Sunday, November 15, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
One of the many things that people will read about when looking for a trainer or behaviourist is what method of training the dog trainer will use. Most modern trainers are taught to use "positive" or "reward based" methods. Some trainers will use "balanced" methods which utilise punishment and aversives, while others are completely punishment based. Thankfully the completely punishment based are very few and far between, the balanced are a dying breed, and positive is the way forward.
"What the fuck are you on about?" I hear you ask. Well here goes.
For many years, people were taught that dogs need to be shown "who is boss", "who is dominant in the pack" and that their dog should be "submissive" to their human. These ideas were based on a flawed study involving captive, unrelated wolves and their behaviour around each other and resources such as food, mates and so on. A bit like "Big Brother" on tv, but with wolves.
These wolves did not know each other from Adam, and being confined only had access to limited resources as they were unable to move out from the area and go hunting and seeking the things they wanted. So they fought over the things that were available to them. Naturally, the bigger, healthier and stronger wolves were able to be more competitive than their smaller counterparts and received a bigger share of the resources. So, the humans decided that these wolves were dominant and "Alpha", and this is how a pack would behave, and so to make the dogs act like the seemingly "lower ranking" wolves who were less aggressive, we must bully them into being submissive.
The trouble is, wolves do not behave like that in a natural setting. They are more like a family, with mum and dad, taking care of the rest of the family, older siblings that can go off and start their own families and they rarely fight over resources at all. The pecking order as to who gets fed first varies from day to day, and the wolves jobs within the pack is also fluid. Then there is the fact that although they have a common ancestor, dogs and wolves are two entirely different species. One evolved to stay away from humans, the other to hang around with us instead, and their brains think and react differently as a result.
So the study of how wolves behave was wrong. The scientists who observed these wolves then spent a bloody long time trying to tell the world of their mistake, but by this point the damage was done. Trainers in village halls, and TV trainers were telling people to yank their dogs with prong collars, zap them with shock collars, do "alpha rolls" which involve pinning the dog to the floor until they stop wriggling, biting the dog's ear and so on, and because the dogs were afraid, for a temporary period the treatment works. Punishment, by definition, means to reduce a behaviour. Punishment must work, or it would not be punishment.
However... with using punishment in training there are flaws. Not just that it is not very nice to zap, bite, hit or yell at your "best friend" while you try to get them to "submit" to you - to me that sounds like domestic violence, and if a human did that to another human, it would be viewed incredibly dimly by other humans and the law, but also, when the unwanted behaviour stops, so does the punishment.
Which means training has stopped. If a dog has practiced something, they have gotten good at it, even if that thing is an unwanted behaviour. Now, the dog has probably reached a level of tolerance to the punishment, has stopped being trained not to do the unwanted behaviour, and so the unwanted behaviour can creep back in and need a harsher level of punishment before the behaviour stops again.
Punishment does not tell the one whose behaviour is being punished what you DO want instead. Try asking your partner to do the washing up, by saying nothing but "no" from the moment you see them, until they get right what you want them to do. Now just simply say "it would be really nice if you could wash up, please" and see how much quicker they understand.
Think of the dog who has been told "no" countless times when it comes to chasing the cat. The dog, might stop chasing the cat if told off, often enough. But he loves chasing the cat, plus he is also getting used to being told off, so when he goes to chase the cat and being told off no longer cuts it, what next? Should he be shouted at more harshly? That might work quickly at first, but when that stops working, what next? Hit? What when that stops working? Kicked? Zapped with a shock collar? The punishment is spiralling and even though there are interludes of the dog deciding to behave appropriately and not chase the cat, eventually the chase of the cat becomes more valuable to him than the fear of the punishment, especially if the behaviour has not been punished for a while so the dog is less bothered by it, and so the cycle begins again. He may even begin to blame the cat for the bad thing that happens to him and then you have a whole new set of problems.
Now imagine, if instead of chasing the cat, the dog was firstly managed with stair gates, or a long line, so he could not actually physically get to the cat (after all - positive does NOT mean just let the dog do as he pleases). The dog could be taught calmness in his daily life so as to not be so aroused to feel the need to chase so often. The dog could be taught to disengage from the cat. The dog who is really, really, reeeeaaaally adamant on chasing the cat as he has a really strong prey drive and can't help himself could be rewarded for doing something else still - he might very well enjoy a chaser tuggy (a fluffy toy on a rope for tugging and chasing) or a flirt pole (like a cat's toy on a string but much bigger and the string is attached to a horse lunging whip so he can run around very fast, chasing it) for example, and so they can indulge their desire to chase and catch something fluffy or squeaky, and actually be rewarded for doing so. If the reward is reinforcing enough, the dog's behaviour will change.
By practicing behaviour in an appropriate manner, the dog is getting good at an appropriate behaviour and both human and dog are winning - and as a bonus no cats are eaten in the process. The better the dog behaves, the more they get rewarded. In the meantime, management means he is not practicing chasing the cat and so that behaviour is becoming slowly extinct. Training continues for the dog, with every praise. How much better is that for the dog and human relationship? How much nicer and fairer is that for the dog? After all - it is us who want the dog to behave in a certain way. The dog couldn't give a fuck. He just wants to chase something. So it is up to us to make it worth his while.
Positive training has never been about letting the dog do as they please, or being soft, despite popular thinking - if anything it takes a bigger skill set than punishment, as the trainer has to work out how to lead the dog forward in an appropriate way that works. They need to work out what makes that dog tick, what reinforces his behaviours. A good trainer with good knowledge and a good skill set will be able to do this - if you need help with your own dog, ask a qualified professional (like me ;-) ). In truth it might take a little longer at first than simply zapping, yanking or yelling at the dog each time they do something you do not like, though with adequate management most behaviours can be instantly stopped.
The effects of positive training are much, much longer lasting than punishment and mean relationship building, and help to teach your dog that the world is a good place, you are a good person, how to behave appropriately and be happy about doing so - and is that not what we want for our best friends?
Friday, September 11, 2020
A building generally has walls, a roof, and a floor, as a bare minimum. The building might be a disco, or it might be a phone shop, or a library, or anything else. But before it is all of those things, it is just a building.
How? By changing the energy. By replacing high arousal activities with calmer ones and then practicing the new way of being in that place. HINT - You might need to swap high arousal for mid-arousal activities at first, before swapping down to low arousal activities, so your dog is better able to process the changes going on in his environment.
Remember - always choose Fun Not Fear®
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
In the while since I last wrote a blog, a heckin lot has happened. I am knackered! I am writing this from my phone as I can't reach my laptop, and I have no desire to get up and get it. So apologies if there are any autocorrect spelling disasters. I am sure I will edit it later.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
I miss my Dad, my Mum, having a proper visit with my Nan, taking my dog out for a decent walk, and just being able to go out and be in nature a bit. Then I began worrying about my clients, and was I doing enough for them. The more I sat and thought about stuff, the shittier I felt. Covid-19 is shit and I haven't even caught it yet that I am aware of.
God knows how hard it must be for those that are being worse affected.
The day I had today could not have been further from that point though.
Firstly I had the most lovely food, from a local Indian restaurant named Monza's Place, that is an absolute gem.
Then I was reminded how lovely my neighbours are, when the whole street came out to sing happy birthday to a young girl who for obvious reasons can't have a real party.
But the biggest thing by far happened just a few moments ago.
Putting this here as I know you guys will understand how BIG this is to me and I can't fit it all on a Facebook post, and I just need to get it out before I pop.
A few years ago I had a very poorly little dog, who was on the point of being put down. Allergies, food intolerances and digestion issues, plus colitis and a rejection at birth by his mother meant my little Moo had became underweight, sick and terrified little mess by the time he was about 8 months old.
Daily vomiting, passing blood, food not passing through his stomach, ducking if anyone tried to stroke him, gunky sore ears and eyes, anorexia, anxiety and chewed bald patches on his legs... My poor, poor pup - i was at my wits end and he was in agony, aggressive and afraid of everything. I used to cry just looking at him sometimes.
Here i studied my backside off and gained degree level qualifications, which is no mean feat when I had left school in 1996 with average GCSE's and not much else, and I began to understand a bit of what was going on with my boy.
Being in the ISCP, I learned his fears and anxiety were likely rooted in his pain. His aggression was likely to be fear based. I began to understand my pup. A new world opened up for us. I heard of all sorts of things behavioural and otherwise, including being introduced to a nutriscan test. They offer a food intolerance test that is not yet offered in the UK, but can be ordered from the USA. Here started the path to his recovery, once we found some food intolerances.
From there we were able to cut out things from his diet which meant his tummy issues began to clear up. I taught him how to enjoy food again as he was deeply suspicious of it, using toys as a reward for eating.
I began helping out a lady at the local Dog College puppy & obedience classes too. As a family we had always trained our own dogs and so on, but training other's dogs was just so much fun..
At this point I was able to start training him, with all the new things I was learning at ISCP and I then went into absolute DOGS to learn even more training techniques using games and fun stuff.
But - even though his tummy cleared up, he still kept getting chronic ear infections, lasting months at a time. Each time, the pain was setting back the progress we had made with his behaviour and so we would have to keep dealing with new phobias as they cropped up.
I also did other courses, all of which helped me to shape my positive, reward based methods and "Fun Not Fear" philosophy, which I use with clients now.
Further investigations at the vet eventually led to him being diagnosed with Dust/Storage mite allergies, so yet more things were cut out from around him, and a routine of daily antihistames began. This was a good year ago.
After years of tears, vet trip after vet trip, continous care and rounds of antibiotics, steroids, washes, flushes, pain killers and a home made diet, thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours spent on education, on diet, on tests, on medical bills, on pills and potions, and a whole new career path... tonight I realised at just gone midnight I had forgotten to do his ear flush.. so I wearily went to do his ears and made a marvellous discovery.
They were already clean.
Actually fucking clean.
Like really clean!!!
No pain. No redness. No wax. No smell. No wincing as I came at him with the cotton bud. Just clean ears.
No tummy ache. A good appetite. Well trained (to the point of now being my demo dog). No skin issues. No bald patches. And now no ear infection.
I have spent years working my butt off to get to this moment. Joy doesn't cover how I feel right now. I know it won't last forever, and he will likely have another flare up soon, but for now, for the first time in his life...
...I have a completely healthy, happy dog.
Friday, March 13, 2020
So we are being given plenty of advice on what to do and what not to do.
- Wash your hands.
- Catch your cough in a tissue.
- Don't touch things like card readers or door handles unneccesarily incase the infected got there first.
- Do wash your hands some more.
- Avoid big crowds.
- Avoid medium sized ones too...
...and for the love of the Gods stop buying all the bastard bog roll - some of us actually need to get some, while you sit there on your 100% recycled paper, double quilted and embossed thrones, hoarding like an Andrex puppy with resource guarding issues. Have you ever wiped your arse on kitchen towel? It's like sandpaper. But worse because you can put your hand through it. And Juan Sheet is a bloody liar. And you have to be really careful to rip it up small enough to not block the loo up.
And what is it with pasta? Pasta shelves are empty but all the pasta sauce is still there? Are you planning huge and impressive banquets of pasta with a cheeky bog roll surprise? Count me out!
If we fall sick or are not planning to fall sick any time soon, one option is to self isolate.
But what of our dogs? Assuming we don't all fall ill and need to outsource some help to take care of them for us, they will still need us to do stuff with them and for them. On that note DO keep an eye on Great Aunt Mabel and her minature poodle Bitey Bessie, incase she gets sick and needs help - make sure they have a list of phone numbers to call. Yes, including yours.
Naturally the idiots that bought all the loo roll are now starting on the dog food. This doesn't mean go running out and buy the local shop out of their entire stock of complete crappios, but do have an extra tin or two handy just incase you have to pop back a second time to get some food. Have a nice little stock of things your dog CAN eat, meat, fish, veg etc - and be aware of things your dog can not have. Onions, chocolate, raisins, tree nuts to name but a few of the things NOT to feed.
Home fed dogs are at a bit of an advantage right now as everyone has spent their money on pot noodles and tins of beans, (presumably to knock up some tasty little number, to go with all the bog roll pasta), so the fresh veg and meat counters were heaving full when I went shopping yesterday. Some dogs might enjoy the chance to spend a few days eating some nice fresh food, and you might find it easier than you think to prepare it, should the dog food cupboard run dry.
If you own a dehydrator then great - you can dry some jerky during all the time you are now spending at home self isolating, and knock up some tasty little stews in the slow cooker for doggo while you are at it. Here is a nice little recipe book for dogs if you are stuck for ideas.
What about stuff to do? Well for your dogs, assuming you are healthy enough through it, this can actually be a brilliant time!
CANINE ENRICHMENT- THE BOOK YOUR DOG NEEDS YOU TO READ by Shay Kelly, is absolutely packed with ideas for enrichment that you can do with your dog, to make their day more fulfilling and interesting. From stuffing toilet rolls with treats, to playing with food puzzles and more, there are enough ideas in there to keep your dog busy for weeks. Enrichment can be so much fun, and should be a part of your every day life, not just your Coronavirus war effort. Why not use this time to set up new fun things and play habits to carry on doing from now on?
Absolute Dogs have a range of downloadable books and DVDs, which as a PDT I am obviously going to recommend as I find them brilliant. If you have a behaviour issue you would like to work on, now is an excellent time to start. Although I am only doing 121s over Skype etc with new clients for a little while, there is nothing to stop people doing work on many things. I would advise speaking to a professional before trying to deal with aggression, and always supervise dogs around children. But, issues like a lack of confidence, or optimism, separation issues or maybe working on your loose leash walking etc - well you are in luck because now is your perfect time to be getting on with it. do get in touch if I can help you!
For dogs that are very nervous, this time can be perfect for bucket emptying, and for doing gentle games that boost confidence, so that when you are back to your more busy life, your dog can be better prepared and well rested, which can only be a good thing. Now is a perfect time to learn Canine Massage , or to start using a thundershirt, or to start using scents like Pet Remedy to create a relaxing atmosphere. If you need advice on how to achieve this, do ask.
Canine grooming and husbandry can be a complete pain in the arse too, but with your new found self-isolation time, you can really spend hours teaching your dog that a (very gentle) swipe of the brush or the nail file, is really not that terrible. Swipe. chicken. swipe. chicken. swipe. chicken. You get the idea. Heck - you could even go all out and give them a bath. Let them have a pile of old towels to dive into and roll about to get dry on afterwards and they will wear themselves out nicely.
Lastly - yes you CAN walk the dog. You do not have to avoid all contact with life outside your front door. Just don't go to overcrowded places, don't be touching outside surfaces and then sticking your fingers in your mouth, and do wash your hands (and occasionally wipe the door handles too) when you get back in! A nice walk in the fresh air will do you good, mentally and physically. If you are worried about your dogs paws spreading the virus if he hops up on benches etc, pop a little bottle of water and his usual shampoo by the door and wash his feet and face on the way back in. Job done. It's just a case of being sensible.
This is a scary time for many of us, especially those who are likely to be worst affected by Coronavirus, and their families. We can't see who is going to fall ill, or how badly. We don't know if time off school will mean bad exam results, or if time off work will be a disaster for our finances, or how long all of this will go on for. Rather than going off out doing things that do not need to be done, like having fights over packs of bog roll in crowded supermarkets, why not spend the time at home making the most of it? Yes - it is not a holiday, and yes, it is not going to be easy. But we can make it seem a little easier just with a little reframing and a positive frame of mind, solution seekers!
UPDATE - since writing this, the UK has been put into lockdown. Many vulnerable people now should not be out walking, and those that do go out for some exercise should be VERY cautious about keeping distance from others and practicing good hygiene. PLEASE DO NOT TAKE RISKS.
Stay safe. xxx
Friday, January 10, 2020
What is positive training?Positive training, (reward based training, force-free training, what ever else you call it), means to utilise positive reinforcement techniques to teach dogs (and anything else capable of learning) cues, behaviours and is also used to condition feelings towards stimuli, in order to have the dog behaving in an appropriate and safe manner, in this human-centred world where they find themselves.
The Dogs Trust tell us :
Positive training rejects the notion that dogs need to be taught using aversive methods such as prongs, shock collars, being "told off" or yelled at, jerking on leads and anything else designed to bully a dog into doing as they are told.
A dog who has been trained using punishment and aversive methods will likely stop the behaviour. When they stop, so does the training as there is no need to keep punishing and using aversive methods. The unwanted behaviour can then return, perhaps with more resilience than before - as the dog has practiced the unwanted behaviour already. What we practice we get good at. This may then need harsher punishment and aversives to train the behaviour away again. However a dog who is trained using positive methods, is rewarded every time they get the behaviour "right". In this way, training never needs to end and the dog will always be guided in the right direction.
It means many things to different people (including the sciencey bit terminologies) but what does it mean for owners who do not want a degree in behaviour, they just want to know how to "fix" the issues their dog may be struggling with? Or for shelters and rescues who want their dogs to find homes as well adjusted, happy good boys and girls?
It is firstly not a quick fix. It is a long lasting one.
It is a kind and ethical way of teaching cues and behaviours to dogs, and shaping emotional responses that they can carry with them throughout life. This takes time - especially when counteracting behaviour issues. This also effects a long - lasting, positive change in the dog's overall view on life.
Just as a human might not expect a good therapist to cure them of all of their life's woes in 60 mins and a follow up phone call, neither can a positive trainer/behaviourist do that for a dog (At least not very often).
It takes work and can seem to be yielding slow results compared to a balanced/dominance trainer's methods. But think of it - if you went to see a therapist and told them your issues, and they treated the issue by whacking you straight in the face, with a punch - you certainly would not want to explore your issues further with them. This would not mean your issue was fixed. It would mean you were afraid of getting whacked again. When the therapist left after claiming your behaviour had changed and therefore you were "fixed", you would still have your issues, but now added to that perhaps a fear of talking about them again. So these issues might build up until one day you could no longer cope and you had to react. Then what? Does the therapist need to whack you even harder to contain your issue?
Now imagine the therapist had done their job properly. Had used positive methods. Had listened to you, looked at everything going on in your life that had made you feel as bad as you felt and dealt one by one with those things - pain, sadness, irritating cats, shown you the thing you were worried about from a safe space, explored your fears and then boosted your overall confidence level by making you feel happier in yourself both near that thing that worries you - and away from it in general life situations. They might even do it over a slice of really nice cake and some coffee. Gradually getting you to a point where you no longer feel the need to worry about that thing, and giving you the tools to not feel so worried about other things too. Yes - it may not have worked as quickly as the therapist who whacked you, but the effects of this approach are much more pleasant and longer lasting.
It means enriching your dogs life instead of leaving them to a bowl of kibble and an hour of marching briskly along a pavement as their daily outlet. Allowing them to utilise their noses and engage their brains will set them up to be calmer, more focused and feel more fulfilled, leading to less destructive behaviours and boredom issues. Just as reading a book or watching a film, listening to music or doing other things that involve our primary senses of sight and hearing are good for our mental well being, the same goes for dogs and their sense of smell. Sniffy walks, scent work, food puzzle toys, scatter feeding are all easy ways to increase your dog's daily dose of joy in life - and do not need to break the bank or specialist dog training.
It means not bollocking them if they "get it wrong", but setting them up to succeed in the first place so they can practice getting things right - and then when they have practiced getting things right, these things become their go-to behaviours. What we practice we get good at. If Fido practices going and waiting politely on a mat for a treat when the doorbell goes, this is what Fido will get good at. If Fido learns that when the doorbell goes this is a great opportunity to bowl over the incoming visitor, Fido may well get good at doing that instead. No amount of yelling "NO!!" tells the dog what they should be doing. "NO!!!" is not an instruction and has no clear desired outcome. "NO!!" could mean "stop doing that but chase the cat instead", or "stop doing that and run out of the front door", or perhaps "stop doing that and bark at the visitor, because now you associate visitors with your human being cross and you don't like them any more". Similarly, leash jerking every time the dog who reacts to other dogs on lead, sees another dog, will not make the dog like oncoming dogs very much more. And so on...
Think of what you DO want and then reward the heck out of it with something the dog loves, until it becomes his go-to behaviour.
"There is nothing that can be taught by fear, that can't be taught with fun, apart from fear itself" ~ F.Locke
POSITIVE. TRAINING. WORKS