Yes, you read that right. Anti-bark collars increase barking behavior. And you’re probably thinking, “no way, the dog knows when that collar is on and doesn’t bark.” And I tell you…. that is the kicker.
You see punishment is a funny thing. It has a bunch of side effects. One being the punisher needs to be present for the behavior to happen. (Think of driving the speed limit. Do you slow down until you see the speed trap?) The other side of this coin is once the punisher is not present, the “undesirable” behavior is reinforced automatically. (Once you pass the speed trap, you go right back to speeding.) With this concept being understood we can move on.
Slapping an anti-bark collar on a dog, whether it electrocutes them with a shock, sprays citronella in their face, or makes an ear splitting sound is the punisher. And I’d be hard pressed to find a dog who doesn’t know the collar is the “speed trap.” Ever take that collar off the dog? What happens? Does the dog bark? You bet’cha. And usually with even more gusto. So, is the dog trained at all? Nope. Have you ever been stuck behind pokey the wonder sloth while driving? You know, the huge truck going 10 miles under the speed limit. Let’s pretend you’re behind this slow poke for a good 15 minutes. Who doesn’t hit the gas (no matter the intensity), after he finally turns off the road? Doesn’t it feel good too?
The problem with anti-bark collars (besides, in my opinion, they are down right cruel) is that they don’t train squat. And if you truly understand behavior, you know they actually increase barking problems. Because as soon as you take it off, barking continues.
Barking is never the issue anyway. Barking is always a symptom of an underlying reason. And if you figure out the reason, you get rid of the barking. Don’t treat the cough, treat the cold. Don’t focus on the barking, focus on why the dog is barking.
Reasons such as frustration, fear, anxiety, or aggression are challenging enough, so adding an additional “icky thing” only makes these problem worse. If a dog barks at guests when they enter the house because he’s scared, a good solid spray in the face (or electric shock, or ear pinching sound) doesn’t help. It only proves the dog’s point that people coming in the house cause super annoying, harmful, or additional scary things to happen to him. So don’t be surprised to have a dog flip out and road rage on your guests. And trust me, you want a dog who will warn. You want a dog who will bark first.
If you know of a dog who is already wearing an anti-bark collar, let the owner know they are in for one heck of a behavior burst. So, step one go out and buy yourself some ear plugs. Step two, bring the anti-bark collar to its final resting place and file it away in the round file. Step three, call a trainer.
I’ll never understand it. I won’t. I’ve tried and tried. But sorry, why do so many people constantly say, “NO” to their dogs and think the dog actually understands them? Just because a dog stops what he’s doing doesn’t mean he understands anything. And if I had to guess, it’s the way the, “NO” is said that interrupts the dog. (I mean come one, who says it all chipper and polite?) But training? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! There’s no difference whatsoever if I said, “Don’t think of pink elephants. Matter of fact, don’t think of a baby pink elephant riding a tricycle down your street right now.” And voilà! You’re probably not thinking about how the stock market is doing.
But seriously, I hear it all the time. “Well I told him NO.” How much info is in “NO” anyway? Is there anything at all, even remotely, driving your dog into the direction of behavior you want? Why so anti-yes? Why not tell the dog what to do instead?
It really is a choice. Saying, “NO” to temporarily stop a behavior with little to no learning, or telling the dog to do something he knows and reinforcing that behavior instead. One way (if done over and over again, over time) will damage the relationship between man and his best friend. The other will strengthen the relationship. Personally, I’d rather not have a dog who wants to take his ball and go find a new home.
Here’s an example. If there’s a smelly sock on the floor, and your dog is about to investigate it, you could say, “NO.” However, you could also say: leave it, sit, down, come, roll over, give me a paw, target, where’s your ball, want to go for a walk, let’s go bye-bye in the car, back up, spin, watch me, sit pretty, bow, heel…… and on and on. (As well as pick up your freakin socks). So, I suppose the sarcastic “down side” is the dog in question actually has to know a few behaviors first. It’s not cool to spout out, “finish” if you’ve never taught it. However, personally I think saying, “NO” is just as much as a “read my mind and what I want” as well.
Just say, “NO” to being anti-yes! Don’t tell your dog to “don’t.”
Warning: This post is a bit of a rant.
I have heard all this rubbish on how balanced training is more humane, and sorry to pop the bubble, but IT’S NOT! Newsflash: just because you use treats, doesn’t make you a positive trainer. And even though I can’t stand traditional training methods, they are more humane than the so called “balanced” training methods. Why? Why do I think that?
The style of traditional training teaches the dog to avoid something (generally a leash pop). It also squashes a dog’s willingness to attempt to try new behaviors, but that’s another post. So if you’re a dog, you know you need to do as little as possible and avoid the punishment you don’t like. Fair enough, because it’s clear. Bottom line, dog tries to avoid something.
In the more modern positive style, the dog learns to keep trying until he figures out what we want, to get something he wants. There’s no fear of “that’s wrong” because attempting to problem solve isn’t punished. In basic terms, the dog is trying to get something. Fair enough as well. Bottom line, dog tries to get something.
Now, enter “balanced” training. There’s potential for both punishment and reinforcement. This is confusing as hell. This is mentally screwballing the learner. Should he try? There could be a pay off or a punishment. Think of this scenario. You’re out in Vegas trying to learn a new game. You don’t know the rules or how to play. You just get plunked down at a random card table. You could win big money, or the dealer can come out and shave your head. Would you play?
A real life dog example just happened to one of our recent clients. We were (get this) the fourth trainer to help him. The last one just about killed the cue “bed” where the dog would go to his bed. I mean, you even said, “bed” and the dog’s body language would shut down! And balanced training is to blame. The previous trainer would say, “bed” and then leash pop the dog (basically drag the dog) over to his bed, then treat. Um… ok… Here’s the dog’s point of view:
- standing doing nothing, hear “bed” get leash jerked
- standing doing nothing, get treat
The dog didn’t associate it was standing on the bed. The dog had no idea why he was being punished. And consequently by conditioning, the balanced trainer managed to kill the word, “bed” while he was at it.
I don’t think balanced training is fair to the learner. And I think mixing punishment only causes anxiety and frustration. No wonder dogs road rage during this method, and shut down.
So, the last post was Reinforcement Understood Part 1, and at the end it said, “Stay tuned for Reinforcement Understood Part Two next week!” And guess what? That didn’t happen. Why you ask? This was to provide a very true example, (even though I’m sorry if I annoyed some people) that the reinforcement is in the eye of the beholder.
It’s only a reinforcement if the subject/student/learner/receiver thinks it is reinforcing.
So, even though I enjoyed having a whole week off, everyone who reads this blog was frustrated there wasn’t a new post. So, what was “rewarding” for me, was NOT “rewarding” to everyone else. Now… think of something else we do with out dogs that this description would fit. Need help? I can think of several!
- Dressing a dog up in clothes or a costume
- Hugging a dog
- Going for a walk around something the dog hates
- Taking our boot away as a chew toy
Now, out of these I can even see how something can turn into an unpleasant experience for both trainer and trainee if the dog voices his opinion well enough. Such as going for a walk around something the dog hates, or taking something away the dog wants. Usually you’ll see some sort of protest from the dog in any way he can think of to change the known outcome. So, if you constantly take away fun things to chew, you just might create a resource guarder. However, if you remember to make it worth your dog’s time to have the “golden prize of chew” taken away, then he might start to learn better things happen when he gives up an item. So, think about it. Ever have an inadequate reward before? Like when someone sarcastically promises you a shiny new quarter to clean the toilet? Well whoo freakin hoo…. And I’d bet if you knew this was the usual outcome, you’d rather opt out of cleaning the toilet. Am I right?
Think about this. Your dog is getting a good chew on, and we take the item away and give him a pat on the head with a “good boy.” Well whoo freakin hoo, you’ve just probably given your dog a shiny new quarter. Don’t expect Drop It to improve anytime soon. And in fact, it was punishment to have the chewie taken away. No different than getting the car keys taken away for breathing too loud.
Now let’s think about a different example. You own a dog who doesn’t like loud delivery trucks or other dogs. Would you choose to walk your dog down a major street loaded with dog owners? That would be what we professionals call, “dumb.” The probability of a loud truck is high, and the chance of seeing another dog is also pretty high. Why? Why do that? By walking your dog around something he doesn’t like, it can make the dislike greater. So (scenario) you see another dog and just keep walking toward him. But you are saying, “it’s ok, you’re a good boy.” You’re just given your dog a shiny new quarter.
No matter what you’re trying to train, you need to remember to change the consequence of the behavior to something reinforcing in order to increase it. In plain English that means: something pleasant needs to happen to get the dog to repeat the behavior you want. It really is as simple as that. Give the dog something he wants to get more of “that” behavior. The challenge comes in knowing what your dog wants and when.
What is reinforcement? Too many people don’t truly understand what it is nor how to use it properly. Is it “a thing?” Technically reinforcement is a process. It means: behavior increased. That’s it. So something that is reinforced means it increased behavior. We generally like to say “reinforcer” as the “reward” that made the animal say “Yippie!” which increased behavior. And for this discussion, a reinforcer is to be defined as such. However, keep in mind a reinforcer can be a thing, action, alternate behavior, etc.
Most people think of reinforcers as having varying importance, “puppy price tags,” or value – in a pyramid style diagram. It honestly reminds me of those old food pyramids trying to diagram what is the most important food to eat. For example, food treats might be at the top level, then the next level is favorite toys, then the next level is a good belly rub, etc. This thinking can get you into trouble, quickly. There is no such thing as a set in stone value system your dog will always want. And even if there were, and you used the cream of the crop all the time, it will actually kill the value of it. It’s not special if it’s used all the time. A better mindset is to think of reinforcers in a pizza diagram. Each random slice is a different reinforcer you pull out at will. Honestly, in a sense reinforcers are all equal, because they are desired at different times, in different situations, by different dogs, in different environments. The kicker is they are not all equal at the same time, in the same situation, with all dogs, in all environments. For example: A hungry dog would probably want food treats more than a dog who just ate and is full. A dog who has “the crazies” probably wants to play more than anything. A dog who bolted out the door and went for a five mile run probably doesn’t want a five mile walk when their caught. Etc. I know dogs who are exceptionally needy and need a lot of attention and petting. But when the neighbor’s dog is out, he could give a rat’s rump about belly rubs. People are the same way. If you love pizza because it’s your favorite food, and you eat it for a week straight you probably would want a break from it. Now I know there’s a select few of you reading this that are the exception, however, after a while even you would grow tired of pizza. And then there’s the potential, if after you’re tired of pizza, but it’s still being introduced, it can actually create a bad association with it. Ever hear a great song on the radio? Ever hear it so much by being over played that the song gets killed? Before long you’re actually changing the station when it comes on. That’s my point. Reinforcers need to be random.
The other kicker is reinforcers don’t have to be something tangible you give the dog. It can be letting the dog do something he wants to do. Such examples would be after your dog comes back to you at the dog park, you send him back out to play more, or let him chase the squirrel. My parent’s dog loves to lick. The joke is “Cassie can’t hold her licker.” And one way to get her barking under control was to reinforce her by letting her lick you. (Technically, for all you behavior dorks, that’s also an incompatible behavior.) At first she had to sit, then I would let her lick me, and I’d pay some attention to her, but really, she just wanted to just lick my hands while I pet her. I have also reinforced Cassie for being quiet by letting her bark. Sounds counter productive, but this technique works when used properly. (For my behavior dork friends, it’s the Premack Principle). [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sXxtdPOC3A[/youtube]
So remember, anything that increases behavior is reinforcing! Make life interesting and change up the goods. Be creative and observant to see what your dog likes, when your dog likes it, and use that to get behavior you want! Stay tuned for Reinforcement Understood Part Two next week!
Ever notice how dogs work odd hours? They sit at 10pm, or fetch the paper at 6am. And when you have a dog who works for rewards (any kind: food, petting, a favorite toy, etc) they don’t mind working for us randomly at any hour of the day. Now, can you imagine your boss doing that to you? I’d think you’d have to really like your boss, or the pay is just that good.
Just food for thought on this Monday. That dogs probably have ten Mondays each week.
Announcing the “Our Loss Your Gain” event starting NOW! We are so bleedin’ happy to have our registration software working again, we’re offering a $50 DISCOUNT on private training & group classes. We have never offered savings like this before, and this deal is only good until the end of the year so register today! Use discount code: 50YG
While we’re at it, we’ve found some killer deals from some other great companies as well. Spread the savings! Spread the joy!
There is a huge range of people who call themselves dog trainers and/or behaviorists. And unfortunately, there is actually no clear definition for either. The world of animal behavior isn’t regulated and there are a zillion certificates out there. And even if someone passes a test and earns a certificate, how much experience do they have? What methods do they use? There is a lot of homework that goes into finding a qualified person.
A recent poll actually produced data that shocked me. In order of preference, people registered for training by: 1. How soon they could start 2. Location of training 3. Price 4. Trainer’s qualifications 5. Methods & techniques used 6. How long was each session 7. How many weeks came in a class. What’s sad is the methods can have a direct impact on long term results, and in some cases create other problems like aggression (such as owner facilitated aggression). The trainer might have an immediate opening because they are not in demand and don’t have a lot of experience. Their class curriculum might be 10 weeks because classes move very slowly and you only learn two things per class. Or the price is right because you’re at the “McDonald’s of dog training.” Without looking past the convenience factor of when, where, and price – 9 times out of 10 you cost yourself more money in the long run. I have seen loads of people who just go somewhere else after the first place didn’t work. Which in turn costs more money. However, my favorite laughable marketing “you’ve got to be kidding me” is when companies guarantee results. “If it doesn’t work the first time, you can just train with us again free of charge.” You can’t guarantee another being’s behavior. That’s like me guaranteeing your mother-in-law’s behavior this holiday season. Not possible. Training only increases the probability of desired behaviors, it doesn’t guarantee them. Also, isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? No thanks.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should run out and find a professional who is two hours away, with a three month waiting list, that you have to drain your kid’s college tuition savings to afford them. That would have its own set of drastic consequences. However, you need to know who you’re about to learn from! This simple choice can affect the rest of your dog’s life.
First, know what type of training you are looking for. Obedience? House manners? Field work? Search & rescue? Hunting? Service dog work? Behavior modification? Problem prevention? Aggression issues? Separation anxiety? Phobias? Resource guarding? Potty training? Socialization skills? Fear issues? Conformation? And the list goes on and on and on… All dogs are not created equal, nor is everyone’s living environment. “Cookie cutter” training programs can miss out on a variety of needs, but can be sufficient if all you want is basic obedience.
So, how do you find a good trainer? Oh let me count the ways. There are a zillion articles out there, and my favorites are by: the Association Of Pet Dog Trainers, Pet Finder, and the Whole Dog Journal. If you want more information on all the various certifications, the APDT has a nice list of the most popular ones.
So let’s pretend you need more than just basic obedience, and house manners. The more specialized your needs are, the more qualified the professional you will need. And if there is any liability or safety concerns you want to go to the top of the trainer food chain, or as far up as possible. Pretend Case Study: Fluffy is a five year old dog with a hypothyroid problem, aggression, bite history, and has seizures. He just tried to eat the pizza delivery boy, and now you’re being sued. You’ll want to find a veterinary behaviorist. At the time of this post there are currently 54 in the USA & Canada combined. And you can find them at the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. There is also a directory at the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, (roughly about 160 in the entire USA) just input your search parameters for location.
Realistically, because there are so few veterinary behaviorists in the country, it could be hard to find one. Most trainers who handle behavioral cases can (and should) work directly with your veterinarian. And in my personal opinion you don’t need a degree in veterinary medicine to be called a behaviorist. However, you need to be affiliated with or have the certifications to back up the claim of behaviorist. There are two other major organizations to consider when you are in need of a professional with additional expertise. The first is Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, and the second is the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
So when should you call in the big guns? My answer: before behavior problems get to the point you are at your wits end. It’s a whole lot easier to change behavior without a strong reinforcement history. So, if things don’t get practiced for an extended period of time, the cost of training will usually be significantly less because it takes far fewer lessons to fix things. Plus, new undesirable behaviors don’t creep up into the mix either.
And why should you call in the big guns? In the dog world, experienced trainers have seen inexperienced trainers cause more harm than good with good intentions. They accidentally strengthen behaviors that need extinguished by accidental random reinforcement schedules, they don’t use (because most green trainers only use food) the correct amount and type of reinforcers (such as leaving something scary), and they accidentally punish the dog by placing the dog over threshold, they kill basic obedience by asking for a sit around an aversive stimulus not understanding counter conditioning, etc. If you need more than just basic obedience and house manners, I’d call on someone more qualified if it were me.
One last thought, there are more options that can help besides veterinary and behavior services. I have seen marvelous results from TTouch, acupuncture, Thundershirts, and even nutritionists. Keep an open mind because sometimes solutions can come from the least likely of places!
This holiday think about how your pet can interact with the holiday cheer. We all want a stress free (or as much as possible) holiday season. And when you add up additional costs, additional chores, and the in-laws; the last thing in the world you want to worry about is your pet. The following list is the top five holiday disasters to avoid with your dog or cat.
5. Put all candles above the “tail zone.” I don’t know about you, but owning a large dog who is always happy, his tail can wag off a candle in a heart beat. So me personally, I’d rather not light my dog on fire and burn the house down. Add my cats into the mixture, and they also might investigate a candle. So be smart about where you place candles.
4. Avoid the edible buffet of toxic plants, like the Poinsettia, which is a holiday favorite. If you get toxic plants, put them out of your pet’s reach.
3. Decorate your home, not your dog’s intestines. Yes, dogs swallow some of the craziest things. No matter how well trained your dog may be, treat even Lassie like a toddler, and supervise around the house.
2. Don’t wrap food presents and put them under the tree on the floor. Believe it or not, your pets x-ray vision (aka, their nose) can sense food through the best of wrapping paper. And if this does happen, I wouldn’t count on your pet unwrapping it and saving the bow for next year, he’ll probably eat that too.
1. If you put cookies out for Santa… put them out for Santa. Not the dog. Not the cat. Most pets don’t need the extra calories, and substances like chocolate are poisonous.
Here is a great little video to watch, poking fun at some of these very things: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn2h3_aH3vo&feature=youtube_gdata_player
We wish you and your pets a very happy holiday, and that you both get everything you wished for!
The 2010 annual Walk For Paws to benefit Animal Advocates went very well yesterday. The weather was superb, and we had a blast. The highlight was the obstacle course. Using agility equipment, confidence “hurdles” (like what you might see in TTouch), and everyday things like a dog door or a hola hoop, we worked with over 200 dogs during the entirety of the event. Every single dog who went through it learned something, and several people took their dog through a second time because they had so much fun. Each team (handler & dog) was personally guided through by a professional clicker trainer, and each dog was rewarded as he proceeded through the course. It was a learning experience that provided growth to each team’s relationship. And I look forward to next year. (Pictures are on our Facebook page).