Thursday, June 22, 2017

This Is Your Dog's Brain on Cheese

In my conversations with other dog owners, I've been noticing a pattern.

Owner: Hershey absolutely will not come back to me when we’re outside. He just turns his ears off, especially when there’s another dog around.

Me: Oh, sure. We can fix that. To start, we’ll need some fabulous snack like hot dogs or roast beef…

Owner: It brings back memories. I remember being told years ago not to feed my dogs “people food” lest it reveal my weak moral fiber, and I remember the sneaky pleasure of finally getting permission from a bona fide dog trainer to just go ahead and pull out the cheese. What a crime it is that we’ve been told not to use our most powerful motivator when training a dog to do a really difficult behavior. Coming when called when off-leash seems to be the gold-standard behavior in this category. It’s what owners really want, sometimes it’s what they need for their dogs’ safety, and it’s many dogs’ lowest priority when they’re off having a good time.

Just like us, our dogs are making micro-decisions all the time. Split-second cost-benefit analyses. Consider these three theoretical scenarios, all of which involve getting you to leave your house.
  1. Your best friend invites you to a pizza party on an evening when nothing else is going on. You drop everything and rush out the door
  2. You have friends over for a barbecue and your great aunt Martha calls you up to come over to clean out her gutters. You groan, dawdle, make excuses, and show up reluctantly. She scolds you for your tardiness.
  3. A man carrying a gun breaks into your house in the middle of the night. You flee in terror.
Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. When most people recall their dogs, let's be honest: it's normally a great aunt Martha scenario. Am I right? You're at the dog park or in the back yard gardening, holes are being dug and squirrels are being hunted, and you call your dog to come inside. Where NOTHING fun is going on. And when he finally drags himself over, he is scolded for his efforts.
Or maybe you see yourself in the armed robber scenario. Many of us - myself included - were taught to use pain or the threat of pain (like a remote shock collar) to motivate our dogs. By golly, it works if you want a dog to vacate whatever he's doing in a panic.

But here's the thing. This is a long game we're playing with our dogs. Think past this one play, this one recall. You're not just getting a behavior today; you're establishing a pattern that will last years. Who's the person on that theoretical list whom you hope to hear from again and again? For whom would you do anything in the middle of the night, even if it were a tedious or inconvenient task?

Do you want to be great aunt Martha, an armed robber, or the person with a gravitational pull over your dog?
Those of us with dogs who will do a rocket recall have simply put to use a fancy technology: we throw pizza parties every time they come to us. And by doing so, over time, we teach them that coming to us - in fact, racing towards us - regularly results in a party of such epic proportions it simply cannot be missed. So on those rare occasions where we forget our treats at home, or the dog is tearing toward a busy street on the heels of a cat, the split-second cost-benefit analysis is already tipped in our favor.

Bottom line: you can nag or scare your dog into doing the same behavior that you can simply pay him for. It's a matter of motivation. You just have to set aside your aversion to using food in training and make it worth his while. Read the entire article

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Arrogance of Punishment

As a professional force-free dog trainer I often hear dog owners use the term “punishment” and understand it from their perspective as a word in common use.

Webster’s dictionary: 1 the act of punishing; 2 a. a suffering of pain or loss that serves as retribution; 2 b. a penalty inflicted upon an offender through judicial procedure; 3 severe, rough, or disastrous treatment.

I will address each definition in context of “punishment” as applied to pet dogs by their owners, rather than the use of the term as understood by professionals, with respect to operant conditioning.
First, as an American I acknowledge living in a punitive society, evidenced by the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.  Many of us were raised in homes where punishment was the norm.  My 30-year police career postured me to observe the behavior of citizens, looking for something to stop.  If that “something” was serious enough it resulted in arrest and likely punishment through legal process.

Dog owners often consider punishing unwanted behavior rather than rewarding favorable behavior.  As a trainer I shape the attitude of dog owners to look for opportunities to reinforce desired behavior, rather than look for something to stop.

Dogs have no moral code, yet humans cast upon them the anthropomorphic notion that dogs “know what they are doing is wrong” and so punishment is justified.  Dogs are roughly comparable to a two-year old human child.[1]  We do not assume toddlers “know what they are doing is wrong” or criminally prosecute them, so punishment is not a logical choice.  With short-term memory measured in seconds it also makes no sense to punish a dog long after the behavior occurred.

Second, inflicting pain or retribution upon a dog should never be a basis for punishment.  I find that concept disturbing, unethical and arrogant.  It puzzles me why some people feel justified in punishing animals for expressing their normal behaviors when we have the alternative of teaching them what we prefer.  Read the entire article

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Puppy Come…or I’ll Shock You??

By: Linda Michaels, M.A., — Del Mar Dog Training

Question: Can you tell us if you think training an emergency recall with P+ (punishment such as a shock collar) could, in any way, be preferable to using R+ (reinforcement, such as a treat or affection)?

Answer: This is such an important topic because both shock collar trainers and so-called “balanced trainers often use Recall/Come in demonstrations to the public or online, as a way to impress their audience and as means to tout the supposed superiority of their training method with “off-leash” training. Buyer beware!

Let’s be clear from the start – No, it would not be preferable under any circumstances in my opinion. Using Positive Punishment to teach Recall is antithetical to an Approach behavior by your dog — as well as a serious public safety issue. Bite “redirection” onto the pet parent is not uncommon in the face of shock and aversive training.

There isn’t any scientific evidence that I’ve been able to uncover that shows that using a shock collar for emergency recall in domestic dogs is effective AND/OR without significant risk of fall-out. Using shock often has known injurious side-effects, almost certainly, psychologically, and in some cases causing physical injury.

Nor, can any type of shock “training” in good conscience be termed “dog-friendly”. Don’t believe what a trainer tells you because they say they’re an “expert”. Anyone can throw up a beautiful website and crown themselves, “master trainer” in an entirely unregulated profession. I say…don’t hurt your dog…ever. Read the entire article

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Profession of Dog Training

By: Drayton Michaels, CTC - Urban Dawgs©

I've thought about this for some time now, and I cannot think of a parallel profession where someone is concerned that if they don't book the client, the client may end up in the hands of someone that will cause the client fear and pain. Humans AND Dogs are clients, and its the dog client that we're mostly concerned about as the human is making the conscious choices about the training. The dog is subjected to human choices.

Making this worse is the addition of false information about behavior that typically accompanies the pain training approach. Fabrications of the highest order get bandied about like it was empirical evidence to "sell" the client on using fear and pain, though that's not how it's sold, they use murky language like "leadership" or "showing the dog who's in charge", also "energy", talk about murky. Define "leadership energy". Funny I didn't see that in any text books on Applied Behavior Analysis.

I work quickly to respond to inquires about dog training not only as a matter of efficiency, but also as a matter of advocacy and education.

It is my hope that even if the potential client does not hire me, they'll at least consider not hiring a pain trainer. They'll have proper legit info on how dogs learn and the fallouts to using harsh punishment.

The profession of companion dog training is divided like sports rivals or religion, and it should not be, as if we look at dog and human behavior with a legit ABA lens, the best practices do not include fear and pain, and if the overarching goal is to help dogs and their guardians to live better lives with less stress, then why would issuing fear and pain be part of the process?

Indeed punishment can occur without fear and pain, an aversive does not have to be as intense as shock, choke, hitting, pinning or startling.

Disappointing a dog or removal of reinforcement works just fine and will keep sound dogs sound and dogs with behavior issues have less of a chance to sensitize. Seems like a common sense and safe approach to me.

It seems that a dog has to die or be seriously injured by a "trainer" in order for anything to be done, and even then it's typically dealt with a fine. In rare cases and depending on the lawyer and the state maybe jail time. There is no real aversive punishment for the pain "trainer" that really messes up a dog physically or behaviorally. They pretty much get away with it.

If we called the humane police and said "a person is electrocuting a dog", I wonder if they'd look the other way if that person called themselves a "trainer"?

If the authorities were called and told "a person keeps choking their dog with a metal device", I wonder if that would be ok if it was called a "training" collar?

Why is causing dogs fear and pain not a problem when it's labeled "training", but in any other context it's abuse? The same nerve endings are being effected and stress hormones are needlessly being emitted by way of humans causing fear and pain?

Why is it that companion dog training appears to be the only profession where the professionals are divided not by different scientific approaches, whether someone is aware of it or not aware of it, classical and operant conditioning are occurring simultaneously, and have long lasting effects. Nope, what the profession of companion dog training is divided by is; to use food rewards and Pre Mack conditioned responses, or the use of fear and pain to extinguish and maintain behavior.

I'm sure glad I'm on the winning team.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Think Outside the Food Bowl

By:  Robin Sockness©

Your dog’s feeding time is an exciting and very important part of his/her daily routine but just because it’s routine doesn’t mean it should be boring! The key is with meal time is enrichment protocols that you put into place by providing your dog with outlets for natural, dog behavior.

Dogs are natural foragers and like to problem solve.  They experience a “eureka” feeling when working on food challenges. Working on a food puzzle is rewarding to a dogs because of the tangible reward such of the food treat.

When dogs don’t get the opportunity to engage in enrichment and they lack outlets of natural behavior, they can develop all sorts of difficulties. Dogs need to chew, dogs need to chase, dogs need to sniff and track.  Dog food puzzle toys can provide all those outlets for your dog.

Dogs enjoy foraging and scavenging for food  - it’s a natural behavior for them.  How many times have you had your dog gather up a non-food item and devote plenty of time to destroying it?

Ditch the traditional food bowl!

  • Food bowls do little to encourage interaction between your dog and you;
  • Food bowls do little to teach the dog that good things come through from you;
  • Food bowl feeding wastes rewarding opportunities;
  • Your dog would prefer to work for his/her food;
  • Our typical feeding routines encourage a sedentary doggy lifestyle;
  • Using their brains is important for dogs and modern feeding practices of twice day dump it in the bowl don’t require much brainpower for your dog;
  • Food bowls are a modern day human convenience!
Think outside the bowl!

The Shell Game – Grab 3 cups or pet food bowls. Put your dog in a sit/stay, put a few pieces of food under one cup and shuffle them around. Tell your dog “find it”! When they choose the right cup, reward them with the food.

Buried Treasure –Take a couple dog blankets and layer them into a pile, randomly tossing kibble in the nooks and folds. Your dog will enjoy rooting through the pile to find the blanket pile to find the treasures!

Treat Dispensing Toys – There are great treat dispensing toys and puzzles on the market.  Nina Ottoson makes some of our favorites.

Treasure Hunt/Hansel and Gretel – Place your dog in a sit/stay.  Create a trail throughout the house, dropping kibble at regular intervals for them to follow. You want them to be close enough together that they stay interested, but far enough apart that they have to work a little to find them all. Bonus points if the trail leads to a food puzzle!!!!!!!!

Training and Socialization  If you have a puppy, then use some of the food for training!  Take food with you when you are socializing your puppy to create happy experiences.

My dogs have some favorite puzzle toys.
1.     Nina Ottosson toys – very durable and challenging!
2.     Kong Wobbler – holds a good bit of kibble
3.     Slow feed bowls made by Outward Hound, colorful and creative.
4.     Tricky Treat Ball – fun to roll around the house and it’s quiet!

Don’t just feed once or twice a day, make it fun for your dog!

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Thursday, June 15, 2017


Let's talk a little dog behavioral science shall we?

Environmental you know what they are? They are associations that exist between a dog's particular behavior and a consequence. Behavior is caused by and/or determined by environmental contingencies and circumstances. Associations can be adapted to either encourage or discourage certain behaviors. If you make them positive, you will have success. Suzanne Clothier says in her great book "If Bones Would Rain From the Sky" "In terms of our relationships with them, dogs believe that however it is we are acting, whatever it is we are doing is directly connected to that moment and to their own behavior in that moment.“

Behavioral contingencies....A behavioral contingency refers to the degree of correlation between the behavior and its consequence i.e. if I do this behavior, that is the consequence that will follow. The less time there is between the behavior and the consequence, the quicker and easier the dog can build that relationship. This is why I use a marker word. I use the word "yes". Many say "good" or use a clicker. Consequences should not include pain from devices such as shock collars, choke chains and pinch collars. Consequences should be humane.

Dogs are making associations at every turn, so pay attention to how you act/behave (environmental contingencies) and what you are reinforcing (behavioral contingencies)at any given moment. A dog's behavior is in the environment. Set your dog up for success. Make sure the consequences for behavior are timed correctly so that your dog will learn. Keep it safe, keep it positive and do no harm. Like Us on Facebook
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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Living with and Loving a Fearful Dog

Upward Hound Blog
Living With and Loving a Fearful Dog
It's a long game, right? Maybe you thought this dog was going to be like your last one. Happy-go-lucky, go-with-the-flow, low-maintenance. Your training goals were going to be house training and teaching him not to jump on your guests. Instead, your goals have centered around helping him navigate and feel comfortable in a world that doesn't seem built for him.
A few weeks after we adopted Bruce, my brother Brian visited us from out of town. My tall, bearded, ball-cap-wearing brother. To my shock and dismay, and to my brother's alarm, Bruce charged him from across the yard. The scene is still clear in my memory, as only frightening events are. Bruce threw his entire 75 pounds into an intimidation strategy designed to make Brian stop right there, and I'm not kidding around. Lunging, barking aggressively, air-snapping close to Brian's hands, and muzzle-butting him.
Wondering how to tell if your dog's afraid of something, by the way? To start with, a fear-based behavior is intended to increase the distance between the dog and the Scary Thing. Sometimes the message is, "I'll go away", and sometimes it's, "You go away", as in Bruce's case. Read more about how dogs show their discomfort and visit iSpeakDog, the best online decoder of behavior and body language.
That was just the beginning. As we soon discovered, Bruce wasn't just afraid of my brother. He was afraid of all unfamiliar people. But large bearded men in hats occupied a special place in his 9th circle of hell.
If you're like me, it's painful to realize that your dog lives in fear. Maybe your dog is afraid of other dogs. Or maybe it's people - all of them, or just a subset like children, bicyclists, or people in uniforms. You're equal parts heartbroken and embarrassed by your dog's behavior, and confused by the conflicting messages you get about how to "fix" an aggressive dog. Read the entire article

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