in 2012…I was a fan of his from boyhood, and when I learned that he had read “GSA” and enjoyed a particular post enough to contact me, I almost fainted. Exactly how he found “German Shepherd Adventures” has never been clearly explained.  He said only that he was,” researching something”, for a short story, and Google spit me out.  I hold no claim to being a “Bradbury” level writer, but he was genuine and encouraging and enthusiastic.  We shared similar views on learning, laughing, and life, and I treasure our brief friendship…Among other notables, I count Carol Lea Benjamin, author, Dog-Trainer, and all around good egg.  Her training methods were at the bedrock of what works best, and she explains it clearly and without ego.  She has a touch of whimsy and laughter about her, and her cartoons rival James Thurber any day of the week.  Carol Lea also managed to get me interested in the Mystery genre.  Her fiction is a “potato chip” type of fare.  You will always look for, “just one more”.

Another luminary among writer/trainers that I’ve been privileged with knowing is Lee Charles Kelley, as well as his mentor Kevin Behan of “Natural Dog Training” fame.  Kevin has developed this way of helping many understand dogs “flow”, but nobody explains it better than Lee Charles Kelley.  Many thanks to both of you and the Natural Dog community.

Among the wonderful trainers, I simply must thank people like Wade and Lori Morrell, Ivan Balabanov, Andrew Ramsey, Michael Burkey, Becky MacGregor, Angie Ballman-Winters, Brett McKnight, Kevin and Cheryl Goede, and the group at Balanced Trainers from Dan Audet down the line.

I suppose that I could publish a list of “Low-lites” and “Low-Lifes” as well, but why bother?  They are a much smaller group, and below my notice.

Finally, I must thank Rhonda Sellers, and the Omorrow Pack.  I started “German Shepherd Adventures” with this group of people as my focus, and they have formed a wonderful core of friends.  I had no idea that the blog would eventually grow beyond those confines, and I didn’t care.  Being part of this family of crazy German Shepherd people was enough for me, and I thank each and every Omorrow friend for coming along on the journey so far.  Rhonda, you are a mentor and friend in the truest possible way, and I will always be indebted to you, and as grateful as I can be…

As for the parts of writing this blog that I’ve hated?  Well, most of them involved the cowardice and self-serving interests of people that enjoy hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard.  Dealing with the darker corners of opinion and political-correctness, has been tiring and wearisome.  The rantings and raving of such people are a huge waste of time.  Those who practice militancy are a sad and confused lot, and doing more harm to the dogs and the dog community than is warranted.  I will continue to reveal their ignorance as much as possible.  On the positive side of these people, is the fact that they have often caused my readership to blossom into the eyes of new dog people and those looking for the best way to work with dogs.  I will continue to refer them to trainers that I know will help them determine “Best Practices” in dog training.

This is my way of thanking everyone that takes the time to read “German Shepherd Adventures”.  I hope that you will continue to visit with me here, and I will do my best to keep making it worth your time…

Above all…I want to thank my dearest friends, CarolAnn, Hans, Holly, and Sammy.

Hans, there has never been a better friend than you have been.  No more loyal partner, fellow worker, or goofy buddy.  I promise you a long and happy life.

Holly, my golden girl, you have become much more than what I thought was possible.  Above any other dog, you have taught me the most about Training, and How dogs Think.  You have challenged me, taught me, and given me the opportunity to learn from the masters.

Sammy, my newest buddy, you are something I never expected.  Your loyalty and manner have taught me what dogs are capable of when it comes to nurturing, helping others, and having insight into the human spirit.  You read people like no other living soul I have encountered, and you teach me without hesitation.

Finally, Thank you to my dear wife, CarolAnn.  You put up with this silly collection, and make it your own.  You must be out of your mind, but it seems to work…

Okay, everybody, Go  Take Your dog out and do something!!!



Here we go again, another hot button issue on the periphery of our friend, the dog.  If it’s not training methods, then it’s breed standards, or standards of a particular breeder.  Those are the evergreens.  We might also include the differences between rescuers as opposed to buying from breeders.  Vaccinations against more holistic methods.  Raw feeders v Kibble feeders…The arguing goes on no matter the subject.  It is my belief that, as dog people we will soon be completely unable to stop outside factions from taking control of our interests, because we can’t agree on anything that really matters.  When I posted a challenge to my readers to find something that we ALL do agree on, I was disappointed in the answers.  Most were based on emotion.  And while I agree with the sentiment, “We all want what’s best for our dogs.”  it doesn’t really protect us from the onslaught of rules and legislation that some would impose on dog-owners everywhere.  So I’m going to wade into the latest attempt to prevent good people from practicing what they love most, and are most skilled at doing.  Much of the problem comes from those with “Certification”, “Title” or “Degree”, but little experience.  Education, but little instinct for the art.  Desire for control, but scant leadership ability.

  Should “Dog-Training” require higher education and Licensing from a Controlling Organization in order to protect consumers and ensure that Positive Methods of Training are observed?

This is the latest skirmish among those of us in the canine professions, and there is at least a small group that would love to make it a subject of Governmental legislation.   Not to put too fine a point on the subject, but most of the sturm und drang, encouraging more control and necessitating expensive licensing, is coming from those that follow the Purely Positive philosophies.  Many of them have an alphabet soup of degree’s that they love to place after their names wherever they can find space for them.  They complain against, and harbor real hatred for individuals such as Cesar Millan, who has no degree hanging from his wall.  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not entirely in Millans camp either, but he may be the foremost authority on being demonized and hated by fellows in the industry.   Anyone that can rightfully say that they practice anything similar are also demonized by the “Other Side.”  And truly, Cesar Millan is only the tip of an iceberg that would have crushed the Titanic, as opposed to the minor, but effective damage that  hunk of frozen water caused.

The largest impetus behind this legislation of “Certification”, seems to be, ubiquitously, filthy lucre.  Money.  With a dash of  “do it MY way, or don’t do it at all.”  Check out the websites of the various “professional” organizations that claim to represent “Dog Trainers/Training” as an industry.  None of what they offer is inexpensive, although some of the programs may have benefits.  Pay the charge, and you may be allowed to train with one of several big names in the industry.  Pay more and you’ll be given credentials, some without ever having to meet the individual responsible for teaching you.  Assembly line “certification”.  But under the proposals of an elite cadre of individuals, those payers would still be able to hang out a shingle “legally.”  And make no mistake, they are overwhelmingly instructed, indoctrinated, and walking lock-step with the Purely Positive mind-set coven.  Their intent is too force everyone to lose the use of certain tools, techniques, and methods that stand out from Purely Positive.  Don’t believe this can happen?  Then why are German Trainers forced to hide and deny use of training collars or various types?

Keen observation of this situation fascinates me.  I get to see  dog-training from several divergent perspectives.  First, The Law Enforcement K9 trainers.  Second, The IPO/  schutzhund/PSA  perspective.  Third, The Service/Therapy dog perspective, and finally, The Pet Dog/Rescue/Boarding facility perspective.  They couldn’t be more different.

In the Schutzhund/IPO/Law enforcement world, Performance Is The Proof of a good, solid, trainer.  There’s no obsession over who holds what degree, what Trainer Organization pay homage (and cash) too.  What matters, is what the dog has learned under your guidance.  Word of mouth is the best advertising, and the weak and unskilled, or ego-driven can’t survive.  And they don’t.  Yes, there are plenty who claim great skill in training protection/sport/LE dogs, but they soon fall victim to their own failures.  Performance is the primary judge in this arena.

The Therapy/Service dog arena has hitherto been a world of people wanting sincerely to help.  Good people more concerned with capable, skilled, dogs than who trained the dog.  But I see disturbing trends in this system.   over certification, outside interests controlling what types of training are mandated, outside interests trying to change where Service dogs are welcome, businesses restricting access to PTSD/Emotional support dogs, and more.  Alongside those problems, there are people selling credentials to anybody that wants to walk an untrained dog anywhere they please, whenever they please.  The Service Dog problems are two-headed and complex.  I don’t know where the balance will come from, but there’s a real battle ahead.  This area needs discussion and balanced administration.  I hope that those involved have the wisdom to find ways to continuing to provide these valuable working dogs to people that desperately need them.

Finally, the Pet Dog industry.

You’d find more rules/laws in Port Royal, Jamaica circa 1655.  Anybody can hang out a sign and print business cards and call themselves a “Dog Trainer”.  But don’t get me wrong, I support that right.  Success or failure should come from the hand of the consumer.  If a dog trainer doesn’t produce successfully trained dogs/owners, the market and word of mouth will eliminate them.  Trainers of ALL methods.  Trainers with an alphabet soup of degrees after their names, and trainers with nothing more than skill and experience to bolster them.  This then is where the ugliness rears it’s head.

A small but loud group of individuals, coupled with others that smell money in the water, see a fur-covered gold-mine in them thar’ hills.  These people want very specific laws and standards to be mandated upon everybody, with subsequent denial of licences or certification as support.  Most of those in this group are from the Purely Positive training cabal.  Only their way is the right and proper way.  Most of them seem to care more about controlling how others train than actually training themselves.  If they had to prove that their methods are totally successful, by producing results of lasting effectiveness, then the open market would soon eliminate them.

The blogs, FB pages, and books that are published by this crowd seeth with contempt toward anyone that dares question “Science”, and the modus operandi of the Purely Positive Crowd.  Anyone without the “required” titles given by the “professional” dog trainers associations is considered unfit for the public to seek help from.  This attitude has become so vitriolic that certain trainers are even adopting an outward appearance of supporting the militant minority of PP.

Does anyone prove their skill, talent, or instincts with a display of which seminars they’ve attended or which Dog Training Organization they mollify with lucre, or how many acronyms follow their name on a business card?  Like the politics of our time, it seems the Least qualified keep getting elected because they have the media on their side, or the money to overwhelm any opposition.  And the least qualified become the voice of Canine Behavior because our society is impressed with academic achievement and the fallacy that education is the end-all-be- all of our profession.  It’s time for proof.  Go out and Prove you are a skilled dog trainer.  Train people, train dogs, and do so in a way that stands the test of time and professionalism.  Work in such a way that doesn’t rely on bashing other trainers and their methods or philosophy of dog behavior.  If you feel the need to challenge someones opinion or methods or lack of qualifications to train dogs, let YOUR ABILITIES prove it, not your word processor, or even worse, words spoken loudly from the relative anonymity of the internet.  That being said, be happy to know that there ARE schools for dog trainers that are quite good, and worth their cost.  But only because they teach you to decide what works best for you, not a militant curriculum of their own.

My personal solution to these arguments is to do what I do regardless of anyone else’s “opinion” of what I “should” be doing.  My success will speak to my clients, not my influences.  We need more legislation like we need new holes drilled in our skulls.

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.

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!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Are you competing today?” I asked her.

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

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

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

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

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

“Karen”, she offered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“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!!!