Archive for the ‘German Shepherd’ Category

I was quite shocked at the reaction to my last post.  Overwhelmed to say the least.  It was easily the biggest 24 hour period in the history of the blog, and I’m grateful, if surprised.  Truth be told, I had put off posting “Why There Will Always Be Back Yard Breeders” for 2 weeks, thinking that the piece wasn’t going to interest anyone.  It also felt like I was missing some pertinent viewpoint, a statement that covered the every angle…In that last point, posting was the catalyst for clarity.  I had seen the tip of the iceberg, but there was much more below the surface, waiting.  Thanks to the messages on the Blogsite, and the very active discussion on Facebook, I believe we can further the discussion in positive, and upbuilding ways.

The post was intended to start a discussion founded on cooperation, understanding of other viewpoints, and a realization that we all have different reasons for owning dogs.  For the most part, I think I accomplished that in some small way.  Still, I also found those who read everything thru a certain prism of their own preconceived notion, no matter how diplomatically it is written.  Which is unfortunate, because these are the people that cause the problems within the community…

There were a couple of issues I deeply want to refute.  One individual thought that I was taking an “elitist” attitude towards “Back Yard Breeders” and even referred to me as “arrogant”.  Wow…Back Up the dog-sled Kellie Ann.  My use of the term “Back Yard Breeder” is for the generally known terminology.  I didn’t coin it, and it’s recognized by most.  I didn’t define “Back Yard Breeder” as anything negative OR positive…It’s simply a generic term in use by many.  There are many fine dogs produced by breeders that limit to a single litter per year or less, and they could be labeled as such should you choose to do so…

One other thing, NEVER did I say that you must pay any set amount for a “Good” dog.  I have met GSD’s that were very fine specimens for free.  I have met $15000.00 dogs that I wouldn’t own because they were not well-bred.  I never value anything based on monetary concerns.  Or amounts.  Please, people READ what was written without preconceived ideas of what I “might” write.  I’m fairly clean and understandable.  I also believe that I have a good grasp of how to be neutral, and inviting.  This is based on my exceptional ability to BE Opinionated and xenophobic to the extreme.

There was also a post that insinuated that I was dismissing of the AKC registered dog.  Again, a supposition that is patently untrue.  What was expressed was that it’s very easy to tell AKC anything you want, and have a printed pedigree.  They offer NO details of health, hips, or anything else on said pedigree.  But they are trusted by many who are know no better.  For the time being, the AKC is the best record keeping we have in the USA.  Don’t put words in my mouth Kellie Ann.  Thank you…

There were a couple of others that chose to take cheap shots at certain specific breeders.  These are people that have individual and often unsubstantiated beefs with said breeders.  Mostly due to their own ignorance, or seeking to elevate another breeder.  This was NOT the place for it, nor is Facebook.  I have reported those posts and taken them off their respective posts.  These are the very types of things that cause so many problems that we are trying to address.  “V.M.”, YOU are not helping.  Grow Up.


I cannot thank you all for the vastly overwhelming positive discussion enough.  Even when you disagreed with me, or questioned something, you were NICE.  You Joined a Discussion in a positive way, and CONTRIBUTED.  Believe it or not, over 41,000 of you.  That’s a huge deal for me, and I’m grateful for all of the shares, and especially for all the new FRIEND requests that I have, and the new Followers here.  I want to mention a few by name…

My new Friend Lila Bauwens.  Your calm demeanor and wonderful thoughtful words are inspiring!

Terry Maxwell, your story touched a heartstrings, but made a powerful point!!

Lydia Campbell!!  YOU are exactly the type of person that deserves to have whatever dogs come into your life, because I KNOW they will be loved, cared for, and happy.  Your story of your 3 made my day!  Thank you!

LM Duke- Your quiet wisdom and experience made my day!

There are many others!!!  Thank you all!

Now that the discussion is started, I’m researching my next two posts.  They will be entitled:       ” Why Breeders Breed. ”      and     “Why Rescuers Rescue”.     I look forward to your input!!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, back to my calm, professional demeanor…

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

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

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

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

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

No subject obsesses dog owners more than how to feed a proper diet to their dog.  Sadly, it’s a subject that causes as many fights and quarrels as training methods.  Facebook has several Raw feeding/BARF pages,(Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), as well as links to other groups and pages.  Some of these pages are quite friendly, and really do seek to help, and discuss the subject.  This one is my particular favorite.  And this is the online magazine that Erica Danow is behind.  I can’t find a more even keeled and informative website anywhere on this important subject

I really have enjoyed the pages that Erica  has set up on FB, as well as her Raw Instinct Magazine website…

Other sites, which I will not dignify with identification, have a “My way or the Highway” approach.  Perfect!!   Just what the Dog World needs…More reasons to fight and carry on…It’s tiresome and really quite off-putting.  But, we still have freedom of speech…at least for the moment.  I’m only going to express my disdain of these websites and pages by NOT MENTIONING their names.  On with the meat of the matter…(Raw meat, specifically, organ meat)

I did not start out as a Raw diet feeder.  And I’m still NOT doing it 100%  My reasons are  probably typical, (Assume whiney voice)…”It’s too much work!”, “It’s Expensive”, “I didn’t have time to visit the butcher…”, “I’m on the road so much…”(We do Search & Rescue work), “I need to figure out what else we can add to supplement…”    You’ve heard these and more yourself, maybe even said them yourself.  Truth be told, all of these things are true…But the more I switch over, the benefits to my dogs are so striking, that it all falls away like chaff.  Let me address these whiney excuses one at a time:

“It’s Too Much Work”-  Oh shut your pie-hole!  Raw meat, maybe a few pieces of sweet potato, (my dogs love them!) a dollop of plain yogurt occasionally, green beans…It doesn’t take any longer than dumping a bowl of toxic kibble into a bowl and then praying that your dog will eat it.  Another surprise I got was the enthusiasm which the furkids attack a Raw meal…Hesitation?  I don’t think so…As you practice and collect new ideas, it becomes simpler and more routine.

“It’s Expensive!”-  Lets see, in my case, two German Shepherds equals roughly two and a half large bags of “Premium” kibble per month.  That’s about $190.00 each month.  Then add in the expense of treating their itchy skin, hotspots, and nasty tartar build up in their teeth.  Add another $300.00 in Vet Bills.  Then, consider the long term medical effects of feeding overcooked, under nourishing kibble, and you can add another $5000.00 to $10,000.00 amortized over 10 years.  With a little creativity and learning, Raw feeding can be done quite nicely for around $200.00 per month.  But that’s me…Some spend more, some spend less. Hey, here’s a crazy idea…STOP Spending $8.00 on a Starbucks Cup-O-Sludge!!  Again, the savings from Vet bills can be substantial.  AND, Your dog will be much happier!

“I’m on the road so much!”   My personal stand by excuse.  Ever hear of a gadget called the Coleman Cooler?  Used by hillbillies with 4th grade educations everyday of the summer to keep beer cold while floating down a river on an inner-tube!  Surely you can figure out a way to use one in your Ford Expedition or Chevy Malibu.  (Maybe not in a Fiat, but why would you want a car smaller than the cooler and with less horsepower anyway?)  They even have these coolers that plug-in to your dash and make their own cold air!!

“I didn’t have time to visit my butcher…”  Oh my sweet, giddy-aunt… Get over yourself and schedule your life in a more adult manner!

“I need to figure out a varied meal plan to make it interesting for the dog…”  You know what?  You’re right.  But between the resources above, and the people who hang out there, and the top-notch writing at Raw Instinct, and the friendly group on Facebook’s “Raw Health”, you should have no problem coming up with something.  Or a bunch of somethings…Hop to it, Jack! (Or Jackie as the case may be)

"Sure it's Raw, but it's still civilized!"

“Sure it’s Raw, but it’s still civilized!”

Okay, I’ve allowed myself to blow off some irreverence in this post, and you’ll notice that I’m NOT giving specific advice on WHAT to feed, or when, or how.  Please, make these resources the place for solid information.  You’ll develop your own Raw Feeding program eventually, that works for you and your dog.  You’ll find people there that make mixes of their own, you’ll find those that really go back to nature in a big way.  For instance, twice a month my dogs get freshly killed chickens, (One per customer Thank You!) feathers, beaks, and feet included.  They love it, and their health displays it!  For the squeamish, there’s a lot of alternatives.  Pick what works!!beefliver

I want to Thank my friend Dharma GSD for first getting me on the ” Road  to Raw” (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, 1945)   My dogs health has been all the better for it, and our Vet really hates us!

"I'd build a fire and cook this, but I've got NO thumbs!  RAW it is!!"

“I’d build a fire and cook this, but I’ve got NO thumbs! RAW it is!!”

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…


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!