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.