Over the years I have occasionally encountered dogs that, for some reason had very little or no interest in playing with a ball, a tug, or a Kong. These dogs were missing the sheer unadulterated joy of chasing a ball, playing a game (Two Ball), playing tug, and the chance of more meaningful interaction with their people. Fortunately we can use the dog’s own inherent, innocent greediness to build his drive (or desire) for the ball, toy, tug, Kong, etc. We will refer to this as “the object of his desire” or simply “OOD.” The OOD I will be using and recommend is a roped Kong.
When your dog is in a “neutral” state of mind you will produce the OOD and proceed to entertain yourself with it. Toss it from one hand to the other … noisily act like you’re chewing on it … have a really good time without him! His natural curiosity will bring him over to you to investigate. You may even push him away if he gets too inquisitive about just what you are having so much fun with! You tease him like this for a few minutes then take the OOD and place it where he can see it but can’t get to it. A small nail high on the wall works just fine. You should pretty much ignore the dog for the next fifteen to thirty minutes.
Now, for the next two weeks and at least a few times every couple of hours, you are to take the OOD down and entertain yourself with it and at the same time tease the dog with it. Wiggle it in front of his face and drag it along the ground in front of him, but do not let him have it. Get him really excited … then just hang it back up. Week two proceeds the same way, but now you let the dog get just a little bite or nibble on it while you are teasing him.
If you have done this several times daily for two weeks you are now ready for the practical application with your dog. You have him collared and leashed, ready for his walk … but this time you have the OOD stashed in your pocket or tucked under your arm. A few yards into your walk you produce the OOD .. WOW!!! The dog of course switches into his excited mode. You quickly snap the OOD up under your left arm. *The roped Kongs fit nicely in the armpit area. Who do you think the dog is going to be focused on? Where is his attention going to be? He will be looking up at you and concentrating! Walk about twenty feet and without coming to a stop, whip out the Kong / OOD and let him have it this time. Lay on the praise and play a rousing game of tug with him for a minute or so. Then take it away, snap it back under your arm, and continue your walk. Repeat this as you go along, adding about twenty feet each time between “play” stops.
This exercise or game is invaluable for increasing your dog’s focus and attention. It will also transform a dog who just plods along all droopy and gloomy looking into a dog who struts or prances alongside his person with a spirited and eager attitude!
You have gotten the dog of your dreams, your head filled with Norman Rockwellian images of him (or her) dozing peacefully at your feet in front of the fireplace or enjoying a leisurely stroll along the beach on a clear, crisp morning. But wait… this dog, your “dream” dog lunges, pulls and drags you along, jumps, and ignores your pleas to sit, down, stay, and come. Your Norman Rockwell is indeed Norman Bates.
Welcome to the world of the untrained dog, a world where about 70% of the dogs in animal shelters and humane societies are on death row because their owners allowed them to be the leaders instead of the followers. The dog is the only animal that has chosen man over his own species. He will eagerly be a loyal, loving companion and will, just as eagerly be a biting, domineering tyrant. The choice is yours. With consistent, firm, and fair training your dog will be the companion and friend that you have envisioned him to be.
I am not here to give you, the dog owner, a “warm and fuzzy” feeling, to help you feel justified having an out of control dog, nor to make excuses for his behavior. I have had to euthanize too many dogs whose only crime was just being a dog. They had failed to be a “little person in a fur coat” … they jumped and barked and pooped and pulled and bit… they were “dogs.” I am here for your dog, to do what I can to keep him your companion and friend for the rest of his life. I am here for your dog, to enable him to be a part of your life, to accompany you on daily errands, to be a part of your interactions with visitors and family, and to be a companion that you will be justly proud of.
Besides a dog and your eagerness to learn there are a few items of equipment that you will need. These include a small or medium size training collar. These are often called “pinch” collars and are one of the most humane training collars available in spite of their appearance. You also need a web or leather six-foot leash and a fifteen-foot leash or long line. Add a couple of hotdogs and you are ready to begin a most rewarding and often quite frustrating adventure.
Do you own a monster-puppy? I did. As of today, Gidget the Belgian Malinois puppy is exactly six months-old and I am happy to report that she has successfully made the transformation from monster-puppy to a well mannered adolescent dog. Below are some of the behaviors she has learned, using the same techniques I outline in my book, “Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer!”
– She has learned to sit quietly and accept praise without biting, barking, nipping or jumping.
– She has learned to walk calmly on leash without pulling, alongside Juan Valdez our Golden Retriever, during our morning walk.
– She sits patiently at the back door without barking or whining after doing her “business.”
– Once inside the house, she looks for direction to either go lie down on her pillow next to my desk or to go into her kennel-crate in the living room. Unless Carla wants her in the kitchen. Later, when she is between twelve and eighteen months-old, we’ll begin to allow her unsupervised run of the house.
– She has learned to accept a correction without getting defensive and understands that, “No!” is simply our way of communicating that a certain behavior is not desired.
– When we’re getting ready for our morning walk, she has learned to lie down on command and stay, while I put my shoes on.
– In the morning, when I let her out of her kennel-crate, she will jump on top of the crate while I put her training collar on her.
– She will accompany me into the garage where we keep her kibble and watch calmly as I fill the bowl, and then walk with me back through the house and into the backyard. She will hold a sit-stay while I put the bowl on the ground and wait for her “release command” before attacking her meal with great enthusiasm and gusto.
– She now understands the commands: “Bring your bone,” and “Bring your toy.” She will hunt for each toy in the yard with me and then bring the toy that I choose back to her kennel run. I’ll tell her, “Drop it,” and she does. Then I’ll bring her back out of the kennel and instruct her to go find the next one.
– She has settled into our daily routine nicely and has learned what we expect of her around the house.
– She will come on command, even in an off leash setting. We took her on a road trip and to my parent’s house last week. I was very impressed with how well she did.
– She understands the five basic commands: Sit, Down, Heel, Come and Stay… and does them around distractions.
However, there are still some issues we’re still working on:
– She is still on a special diet (Science Diet W/D dry kibble) … as anything else gives her diarrhea. Unfortunately, a twenty-seven pound bag of this “prescription” kibble costs $60. Still, a small price to pay for firm stools. Probiotics, pumpkin, etc… didn’t help.
– She is still a high drive, high energy dog. Probably always will be, although I am seeing her calm down a bit from month to month. She has yet to master “The Art of the Afternoon Nap.”
– She has weak nerves and can be, “spooky” around certain new situations. This is getting better as we continue to socialize her, but it is an issue that will likely persist for the next six-to-nine months as we continue to work with her on this. With dogs like this, the more obedience training you do, the more the dog gains confidence.
All in all, I’ve been very impressed. Early on, I had my doubts about this one. She is an extreme dog from an extreme breed. That’s why I got her, because I’m always testing the latest, greatest techniques I can find. In the wrong hands, this puppy could have been a monster. Lord knows she was a monster puppy. This breed is not for amateurs. And this individual dog’s bloodlines are from some very tough, very difficult dogs. Fortunately, almost all of her sibblings have gone to professional dog trainers and are doing well, too. If you’re using the right techniques, you can achieve virtual miracles with even the toughest, most stubborn dogs.
Speaking of monster dogs: I’ve just released another fiction novel (a novella, actually) that is now available at Amazon.com for those of you who have a Kindle or a Kindle app for your e-reader:
Pit Bulls Vs. Zombies– Prologue To A Zombie Apocalypse
What if the dog you’re considering might be dog aggressive? That didn’t stop dog trainer Lynn Stockwell from adopting Clara– who turned out to be a wonderful companion.
It’s been made painfully aware to me that I haven’t updated people here as to my recent acquisitions (well, there’s one important item, the rest are just details) and activities. There pictures in here, most of which I’ve tried to resize so as to be more user-friendly to slower internet connections, so be advised if the page loads a little slower.
She’s Dog Aggressive, Are You Sure You Want Her?
Clara, a Boxer cross, came home to live with me back in March 2012, and even before she stepped foot into my apartment she was learning about life with me–or re-learning about life, in her specific case.
See, Clara was picked up as a stray not far, relatively speaking, from where I am living now. The county shelter is the main reservoir for dogs for the local veterinary technician school, and despite the repeated warnings that “She’s dog aggressive, are you SURE you want her?”, the people on the Teacher Dog Choosing Committee had enough faith to bring her to the school along with 2 other lucky pups.
At school, she spent slightly over 2 years living in a kennel environment teaching us students how to perform physical exams, perform anesthesia safely, do dental and catheterization (both intravenous and urinary) procedures, position for radiographs and locate veins for blood pulls. For anesthesia, she was a bit of a booger and needed the Heavy Drugs because of a lost bite inhibition with the main pre-med. With radiographs, she was a pro and pretty much only needed to know what was being radiographed and in what position, and there she stayed with no complaint until the picture was taken. For the venipuncture, her pipes pretty much announced themselves with neon lights, and woe to any student who had trouble locating them.
First picture I took of Clara at school
I actually fell in love with the dog before I met her. The professor announced the new crop of dogs that filled in the voids left from those adopted out, and mentioned in passing that one of them was “dog aggressive and probably a pit mix.” That was it, and I knew this dog was somehow destined to be a significant part of my life. Not that I go looking for dog aggressive dogs by any means, but her friendliness toward people more than made up for her issues with the other dogs.
Said issues originally seemed to be geared more toward other bitches, which did raise red flags as my parents’ dog is a bitch and they would have to at least peacefully co-exist with heavy supervision if this was to work out. However, her radar did ping on some of the dogs, particularly one of the major dorks who put up a bit of a “I’m all that” front. Observations over the time she was there determined that gender didn’t seem to play a role so much as the individual dog did. I had since put my name on her card as a potential adopter, and so far I hadn’t seen anything so concerning as to convince me to remove my hat from that ring.
They also seemed more fear-based than anything, out of a need for control and the “best defense is a good offense” mindset. This was work-with-able. The whole 2 years she was there, her issues were managed through the use of a popular brand of headcollar as well as mandatory social isolation from other dogs, the latter of which actually helped her to some extent. It didn’t prevent dogs from making googly-eyes and nasty faces at each other, but it kept full-on attacks to a minimum (unfortunately, it also kept positive play interactions to a minimum too, for those who actually played nice in the sandbox).
During quarters when I was interning off-campus, the staff allowed me to come in on the odd weekend day to spend a few hours with Clara as kennels were cleaned and student rotated through other dogs. I was allowed to take off the headcollar and spoil her with chews during this time, as long as I kept her away from the other dogs and students. This continued after my graduation, and we finally arranged a day and time for Clara Freedom Day after a tooth extraction surgery, necessitated by an aggressive cage-chewing habit that snapped off a lower canine and effectively blunted her incisors to the resemblance of small nubbies.
I originally planned to socialize her and help her learn how to be a dog again after 2 years of being a kennel animal, but I couldn’t have been more off in my thinking. Her training began a few days later, after she had caught up on 2 years’ lost sleep from the noisy kennel environment.
This was pretty much the extent of her activity aside from regular walks and potty breaks.
Without going into detail, my “dog aggressive pit mix” passed her Canine Good Citizen test 4 months after bringing her home in March after some intensive obedience training. We were actually ready for it much earlier, but the test was being offered on a certain day, so we waited and continued to work.
See, It’s Hard To Be Dog Aggressive When…
My worries about Clara getting along with other dogs was alleviated when I found the perfect dog around which to put her: Mallory. (I also wish Zeke were around too, as I know he would have been a great teacher as well.)
See, it’s hard to be dog aggressive and put up a front when the other dog just doesn’t care. Well, in Clara’s case it was easy, which made working with the aggression all the easier because she had no REASON to be afraid, as Mallory just rolled her eyes at That Evil Step-Sister and went on with life. Constant visits have whittled away the Best Offense action, setting the stage for one of my favorite pictures of them both, just below. As we’ve progressed, Clara is now trustworthy off-leash around Mallory, and enjoys running around the unfenced yard, which is considerably more space than what we have here. Although there is no interactive play, there is the ability to parallel play–that is, play alongside each other with separate toys, no quarreling and no interaction, which is quite voluntary on the part of both dogs.
Of course, the Master at work in this picture prefers to not use a leash. She in fact gave me quite the nasty look when I suggested she put it in her mouth. That’s not a smile in those eyes!
I spent countless hours building ball drive in a dog that already had one heck of a retrieving instinct, despite having almost no retriever in her. She is an amazing jumper and can get some considerable air when going after her ball. In addition, she’s been introduced to the family farm and the vast amount of space one has to run after the ball. She has it rough, and often comes home and crashes after such days regardless of who’s around!
A happy retrieve
Flying between the trees–a lucky shot on my part!
“Er, Clara…I think we’ve been caught!”
She was working off-leash shortly before passing her CGC. All things considered, not that impressive. I’ve worked a dog that could have passed the test after 3 weeks of work (from SCRATCH too, no obedience background at all!) if only I’d had him tested, and I’ve worked a dog who passed in 6 weeks. I felt it more appropriate to work both obedience and target the aggression issue as well as socialize to life on the “outside,” and combining the 3 goals meant that a 3- or 6-week CGC pass was out of the question. It was the right move for all involved.
As for how she did in a home environment after 2 years in a kennel and no knowledge of her prior background, suffice it to say that someone socialized this dog. I ran the sweeper and she fell asleep with it in the same room (well, that’s unavoidable due to my place being a studio apartment). She hardly bats an eye at the train horns going on at all hours not a quarter-mile from the house. Loud cars, music, TV, construction sights/sounds…no reaction. She passed the Home Depot test, complete with carts, screaming children, lumber equipment and aisle displays, with flying colors. We’re still working on firecrackers and gunshots, but so far things are going well. My housemates absolutely love her, she’s become a fixture around the community due to our frequent walks, and now that Ohio law has changed, the pit bull side of her (well, if there ever was one, based on looks alone) is legal!
Yes, there are some who would brand her mostly pit, but thankfully most see Boxer first
Right now we’re in the polishing phase for obedience, as I’ve slacked off considerably and there are some specific areas in which we need to work. I’m unsure at this point if I want to push more for competitive obedience, or if I want to start her in soft-mouth retrieval and eventual tracking. She’s provided me with lots of good experience, and mistakes have been made on both our parts throughout the process. She’s also very photogenic, especially since her new leather collar got here! Hopefully will be updating a little more frequently and getting back to your regular thought-provoking/critica-thinking programming, now that the cat’s out of the bag concerning this awesome girl.
Purple-on-black leather collar
A nice moment with Mallory and some special effects
Here’s Clara, enjoying the freedom of the big yard and life on the “outside” despite originally being labeled as dog aggressive.
That was actually a ZZ Top song. Except when they sang it, it wasn’t “Just Got Spayed Today” … it was, “Just Got Paid Today.”
Gidget, our five month-old Belgian Malinois puppy just got spayed… last Tuesday. And it’s been a rough ride for both her, Carla and I.
The night she got home, she vomited, twice. Apparently, this is a fairly common reaction to the anesthesia.
But then she vomited again, in the morning. The whole rest of the day, she had terrible diarrhea. When evening rolled around, it seemed like she was alright. Her energy level was good and her demeanor was normal.
So, we let her sleep outside in the kennel run, because the weather was nice. In the morning, everything was covered in feces. It took us two hours to clean up.
Then we took her back to the veterinarian. She did a fecal test, and everything looked normal. Vet thinks it’s just that she has a weak stomach in general, and the stress of the surgery may have thrown everything off balance. Just to be on the safe side, she put her on an antibiotic, plus flagyl, plus something else I can’t remember, to help balance the natural bacteria levels in her stomach. Oh yeah, we also have to feed her some canned food from Science Diet that is basically a low carb doggie version of the Atkins diet.
Well, she seemed to be getting better over the past couple of days– but then tonight… we’re back to diarrhea, again. Tomorrow will be a week since she’s had the operation, and I’ll be taking in a stool sample to (hopefully) figure out what’s going on?
And this whole time, training has pretty much been on hiatus. Although I have been playing a little game with her where I have her stand in front of me, and I show her the toy and whisper either “Sit!” or “Down!” and she needs to figure out which behavior to do. Including going from the down position, into the sit position. It’s a good exercise for her right now, because it doesn’t involve any runnning or anything that might involve stress.
If you’ve been following my series about raising a Belgian Malinois puppy to be my next “demo dog”… then you’ll know she’s about 4 1/2 months old.
And four months of age is when I like to start with formal obedience training exercises. Everything until then is just done to build positive associations to command words, but without strict enforcement because of the puppy’s lack of maturity.
But once you see those adult teeth come in– usually at or around four months of age– HALLELUJAH! You’re finally ready to start teaching and using some of the dog training commands that will make your life a thousand times easier.
So, you’re probably wondering what those commands are?
Here are a list of the commands I’ve been using around the house to make life easier with the puppy. I’ll be making a video of these so you can see ’em in action, soon:
1. The Place Command: I have a small raised platform that the puppy can be on. She can choose to stand on the platform, or lie down on it… her choice. But she’s gotta stay on it. I use this when we’re eating dinner. Later I’ll probably just use the down-stay command and get rid of the platform altogether. I’m also using this for when I need to put her collar on, or to take it off: I’ll have her jump up on top of her crate, and she must stay up there until I get the collar on.
2. The Down-Stay Command: For shorter periods of time at this point, but with practice and maturity, I’ll start using it more and more. Example: I’ll put her in a down-stay while I’m changing into my walking shoes, before I take her out for a walk in the morning.
3. The Sit-Stay Command: I teach the sit-stay to mean that she not only has to sit, but she also has to keep looking up at me with 100% attention. When we go for a walk and she hears (or sees) another dog barking behind a fence, her natural tendency is to get anxious and excited. I use this as a distraction to proof her sit-stay and also her attention training, by placing her in a sit-stay, and if she moves her head to look at the dog barking behind the fence, I’ll correct her and bring her attention back to me. This ultimately teaches the dog that when other dogs bark, it’s a cue to look at me.
4.Wait: I use the wait command to teach the puppy that she has to wait at the door when it’s open and to let me walk out, first.
5. Drop it. This is a really nice one, as this puppy is very oral and likes to pick up pretty much everything on the ground. At this age, she’s finally old enough to learn what it means and is dropping things on command. For example: She liked to carry the leash in her mouth, when we’d go for a walk. Well, if that becomes a hassle, it’s very easy to tell her, “Drop it!’ and she’ll drop it, and leave it alone.
There are a number of informal commands I use too. Commands such as: “Go away,” “Go get your ball,” “Go get your bone,” and “Leave it” are pretty self explanatory and the puppy has picked them up, just by showing her once or twice.
If you’d like to teach your own puppy or older dog (Yes, even older dogs can be trained!) these commands and know that your dog will listen, even around distractions such as: Other dogs, cats, tennis balls and food… then download my book, “Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer!” and start learning, today!
The wind was blowing hard and Juan Valdez, our Golden Retriever, still needed to be taken for a walk. I put the Belgian Malinois puppy, Gidget, in the exercise pen and then locked up the house.
Juan and I started on our walk and about a half mile down the road, we engaged a man who was admiring another neighbor’s garden. Me, Juan and The Man were standing around shootin’ the breeze when a woman walked up with a 7 year-old Black Labrador.
The Lab was pulling on the leash, and he came toward us. The Man jumped in front and started playing kissy-face with the woman’s dog.
Fine. Kiss a strange dog. God only knows where his mouth has been. I won’t even kiss my own dog, except on the cheek.
I had Juan Valdez on a sit-stay next to me, as The Man started talking with the owner of the Black Lab, who proceeded to ignore her own dog. That’s when the Lab started pulling toward old Juan.
She let her dog get too close, nose-to-nose.
“My Golden Retriever is dog aggressive,” I say.
The woman replies, “Is my dog okay to play with yours?”
I say, “Your dog is nose-to-nose with mine. My dog is aggressive.”
She stands there and does nothing, makes no attempt to pull her dog away.
Me: “Do you know what ‘dog aggressive’ means?”
She looks at me with a blank expression, doesn’t say a word.
I say, “It means he bites.”
Still no response.
“That means: You need to pull your dog away, now.”
Dogs are easy. People are stupid.
The truth is: I have perfect control over my own dog, but I can’t control a stranger’s dog. And I have no way of knowing whether a stranger has control over her dog, or even if her dog may be aggressive toward other dogs. Once you start taking your dog around town, you’ll never go long before hearing the expression, “Oh my gosh, my dog never did that before!”
Protect your dog. The best way to do it is by teaching your dog to listen to you. The second best way is to maintain situational awareness and do not be bashful about stepping up and controlling the situation if needed.
The dogs are easy. People are stupid
Reader Catherine adds:
I had to laugh when I read “you’ll never go long before hearing the expression, ‘Oh my gosh, my dog never did that before!'” A neighbor has two blue heelers that for years were the terror of our neighborhood. They tore into a husky that had to have stitches, they bit a jogger, we’d seen them go after people on bikes and people pushing baby carriages, and their attacks on our own young German Shepherd-mix (Maya) turned her from being friendly and curious to one that’s dog aggressive and afraid of everything. And every time, the owner said, “They’ve never done that before!”
I’m the one who finally called the dog control officer after talking to the owner failed, but I was left with a fearful, neurotic dog — you could literally see her changing with each attack, and her fear grew to encompass nearly everything. It’s taken 4 full years of working with her to get her back to some semblance of being normal. In fact, she and I are a registered therapy dog team, because she’s good with children and the elderly who are in wheelchairs or bed-ridden, but she’s still very fearful of most people and somewhat dog aggressive with the dogs in our neighborhood. Although I continue trying to help her with her fear, I don’t know if she’ll ever really get over it.
If you’ve read any of my dog training books, then you know that I subscribe to the pack philosophy of dog psychology. And you don’t need to be an animal psychologist to watch a pack of dogs and know that if you drop a steak in the middle of the room… the most dominant dog will eat it, first
So, what are you communicating when you eat in front of your dog? You are communicating that you are the pack leader.
In our household, we don’t allow our dogs to beg. If I have a cheese snack (and I do love cheese!) … and if I choose to toss one of our dog’s a piece, then I’ll make him work for it. (Just like I work for the food, by the way. As does every other animal in the jungle!)
I will never, ever give one of our dogs a piece of cheese when they ask for it. In fact, I’ll actually use the leash and collar to correct the dog for this behavior– as it’s one of those things that gets very annoying, very quickly.
Now, our dogs are allowed to sit and look pretty. That’s okay. But they better keep their distance, because if they get too close while I’m eating, they’ll get corrected… just like the dominant dog would do.
“But they’re hungry!” I can hear you saying.
Tough. Too bad.
Our dogs live better lives than Kings did in the 15th Century.
Waiting until after we humans finish eating is something that every dog should be taught to do. It’s one of 100 subtle ways you can act like the pack leader. And acting like a pack leader in a non-training environment does translate over to the park, when you ask your dog to behave around distractions. If your dog has seen you consistently act like a pack leader, then he won’t question your authority when faced with a distraction such as a cat, a dog or a piece of food.
Carla and I set up a garden this year. We decided to experiment with Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” system– which means setting up 4’x4′ wood raised beds and filling them with a special soil mix of 1/3 vermiculte, 1/3 compost and 1/3 peat moss.
… Everything a big-hearted dog would love to dig, roll and pee all over.
But that’s not going to happen to our garden… and it shouldn’t happen to yours, either.
Here are some dog training commands that we’ve found useful for successfully gardening with our dogs in the yard:
First, you should know that: In our dog training system, we differentiate between formal and informal commands. Formal commands are those that must be obeyed immediately, as they may save your dog’s life someday. These are the one’s you’re probably already familiar with, such as:
Stay (although we don’t technically use the “stay command” as we instead use the “exercise finished” command instead. i.e. Sit=stay… in the sit position
But since we may be in the yard for a few hours with our dogs while gardening, we tend to rely more on the informal commands such as:
Go lie down
And occasionally, the “No!” command
I’ll go over each of these briefly so that you’ll get an understanding of how and why we use these informal commands and why they are especially useful when gardening:
Go On: This command tells your dog to “walk away” from an object… such as a bag of soil. It can also be used to communicate to your dog to leave you alone, for awhile. You should first teach this informal command in a non-gardening environment by simply saying, “Go on,” and then grabbing the tab (the one-foot leash) and giving the dog a mild pull and release in a direction that is away from you. You can also take a few steps forward, and then release the tab. A quick shove on the tush also works.
Go Lie Down: I start by just going over to the dog and placing him in the down position. Once he understands what it means, he’ll quickly realize that he can meander around and find his own place to lie down… because you’re not enforcing the command with the same consistency that you do with your formal “down” command. I tend to also associate the “Go lie down” command with a hand signal that consists of two fingers, flicked in a downward direction. You’ll get to a point where you can just look at your dog and flick your fingers downward and he’ll go lay down. You should also note that with this type of informal command, the dog is not waiting for the formal “exercise finished” release command. Sooner or later, he can get up on his own.
Leave it: The leave it command is a simple way of telling your dog, “Leave it alone.” It’s not as serious as the “No!” command… which communicates to the dog that he should never, ever touch something. In contrast, the “Leave it” command just lets your dog know that whatever item he was considering playing with… that now is not the time.
Come on: We use “Come on,” or “Come along” as an informal recall command. Whereas we use “Here!” as our formal command (our dogs must immediately stop what they’re doing and run back to us). With the “Come on,” command– it’s more informal: If we’re walking from the back yard over to the garage, the “Come on” command communicates to your dog, “Let’s go… we’re walking over here now.” Your dog does not have to come directly into you and does not have to finish in a formal sit or heel position.
No: When our dogs wander near the garden– we use the “No!” command– because we want them to know that they are never allowed to be near the raised bed garden where we grow our vegetables. (Technically, the “No!” is a formal command, as it is absolute).
Once you’ve mastered these commands, you’ll be in a position to start enjoying the sun and your backyard garden– while spending quality time with your dog.
Carla and I were in San Rafael, Marin County/California last week. We got lost looking for a burrito place my sister had recommended for lunch and overshot “High Tech Burrito” by about three blocks. As we were making a U-turn I almost drove into the Guide Dogs For The Blind sign.
For some reason, I had completely forgotten that the world-famous Guide Dogs For The Blind was headquartered in San Rafael, California. Maybe it was dumb luck or divine intervention… I don’t know? But this was a place I’d wanted to visit, for a long time.
So, after enjoying our burritos (I enjoyed mine a little too much, by the way!) we high-tailed it back to the Guide Dogs For The Blind campus and went inside.
It was a Saturday, and they were getting ready for a “graduation” in a few hours… so we got lucky that they were even open to the general public.
Now, let me say right off the bat: This article is not meant to be a comprehensive break-down of the entire Guide Dogs organization. You can learn more by going to the Guide Dogs For The Blind web site. We plan to return some day and do their official “tour” and hopefully get a chance to talk with some of their dog trainers. We did not have time to do that, on this trip– as you need to schedule in advance. [If anybody reading this article is from the Guide Dogs organization– feel free to add your input by posting in the comments section and I’ll be happy to incorporate them into the article].
What I’m going to do here is to share a few impressions and observations that you won’t get from their official web site. Some “Secrets” if you will:
Let me begin by saying: This whole organization (from what we observed, anyway) is 100% classy! Everything from the manicured lawns stretching around their 14 acre campus to the staff and army of volunteers: Everyone was polite, well-spoken, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and… possessing a good attitude. I think the demeanor and morale of even the people at the front desk and those who work the cash register can tell you a little something about the corporate ethos of a place.
One of the things that Guide Dogs For The Blind is famous for within the larger dog training community is the way they virtually pioneered modern puppy testing. Between their testing and breeding program, they’ve been able to boost the success of puppies going through their program up to 90%. And in the process, they’ve taught the dog training community a lot about how to pick a puppy as a companion dog, too. Many of the techniques I use to select puppies from a litter were taken from them (as well as from the landmark 17 year academic Scott and Fuller study). I go into more detail about this in my book.
While we were in the pro shop, we met and talked with two ladies during our visit. One of these women kept a “breeder dog”.
Guide Dogs For The Blind can’t house and raise every puppy– so they solicit an army of volunteers to raise their puppies. Some of those volunteers take and keep their “Breeder” dogs and raise them in their homes. These dogs are exemplary in every way and are crucial to their breeding program.
Typically, a family will adopt a puppy and raise it for the first 14+ months of the dog’s life, before surrendering it back to the Guide Dogs program for training. After about a year of training, the dog “graduates” and is placed with it’s working handler (someone who is vision impaired). The “breeder” dogs are the best of the best.
When a handler has a guide dog that gets injured, the dog is returned to the Guide Dogs For The Blind Headquarters for rehabilitation. Other volunteers will keep the dog in their home, while the dog goes through rehab at the campus. So, volunteers usually live close by, and commit to a full schedule to nurse the dog back to 100% health.
The Black Labrador in the picture was one such dog. If I remember correctly, he had a torn ligament.
One of the things that struck me was that: The Black Labrador was wearing a choke chain collar. Which surprised me, because I had always heard that the Guide Dogs official line was that they used “all positive” techniques. Which I always thought was a line of b.s., considering that it’s impossible to train a working dog to do this kind of work using a 100% “food bribery” approach. So, I was happy to see that common sense abounds, and that they weren’t trying to make some silly effort to hide the training collar by putting it under a bandana or some other nonsense.
Upon further investigation, I found on their web site this quote:
Our dogs are trained with high value rewards of both food and praise. An abundance of rewards, including physical and verbal affection, builds motivation, confidence and produces a happy working Guide Dog. When a dog makes an error, verbal and leash/collar cues are used to gain the correct response so the dog can experience reward and refocus the dog on its work. At the moment the undesired action stops, and the dog follows a command, the dog is given abundant reward and heartfelt praise.
So in other words: They’re using a balanced approach to training… which makes me happy to see.
I did see a “puppy raiser” using a Gentle Leader (or Halti? I can’t tell the difference), though.
One thing I noticed about these dogs– which is likely a direct result of their controlled breeding program– is that: These dogs are extremely passive. Not submissive, just passive. Passive to the point that it was a little disconcerting. Now, don’t get me wrong: These dogs are bred for a specific role in society. A role I support 100%. It’s just that: Being around pet dogs for most of my life… these dogs were so passive in their demeanor that it seemed almost unnatural. Again– a result of their breeding program, I guess?
I’ve always felt that: If you want a dog to a specific job, then use a breed that has been developed to do that job.
Guided Dogs For The Blind uses Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Lab/Golden mixes in their program… but mostly Labradors. These are not your typical Labs, though. If I were King-of-all-things-dog, I would probably set aside their breeding program as almost an off-shoot of the Labrador breed. That should give you some idea as to how different these dogs are from the hunting bloodline dogs (or even the showline dogs).
Many people have asked about adopting a dog as a pet from their breeding program. You can do that. The “wash out” dogs are adopted out, albeit with a long waiting list apparently. These might be dogs with too much ball-drive, or dogs that simply aren’t passive enough for a vision impaired handler. In any event, I think these dogs would make excellent pets for your average American household with kids.
One of the things that struck me about the pro shop was that they were only selling Kong chew toys and “Goughnuts”. I had never heard of Goughnuts before, so I asked several of the dog handlers standing around about their experience with the product. Everyone raved about them.
Some handlers even told me that they last longer than the Kongs, in some cases. And the company (a “Made in America” company, according to the volunteer manning the cash register) will replace the Goughnut if your dog wears it out. Here’s a tip: If you buy one through the Guide Dogs For The Blind web site, they’re a lot cheaper than if you buy one from the Goughnut web site. A lot cheaper!
I can’t vouch for this product yet, as our house-dog hasn’t expressed much interest in it. According to the Goughnuts web site:
“One of the reasons we made the Stick our next design, was to add another dimension to our product line . Our Original GoughNut has many accolades but one issue that we have heard is that a dog that cannot destroy a toy might ignore it. For those dogs, the GoughNuts Stick in combination with the original GoughNut, produces the GoughNuts puzzle.”
I didn’t buy the stick because it looks like this– and I don’t want that thing lying around the house when friends and family come to visit.
Apparently, the Goughnut stick fits inside the Goughnut “donut”. In any event– it’s nice to find a product other than the Kong Toys that will (allegedly) hold up. Mr Juan Valdez here only seems to be interested in it when I’m playing with him… but sometimes it takes a few months and then suddenly a dog will wake up one morning and “decide” that said toy is his favorite.
So, to recap some of the Secrets we learned from the Guide Dogs For The Blind:
They use a balanced approach to training.
They use dogs from their own breeding program.
Their breeding program has been designed to breeddogs that fit their training methodology and their intended use.
Dogs are kept in peak health and when they need rehabilitation due to an injury, they are kept by someone who is familiar with their training system and will not “undo” the training
The two women I talked with both feed Eukanuba.
The chew toys they recommend are mostly Kong and Goughnuts.
The dogs are raised in homes by “puppy raisers” who follow a strict socialization program. At 14+ months of age, the dogs are returned to the campus where they begin their formal training program
If you’d like to visit the Guide Dogs For The Blind Headquarters, they can be reached at:
National Office: P.O. Box 151200, San Rafael, CA 94915-1200 (800) 295-4050
California Campus: 350 Los Ranchitos Road, San Rafael, CA 94903 (415) 499-4000
Feedback from readers:
Have been a faithful Katz follower for years. So glad to read about your visit with Guide Dogs in Ca.
As a raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB) in Yorktown Heights, NY, I wanted to follow up on your request for feedback from other service dog trainers.
I am a volunteer in the Dominion Region (Washington DC area) of GEB. If you are ever in our area, we would love to have you come visit a class and learn more about our program, too.
GEB has its own breeding program, and primarily uses Yellow and Black Labs and some Golden Retrievers. We have placed dogs all over the US and abroad. In addition to serving the blind, GEB is providing dogs for many other service needs, i.e, Autism dogs and hearing dogs; We also have on-going relationships with outside agencies looking for dogs that have gotten a great start in training, but are not exactly cut out for the demands of guide work. When they appear to be better suited for “another career choice”, agencies such as ATF or the Connecticut State Police have the opportunity to acquire those dogs for other tasks such as drug or accellerant.
Regarding your observation about the “passive” nature of the dogs in training at Guide Dogs for the Blind in CA., I’m wondering if what you are seeing is better described as “focused” For the most part, as they mature and begin to bond with their raisers our dogs demonstrate bright, curious, energetic and eager dispositions throughout their 15 to 18 months with their raisers.
FYI, GEB no longer uses the “correction collar” (aka “choke chain”). We are always discovering new and better methods that have proved very successful. Needless to say, it’s all about the relationships!
Keep up your good work.
Volunteer, Guiding Eyes for the Blind
We had a black lab “drop out” who was too protective to continue in the program. An absolute dream of a pet! I would encourage anyone to consider such dogs as pets.
I live in the area and have never visited. I recently lost my 13 year old black lab and have been fostering. I was very lucky and rescued a 11 month old black lab from a person in the area who was unable to care for him. He lacks training in many areas. He wants very much to please. I have been using a choke collar and was worried abut his throat. This information helps me to understand. I will mix training options.
in college in the 60’s–we toured the place. Ii was sooo impressed. with their achievements. later in the 90’s we became acquainted with folks that did the puppy raising. and yes the pups are very low key—they do have their play time. and we also knew folks who adopted their, i don’t like the word rejects, cause those are so “good” compared to the average dog. a tremendous organization. their facility was top notch than and still is. what a accomplishment–from the 60’s til 2012—-and still great. do go thru their tour. well worth it. [Editor’s note: Judging by their grammar, they should ask for their money back from whatever college they attended?]