Why is it that when I teach someone to train their dog to high five, play bow, spin, back or whatever, the person is smiling, those watching are smiling and the DOG is smiling but when I suggest that now we are going to teach “Down!” the whole scene changes?
Those dog owners who have been taught “the old way” – choke chains, yanking and jerking, etc. – have the really worst time with teaching their dogs manners. I see the shoulders straighten. The voice gets rather low. Often it gets downright threatening! And – we are truly down to business. This is not brain surgery, folks! It is not necessary, and in fact it is contraindicated, to put on the mask of the so-called alpha dog (or bitch, should you prefer that) to be absolutely certain that your dog gets the picture that he is going to learn to “Down!”
Whatever you are teaching a dog can and, in my opinion, should be fun for both of you. In the past the down position was taught with force – no fun in that routine, I can assure you. The idea was that the dog should do it because he was told to do so and lack of compliance on his part indicated an “alpha dog” and that got lots of people really up tight.
To be sure, a down position is often viewed as a position of submission and a very timid dog or one with issues at the other end of the scale could feel trapped. A dog with no escape route is a dog that can be pushed over the edge and inflict a bite. Now – let’s change this picture. Instead of forcing a dog to down – it doesn’t matter if we think we are dealing with “alpha” or any other category you choose to name – let’s work it out so that WE get the down and the dog simply goes along with the idea. The dog gets rewarded. I get the down I seek and we are all happy. Neat!
About that “alpha” thing. New concepts are surfacing all the time and they are oh so interesting. For example: When I began training it was a commonly recommended training procedure to “do an alpha roll” which meant to get a dog on its back, wait for it to submit and then release it. The theory behind this highly recommended procedure was that wolves do that to inferiors in the pack hierarchy and therefore we must do it. The practice of same did get people bitten. So much for that idea. Of course – it was the dog’s fault so – the dog suffered the fall out.
Well – guess what? Ongoing studies now say that a wolf leader gets that roll over behavior by way of an offering by the insubordinate! The leader doesn’t make it happen by way of force! Hey, Boss, just tryin’ to get along in this world. Yup – that’s your bone alright. ¡Buen provecho!
Of course that makes sense in that constant battles in a pack would use valuable energy that could compromise pack survival because there might well be a lack of energy to hunt well. Incidentally, it appears to be very, very clear that alphas do not get into struggles for position – their position is clear. The ones who do the battling are those in the middle ground apparently struggling for a notch up. Don’t be a middleman! Latest info about wolf packs indicate they are really just families! Mom, Dad and the kids - often from two or even three litters. Eventually the now adults move on to create new "packs". Keep in mind - our dogs no longer do that!
Our dogs are so genetically close to wolves that given a fair chance of physical match-ups (think Chihuahua/wolf?) pups would result from the mating. Many behaviors are clearly similar but our dogs are separated in many ways also and we must view both sides of the coin, at least as I see things. For example: We could not produce a litter of wolf pups, choose to keep one for ourselves and turn it into an animal that parallels (in any way!) a pup of a domesticated breed – ANY breed!
As for that teaching down? I recall seeing a woman teaching a tiger to down on cue. She was outside the tiger's training venue and, yup, she got it done. No choke chain, no pressure, just positive reinforcement. After all? We do not really teach dogs (or tigers!) to lie down - that behavior comes ready made. We simply want to put it on cue, right?
With that in mind – remain open about how dogs learn, how best to teach them – and whatever you do teach remember - It is just a trick. And – it can be such fun
CABC, IAABC, emeritus
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