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Dog Training


Advice to help you understand and mold your dog into a life-long family friend, establish pack order and shape good behavior.







Graham Mabbutt, Cynologist and author of "A Passion For Dogs, A Journey Of Discovery"


Good dog breeders know the importance of the 7th week but this internationally renowned police dog trainer-GSD breeder shares unique litter evaluation assessment.


For those whose aim it is to found a strain to preserve good character and working aptitude assessing individually in unknown surroundings at 49 days is the only true guide, as it is at this time when senses and instincts are ‘wired-in’, (nerve cells interconnected) with little or no influence of environment, training/teaching and experiences over time taking part in the overall picture.


If a puppy under such an assessment (as I will describe) and separated from its litter mates is calm, confident, and bold, investigating widely, playing like a kitten, carrying play/prey toys, recalling, and most importantly recovering easily when startled etc. etc., a walker or handler has no alternative other than to accept that if the puppy at puberty is found wanting, theirs is the responsibility, not the breeding.


In a breeding program what is innate (born) and not made are the only traits which can be passed on through the genes.


This fact is why founding a working strain over pedigrees burdening with Working Trials Champions all too often is a disaster.


All behavior displayed by the dog in its lifetime is controlled by motives and emotions, whether it is sleeping, feeding, aggressive behavior or the display of learnt behavior on command. Behavior is purposeful motive and emotion coordinated through the nervous system. As long as an animal is alive, and the nervous system controls the signals and commands and the muscles work, the animal shows behavior. Sleep is behavior as is feeding.


All mammals learn, think and have emotions. Motivation is an emotion and mental attributes which to think, to need or desire and make choices and decisions. As in humans, in the dog there are species similarities, breed differences and individual differences. Individual differences can be marked even between siblings.


If however, at the time of the assessing a litter for good character and desired working aptitude, the pups are as alike as peas in the pod, a breeder can be satisfied that those traits, with line breeding through succeeding generations, will be ‘fixed’ (inherited) within the family (strain) although ownership, environment, incorrect socialization and/or training and experiences over time can make it appear otherwise.


49-Day-old Puppy Assessment.

The worth of such an assessment is dependent on an assessor‘s experience of whelping many litters and sitting beside them through the first 14 days of their lives. Then following their behavioral development through the socialization stage. An assessor must also be able set down in writing his findings and a word picture of what he sees.


A standard of excellence based on one hundred points is not logical, although I use the symbol = to indicate within the limits of normality and plus + up to five for excellence and minus – down to five to the opposite degree.


By 7 weeks of age a complete genetic predisposition has developed as to character and behavior without being influenced unduly by environment, handling/teaching, or experiences over time. For anyone founding a family or strain within a breed it is this information which is vital.


From 8 weeks onwards a perfectly natural period (I prefer to call it reticence rather than fear) develops where awareness of a threat increases. At this time pups are left alone close by a den to flee to whilst their dam is away hunting. However, experience tells me that a bold puppy from eight weeks to twenty weeks does not develop servility and fear where he cannot face the world. In this the socialisation phase, a pup of sound character learns to cope with fear. Fear leading to flight to evade a threat can be a life-saving emotion from which a bold pup by nature recovers.


Pups during the socialization stage must be subjected to negative experiences through exposure to life, and in so doing learn to deal with them on their own. Wrapping a puppy in cotton wool (over protecting) prohibits a good start in life and prevents the reaching of full potential.


However, remember at this time trauma is most likely to make an indelible impression and is the reason why a puppy should be settled in a new kind loving home and a new environment by eight weeks of age.


At 20 weeks the juvenile phase begins where the dog practices the skills he has learned to deal with life and rehearses them. The juvenile phase ends with puberty when dominance can be assessed, rather than earlier when an educated guess only is possible.


An assessment requires an enclosed area of open lawn or grass land where dogs rarely frequent (a) and in-doors, a room with two or three chairs grouped around a clear floor space where that number of by-standers can observe (b). There also needs to be a table on folding legs which rocks easily. Both (a) and (b) must be unknown to the pups which presents a problem for most breeders unless they are prepared to travel. On my reckoning an assessment takes approximately half an hour for each pup.


Character assessing whether it be for puppies, the young adult or at a survey is not a spectator sport as it is deemed by some and all too often, by breeders as a means of obtaining accolades to advertise a prospective stud dog or a brood bitch.


Transporting puppies over a distance is considered by many as unfair on them. Of the numerous litters of all breeds that I have assessed I have not found this to be so providing they are crated to snuggle together as a group. Very occasionally one may be affected but without the excess salivation of travel sickness, merely the bringing up of an early morning breakfast.


My advice is not to feed puppies at all on the morning of the assessment. It is the nature of life that pups miss a meal from time to time. We sometimes forget that the adult stomach of the canine is programmed for feast and famine, and in this modern world of ours a dog’s stomach is often crying out for a rest, diarrhea or gastritis usually being the result of too much or improper food.


On their arrival each pup wearing an identifiable colored collar as a group are carried to an enclosed grassland area unfrequented by dog’s where they can relieve themselves. Whilst this is no part of the assessment proper it always gives me great pleasure to see a well reared litter playing happily together bright eyed and bushy tailed. I always take note of their faces which should be firm of a good colour with little or no smell.


The litter is then returned to their traveling crates and one only is returned to the wide expanse of grass land for what I will call Facets 1 to 5.


Awareness: To obtain a rating (remembering it is not an accruable score) of plus + 3 to 4, I expect the puppy to be up on its feet immediately with its tail raised setting out to investigate widely, alert to every sight and sound (sharp and showing initiative) using its nose from time to time. As throughout the whole assessment I look for calm confidence with verve. A ‘tucked’ tail, raised hackles or any sign of nervousness alters the rating to minus as does excess excitability. It is rare for me to award + 5 although I am always hoping for excellence.


Recall: over at least twenty paces to breeder (bearing in mind a puppy no doubt since weaning has been called at feeding times). Here I expect an immediate response despite the many distractions, fast and accepting of hands that hold it to the front. Recall from breeder (The puppy held lightly at ease in the sit position.) to assessor. As above, even though the assessor is a stranger.


Following the breeder. Puppy follows closely, gives eye contact and finds hand movement attractive, does not jump at the back of legs, a sign of excitability and unsure-ness.


Follows assessor with the same ease and pleasure as above.


Scenting an ox shoulder blade (or whatever tasty thing) that is suspended from and within the low spread branches at the base of a lime tree (or whatever you have). Puppy wind-scents at a distance (and) without backing off seizes the gently swinging raw meaty bone and hangs on, demonstrating instinctive behavior.


Should the weather be inclement, the above out-of-doors part of the assessment is best dispensed with; there is no sense in expecting a puppy to behave normally when thoroughly wet and facing rain. The assessment then proceeds indoors, to give the opportunity to observe the puppy’s reactions more closely, particularly in relation to calm confidence.


Play/Carrying. Whilst the puppy is widely investigating and greeting people warmly, a small ball is thrown, at which the pup dashes forward, in some to nose it with an invitation to play, in others to pounce on it and carry it around with tail held high waving from the root.


A puppy who does not play like a kitten and carry and play gentle tug-of-war with possession cannot receive a plus rating. The highest rating is received for those that when called, deliver to hand and release easily. Various other play/prey items (e.g. a toy mouse, a miniature dumb bell) are introduced. The interest in play and carrying should not wane. Hunting strongly should be a feature.


To be vocal or aggressive (miniature growls) with or without raised hackles indicates fear and merits a rating of minus.


Reaction to sudden movement, sufficient to startle and not scare. I flick open a child’s parasol while breaching critical distance but not too close. I expect instant reaction but no flight or lowering of the tail. Should flight occur, recovery with investigation negates fear and is a sign of intelligence showing the ability to forget an unpleasant experience.


Constriction/body sensitivity. Play/prey objects having been removed the assessor calls the puppy who on arrival gives and accepts direct eye contact, giving rapt attention to talk and pleasure in being fondled.


Next the pup is gently molded in turn to the three positions ‘Sit’, ‘Stand’ and ‘Down, finally to be rolled on its back, held there by a hand lightly resting on its chest, all the time calm and confident.

Mild struggling to submit with a hint of steel is acceptable. Medium body sensitivity gives ease of teaching/training and is a sign of intelligence (learns easily and remembers). Direct opposite is resistance accompanied by wild struggling, and worst of all the panic-snapping (the fear biter).


Height sensitivity. The pup is lifted allowing its legs to drape under its body, (if they are drawn up it is a bad sign) and placed standing on a folding bench type table. It is another bad sign if the puppy does not stand firm and/or shrinks away from height and/or fails to traverse the tables length to investigate a box of toys.


I have some reservations in making a prediction as to height sensitivity which can develop for the first time (and not as a result of bad experience) at around eight months of age along with nervousness in negotiating open iron grating fire escapes and wide reflecting floor surfaces found in factories.


This sensitivity can go unnoticed even in IPO competing dogs so often that it has become almost a breed feature of The German Shepherd who may be in all other respects eminently suitable to be trained as a police dog.


Pain sensitivity which is linked to body sensitivity. I then sit on the edge of the table nursing the puppy on my lap. Soothing with quiet talk while squeezing gently a nail bed of its forefoot between my finger and thumb, gradually increasing the pressure five-fold.


The puppy who acknowledges the pressure at one is sensitive to pain, jibs at three medium-sensitive, unreceptive or ignores it at five, a ‘hard nut’ indeed. Rarely does a seven-week-old (even a Rottweiler) react with pain induced aggression.


As for body sensitivity, medium pain sensitivity makes for ease of teaching/training.


Finally, the pups are reunited as a group, five in number the ideal or divide a litter of eight or more into two groups, each assessed separately.


I then introduce a soft lamb’s rib bone or a freeze-dried pig’s ear, at first gaining the attention of the group. Immediately there is a barging and shoving until one makes off with it, usually to a corner where he or she is left to enjoy the prize.


This procedure is again repeated to prove the point. Continuing, the pups one by one gain status until such time as the remaining pups lie down together, gnawing amicably - proof of their equal status.


Pup No 1 is usually a male, occasionally a female. Size does not determine order. Determination and will to win does. I would emphasise that dominance cannot be assessed with any certainty until puberty, however if a female at seven weeks gains the No 1 spot, one can assume she is born to be an alpha bitch.


To create a Battle Royal to determine status would be stupid in a litter that shows signs of fighting as early as four-weeks old (especially in the Bull breeds) so much so that the most pugnacious have to be separated to form a separate group from their milder siblings. All going to show how one can in-breed for a particular trait.


This applies equally so to excitability, extra body sensitivity, inter-dog aggression, or extreme possessiveness. Some breeds favour the trained aggression brought about by what is known as ‘ragging’ (tug-of-war) in pup’s that ‘lock on’ answering back with growls. It is folly to train for aggression or any sort of defence before the juvenile phase is complete even if the pup is destined become a police dog.


Herewith a word picture representative of assessing any litter of puppies:

√  From first to last, puppies should be well up on toes, calm and confident, tail always raised, waving from the root. Investigating widely with initiative, irrespective of distractions, recalling fast and direct equally to the breeder and to the assessor (stranger).


√  Follows closely and sensibly, attracted by hands. Does not jump at the back of legs or show any other signs of over-excitability.


√  Gives and accepts direct eye contact. Interested in scent. Plays strongly like a kitten and invites play.


√  Hunts prey images with drive. Carries articles with possession but recalls gladly and gives to hand.


√  Learns easily and remembers. Willing and biddable.


√  Reacts instantly to sight and sound but continuing to carry and/or play, proof of ‘Not affected by sound’. A child’s parasol opened suddenly above its head, only shows mild interest, no sign of flight, continues to play and carry toys.


√  Verve a-plenty. Intelligent, learns easily and remembers. Accepts constriction with a hint of steel.


√  Moulds easily to three positions ‘Sit’, ‘Stand’ and ‘Down’ and finally,


√  To lie on its back to be held there by a hand between its front legs while relaxed and acquiescent.


This pup is born to be bold with defence drive and the will to win. Should ever flight occur which is natural to all mammals when faced with a threat, once the socialisation phase is complete, I predict this pup’s flight will be minimal enough to assess the situation, recovering to face down the danger and if necessary fight to defend itself and its handler.


Editor’s note: Explore dog training links below and check your local TV listings for America’s Top Dog series where you will see much of what this world-famous trainer has shared with us.


Sadly, Graham Mabbutt passed away January 2022, he will be missed. EST 1998 © Feb 2020



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