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.