Respect and Trust

By Lynn –

A lot of people who pooh-pooh the use of corrections of any type in dog training are the ones who will trot out words such as “fear,” “pain,” “inhumane,” and heaven forbid, the C-word: “cruel.” All the time, more often than not, looking down their noses at someone who is obviously a morally inferior being to dare suggest that it’s not only OK, but acceptable to teach a dog the boundary of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

What I don’t get is, are they referring to training in general (is it better to NOT train a dog because anything of the sort makes it somehow NOT a dog?), or the basic learning process that any animal–or person–must go through in order to achieve a high reliability rate (teaching, proofing, and proofing with distraction)?

Ironically, my two favorite words are bandied about more in the positive-only training circles, despite their successful silence in the world of the more balanced learning regimes, or at least those that are open to the idea of using appropriate discipline when training a dog. Understandably, it’s hard to even imagine these words ever coming into play in the case of dogs with extreme problems.

The word one is most likely to hear in any animal-related post is “love.” I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love their animals, and this is yet another word thrown around by many positive-only camps: who doesn’t love their dog, and who wouldn’t want their dog to love them back? The problem rears it’s ugly mug, however, when love doesn’t solve aggression issues, or pulling on the leash, or even something as simple as not coming when called. I believe it was Koehler himself who stated that, and I paraphrase, a dog who desires leg of mailman will continue to strive for it while ignoring any attempts at distraction, such as redirection with treaties. In this situation, one might say that the dog doesn’t “love” it’s owner, since it obviously doesn’t care about responding to the owner’s wishes (and yet things like this are promptly forgotten when the dog is peacefully sleeping in said owner’s lap in the evening!).

A good look at how the concept of “love” has gone drastically awry in any animal-human relationship is shown through a lovely blog entry by Ruth Crisler. It’s a long read, but certainly worth the time!

Ignoring all the ways that people show “love” to their pet in the absence of actual things that would greatly increase the quality of life, the truth is that there is no “love” in a relationship without my two favorite words: if there is neither respect nor trust, there is no relationship. It goes the same way for the relationship between and out-of-control dog and it’s owner as it does with the abusive boyfriend and the girlfriend who insists that he is really a kind teddy bear at heart. In both relationships, there is no respect or trust, and the only “love” that is present is one that is fabricated by those who only use the word in hopes that, if they hear it enough, then all their troubles will end.

(Hey, check it out…someone already thought of the Abusive Boyfriend corollary! Great read if you want to see some good examples of and insights into Abusive Boyfriend Dogs and Bunny-Boiler Bitches.)

But using fair, appropriate corrections on a dog and achieving respect and trust without breaking it’s spirit, causing aggression, submissive urination, and an overall lack of joie de vivre when out with it’s cruel, non-dog-friendly handler? How does that happen?

Actually, it happens more often than one might think. The only problem is that not too many are willing to figuratively buy into the idea, much less put forth the effort needed to pull it off. (Hence the popularity of send-away training, which, like most things, has it’s distinct advantages and unfortunate disadvantages.)

The idea that one must have respect and trust in a relationship is also representative of the realization that said relationship is a two-way street: there is some “give” in each direction, where each being is allowed to have some form of control. Where it differs with the dog/owner relationship is that, despite the “give,” at the end of the day, the dog must answer to the owner rather than call the final shot.

So what is respect on the owner’s end? Respect for the dog involves knowing that dog’s capabilities and limitations. It involves knowing what drives that dog might possess (based on breed or personal hands-on evaluation), and knowing how to use those drives to the utmost advantage when doing any sort of training. Respect involves the acceptance that a dog is a dog, not a horse, nor a killer whale, chicken, elephant, pigeon, nor any other non-dog animal. Respect is using training techniques that will teach the dog in the quickest, most humane way to be a well-behaved canine citizen in human society, and accepting that those techniques might involve the use of an occasional mild aversive if necessary.

We all know respect is a two-way street, so what would it look like from the dog’s point of view? It would involve respect for the owner, who has earned it through consistent, fair and clear communication. It involves respect for physical boundaries set by the owner, whether it’s something as simple as “Just don’t steal food from the counter” or the complexity of learning the boundaries of the yard. Respect is responding to a command the first time, because the dog understands that it can receive one of two consequences, the one being more desirable, the other not so much…and part of this respect comes from teaching the dog to not FEAR the undesirable consequence, but to move freely about within the realm of behaviors that are encouraged and rewarded.

Trusting one’s dog, especially off-leash, is a bit of a stretch for some people because it involves something not quite unlike being thrown into the deep end while only having been taught to swim in the shallow end. Trusting your dog is a sign that you acknowledge your dog’s ability to think though something and choose what is right: your dog sees a prey animal. What does it do? If you trust your dog and have trained it with respect, knowledge and confidence, the dog will make the right choice. Even when not doing training in and of itself, trusting a dog involves that it has learned what you desire of it and is willing to voluntarily stay within the boundaries of that behavioral “fence” you have erected for it during the course of training. Of course, it would be so easy for the dog to nip into the street to grab a ball, or blithely ignore your recall, or even chew on your favorite settee, but he chooses not to. Instead, he earns your trust by screeching to a halt at the curb and waiting, or dashing back with a happy dog-smile, or chewing on his favorite bone. Earning your trust earns your dog his freedom in ways that other dogs can only envy.

On the other end, your dog must trust you, and be given reason, as such trust is not free. Possibly one of the cornerstones of this trust is going to come from the respect that you show your dog through training and daily interaction. Some dogs might take a little longer to gain this trust due to previous experiences, while others will latch on immediately…and, sadly, some dogs will lose trust in their owners through means which are many and various, from misguided ignorance of attempting to do good to The Unrestrained Use Of Excessive Force. (Capitalized due to it being an actual song by an actual band, but the imagery and use of such a phrase is more than fitting in this situation, no?) Your dog must trust that you are a fair leader, and will not do anything that is out of line, such as meting out unwarranted discipline or being too rough in handling. Trust is from protecting your dog rather than putting him out to fight his own battles, and teaching him how to think for himself as well as respond to your commands and cues.

And I’m probably forgetting about a million other things involving the two-way street of respect and trust between you and your dog, but hopefully the basic gist of the idea is there.

Once the two parties in question have achieved a level of respect and trust appropriate for them, then there is a true relationship that, to others, looks as though you and your dog have a mind connection with each other. Whether your dog is trained for the obedience ring, the police force, yourself (in the case of a service dog) or even just basic house obedience doesn’t matter.

Am I saying that one MUST train their dog to have a relationship? Far from it. Many people will insist that their dog is perfectly fine, and that their relationship is perfect as is. As long as that’s the case and the dog is not a harm to anyone, it’s certainly not my business to say that any dog, whether or not it knows obedience, is not worthy of a place in someone’s heart. However, that doesn’t preclude me from saying that, whatever your relationship is NOW with your dog, it definitely won’t get WORSE if you take it one step further. Training is not just an exercise or a 15-30 minute commitment per day for life deal…it is what makes dogs true extensions of ourselves and true mirrors into who we really are. Do right by your dog…it’s the furthest thing from being any sort of “cruel”!

“Different Methods for Different Dogs”?

By Lynn –

It’s no myth that every dog is different, and I would hope that no one (well, who doesn’t have dollar signs dancing in their collective eyeballs) would perpetuate that myth by using a one-size-fits-all approach. Heaven forbid their approach fail: the consequences could range from absolutely no change in behavior (and hence a call for euthanasia because the dog is “unfixable”) to an extreme opposite in presentation, with maybe a few successes in between.

The problem comes when people try to justify that dogs with different personalities, temperaments and drive require different METHODS in training.

I’m as bad with intriguing lead-ins as I am with dramatic endings, so I’ll start with the obvious conclusion: Different dogs don’t require different METHODS as much as they do the VARIANCE of one basic technique.

It irks me when trainerettes (hat tip to Linda Kaim for the term) insist how pure positive is the way to go for many dogs, but others could benefit from some use of aversives (provided they are applied GENTLY so as to not cause the poor pup any lasting psychological damage), while still others are beyond help and worthy of nothing but a quiet, humane ending.

Then there are the myth-perpetuators who insist that if their method fails, there is no hope, none whatsoever.

It’s at this point I call bull plop.

These are extreme examples, but then again the industry is filled with some extreme ideas in this era. What these people are missing is that, for all the different methodologies and techniques out there, they are still training a basic animal: a dog. After acknowledging what is on the end of the leash, we must now look at what breed or type or dog: is it a herder? A hunter? A retriever? An independent Spitz-type dog? One must have SOME idea of the type of dog on the end of the leash in order to use potential drives and desires to the best of one’s ability, as well as knowing approximately what general temperament should present itself. Knowing the individual personality is going to be a definite plus: is this particular dog neurotic and shy or nervous? What about the one that is cocky and doesn’t mind flipping the bird now and then? Do you have a paper tiger on the end of your leash or a real one? Now let’s think again why the dog is in training and what particular problems exist, both to be solved and to be learned. The question is not “What METHOD would be best for this dog?” but “What VARIANCE of technique will be the right fit for this dog?”

The above paragraph has the unfortunate effect of looking like a formula, and while some parts of training are procedural, the actual teaching and learning are anything but formulaic (although they might become repetitive!). Most of you can probably zip off the buzzwords by heart now, all together now: Exercise, discipline, affection. (However, this is not training as much as it is a way of life, but it’s still an oft-repeated concept.) Behavioral researchers have attempted to turn what is really an art into something that can be measured and categorized, and while a small part of this is beneficial to the industry, it’s actually more of a disservice to what true trainers consider is an art.

Now, I don’t mean “Art” as in the class where you got to get dirty with clay and glaze, use fancy watercolors, pretend to get high with markers, or splash around in the darkroom. It’s fun to think about, though. I certainly miss those days.

The art of dog training is to first know, for example, the basic language, instincts and motivations of dogs. I’m not going to explain all that, since theSecrets of a Professional Dog Trainer! book goes into detail with that quite nicely in the first section. But once one understands how dogs WORK (to use a rather general word), the question arises: “How can I use dogs’ own workings with the right technique and vary that technique to suit this individual dog?”

The average pet-owner is taught to think in terms of positive and negative, and I’ll completely drop the psychobabble here, Positive will mean good, happy, kittens-and-rainbows etc while negative will mean bad, aversive, thunderclouds-and-death kind of things. Of course these things are usually placed in linear mode, so that the Bad is on one end and the Good is on another. The average owner is taught to think in terms of a sliding scale: if you are not using enough Good in your training, then clearly you are using more Bad than necessary, and must use less Bad and more Good or else your dog will hold a grudge and hate you for life. (Which might be true for serious yank-n-crank techniques used on the wrong dogs!) They’re taught that, by using enough Good, they can stamp out that awful, evil Bad, just like in the movies. And if they DO in some way/shape/form have to use any Bad, it must either be used gently and/or as an ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT because if it doesn’t work, your dog must be euthanized or rehomed to a farm where it can have all the room it wants to run around.

If only it were that easy. To make it easier on me, I’m going to keep using Good and Bad just so I’m not using the more Biased And Confusing Behaviorism Terms.

In situations regarding basic training and obedience, I do not accept the sliding scale, nor do I accept the “All dogs need different methods” argument. The sliding scale is just unrealistic, and the “methods” argument is just a way to appease people who may disagree with the fact that you have no problem using such a thing as a pinch collar when training your dog. The truth is, when someone uses a different “method” on a dog, they are not reinventing the wheel…just making it more refined to their needs.

Someone who drives a race car is going to need a specific type of wheel. The off-roader riding in the ATV is definitely not going to use those same wheels. An average city driver is pretty much not going to have any use for either of the aforementioned types of wheels. Yet, if you remove the wheels, even just one, NONE of these vehicles are going anywhere. But it’s the same thing moving them forward…just different types.

And so, I come to my dramatic point: training involves using the SAME METHOD on EVERY DOG, but varying the degrees to which we use our Good and Bad.

An extremely soft, insecure or underconfident dog might need a whole truckful of reserved, calm Good and not a lot of Bad. A hyper dog going a mile a minute might need a lot of Good and and a little bit more Bad to teach control and restraint. A stubborn dog might need a lot of Good and some Bad in order to teach that when asked to jump, one must do so. An extremely aggressive dog (whether handler- or dog-aggressive or anywhere in between) might need a lot of Good along with a lot of Bad to teach that any aggression is absolutely unacceptable in any situation.

What passes as Good for one dog might be Bad for another: not all dogs enjoy a high-pitched happy voice, a hearty thump on the ribs, or even the consistency of a clicker and treat. Some might find them too boring, too scary, or just not motivational enough to keep going. Our shy dog might suffice with a treat, some calm physical contact and soft “Good.” The hyper dog, is, of course, going to thrive off attention and maybe find Good in the throwing of a ball. Our aggressive case we might not use happy praise either: for this dog, Good might simply be communicated through the lack of Bad (which should not be interpreted to mean “lack of praise”).

What passes for Bad as some dogs might be WAY Bad for another: a stern look for our shy, insecure dog will more than suffice, while our aggressive case will just throw us the finger and proceed as usual. However, it we gave a heavier correction to even our hyper dog as we would give to the aggressive dog, that would be a little too much–and let’s not consider what it would do to our shy dog. Underkill would result in no change from status quo, while overkill results in total shutdown.

I hope everyone noticed the pattern on our respective dogs: they ALL receive Good in some form, whether it’s from praise, food, or play. However, they all also received varying levels of Bad based on their temperaments and individual needs, and whatever FORM that Bad takes is up to the dog: does it require a stern “No”? What about a collar correction, and if so, to what degree? Is there a particular stimulus that is NOT right for this dog? (Case in point: My dog wears an e-collar. I do not stim her. She is too soft even for a lower-level stim, but responds to the pager just fine. She also will wear a pinch collar occasionally. A light tug is all that is necessary. Anything higher will shut her down.) THIS is training. Remember that Exercise, discipline, affection thing I wrote earlier? Training is not a lifestyle, and this particular lifestyle is something that I do recommend in that order for every dog.

Between using a balance of Good and Bad along with a proper relationship with your dog, there is no need to use any other “method” to train. What’s important is not how you appear to others: anyone with a pinch collar on their dog is automatically assumed to use it in the most severe manner, and anyone with an e-collar is assumed to be lighting up the poor animal like a Christmas tree. Others are not the one living with your dog, vetting your dog, or sharing a healthy dog/owner relationship with your dog. If you are training your dog in a balanced way that the dog understands and that gets you consistent, reliable and reasonably quick results, then the only worry others should have is how come THEIR dog won’t respond to commands after watching yours do so flawlessly, with a wagging tail, a spring in his step, and the willingness to do it all over again.

And their worries should start at the source: choosing a trainer who specializes in the ability to vary a single, traditional, time-tested technique (and the tools used, if necessary) to suit the individual dog. There is no such thing as a “different method.” There are only different dogs.

Will your dog protect your house?

By Lynn –

KXLY does an fun, impromptu test to find out!

Hat tip to retrieverman for posting this.

While one might argue that the newspeople only selected “family friendly” breeds, the concept would no doubt be repeated with pet mastiffs, Shepherds and the like. Simply put, in the vast majority of cases, no pet dog will bite someone unless it is an act of aggression that the owner should have seen coming.

It’s also interesting to note that a lot of lawyers do not support using a “Beware of Dog” sign, as it is basically admitting that you have an aggressive dog who WILL bite no matter the circumstances. This is an extreme liability, and better signage would be along the lines of “Dog in yard”.

Urine Marking – Is it appropriate?

By Lynn –

While no one’s yet confronted me about it, I’m sure I get a lot of mean looks from people behind curtains or those who are just really good at concealing their facial expressions when it comes to letting dogs mark while on a walk. Why? The short answer is because I don’t allow it: it interrupts the pace of our walk, it’s rude, and it focuses the dog’s mind on something other than me.

The long answer is a little bit more involved, and it probably doesn’t lessen the mean looks in the long run.

In a good working relationship, a dog looks to it’s owner as a pack leader. Ideally, the relationship is one where the dog has been allowed to learn by reinforcement, as well as mistakes and fair corrections, so that the dog is not afraid of misbehaving so much as it is confident that any decision that it does make will be a good one because it knows where the boundaries of “bad” behavior lay. Because the dog learns that it is not in charge, it then assumes a more submissive, albeit confident, role as a happy, secure, loyal pet who will do just about anything for it’s owner.

Where marking comes into this is the need (drive) to claim something, be it an object, territory, or person. A dog who respects it’s leader and who is comfortable with that hierarchy should feel no need to desire anything such as what is achieved through a quick urine squirt, because there is no need for it. While on a walk (which is the most common activity to observe marking), a dog is co-operating in an activity that bonds it closer to it’s owner: the owner leads, determines which path will be followed, determines what stops will be made and when, and the dog gains attention (reinforcement) by keeping a focus on these activities. I don’t mean that the dog should be keeping a full eye-contact competition heel the entire time; indeed, a walk should be relaxing (even the portions where the dog is asked to do obedience exercises) and the dog should be allowed to notice what’s going on around it, but without going too far forward or lagging too far behind it’s person.

I’ll cover in a later blog how and why, when taught correctly, this is actually beneficial for the dog in terms of mental exercise.

By going off to sniff an object with the intention of marking, the dog is indicating a certain lack of respect for the person by going outside the expectations of what is considered good behavior. Whether this happens in the home on the corner of a couch or a toy, or outside on a bush or tree, it’s behavior that I consider unnecessary if the dog has a good working relationship with it’s leader. While this behavior, such as the likes of jumping, digging, chewing, mouthing, etc is natural to dogs, it is not something that I want my dog doing: we consider it no problem to curb other such behaviors in the interest of teaching respect for humans, and when taught appropriately, the dog doesn’t suffer in any way by NOT being allowed to perform those behaviors (provided it is given an effective outlet for those affected by activity!). As such, to deny my dog the opportunity to mark is not taking away any part of his manhood, nor is it depriving him of what some overly emotional types consider “just being a dog.” As a matter of consequence, I like to consider that the majority of well-trained dogs who respect their pack leaders are truly more dog-like and live fuller lives than those who are allowed to rule the house, treated as commodities (here’s lookin’ at you, Hollywood!), or live outside 24/7, among other circumstances.

In regards to marking during a walk, it is no doubt an annoyance for owners to have to stop at every tree or bush and give it the old sniff-n-squirt. While a walk should be relaxing, it should also have a rhythm to it. It should have direction, a purpose and the intent to go somewhere, even though most of them start out and end at the same exact point. It should be relaxing, fun and focused, allowing for the benefits of both physical and mental exercise. I want a dog’s brain to work with me and make it’s own decisions. While going off to mark a tree indicates a degree of independence prided by some owners (“Oh look, he’s doing his own thing! Such a big boy!”), it is not an activity the dog should feel pressed to do–as if the every tree he doesn’t visit will turn into some demon if not calmed by the presence of a drop of urine. The almost-frantic frenzy dogs enter in an attempt to mark as many outdoor items as possible is visible to a lot of people, but the obsessiveness of the behavior isn’t so obvious to those who insist that it is a part of their daily excursion.

In some cases, this is actually quite rude to allow a dog to mark. As with breaking the heel position while out on walks, it indicates a lack of respect for the pack leader’s domicile and possessions, as well as those of others. I see this often with dogs on extendable leads: he is frequently allowed to stray from the sidewalk onto someone’s property, often right up to the house itself, and mark at will what is officially that of someone else’s. Even marking bushes next to the sidewalk is rude if they are obviously part of a landscape arrangement: dog urine, while known for causing brown spots in the lawn, can also ruin parts of plants if applied too often. The poor little boxwood out front has certainly seen quite a few lifted legs!

Might one argue that, if no urine application is desired, we might just avoid putting such plants in proximity of the sidewalk? It’s possible, but implausible. The land that my family paid for is ours to play with; why should we cater to those who insist on allowing their dogs to use it as their personal toilet or target range? It’s easy for someone to pick up any poo piles that might occur–quite naturally might I add–and it’s even easier for a responsible owner to prevent a dog from marking, even if it’s attached to an extendable leash; however, with most of these owners, it’s quite difficult to get through the idea that it’s the right thing to do!

The drive to mark is not just a male thing. Females do it too, although it is not as commonly seen because they tend to overmark more flat surfaces, and some do not even lift a leg while doing do. While neutering can fix the behavior, oftentimes it is something that has become a behavioral habit for the dog, and this is where the benefit of correction comes into the picture: just as we correct a dog for jumping (and subsequently reward him when he does not), we can correct a dog for marking (although the reward might not be as overt as the one for not jumping). Even intact dogs can learn to not mark, although this might take some effort if intact bitches are present. It’s not impossible as some people seem to moan and groan about; the dog simply needs to learn respect for it’s pack leader, and the boundaries within which it may act and the consequences that come from both misbehaviors as well as good behaviors! This is what truly makes a dog, a dog…and that is indeed the best kind of companion to have by your side!

Sleights of Hand and Fraud at Work

By Lynn –

I made a mistake recently: I got into a debate about e-collars on a YouTube thread in the lair of the Beast–Victoria Stillwell herself. I politely ended the comment-conversation and moved it to messages, where I was bound by no character limit.

At halftime, the ball was in my court and I was asked to comment on if an e-collar was used in the situation of a Tucker, a terrier pup. I’ll let youwatch the video to get some perspective.

(Please note that nowhere in the video does it state that his misbehaviors occurred ONLY during grooming sessions, as the “Description” area clearly asserts! It appears that the woman brought home her dog and was instantly beset by issues.)

The ball I was to hand back over was tagged with a request to determine whether or not an e-collar was used on this dog in the process of “taking him down.”

This was my response:

I am not going to comment on the quality of training in the video, and as such will not answer your question. It is not my place to determine what tools and techniques were used on the dog, and without having seen the dog or worked with it in person, I would be doing a disservice to critique the second-hand advice (such as what the woman was telling us that other trainers told her) I heard. There was no mention of tools used, techniques to “dominate” the dog, or the qualifications of the trainers involved other than the one on which the video focused.

What I did see was a dog being desensitized to a situation in which it was previously traumatized, and being taught a basic trick (giving the paw and allowing it to be manipulated and the nails trimmed). I saw no attempt to work with the dog when it was actually misbehaving, nor did I notice any concepts being taught that might make the dog a better pet. Yet, miraculously, that one training session for ONE issue made Tucker a better pet and gave his owner a better relationship with him. That’s either some good editing or maybe I’m really missing out on how easy training could be: all I need to do is teach my dog to roll over, and instantly she will come on command regardless of what she is chasing in my backyard!

You ask me a loaded question and show me a highly edited video to back it up: the whole problem was an issue with the dog’s behavior in general, biting the owner, misbehaving in the house and being a stereotypical ‘bad dog.’ The video did not address the issue; rather it addressed one problem that was introduced to us through a very graphic description of an experience that NO real trainer or groomer would allow a dog to go through. By the way, is it a shock (no pun intended!) to you that I used loads of treats to help my dog become accustomed to the dremel that I use on her nails?

The fact that anyone can be a ‘trainer’ today is a grave disservice to people with problems such as this woman. They took her money and left her with a problem dog without referring her onto someone who might have been more help to her than they (although here, we get into the question of what techniques they recommended, and how dedicated she was to following their advice to the fullest)! This, in my humble opinion, is nothing short of fraud. I’m sure both of us watched that video and thought “Oh I could fix that if only I could work with the dog!” Are both of us trainers? I would give my subjective assessment to that question, but I will refrain from offending you (for the record, I do not have a training business; rather, I have a lot of hands-on and theoretical experience, and knowledge that has helped many other peoples’ relationships with their dogs where the pure-positive/clicker-only model had failed them).

Two more things: 1) The dog shown was either an Airedale puppy, or an Airedale mix. This breed is a LOT bigger than what I saw on that grooming table. The fact that this animal might have been exhibiting puppy behavior (if it indeed WAS a pup) was completely overlooked or perhaps left out so that it would put the other ‘trainers’ in an unflattering light. 2) There is a large difference between ‘dominating’ a dog and ‘domineering’ it. I much prefer the former (which produces a dog much more willing to do what you want when you simply ASK), while what this lady was describing sounded a lot like the latter (which creates a dog bent on resisting anything asked of it, and as such must be DEMANDED to do something), with the trainers using the much more accepted word in place of what they really wanted her to do.

Keep your eyes open when watching videos dealing with clicker training or any obvious pure-positive agenda. While not everything is this glaring, the sleight of hand used to draw people into the fad are there: “Oh, you are having an aggression problem? Well, let me show you how quickly I can teach your dog to sit and lay down!”

Positive reinforcement has its place in every training program. However, fair, appropriate corrections have their place as well. To deny the existence of a balance is to have your head in the sand: Put simply, eating fast food and taking a multivitamin might sound like a good idea, but unless you acknowledge and incorporate fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains into your diet, you’re only digging yourself deeper.

Mark your calenders!

By Lynn –

On December 10th, 2009 on BBC America, us on this side of the pond will finally get to see the controversial Pedigree Dogs Exposeddocumentary!

It’s not for the faint-of-heart, but like a lot of other gut-wrenching documentaries about dogs in dire need of reform: it is a must-see by anyone who considers themselves a “dog-lover”!

I have no cable here, but I will definitely mark my calender for the 11th…to see exactly what kind of reaction the AKC will manifest.

Don’t want to wait until December to watch it, or do you not have cable (or BBC America channel)? Get on a high-speed connection, set aside an hour of your time and watch it here.

Due to pressure from this documentary, the Kennel Club has recently passed some reform against practices such as breeding for exaggeration, such as in the case of the Bulldog (the standard revisions of which were rejected because they will make the dog look “different than it is today”) and especially in the case of the show German Shepherd Dog, seen here in some extra footage not put in the documentary. The KC has also banned the mating of close relatives, at least on paper. To their credit, they even posted a memorandum in 2006 warning people about the horrific practices of puppy mills and the dangers of buying a puppy in a pet store (ironically, they do not refuse to register these puppies). As for pedigree welfare, some changes are slightly noticable at Crufts 2009, but is it enough, or just too soon?

Now we just need to get them to abolish the closed-registry system and stop intentionally breeding deformed dogs. Think your breed is immune to genetic disease? Think again. The key to remember here is that, while not every single purebred dog out there has an issue, there’s a higher probability that they currently have, or will have something go wrong.

Think the American Kennel Club is any better? Quite the contrary…ABC Nightline actually only covered half of the issue!

I find it almost funny that, almost right after the original showing of the documentary in Britain, the Chairman of the AKC whines and bemoans the drastic decline in registrations. But two months later…OH MY GOSH, DON’T GET THE WRONG IDEA!! We are ALL for health TOOOf course they’re all for the dog’s health…they’re “the dog’s champion”! That’s why they rely on puppy mills to drive registra–er, financial numbers!

My gosh, puppy mi–ER, excuse me! What a negative term! Why not call these kennels High-Volume Breeders?

There’s definitely a lot more information here than can fit in just one blog, but this is a good start; however, I don’t have much faith that the AKC will do anything significant in the light of deformed dogs, incestuous breeding practices, and puppy mill registrations. After all, their precious “sport” is at stake…and the best policy seems to be steaming forward with the Same Ol’.

Mark your calenders and keep an eye or ear out for the hopefully-inevitable kicking and screaming as the AKC drags itself like an unwilling teenager into the late 20th century.

Lessons Learned About Dogs

By Lynn –

It took a member here to see my problem and, without explicitly saying it, goad me to see what I originally couldn’t.

Dogs were trained in the old days without halters, clickers, and no-pull harnesses. Indeed, they were trained with harsh collar corrections that were, more often than not, way above what would be considered the minimum motivational level; any sort of e-collar used in the 50s and 60s were one level of shock, and one level only; and it was far more common to discipline using the no-so-gentle laying on of hands, feet, newspapers, or other solid objects.

They seemed to come out of it all right, with a basic knowledge of behavior. Funny, however, how some back-woods’ types yearn for the return of the ‘hard’ dog, the one blessed with stubborn temperament and personality to grind down even the toughest stone on the block…they lament how dogs have ‘gone soft’ over the years as a result of dithering idiots who dare to humanize their dogs and allow them to live inside with as humans do.

That’s because dogs had to be tough to survive the Yank-n-Crank era.

My pictures below, of the raw muzzles from a supposedly ‘gentle’ training tool, are only part of the debate. What of injuries from collars such as the truly questionable, yet rarely seen Jasa force collar? What of dogs who endure raw necks or tracheal/cervical damage from zipping nooses of chokers? Or even dogs whose owners do not fit the pinch collar correctly, letting them slam into it from a too-loose position, causing it to puncture the dog’s neck?

I am discovering that, in being bound by rules that make no sense, are overly restrictive, and allow no wiggle room despite fair debate and experience, I am doing what is simply natural: forming almost a knee-jerk reaction to something I do not appreciate, and this makes things seem…overboard.

The average reader might find here that I rant and rail against things as if I want to see them all burn. Some days this is the case! However, my intent has gone from informing to alienating; simply put, I am disobeying one of my own tenets set forth in a paragraph of my own writing!

Thanks for a bit of perspective and introspection. You know who you are.

As Promised!

By Lynn –

These are pictures of raw muzzles after using the ‘Gentle’ Leader. We have three new dogs in the kennel and these are the worst ones…I think the third one is somehow doing fine. They have been wearing the headcollars exclusively for approximately one month at this point.

Please keep in mind that these headcollars are fit according to the directions that come with the product. The neck strap is snug and the nose loop can be pulled down the fleshy part of the nose. All efforts are made to keep the dogs’ paws away from their faces with little success (aka simply pulling up and forward is pretty useless when the dog’s weight is already rocked back onto its haunches). Only when the dogs decide to give up and live with it do they not have their paws on their faces; and after a period of time, without warning, they are back to pawing themselves. (Click the thumbnails for more detail!)

Is this really the image we want to conjure when the word “gentle” is involved? Is it really necessary for a dog to have to mutilate itself like this and have its face scar over before it even shows one iota of acceptance (followed by more resistance) towards a training tool?

I’m not the first one to say it, but I’ll repeat it just for the sake of it: if a dog is resisting a tool more than it is willing to listen and work with me, then something is wrong. To have this go on is nothing short of cruel. The fact that IACUC allows this in the name of “humane” treatment and that veterinarians and behaviorists recommend this type of tool simply because it isn’t a “collar” that fits on the neck is not right.

The Not-So-‘Gentle’ Leader – Part 2

By Lynn –

But there’s no Part 1, you say? I didn’t write it, and I’m not going to pretend I did!

Thanks to Roger Hild, we have a good analysis for why ‘Gentle Leaders’ might not be so ‘gentle’ after all.

(And pretty much anytime I refer to them in the future, there WILL be quotes around that whole ‘Gentle’ part. It’s about as ‘gentle’ as an angry hornet is to someone invading the nest.)

Between the headcollar propaganda handed out to us at the beginning of the quarter and the time from then until now that I have worked with dogs of varying personalities on the ‘Gentle’ Leader, I’ve decided that it’s really official now: I don’t like them at all. I’d venture to even use the word “hate,” which is something I really prefer to not do…maybe “abhor” is better.

I abhor headcollars. Especially the ‘Gentle’ Leader. To get an idea of what points on which I’ll be elaborating, please take a look at Roger’s article first. I will reference it from time to time and hit on some points from the pamphlet that comes with the product that I think need nitpicking. We weren’t given the full 64-page packet, so I’ll just work with what I have and try to keep his format going for clarity.

– On the first page, there is a stop sign telling the owner to please read the literature, because the ‘Gentle’ Leader “fits and works differently than any other collar or halter you may have used before.” (This writer notes: The only thing special about this design is that is meant to be fitted tightly…SO tightly, in fact, that if you can fit a finger through it, it is too loose. Adding to this pressure by pulling on the leash attached at the bottom of the jaw to, for example, make an unruly dog sit [as we are instructed to do quite firmly when needed] creates an enormous pull on a sensitive area. And since we know that pressure is the measure of force over area [Chad explains it nicely in regards to corrections on a buckle collar], we are not just setting up the dog for some type of cervical vertebral injury…we all but guaranteeing it. Add to this the extremely narrow [padding be damned] noseband that is tight even when fitted properly, and the only difference between how this collar works versus other collars/headcollars is that the dog might be in more physical discomfort.)

– Page One, under the “Why/How the ‘Gentle’ Leader Works” states: “‘Gentle’ Leader’s patented design places 80% of the pressure at the back of the neck, taking advantage of the opposition reflex. Your dog will instinctively lean back against the pressure, putting an end to leash pulling forever.” (This writer notes: If indeed this were true, then dogs would not be able to be walked at all with this headcollar. Were the dog to lean back against the leash, the pressure from the handler pulling forward on the leash translates to even more pressure at the back of the neck…and were the opposition reflex working at the time, the only thing driving the dog forward would be immeasurable discomfort. By looking at the design of the headcollar, it’s also obvious that when the dog actively pulls forward [or the handler back], all of the pressure is directed through the nose loop and onto the muzzle, with no engagement whatsoever from the neck strap. Again, this translates to anything from mere annoyance to outright discomfort for the dog…and that’s if it even acknowledges that it’s wearing the headcollar.)

– Again, on Page One: “Never jerk or yank the leash…A smooth, gentle pull is all you’ll need.” (This writer notes: Somebody misunderstood something here; the reason dogs pull on the leash is because the owner is pulling back. With a dog who is intent on pulling, there is no such things as a “gentle pull” back toward the handler, and we’ve already discussed how the combination of neck strap fit and leash handling is setting up the dog for injury. A pull can be countered by another pull. A pull countered by a quick jerk-and-release can only be countered by not pulling…and thus eliminating the problem. Most of the dogs I have walked on this headcollar, no matter how much ‘gentle pulling’ I do, will still pull. They just get annoyed that I’m interrupting their outdoor time with something so trivial as making them come back to me.)

– Page Two goes over the fit, writing that “The neck strap MUST be…positioned above the Adam’s apple in front…and fit very snugly so that you can barely only squeeze one finger underneath.” (This writer notes: They go on in the video to outline how this is natural and all fine, since, if you place the edge of your hand right underneath your jaw above your Adam’s apple, you can still breathe just fine. Of course you can! You’re not being strangled by a strap that you can barely fit a finger through! There’s a reason that dogs on a properly-fitted ‘Gentle’ Leader all sound like those who pull like a train on a choker: they can’t breathe properly.)

– Roger goes over the part where you should begin using the headcollar at 8-10 weeks of age if possible. I’d like to add the question as to Why? Why are we using maximum force and compulsion on a puppy, who is supposed to be learning positive things about her environment and some basic foundation obedience? Why do we want to begin using the mythical “opposition reflex” on a puppy who doesn’t even know what a collar is, much less how to walk on a leash?

– Page Three adds a warning about using the “Gentle” Leader on brachycephalic dogs, noting that “It is typical for these dogs to frequently experience breathing difficulties when under stress because of their physically limited airways. If their usual breathing difficulties increase when wearing the headcollar, immediately discontinue and consult your veterinarian.” (This writer notes: So we are already admitting that brachycephalic breeds have trouble breathing to begin with. Why are we following such ‘professional’ advice to restrict their airway even more? And how, in regards to the likes of English Bulldogs, are we even supposed to fit the nose loop over that huge rope between their nose and eyes? Not only are we making breathing even more difficult for them, but we are now also introducing the possibility that they might actively resist and fight the headcollar, adding even more stress to the situation and creating even more of a breathing problem since they are in fight-or-flight mode and have a need for even more oxygen?)

– Page Four begins with some excuses about how “It may take your dog several minutes to adjust to the new sensation of the ‘Gentle’ Leader.” (This writer notes: Try several months, even years. The dog which has given up pawing at his nose resorts to rubbing it on the grass whenever possible, or acting catlike and rubbing his face against any human who might offer some sympathy. Resistance need not always overt: however, because many people refuse to look at alternatives to these headcollars, it is almost always futile for the dog.)

– Page Four goes on to justify how, the more the dog fights the headcollar, the worse off he would be without it: “…the dogs that resist the most are those who want to remain ‘top dog’–so you might say they’re the ones who need it the most!” (This writer notes: Bullocks. Cowpie. Horse manure. Yeah, right. However you choose to say it along lines similar to those, you will most likely not be wrong. Please refer to the Part II of the Stop Making Excuses miniseries as to why dogs fight the nose loop. It is as confrontational, if not moreso, than performing an Alpha roll on a dog. Most trainers today agree that the Alpha roll is antiquated in that it forces dogs to submit and gives them no choice in the matter, along with placing the owner/handler in danger of a bite…thus, why it is not really recommended on a widespread basis. Forcing a dog to submit through the use of a ‘Gentle’ Leader headcollar, as described exactly in their packet, is the same concept: no choice, no release, and as confrontational as it gets. Certainly not something a “pure-positive” trainer would ever want to recommend, right? Then why do they insist on doing so?)

I’m going to stop there. Stay tuned, and I will make every effort to provide some interesting eye candy dedicated to showing just how ‘gentle’ these headcollars can be to a dog. Hint: anytime I see raw skin and/or blood, ‘gentle’ is not exactly the first word that comes to mind!

In the meantime, I will leave you with an interesting 2AM lecture from Mike. He’s a little strange, and uses some weird ways of getting his point across, but it’s worth the watch. It’s important, too, to watch the whole thing, to determine exactly WHY he’s dressed the way he is: in fact, I have taken it to heart within reason. If I wouldn’t use it on my dog, or any dog I train, then it’s not going on the dog. After reading through the ‘Gentle’ Leader packet (even without having read Roger’s article!) and analyzing what it said, no way would I use it on me! Take a look at Hunkie as well: he looks almost exactly like Zeke, but with a chunkier Lab-type body. (Thanks to him, my dog no longer wears a “pinch collar”…she now wears a Gentle Necklace!)

Something I’ve Not Just Recently Noticed

By Lynn –

A lot of people like to use training collars, both choke and pinch collars, for management of the dog during either during walks, or they just leave them on the dog all the time. Most of them only use the collars during walks.

And then they get upset when someone points out that the dog is choking itself because it’s pulling so hard and the collar isn’t allowed to release. “It’s the way we’ve ALWAYS done it and he’s just fine!”

(This happened to me a few years ago: someone came into the store where I worked at the time and her dog was hacking and wheezing from a tight choker. As I was one of the only employees who understood how to properly apply a training collar, I decided to step in and politely explain what exactly was going on and, for the benefit of the dog and to make her outings a little more fun for both, here’s a tip on how to use the choker correctly. She got upset that someone was “telling her how to walk her dog,” yelled at my manager about it, and I was reprimanded. I see both sides on this, where both of us went wrong…but to this day, I have no remorse about attempting to help that dog breathe easier.)

Here’s the point: the tool is not a magic bullet. There is no such thing as any tool that, once applied (or even merely PLACED on) to the dog, will magically fix the problem at hand.

Case in point…a horse and all it’s appropriate tack will not make you a first-place jumper. If you think the first couple of jumps are bad, keep watching (and don’t ask me HOW the guy picked that stirrup back up at the two-minute mark)! The text at the end translates roughly to “We guarantee that the animal was left with [only one ligera??] back pain and the next day was in perfect condition to return to jumping.”

There’s something missing from this picture, and it’s something a LOT of people tend to leave out: good ol’ elbow grease and a healthy relationship. Put it this way: giving me a tire iron neither makes me a mechanic nor makes my plebian sedan a flashy hot rod! Sure, I can use the thing…but do I do something to the lug nuts with it, or do I whack people or cars with it, or is it some kind of fancy paperweight? (For the record, I do know how to properly use one, thank you very much!)

Simply buying a training collar and putting it on the dog will pretty much get you nowhere.

You must know how to fit it correctly. This doesn’t mean “Can I toss it around his neck like I’m playing horseshoes?” It doesn’t mean “I don’t want him escaping from it, tighten it as FAR AS IT WILL GO!” Nor does it mean “I don’t want to hurt the poor baby, it must only touch his neck as lightly as a butterfly would land on a flower.”

You must know when to properly use it. Contrary to the advertising on a certain agility starter kit, this doesn’t mean “What do you mean, we can’t use it as his permanent/everyday collar?” It means that you take into account the inherent risks of what COULD happen when you are not around or you are too far away to do anything quickly in the event of an emergency. [Disclaimer: I am not against agility or any particular agility sets. Please make sure your dog is decked out appropriately with a buckle-type collar that has a low risk of catching on something, and be sure the set is safe for your dog to use!]

You must understand what role it plays in accordance with dog psychology, not yours. Does that extra-large tuff-looking 3″ spike collar do a better job on your mojo than that Viagra from overseas? Great! Now, what does it do for the dog? Is he really any better for wearing it, or do you think that he might benefit from something that might help you a little more with his misbehaviors?

You must understand what role it plays with dog physiology. If you can see raw skin after applying said tool, you are either using it incorrectly or it is simply not meant for use on dogs. If your dog is tearing his face raw because you can’t distract him with a treat long enough to KEEP him from trying to get that headcollar off, he might really be trying to tell you something (and no it’s not “I know you’re trying to take control from me and I don’t want that!”). If the choker you’re using is breaking off all the hairs around his neck so that the hair is significantly shorter and/or you can see his skin, it might be time to either look at another type of training collar, or think critically about how exactly (and how many times!) you’re correcting this dog.

You must not be ashamed to use it. This doesn’t mean apologizing for why your dog is rasping his face on the ground while saying “Tsk, he’s been wearing it for months and he still doesn’t like it!” This also doesn’t mean showing it off and attempting to alienate as many people as possible because you choose to be a jerk (no pun intended) about how you use it. It means educating yourself about the tool and being able to show both sides of how it works, and why it may not be right if someone’s just looking for a quick fix. (My response to someone who told me what a cruel collar I had was something like “You’re right! Some people don’t know how to fit pinch collars properly, or how to use them fairly and humanely! I’d be happy to help you understand where these people go wrong so you might learn why my dog is well-behaved, confident and happy.”)

You must seek advice from a professional if you do not know how to use it. This doesn’t mean “My friend/neighbor/boss told me…” Unless your friend/neighbor/boss has direct first- or second-hand experience with the tool (such as what can be found here), it’s best to look for more opinions from someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Hint: Yahoo! Answers is not a good place to start. While some products do come with fitting and usage instructions, these are pretty much the “How-to” bare bones. Pretty much nothing that comes with any tool will tell you HOW to make it work the way it was intended, or what happens if something goes utterly wrong.

So do some research into what tool you choose to use and learn how it can both positively and negatively impact you, from either how you use/apply it, or even just how it’s made. If a trainer can’t give you such an analysis for most commonly used training tools out there, whether or not they use it…then you might want to look elsewhere.