Thursday, January 4, 2018

Leash Reactivity

Counter Conditioning Leash Reactivity, The Hybrid Approach

Leash Reactivity towards dogs, humans or traffic, is one of the most challenging training endeavors simply because there is no consistency in the appearance of the stimuli, and there will most assuredly be at some point, an over threshold event for the dog due to “criteria pile up”. More than one piece of criteria at a time combined with a lack of sufficient distance, too much duration, and or both, then add in the stimulus entering the environment with intensity of both the visual and auditory components known to cause the dog to react “over threshold”, and there will be more likely at some point a dog reacting by lunging and barking or attempting to flee and thus ends up flailing around while the handler tries to maintain control.

Handlers of leash reactive dogs be they large, medium or small dogs, have numerous mechanical and timing challenges. The variable that can be controlled the most is the human’s behavior, once that is the focus all other areas of leash reactivity become easier and stress is reduced.

The good news is this, once the handler has a better idea of what to do and starts a proactive protocol that consists of distance and high value food reinforcement, the dog will start to have less and less reactivity. There is no 100% reduction in leash reactivity, but if the handlers of the reactive dogs implement the following protocols in this blog and the video links, 90 – 95% reduction can be achieved. Humans are the variable so here we go… Read the entire article

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Leave It

In nature, animals often use aggressive threats to prevent others from stealing their possessions. With our pet dogs, however, aggression toward owners is often deemed inappropriate and even dangerous. This resource guarding can be exhibited along a continuum of intensity. A dog may freeze, for example, holding her head low over the food when the owner approaches. She may eat faster with wider gulping motions, growl or give a “hard stare”. At increasing levels of intensity, she may snarl, snap, or bite the owner. Dogs may become possessive over things other than food, such as stolen household items, bones, toys, or sticks. Click here to read the entire article

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Spoiling Your Dog

By:  Ilana Reisner, DVM

Don’t worry about spoiling your dog.

We’ve all encountered that person who insists that indulging our dogs (or children) is the devil’s work. But whether you're spoiling your dog or just treating him with kindness is really a subjective assessment. To spoil is “to impair, damage, or harm the character (of the dog, child etc.) by being too indulgent.” An additional connotation, though, is “to treat with great or excessive kindness, consideration or generosity.”

In an interesting study, “Is there a relationship between canine behavior problems and spoiling activities, anthropomorphism, and obedience training?” (Voith et al, Applied Animal Behaviour Science (1992) 34:263-272), the authors summarize, “The purpose of this (survey-based) study was to determine if dogs that were treated ‘like a person’ or that had not been obedience trained were more likely to exhibit owner-reported behavior problems than dogs not treated in those ways. Results…failed to reveal that problem behaviors were related to obedience training, ‘spoiling’, or anthropomorphic activities. Further, a discriminant analysis was unable to identify any variable (item)…that distinguished between dogs engaging and not engaging in problem behaviors. Eight variables were then factor analyzed, resulting in four factors which counted for 71.15% of the variance. The factors, which pertained to owners sharing food with their dog, taking the dog along on trips or errands, dog comfort or resting places, and anthropomorphic attitudes, were analyzed along with the obedience training and behavior problem variables in an ANOVA. The results showed that dogs whose owners interacted with them in an anthropomorphic manner, ‘spoiled’ them in certain ways, or did not provide obedience training were no more likely to engage in behaviors considered a problem by the owner than were dogs not viewed anthropomorphically, ‘spoiled’ by their owner, or given obedience training.”

Thank you, science! Yes, this is only one study, of a convenience sample of dog owners/guardians in the waiting room of a veterinary teaching hospital, but it is an impressive analysis of the owners’/guardians’ perception of their own dogs’ behavior. Again, this is subjective, but isn’t that all that matters?

The divide that separates “spoilers” from “nonspoilers” is similar to – in fact, it might be the same as –the difference between handlers who use force and intimidation for "obedience" vs. those who rely on humane, positive-reinforcement-based training. To critics, feeding dogs human food (even leftovers) and inviting them to share our beds is unconscionable and can lead only to impolite, aggressive and just plain rotten behavior. After all, these are just animals who will take every opportunity to "dominate" us (face palm). However, to those who view “indulgence” as simply assimilating the dog into the human family and treating him or her with warmth and kindness, that word never did make any sense -- and the purpose of training is much more interesting than simply creating an obedient pet. So don’t listen to the spoil-sayers – if you want to, go ahead and invite your dog on the sofa tonight and share a bowl of popcorn. Season 3 of Broadchurch is streaming.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Punishment in Dog Training

 By Zazie Todd, PhD

The risks of using punishment in dog training

By now, many people are familiar with the idea that using aversives to train dogs can have side effects. Studies show a correlation between aversive techniques (such as hitting, pinning, leash jerks and shock) and behaviour problems like aggression (Herron et al 2009; Casey et al 2014). 

One study found dogs in a training class that used aversives showed signs of stress and were less likely to look at their owners than in a similar class that used positive reinforcement instead (Deldalle and Gaunet, 2014).

The benefits of reward-based dog training

Rewards bring benefits: dogs with a history of reward-based training are better able to learn a new task (Rooney and Cowan, 2011). Nicola Rooney and Sarah Cowan say this may work “by increasing the dog’s motivation and aptitude to learn, because it learns to anticipate rewards.” 

If you are used to training with rewards, you know that look of happy anticipation on your best friend’s face. (Incidentally, the same study found dogs previously trained with punishment were less playful with their owner and less likely to go up to a new person).

There’s increasing recognition that good animal welfare includes giving animals positive experiences that cause positive affective states. 

In other words, it’s about making animals happy. Training your dog gives them control: “If I do this behaviour, I’ll get a nice reward.” They enjoy it and become better learners. Read the entire article

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Escape amd Avoidance Learning

Escape and Avoidance Learning
By:  Niki Tudge

Let’s look now at an example of escape and avoidance behavior using an electric shock remote training collar.


The dog is running away from his owner and the owner applies the shock stimulus while shouting “come.” The dog stops or begins moving back toward the owner. When the dog does this, the owner stops applying the shock. The dog learns that by running back towards the owner the pain can be removed (i.e. the shock is removed). The dog thus learns that he can escape the aversive stimulus by engaging in the alternate behavior. (Note: For a dog to escape a painful or scary stimulus so the behavior can be negatively reinforced, a positive punisher has to be put in place, in this case the application of shock. Positive punishment is defined as the addition of an aversive stimulus.)


In the case of avoidance, it is exactly as it sounds: a dog learns how to avoid a painful or scary stimulus. With a shock containment system, such as an electric, or “invisible” fence, the dog learns to stop moving forward towards the boundary when he hears the warning beep. If he proceeds, then he will receive an electric shock. The goal of his behavior is to avoid the fear and pain this will cause.

The key difference between escape and avoidance learning is as follows: In escape learning, the dog’s behavior allows him to escape the electric shock, whereas in avoidance learning, his behavior avoids the onset of the shock altogether. In both instances, however, the learning is based on fear.

In the case of the “invisible” fence, the beep on the boundary system comes before the shock is delivered. Due to his conditioning history, the dog will have quickly learned that the beep predicts a painful electric shock if his current behavior continues. He will aim to avoid this at all costs.
In the case of the electric shock collar, the shock is applied and then stopped when the dog discontinues his current behavior (which is whatever the person administering the shock deems to be inappropriate). There is no actual teaching involved, and the dog is given no opportunity to learn a new behavior. If the aversive device is absent at any time, there is no guarantee the dog will do what is expected of him because he has never actually been taught.

The good news is that we do not need to use any training or behavior modification protocols that utilize escape or avoidance behavior, or that cause fear or pain. Instead, we can reference the growing body of knowledge and findings of the scientific community who advocate for humane, positive reinforcement based protocols, which are known to promote a positive emotional state and therefore improve an animal’s ability to learn new things. In addition, they set an animal up for success, build his confidence, allow him to think for himself, and empower him to make good choices.

Humane and effective animal training procedures lay the foundation for any animal’s healthy socialization and training, and help avoid the onset of behavioral issues or better address existing behavior issues. The correct use and application of positive reinforcement protocols builds new behaviors while promoting behavior wellness and a strengthening of the pet-human relationship. A win-win for everyone.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Distress in Animals

By:  Niki Tudge, Pet Professional Guild

Temple Grandin and Mark Deesing's paper, "Distress in Animals: Is it Fear, Pain or Physical Stress?", reviews the most current understanding of two of the most basic types of suffering - fear and pain - only to arrive at an unexpected conclusion: in most vertebrates, fear causes greater suffering than pain.

Just think about that, think about all the times we see pets that are not physically hurt but are scared or fearful!

Fearful of being alone!
Fearful of being punished!
Fearful of being isolated!
Fearful of loosing safety or security!
Fearful of meeting a stranger!
Fearful of meeting or encountering a strange dog!
Fearful of loud noises or bright flashes
The list goes on .....

Why are we quick to administer medications for physical pain but not for mental suffering? If a dog is suffering from fear we must remedy it as quickly as possible. We can either use the appropriate non fearful approach to conditioning a new emotional response and/or administer medications with the help of a veterinarian to help bridge the gap so a behavior change program can work. We cannot train out fear, it's not a behavior it is a emotional response!

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Monday, September 25, 2017

My Best Buddy Joins the Shock Free Coalition

Press Release:

My Best Buddy Dog Training Joins the Pet Professional Guild’s #ShockFreeCoalition to End the Use of Electric Shock as a Training Tool for Pets

Global Advocacy Campaign and Website Launch Takes Place September 25, 2017

September 25, 2017, Sharpsburg, GA: For the welfare of pets and those around them, and to improve the relationship people have with them, the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), an international member association for animal behavior and training professionals, is launching a global advocacy campaign and website to end the practice of using electric shock to train, manage, and care for pets. My Best Buddy Dog Training is proud to participate in this worthy initiative as a local partner, to provide resources and share knowledge with pet owners in Coweta and Fayette Counties.

PPG’s #ShockFreeCoalition, which will launch as a week-long campaign from September 25 – October 1, 2017, comes at a time when animal behavior and emotions are being researched more than ever before. Countless studies, conducted by veterinary scientists and canine behavior specialists worldwide, indicate that using pain and fear to train animals risks causing physical injury, as well as a host of psychological issues that may include a pet becoming fearful of other animals and people — and potentially aggressive towards them as a result.

The goal of the #ShockFreeCoalition is to build a strong and broad movement committed to eliminating shock devices from the supply chain once and for all. Though electric shock in animal training is currently banned in a handful of countries, it is still legal in the United States and many other countries worldwide. Part of the #ShockFreeCoalition’s remit is to educate pet owners and shelter/rescue workers to help them provide the pets under their charge the best care and training, and to help owners find competent, professional pet industry service providers whom they can trust to use only humane practices. 

“What’s so sad is that most people do not realize that they are hurting and scaring their pets with electric shock training devices,” said Niki Tudge, president and founder of PPG and the #ShockFreeCoalition. “Unfortunately, they often find out the hard way when their pet becomes shut down from fear, or aggressive towards people and/or other animals, as fallout from the electric shock. Fear is incredibly easy to instill in any animal, and exceptionally difficult to get rid of. These pet owners end up facing a long road of hard work that can require a tremendous amount of patience, time and money to help their pet overcome this newly — and unnecessarily — created fear. Indeed, in all too many cases, a pet may end up being abandoned in a shelter, inaccurately labeled as “aggressive,” or euthanized.

“The pet training industry is entirely unregulated at present, meaning that anyone can say they are an animal trainer or behavior consultant,” Tudge continued. “As a result, those who call themselves dog trainers, or even “dog whisperers,” may still be utilizing outdated punitive methods, such as disc throwing, loud correctional “no’s” and, in some cases, more extreme tools such as electric shock collars, choke chains and prong collars. All of these are, sadly, still at large. They are training tools that, by design, have one purpose: to reduce or stop behavior through pain and fear.”

Global leaders in the animal welfare, veterinary, behavior and training worlds — such as celebrity dog trainer, Victoria Stillwell; best-selling author and ethologist, Marc Bekoff Ph.D.; and renowned author, veterinarian and certified applied veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall — have lent their voices to the #ShockFreeCoalition to help educate pet owners and professionals on the dangers of these devices.

“Electric shock has no place in modern dog training and behavior management,” author and founder of San Francisco, California-based The Academy for Dog Trainers, Jean Donaldson, wrote in her statement for the Coalition. “It is never necessary and is inhumane and side-effect laden. I know of no valid argument for the continued sale of these devices.”

In addition to hosting a pledge document for signatures, the #ShockFreeCoalition’s website ( will be a clearinghouse of position statements, scientific studies, articles, videos and research on the dangers of electric shock. The site will also provide guidance on humane training practices and how to find educated pet care professionals who use scientifically-informed, humane, force-free practices.
Events during the campaign week will include an “Ask the Expert” Facebook chat with Jean Donaldson, on September 27, 2017 at 3 p.m. E.T., and a special “Shock-Free” edition of the PPG World Service live radio show/podcast with Marc Bekoff Ph.D., on October 1, 2017 at 4 p.m. E.T.  

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