Over the 30 years that I have been working and Training with Dogs I have studied and I have tried almost every method and training system out there. I found good things in all of them and also flaws. However they have one crucial thing in common and that is that there was no real relationship between the dog and myself. The dog either worked out of avoidance of a correction or he worked because I had something to offer him, either food or toys. His motivation was to work for the things I had and NOT to work for me. By studying the new findings on how wolf packs are organized and work together I came to realize that the strongest bond wolves and other wild Canine packs have is the relationships they have with each other, and that they are based upon Respect for the Parents, Respect for the Teacher, Respect for the siblings, Trust in the Parents and Trust in the Teacher and that when observed in the wild those wolves have a lot of “Fun” together. These wolves don’t work for a ball all a Frisbee. They work together because they have fun together.
As an outcome of my findings I developed not a training method or system but rather a “life Style” in how to interact with dogs, especially working dogs, in such a way wolves would do in the wild.
It is in this “Relationship Building Life Style” I will teach you many training techniques that will contribute to achieve the ultimate goal, a top-performing (sport) dog. Like in the wild wolves play games, so will we with our dogs. Like in the wild wolf are taught certain wanted pack behavior, so will we teach our dogs the behavior we want in our pack.
In the wild wolf cubs are taught how cope with certain environmental stressors, so will we teach our dog how to deal with environmental stress and how to deal with distraction. In the wild wolf packs are taught certain social rules, so will we address our Social Rules with our dogs. Wolf cubs are taught how to deal with conflict, so will we teach are dogs how they can deal with conflict.
However Dogs are not Wolves and in order to better understand this training process it is important that we have a closer look at the domestication process of the modern Dog.
The domestication of our Canis Lupus Familiaris (Our Modern Dog) all began several ten thousand years ago with the domestication of the Canis Lupus or Grey Wolf. Evidence both genetic and archaeological proofs that humans domesticated wolves at the latest 15.000 years ago. How exactly the domestication of the Canis Lupus happened is still very unclear but science has his theories on how it all started. Several of these theories include, Orphaned wolf-cubs, Promise of food/self domestication and some experimental evidence.
The rapid evolution of dogs from wolves is a great example of neoteny orpaedomorphism. As seen in many other species, young wolves or far more social and less dominant than adults; therefore it made great sense for the selection of these characteristics. This paedomorphic selection resulted in retention of juvenile physical and mental characteristics. If we compare many of the domestic adult dog breeds, compered to wolves, many of these adult breeds retain such juvenile characteristics.
The important thing to learn from this is that we need to compare the behaviors of our dogs today with that of young wolves rather then that of the adult wolves. Doing so will give us a far better understanding on how dogs, think and act and on how we as humans should think and act.
A process I call de-humanization and Caninenization for the human. We need to develop behaviors that are unnatural for us humans but natural for our dogs in such a way that we became natural unnatural, which means that those unnatural canine behavior become our second nature. In order to do so let’s have closer look at the behavior of the young Canis Lupus.
Wolves are highly gregarious animals. At the foundation of their social unit, the pack, is the mated pair accompanied by the pair’s adult offspring. In ideal situations this pair produces pups every year with such offspring staying in the pack for 10-54 month before dispersing. Triggers for dispersing include the onset of sexual maturity and competition within the pack for food. A average wolf pack consist of a family between 5 – 12 members, (1 to 2 adults, 3-6 juveniles and 1 – 4 yearlings). Sometimes we see a pack with a combination of 2 or 3 of these families with a total up to 42 pack members.
These packs are bond and ruled by strict rules, limitations and boundaries controlled and enforced by one pack leader, the Alpha, the dominant one. Dominance is a ubiquitous phenomenon in many social animals. The alpha wolves are the genetic parents of most cubs in the pack. Deference to the alpha pair (often Alpha male and Beta Female) by allowing them to eat first, choose the best piece of the hunted prey, the only ones to reproduce. The alpha will determine where the pack goes to hunt, defines and sets the pack territory, will determine where to sleep, when to rest, to eat, the defecate and so much more. Nothing for the other pack members is free their life is. However calling the pack leader Alpha is not entirely correct. Wolf biologist L. David Mech stated :
“Calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so "alpha" adds no information. Why not refer to an alpha female as the female parent, the breeding female, the matriarch, or simply the mother? Such a designation emphasizes not the animal's dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information. The one use we may still want to reserve for "alpha" is in the relatively few large wolf packs comprised of multiple litters. ... In such cases the older breeders are probably dominant to the younger breeders and perhaps can more appropriately be called the alphas. ... The point here is not so much the terminology but what the terminology falsely implies: a rigid, force-based dominance hierarchy.”
The most important thing to learn from Dr. David Mech is that the natural wolf pack is more a family, with a Father figure, mother figure with their offspring together with some aunts and uncles. The terms “Alpha” and “Dominant” are far less correct then the terms “Parent” and “Teacher”. Of course, the parents are the typical Alpha and are dominant but Dr. David Mech argues that these terms are misleading because they imply that a pack of wolfs consist of individuals, like a tribe, and that the members assume a place in the linear hierarchy. A wolf pack should be seen as a family unit, with young wolves of age dispersing and begin their own families in new territories.
So how relate this knowledge to modern dog training?
Old-School- and still many current training techniques assume to be the dominant alpha and to show your leadership by punishment and fight. We punished unwanted behavior. While the alpha pair within the wolf pack is teaching their siblings by building a relationship, a relationship based upon Respect and Trust, they also have Fun together as they play with their pups. The assumption to use “alpha rolling techniques” and “dominance by punishment” has more to do with human phycology then with dog behavior. “Dominance hierarchies and dominance disputes and testing are a fundamental characteristic of all social groups... But perhaps only we humans learn to use punishment primarily to gain for ourselves the reward of being dominant.
On the other side many trainers will only use positive rewards such as food and toys to reward the dog for wanted behavior WITHOUT actually building a relationship build upon Respect and Trust.
It is my opinion that a good pack leader adopts a leader attitude, a teacher attitude, and a father and mother father attitude. A dog automatically senses when he is in the presence of a leader. Good leadership doesn’trequire a leash or a prong collar with hard corrections to show your dog you are the “Boss”. As a matter of fact this type of improper corrections will only confuse the dog and will ruin the Respect and Trust of the dog towards you.
Loving your dog is also not enough to become a trusted and respected leader. Many people think if they love their dog and give the dog a lot of affection the dog will respect him. This is absolutely not so. Respect of your dog is depended on how you handle and live with your dog on a daily basis and on the consistency of your own behavior. It is this consistent behavior of you as human that will contribute to the improved trust and respect your dog has for you.
It is my believe that whatever methods’ used, the psychological health and physical health should be our main priority. It is most important that the relationship with the dog should be carried Fair with Respect, Trust and Fun and that these fundamental building blocks are the foundation on how we handle our working and sport dogs and our companion dog for that matter too.
So how do we become that Respected and trusted leader, parent and teacher? How to we create and build that balanced harmonic relationship that we see in wolf pack? Let me guide you so you can become a true friend, a companion who takes responsibility in building and maintaining a harmonic and balanced relationship.
The Canine Performance Pyramid visualizes the phases we need to go thru in order to be successful in our relationship building with our dogs. The most important phase is Building a Harmonic Relationship, with Respect, Trust and Fun as key ingredients. It is true specific exercises and games that we will work on our ultimate goal, which is the best possible Harmony between Human and Dog.
In the Teaching Phase we will teach the dog the meaning of certain natural occurring behaviors like sit, down, stay, come or any natural occurring behavior we want the dog to be able to perform. This is more a Communication Lesson rather then teaching your dog some tricks. Every dog when born is able to sit, down and come to his or her mother when the mother dogs want so. They are able to communicate because they speak the same language, “DOG”. When we humans communicate with our dogs we use a combination of spoken language and body language. A combination that makes no sense for the dogs. In the teaching Phase we will translate our communication in a way that it will make sense to the dog and when we use the word “Sit” it means that we mean his sitting behavior.
In the Training Phase we will start to teach and train the dog in non-natural occurring behaviors, like completion heeling and jumping over an A-frame. We will work on an increased mental and physical stamina and clarity in the work.
In the Distraction Phase we will start to teach or dog to cope with increased environmental and social stressors and triggers and desensitize him to them as well. The outcome is that dog will be able to work and be focused in a wide variety of environments and situations.
In the fifth phase we will Proof what we have learned and we will put the dog under high drive. Some dogs go in such high drive that they will stop thinking. In this phase we will teach the dog to control himself in all circumstances. Control over his drives will teach him quicker access to what he wants. It is a good moment to check where we are in our process.
In the last phase we will introduce Conflict. At this moment we have build a balanced relationship between dog and Handler. In this phase we will teach the dog to follow a command of the handler even when different commands are giving by a stranger. For example the handler gives the dog a command to down, walks out of sight and a stranger will come and gives the dog a command to sit or stand. In this case the dog will remain to obey his handler, his pack leader the one he trust and respect.
As humans, we choose to bring dogs into our lives. We give them names, we invite them onto the sofa, we buy them fancy collars, coats and toys, and we assign them a personality…and then we expect them to automatically understand our “language”. By applying the techniques correctly as describes in the Canine Performance pyramid we are giving our dogs a chance to deal and cope with the inconsistent, impatient nature of the human being. It is OUR responsibility to continue building and maintain this motivational relationship with our animals.