Dogs need an environment, or «pack», in which they can develop – please learn «doggish»!
If the fundamentals are not in place, at the right level for each individual dog, the pre-requisites for the rest of the education and training may not be in place and the probability of unwanted behaviour increases substantially.
Sustainable training of dogs begins with training of «the other end of the leash». The dog owner must recognise that he is the missing piece in the puzzle. The starting point for developing a stable dog is not just about your doing, but mainly about your being.
The dog owner must be able to give his dog an environment in which the dog can be a dog. They need an environment in which they feel protected and safe, where they can get species appropriate exercise, learn in a species appropriate manner, play and gain experience. In addition, the dog also needs clear, authentic and consequently implemented rules to learn and feel safe.
The dog owner must learn to «read», coach, lead and guide his dog with foresight, calmly and confidently, so that the dog can build up trust in the dog owner. Only if the dog develops trust and feels safe, protected and cared for, his mind comes to rest, is able to concentrate and to learn. The dog also learns and experiences that the dog owner takes his protective responsibility, which in turn is the pre-requisite for a robust basic obedience and social behaviour. The dog owner is the mentor, coach and symbolically the sovereign «pack leader» of his dog.
This way a team develops, a unity. Dog and dog owner offer each other their co-operation and want to work and learn with each other. The dog primary develops a strong relationship and bond with its owner, not with toys, goodies and other dogs, which now rightfully become secondary.
Rituals and routines
Rituals and routines provide anchors, support and structure for the dog in his everyday life. Don’t underestimate the importance of species appropriate emotional and physical closeness. 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 – 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 turn lead to aggressions.
Why 70% of dogs show problematic behaviour - THE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOCIALIsATION, EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Socialisation means the whole learning process, which makes the dog a socially adapted being and also includes the dog’s active engagement with social requirements. The socialisation never ends, but takes place during the lifetime of a dog.
Education is part of socialisation. This refers to the (dog owner’s) pedagogical influence on the development and behaviour of the dog, i. e. the learning process which enables the dog to react calmly and relaxed to the environment and thus to learn a harmonising social behaviour.
Training is the teaching of skills and abilities, e. g. «sit!», «drop!», retrieve, etc. In this context, I also use the term «task training» to avoid confusion.
Nowadays, most dogs are just «trained» and the all important relationship, socialization and education fall by the wayside under the make-believe of new «research findings in the dog’s learning behaviour».
It is true that the research findings can be used in a targeted way in the area of task training – this is for instance the way dolphins are trained to perform their tricks in the pool. Task training has to do with conditioning of behaviours, often with clicker, treats, toys etc.
It is not the case, however, that the methods used in task training can be used as a substitute for the correct development of the relationship, socialisation and education of the dogs. We are here talking about completely different areas and levels, which I below would like to highlight further.
What 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 behavior 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!» beause it is still insecure, primarily needs a combination of relationship, 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.
The THREE DIFFERENT DIMENSIONS AND THE building blocks to develop a satisfied dog,
or what dog owners and dog trainers have to do
Development of the dog owner’s competence (knowledge, skills and willingness) to ensure the dog feels protected, well and secure, and a strong bond between the dog and owner can develop.
– The language of the dogs, «Doggish»
– Reflection, analyse your own behaviour
– 100% concentration and observation
– Confidence, respect
– Load capacity, stability
– Calmness, sovereignty, consequence
– Joint exercise, «pack walks»
– Proximity, affection, social support
B. Socialisation & education
The learning processes that enables the dog to react calmly and in a relaxed manner to the environment, as well as the intervention of the dog owner, to shape the dog’s character and behaviour in line with the expectations of the society, i.e.:
SUPPORT AND COACH – THE DOG MUST LEARN TO
– Behave inconspicuously in the society
– Adapt to society and the environment
– Development of the social behaviour of the dog
– Orientate himself towards the human being
– Co-operate with people
– Behave correctly toward other animals and conspecifics
CONSISTENTLY DEMAND – THE DOG MUST LEARN TO
– Perceive the dog owner as a coach and guardian
– Accept rules, guidelines and boundaries
– Demonstrate behavioural rules and obedience
– Develop trust and bond with the owner
Development of abilities and skills, often as a substitute for the work which dogs used to have in earlier days, and to ensure the dog gets sufficient mental activity.
Heel, sit drop, stay, work without leash etc.
Retrieving, tracking, surface search, etc.
Companion dog, handicap dog, service dog, rescue dog, avalanche dog, etc.
Relationship, socialisation, education or training - but how?
I often see dogs that are in the lower left corner (A1, B1, C1) in terms of development, e. g. stray dogs imported from abroad, or dogs that have received the wrong, or unbalanced, training.
The first step is always one step up on axis A, i. e. building or improving the relationship. Slightly timely offset, one can start to shape the social behaviour, axis B, in a very quiet environment, with as few disturbing factors and distractions as possible. When I realise that a relationship is developing and the signs of a bond are present, I can start to incorporate the first elements of training (see definitions above). One step up, one step to the right, one step up, one step to the right, etc.
At this stage, don’t do training and conditioning with goodies or toys, axis C – as you want the dog to build a relationship and bond with you. Praise the dog authentically for what it does well and show him that you are happy with him. This makes him happy too and he learns to orientate himself toward and to co-operate with you.
Take a brisk 5 – 10 km «pack walk» with your adult dog every day instead of hectic four times 15 minutes around the block. This creates calmness and serenity, both of you can build up your toolbox and reduce the risk of misunderstandings and conflicts.
As soon as you are able to walk with your dog in a quiet environment, e. g. in the forest, for an hour and a half, you can increase the environmental stimulus and go walking in a rural environment with some traffic, noise, smells, people and fellow dogs. If your dog shows serenity and «connects» with you in this environment as well, go with him into the city and build up the resilience. If your dog can’t handle one of the two latter, go back one step – it just means that you increased the pressure too early. If you still feel a little insecure, do not increase the difficulty, but continue to work at the previous level. Why? Because the dog feels your insecurity and it transfers to him. The pre-stage is always the pre-requisite for the following stage.
Take advantage of the opportunities that naturally arise to integrate some training. When he sits down anyway, capture the moment and calmly say «Sit!» and praise him as soon as he does, «good Sit!». In this way, he begins to link the word sit with his action and the training progresses quickly.
The top right green corner, means Relationship 3, Socialisation/Education 3 and Training 1, which is more than sufficient for most family dogs. Both the dog and owner are satisfied!
The relationship between you and your dog begins to take on new dimensions. Now the journey can begin on the training axis, into the third dimension.
For example, if I want to teach my dog how to walk on the leash, it’s a lot easier, quicker and more sustainable, if my dog feels comfortable and safe with me – then he wants to stay with me, shows connection and is attentive. The same applies to recall – if my dog likes to be with me, I don’t have to train the recall, but he comes happily as soon as I call him. The good bond and relationship between the dog owner and the dog is a pre-requisite for successful education and training.
That’s why I’m also not a supporter of trying to convince an insecure dog that doesn’t show sufficient connection to its owner, with goodies or toys. Then the dog may show some-kind-of-correct «walking on the leash», but only as long as it is sufficiently compensated. If not, he is gone again, to a place where he feels more comfortable and safe.
Exactly the same is the case when the external stimulus (deer, rabbit, bicycle, other dog etc.) becomes stronger than the desire to get goodies. Often I experience dogs, which do not at all respond to treats or toys outside of their normal environment because they feel e. g. too insecure, or anxious. Or, they pick up the treat and off they are.
At the same time, however, I also see the opposite. A few years ago I had the pleasure to meet an extreme toy junkie – without her bite tug nothing worked and her full focus was on the toy. Her owner was inexistent and was at most perceived to be «the person with my bite tug». How did it get this far? The Beagle was already at a young age prepared and trained for her role as a tracking dog in the luggage room at the airport. Most of her youth was spent with nose work and reward for success with the bite tug. Although the dog worked very well, the owner came to me because she was overwhelmed with the dog’s addictive behaviour outside of work.
When the owner understood what had happened and how the dynamics work with the three ABC building blocks, 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 «relationship with the owner» and not in the sense of treats, toys, etc. Goodies certainly have a place in the training of dogs, but from my point of view, only when it comes to perfecting an already trained step.
I hope I have explained understandably why 70% of the dogs show behavioural problems during the walk and why many dog owners need to improve their knowledge, skills and willingness. This can often only be accomplished with good dog trainers, who are not always easy to find.
Dr. Dorit Urd Feddersen-Petersen, the internationally renowned ethologist at the Institute of Pet Science at Kiel University, says: «You don’t solve problems and conflicts with treats. These are social conflicts that people have to resolve with the dog. Instead of salami, bond and trust, the set boundaries, in which the dog can behave freely and that offers him social 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?
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 behavior 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!
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. 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 punishment. 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 behavior, 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.
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.
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.
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.
«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 certifcate.
I am confident, this is something both dogs and dog owners would enjoy!