Since I’m of course interested in how the marketplace receives Neil Sattin’s DVD treatment of Natural Dog Training, below is a link to a recent review which I’m excerpting at length in this article.
The purpose of this article is to review the review in the hopes of making the point of Natural Dog Training more vivid. I believe the review is thoughtful and tries to be fair, not too cynical, but ultimately misses the point because the reviewer isn’t willing or able to question first principles. I’ve placed excerpts of the review behind asterisks and in quotes followed by my response.
**”One of the enduring arguments in our marriage is how Greg takes a simple thing and turns it into something complicated. In Natural Dog Training: The Fundamentals ($65.00, http://www.naturaldogblog.com/), Neil Sattin follows a similar pattern. This two-DVD set starts with the premise that by being “the moose” to your dog, you can utilize his natural prey drive to your benefit. He also takes basic Positive Reinforcement training and adds several unnecessary steps to create a well-trained dog.
Is dog behavior really so simple, do we have dogs all figured out? For example, could this reviewer explain what’s going on inside a dog that sits enthusiastically for a treat? It may not turn out to be so simple.
When I give a seminar, the behaviorists see me do something like getting a shy dog to push into me for food, and say “oh that’s positive reinforcement”. The dominance proponents see me do something like getting an aggressive dog that’s tense and rigid and ready to blow, roll over on its back for a tummy rub and say, “Right, that’s asserting your dominance”. But by the end of the seminar most of the audience can see that I’m making a profound distinction between both of these paradigms and that what I’m doing has nothing to do with progressive learning theories or a dominance hierarchy. The fact is that the shy dog has become aroused by what’s negative about me, and the stiff dog isn’t acting submissive, but is learning to manipulate me by choosing to feel good. Both dogs are becoming grounded and therefore their energy is moving and so they are beginning to soften. Meanwhile in the marketplace, the progressive trainers criticize me for being too negative and the dominance proponents say I’m being too touchy-feely and new-age.
The distinctions I’m making are subtle perhaps, and in some ways beyond the scope of an introductory practical tutorial on how to train a dog. On the other hand I begin a seminar with a two hour lecture as preface to the practical demonstration and such an approach isn’t feasible in a dog training video aimed at the average dog owner. The average dog owner doesn’t want to learn theory in a video just as the average computer user doesn’t want to learn computer theory; they just want to know how to train the dog and how to use a computer. And they’re willing to question first principles because they’re not attached to conventional wisdom and probably because conventional wisdom and modern theories have already failed them.
**”Being “the moose” means that the handler plays the role of prey or predator to the dog, like a moose in flight or fight (and they can be fearsome fighters, tap dancing like frenzied grape stompers). Having lived in Alaska (Sattin lives in Maine) for more than 40 years combined, we’ve seen numerous moose-dog encounters, and the actual range of behaviors is too broad to be useful as a training paradigm. The idea is fascinating, but reading the dogs’ body language as Sattin preys upon them actually evidences a play response.”
Here we find the classic separation that the human intellect makes between the-forms-of-things, as in the concept that what’s going on within a pack of wolves is fundamentally different between what’s going on between wolves and other species of animals, especially large, dangerous prey animals. For example I believe it would be possible for a moose to induce a play response from a wolf; owners see such behaviors all the times between their dogs and horses, or goats and so on. If a moose were somehow so inclined it could easily train wolves to heel, sit, down, stay and come-when-summoned and this is because all behavior is a function of attraction, and this force of attraction that constantly elaborates between predator and prey “polarities” is the basis of complex social energy. This is why wolves play amongst themselves with the exact same behaviors that they exhibit in hunting prey. And when wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana are turned out into the field with buffalo they approach them and then exhibit “submissiveness”. So if there is an inseparable gap between species so that the “actual range of behaviors is too broad to be useful as a training paradigm” how is such inter-species communication possible?
Finally, in police and protection training, the interface between prey and predator as the organizing principle to canine behavior becomes much more vivid and easy to see than is available to the average pet dog trainer training family dogs, yet not any the more relevant.
** “The actual training begins with teaching you to elicit a “pushing” posture from your dog to help him realize you are controlling his energy.”
The purpose of pushing is not to control the energy, but to attract the dog’s energy; energy that the dog has learned to hold back from its owner because this energy is “designed” by evolution to be held in reserve for critical moments, and the prevailing training paradigms are not teaching owners how to attract this energy. It is the energy itself that controls the dog because the dog wants to feel good by continuing to experience the flow of its emotion. By the owner becoming the object of attraction in terms of triggering and releasing reserve energy, this gives the owner emotional leverage and the opportunity to shape the energy into heel, sit, down, etc., just as prey does when it refuses to roll over and be dead, the wolves, heel, sit, lay down and stay for hours, dart in and dart out in synchrony, maneuver in coordinated fashion, all in response to their feeling of attraction to the prey that embodies so much resistance. The advantage to learning at this peak energy state is that the dog learns how to heel, sit, down, stay, recall when in a critical moment. If one becomes the object of attraction, one has emotional leverage and can then exert control, if control is a word we need to use.
** “Sounds simple, right? The “pushing” looks a little like your dog is trying to mount your arm while you support his throat/chest in one hand and feed (or “Zing!”) him some yummy food with the other. The body posture the human must assume to attract the dog to his “prey” is like a Tai Chi posture: knees bent, body bent over at the waist slightly, and a backwards walk. There are numerous issues with the pushing technique:
Achieving what Sattin calls a prey body posture can be physically demanding for anyone with knee or back issues. (We’ve worked with people who were blind, in wheelchairs, frail, or simply just small relative to their dog.)”
Dogs can be secured to elastic bungees or saplings so that they are still driving forward without any taxation on the body of the trainer. People in wheelchairs can also do the pushing exercise to the extent to which they feel comfortable. Small kids do not need to do it. Once the dog is trained, he listens to small kids he’s bonded to, naturally. This is what makes working with energy so powerful. But if someone is physically incapacitated so that they can’t do physical work with their dog, then perhaps it is true that they will have to limit themselves to modern learning theory. But at the same time I would guess they would also be advised to select a dog of an energy level that would suit them and could be trained with a minimum of physical exertion in the first place.
** “The position he takes as prey is actually a loose, wiggly, curvy body posture associated with playful body language.”
What the reviewer perceives as playful body language is actually preyful body language. There is no such thing as play per se. Play is inhibited prey-making. This is why wolves play before they hunt. They are exciting the prey-making impulse and when the energy gets more intense then the intra-species pleasure circuits can handle, they then spin off and go hunting so that this aroused energy can be fully consummated via the inter-species pleasure circuits.
** “If you have a dog who jumps up a lot, this would likely make the behavior worse.”
Only according to mainstream learning theory; whereas in practical reality it doesn’t work out this way. And if there is a discrepancy between theory and actual results, then maybe something’s wrong with the theory. In fact, it’s the owners teaching puppies not to jump that are producing so many dogs that are obsessive about jumping up on people. Dogs jump up in order to make contact. When they feel secure in their connection, and they gain such a feeling of security by virtue of all their energy able to be in invested in someone, then they don’t feel the need to jump up in order to make contact. They feel connected on sight.
** “Pushing is ultimately a secondary reinforcer (like a clicker, whistle or verbal “Yes!”) – an unnecessarily complex one, which also has the significant disadvantage of being impossible to use at a distance (unlike a clicker, whistle, or “Yes!”).”
Such terms as primary and secondary and tertiary reinforcements are useful descriptions to a point, but they don’t do anything to elucidate what’s going on inside a dog. If we want to talk about primary and primal, the number one motive of all animal behavior is to resolve unresolved energy. Therefore pushing and other behaviors that overcome resistance are dealing with a primary motive and are not reinforcements whatsoever. When an animal moves unresolved energy, it doesn’t matter to them what the consequences are, the simple biomechanical reality is that it feels relief by such movement even when it puts it at risk of death.
Also, I have no problem with clicker training if it’s based on top of the drive mechanism. NDT is simply saying that dogs are not learning machines; they are feeling beings and feelings evolved in order to turn emotion into drive so that it can overcome resistance. Any being that helps a dog overcome resistance, becomes an emotional counterbalance to that dog and this is the basis of an emotional bond.
** “His approach is refreshing (as compared to many dog trainers on television), in that he treats the dog respectfully and kindly while trying to achieve results. The dogs obviously enjoy working with Sattin and do learn the basics he teaches. He doesn’t get caught up in the unfounded dominance paradigm, so he can concentrate on eliciting cooperation instead of using coercion. And, at least for the first disc, he uses only a flat woven collar. Sadly, he later recommends physically manipulating a dog, if necessary (it never is) and using a slip (aka choke chain) or pinch (or prong) collar, both of which are punishment tools.”
The old paradigm, into which modern “positive” dog training falls, sees collars and corrections as necessarily negative. But dogs don’t perceive things this way. Anything that adds energy to the system, even things that seem at first to be negative, end up being perceived by the dog as a positive. For example: when a successful entrepreneur recounts their business career, from the long term perspective looking back, even the failures which seemed overwhelmingly negative at the time, are now perceived as positive building blocks to the ultimate success. And if they were particularly skilled in business, in situations which others might perceive of as a block, they were able to perceive as an opportunity. Therefore they became aroused by adversity and saw it as an exciting challenge rather than seeing it as an impending failure. This is likewise true of a dog in drive. What behaviorism construes as a “negative” the dog perceives as an energizing positive. The fact of life on planet earth is learning how to deal with negatives. Natural Dog Training teaches a dog how to be in conflict, without being in conflict. The negative becomes defined as access to the positive.
** “These imply a lack of awareness of both a common behavioral response (opposition reflex) and the availability of better tools (no-pull harnesses and head halters).”
The pushing technique is the purest expression of harnessing the opposition reflex in order to access the latent reserve energy; whereas I can’t imagine any greater a violation of the opposition reflex then clamping down on a dog’s muzzle with a head halter. That’s like putting a stopper in a flask of gas held over a Bunsen burner. It sensitizes the dog’s muzzle because it becomes a choke point for energy. A dog uses his mouth and jaws to move energy just as a child uses their hands and gestures to express energy.
** “Sattin teaches “tug” and “fetch-tug” as a reinforcer and uses it in some creative and interesting ways. There are many benefits to teaching your dog how to tug properly, including relationship building, improving self-control, and just being great exercise.”
Bear in mind that ten or twenty years ago, these same progressive trainers and behaviorists were telling owners to never play with tug toys, as according to learning theory, it was encouraging dogs to bite.
** “Several of his explanations are hard to follow, such as why you want to be the moose and how he resolves the dog’s excess energy through the human.”
For the purposes of an introductory and practical tutorial, I thought this point was made quite clearly in the videos.
** “There are some leaps of logic that don’t track well with the modern science of dog behavior, like being a predator, which should kick in the dog’s fight or flight response – neither of which are conducive to training.”
The predator aspect is a necessary activator of unresolved emotion (reserve energy) —and it doesn’t necessarily have to kick in the fight/flight response, although it can indeed do so. For example, Mohammed Ali did not climb into the prize ring out of a fight/flight reflex. He was driven to make contact by overcoming the resistance his opponent offered. Fight drive, which is the highest expression of the drive-to-make-contact, and which in humans is manifested in everything from competitive sports to the dedication required in the full expression of an artistic talent, has nothing to do with the fight/flight response. It is how the drive-to-make-contact elaborates into the highest expressions of social and cooperative behavior.
The predatory aspect is physically manifested by the eyes. In regards to training and in addition to triggering the emotional battery, the predatory aspect reflects emotion projected onto the object of attraction back from the “projectee” to the “projector.” Without this process of energy reflecting back and forth, emotion couldn’t elaborate into a feeling and complex social structures couldn’t then self-organize. So the predatory aspect does prove conducive to training if the dog doesn’t perceive its owner as an impossible object of resistance. This is the purpose of pushing, to reduce the inhibiting effect of an owner’s predatory aspect on a dog’s capacity to evolve a feeling that can overcome resistance and states of conflict and evolve into cooperative behavior.
** “There is an accepted jargon to describe the nuts and bolts of dog training that is generally used by experienced trainers to facilitate understanding, whether that trainer is old school, military, agility, clicker or lure-reward trainer.”
The problem with accepted jargon is that it cannot depict what’s going on inside the dog without resorting to thoughts and so it is therefore of no value if one wants to explore the mind of the dog which is an energy circuit. For example, classical mechanics is useless in describing what’s going on energetically within the atom. Therefore NDT has had to invent its own terminology which is also completely in accord with the way people intuitively talk of emotion as energy, (wired, animal magnetism, galvanized, charged, etc., etc.)
** “He appears unfamiliar with this language and often uses common terminology incorrectly; redirection roughly means “don’t do that, but do this instead.” This probably won’t be a problem for a person unfamiliar with dog training, but can cause a few misunderstandings when trying to translate to an experienced trainer.”
Strictly speaking, Natural Dog Training doesn’t employ such terms as redirection or distraction. I suspect Neil was trying to put things into common parlance so that the ground felt more familiar to the average dog owner. In point of fact, NDT is not about redirecting, desensitizing, substitution or distraction; it is about channeling the dog’s energy into the handler.
** “When Sattin gets to some basic obedience on disc 2 (which is titled “Mastering Obedience” – a clear over-reach), he starts with a wooden box. We often use similar tools (a piece of carpeting, dog cot, or even an agility pause table), but Sattin leaves it to the DVD set purchaser to build his or her own box; this seems like an unnecessary hurdle and additional complication. The worst omission, however, is that none of his materials deals with the issues that drive most dog owners to find a dog trainer in the first place: house training, jumping up, barking, chewing, mouthing, and more.”
I believe Neil was quite clear in his DVDs. All the so-called problems in raising and training a dog, from a dog’s point of view, ultimately boil down to one problem, what to do with its energy. If this underlying issue isn’t addressed then one ends up sticking fingers into ever springing leaks in the crumbling levee. So as an introduction to NDT, I think it’s completely reasonable that Neil focused on foundation principles that if addressed, take the emotional freight off these other subsidiary issues. Of course there would be nothing wrong with subsequent editions to deal with these lesser matters directly but this nevertheless falls outside the scope of an introductory DVD.
** “Overall, this is a somewhat interesting approach to dog training, but one that adds little more than some new language.”
The DVD reformulates basic training into an energy model. This has never been said before.
** “This could be a useful addition to any trainer’s library with a few new variations on existing tools, particularly alternative uses for “pushing” as a motivational or energizing technique. But it’s not recommended for the layperson.”
I am intrigued as to what could possibly be an alternative to pushing but then why would the reviewer be interested in an alternative technique if the operational premise behind the pushing technique is held to be wanting. I’m still waiting for the alternative to the bite toy that behaviorism and progressive dog trainers used to advise against thirty and twenty years ago. In ten years from now if the pushing technique is allowed to be co-opted by the current models, it will be recommended just as the bite toy is being encouraged now.
** “How to choose a dog trainer: Professional trainers use humane methods that are safe for both the dogs and their people. Good trainers stay current in their field by educating themselves through readings, seminars, and conferences, as well as having excellent teaching and communication skills.”
To stay current the reviewer might want to read “Natural Dog Training” originally published in 1992 wherein the operational premise of the energy theory is set forward in greater detail and in terms of mainstream theory.
“Professionals are members of educational organizations. Competent instructors want students to ask questions and are kind toward both students and their dogs. Experienced trainers know that there are no guarantees, but will ensure client satisfaction. And training should be fun for dog and human alike!”
Such a spirit of inquiry could begin by questioning first premises, such as dogs learn via operant and classical conditioning. The truth is that since I’ve been in the dog business, I’ve seen an exponential increase in rates of aggression and incidences of aggression in breeds of dogs that were once bomb proof, and this corresponds with a concurrent increase in the organization of thought that is happening under the current modern orthodoxy. We still kill millions of dogs each year even though there is an almost universal compliance with neutering and early training and selective breeding for so called “friendliness.” In the interest of learning something new about dogs, I would think the reviewer would have been willing to approach a new idea with a little more intellectual curiosity.