What to consider when selecting a dog trainer/training class

When looking to select a trainer/training class for your dog it is important to know what you are looking for and have clear objectives in mind for what you hope to achieve.

One of the most important pieces of advice I give to people when they ask me what to look for in a trainer is their training philosophy. I recommend that you only give your hard earned cash to non aversive/positive trainers. Ask the trainer what methods they employ and who they learned from. The emphasis should always be on reinforcing correct and appropriate behaviours through the use of toys, play, food rewards and life rewards. Another good indicator of being a trainer you should go with is who they learned from. People such as Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, John Rogerson, Patricia McConnell and Ken Ramirez have nbeen hugely influential in the field of positive training. In the popular TV series “It’s Me or The Dog”, Victoria Stillwell uses non aversive training, so if you’ve seen this show, then you will have an indication of the methods which are kind, effective and build a relationship of mutual trust and respect between you and your dog.

Avoid trainers who talk of dominance, pack theory, rank reduction and alpha terminology. This stuff has been hugely misapplied and misinterpreted since it was first coined in the early 1970s by wolf scientist David Mech, who has recently clarified his viewpoint on this thinking.

Do not go with trainers who use prong collars, electric collars (e-collars), choke/check chains, rattle cans, water pistols to spray water at the dog, pet correctors or who advise “alpha” rolling, scruffing or hitting. A good rule of thumb is don’t let your trainer do or advise you to do anything any reasonable person wouldn’t do to an infant or small child. Don’t go with trainers who say they use methods similar to or have learned from Cesar Millan

I will do a subsequent entry on the failings and flaws of pack theory and comparing dogs to wolves.

As always, please comment/discuss the above. I look forward to your feedback

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Examples of humane punishment in dog training

I thought I would write this quick entry in response to a comment on a previous post on the use of punishment in dog training. Just to reiterate, punishment is defined as anything which causes the reduction in intensity, duration of frequency in a behaviour and our aim as non aversive trainers is to humanely punish the behaviour and not the animal. So, given that, here are a couple of examples of the use of punishment in dog training-

1. If your dog jumps on you when you enter the house, and you turn your back on the dog and this has the effect of the dog not jumping on you then you have punished the jumping i.e. it has decreased in frequency, duration and/or intensity by removing your attention. You then praise the dog for having all four feet on the floor instead by petting and verbal praise which then reinforces the four paws on the floor.

2. Say your dog barks at house guests, and you put the dog out of the room for a few seconds and then let him back in, and this has the effect of reduction in barking (it may need several attempts before the dog realises what is causing him to be removed from the room) then you have punished the barking but not the dog. If on the other hand, your dog barks at guests and you out him in another room and leave him there until the guest arrives, you have punished the dog and not the behaviour because the dog will have forgotten what he was removed for the next time the guest visits, and you will have merely excluded the dog and not given the dog a chance to learn.

We always want to punish the behaviour, your dog is not a “bad” dog, merely exhibiting “bad” behaviour, so our aim it to reduAce those behaviours and reinforce those which are more acceptable.

A journey with Kitty, my first real foray into non aversive training

I briefly touched on my experience with Kitty, my Neapolitan girl in an earlier entry and thought I’d take the opportunity to expand on my journey with her. I bought Kitty for my 30th birthday in 2003. She came to me as a sweet 9 week old pup, who followed my everywhere and soon became a great companion.

I also had Bosco at the time. Bosco was a rare dog in that his aggression was caused by his enjoyment of scrapping rather than being fear based.  He just enjoyed the buzz. Kitty, however, did not enjoy it and soon associated other dogs with Bosco having a rumble which she really didn’t like, so she would start to initiate fights herself in order to scare the other dogs away. This aggressive response was further compounded with me using either a choke chain or a prong collar in order to try to stop her reacting badly to other dogs, and at the time I did not know how much harm I was doing to them both.

I sought the services of a local behaviourist, who, although helpful in that she managed to persuade me to start using non aversive methods, misdiagnosed the source of the problem.

I started using simple counter conditioning and desensitisation methods by giving Kitty pieces of salami when dogs approached instead of correcting her on a metal collar. Over time and many, many repetitions, she began to associate another dog with me giving her treats and would start to relax and look at me. When she started doing this, I was then able to ask for her to sit and look at me when nearby another dog.

I would go to the park at busy times of the day, with my bait bag fully loaded, and I would stand and chat to other dog owners and feed Kitty from the bait bag while I was doing this. I knew we were getting the hang of it when Kitty would stick her nose under my hand and nudge it as if to say

“I’m being good Dad, sitting here, not lunging or snarling and you’re not giving me the treats fast enough”

My wonderful girlfriend H also helped with this a great deal, also doing daily work with Kitty. After about 7 months, I was confident of Kitty’s behaviour on leash around other dogs, so long as I could control the introduction, so began to give her a bit more freedom by letting her off lead after a controlled greeting. At this stage she play bowed a young Border Collie as an invitation to play and ran off in the other direction with the Collie chasing her. I could have cried with joy.

Thanks for everything my big black dog

A few months after that, she was able to have an off leash introduction to another dog without reacting and play back and forth chasing and being chased by other dogs.

She still needed constant management and training for the remainder of her life and in her last year was becoming less and less tolerant of people rather than dogs, preferring our company than any attention of strangers, so this was something we managed for her. She taught me a huge amount in dealing with and living with reactive dogs and I am better able to empathise with clients because of this.

Interesting explanation of punishment in dog training

I was listening to a Podcast from Animal Cafe the other day. It was a conversation between the excellent Kelly Dunbar from Dogstardaily.com who is the host and Dr Roger Abrantes. They were discussing among other things, the definitions and uses of reinforcers and punishers.

Dr Abrantes defines reinforcers as something which increases the frequency, duration and/or intensity of a behaviour and a punisher as something which decreases the frequency, duration or intensity of a behaviour.

He further went on the provide this example. If you don’t like mayonnaise and you go to a restaurant and there is loads of mayo on your sandwich and this causes you not to come back again, then the chef has punished you into not coming back by putting the mayo on your meal. If you complain about it and the chef tells you not to come back but you decide to go back because you won’t be told what to do, he has not punished you, merely created an aggressive response in you.

How does this apply to dog training? We aim to punish the behaviour we don’t like, rather than the dog itself. If we punish the dog, and not the behaviour, by being abusive to the dog, the dog will start to fear us or see us as something he dislikes (the aggressive reaction in the above example). However, if we punish the behaviour (not going back to the restaurant in the above example), we will change how the dog acts.

We should always aim to punish the behaviour and never the animal. the behaviour is something which is “bad” i.e. undesirable, which needs to be changed rather than the dog.

My start in dog training

A brief history in dog training

I started training my own dogs about 10 years ago. At the time we had Superstar Mollie, who was a tricoloured border collie cross. She was a little highly strung but sharp as a tack when it came to training. Bosco, my boy, came to us in January 2012 at 8 weeks old. He was a Dogue de Bordeaux, the most handsome example of the breed I have ever seen (although, admittedly, I am a little biased). Not too tall and built like a tank, he loved a ball, tug games and treats but unfortunately, I learnt compulsion training as my start and we didn’t have an awful lot of fun during the first few years of his life as I had been taught wrongly that he was being dominant and that I had to control him through rank reduction programmes and the like.

A year later, I got our sweet sweet girl Kitty, the Neapolitan Mastiff. A great example of the breed, tight skin on her body and only a little loose skin and she could move like a greyhound. I’ll post more about the dogs individually later.

Being a cross over trainer, I have the benefit of experience of both camps. I now use no physically aversive techniques and only occasionally use some techniques which may be mildly aversive psychologically. I can categorically state that aversive techniques do work in training and can have a short term effect on the manifestations of some problem behaviours. Do I agree with them any more? Absolutely not. I have had a few discussions both online and at conferences on the use of aversive training and am also very careful and deliberate to state that I no longer use nor agree with punitive training. Having said that, when I started training all those years ago i successfully taught all my dogs to walk on a loose leash, recalls and down-stays using a prong collar.

Skinner proved all those moons ago that positive punishment does work. I am not proud of using these techniques in the past but I am where I am today in part because of them and my knowledge of them, although my relationship with my three very special dogs unfortunately suffered as a result and due to the early death of Bosco, I didn’t get the opportunity to fully repair that but I hope I did go some way towards it.

Which brings me to the way I train just now. I’ll post later about the influences which brought me fully to where I am but basically I started to read everything I could. Ian Dunbar has played a massive roll in my learning, along with Stanley Coren, Jean Donaldson, Sophia Yin, Ray Coppinger and many others.

As I got better at training, friends, family and work mates would ask for advice and my girlfriend encouraged me to start my own business and make it a bit more official. I take on most cases from recall and general manners to separation distress and aggression cases. Most of my experience comes from dealing with dog-dog aggression as I have suffered through it myself (again, more later)

The most I now give to a dog is a verbal non reward marker and rely heavily on counter conditioning through positive reinforcement and am using Grisha Stewart’s Behavioural Adjustment Training which uses negative reinforcement, for aggression cases and am having good success with it.

That’s all for now folks, constructive comments are always welcome.

John McGuigan

Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant

http://www.glasgowdogtrainer.co.uk

I started training my own dogs about 10 years ago. At the time we had Superstar Mollie, who was a tricoloured border collie cross. She was a little highly strung but sharp as a tack when it came to training. Bosco, my boy, came to us in January 2001 at 8 weeks old. He was a Dogue de Bordeaux, the most handsome example of the breed I have ever seen (although, admittedly, I am a little biased). Not too tall and built like a tank, he loved a ball, tug games and treats but unfortunately, I learnt compulsion training as my start and we didn’t have an awful lot of fun during the first few years of his life as I had been taught wrongly that he was being dominant and that I had to control him through rank reduction programmes and the like.

A year later, I got our sweet sweet girl Kitty, the Neapolitan Mastiff. A great example of the breed, tight skin on her body and only a little loose skin and she could move like a greyhound. I’ll post more about the dogs individually later.

Being a cross over trainer, I have the benefit of experience of both camps. I now use no physically aversive techniques and only occasionally use some techniques which may be mildly aversive psychologically. I can categorically state that aversive techniques do work in training and can have a short term effect on the manifestations of some problem behaviours. Do I agree with them any more? Absolutely not. I have had a few discussions both online and at conferences on the use of aversive training and am also very careful and deliberate to state that I no longer use nor agree with punitive training. Having said that, when I started training all those years ago I successfully taught all my dogs to walk on a loose leash, recalls and down-stays using a prong collar.

Skinner proved all those moons ago that positive punishment does work. I am not proud of using these techniques in the past but I am where I am today, in part, because of them and my knowledge of them, although my relationship with my three very special dogs unfortunately suffered as a result and due to the early death of Bosco, I didn’t get the opportunity to fully repair that but I hope I did go some way towards it.

Which brings me to the way I train just now. I’ll post later about the influences which brought me fully to where I am but basically I started to read everything I could. Ian Dunbar has played a massive roll in my learning, along with Stanley Coren, Jean Donaldson, Sophia Yin, Ray Coppinger and many others.

As I got better at training, friends, family and work mates would ask for advice and my girlfriend encouraged me to start my own business and make it a bit more official. I take on most cases from recall and general manners to separation distress and aggression cases. Most of my experience comes from dealing with dog-dog aggression as I have suffered through it myself (again, more later)

The most I now give to a dog is a verbal non reward marker and rely heavily on counter conditioning through positive reinforcement and am using Grisha Stewart’s Behavioural Adjustment Training which uses negative reinforcement, for aggression cases and am having good success with it.

That’s all for now folks, constructive comments are always welcome.

John McGuigan

Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant

http://www.glasgowdogtrainer.co.uk

New Glasgow Dog Trainer blog

Hi all

Just to let you know of my new blog. I’ll update as often as time allows and I’ll let you know about consultations, classes and how my clients are getting on with their dogs. I’ll also give my opinion based on my own research and experience on common training methods and myths. I hope you enjoy following me here and look forward to your comments.