2.1 DOGS NEED A SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT, OR «PACK», IN WHICH THEY CAN DEVELOP. THEREFORE DOG OWNERS AND TRAINERS MUST LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF DOGS
First a short excursion into behavioural biology:
From a behavioural biology perspective, a R E L A T I O N S H I P 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, E M O T I O N A L A T T A C H M E N T 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.
2.2 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.
2.3 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 R E L A T I O N S H I P and the E M O T I O N A L A T T A C H M E N T 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 S O C I A L I S A T I O N (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 E D U C A T I O N 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.
T R A I N I N G (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:
2.4 THE BUILDING BLOCKS LEADING TO A HAPPY DOG. OR, WHAT DOG OWNERS AND DOG TRAINERS HAVE TO DO
A. 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 create a strong bond between dog and owner.
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.
B. 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.
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.
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.
C. PROVIDE TRAINING AND SPECIES-APPROPRIATE ACTIVITIES
Developing skills and abilities of the dog to subsequently take on further tasks. 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.
One should never for a moment believe that deficiencies in relationship, bonding, socialisation or education can be compensated by training, such as pointless ball throwing or demanding tricks.
Both the priorities, A and B, as well as the order, from A to C and not vice versa, should now be clear for every dog owner.
2.5 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 FIFTH IMPORTANT QUESTION.
Is it therefore possible that a well-trained, but badly educated dog, can do «sit, drop, stay!» perfectly,
but at the same time be disrespectful with people or other dogs?
2.6 WHAT UNDESIRED BEHAVIOUR DOES MY DOG SHOW, WHAT IS THE CAUSE AND WITH WHICH BUILDING BLOCKS, IN WHICH ORDER, CAN I MODIFY THE 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.
2.7 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!
2.8 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!
2.9 STOP-SIGNALS AND CORRECTIONS
A recurring question, which I would like to shed some light on from my point of view and experience.
A S T O P – S I G N A L 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 C O R R E C T I O N 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.
2.10 CALIBRATION – THE CORRECT STRENGTH OF 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. The push is a 200-300 gram push to the side, not a blow.
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.
2.11 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 R E W A R D 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 P U N I S H M E N T 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.
2.14 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.
2.15 RESPONSIBLE HANDLING OF DOGS WITH PROBLEMATIC BEHAVIOUR
The behaviour of the Canines is more complex than people often want to admit. Professional cynologists and dog trainers have long recognised that there are no patent recipes or off-the-shelf-menus to neutralise problematic behaviour. Most of the time, the behaviour of humans at the other end of the leash is the cause – the dog only reacts on the signals it receives.
Therefore, it is not primarily the dog that needs to be trained, but the human being. In order to make it easier for the dog trainer to train a dog owner, a competent dog trainer observes the behaviour of a dog and checks whether, how and why the dog’s behaviour is a plausible reaction to the dog owner’s behaviour.
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.
This requires the knowledge, skills and experience of a dog trainer and the constant willingness to learn more about people and dogs. A dog trainer never finishes learning, nor does a dog owner.
2.16 EACH DOG HAS ITS OWN BEHAVIOURAL PROFILE
The listing below is not conclusive, but only goes to show what a competent dog trainer, as well as a dog owner with an must understand.
Energy level and type
Dog – Human
Dog – Dog
Reaction on environment
Motivation für Bindung
Vertrauen Hund – Halter – Hund
Beute- und Jagdverhalten
Unterschiede bei räumlichen Distanzen Hund/Halter
Classical conditioning (Pawlow)
Operant conditioning (Skinner)
Instrumental conditioning («trial and error»)
Taste avoidance learning
Futter / Nahrung
Territorium / Revier / Schlafplatz
Beute / Spielzeug
Objekt der Aggression
Schmerzbedingt, auch medizinisch
Mensch / Sozialkontakt
If we additionally imagine that every single criterion can be categorised on a scale, e. g. from 1 to 5 (from inconspicuousness to high conspicuousness), we are talking about a very large number of behavioural typologies of a dog.
Dog trainers must be able to recognize this complexity and combinations, create a proper anamnesis and know how to act on it.
They also have to recognise in time if they do not have the necessary knowledge and skills and call in a specialist. The biggest challenge is alway when someone doesn’t know, that he doesn’t know.
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!