By Scott Hunt
The Dog Grumbler
I WAS delighted with all the feedback from my last article wherein I mentioned what I refer to in the Black & White Dog Book as the “Boss Grip.”
As I keep saying: there are many dog training systems and opinions. This diversity does not mean anyone is wrong; we each use and rationalise what works for us and try to pass it on to others.
I can’t describe a dog’s umwelt (the world as it is experienced by a dog); I can only observe, intuit, theorise, hypothesise, experiment and try to get into its head.
I try to get close to dog language out of respect for dog culture.
The dogs I hang out with teach me something new every day.
Call me weird. Lots of people think I’m crude, cruel, old-fashioned, funny looking.
Dogs think I rock.
I love them. I never intentionally hurt one. I try to advocate for them and advise humbly when asked.
The Boss Grip is where a mother grabs a pup or kitten to carry it around. It comes from the litter and is part of the animal’s operating system.
It speaks of authority in the clearest terms, benign or otherwise.
Eye contact too speaks volumes. Dogs seek eye contact with humans more than any other creature. Enforced and sustained it means someone is trying to tell you something important.
Dogs are body language geeks: they know what that frown means.
Dogs don’t have the best hearing in the animal kingdom, but it’s at least twice as good as ours and they recognise a grumble when I grumble one.
And here, breathing in its face, tense with displeasure, staring and grumbling quietly but urgently, I smell very upset.
The best way to let a dog know that something displeases you is to pick it up by the scruff of the neck and growl in its face.
Similarly, the best way for a dog to let a human know that something displeases it is to bite them.
Fortunately, dogs usually learn this is unnecessary in most circumstances and only bite people who just don’t get the message. They may snarl first, perhaps move to a polite nip.
This is normal healthy behaviour between dogs, but counter-productive when practiced with humans. We would prefer they use our language; our protocols.
Most of the people who ask for my help have mid-to-large sized grown-up, nervous, reactive dogs, some of which are inclined to lunge and nip things.
By this stage most are too big, too strong and too defensive to pick up in one hand; you would need to be superman.
The owner should have used the boss grip when that dog was a pup and began to show aggression.
That pup should have been given productive or at least harmless outlets for its instinctive behaviour. It should have learned the joy of doing so in response to its owner’s on/off signals.
You can’t teach animals these things by showing them a video.
You can’t list the rules and stick them on the fridge.
You need to use the language they came with.
They get body language — way more than speech.
They get human facial expression and tone of voice and they smell things you and I never dreamed of, but it’s events that they learn; events in sequence, especially events and sequences shared — ritual.
It starts in the litter.
A lead attached to a collar, like a neck rope on a horse allows a trainer to reorient a dog’s eyes and nose.
I do not wrench violently on a dog’s neck; my personal system is based on cadence and I use two taps via the leash to get attention.
Two taps to nature’s control point.
My point in last month’s article was that a collar and lead are a training aid. Harnesses just make it easier for a dog to pull. If you are training a sled dog, run with that.
If you have a large breed pup with a bad habit start now — grumble and change the situation, patiently and consistently. Sound, smell and look angry, change the situation, then be happy again.
And if it’s serious: clap your hands once then immediately go for the neck.
Your pup will understand and appreciate the effort.
If you are consistent it will grow up with an “off switch” for aggression.
As I have said before, like all negative reinforcement applied correctly, it soon becomes unnecessary.
That’s why you blow on your tea.
For those who asked: the third edition of the Black & White Dog Book is published and produced locally to meet demand.
It is always available on eBay where the buyer feedback is the only advertising it gets.
Nonetheless, its continued popularity after 25 years is gratifying.
So is your feedback; I am humbled.
A safe and happy 2019 to all.