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Posts Tagged ‘positive dog training’

Dogs don’t come genetically hardwired to know “SIT”

February 10, 2013 10 comments

Dog Lying on FloorRecently a friend posted her volunteer pin from our old local humane society that I used to volunteer at here in town. It brought back a lot of memories for me. We used to be such a tight-knit group of staff and volunteers. There was something special about the place. Even now, two years later, we all still pine for the days when we would all work together to help the animals in our care.

One of the things that made us such a close group was the amount of time we spent learning how to help the dogs and cats in our care. Like other humane societies, ours offered training classes for puppies and newly adopted dogs. We also had training for staff and volunteers, including such topics as cat care, dog care, positive reinforcement training and understanding dog behavioral cues. And, we had a training program for STAR volunteers, for those of us who worked with some of the less adoptable dogs to help them become more adoptable.

I like to think that our volunteers were trained better than those in most other shelters. I might be a bit biased on that front, but I know we certainly were given every opportunities to learn more about dogs and dog behavior (Thank you Rut, Inga, Kate and Colleen!).

Perhaps one of my favorite training segments was the one that didn’t include any dogs at all. It was a regular part of the dog training classes, both for adopters and their dogs and the volunteers and STAR members.

The instructor (i.e., dog trainer) would first have people pair up in class. Once pairs had been established, one person from each pair would be asked to leave the room. The trainer would then tell those who remained that they would be playing the role of a trainer. They would be responsible for training the other person a new trick or command. The catch was the trainer could not use any words to explain to the other person what they wanted them to do. They could use some hand gestures and head nods, but no sounds or words. The class trainer would then assign a trick or command and let the other people back in the room.

It was always fun to watch the other people come back in as we tried to get the to do what we wanted them to do. They would stand there with puzzled looks on their faces trying to figure out what were asking of them. Many would try the obvious commands -sit, down, come, etc. Others would resort to offering a variety of behaviors in hope they would hit upon the right one eventually. Most people figured out what they were being asked to do, with a little time and trial and error, but occasionally, they wouldn’t be able to figure it out and would just give up.

Sound familiar?

If you haven’t already figured it out, the purpose of the exercise was to help us understand what our own dogs go through when we are trying to train them. As many of you already know, training a dog with words only works if you first show them what the behavior is that you want. Saying “sit, Sit Sit, SIT!” over and over again is unlikely to get the behavior you want if your dog has never been shown the behavior in the first place, or if they haven’t been shown how that word “sit” is connected to a specific behavior. (I can’t tell you how many times I heard people going through the dog kennels at our shelter yelling “SIT!” to a dog who had no clue what they were saying or why.)

Dogs aren’t genetically hardwired to know “SIT”. Helping us to understand what it felt like to be our dogs helped us to be better trainers and to have more patience and understanding when working with them. Sometimes putting ourselves in their shoes can open our eyes to things we had not seen before. I know this one certainly made an impact on me and how I work with my dogs.

What about you? Have you ever done this exercise with your spouse or a friend before? How did it change how you work with your dog?

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Investigative Report Into A Doggy Daycare Shows Why You Need To Do Your Research

November 18, 2010 60 comments

Tonight, KMSP Fox 9 News aired a piece (please DO watch the video) about a local doggy daycare facility that, to be honest, left me absolutely speechless. The dogs were treated in a manner that was utterly appalling.

To the common layperson, using a prong collar to train, pulling a dog by it’s ears enough to cause pain, twisting a dog’s penis to teach them to stop peeing are not only outmoded forms of training, they are cruel, and they have been proven to lead to behavior issues in dogs later on.

There are a lot of people out there who work with dogs. Not all of them have your dog’s best interest at heart. Some of them do not even have a lot experience working with pets, or may treat your pet in a way that you wouldn’t want them to be treated. I wrote a blog post a while back about the need for owners to be their dog’s advocate. I cannot stress this enough. Whether it be a dog trainer, a doggy daycare or a pet sitter, you need to do your research. You need to know what methods they use to train your dog, discipline your dog, work with your dog, etc.

Understanding the latest in dog behavioral science is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but perhaps this information shared just this past week by Dr. Sophia Yin (a veterinarian with a Masters in Animal Science) will help dog owners to understand that knowing who is doing what to your dog is so important. Because the latest information shows that aggressive training techniques lead to an aggressive response from a dog. I learned about this information 2 years ago and shared it on my blog, but it is worth sharing again:

The highest frequency of aggression occurred in response to aversive (or punishing) interventions, even when the intervention was indirect:

• Hitting or kicking the dog (41% of owners reported aggression)
• Growling at the dog (41%)
• Forcing the dog to release an item from its mouth (38%)
• “Alpha roll” (forcing the dog onto its back and holding it down) (31%)
• “Dominance down” (forcing the dog onto its side) (29%)
• Grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%)
• Staring the dog down (staring at the dog until it looks away) (30%)
• Spraying the dog with water pistol or spray bottle (20%)
• Yelling “no” (15%)
• Forced exposure (forcibly exposing the dog to a stimulus – such as tile floors, noise or people – that frightens the dog) (12%)

In contrast, non-aversive methods resulted in much lower frequency of aggressive responses:

Training the dog to sit for everything it wants (only 2% of owners reported aggression)
• Rewarding the dog for eye contact (2%)
• Food exchange for an item in its mouth instead of forcing the item out (6%)
• Rewarding the dog for “watch me” (0%)

(Data from a study by, Herron, Frances S. Shofer and Ilana R. Reisner, veterinarians with the Department of Clinical Studies at University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine)

This is why it is so important to know who is caring for your pet. Not knowing, could put you, your dog or your child in danger. You need to do your own research. After all, it is your best buddy you are talking about here right?

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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