Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Dog's Point of View

This quote comes directly from the Facebook page of a trainer who uses shock collars, prong collars, corrections and other force methods of training and behavior work as his first choice no matter whether the dog is aggressive, fear aggressive, fearful or even terrified.

"When it comes to punishment, aversives and/ or Rewards in dog training, remember that it's from the dogs point of view, not yours!!"

I've been trying to figure out without asking him what exactly he means by this.  Does he mean that a dog will ask for a shock? That a dog likes punishment?  That a dog would rather his collar be jerked hard when he looks at a duck waddling by instead of a redirection to a great tug game with his owner? Is he reading the dogs mind and knows something the rest of us don't?

Survival in the natural world has to do with avoiding pain (death) and seeking pleasure (food and reproduction).  Why would a creature so very much closer to nature then humankind choose punishment (death) over rewards? Think about what your dog senses as you stand over them.  It matters not what outward appearance you give - taking a deep breath to "calm" yourself or putting on a blank face - the dog knows what you're really thinking, the dog smells it, senses it. 

I have not always been a play trainer.  I have used corrections and punishments and even used a shock collar on 3 different dogs over the years.  Since making the choice to abandon aversive methods of training and behavior work, I have considered the notion of having some aversive trainers come to a class, sit on the ground with a collar and leash on and learn the same way they are training the dogs in their care. I have definitely considered this notion when arguing against electric shock collars. I feel the best way to do this and prove my point about e-collars would be to put an e-collar onto a person (on their neck, just like the dog), don't tell them what you want them to do and shock them everytime they get it wrong. Once they get it right stop shocking them. I figure they wouldn't last even 30 seconds!

If we're considering the dog's point of view, then we need to put ourselves in the dog's world, with his senses, emotions, sensitivites, needs, wants and necessities.  Without actually doing this, or at least attempting it, how could anyone even remotely hint that a dog would prefer that you give him a shock, or jerk his leash instead of giving him a treat for having done what you asked of him?

While humans mostly see the world through their eyes, a dog sees the world mostly through her nose.  The really cheap shock collars smell like ozone and burnt wiring.  The more expensive ones have the same smell, just not in the same concentration.  That smell is part of the picture for a dog when a shock collar is on the dog's neck.  Electricity is constantly moving through the wiring in the device and it produces a smell.  This is one of the main reasons a dog knows when that shock collar is on and when it isn't.  You can't fool the nose.

The same goes for the ears.  A dog's hearing may not be as good as it's nose, nor relied on as heavily, but it's much more accute then a human's.  Shock collars also make noise, and again, the cheaper the louder.  That noise is also part of the picture for a dog who has to endure training with a shock collar.

I've spent a lot of time in dog parks for the last four years.  I've observed all breeds, all ages, all levels of training and all types of humans and their reactions to normal dog behavior.  I've videoed and played in slow motion every signal a dog could possibly give off in a dog park situation trying to figure out what they are saying. 

In these 4 years of observation, it's my conclusion that dogs figure out fast who to stay away from and who is safe to play with.  The bully gets ignored or run away from; the shy dogs stick to their owners, under tables or in a corner; the mostly sane, balanced dogs play and avoid the bullies and aggressive dogs.   No dog that I've ever watched or interacted with chose to be bullied, rolled, bit, punched, body slammed or humped.  Instead, the ones who practiced the listed behaviors were shunned and even occassionally attacked enmass by the other dogs. 

So why would any punishment type trainer imply that any dog would choose to be shocked, jerked, poked, pinched, hung by the collar, or any of the other uncomfortable, painful, non-survival activities of this trainer and many like him?   The only thing I could think of that would cause someone to utter such a statement would be his perception of the final product.  He obviously thinks that his dogs are happy and fullfilled despite the methods he uses.  Believe me, the statements I've seen on dozens of shock collar trainer sites is that the dog is happy and "loves" it's shock collar because it knows good things are going to happen when the collar is put on.

So why would they think this?  Because the dog is wagging it's tail?  Because the dog is jumping all over the place in excitement?  What dog body language tells them that the dog is happy?  I've watched videos and seen images from all those dozens of shock collar and jerk collar trainers and I do not see happy dogs.  I see stressed dogs, dogs who are in a constant state of appeasement toward their handlers, dogs who have no purpose other then to do as directed with no choice in the matter. 

I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would think that a dog would prefer punishment and aversives as a method of training or behavior change.  If you're going to look at training from the viewpoint of the dog, do so as a dog, not as a human trying to justify punishment and pain.

From a reader who couldn't post a comment "One thing I'd make clearer is the link between death and pain because some people can't make the connection on their own.

I have to say, Duh! in agreement.

Which is more likely to get some one to work harder and to enjoy their work more?
Being punished by being demoted and getting a pay cut? Or, being rewarded by being promoted and getting a raise? Who would ask for a demotion and a pay cut?? Why would a dog ask for punishment rather than reward? It's not conducive to survival."
To answer the comment about making it clearer between pain and death.  The reason that there is pain is to warn the organism that death is imminent, every species of animal on this planet avoids pain and seeks pleasure, they avoid death and seek life, the purpose of every species is survival, pain means something just happened that was non-survival.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Philosophy of Behavior Training - Awareness

Awareness is all about communication, living in the moment with your dog and observing the obvious. You, as the owner / trainer / guardian / handler are the expert in the partnership between you and your dog. You have the awareness and understanding to bridge the gap between species, your dog has the instinctive knowingness of nature and the energy flows that connect us all.

Life is a game. Games have rules, they have boundaries, they have freedoms and games have limitations. When you can balance the parts of the game, when you understand all the parts of the game, you win; when you can't balance the barriers and freedoms, the rules and limitations, you end up playing a broken record of stress, pain and fear. The purpose of education, training, behavior change and play is to enhance an individuals ability to play the game of life. It matters not whether that individual is a primate, a canine, a feline or an equine; it matters not what the freedoms, barriers and purposes of each particular game is, so long as one becomes aware of and can manipulate the parts of the game in order to create a smooth playing field.

A dog, or a human, will react adversely over time to a trauma that is unexpected, unpreditable and at odds with previous experience in that arena. For instance, you take your dog to the dog park every other day for several months with little to no incidents. The people are great, the dogs are mostly behaved and only one or two play a bit rough but they are easily redirected to chasing a ball or frisbee. Then one day, one of the regular dogs, or a new dog, attacks your dog. It doesn't matter what the reason is, it was unpredictable, unexpected and so not like the normal state of things in that dog park. It doesn't even have to be a vicious attack, no blood needs to be shed, just the surprise and the unpredictability of the attack could, depending on your dogs' state of mind at the time, set him up for fear. Fear of the dog park, fear of that dog, fear of dogs of that type or fear of whatever it was he had his attention on when the attack occurred.

Brynda, my boxer mix, is afraid of balls being kicked or thrown. She will chase them and chew on them and even fetch occassionally, but she will make sure she is not in any possible path of a thrown or kicked ball. This all started when she was about 8 months old, the first time she went running after Ruth to see what it was that Ruth was chasing. Ruth always led out and then I would throw the ball with the chuck-it. Brynda moved right into the path of the ball and got smacked. Since that time, she's probably gotten smacked a dozen times, but it was the second time she got smacked that she started shying away whenever she would see Ruth head out for the ball to be thrown.

So one of two things can happen, either the trauma is severe enough to cause an instant fear, or it builds over a succession of minor trauma's until the fear is as intense as the instant trauma. What has happened is that the dog has lost confidence in her ability to manipulate the environment, to predict the future and to avoid pain. In essense, she has moved away from reality and sees only the potential for more trauma. Eventually, that potential becomes so real that the dog either starts fighting back to prevent the pain or flees. Flight doesn't have to be physical movement away, it can also be the consciousness and thinkingness of the dog that flees - shutdown, no focus, no engagement, no interest. It becomes the elephant in the room phenomena and occassionally the dog will lash out and then settle into pseudo catatonia again.

As I'm writing this, I have one dog who I have been working with for 3 months in this state of pseudo catatonia with unpredictable violent and electrifying outbursts, but only when he is on a leash. Take him off the leash and he is fine. He has come along way since we started as you can see in the picture to the left. But the outbursts and the need to chase the scary things away is still there. He is progressing faster now and we are just starting this phase - awareness.

In "Attention" you encouraged your dog to focus on you as the source of the good and necessary things in life. In "Alignment" you showed your dog that she could be directed by you without fear and that by following your direction she could reduce her current fears. Now, with "Awareness", your dog will learn that she can communicate with the environment, be aware of the reality of her environment without fear, and start to relax in the face of her fears. This level of rehabilitation is all about communication, for by communicating with other dogs, humans, objects and spaces, a fearful dog can start again to play the game of life, relearn the rules, rediscover the boundaries and freedoms and understand the limitations.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What is Self Control Really?

Wikipedia defines Self control as the ability to control one's emotions, behavior and desires in order to obtain some reward, or avoid some punishment, later. Presumably, some (smaller) reward or punishment is operating in the short term which precludes, or reduces, the later reward or punishment.

This article Self Control and Aggression got me thinking about what it is I'm training a dog to do when I'm calling it Self Control or Impulse Control. As the article points out, a possible conclusion based on a study in the Journal of Consumer Research "Research has shown that exerting self-control makes people more likely to behave aggressively...” I've experienced this all too many times myself when on a diet or trying to put myself on a daily exercise routine.

Is what I'm doing really "self control" or something else? According to the Wikipedia definition it is. I am trying to control my behavior and desires in order to lose weight or gain muscle and stamina. In doing the diet or the exercise I'm also avoiding some punishment - poor health and huge medical bills later in life. But both processes seem to generate self hate, irritability and a lack of emotional and impulse control with other parts of life.

Sarah brought into play a new concept in her article above - self denial. Are self control, impulse control and self denial all the same? Is dieting self denial or self control? Is formal exercise a form of punishment and a reflection of self hate or exerting control over one's health?

Personally, I've found that formal exercise, where you do a similar routine with exercise equipment or running a circuit is more a form of punishment then it is a form of self control. I would much rather play a game of volley ball, take a hike or hit the beach and body surf for an hour. I get the same exercise, but the rewards are more tangible, it's fun and engaging and I have to problem solve while playing. Formal exericse may take a huge amount of controlling ones emotions and desires in order to get through your routine, but there is no fun, no mental stimulatioin and rarely any immediate rewards. Dieting is the same.

So where does this get us with creating self control in a dog? Is it really self control we are creating or something else? The second question I asked myself was "are we really controlling our emotions, or are we just suppressing them and that is why they come out in other situations so violently"?

If you read down further in the Wikipedia definition of self control you find a scientific definition based on reinforcement and consequences., motivation and the emotional state necessary to succeed. This I think is more defining of what we do with a dog then just "self control".

Any particular dog has many instinctive motivations to do what they do - finding food, finding mates, feeling safe during rest, not wasting energy on unproductive activities and interaction with others. The consciously or unconsciously controls his environment in order to provide for himself the necessities of survival. Living with humans is an artificial environment and most of the necessities of survival are provided by the humans - usually in abundance.

So, what are we doing when we teach a dog to sit, to stay, to come or heel or lay down? Are we teaching them self control or control by human? Most of you who know me know that I don't agree that obedience teaches self control. It teaches the dog to do what the human asks because of the consequences that occur when they don't. The rewards in traditional obedience training are few and not necessarily what a dog would consider a reward or even reinforcement and definitely not a necessity.

I am helping a Guide Dog puppy raiser with her current lab puppy right now. She brought me the training plan that the organization she is "raising" for recommends. It is full of silliness as far as I'm concerned and only teaches a dog to be wary of the handler, the consequences and that life isn't really very fun. No food by hand, only a gentle pat or praise as a reward, no tugging, no balls, no free play with other dogs. But it is also full of platitudes about pack leaders, instilling self control, controlling the dogs impulses and "guiding" them to be a service dog.

Where is the self control in that? All I see is a strict, fenced in existence for a dog. Sure the dog is helping a human, but does a dog really have the capacity to understand the important job he's doing and feel fullfilled about it? I seriously doubt it. Yes, dogs love jobs, but those jobs either need to be fun, mentally and physically challenging or provide for the basics of life. Dogs do what gets them what they want or what avoids pain and death. All I see in this "training guide" is the avoidance of pain and death and over the years I've had to bring many many service dogs back to balance.

Back to a dog's motivations - food, mates, social interaction, safety and conservation of energy.

Conservation of energy plays a huge part of what I train in the name of self control. Most dogs, when confronted by a human that has food in their hand and keeps withholding it, will try jumping, lunging, biting, barking and many other strategies for getting that food - mostly assertive methods. Not very energy conscious types of activities. But these methods are what are hard wired into a puppy in order to get an adult to feed them by vomiting up whatever they ate that day. Eventually, the adult dogs teach the puppy to tend to his own necessities and those methods of "begging" are extinguished.

Not so in the human world. Humans tend to let a pup continue those activities and then complain about them when the pup is a 90 lb menace. Humans need to show their pups the same thing they would be learning from the adult dogs in their social group - how to provide for themselves with the least amount of energy expended. In our world that means learning manners about food, doors, cars, walks, guests, cats and other things found in the human existence. The pup needs to learn how to use it's energy to control this environment in order to get it's neeeds met.

Using It's Yer Choice, Crate Games, Space Games, Reorienting, Heeling exercises and all the other games I use in the various classes I teach, show the dog how to manipulate her environment in ways that please the humans in her life and still meet her needs, stay safe, avoid pain and death and still have fun.

Not self control, just conservation of energy, awareness of the environment and the things and other beings in it, awareness of other determinism and self determinism and how they can work together to create a life worth living.