"The Peeing Post"

Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature

Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen

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If You Got a Problem...


Dear $first_name,

Are you comfortable expressing yourself in Dog Language? If not yet, then please get a copy of Anders Hallgren's "The ABC's of Dog Language" - it is a simple and entertaining introduction to understanding what you dog is telling you, neatly organized so you can use it as a reference to check out any behavior you observe but cannot interpret. You can order your copy here.

Now, assuming that we are past the "language barrier", you might still experience problems with your dog. Most people do - simply because they do not know that a dog needs brainwork, mental stimulation. Most of us live in a world full of stress from having too much to do. To us, having nothing to do feels like a pleasure - because we never get a chance to experience it for very long before the next rush is on....

However, for people who have had nothing to do for long time - months or years on unemployment or in prison - this state is very far from enjoyable. It is actually extremely stressful. It drives people nuts - and it drives your dog nuts. You get the symptoms from your dog when it starts all kinds of destructive behavior and becomes a maniac and a nuisance. Separation anxiety, destroyed furniture, taking off roaming the neighborhood, peeing and pooping indoors long after you thought you were past housebreaking... On top of this come many apparently medical problems, like compulsive behavior, itchiness, etc.

The common reason behind 95% of these problems is boredom. The dog lacks meaningful things to do. It has no stimulation for its brain to do any work that makes sense. There are no valid challenges in its life. It is constantly damming up energy and this energy just has to get released somehow. In accordance with Murphy's law, this energy release will always be at times when it is most inconvenient to you, and it will always imply that irreplaceable items get damaged or destroyed...

Making your dog work its brain is not as difficult as you might think. Once you comprehend how the dog's brain works, it is actually simple. You need to view the situation through the wolf's perspective. What challenges a wolf's intelligence is primarily development of hunting skills and skills that are useful for hunting, such as nosework, problem solving, body control, etc. In addition, all kinds of social skills need to be constantly improved - learning from the pack leader being a most important one.

But your dog does not need to track a live prey. Tracking a treat will do just a well. Neither does your dog need to kill a live prey. Splitting a cardboard box apart that wraps a goodie will do the same thing for the dog's brain. There is also no need for your dog to pursue a live prey over all kinds of obstacles in mountainous or forested terrain. Learning to balance on a ladder or dance pirouettes on the hind legs could do a lot. Further, learning from the pack leader is an open book - you decide what is important to learn - you are the pack leader - so you could teach stuff you like to see the dog master; carrying the groceries home or bringing you your slippers would be just fine...

Remember the photos of Bettemuir learning how to get treats out of a cardboard box? (The page is here.)

One of my seminars is all about mental activation. But if you need the inspiration right away, you can get my e-book "BrainWork for Smart Dogs". You will also find many articles related to this in the back issues of "The Peeing Post".

If your problem is not about obnoxious or destructive behavior but about a training result you just don't seem to be able to achieve, then brainwork in general is still a very good idea - it will reduce the dog's stress and very likely make it "listen" better, simply by enabling it to pay better attention and be less distracted by things that happen around it. Seriously, brainwork is always a simple remedy - and it works wonders on almost all cases.

Other than this, you can have two different kinds of problems in training:

  1. The dog does something you don't want it to do.

  2. The dog does not do what you want it to do.

Unfortunately, the difference between these two options is huge - as seen from the dog's perspective. Your ways of dealing with those two situations are totally different in their approach.

The first problem is basically boiling down to a wish from your side to eliminate certain behaviors in certain situations. The technique to use is called banning - which means "establishing a rule through the application of dominance". I will explain in a moment.

The other option is a matter of you not yet having succeeded teaching your dog what you want it to do in a given situation. Chances are that your training method is ineffective or even counterproductive. I will come back with some examples on training methods in the next couple of issues.

Let us consider the situation of banning. With "banning" I don't mean "correction", as used by many obedience trainers. What they refer to with the term "correction" is some kind of application of pain to deter the dog from the action you disapprove of. The pain can be applied through a choke collar, a pinch collar, an electrical collar, by twisting the dog's ear, by stepping on its paws by kicking it in the chest with a knee. Man's creativity is enormous when it comes to inflicting trauma on someone else. Frankly, if you are using any of those methods in your training of your dog, you don't need to ask me advice - I will plain simply not help you abuse your dog!

What I do mean with "banning" is using an incitement for instant submission. Submission is the dog's way of requesting approval for its existence from the pack leader. The pack leader gets a chance to acknowledge the submissive dog's membership in the pack (at a lower rank) by showing instant peacefulness. We touched on this when we discussed the greeting ritual. This is the same - except that now it is you who calls the shots by demanding that submission....

Demanding submission is not easy. Most people get it wrong. It is supposed to be a fine balance between threat signals and signals of peacefulness. For a full discussion of this, I have to refer you to "The ABC's of Dog Language" and "The Dog's Social Behavior". ( You will need them both - they complement each other of this.)

The short version is that threat signals, when used alone, are signaling aggression. The expected response to this would be a counter attack - or fear. Not really desirable for a dog owner who loves his/her companion dog...

Peacefulness signals are many. They all share in common that they are slow or non-moving and they are clear demonstrations of non-violent intentions. Turning away the "weapons" (teeth to bite and eyes to aim) is a powerful way of signaling this. Voice signals are also important: The hunter kills in complete silence - so any kind of noise is actually a signal of peacefulness! (If you ever watched a fight between two males, you will have notice the horrible barking and roaring - certainly not silent! Males generally fight over rank positions and have no intention of hurting each other. When a bitch is involved in fighting, she is generally silent; she wants to kill - females do not have the same strong bite inhibitors males have...)

The exact way you should balance which threat signals with which peacefulness signals is beyond what I dare advice on without seeing your dog's reaction. Let it suffice for the purpose of this discussion that you obtain submission - not fear, and not ignorance. The main difference between submission and fear is that submission is happy (wagging tail, lifted head, licking, rear part of the body low, the submissive dog approaches you), whereas fear is unhappy (low or tugged tail, head low and away, low body posture for entire body, avoidance of eye contact, attempts to get out of your way).

The value of using banning to obtain submission is that this is the way the dog naturally will understand that something it was thinking of doing is a taboo. The taboo, when understood, will have the dog leave off what it was thinking about doing and come back to you, trying to "make peace" with you! This is how a wolf teaches his puppies that there are rules in this pack - and those rules imply that there are certain specific taboos in place for puppies. The real strength in this method lies in the fact of the parties ending on a happy note with a greeting, confirming the bond between them. As soon as that is done, there is peace and happiness instantly on all frontiers, and everybody can have fun playing with each other!

Now, you compare that to human punishment...

You will notice that there is no room for hitting the dog. Hitting is a stupid human way of inflicting pain on other people, kids in particular - and it is even worse for dogs, because a dog plain simply does not see any meaning with it. Besides, the dog's pain threshold is so high that you don't really achieve much of an effect until you are outright abusive and risk doing severe damage...

You will also notice that there is no room either for use of any pain-causing devices, such as choke collars, spike collars, electrical collars, and that sort of thing. Inflicting pain is certainly a signal that fall into the category of sincere threats, but with there being no peacefulness associated with it at all (it is totally mechanically provided), it makes no sense to the dog. For the threat signal to work, it must be communicated from you to the dog, together with a peacefulness signal. You cannot do that by using mechanical or electrical devices.

The consequences of using threat signals alone are severe. Pain instills fear, and so does any other kind of threat signal that is not strong enough to not provoke a counter-attack. Using those kinds of pain-inflicting "training methods" to stop your dog from doing what you don't want it to do will thus make the dog fearful of whatever was on its mind when you triggered the pain. If the dog happens to look at you in that moment, the fear gets connected with seeing you... You could be lucky that the dog would be focused on "the forbidden fruit" in the very moment you triggered the pain (and in that case, you might experience some immediate success with your "training") - but you can never be sure. The darn thing about fear is that it connects with everything the dog experiences in the moment, and it will also include many sense impressions you don't want to trigger fear reactions later. In general, using pain for "training" is a surefire way of creating behavioral problems.

Let us briefly discuss also the option of the dog not yet having learned what you want it to do. There are many reasons for this to happen, and you need to observe exactly what is going on. In many cases, the "refusal" from the dog's side is actually not a refusal at all, rather a spontaneous "error" reaction to a distraction. When this is the case, you need to do more work without those distractions - and you need to improve your training methods.... Too many people are way too fast with a "disobedience verdict" when, in reality, the problem is "ineffective training methods". To be safe, you will never be wrong by explaining to the dog one more time what you want it to do. But you could be terribly wrong trying to apply any kind of negative "consequences" when the dog plain simply has not yet understood what you want.

Well, as you understand, dog training may not be a rocket science - but it is no simple task either. It does take that you have a very good understanding of what your dog is doing and why. Without having a strong personal bond with it, without knowing its personality very well, and without observing all its body language, you are doomed to make fatal mistakes in your training - mistakes that can easy ruin your relationship with your dog....

Aside from your studying on your own or participating in courses or seminars with me, there are three ways you can get help from me if you have a problem:

  1. If the problem can be solved in a simple e-mail, then click on the peeing dog below and send me a description of the problem. I will respond to you per e-mail - but my response will be limited to what I can cram into a reasonably sized e-mail. Generally, I make 500 words the limit - and if I can, I will refer you to where you can learn more about this. This service is free for subscribers to The Peeing Post, under the terms that are outlined on the form you get to when clicking on the peeing dog.

  2. If the problem takes a personal consultation on the telephone, I might refer you to that. You can also initiate this yourself by going directly to http://k9joy.com/dogtraining/askthebehaviorist.php. There is a small fee for this, but no hidden costs, as I do not put a time limit on the consultation! The biggest advantage for you is that we have a two-way communication, so you can be sure to get the instructions you need. Besides, I give you a money-back guarantee: if you cannot use the advice, you get a refund! This service is available also for non-subscribers, so you may forward the link to someone else you know if you think they could benefit from it.

  3. If you have an emergency and/or don't want to wait for setting up an appointment first and letting me prepare myself in advance, you can always call me through my KEEN Advisor service. The phone number is 1-888-ASK-KEEN, extension 023-0634. The first 3 minutes are free of charge, so if I can't help you, the call is free. You can get more information about the KEEN Advisory service at my KEEN home page at http://www.keen.com/mowence. This service is subject to the terms of KEEN and not under my direct control.

Hopefully, you will keep your head above the crowd and seriously make an effort to get to know how your dog functions, mentally.


Cheers and woof,

Mogens Eliasen


If you have any suggestions to contributions or contents of The Peeing Post, or some comments or questions pertaining to this issue or in to dogs in general, I will be happy to know about them. If I can find an answer for you, I will!

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P.S. A a subscriber to The Peeing Post, you can also get personal advice (answers to your "my dog" questions) per e-mail, by clicking on the peeing dog above. As you might already know, there are some conditions attached to my giving free advice, and not everything is suited for a short response per e-mail.

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