My goal in writing this post is too make it easy to understand, and even easier to make happen. But the fact is, there are people who thrive on being complicated. Computer scientists, Tax professionals, and dog-trainers come to mind. They enjoy clouding their methods in big words, and complicated process. Catch-phrases, and so-called “scientific” jargon are a special annoyance of mine. We’re training dogs here folks, not building a starship to Alpha Centauri. These people conduct what I call, “subjection by obfuscation.” In the vernacular of a canine-handler from rural Michigan, I call it, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull…”
Knowledge should be accessible and usable to everyone that has a dog, not just people who claim a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior. Which is questionable knowledge anyway.
The difficulty that I now face is this: I find myself in a position that necessitates writing a chapter using big words, scientific protocols, linear-reasoning, and the mind of a trained scientist. But I promise you this, anyone that reads this will understand what I’m writing. I am going to make this simple, direct, and user-friendly. I want, more than anything else, for my work to be useful. I want it to be worthy of someone saying, “That’s just common sense!”
The Communicative Approach to Training Theory (C.A.T.T.) is a mind-set that can be used with any method of training. It is merely approaching the whole process with the attitude of wanting to develop a deeper relationship with your dog. The approach finds what motivates and enables your dog to truly enjoy training, playing, working, and living with you. It is an evolutionary step forward for operant conditioning, clicker-training, Koehler method, or any other method. It recognizes that every dog, is a unique individual, and needs individualized attention, beyond technique. It takes time to develop the approach, as it is unique to you and your dog.
This is an organic, natural way to influence your dog, carefully seasoned with formality of method. Interestingly, I discovered something surprising in my research, and it gave birth to what I had been calling the “Communicative Approach” to dog training. It actually has a scientifically established name! Digging obsessively thru a mountain of research volumes and books in the Ohio State University Veterinary Sciences Library, I stumbled over a word that struck a chord. That word is “CYNOPRAXIS”.
The word itself is of Greek origin, “Cyno” meaning “dog” and “Praxis” meaning “To Do”. What’s interesting about the word praxis is the root meaning. It refers to using a specific theoretical knowledge to accomplish a goal. Praxis does not have a preference how that goal is accomplished, but is instead referring to the attitude of the practitioner of said method. Simply put: Regardless of the method of training you choose, your dog needs a relationship with you.
Cynopractic behavior is best nurtured within a close, relationship-based arrangement. The most important goal of cynopraxis is to create a nurturing atmosphere that encourages good behavior, fulfills your dogs emotional needs, and builds the relationship between the two of you. It builds your dogs desire to bond with you. It also improves the dogs quality of life. While based on sound scientific findings and observation, cynopraxis also emphasizes something that many methods of contemporary dog-training seem hesitant to embrace. That is, the individuality and uniqueness of each dog! Simply put, What works for one dog, doesn’t necessarily work for another. Therefore, try something else! It’s alright to stray from a militant allegiance to one method! Go ahead, steer a slightly different course for a change!
Cynopractic practice emphasizes individual uniqueness, and fulfills those needs specifically. Each and every dog will be evaluated by association, and unique protocols will be used for each individual. Every dog will receive personal attention, playtime, training time, discipline, and even nutritional help.
A favorite quote from my research comes from the book “Myths of the Dog-Man” (1991) by David G. White.-
“Ultimately, the Dog, with its ambiguous roles and cultural values, its constant presence in human experience, coupled with its nearness to the feral world, is the alter-ego of man himself, a reflection of both human culture and human savagery. Symbolically, the dog is the animal pivot of the human universe, lurking at the threshold between wildness and domestication…There is much of Man in his dogs, much of the dog in us…” End quote
What I’m about to write is not a conclusion I’ve drawn. But the definition of cynopraxis has brought it to mind. There’s no need for rebuttal, argument, or mudslinging. There’s also no need for praise or accolades. It is merely a question I’ve been formulating for some time. It started before I began to learn about relationship-based dog training, and it actually has its roots in the earliest days of working with my dogs. It’s something I should have done much earlier, but hadn’t yet the insight, or courage, to ‘ take the road less traveled.’
For the large part of dog training history, “Drive(s)” have been a central tenet. Which “drive” controls or manages a particular behavior? How can I build more ” drive” in my dog? How can I diminish a certain “drive” in my dog? Look at the long list of “Drives” that certain “”experts” have identified, qualified, indemnified, and quantified. Ball drive, Play Drive, Prey drive, Hunt drive, food drive, sex drive, pack drive, fight drive, tracking drive, ad infinitum. Some insist that all of these drives are involved to varying degrees when training a dog. Others postulate that only a single Drive actually exists, and it is labeled Prey Drive. At the moment, I’m not pressing either opinion as most accurate, although I’ve trained in both theories, and the middle ground between them. Maybe all of this talk of “drives” is meant for the human on the “educated” end of the leash. Something that helps us identify what’s happening in our dogs head. Maybe it’s a handy way to project blame for our failure as trainers onto a dog with a “lack of whatever drive the dog should possess.” Is it possible that our dogs don’t self-govern by the use of irresistible urges, or inborn, “drives” at all?? Is there something less quantifiable at work?
I do know this: Your dog doesn’t care which theory, or theories, that you subscribe too. The dog cares only that he works off his energy, feels safe, and has balanced emotion. Your emotional state affects what your dog feels all of the time, like an ephemeral mirror of emotion. Your dog has the wonderful ability to just “be ”. It seems to me that if we, as humans, learn this skill equally, we’d all be better off, a little less tightly wound-up.
I’ve written on the subject of “building drive”, or “training in drive”, so this supposition that I’m postulating has been a personal struggle. But something that I’ve learned has beckoned to me from behind a dark curtain. Dogs “organize” themselves in a group and accomplish what they need in the mindset of which individual “wants” something the most. They rest will fall in line to support that “need”. The individual “alpha principle” within a group of dogs changes and flows with that energy. There is no single alpha dog, but rather, a different member with the most energy at a given moment becomes the leader. It’s an emotional response to whatever is of current interest. Batteries have positive and negative charges that need to work together to produce a release of energy. That’s what we may be mistakenly describing as “Drive.”
The question will be asked, “Doesn’t “Drive” describes something that is answered to without hesitation or forethought?”
When a dog has pent-up “energy”, and is looking for the opposite polarity to release that energy, he’s “thinking” about the end result. Not reacting mindlessly to external stimulus. To further the analogy, I will be attempting to discover a way to define this mental exercise going on within the dogs mind…Rather than a “Drive”, which confines the dogs abilities to mere evolutionary instinct and reaction, I’m theorizing something else. In short and simple terms, Your dog has an “intelligence”, uses it, and is not a helpless pawn to a “drive.” It knows what it wants, needs, and requires, and builds it’s “energy” to acquire it. Often, thru the completion of the circuit emotionally, we help release the supplied energy.
The most difficult part of this “theory” is suspending our lofty, often haughty, human approach to working with a dog. That’s why this chapter is probably going to draw the ire of so many. Because humans are superior in intellect, we relegate our dog to the position of the lesser. This causes us to believe the dog needs to respond to our wants, and ignore his own. We look down our noses at the inferior intellect of the dog.
Maybe the best way to train is to become our dogs “completed circuit.” When we work together, and take the lead, the dog will support the strongest “want” in the group willingly and do so naturally. Again, this is “our” responsibility as trainers and handlers. The dog will follow and reflect us without hesitation.
I know this sounds unscientific to many. But remember:
“Science Insists, It dismisses the unquantifiable, It denies the existence of anything that can’t be charted or graphed”- Me.
There is much more going on within the canine mind and heart than we care to admit from our lofty throne of supposed superiority. With thoughtful perception of our dog and the communication between us, it is only common sense that we will find that missing something that I’ll call “emotional equilibrium”. Pure intellect alone cannot describe the difference between our two species. We are more advanced in that. But are we superior in emotional ability and development? Is the dog purely a creation governed by instinct? My conclusion is this: The dog is fully capable of using those emotions that he possesses to work cooperatively with a human that desires that level of understanding. Rather than being motivated by “drives”, he is instead driven by his emotions. The dog wants, desires, to work with his human partner to fulfill whatever mission is at hand. This may be difficult for the conventionally-thinking person to grasp, or accept. But I believe it possible, as a divinely provided simplicity and is perfectly natural to believe. Lists of individual “drives” can be conceived and recorded by human intellect, but the same intellect can scarcely describe where each drive originates from, and why one dog has that drive, while another has none. There is too little agreement about what each and every so-called “drive” even describes, let alone why a dog has it…
With that being said, we recognize that life, living things, living souls, are “emotional”. Human emotion being somewhat different than dogs, cats, or horses, but foundationally the same. We all “sense” whatever emotion is dominating whatever group of people we are currently with. Walk into a group attending a funeral, and we sense the “mood”, and just as truly, a wedding celebration. Understand what I mean?
No less observable is the dogs ability to sense and react to the predominant emotion of the same group. Observe what happens if a family group is experiencing some stressor, perhaps even having a terse disagreement. Loud voices, tension. What do dogs do under those emotions? Often, they will find a safe hiding place away from that emotion. Other times, when it seems possible, they might even approach individuals and attempt to smooth over that tension. They “understand” emotion, share it, and will often try to shape it into something better. This has been a one-way street for thousands of years. Our dogs read this in us, but we refuse, or are unable, to properly reciprocate. Thus the contemporary plague of canine behavioral problems. And thusly creating an industry that wants to fix dogs with pharmacological therapies, as well as questionable methods of mental training. When we have a clearer picture of what dogs “emote”, we will be on our way to helping them communicate with us, and being understood.
One of the best dog-trainers that I have experienced is Mr. Brian Harvey of Pronounced K9 in Hudson, Michigan. He has a varied and comprehensive program of training methodology, focusing on schutzhund work. Of course, this involves obedience, tracking, and bite work, so he has a multi-faceted practice on which to instruct. His online programs are expertly presented, and convincingly effective. He has a strong philosophy based on “drives”, far beyond what I am qualified to question. And I’m not questioning any of his methods. But, it has been my opinion that he is using the “drive theory” to explain training to people not yet able to grasp something deeper and more profound about dogs, that he has discerned for himself. He reads the dog in front of him, and the human student, better than anyone that I have observed. He loves the dogs, and has that mental edge that makes his work worthy of a lifetime of observing him. So I don’t deny that, at least for now, describing dog training in terms of “drives” is still appropriate and effective. He is unknowingly guiding me towards something as yet not understood.
Again, this subheading is put here, not to convince you of something that I believe, but to open your thinking up to a different type of understanding. This is still in the toddler stage for me as well, but answers present themselves daily in small, incremental doses. It is my belief that the dogs, and trainers like Brian, will continue my education into the future, and that I may never fully grasp their tuition without years of observation. That’s Okay. I’m not going anywhere that will prevent my education.