Training like a Dog
My favorite time to study dog behaviour is during that special period when darkness fades and light begins to display a new day. I put the coffee on, walk out to the barn, and greet my canine teachers. They hear my footsteps and call from the barn with enthusiastic yelps and barks. They too are excited about the dawn of a new day.
I always let the dominant female, Katie out first. She gently nuzzles my hand and follows me to Annie's run. Annie rushes out to pay her respects to Katie. She slowly rubs her head under Katie's muzzle. The moods of the two dogs change as I walk to the final run. Katie and Annie leave my side and drift back to their kennels. They watch quietly and intently as I open the last kennel door, and "let loose" the final dog.
When I use the term "let loose" the final dog, I mean just that. When released, Oschi, a twelve month old German Shepherd, jumps and barks and races around the barn like a maniac. I scatter food on the floor, but this does not interest her. She is consumed by the excitement of a new day and leaps towards Annie and Katie with all the energy of a Tasmanian devil. After a short period, which always seems longer than it really is, Oschi settles and begins to eat the food scattered on the floor. Katie and Annie reemerge from their runs and join Oschi in eating the kibble. I slip out of the barnyard and sit on the deck, coffee in hand, to watch the three female dogs.
Their first behaviour is always an inspection of the acreage. With noses down they split and check to see what night marauders may have crossed their field. Then they take turns playing tag. One lies in a playful crouch pretending to be prey, while the other two sneak through the brush to launch an attack. They race around the field at reckless speeds. Annie is the quickest, Katie is the fastest, and yes, Oschi is the roughest.
Oschi is a delightful creature! She's entertaining. The dogs and I enjoy watching her race around the yard with a bucket over her head. The only problem is Oschi has not yet learned to temper her enthusiasm. She has not learned to display proper canine manners!
When Oschi is too rough she receives consequences from the pack leader. Katie's method of dealing with poor manners is immediate and decisive. Usually, a deep belly growl will be enough to cause Oschi to drop into a down posture. Sometimes the discipline is harsher, and Katie will actually grab Oschi's muzzle until Oschi lies down.
What I find most fascinating is the timing of Katie's discipline. She doesn't try to discipline Oschi when she is released from the barn. In this situation, Katie shows tolerance of Oschi's erratic behaviour. Her canine mind understands that corrections will not work when Oschi is in an overexcited state. Instead, Katie waits until Oschi has had a chance to run and to release pent up energy. Then, once Oschi is more settled and capable of thinking, Katie is quick to remind her of the "rules of the pack".
Katie's strategy has been working. Oschi is becoming less wild, and she is learning to play more gently.
Each dog has a unique personality, and as in Oschi's case, can only be taught when she is calm enough to think. Be firm but fair to your canine pal. Like Katie, combine patience and tolerance with clear expectations, and you will be a leader your dog will adore.Noel Pepin -- Noel Pepin Canine Behaviour Specialists