Chapter Five: Pain and Pleasure
To this day I know of several well-respected trainers who use unreasonable exhaustion to break a dog's spirit. A common method is to tie dogs to a moving treadmill and force them to run until they are beyond exhausted. At that point all the dog cares about is surviving.
Don't be fooled when a trainer calls a choke chain a "slip collar." The name may sound prettier, but it's the same old violent method of choking a dog until he submits to your commands. I have seen these so-called trainers telling owners that spraying Binaca in a dog's face is the way to stop unwanted behavior. Still others physically force dogs on their backs in what is known as an "alpha rollover," which is scary and unnecessary. I wish these torturers, disguised as trainers, who are too lazy to actually learn dog behavior, would take to heart the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil is permanent."
You have to be smarter than your dog, not tougher. If you think being tougher works, try training a rat to run an agility course. Or try training a chicken to heel, like I have. Being tough and dominant will get you nowhere. Compared to working with these animals, training a dog is a piece of cake, because he actually wants to help, and will forgive you when you are being unclear or inconsistent. If your dog doesn't want to lay down when you ask him to, hurting his neck and shoving him around will only cause his enthusiasm level to plummet even more. I find this abusive behavior utterly unnecessary because teaching your dog to lie down is actually easy -- and when you do it properly, he won't even want to get up! When you coach your dog using The Loved Dog method, your wishes will become his favorite behavior because he will associate it with great pleasure -- not pain.
There is a training method called the alpha rollover, which a few trainers still swear by. It is suggested that when a dog becomes too aggressive or tries to assume the leadership role in your relationship, you should get down on the ground and use your hands or your body to pin your dog on his back so he can't move under your weight. Then, from that terrifying position, the trainer is meant to stare the dog down into submission.
Does it work? Ask my friend Michelle, a Canadian woman whose Jack Russell terrier stiffened up whenever she got close to his food bowl. Instead of systematically coaching her dog to accept her presence (as I describe in chapter 9), she followed a trainer's advice to do the alpha rollover and pin her dog to the ground when he growled at her. She called me when she got back from the emergency room after her terrified dog had bitten her.
People tell me that the alpha rollover is natural, and that an alpha wolf or dog performs this technique to create submission in other pack members. That is absolutely not true! You may see a snapshot of a submissive wolf lying on his back in front of a higher-ranking wolf. But if you'd seen the sequence of events that took place beforehand, you'd realize that nobody put the wolf in that submissive posture. He got there on his own, whether he was playing, or looking for acceptance from his leader.
Different species of animals are completely attuned to the way we view them and treat them, and they generally have clear feelings, preferences, and opinions. Once, I accompanied some new friends to northern Thailand to spend a few days with the local tribes. I was excited as I was lifted up toward the wicker basket for my first elephant ride. I loved sitting high up on the elephant's back, but while I was observing the exotic insects that clung to the tall tree branches, my elephant suddenly raised his trunk above his head, pointed it at me, and sneezed, showering me in elephant snot. He did this over and over again -- expressing just what he felt and thought about a strange tourist riding on his back. You can bet I heard and felt it loud and clear!
Training dogs without abuse and pain requires an owner to better understand their underlying nature and motivations. In order to do this, we must dispel two popular myths. The first is that dogs don't have feelings. However elementary this may sound, you would be shocked to know how many people don't realize that dogs have a complete range of emotions, which are very similar to those of toddlers. Dogs feel loss, joy, and disappointment; they get obsessed; and they love surprises and games. Although they are quick to forgive, they will remember things. Every time Clyde hears a motorcycle, his ears go down and he runs to hide in a corner. It's obvious that something in his past taught him that the sight and sound of motorcycles are negative or dangerous.
The second myth is that dogs will do anything to please their owners. The truth is that dogs will do anything to please themselves. If these things also please their owners, it's just icing on the cake. After working with thousands of dogs throughout many years, I have seen that the driving force behind any dog's behavior is an association with pain and pleasure. If you understand and align your needs with his needs, then he will do anything to please you. Just like humans, a dog will always seek pleasure and try to avoid pain.
Sometimes, the divide between what humans and dogs find pleasurable is vast. You wouldn't roll against a dead animal's rotting corpse for any amount of money, right? But to a dog, a smelly carcass is like Chanel No. 5. This seems impossible (and disgusting), but the truth is, she's having a fabulous time, and stopping feels like a bummer. I'm not suggesting you allow your dog to roll around in manure and animal cadavers just because she likes it. I am suggesting that if you want her to stop what she considers a pleasurable behavior, you'll have to find something even more enticing with which to distract her. It's up to you as a responsible dog owner to understand her needs and desires as a dog, and to provide her with healthy outlets.
Oprah Winfrey's golden retrievers are three of my favorite dogs. I met them when they were three months old, right after Oprah took them into her extended family, and I have been privileged to coach and play train them through their various stages of life. One of them, Layla, is a great adventurer who could have been the leader of Outward Bound, if she was human. I used to call her Layla Cousteau because whenever she could, she'd dive into the pond with her eyes open, looking for fish! She was in her own private world, and when someone tried to get her out of the water, it was as if she suddenly went deaf. In the pond, she was in doggy heaven, and no amount of begging, pleading, or threats would reach her. When I saw the extent of her diving and exploring obsession, I knew that if left to her own devices, she would stay in there for days, which was frustrating for Oprah, and also not particularly good for Layla's health. When I play train a dog, I always try the easiest method first, or the path of least resistance. If that doesn't work I'll try other ideas. (One of the greatest gifts of my military training was learning never to count on Plan A alone. I was taught to always have Plans B, C, and even D in my vest pocket.) Since Layla felt that getting out of the pond was a bummer, I had to teach her to want to get out. I started by putting a chicken treat (the gold medal of treats) in my hand, took Layla by the leash, and walked her to the pond, feeding her treats and saying, "Take it, take it, take it," as she happily munched away. Then I took a liver treat (silver medal) and threw it into the pond. "Dive, dive," I told Layla. She did not need to be asked twice! She flew into the water to retrieve the treat.
After she swam around for a few minutes, I dangled a gold treat from my fingers and lured her with it by saying, "Take it, take it."
Layla hesitated. I could see her mind churning, "What should I do? I really like those treats." She compromised and took a step toward the edge of the pond. When she stepped out of the water, I gave her a jackpot of gold treats that I reinforced with the words "Take it, take it," using my happiest voice to praise her, as if she had just won the World Cup. Then, to Layla's surprise, I tossed a silver treat into the center of the pond, called out "Dive, dive," and she rushed back into the pond. That day she went in and out of the pond whenever I asked her to -- with the help of some wonderful treats, my happy tone of voice saying "Take it," and my arms extended wide open as a big reward. On a scale of one to ten, getting a jackpot of gold treats and then being allowed back in the pond was an eleven! Layla's pond explorations are no longer a problem, since she happily comes out when asked.
What I did with Layla was an exercise in healthy behavior modification that served us both. My challenge was to make her understand that when she got out of the pond, the fun would not stop. With my method, coming onto land was not a bummer, but a gift. Layla finally understood that getting out of the pond was not a punishment or the end of her playtime. I could see her brain registering it, and then she made the change herself because she wanted to, not because she was afraid. I simply aligned her pleasure association with what I wanted, and she started getting out of the water when she was asked to do so.
One morning I was called to the lobby of The Loved Dog to meet a female Rottweiler named Cherokee. Her owners, a lovely couple, told me she was afraid of everything, and I only had to see that she was missing a toe to understand. She was a victim of an abusive trainer who used electrical currents on her toes and would only stop when she obeyed. By the time she was finally rescued by this wonderful family, her toe required amputation since the nerves had been ruined. She had also spent most of her days confined to a cage in a "training" facility, another form of abuse. My heart went out to Cherokee, and I began to coach her myself. Although Cherokee was not aggressive, her situation was more urgent because she was a Rottweiler, a breed that often is misunderstood in a negative way.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable at a cocktail party until you struck up a conversation with someone fun? I knew that having a friend would help Cherokee get through the process, but she was too frightened to approach another dog and make friends the way most dogs naturally do. I needed to get creative. After I showered Cherokee with love and she trusted me, I moved on to the next step of Operation Cherokee. I smeared honey around her mouth and introduced her to Ginger Bosley, an easygoing dog I thought she would really like.
When the two dogs first met, Ginger crouched on the floor and lay in a submissive posture, which let Cherokee know that she was not a threat. Cherokee gave a little growl and began to check out Ginger. When Ginger smelled the honey, she started licking Cherokee's mouth, and they were instant friends! I felt like a proud "doggy matchmaker." With the support of a good friend and nonviolent coaching, Cherokee began to heal. Her fear dissipated, and the two dogs shared a fantastic friendship for many years.
In the cases of both Layla and Cherokee, I needed to figure out what made each dog tick before I could bond with them and coach them. Each dog's fears and desires are unique to their personalities, but we also need to be aware of the seven basic needs that all dogs share.