Ep #18 (transcript): Establish pack leadership with your dog? What wolves can teach us about our doodles- with author Linda Michaels

Heard of “wolf pack leadership”, “be the alpha”, “positive reinforcement dog training doesn’t work,” or wondered how to become a pack leader of your dog?  Today’s guest shares what her experience with wolves, training for a wolf dogs’ rescue, and working with the San Diego Humane Society’s most aggressive cases can teach us about our doodles. 

Author of Do No Harm Dog Training & Behavior Manual and The Hierarchy of Dog Needs®, Linda Michaels, uses her advanced training in psychology and neuroscience to help us do better for our doodles.

2:45 Explaining the 3 parts to our interview
3:10 Introducing Linda Michaels
4:26 Linda’s introduction to wolves
7:37 Training wolf-dog rescues
11:08 Download our Top Treats Freebie
11:37 Training wolf dogs not to jump on people
13:16 Watch Linda train Shiloh the wolf dog
13:47 Do certain breeds need a pack leader?
14:29 Did wolfdogs need e-collars, prongs, choke chains, etc?
16:32 What if a trainer suggests e-collars or prongs?
18:32 “Your doodle is not more difficult to handle than this wolfdog”
20:07 Being a “pack leader”
22:32 Parallels between parenting and training trends
26:05 Positive doesn’t = permissive
28:05 Veterinary Recommended
31:46 Do No Harm Dog Training & Behavior Handbook
31:53 Listen to Ep #15 to learn more about adolescent dog training
33:04 Listen to Pt. 2 on Ep #19 for Hierarchy of Dog Needs
33:40 Get a behind-the-scenes peek of the doodles I work with daily!

Listen to Part 2 of our interview for the Hierarchy of Dog Needs.

Take our fun and free Doodle Personality Quiz!  Do you know YOUR doodle as well as you think you do?

Read the Transcript:


Ep #17

This interview with Linda Michaels was so rich with valuable information for doodle owners. I had to break it into three parts. Part one is going to discuss her experience with training Wolf Dogs and how that led to the do no harm principles and ethics. Part two is going to discuss her trademarked hierarchy of dog needs, and part three is going to discuss. How to train your doodle to stop barking, and most importantly, undercover, the reasons why they're barking. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: Linda Michaels author, speaker, and leading expert on Do no Harm Force Free dog training created the internationally acclaimed hierarchy of dog needs with an advanced degree in psychology and five years of shelter rescue experience.

Linda Bridges the gap between research dog trainers and pet parents. Her new book, The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Handbook featuring the Hierarchy of Dog Needs is designed for both new and seasoned trainers, other animal related professionals and pet parents too. As an influencer and animal welfare advocacy, she speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves, as she says, the heartbeats at our feet. 

Linda, I'm so happy to have you here. And Linda and I were chatting before we got started, just of our shared love for wolves, and she has experienced directly working with wolf dogs and high content wolf dogs. So before we dive in to her more academic side of things, I would love to talk about that and her inspiration.

Can you share more, Linda?

Linda Michaels: Oh, absolutely. This is one of my favorite topics because this is not only working with Wolf Dogs is not only one of the highlights of my career, but of my life. If you're canine enamored like I am, having the experience with these animals changes.

It excites you in a way that really can't be described. One day I, happened to see a video on YouTube of these people going up to wolves and petting them and interacting with them. And this was many years ago. And I just, my eyes got really big and I thought Where, are they?

I gotta go. I've been going I decided right then and there I was gonna find them. It turned out they were right in my backyard practically. This was The Wolf Mountain Sanctuary where wolves who have been in movies and people who have adopted or somehow got ahold of a wolf and then realize this is not a big dog have just abandoned them.

And there is woman called Little Wolf who actually grew up with wolves. She's a Native American and she can read body language, thank goodness, like no one that I've met. And that my appreciation for reading body language came from that first experience when I went there. And the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary is in Lucerne, California.

I went stayed in a hotel in Palm Springs and I called my assistant the night before because I started getting very nervous about this experience cuz I didn't know what to expect. And so I, told Chris, I said I'm, going to visit the wolves tomorrow. And he said yeah, that could be dangerous

I know that it could be, but I had already made my piece. I had decided you had to do it. I did. I said, I'm doing this and this is the. So be it , that's a way to go. Yes. , but Little Wolf . Yeah. Little Wolf was so skilled at directing the visitors there and what not to do and how to approach them. She quelled the fear, the natural fear, which it's adaptive to survival to Right.

You just don't trust strangers coming in and touching you, walking up to you. And the same is, true with dogs so, much of what I learned there crosses over to dogs and so it was I was high for couple weeks. It was so wonderful. I used to have

an organization called Pet Professionals of San Diego. And I had an event called Thanksgiving Dog Day. And I had a blessing of the animals. And the person who did the blessing called me one day and she said I have some friends who have a wolf dog the Wolf Education Project and Julian, and they would like you to come and train their wolf dogs and

I had never done this before my education had taught me and my graduate program that learning principles apply to all species, across species. And so I. I I cannot pass up this opportunity. I don't know what I'm doing, but I know how to train dogs But I, like to start working with dogs at the age of eight weeks, if possible.

Because just like us, and I like to make a lot of analogies to humans because this really helps pet parents to empathize with their dogs. But just like our childhood experiences just stick like glue. Little puppies absorb everything and they learn very quickly. I asked the director of the Wolf Education Project.

I said, By the way how old are. Good question Linda

and he said, Oh, seven months, in eight months. I thought, just 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: all dogs, where we hear from them in adolescents, right? , 

Linda Michaels: I thought, Okay I'm, going . And I made mistakes I walked in there with my dog, treat bag, and these animals have large brains. They are significantly larger brains than the domestic dog because living in the wild that their, lineage, they need to be sly and cunning.

Problem solve and figure stuff out. Unlike our, doodles 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: the bowl is filled twice a day. . 

Linda Michaels: They grabbed my treat bag and my hair. They just had no manners. Uhhuh , no manners. And they're curious the, people that had, the wolf dogs had an education project , it had to be also ethically correct for me to, go and work with these animals.

And wonderfully it was because they were using the wolf dogs to educate the public about saving our wolves in the. Oh, good. Yeah, it was like the perfect project for me. And I, drove up the hill in Julian. It's a very mountainous, location, and you could hear them all hauling as you went up the road.

It was like music to my ears, I was just saying, they're calling you. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: I love this. Can you tell I had Wolf posters up in my little tween room and Wolf t-shirts. Can you tell 

Linda Michaels: I can because you are interested in this subject. . Yes. So, any, anyway, .

I got out of there, , I asked the director, Jason, I said I need you to separate these animals. I guess I can't go in with a number of them circling me and the whole pack. Yeah. So he, built me a training pen and he built a shelf where I could keep the, treats. Actually I had a 17 graduated system of different kinds of meat.

Oh, wow. Because they need to be motivated. And what they had been doing though was to greet people by jumping on them. Sounds familiar. And everyone Exactly. . So Exactly. I said, I know this. Yeah. , I know what to do. But it took me, two hours of sweat to get the first seven month old to sit.

Wow. Instead of to teach that alternate behavior. Which was rewarded. Once he got it, he was like, I can do this. . Yeah. Oh, thank goodness. And then I said, Okay, now the eight month old, Oh my God. Like you said, adolescence, right? Right. Yes. The eight month old was much easier.

he wasn't as high content. Oh, interesting. But here he is. By the way, this is Shiloh oh, this is a oil painting from a photograph. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: Oh, this is beautiful. I'll include this in the show notes if you're listening on our podcast. This beautiful picture of Shiloh. 

Linda Michaels: It was just smart as Aack 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: on our cover art, we have a picture of you with, I assume is a wolf dog on a beach.

Linda Michaels: Oh, that's journey. Oh, yes. That is a wolf dog. He's high content. And it's so funny, someone once said to me either that dog is really big or Linda's . She's 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: really

Linda Michaels: Smalls. I have some videos for some of your listeners who may be interested on my YouTube channel Oh, wonderful. Of me training the Wolf dogs, including Shiloh and Journey on my YouTube channel. It was definitely thrilling. And what I did was I taught the director what to do, and he was an excellent student.

He took notes, he picked up on everything. , I could then leave with peace of mind. I, did this for a number of months with his animals and teaching him, which is what I do with, trainers and pet parents too. Then you understand, you know the principles and then you're able to take it from there.


Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: Linda, you mentioned your education. I know your educational background's in psychology you have the hierarchy of dog. And it goes by the do no harm principle. Now, if I were to imagine when people think certain breeds need a heavy hand, you hear that phrase sometimes where positive reinforcement might work for this breed, but some breeds need a PAC leader.

If I were to think PAC leader, I would think of wolves and so much of PAC leadership and dominance theory with dogs has been debunked. But if I think of where it would apply, I would think maybe wolves. So

did you need to use any of those tools with 

Linda Michaels: wolves? Absolutely not. Interesting and actually using those devices or any harsh treatment of these animals, particularly wolves, but our dogs as well, because there's a lot of differences between wolves and dogs, but there are a lot of similarities because they're cousins, really?

They're both in the order, carnivore and using harsh methods, actually with a wolf typically really frightens them and they will shut down. And will feel threatened. And so then it gets dangerous just as it does with dogs. particularly with aggressive dogs or what they call red zone dogs.

 There's really such thing. Those dogs are typically, they perceive a threat. There's either a real threat or there's a perceived threat. If they had the opportunity, they would probably run away. But when we trap them in an enclosure or on a leash or put them in some position and situation where they don't have the time to feel out a situation and find out if it's safe.

 That's a primary concern, so if they cannot run away, Then they will have to do something to protect themselves. And that before any learning can really take place, once a dog is fearful in that way it makes learning next to impossible.

And in fact, diversive methods and devices contrary to popular belief are a cause of aggression, not a cure for aggression, which surprises people because it can in the moment suppress the aggressive behavior. You have not changed the emotions that were driving the aggression or the.

You have not addressed that and it's going to come out. When it has the opportunity, because the animal is still frightened

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: a lot of doodle parents say, I don't want to use a prong or a slip lead, or a shocker e color but a trainer told me I needed to, or My dog is more stubborn and that's the only way they'll listen to me. I think hearing this about true wolves and high content

if they don't need it, then using science based and humane methods can really still work with your dog. 

Linda Michaels: You, are such a wise woman because , that is one of the big reasons aside from the excitement, the personal excitement I had for working with wolves, I believed, and it became true that if I can work with these animals I can then use them for models to help pet parents understand that indeed those devices and those aversive methods are not only unnecessary, but will contradict what our goals are in trying to achieve. And in my videos and YouTube, you will see journey that big. Yeah. At Wolf walking on a harness. And also you will see the director of the Wolf Education Project teaching Shiloh to walk on a harness and with the right direction and with the right reinforcement, we are their guides and with high value treats typically healthy dog food, meat dogs are, biologically meat eaters. They're going to learn good habits. You're so right that is one of the things that I can point to and say, See this, your doodle is not more difficult to handle than this wolf talk, believe me.

So it works like magic. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: And how big was Journey? How much did journey weight do you remember approximately? 

Linda Michaels: Maybe, one 40. I, Oh, you cannot quote me on that. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: That's all right.

But even, let's say he's one 20, I mean when people say I could use more positive reinforcement methods with my dog if they weren't so big. I need to use a prong in order for us to go on a walk cuz it's the only thing that's safe or I need to use an e color for.

It's the only thing that's safe. But if you were able to walk on a harness and a lead a hundred ish plus pound high content wolf dog that shows that. Using humane methods and not resorting to fear force or pain can really 

Linda Michaels: work. Exactly. And believe me, they are strong. Yeah, 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: I can imagine. And one of those jumped on me.

you lay out. 

Linda Michaels: Oh what? I was up against the fence. I was like, oh my god. In their head is like up here. Yes. Amazing. The eyes. But they're just curious too. So I mean I heard so much about, wolves and the myth of the big bad wolf, but they are strong. Yep. They are strong.

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: When I hear you talk about your work with them, I hear about your reinforcement looking for things that were motivating to them, that you had a tiered system of meat. I'm not hearing you say I needed to be their path leader. They needed to know I was their authority. They needed to know their place.

I needed to exude my confidence so that they were secure enough. I'm not hearing any of those kind of pop culture phrases that we often hear. 

Linda Michaels: And it's, it is really sad that there is so much misinformation in the totally unregulated dog training field because anyone can call themselves a behavior consultant or a dog trainer and put up a nice website and charge you money and speak as if they know what they're talking about.

However no competent trainer would resort to those methods because, As I it's, antithetical truly to learning. There is another way and that way is the do no harm ethic the hierarchy of Dogies. it's really magical, Karin, because guess what? The science is on our side. Yes.

That's when my book has 23 pages of scientific citations because I do have a graduate degree in psychology, which is the study of animal behavior, and I've done research in behavioral neurobiology. So I have looked at the brain function and brain anatomy and comparative psychology. This is one of the reasons that I did what I did and I do what I do is because I felt a responsibility to impart this knowledge.

 In my decision making about how in the world can I present all of these concepts, right? One page. I thought that people. Could learn to empathize with their dogs more by putting themselves in their dog's paws, so to speak, their dog's moccasins or shoes or whatever you wanna call it.

But, by recognizing that our needs are very similar to our dog's needs. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: You used children as an example. I see. And I'm not new in thinking this, but I see our shift in dog training matching our shifts in parenting. It wasn't that long ago in many of our families that you were told to go out and get a switch or dad threatened the belt or real hands on corporal punishment was the way of being a good parent.

And we know better now. Dog training seems to fall behind in pace. But we do know better now with the science that we don't need to use intimidation, fear, or pain.

Linda Michaels: The, analogy between children and dogs is very important that pet parents understand this.

And some of the recent research has been done by Dr. Gregory Burns, that you might have heard of this where, dogs were put into a functional MRI machine without, being constrained. And they looked at their, brain function and found out that dogs have approximately the same impulse control as a two to three year old child.

But your dog isn't gonna grow up, your dog's gonna stay a two or three year old child for life. So when you consider that and you really what that means in terms of how you're going to treat dis sentient creature in front of you, the heartbeat at your feet I'm sorry, I agree. I'm very passionate about what I do.

Yes, It really can give pause for us to. Find a way to treat our dogs as if they were a two or three year old child. We have such unrealistic expectations of dogs. We put so much pressure on them and when you understand their brain anatomy, that they're simply not capable, like you mentioned stubbornness before.

 That's a human psychological construct. Dogs are not stubborn. They're, or defiant or vengeful. Yeah, exactly. It's really unfair to label them that way. They are just very honest. They're very honest about their feelings and their experiences. All we have to do, Is to learn how to read that body language before doing anything.

Listen, listen to the body language, and then you can make a, considered judgment about how to respond to it. It's, just so important that we, learn to do that. And then what we want is happy families. Yes. We don't want people being drug down a street or have dogs jumping on and knocking over their children.

And so the beauty of positive reinforcement training is that once you understand the underlying principles of board based training, you can figure stuff out yourself. It's like a light bulb moment. It's like I know what to do. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: and positive doesn't equal permissive. So you mentioned you wanna be able to have kids in your home and dog in your home where they're not jumping on the kids.

I expected my two and three year olds to be polite. We started really early, with a please and a thank you. But it was developmentally appropriate for what they were capable of. And I taught them in a developmentally appropriate way. I praised when they did it right. I would hang on to the ice cream until I got their little please, 

Linda Michaels: and it's very similar.

With children when you look at Pieja on the studies in developmental psychology it's really not until the age of approximately five years old that a child's brain is developed sufficiently to be able to understand some critical ideas about interacting with the dog.

Yes. It's not until they're about five that they understand that, number one, the dog can bite them and what that would mean for them. For their parents, For the dog. number two, that they can hurt the dog. So again, until the brain has developed the prefrontal cortex and the executive functions, it's just not possible to teach children.

It's the pet parents' responsibility to keep their dogs safe Yeah. And to keep their children safe. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: Yeah. Management is key.

Linda Michaels: I would just like to say that, the first do no harm ethic is and, you mentioned this that is the overriding state of mind, the overriding code that is my goal to bring to the dog training industry.

When we look at any other agency or association that deals with sentient creatures, whether it's the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the American Medical Society, the American Psychological Society, the American Hospital Association, they all have a first do no harm ethical code.

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: And they don't say except for these breeds or except for a dog in the red zone or except for a stubborn dog. It is across the board. 

Linda Michaels: Another really good example are zoos. Yes. Zoos have become very progressive. You can watch videos of zookeepers training alligators these days.

Yes. They have cheetahs at the San Diego Zoo. they are kept like on a collar not, a prong collar, a flat collar, 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: it's amazing, right? 

Linda Michaels: If we understand that the same principles apply to our dogs that we can use to train wolves, wolf dogs, animals in the zoo just finding a competent trainer is not easy to do in this field. But I recommend the Pet Professional Guild where they have a trainer directory and they have an ethical code that is the only international large dog association that is clear about ethics in training.

You know your audience can feel confident that if they go there and you can do a trainer search by zip code, it's really easy to find someone who's going to know what they're doing and can help. and, not hurt your dog, but rather enhance the relationship Yes. That parents have with their dogs.

Because after all, people get dogs because they want that lovey connection. They, yes. They want that bond. they don't wanna hurt their dogs . It doesn't work and it's not necessary. So we do know better now it's just a matter of it becoming more widely accepted and strengthening our animal welfare laws.

Regulating the, dog training industry and for all of us to raise our voices and insist that. We want to treat our dogs in a more humane manner. In fact, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior just recently released their position statements on Humane dog training, and they are very clear.

They list all of the things not to do and all of the things to do. We're really trying to make, it widely available and, well known because the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior is the premier authority on behavior.

So it's, coming. It's going to get better. I have great. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: And I'll include a link to that statement in our show notes because it's fascinating cuz they talk about not only does doing harm, do harm, but that the science backs up. That. positive reinforcement and science based and humane techniques are more effective.

So it's not only should you not do X, Y, Z, but if you wanna be productive and have good success with your dog, science based and humane methods are the best. If you want to follow Linda's recommendations on finding a trainer in her book, she has a whole section on how to identify a skilled trainer, because as she said, it's an unregulated industry.

Anyone can pick up any tool they want and call themselves a dog trainer or a behaviorist. So that's really helpful. Linda,

if you enjoyed hearing about the adolescent dog brain when we talked about adolescent wolves and some of the overlap, you might enjoy listening to episode 15 where I discuss with the owner of Denver's Paw School and their training manager, why adolescent dog brains are under construction and what training they need during this period.

I highly recommend this book by Linda Michaels. It is a fantastic read. I read it from cover to cover, but it is so rich that you don't need to. I recommend starting with the first chapter that outlines the basis. And the reasons behind the approach in the book, and then use it as the handbook as it is and pull out the pieces as you need them when addressing different areas of training with either your clients or your personal dog. 

Corinne Gearhart- The Doodle Pro™: You may find The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Handbook on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles online and for book sellers through Ingram Spark.

 Catch part two of our interviewers. She outlines the hierarchy of dog needs. You might be familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs.

This follows the same premise, but outlines what our dog's needs are. I. If you are having behavior problems with your doodle, identifying what needs are not being met on this hierarchy of needs is an excellent place to start 

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have a pawsome day!


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corinne the doodle pro

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I’m Corinne, The Doodle Pro™


That’s why I, The Doodle Pro™, do things differently.

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