Some people, especially trainers, think that because they have added positive reinforcement to their corrections and correction collars that they are more gentle and somehow “better.” Don’t get me wrong, I love that people are open to using food and toys. Wonderful. Great.
However, an animal’s ability to predict and have the perception of control over things that happen to them is what gives them a sense of calm and stability.
When a dog is sometimes getting food and sometimes corrected, it leads to unpredictability. The inability to control things is what leads to significant behavioural fallout.
My main point being that an “all quadrant” approach may be sold as using all the tools in a toolkit. However, if a dog is getting mixed messages, as usually happens, that just messes the dog up. For example, a dog is being reinforced for walking nicely around people. They may start to develop a positive association to strangers. But then, they pull to that stranger and get pinched with a prong collar. That very likely creates a negative association. So the dog isn’t just learning to walk nice. The dog is learning that sometimes when you see strangers good things happen and sometimes bad things. Strangers are bloody unpredictable and thus very concerning.
Very similar things happen when people do classical conditioning to strangers/dogs, and then the dog gets shocked on an electric fence as they approach passing strangers/dogs. Strangers/dogs are unpredictable. It happens when dogs are being reinforced for not jumping on people and then corrected for pulling to people.
A trainer doing such things is likely to say, “But the correction is for the behaviour.” Doesn’t matter. Associations are tied to skills - intertwined. When using physical discomfort and pain, the brain is wired to look for a reason in the environment to explain it. Which is why wonky negative associations from corrections usually form to what the dog was looking at during the correction.
No, you cannot avoid that by correcting “properly.”
—  Yvette Van Veen
ooohhh nooo @ dog training

😭😭😭

Supergirl has new classes, including a bRAVERY CLASS where you introduce dogs to a new thing every week. While I think Asher maybe wouldn’t do spectacularly (I felt that things went too quickly for him in the second set of reactivity classes), if I’m more of an advocate for him, it could be great…

AT THE SAME TIME, I was trying to get Gunner into agility! I checked out that humane society course, yeah? Well, I emailed the instructor this week, because the new classes were up but I didn’t see any agility. Turns out she has a new job so she doesn’t know when she’ll be teaching there again and her response was literally “maybe later?” when it comes to teaching agility. 😭  y u do this (i mean i get it i’m not judgin i feel it i’m just Sad)

Soooo, maybe I’ll check out the dog club again? But then they’re going to want Gun to go through all the initial obedience courses, I believe. (And I’ll need to be careful about avoiding our previous instructor and I’m just kinda socially anxious about going there now.) Hmm.

I also was going to sign myself up for dance classes this summer for therapy & exercise related reasons which is of a similar price range as dog classes, so I definitely need to pick and choose here..

Reminder: dominance in dogs is not about “winning” or “who does what” or “who is the leader.” Dominance refers to who wants a limited, valuable resource the most. It is fluid between groups of dogs and can change with time. It also is only in a group of equals - so puppies to puppies and adults to adults.

If you’re using dominance to justify bullying behaviour, aggressive behaviour, or how humans interact with dogs, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of canine behaviour. Dominance theory is not a thing. It’s not accurate, and it’s widely misinterpreted to boot.

Just a friendly PSA from a few posts that I cringed over.

I don’t know what’s in the air but I have had a lot of people express to me recently that they are interested in getting a dog breed that -in my opinion- isn’t an appropriate choice for them. I came up with a metaphor to explain dog breeds to people and thought I would share it here too. 

Like most people I know, I have a car. I like my car. I use it to get from point A to point B and it works perfectly for me. I very much appreciate the role that my car plays in my day to day life. However, I am not the kind of person that wants to spend hours in my garage working on a car. I can change my oil and fill up my tire when it is low on air but I have no interest in tinkering with the engine or rebuilding parts of it. That’s not a reflection on me or on people who do enjoy fixing up and restoring their cars, it’s just not how I choose to spend my time. What it does mean though is that when I went to buy a car I didn’t buy a ‘69 Mustang even though I love how they look. I bought a car that would be lower maintenance and would fit in with my lifestyle better than a vintage muscle car. I love riding in my friends’ beautiful vintage cars but I also recognize the work they have to put into their cars to keep them that way is not something I am passionate about and would be impractical and difficult for me to maintain longterm. 

It would be ridiculous for me to buy a '69 Mustang and treat it like a new Subaru. The car would break down and I would be frustrated and I would end up investing a lot of time and money into fixing it when I could have been going fun places and doing other things I enjoy more if I had just gotten the Subaru. It would also be silly of me to just get the Mustang anyways and just hope that I happened to get one that wouldn’t need a high level or maintenance and upkeep.

A high drive, high intensity breed or a working line dog is a vintage muscle car. It would be ridiculous for me to buy a working line border collie and expect it to act like a pet line labrador. I could get a border collie anyways and hope I end up with the outlier, but just like it would be irresponsible for me to buy a vintage car and just hope that it never needed tinkering it would be silly for me to get a breed of dog that is very predictably not going to be suitable for my needs.

For me personally, dogs are not only pets - they are my hobby. So like it makes sense for a car hobbyist to get that Mustang it made sense for me to get a dog that would likely be high energy and work-intensive. For me, spending a few hours a day working with my dogs doesn’t feel like a chore, but not everybody feels this way! Admitting that you need or want a dog with less intensive needs doesn’t mean you’re a bad dog owner or that you couldn’t handle a high energy breed if you really had to - it’s just like me picking a more practical car over something flashier. I’m sure I could figure out how to rebuild an engine on YouTube and car forums, but I realistically there are things I would rather be doing with my time so I factored that into my decision when I bought my car. 

There’s no shame in picking a dog that works for you, and there’s no shame in being honest about what you need and want in a dog! There’s a buddy out there for everyone that needs you exactly as you are. :) 

Stress signals in dogs...and why they are important!!

I was watching a video the other day of a service dog in training. He was heeling beautifully beside his handler in a department store, sitting on command, performing a long distance down stay, and just being a really good dog. The handler wrote a short bit about how proud she was for how well her puppy was doing with his public access training. However, my heart truly breaks for this dog.

What the handler failed to realize is how completely uncomfortable her dog was to be there. Despite him behaving near flawlessly, his body language was screaming he’d rather be anywhere but where he was right then. Unfortunately many dog owners fail to notice subtle, yet key, signs of stress for their dog. Without knowing how to read subtle changes in body language, you can easily cause your dog to go from mildly nervous or uncomfortable, to a full on panic or rage in a matter of seconds. This is what happens when people say their dog “just had a meltdown,” or even snapped at someone, for “no reason.”  Ignoring stress signals is incredibly dangerous for everyone involved.

When out training with your service dog (or your pet dog for that matter), it is important to get into the habit of carefully watching your dog’s body language. It helps to write down in a training log exactly how your dog reacts to different stimuli. This way, you will be able to clearly see where your dog is solid, where your dog is not, where you are improving, and where you need more work.

Below are signs of minor stress signals for dogs.

When I say minor, this doesn’t mean you should continue what you are doing in hopes he will just “get over it.”  What I DO mean is that these are the signals which are almost always overlooked… when key stress signals are overlooked by the handler, it can lead to much greater problems.

  • Lip licking when no food is present
  • Yawning when he didn’t just wake up
  • Rapid sniffing of the air or ground
  • Stiff movement or tense muscles
  • Slowed movement or a laggy heel
  • Lowered tail
  • Hyper vigilance (rapidly moving eyes trying to scan the environment)
  • Hardened facial features
  • Dog stops taking treats/food
  • Dog starts taking treats in a more hard/bitey manor
  • Hard eyes (fast/sharp blinking)
  • Weight shift changes
  • Panting when it’s not hot out
  • Slightly roached (curved) back
  • Ears back
  • Not responding to handler’s commands
  • Looking away from handler
  • Whiney and uneasy
  • Nibbling on treats but not actually eating them
  • Leaning on the handler
  • Scratching themselves

Now here are some major stress signals for dogs.

If your dog is experiencing any of these, it is not only time to remove him from the situation ASAP, but to also rethink your training plan. Many of these signals will occur just shortly before a complete panic and/or bite.

  • Tightly tucked tail
  • Whale eye (dog’s eyes go wide and you can see the white rim around them)
  • Pulling towards an exit
  • Pulling away from the handler
  • Spinning on the leash
  • Not responding to the handler’s commands
  • Not responding to the handler’s voice
  • Shaking
  • Urinating
  • Low/tucked body position with a roached (curved) back
  • Sweaty paws
  • Whining
  • Heavy breathing when it’s not hot out
  • Teeth chattering
  • Tense lips and incisors (front teeth) showing while licking at the air
  • Laying down on the ground with their chin down and not wanting to move

Your service dog depends on you JUST as much as you depend on him. As your dog’s handler, you are 100% responsible for his mental and physical well-being at all times. No matter what situation you find yourself in, your dog’s needs should always come first.

Pushing a nervous dog into a situation where he is uncomfortable is one of the absolute worst things you can do for your SDiT, and creates the potential for much greater behavioral issues further down the road. Thinking your dog can “just get over it” is an extremely outdated training tactic. Just because your dog appears to stop fighting does NOT mean he is comfortable in that situation… it simply means he has shut down.  He’s still anxious and afraid, but he’s decided there’s no point in fighting anymore. This is one of the most dangerous situations your dog may find himself in. He appears “calm,” but a second later has the potential to lash out and bite.

I get it, we are all excited to start public access training! However, the goal for service dog training should always be to create a mentally sound and stable dog in all situations. Subjecting him to situations which cause him fear or panic is just NOT the way to do that.

What are the most useful tricks your dogs know?

I’m writing a little article  for a dog magazine about the most useful every day tricks you can teach your dog. I’m not thinking the super basic ones like recall or waiting for a cue before the dog is allowed to eat, I’m thinking some tricks you might not think of right away.

So far my ideas include:

-“park” - stand between my legs 

- the trick where the dog rests their head on your hand

- “stop” - basically just a cue for the dog to stop immediately

- potty on cue

- lifting either of the front paws when the leash gets tangled 

- dog pulling the sleeves of your coat to help you take it off


Any input is much appreciated!!!!

youtube

Yesterday was a disaster and I completely forgot to post this, but new video’s up.

Like I said in the opening, I have no idea what the technical name for this is so I’m calling it name differentiation- asking the huas to recognize which cues apply to them and which do not. This is the first time I’ve attempted this with them in such a structured way and I was floored by how well they handled it. Obviously these clips are “highlights,” there were definitely a few times where they messed up but that’s okay, we ain’t all perfect! Also I’m making a blooper reel so you will be seeing the not-so-perfect moments in the future.

5

As a contrast to the previous gifset, I wanted to make one with the classic video by Dr. Sophia Yin showing counter conditioning in action. This is a dog that had been displaying aggression severely enough to be up for euthanasia. The stimulus prompting aggression in this video is having his face blown on. While we don’t hear anything about the dog’s history, it’s pretty easy to assume that this is fear-related, as shoving your face at a dog’s face is pretty aggressive body language, a lot of smaller dogs have fear-related aggression due to their boundaries being ignored, and I don’t see any resource-guarding behavior.

You can’t draw a complete parallel, but there are a lot of similarities between this video of an aggressive dog and the video of the aggressive horse. This dog seems to be making a big aggressive display and then retreating, instead of continuing the attack with the intent of causing serious injury. The horse had its movement restricted to the round pen, and this dog has its movement restricted by a leash. Both are unhappy and dangerous animals.

Dr. Yin resolves the aggression by pairing the provocative stimulus (blowing on the dog’s face) with food. After only a few brief sessions and a bit of time, the dog no longer exhibits aggression when prompted. He doesn’t enjoy the stimulus (he still moves his head back and away, and there’s a bit of lip licking) but having his face blown on no longer provokes aggression. Instead you can see eagerness for the treatment and what looks like enjoyment of the exercise (tail wagging, what looks almost like a play bow or an attempt to get a reward with a behavior he was taught, ears forward, open relaxed mouth, looking up at her face). His emotional reaction and outward behavioral response are dramatically different.

I don’t present this as an example of why counter conditioning with food is a preferential miracle cure (dogs are a lot more likely to exhibit aggressive body language, so the horse probably had way more of a backlog of fear, whereas this guy’s fear could be worked around relatively quickly. I also wouldn’t ever recommend anyone tackle aggressive body language straight up with a leash restraining the dog, and definitely not by blowing into the dog’s face, where it’s so easy to get bit) BUT this shows a similar scenario, similar aggression, and a different protocol for resolving the problem that doesn’t involve the use of an aversive stimulus to work around aggression.