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: