Thursday, November 26, 2009

Electric shock training collars – illegal for humans but OK for dogs?

By Peter Wedderburn Last updated: May 8th, 2009

There’s a report today about a father in Oregon who used an electric shock collar on his four children, all less than ten years of age. He’s in custody, charged with “criminal mistreatment” of the children.

My question today is: if it’s not OK to use these in children, why should it be acceptable to use them to train dogs? The video report of the case states that some dog trainers justify their use by saying that “dogs have a higher pain threshold than humans”. This is news to me – how do you think they’ve worked that out? Give a dog an electric shock, then ask the dog “how much does that hurt?” Then compare the dog’s response with a human?

Electric shock collars are used on dogs by some to apply an electric shock to the dog’s neck when a dog behaves incorrectly. The shocks, understandably, cause pain and confusion for the dog, affecting it physically and mentally. There’s no doubt that electric shock collars have a powerful effect, but there’s also no doubt that they’re cruel.

New research published by the University of Pennsylvania has shown that aggressive pets which are trained using confrontational or aversive methods (such as electric shocks) by their owners will continue to be aggressive unless training techniques are modified. The year-long study, which has been published in the February 2009 issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science showed that using non-aversive or neutral training methods such as additional exercise or rewards elicited very few aggressive responses.

The Kennel Club has been campaigning for many years to have the sale and use of electric shock collars banned, and at last, some progress may be about to happen.

The Welsh Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, announced in June 2008 that she intended to ban the use of electric shock training devices, including collars, mats and leads. Since then, the planned legislation has been gradually moving through the system, with an initial consultation period that is drawing to a close later this month. Anyone who wants to make a submission to this consultation needs to visit the Welsh government website before 27th May, where they can review the draft regulations. The Kennel Club is encouraging Welsh dog owners to respond, and to contact their local Assembly Member to ensure that effective legislation is drafted.

It’s well known that pain and fear are not humane methods to train dogs (or humans). Positive, reward-based training methods are both kinder and more effective. Trainers using these methods are able to teach dogs quickly, easily and reliably, with absolutely no fear, pain, or damage to the relationship between the human and the dog.

If you search YouTube, you’ll find plenty of videos featuring humans trying out electric shock collars on themselves. You’ll see they nearly always start off in jest, but end up being seriously upset by the electric shocks. The human response? They take the collar off, something which our unfortunate canine friends are unable to do.

How long until Scotland and England follow the lead of Wales on this? The sooner, the better.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Incessantly Barking Dog

By KPCT on 12/31/2001

From Melanie Walton:

I have a male pointer mix dog that is about 2 years old. He likes to bark at everything! He has been through a basic obedience class and I do use the clicker when working on training skills with him. He loves working with the clicker and learns skills quickly. My problem is I don't know how to Discourage an undesired behavior. He barks a lot. There are two different situations in which he barks that I would like to stop. If he is sitting in the house next to me and hears a dog FAR off somewhere else in the neighborhood (he cannot see the other dog) he jumps up, runs around and frantically barks. Frequently he imitates the other dog's bark. If it's high pitched, my dog barks higher; if it's low pitch, my dog barks lower. He gets so worked up and then eventually stops barking, usually if the other dog stops (this also happens when he is outside the house).

The second situation is if he is in the yard and a person or especially a dog walks/rides/drives by anywhere in his line of sight (sometimes right by the fence and sometimes all the way at the other end of the block). He goes nuts, starts barking and runs back and forth in front of the fence. I can't seem to distract or get his attention at all. And if I am inside the house (and he's in the yard) I'm afraid if I walk outside to stop him it will reinforce the behavior.

The barking doesn't appear to be "mean." His hair is not standing up on the back of his neck and his tail usually up and wagging.

This is causing great problems with the neighbors and they are threatening to try to have my dog taken away. He is a great dog and learns quickly, I am just not sure how to use the clicker to show him the behavior I want...which is no barking.... or being quiet. Maybe he could be taught to bark just once or twice and then stop. I just don't know how to do that. If you could please give some suggestions on how to use the clicker to stop him from barking I would greatly appreciate it. I don't want my dog taken away and I do want to make my neighbors happy. I would love any help/advice you could give.

Dear Melanie,

When something happens that sets him off, In the house, get some super treats and the minute he barks click him and treat. Put him on a leash if you have to, so he doesn't run around. Stand on the leash. As he is eating the treat and can't bark, shove your hand in his face like a traffic cop giving a 'Stop' signal; this will suprise him a little. Click and treat. Then pause, don't move, let him start barking, click, treat, signal Stop, while he's still quiet, click and treat. Then say "Bark!" let him start barking, click and treat, signal stop, click and treat. Go back and forth at least twenty times, very fast, don't try to keep him silent, just Get silence and click it. He will catch on.

You will now have the beginnings of both a bark cue, to reward a single woof, and a Silence cue, to interrupt barking, indoors. Do this exercise every time he gets to barking in the house.

As for the fence running and barking outdoors, that is a different problem. Get it under control in the house first. My advice would be NOT to ever leave the dog in the yard alone, until you have control of the barking. Walk him on a leash, exercise him someplace away from the yard, and keep him indoors the rest of the time. Dogs don't really do well alone in the yard, they are better off being with you, and the neighbors can't complain that way. Crate him if need be.

When you have a perfect recall trained—so that he always comes the minute you call no matter where he is, you can perhaps let him in the yard again, but no more than ten minutes at a time, and a big reward for coming when called. The fence running is self-reinforcing especially in a bored dog, and prevention—by not turning him out on his own—is the first part of management.

Happy clicking,

Karen Pryor

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Shocking Discovery

Over the weekend my husband and I took the dogs to Las Vegas and stayed in a hotel. Every morning we got up early to take the dogs for a hike. It was very DRY in Las Vegas and we had a lot of static electricity encounters! I would shock myself when pushing the elevator button, static cling clothing and my hair was flying everywhere. Well, one morning on our hike, I was training Bandit and clicking for behaviors that I was trying to capture. We were having a great time and he was having a BLAST. He loves to work! Well, I noticed that all of a sudden OUT of NOWHERE (so it seemed), he did not want to take food from my hand. He would shy away and wince every time he went to take the food from me. I was so bummed! I thought that it was my watch reflection from the sun and that maybe it was shining in his eyes, then my husband said, "I bet you shocked him". Well, I will never really know for sure what caused Bandit to react this way, but it seems so logical that it could have been a static electric shock. Eventually Bandit got over it and was back to normal, but it was not until that evening before he would take food from my hand without squinting his eyes and being very hesitant.

However, this whole static shock situation made me think. WOW, if a little static shock from dry weather could cause my dog to wince and not want to take food from my hand, I could only imagine how a dog that is trained with a shock collar would feel. YIKES! That really made me sad, upset, and made me think. I have heard trainers say that the dog hardly feels the shock. Well, I am sure that a little static shock is NOTHING compared to a shock collar even on its lowest setting. Not to mention the damaged relationship between the dog and the owner. Bandit was AFRAID of me and every time he went to take food he would SHY AWAY. I was heart broken that my dog was afraid of me. THANK GOD IT PASSED and he realized that it was a one time thing. Let's just say for the sake of saying it, (which by no means I believe it) that a shock collar is no more than that static electric shock that I accidentally inflicted on my poor Bandit. Imagine that the dog realized that the owner is the one inflicting the pain, imagine that the dog would shy away, imagine that the dog would wince, imagine how that would effect the human/canine bond, and imagine what that dog would think of his owner.

It was such an eye opener for me. I've always HATED shock collars and DO NOT AGREE with the use of them in training or for any other purpose for that matter, but now I can really see how just the slightest aversive, the slightest shock, the slightest positive punishment could really effect the dog and how they feel about their human.

I really hope that this story has been an eye opener for you as well. Please go to and become a member of the "No Shock Collar Coalition". Let's put a stop to shock collar training and ban shock collars from being sold!

Thank you for your support!
Have a wonderful day & HAPPY CLICKING!

Pamela Johnson

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It’s Shocking!

« And another thing… I Do Not Want My Dog To Be ‘Calm-Submissive’
What Makes Your Dog Really Happy? »

It’s Shocking!
Jun 18th, 2009 by Deborah Flick

(Previously titled: “Spare the Shock Collar, Spoil the Dog?”)

Three events over as many days added up to what some refer to as a ‘woo-woo’ experience. Not unusual for Boulder, ‘Woo-woo World Central.’ So, when it happens to me, I take notice. Hmm. Maybe I need to write about shock collars.

First, two days ago, Gigi told me about two different articles on shock collars. One, just published on the internet on June 10, was entitled “Vets on Behavior Proclaim, Never Use Shock Collar“. The other, “Shock or Awe?” by Pat Miller, was in Whole Dog Journal, February, 2006.

Yesterday, I walked up to the road to collect the morning newspapers to find two neighbors comparing the shock collars they were holding. “Are you going to use those with your dogs?” I asked, a little stunned. “We’re thinking about it,” one answered. “I’ve heard they’re easy to use and the dogs learn really fast.”

This morning at the dog park a young man was using a shock collar to train his dog. To be fair, the discomfort to the dog was below the “screaming pain” threshold. In fact, I didn’t hear the dog whimper. And, the man did praise his dog and maybe even offered a treat, I don’t know for sure. He and his dog were too far away from Sadie, Romeo, Sadie’s dreamy poodle friend, and me to see that. But, I could see that the dog’s ears were pinned back and it’s tail slung low. Obedient? Looked like it. Happy? No. But, that dog was elated when the training session was over. She ran all around the park chasing scents, her tail high and wagging, ears perked up, a skip in her step. Now, why should training not elicit that same sort of enthusiasm?

I’m sure you’ve guessed my feelings about shock collars, or e-collars, or remote collars, or whatever you want to call them, or however ‘new and improved’ the latest models are. I don’t like them. I would not use one on my own dog, no matter how so-called ‘hard’ she or he was. And, frankly, I think they should be banned, as they are in some countries already. For example, Wales and most parts of Australia. (If you know of other countries or locales when bans are in effect, or where people are petitioning to ban shock collars, please reply and let readers know.)

Whether you support the use of shock collars or not, you probably know horror stories about dogs being gruesomely abused by them, sometimes beyond rehabilitation. I’m not going to tell more of those stories. The worst case scenario is not what I want to examine here.

And, I don’t want to impugn the motives of ordinary dog people who use them. The man in the park, I don’t believe, intended to cow his dog, even though that’s how the dog looked.

Jane (not her real name), a friend of mine, at wits end with her rambunctious, adolescent male puppy, George (not his real name), turned to a local trainer who put a shock collar on him. George and I are buddies. I did not know we were on the same trail at the same time, but George did. I was startled when he ran to me screaming and whimpering and wrapping himself around my legs. The crying didn’t last long. A few seconds. His mom came running after him. She was mortified. “George ran off and the trainer told me to keep turning up the dial until I got his attention. But he kept running. Oh my God. I feel horrible.” Jane is head-over-heels in love with George. I know she would never hurt him intentionally. She was just following instructions.

And, that brings me to the question I want to consider. If we want our dogs to be happy, and I assume most people do (correct me if I’m unfortunately wrong about this)…If we want to maximize our dog’s learning capability, thinking, and responsiveness to our cues… If we want to minimize the risk to our dogs physical and emotional well-being during training, indeed at all times…if we want all these things, then why would we use a shock collar?

Why would we use a training device that primarily relies on punishment and negative reinforcement? Why would we want to shock our dog when she does something ‘wrong’? Okay, sometimes it’s not a shock, it’s a ‘tingle’, according to some trainers, but whatever you call it, it must be aversive enough to make the dog stop the behavior. And, why would we want to deliver a steady stream of current that finally stops when the dog does the ‘right’ thing’–sit’ or ‘down’ or ‘come’, for example? No matter how minimal the current is, it has to be noxious enough for the the dog to notice it and want it to stop. That’s stressful. No wonder the dog in the park lightened up after her training session was over. Wouldn’t you?

Why wouldn’t we rather, for example, lure our dogs to do the behavior we want–’down’, let’s say, and then ‘mark’ the down behavior with a “yes!” or a ‘click’, if you prefer a clicker, as I do. Then immediately we offer a positive reinforcer, something the dog loves. Roast beef. Game of tug. Ear scritch. Praise. Whatever.

And, when our dogs do something we don’t want them to do, especially when they have been taught an alternative desirable behavior that they could do, but don’t? Spot persists in jumping up on Joe every time Joe visits even though Spot has learned to keep all four on the floor, and does so for most other visitors. But, Joe is different. Spot LOVES Joe and wants to get his muzzle close to Joe’s mouth and get in a few kisses, just as he greets some of his doggie friends. Well then, take something away that Spot values. Attach Spot’s leash. Joe, if he is inclined to help, could step back when Spot has fewer than all four on the floor. Joe moves toward Spot when he is not jumping.

Or, alternatively, you could remove Spot from Joe. Spot jumps. You mark the unwanted behavior with a word, “bummer,” for example, and, quietly and unemotionally lead Spot to the nearest room. Put him in the room for a few seconds (that’s right, a few seconds 5-10), and then let him out. If he doesn’t jump, mark that behavior and reward profusely. Joe’s attention and praise could be the reward. If Spot jumps again, back he goes into time-out.

Geeze. That’s so much work! How much easier to just shock Spot for jumping on Joe.

Here’s the problem, two actually, beyond, what I’ve already said. One, your timing with that shock has to be absolutely perfect. As soon as you see Spot begin to raise himself to jump, ‘zap!’ How many of us are truly that observant and have great hand-eye coordination every single time, if ever? How many of us would miss that moment and zap poor Spot after he was in full blown jumping- greeting mode?

Why do you have to be very precise? Here’s what researchers at the University of Hannover in Germany recently concluded based on a study of beagles that received shocks under three different experimental conditions. They wanted to determine the dogs’ levels of stress in response to the shocks by measuring cortisol levels, a stress hormone.

One group of beagles was shocked precisely when they touched the prey, a rabbit dummy. The second group was shocked when they did not obey a previously trained recall command. (Like Jane’s dog, George.) The third group was shocked arbitrarily.

The last two groups showed significantly high levels of stress hormone. And, their stress levels rose again when they were merely taken back to the research area where they were shocked in the first place, but not shocked on the return visit. The dogs associated pain with being in the research space where they were, in fact, previously shocked.

The researchers concluded that the first group of beagles were not as stressed as the other two groups because they were shocked at a precise moment. Not too soon, not to late, and always at the exact same instant of contact with the dummy prey. Therefore, the dogs could control whether or not they were shocked. But, notice, the precision timing required by the person holding the remote. (Are you that person? I’m not.)

The researchers concluded:

Electric shock collars are not consistent with animal welfare. It has to be assumed that pet owners do not have sufficient knowledge about training and skill to avoid the risk that dogs will show severe and persistent stress symptoms. For professional dog trainers the use should be restricted: proof of theoretical and practical qualification should be required…

What is the risk to our dogs, do you suppose, if we click (or say ‘yes!’) seconds too soon or too late? We are training the dog to ’sit’ at a distance. The dog sits then stands back up. We click just as the dog stands. Oops. Too late. How much damage have we done if our timing is not precise? Not much. Probably, the worst that happens is that the dog becomes a little confused, “So just what are you asking me to do?”

To be honest, it does take a little practice to get the timing right so that we are clicking at the moment the dog’s butt hits the ground for ’sit,’ in our example. But, we’d also need practice to perfect our timing in using the remote to zap our dogs. Frankly, I’m willing to risk screwing up with a clicker. I am not willing to risk blowing it with a shock collar.

I’m amazed and perplexed by people who are flustered and frustrated by learning to use a clicker, but who, without batting an eye, grab the remote and push that button to zing their dogs. Why not do what’s enjoyable for and kinder to our dogs, and easier on us. Remember Jane? She’s not alone.

The other problem I want to mention is that of association. There is no guarantee that our dogs will associate the shock they feel to their necks with their own behavior. Let’s consider Spot. If he got zapped when he jumped on Joe, there’s no reason Spot would necessarily assume his jumping ’caused’ the pain and, therefore, stop jumping. Maybe he would associate the pain with Joe. “When Joe shows up at the door, I get hurt. Well, I know how to take care of that. I’ll just bark and growl at Joe until that pain-producing so-and-so gets out of my house!” Great. So now we’ve created a completely avoidable aggression problem. What are we going to do now, zap Spot for being aggressive? Aggression to treat aggression? Not smart. Aggression begets aggression.

So, why are so many people enamored with shock collars? I read an interesting reply to this question somewhere on the internets. “Maybe just like we want our food fast, we want our dogs trained fast and we think something electronic with a remote control will do the job.”

But try thinking about it this way. Go slow to go fast. Learn how to use an event marker–’yes!’ or a clicker. Discover what your dog loves–treats, balls, tug, another dog–and give it to her after you ‘yes’ or click her for doing what you ask–’come.’ ‘down,’ ‘leave it’. Soon, you won’t need the clicker or the reward. You’ll just be able to ask your dog to ’sit’ and she will sit happily because she has so many great associations with sitting.

Once your dog gets the hang of learning in this way, it just gets easier and faster to teach her new behaviors because she has not merely learned a few cues, she has learned how to learn. And, its fun!

How differently do you think our dogs feel when they see the clicker and balls and treats come out compared to when their necks are fitted tightly, which it must be, with a shock collar? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stress my dog unnecessarily. I want Sadie to light up when it’s training time.

*For those of you who are still questioning or are unfamiliar with what shock collars actually feel like, check out this young man who thought he’d give it a try, voluntarily, of course.

*Also, visit Shock Collars-Say No. Interesting and informative. And, Responsible Dog – It’s All About Dogs.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jedi - 19 Months - Flyball Box Training

Hi all you flyball friends. Here is a great video idea on how to teach the swimmers turn off the box. Hope you all like it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Debunking Dominance Theory

By Karen Pryor on 08/10/2009

Explain it all away

Throughout the pet business right now, "dominance theory" is a popular explanation for absolutely anything that happens, from a puppy tugging on your trouser leg to birds flying up instead of down. Conquering "dominance" has become justification for absolutely any punishment people can think up, from shocking dogs to stuffing parrots into the toilet. (Yes, seriously.) And the awful thing is that otherwise sensible people believe this nonsense. Apparently the idea that some animal is trying to "dominate" YOU really resonates. Yikes—gotta stop that, right?
Dog lying down

You may be pleased to learn that some British scientists have blown a hole in the whole dog dominance business. Researchers in companion animal behavior in the University of Bristol veterinary department studied a group of dogs at a re-homing center, and also reanalyzed existing studies on feral dogs. Their conclusion: individual relationships between dogs are learned through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert "dominance."

According to these specialists in companion animal behavior, training approaches aimed at "dominance reduction" vary from worthless to downright dangerous. Making dogs go through doors or eat their dinners after you, not before, will not shape the dogs' overall view of the relationship, but will only teach them what to expect in those situations. [1]

In other words, that stuff is silly, but harmless.

"Much worse, techniques such as pinning the dog to the floor, grabbing the jowls, or blasting hooters [noise makers] at dogs, will make dogs anxious, often about their owner, and potentially lead to an escalation of aggression." [2]

Veterinarians and shelters are seeing the results of this misapplied dominance. As one veterinary behaviorist put it to me at a recent scientific meeting, "A puppy has to submit to whatever the owner does; it has no choice. Then around the age of two comes just one Alpha roll too many, and the dog defends itself at last and tries to take the owner's face off." So now the dog is in the shelter. And these dogs are fearful, unpredictable, and very hard to rehabilitate.

Teaching people the power of clicker training is the benign and much more effective alternative. I'm so glad you all are out there, showing people through your own example and your happy, cooperative, attentive clicker dogs that there is a better way.

Happy clicking,

Karen Pryor

Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clickertraining and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

How to Keep Your Dog Calm When the Doorbell Rings

By Nan Arthur on 10/01/2009

Does this ring a bell?

The crowd gathers outside and is tense with anticipation as it makes its way to the paddock (your front porch).

The field is lined up.

Ding dong...

"And, they're off."

"Out of the gate is Fido, pacing ahead of Suburban Woman."

"From the back, it's Fifi, a long shot, but picking up the pace."

"Rounding the turn, it's Fido, with Suburban Woman picking up momentum, and Fifi a length behind."

"Down to the wire, it's Fido, but Suburban Woman is closing in!"

"It's Fido crossing the threshold, and the crowd goes wild..."

... and so does Suburban Woman who is trying to get Fido and Fifi to stop celebrating on her guests.

Are you Suburban Woman, loving but exasperated owner of Fido and Fifi? Does your home seem like the 5th at Santa Anita every time the doorbell rings? Wouldn't it be wonderful if your dog actually moved away from the door when the doorbell rang rather than crowd you for a position to greet, or "eat," the people on the other side? Wouldn't you love to have a dog that sits, lies down, or even runs to another room when the doorbell rings—instead of all the embarrassing things your dog currently does?

Rather than wishing and hoping your dog will just stop going crazy, or trying to wrestle your dog away from the door every time you have a visitor, place your bet on a sure thing by training your dog for this situation. With some effort and a commitment to practicing with your dog, completing this doorbell game will make you feel like you have just won the Daily Double.
dog race to the door

The Doorbell Game: Getting started

Before you begin, decide where you would like your dog to go or what you would like your dog to do when the doorbell rings. If your dog has a history of jumping and behaving like a circus act gone mad at the sound of the doorbell, your goal might be to send him to another room, to a crate, or outside for simplicity or safety reasons. If your dog just barks, or pushes you out of the way to greet your guests, you might be able to train a "sit" or "down" after the doorbell rings. Your final decision should be one based on safety and realistic expectations. It wouldn't be reasonable to ask a dog that escapes, or has a history of nipping or aggressing when people come in, to sit or lie down as "scary" strangers parade past, but that would be a wonderful goal for a dog that is overly friendly.

Training should always be done in a quiet environment. Make sure you have at least 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted time whenever you practice so that your dog has a chance to really absorb the information. Take your time, practice a few times each day, and remember that it could take several days or even a week or two before you obtain the desired results.

You will need a clicker-savvy and hungry dog, several levels of food rewards (from average to high-value treats), a treat pouch so your treats are readily available, and your clicker. Eventually you will need someone to be your "guest" and to help you ring the doorbell, but not until you have the foundation behaviors in place.

When you reach for the doorknob, it often triggers an already excited dog. His anticipation is high; someone is visiting or, potentially, intruding. You must first train your dog to calm down. Your dog's composed behavior will allow you to walk to the door unencumbered and inform your guests that you will be with them in a moment. Then you can direct your dog what to do before you actually open the door.

The preliminary step in training this diversion exercise is to teach your dog to move away from the entry so that you have some room to get to the door without him crowding or pushing. Keep in mind that during the early stages of this training your dog doesn't have to do anything except move away from the door. Don't ask for a "sit" or other trained behavior just yet; you can add those later if that is the goal.
With some effort and a commitment to practicing with your dog, completing this doorbell game will make you feel like you have just won the Daily Double.

Invite your dog to come with you to the closed front door. Hold a number of treats in the same hand as your clicker (you want the other hand to be free) and take a deep breath. Reach out with your empty hand and touch the doorknob, turning so that you can observe your dog. Watch your dog carefully, as you will be looking for subtle movements during these early stages. At this point in the training, you won't open the door, but just touch or hold the doorknob.

Your dog is free to move around, but what you are looking for is any movement away from the door. Click and treat when your dog moves or backs away from the door even the tiniest bit. Click and treat several times while the dog is in that position, reaching out to feed him so he doesn't have to come close to you or the door in order to get his treat.

Repeat the exercise 8-10 times, walking to the door from different areas in your home (as if someone had just rung the doorbell) and reward your dog for any movement away. Be sure to tell your dog, "All done," or another release cue, after each successful movement away from the door.

Continue to practice holding the doorknob and then clicking and treating for movement away from the door. If you see that your dog has figured out that the click occurs when he scoots or moves away, you are ready to train the next step.

But, if your dog continues to move forward toward the door when you reach for the doorknob, practice this foundation for a few more rounds, or even days, depending on your dog's reinforcement history of rushing the door. Take your time teaching the foundation of this exercise, as mastering this stage will help your dog stay focused when you do add the doorbell.

Problem solver: When he sees you touch the doorknob, your dog may be super excited if he thinks someone is at the door or he is going for a walk. If your dog pushes toward the door or jumps on you, gently step between him and the door, using your body to impede his movement. Step forward into his space, if necessary, to urge him to slide off of you. Take a deep breath to help him (and you) relax. Do not make eye contact or talk, as this often gets dogs more excited. Calmly, walk a few steps from the door to show that you are not opening the door. Dropping a few treats on the floor for your dog to find as he tries to figure out why you are not leaving will help your dog calm down faster. Eating helps to calm the adrenaline, which, in turn, helps your dog "think" again. Just be sure to drop the treats slightly away from the door in order to show him that good things happen away from the door.
Adding the cue and movement away from the door

To teach your dog what to do after the doorbell rings, practice this next stage in several different steps. What you are teaching is that when you approach the door after the bell rings, a verbal cue will direct your dog to do something else—go to another room, go outside, or "sit" / "down" at a pre-determined station.

The goal of the foundation stage was to teach your dog some composure, as well as how to give you some space at the door. Once you have achieved that element, you can start to add the verbal cue, which tells your dog there is something you want him to do when the doorbell rings. However, you are still not ringing the bell just yet.

If you use a verbal cue such as "just a minute," you can both inform your guests that you will be right with them, taking the pressure off you to hurry and answer the door, and use the phrase as a direction cue to your dog to move away from the door and toward the area where you want him to go.
Plant the seed that the best rewards come after movement from the door.

Use the average-value treats as you begin to add movement away from the door, clicking and treating for the initial movement. Switch to the high-value rewards once you get your dog to the area where he will be confined, or where you want him to be stationed in a "sit" or "down." Plant the seed that the best rewards come after movement from the door.

Once you have walked to the door, touched the doorknob, and announced the "just a minute" cue, turn and move away from the door, encouraging your dog to move with you. Say something like "good boy" or "let's go" as you pat your leg or gently clap your hands. The goal is to get 4-5 steps away from the door and then click and treat several times where you stop, using the best treats. Where you stop could be the final destination for dogs that will be stationed in a "sit" or "down" or an intermediate stop for those dogs that will need to be confined.
Confining your dog

For dogs that need to be confined, practice getting farther and farther away from the door as you progress until you reach the area where you will confine him.

When you are ready to practice confining your dog, keep in mind that you may need to go all the way into the area with him the first few times so that he doesn't think you are "tricking" him into getting locked outside or in another room. This is where the high-value treats will come in.

Go all the way into the confinement area or all the way outside with your dog (another reason you need to tell your guests, "just a minute!"), and then have a click-and-treat party with the high-value rewards! Add lots of praise and fun talk. You really want your dog to think this is the most wonderful game in the world so that when you do add the doorbell, it is no big deal and your dog will start to head toward the confinement area. You can also do a food confetti party, by tossing lots of food around as you leave. Much later, when all training has been completed, you can offer a stuffed Kong, or a wonderful chew treat for your dog to work on as you leave him in the confinement area. If you are working with more than one dog, only do this if you know that the dogs won't fight over these treats.
Using a "sit" / "down" station

If you are going to work on a "sit" or "down," your dog should already be fluent in that behavior. You should have a mat or rug several steps away from the door so that your dog can be sent to that area. The mat acts as a visual cue for your dog and makes it much easier for him to find his spot each time. It also prevents your dog from sliding around if the area has a slippery surface.

Direct your dog to the mat or rug after the "just a minute" cue and ask for the "sit" or "down." Begin to back away slowly so that you can observe your dog as you move toward the door to open it. The goal is to be able to return to the door as your dog remains on the mat.

Increase the distance between you and your dog in small steps, taking one step away and then coming right back to click and treat him. Next, try two steps, quickly moving back again to click and treat. Continue to add more steps until your dog can remain at the station and you can get all the way to the door.

As you work on increasing the distance, take breaks and then resume your training by going to the door from different areas in the house. Continue at this level until you can get all the way back to the door with your dog in place.
Opening the door

Once your dog can wait at the station, you can try opening the door as your dog remains in position. The first sequences should look like this:

1. Come from different areas in the house
2. Announce the "just a minute" cue
3. Direct your dog to the station
4. Walk to the door and jiggle the doorknob

Did your dog remain in place? If he did, walk all the way back to your dog to click and reward, and then repeat several times before adding the next step: opening the door.

When you are ready to open the door, open it just a little, close it, and then go back to your dog to click and reward. Continue until you can open the door completely with your dog remaining in place.

Once you are able to open the door entirely, have a helper assist you by waiting outside the door as you open it. Have him or her walk in as you go back to your dog to click and reward.
Keep in mind that you will need a very high-value reward and multiple clicks and treats for dogs that find the arrival of guests highly rewarding. In other words, be better than the environment with your rewards!

When you try this "for real," ask your guests to come in on their own in the early stages of training so that everyone doesn't get congested in the entryway, making it more difficult for your dog to maintain his "sit" or "down." Keep in mind that you will need a very high-value reward and multiple clicks and treats for dogs that find the arrival of guests highly rewarding. In other words, be better than the environment with your rewards!

If your dog gets up at any point, your helper should stop and back up (going all the way back to the door, or even outside, and closing the door, if necessary). Gently block your dog with your body and direct him back to the station until you can convince him that the way he gets to visit is to continue to sit or lie down.

Practice these components many times throughout the day, until you can see your dog moving away from the door when you say, "just a minute" and until you are successful directing your dog back to his station. As this is a difficult command to train and learn, you may want to suspend any other training while you work on this command.

Problem solver: If your dog gets up at any point after you have stationed him in a "sit" or "down," it is important that you do not click and treat just yet. You don't want your dog to learn that he can get up, follow you, or greet people on his own, and still get a reward. Instead, after you have him back in place, smile and use your voice and praise to encourage him to stay put until you have made it all the way back to the location where you or your helper was when he got up. Once you get that far, walk back to your dog, and then click and treat several times. The dog will begin to learn that you want him to remain there and, for doing so, you will come back and reward him. If your dog keeps getting up, release your dog and train again after he has had a break. When you come back to training, make it easier by only taking a step or two in the early stages, or just have your helper stand quietly inside the threshold of the door if that is where your dog has difficulty. You can use a leash or tether to prevent your dog from moving too far away from the station until he better understands that the "sit" / "down" is the answer.
Adding the doorbell

Before you move on to this phase, your dog should be able to demonstrate success with the foundation steps described above. When you say the "just a minute" cue, he should move away from the door and go all the way with you to his confinement area or his station. All you will need to do now is pair the verbal cue with the doorbell.

Your helper, stationed outside, will be the doorbell ringer. You can use cell phones, a walkie-talkie, or a baby monitor to communicate to your helper when to ring the bell again, as you will not be opening the door in the early stages of this doorbell training. After your helper rings the doorbell, walk up to the front door, touch the doorknob (your dog should now be staying back or moving away), and then say, "just a minute."

Problem solver: If after the doorbell rings and you move to the door to touch the doorknob, your dog doesn't stay back or move away, drop your criteria. Go back to work on touching the doorknob after the bell rings and work on this stage until you have your dog moving back again. This backward slide sometimes happens with dogs that have a strong reinforcement history of rushing the door. No big deal—just show your dog that it's the same game he learned earlier, but this time the doorbell rings first. Again, be sure your dog is fluent in the foundation steps before opening the door.

As soon as the bell rings, say the "just a minute" cue and move to the confinement area or the "sit" / "down" station. Click and treat when your dog completes the behavior. Don't worry if your dog barks during this phase if he normally barks when the doorbell rings. You may always have a little barking associated with doorbell ringing before your dog moves to the confinement area or his station, but the barking often decreases as your dog learns what to do. Your dog may also run back to the door as you move away, but hold your ground and wait until he comes back to the area where you stopped before clicking and treating. Be sure to do a number of reinforcements when he does come back.

Practice ringing the doorbell and not opening the door. Keep repeating these same steps until you can see that the "just a minute" cue after the bell rings has your dog turning and moving toward his destination. If your goal is to confine your dog, be sure to do so.

Go back and invite your helper in after you have your dog in place in order to simulate someone actually coming in the house. To generalize this to different people, enlist several helpers to assist you with this final stage, but be sure to explain that they may have to wait outside a few minutes as you work through the completion of this training.

When your dog is training to a station and is consistently moving there with ease after the bell rings, go back to the steps of just turning the doorknob, and then opening the door a little, and so on, just as you did before the doorbell was added. The only difference here is that the doorbell now comes before all the other pieces. Continue until you can open the door and your guest is able to walk past you and your dog.
The various stages may take time for you and your dog to master; don't be afraid of backing up and starting a stage again.

As you move from touching the doorknob to opening the door to ringing the doorbell and admitting guests, each stage of this training game builds on the previous learning. The various stages may take time for you and your dog to master; don't be afraid of backing up and starting a stage again. Enjoy the time with your dog—and the pleasure and treat parties along the way!

With continued practice, the constant race to the front door will be eliminated and the doorbell will no longer be like the starting bell of the Kentucky Derby. Your guests will wager that visiting you results in a big payoff, as each time they enter your home they are greeted by a responsive and respectful dog. You, your dog, and your guests all will have won the doorbell game!
About the author

Nan Arthur, CDBC, CPDT, has been involved in the behavior and training of dogs and cats for more than 18 years and is a longtime member of APDT. She owns Nan Arthur's Whole Dog Training, providing private training and group classes throughout San Diego County.

Frequently Asked Questions About Clicker Training

"What is a "clicker", and how do you use it to train?"

A clicker is a small, simple device that makes a click sound. Using this tool for training dogs is becoming very popular. It is used to tell the dog that a reward is coming very soon. When your dog does the right thing, such as open his mouth to drop your sneaker, you click and give him a small tasty treat. The clicker helps to speed up the learning process but is no longer used once the behavior is taught. I use them for most of my courses.

"If I use food to train my dog, won't that mean the dog will only obey if he's sees the treat?"

This is a common misconception about training with food. This is only true if the trainer makes a mistake. To use food correctly, the dog is rewarded after performing the behavior and quickly learns that even if he doesn't see the treat he should probably listen anyway because the treat is often hidden.

"People food is bad for dogs, right?"

Dog food is food and people food is food! The only difference is the quality. To really motivate your dog in distracting circumstances it is vital to use fresh high quality food such as meat or cheese. Treats should of course be used in moderation and deducted from the dogs daily ration.

"Shouldn't my dog listen to me because he loves me and not just for treats?"

Yes and no. You are often asking your dog to do things that he doesn't want to do and to do them no matter what else is going on. You are going to find you will often need something else besides a great relationship to motivate with and you have two choices, punishment or rewards. So, why not choose REWARDS!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

What does proofing behaviors mean, anyway?

If I had a nickle for every time I heard, "but my dog knows how to sit at home!" I might become the world's wealthiest dog trainer. My response is generally, "if your dog knows how to sit, why isn't he doing it?"

It's a rhetorical question. I know exactly why, and you need to also if you want reliable behavioral responses to cues. (Because I'm a nice dog trainer, I'll give you a hint...your dog is not trying to be dominant, assert his authority, he is not "spiteful" or out to embarrass you, and he certainly doesn't want to cause you frustration or grief of any sort.)

So what is the answer? It revolves around two key terms...generalizing and proofing.

If you frequent any dog training communities or clubs, you'll often hear the statement, "dogs don't generalize well." What does this mean?

It means that "sit" in your kitchen doesn't equate with sitting on the sidewalk, in class, when your kids are running around screaming, or your Aunt Ida unexpectedly drops by for a visit.

"Generalizing" in behaviorspeak/jargon means, "the ability to respond to a discriminative stimuli (cue) regardless of environmental influences." (I'm sure there are better or more technical definitions, but for our purposes, this should do just fine.)

When I first attended clicker classes with my chow mix Mokie, my instructor (and now business partner, Abbie Tamber) really brought home the concept of what generalizing means. I was the student who said, "but my dogs knows how to *insert behavior here*..." and she said, 'Has she done it 5,000 times?''

She hadn't, and I said so. 5,000 times?! This woman must be insane. Abbie told me, "then she doesn't 'know' it!" I must admit, I was a bit disgruntled.

5,000 times? Seriously?!

Seriously. Some service dog organizations will cue specific behavior thousands of times (as many as 8,000 times) before they consider a dog sufficiently "proofed," at which time they will have enough confidence to assert "this dog knows the behavior."

The number of repititions is not set in stone, and is in fact somewhat arbitrary. Once your dog is able to generalize a few behaviors through these proofing criteria, you'll find that all subsequently taught behaviors tend to generalize more rapidly. In essence, your dog is learning to learn!

What is not arbitrary is the fact that for a behavior to be learned, it has to meet a number of criteria.

What are these criteria?

In short, they are:

* Distance
* Distraction
* Duration
* Precision
* Latency
* Speed

and in my book, Stimulus Control rounds out the septet of critical factors which will influence your dog's ability to fluently respond to your cues in any environment.

In the series, you can expect a separate entry on each of the proofing criteria. For this introduction, I will provide a quick definition of each. In the later entries, expect more detailed information on how to proof for these aspects of fluency.

Distance: Just because your dog can respond to a cue directly in front of you does not mean he will "generalize" that the cue is still valid when he is ten, fifty, or two hundred yards away from you. If you want fluent responses at a distance, you must teach your dog to do so.

Distractions: While your dog may recall to you in your kitchen, she may not recall to you if she is off leash and spots a squirrel, deer, other dog, or even a leaf blowing in the wind. If you want your dog to respond to your cues in the middle of a construction zone, the dog park, or the pet store, you must proof for distractions!

Duration: Does your dog respond to a "down" cue and then pop right back up to a standing or sitting position? If you want your dog to offer an extended down until released, you must build duration for the behavior.

Precision: What is your vision of the ideal behavior? Proofing behaviors for precision is a fairly advanced process. Are you participating in competition obedience and getting crooked sits? To get that straight sit that you are seeking, you must concentrate on proofing for precision.

Latency: Have you ever cued a dog for a behavior and then waited....and waited...and waited for a behavioral response? You say "sit" and what seems like ages later, your dog's bum hits the floor? Latency is the time lag between the cue delivery and the offering/initiation of a behavioral response from the dog. If you want your dog to sit as soon as you give the cue, you need to proof for latency!

Speed: The criteria of speed in relation to behavior is signified by the time lapse between when the animal starts the behavior and when the animal completes the behavior. Sometimes a student recalls a dog, and you see a dog walking back to them. If we need to pick up that speed, we must proof for it!

Stimulus Control: according to Karen Pryor, there are four fundamental aspects of stimulus control. They are as follows:

1) the dog offers the behavior in response to the cue
2) the dog does not offer some other behavior in response to the cue
3) the dog does not offer the behavior in the absence of the cue
4) the dog does not offer the behavior in response to another cue

I am hoping that this series of entries will help you all through the critical stages of proofing so that you know how to train any behavior your dog is performing to reliability in the environments and situations you and your canine will encounter.

If it all sounds impossible, relax. Not only is it possible, it's probable and even's fun! Until the next entry in the series, happy clicking to you and your canines!

Casey Lomonaco, KPA CTP
Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training

How to Help Your Fearful Dog: Become the Crazy Dog Lady

By Casey Lomonaco on 10/01/2009

I'm not crazy—I'm just training my dog

My two dogs and I were out for a walk one morning, enjoying the fresh air and the exercise. Mokie and Monte walked next to me with their tails wagging happily. They were probably laughing at me as I hummed along with my iPod.

About three blocks away, a dog rounded the corner and began walking toward us. Despite Monte's full-body hackling, despite his rigid and tense body posture, and a deep, low, rumbling growl, I quietly told him what a good boy he was. I began shoving meatballs, liverwurst, and smoked Gouda into his large jaws at a rapid pace, creating as much distance as possible between the approaching dog and the three of us. I continued to feed Monte until the dog was out of sight, at which time the tasty treats disappeared back into the abyss of my faithful treat bag.
St. bernard

I've often thought about having shirts printed with our company logo on the front and the phrase "I'm not crazy—I'm just training my dog" on the back.

I bet that many of my neighbors think I'm quite insane. Frequently, I can be seen chasing squirrels with my dogs, yelling "Let's get ‘em!" or walking around the neighborhood putting hot dogs in my footprints to set up scent games for the dogs. I pick up every pile of dog poop I see along the way, and practice heeling while skipping, jogging, running, and spinning in circles. Balls and tug toys drip from every pocket, and I can pull a mashed-potatoes-and-gravy-filled food tube, or can of EZCheese, out of thin air!

To any observer, it appears as though most of the things I do are strange, and the rest of the things I do are totally wrong. For example, the instant Monte noticed that other dog on our walk, he began growling. At the very same instant, he had liverwurst shoved into his face.

Positive trainers often say "you get the behaviors you reinforce." So wasn't I reinforcing growling by providing "reinforcers" as that behavior occurred? Really, why does that crazy woman shove treats into the mouth of, or encourage a tug game with, that "aggressive" Saint Bernard of hers?

There are good answers to these questions!
What scares you the most?

What are you afraid of? Snakes? Spiders? Being approached from behind in a dark alley? Let's assume you're afraid of snakes.

You're reading in the backyard, soaking up some sun. Over the top of your favorite book, you notice a snake slithering through the grass, approaching you. You're terrified. Your heart races, you scream (something that can be perceived as an act of aggression in humans), you grab the nearest weapon, and you frantically attempt to ward off the harmless garter snake (also an action that could be perceived as aggressive).

I approach you, pat your back and say "Hey, let's get out of here," and lead you inside, away from the snake. Inside I give you a hug and some iced tea. Did I make your fear of snakes worse? Better? Chances are, no. You're probably just as afraid of snakes as you were. The only change may be how you feel about me. The next time you see a snake, your heart may still race, you may still break out into a cold sweat and grab for the nearest shovel—and you may also wish for a friend to help you cope with the stressful situation.

Now, let's say you saw a snake, and, as soon as you grabbed a shovel as a weapon, I smacked you. Would you feel less afraid of the snake? Can you have the fear of snakes "slapped out of you?" If I slapped you when you reacted to a snake, how would you feel about me being near you next time you ran into one—more or less anxious? Your fear of snakes would likely be as intense as it ever was. The only difference would be how you felt about me when a snake was around—and at any other time!
Deep breathing versus snake

Deep breathing helps people relax. But when the snake approaches you in the backyard, do you think about your reaction to the snake, the dilation of your pupils? Is screaming a conscious decision? Is grabbing the shovel a reflex or a conscious thought? Do you consider the calming effect of deep breathing and how it might help you relax?

I'd guess that you don't think of deep breathing (an alternative, incompatible behavior to screaming, and also an operant response) when you see that snake. You're in survival mode; you are reacting rather than acting in an operant manner.

Similarly for dogs, growling, hackling, lunging, and snapping may be symptoms of an innate desire for self-preservation when they are confronted with stimuli that make them fearful.
For dogs, growling, hackling, lunging, and snapping may be symptoms of an innate desire for self- preservation when they are confronted with stimuli that make them fearful.

Symptoms of fear are not conscious reactions. Just as you don't choose to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you see a snake or spider, your dog doesn't decide, "That dog makes me nervous. I should raise my hackles and growl!"

Even if you know deep breathing may help alleviate your fear, chances are that the thought doesn't pop into your mind when you most need it—in the face of extreme anxiety or fear. Likewise, your lunging dog's mind may be more focused on surviving than on performing even well-proofed cues for behaviors that are incompatible with the aggressive display.

Giving treats to a growling dog

Operant conditioning is a way all animals learn; it's based on the theory that the relative frequency or infrequency of a behavior is controlled by the behavior's consequences. In operant conditioning, the dog learns that his behavior can result in one of four possible consequences: positive reinforcement (good stuff happens), negative reinforcement (bad stuff stops happening), positive punishment (bad stuff starts happening), or negative punishment (good stuff stops happening). If behaviors are reinforced, they are more likely to occur in the future. If behaviors are punished, they are less likely to be offered in the future.

Remember Pavlov's dogs? Dogs salivate when presented with food. This is not an operant behavior, but a physiological response. Pavlov learned that after repeated pairings (lab coat or bell reliably predicts the arrival of food) previously neutral stimuli were able to elicit the same salivary response that the presentation of food would elicit.

Think of Pavlov's dogs when using classical conditioning to modify aggressive or reactive behavior. The stimulus (trigger) should predict the arrival of food—just as a bell or lab coat would for Pavlov's dogs. The reinforcement is contingent not upon the dog's behavior, but upon the presentation of the stimulus. The dogs got fed no matter what they were doing.

Just as in Pavlov's experiment where the lab coat, rather than the dogs' behavior, predicted the delivery of the primary reinforcer, the appearance of the other dog on our walk predicted the delivery of my treats.
Desensitization and counter conditioning

When you are working with aggression and reactivity, the trigger (generally other dogs and/or people) is no longer a neutral stimulus to the dog. Using desensitization, it's possible to "neutralize" or "shrink" the stimulus by manipulating distance. Counter conditioning uses a primary reinforcer to classically condition a positive emotional response.

To begin desensitizing the dog, accurately identify the triggers—what is the dog reacting to? Once triggers are identified, decide what the dog's threshold is for each trigger—how far away does the dog need to be from another dog without reacting? In other words, to desensitize, manage the environment to avoid provoking a full-blown reaction; remove the opportunity for the dog to exhibit reactive behavior.
To desensitize, manage the environment to avoid provoking a full-blown reaction.

The dog should notice, and even feel mildly anxious about, the stimulus at the threshold distance. To determine the threshold distance, watch the dog's body language—what are the first steps of the reaction? If your dog is happily taking treats at a distance, but gets mouthy and starts chomping on your fingers to get the treats as you move closer, you are nearing his threshold. Dogs cannot eat when they are extremely stressed, so if your hungry dog will not eat even the best of treats, he is over his threshold. The best thing to do at that point is to create distance using a previously taught "Let's go!" cue.

When the dog's triggers and the threshold distances are known, it's time to begin counter conditioning. Counter conditioning conditions an emotional response that is incompatible with the aggressive behavior; the goal is called a positive conditioned emotional response (CER). For counter conditioning, you will need some great treats, and could also benefit from the help of one or more stimulus dog/handler teams. This training works best if your dog is somewhat hungry (has not just finished a meal).

The CER is achieved using what Jean Donaldson has called the "open bar, closed bar" technique. When your dog sees another dog, the bar opens immediately. When the dog is no longer in sight, the bar closes. These are the rules—regardless of how your dog is behaving. The appearance of the other dog, not your dog's behavior, predicts the delivery of the reinforcer, a reinforcer that is only provided in this context. What should you serve at "the bar?" Really good stuff! Find out what your dog loves best, and only give it to him when the counter conditioning bar is open.

Over time a dog's threshold will decrease. Only move closer when your dog is able to see another dog and look back at you happily, tail wagging, expecting delivery of the ultimate treat—that is the CER you seek. End each session on a success, and always leave your dog wanting more.

Remember to reflect the behavior you want your dog to display, also. If you tense up when you see another dog, that tension will travel down the leash to your dog. Go for practice walks without your dog and rehearse deep breathing when you see another dog, so that you can display the same relaxed confidence you'd like to see in your dog.

Being the crazy dog lady is a good thing

Be prepared for the likelihood that your neighbors will not understand the training you are doing. Remember that it's your job to be your dog's guardian—gaining his trust by not allowing bad things to happen to him.

If your dog is aggressive toward other dogs and a neighbor walking her dog says, "My dog is friendly!" as she approaches, be prepared to intervene on behalf of your dog. Create distance, move in another direction. If your dog is afraid of children, use your body to block a child from running up to your dog. You may need to be the "crazy dog lady" in the neighborhood to rehabilitate your dog successfully.

Sometimes doing what is right for a dog is not easy. There is a stigma associated with owning an "aggressive" dog. There is also great responsibility, and great liability.

A supportive network can boost your morale and commitment if you get frustrated. It's important to establish a support network that includes, at minimum, a behavior-savvy veterinarian and a behaviorist with experience using desensitization and counter conditioning (D/CC) techniques to modify aggression and reactive behavior in dogs.

Ideally, your network should also include some supportive family and friends, and, whenever possible, other pet owners who have been through similar experiences with their own dogs.

Other considerations for aggressive and reactive dogs

Working closely with your veterinarian and behaviorist, you may find that additional tools beyond D/CC are required. More elaborate management techniques may be necessary. You may also need to desensitize your dog to wearing a muzzle if he has a well-established biting history, or if you are doubtful of your ability to manipulate the environment so that your dog can remain below his threshold consistently.

Some fearful and aggressive dogs benefit greatly from medication. These medications are not tranquilizers, but are medications given to correct chemical imbalances in the brain. Providing a fluoxetine prescription for a dog or human is just like providing insulin to a diabetic patient—both are medications intended to correct hormonal and chemical imbalances within the body. Unfortunately, I've seen a cultural bias against pharmaceutical treatment of mental illness extend to four-legged creatures, too.

All the training in the world cannot correct a behavior problem that is caused by pain or faulty brain functioning. But, medications are not a cure-all either. Just as humans taking anti-depressants see the most rehabilitative results when they attend therapy sessions, medication for reactivity must be accompanied by appropriate and thorough dog training. A full medical evaluation is required for all dogs displaying aggression problems, and a complete thyroid panel is strongly advised.

A number of holistic treatments may also be helpful in managing reactivity and aggression. It never hurts to bring a holistic veterinarian to the consultation team. A good holistic vet should be able to talk to you about how diet and dietary changes can contribute to or improve your dog's behavior. He or she may be able to suggest herbs, supplements, flower essences, homeopathic treatments, or massage techniques to set your dog up for rehabilitative success.
For a dog owner there is no reinforcement greater than seeing a rehabilitated dog greet life without fear.

Rehabilitating an aggressive dog is not easy. It can be a frustrating process, and can seem as if you are taking one step forward and two steps back. However, for a dog owner there is no reinforcement greater than seeing a rehabilitated dog greet life without fear. So, be crazy if necessary—the results are well worth it!

About the author Casey Lomonaco, KPA CTP, APDT, is the owner of Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training in Binghamton, NY. Casey offers private and group instruction in collaboration with Steve Benjamin, KPA faculty, CPDT, of Clicking with Canines, and Abbie Tamber, KPA CTP.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to Create a Reactive Human in 10 Minutes or Less

Casey Lomonaco's picture
By Casey Lomonaco on 06/01/2009
Filed in - Fundamentals - Training Theory

"Be nice! Be nice!"

Recently, I was chatting in the classroom with a few of our more experienced students. They mentioned encountering the following scenario quite often while exercising their dogs at a local park:

Individual is walking dog on leash. Dog sees other dog, barks, leash goes tight. Owner pulls dog back on leash, saying, "Be nice! Be nice!" and fumbling with a tight leash until the distraction has passed.

A happy greeting

KPA students Jules Nye and Alyson
Zimmerman initiate a happy greeting.

Sounds like a recipe for reactivity, right? In the scenario above, the sight of another dog becomes a prediction of a negative experience—being corrected and jerked around on a leash. There is a good chance that this dog may develop a leash reactivity problem. The sequence then becomes:

Individual is walking dog on leash. Another dog handler team approaches. The dog sees the other team, anticipates an unpleasant consequence, and reacts in an attempt to the increase distance from the perceived threat, generally reacting until the distance from the trigger has gone to a sub-threshold level.
An experiment in creating reactivity

I noted a similar situation at our play group for dogs. One particular attendee (we'll call her Rachel) always corrected her dog (we'll call him Boo) when he barked. The barks were a solicitation to play, yet they were corrected each time they occurred.

If I had a nickel for every time I explained to Rachel why she should not correct his barking, it would have easily paid for my ClickerExpo registration and all the associated expenses!

tug greeting

The happy greeting of Jules and
Alyson interrupted by a tug.

Boo and I were frustrated; it seemed as though Rachel was just "not getting it," so she was frustrated as well. I did not want to remove the dog from the group, because his continued attendance was vital to his socialization. My only option was to make his owner, Rachel, understand the reactivity problem so that her dog could continue to get the benefit from the group.

I decided to conduct an experiment, one that I hoped would illustrate for Rachel how her own behavior influenced Boo's.
You don't want to play tug?

One Sunday at group, I followed Rachel around the classroom (as she followed Boo). Every time she looked at someone, I lightly tugged on the fabric of her shirt. Every time she tried to talk to someone, same consequence.

It took less than ten minutes and exactly five shirt tugs until I'd created a reactive person.

After tug number five, Rachel's head whipped around to look at me. "What are you doing? Why do you keep doing that to me?"
My only option was to make his owner understand the reactivity problem so that her dog could continue to get the benefit from the group.

Understandably, she was annoyed. Another ten minutes of this experiment might have led to some redirected aggression toward the individual applying the aversive—me! I explained to Rachel that the way she felt was likely how Boo felt about being corrected whenever he tried to approach other dogs for play.
The relationship between stimulus and consequence

Rachel liked the other people at play group. She was not a "reactive human" by nature; her frustrated response was conditioned by the application of aversives. All it took was a handful of shirt tugs (pun intended) to condition her that way. It did not take Rachel long at all to associate the consequence with the stimulus that predicted the consequence.

In Rachel's case, the selected consequence was a very mild aversive, certainly less intense than the physical and verbal reprimands dogs frequently experience when they are on-leash in the presence of their canine peers. For Rachel, I had not paired the aversive with any verbal correction.

My hope was that this lesson would illustrate for Rachel the powerful effect a few seemingly light corrections could have on her perception of, and reaction to, a previously positive stimulus: socialization with other people. Prior to the shirt tugs, I had been a positive stimulus, but Rachel's frustration with me when she was corrected was evident. Like Rachel, many reactive dogs have been conditioned by their owners, albeit inadvertently, to react aggressively.
Many reactive dogs have been conditioned by their owners, albeit inadvertently, to react aggressively.

If one of these dogs lives in your home, do not beat yourself up. No trainer is without her share of mistakes; mistakes are a part of learning. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more and become a better dog handler, and every dog you ever meet will thank you for it!
Reactivity: on-leash vs. off-leash

In many circumstances, reactive behavior breaks down when the owner cannot administer a correction. Often, dogs that display "leash aggression" are able to play well with other dogs when provided with that opportunity in a safe, relatively large off-leash environment.

In the human example, if I had been across the room from Rachel, I would not have been able to correct her. If my ability to deliver the correction were taken away, she would likely feel more confident about interacting with her peers. Rachel would have been more focused on socialization and less concerned with where I was and when the next tug might be coming.
The experiment continues...toward success!

The experiment continued later in the class. I clicked Rachel for looking at other people, approaching other people, talking to other people. Reinforcements were varied: Tootsie Rolls or nickels.

After a few clicks, Rachel was feeling more positive about me, so I pulled her aside to talk for a moment. I asked her how she felt about the shirt tug experience compared to how she felt about being clicked for correct, socially appropriate behavior.

Rachel said that at first she was very frustrated with me, wondering why I was "nagging." She said she felt silly being clicked later in class, but that she also felt much more relaxed and was having much more fun then.

After having been both corrected and reinforced, Rachel understood how her behavior, even slight tension on the leash or a change in breathing rhythm (sharp intake of breath), could change Boo's perception of a situation.

We went on to talk about healthy play, calming signals, and stress behaviors. Increasing her knowledge of canine body language was critical to ensuring future training success.
Increasing her knowledge of canine body language was critical to ensuring future training success.
Re-trained now

Both Rachel and Boo are happy to have an enhanced understanding of each other, as evidenced by their continued progress in training and socialization. Now that she has "been" Boo, Rachel can modify her own behavior to set Boo up for success. I no longer see the tight leash or hear verbal corrections from Rachel.

Instead, I see a dog happily interacting with his canine friends during play session, a dog that willingly returns his focus to his handler for training activities. I see a dog-savvy handler who recognizes when her dog is engaging in healthy play, and when he's beginning to show stress and needs a break from the action.

I see a dog/handler team set up for success; all is as it should be.

If this experiment helps you, as it helped Rachel and Boo, understand your reactive dog any better, I'm sure even Rachel would be pleased. That kind of growth and progress is worth the ten minutes when Rachel was annoyed me and my experiment in creating a reactive human.

Note: Thanks to Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) students Jules Nye (in white,, and Alyson Zimmerman (in black, for re-enacting the reactivce human experiment for our photos.
About the author Casey Lomonaco, KPA CTP, APDT, is the owner of Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training in Binghamton, NY. Casey offers private and group instruction in collaboration with Steve Benjamin, KPA faculty, CPDT, of Clicking with Canines, and Abbie Tamber, KPA CTP.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rewarding Behaviors Forum • View topic - Kitty trick

Rewarding Behaviors Forum • View topic - Kitty trick

What does your dog need?

I get many calls from clients that their dogs are "misbehaving" and one of my first questions is, "What types of activities do you do with your dog?". Many say they walk their dog a few times a week if they have time. Well then it is no wonder they are seeing what they call "poor behavior".

Dogs need exercise, mental stimulation, jobs, and companionship.

Most dogs do not need the amount of exercise that one would think. I have a border collie and many people say, "I bet you have to take him out for miles and miles a day?" and the truth is that he only gets a short walk in the morning everyday with my other dog along with mental stimulation, doing his job, and lots of companionship. There are many ways to exercise your dog which include: walking, jogging, hiking, swimming, dog sports, fetching a ball or frisbee, and using a treadmill (but teach them how to like it by shaping it with a clicker). However, I am sure there are more ways to exercise your dog. I once read a bumper sticker that said, "If your dog is fat, then you are not getting enough exercise", so get out there and have fun with your dog. A dog owner could take their dog out for daily walks of about 20-30 minutes a day and probably see a change in behavior. However, if they also incorporate mental stimulation, a job, and companionship they will see a totally different dog. They will see a cherished furry family member!

In addition to daily exercise a dog needs mental stimulation. Mental stimulation consists of things like learning tricks, having to find their meal in stead of just getting it in a bowl, playing games that require a dog to think and work on impulse control.

Anytime a dog owner teaches their dog a trick it helps strengthen the canine/human bond and can mentally wear out a dog. Not to mention tricks are fun for the dog and the owner.

So many people are stuck on feeding their dogs from a bowl and that food is a great thing to use for training and teaching the dog that nothing in life is free. A food bowl that just sits there all day with food in it is free food. A dog that has to work for his food will appreciate it more, learn that good stuff comes from his owner, and it is mentally stimulating to have to search and find the food.

My suggestion for creative ways to feed your dog is to hide food around the house and have the dog find it, put the dogs food in a buster cube or toy that holds food and when the dog knocks it around the food comes out, stuff Kongs with peanut butter, cream cheese, or squirt cheese, and mix in some kibble if you want, leave out nylabones or appropriate chew bones and get creative. This can help with separation anxiety and prevent the dog from boredom and save your furniture from being chewed.

I also mentioned impulse control and an example of this would be to have your dog sit, stay, or do something for his food and then be released to go and eat. One game that I love to play with dogs to teach impulse control is a game called, "Go wild and freeze". The game works best when the family plays with the dog. Each family member could have a few treats on them before they start the game. To help reinforce good behavior. Someone will yell "go Wild" and everyone runs around playing with the dog and then someone will yell "freeze" and everyone will freeze, but the person closest to the dog will ask the dog to sit. When the dog sits, give him a treat, and then the game can continue. Soon, the dog will just freeze because everyone else did and the reward will be to get the "go Wild" cue again. This not only teaches impulse control, but is mentally stimulating, and gives the dog exercise. I love it when an activity gives you more bang for your buck. :)

One can also use the dogs food to get him used to being handled (your vet will appreciate it if you got your dog used to being handled). Take a handful of his dog food and as you give it to him at the same time with the other hand massage his shoulder, neck, ears, paws, but do this slowly and if the dog pulls away, STOP feeding. With every handful of food you feed touch and massage a different spot on your dog. This will help the dog pair the food with the touch and soon you will have a dog that likes to be touched.

Give your dog a job! Don't just take him to the dog park, do something constructive with him. Research your dogs breed and find an activity that will suit that breed. My border collie and husky mix's job is agility and canine freestyle. I tried herding with them and they loved it, but I did not. However, they love agility and doing canine freestyle. My border collie also has another job to fetch a frisbee, ball, and play. My husky mix is starting tracking and I am sure she will love that. So, find an activity you can get your dog into. It will keep you both busy and having fun together. Just about any breed can do agility, canine freestyle, tracking, carting, rally obedience, play fetch, or dock dive but the point is to get them into something and spend time with them. Don't just get your cup of coffee and let them do whatever they want at the dog park. Dog's at the dog park could be teaching your dog bad habits and your dog could have a bad experience there. It is our responsibility as a dog owner to do the very best for our dog and that includes keeping them out of danger and setting them up to succeed.

Lastly, give your dog the companionship they deserve. Dogs are pack animals and love being with their humans and other dogs. Take them places, hang out, massage them, treat them well, make sure you know the other dogs you let them play with, respect and love them as a dogs life is too short and hopefully your dog is your best friend.

So, get out there and start having fun with your dogs & make their life enriching!