Slice of Life is inspired by the desire and challenge of living our lives in the moment. Days go by, weeks go by, years... but we can still choose over and over again to look at our own lives in small installments. These installments (or slices of life) can be walks taken in the hills, naps or a glass of Rioja. For me, what makes my slices super meaningful is being able to share with others the moments of my day with dogs in play, training or napping where we're all piled up on the bed.

My slices of life are full of events and experiences that are meaningful to me. As a former professional photographer, I still “see” so many pictures (or vignettes) as I interact with my dogs and the world around me on a daily basis. Most of the time I am not capturing these moments with a camera anymore. Instead, I am just showing up... I must say, that I do miss having a register of events outside of my head so that at my leisure I can relish a past moment as I am transported by a visual or written recollection of days gone by.

With the immediacy of all things digital, perhaps I can have my cake and eat it too. I can continue to do my work as a dog trainer and also register here and there moments of living a life in the company of dogs. I hope you will occasionally take a peek, and that my slices of life transport you in a glee of YOUR own!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hi-Tech in dog training

John, my husband, is looking for a “new” truck. He is looking in lots of different places just for the “right” truck at the “right” price.  He actually goes and drives a couple that appear to be promising. After one of those drives, he pronounces — in between giggles, that the one he just drove had a cassette player!!  What? No CD player? No bluetooth?  Airbags?  Clearly, he chose to pass on this beauty and continue looking.

As he dove daily into Consumer Reports, car dealership websites, and the like, we discussed perhaps prompted by the cassette player, which “bells and whistles” were  non-negotiable in the purchase of his truck.  It took us but just a few minutes for both to agree on the high-tech modern technologies that the truck needed to have.

I get that not everyone is interested in high-tech. Yet, high-tech is nearly but present in most people’s lives. We are past the point of expecting technologies of all sorts to go away.  As a matter of fact, most of these technologies have brought ample benefits.  Especially so, I would argue, when they are used appropriately. As I like to remind myself: the phone and computer are there for me; versus me for them.  This little reminder most often puts  me on track on how I choose to spend my time. Especially salient, I find unplugged and get uninterrupted time.

Technologies are everywhere.  Even in dog training.  A practice that has very much embraced them. Most trainers that are worth a client entrusting their precious pup to,  are using advance methods that are backed by hard science versus simplistic theories in explaining behavior and most importantly in shaping and modifying behavior.

So why is it then that there are still some folks out there — that almost religiously, continue to expect help from pros that subscribe to obsolete, simplistic models of “alpha” or “leader”?  Can you hear me yawning?

I guess we can blame our big mammalian brain! Our brain loves patterns.  We create patterns perhaps to better understand our environment(s) and keeping ourselves safe. We love to put stuff in categories -  such as the Border Collie, keeping everything neatly in place!  In effect, we must really make an effort to look beyond what appears to be “the facts” to dig deeper and to question claims.

Not only are scientific findings interesting, but I would argue they are also fair (to the species being studied) and very, very helpful to the ones doing the training.  There has been (and we can continue to add to these numbers) over 200 animals species studied. These studies are the foundations of much of what we know about animals and how they learn, relate, feel, etc.  But we still doubt the findings?

Besides the scientific findings, that are the tenets of the science of animal learning and cognition, there are also technologies that have made a big impact in the world of dogs and training.

One that comes to mind is, of course, the clicker. This is one of my ultimate favorite tools AND technologies.  It is a technology because there is much more in the background than the just “click” and “pay” modicum. There is quite a bit that one must understand regarding the science of animal learning if one wants to not only use the clicker (called an event marker) well: click first, pay second, etc.  But we must apply  what we know about how dogs learn  (or your species of choice) and then use the clicker anchored in this learning.

Another great technology is the head-halter.  Think of a head-halter as driving with power steering versus without. You still need to know how to drive the car, but the steering will be much easier.   The same is true for the head-halter.  It can surely aid folks whose dogs are powerful, rowdy on the leash or exhibit big displays of fear/aggression such as lunging at a passerby. However, due diligence must be in place to assure that the owner knows exactly how to use this piece of equipment for effectiveness and kindness to the dog, while the dog must be taught to enjoy wearing the halter because the owner or the trainer have taken the time in paring the halter with fun and positive stuff for the dog.  Enjoy is much better than “tolerate”… I have never liked “tolerating” itchy clothing. Yuck!

I would argue the same about crates.  They can be fabulous in providing dogs with the safety when riding in the car, the flexibility of leaving your dog in a hotel safely in their comfy crates and a personal place for your dog to hang out.  However, the notion that all dogs love crates because they are “den” animals is more fiction than fact. I would argue that all dogs must be taught that the crate is the place to be.  Some will take to it a lot easier for a myriad of reasons while others will never want to be near a crate.

These are but three examples that, in my opinion, have bridge living life with a dog with technologies that make existing with a dog  more pleasurable for the person, and when used appropriately, they can also be a bonus for the dog.

When it comes to training high-tech, we must also pay attention to the thinking behind the practice.  No, not all training is the same.  Yes, dogs are individuals and as such they do have preferences and dislikes but to claim that any dog choose to be pushed around, scared of hurt is plain stupid!

We owe it to our dogs — the ones we claim to be wo[men]’s best friend, to really understand them as a species first and as an individual second.  Not only is this crucial for anyone giving advise about dog behavior, ethology and training but even for dog owners.

Truly, it is time for all of us involved to get our heads out of the sand and educate ourselves in reputable, science-based methods of animal learning as well as  the understanding of canine ethology, instead of simplifying the  factual known nature of our dogs just because we are too lazy to dive deeper.  I guess our brain make us do this!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Let’s put this issue to rest, shall we?

I often get asked if it is “okay” to sleep with a dog in bed. This is one of the issues that is actually quite personal. Some people - I would say most people,  love sleeping with their dogs but other folks would rather not. And sometimes the “rather nots” do not know how to get their dogs off their beds!

The hesitation of having dogs in bed stems  - in my view, from the incorrect idea that dogs are statue thinking creatures and if we allow them on a higher ground (such as bed)  they will take the position of the “alpha”.  My answer to this line of thinking is to look for real evidence to this effect.  We could begin by investigating for potential problems while allowing the dog to sleep on the bed:  Is the person able to move the dog out of the way without having the dog respond by sneering, growling or worse, attempting to bite or bitting while on the bed?  Is the dog preventing another pet from also sleeping on the bed?

I would instead argue for the Parsimony Principle, which states -  that the most acceptable explanation of an occurrence, phenomenon, or event is the simplest, involving the fewest entities, assumptions, or changes should be applied here.

If folks then want to share their bed with their dog, they should go right ahead without any concern for their dog becoming the “dominant” or “alpha”.  There is, however, a consideration when the dog resource guards the bed as his own possession. This, of course, is natural dog behavior, but it could also be very dangerous.

Dogs are wired to “protect” what they consider a resource- something that they find valuable or want. A cozy place to lie can fall under this category.

When a dog resource guards a person’s bed, it is possible for the dog, in its effort to hold on to the possession, to sneer, growl or even bite.  If this was the situation, I would argue that having a dog on the bed at anytime is not a good idea.

I have worked with a couple of clients whose dogs would jump up on the bed and prevent one of the owners to get into the bed!

So what is the solution here?  If people are good about following with a management protocol, and closing the door to the bedroom is, of course, the easiest thing to do.

Alternatively, one can teach a dog an “off” cue that the dog learns as if it was learning a fun game. In essence, the dog gets paid for jumping of the bed (and staying off).  If the dog  jumps on the bed he is asked again to get off and then he is rewarded for doing so! Viola! Problem solved.

Another sticky issue arises when one person wants the dog in bed and the sleeping partner does not. This is a typical example of how folks have different expectations and relationships with their dogs, and frankly I think it has very little to do with one person  loving the dog more, and the other one loving the dog less.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

How to successfully add another dog to your home

Adding a new dog to your home could be one of the most challenging things you might have to do with your existing pup (s). But it doesn’t need to be so. If you plan ahead and follow a few simple rules, your dogs will stand a better chance of getting along and even becoming fast friends.

One of the biggest mistakes one can make (and this happens frequently) is assuming that dogs should get along because we think that this is the “polite” or social thing to do or because we like this new dog and we want to adopt him so our dog must like him too.

Dogs unfortunately for us, play by different standards.  They truly could not care less about our infatuation as humans for social graces, per se. They are instead more focused on  (possible) competition for resources and feeling safe. As a matter of fact, our dogs still share some traits with their wild ancestors and this is one of them.  Let me explain. Wolves, contrary to popular belief, are very peaceful individuals within their pack. They indeed engage in very ritualized behaviors- used as warning to avoid a true conflict within their pack. Now, in order to keep the stability and safety within their family (yes, indeed the social structure of wolves in the wild truly resembles a traditional  human family with parents taking care of the young with the help of extend family members) they must be weary of intruders, and as such, they will defend their territory ferociously.  

As mentioned, our dogs, while not living in a pack anymore - even where there is cohabitating with the other dogs, since by definition a “pack” implies hunting together, still protect their territory.

With this new understanding, we can better come up with a plan so that incorporating a new member to the group is conflict free. Here are my recommendations for introducing a new family member.

To successfully introduce a new dog into your household, plan ahead and be patient. Don’t assume the dogs will instantly like each other or, if they don’t, that they will work things out themselves. If your dogs get off on the wrong paw, the relationship might not recover. Taking a little extra time is well worth the effort.

Before you get in the house.
Arrange an on-leash meeting on neutral ground. That means not in your house or yard, and with plenty of space around.  Ideally, and this is important, introduce the dogs by walking on an arc versus approaching the other leashed dog straight on.

Keep the leashes loose and let the dogs approach each other calmly.
After a 2 second greet-and-sniff, call each dog away with a cheerful voice. Praise and treat the dogs.

Now take a short walk with both dogs. If, after the greeting, the dogs are a little stiff with each other,  or they are pulling on leads to get another close sniff, begin the walk on separate sides of the street. As the dogs relax, gradually move closer together until they walk side by side.

In the backyard.
If possible, allow playtime in the yard. For safety, have the dogs drag their leashes until you are sure they get along well.

Should a fight break out, use noise (your voice, clanging or banging pans) to stop it. If that doesn’t work, you can also throw water at the dogs so make are you have plan ahead and have pans and water available.  If these two options fail, use the leashes to separate the dogs. Never reach in between two fighting dogs.

In the house.
The first time the dogs are inside the house together, keep them on leash and keep the introduction brief, around 5 minutes.

Then confine the newcomer to a comfortable space, like a spare room, crate, or a dog-proofed, enclosed area where he can start to get used to his new home away from the attention of other family pets.

Over the next day or two, repeat the brief introductions. Keep them to 5-10 minutes and keep the dogs on leash. If a squabble breaks out, leashes make it easy to pull the dogs apart.

Make the time the dogs spend together as pleasant for them as possible. Reward friendly and playful behavior with food treats, praise, and toys.

Remember to be cautious when dispensing treats, your attention or toys since dogs competing for resources are a common occurrence. Using a piece of furniture between the dogs, a baby gate to create a bit of a visual barrier for the dogs is a good idea.

Don’t be tempted to try longer periods of time if the early introductions go well. Slowly work your way to longer and longer periods of dog-dog time.

Every now and then, confine your other dog (and any other pets) and let the newcomer explore the house by himself.

Keep break-away collars on your dogs when they are playing to avoid having them potentially tangle up which is highly distressing for any dog and an emergency.

Find other activities such as leash group walks so that the dogs share on a fun activity without the pressure  to engage.

Praise all cordial and playful interactions between the dogs.

Feed your newcomer separately from other dogs. The same holds true for dispensing any other goodies that your dogs might compete for.

Keep your resident dogs schedule as consistent as possible so that  they do not have to deal with too many changes at once.

With this approach, your new dog should be fully accepted as a family member within a week or two.  However, If things are still not warming up after two weeks, get help from a trainer who has experience with this issue and one that uses positive reinforcing techniques.  

Monday, August 20, 2018

Why Training or Behavior Modification Fail- Part 2

If you read my previous post, you know then that I chose to focus on three main areas as to why training or behavior modification fails.  On that post; for those of you that played “hookey,” I delved into motivations behind behavior (s) as well as different strategies- some better and others not conducive to learning, in order to address some typical problems folks have with their dogs.

On this post, I want to expand on looking into client compliance, my second area of investigation.

I am not a people psychologist. My comments then are based on my own experience as a dog behavior “pro” that gives advice to my clients as to how better understand their dogs (from an ethological perspective), as well as teaching and training their dogs.

My other lens of investigation is my hands-on experience as a human being living in this world. In other words, someone else can be writing about me not being compliant when the roles switch, and I am now the one taking advice in learning something new or putting something in practice.  Going back to the main reason why my clients are not compliant when they have training plans and management protocols in place for them to follow, is very simple.

Okay, I will spare you the suspense and just tell you that they fail: be-cause  the-y  aaaa-r-e huuu-m-an!

I recently listened to an audio book which title picked my curiosity: Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop.  Yeah, I know, you are now curious too! His editor is thrilled they came up with this title- I am sure. In any event, the reason I was actually curious as to what Bishop had to say was not so much because of the title, but indeed because of the subtitle: “Get out of your head and into your life.” Good one, huh?

Among the many salient nuggets of advice there where some that hit home with me. Not only because I have been “there” but because my clients are “there” a lot of the times too. I wanted to see if by listening to this book, I could find a better understanding as to why they fail to do the exercises in between sessions, or follow the specific directions or…

Could I learn to motivate them so they could reach their goals?  Could I also become more understanding while still motivate them to reach their goals;  which frankly, have become “my” goals with a sense of urgency and meaning?

So here is one of the nuggets that spoke to me loud and clear:  YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS, YOU ARE YOUR ACTIONS!   Boom! Right where it hurts!

I have heard of the “you are not your thoughts” maxim in the context of meditation and Buddhist thought but this motivational coach- with a very heavy Scottish accent, took it to another level.  As I understand it, we can spend as much time pondering upon a problem, wishing our luck was different- better. Mustering a plan of action, blaming ourselves or our spouse (and of course the dog!) for the state of affairs, but until we do not begin to take meaningful actions to change the situation, we are not truly showing up to live our lives.

Bishop also makes the point that people who get things done and all those aaam-aa-ziiin-g individuals whom appear to have everything easy in their lives do just that:  They take action.

Their actions might be devoid of  “fuzzy” emotion, because at times, they frankly would rather do something else!  Or perhaps they do not feel confident in their efforts, or the results their efforts might yield.  But, in spite of their feelings, they move forward with the plan of action.

Teaching our dogs new behaviors as well as us learning how not to put the dog in “x” and “y” situation, for example, because we know the dog cannot “handle it” requires that we show up.   Show up even when we continue to feel a bit hopeless, tired or need someone to give us support and direction along the way.

Clearly, there are a many more reasons as to why clients are not compliant. One can argue that we are just too busy, too spent, too… However, if we pay close attention we can see that all these “reasons” (frankly excuses most of the time) are all related to not taking the appropriate action.  Why do we choose the multitude of activities that appear to fill every moment of the day? Why did we choose the dog that we knew we had no time for because we travel so often? Why do we make the choice of crashing in front of the TV for endless hours when we can make a choice and use that time differently- regardless of how we are feeling about it?

When we choose to identify (or define ourselves) by our actions- as the author prescribes,  we are cognizant that in order to reach certain goals we MUST make choices.  We must be men and women of action! Of appropriate action that supports our most precious dreams and goals. In essence, we must choose to define ourselves by our actions and much less so by our thoughts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why Training & Behavior Modification Fails

I am talking to my colleague about a recent case he had. We are discussing different possibilities as to why training or behavior modification might not produce the results we would like.  We toss around ideas and I settle for three possibilities:

1.    The technique or techniques employed are either not appropriate or they are not being used correctly.
2.    Lack of client compliance.
3.    Not enough training.
4.    Unrealistic or non-specific goals to obtain as a result of the training.

As I explained to my colleague, these are my thoughts on the possibilities above:

1.    Here is an example to illustrate what happens so very often when people are trying to have their dog stop doing something they don’t like.  As soon as the dog engages in the behavior,  which in essence it’s the “symptom” or “symptoms,” of the observable and quantifiable behavior of the dog’s inner motivation, the owner might say “no” or give a correction such as a leash “pop,” or use all sorts of techniques to admonish the dog. Sometimes the owner might remove the dog from the interaction or at least block visual access to the stimulus.

2.    However, what is missing in all these very common scenarios is that the dog has really not learned any other alternatives for behaving.  The result of all these actions on the part of the owner *might* result in suppressing the behavior; most likely because the dog got scared that he will be hurt or scared again.  But as you can see, there is truly no behavior modification taking place.

Let’s dive deeper: Is the suppression of the behavior permanent?  I would venture to say, that in most cases the answer is no.  Because in order for a behavior  to become extinct several conditions need to be met such as: there is nothing else motivating that same behavior. The interesting thing here is that behaviors often have multiple motivations behind them.  For example: A dog is yelled at and given a leash correction for lunging at another dog.  The dog stops for a “while,” but he still will lunge at dogs while on leash because he’d much rather act in a way that might make the other dog “go away” and lunging in the past has worked. The fear that this dog experiences when a scary stimulus is too close will trump the fear of being yelled at or even given a correction that hurts! It might be also the case that the dog has not really generalized that the behavior the owner is trying to suppress will carry intimidation or pain in all instances.

Here is a typical example a lot of pet parents have experienced:  They do not want the dog getting on their sofa, when the dog gets on the sofa, the owner yells at the dog “Nooooo” or gives it a squirt with a water bottle or… Okay finally the dog does get off the sofa. Now, do you think the dog will not get on the sofa when the owner is not present? I think we can safely guess that in most cases the dog will get on the sofa when alone at home, so technically, the behavior of getting on the sofa is not truly gone into extinction. Okay, okay, I hear you enough with the Animal Learning stuff! What is one to do instead?

Ah, great question!  Troubleshooting is at the center of modifying our dog’s behavior.

First off, let me say that in my example of the dog lunging at another dog while on leash is most likely motivated by what is called proximity sensitivity.  In essence the lunging dog has had a bad (or several) bad experiences when he was being restrained in some way and interacted with another dog. So now, he is motivated by fear and wants the other dog to get the message he does not want anything to do with him and if he continues in its proximity (or moves closer) things can get “really ugly.”  So, in my very ubiquitous example, the lunging dog’s most pressing motivation is fear.

Now, to make things even more interesting, this dog might be afraid of dogs when restrained BUT he is also curious about smelling the other dog (after all this is how dogs say hello, right?). This is because he actually really likes to romp around with other dogs when everyone is off-leash. If we can peg the most pressing motivation, we should start there in coming up with appropriate measures to teach the lunging dog some new stuff. My first goal here would be to teach him that dogs in close proximity (we start with being far away - where the dog can tolerate the presence of the other dog) that dogs on leash mean really good things for him and not painful stuff such as leash pops  or a tightening prong collars on the neck. Once this happy customer realizes that his displays of defensive aggression in other words: “A Go away!  Go away!” strategy  will not be met with more pain or fear, the dog begins to relax. And now we can teach the dog more appropriate behaviors that will take the place of the lunging (or whatever other “inappropriate behaviors” the dog had learned) to do when in the presence of dogs while being restrained.  What is really interesting and a second bonus of using the correct strategy is that as the dog practices the new behavior; say looking at the dog for a few short seconds, and then being asked to look away, the dog is also learning to tolerate the proximity of dogs because he is not associating the presence of dogs with being choked with a collar, yelled at or even worse. 

I realize the thinking above is not necessarily intuitive to most folks, but I am here to tell you that if one understands the power of positive and negative association and their role in learning folks will be best suited to help their dogs.

As for my second example of the dog not getting on the sofa when the family is home but doing so when alone, the truth is that while some dogs might get the message and not get on the sofa when unsupervised, I would think of this example as a management situation versus a training scenario. It comes down to priorities in training. Most folks do not have the interest in spending time on behaviors like this when they or their dogs have bigger fish to fry.  Management means that we make changes in the environment to prevent the dog in engaging in a specific behavior. Perhaps making the sofa inaccessible to the dog and providing him with a very comfy bed. Reinforcing the dog for lying on the bed when we are around are some ideas.

Next post I will continue exploring the two other points. I hope you will join me in the conversation by reading the blog.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Why Guidelines In Training Matter?

In the last post I wrote about the importance of having an independent certifying person certifying anyone that gives advice about pet behavior to pet parents or that work hands-on with the dog. At present the only “voluntary” third-party certification is the  Certification Council for Professionals Dog Trainers (CCPDT).  Another important factor that comes with a legitimate third-party certification is the bylaws. When it comes to working with sentient beings these bylaws are a MUST.  Because anyone providing a service should have some sort of code of ethics and professional standard in working with the public.

Here is the code of ethics that anyone choosing to become certified by CCPDT must abide by.

1.    To understand and fully comply with the CCPDT Training and Behavior Practices Policy.
2.    To use training and behavior modification methods based on accurate scientific research, emphasizing positive relationships between people and dogs and using positive reinforcement-based techniques to the maximum extent possible.
3.    To always provide for the safety of clients and animals in training programs and behavior consultations.
4.    To act with honesty and integrity toward clients, respecting their legitimate training and behavior goals and the autonomy of their choices, provided they conform to societal and legal standards of humane treatment for their pet.
5.    To refrain from public defamation of colleagues, respecting their right to establish and follow their own principles of conduct, provided those principles are ethical and humane according to the CCPDT Humane Hierarchy Position Statement.
6.    To provide truthful advertising and representations concerning certificant’s qualifications, experience, performance of services, pricing of services and expected results; to provide full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest to clients and other professionals.
7.    To refrain from providing guarantees regarding the specific outcome of training.
8.    To use properly authorized logos and credentials provided by the CCPDT when marketing in print or electronic media.
9.    To obtain written informed consent from any client prior to photographing, video or audio recording a dog training session.
10.    To work within the professional boundaries of the CCPDT certifications and individual expertise and refrain from providing diagnosis, advice, or recommendations in areas of veterinary medicine or family counseling unless certified to do so. This does not preclude referring the client to a veterinary or behavior consulting professional.
11.    To maintain and respect the confidentiality of all information obtained from clients in the course of business; to refrain from disclosure of information about clients or their pets to others without the client’s explicit consent, except as required by law.
12.    To be aware of and comply with applicable laws, regulations, and ethical standards governing professional practices, treatment of animals (including cases of neglect or abuse), and reporting of dog bites in the state/province/country when interacting with the public and when providing dog training or behavior consulting services.
13.    To keep accurate and complete records of clients, their animals and the training and behavior services provided; to ensure secure storage and, when appropriate, confidential disposal of such records.
14.    To continue professional development as required for maintaining the CCPDT credentials in accordance with the policies of the CCPDT.
15.    To refrain from making material misrepresentations as part of the application for certification or recertification.
16.    To maintain and respect the confidentiality and security of the contents of any and all certification examinations of the CCPDT including, but not limited to, refraining from: stealing portions of, or the entire, examination(s); removing written examination materials from a test or meeting site without authorization; reproducing and/or disseminating examination materials without authorization; using paid test takers for the purpose of reconstructing an examination; using improperly obtained test questions to prepare person(s) for the examination; cheating during an examination; impersonating an examinee or having an impersonator take an examination.

While I find that all the bylaws above are worth pursuing, there is two that I want to expand upon:

1.    To use training and behavior modification methods based on accurate scientific research, emphasizing positive relationships between people and dogs and using positive reinforcement-based techniques to the maximum extent possible.

Working with animals is not an easy endeavor for many reasons. First off, animals are dangerous. Yes indeed, they are cute, and furry – in some cases, but any animal with teeth has the potential for creating a lot of damage. Did you know, for example, that a cat’s bite is considered a medical emergency?  When the person working with an animal or giving advice as to how to work with one is not knowledgeable of the species, not only will the training or behavior modification be below average, but someone might get hurt.  Also, important to consider is the distress (or worse!) that this person can create for the animal. And this clearly not caring for the animal.

There is SO much research that has been done when it comes to Animal Learning that frankly there is no excuse for ignorance. Period. It is the responsibility of the trainer  to understand these principles which are in effects LAWS of learning.  Not someone’s opinion, but laws that as such have been verified over and over again. Of course, there is always advances in science so we are always discovering or revising this knowledge. Besides, one of the perks of learning about animals is how fascinating they are.

It never ceases to bring a smile to my face when I see one of my clients ask me how I am able to do what I do upon just meeting their dog.  No. Good trainers do not carry a “magic-wand” in their training gear. Our “magic-wand” is knowledge.

This knowledge permits us to be humane (re-read the bylaw above now) because we know that we do not need to hurt or scare an animal to teach them. This has been confirmed over and over again in multiple studies.  When you are told that they need to scare your dog or hurt your dog to teach them or to assert who is the leader, this is false.  What it does tell me is that the person working with you has failed to understand how positive reinforcerment works. As a form of clarification a few lines about punishment:  (Positive) Punishment  as defined in the Behavioral Sciences is the presentation of an aversive. Also, by definition punishment does SUPRESS behavior.  So yes, by definition if the behavior in question goes down in frequency by the use of aversives (an aversive is anything a dog wants to avoid because it causes fear or pain) then the methodology being employed is punishment.
Important to know: All punishment is an aversive but not all aversives are considered, in the behavioral sciences as punishment.  The reason being, that in order to be considered “punishment” the intervention must bring the frequency of the behavior down.  Well then, you might ask, why not use punishment?  And the answer is that when we introduce punishment into our repertoire of working with animals we must understand that punishment has “fallouts” – or consequences.

These consequences are not something someone can predict as if they will happen and in what form. For example:  A dog is shocked as “avoidance training” for snakes, as a result, the dog now attacks compulsively anything that resembles a snake. Case two: a dog is shocked as part of the “training” for an invisible fence, now this dog will not step into the backyard and has attacked men which he did not do before. The person installing the fencing and who shocked the dog was a male. These two examples are from real cases that have landed at my front door.

2.     The second bylaw (bylaw # 7) that I want to highlight is the one stating that anyone giving behavior advice should not make any guarantees as to the results.  Sure, they are plenty of folks out there looking for guarantees – as if we were selling them a fridge and  clearly behavior is so much more complex than the workings of the most sophisticated fridge in the market. There is, of course, “professionals” that will offer guarantees as if they were repairing a leaky roof. (I am sighing at this point…) So, my advice is:  If you are considering working with someone and they give you any guarantee for results as to the behavior of your dog, walk away. This red flag should tell you the person is a good salesperson, but not keen on the workings of behavior! I once took a marketing & client retention course, and one of the participants in the group kept pressing the person giving the course about guarantees of results.  I remember clearly thinking how obnoxious this person was and very curious as to how the pro would respond. She finally said to him: “If you do EVERY SINGLE exercise in the binder (big binder, folks!), you attend EVERY call, participate in all the group discussions. Yes, I think you will get the results you are looking for.” I thought her answer was brilliant. 

You see, behavior is complicated because we are complicated.  We are unpredictable, and unable to stick at anything for very long.  This is just how we are wired and we must make tremendous efforts (implement every training plan with exquisite precision, train every day and so on) in order to get above the frail.   So then, the better questions potential customers should ask from a trainer they are considering working with are:

Tell me about your qualifications? Any schooling? Degrees? If so, check them out. The “I LOVE DOGS and THEY LOVE me” is nice, but not enough (or even needed!) to train them.

What methodologies will you use? If you don’t understand the lingo, ask for specifics.

Do you have experience with this issue? Some people can teach your dog a mean “sit” or “down” but have no experience with resource guarding  or separation anxiety.

Ask for references (testimonials- I love- but I want to hear from the person itself) so I suggest reaching out. If possible, I always call instead of email potential references so that I can hear in their voices hesitation or full approval. Ask this person specific questions of any area of concern you might have.

Finally, make absolutely sure you are comfortable with the person. You trust them as individuals and you are comfortable with how they will treat your dog.  Remember, your dog depends on you to keep him/her safe, happy and thriving.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Good News in My Inbox

Recently I received an email with the following information from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). As you will read below, the time has come for organizations such as CCPDT to recognize the urgent need to pass legislation in order to regulate the now unregulated profession of pet dog training.

It is mind-blowing that the pet parents who choose to get help for their dog’s behavior have no way of knowing if the person they have chosen to work with their dog is indeed qualified to do so. The ramifications of working with someone - that while interested in dogs, loves dogs or simply plans to make a living in this field, without truly having the knowledge to do so, are scary and vast.  I don’t know about you, but if I have a problem with my car, I do not attempt to diagnose or fix it.  Instead, I call upon someone with the knowledge and experience. I don’t attempt either to fix my own electrical issues; instead I call upon someone that has the knowledge and credentials to do so.

Why is it then that we do not take the care and training of our pets with the same caution and concern?  Dogs are predators, and while we love to think of them as furry “babies” and lovely companions, they can be very dangerous.  If professionals choose to train with aversives, such as shock collars and other painful practices, they MUST at the very least understand how to use them correctly.  No, I am not advocating at all the use of aversives in training dogs.  Yet, it must be emphasized that aversives have fallouts and one of them is the increase in aggression.

Our responsibility as professionals working in the training industry, to our clients in particular, to their dogs, and to society at large, must be to help with the situation instead of making the situation worse and potentially more dangerous.  

I urge all pet lovers and pet parents to support the need for legislation.  I also urge anyone looking into getting some “professional” help for their dog to do their homework.  Ask for certification, ask for referrals, and call them.  Take to heart that it is your responsibility to keep your pet out of harms way. Think critically and look elsewhere if you are presented with inhumane options in order to resolve a problem.


Mandating Certification for Training and Behavior Professionals

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) recognizes that the dog training and behavior profession is a largely unregulated industry in the United States and much of the rest of the world. As a result, consumers are at risk of engaging service providers who have little to no legitimate education, training or experience in the field of dog training and behavior modification. We join the international dog training community in calling for regulation of the dog training industry.

CCPDT is concerned that individuals who do not hold an accredited certification and operate in an unregulated industry with claims of being professional dog trainers/behavior consultants put dogs at risk of being incompetently trained by any methods used and/or abused through the utilization of inappropriate methods. This is particularly concerning to CCPDT as dogs trained with inappropriate methods may present a safety risk not only to their owners but to other people and animals they come in contact with within their community.

Additionally, research has shown that dogs who are poorly trained and/or abused can be a burden to their communities. They are more likely to be surrendered to shelters and rescues, or abandoned by their human caretakers.

Therefore, to protect the public and their dogs from the dangers of an unregulated dog training profession, CCPDT supports and will facilitate efforts to introduce and pass legislation intended to implement appropriate regulation that would require legitimate certification in order for a dog trainer to be able to represent him/herself to the public as a Professional Dog Trainer or Dog Behavior Consultant.


Board of Directors, CCPDT