Why Not Utilize Safe Dog Program?
We have been getting some push back from owners of the breed to Safe Dog Testers and Tester Trainers about why they would not be inclined to do any training or socialization work that is necessary to pass the Basic Level I of the Safe Dog Program.
Some of their comments pertain to wanting a “Natural” dog, and not interfering with their dog’s spirit. I am a little perplexed as how socializing the dog from a pup to different places, people and situations, establishing humans as pack leaders within the household with clear and consistent rules and reinforcing, with praise and attention a calm submissive state would interfere with the APBT spirit. Basic obedience training gives a dog something to do to please his owner and provides an opportunity to give well deserved praise. As to wanting a ‘natural’ dog, I am not sure what exactly that means.
I think back to my father, Ralph Greenwood and the way that he raised his pups. The pups were socialized to being handled, from the litter box. We paid a lot of attention to each puppy looking each one over from day one. This might include weighing the pup on an old kitchen scale if we suspected one was not growing well. The pups were allowed to be handled by all of us kids, in all parts of the house and yard. The dogs were leash broke and allowed to take us on walks once they were vaccinated.
Back then, parvo virus was not a problem, so dogs were out and about starting about nine weeks of age. We never did any formal obedience training but each dog was expected to come when called, to shut up when asked, to crate with ease, ride in a car, stand without restraint on a table, to permit handling on all parts of their body, nails, ears etc. Most of our dogs were tethered, and they were expected to stay out of your way with the chain when you were in their run. Each dog was taught to jump onto the dog house on command to be wiped with fly spray, or for inspection. When my dad worked a dog that was when the strong bond between dog and trainer happened. Dogs were dogs and we never expected them to be a substitute for children, as we had plenty of children around. Care was consistent and individualized, as Ralph set the plan and we all followed suit. Pups from Greenwoodkennels received plenty of socialization and training, and also had plenty of APBT spirit. I believe that the one way that you can understand the importance of the Safe Dog Program is to understand a little about dogs and dog psychology. First lets talk about what they are NOT.
Dogs do not think the same way we do. They do not have the ability for abstract thought. They cannot plan revenge, solve complex problems. They cannot move mentally forward and backward through time. Although they can learn to discriminate the relevance of certain words, they do not understand human language. They do not learn by observation or imitation. They are amoral. Things are not good and bad to them, it is a matter of safe vs. the unknown. Dogs are just dogs – they are animals and as animals they come with instincts that drive their behavior. Dogs are incredible with their ability to learn through operant and classical conditioning. They have an awe inspiring ability to discriminate their environment with their senses. (Noses first, ears second, eyes third). They also have a sixth sense – the ability to assess energy. Dogs show abilities to deal with a complex social environment and bond strongly to their owners. Dogs are predators and pack animals. Their willingness to work for you as their assertive pack leader is based on their desire in maintaining harmony in the pack – not out of their love for you as most of us would like to believe. Dogs are completely and innocently selfish, looking out for their own self interest at all times. Dogs as predators come with predatory instincts that drive their behaviors. This includes:
1) Prey drive (search, stalk, rush and chase the prey if it attempts to flee).
2) Predatory drive (capture, bite, hold, shake and kill the prey.
3) Dissect and eat the prey – protecting the kill (food guarding) or territory.
The strength of these predatory instincts varies from breed to breed and within the individual dogs within each breed, but as predators, all dogs have these instincts. Dogs use their mouths and teeth and ALL dogs are capable of biting. So the declaration that “My dog is an angel and would never bite” is suspect. What differs is the threshold at which a dog will bite, the strength of that bite and the trigger or the event that will elicit the bite. This is what I mean. Everyone reading this has the capacity for violence and the use of deadly force. If pushed hard enough, we as humans are capable of defending ourselves and the lives of our families and friends. The trigger that sets us off will vary from person to person. You have the individual that flies off the handle at the slightest provocation causing damage in their wake, to those individuals that would never lift a hand until a life was on the line. The same is true in dogs.
Socialization and training, stable pack leadership, consistent rules within the household all assists in lowering the threshold of the bite. Responsible ownership can eliminate the triggers that will result in a bite, and the strength of the bite can be softened with socialization and teaching a dog from puppyhood bite inhibition.
Now comes the question: To what degree do nature and nurture interact to create a dog that is a threat to society? And the answer depends upon the expert that you talk to and the circumstances surrounding the bite incident.
C.W. Meisterfield, the first ‘dog whisperer’ would tell you that many owners promote frustration and cause mental instability with their dogs because of lack of leadership and inconsistency in the pack. They over indulge the dog, lavishing unearned praise without physical or psychological boundaries, and then attempt to train with dominant and forceful training methods. This over time creates frustration and a dog’s ‘will to serve’ is replaced with the ‘will to dominate’ and when pushed (sometimes in the smallest way,) bite incidences result. This could explain many of the incidences that we hear about when a dog turns on his owner seemingly out of the blue with no provocation.
More recent canine behaviorists for example Je