Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Part Three: APDT Practicum

Home two days and already using ideas in behavior change programs for clients, saving up for purchases from FitDogs and Good Dogs of America, as well as planning for January, Dog Training Month where I'll kick off the C.L.A.S.S. program.  A conference can be a huge boost to planning, profits and the APDT offers trainers a plethora of benefits.

I was impressed by the laundry list of practical benefits of membership.  The APDT conference offered an invaluable networking opportunity, and benefits of membership are members-only email list serv, the BarkBoard discussion board, an online membership directory and listings of regional trainer networking groups, just for being an APDT member.  We are always telling our clients to socialize and famliarize, this holds true in joining any organization.

While at this year's 2011 APDT conference a few new board members were elected, but my favorite is Casey Lomonaco of Rewarding Behavior's Dog Training, New York.

The conference planners provided on-site networking opportunities in the Round Table Discussions (I attended one where we talked about Treibball), lunch offerings (a concession of goodies), the question and answer sessions with speakers (after presentations) and in the Exhibit Hall filled with everything a dog trainer could want from demonstrations to freebies. There was a business card, brochure and tattoo competition. Who won what is still unknown to me. What it was, was a chance to see the various designs and see where everyone was located. A huge community board allowed personal notes for meet and greets in a central location.

Goodies. Besides socializing, this is one of the fun parts of the conference, all the freebies and goodies from the conference goodie bag filled with treats, clickers and more. The day prior to the conference I helped fill these bags and there were lots of others doing so as well. The bags themselves were really nice and provided by Kong.

In the exhibit hall, booths were set up and had various free items, such as frisbees, pens (lots and lots of pens), contest sign-ups. Did I win? Who knows, obviously not. Still I got Frisbees, free bones for puppy Valor along with bags and bags of free treats.

Not only did I meet Facebook friends, but specific group friends, like members of Truly Dog Friendly and Force Free Trainers Group. From left to right (all are Facebook friends, Force Free Trainer's Group; and members of Truly Dog Friendly) Leslie Fisher, Maryland; Laura Dorfman, Chicago; Marilyn Wolf, CCPDT board, Florida; Diane Garrod, Washington; and Rise VanFleet, Pennsylvania.

Continuing in the spirit of education - because as you know, "education is empowerment for dog trainers" I will use one thing I learned daily until October of next year, when the 2012 APDT conference will be held in northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, Ohio. The date is October 17 through the 21st. Saving pennies now to attend and in the meantime, completing all the ideas that pertain to me and my business, Canine Transformations Learning Center. Until, next year - I'm "Catching the Next Wave."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Part Two: Understanding Concepts and Putting Ideas Into Action

The high of a conference can be likened to traveling at 30,000 feet in an airplane. You have no control over incoming ideas, what people say and sitting in an upright position for hours on end can be very tiring.  Once you've landed, however, it is time to understand the concepts you just learned, pull out that suitcase filled with ideas and put those ideas into action.

Understanding concepts means reviewing notes, re-reading the wealth of information provided in the APDT conference workbook and if purchased, re-watching some of the conference presenters in the conference DVD series.

A few concepts presented this year, 2011, with the theme "Catch the Next Wave" were:
  • Punishment. "People confuse punishment and management."And,"Reinforcers are defined by their outcomes." Karen Pryor, Keynote speaker. A reference was made to "Punishment and Fallout" by Jackie Parkin and another not mentioned piece "Coersion and its Fallout" by Murray Sidman. Both help in understanding the concept of punishment.
  • House soiling. Did you realize that this is the most frequently listed behavioral reason for relinquishment of both dogs and cats. 2000 study by Colorado State University on behavioral Reasons for Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats to Shelters presented by Teoti Anderson, CPDT-KA "To Pee, or Not to Pee? 
  • Doorway Class? Oh yes, what a great idea by Trish King, CPDT-KA, CDBC  in "Better than a Fence - The Wait".
  • Vibration equals periodic movement. Joshua Leeds "Through a Dog's Ear" talked about sensory awareness, integration and enrichment.  Recently, Through a Dog's Ear combined sound desensitization and placed both into a four series CD in conjunction with Victoria Stillwell. These were available at the conference and friend Leslie Fisher of Look At What I Can Do Dog Training, Maryland, graciously bought me a set as a gesture of friendship!!! The concept will be incorporated into a sound desensitization class structure.
  • Training. In an "Introduction to Impulse Control" Pamela Reid, PhD, CDBC gave seven tips. Coach daily; micro-manage; train whenever dog is present; low-environment stimulation and distraction; high ratio of reinforcement; quick succession and repetition; and limit self-control exercises with burning off steam. The last concept was ultimately vital to me in the compilation of and the theory behind my emotional de-stress/detox in that it requires high intensity relaxation interspersed with high level activity. AND "The response you get is the communication you give." Trish King.
  • Neuroscience. Regions of the brain are linked to emotion, the reactive system or amygdala and the reflexive or ventro-medial prefrontal cortex. Presenting "Impulsivity - A Veterinary Behaviorist's Perspective" mentioned in Part One of this series, Dr. Petra Mertens, MED, VET, MSW, FTAV, DECVBN-CA, CAA, DACVB, LGSW challenged the thought process of those present. AND "The neurons that connect or are wired together, fire together" Suzanne Clothier. Important to know when teaching self-control in puppies.
  • One minute. "Using household activities to improve self-control and increase responsiveness" presented by Suzanne Clothier. Suzanne stated that short bursts of training were most effective and for busy people, vital. Fitting one minute bursts of training and recognizing teachable moments were the key to getting the job done. 
  • Stress. "Cortisol in blood does not decrease with shock training or electronic spray, which means the dog is still stressed," Grisha Stewart, MA, CPDT, CTC in "Bat 1101 for Reactivity: Coping and thriving in the real world." A compelling conceptual statement further showing dogs who are relaxed and calm can and will learn better as stress is relieved.
  • Nutrition and Behavior. Dr. Valli Parthasarathy, PhD, DVM attempted to broach this topic, but the bottom line is that very little is known on this topic and peer-reviewed studies are contradictory. Commonly heard is carbs cause hyperactivity; raw/grain-free diets decrease aggression, but these are all anecdotal and stories need more research, more data compilation. There are controversial and even opposite findings on studies where tryptophan supplementation was used. Studies done with food delivery and behavior found that food delivered through interactive toys decreased barking. This may well have been one of the most compelling concepts. It was also noted there are no studies on obesity and if losing weight changes behavior to less irritibility. References are;;
  • Client understanding. "Know your learner," Hannah Brannigan MS, CPDT-KA, KPA -CTP in "From clumsy to competent: Teaching mechanical skills" and Rise VanFleet, PhD, CDBC on "Strategies for working with punishment-oriented dog owners" stating in human change process there are three main things that predict success: a - basic competence in the approach you are teaching; b - your enthusiasm for what you are teaching; and c - the quality of your relationship with the client. All good advice because as behavior trainers we are not only working with the dogs, 90% is teaching clients.
These concepts are a few of many, but show how much professional trainers have to absorb, understand, learn and implement. Understanding concepts, applying them to daily interactions with clients and being creative with these concepts means being better tomorrow than you are today in your education as a trainer. 

Putting ideas into action is self-explanatory. For me and my business, Canine Transformations Learning Center (cTLC) it means being a better resource to my clients, understanding the dog from the inside out, knowing there are no recipes only individuals, and adding ideas like BAT, like platform training, relaying the one-minute concept to busy clients and starting a "Doorway Class" and/or a "Sound Desensitization Class" just before the Fourth of July and add how to use Thundershirts in that particular class situation.

Now, come into the runway for the landing. Prioritize or everything learned will become overwhelming. Put it into order for what is doable in 2012, whether that is adding a class or two, getting a certification, embracing a concept with clients or focusing on a theme.  It's all in a day's work, a day in the life of a behavior trainer.

Next Part Three: APDT Practicum. What did it mean to me?

Part One: Education is empowerment for dog trainers

A day in the life of a behavior trainer needs to include education. Education, as in not only webinars, talking with colleagues, reading, but as in continuing education with organizations such as the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) and attendance at their annual conference.

This blog will be a three-part series focusing on my experience as an attendee and broken into three topics to include, education, understanding and APDT practicum.

Pulling out the key factors this APDT Puppy (that would be me) focused on will include my favorite speakers; my favorite topics of interest; what spoke to me in my experiences there and what ideas did this experience generate for the betterment of my business, Canine Transformations Learning Center.

On the flight home from the 2011 conference city, San Diego, I mind-mapped the pieces I wanted to talk about. In flight, I decided to use flying as the comparison to being a new conference attendee

What is the first thing you have to do when flying or attending a conference?.

Reserving and preparing. Reserving your spot is a no-brainer, but reserving add-ons (like in this case a behind-the-scenes trip to San Diego Zoo or Seaworld) means doing so quickly as they fill up fast just as you need to plan in advance for special in-flight meals or needing special equipment during flight.

Preparing for the trip means planning a comfortable wardrobe, knowing transportation available and cost and what amenities the hotel itself provides. Each city will be vastly different. On the last day of the conference, conference roomie Leslie Fisher, Look What I Can Do Dog Training and Products, and I discovered we could have taken a "trolley" located just behind the Town and Country Conference Center to anywhere in the city for $2.50 one way or $5.00 RT versus taxis (about $25 to 30 depending on where you were headed) or hotel shuttles, which were not always available or non-existent in some cases. Shuttle service was also available instead of cabs (not hotel shuttles but general shuttles) for half the price of a cab. These things are good to know if you are on a budget.

When flying the friendly skies you may start out in coach and with questions. The same is true in an educational conference, but what I liked "somewhat" was the APDT conference puppy orientation and the resulting conference puppy card, a bingo game of sorts where one collects stickers for doing certain things at the conference. Designed to get new attendees to sample a plethora of activities and to get involved, it is a great idea.  Did I do all the items? No. I lost interest when it became clear stickers were not being made readily available in key destinations. I did two activities on the card for which I was not awarded a sticker for completion and just gave up. Did I get something out of it? Yes, it got me to be aware of the offerings at the conference and was exciting for awhile. Did I get a bingo? Yes vertical and horizontal. Do I know what prize I won? No clue. Not flying first class at this point, but that is earned. My next conference will find me more conference savvy. For those reading this who are already conference savvy, perhaps you can relate to my experience in memory or hindsight.

The sheer fact that there were 48 states and 13  countries represented in the hundreds of people in attendance speaks for itself. The offerings, the people, the activities were mind boggling and I truly was impressed by all who make this conference happen! I was certainly flying through the friendly skies as an attendee, as everyone I met, talked to, questioned were amazing, helpful, cordial and smiling. For a newcomer deciding whether or not to renew APDT membership and take the CPDT exams this experience was quite positive.

Positive is what I am into. Reward-based is what I am into. Results-oriented is what I am into. All were available to me from conference speaker's topics to meet and greets and conference materials.

As I got my feet wet and started my journey, lift-off took me on some truly incredible educational jaunts.

Intermediate/Advanced and Scientific Tracs were the focus of my educational experience. What I found for myself was that the Scientific Tracs and Advanced Learning sessions were the ones I loved most, that's just me, and my favorite speaker/presenters were those that may not be as well known by the general dog training community (NOTE: Some are very well known. My reference means less known to "me".). Similar to flying, each person will order up something different when the drink and food cart comes down the aisle. Some will be hungry, others thirsty and still others will not eat at all as they will be too tired or too talkative. I ate and absorbed each educational tidbit offered in my areas of interest.

My favorite speakers. The first two days out of five all attendees went to the same discussions in the same conference room. The audio-visual was amazing.

The last three days were broken into attendee choice in four topics or pre-paid and pre-registered mega topics, meaning closed topics not for general attendance.

The speakers I loved you may never have heard of, such as Jeff Andrews, San Diego Zoo and Dr. Petra Mertens.

"Positive is good for everyone" a talk about the elephants of the San Diego Zoo. Presenter Jeff Andrews, Associate Curator of Mammals at the San Diego Zoo, asked "Why are positive relationships important?" The answer was "Train the animal to WANT to participate INSTEAD of using force." The elephants of the San Diego Zoo originally went from traditional training into a positive reward-based training environment (which was controversial at the time) at the San Diego Zoo. Compelling video backed up, without question, the complete and visible difference. The difference portrayed in the video presentation showed calm, interactive elephants living in family groups instead of elephants wearing leg chains, being prodded, forced and resulting in stressed living conditions.

Hands-off training of elephants can be found in an article by the Los Angeles Times written by Tony Perry and further describes the tone of the talk. What did I like best about Andrews presentation? He said: "The elephants don't know the meaning of "No"!" I'm always saying this about my dogs and people just don't get it at times, and I thought I was the only one using this phrase. I was happy to see someone else gets it. Where an animal is shown what to do, instead of punished for what they shouldn't BE doing, negative words are not needed in my opinion and experience as a behavior trainer. Great job Jeff Andrews!!!!

"Perfectly perched: Teaching dogs to turn on a dime" presented by Hannah Brannigan in the APDT's new series of 20-minute talks called Resources*Education*eXcellence or REX for short. I loved these short, concise and to the point talks. I loved Hannah's presentation because I've seen videos of her performance in RallyO and the precision she has with her new puppy. I had wondered how she got this precision and this clarified my curiosity. I describe it as "brilliant" and a head slapper, well of course! If you ever can catch the platform training Hannah does, you will not be disappointed. I plan to use it for Treibball training and training my new puppy, Valor to RallyO and Obedience precision.

I also loved Hannah's presentation on "Teaching mechanical skills" to clients. She thought it wasn't as sexy as some of the other talks, I thought it was fabulous and learned a lot about how to "reword phrases" used with clients to get increased productivity. As trainers, how we communicate with clients and teach creatively is key to flawless understanding in a classroom setting.

This was just the first day.

Other speakers that made me think were Dr. Petra Mertens with her talk on "Impulsivity - A Veterinary Behaviorist's Perspective", which resonated to me in my compilation of case studies on a topic I'm working on for book content dealing with emotions and stress, focusing on destressing or detoxing prior to behavior modification and/or training. I was mesmerized by her talk and found her engaging and funny!!

Equally, I absorbed data on canine nutrition by Dr. Valli Parthasarathy. What I discovered was that there is "little" known data on canine nutrition and the field is wide open for studies on the topic. Enjoying tremendously the to-the-point manner and humorous style of Suzanne Clothier left me contemplative and laughing. Suzanne's C.A.R.O.T. classes would be a must-attend for me. Suzanne Clothier has written books such as, "Bones Would Rain From The Sky" and "Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs". I laughed hysterically through Susan Sternberg's  "Teach any dog to retrieve" presentation and found myself nodding over and over again in "Generating great press: Even when they're against you" presented by Teoti Anderson and Grey Stafford.

What I discovered is what I already know, never take yourself too seriously and always have a good sense of humor when working with dogs and their owners.  With my work with difficult dogs, this is a vital and needed tool in the classroom.  Like standing too long in airport lines, or having a flight cancelled, always take your humor with you, it makes everything a better experience all around.

Like a relaxing bath or shower, or a long flight, ideas were stimulated by the sheer mass of information acquired over the week long experience. Who will benefit? Canine Transformations Learning Center (cTLC) clients.

2012 company goals will include 1) introducing APDT's C.L.A.S.S. process and becoming an evaluator whereby student dogs can earn their BA, MA and PhDs. My certifications will increase further as I 2) take the CPDT test and become an APDT member with the goal to join the Treibball committee and the newly created Therapy Program (at least those are my intentions). And 3), Treibball instructor certification is also a top goal for 2012 to bring the best and most complete knowledge to cTLC students. Discovering January 2012 also represents APDT's  "Dog Training Month", cTLC's curriculum will coincide to celebrate the occasion.

In addition, I got super ideas for additional workshops or mini-classes, such as "Desensitizing For A Trip to the Veterinarian" and "How to Clip Nails Positively" and "Impulse Control for Reactive Dogs" and shaping a tolerance of impulse control.  These issues are and can be a cause of great frustration and distress in dog owners and, indeed, could bare a singularized focus in content.

Next: Part Two: Understanding Concepts and Putting Ideas Into Action. Attending conferences comes with personal commitment to better one's business. Ideas are only ideas until they are put into action and comprise yet another day in the life of a behavior trainer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Absorbed in the world of puppy training


Getting a Belgian Tervuren puppy just four weeks ago, qualifies the title of this blog. Absorbed in daily activities, grooming, training, nurturing, setting rules, guidelines and boundaries, nutrition, health care and more. Raising a puppy is a time consuming and often frustrating job. It is no wonder so many teen month pups end up in shelters, rehomed or worse.

Puppy and Client Work Much The Same. As I was doing a walk and train with Valor (read more on my  FB page Raising Valor today, my mind wandered to client work. Raising a puppy is very similar to re-training, re-socializing a reactive or aggressive dog.  As we  walked we did exercises in watching single and double person approaches, mark or click watching OR giving a calming signal, and feed either for looking automatically at me or walking away from and repeating it over and over until it become irrelevant.

Making Triggers Irrelevant. In training through reactivity or aggression, making the trigger ineffective, and inefficient are what lead to irrelevancy. Whether that is human socialization, dog socialization or familiarization to the environment. We did many types of exercises that I normally do with clients, such as:

  • Car goes by fast - click for watching calmly, move away or sit and treat OR open and close bar. I use a combination of things to keep it interesting. My puppy, Valor, now watches, turns away or sits automatically when a car approaches. He sees me keeping him safe and I keep his herding instincts in check.  Providing lots of herding type activities is the key to getting through cars, trucks, joggers.

  • Approaches are hard for reactive dogs, people approaching fast, or dogs on lead while people talk, hold objects and/or handle cell phones. Doing real life and mock set-ups help pups adjust to what ever comes along.

  • Sounds happen and suddenly, a police car zooming by or emergency vehicle or fire truck and what about gun shots at the local gun range or barking dogs at houses you are passing. Click/treat calm, reward.  Sounds so simple and yet this is the very thing puppies are missing all over the world.  Having just one bad experience can stick with a dog for a lifetime because they are programmed to survive. A dog can't afford to make a mistake, as that could cost them their life or their next meal.  With that in mind, the critical learning months become easier to understand. Dogs are, of course, always learning and so looking at the way a puppy learns and comparing it to a reactive or aggressive dog re-learning skills are, in fact, similar in nature.

As simple as these exercises sound, they require due diligence, consistency, persistence and lots of reward for doing the right behavior. There is no need to ever raise a voice, pull, tug, or use aversive pain devices.

The more volatile a dog, the more going backwards and re-creating their environment, their boundaries, their experiences into more successful scenarios becomes vitally important.

Widen World Slowly. In the case of reactive/aggressive dogs vs. puppies their world needs to slowly widen, meaning it needs to start small and slowly grow as they become better and better at their daily learning. I always make a reactive or aggressive dog's world smaller and slowly work them outward into bigger areas. That depends, of course, on the situation and the dog. Some dogs are already in a too small universe and so from their I widen their world and teach them to handle each thing that comes along, slowly.

Break Down Triggers. When working with my puppy, I break down the triggers. I don't work with them all at once, but I allow him to become comfortable with each trigger individually. For example:

Fast moving vehicles
People approaching
Men staring
Dogs barking
The fire hydrant down the road that looks like a munchkin

Change The Meaning. All these I go into training mode to "show" pup they are okay and apply a different value to it. Instead of scary, they become fun to look forward to. This means teaching the puppy coping skills. What to do when the scary, rattly truck comes up from behind.

This makes a huge difference whether training a puppy or training a reactive dog. Both contain value in the way it is done.  Split things up, as Bob Bailey, renowned positive trainer and founder of chicken camp, says, instead of lumping things together.  It is much more effective and longer lasting.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Mystery of the Human Aversive Response to Dogs

Blogging has slightly been put on hold for the rearing of puppy, Valor. Read the puppy raising tutorial at "Raising Valor".

Also before continuing, here is an update on the last blog post "Hatchback Trauma" - 9 MO Labrador Retriever is going in and out perfectly and what was once scary has now been reconditioned to FUN! New problem: crate - she got sick in there and now doesn't want to go back in. Life with puppies is filled with challenges.

Lately in my consultations work I have walked in on owners wielding shock collars, prong collars, and citronella collars in the name of "training". In my opinion, none of these are ever needed IF YOU are knowledgeable and educated in +R methodologies, which are based in science. Trying to get that through the heads of dog owners is an ongoing challenge for many reasons.

What I'm seeing is the popularity of down and dirty, quick and easy with little regard to fallout and what damage the dog owner is really eliciting. Turid Rugaas says it wonderfully in her little book about barking as being the COMMUNICATION of the dog. The devices aforementioned are one thing and one thing only, a cut off of communication by manipulation. There is no other intent except the mind set of "make my day". It is laziness. People who don't understand that dogs bark, need not bother to get one.

In the talk of those who LOOK like professionals, the supposed experts, to the average dog owner is what is making these devices go into the companion dog owner's hands, as well as I hate to say it, dog trainers. People will continually take the advice of relatives, people on the street, friends versus a professional or seek a professional who claims to use devices humanely. Oxymoron. The owner thinks, well let's try that, see how it works.

I'm not the only +R behavior trainer concerned with this matter. Here are articles I read just yesterday on this topic.

Zap versus tap - a rose is a rose is a rose by Anne Springer in the Boston Examiner. Quote: "I have seen dogs who understand when the e-collar comes off, and don't want anything to do with the trainer until it goes back on. I once rescued a former hunting dog who, when I put a second collar on him would cringe and submissively urinate."

The Dog Whisperer: Frequently Asked Questions by Lisa Mullinax, CPDT at 4 Paws University. Quote: "Personal observations and beliefs may feel like strong arguments, but they are not enough to disprove decades of scientific research."

And the article that really made me sit up and take notice, as the first American born of German immigrants and why people would inflict pain in the first place on fellow human beings or animals. One of the best and most compelling articles I've read all week.

The Miligram Experiment and how it relates to dog training by Leah Roberts in the Orlando Examiner. Quote: "In 1961 Stanley Milgram set out to explain how so many people could heartlessly participate in the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Many war criminals justified their actions by saying that they were ordered to carry out these atrocities on other humans and had no choice." AND "If you have a training or behavior issue with your dog, be very careful whose advice you listen to, and especially careful who you hire to help you. There is never a need to use fear, physical force, intimidation or pain in order to train a dog. If an "expert" tells you to do something that makes you in the least uncomfortable, listen to your heart!" Read on to find out how Leah ties these two things into one tidy package.

The second quote is what +R trainers know without doubt. Working with aggressive and highly reactive dogs myself, there is never a reason to use pain to change behavior and pain is what has more than likely caused the behavior to occur. There is definite fallout to these devices. My purpose for today's blog is that my patience and my good nature are wearing very thin when I see client's lying, or I see them try to work a quick fix pain device to stop the behavior. They've watched a show, or looked at a catalog, or read misinformation and so why not give it a try. Unsuspecting Fido has no clue what is about to happen to them.

Recently, I've had two incidences of citronella collar desperation. Owner desperation to stop dog from barking. Does this collar stop barking, yes. It totally stops any communication this dog would intend to give. What happens if you take off the collar? More likely, the dog will bark worse than before the collar. Are there other, more humane methods? Yes, my three-bark-rule for instance. Let's take a deeper look at the Citronella Collar.

Citronella Collars

What is it?
How does one think the citronella collar is activated? It is electronic and according to The Daily Puppy on the risks of citronella collars "It sprays a small burst of citronella on the dog when activated."

What's in a citronella collar?
Citronella oil is a potent source of chemicals used in perfumes, bath soaps, cosmetics, and flavorings. Those opposed to the testing of cosmetic products on dogs would never use citronella as a training device, or would they? They are desperate, after all.

Citronella oil is an active ingredient in insect repellents and in non-toxic bio-pesticides. Dogs hate the smell of citronella and is why it works. Spraying an insect repellent in a dog's face? Well, what does that say about about the person?

What is the fallout?
FIrst, a fear of having a collar on or placed on them is a real tragedy. We all have relatives or people we think talk too much. If we used an option of spraying citronella in their face or hot sauce to stop them from talking, we'd be arrested for doing harm. As for the dog, we're talking a "fear response" here, and this is nothing to take lightly. A dog afraid, is a dog living an exhausting and scary life.

Secondly, there can be health risks with the use of citronella especially in dogs sensitive to allergies.

Third, the behavior is still there, over-barking, and always will be, because the core of the behavior has not been "bothered to be" identified. Take the collar off and the behavior worsens. Pain wielding tools are a sign of laziness and misinformation. This type of collar addresses only the symptom, making a dog afraid to bark, to communicate. It does nothing to address the problem of why the dog is over-barking in the first place, which can have many reasons. The owner of the dog may indeed be responsible for WHY the dog is over-barking.

Shock Collars

Periodically, I'll get called in to behavior problems gone bad with dogs wearing shock collars or behind electric fences. When are people going to get a clue that dogs are feeling and emotional beings who can be stressed. They respond to touch, to pain. They eat, they poop, they feel happy or sad, depressed or challenged, pressured and when shocked, they learn to be helpless. This is NOT manners, this is shut down, learned helplessness.

An article by Inga McKellar and Matt Ward of the Association of Pet Behavior Counsellors addresses Shock Collars, The Shocking Truth. There are many such articles debunking these devices from top professionals in understanding of dogs, dog training, veterinary medicine and the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers).

Prong Collars

"I feel safer" may be the mantra of a dog owner wielding a prong collar. Safer? A good hard jerk to the neck of a dog may make one feel safe, if that is what you are into, but the reality is the dog will associate pain with whatever it is you jerked them away from. As long as you feel safe, I guess it makes it all okay. My opinion is it makes one feel strong, superior, and it certainly takes any feeling of safety away from the dog.

The dangers of pain devices are innumberable and farther reaching than the illusion of a quick fix for a behavior problem. In articles I've written in the past I talk at length on this topic:

Teaching and educating dogs is far superior to these methods and much longer lasting without adverse side effects. The difference is the dog is a happy dog who trusts you, not fears you. One can't wield a pain device, unless there is intent to do harm. This is called aggression, the behavior problem we call in the experts to help with in the dog and yet, there it is in the human counterpart. Who does the dog call to deal with this issue?

I'm issuing this one day challenge to those who repudiate or want to argue the point. It is pretty simple. For one whole day, from the time you get up in the morning, until you go to bed at night put on one of these devices. Wear it at the level you expect your dog to endure. By day's end, if you love it, if you love having your communication broken down, love being controlled by aversive devices, love the pain involved, well, then you may want to seek the help of a professional for yourself. Most won't endure it for even one full day. The difference between you and your dog in this challenge? YOU have the freedom to take it off, if you don't like it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hatchback trauma

The nine-month-old yellow Labrador Retriever looked at the back of the imposing Jeep hatchback as though there was impending doom. Three times trauma would do that to a dog. Just one week ago male owner wanted to "get rid of the dog". Why? She won't get into the zone called the Jeep Cherokee hatchback space.

Her owners were frantic and said "help us fix this!"

The day in the life of a behavior trainer includes transformations such as these. The complication? One owner uses a clicker, the other uses confrontation.

Most trainers might suggest sit and click and treat and then wait or simply pick the dog up and toss "er" in the back. :) I wanted to put another technique to the test, a technique by Grisha Stewart of Ahimsa in Seattle called BAT. BAT or Behavior Adjustment Technique has gotten notoreity as of late and several DVDs and books have transpired.

The difference between this technique and simply "clicking for calm" coined by Emma Parsons is when the dog exhibits a calming signal toward the trigger, the click does indeed mark that signal, but then you walk back several steps, 10 to 15 to deliver the treat and repeat. This not only gives the dog a choice, but shows the dog they can have success making the scary trigger, less and less so.

Using this technique at 25 feet away from the "black hole" of the hatchback, within 1/2 hour the yellow lab pup was jumping in and out of the Jeep Cherokee. Owners were in disbelief. We couldn't yet have her do a prolonged stay, nor close the hatchback door (which is full of danger in and of itself), but it made the yellow lab successful and she was able to see nothing bad would happen to her.

Then we added three dimensions. We added the female owner, then male coupled with the female owner, both being schooled in BAT, and then added my teacher dog Kody Bear. Kody and the pup became instant friends and Kody then proceeded to show her how to jump in and out of the Hatchback.

The way hatchbacks close can be very challenging for dogs without any traumatic experiences, as they make funny sucking noises. With trauma, it will take patience and many successful attempts.

Now, in addition, all meals will be served in and around the hatchback, toys played in there, bones enjoyed in there and all before starting to close the door. Like crate training, the space must become cozy and safe. Outside the space will become boring, non-eventful.

Slamming a paw in the door, jumping out to run away and be attacked by a GSD, and then having to experience a leash drag and toss into the back have all added to the trauma. All this led to one of the owner wanting to "get rid of the dog". Her crime, she wouldn't get into the hatchback, she wouldn't do it quickly, and she wouldn't stay in there without jumping out to escape.

Now starting with the BAT technique, this girl is well on her way to being re-conditioned and it's all a day in the life of a behavior trainer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What does a confident dog look like?

There are many words used today that have either lost their meaning completely, come to mean something else or are misused. Confidence is one of those words.

What does a confident dog look like?

The reason this is on my mind is due to a poll on Helium where the question is asked "Is dominance in dogs a popular myth or reality?" The reality side was ahead at 282 vote and holding, the myth side had only 78 votes. How could that be? What evidence did the articles show that so compellingly tip the balance to the reality of dominance in dogs?

In a matter of two days myth side rose to 392 and is still climbing at this writing, and the reality side picked up a few votes at 296.

This exercise inspired colleagues to add their own thoughts to the evidence of why dominance IS a myth. Kevin Myers wrote a part one article on Dog Lover's Digest titled "A question of dominance: the vending machine" and Rise VanFleet wrote "The trouble with labels" through her dog Kirrie's eyes inspired by a comment from a fellow trainer, the same esteemed colleague who inspired this blog.

Leonard Cecil was inspired to develop a "Proof Positive" website to SHOW the effects of positive training through categorical videos.

Passion inspires.

As a behavior trainer, I am passionate about positive reward-based, results-oriented training and I do not buy into what appears to be a popular belief that dominance is reality. There is much more scientific evidence to the contrary, to dominance in dogs as myth. So that led to my inspiration to write this blog.

The terms confidence and dominance seem to be used interchangeably by some. A comment by Pawsitive Solutions, Jerry Ingram, ABCDT, stated "....dominant personalit(ies) have no fear. They are very confident dogs." Thanks to Jerry, his comment made me think.

I'll be running a Learning Lab on "Building confidence through obstacle coursework". So, I'm obviously seeing a confident dog quite differently because the lab is not on building a "dominant dog through obstacle coursework."

This led me to ask what does a confident dog really look like? I just couldn't wrap my head around confidence as dominance, because it seemed like an oxymoron to me. These terms are two very different terms with two very different outcomes.

To me a confident dog has no need to be dominant. A truly confident dog wouldn't have to challenge and they would be calmly sure of the world around them.

To me a confused, tense dog would have a reason to issue a challenge, or have what people would call an aura of being dominant. This dog would not be at all sure of the world around them. A lack of social understanding, object familiarity and jumpiness would stand out as a descriptor.

What would the body language of a confident dog look like?

Stacy Braslau-Schneck, CPDT describes a confident dog's body language as "erect stance (standing tall), tail up, tail wagging in a slower sweep, ears pricked up or relaxed, direct look; relaxed, smaller pupils. The words throughout Stacy's WagN'Train, Talking Dog: Body Language website to describe confidence is "relaxed" "standing tall" and "tail up".

A three-part series on "Dog Behavior and You" describes a confident dog as "secure in their surroundings and comfortable with other people and animals." Again, references to relaxed, standing tall, tail up are given. In addition, the confident dog's mouth "is relaxed, with lips covering teeth."

A confident dog will put one at ease, not make a person fear that dog. The stance is happy, not stressed, confused or tense.

Confidence and dominance seem to be confused to represent each other when they are in reality totally different. Dominance is to gain power, while confidence is full trust, reliability; belief in one's powers or abilities, self-confidence, self-reliance, certitude, assurance.

To put that to work for the dog means they know what they are doing and exude self-confidence through relaxed, positively alert body language, whether that is meeting people or doing agility at a trial. Self-assured, relaxed, focused in a good manner, and happy is quite different from trying to gain power, as in resources, or keep a person away by intense barking or growling or acting out-of-control.To me, dominance doesn't exude confidence, and a confident dog does not have to be a dominant dog. Further, I'm not so sure those behaviors described even represent dominance. To me they represent fear, worry, confusion, environmental insecurity.

Confidence is reliable behavior, relaxed, calm body language. When working with a challenging dog, an aggressive dog, or any level of reactive dog, as a behavior trainer, I am always looking to unwrap the confident dog. This dog enjoys life, isn't constantly stressed and has clear direction. Transforming challenging behaviors into confidence is all in the life of a behavior trainer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It takes time

Recently I pulled my hamstring on my left leg. I thought it would heal by itself and so continued walking on it, working on it. It just got worse, until the pain was so bad I had to go to the doctor. I was desperate. The doctor chastised me for overworking it and prescribed two weeks of complete bed rest, physical therapy exercises, ice packs, and an anti-inflammatory Aleve.

After just one week I was already starting to heal, the pain left the building and I decided to go outside and resume some much needed yard work. Sure enough it took just one twist and I was back where I started one week ago. Why didn't I listen, why do I think I can heal in a day or week or even two weeks?

Then it hit me. This is exactly how people think. They get a dog. The dog starts having challenging behaviors and they think it will just go away. It gets worse until something occurs and they become desperate. It is out of their realm of expertise and that is when they seek help.

In their desperation they do exactly what the behavior trainer requires for exactly two weeks. Then something happens. You mean the behavior just doesn't go away? You mean, it takes time? You mean I shouldn't have taken my dog reactive dog to the dog park? But we were doing so well!

We all have to learn this simple lesson whether we are working with dogs, cats, birds or dealing with trauma to body parts, because the bottom line is it all takes time.

Moving too fast, means a definite regress. Moving too slow, means missing opportunities. Doing the exercises, having the proper tools, listening to the professionals, and taking the time and yes spending the money (last time I checked doctors aren't free) therein lies the magic bullet whether healing behavior challenges in canines or healing body parts in people.