THE FIFTH IMPORTANT QUESTION
A dog-/wolf mother can go for walks with her eight pups, calm, relaxed and without a leash.
Why does a dog owner have a challenge with one dog, with or without a leash?
The all important difference between
Relationship - Emotional Attachment/Bond - Socialisation - Education - Training.
Learning processes and support, instead of goodies.
2.1 What a dog needs to be balanced, happy and content.
Of course, a dog needs more than food, water, sleep and play to be balanced, happy and content. The important thing to realise is that the dog owner always asks himself objectively and from his dog’s point of view «is my dog really getting what he needs? Does he make an all-round happy and relaxed impression?»
Again, I like to use recognised research and models as a guide, rather than subjective opinions. A good guideline is the findings of Abraham Maslow, which are summarised in the so-called Maslow’s pyramid. Although this was created in relation to humans, it has been seen to apply to wolves/dogs as well, especially the four lower levels.
The shape of a pyramid also illustrates a hierarchy and that correct weighting of the levels, from bottom to top, is important. I.e. food is more important than a new toy.
The first four needs are called «deficiency needs», or «essential needs». Deficiency needs can only be satisfied if one gets enough of that good. A basic deficiency need is hunger. When one has eaten enough, one is full and the hunger is satisfied. Failure to satisfy deficiency needs, Maslow said, can lead to physical and psychological disorders.
The needs develop from the bottom up, i.e. if the physical and social needs are met, then the social needs develop, e.g. family, friendship, belonging, relationship, affection.
If there is a sudden job loss or food shortage, then the lowest levels are in focus again and the yoga class loses importance.
If the model is applied to wolves/dogs, it can therefore look like this:
Over all the years of dog behaviour I have noticed:
- The majority of dogs have their physiological needs met, although there are exceptions. However, many dogs would benefit from more normal walks and others from less, or less stressful exercise. Nevertheless, I have highlighted this level in light green.
- On the other hand, the safety needs of the mentioned 70% of dogs with problematic behaviour are far from being met! The dog owner massively underestimates the importance and leaves it to the dog to try to cope with the confrontations and unknown moments by himself.
Species-appropriate education is missing – who teaches the dog how, in moments that are difficult for him, he can deal with the situation calmly, just as an experienced mother dog or wolf would do? In very many cases, this stage should be deposited in dark red!
- Social, or belonging & love needs often come up short as well, especially when it comes to the dog having a defined role/mission in his pack/family. During «pointless» walks, the dog looks for its own tasks, runs back and forth, seeks connection with conspecifics and loses the already weak connection with the owner.
The dog owner then suggests that his dog has a great desire for freedom and is therefore hyperactive. The fact is, however, that an animal’s (and a human’s) desire for freedom is a need, but that the need for safety far outweighs the desire for freedom. In many cases, running back and forth is a matter of stress relief and insecurity.
- In contrast, nowadays esteem needs are reduced to praise and material rewards. A disproportionate amount of praise is given, often wrongly and at the wrong moment, i.e., praise tends to become counterproductive. The dog owner’s intention is praiseworthy, but the effect is seen in the behaviour of the mentioned 70% of the dogs.
- Self-actualisation, which Maslow describes as a growth need, applies more to humans and their desire to exploit their own growth potential. I do not (yet) see a well-founded transfer to wolves/dogs, since in nature they mostly move between the first three levels. Their everyday life mainly consists of the deficit needs «I want to find food», «I don’t want to be eaten» and if possible «I want to reproduce».
However, I often see dogs that appear to be in self-actualisation mode ;-).
Below we look at what we can and should do as dog owners to ensure that a dog’s needs are properly met and that it can be happy and content.
2.2 Dogs need a social environment, or «pack», in which they can develop. Therefore, dog owners and trainers must learn the «language» of the dogs
First a short excursion into behavioural biology:
From a behavioural biology perspective, a RELATIONSHIP between a dog owner and a dog arises when a predictable pattern of behaviour develops which the dog does not, or only rarely, show with other people. Or which a person does not, or only rarely, show with other dogs. Here we speak about a social relationship.
From a behavioural point of view, emotional ATTACHMENT is more related to family-typical behaviour, e.g. social bonding in the pack, social support and mutual support during times of stress and in stressful situations. Of course, the parent-child bond in dogs and wolves is also part of this. This often also applies to the extended family, which can be seen for example in wolf packs, where pack members take over certain functions in their own, or in an «other family» of the same pack. It is also common in packs that the second level in the hierarchy takes over the responsibility for parts of the education and training of younger members, e.g. teaching how to hunt and hunting behaviour.
The evolution of the domestic dog has led to the fact that a well socialised domestic dog often shows stronger bonds to humans instead of to their conspecifics. This means that the dog can both maintain a relationship and build an emotional bond with its owner. However, the pre-requisites for this must be given, which in turn means that this does not happen automatically.
It is therefore important for the dog owner to recognise that if the basics and the environment, for each dog individually, are not available, the conditions for socialisation, education and training are also not sufficiently given. In turn, this also means that the probability of undesirable behaviour increases considerably.
Therefore, sustainable socialisation, education and training of dogs begins with the training of the «other end of the leash». The dog owner must recognise and accept that he is usually the missing piece in the puzzle – there are very few real «problem dogs». The cause of most behavioural problems with dogs is an insufficient dog – dog owner relationship and emotional bond.
The dog owner must be able to give his dog an environment where it can really be a dog. It must feel protected, secure and safe, get appropriate exercise, learn, play and gain experience. In addition, not least in order to feel secure and safe, it needs clear and authentic consistent guidelines (more on this in chapter 2.13).
The dog owner must learn to «read», coach, support and lead the dog in an anticipatory, calm and assertive manner so that the dog can build up trust in the dog owner. It is only when the dog develops trust and feels safe and secure that an insecure dog will be able to calm down, concentrate and learn. The dog also learns and experiences that the dog owner takes his protective responsibility, which in turn is the prerequisite for a robust basic obedience and well-developed social behaviour. The dog owner is the mentor, coach and symbolically the «pack leader» of his dog (see example in chapter 2.8).
The correct socialisation and education of the dog serves to teach the dog the borders within which it can move and develop freely. The social support of the dog owner creates a deepened bond and trust between the dog owner and the dog, in which the dog learns to handle its freedom responsibly and the dog owner dares to give the dog freedom without restriction.
Without going into details, it is also important for the dog owner and dog trainer to understand that hormones are involved:
Oxytocin reduces the release of stress hormones and signs of stress, has a calming effect and reduces fear, which in turn increases the dog’s ability to learn social skills (see below) and plays a central role in developing a robust emotional bond. Oxytocin is also called the bonding hormone.
Vasopressin also enables the dog to recognize the owner and/or relationship partner in the pack, e.g. smell, voice, movement, appearance. Vasopressin also has an influence on the willingness to defend a social partner vehemently. In a rather superficial relationship, however, there is a tendency for the dog to «exploit» the perceived weakness of the dog owner and act more rebelliously against the dog owner and/or social partner.
Then we come to the hormone dopamine, which puts the dog into a joyful expectation, provided that the dog recognises this already known situation as pleasant. When the dopamine system is activated by oxytocin, the dog wants to be with the dog owner and wants to co-operate. The dog primary develops a strong relationship and bond with its owner, not with toys, goodies and other dogs, which now rightfully becomes secondary.
With the above in mind it probably become crystal clear that the primary focus of dog owners should not be to teach dogs to sit, stay, heel etc. but to build a strong relationship and bond with their dog, based on mutual trust, respect and love and give the dog what it needs to feel safe and secure. In case the dog owner needs help with this, the competent dog trainer should be able to offer knowledgeable support.
2.3 Rituals and routines
Building on chapter 2.1 above, rituals and routines provide anchors, support and structure for the dog in its everyday life. Don’t underestimate the importance of species appropriate emotional and physical closeness as a part of the rituals, e.g. sitting on the floor with the dog after dinner, or greeting ceremony. Learn about why some dogs always tend to keep a certain distance to their owners, how wolves rest and give your dog what he needs, in his own language.
Not only anxious and fearful dogs profit from clear structures, rituals and routines in their everyday life. In the nature, fear is not only a learning process but also a guarantor to survive – only cautious wolves and dogs have a long life. The stimulus causing the fear triggers a response in the dog’s alarm system, which helps the dog to decide how to handle the situation – exactly as with the human being.
The dog owner must ensure that the triggers of fear don’t «find their own way» and lead to fear aggression, but are recognised in time and neutralised through appropriate learning processes and desensitisation. This is why the environment, as described above, is so important – most of the problematic behaviour with dogs have their cause in insecurity and fears, which in its extension often lead to aggressions.
2.4 The important distinction between relationship, attachment, socialisation, education and training
Or why 70% of the dogs show problematic behaviour and why the majority of dog schools are not sustainably successful with 70% of the dog owners:
As described above the RELATIONSHIP and the ATTACHMENT between the dog and dog owner is the all-important foundation. Just as in the interpersonal relationships, it is based on trust, respect, reliability, dependability, authenticity etc. In order for the dog to be able to feel a sense of belonging, he also needs a high degree of calmness, sovereignty, authenticity, resilience and consistency from his owner. If the relationship and attachment is not right, the dog will not want to co-operate with the owner, except possibly because of a material reward.
By SOCIALISATION (social learning) one understands the entire learning process, which makes the dog a socially adapted being and includes the active confrontation with the social requirements. The socialisation never stops, but takes place during the whole life of a dog.
The EDUCATION is part of the socialisation. This refers to the pedagogical influence on the development and behaviour of the dog, i.e. the learning process that enables the dog to react in a calm and sovereign way to its environment and thus to learn a harmonising social behaviour.
TRAINING (formal learning) is the teaching of abilities and skills, e.g. «Sit!», «Drop!», «Stay!», retrieving etc. In this context I also use the term «task training» to avoid confusion.
Graphically we can represent the three cornerstones of the philosophy as follows:
2.5 The building blocks leading to a happy dog. Or, what dog owners and dog trainers have to do
Build a strong relationship and emotional attachment as a foundation
The dog owner must build up his own competence (knowledge, skills and attitude) to genuinely understand what the dog needs to feel safe, secure and well. This is the only way to, step by step, create a strong bond between dog and owner (see Chapter 2.1. «Safety needs».
The dog owner must learn:
- To understand the language of the dogs and to communicate in «Doggish» with the dog
- To reflect on its own behaviour. Buck Buchanan said: «Your horse is a mirror of your soul. Sometimes you may not like what you see, but sometimes you will». The same applies to the dog.
- To develop its own sensitivity, to observe very carefully and to be 100% concentrated in the work with the not yet stable dog.
The dog owner can only demand from his dog what the dog owner authentically demonstrates as a human, i.e. if it expects trust, respect, reliability, dependability, balance, stability, calmness and sovereignty from his dog, the dog owner must «lead from the front».
The more of the above pre-requisites the dog owner demonstrates, the easier it will be for the dog to convince itself that it picked the right dog owner.
The dog owner must not underestimate the importance of long «pack walks», it is part of the nature of the dogs and it strengthens the relationship and attachment. Closeness, affection, fun, social support is an important part of everyday life with wolves and free-living dogs.
Consciously experiencing togetherness without any expectations creates an emotional bond.
Ensure socialisation and education
Socialisation is the learning process that enables the dog to react calmly and serenely to its surroundings. Education is defined as the influence of the dog owner, which makes the dog compatible with the expectations of society. Here we build the seamless bridge between satisfying the safety needs and the social needs (see chapter 2.1. «Safety needs» and «Belonging & love needs»).
The dog owner must offer social support to his dog to:
- Behave inconspicuously in society.
- Adapt to the environment and society
- Orientate towards people
- Cooperate with people
- Behave correctly towards other animals and conspecifics.
The dog owner must demand correct behaviour from his dog so that the dog learns to:
- Develop trust and affiliation with the dog owner
- Perceive the dog owner as a mentor and attachment figure
- Accept rules, boundaries and limits
- Demonstrate good behaviour / basic obedience.
Of course, there is an interaction between relationship, attachment, socialisation and education. Correct socialisation and education work strengthens the relationship and the bond, because dog and owner build mutual trust in eachother. The strengthened relationship and attachment in turn enable better socialisation and education. Treats have no place in this work.
Nowadays I unfortunately see more and more dog owners neglecting their leadership responsibility in this regard. The sole responsibility for socialisation and education is with the dog owner. The relationship building cannot be delegated.
Provide training and species-appropriate activities
This is about developing skills and abilities so that the dog can, for example, take on further tasks. In Maslow’s pyramid, from the dog’s point of view, we are now in the upper part of the «social needs», and from the human’s point of view, on the fifth level, «self-actualisation» ;-).
These include, for example:
- Basic training: Foot, Sit, Drop, Stay, Work without leash, etc.
- Advanced training: Retrieving, tracking, area search, agility etc.
- Special training: Service dog, assistance dog, therapy dog, avalanche, disaster, drug dog etc.
The further one wants to go in the dog training, the more important a trusting relationship, emotional attachment, socialisation and education becomes.
This means that I initially focus on the relationship building, the socialisation and the education to give my dog a robust and solid foundation. Then I can gradually increase the task training – the better the foundation (attachment, socialisation and education), the easier and sustainable the task-training will be.
I.e. as long as my dog cannot, or does not want, to walk relaxed next to me without a leash because he does not feel sufficiently protected and safe, I do not have to ask myself why the recall at a distance does not work resiliently.
Both the priorities, Task 1 and Task 2, as well as the order, from Task 1 to 3 and not vice versa, should now be clear for every dog owner.
2.6 Relationship, attachment, socialisation, education or training - but how?
Often I see dogs that are in the lower left red corner (A1, B1, C1) in terms of development, e.g. street dogs imported from abroad or dogs that have received incorrect or unbalanced training.
The first step is always upwards, i.e. building or improving the relationship and attachment between the dog and dog owner. Slightly delayed, one can start to shape the social behaviour in a very calm environment, with as few disturbing factors and distractions as possible. When noticing that a relationship is developing and the signs of a bond with the owner are there, the first elements of education (see definitions above) are introduced. One step up, one step to the right, one step up, one step to the right etc.
At this stage, refrain from training and conditioning with treats or toys. You want the dog to build a relationship and bond with you and not with treats and toys. Praise the dog authentically for what it does well and show him that you are happy about it. This makes your dog happy, it learns in its own language, wants to orientate itself to the dog owner and co-operate.
Take your adult dog for a 5 – 10 km «pack walk» every day, instead of four times hectic 15 minutes around the block. This creates peace and serenity, both can build up their toolboxes and the risk for misunderstandings and conflicts is drastically reduced.
As soon as you are able to walk your dog in a quiet environment, e.g. in the forest, for an hour and a half of relaxed walking, you can increase the environmental stimuli and go for a walk in a rural environment with some traffic, noise, smells, people and conspecifics etc. If your dog is relaxed and shows connection even in this environment, go with him into town and build up his resilience further. If your dog shows insecurities with one of the latter two, go back to the previous level. If you personally still feel a little insecure, do not increase the level, but continue working at the previous level. Why? Because the dog senses your insecurity and becomes insecure. Building up the previous level correctly is always the prerequisite for the next level.
Use the opportunities that arise naturally to integrate training elements. If your dog sits down on his own, say “Sit!” and praise him as soon as he sits, «good sit!» In this way he begins to associate the word «sit» with his action and the training progresses quickly.
The green corner, top right, means relationship 3, socialisation/education 3 and training 1, which is more than sufficient for most family dogs. Dog and owner are satisfied! Also the relationship between you and your dog starts to take on new dimensions. As far as it is desired, the common journey on the training axis, into the third dimension, can now begin.
If I would like to teach my dog, for example, «walk on the leash correctly», it is much easier, faster and more lasting if my dog feels comfortable and safe with me – then he wants to stay with me, shows connection and is attentive. The same is true for «recall» – if my dog likes to be with me, I don’t have to train or practise the recall, he comes joyfully as soon as I call him. You may want to read this short paragraph again.
A good and resilient relationship and bond between dog owner and dog is a prerequisite for a successful education and training. If the dog owner recognises that the relationship and bond is not sufficient, he often resorts to treats or coercion, which may be effective but not sustainable! That is why I am not a supporter of trying to convince an insecure dog, who shows too little connection to his owner, with treats or toys. Then the dog might show «a kind of walking on the leash», but only as long as he gets a material reward. As soon as the dog has picked up the reward he is gone – to a place where he feels more comfortable, safe and secure.
Exactly the same is the case, if the external stimulus (deer, rabbit, bicycle, other dog etc.) becomes stronger than the desire to get something material. Often, I experience dogs that do not respond to treats or toys outside of their familiar surroundings, because they feel too insecure or are afraid. Or, they quickly pick up the treat and leave again. Dogs are opportunists …
But at the same time I see the opposite. A few years ago I had an encounter with an extreme toy junkie – nothing would work without her toy and her full concentration was on the toy. Its owner was non-existent for the dog and was at most perceived as «the person with the toy». How had it come so far?
The Beagle was trained for her role as a sniffer dog in the luggage area at the airport at a very young age. The biggest part of her youth was to work with her nose and to be rewarded for successes with her toy. Although the dog worked very well, the owner came to me because she was overstrained in her private life with the addictive behaviour of her dog. When the owner understood what had happened here and how the dynamics with the three cornerstones ABC work, everything was clear to her and she knew what she had to do.
Therefore, it is important to understand the word bond in the sense of «trust/bond to humans» and not in the sense of «bond to material things», i.e. treats, toys etc. Certainly, treats have a value in the training of dogs, but in my opinion only when it comes to perfecting an already learned step.
I hope I have explained comprehensibly why 70% of the dogs on the walk show behavioural problems and why many dog owners and trainers need to re-think and improve their competence.
The internationally renowned ethologist at the Institute for Pet Science at the University of Kiel, Dr. Dorit Urd Feddersen-Petersen wrote to me: «You don’t solve problems and conflicts with treats. It is social conflicts that humans have to settle with the dog. Instead of salami, attachment and trust, the defined framework in which the dog can behave freely and which offers the dog social safety and security».
THE SIXTH IMPORTANT QUESTION
Is it therefore possible that a well-trained, but insufficiently educated dog, can do «sit, drop, stay!» perfectly,
but at the same time be disrespectful with people and/or other dogs?
2.7 What undesired behaviour does my dog show, what is the cause and with which building blocks, in which order, can I modify my dog’s behaviour?
Regardless of whether a dog shows problematic behaviour or not, a trusting and respectful relationship is the pre-requisite for a good socialisation and education, which is in turn the pre-requisite for a robust training. This means that problems or behavioural problems arise when dog owners and trainers do not sufficiently consider the important dependencies, which in turn generates unhappy dogs.
- A dog that does not manage a calm and relaxed «Stay!» because it is still insecure, primarily needs a combination of relationship, attachment, socialisation and education. Task training (with goodies), which in this case is to be regarded as a secondary virtue, would not be effective or rather to be considered as manipulation or bribing.
- With a dog that repeatedly removes itself from the «sit / stay» position, the first port of call not task training, but to check with oneself what the possible cause may be! Very often this has to do with the fact that the dog owner has learned to praise the dog, often with goodies, when he comes to him. But the dog does not understand that he is rewarded for both the «Stay!» and for the «Come!» – that is human thinking – but only for the coming. In this way, the dog has progressively learned to free himself. That’s why you never call your dog that you have put in «Stay!» as long as it is in basic training, but you go and pick him up where you have placed him. This way he learns that «Stay!» means exactly that and that he will be picked up and does not have to worry about you possibly forgetting him there. When the dog owner returns to the dog, the dog remains in position «Sit!» and is calmly praised for doing so, «good Sit!». In other words, first the knowledge and skills must be built up with the dog owner to strengthen the relationship and secondly, the dog owner must learn how his dog processes information.
- A dog that shows aggression against other dogs because it does not feel safe and secure, primarily needs a better dog-owner relationship, not conditioning.
- In order for a dog to become a reliable and robust service or protection dog, the relationship with the owner must be built and sufficient attention must be paid to socialisation and education to ensure that the dogs develops the necessary stability and social security before it is trained as a service dog.
2.8 The dog’s toolbox
If the only tool a dog has in its toolbox is «unwanted behaviour», it will react to challenging situations with unwanted behaviour, as it does not know it has other options.
Upgrading the toolbox of the dog is about learning processes and development, i. e. primary relationship and education. Training is secondary here. As you know, I strongly advise against “Quick-Fix” solutions and manipulation with goodies and toys.
Learn about dogs and wolves, their language, body language and signals. Learn why your dog changes the position of the tail, ears or head and what that means. Get good literature and films about the nature and behaviour of wolves and dogs and avoid «Tricks & Tips» literature and advise. Correction glasses may be perfect for some, but they are useless for others.
Internalise the difference between social behaviour and the ability to perform «sit!, stay!, come!» commands – and therefore recognise the different requirements in training.
There is nothing that can replace a species-appropriate keeping and training of your dog. Each and every dog is individual and yet similar by nature. Engage competent dog trainers and experts in time, if you are not sure.
Observe – learn, observe – learn, observe – learn!
2.9 Accept your leadership responsibility
One of the most important tasks of a dog owner is to «read» the dog correctly and give him support in his behaviour. By far the greatest cause of the «misbehaviour» of the still unstable dog is that the dog owner does not realise in time that his guidance and social support is required.
Many dog owners look at their dog continuously, but do not see or perceive what the dog is communicating with its body language and body tension. «As if out of nowhere, the dog suddenly snaps, attacks or starts barking hysterically. If I then try to intervene, it only gets worse» etc. they tell me and point with their finger at the dog.
But the fact is that three fingers point at the dog owner.
No dog explodes from «zero to one hundred» in the same fraction of a second. If you look at the incident in slow motion in a film, you always see that something happened first (stimulus), which led to increased attention of the dog. This was followed by physical tension, usually followed by clear body language, rigidity, fixation etc. Then the dog chose its behaviour for the situation and reacted.
The process may take longer, depending on how far away the stimulus is or how intense it is. With a stimulus/dog at a distance of 50 meters, it is usually not yet bad. However, the critical limit is reached for most approaching a radius of about 6 metres.
What actually happened here is that the dog first gave signals to its owner, «hey, a potential confrontation is coming towards us», but the dog owner did not react to it, or did not show his dog that he had understood the situation.
The dog had to continue to try to come to terms with the situation on his own. The pressure increased, the signals from the dog became increasingly clearer, but the owner still did not react. Then the 6 metre limit was reached and the escalation was perfect. The dog was in the red zone and did not react to the signals from the dog owner anymore. How often have we seen something like this?
Now we turn the film back again and start again from the beginning, but this time we do it right:
- The dog owner hears laughing voices from a great distance and thinks with foresight «It is possible that these people have a dog»
- Therefore, he puts his dog on the leash, moves to the side of the forest path and leads his dog on the far side from the possible confrontation, i.e. he communicates in time with his dog «I noticed» and shows that he is aware of his leadership responsibility
- The dog owner also looks at his posture and makes sure that it is straight and confident
- The dog owner increases the speed, so that his dog is really led
- When the parties get closer, he takes his dog a little more behind him, but maintains speed and posture. In this way he shows his dog that he is protecting him and that he is in between. Not like most dog owners who hide behind their dog according to the motto «Don’t worry Fido, I’ll protect you from behind …».
- But the dog owner notices that the oncoming party has the dog on a flex line and that the dog is still uncontrolled in all directions. Therefore, he asks the other party in a friendly manner to lead his dog to the other side, because his dog is still insecure. By the way, why should he ask in a friendly way? Correct, apart from being a friendly person, the dog owner shows his dog that this is not a dangerous situation
- The other party secures his dog and the two dogs cross at maximum distance from each other
- During the 6m before, during and after the encounter, the dog owner always makes sure that he is between his dog and the potential confrontation, i.e. in front of it his dog is slightly behind him, during the encounter he is next to him and after that he can be half a meter in front of him.
Certainly, the first encounter will not be 100% perfect, leading a dog requires theory and practise – learning to play tennis too.
A dog can «fake» behaviour, but it can’t fake body tension and posture. That’s why it is so important that the dog owner learns to see and respond to the dog’s body tension. A change in body tension or posture is a signal for the dog owner to actively demonstrate the leadership responsibility.
Step by step, the dog will learn that he is actually being protected and will thus increasingly relax. The more relaxed, the more receptive he will be to learning the new behaviour.
- I often see dog owners who stop and stand still with their insecure dog when they cross other dogs. Often they even turn towards their dog and hence turn their back toward the supposed danger instead of showing the dog that they see the danger and protect the dog. Under all circumstances it is much better to stay in motion – wolves and dogs also reduce stress through movement. Therefore, I do not stop at an encounter, unless I can keep a distance of more than 6m with my dog.
- To order the dog into sit or drop is counterproductive and has nothing to do with the core problem/emotion of fear and insecurity. A dog that has to sit or drop, but does not offer it of its own accord, still feels too insecure for that.
- Certainly I do not have to go into why treats are counterproductive in this situation. It is also completely unimportant whether the dog sits or stands – what is important is the body tension or relaxation.
The dog owner then analyses what went well, what went less well and what he needs to do better the next time he meets the dog. The dog owner watches his own film in slow motion, looks and learns from each and every detail.
From now on, the dog owner also perceives every potential dog encounter as an opportunity in a positive way and will find that after about 7-9 successful encounters he has learned how to lead his dog though challenging situations.
As a result, the dog feels safe and secure, which in turn is shown by a relaxed posture and behaviour. Dog and dog owner are satisfied!
2.10 Stop-signals and corrections
A recurring question, which I would like to shed some light on from my point of view and experience.
A STOP-SIGNAL is used to stop a behaviour or activity, e.g. my dog has found something on the ground that stinks terribly and I want him to leave it because we will visit some friends. Here you can use e. g.”Shht”.
My experience is that a stop-signal should be neutral and non-emotional, i. e. my dog should just stop what he is doing or about to do – not more and not less. That’s why I would rather recommend «shht» than «no» or «stop it» etc.
The word CORRECTION is an unfortunate word, as it is often associated with physical or psychological violence. But this is certainly not the case!
Correction has nothing to do with violence, but is part of education (see definition above). I may only use a correction if the dog has learned something correctly and knows what to do, but does not keep to it, e.g. my dog is too rough in dealing with another dog, or «greets» a person a bit too stormy.
If my dog has not learned the desired behaviour, I use a stop-signal, as he would not understand a correction.
I make corrections with a well-dosed, deep and emotionally controlled “NO!” and possibly a push, or poke, to show that this behaviour is out of the question. Depending on the strength of the required correction, I also use body language to show that this behaviour is not acceptable.
Why do I sometimes give a push, or poke, if the corrections are slightly stronger? Because the dog is then often in his own world/film/rush and I can help him to get back into the here and now. The push is just a 200-300 gram poke into the side, not a blow.
How do I know how strong a correction needs to be? My experience here shows that a correction, which is weaker than the force/energy my dog uses for the unwanted behaviour, is not sufficient. Exactly in the same way a too strong will not be understood and processed, but rather leads to uncertainty and avoidance behaviour.
That is why I consider it extremely important that the power of a correction (voice, posture and poke) should be calibrated exactly to the intensity of misconduct and that it should be consistently corrected one step above the level of the misconduct. Metaphorically speaking, if my dog treats another dog roughly with a strength 6, I correct with strength 7. A level 3 is not enough and therefore has no learning effect and a level 9 is too much.
A correction must be done immediately, within one second, otherwise my dog does not associate the correction with his behaviour. Corrections, which the dog do not understand lead to conflicts in the relationship with the owner and to insecurity within the dog. With a correct correction my dog learns to assess his own behaviour and in addition, I assume my responsibility as mentor and coach.
It is important to understand and distinguish that a correction applies to the here and now and is not a judgement of the dog, e.g. my dog shows problematic behaviour vs. I have a problem dog. As soon as the dog relaxes and shows the desired behaviour, I show my satisfaction. When I am 100% sure that there is no residual tension, I praise him calmly and authentically. Why only at this time? Because I do not, under any circumstances, want to praise him for his tension or residual tension, which could lead to the wrong mental connections with the dog.
This way of dealing with corrections has really proved its worth but requires sensitivity on the part of the dog owner.
2.11 Calibration - the correct intensity of energy when using stop-signals and corrections
I make corrections with a well-dosed, deep and emotionally controlled “NO!” and possibly add a simultaneous nudge to show that this behaviour is out of the question. Depending on the strength of the required correction, I also use body language to show that this behaviour is not acceptable.
Why do I possibly give a nudge when I need a slightly stronger correction? Because then the dog is often in its own world/head cinema/ euphoria and I can help it, with the surprise effect, to get back into the here and now. As soon as my dog is back in the here and now, I show him what behaviour I would like to see.
The push is a 200-300 gram push to the side, not a blow. Most of the time I form my hand to the shape of an «open tulip» and push my dog with the finger tips, alternatively I also use the back side of my open hand.
How do I know how strong a correction must be? My experience here is that a correction that is weaker than the force/energy used by my dog for the unwanted behaviour is not sufficient. In the same way that a correction that is too strong cannot be understood and processed and therefore tends to lead to insecurity, misunderstanding and avoidance behaviour.
Therefore, I consider it extremely important to calibrate the force of the correction (voice, posture and push) exactly to the intensity of the misbehaviour and to consistently correct one level higher than the energy behind the misbehaviour was. Metaphorically speaking, if my dog treats another dog roughly with a strength/energy level 6, I correct with a strength 7, strength 4 is definitely insufficient and rather has an desensitising effect and strength 9 is too much. You will notice that this is exactly the way dogs and wolves teach each other.
A correction must happen immediately, within a second, otherwise my dog does not connect the correction with his behaviour. Corrections which the dog do not understand lead to conflicts in the relationship and bond with the dog owner and to insecurity in the dog. With a correct correction my dog learns to assess his own behaviour and I take my responsibility as a mentor and coach.
It is important to understand and differentiate that a correction applies to the here and now and is not a judgement or evaluation of the dog. As soon as the dog relaxes and shows the desired behaviour, I show my satisfaction. If I am 100% sure that there is no residual tension, I praise him calmly and authentically. Why only at this point? Because I do not under any circumstances want to praise him for his tension or residual tension, which could lead to erroneous connections in the dog’s brain.
This way of dealing with stop-signals and corrections have proven successful, but do require sensitivity from the dog owner.
Do not forget that leadership means that I take the lead and proactively take my responsibility as a coach and show my dog what I want. Waiting until the errors occur has nothing to do with leadership.
2.12 Reward and punishment
Another recurring theme is «reward and punishment», which is closely related to stop-signals and corrections. Just as with corrections, punishment has nothing to do with violence, beating and destructive pressure.
In the learning theory, which is my starting point, the terms are defined as follows:
A REWARD is used when you want a behaviour to increase. Here one distinguishes between positive (+) and negative (-) reward:
Positive reward (+): Something pleasant is added
Negative reward (-): Something unpleasant is removed, or stays away
A PUNISHMENT is used when you want a behaviour to decrease. Here one differentiates between positive (+) and negative (-) punishment
Positive punishment (+): Something unpleasant is added
Negative punishment (-): Something pleasant is removed
The attentive reader immediately realises that today’s dog training is mostly based on «positive reward», which is not only outdated thinking and reduces the behaviour of a dog to a stimulus-response, so-called behaviourism. In the meantime, one has come much further in the animal psychology. Behaviourism has been replaced in science by cognitivism, which considers some of the complexity of the dog’s nature.
Should you read German, I would like to recommend the publication «Educating dogs successfully without punishment – and the earth is a slice» by Dr. Iris Mackensen-Friedrichs, whose opinion and experience I share. You can read the publication here.
The topic of «ignoring» a dog and/or behaviour, which is closely related to stop-signals and corrections, as well as to reward and punishment, is another question I often hear.
From my point of view and experience the following applies:
- For example, if a dog stands on its hind legs and the dirty front paws rest on the white trouser, no dog owner will be happy. It is usually enough to turn away demonstratively and pay no attention to the dog (eye contact, voice, touch) until the moment when his intention is no longer present. That means you wait until the dog relaxes again and praise him for the relaxation – not before.
- Until the dog has learned that its behaviour is really not appreciated, it needs repetition. With the third repetition, you can additionally add an abort signal “Shh” and increase the energy (not emotions). With a stubborn dog I would build in a slight correction from about the fifth repetition, because then he should have learned that this behaviour is not appreciated
- To ignore a dog for a longer time than at the moment I consider counter productive. We must not forget here the relationship, binding and influence of hormones, as mentioned in chapter 2.1 above. In the wolf pack, ignoring and a consequent reduction of food, among other things, lead to the wolf/dog not feeling welcome and safe, which can lead to the wolf/dog leaving the pack
- Therefore, I consider dog owners of the «old school», who ignore their own dog for a longer period of time, hours – days – weeks, as punishment or educational measure, not only as incompetent, but also as relevant for animal protection.
Boundaries are in my opinion a very important topic for the dog owner and dog trainer to understand. In general, I always say to dog owners that everything we teach the dog (and ourselves about dogs) should be beneficial for both the dog and the owner. If it has an advantage for only one of them, we better leave it.
We use boundaries on the one hand to show the dog clear behavioural and physical limits, which in turn permits us to trust our dog. But on the other hand, the boundaries give the dog clear orientation and the dog learns that he can move freely within the (virtual) boundaries, which in turn leads to a relaxed relationship.
For a not yet stable dog it is therefore helpful to set the virtual boundaries tighter at the beginning and to increase them in small steps with the improving relationship and bond. However, it is very important to remain 100% consistent, for the dog to clearly understand what I want from him and for him to experience this support as positive. To come back to the above example with the white trousers: The inexperienced dog does not know the difference between light and dark trousers, therefore it is important to be 100% consistent and to stay within the defined guidelines. This is especially true for an insecure dog – boundaries provide an important structure for the dog.
Example: An insecure dog has learned that at every dog encounter he throws himself into the leash and barks at the other dog under the motto «attack is the best defence». Anticipating the potential situation before the dog signals his intention with body tension is the key. Lead the dog over to the far side calmly, confidently and assertively to demonstrate you have the situation under control and lead the dog past the «danger».
With his intervention the dog owner leads by example and demonstrates:
- That the situation is under control and does not leave this to be sorted out by the dog
- Leadership and ensures safety, i.e. the task of his dog is just to walk beside him
- That another dog is not a threat per se
- That the new behaviour is much more pleasant for both.
I t i s t r u e . . .
… that in the area of training (C) conditioning with treats, toys, clickers etc. can be used in a targeted manner – e.g., this is the way dolphins are trained to perform tasks/tricks.
I t i s n o t t r u e . . .
… that the methods in training (C) can be used as a substitute for the development of relationship, attachment, socialisation and education of dogs – also not under the excuse of «new research findings in the learning behaviour of dogs», as is mostly seen in dog schools today. We are here talking about completely different levels!
Or to put it a little more boldly – unfortunately, social conflicts and behavioural problems in humans cannot be solved with jelly babies either.
2.15 Important points for the other end of the leash
Please read the following 20 points carefully as they are fundamental:
- Dogs are pack animals, as are their ancestors, the wolves. Most wild dogs would not survive on their own in the nature, therefore they form a pack. It is a part of the dog’s DNA to co-operate – they want to co-operate.
You should give them the environment in which they can co-operate.
- A pack is a social and hierarchical structure, where each member has clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
You must give your dog roles and responsibilities and your dog must understand what they are. If he does not, his needs are not covered and he is likely to show unwanted behaviour.
- A pack provides the structure for the dog to successfully hunt/find food, protect themselves against enemies and reproduce.
In your pack, you are responsible for the hunting and providing food. You are also giving the dog the protection it needs. Therefore, you have to give him other tasks, which make sure he feels part of your pack and his needs are met.
- A pack is not a democracy; dogs need a hierarchy with clearly defined do’s and don’ts.
You have to establish your «pack policy» which describes what you will and will not accept — and you must be 100% consequent.
- The pack leader is promoted to his role through demonstrating continuous mental, emotional and physical strength. A pack leader is always aplomb, calm and assertive.
Wolves and dogs do not have trust and confidence in a nervous and unstable pack leader.
- Nervous energy from the pack leader is the beginning of a downward spiral.
This the root of most problems in the relationship between dogs and dog owners! Shouting at, or even beating the dog is a sign of weakness, not one of strength.
- Being a pack leader is a 24 hours / 7 days job.
As soon as your dog feels it is not being led, means that – in the eyes of your dog – the pack leader demonstrates weakness and therefore possibly puts the pack at risk.
- A dog that is not led properly will often demonstrate unwanted behaviour. If it feels insecure and unprotected, it is likely to respond with nervous and unwanted behaviour. The typical response from the owner is to get nervous and insecure, shout or punish the dog, which just confirms to the dog that he was right about weak leadership. This often becomes a vicious circle – breaking it is fundamental!
Your «leadership weakness» puts your dog in a difficult conflict situation regarding his trust in you, as 95% of dogs are not «born leaders».
- Just imagine the situation for a moment: A small Terrier is going for a walk with his big owner who is busy with his mobile phone, i.e. the dog takes the owner for a walk and pulls on the lead, which you frequently see when underway. The small dog suddenly sees a big, self-confident Labrador off the leash approaching them …
If you do not take the lead 100% of the time, your dog feels obliged to do his best to manage the gaps in your leadership himself. If you only give your dog 70% he will try to compensate the 30%.
- Suddenly the dog owner wakes up, realises the potentially dangerous situation and gets nervous – the leash is the aerial between owner and the dog.
The small dog not only has to make sure it survives the confrontation with the big dog approaching, it also has to protect his nervous owner as the owner is not giving him the signs he has the situation under control.
- Dogs and wolves have four ways they can address potential conflict situations; Not only (1) fight or (2) flight, but also (3) avoidance and (4) ignorance. For the little dog this means that should the situation escalate, the little dog cannot take a flight or avoid because it is captured on the leash. The probability that an unstable dog reacts with ignoring such situation is relatively small. What remains? The small dog in the example above will do whatever he can to sort out the situation.
Who should be blamed or punished for the dog’s unwanted behaviour, the dog or the owner?
- While your dog is in the initial social learning phase, reward your dog for good work and behaviour with calm and authentic praise, but do not use goodies or toys to make it perform.
You primarily want your dog to build a strong relationship with you and not with the goodies or toys.
- Some dog trainers and dog owners seem to believe that goodies strengthen the dog’s social skills, which is wrong. Why would they otherwise distract and feed their dogs with goodies when crossing other dogs …
Dog owners and dogs alike must learn how to manage encounters and potential confrontations. Developing the social skills of a dog is about learning and development, not about task training and conditioning.
- Many dog owners make the mistake to give their dog too much attention — verbal, touch and visual.
Do not praise your dog for everything it does well – let it work for your attention and praise. Does the wolf pack leader turn around to reward the pack with goodies and thank them for co-operating every time the pack does something right? Too much praise reduces the impact of praise, not only with the dogs.
- If you give your dog attention (verbal, visual and touch), there is no need for the dog to give you attention. How often do you see dogs that seem to have a hearing problem? They are being called, but ignore what they hear and probably appreciate the owner staying in touch and letting the dog know where he is. Be aware that the human language has a different meaning than the canines’ language.
The dog must learn to connect with the owner, not vice versa. Therefore, don’t confuse your communication needs with the ones of your dog!
- The relationship with your dog should be based on mutual respect, trust and love. You have to earn it before you get it and most dogs will be unstable before they get it. A dog performing tasks to your liking does not mean the relationship is built on respect, trust and love.
It simply means that the dog has been conditioned and performs tasks for you in expectation of a reward.
- As a dog owner and dog trainer one may not confuse «social behaviour» with «the ability to perform tasks». There are no short-cuts in the training and development of the dog owner and the dog. The dog can only learn what the dog owner is able to teach. This is often the time when bribing the dog with goodies start.
Goodies will teach the dog to do work for food, and not because it wants to co-operate with you. It is even likely he will start demand goodies to co-operate. To the dog, you become less interesting than the goodies.
- When the dog feels safe, protected and treated in a species appropriate way, it will offer its co-operation with the dog owner – this is a big difference compared with bribing the dog – which also makes it easier for the dog to handle potential encounters.
The dog owner is always awake and anticipating, he takes responsibility for the safety of his pack. This way, his dog learns to trust the owner, the pack remains calm and with gradually increasing confidence, the dog learns to take on more tasks in the pack.
- As a dog owner and dog trainer, one must never confuse «social behaviour» with «the ability to perform tasks». In the training of dogs there are no quick-fixes – the dog can only learn what the dog owner is capable to correctly teach.
The more you teach your dog to work for goodies and toys, the more he learns only to work for goodies and toys. Gradually the dog owner becomes less and less interesting to the dog.
- Only a dog that feels comfortable and safe with his dog owner will co-operate with his dog owner. If the dog feels safe and protected, it makes it easier for him to handle social conflicts.
The dog owner is always awake and anticipatory, he assumes the responsibility for the safety of his own small pack. This way the dog learns that the owner consistently takes responsibility and the dog can rely on him. The sereneness in the pack is preserved and his self-confidence grows, i.e. the dog can gradually take over more tasks.
2.16 «Scooby-doo» – an example of sad arrogance and ignorance of the dog’s needs
Canid behaviour is more complex than people often want to admit. Professional cynologists and trainers have long recognised that there are no patent remedies to neutralise so-called problematic behaviour. Moreover, the behaviour of the human on the other end of the leash is usually the cause of the dog’s behaviour – the dog merely shows the reaction to it. Therefore, it is appropriate to distinguish between “problematic dog behaviour” and “problem dog”.
Just as jellybeans can’t correct the wrong behaviour of the dog owner, as little omnipotent are goodies and toys as a medicine for the 70% of dogs who show problematic behaviour on the walk. Both have to go through learning processes.
It is not primarily the dog that needs to be trained, but the human. A competent dog trainer will observe a dog’s behaviour and look at whether, how and why the dog’s behaviour is a plausible reaction to the dog owner’s behaviour.
Again and again I am contacted by dog owners who are bothered by their dog’s behaviour. The dog pulls on the leash, it barks, is tense, or insecure, is distracted and doesn’t hear, doesn’t come when called, or is hyperactive, etc.
If the dog owners misjudge the situation and wait too long – often with the reasoning «you have to be patient with such a dog, give it lots of love and time, then it will be fine» – the emotional suffering of the dogs increases and they show increasing signs of stress. This is true for so-called shelter dogs as well as for dogs growing up in families.
Dog owners and trainers often do not recognise the undesired behaviour as stress, but instead they turn all the other screws in the well-intentioned hope of helping the dog. Be it with a change of food, ointments, medication, yoga for dogs, dog dance, agility, new toys, etc. In the short term, the dog might feel a little better, but the symptoms come back or manifest themselves in a different form.
Many dog owners go to the vet because the dog is increasingly scratching itself bloody, the coat is no longer beautiful, the dog has more diarrhoea, or in the hope that «something» can be done about the hyperactivity.
A few of them contact me and say, for example: «The behaviour has occurred over time and has increased. When Scooby-Doo was three years old, we had him neutered. But that didn’t help either, in the meantime he has also started to pinch people’s legs – probably he perceives a threat and wants to protect me. In the last few months he has also started barking at bicycles that are driving directly towards him. I don’t know if he would nip here as well because I hold him firmly on the leash. It seems to me that he has become more insecure since he was neutered.»
Because the behaviour is «relatively rare, we have no idea how to train it away», I was told in the above case. I often hear from dog owners: «We go to dog school every Saturday and practice with him regularly. It doesn’t seem to help much, but on the other hand his behaviour would probably be worse if we didn’t do it. Can you help our dog, we want him to be fine.»
IN MORE THAN 95% OF THE CASES, IT IS THE SOCIAL CONFLICTS IN THE DOG OWNER – DOG RELATIONSHIP THAT LEAD TO STRESS AND UNWANTED BEHAVIOUR IN THE DOG.
Stress in the dog owner -dog relationship leads to changes in the dog’s behaviour, which the dog owner often does not categorise as a cry for help from the dog, but as a diagnosis of “behavioural problems” and wants to have suitable, fast-acting “antibiotics” to fix it.
I also increasingly observe that dog owners pick up so-called «patent remedies» from the media, from friends or on a walk and use them to build up their own image of their dog on the basis of so-called «fake facts» or errors. This is despite the fact that the image created can’t be confirmed, neither in the ethology, nor in the cynology, nor in everyday observations of dog behaviour. The patent remedies, however, serve as a «crutch» for the overstrained owners, from which they are often reluctant to part.
Some dogs «break out» and rebel loudly, others suffer in silence. Both are not well and suffer.
Back to Scooby-Doo.
After a few emails, the dog owner decided on a lesson. I understood from his communication that it would not be an easy lesson – but not because of his dog. The owner was convinced of his own knowledge and skills, actually he had a «charming dog» and he had only contacted me because of «a rarely occurring undesired behaviour» which he wanted to have eliminated, or as he said «trained away».
The assumption was immediately confirmed when the owner arrived and turned off towards the car park where we were waiting. Scooby-Doo saw my dog Rox, started barking uncontrollably and threw himself back and forth against the car windows – I was convinced that Scooby-Doo would hurt himself. The way the windows looked, however, this was not the first time it happened.
The owner didn’t show any reaction whatsoever, but continued driving calmly as if nothing had happened. «Scooby-Doo should live in freedom and be able to develop himself» he said a little later when I asked him about it.
But his dog, on the back seat, was in a completely over-excited state and hid his insecurity behind fear-aggressive behaviour, which in my view had little to do with freedom and development.
When Scooby-Doo was taken out of the car, he immediately pulled the still passive owner across the area and decided to storm down the embankment and jump into the water. He pulled so hard that the owner had to let him go. The owner said «He must be very thirsty».
Scooby-Doo jumped out of the water and happy, wet and dirty stood up with his front paws at the owner’s chest. The owner first confirmed the behaviour with praise, «Now that he’s coming to me, I praise him for that» and then hesitantly realised he didn’t like it.
During the initial talk, Scooby-Doo could not stay calm for 5 seconds, but was extremely restless, continuously looked in all directions, pulled and often threw himself into the harness with full force. The owner said «Scooby-Doo wants to go for a walk now».
When we moved, Scooby-Doo straightened his legs, tensed his neck and back muscles, stretched his head in the air, set his fur, his eyes became round and his tail pointed vertically to the sky, although the normal position would be vertical to the ground. All the muscles were tense and he wagged the tail out of tension. The owner said «Watch how happy he is!».
I went on to note that Scooby-Doo was a ball junkie, which didn’t surprise me. «Scooby-Doo loves to play with the ball and will not stop demanding the ball until he gets it» said the owner.
Under the title «Stereotypes and Compulsive Behaviours», Prof. Udo Ganslosser and Dr. Sophie Strodtbeck write:
«Again, the increased persistence is an additional risk factor, which makes the action just about fatigue-free, and can repeat the behaviour for hours if necessary. If a dog owner and a trainer then believe that they can tire or even exhaust such a dog through even more activity, a downward spiral begins that can eventually lead to a completely “crazed” addict. And just like in human addiction therapy, the only way to deal with a ball junkie’s dopamine addiction is consistent abstinence, i.e. keeping away from any triggering stimulus.»
Pinching, or «heeling», which herding dogs exhibit when they pinch the hind legs of the sheep, is also often classified as stereotypy when not applied exclusively for work. The Australian Cattle Dog was formerly called Blue Heeler, Red Heeler, or Queensland Heeler, i.e. the name was programme.
Scooby-Doo was an intelligent, medium-sized dog that was bred as a specialised working dog and had received far too little socialisation and education for its needs. Although his behaviour resembled that of a herding dog and nipping might be part of his repertoire, it was more likely that Scooby-Doo had never learned to «handle his teeth» properly. He also nipped me twice; this did not occur as an extension of threatening behaviour nor as a result of aggression. Scooby-Doo was not an aggressive dog, but an uneducated, under-challenged, nervous, hyperactive, hectic as well as «headless» in his movement patterns. He had never been allowed to learn basic manners.
Due to the lack of intervention by the dog owner, his behaviour had largely taken on a life of its own. Therefore, he was only able to build up a «sort of» relationship with his owner, the benefits of which he relentlessly demanded. There were not many signs of basic contentment, balance and bonding.
In other words – possibly with the best of intentions – the owner been successful in achieveing exactly the opposite with his dog and caused him a lot of suffering and stress over a period of four years. Instead of understanding Scooby-Doo’s disruptive behaviour as a cry for help, it was simply ignored or justified with fake facts and the undesired behaviour continued to increase.
In my long experience with dogs, I have rarely seen such sad examples of human – dog relationship. A bite or physical injury is usually easily absorbed by a dog, but the daily emotional suffering eventually becomes too much.
My work with Scooby-Doo lasted about 30 minutes. In the first 20 minutes he kept falling back into old behaviour patterns and I had to repeatedly cut the «film in his head» with stop signals and clear guard rails – see chapters 2.9 – 2.13 above – offer alternative behaviour and reassemble the new cut of the film. My initial focus was to be able to enter a «dialogue» with Scooby-Doo.
Calmness, composure and gentle consistency led to relaxation, slowness, concentration and cooperation. Scooby-Doo opened up more and more, walked with a loose leash, reacted well to my fine signals, started to be visibly happy, leaned on me when he got praise and understood why. In other words, Scooby-Doo reacted positively and in a dog-typical way.
Needless to say, the 30 minutes were very intense for Scooby-Doo – and for me. Again and again I had to show him the way, reduce the speed, demand concentration, ignore or confirm at the right moment, set guard rails, communicate stop signals, praise, sensitively recognise all his impulses and act on them with foresight, etc.
An unexperienced observer would probably say: «But the trainer is very strict with the dog, there’s no need for that, he’s being a good boy».
An person who who knows the Scooby-Doo story and has a good command of dog behaviour would rather say: «Look how quickly he changes completely, it looks like he is relaxing and he makes a visibly content and happy impression».
Important insights for dog owners:
- The fact that humans assume their leadership and coaching responsibility towards the dog has nothing to do with «authoritarian upbringing», but is part of the basic rights of a dog living with humans. Just as it is the basic right of a child to be taught, step by step, how to cross a busy road.
- Human needs for harmony must not stand in the way of a behaviourally appropriate dog owner – dog relationship, socialisation and education. If I choose a specialised breed (hunting dog, herding dog, guard dog, etc.), a dog that can only be kept in a behaviourally appropriate way with great effort, or a dog from an animal rescue centre, then a greater effort on socialisation and education is usually pre-programmed.
- The longer I wait with socialisation and education, the more effort I have to invest. If the dog has taught itself successful dopamine-releasing (mis)behaviours and stored them, it becomes more difficult to neutralise these behaviours and to establish alternative behaviours.
- Either the dog is kept in a species-appropriate way, or it is not. Socialisation and education are not «training subjects» à la «I will now practise with Fido that he should no longer bark at cyclists». How, exactly, is such a training programme supposed to look if I don’t start with myself and give Fido the feeling of security that I am taking care of the situation?
- A dog that has not received sufficient socialisation and education for a long time will often resist change with greater energy. I.e. the issue of calibration also applies here (see chapter 2.10 above). If interventions are necessary, they must be adapted accordingly, otherwise there will be no improvement or even a negative result.
- Consistently dealing with an unstable dog has nothing to do with “drill” and does not mean that I am not benevolent, supportive and caring. Instead it means that I am predictable and stable for my dog in all situations, which helps him to feel secure and calm. I.e. if I work intensively with my dog for 45 minutes and handle praise, energy, guard rails, stop signals, corrections etc. correctly, the dog has a chance to learn, is mentally challenged, learns and experiences what cooperation is, etc.
- It is another human fallacy to believe that, for example, service dog training, in which several hours a day are spent working intensively, is something the dog does not like to do. I’m sure Scooby-Doo would have much preferred to experience proper training and development instead of four years of mostly disorientation and daily emotional suffering and stress.
- The dog lives in the here and now, but carries experience and acquired behaviour in its rucksack – it has no interest in holding on to negative experiences. Even a dog that has been in a so-called killing station abroad, and already been placed and re-placed with three families etc. does not primarily need human love and pity. Rather, it needs “canine” love, i.e. compassion, stability, guard rails, rituals, guidance, accompaniment, coaching, gradually introduced new experiences, closeness, rest, relaxation and affection.
- If there is an opportunity to help a dog quickly, why take the longer route? Just because it is more convenient for the dog owner, or for the trainer to charge more hours? Neither of which is in the dog’s best interest.
After that, the dog owner led Scooby-Doo and I «led» the dog owner so that he could learn for himself how to convey the needed security and how to act and communicate with his dog. When Scooby-Doo showed the right signs, I brought in my dog Rox and the four of us worked with each other in a relaxed and concentrated way.
Later we were back at the place where we had the initial talk. Scooby-Doo was between us, completely relaxed, visibly content and very tired from the concentrated work, which was a novelty for him.
With increasing bonding, a dog begins to orientate himself to the owner outdoors as well, because he feels safe and protected. But only if the dog owner – symbolically – gives his dog the protective walls of the home outside as well. Trust, respect and reliability continue to increase and so does the bond between dog and owner.
Just as the aforementioned jelly bears cannot correct the dog owner’s misbehaviour, it probably becomes clearer once again why «goodies training» is not an omnipotent medicine for the 70% of dogs that show disruptive behaviour on the walk, not even with Scooby-Doo. Many dogs with insecurities and fears won’t take treats outside because they are too distracted and fearful. «As long as humans think animals don’t feel, animals must feel that humans don’t think.»
A sad story about completely unnecessary animal suffering. A dog owner who reprimands the dog at the right moment in the right dosage, just as it would take place in a pack, is loudly criticised by ignorant people. At the same time, a majority of the 70% of dogs suffer a lot more every day. The owners do not accept their responsibility for this and are never held accountable.
In any case, I hope that Scooby-Doo is doing better today. I also hope to have explained plausibly with the above example how important socialisation and education are, not only for humans but in particular for the dogs.
If people don’t realise that they don’t know enough about dog behaviour, they won’t notice when they treat their dog from a human rather than a species appropriate perspective.
2.17 «Leash compulsory for all dogs» as a consequence of the deficient training?
From time to time, the politicians in Switzerland are discussing a general «leash obligation», which I can very well understand. With such obligation, however, one would punish the wrong end of the leash for the lack of knowledge, skills and attitude with the dog owners. It would neither be correct, nor species-appropriate.
The German Philosopher Richard David Precht says correctly: «There are two categories of animals. One of them believes there are two categories of animals, and the other one has to suffer from that belief»
Dog owners and dog trainers must recognise, that what is being done today is not sufficient.
The objectives of the training and development must be that even non-dog-owners take pleasure in the satisfied and well-trained dogs. The motivation may not be to get, or sell, a certificate.
I am confident, this is something both dogs and dog owners would enjoy!