In her book “When Pigs Fly”, Jane Killion asserts that basically all dogs have the same general amount of intellegence, and learn at generally the same speed. Why some breeds or dogs have aquired a “hard to train” reputation is often because they are ”NOT BIDDABLE”–ie, not focused on you for direction.
In other words, the bull-headed bulldog that ignores you with equal disinterest as Kenai did me IS every bit as intelligent as that angelically obedient Sheltie your neighbor has. The problem lies not in the dog, but in how we are expecting them to learn and behave.
Some breeds have had biddable literally bred into them. A retriever has a natural desire to pay attention and do what you want. A collie wants you to be telling them what to do all the time. Their very origins were based on work that was human orchestrated, human focused.
Biddable breeds learn by repetitive training; they function best having default behaviors to rely on, rather than having to figure out what to do without direction in a totally unfamiliar situation. The addage that dogs don’t generalize a behavior from this situation to another is very true with these dogs.
Other breeds, pigs fly breeds, were created to do their work without us. Terriers want to hunt down that critter in the worst way. Rotties have had a century or so of guarding without us to tell them what’s a threat and what isn’t. Great Danes like Kenai had the job of chasing and bringing down black bears all by themselves. (Who wants to be in the middle of that?!)
Pigs fly breeds don’t like repetition. They get bored and lose interest, making it difficult to create a default behavior that doesn’t come naturally to them. Kenai may never make a good retriever! The upside is pigs fly dogs are at their best when left to sort out a situation on their own. It’s also my experience that these dogs DO generalize, and easily.
I believe we are losing out on all a pigs fly dog can offer us when we decide they aren’t naturally biddable, and so aren’t “worth” the effort of SD training. The standard training classes assume your dog is biddable, and the techniques are designed to train a biddable dog. There’s the hitch.
Kenai, and other dogs like him, needed an additional step before moving into their formal training: they need to be shaped into a biddable dog before they can be trained like an biddable dog.
The book that this page was named after, “When Pigs Fly-Training success with impossible dogs”, is a wonderful resource I can’t thank heaven enough for! Jane Killion articulated this underlying hitch some of us have encountered in training our dogs.
The reason why so many people trying to train their dog with proven successful methods might not having good results, is because we are expecting a dog from a breed created to work without us to behave like a breed created to work with us.
The two types have different motivations, and really do need a different initial approach to be successful. Even in clicker training, the positive training epitome, there’s a willingness to blame the trainer or give up on a dog that doesn’t respond easily. One size don’t fit all.
Getting Piggy Puppies off to a Good Start
Those of us who’ve learned the hard way how to recognize a pigs fly dog will see the traits in even a very young puppy. The most commonly seen side of Kenai was his backside, as he went off to play with his littermates, to check out his environment, and see what fun he could find. He was a self-assured, and self-reliant little toddles.
To begin with any young puppy, there are two very important prerequisites to obedience class: socialization and encouraging attentiveness. With a pigs fly pup, it is especially important to increase your influence on how they behave when very young.
Some assistance dog training programs begin the process as young as 3 wks old. Mostly it’s capturing behaviors they will need later like the pup tugging on a toy (later to become pulling a strap to open a door). But most importantly, rewarding any interaction with humans to build a deeply ingrained work drive.
Basic socializing is exposing the pup to new sounds, objects, people, dogs, and environments at an early age. This allows them to become accustomed to and relaxed anywhere. This involves taking just one new thing at a time, not overwhelming the little fella.
Each day pick one thing and let the puppy experience it in a positive way. Surface textures: grass, concrete, asphalt, vinyl, slick floors, soft floors, carpet etc. Sounds: clanging pots, lawnmowers, skateboards, cars going by, crying babies, dogs barking, and anything else you can think of.
Stairs: wide stairs, steep stairs, narrow stairs, short rise stairs, stairs with different surfaces. You get the idea. You watch the pup for signs of stress; if there’s only a little, you can use a clicker “see that” game from a book called “Control Unleashed” to spark their curiosity and make it a pleasant experience.
If the pup is too distressed, remove them. The idea is to create as many varied and happy experiences as possible, stimulating the puppy’s native curiosity. More timid pups might need less direct interaction, ie the ability to learn to explore on their own to build their confidence.
Patience and relaxation are the vital ingredients! Done properly, socialization gives them the confidence to face new situations throughout their lives. The tendency of a piggy pup is already to have confidence, but at the same time, to rely on their own instinct and experience in responding.
That last part is what makes socializing a piggy pup a bit different. If you encourage them unintentionally to rely soley on themselves, they will. Forever. Worst of all, you lose the opportunity to have as much direct influence on their feelings and behaviors later on.
If they take a dislike to something, such as Kenai and his bath, you’ll have more difficulty convincing them it’s a fun thing because they haven’t learned to take their cues from you. I allowed Kenai to go run in the field for his exercise without me, and forever ignored me out there!
When exposing a piggy puppy to something new, you really need to make yourself very much a part of the experience. For example, a friend’s yard: walk around the yard with them, rather than turning them loose to explore on their own. Get on your knees and check out the cool rock together.
I’d begin a “look at that” game variation, from the book “Control Unleashed” by Leslie McDevitt. When they check something out on their own, click it! Then they’ll look at you, and you can reward that. You don’t want to remove all their willingness to explore on their own, you just want to be a part of it, and influence it. In other words, be a buttinsky.
Call him/her over to investigate this nifty spot with you. If they seem unsure about something like a noisy skateboard, insert yourself and let them see you having fun with it. Make it a game of keep away, or chase the new toy, and the pup will likely be after it for a trophy.
This takes advantage of a puppy’s natural learning processes, mimicry in particular. Some folks believe dogs don’t learn by watching, but I beg to differ. Anyone whose had a pair of littermates knows it’s “monkey see, monkey do”! Especially with your socks…
Puppies can discover that you know what’s scary or fun, and come to trust your judgement. This is essential with a pigs fly kind of puppy. This approach to socialization both helps and is helped by encouraging attentiveness to you.
A pigs fly puppy is attentive, just not typically to you! Like I said, Kenai’s rump was the most common view of him. But every puppy taken from their litter and dam will look to the new “mom” or “dad” for food, comfort, and companionship. Take full advantage of this!
The easiest and most natural way to encourage your piggy pup’s attention is to reward it. The technique in trainer lingo is “capturing”. Every time your pup looks at you, comes to you, wants to play with you etc, click and treat the little guy. The goal is to make yourself the biggest reward of all. If he looks when you call his name, click and reward.
If she sniffs the trash, click and when she looks at you, treat her. Play little “look at that” games (“Control Unleashed”) to lay the foundation for returning her attention to you around distractions. They’re too little to do this for long periods, but frequency is more important than duration.
At least for the piggy pups, repetition is boring. One or two repetitions of look at that, or name games is plenty, but do it throughout the day. They catch on quick, very quick! In the book “When Pigs Fly”, Jane Killion has an exercise called “loading the clicker”.
Simply put you click treat, click treat over and over. Once the pup likes that click, and looks for a reward, you add the name: name/click/treat over and over. It won’t be long before any click will get the pup looking at you for their treat, even if they weren’t expecting a click.
You’ll have to remember to take the treats out of your pockets before tossing the clothes in the washer, by the way. Voice of experience. Anything the puppy really likes, ie a “high value” reward, give them: a pupperoni, a lick of peanut butter, a ever so special nibble of meat. And don’t feel limited to one treat, either.
Not all pups are food motivated. If they don’t go for food treats, find what motivates them: a game of tug, scritchy scratches under the ears, a ball they only get to play with if you get to play too, a little rumpus wrestle. The idea is to make giving you their attention the very best thing in all the world.
The harder it is to pay attention, the more you reward. Save the really stinky fish treats for breaking away from a game of chase, and let them hit the jackpot: treat after treat after treat with lots of affection! That was tough for a piggy pup to do!
The more you reward with the super dupper best puppy stuff, the more attention they will give you. If you are almost ridiculous in noticing and rewarding them the first few weeks after removing from their litter, you’ll have your foot in the door.
This sort of attentiveness and butting into their experiences will need to be a life long thing, but perhaps not so intensively. Mostly it is maintaining as they grow, going through phases of development. The puppy stubborns, around 4 mo old, or adolescence, you might have to return to higher frequency/higher reward for awhile.
If your local dog trainer has a class for the youngsters, a pre-obedience social affair, then jump at it. This will help him/her not only to enjoy other pups in a more structured way, it will give them an opportunity to learn attentiveness in higher distraction environments. And there’s nothing wrong with telling the teacher that you actually want to encourage the pup to pay attention to you too. If you tell them why, most are cool with a slight alteration here and there.
All my Danes, not just Kenai, have found loud and crowded places very difficult to adjust to without going native (human, what human?). It seems to be a breed thing, perhaps made worse in my house because of the quietness of our rural home. Look for a class that has lots of other pigs fly kind of puppies in it; bull dogs, terriers, hounds, and such.
A puppy class with lots of piggy pups is good: the teacher will find more than your pup has the same tendencies, and you’ll often get some very good pointers without being pointed out! It’s harder to remember in a class full of sweet attentive labs that your pup isn’t “difficult”, she’s just different.
I also begin teaching my pups their basic obedience now, in a very short-session playful way. I really like Sue Ailsby’s “Training levels” for starting off simple and fun. Your pigs fly pup loves to problem solve, and you’ve sparked their interest in interacting with you, so use it!