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Dog Logic

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Rapport is both the means and the end, the seed and the flower. A dog can be multi-titled, but lacking affinity for the owner, such honors mean little. Rapport is a mindset, or——if you will——a heart-set. It's an attitude, an atmosphere, an act of faith. I've heard it referred to as expanded consciousness. It may indeed be so. It's certainly a higher level of communication than that governed solely by the world of mechanical collars, force, and ritualized, unfelt praise.

Equipment is necessary to initiate and——to a degree——perpetuate the process, but dependence upon devices and perceiving them as ends in and of themselves is not only self-limiting, it's unhealthy. Ongoing reliance upon gadgetry can block development of friendship and bonding. Your attraction to your dog, properly communicated, ultimately becomes the basis for his attraction to you. This attraction, in turn, becomes the cornerstone of your pet's obedience, his reliability.

It must be understood that the concept of rapport-based training doesn't imply a rose-colored-glasses view that a canine should be coddled, begged, or cajoled. The correct inference is that each animal must be spoken to according to his essence. With a mild-temperamented dog, very little compulsion is needed. With a super tough animal, a sterner approach is appropriate. This is a conceptual expansion of working with each dog at that animal's level of understanding. Moreover, it is not the trainer but the dog who sets the degree of force required. The trainer merely reacts to the dog.

Attitudes and Perceptions

Of a trainer's three primary assets——sincerity, a sense of humor, and open-mindedness——sincerity tops the list. Adopting a front risks missing out on much. Dogs recognize artificial behavior in a blink, and a false face creates distance. Canines are uncomfortable in the presence of the unnatural and the unreal. Phoniness is not of their world because posturing is unreal by definition. It's an illusion. A patronizing manner belies and insults a dog's natural openness and conflicts with the animal's inherent freeness of spirit. Since communication must occur in a manner a canine can understand, a trainer's persona must parallel the dog's inborn tendencies to be honest, straight forward, open and positive. Teaching in a responsible, secure and positive manner results in a reliable, confident, happy worker. If training occurs from a negative, overbearing and contrived stance, confusion and isolation are the almost certain result.

Trait number two——a sense of humor——keeps perspective alive (and sanity intact). Without it, capacities for forgiveness and learning are severely handicapped. Openness goes out the window. A person becomes unable to distinguish between such disparate behaviors as out-and-out disobedience and simple insecurity. An overly stern, inflexible individual can actually place a psychic barrier between himself and pooch without being aware of having done so.

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The third element, open-mindedness, facilitates the other two. Trainers can't afford the lofty luxury of forsaking a "Well, I'll be!" attitude in the face of effective new approaches and methods. Consider those who've been in the business for, say, twenty years, and haven't discovered anything new in the past nineteen. Those folks were blessed with the miraculous good fortune of achieving mastery in a few months. They paid a dear price, though——they forgot that learning is a lifelong process of discovery.

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few. (3)

To be sure, professionals can make it look easy. Some folks in any craft develop a touch for their work. However, an unspoken truth is that the pro has learned it is easy to deal with members of a species who, for the most part, are quite content to be dealt with. Canine willingness to be led and to revel in human companionship constitutes much of their attraction for us in the first place, giving rise to expressions like, "man's best friend." Were this untrue, dogs wouldn't occupy the special place in our hearts they do. These unique traits are large pluses that fledgling trainers——and experienced ones——sometimes over look.

It's A Two-Way Street

The assumption that only trainers may teach and only dogs may learn is not only faulty but dangerous thinking. It's ego centricity that's both limiting and ironic. Canine training is establishing communication between two species. You're perusing this text for knowledge to accomplish that laudable end. The irony is that your dog already knows how. He was born with an instinct to accede to a pack leader's wishes.

(3) -From Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, as quoted in Journey of Awakening, by Ram Dass, (New York: Bantam Books, 1978), p. 11.

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A dog will readily, and happily, comply with any reasonable request. He usually knows already how to do it. The trainer, however, must formulate the request in a manner that is understood by the dog. (4)

A sound animal is responsive to sincere human attempts at interaction. What you must develop are communicative skills styled so pooch can understand them. In a phrase, you need to learn to "think dog." This book can teach you how, and if you listen to your pet's feedback, so can he.

There's no magic in dog training, nor is much about the art chiseled in stone. Moreover, training is far more art than science. Methods can be outlined with a degree of exactitude, but applications of technique is an art that varies from dog to dog. Training denotes entry into another realm, a dimension having few hard-and-fast rules. True, the dog's sphere is absolute, but that doesn't imply that your perceptions must be rigid or autocratic.

The Proverbial Bottom Line

"But I've never trained a dog——how much can I accomplish?"

Dog training is seldom difficult or complex. Stated colloquially, it's often a good deal of work but it's not that hard.

With enough practice . . . [these] skills will become second nature and your feelings of awkwardness will lessen. They will become part of your humanity rather than something tacked onto it. (5)

Dr. Egan was writing about human therapeutic counseling, but his words are certainly germane. Your dog's willingness and your own good intentions and determination will usher you past many seeming barriers. Even if you only teach Sit, expect police-dog reliability. It's highly probable that your pooch has the potential for such dependability and that you're capable of that caliber of training.


In the beginning, God created man, but seeing him so feeble, He gave him the dog.

(4)-Dietmar Schellenberg, Top Working Dogs——A Training Manual(Webster, N.Y.: D.C.B. Publishing, 1985) p. 3.

(5)-Gerard Egan, The Skilled Helper, (Pacific Grove, Calif.: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1986), p. 58.

Joel M. McMains

Excerpted from Dog Logic——Companion Obedience, by Joel M. McMains, copyright © 1992.
Published by Howell Book House, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-6785.
ISBN 0-87605-510-2.

Published with permission of the author.



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