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A dog training video: What do you see?

September 22, 2014 4 comments

The week before last I wrote about how videotaping yourself with your dog, especially during training sessions, can help you to see things you might not have noticed in the moment. Looking at pictures I had taken while working with Maggie made me realize how pressure sensitive she is and how I needed to change my approach with her.

It’s not just the every day dog owner who can be helped by videotaping themselves with their dog, dog trainers do it too. Sometimes they do it to improve their technique or sometimes they do it to observe a dog’s behavior more closely. For many, it is also a way to educate dog owners on how to train their dog, as I believe the video below was meant to do.

While I very much disagree with the trainer’s assessment of the dog she is using in the video, I also had the luxury of watching their interactions (on video) several times. Slowing down a video and watching it over and over again can help you to see so many things. I suspect the trainer in this video was so focused on making a specific training point that she missed all the behaviors telling her otherwise. Either that, or she did not recognize the behaviors at all.

So today, you be the trainer. Take a look at the dog’s body language and describe what you see. Is the dog distracted or is something else going  on here?  

You can see my observations and analysis below, but try to do a little analysis yourself. What do you SEE? What is the dog doing or not doing? What behaviors is she displaying? Are the ears up, back, or forward? Is her body leaning? If so, in which direction? What else do you see?

My observations of Bubbles, the Border Collie:

  • At the beginning of the video, Bubbles sniffs the ground several times and pulls at the end of a leash.
  • Bubbles does not look at the trainer, but looks in the direction of the camera and towards the group (perhaps her owner is there?).
  • Ears are back and she appears to be panting. (This is about the time the trainer mentions how Border Collies can become very distracted by their environment.)
  • 23 seconds into the video, Bubbles’ ears go up and she looks to the left (her left). Her body turns in that direction immediately afterwards.  Her ears go back down.
  • Bubbles continues to turn left as she goes behind the trainer sniffing and looking distracted. Her tail is down and very close to her body (almost between her legs.)
  • When the trainer mentions her name, Bubbles ignores it and keeps sniffing at the ground, moving further left and to the trainer’s right. Her ears are closer to the back of her head.
  • Bubbles continues to sniff the ground and moves behind the trainer again and to her right. Her head lifts up. Her ears are pricked and she is looking straight ahead and pulling in that direction. Her tail is down.
  • She pulls as far away as she can from the trainer and continues to look off in the distance. Her ears are up. Her body is leaning forward and away from the trainer.
  • The trainer shortens the leash and pulls Bubbles around and back to her and uses a treat as a lure. Bubbles’ moves towards the trainer with her ears down. She lip licks and yawns, sniffs the food, and then turns away. Her head is down and her body is leaning away from the trainer.
  • At 55 seconds, Bubbles’ body goes down lower to the ground. She is leaning away from the trainer and looking away
  • The trainer pulls Bubbles closer. Bubbles head is lower. She looks up and lip licks and turns her head away. Her ears are back and low on her head.
  • The trainer crouches down next to Bubbles and reaches her had out to her with the treat. Bubbles does another lip lick and turns away. Her tail is low and wags slightly for a moment.
  • At 59 seconds, her body is leaning away from the trainer’s. She rejects the treat in the trainer’s hand.
  • The trainer pauses to speak. Bubbles tries to pull away again. She lip licks and glances toward the trainer.
  • Bubbles lip licks several more times and glances at the trainer before looking away again.
  • She now pulls even further away from the trainer so that her head is the furthest away from her and her butt is closes to the trainer.
  • The trainer calls her name and her ears immediately go down and back on her head. It looks like she lip licks before her head and upper body goes down. She moves her body closer and her tail wags low, but she keeps her head as far as she can from the trainer.
  • Bubbles moves her body so that she is completely facing away from the trainer. At 1:18 she is leaning away from the trainer and has her back to her. She gives several more lip licks.
  • When the trainer calls her name and pull her back towards her again, Bubbles pulls again and then turns her body slightly horizontal to the trainer’s body when the leash is pulled toward the trainer. She sits and looks up.
  • She is offered the treat again, but turns away from it.  I could be wrong, but her busy seems hunched forward.
  • Bubbles turns her head further away and looks behind her, lip licks, and then starts to stand up.
  • She pulls away (lip licks), but sits back down because she has no leash length to pull away. She again has her back to the trainer.
  • More lip licks.
  • Bubbles continues to look away and to the side with her back to the trainer.
  • She pulls away as hard as she can and tries to create distance.
  • The trainer tries to engage Bubbles “one more time” and pulls her (using the leash) towards her. Bubbles faces towards the camera. The trainer reaches down with the treat in her hand and puts it in front of Bubbles’ nose. Bubbles glances quickly at her hand and turns away. She lip licks and yawns.
  • The trainer then knees her in the back-end, forcing her to sit. Her body is leaning away from the trainer.
    She glances up at the trainer. Her ears are back. She lip licks again. The trainer reaches her hand out with the treat again. Lip lick again. Bubbles opens her mouth when the trainer inserts the treat in her lip. You can to longer see her ears.
  • She takes the treat, turns her head away and lip licks.
  • Lip lick again.
  • Bubbles starts to stand up again, looking away. She stands with her back to the trainer. Her ears are back and low on her head. Her tail is now between her legs.
  • Her ears go up and down again. She lip licks. She sniffs the ground and pulls away from the trainer.
  • She continues to pull away in all directions from the trainer.

My assessment:

It clear from all of Bubbles’ behaviors that she was extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because she did not know the trainer (as the trainer admits) or because she was unfamiliar with the setting or even afraid of the camera, or maybe, both. She displays a lot of calming signals – lip licking, look aways, yawning, etc. She also tries very hard to create distance between her and the trainer, over and over again.  Bubbles is not distracted by squirrel, but is uncomfortable and nervous. The trainer should have stopped as soon as she saw these behaviors. The fact that Bubbles refused the treat was a dead give away that she was way to nervous to be enticed by a treat. Not only did the trainer’s words not match the behaviors being displayed, but she did nothing to build the trust between her and Bubbles because she forced her to interact with her and even kneed her to sit down.  A better approach would have been to stop completely and give Bubbles her space and the choice of whether she wanted to interact or not.

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Dogs: What do we really want? Control or connection?

October 28, 2013 22 comments

Sad Looking Chocolate LabI first saw her, the young Husky, as the dogs and I entered the dog park. She looked sweet and friendly. She waggled her butt as she sidled up to me and asked for a pet. I reached down to pet her when I heard her scream and watched as she ran down the path to my left. At first I was confused. What had just happened? I watched her run, frenetic and scared, and then scream again and run in another direction. Then I got mad. I couldn’t see the shock collar around her neck, but I knew it was there. Someone was shocking her. I looked around the park, trying to identify the idiot shocking his dog and scaring the shit out of her.

I finally saw him standing across the park near the open field. I watched him as he called his dog’s name, and when she didn’t respond, hit the button on the remote in his hand. Immediately after that, I would hear the now familiar scream and watch as his poor dog ran in yet another direction. She was trying to escape he shock and didn’t know how, so she just kept running. She was completely terrified.

I couldn’t help but wonder what he hoped to gain from this experience. Control of his dog? A sense of superiority? A need to feel all-powerful? What was it that made him think shocking his dog was more preferable to using a more positive method of training? Why did he choose to shock his dog for not coming instead of praising her for coming to him?

con·trol (kn-trl)
tr.v. con·trolled, con·trol·ling, con·trols
1. To exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; direct.
2. To adjust to a requirement; regulate.
3. To hold in restraint; check.
4. To reduce or prevent the spread of.

As human beings, I think we often feel the need to be in control. The need to feel like we have a say or an ability to affect an outcome. I know I do. I try to control the outcome of many things in my life. But I know that the control I “think” I have is really more of an illusion of control than real control.

The man shocking his dog thought he was developing control of his dog through use of force. He thought that using a shock would force her to come to him. The reality is that he never had control – from the first shock to the last one. His dog was scared out of her mind and running in fear. She was so scared that she couldn’t even hear him call her name. The control he had was an illusion.

Recently, I read a blog post that addressed The Control Myth we all have when it comes to our dogs. It was written by a certified dog trainer named Michael Baugh. His words were quite powerful and insightful, and even though his post was directed towards other dog trainers, I think we all can take something from it.

At one point in the piece, Michael asks us “What do we want, control or connection?” What a great question. What is it that we want with our dogs? Is it really control we want? Or is it the bond and connection that we crave?

In Michael’s words… “The illusion of control is alluring. But connection, a real bond with another living being – that’s the stuff. That’s the stuff.”

Yes it is.  It is “the stuff” that we all want.

Controlling a dog using force might make one feel powerful and in control at the time, but it never feels good in the long run. It doesn’t increase the bond with your dog. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself either. It can often leave you feeling guilt and shame.

Control is temporary and fleeting. Connection is something strong and lasting and so much more powerful. It’s what fills us up. It’s what makes us smile when our dogs greet us at the door after a long day at work and it’s what makes us cry when we have to say goodbye to them. It’s what we crave. What we want most in this world.

The question is can we give up our need to control our dogs so we can have the connection we so fiercely desire?

I really hope so, because there is so much more to be gained by building a connection with our dogs than to be gained by control. 

We can achieve great things with our dogs, or we can find greatness in the simple things with them. Even the dogs who seem to be out of control have a place with us. Chodron was speaking about our fellow humans when she wrote, “Be grateful to them; they’re your own special gurus, showing up right on time to keep you honest.” I think we can apply the wisdom here to our dogs as well. Who’s teaching whom? It’s hard to tell. Maybe not knowing makes the joy even greater. The Control Myth by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

Dogs in the City – Do No Harm?

June 5, 2012 22 comments

Like so many other dog lovers out there, tomorrow night I will be watching a TV show that features dogs, the big city (New York) and a “dog guru”. However, unlike many of my dog loving friends, I cannot say that I will be watching it with a completely uncritical eye.

That is not to say that I am looking for something to criticize. I’m really not. But two things I saw on the first episode left me wondering what else I would see and whether I could like a show that does some good while possibly doing some harm.

The TV show, called Dogs in the City,  is hosted by “dog guru” (def. Guru: a person with knowledge or expertise ), Justin Silver, and airs on CBS on Wednesday nights.

Justin is a comedian and a passionate animal advocate who has done a lot to help rescued animals, including:

In the first episode, Justin seemed to correctly diagnose some of his client’s issues – separation anxiety, dog aggression and a doggie weight issue.  He was honest and up front with each owner about the issue and what would be needed from them to fix it.

But there were subtle things that were said or done that worried me.

  • In the case of the owner who had an aggressive dog (in her office) – a model who had volunteered to help with the dog aggression issue by bringing in her own dog, was allowed to bring her dog within biting distance of the other, resulting in a bite.
  • In the case of 9-year-old Allie, and her Bernese Mountain dog, Rosie, Justin taught the girl to push against the chest of her dog in a forceful manner and say “leave it” so the dog would learn to not eat food unless given the okay. Later the girl is interviewed by herself and the thing she said she learned was to push the dog in the chest and say “leave it”.

When it comes to dog trainers and doctors I am of one school of mind “do no harm.” That includes both humans and their pets.

In both cases mentioned above, harm was done . One was in the form of physical harm – to the model’s dog, and the other was in the form of bad advice that could lead to potential harm to Allie, or someone else, down the road.

In the case of the model’s dog, the owner’s own self-denial about her dog’s aggression, and the fact that the dog had a history of biting other dogs and people in the office, should have been enough information to know that this situation needed to be managed much more effectively than it was. I could never see Victoria Stilwell letting an aggressive dog close enough to another dog to allow that dog to be bit. Could you?

In the case of Allie and Rosie, Justin’s advice for Allie to shove her dog Rosie in the chest was just bad advice. Coming on the heels of National Bite Prevention week, this seemed like the worst possible advice one could give a child (or adult). The possibility of Rosie biting Allie may have been low in her case, but what if she were to try this with another dog? Would that other dog be so accommodating? And, what if she were to teach her friends what she learned and one of them got bitten? Children are the most likely to get bitten by a dog and Justin just shared a training method that has the potential to harm a child – whether Allie herself, a friend or some child who was watching it that night. Not good.

Maybe it’s the fault of the producer who is looking to make an interesting show that has a bit of drama, or maybe it was the editing that things went wrong or maybe Justin just wasn’t thinking about the repercussions in that particular situation. Who knows? But, what I do know is that when it involves dogs and kids one must be cautious and one must always keep in mind to “do no harm”.

I will be watching Dogs in the City on Wednesday night, but it will be with a much more critical eye than before. My hope is that a guy like Justin, who does so much good for animals, will continue to help owners and their pets while doing no harm. That is my hope. I hope he, and the show, can deliver

Will you watch?

Dogs, Dog Trainers and American Humane: There’s a storm abrewin’…

March 28, 2010 3 comments

For the average dog owner, this will be news, but for those in the dog training world, it’s been an ongoing discussion – one filled with anger, frustration and disgust. And, it all started when the American Humane Association (not to be confused with the Humane Society of the United States) decided to invite Caesar Milan to speak at a new event they are hosting called the Humane Dog Training Symposium (no dates or location announced yet).

You see, American Humane Association “provides national leadership in developing policies, legislation, curricula and training programs — and taking actions — to protect children and animals from cruelty, abuse, neglect and exploitation.” They are the group that denounced Michael Vick and the awful things he did to the dogs in his care (HSUS decided to work with Vick). They’re also the group that has long advocated for the protection of animals in homes where there is domestic abuse. (Currently, Minnesota is looking to introduce a law that protects animals living in homes where domestic abuse exists.)

In the past, American Humane has criticized Caesar Milan’s techniques as cruel and punishment-based. In fact, in 2006 they posted a statement on their website saying just that. Unfortunately, I cannot supply you with a link to that statement because American Humane has since removed it from their website, but here is a blog post quoting some of what they said then. However, given American Humane’s stance on Caesar Milan in the past, it does create a bit of a controversy for them, especially with the humane, positive-reinforcement and science-based trainers, who believe that Milan’s “training methods” are out-dated, dangerous and cruel. For them, it demonstrates the hypocrisy that American Humane has chosen to exhibit when money, media attention and increased visibility is at stake.

So, as the average Joe dog owner, you might be asking, “What’s the big deal? Why the controversy?”

1. American Humane, a long-time advocate for the humane treatment of animals, claims to oppose Caesar Milan’s training methods, yet has decided to invite him to speak at their event. In essence, they are promoting him, and allowing him to share his methods with a lot of people, while at the same time claiming not to support those very same methods.

2. American Humane’s own people, including board members (read Steve Dale’s blog post) and staff, publicly say that they do not support his methods, yet they support his attendance at the event, where he will have more opportunity to expose people to the methods they oppose.

3. In addition to American Humane, Caesar’s training methods have been denounced by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT) , as described in their open letter to Merial (the animal pharmaceutical giant and maker of Frontline and Heartgard), for the “punishment-based techniques” that are employed on his television show. Despite this, American Humane, an advocate for the humane treatment of animals and out-spoken critic of Caesar Milan, has decided to promote him in a symposium being hosted by their own organization.

4. As a national leader in the humane treatment of animals and children, American Humane must also aware that new research shows that using methods that involve pain or require the owner to overwhelm a dog (some of which Mr. Milan has used on his television show) “by pinning a dog on his back or side, kicking the dog, forcing him to release a toy, staring him down and grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, actually can increase the likelihood of an aggressive response from a dog.” Yet, they have invited an him to attend their Humane Dog Training Symposium. (For more info on the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) paper on “The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals” click here).

5. Despite Caesar himself saying that he is not a certified dog trainer, his show is viewed by millions of people around the United States and the world, and most of them believe he is in fact, a dog trainer. People use his techniques (without any direct training from Caesar) on their dogs without the foreknowledge that such training techniques can be dangerous (and yes, it says exactly that at the beginning of his show). Even on his own website, Caesar says he is someone who “passionately studied books on dog psychology…” and “… through his own observation, awareness, and first hand experience” determined what techniques would work on dogs. Not a dog trainer.

I agree. Caesar Milan has used his fame for some good. He has brought attention to puppy mills and the deplorable conditions that dogs suffer in those facilities. He has shown that pitbulls can be wonderful dogs, despite the breed’s bad reputation. He has also educated dog owners on the importance of exercising your dog. Nope. Not all bad.

But, for American Humane it is much more than just a matter of “the good vs. the bad”. They have to decide whether they want to stand for what they say or change what they stand for. One is rooted in honesty, the other in hypocrisy. And that… is the storm abrewin’.

Additional Links/Info:
Dogs are worshiped, but not protected
American Humane Association Convenes Humane Dog Training Symposium
Dog Training Symposium – First of It’s Kind, Cesar Millan and American Humane Convene the Event,
Animal Organisation Labels Cesar Milan’s Dog Whisperer Style Training ‘Inhumane’
Pack Theory… Pack It In!

“Alpha” What?

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Today I read a great article on Pack Theory (“Pack Theory – Pack It In!”) and why we should stop using this theory when it comes to relating to our dogs.

I would like to supplement this article (which I highly recommend reading if you use the terms “alpha”, “pack leader” and “dominance”) with some additional information.

Did you ever wonder where the term “alpha wolf” came from? Or, how it came to be a part of our public discourse when discussing wolves and dogs?

It all started with a Senior Research Scientist named L. David Mech. Back in 1968, he wrote a book called “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species.” It was published in 1970 and republished in 1981 and is still in print today. In that book, David Mech described something called the “alpha wolf”. “Alpha” wolves were described as “competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle.” At the time this book was written, there was a belief that wolves competed for “Alpha” status and therefore led the pack and held all of the power within the pack. It was based on research at the time and on studies done on an artificial wolf pack (not a wolf pack living in the wild).

In the 40 years since that book was published a whole lot of new information has been discovered about wolves and wolf packs. It turns out that the concept of there being an “Alpha” within a wolf pack is no longer accurate. Take a listen to L. David Mech as he describes how the term came about and why it is no longer accurate when it relates to wolves out in the wild.

So why does the concept remain a part of our vernacular? And, why is it used to apply to dogs?

I think the article I mentioned above does a good job with answering these questions. What I will say is that we need to stop using the term “Alpha” when talking about wolves. It is no longer applicable, even L. David Mech (the man who coined the term) says so. And, it certainly should not be used to describe dogs, who are not in any way like wolf packs. We do not need to be “alpha” in order to have well-behaved dogs. The reality is that the amount of dedicated time and training you do with your dog are what really works. “Alpha rolls” or pining a dog down do not. And, if you don’t believe me, then read this and learn what the newest research tells us about what works in working with dogs.

Dogs and You: Who’s in Charge? The Trainer or You?

June 16, 2009 4 comments

CB106189Just this evening I was tweeted a blog post on the benefits of clicker training. It wasn’t the part about the benefits of clicker training that disturbed me. It was the personal story that prefaced it.

For the sake of anonymity, I am going to refrain from mentioning the blog (no links this time folks), but I will say that I am not making an overall judgement of the owner, rather pointing out the enormous responsibilty we have as dog owners to protect them at all times – from those who would do them harm whether they be a person on the street or a person who specializes in animal care or training.
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