Russian Special Forces and Dog Training

I wondered if this guy had ever killed someone?

I mean I was only about four feet away from him and couldn’t help but think that as I sat there. After all, he did call himself “The Evil Russian.”

Pavel Tsatsouline was an instructor for the Russian Special Forces Spetsnaz, that fought in Afghanistan and I was in the front row listening to him discuss strength and flexibility training.

I heard that he was going to be speaking in Providence, RI. I had been told that he was a great speaker and did not want to miss the chance to see him. As a guy that makes a big part of his living by standing in front of people and speaking, I always jump at any chance to see a pro.

Anyway, he turned out to be everything that I had heard. Mr. Tsatsouline is an excellent speaker and has a great sense of humor. If you ever get the chance to attend one of his seminars, I highly recommend going to see him.

Anyway, he sprinkled his seminar with a lot of great stories and Russian sayings. Two of his sayings really hit home with me and I have never forgotten them. His first statement was:

“If your only tool is a hammer treat everything like a nail.”

I loved that statement because I am a complete moron when it comes to using tools. My girlfriend knows that asking me to fix something is not a good idea. In fact when we need something fixed around the house she usually gets the job done.

But…

If you need something demolished I am great with a hammer. It is the one tool that that I can use.

I also loved that comment because when it comes to dog training, a really good dog trainer has a whole bunch of tools in his or her tool box.

I don’t talk about this too much but there are trainers out there that only have a hammer in their toolbox. They treat every problem, every training situation, like it is a nail.

Hack trainers think that every behavior problem needs to be dealt with a correction. Dog trainers that have limited tools put a choke chain on the dog and yank the leash and collar for every problem that they are confronted with.

Dog growls around his bone – apply correction with choke chain.
Dog jumps – apply correction with choke chain.
Dog won’t sit – apply correction with choke chain.
Dog won’t lie down – apply correction with choke chain.
Dog moves during stay – apply correction with choke chain.

A good trainer understands that there is more to training than yanking on the leash. In my book “The Amazing Dog Training Man,” I discuss the M.U.T.T. Method for dealing with behavior problems.

You see, when your dog is displaying a behavior problem, there is an underlying reason for it. That is what the U stands for in the M.U.T.T. Method. Here is the complete acronym:

M – Manage
U – Underlying
T – Train
T – Time

When you are dealing with a behavior problem, you need to Manage the behavior, figure out what the Underlying reason for the behavior is, Train or teach your dog appropriate behaviors, and lastly give your dog some Time to learn the new behavior.

Training a dog by using just force will create problems. Sometimes you can temporarily suppress the behavior, but it will resurface.

A few years ago I was attacked by a dog because of another trainer. I was called in to take a look at this dog in Dartmouth, MA. When I showed up I saw an extremely nervous German Shepherd mix and believe it or not, this dog’s name was Scar.

As I was talking to the owner I could see that my presence made this dog very excitable. The owner did not tell me that there was a trainer working with his dog the day before.

I did a quick evaluation and noted that the dog did not give me any warning signals. He did not growl, his hackles were not raised, he did not show me any teeth.

I decided that I would take the leash and go for a little walk, try to bond with him a little.

As soon as I had the leash I noticed a change in Scar. He panicked and before I could hand the leash back to the owner he attacked me. The dog bit me on the arm three times before I could get him into his kennel.

As I was bandaging my arm, the owner of the dog told me that the trainer that was there the day before had been very rough with Scar.

Trainer? Day before? I asked.

“Yeah, we had this other guy come in yesterday to help with some training but we didn’t like him. He hung Scar with the choke collar. Every time Scar would growl, he would lift up on the leash and hold Scar there until he almost passed out.”

“Every time he growled” I asked.

“Yep.”

It all made sense to me now. The reason I was attacked was because Scar had been “corrected” every time he gave a warning signal. I knew the other trainer well. He only knew of one way to train dogs.

You guessed it. He treated every dog like a nail and hammered every one of them. I knew this because a big part of my business at the time was following this guy around. I would get calls from dog owners that had hired him and now had bigger problems than before they had him “train” their dogs.

You see, when a dog growls, you at least know the dog is giving you a warning. Now you can try to figure out why the dog is growling and take steps to fix the aggression problem.

A hack trainer that only has a hammer in his toolbox will try to deal with the aggression by overpowering the behavior. The problem is this: When you use aggression to deal with aggression, you escalate aggression.

In the case with the dog Scar, he had been choked every time he gave a warning signal. He growled and was choked and probably thought the trainer was going to kill him.

When I took the leash the poor dog was only thinking about survival. He did not growl at me because the behavior had been suppressed by the other trainer – but…the behavior was still there.

Even though I got pretty chewed up by Scar, I really felt sorry for him. Most aggression is fear based and Scar probably had had a tough life and became aggressive because of how he was treated.

Then, when a so called “expert” was called in, the training methods used pushed him over the edge.

Training is more than leash corrections and physical force. Training is all about understanding dogs and the reasons why they are displaying the behaviors that that they are.

Compassion, patience and an understanding of behavior is what makes a great dog trainer.

My advice to you is to be very weary of any trainer that only has a hammer in his toolbox. If you observe ANY dog trainer that deals with behavior problems by only using a choke chain and inflicting pain on the dog, you can be rest assured that you are observing someone that really does not know what they are doing and it would be wise of you to find another trainer to work with.

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