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.

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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.
 

Knowing Your Limits as Pilot

Men must know their limitations.  – Clint Eastwood

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Two sessions today.  One was a pair of Yorkie mixes who just couldn’t stop trying to kill each other.  Second session is a new Husky.  Awesome lineup, in my opinion.  People sounded wonderful on the phone, and I love the feeling of accomplishment after a session. Both were later sessions, so I had most of my morning off.

Problem arises about 3/4 through my first session.  I start to get that sparkly vision in my peripheral.

It can only mean one thing: migraine.

I tend to get migraines when the barometer changes, but also when I’m stressed and not taking care of myself properly.  Over the past few months, business has picked up dramatically for me.  January through March is usually my slower time; yet this year I’ve had more sessions than I typically do in my busy season!  Rather than booking out a bit farther, I decided to double my workload so my clients wouldn’t have to book out so far.  Hence the stress migraine today.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with migraines calling them headaches is like referring to childbirth as some mild cramping.   Fortunately, I usually get plenty of time to take some meds before the actual headache kicks in.  Too bad they only work 70% of the time.

So I have about an hour to get to my next session, and I can’t see out of my left eye, and my brain feels like it’s trying to squeeze through my eyeballs.

 

Actual footage of my brain right now.

What to do?  Apparently, if you’re me, the answer is to beat yourself up mentally for the next 20 minutes, vacillating about whether you should contact your upcoming client or just yuck it up and do the session.

So let’s pause this narrative for a moment. How does this relate to dogs?  In every way possible.

Think about the two steps involved when you’re working with your dog. Everything from the come command  to aggressive  behaviors.

1) Control yourself.   If you’re angry, rushed, hyper or out of sorts, it’s not gonna work.  There is nothing so urgent that you can’t take a moment to collect yourself, even if it’s just a deep breath before you engage.  Calm yourself.  Walk into another room if necessary.  Or take Liz’s advice:

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2) Control the situation.  You can’t add energy nor stimuli to a situation in order to control it.  One of my favorite quotes is an African proverb:  Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.  Control this moment before you add the next moment.  Sometimes that means waiting for energy to subside.  Sometimes that means taking a dog for a run before I try to work on commands.  Most of the time it just means something as simple as not opening the front door to let your guest in while your dogs are still going ballistic!

Now, as I mentioned, these are the two steps you must adhere to if you want to accomplish anything with your dog.

But I also use this as a mantra for my life.  When I address behavior from my kids.  I ask myself if I’m calm, and then survey the situation before acting or speaking.  When I leave to train for the day, I stop, close my eyes and breathe deeply before mentally running through my day and making sure I have everything.

I apparently I’m not so good at doing that when I’m sick or not feeling well.

I was about to do the dumbest thing yet.  I couldn’t see out of my one eye, and my headache, while finally subsiding a little bit, was still definitely there.  But I was so worried about letting my client down that I forgot that my showing up in that condition would actually let my client down.  Could I possibly give them my best performance like that?  Would I be able to remain safe and think critically in a dangerous situation with a dog?  Resounding no!

We are so busy taking care of everyone else, concerned with not letting someone down, be it dogs, kids, spouses or clients, that we end up letting everyone down, including ourselves.   You can’t help anyone if you are (momentarily) helpless.

So I texted my client.  And they texted back.  And you know what?

It was fine.  They were gracious and understanding.

My first mistake was doubling my workload, as I mentioned earlier.  There’s an ancient story about how you can boil a frog alive because if you slowly raise the temperature of the pot, the frog never knows when it’s too hot, and it needs to get out.  A very true, if not revolting, parable.  My mental rule is usually the moment I feel any heat, I stop, control the situation, and turn down the heat.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do that, and continued slogging along at a double workload.

via GIPHY

Fortunately, I got a migraine. I never though I’d say that.  But that migraine reminded to me to control both myself and the situation.  If I had not rescheduled that appointment, I could have very easily misread a situation and been bit.

So think about all the times, just working with our dogs, that we muddle our way through a situation without really even addressing it or controlling it.

- Answering the door.  Doorbell rings and it’s Bedlam.  Rather than allowing your guest to be pummeled by your dog jumping when they come in, stop for a moment to control yourself as well as the situation.  Are you calm?  Good body language?  Are you actively answering your dog’s question, “Can I bark and be hyper?”.  If you don’t know how, give this post a read for how to Pilot your dog and answer their questions.

- Feeding time.  Does your dog barge right into the bowl after badgering you while you try to measure out their food?  Or do you answer their question (“Can I bully you into moving faster with that food?”) and put them into a calmer state before serenely putting the food down and then calling them over to their bowl?

- The walk.  Is your dog in front of you doing what I call The Minesweeper?

 

Swinging back and forth in front of you like a pendulum.  Or even worse, dragging you where ever they want.  Rather than taking even another step, control the current one.  Shorten that leash, and answer your dog’s question!  Learn how here.  Start slowly, and remember, you have no destination, merely focus on calm.  If you make it to the end of your driveway and back, and you have answered questions to maintain calm, you did it!

By taking on a double workload, ignoring my own body’s warning signals, and eschewing my own needs, I didn’t realize that I was failing everyone; exactly what I was looking to avoid.  The amazing thing was that about 20 minutes after I contacted my client, my headache started to subside.  I still couldn’t see properly out of my one eye (I’m having my husband thoroughly check this post for typos!) Stress started to melt away, and I was able to focus on something more important.  My own health.  My own sanity.  And taking care of the ones I love.

Because in failing myself, I failed them, too.  My daughter had a school play today.  Just a minor part, but she was excited.  All of our family was going to attend, but I had to tell her I wasn’t able to go because I was training.  A session that had been set up a while ago.  I had been beating myself up over not being able to go, but still, I take my sessions and my work very seriously.  After taking a moment to control myself and the situation by taking a quick rest, I was able to attend her play.

Granted, I only saw half of it due to the migraine vision. But I felt relieved.  Better.  Accomplished and in control of myself and what may come ahead.

And now I can’t wait to meet that husky when we reschedule.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio