In the video, “A Doggy Christmas Surprise,” half-a-dozen dogs left alone in a Budapest flat trim a tree with great skill and holiday spirit. They roll up carpets, hang ornaments and lights, climb ladders, stack packages and swirl in garland. In a sequel, titled “A Doggy Summer,” many of the same talented canines crash a beach, where they set up an umbrella and sunning mats, float on boogie boards, play tug of war with towels, dig holes, catch Frisbees, play catch and generally redefine Beach Blanket Bingo. With nearly 9 million views, the videos are certifiable YouTube hits.
But the talents of the canine stars have been a bit of a mystery. Because the videos have Hungarian titles and captions and link to Hungarian websites, the question “how’d they do it?” has been hard to answer. We tracked down the lead trainer for the videos, Nora Vamosi-Nagy, who explained in her more-than-passable English (since we were woefully unprepared to conduct the interview in Hungarian) the story behind these fantasztikus videos.
The dogs in the videos were trained using the “Mirror Method”—what’s that?
The main idea is that everything is up to the owner. So, if you have a dog who’s not behaving or if you have a problem, then we usually say that you should look at what you are doing wrong and not put it on the dog. A dog is a mirror in this whole process, mirroring what you are doing wrong or good.
The Mirror Method has three parts. The first part is being the leader in the group or the pack. We don’t like to use the term ‘pack leader’ anymore because ethologists say that dogs are more like children; they look to us more as parents than leaders. But still if you are a parent to your child, you have to have some sort of leadership. You have to have respect in order for the dog to do what you say.
The second part is teaching, and we believe the best way today is clicker training. In the school, we teach in groups of 12 and the dogs are off-leash. By clicker training, I mean shaping. We teach every owner to shape something with the dog. They don’t have to use shaping in every teaching but they have to learn to shape. Because once you can shape something to the dog you start to look at the dog a different way, you start to see things that you didn’t see before, and start to use your hand and your movements consciously.
The third part of the method is lifestyle, which is very, very important. It’s not just taking the dog for a walk or physical activity but also you have to make the dog’s brain work and, most important, is to let the instincts work. If the dog is not mentally engaged, it can get sick and ill.
How did you learn the Mirror Method?
I was looking for a dog school where they let the dogs off-leash. It was really hard to find one. [This was seven years ago, when Vamosi-Nagy’s Dogo Argentino, Pako, was one year old. He’s in both videos.] Then I found Dogschool of Népsziget, and very, very soon I became the business partner of Gabor Korom, the leader of the school.
We work together but the Mirror Method is coming from Gabor. He has this idea that when you have a dog and you work with a dog it’s not only because you like the dog and it’s not all about the dog, it’s something about yourself. You can learn a lot about yourself if you have a dog.
Gabor was a Schutzhund competitor before, and he had good results. He was in the world championships. But he wanted to compete so bad that actually he made his dog sick, and no one could say why. So he quit the competition world, he started to examine the human-canine relationship. He started to listen, look at things and then to work on these ideas.
When I got in the picture, I was a really typical beginner-owner. But I had so many questions, he started to work on how to explain it so everyone could understand it. Today we work together with the leaders of the other dog schools. There are many, many people who put effort into making the method, always with new ideas.