Building Human/Canine Relationships (Obedience Class)


I do group and private obedience, show, and conformation classes. I have spent a good portion of my life training and showing dogs and horses. Call for times and dates.

The following explains my journey and theories in training dogs. I realize it is quite lengthy, but to leave anything out it be selling myself short.

I learned relationships are crucial to human well-being. Human-canine relationships do not negate the need for human companionship, but a relationship with a dog brings us, as humans, tremendous satisfaction and helps fulfill the need for love and acceptance. Human-canine relationships are proven to have important benefits to our physical and mental health and happiness. For many, developing and maintaining relationships with dogs may be difficult.

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 Although I was fortunate to have developed my relationship with animals early on, many people desiring relationships with dogs lack the knowledge and ability to develop the proper framework for a successful relationship with their dog. Many need assistance in selecting a breed suitable to their lifestyle, training the dog to be compliant to their wishes, and they are in need of the support necessary to help them bond with their canine. The social exchange theory, used by social psychologists, explains why some relationships fail. The theory explains that for a relationship to be successful, the benefits of the relationship need to outweigh, or be equal to, the costs of the relationship. It also relates to human-canine relationships. I have learned relationships with dogs require constant maintenance in order to adhere to the social exchange theory.

After developing and leading a tremendously successful 4-H dog program, for youth back in 1976, adults in the community began to seek me out. Adults needed assistance developing successful relationships with their dogs as well. I then began teaching humans dog psychology, which is simply defined today as the science of behavior and mental process that applies to all living organisms. Forty years ago, very few seminars, camps, or instructor training classes were available. Most of the research I did, along with other trainers in the day, was done on our own and then discussed at shows or over dinner and drinks. A great book shared by trainers interested in how animals learn, was entitled the psychology of animal learning, (Mackintosh, 1974) This was the book of the day on animal psychology and was studied and discussed extensively by trainers searching for more than just training methods. Much of my experience came from self-research as well as discussion with more experienced and very enlightened trainers of the day, as well as practical experience with dogs and human-canine teams. Unfortunately, even with all the study and research I did, we had no certification programs providing credentials to hang on the wall touting our expertise. Proof of expertise was the success of clients, their word of mouth, and repeat business. With my booming business, success in the show ring, and huge following of clients, I was too busy and simply never got any of todays certifications.

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After a short time, I realized I understood dog psychology perfectly. It was the human part of the relationships I struggled with. In order to assist my human students, I needed to learn more about the complexities of human psychology as they relate to relationships and human-canine bonding.

I read everything I could find on human-canine relationships.  Little was written on human-canine relationships at that time. What I learned was human-canine relationships fit into a relatively new field of scientific study called anthrozoology. Anthrozoology is a multidisciplinary field of study dedicated to human-companion animal interaction and relationships (Fine, 2010). The more I researched relationships of every kind, the more complex I realized human-canine relationships were. Each relationship needed to be assessed individually in a non-judgmental, valid manner depending on the attitude and needs of the human in the relationship. The importance of nurturing and understanding cultural diversity is also important. I have learned different cultures view relationships with dogs differently.

In order for a person to invest in a human-canine relationship, the dog needs to be compliant and obedient. In other words, the perceived benefits for the human had to out weigh the costs. Obedience training reduces the risk of relinquishment by re-aligning owner expectations of normal canine behavior and promotes emotional attachment. It has been reported only 24% of dog owners attend obedience training

The more I learned and passed on to my students, the more successful my business as a trainer became. Clients could see measurable therapeutic benefits associated with having obedient dogs. I became successful in teaching humans dog psychology, and I began to understand the basic psychology of human-canine relationships. I learned something new with each team I worked with. The experiential learning was more beneficial to me than any of the seminars or classes I attended throughout the years. I learned every dog and human is different, however, many similar traits are associated with certain breeds of dogs. I learned how different cultures view their dogs. In facilitating a lasting bond between the human and their dog, I realized I needed to assess the perceived reason for the relationship and attitude toward the dog. I learned motives for relationships are vastly different depending on culture, religion, biophilia tendencies (the theory of emotional affiliations of humans toward other, non-human life forms, anthropomorphic tendencies (projecting human emotions and cognitions to animals), and need. I know positive outcomes are highly dependent on the dedication of the human towards their dog. However, a smaller, but still important aspect of a successful relationship, depends on the canine. Age, breed, sexual behaviors, and prior experiences of the dogs can also help or hinder the progress.


 I learned much more than the relationship is lost if an instructor fails to orchestrate a successful relationship between human and dog. The responsibilities of the human toward the canine dissipate in a dysfunctional relationship. Many dogs are dumped, abandoned or euthanized if the relationship fails. I have observed the psychological effects of failed relationships. Failed human-canine relationships weigh heavy on both canines as well as humans. The reliability and reputation of the obedience instructor is questioned as well. Shelters are overflowing with wonderful dogs from failed relationships.

When I began training, finding mentors for myself who were not using fear-based, intimidation methods of training were few and far between. I knew these harsh methods wouldn’t work for me. I adopted firm, fair, positive training methods. Jack and Wendy Volhard were leaders in the field of firm but positive obedience training at the time. They soon became my mentors. They were known for adopting and using human psychology in their dog training methods. The Volhards developed a psychological test for canines to determine the natural drives (instincts) of each dog. Four drives are tested. Fear, is divided into two sub-categories, flight and fight. Fight drive is the dog’s desire to initiate and persist in confrontation, both physical and mental. Flight drive is the dog’s desire to run away from confrontation, both physical and mental. The next two are pack and prey drive. Pack drive is the natural packing instinct dogs have to be together, reproduce, and function as a pack. It is also the dog’s desire to work with the handler and be a member of the team.  Prey dive is the dog’s intensity in chasing anything moving away–catching, biting and carrying. Prey drive encompasses the dog’s natural, innate instinct to hunt. Each type of drive is scored from one to ten with ten being the highest level of drive in the category. The owner answers detailed questions about their dog. Yes and no answers are compiled in each category. The more “yes” answers, the higher the score for each drive. A clear psychological profile for each dog is derived from the scores in each category. The test helps determine what motivates the dog. Motivation is the “phone number” used to reach the dog. To communicate with the dog, pushing the right buttons activates his drives. Dogs with different drives require different training methods. The Volhards discovered and shared this extremely important piece of the dog-training puzzle.

After devouring all of the Volhard’s published materials, I spent a week in Syracuse, New York, at an instructors’ training camp. I learned to execute the Volhard’s methods, and become proficient at administering and assessing the psychological drives test. Since then I have mentored and taught thousands of human-canine teams in hundreds of classes, I have customized my training methods to suit my personal style, but I still administer the drives test to assess the needs of each team.

Most trainers use strictly positive reinforcement or strictly negative reinforcement, but, there are actually four quadrants of operant training. Using them in dog training is exactly the same as behavior analysts do to mold or correct children’s behavior. The first is positive punishment (P+), which is adding an aversive stimulus such as spanking, shouting, jerking with the leash (if training dogs not children), which will reduce the frequency of a behavior. Negative punishment (P-) is removing a desirable stimulus, such as attention to the dog or child when undesired behavior occurs. Removing the desired stimulus reduces the frequency of undesired behavior. Positive reinforcement (R+) is adding a desirable stimulus such as attention or a treat to increase the frequency of a desired behavior.  Negative reinforcement (R-) is removing an aversive stimulus such as the shock of an electric collar, tension on the leash, harsh words or ear pinch to increase the frequency of the desired behavior. I have incorporated the four quadrants of operant training in my program.


Over time I have used many types of training methods, some worked and some didn’t. I learned a lot using the methods that didn’t work. I learned exactly why certain methods didn’t work for me.  Some dogs are tough and need tougher training methods. Softer dogs do better with mostly positive training methods. Strictly positive trainers refuse to use choke, prong, or electric collars. I have found the training equipment to be only as harsh as the person on the end of the leash. All types of training equipment play an important role in training. Using choke collars, the dogs learn they can’t pull back and slip out of the collar like plain buckle collars. Prong collars are the safest collars for dogs that pull hard. Prong collars squeeze equally around the neck where other collars apply pressure to the esophagus. Electric collars are great when dogs are working off leash at a distance. I have benefited with my field trial dogs that work at great distances away from me. The stimulation intensity can be controlled from only a buzz to very high. Electric collars are very effective when leashes can’t be used. Dogs hate head halters, but these are beneficial in working aggressive dogs. Many trainers won’t work with aggressive dogs, but I have rehabilitated hundreds and find they are in desperate need of help. Owners of aggressive dogs make excellent students because they are willing to do anything to save the relationship with their dog.

Armed with knowledge of both dog and human psychology, based on research I had done, I devised an eight-week beginning class to help develop relationships between dogs and humans. Following the principles of human behavior set forth by Dr. Richard Malott and the Volhard method of training, my classes became a reality. I also developed an intermediate, advanced, showmanship and show obedience class. I not only teach obedience, I assess each relationship, and I am always available to coach and mentor all aspects of the relationship.


        I teach classes as if the human-canine pairs were preparing for a show. When a human-canine relationship has advanced to the point of becoming show-worthy, the success of the human-canine union is almost a given. Teams spend hours practicing and bonding. Extra care is taken in feeding properly, and grooming takes on a new priority. Many human-canine teams enjoy expanding their relationship to include competing. Dog competitions bolster human self-esteem and give the human a sense of accomplishment. The dogs feel successful and enjoy continued human interaction.

Competition increases the value of the canine in the eyes of its owner as suggested in the psychological social exchange theory. The biopsychosocial benefits affect both human and dog. Competing with a dog, calls for almost daily practice, requiring human and canine dedication, not to mention focus and physical conditioning.


In the beginning class, titled Basic Obedience, I teach basic exercises such as, sit, down, stay, heel, and come. I also teach clients and their dogs how to be social around other humans and dogs. Most importantly, I teach the human how to interact, train, and reward their dog. The beginning class is eight weeks. The classes meet once a week for roughly an hour, and are usually limited to 12-15 people when I have my assistants. Less people and more time are spent when I am working alone.  Some classes take up to two hours depending on the amount of material we cover and the more people per class. Class meets year round, with new classes starting approximately every three months.


Week One – Beginning Class

Week one is presented as if the students have never had a relationship with a dog. Over the years, I have learned not to assume people know and understand basic, important, aspects of dog ownership. The responsibilities of a dog owner, such as vaccinations, grooming, feeding, spaying, neutering, housing, attention to the dog, breeding, and all the clearances needed before doing so, are a few of the important aspects covered in week one. The Pros and cons of breeding are touched on. Crate training, denning instincts, and puppy care is also covered. Dog etiquette and local laws pertaining to dog ownership are discussed. I also explain that obedience is the basis of every aspect of dog ownership. Whether the desire is to have a well-mannered dog or one excelling in more specialized fields like protection, herding, agility, rally, obedience competitions, conformation, tracking, or nose work, obedience is the key. Obedience is the stepping-stone to a successful human-canine relationship.

Before actual obedience training begins, each team is assessed in terms of expectations of the relationship, and the psychological drives of the dog. At this point in time, each team is fitted with customized training equipment and advised on proper use. Also, a customized training strategy is devised to assist each team with training. Motivators are identified. Tone of voice, human body language, and proper eye contact, depending on the drives of the dog, is discussed. Reward, praise, and corrections are covered extensively. Suggested homework and training times are covered to prevent over or underworking the dog. Ten minutes once or twice a day is the recommended training time.  I explained the reason I want the dogs to work on the handlers left side.  Most humans are right handed therefore giving right-handed signals. Hunting dogs are out of the way of right-handed gun packers when they are on the left. Working the dog on the left is a show requirement as well.

The online Moodle course I devised is also used to complement the in-person, group classes, and acts as a means for communication throughout the week. The Moodle course has video documentation of everything covered in the group classes. Printed materials are available for download, as well as a downloadable MP3 training companion, to be played when working the dog at home. Class members can communicate with each other, as well as myself, download pictures, and share ideas and progress. Deciding to use the online class has proven to be very successful.

The obedience aspect of the class is taught according to show standards. Show ring knowledge is taught in case the human decides to proceed in that direction. A team deciding to show is almost a guarantee in terms of a successful relationship (Coulter & Pichot, 2007). Showing strengthens the bond between human and canine and extra care is given to the show dog. The human counterpart of a show team seeks additional knowledge. More time spent on practice pays off. More attention to grooming and proper nutrition comes into play as well.

Basic commands such as heel, sit, down, and stand, are introduced in week one. The commands are verbalized the first week and the dogs are physically placed in the desired position followed by extreme praise.  Repetition, praise, and mild corrections are the key to success in week one. Small achievable goals are assigned to each team. Treat usage is forbidden in week one. Dogs are to focus on the verbal command as well as the owner, and must learn to accept praise without treats. Some dogs become overly fixated on treats, ignoring the owner, verbal commands, and at time even praise (Fisher & Volhard, 1987). Owners are advised to continue with practice even though the dog seems to be making no progress.

Week Two – Beginning Class

Week two is the most exciting week in the eight-week series.  Treats and hand signals are introduced. Treats become the reinforcer, or motivator, for the dogs’ behavior. I have devised a way in which treats are held with the thumb of the right hand while keeping the palm flat and open. A flat, open hand is more visible to the dog. The handler gives the verbal command while introducing the dog to the treat held in the right hand. The hand signal is then executed. Knowing the verbal command, and the corresponding position from week one, the dog follows the treat and responds correctly. The treat is slipped into the dog’s mouth. The dog’s reinforcer is contingent on the response (Malott, 2008). We reinforce behavior, not the dog. The quicker the dog gets the treat, the more likely he is to repeat the behavior. In reality, the dog is following the treat but learning the hand signal at the same time. This contingency makes the human and canine feel successful. Success is a great motivator in obedience training.

The hand signal for the down is an open palm facing the ground, eye level with the dog. The hand slowly proceeds in front of the dog to the ground. As quick as the dog responds, slip the treat in his mouth.  The sit hand signal is open palm facing up, starting low and proceeding at an angle over the dog’s head. As the dog’s head follows the treat up, the hindquarters go down into a sit. The treat is then slipped from the thumb into the dog’s mouth, followed by extreme verbal praise. The hand signal for stand is an open palm facing down, level with the dog’s eye proceeding forward in a straight line in front of the dog. The dog follows the treat, take a couple steps forward into a standing position and receives the treat. Again, as always, followed with enthusiastic verbal praise. No hand signal is used for heel. When instructed to heel, the dog and handler must move forward on the left foot first. When doing a stay, the handler is to move forward on the right foot first. Being very in tune with body language, dogs are quick to figure this out. When the left foot leads, the dog learns to heel. When the right foot leads, the dog learns to stay.  On instruction from the teacher to halt, the dog is expected to stop and sit in heel position automatically without any verbal cue. I have learned when heeling is practiced regularly and correctly, the automatic sit is usually achieved in week three. The sit and down stay are introduced in week two. Dogs are placed in either sit or down positions and then verbally instructed to STAY. The hand signal for stay is an open palm moving quickly towards the dog as if to slap him in the face. The hand stops short of touching the dog. No treat is held in the hand. The dog would be inclined to follow the hand if a treat was implemented with the stay hand signal. Once the dog has completed a short stay, he is rewarded with a treat and enthusiastic verbal praise. Handlers are reminded to either use, or not use, eye contact with the stay command, depending on the drives of the dog. Different drives require different types of eye contact.

The importance of socialization is discussed at length. Dog addictions are very real and can severely damage the human-canine bond. Addictions of all sorts plague our canine companions.  Addiction is defined a physical or psychological need to regularly have something or do something which can be potentially harmful. Addiction is usually a dysfunction of the brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Addictions in dogs are usually breed related. For instance, a dog bred to herd or chase cattle or sheep, may be at a loss for something to herd or chase in town. So their natural instincts tell them to chase cars, bicycles, or children even if it is though fences. Suggestions for dealing with addictions are offered, and questions are answered this week. The theory of what I call reversal training is discussed. Up to this point, the dog has been training the human. The training is now reversed. Many dogs, like teenage children, become rebellious and act out until the roles are completely reversed. I explain what to look for and how to deal with problems derived from reversal training.



Week three – Beginning Class

Two new commands are introduced this week. The sit for examination, and both the formal and informal recall. The recall is a term used for calling the dog. The formal recall is used in show settings and the informal recall is simply used each time the dog is expected to come. The students are advised never to punish a dog after it is called and comes. The dog soon learns NOT to come if punished upon arrival. However, that doesn’t mean dogs don’t require corrections. I discuss how to give proper corrections that won’t hinder training. I help the owner in determining which of the four quadrants of operant conditioning would best fit the undesired behavior. For instance, with a very soft dog, (P-) may be a better choice of conditioning or correcting than (P+). In teaching the informal recall, treats are to be kept with the handler at all times, and for no other purpose, the handler calls the dogs name, getting his attention, and then follows it quickly with the word come. The dog sees the treat, runs to the handler to get the treat, and is then verbally praised and dismissed. Dog quickly learns to love the recall. No hand signal is taught for the recall in the beginning class. The importance of dental health is discussed, as well as diseases prevented by vaccination.  Digestive upsets, causes and solutions, are also covered in week three.


Week four – Beginning Class

I have realized learning plateaus are a big problem around week four. Many handlers become frustrated dealing with learning plateaus and give up this week. Learning plateaus are simply caused by mental overload and training stress. Patience and dedication are required to help the dog work through learning plateaus. I discuss this at length and questions are brought up and answered. Greater demands and greater rewards are expected this week.

The figure 8 is demonstrated and executed around other dogs. The figure 8 is a great socializing exercise. Another step to the formal recall is added. Dogs are required to sit in front of handler after being called.

The rollover and sit-up are two fun exercises added to lighten the intensity of training. I have found if the human is having fun, more than likely, the dog will have fun too.

Dealing with weather extremes, as well as things harmful to the dog, are discussed. The animal poison-control phone number is passed out. Recipes for training treats are shared. I have found the greater the interaction with the dog, even if it is as simple as baking treats, the more successful the bond becomes.



Week five – Beginning Class

Week five is one of the most intense weeks of training. The formal recall is complete with the finish being taught this week. After the dog is called, and sits in front of the handler, it is told to heel, which is referred to as the finish. The dog is then expected to return around behind the handler into heel position on the handlers left, or flip around into heel position. Both finish methods are allowed.The distracted recall is taught in week five. The dog is distracted, usually by me, and called by the owner. The dog is focused on the distractor and usually chooses to ignore the owner. The owner is instructed to call the dog and jerk him back to him, praising the entire time. The dog learns the consequences for not coming when called. One of the principles of behavior analysis is the consequences of past behavior cause current behavior (Malott, 2010). This applies to the distracted recall. A dog allowed to, or unintentionally trained, not to come, only results in the dog NEVER coming when called. After practicing the distracted recall, the dog remembers the consequences and gladly comes to the owner choosing the treat and praise over the distraction. This prevents the snowball effect of not coming, and nips it in the bud. I describe this exercise as a survival skill. This exercise should be practiced from time to time to ensure it is working properly when needed, as if testing other survival equipment.

All the commands for the eight-week class have been covered in week five. Now, success lies with proper practice and dedication.  Commands should now be incorporated into everyday life with the canine and time set aside strictly for practice is extremely important. Dos and Don’ts of correcting must be brought up and dealt with in week five. I describe over correction, which is a contingency on inappropriate behavior, requiring the person to engage in an effortful response that more than corrects the effects of the undesirable behavior (Malott, 2008). I remind the students to remain positive when training. I also stress the importance of continued reward. I compare the treat to a paycheck or an allowance if teaching youth. Reminding them how much they would enjoy working without pay. Achievements are noted and discussed.


Week six – Beginning Class

I review all commands and the proper execution of each command is demonstrated and practiced. The teams’ successes are celebrated. Existing and re-occurring problems are dealt with. The students enjoy discussing progress they have made and socializing by both dogs and their owners, is enjoyed.

Week seven – Beginning Class

Week seven is spent preparing for graduation. The actual score sheet used at graduation is explained to the students. Each team is worked individually and prior unnoticed problems are given attention.

Week eight – Beginning Class

Week eight is graduation. Graduation is the validation of hard work and the success of dogs and their owners. The graduation ceremony is performed to show standards. Each team exhibits their success to an actual judge. Graduation is celebrated with refreshments and pictures. Each team receives a diploma and a reward for completing the course. Finding a knowledgeable judge to validate the success of the human-canine team is important.  The students must respect the opinion of the judge in order to learn from their mistakes.


Intermediate and Advanced Class

The intermediate and advanced classes are considered the next important step in the development of the human-canine relationship. Up to this point, the human is simply learning how to handle and train the dog. The handler has little regard, other than a brief knowledge, of the dog’s drives or actual psychology. Dog psychology is deeply examined from here on out. Totally understanding canine drives is imperative to advanced training. Learning to recognize, and becoming proficient in switching drives, takes practice. Exercises are taught specifically on switching drives. Each exercise requires the dog to be in a specific drive. Jumps, tunnels, weave poles, retrieving, and specialized commands are taught in the intermediate and advanced classes. Show etiquette, rules, and regulations are also covered. The intermediate class helps the owners decide which areas of interest their dogs are best suited for. In the intermediate class, I teach the beginning skills needed for all venues.

After showing and teaching classes for years, I was asked by many non-sanctioned clubs to judge fun matches, 4-H shows and graduations. I attended many seminars and workshops for judges hoping to help my teaching abilities. I never aspired to become a carded judge. Becoming a carded judge seemed out of my league, almost unattainable.

In 1987 a friend and fellow Australian Shepherd exhibitor ask me to complete an Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) judging application. The need for experienced, competent judges was substantial. With that in mind, I began the application process. I began gathering documentation needed to prove my experience in the dog show world. Proof of dogs I had titled in both obedience and conformation was required. Letters of recommendation from clubs I had judged for were also required. I studied and reviewed breed standards, movement, conformation and obedience rules and regulations. I studied junior showmanship patterns as well as the rules and regulations governing juniors. I became very knowledgeable and figured all the studying and knowledge gained was worth it even if I was never approved to judge sanctioned shows.

Finally, in 1988, I received my judging license. My judge’s number was 52 in the Australian Shepherd Club of America record book of judges. Licensed for obedience through open, regular and non-regular conformation classes, and junior showmanship. I felt very honored to be allowed to judge. Everything I had worked so hard for had been accomplished. I felt humbled knowing I had been chosen to make such important decisions pertaining to humans and their dogs.


Dog shows started around 1859 and have continued to evolve into modern day competitions, thus creating a need for competent judges (Grayson, 1997). Simply stated, shows would not exist without judges. A definition of judge is to decide the merits of the dog and handler (Pearce, 1996).  But in the end, it all boils down to awarding prizes to the competitors. Basically, validating the success of the relationship between the human and the canine. Although there are many types of competitions and many types of judges, it is the judge’s job to fairly and competently, decide the merits of each team or the conformation of each dog. Without judges, competitive dog sports would not exist. Dog owners and fanciers wouldn’t be allowed the pleasure of competing with their dogs.

Receiving my license and understanding how important judging is to competitive dog sports and human-canine relationships, I judged my first show in 1988. It was a small show, in a barn, in Lehi, Utah. I still remember my Best of Breed Dog.

Through word of mouth, my judging career gained momentum. I became a sought after judge and traveled extensively throughout the Western United States. I was asked, and accepted the offer, to judge a large show in Thalfang, Germany in 2001. Judging in Germany was the experience of a lifetime. I met many new friends and very much enjoyed the small differences in the show. Germany does not allow docking, so seeing a ring full of Australian Shepherds with tails wagging was almost an emotional experience. The one universal similarity is the love humans, from all over the world, have for their dogs.



Upon returning home from Germany, I was approached by one of the young exhibitors to come live with me and do an apprenticeship.  Anna Bornhoft arrived in the summer of 2007, staying six months and working and showing with me. She returned to Germany in February of 2008. This was a privilege and learning experience for all involved.

Another high point in my judging career was in October of 2008 I was asked to judge the puppy and veteran classes at the ASCA Nationals, held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Aussie lovers from all around the world attended and showed their dogs to me to be considered for top honors. Many of the exhibitors I had judged while in Germany were there.

The human-canine relationship goes beyond geography, race, religion, or culture. Barring a few small differences, dog people love their dogs. The love doesn’t change at the end of the day with the color of ribbon they receive. This is one of the reasons I love judging.  Judging validates my faith in the human-canine relationship. Dog owners have spent hours training and preparing to enter the show ring. Judging these teams validates time spent as a team. Whether they win or lose, the facts are still the same; the team has spent hours in preparation. This statement was not intended to discredit the average person who spends equal time training and playing with their dogs. I have been fortunate enough to help develop successful human-canine relationships and judge them as well.


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