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A lot of sheepdog handlers use 'pressure- release' techniques to interact with their dogs. To be good at using this technique, it is necessary for the handler to have excellent timing plus be consistent and fair. Pressure can often be exerted just by the way the handler stands and looks at an animal, so the person needs to be very aware of how their own energy levels/attitude and body language is interpreted by the dog. In addition every dog will repond slightly differently to pressure This means that handler has to modify the amount of pressure used to suit the individual dog and the situation. So an important part of getting this technique to work properly is the need to have an excellent understanding of canine body language so that he/she can modify his actions/energy appropriately. ETA When the dog is doing what the handler wants, the dog has to feel comfortable and this means that all pressure should be released (another reason why it important for the handler to be fully aware of what his own body language is really indicating to his dog).


Aandi, your earlier posts in this thread indicated that when you went to the sheepdog trainer,you saw for yourself, that there is something about this calm, authoritative, non-aggressive, consistent and fair approach that dogs just seem to 'get' and understand (even when they are not being worked on stock). This is an observable fact,


Some people then try to find an explanation of WHY this approach works and in doing so they previously have come up with the idea that this maybe because the handler takes up a 'dominant/ alpha' role. IMO This is especially appealing to some individuals looking after stock because they seem to consider that working a flock/herd with a dog is like 'modified hunt' (where the main aim is to control the flock in a stress-free manner rather than kill an animal),


However this 'taking up an alpha role' is their interpretation/explanation of why pressure-release techniques work. i.e it is a hypothesis/theory. IOW it is a guess!


Please remember that it is important to distinguish between an observation that can be repeated and a theory (guess) explaining why the observed fact occurs. IMO just because many dog owners/animal behaviouralists no longer support the 'dominance theory' does not diminish the effectiveness and fairness of properly applied and well-timed pressure-release techniques. Individuals who do equate the two risk throwing out the baby with the bath water.


Obviously, this post is my interpretation of the current situation where some people appear to confuse the use of properly-used pressure-release techniques with a belief in dominance theory... So yes,of course, this is only a hypothesis i.e. a guess and JMO.



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Dear Doggers,

Forty years ago, from time to time I'd hear sheepdog trainers talking about Alpha dogs. It never was a terribly important concept, but one heard it. I don't think I've heard the term used - except by behaviorists to debunk it - in the last thirty. No doubt a few pet dog trainers still employ the phrase but I haven't heard it in traditional pet training circles in decades. "Positive" trainers use it as a straw man to promote their preferred methods. Debunking "Alpha dog" theories is like decrying Obamacare "Death Panels"; it satisfies one's prejudices.


Sheepdog trainers do talk about "pack leaders" and "boss" because these are helpful training concepts that do not, in themselves, invite abuse. What I often see with beginners is utter confusion about all dogs particularized in their Border Collie, an athletic, fast dog who learns very, very quickly. Too quickly sometimes. These novices may have absorbed some "fur baby" nonsense from the general culture or may have picked up bits and scraps of behaviorist dog training theory, including the nonsense that (a) corrections are cruel and one can only train humanely by "positive" methods. The consequence of this is that these novices feel they have no right to correct their dog, no matter how mildly. They can't say "No."


The result is a desperately confused dog who cannot, literally cannot know what their place is in the family, what is expected of him and what is forbidden. What's the poor dog to do?


Most pet owners have very few and very simple requirements for their dog: don't bite, don't run away, come when called, don't get on the table, don't relieve yourself in the house . . . Most experienced sheepdog trainers don't bother to train for these habits, they simply expect them. (If you think the dog's ability to respond to expectations is unique to Border Collies, check out the handler's pet dogs under the tent at a trial: same good manners.)


But our dogs' typical mannerliness rests on the sheepdogger''s assumption of authority. Pack leadership is a simple way of explaining it. And no, we don't "Alpha Roll" our dogs. Don't fricassee them either.


And it rests on a fact: they belong to us and we are responsible for their well being. The human who can legally kill, sell, relinquish a dog - or train it to a fullfilling life for both is its Boss. Pretending otherwise is tendentious.


Donald McCaig

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Expectation does play a significant part but you are training your dog in those habits whether you are aware of it or not. You are probably not consciously training for them though.


Very few dogs are happy having the overall responsibility of having to make their own choices in routine life IME. They look to us to provide guidance, structure and predictability and when it goes wrong it is usually because they are lacking.


Communication rather than wanting to be the boss in my book. You do what I say because most of the time I know better than you but it would be arrogant to believe we are always right just because we are supposed to be in charge.


I've read enough tales of when the dog ignored instructions and proved to be right not to believe humans are infallible in what we expect of dogs.

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Forty years ago, from time to time I'd hear sheepdog trainers talking about Alpha dogs. It never was a terribly important concept, but one heard it. I don't think I've heard the term used - except by behaviorists to debunk it - in the last thirty. No doubt a few pet dog trainers still employ the phrase but I haven't heard it in traditional pet training circles in decades.


With respect, I don't think we live on the same planet. I hear the "Alpha" term bandied about all the time.


I do applications for a regional border collie rescue. The majority of people who apply are looking for pets. Some do some agility or other dog sport and occasionally there'll be a serious competitor or dog trainer among them (usually applying for a specific promising young dog), but not often. Even more rarely there'll be someone who wants the dog for stock work, but they almost never have any experience.


IOW, most of them are your average, run of the mill pet people.


People throw out the Alpha crap all the time and I don't really see it diminishing a whole lot. It is being replaced somewhat recently by more positive training outlooks, but it's still firmly entrenched in the pet cultural psyche.


And a quick perusal of dog training websites on the internet will result in more uses of Alpha theory based approaches than I'm comfortable with. And although many have learned to delete the term from their vocabulary, it still informs quite a few methodologies.


What you call nonsense, some of us call insight. ;) I do believe there's a middle ground, though, between the extremes you paint (for example, I don't know of any positive reinforcement trainers who refuse to apply corrections; they just don't do it with what's sometimes referred to as positive punishment).

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Yeah. Cesar Millian is still on television and he's still promoting the entire thing pretty heavily. That, plus the Monks of New Skeet (their older stuff) is also pretty commonly used and touted amongst dog owners. I deal with public down owners quiet a bit too, more a few years ago doing dog rescue, and that nonsense is anything but extinct in the world I live in (and share with GentleLake).

Also, I again live in the middle ground where I'll use toys and cookies and praise to teach a dog as well as correction, intensity of which depends on the dog and the dog's reaction to it. Very little positive punishment but that doesn't mean my dogs don't get 'don't do that' communicated to them clearly. I mean. Really.

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I still run into a lot of "alpha" terminology among students in my classes. Usually I get it in the form of concerned questions like, "will this make him think he's alpha?" or "will doing that make him dominant". LOVE having the opportunity to present a completely different perspective, and I am happy to be able to provide relief to owners who are genuinely afraid their dogs are going to turn into "alpha's" if they make any mistakes.


I think a lot of regular people are searching for ways to be dog owners who can provide leadership outside of the dominance model. I think being able to present alternatives that give them exactly that is one of my absolute favorite things about working with "pet people".

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I am not a "positive only" trainer, and I am thrilled that the OP feels more in control and sincerely hope that what has happened works and they go on to have a long happy relationship.


Just a warning to be careful, because treating anxious behavior with punishment can sometimes backfire in the long run. I think its possible the OPs dog was less anxious because his owner was clearer and he felt like he knew what should be done.


Sometimes, punishing anxious behavior is less than ideal because it suppresses the behavior and doesn't deal with the root of the anxiety which will come out more forcefully later. There is a lot of good information in books and website out there with how to deal with fearful and anxious behavior that the OP can read and hopefully prevent any issues down the road. Likely a combination of being calm and clear and also reducing the underlying anxiety will help in teh long term.

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Brick is also part basset hound, isn't he? So maybe coming at this like you would with a majority percent border collie rescue mix is not the best idea. I fully believe in researching all aspects of something instead of just taking a single piece and designing an entire protocol something so limited. Maybe you've already done this, and if you have, feel free to ignore me, but I would invest some time in talking to people who experienced with hounds, especially hounds from a rescue background. Because he IS a mix, you can't really treat this situation like you would with a purebred border collie, and I think that is a difference many people are over looking. Different breeds, different behaviors.


As for the bathroom thing, crate him. Crate him at night and you will absolutely cut that problem down to almost zero. Essentially, you let the dog out at night right before bed, and the into the crate he goes for the night. Brady wasn't allowed to sleep outside of the crate until he was about 18 months old, because I didn't want to play that game of "Whee, let's go outside!" and also because I didn't fully trust his bladder control.


I asked about you being overwhelmed because it sounds like that is what is bleeding into your hesitancy with training the dog. I am glad you are looking into different training techniques, but you also have to have confidence enough to stick with something long enough for it take effect. The more you look for validation from other people, instead of finding something that actually resonates with you and your personal training philosophy, the more you are creating your own brand of chaos. I firmly believe that a person's dogs is a reflection of themselves, and I have totally been in your shoes of being overwhelmed and not quite knowing which way to go. And then, one day, I asked myself what I REALLY wanted out of Brady, and I went from there. I wanted a dog who was well-behaved, trusted me, and who behaved because of our well-formed relationship, not despite it. I have used the term "fur baby" with him and I am not ashamed of it. Sorry, but while he is my dog, he is also close enough to my heart that I have no problem admitting that sometimes, I call him my kid. Personally, at 25 and the beginning of an editing career, I'm glad I have a dog instead of a human child.


But over all, I really am glad you found a style that suits you and that resonates with you, because dog ownership is about a partnership between you and the dog, and no partnership should be miserable. I really hope you continue to gain confidence and control in the situation and that you and Brick go on to many happy years together. I am rooting for you!

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OK, I am a positive trainer from way back. Personally when it comes to a dog biting me I WILL smack him, but it is true punishment-the dog is smacked and we move on to a known cue(the dog having learned the cue via positive methods).


I made similar mistakes with my first dog. I neglected using punishment once he failed to do as told. The thing is punishment needs to be fast and effective. When protecting someone from a bite, use all means available, if it is immediate and meaningful to the dog. In this case, the smack with the hairbrush most likely was so quick the dog didn't really register. More likely he associated the smack(pain) with his attempt to bite.


Now I would seriously change the way the dog was treated. he would definitely have limits. these can be achieved via positive methods which will reduce the chance of biting. However I will NEVER condemn someone for protecting themselves from a dog biting.


Best of luck. Check out some of the dog aggression pages on FB and there is agbeh on yahoo groups full of good info. Sounds like the trainer hit the nail on the head, perhaps using "politically incorrect' jargon, but communicated the idea to you well.

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