I recently had the pleasure of being asked to write an article for Organic Hudson Valley Magazine to showcase their new section called: Pet Love. Please enjoy the article below or click on their link above.
Three Words to Live By… and Train By
By Josh Jacobson, Fearless K9
Photo: Karen Pearson
With respect, patience and confidence…all else will follow. These words are the building blocks from which Fearless K9 was born, and how we continue to operate every day. To succeed in life, we need to stay true to ourselves and be unwavering in these three principles. This means constantly evolving while staying grounded in the “why” you do and the “what” you are doing so you can successfully meet the challenges life has to offer. This is especially true within the rehabilitation and training of dogs.
I would like to tell you a story about Marty, a pit bull who was sitting in a shelter waiting to be adopted. In Marty’s case, that day was becoming more and more unlikely because the longer he stayed, the more pent-up energy he had and the more aggression he displayed. He was genetically a very high-driven, socially dominant and confident dog with the muscle and size to back up any decision he made. By the time I was called to assess him, he was down to one person being allowed to walk him for quick bathroom breaks. He needed an outlet for his frustration and someone who understood what his genetics were leading him to do. I agreed to foster and rehabilitate Marty, and in the hours we spent changing his perception of the world and giving him the tools to succeed, his devotion to my family became unquestionable. Marty had finally found a purpose and a place in life.
Recognizing what a particular dog needs genetically and then creating a proper training plan are crucial skills for owners to create a fulfilling life for their dogs. When dealing with aggressive dogs, whether they are coming from the fear end or the dominance end of the spectrum, one needs to have not only an intimate knowledge of both human and dog psychology, but also the understanding of how to apply this knowledge to the real world through the use of scientifically proven systems that make sense to both dog and human. A dog left to learning and behaviors shaped by genetics may be okay for a low-drive dog—one who wants to please its owner 24/7 and doesn’t really get worked up over much. It is an entirely different situation with a dog who has been purposefully bred to be confident, independent, socially dominant, untrusting and aggressive toward strangers, and/or deals with situations quickly and in a very offensive manner. These kinds of dogs, by nature, want to do things as they see fit without needing or wanting to check in with their owners.
I speak with people on a regular basis about the need to be your dog’s filter for decision making. When dealing with the type of dogs I work with and rehabilitate on a daily basis, in my opinion the dog cannot be your point-man (even high-level protection and police dogs do not hold this position); they have to be your backup. The reason for this is they are capable and willing to make judgement calls about what their job description is. At some point the dog will make a decision that in his mind is perfectly acceptable—which, if you understand the genetics at play, you can’t hold against him—but it will not align with what our culture deems acceptable. Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand why I constantly stress the importance of creating systems of clear and consistent communication with your dog to instill rules, structure and accountability in a fair and meaningful manner, since when implemented properly, it looks seamless…but it is because of these rules and structure that the dog succeeds!
Obedience, if taught properly, is definitely a cornerstone in the upbringing of a new puppy or helping in the transformation of an aggressive dog, but it is only one-tenth of the total equation for success. The distinction between success and failure lies in the trainer’s ability to formulate a plan accurately addressing potential genetic markers in younger dogs or understanding the “why” in an already-aggressive dog. When these pieces of the puzzle are understood and properly mapped out, traditional obedience training can then be used as a powerful tool to help accomplish a particular goal. What I gave Marty was simple: a role model (knowledgeable leader) who respected and understood who Marty was; gave him rules and boundaries (clear pack structure); taught him not only what was wrong, but also what was right (obedience training); and an outlet for what nature was telling him to do (proper exercise and protection work). In return, he gave us mutual respect; a dog who listens to and thrives on rules and structure; a dog who completely understands and performs what is asked of him no matter the situation; and, as a fully trained and highly skilled family and personal protection dog, he has become our 24/7/365 shadow.
Here are other articles and videos that showcase how far Marty has come: