Monday, November 24, 2008

Barking Buddha Doga Interview with Neil Sattin

Pictures above are of Neil with his dog, Nola.

Neil Sattin is a dog trainer from Maine. He works with The Natural Dog Training philosophy, which sounds really cool. It's similar to my philosophy because it's benevolent and works with the way a dog thinks and reacts. Neil has a DVD that will be available from his website in December or January (holiday gift idea!).

What kind of dog do you have and where did you get your dog?
My dog Nola is a who-knows-what mutt, though she definitely has a look all her own (you can see her at the top of my website). Some think she looks like an overgrown basenji, though the only thing I know reasonably for certain is that her mother was a lab-beagle mix. Her father – anybody’s guess. Probably a marauding bull terrier spreading his genes throughout the mountains of western Maine. Another relevant question based on the kind of work I do is: what is Nola’s temperament? She’s high-drive (and, in the past, very high-anxiety) – both of those qualities led me to the kind of training that I do (Natural Dog Training), which we’ll be talking about later.

She was actually initially adopted by an acquaintance of mine, who decided at some point that Nola’s high-energy nature was a little too much to handle. I had been a puppy-sitter for Nola once or twice, and she and I just clicked, so when I heard that she needed a new home I offered mine, no questions asked. I had plenty of questions afterwards, though, as I tried to figure out what to do with the little spitfire! Now Nola is about 50 lbs of mostly lean muscle, and 11.5 years old – with a lot more capacity for relaxation and direction when she’s highly energized than she did when she first came into my life.

Tell me a little about your dog training philosophy?
My philosophy can be summed up fairly simply: Be the moose in your dog’s life! What that really means is that you want to learn to be the most attractive thing in your dog’s universe. The idea is that our dogs, who are naturally hunters, are also at their most SOCIAL when their hunting drive is engaged. By becoming “the moose” you are learning how to engage your dog’s prey drive, and use their attraction to you to elicit obedience behaviors (which are all actually hunting behaviors, but in a “human” context). You also teach your dog that YOU are uniquely capable of resolving the energy that gets stirred up through their interactions with the environment, as well as any stress that they might have stored within.

Here’s a practical example. You’re walking down the street with your dog, and there’s another dog approaching you. That other dog’s presence stirs up some energy within your dog, energy which makes your dog attracted to that other dog (and likewise that other dog is attracted to your dog). For most people, the way that particular energy gets resolved is by letting the dogs interact with each other (often pulling their owners along until they can sniff nose-to-nose) – which can obviously be a problem if either dog has aggressive tendencies. However, with Natural Dog Training, you would see your dog’s energized state as an opportunity for you to interact with your dog, and, using some specialized techniques, you teach your dog that the natural resolution to that feeling is through giving you 100% of that energy. Over time, your dog would actually start responding to other dogs by being more attracted to you. And the more attracted your dog is to you, especially in high energy situations, the more you’ll be able to communicate with your dog and achieve obedience, not only when the world is calm and distraction-free, but also when the world is a bit more distraction-filled. You know, the times when it really counts.

Why/how did you get into dog training?
I have always loved dogs and been interested in training. The dog that we had in my family (when I was growing up) was a spastic cairn terrier named “Sparky” (of course) – and my parents were pretty focused on using dominance-style training to get the results that they wanted. And which, I might add, they never really got. When Nola came into my life that was all that I had to go on – though experiencing mixed success led me to the “positive-only” school of dog training. Everything I did worked, up to a point, but never seemed to work well in high energy situations – and never did ANYTHING to help with Nola’s aggression towards other dogs. It was through looking online for something different and effective that I stumbled upon Kevin Behan and Natural Dog Training. A weekend with Nola spent in Vermont (where he lives) was enough to convince me that I wanted to really learn what Natural Dog Training was all about. It obviously offers a lot of insight into dog behavior, but I also found it offering insight overall into the emotional/energy dynamics of our lives. So later on that year I took a sabbatical from work, spent a month living in a little apartment on Kevin’s farm, and the rest is…well, continuing to evolve, of course.

That was a little over four years ago. Not only did Natural Dog Training help Nola (and other dogs with whom I’ve worked), but it also reinforces a personal emotional centeredness that translates into the rest of my life as well. My website ( started simply as a resource for my clients (so they’d have something to refer back to between lessons), but it has taken on a life of its own. It seems that within the dog training community, while there are certainly a lot of people who are completely convinced that their way is the “one and only right way” to train a dog, there are plenty of other people who are looking for a different approach. I think Natural Dog Training fits the bill – and my goal is to simply make its techniques accessible and understandable to anyone who has an interest – and an open mind. The results speak for themselves.

How do you think Barking Buddha Doga philosophy is similar/different from your own dog philosophy?
There are actually several ways that I can see a symbiotic relationship between the Barking Buddha Doga philosophy and the work that I do with dogs. While I talk about prey/predator energy, and how that helps create our dogs’ behavior, at its root I believe that what we see in our dogs is a manifestation of raw emotional energy in its purest form. Dogs experience the world, have a visceral (emotional) response in their bodies, and respond to that feeling. It just so happens that this dynamic translates directly into prey vs. predator in our dogs – “prey” simply being “things that attract your dog, and “predator” being “things that repel your dog”.

So in the Natural Dog Training world, opening up your heart connection (which seems like a central Doga theme) is all about getting into that centered, in-the-moment space in order to understand how your dog experiences the world…and then to view the results with a non-judgmental eye. You see the whole thing as just a circuit of energy (energy in, energy out) taking place between you, your dog, and the environment. And once you see that you can respond more effectively to it. After all, often our dogs’ behavior is simply an expression of the emotional energy that we are holding within ourselves. They’re responding whether or not we’re in tune to it – so doesn’t it make sense to pay attention?

You also mention that dogs are pack animals and that “packs are about union”. I would posit that what unifies a pack is not a sense of relationship between the dogs, but actually their common purpose. That’s why the pack dynamic is full of somewhat dysfunctional behavior – such as the disputed struggle to be the “alpha” dog – while the pack’s behavior, when their hunting drive is engaged (imagine them chasing a deer through the woods), is perfectly coordinated, social behavior. So it’s the deer (or the moose) that unites the pack, around which their behavior is oriented. If we, as people, are simply a “pack member” – then perhaps that’s like trying to have two yins – and in order to experience “union” you actually need the “yang”, to complete the circuit. In my experience, the more moose-like you become, the more you start to experience breakthroughs in achieving that kind of yin-yang union in your relationship with your dog.

Finally, relaxation. Much of what I do in Natural Dog Training not only teaches people how to work with dogs in a highly energized state, but also the importance of maintaining a state of relaxation no matter how charged up the situation gets. Relaxation being important for human AND dog. Your dog is like a physical conduit for the emotional energy that the world is throwing at them. A relaxed dog is like a big, wide open pipe – all kinds of energy can flow through without suffering from the detriments of constriction. On the other hand, the more physically tense a dog is, the less intensity they can handle. Like a smaller pipe, they start to experience symptoms of being “under pressure” as the emotional energy builds. This is when you start seeing things like aggression (or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, submissive urination) – too much energy for the pipe to take, and the pipe bursts with an overload behavior.

I think that physical relaxation and awareness is KEY to being able to be in the moment. And, I suppose, not only being in the moment, but responding in the moment in a way that works well for everyone involved. So developing a bond THROUGH relaxation, as I imagine you do with Doga, puts both you and your dog in the best position to respond most effectively to whatever emotional energy the world throws your way.

When is your DVD to be released?
Thanks for asking! I am currently in post-production for two DVDs. The first one is an introduction to Natural Dog Training, and will demonstrate fundamental exercises that allow you to be more moose-like in your dog’s eyes. On a practical level you learn how to develop your dog’s attraction to YOU (and relaxation) at higher and higher levels of energy – and the basics of how Natural Dog Training works. The second DVD is devoted to obedience using Natural Dog Training methods. Through this approach to obedience your dog learns that things like sit/down/stay/come can all happen in the context of a high intensity situation. This is what I meant earlier when I mentioned obedience “when it really counts”. For instance, I want to know that my dog will come when called not only during those moments when there’s nothing better to do, but also when they’re chasing a ball that I accidentally threw too close to the road. The second DVD is a natural progression from basic obedience through to some of those more challenging situations.

At this point, it looks like the DVDs will officially be ready in either December of 2008 or January of 2009. You can pre-order them on my website, or wait for the glorious day when they’re finally here! In the meantime, I actually describe many of the Natural Dog Training techniques in detail on the website. Plenty of information there to keep your readers busy!
Neil is right, plenty of info on his website. Check it out! Thanks Neil for the first Barking Buddha Doga interview!


At November 25, 2008 at 5:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's my pleasure, Brenda. Thanks for having me.

At December 1, 2008 at 3:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil and Brenda, Great interview. Love how clearly you talk about NDT!

At December 1, 2008 at 3:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Angelique, it's the 1st BBD interview. Looking forward to doing more and looking forward to the release of Neil's DVD!



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