Monday, April 30, 2012

Training Techniques

The best time to learn about dog behavior is before you're in the thick of things and your dog is jumping all over your guests or redecorating the house with the contents of your trash can. There are several ways of "training" your dog. It's important to understand that when deciding what you need to do with your dog.

First, there is "behavior training." This is the kind of training in which a dog is taught to be a "good citizen." Typically this includes housetraining, good behavior around other people and dogs, reasonable leash manners and other small things that make a dog a much more pleasant companion. A well behaved dog attracts no special notice from the public (aside from amazing some with their good manners).  This also includes rehabilitating a dog who has forgotten what being a dog is all about, who can't negotiate the human world without stress reactions and aggression or is so afraid of this alien place they hide.

Then there is "obedience training," which is generally teaching the dog how to perform specific activities on cue. This can include traditional "obedience" exercises such as sit, stay, come, down and heeling. The emphasis here is on prompt and precise performance. While there can be many overall benefits to such training, the training is usually for the training's sake and not necessarily to improve the dog's behavior. Dogs that have been obedience trained will perform specific tasks when their owners ask them to do so. (And as a matter of fact, some obedience trained dogs may behave poorly otherwise.)

"Activity or sport training" refers to training for specific activities -- this includes hunting, herding, Search and Rescue, lure coursing -- any of a myriad number of activities designed to showcase the abilities of the dog and his handler, particularly in activities a the dog has been bred to do. These days, such activity also includes "sports" such as frisbee, flyball, agility and so on. Sports type of training is basically obedience training on steroids as the dog is still being asked to do un-dog like things.

Of course the lines tend to blur between all of these distinctions. A certain amount of obedience training will help with behaviors and a behaviorist will teach certain obedience commands to assist with getting a dog under control. For example a dog that is heeling will not pull on the leash. Still you want to keep this in mind when selecting a training class so that it best matches your needs. For many pet owners, the behavior oriented classes are the best way to learn how to understand and control your dog. For those of you who want to enjoy a sport or compete in an activity with your dog you will need to start with obedience and move along to more complex training.

The basis for each type of training is who is learning who's language. With behavior training, it's mostly the human learning dog, and with obedience training it's mostly the dog learning human words and what to do when he hears them. At either end of the scale, the human has the biggest job. All the dog has to do is listen and do what the human asks for. It's the human's job to figure out how to communicate her wishes to the dog.

There really is no right or wrong way to train your dog and you can mix and match to serve your purposes. Things to take into consideration when choosing the most effective method for you and your dog include: your personality, your dog's personality, your goals, your abilities as a trainer, and your experience as a trainer. For example, if you are not happy with a particular method of training, for whatever reason, then it is unlikely you and your dog will do well with this method. Your dog will pick up on your reluctance and either share your dismay or take advantage of the situation to do as he pleases.
Training can't be effectively executed by half measures, otherwise you'll get an almost trained dog. For those of you who say, "That's OK, I don't need a perfect dog,' I respond that training isn't about perfection; it is about building a willingness in your dog to follow your instructions. If you ask your dog to sit but he doesn't, and you just stand there asking him to sit over and over again, he'll be learning from you that when you say "sit", you don't really mean it. This is why many dogs act perfectly well with their professional trainers and are less behaviorally consistent at home. The trainer is persistently following through with their commands while the owner is letting things slide at home.

Training isn't magic and there are no gimmicks, no matter what some books and websites may claim. You can't wave a magic wand and put no effort into following through with your dog's learning process and expect to have a well behaved dog. Dogs are influenced by their owner's lifestyle, their environment and what is commonly called self-education, which means they attain knowledge and use it always to their advantage - not always to your liking. It is of no relevance whether it was you who educated your dog or someone else before you.

In my experience, dog ownership is a little like a job: you need certain qualities in order to be good at it. The ideal characteristics include balance, composure, patience, persistence, ambition and initiative. You also need to be precise and consistent; have common sense and be logical; be organised; and have the ability and the desire to be in control. Finally, you need enough time to work with your dog, and you need to be affectionate and loving.

Patience is a gift. This is what gives you inner calm and composure. In training, the patient person is one who doesn't rush ahead, but takes the time to repeat, or even reconsider, his techniques, reverse or change procedure, intensify or revise a routine. A patient person may take a long time to achieve the desired outcome, but he always seems to get there in the end and be more knowledgeable because of his experience along the way.

A patient and composed person will be willing to look harder for the right approach to use with dogs whose temperaments lie at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Opposing your dog's behavior, battling him every step of the way, won't bring you any closer to victory. A patient person will learn how many repetitions his dog needs in order to learn something new and how intense the stimulation required. He will not set his dog up to fail but will encourage him and work with him to solve a task. A good dog owner plays for the same team as his dog. You're the captain, and he is your willing team mate.

Why Dogs Do What They Do

Dog are born with the ability to "see it, try it and if you like it, remember it and do it again". Similarly, if they try it and don't like it, they will go off and try something else. Dogs are great experimenters. When you are able to interact with this pattern of behavior, you are on your way to teaching your dog what is correct behavior and what is not. You start teaching your dog how to live in your world from the moment you pick him out at the breeder, rescue or pound.  If you use a dog's natural instincts to test everything and look for the necessities and other good things in life, the dog you adopt as an adult or a puppy will turn out to be the dog you want.

Dogs have an extraordinary ability to adapt to the lifestyles and circumstances they are put in. All dogs think whatever they do is ok.  If they didn't, they wouldn't act the way they do because it would get them nothing. A dog's behavior must satisfy a need, no dog will do anything that isn't to their advantage. Dogs do not distinguish right from wrong - they only learn what behaviors will get them what they desire. In order to learn how to live in our world without stress and strife, you - as a primate - must learn to think like a canine. Like children, dogs don't come with a set of instructions.
Dogs are never perfect - they are only doing what evolution and survival have taught them. Blaming a dog for her poor behavior won't change that behavior. Dogs simply need guidance and structure from us in order to live in our world. It is rarely the dog that is at fault here, it' is generally the human on the other end of the leash. The human is responsible for his dog chasing rabbits, chewing the carpet and attacking the mail man.

In my experience, no matter how severe a dog's behavioral problems are, 90% of the time, the problems are man-made. We are the ones who are guilty because we - and those who may have lived with our dog before us - are instrumental in forming his inner world and how he relates to our world. Consciously or not, we are constantly teaching our dogs - and our children - what to do and what not to do.

Many of us either ignore or smile at and even reinforce our dogs' behavior - good or bad. Because of a dogs inherent need to discover the behavior that will fullfill their needs, they have an uncanny ability to outmaneuver us and get what they want despite our efforts to "stop" them. Dogs win and they remember and learn from it. They get used to winning - regardless of whether it matches our expectations. Without our direction, they get used to not having to behave in any particular way.  Without our guidance, a dog will learn on it's own what is rewarding and how to fullfill her needs. The more often a dog wins, the more convinced she becomes that what she is doing is proper.

Not much different then humans really. If something words, we stick with it. If it doesn't work, we abandon it. If it is rewarding, feels good, makes us feel useful or loved or whatever reward we need for our own ego, we use it. But there are always the rules of society that govern most of what we do when we are interacting with each other. In the same way, our rules govern how are dogs should interact in our world.

Troubled Dogs

How many people out there have a dog who seems depressed, stressed out, scared of his shadow or just rarely moves? This dog could have been abused, neglected, not socialized properly, taken away from it's mother and siblings too early or is just very sensitive and never learned how to handle an alien (human) world.

In most cases, dog's become "depressed" because people misunderstand them and try to assign human emotion, human reasoning and human responses to the dog. Certainly, dogs need love and attention to thrive, but some think that feeding them is enough.  Dogs love structure and rules and knowing where they belong in their social group.  Without that structure, most dogs will seek to figure things out on their own and when not the way the human would respond, is "punished".

Whatever your dogs past was, it's time to look towards the future. Most dogs can bounce back quite easily and quickly with a little direction and compassion. However, it is possible that a dog's past may haunt her. That's why you need to evaluate and analyze your dog's behavior. Break each behavior into small parts and determine what is holding each of the parts in place.  What is reinforcing that behavior.

When dogs are puppies, they learn about their world. The majority of a dogs fears begin with a bad experience as a pup. Even simple things like a fear of taking a bath most likely started as a puppy. Dogs need socialization and training when they are young. This is very important to raising a well balanced dog.
But what if you adopted your pet as an adult? How do you handle it then?
The first thing you need to do is to figure out exactly what it is that scares your dog. Is he afraid of taking a bath, or something that occurs during the bath? To figure this out you need to break down the elements of bath time. Take him outside and play with him with some water. Is he afraid of the water? If not move on to something else. Try putting him in the bath tub. Is he afraid of the tub?
Continue to break down the routine of bath time until you figure out what he is afraid of. Then you can isolate the problem and correct it. To do so, you want to reverse his fear into a positive experience. For instance, if he's afraid of the tub, then introduce him to it in a new way. Try sticking him in the tub with no water on and then play with him. Use his favorite toys and treats to show him that the tub is not such a bad place after all. Make sure he is comfortable with this and then add the water. Continue to play with him and give him treats for not freaking out once the water is turned on. It may help to have a partner with you to keep him occupied when you turn on the water.
Once he is comfortable enough for you to start bathing him in the tub, do so. Then make it a routine. Give him a bath every day for a few days, then move to once a week, and eventually every two weeks if you like. You want him to get used to the fact that bath time is going to happen, and you want him to look forward to it as well. When you get to this level, you have completed the training. You should now be able to give your pooch a bath without the fear. Don't worry if in the beginning you have to repeat steps, that's ok.
The idea is to make him feel as comfortable as possible while in the tub. Make it a fun activity for him. Stay positive and don't get frustrated or mad at him, this will only make things worse for you. Make sure you go and get him for bath time until it is postive for him, you wouldn't want to call him to something he sees as negative, or he'll be afraid to come to you. This method can be applied to just about any fear, and if you have any trouble contact a local trainer to help or leave me a comment and I will try to help.

Here is the method in steps:
Observe: Observe you dog and figure out exactly what scares her.
Isolate: Isolate the fear.
Reverse: Reverse the fear into a positive experience.
Routine: Make a routine and practice it religiously.
Complete: Complete the behavior without the fear. Make certain to keep the dog comfortable.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Learned Helplessness

Have you ever read about or seen or heard about teens that have fits when they don't get what they want? that couldn't empty their own ashtray if you paid them? what ME get my own drink?

That is learned helplessness. These teens have been catered to all their lives and couldn't wipe their own behinds without help. This mentality is becoming rampant in our schoo...l system where there are so many "aids" to learning, so many ways to "help" a poor struggling student, that they never do learn how to learn - they don't have to.

You can do the same to a dog, you can train a dog to be totally helpless at doing anything for itself in the context of training and then once you are not training - the dog is out of control doing what it wants and relieving the pressure, stress and boredom of an hour of pointlessly following directions.

Obedience training can be (please note I did not say always, I said it can be) a way to create learned helplessness. It does not need to contain pain, corrections, shocks, vibrations, collar jerks, etc, all it needs is training the dog to ONLY do when the human asks it to. All you need to create learned helplessness is to never allow, to ruthlessly suppress, a dog's ability to make choices, to learn real self control (not being commanded to have self control).

You can create a sort of learned helplessness using shock, pain, corrections, etc since you are suppressing responses with this form of training. But what the dog really is learning is not to reach, not to try, not to do anything that isn't asked for and to make sure that you really are being asked for something.  It's an extreme form of learned helplessness.  A dog is never allowed it's own choices, never allowed to learn, never allowed to create, never allowed to offer itself to the equation.

But learned helplessness doesn't need pain or fear to be created.  Spoiling a dog will do it.  My definition of spoiling a dog or a human is doing everything for that dog or human without expecting or asking for any contribution from the dog or human.  I'm not saying that you should expect things in return, what I'm saying is that you should allow the dog to be part of the action contributing and cooperating.

I see learned helplessness all the time with Out Of Control class.  The first thing I usually do in this class is assess the training the dog has had.  I ask the human to have the dog sit, down and stay and then assess how much help the human has to give the dog in order to get compliance.  Most times it's a lot - the human pushes the bum, lifts up the leash real high, says "sit" in a commanding tone while leaning over the dog - usually with a finger pointing at the dog's bum.  The dog has never really learned to sit, she waits for the human to put her in the position.  Learned helplessness.