The Old Trainer: Look to wolves for canine tips

December 7, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: My Boston Terrier, Spud, behaves so well since I started using your training tips I can't believe he is the same dog. I read your column every week and you always talk about how important it is to understand canine psychology. Why is it so important and how do I learn to understand it?

-- Evelyn, Santa Cruz

A: It is important for two reasons, Evelyn:

1. The better you understand what motivates your dog, the closer the two of you become. The closer you become, the more pleasure you derive.

2. If you understand

canine psychology it is easy to train your dog. If you do not, it is hard.

Most humans don't understand human psychology any better than they do canine psychology, so there is zero chance they will understand the difference between the two.

Eric Fromm provided an accurate summary of human psychology when he wrote, "Man is the only animal for whom his existence is a problem he has to solve."

Most of us would benefit if we lived by dog psychology, because the way they think is the opposite of the way we think. They don't worry about the past, don't waste time contemplating the future, and don't obsess about their problems. They wake up happy every day.

Everything your dog does is controlled by canine psychology. The foundation of that psychology is the pack instinct hard-wired into every dog. In a canine pack the leader makes all decisions and the pack obeys. Dogs are relaxed and at ease only when there is an established pack structure.

One way to understand this psychology is to observe your dog over a long period of time. Another is to go to the dog park and observe many dogs over a long period of time.

The easiest and most effective way is view the documentary "Wolves at Our Door" on YouTube at

The documentary follows a pack of wolves over a period of a year. Dogs descended from wolves and inherited from them their basic psychological makeup and desire for the pack structure. The film shows canine psychology at work and explains what the wolves are doing and why they are doing it. Watch it until you understand the dynamics of the pack animal, and you will understand your dog.

In addition, Kamatz, the lead wolf, conducts a doctorial-level training seminar. You learn how to be a leader, how a leader trains the members of his pack, and how to keep the pack happy.

Use canine psychology as a training tool and training is easy. All professional trainers use it. Once a dog decides you are a leader, all you have to do is make clear what you want him to do, and he will do it.

Take the time to study canine psychology and to understand your dog, and you discover the secret many dog owners know -- the more you understand your dog, the better you understand yourself.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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