Monday, July 6, 2009

Time for Another Carnival!

Once again the National Academy for Dogs LLC took part in the National Dog Blog Carnival. With 20 submissions from all sorts of different dog related blogs, there is sure to be something for everyone. You can visit the carnival here.

What Exactly is Punishment in Dog Training?

The term punishment seems to be frequently misunderstood as it applies to training and behavior. Many trainers claim that they do not use punishment to teach dogs, instead using words such as "corrections" and "discipline" to describe their methods. But the real truth is, no matter what you call it, these terms still refer to using some form of punishment.

What punishment is.

The confusion that comes from trying to understand punishment relates to a misunderstanding in the definition. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary punishment refers to "suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution" or "severe, rough, or disastrous treatment". With these definitions it is easy to see how so many trainers can claim that they do not use punishment when training dogs. However, when referring to behavior and learning, punishment has a very different definition. In this case, punishment simply means anything that causes a behavior to stop or become less likely. Notice that there is no mention that the punishment has to be harsh, painful, or severe. It does, however, need to be something the dog finds unpleasant. There are two types of punishment. Positive punishment, which means something is added to reduce the likelihood of a behavior, and negative punishment, which means something is removed to reduce the likelihood of a behavior. The remainder of this article will discuss positive punishment, as it is the most frequently misunderstood and misused.

What punishment is not.

Punishment must be contingent on the dog's behavior. Lashing out at a dog in anger, getting revenge or retribution, or otherwise treating a dog harshly "because he deserved it" are not forms of punishment. These acts do not teach the dog anything(except that humans are scary and unpredictable) so are therefore not punishers in the technical sense. To be considered punishment has nothing to do with how harsh or severe it is, and everything to do with whether it diminishes the target behavior.

Problems with punishment.

There are a number of reasons why punishment may not be the best way to train dogs. Here are just a few examples.

When trying to stop a problem behavior punishment must be administered immediately following the behavior, every single time. This can be somewhat challenging for pet owners. Punishment delivered too late runs the risk of punishing a completely different behavior and causing confusion and frustration in the dog. When punishment is used inconsistently on a behavior, many dogs will learn to gamble in the hopes that this time they won't be punished.

While there are forms of punishment that do not hurt the dog physically(such as spray bottles, shake cans, etc.), all punishment is unpleasant to the dog being trained. Many times the effects of the punishment are not outright obvious. Fear, mistrust and frustration can result from using punishment in dog training. This can be damaging to the relationship between pet and owner.

Using punishment can have other unintentional side effects. Dogs will often create negative associations with other things in their environment at the time the punishment was delivered. For instance, a dog that is given a leash jerk every time he looks at another dog may learn to hate the presence of other dogs. For all he knows, those other dogs are the cause of the punishment.

Punishment can actually inhibit learning in some cases. A dog that is punished every time it makes a mistake often becomes reluctant to try anything new. This can make things difficult when trying to teach a new behavior.

Most importantly, punishment does not teach the dog what you want him to do. While you may have stopped that particular behavior, unless you train an alternative behavior to replace the old one, the dog is left trying to figure out what to do instead.

Is there a better way?

Yes! There are many ways that problem behavior can be solved without the need for punishment. Check out this article for two very effective options for dealing with behavior problems without using punishment.

If you are having a behavior issue with your dog that you are finding difficult to solve, you should not hesitate to contact a professional trainer that practices positive and humane methods. Two good resources are the Karen Pryor Academy and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fourth of July safety tips for your dog

The Fourth of July is almost in sight. For many people it is a time of joy and celebration, but for our dogs it can be a frightening and stressful experience. Check out these tips to help prepare your dog for Independence Day.

-Prepare ahead of time using sound desensitization CDs. There are a number of noise desensitization CDs on the market now. These CDs are designed to help your dog get used to sounds that may frighten them. To avoid making your dog more fearful, the CD should be played at low level first, and then gradually increased to normal volume as long as your dog remains calm. Here is a link to one such product, however doing an internet search for "fireworks sound desensitization CD" will come up with several more.

-Keep you dog indoors, and make sure all windows and doors are closed and covered. Please do not leave your dog outdoors during the Fourth of July. The noise from the fireworks is going to be much louder and frightening outside. Numerous dogs have jumped fences and broken leads attempting to escape from the fireworks. Be sure that doors and windows are secured inside as well, as many dogs have been known to go through screens out of fear. Turning on the radio or television may help to drown out some of the outside noise.

-Give your pet a safe place to retreat to away from all the noise. Create a safe place for your dog using his bed or crate, and be sure he has access to it at all times. If you know of a certain place your dog likes to retreat to when he is frightened, such as a certain room or under the covers, allow him to hide out there during the event.Supply him with chew toys or hollow treat filled toys(such as a Kong) to help occupy him.

-Be sure your dog is wearing proper identification in case of escape. A large number of dogs end up in shelters after escaping from their homes on the Fourth of July. Double check that your dog is wearing a collar and identification tags, and that the information and phone number is current. Permanent identification such as a microchip may also be a good idea.

-Avoid bringing your dog along with you to events. Although you may like the idea of bringing your dog along as company to a Fourth of July event, it is unlikely that he is going to find the same enjoyment. Even the most well socialized and trained dogs will almost certainly be overwhelmed by the commotion, noise, and crowds. If you must go out for the Fourth, please leave your dog at home.

-If possible, stay home with your dog. Ideally, it is best to be able to stay with your dog during the worst of the fireworks. This way you can keep an eye on your dog and comfort him throughout. Have some extremely tasty treats available, or a favorite toy to help distract your dog from all the noise outside. Many trainers recommend that you do not comfort your dog when he is behaving fearfully, as this will supposed reinforce the fearful behavior. However, new research indicates that it is unlikely that you can reinforce emotions in this way, and in fact calmly comforting your dog may help to make him feel safer. For more information on reinforcing fears check out these articles by Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist.

-Calm your dog using natural remedies. There are several products on the market right now that can help calm your dog in frightening situations. Here are just a few:

  • Melatonin- According to; "melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the pineal gland at the base of the brain." Melatonin is often used in humans as a sleep aid, however it has been found to be effective for many cases of noise phobia in dogs. The product can be purchased over the counter. Be sure to check with your veterinarian first for proper dosage and administration.
  • DAP- Also known as "dog appeasing pheromone" DAP is a product developed by veterinarians that supposedly mimics the pheromones given off by a lactating female. Studies have shown that the product can help some dogs in relieving stress and feeling calmer. It can come as a plug-in diffuser, a spray bottle or a collar.
  • Anxiety Wrap- This product wraps around the body of a dog. By using a technique called "maintained pressure" the wrap aids in reducing anxiety and helping your dog feel calm. Visit the official website here.
  • Calming Collars- These collars are filled with natural herbs and are designed to reduce stress. Recently Nan Arthur, the San Diego Pet Behavior and Training Examiner wrote an excellent article on the Calming Collars. You can read it here.
  • Rescue Remedy- Made up of natural flower essences, Rescue remedy is a liquid that is given by mouth or rubbed directly on your dog's nose, ears, or paw pads. For many dogs it can help reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety. Visit the Rescue Remedy Pet website for more information.

-Use medication for severe phobias. If you know your dog has very bad noise phobias, you may want to consider using medication to help with his fears. Your veterinarian will be able to supply you with a proper drug to treat your dog's anxiety.

A word of caution; many veterinarians still prescribe a drug called acepromazine for noise phobias. Karen Overall, a well known veterinary behaviorist, has this to say about the drug in her article on treating storm phobias:

I know that the common "treatment" for storm and noise phobias and veterinary office visits is acepromazine. In truth, I wish this medication would be placed at the far back of a top shelf and used only exceptionally. Acepromazine is a dissociative anesthetic meaning that it scrambles perceptions. Ask yourself if a scrambling of perceptions will make an anxious or uncertain dog worse or better. It's always worse, and we make many if not most dogs more sensitive to storms by using this drug. In part this is also because sensitivity to noise is heightened.

A better alternative may be to use a medication called Alprazolam, also known as Xanax.

By taking a little time to help ease your dog's anxieties during this noisy holiday, you can have the peace of mind that your dog will be safe and comfortable while you get back to enjoying the celebration.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Fun Scent Game to Play with your Dog

Want to teach your dog a trick that is fun, easy, and will impress all your friends? Try this game to harness your dog's awesome sense of smell.

You will need:

a clicker or other reward marker

some small tasty treats

three boxes or containers of the same size

Step 1: Choose a behavior that your dog already knows, such as sit, down, or a paw touch. Your dog will use this to indicate the box that the scent is in. Place a few treats into one of the boxes. Present to box to your dog on the ground, and allow him to sniff the box. Then give your cue that will become the indication. Click and reward with a treat from the box when he responds. Pick up the box and repeat the procedure several more times. After doing this a few times, try presenting the box to your dog without giving a cue. Wait a few moments without saying anything to see if your dog can figure it out. If your dog performs the behavior without the cue, click and reward him with several treats. If he does not, go back to asking for the behavior for a couple more tries, and then try again.

Step 2: Once your dog is reliably indicating the box when you present it to him, it is time to add the second(empty) box. Place both boxes on the ground next to each other with some space in between. Allow your dog to sniff and explore both boxes. Ignore any attempts from your dog to indicate the empty box. As soon as he indicates the correct box, click and reward graciously. Repeat a couple more times, keeping the boxes in the same position. When he gets good at that, try switching the boxes around. Continue to ignore any incorrect responses and reward correct ones.

Note: Some dogs may get a little confused and frustrated when the second box is added. If your dog is having a lot of trouble, you may want to help him out for a few repetitions rather than have him give up. To do this just wait for him to sniff the correct box, then use the cue for the indication behavior. This should give him an idea of how the game works. Do this for only a couple repetitions, then let him try on his own again.

Step 3: Add the third box using the same procedure you used in step 2. Try placing the boxes in several different orders to test your dog's ability to find the correct box.

Step 4: When your dog is consistently finding the right box, it is time to add the cue. After placing the boxes, ask your dog to "find it"(or whatever other cue you would like to use). Reward correct responses.

Step 5: When he is good at finding the treats hidden in the correct box, you can then transfer it to other scents. A fun challenge would be to use a scent your dog is not familiar with, such as a drop of vanilla. When you decide to try a new scent, start back at step one and gradually work back up to the three boxes.

Have fun!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What to do About Out of Control Puppy Nipping

I recently started taking care of a 10 week old puppy - the cutest and smartest thing! Here's the issue.

He was nipping mildly last week but it has now escalated to the point of bloodshed. The "ouch!" did not work and rapidly escalated into a non-stop shout fest which the dog ignored. If ignored, the dog will draw blood.

Today I brought a spray bottle which worked...the first few times. Pup apparently loves water and being squirted. I'm afraid bitter apple might injure his eyes so I don't want to try something like that.

The owners admitted to having a rough go of it this weekend with him. Any thoughts?


Those puppy teeth sure are sharp, aren't they? Puppy nipping can be a frustrating and sometimes painful problem, luckily there are some easy tips to help get the little shark under control.

While the basic technique of saying "ouch!" works for many puppies, others seem to ignore or even get more excited by the sound. For these puppies we need to make it completely clear to them that nipping people is unaceptable.

The easiest way to do this is is to completely remove yourself from the puppies reach the moment you feel his teeth. Get up and walk away, if possible leave the room he is in. Completely ignore him for at least 30 seconds, then return and resume play. You(and anyone else who plays with the puppy) must be 100% consistent with this. Everytime you feel teeth the play session must end. The first few times you try this technique you will probably be getting up and leaving quite often, but pretty soon the puppy will figure out that the only way to keep his playmate is to be gentle with his mouth.

Many people suggest putting the puppy in "timeout" when he nips, however I've found it's much more effective to remove yourself from the room instead of putting the puppy up. The time is take to pick up and place the puppy in his pen or crate means there is a gap where he is actually getting atttention for the nipping(even if it is negative attention). You can remove yourself from the situation much faster which means there is an immediate consequence to his action.

Instruct the owners to avoid playing with the puppy using their hands. They should play with the puppy using appropriate toys. Instead of rough housing suggest they play constructive games with him such as "hide and seek" and fetch. Make sure he is rewarded often for choosing to play with his own chew toys.

Training some basic manners using reward based methods will be a benefit for this puppy as well. Teaching a behavior such as a nose touch to your hand can be used as an alternative to nipping.

Karen Pryor recently wrote an excellent article on some great clicker training techniques that can be used to control puppy nipping. Check it out here.

Hope these tips help, good luck!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

National Dog Blog Carnival

National Academy for Dogs participated in the Third National Dog Blog Carnival this month.

The carnival consists of a collection of blog posts from many different authors on a number of subjects. The posts this month have been contributed by many different people, including veterinarians, trainers, behaviorists, artists, and many other dog(and cat!) lovers. Check out the link here:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Preparing for the Unexpected with a New Puppy

Today is the first birthday of my Welsh springer spaniel, Taran. Taran is a very special dog to me. The first puppy I have acquired as an adult, I spent nearly five years planning for his arrival. I used that time to research the breed, contact multiple breeders, attend a specialty show dedicated to Welsh springers, as well as to learn as much as I could about training, socializing and caring for a new puppy. By the time my little one was ready to come home with us, I was certain I knew everything there was to know about raising a puppy to become the best dog ever. After all, I'm a dog trainer. What could possibly go wrong?

Planning for the expected

I acquired Taran when he was nine weeks old from Statesman Welsh Springer Spaniels. Before his arrival I planned everything out perfectly. I had ordered all the supplies needed for a new puppy. This included:
  • a crate for housetraining and short term confinement
  • an exercise pen for long term confinement
  • several different durable chew toys to promote good chewing behavior
  • soft toys for supervised play
  • stainless steel bowls for food and water
  • a high quality dog food
  • grooming supplies such as brushes and nail trimmers
  • leash and collar
  • treats for training

I also had him signed up for puppy socialization class, his first appointment for check up and vaccines at the vet, and developed a detailed training and socialization plan. Here were my most important training goals for him:

  • socialization to as many different people, animals, and environments as possible
  • housetraining
  • hand feeding many of his meals so he learns all good things come from me
  • bite inhibition to help with mouthing and nipping
  • allowing handling for grooming and medical procedures
  • clicker training to teach important behaviors such as sit, down, come, etc.

I took several days off of work to help him get used to a new environment away from his mom and brothers. I was determined to do everything right for my new puppy.

The unexpected

Even with all the planning that went into getting Taran, once he was home he began throwing me curve balls left and right.

On the second day I had him he learned to climb right out of his exercise pen as soon as he was put into it. He was fine in it if I was in the room with him, but as soon as I left he was up and over the top. I modified my plans so that he was not left in the pen unsupervised any longer. Instead I used the crate or an enclosed hallway when we needed to leave him alone.

Next, he became frightened of my other dog, Kiba. I had tried to introduce them as carefully as I could. They met outside on leash first, then spent the next several days getting used to each other's smell between barriers such as baby gates. They both seemed relaxed and interested in each other so I began letting them have short supervised interactions. Kiba(who is a 55lb lab mix) wanted very much to play with her new puppy friend. However her somewhat rough play style was too overwhelming for little Taran, and he took to running and hiding from her. I was devastated, fearing that they would never get along. Luckily, by slowing down the interactions, allowing Taran to approach at his own pacing, and never forcing him to interact, he eventually began to warm up to Kiba. I can happily say that they are now best friends.

He had other problems as well. He hated to be left alone and barked constantly in his crate, he stole socks out of the laundry, and loved to jump on people. Each time I reevaluated my training plans and modified them to deal with each issue.

I am proud to say that at a year old, Taran is shaping up to be the wonderful dog that I had always dreamed of. Of course he is still not perfect, but I don't believe there is a dog out there that is. However, with patience and perseverance I was able to help my wild puppy grow up into a lovely gentleman.

What does this mean for new puppy owners?

The point of my story is that you can never prepare for everything that is going to happen when getting a new puppy. You can read all the books, articles and advice in the world, but nothing compares to the actual experience of puppy raising. This is not to say that you shouldn't prepare, because you absolutely should. Just be ready so that when something doesn't go according to plan, you can jump in and modify it to suit the needs of your individual dog. And remember when you are frustrated that your puppy does not behave strictly by the book, you are not alone!