Monday, 8 May 2017

Disabledz are your customers too... even if you hadn't realised - a Crufts Special!

So I went to Crufts today, I go every year and I go by myself because its easier, I have a million and one people to catch up with and frankly... I like it.

I am also a manual wheelchair user.

Crufts isn't the easiest place to negotiate in a manual chair, there's carpet that sucks your energy and shreds your shoulders and elbows to push through.

There's ramps that burn your gloves out going down and good luck getting UP them without a push (and no, no I don't want to have to be pushed, it's embarrassing, its demeaning, its upsetting, I am a 37 year old woman, not a toddler in a pram!).

Today the main lifts to from the atrium to the upper 'deck' of the NEC were not working, leaving a long ramp marked 'not suitable for wheelchairs'... yeah. A ramp that isn't for wheelchairs (it's not, this massive set of ramps, there are two, are for passengers from the airport and railstation who may have trolleys and need to push them or drag wee little wheelied suitcases and trunki's and stairs make their life so awkward oh boohoo poor them...... so let's build a ramp suitable for them and *FUCK* the wheelie people again shall we but I digress, my wrath shall be pointed at the NEC at a later date)/

This ones all for stall holders, stand holders and shops who apparently do not want my money!

You know it spends the same as anyone elses, it is not tainted by some sort of lurgy, you cannot CATCH 'disabled' if you take my money.

Today I went to all the grooming companies stands.

Today I had a large sum of birthday money burning a hole in my pocket.

Today I was ignored, stepped around, talked OVER and treated as if I was invisible by the staff at THREE of those companies.

I am not going to name names because genuinely I don't think it will make a single jot of difference to those companies, but it might to everyone else reading.

Please do not assume that because I am a wheelchair user, that I cannot or will not require your  professional grooming equipment.

I may not be a professional groomer, I am a canine professional, the products I buy will not only be used on my own dogs, but will be used to teach client dogs too.

Even if I were simply buying pet grade products for my own dog as a non-industry related private person...

Ignoring me, speaking over me, stepping round me to deal with the person BEHIND me in the queue... that's not acceptable, no matter how little they may be about to spend.

Fuck you, snooty rude dog grooming companies. Fuck you indeed!

Now onto the positive stuff.

Three grooming companies were MARVELLOUS.

Christies Direct, who are a BIG company - Glenn took the time to talk me through the available clipper options, let me hold the clippers (it's important to me how much they weigh and how balanced they are in my hand). He then helped me select two pairs of scissors which I bought.

Mutneys, who are not a huge company but a UK based grooming products suppliers - Louise again, took the time to show me the products that would suit, explain the various pros and cons and from Louise I bought a pair of Andis clippers. (Sorry Glenn!)

Diamond Edge who again, are not a huge multinational brand, not only recognised me from last year out of the thousands of people they must see at trade shows each year, but offered me a fabulous discount and honoured that discount on some cosmetically damaged stock a few months later as I wasn't able to take them up on it at the time, because they still had that item available (clipper combs in a damaged box!).

All the representitives from these companys were looking out for people interested in their stands but less able to access them for whatever reason. All took the time to find out what I needed without leaping to any conclusions or judgements based on appearances.

All got my money.

I'd also like a special mention to the lady on the really lovely scissor stand whose name I have forgotten, who only sold scissors (so it's not included in my general 'grooming products companies' rant here)...

She let me handle and play with various pairs of VERY expensive scissors which helped me determine what I wanted and needed...

Turns out whilst I might WANT £174 scissors... what I actually needed was not quite that spendy so I didn't buy from her but she was lovely (even if she tried to tempt me with her scissory goodness!).

So big up for Mutneys, Diamond Edge and Christies Direct

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Product Reviews K9 Connectables and Love Takara Collars...

Wooo! It's been a while since I have found products nice enough or interesting enough to ask for samples to review - I only review stuff I genuinely think is innovative, high quality and interesting!

So K9 Connectables... what are they? Web Shop

(Not my dog, photo pinched from K9Connectables Facebook page due to my inability to take a nice product photo!)

K9 Connectables are a collection of chewable, stuffable, throw-able, float-able (that's not a word I know!) toys that can be push-fit together to make a variety of pull-apart shapes for your dog to enjoy.

I tested the set I was given which included three different shapes (the stick shape 'Techno bone' , the ball shape 'Original' and the dental cone shape 'Dentist') and a total of 7 pieces, which can all be linked in a variety of ways.

My testers are..

Womble - Lurcher, adores chewing things, really likes to bite down hard, known toy trasher.

Tatty - GBGV, loves food, solving puzzles and marmalizing things with her jaws.

Errol - Tibetan Terrier, loves pulling things apart, food and carrying small thing around.

Errol went first and he found the pieces just the right size for him, he could chew hard but not damage the pieces, pulling them apart took effort and kept him interested. The food was not too hard to get out but kept him exploring.

A top class toy for this boy and I would certainly buy him a set and would feel happy leaving him to get on with this unsupervised.

Tatty went next, she was more about the food and less about the chewing though the pulling apart element amused her a fair bit. She was less interested when all the food was gone, however as a scent hound, that isn't surprising and the pulling apart of the toys did give an extra dimension.
She then brought me the pieces to throw and then to put back together for her so she could go again though without the food, less enthusiastic on this.

I would happily leave her unsupervised with this toy and she would probably scatter the parts round the house and lob the bigger bits down the stairs to play fetch with herself!

Womble - Womble came last in this test run because he has form for trashing toys and I feared there would be nothing for the others to test.
I expected that the connecting 'male' ends of the toy would be his focus and he would chew down on them as hard as possible trying to chew a chunk off.

Once the food was gone that is exactly what he did  - he LOVED pulling the toy apart and working to get the food and he adored the texture of the material, very rewarding to bite down on and this boy LOVES biting.

However as predicted within a few minutes he had managed to damage the toys, and though safe whilst supervised I would expect him to have chewed the connecting ends off the pieces he had very quickly had he not been stopped - therefore I would not leave this toy with him unsupervised.

My personal opinion is for smaller dogs and dogs who do not chew to destroy but chew more gently then this toy is a winner, its heavy enough to throw or break down and throw the parts, the parts float so you can chuck them in water for water retrieves.

The shapes are very appealing to dogs, and the material encourages chewing and licking due to its texture and the fact it has no unpleasant taste or smell (yes, I chewed one first to find out, no nasty bitter rubbery taste here these things are fab!)

For dogs that are hard core chewers, liable to swallow pieces or just want to chew to destroy an item, these are probably not the toy for you unless closely supervised. Because of the male to female connection system your dog IS likely to chew the male connector ends off which then means your pieces will no longer connect.

Hopefully K9 Connectables will release a larger sized version which would reduce this risk, and ideally, a tougher material for power chewers as well.

All in all however, this is a quality product at a very reasonable price and certainly has advantages over similar products on the market, particularly that apart from the Techno Bone which is sold singly, the Original and Dentist shapes come in packs of two so you always have something to connect to something else.

Love Takara Bespoke Collars & Leads Love Takara

This week the postman was kind to me, I also recieved a fabulous fabric martingale collar for my Deerhound from Love Takara. My Deerhound does not 'do' modelling... she says she has retired and refuses to pose!

These are made to measure items from quality ribbon and webbing, and solid fittings (no rubbishy formed wire stuff here, all solid!).

The materials are excellent, the sewing and finish is extremely neat and tidy and the turnaround time was fantastic - I will be buying again!

Lottie at Love Takara is more than happy to source ribbons as well as offering a nice range of tasteful and beautiful designs. She can make hound width or narrower collars and leads, and also walking belts and probably more, there is no end to this ladys talent! Form an orderly queue please!

*I have not been paid to review these items and all opinions are my own or translated from my dogs' body language!*

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Evaluating a New Method... do NOT try before you buy!

Ooh It's Shiny and New... must be great!

From time to time you hear of 'new' methods and techniques within dog training - for the most part these things are not really new, but repackaged and rebranded, but some are and if the concept is new to YOU, you'll need a way of evaluating it without just trying it out on your dog.

So how do you do that - there isn't an easy answer and if you are a new dog owner or you are at the beginning of your journey towards becoming a trainer or behaviourist, it can be even harder.

I have discussed before 'my' idea of the 'cost/benefit analysis'.. of course that isn't really MY idea, I didn't invent that process but just applied it to dog training methods, as others may well have done before me.

First of all, look at whether the method IS new or is something old, rebranded, tweaked, adapted or changed.

It may be that thats a good thing, or it could be a bad thing or it may actually mean nothing at all, but it might tell you something about the person promoting it, and that might be useful information.

So here's some methods much promoted and marketed by Cesar Millan - the alpha roll, the slip lead high up the neck and jerked hard, the use of prong and shock collars - but these are not new methods, they were used before Millan by the likes of Most, Koehler and the Monks of New Skete!

What about this, the Back-Pack or Rucksack Walk, a concept devised by Steve Mann - as far as I can see, this IS new, even if the concepts of mindfulness and calm engagement are not new, putting them together in that format is.

What about the force free, 'about turn' method of teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash - where you use a harness and line and you prevent the dog from self-rewarding by performing an about turn with a single warning, and reinforce the correct behaviour by rewarding with food, and with forward movement..

It's still not new, in fact its adapted from what Koehler was doing, just with the heavy harsh correction removed - the basic principle that the dog only gets what he wants when he walks beside you is the same, the basic idea that the dog needs to learn to pay attention to you and that its HIS job to do this not YOUR job to keep reminding or telling him, both those concepts were what Koehler was using... it's just that we now know you don't need to surprise a dog by yanking him off his feet by his neck to do this!

So the point of all this is - don't be swayed by things that claim to be shiny and new, maybe they are, maybe they are not, it really doesn't matter, it might well just be a sales gimmick!

The person recommending it is my idol/is super sexy/is an asshat...

Forget the name behind the method - I don't care and much more importantly your dog does not care if you think the sun shines out of the sexy trainers pert little bottom, or if you think he or she smells of wee... Not relevant, and you can be sucked into doing things that actually are not ok because you've put the person before the method, or equally you can chuck out with the dishwater an excellent concept or idea, because you don't like the personality behind it.

They ain't training your dog - you are.

The ONLY time I would put any consideration into WHO is promoting a method, is when you are wanting more information about it and you are  not allowed to access it, or you are told you don't understand or some other weaselly way of denying information, on a method otherwise being promoted and advised to members of the public.

This is the case with the Parelli's for example - you are welcome to buy the DVD and follow their method, do as they say... but you are NOT welcome to ask questions about the science behind their methods, particularly you are not welcome to ask critical questions or offer differing opinions.

If someone is promoting something, but you are not allowed to examine that method in detail, if you are not for example, allowed to ask about the inherent risks... thats when I would suggest you take a look at the persons behaviour a little further and consider that perhaps the animal welfare is NOT their priority, and raking in cash is, and people who ask the sticky questions might reveal something that damages that money making capacity.

I am not for a second saying that trainers or behaviourists should give you, for free, a weekends course in resource guarding or a 3 day seminar on dog - to - human aggression... everyone has to earn a living - but if someones method or technique is safe and sensible they should have no issue with you asking questions about it - if they do then the odds are, they have something to hide.

So go on then.. analyse a method...

Ok so, the latest method I have read about is designed to deal with leash reactivity, and is called Turn and Face, and is promoted/written about and I assume concieved by Denise Mcleod.

I took the time out to read her book a couple of days ago following some discussion on the method on Facebook and viewing some of the videos of it in action.

The method is, in brief, that you set up the reactive dog with stooge dogs, and as the dog goes to react you firmly grab his collar putting pressure on the back of the neck and bring him around and in so that his face ends up against your legs/crotch (depending on relative height of dog and handler).

The claim is that this stops the reaction, and allows the dog to calm down and over time breaks the habit of reacting in this way and allows the dog to choose to not react in this way.

The other claimed benefits of this method are that it works very quickly in just a few repetitions, which reduces the stress reactive dogs suffer from

The author goes to great lengths at the end of her book to outline that this method works 80 to 90% of the time, but also goes to great lengths to explain it isn't suitable for all dogs who are reactive, it shouldn't be done with dogs who will redirect aggression onto the handler, it should be done in a controlled environment with stooge dogs who will not react, it should not be done with dogs under a certain size... there is a long list of where this should not be done and dogs it should not be done with.

In my opinion therefore this method is already starting out 'dodgy' - it can only be applied in very specific circumstances, in dogs who are actually reactive out of habit and frustration and not aggression.

It is my experience that whilst there are a lot of frustrated reactive dogs out there, many dogs are reactive out of fear and pain and if the majority of pet dog owners were capable of deducing that, I would probably be out of a job!

So lets run the cost/benefit analysis.

Claimed benefits:

Works quickly.
Calms the dog
Ends reactivity

Potential costs:

Involves physical force to the dogs neck - risk of injury.
Could result in dog redirecting onto owner - risk of injury to owner.
Could result in dog becoming more fearful rather than less fearful if dog suffers pain or fear and associates this with the trigger
May not work.

The method requires that:

Owner has access to controlled environment.
Owner has access to suitable stooge dogs.
Owner is capable of assessing their own dogs behaviour and temperament as suitable for this method.
Dog be comfortable with being handled but NOT pre-conditioned to sudden collar grabs as the 'startle' effect is necessary for the method to work.
Dog not actually be aggressive.
Dog be suitable size/weight comparable to owner.
Owner be physically capable of grabbing dog and swinging it round and forcing it into their legs AND holding it there.
Dog is 'set up' to fail and flooded, repeatedly, in the days immediately following use of the method.
Method NOT recommended (by author) to be used in public initially due to 'how it looks' and the requirement for a controlled environment.

For me to use a method,  I need that method to be high on benefits and low on risk, AND that method needs to be practical and either applicable to most dogs or adaptable to all.

I also need to be sure that of the available methods applicable to the dog I am working with, this is the least invasive and least aversive, so I need to look at the alternatives.

What are the alternatives to 'Turn and Face'...

Well the first that springs to mind is Counter Conditioning and Desensitization - whereby I pair the sight of the trigger whilst the dog is under threshold, with high value rewards, typically food, and I keep exposure to a minimum duration/maximum distance.

What are the benefits to that:

Dogs emotional reaction to trigger is changed
Reactivity ceases
Bond with owner improves
Dog is kept under threshold so general stress is reduced

What might the costs be:

Might take a while depending on available environment to work in
Might not work.

What does this method require:

Access to a suitable environment to work in or ability to adapt method to environment available.
Understanding of dogs threshold
Understanding what rewards the dog values most highly

You should note here that I have carried out this analysis working on the assumption that the method in each case is being done correctly.

It should really go without saying that if you apply a method incorrectly, the analysis does not work - if you are attempting counter conditioning for example, and you put the dog over threshold then you aren't actually doing counter conditioning, you are flooding your dog!

So going back to the comparisons of those two methods it should be very clear that using Turn and Face has a lot of potential risks to a small handful of potential benefits, and CC/DS has very few risks to a lot of potential benefits.

NOW finally, lets look at which of these methods is kind/humane/fluffy/nice etc etc...

CC/DS requires that the dogs stress levels be kept low by avoiding the dog going over threshold. This requires the owner to consider the dogs day to day life on a holistic level, which can only be a good thing!
CC/DS works by changing the dogs emotional reaction to the trigger, and this further down the line then gives the owner the opportunity to teach/train/allow the dog to choose alternative behaviours as appropriate when they see that trigger.

Turn and Face requires that the dog be subjected to the trigger over threshold, the dog HAS to react for the method to be applied, so this increases stress.
Turn and Face risks that the dog or handler could be hurt - imagine if the owner has assessed wrongly and the dog redirects into a male owners crotch... ouch!  Imagine if the dog actually has a soft tissue injury or a spinal injury to the neck and the owner grabs and puts pressure on the dogs neck - ouch!
Turn and Face requires that the dog be startled by being grabbed and turned - that has to increase stress.
It is likely that if and when Turn and Face works, it does so by causing the dog to 'shut down' ie to experience learned helplessness, because the dog is experiencing high stress, an aversive, and then being trapped and unable to escape - pretty classic recipe for learned helplessness.

Really the short version of this is, Turn and Face MIGHT be something you would do in an emergency if you were say, trapped in a location where you couldn't get the space your dog needed and you would rather risk a bite to the crotch or leg than your dog making contact with someone else or their dog.

I might do that, but then, I also might yoik my dog out of the path of oncoming traffic by his left testicle - doesn't mean I'd base a training method around that!

It is not a method I would ever risk applying to my dogs or the dogs I work with, because the risks are too high, the benefits are insufficient and not guaranteed and the specifics about who, where and when are just too much to make it practical.

The bottom line is, there are alternatives (theres also LAT, BAT, CAT and multitudinous variations upon these) which vary in their difficulty and risk level but as far as I am aware, ALL are less risky than Turn and Face.

I would like to add - I would have liked to add videos of Turn and Face to this blog however, the author has blocked me from Facebook and refuses to answer any of the points I have raised about the method and addresses any constructive critiscism or attempts at discussion by deleting posts, blocking people and denouncing them as trolls.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

It's Not About You.... It's About What You Do... PART TWO...

It's Not About You...

It doesn't matter if what you are doing is absolutely fucking awesome, or absolutely dreadful - in dog training it really is not and should not be, about you.

If it's about you, there's a problem - because when it's about you theres a bloody big risk that it's no longer about the dog, or the client.

Heres what that priority list needs to look like:

A bunch of other fucking stuff.

Right now theres a lot of cool stuff happening in the positive, reward based, open minded, caring sharing dog training world.

Oh yes - there's trick training, theres back-pack walks, there's 'do as I do' and there's snuffle mats and sprinkles and doggy zen and mooching vs walking and there's bite prevention and theres teaching kids to interact appropriately with dogs..

There is a veritable fuck-ton of good stuff going on, its awesome, its lovely, there is something there for you no matter what dog you have and what your goals or needs are.

But there's also one hell of a lot of ego flying around, there's trainers with 'celeb' status, trainers who are about to have 'celeb' status theres trainers who used to have 'celeb' status and don't any more - theres organisations who promised a lot and delivered substantially less, theres organisations that actually didn't do what it said on the tin and new ones popping up and brilliant ones doing their thing...

It's a big old melting pot right now and whilst theres some grumbly unpleasant shit under the surface  I WOULD like to focus on the positives.

Theres more good than there is bad, I do believe that - and more importantly, the 'bad' that there is is just human shit, it's going to go away, it will all come out in the wash and it doesn't really matter.

But there is one thing that is starting to become worrying, and this is why all this ego and celeb status shit is a problem.

We all like and follow one another on facebook and if you are a 'name' you've probably got a FB list that is full or nearly full, you probably have a friend list that 95% of which, you do not know - I am not a 'name' and the latter applies to me!

When you like or follow someone, whether you intend it or not you are giving some kudos to what they do, you are saying 'I endorse this'.

You MIGHT just be friends with that person because you've no clue what they do, or you are keeping an eye on what they are up to - but in all honesty, the short hand is, friend on facebook, liked on facebook = endorsement from you.

When you put THIS together with the laudable and positive action of NOT talking about negative stuff..

You end up with bad shit happening and no fucker saying a word.

Whats that saying about that scenario?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
We have GOT to stick our heads over the parapet - it is a fine line, it ABSOLUTELY is, and this is not and it never should be about people.. as I say, it is NOT about you...

It's About What You Do...

If a method of teaching a dog involves physical force, involves startling the dog, is a quick fix method that carries huge risk, where a much lower risk method could be used.

I will say so. And you should too.

If you are the owner or founder of an organisation, this applies even more!

This nicey nicey lets all be positive and lovely - sure when it comes to talking to people, dealing with clients, handling dogs - yes...

But when it comes to ignoring abuse and welfare risks - no. Hell no.

Now I am of course NOT talking about attacking people and I am not talking about just being a shit-weasel, pointing out flaws with no real back-up, no alternatives, no science behind what you are saying.

Not at all, thats never useful, its as un-useful as the reverse, saying somethings shiny and wonderful and lovely without explaining WHY it is and how it works.

So when you see someone doing something you believe is wrong, what are YOU going to do? Because its every bit as much about what YOU do about it, as it is about what someone is doing in the first place!

Personally, for me, I will be speaking out.

If I believe a method is wrong, it will be because that method is risky, it is dangerous to the dog, the handler, to the public or all three.

It will be because that method does not pass my cost/benefit analysis - the potential benefits do not outweigh the potential risk.

And it will be because there are safer, more efficient, less stressful, less risky alternatives available that are practical and kind.

But I won't just say that something is wrong.

I'll be sure to make it clear WHY.. what those potential risks are.

I'll be sure to make it clear what the ALTERNATIVES are, and how to adapt those alternative methods to suit your situation and your skill level and your dog.

I'll be sure to make it clear how to manage your dog so that during the training or rehab process, your dog is not stressed or upset.

My remit when training or modifying dog behaviour is like medics, to first, do no harm.

I believe as positive trainers though our remit is broader than that, I think we should speak out when we see harm being done, and try to prevent others doing harm.

We should always attempt to educate, but if someone is not interested in learning, that should not stop us in ensuring that the safe, sensible advice is available, so that people can make an educated choice as to what to do - and that, as negative as it might appear, needs to include speaking out against harmful methods, because the average dog owner is NOT in a position to assess the risks and dangers for themselves, that is why we are the experts and they are the clients.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Getting Sneaky - when you can't stop something happening.. change what it means!

So I am inspired to write this because yet again, I am helping someone who through no fault of their own, is stuck in a situation they cannot control.

This happens and over the years I have lost count of the number of people who live with others who handle and train their dogs in a way the actual owner really doesn't want them too but for a variety of reasons, they cannot prevent it.

Most commonly its because the people doing the 'bad stuff' are family members - and if it's hard to train people, its a MILLION times harder to change the behaviour of family members!

So what follows is NOT perfect - I know this, you know this - but we don't live in an ideal world where someone can just up and leave and take their dog to a nice place, or wave a magic wand and stop their Mum or their Sister from doing whatever to the dog.

Here are some ideas for limiting the damage if you are stuck in a situation where people insist on using punishment based methods and you want to use positive reinforcement.

The first thing to know is that dogs are quite capable of figuring out that one person acts one way, and another person or persons act another way - as long as all the persons are consistent in the way they act.

TO put it bluntly, if you are always nice, rewarding, safe and kind, but your brother is consistently a dick - a dog will figure this out.

That said, if a dog is being trained two different ways, that IS going to slow down progress no matter how smart your dog is - thats unavoidable but hopefully some of the ideas that follow will help.

Situation 1 - Joe has a dog that barks at stuff, Joe knows his dog is a bit anxious and barks when startled or to try and make the scary sounds/sights go away. Joe wants to stop the barking in a kind way.

Cynthia just doesn't like the barking and figures using a bottle of water sprayed in the dogs face will stop it - she tries it and it does .. for a limited time, and then the dog barks again and she repeats it. She thinks this is fine.

Joe doesn't like this and nor does the dog.

If we can't change Cynthias behaviour here, and we can't magically stop Joe barking in one training session... what CAN we do?

Well we could make the spray bottle no longer be an aversive!

We could make the spray bottle a 'positive interrupter' - right now, it stops the dog barking for a minute or two because it startles him and he doesn't like it.

But if he LIKED it, and he thought it meant 'hey, you might get a treat now, or maybe the chance to do something that earns a treat'... he would ALSO stop barking, because it still interrupts him, but it tells him something GOOD is coming, which starts to make him associate the thing he was barking with, with the opportunity to get something good.

Now this is basically classical conditioning but it won't work as fast as just giving the dog a treat each time he hears a sound, because we have put an extra step in the way.

That is still ok - its not perfect, but its the best option right now.

So Joe takes his dog off to his room or out somewhere quiet, and he has the spray bottle with water in it, and he has a big pouch full of SUPER good treats.

Depending on how worried his dog is about the bottle he MAY start by just showing the dog the bottle and immediately giving a high value treat.

Then when the dog starts to show him the 'yay, treats' face on seeing the bottle, Joe sprays a bit of water into his own hand, AWAY from the dogs face, and gives a treat (or even several).

When Joe's dog associates the sight of the spray bottle AND the sound of it being sprayed with brilliant treats, Joe can move to hte next step, which is a few drops of water touching the dog - this may need to be from Joe's fingers rather than the bottle directly but thats ok - now drops of water with the bottle in sight, = fabulous treats.

Work through these stages slowly, at a pace the dog can handle, and ALWAYS leave him wanting more, we want him to be like 'aww shucks.. ' when you put the bottle and treats away!

The next step is to go through some of these stages around the house in different rooms - pick times when no ones home or people are busy elsewhere, its important they DONT know what you are doing here.

This teaches the dog that the spray bottle, the water, the sound, still means treats no matter WHERE it happens.

The NEXT step is to teach the dog that sometimes the bottle means treats.. and sometimes it means 'now I'll ask you to sit, and you get a treat' or 'now I'll ask for a paw.. and you'll get a treat'. So the bottle means 'a treat OR the opportunity to earn one is coming'.

This step is important as if you have a family who want to punish the dog for barking, you can't just give the dog a treat without having asked him to do something for it -you'll just get into a row, so lets avoid that row.

The ultimate goal is that Cynthia sprays the dog for barking, and then Joe asks him to sit and gives him a treat for sitting - Cynthia does NOT know that now, the dog thinks the spray bottle is GOOD or that Joe has reinforced this idea by asking for a simple behaviour and rewarding it.

The dog stops barking because hey, its fun spray bottle time.. so Cynthia is happy that it works - and whilst this is annoying that she will think it works, it does at least mean she's not going to use a harsher punishment in future!

You can apply EXACTLY the same process to all the startle type punishments or interruptors people tend to use, for example, clapping, shouting, throwing a can full of pebbles or pennies, grabbing the dog by the collar even..

If you work with the dog to teach him that all of these things actually mean he's going to get something good maybe now, maybe in a minute, maybe after doing something else...

Then you dramatically limit the damage that the 'punishments' people are giving can actually do.

Here's how I would desensitize to a collar grab (something I think all dogs should learn anyway to be safe in case someone DOES grab their collar).

1 - Touch your dog on the neck or shoulder near to his collar but not actually on his collar yet (particularly if he currently thinks thats a BAD thing)... you can use a clicker if you like or just say 'yes!' in a happy clear tone, and reward him.

Repeat this step a few times - remember to end the session BEFORE he has had enough so he always wants more.

2 - Touch your dog on the neck or shoulder but now slide your hand toward his collar - mark with yes or a click, give the reward.

At this point, I would start not just feeding the reward by hand, but tossing the treat so he has to get up and get it, and then come back to you to continue the session.

The reason for this is, if your dog is reluctant to come back over to you to continue the session, thats a clear indicator he is not happy about this and that you need to go back down to an easier level - important that you don't push your dog too fast and it can sometimes be hard, so this really helps.

3 - Presuming your dog is now happy for you to touch, slide, mark and toss his treat, he goes and gets it and comes right back for the next go, move to touching his actual collar for a second before you mark and reward.

4 - Now we want to introduce sliding the hand under the collar for a second - same as the previous steps!

5 - Now we want to actually put a little bit of pressure on the collar. At this stage I would work for quite a few sessions on including just one or two 'pressure on collar' events, with lots of 'just sliding hand under' attempts, so that you are not just making it harder and harder each time. Its also good to ensure you are also doing short sessions on other tricks, games or behaviours, so that he gets a break.

6 - Now we start introducing actually tugging the collar a bit - and here I would start to make the slides and gentle pressure attempts be worth a different value of reward to the tugs - so a tug on the collar earns him a big ole lump of cheese (or whatever his $20 reward is) but a slide or touch earns him just a bit of kibble (or whatever his $5 reward is).

This way you are setting him up to WANT his collar tugged, cos BOY thats good!

All these sessions (and the ones that come after, tugging harder, tugging suddenly etc) should be no more than 5 minutes long, sometimes a lot less even, so they are EASY to fit into an ad break, or 5 minutes up in your room, which is really useful if you live in a busy household where its hard to get space away from people!

It can be VERY demoralising and even heartbreaking to want to train your dog with kindness and positive reinforcement, when other people want to use punishment and fear.

Do not let it get you down, do not EVER feel like your 5 minute sessions here and there are not worth doing - they ARE worth doing.

Asides from giving your dog the ability to cope and tolerate stuff htat is otherwise unpleasant for him, you will also find that YOUR bond and YOUR working relationship with the dog improves, to the point where he is always going to come to you, listen to you, comply with you - and the more that happens the easier he is to keep safe from other people.

So if you are someone trapped in this situation - don't despair - this stuff really does work - I had to desensitize one of my dogs to a friends really loud voice and tendancy to bend down suddenly and GRAB him for a really rough cuddle - we worked on this and he now LOVES a cuddle and he can cope with the surprise element to it, and the booming voice -  sure it would be nice if i could just get my friend to quit acting like that but for various reasons, I can't, so this is the next best option!

Make yourself a list of the things that happen that you might be able to limit but you can't stop entirely, and work out ways to teach your dog that these things are in fact a predictor of something GOOD instead of something bad.

As ever, positive training works best when we focus on what we CAN do, and not on what we can't, or what we don't want.

And hang in there - I know its tough. :)

Crates - the ins and outs!

Within my doggy circles there's been some discussion on the topic of crating.

This is something that comes up every so often so instead of ranting at my poor partner Mike, I'll stick it in here.

So, what is a crate, what is it for, how can it be used appropriately and what might constitute inappropriate use?


A crate is a plastic or metal box, effectively - an indoor kennel, a travel container, a cage, - its a secure confinement system that you can have inside your home or your car or your caravan or boat or wherever, where your dog can be contained.

Dogs MUST be trained
to use a crate - I have written about this process elsewhere but the short version is, the dog must WANT to go in the crate, there is NO distress involved, if the dog is crying or trying to get out AT ALL you are doing it wrong. The door is not shut and you do not walk away until the dog is SO happy being in that crate that he doesn't CARE if the door is open or shut, he's happy to stay in there.

It takes time to teach a dog to be crated, and it NEVER EVER involves just shoving a dog in, locking the door and leaving him to cry it out.

Throughout this blog I will be writing with the assumption that crate training has been done properly.

So whats it for?

Well I believe being able to be crated for short periods (four hours max unless travelling in a plane or on veterinary recommended crate rest) is a vital skill all dogs should learn.

This means your dog is happy to be crated if he is in the vets (where if you leave him there, he WILL be crated in one of their built in crates or small kennels), if you need to travel him, if you have a visitor coming over who is perhaps scared of dogs or maybe not able to behave appropriately around dogs, if he hurts himself and needs to have seriously restricted movement, if you go and stay somewhere that requires your dog to be confined.

These are generally 'emergency' situations where the LAST thing you want to be doing or potentially you cannot do, is magic up time to teach your dog to be crated.

Trust me, having an injured dog distressed and in pain, further distressed by being crated is a horrible experience for everyone. Similiarly, dealing with an emergency family visit with a small toddler who is magnetized to your dog, and your dog is scared of toddlers.. the last thing you want to be doing is trying to crate train your dog in 0 time so that everyone stays safe.

Beyond these reasons, a crate can be used to manage behaviour which can assist in training other things.

For example, you are house training a puppy which requires near constant vigilance, but you desperately need to pee yourself - you know that if left loose your puppy will pee on the carpet but if popped in the crate will hang on for the 2 minutes it takes you to pee.

Another example - your rescue dog is a joy and a delight, however he is absolutely shit hot at swiping food off counters. You have no door to your kitchen and a baby gate won't fit, and your husband is cooking and you are not home.

Crating your dog whilst he cooks means theres no chance for your dog to reward himself by swiping half your pizza off the counter whilst your husband looks the other way reaching for the cheese grater.

Managing your dog so that errors cannot happen will assist training - its crucial to understand that management really won't TRAIN the dog for you, you'll still need to train the behaviours you DO want. But it will help you prevent mistakes.

So sure, use the crate whilst you go pee so your puppy doesn't tinkle on the floor just as you sit on the toilet seat yourself - use that crate whilst you are gone and hubby is cooking because you know, men don't have eyes in the backs of their heads and he WILL let the new dog swipe food off the counter.

But of course, carry on working on potty training taking your pup outside frequently, rewarding for toiletting outside and being vigilant and keeping pup within eye-line when you can supervise.

Make sure that when you ARE home and cooking, you take time to do some multi-tasking sessions where you teach your rescue dog to lie on a mat or bed outside the kitchen whilst you cook a simple meal.

The key is to recognise the teachable moments and CREATE teachable moments whenever you can - and use the crate as a helpful tool for those moments where you really can't.

So what might constitute inappropriate use?

So here's the big deal really, here's where the crate is getting a bad reputation.

There does seem to be a growing trend, a culture even, of dogs being crated for long periods during the day AND night, and only allowed out to interact with owners for short periods.

This is wildly inappropriate use of the crate, even if the dog is taught to accept being crated properly.

A crate does NOT make up for you not having time to interact with your dog, supervise your dog, play with your dog or train your dog.

Using the crate INSTEAD of training your dog, where this means your dog then has a reduced quality of life.

By this I mean, instead of teaching your bouncy young pup how to behave around visitors, you always crate him when people come over, so he NEVER learns how to behave when visitors come over, so he misses out on that lesson on how to interact with people, he doesn't learn the rules and manners expected of him.

In turn this means that he has fewer human friends, is less likely to be able to go places with you because he lacks those skills, and his life is poorer for this, he may even become frustrated or anxious about people because he hasn't gained those skills.

When owners JUST focus on management and never progress to actually dealing with the various issues it can be a slippery slope.

Crate Fido when guests come over instead of teaching him how to behave nicely.
Crate Fido when cooking instead of teaching him how to stay on his bed or stay out of the kitchen, or just not to jump up on the counters.
Crate Fido whilst we go out instead of teaching him how to stay home alone.
Crate Fido whilst we watch TV instead of teaching him how to settle.
Crate Fido whilst we do chores or paperwork instead of teaching him how to play with his own toys quietly.
Crate Fido whilst we sleep..

Until it turns out that unless Fido is playing a game in the yard or going for a walk, he's in his crate!

The crate should not be used to just mask problems either - if you can't leave your dog home alone because he freaks out trashing the house and risking serious damage to the property and himself - crating is NOT your answer, this may prevent costly damage to your home, but your dog will still be distressed, and will probably hurt himself.

Finally - I don't believe crates should be used as a punishment - the most important factor of crating is that your dog ENJOYS his crate. Using it for punishment will ruin that and if it doesn't well its hardly an effective punishment so you'll need to re-assess what you are doing there anyway. (Note that using a crate as a means of asking your dog to settle down and calm down is NOT a punishment!).

So whats the bottom line here? Are crates good or bad?

Personally, I firmly believe that used appropriately a crate CAN be a very useful tool in keeping your dog safe, helping you manage problems WHILST you train or modify behaviour, and that every dog should be taught to accept being crated even if you don't intend to use a crate as part of training your dog.

It is by no means totally necessary to use a crate to train a dog - plenty of people have managed to train dogs very nicely without a crate, so if that's you and your dog, thats fab - but having the occasional practice session every so often will keep your dog happy about being crated should the need ever arise.

It is of course absolutely possible and sadly, it happens every day, that crates are mis-used, that dogs spend too long inside them and not enough time out and doing things, and that dogs are still shoved into crates and left to cry it out.

This should NEVER happen - so please, consider using crates appropriately but when you DO use a crate, check yourself - think 'is this necessary management, or could I train an alternative behaviour'... keep a mental check on how long your dog is spending crated and what can you do to change that?

Thursday, 11 August 2016

When a Behavioural Assessment is ... nothing of the kind.

This video came to my attention today - I apologise that what you are about to view IF you choose to hit play, is not pleasant and involves an old dog suffering unecessarily.

This video is supposed to show a Police Dog Legislation Officer, Constable Davidson, carrying out a behavioural assessment on a dog currently under police care.

Asides from the rudimentary training in identifying 'type' dogs, this man has no valid qualification to carry out behavioural assessments, he is allegedly a student of the Cambridge Insititute of Dog Behaviour and Training, an organisation wholly out of date when it comes to a scientific basis for dog behaviour - though even they are stepping away from the content of this video!

On seeing this video I wrote my initial thoughts, based on my professional experience and my prior learning (now nearly 20 years worth of constant continued professional development), but in that I don't fully explain what a behavioural assessment should be doing or looking for, and really why what happens in this video is not particularly useful and from a welfare point of view, horrific.

You can read that initial review at the end of this blog entry - keep in mind it was written before I had read similar reviews of the footage by other behaviourists and trainers, so the opinions within are entirely my own.

Here are some salient points, these are all points the officer either was aware of, or should have been aware of, had he paid attention to the information available to him.

  • Buster/Butch (he appears to have been known by both names) belonged to an elderly person who had already applied to have the dog taken into a breed specific rescue, Senior Staffy Club, who specialise in old Staffies.

  •   Before they could take him he was due to be vaccinated for kennel cough, but sadly, his owner died. The police I assume were called to the house as Buster was stuck in the home with no food or water and his owners body - sadly as is not uncommon, he had eaten part of his owners body.

  • Buster was then seized by the police and held as a dangerous dog - there is to my knowledge no evidence that Buster attacked his owner, or that any injuries were commited by him before the owner died, however the police still insist that Buster is a dangerous dog.

  • There is no information to suggest that Buster has ever attacked a living person - yet Constable Davidson suggests in this video that Buster attacked his owner who subsequently died, this is not the truth.

  • Buster is an old dog - Davidson acknowledges this on camera.

  • Buster has been held in police kennels for 'some time' I am lead to believe this is months.

  • The kennels as can be clearly seen and heard in the video, are a barren and very loud, stressful environment, and totally alien to a dog who has been a pet well into old age.

  • Buster has in the last few months experienced his primary care giver dying, being sufficiently short of food that he has had to eat his owners body, strangers coming into his home, being taken away by strangers to an unfamiliar and very stressful environment.

  • It can be clearly seen that Buster is not in good condition as Davidson states, but is lacking muscle tone particularly around his hind quarters, and is unsteady, stiff and has a gait that strongly suggests joint pain. It would not be unreasonable for any person familiar with handling dogs to assume he has a degree of pain, most likely arthritis, and that his health conditions may well not be limited to just that.

  • It is possible that Buster has some degree of hearing loss.

  • It is very possible that Buster has not been trained, that even if he has, he has not been trained to a high enough standard that he understands commands given by total strangers, in an alien and uncomfortable environment.

  • It is almost certain that a dog in pain and in an alien environment being handled by a stranger will struggle to comply with commands, particularly if they will exacerbate pain or he fears that compliance will hurt him, will not comply.

    This is not a behavioural assessment of any worth, it does not prove that Buster is dangerous, in fact I would say it proves the opposite, that Buster is highly predictable and has a huge degree of self control, only using the minimal amount of force to end the situation and no more.

    It was incredibly stressful and unpleasant for the dog, has almost certainly caused some lasting behavioural damage (he is now going to fear that kind of handling again!) and was totally unnecessary.

    Buster should never have been subjected to this assessment, what he needed was to see a vet and have his pain taken care of, and a veterinary assessment should take place before a dog is assessed behaviourally, because pain and fear of pain will modify behaviour.

    So what is a behaviour assessment and what does it tell you?

    I assess dogs behaviour on a daily basis, as does any behaviourist or behaviour consultant - I personally don't do this for the police, for seized dogs or for the courts, maybe one day I will but right now I do this for private clients.

    It is basically the same thing however.

    I want to know what makes a dog tick, what motivates that dog, what does he love, what does he like?

    I want to know how the dog deals with situations, for example how does he cope with meeting a new person who has come to his house and is sitting there drinking tea and talking to his owners and has some cheese in her treat bag?

    I want to know how that dog responds to being given a simple puzzle to figure out - does he ace it? does he flunk it? does he get annoyed and bash it with a paw or pick it up and fling it, does he (in one case) run up his Moms legs and get in her face and demand SHE sort it out for him cos its too hard Mommy!...

    I find out what behaviours that dog already knows, and how does he respond to being taught new ones.

    I find out how he plays, how easily he relaxes and switches off, how he calms himself down (or if he can't!), what gets him worked up, what makes him feel satisified and content.

    In and among all that, which as a pet dog behaviour consultant, I can also achieve by speaking to the owners and looking at any video evidence they have, I find out a TON of information about each dog I meet and work with.

    That information allows me to predict how the dog will behave in certain circumstances, which allows me to explain how the dog needs to be trained, what behavioural modification is required to help the dog cope with life and to manage the dog safely.

    Provoking a dog to bite you really is a foolish and incredibly short sighted thing to do - yes, it tells you at what point that dog will bite you.

    Of course now you have done this, that dog is likely to bite you or the next person who pushes him, sooner, or with less warning.

    Every dog has the ability to bite you, every dog has the buttons, somewhere, somehow, that can be pushed that will result in a bite. Every single dog in existance.

    We already know this, this is not some sort of mysterious phenomenon.

    So here's my initial assessment of Davidsons 'behaviour assessment' on Buster/Butch

    Assessment of Video of Dog Legislation Officer Davidson, Merseyside, handling/assessing Buster.
    “The following is the professional opinion of Emma Judson – Canine Consultant, based soley on the video evidence of Constable Davidson, having seen no other assessment by any other canine professional”
    Video begins with Davidson introducing himself, the kennel environment appears barren, incredibly noisy and in my opinion a very stressful environment, far from the ideal location to assess the true nature of a dog.
    Buster is handled on a stiff cable slip lead – it is my opinion that this piece of equipment is liable to cause discomfort or pain due to the narrow diameter of the cable, and the choking action the slip loop produces.
    Buster is taken into a secure square pen, metal walls and a concrete floor.
    At no point during the video do we see Constable Davidson introduce himself to the dog, take time to form even a cursory bond with the dog, or give the dog any reason to be particularly interested in him or keen to work for him.
    Davidson tells us Buster has been in these kennels for some months, is an old dog, and is in good condition.
    In fact it is clear from the video that in my opinion, Buster is showing clear signs of joint pain/discomfort, probably arthritic degeneration of his hips and elbows and probably more as is typical for old dogs – he also appears to be lacking the normal muscle tone of a fit healthy dog of his breed.
    Buster is walked around the exercise pen, where his gait is clearly uneven and his movement stiff, consistent with that of a dog suffering joint problems.
    Davidson has Buster held fairly tight on the slip lead by holding the handle up high, stringing Buster up, this is in my opinion likely to cause discomfort to the dog.
    Davidson states his intention to carry out a behavioural assessment on Buster to see how he copes under pressure – he does not make it clear at this point what he means by ‘pressure’, what signs he is looking for, in fact the whole thing is very vague.
    Buster is asked to sit – Davidson is slightly behind the dog and asks in a nice tone ‘Sit’.. Buster does nothing. He then asks in a firm and slightly aggressive tone ‘SIT!’. He is still to the side and out of Busters field of vision, when Buster fails to comply he pulls the slip lead taught and forces Busters hind quarters to the ground.
    Firstly, its highly likely that Buster has some hearing loss due to his age, this would be a reasonable assumption. He is also in a very stressful and noisey environment so this could also contribute to non-compliance.
    Davidson has as far as we know, taken no steps to engage Buster in any kind of rewarding activity, there has been no use of a toy or food rewards and thus Buster has been given no motivation to want to work with Davidson who is a total stranger to him.
    Finally, no allowance is made for the fact Buster is old and most likely has joint pain – this can cause a dog to not want to sit or lie down, particularly on a hard, cold concrete surface.
    Davidson forces Buster into the sit and Buster collapses into it and looks visibly worried.
    Davidson immediately asks for a down by bending over Buster and pointing at the ground between his feet with his hand below Busters chin.
    Again Buster has not actually seen Davidsons face and may not realise he is being spoken to if he has hearing problems. Buster doesn’t look comfortable about having Davidson bend over him with his face in close proximity to his own, but does not react badly to this, however he does not comply with the command.
    Here again Davidson makes no allowance for the fact Buster is old and there may be good reasons for non-compliance.
    Davidson also makes no allowance for the very real possibility that Buster has never been taught to either sit or down before.
    The Constable also appears unaware that dogs are context specific learners and that even if Buster has been trained to sit and down by his owner, if he has never been handled by other people or in a variety of locations, he may well not understand what is being asked of him now.
    Davidson walks Buster around the pen again, declaring ‘The dog seems to be the type that is just happy to do his own thing’.
    As a behavioural assessment goes, so far Davidson has done nothing to warrant that conclusion at all – there are many many reasons as discussed above, as to why Buster may not be complying and they have nothing to do with him ‘doing his own thing’.
    Davidson goes on to say that Buster .. ‘Doesn’t really want to be told what to do’. He again misses the fact that Buster may not understand, may have good reasons for not complying.
    Thus far apart from not responding to Davidson, Buster has shown no real signs that he doesn’t want to do anything – for example he has made no effort to get away from Davidson, nor has he made any attempt to make Davidson leave his space.
    Now Davidson says hes going to ‘put a little bit of pressure on’..
    By this he actually means he is going to forcibly pull the dog over onto his side by holding the skin on his neck and hind quarters and pulling him down.
    As Davidson kneels down to do this, Buster turns towards him, looking interested and wanting to engage with the man – however when Davidson pinches the skin on his back and pulls him down and puts pressure on his side, Buster stiffens, snarls and snaps.
    In my opinion, this was not ‘pressure’ but a highly provocative, threatening and intimidating move, viewed as a physical threat or attack by the dog.
    Given Busters age, lack of mobility and poor muscle tone, being forced onto the concrete floor on his side almost certainly caused him pain.
    Having a stranger bending over him, pinning him to the ground would be an incredibly intense and frightening experience for almost any dog, but particularly a dog who has had a very stressful few months, who is already in pain.
    Busters reaction to this treatment is well within the bounds of normal dog behaviour, he is reacting in fear and in pain, and his behaviour is designed to make the man stop hurting him, nothing more.
    This is clearly evident as the second Davidson lets Buster up, he gets up and does not make any attempt to further growl at, snarl at or snap at Davidson. In fact he tries to ignore him, a typical reaction when the dog is aware he cannot get away from a threat but isn’t willing to use more aggressive or violent behaviour.
    Davidson tells us that Buster doesn’t like pressure – he appears wholly unaware that for a dog, being physically pinned to the ground is probably one of the most threatening and frightening experiences they can have, and again fails to acknowledge that Buster may well be in pain.
    The next step of the test Davidson explains is that he is going to try picking Buster up.
    He doesn’t explain why this is a part of a behavioural assessment, but it is rare that a dog who hasn’t been taught to be lifted up will relax or tolerate the experience. It is a high risk thing to do when you have no idea of the dogs background or training history, as it puts the dog in close proximity to the handlers face.
    Davidson calls Buster to him and stops walking, Buster turns again willing to engage but sees Davidson bending over him reaching out to him.
    Bearing in mind the experience of being forced to the floor and pinned there just a few minutes earlier, it is not remotely surprising that Buster stiffens and lip curls and growls at Davidson.
    Here the dog is very clearly telling Davidson ‘I do not want you to touch me’ – this is again a perfectly normal behaviour for a dog in pain, a dog stressed and a dog fearful of what is about to happen next.
    Davidson ignores this and pushes on with his insistence on picking Buster up, which he does very awkwardly with both hands under Busters body. Buster growls and snaps at and bites Davidsons hand in an attempt to get him to stop, which Davidson does.
    Davidson points out that whilst the dog has bitten him and isn’t happy about being picked up, he is wearing a bite sleeve under his jacket.
    Again in this frightening experience, Buster has done what he perceives to be the minimum amount of aggression to get the situation to stop and to gain space away from Davidson.
    It would have been very easy for Buster to turn and bite Davidsons face, and to bite him again as he goes to pick up the lead, but once the threat level is reduced, Buster has no need to aggress and does not.
    Davidson goes on to say that Buster, ‘obviously isn’t happy being put under pressure’.
    In my opinion, Davidson has subjected this old dog to fear, and physical discomfort or pain. The dog has reacted in a way I would expect a stressed and frightened animal in pain to respond to threats of physical harm and actual pain – by lip curling, snarling, snapping and biting sufficiently to stop the situation and gain space or respite from the stress.
    Davidson repeats again that in his opinion Buster is not happy ‘being told what to do’.
    In my opinion it is likely Buster does not understand what he is being told to do, or due to stress, mobility and hearing issues and pain is unable to comply.
    Davidson concludes that this dog will react when put ‘under pressure’ or is ‘made to do something it doesn’t want to do’.
    In my opinion based on this video, Buster is an old dog potentially suffering joint pain and hearing issues, who has possibly never been trained.
    He reacts in a way consistent with a dog responding to fear and pain, and uses the minimum amount of aggression to keep himself safe.
    There are plenty of opportunities in this ‘assessment’ for Buster to have seriously injured Constable Davidson, when he puts his face near Busters, when he lets him up from the pin-down, when he puts him down after picking him up.
    At no point does Buster do more than is necessary to stop the situation.
    In my professional opinion, Constable Davidson has not carried out a thorough or useful behavioural assessment, but instead has subjected an old dog suffering pain, to more pain and fear in a thoroughly unscientific manner.
    He has missed many obvious signs such as the dogs uneven gait and lack of muscle tone, and misread others to come to a conclusion that is of very little use in determining the risk this dog poses to others or the dogs future.
    Emma Judson – 11.08.16 at 15.36pm