The many problems of treat training and “positive reinforcement”

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“When the tiger bit at Horn’s sleeve, Lawrence made a move to intervene, tempting him with raw meat.  The trainer grabbed Mantecore’s leash and the tiger managed to knock both men down.”  USA TODAY

“A grizzly bear that appeared in a recent Will Ferrell film killed a 39-year old trainer with a bite to his neck…Randy Miller has 25 years experience training animals and his facility has had a perfect safety record, according to the website.”  INDEPENDENT  

“Swedish wolves kill zookeeper who raised them…Even after discovering the zookeeper’s body officials had trouble removing her remains.”  TIME

“Tilikum grabbed Brancheau by the ponytail and pulled her into the pool, then began violently swinging her around…died from a combination of blunt force trauma to the head, neck, and torso, plus drowning.  The attack happened during a performance.  It wasn’t the first time Tilikum killed someone either.  In 1991 he was one of the three whales responsible for the death of trainer Keltie Lee Byrne.”  GRUNGE

“Tyke entered the ring…kicking around what looked to audience members like a dummy. ‘We thought it was part of the show,’ one witness told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  They soon realized the supposed dummy was a severely injured (elephant) groomer.  Panicked, audience members fled for the exits.  Tyke went on to fatally crush her trainer – who was trying to intervene – before fleeing the arena herself….Honolulu police eventually shot her 87 times before she succumbed to nerve damage and brain hemorrhages.”  HUFFPOST

“Utterback’s girlfriend heard something fall, police said.  She got up to see what the noise was and found Utterback on the floor with the dog biting his neck…by the time EMS arrived Utterback was dead.  Utterback’s girlfriend told officers the dog was their pet for a decade and was Utterback’s ‘best friend.'”  DOGSBITE

“Ashton McGhee, 1 year old, was mauled to death by a family pitbull-mix.  The child had ‘deep abrasions to the head, chest, and neck.’  The child’s grandmother and great grandmother suffered injuries while trying to pull the dog off the toddler.  The baby had been playing with a ball on the floor when the dog came in from the outdoors.  The dog attacked the baby, causing deep lacerations to the head and chest and a broken jaw.”  WHOP

“66-year-old dog trainer found dead in her backyard with multiple dog bites on her face and arms.  Elaine Richman was discovered dead with multiple dog bites…Richman had not been seen at her dog training classes for two days.  Police found Richman dead in her backyard with dog bites on her face, arms, and hands.  Two doberman pinschers were located inside the home.  The victims brother…said she had trained and showed dobermans for decades.”  MEAWW and DOGSBITE

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Friends, when you or any other person – be they “professional” or not – reinforce a dog (or a wild animal) with FOOD in order to get them to perform obedience or tricks we must all realize that this in NO way means that genuine RESPECT is present in the relationship!  

Friends, if you lack real Respect then you must NOT give TRUST to the animal no matter how fancy the obedience, behavior modification, tricks, or alleged “training!”  

What everyone in the world labels as “dog obedience,” and “dog training,” “work,” and “canine behavior modification” in truth often has little or nothing to do with canine social skills and dog language!   

If people truly grasped dog language and The Four Pillars (and they clearly do not) horrific tragedies like some of those listed above would be preventable.

This is part one in a series I’m going to do for you.  In the second installment we will get to the heart of the issue.  Stay tuned!

(Also, don’t fret because I’ll do one on the many problems of correcting a dog and harsh handling)

-G

 

Dogs: to drug or not to drug

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That is the question.

Drugs.  Exactly when did we stop saying “No!” to them?  In truth, those of us in the Western world understand that we’ve all been slowly programmed by television “programming” that we’ve steadily yet heavily been consuming over the long years.  You, Dear Reader, know precisely the annoying commercials I speak of.

If you’re experiencing an erection for over four hours, if you have upset stomach, if you have delusions of grandeur, if you have hot dog fingers, “if you’re feeling sad and lonely, there’s a service I can render,” if you have thoughts of suicide, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam (and at this time please insert any other Latin phrases you’d like to into this poor excuse for a run on sentence).  My point, drugs are more mainstream than ever and if you don’t want to run the risk of acquiring them on a shady street corner in the ghetto with cash you can easily get them instead from your tidy, little, lab-coated, local, neighborhood, MD or your DVM (vet)Image result for drugging a dog images

 

As for me, I grew up hearing drugs were bad.  Now, in the age of ultra convenience and instant gratification, they are often presented to us as a solution!  And because dogs and people are inextricably linked together, our poor decisions and cultural practices often have a way of pulling dogs down the exact same road.  Drugging dogs has never been more widespread than it is today.

I work daily to get dogs off of Prozac and other similar drugs.  My concern is the vets that readily deal these drugs often do NOT have an active plan in place of getting them back off of the stuff!  In several cases I have seen they just want to keep increasing the dosage.  That is a problem.  Frankly, my friends, at what point does someone say, What the hell is going on?  Is my dog supposed to be so neurotic in the first place that drugs are even on the table as a legitimate option for treatment?  Is this a natural and healthy existence for my dog?  Have you, Dear Reader, thoughtfully considered the financial aspects of paying to drug your dog every day of the week throughout its existence?  Have you thought about what a quality life really entails for man or beast?

Please understand I can only speak from my professional training experience (I work with, on average, six or more dogs and families usually six days a week) and I’m surrounded by seriously problematic dogs.  We have a great reputation for handling the monsters.  This isn’t your normal puppy class stuff.  It’s not the classic stuff where the “certified” trainer bribes their way through the miserable hour of training by stuffing hundreds of treats in the pup’s mouth in order to elicit the animal to “sit” for the hundredth time and, as the weeks progress the “group” class soon dwindles down to one or two faithful yet lonesome and disheartened souls.  No, no.  I handle all the dramatic, lunging, totally imbalanced dogs on the daily – be they fearful, anxious, hyper, dominant, skittish, and particularly aggressive.  Many of the dogs I deal with want to (and have) put a hurting on people or on other dogs.  In all my years dealing with these types of dogs we’ve discovered that exactly three were helped slightly by drugs!  And I’ve been doing this for a decade and a half!!!  The rest of these canine junkies were either unaffected by it, made worse from it, or given so much they acted like half-dead zombies!  (Again, this is just my experience with thousands and thousands of dogs, I’m sure there have been others that we haven’t seen that have, in fact, been helped by drugs but my point is why not natural solution first?)

Let me be clear.  I am NOT a vet.  I would never pretend to be and don’t desire to be one in the least.  While the vets deal with the dog body I specialize and work with the dog mind and the behaviors that flow from both the body and brain – resulting in energy and movements, and behavior.  (Again, I am just sharing what I’ve personally seen and worked with and what I’ve heard from all our clients over the many years.)   I’m writing this not to go against your local veterinarian but to try and get to you first to get the gears of your mind turning!  It’s okay to ask questions.

Why not seek out a more natural solution first?  Why on earth would someone who allegedly cares for their pet rush right out and get them drugs?  What happened to just saying No?  Or at least starting that way…?

My prescription:

If you have an aggressive or anxious dog I’d highly suggest employing extra exercise as a first, natural step.  Exercise mixed with heavy socialization (this means exercising out and about not just “exercise” done alone and in your stupid, boring backyard) can work wonders on behavior.  If exercised well (with definitive rules and with socialization) most dogs achieve a lower level of aggression and certainly a lower level of anxiety.

“But, but, but my dog cannot be taken out precisely because he is aggressive or she is so anxious that it makes her worse.”  Please understand, in many cases coddling of the dog is actively contributing to making the entire situation worse.  Also – and this may just be me thinking this way but – if something “cannot be done” doesn’t that make you want to rise to the challenge of proving that it can, in fact, be done!  Doesn’t that entice or tempt you to try?  If your dog or pup is so bad you “cannot” exercise it in a social environment (a local park, the waterfront, a busy neighborhood etc) look into some pro training options.  You might even start with Youtube videos on heeling and leash work.  You know why I’m suggesting that you don’t go running to your vet for advice right off the bat…because their expertise is in treating illness of the dog body and performing routine spay and neuter surgeries, is it not?  Look to Ma Nature, and to common sense, and to this professional dog linguist’s advice because I’ve actually helped thousands and thousands of aggressive and anxious dogs and their households and done it all.Without.DRUGS!

Drugs should be the Last option when it comes to dog behavior modification. 

Add exercise and work on developing a great “Heel” command (where your dog can walk and remain calmly beside you – not in front of you).  Training the “heel” teaches respect fairly quickly.  It also rapidly decreases a dog’s natural energy reserve so that’s an added bonus.  (We’ve made a video on Heeling and Leash Manners available for purchase at http://www.gstevensdogtrainer.com And if you’re local we offer an incredible behavioral board and train option at Stevens Family Kennels and Dog Language Center that provides the massive pattern interrupt many aggressive, anxious, fear-riddled dogs desperately need – check us out at http://www.stevensfamilykennels.com)

Our dogs should adapt to our human way of life, sure, but not in the ignoble or darker side of humanity and society.  They should join us in the finer, elevated things.  Example: being neighborly and saying hello to people while on our walk.  Do this sort of stuff even and especially if it is very ugly due to aggression.  Every aggressive and or anxious or skittish dog needs more exposure to the wide world and not just to your home and property.  Work your heel and be at a safe distance, obviously, but get your aggressive dog on way more social outings.  And as you do that distance should naturally be able to decrease for the better.

I always tell clients, “All you have to do is keep control of your dog’s head.  In particular, the eye contact and the teeth!”  Once you do that you typically no longer have to fight the dog’s body for control (this ranges based on the size of the dog’s body).

By the way, if you cannot control your aggressive dog’s head and eye contact you MUST, MUST, MUST order one of my custom-fit, hand-made, training collars because they work miracles for people!  Incredibly strong, light weight, smooth-flowing and unobtrusive, our collars will out perform any harness, martingale, flat buckle collar, choker, halti, gentle leader, or prong collar on the market!  Check them out at http://www.gstevensdogtrainer.com (search the Custom Products page)

Aggression in our dogs is so mishandled by mainstream dog trainers, behaviorists, and vets.  They don’t seem to know the dog language, they don’t actually “speak dog” although they all claim to, they only do what’s already been done and yet they expect different or good results and that, Friends, is the definition of insanity.

We must all re-examine our dogs and their behavior.  We must all re-examine why we are acting how we’re acting and what we are doing with our dogs.  We must all confront the tempting trap of convenience as we move into the future.  We must reserve drugging the dog as one of the very last options of treatment especially if we truly care for our dogs like everyone claims to.

Thanks for reading and considering this.  This was another honest post for you and your dogs.

-G

Aggression in dogs: the possessive dog

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The large dog lay resting comfortably on his bed in the family room.  The kid approached quickly to grab a toy soldier figurine that accidentally flew then slid across the room landing near the head of the German Shepherd.  As the boy came closer to the toy and to the dog’s bed a low rumble began.  The family dog was growling at the child.  The German Shepherd tensed – frozen in energetic anticipation of the explosive action that would invariably be coming next in the dog’s primal ritual.  Would be coming next if the boy continued on his toy-retrieving trajectory unabridged.  Fur stood up on the Shepherd’s back.  The animal was stiffened and ready to strike!

Sound familiar?  I hope not but dog aggression is currently and has been on the rise in the USofA.  As the world turns and people grow less connected to nature and more connected to comfort, convenience, consumerism, instant gratification, and all the digital insanity…basically, as we grow more unhinged in our own lives, our dogs will reflect these growing issues back to us and sometimes even on to us or on to the unwary child, family member, friend, or neighbor by way of outright aggression!

Have you ever been bit, snapped at, or purposefully threatened by a large animal equipped with a tremendous amount of bite force and long sharp canines?  For most dog owners it can be pretty intimidating.  For me it’s just another day at work.

In my daily work (averaging five or six private 1 hour training and behavior mod. sessions a day) I am now seeing an increase in resource guarding and/or possession aggression from the dogs.  Resource guarding is exactly like it sounds –  the dog claims whatever it deems a resource!  This is highly problematic and can be and often is downright dangerous.  Possessive dogs bully people (or other dogs) into submission in that they cause them to back away from “their” stuff, or “their” bed, or “their” food, or “their” person or “their” body.

Friends, those “theirs” I just mentioned – they need to go.  They need to go and go quickly from the mind of your dog, otherwise you are just biding your time, waiting for the ticking time bomb to go off.  So many well-meaning dog owners are blissfully unaware of the dangerous creature they keep in their home amongst their children and spouse!  Because so few people know the dog language they cannot identify the INITIAL stages of resource guarding  and/or if and when they eventually do identify it, they take a poor course of action in reversing and preventing it!

At this point we must, if we are being honest (and I’ve heard that’s the best policy) also add that many a dog owner’s philosophy of dog ownership is weak, non existent, or in the least, not beneficial.  Some dog owners’ philosophy of ownership, care, and handling amounts to wishy-washy fluff and not much more – they take the jelly fish approach to dog ownership and care.  They may even expect the dog living in their home currently to act like a prior dog they had, or like a childhood dog that they knew, or like a friend’s dog.  Dear Reader, if this resonates with you please understand this sort of relationship is not living, acting, or working with your dog to your full potential or to the dog’s.  Success always requires intentionality.

Step 1.  Think about your dog and about what kind of leadership (if any) you are providing.

Step 2.  Develop a philosophy of ownership or examine and possibly alter your existing, most probably, sub-par philosophy to include the main theme that NOTHING IS THE DOG’S!  Yes, let’s repeat that.  NOTHING.IS.THE.DOG’S.

Step 3.  Contemplate WHY your dog, your loving, furry family member, should definitively understand that NOTHING in his/her wonderful life with you is really his/her’s.

Step 4.  You must begin right away, today, to claim your dog and not the other way round.  Guys, all older dogs know this stuff (why are we as humans so slow on the uptake?).  All we have to do is watch the mother dog and observe grooming rituals, greeting rituals, and other common interactions among dogs in order to easily identify and learn Who claims Who in order to then apply these techniques and movements by adopting them into our own lives with our dogs.  Begin with your dog’s body because every dog on the planet with behavioral issues (no matter what the issue is btw) is somehow manipulating the owner using their body and using yours!  (This does NOT mean rolling them, or hurting a dog in any way)  We must claim them and we must occasionally deny them free and unhampered touching on OUR body even and sometimes especially if it appears “happy” or “friendly” to you.  (Also, in the case of the skittish dog, your human body should NOT become a comforting pacifier if you desire a healthy relationship and if you desire genuine maturity with and for your dog).

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Imagine if your body was transformed suddenly into a dog’s body (like we see in the werewolf movies) and you were able to enter your home as an older dog…How would your dog greet you?  Rudely?  Politely?  Aggressively?  Fearfully?  How would your dog interact with you and touch your dog body and the space surrounding it when you sat down near or on the couch to relax?  Another question to ask yourself is…Would your dog’s biological birth mother (or any older dog for that matter) put up with your dog’s behavior as it applies to their bodies?

If you desire less possessive behavior from your dog – less resource guarding –  Then you’ve got to control who is touching who, and how the touch is applied, and when it is applied!  Please reread that last sentence like 50 times in a row.  It will help you.  It will help anyone who is open-minded enough to consider it.  Then you can begin all the other steps to continue treating resource guarding.

As you know, I could go on and on but I’ll end here.  For more info please read my books on dog and human behavior, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You!, and So Long Separation Anxiety available wherever books are sold!

-G

 

Rex the Hero dog…the rest of the story

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Rex the hero dog, a German Shepherd from Des Moines, WA, was shot three times and attacked by home invaders!  The burglars had smashed the home’s rear sliding glass door possibly unaware that a teenage boy was upstairs with his dog.  Rex was rapidly on the scene and, protecting home and hearth, went after the invaders, biting at least one of them!  Rex was then fired upon and sustained three bullet wounds.  He was shot in the neck and hind legs!  The criminals fled the scene after hearing police sirens.

Naturally, the family and Rex’s story gained much media attention.  They were able to raise many times what they were asking for in regards to Rex’s medical bills.  (In just two days they were gifted $52,000.00 on their gofundme to go toward his surgery!)

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Javier giving Rex some love while he recuperates.

However, what the news folk all failed to go into was the rest of the story…how Rex became people aggressive to everyone and anyone aside from his immediate family and how the normal behavior training they initially attempted did NOT work!  The truth of the story, of course, is that this is Not just another touchy, feel-good dog story – there’s more to it than that.  Some segments of Rex’s news story even featured some dog trainer talking about PTSD and giving the dog food treats but the media’s story stopped there and failed to go into how that did NOT work for the family or for Rex or for society at large!  Classic.  The fact that Rex was now psychologically messed up and that the “positive” training they tried failed was NOT included in any of the media’s follow up reporting on Rex and the family.  I’m not exactly sure why.  It probably has to do with the fact that people these days are only familiar with telling one half of the story when it comes to our dogs.  Only the good half.  We tend to shy from what’s ugly even if it’s the God’s honest truth.  But, if you’ve been a reader of this fine blog you know I do Not do that.  I strive to be honest and direct and open like all dogs are with me.  I know Abe Lincoln was on to something.

When a large dog is aggressive towards people it is an issue that must be taken seriously.  The sad fact is that we as people, no matter how desperately we desire it, don’t always see our dogs for what they really are or how insane they may be becoming.  People are often misreading, mishandling, and mistaking our dog’s language and their training (for more on this – much more – read my first book, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You!).  In Rex’s case it is a totally understandable reason to become aggressive and untrusting of other people, he was shot three times for crying out loud, but how do we move on?  How does a person successfully lead their dog back into sociability?  How do we lead the dog properly in order to vanquish fear and embrace living in the moment?  Will keeping him as a “victim” truly help?  Will stuffing his face with food treats truly help remove severe psychological damage?  Will oodles of human comfort aid him mentally and emotionally?  Will adding more training and rigid obedience help solve the problem?

Many pet owners and many pro trainers would suggest giving Rex food.  Food treats, when the dog is at a distance from a person in order to develop a “positive association,” is NOT the best way forward in a case like this and often will NOT work with dogs at higher  levels of aggression BECAUSE dog’s can turn down their sense of smelling and tasting in order to turn up their fight/flight senses of vision and hearing leading them to ignore the food and continue escalating their energy by way of extreme, instinctual, predatory concentration directed right at the stimuli/person.  Also, for many dogs, food is exciting – why add that to an already excited dog?  Fighting is also exciting.  (I know because I loved sparring in my martial arts classes and adored tossing boxing gloves on to do some backyard brawling with a buddy).  Lastly – if one looks at literally every single dog on the planet, we see that they do NOT need to utilize food treats when interacting and relating with other dogs!  Dogs simply converse with one another.  The father and mother dog do NOT rely on a food treat in order to “condition” or “modify” their pup’s behaviors…instead they simply communicate using dog language.  (By the way, the parent dogs don’t use brutal or harsh tactics either in order to effectively raise their young).

Other people might suggest taking him to a former police or military dog handler turned private trainer because, well, they have worked with a lot of shepherds (German, Dutch, Belgian Mal.).  The problem that we often hear about after this sort of training fails is that they’ll teach the dog to stand on a log for a long time, to work a bite sleeve efficiently, to jump a fence, and perform rigid sits, downs, and stays and will train them using German or Czech commands but…they barely ever consider what it takes to RELAX the dog.  They seldom if ever consider what is important to all older dogs and dog “society” in general because the emphasis is always on working obedience and not on calming down and getting along.  (FYI: we are very thankful for those serving in our military and for the military working dogs – both dog and handler do a great job serving and protecting our nation).  Some times taking your Shepherd to a former LEO or military dog handler is overkill on working obedience when what most dog owners desire and desperately need is trust and the ability for the dog to get along with others at the local barbecue.  One of the biggest myths in the dog training and behavioral modification industry is that the addition of obedience removes behavioral issues!  Please reread that last sentence.  The addition of obedience does NOT necessarily mean the subtraction of poor behaviors!  If you fixate on obedience (which all mainstream dog training does) you’ve just added some juggling to your dog’s bag of tricks.  Keep in mind the mother dog doesn’t care whether or not her pup’s can perform a “sit” command.  Please think about what she cares about. Think about what dogs care about and need.  I’ll let you puzzle that out.

Back to Rex…the good news…

Thank goodness Rex’s family made a wise choice and did some well thought out research because they ended up eventually finding and working with us, Garrett Stevens’ Alpha and Omega Dog Training, on Rex’s behavioral rehab after trying all the other stuff.  They drive a long ways to see us and the natural, spatial techniques we’ve gone over are working to help calm him down and get him closer and closer to how a normal, healthy, social dog acts and interacts with the world.  Great job, Julia and Javier!

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Time to socialize. Socialization is always the answer for a house dog no matter what the question is. Living with constant fear is no life at all! If you have to begin on muzzle then begin on muzzle but socialize always!

When I first met Rex he was intensely barking, lunging, jumping, and snapping at me while on leash.  I instructed Julia and Javier on dog language and Rex’s need for leadership and for natural calming and proper positioning and leash manners.  For weeks now I’ve been able to calmly lead him on walks, pet him, and help guide him back into what is acceptable behavior and energy within his family and within society at large as I try my very best to impart to him that not everyone is a bad guy looking to do harm to him or looking to hurt his family.  I am realigning the dog’s senses so he can once again navigate his world.

Trust is so important.  We cannot get to trust though unless we have real respect too.  Respect and trust don’t come from food (even if your local trainer is forcing the food down your pup’s throat).  It doesn’t come from a certain rigid training method.  Respect and trust do not come from raw obedience either.  Respect and Trust are something altogether deeper.  Remember, reinforcement in dog training and behavioral modification is tremendously overrated.  Relationship has almost unlimited potential!  Forget “positive only” methods and forget punitive mostly – focus on how dog’s relate and your dog will thank you!

It has been a privilege helping Rex the hero dog and teaching his family the ins and outs of efficient dog handling and relaxation techniques directly from the Garrett Stevens Method and Mother Nature.

Rex has come a long way.  He, like all of us, has more to learn but we are glad he’s learning to self soothe and to truly calm down and follow Julia and Javier’s lead.  Here’s to a bright future for Rex and the family.

-G

 

Was your dog abused? Are you continuing to abuse it mentally? You probably are due to poor yet commonly accepted dog training methods you’ve taken from the status quo

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Today many dog rescue groups are working tirelessly to help an overwhelming number of dogs that have been physically abused. And although we know several of these same dogs have also been mentally abused once they are taken in, treated physically at the vets, and then placed in the rescue organization it seems we (as a society) are largely clueless about how to help them finally move on to a successful, relaxed, playful, “happy” dog life!   Dog owners can’t seem to get past the dog’s past.  It seems there is a large disconnect when it comes to solving mental abuse.

There is a host of quite common mistakes that are frequently made when we examine how the often fearful or aggressive “rescue” dog is handled.  (I will try and refrain from mentioning that many dog rescues are boldly lying to the potential adopters face about the level of potential dangers inherent in many of the dogs they are attempting to adopt out in order to fudge their “rescue” numbers!  That, perhaps is an issue for another day)

The whole focus after the new rescue dog is checked out and treated by the vet (and, Dear Reader, often if the dog is dangerous to people the vet gives a quick visual inspection…NOT even Touching the dog during the half-hearted exam!) anyway…the focus then shifts to fostering and simply getting the animal a “forever” home.  I’ll tell you now  – it’s too quick!  The dogs aren’t ready.  And they will NEVER be ready if the vets or volunteers aren’t prepared properly or don’t know what they are doing!  So, invariably, many dogs are returned a couple days or weeks or months later for aggression, phobias, anxieties, destructive behaviors, housebreaking issues, and in general because they were adopted out while still needing massive amounts of natural, calming behavior modification and socialization.

There is a giant disconnect and it is 100% behaviorally related between when the rescue dogs arrive at the vet/rescue and how they are handled while in the rescue to prep them for their new homes.  THIS is where many mistakes are happening and this is why so many dogs can’t be adopted out or if they are they come back so quickly or remain in their new home only to attack people or other dogs or cats!   Let’s take a closer look.

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These dogs were (usually) taken out of physically or socially poor situations but then they are placed in very well-meaning but still mentally poor situations!  They are treated physically (somewhat) but then viewed as these poor, pathetic, victims and then typically forced right into a “positive only” -bribery and high excitement-based training philosophy that was doomed to fail from the beginning!  At this point, if they aren’t biting too much or if they are a physically good looking dog they will be adopted out…at least for a few weeks.  And, as discussed above, even if they are a danger to society many shelters/rescues will STILL try and adopt them out!!!

Once in their new home the dogs are most usually babied. (something any older, normal, social canine would never do to a younger pathetic newly placed dog or pup) If we, as people, act like pups and talk in high pitched tones all the time to our rescue dogs they may seem to like it but in reality you are just pumping them up in their energy as you attempt to “Sell” the dog on your friendship and love.  Most folks seldom if ever ask themselves what does this dog need mentally/psychologically from me?  Most rescue owners never honestly observe and learn from how a calm, social, normal dog would handle meeting one of these fearful new rescue dogs.  (Excepting, of course, you fine followers of this blog.  You and I now know better.) If one did consider how calm, socially normal dogs function in their society one would soon discover that dogs start out with a quick smell to identify and meet the dog then the calm, social dog would usually do the right thing and IGNORE the nervous, neurotic rescue dog.  They lead dogs play a little hard to get.  The ignoring is to establish who’s in charge and let the new rescue dog know that it’s the social and friendly way or the highway!  The ignoring also signifies a degree of trust and freedom in the newly blossoming relationship.  Healthy older dogs do NOT rush to sell or force a relationship the way 99% of people do with dogs!  Do we do that when we are introduced to a new dog?  Do we follow the dog way?  Or are we adding to the problem and bumbling through life?

Most people are totally wrong when it comes to rescue work!  They feel bad and present weak energy toward the “victim” dog.  And the dogs, being naturally intelligent creatures that depend on a pack to survive, quickly start manipulating more and more control of their bodies and then their crates and then whatever the hell else they want to manipulate or claim or control!  Their fears then grow and grow until they are biting anyone for touching “them” anywhere or flipping out on people if they go to walk by “their” kennel, or “their” food, or “their” owner.  It is a horrible and slippery slope when fear manipulates more of a foothold in the dog brain.  And it always, always, always does if the training methods are poor and if we, as people, do not follow nature’s wonderful example.

Please understand me.  I am on the side of the rescue groups and all the hard working volunteers and vets that spend their free time in so noble a pursuit as helping those animals that sometimes cannot help themselves.  I am aware that there are thousands upon thousands of dogs that are in the rescue organizations throughout this wide world.  And I am just offering a bit of honest advice as a pro trainer/behaviorist to help rapidly advance the cause of the dog in order to actually help these vets, rescue leaders, and volunteers and that in turn will help the animals both mentally and physically.  Tom Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence and noted brainiac, and our third President said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”  Have we taken a healthy and honest look or is rescue work over-emotionalized to the point of lying to ourselves and others about whether a dog is a danger to our own children and to society at large?

I for one want to save as many dogs as possible but I want to help them physically as well as mentally and emotionally.  We must seek out better solutions than what is happening currently (in 2018).

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I don’t want to rescue dogs to fill some gaping hole in my own life because that is not actually a healthy way forward…that is a mask, my friends.  We all know full well that those commercials they show us are intended to go straight to the heart and then to our wallet.  I don’t want to fawn all over a fearful or skittish dog because I know most fearful dogs can and actively do grow that overboard soft attention into possession and aggression.  I don’t want to live in a neighborhood where the vet is giving dogs a pass physically although the examination was barely conducted or shall we say conducted half-assed due to the vet being terrified of the dog and then…then they have the despicable audacity to lie about the danger level of the dog or its past, pawn it off on to some unwitting yet kind family as the rescue group crosses their fingers and throws up a prayer hoping that the dangerous dog stays in its “forever home!”  (I’m writing about a recent specific case if you couldn’t tell, folks.  But, believe me, this is not an isolated incident!)

I want better.  I want better for my family and our neighborhood.  I want better for my country.  I want better for the dogs.  These rescues need to wake up and focus more on quality as well as quantity.  They need to stop fudging their rescue numbers and look at the truth of 5 MILLION reported bites a year in the USA alone.  (And those are only the reported ones!) They need to look images of the 39 people killed in 2017 by dogs (most were killed by their own rescue dogs).

I wanted to share this with you all because I see and experience and have to do my darndest to avoid getting bit while actively rehabilitating dogs (behaviorally) that were in no way ready to be released to the public yet the rescue group adopted them out!

We need to rescue, sure, but let’s rescue the whole of the dog.  Let’s rescue physically of course but let’s be real sure to rescue them emotionally and mentally too!  (Dogs are dying for proper leadership)

For more insight on dog and human behavior order my hot-listed book, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You!  Check out the stellar reviews on Amazon and read how our book is changing households and calming and reversing behavioral issues!  Also, you may want to check out my newest book, So Long Separation Anxiety it gives real-world, hands-on, calming spatial solutions to successfully treat anxiety in dogs and prevent it in puppies!

-G

When dogs fight! Reversing aggression

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Fight and flight behavior in our dogs is tragically becoming more and more common according to the facts and figures.  You, Dear Reader, and I are the ones responsible for this.  We cannot spell the word responsibility without including the letter I.

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Friends, it lies with all of us to plant seeds of success now in the present day in order to prevent, reverse, and eliminate aggression in our dogs as we move towards the future together.  In this exciting installment from thecaninecalmer I’m going to give all you handsome and beautiful readers two straightforward techniques to help prevent aggression in your dogs.

  1.  Cultivate a killer Heel.                                                                                                                 Heeling means the dog walks beside (or slightly behind) the handler.  Many dogs are complete freaks and blatantly rude to their owners as soon as they set paw outside.  We must not allow our relationship to go out the window the second our dog is on leash.  Make your dog mirror you.  Be cognizant of your center line (the line running down the middle of your body from your nose to navel).  I often encourage clients to play “hard to get” with their center line and their dog when walking in a heel.  This means we should utilize turns and sudden movements in odd directions.  This should stand out in stark contrast when compared to our boring, ol’ straight sidewalks on human designed streets.  Work your dog with turns and quick stops and varying paces.  Maintain a little rhythm and then, try to catch your dog or pup and switch it up and use broken rhythm.  (Good martial artists and boxers do this when sparring).  Keep your dog on it’s toes as you work the heel.  Your line influences his line ideally in perfect team work.                                                  (For help with your heeling we have a video available for purchase and our amazing custom-fit, handmade, training collar!  I highly suggest you take advantage of them because most dog training tools on the market are simply crap.  Put our collars to the test, I dare you)

 

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2.  Control Eye contact.                                                                                                                             The majority of owners with aggressive dogs typically fail miserably at this.  My suggestion.  DON’T.  But…if you do then try, try, again.  After a week of practicing your heeling and as you steadily progress with the heel work controlling the eye contact whenever your dog wants to fight or bark, lunge, or scream at another dog (or person) it should now be easier to turn your dog.  Turning is critically important to your success and the behavioral rehab the dog desperately needs.  Do NOT turn too late.  Turn early and turn often.  Maintain the heel but don’t let your dog face the other dog.  Here is where you’ll have the opportunity to glean the ultra-important life lesson we call persistence.  I’ve learned my persistence from Pit Bulls!  Seize the day and don’t give up.

It is important to note here that when using the Garrett Stevens method or any beneficial naturally calming way of dog handling/training we do NOT pay the dog with food or even with high-pitched praise.  Please remember, external motivation (positive or punitive reinforcement) is never as powerful as internal.  IF your dog does indeed respond to a treat stuffed into his face right before he’s about to stare down another dog and then explode into a furry fiasco of fury and fangs I still would NOT suggest using a food treat.  Please pause and re-read that last sentence.  Whenever we pay a dog for a rigid obedience posture or trick…

1. It is Not calming.   2. It has little to no reflection on your relationship. (if the dog performs the command in exchange for payment it doesn’t mean your relationship is good)  3. The mother and father dog would NEVER do it.  4. It can eventually turn your dog into a very bratty Al Capone type creature.  5. For many people it can be difficult juggling an aggressive, lunging dog on a leash and the food treats and proper timing.  6.  It has zero to do with a dog’s natural social patterns and canine communication.  The main point being that if we have to pay a dog to focus on us instead of another dog even IF it works (and it usually does NOT with a dog with serious aggression or fear because the dog has shut off his smelling/tasting in order to turn up his vision and hearing – precisely because those senses (vision and hearing) are associated and utilized during fight and flight) then you gain an untrustworthy robot that performs “Watch me”s and “Stays” but still may not respect you and certainly cannot be trusted off leash with another dog.

Imagine for a moment, Dear Reader, if you were getting ready for the fight of your life.  You’ve paid your dues and have worked hard.  You’ve got a shot at the title.  Can you picture the moment before your fight?  Listen to the thousands of fans roaring in the arena awaiting your arrival.  Now let me ask you, Are you in the locker room warming up, stretching, and throwing punches as you shadow box and dance around or……….would you be sitting down to a massive Thanksgiving dinner and loading your fat face full of gravy-drenched turkey, your mother’s mashed potatoes, jellied cranberry sauce, and Stouffer’s stuffing?

When any creature is ready to fight they do NOT take food into considerationAggressive dogs “turn down or turn off” their nose.  They turn off their smelling and tasting in order to ramp up their vision and then get ready to bite.  THIS here, folks.  THIS is what many dog behaviorists/trainers/vets CANNOT SEEM TO GRASP.  And so, those intelligent few of us that employ the Garrett Stevens method, those of us who are disciples of the way of the dog and have read Dog Myths well, to put it bluntly, we simply get much greater results than the behaviorist or trainer that clings to only one very limited answer to aggression, to fear, to anxiety, to hyperactivity, their answer is unnatural and non-calming, their answer of course, is food.  And food ad nauseam.  To consistently attempt to bribe a dog with food in order to get it to look at you is, when closely examined, ridiculous.  When fight or flight is presenting food is, naturally, the last thing on the aggressive dog’s mind.  (Only a horrible teacher would attempt to keep addressing the pupil using a sense that has been shut off)

Does this automatically mean if you’re not using “positive only” that you are now a low-born villain that ax murders old ladies after midnight every Wednesday?  Certainly not, although any behaviorist/trainer that limits themselves to the unnatural and non-calming and often ineffective methods of “positive only” (and many do) will readily label you as such.  However, all good human parents know that bribing a child is not a sustainable or healthy method for child rearing.  It is not good for the amazingly social and intelligent dog by your side either!

Typically people employing the “treats non-stop approach” see a quick and temporary bump in results (and by results I mean surface level obedience only NOT healthy social normalcy and wonderful canine communication and certainly NOT a mature relationship between owner and dog) but then, of course, it is accompanied by the all-too familiar steady, easily predictable frustrating failure in the long run for both owner and dog.  It is truly a viscous cycle that 99% of our clients will tell you happened to them before they found us and employed the naturally successful way of the dog.  Remember, BOTH positive reinforcement And punitive reinforcement were scientifically proven ( by teams of scientists in the 1970s and different teams again in the 1980s – turns out positive reinforcement isn’t modern at all) to fade in the long run and were BOTH not nearly as powerful and effective as Intrinsic motivation!  Remember, we should seldom if ever need to use treats or harsh handling when dealing with our dogs.

The RELATIONSHIP should be the REWARD!  Please re-read that and then tell your friends and family.  Tell your vet, and groomer, daycare and kennel owners.  Tell Everyone.  The relationship should be your dogs reward and your reward!  Intrinsically motivated dogs that learn to focus on the relationship, based in respect and trust and clear canine communication with healthy energy levels, will always achieve social normalcy before the extrinsically “motivated” food-bribed dog.

So work your heel and work on turning or angling to the right or left so your aggressive dog doesn’t go right into dropping doggy F-bombs (cursing and cussing by staring and mean-mugging every dog or person he sees) with every conceivable step he takes throughout your neighborhood.  Control his head and eye contact.  It should be nose before eyes because that’s how all canines are born.  Olfactory and gustatory must take precedence over the dog’s vision and hearing if one desires a calm and socially adept dog.

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For more info please read my HOT-Listed book on dog and human behavior  Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You!  and keep a sharp eye out for my next books.  (I’ve got two more coming down the pike for ya, hopefully available soon!)

Go here:  http://www.gstevensdogtrainer.com  -For our handmade, custom fit, training collars to help revolutionize your heel, or for our training video on Heeling and Leash Manners or, to schedule an appointment with me.

Have a marvelous day and keep socializing for success. PLEASE SHARE THIS so other dogs can be helped as more of us learn the dog way!!!

-G

Rocky the aggressive boxer: one of the first dogs I ever trained professionally

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Rocky was a large male boxer.  Powerful, stubborn, hyper, and completely neurotic.

Rocky’s owners could not take him for a walk.  He was out of control.  He would pull, lunge, bark, leap in the air, snap at all manner of things – up to, and including, people.  He was nervous about everything…wind chimes, people, cars, birds, cats, trees or leaves blowing in the wind, other dogs, and a host of other common, everyday things.

A skilled Rookie

This was my earliest and first official “dog whispering” session at a client’s home.  I say whispering because whenever I deal with problematic dogs and need to help alter behavior naturally (by infusing calmness mixed with normal societal rules that apply to dogs and humans) I would hardly ever choose “training” (no matter how advanced).  Dog training is usually a terrible idea when attempting to prevent, reverse or eliminate poor behavior because dog training in essence is just the addition of obedience and tricks and often in exchange for payment or punishment.  Thus dog training (even done well) does NOT mean it will subtract problematic behavior!!!  (I fully understand this info may be shocking to many of you.  But it’s true nonetheless.  Let’s continue.)

I decided I was going to take Rocky for a walk.  The walk would be an attempt to get him to heel (walk loosely beside or slightly behind me without lunging and attacking anything).   I wanted to get him heeling so he could bond more naturally with me, burn off excess energy, and learn to follow me and then his owners.  The owners wanted to be able to walk him normally without all the insanity and aggression, drama, and without the public embarrassment, the outright danger and liability, and the excessive wasting of the dog’s energy and the frustrated owner’s energy.

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This is not Rocky but he was a big boy

The dance begins

To start I had to somehow get in the door without being bitten as this was also another of Rocky’s many issues.  Rocky was territorial.  He loved his family but was dominating everything he could and doing it out of nervous over-excited energy.  I tried to remain as calm as possible as they greeted me at the door with Rocky right there.  Please keep in mind, Dear Reader, that I did not know nearly as much back then as I do know but was “jumping in the pool” and taking a risk.  As I look back I realize that it was quite a risk I took because this dog was an excitement junkie hooked on fear and aggression.

Learning to Ignore is powerful stuff

He lunged for me as I came in the door but his owner had him on leash and pulled him back.  I went into introductions all the while attempting to ignore the threatening and aggressive body language of the dog.  Ignoring a dog can be a great safety measure when dealing with certain displays of aggression, fear, and escalated energy.  The ignoring is a method learned from watching older dogs and how they handle and raise younger pups.  It is the puppy who acts excited, foolish, and is initially an energy-waster.  That excitable behavior is the total opposite of how a more mature, socially-adept dog would enter a territory or meet another dog or pup.  This statement should instantly bring to your minds the question of how you meet and greet other dogs or puppies that you encounter, and also consider how the trainer you may be considering meets and/or greets your own dog or pup!  This can be quite telling.  Are we acting calmly, like a leader?  Or are we imitating and acting like puppies ourselves?!  Are we pumping up the dog or pups’ energy?!  If so please keep in mind that that is very poor leadership on our part and completely opposite of nature’s way!

Continuing…I was able to come in the door without getting mauled.  We spoke for several minutes on how to calm and lead a dog, mother nature’s way, the differences of dog training and dog whispering (for those readers that don’t know, I can do both methods but dog “whispering” or whatever you want to call naturally communicating calmly through space and energy -if done correctly- is much more natural, calming, and beneficial for the animal and our relationship with it and it always succeeds socially where other forms of training and behavioral mod. do not!) We spoke of other useful info all while Rocky was on leash and close by yet not close enough to bite me.  I was purposefully stalling as I gave all the vital info concerning their dog and this allowed him to calm down and deescalate.

Stepping up to the challenge

Then it was time for me to conquer fear, test my skills, and take the beast outside!  I asked that my clients initially just watch from the porch or stay inside altogether because Rocky was at a high level of aggression.  He would act worse if his owners were around or watching him and he would use them socially as backup for his manipulations and misbehavior against me – basically, he would get more aggressive with me and any others we encountered.  (Dogs are skilled manipulators of their owners and, in particular, their owner’s emotions and eye contact.)

Getting Bloody

I remember when I went to take the leash from the husband, Rocky kept lunging up in the air in a wild attempt to bite my hands and arms!  When I took hold of the leash (and my destiny for the next several years) his claws raked and scratched me as he clutched onto whatever flesh of mine he could find.  He was flailing and attempting to bite me and bite the leash or whatever he could get his teeth or paws on!  This may not sound like much to many of you but I have had scars that have taken close to a year to heal up just from a dog’s gripping claws!

Those babies can do some damage when they’re frantically wrapped around your bare arms!

Today when I look down at my forearms and hands I don’t see any scars from Rocky’s claws.  There is, however, one small scar from his teeth under the fleshy part where my right hand meets the wrist!  I remember my blood was flowing freely on that session.

I continued to let Rocky waste his energy as he attempted to bite, snap, nip, scratch, throw himself on the ground, bite the leash, and twist like a whirling dervish.  Some time later I felt he was calm enough to begin the walk.  This is another point in time where being extremely sensitive to the dog’s body language and energy comes into play.  You have to be super observant and patient yet active and willing to push the envelope.  We need the dog to go beyond the fearful or neurotic comfort zone.  Fortunately for me I’ve been an extreme animal nerd my whole life and have a well developed eye.

Animal nerd 

Growing up I lived in Massachusetts, Florida, Maine, and Maryland. Very different states with different animals.  I was able to catch frogs, toads, mice, lizards, snakes, turtles, and of course we owned several dog breeds over the years, many differing reptiles, some amphibians, a couple cats, and the occasional bird or rabbit.

As a child my first official pet was a box turtle named Speedy.   I got Speedy when I was around five or six years old.   My dad drove me to this run-down home that was converted into a too-cramped pet shop in a small Maine town.   It was jam-packed with creepy crawlies and furry bodies around every tight turn.  I was fascinated.  I remember seeing some python or boa almost bursting the sides of the dirty glass aquarium it was in, a raccoon in a wire cage, a skunk or two, and of course, loads of birds and reptiles.

Looking back, I can now say that Speedy actually had a great effect on the course of my life.  To my curious young mind this animal perhaps was a left over dinosaur that I could handle and study.  I clearly remember feeding him raw hamburger, bananas, strawberries and other salad stuffs.  I picture him walking around our apartment in Maine so many years ago.  I recall misplacing him once and then discovering him later in my clothes closet.  Upon his death we buried him in an empty Girl Scout Cookie box.  I still hold the opinion that his casket was just a bit too small but it was a great memorial service to honor a unique pet.

This imposter will have to suffice. I don’t think I have any pics of the real Speedy.

 

Working for a living

When I got my first job at fourteen it was at a pet store.  Clara’s Tropicals: a small pet shop specializing in tropical creatures in Maryland.  The first thing I ended up bringing home was a juvenile green iguana.  I named him Sam.  A few years later I had acquired another. Sam and Max were kept within a hand-built, custom, six-foot-high cage.  I’d make them a salad everyday.  As the years went by my animal collection and my knowledge grew.  I added a friendly Pac-man frog named Newton.  (Most horned frogs are not friendly.  They are an interesting species of frog that actually bite people and have teeth!  This actually makes them very unique as most amphibians do not.)  Newton was the bane of many a goldfish.

My second job was also at a pet store.  House of pets.  This store was not nearly as nice as Clara’s but I got to mess around with and care for caimans, tegus, monitors, rats, boas and pythons, chameleons, turtles, ferrits, and several other critters.  I was learning a ton about animal husbandry (through self education and intelligent observation) and occasionally handling some serious animals that did not desire to be handled by anyone.  Some of the caimans would snap at you if you weren’t careful and the tegu lizards and the monitors can be down right nasty!  There were some creatures I would only handle with gloves (Tokay gecko and a large green vine snake come readily to mind).

I also had acquired a bearded dragon named Roy.  Roy ate crickets like there was a coming famine.  We supplemented his diet with some salad and the occasional baby mouse.  He was very docile and I will, even to this day, recommend bearded dragons for those of you considering a lizard for a pet.  I know for certain there must be thousands of you out there reading this fine blog and thinking something to the effect of, You know what would really complete my life…if I only had a docile enough lizard sitting on my shoulder right now.  Well, now you know what my pick would be.

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A bearded dragon.

I was going to go further into the other animals and all the differing breeds of dog that my father would bring home for the family (usually free or extremely cheap and found from ads in the newspapers) but several of these pets did not last long in our house.  These intrepid animals would live with us often until they showed a problem or a behavioral issue was discovered and then they soon found themselves back in the paper and or in another home!   We never mistreated them but many certainly didn’t have too long of a stay with us.  Although this is not recommended for the animal  – it did afford me, during my childhood and teenage years, vast exposure to many differing breeds and personalities.  Due to the length of this post let’s just get back to Rocky the aggressive boxer and suffice it to say I was “good with animals” shall we?

A Dangerous Walk

We made quite a pair walking down the street.  After bearing the brunt of Rocky’s claws all over my forearms I was bleeding.  Rocky, after fighting me on leash and twisting like a crocodile going into a death roll, was heavily panting and frothing at the mouth.  I’m pretty sure his tongue had tripled in size.  Somewhere during all his rearing up and flailing, his teeth had snapped forward and cut my wrist.  I determined then and there that I was going to either bleed out or we could strive to have a normal stinking walk.  I would die trying.  We pressed on.

Utilizing good movements to stay away from his snapping maw and scratching claws I would patiently ride out Rocky’s explosive tantrums.  Whenever his energy needed a moment to rebound, we’d be off walking down the sidewalk as if nothing ever happened because I would instantly begin walking again making him heel.  There were several times he threw himself fully on the ground.  That was usually after he launched himself fully into the sky.  (bratty dogs will do this when they are used to controlling  their head and are not getting their way.)  I needed to walk him for his owners and he desperately needed to calm down and learn that the entire world wasn’t in his control and it also wasn’t that scary either.  So whenever he’d have an energy explosion and flop around and struggle like a prize Marlin on a line, I’d make sure he wasn’t able to bite me.  I’d ride out the storm and then, as quick as a jackrabbit on a date, we’d be off once again side by side like old chums out for a casual afternoon constitutional.  (Over the years I zero in on “where the dog is” at the current moment in it’s life and with it’s owners and “where it is” psychologically and then distinguish that from “where it needs to be” to achieve normal or calm balance.  This is necessary in order to achieve great results for both client and dog.  This sort of vision, I believe, is key for leadership in any endeavor or area of life in which one requires real growth.  The ability to move from “where you are” to “where you need to be” must never be undervalued.)

Eventually we were both tired and bleeding and sweaty (dogs do sweat despite what you may have heard.  They sweat from their paw pads).  Rocky had settled down due in large part to an iron will and decent dog-handling and we got through the difficult time all without bribing or beating (no need for positive reinforcement and no need for punitive either)!  He was heeling beautifully when we arrived back to the client’s home.  They were amazed.  I was happy.  Rocky was calm.  He was respectful towards me and now trusted me.  We were able to touch one another much more freely.  I would greatly build on this in future sessions with Rocky.

I then experienced a sort of glow, I suppose.   I’m not sure whether the clients noticed or if this sort of thing even shows from the outside or on my countenance at all, but  I’ve noticed this happens in my life internally whenever I am able to achieve something wonderful.  A burst of renewed energy (maybe joy) wells up within me.  I had done it.  I was a professional trainer, albeit very inexperienced, and had truly helped this dog and the results were plainly there for everyone to see.  It all happened within our first hour together.

Thanks Rocky,

-G

Remember to read my HOT Listed book on dog language and dog and human behaviors, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! by Garrett Stevens