Harnessing the Beast:

By Matt Wiggins
St Bernard (1)

Modern Day dog training doesn’t take into account Palaeolithic tendencies.

Yesterday’s post was all about how humans have spent around 15,000 Years developing such strong working drives in dogs that it causes the typical owner living with a dog in 2021 huge issues.

These drives are so strong that dogs will often put themselves in danger, suffer pain and overlook their most basic survival needs (food etc) in order to do the job for which they were selectively bred.

Today, we’re going to look, in more detail, at how to go about harnessing these drives and getting your dog to work with you rather than against you.

So to start with, let me say a few things.

Nobody, including me, can deny that dog training and our understanding of it is lightyears away from what it was when we first realised that dogs could become ‘man’s best friend’ and aid our survival.

These hardwired traits aren’t going anywhere, especially if your dog has been practicing using them for a while.

I don’t know ANYBODY who owns dogs that consistently performs in any role (including being well behaved pets) that don’t use SOME element of negative consequence/pressure in their training.

If we applied modern day dog training concepts to humans we’d;

Now I’m not sure about you, but to me, the above sounds absolutely absurd.

That’s why I’m always amazed when struggling owners buy into the idea that our dogs, who’s instinct to do their job outweighs anything else we can offer, will learn to stop doing what they were bred for and take our piece of sausage instead.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that in order for a dog to be of use to humans, instead of them just doing what they want, what they were bred for, first we have to get them to work in a way which benefits us.

Afterall, what good is a sheepdog that takes the sheep away from you? or a gundog that eats the rabbit you’ve just shot for your dinner? Or a Guarding breed that protects itself and leaves you to be harmed?

In order to get a dog’s desire to work under control, you need to find a way to get your dog to play by your rules, whilst it’s thinking it’s getting its own way.

Shepherds do this by rewarding the dog for obedience by letting it herd again. The dog runs around the sheep (genetic), lies down when asked (obedience) and thus, as a reward, it’s allowed to run around them again (genetic).

The gundog gets rewarded for sitting patiently (Obedience) by being allowed to hunt again (genetic).

I could go on all day long with these examples but I think you’ll be getting the idea.

Basically, to have a good human/dog relationship in a working role, the dog must do what the handler wants in order to get what it wants. That’s easier said than done though and I can tell you first hand just how hard it is.

If you’ve ever gazed in awe at a farmer working his sheepdog over huge distances, stopping and starting when asked and turning the sheep through gates and fields it’s 100% the result of much running around, strategic blocking, body pressure and release of body pressure in the early days.

Exactly the same is true with a gundog. That dog that patiently sits for hours on end waiting for the next drive, then watches, sitting like a statue as hundreds of birds fall from the sky before obediently going out on command and picking up only the bird the handler asked for is the result of hundreds of hours spent in the pheasant pen, watching shoots but not letting the dog retrieve and, when it is allowed, ensuring the dog ‘plays ball’ and works in the way it’s been taught.

Ok, so that’s all well and good but what about when it comes to owners who don’t actually want to work their dog though?

Well, then it’s a different ball game entirely.

It’s absolutely no good teaching a pet dog to work in the way which it was intended.

God forbid your herding breed dog were to disappear into the distance in the Peak District and bring you back a flock of sheep. Or how about when the Gundog breed that quietly, with its soft mouth delivers you next doors new kitten to your hand when they are round borrowing a cup of sugar? Or the German Shepherd who bites your best friend when he enters your home without knocking?

You see, unless harnessed, a working dog’s traits can get it into all sorts of trouble.

They can easily break rules in 2021 that just weren’t a thing back when they were selectively bred for their job.

So, what can we do about it?

The first and most important bit of advice I can give is to not let them practice using their drive. It’s the biggest mistake people make. By allowing your dog to practice using it’s working traits you are essentially, adding more fuel to the fire.

A collie that’s never chased sheep, a Spaniel that’s never hunted, a German Shepherd that’s never seen the power of its bark – these ones are the best ones. For if they haven’t felt how it feels, if the fire hasn’t been lit inside them, if they never had the chance, then they will never know what they are missing.

Almost all dogs want to chase, hunt, catch and kill. This is where all drives basically began.

I’m currently raising two puppies and I’ve been extremely careful never to let them find it good fund to chase, hunt, catch or kill anything that I didn’t approve of. I’ve learnt from my own mistakes that when a dog learns to fulfill its drive in its own way, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Instead I channel their drive into playing tug with an old towel, searching for a tennis ball and barking for a treat.

Now let’s assume it’s too late for that, your dog has already learnt to fulfil its own drive. Then what should you do?

Train him or her so that they understand the current behaviour in a given situation isn’t acceptable to you.

Just like you would a child who pinched you, a staff member who was constantly late or a criminal who broke the law.

Until tomorrow folks!

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