Before you read further you and I must agree that a dog is a pack animal with a strict hierarchy and that this hierarchy is maintained by dominance.

We must also agree that the word "dominance" is not a... how shall we say... an "ugly" word but just an expression for the method for keeping an efficient order in many packs of different animals, including a human society.

A pack of wolfs hunting in good order is more efficient than a single wolf hunting alone and the order in the pack is maintained by dominance from the Alpha dog and bitch.

Even the reproduction within the pack is regulated with dominance.

We can without any doubt say that dominance is the crucial tool for the survival of the spices wolf.

Now if we agree about this, then we can proceed.

Ask not what your dog can do for you,
Ask what you can do for your dog.

I guess it was last autumn when I first fully understood the meaning of these words, first said by John F. Kennedy decades ago. Of course he did not speak about dogs but his nation.

So what did he mean? I do not know for sure but I believe he meant this: Without the input from its citizens a nation is just a piece of land, nothing more and nothing less. A plain piece of land will not do much for you unless you do something to it first.

When you have given the land the same thing that you want out of it, then first can you expect something back from the land. If you want to harvest later, you have to sow today. A "nation" is the land, its citizens and their input to the land together. The sum of these different ingredients will determine the power of the nation and its ability to do things to its citizen!

So one day last autumn it struck me that raising and training of a dog is mostly about giving. What we have given the dog today we will receive back from it tomorrow.

Now we have stumbled into a tight spot. In most books, courses classes for raising and training a dog we speak about demanding something from the dog.

Already as a puppy its mother will demand a somewhat civilized behaviour from the puppy, as will its littermates. The demand is reinforced by a growl and perhaps a cautious bite with sharp teeth. When we take over the puppy from its mother we continue with our own selected demands in order to form the puppy to fit into our human pack and house.

We reinforce our demands with our voice and if needed with some more physical correction. Later when we start to field train our dogs we increase our demands to include perhaps a huge number of controlled tasks performed by the dog. In some situations like when our pointing dog has found a bird and we want it to flush it we demand the dog to do pretty complicated actions with a precision that should not exceed a couple of inches.

Now there could be a contradiction in my statement about giving to the dog when I at the same time emphasize the demands that we are constantly putting on our pupil!

Or is there a contradiction?

I would like to say No!

If we go back to the beginning of this page we remember that we agreed that a dog in a pack is controlled by dominance and is genetically programmed to respond to dominance and to learn from a dominating counterpart. The puppy can make use of this ability to learn only if we give it the opportunity to learn.

What will we ask from our dog in the future? We will ask for many things!

When will we receive these things that we are asking for? When we first have given them to our dog!

How shall we give them to our dog? By dominance!

The mother to our puppy will start this training to accept dominance when the puppy has grown big enough to be noisy to its mother. The puppy and its littermates will interact in their play, learning to control and dominate each other. We continue this process and train the puppy to accept our dominance. The result from all this training is that the puppy will take contact with us and respond to our training.

If we are consistent enough in our demands the puppy will ultimately accept our dominance unconditionally and will be prepared to learn any time and at any place. An additional effect of our training is that the puppy will also get an unconditional confidence in us.

When we have reached this point we are now automatically given something from the dog, without having asked for it, namely contact and response. We sow and now we can harvest!

With the contact we have got we can now continue to give to the dog the other things we will ask from it in the future.

Fetch and deliver to hand. Drop to signal at a distance. Show its teeth to the vet and allowed you to pare its claws. Not to bark at the mailman and not to kill the neighbours children's pet rabbit. Flush the bird without chasing. Under controlled form give the dog experience of different game in different environment. Under controlled forms give the dog experience of the different aspects of the human society and the happenings in it. Under controlled forms work, play or hunt with other dogs.

You can ad anything you want to this list to give to the dog but you cant demand anything from the dog that you have not given it first! You cannot ask for delivery to hand unless you first have given the dog the opportunity to learn to deliver to hand. And so on...

I would like to make an abbreviation of Kennedy's words:

Ask nothing from your dog unless you have given it to your dog first!

photo & text: © Torsti Mäkinen