sI have recently been watching some interesting conversations between 'balanced' trainers and 'positive only' trainers. Discussing whether you can make training force free entirely, this is how balanced trainers often try to dirty positive only trainers, and positive only will often try to dirty balanced trainers because they can use tools such as prong collars and e-collars. I take a different stance of being a 'scientific trainer'. This is what I call myself. I use the four quadrants of operant conditioning to allow me to get the best results for my clients and their dogs. Now ideally I have a preference to cause as little stress as possible to the dog whilst training to make the sessions more effective. If a dog is highly stressed, it will shut down and it will seem like you are getting results, when in actual fact the dog is so highly stressed it doesn't know how to respond, so it does nothing instead. This is the state I wish to avoid at all costs. This is a suppression of a behaviour, it does not solve it, it just means the dog is too stressed to respond and will continue to display the behaviour when no longer in the stressful environment. This can actually lead to outbursts, alternative behaviours problems being expressed and even aggression, especially if dealing with dogs that have fears or phobias.
Below is a graphic of the four quadrants so that I can more easily explain both my methods and how things can be done incorrectly. I am not a fan of e-collars or prongs, I feel that alternative methods can be just as effective, but they do take longer and require more input from the handler. I am not going to bash balanced or positive only trainers, I have personal preferences in my training methods and I know they work, I can always find alternative ways to teach something, I do not believe the general public should have access to them too much can go wrong and it does, frequently. I knew of someone who had a trainer recommend an e-collar for their 12 week old shepherd, they poorly executed the use of it and the dog developed a fear that is now needing intensive work to get past. I will explain this in more detail shortly.
graphic was found on google and originally belongs to www.canineessentials.com.au
So if we look at the graphic we have two major ideas, reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement increases a behaviour, punishment reduces a behaviour. Punishment does not have to be things like the traditional newspaper on the nose, it simply means that a behaviour will decrease. We then have positive and negative. Positive means we add in something, negative means we take something away. There are some good examples within the graphic and I will detail them here in text briefly for those not able to view the image:
Positive Reinforcement = giving a reward to increase a desired behaviour . This could be treats, a fuss, it could even be allowing the dog to go and explore its environment or interact with another dog. You find what motivates your dog and you can use it to reinforce your training.
Negative Reinforcement = taking something away in order to reinforce a desired response, such as removing a pressure once the desired behaviour is expressed, thus reinforcing the desired behaviour. This is how head-collars and prong collars are used. Both will give different pressures, prongs will give a deeper more intense pressure than say a head-collar.
Negative Punishment = Taking something away to decrease a behaviour. In the graphic the examples used are withholding a reward or walking away if a dog jumps up. In the case of a frustrated greeter, we would take away the other dog if our own dog is showing signs of inappropriate greeting behaviour such as barking and lunging.
Positive Punishment = Adding something in order to decrease a behaviour. This could be leash corrections, but this is also where e-collars would usually be placed. The discomforting stimulus is meant to stop a behaviour being expressed, such as giving the dog a small shock to stop it chasing deer.
So now we've go these basics explained, I will say a quick thing about e-collars. If the tone function is used they can be coupled with rewards to become a positive secondary reinforcer like a clicker. This way they can become a good thing. However the majority of uses of the e-collar are to stop a behaviour happening so it can cause discomfort and if abused or set too high to the sensitivity of the dog, it can cause pain and high stress levels. The use of an e-collar is not recommended for use on fearful or aggressive dogs as they often only suppress the behaviours and can in fact cause more problems as I mentioned above the graphic.
The aim of dog training should be to cause as little stress as possible, so positive reinforcement and negative punishment should be the first port of call for any training. They cause minimal stress and in the long term more reliable results. A reactive or 'aggressive' dog may just seem aggressive on the outside, but it is in fact reacting according to how its learning history has taught it to react. If we punished the dog for biting say using an e-collar or a smack, we could in fact create more negative associations with whatever is causing the dog to behave in an aggressive manner, teaching it to be even more aggressive the next time round. This is what happened with the 12wk old shepherd. The owner incorrectly timed their 'shock' and the dog developed a fear of people as a person happened to be nearby when they were trying to correct the dog for something else.
So instead we want to teach the dog to react in a more appropriate manner, teach it alternative behaviours and increase its positive emotions towards whatever is making the dog aggressive or fearful. So we would use positive reinforcement, lots of rewards for the behaviours we want, making sure the dog gets things it really enjoys only when exposed to what makes it respond aggressively and over time the dogs response and feelings towards that situation will change to something more generally positive. In some extreme cases when a dog has had a severely detrimental experience, we may only be able to get the dog to maintain a neutral response to the situation. In this case it would likely need management and continuing positive exposure. It may take years in some cases and the dog may never completely overcome its traumatic experience, but we can at least do our best to reduce the stress the dog feels in those situations to make it more comfortable.
When working as a professional trainer, we try not to add emotional and pre-conceived ideas to our cases, however as emotional beings we will always have some emotional response. The same is true with different training methods. We can develop different emotional responses to them dependent on our experiences and this is what can cause the big rifts we see in current training practices. Ultimately training methods should be viewed entirely objectively and this is where a lot of issues come in because various methods can be very emotive to us as humans, and indeed do affect the emotional state of the dog and can cause stress. Some will argue that stress is good for a dog, but as I said earlier, the level of stress can have a big impact on the dog and all dogs have different levels of sensitivity. So we work with the dog in front of us. Figure out the level of stress they can cope with as you work with them. Start off with very simple things, such as seeing how they cope with not being rewarded for an incorrect behaviour. Some dogs can actually find this highly stressful and will refuse to perform afterwards, so we do have to adapt our methods to each dog.
Scientific research has continued to show that ultimately the best and most effective methods for teaching new or changing behaviours in dogs, is positive reinforcement and then negative punishment. They produce the least stress thus keeping the dog in a working frame of mind making the training more effective and consistent achieving more long term results. Any training method can be abused and personally because I do my best to follow the recommended scientific methods, I would not use e-collars or prong collars as they produce too much stress. If you are unsure about how to deal with a situation or you have limited knowledge of the two preferred training methods, consult a professional trainer that has a good education and lots of experience working with many dogs. If you are unsure what you should be looking for I am happy to help you.
Below is the link to the video used to have Mouse assessed for her Novice Trick Dog title with 'do more with your dog'. For some reason I am having issues embedding this one!
It really has, and shame on me for not updating more often. I've been busy promoting, working and generally having a good old think about dog training in general. But before I go into that, I thought I would update.
At 7.5 months old Mouse passed her first trick dog title, Novice. She has been hard work as she is not hugely food or toy motivated and to be honest that's every trainers nightmare, but we managed!! It has been really hard work raising a wolfdog but also a pleasure. She is the cheekiest, naughtiest, soppiest and loyal companion I have had. She simultaneously makes me want to pull my hair out and laugh in hysterics. She is really hard work but worth every minute of it. She is now 8 months old and will start learning to dryland mush this coming Friday. During these joys and my insane attempts to make sure she is completely socialised, we did have a set back which was very very unexpected and at 14 weeks old it did throw her amazing socialisation out the window. she went from incredibly forward and friendly with strangers to being fearful of everyone she knew except the core family members. We went to visit friends of the family at 14 weeks old. we had visited before and had no mishaps. however this time their youngest child was stroking Mouse nicely, and out of the blue he just kicked her! understandably this really confused and upset our poor puppy and with how sensitive this breed is.. we had her whole human socialisation wiped out in just a few seconds. So since then I have been working really hard counter-conditioning and paying close attention to her stress levels to avoid trigger stacking and ensuring she has as many positive experiences with people as possible. She is slowly coming around but it has put our plans to show back for a while until she is confident being handled by a stranger.
Business wise I have had a lovely lady and her cross-breed come to me for competition level agility training and wow, I am completely blown away by this pair. I have no doubt they will be ready to start competing next season as they have both picked things up so quickly. The drive in her dog is amazing and each week I am continued to be surprised and so proud of how they are developing as a pair. I have started a business page on youtube and I plan to update it as regularly as I remember to get videos of all the dogs working. Since the weather has cooled down the dogs have been so much more focused which means we can start building up the level of work again and no slacking off!!
I have taken on a new dog walking client, a lovely black Labrador called Amber and what a joy she is to walk. Lovely and calm, walks nicely on the lead and her owners obviously love her a great deal which is just a pleasure to experience. I am starting a trick training class on the 6th of October which should be lots of fun as I get so much pleasure doing trick training with my own dogs and its a great way to keep their brains ticking over. I am getting a mahoosive tent to work in over the winter as I am unable to find an indoor space to work with. This tent will have plenty of space for small agility drill sessions and for my obedience and trick classes. I will be covering the floor with carpet off cuts to keep it safe for the dogs so they cannot slip.
I have also been thinking at length about dog training in the modern worls and about how the whole concept hasn't really changed, eg people go o individual trainers and use their services. trainers end up being in competition with each other instead of working together to help build a better foundation for dog ownership. I am currently working with another trainer and behaviourist on an idea which I am hoping may potentially bring dog training into the modern world. but we shall see how that goes. It's going to take a lot of hard work but I am sure its a winner. If the system works, everybody benefits and what better system than that? anyway, I am embedding (hopefully) the video I got of Rosie working recently.
Four weeks ago I travelled by train for four hours to go and pick up our new little bundle. It was not the breed I was planning, but has always been on my 'want' list and had planned for one in the future. However the ideal litter became available and as a family we realised that actually, now is the right time, not later. So our plans for a Smooth Collie have been put on the back burner for a few more years and we welcomed a Czechoslovakian Wolfdog into the family.
I was fortunate I even heard about this litter, I knew the stud dog owner who posted about the litter on Facebook and I watched the updates from the breeder and all the pictures telling myself 'no, smooth collie, not a CsV just yet' but I couldn't help being drawn to the litter. They were all well bred, the parents were fully health tested and the puppies have been registered with the FCI ( federation cynologique internacionale) as the UK Kennel Club does not recognise the breed here. The puppies will all get an export pedigree so that we can compete with them in the UK and even show in Europe if we wish to do so. I am very particular about the conditions in which a puppy is raised and I was glad they were met when I went to see the puppies and their mother. They were all in great condition and exceptionally bold and friendly, all desperate to say hello to the new visitor and climb all over them. Their mum was also in fantastic condition meaning she had been well-cared for throughout both her pregnancy and through puppy rearing. A lot of bitches lose condition through this process if not cared for well enough. Mum was bold and curious, she enjoyed hopping over the door gate frequently and coming and saying hello herself. For me I was lucky enough to get first choice on a puppy. I knew I had a preference for a girl and so the boys were taken out temporarily so I could observe and get to know the little girls in front of me.
I had clear criteria for a pup. It needed to be independent enough that it wasn't going loopy every time it was apart from its litter mates and mother, it had to be playful, interested in toys and very person-focused. I also wanted one that wasn't too large but also not the runt of the litter, plus coat condition and general health had to be a big part of that. Just two of the girls fitted my criteria and it was a tough choice in the end, but out of the last two remaining, I picked the one who was engaging more with me and actively seeking attention through kisses and climbing on me for a stroke. That is how I managed to select the pick of the litter! I went away with a puppy pack, she had her first vaccinations and was microchipped. The breeder kindly drove me back to the train station and I then had the dreaded journey back.
The pup attracted a lot of attention, many people commenting on how beautiful she was, others were dog people themselves and we chatted about dog sports and the joy of raising pups. The pup travelled very well considering the length of the journey, when she would get upset I would have to carry her around and bounce her like a baby then she would calm down and fall asleep on my coat on the train seat next to me. I worried a bit about the noise she was making but people were surprisingly understanding especially as they could see I was doing my best to keep her settled. The following day I was visiting Crufts and still hadn't thought of a name for her. I had dabbled with a couple but whilst at Crufts I did settle on the name.. Mouse.
The last few weeks have been filled with lots of laughter and a few instances of frustration as Mouse is incredibly bright, stubborn and cheeky. She is one heck of a character. She spends her nights either sleeping on our bedroom floor with Serendipity or on our bed between my husband and I, usually curled up to one or other of us. Her days are filled with playing with our shepherds, terrorising our jack russell and learning to not chase the cat or the chickens. She has three sessions of training a day lasting between 5 and 10 minutes depending on her focus, she is usually much more focused in her morning session. She has been coming to my training classes on Saturdays and socialising safely with the dogs that attend. She has had her second vaccination and didn't even notice the needle, but was happy to lick the vets face. She has visited our local park and this Sunday coming she will be taking part in her first companion dog show. I have focused her training on recall, sit, down, stand, wait and she is learning stay. I have also started introducing her to core body work and basic foundation agility training. She has learned her left and right, touch, is learning 'out', has done some small poles on the floor, is learning to be sent away around an obstacle and is learning some fun tricks like paw, shake, high 5, wave and back up. Her recall is still a bit shaky, but I've increased the value of her rewards so it is more appealing than playing with the other dogs.
She does get the chance to play off lead at the training field and when out with Seren as she follows her around and is learning to check in and behave and follow Seren's example. She is still a bit nervy of new situations, but after the initial stress, she settles down and her confidence grows. She hasn't been left yet as she is very very attached to the family and she isn't completely comfortable in a crate for longer periods, so we are building this up in the hope she can be left for a short while in the near future. Until then she comes everywhere with us, and now she's fully vaccinated I don't have to lug her around because she is getting heavy! I will leave you for now to look at some cute photos of her. She also has her own instagram page where I post photos and videos of her for those who are interested: @mouse_the_wolfdog.
This morning I decided to browse for documentaries on netflix, my children specifically requesting anything to do with animals, and I came across a series of TED talks called 'Animal Voices'. The first talk was interesting, the second really caught my interest and I've decided to share it here.
In this talk the speaker mentions anthropromorphising animals. As a scientist I was taught not to do this and to look at their behaviour objectively, however even when looking at behaviour, you need to understand the root of it in order to decrease problematic ones. However when looking at these, we know they are problematic when they affect the animals ability to live their life the way they are meant to, confident, happy. These so called 'problematic' behaviours will not seem this way to the animals expressing them. These behaviours will have become a coping mechanism and it is our job to understand the emotional states behind these behaviours.
As humans we are incapable of not anthropromorphising, we will always be looking at other animals behaviour from our own perspective, trying to understand theirs, and so we have to ensure we are doing it in the correct way. Laurel Braitman explains this some more in her talk, it is worth a watch.
I only started teaching agility back in March but I can honestly say it is one of my favourite disciplines. I've got a really fun bunch of dogs and people in my beginners group who all make it their priority to have fun whilst they are learning. I have a very particular approach to teaching agility in that I focus very heavily on building confidence and technical capability without rushing the dogs into all of the obstacles straight away. We have always had small jumps which can go a little larger to ensure the dogs understand about approaching the jumps from all different angles, building them into various grids and working on stride patterns and working on handlers timing and positioning. I have slowly built in a tunnel, weaves, pause table and a seesaw. I have been ensuring the dogs are confident in knowing their commands and are happy with the equipment before gradually building up distance and independence. Because of this we have a group of very able dogs who are also confident on the equipment they are working with.
I do not believe in rushing things, especially if competition is a possible end goal. But I also want everyone to enjoy themselves. To some it may seem like progression is slow as we haven't progressed onto all the other equipment yet, but I want to be sure the dogs know what they are doing and the handlers feel confident in their abilities. A lot of my exercises are set up specifically to get the handlers thinking how they will approach it with their dog. I've had a few remarks about it 'being hard' then realising that the dogs find it easy, it's the handlers that really have to think.
It's important to remember that an agility dog is only as good as it's handler so my exercises are there to test the handler as much as the dogs. For the dogs I include small achievable challenges each week which builds their confidence and ability slowly but surely, so even though most of my clients come for fun, at the end of the day they would be able to compete if they wanted. I want to do my job properly and efficiently and I train my clients and their dogs as I would train myself and my dogs. Confidence is very important with a sport such as agility, and fitness levels need to be built up as well. Without either you will not get very far in the sport. If you would like to see videos and photos of parts of my classes you can find them on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/K9-Co-operation-563735220336598/timeline/
I have been debating for a while about setting up a website just for my art and photography work so that I can use this one just for my training and behaviour work, it would make things less cluttered and easier to navigate, I also think it would then leave the site more specialised and I can really dedicate it to my work with dogs. I am currently in the process of playing around with designing another site and once I am ready I will switch everything over. This means my site could be down for a while as I get everything done.
I am currently looking into ways to expand on my artwork and I'm looking into ceramic painting and t-shirt designs. plus other bespoke hand-painted items. If anyone is ever interested in this, d feel fre to contact me and I will see what I can do. I will still be happy to take commissions with the ceramic and t-shirt designs. I've already begun working on a few ideas and I will link to everything on this site once I am done. The links will be kept on my home and 'about me' pages so they can still be found quickly.
It's been a busy few weeks here at K9 Co-operation. I've been pulling together courses and new training groups which have kicked off this month. At the end of March I will be running my first behaviour workshop to which I already have a few people booked in, places are limited so get in while you have the chance. I also started my first agility class last week beginning with the foundations of agility which works on body awareness and balance and teaching techniques required for the agility ring. I have three class attendees who are interested in competing at some point so I am going to be very comprehensive in the way I teach the class, despite some people just joining in for something fun to do with their best friend. The first class went really well with some people really surprised at how focused their young dogs were being considering all the new doggies they got to meet. I am looking forward to our class tomorrow evening and seeing how much everyone has been practising at home. Tomorrow we are expanding on techniques from the previous class.
In terms of behaviour work I have taken on the job of helping a fear aggressive collie who has already been seen by another trainer but made no progress. I did an initial evaluation for the dog and have put a training plan in place, and then for the last two weeks, once a week, I have been working closely with them using my awesome stooge dog, Harvey. The progression in their collie has been impressive so far. He has already calmed down his reactivity, his reactive distance has decreased meaning he can now get closer to strange dogs before he reacts, and he actually walked calmly next to harvey and willingly came over to me while i had harvey next to me, for a cuddle. This is a huge improvement for him. Our main goal is to have him interact with completely non-reactive dogs who ignore his antics as this shows him that being around other dogs does not mean they will react back and return his aggression. Once he has stopped reacting to our stooge dogs, we will begin to introduce other dogs which will verbalise but not physically react to him. We are going to slowly build up his tolerance. He is not being punished for reacting, but instead he is being encouraged to return to his owners everytime he feels anxious and needs to react. We are using a mixture of positive reinforcement, behaviour adjustment therapy and distraction tecniques. We are interrupting his 'focus' on other dogs before he hits his need to react to modify the way he deals with other dogs. The improvement so far is really promising and we hope it continues.
I am also currently taking names for a second agility group, and I am working out the practicalities of running a week long training course for kids and young adults with a possible fun competition at the end to see how everyone has done. It is still in the interest gathering stage and I will be speaking to the venue I use for training about how this might work as iot would run over the summer holidays. If I get a lot of interest I may think about running kids training classes. I've also completed an art commission and I am working on a few art pieces as I get the time. I will add them to the site when I am done. I apologise for the fuzzy agility photos, the only person available to take some at that point was my 7 year old daughter who was helping me with the equipment on the evening!
I am not really sure that here in the UK, especially towards the south, we can say we are having a proper winter. We are yet to see snow and the frosty mornings are few aand far between, but there is something about winter that really makes me enjoy getting out and about even more. Maybe its the smell in the air, the crisp wind, the mud (I do love mud), or perhaps the stillness of everything. Through the spring summer and autumn the countryside and even many towns and cities are alive with various animals, birds, mice, rabbits, etc even people tend to be out more during those months, but in the winter, many people tend to semi-hibernate, keeping indoors in the warmth, enjoying sitting by a fire reading a book and just enjoying a slower pace of life.
Though my health has been wavering lately, I can still get out and about for the short walks my dogs require. The older two prefer only half an hour a day, they aren't fond of the cold weather and tend to stiffen up somewhat, and Serendipity can only take around 45 minutes now before her hips start giving her trouble, but we can do a nice slow walk with her so she can run around, have a good sniff and just enjoy the company of my kids, who also love winter. Especially my youngest, she loves playing in icy puddles, shoving her hand through the mist created by her hot breath as it enters the cold air and feeling a biting winter wind on her cheeks. Like myself she loves winter walks and it is usually her that accompanies me out with Serendipity.
We had a slightly frosty morning last week and so we decided to get out and enjoy it, though it was beginning to melt with the rising sun. We aim to get out earlier next time, but I have some winter photos you may enjoy
We have all seen them, the compilations of animals doing things that amuse us. However I have been seeing a lot of videos posted lately that unfortunately fill me with dread, shock and worry. One particularly caught my interest lately as it was posted by a well known site called 'Huffpost' and it was entitled 'cats and dogs that hate having kisses'. It was considered a comedy video but as I watched I felt my stomach churn.
In it, all I could see was a large collection of cats and dogs having their space invaded and trying to let their people know they didn't like it.... and the people laughing! This is one of the major problems with society in general is that we expect dogs and cats to respect our behaviours, to endure our cuddles and kisses which are incredibly intimate, and are not natural behaviours that our pets enjoy. As we have our own personal space and sometimes we prefer not to get hugged etc by people, it is the same for cats and dogs, but the problem is when we loom over our pets or invade their space we are actually being a threat, and if our animals do not completely trust us we end up with a compilation of what are considered 'funny' behaviours.
In this particular video I watched as cats batted their paws at peoples faces or tried to back away or avoid them as they went in for a kiss. I saw the same happen with dogs, but what scared me more was that some of the dogs were actively verbalising their dislike by growling and showing their teeth and the people still continued to move in for kisses some even restraining them! Most animals already see restraint as threatening. One that really got me angry was a woman sharply going in for a kiss with a puppy and the puppy jerking away, snarling and yapping. All of these dogs were obviously showing a severe dislike of the behaviour. That puppy could go on to be aggressive to people putting their faces close to it, really not a good idea as children have a habit of doing this, especially as they are smaller and therefore naturally closer to a dogs face. What irked me was I couldn't understand why these people continued to annoy and aggravate their beloved pets for a laugh. All I can say is.. one of these days a dog or cat is going to attack and you will only have yourselves to blame. This is NOT funny. You are potentially causing a dangerous situation to occur and no doubt the dog will then be to blame.
This is why I talk about respecting your dog, understanding it's body language. Respect is the key to a harmonious relationship. If my three young children can learn how to recognise a dog is unhappy and respect that, then so can grown adults. Please stop doing this to your animals even if you find it amusing, I can assure you they do not!
Here is a link to the offending video. You can spot so many warning behaviours its incredibly disturbing
Dog Trainer, animal lover, artist and photographer