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The need to survive and the key to better training

We have known for many years how dogs react to our training but many people simply will say that each technique is just someone’s theory. Now with modern medical technology, it is possible for us to actually see how and so know why humans and dogs react mentally to any given stimulus.

Using pain inducing enforcement training will make the dog wish to escape from the handler but will, given time, achieve an obedient dog because the dog does not wish to receive further pain. The fact is using such training methods the dog hand handler can never successfully compete against those who use more physiological training because of the difference in having to obey and wanting to.

If you induce physical pain to carry out a command your dog will naturally wish to get away from you to get away from the pain so it can survive. Such pain is therefore destructive to socialbility. Using the dogs need for sociability as the only way they can survive we now know this produces pain that keeps the dog wishing to be with you.

You could say that our brains are inducing in us benevolent pain to protect us from harm and ensure our survival. Sometimes though it gets it wrong because it is a very old programme and possible because it dates back to a time when we originally lived in water.

Take our need to breath as an example. If we are in deep water and drowning, as you go under the water, our brain will by detect the high carbon dioxide levels in our blood. This will create massive pain across our chest to try to make us breath. We know that we cannot or we will drown and die yet the pain created becomes so great it will force us to and the pain will stop just before we blackout.

Absorbing carbon monoxide gas, the brain registers danger to us as a massive headache to make us take evasive action before similarly blacking out.

If you stand on a high cliff and look down most people will feel foreboding, anxiety or even pain as our brain is trying to warn us this is a bad risk for our survival. There are people who do not have such fear but they have learnt to override their fears and ignore the pain our survival programme is inducing within us.

Our brain’s survival programme is working away in the background all of the time. We can adversely influence it like when drinking too much alcohol and then it is possible to drive a car like a maniac as this programme is almost disengaged.

We may not even be aware that our brain acquires all sorts of information all of the time in order to maintain our need to survive. Many years ago, I watched a test on people asked to attend an interview and to sit in a waiting room until they called them.

Some of the chairs they had sprayed with male or female pheromones. The scientists then filmed the people’s reactions whilst the interviewees waited in this room. Some had pleasant feelings and some did not. Some would move towards a chair whilst others felt uncomfortable and moved away. They did not know why they were having pleasant or un-pleasant feelings but it showed how they were still never the less reacting to such stimuli.

For all of use we have a paramount need to survive. Knowing this and how our brain detects danger and uses pain to make us make certain choices even thought we are unaware or why is a powerful tool to improved teaching. The only problem is a few do not always react exactly the same way.

As we go through life, we will have new experiences and depending on how we initially react to these will probably dictate to how we react to them throughout the rest of our lives. Dogs are no different so a bad experience with children will make a dog fearful of them for the rest of its life until we retrain it or it learns gradually throughout its lifetime.

The more others have taught me and the knowledge I have learnt for myself about training dogs the more I have been able to understand them. Knowing this, it is now possible to train them more quickly and effectively. Not only this but the dogs actually want to work to please the handlers because they feel useful and part of a team or pack. Is this not one of our driving forces we all feel in our lives?

Many years ago, Police Constable David Clayton with his dog Bona and I with my dog Tip went to the Kennel Club Tracking Dog Championship working trail at Potters Bar. Bona won the Tracking stake ticket and Tip qualified Working Dog excellent but what was now more satisfying were the comments from other handlers congratulating us on how both dogs obviously loved to work for us.

Also competing in the Tracking Dog stake with David was a professional dog handler the late Terry Hadley. He was an Irishman and he never gave away his secrets of training except in round about ways. Trevor Ellis’s wife Anne was telling me that at another trial he was competing in, whilst everyone else were having to shout at their dogs to control sendaways and redirection because of the wind, Terry still gave his commands in a normal voice. Anne asked how he could do this and his answer was “Because my dogs are listening”.

Terry was working a huge Rottweiler. These dogs, having no real known enemies, seem to go through life unperturbed about anything as if they have half their lights switched off. If you ask an owner of such dogs where they sleep the usual answer is anywhere they like.

For Rotties, when all the lights do come on you have one very intelligent and formable dog on your hands. This dog was no exception and just plodded along as if to say, “What is the point to all this work”.

I spoke to Terry later in the Pub where I commented on his dog’s lack of enthusiasm and did this not make it very difficult to train when you compared it to David’s Bona. Terry said he was competing to make the dog into a working trial champion on behalf of a breeder but that it is possible to train any dog even if it lacked enthusiasm. I have never seen Terry ever inflict pain nor become aggressive towards his dogs but I said I would have found training such a dog very hard work and asked about his training technique in this case.

I did not get the normal sharing of information that I am use to with other trials people but instead he told me the following story.

A dog handler would visit his local bar most evenings and would end up showing the patrons some of the amazing tricks his dog could do. Often people would try to make the dog do something even offering the dog food but the dog would not take any notice. The handler said that his dog only responded to his commands alone and then followed this by saying his dog would not dare to react to anyone else. With this, an Irishman (well it had to be didn’t it) got up from the back of the bar and came towards the handler. “To be sure that’s a fine dog you have there,” he said. “I can see it is watching you for your every word and ready to react,” he continued. “Thank you” replied the dog handler. “To be sure when we Irish have kissed the Blarney Stone we have an uncanny influence over other beings and for fifty of your pounds I am willing to bet your dog will obey one of my commands,” said the Irishman. “No” said the handler “I would be stealing your money”. To be sure my own thoughts exactly,” replied the Irishman. With that, they duly placed one hundred pounds on the table. The Irishman walked over to the dog, stroked it, and looked like he whispered into the dog’s ear. He looked at the handler and asked, “Now you will not be trying to influence your dog will you?” “No, you are ok but don’t you wish to know my dogs name otherwise how will he know to work for you?” “To be sure your dog will know my command is for him,” said the Irishman. With that he lifted the dog up and threw it onto the bar’s big log fire with the command “Get off”

Possibly, it is the accountant in me but I am not good at jokes and I must have looked puzzled. Terry smiled at me and said “A dog will do what it has to in order to survive” I did not understand his statement then, but as I learned more about dog training and behaviourism I have always kept what he said as a benchmark and gradually learned that he was correct and now I understand why.

Knowing how and why dogs react to us and our wishes we are able to train them more effectively. Not only this we can now train dogs that love to work for us for nothing more than a smile, a pat or for a simple toy.


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