Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I’m not worried or how funny is it going to be when you’re on trail for animal abuse?

There seems to be two trains of thought running concurrently through dog training. There is the positive and the well, the not so positive. As with anything that gets called into question, these old fashioned methods now have to explain themselves. At least the trainers who choose these methods should be able to detail how it will affect the dog’s behavior past the momentary squelching.

There is no shortage of studies on how electronic shock causes pain and elicits fear in dogs. That is well documented in humans, monkeys, rats and dogs. The trouble is there are few too people who know better speaking up. Which leads to unaware dog owners, i.e.; consumers paying for devices that harm and often times on the ill conceived advice from a dog “trainer”?
This leaves quite a few people in the dark about what goes on with not only shock, but other forms of fear eliciting methods to “train” a dog. I always remind people that whether your pro dog anti dog, or somewhere in the middle, we all want safe dogs that have less aggression, less fear and owners attached to dogs that have legitimate skills and an understanding of at least their own dogs. You do not need to know as much about your car as the mechanic, it’ll help but you can do fine driving safe, changing the oil and filling it with the proper fuel. However if you call yourself a dog trainer you’d better be able to back it up with something more than the “good with dogs” credential., which is usually self - credentialed.

I am always amazed when certain people challenge me on training ideas/advice and even become offended, or feel I’m a “know it all”. Wouldn’t you want the most well informed and best credentialed person you could find for yourself in any capacity? Indeed we do, however some people feel as those it is an effrontery to their very self worth if someone else knows more about their dog.

Dogs require and deserve quite a bit more than folk wisdom or the advice from un- credentialed self professed experts. Dog owners in these highly media driven, litigious times with financial down turn concerns would do well by getting the most humane understanding of dogs they can. Why? It’s the right thing to do for you and your dog, it is the most cost effective way to address dog issues, and pretty soon it will be against the law to make your dog feel fear and pain in the name of training. With addition of a third CTC dog trainer my business is on a trend towards working with 800 – 1,000 dogs a year by 2010. In 2008 the dogs we worked with are part of group classes, private training sessions, board and train programs, plus a variety of volunteer work. Every dog that we’ve worked with that has been the recipient of harsh aversives has displayed some kind of fear based behaviors.

In many cases it is fear over seemingly innocuous interactions with people or dogs or a generalized sense of fear to the world. Hand shyness, hesitation of doorways, stairs, approaching strangers, fear of other dogs, and fear of losing resources, i.e. resource guarding, such as food, toys or sleeping locations. Fear is the precursor to aggression.

One large part of legitimate dog training and behavior modification/study is normalizing behaviors for dog owners. When I am speaking with perspective clients I remind them if a “trainer” cannot explain it how they can train it? The days of “I’m great with dogs, they all love me” are coming to a close. The reason being is there is no more room to run for these types.
It really has become a game of either figure it out or get out of the business. Media and the internet have changed the game. Verifiable scientific facts on how animals learn, and learn best are available. The fallouts from using aversive methods are easily obtained. Now it’s just up to those of us who are not afraid to speak up, too speak up.

In email exchanges with Corporal Al Peterson head investigator for the NJ SPCA cruelty division, I found out that the courts do not take an animal’s emotional state into account in cruelty cases. This is dumbfounding. Science proves that animals do have emotional states both positive and negative, called Conditioned Emotional Response. However in the court of law slick defense attorney’s can charge “prove it”. Well we can, the trouble is there are not enough educated people to go around in defense of animals. If a dog “trainer” applies shock or aversives to a dog and there was no sign of aggression prior to that person applying the aversives, is that not a direct correlation to how the dog developed the new aggressive behavior? It sure is. I have seen it many times in varying degrees. In order to claim abuse the dog has to be severely injured or killed. The court will not enter a dog’s emotional state into evidence.

Recently I read about a way to “use punishments and not feel guilty”. Hmm guilt? Is that not an intellectual emotion based on the morality and inner consciousness of one’s self? Isn’t guilt contextual/cultural/religious? Some people feel guilt over things that are harmless, like eating chocolate cake, while others look the other way in the face of elephant sized atrocities grazing in the room. If you’re not doing anything harmful, why should you have to intellectually stuff down or avert guilt?

When a very matter of fact without incrimination time out is issued to a dog for barking after giving a warning cue such as “that’s enough”, it’s not damaging to the dog to lose freedom. P- for those following at home. It’s frustrating, the equivalent to a bummer for us humans. We’re talking parking ticket level bummer. What has happened here is a chain of events, and we know that dogs pick up on sequences really well, especially when they are consistent. If done right you can ask many dogs “That’s enough” or incorporate other basic conversational verbal cues to quite or calm. You have to for a bit get off your duff and do some leg - work and not frighten the dog. Any dog “trainer” who does not clue you into the “secret” that dog training is mechanics and timing and understanding or interpreting dog behavior correctly as well as being kind, is a snake oil salesman.

Let’s flip the script, the person uses some form of violence, hey let’s call it what it is, the dog stops the behavior, and the human feels empowered. Instant success so it seems. The problem is, what do you do when the dog is outside the home in a new context? Once the human ramps up the fear or the pain level the dog will kick into high gear survival mode, this means the dog is not doing well. This is all happening at the hands of in many cases the dog’s owner.
One can always reward the dog for correct responses, and the good behavior we ask for. Not just constantly hammering the dog for all the things people do not want the dog to do. Many of these behaviors dogs display that people don’t want to tolerate are behaviors intrinsic to being a canine! Unfortunately quite a few people only punish or squelch the behaviors they don’t want and rarely reward the good behaviors beyond praise. In addition if you are not consistent and you do not train your dog to increase the probability of the behaviors you want, then what are you doing? You’re busting your dogs chops quite a bit is what you’re doing. Not a fun way to live for dogs or humans.

Trust is essential for dogs and humans to coexist. Once that trust is compromised dogs become fearful, hesitant and possibly aggressive. The worse the pain the worse the fallout, it’s a real easy flow chart. The sad part is people interact with their dogs in fear based ways as a mode of “communicating” quite a bit without any knowledge of how it effects the dogs overall behavior; sounds quite selfish.

I was speaking with Kris Crawford who has trained search & rescue dogs for 20 years. She told me that during the training for S&R dogs, which takes 2 – 3 years, the dogs have to learn to jump from 10 – 12 feet into the handlers arms. That takes trust. Dogs ultimately view the world as safe or unsafe, no matter what you think or want to believe this how quite a few decisions are made by dogs, if not all.

Creating bonds are the goal, not building binds. So make sure that all interactions with a dog are kind, conversational and consistent. One day you’re going to need your dog to trust you, if they don’t it may cost them their lives.

Our society is fascinated with quick fixes and instant gratification. Dogs provide that in the form of being happy to see us, needing little more than some food, water and companionship. However what dogs also teach us if we’re willing to learn, is to slow down for a second and not be self absorbed, dogs will teach us patience, dogs will teach us selflessness, dogs can teach us valuable skills in science and math; If we’re willing to learn from them.
I remember Janis Bradley reminding us upon graduation from the SFSPC’s Academy for dog Trainers, to at least once a day just “be with your dog, don’t require it to do anything, just be with it and be kind”. We demand quite a bit from dogs, and in many cases they are really going against their instincts to please us. Its part of life and it’s not the worst thing as long as we’re being gentle and respectful about it. Results in behavior happen whether you want them or not, so being humane at least ups the odds your dog will be padded somewhat through these frustrating or even fearful circumstances.

I saw a piece recently on Current TV about a program that teaches female inmates in upstate NY to care for and train dogs from 8 weeks to 12 months. The dogs go on to become detection dogs in law enforcement. All the women were literally transformed by the experience. I don’t doubt it. In order to be a really good person “with dogs” you have to remove ego and personal baggage. It’s essential you focus on the dog, not all your feelings about all that is “happening to ME”! Get over yourself and get into your dog.

At the end of an advanced basic training three class two clients were discussing their dogs and one man said to another that he was not sure if he’d ever own this breed gain (pit-bull) , they’re “allot of work” “ allot of “responsibility”, when he asked the other man if he’d own a pit bull again, he said no matter what dog he might have in the future he “learned so much about dogs from his Pit Bull” that he would be prepared for “any type of dog”, and then he gleefully admitted “ yea I would own a Pit Bull again, they’re really great fun dogs”.

Having the perspective that dogs are a gift and a way to enrich your life can really change your daily interactions with dogs. Dogs unlike anything else I’ve seen can unite and connect people from the most varied backgrounds. Dogs however are also caught in the midst of a division. There are factions out there in and out of “dogs” who just don’t understand them. Who are using them for their own ends and in some cases ignoring the intrinsic way dogs learn and how human behavior affects them.

So it boils down to people having to take stock in themselves. The legalities and abuses of dog training methods are not going unnoticed. Each time someone gets busted for abuse in the name of dog training, it just mounts the case that the use of these methods for training dogs are not effective or well liked by the majority of the general public. I have only met one or two people in the past 10 years who actually want to hurt dogs and enjoy being aversive. The rest are willing to give up their archaic ways once they have found a more humane and effective way to address their dog.

Remember squelching behavior with harsh aversive methods in dogs comes with a behavioral price. The momentary short burst of human anger and the resulting canine fear has a cumulative effect, especially with daily repeats. It may also only take one time for your dog to become really undone by it. Is that worth the risks? One day all these pain trainers and dog owners that gravitate towards harsh methods could wake up to law suits or jail time for animal abuse? At least the dogs will be safer and the public more aware and educated. Is that not the point of all this?

UPenn Study

Jo Jacques CPDT, CPCT & Sandy Myers CDBC

Dr. Karen Overall

Australia SPCA Links about humane training for dogs