You’ve Got The Ball: Dogs in the 21st Century

black and white dog with basketballI suspect that those of us who work with dogs in any capacity, love them, respect them and want them to have the best lives possible. Yet I can’t help but be surprised and disappointed when I hear and read information about dogs being shared that does more harm than good, or opportunities to educate the pet owning population are missed. Research on the social development of dogs has been available for over 40 years. Veterinarians, of all people, should understand the importance early, positive exposure to novelty, dogs and people plays in the development of puppies. Yet there are still those who recommend isolating puppies from social interactions with other dogs during the time when a puppy’s brain is experiencing dramatic changes on a daily basis that allow them to grow up to be adaptable, resilient dogs. Changes that may not be possible as the weeks go by.

I sat in a vet clinic recently and watched a giant flat screen TV as it aired information about basic husbandry practices pet owners should undertake with their dogs. Dogs were shown having their teeth brushed, ears cleaned and nails clipped and not once were they offered a food treat in return for holding still through the process. What a missed opportunity to educate pet owners on how professional trainers use food to teach dogs who may not already be sitting calmly for a nail trim. Often it doesn’t take much to convince a dog something isn’t as horrible as they think it is, and it would be nice to never read another story about a groomer who has injured or killed a dog using force and restraint to do their job.

Online the forums for pet sitters and dog walkers, people who also are offering services as professionals, are replete with archaic information about dog behavior. Pet owners are paying for services being provided by someone who in the 21st century isn’t even using 20th century information to guide their behavior. Rescue groups post tear-jerking videos of dogs snatched from near death being subjected to forced handling and so long as in the end they are wagging their tail the donation checks keep being written. And heaven forbid the suggestion is made that other techniques and protocols are available that are less stressful on dogs. No doubt I’ll be chastised for even suggesting that too many (not all of course!) rescue groups aren’t doing a good enough job at what they are soliciting money for doing.

There is no excuse for continuing to use force and coercion to get or end behaviors in dogs. Universities have been teaching about animal behavior and learning for decades. Vocal groups of animal trainers have been providing reasons and resources to get information out into the general pet-handling population. We’re passing you the ball. Are you going to make the play or not? We’re all are on the dog’s team after all.

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22 comments so far

  1. Kay Liestman on

    Well said, Debbie, as always. I was amazed when our very understanding, caring vet explained to me that fear was a behavior. For the sake of Mattie, I simply stated what I wanted to be done with her and that my husband and I would be with her and hold her for what was needed. It has worked well, thankfully. And thank you for your blog which keeps giving me the courage to stand up to “those in the know.”

    • fearfuldogs on

      At least the vet was willing to comply with your request for how to handle Mattie. That counts for something I suppose 🙂

  2. 2browndawgs on

    Thanks so much for joining the hop. You might be surprised to learn that we use ecollar in our field training. While I realize that your post is about fearful dogs, it seems like you have made some broader statements about training methods in general. Some summarily dismiss using ecollar because it is using coercion for training, but it can be a very effective training tool. I will be posting a video of one of our training sessions tomorrow. Stop by and check it out. 🙂

    • fearfuldogs on

      Nothing would surprise me actually.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I am familiar with how ecollars are used and have been trained in their use. I don’t need one to get the behaviors I need from dogs. There are lots of effective training tools available. That something “works” is not the sole criteria I use in deciding how I will interact with an animal.

  3. Jodi on

    Thank you for joining the blog hop.

    I always have a bag of treats hanging off my pants. LOL and am grateful that the vet I use encourages the process. In fact, when anything uncomfortable such as a blood draw has to take place, the vet techs come in to hold my dog and feed treats.

    I don’t know that I could go to a vet that didn’t understand this process.

  4. Lynn on

    I took my (fearful/reactive/etc.) dog to a new vet this week. To my immense pleasure, the first words out of the vet’s mouth were, “Oh good, you brought food!”

    Thanks to her having taken the time & effort to educate herself about modern behavior theory, we were able to get all the medical care Maya needed in a low-stress manner (minimal restraint/contact, treats to follow). It was such an improvement on what we’ve experienced at past vets, even the well-meaning ones. Instead of needing to fiercely advocate for my dog, I had an ally.

    I thanked her and her staff profusely, but I’m not sure they truly understood how much this means to me. Maya was actually more relaxed by the end of it than the beginning…and if I took the time to explain exactly how big of a deal it is for her to be operant & relatively calm after forty-five minutes spent in a small exam room with two strangers, I’d fill your whole comment section!

    I don’t expect my vet to train my dog, or to tell me how I should be training her. But I do think that treating animals humanely at a professional level requires a at least a basic understanding of behavior science. It’s really nice to walk into an office and meet other people who feel the same way; I hope someday, it’s just standard.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      It is a big deal. Vets are role models for how dogs should be handled and their understanding of the value of classical conditioning and positive reinforcement training is a huge step in the right direction for all of our dogs. Glad to hear that Maya was an immediate beneficiary.

    • fearfuldogs on

      More vets are getting on board with this, thankfully!

  5. weliveinaflat on

    Perhaps due to circumstances in her past, my adopted dog is fearful by nature and food is not something that helps her when she goes beyond threshold already at the vet etc, no fault of the vet. But it’s true that groomers in my country can be pretty harsh, so it’s best to stay around and keep an eye on what the groomer is doing with the dog. And in fact, I have taken to grooming the dog myself… except that I don’t really make that great a groomer… oh well.

    • fearfuldogs on

      My own dogs end up looking like a kid who cut their own hair when I try to clean them up.

  6. kinkypoodles on

    I’ve put my ecollars up for sale on ebay. A positive trainer who helped us said he would be glad to help me smash them, though he did say for long distance recall in emergencies they could be useful. Either way I’ve given up on using force or punishment. When I might have resorted to the ecollar before, now I scale back the demands significantly, and up the frequency of reinforcement. Since banishing “no” from my vocabulary, things around here are going much more smoothly.
    Question though, I do have one fearful dog, Kel. In the car and sometimes on the leash he barks ferociously at other dogs. I do not know the function (medical ,escape, attention, tangible or sensory) of this behavior, though I assume it is fear based (escape (?.)) Assuming this I have been using what TTouch techniques I picked up on YouTube, which he absolutely loves, to calm him. I just worry I am reinforcing unwanted behavior. I know you’d probably have to see the situation, but …
    Before when Kel or Vanna would engage in anti social behavior (lunging, barking, etc.) I would yell at them. I felt this was expected from the other dog’s owner. Now I lead them away and caress and calm them.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think it’s great that you’ve moved on from using ecollars. I prefer the smashing idea. My experience, I completely understand how ecollars are to be used, is that almost no pet owner uses them appropriately and an unfortunate number of trainers do not either.

      • kinkypoodles on

        Alright, makes sense. I’ll take them off Ebay. You seem to know someone who could use them in a less harmful way than probably whoever would buy them. My email is dog 98 at i cloud dot com. Please tell me to whom to send them. Much obliged.

    • diana on

      debbie (fearfuldogs) would be a better person to address this, but since she didn’t, i will attempt. re: reinforcing unwanted behavior by using ttouch to calm — if the unwanted behavior increases by using the ttouch, you will be reinforcing unwanted behavior. my guess is it will do just the opposite — unwanted behavior will decrease and calmness will increase.
      debbie, please do correct me if i am wrong!

      • kinkypoodles on

        Thanks! The negative attention he used to get might have been somehow reinforcing. Trying to calm him seems to be working better for all of us, Kelvin, Vanna (other canine) and me. Definitely less stressful. I read somewhere that removing the attention and not replacing it with anything else, leading to an extinction burst, may possibly be punishment. So I don’t want to just ignore lunging or aggressive barking behavior.
        To replace it I guess simple commands? When he’s calm enough he’ll sit when asked and accept a small treat.
        He’s skittish around the house too. If something falls he jumps.

  7. diana on

    for some reason i cannot reply directly to your reply, kinkypoodles, so i hope you see this. are you also using counterconditioning for the car and leash reactivity (in addition to the ttouch)? once you see a positive emotional conditioned reponse (via counterconditioning), then yes, the next step would be asking for an operant behavior (e.g. sit). are you a member of debbie’s fb group — fearful dogs? lots of excellent info shared there. welcome to the world of teaching dogs without using ecollars or other coercion 🙂

  8. fearfuldogs on

    I don’t know anyone who’d want them to use for training. Sorry. The protocol we follow with fear, aggression or any kind of reactivity is to keep the dog feeling safe. Desensitize and countercondition to triggers and triggering events (usually using food) and teach new behavioral responses using positive reinforcement (often food).

    • kinkypoodles on

      thanks! To countercondition they’ve been having a lot of snacks in the car.They get buckled in something called a Clickit harness by a company called Sleepypod. These harnesses are the only ones to pass crash safety tests, but their movement is restricted. I use the harnesses because they go to the parks at least twice a day. Since I started +R training they’re definitely happier about the harnesses.
      Today after my work they went to Petsmart. Kel had around forty small pieces of Whisker Biscuits beef jerky while he, Vanna and I shopped and waited on the checkout line. There were a few other dogs around and he behaved like a real gentlepoodle! Off leash he’s very social.

  9. Mel on

    I completely agree. I have seen way to many pet sitters who claimed to help with training and yet hadn’t a clue. I am not a trainer, but I try to educate myself on the latest. We need to do better and we can do better.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Many are doing better and it’s so nice to see 🙂


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