Modern Dog Training, purely positive, does it really work?:

By Thomas Magee
dog hierarchy of needs

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The other night I broke my ribs. For fun. I can’t wait to get back.

I’ve been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for nearly Four Years now and I love it.
It wasn’t always that way though, in fact, after my first session, I didn’t go back for 6 weeks.
Over the months of hard training though, I found fun in the battle, enjoyment in the injuries.

The reason I keep on turning up to class? Because the upsides far outweigh the downsides.
The feeling of breathlessness, the strain on my joints, my heart thumping through my chest.
The improved figure, the better cardio, the improved confidence, the comradery.

I actually find it hard now to distinguish the good feelings from the bad. I just love it.

That brings me nicely to your dog. And the problems you are having with it.

The overall issue you have is that your dog loves doing the things you hate it doing even if it doesn’t make sense.

Q. Why does your dog put itself in harm’s way? Cutting itself in the undergrowth, straining so hard on the lead, trying to get into fights, running into things, jumping off things, constantly getting told off.

A. Because it’s great fun.

Let me explain,

Humans have spent 15,000 Years developing dogs to do the jobs that we can’t or aren’t prepared to do. From the days we lived in caves to the present day, even if you don’t want to think about it, it made much more sense to put a dog in harm’s way than ourselves.

Herding sheep on the most dangerous fells, bringing down wild boar, going down badger sets, apprehending armed criminals, flushing animals from thorny undergrowth, delivering notes across battlefields. I’m going to spare you the proof but the list goes on and on.

It’s impossible to undo 15,000 Years of selective breeding in less than 150 Years.

The first modern dog show was in 1859 and that’s the first time dogs were recognised for what they look like rather than what they could do. Furthermore, no conformation breeder β€˜breeds out’ working traits, they just β€˜breed in’ what the judges eye finds favourable traits.

Now I’ve been lucky enough over my many Years working with dogs to witness some incredible feats. From Police dogs to hunting dogs and tracking dogs to herding dogs but one thing has always amazed me.

These dogs, when they’re in β€˜work mode’ couldn’t care less about anything other than getting the job done.

The Collie doesn’t worry about the sharp stone underfoot or the sheer cliff face 20cm to it’s side when its job is to bring a Ewe and lamb safely back home. It also doesn’t think about it’s safety when getting hit in the head by a stubborn ram that the Farmer needs to get in the trailer.

The German Shepherd doesn’t care about the bullets that could easily take it’s life when the bad guy needs to go to prison and the handler needs protecting. It also doesn’t think about the burns received from the fires when clearing a rioting crowd.

The Spaniels, Labs and Pointers don’t think about the thorns in the bushes or the barbs on the fence when that bird or rabbit needs to be on the table in time for dinner. They also don’t feel their wagging undocked tails getting damaged on trees when their mind is on finding the next animal to flush for the guns.

Now, over these 15,000 Years, humans have selected the best dogs at their specific role to breed from. These in turn have produced more good working dogs, more dogs that put work ahead of their own self preservation. The other thing that has happened, by default, is we have selectively bred out the traits of not wanting to work.

The dogs that wouldn’t face the ram, didn’t want to go into the difficult places, weren’t able to protect the handler etc weren’t bred from and in turn, their traits became less common.

Now, I began writing this with one of two endings in mind.

One was how the above information causes you difficulties with training
The other was how to use the above information to transform your dogs behaviour.

I’ve thought all day about which one to finish with and, hopefully you will be glad to hear I’ve decided to do both over two days.

It makes sense I start with why it causes you difficulties and tomorrow, I’ll post the alternative ending – how to use what you’ve learnt to change your dog’s behaviour.

OK, so let’s break this one down.

Modern day dog training dictates we should be Force Free, not use aversive, to only train using positive reinforcement, to not pressure your dog, to ignore the good and reward the bad.

Now I’m all for using positive reinforcement but there is a problem. These working traits which have been honed over Thousands of Years are so strong that they override the usual hierarchy of needs.

The standard hierarchy of needs for a dog can be seen in the attached picture.

The thing it fails to mention and take account of are the hard wired, selectively bred for, working traits of the animal. These working drives are not natural, they are man made, enhanced and developed to save humans from harm or worse.

A dog with strong working traits will forget about all of the things in the Pyramid to fulfil the role for which it was bred.

Offer a starving sheepdog the choice of food or to herd, a terrier relationship or to fly down a burrow, a German Shepherd consistency or to protect it’s handler, a gundog the opportunity to learn or to hunt and I think we all know the answer.

They will, hands down, choose the route to fulfil their innate drive. The drive we humans have deliberately developed to aid us but in 2021 causes us so many issues.

It’s probably becoming clear to you now why your beloved dog won’t be distracted by treats or choose a fuss over chasing that squirrel. Why your guarding breed wants to guard no matter how much you reassure it or why your collie is trying to herd cars or joggers, why your terrier rags on things instead of having a cuddle.

Folks, dogs are no joke. Just because our lives have changed dramatically doesn’t mean that your dog’s desire to work has gone.

The key to changing your dog’s behaviour lies in fulfilling it’s desire to work but in a way which moves you both towards a common goal rather than you going head to head against one another because, I’d place money on the fact your dog has more inbred β€˜work ethic’ than you do patience.

As for how to fulfil your dog’s hardwired desires whilst transforming its current behaviours into the behaviour you wish for? Well that, Ladies and Gentlemen, will be the topic of tomorrow’s instalment.

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