Over a decade ago I was approached by the owner of a particularly large, nasty, and aggressive dog named “Bear”. This man was quite bold with his request for some dog training information so that he could obedience train his dog himself.. He lived in a city approximately seven hours away. I will call this person “Joe”. The request in itself was not unusual as I am constantly approached for free basic dog training tips. What was unusual was Joe’s persistence in wanting to know everything pertaining to the training of dogs. Every three or four days he would telephone me with another series of questions. Questions such as which dog training collar should he use? Could I refer him to any good dog training books? Which dog training commands do I use? What dog training hand signals do I use? Should he use a dog training whistle? It soon became evident that any dog training information that I gave Joe was actually trying to be applied.
Often, the beginning of my relationships with people wanting free dog training advice is viewed, from my part, as parasitic. Professional dog training is my livelihood. This is how I feed my family. By being free with basic dog training advice there is the potential that I will lose a client and the consequence is loss of income.
It is always surprising to me how so many dog owners view the training of dogs similar to that of driving a car. Most people have a vehicle and they all know how to drive not only their own but others as well. Many people have a dog and most think that all dogs are the same. What works for “Mutt” must also work for “Jeff”.
Joe was unusual in this respect. After getting a grasp of basic dog training he gradually began to elevate his questioning. Though he now had some control of his dog he wanted to know why Bear continued to be aggressive towards other dogs and behaved like a personal protection dog towards some, but not all, people.
He visited dog training schools and group obedience classes. He observed agility dog training, inquired about police dog training and befriended a lady involved in Schutzhund training. At times during our discussions he expressed his frustration with the amount of dog training information that was thrown his way. The scope of various dog training tools and dog training advice was overwhelming. At one point Joe even visited a field trial training club and after observing and discussing training methods with these dog handlers attempted to apply his newly found knowledge of electronic dog training collars to his own dog.
Throughout Joe’s dog training education he missed the most important point – the unique individuality of his own dog. Bear was not a Schutzhund training dog. He was not a field trial dog. He was not a competitive agility trial dog. He certainly was not the compliant and malleable dog suitable for success in group obedience classes. Bear was not cooperative in the role of lab rat undergoing one experiment after another. Despite all of Joe’s attempts in using the different dog training techniques he acquired, Bear remained unreliable. Bear remained his own person (dog) under that heavy long coat, muscular frame and strong mind.
Joe certainly paid his dues during that two year period of experimentation and discovery. He progressed far beyond the typical pet dog obedience trainers whom often rely on dog training clichés given by well meaning but ignorant people. I do not mean ignorant to be the same as stupid. Stupid is for life whereas ignorance is merely lacking in knowledge.
Once Joe was able to process all of the information that he had gathered and he felt reasonably comfortable with the understanding of the methodology used by the different dog training disciplines he started socializing. No longer was his social intercourse with dog trainers based on questions and answers. No longer was he viewed as bothersome whenever he showed up in club houses or training trials. He was now able to contribute to conversations and was even able to introduce some theories of his own. The latest “flavour of the month” in dog training aids and dog training methods no longer boggled his mind. There was, however, one very important aspect to this “world of dogs” that weighed heavily on Joe. He observed that perhaps as little as one in fifty dog trainers were able to consistently demonstrate the dog performance that they espoused with virtually all of the dogs in their dog training programs. The vast majority of dog trainers were unable to do so with no more than two or three different dogs. The dogs that were not entirely successfully trained had some sort of defect according to these dog trainers. These defects they contributed to poor breeding, improper puppy rearing, lack of socialization, mishandling by their owners, etc. This reasoning helped Joe a great deal because he was not entirely proud of the way he trained Bear. He surmised that because he adopted Bear from the SPCA when Bear was 7 months old that some trauma must have occurred which contributed to his dogs inability to perform reliably. The aggression issue with Bear was probably due to being physically abused during his first few months of life. Joe felt better with this understanding because when he attended various events with Bear he now had a logical explanation that was readily acceptable to people whenever Bear showed his aggressiveness. In fact, people praised Joe’s compassion in adopting such a large, scary dog for surely Bear would have been euthanized long ago if it were not for Joe’s caring understanding. When asked whether he had tried this method or that method of dog training he could confidently answer “yes” for he had approached and observed just about every dog training club, organization and dog trainer – self proclaimed or other - within reasonable and on occasion unreasonable proximity to his home.
After the initial barrage of questions during a 3 or 4 month period I did not see or hear from Joe for over two years. It was late in the afternoon in September and I was preparing to work with my last training dog for the day when a vehicle pulled into my parking area. This always annoys me as I insist on clients making appointments as it interferes with my training. It was particularly annoying as I recognized Joe – the parasite supreme – who always thanked me profusely for my generosity in giving him free dog training advice but never reciprocating in any manner or fashion. Some people are so obtuse that they don’t realize that if you go to the well too often it is going to dry up.
After the required social niceties Joe came to the point. He did not have control over Bear. When it was just the two of them, life and all its offerings was good. Bear was too unpredictable and recently became a liability when he attempted to bite an older man who was carrying a shopping bag down the street in front of Joe’s house. Bear did not make physical contact with the older gentleman but during the ensuing shock and surprise the man fell to the ground upsetting and breaking some of the contents of his shopping bag. It was during this incident when the embarrassment of not being able to make Bear sit or down or stop lunging on the leash created the crisis for Joe to realize that he needed professional dog training help. If the man on the ground had gone into cardiac arrest there was nothing Joe could have done. At the outset of our discussions over two years ago I had told Joe that every dog is a good dog until you ask it do something. When we need a dog to be well trained is in an emergency. We never know when an emergency is going to occur, the intensity of the emergency or the duration of an emergency. This came rushing back to Joe during this crisis with the fallen man. This was further emphasized the next day with a visit from a By Law Enforcement Officer accompanied by a police dog handler to evaluate Bear. At the conclusion of this very uncomfortable visit it was stipulated that Bear was not permitted to leave the boundaries of Joe’s home and that the dog was to begin training with a qualified professional trainer experienced in the training of aggressive dogs within a five day limit. Failure to comply would result in the removal of Bear from Joe’s ownership. Joe was not so naïve to think that his dog would be re-homed.
Thus began my second relationship with Joe. This time a professional one with Bear included. Bear completed Level 1 training in the stipulated time of 14 days without any undue difficulties. I train each dog individually without the owner present because it is often the owner that is the problem. Once the dog is trained then I instruct the owner on how to handle the dog. This method is easier on the dog and definitely much, much easier on me. The only guarantee that I give at the conclusion of Level 1 training is that my six year old daughter will be able to work the dog around Disneyland. Joe, of course, was skeptical. At the end of the 14 day training period when I demonstrated Bear, Joe had tears in his eyes. I’m sure he was relieved to know that Bear was not going to be taken away. In my report to the municipal authorities I verified that Bear did not have a dysfunctional temperament or disposition. His aggressive behaviour was precipitated by the unclear directions unintentionally given by his handler. The dog owner would take possession of the dog only after I was satisfied that his cues to the dog were clear and concise and consistent.
Bear was not a particularly difficult dog to train. Bear simply required a leader to tell him which dog behaviour was acceptable and which dog behaviour was not acceptable. In discussions with people the above sounds straightforward and most people merely nod and agree that dog behaviour training is the foundation for dog obedience training. What is missed is the concept of “leader”. Joe genuinely wanted to do the best he could for Bear. In the process of wanting so much to be a good dog handler Joe actually never took into consideration the needs of Bear. Joe became the leader of a search and rescue tracking dog, the leader of a personal protection dog, the leader of a field trial dog, the leader of a competitive agility dog, the leader of a Schutzhund dog. None of which was Bear. You cannot make a Greyhound out of a Bulldog! An example of the sort of mistake Joe made was in dealing with his dog’s aggression behaviour. Joe observed the protection phase of Schutzhund training. High prey drive is a fundamental requirement in the protection dog training section for successful Schutzhund dogs. It is through prey drive that – I will use the German Shepherd dog for my example – the dog chases, performs the hold and bark and then finishes with his bite. A German Shepherd dog bred for Schutzhund trials is not the same German Shepherd dog bred as a guide dog for the blind. The latter has had the prey drive bred out of him. So though the two dogs may look very similar in their outward appearance, the two dogs cannot switch roles. Bear showed aggression but it was not of the prey drive variety. He worked his aggression through defense. Defense drive is a very desirable component in the training of a personal protection dog but it must be trained (behavourized) into the dog properly. Joe could not discern the difference and made life difficult for Bear by persisting with behaviour training that his dog was incapable of accomplishing.
Before I train a dog I need not view the dog beforehand. This is not arrogance on my part. As a professional dog trainer I do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which dogs to train. My family would starve if that were the case. I do not even want to hear what the owner has to say about her dog. The owner is always subjective in the description. I remain objective and the great advantage I have in the training of dogs is that I have no emotional attachment to the dog. I observe the drives in the dog and then I direct these drives to place obedience training on the dog. The Border collie is a driver of sheep and in most instances, will never be a protector of sheep. The Ovcharka is a guardian of sheep and will never, ever be a driver of sheep. Each breed of dog has its own genetic predisposition. On the occasion when Joe consented to let me train Bear, under duress of course, he entered my kennels for the first time and was astonished at the lack of any sophisticated training devices. Other than some of the specialized dog training equipment used in personal protection training and search and rescue tracking, the equipment was very similar to what most dog owners have in their own homes. I have developed my own style of dog training leash which is multi-purpose, but the rest in nondescript. I explained to Joe that there is no need for a vast array of dog training supplies such as the advertising media and special interest groups would have you believe. Dog training aids such as “gentle leaders” or “halties” are no more than band-aids. Nothing takes the place of training.
Joe returned after a month to have Level ll placed on Bear. I emphasized to Joe the same as I do to all of my clients that off-leash training and hand signals at 100+ metres is entirely psychological. This surprised Joe somewhat because he thought that a trained dog would do what he was trained to do. In a small measure he is correct. But if a dog is 80 metres away and I give my funny hand signals to have him down why does he do it? I don’t have a leash 80 metres long to enforce my command and a smart dog like Bear certainly knows that I can’t reprimand him from so far away. The dog has been trained to respond to the technical aspects of downing when he perceives a certain cue by why he does it is because Uncle Don said so.
Our relationship, Joe’s and mine, is no longer parasitic. He has come to the realization that the training of a dog requires the understanding of the uniqueness of the individual dog regardless of breed descriptions and the greater understanding of the uniqueness of the handler. If the dog handler is not in full understanding of how to give directions how is the dog to understand what is required. Colour coordinated dog training devices, the latest and greatest synthetic materials, super premium lotus flower flavoured dog training treats along with the newest advancement in dog psychology and behavioural patterns all available to you on high definition DVD is no longer the path that Joe travels. It took a while but Joe admitted that he would have saved a lot of time and expense and aggravation if he had just brought Bear to be trained 21/2 years ago. He realizes that he never asked the fundamental question – “do I get trained to the same level as my dog?” The answer of course is “Yes”. How can any handler work a dog to the dog’s full potential if the dog knows more than the handler?
Joe is now thinking of purchasing a German Shepherd pup of my breeding. Joe is beginning to get irritating again. Our symbiotic relationship is once again turning parasitic. People tell me that I have a great deal of patience but when I “explode” I really “explode”. I lost my patience with Joe and his insistent questions on temperament testing pups, dog crate training, dog behavioural foundation training, dog potty training, when should I start puppy training, how much and how often should I feed my pup? My brain exploded and some of the shrapnel must have hit him for he disappeared for about a month.
The next time he called, my wife, Marg, answered. I had told Marg that I did not want to spend any more time with him, that he was draining my energy which could be better spent in more productive labour such as moving rocks. Evidently he must have said something to persuade her because she passed the phone and said “you should listen to what he has to say”.
“Am I the only one who asks as many questions as I do? Don’t other people want free dog training advice and don’t some people lead you on with the prospect of wanting to get their dog trained but ‘could you just answer me this one question?’ Aren’t there some other honest people like me who state at the outset that they cannot afford to get there dog trained or want to do it themselves and could you help them out? How much time do these conversations take away from your training time and cut into your profitability and perhaps more importantly your energy? What I have in mind is this. Why not make a list of all the questions that have been asked you over your lifetime as a dog trainer. Not just the intelligent questions but the dumber questions like some of those I asked. I realize now that they were a bit ridiculous but to me, at the time, they were very serious. You could list a question and answer page and have it on your web site. That way you could just refer people to that page and they could find the answer for themselves.
I realize now how much time and energy you spent just with me and that I took advantage of your generosity. When somebody asks you ‘why does my dog bark for no apparent reason? How do I stop my dog from barking? Or why does my dog have a flatulence problem? Or why does my dog go crazy when I put the electric dog training collar on her? Or my dog loves me but hates my boyfriend? Is there a right way and a wrong way to place a dog training collar on my dog?’ You could just direct them to your topic page and save a lot time.”
Joe was quite adamant. He admitted that there was a selfish motive in his idea. There was still a lot more he needed to know about training dogs and dog behaviour but no longer was it to just save money. Joe admitted that he had already spent more during his two year “search” than he should have. I emphasized to Joe that all of his experiences, both good and bad, with various dog training equipment, dog training classes, and different dog training techniques laid a foundation upon which to continue his search. You can never know what is sweet unless you have tasted sour.
Joe’s pup turned out very well. She completed Level l and Level ll obedience training and demonstrated great competency by attaining Level V in personal protection training. Joe named her Sensei because he says that by observing her and looking at the world through her eyes she taught him more than most of the dog trainers he had met.
Joe still irritates me but I did take his advice and this is the product. Once I learned to type with more than two fingers it was fun – sort of. The information found on this site is not mystical, not based on any parapsychology and definitely not anthropomorphic. My intent is to give the reader a glimpse into areas of knowledge in which all professional dog trainers should be competent. The knowledge gained by your reading of the correspondences should assist you in asking questions of the trainer that you might employ. If you find that you know more than the prospective trainer it just may be that you need to keep looking.
The format of the e-mail correspondence will give you a good idea of the sorts of difficulties I am faced with. Often the initial “social” correspondences have been included to help justify my final responses. When it appears that I have been a little too severe in my answer, please give me the benefit of your doubt and assume that I have had a number of communications of similar vein that day or maybe I was just darned tired and a little grumpy. Some of the answers to the letters may seem redundant. They are not. Read carefully and you will find that, amongst the nuts and grains, there is a raisin. PS – some of the information came from Joe.
To find out more about our approach, go to Dog Training Questions and Answers.
Home Picture Gallery Testimonials Workshops Professional Dog Training Questions & Answers
EVANS TRAINING CENTRE & BLACK LION KENNELS
5046 Pinnell Road