Kathy Diamond Davis

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States

Author of the book "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," 2nd edition published by Dogwise Publishing. Canine Behavior Series at www.veterinarybehavior.com

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thinking and Working Together and with Dogs

Prey drive, and the word drive in general, can certainly be vague terms. But we're trying to describe observed behaviors that no one can fully understand. The more I read about dog training, past and present, the more I am struck by the amazing work people train dogs to do, without even knowing why, how and if a particular dog "can" do it.

When you read about early police dog training as we did in the Konrad Most book, you see that the instructors taught the handlers to train the dogs, knowing what worked, and always willing to learn from the dogs. They still do that. They build and build and build on what we have learned from experience about dogs to move forward.

The Pfaffenberger book discusses his experience with family dogs going through the defense dog program OFF TO WAR! In this country! And then back home after the war to their families again! Humans and dogs are at their best when allowed to try, not knowing for sure if it will work.

Our culture is moving the wrong way in those respects. People want to too tightly control things; legally, socially and financially. Many of the best dog books now are self-published works, because too much of book publishing is controlled by huge corporations who treat the business solely as an investment. They do things like put a corporate person in charge who doesn't know the subject but presumably knows "what sells."

Turns out that isn't even a smart strategy for making money. People keep discovering new ideas and wanting to learn more about them. Corporations don't have a model for that. Some of the marketing books explore things like "the tipping point" in an effort to explain why suddenly an idea comes out of nowhere and makes a fortune.

Corporations are neither good nor evil. They're not human, after all. They're a different organism altogether, with "drives" (there's that word again!) to survive and to grow. They also lack intuition and anything approaching brilliance. Only people have such qualities, and only to the extent that a person keeps control of the reigns of a company can that company have human qualities.

Economically, small businesses are better for a country's financial stability and provide more jobs. Just not as many all in one lump, which means the politician can't point to the accomplishment of having brought 2000 jobs to the state by attracting that company. We'd all be better off and happier in myriad ways with more small businesses and fewer of the corporations that are suffocating us.

Legally we have people who think problems get solved by passing laws that "other people" will have to obey but of course "will never apply to me." Politicians like laws because it gets their names in the news and improves their chances of re-election. And now we're dealing with scary anti-dog legistation as a result.

Socially we have people who want the world to operate according to "if you don't agree with me, shut up." Civil discussion is harder to come by when people don't respect each other's rights to view things differently. If we were all alike, we could not learn from each other. It's part of our basic design to perceve the world differently and as a society to be able to benefit from the different viewpoints people get out of their genetics, their physical traits, and their experiences in life.

This is very interesting to ponder as I watch my Belgian Tervuren morph into helping handle the old Terv as a tending task rather than a pack-structure task. The old dog is 13 and losing the male recently seemed to bring the two females to a crossroads in pack structure. For one thing, they didn't seem to be a pack anymore. Nature seemed to be telling both of them that the appropriate thing was for the younger to kill the older, but the younger looked to me for my wishes in the matter. I did not reinforce any competition and I strongly reinforced all moves on the part of either dog to "stand down" from it. She determined her shepherd's wishes, and set about carrying them out.

It's been 4 months now, and the younger, who seems to just absolutely adore the opportunities to solve problems together with me, treats the old dog as sort of a cranky livestock animal who has canine behaviors. She never did seem to take the other dog's attacks personally, and now she doesn't even respond to get the old one under control. She just follows my lead and ignores it. The older one never did bite, anyway. It's just been sound and fury. With no male dog in the group, it's as if us girls can work out different rules.

For the first couple of years, the old dog wouldn't even let the younger one retrieve if she was in position to stop her. That had the paradoxical effect of turning the youngster into a lightning-fast retriever, once I'd taught her to do it in sessions away from home over time. The older dog finally gave up, but we other girls still keep a close eye on her in any retrieving situation in order to prevent unnecessary conflicts.

I asked the younger to get me something yesterday, and the old girl positioned herself so the young one would have to pass her on the way back. I wanted to tell the younger to come around through the room with the slick floor, which doesn't bother her but does give the old dog pause. Before I could figure out how to cue it, here she came, sailing to me from that direction.

Of course big praise and petting with loving eye contact to my younger heroine, and once again she is proud of herself for sizing up the task and the tools and making the best solution of it. I expect she could have been a good sheep herding dog. I think she finds her life very satisfying, because it gives her many opportunities to use her genetic gifts. I love reinforcing a dog for trying, for thinking, for problem solving, and for offering up so much service to me. Yes, I trained her, but what she does goes far beyond that. Her mind and heart are so open to learning. She inspires me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Do Scientific Terms Help Us Understand Dogs?

I guess "exact" definitions of words (good luck with that) are on topic considering the books we're discussing this month, though they do give me a royal headache. Jargon in sciences such as psychology and sociology may have purpose for some scientists, but for many it is simply a way of saying "This is a real science, because we know the meaning of this word, and you DON'T! So, give us our share of university departments and government grants."

Jargon obscures communication rather than facilitating it. For anyone who wants their words to be understood outside their own tight circle, it is the enemy. Except when writing a professional treatise, writers try to avoid using jargon unless they define the term within the article. Too many such terms and a writer's message is lost.

This months discussion will be more interesting if we keep it very close to real dogs. I see a lot of generalizing about "all" dogs, and in fact many breeds don't come at all close to the predominantly German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers used in the projects these books describe.

The book on the Scott and Fuller research work behind Pfaffenberger's guide dog pup testing does go into the huge differences between the various breeds they studied: Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Basenjis, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Fox Terriers. That title is "Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog," by Scott and Fuller. I got it and read a lot of it, skimmed the rest, for this discussion. It helps put these books into perspective for those involved with other breeds.

I think the Saluki is just gorgeous. I can't get over how beautiful they are. But I relate to dogs as a handler. It's a partnership with me the leader, and I need a dog with a flexible mind and intense interest in interacting and working with me. The Saluki is not that kind of dog. Virtually all the retrievers and several of the herding breeds are. A few of the working breeds are, but mostly they are not, because they tend to be less "yielding" to whatever game the human wants to play now. Humans have genetically set strong --whatever you want to call its-- (see what happens when you argue about a term? NOW what do I call these--uh--"tendencies" that have been so powerfully genetically set into many breeds by genetic selection? Instincts? Drives? Perceptions? ROM?) into many of the working-group breeds. I don't require guarding of my property, myself, my bank deposit for a business, or my livestock as some of these breeds were selectively bred to do. I don't require a dog to pull a load for me--and have the big bone structure to do that comfortably.

Retrievers and herding dogs have been genetically selected to like to fetch things and to take direction off-leash and at a distance from a human when engaged in exciting, active work. Pretty cool. And that's the kind of dogs these authors were dealing with. When handlers know how to teach it, retrieving objects comes pretty naturally to herding dogs, because they are so interested in "retrieving" and manipulating moving critters. Retriever breeds take to "retrieving" humans, because it fits their perceptions. Thus you can get very complex trained behaviors with both types of dogs and their thinking is flexible. Many breeds from other groups inherit from the genetics of these dogs, such as the little American Eskimo I had, who was a sure-enough herding dog.

I didn't understand that about her until I had had a Belgian Tervuren for while. Then one day Pepper the cat was up on the TV, jumped off and started down
the hallway. Angel the Miniature American Eskimo dog ran at her from the side with some barking and "headed" her, turning the cat back toward the TV. But she did not have the physical power to hold the cat's position, and the cat knew it, so after that 180 turn she just did another, for a full 360, and ran on down the hall where she had been headed in the first place. Actually, I'm not sure she even ran. The dog's game had been to head her, not to chase her.

Next day, same scene, except this time the dog was gentle Star the Belgian Tervuren. Pepper jumps off the TV, Star runs at her from the same position as Angel the day before. Pepper does a 180 and is back on the TV. Star works silently. Then I knew what Angel had been trying to do--and a great deal of her behavior for the few years I'd had her at that time suddenly made sense.

Star made me do my homework, because she had so much herding behavior I had never seen before and didn't understand. One thing she did at first was stay in the back of the yard when I would call her in, lower her arched Tervuren neck and hold her head like a coyote, eying me. I didn't know what the heck that meant.

My homework gave me an idea, so one day when she did that, I put a smile on my face and walked out there, holding eye contact with her, and walked a circle around behind her. She tossed her head exactly like a laugh, and merrily went inside with me. She had been telling me a joke, and was thrilled that I "got" it.

People often interpret herding behavior as "dominance," but it is not. Herding dogs can be "dominant," but manipulating the environment, especially when turned toward the handler, can be the foundation for wonderful communication. It was a blessing to me that my first dog with so much herding instinct was clearly a submissive dog. It saved me a lot of potential confusion.

Terms, oy.

---Kathy Diamond Davis, author, "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," and the Canine Behavior Series at www.veterinarypartner.com