“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.

On Dogs, Themselves and a little bit on Horses

By Lynn –

I took a ‘test’ recently to determine if I could get into a horse training class at my local university. Let it be known that I ride Western pleasure horses with nice low headsets, easy jogs, moderate lopes, and with the one I usually ride, an attitude the size of Texas that comes in pretty handy when we do flag races or barrel races. I ride on a correction bit (that’s a curb bit with some extra joints in it, for you non-horsey people), loose rein, pinky pulses on the rein if needed for contact, and I grip the sides of the horse with my knees for stability.
They placed me on a barrel racer with an attitude that ran Bar’s across the Great Plains and back, and had me ride with a twisted wire snaffle gag bit (again, for you non-horsey people, let’s just say that it’s a rather severe bit that I’ve never used before) that was run through a martingale to keep his head down. Barrel racers are taught to RUN DARNIT if the rider’s hands are low and his body weight sitting straight up or slightly forward. And if I even so much as brushed my leg against his sides, the horse takes off.

It was interesting, to say the least. I had to tack up, walk, trot and canter (I call them those instead of “jog” and “lope” because darn if this horse had the fastest and most back-breaking gaits I’ve ever ridden), and stay in a somewhat tight circle while maintaining almost English-style-like contact on the bit to keep the horse from running off with me. The first direction took me a bit to learn exactly HOW this horse worked and what things I had to adjust in order so that I could maintain control and make myself a better rider for him in the 10 minutes I spent astride. Once I reversed and started the other direction, I understood almost exactly what Spirit was about and that, while broke, he was taught how to run barrels, how to be fast, how to have three speeds: stop, slow, and fast. NOTHING in between. To make a long story longer by a few words, I passed the ‘test,’ received permission and am now registered to be taught how to break/train a horse to be started after the New Year.

It reminded me that, just like the difference between Bar and Spirit, no two dogs are the same. My family and I have been spoiled so badly by the big Z that when it comes to actually fostering or owning another dog, they’re not too sure if they want to do it. Z came to us knowing basic obedience, no chewing, no jumping, easy to boundary train and crate train, and pretty much housebroken, and all that was at 7 months coming from a shelter. Except for a not-so-small aggression problem that gave me two new scars on my hand, he was a breeze compared to the Sheltie mix we took care of with the intent to own. Maybe it was simply that she was a female, maybe it was that she was taken to the equivalent of Doggy Dachau when she came to our house, maybe it was that she was just way softer than what we were used to: oh she was smart, all right&she had brains in there that her owners didn’t even know about&she was just a STUBBORN little thing! I think we kept her for the entire 2-3 weeks while her owner was moved into a retirement home out of state and not ONCE did she potty where she was supposed to: Granted, it was only 2-3 weeks, but that dog would hold it for days at a time just because she wasn’t given free reign of the yard like she was used to. Not only that, but she also drank water like she’d been in the desert for the past week. All freedom privileges were revoked, from off-leash in the yard to any walks at all as she was used to pottying on walks and we wanted to break that habit. She ate dog food twice a day, no ground round mixed in as she was accustomed&no free handouts&took her about a week to get her to even start looking at her food dish when it was time to eat. We had her professionally groomed (which usually happened only twice a year if she was lucky) and weighed her every few days just to get her out in public, as well as to see if the extra 15-or-so pounds were coming off.

I make her owners sound like slobs really, and they aren’t. See, they were spoiled with their last dog as well: he didn’t shed at all, he was older, quiet, less active despite his lapdoggish breed mix&and when he eventually died, they were fine with not having another dog. Enter Missy in some strange coincidence and they found themselves completely over their heads.

What I’m trying to emphasize here is not only good ownership, but knowing your dog and how to use his talents to your best advantage&what his purpose, his breed is for; having the time and resources (physical, financial, land, etc) available to you to care for him&but also knowing how to get your dog to perform his BEST. My professor looked at Spirit years ago and saw a barrel racer in him and I see (and experienced) that’s what he loves to do, run. He has neither the conformation nor the headset for a halter or a western pleasure horse like Bar does. Could he have been taught to slow down and Bar to not have quite his Alpha-horse mentality? Probably. Can you teach a collie bite work and a Chihuahua to be a personal protection dog? Quite possible. Heck, I’ve seen a Malinois run agility and while he finished, he definitely wasn’t zipping around the course like those border collies were. He had to think things through, go through the course very methodically, at his own pace. Could he go faster, like the Tervuren in the same trial? Probably. Was it in his nature to? Probably not.

Think about what your dog is, both what you want him to be and what he was born to be. Are those two visions the same? If not, how can you work to make them as similar as possible?

Now try and use that exact same mentality with another dog that you’ve never met before, you don’t know its background, only that you need to work with it somehow to get it to do WHAT you want in the manner you want it. Kind of different, isn’t it?

On Dogs and Family

By Lynn –

This post will also be a test for HTML coding, so pardon any extra characters if it doesn’t work (and if I remember!).
I went home on break from school for a wonderful Thanksgiving and a house full of family and friends. Hopefully I’ll get a picture of the wirehair/yorkie(?) mix up sometime soon, Lucy is a real cutie and she may be deaf but man, that nose still works!

I don’t consider it my job to educate my parents on dog behavior and whatnot, but at times, it’s a necessity. And I began to realize something: if I’m to train dogs as a profession, I need to stop being so darn critical! Maybe it’s just that I’m with my parents and I’m using the logic that “They’ve had their bad days and goshdarnit I can have mine too.” Maybe it’s that some thing they’ve done, they’ve been doing for so long that the “annoyance” has built up inside and it just came to a head over break.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m trying too hard to ‘parent’ the parents. Being the baby of the family, I’ve learned that while I have say in some things, canine psychology and behavior is such an abstract notion that to talk about it is just…different. My brothers can talk about their specialties all day and not repeat themselves, but they can bring in different pieces of equipment and actually show how things work and what they’re doing. Me? I work with live animals, not easily obtained (I might tell stories about training the rats in the lab later if someone reminds me), not cheap to keep for any length of time, and definitely not as easy as computers or lasers. Those, you just tweak some things, maybe download some new software, change a mirror’s orientation and there you go. Those you don’t need to beat at their own games; heck, there isn’t a game other than that provided by others (here’s lookin’ at you, Steve Jobs and Billy Gates!).

Dogs and horses?

These things have brains. They’re actual thinking organisms that make connections between ACTION-CONSEQUENCE. I can’t just poke them, move a few hairs around, clip a few nails and voilà, the dog now knows how to Sit on command! (Oh wouldn’t that be a dream…) No, these things we have to beat at their own games, whether or not they know it’s a game. And unfortunately, that requires not US changing THEM, as one does with computers and lasers…it we change OURSELVES. We can’t change a darn thing about their personality without going to drastic extremes, of course. But we can change their behavior by changing not only OUR behavior, but our way of THINKING.

We all know that dogs aren’t human. Seriously…what similarities are there between us besides the bleeding obvious?

You must also remember the “You’re under our roof, you obey our rules” constraint commonly used at most houses. Clarification: Most parents’ houses. Not clients’ houses.

So I can be critical. I can win the battle get away with it to a point. But I know I’ll lose this war because parents are parents. All I can do is wait until I’m secure enough to have my own dog. And that in itself is a whole different topic.

I Know That Raw Chicken Was Spoiled!

By Suzi Jones –

I first want to say I have been giving thought to the web site Adam posted about feeding raw diat to dogs but the only thing that has been keeping me from doing it is the fact I have 2 dogs and the connivance of feeding a kibble is fast and clean.

Saturday started as any other day. Lot’s of rain so group class was canceled. Off to do some shopping at my favorite dog training store, Schweikerts, then off to the boxer club at 2 P.M to work. Due to the rain turn out by the boxer club was also small so we were finished with practice quite early compared to a normal day.

This was not a bad thing as it then gave me a chance to cook a normal warm dinner instead of the usual cold German sandwiches we eat for dinner on a practice days. Saturday’s dinner was supposed to be baked crispy chicken but alas I opened the package and the chicken to me smelled a little sour. Oh no I am not going to take any chances so into a paper bag for the bio (meaning veg matter and food stuffs) can.

We eat dinner watch a bit of Tele (got to love the British shows), Normal habit for us is to snuggle down on the sofa and while watching the evening programming drift off to a peaceful sleep until about 1:00 A.M in the morning. At which point we awake and stumble up to bed for the rest of the morning (I know this is a bad habit).

This is where the evening or early morning went wrong. I tell the dogs’ “come we go over to sleep” (this means up stairs to the bed room) Hella springs up and is ready to go to lie on her bed in the bedroom. Uly on the other hand does have a few bad habits of his own. I know he hears me but being a lazy boxer butt, he sometimes does not even lift his head to acknowledge me. This is where I give him a poke with my finger in his flanks so I know he is awake and hears me. Off for one last potty myself which would give Uly the extra time needed to stretch and get off the sofa and wait for me next to the baby gate blocking the ferrets into the livingrooom. I go back to the baby gate and look but there is no Uly waiting, I turn on the over head light but still Uly stays on the sofa (Bugger I know he is a wake). Fine, tough noogies, you are now going to stay in the living room to sleep alone while Hella and myself sleep upstairs.

I think I heard a few times a low woof woof coming from down stairs but after all he did not come up to bed when I said so good stay your butt in the living room! Well at 4 O’clock in the morning I hear the tell tale boxer lips licking and the loose skin flapping as he shakes and somewhere in the back of my still sleeping mind I think I know I left Uly to sleep in the living room! I spring out of bed as the next thoughts were of loose ferrets exploring forbidden rooms of the house. Down the stairs (No dogs following which is also unusual) Sure enough the baby gate was lying flat on the floor, O.k. check to see where ferrets are both are sound asleep next to the sofa in the cat house which is their bed but all over the carpet is what resembles pieces of paper bag! Oops check the counter! Sure enough Uly had by passed the open box of cookies I had left on the counter but the raw spoiled chicken did not make it through the morning. (My fault, as I did not secure the meat to a place that was out of reach) So gone was a whole cut up spoiled chicken! Not a bone, or piece of skin was to be found anywhere on the floor.

This just gives credibility to the fact that a dogs’ stomach can handle more bacteria then the human system, Uly had only a touch of softer poops the next day (of course thinking he had at some point in the morning gotten an extra portion of food (ie the chicken) that he only needed a small portion of dry food at his normal feeding.

I should add that since Saturday Uly now gets up and waits by the baby gate any time I get up and leave the living room even if I am just to take a quick pee. I guess he had learned his lesson for the moment and when I say I am going over to sleep this means get your saggy boxer butt off the sofa and come with us.

Yes, Dogs Get Stomach Viruses Too!

By Suzi Jones –

It started with Uly throwing up only 1 time on Friday but in 4 different places and only this one time during the day. I wrote it off as being from playing too hard and drinking too much water after with out enough of a pause to catch breath and not be panting so hard.

Six P.M rolled around and my friend was calling, as her boxer (Uly’s by rights Girlfriend) had thrown up some blood so my friend was calling to ask what could cause this and to tell me she had made the emergency appointment at the 24 hour clinic (Expensive and in Euros to boot). I did not think anything else about Uly throwing up or the fact that the last poop of the evening was taking a bit longer then normal. As bella does like to try to eat things forbidden like cat poop.

I did not think anything else about it until I awoke this morning to come down stairs to find a bit of a dark brown mess before my normal coffee time. Not the first thing you want to do is clean when you awake.

O.k. no big deal, that is, if you have gone through something like this in the past. A few years ago between 2 military communities a dog stomach virus so bad traveled around afflicting about 90% of the dogs in these 2 communities. This was a 2 “weaker” with bloody poops. The vet at the time told me concerning Hexen to save my money give Pepto- bismal (the pink stuff) and nothing but chicken noodle soup at her normal meal times until such time as the dog can keep it in both ends. Strange at the tim is my first boxer Shamrock being epileptic I would have swore would pick something up like this first but not the ever healthy Hexen. Nope I went to a grooming customers house, that smell was the tell tail sign! I asked is your dog sick? Or has your dog been sick? Ah nope.

Then your dog is sick now as it is having the water poops all over my grooming table! I followed what I thought were extra safe precautions! I stripped down to my underwear in the hallway of the appartment building (Including socks and shoes) went directly inside and washed my hands, showered, and new fresh clothes! What else could I do?

I then took care of the clothes in the hallway by bring them 3 flights down to be washed as quick as possible, but the case was it was too late and with in a few days she was throwing up and diarrhea for 2 weeks.

Poor Uly on the other hand knows he is sick, has not eaten but is drinking water like no tomorrow, He has bubble and foam around his lips when an episode is about to hit and he is trying to go outdoors into the garden however when I forget to leave the door open he is just letting it come. I can’t blame him the “Armee sow” Pronounced (AHma) or poor pig! No dog club, no walking for a few days as I want to keep this as contained as I can, Thankfully Hella is not sick but she does not understand why Uly does not take any advances from her to try to play.