The Peeing Post

Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature

Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen

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Dear Dog Friend,

Did you miss this Summer Camp? If so, the next ones in is coming! August 10-17 and August 17-24 are the dates! I look forward to seeing you and your dog - and maybe your family (if you want them to join)! We will have some great fun!

You can check the details at and you can sign up online or by phone (call toll-free 1-888-881-4434).

Call or e-mail me if you have any questions or concerns.


Separation anxiety

I recently got another inquiry about "separation anxiety" from a former student of mine. The dog is 5 years old and has spent the last three years destroying the house from the inside and out, plus the car - also from the inside (at least, that is the impression I get).

I know the owner well - she trained with me all up into Advanced Class three years ago. The dog is a male of a primitive breed - that means little domestication and hence fast mental development as a puppy. This in turn means a much more challenging training task than for people with more "easy-going" dogs of breeds that have been far more domesticated.

"Primitive breeds"? Sorry - but that is primarily the spetses, including Huskies, Malamutes, sled dogs of all kinds, American Eskimos, Keeshonds, Norrbottenspetses, Pomeranians, Basenjis, Pharaoh Dogs etc. Closely related are all other dogs with naturally upright ears. What all these share in common is a short time of development from the wolf with only little selective breeding, and hence only little domestication.

Strong domestication means that the dogs "remain puppies" way into adulthood. The visual sign of that is that their ears never stand up. These dogs have been bred by humans to a large extend for their special features to suit man. In almost all cases, some training was necessary. Those that were easy to train were also the best performers. And that were those that were late in their development, physical as well as mental. Puppies are easy to teach. Adult dogs are far more restrictive in regards to what they accept in terms of training. So, when you constantly select for breeding those that are "retarded", you end up with a breed of dogs that is fairly easy to train because it never really grows up, mentally - and its ears never raise on its head. (I know, this generalization is a bit rough, but it fits very well with my experience!)

With a "primitive breed", you can expect the mental development of the brain to go very fast. In general, you are in good control of such a dog before it is 12 weeks old - or you will never really be in control! And, if you don't start serious training before it is 4-5 months old, you are just losing your chance of ever being able to let that dog off leash...

With a Golden Retriever or another "highly domesticated" breed, you still have a huge advantage by starting training early, but it is far less critical to get everything done before the 12 weeks of age. As long as you start before it matures sexually (5-6 months), you can still obtain some pretty good results for a reasonable effort.

I only recommend "primitive breeds" to dog handlers that know their ABC's of dog training in and out. It is a huge challenge for the inexperienced owner to win the pack leadership position from such a dog. But once you got it (the leadership position), the primitive breeds are fanatic and fantastic in their willingness to perform for their boss! This, unfortunately, leads many people to want to have such a dog. They just forget that you cannot buy such a dog. You can only develop it yourself - if you have the qualifications to do that! Such a dog will only perform for its chosen leader. You cannot buy or sell its obedience and trust and respect.

And this has what to do with separation anxiety?

A lot. The primitive breeds are prone to get it - when they grow up into a situation where they will consider themselves the most qualified choice for pack leader...

When a dog thinks of itself as a leader, both you and the dog have problems. My sympathy is with the dog. It is not fair to not provide strong leadership for it, because there is no way it can live a harmonic and balanced life in a human family as a leader. There are too many conflicts it should be able to care of - but it can't, because of physical restrictions.

The classic example is being left by its pack members. In the dog's mind, this corresponds to the crew taking off with the ship, leaving the captain on the wharf! That does not create a happy captain! I can see this captain running around on the wharf, swearing and cursing and throwing things around, smashing things in his way, trying to somehow get out to that ship and call the crew to order.

A crew member that has been told that he is not to join this trip, but he will get his salary anyway by staying home, would never behave this way! He would just go down to the pub, get a drink, and enjoy himself without doing much - other than waiting for the next trip.

Let me bend it in neon: I have NEVER seen "separation anxiety" in a dog that has a strong leader! Never. It is a phenomenon that is exclusively occurring for dogs that are "problem dogs" also in other areas, meaning that the owner does not really have that much control over the dog if it is not on leash. Yes, most of these people are very nice and very loving people - and their will do everything for their dog - except take charge...

Now, such a "not-very-well-controlled" dog can still be a nice dog. It may not have much desire for doing things the owner does not like. But that is just the owner's luck. He/she most likely simply adjusted to the dog's leadership and accepted that things have to be a certain way - as suggested originally by the dog and confirmed in all daily routines by the dog, being quite happy for the owner's compliance with the unwritten "dog law" in this pack!

This can work peacefully until confrontation time. And confrontation time comes when this dog has to be left alone, because the owner cannot bring the dog along to work or for shopping. Then we have the "left-behind captain" on the wharf acting up...

This impression is most definitely reinforced in the dog's mind when eventually the crew responds to the captain's cursing and brings the ship back to the harbor! Next time this captain is left on the wharf, he knows exactly what to do to get that ship turned around!


The solution

Once you have the problem with "separation anxiety", you have a huge problem. It goes much further than just the damage you see. It infects your entire relationship with your dog - and it is not a healthy relationship.

Changing everything is impossible. So why not start with the most prominent problem: teach that dog to be left alone!

As with all training, you must first select some circumstances for your training that will enable you to reward the dog for doing right - and prevent it from doing anything wrong.

You must also be fully aware of what behavior you want, so you can reward it immediately! For this case, I suggest "LYING DOWN AND BEING QUIET" as the target behavior.

The reward? YOUR COMING BACK! That's what the dog wants, so you cannot find anything more powerful.

How do you prevent unwanted behavior when you are gone?

Good question. An obviously wrong answer is to give the dog the run of the house - or turn it loose in the car. The only simple solution you can use also in other locations is to train the dog to stay in a crate.

So, get a crate! Just big enough for the dog to turn around. The smaller, the better! The smaller, the more safe the dog will feel, and the more comfortable it will be. I know, human standards dictate the crate be big enough for the dog to stand upright in it, but you get the best result if you take the top off and replace it with a simple flat board, so the dog has to creep in and out (please think before you scream: when the dog can choose its own den, it will always find a cavity that is too low for it to stand up in, like under the bed. It will never chose a place it can walk into without creeping.)

You might want to have a leash on the dog, so you can grab it and get it into the crate when you want it. Please do not challenge fate and instigate a chase around the house when you want to crate the dog!

The only thing you now miss is a well chosen command that means, "GO TO YOUR CRATE AND LIE DOWN THER QUIETLY THERE TILL I COME BACK AND INVITE YOU OUT AGAIN!"

This is obviously too long for a dog to comprehend, so you need a shorter version, like "SOLO", "CAMP IT", CURL UP", "CRASH NOW" or similar. Two syllables, maximum. You don't need more. If you think you do, you really need a dictionary.

OK - I knew it. Somebody asked, "why not chose a simple English expression, like "STAY HERE"?"

Here is the answer: "All common words you might use in other contexts also, particularly in conversations with other people, are totally and completely banned as command words for your dog!"

I take no prisoners on this one...

The reason is that when you give your dog a command, you want it obeyed. Every time. No exceptions ever. Strong leaders don't give commands that aren't serious.

You cannot expect a command to be obeyed every time you use it if you sometimes will give the command without following through with the training. By using a word you might inadvertently use without thinking about dog training, you will inevitably expose the dog to the command - and it will learn that it is perfectly OK to not obey - because you were not aware of your giving it, so you did not follow through with the usual training right after it.

This is the classical trap. 

Europeans have a smart solution to this. Standard dog commands in standard European dog training programs are old words that are no longer commonly used. They have survived in the language only as dog commands. In many European countries, there is even a tradition for using German commands to a dog. This tradition was developed when all noblemen in Europe (except in England...) spoke French to each other (being influenced by Louis 14's fashion power). They spoke their native language only to their peasants, and they spoke German to their dogs.

Although it sounds crazy, it is actually also smart! You were never in doubt whom a nobleman talked to - you would know from the language he chose. For his dog, this was very comfortable. No confusion ever about commands!

Unfortunately for our dogs, European noblemen stayed in Europe, with or without their heads attached to the body. Those that made it to North America weren't noblemen anymore when they arrived. The conclusion of this is that European tradition for how to deal with dogs never came across the Atlantic, since only noblemen had trained dogs.... In North America, dogs became "pets" if they weren't used for fighting and gambling...

What is left to do now is simple. As for all training, you follow "The Four Boxes":

  1. Give the command
  2. Make the dog perform by impacting it adequately
  3. Watch that the performance is as you want it - help if necessary
  4. Reward the dog.

The name "The Four Boxes" comes from my usual presentation of this sequence in "comic strip format":








"Incitement" is just a nice short word for "any sensory impact that triggers a desired behavior". Don't let that confuse you. Just learn it.

Next time, I will explain how you turn this into practical training. You might want to do some thinking yourself, but please do not experiment on your dog. It will only be a few days...


Cheers and woof,

Mogens Eliasen


If you have any comments or questions pertaining to this issue or in general pertaining to dogs, please respond - if I can find an answer for you, I will!

If you have any suggestions to contributions or contents of The Peeing Post, I will be happy to know about them. (Please no anonymous contacts, though...)

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PS. Anybody going to Florida August 3-10? I know of a houseboat being for rent for that week - on the St. John's River, near Disneyland. Dogs are welcome. If you know somebody who can go, you could make a US$200 commission by referring them to!