Humility, progress and provocation

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DEEP THOUGHTS (not really)
 
As a dog training community, whether online or in person, we have a number of objectives and interests. We have to educate the public and our clients as best we can and provide them with information which they can actually use. There is most likely a way to stay away from scientific jargon without dumbing down the process of training and why we train without corrections.
 
Then we have discussions to make us better ourselves. By having a better understanding of the science of dog training, keeping up to date with new research which comes out, examining whether things we did 5, 10 or 15 years ago are still valid, needs updating or needs thrown in the bin and to build a tribe of like minded individuals who can we can have these discussions with. This is a big ask and each of us are better at some elements than others but other than a few truly unique individuals (Dr Susan Friedman), none of us are better that all of them than everyone else.
 
Sometimes the two objectives above are at odds with each other, and that’s ok, we can continue to improve until they are not.
 
I would much rather spend the time I have available online discussion how to get better at positive, effective, ethical training with my peers, so I can provide better content and better training than to debate whether we should still be using aversive training methods with others. There are other people out there who are more willing and better able to do that than me.
 
Terms and themes which I think need discussing
 
– the need for our dogs to sit for everything
– the need for our dogs to walk on the left hand side
– the use of the terms quadrants, impulse control, arousal, drive and a few others.
 
My journey with the spectacular dog in the photo has made me consider loads of stuff which I thought was gospel. This can only be a good thing. The need for discussion of the list above has been inspired by Logan and many other great human teachers who I have been honoured to have learned and continue to learn from. The list is only my opinion, it is no less or no more valid than anyone else’s.
 
I hope the picture of his nibs made you smile.
 
Peace and love.

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

How the environment effects your dog’s behaviour.

A short video on how your dog acts and what they feel is a direct result of what is happening in the environment at that time.

It’s all (well mostly) about reinforcement

Sorry it’s been a while since my last blog. I asked a question on my Facebook page the other day.(https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glasgow-Dog-Trainer-and-Behaviour-Consultant/137403276291620?ref=hl) What is the single biggest issue you have with your dog? On looking through the answers, there was a common theme about trying to eliminate unwanted behaviours. I’ll address some of the issues as best as I can. When dealing with any dog behaviour/training issue, it’s always absolutely essential that we have at least a basic understanding of reinforcement. Reinforcement simply means that the behaviour is likely to reoccur. If behaviours are reinforced, they will continue. If they aren’t reinforced they won’t. Here I’m only going to address reinforcement. Punishment (the scientific term) is the is about reducing behaviour. Behaviours which are not reinforced will go away. If the dog continues to do the behaviour you don’t want, he is still being reinforced on some level for doing that behaviour, or has a sufficiently long reinforcement history for that behaviour that he’ll continue to keep doing it, with the hope of accessing reinforcement.

If your dog doesn’t have access to reinforcers, he can’t be reinforced for the behaviour which allows him access to it. If the behaviour isn’t reinforced, your dog will stop the behaviour. This may take time, depending on your dog’s history of being reinforced for that behaviour. One of the sometimes frustrating rules of learning is that behaviours which are randomly reinforced, are resistant to extinction i.e they won’t go away. Think of it like a fruit machine at a casino. They pay out randomly to keep you playing. So if your dog has had a history of being reinforced for jumping on people, and you now try to stop it, but your dog is successful on average one time in fifty, this may be enough to motivate your dog to keep trying because sometimes it pays off. Sometimes dogs will work for one chance in twenty, others one time in one hundred, it depends on the dog.

So, to address some of the issues which came up. These are general points designed to illustrate principles of learning and aren’t exhaustive.

1. Jumping. Dogs find attention reinforcing. When a dog jumps, people will generally talk to (shout at), touch (pull) and look at the dog or a combination of the three. The three things which have occurred, are reinforcing to the dog, he now knows jumping gets a reaction and will do it again the next time. If you are still doing these things time and again, and your dog is still jumping up on people, what you are doing isn’t working and we need to try something else. Dogs I work with often jump on me on greeting them the first time. The client generally does a combination of the above. The first thing I ask them to do is just to ignore the dog. If the dog is on leash, I talk a step back, so I’m out of range (the dog can’t touch me) I don’t give eye contact and the dog isn’t reinforced. As soon as the dog stops jumping, or trying to jump on me, I reinforce the “four on the floor” with attention, praise, treats etc. The other technique I use very often is to stand on the leash. I use 6′ leashes for training. This is a good length for a number of things. What it allows me to do here is to drop the leash towards the ground while still holding it in a relaxed manner, and stand on it. I’m not pinning the dog to the ground here, there is still slack so the dog can sit or stand comfortably, but what he can’t to is jump. I’m stopping him from jumping, so he cant be reinforced for it, and behaviours which aren’t reinforced will go away. In this instance, I’d also combine reinforcing the wanted behaviour, four on the floor. this way the dog learns the jumping doesn’t work but four on the floor does.

This can be done for dogs jumping on visitors. Have the dog on a leash when they come in. Calm behaviour allows access to visitors, excited, jumping behaviour doesn’t. If the dog is calm and you release her to say hello and she jumps, you take her back to where she doesn’t have access. Consistency is the key. Remember the rule of random pay off.

2. Barking and growling at kids, visitors, strangers, men, other dogs, cyclists, skateboards. Again, this is a general description based on your dog being fearful/anxious of these things. Give the dog enough distance that he feels safe (generally, the distance that he isn’t reacting). Give him tasty treats or throw a toy for him. Generally, what happens here is that your dog feels scared/anxious and has learned that barking/lunging/growling causes the scary thing to go away. The dog doesn’t realise that the scary thing is likely to go away anyway. What we want to do is keep the dog feeling safe and make him feel better about the scary thing. overtime, we can decrease the distance as the dog feels better about the scary thing. Another approach is to kong train your dog. Every time a visitor arrives, you give the dog a “super” kong filled with the best food. Allow the dog to take this where he wants. He will make the association of visitors coming in with the kong coming out. Make sure the visitor comes in first and don’t give this “super” kong any other time.

3. Attacking the mail. Management can solve this. An external post box means the dog can’t access the mail, can’t attack it, so can’t be reinforced. A basket which the mail falls into helps also. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most easiest.

Ian Dunbar tells a story of being asked how to stop a Yorkshire Terrier from messing on the bed by a woman at a seminar years ago. He asked her how long this had been going on, to which she told him “every day for 9 years”. He told her to shut the bedroom door. She was delighted. If we stop access to reinforcers, we stop behaviour. Management should always be our first step in training or behaviour modification. This is because it’s easy with some thought and imagination, least aversive for the dog, allows the dog to think, and therefor allows the dog to learn.

If your dog is doing something you don’t like, think about what she is being reinforced with. The more we understand this, the more successful we will be and the more successful our relationship with our dog will be.

I’ll address some problems with recall next week.

Future posts – what would you like to see?

Firstly, apologies for not blogging for a few weeks, I’ve been crazy busy. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to blog about the following

1. Preparing your dog for the arrival of a new baby

2. Nothing in Life is Free Protocol versus using your dog’s food and toys for training and classical conditioning

3.Building a truly meaningful bond with your dog through positive reinforcement

4. Forging a new behavioural path and letting the “bad” ones overgrow.

If there is anything at all you’d like me to write about, please comment below, If you are having a problem with your dog’s training or behaviour, write a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future blog.

www.glasgowdogtrainer.co.uk

Three Levels of Dog Training

Bunty, thinking about her options
Bunty, considering her options

I’ve been trying to formulate my own system of training and behaviour modification for a while now from the information I’ve learned from a number of great dog people. I’ve come up with a three level training/behaviour modification system which hopefully is easily to understand and apply.

Level 1. This is the most empowering level for both the dog and the owner. The crux of it is in the following statement which I learned from Dr Susan Friedman – control the environment, not the dog, to allow him to make other choices, and then reinforce those choice to make them more likely to happen in the future. It is hugely empowering for our dogs to be in control of their own decisions. Now this doesn’t mean we allow our dogs to do whatever they want. Through careful control of the environment, we can limit or change the dog’s options so it now becomes easier for them to do something we want them to do (and difficult for them to do something we don’t want them to do) and when they do it, the wise use of reinforcers makes it more likely to re-occur.

If your dog jumps up on people when you stop to talk to them, we can stand on his lead so he can’t jump (give him enough slack that he can still stand or sit comfortably). We have now controlled his access to reinforcement (the person) and we can now reinforce (with food/praise) four feet on the floor. If we do this every time, the dog now has a large reinforcement history of four feet on the floor, and a tiny history of being reinforced for jumping. Not jumping is now much, much more likely.

Level 2. This is less empowering for the dog but the dog still has lots of choice. In this level, we use previously trained behaviours to give the dog instruction about what we want him to do. This is useful if our environmental control, as described in Level 1, gets away from us and the dog isn’t voluntarily able to make a decision which we are able to reinforce. We can now tell the dog what we want him to do.

To give you a couple of examples, say we are training our dog to remain within a certain radius of us. The dog is almost at the limit if the radius and suddenly a pigeon lands very close to her. The environment now changed and we couldn’t do anything about it. It is unreasonable to expect the dog to return to us without prompting at this stage unless we have trained for it, but what we can do is prompt the recall with a verbal cue which we have previously worked on. The dog now returns to us and we can reinforce this choice.

Another example would be if your dog is reactive to other dogs. At 100 feet, he might be able to willingly look at you, which you can reinforce. At 50 feet, your dog might not be able to look at you without prompting, but if we have taught an emergency U-turn which he knows well, we can ask him to perform the U-turn and reinforce it when he does.

The reason this level is less empowering for the dog is that he has less choice and you are starting to rely on more automatic responses. Although these responses have been taught using reinforcement, the dog is starting to perform them automatically and without conscious thought, so the question we could reasonably ask here is how much choice does the dog actually have?

I don’t think this is too much of an issue as long as we are either practicing the behaviour to maintain it’s reliability or we are using it because the alternative (running off or reacting aggressively in the previous examples) is a far less attractive option for us and potentially far more damaging to the dog.

As part of a society, and I include dogs in this, there are absolutely times when we need to do what we are told.  We do this willingly in many cases but we are still doing it because we are either told to or asked to.

Level 3 – Physically moving our dog out of trouble. At level three, our dog is now unable to offer anything we want to reinforce, either voluntarily or with prompting. This is all about management and keeping the dog safe. At this point the environment has completely got away from us and we need to get our dog out of that situation. We are now controlling the dog. Examples would be if we are training a recall using a long line and the dog is running very quickly towards a busy road (think about how much environmental control we had in the first place!) we would stand on the line to stop the dog moving forward. In the case of the reactive dog, if another dog appeared round a street corner, and our dog reacted, we would physically move our dog away on a short leash to a non reactive distance.

When working on this, we can switch between levels 1 and 2 quite often. I use level 1 when I can, but also use level 2 frequently so we can use the available distractions as practice to keep previously learned behaviour strong and reliable. If we do this often, the ultimate aim is so that we don’t have to use level 3 and all.

The last thing to consider is training your dog to do many different behaviours. This allows the dog to offer previously learned behaviours during level 1 and gives you multiple options during level 2. If your dog doesn’t know how to do an emergency U-turn or recall, how can you ask for it? Also, different situations will call for different responses. Sometimes sitting may be more useful (when you are talking to someone in the street), other times having your dog to “leave”, “drop it” or “back up” might be better.

More training means more options. I’ll write more about this as I practice more. Until next time, happy dog training.

Building a balance of trust with your dog

Reinforcement can take many forms.
Reinforcement can take many forms.

 

I attended the WOOF Training and Behaviour Conference recently. It was organised by Chirag Patel of Domesticated Manners and it was a truly amazing conference. The highlight for me, and many, judging by their comments, was hearing Dr Susan Friedman speak. Dr Friedman is a professor at the University of Utah and is a pioneer in the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis in companion animals.

Dr Friedman summed up her philosophy in one simple sentence, which I’m paraphrasing – Control the environment, not the animal, so that the animal makes better decisions and then reinforce those choices to make them more likely in the future.

To a dog, there is no difference to it jumping up or sitting as long as the behaviour is reinforcing. The only judgement put on the behaviour is by ourselves. We think of jumping on people as a “bad” behaviour and sitting as a “good” behaviour. To the dog, however, if both or either of those behaviours are reinforced i.e. they work for the dog, the dog will continue to do them.

One of the points Dr Friedman made was that the ability to make our own choices is very reinforcing. Imagine you had the most amazing life you could think of. You had all the money you ever needed, met the most interesting people, did the most fun and exciting hobbies and activities, ate most delicious and healthy food, had the best friends and a fantastic house with every gadget you could think of. Now, imagine that same life, but someone told you when to eat, when to do your hobbies, when to watch a movie and which one, when to see your friends and for how long and when to go on holiday and to where. The same, great life, might somehow now seem less satisfying. This is because we wouldn’t be in charge of our own destiny or decisions. Dogs need to make their own choices, at least some of the time. It empowers them and makes them happy. It’s our job as their owners to make sure the choices they make are appropriate and safe and to then reinforce those choices.

We can do this by managing the environment. If your dog tends to run off when you let him off the leash or bolt out of the door when it’s open, it’s because there is something reinforcing about doing this, otherwise, he wouldn’t do it. Now, if we put a leash on the dog when we open the door, we’ve now manged the dog’s access to the environment and her ability to self reinforce. We can now wait until the dog does something more appropriate, such as stop pulling or sit, and then reinforce this e.g. with food or access to the outside. This way, she then learns that dashing out the door no longer works, but sitting does, so she’ll offer this instead. I’ll give some more specific examples of this in upcoming blogs.

When the dog does make the right choice, we need to reinforce this, heavily and frequently. Think more in terms of reinforcement than rewards. When we use the term “reward” I think there is a tendency to view it as payment or compensation for the behaviour which has just been performed. What we are actually doing, is using the food “reward” or game/ball etc, to make the behaviour more likely to happen in the next time. When the dog offers the same behaviour again, we then have a further opportunity to reinforce this. This makes behaviours very solid. What happens quite often, and I include myself in this until recently, is the tendency to try to reduce the amount of reinforcement too quickly. What we are trying to do is build up a balance in a behavioural bank account.

Every time we reinforce a behaviour, we are making a small deposit into the account. When our dog performs a behaviour we want, and we don’t reinforce it, we are making a withdrawal. Unfortunately, the withdrawals are bigger than the deposits and if we don’t have an adequate balance in the first place, we can very quickly become overdrawn. To further illustrate, imagine you win the Euromillions lottery of £140m ( about Euro 150m or $200m). With that money, you make a £2m investment and you lose your money. Although it’s £2m, you still have £138m to fall back on so you probably won’t be too upset (which is pretty ridiculous given the amount of money we are talking about). Now, say it’s two days before payday and you only have £30 left to last you the two days and you need to pay a bill and buy food. If you lose £20 of that, the impact is so much bigger than losing £2m from the previous example, because the £20 has so much more relative value.

To apply this analogy to dog training, every time we reinforce a behaviour we are making a small deposit into the  “trust” account and make that behaviour more likely to reoccur. If we have a huge reinforcement history, built over months and thousands of reinforcements, we will build a huge balance. Our dog trusts us as there is classical conditioning occurring at the same time. What then happens is there comes a time where, for whatever reason, we are unable to reinforce the dog. We are cashing in some of that balance, but because it is so big, the trust between us and out dog isn’t affected (the lottery example). If we don’t have that same reinforcement history, we try to make a much larger withdrawal relative to the balance (the £20 loss before payday example) and the dog’s trust in us is affected.

Make loads of deposits into that account with your dog. He will do more of the behaviours you want him to do, less of the behaviours you don’t want him to do and your relationship will be stronger because he will trust you more. Until next time.

John McGuigan, Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant

Labeling your dog and self limiting beliefs

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“He’s stubborn. She’s disobedient. He’s aggressive. She doesn’t do as she’s told. He’s an Akita. She’s a Shiba Inu. I have to use a prong collar because he is X Y or Z or because he is a (fill in the blank) breed/type of dog. Postive reinforcement training doesn’t work because he is a dominant breed.”

I’ve heard loads of these comments from clients and dog people over the years and read more of them online. One of the most memorable was a guy who described his pitbull as a “cunning, conniving cur” which then gave him authority to treat him as such. One of the reasons for his description was that pitbulls are bred to fight, so they have to use “every trick” they can to win. As opposed to the reality of the matter, which is the dog is fighting for his life to entertain sick humans.

I’ve heard arguments or excuses from people on a number of topics –  that bull breeds fight with other dogs because they are bull breeds. Hounds and Spitz breeds cannot be let off leash because a recall is impossible because their desire to hunt is too high. Mastiff and livestock guardians can’t be trained because they don’t have the brain for it (whatever that means). One of my favourites was a client who owned a border collie who read on an online collie forum that you can’t expect collies not to chase cars, which was the problem she was having. We managed to train her dog not to chase cars in the space of an hour, using a ball, not to mention the hundreds of collies I’ve seen in my lifetime happily walking down the street as cars drive by.

Yes, certain breeds do have tendencies to do things more than other breeds. But they don’t do them because of that. They do these things because they find it reinforcing (a different thing from enjoying something) and because they have been allowed to be reinforced for doing it. I know I am not the best dog trainer in the world. I know I’m pretty good at it and I know that I will never stop trying to be better than I am just now. I say this because I know it’s possible to retrain dog aggressive bull breeds. I know it’s possible to train a husky or a Shiba Inu to recall. I know it’s possible to do these things without resorting to aversive training methods. The reason I know these things is because I’ve done them. I know there are loads of other things you can train a dog to do, without having done them myself because I’ve seen others do it.

If you think you can’t train your beagle to come back to you because she’s a beagle, you won’t do it and you’ll never let her off leash. If you think your Akita is unfriendly to people because he’s an Akita, it gives you the excuse not to do anything about it (although with any work with dogs who react aggressively we need to always be aware of safety issues).

Rather than attaching a label to your dog, think in terms of “If (a certain sequence of events or situation occurs) then (my dog reacts in a certain way)”. If my dog is off leash and catches an interesting smell then she won’t come back when I call her (prudent use of a long line and reinforcers is how I would go about changing this). If my dog is on leash and there is another dog within 15 feet, he will react aggressively (here you could alter the  distance and use classical conditioning). If you need to label anything, label behaviours, which we can change.

If you believe that you need to use aversive training methods (prong or shock collars, rattle cans, ear pinches, leash corrections, spray bottles), than you will be closed to other possibilities and you will never learn them. I don’t think that every dog issue can be solved but most of them can and the rest of them can be managed. I know that not every dog issue can be solved with force free techniques but that shouldn’t stop us from constantly trying to find behaviour modification solutions which are the least aversive. When we have exhausted all of these options we have a decision to make. How we make that decision will depend on our own ethics. A more aversive approach might work, but do we really need to use it? Is it worth inflicting pain in order to achieve our goal? If the answer is yes, then it’s a matter for your own conscience. Having tried all available force free alternatives to get your reactive dog safe around strange dogs or people, can we justify using a shock collar rather than getting up earlier in the morning and taking him out when it’s quiet and not exposing him to situations which will make him react. Is the reason for you wanting to take him out where there are other dogs or people around for him or for you?

I believe that force free methods can impact the vast majority of cases. Of all the dogs I’ve worked with, there is only one which I didn’t know how to help. Aversive techniques may have changed her behaviour, but there is always a high risk of fallout and I don’t use those techniques in any case. I haven’t stopped thinking of a solution for this dog and still ask other trainers their opinions. So in my own experience, I don’t know of a force free technique which hasn’t worked in 0.002% of cases and I work with dogs other trainers have tried to help and haven’t been able to or that other trainers won’t work with so it’s not as if I’m handpicking my clients.

“Let’s push beyond old limitations and see what’s truly possible for dogs, and their trainers” – Eric Brad, Canine Nation

Fitting dog training into our lives – part 1

Revised April 2014. I would advise a little differently now, being more aware of the dog’s need for social interaction.

mewat

 

Before I start with the topic of this blog, I’ll define punishment in terms the science of learning theory. Punishment is anything which causes a reduction in the intensity, duration and/or frequency of the immediately preceding behaviour. If it doesn’t cause a reduction, then by definition, it is not punishment.

We all have busy lives, some more than others. When we bring a dog into our lives, we owe it to our dogs and to ourselves to ensure we have adequate time to take care of all our dog’s needs. Fitting daily walks and exercise, mental stimulation, grooming and training into lifestyles already packed with work, our own exercise requirements and looking after children can be difficult. When we have a dog with a serious behaviour problem or training issue, finding the time can be even more problematic.

If you are a returning reader to my blog, you will be aware of my ethos regarding dog training and behaviour modification. I use no physically aversive training methods and don’t use fear or intimidation to train dogs, nor do I teach it. Now, given unlimited time and resources, which many of of wish we had but few have the luxury of,  we would train our dogs with the absolute minimum stress possible. We would have the time to always train our dogs to do what we want them to do in every scenario. Unfortunately, this isn’t realistic for the vast majority of us.

An example of this is a dog I worked with the other night. The clients are a couple who both work and have two young children of school age. They have a friendly young retriever who is great with people and other dogs. She is well cared for and healthy. The issues with the dog are that she greats people inside and out of the house by jumping on them and she barks for attention at her owners in the evenings when they are watching television. The dog has all of her basic requirements met in that she is walked and played with everyday among everything else. It would be possible for us to teach this dog to lie down or sit with no distractions and then gradually move up to the level where she is able to cope with the distraction of people coming into the house without jumping on them. This takes time and a lot of effort on the part of the owners, and they probably don’t have the time to do this. The course of action I suggested was to have the dog on leash when people came into the house and not allow her to greet them until she calmed down. When she offers calmer behaviour, the leash is dropped and she is allowed to go and say hello. If she acts up again, the owner quickly picks up the leash again without any fuss or talking to the dog, and removes the dog from the visitor. The dog learns that the faster she calms down, the faster she gets to say hello to the visitor, which she wants to do, and that excited behaviour causes her to be removed from the guest. All of this is done without hitting, shouting, spraying the dog or scaring her, but if we are consistent and do it every time, the dog will get the idea and behave more appropriately.

Now, this method of teaching her has the potential to be more stressful for the dog, as removal of the chance to say hello is the motivating factor, rather than the dog being solely rewarded for good behaviour. Good behaviour causes the dog to say hello, “bad” behaviour means she doesn’t.  It’s simple and easy to apply, and will work in many cases as long as we are consistent in it’s application so the dog learns the rules. When using any punishment (in the strictest behavioural sense as defined above) the consequence needs to be unpleasant enough for the dog to want to avoid it – here it is unpleasant for the dog to be removed from the guest – and because it is unpleasant, it has potential to cause the dog stress.

As long as we are minimising the stress involved, and pairing it with rewarding the dog for good behaviour, the effects of the stress are reduced. Given that the less stressful alternative of teaching the dog under increasingly more difficult distractions takes time, which the owners don’t have, we need to come up with a plan which they can implement and has the lowest stress levels. There is no point in advising a stress free course of action which they cannot or will not follow. The dog doesn’t get trained, the behaviour doesn’t change and the overall stress to the dog over it’s lifetime doesn’t reduce. Appropriate use of physically force free punishment is a necessary part of learning. Frequent evalution of all training methods to ensure the dog is learning what we want it to learn and changing things which don’t work will help to minimise stress. That said, it is unrealistic to attempt to completely eliminate stress from our lives. All living creatures in nature are under some sort of stress, whether that is finding food or a safe place to sleep away from predators.

Dog training is sometimes about a compromise between what is realistic for owners and minimising stress for the dog while always being guided by our own moral compass as to what we are willing to do to our dogs in the name of training.

In part two, I’ll offer more practical tips on how to make time for constructive, effective dog training.

How do you define force free dog training?

Appropriate use of a long line
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How do you define force free dog training? Is it lack of physical corrections, not using aversive training tools (prong collars, shock collars), or physical molding (such as pushing your dog’s rear end onto the ground to train it to sit)? Do you consider rattle cans and spray bottles a use of force. Is shouting at your dog or constant repetition of cues using force? Do you stare your dog down when she does something you don’t like. These are all things I wouldn’t use in training or behaviour modification either for my own dogs or working with clients.

Now, what about turning around and physically moving your dog when he lunges, either aggressively or playfully, at a person walking past you and your dog when he is on leash? Do you use a long line to train recall or closer proximity to you so you can prevent him from moving towards a distraction? Would you take your dog by the collar and physically move him from the counter if he was jumping up to get the left over roast chicken and you forgot to close the kitchen door? Do you use a crate or put you dog in another room when visitors come in? Do you body block your dog from coming into rooms or use the door to stop him running out the house? If your dog breaks a sit/stay, would you give another cue to ask him to sit again? Would you consider tethering a dog in place for short periods? I do, or would consider using these methods.

Now, the point of this is that all of these influence the dog’s behaviour, and most of them use some physical means to do so. I attended a BAT seminar recently with Grisha Stewart. Grisha talks of “putting on the breaks” using a long line when working with reactive dogs. What this means is that you use a the long line to slow the dog down from moving forward when the dog would normally run forward and this gives him time to think. We physically stop the dog from moving forward, but slowly and gently.

If I use the analogy of a military base. The military don’t want you entering in the interests of both you and themselves. For them, security and secrecy are the motivators. For you, they don’t want you coming in because they might be dangerous and there may be the risk of exposure to live ammunition etc. The fence is first line of physical control. After that, there might be security patrols where they could stop you by their presence or resort to more physical or might detain you.

In the above example, you might not know that you weren’t supposed to be in a certain area. Say the fences were in a poor state of repair. There might not be any signs or you might not understand what they say. As this applies to dog training, your dog might not know what the rules are, but you have a responsibility to keep him safe. You might not have reached that level of training yet and the environment throws you something you can’t manage in that instant. If that’s the case, you need to get physical with your dog.

There’s an expression among force free dog people – “Positive doesn’t mean permissive”. Some circumstances will dictate we need to physically move or restrain our dogs. Sometimes we need to get physical in preventing them from doing stuff we don’t want them to do. As long as we’re keeping the physical aversion to an absolute minimum, work to try to eliminate it and train our dogs so physical management to a minimum, we are on a more enlightened path.  For example, teaching your dog to lie down with a stuffed Kong when visitors come in will reduce or eliminate the need to put them in another room or crate them if they are prone to mugging your guests.

We have big brains compared to dogs. Dogs are faster than we are, have better weapons that we do, but we are generally smarter. There will always be times when we may need to physically intervene, but we can train and teach to reduce those times. No force, no fear, no pain or intimidation.