'Preying' for dog obedience
I am a moose.
Or at least I should be, according to a new video on "natural" dog training.
According to Neil Sattin, creator of www.naturaldogblog.com, the key to doggie happiness and obedience lies not in acting like an alpha dog, but in acting like prey.
And not just any prey, mind you. Sattin wants dog owners to act like the largest, yummiest, most enchanting prey out there: the mighty moose.
Confused? So was I. In fact, I still am, even after watching Sattin's DVD, "Natural Dog Training: The Fundamentals." I heard about it after receiving a news release that claimed it would help pooch owners "understand the way a dog sees the world."
I was intrigued. I had long assumed that dogs saw the world as a never-ending assortment of squirrels, fire hydrants and other dogs' backends. Maybe I could learn something from this young man.
Upon receiving the DVD, I couldn't help but notice Sattin's comfortingly nebbishy, granola vibe. He looks nothing like macho, take-charge dog trainers like Victoria Stilwell or Cesar Millan. Instead, he could be any dude in a Portland coffee shop, sipping herbal tea, texting love haikus to his girlfriend and making hemp bracelets to help send Third World children to "Hug the Dolphins" camp.
At one point in the DVD, he sits on a wooden pedestal with his legs crossed in yoga's lotus pose. He reminds us to "have a good attitude" and to "not be judgmental." Remember, he adds, our four-legged friends are trying to learn something new.
It's Zen and the Art of Rover Maintenance.
In short, Sattin's training philosophy is this: Dogs, when focused on "prey," adopt a series of hunting behaviors often correlated with obedience behaviors. They heel, pay rapt attention to their target and channel their energy into something useful.
By acting like a moose, Sattin reasons, you command your dog's attention. You -- the Bullwinkle of their desires -- become so compelling to them that your movements will interrupt them from any number of undesirable behaviors: chasing cars, barking at the mail lady, dragging a half-rotten badger carcass down the road.
Unfortunately, Sattin said, humans tend to act predator-like, which actually repels our canines. We have upright postures, enormous teeth (especially if you're an Osmond) and towering physiques, which all can seem quite menacing to our poor four-legged friends.
To demonstrate this, Sattin walks toward the camera in an upright, towering, dentally menacing manner. He does appear somewhat frightening -- even for a skinny dude in earnest wire-rimmed glasses and an organic bamboo beret.
Over the next hour, I learned the following important lessons about being less "predator-like" and more "prey-like."
In order to look more "moose-like," we should wear fanny packs stuffed with treats, turn our bodies sideways and run backwards. (I've never seen any self-respecting moose run backwards, let alone wear a fanny pack.)
To demonstrate, Sattin lopes backward in an ape-like manner, looking like a cross between Marty Feldman's Igor from "Young Frankenstein" and Chaka from "Land of the Lost." This doesn't look at all moose-like, but it's really entertaining.
Dogs should be hungry when you train them, as hunger is a powerful motivator. (As someone who once spent $9 on a dusty box of Pop Tarts at a Mini-Mart at 2 a.m., I can attest to this.)
By training dogs how to "push," you can get their attention in the most high-energy, potentially volatile situations. Sattin teaches pushing by becoming a magical treat-dispensing machine. Every time he says a dog's name and gives a certain hand signal, the dog will focus in on him, in all his glorious Bullwinkleness, in pursuit of a hot dog.
Certain games, such as "tug-of-war," will help strengthen your moose-dog bond, as well as expend your pet's pent-up energy. However, you must always let your dog win. (Take that, Dog Whisperer.)
Sure, I kid, but Sattin's unorthodox approach seems to have merits. He certainly has better-behaved dogs than I do. In fact, they seemed almost uncomfortably fixated on him, like he was a giant rump roast.
If you are interested in ordering Sattin's two-DVD set, go to www.naturaldogblog.com.
The set retails for $65, which should keep Sattin in patchouli and crocheted footbags for at least a year.