Saturday, October 1, 2011

What Happens Here at Seize The Leash

It's really interesting to watch my students as they navigate through either a group class or private behavior training. Almost every one of them takes, in about six weeks, the same journey I as a behavior trainer have taken in my exploration of training and behavior of animals and in particular - dogs.



The first session, they are all about the mechanics - how do I do this, how did you get him to do that, what are the steps and how do I do them. This first session there is usually no desire to understand the dog or the theory behind why the mechanics exist. In the second or third session - depending on whether the human is really invested in changing their dogs emotions about things, they start asking why and actually listening to the explanations.

Then around week five, the light bulbs start going off and understanding of what is happening not only with their dog but themselves starts happening. This is why I try very hard not to do marathon sessions for changing behavior like you see on TV. This is the progress that is necessary to actually get permanent behavior change. In my experience, it takes 6 to 8 weeks for the dog to change his emotions backed by the change in emotions of the dogs humans. Both changes have to occur and the human has to start understanding body language, emotions, energy and the mechanics. Mechanics alone, which is all that can be learned in a marathon one day session, does not give permanent change.
Some of the training here at Seize The Leash is based on Natural Dog Training, a branch of dog training that looks at behaviour in terms of energy. It is, in many respects, similar to Natural Horsemanship, which looks at horse behavior in terms of the dynamic relationship between predator and prey, but transposed into the dog's world. It is therefore based on the hunting behaviors of dogs - why they chase, chew and tug... things.

Natural Dog Training looks to answer two fundamental questions in a dogs life.

•What do I do with my energy?
Knowing what to do when the world around is unnatural and confusing leads to many problems that owners can struggle to deal with.

•Where is the danger?
The second question centers on fear and the need for safety.

Natural Dog Training aims to answer these questions, resulting in a happy dog that knows how to behave appropriately and make choices that reflect it's knowledge and understanding of the human world.

The Natural Dog Training philosophy holds that a dog’s social energy, which governs his desire to learn and obey, is inextricably linked to his hunting instinct. By playing games that stimulate and satisfy the emotions contained within a dog’s prey drive, we automatically restructure the emotional dynamic between owner and dog. This, in turn, creates focus from dog to owner and a strong desire for harmony between the species.

How we utilize Natural Dog Training is in creating an understanding in the human that the dog isn't out to dominate and control everything. That a dog is a social creature who's nature is to be attracted to certain environmental stimuli and social groups. We teach both the dog and the human how to related to each other, play with each other and create a bond that supercedes anything the environment can provide.

One of the first things dogs and humans learn from us is leash manners. Many problems are created by mis-handling the leash on a walk. It seems like a gut reaction for humans to always jerk the leash and yell at the dog.whenever the dog reacts/lunges/barks at another dog while on leash.

Turn your walk into a dance with your dog and most of these issues disappear. The very first lesson all group students learn is how to dance, how to create an understanding in the dog that there doesn't have to be any pressure or pain in the neck and shoulders, and the human learns how not to create that discomfort and yet still have the dog willing to walk with the human. This takes on average about 20 minutes.

During this first session, why the dog is reactive is addressed. Most fearful dogs are under a lot of stress. Stressed dogs don't respond to praise, treats, toys or much of anything. Nearly their entire focus is on looking for the danger. You must first reduce the stress in the environment before you can start any training or behavior program successfully. Teach the dog to focus on you so that you can answer the two questions most dogs have - please help me with all this energy and take care of the danger.

Those two questions are completely answered in session 2 when the humans learn how to take their dogs energy and show the dog what to do with it by use of targeting. Targeting is the most useful skill you can teach your dog. It helps them build focus, confidence and self control, it shows the dog that you can control the environment all around him so he doesn't have to, it teaches him to work near you or away from you and that it can be fun to work away from you and it allows you a method of redirecting the dog away from reactivity or danger.

Too many humans have required that dogs conform to a different set of rules – rules that come from the human world, not the animal world. This attitude of human only adds a stressful dimension to a dog's existence that can eventually move them from calm intent, to frustration and eventually into aggression. This attitude gives humans an excuse not to "listen" to their dogs, so as communication after communication goes unnoticed or unrecognised, dogs become behavior problems.

Structure, more then leadership, is what helps dogs relax and understand the human world. Structure, like leadership, involves consistency and predictable consequences. Dogs do not need or want to be completely “free” and unstructured. Most dogs value structure over pure freedom. Structure handles anxiety and fear of the unknown and the future. A shelter dog put into a new home situation and left to his own devices can suffer a mild meltdown. Shelter dogs are not in shelters because of too much structure--they are often there because they never received enough. For children and pets, proper structure is a gift of love.

Week 3 is all about structure, confidence and movement. Our world, the human world tends mostly to be flat, but at best is mostly right angles with long stretches of flat. Our dogs need spaces to move where they have pot holes to avoid, branches to jump, trees to dodge around, different surfaces, textures, smells and interesting things to chase. With the use of TTouch, The Playground For Higher Learning, Massage, scent games and agility equipment, we show you how to create a world that is closer to what is natural for a dog.

The Natural Dog Training philosophy holds that a dog’s social energy, which governs his desire to learn and obey, is inextricably linked to his hunting instinct. By playing games that stimulate and satisfy the emotions contained within a dog’s prey drive, we automatically restructure the emotional dynamic between owner and dog. This, in turn, creates focus from dog to owner and a strong desire for harmony between the species.

The best way to train a dog is to do it while its prey drive has been activated. Work on obedience and other behaviors during a game of tug-o-war or fetch tug, and use the games themselves as the reward for compliance. Feed your scent hound its meal by sprinkling it on the lawn and practice behavior cues during the hunt. Teach recall by running away from the dog or moving away or making a noise resembling a prey animal. Find out what your dog really likes to put its heart into and train while it’s driven and can win by obeying.

With Seize the Leash, the prey drive, the need to chase, catch, shake, bite and most of those things we humans seem to need to control, are addressed in weeks 4, 5 and 6. With the use of games, the flirt pole, learning how to play tug and retrieve so as to redirect and control your dogs need for the hunt, both the dog and the human learn that a dog can still be a dog in a human world without stress.

"We’ve been taught to believe that a dog’s wild essence needs to be tamed, and by taming it he will become the perfect companion. But it is this very wildness that makes the dog social and allows him the ability to live with us in the first place. It’s this essence that needs to be nurtured and loved, not trampled and suppressed. The irony of course is that most dog owners will tell you that they love dogs, when the truth of the matter is that they actually live in fear of them. And dogs being our mirrors, what does that tell you about who they really fear?" Sang Koh

After six weeks of learning how your dog thinks, what it responds to instinctively and individually, how to get and hold your dog's attention and then direct that attention to safe and fun channels, build his confidence and yours and how to play again, you'll have a different dog and the dog will have a new life.

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