Training Like “Mom” Intended

by Camilla Gray-Nelson

Mother and Pup

Dog training never ceases to intrigue and excite me. It seems every year I have new revelations, new ideas and new theories to explore. Last year was no exception.

Studying Mother Nature and her canine world has been my passion and profession for over 25 years, but anyone who’s worked with me sees how animated I get when I start sharing insights and advice. How can I still be excited about a subject after 25 years?   Because there is always something new to discover! Take my latest exploration into the process of progressive early canine learning. New thinking on this subject is changing how I approach dog training – personally and professionally with every client at Dairydell Canine.

When one strips away all the fluff and hype, rhetoric and technique, it is clear that the most important reality for a dog is to simply have clarity on two things: 1.) Who makes the rules here? and, 2.) What are mine? Helping dog owners answer these seminal questions for their dogs is what we do in our Nature-Based leadership training program at Dairydell.   But our new insights into how dogs progressively answer these questions among themselves is opening new inroads.

You see, mother dogs begin teaching their pups “Who makes the rules here?” from a very early age. In the den or whelping box, Mom is the boss and the early teacher of “I don’t allow that.” When her young babies get too rambunctious or bite down too hard, the mother dog will hold their entire head in her mouth or lay her heavy leg over their body and restrain the pup there until it submits. Then she releases the pressure. This “maternal restraint” is the puppy’s first introduction to rules and their enforcement and thus, their first introduction to hierarchy. Mom makes and enforces the rules. She’s the Leader.

As her pups mature, the Mother Dog begins to introduce more adult canine conversation — barking, growling and/or nipping that each convey a rule or enforce a  boundariy in the real-dog world which they are about to enter. As she begins to control her pups with these tools, the Mother Dog is teaching adult canine language and social boundaries, preparing her growing pups for their adult life beyond the den. She moves from “baby talk” to “dog talk”. Her training is progressive.

When owners bring their wild and woolly dogs in for training, regardless of their calendar age, the dogs are often social infants, as they have had very little, if any, introduction to rules and boundaries that are enforced. They are, for all practical purposes, babies in terms of their hierarchical education and social development. And that’s where my recent epiphany occurred!

Why not, I thought, introduce dogs to the hierarchy of their human family in the same way that the Mother Dog would do it in Nature? First, through simple maternal restraint…and then, through more adult conversation involving growls, barks and nips?

I rediscovered a tool and technique which I call a Wonder Loop: a slip lead leash looped around the neck but half of the loop made into a figure-8 brought up over the dog’s muzzle, then everything snugged up and secured — like a head-swaddle. In the past, I had thought of head control devices as an emergency or maintenance tool but now I realize — done correctly it can be Mother Dog personified!  Unlike other head-collars on the current market, our Wonder Loop “hugs” the dog’s entire head (like the maternal head-hold.) It calms the nervous dog and delivers perfect maternal restraint when used correctly. Of course! My light bulb moment:  It could be used as the first introduction of parental control at home before we introduce the more classic training collars which speak to a dog in his adult canine language.

We have made the “Wonder Loop” our introductory leash for all dog owners in our beginning obedience classes. They are taught how to master maternal restraint/release with the leash and go home with this beginning tool. It is amazing how quickly the dogs start to see their owners in the role of “mom”, and understand how and why rules are being enforced –especially helpful in teaching a “no toes ahead” rule when walking!

In the next stage of our progressive training, we move from baby talk and introduce tools that communicate in clearer, more adult ways – including collars that introduce “nips” that can then be more clearly understood and accepted by the dog because he has been appropriately introduced to concept of hierarchical control. Predictably, as dogs inevitably start to question parental authority, (and they will, just like any kid) subsequent training tools are there to meet these challenges easily and without argument.  The progression from “baby talk” to “dog talk” is now natural and simple.

It never gets old to see relationships transformed, dogs relax and owners smile. We at Dairydell are excited to be sharing our progressive training concept with dog owners everywhere and continue changing lives!

If you want to enter the wonderful world of dog training and responsive companionship, we are here for you – effective, natural control — the way “Mom” intended!



About Camilla Gray-Nelson

When I started training dogs professionally, it was women who sought out my help. Responsibility for the family dog typically falls to them, after all. Their homes were in chaos; they were yelling at their dogs – and their kids – and couldn’t control either one. The life skills of personal power that I learned as a child (and assumed everyone else had, too), turned out to be rare among my clients. Since that time, it has been my personal goal to share Nature’s message of quiet power with women (and men) everywhere to help them become more effective not only with their dogs, but in their greater lives as well.

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