Saturday, May 19, 2018

Conversations about Dogs

Conversations About Dogs
Drayton Michaels, Urban Dawgs

....“Well I was told that when the dog doesn’t listen to you that they’re disrespecting you and they’re trying to dominate you, run the show”.

My Response:

“Actually dogs have the cognition of three-year-old kids by the time they’re social ly mature around age two, dogs cannot formulate moral imperatives like being stubborn or spiteful. Furthermore, dogs have a very small pre-frontal cortex which is the part of the brain that deals with motor functions, complex movements, evaluating reward / punishment outcomes, and deals with short term memory, working memory and executive functions. 

Dogs do “what works for reinforcement”, many things reinforce dogs, barking, jumping, lunging, chewing, chasing, food, scents, access to novel areas, squeaky toys, work to eat toys, leaves, grass, branches, prey, being on a sofa, remember there’s always a biological, environmental and historical reason as to why the dog is doing or not doing something, that history is related to their “reinforcement history”. Humans are the biggest variable in that history. 

Trust that dogs are not doing anything to make you mad and disobey you on purpose no matter how well-trained, or despite your best efforts, they are animals, they are highly sensitive to their environment and view all events in life as safe, unsafe, or neutral. They might have environmental challenges that to them are very stressful and it’s the humans job to mitigate that and teach the dog how to respond”.  
Drayton Michaels, Urban Dawgs

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Behavior is in the Environment

By:  Drayton Michaels, CTC, Urban Dawgs, Red Bank, NJ
One of the big problems that people have with dogs be they professional trainers or guardians, is they want the dog to “do everything we ask them to do as soon as asked without any hesitation”, without any variance in the way the dog did it the last time, and that is a dangerous mindset to have because that is not reality or reasonable. Flexibility in criteria is crucial for success when training animals.
The first thing to realize is that “behavior is in the environment” not in the dog. Meaning something has to occur for the dog to respond to and then humans have to respond either before or after the dog responds. Right away we see that humans are the variable in terms of how dogs associate to stimulus and what they learn about sequences in the presence of that stimulus or stimuli. Humans are the biggest variable in a dog’s learning history.

Then we have to consider that there is a biological component to behavior dogs have different days, different responses based on time of day, and there is also a history, which may have been created in part before the dog came to their current humans, or a history that was created by the current humans.
History is not only the long arc of the dogs life from birth to their current age but history with other dogs, history with traffic, history with people reaching, history with loud sounds, history with sudden environmental contrast. History, that’s the thing to look at and when humans want to have a dog who is “perfect“, what is their history with the dog because they are the metric that is most easily changed and the metric that is most crucial to the dogs learning history.

What these “my dog must do what I say every time” people need to do is look in the mirror and decide if they’re going to actually become a better trainer for their dog or if they’re just going to stand around and complain, call the dog stupid or just shrug their shoulders and go “oh well that’s just the dog I have, he just doesn’t know anything”.

Typically many of these people who want results now without hesitation resort to compulsion training or force based training you know fear and pain, shock and choke, intimidate the dog. Or as it’s being sold these days “the dog must respect the human”.

This “we want the dog to do it right now whenever we ask them to do it without hesitation” mindset is also many times attached to humans who “feel” (ugh that word feel), dogs understand the concept of respect, which they don’t. This whole “the dog must respect me” mind set maps to people using lots of harsh punishment (pain) and negative reinforcement (fear) to maintain behavior.

That mindset of “the dog must do what I say and respect me at every turn” also leads to an adversarial relationship because behavior is in the environment not in the dog, and dogs have the cognition of three-year-old kids by the time they’re socially mature at age 2, so they do not have the pre-frontal cortex ability to formulate a moral imperative they are not able to have the same executive functions in their pre frontal cortex as humans and should not be considered on the same level cognitively as humans above the age of three years. Even then a 3 year old kid is still smarter than the dog.

All dogs operate on a safe, unsafe or neutral determination of all stimulus and events in their life and many times they get it wrong and they’re actually safe but they perceive the event or the stimulus as potentially fearful, and humans do to their ignorance, and their lack of patience, and having no real understanding about dogs, create problems where there could’ve been none or very little.
Do three-year-old kids do everything you want every time without hesitation like super charged robots? Nope.

Are people encouraged to have patience and finesse stress with three-year-old children as to not traumatize them, you bet they are, you certainly wouldn’t choke a three-year-old, nor would you put a shock collar on a three-year-old or pin them to the ground and make them understand you’re their “boss” or “leader” would you? No you would not. And if a human was caught on film choking or shocking or pinning to the ground a three-year-old child they would go to jail and be psychologically evaluated as having major issues.

So why do people keep doing these things to dogs? Even some well-meaning apparently or at least on the surface, well balanced, educated people even suggest doing these harmful things to dogs or they try to illustrate that dog should do this or shouldn’t do that, and if they don’t adhere to the humans the dog is somehow flexing their moral imperative to disobey, which is utter which is nonsense.

When dogs tune out or do not adhere to cues, they are distracted or stressed, their learning history is directly related to the humans that are in their charge and the humans in their charge need to focus on their mechanics and their timing of REINFORCEMENTS and actually learn how to communicate with their dog through force free, positive reward based dog training and behavior modification, because that is the legitimate way to change behavior and teach dogs in a safe way. Learn about Applied Behavior Analysis and stop the madness.

Drayton Michaels, Urban Dawgs

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Puppy Socialization

Puppy Socialization and Vaccination – A Balancing Act

You've just picked up your beautiful, wriggling, sweet-smelling little puppy, and you are loving every second of it. You've got everything ready: chew toys, that perfect tiny collar, and of course, your pup's first ever trip to the vet scheduled.

First puppy visits to the veterinarian are fun and packed with information! Your vet will go over so many things in that 20-40 min appointment – potty training, diet, growth, deworming, vaccines, and more. It's a lot of info!

One of the most important things your vet will discuss is the vaccine schedule and how that interacts with your puppy's socialization period. This can be confusing, and the recommendations may have changed dramatically since the last time you had a puppy. Let's hash this out...   Read the entire article

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Why This Veterinarian Hates Prong (aka “Pinch”) Collars

By Dr. Patty Khuly VMD

Being a veterinarian means I’m in an ideal setting to survey my clients’ slant on managing their dogs’ behavior. And nowhere does a dog owner’s approach to training seem more readily on display than when his dog is decked out in a prong collar.

Typically, these owners believe they need an aversive collar to control a big or strong dog, especially one who pulls on the leash. Alternatively, other owners just seem to like the testosterone-infused "flash factor" that prong collars and spiked collars tend to evoke. In either case, prong collars are usually completely unnecessary. I mean, why use a jackhammer when a shovel will do? Read the entire article

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Why Don't More People Use Positive Reinforcement to Train Dogs?

By Zazie Todd, PhD. Because science matters to our dogs and cats.

Everyone who has a dog needs to teach them how to behave. But why do many people still use methods that have risks for animal welfare?

A new paper by myself (Zazie Todd) looks at the barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods by ordinary people. To understand how people make decisions about dog training, we need to understand people’s attitudes to different methods and what influences them, as well as people’s knowledge and technical ability in using those methods.

Humane dog training methods use positive reinforcement and negative punishment. They are also known as reward-based methods, positive reinforcement, or force free methods, and they basically involve giving or withholding rewards contingent on the dog’s behaviour.

There are many reasons to use humane methods rather than aversive ones (which, technically speaking, are positive punishment and negative reinforcement). The use of reward-based dog training methods is associated with better welfare, and there are some indications it may even produce better results (see the dog training research resources page if you want to delve into the literature). Some behaviour problems are due to fear or stress, but aversive methods do not resolve this (and may even make it worse). Some problems occur because the dog does not have appropriate ways to engage in normal behaviour (e.g. chew toys). And training with positive reinforcement can be a good way to provide cognitive enrichment, which is important because good animal welfare includes positive experiences.

But studies show most ordinary dog owners use a mix of positive reinforcement and positive punishment to train dogs – so-called ‘balanced’ dog training. From an animal welfare perspective, it’s important to understand why many people continue to use aversive methods at least some of the time – and how we can bring about change.  Read the entire article

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Puppy Socialization

 "Why does my dog have a behavior problem?  I TOOK him to puppy class!"

I hear this - or variations of this - a lot.  Like, all the time.  In fact, at least half the dogs in my aggression cases have taken a puppy class.  That's way up from 10-15 years ago.

While more dog owners are aware of the importance of socialization than they used to be, the complex concept of socialization has been boiled down to almost useless sound bytes.  Online articles give generic advice like "Socialization is very important.  Enroll your puppy in a socialization class." 

I taught puppy classes for many years.  And I can say that even the best puppy class provides only about 5% of the socialization that a new puppy needs.

A puppy class is held in just one environment, with one group of people and one group of puppies. Imagine if a child were only exposed to two places - home and the same classroom - for the first 10 years of their life...they would not be a well-socialized child!  Socialization means exposing a puppy to many novel sights, smells, sounds, and surfaces, in as many different environments as safely possible, ensuring a pleasant experience in those environments, especially for (but not limited to) the first 14 weeks of their life, the critical period of socialization.

Basically, be prepared to come home from work and take your puppy on a safe socialization field trip to a new location every day for the first six weeks in your home.  After that, you can drop it to 2-3 days a week until your puppy is at least 5 months old.  Ideally, until your puppy is past the adolescent stage (approx 18 months old). 

Seem extreme? I didn't say these trips have to last for hours. They can be quick trips to the local grocery store parking lot or even sitting on a local park bench (keeping new puppies off the ground) for 10 minutes before heading home.  But you need to do something new every day. 

Or, you know, you could wait 6 months and then spend $900 or more to hire a trainer to help you undo your dog's leash reactivity or stranger-directed aggression.  Totally your choice.

Socialization prepares your puppy for life in your world, which frequently presents unusual and even scary situations. Read the entire article

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018


"When a dog ________, you have to _________ so he learns not to do that."

So goes most of the training advice of the last century. Human beings are amazingly creative when it comes to punishment (just look at medieval torture devices), and dog training is no exception. From devices that intentionally cause pain and discomfort, to innocent-seeming products like "The Pet Corrector," which is a can of compressed air, and ultrasonic "bark control" boxes.

Here are two problems with this line of thinking and the consumer industry that supports it:

1) It only occurs after the dog has ALREADY barked, jumped, run off, snapped, etc., and

2) Dogs don't misbehave just because they haven't been told not to.

Unwanted behavior is caused by a variety of factors that vary with each individual dog.

DOGS DO WHAT WORKS. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. It scares off the mailman (or at least that's how it appears to your dog). When a dog jumps on visitors, it gets people to pay attention to her. By allowing dogs to practice unwanted behavior, there's a better than even chance that the behavior will work for them BEFORE you can administer the punishment. Also, if your timing is off, the punishment won't be associated with the unwanted behavior, but with YOUR behavior. This is how dogs end up learning to avoid owners who reach for their collars, or worse, start to use aggression as self-defense, or quickly eat something after hearing "leave it."

So, what are you supposed to do? Outsmart your dog, that's what.  Read the entire article

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