If we could ask a dog how he felt about living in Man’s civilized world, and if he could put his feelings into our human language, he would say, “Every time I get excited or nervous, I get into trouble. What am I supposed to do with my energy?”
Dogs see the world in their own way. When we humans think of dog training, we think about our dog learning all kinds of skills such as heeling by our side, listening to commands, doing this or not doing that. We think in terms of teaching the dog a wide range of rules. It appears to us as if the dog has dozens and dozens of things to learn. Meanwhile, the dog only has the one issue of energy in his heart. No matter how different one situation may look from another to us humans, to the dog they all involve the same question: What is he to do with his energy?
Regardless of how well we may think we have taught our dog to heel, or to sit, and what the rules of the house are, if we haven’t addressed this fundamental concern of the dog, he will never be 100% reliable. In fact the likelihood is that he will never have learned how to be under control in the first place and that a great degree of resistance between dog and owner will lay unresolved and brooding towards future encounters or nervous outbursts. So instead of trying to solve a thousand little problems without regard to an overall balance, (which would be like building a house without consulting a blueprint), I suggest that we break each problem down to its most fundamental element as it pertains to the flow of energy, which as I have outlined earlier, precisely conforms to the parameters of the hunt. We’ll find at the core of every problem, the same central element and by taking heed of this standard, every area of our training will be in balance with every other area. Each step will dovetail neatly into the next step on a smooth and steady progression with social resistance melting away in seemingly unrelated areas of the dog’s life.
When we arouse the dog and then channel its energy appropriately, the dog is put into a mood of calmness and this is the only condition in which he is ready and able to learn what a command means. The traditional way of commanding the dog and then trying to show him what the command means is the wrong way to train one’s dog. It causes the dog to associate the command with the shock or discomfort of having to change moods. Before the command to heel for instance, the dog may have been in the mood for examining buttercups. Arbitrarily changing the dog’s mood without a good instinctual reason grates on his nervous system precluding his ability to learn in a positive manner.
Behavior flows from a mood (not a thought!!) and so we must first use the flow of energy through a dog being in drive toward its owner, and then this automatically creates an appropriate mood relative to the situation. Once the mood is established and the desired behavior is elicited, the dog is NOW ready to have the command associated with this flow of events. We’re looking for straightforward expressions of drive so that the dog works in a straight line, in parallel with his handler. Also when drive flows directly, his behavior is pure and so he works with a happy attitude, and so these are the moods that we want our commands to evoke. To meet these criteria, training must always be approached from the issue of drive so that energy can flow.
In dog training we need to answer these questions: If we want to train the dog to our command, how are we going to first attract his drive? And, if the dog’s drive is already aroused, how are we going to permit the dog to find relief?
We also have to consider that there are certain situations so unnatural that an evolved instinct isn’t available to handle the flow of drive. A stranger knocking at the front door is a highly charged event and the social instincts of many dogs can’t plug in here so that drive can be calmly fulfilled. Excitement turns to nervousness if a course of action isn’t clear while they’re high in drive. The dog just can’t have energy once he has been energized: he’s stuck with it like a car approaching a curve at high speed. What is such a dog to do with his energy? In this case, the owner needs to deepen the group mood through praise and constructive obedience work so that drive will flow into a calm resolution of the moment.
Dog training is channeling drive away from a wild-like direction into an appropriate, domestic direction. To do this we have to develop the harmonic pathways so that drive can be steered smoothly in the direction the handler wishes.
The first step is for the handler to be able to attract his dog’s drive, not just some or the majority of it, but all of it. A simple test is to try to get your dog enthusiastic about you, or something you have, when in a new place or around strange dogs. If he can do it, next, observe the length of time the dog can sustain an active form of interest. The longer the interest, the greater the flow, and the greater will be the dog’s ability to resist something naturally appealing as another dog or a cat when the owner requires control. Many dogs considered well trained, will fail this test miserably.
Dogs don’t choose to ignore their owners: they are forced to because they have been trained to relate to their owners via their pack instincts. A pack instinct is designed to store stress, and to set overload thresholds, not to conduct drive in a calm manner. Through constantly being rebuffed when excited, the dog learns that he can’t be with his owner whenever he’s high in drive. His drive can only be expressed in the pack through warped distorted behaviors as his mind and body is clouded by the survival instincts. This precludes our control in a critical moment because if the owner is a source of nervousness, how can the dog be attentive to him? And if the dog is nervous, how can he be controlled? The truth is: it’s impossible to control nervousness.
Unless the dog is in a group mood, he can’t be both attentive to his handler and willing to calmly admit strangers, whom his natural instincts have defined for him as “trespassers”, into the family group.