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Tuesday, September 10 2013

Dealings With Dogs

Living with other species is something that, in my opinion, most human beings don't do very well. The first thing they do is give the furry or feathery thing a nice human name and then stamp upon it their idea of what a person of that name is like and how it will behave and what it will believe etc.

When things go wrong in the relationship they usually go spectacularly wrong because somehow the furry or feathery thing doesn't have any intention of doing things in a human way.

Nice kind words, or alternatively cursing the thing, don't actually mean too much. Let's take dogs for example.

Dogs are:

  • territorial,
  • pack animals,
  • a regimented top to bottom caste system,
  • have confidence in habitual behavior and timetable,
  • have a desire to scavenge, hunt, kill, and mostly like to eat huge amounts when it is available and are happy to go without for a few days after the 'big feed',
  • are playful with other dogs even as adults,
  • strongly sexual in their behavior (especially when left entire and often even when castrated).

Dogs are NOT:

  • able to be put in strange places continuously without being trained to accept the situation by putting their faith in their human handlers,
  • able to accept any old dog they have never met before or any other animal or bird that looks smells and acts outside of their experience,
  • able to operate unless they have a 'boss dog' at the head of the pack OR they nominate themselves to be 'Boss Dog' and everyone else is happy with that,
  • fluffy little wind up toys who will do your exact bidding at all times,
  • able to function when there is no timetable of activity for them to hang on to,
  • able to choose suitable times for their activities, toilet behavior or sexual behavior.

Most of the so called problems that people have with dogs relate back to those very pros and cons.

For myself I admire' the dog' as a species, as a helper, as a being I can co-exist with on the basis that he is a dog and I am a human being. My values are not his values, my behaviors are not his behaviors. I suppose looking at it with a bit of fun, it is a like having a friend who is a drunk and you are teetotal but you love them just the same, or the other way around if you wish.

The major problem that most people have is stopping the dog from attacking when it is cornered: attacking people, children, dogs and other birds and animals. As a human being this is totally abhorrent behavior, as a dog it is normal behavior. A human being's idea of being cornered or in a jam and a dog's idea of being cornered or in a jam are miles apart.

As a human being I might attack some other being because:

  • I am confronted with someone taking away my freedom and I need to get past them,
  • I am in a war with my fellows fighting for the freedom of my people,
  • I am in a one on one contest with another creature and one of us will kill the other, or
  • I have a need to take a life in order to eat.

Please remember we are dealing with nett basic emotions here (which is actually what happens when you allow other creatures into your life).

As a dog I might attack some other being because:

  • I am confronted with some creature I do not recognise, I don't trust it and I don't want it to come any closer to me.
  • I am in a strange place and the creature is stopping me from running to get to my safe place. It is blocking my access to my safe place.
  • There is a creature making weird noises and screaming and it is behaving like it is going to die, it is flapping and running, I need to speed up it's death.
  • This creature does not belong in my pack I need to give it a good scare off because if it comes closer my pack will be in danger.
  • I am biting and chasing this thing and it is great fun and tastes good too.

As a human being I will try to outsmart my captor in order to escape. I will agree that going to war is the way I want my people to go forward. When confronted with a wild tiger it is just him and I - then I had better fight for my life and have a long knife because his claws are like razers. I have come from many millenia of meat eaters and I am happy to know that animals I eat have to die in order that I can eat. All of these things I actually think are completely normal.

As a dog living in a human pack, if I don't like any new person coming into my territory I will bite that person, and if I am in a strange place or separated from all that I know I will be angry and bite or I will huddle in a corner until some creature comes to me then I will bite. If the humans bring some other animal or bird into our territory then it might be the enemy so I will kill it. Sometimes it is something woolly or feathery and I chase it to see if it will run, but it doesn't, the stupid thing just sits there so I bite it to make it run and it tastes real good. So that is why the human being brought home the lamb, so I could have dinner. 'Oh for goodness sake dog couldn't you have waited till Christmas just like the rest of us so we could all have some'.

So, in my Opinion, these are the basic drivers of problems with those dogs who come to live with us and somehow don't fit in due to aggression that they perceive is perfectly normal, and they are right.

Hang on there. Those Dog and human traits of aggression are not that different are they. People do attack others or animals for illogical reasons. I can't answer for why human beings get into a violent mindset, however, my observations of dogs over many years has given me a little insight into the why.

I consider working Farm Dogs as normal as dog behavior gets. They are busy, fit and get adequate nourishment. Individual animals on small land areas do not get enough exercise, get far too much or far too little food and have no purpose or work.

These three things, in my opinion, represent a big chunk of the manic attack mentality in dogs. Who knows maybe the same applies to some human beings.

First: People please divorce your emotion of cuddly puppy from the need to train for a happy well adjusted and useful companion animal.

Second: Admit that your puppy shows aggression towards some things. It is normal for goodness sake. If your puppy is not aware of the difference between you and your family and the neighbours kids, then there is something wrong with it.

Third: Do not beat your puppy or dog for showing aggression to oddball occurrences in his life.

Fourth: Learn from the experts how to change your Puppy's aggressive behavior into a positive experience for all concerned and keep training your pup until it is two years old under many different circumstances and you will end up with a trusting companion who understands that you are Boss Dog and the decision maker for the Pack.

When I have the unfortunate experience of trying to train aggression out of a grown dog, I have no idea how many rules the handler has broken with the pup, how much confusion has been caused in the dog's simple reasoning processes and whether there will be a positive outcome.

When I get all those lovely pups coming to class at 12 weeks old and I get the handlers to enforce some gentle restraint upon their cuddly babies and I watch those pups starting to look to their handlers for information and 'what next Boss', I know that if we continue to train in this manner then these pups at least will be happy members of human society.

The other sad but true problem that we have with Dogs is that we rescue so many from such a wide variety of neglect and maltreatment. Some of those dogs will never be normal. They either have some brain damage or they have huge emotional trauma or both, and they are left subnormal in their response and reactions. Many kind hearted people try to bring some normalcy to these dogs lives. Sometimes it isn't possible and in order for life to return to normal for the human household, the dogs need to be euthanised. I don't like it either but it is an unfortunate fact of life and if you want to have animals as part of your environment then dealing non-emotionally with the facts of life is a very good life lesson for all...

In my job as Mentor and Coach for Dog Owners I see all sorts of wonderful and terrible things happening for Dogs. I always try to be fair and honest with my clients. I will always put in whatever the Owner wants when difficult problems arise. It is not helpful for me to say to people that it is 'Your Fault' although sometimes I might intimate that their behavior might be putting their dog at risk. I will also let my clients know if there is 'no further treatment' for their animal.

The percentage of dogs with Aggression Problems that I see is about 5%. This is remarkable and shows just how hard dogs try to fit into the human pack and how many really good laid back human beings are happy to have their Dogs making some of the decisions in their day to day lives and it works - amazing.

Sunday, December 9 2012

Training with Raewyn Saville for 2013

By appointment at your place:

  • Puppies up to 15 weeks
  • Difficult dogs
  • Dog Management Programs

By appointment at my place:

  • Complete Control
  • Stock Aversion
  • Poultry Aversion

At Dog Sports Rotorua



  • 4-5pm Beginner Obedience
  • 5-6pm Fun with Obedience


  • 4-5pm Beginner Agility
  • 5-7pm Elementary Competition Agility (weave training and early contact work)


5-6pm Learner Flyball

6-8pm Summer Flyball Competition (bookings essential numbers limited)


10am Complete Control for Beginner Dogs

12noon Free Puppy Class for pups 4-6mths old

1pm Terriers and/or busy dog class. Orientation for dogs that struggle in class with others.

2pm Beginner Agility using all equipment

3pm Giant Dog Class for GSDs, Dobermans, Rotweillers, Great Danes, Wolfhounds etc.


Wednesday, November 7 2012

Dogs and Tempers

How frustrating can dogs be...

Today while doing warm up control with our dogs and chatting, as we do while doing this, the subject of frustration with dog behaviour was brought up by me.

Fae, the little darling, has just discovered the world of birds, and bunnies and all things moving. At 12 months all her senses are very developed, including her sight, coupled with the fact that I have had to restrict her movement on the farm and at the lake just recently for her own safety, she is becoming incredibly naughty.

Fae is a terrier, she can be expected to be aggressive to prey and willing to stick with a run or a fight till the end. This is what terriers do. If I was unaware of this I should not have got her in the first place. I want her to hunt and kill vermin, rats, rabbits etc. Already she has a formidable record. She started killing rats and mice at four months and has continued with a passion.

Up until now she has come back quickly from her chases, been rewarded for returning and been a really great puppy to own. Right now though she does not come back anymore. She chases prey across roads, she has lost the ability to listen. All she wants is to hunt, on her terms. I have seen this before throughout my life. I know that in about twelve months as she matures she will be thinking far more about her desire to go too far from home. She will listen better etc.

However, right now it is hard. I am training her hard on lead. On longline, I am rewarding all the positives and I am not being grumpy or growly when she goes Awol. I do have to keep her locked up a lot which is a bother, but it is necessary. If I can't watch her and keep her safe, she will be flattened on the road or disappear with unscrupulous dog thieves, as she is a really delicious looking little thing.

So there is no point in my losing it with her.

Throughout my life and in spite of the positive influences of many doghandlers, through farming and hunting, upland game work and duck retrieving, I have witnessed a lot of violence against dogs. It seemed quite natural for a handler to beat the living daylights out of some poor benighted creature for a slow retrieve or a bad piece of hunting . Even when the dog did not know it was doing it wrong.

I have also seen people outside the Obedience Ring harsh handle their dogs. I have witnessed prominent Agiliteers overcorrecting and overhandling which is very close to violence.

Throughout my whole 61 years, the thing that I have noticed is how the face of the handler looks and how the dog looks through this performance. The handler looks bad tempered, is hissing through clenched teeth at the dog and goes all red in the face, bends over the dog and either beats it with a chain or a leather strap or punches or kicks to go with it. This is an ugly thing to witness. Even as a small child my view was that the dog handler was just getting rid of his frustrations and anger, using the dog as a whipping boy.

The dog cowers and looks really frightened and lies there blinking and shaking, not knowing why it is receiving this attack. At the end of the attack he tries to crawl away, sore and confused but is usually on the end of a chain or a leash and can't go anywhere so he is forced to follow the person who has just injured him.

When a dog doesn't do what you want, it is your problem, you are the trainer, you are the smart alec know it all person who bought the dog for the job you wanted it for. You knew exactly how to get the best out of this dog, so don't blame the dog for being a dog and getting it wrong when he doesn't understand what the hell it is you want in the first place.

A dog that is receiving the instructions clearly and understands the action required on those instructions, will do pretty much as directed. But it takes practice.

Let's go back to Fae again. I have praised her and hunted with her. She knows I want her to do this work, so she is going at it manically. I have not reinforced the stop button properly yet. Probably should have started with the stop button, but I did not want to pull her off the prey when she was keen. I didn't want to turn her off, just when she was turning on. It is a fine line. Now as I go towards her when she is hunting, she hunts harder. By that I mean she disappears under the riverbank to show me she means to get this rat. By doing that she puts herself at risk of not being able to get out. So I have to make sure she has sufficient line on her to pull her backwards. At home if she gets into the drains and starts digging it can be really hard to get her out of a hole. So I have management things to do as well.

Of course she disappears on a hunting foray just when I have changed into what passes for my best clothes, to get to an appointment with say, the doctor. So I have to lock her up an hour or more earlier to make sure I do not get caught with a missing dog at an inappropriate moment. As she hunts day and night 24/7 this is a mission.

I am laughing about it as I know this will pass. I have a 14 year old staffie x who for most of her life hunted herself stupid, but she did get over it enough to also have a career in agility and flygility and a bit of Obedience as well. So I know I will win and I will stick at it till I do.

In the meantime she will make decisions that frustrate me, torment me and challenge my training capacity to the limit. Under no circumstances will any of that be reason for loss of temper, harsh handling or bad attitude to this puppy.

When she is too overburdened by hunting to do other training, it is just too bad. Put her on a line and leave her to think about it for a while, or return her to her pen for an hour or two and try again later. Speak nicely to your dog.

When I am really frustrated that I have time to train and she is preoccupied, I get her eye and say'Fae this will not do'. Then I tie her up. I am absolutely sure she has no idea what I am on about, but I have had my say. That is the end of it.

I recently wrote about my trip to NZDAC where our club had the good fortune to win a few things in Flygility. At the opening ceremony the Chair of the Organising Committee read out a statement which included, among other things, that Harsh Handling would not be tolerated at the Show and that anyone who treated their dog badly would be dealt with very severely by the Committee.

I was saddened that it was even necessary at this high level of competition and then realised that it would be seen as the 'dog's fault' if they did not win a ribbon. What rubbish, every dog is only as good as his handler. Beat up on yourself if your dog messes up but whatever you do do not beat up on your beautiful dog.

If I truly believe that dogs are my best friends, then I need to make sure I treat them with the respect I would treat any of my best friends. I am pretty sure my human friends would not hang around very long if I treated them badly and beat them up.

When I see people harsh handling I am tempted to find out how many friends they have. Probably none. I wonder why....

Raewyn Saville 6-11-12

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