Jul 21, 2020 | Talking About Dogs

OK, OK, remember, this was PRE-clicker, my moment of being hit by the lightning bolt, after I had given up “obedience training” but before I had any idea of what was going to replace it.

I am, in Canada, the grandma of Giant Schnauzers, and am frequently called upon to answer questions and help people out with Giant problems. Some friends were getting a divorce, and the tension in the household had driven their 15-mo homebred puppy bitch quite out of her mind. They called to tell me that they had taken her to a show but couldn’t show her because she was in the crate and noone could get her out (a pro handler later told me he had looked in the crate from quite a ways back, and “there was nothing in THAT crate but BIG TEETH and LOTS OF THEM”). They put the crate on a plane, and I picked it up at the airport and deposited it in my living room.

They were right, there was a lot of movin’ and shakin’ going on in there, and none of it friendly. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I opened the crate door and sat quickly down on the couch (see, I’ve been a Couch Trainer for a LOOOOOONG time!) with a broom to fend her off if necessary. She sat in the crate and snarled and snapped for a very long time, and when she finally slowed down a little, (sheer luck, had NO idea what I was doing), I whispered “yes” and tossed a bit of hot dog in the crate, which caused another round of snarling and snapping and teeth hanging out all over the place. It took her three hours to actually pick up the first piece, and another hour to cross the 10′ between the crate and my lap. For the rest of the day, I just kept her with me with a leash, saying “yes” when she did something reasonable and ignoring her or walking away when she was less than reasonable.

By the following evening, she had settled down beautifully and seemed to believe that I was capable of controlling the universe without her worrying about it or helping. I took her and another Giant to a training building, and handed the leash to a trusted friend while I worked the other dog. The bitch was a bit leery, but seemed able to respond reasonably. I told my friend to ignore her, and offer her a
bit of hot dog once in a while.

Everything was going well until someone else showed up, a dog barked, she jumped back and pulled the leash out of my friend’s hand and darted out the door. Sue Ailsby, Professional Dog Trainer – motto: I can kill anything in less than 24 hours! As I ran out the door, I saw her standing in the middle of the street, up on her toenails, pupils dilated, daring someone to breathe and she would be GONE – a black dog in the middle of a strange city in the middle of the night, and no one would EVER catch her. Still not having a clue what I was doing, I started saying “yes” quietly, and pretending I had a hot dog. The third time I said it, I saw her pupils constrict. The fourth time, she looked around as if she had just woken up, gave herself a little shake, and trotted over to me with a shaky little “Gosh, this is
embarrassing, out in the middle of the street! Let’s go back inside!”.

When I got home, I was telling my surgeon husband what happened, and said “It was totally amazing – it was as if someone had shot her with a tranquilizing dart. One moment she was freaked out of her mind, the next moment she was totally relaxed!” And he replied “You really don’t know what happened, do you?! You taught her a word which forced her to think about food. When she was thinking about food, she was not physically capable of producing adrenalin. When she stopped producing adrenalin, she stopped being afraid.” This led to my vision of the big red button I could “install” in the dog’s forehead by pairing the “click” to the food, then when the dog was approaching a situation where it was about to be afraid, or angry, or hysterically excited, I could “reach out and push the button” and short-circuit the whole event by simply saying “yes” and making the dog think about food.

This idea of using the dog’s body FOR me was so earth-shattering for me, I have difficulty talking about it. It led quickly to the realization that as a traditional trainer, I spent all my time using the dog’s body AGAINST me – teach the dog to sit by pushing down, thus forcing the dog to push back against me. Would it not be more sensible to teach the dog to STAND by pushing down? YES! Teach the dog
to come by pulling it toward me? No! Teach the dog to come by PUSHING IT AWAY! Understand, at this point my entire world is shattering in little pieces around me, but I’m too excited to stop. I start to shiver just thinking about this. I was a trainer for 25 years before this newfangled stuff came along! So what started me on The Path was my dear departed Spider and her teeth in that crate. She stayed with me, by the way, and showed me many other things once we started in the right direction.

Sue eh? (shivering)

Afterword: That wonderful dog became the first Giant Schnauzer in history with a sheepherding title, and placed in herding trials. She was a Group winner in conformation, and earned her CDX. She ran on a competitive dogsled team. A movie star tried to buy her (but failed).