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Dogwise: The Natural Way to Train Your Dog

Dogwise: The Natural Way to Train Your Dog

by John Fisher

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Using a non-aggressive approach, this practical handbook offers a radically new system of dog training that truly works.


Using a non-aggressive approach, this practical handbook offers a radically new system of dog training that truly works.

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Souvenir Press
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6.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

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The Natural Way to Train Your Dog

By John Fisher, Tony Glue

Souvenir Press

Copyright © 1992 John Fisher
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-285-64031-3



For many years now I have been quite forthright in my views that dog training is out of date.

There are many genuinely concerned dog owners who regularly attend dog training classes and religiously practise what they have been told to do, but still find that they have no control over their dogs when visitors arrive, or in the presence of other dogs, or when children are about. Some dogs, who behave perfectly within a class situation, still pull on the lead, jump up at the owners when they return home, run off when they are let off the lead, defecate, urinate, howl and bark when they are left, or become destructive in the owners' absence. All this, despite the fact that the owners are regularly drilling their dogs in the heelwork, sit stay, down stay and retrieve exercises that are taught within a class situation.

This book is about the successful training of a ten-month-old German Shepherd Dog called Major, using a completely reward-based programme, and explains how this approach can be used to train your own dog.

It follows Major's progress from his selection, through his training to the equivalent of the Home Office Police Dog standard; at the same time it relates the way he was trained to the training of the pet dog. Major was handled by Robert Cox, a dog handler with the City of London (Hampstead Heath Dept). (The Hampstead Heath dog section is not connected to the City of London Police Dog section; under an Act of Parliament the police have no powers on the Heath except by invitation or in pursuit.)

My copy of the Home Office Manual, Police Dogs, training and care, was written in 1963, but the current manual is almost exactly the same. The photographs are more up to date and the words 'choke chain' have been replaced by 'check chain', but the methods of training have not changed. I cannot think of any other area, be it medicine, child care or education, that has not advanced over recent years. Certainly there is a wealth of new knowledge available on training techniques and particularly on dog behaviour, but in general, when it comes to training dogs this new knowledge is not being utilised properly. The following extract nicely sums up what the Home Office Manual suggests the handler's attitude should be towards training his dog.

Complete control is the groundwork on which all succeeding training is based. The successful teaching of obedience is brought about by a series of repetitive habit-forming exercises.

The dog from the first day of training must never be allowed to ignore a command or fail to complete one given. The dog must never be allowed to suspect that there is even the possibility of being able to avoid a command. It is for this reason that training in all exercises must be commenced when the dog is restrained on the leash and therefore can be instantly guided into the action required. At the commencement of training the word of command may be accompanied by physical influence.

Disobedience must be met with firmness.

The use of physical punishment should only be resorted to in cases of emergency, and under no circumstances should it ever be considered a training measure. Proper use of the check chain, the verbal command or admonition and the withholding of praise are usually sufficient correctives.

It would be hard for anyone to disagree with these principles, but it is my belief that by following them we are expressing the attitude 'me human, you dog — I say, you do'. Of course, that is our ultimate aim, but by adopting this stance at the commencement of training we risk causing resentment and resistance. If the dog responds in either of these ways, then he is not learning what we are trying to teach him. If we are trying to express our dominance over him by making him walk to heel — at the same time as teaching him what the word 'heel' means — then we are expecting him to learn two different concepts in one. The more the dog resists or resents the handler's dominant actions, the firmer those actions will have to be, and the more physical the training method becomes, the less will the dog enjoy the exercise.

We also run the risk of being unsuccessful in our initial attempts to influence the dog's actions by physical means. To a dominant dog, this would show that we had entered into a test of strength and had lost it, which would effectively demote the human and promote the dog. We would then be embarking on an uphill battle to form the proper partnership.

Police Dog training techniques are not the only ones in use, but I have taken them as an example of what I feel is wrong with traditional methods for a number of reasons:

1. In Major's case I was given the opportunity to train a handler and dog to Police Dog standard from scratch.

2. The standard required can be quantified: at the end of the training the handler and dog are assessed by two independent examiners.

3. It gave me the chance to throw away the accepted manual and use different techniques, based upon more scientific learning principles and a greater awareness of the instinctive behaviour of the dog; yet I felt I could still achieve, and indeed surpass, the required level of efficiency.

The very high standard required by the police is what most pet owners would regard as the ultimate in dog training. Guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, sniffer dogs, mountain rescue dogs and others like them are more specialist areas which do not really relate to how people view dog training. The Police Dog who comes when called, stays when told to do so, walks to heel, is friendly unless threatened but whose aggression can be controlled is what most owners would want from their pet dog. By showing that different techniques can achieve this same standard and that these techniques can be applied to the everyday pet dog (except the more specialist areas of criminal work training), I hope I have proved the case for a radical change in the way dogs are generally trained in this country today.

I do not dispute the fact that the majority of dogs on a Home Office dog training course reach the required standard within the time allowed; I do know, however, that quite a number are rejected as unsuitable, and one of the reasons for this, which would not be shown on the rejection report, is the rigorous and physically dominating nature of the training techniques. This is also one of the reasons why some dogs do not respond to the training techniques still employed by many of the less forward-thinking dog clubs.

I was convinced before I began working with Robert and Major that a dog could be trained to a very high standard without the use of force. To do this required some radical changes in the techniques which are traditionally employed, and what these changes were will become evident as I describe the progress of the training programme. By far the most important change was in the attitude of the handler towards his dog.

I therefore had a goal to aim for and a hypothesis to prove: that dogs can be trained to any standard using a motivational and reward-based regime, as opposed to a corrective or punishment-orientated programme. In this book I have concentrated on the practical aspect of training your dog, which means that he does not pull on the lead, he comes back when you call and, in general, he acts in a socially acceptable manner; anything else you decide to teach him is icing on the cake. The emphasis throughout is on attitude — not only your dog's attitude towards you as the leader, but also your attitude towards your dog's ability to understand what you want him to do. In effect, I have tried to get you to accept your dog for what he or she really is — a domesticated animal with inherent pack and wild survival instincts, which learns in exactly the same way as all forms of intelligent life: if he finds an action rewarding, he will do it again; if it is not rewarding, he won't do it again. The first part of the book is therefore about understanding your dog; the mechanics of training come later.

What follows describes how we went about it, and our methods can be applied to any dog. What we did with Major, you can do with your dog, and you will discover that the experiment proved far more than I ever expected. Dog training really is easy — providing you understand the dog, its relationship with us, and how all animals learn.



As a direct descendant of the wolf, the modern dog exhibits something like 85 to 90 per cent wolf behaviour. Some behaviours are different, as a result of thousands of years of domestication, but as far as training is concerned, the differences are not an issue. The wolf and therefore the dog is a creature of instinct, a pack animal who views other members of his pack in terms of rank relevant to himself. Those above him he respects and obeys, those below him he does not — it is very much a black and white concept. Contrary to popular opinion, this rank structure is rarely achieved through aggression. Wolves are predators who hunt in packs; if they themselves are injured, they are unable to hunt, if they injure a member of their pack, the effectiveness of the hunting unit is reduced. Therefore rank is achieved mainly through taking and being allowed to take certain privileges. If we observe the behaviour of two dogs, we can see how quickly a rank structure is established; sometimes it can happen so quickly that we may miss the signs. One dog might hold its head high as it approaches the other. If the other lowers its head and averts any initial eye contact, they have established a dominance/submission level. This is occasionally established in a matter of seconds, without aggression or long drawn-out rituals.

With two fairly equal-ranking dogs, the procedure may take longer but again aggression is rarely involved. They might both compete over ownership of a stick, which we would interpret as playing together; but the dog that ends up with the stick will have emerged as the higher ranking. Further observation of these dogs will show that the higher ranking will lead and the other will follow — see how quickly one dog has taught the other to walk to heel.

The lower rank will hang back slightly when a narrow opening is approached to allow the higher rank through first — see how quickly the stay has been taught. In fact, many of the exercises that we attempt to train a dog to perform will happen naturally if we can establish the right dominance/submission level between us and the dog; all we then need to do is smarten up the behaviour, which is different from making the dog perform the behaviour in order to achieve this rank structure.


Rather than starting the training of Major with continual bouts of heelwork training, I worked on establishing the right attitude from the dog towards Robert. It was my belief that this would result in our achieving the desired results on a non-confrontational basis, effectively removing any obstacles that might hinder the learning process. How this rank structure was achieved will be discussed as we observe how Major behaved over the course of the programme — what he did, why he did it and how we overcame any problem area. Many of the things we did might seem to bear no relevance to our final goal, but in fact they had the greatest influence on how Major learned. In effect, we ignored the formal side of the initial training and worked instead on the attitude. In the past it has been the accepted training technique to insist on the formal so that the attitude will eventually be influenced.

In my usual everyday work as a canine behaviour counsellor, I often have to explain to people that the reason why their dog bites visitors or chases joggers or attacks other dogs is because it thinks it has the right to do so. In other words, the problem that led their vet to refer them to me is not the real problem — it is the symptom. The real problem is that the dog has got the wrong idea about its role within the family pack.

Restructuring life in the den (at home) invariably overcomes the problem; after all, dogs bite and defend territory — this is normal canine behaviour. If the owners promote their dog to the rank of alpha animal, then the decision when and whom to bite rests with the dog.

From my work I know how effective rank restructuring can be when overcoming unacceptable behaviour, and my contract to train the City of London (Hampstead Heath) dogs gave me the opportunity to apply these techniques to a formal training situation. I hope my results will persuade people that the oldfashioned 'push-pull' techniques are not necessary any more, that they may indeed hinder the learning process and the eventual performance.

It is an interesting fact that scientists have studied dog behaviour and related a lot of it to the behaviour of young children — their competitiveness, their attention-seeking, their dominant gestures, which will include trophying the best (or in human terms, the most expensive) article, or squabbling over who sits in a particular chair; but although their findings have created a new understanding of how we should handle and teach children on a non-punitive basis, few people have ever reversed these findings back to the dog. Observation of human teenage behaviour will show many of the traits which are evident in the dominant dog. Parents of teenagers will have noticed pushy, almost aggressive behaviour: the increased occurrence, when passing them in doorways, of a noticeable reluctance to give way; a dislike of being seen to be familiar or to join in any family fun unless it is at their instigation. These are classic behaviours which are also noticeable in the dominant dog. I am not suggesting that all teenagers behave this way — but nor are all dogs dominant.

The more we learn about human behaviour, the more changes we initiate in teaching practices, motivational training and working conditions. Industry is probably at the forefront of some of the revolutionary ideas that are being introduced to create a more efficient workforce. At the same time, we are learning more and more about understanding dog behaviour; yet with the exception of a few more enlightened people, our training techniques are not keeping pace with this new knowledge. It is time we got up to date!

As you will see, the basic formula to which we shall be working is simple and one that can be applied to any dog:

1. First ensure that your dog sees you as the leader, but you must do this on a canine level. In effect, understand how the dog recognises and establishes dominance/submission levels and apply these values instead of trying to get the dog to understand human values.

2. Having established the right to give an instruction, make sure the dog knows the meaning of the word and wants to perform the necessary actions. This requires a motivational approach, not a punishment-orientated approach.

The following pages will enable you to plan your own training programme for your dog. The techniques are not tied to any fixed time scale; each stage or exercise should be clearly understood by the dog before you move on to the next, and how long this takes is dependent upon the time you have available and your dog's own individuality.

It is a very straightforward and a very fair way to train your dog: if you don't want it to bark on command — don't teach it; if you don't want it to retrieve — don't teach it. The whole idea of the book is to help you to understand how to train your dog, rather than to preach 'this is what you must do'. After all, surely the definition of a 'trained dog' is a dog that does what you want it to do.

Using the techniques which I shall describe, you can improve your relationship and the behaviour of your dog without having to resort to chains around its neck, or physical punishment. I cannot stress enough that all you really need is to understand your dog and then use your common sense.

(Throughout the book I shall refer to choke chains, rather than check chains. I realise that when used correctly they are supposed to check the dog's forward progress. In my experience, the majority of people do not use them correctly and therefore they choke.)


I was recently sent a new publication for my comments, with a title suggesting that this was going to be a new guide to dog training. Within the first few pages it was showing the proper way to put a choke chain on a dog and where to place one's feet when 'giving it a firm jerk'. There were drawings of footprints all over the place and arrows showing which way to pull and which way to push to get the dog to perform certain movements. There were cartoon-like drawings of people and dogs going round in circles, and of people running backwards, pulling their dogs towards them on a lead. The circles depicted heelwork training, the figures running backwards were supposed to be teaching a recall. I have to admit that as I looked at these drawings I thought: 'Of course they won't pull — there's nowhere to go if you are walking a circle — and they have to come back to the handler on a recall, they have no other option.' I am not suggesting that these methods will not eventually work with some dogs, but they certainly are not new and, in my opinion, they are not what the average pet owner wants or needs to do.


Excerpted from Dogwise by John Fisher, Tony Glue. Copyright © 1992 John Fisher. Excerpted by permission of Souvenir Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John Fisher is the author of Think Dog! An Owner's Guide to Canine Psychology and the Why Does My . . . ? pets series.

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