Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Party Protocols for Challenging Dogs

By:  Drayton Michaels, Urban Dawgs

With graduations and wedding season approaching no matter if it is family, friends or perhaps new folks coming in for a visit from out of town; when you have a party or a holiday event and a big dog that may be challenging you need a plan to reduce stress! Even friendly dogs can cause stress by jumping, or reacting at party sounds or perhaps simply just being in the way while you are attempting to entertain and feed your guests.

These protocols can help not only to reduce your stress but also recue the stress for your dog. By challenging I am referring to a dog that may have some stress about visitors, get very excited, may have mild apprehensions, or perhaps is just a strong dog that needs some guidance with meeting many people coming into the home. I consider a “big challenging dog ” to be 50lbs and up and then it also depends on who is handling the dog as far as how challenging. This will also work for any sized dog that may be “challenging” as it is defined here.

The plan was originally designed for a family that has sons, young men in their early 20’s living in the home. Their dog is roughly 70 pounds and well trained yet has some stresses with new people and or people coming into the home. The after the event they emailed me a one sentence reply, “thank you it all went very well”.

Obviously a one or two person house hold or with young kids under 16 most likely could not attempt this. In that case just get the dog tired and manage and do your best to adapt the counter conditioning part with a gate system or avoid the commotions of incoming guests and manage the dog in another part of the home in addition utilize the strategic feeding protocols and the herbal calming support listed below if you cannot do the meet n greet aspect.

Tranquility Blend by Animal Essentials

This is an herbal calming agent that has worked wonders for my own dogs as well as multiple clients’ dogs of all sizes, breeds, mixes and behavioral pathologies. This is an essential part of all my protocols where dogs need to have stress reduced. Humans get to have a drink or two or what have you to feel less stress, so why not help dogs out with something safe and non-toxic?
Most times when you combine exercise, strategic feeding, some herbal assistance by way of calming agents, and allowing the dog to greet people at least a little bit with some counter conditioning things go much smoother. Work as a team and have fun!

The day before

The day before the party event make sure you have a very active day with your dog.

• Lots of playing with training mixed in. Sits and waits and looks and touches all make play time more mentally stimulating so the dog is more tired by the end of it.

• Lots of training as you go…meaning issues cues and waits all day as you work with your dog Again this makes him more tired as he is “thinking” and “working” all day long.

• Walks and outing in new places will also really tire out dogs. Make sure at least one of his walks the day before is a considerable walk 20 – 30 minutes or more - in a new area where he smells to his hearts content. Do lots of training and prompt charging on this outing as well. All this will translate into a tired dog.

• Meals are to be eaten the day before out of well-stuffed Kong’s. These should take the dog 15 – 20 minutes to unpack also “busy work” by dissecting the Planet Dog Orbee or other types of food puzzle toys will also be a good idea throughout the day. 3 – 5 “puzzles” that are 10 – 15 minutes each add up to over 30 minutes of “work”. ☺

• No Tranquility Blend the day before! Try it 3 – 4 days prior to the party event if you’d like to see how it works. You’ll need him wide-awake and ready for his day of events the day before.

Day of holiday event

Start out his breakfast meal with a medium dose of Tranquility Blend. Half of what they recommend for his weight. Don’t feed him his entire breakfast; give him half you want him hungry for later.
Depending on when the guests are arriving and assuming they are all arriving relatively around the same time the dog needs a decent 20 – 30 minute walk or two – at least two 20 minute sessions of play – be mindful of treats for training – food scraps etc…We want the dog hungry and tired when guests arrive.

The dog should be getting food rewards for Recalls – counter conditioning i.e. seeing or hearing something that startles - mark YES & reward - or dog is eating out of a work to eat toy. No Free Food!

You want the dog pretty darn hungry when the guests arrive and when you are all planning to eat. So keep an eye on food intake day of party.

• About 30 – 45 minutes prior to arrival of guests give the dog a small snack in a bowl with half the dose of Tranquility Blend mixed in.

• If you can get in a 20 minute game of fetch, tug or a play session where the dog get’s their heart rate up for 20 – 30 minutes this to helps quite a bit.  Read the entire article

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What are Quadrants?

What are Quadrants? Applying Learning Theory to Dog Training

There are only two main principles for dog-friendly training.  Give something to get more of a behavior you want. Take something away to stop a behavior you don't like.

Positive Reinforcement (+R): If you want your dog to repeat a behavior more frequently, reward that behavior in some way.

Negative Punishment (-P): If you want your dog to repeat a behavior less frequently, remove any reward or perceived award for the behavior. This should happen rarely - focus on reinforcement.

Access to anything interesting is a reinforcer
Think of positive and negative in the addition/subtraction sense.  The counterparts to +R and -P are negative reinforcement (take away an aversive - something painful or unpleasant to the dog - as a reward) and positive punishment (present the dog with something painful or unpleasant for doing something you do not like).

"Positive training" usually uses positive reinforcement and negative punishment exclusively, or very rarely uses the other two techniques, and even then with aversives that are not painful, just unpleasant (like time-outs or startling noises).  I do not consider slip chains (choke chains) or prong collars to be part of "positive training," although some other trainers think of that as "balanced training." What they don't know is that a combination of aversive corrections and positive reinforcements has been proven to be the least effective way to teach, and it's definitely not necessary.

Why go positive?  The reason that many trainers prefer to use +R and -P instead of the alternatives is the fact that working with rewards is so much more fun, for the human and the dog, than aversives like choke chains.  But does it work?  Definitely!  Positive trainers have successfully trained all sorts of competition dogs, from obedience to agility to tracking.  In fact, clicker trained dogs are usually ready for the obedience ring and agility competitions much faster than dogs trained with leash corrections.  Pet dogs everywhere have also benefited from trainers who use these no-force methods.
Let's discuss +R and -P in more detail.

Positive Reinforcement:  A reinforcer is anything that your dog likes. Read the entire article

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Bite Inhibition Overview

[Updated May 2017]

What you can do...

- Take the time to teach your puppy the invaluable skill of inhibiting his bite. It could be one of the most important lessons he learns - one that will serve him well for a lifetime.

- Supervise children with your puppy so your puppy doesn't get reinforced for inappropriate biting, and so your children don't have to suffer the pain of uninhibited puppy mouthing.

- Resist the pressure from some members of the dog community to use pain and force to suppress your puppy's biting behavior. You know there's a better way. Read the entire article

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Saturday, June 24, 2017


If your dog doesn’t already know the value of eye contact with humans, you can easily teach her. This is an operant conditioning/positive reinforcement exercise – your dog learns her behavior can make good stuff happen:

1. Holding a tasty treat in your hand, have your dog sit in front of you.

2. Show her the treat and move it to the corner of your eye. When her eyes meet yours, click and treat. Repeat.

3. Say the cue “Watch!” just before you move the treat to your eye. When she makes eye contact, click and treat. Repeat.
teaching eye contact to dogs
4. After several repetitions (the number of repetitions needed will depend on the individual dog), pause after you give the “Watch!” cue and see if she looks into your eyes. If she does, click and treat. If she doesn’t, move the treat to your eye, click and treat.

5. Say “Watch!” Move the treat halfway to your eye, and wait. Just wait. Eventually she will glance at your eyes. Click and treat. (If she never looks at your eyes, do several more repetitions of Step 4.)

6. Say “Watch” and hold the treat at arm’s length out to the side. Wait. She will likely stare at the treat for a moment or two, but invariably, within a few moments, she will glance at your face (usually, in an effort to try to figure out what you are doing!). When she makes eye contact, click and treat.

When your dog has come to realize the value of eye contact, she will sometimes offer the behavior without being cued. Be sure to reinforce offered eye contact as well as cued eye contact. To help her be comfortable with eye contact from other humans, ask your friends to play the “Watch” game with her as well. Read the entire article

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

This Is Your Dog's Brain on Cheese

In my conversations with other dog owners, I've been noticing a pattern.

Owner: Hershey absolutely will not come back to me when we’re outside. He just turns his ears off, especially when there’s another dog around.

Me: Oh, sure. We can fix that. To start, we’ll need some fabulous snack like hot dogs or roast beef…

Owner: It brings back memories. I remember being told years ago not to feed my dogs “people food” lest it reveal my weak moral fiber, and I remember the sneaky pleasure of finally getting permission from a bona fide dog trainer to just go ahead and pull out the cheese. What a crime it is that we’ve been told not to use our most powerful motivator when training a dog to do a really difficult behavior. Coming when called when off-leash seems to be the gold-standard behavior in this category. It’s what owners really want, sometimes it’s what they need for their dogs’ safety, and it’s many dogs’ lowest priority when they’re off having a good time.

Just like us, our dogs are making micro-decisions all the time. Split-second cost-benefit analyses. Consider these three theoretical scenarios, all of which involve getting you to leave your house.
  1. Your best friend invites you to a pizza party on an evening when nothing else is going on. You drop everything and rush out the door
  2. You have friends over for a barbecue and your great aunt Martha calls you up to come over to clean out her gutters. You groan, dawdle, make excuses, and show up reluctantly. She scolds you for your tardiness.
  3. A man carrying a gun breaks into your house in the middle of the night. You flee in terror.
Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. When most people recall their dogs, let's be honest: it's normally a great aunt Martha scenario. Am I right? You're at the dog park or in the back yard gardening, holes are being dug and squirrels are being hunted, and you call your dog to come inside. Where NOTHING fun is going on. And when he finally drags himself over, he is scolded for his efforts.
Or maybe you see yourself in the armed robber scenario. Many of us - myself included - were taught to use pain or the threat of pain (like a remote shock collar) to motivate our dogs. By golly, it works if you want a dog to vacate whatever he's doing in a panic.

But here's the thing. This is a long game we're playing with our dogs. Think past this one play, this one recall. You're not just getting a behavior today; you're establishing a pattern that will last years. Who's the person on that theoretical list whom you hope to hear from again and again? For whom would you do anything in the middle of the night, even if it were a tedious or inconvenient task?

Do you want to be great aunt Martha, an armed robber, or the person with a gravitational pull over your dog?
Those of us with dogs who will do a rocket recall have simply put to use a fancy technology: we throw pizza parties every time they come to us. And by doing so, over time, we teach them that coming to us - in fact, racing towards us - regularly results in a party of such epic proportions it simply cannot be missed. So on those rare occasions where we forget our treats at home, or the dog is tearing toward a busy street on the heels of a cat, the split-second cost-benefit analysis is already tipped in our favor.

Bottom line: you can nag or scare your dog into doing the same behavior that you can simply pay him for. It's a matter of motivation. You just have to set aside your aversion to using food in training and make it worth his while. Read the entire article

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Arrogance of Punishment

As a professional force-free dog trainer I often hear dog owners use the term “punishment” and understand it from their perspective as a word in common use.

Webster’s dictionary: 1 the act of punishing; 2 a. a suffering of pain or loss that serves as retribution; 2 b. a penalty inflicted upon an offender through judicial procedure; 3 severe, rough, or disastrous treatment.

I will address each definition in context of “punishment” as applied to pet dogs by their owners, rather than the use of the term as understood by professionals, with respect to operant conditioning.
First, as an American I acknowledge living in a punitive society, evidenced by the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.  Many of us were raised in homes where punishment was the norm.  My 30-year police career postured me to observe the behavior of citizens, looking for something to stop.  If that “something” was serious enough it resulted in arrest and likely punishment through legal process.

Dog owners often consider punishing unwanted behavior rather than rewarding favorable behavior.  As a trainer I shape the attitude of dog owners to look for opportunities to reinforce desired behavior, rather than look for something to stop.

Dogs have no moral code, yet humans cast upon them the anthropomorphic notion that dogs “know what they are doing is wrong” and so punishment is justified.  Dogs are roughly comparable to a two-year old human child.[1]  We do not assume toddlers “know what they are doing is wrong” or criminally prosecute them, so punishment is not a logical choice.  With short-term memory measured in seconds it also makes no sense to punish a dog long after the behavior occurred.

Second, inflicting pain or retribution upon a dog should never be a basis for punishment.  I find that concept disturbing, unethical and arrogant.  It puzzles me why some people feel justified in punishing animals for expressing their normal behaviors when we have the alternative of teaching them what we prefer.  Read the entire article

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Puppy Come…or I’ll Shock You??

By: Linda Michaels, M.A., — Del Mar Dog Training

Question: Can you tell us if you think training an emergency recall with P+ (punishment such as a shock collar) could, in any way, be preferable to using R+ (reinforcement, such as a treat or affection)?

Answer: This is such an important topic because both shock collar trainers and so-called “balanced trainers often use Recall/Come in demonstrations to the public or online, as a way to impress their audience and as means to tout the supposed superiority of their training method with “off-leash” training. Buyer beware!

Let’s be clear from the start – No, it would not be preferable under any circumstances in my opinion. Using Positive Punishment to teach Recall is antithetical to an Approach behavior by your dog — as well as a serious public safety issue. Bite “redirection” onto the pet parent is not uncommon in the face of shock and aversive training.

There isn’t any scientific evidence that I’ve been able to uncover that shows that using a shock collar for emergency recall in domestic dogs is effective AND/OR without significant risk of fall-out. Using shock often has known injurious side-effects, almost certainly, psychologically, and in some cases causing physical injury.

Nor, can any type of shock “training” in good conscience be termed “dog-friendly”. Don’t believe what a trainer tells you because they say they’re an “expert”. Anyone can throw up a beautiful website and crown themselves, “master trainer” in an entirely unregulated profession. I say…don’t hurt your dog…ever. Read the entire article

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