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

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.

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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 Part 2 – Reinforcement Part 1

Positively excellent dog training. We continued today, Saturday 27th February 2016, looking at reinforcement. Reinforcement is such a huge topic that we have split it into 2 workshops, the next one being in the 19th March. Even then, 4 hours of learning can be only an introduction to the topic, which, as positive reinforcment trainers, sits at the very heart of what we do.

After introductions, Clare presented a short input on reinforcement, mainly to get the students thinking about what reinforcement is. What is reinforcement and how does it differ from rewards and treats? Is there a difference? These are not semantics, if we don’t know the difference, how can we expect to apply it to our dogs?

PEDT2

We divided the reinforcement into three categories; food reinforcers, toy/play reinforcers and life reinforcers.As modern dog trainers, we looked at positve reinforcement, rather than negative reinforcement.

Each of the categories was divided further to identify the pros and cons of each of them, when they could be used, and what behaviours they could be used to reinforce.

PEDT2a

 

PEDT2b

Toy reinforcers pictured above. Divided into chase, retrieve and tug toys. Remember, it’s what the dog gets to do with the toy which is reinforcing rather than the toy itself!

PEDT2c

 

PEDT2d

After discussion on the merits and disadvantages of each, the groups the devised training plans to test the value of various reinforcers.

PEDT2e

Building on the work done in the last workshop, ethical considerations were taken into account for both the handler and the dog, with welfare of the dog being at foremost in our minds. The attendees showed real thoughfulness in their design.


PEDT2g

PEDT2h

PEDT2i

Homework assignments were given with ongoing support between workshops. If you are interested in attending these, or are interested in hosting us to run these workshops in your area, please contact me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk.

Part 2 of the reinforcment workshop is on the 19th March 2016 in East Kilbride.

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

Meal motivation – guest blog by Tony Cruse

About Tony

Tony Cruse is a dog trainer and the owner of Tc Dog Training based in Essex. He is a member of The Association of Pet Dog Trainers and The Institute of Modern Dog Trainers and the author of ‘101 Doggy Dilemmas’. Tony works on training and behaviour on a full-time basis. 

Meal Motivation

Like it or not, we all work for food!! And guess what?   Our dogs are no different.

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It would be great if your dog learned to sit at the curbside because Rover respects you or because, well, ‘he simply should, shouldn’t he?’  But that’s more like Disney than real life.  Dogs need motivating and food is the smart option!

Food is a fantastic reward for any animal because it’s both motivating and provides a positive consequence.  The chance to acquire food is what drives a fox to learn several complex chicken runs and rats to chew through brickwork!  Food makes for a powerful reward!  Have I said, we all work for food?!

Food also puts a positive association to events and chemically alters the brain producing endorphins (happy hormones).  It can be used as a lure, to change emotion and as a reward. A positive association to the trainer and the environment where the food is delivered occurs and this is a HUGE bonus in dog training! The same cannot be said of punishment or forceful methods. You want a happy and engaging pupil, right?

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A simple daily method is to divide your dog’s dry food meal quota up into a couple of pots or mugs. Have a ‘Morning pot’, and a ‘Evening pot’.  You can then use some of the kibble throughout the day.   Grab some dry food from the pots at the appropriate time and handfeed it throughout the day and maybe during walks.   Carry it in your pocket or in a treat bag.  Don’t request too many behaviours, capture them like you are taking a photo.  For example, rather than bark, Rover goes to his bed to lie down, you say, ‘good boy’ and give him a piece of his food.  Dogs soon repeat what works for them!

Hand-feeding also teaches your dog that hands are good things.   Hands provide, they don’t grab, poke or remove.  A hand shy dog is an anxious dog and a dog who is likely to either flee or possibly bite.

“To not use food in training puts that trainer, you, at a distinct disadvantage”

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I can never understand trainers who refuse to use food. Toys and games shouldn’t be neglected as a reward but they can amp-up a dog. Over excitement is useful in some exercises such as recall but not necessarily when you are teaching household manners or walking nicely on the lead.

To not use food in training puts that trainer, you, at a distinct disadvantage.  It is yet another possible reward and it’s a quick and effective way to reinforce the behaviour you want.  If you have not yet used this training method to feed your dog, why not give it a go? Ditch the food bowl for two weeks and judge for yourself! You have nothing to lose!