A question of ethics – part 1

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I was at the office today (our local park) doing a consultation with a man and his Labrador, working on recall and loose lead walking (connection). We have a really nice community at the park on weekday mornings, the professional dog walkers, the power walkers without dogs, the recreational cyclists and the dog people walking their own dogs.

There is a fella who I see who has two GSDs who he has trained to a high level from the brief glimpses I get of him (I see him several times over the month). He appears to use positive trainng methods from what I can see. He uses food to reinforce the behaviour which he likes and I’ve never seen him physically correct his dogs. When he asks the dogs to do something though, he’s not really asking, he’s telling.

This fella knows I’m a dog trainer and from reading his body language (he never says hello to anyone etc) I get the impression that’s he is trying to show me how it’s really done. Today (and every other dog he sees me), he put his dogs in a sit stay in the middle of the path and walked away. There were other dogs and people around walking past his dogs. The dogs were transfixed by him and then he called them, they raced towards him and then held a heel position targeting his hands for about 50m or so. They were then reinforced with food. Impressive? Yes, maybe. Ethical? I’m not so sure. If this had been in competition for a dog sport, then yes, it’s impressive. If it had been in preparation for that dog sport competition, then yes, cool also. My issues is that it’s done for the benefit of all those watching and at the dogs’ expense to boot.

For me it would be far more impressive if his dogs were walking with him off lead, moving forward in front of him, sniffing, moving with him when he walked on and behaving in an appropriate social manner with dogs and people. But they’re not. The appear to be automatons, with little choice and not allow ot behave like dogs (I’ve never seen them sniff when out)

Training with positive methods isn’t enough. We need to train with an ethical mindset too. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Until next time, have a great Christmas.

John and the Glasgow Dog Trainer Team

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Living with a dog in pain

Guest blog from Lindsay Docherty. Lindsay first came to me as a client a few years ago with Millie. Since then she has been studying both with the IMDT, and with Clare Russell and myself. She has been doing some work for me over the last few months.

 

Living with a dog in pain.


Lindsay

Living with a dog with a chronic pain condition can be difficult. There are two types of dogs, those who will suffer through the pain without any change in behaviour and those who suddenly feel under threat from their world.. The change in behaviour can range from a slight reluctance to perform tasks to the drastic who’s behaviour can change completely.

We currently have a dog who falls under the last category.

Millie is our 6 year old rescue dog. At the young age of 1 year old she had a bad fall and suffered internal injuries similar to those of a high speed impact in a car. Collapsed lung, bruised heart and a torn liver not to mention a huge amount of muscle damage.

Our happy friendly pup was now on a long journey of pain management and behaviour change. The changes didn’t happen over night. As her world suddenly became filled with danger and potential hurt to her she modified her behaviour to try and control it. Previously she was every dogs friend and used to love nothing more than a full on sparring session. This was now her idea of a nightmare. Her “friend” dogs were suddenly hurting her. In her mind it wasn’t that she was experiencing discomfort and the other dogs happened to be there it was the dogs themselves that were hurting her.

She’s now really sensitive to changes in her environment. A break in her routine unsettles her and can last for days.

People approaching her in the street spooks her. Visitors to the house is really difficult as she doesn’t want to be touched and that’s what most people want to do with a dog.

When travelling in the car she won’t lie down if she’s having bad pain day.

After a year and a half on and off medication and us making pretty much every training mistake you can during that time the pain had eased off enough to begin behaviour modification training.

Us learning the right approach to take and how to make her feel safe were the first steps.

She’s predictably unpredictable so if we work with the thinking that she’s going to react to everything we can set up the environment to help her make the right choice even in the toughest of situations.

 

Dogs 

As a puppy Millie was Mrs sociable though still a bit nervous around dogs that were quite full on.

After the fall the pain made her completely change in these situations and rather than removing herself she would lunge and bark and tried to get on top of the dogs that she was afraid of. In fight or flight terms she was definitely using the fight method to get the dogs to go away. Luckily she never progressed any further than a lunge and a bark.

Our initial goal was teaching her to remove herself from situations around other dogs that she previously would have reacted to and helping her when she couldn’t do it on her own.

Millie likes to control her own environment and the movement of dogs within it. We haven’t stopped her from doing this but instead heavily reinforced lower intensity behaviours. If she doesn’t want a young bouncy dog to jump on her that’s fair enough so strong eye contact with the dog or a low grumble are far better than a full on lunge, bark and pinning the dog to the ground.

We have to come up with a compromise with her where she can keep herself feeling in control and more importantly not be hurt but also that the other dogs we meet are kept safe.

We spent a long time teaching her avoidance before we let her start meeting other dogs. Only through persistence with the avoidance training and setting this up as the primary behaviour to perform around dogs were we sure that if she felt unsafe she would disengage and come to us for reinforcement for doing so rather than feeling she had to deal with the situation on her own.

If she isn’t happy with a dog’s presence and the dog doesn’t leave we ask her to come with us and we will take her away to a distance she feels safe whilst heavily reinforcing the moving away.

She’s now at the stage where she is able to make some pretty amazing choices in previously highly reactive situations. This can however change depending on the intensity of her pain from day to day.

If she’s having a bad day we take a few steps back and ask her what’s the best behaviour she can give us that day and work with that. Doing so she learns that we can ask her how she’s feeling that day and we won’t put pressure on her to give more than she can.

Something as simple as lying down in the front of car is too much for her some days. If we ask her to lie down and she doesn’t after a couple of requests we don’t get mad. She isn’t disobeying us she just simply can’t do it at that time.

As well as being on the initial stage of my dog trainer journey I am also a part time dog walker. Knowing Millie and how she feels about strange dogs I was able to introduce her to the new dogs whilst keeping her feeling safe around them and I’m happy to say that she now has a bunch of great K9 friends that she can run, play and wrestle with when we are out on our walks.

The first time she initiated play with one of the dogs I was I was in floods of tears whilst trying to video it! A real turning point for us as it had been 3 years since she had initiated play with a dog other than the other dog in our house Leo.

Living with a dog in pain isn’t easy. It’s a full time job especially if they are reactive. We are very lucky in that our good days are so good they make up for all the bad times. We love our girl, and by understanding her body language and what she needs from us to be successful, help to build the dog and owner bond every day.

Captain America and telling our dogs what to do.

Captain-America-Civil-War-Splashpage-TeamCap-Photo

 

I went to see Captain America: Civil War at the weekend at our local 3D IMAX (It was very entertaining, the usual great Marvel stuff). At the beginning of the film, there was an announcement

“PUT ON YOUR 3D GLASSESS NOW”

My very first reaction to this was “don’t tell me what to do”. Now, I get that “Please put on your 3D glasses to fully enjoy the IMAX 3D experience” is unecessarily wordy, however, I really do not like being told what to do. In my previous job, I had a supervisor who constantly told everyone what to do. He never asked. He was a truly horrible bully of a man. Some of my colleagues who could be pushed around were, they did their jobs and did as they were told but none of them liked him. Those of us who didn’t like being told what to do would do it but very often we would push back, in fact we pushed back at every available opportunity. We stuck it to him whenever we could. The more we pushed back, the more he told us what to do. He then left, and was replaced by a man whom I absolutely adored. Jimbo would ask you to do tasks, never tell you and would do so with the full knowledge that you would do it. He never asked you to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. The guys who could be pushed around relaxed and worked harder, and those of us who were slightly more hard headed worked even harder still. Productivity and morale soared. He was a true leader who brought out the best in his people.

What does this have to do with dog training? Some of our dogs can be told what to do. We can push them around, shout at them, correct them and basically bully them in to compliance. Then there are the dogs who will push back. The problem for these dogs is that when they push back, they almost always lose. We shout at them and correct them, and they growl. We give them a harder time and they snap at us. We push more. They then bite “out of the blue”. Then it’s off to the shelter, vet to be put to sleep or we sell them on gumtree/Craiglist. The solution for all these dogs, whether the soft ones or the hard ones is to explain the rules in a way they understand, set up the environment so they can easily do the things we want them to to and so it’s difficult for them to the wrong thing and motivate them to do what we want them to do. If it works for humans, it can and does work for dogs.

If some of us don’t like being told what to do, is it not reasonable to conclude some of our dogs may feel the same way?

Why we need to challenge what our trainers tell us.

pig
There has been enough coverage of the incident featured on Cesar 911 recently where Simon the French Bulldog cross, who had previously killed pigs, was allowed to be in an enclosed area off lead with a restrained pig. Some great trainers have successfully used social media to highlight the issue and it has been rightfully reported to law enforcment in the US.
What I’d like to comment on is how we can blindly follow some trainers due to the cult of personality. I have learned from many great trainers over the years. What’s great about them is that they actively encourage us to think and to challenge their ideas. That is what scientific progress is about. Trainers whose methods were very progressive 25 years ago because they didn’t use choke chains are now seen as very dated because they use psychological intimidation instead. Techniques which cause frustration are (or should be) seen as unnecessary and counter-productive. I don’t agree with everything all of them have taught me, and if I was to ask them, they’d be delighted at that as it shows I’m challenging them and thinking for myself.
Here’s the “however”. I saw a social media post from a “pack leader” trainer defending Cesar’s actions. Any reasonable person looking at the Simon and the pig scenario objectively would see that letting a pig killing dog off lead in the same area as a restrained pig is not a good idea. If you were t ask a 7 year old they could tell you that. But we have blind faith from some trainers who can’t see anything wrong with what happened. This is wrong in itself. As trainers, and owners, interested in the welfare of our dogs, we should question everything all the time. Only by doing that will we continue to learn and improve our dogs’ lives.

Positively excellent dog training – Workshop 1

January 30th 2016, Clare Russell and I held  the first in a series of workshops for trainers named “Positively Excellent Dog Training”. These are wokshops aimed at anyone who has an interest in learning about how dogs learn and how we can use that knowledge to change our dogs’ behaviour for the better. Yesterday, we had 12 attendees, ranging from pet dog owners, dog walkers, dog day care operators to dog trainers and enthusiasts.

The format of the afternoon, and of those to come, aims to be conversational. That is, the agenda is not strictly controlled but we have a set framework of those topics we want to cover. This way, the attendees can be involved in their own learning process and steer  (within reason of course) the way they want it to go, with Clare and I offering guidance. Presentation

 

Yesterday, we covered personal and professional ethics, how they are formed and how they influence what we will do and will not do in our own practices. The attendees were divided into three groups and had to critique a piece of training equipment, in this case the Pet Corrector compressed air can, being aware of whether the were evaluating, assessing or judging it’s application in training.

 

Group discussion

After a short break, there was the preparation for the practical part of the workshop which looked at setting the envrinment and the learners (both human and dog) up for success, taking into account safety, stress levels (of both) and levels of knowledge and ability.

WS1c

The next two workshops will be held on the 27th February and the 19th March and will look at the massive topic of reinforcement. If you are interested in attending contact me via my Facebook page (search Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant) or email me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk

Recall and respect

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One of the most important duties, if not the most important one, of living with a dog is keeping our dog safe. That means, keeping our dog safe from other people, keeping our dog safe from other dogs, and keeping other people and other dogs safe from our dog (which is ultimaltely keeping our dog safe if we extrapolate the consequences of not doing it).

Dog ownership is a privilege, not a right. Having your dog off lead in public is definitely a privilege but more and more I’m seeing people who view it as a right. Unless you spend time and effort consistently training a recall, it is very unlikely that it will happen on it’s own. No recall can be 100% as our dogs are living, breathing beings with their own minds and desires, not washing machines. This however is not an excuse. For me, I try to play the probablilty game. The question I ask is “Do I have a 95%+ chance my dog will come back to me right now?”.

The thing we need to remember is that “right now” changes and the “right now” of right now, is different from the “right now” of 30 seconds ago or last week. Things can change in a very short space of time and we owe it to our dogs and the other people sharing public spaces to have our dog under control.

Questions I ask myself when out with Watson

  1. If she appraoches another dog, can I recall her?
  2. If another dog approaches her, can I recall her?
  3. If she gets spooked by something (not an issue with her fortunately), can I recall her?
  4. If a dog gets in her face and acts aggressively, can I recall her?
  5. If she sees a running dog, squirrel or rabbit, or a cyclist or jogger can I recall her?
  6. Can she greet another dog civilly?
  7. Can she greet a person civilly?

This is not exhaustive but you get the idea. If the answer to these questions is no, then your dog does not have good enough behaviour off lead to be off lead. Your puppy, who trotted along next to you, whose recall you didn’t reinforce when she was doing it naturally, who you let have unlimited off lead play with other dogs in order to “socialise her” a few short weeks later is a teeneged monster with no reinforcement history of  recall who is now exploring the world and ignoring you. Being on lead and off lead or not the only options. Long lines, being off lead when safe and on lead when not are perfect alternatives.

A few stories from my own experience to share with you. I advocate the use of long lines. As you can see from my videos, Watson is always wearing the long line at the moment when I’m working in public parks. I ask clients to use the long line because it prevents the dog being reinforced for unwanted behaviour and makes it easier to reinforce wanted ones. So, some examples (details changed ot protect the innocent and the guilty)

  1. Client comes to me with a large, aggressive dog. We work successfully and put together a protocol for training. He comes back to me a week later, his dog had jumped on (although thankfully not injured) another dog. The dog was off lead in a public place and he had come off the trails and “thought it would be ok” as it was quiet. There was another dog in the car park and the client’s dog jumped on the other dog and pinned it. All avoidable if the dog had been on lead or line.
  2. I’m working with client A who has a large reactive dog. A previous client. client B, who uses the same park (we had worked the previous week doing recall with her dog) walks along past us. Myself, client A and her dog are at a very safe distance working with her dog. Client B’s dog sees me, and breaks away from client B and runs towards us. Client B laughs and shouts “it’s because he hears the clicker”, while we are trying to manage the situation and prevent B’s dog from being jumped on. No, dummy, it’s not because he hears the clicker, it’s because you’ve done no recall work over the last week as I see you every day, and your dog is off lead (this was internal dialogue as there is a time and place to address this)
  3. This one is a personal favourite. I’ll call the ower Big M. Big M has a 6 month old large breed working dog who would be a dream to train if he actually bothered. Big M uses his phone a lot when out with the dog and doesn’t pay attention to his dog. Big M’s dog, let’s call him Houston, is a really cool dog. He is super friendly but doesn’t always read what the other dog is telling him very well and this can lead to bother. I’ve seen more than one dog telling him off for being too pushy. Incident 1 – I’m working with a client and his Labrador for manners training. Big M comes along with Houston, and I swear, kicks the football directly towards us. Houston runs past the ball and then tries to engage our dog in play, which we shut down as our dog in on a long line. Big M shouts “Houston noshnosh” (possibly Houston’s cue for dinner time in the house) for at least 40 seconds in a valiant attempt to recall Houston. Houston ignores him. I eventually ask Big M to come and get his dog. He takes Houston by the collar, walks 10 feet way then lets him go. Yes, you guessed it, Houston comes running back in. This time I ask him to  take Houston and put him on the lead. We walk away to give him more space. Incident 2 – the very next week, I see a guy at the park who has a dog aggressive terrier. This fellow does an absolutely admiral job keeping out of every one’s way and trying to improve his dog’s behaviour. Houston comes running over and there is a big stramash with lunging, barking and shouting. This happened because Big M thinks he has an absolute right to have his dog off lead and not do anything to train Houston to come back and has little consideration for others using the park.

Now, I know I work in public and accept that these things can happen and also dealing with it is a necessary part of my job. But what if I was I regular joe out with his dog, doing his best to train and keep his dog under control and one of these incidents happens. Is that fair? All of the above examples could have been prevented if the the dogs had been either recall trained or on lead.

We are fortunate in Scotland to have off lead parks. I know many other places don’t. Please have respect for your dog and the others using public spaces and either recall train your dog appropriately for those circumstances or keep your dog on a lead.

Happy training.

Dog training – the how is as important as the what.

Kuro (2)

I recently watched a video someone had posted on a training forum which I contribute to occassionally ( I don’t know why I do this, it’s bad for my blood pressure). The video shows the owner putting a sandwich on the floor in front of his dog and the dog doesn’t eat it. The dog is also wearing a prong collar. This looks like a cool trick/behaviour which he has trained his dog to do (or not to do). For me though, knowing how this man trains his dog, how he advises others on the forum (basically the prong collar is the first port of call in dog training and use it for near enough everything), the training is really not that impressive at all. The result might be good to view, but I’d have preferred if he had shown the process by which he achieved the result.

We can achieve results in a variety of ways but for me it’s as important, or maybe in some cases even more important, how we get the results with our animals than the results themselves. Yes, we all want quick, effective results with the minimum amount of effort. Sometimes that isn’t realistic and we have to compete against an e-collar trainer or an old school yank and crank trainer who might offer fast results. But at what cost? The dog owning public is horribly ill informed, through no fault of their own, as to what works best and quickest. As positive dog trainers, we need to be at the top of our game in order to effectively educate owners and train dogs. Many positive dog trainers have heard that our style of training takes longer than other methods. I don’t think I’m the most skilled trainer around, but I’ve found, and the science supports it, that positive reinforcement training, applied thoughtfully and with skill, has long lasting, quick results with no fallout behaviourally to the dog.

“The ends justifies the means” mentality can cause serious problems. If the ends are most important, is it ok for me to cheat in an exam in order to pass? Is it ok for our police and prosecuters to falsify evidence in order to secure convictions? In my previous job, there was an increasingly invasive attitude of pointing out the failings of others in order to secure promotions and career advancement. Is this ok as long as we get that promotion?

The same too in dog training. However, if we focus more on the means, do we forget about the results? I recently spoke to California based trainer Kelly Dunbar. She says there is an increasing philosophy within the positive dog training community that the means are the most important. I think this may lead to us excusing poor training or lack of knowledge. We need to be able to do both and have the skill and knowledge to do it quickly, effectively and impart that knowledge on the client in a manner they both understand and can apply. This is no mean feat.

Lastly, we need to take the outcome seriously as well. I was at a Kay Laurence seminar a few years ago. She said she had seen a previously dog reactive dog who had been clicker trained to stand still while being sniffed by other dogs. Kay wasn’t overly impressed by this to say the least. Even though the dog had not been trained using aversive training tools or methods, I’d argue that the result was hugely aversive to the dog. In this case even though the means were non aversive, the results were. By being more thoughtful in our training plan, a better option may have been to start listening to what the dog was trying to tell us in the first place through the aggressive behaviour and teach the dog better options to manage their own behaviour either by moving away or approaching calmly.

If we are to succeed in educating dogs and dog owners we must take all of this and more into account. We must keep learning and applying what we know thoughtfully and seek outtrainers and like minded people who can help us.