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Dog school

The Dog Grumbler

I BELIEVE that much of what a dog needs to learn to be happy and successful in life is best taught by other dogs.

We leave pups in the litter until eight weeks of age or so, because they need to learn basics from mum and siblings.

They need to pick up knowledge about themselves, the world and their place in it.

As I have pointed out before, three out of four dogs never live in a human home.

These dogs learn everything they know from other dogs and personal experience and have done so since they were wolves.

They were equipped for this long before we started moulding them to our needs.

Nature set this up and we can learn much from the way dogs learn from each other.

They use sound, scent and body language and touch.

Sound works much for dogs as it does instinctively for humans – they hear over twice our range of frequencies, but rising and falling pitch indicate the same things.

We use baby talk with infants and dogs because it works – it doesn’t convey anything too specific, but a baby, like a dog, understands rising and falling pitch better than words.

We know dogs have noses much better than our own.

Most animals do — but dogs have specialised in the smell of humans.

For the last forty years, I have worked on the assumption that dogs can smell human hormones.

Dogs are body language geeks.

They recognise us more by the way we move than by the way we look.

Then there’s touch.

Dogs don’t have much range here – in terms of communication they can lick, hold, nip or bite.

Your dog won’t lick people it doesn’t know or like.

A mother dog does not teach a pup how to behave by waiting until it does something good and then licking it.

She waits until it does something wrong and expresses disapproval the only way she can — she growls, snaps and smells angry.

She picks up her pup by the scruff of the neck and takes it where it should go.

She works on her pup’s natural control point, the neck.

This is where a dog perceives tactile communication from others.

Pick it up this way and it knows who is boss.

Knead it here to release oxytocin in both parties and it will love you right back.

Dogs play this way.

Pups learn this way.

They play fight.

They hold each other on the ground.

People see this and panic – they separate dogs that are playing and learning.

If a larger or older dog is holding a pup down every time it rises and the pup is not squealing in distress, it’s just a game and the repetition is integral to the pup’s mental development.

This is why I avoid halters and harnesses — I want to teach a dog, not control it; not train it to pull a sled.

To stop a dog fighting, don’t pull it away from its adversary, lift it by the collar — and some loose neck skin if you can get a handful — lift its front paws off the ground and then move it away.

This is much better understood.

This is why chokers work, not because they strangle or cause discomfort, but because they mimic a mum’s grip.

Some people think a leash is to stop a dog running away.

For me it’s a training aid – a means of communication remembered from the litter.

Sure, you can train a dog using only positive reinforcement if you live long enough, but you won’t be doing it any favours.

Your dog wants you to sound and smell upset when it does the wrong thing.

It wants you to respect and use the language it came with.

And the best teacher is another dog — a well behaved, well trained dog will always be a positive  influence.

Second best is a patient human who communicates in the dog’s own language.