Note to the American Public: Belgian Malinois, Look Don’t Touch

I know what you are thinking. Since a Belgian Malinois was used by Navy Seal Team Six on the raid of the Bin Laden compound, it would make a perfect family pet.  Just park it in the living room  next to your Apache Helicopter!

The work of the Belgian Malinois in Bin Laden’s assassination placed a spotlight on the breed  likely to spike the breed’s popularity.  Think of it as the 101 Dalmatians effect.  Think of Creulla De Ville in Fauve Charbonné (the top-secret Malinois coat color).

Balzac working on former Department of Defense trainer Andrew Ramsey.

The fact is Malinois do not make good pets, as they are strictly working and sporting dogs.  If you are NOT already involved with dog sport, you should not get a Malinois.  (I said that ten years ago, click to watch, and I’ll say it again-  Malinois do not make good pets)

Who should get a Malinois?:

  1. Do you dream day and night of improving your performance as a dog trainer?
  2. Do you have reflexes like a Chimpanzee? Can you take a punch without feeling the need to retaliate?
  3. Are you calm in the face of embarrassment, danger,and even  chaos? Can you remain calm around a very hyper dog?
  4. Do you want  a dog that can’t and won’t be a couch potato? A DOG JUST FOR TRAINING?
  5. Do you have at least 2-hours per day to devote to training and exercise?
  6. Do you have access to a Ringsport or Schutzhund club where you can find a mentor?
  7. Are you versed in  positive and negative training modalities?
  8. Are you willing to put canine performance before your own physical and psychological comfort?

If you answer these questions with a round clear YES, you have what it takes to become a Malinois Handler.

Balzac showcasing the full driving grip of the Belgian Malinois

Sandra Mannion and Havoc du Metcalf earn blue ribbons in Rally

Hard Dogs, Soft Arts:  If you think a Malinois is perfect for Agility, Rally, Obedience, or Herding, think again. Be smart and get a Border Collie.  Border Collies are  ideal dogs for sports not requiring bite work.  Malinois are designed for Hard Arts like: French Ring, Belgian Ring, Mondioring, Schutzhund and KNPV. Sure, they also excel in non-bitework competitions. But drive-building, grip-development, and stimulus-control techniques make the Malinois Temperment complete.

Malinois temperament:  When we speak about Malinois temperament, we mean a temperament for work.  The Malinois is highly trainable, totally driven. and immensely responsive to outside factors, unlike a breed with a phlegmatic temperament such as the Labrador or Pit Bull, for example.   

If you are not a relaxed, happy person who loves physical activity, and has a willingness to take a challenge head on, life will not go well for your Malinois puppy.  No doubt it will devolve into a simpering-anti-social-fear-biting-paranoid-walking-liability and not the k9  super hero it was meant to be!

Leon Destailleur, Founder of French Ring Sport.

Tempered Steel:  When a blacksmith makes a sword he  heats raw ore until it’s red hot, and then shapes it into form.   The sword remains soft and pliable, useless for its purpose, until the Smith tempers the blade by successive heatings and coolings. Thus causing a molecular alignment that hardens the edge. By this process, too, the Malinois trainer tempers a Malinois in the forge of Ring.

One of my prize possessions: My old dogs score book with an autograph from Leon Destailleur, Founder of French Ring Sport. It reads, "For Francis my new American Friend"

Every Malinois starts off soft. Eventually, as he matures, if the dog is not tempered through work, he will either end up out of control or fearful.  The trainer taps into the pups drives, heating the steel, and gradually exposing the pup to stressors.  Eventually, as he matures, The trainer brings the pup from the euphoric prey drive state to a state of control and focus, metaphorically tempering the steel.  This plunging from hot to cold, lends the Malinois its solid temperament.

After years of daily training, your Malinois can show the same  temperament as a Lab or German Shepherd, yet have the sharpness to work.  This is how a dog with the bidability of a Border Collie becomes able to perform in stressful environments such as found in Middle East war zones.  It is the trainer’s job to insure good temperament. This happens through work, mostly bite work and character development that are part of the Ringsport foundation.  No surprise to students of the breed– since Malinois and Ringsport evolved together.

If you are interested in dog sports, start with your own dog, and work up to a Malinois.  Even in my household where Malinois are part of our lifestyle, we have them for training and not as pets. Our other dogs are pets.

So, if the dog recruited for the raid on the Bin Laden complex sparked your imagination, before you go out and get one, be aware of the commitment it takes to live with and train a Belgian Malinois.

Two Paths Diverge

If you need a dog for your secret-mission or life-journey or coming-of-age,  I recommend a pit bull from a shelter. Teach and learn from him as best you can. Use this dog as your guide.  Ask him if you are seeking emotional comfort or the honesty of the hunt.  Both inclinations express your love for dogs.  But  check your priorities.  The type of dog you get will decide your path for the next decade.

Emotional Comfort and psychic protection: 

Nothing is more comforting to the lone hominid than the company of a dog.  A furry shoulder to cry on, a best friend that sees you at your worst without passing judgment.  This is one of the pure joys of having a dog.  This is the path most dog lovers travel.  There is a dog waiting out there to share this vision with you.  He is loving, protective and stable.  He is in a shelter BUT he is not a Malinois.

Not deterred.  Keep reading. Continue reading

Canine Intuition, Earned not Learned

Intuition in training on a street corner in Oakland with a blind Akita

If you have lived in California for a while, you might have forgotten about the California glow.  The best place to see it is after a trip, at the airport, waiting by your gate.  I know the SF bound gate immediately, everyone is a shade hipper from the babies to the grandparents.  I usually balance a ball on my head, and when asked, I simply whisper “I worship the Orb” and everyone is quietly respectful.  The people of California have a glow, it twinkles when they adjust their posture, do breathing exercises or peer out from hip eyewear.  Even the cops in California are hipper.  Recently, Hayward Police K9 Handler, Loring Cox had this to say about us:

“Francis is one of the most dog intuitive people we know. If you need dog training, are interested in protection sports, or just want to have more to do with your dog give him a call. Check out his blog and see what they have going down in Emeryville!”

Dutch Police Dog, Albert was the forefather of modern Police k9

Only in the Bay Area would your local Police k9 unit appreciate your intuition!  Thanks Hayward!  And I appreciate the personal dedication of the Bay Area Police K9 handlers that take it upon themselves to study dog training. Officers like Loring Cox of Hayward who has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things k9, or Colin Jones of Alameda PD who recently certified as a French Ring Decoy.  These are just two of the many Bay Area Police K9 Handlers that go to great lengths to learn their craft.

Here is a video demonstration of my Intuitive abilities & hard work!  The Decoy is Andrew Ramsey, the dog is Balzac of the infamous Contes d’Hoffmann Kennel.  He is 1 year and 7 months old.

Note to Balzac Fans:  I will be continuing my series on his training shortly.  I got bogged down in the details of describing some difficult to express concepts.  Instead of writing a novel, I wanted to get back in the swing by posting Balzac’s latest training video, he is now a year and seven months.  I will fill you in on his prior development and current training as we go.

Balzac Des Contes d'Hoffmann

Intuitive as hell

As for intuition, if it means competency gained by years of practice, then sure I’m intuitive.  I would be very skeptical of anybody who claimed to have intuition not derived from years of practice, but rather by some outside force.

Bad Energy

Many people in California are into “energy”.  Like good energy and bad energy. Often I hear people talking about their dog reading peoples energy and responding by acting a certain way.  It doesn’t work that way.  If you blind yourself with superstition you will just use it as crutch to support your own bias.  If you are talking about the energy created by perception, then we might agree.

Chomsky demonstrates energy generated from perception. Stare at the quarter. Do you feel the energy?

Dogs respond differently to different people based on how we move, where we look and how we respond to them. As a decoy, this becomes very clear. Decoy’s manipulate the dogs behavior by responding with actions that trigger drive states brought on by movement patterns. Tools in the decoys bag are: Eye Line, Menace, Flinch, Startle, Flee, and Charge, all stereotypical movements that can trigger the dog to respond in certain predictable ways.  These same decoy techniques can be triggered by people who have no idea they are triggering them.  These very people may be pure of heart and deed, or not, they just act in a way that triggers the dog.  I have seen many dogs with a hypersensitivity in their temperament be labeled as “Intuitive” or able to “read energy”  It’s not true they are responding to body language.

Fake magic banished/ true magic found

I hope this doesn’t take the magic out of it for anybody.  For me, it adds magic. Knowing that I can make a dog feel more confident by how I respond to his actions. Knowing that  with just the right movement I can tap into ancient predatory instincts.  Watching how my eye-line informs of my intentions.  With this in mind,  I accept the title of Dog Intuitive, bestowed on me by the Hayward K9 Unit.  I am honored and if nothing else it will stoke my California glow!

Nothing creates intuition like the school of hard knocks.  This is a glimpse into a training session with the Hayward PD.

Puncture Wounds and Behavior Problems

Yesterday, while breaking up a scrap between two large dogs, I noticed blood running down my wrist.  The bite wasn’t bad at all, but even a minor bite can (and WILL) get infected. As a dog trainer, you will get bitten one of these days.  With most minor wounds, if you practice the self-care procedures listed below, expect a quick recovery.  If your face is hanging off, go to the emergency room!

Your initial concerns after getting bit:

  1. Make sure all dogs are safe, then worry about yourself.  (A little bleeding is good to help cleanse the wound.)
  2. Put pressure on the wound and elevate.  Bruising and swelling cause most of the pain in a dog bite.
  3. After you stop the bleeding, use ice to keep the swelling down.


The above three steps are well-known. Now here comes the true Dog Man wisdom.  Healing a dog bite is like healing a behavior problem, you should do it from the inside out.

Most have heard the expression “Band-Aid solution,” which is a solution that only addresses the surface issues, and leaves deeper trauma hidden where it can fester. When we work with behavior problems, we should make every attempt to heal the problem from its cause.  Not just stopping the behavior but also working at neutralizing what causes the problem. For example, if a dog is snapping at people because it is fearful, no good will be done when you correct the behavior unless you are running a confidence building routine concurrently.

To work from the inside out with a behavior problem means to find what triggers the problem, and begin to neutralize that trigger. (Most likely a set of triggers since associations usually come in packages.)

So, always work from the inside out with puncture wounds and behavior problems.

Working from the inside out.

The Bay Area Dog Trainers low-cost recipe to help heal dog bites on your hands or feet:

  1. Wash the wound with soap and water.
  2. Run hot tap water into a large bowl.  Make the water as hot as you can stand it (and hotter!), squirt an ample amount of dish soap on your hand and in the water.
  3. Soak your hand until it turns pruney (15 minutes will usually do it).
  4. Rinse and repeat at least twice a day, but 4x per day is better.
  5. Cover the wound as best you can.  I use a bit of sterile gauze and Duct or Masking tape.  (you want the wound to stay pruney for a few days.)

In order to heal the wound from the inside out you should keep the surface from drying up and scabbing over.  That is what the hot soapy water 4 times a day will do.  I have recovered from many minor puncture wounds using this technique.

More on getting to the root of behavior problems in later articles

Check out this video featuring a song by Bay Area musician Mokai Blue.  The video itself is a tribute to the friends, family, clients, trainers, artists, and dog’s that make Saint Roch’s possible.

Congratulations to Tiffany and Ryot 2011 Mondioring 1 National Champions

I met Tiffany when she came to California to prepare for the MR1 National Championship trial put on by the United States Mondio Ring Association at the Triple Crown Dog Training Academy in Hutto,Texas.

Tiffany came to CA to work with mutual friends Lisa Maze of Muttamorphosis Dog training, and Andrew Ramsey of Ramsey’s K9 Services, both Bay Area Dog Trainers of the highest caliber.   It wasn’t long before Andrew told me that Tiffany was dying to see our training club, Saint Roch’s.

Andrew and I prepped Tiffany and Ryot for their upcoming competition.  Our work paid off, because Tiffany and her Belgian Malinois Ryot du Ciel Rouge came home with a first place trophy.  Since I only did an hour decoying for Tifanny I’m not anxious to claim any credit.  Furthermore, the knowledge I did provide Tifanny and Ryot was a technique I learned from the brilliant Swiss trainer Joaquim Dovat.  A technique designed to use the rules of perception to lessen the conflict felt by the dog when defending the handler from two decoys.

Ryot Du Ciel Rouge 2011 Mondioring 1 Champion

Good Sportsmen Honor Their Equipe

In Ringsport we have term called Equipe, this is just the French word for team.  Every team has its own ecosytem of team members.  In Ringsport the team consists of the Training Decoy, the Dog and the Handler.  These are the main players in the Equipe, but the team ecosystem goes deeper.  The team also needs a Training Director who plays the role of Judge, a Field Assistant who helps place rewards and adjusts jump heights, finally we have the other club members who give moral support and friendly competition.  The stronger the Equipe the stonger the training.  When your dog wins, your entire Equipe wins.   Just like when a wolf finds his prey the entire ecosystem surges with life, from the Cariboo herds to the Ptarimigan.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the power of a good team and instead act like they can do it all themselves.  I have done this and can tell you from personal experience, it is a dead-end street.  I have seen good training partnerships ripped apart over the absence of a simple “thank you”.

In closing, I would like to thank Tiffany for her willingness to share her moment of glory with us no matter how undeserving of praise we are!

To all those interested in great dog training I would like leave you with this slogan.

Your Equipe is an ecosystem NOT an EGOSYSTEM.

Your team  shares your blood sweat and tears, in return all they ask is that you work hard and say thank you.  There is only one way to learn Sportsmanship and that is by example.  Thank you to Tiffany for setting a fine expample!

Ryot pays his respects to the Sphinx who guards the entrance of our training field.