She Was On The Cesar Millan Dog Whisperer Show

Suzy Godsey was on the Cesar Millan Dog Whisperer show…

“I would like to share something on the editing aspect of the show. I was on Cesar’s Dog Whisperer show as the first dog walker in action. I had two cases I had not been able to create a result with and applied for Cesar’s help.

Filming the Dog Whisperer Show took a whole day

Filming the show took a whole day, so of course there was a lot of editing and the show could have been done in numerous ways. But when it was aired I was really impressed. It not only gave the essence of what happened that day, it also showed Cesar’s frustration with those two cases.

He commented that he’d rather work with an aggressive dog than what I had presented to him: Two hyperactive Golden Retrievers, and a ball obsessed lab, which only took him 45 minutes to change. And his energy with the Lab was very different from the Goldens. He used what you would call a different level of “motivation”. The Lab responded to that very well. It took him a while to get through to the Goldens and in the show it was indicated that this was one of his bigger challenges.

I had watched all of his first and second seasons of The Dog Whisperer

I had watched all of his first and second seasons repeatedly, I had seen lots of episodes of the following seasons and I had been to his center in Los Angeles once with an aggressive dog owned by one of my clients before his show started, years ago. To me in person he is just like he comes across in the show. He is real and humble and his talent is phenomenal. He can “project” what it is he would like to achieve in a way that makes your body react.

dog whisperer

When he was showing me some of the signals the aggressive dog I brought to his center would give before the attack, my hair stood on end. I felt like I was going to be bitten. He really knows how dogs communicate in all aspects! And I have to say that the show is as close to what is going on in the session as possible, going by my own experience of the show I was in. It is episode 416,  “Energy Crisis, Jake, Riley and Norton” if you are interested in watching.

After Cesar left I worked hard with the Goldens and also the ball obsessed Lab. In both cases I kept working with the dogs for two months several times a week to establish a different, lasting result. And these dogs are changed now! They have responded to the original change and kept it with the reinforcement of keeping up the program. It not only changed my way of working with dogs, it also showed me that once you “break through” keeping up is a definite possibility if you are willing to put the effort in, thanks to the dog whisperer!”

Some Dog Training Links for Your Enjoyment

By Lynn –

Since it has been a very busy time for me, I haven’t been able to blog on a regular basis–although, it should be well-known that it’s not unheard of to see certain lengths of time go by whilst I try to convince my brain to spew forth some quality material worth sharing. I’m not sure of the readership of this blog, but since my creative capabilities have been lacking, I’d like to share some extremely well-written blogs from some of my colleagues and other trainers with whom I network on a regular basis. I have no doubt that I’ll have some more entries up within good time, but since I just completed a 6-quarter education for an Associates of Applied Sciences in Veterinary Technology, I’m just fine giving my brain a little bit of a rest before it goes on to the next grueling task.

Some of these links have to do with training, while others focus more on the human-dog relationship. Feel free to leave comments on the writer’s respective blog entry if you enjoyed reading them; most, if not all, of them, do accept anonymous comments, although the courtesy of a signature is appreciated. Please note that I do not receive anything other than their thanks for sharing these. These people are not lacking for readership, so this is not for advertising revenue. It is merely to share knowledge, experience and good writing about some meaty dog-relation topics.

That Dogma Won’t Hunt : a critical examination of one of the key studies many behaviorists point to when they insist that punishment is counterproductive in dog training

Conflicting Conclusions : a follow-up to the above entry that compares some conflicting findings within the scientific field regarding dog aggression.

Glock or Flexi? Which Would You Rather Carry? : Janeen compares the safety record of the popular retractable lead to that of a Glock handgun. You might be surprised as to her findings!

Remote Control : Ruth Crisler takes a look at some of the reasoning behind the e-collar ban in Wales, and why it might be barking up the wrong tree, for both scientific and humane reasons.

What’s love got to do with it? : In light of the recent death of a killer whale trainer, Ruth examines why love for our animals doesn’t go very far when it comes to creating a good relationship with them.

At least, Don’t buy this : A candid examination, backed by years of experience, of people who buy pet store puppies. Prepare to either be a little bit offended or nod your head in agreement.

Seized and Saved : With hundreds of fosters under her belt, as well as direct involvement with puppy mill seizures, Heather examines what must happen after the initial seizure of an animal in order for it to be considered truly saved.

Now we see the violence inherent in the system : A critical look at the timeline leading up to the acceptance of mixed-breed dogs for registration with the American Kennel Club, and why it actually isn’t quite as warm-hearted as you might think.

I’m not sharing all the good links with you now, just so I can have more to share at a later date when my brain again needs a hiatus. Enjoy these, and keep checking back for some original material!

The Issue of “Getting Your Dog Under Control”

By Lynn –

A few things happened in recent months.

One was noted in the local suburban newspaper: in the police report section, a small blurb announced that a pair of women were cited for having their dogs off-leash in one of the city parks at 9am.

Another occurred while I was walking Mallory at a different park run by the same city: the sign that I always passed at least twice on a good walk, had a few notes on it that I actually bothered to read one day. The first reminder is something of which I was already well aware, that dogs are not to be off-leash in the park until 5pm during daylight savings time or until 8pm during eastern standard time. The second note is an obvious reminder to please pick up after your pet. Duly noted, and done every time.

The last note’s true meaning didn’t really dawn on me until I began seriously considering the human-dog relationship much later.

It reminds dog owners that “Dogs are to be under control at all times.”

Honestly, I had no problem with this anyway, as I take the time and effort to train my dog so that she is under control, even when she is off-leash, running away from me, and surrounded by distractions. Certainly, taking a power walk with her on-leash at my side and not lunging at other dogs was no major stretch for her (and earlier, Zeke’s) brilliant mind.

But the light bulb never really turned on to the sheer irony of that one sentence until I read two blog entries in particular.

Janeen McMurtrie’s lovely expose on her strong dislike towards the much-overused retractable string leashes brought up a compelling point right at the get-go in number one.

A short while later, Roger Hild took a closer look at how training trends might have had an effect on the numerous dog laws (or rather, anti-dog laws) we are expected to follow these days.

I can understand and respect where the law comes from concerning leashed dogs in public. Dogs must be kept on leash when outside of a confined yard to avoid harassing/attacking people, annoying other dogs, being hit by a car, or getting lost and ending up as a shelter statistic (and no, I do not call it “euthanasia”–it is killing healthy adoptable animals, plain and simple). The law does apply to me as much as it applies to everyone else, and simply the fact that my dog is trained does not give me license to let her off-leash when others cannot enjoy that same privilege (although Janeen gives a similar notion some critical discussion in a very thought-provoking blog…check it out!).

However, the problem comes from when people substitute physical attachment for control. One does not equal the other: I have met many dogs who misbehave on-leash, and I have met a few who behave even when not physically attached to their owner.

The dog who is lunging at other dogs for whatever reason (I am not just referring to aggression, I understand that some dogs just like to “be social”) is not under control, but by virtue of the physical attachment to his owner, he appears to be because his desires to go to the other dog cannot be fulfilled. I don’t ask for full-on eye-contact competition heels on my walks unless I’m asking for it for short periods of time to provide some mental exertion. However, I do ask that, when my dog focuses in on or decides to run off and sniff something or try to visit another dog enjoying a stroll, she immediately stop what she’s doing and come back to me. Or, in the case of simply walking past another dog, she is allowed to acknowledge its presence, but she may not go off and visit without my permission first.

Now, wait a minute, here.

Aren’t dogs supposed to be social and play with each other?

Well, I’m not opposed to the idea, provided it’s a small playgroup staffed by responsible owners and filled with dogs who respect and play well with each other.

But at a park, when you might not know my dog or her intentions, and just as likely, I don’t know your dog or it’s reaction to the sudden approach of strange dogs, it’s not a good idea.

As an aside, what if that strange dog bounding toward you was a Rottweiler, or some other intimidating-looking breed? Even the most well-intentioned owner generally shouts a harmless “Oh, he’s friendly!”, but the other owner doesn’t know that…and if the approaching dog decides for any reason whatsoever to NOT be friendly (and please note, this is NOT limited to Rottweilers or other “scary” breeds!), there can be some serious liability issues.

Going further aside, a responsible owner of a “scary” breed just can’t win: either their dog comes bounding toward someone in the spirit of play, and of course that someone just about skids their knickers and calls for a ban on “Those vicious brutes” as well as admonishing the owner to better control the dog. OR. The owner is seen as a big bad meanie because she is preventing the obviously friendly “scary” breed dog from going out and socializing by making the dog do obedience exercises so the focus on other dogs is eliminated.

Digressing now!

I could gain control of my dog through physical attachment and simply prevent her from achieving her goal of running off.

Or, I could train her to respond reliably to commands so that she can be given freedom from the leash, yet still listen and come when called, even when she has other things on her mind.

What else can be substituted in place of true control through respect, trust, communication and training?

Food is a very motivational control for some dogs, although to use it as a control is to depend on it, and to depend on it turns the food into not so much a reward as a bribe. It’s amusing to watch in playgroups how, if a recall is desired for whatever reason or if it’s time for one dog to leave, a multitude of treats has the potential to appear from any number of pockets. Rather than the dog simply respond happily to a command because it has properly trained to do so, it has the choice of simply going up to anyone for a tasty tidbit. Distracting dogs with treats rather than teaching them focus is another use of food, so that instead of teaching the dog to focus and then receive a reward for doing so, it is merely turning it’s focus to something else…and of course, when the treat is gone and the owner is fumbling for another, the dog can go right back to looking at whatever it found more interesting than the now-eaten treat.

Because–honestly–food is a great motivator for some dogs, and I have nothing against it’s use as a reward in the learning process. I’ve been over that before.

But one day, I guarantee that your dog will find something more interesting than a treat. And when that day comes, even the tastiest piece of liver (usually the processed pre-packaged kind bought in a pet store that is guaranteed to produce gas of the most horrific proportions) won’t bring back your dog’s attention in the way that true training and a good relationship built on respect and trust will get you on that first command or recall whistle.

True control does not require a leash for the lifetime of the dog, as the law might demand; nor does it require the use of copious amounts of food over the same period, as many “reward-based trainers” (some of whom made a name for themselves training non-dog animals) might admonish.

It requires a little bit of effort on the part of you, the owner: an investment of time, energy, a little but of money at times if necessary if you need some hands-on help, and a little knowledge of how operant conditioning works in dog training (hint: it’s actually THREE parts, not four…Terrierman explains, if you can forgive the use of a well-done South Park video).

And then you will, at the very least, be able to obey the sign at the park, if not the law.

DISCLAIMER: If you do have a leash law in your community, please don’t disregard it. There are times when having your dog off-leash is more appropriate than others, and that’s just fine…but in the grand scheme of things, I’d just rather you not end up like those two ladies who now have a minor rap sheet for allowing their dogs to stretch their legs a little bit.

Last resorts?

By Lynn –

Another little tidbit that is thrown out when working with any dog, particularly for the first time, is to use only the least amount of force necessary in order to get the job done. It’s a good concept, and something everyone should keep in mind when training a dog, but the motive behind this advice is a little…off, shall I say.

As an aside, perhaps “force” is the wrong word, as it evokes images of rough handling, harsh corrections and micromanaging. However, since my brain cannot come up with anything more appropriate at the moment, “force” it shall be.

The truth is that this is not just a tidbit, this is…truth. Any dog subjected to rough, harsh or heavy-handed training of any type will not be one with which you have the best relationship, or at least one where the dog willingly responds out of respect for your authority and desire of your appreciation so much as it does out of fear of the negative consequence. In the words of a recent FHotD blog, “If the dog is scared shitless, it’s not training!” (Please pardon my French…I try to keep such language to a minimum as a professional courtesy, however it’s appropriate use is not out of the question. In this specific instance, the quote is merely a rephrasing of another person’s use of the word.)

What’s funny about this, is that the Positive Reinforcement/Operant Conditioning types are using this “least amount of force” argument as a plausible reason to never use a training collar, unless it is the last thing between keeping the dog and euthanizing it or surrendering it to a shelter (and let’s not forget that many trainers would advocate euthanasia than ever use “those collars”!). Not only that, but they must be used gently, as if the dog will crumble into a pile of dust and blow away in the wind if it were subjected to a correction it might consider motivational.

Of course, these warnings and imagery are pushed forth by such people because we all know that once those collars are put on the neck, it’s all but free reign to yanking, jerking and shocking the dog up one tree and down another.

Sometimes my sarcasm has trouble communicating itself across the internets, so in case you missed it, that last sentence was indeed an effort at witty sarcasm. Enough with the applause now!

I prefer to think of it differently, and thankfully it seems that I’m not the first one to think of it this way, which also means that I’m not alone in my sentiments. Many hat tips and props to those who first made me think about this and want to write about it, with Ruth Crisler being the first to plant the seed with a single sentence that bears much elaboration.

Training a dog is not only about helping the dog connect commands with positions and basic motions, but it’s also about modifying behavior that might be causing the owner some distress. The fact is that learning, when taught in a very low-distraction environment, can be done easily on a plain buckle collar for some dogs. The fire is lit under the crucible, however, when the dog needs to learn to perform these commands under levels of varying distraction. It’s compounded even more if the dog has behavioral problems that require correction along with training.

And then, unlike some in the PROC movement, most balanced trainers have no problem pulling out something like a pinch collar, slip collar or, heaven forbid, an e-collar, and even within the first training session to boot!

“But he just needs to learn to pay attention to me around other dogs! I don’t want to be shocking him or pulling him off his feet with those collars!”

To begin with, who said that we were going to be doing such a thing?

The absolute brilliant thing about any type of training collar is that it can be used as lightly as necessary, or with as much motivation that is necessary without actually causing the dog to shut down due to being overly harsh or rough. If a dog is not responding on a buckle collar and just needs a few steps up from that, then any astute trainer will realize that corrections such as those given to an aggressive dog will be inappropriate for this dog, and hence make them much lighter…but because they are given on a training collar rather than a flat buckle collar, the message is much clearer, and the dog is rewarded once it makes the right decision.

Perhaps the best collar, although one of the most maligned, is the e-collar. Having just invested in a new Dogtra 280 NCP Platinum, I was finally able to get a feel for what constituted a level of stimulation that was just a smooth tingle. (My Dogtra 175 NCP, doG bless it, had its good days, and unfortunately bad ones as well…the rheostat had started to degenerate over the years and along with some anecdotes of stim problems from other trainers, I figured it was time to retire it. The Last Day came when my dog received a stim high enough to make her yelp, when all I wanted to do was bring her back in toward me. To say that I was more hurt than my dog is an understatement.)

Now some will argue that, no matter what level is used, we are still, by any definition, “shocking” the dog: an electrical current is being introduced through one probe and leaving through the other probe, and the dog is feeling this.

Of course, if you want to get technical…the dog is being “shocked,” and I will not deny this.

What these people conveniently forget, though, is that the dog’s reaction to a low-level stim such as what I feel at 20 is going to be significantly different than the reaction to the maximum stim level of 127. Think of it the difference between a small shock from scuffing your feet on the carpet in the winter versus sticking a coin in a live outlet (I still laugh at the poor soul who did this in my 5th grade class) or even the trauma of being hit by lightning. You’re still being shocked in both situations, no? Yet your reaction is going to be very different in each of them. It’s the same way with dogs, and by no means would I even consider working with, nor even putting in a good word for, any trainer who insists on putting an e-collar on a dog and turning it all the way up to the maximum stim on the first go, unless the situation is nothing short of dire and/or extreme.

But what about some other types of training tools? Where do they fit in the spectrum of “force”?

Let’s take a look at headcollars, such as the “Gentle” Leader (which which I have the most hands-on experience).

The problem with the “Gentle” Leader is, if you have not read any of my previous posts on the topic, is that the design by default automatically exerts the most force on the dog, and that’s before we even start pulling on the leash or torquing the neck around. By virtue of the tight fit advocated by the people who perfected the design, the dog is already experiencing constriction behind the ears and underneath the jaw, which interferes with breathing (and I do wonder what it does to blood flow behind the head as well!), along with a snug nose strap which is putting pressure directly underneath the eyes and preventing the dog from opening its mouth all the way. (Bugger what the propaganda says: I have personally seen dogs with “properly-fit” neck-twisters that cannot hold even a standard tennis ball in the mouth, yet when the nose strap is removed, the ball magically shrinks–or perhaps the dog’s mouth grows?–to be engulfed completely in the mouth.)

We are deluging the dog with physical constriction in areas where there normally is, and should be, none, and it’s about at this point that the dog begins to resist: paws come up over the muzzle, frantic dances are done on hind legs, the face is rubbed against any stationary object from the ground to even a sympathetic person, in an effort to get rid of the feeling of Something That Is Where It’s Not Supposed To Be. As stated in a previous blog, resistance is only one theoretical antonym to the clear communication that any trainer desires with a dog.

Yet here’s where one little conundrum comes into play (that’s Definition 2b, thank you much…we are not solving riddles or throwing puns about here): many owners, at least the ones I have met, do not fit their “Gentle” Leaders as recommended in the packet, and when I enlighten them in a friendly way–never admonishing, just more of an “FYI” thing and I explain my situation at school–on it’s proper fit, I receive some rather horrific looks and gasps as to “We would NEVER put it that tight on him.”

So perhaps a looser fit would exert less “force” on a dog?


However, on the dogs I have seen with loose fits have their own problems: they may walk nicely, but that is all they do. All one has to do is either drop the leash or even take off the headcollar, and the dog will suddenly act as though it has never learned to “Sit” ever before in its life, much less “Heel” or “Come.”

Not to mention that they still pretty much despise the strap that is still over their nose and close to their eyes. The rubbing and the pawing might not be so vigorous or present when the dog is walking, but it is there when the dog is occupying herself with things other than a walk: people petting her might elicit some facial rubs (mistakenly seen as “Aw-how-kyoot” by the petters and passers-by), or a relaxed roll in the grass turns into a pawing session as the dog discovers that her feet can be doing more productive things at the time than walking.

And let’s not forget, this is all before we attach the leash and begin pulling the dog around by it’s muzzle, torquing it’s head back with considerable leverage, even when done “gently” as admonished by the literature, and exerting a somewhat significant amount of force (a much more appropriate use of the word) on the delicate occipital/cervical junction by merely pulling up or forward with the leash.

Another type of headcollar, the Halti, has a much looser fit which dogs tend to find more comfortable, but here again we have the same issue: there is a strap over the nose, and dogs will again notice that Something Is Where It’s Not Supposed To Be. There is also another style of which I’m aware, where the leash attaches to a ring that is placed on the back of the skull rather than under the jaw. While the design here is slightly less dangerous and probably less likely to cause cervical injury, here we have not a headcollar, but what can be described as a headharness. The fact that the leash is in the back makes the job of pulling easier for the dog, who can now put his head down, tense up his neck muscles, and pull away. And again with the strap across the nose.

OK, so if headcollars are bad, what about those no-pull harnesses?

Here, we encounter a different set of problems.

The most widespread kind of no-pull harness is the type that has fleecy-covered strings that run under the dog’s armpits and create tension when the leash is pulled. The problem here isn’t that it creates too much force, but that it is not a natural type of correction for the dog to understand what is wrong. Most animals out there are smart enough to learn of pressure and its release, however the issue is when the dog doesn’t even heed the pressure to begin with. Perhaps the fleecy coverings are too soft and comfortable, when instead what the poor brutes need is really a thin parachute cord to really make them understand why their armpits are hurting when they pull. (Please, let’s not make this a reality…I’m perfectly fine with wearing and experiencing a correction by a prong or e-collar, but I’ll not ever stand to having cords placed under my arms and yanked. As an aside, I also refuse to experience the effect of hitting the end of the leash on a headcollar, even if being “gently redirected.”) When pressure is used to manage a behavior rather than train against it, here is where I take issue: a dog walking on such a contraption is learning to not put pressure against the leash no matter where he walks, even if he is far out ahead. These types of harnesses do nothing to encourage focus on the handler, which in turn places the dog in a proper “Heel” position, and by virtue of the position, eliminates the need for the dog to pull on the leash. The cords that lead to the leash attachment are frequently quite long, so that any attempt to keep the dog walking by one’s side results in reaching way far back to give a “correction.” Not very useful in my book.

Aha, but what about the other kind that is gaining popularity?

The front-clip styles which have gained in popularity are geared more toward the hands-off type of trainer, as such a device allows very little physical control of the dog by itself, even less so than a traditional harness. For a matter of force, it is actually one of the tools that doesn’t use much of it, but the problem comes when the lesser amount of pressure (I’ll use this word in place of “force” for now) equals less effective results in training because the dog is able to ignore it or given no reason to respect that pressure. So of course, in the rankings of how much pressure the front-clip harness exerts on the dog, it ranks around that of training collars…however, the efficacy of the tool when used as advised and in the right hands, is much much less than that of training collars. The fit is somewhat iffy on some dogs, as the front straps are supposed to sit flush with the shoulders, and some dogs are that “in-between” size that prevents a good fit. Those dogs and the small breeds are the ones that are more likely to be seen with the front straps hanging low on the chest and possibly interfering with the front legs.

Humane? Probably. But is it effective? I’d put in my vote for a solid NO.

Similar to headcollars, the no-pull harnesses of all types are designed to do one thing: stop pulling. And just like headcollars, that’s all they’re good for. Take a look at any high-level dog competition, and there is a good probability that a majority, if not all, of the dogs you see were not trained on headcollars or no-pull harnesses. There’s a reason that those dogs trained well can also do the very basics such as holding a reliable long down and come on command when called the first time. There’s a reason good sportdogs can think for themselves and do protection routines with barely a command from their handlers. There’s a reason real herding dogs can work over long distances with unpredictable livestock and bring everyone home safely. There’s a reason tracking dogs, even those in SAR or police detective work, have the confidence and ability to do their job, whether for titles or to find that lost person in the wilderness.

It’s because they were trained with tools right for them and their chosen professions, not physically manipulated and led around by their faces or taught through pain. Overkill shuts down dogs, just as much as underkill maintains status quo.

I was recently told that the basic concept of driving a race car can also be applied to the normal, everyday driving we do on the street to make us all safer drivers and better care for our cars and their inner workings. Funny, because what works in the working dog world transfers well to the pet dog world too.

/I’m bad at stupendous conclusions and couldn’t find a way to end this with such, so…The End?

“Once they taste blood…”

By Lynn –

I’ve heard from a few back-woods types (and even some city-slickers who, if appearances were anything from which to judge, should have known better!) who insist that dogs, once they eat raw meat and “get the taste of blood in ’em,” can turn aggressive to people.

Simple concept, and wrong on all counts.

Let’s examine a typical scenario in which a dog is exposed to the taste of raw flesh: the house dog who, as usual, chases and catches one of the local forms of wildlife that happens to venture into the backyard at the wrong time. Elated at the newfound game (the behaviorist types would call this “self-reinforcement”), the dog now puts forth more effort in trying to catch another local form of wildlife the next time it is outside since, of course, it caught something once…catching something again shouldn’t be a problem. The chase is continued at any opportunity, whether in the backyard, at the park or out on a walk. The owner notices this obsessive, possibly aggressive behavior toward living things and is concerned that such attention might have the possibility to be turned on himself.

The first problem that’s worth mentioning is that the dog is outside unsupervised.

For most people, a fenced-in yard gives a sense of false security that nothing bad can ever happen, and it’s a good point to mention that fences do prevent a majority of dogs from escaping the yard, which is the primary purpose. It’s also unrealistic for me to think, much less imagine, that people have the time and energy to supervise their dogs anytime they’re outside, especially if the yard is fenced-in. So I’ll forgive this point in the interest that it is, for the most part, sheer habit for dogs to be let outside in fenced yards without supervision, assuming that there is no way that the dog can escape the fence, or has ever tried to do so.

The first REAL problem is going to be that the owner didn’t notice anything was amiss for a while.

In a nitpicking sense, this can go back to the fact that the dog is unsupervised. So much happens in a dog’s yard that impacts it that to not notice them is to almost be blind to what influences outside the realm of the house and its occupants the dog is experiencing. The dog could be digging in an obscure area of the yard that might not be noticed for a while. The neighbor’s dog could be antagonizing your dog, causing fence-running and wearing a rut into the ground. The dog could be chewing on sticks or rolling in (and possibly eating) scat from the local wildlife that passes through–which is a real risk for contracting internal parasites–or even eating dead wildlife that has been decomposing for some time. (This is not to say that dogs CAN’T eat anything but dog kibble, since most of them seem to be just fine after dining on local fauna, but most people just seem to be squicky enough about the idea of their dog eating a dead animal and then showering them with kisses that it doesn’t hurt to discourage the behavior. Plenty of people feed prey-based raw diets with no ill effects…more on that in a second!)

The second problem is that the owner is not seeking help, either until someone actually DOES get hurt, or not at all. Whether this person is a “train-it-yourself” type of person does not matter. Whatever this person is doing in this situation, if anything, is not working and the dog’s aggressive behavior towards other live beings is becoming more obsessive.

The truth of the matter is, unless the dog is told to “Knock it off, you’re not supposed to do that” in a way it can understand and learn from the first time and “Here’s something else to do instead that will get you pets and praise,” the behavior won’t go away.

Either this person is not communicating clearly with the dog in a way that the dog understands and finds motivational (no, yelling doesn’t count, neither does spanking or time-outs), or the person is more concerned with trying to avoid such situations while out on walks. Most people have heard the stories of owners who walk their dogs at 3AM or go to the back alleys where they have the smallest chance possible of running into either other dogs or situations where they know the dog will become a general nuisance to handle and embarrasment to the owner. This is more management than anything else, but trying to manage the dog’s behavior without working to make it better or change anything significant. These are the people who really need all the help they can get from a real trainer, not a behaviorist who will recommend drugs (which take months to have any effect whatsoever, and that’s if they even work), a PROC trainer who will recommend the dog be managed some more (or perhaps euthanized due to the aggression), or the friend of a friend who just thinks the dog needs a good beating or strung up on a chain collar.

If trained properly, the dog that was formerly thought to be a ticking time bomb due to the hapless killing of a local wildlife critter would actually turn out to instead be a well-behaved member of society. It would receive more socialization through interaction as well as the self-control necessary to NOT chase and kill local fauna. Prey drive is a good thing in many facets of dog training, but perhaps the challenge that most people tend to forget is that the energy the dog uses to try to chase and kill can be harnessed and redirected into activities such as obedience, agility and other rewarding exercises. Even if a dog DID turn on people after killing a groundhog, it would not be as a result of that action: the dog had no idea that what it was eating WAS blood, or that it came from within bodies. The dog just simply understood that the chase was fun, the catch was rewarding, and hey, there were goodies inside that tasted pretty good! I don’t know about everyone else, but if such an activity gave people that much fun, we’d be trying to do more of it too, right? (Of course, such activities exist for people that do not involve the consumption of entire raw dead animals, but in the interest of space I’ll leave you to name a few yourself and nod gravely with the realization that they are just as self-reinforcing as the topic under discussion!)

The truth of the matter is, if it were true in any sense that dogs who “get the taste of blood” will eventually turn on people, then there are a LOT of owners who feed their dogs a diet of raw meat that are in serious danger for their lives. Some of these dogs are pets, while others are out in the public eye as police K9s and even Search and Rescue dogs. For the SAR dogs, the owner’s admission that this is NOT a recommendation is very eye-opening…however, one cannot deny the benefits of a raw diet if one has the time, dedication, resources, support network and possibly financing to put the idea into motion. While I do not feed the dog a raw diet at the moment and hence cannot recommend it either (due to inexperience and the lack of knowledge of formulating a balanced diet), I would certainly encourage people to look into what is involved and the benefits both you and your dog can reap from something so simple as a change in diet. There are many sites out there to get started that encourage questions and networking, so read up and, should you decide to go with raw or a part-kibble, part-raw diet, be proud of the fact that your dog indeed dines on food that might contain a small amount of blood, and you are still alive to tell them why it actually might be beneficial!

“Robotic Dogs?”

By Lynn –

A big argument of the positive-reinforcement-type trainers against the use of certain tools, particularly the e-collar, is that it will create something known as a Robotic Dog.

Aside form the fact that there already is a vast array of robot dogs, I would argue that, despite the outlandish goals of alchemy and other false sciences, there is no way we can transform a living, breathing metabolizing being into a mass of wires whose components communicate solely with 1s and 0s. Not to mention that simple robots were the icing on the cake for my generation when we were children: there were various animals that made noises, shuffled forward/backward and did those cute little backflips. One of my most coveted toys was GoGo, a little Maltese-like dog with wheels on her feet, and when you pressed the switch on the end of her leash, she would wheel forward with her legs moving so as to give the appearance of a live dog walking. Pull the switch back toward you and she would walk backwards. I recall wanting one quite badly in kindergarten when they first came out, which probably gives you some idea as to my current age.

Digressing from the obvious, though, I have found that a lot of people misunderstand their current usage of the term. Hence, the purpose of this entry.

While I am no IT expert, I understand the most basic unit of a robot is a computer, which makes it function and move and do all it’s robot-y things. The purpose of a computer is to create output from something that was originally input. At a basic level, I press a key and a letter appears, much as what is happening as I write this. Or, I input a set of numbers connected by a multiplication sign. What comes out is considered a product of those two numbers. In a more complex example, if I place a DVD in my player and press the “close” button, I expect it to load properly and either a menu to appear or a movie to start.

To give the robot more of a living analogy such as what I’ll be getting to with dogs, I’ll move it along and go for a wider definition. Input from one source translates into output by the receiving entity: therefore, when I am told to clean the kitchen, my actions include (but are not limited to) clearing the table, washing the dishes, drying them, putting them away, sweeping the floor, and wiping down counters and cabinets. When I ask a professor for help with a concept that I don’t quite understand, that professor goes to any length to make sure that I learn said concept in a way that will benefit me.

And finally, to bring it to dogs, when I say “Sit,” I mean “Sit.”

Of course a reputable dog-training company already took that slogan and made it into their corporate name, so I mustgive credit where credit is due.

The problem comes when you say any command, what is expected other than the right response?

Input, output.

Even the most peppy clicker-trainer mainlining Prozac, who has a dog on the end of a leash wearing the latest “humane” “no-pull harness” or headcollar or whatever newest gadget out there is promoted to be “pain-free” and “gentle,” can tell the dog to sit. As long as the dog knows what is expected of it and understands the connection between the verbal command and the position it is to assume, the dog will sit.

Input, output.

Robotic, no?

The issue comes whenever any type of “traditional” training tool comes into the picture. Now, they say, we are talking about jerking, choking and shocking dogs. What horror!

Without going into detail about how we are not all but whooping our dogs into a submissize urinating frenzy, the positive folks seem to conveniently ignore the part of the argument that actually involves their training efforts, too.

I am still using the same commands as they. I am using rewards as they do (though not the same type; I prefer a toy or praise to food). I am teaching dogs to be well-behaved, same as they do. I don’t see why they should have any issue with these facts.

I’m just adding the option to reinforce my commands with a correction should I be blown off in favor of something more motivating than my rewards. After all, when I say “Come,” I mean “Come.” I’m not giving the dog permission to go chase the bunny out of the yard, but the problem comes when the bunny is more stimulating (fun?) than me and whatever treats, praise or toys I have in my hand for the time being.

I’m sure the positive-only folks would agree that, when I say “Come” I most certainly want the dog to come to me. What makes this any more robotic than what would otherwise happen in a lower-distraction environment?

Here’s where it gets a little fishy.

My use of an aversive to enforce a command that my dog has been taught and knows in every other situation is only a way to help my dog understand that I mean what I say. After all, if I do not help with chores around the house, my consequence is that I have to start paying rent to live at home. That’s a pretty harsh consequence for someone who doesn’t earn enough to pay rent for anything short of an efficiency in the worst part of town, so I choose to pull my weight, except when I’m on the computer writing blogs such as this one. (Hi, Mom!)

How robotic am I!

Were I to let my dog run off and chase the bunny rather than “Come” to me, I suppose some (although who, I can’t imagine) would see it as my dog having a “free-spirit,” along with the desire to “be a dog,” or maintain her status as “guardian of the yard.”

Absolute piffle to all 3 notions.

My dog’s “free spirit” comes through her freedom from the leash and within the boundaries of the theoretical behavioral “fence” I have built for her through respectful and trustworthy training.

My dog’s ability to “be a dog” is demonstrated through her choices made while free of any influences, including myself, the leash or her training collar. It is also shown through her job both as a pet and a therapy dog, not through her prey drive or ability to chase local fauna.

My dog’s “guardianship” of the yard is only a ploy. My yard is mine, and if I say that she share it with various wildlife, then that’s my rule and final stand on that matter. After all, I certainly don’t enjoy sharing my government with types who take bribes and play to where the money is rather than listening to the will of the people…but no one’s yet told me to start organizing a revolution to clear them out (and even if told, I am most definitely not the right person to start such an event!).

Simply put, I want my dog to obey because she wants to, and not for any other reason.

Unfortunately, even the act of obeying any and every command I give is robotic.

“Sit.” Dog sits. “Down.” Dog lays down. “Heel.” Dog comes to heel.

What difference does it make if the dog was trained with a clicker, a training collar or a toy, especially so if the enthusiasm is more than obvious for knowing that it is doing the Right Thing?

Robotic, indeed.

Grocery-Store List Syndrome

By Lynn –

I’m not at all opposed to specific lists. I find them helpful in some ways, such as what to buy at the store or what chores I have to do around the house, and then there’s some situations where they are simply not applicable. Take driving as one example.

My basic list of requirements for my car is that it do what I want when I ask and play music for me while doing so. My responsibilities toward achieving that end include supplying it with petrol, maintaining a clean exterior and interior, and keeping an ear out for any odd noises. I’m obviously not the most judicious car owner out there, but it works and when something obvious goes wrong, it’s enough to get it fixed and maybe get a tip on what else might be wrong. (Yes, I go to mechanics with whom I have a family history. I trust them completely and so far, they have not yet pulled the Ignorant Woman treatment on me, doG love ’em.)

However, someone else’s list of car requirements might be more similar to how my list of dog training exercises works out. They might expect that their car runs only this way, have this exact amount of fluid of any type, make this type of noise when this pedal/button is pressed, and check the engine religiously to make sure that anything potentially damaging is fixed before it starts. While my car runs just fine and does the job I need it to do, I’m sure their cars receive much better overall maintenance care than mine. I’d even venture to say that they run better!

In dog training, most owners have a specific list of things that they want their dog to do, mostly along the lines of this little gag gift (I recommend zooming in to see all the details!). A majority of people have only 4 basic requests: they don’t want to hear nuisance barking, the dog needs to not pull on the leash, stay in one place when told to, and it needs to come when called the first time.

Unfortunately, just like some people are better car owners than I, it’s extremely difficult to teach some commands while neglecting others.

The whole point of training is to build the foundation of respect and trust between an owner and a dog, and as mentioned in a previous blog, this two concepts are the very foundation of a working relationship. Of course, it’s easy to skip all the boring stuff like Sit and Down, but how else are you going to teach the dog to stay in one place? Of course “Heel,” to some people, can seem a bit stuffy and over-the-top, but how else are you going to teach a dog how to walk on a loose leash without first teaching it the basic concept of focus before freedom? So many people just want to jump to the recall, but how else are you going to convince your dog that your commands are to be respected without first instilling in him a sense of respect through the more “boring” commands?

One cannot just pick and choose which parts of an obedience regimene are to be fulfilled when training a dog. It’s either all or nothing. When finished with any training program, it should be expected that, within a reasonable amount of time and with some effort put towards polishing and proofing commands, that dog will successfully be able to perform a basic AKC Novice routine without any trouble. To get to this point, the dog has to show that it respects and trusts its handler to give fair direction, and the handler must respect and trust the dog to be obedient.

I’d be comfortable in saying that most average family pet owners are just fine with Novice-level training being the highest they go with their pet. It’s not a problem to make them aware of the multitudes of different dog activities out there that require some basic foundation obedience: competition obedience, Rally, and even agility or Flyball, but it’s safe to say that, unless they have some spare time on their hands to dedicate to further training, most will be perfectly satisfied, even tickled, with the newfound relationship they gained with their pet through basic obedience training. Letting them go further is most certainly an option so that the dog does not stagnate or become bored with just the same ol’ stuff, but it’s safe to say that dumbbell work or scent discrimination might be beyond the scope of what some people have the time or the dedications to teach their dogs.

Either way, it’s amazing how, once people understand all that goes into obedience training, they’re amazed at the opportunities that open up for them. After all, they only asked for (an average of) 4 things be taught to their dog. Now, their dog knows so much more, and the owner’s eyes are opened as to what exactly their pet is capable of.

Along with this admission comes the opportunity to take the dog more places, meet more people, and be a good ambassador for both responsible dog owners and whatever breed your dog represents.

That’s something worth working for, isn’t it?

Why do we debate dog training methods?

By Lynn –

I unintentionally got into a dog training debate at one of my favorite blogs, and promptly stepped back to state that I refuse to do tit-for-tat arguments, and my participation in this string of comments was over. (Amazingly, the other party continued to rant and rave while providing support that I was nothing short of one mean, son-of-a-bitch for daring to correct my dog. Speaks to the maturity level of some, doesn’t it?!)

I do not do such debates. There is no gaining ground, unless “you” have more supporters than “they” do, and of course “they” always tend to be more vocal because “you” are, quite frankly, abusing dogs and have no business putting your hands on any dog because it will only end up cowering, urinating all over itself, tucked tail, and repsonding out of only the fear of the highest degree.

Simply put, “they” are out to make “you” think that you might be able to drive a car, be a parent, own your own home even…but you are not fit to own, much less train, your own dog without ruining it.

How can one gain ground against such a flood?

Easy: not get dragged in dog training methodology debates!

It’s not always the easiest to stay out of them, if nothing more to offer support to someone whose point of view happens to mirror yours, and of course once you start following them, it’s hard to not interject your opinion here or call shenanigans there.

On doing some serious thinking about this issue, my thoughts were drawn to WHY we dabate these things the way we do. Heaven knows that no side will win, and the only way the debate ends is when we all go our separate ways and continue to do what we love.

Consider this my own official good-bye to the dog-training debate:

Why exactly DO people get so hot under the collar when debating dog training, especially in regards to the 3 main types of training commonly mentioned (those being the William Koehler-type methods, the positive-reinforcement-only/clicker methods espoused by popular authors such as Karen Pryor, and the balanced methods popularized by the likes of the Monks of New Skete and Cesar Millan)?

I have rarely found it necessary to get defensive or overblown because I am confident in my results. I see no need to compete with someone else’s ability to train a dog for many and various reasons. Of course the dog is trained, and some are trained to a better degree than others, and we all know that training can all be accomplished toward different ends (agility vs Rally vs Schutzhund vs generic obedience that most families desire). I know why my method works, versus why it is superior or inferior to other methods. I’m not using my chosen method of dog training just because I was told to or because it’s “tradition” or because I’m just a mean bitch, I’m using it because it’s given me good results and can be tempered to individual dogs without losing the overall philosophy.

The problem comes when someone says that they use “what works” in their training. I can see where this might cause a rift…I understand that hitting a dog “works” to make it stop doing something, and I can understand that redirection also “works.” For some dogs, using a food treatie is what “works” to help teach a concept, while praise “works” for the majority of ones I have met. Without elaboration of the technique, it’s easy to hear where “what works” can go awry and cause some people to automatically go on the defensive, just in case that one person is one of those types who can do everything but own/train their own dog correctly.

In fact, one of my favorite comments on a dog-related blog was directed at anyone who uses corrections: the entry was centered around a video filmed by a security camera in an elevator that showed a man walking in with his dog, literally beating the snot out of it while the car was moving, and calmly walking out with it when the ride was over. The person who posted this video unabashedly announced that anyone who trained using Koehler’s techniques would soon end up like this man. A follow-up comment was something to the effect of “And people still believe in training with “what works” rather than taking the time to learn more positive methods.”

Far be it for me to see the remote connection between outright abuse such as that and the Koehler program from start to finish (instead of the other way around, as most people are more likely to read it), but I had to laugh at that, and I still do today. Sadly, my laughter is not so much of the humorous variety, more of the “I do feel sorry for you” type: some people are just never meant to craft out logical arguments.

I think this person summed it up quite nicely in regards to what someone means when they say they use what method “works” to train any particular dog:

“If you define “works” as reliable, single-command performance (and we’re talking obedience here, not sheep herding) at liberty (off leash, in public, around distractions, and without batteries) well, then, your list of training methods that “work” gets very short indeed.”

[From the comments section in this entry]

Any training method will work, and yes, backfiring counts…it’s working, but it may not be in the way that the trainer or owner intended. The dog is being trained to DO something, even if it is to not listen, keep doing what it is doing, or, at best, do something else but still not listen. To make a method really take off and go far, though, it needs to really work. As this lady put it, when compared to the long list of various ways in “how to get a dog to [do this behavior or not do this behavior]”, when speaking in terms of what the average family is asking of the average family dog, some methods are definitely better than others. Which ones, of course (without taking into consideration the method being advocated by the commenter), will always be under debate.

I think of it as the “I’d love to do that, I love animals” line used by people who have no idea what is involved in certain animal-related professions other than playing with cute doggies or kitties: loving animals is a start, but any such job is far from just receiving animal therapy all day. It’s how you can further yourself in their care and learn as much as you can about anything related to them that really sets you apart. Similarly, positive reinforcement techniques are a start, and should always be present in training: but it’s how you can vary the reinforcement and really polish commands using both rewards and corrections (seriously, who wants to use such a thing as punishment in training?!) in a way that benefits the dog the best that can take the relationship as well as performance to new levels.

And to tie it all together: as for me, I will stick with what I know to work, strive to make it better for both me and the dogs I will one day work, and not engage in tit-for-tat arguments over how to teach/unteach certain behaviors simply because someone believes that, without meeting me or judging the perfomance of my dogs rather than judging me on what tools I use, they can do the job that much better.

Positive Reinforcement Training FAIL

By Lynn –

Let’s ignore for a moment the whole thing about killer whales, being a Not Domestic animal that usually travel about a hundred or so miles per day in a highly social (and large!) family group and is a very sound-oriented animal, being kept in a pool with only a few other members of it’s species where their echolocation bounces around like lasers at a Rush concert and they are regularly forced to learn and perform repetitive parlor tricks if they want to eat.

The point I want to drive home here is that anyone who claims to train with purely positive reinforcement will one day end up with a scenario very similar to this one (that is, if it’s not already a regular occurrence!). The video embedding is disabled, so you might have to do Ye Olde Copye and Paste on the linky.

Again, this is the one time I’ll ignore for a fact that a dog is not a whale is not a pigeon is not an elephant is not a chicken.

Any animal that is trained in a manner such as this will eventually find something more exciting than it’s usual fare. Doesn’t matter how much “trust” or “magic” or how strong the “bond” is, when something more stimulating or novel comes along, it’s “Hey, the heck with this noise, check this out!” Whether it’s something like this, or a dog who happens to find the local wildlife much more intriguing than any “gentle” redirection or “high-value” treat.

And then, if the animal in question happens to be a dog, the end situation is actually quite similar: the dog is quickly confined, whether on a leash or in a kennel, and removed from the situation. I’d call it a wasted learning opportunity, but no one asked me, and more than likely I am not the one signing the papers for that dog anyway.

Whales are not dogs. But in this case (aside from the bloodshed and death of a hapless bird who landed in the wrong place at the wrong time), they may as well be.

Some Accomplishments (not dial-up friendly!)

By Lynn –

Apparently, at one point in time I mentioned some semi-regular posts about the progress made in Mallory’s training.

Long story short, here is what happened back in January:

I know she’s not that excited in the “I Am A Therapy Dog” tag picture, but that’s generally the face she’s giving us now whenever we drag out the evil evil camera. In fact, she knows just when it’s out:

And when we find her in a somewhat photogenic position with a wise, suave or just cute look about her, we run to grab the camera. She’ll all but stay in that exact position until we turn the camera on, and then it’s “Oh, I was going to get up anyway!” Either that or she gives us a very dirty look that almost rivals that received by parents of teenagers.

Believe it or not, she actually DOES enjoy wearing her headbands to visits at the hospital. Make her wear one at home, however, and she mopes around and grumbles under her breath about how embarrassing this is and won’t someone PLEASE take this thing OFF!

And then we get the occasional lucky shot:

I once mentioned that she was scared of pretty much anything in the house. The dishwasher is no longer scary, we can pretty much scoot anything across the floor now, and garage doors in motion get a mere passing glance now. Progress was slow in some ways, but looking back over the past year, it’s been amazing: sometimes it’s hard to see day-to-day milestones, but hindsight says there’s progress. Occasionally, there are still some Scary things that are genuinely startling. The cardboard box that is not supposed to move might skitter a little bit because it was bumped, some garage items are still raving monsters that need passed with the utmost haste, and men wielding sticks…well, that just might be something that takes a little longer. Despite all the success we’ve had, occasionally a gardening tool with a long handle sets her off, and it’s sad to see Dad pick up his physical therapy tools and watch her cower. Of course, there’s no way to tell her that we’d like to have words with whoever whacked her for whatever reason. Suffice to say that he (undoubtedly a he!) is going to the special circle in That Place where true animal abusers go to spend their eternity.

Our favorite game that she pretty much only plays with me (although this might also be because I’m the only one who plays it with her) is to stalk me: She’ll run off and face me from a distance, and I’ll lower myself and start moving reallllllly slowly toward her. If she’s in a playful mood, she’ll narrow her eyes, lower her head, lower her body and stalk toward me. One sudden move on either of our parts and we’re running toward each other. It’s pretty much a bunch of growling and bounding around from there. She once tried this game with our neighbor’s elderly golden retriever. He was understandably confused when she stalked him, and his confusion turned to a slight alarm when she charged. She thought he was boring and hasn’t done it since.

We play a variant of this game in manner most unpredictable, especially considering what she’s probably been through. I’ll take a leash (usually the leather one since we only play this on walks when off-lead) and fold it up while facing her, and then I’ll hit the ground or my shoe or something with it. The louder the snapping sound, the more she wants to get it, and even more unpredictable at the time was that the more she was lightly hit with the leash (and to this end, I’m surprised that no one has called the police for want of witnessing animal abuse, if not for the obvious play actions of my dog), the more fun the game becomes. The fact that I can cease all play at one word is a wonderful thing: she has both control of herself and the ability to listen in high-energy mode. More than once has she done me proud.

Over a year ago, we had to say good-bye to the one of the worst dogs to have as a First Dog. Except for a few flaws that didn’t really affect anyone but us, he was perfect in both who he was and the jobs for which he was placed on this earth. Looking back, it was hard to imagine life without him; once we had to say good-bye, it was hard to believe that it had been nearly 11 years.

Now, I can’t imagine life without my little wiggle-bug.