Friday, April 13, 2018

Puppy Socialization

 "Why does my dog have a behavior problem?  I TOOK him to puppy class!"

I hear this - or variations of this - a lot.  Like, all the time.  In fact, at least half the dogs in my aggression cases have taken a puppy class.  That's way up from 10-15 years ago.

While more dog owners are aware of the importance of socialization than they used to be, the complex concept of socialization has been boiled down to almost useless sound bytes.  Online articles give generic advice like "Socialization is very important.  Enroll your puppy in a socialization class." 

I taught puppy classes for many years.  And I can say that even the best puppy class provides only about 5% of the socialization that a new puppy needs.

A puppy class is held in just one environment, with one group of people and one group of puppies. Imagine if a child were only exposed to two places - home and the same classroom - for the first 10 years of their life...they would not be a well-socialized child!  Socialization means exposing a puppy to many novel sights, smells, sounds, and surfaces, in as many different environments as safely possible, ensuring a pleasant experience in those environments, especially for (but not limited to) the first 14 weeks of their life, the critical period of socialization.

Basically, be prepared to come home from work and take your puppy on a safe socialization field trip to a new location every day for the first six weeks in your home.  After that, you can drop it to 2-3 days a week until your puppy is at least 5 months old.  Ideally, until your puppy is past the adolescent stage (approx 18 months old). 

Seem extreme? I didn't say these trips have to last for hours. They can be quick trips to the local grocery store parking lot or even sitting on a local park bench (keeping new puppies off the ground) for 10 minutes before heading home.  But you need to do something new every day. 

Or, you know, you could wait 6 months and then spend $900 or more to hire a trainer to help you undo your dog's leash reactivity or stranger-directed aggression.  Totally your choice.

Socialization prepares your puppy for life in your world, which frequently presents unusual and even scary situations. Read the entire article

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018


"When a dog ________, you have to _________ so he learns not to do that."

So goes most of the training advice of the last century. Human beings are amazingly creative when it comes to punishment (just look at medieval torture devices), and dog training is no exception. From devices that intentionally cause pain and discomfort, to innocent-seeming products like "The Pet Corrector," which is a can of compressed air, and ultrasonic "bark control" boxes.

Here are two problems with this line of thinking and the consumer industry that supports it:

1) It only occurs after the dog has ALREADY barked, jumped, run off, snapped, etc., and

2) Dogs don't misbehave just because they haven't been told not to.

Unwanted behavior is caused by a variety of factors that vary with each individual dog.

DOGS DO WHAT WORKS. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. It scares off the mailman (or at least that's how it appears to your dog). When a dog jumps on visitors, it gets people to pay attention to her. By allowing dogs to practice unwanted behavior, there's a better than even chance that the behavior will work for them BEFORE you can administer the punishment. Also, if your timing is off, the punishment won't be associated with the unwanted behavior, but with YOUR behavior. This is how dogs end up learning to avoid owners who reach for their collars, or worse, start to use aggression as self-defense, or quickly eat something after hearing "leave it."

So, what are you supposed to do? Outsmart your dog, that's what.  Read the entire article

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Monday, April 9, 2018

Learning Theory 101

Learning theory basics, part 1- Classical conditioning in dogs: beyond the training session

Most of us have heard of classical conditioning. Pavlov demonstrated how a neutral stimulus could become meaningful to a dog when followed by something that elicits a natural response. So when a bell, meaningless in itself, is consistently followed with food, the sound of the bell alone triggers salivation. This discovery had a major influence on how we understood learning and was a key element of Behaviorism, the most influential school of thought in the early 20th century. Even though today our understanding of behavior has broadened to also include cognitive, genetic and biological influences, classical conditioning still plays a major part in our dog’s behavior. And it’s not limited to training! All through the day, no matter how old, our dogs develop new associations that will influence how they feel, react and interact with the world around them. As their guardians and the source of most of their most basic needs, we play a fundamental role in what our pooch learns and how he feels about the world he lives in. A good understanding of classical conditioning can make a significant difference in influencing Fido’s behavior.

As Bob Bailey often says, Pavlov is always sitting on our shoulder. In other words, in every interaction between our dog and us or between our dog and the environment lies the potential to develop an association, positive, negative or neutral with the event. Since there is no need to learn to like food, dislike an electric shock or run away from a loud noise, this category of stimuli is said to be unconditioned. In other words, they didn’t require any prior learning to elicit a reaction. The principal behind classical conditioning is very straightforward. Anything neutral, like a sound, a place, a word or an event, followed with something naturally meaningful to the dogs (unconditioned), like food, an electric shock or a loud sound can become associated with either positive or negative things happening.  Read the entire article

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Premack Principle

The Premack Principle: preferred behaviors, or behaviors with a higher level of intrinsic reinforcement, can be used as rewards, or reinforcements, for less preferred behaviors. Eat your vegetables and you can have dessert...Grandma's rule! How does this apply to modern dog training? Fido sees a treat in your hand, you hold on to it until he offers you a behavior like sit, or down or some sort of disengagement.....a lesser preferred behavior gets Fido the higher level reinforcement.

Premack Principle: more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors. Use an activity Fido really enjoys to reinforce something that is ho-hum. example: You can reinforce a sit/stay with a tug session. Ball chasing for most dogs is much more reinforcing than dropping it! Teach Fido, that there is a relationship between the two: he must bring the ball to you (less desirable behavior - vegetables) before you throw the ball (more desirable behavior-dessert). Ball chasing reinforces the behavior of ball dropping and Fido will be more likely to drop the ball in order to earn your throw.

Premack Principle! It's your choice, Fido, I will throw the ball, but only after you return it to me!

Do you know what behaviors are highly reinforcing to your dog (what desserts does Fido like)?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

7 Reasons to Use Reward Based Dog Training

Seven Reasons to Use Reward-Based Dog Training

It’s amazing what we can do when we use rewards to train our companion animals. Here are some reasons to give it a try.

A happy dog waiting for a reward

Positive reinforcement is recommended by professional organizations

Many professional organizations have spoken out against the use of punishment in dog training because the scientific evidence shows that it carries risks.

For example, Dogs Trust recommend the use of rewards in dog training. “In order to be effective and to gain the best results, all training should be based around positive rewards. Positive reward training works because if you reward your dog with something he wants as soon as he does what you ask, he is far more likely to do it again.”

In their advice on finding a dog trainer, the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behaviour says “AVSAB endorses training methods which allow animals to work for things (e.g., food, play, affection) that motivate them rather than techniques that focus on using fear or pain to punish them for undesirable behaviors. Look for a trainer who uses primarily or only reward-based training with treats, toys, and play. Avoid any trainer who advocates methods of physical force that can harm your pet such as hanging dogs by their collars or hitting them with their hands, feet, or leashes."

Some organizations (such as the Pet Professional Guild and the APDT (UK)) and some dog training schools (such as the Academy for Dog TrainersKaren Pryor Academy, and the Victoria Stilwell Academy) have a code of practice that requires their members to use kind, humane methods instead of aversive techniques.

Read the entire article

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Dog Parks

By:  Drayton Michaels, Urban Dawgs, Red Bank, NJ
Urban Dawgs

Q - is it OK to take my dog to dog parks?

I do not recommend you take your dog to dog parks because they are fraught with potential disasters, let’s first discuss behavior.

You have a multiple dogs running around in play, what is known as “ritualized aggression” is in full swing and while there may not be a fear component to the “ritualized” aggression, it can turn really quick, especially because there’s lots of dog play which at times may be rough and very little if any proper human interjection with refereeing and shaping the play. The human refereeing and play shaping is what helps the play continue to evolve in a positive way.

There are millions of micro associations happening at the snout level when dogs are in play, dog parks are typically large areas where there is lots of space and while that helps play in some regards, it also makes refereeing and shaping the play more challenging. Dogs are not having the proper feedback from humans during the play at dog parks as many people subscribe to the mindset “the dogs are fine, they’ll work it out.

At any time a dogfight can break out and this is extremely dangerous to your dog as well as your safety.

Additionally, dogs may join in the fight even if they’re not involved due to the distress signals that they are hearing.

Then we have to factor in the potential for sickness whether it be other dog’s saliva whatever’s on the ground, and or on surfaces that your dog may lick.

I suggest socializing your dog with friends and family that have well socialized dogs and go to securely fenced backyard’s for dog play. That is safest.

If you do not have securely fenced backyard then I suggest fenced in tennis courts.
Make sure you shape and referee the play to keep things going well.

Dog play can be great and it’s a great way for dogs to socialize, expend energy and train around extreme distractions. Remember, make the safest choice for your dog, because that’s the smartest choice.
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