Positive Reinforcement Training is Best

Posted on Apr 16, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Interesting study reported in Psychology Today. I am not surprised by the findings — just further confirmation of my Training approach.

Judy Moore

 

The Effect of Training Method on Stress Levels in Dogs | Psychology Today

The Effect of Training Method on Stress Levels in Dogs

Discipline-based training increases stress levels in dogs.
 
At a dog training seminar that I attended recently I found myself engaged in a familiar conversation, namely the effect of various types of dog training methods on the behavior of pet dogs. Nowadays the line seems to be drawn between two camps, one advocating “positive dog training” (which uses rewards such as food and play) versus “discipline-based training” (which incorporates slip collars and leash tugs and other physical interventions to enforce compliance).
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To give you a bit of a technical background, in reality there are only four methods that are used to teach dogs the kinds of tasks and behaviors that we humans are interested in having them learn. The first is called positive reinforcement, where the term “reinforcement” refers to anything that increases the likelihood that the dog will repeat a behavior. The “positive” refers to the fact that we give the dog something that he wants, like a treat. The second method is called negative reinforcement, where the “negative” refers to taking something unwanted or annoying away, so for example, if you pull up on the leash causing a choke chain to tighten and push down on the dog’s hindquarters while you tell him to sit, the negative reinforcement comes when the dog goes into the sitting position you take away the pressure around his neck and on his lower back. The other two methods involve punishment. A punisher is anything that reduces the likelihood that a dog will repeat a behavior. Positive punishment refers to the fact that when a dog does something which we don’t want him to do we apply something the dog doesn’t like, which could be a slap or a loud reprimand. Negative punishment involves taking something that the individual wants away from him. A human example would be if the child acts out the dinner table he doesn’t get dessert when everybody else does. Positive dog training is almost always based on positive reinforcement, while discipline-based training uses a combination of negative reinforcement and positive punishment.

Prior to the mid-1940s, most dog training was done using discipline-based training, since most of the early training models came from military dog trainers who had the idea that a dog should be trained using the same kind of discipline-based procedures that were used for human recruits. The change toward more positive training came about because of a series of books written by Blanche Saunders. Although by today’s positive training standards she was still a bit harsh, she clearly recognized the value of rewards and was much softer on her canine students than most trainers before her. Over time, positive dog training has come to dominate the canine training scene, following much along the model of the techniques used by Ian Dunbar and others. However over the past few years, due to the influence of certain high profile dog trainers who have popular television series like Cesar Millan, discipline-based training has begun to gain in popularity.
 
One of the people in the group that I was speaking with insisted that discipline-based training procedures should not have been abandoned, and that no real proof exists showing negative effects on dogs. She complained that there was a bias among canine researchers, who she referred to as “foodies” since they usually reward the dogs with a stream of food treats. “Just because we live in a kinder and gentler world doesn’t mean that we can’t teach a dog that when he does something we don’t like it has negative consequences,” she said. “Properly applied, by people who know what they’re doing, there’s nothing wrong with negative reinforcement or a little bit of punishment. The problem is that most researchers and the people they get to train the dogs they test probably don’t really believe in discipline-based training, and so they either overdo it, or don’t work as hard at using it properly.”
 
As luck would have it I had just finished going over an article that was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior* that directly dealt with this issue. It was done by two French researchers, Stéphanie Deldalle  and Florence Gaunet who wanted to test the effect of the two training styles. They wanted to use the most naturalistic setting that they could find, and to collect data based on observation rather than upon changes in blood chemistry or heart rate or other invasive procedures. What they did first was to attend a number of dog training classes in their vicinity and observe the training procedures that were used. In the end they selected one class which used positive dog training methods almost exclusively and contrasted it to another dog training class which used discipline-based methods (mostly negative reinforcement). They reasoned that the instructors in both of these classes were teaching their students using the method that they favored because, as trainers, they believed it was the most efficient system and would produce the best results.
 
Once the classes were selected, dog and owner pairs were brought in and tested on familiar exercises such as heeling and sitting on command. There were 26 dogs trained using discipline-based procedures and 24 using positive training. The researchers were not looking at actual learning performance, but rather were measuring the amount of stress that dogs appeared to show when performing their learned exercises. They used easily observable behaviors associated with stress, such as mouth licking, yawning, scratching, sniffing, shivering, whining, low posture, attempts to run away, and whether or not the dog avoided making eye contact with their handler.
 
The results were rather straightforward. If we simply look at whether a dog showed any of the stress related behaviors we find that 65% of the discipline-based trained dogs showed at least one such sign, as compared to only 8% of the positively train dogs. For some selected behaviors the differences were quite striking, such as in mouth licking (38% discipline; 8% positive), yawning (23% discipline; 0% positive), and low posture (46% discipline; 8% positive). One of the results which I found most interesting had to do with whether or not the dog looked at the owner’s face. Both humans and dogs have a tendency to avoid looking at things that raise their stress levels or make them uncomfortable, so the fact that only 38% of the discipline trained dogs looked at their owners faces as compared to 88% of the positively trained dogs seems telling.
 
This is a small study, but because it is done using actual class trained pet dogs and instructors who believe in their particular training method, it is quite interesting. It seems to be just one more study that suggests that using punishment and negative reinforcement can produce potentially harmful and unwanted emotional changes in dogs. For additional findings on similar topics click here or click here.
 
 
 Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission
Data from: Stéphanie Deldalle & Florence Gaunet (2014). Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis Familiaris) and on the dog-owner relationship. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9, 58 – 65.
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How to Raise a Dog Friendly Puppy

Posted on Mar 3, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

 This is an example of an email I receive from distressed puppy owners several times per month….

My dog was taken to the dog park at least 6 times a month during the first 7 months of his/her life, in addition to daily interactions with dogs we let him play with all the dogs on the beach!  Once he/she turned 10 months old he/she started becoming aggressive with large pushy dogs or any dog who challenged him/her. He/she can get along with some smaller dogs depending on that dog.  My dog has two adult dogs that he/she has known since he/she was 8-10 weeks old that he/she gets along GREAT with.” 

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Henry and Nell clearly express their intentions to engage in mutual play.

Will your puppy be exposed to being pushed around by rough adolescent dogs?  Is it true aggression breeds more aggression?  Do you know who your dog is playing with now and what that friend is teaching your dog?  Is it true a puppy can be over socialized?

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant I am swamped with dog aggressive dogs who owners all report they were fine when they were puppies.

All of these dogs who were once dog friendly have one thing in common….they have experienced bully behavior through social learning.

Ask anyone who has raised a puppy and allowed that pup to play with other young puppies in a supervised class or the neighbors friendly dog or their family members friendly dog and they will tell you that their dog has remained friendly.  They have never encouraged their pup to play in large packs of rough adolescent canine play.  As a bonus, these puppies leash manners are wonderful as they are not use to being able to pull their owners to every dog they see.

If I get a puppy next year which is a strong possibly, I will make sure I know who my pup is playing with and I will observe this play so my puppy does not become too confident and begin being a bully to other dogs.  I will absolutely allow my dog the joy’s of playing, however with only very friendly dogs that I know and if he/she begins to be too pushy, I will step in immediately to lower the arousal, even if I have to step in many times during the same play session so it does not become over the top or rough.  Practiced behaviors become strong habits, let’s make sure our dogs are practicing good habits each day so they remain dog friendly.

Seek out a friend with a very social dog and slowly introduce them by taking a 30 minute walk near each other.  After this long walk, you should have a good idea if both dogs are interested in interacting or not. My Outdoor Adventure Class give owners a safe place to allow their dogs to play while being supervised.  Often members of class exchange numbers and meet outside of class knowing that arranging play dates will keep their dogs play skills appropriate.

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Preventing Dog to Dog Aggression

Posted on Jan 30, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Protect your dog from becoming aggressive by knowing where he is and who his playmates are.  The topic of leash aggression arises so often, I feel the need to address it often in my blogs.  For dog trainers it is very clear why we do not let our dogs greet unknown dogs while on leash. I want my dogs attention on ME when I have him on a leash.  I prefer he not pull my shoulder off my body when on leash, so I never let him greet other dogs when on leash and guess what? He does not ask anymore because he knows the rule structure. In my opinion, the BEST reason to avoid letting your dog greet unknown dogs while on leash is to keep him or her safe.  Once your dog gets into a scuffle while on leash, just the site of a dog while on leash can become very scary for your pup.

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Tight leash is nearly unavoidable.

We have all seen or heard stories of two dogs greeting on leash and it ends badly.  Let’s think about it, when dogs greet off-leash they are able to circle, sniff and have the freedom to move away if one dog becomes stiff and worried.  When on-leash we often tighten the leash, which makes the dog feel trapped because it cannot flee the environment. As a result, the constrained dog may send the other dog a distance cue like a hard eyed stare, a lip curl or a low growl. Depending on the social skills of the other dog, this may turn into an unwanted scuffle. If you want your dog to have good social skills and avoid aggression, let him have an opportunity to socialize and play with other GOOD dogs. Start with an AKC STAR Puppy class, teach your dog leash manners throughout his adolescence and set up off-leash playdates with dog-friendly dogs that you know he enjoys playing with and who have owners that you are comfortable with.

A large part of my business is helping dog owners understand why their dog is jumping and snarling when on a leash in the presence of another dog.  This behavior is done by your dog because he has learned that it keeps him/her safe.  Dogs that have been traumatized by another dog, or multiple dogs, learn that their best defense is a good offense.  If this behavior works for them, why would they need to change? Being safe simply feels good.

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Social dogs can relax in the presence of other dogs even while being on a leash.

I do understand your dog needs daily exercise to get him through his adolescence. If your dog plays well with the neighbors dog, then your dog is already social! Walking on-leash together is a great way to learn leash manners around other dogs. Or, hire a dog-walker who only brings one dog to your session and watch how your dog interacts with that dog.  Your dog-walker will help him learn leash manners and prevent any unwanted behaviors from being reinforced.  Many dogs are surrendered because they can no longer cope with being on a leash in society.  Who’s to blame?  These dogs were not born dog-aggressive. Rather, it is learned by putting them in environments that are out of control and scary.  So please know who your dog is playing with, and if the play is appropriate.  We can all agree that aggression breeds more aggression, so please know who your dog’s friends are!

In the photo to the right, my Outdoor Adventure Class is open to dog friendly dogs.  Dogs that have good emotional control, dogs that can sit and watch a dog go by without demanding to get to it, and dogs that are not overly pushy.  If your dog is demanding to say “hello” to every dog that goes by, think about why that behavior is developing and where it is being reinforced.   I hope to see you and your dog in a training class, while on-leash and enjoying each other’s calm company!

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A growl is better than a bite!

Posted on Jan 26, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

I am often called to a home where a dog has nipped or bitten a child.  I realize many think that a dog should NEVER use his teeth to resolve conflict with a human, and I agree in a perfect world, humans should NEVER hit a dog with their hand to resolve conflict either.

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Socializing pups with calm children is essential.


When there is a language barrier between two species, communication is often misunderstood and conflict can easily follow.  A three year old running at a dog with an object in his hand can be scary. How many times does your dog have to get up and move away to keep himself out of trouble before someone slows down the noisy moving child?

If by noon, the dog has looked away three times, offered a few tongue flicks, turned his head away five times and gotten up from his resting place four times to avoid conflict with the little tornado, then on the twelth time he may give a growl.  I can not tell you how tolerant a dog should be, but I can tell you that they all have a threshold or a breaking point just like we humans do.  I hope you recognize the growl as a low level warning that your dog is asking for space, and please do NOT punish the warning growl.  In the future, I guarantee you would prefer your dog growl as a distance cue rather than use his teeth!

What other pet animal is so tolerant of children?  Bunnies will squeek a warning and nip, cats will hiss and claw out, hamsters have also learned that nipping gets them safely back in their cage.

I am happy to report that many moms have asked me to speak to their children as a way to educate the child on how the dog is “feeling” when they are near.  While some dogs enjoy having kids around, clearly others do not. Our responsibility is to step in and help our dogs feel safe so they do not have to resolve the conflict alone.

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I like this child, she is not moving and she feeds me!

If you live or work with children, it is especially helpful for you to know your dogs signals that he or she may be feeling worried. That way you can intervene so that your dog never has to growl or nip, or reach his or her threshold point.

I am certain that the dogs in the above photo, who are being fed by the young girl in the stroller, are feeling pretty good being fed by a child that is not running around.  However, if she were to get out of the stroller and run at these dogs, they would not feel the same way and one of them would need to be removed to keep him from hitting his threshold.  With lots of positive associations and yummy treats, both these dogs can learn to enjoy children running around them.

So please, if you observe a dog feeling worried about a child moving nearby, remove either the child or the dog so that the dog is feeling safe and the dog does not get into trouble.  An ounce of knowledge can go along way to helping both dogs and children grow up together in a positive way.

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New Year! New Puppy?

Posted on Jan 11, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

If you are enjoying the beginning of 2014 with a soft cuddly new puppy, then congratulations!!  As the owner of a new puppy, you have some responsibility to the puppy and to those who come in contact with your new puppy.  While you must certainly be enjoying the new puppy smells, sounds and soft fur, you may also be a bit tired from late night potty trips outside, managing all the winter gloves and hats that puppies love to chew on,  and you may possibly have a few scratches from your pups needle sharp teeth.

First, it is very normal for your puppy to mouth you as that is how dogs gain information about things near them.  If you have ever watched two dogs play, they often use their mouth during the interaction.  The primary puppy behaviors you need to teach your puppy? 1.  Not to bite humans, called “bite inhibition” 2. Potty training, for your own sanity.  3. Calm behaviors, as everyone loves a pup with good emotional control  4. Socialization to a variety of places, people and dogs in a positive way. Finally, prevention of guarding and becoming overly mouthy, as these two behaviors can lead to an unwanted bite.

There are numerous Certified Pet Dog Trainers who can help you teach your pup appropriate behavior to succeed in a human home.  Using Positive Reinforcement Communication and lots of patience, you will eventually have a wonderful family dog.  To find a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in your area, investigate this link: CCPDT Certification for Pet Dog Trainers

 I have 3 basic rules that I use often with new puppy owners:

1. Manage your pup so it is not practicing any unwanted behaviors. For example, use a crate or x-pen to contain your pup if you can not watch him.  This is not only for his safety, but so he does not learn how good it is to chew on your favorite boots.

Socialized dogs, enjoy life enrichment activities.

Socialized dogs, enjoy life enrichment activities.

2. Reward your dog all day long for appropriate behaviors.  Example, if you are going to let your pup out of his crate, then put your hand on the latch, if your puppy is calm open the crate and reward with freedom.   If however he climbs on the door and barks at you. Take your hand off the latch and wait.  When your puppy is calm or sitting, then you can open the door, if he tries to bolt out, close the door quickly, and wait until he sits or is calm, then reward with freedom!
3. Show your puppy what it is you prefer he do and reinforce it with something.  For example, if your puppy bites on your hand, remove your hand and quickly replace it with a toy.  Move the toy around on the floor and praise your puppy when he chases, and mouths the toy.  If he bites your hand or arm let him know it hurts and replace it with a toy.

Keep in mind your puppy has been using his mouth to play with his siblings for weeks, so he is conditioned to do so.  It is your job to help him learn good bite inhibition and socialize him well with new places, people and allow him to play with other puppies to help him learn good social skills.

In this photo to the right, the 13 week old Malamute started to bark at the 4 year old Dachshund.  This Dachshund is not happy about having to potty in 10 degree weather and so is not interested in playing.  He signals this to the pup by closing his mouth, freezing his body, making direct eye contact and then begins to give a low growl directed at the puppy.  The young pup quickly began to back away and go look for another playmate.  Helping this Malamute have good social skills is important as we do not want him to grow in to a large bully.

To ensure your puppies behavior is shaped to be a calm family pet, consider a puppy socialization class taught by a professional!  CBC Puppy Class Schedule

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Once a guarder, always a guarder?

Posted on Dec 29, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Go away!

Zeke, my foster dachshund, was surrendered because he continually fought with another dog in his home.  This was particularly sad because he was given up by the family who adopted him as a pup. It was the only home Zeke was familiar with.  On the other hand, if Zeke was fighting with another dog in the home, did he feel safe in that home?  Why did he constantly want on his owners lap?  Was he guarding her, or was it that he felt safest when near her?  Why did he guard his crate?  Again, was it his or was it that he felt safe there? What made this behavior rewarding to Zeke?

I am pleased to inform you that after less than 3 weeks, Zeke has developed a trusting relationship with my three dogs.  Why is that important?  Because many dogs that guard are also fearful and defensive.  Once I reduced his fear, he now moves through the house with bones and toys in each room, and he no longer chases my dogs away from them or even gives them the “look”.  They have walked past toys and bones so many times (and there are plenty to go around!), so guarding is not rewarding anymore.

I am warning you!

That does not mean he may not fall into old habits in his new home, but it does mean that I personally believe Zeke’s underlying habitual guarding behavior stems from very poor social skills with both people and dogs.  Developing a trusting relationship with dogs in the home, and devaluing the objects he found high value, have been a successful plan for Zeke.

 
 
When Zeke, the Dachshund, would show his teeth at my dogs to gain access to more food I was holding, I walked him away and gave his share to my dogs.  I waited about 2 minutes and repeated this exercise of feeding everyone some chicken.  When Zeke focused on me and ignored my dogs, showing no distance cues at them, I rewarded him with chicken. Hence, he learned good social skills always gets rewarded in my home.
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