Monday, April 26, 2010

Dog psychology

My dog Geordie is eight years old and to put it mildly, he's a handful.  He's also a beautiful and spirited and smart dog  but we've had been managing his pushy, aggressive, fearful and reactive behaviour for many years with treats and commands and leashes and kennels.  He is never off the leash because he's unpredictable when it comes to squirrels, other dogs, and children.  And when people come to our house we have to put him in his kennel until they learn the rules of meeting Geordie.  (Don't look at him, don't lean over him, wait until he comes to you.)  We learned these management techniques through consulting with various trainers and behaviourists over the past years of Geordie's life.

But now things are beginning to change.  We recently went to see an animal trainer named Gary Jackson who lives up in Cobble Hill.  His theory about dogs is somewhat different than others I've heard.  It's based on the concept that domesticated social animals like dogs exist in an infantilized state and the best way to control them is the same way that the mother dog does--through looks, growls, and snarls. 

After working with Geordie last Saturday, Gary prescribed a program where we (the humans) take ownership of everything in Geordie's life--his food, his water, his access to outside, to toys, and even to affection.  And you know what?  It's working like a charm.  An example: we've been trying to get Geordie to stay away from the dishwasher when we're loading or unloading it for a number of years now.  Like most dogs he's a food addict and we've been training him to stay on a pillow while we load it up, with a treat as a reward.  It kind of worked, but not really.

But since we've starting acting like the mama dog and giving a little growl when he comes too close, we've seen a huge change.  Now he doesn't even come near the dishwasher.  In fact when we open it he heads upstairs to his kennel.  It's amazing. He's quite quickly turned into a dog that wants to please instead of a dog that tries to get away with things.  The theory is that if we take control of all these things, he will then begin to trust that we can also take control of scary situations like other dogs and kids. 

The changes that we've seen in Geordie in just a few days are quite miraculous and so far they seem to be sticking.  Today I had Geordie in the park on a long rope and he was very attentive to me even when another dog came past.  Next week we'll go up to see Gary Jackson again and find out about the rest of the program (which also includes a hog!)  I'll keep you posted


  1. joanna - there are many dog owners who could use this information!!!! steven

  2. This sounds interesting. Does this trainer have a book?

  3. Steven, you are quite right about that. Gary Jackson is definitely on to something here. We'll see how things progress.

    Rudee, I don't think he has a book, but he should. By the way, he thinks Cesar Milan is cruel and off-track with his corrections.

  4. How wonderful for Geordie - and you - to have found this resource. As in parenting, there is so much advice and not all of it good. It's very hard to choose what's best.

  5. Wow, great post today.
    I watch, sometimes... I can never figure out the times... a trainer from the UK who used a similar training method where the family dog thought he was above the Mom in the family pecking order.
    It was very interesting and I learned a-lot. I use many of her ideas dealing with my older dog/younger dog dynamics. The older dog gets everything first now while the younger dog has to wait and I think it makes some sense. Watson is the top dog while Hamish is the dog below in the pecking order.

    By the way those are some sweet doggies you have !

  6. Parsnip, I think you're on track with giving the older dog stuff first, I've been doing this for a while and it keeps things peaceful in our house. The work we're doing now with Geordie takes this one step farther.

  7. Great news to hear! Our dog is currently with Gary doing some "rehab" to help remove all the bad training we've piled upon him over the years!
    Gary's training method is REALLY different, but I'm pretty sure it's what our dog needs! And, it seems like it's what your guy needed too!

    He SHOULD write a book. :)

  8. Hi Joanna,

    Thanks for the glowing post - But you and yours, deserve the credit.

    I just handed out the tools and you guys have done the work!

    I hope you don't mind if I put in an addendum to what you wrote in your post - just a 'caution' about using their 'Mother Tongue'.

    Growling and/or snarling at a dog can be dangerous depending on several factors; age, disposition, experience...etc. A dog that has come to think he can 'challenge' humans or other dogs can sometimes take quite an exception to having the tables turned on them - which could have disastrous ramifications. Please consult a pro - or a wing-nut like me, before trying this technique for the first time....if you're not sure play it safe - or get a 400 lbs. Hog for back up first.

    It'll be great to see you next week.

    Cheers and congrats! Keep up the good work, it's folks like you that make me love my job.

  9. my hubbie instituted similar techniques with our two puppies from the time we brought them home. they will sit and look right at him if he growls at them and they love it when he assumes a dominant stance over them when they lay on their backs. they are just the best dogs and i'm glad he took the lead in getting them to be submissive.


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