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.

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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.

Bragging Rights

Okay I can’t help it.

I get bragging rights.

So last Tuesday I took the Drama Prince to his first obedience class.
He aced it.

If dogs could show off–I’m pretty sure he was strutting it.

While other dogs were leaping, barking and generally acting up, he laid quietly while I listened to instructions.

The instructor, Dorothy, started with “heel” so people could walk their dogs without ripping their armpits out, from week one.

One dog owner was seriously struggling with a leaping, joyous, overly friendly, Big Black Dog.

I really liked that dog. The sad part was that the owner looked defeated. Now her BBD did quite well for his first try. So, at the end I explained to her that the Drama Prince was much like that when I got him and if she stuck with it–BBD would soon improve. It didn’t seem to help.

I could see the problem. A slender, gentle, polite woman with 80lb 6 month exuberant puppy. Hopefully she’ll “firm up” and her BBD will calm down.

Mind you, Dear Reader–I “cheated”. When the instructor was talking, I stood on the Drama Prince’s leash much of the time as he laid there, so he couldn’t bounce around from distraction and I could pay attention without being distracted by him. By the time I “heeled” him–he’d already calmed himself from the long down.

Hahaha Dog Trainer trick 101. “Down” the dog, stand on the leash and the dog will create the pressure if it tries to move. It will also get bored and go to sleep, eventually.

The class was awed by the Drama Prince’s good manners.

Tonight is his next lesson. I assume it is “heel/sit”. He should ace that, as well.

Do you think I should “let the cat out of the bag” on this?

100 Random Dogs Survey

Sooooooooooooooooo

I finished observing 100 random dogs.

Yes, this post might be a bit boring as far as consisting of mainly numbers until I add a few observations.

I was fairly lenient in my criteria.
Walk Nicely On Leash: a dog that didn’t pull the owner regardless of distractions.
Walk Off Leash : a dog that stayed within 6 feet of the owner without a leash regardless of distractions.
Recall: A dog that came within 4 feet of the owner the first time it was called regardless of distractions.
Good Companion: A dog that could walk nicely on leash, recall and did not jump up on people, growl, snarl, bark at people or dogs.

Basic Obedience: From basic behaviour would either qualify for, or could be “touched up” to pass a basic obedience trial.

For “walk nicely” I also walked my [heeling, leashed] dog near the leashed dog, if it was not pulling when I observed, up to 4 feet away. If the dog didn’t pull at that distance I passed it.

For recall, my dog was nearby laying down. About half the dogs were good enough that they recalled even with my dog running loose. If I did not see the dog recall–I didn’t count it. So, there may be some dogs that recall that weren’t counted in. Also, if the dog was on lead and the owner did not walk it off leash in my presence–there may be some dogs that would qualify as “off leash” as well.

Some dogs may be better or worse in circumstances other than what I saw them in. This was not a laboratory–it was in real life on the streets and in parks. I did not count behaviour I saw in dog parks.

Dogs Observed: 100
Walk Nicely On Leash: 15
Walk Off Leash : 13
Recall: 13
Good Companion: 11 [off leash heel not required]
Basic Obedience: 4

Since obviously, most of the dogs fell into ALL of the categories [other than nicely on leash] the amount of decently trained dogs in this city is pitifully small.

I have to wonder who the dog trainers are training–if 96% of dogs can’t make it past a basic obedience test. And I have to wonder why, in the day and age of dog trainers all over YouTube etc. why so many owners won’t even do the basic minimum training to ensure the dog’s safety in a city environment.

The Great Dog Training Debates–An Open Letter To Dog Trainers

Dear Dog Trainers:

Please. Just. Shut. Up.

I don’t visit dog forums any more. They’re a quagmire of the worst in human bullying behaviour. I keep getting invited to Dogster and other boards because I  Eisenmann educated dogs and it’s a dying art, sadly. I’ve been on enough dog forums now to dread them. My blood pressure is low and I’d like to keep it that way.

Here’s the standard post:

Average Dog Owner: Fido jumps on people at the door. How do I make him stop?

Sensible Dog Owner: I taught mine the “place” command. I laid down a little piece of carpet and no matter what, he’s not allowed to leave it [Alternative version] I taught mine by putting a leash on him and making him sit quietly while I greet people. Practise. Be consistent.

Immediately after this, the entire post is swarmed by professed dog trainers [and it’s the intertubz, the owners have no idea how many of them are or have been, legitimate professionals] most shilling some brand of psychobabble while they one-up each other. Buried in there somewhere might be a whit of common sense.

It goes on, sometimes for hundreds of pages. Flame wars erupt.

Poor Average Owner is overloaded with conflicting information, guilt, shame, cookies, clickers, check chains, head halters, prong collars, remote collars vs. shock collars, operant conditioning, R+ vs. 4 quadrants of conditioning, balanced vs. purely positive, corrections, marker words, aggression vs. fear biting, superstitious behaviour, possible secondary behaviours, probable outcomes, distraction, proofing, redirecting, positive rewards, negative rewards, withholding rewards, pressure, pack leadership, dominant dog theory, reactivity, co-operative pack theories, scientific surveys conducted in sterile laboratories, junk science research, unsubstantiated observational research–YOU GET THE PICTURE?

After a few pages of this nonsense Sensible Dog Owner and Average Dog Owner leave the thread.

Here’s a revolutionary concept.

Just. Shut. Up.

First off, anyone so stupid they can’t teach a dog, with whatever method, how to lay down in one place or sit beside them, which is pretty basic stuff–isn’t likely to have a dog in the first place. A ten year old can figure this out and if they can’t I’m sure they can point their parents to a few YouTube videos. Short of pounding the stuffing out of Fido which most dog owners won’t do, chances are they can teach “place” or “sit”. They just needed to make the mental leap to get from “making Fido stop” to “what could Fido do instead?” and being consistent.

Average Dog Owner doesn’t care about your method, or your theory or your conflicting research studies.

They just want Fido to stop jumping on Grandma THIS WEEK and preferably TODAY. They’re not being lazy–just like everything else in life, results talk and bullshit walks.

It gets even worse if some poor owner says, “Fido bit the neighbour.”

Good thing the intertubz doesn’t depend on paper because there wouldn’t be a tree left on the planet from reams written about what to do because Fido chomped the guy next door.

Just. Shut. Up.

If you can’t write it on a post-it note, save it for dog theory discussion forums, not owners.

You know what I tell people on this one?

“This can likely be fixed. Find the closest place that trains police dogs. Call them. These trainers have vast experience with biting dogs and are familiar with the equipment to help. Meanwhile, whenever Fido is outside muzzle the dog and keep him on a leash at all times. Here’s a video link on how to fit and use a muzzle properly. If you can’t afford the rates or such a trainer’s not available let’s find you a suitable alternative.”

No matter what advice someone gives in this scenario, obvious problem is obvious.

If Fido bites again not only will Fido be homeless, so will Average Dog Owner and family from the resulting lawsuits. Never mind the fact that Fido is now a societal risk. Average Dog Owner at this point is scared. Solve the immediate problem. Alleviate the panic with something proactive and sensible they can do NOW. Average Dog Owner wants results. Average Dog Owner doesn’t care about your pet theory. Average Dog Owner just wants to save Fido’s life, keep everyone safe and not lose their house.

No matter what the ensuing dog trainer howling is about–a dog trainer with experience in fixing dog biting problems needs to look with a practised eye at THIS dog and THIS owner and THIS environment before Fido becomes a public menace and is euthanized.

I’m going to let dog trainers in on a little secret. For free. For the betterment of dogs everywhere.

According to my survey which is almost 90 average city dogs at this point, the vast majority of people are NOT training their dogs to be good canine citizens.

So while you all are arguing theory online, less than 10% of owners actually train their dogs to a basic level [walk nicely on lead, come when called, don’t snarl, bark, lunge or bite at other people/dogs] –-90% of your potential customer base are doing nothing productive regardless of your methodology.

I have to wonder how many of them are paralyzed with guilt because they read so much conflicting advice and so much nonsense about “that method will mess the dog up” that they’re terrified to try anything at all.

Average Dog Owner isn’t on the intertubz forum for days on end. They’re busy being dragged down the street by their dog. Just look out your front window.

So who are you selling to? Each other? People who are addicted to dog training? Only those owners who are now in the midst of a crisis with their out-of-control dogs?

Your time might be better spent convincing those 90% of dog owners that their dogs could contribute far more to their lives, their families’ lives and the general public if they were better behaved then telling them in plain English how  you can help them accomplish that goal.

NEWS FLASH:

  • Dog owners don’t want to be talked down to, patronized or academicized.
  • Dog owners don’t care about theory.
  • Dog owners don’t care about methodology.
  • Dog owners with a problem just want a solution. They want to be heard.

Dog Owners want reasonable results, for a reasonable price, in a reasonable amount of time.

Which is reasonable.

*****
Today’s Dog Survey
Dogs Observed: 7
Dogs Walking Nicely on Lead: 3
Walks Heeling Off Lead: 0
Recall: 0
Good Companions: 0
Basic Obedience: 0