Dominance theory debunked? is the link everybody’s buzzing about.

I have to be honest; for me this is a little like someone posting a study that says that the sky isn’t blue. My immediate response is “Well, good for you, but you either weren’t looking at the right time or you’re colorblind.”

In fact, this study is pretty much EXACTLY like saying that the sky isn’t blue. Because it’s not, of course; the sky is clear. The harder you look scientifically at it, the further from blue it looks, so the more it’s studied the more the researchers insist that it’s anything BUT blue, and before you know it there are a million articles yelling that the sky is not blue, and people completely forget that you walk outside and look up and THERE IT IS, WHAMMO. 

As far as I can tell (I can’t access the full text so am basing this on the various media that refer to the parent article), this particular study was trying to reliably predict behavior based on an assigned dominance number. In other words, a “success” in the study would have been for dog 1 to always behave more aggressively than dog 2, or for dog 1 to show more of some specific behavior than dog 2. In fact, what the researchers observed was that, far more frequently, dogs did certain actions  according to the desire to protect resources, and also behaved according to how they had learned to act. In other words, when they looked for the sky to be blue, when they looked very closely for extremely predictable dominance “aggression” and for a specific ranking to predict specific behaviors, they didn’t find that to be the case.

To this I give a resounding “NO DUH.” That’s not an astonishing finding at all. Behavior that is motivated purely and wholly by status is not only rare, it’s dysfunctional. Think about the life situations where you’re in a very hierarchical relationship – at your work, for example, or with your kids. If I can look at your workplace and predict how aggressive your boss will be based on the fact that he’s your boss, he’s probably a giant jerk who has virtually no leadership skills. I SHOULD see a group of people motivated by producing more widgets, or by reducing taxes on widgets, or by whatever it is your company does. I should see “to maintain my position of leadership” as the motivating factor of only a tiny percentage of your or your boss’s actions. 

But that does not mean that you don’t have a boss, or that you’re not the boss yourself, or that the whole structure of boss-hood is invalid. 

In the same way, there are relatively few dogs who are more motivated by status than by food or by resources or by anything else. But that does not mean that they don’t immediately and instinctively understand those kinds of relationships or that they do not live within those structures. 

I actually like studies like this, studies that are based on actually watching dogs, as long as it stays in the study and you’re allowed to draw your own conclusions from it. I get mad when very small and specific studies like this become justifications for personal soapboxes, or where the forest is lost in favor of the trees. I’m fine as long as people don’t come into my living room and say that there’s absolutely no way that Ginny is being status-obsessed when she’s TOTALLY BEING STATUS-OBSESSED. Her face is on the poster that says status-obsessed!



Here are the statements I think are correct based on my own observations of my own dogs, over a lot of years of observing multiple dogs in established social structures:

– Thirty days is the minimum before you see nuanced or mature behaviors. That’s one thing that worried me about the UK study, that they were looking at a group of neutered males in a shelter situation. That’s a very artificial and high-pressure situation and if the group isn’t stable for a long period of time or doesn’t have the ability to cope in other ways (can’t get enough exercise, are competing for food, are stressed by the environment, etc.) they tend to retreat into broad, shallow behaviors or concentrate on resources over anything else. After thirty days with none of those stressors, the group dynamic changes a LOT. I’ve seen it over and over and over again with the rescues that come in; for a month or so they do the dog equivalent of yelling “DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE BUS STATION IS?” in English to someone who speaks only Russian. Lots of arm waving, lots of worry, lots of repetition of overwrought greeting behaviors. After a few weeks they learn enough of the language so they stop yelling and start speaking in the very short, minute, “sketched” behaviors of a mature social group.

– The authority dog (which is probably a better term than alpha dog or leader) is the one who makes the decisions for the group when the rubber meets the road. If you want to know who the authority dog is, watch the group when a strange sound is heard (car backfiring, etc.). There is a split-second glace of every dog in the group toward one dog; that one dog then models the behavior that the rest of the group immediately adopts. If she (in my experience it’s always a bitch, but my friend who raised working Shepherds saw it in males too; I think a lot depends on the chemistry of the social group and on who is oldest and most experienced) flicks an ear and lies back down, the group relaxes. If she bolts for the fence, they all tense and assume battle stations. 

– The authority dog usually relies on physical correction or physical touch LESS than any of the other dogs. She has no need to use it because she’s obeyed and they all defer to her. Physical and mouth touches are far more the province of the middle-rankers.

– Different dogs are motivated by different things. There are some dogs for whom status is EXTREMELY important, and some who could care less. Dogs are individuals! You can’t predict the behavior of the entire species based on any one motivation any more than you could predict human behavior based on any one motivator.

– Dogs who are unsure of their rank and their job tend to react more quickly and use their mouths more than dogs who are sure of their rank. This applies within the dog-human relationship as well. We all know that a dog who is secure in a subordinate position is generally good, but you see it in an upside-down relationship too. If you are an absent authority figure and your dog completely takes over, your dog is actually pretty likely to be happy and even well behaved. You only get really “bad” behavior when you accidentally do something in a way that the dog perceives as unacceptable or rude and the dog feels the need to correct you. The very worst and most unbalanced behavior comes when the human is inconsistent and the dog feels that his or her role is in flux or insecure. 

– What the rule is is a lot less important than just having and enforcing the rule. For example, dogs understand doors and tight spaces as being authority-charged. Doors are very meaningful. Food and resources are also very charged and very meaningful to dogs. So I have a bunch of rules surrounding door behavior and food behavior, because those are places and situations where dogs are primed to receive messages. What I don’t get hung up on is the stuff that is often recommended to tell the dog that you are “dominant.” Lots of sources will tell you to always go through the door first, or always eat first, or whatever. That honestly doesn’t matter. Your rule could be “Dog, YOU go through the door first” or “Dog, YOU eat first and without moving from this spot” or any one of a hundred variations, and you could ask for a different behavior every day. The point is that the dog sees you as the cue-giver and that they are glancing at you whenever they’re around doors or food; that’s more important than you bolting to try to make it through the door first!

– and this is maybe the most important one: Physical correction or authority-posturing correction (rolling a dog, etc.) DOES work and IS effective and is often the fastest and most efficient thing you can possibly do, because it talks to the dog in the dog’s own cue language… but it is REALLY REALLY HARD to do it right and most people do it wrong. And doing it wrong does extraordinary harm to the dog, destroys the dog-human relationship, and creates a fearful dog who uses mouth immediately and as a default. So I do not recommend it as a training tool and I never advocate those methods when I’m talking to puppy buyers and so on. And that’s why even the most dedicated authority trainers no longer recommend it or even admit that they do it.

I will admit that I do it, because it’s one of the things I can do right and can do predictably and can get results from. I don’t think that’s bragging, because most of the training-type stuff I suck at. My dogs are not straight finishers or instant sitters or anything even close to that, and you’ll never read a blog post from me about how to get a gorgeous off-leash heel. Where I am able to work with dogs is pretty much entirely on the level of language/authority/cues/timing, and after a long time and a lot of dogs I know I can roll a dog and calm it down and make it feel more secure. But the vast majority of owners can’t, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and they’re going to get a LOT better results by concentrating on positive-based predictability and by pretending that dominance theory doesn’t exist.

FINALLY: Dogs do exist in a world of status. Of COURSE they do. In fact, before this study one of the behavioral studies I most recently read was about how female dogs’ tail positions (i.e., the height of their tail carriage) corresponded with how likely they were to try to mark or overmark in response to other dogs’ marking. That’s a study that demonstrates dogs thinking in status-related ways, and it’s foolish to say that somehow the one UK study shows that dominance has been debunked. What IS true is that the community social relationship that dogs enjoy is fully as rich and layered as any society, and there are multiple and complex roles and motivators for each aspect of dog behavior. The more we learn, the more we realize that very few humans can participate in dog-thought at those deep levels, and so the majority of teaching and training should access the more foolproof reward-based motivators that dogs have and enjoy. I think that much we can all agree on.

Musings on the idea of “temperament”

Over the last 18 months, we’ve had the following dogs come into or through our household.

Rupert, Sussex Spaniel: Being rehomed because he bit a child.

Wilson, Poodle x: One day past his euthanasia date, bit everything that touched him, and he bit with intent to harm. His first day home he put a hole in my sister’s thumb that was visible for months.

Sparky, Catahoula: On his last day before euthanasia, uncontrollable, pulled, barked, attacked other dogs.

Ginny, Papillon x: Same pound as above two. Screamed and bit every human who touched her ears, tail, feet.

Bastoche, Bramble, Trixie: Littermate Dachshund/JRTs who arrived here from Tennessee at 8-10 weeks; we kept Bramble and found the other two great homes.

Each of these dogs, though very especially the four adult dogs, displayed a few, or MANY, behaviors that most people would say were the sign of a “bad temperament.”

Today, I watched Ginny clean Zuzu’s face as Zoob hugged her and buried her face in Ginny’s fur, kissing her. Later, when I was nursing Zuzu, Ginny climbed up on my lap beside Z. Zuzu reached behind her and grabbed Ginny’s tail, pulling her tail over and playing peek-a-boo with it and laughing. Ginny never moved a muscle.

Rupert is rehomed in California and is thriving.

Wilson is groomed every four weeks and tolerates every procedure beautifully. He has not so much as growled in months.

Sparky is the star of his agility class.

All of these are the proofs people give for what a “flawless temperament” their dogs have.

So what happened? These are the same exact dogs, just a year later. Did they have bad temperaments and now have good temperaments? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Or look at my lovely, lovely Bronte. She never put a foot wrong, never put a TOE wrong, from the day she arrived here until the day she went to Kate’s house. She was the most instinctively polite, beautifully behaved dog I’ve ever seen. Every command was learned instantly. If I put her in a settle-stay, she wouldn’t move for hours. Everyone adored her. But she worried incessantly. She was pretty convinced that she must be at least a little at fault whenever there was a big conflict, and with six (very loud) humans and between three and (good Lord, I had to count on my fingers) eight other dogs around at all times, with dogs coming and going constantly, there were a lot of conflicts for her to blame herself for. I would never say that she was a sad dog, or a shy dog, and she ADORED people and other dogs, but she always had at least one ear on whatever chaos was whirling through the house. She was happiest when we went up to Maine, where everything is quiet and we all sleep late and the kids scream outside and not inside. She was at her absolute best when we went tracking Clue in the woods when Clue was lost – she was confident, pushy, totally focused. It was a side of her I’d never seen before.

When she went to Kate’s house, Kate e-mailed me the next day and said “Wow, she’s so mellow. Nothing bothers her.” I about fell over. Bronte is many things, but mellow? But it was the truth. And Bronte has gone on to be happier and happier and happier by the day –  she’s a confident and masterful brood bitch, she doesn’t take crap from anyone, she frisks around the farm and flaunts her freedom to the dogs who are in their pen. 

So does Bronte have an easy-going temperament or not?

I think the inescapable conclusion is that “temperament” is a completely fluid and changeable thing. There are some aspects that are closer to “personality” that I think DO hold true. A dog who is “soft” will always be soft. But that dog will not always be shy or reactive or, conversely, obedient and respectful. A dog who is “hard” – with a ton of drive and independence – will always be hard, but can be a bonded, tolerant, confident dog or an utter nightmare. But asking whether or not a dog has a “good temperament” is probably going to tell you more about the owner or the situation or the training than about the dog.

This is coming closer and closer to home for me as I can now actually consider breeding Clue. Clue is, if I haven’t already harped on it enough, what I’d consider my ideal dog in terms of personality – she is gleeful, hard-driving, exuberant, endlessly forgiving, and very very smart. And she has an outrun you wouldn’t believe. But I know that she’s the ideal fit IN OUR HOUSE. In another home, with an owner who is less exacting, she might be one of those dogs that get described as obnoxious, dominant, “up” all the time, leash-puller, ignores commands except when she feels like it, hard-headed jerk who runs away all the time. So when a stud dog is described (by others, of course) as a big jerk, what does that mean? Is this a dog I want to avoid like the plague or a dog I want to move mountains to breed to? If he is disobedient, is he mentally ill or just high-drive and I’d adore him? If one is described as a big mush-ball, undemanding, super obedient, would that dog – or the offspring of that dog – be a cowering mess in our loud, noisy, chaotic household?

This is why people end up buying their own stud dogs! Sigh. 

Anyway, I’m going to go grab my reactive child-aggressive toy dog and sling her over my shoulder so she can keep my neck warm while I type. She’s pink right now, which somehow makes her extra cozy :).

Oh, and now I feel like an idiot (stuff I didn’t know about wolves); also puppy socialization

I was talking to Kate yesterday about boy dogs and how much they change. I told her that in my experience a whole bunch of what you do with male dogs is invest, invest, invest in exposing them to different situations and training them and socializing them, and you almost feel foolish doing it because boy puppies are typically SO relaxed and happy and sweet and loving. You don’t feel the urgency to make them integrate quite as much as you feel it for the young females, who seem to be born looking for opportunities to climb socially. 

However, that investment of intense and deliberate socialization makes sense when the boys hit 18 months to two years old, when they suddenly realize that they’re not Gund animals and some major decisions start to be made in their brains. 

I’m very willing to admit that the biggest mistake I’ve ever made with a dog was not investing in a young male who was THE SWEETEST puppy on the entire earth. We were living very rurally at the time and puppy K was over an hour away. It was one of those situations where I meant to do it, and then meant to do it a few months later, and meant to do it a while after that… you get the picture. He was so instinctively and naturally obedient, never put a foot wrong, so I never had to solve any problems and so the urgency to find a trainer was low. He grew up very happy in our house but with very little deliberate outside experience. I showed him (with a handler) but being on the show grounds is certainly not the same thing as attending playgroup every week. 

When he was 18 months old, he decided that kids, especially boys, were scary, and he desired muchly to avoid them. If they came to our fence or our window he’d bark in a panicked way. I HAD kids, for heaven’s sakes, but I didn’t have boys. And I hadn’t made exposing him to many different boys a priority. He didn’t do anything that I thought was dangerous, but boys completely stressed him out. 

I didn’t, at that point, have the experience with training or the experience with behaviorists that I have now. If he were my dog today, I think I could have addressed the problem. But at that time we felt that the best way for him to have a happy life was to be placed elsewhere–we did, and he had a WONDERFUL life, and he never had to deal with those scary young male humans. 

As part of that experience, and in the years since, I’ve talked to many other breeders about males growing up in the group, and they said that they had noticed exactly what I did. Their first boy, or first and second boy, they had no issues with, because they were just like every other dog owner with their first dogs and they did all the puppy K and the training and brought the dog everywhere and so on just because it was so much fun to have this lovely new dog. It was when they had their second generation, or their pack was getting big enough that adding another dog was not such a novelty, so they just trained house manners themselves and raised their sweet boy within their existing pack, that they would see difficulties (or at least issues they had to address deliberately in a way that they had not had to when the dog was a baby puppy) once the dog hit somewhere between one and two years.

My Dane mentor (not that boy’s breeder) said that she thought it was something about pack structure, that the dog’s brain is primed to take on more responsibilities at that age, and so they were no longer content to just go with the flow; they wanted to control their surroundings. So my dog probably always felt a little weird around boys, but he didn’t bark at them until he turned two. Other dogs become more dog-reactive at that age. Others make more dominant moves. It’s a well-known age for the breeds with a legacy of dog-on-dog fighting to suddenly stop tolerating other dogs. And so on.

It’s something I had filed away in my brain, into the ever-increasing “So THAT’S why it’s so vital to go to puppy K and playgroup and socialize puppies, even when you’re a perfectly good trainer yourself and could teach all those skills at home” heading. The conversation I had with Kate made me curious to see if I could in fact connect that behavior change to pack dynamics, so I have been looking at wolf pack behavior and age and expectations and so on.

And WOW. I feel like a dope. We dog breeders like to throw around a lot of wolf “facts” that we think apply to dogs, but the reality is much different (and MUCH more fascinating). Forgive me if what I am typing is a “no duh; we’ve known this for years” set of facts, but it was not what I had always heard.

Wolf packs aren’t a bunch of adult wolves and one of them has puppies every year. Wolf packs are an adult pair and their SUB-mature puppies. A pack starts with a male and female, they breed, puppies are born that year. Those puppies become yearlings and more puppies are born. In the third year, the first-year puppies (who are now around two) disperse from the pack and wander until they find other-gender wanderers and begin their own pack.

The reason wolves create packs isn’t so they can bring down bigger game. In fact, the bigger the pack the less food each wolf gets. The reason wolves create packs is so that the ones who do the vast majority of the killing–the parents–can share extra calories with their kids. Packs are puppy-growing machines, not killing machines.

Wolves in the wild don’t begin to breed until they are well into their second or third year. First estrus tends to be right before age 2. Males don’t begin producing viable sperm until around the same age. So the time that they are dispersing is actually right around the time that they are becoming sexually mature.

In other words, you know how we’ve been told that all bitches cycle at once and have false pregnancies so in the pack a subordinate female can nurse the puppies? Yeah, not so much. The adult mom dog, who produces puppies each year from age two or three to age eight or so, may have a sexually mature daughter still in the pack, but that daughter is on her way out; within a few months she will leave. If prey is extremely (even unnaturally) abundant, as it was when the wolf packs were first reintroduced into Yellowstone, some packs will have sexually mature daughters raise litters (so the pack has two litters for the year). Under more normal circumstances, the daughters may have their first heat cycle while still in the pack, but they are prevented from breeding with their father or brothers and they leave very soon thereafter. 

And you know how we’ve been told that the males grow up and depose their father? Very rare, and only when the dad is showing signs that he’s really ill or sexually impotent. Most of the time the 2-year-old males just leave. They may come back later, and a pack may fragment at that point because his father is getting very elderly, but nobody kills the old male wolf. He (or an elderly female who used to be the lead female) will just hang around in the pack until they die of natural (as natural as freezing in the wintertime or starving because their teeth aren’t good anymore) causes.

Reading about the wolves was an aha moment for me in a couple of ways:

One, it was VERY instructive that the wolf bitches don’t come into heat until so late. I’ve never had a bitch come in before she was 13 months, and 15 is pretty standard. I’ve often wondered if it was the raw diet that was pushing them to go later, and if wolves don’t come in for the first time until so late it’s interesting to think about what we should be defining as “normal.”

Second, no wonder dogs have such a dramatic brain shift at age 18 months to 2 years! That’s the age when they would normally leave their birth pack and go begin their own, when they would move from being subordinate in their parental pack to being dominant in their own. It’s when their brains shift from information gathering to putting that information into practice, from being controlled to controlling. And, of course, it’s when the first litter comes, which can dramatically change things in everybody’s lives.

I am not sure why I’ve seen the difference so much more dramatically in the dogs than in the bitches. It could be my particular breed at that point (Danes) and it’s not the case in all of them. It could be that the boys have an extra dose of tolerance or are extra willing to be easy-going as puppies and adolescents because that’s what helps you get along in a pack where your mom and dad tell you what to do all the time. And it’s not that I didn’t see the bitches change–it’s that with them it seemed more gradual and more a reflection of their personalities all along rather than a flip from “I’ll tolerate anything” to “Maybe I won’t anymore.”

And this is one more instance of my good friends who have been breeding forever and a day being very wise. Even though they’re in their third decade of breeding and could teach a puppy K class with their eyes shut, every keeper puppy goes to puppy K, goes to playgroup, goes to handling class, is exposed to everything they can think of. Several of them trade puppies back and forth so the puppies are exposed to new families or grow up with different breeds before coming back home to mature and be shown. They take full advantage of every opportunity to have the puppies exposed to every weird, new, different, or unusual thing, surface, noise, animal, or person. 

While I’m on the topic, this breeder has an absolutely AWESOME puppy program. I don’t know her personally but I know someone who got a puppy from her and that puppy was FREAKISHLY confident. Not dominant or obnoxious, but able to handle any situation happily. You can see what she does here. The daily woods walks are especially wonderful. When and if I’m lucky enough to have a Cardi litter here, I’m going to try to implement something as close to this as I can.

Confusing practice with practitioner (and vice versa): Dog training

In several areas of my life, coincidentally, people are discussing training and teaching (of dogs, children, grad students, you name it). It’s been very interesting to me and I’ve been thinking a lot about how brains take in and process and then remember information. 

There’s a great temptation, in dog training, to make big sweeping statements that are not exactly motivated by love. How many times have you heard that clicker training is “just bribing the dog” or that using a leash correction is “jerk and puke” training? How about “there’s no such thing as alpha” or “dominance downs are abusive” or, from the other camp, “I’ve never seen a truly reliable dog that was trained with food” or “fruity reward trainers are ruining this sport!”

As should be obvious to anyone who has read this blog longer than a day, I don’t exactly like sweeping statements. They drive me nuts, in fact. And these are no different. 

One of the first huge mistakes that people make when they think about or talk about dog training is confusing PRACTICE with PRACTITIONER. 

For example, there are (a lot of) trainers who do use food to create a dog who can’t think beyond the next cheese flake. Bad practitioner. Does that mean that reward-based training is an invalid process? No, of course not–reward-based training is not only extremely well described scientifically, it’s the predominant method used to elicit some very complex and self-motivated actions on some of the best-trained dogs in the world.

Conversely, there are (a lot of) trainers who use physical corrections in a way that is ineffective and bordering on abusive. Some cross even that line in a horrible way. Bad, bad practitioners. But does that mean that using physical signals to indicate to a dog when he or she is doing something wrong is invalid? I would argue no. Dogs communicate between themselves using physical touch; they understand it, perhaps even more easily than working for food. And wise touch-based training is by far the dominant method used to create incredibly confident and effective dogs in a huge range of disciplines. 

It’s common to criticise a method by criticising a practitioner. For example, there’s a study of behavioral problems that has a good dose of science and a HEAVY dose of biased interpretation. The study showed that people who were bringing their dogs to UPenn’s dog behavior center had used a bunch of aversive methods and those methods had not succeeded. Now before you even BEGIN to interpret those results you have to look at the sample population–people who were having such serious issues with their dogs that they had escalated way beyond their trainer, probably beyond multiple trainers, beyond their regular vet, all the way to a teaching university’s behavior center. We have a behavior center here, too, at Tufts, and the dogs that end up there are not just digging in the trash. These are the ones that are going to be euthanized if the behavior center doesn’t fix them. So there’s a huge bias in the sample right away. Second, the questions asked whether these techniques had been tried and whether any of them had prompted the dog to respond “aggressively” (there’s that word I hate again). The only thing I find shocking in that study is the fact that only 25% of the dogs that had had aversives applied tried to bite back–these are the very hardest cases and still over 75% of them had never reacted badly to being confronted.  

What the UPenn study says to me is exactly how difficult it is to apply some of these techniques when you are not a very, very savvy trainer. It’s also a picture of owners who have major communication problems with their dogs, who have very little idea how to effectively ask the dog to do anything (or they would not be having such giant issues with their dogs), desperately trying everything they can think of and (almost certainly) doing the aversive exercises just as incorrectly as they had been doing other stuff. The study described a PRACTITIONER problem. It did not establish whether or not the theory or practice is invalid. 

It’s also tempting to latch on to a particular philosophy or method because you are fooled by the OTHER practitioner problem–one who is really amazingly good at it. If you go to a Pryor clicker-train seminar or look at Parson’s Click to Calm, you can come away from that feeling like this is the ONLY way ANY HUMAN should EVER  train any dog for the REST of EXISTENCE. Or you can watch Cesar Millan and conclude that physical touch and submission are the key to all that is holy. But you need to step back from that and realize a couple of things.

First, the truly brilliant trainers are not just using one method. They THINK they are; they’ll write passionately about how they are. But if you watch a fabulous clicker trainer, he or she is also adept at using body language, energy, timing, and physical cues. They are actually telling the dog to do something with their entire body, and with the energy “aura” that surrounds exciting, naturally dominant people. I don’t mean this in any New Age-y way. Look at what happens when a dominant NFL player stands next to an interviewer. The person holding the microphone naturally leans backward, while the player stands completely relaxed and upright. It’s not the height difference–it’s the energy. If the same NFL player was in a bridge engineering conference, unless he himself was an engineer, he’d probably be leaning back slightly while the 90-pound guy in glasses and a pocket protector stood relaxed and confident. Someone in complete command of a situation, with confidence and expectation of success, can literally push you–or any dog–around just by moving their body. For a dog, that is as much a physical signal as reaching out and yanking a collar is.

Similarly, an incredibly dog-savvy physical trainer, like Cesar is, is NOT just using physical cues. He is (probably just as unconsciously as the clicker trainers are using physical cues) extremely good at timing potent rewards. Dogs ADORE Cesar, and usually want to be in his lap at every second. So when he relaxes, which is what he does when they behave well, they feel all warm and googly inside because they can feel that from him. He controls his body very well, and is always aware of where every part of him is; he is always centered and calm. So both negative and positive attention from him are instantly felt and instantly interpreted by the dog, and positive attention is like the stinkiest cheese-and-salmon pate he could hand them. 

Similarly, training methods often work really well even when they have completely different motivations (as described by the humans) behind them. Dogs who display anti-dog behaviors while on leash but are perfectly friendly when off-leash have usually been (inadvertently) trained to lunge and roar by a human who tightens up the leash every time they see another dog coming. The normal clicker training solution to this problem is to focus the dog on you while quickly dispensing treats, so the dog does not go after another dog. The classic physical-correction solution is a quick leash correction every time the dog looks at the other dog. Proponents of both methods will tell you that they are TOTALLY different, couldn’t be more different, that the other method is crazy, etc. But the fact is that both methods get the leash tension off the dog’s neck and so the dog’s drive is radically reduced. The dog goes from being told to attack other dogs to being told that it’s less attractive to attack other dogs than it is to stay focused on the handler. Both methods are reducing drive by ensuring a loose leash; both are demotivating the forward movement.  The window dressing is honestly a lot less important than just getting the leash loose.

The second truth you have to realize is that you are probably not a brilliant trainer. Most of us aren’t. So the key is figuring out which method, or combination of methods, allow you to come the closest to being a good trainer, and are the least dangerous in terms of wrecking your dog. For different people that will be VERY different things. You may be a person who is brilliant at popping those treats in but always fail at timing corrections; you may be a person who is terrible at timing treats but knows how to deliver a sane and non-painful physical signal.

I’m always willing to admit that I am a CRAPPY behavior or classic obedience trainer. I don’t hear the angels sing when I get a perfect heel. A crooked front doesn’t look all that different from a straight one, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have the motivation or the skills to achieve the kind of perfection that others find easy and natural. But I think I’m pretty decent at making dogs happy, fixing neurotic or badly behaved dogs, and keeping a calm and functional pack. So I tend to glom on to methods that are based on using pack dynamics to make dogs feel normal, on methods that are big on consistency, on methods that lower the energy in the room rather than heighten it. An owner who wants to create the world’s fastest flyball dog (which is no less legitimate than my goal of creating a constant environment of calm) might use completely different tools. 

If you look at the whole canon of dog training, the books and lectures and gurus tend to basically fall into one of three groups, with a lot of overlap. I want to explore the practice and the good/bad practitioners of each.


This is the granddaddy of training and is still practiced by a huge number of trainers. Basically, the dog is corrected for doing something wrong and is praised for doing something right. Sometimes the praise takes the form of cheese or another food reward. Sometimes it takes the form of nothing at all–in other words, the absence of correction is the reward.

Best-case practitioner: Creates a very secure, confident dog with great consistency of behavior because the dog has clear signals about exactly how it is expected to behave at all times. Excellent physical trainers never hurt dogs; they give aversive cues that are signals but not painful. 

Worst-case practitioner: Abuses dogs, causing pain or physical damage in the name of punishing an unwanted behavior.

Critics of this theory say that it’s useless to punish behavior, that the dog becomes joyless and afraid, that the methods don’t work. When presented with a joyful, eager dog who is freaking out with happiness because he gets to go retrieve, and then is told that the trainer uses an ear pinch to proof retrieves, these critics say that the retrieve would be even better (somehow) if no aversives had ever been used. Proponets of the methods argue that dogs who are never given any signal that means “no” often become frustrated and frantic because they don’t know when or where to stop. They point out that self-rewarding behaviors (like digging, barking, chewing, running away) are often so pleasurable to the dog that no amount of reward will overcome their lure. 


This is “mother knows best” or “be the pack leader” training. Various pack-language-based signals are given to the dog to indicate that it is lower in status than the handler and therefore should not behave in certain ways. This is usually focused on preventing poor behavior like jumping, mounting, rushing the door, using punishment bites on humans, etc.

Best-case practitioner: Because you’re talking to the dog in a language that is very natural to the dog, this can get amazing results almost immediately. The dog becomes much more secure and behaviors cease on their own once the dog doesn’t feel that it needs to control the actions of the household. This is the method that can look like miracle-working, and with the best practitioners it really does work miracles.

Worst-case practitioner: Gets his face ripped off because he confronts a dog without having control of the situation. This is BY FAR the most difficult method to do correctly. If you don’t “speak dog” you can do FAR more harm than good with these techniques. Difficult to teach–people who do this well are very instinctive in their timing and movements.

Critics of this method tend to say that there’s no such thing as the “alpha dog” and that dominance is a fluid thing in a dog pack. They say that pack ranking cannot be scientifically proven. They’re right… and wrong. Pack dynamics do shift, and the dog who is best suited to a particular task often takes the lead on that task. For example, in our pack Bronte was “alarm giver” and scout, and she was definitely in charge of those pack functions, even though she was nowhere even close to in charge of the whole pack. And it’s correct that dominance is difficult to pin down scientifically; designing an experiment to prove it would be extremely difficult. However, anyone who has watched dogs for any length of time knows that dominance is real, and that status-seeking is something that is extremely important to dogs in a pack. We know that dogs physically punish other dogs for bad behavior, and that even when puppies are weeks old they are sorting out who is in charge in the litter. I always wonder if behaviorists who insist that there’s no validity to dominance theory have ever been around a pack of dogs for any length of time.

So the question is not whether these techniques work… the question is whether your’re enough of a dog to implement them in a way the dog understands.

REWARD-BASED (operant conditioning, luring, postive reinforcement, etc.)

This theory says that dogs, like the rest of us, like to work for a paycheck. If they are given a small reward for a behavior, they will repeat that behavior. If they are given no reward for a behavior, the behavior will gradually extinguish. 

Best-case practitioner: Someone who has taught the dog not that sit = treat, but that it is a good thing to experiment with and offer many behaviors because one will be rewarded. This method can produce amazing creativity and self-motivation on the part of the dog. It tends to rev up energy levels, which is why it has come to the fore in an incredible way in agility training. If you present one of these dogs with a jump, he will be eager to go investigate it and will immediately offer the handler multiple behaviors (touching it, standing on it, moving it, straddling it, jumping over it) that the handler can selectively reward and thereby shape the behavior the dog always offers when presented with that object or a similar one. It’s a method that truly encourages dogs to think. 

Worst-case practitioner: I suppose the absolute worst case is someone I heard about who just pointed the clicker at the dog and clicked when the dog was doing something wrong (!) but I think the more common misapplication of this technique is to create a dog who stands there looking at the owner waiting for cheese. A second, unfortunately common, set of mistakes creates a dog who is horribly behaved unless and until he is distracted by a human pez dispenser of treats. As soon as the cheese is gone the dog is back to its out of control ways.

Critics of this method usually call it “bribing” the dog, or say that dogs should behave just for love, or that food creates too much excitement, or that there’s no way a treat-trained dog will be consistent. A healthy subset call it fruity or “new,” with heavy sarcasm, the implication being that “real” trainers, those in the trenches, don’t use these methods. However, there’s really no other method that is as effective in encouraging the dog to offer behaviors. If you want to train your dog to jump up on the arm of a chair and then stand on his hind legs, how are you going to do that with physical correction? How are you going to use “mother knows best” to train a dog to fetch a hot dog but not eat it? It’s telling that some of the most flashy and complex behaviors seen in dogdom are the direct result of positive conditioning training.

It should be obvious that I don’t think that any one training method is the “right” one. In fact, I encourage puppy buyers to read the whole spectrum, from Monks of New Skete and Barbara Woodehouse all the way to Donaldson and Pryor. What I want them to do is find the passages in each book where they say “Hey, I’ve seen that happen–that’s exactly right!” and highlight them. If they’ve seen it happen, it’s likely that they can replicate it successfully. So maybe they’ll choose to pop treats for walking on a loose lead but physically correct for jumping on counters; maybe the exact opposite. What matters is whether they can make it happen, consistently and predictably, and whether they are aware of what they are doing and understand what their dog is thinking and feeling.

Where this intersects with human learning is simple–and I do mean simple. Humans learn best when they are presented with information in SMALL, REHEARSABLE bits in their OWN LANGUAGE. What this means is if I say to you (and I’m totally making this up), “The intersection of the etymology and Miller’s heuristic here is characteristic of late 20th-century Akkadian scholars.” that means NOTHING to you. But If I say “Oh, yeah, see how Miller wants you to look everything up in a dictionary, even if you already know it? That’s the way virtually all the early-Babylon experts who are alive today want you to work, because they were all trained by the same guy at Harvard who was an absolute nut about word origins and was convinced that nobody was smart enough to just remember them.”

One uses virtually no words you instinctively know; one gives the exact same information but uses words you DO know. One gives you four facts in one sentence (a large bit) and one gives you the facts spread out in digestible units (lots of small bits). A good teacher will now stop and make sure that there are no questions, and will usually call on someone to repeat back to her what was just said, ensuring that the student really did understand it (the unit of information was rehearsable). 

Dog brains are no different. They learn the same way. You can’t teach “Stay off my legs unless I invite you or I am wearing jeans” in one session. You break it down into small bits (“paws down” “paws up”). You rehearse each discrete bit as close to exactly the same way as you did before, until you are absolutely sure the dog understands it no matter what room you’re in or how excited they are. You use the dog’s own language (don’t teach “paws down” before you teach the dog that moving his or her body in a deliberate way is something they need to learn how to do). This last part is more important than you know–many dogs really do think that their body ends at their neck and you have a long period of just teaching them to pay attention to where their feet are and where their butt is before you can ask for ANY behavior. THEN you can start associating jeans with paws up, or white pants with paws down. And so on. 

Whatever method or training philosophy allows you to predictably and coherently and consistently teach the dog in small repeatable bits in its own language, that’s the one you need to use. Don’t listen to the haters; hating never did anyone any good. Listen to your dog and do what works.

Gather round, and speak to me of dewclaws

With Bronte due sometime soon and since I have been thinking a great deal about Cardigan feet and bones, I suppose it’s only natural that I’ve spent a bit of time considering the dewclaw, and specifically whether it should stay or it should go. (Just to be clear, this is my own internal conversation — Bronte’s litter is Kate’s, not mine, and I trust her completely to make any decisions with those puppies. It’s for me as I think about eventual breeding that puts puppies in my own living room.)

I’ve never removed any from my Dane puppies. Lucy (my first bitch) came to me with no dews but everyone else has had them. I have personally witnessed, hundreds of times and on a daily basis, dogs using them with intent and great finesse. They use them to grasp and manipulate things (when holding bones between the front paws, for example) and they groom eyes and ears with them. I always felt a little bad for Lucy because she had to rub her face on the side of her leg but the others would carefully and very adeptly find exactly the itch or the bit of gook in their eyes and get it with the dewclaw.

Then there’s the fact dogs use their dewclaws when running, especially when cornering. I’ve seen this one too–when they corner you’ll see them extend and dig in the claw. It’s a joint they DO control and it has a surprising amount of movement and strength, considering that we usually just see it sitting there.

I’ve also seen my share of toe injuries but never a dewclaw injury to the front ones. The front dews can generally be ground back even further than the toes, so none of my dogs with dewclaws has ever had more than a short thick straight nail; there is nothing to catch or tear. The back ones strike me as more dangerous, though Bastoche, That Cursed Dog has both of his back dews and I was shocked at how complete the anatomy is. There’s no connecting bone (I understand that in some of the working dogs there is a bone) but there’s a little arterial pulse that you can feel quite clearly and the claw is well developed.

And, anyway, I am always leery of the argument that anything should be removed because of possible injury – so to prevent a remotely possible wound we should create a very certain one? It strikes me as very illogical. It’s also the same reasoning that has people cropping and docking, practices that I personally despise and refuse to take part in.

In fact, that reminds me of a herding/working board I was once reading where an OES owner was talking about how stupid people who didn’t dock tails were, and told a story of an OES who got his tail into the fire on the hearth and nearly set the house on fire. The responders on the thread chimed in; by the end of the thread you’d think OES tails were the force behind Communism in Eastern Europe.  The VERY NEXT THREAD was about bearded collies and what great dogs they were. On the same board, the next day someone was talking about how essential it was to crop Dane ears; on the same page was a thread about livestock guard dogs standing up to wolves and bears on a regular basis. Does no one get the irony? Beardies do the same things, have the same very long hair, and are even closer to the ground than OES are–but every single one gets to keep his tail. Danes spend most of their lives on couches and soft beds, while Anatolian/Akbash, Maremma, Pyr, and the other Big White Dogs spend their entire lives outside in incredibly rough terrain, actively driving off and even fighting with other climax predators, and sometimes don’t have human contact for days or weeks at a time. They have the same ear shape. So why is it so imperative that the Dane lose hers?

If tails are a clear and present danger, they are a danger to ALL dogs. If ears are a clear and present danger, they are a danger to ALL dogs. If cropping is beneficial, it should be part of the expectations for every dog with dropped ears. If docking is protective, every dog should be docked.  Apropos of dewclaws, the LGDs and Briards and so on not only keep their front dews but both back ones. If dewclaws are clearly not a major issue for livestock dogs, who are the hardest working and least supervised dogs in the world, why are they somehow ticking timebombs on the wrists of Cardigans? None of it has ever made any sense to me when I examine the arguments logically.

You’re probably getting by now the fact that I don’t like the idea of removing them. I agree that it makes the leg look prettier but I am not into procedures for the sake of looks unless there’s absolutely no detriment to the animal. When I started with Clue I figured I was just going to have to deal with removing them in Cardi puppies, figured it was part of being a good Cardi breeder, but I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the thought.

So… I know that removal of dewclaws is in the Cardi standard. I know that in the archives of showcardi-L there are at least some people who have finished Cardis with dewclaws. Does anyone have any stories or advice that can push me either way? I’d especially like to hear if anyone has seen a genuine prejudice against them in the ring.

Thursday comments roundup!

OK, well, in one minute it will be Friday, but I’m going to be optimistic and title the post before midnight.

First, a tiny rant: We need to buy a second crate now that Ginny is back. She’s the size of a swizzle stick, but I still want to get an Intermediate crate (Vari-Kennel 300) because then I can switch the dogs around if I need to. Intermediates are also a little more practical as working surfaces–with a blanket over the crate they’re impromptu drink carts, changing areas, grooming tables, you name it.  We were running late tonight and couldn’t get to our normal pet supply place, so I ran into PetCo.

Do you know how much they wanted? ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN DOLLARS. This is a SIXTY-DOLLAR crate, peoples! Seventy if you absolutely must, but not a penny more. They are charging almost 100% over the RETAIL price! Insane. Moral: Do not go to PetCo for anything that is available elsewhere, because it will be substantially cheaper almost anywhere else. My personal recommendations are JBPet, PetEdge,, and any pet discounter. Just as long as they don’t sell puppies and/or kittens.

A major rave: The spring puppies are starting to come! It’s SO exciting to see the big bellies become beautiful litters and then grow up. And since Bronte’s is the beautifullest and, wow, the biggest, I can hardly breathe with the anticipation. Whee!

OK, on to comments.

A whole raft of them from Micaela:

I thought of another question for you: now that you don’t have the yard playspace for the dogs to run around in, and your living quarters are smaller, I imagine you have to make more of an effort to keep them from getting bored. Do you?

Oh, goodness, yes. This is made even harder by the fact that these are two dogs that do not easily play with each other. Ginny never plays with anybody she can’t be sure she’s in charge of. Clue invites her to play a hundred times a day, but Ginny usually glares at her and flounces off.

Just over the last couple of days we’ve seen them play twice, both for only a minute or two until Ginny realizes what she’s doing. I have real hope that this will continue and their ability to have fun together will grow, but I really have no idea.

Right now we’re focusing on TV for dogs–in other words, digging and chewing. Lots of toys, lots of games of throw and catch, lots and lots of edible chewies. Beds and blankets that encourage digging are also a hit. We’re RIGHT on the edge of letting Clue run again, and at that point every fair day we’ll be taking journeys with the two of them, but for now we’re letting the “TV” do a lot of babysitting.

Also, any tips for dealing with separation anxiety? Our dog’s much-improved, which I’m sure has to do with her confidence & sense of trust in her humans being restored –we’re sure someone hurt her before she got to the rescue group we adopted her from. But she’s still got separation issues, for example she howls piteously if my husband goes outside to wash the car even when the rest of us are home with her. I’m *very* happy tho that she’s not on any of the anti-anxiety meds that other Blueticks get put on. I don’t want my dog on Prozac! Would appreciate any input you may have to offer.

You know how there are breeds of sheep that “flock” and breeds that don’t? Some breeds enjoy company but when stressed it’s every ewe for herself. Other breeds respond to stress by looking for a sister on each side and then pressing close.

If an analogous statement could be made about dogs, hounds are definitely a “flocking” breed. It is all very natural; every breed with a function and a job has had certain wolf instincts magnified. In the same way that herding breeds have the “bring the prey to the pack” instinct or terriers have the “respond quickly to prey” instinct magnified, hounds have the “hunt in a pack over long distances and despite great hardship” instinct magnified. They have their social skills and social needs VERY emphasized, because they were designed to live and work without conflict in large and disorganized groups.

So while a herding dog will natter and complain if a family member leaves the room because they want everybody in the little boxes the dog put them in, a hound genuinely feels bereft, even endangered.

This isn’t necessarily any sign of abuse or even neglect–it’s the reaction of a dog who needs lots and lots of social contact to feel normal.

Perhaps the ideal “cure” for this is a pack–is there a good dog daycare in your area that takes big dogs and has a VERY large safe fenced area? I personally don’t recommend (at least for big dogs) the one-room indoor care–you want something where she can trail and run and get the feedback from other dogs that she needs.

I think I’d also work on meeting her need to hunt, trail, and track. These dogs need to go very long distances in a basically straight line; they are incredibly attuned to the migration/trail. If you can work her up to biking for five or six miles (you bike, she’s on a Springer beside you), rollerblade, skijoring or skatejoring, etc., she will be so tired and happy that her need for constant social input will be substantially blunted.

We’ve been feeding our Bluetick Coonhound the basic Canidae (it’s easy to find at our local feed stores which is a minor miracle given where we live), and supplementing whenever we can with fresh pork chops, beef cuts, ham or pork shoulder bones… it depends on what the family’s eating, we’re not shopping fresh just for her yet. One thing she’s made very clear is that she will not eat uncooked poultry, so I wind up partially roasting any chicken or turkey I’m going to feed her, which makes me nervous about some of the bones not being safe, etc. Another thing that’s driving me crazy is that she seems to be having the dry skin issues that we’re all struggling with because we live in the SW desert… I’ve thought about adding some olive or flaxseed oil to her kibble, but I’d like to read more on the subject. Like, does she need more FAT in her diet, or does she just need more MOISTURE in her food?

I am a great fan of table scraps, so you’ll get no flak from me on that front. The only thing I’d encourage you to do is to try to separate the raw and the kibble as much as possible. Instead of feeding a kibble meal with a couple of pieces of raw on top, store the raw in the fridge for a couple of days until you have enough for a full day, then feed her an entire day (which can mean one meal–she doesn’t need to be fed twice) and don’t feed her kibble that day.

I think it’s very common for them to be confused by raw chicken. I’ve had several like that. I think that searing the piece of meat in some hot butter and garlic is safer than baking it, because you’re just cooking the skin and the top couple of millimeters of muscle instead of cooking the bone. As she gets more used to it (especially if she can’t just go to the food bowl and eat kibble instead) you can sear less and less until she’s taking the raw piece from your hand.

Moisture in food is the same as just drinking water, so as long as she’s a good drinker she’ll be fine on that front. I think she probably does need more oil in her diet, and you can also give her hot oil baths (I used to do it all the time for the Danes).

When I supplement with oil, I make up a gross mixture of a poud of Mirra-Coat (a horse fatty acid and biotin supplement), a big jar of peanut butter, 16 oz salmon oil, about a pound of ground flax, a jar of coconut oil, a ton of olive oil, some honey, and a pound of Nature’s Logic supplement. Adjust as necessary to get it to the texture of a stiff cookie dough. Make it into teaspoon-size balls and keep it in the fridge. If you feed one or two a day you’ll notice a huge difference within a week or two. They get super shiny right along the spine and then it spreads down the sides. I’ve even had them get a little greasy along the backbone, but that’s fine with me because I’m bathing so often and after the bath the hair is SO healthy.

Would it be possible for you to address these questions in a post sometime soon? I asked on a local parenting forum if anyone raw-feeds their dogs and quite a few people replied that they’d tried and their dogs hadn’t liked it. I wonder if they just tried the wrong things, or if food pickyness is as common with dogs as it is with children…

I always take any statements about raw with a certain amount of suspicion. It’s not that I don’t believe people, just that (unfortunately) so many people do it totally wrong and then say that it failed or the dog didn’t thrive or whatever. Feeding raw correctly is not difficult, but it’s not just “feeding raw.” If they’re starting wrong, feeding the wrong things, preparing their dogs wrong, or won’t tolerate the normal transition symptoms (like loose stool), they’ll often say that the diet was at fault.

I’ve started or switched to raw probably 40-50 dogs now, with the puppies I’ve raised and the rescues and the visitors (every dog with me longer than 24 hours gets switched to raw), and I’ve had plenty of them initially refuse it or not know what to do. I’ve never had one that I’d consider a real failure. It sometimes takes a few weeks of standing on my head for the dog, but pretty soon they’re jumping in the air to catch chicken backs just like everybody else.

From Tammy (hi!):

Okay… Loki’s 27 lbs, intact. How much of Orijen do you think I should be feeding a day? He’s fairly active… and what puppy food would you suggest for our new baby Bella?

I’d start with 3/4 cup a day and be prepared to cut back or increase. I am in the habit of running my hands over every dog in the house every day, and I’ll often adjust food amounts daily. Somebody will get a tiny bit more, somebody else has to fast. You can put weight on the typical dog VERY quickly, but it’s a lot harder to take it off. So too little is better than too much, at least initially.

Since Bella is going to be over 20 lb as an adult, I wouldn’t feed her puppy food at all. I would only use a puppy formula for breeds that are prone to hypoglycemia. Anybody else is actually better off with an adult food to make sure they’re growing very slowly. Don’t use a lamb and rice or no-allergy or a reduced-fat formula; you want chicken or beef/other red meat.

In adult conventional kibbles, I like (maybe “tolerate” is a better word) Solid Gold (Wolf King or MMillennia), Canidae, the Natural Balance normal/adult food, Castor and Pollux (the Cesar Millan food is a repackaged version of C&P’s adult food, so that’s good too), Innova (I never had success with this in the Danes because it was much too rich for them, but plenty of people LOVE it).

I’d also encourage you to look at the “foolproof” raw diets for a puppy, if you don’t want to plunge into actual raw feeding. Wendy Volhard’s NDF 2 formula and Sojos Grain-Free are dry vegetable mixes (and Volhard’s has some grains) that you soak and combine with raw meat.

From B:

I followed you here from a galaxy far away…:P I have a motive in hanging around learning from you–looking fwd (in a couple of years) to being the best (pet) dog owner I can– first need to figure out what breed is best for my family and then where to get said dog from…I have two Qs for you at the moment, do you have a how to select a breed thing written up around here somewhere? I thought I saw one from you a while back but can’t turn it up now…Hmm…The other Q is what blogs/essp forums you know of about breeds types, ethical breeding, dog bahviour, general living with dog type stuff that you would recommend as being fairly or totally on the mark. Any help would be appreciated, I am trying to do this right but I admit I am a bit lost at it…Thank you in advance…

Is that… the EVIL galaxy? I still read over there, because it’s like watching a car wreck, but I am so glad to not be part of the crazy anymore.

YES, I do have a breed selection article. It’s long, so you need to download it in .doc form. It used to be on my website (which, yes, I know, is out of date, but all the website files are on burnt computers and I can’t face the task of re-creating them right now). It got left behind when I changed the website around, so this is a good reminder to get it updated and back to the land of the living. I’ll let you know when I’ve got it uploaded–should be in the next few days.

I honestly don’t know of good general dog forums. If any reader here does, please post one. Unfortunately, what generally happens to those forums is the same newbie questions get asked over and over again and so the more experienced posters leave. The only ones left are the ones who can stand the same sob story a hundred times, which is to their credit, but they get REALLY jaundiced about everything. If you come there and say “I have a Peke-a-Poo puppy who has diarrhea and…” they’ll immediately jump all over you for buying a mixed-breed dog (or buying a poorly bred purebred, or whatever) and you’ll be unlikely to get your question answered. It’s absolutely true that you SHOULD NOT have bought that dog, but if it’s got diarrhea you might like knowing how to solve that.

I’ve always found the single-breed listservs or yahoo groups to be the best source for information about that particular breed. Look for the list that has several hundred or a thousand members and you’ve probably found the primary one. My only caution is that you need to SHUT UP AND READ, including ALL of the archives, for at least a month before you ask any questions. Most of the time you’ll realize that yours was answered ten times in the last year. If you wait until you don’t look quite so green and new, you’ll be able to have a much nicer time in the conversation.

From Bonnie: What do you think of Victoria Stilwell’s It’s Me Or The Dog?

Well. That IS a question. Let me begin by saying that I am not 100% in love with any of the television trainers–I think Cesar is a freaking genius but I think he doesn’t realize how poorly most people are implementing what he does so well. His methods require exactly what he has–years of experience in watching dogs, body language, energy, communication, and pack behavior. He responds to the dog’s own language and signals much more than he responds to behavior. I think even he doesn’t realize exactly what he’s doing. If you are a typical dog owner with 99% of what the dog is doing a complete mystery to you, you can misapply his techniques and really hurt your dog.

Victoria does better at communicating techniques that are broader, shallower, more foolproof. Unfortunately, she often SUCKS at body language and she puts dogs into situations that are genuinely dangerous and then pez-dispenses cookies to distract them; the owners perceive this as success but the dog has not changed one bit. I once watched an episode where she had two dogs who were determined to kill each other in a room together, and was rewarding them “so they would associate the presence of the other dog with a reward.” I started screeching at the TV when I could clearly see that the dogs greatly and steadily desired the death of each other, and were quite cheerful about that (there is, as Terhune said, a gay cavalier inside each dog who fights), and from their point of view were getting cookies shoved down their throats in glorious recognition of their hatred. They were staring at each other with tails stiff and eyes fixed, eating cookies as fast as they could.

She is also SO COMPLETELY TOTALLY WRONG about prong collars and choke collars. Head halters are MUCH more likely to cause serious damage than the prong (which is actually the safest collar for the average owner to use) and head halters and ez-pull harnesses and so on don’t train. They just make certain movements physically impossible. The dog doesn’t say “Oh, my owner is telling me not to do that, and therefore I will not do it.” The dog instead is physically impeded. Saying those tools train is like saying that a wall trains dogs not to run away. As soon as the tool–as soon as the wall–is gone, the behavior is exactly the same. You can choose to use those tools, just like you choose to use a wall, but they should be a very temporary stop-gap with the goal of using real training signals as soon as possible.

I also think that neither of them does a good job of verbally describing exactly why they are doing what they’re doing, with fearful dogs in particular. Cesar does talk about stopping dogs from moving forward (decreasing drive) but doesn’t articulate exactly why his methods are working on fearful dogs. I know the shows are edited, so maybe they’re talking with the owners at length, but there’s a lot of “Do this” and very little “Do this because it works this way and has this result.” I think that many (most?) dog owners punish fear. I know I did. I knew you were supposed to stop the dog from, for example, growling, but I didn’t know how to distinguish the growl that means “please don’t; I’m afraid,” from the one that says “don’t, or I’ll have to punish you.” I didn’t know that you have to begin your shaping of the eventual result LONG before it gets to the point of the growl; by the time the growl comes you’ve already failed to a certain extent. If you watch Cesar, he never, ever uses an aversive or a correction on a fearful dog, but I’ve never heard him say “Never correct a fearful dog” in so many words. I think he should be saying it EVERY TIME.

If you want my advice on training, I’d say put away all the actual training books for a few months. Read Rugaas and Aloff’s books on body language and read everything you can get on dog behavior and pack techniques. Dunbar, Donaldson, Pryor are great at teaching about motivation. But if you only read them you will (I am convinced) only get part of the story. You should also read the Monks of New Skete and all the classic ones from trainers long since gone to their reward. Read Bones Would Rain From the Sky. Read Katz. Read books on border collies (not because you’d be teaching herding, but because the best herding training is all about shaping natural and joyful behaviors), and I would very highly recommend reading several books on Schutzhund. Even if you own a beagle or a maltese. Schutzhund researchers understand drive, and how handlers increase, decrease, mishandle, and screw up drive better than anyone else.

You need to read everyone because nobody has the whole story. The pure researchers who focus solely on motivation miss the boat because they are so careful to never attribute any behavior to anything but the self-interest of the animal. For a bonded dog-human pair, that’s like analyzing a marriage and ignoring anything that isn’t the result of self-interest. Dogs DO love, and they DO feel jealousy, and they DO object to inequity, and so on. The behaviorists who determine that no aversive signals can ever be given forget that dogs themselves communicate in aversives. The behaviorists who object to food rewards forget that candy tastes good, and so does liver. And if you want candy you do stuff, and dogs do the same thing.

If you read EVERYBODY, and watch your dog(s) for a long time, you’ll start to build an idea of what’s true. Then you’re ready to go back to actual trainers and throw out what you know is false and keep what you know is true. But above all else, the DOG MUST TEACH YOU. If you are doing anything without the dog “agreeing” with you–if the dog is showing confusion, anger, fear, anxiety, etc.–I don’t care how gold-certified the technique you’re using is; stop it. That’s why I think you must start with the body language books (and videos/dvds if you can get them); you have to know what your dog is communicating before you can continue with the training.

And (last one for tonight), from Pai:

A question though — when you said ‘close physical contact does not equal love’ I wonder about my dog, a Chinese Crested, who as a breed are called ‘velcro dogs’ because they always want to be near their owners or in physical contact with them. Is that then, not affection? Does that just mean the breed is actually just naturally very ‘possessive’?

I think many breeds feel this way. Sometimes it’s possession, sometimes it really is love. Depends on the dog. The huge difference between this and the “training” episode I told about is that the dog is choosing to be close to the owner. There’s no compulsion involved.

Humans are EXTREMELY high-touch, all the time. If you have an intimate and loving relationship with someone, touch and invasion of space are perceived to be a constant positive. Think about all the movie scenes where the hero or the heroine gather the other person close, despite the other person initially fighting. The eventual surrender to the embrace is a sign of acceptance of that person’s love; it’s a signal of emotional wellness and the success of the relationship.

That’s what the trainer in the episode I told you about was trying to push on a dog, with the added “value” that the dog would have to submit to the contact and therefore become a “better” dog.

But that’s not the way a dog thinks or wants or desires; forced contact is the way dogs punish each other and threaten each other. So this puppy perceived himself as being horribly threatened and repeatedly punished, and he was not allowed to apologize by getting away from the punisher.

A dog climbing in your lap or draping himself over your shoulder is very different–that’s contact that the dog chooses and enjoys.

The dog word I HATE: Aggression

Yeah, I get a little… um, aggressive about “aggression.” I think this word has done more to hurt our understanding of dog behavior than just about any other.

The word is perfectly normal, and accurate. It describes any action that a dog does that intentionally hurts.

The huge problem is that this word, which should be a descriptor without any values or bias attached, hasn’t stayed a scientific term.

Katz’s The New Work of Dogs is an absolute MUST READ to understand this background, but to summarize, the average dog owner no longer has any experience in watching dogs behaving normally, furthermore doesn’t WANT the dog to behave normally, and so everyone is hiring people to help them understand dog behavior, and those people are reading behavioral studies and scientific descriptions of how dogs interact.

Researching is GOOD. Reading is GOOD. The whole “machine” that unfortunately begins going at this point is sad because so few people “get” dogs anymore, and even sadder because the typical owner, family, municipality, and even many trainers don’t have any desire to have the dog behave in a normal doggy way. They try to use the research to get dogs to behave like Disney characters or like children or like punching bags, instead of trying to use what we know about dogs to make the dogs happy and meet their needs.

The behaviorists and scientists have introduced certain words that they are used to using in their research, and that they find helpful in labeling behaviors. One of those is “aggression.” It’s a useful word. Unfortunately, this word has become VERY misused and it’s gotten to the point that I now cringe every time I hear it.

Because this word has done two terrible things: It has demonized or criminalized NORMAL dog behavior, and it has become a way to switch the blame for undesired behaviors from the human or the circumstance to the dog.

Dog  behavior follows along lines that are MUCH more rational and measured than human behavior. The “worst” dog shows more restraint in his or actions than most humans could ever dream of. As I addressed in an earlier post, when a dog is in a situation that he finds unpleasant, or feels pressure or stress (and here I mean those words in the behaviorist way, as a change in the environment that requires a response–pressure or stress can be positive, even welcomed, like the introduction of a bitch in heat or the return of a beloved human; it’s not a negative word), or feels that the society he lives in has become disorganized, he has a huge repertoire of behaviors that he uses to diffuse or change or influence the situation. Typically his behavior of last resort is using his mouth.

Again, as I said earlier, the mouth is the dog’s megaphone. When a dog has run through every other way she knows of righting what she feels to be wrong, and nobody is listening to her, she will use her mouth.

This is very analogous to walking into a room and seeing your teenage son or daughter in a chair watching TV when you are carrying a heavy load of their laundry. You immediately recognize that Something Is Not Right (hey, if you’re home, and idle, why didn’t you get your laundry yourself?). You will typically run through the following series of behaviors, escalating from one step to the next when the earlier step gets no response:

1) Pause (allowing a cessation of movement to get the attention of your kid–humans always look at change, so either moving when you were still or stopping when you were moving is a potent behavioral cue)

2) Perhaps deliberately make a “random” noise, like sighing or “accidentally” knocking the laundry basket against a chair

3) Speaking, usually their name

4) Speaking louder, emphasizing their name

5) Approaching closely, speaking even more loudly

6) Putting your hand on their shoulder or head

7) Slightly shaking their body with your hand

All of these are normal behaviors; none of them indicate that you have criminal intent or in fact anything but your child’s best interests in mind. However, somewhere between “4” and “6” you moved into aggressive behavior. You spoke loudly enough to create an unpleasant sensation in your child’s experience, with the goal of making him or her want to get the unpleasant sensation to stop (by responding to you or by showing that they are paying attention).

Any time you behave in a way that is intended to create an unpleasant sensation in another creature, it’s behavioral “aggression.”

Imagine you’re the mom or dad who has just done this–are you an “aggressive” person? Does your behavior need to be modified? Is what you did an indication that you are likely to go shoot someone?

No, of course not.

But behavior EXACTLY that rational, exactly that measured, exactly that common-sense, exactly that restrained, causes dogs to be put to death every single day in this country, and causes countless more to be labeled bad, dangerous, or undesirable.

Now imagine that you are the parent of this same teenage son or daughter and this kind of situation repeats itself ten or twelve times a day (my oldest daughter just turned twelve; ask me how experienced I am at coming into a room and finding her physically present and mentally absent–and I know that in three or four years it’s going to be ten times worse). Before long, you will skip everything up to step 5. You know that steps one through four haven’t gotten her attention the last fifty times you tried them, so you now skip them altogether. Every time you come into a room and need to get her attention, you speak her name loudly or walk over and touch her.

Again, this is completely normal and expected. We’d even criticize a parent who didn’t collapse the steps. “That kid is totally blowing her off, and all she ever whispers is ‘Oh, honey, could you please…?’ He’s going to grow up into a holy terror if she doesn’t start to expect better behavior of him!”

Dogs are exactly the same. If the early steps don’t work, never work, they will begin by speaking very firmly. And for a dog this means using their mouth. They’ve been very effectively taught, usually by a human who doesn’t see or respond to any of the early steps that the dog had tried a hundred times before escalating to using their mouths, that talking softly doesn’t work with these dummies. You have to yell or nobody hears you. So they use a bite immediately.

See what I’m NOT saying about these dogs? I’m not saying they’re “aggressive.” I’m not hanging other adjectives off, like “dominance aggression” or “fear aggression” or “leash aggression.” That’s not because those phenomena don’t exist. It’s because they have been hideously misused to make the behavior the dog’s fault. The dog IS aggressive; that dog IS dominant; her dog IS fear-aggressive. These become labels that we apply to dogs as though the behaviors they display are uncalled for, irrational, evil, bad.

And once we label them, the dog just IS–“I can’t fix this; he is fear-aggressive.” Like “he’s brown.” Or “he’s schizophrenic.”

We tell ourselves–and trainers tell us, and vets tell us–hundreds of lies about aggression. We use language like “He just snapped” or “He could turn at any time” or “You did what you could; he was too aggressive for you.”

All of them demonize any behavior involving a dog’s mouth, and all of them blame the dog and not the human.

If I could, I would wipe out this word from every trainer’s mouth, every owner’s brain. No more! From now on, you have to describe the dog’s behavior using REAL emotions, REAL words.

Instead of “She’s fear-aggressive” I want to hear “She’s afraid.”

AHA! See what happened there? You stopped looking at that poor terrified dog and blaming her for her frantic and panicked behavior. She’s AFRAID, you moron! Stop scaring her!

Instead of “He’s leash-aggressive” I want to hear “He believes that when on leash he’s supposed to skip the greeting steps and go right to mouth.”

OK, that’s a genuine description of something the dog has been taught by humans. Now un-teach it. IMMEDIATELY read everything you can get your hands on about increasing drive in working dogs and then smack yourself on the forehead when you realize that you’ve been extremely effectively training him to use his mouth on other dogs.

Instead of “she’s food-aggressive,” say “She thinks she must guard her food or it will be taken away.”

Well, who taught her that? Who gave her that message? It didn’t fall from the sky, people! Somebody screwed up, and now they have to fix THEIR OWN behavior; she’s just doing she thinks she has no choice but to do.

Instead of “He’s dominance-aggressive”–which is the worst of all–you need to say one of a hundred things: “She believes that her status is at risk because of his behavior.” “He does not like it when other dogs behave chaotically” (see the huge reversal on that one? Suddenly he’s the one making the right choice and the other dogs are at fault–which is the case a HUGE percentage of the time). “She doesn’t know proper calming behaviors, so she’s unable to defuse status-related conflicts.” (And who didn’t socialize her enough, so she doesn’t know how to talk “dog” well enough? Yeah, you there. Not her.)

We need to reverse the two huge lies that labeling have told us.

1) WE MUST ACCEPT BLAME ON THIS. Ninety-nine-point-eight percent of bad dog behavior is HUMAN fault. If your dog is behaving in a way that is lowering his quality of life, you need to look in the mirror long and hard. VERY VERY few dogs are genuinely mentally ill. Almost all of them have been TAUGHT, yes, by YOU, to do what they are doing.

If you want proof of this, talk to any breeder who has been around long enough to get “bad” dogs returned to her. Ask her how the owners described the dog and what she actually got back. Every single breeder has these stories. On the phone, as described, the dog is out of control, aggressive; she’s usually done damage to several animals and often bitten the owner as well. They have been told to euthanize the dog, but as per your contract they are returning her.

You gird your loins and get ready for a dog who is completely nuts. You set up the crates, divide the fenced yard, work out a schedule for who can be in or out and when. You get the behaviorist on the phone, you set up the vet. You get mentally prepared for euthanasia; you don’t sleep the night before.

In comes the dog–or you go get her, or you meet half-way. However it happens, finally the dog bounds in to your house, and usually does something like try to jump up on your dining room table. You look her in the eye and say, very calmly, with a big growly edge in your voice, “GET. OFF. RIGHT. NOW.”

And — I have had this happen twice, and I pray with every litter that it won’t happen a third time, but it’s just incredibly striking — something behind the dog’s eyes shifts. Something in their brain goes from panicchaosdisorderfear (for the “soft” ones) or gottacontroleveryoneortheworldwillend (for the harder ones) to Oh thank God someone else is in charge; I can relax.

Sometimes, what the previous owner has taught the dog is so well learned that she must be placed very, very carefully–though I still have NEVER had a dog, either my returns or my rescues, behave “as advertised.” Many times, it seems that the knots unwind almost instantly. This dog who was a “nightmare” is a sweet, goofy, relaxed and mellow dog who is a joy in your home and becomes a joy in their next home.

(As an aside, the person who returned the dog, even if they cried when they handed the dog over and talked about the mistakes they had made, always changes the story within a week or two. It always becomes “I did everything right and I ended up with nightmare aggression.” “That dog had everything, and he turned on me.” “There was no reason for it; it’s bad breeding/bad breeder.” Breeders are often tempted to respond by e-mailing a picture of the dog with its tongue lolling out as it blissfully rolls around with her other dogs in the back yard, or running through a field with its next owner, but we all shut up and nod and accept the blame. Because the most important thing is to always get the dog back. We’re willing to accept any kind of criticism or hear any crap if it means that the dog ends up safe and happy.)

Why do dogs do this huge turnaround, why so suddenly? Why can they so often be placed again and thrive? BECAUSE THERE WAS NEVER ANYTHING WRONG WITH THEM.

Which brings me to the next truth we must accept:


ANY dog who is afraid enough, and her early signals have been ignored, will use her mouth.

ANY dog who has no security about food will use his mouth.

ANY dog who knows that the sacred duty of healthy dogs is to maintain a calm pack will use his mouth to control chaos.

ANY dog who is frustrated by unpredictable behavior will use his mouth to try to stop the behavior.

ANY dog who is wound tight by lack of exercise, lack of stimulation, lack of interaction will be more likely to skip the initial steps and go right to the mouth.

Saying that no dog should ever bite is like saying that no human should ever yell. If you have a calm, mature, well-trained group of humans who have great people skills and a steady supply of good food and an in-ground pool, they will probably go years without ever having to yell. If you have a chaotic, immature, uneducated group of humans who all speak a different language and who are rude, you put them in a 10×10 room and you throw two tuna sandwiches in there once a day, you’ll hear nothing BUT yelling. The difference, of course, is that if we look at a group of humans yelling we say “Something is wrong. We need to help them understand each other. We need to give them tools. We need to communicate to them that the others mean them no harm. They’re obviously stressed because they’re hungry and they can’t move around.” The humans themselves are assumed to be basically decent people with the cards stacked against them in an impossible situation.

But if we have a bunch of dogs who fight constantly, who try to bite other dogs constantly, who bite humans, our first response is to say “Those are bad dogs. They need to be put down.” The first assumption is that the dogs are at fault, not that they’re good dogs and would not be biting if they were being understood, if their needs were being met.

Behaviors are responses to needs, desires, fears, dread, hope, etc. A creature who behaves a certain way because he IS a certain thing is called a robot. Living creatures respond to their environments.

So stop using labels; stop filing behaviors as though they define the dog. First, learn what normal, unstressed dogs do and how normal, unstressed dogs behave. Learn enough about your breed to know what additional behaviors are completely normal for your breed. You’ll probably realize that about half the stuff you were freaking out about is completely normal. For example, if your dog is defending his food bowl from other dogs and he’s a Corgi, he’s probably stressed and you need to change or teach something. If your dog is defending his food bowl from other dogs and he’s a Malamute, welcome to normal life. Don’t feed him in a room with other dogs. Bam, problem solved. If your dog is “attacking” other dogs on a regular basis in daycare or in playgroup, but none of these “attacks” leave a mark, it’s very possible that your dog is actually the best-behaved one there and is doing her job of trying to keep the pack functioning well. She doesn’t need to re-learn anything or be punished; she needs to be congratulated, then moved to a playgroup where the human in charge knows enough to keep things calm and happy.

Once you know enough to separate normal, unstressed behavior from behavior that is a sign of stress or frustration, use words that reflect behavior the way it really is. Try to begin with “She’s afraid of…” or “She wants…” or “She needs…” or “He has learned that X leads to Y.” If in doubt, blame yourself, not the dog. “By keeping the leash tight and pulling back, I have taught her that she should try to bite other dogs.”

Dogs ARE individuals. Some dogs come to conclusions faster; some dogs are more tolerant, some are more instinctively physical and some are less so. I am not saying that some dogs are not extremely difficult, or that some breeds are not more challenging than others, or anything of the kind. I am not a Pollyanna about dogs. I am also not saying that every dog is the right fit for every family or every individual; all you have to do is work harder at it. Sometimes it’s just impossible to work any harder than you already are. Sometimes rehoming is the best possible thing that can happen for everyone. And very often an easier dog of a different breed can tolerate that owner’s particular brand of crazy and will thrive. What I am saying, and trying to say clearly and frankly, is that the overwhelming majority of dogs are sane; there are almost no genuinely “bad” dogs. There are millions and millions of stressed, frustrated, misunderstood, disfunctionally trained dogs whose owners have – often with the encouragement of trainers – labeled “bad.” And that needs to stop.

Believe me that I don’t do everything right with my dogs. I make hundreds of mistakes every day. Every post I write I’m preaching to myself, trust me. I am nowhere near a finished product, and neither are my dogs. But it really is true that by realizing that the vast majority of the time dogs behave in ways that are completely rational, I have improved our life with our dogs by a huge amount. My dogs are not perfect but they’re pretty dang happy, and our pack is very functional. Because it works so well we’re able to be “contagious” to other dogs, and make them more functional too, which has led to some real miracles as we’ve done rescue. And, if you haven’t already realized this by reading this blog, we’re very happy with our dogs.

Puppy license and adult behavior–STOP SEPARATING PLAY.

I’ve got a bunch of posts waiting in my brain–there are some good conversations going on. Unfortunately I can’t post front pictures, since Clue is still wonky in front and my camera is not functional. I’ll probably try to revive the topic when and if I can ever get a good picture of her again–she’s got a good front that has gotten WAY better with age, and I would love to know if other people have noticed that certain Cardi fronts age well and others of them age badly. But without pics I can’t really demonstrate what I’m talking about.

So, while I’m thinking about pack behavior and what dogs do, I wanted to talk a little bit about what is normal and acceptable dog behavior and what is concerning.

My general rule when the dogs are sane is that if blood isn’t flowing, I don’t interfere. This is because of the following great truth:

When we interfere, we screw up a lot more dog interaction than we ever fix.

Humans are REALLY bad at reading what’s happening with dogs. We ignore really bad stuff and we stop, even punish, perfectly normal behavior. This is true even when you’re really experienced; I have spent thousands of hours studying this stuff and I am more convinced that I am an idiot when it comes to dog behavior than I was when I began. Maybe when I’m sixty I’ll start interfering, but right now I know perfectly well how dumb I am.

One of the reasons we screw up interactions has to do with the fact that, just like we humans do, dogs have communications that have beginnings, middles, and ends. The beginning is the series of behaviors that initiate the interaction, the middle is the interaction itself, and the end is when the dogs resolve or end the interaction and move back away from each other.

That entire cycle is VERY important. If it is not completed, the next time the dog or dogs tries to interact the “transaction” won’t go as smoothly. Some of the social lubrication will have been lost.

If interactions are routinely truncated, two bad things happen: First, the dogs involved don’t get to finish the conversation, so they get out of practice in how to finish interactions. This is a lot more dangerous than it sounds–every dog interaction is a finely honed and subtle meeting of two animals perfectly prepared to kill each other. Predator-to-predator transactions are not exactly natural, and dogs have evolved an incredibly complex series of behaviors to keep things from escalating into an attempt to physically harm. If they are bad at those behaviors–if instead of suave and smooth talkers they’ve become awkward and tend to say the wrong thing–they are in genuine danger of falling from normal transaction into a situation where one or the other of them will make a move toward a killing attempt.

The second bad thing that happens is along the same line, but it involves those two dogs in particular. If they cannot finish the conversation they began, they do not have a chance to do all the appeasement/backing up behaviors that they would normally do. The conversation is cut off just when things are getting tense. So when the dogs see each other again, they will be more heightened in their interaction than they would have been if they’d been allowed to complete the cycle. This makes them even more likely to need to have a conversation that gets tense, and when they are again separated the stakes get even higher.

The above is kind of brainy, so let me put it in terms of a typical situation with a puppy and an adult dog (this is the most common time when humans interfere; the second is when a new adult is being introduced; I’ll address that below).

New puppy arrives and is cute and wonderful. For a few days or weeks she toddles around and falls over adorably and snoozes everywhere and plays her funny little puppy games and everyone, including all the adult dogs in the house, smiles indulgently and allows her many liberties that they would never allow an adult dog.

This is normal and good; it’s how the pack bonds with and learns to protect the puppies that come into it.

But then at some point, say at twelve or sixteen weeks, even earlier for the quick maturers, the little soft fuzzy schnookums-wookums becomes a growing dog, and her little games start to involve using her teeth in a real and deliberate way. And instead of bumbling into the adult dogs’ heads and falling over, she’s lying in wait and then barreling over and jumping on their heads.

The adult dogs decide they’ve had enough, and they begin to punish her for this rude behavior. If she jumps on them they roar, they knock her with their mouths, they send her ki-yi-yi-ing into the next room. When she has play interactions with them they don’t hold back anymore; they pin her and knock her over and she yelps and rolls away.

The human says “Oh no! Poor Gladys! They’re being rough with her!” and they begin to supervise the play. Every time the adult dogs get “rough” they are stopped or disciplined. If they continue to “victimize” the puppy they are totally separated; she plays alone and they play alone.


Puppies learn from adult dogs. A vital and absolutely incontrovertible role of a healthy adult dog is to teach the puppy how to be a good and polite dog. The adult teaches–yes, by physical punishment, though that punishment is not cruel–how to interact with other dogs, how to live in a pack, how to ask permission, how to back off, etc. If you stop that from happening, not only does the puppy grow up with SERIOUS issues that will hurt her chances of being a normal dog who can get along with other dogs, you build resentment between the two dogs. If the adult dog is never allowed to complete a lesson, he will try harder and sooner the next time. If he’s stopped again and again, pretty soon he will decide that the only way to deal with this is to remove the puppy from the picture entirely.

This is why you end up with separated packs, and the owners say “From the very beginning, they just couldn’t get along.” The vast majority of the time, it was the humans who doomed the relationship because they misinterpreted a set of actions that is not only normal but ESSENTIAL, and they “broke” the ability of the dogs to interact normally.

You MUST understand this: DOGS DO NOT MISS. There’s no such thing as “If I hadn’t been fast enough, he would have hurt her.” Trust me, that dog is WAY faster than you. There’s no “Another inch and he would have hurt her eye.” If he had wanted to hurt her eye, he would have hurt her eye. You did not rescue her and you did not stop him. What he did was exactly what he intended to do, no more and no less.

No matter how noisy and scary and huge the interaction is, if the puppy is not hurt (and tiny scores or puncture wounds don’t count–both of them mean that the adult dog was holding his mouth open and not biting down) they should be allowed to finish it. The puppy can get VERY scared. The puppy can scream bloody murder and run. The puppy can get knocked completely over. No blood flowing means it was a normal conversation. If the adult dog tries to pick the puppy up, or begins to shake the puppy, that’s bad and wrong and you need to separate them and go find a behaviorist who knows what he or she is doing to supervise their interactions for a while. But that almost never happens in our breed; it’s something you need to consider in the breeds that have had some of that bite inhibition dampened through deliberate breeding (any breed that was expected to not just attack but physically damage or kill other dogs on a regular basis would qualify), and in those breeds any introduction of any new dog is something you supervise VERY carefully, but Cardigans are not one of those. In our breed adults almost never inappropriately move from normal punishment to a predation (biting down with the intent of harming) bite.

What you want to see is the interaction move to completion. The adult should be fully relaxed and the puppy should either be showing proper submissive behaviors like mouth-licking or cringing and creeping or should have left the room entirely. THEN you can move in and interact with the dogs again. But do not punish the adult and do not comfort the puppy–the puppy was being a brat and got what she deserved; she does not need your comforting and you risk reinforcing her brattiness.

One very important caveat: When this kind of thing is at its height–when the puppy is getting disciplined on a regular basis–make sure that you are not accidentally or deliberately confining the dogs together. The ability to get away is essential to completing the behavior. If the dog at fault can’t move away from the interaction, the interaction has a hard time ending, which can escalate the tension and make the mild punishment far worse. So don’t force the dogs next to each other in a hallway; if they’re standing together at the bathroom door, don’t walk into them and inadvertently herd them both into the small room. This becomes second nature quickly, but if you’re not used to thinking that way you’ll need to be very aware of how you are moving the dogs both deliberately (on leashes or while playing) and unconsciously (with your body language).

Similarly, don’t invite interactions over food. Food always escalates tension. Keep in mind that this isn’t just about the food bowl. Don’t have the puppy and the adult dogs running around the dining room when the whole family is eating. Don’t let them be unsupervised at parties or get-togethers if there’s food outside. Better to crate them and avoid a situation where a transaction needs to begin.

My advice for introducing a second adult to the family is similar, but you need to keep in mind that they both need a lot more physical space to get away from each other. The great thing about introducing adults is that if both are good at talking “dog” they don’t need to keep repeating the same conversations the way puppies and adults do. They can be secure and calm very quickly. The bad thing is that they are peers, so there won’t be an automatic “you back down; I am in charge” order. So they will have a bit more initial tension as they figure each other out.

I think Cesar Millan’s method of first going for a very long, brisk, controlled walk with both dogs (so you are walking one and the other is being walked as well, and then you meet and continue walking, with no sniffing allowed) is very, very good. It channels the tension of meeting into physical activity and means that when you do let them get together they’re both relaxed and tired. I’d add to that advice that when you feel both dogs relax enough that you would like to let them touch noses, the best place is a large fenced area that is neutral to both dogs. A fenced field or empty dog park or something similar would be ideal. If that is absolutely not an option, you can use your own fenced yard, but don’t bring the dogs inside first. No collars, no leashes, and don’t be alarmed if big noises happen, as long as the dogs are able to get away from each other. Again, no blood means it’s all OK. The keep-tension-low rules apply for several weeks–no small areas, no food, etc. In my house we also don’t let strange dogs be with the existing dogs if there are little kids playing near them, even if I’m right there. I know the existing dogs will begin to feel protective and that noise and chaos raises tension, so I put the dogs behind baby dgates.

I know this is hard, especially if you’ve never heard this before, but you really need to let puppies get spanked. And you need to let older dogs figure out what roles they will fulfil in your combined pack. Think very hard before you step in and interfere with a conversation, and consider the implications of any kind of separation.

Train until terrified

On a site in a galaxy far far away, I’m reading a thread that’s yelling “He bit me!”

It opens the way so many of them do, with “I don’t know if I can trust him” and “The trainer says he’s been showing signs of dominance for weeks” and “Thank goodness it happened to me and not to my kids.”

The response from a supposedly extremely experienced dog trainer is “Never let him get the upper hand again! Be on your guard from now on! This is the way herding dogs behave when they want to get their way! Never, never let him win!”

So what on earth happened? What Cujo is this, and what hideous act did he commit?

It’s a seven-month-old puppy. A little herding mix.

First, let me explain what had been perceived as “dominant”  behavior–the puppy jumped on its owner. When he was told not to, he’d go behind the owner and jump straight up and down, without touching the owner. To solve this, the owner was told to back the dog into an office chair.

The ultimate infraction, the bite? In a training class, the owner was instructed to make the dog lie down (no command was given and the word is not one the puppy knows) by stepping on the leash and pulling the leash up from under her foot, thus forcing the puppy to the ground. The goal of the exercise was to stand on the leash right at the clip, so the dog is snubbed completely to the floor, and then wait until the dog relaxed.

When she stepped on the lead and began to pull the leash, the dog did what she called “have a temper tantrum.” What was this tantrum? The dog screamed, and screamed, and screamed, and howled, and flipped over, scrabbled at the ground, and finally bit her in the shin.

The trainer told her to repeat the exercise. Over and over. The second time it was done, the dog screamed and bit through the leash and got away. But he was brought back, and he went through it again. And again. Until he finally lay down on the floor.

The owners took him home and, following the trainer’s directions, put the dog on the leash again, and this time she wore boots. And they did it again at home, over and over, until he would drop like a stone if anyone went near his leash. This was a huge success–as evidenced by the fact that when it was done the puppy immediately went to his bed and slept for hours.

After I read this story, I literally had to stand up and walk away from the computer; re-reading it so I could describe it properly makes me come very close to gagging. I didn’t want to ever think about it again. But this is pretty much the exact idiocy that I am supposed to be railing against, so I am going to talk about it. I can’t, unfortunately, change the day that puppy had, but I can maybe change it for some other puppy somewhere else.

This story is easily in my top ten of IDIOT TRAINER MEETS IDIOT OWNER tales. I want to go to wherever that trainer is (I honestly don’t know) and smack his face repeatedly, and then say “Do you think I’m your boss now? Huh?” and then smack him repeatedly again. Maybe knee his testicles too, because if he objects to the smacking that must mean he’s being dominant.

Anyone who has any experience with dogs, especially herding dogs, knows that what happened to that poor innocent puppy is that he is now pretty sure that his owner repeatedly threatened to kill him. And the only way he can avoid death is to lie down.

And because a thrice-accursed trainer decided that objecting to being choked down to the ground was a sign of dominance, that poor baby dog had to re-live that terror fifty or a hundred times.

Let me put this very simply: If your dog is screaming, gasping, rolling, howling, and finally after ALL THAT he bites… he is a normal, even submissive, very sane dog who thought you were going to kill him. And even once he became convinced that you were trying to kill him, he didn’t fight back. For minutes he fought to get away from you, to get somewhere away from your rage, until he finally fell back on something he’d been trying to avoid for every moment of panic. He bit what was trying to kill him.

Here are the things that this trainer (and now, tragically, this owner, and obviously the thread-responding trainer) do not understand about dog behavior:

1) Dominance theory is real, it’s useful, and it is effective. When used properly it’s a great addition to training.  But dominance has NOTHING to do with choking a puppy into submission. That’s just cruelty and abuse.

This trainer took a legitimate exercise (one that I use with every puppy) that I’ve always called “settle,” and turned it into a horrible ordeal. The thing I call “settle” is a fun game where you introduce a micro-second of downward pressure on the leash (with your foot) and when the dog responds by quieting or paying attention to you she is rewarded by a big treat. This VERY gradually moves into a learned behavior so I can say “settle” and step on the leash and my dogs know that they need to be calm, that we’re not going anywhere for a while. It’s great for when you want the dog to be relaxed and quiet so you can listen to a trainer. There’s at least a foot of slack in the leash and the dog is allowed to take any posture she wants, as long as she’s quiet and her attention is directed at me or on relaxing–she can’t be looking outward with big intentions, or trying to interact with another dog. I do it with a mat or a dog bed, and very quickly the dogs understand that it’s a great opportunity to relax and nap.

“Settle” is a legitimate command. Settle is NOT an opportunity to physically force a dog into a position it views as extremely dangerous and vulnerable and then choke it until it stays there.

Being a pack leader, being “dominant” in the right way, is not about forcing a dog to do ANYTHING. It’s about being the kind of person, having the energy and posture, knowing how much careful pressure to apply to a dog with your body language and very little else, that a dog WANTS to obey. The proper exercise of dominant energy makes a dog sigh, relax, and become calm. Aside from a very few specific situations, it has nothing to do with physical touch and it NEVER involves panicking an animal. In other words, using leadership has everything to do with YOU, not with the dog. The dog already knows it, trust me. It’s about changing YOUR behavior and attitude and energy.

2) Dogs are not primates; close physical contact does not equal love.

An exercise that forces a dog into a small physical area, close to its owner, is an exercise designed by people thinking like people, not people thinking like dogs. Dogs have a very, very rich sense of love and affection, but their idea of physical space is MUCH more acute than ours. To be polite, to show love, to a dog, is to immediately and happily give space.

Right now Clue is lying at my feet, snoring. She chooses, as she has since she was a tiny baby, to lie about eight inches away from my foot. If I move my foot over and touch her on the back, she will immediately wake up. I just did it, and she looked up, saw me, stood up, and walked over to her bed (which is about three feet away). Humans, thinking like humans, would say “Oh, she doesn’t want to be near me anymore; there’s something wrong.” In fact, everything is exactly right. I signaled to her (by touching her back, and then looking at her eyes) that I intended to take up more space, so she gave me the space I needed.

When a dog sees that another dog is being impolite, and the infraction is not stopped by a quick glance or head posture and so the first dog has to physically touch the impolite dog, the proper response from the impolite dog is to leave. To back off and walk or run away. Dogs very, very rarely pursue in order to punish. If the impolite dog turns and leaves, the interaction is over and a success. I’ve seen older dogs do this to rude puppies a hundred times–the puppy jumps on the older dog’s head, older dog roars and knocks the puppy with an open mouth, puppy ki-yi-yis and runs, older dog has a satisfied grin on her face and lies back down to sleep. There’s no “payback” or pursuit. Simple message, looking for a specific response.

That poor baby herding dog felt “pressure” from its owner. It immediately tried to do the correct, polite thing, which is to move away. It was not allowed to do so; it was instead dragged closer and forced into greater and greater proximity. Its attempts to politely walk away became a panicked fight to RUN away, which brings us to the third behavior:

3) Dogs bite when it works to bite. It has nothing to do with submission or dominance. Mouths are how dogs communicate when body language fails. Using the mouth is the dog’s megaphone. A normal, sane dog who trusts the people and dogs around it will offer many, many behaviors and attempts to communicate before it uses its mouth. It’s a tragic thing that most of us completely ignore those communications.

When a dog feels that it has exhausted every “word” it knows, it will finally resort to using its mouth. When dogs are very afraid, they can run through a shorter set of words or more quickly resort to mouth. When a dog learns over time that its words will be ignored, it will begin to skip them and move right to mouth. That’s why when a dog perceives itself as the leader of a human group it often bites a lot–in a normal dog pack it could establish and maintain order through body language and small “words,” only very rarely resorting to mouth, but it has learned that humans are incredibly stupid and you have to bite them every single time because nothing else works.

In this case, the dog tried in a hundred ways, for minutes on end, to avoid using its mouth. He finally became so terrified that he bit. The second time he was tortured, STILL he tried to avoid biting. He bit through the leash instead, and must have felt incredible relief when he was finally able to give the human the space she was demanding so loudly. But instead of the leash cutting being read as what it was–the dog trying to obey and avoid this confusing and horrifying punishment by being a good baby and running–it was labeled disobedience and the puppy was punished further and further and with more and more intensity.

The final piece of our very, very terrible day for this poor puppy is

4) Dogs emotionally shut down by separating and sleeping.

When you get a puppy, you MUST physically exhaust that puppy every day. You want a puppy who sleeps for hours when the day is over. But what happened here is totally different.

A happily exhausted puppy toddles over to its bed, still laughing, tail wagging, and flops down in total relaxation. Happy puppies sleep happy.

This puppy was not physically exhausted. All he’d done was lie down a hundred times–that’s a tiny calorie spend. What his owner saw was him emotionally and mentally shutting down, in the same way that a dog who has been beaten will sleep or a dog who knows he is very sick will separate from the others and seek out a place to hide and sleep.

The ultimate tragedy comes at the end of the story… the “successful” conclusion. “It totally worked. When he woke up, he did not want to mess with me at ALL. But now he won’t come when he’s called, even when I have a toy or a treat in my hand. I’m so glad my trainer offers phone support because now we have to work on this new sulky attitude.”

Good Lord. This poor, poor dog. Yes, you’ve definitely succeeded–he no longer trusts you or wants to be anywhere near you. But he’ll drop like a rock when you put his leash on. Hope you got a good price for that soul of yours.

Followup on A Football Field of Dogs

I wanted to address comments specifically in a post, because I know that not everyone reads comments. I am not including identities because I want to be VERY CLEAR that I am responding to issues, not people. If I use “you,” it’s the collective you and includes myself. I am making no statements about individuals or breeders with names.

I don’t know. Your posts along these lines always give me a lot to think about, and I certainly agree on some levels. For instance, the fact that every dog that is sound, mentally fit, & healthy has a place in a breeding program if so desired. And I think it takes a trained eye to be able to tell what faults will eventually cause unsoundness. But I am nonjudgmental when someone breeds a dog that isn’t “typey” or has some glaring faults, as long as the dog is sound. I could care less about a dog having the CH in front of their name. Some of the best Cardigans in history have come out of less than stellar parents, and I think that is a lesson worth studying.

Yes, I think it really is. I suspect, however, that those “best” Cardigans were not really anomalies when you look at the whole pedigree–at least in terms of soundness. You can have a bitch with a wonky topline and still breed her wisely if you know that the bad topline is not throughout her pedigree, or if you know that the stud dog you’re considering for her reliably corrects toplines. It ends up coming down to our two tests: Does it affect her life? Yes. Will it affect and hurt future generations? If you’re fairly sure the answer is no, it’s a good and ethical decision to breed her. 

To a certain extent I think this mindset follows down to “fault judging” versus finding the virtues of a dog. Many people fault judge and will decide that so-and-so shouldn’t be bred because of xx fault. I also think that what you should consider for the whelping box is vastly different than what you should consider for the show ring.

Yes, yes, and yes. If you have a dog who is likely to produce well (and by “well” I mean my oft-repeated phrasing about a happy, healthy, long, pain-free life), it is a solid contributor to the next generation even if it is not shown, or shown heavily. Breeders SHOULD show, and I think it can’t be a low priority. As political and unfair as it is, showing makes you put your money where your mouth is. It’s a peer review activity, where you “show” the products of your breeding program. But it’s not invalid to say that the products of your breeding program don’t have to be every single dog you’ve ever kept. Many good breeders keep back animals, especially bitches, that they feel will produce well but would not necessarily be the best choices to represent them in the ring. Now you have to be very careful–there’s a fine line between keeping a dog back because it is a solid producer and keeping an unsound or nasty dog out of the show ring but thinking up ways to justify breeding it. Keeping dogs out of the ring can’t be an invitation to kennel blindness. But as a strategy, yes, it’s valid.

And, of course, the issue with trying to do only the “valid” and relevant tests is that it’s not always clear which are which. I’ve heard many arguments that hips are not a relevant test in Cardis, but having lived with an OFA “mild” who DID show symptoms (while his OFA “moderate” dam did not), it’s hard for me to accept those arguments. Like above, I don’t get judgmental of those who choose to breed borderline hips when the dog seems very sound, as long as they do so thoughtfully. But I also can’t accept that idea that we should give up on trying to improve hips just because the tools are flawed. 

For me, the question on hips again comes down to whether it hurts the individual dog and whether it hurts the next generation. In some breeds that answer is completely obvious. In ours I really think it’s not. You saw it yourself in dogs that did not follow the “rule” of severity of dysplasia equalling pain level. And the answer to the second one, hurting the next generation, seems to be VERY poorly understood. I think we can say in Cardigans that an OFA-type view has moderate–not super, but moderate–value when it comes to analyzing the health of that dog as he or she stands there. It does not seem to have a lot of value when it comes to predicting how that dog will produce the next generation. The question is not whether the tools are imperfect–the question is whether they work AT ALL.

And I also feel that because of the AR activists, we need to be very careful about differentiating ourselves in as many ways as possible from mass-market breeders. That’s a tricky line to walk.

I want to address this one more fully below, because I think it is a VERY VERY BAD IDEA to be thinking along these lines. But since it’s repeated below, let me write about it once and not twice.

Comment 2:

“EVERY DOG WHO IS REMOVED FROM THE POPULATION HURTS THAT POPULATION.” – No, I won’t go there. And then you don’t go there either as you go on to talk about eliminating dogs with unsound structure or temperament from the gene pool. However, structurally sound dogs with cosmetic problems (such as mismarked or coat length) need not be eliminated in my opinion as well. And color? Well, most know how I feel on that issue.

Removing any animal from a population hurts that population. That’s how it works. It’s not my personal agenda; it’s ecological fact. No change is neutral, no removal without cost. The question is whether the removal benefits the population more than it hurts it. 

Nature performs this task with incredible efficiency and also with incredible conservation. She never unnecessarily removes an animal; she leaves the maximum number who can survive to reproduce. Barring a bottlenecking event like a flood or a volcanic eruption or something that kills a ton of animals in an unnatural way (i.e., in a way that doesn’t prove whether or not they would have survived in their environment), populations will stay at their maximum possible, breeding as widely as possible, maintaining the richest gene pool possible. The extent to which we screw with that process is the danger we put populations in. 

I am sure you know the term “no sacred cows.” We need to make sure we’re not falling into groupthink or conventional wisdom; we have to tell the truth even if nobody else is. For some reason, breeding has become something we view almost as a necessary evil, and it’s really better to not breed. That’s how the majority of “breeders” feel, or at least how they behave. I’ve heard people brag that they’ve been in a breed for 30 years and only bred four litters in that time, and they really do think that makes them a better breeder than someone who has been producing three or five litters a year over that span. 

That is, in the words of Trollope, a damnable lie. It is utterly contrary to the way you behave if you want to produce and maintain the healthiest possible population. We need to stop thinking that the best way to be good breeders is to not breed! We need to be breeding the largest possible number of dogs to the largest possible number of dogs or our gene pool will disappear. It should be “I neuter wisely,” even more than “I breed wisely.”

I strongly agree with [the above] statement about needing to be careful in today’s political AR climate. We need to be the guardians of our breeds and do our best to raise the bar, not lower it.

Now, see, here’s where I get the major heebies.


It is utterly vital to realize that the HSUS and the more generalized animal rights agenda has absolutely nothing to do with discovering who has the healthiest puppies. If you are laboring under the delusion that we have ANY kind of defense against their agendas because we do four health tests instead of one you are VERY VERY wrong.

And, if we’re honest, no matter how careful we are we can’t guarantee health. We can’t even guarantee that the puppy we’re selling is going to live a longer or better life, or have a better temperament, than the most raddled Malti-Poo from Petland.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you know that the dog we are all foolishly and totally in love with is Ginny, a genetic nightmare of a designer dog with a mouth that can’t even close properly. If I had a houseful of Ginnys I’d be in heaven. And the worst experience I’ve ever had with a dog I owned was a purebred with a pedigree as perfect as you could ever imagine.

That’s why I think it’s a really terrible idea to even pretend we can “promise” a product, or to say that our dogs are “better” than the worst reject from a puppy mill. Owners love their dogs, and what makes dogs “better” from their standpoint has nothing to do with the way we tend to define it. We can say they are sounder, we can try to educate them about conformation, we can talk about the ability to do a job. Ninety-nine percent of that will go in one ear and out the other. And then we’ll sell them a puppy, they’ll make a hundred dumb mistakes, they’ll create a fear-biting dog, and they will be convinced that we’ve ripped them off. Promising “better” is a dead end.

What we can do is WARRANTY health, stand behind our dogs; fix problems and replace puppies. But we should be doing that just because it’s the right thing to do, not because it will decrease litigation or liability. I’m afraid that ship has already sailed, and we’re going to be in court whether we like it or not and it will have nothing to do with whether we have healthy dogs.

The HSUS and its ilk make no differentiation between responsible and irresponsible breeding; their only goal is to end breeding altogether. The HSUS is asking for lemon reports to prove that unhealthy puppies come from breeders, that breeders produce unfit animals (and they do-I don’t care how many tests breeders do, if you have more than a couple of litters you will produce puppies that die young and even horrifically, sometimes due to genetics but usually due to the fact that they’re living things and some living things die young), that breeders create animals with bad temperaments or bad behavior, and that breeders treat their animals cruelly, and therefore you should never buy from a breeder.

If we breed with the HSUS’s threat as a motivator, or with some mythical definition of perfect health as the qualification for responsible breeding, we WILL fail. Don’t forget that we’re breeding dogs with a deformity, and even though we know that their quality of life is not hurt we’re automatically viewed as sickos who like deformed dogs. In other words, if we cater to that approach we will be neatly forced into not breeding at all.

Think about this carefully: If you were taken to court and asked to prove that the puppies you’re selling are “better” than a group of ten Aussie-doodles, could you do it? Because that’s what you’re saying you can do. You’re saying that because you health-test and somehow breed only “elite” dogs, raising the bar, you’ve differentiated yourself as “better.”

The prosecutor leans over and says, “So you’re saying that none of your dogs have ever shown any kind of reactivity or aggression toward other dogs? How about kids-is every single one of the dogs you have in your house completely trustworthy with children? Will they happily approach the elderly and disabled? Has any dog you’ve ever sold bitten any other animal or human? Has any dog you’ve ever bred been diagnosed with any genetic health problem? OK, well, plainly you’re in trouble there, so let’s go on to our expert witness. Dr. Wilson, can you show us a study that establishes that the defendant’s dogs are healthier than these mixed-breed dogs? OK, well, are the defendant’s dogs able to run normally? Oh, they have a deformity, yes. Why would anyone choose to breed dogs with a deformity? Well do they have any hip dysplasia? Oh, these deformed little dogs have hips that are twice as loose as the mixed breeds’ are? So… in other words, there is a documented history of bad temperaments, bad behaviors, bad health, and they’re congenitally deformed and damaged.”

You could NOT defend yourself. You would not have a single leg to stand on. “Raising the bar” is what we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, to tell ourselves that when someone comes knocking we’ll be safe. WRONG. This is one thing I CAN guarantee: If breeding Cardigans were put on trial according to the animal rights agenda, our breed would be shut down without hesitation.

So forget the animal rights organizations-they do not respect you, they do not make ANY differentiation between you and the guy who has a thousand dogs in rabbit cages full of filth. They will work just as hard to destroy you as they work to destroy him.

You breed for the BREED. For the DOGS. Not because somebody has a carrot or a stick. You find out the truth-about genetics, heterozygosity, soundness, movement, health, testing, all of it-and you breed to hand off the best and best-prepared population to the next generation of breeders.

Being a guardian of the breed needs to be something you take very seriously, and that means understanding and owning your decisions and working to understand the situation and the actions that will benefit the entire breed.
We’ve GOT to stop defining it as “doing more health testing than my neighbor does.” Even if that were a positive, it’s about five percent of what makes a healthy population. What about disease resistance, heterozygosity, population dynamics and geographical diversity, founding members, 200-year projections, growth rates, fecundity, fertility, lifespan, survival rates, biomechanical fitness, and the hundreds of other topics that we know about PINE TREES, for crying out loud, that every property manager has to know about his CLUB MOSS but we conveniently ignore in dogs because ooo, we’re such great breeders because we x-ray hips?

The long-term health of this precious, precious population, this endangered species, this cup of wine so close to spilling, think of it however you want. Bringing it from |here| to |there| demands every single bit of us; it demands tearing down the sacred cows and looking at the truth. It demands actions that are defensible scientifically and morally. It demands seeing the whole picture. That is the ONLY motivation; nothing else will stand the test of time and nothing else is fair to the dogs.