Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Simple Dog Adoption Question

As a positive reinforcement, reward-based certified professional Ventura dog trainer, I am always looking for a "Good Dog!" moment - not just for my own dog Poncho the dog, but for all dogs... It just pains me when I witness dog guardians looking at their dogs any other way. Maybe it's all in how you look at it. I'm not sure of the kind of relationship they have with their dog. 

Just twice this week it's happened again. First in my own neighborhood, I heard someone address their dog with "Hey you good for nothing dog." I say to myself "HUH?" Then I was just thankful the pooch didn't speak english. He just felt the scratch under his chin... 

The second incident was a woman and her dog at a very large and popular park where dogs are allowed off leash during certain hours. Well, it seems this woman was leaving the park...her dog was walking nicely with her. But then the pooch started to walk in a different direction. Not back to the area with the other dogs... just not with his (or her) guardian. 

The woman started berating this poor pooch over and over. Yelling at it to "Come here right now!" In a very deep threatening voice... Yikes! No wonder the dog wanted to go the other way! I would have high-tailed it out of there too! Geez - I wanted to go over my "recall rules" like I do in my dog training classes, but thought better of it - not the challenge I wanted. Plus, I was out for a run, and she hadn't hired me as a private dog trainer in Ventura. If she had, I would have given her the five rules:
  1. Only call your dog for something pleasant, otherwise, just go get your dog. 
  2. Use your happy voice and body language to get them to want to come running. 
  3. Only call them when you know you're going to get them to come. Otherwise you're just wasting your breath, and probably getting more frustrated. 
  4. If you thought you were going to "get it" and didn't. Go get your dog, take them to where you called them from, and reward them.
  5. Throw a party - if you called them and they came running! 
So my BIG BOLD question, based upon the relationship you have with your dog is: 
If the situation were reversed, 
would your dog have adopted YOU? 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dog Training and Behavior Terms Defined: "What do you mean by that?"

If you know about me, this lil' ol' certified pet dog trainer of The Inquisitive Canine here in Ventura, then you know I prefer to sit in the "science camp" of dog training. I'm usually pretty cautious when throwing around the science jargon, but if you've ever taken my dog training classes, dog training workshops, or have had me consult with you for private dog training, then a few of the behavior specific expressions may have come out. 

The waters can get muddy sometimes. So what I'd like to do is define some of the widely used, more popular, dog training language that is currently being heard more frequently, but in layman's terms. Along with the definition, if appropriate, I'll throw in a human analogy as well. I have found that this helps us humans relate better to our pet dogs. 
  • Aversive: Anything an animal considers ‘bad’ - anything unpleasant, painful, annoying, uncomfortable. A strong dislike or disinclination; tending to avoid or causing avoidance of a noxious or punishing stimulus. e.g: Shouting, hitting, ignoring, jerking with the leash, squirt bottles, applying pain intentionally, grabbing, restraining, noxious sprays, and electric shock
  • Behavior: the way in which one acts or conducts oneself. Any action performed that can be observed and measured. e.g: Your dog resting in their bed
  • Bridge: AKA ‘bridging stimulus’ or ‘marker’ A stimulus (something an animal sees, hears, feels) that pinpoints the exact moment in time an action of a desired behavior was performed - bridging the gap between the time the signal was given and the delivery of a reward is provided. e.g: The ‘click’ of a clicker, the sound of a whistle. 
  • Classical Conditioning: AKA: ‘ Respondent Conditioning’, ‘Pavlovian Conditioning’ 
  1. A learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired: a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone. 
  2. Conditioning in which the conditioned stimulus (as the sound of a bell) is paired with and precedes the unconditioned stimulus (as the sight of food) until the conditioned stimulus alone is sufficient to elicit the response (as salivation in a dog) 
  • Conditioning: Learning. *Observe your dogs behavior. If their behavior changes, learning is taking place. 
  • Consequence: An action or event that occurs after a behavior. It can affect how often that behavior will occur again in the future. 
  • Counter-conditioning: Taking a fear-provoking event, which is associated with an unpleasant situation, and changing (countering or reversing) the association to one that predicts something pleasant. Reversal the learned response. Often used in conjunction with desensitization. 
  • Cue: A signal which will elicit a specific behavior or reflex. e.g: Saying "sit" or using hand signal for "sit". 
  • Desensitization: Process where normal defense reactions elicited by an aversive stimulus, such as shock, are modified by creating pleasant associations with a positive reinforcer. This is achieved by presenting the fear-provoking event (stimulus) at levels low enough not to cause a reaction, but enough for the animal to notice, while pairing this event (stimulus) with something the animal loves causing the feelings to be reversed. Levels of intensity are gradually increased, as long as the animal stays below the fear-provoking level of intensity. Used in conjunction with counter-conditioning
  • Discrimination: The ability to differentiate between to similar competing stimuli. The ability to perceive differences in various aspects of the environment. 
  • Flooding: AKA: Exposure "Response Prevention." An extinction process used to treat anxiety and fear-related disorders. Animal is exposed to specific anxiety producing stimulus at levels high enough until the animal no longer reacts. Intention of this treatment is for animal to relearn coping skills when exposed to stimulus, however this is considered amongst many to be cruel and unethical, and often doesn't work, depending upon the animal, and what the anxiety producing stimulus is. 
  • Generalization: The process of comparing events, consequences or objects which have some trait in common and recognizing those commonalities between them. The tendency to respond to a class of stimuli rather than only to the one to which the animal was originally conditioned to. Make for wide general use or application. e.g: Dog can perform the same behavior in any setting when asked to do so without having to relearn.
  • Habituation: the diminishing of a physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus. The relatively persistent fading of a response as a result of repeated stimulation which is not followed by any specific reinforcement. AKA: Passive Desensitization.
  • Instinct: An inborn predisposition to behave in a specific way when appropriately stimulated. Instincts are species specific complex behaviors. They are natural and unconditioned qualities shared by all members of a species. e.g. dogs chasing things, guarding their bones, digging, chewing, jumping up to greet. 
  • Learned Helplessness: A condition created by exposure to inescapable aversive events. This can lead to delayed or prevention of learning in subsequent situations in which escape or avoidance is possible. When a human or animal ‘gives up’, and stops trying due to multiple failed attempts at trying to control a situation. e.g. dog sits politely at all times because the alternate might risk "getting in trouble" by owner. 
  • Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, or study, or by being taught. The process in which relatively permanent changes in behavior are produced through experience and memories.
  • Lure: Something that motivates or is used to motivate a person or animal to do something.
  • Motivation: A general term referring to the forces regulating behavior that is undertaken because of instinctual drives, needs, desires, and is directed towards a goal. One factor that can influence whether or not a learned behavior will be performed. Animal needs to be motivated in some way to perform a specific behavior - either from others, or from within. e.g. for dogs: petting, praise, attention, toys, games, tug, food playing with other dogs. 
  • Negative punishment: In operant conditioning, the removal of something an animal wants.  e.g. Dog jumps on person to say ‘hello’ - person turns their back and ignores dog.
  • Negative reinforcement: In operant conditioning, the removal of something an animal finds unpleasant, as an immediate result of the desired behavior performed. e.g. Pull up on choke collar until dog sits butt on ground, choke collar released. Pinning dog on back until dog relaxes and "submits." In both examples it's the release of the choke chain, or allowing the dog to get up after pinning. 
  • Operant Conditioning: AKA ‘Instrumental Conditioning’, ‘Skinnerian Conditioning’. The fundamental principle of operant conditioning is: behavior is determined by its consequences. A form of learning in which something the animal finds pleasant or unpleasant is presented or removed, thus altering the rate at which the behavior is performed. 
  • Positive Punishment: In operant conditioning, the addition of an aversive stimulus, or something an animal seeks to avoid, that is found within the animals environment, following a behavior, with the intention of decreasing the frequency of that behavior. e.g. dog eliminates on carpet, dog get smacked. Owner pinning dog in order to "take control." 
  • Positive Reinforcement: In operant conditioning, an event or stimulus provided following a specific behavior with the intention of increasing the frequency of that behavior. A positive reinforcer is something the animal desires or finds pleasant. e.g. dog sits, get treat for sitting, dog continues to sit because it predict treats. 
  • Reinforce: Strengthen or support an existing feeling, idea, or habit. 
  • Reinforcer: Anything that increases the frequency of the behavior it immediately follows. 
  • Reinforcement: The event which increases the frequency of the behavior it follows. 
  • Reward: Anything the dog considers ‘good’- stimulates at least one of the five senses - sight, smell, taste, touch, sound. Anything the dog finds motivating and reinforcing - can be: food, toys, praise, touch, freedom. e.g. belly-rub, rousing game of fetch, comfy bed, something stinky to roll in, kissy-face with family members, liver treat. A return that is obtained upon the successful performance of a task. 
  • Reward-based training program: Using anything an animal finds appealing and ‘rewarding’ to elicit, reinforce, or inhibit behaviors. 
  • Sensitization: Intensifying of an animals response to stimuli that did not originally produce such strong feelings. 
  • Shaping: A method of modifying behavior. The entire process of selectively reinforcing responses in successive steps towards the goal of a desired response. Based on principles of operant conditioning in which an animals behavior is gradually molded to specific desired patterns through the delivery of positive reinforcement at distinct moments. 
  • Stimulus: Anything in the environment that can be perceived by an animal through one of his senses - sight, smell, touch, sound, taste. A thing or event that evokes a specific functional reaction in an organ or tissue. A thing that rouses activity or energy in someone or something. Any event or change in the environment that leads to a bodily or behavioral response by an animal. Plural: stimuli 
  • Threshold: The least amount of stimulus required to elicit a response. The point at which a stimulus becomes perceptible or is of sufficient intensity to elicit a response. 
  • Time-Out: The cessation of stimulus or response from the trainer, for some interval of time. Removal of the situation in which an animal can receive reinforcement; used to suppress incorrect responses. *Note: a time-out for a dog should average only ~20 seconds. 
  • Training: the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior. 
Hopefully this will clear up or answer the question of "What are you talking about?" when you hear these terms from me, another trainer, or some television may also be able to observe some training methods out there and now realize some folks have the terms mixed up themselves, and aren't practicing what they think they are. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dressing Dogs Up: Borderline animal abuse? Not if you make it fun!

I just read a question posted to a reporter news feed about wanting opinions from animal professionals on the topic of dressing dogs up... Okay, so this just happened to fall on the birthday of my beautiful, handsome, lovely, love of my life, baby boy Poncho! Of ALL days! Why today??? Today is one of those days I'm going wear my "dog mom" hat - not my professional certified pet dog trainer, dog behavior counselor hat! 

What's my opinion? Hmm, my usual m.o. is to change up his collar...I admit, Poncho the dog has quite a few to choose from. I switch his license and ID tag to whichever he ends up wearing. As I tell my dog training class and private dog training clients, one key element in being a responsible pet owner: "Your dogs collar is similar to our wallet. It's used for carrying ID and license. Other than that it can be used for a fashion statement, personality statement, or to match your outfit." It shouldn't be used for "training" (like those nasty aversive training methods using collar correction). 

As for other "outfits"? Yes, Poncho has various sweaters, t-shirts, a couple of vests/jackets... and the ever popular lobster costume he wears at Halloween, the hawaiian lei I have him wear many times throughout the year...we do live in Ventura, which is a beach town. Besides the annual Halloween event, all of his clothes are more about function...if it's cold out. Oops, wait a minute...some of his t-shirts are more about statements I want to when he goes to races with me. Poncho is one of my running partners, and he likes to brag about that. 

This specific reporter asked the question: "Other than essential winter coats, do dogs generally hate having to wear people clothes, and is it cruel to dress dogs up?"

My answer to that: I have no idea what they're thinking. Therefore I'm not sure if they hate it or not. I know that when I dress Poncho in clothing that he's not used to, like his fuzzy green birthday hat, or lobster costume, I head down the "creating pleasant associations" path, and feed him little bits of yummy high-value treats while he's wearing them. This way, he'll learn to love the outfits! Classical conditioning is a wonderful thing! 

As for the latter part of the question, "Is it cruel?" That all depends upon the motivation of whomever is dressing the dog up. If the person is intending to hurt, humiliate (intentionally), bully, coerce, or intimidate the dog in question, then "yes" I do think it's cruel. If the person is doing it to have fun, provide love, attention, and steak for their dog, then why not? Just like when my parents dressed me in striped pants and paisley shirts - they weren't cruel, it was the 70's. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Crate Training Your Dog: Creating a "Home Sweet Home" atmosphere

I've been working with many new puppy parents, as well as families that have recently adopted adult dogs. From each and every one, I've received the proverbial crate question: "What do you think about me crate training my dog?" Fortunately I have an answer: I think you should. Why? For a few reasons.
  1. Bedroom: Just like us humans, our domestic dogs need a place to call their own. A safe, comfortable, warm, cozy environment where they can be by themselves. 
  2. Retreat: A crate can also be that safe-haven "den" (or bedroom or crib) where they can retreat in times of stress. For instance, if you're having lots of company, and your dog is overwhelmed, they can go off on their own, with a yummy chew toy, and chew until they fall fast asleep. 
  3. Management: Those times when you don't have time to train your dog, or supervise and monitor their behavior, a crate can act as confinement to help set them up for success. If they're in their crate, they're not roaming about eliminating on the new rug or chewing up furniture. 
  4. Pet Preparedness: You never know when you might need to put your dog in a crate. Crate training is a huge part of Pet Preparedness. If you even need to evacuate because of disaster, many places will require that your pet be in a crate. As I mention in all of my dog training classes, dog training workshops, and private dog training clients, you want train it before you need it! 
So, what are some of the best ways for you to get your dog used to their "sanctuary"? The training steps are pretty simple actually, but just like any new behavior, you need to teach them slowly, helping them create a positive association. 

Creating a Home Sweet Home For Your Pooch: Crate Training Overview
  • How to make the crate the best place to be: The "Do's"
    • Take the time to teach your puppy or newly adopted adult dog that their crate is a fun, safe, relaxing place to be. Make it comfortable with bedding the individual dog finds comfortable (not what we humans think is)
    • Make sure the crate is large enough for your pup to be able to stand up turn around, and get comfortable. 
    • Teach your pup to associate their crate with all good things. 
    • Start slow and easy - treats for looking at the crate, going into the crate, then staying in the crate - for only a few seconds at a time. While you're still there with them. 
    • Keep the door open until your pup is going in their on his own. Once your pup is going in on their own, you can begin closing the door, feed treats through the door. Let your pup out, then all treats stop. He'll soon learn that being in the crate is much more fun than being outside of it. 
    • Feed him his meals in the crate 
    • Chew bones in the crate 
    • Food toys in the crate
    • Crate's can still be used for a "Time Out" since the punishment is more about losing out on something the dog wanted, like freedom or playing with a family member or friend. A Time Out for a dog should only be for about 20 seconds. And, if they already have a positive association with their crate, and 99% of the time good things happen in their crate, then they shouldn't end up hating their crate. Just like when children are sent to their room, its not the room they hate but the fact that they lost out on participating in some other activity. 
  • How to teach your puppy or newly adopted dog to hate their crate: "The Do NOT's" 
    • Refrain from shoving your pup into the crate and slamming the door, and walking away. 
    • Refrain from pushing your dog into the crate and leaving them there on their own, after never being left alone before. 
    • Refrain from leaving them in the crate for so long that they soil their crate. 
    • Refrain from using the crate for punishment only. 
    • Refrain from using the crate as a "Time Out" because of house soiling or some sort of house destruction. The crate can and should be used for confinement when house-training. But, if a dog soils the carpet, it's the humans fault, not the dogs. You don't want to inadvertently punish your dog for greeting you when you get home. 
With time, patience, and consistency you too can get your dog to love their crate. You might create such a wonderful environment you'll want to crawl in there too! 

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reasons Why This Ventura Dog Trainer Loves Her Private Training Clients

I just had one of those awesome private dog training clients today! The kind that just makes me love my profession even more than I already do. The reason I love going to "work" (Really? This is "work"?), even on a Saturday afternoon. 

This very nice couple recently adopted an adult dog from a California Animal Shelter. Just like my own Poncho the Dog, this dog came with a few "issues" - but hey, come on, we ALL come with "issues" right? We all bring some sort of baggage into each and every one of our relationships. Anyway, this dog, who was very sweet, did have a few things these nice dog folks wanted to help "fix". How great is that? Not only do they adopt an adult dog, but they take one with "special needs", and then want to try and help this sweet pooch work through them. Talk about selfless. 

The other nice thing? The gentleman was concerned when he came to todays session. He had admitted that he was thinking that I, this certified pet dog trainer, was going to give him the same information that he had kept hearing elsewhere. Either by other trainers, or books, or other people. And that the training steps were going to be complicated, or not make much sense. 

Well, it seems he was pleasantly surprised! He told me that not only did the info I shared make sense to him but that the training steps were simple, and easy for him to use in his already busy daily life. He also confirmed what I was saying made perfect sense! Now they're so excited about wanting to work with their dog, that they're motivated enough so they can come to some of my upcoming dog training classes and workshops. 

Wow! How is that for positively reinforcing?! (I mean for me!) Quite a rewarding afternoon for yours truly. Can't wait to see them out in public practicing those newly acquired skills! 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dog Training "Tips": Really? Not In This Dog Trainers Opinion

There are a lot of great dog training tips out there - really. I provide many myself, as you probably already know, on this dog training ventura blog as well as the Noozhawk dog behavior advice column Poncho and I write for. Although I'm a certified dog trainer, and one that prefers practicing more of a science-based methodology, I ask you, please, be a critical thinker when it comes to adhering to some of these "tips". Mine included! 

Some of the ones I've seen out there just amaze me! Do people really believe some of this stuff? These are just a few that I came across:
  • "Do not tell your dog “it’s okay” or “don’t worry” while they are acting fearful or aggressive. Showing affection to your dog in those states will reinforce the behavior you do not want. The dog reads your affection as praise and believes that’s the behavior you want."

  • "Grabbing the scruff of your dog can help him calm down. That is how mothers carry their puppies after they are born. However, you cannot be angry when you do it or your dog will pick up on your energy and fight it."
  • "Dog training classes aren’t necessary. Classes only benefit the dog in the aspect of socialization and very basic obedience. You don’t need to pay money for this. The time is better spent out on a walk."
  • "Be the first to walk out the door. Pack leaders are ALWAYS the first through passageways."

OH MY GOODNESS! Really??? Yikes! Just like the "Lose 10 pounds in one day." It sounds like it's time for a "dog-training-bust-a-myth" least in my opinion. 

First off, when I'm scared, if my husband consoles me I'm certainly not going to want to perform that scared behavior more. If anything, it'll help me relax, and may even help build my confidence, which would come in handy if I were ever in that situation again. 

For example, when it comes to flying I'm not real keen on the take-off and landing part. He knows this. So whenever we fly together he takes my hand during both these times and talks to me in soothing voice - he doesn't yell at me or ignore me. Geez, if he did that I'd hate take-off and landing even more! Nope, he does show affection - and ya know what? This makes me love him even more! 

As for the other examples of "tips" that I mention above, let me just say:
  1. I'm pretty darn sure our dogs know we're not dogs or wolves, and that grabbing their scruff doesn't make them think we are, nor do I believe my own dog Poncho, or any dog would "feel calm" if I were to grab him by his scruff. If anything, I would think Poncho would be reacting out of fear from me grabbing him in such a manner - which I would never do. 
  2. Dog training classes "aren't necessary"??? It's all about finding the right class. One that is educational, fun and rewarding for both the dog and their humans. Even if you're not taking one of my manners classes at the inquisitive canine studio, or at Ventura College Community Education, there are still plenty of fun dog training classes out there! It sounds to me this person found classes very punishing...too bad, maybe they will want to attend one of mine. 
  3. I don't care who goes through the doorway or "passages" first. I do like to set boundaries, but I'm not a complete control freak. I'll ask for a sit, or four-on-the-floor before giving the release cue to "go on". Shoot, sometimes life is really exciting and our dogs want to get there first! Just like us humans and getting in line at the movies, or concert, or roller-coaster! It's called "impulse control" - dogs don't have much, which is why it's important to teach them such exercises....Hmm, maybe those dog training classes are important. I teach many of these behaviors in my own dog training classes
As I've said before, dogs (like all animals) do what works! They perform whichever behaviors gets them more of what they want, to keep themselves safe, and to prevent from getting hurt, or avoiding anything that would cause them fear, pain, or death. Duh. 

So before you start listening to tons of advice out there, please, be a critical thinker. If you don't feel comfortable doing something, don't. Or at least ask questions. Education is good! Knowledge is even better!