Archive for the ‘scared’ Tag
If you sat two children down, one with a pile of marbles, the other with a bucket of tennis balls and gave each the task to put these objects into a milk jug, what do you think is likely to happen? Start off with- which child is more likely to be successful? Assuming that the marbles are all small enough to fit into the jug and the child has the dexterity and hand/eye coordination, the child with the marbles will be. What about the child with the tennis balls? Even if they have the ability to try to perform the task, how many attempts do you think they will make before they give up altogether when they discover that tennis balls don’t fit into milk jugs? I’m going to guess, not many. Why bother?
If we were to bring in another child and give them a variety of different sized marbles, some which will fit, some just barely, others not at all, how many attempts do you think they will make before they stop? Let’s assume that putting marbles in jugs is fun for the child or that we’ve promised them their special treat for doing it, and I’m guessing that they will keep trying until they have put all the marbles that fit into the jug and have a pile of those that don’t. If we asked them to do this a second time they might even do it more quickly if there were easy ways for them to differentiate between the sizes of the marbles; all the red ones fit, blue ones don’t.
When our dogs are interacting with us and their environment there is a continuous flow of experimentation of behavior. Each behavior provides the dog with information as to whether they should do it again or not based on what outcome the behavior produces. Does the behavior fit? If we always provide our dogs with information that tells them that a behavior is the right one, they can be prepared to use that behavior again in the future. If we resort to punishment too often, which for a fearful dog may be just once, they may, like the child with the tennis balls, stop bothering to experiment to come up with the behavior that fits.
We don’t need to hit them over the head to let them know that a behavior isn’t fitting. If they have learned a variety of ways that tell them that a behavior does fit; food treats, praise, smiles, cheers of approval, a click, the word YES, when one of these does not occur, they are prepared to experiment with another response until they are successful.
In life, on rivers, or when training a dog, there are advantages to going with the flow.
While I agree that our own energy has an affect on our dogs, I do find the focus on an owner’s energy to be at times confusing or just plain useless when it comes to training dogs. In Cesar’s Way owners are encouraged to imitate people like Cleopatra, John Wayne and Oprah. Huh? Now while some people out there might think they know what Millan means, how does someone really know what he means? You’ve got a self-absorbed Egyptian despot, a swaggering, gun-slinging film star and Oprah!
If you have spent a lot of time with dogs and are comfortable with them, the idea that your ‘energy’ affects their behavior may not seem so foreign, but for someone who is struggling to live with a dog with aggression or fear issues, who does not have a lot of experience with dogs, channeling Cleopatra is probably not the most helpful advice. Since each of us may have a different interpretation of what a good leader looks and acts like, the recommendation to ‘be’ the leader is not only not good enough, it’s dangerous. When some leaders don’t get what they want from their followers they can feel challenged and angry. Why set dog owners up for this kind of energy?
If you are working with a fearful dog there are actual training skills and techniques that you can use to help your dog understand what you want from it. Patience is probably more important than confidence when it comes to animal training, so don’t worry too much if you don’t feel like puffing out your chest and having your brother murdered so he doesn’t compete with your for the throne. If you are moved to channel anyone consider Mary Poppins, she was on the right track with that ‘spoonful of sugar’ idea.
I say this is my last post about Cesar Millan because this blog is not about him, regardless of the benefit of the additional hits it may get me from the Dog Whisperer Ambassadors out there. It is not about trying to convince his loyal converts that he is wrong or bad. I agree with him that many dogs in America have less than stellar lives, as do many people and I’m sure there is a connection. Just giving a dog a life, as he advocates with his focus on exercise is a gift to dogs and owners. I would like to thank all the folks who commented on my last post, your care and concern for the dogs in your lives is obvious. I also appreciate it since the journalist who produced the news clip about Cesar that I included in that post told me that he has received hate mail from many of Cesar’s fans. Your calm assertiveness is appreciated.
In his book, Cesar’s Way, on page 13 Cesar mentions briefly a frightened German Shepherd named Beauty who in “..order to attach a leash to her collar, I have to chase after her, tire her out, and then wait until she submits. I may have to repeat this process a thousand times until she realizes that when I put my hand out, the best solution is for her to come to me.” Now imagine if you will, for just a moment, this scene. The dog is terrified, adrenalin is coursing through her body, she’s running, her body low, tail tucked, ears down and back, glancing behind her as she tries to escape her own personal demon. Then physically exhausted she gives up, perhaps pressing herself to the floor or into a corner as her worst nightmare comes true. Perhaps you can imagine how you’d feel, your mouth going dry, the tightening of your stomach as you experienced fear- heart racing, bowel loosening fear. Or maybe it’s easier to see a dog you care about fleeing in horror, over and over, the act repeated on a daily basis for weeks. This is not humanizing a dog, it is empathizing with the experience of an animal with which we share the same parts of the brain that allows us to feel fear in the same ways.
You may argue that I am taking him too literally that he does not mean 1ooo times. Would you feel better about it if it was only 100 times or a dozen times? But I don’t think it’s off track to take him literally. Dogs do not generalize behaviors easily and fearful dogs are even less proficient at it so his description of needing to repeat this scene a thousand times before the dog learns that her efforts to protect herself are of no use and ‘submits’, is likely accurate. Now I’ll ask you to visit the fearfuldogs.com site and have a look at the videos in which I use targeting to teach Sunny to approach me and other people. It is a simple exercise and what you are seeing is the result of hundreds of opportunities that Sunny had to practice this behavior, maybe even a thousand. Look at him, you can still see his fear, his wariness, his caution but he was never forced to run panicked, until exhaustion, to learn to ‘submit’ to the request to approach my hand. Not once was he forced to ‘submit’ to his demons. Looking at his body language you will still see concern, but you will also see the beginning of a cheerful willingness to be around people.
These behaviors take time and repetition because for many dogs, as Cesar is well aware of, their brains are damaged and for some dogs they will never be repaired, no matter how many time they are chased while they flee in horror, or how many times they are asked to target a hand. And if I were to ask myself the question as to which technique I would choose to test out their learning potential, you probably don’t need me to tell you that I would choose the targeting with positive reinforcement every time.
I am NOT pointing out these videos to show what a good trainer I am, far from it. I am a novice, a novice who has followed the lead of great trainers, many who are familiar names in the world of dog training and others, not so familiar but no less skilled or insightful. Compared to good trainers I could even be called a hack. I point them out for the owners of fearful dogs who are struggling and searching for ways to help their dogs, ways which do not include the risk of being bitten or continually terrifying their dogs, and to realize that neither do they need to subject themselves to being bitten in order to teach their dog that biting is not the best solution to their problem. This is a technique commonly used by Cesar with small dogs who when they do give up, I suspect are feeling something far from relief at finding a leader, unless you also believe that a deer feels relief when it can finally stop running after the wolves have her by the throat.
I will not try to describe what happens in a dog’s brain when it is so afraid it runs or fights for its life. Not only am I not qualified to do so, if I go down that route it will lead to a conversation about how dogs learn new behaviors and how they change how they feel about the things that scare them. It will lead to how positive reinforcement works, not the bribing or luring with treats the critics of PR often mistakenly believe it to be, or inexperienced handlers practice and call it PR, but operant and classical conditioning. I will not go there because then I will be talking about training and Cesar himself admits he’s not a trainer.
You are welcome to comment and share your admiration for Cesar Milan, it is still, as we like to say and believe, a free country (even if it is ‘my’ blog and we all have something to learn from each other. And like Cesar Milan I also believe that it is the relationship that we have with our dogs that creates the best foundation for any training or rehabilitation success we have with them. I have never been, nor will I ever be the ‘alpha dog’ or ‘pack leader’ I am quite sure that my dogs do not believe me to be a very unfortunate looking dog. I am a human and by virtue of some additional brain matter and thumbs, I control all the resources my dogs need, but do not allow this to lead me to inaccurate interpretations of dominance hierarchies among them.
But I won’t go on any further, I would much prefer to grab my snowshoes and head up the mountain with my dogs, fearful one included. This will occur after they
go out the door first and run up the trail ahead of me, but bless their hearts, whether they keep checking up on my progress because they think I’m the pack leader, because I call them or out of pity because I can’t keep up, it is the indescribable pleasure I get being with them and watching them, my fearful dog Sunny in particular, which will keep me advocating that no one, no one, causes any scared dog to run for any reason other than the sheer joy of it.
Yours in the adoration of dogs,
If you’re an owner of a fearful dog you’ve heard it all before-
“He just needs love.”
“Give her some time.”
“Lots of dogs are shy at first.”
But you’ve probably discovered that it takes more than time and love to help a fearful dog.
If your dog is just afraid of some stuff, you may, with the understanding of counter conditioning and desensitization, end up with a dog that can overcome its particular fears. A dog that scurries away from the vacuum may decide it’s not all that horrible when it also means that cheese treats are doled out. Or a dog that believes that toddlers are some sort of alien beast (and some do seem to be) might be able to learn to see them as cookie dropping, ball throwing creatures they can enjoy.
But a dog that is easily startled and appears afraid of more things that it is not afraid of, is not going to ‘fix’ easily, or at all. It is possible to help a dog like this become more comfortable in its world, but owners and rescuers should remain cautiously optimistic for them. It matters because if the expectations you have for your dog are not realistic you not only risk disappointment you also risk losing valuable insight into the dog’s actual needs and abilities in your rush to find a cure for the dog’s behavior.
Fearful dogs like Sunny can have good lives. Sunny has many moments of sheer joy, if my ability to assess the emotions of a dog romping and rolling in the snow is accurate. I want to continue to help him increase his comfort level around people, since the world is full of them, but on a daily basis he is not required to face his personal demons so much that he is in a constant state of stress or arousal. My dog is a great companion to me and other dogs. He may never be a therapy dog or take home ribbons in agility, but he can come into the house when I ask him to, and even better still, wag his tail while he’s doing it.
Whether or not to use behavioral medications to help your dog is a personal decision, but one which is often based on incomplete information. One comment often made by dog owners is, “I don’t like to drug my dog.” Fair enough. I don’t like to ‘drug’ my dogs either, but I’m sure glad that my dog with no thyroid function has a medication to help with that, and that my old cocker with heart problems has medications that have help improve the quality and hopefully the length of her life.
There are owners who will use herbs, supplements, and remedies without hesitation, yet balk when the suggestion of a tested behavioral medication is made. If we believe that a particular ‘alternative’ treatment is powerful enough to change our dog’s behavior why then do we not also believe that they are powerful enough to do harm to our dogs? Few of the products available to dog owners today have not been tested for their safety, whereas there are behavioral medications that have been.
Another misconception about the behavioral medications available today is that they are used to sedate dogs. While sedation may be a side effect of some of these medications, the reason for using them is not to sedate your dog. In many cases this effect decreases over time.
We know that behavioral medications can help with depression and anxiety in people, and many of these same medications are what are used with dogs. Their use in dogs is recommended along with a behavior modification program and enough of us have had success with this combination approach that it makes sense, to me, for owners to consider their dog’s behavioral issues and whether or not the addition of a medication to their program to help their dog may be beneficial.
We know that dogs get better at any behavior they repeat, inappropriate as well as appropriate ones. If the use of medications makes it easier for a dog to practice and repeat appropriate behaviors then it stands to reason that in the long run the dog will benefit by their use.
While it is wise to question the use of medications to help fearful dogs, it also is wise not to disregard them based on misinformation or the lack of information about them or a long held prejudice against them.
Just my thoughts.
I’m not sure why it is people are so reluctant to accept that you can comfort, or reward a dog when it is afraid and NOT be telling the dog it’s ok to be afraid. Doctors give little kids lollipops, we hug people who are nervous, we hold the hand of someone who is afraid and we are not causing them to become more afraid. If we are we should rethink what we’re doing!
Some owners will say, “When I pet my dog, or comfort my dog when she’s afraid it doesn’t help, she gets worse.”
The conclusion they come to is that comforting doesn’t work. How about the conclusion that what they’re doing is not in fact comforting the dog, regardless of their intentions. If indeed they were actually doing something that did provide the dog with comfort or a reward that mattered to them, they would likely see an improvement in the dogs behavior. Why? Because anything that you can do to lessen a dog’s fear or anxiety is going to help them behave more appropriately, or learn how to behave more appropriately.
Studies dating back to the 1940′s proved that you do not reinforce fear by ‘rewarding’ it. It just doesn’t happen, our brains don’t work that way, and there’s a difference between how behaviors are learned and how fear is experienced.
At an agility meet over the weekend I met a young woman who ran a rescue organization. She was at the event to run her own dog, a small breed mix that should be auditioning for the next Disney film it was so darn cute. Between runs we met in the parking lot, she had a different dog, a pom/chi mix that was visibly nervous. It was relinquished by the owners because it had begun to show aggression toward the husband of the couple that had him. It was young and appeared to have a good shot at becoming a good pet for someone.
I chatted with the woman a bit and mentioned that it was lucky that the dog was given up at such a young age, too often people will tolerate behaviors from small dogs that they never would from a bigger dog, until the day they can’t tolerate them and the dog has had years of practicing an inappropriate behavior and ends up being impossible to rehome.
“Yes”, the woman agreed, “Why treat a small dog differently than a big dog”.
The woman told me that she was doing the ‘leadership thing’ with the dog and had not had any problems with the dog. At that point I could only guess what this ‘leadership thing’ technique looked like, but I was soon to see it in action.
Walking back into the building the small dog came nose to nose another dog and began to growl and back away from it. The woman bent down, grabbed the small dog and shoved it toward the other dog saying, “You’ll deal with it and be fine, that’s how you’ll learn.” I stopped, stared and my jaw dropped. Imagine grabbing your growling pittie or GSD and pushing it toward another dog that it was afraid of. Just because you can do something to a dog doesn’t mean you should.
There is no doubt in my mind that the small dog had no understanding that it was to learn that other dogs were not to be feared, or that it actually came to that conclusion. I will only surmise on a few lessons the dog did learn. Only time and the dog’s behavior will tell how that education affected the dog.
People are not to be trusted. The next time someone grabs you it might be a good idea to try to prevent that from happening.
Growling and backing away from something that scares you only makes you land in its face, try something else next time, biting might work or just give up and shut down.
Places where there are other dogs are where bad things happen.
The woman with this dog obviously cares about dogs and the animals that live with her are among the fortunate ones on the planet. But even skilled handlers still hold on to misconceptions about how dogs learn new behaviors and how you change the associations they have with things that scare them.
It’s not about learning to be a better leader, it’s about learning to be a better trainer.