Tag: Angela Stockdale

Memories of the past.

Angela Stockdale and Pharaoh came to mind!

In the last twenty-four hours I was in communication with a person in Essex, England about dog training (and hopefully there will be a guest post from him) and it caused me to think of Angela Stockdale.

I then did a search on my blog for posts where I had mentioned Angela and came across quite a few in the early days of blogging. Then I thought it would be nice to republish one of them; Four Years Old.

So here it is again.

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How time flies!

Four years ago this day, the first post was published on Learning from Dogs. Here it is again:

Parenting lessons from Dogs!

Much too late to make me realise the inadequacies of my own parenting skills, I learnt an important lesson when training my GSD (who is called Pharaoh, by the way). That is that putting more emphasis into praise and reward for getting it right ‘trains’ the dog much quicker than telling it off. The classic example is scolding a dog for running off when it should be lots of hugs and praise for returning home. The scolding simply teaches the dog that returning home isn’t pleasant whereas praise reinforces that home is the place to be. Like so many things in life, very obvious once understood!

Absolutely certain that it works with youngsters just the same way.

Despite being a very dominant dog, Pharaoh showed his teaching ability when working with other dogs. In the UK there is an amazing woman, Angela Stockdale, who has proved that dogs (and horses) learn most effectively when being taught by other dogs (and horses). Pharaoh was revealed to be a Beta Dog, (i.e. second in status below the Alpha Dog) and, therefore, was able to use his natural pack instinct to teach puppy dogs their social skills and to break up squabbles within a pack.

When you think about it, don’t kids learn much more (often to our chagrin!) from other kids than they do from their parents. Still focusing on giving more praise than punishment seems like a much more effective strategy.

As was read somewhere, Catch them in the act of doing Right!

By Paul Handover.

As it happens, it feels a little like ‘what goes around, comes around’. Why do I say that?

Because just last Saturday, I sent off a selection of pictures and videos to Angela Stockdale. Stay with me for a while as to the reason why.

Angela trades under the name of The Dog Partnership and, frankly, what she doesn’t know about the behaviour of dogs isn’t worth bothering about!

Just take a peek at the page on her website under the heading of Teaching Dogs. Here’s a little of what Angela writes:

I consider myself so lucky for dogs alone to have been my teachers. I learnt from watching how my own dogs responded to another dog’s body language and vice versa their language. Watching, learning and working with Teaching Dogs was the only way I knew.

I was and always will be in awe of a Teaching Dog’s dogs ability to consciously adapt their body language in accordance to how the other dog was feeling. The result being, they could relax nervous dogs but at the same time maintain control of a problem situation. Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.

It came as quite a shock to me when I learnt about other approaches. It seemed foreign for people to have so much input in resolving what were described as ‘ behavioural’ issues. For me, working with these dogs was far more than resolving a behavioural issue. It was about improving the quality of lives of dogs who were not coping with everyday life. If they found dogs or people worrying, sometimes this was shown in displays of aggression. It is important to understand, these dogs were not aggressive, they simply displayed aggressive behaviour.

Now, I would like to introduce you to the world of Teaching Dogs and how these special dogs change the lives of less fortunate dogs, who never had the opportunity to really understand how to communicate with their own species.

Do read the rest here.

Back to why those photographs and videos had been sent to Angela. A couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed an evening meal with friends of friends, so to speak. This other couple owned a beautiful-looking male German Shepherd dog: Duke. Duke was 4-years-old. Our hostess remarked that he was very boisterous and had nipped a couple of strangers who had called at the house. She added that he seemed difficult to control. Duke had been there for about a month and he was a rescue so they had little or no knowledge of past behaviour.

Well, I’m no expect with dogs, that’s Jean’s domain. But there was something about Duke that captivated me. Something in the way he looked at me, his eyes linking so directly with mine, allowing me to see a dog that offered an honest openness.

More or less on impulse I stood up, held my right arm up at 45 degrees, looked Duke in the face and said, “Duke! Sit!”

Duke held my gaze and sat back on his haunches.

I moved my arm in a complete circle, around to the right, and said, “Duke! Lie down!” Duke lay down.

H’mm, I thought. Fascinating. This dog has been professionally trained at some point in the past, using the same ‘command’ system of voice and arm signalling as I had learnt with Pharaoh way back in 2003/2004.

The food was now on the table. I grabbed a small piece of meat off my plate and returned to Duke who had, of course, resumed his pottering around the room. “Duke! Here boy!” Duke came over to me. “Duke! Lie down!” Duke did so. I placed the piece of meat on the wooden floor about three feet in front of him. Duke’s eyes were riveted on the meat. “Duke!” Duke’s eyes reluctantly engaged with mine. “Duke! Stay!” I repeated the Stay command a couple more times as I backed away about 6 or 8 feet.

“Go on, Boy. Take the meat!” Duke gleefully grabbed the piece of meat. Gracious, I thought, this dog is magnificent. I wonder ……..

I took another piece of meat, “Duke! Sit!” “Duke! Stay!” I then backed off that 8 feet again, got down on my knees and placed the piece of meat just between my lips. I knew this was potential madness with a dog I had only met some 30 minutes previously, but there wasn’t an ounce of doubt in my mind. I voiced in my throat for Duke to fetch the meat. Duke came straight over and confidently and carefully removed the meat from my lips.

What a truly fabulous dog! It was a wonderful evening and once home both Jean and I were eulogising about Duke.

Then two days later, our dinner hostess rang me. “You know, I have decided we can no longer keep Duke. He is too strong a dog, I can’t control him. Is there any chance of you finding a new home for Duke?”

Without question, Jean and I would have offered Duke a new home; in a heartbeat. The only thing stopping that was me wondering if this strong-willed, male German Shepherd might be a Beta dog, as Pharaoh was. Or just might be too dominant a male dog to fit in comfortably with our dogs, especially Pharaoh who was at the stage of life where the last thing that should happen is for his happiness and contentment to be disturbed.

I hadn’t a clue as to how to answer that question. But I knew someone who would know: Angela Stockdale.

I rang her, caught up on old times and then explained the background to Duke’s situation. Angela said to repeat the exercise that I had witnessed when I took Pharaoh to her all those years ago, when I wondered if Pharaoh was an aggressive dog. My uncertainty with regard to Pharaoh followed a number of times when walking him in a public area with other dogs and he had been very threatening, both in voice and posture, towards some of those other dogs.

This is what Angela arranged. I took Pharaoh up to her place at Wheddon Cross, near Minehead in Somerset. When we arrived, Angela was standing just by a gate into a fenced paddock, maybe a half-acre in size. In the far corner were two dogs.

Angela asked me to bring Pharaoh to the gate and let him off the leash. It was clear that Pharaoh was going to be let into the paddock. I cautioned that Pharaoh could be quite a handful with other dogs and, perhaps, it would be better that I walked him into the area still on his lead. Angela said that wouldn’t be necessary. So as she held the gate open sufficient for Pharaoh to enter the paddock, I slipped the lead off him and backed away, as requested.

Pharaoh had hardly taken 2 or 3 paces when Angela called out, “Paul, there’s nothing wrong with him!”

I was astounded and stammered, “But, er, er, how can you tell so quickly?” “Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice!”, came the reply.

Later Angela explained that in the paddock were her female Alpha dog and her male Beta dog. Ergo, the two top dogs in terms of status so far as dogs see other dogs.

In fact, Pharaoh was utterly subservient to these dogs, in a way that I had never witnessed before. Later on, as Pharaoh relaxed and started playing, Angela said that she thought that Pharaoh was a Beta dog. Mixing some of her other dogs into the group was later able to confirm that.

So back now to present times and Duke.

Thus last Saturday, as Angela recommended, we selected two of our dogs, Cleo our female German Shepherd and the most socialable of dogs, and Casey, a strong but not aggressive male (he had some PitBull in him).

Duke arrived and was allowed freely to nose around the large grassed area some way from the fenced-off horse paddock that we were using for the ‘introduction’.

Duke pottered around and then caught sight of Cleo and Casey in the paddock.

First sighting of Cleo and Casey.
First sighting of Cleo and Casey.

Then the meetings began!

Hello! My name is Duke. Do I smell OK? Mr. Casey?
Hello! My name is Duke. Do I smell OK? Mr. Casey?

And play didn’t seem to be too far off the agenda!

You lead, Cleo, I'll chase!
You lead, Cleo, I’ll chase!

So all the photographs and videos have been sent to Angela, and we will see what the conclusion is!

As Angela put it, “Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.”

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Yes there’s no question that dogs talk dog far better than we do!

The teaching dog in action

How Cleo was taught by Pharaoh

This post should be read in conjunction with the post that came out an hour ago: Dogs and Learning. It was first published on Learning from Dogs on March 19th, 2014.

Cleo

Cleo between guests Darla and Cody- picture taken yesterday.
Cleo between guests Darla and Cody- picture taken yesterday (March 18th, 2014).

Where to start this story about Cleo?

I guess by going back to the days when I was living in the village of Harberton, near Totnes in South Devon, England. That means going back to 2003, the year when it seemed the right time for me to get a dog. (Jean and I first met in December, 2007) There was always only one breed to be considered; the German Shepherd dog.

Thus that desire for a German Shepherd led me to Sandra Tucker who lived not too many miles away who owned the GSD breeders Jutone. It was at Jutone where I saw the wonderful puppy dog who became my Pharaoh.

But Sandra did better than breed the dog that has meant more to me than words can ever describe, she gave me some fantastic advice. That being that when Pharaoh was getting on in life, then bring in a German Shepherd puppy. There were two solid reasons why this made sense. The first was that Pharaoh would teach the new puppy many of the skills and disciplines that Pharaoh had learnt as a young dog and, secondly, the puppy would keep Pharaoh active.

That puppy was Cleo.

First picture of our puppy - taken two days before we brought her home: 4th April, 2012
First picture of what was to be our puppy – 4th April, 2012, just two days before we brought her home.

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Puppy Cleo coming home - April 6th, 2012
Puppy Cleo coming home – April 6th, 2012

Cleo was born on the 23rd January, 2012. At that time we were still living down in Payson, Arizona. Right from the start she was, and still is, the most joyful, loving dog one could imagine. That top photograph shows in her eyes the openness of her heart and soul.

First meeting between Pharaoh and Cleo; April 7th, 2012.
First meeting between Pharaoh and Cleo; April 7th, 2012.

So here we are coming rapidly up to the two-year anniversary (6th April, 2014) of when Cleo entered our lives.

Cleo continues to be the most loving, gentle, sweet German Shepherd.

However, as Sandra so correctly predicted, Pharaoh has ‘taught’ Cleo a number of commands such as Sit, Stay, Lie Down, Come, and more. Not a minute’s training of Cleo has come from Jean and me.

Cleo is very fond of Pharaoh and it’s obvious that Pharaoh gets a huge amount from having Cleo around him.

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Fast forward to now, as in January, 2017, and the relationship between Pharaoh and Cleo is still incredibly important. Cleo senses that Pharaoh is in the last ‘phase’ of his life but still shows him incredible respect.

Cleo is a very intuitive dog who appears at times to really understand what Jean and I are talking about, even when it has nothing to do with dogs. For instance, Cleo knows when I am finishing up my lunch and that the next thing that will follow is Jeannie and me taking the dogs out for their afternoon walk.

Cleo is almost certainly the most knowledgeable and obedient of all of our dogs and it’s all down to Pharaoh’s skills as a teaching dog.

What amazing animals they are!

Dogs and Learning

In thanks to Yvonne over at Pets, People and Life for prompting me to write this.

In yesterday’s post Yvonne Daniel, the author of the blog Pets, People and Life, said in a comment (my highlights):

Interesting article. When training any of my dogs to learn something ( I should write when TRYING to train my dogs something) I use a high pitched happy voice. I read about the voice thing many years ago and have no idea what book or article that was in. The motive is: to get the dog to understand that you sound happy and enthused. I’m not sure why the high pitched voice is needed, in fact I don’t use it all the time. Maybe I’m not consistent enough. Being able to train a dog is an art. I’m not good at it but my dogs come when I call and generally behave. I’ve taught a few tricks but I wish that I were really good at it.

That motivated me to blow the dust off a couple of blog posts from many years back. Firstly, this one coming up now and then in an hour’s time I will publish a further post about Cleo.

So here’s the first one that goes back to November 2014, when I wrote a post, Understanding the Dog’s World, that included this:

In 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that there were over 43 million [ 43,346,000] dog-owning households in the USA. That translated to over 36% of the total households in America. With an average of 1.6 dogs per household that came to the astonishing total of 62,926,000 dogs. In just one country!

It is therefore beyond doubt that millions and millions of people, of all ages, all around the world, understand what it is like to have a dog close to them. Likewise, those millions of dogs know what us humans are capable of. But of those millions of humans who have dogs in their lives, how many understand, really understand, the world of the dog?

In my book, in the next chapter after my Prologue, the Puppyhood chapter, I speak of the circumstances that brought me into contact with Angela Stockdale of The Dog Partnership in Devon and how from that association I became aware of the three roles that dogs could be born with: mentor, monitor and nanny.

How, generally speaking, out of every fifty dogs born there were just three born, on average, with those roles and that the bulk of dogs born were straightforward pack members all of equal status.

Irrespective of the fact that we don’t normally own anything like the number that would constitute a natural pack of dogs in the wild, around fifty animals, that doesn’t alter the fact that when a puppy is born it’s social place, from a pack perspective, is ‘hard-wired’ into that puppy.

I am indebted to Angela Stockdale for granting me permission to republish her descriptions of the mentor, monitor and nanny that are available on her website. In terms of man understanding the world of the dog, these descriptions are invaluable.

Here they are:

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What is a Teaching Dog?

A Teaching Dog is a dog who has an instinctive desire to guide and support dogs in their learning canine communication.

A Teaching Dog helps other dogs develop their canine communication skills by displaying different body language to convey different messages. Such as lowering their heads and curving on approach as a polite way to introduce themselves. These essential etiquette skills are invaluable in preventing social issues.

A Teaching Dog teaches dogs canine etiquette to other dogs so they develop their communication skills as they go through the natural ageing process i.e. the transition from puppyhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood. At these essential times, their pupils develop their skills in canine communication to a high level, hence again preventing social issues.

A Teaching Dog has an instinctive desire to guide and support dogs who find communicating difficult. If a dog has an established social issue, a Teaching Dog will actively incite interaction with them in order to teach them how to relax and communicate with them. They will assess how the other dog feels and react accordingly. Keeping their distance if the dog is concerned and approaching thoughtfully when the dog relaxes. I say thoughtfully because that is really important to understand; they think about how to work with a dog.

When a Teaching Dog works, whilst there are some elements of instinctive body language, in the main they will consciously use appropriate body language for the specific situation. They will always maintain control of an interaction but will change their posture from assertive to more inviting in accordance to the other dog’s behaviour.

On sighting the dog they are working with, they will first watch and assess them. This can be done from quite a distance with an experienced Teaching Dog. Eye contact is made but the eyes are averted intermittently whilst the Teaching Dog decides how assertive they need to be, or not as the case may be, with that particular dog. What follows from thereon is purely dependent on the other dog and that particular Teaching Dog’s way of working.

Do all Teaching Dogs teach in the same way?

No. Different Teaching Dogs have different teaching skills and different preferred roles. It is essential to recognise the role each particular Teaching Dog prefers to take. There are three primary Teaching Dog roles – Mentor, Minder and Nanny.

Mentor

A Mentor is normally quietly assertive by nature. They rarely play unless flirting with the opposite sex. However, they generally build the strongest bonds with high ranking dogs of the same sex.

As a Teaching Dog they are passively dominant. They always meet a dog with assertiveness but never hostility. They tend not to use body language to relax a dog as such but often just their presence has a calming effect on most dogs anyway.

If working in a group, they watch from the sidelines and only become involved if absolutely necessary. Mentors can be quite lazy! They will support other Teaching Dogs where needed, showing by example what to do in difficult situations if the other Teaching Dog is not coping.

Other dogs reaction to Mentors vary. Some dogs take great confidence in a Mentor and whilst not necessarily submissive towards them, they are very respectful. Some dogs find a Mentor intimidating and will avoid making contact with them.

Minder

A Minder is totally different to a Mentor in their interaction with dogs they are teaching. When a Minder meets another dog, they actively approach with the intent of interacting with them. A Minder is also naturally assertive but not as strong as a Mentor. When they meet another dog, in the Teaching Situation, they assess the new dog as they approach and use appropriate body language in accordance to the other dog’s reaction to them.

They are more generally more demonstrative than a Mentor and will actively seek interaction within a few minutes of meeting a new dog. This does not necessarily mean that they invite play. If they feel the dog is not ready for that level of interaction, they will converse with them in a more subtle manner.

If the other dog is worried but shows signs of being ready to rush at them, the Minder will stand firmly with their head side on to the dog. Eye contact is made intermittently as the Minder ascertains whether the other dog is calming down or intending to rush at them.

They can stand firm and openly display assertiveness if they need to. Once ‘control’ of the situation has been achieved, a Minder will generally incite status based activities from the other dog. These can be by marking then walking away allowing them to investigate their scent. Or they may invite the other dog into a status game, often instigating a chase.

If the other dog shows signs at trying to drive them away, the Minder will turn their head towards them and eye contact becomes stronger. They do not reposition the rest of their body. If the other dog shows signs of moving away, the Minder will totally drop their body language and move away. They will then reassess the other dog from a distance, before approaching again.

In a group situation, a Minder will monitor the group closely and interrupt any unsociable or unruly behaviour. They interrupt unacceptable behaviour by physically placing themselves between the dogs and will remain there until the tension has reduced. When the dogs in question have calmed down, the Minder will usually walk away and monitor them from a distance. They tend not to interact with the other dogs after harmony has been restored. In effect, they police a group.

Other dog’s reaction to a Minder is either respectful or challenging. Most dogs recognise a Minder as a strong dog and usually respect them. Sometimes polite status games may be played when they first meet.

As the Minder does not naturally command respect in the way a Mentor does, some dogs who have limited canine communication skills and/or adolescents can challenge them. Once the dogs have learned how to ascertain status in a polite manner from the Minder, they will usually then settle and look to the Minder for guidance in future situations.

Nanny

The Nanny is the most amazing of all the Teaching Dogs. Although not their preferred choice, a strong Nanny can take the role of a Minder or Mentor if they need to. They are unique.

They are extremely generous dogs and are at their happiest when everyone else is happy, including other Teaching Dogs. They work very differently to a Mentor and a Minder.

They not only relax a dog who is uncomfortable or anti-social but they also help relax any Mentor or Minder in a group. Few Mentors get overly stressed in a teaching situation but Minders tend to take their job quite seriously, unless really experienced and so can become tense when working.

If they see another Teaching Dog, usually a Minder, showing stress they will also consciously use body language to reduce their tension as well.

Being happier working on a one to one basis or in a group is down to each dog’s personal preference. Although, of all the Teaching Dogs they are more likely to be equally happy in either situation.

When meeting a new dog, they will observe from a distance before making a thoughtful approach. Thoughtful being the operative word as everything a Nanny does is done with thought. The Nanny tends to assess a dog in more depth than the other Teaching Dogs. This means they often take longer in their approach. They rarely communicate with instinctive responses but with conscious body movements, using the eyes in particular, when conversing with another dog.

If a dog is confrontational with them, they will remain strong in their attitude but will incite play, in particular chase games. The game of chase can be a challenge, like the ‘Chase me Charlie’ game children play. Or a game of chase can be used to loosen up a dog who is so stressed they feel unable to move.

The Nanny knows exactly what distance to keep between them and the other dog. If they feel the other dog is too close for comfort or who is becoming too unsociable, they will stop and face the dog and take control again. Once they see the other dog is more relaxed, they will stop running and attempt to converse with them again. They repeat this routine until the other dog stays relaxed and sociable with them.

In a group situation, initially they will monitor from the edge of the group and then actively walk up to each dog individually and check they’re comfortable. This also gives the other dogs confidence as they know the Nanny is there for support should they need it.

Once they have seen every group member, including any other Teaching Dogs, they will then focus on the dogs that feel the most uncomfortable, this is not necessarily the dog who shows outwardly unsociable behaviour.

It could be a dog who becomes withdrawn because they are so stressed. Sometimes they will simply follow and walk alongside a dog who is not comfortable and other times they may invite play. It totally depends on the other dog and how, at that moment, they are feeling. The Nanny may walk alongside another dog and then invite play.

The Nanny will resolve conflict by approaching in a calmer manner than a Minder usually to interrupt the unsociable behaviour. Not necessarily by physically splitting the dogs. They may bark and then play bow and/or literally pat them on the shoulder to attract their attention. A strong confident Nanny will split if they need to but prefer to resolve any conflict by mediation.

When other dogs meet a Nanny, if they have a good command of the canine language they will greet them in friendly, but not submissive manner. A Nanny’s first response to a dog displaying aggression, is to increase the distance between them. But they do not turn their back on the other dog. This would show vulnerability.

They will move away at an angle and stand sideways on to the other dog. This indicates to the other dog that whilst they are not offended and are not going to retaliate, they are also not intimidated. Initially, this can be most confusing for the other dog.

A Nanny excels at being able to recognise signals of stress in other dogs. They will only advance towards the dog to the level the other dog can cope with. As the dog learns that the Nanny will not be coming close enough to pose a threat to them, they begin to relax. In time, the other dog will take confidence from the Nanny and will look to them for guidance in difficult situations.

Is a Teaching Dog the same as the Alpha, Beta and Omega in a wild dog pack?

No. The Teaching Dog is unique to the dog world. Whilst a Mentor is usually a dog of natural Alpha status, an Alpha is not necessarily a Mentor. In fact, many dogs of natural Alpha status can not or do not want to teach. They can not be compared to wolves or any other wild dogs. Teaching Dogs working together are not a pack. They can not be compared to dogs living in a group at home. Some Teaching Dogs do not want to work together with their own group but enjoy working with dogs they know from another family. All Teaching Dogs have equally important roles. There are situations where a Mentor is better able to resolve a conflict and another time a Nanny may be the better dog to the resolve the situation.

How can I find out more about these amazing dogs?

It may sound that it is impossible for dogs to consciously work in this way, particularly the Nanny. Seeing is believing and even then it is almost unbelievable. I run a four-day introductory course on the world of the Teaching Dog. On these courses, participants can bring along their own dog for assessment. But it is important to understand and to recognise that this is not whether your dog can teach but do they want to.

You will see experienced Teaching Dogs in practice. And also those who are at the beginning of their career. I can not, of course, guarantee how they will work as I have not met their pupils yet! You will learn about the Teaching Dog as an individual, see experienced and apprentice Teaching Dogs working on video as well where you can study their conscious body language in different teaching situations.

At this first level, we will cover identifying Teaching Dogs and offering them the right learning ground to develop their natural skills. You can not train a Teaching Dog. A Teaching Dog is born a Teaching Dog. It is dependent on their life’s experiences and living environment as to whether they develop to their full potential. Many allegedly aggressive dogs are actually true Teaching Dogs. In domestic society such dogs have not been able to do what they were born to do; help other dogs without the interference of people trying to tell them how to speak their own language. Their life of frustration has resulted in aggression. Once given the time and freedom to develop their natural teaching skills, any aggressive behaviour disappears.

Time to stop talking and start listening to the real teachers – The dogs themselves

Copyright © 2005 Angela Stockdale

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Thus one of the key learning aspects that Angela offers us humans is that dogs (and horses) learn most effectively when being taught by other dogs (and horses). This was observed countless times by me when Pharaoh was working as a minder teaching dog and using his natural pack instinct to teach puppy dogs their social skills and breaking up squabbles between dogs.

Some closing words from Angela.

I consider myself so lucky for dogs alone to have been my teachers. I learnt from watching how my own dogs responded to another dog’s body language and vice versa their language. Watching, learning and working with Teaching Dogs was the only way I knew. Seeing how these special dogs change the lives of less fortunate dogs, who never had the opportunity to really understand how to communicate with their own species.

I was and always will be in awe of a Teaching Dog’s ability consciously to adapt their body language in accordance to how the other dog was feeling. The result being that they could relax nervous dogs but at the same time maintain control of a problem situation. Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.

It came as quite a shock to me when I learnt about other approaches. It seemed foreign for people to have so much input in resolving what were described as ‘ behavioural’ issues. For me, working with these dogs was far more than resolving a behavioural issue. It was about improving the quality of lives of dogs who were not coping with everyday life. If they found dogs or people worrying, sometimes this was shown in displays of aggression. It is important to understand, these dogs were not aggressive, they simply displayed aggressive behaviour.

How on earth to follow that, you might be wondering?

Very simply! By recognising that as much as we have had dogs in our lives, for thousands of years, we do not understand their world, how they truly think, what they feel, and we probably never will.

My second post that was published a while ago follows in an hour’s time.

 

The book! Part Five: Community

Dogs offer many beautiful examples of the benefits of community. For the powerful reason that their genes, from the days of wild dogs, still guide their behaviours. When dogs lived in the wild, their natural pack size was around fifty animals. As was explained in more detail in the chapter Understanding the dog’s world, only three dogs held positions of status. The leader of the pack, the female alpha dog, the ‘second-in-command’, the male beta or teaching dog, and the ‘omega’ dog, a dog of either gender whose role was to be the clown dog, keeping the pack happy and playful. It should be added that all three dogs of status were born into their respective roles. Their position in the pack was instinctive.

All the other dogs in that natural grouping would be equal participants with no ambitions to be anything else. There was no such thing as competition for a role, as how a dog fitted into his or her pack was a product of birth.

When we see how dogs are as the domesticated animals we humans know and love, we still come across, from time to time, a dog that is an alpha, beta or omega role dog. At the time of writing this, we have nine dogs in the house. Of those nine, two have an instinctive status. Lilly, a very old female dog, was born an alpha dog, and Pharaoh, was born a beta dog.

Let me explain more about Pharaoh and him being a beta or teaching dog.

In my early days of having Pharaoh in my life, I wondered if Pharaoh was an aggressive dog. My uncertainty with regard to Pharaoh followed a number of occasions when walking him in a public area, with other dogs around, and he had been very threatening, both in voice and posture, towards some of those other dogs.

I was put in contact with an Angela Stockdale who for years had helped owners with aggressive dogs. Helped them by retraining their dogs. This is what she arranged. I took Pharaoh up to her place at Wheddon Cross, near Minehead in Somerset. When we arrived, Angela was standing just by a gate that led into a fenced paddock, maybe a half-acre in size. In the far corner of the paddock were two dogs.

Angela asked me to bring Pharaoh to the gate and let him off the leash. It was clear that the intention was to let Pharaoh into the paddock. I cautioned that Pharaoh could be quite a handful with other dogs and, perhaps, it would be better that I walked him into the area still on his lead. Angela replied that it wouldn’t be necessary. So, as she held the gate open sufficient for Pharaoh to enter the paddock, I unclipped the lead from his neck chain and backed away, as requested.

Pharaoh had hardly taken two or three paces into the grassy paddock when Angela called out, “Paul, there’s nothing wrong with him!

I was astounded and stammered, “Er, er, how can you tell so quickly?

Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice!”, came Angela’s immediate reply.

As we both watched the interaction taking place, Angela explained that in the paddock were her female Alpha dog, Leda, and her male Beta dog, whose name now escapes me. In other words, these two dogs were number one and two in terms of status, so far as dogs see other dogs.

In fact, Pharaoh was utterly subservient to these dogs, in a way that I had never witnessed before. Later on, as Pharaoh relaxed and started playing, Angela said that she thought that Pharaoh was a Beta dog and later was able to confirm that.

Anyone who has the privilege of owning a group of dogs will know without doubt that they develop a community strength that is an incredible model for us humans.

So now to turn to how we can learn from this aspect of dogs.

Many people think more and more that nations, governments, call it what you will, are less and less effective at understanding the needs of their people. I’m not even going to go down the road of the corruption of our leaders, both big ‘C’ and little ‘c’, in terms of power and money. No, I’m thinking of the top echelons in many societies being very disconnected from the needs and aspirations of their people. The widespread sense that representative democracy, as a process, is broken. As a quick aside, I must add an amusing comment that came from a neighbour: If one can bank online, we can certainly vote online! Does make one think about new ways of governing ourselves in this online world of ours.

Yet it would be very wrong to imagine that mankind has no experience of community living. Erik D. Kennedy wrote an essay: On the Social Lives of Cavemen[1]. Under the sub-heading of The Tribe, he offers:

Human beings are no strangers to group living. Call it a family trait. Our closest animal relatives spend a good bulk of their time eating bugs off their friends’ backs. While I’m overjoyed we’re not social in that manner, I’m less pleased that we’re not social more to that degree. In study after study, having and spending time with close friends is consistently correlated with happiness and well-being. And yet, the last few decades in America have seen a remarkable decline in many things associated with being in a tight-knit social circle — things like family and household size, club participation, and number of close friends. Conversely, we’ve seen an increase in things associated with being alone — TV, commutes, and the internet, for example.

This trend is quite unhealthy. It’s no surprise that humans are social animals — but it may be surprising that we’re such social animals that merely joining a club halves your chance of death in the next year — or that living in a close-knit town of three-generation homes can almost singlehandedly keep you safe from heart disease.

Thus, a sharing, community life is not just some cosy idea, it could be core to the sort of healthy society we need to return to. Erik’s essay continues to expand this idea by quoting the particular case of Roseto in Pennsylvania[2]:

In 1950’s Roseto, the incidence of heart disease in men over sixty-five was half the national average (and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious crime were also basically unheard of [ii[3]]). Bewildered doctors searched for solutions in genetics, diet, exercise, and geography, but finding nothing, reached the conclusion that it was the close-knit social life of the community that kept its residents so healthy. Dinners with grandma, friendly chats between neighbors, and a precocious level of civic involvement were the driving factors in the health of a town that nothing but old age could kill.

The circumstances behind the remarkable and uncharacteristic happiness and health for the residents of Roseto came down to one fact: “The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.

That, essentially, Roseto became “an Italian village in the American countryside.

One doesn’t need to reflect for very long before the obvious question arises: If fifty dogs is the optimum number for a pack of dogs, is there a limit to the number of people we can have in the human equivalent of our pack?

Well, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, that number is about 150 persons. Robin Dunbar achieved fame by drawing a graph that plotted primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes. He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and up came the number 150. Beyond that number is past the upper bounds for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Palaeolithic farming villages. More than that, it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for the number of close social ties.

Back to Erik Kennedy:

Regardless of the specific implementation, the point is this: we stand to gain a lot from living in larger, closer groups. That’s how we were kicking it in the monkey days; that’s how we should be kicking it now. I say that not because of a romantic attachment to our Palaeolithic forbearers, but because of the fact that a good deal of health and happiness is ripe for our picking.

Erik Kennedy offers advice as to how to translate that into practical actions. Such as watch less television, live in a bigger group, for example, dine with the same people more often, and always resolve any disputes that you have with close friends. Also, have your children spend more time with trusted adults and, in turn, spend time with the kids of adults who trust you. Not forgetting to mix up age groups and stay close to your parents and grand-parents.

In essence, adopting such a lifestyle is not without precedent; paleo-social lives are common all over the world. In fact, paleo-social lives may not only be common but an age-old wisdom in many other parts of the globe. However, in many parts of the ‘Western’ world chances are good that we have seen very few people living in anything vaguely resembling a tribe; to use the more common vernacular for the term paleo-social.

For one thing is clear: isolation and loneliness is taxing on our mental health. Humans are not designed to be alone.

Just another important way of living to learn from our dogs: the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

1,642 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://www.erikdkennedy.com/essays/social-lives-cavemen.php
[2] Referred to by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.
[3] I believe one of the surest signs that your lifestyle is aligned with your physiology in some way is that the benefits come in clumps.  Just as the paleo diet helps people with weight, energy levels, digestion, complexion, resistance to illness, and other areas of health, it’s no surprise that a proper paleo social life would be a holistic boon to health.

The book! Part Two: Understanding the dog’s world

Mankind, Nature and Dogs

Understanding the dog’s world

A Dog is Man’s Best friend, but is Man a Dog’s Best Friend?

In the Prologue I offered a fictional, dreamlike story of how early man and wolf came together and from that special place in our history did flow the everlasting relationship between man and dog. I will return to that but first let’s get an idea of just how many dogs there are.

In 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that there were over 43 million [ 43,346,000] dog-owning households in the USA. That translated to over 36% of the total households in America. With an average of 1.6 dogs per household that came to the astonishing total of 62,926,000 dogs. In just one country!

It is therefore beyond doubt that millions and millions of people, of all ages, all around the world, understand what it is like to have a dog close to them. Likewise, those millions of dogs know what us humans are capable of. But of those millions of humans who have dogs in their lives, how many understand, really understand, the world of the dog?

In the next chapter after my Prologue, the Puppyhood chapter, I spoke of the circumstances that brought me into contact with Angela Stockdale of The Dog Partnership in Devon and how from that association I became aware of the three roles that dogs could be born into: mentor, monitor and nanny. How, generally speaking, out of every 50 dogs born there were just three carrying those roles, if ‘carrying’ is the correct description, and that the bulk of dogs born were straightforward pack members. Irrespective of the fact that we don’t normally own anything like the number that would constitute a natural pack of dogs in the wild, around 50 animals, that doesn’t alter the fact that when a puppy is born it’s social place, from a pack perspective, is hard-wired into the puppy.

I am indebted to Angela Stockdale for granting me permission to republish her descriptions of the mentor, monitor and nanny that are available on her website. In terms of man understanding the world of the dog, these descriptions are invaluable.

What is a Teaching Dog?

A Teaching Dog is a dog who has an instinctive desire to guide and support dogs in their learning canine communication.

A Teaching Dog helps other dogs develop their canine communication skills by displaying different body language to convey different messages. Such as lowering their heads and curving on approach as a polite way to introduce themselves. These essential etiquette skills are invaluable in preventing social issues.

A Teaching Dog teaches dogs canine etiquette to other dogs so they develop their communication skills as they go through the natural ageing process i.e. the transition from puppyhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood. At these essential times, their pupils develop their skills in canine communication to a high level, hence again preventing social issues.

A Teaching Dog has an instinctive desire to guide and support dogs who find communicating difficult. If a dog has an established social issue, a Teaching Dog will actively incite interaction with them in order to teach them how to relax and communicate with them. They will assess how the other dog feels and react accordingly. Keeping their distance if the dog is concerned and approaching thoughtfully when the dog relaxes. I say thoughtfully because that is really important to understand; they think about how to work with a dog.

When a Teaching Dog works, whilst there are some elements of instinctive body language, in the main they will consciously use appropriate body language for the specific situation. They will always maintain control of an interaction but will change their posture from assertive to more inviting in accordance to the other dog’s behaviour.

On sighting the dog they are working with, they will first watch and assess them. This can be done from quite a distance with an experienced Teaching Dog. Eye contact is made but the eyes are averted intermittently whilst the Teaching Dog decides how assertive they need to be, or not as the case may be, with that particular dog. What follows from thereon is purely dependent on the other dog and that particular Teaching Dog’s way of working.

Do all Teaching Dogs teach in the same way?

No. Different Teaching Dogs have different teaching skills and different preferred roles. It is essential to recognise the role each particular Teaching Dog prefers to take. There are three primary Teaching Dog roles – Mentor, Minder and Nanny.

Mentor

A Mentor is normally quietly assertive by nature. They rarely play unless flirting with the opposite sex. However, they generally build the strongest bonds with high ranking dogs of the same sex.

As a Teaching Dog they are passively dominant. They always meet a dog with assertiveness but never hostility. They tend not to use body language to relax a dog as such but often just their presence has a calming effect on most dogs anyway.

If working in a group, they watch from the sidelines and only become involved if absolutely necessary. Mentors can be quite lazy! They will support other Teaching Dogs where needed, showing by example what to do in difficult situations if the other Teaching Dog is not coping.

Other dogs reaction to Mentors vary. Some dogs take great confidence in a Mentor and whilst not necessarily submissive towards them, they are very respectful. Some dogs find a Mentor intimidating and will avoid making contact with them.

Minder

A Minder is totally different to a Mentor in their interaction with dogs they are teaching. When a Minder meets another dog, they actively approach with the intent of interacting with them. A Minder is also naturally assertive but not as strong as a Mentor. When they meet another dog, in the Teaching Situation, they assess the new dog as they approach and use appropriate body language in accordance to the other dog’s reaction to them.

They are more generally more demonstrative than a Mentor and will actively seek interaction within a few minutes of meeting a new dog. This does not necessarily mean that they invite play. If they feel the dog is not ready for that level of interaction, they will converse with them in a more subtle manner.

If the other dog is worried but shows signs of being ready to rush at them, the Minder will stand firmly with their head side on to the dog. Eye contact is made intermittently as the Minder ascertains whether the other dog is calming down or intending to rush at them.

They can stand firm and openly display assertiveness if they need to. Once ‘control’ of the situation has been achieved, a Minder will generally incite status based activities from the other dog. These can be by marking then walking away allowing them to investigate their scent. Or they may invite the other dog into a status game, often instigating a chase.

If the other dog shows signs at trying to drive them away, the Minder will turn their head towards them and eye contact becomes stronger. They do not reposition the rest of their body. If the other dog shows signs of moving away, the Minder will totally drop their body language and move away. They will then reassess the other dog from a distance, before approaching again.

In a group situation, a Minder will monitor the group closely and interrupt any unsociable or unruly behaviour. They interrupt unacceptable behaviour by physically placing themselves between the dogs and will remain there until the tension has reduced. When the dogs in question have calmed down, the Minder will usually walk away and monitor them from a distance. They tend not to interact with the other dogs after harmony has been restored. In effect, they police a group.

Other dog’s reaction to a Minder is either respectful or challenging. Most dogs recognise a Minder as a strong dog and usually respect them. Sometimes polite status games may be played when they first meet.

As the Minder does not naturally command respect in the way a Mentor does, some dogs who have limited canine communication skills and/or adolescents can challenge them. Once the dogs have learned how to ascertain status in a polite manner from the Minder, they will usually then settle and look to the Minder for guidance in future situations.

Nanny

The Nanny is the most amazing of all the Teaching Dogs. Although not their preferred choice, a strong Nanny can take the role of a Minder or Mentor if they need to. They are unique.

They are extremely generous dogs and are at their happiest when everyone else is happy, including other Teaching Dogs. They work very differently to a Mentor and a Minder.

They not only relax a dog who is uncomfortable or anti-social but they also help relax any Mentor or Minder in a group. Few Mentors get overly stressed in a teaching situation but Minders tend to take their job quite seriously, unless really experienced and so can become tense when working.

If they see another Teaching Dog, usually a Minder, showing stress they will also consciously use body language to reduce their tension as well.

Being happier working on a one to one basis or in a group is down to each dog’s personal preference. Although, of all the Teaching Dogs they are more likely to be equally happy in either situation.

When meeting a new dog, they will observe from a distance before making a thoughtful approach. Thoughtful being the operative word as everything a Nanny does is done with thought. The Nanny tends to assess a dog in more depth than the other Teaching Dogs. This means they often take longer in their approach. They rarely communicate with instinctive responses but with conscious body movements, using the eyes in particular, when conversing with another dog.

If a dog is confrontational with them, they will remain strong in their attitude but will incite play, in particular chase games. The game of chase can be a challenge, like the ‘Chase me Charlie’ game children play. Or a game of chase can be used to loosen up a dog who is so stressed they feel unable to move.

The Nanny knows exactly what distance to keep between them and the other dog. If they feel the other dog is too close for comfort or who is becoming too unsociable, they will stop and face the dog and take control again. Once they see the other dog is more relaxed, they will stop running and attempt to converse with them again. They repeat this routine until the other dog stays relaxed and sociable with them.

In a group situation, initially they will monitor from the edge of the group and then actively walk up to each dog individually and check they’re comfortable. This also gives the other dogs confidence as they know the Nanny is there for support should they need it.

Once they have seen every group member, including any other Teaching Dogs, they will then focus on the dogs that feel the most uncomfortable, this is not necessarily the dog who shows outwardly unsociable behaviour.

It could be a dog who becomes withdrawn because they are so stressed. Sometimes they will simply follow and walk alongside a dog who is not comfortable and other times they may invite play. It totally depends on the other dog and how, at that moment, they are feeling. The Nanny may walk alongside another dog and then invite play.

The Nanny will resolve conflict by approaching in a calmer manner than a Minder usually to interrupt the unsociable behaviour. Not necessarily by physically splitting the dogs. They may bark and then play bow and/or literally pat them on the shoulder to attract their attention. A strong confident Nanny will split if they need to but prefer to resolve any conflict by mediation.

When other dogs meet a Nanny, if they have a good command of the canine language they will greet them in friendly, but not submissive manner. A Nanny’s first response to a dog displaying aggression, is to increase the distance between them. But they do not turn their back on the other dog. This would show vulnerability.

They will move away at an angle and stand sideways on to the other dog. This indicates to the other dog that whilst they are not offended and are not going to retaliate, they are also not intimidated. Initially, this can be most confusing for the other dog.

A Nanny excels at being able to recognise signals of stress in other dogs. They will only advance towards the dog to the level the other dog can cope with. As the dog learns that the Nanny will not be coming close enough to pose a threat to them, they begin to relax. In time, the other dog will take confidence from the Nanny and will look to them for guidance in difficult situations.

Is a Teaching Dog the same as the Alpha, Beta and Omega in a wild dog pack?

No. The Teaching Dog is unique to the dog world. Whilst a Mentor is usually a dog of natural Alpha status, an Alpha is not necessarily a Mentor. In fact, many dogs of natural Alpha status can not or do not want to teach. They can not be compared to wolves or any other wild dogs. Teaching Dogs working together are not a pack. They can not be compared to dogs living in a group at home. Some Teaching Dogs do not want to work together with their own group but enjoy working with dogs they know from another family. All Teaching Dogs have equally important roles. There are situations where a Mentor is better able to resolve a conflict and another time a Nanny may be the better dog to the resolve the situation.

How can I find out more about these amazing dogs?

It may sound that it is impossible for dogs to consciously work in this way, particularly the Nanny. Seeing is believing and even then it is almost unbelievable. I run a four day introductory course on the world of the Teaching Dog. On these courses, participants can bring along their own dog for assessment. But it is important to understand and to recognise that this is not whether your dog can teach but do they want to.

You will see experienced Teaching Dogs in practice. And also those who are at the beginning of their career. I can not, of course, guarantee how they will work as I have not met their pupils yet! You will learn about the Teaching Dog as an individual, see experienced and apprentice Teaching Dogs working on video as well where you can study their conscious body language in different teaching situations.

At this first level, we will cover identifying Teaching Dogs and offering them the right learning ground to develop their natural skills. You can not train a Teaching Dog. A Teaching Dog is born a Teaching Dog. It is dependent on their life’s experiences and living environment as to whether they develop to their full potential. Many allegedly aggressive dogs are actually true Teaching Dogs. In domestic society such dogs have not been able to do what they were born to do; help other dogs without the interference of people trying to tell them how to speak their own language. Their life of frustration has resulted in aggression. Once given the time and freedom to develop their natural teaching skills, any aggressive behaviour disappears.

Time to stop talking and start listening to the real teachers – The dogs themselves

Thus one of the key learning aspects that Angela offers us humans is that dogs (and horses) learn most effectively when being taught by other dogs (and horses). This was observed countless times by me when Pharaoh was working as a minder teaching dog and using his natural pack instinct to teach puppy dogs their social skills and breaking up squabbles between dogs.

Before moving on, some closing words from Angela.

I consider myself so lucky for dogs alone to have been my teachers. I learnt from watching how my own dogs responded to another dog’s body language and vice versa their language. Watching, learning and working with Teaching Dogs was the only way I knew. Seeing how these special dogs change the lives of less fortunate dogs, who never had the opportunity to really understand how to communicate with their own species.

I was and always will be in awe of a Teaching Dog’s ability consciously to adapt their body language in accordance to how the other dog was feeling. The result being that they could relax nervous dogs but at the same time maintain control of a problem situation. Remember, dogs talk dog far better than we do.

It came as quite a shock to me when I learnt about other approaches. It seemed foreign for people to have so much input in resolving what were described as ‘ behavioural’ issues. For me, working with these dogs was far more than resolving a behavioural issue. It was about improving the quality of lives of dogs who were not coping with everyday life. If they found dogs or people worrying, sometimes this was shown in displays of aggression. It is important to understand, these dogs were not aggressive, they simply displayed aggressive behaviour.

How on earth to follow that, you might be wondering?

Very simply! By recognising that as much as we have had dogs in our lives, for thousands of years, we do not understand their world, how they truly think, what they feel, and we probably never will.

2,958 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover includes Copyright © 2005 Angela Stockdale