Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Squirrel? 10 Techniques for Training with Distractions

What Squirrel? 10 Techniques for Training with Distractions

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Use it or Lose it!

I always tell clients that if they do not practice the behaviors that their dog has learned, then the dog will forget those behaviors.  It is like learning Spanish and then never using it.  I took 2 years of Spanish in High School and can barely speak but a few words.  After high school I joined the USAF and never needed it.  Now I work in a school with many Spanish speaking students/families and wish that I had kept up with my Spanish.

So, a dog can very easily lose those fun amazing tricks/ behaviors that you worked so hard at teaching, if you do not practice them with your dog.  Keep your dog on his "A" game by continuing to practice and work on all those behaviors that he knows.  By practicing the behaviors/tricks he will stay sharp and you can continue building that bond and closeness with your best friend (your dog).

Keep a journal of the things your dog knows, so that you can make sure to practice everything.  Change it up by practicing in various locations with many different distractions.  Challenge your dog and keep his mind mentally stimulated.

"A mind is a terrible thing to waste!"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Puppy Training Tip

If you follow my blog, YouTube channel, or facebook page you know that I have a new puppy.  Well, he is now 7 months old and time sure flies.  Anyway, I thought that I would share a puppy training tip that has helped me with potty training and teaching my puppy to stay close to me.

If one allows their puppy to have free run of the house and is not yet potty trained, then in my opinion that puppy is being set up for failure.  A puppy running around a house is just like a baby crawling around the house without a diaper on.  In order to prevent house soiling there are a few things a person can do.  

1.  Crate the puppy when you are not able to pay CLOSE attention to him.  Crate training a dog is very important and can really help strengthen a puppy's bladder and help with house training.  If one trains a dog properly how to love his crate, then the dog will feel safe and comfortable in it.  Check out this video to learn more about crate training.  It is also really great to train your puppy to love his crate in case he needs to go to the vet, on a long car ride (well, in my opinion all dogs should travel in crates no matter how far the drive is.), when you are at work (until the puppy is house trained), when you take him to stay in a hotel, while you are at a dog sporting event, and much more.  Many people think that putting a dog in a crate is mean and cruel, but dogs actually love and feel safe in them.  Dogs are den animals and being in a crate is not any different than being in a den in the wild, except that I am sure the crate is more comfortable (with dog beds, treats, chew bones, kongs, etc... inside).  It is my opinion that putting a dog outside in the yard or tying them up outside on a tether is CRUEL and UNACCEPTABLE!  People do this because the dog is not reliable in the house.  Crate training is the first step in teaching a dog to be reliable in the house.  Dogs want to be inside with the family, where it is cool or warm depending on the time of the year, and where they are safe.  I have a lot more to say on that subject, but I am going to try to get back on the topic of puppy training.  :)  

2.  If you do not want to crate the puppy and you want him close by, then put the puppy on a harness, clip a leash to the puppy and tie that leash to your belt loop or around your waist.  This works well if you are doing dishes, laundry, etc... You will be able to keep an eye on your puppy.  You could tether your puppy to a heavy piece of furniture in plain sight so that you can also keep an eye on him, but make sure that the furniture will NOT move or tip over on the puppy and injure him. 

When I have my puppy tied to my waist I can reinforce all the amazing behaviors that he does that I like.  For Example:  If he just settles at my feet as I fold clothes, I can drop a few treats down for him, praise him, pet him, or give him a yummy chew bone.  If he is walking next to me, I can give him a treat for being next to me.  Before you know it you will have a dog that wants to be next to you and not because you are giving him treats, but because you have build up value for being next to you.  Being next to you = good things happening to the dog. 

3.  If you are moving around a lot and do not want to have your puppy attached to your body, you can use an exercise pen.  I like to sprinkle kibble around the X-pen to give the puppy a job to do as I am busy cleaning.  It also helps to sprinkle food around, because dogs do not like to eat where they go potty.  Sprinkling food around the X-pen sends a message to the puppy that the entire area of that X-pen is also his dinner area.  In addition, I like to toss in chicken, cheese, toys, chew bones, or things my puppy likes to build value for being in the X-pen as I walk past.  I want my puppy to really enjoy being in there.  

I have spent many many days with my puppy Twix tied to my waist and now at 7 months old, he will still follow me around, settle at my feet, hang out with me when I am doing my chores and he does not have a leash on.  At night when my dogs are tired they have a choice to go to a dog bed in any room of the house, but they choose to go to their crates that are located right next to our human bed.  :)  Right now as I type, my 3 dogs are hanging out with me (Bandit & Twix at my feet under my office desk and Isabelle on the dog bed next to me).  I would not want it any other way!  

Those are just little tips on what you can do to prevent house soiling as well as teach your puppy to stay close to you.  

Until next time, get out and have fun with your dog!  A dog's life is too short; spend time, train, play, and enjoy them!    

Pamela Johnson

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Positive Punishment in Verbal Form

Hi Everyone,
It has been awhile since I have posted to my blog and I am sorry for that.  I am sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to return to sunny San Diego and can't wait to see my human and furry family.  As I sit here and I think about all the information that I heard presented at the APDT conference as well as the interactions of people and thier dogs, I can't help but write about it.

I was not that impressed this year at the APDT conference and feel it is time for a change.  A time to start changing not only the use of positive punishment physical methods, but verbal as well.  Anything that a dog views as punishment should be removed from dog training.  Well, that is my opinion and that is what this blog is really about.  My opinion, methods, techniques, and all things that I believe in.

While at the conference I saw many people using verbal punishment and that includes saying "NO, Eh Eh, etc...".  I even think that sometimes the way things are said can be punishing to a dog.  If you use their name in a harsh tone and that tone always means you are upset with your dog.  No reward markers are punishing to dogs and time outs can be punishing to dogs if used too frequently and with the intent of punishing.  I am just jotting this stuff down and really should be mapping out this article, but I am about to board a plane.  :)  I will write more about this when I have time.

I also think that forcing a dog to perform when clearly the dog is stressed and showing signs of stress is punishment.  A dog that is yawning, lip licking, running off stage, tail between the legs among other anxiety related body language or behaviors.  I felt badly for the dog that this happened to and could not watch.  I just got up and left.  I know that many many many people enjoyed the performance and maybe if they had picked up on the stress related body language of the dog, they would have felt the same way that I did.

I am now boarding my plane and will continue this conversation at a later date.  However, when I get home, I will be spending time with my dogs and husband.

Have a great day and think about the things that your dog might think is punishment.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Frustrated with People today!

As many of you may know, I am a full time PE teacher and I am off for summer vacation.  Well today, I took my dogs to a place down here in San Diego called Sea Port Village for a long walk.

On our walk we encountered some really off the wall people that think they can just act any old way around well behaved dogs.  Thank goodness that my dogs did not freak out.  I think that if I would have just had my Border Collie, he probably would have freaked out.  However, Isabelle is so mellow that she can keep Bandit from reacting to things.

First this man came toward us as if he was going to hit my dogs with this crazy hose attachment.  I said, "Please do not come at my dogs with that thing." and he proceeded to come right at us.  I had enough room to get out of the way and avoid him, but what in the world was he thinking.  Or not thinking, I should say.

Next, we were just hanging out on the grass settling and watching the surroundings and this woman and her two kids were walking past, when all of a sudden the toddler broke free and started running, running full speed toward my dogs.  This would have normally sent Bandit into a rage, but before he could react, I was yelling at the woman, "Do not let your child run up to strange dogs, that is very dangerous!"  A dog's space should be respected.  I did not say that, but thought it.  I think because a dog is cute and just hanging out that kids and people think they can do anything they want.  Well, not to my dogs!  I will stand up for my dogs!

Lastly, right before we left to come home a woman comes at my dogs with "crazy fingers" as if she was going to pinch and squeeze their cheeks.  I said, "my dogs do not like it when people do that." and I walked away.

My Border Collie really did amazing and either my training with him is paying off or my other dog was a great buffer.  Either way, it really made me worried about all the other dogs in this world that people do that crap to.  My dogs are lucky that I protect them from crazy people, but some people just do not know how to deal with that and they do not want to be mean to others.  I personally do not know those people and do not have a hard time standing up to them and speaking up for my dogs!

Well, thank you for listening to me rant about the crazy day I had.  I am now off to agility with my little Buddy Love Bandit and look forward to spending time with him without CRAZY people around!

Maybe I will not be going back to Sea Port Village and find another walk.  There are so many places to go!  However, I have a feeling that people are like that all over this world!

Take care,
Pam, Isabelle, & Bandit

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to get your dog to stop barking and lunging on leash

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Barking and Lunging on Leash
Episode 37: November 17, 2009
by Jolanta Benal
Sometimes I think I’ll scream if I see one more person yank the leash and snap “No!” or hiss loudly when their dog barks and lunges at something or other on the street. Fortunately, I have this convenient articlein which to explain why jerking and snapping are no help at all. People! There is a better way.
Should You Punish Your Dog for Barking and Lunging?
What I have to say applies to any situation in which your dog blows up.
I’ll use the example of barking and lunging at other dogs, but what I have to say applies to any situation in which your dog blows up. At first blush, punishment seems to make sense. Your dog is acting like a jerk, right? Maybe scaring people as well as other dogs? You can’t let him get away with that kind of behavior.
Well, yes and no. Of course nobody wants their dog barking and lunging. It is sometimes scary. If your dog is strong and fast and catches you off guard, you can wind up with a sprained shoulder or faceplanted on the sidewalk. I am not going to tell you that that is an acceptable way to live. I am going to tell you that punishment is not your best route to change.
Why Do Dogs Bark and Lunge?
Think about body language for a sec. What does your dog look like when she’s having a good time? Her face muscles are soft and her mouth is probably slightly open. Her ears might be up or back. Her eyes may be squinty. Her tail is sweeping softly back and forth or if she’s excited she may be doing a full butt wiggle along with circle wags.
Now picture your dog blowing up at the spaniel mix across the street. Her lips curl in a snarl. She barks deep and loud. She flings herself forward, muscles tight, and her tail may be tensed over her back or tucked between her legs. Yup, sure looks like a good time! Don’t you want some of what she’s having?
You Can’t Punish Away Distress
No, you don’t, do you. Because the dog barking and lunging on the end of her leash is freaking out. Leave her to her own devices and she won’t settle down till the other dog is far enough away. In New York City, we have these giant cockroaches we call water bugs, and if you brought one of them up close to me while I was on a leash I would be shrieking and foaming at the mouth until that thing was gone. Yes, you could punish me hard enough to make me stop-- but you couldn’t punish me into feeling good about nearby water bugs. And you can punish your dog hard enough to shut down her explosion, sure--but you can’t punish her hard enough to make her feel the world is peachy keen in proximity to other dogs. In fact, you’re likelier to accomplish the opposite. “When dogs appear, my person yanks my neck.” Good lesson, huh?
Keep Your Dog Out of Problem Situations While You Look for Help
So. Bark-and-lunge explosions are stressful for your dog and you. In addition, from your dog’s point of view the aggressive display seems to work pretty well--after all, the other dog always goes away. That means every time your dog blows up, he becomes a little likelier to try the same tactic next time. So until you can get good professional help, keep your dog out of trouble as much as you can.
Learn What Factors Affect Your Dog’s Behavior
Make it your business to notice the distance at which your dog starts to tense up. Several factors can affect it--the other dog’s size, appearance, and behavior, for three. A big dog with a naturally high tail and an intense stare might as well have a target painted on him--and in fact, that intense stare suggests he’s a little reactive himself. How many close encounters your dog has already had that day will affect his stress level and thus his propensity to blow. On the other hand, if he’s relaxed after a long game of fetch he may ignore a dog he’d otherwise find seriously provoking.
As you get to know your dog’s patterns, it becomes easier to keep him far enough away that he can keep his cool. If you need to make a sudden U-turn, hide behind a parked car, or distract him with food tossed on the ground, then do it! Your job as your dog’s guardian is to look out for his welfare, and that means helping him out of tough spots. If you’re blindsided--say, a dog comes around the corner--and he does explode, then just hold that leash till you can get out of Dodge. I know it’s embarrassing. I know some people will be happy to give you the evil eye and tell you you should scold or hurt your dog. Remember, this is damage control till you get help.
Desensitization and Counterconditioning for Reactive Dogs
There are two scientifically sound and humane approaches to behavior modification for reactive dogs. Desensitization and counterconditioning is the first. In this process, you start with the mildest version of the problem stimulus that your dog will notice. As soon as your dog notices it, you deliver something your dog loves--usually, this will be a superdeluxe treat, roast chicken let’s say. When desensitization and counterconditioning is done right, your dog learns that the sight of other dogs reliably predicts that roast chicken appears in his face. Over time he comes to tolerate or even look forward to the proximity of other dogs, because they are such excellent predictors of succulent dead bird.
The Constructional Aggression Treatment for Reactive Dogs
The second approach is called the Constructional Aggression Treatment, or CAT. Elements of it have been around forever, but the behaviorists Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Kellie Snider are responsible for formulating it in a systematic way. CAT’s premises are two. One is that though aggressive displays may start in a moment of panic, dogs learn over time that aggression works. As I pointed out above, the other dog pretty much always goes away. The second premise is that most dogs are friendly in some contexts--so the trick is to teach her to import those friendly behaviors into the problem situation. In a CAT session, the learner dog is presented with a mild version of the problem stimulus--for the purposes of this podcast, another dog. As soon as the learner dog offers any non-aggressive behavior, the other dog moves further away. In effect, the learner dog learns to drive dogs away by being nice to them. Paradoxically, at some point in the procedure, the learner dog may apparently get to like the other dog for real.
Desensitization/counterconditioning and the Constructional Aggression Treatment are simple in principle, subtle in practice. How much a dog improves depends on many factors, including the trainer’s sensitivity and skill, the reactive dog’s resiliency and quickness to learn, and the guardian’s willingness and ability to work hard. Also, many dogs benefit from appropriate behavioral medication--ideally, prescribed by a vet board-certified in this specialty.
Dogs do better when we guide them and help them succeed. That’s the principle of modern training. All we need to do is apply it.
 Send me your questions and comments at, or call 206-600-5661. On Facebook, search The Dog Trainer. Thanks again for listening!
“Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Aggressive Dog,” by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., and Karen London, Ph.D., is an excellent, short, inexpensive guide to changing this behavior. “Fight!,” by Jean Donaldson, covers more general issues of dog-dog aggression. Many training centers now offer special classes and other programs to help reactive dogs. The instructor should be familiar with the behavior modification techniques I describe in the podcast, though he or she may have more experience with one or the other.
If “corrections” of any kind (collar jerks, scruff shakes, alpha rolls, penny cans, shock …) are employed, look elsewhere. It’s been well established that those techniques are useless at best and, at worst, will exacerbate your problem in the long run. No trainer who is still employing them has any business taking your money.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bandit, Isabelle, Splash, and Tug had a photo shoot for Dog Fancy Magazine

These are just a few pictures from our photo shoot with "Some like it Shot" photography for Dog Fancy Magazine. Hopefully Dog Fancy will like some of the shots and use them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Pat Miller© 1997
Approximately 2850 words

Let The Dogs Decide

It’s a sunny summer day, and you’re taking a stroll around the neighborhood. You pass a park and notice a dog training class in progress. The instructor is standing in a meadow with a dozen dogs and owners circling her. Each of the dogs is wearing a shiny metal chain collar, and from time-to-time when a dog forges ahead or lags behind the owner jerks on the leash to bring the dog back to heel position, then pets and praises it. You hear an occasional “No!” issued in a commanding tone. The dogs appear well-behaved, and all of them are doing the same thing at precisely the same time.

You continue on, and reach another park where you see another training class. This is a more ragged-looking bunch, although also well-behaved. A half-dozen dogs are walking in different directions with their owners, turning, stopping and starting up again apparently at random. The dogs are wearing regular flat collars. Some of them also wear something around their noses that looks like a muzzle, but on closer inspection you realize it is more like a horse halter. There is no jerking, but there is much treat-tossing, talking and laughing, and you hear a lot of “Yes!” and an occasional, odd, clicking noise. Since you have been thinking about signing your dog up for training, you pause to ponder the obvious differences between the two groups.

These are both beginning dog training classes. They both can produce dogs that are well-trained. The main differences between the two are the methods used in training, and the philosophies and behavior theories behind those methods.

The Training Continuum

All dog training techniques fit somewhere on a long continuum, from seriously harsh and abusive punishment-based methods at one extreme, to pure positive reinforcement at the other. As is often the case with extremes, neither of these is likely to be very practical or effective, nor will you find many trainers who recommend them. Most trainers use a combination of techniques that place them somewhere between the two ends of the continuum. Which side of center they are on defines them as primarily compulsion-based trainers or primarily positive ones.

Within the dog training community the debate about methods is generally good-natured, albeit spirited. Hackles get raised when trainers, who tend to be an opinionated lot, disagree on the very best method to resolve a particular canine behavior challenge. But when the dust settles, good humor returns, and on at least one e-mail list trainers tease each other and mock themselves with self-deprecating labels like “Treat Slinging Weenies” (TSW’s) and “foodies.”

Why the huge diversity in training philosophies? Because there are, in fact, several different training approaches that can successfully teach a dog to do what we ask. We can teach our dog to sit by saying the word “sit,” jerking up on the collar and pushing down on her rump to force her to sit, then patting her on the head, verbally praising or giving her a cookie. We can lure her into the sit position by moving a treat over her head, then saying “Yes!-Sit” when she does. And we can choose to wait until she decides to sit on her own and then give her a verbal marker and treat reward for sitting.

Behavioral Terms

In behavioral terms, training is known as “conditioning behavior.” We really aren’t teaching our dog any new behaviors when we train. She already knows how to sit, lie down, stay in one place, walk by our side, or come running to us from far away -- when she wants to. She just may not know how to do it (or may not choose to do it) when we ask her to. Training is conditioning (or teaching the dog) to reliably give us the behaviors we ask for, when we ask for them.

In classical conditioning, as first described by Pavlov, there is an association between a stimulus and a response, or behavior. (A stimulus is something that elicits a response.) This is the famous “ring a bell, the dog salivates,” experiment that most of us are familiar with. Classical conditioning can generally be used to teach only very simple behaviors.

Operant conditioning is most commonly used for training, because it can be used to teach complex behaviors and behavior “chains.” (A behavior chain is a series of behaviors strung together.) With operant conditioning there is an association between a behavior and its consequence. The dog does something, then something happens as a result of the dog’s behavior. There are four ways that this works.

1. Positive reinforcement: The dog’s behavior makes something good happen, so the desired behavior increases. For example -- when the dog walks next to you without pulling on the leash, she gets a treat (treat = good thing).

2. Positive punishment: The dog’s behavior makes something bad happen, so the undesirable behavior decreases. For example -- if the dog pulls on the leash, her neck gets jerked to bring her back to heel position (jerk on neck = bad thing).

3. Negative punishment: The dog’s behavior makes something good go away, so the undesirable behavior decreases. For example -- when the treat is used as a lure to keep the dog walking in heel position, she may jump up to get it. The treat is hidden until she stops jumping. Every time she jumps up the treat is hidden, until she stays on the ground as the treat is offered (treat = good thing; hidden = “goes away”).

4. Negative reinforcement: Dog’s behavior makes something bad go away, so the desired behavior increases. For example -- a no-pull harness puts pressure on the dog’s chest as long as the dog puts pressure on the leash. When the dog stops pulling, the pressure stops. (pressure = bad thing; no pulling = bad thing “goes away”).

Compulsion Training

Old-fashined, compulsion-based training works on the philosophy that we have to show the dog who is boss. She must do what we say, and quickly. If she doesn’t, we immediately correct her or she will learn that she can ignore our commands. The primary tool for compulsion trainers is positive punishment, often followed by a treat, a pat, and or verbal praise to keep up the dog’s enthusiasm for the training process. 20 years ago, traditional trainers abhorred the use of food treats as praise. This thinking has changed in the last decade, as more and more “foodies” have demonstrated the effectiveness of food as a training motivator.

Compulsion training works, as demonstrated by decades of well-behaved dogs. A skilled trainer uses the minimum amount of force necessary to get the job done. Proponents argue that the small amount of discomfort this may cause is worth the end result of a reliable, promptly responsive dog. It can be problematic, however, with very assertive or independent dogs who don’t take kindly to being pushed and pulled around and may decide to argue back. You must be prepared to use enough force to get your message across quickly, and be willing to escalate the level of force if necessary. Techniques like scruff shakes and alpha rolls only work if the trainer is strong enough to persevere if the dog fights back. Many owners and trainers are either unwilling or unable to use this kind of force with their dogs – thank goodness.

Timid, submissive or sensitive dogs may also not do well with positive punishment. Forceful corrections can cause them to melt into a puddle on the floor, and a slight miscalculation can cause irreparable damage to the owner’s or trainer’s relationship with the dog.

Yet another concern about compulsion training is the possible damage to a dog’s throat from a standard choke chain collar, which can exert tremendous pressure on a dog’s trachea. They are not recommended for puppies under the age of six months, yet it is more and more widely accepted that starting puppies in training classes at the age of 10 weeks is ideal, in order to take advantage of a pup’s important socialization and learning period. Prong collars reputedly distribute the pressure more evenly around the neck and are less likely to do damage, but many owners understandably shy away from using the medieval looking spikes on their tender baby puppies.

Clicker Training

“Clicker trainers” is a slang term for trainers who use positive reinforcement as their first method of choice, combined with an audible reward signal to mark right behavior. These trainers operate on a different training philosophy from the compulsion trainers, preferring to get the dog to offer the desired behavior voluntarily, then mark and reward it when it does. (The marker signal, or “bridge,” can be the Click! of the clicker, a whistle, some other mechanical sound, or a word. “Yes!” is frequently used to mark a right behavior.) Since all living creatures tend to repeat behaviors that are rewarding, behaviors that are repeatedly marked and rewarded by a dog’s owner get offered more and more frequently. Behaviors that are ignored (not rewarded) tend to go away, or “extinguish.”

Take, for example, the puppy who wants to jump up on everyone. Dogs greet each other face-to-face, so it is natural for our dogs to want to greet our faces. Plus, when they are cute little puppies we pick them up and cuddle them in our arms, thereby rewarding them for being “up.” Small wonder that so many dogs jump on people!!

Many of the suggested compulsion approaches to correcting jumping behavior actually reward the very behavior we are trying to extinguish. When the dog jumps up, she touches us. That’s a reward. We look at her. Eye contact is a reward. We speak to her to tell her to get off. We are paying attention to her -- that’s a reward! We reach down to push her away. We touched her -- another reward!! For some rowdy dogs, even the time-honored “knee her in the chest” is an invitation to start a rousing game of body-slam.

The positive reinforcement approach relies on the principal that behaviors that are ignored will extinguish. But how do you ignore an enthusiastic, obnoxious canine who is leaping up to greet you nose-to-nose, inflicting multiple bruises and lacerations in the process? Just standing still doesn’t work; she gets all kinds of self-rewards by jumping all over you. Instead, we turn our back on the dog and step away. As the dog tries to come around to face us, we do it again. Turn away and step away. Turn away and step away. Over and over. Sooner or later (and with most dogs this happens much sooner than you would imagine) the dog gets frustrated and confused, and sits down to puzzle out your bizarre behavior. Bingo! Now you turn toward her, tell her “Yes!” and feed her the treat from the stash you keep in your pockets in anticipation of opportunities just like this. You can also pet her and praise her. If she jumps up again, repeat the process. Before you know it, she will have figured out that in order to get the attention she craves as quickly as possible, she needs to sit when she approaches you, not jump.

Clicker trainers use primarily positive reinforcement, but will also use varying degrees of negative punishment, negative reinforcement and positive punishment, depending on the dog and the individual trainer’s own comfort level and skill with the various methods. The jumping up example above actually uses negative punishment -- the dog’s behavior (jumping up) causes something good (you) to go away. Then, when she sits and you give her a treat and attention, it is positive reinforcement -- the dog’s behavior (sitting) causes something good (treat and attention) to happen.

Proponents of positive reinforcement training claim that a training approach based on rewards rather than punishment builds trust in the human-canine relationship and encourages the dog to think for herself and freely make deliberate choices of rewardable behaviors rather than living in fear of being punished for making a wrong choice. Positive-trained dogs often tend to be more willing to think for themselves, choose “right” behaviors, take risks, and offer new behaviors than do dogs who have been physically corrected for making mistakes.

Of course, it is not always possible to ignore a dog’s inappropriate behavior. Some unwanted behaviors are self-rewarding, destructive or unsafe, like barking at the mail carrier, chewing electrical cords or chasing cars. All trainers use a variety of approaches to correct unwanted behavior, but clicker-trainers generally apply methods that stop short of harsh physical corrections.

One such method is management. It is easier to prevent unwanted behaviors than it is to correct them. It is far easier to keep your dog properly confined in a fenced yard or on a leash than it is to stop a dog with a strong prey drive from chasing cars, cats, joggers or skateboarders. While you are managing the behavior, you also work to train a better level of control so that she becomes more reliable around highly enticing stimuli.

Another approach is the use of a “No Reward Marker” or NRM. The NRM is a signal to let the dog know she made a mistake. It is not applied angrily, just used in a neutral tone to let the dog know that the behavior didn’t earn a reward. Commonly used NRM’s include “Oops,” “Try Again,” or the sound “Uh!” or “At!” A properly-used NRM tells the dog that the behavior offered was not the one requested, and encourages the dog to try again.

Yet another positive behavior-correction method is to ask for (and reward) an incompatible behavior. A dog can’t lie on her rug in the living and bark at the visitor on the front porch at the same time. If we teach her that the doorbell is the cue to go lie down on her rug and stay there, she will no longer greet your guests with her sometimes unwelcome exuberance.

The Ongoing Debate

There is no lack of debate between trainers about the effectiveness of their various training approaches. Compulsion trainers believe that an aggressive dog must be physically corrected for the least sign of aggression: hackles raised, intense stare, growling. This teaches the dog that the behavior is not acceptable. Clicker trainers believe that this supresses the dog’s warning signals, but that the aggression is still there, waiting for the opportunity to be unleashed without warning on some hapless victim.

Positive reinforcement trainers suggest that a better approach is to change the way the dog thinks about the aggression-causing stimulus by associating it with positive things. Take a dog who wants to bite children. If every time he sees a child he gets a treat before he has a chance to act aggressive, he will begin to associate the presence of children with “Good things happen.” Eventually he will be eager to see children, and the aggression will fade. Aggressive behavior is not lurking beneath the surface, because the dog no longer thinks of children as a threat; they are now a source of good things.

Clicker trainers tend to believe that force-based training dampens a dog’s enthusiasm for learning, and “stifles their creativity.” Compulsion trainers may mistakenly assert that reward-trained dogs won’t perform reliably under stress. Clicker trainers say that violence elicits violence, and that many dogs who are euthanized for biting were made worse by physical corrections. Compulsion trainers argue that their methods are faster, and that sometimes the use of force can cause quicker behavior changes that save a dog’s life whose owner is at the breaking point and on the verge of sending the dog to the shelter.

Most trainers agree that owners apply whatever training methods they are using with varying degrees of skill and success. Trainers from both sides of the continuum talk about owners who “just don’t get it.” Other arguments aside, it would seem logical to conclude that much more harm can be done by an owner improperly jerking on a collar than by one who tosses a few extra treats.

Deciding on what training methods to use is a personal choice. Pet owners left to their own devices are more likely to follow their hearts and choose a gentle, non-violent training methods, while those owners who have been conditioned by past trainers and the pressure of competition to believe that a little “pop on the collar” won’t hurt the dog, will more quickly accept force-based training.

In the end, our dogs tell us the truth. We can find pet dogs and obedience show ring competitors from both training styles that are happy, reliable, willing workers. We can find dogs from both training styles that are poorly trained and out of control. But in general, a larger percentage of dogs in a compulsion-based class will grudgingly comply with commands or look bored or disgruntled than will dogs in a positive reinforcement class, where enthusiasm usually abounds among all students in the class, two-legged and four-legged alike.

Now let’s go back to our imaginary stroll around the neighborhood. You’re ready to sign up for a class, and just have to decide which one. Just put yourself in your dogs place for a moment and ask yourself which kind of class she’d prefer to go to. She’ll give you the answer.

Peaceable Paws LLC
Pat Miller, CPDT, CDBC

Pat Miller is a Certified Dog and Horse Behavior Consultant and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She offers classes, behavior modification services, training clinics and academies for trainers at her 80-acre Peaceable Paws training facility in Fairplay, Maryland (US), and presents seminars worldwide. She has authored “The Power of Positive Dog Training,” “Positive Perspectives,” “Positive Perspectives 2,” and “Play With Your Dog.” Miller is training editor for The Whole Dog Journal, writes for Tuft’s University’s Your Dog, and several other publications. She shares her home with husband Paul, five dogs, three cats, five horses, a donkey and a potbellied pig.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Both Ends of the Leash: Fear Reduction

A gentle hand or a tasty treat doesn’t reinforce fear, it reduces it
By Patricia B. McConnell, PhD

It was one in the morning, and I was wide awake. Thunderstorms had been rolling like waves over the farm all night, and this one was so loud I thought the windows might break. Lassie, my 14-year-old Border Collie, lay panting beside me. She’s almost deaf, but the combination of a falling barometer, lightning flashes and the crashes of thunder were enough to send her into a panic. As we lay there together, I stroked her soft old head, thinking about the advice to avoid petting a dog who reacts to thunder. “You’ll just teach them to be more fearful,” according to the traditional wisdom. Only one thing: It’s not true.
We’ve been taught for ages that trying to soothe frightened dogs just makes them worse. It seems logical, in a cut-and-dried, stimulus-and-response kind of way. Your dog hears thunder, he runs to you and you pet him. Voilà, your dog just got reinforced for running to you when it thunders, and worse, for being afraid of thunderstorms in the first place. But that’s not what happens, and here’s why. First, no amount of petting is going to make it worthwhile to your dog to feel panicked. Fear is no more fun for dogs than it is for people. The function of fear is to signal the body that there is danger present, and that the individual feeling fearful had better do something to make the danger, and the fear that accompanies it, go away.
Think of it this way: Imagine you’re eating ice cream when someone tries to break into your house at midnight. Would the pleasure of eating ice cream “reinforce” you for being afraid, so that you’d be more afraid the next time? If anything, things would work in the reverse—you might develop an unconscious discomfort around ice cream. However, you sure as heck aren’t going to be more afraid if a burglar arrives because you were eating chocolate mocha fudge the first time it happened.
There’s another reason petting your thunder-phobic dog doesn’t make him worse, and it couldn’t hurt to take a deep breath before you read it. Research on thunder-phobic dogs suggests that petting does not decrease the level of stress in the dog receiving it.* If it doesn’t decrease stress, how could it act as reinforcement? Before you write describing how your loving touch calms your own dog, please note that (1) I didn’t do the research; (2) my own dogs stop pacing and whining when I pet them during storms; and (3) I don’t care what the research says, it makes me feel better, it doesn’t hurt anything, so I do it anyway.
Studying Stress
Humor aside, it’s important to be specific about what the study actually found. The authors measured the production of cortisol, a hormone related to stress. They found that cortisol levels did not decrease when the dogs were being petted by their guardians during storms. (The most important factor in decreasing cortisol was the presence of other dogs.) Interestingly, another piece of research on social bonding found that although cortisol levels decrease in people when they are interacting with dogs, cortisol does not decrease in dogs in the same context.** However, in both species, other hormones and neurotransmitters increased, including oxytocin, prolactin and beta-endorphin—all substances that are associated with good feelings and social bonding. So, while petting your dog during a storm may not decrease cortisol levels associated with stress, it is still possible that something good could be happening.
On the contrary, it’s just not possible that petting your dog is going to make her more fearful the next time there’s a storm. Warnings that you’ll ruin your dog by comforting her are reminiscent of the advice from the 1930s and ’40s to avoid comforting frightened children by picking them up. That perspective was tossed out long ago by psychologists, when research made it clear that having parents they can count on when life gets scary creates bold, stable children, not dependent or fearful ones.
Classical Approach
The greatest damage that’s done with outdated “don’t pet the dog” advice doesn’t relate to storms, but to the pitfalls of trying to explain classical counter-conditioning (CCC). CCC can be a profoundly effective way to change behavior, because it changes the emotions that drive the behavior in the first place. A typical example in applied animal behavior is having visitors throw treats to a dog who is afraid of strangers.
Understandably, many a client has asked, “But isn’t giving him treats when he’s barking and growling just going to make him worse? Won’t he get reinforced for barking and growling?” The answer is no, not if his behavior is driven by fear. Remember, fear is no fun, and a few pieces of food, no matter how yummy, aren’t going to override the brain’s desire to avoid it.
Tossing treats (or toys) to a fearful dog can teach him to associate approaching strangers with something good, as long as the treat is really, really good, and the visitor is far enough away to avoid overwhelming the dog. CCC is one of the most important tools in a trainer or behaviorist’s toolbox, yet it can be hard to convince people to try it. It feels like rewarding a dog for misbehaving, and in our punishment-oriented, “you’ve got to get dominance over your dog” society, it is tough for some people to do. But that’s exactly what I did to cure another Border Collie, my Pippy Tay, when she developed a fear of storms many years ago.
CCC is one of many ways you can help a thunder-phobic dog. I’ve used some of the following with good success, either on their own or, in Pippy Tay’s case, combined with other methods: pheromone therapy, wraps, acupuncture, acupressure, diet change and, in serious cases, medication. If your dog is afraid of storms, you’d do well to consult a behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist for assistance in choosing the method that is right for you and your dog.
Thunder Treats
Pippy and I would run outside and play ball every time a storm loomed. Pip loved ball play, and I wanted her to associate the feelings she had when fetching with a drop in barometric pressure. Once the storm rolled in, we’d go inside and I’d feed her a piece of meat every time we heard thunder, no matter how Pip was behaving. I wasn’t worried about her behavior; I was focused on the emotions inside that caused the behavior.
I even put thunder on cue. “Oh boy, Pippy, you get thunder treats!” I’d say each time we heard the thunder growl. Mind you, these words would come through clenched teeth at three in the morning, but for two summers, I chirped about thunder treats, pulled out the drawer beside the bed and fed Pip after each thunderclap. By the end of the summer, Pip stopped lacerating my face with panicked attempts to crawl inside my mouth to hide from the storm. She began to sleep through moderately loud storms, not even waking up to beg for treats when the thunder rolled. She came over to me when things got really loud, but with little of the panic she’d shown before.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should share that as Pip improved, I became conditioned in the other direction. I began to dislike storms, because even the quietest of them required that I stay awake long enough to hand Pip a treat after each thunderclap. And now that Pip is gone, it seems I’ll have to start again with Lassie. Sigh. Maybe I should give myself a piece of chocolate every time I hand a treat to Lassie!
Fear Is Contagious
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the one way you can make a fearful dog worse, and that’s by becoming scared yourself. The emotion of fear is so compelling that it is easy to spread around. “Emotional contagion” is the ethological term used to describe the viral spread of fear within a group, and it’s a common occurrence among social species. If you want your dog to be afraid of thunder, strangers or other dogs, just get scared yourself. If you’re afraid of storms, it is entirely possible that your dog will pick up on it and become more nervous.
However, if you are scared (and who isn’t sometimes?), all is not lost. You can calm things down by concentrating on your body—slowing down your breathing and your movements, changing your posture to one of confidence and relaxation, and speaking slowly and calmly (if at all). These actions have the beneficial effect of altering your own emotions as well as your dog’s. The calmer you pretend to be, the calmer you’ll actually feel.
I kept that in mind last night as I cooed, “Oh boy! Thunder treats!” and fed Lassie tasty snacks from the bedside table. I had a lot more reasons to be scared than she did—she didn’t know that the basement was flooding, the white water crashing down the hill was threatening to take out the barn, and the roads were washing away all around us. All she knew was that every thunder roll predicted a piece of chicken, and that I seemed to think it was a great game. She settled down relatively soon, but I lay awake for hours. I guess it really is time to put some chocolate in the drawer beside the bed. If, the next time they see me, friends notice that I’ve gained a lot of weight, they’ll know it’s been a stormy summer.
*Nancy Dreschel, DVM, & Douglas Granger, PhD. 2005. “Physiological and behavioral reactivity to stress in thunderstorm-phobic dogs and their caregivers,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 95:153–168.
**J.S.J. Odendaal & R.A. Meintjes. 2003. “Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs.” The Veterinary Journal 165:296-301.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Training your dog to come when called, reliability:

Use Positive reinforcement
Capture your dog doing the right thing (coming to you).
Set your dog up for success and reward the good acceptable behaviors.
Build a relationship with your dog, one that is built on trust, respect, and cooperation.

Play games that help strengthen the relationship
Name game
Start in an area without distractions
Say the dogs name (once), click/treat when the dog looks at you.
The goal is for the dog to respond to his name every time, to the point that it becomes muscle memory.
Slowly add distractions (if at any time your dog does not come, decrease the distractions a little.)

Watch-me Game -

Go Play Game -

Recall Game
Start from about 6 feet from the dog and then call him to you click/treat when he does. (Repeat all steps many times)
Increase distance
Call dog between two people back and forth
Call the dog from another room
Hide and call the dog so he has to find you and come to you.

Toy Recalls

Recall Races

Call your dog away from playing with another dog

Start all recall training on leash when your dog is a puppy, unless you are in a safe environment that your dog will not fail in.
Progress to long lines
Progress to off leash completely.


Calling your dog multiple times if they do not respond the first time.
Calling your dog to you for things that he may not like.
(Baths, to give medications, to clip nails) Just go and get the dog when if comes to things they may not like.
Calling the dog if you know they will not come. Just go get them or wait until they come to you and reward them for coming to you no matter how long it took.

Reward all check ins. (Every time the dog looks at you)
Reward anytime your dog comes back to you, even if you did not call him. Reinforce that being with you and coming to you is important. Reinforce a lot!
Reinforcement drives behavior!

Add an emergency recall
You could use a whistle for an emergency recall. -

Once your dog does know how to come when called, keep proofing it and keep practicing it. Do not expect that you dog will always know it; practice the recall for the entire life of your dog. If you learn Spanish and then never use it, you would forget it. The same goes for your dog!

Be Consistent!

Train, Train, Train

Friday, January 22, 2010

Clicker Mechanics

As a teenager I remember training in the athletics team at school, being tall and agile I fared well in the 200 meter hurdles, but I recall the hours spent practicing. I had many different mechanical (physical) aspects to think about, stride timing and positioning, timing and movement of my leading leg and trail leg, timing and movement of my torso and arms etc. I then had to seamlessly pull all of these aspects together. In short I had to learn complex mechanical movements in proper sequence for optimal performance.

Clicker training also requires mechanical skill; it is about timing of the “click”, timing and delivery of the reinforcer, and movement of both the teacher and learner. Although clicker training is not complex, capturing and shaping behavior needs to be learned, it certainly does require practice, and I always recommend practicing keys skills without your dog first and instead play some training games with humans.

What is shaping? Shaping allows you to build a desired behavior in steps and reward those behavior sub-steps that come progressively closer to the final finished behavior. Basically you are splitting the final behavior down in to easy to manage steps, you move through the steps by gradually increasing the criteria for a click and treat. With capturing and shaping there is no luring, you simply wait, capture the very first small step, then shape the rest of the sub-steps to the final behavior. Training in this way will make you very observant of your dog and give you great timing skills, but best of all you will have a dog happy and willing to give you attention, as well as a dog that thinks and problem solves.

The Key Skills

Clicking the clicker: This sounds obvious right, but you need to be able to do this comfortably and quickly using either your right or left hand. It also helps if you can press the button with either your thumb, index finger, or palm of your hand (the fleshy part at base of thumb). In addition you need to aim for consistency in the sound of the click, sound will vary depending on how fast you are at pressing and releasing the button, so bear in mind that the tone should be a short sharp “click”.

Exercise 1

The best and easiest way to practice this is to record yourself clicking. Click 20 times with your thumb, then repeat 20 times with your index finger, then again using the fleshy part of your palm. The length and tone of the click should be consistent. Now up the criteria, repeat this exercise, but time yourself, can you do 20 clicks in 20 seconds? If not then simply practice until you can, why? You’ll see why later in this post. Then repeat entire exercise with your other hand.

Less is more: This is a very important aspect of clicker training, but is often overlooked. If you are finding that your dog is not “getting it” then too much movement could well be the reason. Dogs are highly observant, they constantly watch us, they are masters of subtle body language, so to avoid giving your dog any accidental cues, be still when you click. In clicker training you only add the cue once your dog is voluntary offering the behavior to a reliable level. It will confuse your dog if you are pointing the clicker around as if to emphasize “Hey look I’m clicking.” Similarly if your treat hand is moving toward the treat pouch as you click, then your dog will be focusing on your hand and the treat, and not the click. So practice being still, keep your body still and have your arms at your side. When learning a new behavior you want your dog to focus on the sound of the “click”, this is the only piece of information your dog needs at this stage. The click conveys “yes that is the behavior”, so take care not to dilute the click with any extra unnecessary “noise”.

Exercise 2

So practice being still. Repeat exercise 1 above and have a family member or a friend give you feedback on how still you are. Repeat while sitting down, while kneeling, and while walking. Yes, for teaching certain behaviors such as walking to heel, you need to be moving, but again you really want your dog to be focusing on the click and what is going to make you click again. So walk with your arms at your sides, try not to swing them as you normally would, but keep them relaxed at your side. Less is more, any extraneous information you give at this stage will need to be phased out at a later stage, and often what you will find is that it clogs up the mechanics of clicker training, making the learning process for both handler and student slow and patchy.

Click on time: As the saying goes, timing is everything, and this is very true in clicker training. The click needs to be on time because it lets your dog know the precise behavior that has earned him a reward, which means he knows precisely which behavior to offer again to hear the click and earn more rewards. If you click too soon or too late you will be marking and then reinforcing the wrong behavior, as Bob Bailey says “you get what you click”. To think about timing and why it is so important, imagine you are a sports photographer, you’re at a football match and your task is to get a photograph of player number 7 as he kicks the ball, every time. Not as his foot approaches the ball, and not as the ball leaves his foot, but as his foot touches the ball. You have to have keen observation and timing skills to click the camera button at just the right moment to capture the shot. These are exactly the same skills you need to capture the right behavior with a click.

Before you start clicker training your dog, it is a good idea to first practice your observation and timing skills without your dog. Here are a few fun suggestions:

Exercise 3

Observation and timing: Have a family member or friend throw a ball up in the air and as the ball hits the floor click. Do this 20 times and get feedback on your timing, too early, too late, or on time. Repeat but have the ball bounced off the floor and click when it reaches its highest point before falling again, and get feedback on your timing. Repeat this exercise using both your left and right hand until you are able to click on time at least 18 out of the 20 times.

Exercise 4

Observation, timing, and shaping: This is a really fun game to play with family members and/or friends; you are only limited by your imagination. Start off with capturing and shaping fairly simple behaviors. So clicker train a friend to walk over to a specific chair and sit down. Your friend is not to know what this behavior is (obviously), so your task is to shape this behavior by clicking for small sub-steps toward the final behavior. For example, if your friend glances in the direction of the chair, you click. If your friend turns his/her head to face the chair, you click. If your friend turns his/her face and body to face the chair, you click. He/she takes one step in the direction of the chair; you click, and so on until your friend is seated in the chair. As you do this don’t give anything away by using your body language, have your arms at your side, and just click.

Do you remember playing the hot and cold game when you were young? An item would be hidden somewhere and you had to seek it out, but the only feedback you were given was by someone shouting “hot”, “cold”, “warm”. Shaping is similar to this game except the only feedback you give is a “click” for hot, or no click for cold.

It is well worth while playing lots of shaping games to really hone your observation and timing skills before you start shaping behavior with your dog. Have fun and use your imagination.

Click and treat: How you click and treat it really important, many beginners make the easy mistake of already having the treat hand moving toward the pouch to get a treat at the same time as clicking, or holding the hand with treat close to the dog’s mouth while clicking. I can understand why this happens; you’re trying to deliver the treat as quickly as you can to reinforce your dog. However by doing this your dog will be focusing on your hand and/or the treat, but not the click. The click and treat action should be sequential, but not overlap.

Exercise 5

Click and treat delivery: A great way to practice this is to put a bowl on a table, and place 20 treats in your pouch. Then stand still with your arms at your side, click, then after you have clicked move your hand to get a treat from your pouch and put the treat in the bowl. Repeat until all 20 treats are in the bowl. Practice this exercise several times.

Exercise 6

Timing of click and treat delivery: Have a clock with a second hand, or use a stopwatch. Have the empty bowl on the table and 20 treats in your pouch. Give yourself 30 seconds, click, and then after you have clicked move your hand to get a treat from your pouch and put it in the bowl. How many treats did you manage to deliver in 30 seconds? Keep practicing this until you are able to put all 20 treats in the bowl within 30 seconds. Why? Well this equals a click and treat delivery time of 0.5 seconds, meaning that after you have clicked you are able to get a treat from your pouch and reward the desired behavior 0.5 seconds after the click. Being able to do this greatly improves your clicker mechanics.

Check out this video to see how the shaping process works.

by, Angela Adams MSc CABC

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why Not Punishment?

The following articles clearly explain the side-effects, "fall out" and dangers associated with physical punishment and threat based forms of training and the training equipment that uses pain or discomfort to get compliance. While punishment based training works, it takes a toll on the mental state of every learner subjected to it. Sometimes seriously enough that the animal must be killed.

Because there are ways to train ANY behavior and ANY animal without using threat or physical punishment, what would cause a person to choose to use pain (or threat of pain) over a training system that is much more pleasant for the learner and can achieve the same, or better, level of compliance and precision? Mostly it is because the trainer has not learned to use the reward based training methods or has not used them correctly. To find out why you should want to make the effort to learn the more pleasant training methods, read these articles:

About Dog Training Classes That Use Punishment:

"Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behavior and welfare"
Full article:
Authors: Hiby, E.F.; Rooney, N.J.; Bradshaw, J.W.S.
Source: Animal Welfare, Volume 13, Number 1, February 2004 , pp. 63-69(7)
Publisher: Universities Federation for Animal Welfare

A better way to train:

If you want to know why most reward based trainers never go back to threat/punishment based methods of training read "You Can Cross Over, But You Can't Cross Back" by Donna Dufford:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pet dogs rival humans for emotional satisfaction

* Updated 16:50 14 January 2009 by Ewen Callaway

Who needs children when a puppy can provide a similar emotional experience? After playing with their pets, dog owners experience a burst in a hormone linked to infant care, not to mention romantic love and friendship, new research finds.

Nicknamed the "cuddle chemical" and the "love drug", oxytocin has been found to dampen stress, combat depression, and breed trust in humans. Studies of voles, mice and rats also point to oxytocin's role in pair bonding and social memory.

For this reason, biologists Miho Nagasawa and Takefumi Kikusui, of Azuba University in Japan, wondered whether social contact between two different species could boost oxytocin levels, as well.

"Miho and I are big dog lovers and feel something changed in our bodies when gazed [upon] by our dogs," Kikusui says.

Look of love

They recruited 55 dog owners and their pets for a laboratory play session. Owners provided a urine sample to measure oxytocin levels, and then played with their dog for half an hour. Another urine test followed.

As a control on another occasion, some owners sat in a room with their dog and were told to completely avoid the gaze of their pets.

Kikusui's team videotaped the sessions and measured how long a dog spent eyeing its owner. Based on the analysis, the researchers split the pairs that were allowed to play into two groups: "long gaze", who locked eyes for an average of 2.5 minutes during the play session, and "short gaze", who made eye contact for fewer than 45 seconds, on average.

They found that these groupings reflected changes in owner's oxytocin levels. In participants that spent a long time making eye contact, oxytocin levels rose by more than 20% during the play session, on average. In the control group, owners that avoided their pooches' gaze saw their oxytocin levels drop slightly.

Mood enhancers

Kikusui thinks eye contact is a good proxy for the bond between owner and dog. Long-gaze owners tended to rate their relationship with their pet as more satisfying than short-gaze owners. And even when instructed to avoid eye contact during the control session, these owners experienced a mild boost in oxytocin.

A flood of the cuddle chemical could explain why playing with dogs can lift moods and even improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, Kikusui says.

More speculatively, oxytocin might have played a part in the domestication of dogs from wolves, about 15,000 years ago, the pair suggest. "Maybe during the evolutionary process, humans and dogs came to share the same social cues", such as eye contact and hand gestures, Kikusui says. "This is why dogs can adapt to human society."

One previous study found that humans who are administered oxytocin looked toward the eyes of people in photographs more often and for longer than subjects given a placebo.

However, Clive Wynne, a psychologist at the University of Florida in Gainseville, is skeptical that oxytocin release played a role in dog domestication. "Genetic evidence shows that wolves were turning into dogs thousands of years before anyone could suggest that people were involved," he says.

Still, he thinks that oxytocin could explain why some owners seem more devoted to their dogs than their families. "Think of the Helmsley women who gave a hell of a lot more money to her dogs than to her grandchildren," he says.

Journal reference: Hormones and Behavior (DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.12.002)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Predominant Falsification in Dominance Dog Training Theories

Written by Charlotte Wagner of the Canine Paws Academy

With the fluctuating economy and increase in pet abandonment due to behavioural issues, it is not surprising to see many pet owners turn to television shows and books for guidance on training issues. Unfortunately many people who watch hit TV shows such as Cesar Milan’s “Dog Whisperer”, “Dog Borstal” or follow Jan Fennel’s Amichien Bonding are unaware of how unfounded dominance-based methods and techniques may be and what psychological ramifications they can potentially have on their pets. Unfortunately dog training and behaviour is an unregulated field where often books, television shows, and training clubs are consulted by owners, breeders, veterinarians, groomers, and amateur trainers without second thought to the validity of the information being provided to the reader.

Behaviourist James O’Heare (2003) claims that: “Dominance theory is probably the most misunderstood commonly used ethological theory in the dog behaviour field.” There are a variety of views on dominance, including those advocating dominance as a personality flaw where the dog is trying to take over the owner: “When a dog growls at the wife or kids in the family, it sees itself as a higher rank than family members.” (Frawley, 2009) and modern establishments opposing the use of dominance-oriented intimidation techniques: “Sadly, many techniques used to teach a dog that his owner is leader of the pack is counter-productive; you won’t get a better behaved dog, but you will either end up with a dog so fearful it has suppressed all its natural behaviours and will just do nothing, or one so aggressive it’s dangerous to be around.” (Science Daily, 2009) Most dominance- based methods revolve around dog and owner competing for the role of alpha or pack leader: “By exuding strong leadership, you should be implanting the idea that the job of Alpha within this pack is already taken.” (Fennel, 2006), however a recent study conducted by the University of Bristol observing a group of dogs at a Dog’s Trust centre concluded that: “The study shows that dogs are not motivated by maintaining their place in the pecking order of their pack, as many well-known dog trainers preach.” (Science Daily, 2009). Many respected establishments in the behaviour field will agree that “Dominance is not a personality trait but a description of a relationship between two or more animals and is related to which animal has access to valued resources such as food, mates, etc.” (APDT 2009) as opposed to the views of trainers who see dominance as a character flaw: “Once a dog figures out that it only has to mind under certain circumstances it is a short step for the same dog to start to think that it only has to mind when it wants to. This empowers the dog and elevates pack drive.”

Fallacies within dominance theories begin with the foundation belief that dogs are socially indistinguishable to wolves: ”One of the biggest problems in the modern history of dominance theory as it applies to domestic dogs is the direct transfer of conclusions made about wolf packs directly onto companion dogs.” (O’Heare, 2003) Most people advocating the legitimacy of dominance in behaviour and training believe that groups of dogs act similarly to wolf packs: “One of the best ways to start to learn about dominance is to study pack behaviour in wolves.” (Frawley, 2009) however many opposing views point out: “The whole dominance thing is, once again a case of leaping to a conclusion before ruling out more obvious explanations.” (Donaldson, 1996). When speaking on the evolutionary aspects of dogs and wolves Coppinger and Coppinger (2004) explain: “The canid family tree split, and wolves and dogs went along their separate branches. The wolf displays specialized adaptations to the wilderness, and the dog displays adaptations to domestic life. The two canid cousins are adapted to different niches, and they are very different because of it.” Despite the scientific evidence speaking against the correlation between dog and wolf behaviour, dominance-oriented trainers like TV star Cesar Milan (2006) still stipulate:“Though there are many differences between domesticated dogs and wolves, we can learn much about our dogs’ innate natures by observing wold packs in the wild.I lead the pack like an alpha wolf, and the dogs follow me.” but comparisons between similar species are not as transparent as dominance patrons believe: ”If we want to understand humans we might be able to learn a bit from studying chimpanzees but we can learn more by studying humans themselves. Similarly, it is dogs that we must study if we want to understand their sociability.“ (O’Heare, 2003)

The use of dominance to explain behaviour in dogs is not only deceiving in legitimacy, but can also cause psychological distress and prolonged damage to the dog: “If you think your acting- out dog is the leader and you try to emulate his behavior in controlling him what you are really doing is acting aggressively towards him. This way of thinking is not useful in trying to maintain a positive relationship or good training environment” (Dennison, 2005) Many advocates of dominance in dogs use force to achieve alpha status over their dogs by using choke chains and intimidation techniques: “There is no real pain, it just takes the air away from him and he submits.” (Frawley, 2009) however those people who implement aversives to gain dominant status such as pinning the dog to the ground to force submission and shaking them as a correction for dominant behaviour are often unaware of the consequences their actions may have:“Much worse, techniques such as pinning the dog to the floor, grabbing jowls, or blasting hooters at dogs will make dogs anxious, often about their owner, and potentially lead to an escalation of aggression.” Even simple non-aversive principles of the theory lack credibility: “Instructing owners to eat before their dog or to go through doors first will not influence the dog’s overall perception of the relationship - merely teach them what to expect in these specific situations.”

Rather than leading a dog by dominance based methods and techniques, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers recommends that: “Dogs thrive in an environment that provides them with clear structure and communication regarding appropriate behaviours, and one in which their need for mental and physical stimulation is addressed.” B. F. Skinner’s operant principles of positive reinforcement and negative punishment can easily aid in the increase of desired behaviours and the extinction of undesired traits with the use of motivation rather than intimidation and suppression through aversion. There are many associations certifying trainers and behaviourists which promote the use of learning theory and scientific methods of understanding and modifying behaviour. Many of these respected bodies require professionals to either: have a degree relevant to animal behaviour, further education in training, or extensive experience with another qualified professional before accepting applicants to become members. These association include but are not limited to the: Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC), Association of Pet Behaviour Consultants (APBC), Certified Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and International Positive Dog Training Association (IPDTA) to name a few.

Written by Charlotte Wagner of the Canine Paws Academy
1 January 2010


Association of Pet Dog Trainers. (2009) Dominance and Dog Training: Association of Pet Dog Trainers position statement [www document]. dominance.aspx (Accessed 7 December 2009)
Coppinger, L. and Coppinger, R. (2004) Dogs: A new understanding of canine origin, behaviour and evolution. Romford, Essex: Crosskeys Select.
Dennison, P. (2005) How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong. Loveland: Alpine.
Donaldson, J. (1996) The Culture Clash. Berkeley: James and Kenneth.
Fennel, J. (2006) The Practical Dog Listener. London: HarperCollins.
Frawey, E. (2009) Dealing with the Dominant Dog [www document] pdf/dealingwithdominantdog.pdf (Accessed 10 December 2009)
Millan, C. and Peltier, M. J. (2006) Cesarʼs Way. New York: Crown.
OʼHeare, J. (2003) Dominance Theory and Dogs. Ottawa: DogPsych.
Science Daily (2009) Using ʻDominanceʼ to Explain Dog Behaviour is Old Hat [www document] (Accessed 7 December 2009)

Oʼ Heare, J. (2007) Aggressive Behaviour in Dogs. Ottawa: Dog Psych.
Pryor, K. (1984) Donʼt Shoot the Dog. New York: Bantam.
Reid, P. (1996) Excel-Erated Learning. Berkeley: James and Kenneth.

Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors:
Association of Pet Dog Trainers (US):
Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK):
Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers:
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
International Positive Dog Training Association: