Predatory behavior in dogs is one of the major reasons that dogs are both given up to shelters as well as taken to training. In many cases, desperate people are fooled by the sales pitch of “gurus” in the dog training field who claim to be able to eliminate aggressive and predatory behaviors in dogs within a few weeks, if not a few moments. People see television shows where the trainer is presented with a difficult case of an aggressive dog exhibiting behaviors that are far worse than the ones their own dog shows. Using some miracle technique or trick, the trainer then transforms the dog into a perfect specimen showing no aggression whatsoever, and the viewer is lead to believe that if they hire this trainer, take their course or use their tool, their dog’s behavior will immediately change for the better. Naturally, most people are disappointed by the failure that ensues, and in many cases the dog is then taken to a shelter because it is “not redeemable.” Aggressive dogs in shelters almost always get out down, because they are now in a situation where the clock is ticking and there are not enough resources to give that dog the attention it needs. Training is about reinforcing positive behavior and eliminating negative behavior through exposure, saturation and repetition. It takes a tremendous amount of time, attention and dedication to rehabilitate a dog, and unfortunately your job is never done with regards to behaviors that are genetically driven. Certain types of dogs are genetically disposed to certain things, herding dogs herd, running dogs run, etc. In order to be successful you first must recognize what you are dealing with.
This article is not about training aggressive dogs, but instead is about using tools and training to benefit the dog by tapping into their genetic traits. We do not need to discuss if pitbulls are genetically more aggressive towards other dogs or people, or if herding dogs are genetically programmed to herd. Work with enough dogs and you begin to notice the patterns pretty quickly. Pitbulls and their relatives are high drive dogs, while other types are less so. Sheepdogs and terriers show tendencies to herd or chase, more so than others do. We use treadmill (slatmill) work to use these natural tendencies for a positive outcome. By tapping into the dog’s natural desire to hunt, chase, catch or run we provide the exercise that the dog desperately needs. Keep in mind that certain breeds were created over hundreds if not thousands of years for a specific working purpose. Our goal is to use that natural drive to both condition and desensitize the dog as well as exercise them, so as to reduce their energy. The way that an energetic dog lashes out when they are frustrated by a lack of ability to burn off that energy is by doing the things that they were bred to do. Their instinctual behavior becomes magnified, and focused on an action or object that they can direct it towards. The goal is to ultimately reduce that behavior, and one of the components of this process is to reduce their energy levels. This is accomplished through exercise.
Predatory aggression is natural in dogs, it is what they rely upon in order to feed themselves in the wild. Hunting and chasing, as well as catching and killing animals is a natural behavior for them. As much as we do not like to think of it this way, the predatory behaviors also give the dog pleasure. It is literally fun for the dog to chase and kill prey, and this is the behavior we tap into when we play fetch, tug or a million other enjoyable types of play with them. We are tapping into their natural prey drive in order to facilitate the outcome, and we have distilled it using toys or tools in order to make it look more palatable. If your dog loves to chase a ball, they would love to chase an animal. If they shake the toy during a game of tug, it is actually their natural instinct to break the neck of the animal they have just caught. It is through using these natural drives and desires that we accomplish the goals that the dog was created to do. This is why treadmill exercise (and slatmill exercise in particular) works so well to fulfill dogs. The treadmills are not driven by a motor, but instead are a simple belt that rolls under the dog when they walk or run forward. They are leashed to the treadmill simply to keep them in place when they move, and to use their steps to move the belt under their feet instead. The dogs are motivated forward using a variety of techniques including shaking toys in front of them, or calling them forward. Through the use of these internal desires in the dog, we cause them to walk or run where they typically would simply stand still. This allows them to burn off the extra energy that is inside them, while also training them that they are allowed to let loose their prey drive in this specific environment. They learn that when they are on the treadmill, it is encouraged that they chase and attempt to catch something. If we simply discourage all aspects of prey drive while training, we are completely removing something that the dog derives pleasure from, not replacing it with anything that is even close to the same level of fulfillment. Through encouraging this behavior in a specific situation and no other, the dog learns that while on the treadmill he can let the prey drive flow free, enjoying himself the whole time. Through proper handling and training, this same behavior is discouraged outside of this lace and time, allowing the dog to understand that the behavior is wrong unless it is within the exercise scenario. By having the dog in a specific situation with obvious cues that they understand, they can begin to separate the situations where it is encouraged from those situations where it is discouraged. Through regular exposure to treadmill exercise in a controlled environment, you can not only tire your dog out and build up their muscles, but also train appropriate use of their natural drives and instincts.
RUN DAWG uses non-motorized treadmill exercise and training for the benefit of dogs. We can be reached at 702-857-5755 or through our website at RUNDAWG.com