From Dog Whisperer to Dog Listener

May 28, 2009 at 8:38 am 2 comments

DISCLAIMER: This blog post was written in 2009. We no longer do Obedience Training using “dominance”-based methods. We no longer use collar corrections. These methods made Boogie MORE TENSE, MORE TRIGGERED and more prone to aggressive behaviors. We switched over to reward-based methods in February 2010 and saw improvements. 

I am reading two books at the moment: Cesar Millan’s BE A PACK LEADER and Jan Fennell’s THE DOG LISTENER. At the same time, taking lessons from Jill’s Obedience Training program, and also browsing through a training manual by Brad Pattison. Am I confused yet? ha.

It’s too soon for me to know which “trainer” I feel most comfortable with.(Some of these authors don’t see themselves as “trainers” per se; they refer to themselves as dog communicators or rehabilitators/behaviorists) So far, I can already see very stark differences in opinions and methods between these different authors. The one thing all these theories do have in common though is the basic notion that we, the dog owners, have to establish ourselves as the ALPHA or LEADER in the pack relationship. Everyone agrees on this one.

The first chapter of Jan Fennell’s THE DOG LISTENER really hit me hard – she tells the story of being forced to put one of her dogs down because he (very randomly and unexpectedly) bit her young kid on the face. This emotional trauma and confusion over having ‘failed’ her dog and family is what drove her to learn about communicating with dogs in a more effective manner that goes deeper and beyond “obedience training”. Her basic philosophy is very similar to Cesar Millan’s. CALMNESS and CONSISTENCY are the most important aspects of being a good leader, just as Cesar Millan keeps reinforcing the CALM and ASSERTIVE mantra. Dogs naturally follow and respect calm leaders. Body language and energy are more important than talk. Both Fennell and Millan are big believers in “silent leadership”.

Jan Fennell goes a step further in saying that she does not believe in forcing the dog to do anything against his will at all… be this with commands or physical touching/pushing, tools like choke chains and prong collars etc. She is totally against any sort of mental or physical coercion. Her aim is to consistently establish and reinforce a type of day-to-day relationship with the dog so that the dog will WILLINGLY and happily want to please his/her owner. She believes that even though your star pupil dog might obey every “sit/stay” command, he may still be stressed doing so.

This is so different to the training regimen that Boogie and I are going through right now where I am 100% dependent on the leash, prong collar and commands to have Boogie be a “good dog”. Yes, the Boogs is responding well but I admit that a part of me wonders if he really gets the point of all this, or does he still see himself as Alpha? Like I said, every time I slacken off a little bit, I lose a little bit of obedience. If there are no treats or no corrections, the Boogs just does what he wants to.

Here’s a summary what I have read so far….

Jan Fennell on how to establish Pack Leadership: (and some thoughts)

These four methods have to work concurrently…

1. When the pack reunites after a separation, who is the boss now?

According to Jan Fennell, whenever we reunite with our dog (after going out and coming home again) we have to redefine the relationship every single time. Every time we come home, we have to IGNORE our dog for five minutes. (!!!)

No eye contact, no hello, no petting, nothing. The dog will be excited – he may lick our faces, bring his toys, jump up and down… we have to completely ignore him and go and do something else like make a cup of tea. When he finally walks away and goes lie down, we wait another couple of minutes (give him time to process what’s happening) and only then do we make eye contact, CALL HIS NAME and lavish praise, rewards, love on him when he comes to us. This teaches the dog that it is a wonderful experience for him to come to us on our terms. Not on his. Seems really tough, this one. (Boogie is so cute and I am excited to see him too! How can I possibly ignore him?) This “ignoring” process has to happen every time we go out and come home and is supposed to be crucial in dealing with separation anxiety and the dog’s question of who is Alpha.

2. When the pack is under attack and or there is a fear of danger, who is going to protect them?
This one deals with dogs who bark or go beserk when someone comes to the door. The dog feels he is responsible for protecting the home, alerting the human and identifying the intruder. Jan Fennell has something VERY interesting to say about this one…. First of all, we have to THANK our dog (!!!) and praise him for alerting us to potential “danger”. As soon as we have done this, we remove the dog from the decision-making process (of what to do about the visitor)… like put the dog elsewhere, and then explain to the visitor that he/she has to ignore the dog for five minutes… If the visitor refuses to comply, then the dog should be put in a different room before visitor enters.

The rest of this section in the book is a bit vague… there is mention of Sit/Down/Heel commands…and using treats for positive reinforcement.

3. When the pack goes on a hunt, who is going to lead them?

This section is about Mastering the Walk… same principles as Cesar Millan’s. In fact, all trainers agree that the dog should never walk ahead of the owner. According to Jan Fennell, if our dog is excited and hyper and pulls ahead, we stop, stand still and don’t go anywhere until he comes to us and heels. When the dog is by our side, then off we go again. Cesar Millan gives the same rules about reverting to Sit/Stay when the dog pulls forward ahead of us. Only when he is “calm-submissive” do we continue on our walk.

Now, interestingly, our trainer Jill believes the opposite: if Boogie pulls on the leash, we MUSN’T STOP. We have to correct him and KEEP MOVING FORWARD. “If you stop, he wins. He will have succeeded in controlling the Walk”.

4. When the pack eats food, what order do they eat in?
Jan Fennell offers a techique she refers to as “gesture eating”. When preparing the dog’s food, we should place something like a snack or a cracker next to the dog’s bowl (on raised surface/kitchen counter) and make sure the dog sees us eating this. And then we feed him, and walk away while he eats. The idea here is to establish pecking order… the Leader eats first, the Submissive eats later.

Unfortunately in my case it’s going to be tricky because sometimes, Boogie does not hang around when I prepare his food. I feed Honest Kitchen so prep time is like 5 minutes – which Boogie is fully aware of. He’s a smart (or lazy?) boy. He would rather go hang out on his bed and wait for me to call him into the kitchen when the food is ready. He isn’t interested in sitting there watching me prepare the meal. I guess I could eat the snack when I call him into the kitchen, before I put his bowl down…

These four rules should be practised consistently everyday for 2 weeks before we see a marked difference in behavior. (With more “damaged dogs” it could take longer).

That’s as far as I’ve got up to… Chapter 6.

Please feel free to chime in with your comments and experiences!

Entry filed under: Social stuff, Training.

Boogie crate-training part 2: Location, location. Boogie on down, yeah!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jenfer  |  May 29, 2009 at 3:30 am

    I have read the Dog Listener and I like it… I practiced those skills when I first finish the book, probably should do that again.

    • 2. lili  |  June 4, 2009 at 9:46 am

      Hi Jen, when you practised those skills did they make a difference? Did Gigi “change”?


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