Holiday Safety for Dogs

By Brenna Fender

No 1.The holiday season is filled with food, guests, and excitement. While these things are fun for the people in your life, they can be dangerous for your dog. But don’t worry, there are some simple things to you can do in order to keep your furry friends safe during the holidays.

Holiday food is delicious, fattening, and not appropriate for your pets. Sweet treats can contain Xylitol, a sugar substitute that is toxic to dogs. Fatty foods can lead to pancreatitis or other illnesses. Bones can cause blockages or choking. Overeating even healthy foods can cause stomach upset or other problems. So, during the holiday season, be especially aware of potential food hazards. That counter you don’t think your dog can reach might be more accessible than you think if the prize is worth it!

With all the holiday comings and goings, dogs have more opportunities to become lost. Doors may be left open and yard gates unlatched or you may be distracted by holiday activities when you are supposed to be watching the dog. Crate your pet during confusing moments to avoid potential tragedies. Microchip dogs in order to help them be more easily returned home if they do get out.

Friends and family can cause problems with both food and escape, by deliberately giving food to begging dogs or leaving food in an accessible spot, or accidentally leaving a door open. Tell guests the family rules that help keep your dog safe but be aware that they might not follow them. You may have to confine your dog more often than usual or directly supervise interactions.

Some of your guests might be children, and if your dog doesn’t normally interact with children, he may be frightened by their odd movements and erratic behaviors. But even if your dog is usually very good with children, do not trust that things will go smoothly. Holiday stress may inspire different behaviors in both your dog and the children. It’s never a good practice to leave dog unsupervised with any children, but that is especially true under these circumstances.

Tinsel, candles, and other holiday decorations may be harmful to your dog if ingested. Keep decorations up high and in safe places. Be particularly aware of your Christmas tree (if you have one) as it can be easily knocked over and onto a curious pup.

The holiday season can be filled with fun and joy. With some planning, your dog can safely enjoy the season as well!

Dog Agility Loses an Obstacle

By Brenna Fender

Nice LabrodourNearly every American agility organization has removed the chute (otherwise known as the closed tunnel) from the list of obstacles that can be used on an agility course. This has been an unprecedented move – never in agility’s history has one obstacle been dropped in such a widespread and immediate fashion.

The chute has a rigid opening and a closed fabric extension which dogs blindly push through. Many injuries have been reported as dogs slip on the fabric inside the chute or get wrapped up in the cloth while trying to exit. While the chute wasn’t really considered dangerous in agility’s early years, increased canine speed, more complicated course designs, and the use of surfaces like artificial turf have made the obstacle a hazard in the eyes of many competitors.

While several agility organizations have said that they have been looking into chute safety for some time, the seemingly sudden dropping of the obstacle across many organizations, including the very popular American Kennel Club (AKC), United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), and Canine Performance Events (CPE), appears to have been linked to social media campaigns. A widely circulated video demonstrating chute-related injuries seems to have made a significant impact.

It’s important to note that one agility organization, the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC), removed the chute (and several other obstacles) from use on course approximately 15 years ago, so the idea is not a completely new one.

For more information, see “The Chute is Eliminated from Nearly Every Agility Venue” (

Don’t Be Callous: How Punishment Can Go Wrong

by Eileen Anderson

Murphy-Dog-Hero-300x300I’ve written a lot about making humane choices in training and about the fallout that accompanies aversive methods. But there are other problems with the use of aversives besides the immediate fact of hurting, scaring, or bothering your dog. It turns out that using positive punishment is tricky.

In the term positive punishment, positive doesn’t mean “good” or “upbeat.” In learning theory usage it means the type of punishment in which something is added and a behavior decreases. The added thing is something the animal wants to avoid. If every time your dog sat you shocked her, played a painfully loud noise, or threw something at her, your dog would likely not sit as often.  Those things I mentioned would act as “aversive stimuli.” If the dog sat less after that, then punishment would have occurred.

There is another type of punishment called negative punishment. It consists of removing something the dog wants when they do something undesirable. I’m not discussing that type of punishment in this post. For the rest of the post, when I refer to punishment, I am referring to positive punishment.

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Don’t Punish Me!

A Look at Punishment in Dog Training

Power-Fetch-Remote-holdBy Brenna Fender

Recently, I was at a competitive dog sport event. In the competition, each dog was supposed to retrieve an item and bring it back to his owner. This was a key component of the activity – repeatedly “fetching” and returning with the item.

Except on this day, one dog, a rather sedate fellow of a retrieving breed that you might have thought would have excelled in this activity, picked up the item, but didn’t bring it back. He stayed near the owner, but just out of reach, trotting nervously around. The owner spoke harshly to the dog and eventually caught the dog by the tail and then grabbed his collar, roughly pulling him back to the activity so that he could continue. Much of that dog’s turn was spent with the owner trying to catch him, fussing at him, and “correcting” him for his misbehavior. Teaching him a lesson, you know. He has to be punished for not coming back, you see.

But that dog didn’t “see.”

Punishment doesn’t work like most people think it does. Dogs’ brains make connections between actions and consequences, but the trainer is not in complete control of what actions a dog connects with what consequences. Rough handling is often connected to the handler, not the action the dog is engaging in at the time the grabbing, yelling, and jerking is happening. In fact, by the time a handler delivers that kind of punishment, it is likely that the dog is no longer performing the undesirable action at all.

For example, imagine that you come home and find urine on the floor. You only have one dog so you know he is responsible for it. So you point at the mistake and yell at your dog. And your dog has no idea what you are yelling about.

He may eventually connect you being in the room with him and a puddle as being a bad thing, but it is unlikely that he will ever realize that he made the puddle and that if he had chosen to potty elsewhere, you would not have yelled. He may look guilty, but that is simply a sign of submission. He knows you are angry and he’d like you to stop being angry, so he tries to communicate that via body language.

Some dogs may even take it one step further and avoid you if there is a puddle present. But the dog will not stop making puddles as a result of you yelling about them after the fact. They simply cannot understand that line of thinking.

Plus, punishment only tells a dog what not to do, if you are lucky enough to get that message across. It doesn’t show him the desired behavior. So if your dog somehow figured out that him peeing in the kitchen is a bad thing, how does he know that peeing in the living room isn’t okay?

It seems simple when you are referring to housebreaking, but even complex behaviors are treated similarly in a dog’s brain.

So our non-returning retriever collected the object as requested by his owner, but he didn’t bring the object back. Why not?

Well, I don’t know the dog and I don’t know the owner, but I will make a few guesses. Perhaps he found the noise, crowds, and smells distracting or stressful and he was unable to perform the rest of the job. Or maybe his owner was nervous and behaved or smelled a little unusual and this made it hard for the dog to understand his task. And, possibly, this dog had on some previous occasion not brought the item back and he was punished and now he thinks that letting his owner get near him while he has the item might result in a similar punishment.

Sadly, by punishing the dog when she caught him during competition, the owner created or reinforced the idea that being by the owner with the item is a bad thing. This is very unlikely to result in a better performance the next time these two compete. Plus, this kind of “training” often results in distrust of the handler and unhappiness for both handler and dog. The same is true for housebreaking mishaps and other canine misbehaviors that are often “corrected” with punishment.

There are many ways to help a dog understand what you’d like him to do, whether that action is as simple as peeing outdoors or as complicated as weaving through poles or bringing back a specific dumbbell. Properly timed reinforcement is key. If you are having trouble determining how to train your dog without punishing him, contact a dog trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement and learn some new training techniques. You and your dog will be much happier for it!

Are You Really Performing Classical Counter conditioning?

KB-Normie-playby Eileen Anderson

What do the following training descriptions have in common?

  • “My dog’s afraid of strangers. But when she stops barking and makes eye contact with me, I give her a treat.”
  • “I hold her foot. Then I give her a treat after I clip each toenail, as long as she stays in place and doesn’t pull her foot away.”
  • “When we have guests, I wait for him to show some calm behavior like stretching, breathing more deeply, or lying down. Then I give him a treat.”
  • “We play LAT (Look At That). I say ‘Look at the dog’ and she does. I mark, then give her a treat.”((Leslie McDevitt first described the Look at That game under that name in her book Control Unleashed. She also includes a classical conditioning protocol by the name of Open Bar/Closed Bar in the book.))
  • “When the cyclists go by, I cue my dog to sit, then I treat.”

These are all training methods designed to help a dog cope with something uncomfortable, undesired, or scary. But they are not classical conditioning.

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