Make a Tail Wag

You may remember that we asked last week for a few suggestions on some posts… and boy, did you guys deliver! Some of you had some questions about our pups specifically, while others were looking for some tips on training and behavior.

I want to preface these training posts by reminding you that I DO NOT by any means consider myself to be a professional. Because of that, I want to start by talking about some important terms in regards to dog behavior and training, as well as what you should be looking for in a dog trainer or obedience instructor. Whether you have come across some challenges, simply want the reinforcement to make sure you are taking the right approach to manners, or are interested in pursuing advanced training such as agility, it is important to choose a trainer that suits your needs (and your pup’s!)

However, even if you are not looking for a trainer to aid you in your training adventures, these points still exist as guidelines for what I consider to be the best approach an owner could take to training! More importantly, they are my ‘bible’ when it comes to my own approach with my own dogs. If you are interested in the training advice I will be offering, these methods are the backbone to all of the specifics.

IMG_1107

Training Methods

I strongly believe in force-free training. In fact, that is the only type of training that I tolerate with any animal. You may have previously heard this referred to as ‘positive reinforcement’ training, which is actually not accurately inter-changeable, but nor is it always incorrect.

There are four basic types of training methods, that any professional trainer should be able to use correctly.

1) Positive Reinforcement

2) Negative Reinforcement

3) Positive Punishment

4) Negative Punishment

What do those terms mean to you? If you take them at face-value, then you are probably not correct.

First, we must define the term reinforcement, which is simply something that results in the continuation of a previously displayed behavior. It does not necessarily mean a “reward” or something that the dog enjoys, but it is something that increases the likelihood that the behavior will be displayed.

Positive reinforcement (1) simply means that you are ‘adding’ something to the training equation, in order to elicit the desired response. An easy example of this would be that when your dog is lying down quietly on her bed, you could offer her a treat. Yes, this is a positive experience for the dog, but that is just coincidental… for example, dog fighters often use positive reinforcement, by adding aggressive dogs to the scenario, which will increase the likelihood that fighting will occur. (Positive Reinforcement: Adding something to continue the behavior)

Conversely, negative reinforcement (2) training does not automatically refer to abuse or aggression. It simply means that something is being subtracted from the equation. So, for example, if a dog is wearing a gentle lead halter, the behavior of walking by your side is being reinforced, because the pressure is removed when they do so. (Negative Reinforcement: Subtracting something to continue the behavior)

Then, there is training that revolves around punishment. However, this also does not mean that the experience is automatically unpleasant. It simply means that you respond to your dog’s unwanted behavior by doing something which causes your dog to decrease that act.

An example of positive punishment (3) (applying something that will decrease the behavior) would be the utilization of a shock collar. When the dog barks, the collar shocks the animal, and he therefore associates barking with pain… which is supposed to decrease the barking (at least, when the dog has the collar on, right!?) No promises that your dog won’t try to run from you, or even become aggressive, when you attempt to place the collar on them, however… (Positive Punishment: Adding something to decrease the behavior)

A quick example of negative punishment (4) would be that when your dog jumps on you, you turn your back to her, which is meant to result in her no longer jumping. You have removed attention for a decrease in her unwanted behavior. (Negative Punishment: Taking something away to discourage the behavior)

*It is important to note that the terms ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ have nothing to do with the dog’s perception of the training experience, but with whether you are adding something or taking it away. Similarly, reinforcement is not always enjoyable (though it can be) and punishment is not always painful or unpleasant (though it can be).

Quick chart:

What it means What it does not (necessarily) mean
Reinforcement Results in continuation of behavior does not = a reward
Punishment Results in extermination of behavior does not = pain or aggression
Positive Adding something does not = enjoyable
Negative Taking something away does not = painful or unpleasant

DSC_0029

Force-Free Training

Force-free training is a separate category entirely, which refers to the approach the owner takes in all training endeavors. It is training that refrains from using fear, intimidation, or force to manipulate the dog, physically or mentally. An emphasis is placed on the dog’s body language, as well as communication, and the human-animal bond.

Most often, those that believe in forceful training methods believe that animals have no emotions. While many of us may recognize that animals do not experience quite the range of emotions as humans (although, I understand, this is debatable!) we recognize that fear, excitement, loneliness, and loyalty are traits that animals can exhibit. If we look at animals as being devoid of emotion, we begin to look at them as mere machines, able to bend at our will and whim… and you can see why it may become easy for some people to inflict pain in order to effect their desired, and oftentimes more immediate, outcome.

The approach I bring to dog training comes from extensive experience with horse training. While we would use mild tools such as bits and spurs to communicate with our horses, these are only used as an extension of our arms and legs. However, less admirable riders and trainers would continue to advance to more cruel and severe tools when their horses did not respond in a way that they were seeking. There is a big difference between spurs with little rounded rubber ends, and spurs with sharp, jagged rowels. Personally, if my horses did not respond accordingly to my requests, I would first look to myself, rather than simply resorting to more severe tools … obviously I was not communicating my requests clearly. I learned early in life that animal training is pretty similar, regardless of species. Unfortunately, the humans involved are also similar, and when they lack in communication skills and understanding of behavior, they quickly resort to physical brutality and emotional intimidation…. AKA, they become big bullies!

IMG_0046

Do you want your dog to listen to you because they trust you, and know that you will reward them for their positive behavior? Or would you rather that your dog listens to you because they are fearful and intimidated? To most of us, it is obvious that we want our dogs to be happy and content. However, there is more to it than that. Fearful dogs are often more erratic and unstable than those with an established relationship of confidence in their owner. It has been shown that forceful training methods lead to aggressive animals. A confident dog that has built a good relationship with their handler will often look to the handler when faced with an uncertain setting, whereas a dog that is fearful will take that situation into their own hands, and make a choice to either fight or flee. In many cases (such as an animal that is in a kennel or leashed) the dog may not have the option to flee, and by training him to be afraid of you, you have therefore shown him that his only option is to fight. Your goal should be to make yourself the happiest and most exciting part of your dog’s life, while remaining a consistent and safe place for them. If you can achieve that, I can guarantee that there isn’t much your dogs wouldn’t do for you!

DSC_0023

Trainers that we would advocate would never support shock, choke, or pinch collars, or other devices that utilize pain. When faced with negative behaviors, they will usually ignore them, or remove something that the dog considers to be pleasant. They focus most on rewarding and reinforcing positive behaviors. Typically, trainers that advocate force-free training use lots of food for reinforcement, but the most skilled trainers will also reward the dogs with other things, such as play-time, toys, attention and cuddles. It is important to find out what works best for each individual dog! In our household, Tonka is all about attention, while Gaige responds best to play time, and of course, Gia is always interested in snacks. If I only used the same reward for all three of our dogs, our communication skills and advancement with training would most likely plateau.

DSC_0057

Individualized Approach

Along those lines, it is important that your trainer evaluate you and your dog individually, and formulate an approach that works best for your team. I have a frustration with trainers that try to take the same cookie-cutter approach with every dog. Even if the trainer is knowledgeable enough to only employ force-free training methods, it’s not enough if they expect the same exact training process to work for every dog… or, for that matter, every owner! Always be open-minded enough to take queues from your dog… watch their body language closely, embrace the communication signs they offer to you, and go from there. Use what works best for the two (or more!) of you, as a team. If you are paying someone good money for training tips, then they owe you an individualized approach… otherwise, you could get all of your information from this blog a book! Seriously though, your pup will thank you for it, and you will get a lot more knowledge for your money.

Real-Life Training

Finally, it is vital that your dog trainer understand that a dog requires consistency in training. This means that rather than just set ‘training sessions’ every few days at home, and/or once a week at their facility, they should help you set up your life so that it is one constant training session! Your dog should learn that rewards for good behavior can come at any time, not just when on a leash, at their center, or focused on the treat in your hand. This way, they learn to remain focused on you at all times. Examples of this would be teaching your dog to sit before being let outside, leashed, or given their dinner, or rewarding them when they choose to lay quietly on their bed, as opposed to begging for food or pestering guests. Play-time can be a great way to work in training, while exercising and engaging your pet… make them sit quietly before you throw that ball! For most of us, our initial goal with our dogs is to teach them to be happy members of our family, as opposed to teaching them parlor tricks.
photo-1

********************************************************

While this list has not been all-inclusive, by any means, it should give you a good guideline when seeking an appropriate dog trainer… who, remember, you are essentially paying to instruct yourself as the owner! However, please remember that these are the guidelines I try to hold myself to when working with my pets, so even if you aren’t seeking a trainer at this time, they may still apply to you!

In summary, you should look for these qualities in your dog trainer (even if that trainer is you!):

1) They are knowledgeable (and certified, if you are paying them as a professional trainer). They can use the below terms correctly:

-Positive Reinforcement: Adding a stimulus to reward a behavior (giving a treat)

-Negative Reinforcement: Removing something in order to encourage the behavior to continue (pressure on a gentle leader releases when dog is in proper position)

-Positive Punishment: Adding something to discourage a behavior (shock collar that hurts the dog when he barks)

-Negative Punishment: Taking something away to decrease a behavior (turning away when your dog jumps on you)

2) They believe only in force-free training methods. They will use food as a reward, but not as the only reward, and will never resort to inflicting pain or intimidation tactics. They will emphasize the building of your relationship with your dog, so that the dog develops confidence in you as a capable, fair, and loving leader, and begins to look to you in new situations, as opposed to being aggressive or reactive.

3) They look to the dog, utilizing his body language and communication signals, and teach you how to be aware of the same. While they are methodical, they may take a slightly different approach to training each dog, so as to find a method that will be most rewarding for all involved. They do not have a blanket approach that is hard-and-fast with all dogs and owners, because they understand that all dogs are different.

4) They teach you how to encourage good behavior in your dog every day and in every scenario, not just to elicit parlor tricks during specific training sessions. This is because they will understand the importance of a dog that is eager to learn and obey at any time.

Now that we’ve shared with you our foundation for training, tune in tomorrow for answers to some specific reader questions!

This Old Dog Learns New Tricks!

(Meaning me, people. Gia is only 2.5, after all!)

This past Saturday, we had the unique opportunity to experience a private training session with Debby McMullen of Pawsitive Reactions, LLC. I had never before hired a dog trainer, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect! I feel like I put my whole heart into training and socializing our dogs. I do a lot of research and am constantly researching to learn new techniques and understand canine behavior more thoroughly. I am always open to learning more, but I also hoped that the trainer would be able to recognize that we were very invested in the well-being of our dogs. Once Debby walked in the door, all of these fears were cast aside.

When Debby and Georgia met, somehow Georgia was immediately on her best behavior, and I am pretty sure that the two fell instantly in love. (Although, it probably didn’t hurt that she brought homemade liver treats and peanut butter along.)

DSC_0013_2

We got right to business, working on Georgia’s jumping. Of course, she was showing off for Debby and wasn’t jumping as much as she usually does on newcomers, but she did offer a few leaps & licks when Debby stopped lavishing her with attention. Debby taught us that rather than directly acknowledge Georgia’s misbehavior by correcting her with ‘No,’ ‘Down,’ or pulling on her collar, we were to turn around. This would, essentially, remove the ‘reward’ (our attention) until she was displaying more appropriate behavior, like a sit or down. At the same time, it would stop the jumping in its tracks. With repeated practice the past few days, we are definitely noticing an improvement in more appropriate greetings.

We are taking applications, however, for local friends that would like to help us with this issue! We need new people to stop over to meet Miss Gia, and not come near her until she is sitting and waiting patiently. The friends and family that have met her have been so kind, but simultaneously, are always telling us ‘Oh, it’s okay! Don’t worry!’ when she jumps up on them. Instead, we need someone who understands that this is only perpetuating her lack of manners. It is one thing to train her not to jump on us, but we need her to understand that this behavior won’t be tolerated towards anyone, including newcomers.

DSC_0009_2

Once Debby had given us some new tools for the jumping issue, we began talking about Georgia’s basic obedience. Georgia is a very kind dog, and she is always looking to please. When you ask her to sit, or lay down, she is very willing to do so. However, Debby explained to us that we want to teach our dogs to ‘offer’ these good behaviors, rather than always having to request them first. This way, they will learn to make better decisions on their own, and be rewarded for them. This was the main technique that Debby wanted us to utilize was, and she called it ‘capturing’. She stressed that we must notice and mark all behavior that we want to see more of, and pay less attention to the behaviors that we want to see reduced. To put it simply, reward the behaviors that we like, and ignore the ones we don’t! Any attention, even more negative recognition like ‘No!’ is still conveyed to the dogs as attention.

Debby explained that the capturing technique was especially applicable when handling the interactions between the dogs. She complimented us for completing the two week de-stress prior to Georgia’s introduction to our dogs, as well as taking their interactions very slowly so as not to create tension between them. She wanted us to be sure to recognize any positive body language between Georgia and our perma-dogs, however discrete. This could be as minor as moving closer to one another, and as major as tail wagging and licking. It is important to note that the dogs have NEVER displayed aggressive, or even threatening, behaviors towards one another. However, we notice Georgia avoiding the other dogs occasionally, or stiffening when they bump into her accidentally. In this case, Debby recommends ‘splitting’. This is using our own body language to interrupt inappropriate behavior, such as a ‘mom stance’ (hands on hips or arms crossed, looking down at the dog). Not only does this communicate to the dog that their behavior is unacceptable, but it also shows all of the dogs that we as the owners can be trusted to protect and lead them all. Additionally, we are not using a stern voice to correct these interactions, which would only add more tension to the situation.

Cuddling with her favorite.

Cuddling with her favorite.

As per Debby’s direction, as well as advice from the team at LCPO, we will be doing more ‘tethering’. This means securing the dogs by leash to an immovable object, and then having them lay on their own mat or blanket. We will reward good behavior with high value objects such as bully sticks or stuffed kongs. Not only do these serve as a reward while the dogs are in the presence of one another, but they are also are exercising their minds, and recognizing that they are safe when together.

The session culminated with Debby expressing to us that she thinks with more socialization, Georgia should do just fine in a home with another dog, particularly if that other dog is a male. However, she also suggested taking her to some group training classes to work on her socialization. This would enable her to be around other dogs in a controlled setting, without the pressure to interact with them. Our goal will be to reward all positive attention to other dogs, as well as any time she looks to us for information on how to handle herself. Similarly to her interactions with our own dogs, this will show her that her humans are the ones that will keep her safe, and that she does not need to resort to proactive action on her part if she feels threatened.

DSC_0018_2

Private training is not something that is affordable on every budget. For our scenario, I picked up a few extra hours of nannying and riding lessons, and certainly appreciated a generous discount from Debby. She has a love for pit bull dogs, and anyone that wants to help them, and so she offered us a discount in additional time. I really recommend Debby’s service, or the service of any trainer that utilizes positive reinforcement, to offer you a one-time evaluation of your training methods.

I am happy to have been able to share our experiences with all of you, and I hope that you have taken a few tips from our lessons with Debby!

There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Dog

A few weeks ago, I shared a link on our facebook page, that had been shared first by one of my daily reads, Peace, Love & Fostering. The original post was from the blog, Notes from a Dog Walker, and it is probably one of my favorite blog postings I’ve read thus far in our fostering experience. I urge you to head over there to check out the piece. For even some of the most seasoned dog lovers, it just might change your perspective forever.

If there is one thing I could convey to all of you, it would be this… “It’s not how they’re raised, it’s how dogs are managed, that matters most.” A dog with a terrible past can still make a wonderful addition to your family. At the same time, unfortunately, sometimes a dog raised with all of the right tools, whether pit bull or black lab or poodle, will not be successful. Don’t stereotype ANY dog, for ANY reason… it is dangerous, and unfair. Give them a all a fair chance. The Vicktory Dogs & BAD RAP dogs are just two perfect examples of this! These dogs were rescued from the most cruel and outrageous fighting operations. Yet through careful and dedicated rehabilitation, they have become loyal and gentle family companions. If I took the time to list every popular story of a dog fighting victim that went on to live happily with other animals and children, this page would be full.

DSC_0001

I don’t believe that either Georgia or Gaige were ever involved in dog fighting cruelty. Yet if I had a penny for every time someone asked me if my pit bull was aggressive, or had been a ‘fighter’… well, I would have a lot of pennies. And while I don’t like to focus on the negative, I think it is important to note that those questions have come even from those that claim to like pit bulls! The point is, we love dogs because of their loyalty and resiliency. Give them a chance to prove it to us!

– – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  –

In other news, please check out our facebook page here. We shared a few videos of lucky boy Cash, from yesterday’s post, who has begun his new life! One shows him playing exuberantly with a toy, while the other shows him interacting happily with his new foster sister.

Finally, we are very excited to announce that we have a two-hour training session scheduled tomorrow for Miss Georgia! We will be working with the talented Debby McMullen of Pawsitive Reactions, LLC. Debby specializes in positive reinforcement dog training, as well as management of multi-dog households. She has even written a book on the subject! You can even follow her blog here, and she also maintains a facebook page.  We are planning to focus on Georgia’s issues with overly enthusiastic greetings towards new humans, and also narrow down her discomfort with some other dogs. We are hopeful that we will learn new tools to manage her introductions, and also identify what sort of doggie household she would be most comfortable in. We are anxious to see whether her issues with female dogs are simply a matter of additional socialization, or something that would be best avoided for her comfort level. Wish us luck! We know this will only add to her repertoire of skills and talents, thereby making her more adoptable.

Are you my forever family?

DSC_0014

We hope your weekend is kind to you!