Dog FAQ's

These are questions I frequently get:

Do dogs remember people, each other or locations?

Yes, likely better than you or I can.  Since dogs don't write down things they function only on memory, and believe me, their memories are very good.  My lead dog remembers exactly how we ran trails years ago.  At every split in the trail, he remembers which fork we took... years ago.  My dogs remember where they saw cats and squirrels and where we've had problems.  Our human memories are not real impressive compared to the memory of my team.

How do you motivate your dogs to run?

They want to run, my job is just to let them do it in an organized manner.  They want to run because they can, they are good at it, it is fun and most importantly for them, it is an adventure.  Dogs want an adventure, TODAY, NOW!  The important thing from my point of view is that they see the world and gain experience so they react well.

In order to mush, your dog must want to run.  If your dog decides running is no longer fun, you have a long walk home.

Do you have to be a dominant alpha?

Yes, but dogs, just like people, have different personalities and different means are required for making sure each dog knows how our world works.  My job is to provide a structure within which life can be lived well.  If your dog is not doing good things in its life, what structure are you providing for it?  Some dogs need a very rigid limited set of choices.  Others need only a mild word of guidance every once in a while and lots of encouragement.  You have to adjust your method of providing structure to each dog's personality.  Adapt or fail.

If you think any structure is bad, consider that even the most abstract painters use a canvas, which is a structure.  Without any form, it is hard to be creative.

The irony is that the better you train your dogs, the more opportunities they have.  A better understanding of how to fit into human situations provides a dog more opportunities.  My dogs are the reason I get invited to some events, and sometimes my dogs even get invited to “no dogs allowed” events.  “Make sure you bring your dogs!”  “You are bringing your dogs, are't you?”

If the whole "alpha" thing is not how you like to think of yourself, your dogs are on a lifetime cruise, and you are their activities director.  You may be persistent and sometimes annoying from your dog's viewpoint, but you always guide them toward a constructive activity. 

How do you change your dog's habits?

Dogs, like people, do what works. They follow scripts or rituals, just like we do. When we get up in the morning, go shopping or order food at a restaurant, we follow scripts, we do roughly the same thing each time. Dogs do the same thing. They learn your scripts by watching and interacting you. You need to help them learn their part in scripts and find habits that work for both them and you.

Note that they are very good at trying to train you to follow their scripts. A dog WILL try to train you. You must be more determined. This does not mean that you get angry or abusive. To the contrary, you need to be more patient. You must be willing to keep working on training and be creative in how you accomplish it. If the method you use doesn't work, learn a new method.

You must be willing to think of yourself primarily as your dog's trainer when you interact with it. It is more important that your dog be well adjusted and trained than that it loves you every minute. Your job is to help it become better trained and better adapted to the wide world it will encounter. If you really care about your dog, you will train it so well, others will also love and care for it.

If you want to stop a behavior you have to make it NOT work, and make it so some alternative behavior DOES work. Stop and redirect.

Dogs do not generalize the way we do. So if you teach something in one location, the dog may well not realize you expect the same behavior elsewhere. You must train in many locations with your dog in many positions with respect to you (at heel, in front of you, at a distance) for a behavior to become generalized. You need to train with distractions, so your dog understands your commands are more important than the distractions. You also need to be careful to keep training positive, lest a dog learn to fear both you and the location it was trained at.

While I mostly train in short segments of a few minutes, I also train for duration. My dogs need to understand that a sit or down command can last for quite a while and that I determine when it ends. Note that I am careful to release my dogs from a command if another loose dog approaches them, unless I am prepared to drive the loose dog away, which I do if my dogs are working.

Please understand, dogs are a danger to themselves and the team if they approach a working team. There could be a fight or dogs could get tangled in the ropes and be injured or killed. Team dogs spend years literally learning the ropes. A dog that lacks any of that knowledge is a risk to themselves and the team if the dog gets too close.

Do dogs know about the future?

My dogs know a lot of commands, so the more experienced ones know what is going to happen, because I tell them. For instance, I can say, “go car go visit, go ride ride, go bike run” to my lead dog. He knows we are going to do a therapy dog visit, then go for a long ride (long enough for him to sleep some) and then bikejor.

Also, dogs can tell what is likely to happen next from your rituals. You have many scripts, and they know them all (get up, go for a walk, go to work, go to bed). But dogs live in TODAY. If you walk, train and have fun with your dog TODAY, then their life is good. Yesterday's walk is not TODAY's walk. Tomorrow's walk is not TODAY's walk. They will not make life good TODAY. A dog is always asking “what are you going to do for me TODAY”?
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