The Sekrit Dog Trainer’s Manual Part II–The Pudding is in the Proof

I used to know a dog trainer with focus so intense, he vibrated.

He could take any strange dog, in a park, or street grasp the leash, regardless of what kind of collar was on the dog–in the midst of dogs, jogger, cyclists, any and all distractions then have that dog heeling, sitting, laying down and staying–while gazing at him with rapt attention within minutes. His voice control was impeccable. Dogs “got him” straight away.

Within two weeks he could have most dogs under voice control, only.

That’s not most people. It’s not even most dog trainers. Later he would go strictly Purely Positive training [and that’s what HE called it and he did it without food rewards/lures even when he taught tricks]. Could most of his clients? I assume so because he did a bang-up amount of business long before the internet was popular and worked with me then published a book of protocols to re-condition aggressive and trained protection dogs for home living based on what we’d worked out.

We used to debate. I went by the old saw of “Teach the dog in a quiet place, first. Then start the distractions and increase the levels.”

“Nonsense,” he’d say. “Sit means SIT. Dogs don’t teach each other what to do only in quiet places. Training in a quiet place is done so the handler can manage the distraction levels–not the dog.”

That’s the whole point, I suppose.

The #1 ticket to a well behaved dog is not teaching the dog the command. It’s “distraction proofing” the dog to do it every time, all the time, no matter what is going on around them. Any dog will sit in the house. It’s the second there’s something more interesting going on that it falls apart.

In class last week all the other owners said, “S/he was great in the driveway/backyard/quiet street. Soon as we got past that, all hell broke loose.”

After that class, I thought about what my friend said. I’m still thinking about it. I’m thinking he might be right.

What if it’s NOT the distractions? He had the attitude that the dog, “The Dog Will Do It”. After a few leaps and bounds and misbehaviour–do we stop believing the dog will do it?

He thought operant conditioning was over-rated. “If you want a dog that heels into telephone poles because it’s busy staring in your face instead of truly paying attention–go for it. Eventually it’s going to break down.”

He had one other theory of interest, “The problem with dog training methods is that most are based on the premise that you should be paying attention to the dog to either correct or reward. That’s a fallacy. The dog should be paying attention to you.”

The older I get, the more I see he might have a point on that one.

We’re worried about the distractions to either reward or correct ‘with good timing’ but what is the dog thinking? Why isn’t the dog paying attention to what we want in the first place?

This man, who was the best I’ve ever seen with any kind of dog or problem–and I’ve watched a large number of dog trainers from all schools of thought. He was driven out of the business by a bullying, lying coterie of New Age R+ Clicker Trainers when he dared to tell to say on TV they were full of crap because instinct would overdrive the conditioning–A FACT cited by the very inventors of clicker training, the Brenners. He also said food was a poor motivator because other distractions were far more interesting and turning dogs into pecking pigeons was an insult to their willingness to work and their inherent sense of dignity.

Now how did this man get the dog to pay attention?

He ignored the dog. He grabbed the leash and sing-songed, “Let’s go, Fido!”

Then he would heel the dog like he was dancing up and down the busy street/park. The dog never knew what was coming next. If he accidentally stepped on a paw, he didn’t stop to apologize or weep and moan–he kept on dancing. He looked insane. By the end of a five minute heel–the dog gazed at him in rapt attention to see what came next. THEN he would sit the dog or lay it down.

I think this worked for two reasons. The first is–he had the dog’s wholehearted attention. The dog didn’t know what the hell was going on and had to pay attention to keep up. The second was his attitude, “The Dog Will Do It.”

He had no doubt, no hesitation.

You know, the emotions that plague the rest of us when Fluffykins acts like a putz? He called his attitude, “Controlled arrogance.”

The simple fact is–it takes far more time to teach the dog to ignore distractions than it does to teach the dog to do something.

We might be looking at the wrong end of the donkey here.

The Sekrit Dog Trainer’s Manual Part I

You want a good dog right? Doesn’t everyone? One that doesn’t bowl over the kids, bite people, snarl, snap, jump up, be bratty and act like a knucklehead at home or in public?

You go to a dog training class and the trainer’s dog is awesome. After a month, while your dog now knows a few things, but it’s still not calm and obedient. Everything is a struggle.

You teach Fluffykins “heel/sit/down//stay/stand/come” but that doesn’t help. You can’t afford a private trainer, or you’re discouraged and you don’t know what to do. Why is the dog trainer’s dog well-behaved and yours isn’t? Because they don’t have the time, in one hour a week to cover more than the basics. Most videos etc. are about how to train the dog–not how to live with it.

Here’s some insider tricks that will cut your training work down, make your dog easier to live with and you’ll suffer less “Am I being mean to my dog?” guilt.

Training will go faster and the neighbours will be awestruck by how well mannered your Fluffykins is.

#1 DOORS:

Teach the dog to sit at every door, in and out. First off, it will slow the dog down for when you want to go for a walk, getting it in a good frame of mind and just like video games–rushing the door, for a dog is dangerous. Plus YOU can get hurt. I can’t count the amount of people I’ve known that were injured around stairs and doors with dogs. [I also teach mine to sit at the top and bottom of stairs until I call, for safety reasons.]

Almost all dog trainers train their dogs in the “place” command or at least have a particular spot where Fido stays when they answer the door. This cuts down the door nonsense of over-excitement and leaping on the guests or others coming in the door. Also, the “place” command has saved many a pizza. Remember, a dog’s speed is directly proportional to the amount of slices and quantity of available pepperoni.

Never greet a dog at the door. Ignore it. Every time.  Cesar Milan called it right on this one. No Touch. No Talk. No Eye Contact.

Yeah, I know that happy wagging tail makes you want to cuddle His Royal Cuteness right away but YIELD NOT TO TEMPTATION. You’ll thank me for it in less than a month when coming home with groceries and you aren’t mugged at the door for your gourmet hamburgers.

#2 LEARN TO COUNT:
If you want to teach an obedience command, if you do it 10x every day for the 7 days between classes [or between video lessons etc] then by the end of the week your dog will have done that command 70 times. The time it takes for a dog dumber than a bag of rocks or more stubborn than a cat to learn a command is 35 repetitions. You’ve doubled it and you have a smart dog, right?  Take that dog to its next class and wow your fellow classmates. No excuses–it takes 15 minutes a day a week to learn one new command. In twenty to thirty minutes you can mix it up with all the old commands. All the basics can be done in 6 weeks Now, WHO doesn’t have “time to train”?

#3 THE WEEK OF DOOM

The Week of Doom aka The Attitude Adjustment: This is a game changer for a disrespectful or teenage rebel dog or oooo, the poor rescue dog <weep sob>. Doesn’t matter if you’ve messed it up and spoiled Fluffykins forever, it will still help as long as all the family members abide by it for seven days. Not only will it help the dog–it will help YOU and your family develop good dog management habits.

The marvellous thing about the Week of Doom is that no matter how much you’ve messed up–this is your chance to improve it. Age doesn’t matter. Length of time you owned the dog doesn’t matter.

Even if you are working with a dog trainer over aggression, it won’t hurt and could move things along a lot faster. It will cause a nervous dog to see you as more stable and trustworthy.

One reason dog trainers are more successful in getting your dog to be obedient than you are, is that dogs are their living–they depend on results and they have no strong emotional bond to your animal.

So, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t love Fluffykins to bits. I’m saying that if your dog is treating you disrespectfully or training is a struggle, it’s time for The Week of Doom. You only have to hold out for one week because Fluffykins is likely to be obeying much better by day four but don’t give in. This is as much about who lives with the dog, as the dog.

So, gird your loins, polish your saddle and forward ho!

The dog gets NO freedom. All week. No toys. Take them away. Be firm. Be strong. Be a dog trainer for seven days. Nobody pets. Nobody plays. Nobody gives the dog treats. Just tell them, “Fluffykins is on his Week of Doom.

If the dog has to potty, take it on a leash. No shooing it out into the back yard. If you are inside the dog is either in “place” or laying down at your feet while you keep it down by stepping on the leash. Walk it to food and water–it is NEVER off the lead. If it needs exercise, use a long rope or lunge line and play ball or let it run a bit. Don’t allow any other dog to approach or play with your dog.

It must obey every command it knows, 100% of the time to perfection. Don’t say anything you aren’t willing to back up for one whole week. If you can’t back it up, don’t say it. Make a commitment.

If it’s not with you, or someone else behaving on leash then it’s crated. It can’t sleep in the bed, nap on the couch or receive any other unearned [at this point] privilege. For one week, all privileges are revoked. No treats. In this whole week NEVER raise your voice. Fix problems that occur, don’t waste time yelling at the dog about them. Tell everyone else in the house to stop yelling at the dog, too.  It’s simple but it’s not easy. Nobody is to hit the dog or manhandle the dog–leash work ONLY. That’s the big commitment you have to make.

In my experience, people tend to yell or hit because A) it’s habit and B) they feel powerless over the dog’s behaviour. In the Week of Doom you have full control of the situation because you have your plan laid out before you and it’s as much your Week of Doom, as Fido’s.

Forward HO!

Unless the dog follows a command–it gets no petting. HOLD FAST! BE STRONG! It’s only one week. You’re not going to damage Fluffykin’s psyche by not petting for one week because in actual fact, if it was at a training kennel–that’s exactly what would happen.

What’s the purpose of this? It’s not to be mean or punitive. It’s to open up the dogs willingness to work with you and your willingness to work with the dog. By instituting The Week Of Doom you are saying, in dog terms, without violence, yelling or cruelty “I want to work with you. This is how we work together as a team. I am through with yelling at you, manhandling you, mis-communicating and treating you with a lack of respect.

I want the same in return. Now it’s time we worked as a team.”

If you make a mistake or are inconsistent during your Week of Doom, don’t give up and stop.

Just carry on boldly with your Week of Doom.

I’ve never seen a dog who didn’t improve its attitude exponentially after A Week of Doom. It won’t frighten the dog or freak them out even if it’s nervous because in dog terms, nobody is acting unstable. Quite the opposite. If the dog or you revert to your old habits a month or more after the exercise–go back to A Couple of Days of Doom or An Extra Week of Doom until you both improve. You can do it as many times as you and your dog need [especially if you’re a “yeller” or inconsistent] because it won’t hurt the dog.

Why is it called, “The Week of Doom“?

Because you will smile every time you think “We are working on our Week of Doom“. <Cue dramatic music> Smiling means not yelling and not being unstable in the eyes of the dog. It sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. It’s an adventure that you can handle for a week to improve your relationship with your dog. And the dog will pick up your positive attitude and be more willing to work with you.

Frodo’s quest to Mount Doom, saved Middle Earth.

Your quest on the Week of Doom is to improve your relationship with your dog.

End of Part I.

When Is a Dog Trainer “Too Nice”?

High stress dog training…

“If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.”–Sun Tzu

Of course, The Drama Prince aced his class again!

What I saw last night makes me wonder why I’m not back at dog training. Hopefully, it will get better and I DID learn something interesting that might help the DP’s “come” command but the dogs?

OH. MY. GOD.

First off, most of them are on harnesses or the wrong collars. You can’t train a dog on a harness unless it’s very tiny and very very submissive. And that doesn’t describe this crew of reprobates.

One little fuzzy white dog is a terror. I wondered why such a well-groomed owner had such a sloppy looking dog. The little fart is “handler aggressive”–meaning it bites the person on the other end of the leash. I’d have slapped that brat on a check chain, martingale or mini-prong [even a flat would have worked better] and put an end to the tantrum post haste. Just getting it to sit, without biting, took up 15 minutes of everyone’s time. Obviously the owner can’t groom it–because it’s attacking her. I couldn’t believe the power struggle. If the trainer had used the pressure point in the dog’s thigh and lifted up with a collar, that brat would have been sitting before you could say “milkbones”. It’s not about “outwaiting” the dog in a power struggle IMO–it’s about outsmarting the dog.

I really like one big black dog, C–but he’s ‘way too big and muscular for the owner–add to that, she was wearing thong sandals, about the most dangerous foot gear ever to dog train in–he’s rambunctious and silly but she hasn’t got the collar correct fit for him. I can SEE that C is trying to learn, he’s not mean–but he’s just not getting the message of what she wants because she’s having to “muscle” him which is dangerous for both of them if he drags her into a crowded street. She was waving one of those plastic dog bone bags that was tied to the end of the leash and I pointed out to her that the plastic wonking him in the face was freaking C, out. Did she take it off the leash? No. Poor C just kept getting wonked.

One is a nice dog, a Rhodesian ridge-back but the owner has her on a flat collar. So, again, the communication is messed up. That dog is really TRYING to be good. While I have, and can train a dog at some levels with a flat collar, that’s not something I’d recommend to someone without a fair bit of experience.

What I’m NOT understanding about this class is why the trainer is not telling the owners that it’s not about the dog behaving in the backyard–it’s about the dog behaving everywhere. It’s not what you train the dog to do–it’s about doing what its asked when there are distractions around.

Nor has the trainer said, even once, what I always told owners and what most trainers I’ve met tells owners, “You must work with this dog a minimum of 15 minutes, twice per day, every day, in all kinds of circumstances while we are working together and you will have a good dog in 6 weeks.” [actually I used to train for 5 weeks].

Nor did she teach a release command. Sheeyit.

I guess I’m a bit frustrated. I know the instructor only has an hour to get her point across to 7 dog owners and I can only hope it gets better.

I guess I don’t understand it. Maybe I’ll understand more about her ideas, later.

My first and only formal CKC style obedience class at 20 would NOT have allowed all this useless gear [all dogs had to be on check chains and proper 6ft leather leashes] nor were the dogs allowed to sniff and leap around and act like hyperactive stooges at ANY time.

I didn’t allow owners who called me because their dogs acted like crap, to decide what gear to use on the dog. They had one week to purchase what I told them to–or I wouldn’t train the dog. And it’s not asking a lot–we’re talking here about a collar and a proper leash–$20-$30.

I don’t ‘get it’?

She’s a lovely person, the instructor. She’s been in business a long time.

I’m all for “encouragement” and “motivation”.

For me, the one thing I am getting out of it, is it keeps me focused when I’m bored or distracted. It’s forcing me to commit to working with my dog on a daily basis. I’m not sure it’s doing a whole lot for the Drama Prince. We’ll see if her recall trick works well. It might be the solution I need before I fork out for an e-collar.

Is a dog trainer “too nice” if they don’t demand a level of performance, owner engagement between classes and basic training tools?

Or am I being unreasonable?