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Turid Rugaas, Dog Training Expert Interview
Questions I asked Turid Rugaas, author of "Calming Signals"
Click the question that most interests you, or read the lot if you prefer! :-)
* What to look for in dog training clubs?
* The fundamentals to training a dog
* Three most common mistakes a new person makes while trying to train their dog?
* "Choke-chains" and "pinch-collars" slammed!
* Allowing dogs to sort out rank
* About Turid and her dogs
* Thoughts on Crufts and dog shows
* Confusion about "Alpha" and force training!
* Can we learn from watching a Wolf packs behaviour?
* Effects of being over-protective with our dogs
* More about Turids book, "Calming Signals"
* Advice on getting your dog to stop chasing cats
* Last comments
Like most of us, I started with a dog I took to a dog club for training, ended up as instructor, started to compete, succeeded in everything, but it was not enough.
Started a process of trying to learn more, and more, and more, and in the end felt I knew enough to start by myself. - IT has been a 35 years long process I hope will go on the rest of my life.
* What sort of things should a person look for in a dog training club? (What sort of things should make someone run away from a particular club as quickly as possible!?)
If I was going to a training club with my dog, I would observe it first, to be sure they did things a proper way - very short sessions for young dogs, no yelling, no punishments.
I would be sure the instructor behaved respectfully towards dogs, and was able to read them, see when each and one of them was a bit tired or stressed, and could let them have a break.
I would like to see an instructor with proper knowledge of learning , with love for dogs, and respect for their feelings, and maybe a sense of humour.
I would leave a training class where the instructor was behaving like a drill sergeant for military use.
I would run away from it if the people were allowed to use anger, punishments, and behaving without care, respect and love for their dogs.
I would also run away if they went by the clock in training sessions instead of seeing when a dog was getting tired and unconcentrated, and if the exercises were usual obedience things, if the demands were too high for the dogs' levels, and they were not observant enough of what the dogs were telling the owners.
* What, in your opinion, are the fundamentals to training a dog that you'd like dog owners out there to know?
The fundamentals of training important to people can be cooked down to a few simple things.
- dogs learn by association, so do not do anything to a dog that can make it associate you, people, kids, other dogs etc with something unpleasant.
- dogs learn best by getting a positive feeling for what you want the dog to do
- learn to read your dogs' signals, so you can see at an early stage when the dog is getting tired, frustrated, and you must do something about the situation.
- go systematically step by step in training - most people go too fast and demand therefore too much too quickly.
Flooding is about the worst thing you can do. Take it easy, be patient.
The slower and more systematic you go, the faster you reach the goal, and in a better way.
* What are the three most common mistakes you see someone new to dog training make, and what should they be doing instead?
The most common mistakes are that people think dogs can read what they THINK the dog should do instead of explaining it in a clear way, to have too high expectations and demands on the dog, and to think they can punish the dog to do something right.
If you think about practical mistakes, it is having a tight leash all the time, plus yanking on it, it is being angry with the dog when it does something for the dog totally natural, and keep going far, far too long when training.
Training is not about how much pain you need, so anything that causes pain or discomfort should be avoided.
We all know, and have known for years, that it only lessens the learning abilities and causes fear and stress, which in turn causes problem behaviour.
Also it has been proven that choke chains cause so much damage on the neck, back and larynx of a dog that it should be banned only for that reason.
One research showed that out of 50 dogs, 48 got serious damage in those parts, while dogs using other kind of equipment than choke chains, had the opposite result - 2 out of 50 had damage.
Use collars that are comfortable and not causing damage, and use training psychology instead of violence, if you want to show you are a good trainer.
And What would you suggest instead?
It depends on what it is.
Teach your dog to follow you by a simple smacking sound - it will teach your dog to follow you, go away from things, and pass other dogs etc.
Teach your dog a hand signal (flat hand) to wait, stop etc.
For things completely forbidden use a simple "oh-oh" sound.
Instead of yelling at the dog, or be angry, teach the dog to "go down" from the sofa instead of yelling NO and make the dog feel bad.
Use your creativity and find ways of dealing with each problem that occurs without using the completely talentless NO.
Find something to praise for! Show your dog in clear ways what you MEAN, what you WANT, instead of the opposite, which only makes dogs passive and helpless.
The most talentless of all methods is the jerking on the lead.
Use the smacking sound, let the lead be loose, teach the dog to follow, and your dog will walk nicely, go away from things, pass other dogs and people, etc etc etc.
Side-effect will be a healthy neck and back and larynx, plus a relaxed dog .
Rank order does not exist between dogs not living in the same family.
One fight can be enough to make a dog terrified or really aggressive, and should be avoided. And letting dogs loose, letting them rush at each other, only cause them to get stressed and therefore more apt to start fighting.
It is definitely not the way to do it. When we start social groups, we walk the dogs on leash till they have got an idea about each other and everything is quiet and relaxed.
The we let them off leash when they are close enough to avoid rushing which is what usually causes fights to start.
And things should be broken up long before it gets nasty. Either by having well socialized dogs that can use aggression calming signals, or by an instructor who can read them.
Then you very rarely have to break up fights. Maybe never.
I have 2 dogs at the moment. One German shepherd, 6 1/2 years old and male. And Saga, mix of Norwegian elkhound and rough collie. 11 years old, female.
Saga is social and sweet and friendly all through, and independent and self-confident. I can leave her to take her own decisions, which she does confidently and in her usual calm way.
She has never been in trouble with anyone in all her life.
- The shepherd, Star, is a re-homed dog who had nil confidence and was stressed to the point where he had no control of himself.
He has developed into a sweet-tempered and lovable dog who loves everybody and is always running around with a big smile on his face, believing the world is his playing ground with only fun things in it.
He has not a serious thought in his head, but is a happy boy, splashing in water, jumping up and down from joy. A waste to anyone who would like a working dog!
Fun for people to see dogs, and be entertained.
Some dogs might enjoy it too. The drawback is that many dogs do not enjoy it, and the owners do not even notice.
I wish many more owners would let the dogs have more experience in step by step learning to handle big crowds like that.
Walking around at big shows is definitely no pleasure if you look at what people do to dogs, and how the dogs try to tell how much they dislike it.
If people paid more attention to their dogs, and respected that some of them should not be there, it might have been more enjoyable for people like me, who suffer physically when I see dogs suffer.
To use staring down, alpha roll, scruff shaking etc is only showing how little knowledge someone has about natural training and methods.
These are all methods never used by dogs or wolves, and they will not understand it, only become scared or get into defense.
Besides we have no right to be so arrogant and disrespectful to another living being.
Dogs and wolves are experts on cooperation and division of labour, and we could learn so much about natural ways of working together with a dog if we could only pay attention to how they do it.
The close relationship between dogs and wolves makes it very interesting to learn about the wild wolf packs.
But you will not learn anything valuable from watching wolves in captivity, so you can forget about that.
And since wild wolves are not easy (not to say impossible) to observe, you should leave that to the ones who can.
Wolf researchers of wild wolves will then be ale to tell us about how they live.
We will not learn about pack hierarchy by either this or that, as the newest information is that there is none.
David Mech tells us about the wolves living in family groups, with parents and children, who definitely do not challenge their parents for alpha roles, but live as their children, and are taken care of as that, sharing the family's work - hunting and taking care of younger sisters and brothers.
We have lived with this "alpha syndrome" so long, it will maybe take some time for us to change to "mother" and "father" - as Mech says they are, Not alphas.
I feel very good about this information - it feels right, - so stop being the bossy alpha, you do not behave like a proper wolf family leader. Be a daddy, and your "children" will love you and respect you the right way - without feeling suppressed or frightened, sharing life with you.
If your dog is never allowed to handle situations on his own, he will never learn how to do it, and you will get insecure, maybe nervous dog, because he feels he cannot cope. All dogs have a right to grow up as independent individuals, feeling confident about coping. Every adult dog should be able to do that, like every adult human.
And putting a strange dog in its place is not your job, so forget it.
If the situation demands it, the most you can do is going in between them, splitting up. That usually does the trick.
But work on building up your dog's self-confidence. A self-confident dog is a problem-free dog. He knows, he can, he can cope.
The book about calming signals...
The book is actually the result of 2 years studying and observations, and then another 5-6 years of working on it in real life, and it is about the calming signals that dogs and wolves use, and which are a big part of their social skills and conflict-solving every moment of their lives.
- Dogs have other signals as well (distance-creating signals like growling etc) but this book is about the signals that is called calming signals, and how they work.
They have not been properly described before, and they play such a big part in every dog's life that I think all dog-owners should know them, to read their dogs and to use them themselves, it is a great benefit in handling, training and actually all situations.
Turid has written "On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals"
If someone actually believe they can do that, please take contact.
You can socialize the dogs to cats when they are young.
You can have a dog with minimum hunting behaviour. You can even punish the dog so hard it will not chase - for a while - but I refuse to use such methods on a dog, and besides it would only work for a while.
And at the right moment, when you are not there, he goes again.
You can teach the dog not to chase when you are there, with a simple stopping signal.
Or you can work on an alternative behaviour - which will also work when you are there. But if you have a dog with high hunting instincts, and is left alone in the garden etc, and has good and long experience in hunting cats - then it will happen again.
And as a warning: if you use severe punishment to stop it, you can have the opposite effect - the dog becomes a dedicated cat murderer.
Good luck, anyone!
I have managed to stop chasing behaviour (car, horses) and it seems to be stopped for good - but I will never take the chance of letting the dog be in the position where the behaviour can start again.
Because we are in the position of having power, it does not mean we should use it. That is arrogance.
Dogs have feelings, they get anxious, worried, depressed, angry, happy and everything else.
We have no right to make a dog's life miserable because we need to have control. A lot of the behaviour problems I see have causes in the way they are treated by their owners, and the methods they use in training.
Too long sessions, demanding too much of the dog, not letting the dog have a minimum of freedom to choose, move, feel and find out the world around him.
We must learn to observe our dogs, learn to read them and see how they feel, and respect their feelings.
We must also learn about stress and how it works - so many problems are caused by stress, which in it's turn is caused by too much "fun" like throwing balls and sticks, agility etc, by too much control, not letting young dogs be young, by owners being "aggressive" and dominant in their ways, by not feeling they belong in a pack.
Dogs need to be loved and feel visible - so many dogs are just shadows, not being seen except when they do something wrong.
The best results I have ever had with problem dogs have been to make them feel a part, being visible, feel loved.
No obedience, no leadership nonsense.
And: To a dog it is MUCH, MUCH more important to be able to solve a conflict than to be obedient. Respect that.