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Picture if you will, the image of a beautiful day … sun shining, birds singing … the perfect day to walk a dog. Suddenly, from the distance you hear the sounds of shouting. “Kallie, stop! KALLIE! STOP! STOPSTOPSTOP!!! KALLIE!!!! S-T-O-O-O-P-P!!!”
The sounds are coming from a Snow Dog owner as they are being yanked and pulled along by their dog. The owner is shouting commands in rapid fire succession at ear piercing levels at their dog and yet, the dog still seems oblivious to what is being asked of them. This Snow Dog has conveniently developed the dreaded affliction known as Snow Dog Selective Hearing.
Does this scenario seem all too familiar to you? For many Snow Dog owners, this is their daily reality.
While Snow Dog Selective Hearing is not a genetic trait, it certainly is a breed specific trait. The ugly truth is that Snow Dogs really don’t care that much if their choices and behaviours please you or not. Their hardwired genetics tell them that first and foremost they are draft animals bred to pull sleds. They contain no genetic traits that compel them to want to stand by your side awaiting your next instruction for them. They lose no sleep over blowing off any cue that you might give them.
There is no point taking this behaviour personally. It has nothing to do with them trying to being willful, consciously disobedient, or stubborn towards you. It’s just their hard wired genetics at work. These dogs are genetically wired to be single minded and what is first on their mind is to RUN. A close second to that is to run in search of fun and interesting things to do.
What comes into play during these situations is something called, The Law of Competing Motivators. What this means is that when two possible choices are placed side by side, the situation that offers the dog the most valued reward or pay off will most likely be the choice he makes. So, when the choices are: comply with your cues OR pull and run toward something that seems wonderful, fascinating, interesting, and ever-so-much-fun, from the Snow Dog perspective, the chances of your dog choosing to listen to your cue is slim to none.
So how then can you go about training a dog that is hardwired to not care about being obedient? One answer to this question lies in knowing how the mind of Snow Dog works, working WITH it, and not against it. The other answer lies in knowing the two main keys to getting these dogs to comply with your cues.
Relationship Based Training
In a previous post I wrote about how incredibly sensitive these Snow Dogs are and how deeply they feel everything. Once understood, this trait can easily be capitalized on by the savvy Snow Dog owner. When properly engaged and nurtured, these dogs form deep relationships with their humans and that makes these dogs the ideal candidate for Relationship Based Training. This kind of training focuses on the bond that you develop with your dog as the motivating factor for their compliance.
For this kind of training to be effective, you, the owner, have to demonstrate to the dog that you are a leader worthy of being followed. This worthiness as a leader has nothing to do with using an outside force or power to be cruel, intimidating, or terrorizing towards your dog. This is about developing an inner Command Presence that convinces your dog that it is in their best interest to follow your lead.
From a dog’s perspective, a worthy leader is one who is confident, consistent, and one who ensures the safety, well being, and survival of the group. For an animal, safety and security means they get to live to see another day. So if your dog is not listening to your cues, ask yourself this question, “What if anything, have I done for my dog to see me as a leader worthy of following?”
If you have not established yourself in a bonded relationship with your dog there is no amount of obedience training that will make a dog listen to you. And in the case of Snow Dogs, the issue of relationship becomes even a more significant factor in non-compliance. Sorry, there are no short cuts to forming this relationship with your dog. It takes time and effort on your part as a dog owner. In Relationship Based Training, we are required to stock of ourselves and of our behaviours in order to prove ourselves as good solid motivational leaders for our dogs.
This Better Be Fun
The best description of how a Husky or Malamute mind works when cues are issued came from the brilliant mind of Animal Behaviourist, Suzanne Clothier.
She points out that in the cases of companion dogs and sporting dogs (dogs that have the hard wired gene to be compliant) when you give them a cue, their thought process and reaction to the cue looks something like this:
“Rex, sit.” The issued cue results in a process where the dog thinks, “Sure, why not.”
However, in the mind of a Snow Dog, a very different reaction occurs:
“Snowball, sit.” And for a moment Snowball contemplates all her options to this request until she formulates this response, “Why should I?”. To which the only acceptable response Snowball will accept is, “Because, it might be fun. I could make this fun for you!”
And you had better be prepared to deliver on that promise of fun because if what you asked a Snow Dog to do is boring or repetitive, Snowball will quickly blow off your cue and go in search of her own fun and adventure. Snow Dogs are all about the motivation.
So then, the second key to training a Snow Dog is to use the proper motivation for a Snow Dog.
Training for Huskies and Malamutes MUST seem like a game that yields fun, food, and excitement for them or they will shut down and zone out. Do not make training a long drawn out event. Make sure you capture all of those everyday training moments and sneak in the obedience training to shape the behaviours that you want to see coming from your dog. Be fast to reward and mark these behaviours in a way that is meaningful and rewarding to your dog.
Don’t just issue commands in a flat monotone voice. Make your voice happy and higher pitched. When you attempt to call your dog to you, clap your hands, bounce up and down, bend down to dog height … give your dog a reason to check out what you are so excited about. Make coming to you the exciting choice for your dog to take.
Yes, to any on-lookers you will most likely look ridiculous but they are not the ones who have to live with and train a Snow Dog… you are. So throw your dignity to the wind. Be prepared to do anything that you might need to do to get and keep your dog’s attention so that you can make that ever important connection with them.
Do you have a funny or embarrassing story about the lengths that you have had to go to for your dog? Have you discovered a clever or unique training method that worked with your Snow Dog?
Please share it with us on our page because our ultimate goal here is to help all Snow Dog owners and their dogs.
Helping all Snow Dogs…one owner at a time.