Stop Hammer Time: The Problem With Dominance Focused Training

From time to time, we here at Darwin Dogs love to have the thoughts and ideas of others expressed here through guest blog posts.  Today is a fellow trainer, Chris Ramsay, owner of Shaker Hound Academy. Today he shares his thoughts on dominance training.

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.
-Yoda

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So, what kind of issues are you having with your dog?

Well, he thinks he’s alpha. And I need to be alpha.

(Shit. I have some work to do.But not with the dog, with the owner.)

Oh…OK. We’ll circle back to that. What kind of expectations do you have for you and your dog?

Well, he should do what I want, when I want. Immediately. No questions asked. That’s it. And right now he doesn’t. He bolts out the door. Pulls me on the walk. Takes food off the counter. Chews my shoes. Barks at the mail carrier. Jumps on my friends. It’s crazy. No matter how much I yell at him and punish him, he still does it.

So, he makes a bad decision and you ‘bring out the hammer’?

Hell yeah! He shouldn’t be doing any of that!  Am I right?

Yes. You are right. In that he shouldn’t be doing any of that. But, before he makes a bad decision, he’s going to tell you that he’s THINKING about making a bad decision. And *that’s* where you need to intervene to stop the undesired behavior.

You’re saying I need to be able to tell what my dog is thinking?

Yep.

And predict what he’s going to do?

Yep. Or minimum, that he’s in the decision making process.

How the hell do I do that?

You pay attention. And put more tools in your toolbox. Besides that big hammer of yours.

Let’s say you are having a great walk with your dogs. Walking around the neighborhood. They’re walking, sniffing, doing their business like a good dogs. Birds are chirping. Mrs. McGillicutty waves hello from her porch.And then suddenly, they turn off the sidewalk. And stop.Their bodies go stiff. They’re staring into a neighbor’s yard. Stop blinking. There is a squirrel at the base of a tree. They’re transfixed. For a brief period, you could put coffee cups (filled to the top) on their heads, and it wouldn’t spill. Now…what would you say they’re thinking?

We are tired. We need a rest.

No.

We really need to get home to finish our taxes.

No.

If we practiced our 3-point shots more, we could really do some damage from downtown.

Really?

Obviously, they’re telling you they are thinking about chasing that squirrel. Which is normal for dogs as they have millions of years of ancestors as excellent predators. “Apex predators” to be exact. But if you do nothing, if you say nothing, in the dog world, that’s approval. Give them approval, and they’ll run and yank the arm out of your socket every time.My friend and fellow trainer Kerry Stack of Darwin Dogs has a great explanation of this: dogs will constantly ask you questions during daily life. And if you don’t “Pilot” them, answer them AT THE TIME THEY ARE ASKING, they will provide their own answer. Most often, this is not the answer that you want.Military combat professionals have an term for this process: The OODA Loop…Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. And, believe it or not, it applies to dogs just as it does to humans. It’s a repeating loop that animals constantly go through when evaluating their world, especially when there is a stimulus involved. It’s worth looking up.
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For some dogs, this OODA Loop is big and elongated. They see something, keep meandering or don’t even break stride, decide that they don’t want to interact with it, the owner does nothing, and then the dog acts by going about their business. Rarely do I get calls from these owners.Other dogs, lots and lots of others, have a very tight OODA Loop. They see something (observe), and then face the thing they are focusing on (orient) quickly. The owner does nothing. The “decide” and “act” portions will come fast and furious. By the time the dogs hits the “act” portion of the loop, the owner is waaaaay behind the curve. And in reactive mode. I get plenty of calls from these owners.
Intervene at the “observe” or “orient” portions, and you are in proactive mode. And much more likely to have an impact on their behavior. In this immediate instance, and future ones.Want to see humans in the midst of an OODA Loop? Watch the Olympics, down hill skiing. Or boxing. Want to see a crazy tight OODA Loop? Watch table tennis. It’s so fast, you almost have to see it in slow motion to witness the speed around the Loop.Some dog trainers will just focus on bringing out the hammer on the act portion. Mess up? BOOM! You get the hammer! Do it again. I dare you. HAMMER! Again? BIGGER HAMMER!
In my opinion, good trainers will step in at the observe and orient portions in several proactive ways. And with various techniques (using multiple tools in their toolbox) can change the dog’s experience and thought processes to help them make good decisions BEFORE they get too far around the Loop. If you want to put numbers on it to make it easier,: 

ooda-loop-dogs-01-1000

“Observe” would be a 1-2
“Orient”, 3-5
“Decide,” 6-8
“Act”, 9-10

 

One of the difficult things that owners have a hard time grasping is that between 1 and 5, the dog is typically quiet and usually still. They may vocalize at 6, but sometimes not. At 8, the dog is already on the edge to implementing their decision. Whether you like their decision or not. So if the owner is not paying attention, the dog is telling them that they are on their way around the Loop. Remember, no action by the owner is approval. Wait for them to bark and/or lunge and you have missed your opportunity.Being “alpha” is about dominance. Hammer wielding dominance. And, as it turns out, the creator of the term says not to use it any more because it doesn’t apply. Skeptical? Well, check out David Mech for yourself. He’s the guy who invented the term. And the #1 expert on wolves in the United States.
http://www.davemech.org/news.html

 

My advice? Picture yourself as a coach. A leader. An answerer of questions. Not as some pissed off warden with prisoners that need to obey, or else. Humans and dogs should act as a team. With a similar purpose. Aligned agenda. Constantly communicating. Working together towards a common goal. Is there a hierarchy in place? Yes. But not out of dominance. Or fear of the hammer.Pay attention. Guide them. And it will pay off in spades.

 maple-snickers-track-1000
Chris Ramsay, K-9 Specialist at Shaker Hound Academy, has been working with problem dogs (and their problem owners) since 2005. He is a “balanced trainer”, and has helped hundreds of owners achieve a more peaceful and productive relationship with their furry friends. He is based in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and services Cleveland’s east side neighborhoods.
 

Leash Walking Without The Drama

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting.

I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, so as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

Number5

But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment, perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively engaged in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

3

 

When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio