The Four Pillars of dog language – Part 2

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TOUCH: the most important and first sense of a pup.  Yes, that’s right, touch, NOT smell is the first sense and the most important in our dogs’ lives.  All canines, wild or domestic, are born blind and deaf.  The primary senses are touch, smell, and taste.  The secondary senses are vision (comes on day 15 after birth) and hearing (ears open fully around day 21).  Touch is the first Pillar of dog language (as defined in the Garrett Stevens Method) and it is the first of the five senses.

Now let me ask you, how important is touch for you throughout your day as a human?  Let’s go further and think about how important touch is for a blind person?  And if we go one step further we’ll be getting close…How important was touch for Helen Keller?  She was bereft of vision and hearing just like all our puppies began their lives.

If you want success with your dog’s behavior then forget everything you know or think you know about dog training and behavior.  Instead let me guide your imagination on a bizarre, fascinating, new journey.  Pause with me and really imagine having eyes and ear canals that are tightly closed to the world around you.  It’s hard to comprehend because if you close your eyes for a moment what happens?  Instantly our sense of hearing leaps to the forefront of our mind and we cannot simply shut our ears.  Maybe we need to run and grab the noise-cancelling head phones to fully experience the affect.

Imagining being born blind and deaf, being roughly licked and cleaned as you begin to breath your first breaths.  You stretch your stubby little legs, fight to lift your head, and basically just wiggle until you bump into, climb onto, or clamber under your mother and your many brothers and sisters.  What initially guides you?  What keeps you safe and warm from the start?  How do you first find the life-giving milk from mother dog?  Touch.  Touch is first.  Then, nipping at the heels is the next sense, Smell.  Smell and scent communication and scent memories develop but…touch communication and memories of touch come first.

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The olfactory and the gustatory system are indeed critically important in the language of dogs but why do so many dog trainers and dog owners (people who love their dogs) overlook touch.  Overlooking how dogs or pups touch us (or how they avoid our touch) is the Biggest Mistake in any and all manners concerning dog behavior!

In today’s world we’ve been conditioned to think that anytime a dog touches us if that touch isn’t an aggressive bite or a snap that the touch that is presented is somehow “affectionate.”  I say that’s preposterous!  That belief is literally hurting millions of dog’s and millions of people across the globe.  That belief gets human children and babies bit in the face.  The belief that most times when a dog touches a person that this behavior is just “displaying affection” is harmful and incredibly, and overwhelmingly narrow-minded.  As if dog’s don’t have a real language and clear communication.  As if touch isn’t one of their main ways of communicating.  As if there aren’t a plethora of polite touches and a host of rude ones within the scope of dog language.  As if dogs don’t manipulate their owners on the daily.  They do, Dear Reader, they most certainly do manipulate unwitting or unwilling dog owners or guests to the home and they almost always do it by way of rude touching.

Dogs will, every single one of them, test the physical boundaries of your personal space, or that of your child’s, or that of your guests, or they will watch just who claims their food dish, or the space on their bed, or on the couch! (Et cetera, et cetera)  And to their credit most dogs do not take all the unadulterated touching and unrivaled attention that they receive day in and day out and attempt to take over everything in the home or on the street.  Thank God only some dogs do this.  But the crazy thing is is that many do indeed attempt a full and eventually hostile take over! What typically passes for dog training and behavior modification sets up most dog owners for miserable failure in the long term!  And the hostile and violent take overs are usually brought on by the nervous, anxious, fearful dogs because everyone lets these type of dogs over-touch and out-touch them!  Too many dog owners are clueless about touch which is why there are 5 MILLION reported dog bites each year in the USA alone.  Many more go unreported.

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You must question touch because as you do it will open up more questions.  Did you ever wonder why we get our pups around 8 weeks of age?  Is that really the best time to get a puppy?  Is going to a group class where obedience is the focus the best way to help raise a puppy?  Is obedience training actually teaching your dog to be unsocial?  Why is the “sit” command typically the first thing everyone teaches their pup?  Is it even necessary or beneficial?  Does your style of training line up with how dogs naturally interact with each other?  Should it?  What touches does the mother dog allow on her body?  What touches does the mother dog give to her young?  How do older dogs interact with pups?  Is your rescue dog too needy in the area of touch?  (Hint, hint: the rescue dog is almost always imbalanced in the area of touch)  Do you have any boundaries about your body?  Do dogs have more or less boundaries about their bodies?  Are you building a healthy relationship based on respect, trust, and clear communication or have you downgraded the relationship to that of employer and employee?

-If you enjoyed this post keep an eye out for my upcoming book because it will go further into authentic dog language and how we can help our dogs and pups succeed socially in this modern world.  We will go into touch a good deal more and define just what is rude and what is not, what is going to lead to trouble and what can rapidly reverse trouble.  It should be groundbreaking in the pet industry as we discuss the ideal dog of the future…Stay Tuned!

-G

My Black Cane Corso/Pitbull: a Rescue dog story – Part 2

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The powerful black dog trotted my way after a quick visit with his owner on the chair across from me.  His docked tail vigorously wagging this time.  I began putting my hand over his head and stroking his face, eyes, and muzzle.  I do this as a sort of touching and quick temperament test with every dog I work with.  I do NOT suggest you do this unless you have a good grasp of the dog language, which, in my professional opinion, most folks do NOT even though they assume they do!  Please don’t take it personally because I know for a fact many dog professionals (vets, behaviorists, trainers, daycare owners) don’t have a solid grasp on dog language either!  If they did behavioral issues wouldn’t be skyrocketing like they currently are.

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Cato our Pitbull/Cane Corso mix. He will be featured in my upcoming third book on rescue dogs!

 

As I spoke with Cato’s owner I applied my classic “Touch and Go” move like I mentioned in the first part of this series.  I’ll explain it to you now, Dear Reader, so you too can begin a better life with your own dog and with any dog you happen across in the fine future.  Are you ready?  Please pay attention.  Basically it goes like this…

1.  Touch the dog.

2. Stop touching the dog.

That’s it.  That’s what I call a wonderful beginning.  While I’m telling you this slightly with tongue in cheek that really is the whole maneuver.  The magic is that you, the toucher, stop giving touch before the dog, the touchee, leaves your space, or grows tired of your touching, or threatens you, or before he/she demands more touching from you.  You pet the dog then, if you’re sitting, you purposefully stop and lean back and look away from the dog.  If you’re standing and petting the dog then you stop and stand up to your full height and, looking away, you ignore the dog.

This ridiculously simplistic maneuver is so undervalued and underdone among dog owners and dog lovers.  This is astounding to me in my daily dog and human observational studies.  Most people keep petting until the dog determines when it’s over.  Most people are left bent over and the dog has exited their space whenever it wanted.  Most dogs dictate (over time) who touches who and how and when that touch is applied and the human just follows along like a clueless goon.  Then, years and many behavioral issues later, “The dog just snapped,” or “The dog just turned, no warning at all!” I call BS on that, Friends.  For many a dog has spent its entire life telling the person they live with precisely how they will or won’t receive touch!  This is no bueno.

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Touch is a dog’s first sense and the most important sense by far when determining sociability, respect, trust, clear and polite communication, obedience, and every other stinking thing you can think of that happens between human and dog!  PAY STRICT ATTENTION TO HOW TOUCH IS HAPPENING TO YOU AND YOUR HUMAN BODY AND TO HOW YOUR DOG TAKES TOUCHING ON HIS/HER DOG BODY.  My “touch and go” move lets the dog clearly know that I’ll touch when I want, how I want, and then stop when and how I want also just like the mother or father dog would on their young.  It paves the way for healthy relationship between owner and dog as opposed to the classic blunder of – dog dictates touch whenever and however and forever until something awful happens! This is what many families suffer through.

Does the “Touch and Go” work for nervous or aggressive dogs?  YES and YES!  The point is to touch them and then stop before they aggressively warn you off of their body or space or bed or food, or before they run away or slip your touch.  In extreme cases it looks like this – You touched them.  They barely registered it.  They began to get uncomfortable but before they could escalate you already have stopped and you’re ignoring them.  It’s the smooth way to begin to handle a dangerous dog and to begin to lay claim to what you should lay claim to – namely – your dog’s body and the space and items around it.

The owner proceeded to tell me Cato played a bit rough for her older female pit.  That he was afraid of loud noises too.  Fear.  Fear is rampant among dogs these days.  I noticed his flat buckle collar was on his neck pretty tightly.  I guessed he was prone to slipping his head loose by way of backing out of the collar.  All those things mattered little to me though as he took my touching so well.

You see, Dear Reader, when I touch a dog I am communicating to them on a primal, instinctual level that is familiar to all canines (and to the majority of creatures on the planet).  This is so much more important than training and behavior modification!  Touch is the heart of dog language, it goes into energy, space, and how all dogs interact and build relationships.

Cato was a sweetheart.  A heavily muscled, cropped-eared, strong-jawed pushover.  Because he received touching so well from me, a stranger, I knew he could get over those fears and I knew he would make for a great family dog.  Jokingly, I mentioned how cool I thought he was and “If you ever get rid of him just let me know.”  I finished my eval/training session and merrily went off to my next appointments.  (Special note: if a dog training company has time to offer Free evaluations typically that clues us into the fact that they’re services are Not in demand, or they’re planning to pull a big upsell on you, or they do their alleged “training” only part time = I’d typically steer clear of these companies/people when searching for a quality behaviorist/trainer but bear in mind there are always exceptions to the rule)

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Shoulders for days

Well, life has a way of handing us what you put out into the atmosphere and within a couple weeks we got a call about the possibility of us taking Cato or at least fostering him until a suitable home could be found for him.  His owner had hurt her hip (apparently unrelated to Cato or the dogs) and the doc was telling her it would take a while to heal up  and since I had mentioned to her to let me know if she ever got rid of him…

The bride and I had a fitful night of back and forth and other low-minded indecisiveness.  I did not enjoy it.  I liked Cato but weeks later I was purposefully and intelligently thinking of things that would potentially disqualify him from entering our home.  You see, Dear Reader, we should all use our heads as well as our hearts when it comes to rescue and shelter dogs.  We must consider our lives, and our children, and our schedules wisely.  In this way we can foment growth both in our home and family and in the new dog.  I was thinking of all the potentially terrible happenings that could occur if/when we took in a two year old, powerful breed, shelter dog and things went sideways because my first responsibility is as a husband to my wife and a father of four young children and then as a dog owner of my older boxer, Rambo.  If more people thought this way instead of rushing out with emotions blazing perhaps dogs in the rescue world wouldn’t have such a bad return rate, or bite rate, or as many behavior issues.  Maybe shelters and rescues (very well meaning) should stop lying or at least hiding the truth about certain dogs’ temperaments just to up their monthly and yearly adopted dog numbers!  Many rescues do this.  It’s a sad truth.  Many dogs should not have gone out.  They were unready for a home.  I see the rest of the story.  I see the bites on children.  I see the bites on other dogs.  I hear the stories direct from our clients of the bites on unwitting and unequipped dog trainers and behaviorists they hired prior to using our unique services.  I see neurotic dog after dog after dog.  It’s time to stop listening to sappy commercials that purposefully manipulate your heartstrings and utilize both your heart AND YOUR HEAD when contemplating bringing another dog into your home.  By all means love the dog.  Love it fully which includes leading it.

Tune in next time for the Part 3 of 4 of Cato’s story and for more tips about dog language and about rescue dogs and their proper care and handling.

For more reading in the meantime please sample my books on Amazon.  Simply search Garrett Stevens or search Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and So Long Separation Anxiety

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I know, I know, we need to clean our floors. They are especially messy because the new home we moved into had giant holes in the back yard from the previous owner’s dogs digging like mad. This spring there will be much grass planting going on.

-G

My Black Cane Corso/Pitbull: A Rescue dog story

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Black as a moonless night and rippling with muscles, the dog approached me.  I was sitting down on the couch in the living room of a client’s home as a guest.  I was there to give her an evaluation on this black beast’s demeanor and behavior.  It was her new rescue dog from Texas.  The dog gave me a serious look and a few huffs as he trotted towards me.  His ears were cropped short and tightly towards his head which only served to emphasize his eyes and the strength of his neck, head, and jaws.  His muscled shoulders were rounded and spoke, I knew, of an explosive power.  He was oily black all over extending from the tip of his nose to the thick docked tail and on down to each claw.  The lighting inside the home at the precise time of day I was there wasn’t affording me the greatest visibility.  It was hard to read his face.  Was he calm or concerned?  Would I be friend or foe?  I did what I thought best in the moment and what I often advise when folks ask me how to meet a dog  –  I ignored him and continued chatting with the owner.

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Here he is the first day we took charge of him at the Ruston Way waterfront in Tacoma. We went on a long explore as we bonded/traveled together

Cato, that was his new name she said – chosen, I supposed, from the Cane Corso/Italian Mastiff heritage –  he continued to smell me.  “Cato” was a famous Roman, philosopher poet.  A follower and teacher of Stoicism.  Perhaps this dog possessed such a spirit?  Then again, maybe he was named Cato after Bruce Lee’s black-masked, kung fu dynamo in the 1970s TV show, The Green Hornet.  The dog certainly appeared athletic.  Or possibly his moniker came from the Peter Seller’s Pink Panther character that was always lying in wait to attack him!  I hoped it was not the latter.

He wasn’t as large as a standard male Cane Corso or as jowly, so my guess was that one of his parents (possibly both) were jet-black Pitbull terriers.  Either way he was a beautiful animal.  His movements catlike.  His eyes were an alluring and friendly amber color and his face could only be described as cute and powerful.

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Here’s Cato at our home during the first critical week of the “Honeymoon phase.” My third book (upcoming in 2019) on dog behavior will be all about Rescue/Shelter dogs and those vital, first few weeks in a new home!  Rambo, our twelve year old boxer, is asleep next to him.

Ignoring Cato was working like a charm and as we shared more time, more moments together, I steadily began to explore a relationship with this strong, dark dog through our mutual senses of touch and space.  I began to perform what I have coined in my business years ago as the “Touch and Go” maneuver.  This “move” or maneuver doesn’t seem like much at first glance to us as human beings but I use it in every single dog training and behavioral rehab session I’ve ever done (at the time of writing this) in the last fourteen years!  Why?  It works and works wonders.  Are treats required?  Heck no – no part of the Garrett Stevens Method requires food or treats or any training tool outside of one’s own body.  (Isn’t that great news for all you nudists following us out there?  I know you’re out there) Is it based in dog obedience training?  No way – most obedience training is honestly a waste of time in 2019 because every method of dog obedience training is excitement-based so that the dog gets pumped up in its energy and then works harder for you – Why do that though when most every dog owner with a house dog desires a calmer, more trustworthy dog?!  Most of us are NOT shepherds any more, most aren’t heading for Afghanistan on active duty with our dogs.  We aren’t as rural in general and certainly we aren’t spending all day afield on a hunt like we used to in days long past.  We have changed and we should be open to letting our dogs change with us!  Being adaptable is what has given our dogs their success since their beginning.  For more info about this and about achieving better dog behavior without the use of positive or punitive reinforcement – read my first book, Dog Myths (available on Amazon and everywhere).

The Touch and Go move is so easy that everyone I’ve ever met concerning dog behavior or training, be they professional or lay person, simply misses it…and therein lies the power, beauty, and art of the thing.

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My black panther!

Want to learn it?  Follow/Subscribe to this fine blog of ours and in the next exciting episode I’ll describe in unabashed detail the Touch and Go maneuver (which helps btw with any dog or pup and with any behavioral issue!) and we will continue our story of how Cato the Corso travelled from a rescue down in Texas to Washington state and from a client’s home into our crazy abode!

-G

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Cato and some clown spending his life in attempts at deciphering the dog language