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 Some Unschooled & Personal Thoughts about 
 Training Your Bouvier 

". . . there are much better ways to establish yourself as the leader without using choke chains & alpha rolls"
How to establish yourself as the leader of your pack

Although I'm not as schooled as most of you in dog behavior, I tend to agree with the notion that choke chains & alpha rolls does not a leader make.

I believe the first responsibility in training falls to the human who must earn the "Bouv's" respect without losing position as the alpha just as one would with a child. I don't have any kids but I sure would have preferred my kids follow my requests out of respect rather than fear.

It is my uneducated opinion that human "presence", a few rules of common courtesy accompanied by examples of human fairness, consistency, simplicity & application of those same courtesies to the Bouv can go a long way in earning that respect from your Bouv.

I have never subjected Truman to an alpha roll nor have I ever used a clawed choke chain to gain control. And that's the point for me -- control is not the same as earning respect.

For example, I hold a door open for Carol to exit first. I would do the same for an older person, sometimes even for another guy, just to show respect.  The same goes for the stairs, etc. I don't run to the table to eat before Carol & I can sit down together to enjoy our meal together. And I think you can extrapolate other social behaviors (though not all) from these simple examples.

Truman does not walk thru the door first; I do out of respect for me. If he forgets I say something like "me first" which he has come to understand. He does not go up the stairs first; I do. He (& Sabrina) eat when we do. He does not eat unless everything is ready & I invite him to his bowl. Truman never grabs a treat from my hand. He takes it with in his lips as the gently command of "gently" has taught him because otherwise he might injure me -- something I wouldn't want to do to another human & he doesn't want to do to me.

Truman always looks @ me -- he's not afraid, he just wants to know what I want. On the other hand he might not be considered well "trained" by some of you in that he does not react immediately. He thinks for himself & I admire his independence even in what I euphemistically refer to as his "herding" experience.

Would he stand up to a Ring, Schutzhund courage test; I don't know. Would he bite & hold despite being "hit" by the decoy; don't know that either. Does he fear a stick in the hand -- no -- because he's never been struck in his life. That's why he fought & attacked the fiber glass rod when he got tapped on the nose during herding training & I was glad to see that.

I'm not sure Truman would ever be successful in retrieving an object & jumping over a hurdle to bring it back though he does fetch the newspaper @ the gate on command & brings it home with delight. And in the case of the Sunday New York Times, that can be hard work.

He loves to be groomed, jumping joyfully on the table and standing there while I work on him. He wags his tail, talks & bounces @ shows because he's enjoying himself, showing off, being full of himself. Not so for many "trained" & beautiful Bouvs I've seen in the ring who go through their paces simply because they know it is expected of them. "Paris" is one exception to that.

At the end of the day I believe a human owner "earning" a Bouvier's respect is the first step to good training & from that flows all else. Otherwise I believe you have a Bouvier that responds out of fear or for food or some other reward which is fine but not my ideal.

All this "wisdom" comes from me, not really "schooled" in dog behavior, just an observer of my Bouviers over the decades. And some of it definitely belongs in the category watching myself write.

Jan Rifkinson
January 2000

...on reasoning with a non-reasoning animal that doesn't understand the 'if...then' statements humans love to contemplate


I really wonder about this distinction: humans demonstrate 'if-then' thinking while dogs do not.  My take is that we frequently create these differences to elevate ourselves but these differences may not actually be there.

For example, Bogart -- our first Bouv -- was a real troublemaker growing up. He ate bubble gum, bananas, damaged an *entire* closet full of expensive shoes -- you know, eat a heel here, munch a tongue there.

I wanted to be inventive in demonstrating my displeasure of his bad behavior so at one point I actually showed Bogart the damage he had wrought, then commanded him to climb into the shower & turned the
water him on thinking this would disgrace him -- kinda like embarrassing a cat.

For a week or so Bogart was good but then I came home to find some more damage in the living room.  But Bogart was not to be found. I went upstairs -- no Bogart, searched the study, the living room the bedroom, the kitchen -- no Bogart. Guess where he was? Standing in the shower waiting for me to turn the water on. How about that for 'if...then' thinking so dear to human beings?

My point is that we (dogs & humans) are not so far apart; sometimes -- and I emphasize sometimes -- humans are just more complex about dealing with the same issues. (Criminals & the occasional dictator are more obvious about their base instincts.)

Packs -- people generally feel better (frequently safer) in the company of other people -- relieved to find others with similar problems (illness groups, psychological groups, etc) . Programming & de-programming individuals in a pack, as well as torturing prisoners of war, begins with isolation from the pack. In the home pack, parents are the automatic leaders -- they are bigger, more aggressive, have more presence than the kids. As the kids grow older, they test the boundaries of acceptability within the pack -- how far they can go. Does it all sound familiar?

Training - children are taught manners. They may not jump up on people but the do interrupt conversations.  They have to learn table manners. They have to learn how to study, how to greet people. They are taught to perform tricks -- reciting the alphabet, a poem, a song, a bit of history. They have to learn -- somehow -- that being "good" brings it's own rewards, whether it be approval or food or acceptance. (I've read about mothers who potty train their kids by giving them a raisin if they go "potty" where they're supposed to.) Am I ringing any bells yet?

Socializing - Unfortunately, in the news of late we've seen too many examples of social typing: alpha groups, cliques -- the jocks, the freaks, Goths, nerds along with the accompanying bullies, feelings of inadequacy, acting out, etc. Has anyone on this list fought over a lover? Has anyone on this list fought for supremacy? Has anyone on this list averted their eyes from someone walking towards you, exhibiting an "attitude" simply in their walk or in their swaggering presence? Is this not just getting out of the way of an alpha presence? I see all this in dog behavior.

If you think back on your 1st, 2nd & maybe even 3rd loves, didn't you have "anxiety separation" when you parted from your lover? It was barely controllable; sometimes it wasn't controllable at all. While you probably didn't scratch at the door or rip up the sofa, you probably engaged in other more socially acceptable behavior & pined away -- you know, that hang dog look.

Consider slavery as a human institution & compare it to dog ownership. We control every moment of our Bouvs' life -- who & what & when -- to engage, not to engage, eat, sit, down, procreate, work, stop, start -- all at our personal whim. Would we do it with humans if we could get away with it socially? In my opinion the
answer is a resounding 'yes'. Thankfully, we're no longer allowed this behavior but we certainly exhibit an  innate talent for it with our dogs & therein lies one great source of dog abuse, torture, sales, euthanasia, abandonment.  Check the ABRL (American Bouvier Rescue League) rosters.

In my book the only differences in these things is complexity -- we are more *socially* complex than dogs. It's not that these instincts are more elevated or different in humans. We have learned to slice up our behavior in ever smaller slices of acceptability for social reasons. Young children behave like dogs -- with  purity of heart, complete trust, openness & wonderment -- but as older children -- when they try out this same behavior, they learn to slice the loaf & control their instincts.

One of the reasons I believe that we admire & have our dogs -- despite a lifetime of inconvenience -- is because they offer us unconditional behavior -- love, sorrow, shame, fear, trust. It's pure, we admire that & wish we could emulate it. Life would be a whole lot simpler.

Check out some of the complexities in our lives. A lie is a "no-no" but a "white lie" is socially ok. Shooting someone in war is ok but shooting an aggressive person on the street is not ok. "Stealing" is not acceptable but how about those paper clips, pads, pencils & pens from the office, the ashtrays & occasional towel from a favorite hotel? And I suppose you could say that the apex (or apogee depending on your point of view) of this kind of thinking lies in the mind of the most alpha human in the world -- the president of the United States of America -- where extramarital sex with a young woman employee was denied because it was only oral sex.

Now, if you've slogged thru this article to this point, it may be hard to believe that I meant none of the above as a political or social commentary. Rather I am using all of it as examples of why I think the basic instincts  & needs of dogs & humans are really quite the same & why dogs, if treated as we would *want* to be treated -- not necessarily *how* we treat others -- would probably turn out to be wonderfully behaved canine companions. And that relates to training. 

I'm not preaching, only some thoughts on a sunny, Saturday morning as Truman & Sabrina take their naps & Sabrina snores.

Jan Rifkinson
January 2000


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