Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hungarian Super Dogs

There is great stuff coming from Hungary. A few years ago I read Vilmos Csanyl’s book “If Dogs Could Talk”. Csanyl is a companion dog owner, and the head of the Ethology Department at the University of Budapest. In his book he wonderfully fuses science and relationship.
His ethology research group conducts very interesting studies on behavior, canine cognizant abilities and how dogs and wolves are different.

And then there is this Hungarian group of dog owners who take chaining tricks into a cool performance to a whole new level. Last year about this time I saw a Youtube clip called “A Doggy Christmas Surprise”. You may have seen it – it’s a bunch of dogs, intact as they often are in Europe, decorating a Christmas tree. And last week someone sent me the sequel, called “A Doggy Summer” – it’s the same group of dogs having fun at the beach. Both clips are awesome, and well worth watching. If I’d be any computer savvier I would have a direct link to it from this post, but because I am not, you have to go to www.youtube.com and type Mirror Method Dogs into the search box. Doggy Christmas is the first and Doggy Summer the third clip, and in between is one about the group and their training philosophy.
That clip is called “About Our Group” and the method called Mirror Method. They say that the dog reflects the behavior and personality of the owner, and in order to change the dog’s behavior, one has to make changes in his own first. Wise words.
The Mirror method consists of three, equally important, parts: relationship – training – natural for the dog interactions.
They use the word hierarchy and leader, but state that leadership is established without force and violence. They also talk about distance between owner and dog and I’m curious what they mean by that. They say that without that relationship first, obedience isn’t possible and I totally agree. The mindful leadership relationship is what I call the foundation necessary for learning and good behavior.
For the mechanical part, the teaching of tricks and positions, they use a clicker and treats. I am not a clicker trainer, but do believe it’s a great tool for purely mechanical learning – when the cerebral cortex in addressed, not the emotional limbic system.
The third part is to tap into the dog’s instincts; in other words create opportunities for the dog to live his nature. Living his nature doesn’t mean free for all, but structured teamwork that allows the dog to do things important to him. In the clip they showed retrieving and protection work – I love tracking, cause most dogs are interested in purposeful nose work.
I agree with one more statement the group makes: that marvelous things are possible with every dog, if the owner follows the holistic three-part philosophy of Leadership Relationship; Training and Practice and Purposeful Teamwork and Interactions.


  1. I have to say that I really agree that our dogs reflect our personality and our issues. They do mirror us and I also believe that it is no coincidence as to which dog ends up with which owner...that is destiny. Not only do we work in the conscious world, but we also share an unconscious realm. They really are our best Gurus and the most fun too.

  2. I am a dog trainer and very interested in learning more about the Mirror Method.

    Can you please send me information on where and how I can learn more about this method.

    Thank you,


  3. I think that what they mean by 'distance' is keeping the dog in its role - i.e., making sure to remember the dog is still a dog and not a human. I'll bet that they don't advocate having the dogs sleep in the owner's beds, etc.

  4. Hi There, I just found this discussion :).

    My dog and I train at this dog school and I am very glad that I found them. We're still in the puppy/young dog class and hope to be starting 'real' school soon (when the weather is more permissible).
    I wasn't aware that the Mirror Method is a uniquely Hungarian thing.
    With 'distance' they do mean keeping the dog in his place but so far I haven't been admonished for having my dog share my bed :). They look very much at the individual dog and if there's no issues then there's also no issue with allowing the dog on the sofa or into the bed.
    The atmosphere at the dog school is very positive and clickery :) and the "Walking on Sunshine" video truly reflects the fun that owners, trainers and dogs have.
    Their website is: www.kutyasuli.hu , if you use one of the online translators, you can get an impression of their work.

  5. it would seem that they are using the same philosophy of Cesar Milan...a healthy owner with a calm assertive attitude will have a calm submissive dog that is open to learning fast and then being happy in life.

  6. I appreciate that the article mentions no force or violence being used -- the very antithesis of Cesar Milan's methods. I am a clicker trainer and I like to think of a good relationship between humans and canines as benevolent leadership. It's the difference between working for a respectful, generous, consistent and appreciative employer and a tyrant.

    Keep up the great work!

  7. I must disagree with coopdymeow regarding Cesar Milan's methods. Although Cesar has used the "alpha roll" in his TV series to establish the alpha position, he uses that "technique" to undo a human's previous training errors, or human trauma which has resulted in the creation of the extreme "red zone" dog - he uses it as a last resort. He reserves such methods for dogs that would otherwise end up euthanized. To my memory, in his books he does not even use the words "alpha roll", nor does he suggest violence at any time. Cesar's restricts his "instruction" to dog psychocology. Regarding the use of a pincher collar, again he uses it to mimic a bite, not to inflict pain. I am a big fan of positive re-enforcement, however there are times when it is not possible in all circumstances. For example I have a Rottweiler with cogenital hip dysplasia and need to keep him very lean - I have to reserve/limit the use of treats. Again, Cesar does not advocate "training" a dog using negative reinforcement, just the opposite. The techniques you attach to Cesar are methods reserved for problem dogs, dogs that are a problem because of the human owner.

  8. when they talk about distance, they are actually talking about closeness, in the sense of intimate connection to the dog. it is a translation error because of the hungarian word usage in the context. the word tavolsag means distance in direct translation, but it is the word also used as the translation for closeness in an intimate sense.

  9. @dobeSchH please don't talk about things you know nothing of. see my previous comment for the explanation of distance.

  10. Carmine - negative reinforcement is removing something (negative meaning minus) to increase a behaviour. For example - walking a dog on a pinch collar - the removal of the "bite" pressure when the dog walks at your side. This is what Cesar Millan is doing - he is NOT mimicking a bite. The dog is made uncomfortable and regains comfort when he does the "right" thing. The problem with negative reinforcement is that you have to use positive punishment first (positive meaning adding, punishment meaning decreasing a behaviour). In this case using the pressure of the collar to make the dog uncomfortable first.

  11. Just to make it clear: When we speak about distance, we refer to distance in rank between the owner and the dog. You can be the #1 but you have problems if your dog is #2 or #3, there will be always fight and contention between you. Your dog will always question your authority. Same holds tru if you are #15 and your dog is #16. It does not matter whether you are #1 or #8 what matters is how far your dog is from you on the rank ladder.

  12. I'm very interested in this training method...I have a very dog aggressive American Bulldog & would love to be able to walk him anywhere around other dogs.

  13. Doggy Dogma - 'bone' up on your psychological terms. Negative reinforcement means just that..a negative response to a behavior. For example: Hitting for a bite. Positive reinforcement means the opposite; something positive for a behavior, i.e. treats for a sit stay

  14. doggy dogma is right about the definition of negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement.
    mom54 negative punishment is a negative response to a behavior.
    so there. fight about that.

  15. Doggy Dogma is correct and has given a text book description of the terms positive punishment and negative reinforcement. These are tems covered in the description of operant conditioning as are positive reinforcement and negative punishment. There are indeed times when positive punishment/negative reinforcement might be needed as a last resort for a dog when all else has failed and the next step could be euthanasia. For most dogs, however, it is unnecessary and definitely not beneficial to the relationship between dog and owner. You can still use positive reinforcement when watching weight on a dog by using high value/low fat treats like chicken and reducing the amount of food given at meal time. Other forms of positive reinforcement include toys and affection depending on the dog.

  16. I am totally impressed by this Mirror Method and will visit the website to find out more from their trainers...by watching the dogs in the videos you can see they are trained with positive reinforcement techniques which includes clicker training...what a world of difference it makes in the dog's personality.

  17. Mom54, hitting for a bite would be positive punishment. Negative punishment would be taking away something pleasurable.

  18. I have not heard of this method until I was sent a video link as well...after some research though, I realized that I have trained all of my cats in the same manner. I believe that since people believe cats are so independent they don't form a relationship or bond with them. I have taught one of my cats colors and objects (and would retrieve them when asked), one how to "cough" on command, and the latest family member how to sit, lay down, ask to be picked up and come when called (standard "dog tricks")...my animals have always believed they are entitled family members. I have also had two dogs that were EXTREMELY easy to train in this similar method.

  19. If you put pressure on a dog using the leash, it is positive punishment. What type of collar the dog is wearing is irrelevant. If you use a leash, I don't see how you could be "positive only." Dogs, like humans, need correction at times.

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