It was a beautiful spring weekend in South Central Kentucky. Perfect weather to be outside working dogs. I took the Friday off of work and my wife joined me and Luca for a fun filled training weekend at Mohawk Malinois.
Since this training was being held at Mohawk’s of course almost all the dogs there were Belgian Malinois. I do not get to train my own dogs very often so I thought this would be a great opportunity to get Luca out and exposed to all kinds of distractions while working on the things he knows. Luca really impressed Stephanie and I by not only how he performed but by how unbelievably calm and stable he is around total chaos, because with dozens of Malinois around sometimes it is chaos. Apparently many others were impressed also since I have received so many emails and incredibly kind words about the work that Luca and I do together. I appreciate that very much and I am humbled by it a great deal.
On the first day I noticed a woman working a beautiful jet black German Shepherd puppy. I could tell she was trying to expose him to new things and work him around new distractions. I offered to let Luca help in the socialization and she took me up on the offer and trained her puppy up on a table with Luca sitting by his side. The puppy did fantastic and made a new friend. The owners name was Carol, a super nice lady with a tremendous love for her dogs. Carol later explained that she also had the puppy’s dad with her and planned on bringing him out also to do some training.
A little while later I looked up and saw Carol with what looked exactly like her puppy except about 60 to 70 pounds larger. An absolutely breathtaking looking jet black adult size version of her little puppy. That was Loki, her puppy’s dad.
I watched as Carol worked with Loki. You can tell he was an extremely powerful dog, but although Carol is very humble, she does an amazing job with him. It was obvious that Loki liked to work and it was also obvious that Loki liked to win and would challenge the handler when playing a fun game of tug.
At one point while I was working Luca, Carol commented to me that Luca had a beautiful out. For non dog people that just means that Luca releases whatever he has in his mouth when I ask him to whether it is someone’s arm or a tug toy. Then Carol said I wish Loki would out like that. It is the one thing I have a hard time with. I replied that he can, it is actually very easy, to which Carol laughed and said something to the effect of yeah right. I understand where she is coming from. In the working dog world, as well as the pet dog training world you see a lot of conflict between handler and dog. The handler pushes and the dog pushes back. The handle pulls and the dog pulls back. It is a never ending battle but it does not have to be.
Later that weekend I saw a few different people work with Loki. I did not pay much attention because I know how I am. If I see something that can be done a better way I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. Plus my wife reminded me several dozen times when she saw me watching something I did not like to LET IT GO. She is good like that.
Later in the day several of us were hanging around together. My kids were also there at this point so it was great family fun. Carol asked me to work Loki to which I denied her. Not because I did not want to but because I knew I had the potential to keep him for a while and maybe not give up until he was performing like I would want him to. Carol asked again, well actually she demanded and pushed him on me in a way I could not refuse. Carol has a great personality and is just very likable so it is hard to say no to her.
I agreed and took Loki and his tug toy. Now those that know me know damn well that I am going to work his out since that is where Carol is having trouble. I let Loki bite the tug. We fought a little. We played. We battled. He stared right into my eyes with a hard look, a challenge, daring me to win. I asked Loki to out. He did not. I made the tug go dead. I had to wait a long time and Loki did not want to out. Carol was right. Now this is where most people would yell or scream or pressure Loki with a prong collar or a choker. That would just make Loki fight harder. He is a tough guy, a warrior. He will fight force with force every time and Carol will never truly have that harmony and that flow that she and Loki deserve.
Loki finally released the tug. Only after he had felt that he won the fight. Now it was time for me to show Loki a better way. I held the tug and when Loki tried to take it I very calmly looked him in the eye, shook my head, and said uh uh. I did not say NO because I am pretty sure that many of the dogs out there though their name was NO. Loki backed off, looking me right in the eye, but not with a warrior look. He looked at me with a soft eye. His eyes were asking me what I wanted. Now I can begin.
Very subtlely I backed up. No leash pressure, and Loki followed. I moved to the side, Loki followed. I moved toward him, he backed up, all through this keeping excited eye contact, waiting in anticipation. I lightly touched his face, then his hind quarters. I spit in my hand and held his nose gently, letting him learn who I am. I don’t think anyone noticed the little things. The Dopamine was rising in Loki. The anticipation of what is to come makes the body release dopamine. That makes the dog work hard to get what he wants. The anticipation is much stronger than the actual reward.
Now we were ready to play together, not against each other. I let Loki hit the tug. I asked him to out. He hesitated, I held his leash with one hand just as I did when I had him following me, no pressure, and outed quite quickly. The second he outed I said yes and he hit the tug again. This time when I gave the out command he released immediately and in doing so I rewarded him immediately. We continued our game. Loki still stared into my eyes while we were tugging but this time it was not in defiance, but with love. I just met this dog and already we were developing a relationship. So as I told Carol earlier it is easy, it really is.
Several people came up to me afterwards wanting to know why that dog outed so easily for me and I did nothing to him. See that is the problem. I did plenty with him, not to him. The average dog owner or dog trainer does not see or do the little things. The things that matter. Not one person noticed me touch his face when we were moving together. Not one person saw me talk to him in a very subtle way. Not a single person recognized the moment his eyes went from hard to soft while we were staring at each other. These things matter.
Force creates one of two things. More force or submission, and neither are beneficial. Relationship and engagements creates harmony.
I can’t thank Carol enough for letting me play with Loki. Carol thanked me for working with him but in reality I was the one that benefited. I decided to write about my short experience with Loki because I found myself thinking of him a lot. There is something about a beautiful Shepherd, that look of intelligence and confidence that gets me every time and when they give you their heart there is no better feeling as a dog handler.
I am pretty sure that Carol and Loki will be friends with the Krohn family for a very long time.