Training the American Alsatian, Not Your Common DogBy Jo Maldonado, Founder/HeadMaster Gryphon's Claw School of Practical Magic, Oct. 21, 2021
Let’s set the stage: I am not a professional dog trainer. BUT I’ve been working with dogs and dog trainers- evaluating dogs’ temperaments, fostering rescues and training German Shepherd rescue dogs to be ambassadors for the rescue for 32 years. I’ve taught body language of humans to animals, and animal communication professionally at Rollins College for 4 years, and privately in classes from my schools 4 additional years. I’ve trained professional handlers and trainers in this capacity for a very long time.
Service Dog training
In 2016, I had 3 strokes in one week. During my recovery process, I realized that my gentle and large Bernese Mountain Dog named Koda needed to be tasked with helping me walk even though she had no previous training. I put words and signals for her to associate what she was doing, with what and when I needed her to do it. It worked, and she continued to be my service dog for four years and then fell too deep into medical challenges, which prohibited her from continuing to consistently work.
The American Alsatian Training
For many years, I researched various breeds until I finally came across Lois and the American Alsatian DireWolf Dog. Before taking the plunge, I followed the breed for a few years, and finally we received Enoch (aka, Yogurt of Buck & Sela of the SpaceBalls litter, Schwarz Kennels) who was to be trained to be my mobility dog.
I could see the difference in training immediately. Enoch had to watch and absorb what was going on and what I expected of her. She would then decide whether she wanted to do it. Enoch did not respond immediately to training ques like my other dogs did, and although she may have appeared to be “stubborn” to the trainers that were working with her, Enoch had a different processing system than the typical service dog puppy. She was slower, methodical, pensive, and she could not be “forced or tricked” with treats into doing what was a norm for other breeds such as shepherds or labs. The trainers’ theory was to train by repetition, a bit of coercion and trickery, as was done with all their dogs. It worked somewhat for the first 6 months of her life, but things changed dramatically after her surgeries. Unfortunately, Enoch was diagnosed with a kidney abnormality and this ordeal was the beginning of significant changes in her perspective of life and training. At about a year and a half, we saw her anxiety in the outside world amidst traffic in particular, was extreme and pitiful. She thought/processed even slower than before. What was a no-brainer to hop on a roller coaster ride before was torture at the sound of even a truck braking or a motorcycle passing by. However, Enoch was vigilant and enthusiastic at tasking at home, but a panic mess in the outside world. I continued to train her to help with mobility at home, with blood pressure spikes and picking up and carrying items for me. Soon, we were generously granted another pup that could help me as a service dog.
Baruh (aka Ali Baba, Stanley & Candy of the Arabian Nights litter, DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito) arrived much calmer as a male vs Enoch, a female. His lineage was different, and he came from a grandfather service dog. As a young pup, one of the immense challenges for both dogs was changing floor surfaces. The visual and texture was a lot to absorb for them. Enoch was forced to accept the situation in training. I changed a lot of my strategies with Baruh. If he didn’t like the floor, we would do a release, turn about, rest, and then try again. We tackled floors for 3 weeks solid before he realized it wasn’t a bit deal. It was a matter of repeating this action with non-excitement or frustration in the voice, calmness, and then closely observing his body language: panting, change in breath, looking about quickly, tenseness of his back, tail position, agitated changing positions from standing to sitting or lying down in continuous manner, eyes wide open, licking, yawning, not listening, not drinking, not taking treats-all signs of frustration and/or anxiety.
Our next task was walking. I had (and still have) a great deal of problem walking Enoch. Ironic as she was to be my mobility dog. She always pulled. An E-collar was helpful, but, if the dog is in a heightened state of anxiety, an ECollar will only exacerbate the situation. With Baruh, I started differently. We were in a Covid situation, not leaving the home much, and my health wasn’t the greatest, so all our training was at home. My main goal was to train him to walk by my side, no matter how long it took. I worked about 3 months on this, daily. We had a tremendous advantage as he had spent a considerable amount of time off leash traveling with Jay Stoeckl and being at Vallecito Kennels. He was not prone to wander, but to follow. All I had to do was make him understand that, rather than a follow behind me, he should walk parallel to me. I let him know by shortening the leash and giving him a very slight tug if he wandered away from me. I taught him to sit and wait before the door opened, and then to walk next to me while on the leash. He got additional slack to go potty. Then I trained my “here” or come command and used the 15-foot-long line if he decided not to come. He did, mostly. I use martingale collars for all my large dogs. Baruh was extremely sensitive, so there was absolutely no yanking or pulling at the leash for corrections. Just a slight tug and he would immediately follow what I asked. Enoch was the opposite and it would take a low nick on the E-collar to get her attention.
Enoch loves to learn. You can tell by the enthusiasm a dog puts into accomplishing a task. I also took advantage of things that these two did naturally and put a word to them. Enoch, for example, automatically felt comfortable going under my legs when I’m in a chair. This is the ideal position for a service dog so as not to have them in the way of traffic when in public places. Her word for this is “under”. Baruh, who is over 120 lbs at 9 months, struggled with this task, but by observing his body language, I saw he was an easy tail curl. So I put an action and word to that and now we have an enormous dog who can tuck his tail!
There are many ways of training dogs. You just have to find one that works for you and for your dog. No dog is the same. In hindsight, I think I expected Enoch to be like my first service dog in training, and it frustrated me. Wrong move. A dog can pick up human frustration and that DOES NOT lead to success. If anything, you’ll be up against more battles. I also found that having fun with my dogs, laughing, joking, was much more conducive to a positive behavior and responding the way I wanted them to, all while enjoying myself. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves and on our dogs to perform. It’s such a simple thing to do, train and have fun. It only took me over 2 decades to figure that out.
Jo Maldonado is the Founder/HeadMaster Gryphons' Claw The School of Practical Magic; Gryphons' Claw The League of the Extraordinarily Gifted; Professor of Animal Communication Studies, Human to Animal Body Language; Meditation Studies, Intuitive Development, Energy Usage & Effects Educational Background : Graduate of RavenHill Academy & LaSalle College; additional studies & degrees in Hypnosis, Shamanism, Mediumship, Canine Behavior; Remote Viewing; Aromatherapy, Reiki Master; certified QiGong Instructor; Instructor of Animal Communication at Rollins College; founder Centers for Animal Therapies, C.A.T.; private readings for animals and people available. https://www.gryphonsclawschoolofmagic.com