Category Archives: Dog Training

It is Unwise to Say, “Just Ignore the Problem Behavior!”

Niki Tudge shares some important information about the misguided advice of “ignoring unwanted behavior”.

Ignoring a problem behavior is just one part of the equation; at the same time, an incompatible or alternative behavior must be reinforced (c) CanStock Photo/websubstance

By Niki Tudge

Last week, while perusing my Facebook news feed while I drank my morning coffee, I came across a link to a blog advocating for force-free dog training methods.  This short blog had a video link which was showing a dog trainer punishing a dog for a problematic behavior. In summary, the positive reinforcement trainer was quoted as saying “encouraging the behaviors we want and ignoring behaviors we don’t, is the correct and positive way to train your pup without using physical force”.

I always try to read blogs and articles from a dog owner perspective. A perspective that probably has little, if any, knowledge of learning theory or the principles we base our dog training on. If I were a dog owner and I read the aforementioned blog I would wonder, do I ignore my dog’s jumping, snapping, growling and pulling? How is that going to work? What am I actually accomplishing? I would think that I would be doing less to help train my dog than I am doing by “correcting” them. Why would these ‘force-free’ methods be more effective than the methods I am currently using?

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Why Prong Collars Hurt

Thank you Eileen Anderson for writing an informative blog on the physics of a prong collar.

Please see additional note at the bottom of the post.

14 inch prong collar

Prong collars, also called pinch collars, are metal chain collars for dogs that include links of prongs whose ends press into the dog’s neck.

When a dog pulls on leash, moves out of position, or is “corrected” with a quick snap of the leash, force is exerted on the dog’s neck through the points of contact of the prongs.

Force is also exerted in these situations when the dog is wearing a flat collar. A correction applied to a dog on a flat collar can also be uncomfortable or even harm the dog.

But when we look at the physics, we can see why the prong collar is more uncomfortable, painful, and potentially damaging.

Check out the rest of the article by clicking here.

“Naughty” Dog Or Normal Dog?

by Anna Francesca Bradley

Dogs do not deliberately set out to make their owners' lives difficult. Photo: Susan Nilson

In spite of the various labels commonly assigned to them, dogs do not deliberately set out to make their owners’ lives difficult. Photo: Susan Nilson

I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve heard that Fido is ‘really naughty,’ ‘he’s doing it deliberately,’ ‘he’s trying to spite me,’ or, if an owner has more than one dog, ‘they’re trying to gang up on me!’ But are these labels in any way helpful? Let’s consider this for a moment.

Ask yourself ‘Why?’ before reacting 

The number one point I would like all dog owners to consider when their dog is not responding in the way they would like their dog to respond is ask a simple question – why? Ask this question before reacting by ascribing labels to the dog (‘he’s dumb,’ ‘thick,’ ‘just a dog,’ ‘not as good as the previous dog,’ ‘carrying out traits characteristic of certain breed,’ etc.) or worse responding with punishment – think first.

Dogs do not plan to ruin our day!

Contrary to what may sometimes be thought, dogs do not lie in their baskets at night rubbing their paws with glee, planning to leap all over your house guest’s lovely new outfit at the following night’s dinner or ruin your brand new carpet you’ve been waiting for, for weeks.  Yes, we all know that these things are infuriating, but ask yourself why did they happen, how could they have been prevented, what could have been done – before blaming the dog.  Whilst dogs are undeniably intelligent and there is a lot of research being carried out currently to determine the extent of this intelligence, they lack the mental capacity for deliberate pre-planned delinquency.

So, if your dog is not responding as you’d hoped and you are asking why?  What could be the reasons?  Of course, they are multitudinous, but lets have a look at some of the most common ones:

Too many distractions

Extremely common of course.  If you’re asking your dog to come back to you in the house/garden, and he comes most of the time, then he doesn’t when he’s in the park/woods/beach – why? There’s simply too much competition for your attention. Remember that a dog is highly driven not only by the visuals but by audible and olfactory senses.  Whilst you may not see distractions around you, your dog will hear, smell, taste a whole different world.  Don’t get cross with him, understand that you need to drop the level of competing distraction for a little while and train at this level, get a good response, then increase the competition.

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The Problem with Punishment

Punishment comes at a price. Learn more about this by reading this blog by Anna Francesca Bradley. 

Punishment generates negative emotions of frustration, anger, anxiety, fear and causes pain; a far better approach is to work with your dog and not against (c) CanStock Photo/adogslifephoto

Punishment generates negative emotions of frustration, anger, anxiety, fear and causes pain; a far better approach is to work with your dog and not against (c) CanStock Photo/adogslifephoto

Fortunately today, thanks to force free advocating organizations like Pet Professional Guild, there is much more awareness of the detrimental effects of punishment.  Sadly though, in some quarters it still prevails and is even advocated by some and perpetuated by the media.  So what actually is the definition of ‘punishment’?, what constitutes it? What are the alternatives? Let’s take a look.

What Is Punishment?

Speaking scientifically, there are two forms of punishment – positive and negative. Let’s deal with positive punishment first. Positive punishment refers to when something is added into your pet’s world that he/she deems unpleasant.  This ‘something’ will suppress your pet’s behaviour and your pet will work to avoid it.

What Constitutes Positive Punishment?

Obvious examples are electric shock devices, physical corrections such as smacking or hitting the dog and so called ‘alpha dog’ techniques such as ear pinching, nose blowing and rolling etc.  To be effective, if we can call it that, punishment must be gradually increased over time since an animal will gradually habituate to its effects.

Punishment is not always obvious

This is a problem I often encounter. Owners I work with are sometimes horrified when it is gently pointed out that what they are actually doing is construed by the dog as positive punishment.  Nose taps delivered to a mouthing puppy are perhaps a less subtle example, but leash jerking a pulling dog, shouting at a dog for something the owner deems inappropriate, body shaping a dog into position whilst training, yanking a dog whilst pulling towards another dog or whilst jumping etc.

What’s The Problem Here? – Emotional and Physical Levels

The problem we have with punishment is multidimensional. We have the physical aspect of jerking, yanking, shocking, pulling etc. which of courses causes pain in various aspects of the dog’s body.  This may be exacerbated if the dog already has complications such as musculoskeletal disorders or skin complaints for example or is an older individual or growing puppy.  But we must also consider positive punishment at an emotional level.  Consider anthropomorphically, what would your reaction be should you be electrically shocked, hit, yanked, pushed to the floor, jerked away from something you really wanted to look at?  My guess is a mixture of emotions and feelings including anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, a good risk of aggression resulting from these last two emotions and pain.  These are not positive feelings!  This is the crux of the problem with punishment, the animal is left feeling bad to put it very simplistically.  What is very sad is that in many cases, emotional shutdown results – we call this learned helplessness.  The animal simply completely mentally and emotionally shuts down and appears to comply with the human. Most times passive posturing will be observed. Of course, the animal is not at all complying but has just lost all emotional resilience to respond in any other way – the human usually responds with glee that their techniques are working…very sad.  I recall one dog I worked with whose behaviour had progressed so far due to a near lifetime of positive punishment, it was symptomatic of post traumatic stress disorder.

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Local Enhancement and Socially Facilitated Behaviors in Dogs

PPG has posted another outstanding blog by Eileen Anderson!
If you are dog training geek, be sure to give this a read!

Three dogs lying on the grass as seen from above. It is local enhancement, imitation, or just that they agree on the best place for sun baths?

This post started out as one thing and transformed into another as I went along, as many of mine do. I have been familiar for a while with the term local enhancement for a type of social learning in dogs. I had some videos that I felt were good examples. But while researching this post and putting the clips together into a movie, I learned that the concepts and definitions were a lot less cut and dried than I thought.

This topic is up for lots of interpretation and discussion in the literature and I have found it to be underrepresented in discussions about dog behavior. I felt that at least an introduction to the subject would be helpful. I have gone with the most thorough, most recent, and most cited sources.  I am open to additional information and hope for a good discussion.

Terms and Definitions

There are several different types of socially facilitated behaviors and social learning. These are two separate terms since behaviors can be socially facilitated without subsequent learning (Heyes, 1994, p. 214). Also the types of social facilitation overlap, and more than one can be going on at the same time. Among the types are behavioral contagion, local enhancement, stimulus enhancement, observational conditioning, copying, emulation, and imitation.

I got interested in local enhancement since I was pretty sure I saw it happening with my dogs.  Like most of the other types, it involves animals performing similar behaviors as a result of observation or other perception of another animal. But it is not classified as imitation.

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