Dogs – The Canine Model

Dogs - The Canine Model

How trainers view dogs has changed over time, and so has our approach to training. Dog training used to be very harsh—today, it’s much kinder. Some even argued that dogs don’t have emotions—we know better. Our diagram outlines how we view dogs and what we consider when we train. We take a comprehensive view, including the current understanding of genetics, evolutionary psychology, and dogs’ emotional systems. In addition, we aim to honor them and acknowledge their amazing complexity. As a result, we understand how dogs are similar to humans and how they are different. Old models of training are getting a fresh look. I am sure we will continue to learn more in years to come.

We approach the understanding of canines from three dimensions: Genetics, Behaviors, and Skills. These are not separate from each other. Genetics impacts everything. But some distinction helps to break things down more clearly. How the components of these dimensions look varies by individual. We can shape some of these elements through training, but not all. Understanding the animal’s genetics and aptitudes helps assess the effort and feasibility of training goals.

  • In the genetic dimension, we distinguish between Emotions, Drives, Preferences/Desires, and Stressors.
  • The behavior dimension distinguishes between Reactions, Personality, and Play.
  • In the skill dimension, we distinguish between Innate and Learned Skills.

The Genetic Dimension

  • Emotions: Dogs have emotional systems, just like humans do. All mammals have identical emotional brain systems. At a basic level, they have the same brain areas humans have for fear, panic, rage, play, nurture, mating, and seeking. These core systems are called blue-ribbon emotions. You can read more detail about these in this article: Fear and Anxiety in Dogs.
  • Drives: Historically, we distinguished only three drives: Pack, Prey, and Defense. Pack Drive is related to the social view of the family and its role in it. Prey Drive is related to food procurement and is why dogs enjoy chasing small things that move—”Squirrel!” need I say more ;). Defensive Drive determines how a canine responds to threats in its environment through either fight, flight, avoidance, or appeasement. Today, we take a more comprehensive view of drives. Any innate desire a dog is compelled to by its genetics is considered a drive.
  • Preferences/Desires: The most common question we get asked is, “Why did my dog do that?”. The answer is usually “Because it wanted to.” Dogs have preferences and desires as we do. Why do you prefer one flavor of ice cream over another? Or don’t like ice cream at all (in which case you are weird)? You just do. Your DNA wired you, or your experiences shaped you to prefer some things over others. Dogs are no different.
  • Stressors: Some canines have nerves of steel, and some tremble when they hear the slightest sound. This is genetic. We can improve psychological resilience through training, but its genetics determine how psychologically sound a dog ultimately can become.

The Behavior Dimension

Many behaviors are, of course, also driven by genetics, but other behaviors are learned. This is why we feel it is valuable to consider certain elements of behavior separately from genetics. We distinguish:

  • Reactions: Some dogs chase cats, and some don’t. Some bark at bikes, and some don’t. Every animal is different regarding what they react to and ignore. Of course, training can reshape reactions, but natural reactions exist and vary by individual.
  • Personality: Some behaviors are unique to your dog. They are what makes him/her your buddy. The way your friend wakes you up in the morning. The way he comforts you. These are personality elements. However, biting the mailman is another matter.
  • Play: All aspects of play dogs engage in are part of the predatory hunting sequence: search-stalk-chase-fight-celebrate-consume. Most enjoy some elements more than others. The way your dog likes to play most is what makes her unique.

The Skill Dimension

Many innate skills dogs are born with are refined through practice to learn better success strategies. For example, all canines know how to run and chase, but getting good at it and catching things are skills learned through practice.

  • Innate Skills: Skills available from birth. I.e., sniffing, rough-and-tumble play.
  • Learned Skills: Skills learned through practice. This could be a refinement of innate skills like sniffing for specific scents, like diabetic alert dogs, sitting on command, heeding to leash pressure, etc.

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We are located in Southern California and train dogs nationwide. Happy Dog Training currently offers local dog training services in the following counties. Riverside County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. In addition, we offer our board-and-train program nationwide and all virtual training services worldwide.

Do you want your new puppy trained right from the start? Are you looking for help for your fearful dog? Do you need to resolve a severe aggression problem? You came to the right place! We are experienced, professional dog trainers. Ralf has trained over 1500 dogs in over 18 years, and Sarah has trained over 1200 dogs in over 11 years. Consequently, we can help you with any dog training goal.

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For many of our clients, we train their dogs from puppyhood, getting them off to a great start. However, we also have extensive experience training rescue dogs from all imaginable backgrounds and circumstances. Our Board-and-Train program is our most popular.

We can help you, regardless of your dog's challenges or training goals. Being a professional dog trainer means having experience, knowledge, and skill. Further, we developed a highly effective training program to specifically help fearful dogs gain more confidence and become the best possible version of themselves. Building Confidence is our second most popular training program.

Last but not least, we are experts in dealing with all types of aggression in dogs and are often the trainers of last resort after many other programs have failed. Most of our aggressive dog clients previously spent significant money on half-baked solutions without much improvement. This is different from us. We will give you an honest assessment of what goals are realistic for your dog. We will tell you what can be resolved reliably and what likely needs to be managed before we start.

Our flagship product is our board and train program. But our virtual dog training and coaching services have become quite popular over the last couple of years. Our setup enables us to deliver online dog training services from our indoor and outdoor training areas. This allows us to help clients worldwide.

Other Resources

Also, check out our Free Dog Training tips on Separation Anxiety in Dogs, Potty Training aka Housebreaking, and Leash Handling for expert solutions to common challenges.

Additional Services: Presentations and Q&As on Dogs | Professional Service Dog Training

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About Ralf and Sarah

Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.


Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer

Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.