Category Archives: Dog Training

The Neurological Benefits of Counter Conditioning Leash Reactive Dogs

Counterconditioning and desensitizing dogs when on leash also has neurological benefits © Can Stock Photo/Amaviael

Counterconditioning and desensitizing dogs when on leash also has neurological benefits © Can Stock Photo/Amaviael

Creating new and better associations for dogs on leash when exposed to fearful/stressful stimuli is crucial, as it is better for all involved for the dog to be less stressed and less fearful. The goal is potentially a positive association is created, or at least less stress. When this can be achieved via counter conditioning and desensitizing dogs to these intrinsic stimuli, and many times they can be, then life is better for the humans and the dogs that have stress when on leash. This is something that, among dog trainers knowledgeable in the ways of DS/CC, is widely known.

What is less known, is how the process of counter conditioning affects the neurological processing that leads to behavioral and emotional changes, be they towards the dog feeling less fear and stress, or perhaps a positive conditioned emotional response. This blog will discuss the topic of the neurological benefits that accompany counter conditioning and desensitizing dogs when on leash.

It will also ask questions along the way and at the end. Please, anyone in the neuroscience community that may read this blog, I would greatly appreciate any insights and or answers you can supply. If there are additions, subtractions, clarifications, links, etc…all can be added or subtracted to have this blog be as accurate as it can, please let me know. Thank you. Let’s begin.

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Talking to Dogs

Koala, a black Labrador, rests on her hammock-style dog bed
Photo by Deni Elliott

A newly published study finds that dogs pay attention to both the way we talk to them and to what we say. Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe’s ‘Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog‑directed speech looked at what they term “dog-directed speech,” or DDS, which is similar in tone and affect to baby talk. Their canine test subjects were all adult dog guests of a boarding kennel whose humans gave permission for their participation.

An earlier study had played recorded human voices using baby talk and regular speech. The content of the speech was supposedly of interest to dogs: greetings and expressions of “good boy!” and “come here!” Puppies in this study showed greater interest than adult dogs. The earlier study had serious flaws, though, primarily that the dogs heard the voices while alone in a room. It’s not surprising that adult dogs didn’t respond to a disembodied “come here” or praise.

Benjamin and Slocombe’s study is far more respectful of canine intelligence. While they also used recorded speech, so that all dogs got the same stimuli, a matching researcher (gender-wise) was in the room and the dogs were able to approach and interact with the human. In the first experiment, the stimuli were:

  • DDS (higher pitched, more emotional speech) with dog-directed content
  • Human-directed speech with human-directed content (assumed to be uninteresting to dogs)

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The Opposite of Force


by Eileen Anderson

Clara's pool provides enrichment she can choose when she wants

I think I’ve figured something out.

I continue to see the concept of choice bandied about the positive reinforcement-based training world. It can be a code word for a setup that includes negative reinforcement. “I’m going to do something physically unfamiliar or unpleasant to you and you have the choice of staying here and getting a piece of food or leaving and being relieved from whatever it is I’m doing.” I’ve suggested that this is not a laudable kind of choice; as trainers we can use our skills and take our time so that the dog doesn’t want to leave in the first place.

It can also refer to human-centric preference tests, many of which are subject to extreme bias.

But here’s my new realization. I think we have grabbed hard onto the concept of choice because it seems like the opposite of force.

  • Instead of pushing the dog’s butt down into a sit, I don’t. The dog now has a choice.
  • Instead of restraining the dog for nail trims, I don’t. The dog now has a choice.
  • Instead of pulling the dog away from the fire hydrant by his leash and collar, I let him sniff, or I give a cue for another behavior that I will strongly reinforce. He has a choice.

But there is a semantic mismatch here. Force and choice are not opposites.

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Teaching Deaf (and Blind) Dogs to Use Their Mouths Gently


By Debbie Bauer

A common complaint among those who live with deaf (and blind/deaf) dogs is that they use their mouths roughly. This is very common throughout puppyhood and adolescence, but if dogs are not taught to use their mouths gently, this problem can extend into adulthood.  Deaf dogs sometimes get a bad rap for being more aggressive than other dogs.  But this is a myth.  Let me tell you more …

Dogs use their mouths in many ways – when they eat, chew, play, discipline, bark, and too many more ways to list. Dogs can cause injury to humans if they are not taught to use their mouths gently and to be respectful of human skin. This means it is our responsibility to teach our dogs the behaviors that we like, such as treating our skin gently.

We cannot expect our dogs to stop using their mouths because it is a normal dog behavior. Just like when we use our hands. But just like we must learn to use our hands gently and appropriately in life, so must our puppies learn to use their mouths gently and appropriately.

Because there is a myth that deaf dogs are more likely to bite than hearing dogs, it is of utmost importance that we, as advocates for deaf dogs, make sure our dogs know how to be gentle and respectful with their mouths. It’s important that we can show others by example that deaf dogs can be safe and wonderful companions, so that more homeless deaf dogs can get adopted.

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So Easy to Miscue …

by  Pam Hogle

A few days ago, I heard a story on the radio about police dogs and their handlers. The reporter was talking to a retired police dog handler who now trains dogs and works as an expert witness. What he said was disturbing for anyone who gets stopped by a police officer-and-dog team, but, to anyone with dog training experience, sounds plausible.

What he was talking about was how common it is for the K9 handlers to miscue their dogs.

Sometimes it is conscious and intentional; the officer wants to do a search so he claims that the dog alerted. That gives him probable cause so the search is legal. That’s the idea, anyhow. This reporter said that “cops even joke about dogs being probable cause on four legs.” The trainer backs this up.

Sometimes, he says, the miscuing is unintentional — subconscious. The officer believes that there will be something to find, and he unconsciously signals this to the dog. A study done at the University of California, Davis, in 2011 tested teams on searchers where there was no contraband. The study was actually looking at the handlers’ behavior. Dogs are so attuned to their handlers — and often so eager to do what they think the person wants them to do — that they’ll signal. And the researchers found that, over and over, handlers led their dogs to alert to … nothing.

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