ClickerSolutions Training Articles

Rotties and Clicker Training

I read your post wondering if clicker training and gentle methods work with Rottweilers and, of course, had to respond.

I've lived happily with Rotties since 1970. Back then I was a young adult and still sort of a beginner trainer, and had raised and owned GSDs for about 5 years before getting my first Rottweiler, and used the oldfashioned Koehler method I'd been taught by my instructors. (I never used the harsher parts of that method like drowning or beatin, but I did do heavy neck jerks and am ashamed to say I also would "hang" a dog that fought back.)

I soon found that Rotties were more able to "ignore" that force-based method than the Shepherds were. So I reacted by upping my jerk-strength and the force of my "corrections".

Over the years, as I gained experience in training I started doing things differently from my K-method instructor. I found through experimentation with many breeds, including clients' dogs and my own Rotties and Shepherds, that it truly was NOT necessary to use such forceful methods. As a result, I got a bit gentler with what I did.

Moreover, I started to discover that dogs tend to meet force WITH force. We know about "trickle-down aggression" in people... those raised by the "sword" grow up to use it themselves. Children peaten by parents grow up to beat their children. Only because that's what they'd learned was "appropriate" to do when children misbehaved. This concept of trickle down aggression has shown to be just as true in dogs.

Dogs under stress, as will people, tend to revert to the most awsome display of power they've witnessed or had used on them. If a Rottie is manhandled in "training", when he grows up and wants to boss someone around, he'll use tactics that reflect the amount of force his leaders have used on him. I've seen this time and again, and admittedly, it can be a pretty scary thing.

So it would seem logical to *intentionally* avoid modeling that kind of force with a dog as powerful and intelligent as a Rottweiler. As in "don't teach them anything you don't want them to use themselves!" Not all trainers have had enough experience to figure this out yet, unfortunately. It sounds like some of the Rottie folks who've been advising you to use roughness in trainingn may fall into that category. They are misinformed, don't listen to them.

I was already using mild methods when I met Ian Dunbar, but no food rewards. But when I saw the results of Ian's lure/reward methods I adopted them immediately, even though I'd been taught formerly that to use food rewards was some kind of a cop-out. L/R is how I trained my Rottie pup-at-the-time Bro. He was 4 months old when I started using L/R method. I trained him by luring and rewarding the behaviors I wanted and never "corrected" Bro harshly. He turned out to be the best Rottie I'd raised up to that time.

Bro was a very strong personality, and as Rotties go (and I'd had lots of experience with the breed by that time), Bro had a strong innate potential to become a very forceful and what would be called a "willful" dog.

Bro's attitude when I tested him at 6-weeks (which was when I got him from his so-called breeder) was one of "reserving the right to fight back." i.e. When I held him gently in my hands and rolled him gently upside down he braced a forepaw and a hind paw against my upper hand and made direct staring eyecontact with me the whole time. Pretty strong will for such a young pup. I could feel the tension in his little body as he "allowed" me to hold him that way... it was a clear message he was sending me that I could do that, but if I were to hurt him he'd fight me.

A dog like that could be a real handful and a possible problem for a trainer who used force and punishment-based methods. I realized that through about 20 years experience with Rotties already. But I chose to raise and train Bro with all-gentle methods.

The results were that Bro became extermely trusting and cooperative. Even when he did his "control stuff" with other dogs, and he was a pretty macho guy all his life, he never bit or fought or used physical force on them. He'd posture and give really clear body language messages to tell them how to "act right", but never had to use teeth on them.

With people, Bro was amazingly gentle and accepting. (Only 3 times in his life did he ever show distrust of growl at people... and those 3 times I believed him and thanked him and trusted his evaluation, even though I couldn't tell what he saw that was different with those 3 particular men. Since that behavior was so unusual for Bro, I figured I'd be safer if I believed his assessment and acted accordingly. I'll never know what unpleasantness or danger I might have averted by trusting Bro's assessment, but I'm glad I listened to him.

Even with little kids Bro was entirely patient and gentle. He'd accept a full neck hug or a poke in the eye with complete dignity and mildness. I have no little kids of my own, so Bro wasn't really raised around children, though I certainly made a point of exposing him to kids as a puppy. (It would have been foolish and irresponsible of me to do otherwise. Gentle socialization is vital for all dogs.)

Here are some examples of Bro's interactions with strangers, both adults and children...

Bro accompanied me to all my book signings (his picture is on the cover of my first book, DOGS LOVE TO PLEASE... WE TEACH THEM HOW, and people would recognize who I was because they'd see me with Bro. LOL!) At some point in the presentations I'd let him go meet his "fans". This was his favorite part. He'd circulate through the tight-packed rows of chairs, stopping in front of each person to allow petting. He'd spend a few moments with each person, then he'd move on to the next.

Some people would pet him quite roughly and without any regard for how he must be feeling it, but Bro'd allow it, trusting -- because he'd been trained that way -- that *no person would ever hurt him on purpose*.

Bro never missed anyone in the crowd. I'd joke with the audience that I should take Bro to church and let him pass the collection plate around... and I'd bet the plate would be fuller than usual if he did. <g>

If someone in the crowd didn't want to pet him (which was very rare) he'd wait a moment to give them a chance to change their minds, then he'd move on to the next person. After he'd made his rounds, he'd look at me and ask permission to go again. <g> Or he'd peek around the book displays to see if there was anyone in that part of the store he might have missed. If I'd let him, he would have gone around the whole bookstore making new friends. <g>

He was a terrific draw! In fact, I could probably have stayed home and Bro might have sold more books without me. LOL.

Once a Barnes & Noble store was planning a children's party to promote Alexandra Day's latest book at the time, CARL'S BIRTHDAY PARTY. The B&N PR person asked if I'd bring Bro and have him play the part of "Carl" for the promotion. Of course I said yes. She asked if he would wear a paper party hat, but I told her I didn't think he'd like that too much but that *I'd* wear one. She was okay with that and hired us to do the promotion.

The day for Bro's "Carl" gig came and we arrived at the store. The place was literally aswarm with kids from babes-in-arms to about 7-years old. They mobbed Bro, beliving utterly that he WAS "Good Dog Carl" and wanting to hug and kiss him. I watched Bro very carefully, of course, for any signs of stress and was prepared to intervene if necessary, but never had to. He was totally charming!

Now at this party there was a big cake and the kids all sang happy birthday to "Carl" and blew out his candles for him. What they didn't know ahead of time was that Bro had learned to sing along when people sang Happy Birthday. LOL! He howled in harmony with the crowd and everyone loved it. Then they passed out pieces of cake and gave "Carl" a birthday present... a squeeky plush brontosaurus.

Bro loved the toy and carried it around and then lay down with it to savor his new prize. I wondered how that would go, when the kids continued to crowd around him and his toy. Turned out he was a complete gentleman about it, even allowing one toddler to take it right out of his mouth. I intercepted and gave the toy back to Bro, then took it away myself (gave him a food treat) and pocketed the toy, just in case he started to feel worried about losing it again to the kids. I did that just to be on the safe side. Responsible proactive handling being a plus in these chaotic "mob-like" situations, of course.

Everyone arriving for the party was given a paper coneshaped party hat with an elastic band chinstrap to keep it on their heads. After we'd been there about 20 minutes (the party was 2 hours long), Bro "asked" me for a hat. I offered to put one on him and he accepted delightfully. He happily wore that hat for the whole party, except for one short period when he "asked" me to take it off so he could roll around on his back on the floor for a minute. After he scratched his back and shook off, he "told" me he wanted the hat back on. I still have that hat, in Bro's folder.

Bro also did theatre. He played "Sandy", the dog in the musical ANNIE, for a local theatre group. He was a star! Indeed, he got better reviews than anyone but the 2 girls who alternated in the Annie role. Some of the adult actors were rather jealous, which I thought was rather funny myself... (I though everyone in theatre *knew* that if they want to be noticed on stage, don't play in a show with either kids or animals... and Annie had both!)

In ANNIE, on opening night, with the media critics in the audience, Bro on his own decided to sing a harmonic duet with the child star. Oy vey! I watched helplessly from the wings, practically wetting my pants at that turn of events. I was sure we'd be in trouble with the director for that faux pas! But no... the audience and the newspaper critics LOVED it! Bro recieved a *standing ovation* at curtain call. The director asked if I could get him to "sing" like that for every performance (there were about a dozen). I had to tell the director that it would be *much* easier to encourage his singing with Annie than to try to make him stop!

After each performance, and after curtain calls and bows, Bro would practically race me down the back theater stairs to get to the "Green Room" in the basement where the audience flooded in after shows to meet the cast. So many people took pictures of him with their own kids that I thought he must see spots for hours afterwards, but he took it all completely in stride. He loved being a star.

Oh, during one performance, in the part of the show where the police are hassling the street people and Annie kicks one of the cops in the shins and runs offstage with Sandy, Bro added a little improv of his own. He "pretended" to defend Annie from the cops. Yikes!

Again, there I was offstage in the dark and completely unable to control the situation. I worried that maybe he might actually bite the "cop" and I hurried to a spot where I could rush on stage and intervene (and of course ruin the show...) but it was okay and I didn't need to. As Annie exited offstage with Bro, she saw I looked worried and told me "It's okay, it's okay! He was just acting! It's okay, he was GREAT!"

The "cop" said he could tell Bro was "acting" too, and that he wasn't afraid for a moment, but amazed that the dog "got into" his role like that. Whew! I did explain to Bro afterward that that improv wasn't really part of his job on stage, and he didn't do it again.

I didn't get into clicker training until Bro was about 8.5 years old. I hadn't thought that C/T could have any better effects than L/R, so hadn't really bothered to try it out until then. Bro responded to it instantly, though, and really that's what *sold* me on clicker training!

I tried it first as an experiment. I was teaching Bro to do canine musical freestyle and we were working on his laterals (sidepasses). He was doing well with them in heel position, at my side, but was going crookedly when in front, facing me. His problem was the same as many dogs have... he didn't pay attention to his rear feet, just his front feet, so he'd end up with his body moving diagonal to me instead of perpendicular in a straight line in front of me.

The experiment that I started was C/Ting for rear foot movement on laterals to the left and just continuing to lure, praise, and treat for laterals to the right. Within two five-minute training sessions Bro's left laterals in front were PERFECT, while his right laterals hadn't changed at all. I was completely blown away with how quickly he figured out what to do in the direction that I was clicking for!!! I decided that jusst maybe clicker training *might* have some advantages after all. <LOL>

After that, I started incorporating clicker more and more into Bro's training, and also started my new Rottie pup, Delta, with clicker for all her training. Also started c/t my fearful, formerly abused, rescue Eskie and my old "Toy Rottweiler" unknown-mixed-breed (10.5 inch tall) MightyMitey. They all responded so well, including the "crossover" dogs, that I then started teaching use of clicker in my public classes.

Now I use clicker training in almost all training I do. I have not found even *one* dog that doesn't respond to it quickly and beautifully. I'm converted! And like all converts, I want to pass along this important knowledge to everyone who crosses my path. (Sometimes I have to pay attention to not being obnoxiously overzealous about it, like an ex-smoker <g>.)

Though clicker training still hasn't been fully accepted by many, I believe it certainly will be with time. The proof of the method is in the behavior of the dogs. Not just in their "trained" behaviors, but in their whole attitude about life, people, other dogs, and everything else. Of COURSE clicker training works with Rottweilers!!! It works with ALL dogs. (And every other creature it's been used with, too.)

Last February Bro passed away from cancer, quietly and with dignity at home, at 10.5 years of age. He seemed healthy and was apparently without pain until just the week before he died. I never knew he was sick at all until then. Bro lived longer than any of my former Rotties but of course, to my mind, he *couldn't* live long enough to suit me. I will miss that wonderful dogfriend forever.

Bro was the dog I "crossed over" with. I'll never forget him and the hole his passing has left in my heart can never be filled. But Bro's legacy to me will live *forever* in the knowledge that gentle training works far better than force and that clicker training trumps every other kind.

Stubby wags to you and your Rottie friends,

September Morn
Copyright 2000 September Morn


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