Monday, November 23, 2009

This Dog Trainer Can Trust Her Own Dog, and the Dog Training

We had a little incident at our home this evening. Yep, I admit, this dog trainer isn't perfect and neither are the rest of the humans in the household. However, Poncho, my inquisitive canine and trusty dog behavior advice column sidekick seemed to be spot on tonight, (although I admit my fast twitch muscle fibers were working well).

What was the issue? We had a cookie malfunction: my darling husband was carrying a cookie and half of it fell out of his hand and flew across the slippery hardwood floor like a hockey puck on the way to the goal. Needless to say, Poncho McQuikie pants was right on its tail!

I was in the other room, watching the whole thing go down, envisioning Poncho consume his entire caloric intake for the week in one bite, but before his soft warm fuzzy lips wrapped themselves around the delectable molasses chew from Trader Joes, I yelled out "Leave it!" as I was flying out of the chair and across the room, while reaching in and grabbing the mouthwatering morsel up off the floor...AND BY GOLLY PONCHO THE DOG DID IT! Poncho actually backed away from it even BEFORE my hand was near it! I was so shocked I did the happy dance, said he was a good boy, then broke off a tiny, Poncho-sized piece for his reward of leaving it alone!

The "Leave it!" behavior is one of the basic cues I teach in many of my dog training classes here in Ventura. And I guess all the practice with him as my demo dog has paid off! During this more emotional time, I allowed all the training practice to kick in and lo and behold it worked! One of my dog training class mantra's is "Train it before you need it!" or "Don't wait to need a behavior to train a behavior!" I always hope I never have to use this type of cue (usually indicates danger), but it's nice to know I have it in my arsenal just in case there is a cookie incident.

Another point I make in my dog training classes is the concept of "trust". The use of food in dog training helps dogs develop trust between themselves and whomever is working with them, or with other humans. For owners, they need to trust that their dogs are actually going to perform the behaviors they are being taught. I guess I'm the prime example of that!

Thank you my darling inquisitive canine Poncho! I hope I won't need to use that cue again, but it's nice to know you're paying attention and that I can trust you know you're stuff - and the cues! What a good boy you are!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Use of Physical Punishment in Dog Training: The Dark Half

Had a call from a wonderful dog guardian today looking for a dog training class here in Ventura that not only uses "positive reinforcement" but that avoids the use of items such as prong collars and choke chains. Whoo boy did she come to the right place!!! I was happy that this certified professional dog trainer could offer her just what she wanted! I felt like contradicting Mick and telling this person "You CAN always get what you want!"

We had a nice chat about the types of training techniques I use to teach both the dogs and dog training students. She was thankful and relieved that my dog training classes use humane methods - so much so that she has pre-registered for my January 2010 dog training Good Manners class - This is something I find reinforcing!

She then told me that the first class she took her dog to talked about using rewards, but they also used aversives such as those icky collars I mention above. That type of equipment often includes other types of coercive methods such as collar corrections and alpha rolling. Yikes!!! That's like someone slapping you then buying you flowers. Sorry - I wouldn't learn much of anything, except to be afraid for my life.

This lovely person understood why the use of inhumane compulsive methods to teach another animal doesn't make sense, but today I thought it would be useful to help educate those who are still unclear of what these intimidating, bullying, abusive methods can lead to. I have it written out very clearly in my dog training Manners Class workbook, but here is the gist:
  • What exactly is an aversive? An aversive is an event, or change in the environment that an animal finds unpleasant, and seeks to avoid.
  • Positive punishment is the start of anything the animal finds unpleasant, and negative reinforcement is the termination of anything unpleasant. In other words, something unpleasant either starts or stops. The animals motivation with either of these is prevention or cessation of something unpleasant.
For punishment to be effective, several requirements must be met:
  • Punishment must be immediate each and every time! Timing! (Gotta be Johnny on the spot!)
  • Punishment must follow each and every time the behavior occurs. Consistency! (Honestly, are you around every time to deliver the punishment for the behavior you're trying to eliminate?)
  • Punishment must be severe enough for it to work the first time. (Are you really able to deliver something that severe? It needs to be in order for it to actually work!)
  • Punishment should change the dogs behavior. (Hey, if it didn't work after one time it's not working!)
  • Punishment must me doable by the owner. (Can you? Really?)
Damaging side-effects of using aversives:
  • Dog can begin to associate the aversive with the presence of the owner (or punisher).
  • Can lead to learned helplessness - stops trying anything for fear of being punished.
  • Punishment only tells the dog what you don’t want.
  • Punishment is inappropriate for dogs with underlying fear issues.
  • Punishment might not generalize the cessation of the specific behavior. If given the opportunity to perform the behavior in areas where the dog wasn’t punished, they may do just that.
  • Punishment tends to generalize the underlying fear towards any similar environmental situations.
Although this type of punishment can work, and often provide an immediate release of anger and frustration of the person delivering the punishment (there are better coping skills), there is often only a temporary toning down of the behavior the person is initially trying to change. Plus, they only focus on what you don’t want, and not the behavior you want the animal to perform.

Why not avoid all of this nasty stuff and stick to the KISS principle of dog training? It works, it's easy, and it's fun...for both the dog and the human! Plus, you end up getting what you want!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dangerous Outcome Could Come to Tomato Loving Labrador

My trusty sidekick Poncho and I received a dog behavior question for Dear Inquisitive Canine column about a fun-loving lab mix that enjoys eating all of the homegrown tomatoes in his yard. The dog guardian who wrote in was a little annoyed with this hunting activity, I believe more so because she didn't have any to eat herself! Hmm, that would be annoying - especially when you're craving fresh tomatoes for your evening meal, and there aren't any left!

I addressed this inquisitive dog guardian by outlining key management steps such as: Sturdier fencing, barricades, and yard location that would deter (and protect) her dog, while protecting the plants and her morsels of deliciousness. I also included some simple dog training tips including:
  • Rewarding her dog whenever he ignored the plants
  • Encouraging her to provide other enrichment activities that would redirect him away from the plants, while allowing him to "hunt". Something along the lines of a scavenger hunt for his kibble, or a tomato/kibble stuffed food toy would be fantastic.
Along with the above management and training, there is something even more important about this tomato hunting dilemma: the tomato plant is toxic to dogs! (cats and horses too). The fruit seems to be fine for this dog to eat, and many other dogs, but the leaves and plant itself have been know to cause many health problems.

According to the ASPCA, signs and symptoms of tomato plant toxicity include: Hypersalivation, inappetence, severe gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, drowsiness, CNS depression, confusion, behavioral change, weakness, dilated pupils, and slow heart rate. For more information on tomato plant toxicity, as well as other common poisonous plants, click here to access the ASPCA website.

To read the full post, please check out our Dear Inquisitive Canine dog behavior advice column - the tomato loving lab will be featured on November 13th 2009 on the Noozhawk website.