Friday, December 21, 2012

Why switch from punishment based methods to reinforcement.

Talking to another trainer yesterday about the reasons for making the switch from punishment based methods to reinforcement.  When asked why the switch, the answer was

"I started doing more and more board and train dogs. I started getting some pretty shy sweet ones in and it was hard correcting them and seeing them not wanting to work with me. I started noticing a lot of holes in the training I was doing. Then, when my old trainer **** started showing me marker training, I started practicing on **** and saw a HUGE difference in her. So I started playing around with it, understood it fairly well and did a whole bunch more research on it. Then I knew.

I had to break a dog down before I could build it up and I hated that. Also working the board and train dogs, it was soooo boring. Same things day after day and I started hating it."

That last statement about having to break a dog down before being able to build it back up definitely resonated with me.  This is the only way a punishment based trainer can resolve behavior issues.  The "obedience" argument (that a dog has to have a good grounding in obedience first) is just an excuse to apply the only real tools a punishment trainer has  - harsh corrections.  That "obedience" training is what breaks the dog down, creates a dog so passive that it knows if it moves without permission it will have pain applied somehow.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


The basics of dog behavior and training can be explained to a child and he’ll get them right away, if they’re true and workable. Last night, I had the pleasure of working with two boys, 6 and 8, who want to be junior handlers.  The 6 year old got the mechanics of treat delivery and and waiting for the dogs attention before giving a cue right away.  The 8 year old had tons of questions about why it was done "that" way.  But both of them learned the basics of teaching a dog "tricks".  Izzy, their dog, learned to sit immediately (she already knew sit) and that having sat, she was to stay there until released (no need for the word stay).  Both boys got this concept right away - no need to "explain".  There were other things everyone learned last night, but mostly what was learned was that it was easy and that it made sense to a child.

Truths, valuable truths, and the things that are really workable, are that easily communicated. You can always tell when we’re getting too complicated and esoteric because a child can’t understand what we’re talking about. And if that’s the case, and it’s gotten very complicated, the humans and canines we are attempting to teach will never reach understanding.  When explanations and mechanics are so complicated that it takes a PhD to decipher them, all you get is robotic movement or no movement at all.

Adults have a tendency, which I think is a learned tendency, to either not question and therefore not understand or to just not listen to the explanations of why.  Children, like dogs, see the end product and just want to know how to get there.  Childern can dream and wish and hope and work toward those goals.  Adults have lost it somewhere and get bogged down in "it can't be done".

It takes courage to move ahead. Courage could be defined as 1) being willing to cause something; and 2) moving ahead against any and all odds. There really is no such thing as failure, only not doing.  But for whatever reason, adults see failure more then they dream of, plan for success and then act.  This can be solved by going back to basics, making things simple and easy. One, two, three, done. Taking them back to childhood where the courage to dream and plan and act was natural.

Dog training and behavior is simple.  And it is easy as well. If a child can do it, anyone can.  If a child can do it, why is there any need for painful techniques and tools or intimidation to teach a dog our rules and the behaviors that make living with humans less stressful.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A New Paradyme - Releasing Dominance Theory

In the beginning, I was taught the “dominance” theory by many trainers who I followed and even idolized. In those years, even though I believed what I'd been taught, looking back I realize that I never really applied that theory to my own dogs. I never did use choke chains, prong or pinch collars, mostly because I fell in love with a slip collar made out of 1/2" rope early on. Yes, a slip collar can be used in similar fashion to a choke chain and in recent years has been made popular by a famous TV dog show. What I used however was 1/2" thick not the thin braided nylon used on said TV show, much less potential for harm. Because it was rope it was soft on my hands.

Because it was a slip collar it went on easily and came off the same. But it was only there to contain a dog in it's initial training phase, not as a method of control. There were no, or very few, leash laws when I was growing up and going to college and even into the 80's and that's what I think of when I'm working with dogs. I still train as naked as possible and teach others to do the same.

Along with dominance theory are other words and practices in use then and now for "controlling" the wild animal nature of a dog that most people seem to think is real- or a product of their own fears. But again, as I look back, I never did apply this theory to my own dogs - we were friends and companions always. Even today, most of the "commands" that my dogs learn they learn by use, not by a strict regimen of training. "Leave it" is already known by Cinnamon the 4 month old puppy, as is "back it up". But I didn't train them, I just used them in appropriate circumstances. Are they "commands" or just a communication asking the dog to please do something? "Leave it" in my world means back off - not a whole lot different then "back it up" but used in a different context. Even in the late 80's, dominance and obedience were not a part of my personal world with my dogs. Princess, an Aussie I had in the middle 80's, never had a leash on her neck, ever, and yet without any training in recall or heeling would follow me everywhere. She would race beside my bicycle all the way to work, stay with me at work and then race me home.

Although I never did teach the use of tools or techniques that involved pain or heavy control, I did teach the “dominance” theory and the importance of “leading the pack”.

Dog owners and trainers often use the “dominance” theory to explain and make excuses for a variety of unwanted canine behaviors. This concept is also used to justify the use of aversive tools and techniques designed to over-power a dog with the objective of intimidating the dog into submission in order to stop those behaviors. This type of “training” works because the dog becomes afraid to move in certain manners for fear of pain or the pressure of intimidation and challenge.

Many of the trainers who use dominance theory consistently challenge the dogs they are training with threatening body postures, pokes, prods, kicks, punches and loud commanding voices.

These methods teach avoidance but do nothing to address the root cause of the behavior issue - issues which are usually only issues because humans don't like them. It’s much like doctors who treat pain with pain killers as opposed to finding out what is causing the pain and curing that.

“Dominance exercises” commonly cause fear, aggression and other unwanted behavior that result in suffering by the dog and often euthanasia. In one case, a trainer in Florida actually killed a dog while attempting to force it into submission. After muzzling the dog and sitting on it for over an hour, the dog lost consciousness and later that day, had to be euthanized due to its injuries.

Things like spitting in the dog's food to handle food aggression, peeing on the wall higher then the dog is peeing to make a dog stop marking in the house, alpha roles that don't truly exist in nature, scruff shaking so hard it causes the same internal damage as a shaken baby, hanging the dog by it's collar until it passes out or vomits and a plethora of weird and wacky means to "put a dog in it's place".

You don't see much of the weirdest of these techniques, but they often made me wonder, in those days before the Internet and easy access to information, if the main techniques of harsh obedience training, alpha roles, poking the neck and kicking the abdomen are from the same trough as spitting in the food and peeing on the wall. I've seen it all, tried it all, discarded all of it after the first use. There were techniques that I did keep around for a long time however. But again, only with my clients, never with my own dogs.

Every canine behavior blamed on “dominance” is normal in canine terms and can be explained by simple motivation and the search for reinforcement. It's quite simple, dogs want to survive and survival means going after what is considered good stuff. If you saw a $100 bill lying in the street would you not pick it up? Why then is a dog helping itself to your dinner “dominant” when they are scavengers by nature? It's not a “dominant” dog that takes your food it's a normal dog doing what comes naturally to its species. It’s not about dominance it’s about resources and the ever strong survival instinct.

I ask you, as a thinking reasoning being, to try and get the concept that culture and nurture play a huge role in how a creature views it's world, what it considers reinforcement and how it responds to danger and even what it considers dangerous. A human from the depths of the Amazon jungle would NOT pick up that $100 bill. A human born and raised in Los Angeles would not eat monkey brains. Dogs have been domesticated for a very long time, they are no longer, by environment, nurture or nature, wolves, just as we are no longer aborigines living by the spear in the jungle.

At one point in my life, I realized that I was getting nowhere in trying to apply what I'd been taught about dogs by others. This was before I discovered the massive amount of information about dogs, behavior and training on the Internet. I knew, however, that I was living one way and teaching another. I stopped. There were other factors involved in that, but I stopped training completely. It was pointless unless I could figure out how to teach what I did with my own personal dogs.

For example, I no longer teach the words “obedience” or “command” to clients. Obedience is not a natural thing for a dog, it's demeaning and was born from the need to quickly train dogs during war time to be messengers. It was never meant for pet dogs. The greatest percentage of my clients just want a pet that doesn't drive them nuts with behaviors (natural to dogs) that are dangerous, annoying or intimidating. In the past I would tell them to be the pack leader and give them a set of rules to live by. Then teach the dog to obey about six commands and this was all supposed to produce a dog that could be lived with. The Canine Good Citizen test is the epitome of this philosophy. It has 10 testing points, none of which actually address how humans and dogs can live together in harmony.

Dominance theory has no place in the pet dog world. It has no place in the sporting world either, but most definitely not in the pet dog world. I believe that the interest in and use of dominance theory comes from a deeply hidden need to control things because of the fear of being eaten / mauled / hurt by a wild creature. It comes from a misunderstanding of what dogs have evolved to be, what they are capable of and how evolution has shaped them to avoid conflict because it is a non-survival behavior. I believe it comes from the need to be at the top of any pyramid no matter whether it's human, canine, feline, equine or any other species. Dominance theories abound in the training world with nearly every species being trained. Even prey animals like horses are treated with the harsh methods created by the need to dominant. It's a human need that has been anthropomorphized onto every other species out of fear.

There is a trainer here who posts the exact same ad every day on Craigs List trying to get customers. He is a "traditional" trainer. He believes that dogs should be controlled and submissive. He treats humans the same way. In his mind (and this is solely based on my knowledge of him from his writings and responses), he is the only one qualified to train your dog. In his mind, he is the best there is and has the police department as his proof - even though ( and I could be wrong on this ) the only thing he's done for the police department is snake aversion work. He also sites that he worked at a wolf sanctuary as a caretaker. I called that sanctuary and his duties were clean up and feeding of captive animals that couldn't express themselves in a natural way. Whatever he learned there - and he claims he learned alot and uses what he learns on your dogs - couldn't be the truth of a DOG, only of a captured wolf and only their responses to his maintenance duties.

So, dominance theory in a small package. Myth topped off by seeing one situation and applying it to all. The same way dominance theory came into being for all trainers.

I have figured out how to teach others the way I work with my own dogs. So we all learn how to use a dog's natural instincts - a dog's need to play and a dog's desire to learn to be with us and interacting with us no matter what that might be - and they learn faster and more reliably then "traditional" methods. Everyone enjoys themselves once they get into the spirit of play and understand that even they learned best when the learning process was a game and when the tests were a challenge and not a stressful activity of proving oneself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Testimonial

I was first recommended to Jamie and Canine Behavior Training/Seize the Leash when, after four years, my fourteen year old dog, Guiness, began viciously attacking my four year old dog, Bailey. With three daughters in my home, I was frightened to leave the dogs unsupervised or around my girls. I reached out for help and the comments of, "Get rid of one of the dogs." fell on deaf ears.

After coming home, one evening, to a blood splattered porch and wall, Bailey's neck punctured and bleeding, I sunk to my knees and cried. My sister reminded me of the dog trainer we'd briefly met, Jamie, that may be able to help. Grief stricken and feeling helpless, I decided to call.

To my relief, Jamie came the very next day. She stayed for a one hour, free, in-home evaluation. Although the full hour wasn't necessary. Jamie swiftly and expertly identified the problems within the first 20 minutes. First, Jamie told me Guiness was in pain, and recommended a vet visit. I didn't know it was possible to feel worse, but now I did. I felt like a horrible dog owner. How had I not noticed? After having Guiness for 13 years, you would think I would! She still ran with me, chased rabbits on our off leash runs in the desert, dug holes and jumped on the bed. Pain?! How? Why?

Jamie explained dogs do not show pain like humans. Small flashes were apparent to her expertly trained eye. In addition, to my surprise, Jamie mentioned my 13 year old dog, Lucky, and 14 year old dog Guiness had an incredible bond. I knew this, of course, but how could someone that had been in my home for less than 30 minutes see? She advised that Bailey simply didn't know her place, and identified Bailey as the one in need of training. To be honest, I did not agree or think that training classes for the dog BEING attacked could help. Plus on a limited budget, smack dab in middle of the recession, every penny counts. I found myself thinking, "Is she just trying to make money because of the free visit?" But, knowing I was out of other options (because who gets rid of their 14 year old dog) I reluctantly agreed.

A vet visit and xray proved Jamie spot on. Guiness had three slipped vertebrae in her spine that were fusing together. At her age, surgery was not an option. My matriarch of the family was given medication to ease the pain. I was told she would have to be on it for life. I would do anything to make her remaining time with me more comfortable.

We started training Bailey, or more accurately, Jamie started training me. I was fascinated when I slowly arrived at the conclusion that it is the human receiving the training, not the dog. Several times I had to put my ego away and learn to listen and accept responsibility for what I was doing incorrectly without excuses or justification. So frequently I would whine, frustrated, "Bailey just isn't getting it." Jamie would calmly walk over smiling, and seamlessly have Bailey perform the task we were given. My mouth dropped open. I was then receptive to her showing me once again how to accomplish the "trick" we were learning.

My whole life I've aimed to learn to have more patience. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think a dog trainer and a dog would teach it to me. I was also keen to listen and learn because Jamie's method of training is outdoors and based on positive reinforcement. No choke collars, no yelling, no shock collars. Simply, ask the dog for a behavior and reward when it is given. The dog begins wanting to do the behavior, this also builds trust. Wow, how dumb do I feel. But as I think about it, if you didn't know Spanish and visited Mexico how would you feel if the locals hit you with a newspaper or yelled in your face shocking you with electricity, every time you pronounced a word incorrectly? You would stop trying and shy away. I notice when I try to speak Spanish, I am encouraged and smiled at for the effort. This should translate to dogs. How would they know what we are trying to say? Encouragement. But I digress...

To my utter amazement almost immediately, the dog fights ceased. There was one more fight after training started, and that was thankfully, the end of it. Jamie made another house visit, at no charge, once Guiness was settled in, and taught me ace bandage wraps and gentle touches and massages that would soothe Guiness' pain. Jamie's kindness and love for dogs is sure and true.

My story could end here, on a happy note. Tragically, it does not.

Bailey successfully completed her 6 weeks of training! I could not have been more pleased with myself, and her. I thought "Sit, Stay, Down" was what we were to learn. I didn't think not pulling on the leash, no longer randomly barking incessantly, sitting until I give the command to release (even when I jog or run around her) and not eating food when I accidentally drop it on the ground, were in the syllabus.

I didn't think genuine happiness for Guiness, Lucky, Bailey and my family, was part of the entire picture. Bailey and I bonded. Her energy and spark were contagious. I was laughing again, the whole house was. She was so willing to "work" and began offering behaviors, I craved to learn how to teach her more. I began saving my pennies realizing Jamie's fee is not only fair, but on the too generous side. I spoke with proud Jamie and she agreed, rally is the next step for Bailey and I. Rally is a class where the true fun begins. Superdog jumping over poles, snake-like weaving though objects, crawling up A-Frames and proudly sitting on top like she conquered Mount Everest. We enrolled. After our first few weeks of Rally, Bailey and I were playing our newest learned game of "tug." She ripped a small piece of fabric off the toy and swallowed it. This moment in my life will be burned into my memory forever. Something so simple, so stupid, ended up killing my dog. The fabric became logged in her intestine. When my husband and I took her to our vet, Dr. McMillian, two days later because she was lethargic and wouldn't eat, he gave her a quick xray to determine what the trouble was. He came into the room with a blank stare on his face and delivered the earth shattering news. He didn't think operating could save her, about 80% of her intestine were rotted and her body was shutting down. My husband says I was jumping up and down screaming. This is lost to me. We made the horrific decision to put Bailey down in April 2012.

I called Jamie, she was devastated and cried with me. The house became like a ghost town. The energy died with Bailey. The senior dogs became just that, seniors. They stopped playing. The energy apparently left them too, Guiness began to deteriorate and not even a month later I had to make the decision to put Guiness down. She passed May 2012. Now although this was more "expected" due to her age, the wounds were still raw from my recent loss and my ability to cope with losing my long time friend, was shattered. I was shattered. Lucky stopped eating and had to be put on anti-depressant medication.

Three days into this mess I called Jamie and asked her what she thought of us getting a puppy. Jamie said normally she doesn't recommend a replacement dog so soon, but in this case she did. Looking back I believe this was the moment that Jamie crossed over from trainer and into a friend. She called all her dog loving friends and adoption clinics. We visited the humane society with my family to help find a puppy that would fit best with Lucky. After all, Lucky is the new matriarch of the family.

We didn't find a puppy. We found two - sisters. Glorious, precious, wrinkly, loveliness. Half Shar-Pei, half Labrador. One outgoing and fun, golden like the color of the sun. The other hesitant but a snuggler, jet black with wide wondering eyes. The adoption volunteer asked how I felt about this breed of dog potentially living until they were 15-17, I almost cried in relief, although I do not believe that was the response she was expecting.

Jamie made another trip to the house (I live in Vail folks, this is a drive that requires a stop for snacks) and helped me introduce the puppies to Lucky. It took a grueling month and yet another trip by Jamie, for Lucky to become accustomed to all this change. The loss of her best friend of 13 years, and new puppies crawling all over her and biting her tail as it swished back and forth. Lucky now is in love. Smitten by these two, Ava and Roo, who adore her every move. Lucky has her spark back, and so does my family.

We immediately enrolled Ava and Roo in puppy class. Yes, ridiculous as it sounds. Jamie had us brush their teeth, mess with their paws, clean their ears, open their mouths to touch their tongues, rub their fur backwards, and more random things I would have never thought of. I laughed because I knew this was unusual by normal puppy training expectations. But that is why I swear by Jamie.

All the little things are so simplistic, yet so important. Not a week after, Ava was stung by a bee and her entire mouth and neck began swelling. My eldest daughter called me panicked and I left work for an emergency trip to the vet (I'm thinking, Really more dog drama?!) We arrive and after an immediate injection to stop the swelling, the vet was searching her mouth for the stinger. Dr. McMillian was able to locate and successfully remove it because Ava held perfectly still and didn't mind her mouth being probed, a bit. Dr. McMillian said,"Have you been working with her?" To which I proudly replied, "Yes." He looked at me for a beat and said, "Thank you, that was wonderful. No squirming dogs or risk of me being bitten" and he smiled.

The puppies could sit at 8 weeks. And under Jamie's guidance and watchful eye, we gradually learned: roll over, leave it, to sit in or on anything I place in front of them, go around, jump over, wait, beg, lay down, and touch. Now, at 7 months, Roo can jump through a hoola hoop!

My story does have a happy ending. My incredibly painful loss, subsequent devastation, and broken heart has lead me to a new friend, and two playful and wonderful new additions to my family, the ever spoiled Ava and Roo.

P.S. I have, as of this very day, been invited to apprentice under Jamie to learn to teach people, and their dogs her magical ways. If I can help just one person, or just one dog, it will mean the world to me. To be able to pay it forward, and return the favor that one great lady, who dedicated her life and livelihood to helping others, has done for me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Training Methods and Definitions Again

I love this article "Dog Whispering In the 21st Century". But even it can be simplified so that those who refuse to read can understand. It's not really a problem of whether or not people are intelligent enough to understand, it's that they refuse to read.../listen to a long discussion that really only pertains to the trainers themselves.

What it boils down to is definitions and goals. Each trainers definitions are slightly or completely different in regards to "loaded" words. But that doesn't really matter if you just look at the motivations behind the "training" WHY does this person train dogs, what result is he striving for in each dog - control or relationship or something in between. EVen control can be broken down into "human control" or "self control by the dog". And relationship in the same way - master/slave or partners.

What it really means to an owner: Is each trainer ethical enough to tell you exactly what tools and methods are being used and what the expected result will be and can you ethically and with integrity accept that.

Asking questions and truly finding out the above for each trainer interviewed is what we should be pushing on dog owners. Most people are not willing to hurt their dogs (subject again to definition of what hurt is), but they also want a quick resolution to their dogs issues. If we, as R+ trainers can show that the time necessary is close to being the same as the force trainers, then there is no contest :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The process of learning

Learning is a process of connecting the dots - “If I do this then I get that.” Learning creates behavior. Behavior is an expression of energy and energy comes from emotion. Emotion comes from the aniticipation of consequence which brings us full circle back to learning.

There is a cycle to all life's activities, purposes and processes. You can affect life at any point in that cycle. If you teach a dog something new, you affect his behavior and his emotions. Teaching involves presenting new consequences (for the purpose of humans, information can be considered a consequence).

Suppression of any point on a cycle of action, especially if it suppresses a larger cycle of life behavior, destroys learning, creates only fear or apathic emotions and reduces the energy output to nearly zero.

Remember this when next you decide to "punish". The only consequence that is learned during punishment is pain. Pain being defined as a warning that if this activity is continued there may be death. The expression of pain by the body is an evolved mechanism in all life on planet Earth that signifies imminent death.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rehabilitation & Canine Psychology

What does it mean to rehabilitate a dog?

There are two definitions in the dictionary that apply to canine rehabilitation.
1) to restore to a condition of good health, ability to work, or the like.
2) to reestablish the good reputation of (a person, one's character or name, etc.).

Both of these definitions imply that when you rehabilitate a dog, what you are doing is returning that dog to a natural state - good health, the ability to work, to be a dog and do dog things - and to restore that dog's reputation with the humans who live or interact with that dog.

The words rehabilitation and psychology are all the rage these days due to TV's influence on dog training and behavior consulting. So let's look at what psychology actually is as well.

Psychology is defined as:
1) the science of the mind or of mental states and processes.
2) the science of human and animal behavior, sometimes concerned with the methods through which behavior can be modified

So, if you are claiming that you use canine psychology to rehabilitate a dog, what you should be doing by definition, is using the science of mental states, emotions, how they affect behavior and the actual normal behavior of a canine to bring the dog back to a natural state.  

Sounds good.  But what is the natural state of a dog?  Is it, like decades of trainers and behaviorists have stated - like a wolf? If so, what is the natural mental and behaviorial state of a wolf?  Is it what we've seen on TV - pack structure with dominant, aggressive, alpha canids who rule the group with an iron fist making sure all other members are submissive and don't move until given permission?  

Despite the arguments for and against alpha dominance and aggressive leadership, and whether or not dogs should be treated the same as wolves, dogs are domesticated. This is their evolved natural habitat - here with us. It’s an arrangement that we take for granted, but it’s far from ordinary. Having dogs as our companions and helpers is and was one of the most extraordinary things that ever happened. If our ancestors hadn’t teamed up with their ancestors, we simply wouldn’t be living the way we do.

Dogs exist in amazing numbers around the world. There are many dogs that are loosely attached to people and are in continuous contact within the greater population of dogs. Exploring the behavior of these village dogs gives us not only the dynamics of how dogs earn a living, but also suggests how they evolved and adapted to civilization. It also provides an insight into dog behavior.

Behavioral ecologists look at the results of an animal’s motions. The animal hunts for food. Hunting for food has a cost, which can be measured in many ways, including the expenditures of time and energy. The big question for the behavioral ecologist is, how do animals capture enough energy to accomplish all of their biological requirements?

This behavior, as studied by the ecologist, ethologist and behaviorist, is what a dog should be rehabilitated to if you are strict to the definitions of rehabilitation and psychology.  But we are human and we wish our dogs to live with us, not as part of a village.  So what would you study to find out the "natural" behavior of dogs in response to a human world?

While dominance theory and dog pack dynamics are interesting areas of study, the argument of whether they apply to us and our domesticated dogs, is actually a moot point.

"All human suffering is the result of believing in lies. To become aware of this is the first thing we must do." don Miguel Ruiz

A lie is an alteration in the time, the place, the form or the details of the event itself. In dog training, there are many lies, or if you wish, misinformation. Each one is designed to promote a specific method of "training" your dog. That method is part and parcel to the attitude and emotional balance of the humans who promote it. The quick resolution is one of the most prevalent. "Show" the dog who's boss in whatever fashion gets the point across fast and you have a well behaved dog. There are two lies here 1) that the dog is now well behaved and 2) that dogs respond to an aggressive display with subservience and good behavior. What you really have is a dog who is terrified that that method is going to be used again. Every fight or flight instinct is in constant restimulation, which means the physical, emotional and hormonal structure of the dog is contantly out of balance.

So, creating a dog who is in a constant state of stress - suffering - is the result of believing a lie. What is the lie? The lie is that dogs are wolves and that wolves are aggressive and constantly seeking to be dominant and alpha.

"Dogs do not cause dogfights; people do". "It's not the dog, it's the human". "Be calm and assertive and your dog will be calm and submissive". All these and more are espoused as the "natural" way to rehabilitate a dog. The only communication needed, say these types of trainers, is energy. And yet, what you see these trainers doing is a form of communication that says "I don't care what you want, what you think, what your emotions are - you will do what I say or I will hurt you". Shock collars, prong and pinch collars, nearly wire thin slip leads, choke chains, dressage whips, pokes, pinches, kicks and prods are the methods used by those who relagate communication to the trash heap of "New Age Alien Abductees who came back from the Mother Ship with the uncanny ability to read your dog's mind".

Just as dogs are not humans, humans are not dogs.  You cannot be your dog's pack leader - you are not a dog. Contrary to common belief, dogs know that they are dogs and not human. They also know that we are human and not dogs. It is us humans who frequently get confused on these matters.  Even the terms dominance and submission have more to do with primate behavior then canine.

Since we are human, we are not expected by our dogs to act like dogs. We must communicate with them in a way that they can understand, but that does not mean that we should try to act like them. Not only would we be poor imitators, but however well we pretend, we would still be human, and our dogs will always know what we are.

Because our dogs live in our very complex human world, it is necessary for us to assume real leadership and teach them our rules. We must provide for them not just in terms of food and shelter, but also in terms of their health and safety. But in order to do all this, we must be able to communicate with our dogs.

This is the missing factor in all the dominance based training - communication.  If dogs acted only out of a desire to be dominant and alpha over all pack members no matter what the species, or even as I have seen on TV - over objects and spaces - there would be no need for the complex and subtle communication signals that dogs display.

However, most of the schools for dog training in this country totally neglect "communication" as part of their curriculum.  Some of them cover the generalities and some of the "calming signals" made popular by Turid Rugaas, but none of them educate about how to actually communicate with a dog.  None of them teach the subtle combinations of signals, none of them teach you how to actually be an observer and see what the natural state of a dog is.  

Training or rehabilitating a dog is not just a matter of asserting human will, training and rehabilitation require a human to learn to express himself accurately, communicate aptly and observe a dog's reaction to it all in order to gauge the effectiveness of what is being communicated.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Addition - Trampolines!!!


Training can help with the relationship you have with your dog, depending on the method used, but it’s not a guarantee that you will create a great relationship with your dog with just training.
Relationship is more than the 20 to 40 minutes a day we spend trying to teach our dogs to do un-natural behaviors or instinctive behaviors in unnatural ways. You cannot build a relationship using only your training time. Training is an important part of it but it's far from being the whole thing.

A relationship is about discovering who your dog “is” and who you are in relation to your dog. There are a million different ways to interact with your dog that have nothing to do with "training". It's the little things that truly build a relationship.  It's day to day living and interacting within the framework of your life, that builds a relationship.  It's no different then what you've built with your husband, wife, best friend or sister. 

Joy is found in every day life.  If the only joy you allow your dog is part of the training package, you will end up with a dog who doesn't know how to live in your world without stress.  Bring joy into both your lives and build a relationship that transcends training.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Help My Dog Is Out Of Control (or is it my trainer who's out of control?)

This morning I reposted a couple of my training ads on Craigs List.  Not 10 minutes had gone by when one of the local shock collar/ aversive trainers flagged the post and put up a smart ass post about how positive reinforcement training and behaviorists are full of crap.

Since this blog is really here for me to let off steam and the ones who actually follow this blog know this - here is my response:

It's really funny that someone who attended a 6 week class either a year ago or so says something like this. I guess 40 years of experience, 5 years at a University and continual study mean nothing so long as you have a diploma for learning 30 things in 6 weeks.
Definitely check out your trainers, don't rely on self proclaimed results. NO ONE gets 100% and sometimes that "rehabilitation" is really just a dog that has been so beaten down with "corrections" "stims from an electronic training collar" "or forced no matter what to comply".
It goes both ways here. I get tons of people from trainers like this who are totally dissatisfied with the results because they can't reproduce them at home or because they didn't actually work. Sure, there are some of my clients who go to trainers like this - the ones looking for a magic wand, the ones who don't care what they do to their dog to "fix" the problem - the ones who refuse to do any work themselves and expect someone else to do it.

Does my way take longer? No. But it does last because it's not just beating the dog down but actually teaching a dog something. Is obedience not part of my lexicon? NO, I teach much much more then just 6 commands of sit, down, stay, come, heel and stand - but I teach them also. I teach self control, confidence, focus, and a plethora of behaviors (what trainers like this one call tricks) that assist a dog in knowing how to live in a human world.
A little history here. Dogs have been working partners to man for 1000's of years. Obedience training didn't come about until WWII when the military needed dogs trained fast fast fast and obedience training was the result - all with the use of force, compulsion, privation, and pain. The history of the argument between trainers who use force, intimidation and pain and those who use rewards is nearly as long as the history of dogs working with humans.

So do your homework, don't just look at the surface, check out the trainers that interest you thoroughly and make sure you can live with the methods they choose to use. Any training will work - but is it worth the result?

I am proud to actually say who I am and what I believe in - is he? Or does he hide the actual methods that he uses behind words like "rehabilitation", "balanced", "it's just a tap on the shoulder".

PS: You'll notice that he flagged my post and yet I haven't flagged his and won't. Is his sour grapes really that he believes he is right or is he just afraid of competition?

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Dog Does Not Come Pre-Programmed

Why won’t my dog do "that"?

When I'm not working with dogs, playing with dogs or sleeping, I am programming web applications for the fitness and health industry. Those who know that I do this, ask me often "why won't my computer do that?" I've been a programming since the early 80's, before PC's became popular and long before the Internet and I've never had a computer that was pre programmed to do what I wanted it to do. It's easier now of course, computers come from the store with software already installed for a variety of purposes. But unless you've used those programs or programs very similar before, there is a learning process that you have to go through.

Why is it that people think that both dogs and computers come pre programmed to cater to their every whim?

Why are a lot of people shocked when the adult dog they adopt and even the puppy they bring home barely weaned, doesn't know how to sit, stay, get off the couch and even not pee in the house? Dogs, unfortunately, do not come pre-programmed to do those things one sees other dogs doing. What they DO come pre-programmed to do is bark, play, bite, poop, pee, whine, lick, dig, scratch, roll in things, jump, wrestle, and trot much faster then we can walk. Dogs do have programming, just as all living things on this planet do - it's in the genes as potential and only manifests if the environment demands it.

We have got to remember that we are asking our dogs to live in a world that we created not the natural world they evovled to operate in. Even dispite 1000's of years of domestication, the genes remember and survival is paramount. We are asking our dogs to have patience and "wait" or "stay" even though there is no rabbit hole. We are asking them to do things just because we want them to not because there is survival involved. In short, we expect dogs to be more human then we are.

To go back to the parallel with computers. Many of my clients over the years have asked me to create software that will make their lives easier or that they can sell to others making lots of lives easier. Most of these programs have involved millions of lines of code, complex algorhythms, all with user friendliness on the front end. None of the projects I've done have been shorter then a year and that one was a simple program that kept track of inventory, ordering and sales of that inventory. When I say simple, that's in comparison to most of the other software I've created. But even that client could not understand why it took so long when he could have done it all with pencil and paper in much less time. What he didn't figure on was that sure, it took only a few days to figure out what to order based on prior sales and what was in inventory at that time, but he had to take those few days every time he needed that information.

Just like with dogs, we are asking our computers to be more then human, to do all those things for us that we don't have the time or energy or inclination to do. People seem to expect a dog to come to them with programs already written - go get my slippers, get me a bear, sit, stay, down, roll over. Second to that, people don't want to take the time to train their dogs, they want trainers to do it. There are many trainers with ads that read "leave your dog with us for 2 weeks and get back a perfect robot". They are never told that that training will never stick if not worked on in life, they are never told that they will have to bring the dog back for a refresher every year.

Seize The Leash Fall/Winter/Spring Schedule

7:30Backyard Sports & Games ClassReactive Dog ClassLife Without A LeashReactive Dog ClassCanine Life and Social Skills
9:00Puppy ClassRally ObediencePuppy ClassShy Dog & Confidence Building Workshop
4:00Socialization & Leash Handling Skills ClassSocialization & Leash Handling Skills ClassSocialization & Leash Handling Skills ClassSocialization & Leash Handling Skills ClassSocialization & Leash Handling Skills Class
5:30AgilityShy Dog & Confidence Building WorkshopCanine Life and Social SkillsLife Without A LeashBackyard Sports & Games Class
7:00Rally Obedience

Friday, September 14, 2012

Relieving stress - handling the cause, not the symptoms.

Take yourself back in time, back to the jungle, and there's a tiger in your path. Your senses sharpen, your muscles prepare for battle, your breathing increases to feed oxygen to your muscles, your heart beats faster. All of this happens to increase your response to danger. All of this happens as a response to the stress of seeing a tiger. Once you throw your spear, all that tension releases along with the lifeblood of the tiger.

Today, you are stuck behind a desk while your boss maligns your work, or you are stuck behind the wheel of your car while an SUV cuts you off causing you to swerve dangerously into another lane. Modern culture doesn't allow you to throw a spear to release the tension, so eight hours later, when you get home from a stressful day, you kick the dog, or if you are smart, you play a round of golf, go to the gym or take the dog for a run. Exercise can help in the release of stress.

Now take yourself on a walk with your dog. She is attached to a leash by law usually about 6 feet long. Another dog and human approach from the opposite direction. It's your friend Bob so you stop to talk. Three things are now going to happen to the two dogs 1) they get bored standing around 2) they either want to sniff each other, play or run off after the cat they smell and 3) stress builds up from the frustration of knowing they can't move more then 6 feet away from the humans. If these two dogs try and relieve that stress in any way, the humans have (in the "traditional" method) been encouraged to correct the dogs and make sure the dogs stays completely still. The stress level rises in both dogs and eventually explodes if the talking and standing still goes on for too long. The time period could be minutes or days or weeks before the explosion happens. It all depends on how much the stress builds and what activities the dogs have to relieve that stress during each day. It also depends on other triggers for stress that the dogs encounter during each day and whether that stress can be released as well.

Like humans and because dogs live in a human world, dogs cannot act as their ancesters once did. In our world a dog cannot flee because it's either attached to a leash, confined to a yard or other small space, or backed into a corner in the living room by a well meaning stranger looking for puppy breath. In our world a dog is discouraged from hunting the neighbors cat, digging holes in the garden looking for moles and howling and barking at the smells on the wind looking for companionship.

Chewing, whining, barking, pacing, spinning, digging and aggression are all responses to stress. All of these behaviors will release the tension of stress and are used by dogs to do so. None of these behaviors are acceptable to most humans - especially aggression.

There are many methods in the dog training world that deal with these "symptoms" of stress. You have the assertive crowd who use shock collars, prong collars, rolled up newspapers, choke chains, spray bottles of vinegar or citronella, bark collars, electric fences and a host of other tools that cause pain, fear, intimidation or shutdown in the dog. You have the "positive" crowd that teaches an alternate behavior to the chewing, whining, barking, jumping, etc.. You have the serious crowd who use slow, careful counter conditioning and desensitization methods to change the behavior, to change the response to stress causing stimuli. All of these are reactive - the humans are reacting to the behaviors they don't like, dealing with the "symptoms" of a deeper issue which goes, with most trainers, unnoticed.  Most of these methods actually increase the stress load in a dog, hidden underneath the alternate behaviors, the avoidance behaviors created by the assertive crowd and the actual introduction of the triggers that are cuasing the stress by the serious trainers.

Reduce or elminate if possible the triggers that cause stress, institute a regimen of calming exercises, confidence exericises and a detox that actually reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body and you will reduce and eventually eliminate the overt signs of stress.  The "symptoms" need only be addressed if they are life threatening, and only to the point of reducing the threat.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Is A Thinking Dog?

Liz and I had an interesting discussion last night after watching a DVD on platform training and clickers.
Traditional training creates a dog who listens to and responds to humans, but doesn't specifically know how to make decisions based on environmental input. Clicker training - strict clicker training like I've seen in most of these DVD's and the clicker trainers here in town - also create a dog that listens to and responds to humans and doesn't truly know how to make decisions. I know that sounds odd since clicker training is suppose to create a thinking dog, however, the only thinking I see in most clicker trained dogs is "what movement do I make to get the treat". not "there is a cat and there is my human - I choose human". I suppose I look at all things based on behavior not obedience, but what I see with most clicker trainers is just a gentler way of completely controlling a dog.
Does that make any sense?
I want my dogs to respond to their environment based on choices and decisions of the past in similar circumstances - which is what we as humans do and what evolution encourages. I know most (99%) of even trainers, not to mention the lay person, say that can't be done, but it can if the dog is allowed to make it's own decisions and choices and not forced (whether it's with a shock collar or a clicker) to respond only in the direction the human wants, it does happen. What I want is for my dogs to respond to their environment like a dog (mostly with their nose) and modify their choices based on knowledge of what the human has helped them do and decide in the past about the world we all live in. What I see in most training - force or reinforement - is a weakening of a dog's natural abilities. Most training takes choice away from a dog. What needs to happen is to strengthen a dog's natural senses, natural sense of environemental and social balance and then add the knowledge of a human created world.

I include clicker training in this because so many clicker trainers never look beyond the mechanics of "wait for a close approximation of the final behavior, click and treat". Everytime that click and treat happens, it breaks down the dog's choices as to what to do next. I've had dogs do a tricky behavior like circle around a cone in three tries compared to 50 or 60 that I've seen on DVD's teaching the same behavior. I can only attribute it to the fact that I don't interrupt the dog when it continues to move in the direction I'm teaching just because it moved a fraction of a inch closer this time.

It takes great observation skills to see what decisions the dog is making or about to make. You need to "know" what the dog is communicating and be able to respond immediately once the decision is about to change. It's a change in engagement, in interest, in curiosity. In nature, a dog will only stay engaged with a new object long enough to determine if it's a threat, if it's food or if it's a female in heat. Once that is determined, the interest and engagement wanes and then disappears and that object is filed away as benign. In our world, we want the dog to respond in various ways to objects, spaces, scents and sounds that in the natural world would be ignored. We have to create engagement by paring a totally uninteresting object with either food or something fun. If you don't know what the interest level of your dog is, then the only thing you can do is control the dog and her responses. Do rapid click and treat for small movements, tiny pieces of engagement, controls the dogs responses. It does not create a thinking dog. I won't even mention what shock collars, leash corrections, alpha roles, etc don't create.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Separation Anxiety Protocol


Day 1

hour 1: in the house, go into a room, close the door – dog outside the room. Count to 10 open the door, walk to the next room (do not interact with the dog). Repeat in every room in the house that can be closed off with a door and every closet in the house until you can be in a room/closet for 5 minutes.

hour 2: Do exactly the same as hour one except when you come out of the room, provided the dog is not going nuts and is calm, play WITH the dog (push a war, smack it, tug, something interactive IT MUST INVOLVE PLAYING WITH YOU). You should be able to get to 10 minutes separated from the dog in a room or closet by the end of this hour. The play session should not last more then 1 minute. You can do more then one play session each time with a break of 30 seconds between 1 minute sessions.

hour 3: repeat hour 2, this time with food instead of play. Food should be accompanied by the HUMAN getting really excited about giving the food to the door. Get to 15 minutes. Obviously that means only 4 or 5 rooms will be used in an hour.

Take a break until evening, do not feed the dog dinner.

Hour 4: time to start heading outside, use every door in the house, start at the count of 10 again, NOT at 15 minutes. This is to the dog a totally different game. It will go faster however since the rules of the game have already been established in the first 3 hours.

Hour 5: Write down every routine you go through when you are about to leave the house. It doesn’t matter whether the routine is for going to get the mail, or going shopping, or going to work. Humans are creatures of habit and routine and if you think about it, you can write down every step you take in each type of routine. Put each step in those routines EACH on a 3X5 card and shuffle them. Then grab 5 cards, do the actions in those 5 cards (even if it means putting on your shoes and then taking a shower). At the end of each 5 card routine, go outside rotating doors each time, and continue your counts until you can get to 10 minutes outside with no reaction from the dog.

Hour 6: Do hour 2’s actions of play, but instead of room and closets, go outside. Try and get to 15 minutes.

Day 2

Hours 1,2,3 Do the actions from hour 6 on day one alternating play with food. Get to 20 minutes separation time. The play sessions should be longer now – 1 minute play, 1 minute no play repeated 5 times. The concept that dog gets here is that play always restarts. If you make it one long play session, the dog is left feeling like you’re never going to come back and play again.

Hours 4,5,6 Continue what you were doing in the morning, get to 30 minutes separation time and 2 minutes between 1 minute play sessions.

Day 3

This is the day for the long separation times. When you get up, shuffle your cards and pick out 10 to do, then leave the house for 30 minutes, actually driving away – you can run some errands if you wish so you come home with a bag or two of stuff. When you get home, walk in, ignore the dog no matter what he is doing. Wait until he is calm and then have a 10 minute play sessions (30 seconds on, 30 seconds off).

Wait two hours and repeat with a new set of 10 cards. Leave for 45 minutes, make sure to come back with dog goodies. Again wait until the dog is calm if necessary and have a 15 minute play session.

Wait two hours and just leave, no routine, just pickup the necessities and leave. Be gone for an hour, don’t bring anything back but do have the play session once your dog is calm – 15 minutes is good.

Wait 3 hours, do a normal leaving routine for going to work and then leave for 90 minutes. Everything should be fine by this time. The dog should have the concept that you will always come back and that if he is calm you will play with him for a long time. 15 minutes is a long time for a dog.


Notice that you don’t need to take your dog for a walk during these three days. Your dog will be really tired from the mental exercise and the play sessions.

On play, if your dog doesn’t tug or have much interest in toys at all, there are two games you can play with him. Push-a-war: push lightly at the dog and run away making silly sounds. Game of Deke: with a squeaky toy in your hands, start bouncing back and forth squeaking the toy, your dog will start bouncing with you. There is never a need to give the toy to the dog, just keep bouncing and occasionally run away. Once your dog is playing these two games, you can add one called Smack It. Sit on the ground with the squeaky toy in your hands, smack the toy on the ground to your left saying “smack it”, then to your right and back and forth until your dog is diving to each spot trying to get the toy.

The intention with these three games is to put so much value into playing WITH you, that anything you have is also valuable. The toy you are squeaking becomes valuable to the dog and he wants it Then you can start with tug, drop, run (wait til your dog bites the toy, drop it and run – he should run after you with the toy in his mouth).

Make this whole routine fun for both you and the dog. You can enthusiastically charge out of closets and rooms to start the play sessions or throwing a handful of treats (or his dinner). Really get into the card shuffle game and realize how silly humans are with their routines and habits and laugh at yourself. Your emotions and energy level will affect how well your dog does with this.