Natural Dog Training is not about training behaviours as such, it is about constructing a situation in which the dog can exhibit its internal strength and fortitude, its power and control. These are then rehearsals for life, they help develop and enhance the skills needed to deal with the world. One of those skills is to feel collected or composed. Physically a dog is collected when its weight is sunk into its rear and there is a certain amount of spring available in the limbs, especially in the back legs, for propulsion and acceleration.
Encouraging a dog to collect and gather its strength, poised and ready to pounce, uses a combination of hunger or forward motion, and balance and composure. It’s the mixture between accelerator and brake. For this reason the easiest way to start is to begin with following food, engaging the power or accelerator. If the dog is willing to follow the food you can then introduce an edge or precipice, past which following the food would prompt a fall. The toppling feeling engages the brake.
When the two forces intersect there is a balance, an equilibrium point. There is a sweet spot at which the dog wants to follow but holds steady, and the power sinks to the rear. This sinking power often results in a sit, as the rear end tucks under ready to power forward. Starting on a raised surface with an edge presents a real physical problem for the dog to solve, helping him discover the moment of control.
Once the sweet spot has been reached, equalising the forces of hunger and balance, the dog becomes even more entrained to the movement of the food. If the dog makes any forward motion, if reaching and nosing ahead occurs, the food responds with a darting flight out and away from the dogs muzzle. Fast acceleration away, then smooth rhythmic steps back in. The motion of the food mimics a bird taking flight when approached too quickly. The dog feels a connection to the food, a visceral reaction to the vitality of the food. The food seems alive in a responsive way, alive and reacting to the movement and action of the dog. If the dog can only be still the food will approach, closer and closer. Delicious torment, a tantalising temptation that’s resisted and enjoyed. Then the food can be delivered into the mouth to complete the cycle of wanting and then getting, ready to want again.
Here are some quotes from Kevin Behan’s blog at naturaldogtraining.com,
I began to notice that dogs who were good at being collected, began to interact much better with other dogs. A dog would run up to them and they would absorb this momentum and their tail would begin to wag. They weren’t feeling pressured but sensually energized. I believe this is because the exercise strengthens their subliminal beam of attention on their hind end and the enteric nervous system, which I consider to be the social brain and the instrument of emotional grounding.
When you teach a dog to collect, he’s learning to focus his subliminal beam of attention harder and harder on his hind end (when a dog’s weight is back here he can pivot in any direction and this indicates to other dogs that such a dog can absorb their momentum because he’s poised to shift his center of gravity, hence such a body configuration is calming to other dogs—-this is for example what’s happening in the play bow, the dog is maximizing his preyful aspect with his butt in the air, i.e. he’s concentrating his energy on his hind end).
I start on a box and simply deny the dog the food until it settles back on its hind end, most dogs will sit. Then I guide it into a down (suppling the shoulder blades as well) and then get to the collecting proper by going in and out along an axis before the dog’s snout, vibrating my hand with the food akin to a small bird about to take flight. The dog begins to focus more and more energy on its hind end trying to keep the “bird” from taking flight.
once the dog has a strong settling back on haunches impulse from the box work, you can go to the ground and again imitate with your food hand the bird about to take flight, the palm is open but the hand is quivering and occasionally darting away only to immediately return, the dog begins to settle back and drops into a down/pounce position. That axis I refer to is a straight line before the dog’s jaws, running as an extension off its eye-snout direction. Don’t move from side to side or up and down, move the food hand back and forth on this axis.
Kevin Behan. 2013. Indiana Conference Note Two. [ONLINE] Available at: https://naturaldogtraining.com/uncategorized/indiana-conference-note-two/. [Accessed November 2017].