L.E.G.S. ® Meets the Family Dog Mediator ®

History of the Pet Industry

Prior to the 1950’s, dogs were viewed from more of a utilitarian perspective – as a tool to make a job easier.  No one had ever heard of the concept of a Family Dog Mediator ® and the L.E.G.S.® model. Beginning in the 1950’s and 60’s, the pet dog industry really started to take off.  We saw the creation of dry kibble in 1956 and the introduction of the first national pet store franchise in 1965. In 1964, a marketing campaign portraying kibble as the only option for our dogs was launched.  How many of you remember the Kanine Krunchies jingle from the 1961 101 Dalmatians cartoon? 

In the years since, the pet industry has grown at an insane pace.  In 2017-18, we Americans spent over $72 billion dollars on our pets – a figure that jumped to an unbelievable $103 billion in 2020!  According to the 2021-2022 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 69 million households in the U.S. have at least one dog – with over 90 million homes having at least one pet.  When the survey was first conducted in 1988, 56% of U.S. households owned a pet – a percent that has grown to 70% according to the latest survey.

History of Dog Training

Around this same time, dog training for the general public began to emerge as well.  Since many of the early trainers were former WWII military dog handlers, training methods were based on that early training style and techniques such as leash jerks, punishment and forced submission were common.  In the 1960’s and 70’s, we saw the further development of dominance training and “how to be the alpha dog” by trainers like William Koehler and the Monks of Skete.  It was not until Dr. Ian Dunbar entered the scene in the 1980’s that we really start to see reward-based, positive reinforcement training methods begin to rise in popularity.  

When I’m training a dog, I develop a relationship with that dog.  He’s my buddy, and I want to make training fun.

Dr. Ian Dunbar

In 1984, Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, appeared on bookshelves.  Karen Pryor, a marine biologist and marine mammal trainer, showed the world that if these massive animals could be trained using rewards, there is no reason that our pet dogs should be trained using other methods.  

Current Dog Training Methods

In the past 20 years, the science around dogs and dog training has advanced in leaps and bounds.  We now know those old myths about “alpha”, “dominance” and “pack leader” are just that … MYTHS.  We know that our dogs learn best through reward-based training and that punishment has long-term fall outs.  We know that our dogs’ personalities are unique and that they are influenced by what they have learned in their lifetime, what their ancestors learned in their lifetime, what is mapped out in their DNA, how they feel, their health – and so many other factors.

We are living at a moment when an exciting new approach is emerging – a total paradigm shift in the dog training world.  This new philosophy is based in the science of Applied Ethology.  The idea that what makes the dog that is sitting in front of you NOT Nature OR Nurture … it is, in fact, Nature AND Nurture.  We KNOW that the mantra, “It is all in how you raise them”, is only looking as a single chapter in the book of DOG.  There are so many examples of puppies that were raised perfectly, but still grew up to be fearful or reactive or dogs  AND puppies that had a horrible start in life, but grew into an extremely well-adjusted dogs.  

At the forefront of this new take on “dog training” is applied ethologist Kim Brophey.  She has coined the term Family Dog Mediator ®  …. A dog professional who analyzes the needs of the dog and the needs/wants of the owner and helps them come to a set of compromises that will allow that team to live in harmony.  Her L.E.G.S. ® model takes into account everything that comprises a dog – LearningEnvironmentGenetics and Self.  Think of each of these forming one leg of a dog – each leg bearing equal weight in supporting the dog.  

L.E.G.S.® logo

So, just what comprises each of your dog’s L.E.G.S. ®?

LEARNING 

Your dog is LEARNING every second of every day throughout his entire life.  He is learning what is safe and what is not safe; what produces a reward and what produces a punishment; what works and what does not work.  His DNA is also chock full of information based on what his ancestors learned during their lifetimes!  Your dog predicts and anticipates, and then adapts to, what will happen or what will or will not work in a new situation based on what he has learned AND on what has come hard-wired from ancestral learning.  

LEARNING is NEVER static – it is always fluid.  

We, as owners and handlers, have the opportunity to help shape that dog sitting in front of us.  We can help a fearful puppy become more confident through positive socialization experiences.  We can help a dog that was neglected or abused by a previous owner learn to trust people.

We can teach a dog who jumps all over everyone some alternative methods of greeting simply by ignoring the jumping and rewarding preferred behaviors.  Remember, a dog learns what works and what doesn’t work through trial and error.  If the dog is seeking your attention by jumping on you, and you reward your dog by giving him attention, what has your dog learned?  But if you show the dog that by keeping all four feet on the floor, he will get showered with yummy treats, what do you think your dog’s default behavior will be in the future?

ENVIRONMENT

ENVIRONMENT is everything that your dog encounters and interacts with over the course of his day and his lifetime.  A dog’s environment is continually creating questions and answers – Am I safe?  What is happening?  What do I do? I know what this means!  Our job as the human in this relationship is to control the environment to keep your dog safe and to make sure that it provides the things that our dogs need.

When your puppy is teething, he is going to look for items to chew on that will help alleviate his pain and discomfort.  Ideal textures are wood and leather, which just happen to be the materials used to make furniture and shoes.  A teething puppy is going to chew – that is a fact.  So, rather than getting mad at your puppy for chewing up your stuff, manage his ENVIRONMENT.  Don’t allow him to have access to these tempting items AND provide him with a wealth of appropriate chew toys of different textures. 

Does your dog spend the day staring out the window and barking at every squirrel, person and leaf that appears?  First, we have to acknowledge that a bark is just our dog’s way of saying, “Hey, there is a squirrel outside!” and that a dog must be allowed to use his voice.  At the same time, we can work with him on only barking a couple of times AND we can allow him to bark at and chase those squirrels in other situations.  While you are teaching him this new behavior, however, you need manage his environment (e.g., close the curtains or blinds or cover the window with frosted film) so that he is no longer practicing the old behavior.  Unfortunately, this is where many training plans fail. 

The use of frost window film to manage a dog’s environment.

Setting your Dog Up for Success

In the next section, we will talk about that fact that some instinctual behaviors are so ingrained that we can’t just train them away.  In these cases, it is vital that we manage the dog’s  other L.E.G.S. ® so that we are setting him up for success.  For example, a Border Collie that came from working stock has thousands of years of herding behavior in his (and in his L).  Even if your collie can sit and stay in your quiet basement, bringing him to an elementary school playground during recess and expecting him to sit quietly by your side and just watch the kids is simply not realistic.  Instead, set him up for success.  Put your dog on a leash, find a place across the street and, when the kids appear, give him a really yummy chew toy to occupy him as he watches the kids play.

GENETICS

GENETICS encompasses all of the information about life that is already encoded in our dogs’ DNA when they arrive on earth. GENETICS are the basics of what it is to be a dog (e.g., furry, four legs, barks, digs, chews, chases).  G also includes all of the specializations that humans have selected for and against since we began breeding dogs more than 10,000 years ago (e.g., the basics of herding, guarding, companionship, retrieving, etc.). 

GENETICS are hard-wired. These are things that we can enhance or moderate through training, but we cannot diminish them completely.  In fact, to do so, would remove those characteristics that make your dog a dog (or a breed of dog).  Barking, chewing, and digging are all part of the essence of what makes a dog a dog.  To ask a terrier to stop digging or to ask a border collie to stop wanting to control a crowd is to ask that dog to stop being a dog.  What we can do, however, is to give that terrier a designated space where he can dig or teach that border collie herding games that do not involve young children and put him in the house when you have a group of kids playing in the yard.  

DNA and Breed Groups

Do you have a mixed breed dog and wondering just what a DNA test could tell you?  Knowing which breeds are represented in your dog’s DNA will give you an idea of what types of behaviors you might see in your dog at some point. Keep in mind that just because your dog has herding traits in his DNA, it does not mean that he will be a herder.  DNA can predict potential behaviors – it is not a guarantee.  

Also keep in mind that many of these traits remain dormant until something turns them on.  This could be the presence of a hormone, a certain stage of life, a scent or even an event. A dog can go through her entire life never having had the switch turned on.  In addition to a full DNA test that will tell you which specific breeds make up your dog’s DNA, Kim Brophey has developed The Dog Key that will help you pigeonhole your dog into his genetic breed GROUP.  Knowing even this information can give you general ideas about traits that you might expect to see in dogs of that breed group.  

SELF

SELF considers the dog sitting directly in front of us.  The individual. It’s her personality, her age, her sex and reproductive status, her health, her nutrition, her disabilities or injuries.  Did your dog get bullied at day care today, is he feeling a bit sick to his stomach,  or did he hurt himself when he caught that last ball?  These circumstances are going to affect his response when the neighbor’s dog jumps in his face on the way home from the park.  

SELF is all about how your dog’s interior affects her exterior, her behaviors and her responses?  For example, the needs of a stray, skinny momma dog with 6 puppies are drastically different than the needs of the pampered, neutered Labrador who eats the most expensive dog food and has his own leather couch.  We always need to start with the dog as the individual, not as dogs in general.

Meet Your Dog by Kim Brophey

Are you interested in learning more about your dog’s original breed purpose or delve farther into one of the other L.E.G.S. ®?  Pick up a copy of Meet Your Dog by Kim Brophey.  (NOTE: The book is currently out of print. It will be back on the shelves soon, but in the meantime you can pick up a copy of the e-book or the audiobook.)  

In addition, I will be adding a blog post on each of the ten genetic breed groups over the upcoming weeks.

Family Dog Mediator ® versus Dog Trainer

Family Dog Mediation

Certified Family Dog Mediators ® are dog professionals who have taken a continuing education course in applied ethology, its influence on each of a dog’s L.E.G.S. ® , and how we can use that information to help our clients solve “problem dog behaviors” and live more harmonious lives with their pet dogs.  FDM’s learn how to view dog behavior issues through a new lens – one that considers the whole dog rather than just seeing bad behavior that can be trained away.  

A Family Dog Mediator ® evaluates these four L.E.G.S. ® and helps mediate the places where there are conflicts between the dog and the owner.  The role of an FDM is to meet you and your dog where you are and to work with ALL of the L.E.G.S. ®  that both you and your dog bring to the table. Rather than setting out to simply “fix bad behaviors” through obedience training, you will work together with the FDM to create meaningful solutions.  

Family Dog Mediators ® determine which behaviors are bad habits for which we can develop a training plan and which behaviors are innate or are born out of a dog simply trying to meet his instinctual needs.  

Expectations vs. Reality

A Family Dog Mediator ®  will help you manage your expectations for your dog’s behavior, help translate your dog needs, and, moreover, help you create way to meet those needs.  In addition, a Family Dog Mediator® will help by giving you the tools to change bad habits so that you and your pet can live in harmony!  These tools, which include education, training plans and management protocols, will be based on honesty, compassion, understanding and compromise.  

Are you interested in becoming a Family Dog Mediator ® ?

You can read more about the course and sign up here.

The New World of the Pet Dog

Remember, regardless of the breed of dog that you have, the majority of pet dog owners live in an environment that is worlds away from the environment for which your dog’s genetics were created to thrive.  

  • Huskies were created to pull sleds across the arctic tundra.  Today, we expect them to live happily in a condo in Florida.
  • Border collies were created to control chaos, to see a sheep ¼ of a mile away take one step away from the flock and act on impulse to bring him back.  Today, we expect them to lie quietly while our young children run and scream through the house.
photo by Scot Campbell
  • Great Pyrenees were created to live outside with the livestock.  They were active at night and used their imposing presence and intimidating bark to scare away predators and thieves.  Today, we expect them to lay quietly in the living room when visitors enter the home unannounced.
photo by Don DeBold

Are these new scenarios realistic?  Are they fair to the dog?  And, in some cases, are they even humane?  Rather than choosing a dog on impulse, by color or because a friend just got that breed, we must take a long, honest look at our own  L.E.G.S. ® and determine which breed of dog they will actually support … or if they will even support a pet dog at all.  Many breeds are simply not equipped to deal with the pet homes in which we are asking them to thrive.

Be proactive. A Family Dog Mediator® can also work with you to find a dog that can fit your life style.

The Functional Dog Collaborative® is a group whose members are thinking outside the box. The FDC not only supports the breeding of healthy, behaviorly sound purebred dogs, but also the creation of real Pet Dogs – mixed breed dogs that have been purpose bred to be more resilient and better suited for today’s pet dog homes.    

Kerrie Hoar, M.S., CCPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, FDM, FFCP
Kerrie Hoar, M.S., CCPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, FDM, FFCP

Kerrie Hoar has a master’s degree in Biology and is a certified professional dog trainer and family dog mediator. She owns Crimson Hound, LLC dog training in La Crosse, Wisconsin.