What is a Teaching Dog?
A Teaching Dog has an instinctive desire to guide and support dogs in their learning of communication and conversation.
There are many dogs that can teach a dog how to communicate in a sociable manner. They do this by responding accordingly to the other dog’s behaviour.
But only a Teaching Dog can teach a dog how to actually converse with another dog. They teach a dog not only how to communicate but also to converse with other dogs
When a Teaching Dog works, whilst there are some elements of instinctive body language, in the main they will consciously use appropriate body language in the situation. They will always maintain control of an interaction but will change their posture from assertive to more inviting in accordance to the other dog's behaviour.
Those with social issues, whether aggressive or not, are guided and supported by them, therefore learning to relax with other dogs, instead of becoming defensive. They learn how to ask a dog to move away, come closer, invite social games, predatory games and how to ask another dog to stop interacting with them.
A Teaching Dog is of particular benefit for dogs going through the natural aging process i.e. the transition from puppyhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood. At these essential times, their pupils develop their skills in canine communication and conversation to a high level, again preventing social issues.
If a dog has an established social issue, a Teaching Dog will actively incite interaction, not necessarily physically.
They will assess how the other dog feels and respond accordingly. They keep their distance if the dog is concerned and approach thoughtfully when the dog relaxes. I say thoughtfully because this is really important to understand; Teaching Dogs think about how to work with a dog.
Established Teaching Dogs know exactly what distance to keep between them and the other dog. As the distance between them decreases, if the other dog becomes unsociable, they will stand still, facing them assert their control of the situation.
Once they see the other dog is more relaxed, they attempt to converse with them. What follows from thereon is purely dependent on the other dog and that individual Teaching Dog’s way of working.
Do all Teaching Dogs teach in the same way?
No. Different Teaching Dogs have different teaching skills and different preferred roles. It is essential to recognise the role each particular Teaching Dog prefers to take.
There are five primary Teaching Dog roles - Mentor, Monitor, Nanny, Clown, and Constant. There are also dogs who are not teachers but other dogs can still learn from them.
A Mentor is quietly assertive by nature. They rarely play unless flirting with the opposite sex.
However, they generally build strong bonds with high-ranking dogs of the same sex.
As a Teaching Dog, they are passively dominant. They always meet a dog with assertiveness but never hostility.
If working in a group, they watch from the sidelines and only become involved if absolutely necessary. Mentors are, by nature, quite lazy.
They will support other Teaching Dogs where needed, showing by example what to do in difficult situations if the other Teaching Dog is not coping.
Other dog’s reaction to Mentors varies. Some dogs take great confidence in a Mentor and whilst not necessarily submissive towards them, they are very respectful. Some dogs find a Mentor intimidating and will avoid making contact with them.
If the other dog is worried but shows signs of being ready to rush at them, the Monitor will stand firmly with their head side on to the dog.
Eye contact is made intermittently as the Monitor ascertains whether the other dog is calming down or intending to rush at them.
A Monitor is naturally assertive but not as strong as a Mentor. When they meet another dog, they assess the new dog as they approach and use appropriate body language in accordance with the other dog’s reaction to them.
They are generally more demonstrative than a Mentor and will actively seek interaction within a few minutes of meeting a new dog. This does not necessarily mean that they invite play. If they feel the dog is not ready for that level of interaction, they will converse with them in a more subtle manner.
They normally interrupt unacceptable behaviour by physically placing themselves between the dogs and will remain there until the tension has reduced.
They can stand firm and openly display assertiveness if they need to. Once 'control' of the situation has been achieved, a Monitor will generally incite social games.
Games of a predatory nature can be engaged in but the intention is to demonstrate that whilst not being offensive, they have control of the interaction. Predatory games such as ‘catch me if you can’ are often invited.
When the dogs in question have calmed down, the Monitor will usually walk away and Monitor them from a distance. They tend not to interact with the other dogs after harmony has been restored. If they do interact, it is with Social Games rather than ‘just for fun’. In effect, they police a group.
Other dog's reaction to a Monitor is either respectful or challenging. Most dogs recognise a Monitor as a strong dog and usually respect them. Once the dogs have learned how to communicate and engage in social games without challenge, they will usually then settle and look to the Monitor for guidance in future situations.
They not only relax a dog who is uncomfortable or anti-social but they also help relax other Teaching Dogs. If they see another Teaching Dog showing stress they will consciously use body language to reduce their tension as well.
Being happier working on a one to one basis or in a group is down to each dog's personal preference. Although, of all the Teaching Dogs, Nannies are the more likely to be equally happy in either situation.
For me, the Nanny is the most amazing of all the Teaching Dogs. They work very differently to any other Teaching Dog and often can play any role needed in a situation. Although their preferred choice is to work only as a Nanny. They are extremely generous dogs and are at their happiest when everyone else is happy, including other Teaching Dogs.
When meeting a new dog, they will observe from a distance before making a thoughtful approach. They tend to assess a dog in more depth than the other Teaching Dogs. This means they often take longer in their approach. They rarely communicate with instinctive responses but with conscious body responses.
If a dog is confrontational with them, they will remain strong in their attitude but will incite play, in particular chase games. The game of chase can be a challenge, like the 'Chase me Charlie' game children play. Or a game of chase can be used to loosen up a dog who is so stressed they feel unable to move.
In a group situation, they actively approach each dog individually throughout the session and check they're comfortable. This also gives the other dogs confidence as they know the Nanny is there for support, should they need it.
Once they have checked on every group member, including any other Teaching Dogs, they will then focus on the dogs that feel the most uncomfortable; this is not necessarily the dog who shows outwardly unsociable behaviour.
It could be a dog who becomes withdrawn because they are stressed. Sometimes they will just follow and walk alongside a dog who is not comfortable and other times they may invite play. It totally depends on the other dog and how, at that moment, they are feeling.
The Nanny will resolve conflict by approaching in a calmer manner than a Monitor when interrupting unsociable behaviour. Not necessarily by physically splitting the dogs. They may bark and then play bow and/or literally pat them on the shoulder to attract their attention. A strong confident Nanny will split if they need to but prefer to resolve any conflict by mediation.
When other dogs meet a Nanny, if they have a good command of the canine language they will greet them in friendly, but not submissive manner. A Nanny's first response to a dog displaying aggression is to increase the distance between them. But they do not turn their back on the other dog. This would show vulnerability.
They will move away at an angle and stand sideways on to the other dog. This indicates to the other dog that whilst they are not offended and are not going to retaliate, they are also not intimidated. Initially, this can be most confusing for the other dog.
A Nanny excels at being able to recognise signals of stress in other dogs. They will only advance towards the dog to the level the other dog can cope with. As the dog learns that the Nanny will not be coming close enough to pose a threat to them, they begin to relax. In time, the other dog will take confidence from the Nanny and will look to them for guidance in difficult situations.
They are an invaluable member of a communication class, giving calm and stability, to even the most active of groups.
They give confidence to dogs who are concerned about other dogs but not necessarily by interacting with them. Their presence alone has a calming effect on most dogs anyway.
Other dogs generally react to a Constant Teacher in a thoughtful manner. Respecting them but at the same time, feeling comfortable around them.
A Constant is generally quite happy to disregard the presence of another dog. They are happy to meet and greet but that is where their interest ends.
However, if the other dog approaches in an unsociable manner, they can become very assertive.
Constant Teachers are not happy communicating with extremely rude or unsociable dogs. Whilst they may be able to, it would not be their choice therefore should never be put in this position.
Dogs, who lack confidence around other dogs, become more active and will follow the Clown. Unsociable dogs can become agitated and focus on driving them away.
In either case, the Clown will encourage playful interaction, responding accordingly to the other dog’s sociability.
As the name suggests, a Clown enjoys life and demonstrates this by over exhubrant play. Rarely using physical contact but just acting in a playful manner around other dogs.
Clowns are experts in judging how much energy to use when interacting with another dog. If the other dog becomes too excited, they calm their play. And they raise the energy in the game if the dog loses interest and/or lacks confidence in playing.
Clowns and Monitors work well together with dogs with social issues, particular those which have a predatory element to their behaviour. The Clown will incite the chase whilst the Monitor stands back and simply watches. If the game is sociable, they remain on the outside.
If the other dog becomes unsociable, usually because their prey drive has overtaken their social behaviour, the Monitor will intervene. This they do by breaking up the play and body blocking the other dog until they have calmed down.
Once they have calmed down, the Monitor steps back and allows the Clown to encourage play again. This is a valuable skill for any dog to learn. The Clown is advancing their ability to interrupt predatory behaviour by stopping and facing the other dog. And the other dog learns to control their prey drive and interact in a social manner.
Other dogs are often overwhelmed on meeting a Clown. An experienced Clown can gauge how exuberant to behave around other dogs but even for the most experienced Clowns, this can be difficult.
Is a Teaching Dog the same as the Alpha, Beta and Omega in a wild dog pack?
No. The Teaching Dog is unique to the dog world. Whilst a Mentor is usually a dog of natural Alpha status, an Alpha is not necessarily a Mentor. In fact, many dogs of natural Alpha status cannot and/or do not want to teach. They cannot be compared to wolves or any other wild dogs.
Teaching Dogs working together are not a pack. They cannot be compared to dogs living in a group at home. Some Teaching Dogs do not want to work together with their own group but enjoy working with dogs they know from another family. All Teaching Dogs have equally important roles. There are situations where a Mentor is better able to resolve a conflict and another time a Nanny may be the better dog to the resolve the situation.
How can I find out more about these amazing dogs?
It may sound as it is impossible for dogs to consciously work in this way, particularly the Nanny. Seeing is believing and even then it is almost unbelievable. I run a four day introductory course on the world of the Teaching Dog. On these courses, participants can bring along their own dog for assessment. But it is important to understand and to recognise is not if your dog can teach but do they want to.
At this first level, we will cover identifying Teaching Dogs and offering them the right learning ground to develop their natural skills. You cannot train a Teaching Dog. A Teaching Dog is born a Teaching Dog. It is dependent on their life's experiences and living environment as to whether they develop to their full potential.
Many allegedly aggressive dogs are actually true Teaching Dogs. In domestic society such dogs have not been able to do what they were born to do; help other dogs without the interference of people trying to tell them how to speak their own language. Their life of frustration has resulted in aggression. Once given the time and freedom to develop their natural teaching skills, any aggressive behaviour disappears.
You will see experienced Teaching Dogs in practice. And also those who are at the beginning of their career.
On video, you can watch both experienced and apprentice Teaching Dogs working, where you can study their conscious body language in different teaching situations.
A Training Dog is not a Teaching Dog. They role is not to communicate or interact with another dog. They help dogs who are learning how to just accept another dog’s presence. Training Dogs are usually worked off lead from the other side of the fence to the dog with a problem.
Experienced Training Dogs can also work on a long line. Whilst some Training Dogs will work when on a lead, few feel comfortable doing so.
Whilst a Teaching Dog can work as a Training Dog, it is not their natural chosen role. They are Teachers and that is where they are at their happiest.
Respect for Dogs
Some dogs are often ‘chosen’ for their ability not to react to another dog approaching in an anti-social manner. A dog who does not react at all to an anti-social dog is highly unlikely to be feeling comfortable. If they turn their head away, supposedly to diffuse tension, you should ask the question: ‘Are they trying to diffuse tension or are they feeling uncomfortable?’
Also, just because a dog teaches, it does not mean that they want to. I have seen many dogs who have been put in such a position and have consequently developed aggression themselves. A dog who reacts in this manner is NOT a Teaching Dog.
Many of them feel they have no choice and some will simply adopt submissive and/or indifferent body language simply as a physiological reaction to stress and/or feel threatened.
It is more important to identify a dog who does NOT want to teach than a dog who does.
Respect and consideration for any dog is always top priority.