Tag Archives: difficult dogs

Faith In Handler Drill

I wrote about this a long time ago. Back then I was calling it “Reverse BAT”.  But, now I call it the Faith In Handler Drill. After that article, a ton of people have asked me to demonstrate it. Here’s a video of me showing to a dog/handler for the first time.

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Extinction Burst

You walk up to the elevator.

Push the button…… Wait.

Push the button…… Wait.

Push the button…… Wait.

“One more fucking time, and I’m taking the stairs” you say.

Push the button…… PUSH THAT STUPID PIECE OF SHIT BUTTON 55 GOD DAMN TIMES!!!!!!

Quit, and take the stairs.

That’s the extinction burst.

It’s the burst or “trying” that happens just before the quit.

OK. So what’s this got to do with dogs.

When people are training, I watch an epic “Race To The Extinction Burst” play out.

Here’s the scene. They are teaching their dog to stay. The dog breaks once every 3 minutes. The person calmly replaces them. The dog starts to have his extinction burst AND STARTS BREAKING EVERY 5 SECONDS. The people mistake it for them being “dominant”, or “falling apart”. They get exasperated. And start sounding that way when they replace them. Goes from a real easy “no”, to “UUUGHH God Dammit…. NOOOO”.

Dog thinks…… “Hmmmm……. I think Mom/Dad’s about to quit”

And, they’re right. Mom/Dad quits.

And, they just taught their dog to really be persistent if they want a human to give up.

Son of a bitch.

I Think dogs still watch body language. And intention. So, they subconsciously understand what they’re seeing. They can tell you’re breaking.

But, even if you believe that dogs are just classical conditioning machines, you have to see that your frustration at their extinction burst preceded your quitting. That teaches them what your frustration means. THE QUIT IS COMING!

So…..

Understand that when your dog is going through that, you just have to hold on. If you don’t show your quitting “tell”, they will eventually give up and “take the stairs”.

If you do that consistently in the beginning, the dog will have the clarity of knowing you don’t quit! And the whole game of “obedience chicken” will cease.  Remember, It’s not the “structure” dogs need. It’s the Clarity.

This concept of consistency, and clarity in training, will make HUGE headway to that end.

Now, get your poker face on and show your dog you don’t quit!

Why “Break Sticks” Are Shit.

If you’re a dog trainer with an interest in rehabbing dog aggression……

Please. Throw the “Break Stick” away.

Look, I know why you have them. It’s a logical mistake to make.

You want to break up a fight that involves at least one committed dog. (a concern you NEED to address if you work in rehab). Well….. Who has the most experience in breaking the toughest dogs apart? Dog fighters.

Yep.

If a dog gets fanged in a pit, the ref breaks them. If a dog in a roll (practice fight sparring match) starts to get hurt, you break them. Hell, if there’s a management failure in the yard and two dogs get going, you break them. These guys have hands down THE MOST EXPERIENCE breaking game dogs.

How do THEY do it?

Break Sticks.

Ergo….. You want to break game dogs fighting. You use a Break Stick, no?

NO.

Yes….. They are effective. IF……

You have 3 people to the 2 dogs.

One handler goes in for hind leg suspension (another pass down from the pit) on each dog. This kills their ability to punch back in and re-grip. That’s good. It means, All you have to deal with is the current grip. The 3rd, (and sometimes 4th) person, go in and use the break stick to mechanically separate the grips.  And it works! Well. It breaks the dogs.

So…. Why should you NOT use it?

1- Most people didn’t know that above scenario. They just stick a break stick in their pocket and will somehow utilize it to make things OK. They don’t understand the 3 to 2 principle. They don’t know or practice that teamwork concept of “wheelbarrow” and split. If you aren’t in a yard with multiple trained, people all, of who have Break Sticks in their pockets. All of who, know the drill and can fluently assume one role or the other in rhythm with you…. It’s worthless. Trying to separate a game dog (let alone 2) by yourself with a Break Stick is futile, and dangerous for ALL involved.

2- Even IF you understand AND practice the above method with ALL your staff (shut the fuck up, no you don’t)…….

YOU STILL SHOULDN’T USE BREAK STICKS!!!!!!

When you use a Break Stick you are mechanically separating the dogs. Ever hear of “Restraint Frustration”? “Barrier Frustration”? Well, when a dog is in HIGH DRIVE, and wants to get at something and can’t, it’s drive goes UP!!!!!

Think about it. Leashes make dogs more reactive. Fences make dogs more reactive. On, and on. Those are things preventing them from accomplishing their goal. And it makes them want to go at it more.

Hell, that reaction is so strong, that trainers utilize it. We tease dogs with food to increase drive for it. We try to wrestle the tug out of their mouth to make them want to grip it harder the next time!

When you pry their mouth off that dog….. Guess what they want to do MORE now?!?!?!

Yep…… Bite.

And THAT’S why the Pit men used them. It’s the only way to reliably separate a game dog and NOT DIMINISH IT’S WANT TO FIGHT!

Hell, it increases their drive to fight through frustration. And for Pit men, that’s a good thing.

For you, in your home. Or daycare. Or rehab facility……. Not so much.

So unless you’re looking for a tool that takes more dogs than handlers acting in coordination, that INCREASES aggression after the fight…….

Please.

Throw the Break Sticks away.

(How TO break a fight is a tricky and dangerous subject that can’t really be done in an article. But check the services page for avenues of instruction.)

 

Those “Graduation” Moments

This is Firkin. She used to be super reactive. If anyone listens to the Podcast…. She’s the one that snapped the long line and went Zombie style on the door I narrowly exited.

But that was then…….

THIS. Is now.

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This was outside a Starbucks in a strip mall. There’s a grocery store, a pet store, and a children’s bus stop there. No small feat!

Notice, the leash. Definitely prepared in case there’s a mistake…. But, loose from Firkin’s perspective. Not adding any negative energy. Her owner is learning to trust her ability to make good decisions.

New life for Firkin!

Good job.

“Pack Structure”

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while but……. Every time I try, I feel like my head will explode.

Giving it another shot:

Pack structure.

When, I got into dog training it was to help troubled dogs. To that end everyone was talking about various ways to enforce what many times is referred to as “Pack Structure”. There are lockdown style procedures that take away literally all freedoms. And more subtle programs like NILIF that even the “fairy farts and rainbows” crowd will condone. But everyone that works with rehab cases, at some point, throws some kind of “Pack Structure”, or “leadership building” stuff at you.

Here’s a list of the ones I use:

Resource Access (NILIF):

– NO resources, aside from water, should be freely accessible. including YOU (or other people) The dog should be “asking” to get affection. If they are being pushy and weren’t “invited” to interact, say “ah ah” and push them off. Only allow it if they stop and wait to be invited. And obviously you can initiate affection when you choose.

– You may slacken this protocol incrementally, as they prove they’re getting better manners.

Yielding/Drawing:

-Look for opportunities to step into your dogs space and have them yield to your Spatial Pressure. Also look for the opposite…. Draw them to you with body language. NOT A RECALL COMMAND. Just body language/sounds. This should be very subtle and organic. As simple as this practice is, it is PROFOUND in relationship development.

-Use this as much as possible as a style of guidance in the house. you should be guiding them through your home with your body language. You should be able to move them away, and pull them to you without touching them.

Kennel Training For Structure:

-Feed in kennel

-Feel free to put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

– DO NOT let any person/animal harass your dog while they are in their Kennel. Use spatial pressure to prevent this. It is a naturally understood pack language. And, all parties need to know you can speak it.

Tether Training For Relationship (Umbilical Cord):

-Try not to use the leash to “steer” them. Try to use the “Yielding/Drawing” protocol If that fails….. Ignore them and let them figure out that staying close to you is the way to turn off the leash pressure.

– Feel Free to calmly handle your dog while tethered. Look for any opportunity to Capture/NameRelaxation.

– Can Sleep tethered to your bed instead of you, if they sleep in your bed, or a bed in your room. Otherwise, they sleep in Kennel.

– If you are not able to adhere to these rules, or just need a break. In the kennel they go. You may put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Once they have a “place” command, you may put them in a hold instead of kenneling.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

Obedience Training for Team Building (Leadership):

– The purpose of this isn’t to make the dog more “obedient”. Or to develop “tricks”. This is to develop team building through learning how to work together to achieve a goal.

– This is done through clarity of communication, by learning how to give and receive information, feedback and consequences.

– After the relationship is developed “embedded” obedience will keep your team running smoothly.

………..

“”That is a great list…… Which one do I use?”

&

“Woah…… Do I have to do this forever?!?!?!”

For most old school style trainers, the answer is “all of them”, and “for as long as you need to”.

But, the problem is that’s just easier than trying to figure it out for every dog.

The truth is, you only need to use the ones that help.

And, you only have to use them until you don’t need them any more.

Yep….. They’ll say do it for a “while”. And, slowly reduce structure until you notice a backslide, then add more.

But that gets into the thought that forever dogs are little conniving shits, that are just WAITING for the opportunity to seize back their dominance!

I just don’t buy that in most cases.

But… I also work with people daily that have OUT OF CONTROL dogs, with ZERO structure. Hmmm.

So I’m left with these two contradictory paradigms.

Both I can see helping dogs in some cases, and failing them in others.

Both I can see value in but can’t figure out how or when to prescribe them.

Enter Temple Grandin and Suzanne Clothier!

Temple Grandin:

In chapter #2 of her book “Animals Make Us Human”, Temple discussed the difference in “Pack Structure”. She suggests that there are 2 distinct kinds:

“Forced” & “Familial

This is from a handout I give clients that briefly summarizes my understanding of the two:

PACK STRUCTURE:

Dominance Theory was postulated from observing “forced” “non-familial” packs. It is necessary in these situations to maintain harmony.

Wild Canids usually “pack” in mostly familial packs with a few “adopted” members.

In familial packs, when the relationship is intact, there is no need for Dominance Theory. The “parents” behave as “stewards” of the pack. They guide the actions, and development, of the pack.

For dog owners, this means that when introducing a dog to your family, or the pack, you are creating a “forced” pack, and must observe Dominance Theory to some degree. If, you are able to nurture the relationship between ALL members of the pack, it may become a “familial” style pack. This may take a day, or a year. It is strictly up to the strength of the relationship.

This explains the old school procedure of going into “lockdown” when bringing a dog in. And as they get more “trained” these rules can be relaxed.

What is happening, is that the relationship is becoming strong enough to shift from “forced”, to “familial” pack structure.

If the relationships cannot be developed. Or, there are too many unrelated dogs in the pack. Then, you may be stuck with Dominance Theory for long term.

If you get a puppy, or an extremely soft dog in a single dog home, you may be able to follow “familial” structure from the beginning. But, if issues arise…. We may need some structure for a time.

Here’s where Suzanne Clothier comes in….

How to tell which state your in OBJECTIVELY!

I use my version of Suzanne Clothier’s Relationship Assessment Tool.

 

Score 1-10. 1 worst- 10 best. Handler Towards Dog: Dog Towards Handler:
Connection Love: Love:
Awareness: Awareness:
Respect: Respect:
Communication Information: Information:
Feedback: Feedback:
Consequences: Consequences:
Commitment Attention: Attention:
Responsibility: Responsibility:
Trust: Trust:

 

Here’s the Clarity-Relationship Handout I give clients explaining each category…. In case it’s not super obvious.

But….. The idea is, do an honest assessment of these categories.

If they score low in  a lot of areas, their relationship is not strong enough for a “familial” pack structure.

They are in a “forced” pack setting and will need structure to not just not get into trouble but to DEVELOP the kind of relationship that makes that structure unnecessary.

If the dog (or handler) scores low in an area, use a modality (from above) to help shore up that area.

Like…. If communication is bad: Work on “Obedience Training for Team Building”.

If the connection is bad: Work on “Tether Training for Relationship.

Etc……

When they score higher, the structure is reduced. When a team has high scores throughout, they will need less structure and naturally fall into the “familial” side of things.

If a dog is scoring low on most of them, or is dangerous….. They get “Lockdown”. That’s ALL the modalities at once.

But, rather than “guess” when it’s time to reduce….. You have a litmus test. Each modality will affect different aspects. When they score well, that modality gets dropped.

Yeah…. If you have a pack of hard dogs, you may never get to full freedom. You may always have to use some structure strategies (hence the Milan “always” type of rules).

Or…. If you have some monster dog that is unable to fully connect. You may always have to have some structure.

I’m not stupid. I get it.

But….. If you can formulate a plan……

You may be able to get closer than you would’ve without one.

Anyway……

That’s my .02$

This is all a working theory! Just thought I’d share in case it helps, or gets someone’s wheels turning.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Actually…. You Should Treat Your Dog Like Your Kid.

Kind of really sick of the argument that you shouldn’t treat your dog like your kid.

Maybe you should.

Look, I know what they mean. I’m not stupid. I don’t advocate “babying” your dog. I think the infantilization of dogs (and human kids…. don’t get me started) is a HUGE problem.

But it’s not a problem because you’re treating them like a HUMAN. It’s because you’re treating them like a BABY.

If you reared your dog EXACTLY like you reared your kid….. your dog would be awesome.

The problem isn’t the anthropomorphism…… It’s the fact that you never pick the correct “age”.

Some people treat their dogs like infants, and never allow them the ability to develop to their potential. These dogs have no autonomy. No dignity. They never are allowed to develop self control. Or real relationship. They are accessories to their people. They are animated dollies for your entertainment. And that is ruining dogs, dog owners lives, and making trainers rich.

Others, expect their dog to come out of the box a fully formed adult human with fur. They expect them to understand the human world and our expectations. They assume they have all the same cognitive abilities as a person. A guy told me the other day that his dog chewed up his work shoes because he’s resentful of his job and how much time it takes. He seriously thinks the dog was making a statement, AND trying to stop him from going. Like….. If dad has no work shoes….. Dad can’t go to work. WTF?

Look….. The problem isn’t that people treat their dogs like humans. It’s treating them like an “age” they don’t deserve.

When your kid is a baby you manage their every move. They have cribs (crates) and supervision. You don’t allow them to make choices, because they don’t have the development to make good choices.

Cool….. pups and new dogs should get that treatment.

Then as they grow and mature, and learn…… You give them more freedoms. And, responsibilities. You TEACH them HOW to make choices….. And then you EXPECT them to make those choices correctly. The better at making choices they get…. The more freedom they get. And, the more responsibility they get.

You RAISE them.

You raise them to their potential.

If you lucked out and you get a kid that has the potential to be a brain surgeon….. They will have a ton of freedom (and the responsibility that comes with it).

If your kid is a total dipshit….. They may end up living in your basement. They may need a little more direction in life. And that’s OK.

But you give every kid the CHANCE to develop!

A mentor told me “You’re not done training your dog till you can trust them AT LIBERTY!”.

That means you’re not done till you’ve raised them to be as independent and responsible as they have the potential to be!

I realize dogs aren’t people. And their cognition, and whatever can’t ever reach that of a fully formed adult human.

They will always need more guidance than a brain surgeon.

BUT…… If you’re still treating your dog like an infant or puppy….. You’re doing them a disservice.

So to ME…..

Dogs are not to be treated “less than” human adults because they are “dogs”. I am not a “speciest”.

They should be treated differently because their capacity is different. But we should insist that they reach their full potential, AND THEN HELP THEM REACH IT.

We shouldn’t infantilize them.

You don’t put your 13 year old in a stroller and goo goo talk them. You don’t rock your 14 year old and coo to them as they throw a fit in the store cause you won’t buy them the twinkies.

Why isn’t it just as weird to see people doing that to adult dogs?

I’m not suggesting the cold, hard “dogs are beneath us” attitude. I want parents to hug and be affectionate with their Harvard grads. You deeply love your adult children no? You just raised them, and have expectations.

Maybe you SHOULD raise your dog like you do you kids.

Maybe dogs would be better off.

Or…… maybe you shouldn’t have dogs, or kids.

That would work too.