I am a believer that Mother Nature knows best, after all She's been developing and fine tuning her methods since the beginning of time. Humans however, seem to like going out of their way to make things more complicated than they should be (there are reasons for that but I'm not going to get into that debate here).
I believe (and experience has backed this up) that a dog simply needs someone to take charge, someone who inspires confidence whilst remaining calm and assured at all times. I know there are some professionals that believe the leadership role is outdated and wrong but let me explain. If I was to ask you what characteristics an ideal leader / boss would have (and by that I don't mean someone who lets you go home early everyday or puts you down for overtime you haven't done!), I would imagine you would reply ' calmness, inspires confidence, approachable, knowledgeable, reliable, listens, fair etc'. If your boss was hesitant, a little nervous, favours certain people, unknowledgeable, loud, bolshy or verbally aggressive, unreliable, panics etc would that make you confident in their abilities or make them approachable? Probably not, in fact you would more than likely resent your boss and your job and look elsewhere for work.
It has also been proven by psychologists performing a variety of experiments that in a group situation, the subjects will conform to each other and often make poor decisions unless someone takes the lead.
Having studied a little horse behaviour, I found similarities there also. If 50 or so horses were randomly selected from different parts of the country, placed in a field together and observed over a few weeks, certain behaviours would become apparent. At first you would see the 'alpha' horses fighting for dominance, barging, kicking and biting others into submission (similar to the behaviour of captive wolves and the school bullies!). As the days go by there would be different 'packs' forming under the bullying tactics of the alphas. However, if closely observed there will nearly always be another horse that somehow manages to avoid confrontations with the alphas, a horse that manages to stay away from the trouble. As time moves on, more and more of the horses that were bullied into submission will gravitate to this horse due to its ability to remain calm, confident and to be one step ahead of the others (taken from Mark Rashid's book Horses Never Lie - a recommended read). So you end up with three 'packs', two led by the dominant, aggressive alphas and another by a calm, confident, wise horse.
So, if humans and horses instinctively follow a calm, confident leader, why wouldn't a dog? You might think 'why would one specie choose to allow another specie to lead it?' Once again why wouldn't it? Dogs have been working alongside humans for at least fifteen thousand years and although their roles may have changed, the bond between the two is as strong as ever. And lets not forget the dog has been domesticated by us - domestication definition - To train or adapt (an animal or plant) to live in a human environment and be of use to humans - or - a domesticated species is defined as a "species in which the evolutionary process has been influenced by humans to meet their needs". Have a read about the behavioural and physiological changes that occurred during the Russian Silver Fox Experiment. A very interesting read! Lets look at the similarities between humans and dogs. Firstly our primary needs are the same - Food, Water, Shelter, Security, followed by both species being social pack animals. Its only when you look at individual specie traits that things change e.g. when a dog greets another dog they do it canine style - a slightly curved approach, avoiding eye contact and showing no teeth. Humans however, greet primate style - direct approach, eye contact and smiling (showing teeth). To a dog the primate way of greeting is extremely rude and confrontational yet they learn to allow us to greet them in this way. To me this makes the dog highly intelligent as not only does it learn canine language but it also has to learn ours as well. To a dog, it doesn't matter what the pack members are made up of, horses, dogs, humans, cats as long as its members are balanced. In the family home it is not uncommon to find that the cat is the boss over dogs and humans! All social pack mammals will follow a calm, confident, fair, knowledgeable leader, simple as that.
Different Methods of Training
I don't know the correct terminology for this method but I call it the Bullying Technique. This is where fear and intimidation is used to force the dog into a behaviour e.g. shouting and / or hitting, or the threat of hitting. Its not surprising this method is used on dogs as we use it against each other and see it all the time in schools, in the workplace, on the streets and if you are unlucky, even in your own home. If we are so unbalanced that we use it against each other then it is no surprise we will use it on our pets.
Traditional Training - Made famous by Barbara Woodhouse and uses a physical correction to train the dog e.g. to make a dog sit, a jerk on a choke chain and / or pushing down on the rump is used. On completion of the desired behaviour the dog is rewarded with a positive 'good dog'.
Dog Whispering - Made famous by Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer TV show), this method is all about the human becoming the right kind of leader. Using a calm, assertive (confident) approach, this technique requires understanding of dog psychology and body language and uses the strategies dogs use amongst themselves. Done correctly just your body language and presence can alter a dogs behaviour.
Reward / Motivation Training - A positive reinforcement method where you find what motivates the dog and use that as a training tool. This could be a toy, a particular food or simply your voice (some dogs respond to a low voice others to a higher pitched voice).
Clicker Training - A device known as a clicker is used to 'mark' desired behaviour and can be used to train a variety of behaviours. The origin of this method dates back over 50 years to the training of dolphins and orcas but instead of using a clicker, a whistle was used to 'mark' desired behaviours. Today clickers are being used to train a variety of animals including dogs, cats, zoo animals and even autistic humans (come on catch up U.K.!!!!).
All of the above methods work but there seems to be some compromises. Some methods can leave the dog nervous or fearful in the presence of humans or they can become fear aggressive. Some can leave the dog with a 'what's in it for me' attitude or ' OK, I'll listen to you now but once we've finished I'm going straight back to what I was doing' attitude. Some dogs develop selective hearing, some dogs listen to you in the house but once outside are completely ignorant to their owners instructions, some dogs are deemed unpredictable, some dogs act like they are the boss. I've heard some trainers and behaviourist say to stop a dog behaving in a certain way, simply avoid the situation or worse still, the dog won't respond so the best answer is to put the dog to sleep!? Question, if you had a calm, confident, fair, knowledgeable leader, would you choose to not listen and jeopardise losing that person leading you?
Dogs have different personalities just like us (after all we are all mammals), some humans, like dogs need a soft calm voice for them to listen and trust us, others you need to be a little firmer with, some dogs will do anything for food, others a particular toy will have the dog doing anything you ask. Find what motivates it and use that. From experience I have seen dogs that have been trained using only loud, aggressive methods that have become nervous wrecks and their body language screams absolute fear when around humans. The outcome is a dog that trembles with fear and pee’s the floor every time a human is present or a dog that becomes fear aggressive. Equally I have seen many dogs that have been trained using positive reinforcement and food that see the human only as a source of food and if the human doesn’t have food then either the dog doesn’t listen to them at all or the dog is jumping up all over them and nipping them. I have seen dogs that have been trained using a clicker that are in a calm state of mind until someone lights a cigarette with a lighter and the sound of the lighter clicking turns the dogs calm mind into a state of absolute excitement! Unfortunately many of these dogs have been put to sleep as they were deemed far too gone which I absolutely disagree with. Whatever method you choose to use, the dog should be in a calm state of mind when it is over. No fear, nervousness or anxiety, no excitement, just a calm, relaxed state of mind with the dogs focus on you and only you, not focused on you because of something you have. When a dog isn't in a calm state of mind they become unpredictable, just like us. It's all about state of mind, when we are calm, we're happy and content, just like a dog!
So, in a nutshell, for Behaviour Problems become a leader you would wish to be led by, controlling all resources in a fair manner. Observe your dogs behaviour / body language and establish what state of mind your dog is in. For the majority of the time the best state of mind for any animal is a calm, relaxed state of mind. That is your goal, to bring a calm, relaxed state of mind.
For Obedience Training, use positive reinforcement / motivation which is fun for both you and the dog and creates a stronger bond. Find what motivates your dog, food, toys, your voice or a combination - every dog will have a motivation, some have many (which is great as you can chop and change the motivation during each training session), others you can search for weeks before you find what motivates it but there will always be something.
In my years of working with dogs, one aspect has become very clear - dogs are easy to work with (although there will always be an exception!) it's the humans around the dog that are the challenge. This in itself is not surprising as peoples perception of what constitutes a good dog varies from person to person. If you asked ten people what they perceived to be a good dog you would receive conflicting answers. One person will enjoy being greeted by their dog jumping up all over them, another will believe it is rude. One person will see no wrong in their dog charging around a field harassing other people and / or other dogs saying "he's only being friendly", whilst another will believe it's not only rude but dangerous (many people are afraid of dogs and avoid walking in parks and alongside rivers due to out of control off leash dogs!) One person will see no wrong in their dog intensely barking at people walking past their home or knocking on the door whilst another will say one bark is enough. One person may enjoy being taken for a walk by their dog whilst another will enjoy taking their dog for a walk. Some people are consistent, others not so, some people are patient, others not so, some people clear up after their dogs, others don't. Some people believe the dog is no longer a pack animal, others believe the dog has evolved so much it no longer has any characteristics similar to the wolf. So, until we become uniform in how a dog should behave and we behave, I guess there will always be confusion and perhaps controversy in this area. This is why I believe it is the humans that need educating.
Theory / Knowledge -
Prior to gaining hands on experience, 5 1/2 years of studying theory was completed in canine behaviour / body language / pack dynamics and the various training methods. This included studies into wild wolves, captive wolves, Indian and African wild dogs, feral dogs, domestic dogs and their various breed traits. Have also attended seminars on dog behaviour / body language and completed theory courses with distinction.
Additional courses completed include - advanced human psychology, acupressure up to level 4, with distinction.
Practical Experience -
After over 5 years of theory into the behaviour and body language of various canines, a variety of hands on courses were attended including Obedience Training, Lead Control, Mental Stimulation, Breed Traits, Kennel & Home Enrichment, Difficult Dogs, Body Language, Clicker and Motivation Training. Walking with and studying captive wolves at the Wolf Trust. A total of 7 years volunteering at dog rescue centres, mostly at Battersea Dogs Home which gave me the opportunity of working with a huge variety of breeds and states of mind including many severe cases from extreme nervousness, fear, complete lack of socialisation to extreme excitement. As well as volunteering at Battersea Dogs Home I have also volunteered at Hersham Hounds / Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare and Vigil German Shepherd Rescue. For over four years I was fortunate to have worked with some of the rescue centres most difficult dogs.
One to one training for you and your dog.
Behaviour issues dealt with at the clients home.
1-2-1 Obedience Training can be taught at the clients home or at the local park.
You can contact me on 07950 253 669 firstname.lastname@example.org