Training with North Country Canine is now available. In support of our opening, German Shepherd Adventures is printing the philosophy and practice of our training program.

Trainers & Training

The Communicative Approach to Training Theory for dogs is not a specific method. As I have stated throughout, clearly I hope, it is more concerned with augmenting and improving any method that you may choose to follow with your dog. It is primarily a thought process that helps you build a relationship with your dog. It will help you to get into your dogs head, and heart, and he into yours. We were meant to work together with dogs, and the possibilities are limited only by your willingness to learn, and share the opportunities with the grandest member of the animal kingdom, your dog. That belief on my part, leads to the writing of this chapter. It seems fitting to address both trainers and trainees regarding “how” to work together to benefit all involved. It is my sincere wish that not a few professional trainers will adopt at least some of my thinking with the Communicative Approach, and apply it in their own program. Let’s start there, addressing Trainers.
For The Trainers.
No matter what type of method you prefer, it should be your foremost goal to help people and their dogs share fulfilling lives together. Whether they desire a well-behaved pet, an agility champion, a schutzhund qualifier, or any of the other dog sport disciplines, you have an opportunity. For what? To build an emotionally fulfilled, mentally, and physically healthy companion.
The state of the dog training industry today often makes this goal difficult to achieve. Yes, I understand that this is a job, a way to make a living for many of us. I’m all for it, as I am in the same boat as you. I have a strong desire to eat, every day, and eat as well as possible. That requires that I make money, training dogs. However, the question that I was forced to reckon with became, “Do I want to train dogs for people, or with people?”
The Communicative Approach to Training Theory for dogs, is about people. The dogs benefit fully from it, but it is about the opposite end of the leash. As trainers, we should be most interested in teaching our clients to understand their dog from the “leadership” quadrant, to borrow the parlance of Operant Conditioning. It is now quite common for trainers to set up their practice based on a “Board and Train” scenario. The owner drops off the dog, and the facility isolates them in their kennel for up to 5 weeks, with twice daily 20 minute training episodes, and twice daily potty breaks. It adds up to less than an hour per day for the dog. Usually, the trainer is charging a package price for various levels of training, and they charge in the range of $250.00 to $1000.00 per week. Not a bad situation for the trainer. When the dogs’ owner/steward/parent returns at the end of the time allotted/contracted, they usually have a dog that 1) Sits 2) Stays 3) Does “Place” 4) “Comes to…” and 5) performs “Down”. Well and good. The owner will receive an hour or so watching the trainer put the dog thru its’ paces as he or she taught it, and may even be handed the leash themselves to clumsily imitate the routine. They will then happily take their beloved dog home and watch the training deteriorate slowly, as the training is only perfunctorily maintained by the owner. Six weeks later, they will call the training facility, stating that the dog needs to have the trainer “refresh” the dogs training. Not a bad scam for the trainers bank account. Planned Maintenance. Like needing a new set of tires for the car every 6 weeks. Professional Trainers, We Can Do Better.
Our training programs should always involve people. You will still be able to make the living wage that you need, and I support you fully. I’m doing the same thing. But the “product” that of a much higher quality, and sustainable for the now “trained” human component of every team. Rather than needing “maintenance” on eroding skills, our customers and their dogs will be encouraged to move into different advanced and varied types of training at our facilities. Repeat customers. The backbone of any business.
Most of the dog-centric sports today are noticing a rapid aging of the participants at their events. Young people are not becoming involved, due to a number of factors. Chief among them is a lack of encouraging mentorship from the elders among us.
Yes, I know that there are many other factors, but lets’ address mentorship for now.
If a trainer takes people under their wing with their dog, you create an atmosphere that says, “You can do this! And there’s a lot of fun to be had!” Too many in the “industry” of dog training, much prefer to keep our knowledge to ourselves, wanting the client to be dependant on our expertise. Others will opine that an individual needs a university level education to work with dogs in any meaningful way. Horse hockey. I’ve written this already, but I’ll write it again: We’re not training for a space flight to Alpha Centauri here folks, and secrecy is not necessary to protect the mission! If you claim to have the answer to dog training for all people and dogs, sharing your wealth of knowledge will only help them to keep their dogs happy and out of shelters!!!
Make yourself available to the willing, and train them as welcome partners. Not only will this NOT damage your business, your attitude might well keep them coming back, firm in the knowledge that you are interested in them, and their success!
In case you are wondering, yes, I have worked in “board & train” facilities. My opinion of them was formed over several years of observation and participation. I have literally begged clients to be a part of the dogs training sessions, to learn with them, and to carefully develop the relationship of a leader and a follower. Not with myself being their dogs leader, but with themselves as leader. My practice now does not allow any dog to be trained by me alone, but always in conjunction with the human paying the bill, and taking the dog into their family. It’s just a better way to train.
As the professional, this will make changes necessary for some of you. But those changes are for the good. It is truly unfortunate how many trainers I have heard and read saying, “I don’t really want to work with people. Just let me work with their dog alone.”
Sad words indeed. You are performing a public service for people, not dogs. When dog owners develop the skills and the mind-set to improve their dogs’ life, everybody wins. You, as the professional, can be the catalyst to something better.
This type of training protocol will make changes necessary. No longer will you be able to limit your training program to Sit, Stay, Down, Place, and Come. After your client and their dog have mastered these foundation skills, you will need to offer more, if you want repeat business. (which you do) There are many other skills that you can learn and teach. Scent Work games, Agility, Advanced Obedience, Schutzhund or one of several other protection sports, Trieball, Barn-hunt, Fly-ball, dock-diving, Obstacle Racing, Search & Rescue, Canine Good Citizen levels, therapy dogs, Reading dog programs, PTSD dogs, Comfort dogs, and other activities that I may be overlooking. Diversify yourself, offer more, and enjoy your profession more. That last sentence brings something to mind, which I want to expand on. A benefit that you may not recognize.
On a regular basis, I talk to fellow trainers that express that they are feeling “burned out” as trainers. This is owing to several influences, such as long-hours, uninvolved clients, complaining clients, clients that refuse to continue re-enforcing your training, and a thousand other reasons. Dog Training can indeed become a “job”. Real life, get-up-in-the-bleary-dawn, get me another cup of coffee immediately, Thank God it’s Friday, “work”. (What dog-trainer gets Saturday off?) When you can offer other types of training, your own enthusiasm will grow. You’ll attract the type of clients that “want” to be involved in the program, and positive things happen. You may have less time for a high volume of borderline students, but you will enjoy having a smaller number of students that want to come to you. They will spend more for your services, and life-long customers are developed.

The Communicative Approach to Training Theory for Dogs relies almost exclusively on the humans involved. Is it more work? In some ways. Is it more satisfying? I can tell you, without reservation, absolutely! My personal clientele pool has become a smaller, but more motivated group. We have developed close personal ties, the dogs are better trained and sustained, and any problems or concerns that develop are quickly and easily addressed and corrected. It’s a better way to work.

For The Trainees
You have decided to hire a professional trainer for your dog. Congratulations! Are you ready to do your part? As you may have already gathered, my first advice is this: Don’t drop your dog off at the training facility, write a check, and drive away. Don’t leave your dog alone with a total stranger for 2 weeks or more, no matter how beautiful the facility may be, and return hoping for a well-trained, perfectly behaved dog. That’s similar to leaving your child with a religious cult for 6 months and hoping to welcome home a balanced, contributor to society. Within the influence of either, the individual might be disposed to “proper” behavior, but the training requires the Teacher’s continued influence. You are not part of the students influence.
There. I’ve just made an entire part of the dog training industry throw this book across the room.
I’m not sorry though. My experience has shown me that I’m absolutely correct in my conclusion that you, as the dogs’ owner/keeper/handler/steward must be heavily involved in the development of your dog. Anything less, is a disservice to your dog.
The problem that has developed though, is a reflection of the society in which we live. We have become an “instant gratification, do-it-for-me” society. ” I can’t be bothered to earn anything with hard work and effort, and I have a right to whatever I want, and right now.” We will be far better off when we realize that this attitude is not sustainable in the long-term. We ultimately become so self-absorbed that happiness, or the possibility of happiness, is an unreachable goal.
Training requires patience, perseverance, and a well-thought out plan. Farmers cannot just find a plot of empty land, throw out a few hand-full’s of seed and hope for a successful crop. There is much work to be done before a harvest is reaped. Soil testing, replenishment, watering, tilling, and plowing. Followed by proper planting, weeding, and protection of the immature plants. Farmers are the most patient of people. Farmers tend to be humble, because they work with what may be the most humbling of situations. The natural world of creation. And that, is exactly what we are dealing with here with our dogs. The natural world, created by a loving God, to enhance our human existence. We can hardly control the weather, or the soil of the earth, and they have no consciousness. Dogs, even though created for us, have a living and vibrant mind with emotion and consciousness. They need our leadership, and our compassion in equal measure. They will never be able to thrive in a system that requires everything now, everything ideal, and without our personal, human responsibility. And neither will we…
So, how should you work with your trainer?
The responsibility is on you. First, you must ask questions. Probing questions. Before you commit to any program. Questions like:
* Do you intend to allow me at every training session with my dog?
* Do you practice one, singular approach to training?
* Do you understand multiple methods of training?
* How will you determine the best method for my individual dog?
* Will I be holding the leash during training?
* Will you allow me to see and observe your personal dogs in action and at leisure?

Those six questions will tell you a lot about the trainer. They are not the only possible questions, which means that you must listen intently to his or her answers. The Trainer works for you. Hire them accordingly. Many trainers proceed with the incorrect notion that since they are the expert, you work for them.
If the trainer wants to keep the dog for several days, or even weeks, for training separated from you, this is not what you want. You and your dog need each other in order to properly form as a team, or a family. Do not separate yourself from the training process. I know, you are a busy person, and taking time out of your schedule to train your dog is difficult. If that’s the case, please, raise chia pets. Your dog needs you.
If your trainer states that they are a Purely Positive Only practitioner, or use only the “latest, proven, scientifically supported method,” run away. This generally means that leadership, discipline, and structure are not part of their program. They will not use anything they believe to be “aversive”. In other words, wrong behaviors will not be disciplined, but will simply be ignored. On the other hand, if your trainer claims that “Dominance” theory is their chosen method, you should also leave that facility. These trainers leave “relationship” at the bottom of their priorities, to the dogs detriment. Even if a trainer espouses a “Balanced” training protocol, you still have questions to ask, because this can mean different things to different trainers, including, “I don’t really know what I’m going to try, we’ll just have to wing it…” Remember, good trainers have a plan. Great trainers have multiple plans. One for every individual dog, and the owner. The best trainers learn to “think on their feet”, to adapt quickly, and follow through. It’s a skill that takes instinct, and practice. The best trainers are not necessarily the oldest, or even the most experienced. Certificates of Achievement from Trainers schools also do not guarantee competency either. Degrees that supply an alphabet soup of letters to your name on a business card or diploma, can also be deceiving. You do yourself and your dog a huge favor by getting to know your prospective trainer personally, being brutally honest about your own skill-set and experience, specific about your goals with your dog, and using your instinct. You size up people every day at work, church, out in public, and everywhere else. Trust those instincts, they probably serve you well. If a trainer doesn’t strike you as compatible, move on.
Okay, so you’ve found a trainer that you feel good about, and even trust. How can you make the relationship fruitful and rewarding? I’ll assume that you have asked the questions, listened to the answers, and formed a positive opinion already. It’s time for your first training session. What now?
Lets’ start simple and obvious. Show up on time. Not 20 minutes early, as the trainer may have a student ahead of you, and they deserve his full attention. They might be in a good rhythm in the lesson and you interrupt it, in your enthusiasm. Trainers get peeved over this type of behavior. Conversely, don’t show up 15 minutes late and expect to get your full lesson, because he or she may have another client immediately following you. As with all things “dog-training”, timing is everything. Do your part in keeping on time courteously.
Another thing about time is this: Unless invited, don’t hang around the training site after your session is ended, hoping to soak up some free lessons on the back of another client. Chances are, your dog is in a different place in training, and the lesson ongoing may not apply to you. If the trainer offers you the chance, do take advantage of it, but be a courteous observer.
Show up to your lessons prepared, physically and mentally. Have the equipment that you need in hand and organized. Depending on the trainer and the program, this may include your leash, different collars, treats, treat container, certain toys, whatever you need. Proper shoes are always important. Having had a client show up in 4 inch heels, I cannot emphasize the subject of footwear enough. That’s a story I am trying to forget, so I won’t dignify it by recounting it here. Proper shoes, stable, non-slip, comfortable. Don’t show up in sandals either. A dogs foot stomping on your open toes will cause pain that you just can’t describe in polite language.
Which leads me to a subject that has become an epidemic. Leave Your Cell device somewhere out of reach, with the sound turned off. This is DOG TIME, not conversation with your human BFF time. There is NO need to take selfies or video while your lesson is happening. In fact, it should be forbidden. Many trainers actually videotape our lessons anyway, for reference and training, so you needn’t do it yourself. As I’ve stated before, training your dog is “Both Hands, All In” time. Please do your part! I have imagined a modern-day superhero named “Slamming-Man” who walks the streets of an unnamed metropolis looking for loud, rude, and inappropriate users of cell devices. When he encounters one, he approaches quickly, grabs the device, and slams against the near concrete surface. I am only a few experiences from becoming that super-hero myself…
As you work with your trainer, follow instructions closely. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to ask questions at the end of your session. Ideally, each session will conclude with a debriefing together, and questions should be welcomed, and discussed. As a trainer, I also feel the importance of handouts that every student can take home to read and review. If a lesson goes somewhat astray of something I’ve published before, due to unique needs, we’ll take the time to take a few notes to make sure that the client is clearly understanding everything discussed.
Cooperation and team work are vital in the trainer/student/dog relationship, and these suggestions only scratch the surface of ways for all three to get along well. The “Golden Rule” covers it well: Do Unto Others, as You Would Have Done To You. If you are hiring a Trainer, treat them as a “Professional”, just as you would like to be treated in your own profession. Most of us have worked hard, paid for continuing education, built business, and sacrificed to do what we love. Showing dignity to others is difficult for many today in the “Me First” culture. This is both sad and unfortunate, but definitely a sign of our divided culture of “us” and “them”. Your dog trainer will put forth their best effort when you treat them with respect.
Conversely, if your dog trainer treats you like you’re an idiot, then they are guilty of the same sin. He or she should always strive to help you understand what they are teaching and demonstrating, and do so with respect and dignity. With that thought, I wish everyone success in your efforts and a happy life with your dog.

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What is “Awareness”?

Posted: July 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

My research has included endless reading regarding the “intelligence” of dogs. Some of it paints our friend the dog as an unabashed genius, a veritable four-legged Einstein. Other authors and “experts” see the dog as answering to base instinct alone, and a multitude of so called “drives”. Others describe the dog as “A mirror of ourselves”, being affected by our energy and emotions. A theory that I’m leaning toward.
As always, I examine all of this with as much objectivity as I can muster, and formulate tough questions for each of them. Somewhere in this murky swamp of opinion, half-truth, conjecture, and intelligent research, squats the Toad of Truth. I am determined to find him, and make him my own.
This chapter was written as a stand-alone essay several years ago. It never entirely came together with a cohesive theme, so I put it off again and again. Now that experience, and guidance has come my way, I feel comfortable in asking the burning questions with some foundation. I’m also comfortable in the responses that I’m hoping to receive from all of you. Again, these are not yet conclusions that I’ve reached, but rather, ruminations on what might be possible. Questions are like the rungs of a ladder. Keep taking them one at a time, and you’ll eventually reach the top.

The dogs name was Dusty. He was a nondescript, mixed breed of about 65 pounds. His family loved him dearly, and they cared for him with a lot of love. Dusty traveled with his family regularly, never being left behind. One trip involved a week long sojourn to the southern shore of Lake Superior from the family home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a trip of over 400 overland miles ending in Munising, Michigan. The family spent a pleasant week, hiking, fishing, and swimming, staying in a private cabin they had rented. Dusty was with them every step of each day. Two days before the family returned home, something happened that the family still can’t explain. Dusty disappeared.
He had been let out in the early morning hours to do his business, and he just didn’t return. Unusual behavior for the dog, the family reported. They were understandably distraught and searched for their friend for nearly 48 hours before leaving the beachside resort. Local law enforcement was left with photo’s of Dusty, with contact information. Nothing was ever reported, and the family mourned the loss for the next two weeks until something extraordinary happened. Dusty showed up at the family’s front door, 15 days after disappearing. He was somewhat thinner, a bit disheveled, but enthusiastic and happy to be home.

How did Dusty accomplish this trip? And how have other dogs managed to do the same, sometimes over greater distances? Was it a matter of scenting? Not likely. Does the dog have a “pigeon-like” radar in his head? There is no physical evidence for that either. Is the dog intelligent enough to “know” the latitude/longitude and extrapolate his travel? According to many sources, no such inherent ability exists in the dog, let alone in most human beings. (You should see me in a grocery store parking lot.) Conjecture aside, Dusty did it. Apparently on his own, and with the unquestionable intent to get home. A quote from Animal Behavior Scientist Temple Grandin, of Colorado State University gives thought-provoking pause. She said, “… animals form a sensory impression of their world through sight, sound, smell and touch rather than through a rational linear construct of reality. In other words, their mind derives from a visceral interface with their surroundings, rather than according to the intellectual abstract constructions that derive from the human intellect.” Visceral interface with their surroundings. That’s a thought-provoking turn-of-a-phrase if I ever read one.

However you want to quantify it, it is an “awareness” at the very least. Not specifically an awareness of “self”, as an individual, but rather an awareness of something much larger. Birds are “aware” of apparent magnetic polarity of the earth, and use it to navigate. Isn’t it just possible that the far more “sentient” creature, like a canine, also has a similar sense of the “larger picture”? An interface? Because of heightened senses of hearing, and smell, we have all observed a dog suddenly sit bolt upright at seemingly nothing, only to be absolutely correct just moments later to some activity. Consider as well, the ability of dogs to know when someone is coming home. It seems miraculous at times.
We’ve also observed how our dogs react to strong emotion in our homes. They may hide during an argument, seemingly leap for joy with us, or react to sadness from their human family. So they are “aware” of emotion and the energy that surrounds them.
Is it so far-fetched that our dogs are “aware” of much more? They have proven to be aware within groups of dogs, of what the social collective is currently keying on. Hunting together, packs of wolves are “aware” of the individual strengths and weaknesses of each other, and fill their unique role individually. It seems then, that the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that an animal does not see itself as an individual, separate from its surroundings. The logical interpretation is that awareness configures an animals’ mind around the principles of emotion. But it’s an uphill battle for the idea of emotion, awareness, to be accepted. Science immediately dismisses talk of “emotion” as so much hokum, more suited to some “New Age” philosophy. Emotion in dogs is often dismissed as anthropomorphism on the part of dog lovers.
My theory in the communicative approach is that emotion is the dogs “energy”, so that when an animal is emotional, it must move. Thus we can say that animals are endowed with a natural momentum and this invokes the laws of energy around which the animal mind configures. Emphasis on cognition, pure intelligence, misses this point entirely. What exactly does that mean? Try this explanation: Dusty, somehow having been separated from his family, wanted nothing more than to be reunited with them. It was well within his motivation to want to go home. Some God-given ability enabled him to make that journey, fueled by the motivation from emotion to do just that. He knew where he wanted to go, and was driven to go there. Emotional attachment to his family? His home? There are not many other alternatives to how, or why he took the journey on. Yet, he did. And so have others.
Just getting the scientific and academic communities (The people with alphabet soup following their names on published papers.) to consider the insertion of “emotion” into the canine mind and motivation has been an uphill struggle. But this is worth considering. “Awareness” is the proper term to use. Oh yes, I’m a long way from fully understanding this “awareness”. It’s probably not provable by true “scientific method.” I am prepared to trust my instinct and experience however, and let The Grand Creator’s work prove itself. My goal, and I hope, yours, is to observe what the dog may, or may not, be “aware” of in his world. Learn what my “superior” intellect is missing about the dog, while he uses his “awareness” naturally. That’s part of the communicative approach.
One of the most remarkable, and somewhat esoteric books about animal behavior that has ever been written is entitled, “Kinship With All Life”, by J. Allen Boone in 1954. His was a unique viewpoint on the awareness of animals in general, and a German Shepherd dog in particular. His observations have a place within the foundation of the Communicative Approach to Training, and sharing a few of his thoughts seems proper. The Foreword seems a fitting place to start:

“As we live through these kaleidoscopic days when confusion, distrust, conflict, and misery are so common everywhere, it is revealing to note that more and more people are finding reassurance and peace of mind in companionship beyond the boundaries of humanity.” -J. Allen Boone.

I find this statement, written some 63 years ago now, to be perfectly contemporaneous with 2017 attitudes and mores. Dog ownership is so common as to be almost expected in modern households, the pet supply industry is a huge, multi-million dollar money-maker, and dog-trainers are displayed throughout modern media frequently, for good or bad. The language of dog training has entered modern vernacular in many ways. That being true, our relationships with dogs are more troubled than ever. Rescues, and facilities for housing unwanted dogs, are more prevalent than ever, and are desperate to place their wards into permanent homes. Why? Sadly, a dog often becomes more responsibility and burden than our busy lives can bear. Boone takes note of this next, as his foreword continues:

“Men and women everywhere are being made acutely aware of the fact that something essential to life and well-being is flickering very low in the human species and threatening to go out entirely. This “something” has to do with such values as love…unselfishness…integrity…sincerity…loyalty…to one’s best…honesty…enthusiasm…humility…goodness…happiness…fun. Dogs still possess these assets in abundance and are eager to share them, given the opportunity and encouragement.” – Boone

Have we lost the ability to communicate, and commune with the dog? Our ability to graciously communicate with our fellow humans has certainly taken much damage in the last two decades. Politics, religion, lifestyle, art, science, music…all important parts of the human experience, have all become so much arid tinder to start raging fires of dissent and discord. It only figures that the dog suffers as collateral damage. Boones words reveal even more on this topic:

“…it is interesting to recall that people of certain ancient times appear to have been great virtuosos in the art of living, particularly skilled in the delicate science of being in right relations with everything, including our animals. These people recognized the inseparable unity of Creator and creation. They were able to blend themselves with the universal Presence, Power, and Purpose that is forever moving back of all things, in all things, and through all things…Every living thing was seen as a partner in a universal enterprise. Each had an individual contribution to make…”

Indeed, something has been lost. Technology, political correctness, and the desire to get-rich-quick, have all played a role in this loss between us and our dogs. As Boone also notes, much of the strength that a belief in a higher power, a Creator, God, has been set aside as no longer useful to modern man. It is my unabashed and unashamed belief that we, Man and Dog, were created by God. Furthermore, unlike any other species on Earth, we were created for one another, as companions. Communication between the two species is inherent, and purposeful. But, we’ve lost the ability to recognize it in our arrogance and lack of humility. It is most certainly still there, however eroded it has become. We can communicate effectively with this most glorious of God’s four-legged creations, and it is my hope that you will join me in the quest. Boone had one more bit of profoundness to share:
“As you read these stories you will see that whenever I was properly humble and willing to let something besides a human be my instructor, these various four-legged…fellows shared priceless wisdom with me. They taught me that perfect understanding and perfect co-operation between human and other forms of life is unfailing whenever the human really does his required part.”- Boone
The Communicative Approach to Training Theory is my simplistic way to pursue that which once was, and can be again. Understanding, devotion, love, cooperation, loyalty, goodness, humility, integrity, and honesty are all integral parts of that venerable state. Oh, and don’t forget…This also adds up to Fun in owning a dog, and in being a dog as well.
In this discussion, we have been addressing the matter of “awareness” in our companion, the dog. It is observable that we, as the human part of the equation, are partly responsible for this awareness in the dog. When we learn how to relate, understand, and communicate with our dogs, their awareness is enhanced to a very high degree. The story of “Dusty”, addressed above, tells us about a dog that returned to the place, and the family that he longed for. He was loved there, and he returned that love and devotion. He was “aware” that there was no better place for him to live his life, and he sought it out by whatever gifts that Almighty God gave his species.

A beautiful story of a dependance and reliance…

Carol Lea Benjamin on Dogs

When the ambulance arrived a few days ago to take me to the closest emergency hospital, I couldn’t bear the thought of going without Sky, my service dog.  I knew that some hospitals allowed service dogs to stay with their partners, but only if there were someone to walk them other than the hospital staff.  This time, I was going to the hospital alone, all the more reason I needed Sky with me in the first place.  I managed to get her into her cape and she trotted alongside while I was wheeled out.  One of the paramedics helped her into the back of the ambulance and when we got to the hospital, just four blocks away, he ran her across the street where she could relieve herself next to a big tree.

No one said boo when we were checked in.  Sky hopped onto the bed with me, hunkered…

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The Power of Belief.

Posted: July 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

“I Wish My Dog Could Do That…”- The Power of Belief

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 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 class 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 they said 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 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.
“We communicate with our dogs every day, 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 misguided 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. I can help you understand your mind-set, but you’ll have to change it for yourself! You have to provide her with opportunities to do what she already knows how to do naturally, and let her emotion and 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, emotion and demeanor. 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 ever 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 much potential.

A substantial 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, beyond your grasp. 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 have lived this experience myself. My 8 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 hybrid 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 bite suit…

One of the benefits of writing for the public eye, is the learning that I do with every post, article or chapter. The feedback you get is revealing, and sometimes deeply poignant. Other replies are so angry that you feel the heat coming off the computer screen. In the other parts of my life, I have the privilege of doing a lot of public-speaking to groups. My particular speaking- style involves being quite informal, and occasionally leaving my prepared comments for brief forays into “straight from the heart.” I always learn a lot from these events.
The biggest lesson I’ve gleaned over the years? Words and thoughts are tangible things that affect the souls around you. Use them wisely, kindly, and judiciously.
Okay, what does that have to do with being seen naked by your dog? Good question. I’ll try and make this simple. And the good news is this: You won’t feel like you need to hit the gym or the Weight Watchers section of the grocery store because of your dog.
As we learn to communicate with our dogs on a level beyond constant food treats, clicking, and leash techniques, it becomes evident that most of the communication is a one way street. The street leads from you, downhill, to the Dog. The dog reads you perfectly, but the reciprocal is mostly non-existent. The dog sees right thru every emotion, tension, and joy that you feel. He expertly bases his every move based on the emotion pouring out of his human like a faucet on the sinking Titanic. They sense our “energy”, and they read it fluently. And this works with every human they encounter. The energetic output of the human person is an open book to our dogs. Have you ever sensed that your dog doesn’t “like” someone? Sure you have. How does the dog know? How does the dog know? It’s because we are truly emotionally naked in the eyes of the dog. At least figuratively.
Dogs are perceptive beings, much as we humans are, with some differences. Dogs actually determine the value or threat of humans in very short order. Humans? We get fooled all the time, and that’s how large bridges get sold, and fake Rolexes end up on unsuspecting wrists. Go ahead, try to sell a dog the Golden Gate Bridge. He won’t go for even the best bargain basement price! Offer a dog a Reverse mortgage, and he’ll ignore you. He’s not that easily fooled.
But seriously, think about this: Has your dog ever reacted to a stranger in such a way that you wondered what was wrong with that individual that seemingly, did nothing to provoke any reaction? We humans broadcast our every emotion to the far reaches of the galaxy because we can’t help ourselves. Happy, Mad, Glad, and Sad, we broadcast all of it. We are mentally naked to the most pedestrian of dogs. Even more so to those dogs with training in protection.
Another good example of this can be seen at any dog park. There are always people to be seen, yelling or cursing at their own dog when it refuses to come to them. Other transgressions are also met with snarly remarks, name-calling or even swatting the dog. The dog reads this stuff like an eviction notice, and refuses to submit to it.
The fact that our dogs can see us as the naked, emotional, unstable, humans that we are, makes one correction necessary on our part. As handlers, trainers, or just owners, we do our dogs a giant favor by simply learning to calm our inner selves, and providing a calm, supportive, atmosphere. I’ve observed a young handler at an agility competition that further supports what I’m saying here.

The young lady had a wonderful Aussie that clearly loved the competition ring. That day, the handler was upset about something, perhaps outside of the competition. I don’t really know. But between runs, she talked to several different people and it was easy to see her anger was hanging out all over. The dog had begun hanging back from her on his leash, trying to avoid her emotional thunderstorm. As the day progressed, the dogs performances got steadily worse. As that happened, the handler became less and less patient. Her own performance became quite unsteady, and they both went home disappointed and angry. Previously, that same team had won a national level competition. This was about what the dog was seeing in his “naked” owner. Emotional energy of a negative charge.
Think about this whenever you are with your dog. What energy am I transmitting to the universe? What naked appendage is my dog seeing? We need to put on a coat of calm, with a nice turtleneck of positive attitude, and a pair of comfortable, confident, loafers. A pair of high energy, supportive and active Nike’s.
Again, this will take work and effort on our part as humans. After all, the dog can’t help but see us “naked”…Lets show our dogs the best parts!!!

It’s been awhile since I posted here, and I apologize, but life is beginning to return to some normalcy, and the book is nearing completion.  Here’s a brief excerpt for your perusal:  Enjoy!

 

  The Six “L’s” of the Communicative Approach

There are many ways to communicate with your dog. For the purpose of publication, the communicative approach is founded on six separate features that play pivotal roles in making this possible. I’m going to give you the only bullet-pointed list that goes with the Communicative Approach to Training Theory. I will expand upon each of them in turn. It is my intention that you examine each point, and understand the implications of each one. They are not techniques to be honed. They work with formal training methods, not replacing them. You still need to learn about your chosen method of training. But go beyond them, and embrace these attitudes, and you will find success beyond your expectations! These are not in order of importance. The priority can, and will, change and be adjusted any and even every day.
* Love Your Dog
*Live With Your Dog
*Listen To Your Dog
*Learn With Your Dog
*Learn About Your Dog
*Learn Your Chosen Method Well

You will find each of these bulleted points addressed thru the remainder of this book. Are they the entire program? Well, Yes. And No. You and your dog will find your way thru your lives together in a unique way. That’s the nature of communication, and bond-building. But these simple points will guide you thru a lot. Make them your own, make them work, for you and your dog.

Love Your Dog

I may be accused of treading the minefield of Anthropomorphizing our dogs. I promise you that I won’t, but there are good, demonstrable reasons to include “Love Your Dog”, into the process of the Communicative Approach. Let me start with the axiom, “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Done To You.”
That’s right, the good, old-fashioned, but time-tested, “Golden Rule”. This outstanding piece of wisdom was originally written in the Bible book of Matthew chapter 7 verse 12, about 2000 years ago. It’s origin sometimes gets lost these days, but it’s good life-counsel no matter the situation. I believe it important to recall the words of Jesus Christ in this context. No translation of the scripture says, “Do unto just other human beings…” Nope, they all say some derivative of “others”, allowing for the conclusion that it applies to all living creatures. Okay, Bible lesson finished. That didn’t hurt a bit did it?
All of the separate parts of the Communicative Approach, could technically fall under the umbrella of “Love Your Dog”, but there’s more detail to each and every one that is important . Therefore I’m using love as a separate feature.
First of all, what is your definition of “Love”? Just think it over for a bit, as there are many ways to describe love. For my purposes here, I will define Love as, A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a friend…the benevolent affection of Man for his charges …A strong, warm, personal attachment. This is not romantic love, nor is it the love of principal. No, it simply means that you are trying to treat your dog as you would like to be treated if you were a dog!
Now imagine that you are your dog. See the world thru his eyes, smell thru his nose, hear thru his ears.
From the day you brought your puppy or rescued dog home, he looked to you for nearly everything. You were the source of food, water, play, care, comfort, security, and leadership. Loving your dog means giving those things freely and in proper amounts. Allowing your dog to know, and trust, that you will always provide these things. Being prepared and willing to provide the best of these things that you can is part of loving your dog. Does your dog spend most of his time locked in a crate, or small room alone, because you’re busy? If your dog becomes sick, do you make sure that you consult a Veterinarian? Do you carefully make decisions regarding vaccinations? (This is a touchy subject, as some common vaccinations are actually dangerous and unnecessary). This requires that you make informed decisions. Will you take the time? Will your dog find itself tied outside to a post or tree in cold, heat, rain, or snow, left to create a path that it paces alone, wondering where his pack has gone? Referencing the Golden Rule, would you enjoy that lifestyle? Your dog has a sophisticated and active mind. Will you fulfill his mental needs with active play, exercise, and stimulation? Understand this: 15 minutes a day is not enough. Most behavioral problems have their source in boredom, inactivity, and lack of communication. Loving your dog means fulfilling these needs, and it takes time. Maybe more time than you realize. Never let it be more time than you are willing to give, for your dogs sake. This is a big reason why shelters and rescues are so busy and filled with dogs. Or should I call them “refugee’s”?
Is your dog an “At Will” employee? Meaning that you can “fire” him for whatever reason at whatever time? Many dogs are “re-homed” (read: “Gotten rid of”) when they become an inconvenience. Some of these are even euthanized because they become more responsibility than people want. Let me re-phrase that so you get the full impact. Some people have their pet dog put to death because they no longer want the responsibility. I grieve at the lack of “Love” that human beings are capable of demonstrating.
To sum up: What does loving a dog involve? Time, effort, money, resources, more time, research, and a bit more time. But the end results are more than worth the efforts.
You will always find that “Love” is a part of every facet of communication. It is simply putting yourself in your dogs paws and asking yourself, If I was a dog, and my owner did that to me, how would I feel?

I will give you a few examples of actions that let your dog know that they are loved and secure. Some of them will be instantly dismissed by “trainers” as foolish. Which is fine by me, as most trainers that I know who enjoy success with dogs do some of them behind the scenes, out of the public eye. Those trainers that are more concerned with having success with “owners” than dogs, will roll their eyes at my suggestions. After all, the dogs don’t pay them, the owners do.

As you initially bring your puppy into your life, and your home, there is a great need to replace several basics that your puppy relied upon for survival. The warmth and comfort of his litter. These needs are vital, and require that you understand the separation that has now occurred. Replacing those needs is now your responsibility, and honor.
For the first eight weeks of his life, the puppy has been immersed in warmth, comfort, discipline, and provision. His mother supplied all of these things, only rarely leaving her pups unsupervised. Young pups even require assistance from Mom to eliminate waste at first, a service she provides instinctively. The littermates provided warmth and comfort, in the form of what I like to call the “puppy pile”, which the mother often presides over until the pups grow to sufficient size. Do your level best to provide the intimacy of familial warmth. This can be in the form of providing your puppy an article of clothing in their crate, allowing limited access to your sleeping area with your supervision, and feeding the puppy an occasional meal strictly by hand. Think closeness, security, bonding.
Further, your puppy was provided with play. His littermates and he rolled, bit, chased, and otherwise entertained themselves every day. Sometimes, mother dogs will provide games of “chase me”, as puppies become physically able. They require “play” their entire lives, but especially as young puppies. Give them plenty of opportunity for playing.
Here with our pups, we have created what we like to call an “Adventure Box”, that we place the puppies in for brain-stimulating fun. It’s nothing more complicated than a 3′ x 3′ PVC constructed box with various bells, balls, and assorted toys hanging off it. We may hide little bites of food inside, place wind-up toys there for exploration, or any number of things bound only by your imagination. Be careful not to place anything loud or frightening there. It’s a place that should encourage exploration, curiosity, and even a little puppy mayhem. It should be fun above all.
I mentioned a word above that you should focus on. That word is “Adventure”. Your puppy, and later, your dog, needs an adventure every day. Exploring his yard, his home, his neighborhood, his family. Be cautious about what you allow puppy to get into, especially before his immune system is fully operable. Supervise him closely, but allow him some freedom to explore his world with his eyes wide open. Introduce him to people when possible, but do so cautiously. Most people, especially children will tend to approach too energetically, which might alarm the pup.
Another thing we love to do with puppies, is the Obstacle course exercise. Filled with toys, large pillows to climb, wobbly floor devices, small stairs for climbing, perhaps a large shallow container of water or plastic balls, a small teeter-totter, tunnels, and other items, it will provide all of you with many laughs, and great adventures. Your creativity is the only thing limiting you. Do things with your puppy or dog every day. There is no better way to love your dog than to make him a part of your daily life. Lots of people have dogs, and I’d like to switch gears for a moment to address this.
Many people “own” dogs. Not all of them “love” their dog. Some because it’s a status symbol to have a cute little dog in your shoulder bag. (consult People Magazine) Others because the dog is used as a tool to achieve some dubious and highly questionable honor or personal glory. (Think Michael Vick) Others don’t think having a dog thru with any understanding. (Hey…A cute little puppy! That would be a great Christmas present for the kids! What breed is it?) Others have the wrong motive entirely. (I want me a dawg that’ll attack anybody that comes around my house or property!) All bad reasons to take a dog into your family. Mostly bad for the dog.
But there also those owners/trainers that do pursue good, interactive, training for the dog, and for themselves. Credit to these good people. It’s a light-year ahead of the others. Yet something is missing.
It can be observed at schutzhund, agility, and formal dog shows. Dog’s incapable of socializing properly with people and other dogs, so they spend the balance of their time in a crate, often covered with a blanket to keep the dog insulated. The dog’s life is simply to perform when commanded. They are trained as little robots
We’ve just addressed “Love” your dog, which is a fundamental feature of communication. None of what follows can work without it. Let’s now move to the second “L”…

Live with your dog.

You will quickly notice that having a dog seems to take over your world. Maybe that’s just my experience, but I’ve noticed that dog-people seem to gravitate to All Things Dog. I guess that this is only fair turnabout, as a dog centers his life around his human.
My day generally begins at 6AM, or on those all too rare days, just before 7:30 AM. When my eyelids open, Hans is immediately alerted by that innate sense that dogs seem to possess by providence. One of my people has stirred! Time to get up! That’s part of living with a dog. It’s also one of my favorite parts. Hopefully it will be a habit that lasts for your dogs entire life. You become the center of the dogs universe. You are his very reason to wake up, to be by your side. Your bond is strong and healthy. How do you earn this bond? Where does it come from, and how does it grow? It starts early.
Hans was crate-trained as a young puppy, and he still sleeps in his private den occasionally, as his proto-ancestors did, warm and safe with familiar smells and sounds. The instant he hears my wife or I stir, he is out and on duty. I love this part of his day when his face appears over the edge of the bed, he licks his chops, and he jumps onto the bed. He needs to go out and relieve himself, but his first thoughts are of his family. Is everybody okay? Can I help? This leads to finding a snuggle spot on, or between my wife and I. Hans will lay there on the bed, usually across us, using the full force of his weight to say, I’m here, and ready to work!
Many trainers and owners will insist that dogs should never be allowed onto your bed. They may cite dominance theories, or contend that this behavior is not healthy for humans, or dogs. But really, consider what our goal is with the communicative approach. We are building a bond, a relationship. The place where we sleep is integral to our health and happiness. It is a nest of security, warmth, and physical closeness. It is a place of intimacy, and calming. What better way to build a bond with your dog than inviting his inclusion in that environment? You can control how often and how long this is allowed. Teaching the dog to be mannerly, and returning to his own bed when the time arrives is not difficult, and should be taught immediately. But the closeness of this acceptance will affect both you and your dog in positive ways that are immeasurable.
A rhythm will likely develop that you and your dog will miss when it’s interrupted or absent. Our two, one hundred pound German Shepherds, are obviously not going to fit onto our queen-size bed with two humans at the same time. So they have developed a pattern of trading off after a self-imposed time limit. When we initially go to bed at night, one or the other is welcomed onto the bed while we read, as is our habit. This usually lasts no more than thirty minutes with ours. Then the original occupant will secede their place, and retire to their “cubby” located in our large bedroom. Then dog number two is allowed a length of time in the nest with us, until we are ready for lights out. Then a simple command sends that dog to their individual bed. We have noticed many times that upon retirement, we will hear a loud, pronounced sigh from whichever dog has left and settled in. This marks their being “off-duty”, and ready for deep sleep. It sounds like contentment to us, and well-being. The reward for making happy dogs. This has become a “marker”, a guidepost in our day, and we look forward to hearing it.
It goes back to that wonderful quality, your bond with your dog. It’s attainable, and much to be desired, because it will affect the quality and success of your training together. As evidence of that statement, I offer the following observation, born from experienced observation of the dog world.

Many dogs are well-trained to perform various tasks. Agility, protection, obedience, scent work, therapy, personal assistance, law enforcement or other work. But when exercise, work or competition is over, it’s back into the crate or kennel. I have observed “well-trained” dogs that were no more than tools to their handler. When a carpenter finishes using his hammer, he puts it back into his tool box and closes the lid. Done. My personal observation has revealed to me that my dog and I work more effectively when we are “working together” as friends. Does your dog understand that he is only released from his captivity when you expect him to work? That the remainder of his time is to be spent within the confines of a very small space while you leave him to do your thing? Although much improvement has taken place within the law enforcement community, and the actual training of law enforcement dogs, this used to be an issue in the profession. An officer would take his dog to work, but when the day ended, the dog would be remanded to a kennel, in a less than comfortable block building, until his handler returned for another shift. The relationship, the bond, or lack thereof, between man and dog was purely professional. Dogs treated in this manner often attacked their handlers and ended their careers. An officer got injured by a dog that he neither understood, nor trusted. Two valuable assets ruined at one time. These days, most K9 officers are real “dog-people”, and want to serve in what has become a privileged position. Officers not only live with their dogs, in their homes, but the family becomes part of the dogs sphere of love and influence. Socialization and relationship becomes central to the equation of training and behavior. The dogs transcend being “just another tool”, and become trusted partners.
Here’s a short test. Ask yourself, Does my dog work well when he’s off-leash? Does he come when he’s recalled without hesitation? Or more specifically, Does he want to come to me? Or is he headed in the opposite direction? Try this exercise: Allowing a family member to hold your dog in place, run away (no toys or food treats allowed) in full view of the dog, about 25 yards, and then find a place to hide. If your dog was then released, would he “track you down” as fast as he could run? Or is it “out-of-sight-out-of-mind”? Does the dog care where you are? Or is he more interested in anything else? It’s important for you, as the runaway, to disappear at the end of your track. If your dog has no interest in finding you, your bond needs work. The dog must be motivated by something to be truly effective. In this instance, it’s as simple as this: I love my master more than life itself, and I must find him immediately so that we are not separated anymore.
How do you build this type of relationship?
Training and bonding with a dog takes time. It’s not just an every Saturday afternoon for 30 minutes. It starts when you get up in the morning, and ends when you go to bed at night. It involves formal training, play-time, nap-time, meal-time, and even some canine style rough-housing.
In the beginning of my career, I advised attendance to, and took part in Puppy Pre-schools. Fifteen or twenty puppies and their families, all gathered together to “socialize”. There were obstacles to climb, tunnels to traverse, vacuums to contend with, and various other activities. Normally, these “classes” lasted 4 or 5 weeks, one day per week for a couple of hours. This type of class can be useful, even beneficial. But be armed with this proviso: They can often be viewed by the “Trainer”, as a Profit-Center of their business and a living way to advertise their further training programs. Those programs will be two or three weeks “in-residence” programs, apart from you. You will simply pick your dog up when it’s finished. Supposedly, you will have a “trained” dog. At least the “professional trainer” will have a trained dog, but you have been excluded from the program. I soundly disagree with this mentality if you want a “trained-dog” for yourself. You Must Be Involved In The Process for real success. If a puppy school is more about advertising future training for your dog than actually involving you and your family, walk away. If you have certain breeds, (German shepherds, Malinois, Dobermans, Huskies and others) you will be told that you will NEED the trainers help with the whirling dervish that you have brought into your home. The “trainer” will go to great pains to inform you that this dog will only respond to “his” (or her) program, and that without his (or her) help, you have the makings of a disaster. While I have no problem with making a living, I will advise you to only hire a trainer that is as interested, and capable of teaching you, the owner, as he or she is in teaching your dog. You must be deeply involved in the program, at your dogs side, and holding the leash. I am seriously opposed to Board and Train programs, if you want a dog that responds to you as the handler/owner.
There, I’ve angered an entire industry, an entire segment of dog-trainers. Sorry gang, but handing over a dog that has been trained for weeks by an outsider, and then given back to the owner with a “whole hour” of reintroduction/instruction is irresponsible, and not affective. Especially with the working breeds. Find a “trainer”, not a salesman. Sadly, there are many people that hang out a sign that proclaim themselves as dog-trainers. They are certainly great “salesman”, and often have impressive facilities. They are great business people. They exist to make profit from whomever will lay down a couple thousand dollars for their “programs”. You are only required to open your wallet.

So what should you do? Interview trainers. Ask big questions. Interview their customers. Ask for their opinions and experiences. Better, and somewhat easier, find a local club that does obedience, agility, schutzhund, or some other discipline, and get to know people there. You will find guidance, meet people of like-mind, and find your “trainer”. Or better, a mentor, and even a group of mentors.

Such a club is only the very beginning of what your puppy requires. You must both enroll enthusiastically into the school of “you”. You must be the most interesting thing in the world to your dog.
During this time period, at home, let your puppy wear and drag around a light leash in a supervised atmosphere. It allows him to get accustomed to it. Also, play hide & seek games with toys or small treats. Make it a game, not a work session. This is also a good time to develop focus from your puppy. Using a happy, encouraging tone of voice, speak to your pup, while moving excitedly in front of him. Get his attention by being interesting to watch. When, and only when, the two of you have eye contact, give him affection. Give him praise, call him by his name. I like to name this behavior, “focus”, verbally to the puppy, immediately. Even the small gestural signal of pointing to your own eyes while verbalizing “focus”, can aid the puppy in learning this important behavior. Dogs read hand signals exceptionally well. Before moving on, I want to bring in another important side discussion. The use of treats in training:

You will have far less need for a pouch full of oily treats when teaching this way. You are the treat. One of the pillars of the communicative approach is to limit the use of training with treats. Use praise and affection instead. Early on, when I began training, I wore a pouch on my belt so that treats were plentiful, and at the ready. In some ways, I paid the price. The dog wouldn’t do anything without being paid to do so. A huge majority of trainers, looking for the quickest results, rely heavily on treats. Yes, it works. But the dog becomes spoiled, and your bond will have been built on a shaky foundation. Don’t ever rely on treats to anchor your training together. Shortly, you will be the focus of his eyes whenever you are together. I use them at the beginning of scent training, and I am in no way condemning them as a tool, but learn to work without treating every time you have the simplest success. Save them for after the whole lesson is finished. Why? Because it will allow you to be the most interesting thing in his world.
I will be taken to task by many trainers that use food as their training foundation. I will be applauded by many others. Those who are wholly dependent on treats, risk behavior problems that will make their appearance later on in the dogs life. If you want dependability in your dogs obedience, don’t begin by anchoring them in the treating habit. As an example: A client had a dog that learned when he stole loose articles of clothing, such as socks or underwear carelessly left about, he was paid to release the article with treats. Gradually the dog got to the point where releasing the article required more and more desirable treats from his two-legged servant. The dog “learned” that if he wanted a tasty morsel, it was only a stolen sock away. This is extremely difficult to train away, so don’t start it in the first place. This behavior will always be present with this dog, unless extreme measures are taken. Measures that work against the communicative approach.

Building the bond involves being together as much as possible. You need to make the effort of taking your puppy, and later, your dog, everywhere allowable. Take your puppy with you wherever possible during these first 2 or 3 months, being careful to watch over the pup when people or other dogs approach. These are formative times for the pup, and a bad experience becomes a life-altering experience.
This covers the early weeks of your bond-building. Make it fun, and make it interesting. Help your puppy to want to be with you. Look for interesting, but safe places to explore together. Let him try stairs if he is so inclined, and different types of surfaces that are safe.
Living with your dog is much different than just training with your dog. In our home, the dog is present and well-behaved when we eat, have company, clean house, or whatever the family is doing. His private den (his crate) is beside our bed, (which actually makes a great bedside table). My point is simply this: Live with your dog. Don’t treat him as a rake that hangs in the garage until you have leaves that need to be raked. Will he get in the way occasionally? Yes. Will you wish that he’d go lay down somewhere out of the way sometimes? Then teach him courtesy, and a solid “down-stay”. Given time patience, and training, your dog will be no more annoying than your children.

One bit of counsel is necessary here, for the good of many. Do Not, please, purchase a vest or cape online or anywhere that says’ “Service Dog In Training” accessories or “Therapy Dog” identification, and attempt to take your dog into establishments that do not normally welcome dogs. This is becoming more and more common, and the practice is causing huge problems for those that actually need the assistance of a truly trained and certified Service Dog. Trained Service dogs do not jump up on people, attempt to steal food in restaurants, bark or lunge at passersby, or urinate/defecate inside. Yet, this is being seen more frequently than ever before. There are professional organizations that provide and train specifically selected dogs for these needs, for people that need them. Nine out of ten “dog-trainers” are not even qualified to train true Service dogs adequately, and even fewer, to train the human part of the team. A new title being bandied about is “Emotional Support Dog.” A title and need that I fully support as vital. But these do not constitute a Service Dog as described by ADA standards. Carrying a chihuahua into a restaurant in your over-the- shoulder bag is not a Support dog. Walking an eighty pound Malamute into any store because you believe he is trustworthy is both foolish and illegal. Be responsible please. Tragedies have happened, and will continue to happen, if every dog owner takes unnecessary risks like this. Access to public places will be severely curtailed for legitimate users of Service dogs, and that is truly tragic. I understand that this may anger some, but I make no apologies. Currently, there are very few written laws regarding this issue. Many are held up in the halls of the lawmakers, waiting to figure out how someone can make money off the law. This needs attention.
There certainly are places where pet dogs are welcome! Many Building Supply stores such as Lowes, or Home Depot, Rural King, and others welcome well-behaved dogs. Take the opportunity to visit them with your puppy on-leash, and enjoy the socialization and the attention. But use common sense. Not everyone in the public will provide a positive experience for your puppy. Closely monitor how people, especially young children, approach the puppy, and don’t allow anyone to give the puppy treats.