Saturday, 3 November 2012

But It Worked For Me...

When you watch or read or attempt a method of training or modifying behavior, the end result, ie 'it worked' is in fact NOT sufficient.

'It Works' is simplistic, it isn't enough to know that something 'works'.

Those of you who know me will have heard this before but I think it bears repeating.

If I offer you a cure for your dogs unwanted behaviour, that I guarantee will work, he will never ever repeat that behaviour again - in fact I'll go further and I will guarantee you that he will never perform any behavior that will annoy you again...

Is that sufficient for you? Is that all you want to know?

Ok then. I'll shoot your dog.

Your dog most definitely will not wee up the sofa again - ok he won't BREATHE again either, but hey...

It Worked!

So obviously I don't go around shooting dogs - the point is, that something works is insufficient, it isn't the whole story is it. The price of the cure is not one you (nor I) would want to pay.

Pick Out The Bits You Like, That Work For You...


I hear people say this about trainers who in with some bog standard and common sense methods, use some pretty harsh or even downright cruel methods, and do so on TV...

It's ok, they say, you can pick out the bits you like, the bits that work for you...

Well, yes, I can. But can you? Can Mrs Bat from down the road, what about Miss Thing from round the corner?

To pick out the good bits, you need to know why they work, how they work, and at what potential cost do they work. Cost/benefit analysis.

To do THAT you need to  know what is actually being done, and the science (or lack thereof) behind it.

Much of what you will see done on TV is edited - whether the show is good or bad, you cannot put a full behavior consult or training program that takes hours, or weeks, or months, into an hour or half hour slot.

Some people are less than honest about what is really going on, so theres a neat narrative explaining what is happening, or the trainer is telling you what is happening as it happens... but are they telling you the truth.

If you don't understand dog behavior, if  you don't know about body language. If you are not reasonably conversant with the quadrants of learning theory, the principles of classical conditioning and operant conditioning...

Do you ACTUALLY know what is going on?

Can you really evaluate what you are seeing correctly, and decide whether thats a useful thing to pick out, or not?

I watched a couple of videos from a US horse trainer today - someone who I think would probably fit under the generic umbrella of 'natural horsemanship'.

She did a bit of talking, her goal was to get a horse to step up (US trailers freqently don't have ramps, the horse has to step up into them) into a trailer, negotiating the narrow gap through the single open door (it had double doors like a standard van but only one was open)...

Now it might have LOOKED natural, and to be fair to her, she wasn't exactly lying about what she was doing.

She was allowing the horse to choose to put his head into the trailer, rewarding him for doing so, and she was choosing to stop this and take him away from it before he chose to do so himself. Effectively manipulating him so that she made the decisions, not him.

Thats ok - I would do similar with a dog frightened to walk on the street, I would let him go so far, find it rewarding and quit it BEFORE he had had enough, in the hope that he would be stopped in the emotional state 'aww, I was enjoying that I want more' rather than pushing him into 'I don't like this I wanna stop'...

But the other side of what she was doing was making his other options unpleasant. Now again, she did not lie about this, she made it clear that his options were 'choose the trailer, or you will find me very annoying and you will have to work hard'...

But she never made it clear that she was using compulsion, she was using negative reward - taking away something unpleasant as the reward for compliance.

This is the equine version of the doggy 'ear pinch' method - in this example, hitting the horse lightly but repeatedly with a lunge whip which he clearly did not like, until he chose to stick his head in the trailer. Then stop hitting and scritches as a reward.

I have seen other horse trainers do the same things, but with no honesty at all - not even admitting that they are doing something unpleasant until they get the result they want.

So, the horse did in the end choose to step into the trailer, negotiating the narrow gap, the weird step up, the echoey floor and the dark space - all things extremely alien to horses and very scary.

But, despite the obvious evidence that the method worked - is the price acceptable?

That handler had to spend a lot of time being unpleasant to the horse - and though he did choose to go into the trailer, he wasn't physically forced in with ropes around his bum or a broom up his arse (both methods I have seen people use), he wasn't frantically thrashed in there...

He still went in because it was unpleasant to make any other choice.

In other words, he had figured out, he HAD no choice, and having watched those videos, I would say that he had not enjoyed the process of learning this.

Is that really ok?

Horses respond very well to clicker training, it would not have taken long to teach him that approaching the trailer earned him a click, via target training - that avoiding the trailer did not earn him a click/reward.. that going IN the trailer earned him a click and a jackpot reward... and he would have enjoyed the process and he would have built confidence and associated that enjoyment with the handler.

But if you don't know that - if you are not aware that clicker training works on horses, if you are not made aware that the method is working by the use of negative reward and therefore involves a good deal of being unpleasant to the animal and the risk of the animal associating you with unpleasantness...

How are you in a position to pick out the good bits?

What Is Your Basis for Comparison?


I rather foolishly got sucked into an argument today, with someone claiming a particular trainer is the 'best ever' and 'does not need a piece of paper to prove he knows what he is talking about'...

When I asked this person to explain their basis for comparison, they told me they had watched many positive trainers, and listed them...

Turns out, only one person on that list is a positive trainer and the clips this person had seen may well have been early in that persons career before they crossed over to positive training.

So - in fact, they had no basis for comparison at all.

And I realised I was arguing with an idiot, so I stopped.

This exchange did remind me though - we never stop learning, and we should read and watch as many people as we can. On TV, via video blogs, via webinars and in person at seminars and lectures.

The broader your basis for comparison is, the better equipped you are to 'pick out the bits that work'.

The problem is, there are a huge amount of 'training theories' out there, particularly for horses but for dogs as well, that are marketed  specifically at the people who have NO basis for comparison at all, and are therefore completely un-equipped to evaluate what they see and pick out anything useful.

There Is No One Method That Works For All...


Yeah, and No.

In fact positive reinforcement, with judicious and very minor use of negative punishment IS the best method, the most efficient method, the method that is safest and least likely to cause harm.

It really will work for all - for all problems, for all species..

However the way one APPLIES that one method, is limited only by your imagination and the physical capabilities of the animal you are working with.

There really is no place for the use of fear or positive punishment - none at all. 

The Unseen Side Effects of Positive Training...

So, I think most of us know that positive training works, its good for our dogs, its effective and safe, its humane.

It makes teaching our dogs how to behave and exist in a human world, fun!

But what about the bits they don't tell you when you first pick up a clicker, when you first consider whether cheese is a higher value reward than livercake (I go with cheese, I can lick my fingers if I used cheese)...

Positive Training Will Permanently Affect Your Brain

Yeah.. it will. And you won't really notice it happening. The process is gradual, its insidious, its sneaky...

What they don't tell you is that positive reinforcement based training will alter your way of thinking, forever!

How Does It Do That, Surely, it is Just Dog Training...

Oh you simple minded creature - it is never 'just dog training', thats what they want you to think! Look a little deeper!

Positive Reinforcement means you are constantly looking for the things you want to reward - if you were a snarky, negative, grumpy kind of creature (and I was), it forces you to quit that behaviour. You can't be snarky and negative and grumpy if you are constantly looking for GOOD things!

R+ means you have to consider what someone ELSE will find rewarding. I adore cheese, fish makes me retch and heave but you know what, my dog adores fish so I'll overcome my hatred of the fishy things... whoa, now I have  become much more empathic. I can realise that because I don't like something is no reason to assume someone else wouldn't love it. I can overcome my disgust for someone elses benefit (and ultimately, my benefit too!)...

Then.. then there's the zen.

The What?? What ARE You Smoking?

Seriously, the 'zen' - the calm approach, the consideration of all the details, again the empathy required to consider how someone else feels, the stepping back out of a situation to consider it and question it...

R+ requires me to stop. Think. Consider.  It prevents the instinctive 'see it, react, consider it later' behaviour that most of us will naturally have and use.

The 'zen' means instead of thinking 'hey dog quit barking, you make me look out of control, I don't like it, people expect me to do something to stop you so wear this prong collar, take this whop on the nose, learn that you are a bad dog'...

I have to walk away from that, and consider that the dog barking and making me look out of control has his own issues - and we need space to consider those issues, so we will avoid that situation until we know as much as we  can why it happens, and how to avoid it happening again.

The 'zen' means I have space to realise it doesn't matter what the man on the street thinks about my dog or the way I handle him. What matters is my dog, and our relationship.

Relationship? Now I KNOW You Are Smoking Something... He's Just Your Dog...

Um - no, he maybe my dog but he is not 'just' my dog - he is his own dog too. And yes, we have a relationship and that needs work to keep it good.

He is not my dog, nor am I his person merely because I bought him or adopted him from rescue and made him live with me - do that to a person and its called kidnap/slavery/abduction...

We have a relationship based on him being the dog and doing the dog stuff, and me being the human in charge of all the human stuff.

So he gets to excel at running around, and I recognise that thats his strength. I get to excel at buying the dog food, he sucks at that, he'd live on Cheerios and sausages given the chance.

R+ means I need to consider his dogness - what makes him tick, what does he live for, what does he tolerate for my benefit, what does he outright hate, what are his fears.

A sneaky side effect here is, I start to consider this for everyone, not just my dog. I'm more interested in what another persons motivation is, how can I get the best from them, what are their strengths?

R+ gives me a way to communicate with my dog, in a way he understands, and we both enjoy - it makes me interested to know what his body language means. Whats that raise of an eyebrow for, how about that tension around his mouth?

R+ means I understand that every communication is important, I should not waste it, on either side. What I say needs to be useful to him, and I must make use of what he says to me...

So, Now You Talk To Your Dog, and He Talks Back?...



Listening is necessary, dogs can only talk to us if we listen, and we need to listen with our EYES as well as our ears.

When my lurcher see's a deer in the hedgerow, that split second look back she gives me is the opening of a conversation.

"Do you see that? I see it!"
"I see it too, but no, you cannot chase that one. Sorry."
"Aww. Ok then what shall I do"
"You shall come here to me and we shall see what else there is around."

That conversation happens in that split second, there may not even be a single word. If I was talking to a friend or on my phone, or looking the other way - that conversation would not have happened. The conversation that would occur if I had missed this opening might be more like...


No I am kidding (a little).. it would be ..

'Do you see that? I see it'...

'You don't seem to be interested, well I'll make my own decision... RUN FOR YOUR LIFE DEER!'

*dog vanishes over horizon*

If I were focusing on just stopping behavior I do not like (which is what punishment based training does), that first conversation would never happen, my dog would have no interest in looking back to see what I think because, once off lead, she would be completely aware I have no real control.

If I were harsh enough to put a shock collar on her, it still wouldn't happen because her association would be 'see the deer, fear the shock', she wouldn't be turning back to ask me anything!

There is no conversation when the answer is guaranteed to be No. In fact, most of us, if we know the answer will definitely be 'no'... won't ask the question. We will just do it.

So... You Don't Say No?


I don't, well, I am human, I slip up, but I try very very hard not to say No.

No shuts down a conversation. No means the conversation never happens. No means the question isn't asked. No means that I stop thinking about things properly. No means my dog hasn't got a clue what she SHOULD do.

Instead, R+ forces me to think outside the box. To come at the problem from another angle.

Ok - I don't want my dog to chase deer, particularly not deer in a hedgerow which if chased, is going to dive into the hedge, through it and into the unknown on the other side - could be a field full of livestock, a road.. who knows!

But my dog can chase some things - she can chase rabbits in some places for example. And she knows through habit we have created, that if I say she must come back to me rather than chase (notice, no 'no' there.. an alternative behaviour instead) the reason is that the chase would not be successful. She actually thinks I can tell which prey she is able to catch and which she isn't.

The reason for that is, in thinking outside the box and considering her needs and desires, her strengths and skills, I have only ever allowed her to chase rabbits she stands a high chance of catching.

The times she has ignored me and chased a rabbit I did not indicate - she has failed to catch, and whilst the enjoyment of the chase is high, for HER the reward is the catch and nothing can beat that.

So, because I wanted to own a dog who thinks like this and needs to hunt, I learned enough about the behavior of deer and rabbits to identify which ones are likely catches and which are not!

Wow, R+ made me go and learn about rabbits and deer in order to keep my dog happy!

Fortunately not all of my dogs are this specialist, the rest are a little easier going!

Thinking outside the box opens up my mind - I realise that the only thing limiting what I can do with my dogs, beyond their physical limitations, is my own brain.

One of my dogs enjoys stealing things - he finds it immensely rewarding. I could get wound up and annoyed by this but I don't, because I have the 'zen', I understand why he does it, and that I could be more tidy, then he'd have nothing to steal.

But R+ makes me go a little further - I can use his desire and satisfaction from stealing to my own ends - devious!

He doesn't 'get' clicker training, or should I say 'didn't'... he would go to sleep if I brought out a clicker, thinking about stuff was hard, he got no buzz out of getting something 'right' as some of my other dogs do, the reward was ok (cheese, sausage, all things he likes a lot) but it lacked that extra something that really made it worth playing the game.

So I set up a few sessions where he was clicked and rewarded once or twice for something so simple (merely existing in front of me for the first few sessions)... and then I would 'forget' the dish of treats on the table and leave the room..

He would steal them. He would be super happy about this.

In a week I taught this dog that clicker training WAS fun, by allowing him the opportunity to steal a dish of treats at some random point in the session.

Now, he adores it, and we make the element of theft more random, he doesn't always get to steal, and when he does sometimes its a huge jackpot, sometimes its really not much at all.

He is now the first dog to throw me some shapes, offer me some new behaviours when the clicker comes out, rather than the last!

 So, what you are saying is, R+ training has made you a nicer person. More thoughtful, calmer, more considerate of other peoples needs.

It has tested and increased your ability to think outside the box and opened up your mind to a multitude of options and ways to use it.

Yep. Dreadful isn't it!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Positive training - Ain't Just Cuddles and Cookies

As the debate between pro-Cesar and anti-Cesar simmers along, reading a lot of the comments from the Pro camp it strikes me that there are a LOT of people out there who truly have NO idea what positive training is about, how it works, what you actually do.

The overriding feeling seems to be that positive training is just being nice to your dog, give it sweeties and fuss and ignore the things you don't like in the hope they will go away.

Well, it ain't.

First of all, whilst positive reinforcement (giving cookies or other rewards for doing the thing you wanted) is a huge part, the basis of, positive training - it is NOT the whole story.

There are, for any situation, any breed, any owner, a range of tools in the positive training toolbox.

The first of these is... duh duh duuuuuuuuh...

Safe management - prevent the problem occurring, prevent the problem getting worse.

Bit boring really, doesn't involve anything massively exciting at all.

As the old saying goes, 'practice makes perfect' - the more a dog performs a behavior that he finds rewarding in some way, that you do not like the better he will get at it.

So there's no magical training wand to wave here - prevent, avoid, manage.

If your dog is aggressive over his food bowl, the very FIRST step you take is to remove his need to display aggression. Yep, thats right - feed him in a room on his own, where no one needs to enter whilst he is eating, no one needs to walk past him.

Immediately, the dog is safe,  the problem behavior is not being repeated twice a day so he is not getting 'better' at it.

If your dog is barking in the back garden - first step, take him out there on a long line rather than putting him out there alone. Now you are in charge, and ready to take action.

If your dog has discovered that being put out in the back yard means he gets to play 'I'm not coming back in when you call me, I'm gonna run around and play chase with you' then again, long line, supervised trips outside only.

If your dog is barking like a mad-dog when someone knocks on the door and hes trying to rush out and do who  knows what to the person at the door - put a sign on the door asking visitors to give you time to answer then put the dog behind a gate or a closed door or put the dog on a leash before you answer the door.

Immediately, you are back in control of the situation, the dog can come to no harm, no people can come to any harm.

One of the huge and frequently missed benefits of doing this is that it gives you AND your dog time to chill out, reduce your stress levels, relax a bit.

Never underestimate the importance of being calm and un-stressed when working with your dog, and never ever underestimate just how badly stress affects your dogs ability to learn!

So, I am managing the problem, but that isn't the fix...

No, that is just your 'step one'. The next step is to sit down, shut up, and think. You have a massive massive brain, the potential of which we actually don't yet understand, but we DO know you can figure out really complex problems and process a lot of data with it.

Get processing that data!

Why is our food aggressive dog guarding his dinner from you? The most likely reason is that he fears he will lose it - food is one of the most important resources to any animal. Fear of losing your food is a pretty big deal.
Your dog has NO idea that you buy food each week or each month, or that the chances of there not being enough to eat on any given day are infinitesimally small. He is a dog - in his world, there is ALWAYS a chance there won't be enough food. That's how he is, and you will not change that.

What you can change are his feelings about you approaching his food bowl - and lets be clear here, whilst all dogs for safety do need to know its ok to give someone something they have, the time to practice that lesson is NOT with his dinner bowl that you gave him, and definitely NOT with a dog already fearful of losing his food.

So hes fearful, you need to make him feel safer - how can you do that? Maybe you can move his food bowl to a quieter place - if his bowl is in a place lots of people walk past frequently, that might be to him the equivalent of you trying to enjoy your dinner on the hard shoulder of the M6!

Think back about what you have taught him in the past - have you, or anyone else, ever taken his food from  him? If you have, have you ever told him off for growling or staring in a funny, stiff way when you did it?
If you have done those things, and many people have due to really, stupid advice, then you have built a food aggressive dog - and you can just as easily un-build that, IF you enagage your brain.

So, we have an idea as to why the behaviour is occurring, the reward is obvious - you back off when he does this - now you need to figure out a way of demonstrating to him that he doesn't have to do this, because he is wrong, you won't take his food.

It ought to go without sayign that from here on in, you WON'T take his food from him - hell, I'll stab  you with a fork if you keep taking MY food from me, and most of us are actually the same. Most humans are food aggressive too!

Now bear in mind - dogs can't count. They are not even all that good at identifying 'more' and 'less' - so whatever you do, he has to be able to understand.

Forcing him to back off his bowl so you can lift it and put more in it, is therefore a really stupid idea, because firstly you confront and challenge him (the very thing he feared in the first place!), and then what you have done that is good, he cannot work out. He has NO idea that you just put 8 more pieces of kibble or a tablespoon more meat into that bowl. All he knows is, it was his, you took it.... the fact you gave it back is completely irrelevant!

So what you DO has to be something your dog can understand.

A dog CAN understand that when someone approaches an EMPTY bowl, and throws a single piece of kibble into it, that there was nothing... and now there is something. 

Ok, so now I am thinking about the whys and wherefores... what's next?

Next - set yourself, and your dog, up to succeed.

Make each lesson, whether you are teaching a brand new behavior or trying to fix an unwanted behavior, SUPER easy to get right.

For some reason humans have a weird attitude that a lesson needs to be taught the hardest way possible for it to work or be valuable. I do not understand WHY this is, because it goes against all the evidence we have.

We already understand that this process works with humans - we do not take five year olds and put them into University and expect them to come out with a PhD!

We don't even take 5 year olds and put them in kindergarten and expect them to learn by ONLY telling them what they did wrong!

We put them in nursery or kindergarten, and we make the tasks simple, and we give them lots of praise along the way for getting things right, and when they don't understand, we demonstrate things in a simple way, over and over until they DO understand. And then we move on and make things just a leeetle bit harder.. and repeat the processes.

That is how we turn five year olds, who like shiny things, lick windows, draw on each others faces and occasionally still poo their pants, into PhD students, neurosurgeons, astrophysicists...

If your dog cannot handle an hours walk around busy streets or to a dog parked filled with crazy running barking dogs - don't take your dog to these places! He clearly can't handle that yet.

Take him for ten minutes walk, round quiet streets or to an empty field - work on the things you can do, improving the bond between you, teaching him to focus on you because you are the source of awesome stuff. If you see ONE dog, reward him like mad and then get the heck out of there.

You will be setting him up to succeed, by recognising what he cannot handle and pitching things at an easier level for him. It isn't cheating, it isn't a cop out its walking before you run, its kindergarten before big school!

Is that it?? It isn't seeming all that difficult to me..


Well no, thats not 'it' but you are right, it isn't difficult really. You actually already know most of this stuff you just have to let go of some of the misconceptions about what dogs should do, or should not do, and what they 'need to know'.

For a start your dog has NO need of, and cannot actually comprehend, the human social construct of 'good' and 'bad' or 'right' and 'wrong'.

Pyschologists are pretty convinced that human children cannot do this until quite late, and this is reflected in the laws of various countries and states, where the age range is from 7 to 15..

Your dog is never going to reach the equivalent level of understanding, empathy or morality of even a 3 year old, let alone a 15 year old!

It is a complex issue, because dogs can quite clearly learn that 'No' means 'stop doing that' or 'don't do that in front of HER again', but this is in no way like understanding something is inherently wrong, that it will upset or hurt someone.

Humans actually have huge issues with this too, as is evidenced not just by the huge numbers of humans locked away in prisons, but the real variation from one culture to the next in what is considered 'good' or 'bad' behavior.

So forget teaching your dog that he or his actions are 'bad' or indeed 'good' - teach him that you like and will reward certain actions. Teach him that you will not reward others, using the tools I have already discussed and the ones I'll get onto next.

Learn to read  your dog - listen to him.

Humans have a particular skill for learning languages, so you need to use that.

Really look at your dog, learn about canine body language - train your eye to find the subtle tension in a dogs muzzle or lips, the different set of the ears or tail, whether he is holding his body tense or relaxed.

Watch as many dogs as you can - watch every video with a dog in it and turn the sound OFF so that you are not distracted or mislead by what the people are saying.

Take a note of the context of the behavior, what triggered it, what is going on in the background, what follows the behaviour, how others react to it.

Try to ditch your human ideas about behaviour, and the things you have been told before, because these may colour your view.

A prime example is the 'guilty' look - this is an appeasement gesture designed to diffuse your mood, which may be a slight tension or annoyance or full on rage at discovering 'something'.

A dog cannot connect performing an act some time ago with your anger or upset now, but he CAN connect the presence of a mess, with your behavior.

He can also read your body language far better than even you can - he can pick up when you are pissed off even if you are smiling and saying nice things!

Humans tend to assume the guilty look means the dog feels guilty, and frequently they get mad at the dog, which produces more squirming wide eyed, rolling on the back type behaviour, which confirms to the human that the dog really IS guilty...

It really isn't - guilt, like knowing right from wrong, requires a degree of empathy and understanding of what is important to you that a dog just cannot possess.

How can a dog know that you spent a thousand pounds on that carpet and that urine almost never comes out? How can he know that the boots that were so comforting to chew, that smelt so strongly of you that he felt better about your absence, were a present from a friend and cost hundreds and cannot be replaced?
How can a dog know that you place empty food containers and left over food in the dustbin because its 'dirty' and you want to throw it out. How does he know that 'trash spread around the house' is not the latest look from Home and Gardens?

So read your dog correctly, and don't expect him to be a human. Expect him to be a dog who thinks like a dog, behaves like a dog.

In turn, he doesn't expect you to swap shaking peoples hands and hugging them for sniffing their butts or weeing on their front gardens!

This still doesn't seem like I am doing all that much... wheres the real dog training?

Ok, here's some real dog training.

For every behavior your dog has that you don't like and wish would stop - think up a behaviour you WOULD like him to do instead.

If he jumps up at people he meets, wouldn't it be better if he sat on the floor to greet people?

If he bolts off like a rocket when you take his lead off, wouldn't it be nicer if he went no further than 50ft and checked in with you in case you have a cue for him to follow every few minutes?

If he gets his feet up on the table when you are eating, wouldn't it be nicer if he lay on his bed quietly chewing on a Kong toy?

When you get to this point you can really say you are getting the 'positive training' ethos - you are thinking about your dog, about what he is saying to you, about why he does the things he does, about how you would rather he behaved.

You are setting him up for success by making the tasks, the lessons you want to teach him, easy, and full of praise and reward.

You actually haven't waved any cookies around at all yet!

So, where ARE the rewards?

Ah ha - well there are lots of rewards - some of them are food. Food is a basic need, and you have access to a lot of extremely valuable food - you are RICH my friend, rich beyond your dogs wildest dreams!

Use food to teach new behaviors - use food the way a parent uses money to teach a kid that doing chores is a good thing.
Use it the way an employer uses it with an employee - theres a salary, and there are bonuses.

When your dog is learning something new, something difficult, then the food may need to be right there, like the £5 for cleaning the car.
When your dog is learning something easy, then the food can be less obvious, maybe its right there, maybe its in your pocket, maybe its in another rom. Maybe its super valuable, maybe its just ok - but its a very real possibility to your dog, so he is going to keep working for the chance to earn it. It's a gamble and we all know, gambling can be very addictive!

When your dog already knows a behaviour, and he can reliably do it no matter what the distraction, what the location, what you are doign as you ask him - then the rewards can be even more varied.

The reward might be being sent off lead to go sniff and run around. It might be a game with a favourite toy. It might be a chunk of cheese just because you would ALWAYS like your dog to be cool about passing another dog.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using bribery to begin with - its a useful tool - but its important to fade out bribery as soon as you can. Phase it out and replace it with the idea of a salary, perhaps a surprise bonus.

But wait - the rewards are even more varied and complex than this.. the rewards are, for you both, that your dog can go almost anywhere with you. Your dog can go for long walks off the lead, your dog can go visit your relatives, your dog is happy and comfortable with a trip to the vets.

You can also use toys as a reward, you can even get your dog to think that you enable sniffing great scent trails or running fast and then those will be rewards.

But what if I really need to stop my dog doing something straight away?

Well.. positive training is NOT without its consequences, it is not permissive training!

There's the other quadrant of learning theory too - negative punishment!

What? You use punishment?

Well, yes. But you need to know the difference.

Positive punishment is all the aversives, such as prong collars, shock collars, hitting a dog, using sounds that have been linked with an aversive, so pulling an example off the top of my head, using a 'tssssst' noise that the dog has been conditioned to associate with a kick or a jab or some other aversive.

Yep, you can condition a dog to flinch as if he has been kicked when he hears a sound, just as you can condition him to prick his ears and salivate when he hears the click of a clicker.

Ah, the magic of classical conditioning!

So, those are the positive punishments - we don't do that. To be effective, the timing has to be perfect, and you still run the risk of 'fall out', ie the dog associating the punishment with something other than what you intended.

Negative punishment is different - it is still a punishment, (defined by something that reduces the frequency of a behaviour), but this time the punishing effect is caused by removing the reward the dog expected.

Sooooo.. if your dog barks when he is outside and every SINGLE time he does this, he is removed to indoors for five seconds, he will learn that barking when outside is not rewarding. He will stop doing it.... but..

I'll come back to the 'but' in a moment.

Negative punishment will not work on its own. You cannot apply it without considering the whole situation. You need a holistic approach, in other words. Consider the breed of dog, consider what his typical day involves, consider the things he finds rewarding and why.

So, that 'but'...

 Yep, there is a but, there always is with punishment. The 'but' here is that the behaviour will ONLY be reduced or stopped IF you address the underlying cause.

Punishment means a behaviour is less likely to occur - but you cannot extinguish a behavior forever using negative punishment.

Back to our dog barking in the back yard - barking is enjoyable on its own, even if nothing else happened, barking can (in the dogs opinion) cause rewarding things to happen (people coming to the property leave, people passing by pass by, small furry animals move quickly...).

So these are his rewards for barking - some of them may be related to the cause of the barking too - if he is anxious about strangers he may bark to protect himself and drive them away. If he is bored he may have accidentally hit upon barking as a fun job to do. If he is a herding dog, he might find the movement he perceives as caused by his actions really exciting, if he is a chasing/sight hunting breed again he might find the movement created really exciting.

This consideration of the problem, rather than the simplistic 'just stop the behavior I do not like' attitude, is actually beginning to provide the answer!

If you find you are applying negative punishment all the time, repeatedly, for a variety of behaviors, you really need to stop, and think.

If those behaviors are getting worse, if there are more and more of them over time, then you have not addressed the underlying problem.

Whilst you are highly unlikely to do any harm to a dog by implementing a time out, by preventing him getting the reward he thought he was getting, the fact that the unwanted behavior is still occurring means that things still are not right, and that may be causing damage.

This is why negative punishment comes last in the toolbox - because to punish anything, you must have the behavior happen before you can do so.

If you are allowing that behavior to happen, then you are missing the opportunities to manage the situation properly, you are not setting your dog up to succeed (in fact you are setting him up to fail), you have not come up with an alternative behavior, you are not demonstrating to him what he should be doing.

So, a time out, whether you remove yourself from the room, or put the dog out of the room, whether you implement it by standing on your dogs lead so he cannot leap at you in a tantrum on a walk, or you bring him in for 5 seconds for barking, is an emergency measure, for a specific problem, that you are addressing in all the OTHER ways as well.

So back to our barking dog again - is he bored? If you don't think so, then review how he spends his day, has he just found that barking is super fun? If so then change what he does during the day, maybe the things you do with him are not the things he would prefer to be doing, and are not as suitable as you might think for him.

Are you preventing the problem from occurring by going out with him - how about blocking his view of things going by, increasing his walks, doing more training with him out there and indoors?

What about pairing the sight of something, or the sound of something on the other side of the fence, wtih a high value reward from you - over time this will teach him that those sights and sounds trigger reward, and he will pause before reacting, giving you time to redirect him to do something else.

So lets have an example of a really extreme behaviour then..

Ok - meet Fred. Fred is a German Shepherd x Alaskan Malamute. He is a BIG guy, he has big teeth, he weighs a lot, he could pull me over.

His problem is that on the lead, he freaks out when he sees another dog. All he wants to do is get over there and muller that dog. He lunges, he screams, he snarls and he redirects his frustrations on to his owner if they are not careful.

Every walk is a nightmare, he has pulled his owner over and dragged her down the road, he has gotten to another dog and bitten it badly. He bit his male owner when he gave him a pop with the leash, hanging off his arm and really meaning business.

This guy is dangerous, to his owners and to those around him!

So what do we do?

Manage/Prevent/Avoid - Fitted with a front fixing harness and a Dogmatic headcollar, with two leads, one lightweight to the headcollar and one heavier to the harness, Fred can no longer pull his owner over.

She holds the leash to the harness slightly shorter than the leash to the headcollar, which means IF he lunges, he hits the harness, not the headcollar. The ONLY purpose the headcollar has, is to turn Freds head away and thus break his direct line of sight to another dog, should one appear.

Next, his owners now only walk Fred for 10 minutes at a time - fortunately their street is quiet and they can also drive to a quiet field a few minutes away.

They replace Freds normal 2 hours of walking per day, with one hours worth of 10 minute walks - thats six walks per day, but only 10 minutes each.

On those walks, Freds owners concentrate on Fred walking nicely on a loose leash, and Fred concentrating on them (they have some chicken in their pockets, but Fred generally knows how to walk to heel unless he sees something, so the rewards are randomly given just to keep his interest).

The main thing Freds owners do is keep their eyes peeled for other dogs - the second they spot a person who looks like they have a dog with them, they about turn and then briskly march the other way.

Fred begins to relax, because he is getting enough exercise (his owners do puzzle solving stuff, clicker training and ball games at home), because six x 10 minute training sessions a dya is HARD work. He is no longer having to deal with the sight of other dogs, so his stress levels drop. His bond with his owners increases because of the increased training sessions and games at home, and because there is no longer two hours of stress each day on his walks.

Setting him up to succeed- after a few weeks of almost complete avoidance, Freds owners begin to reward him whenever he sees a dog. They are careful not to allow him to see many dogs, maybe one every other day, though life is never that kind  so sometimes they see more.

If Fred reacts, they remove him from the situation as quickly as possible. Because no one is popping leashs at him or trying to force him to sit or shouting at him to tell him he is bad, Fred no longer redirects his frustration onto them.

Fred begins to pair the sight of other dogs with a reward, his owners are careful NEVER to get him so close that he reacts - they are setting him up to succeed!

Freds owners continue to monitor his stress levels, and how close he can be to another dog. They look at his body language and take things at his pace.

Teach replacement behaviors -  Fred's owners think it might be a good idea to teach Fred to step behind them and stay behind them, meaning their bodies block his view. They teach this at home first, then in the garden, and then begin to use it out on walks, first when there are no dogs present, then when some dogs are in sight.

All the while they keep up the focus on them, using rewards, and they keep Fred below threshold so he never reacts, and they keep up the counter conditioning, reinforcing the idea that other dogs are NOT something to be scared of or to react to.

Is that it?

 Well - yes, and no. Fred's owners need to keep in mind that their expectations, that he can walk past another dog just a few inches away, and not react no matter what that other dog does, is probably not realistic. Dogs do not like being trapped (and on a leash is trapped), dogs do not like being forced to walk head on at one another as we do daily when we leash them and walk along a pavement.

But what IS realistic is that they can over time change Freds instinctive, emotional, gut reaction on sight of another dog. They can regain control, they can reduce Fred's stress and they can help him become the best Fred he can be.

The process involves no pain or fear, but understanding and careful manipulation of Freds environment and management of his behaviour.

In comparison to using positive punishment, Freds owners do not ever have to get into a physical battle with him. They do not have to guess at a level of aversive to use that will result in him being more scared of them than he is of another dog, (and then maintain that level of fear for LIFE), and the whole process is in fact enjoyable, which is what owning a dog SHOULD be.

It is also worth noting, Freds are not that common - and if every owner understood how positive training really works, very few Freds would exist at all, because the problem could be dealt with before it ever got to the level Fred was at.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Cesar Milan - Why I Don't Like What He Does

Yeah - I don't like what he does. Really don't like it.

You might have read a lot of blogs on this topic lately, but I think it is important that if we feel strongly about what Cesar does, we talk about it.

Before I get started I need to make this clear - these are MY opinions, they are formulated from 17 years of reading every text I can find on dogs, and dog behavior. Learning from every single person I can find (and to date that list is in the hundreds!), preferably in person but also via books, research articles and webinars.

Finally, those 17 years have been spent with a variety of dogs, some of them my own, some of them other peoples. Some rescues, some bought from really brilliant breeders, some of them supposedly 'easy' breeds and some really really tough ones - some had really simple problems that just vanished when the dog was offered an appropriate lifestyle - some had some VERY dangerous behaviours indeed.

I cannot and do not pretend to be qualified nor an expert - I am learning, I know a lot but there is always more to discover.

Cesar on the other hand does indeed make himself out to be an expert, and the evidence to date shows he is neither qualified,  nor apparently interested in learning anything that disagrees with his current ideas.
I think that is a huge shame.

So - here we go - Why I don't like, what he does.

He justifies his methods as being necessary because a particular behaviour is so extreme.

I cannot deny that IF I had a dog trying to rip my arm off, I might very well shove it off or handle it roughly, I don't think there is a person out there who would be able to respond to a full on attack in any other way.

But here is deception number 1, because Cesar has started with an extreme behaviour. In fact there is video evidence to suggest that he creates that extreme behaviour by using another dog to provoke it. He effectively sets up the dog he is filming, to behave in as extreme a way as is possible.

By doing this he implies that it is necessary to force a dog to confront something that triggers an extreme reaction.

In fact, it is not only not necessary, it is dangerous to do this. No reputable, sensible, or qualified behaviourist or trainer would do this for those reasons.

It is the canine equivalent of you taking a child and pushing him into traffic, so that you can shout at him and smack him to show that running into traffic is dangerous. You just would not do that!

But he has to use harsh methods to get through to a dog in an extreme situation... you couldn't snap a dog out of an aggressive lunging fit with treats!

Do you know why you can't distract a dog lunging and displaying aggression to another dog just using treats?

It is because stress and fear (and fear causes stress), shuts down the part of the brain that can identify and accept rewards, particularly food. This is a mechanism that is necessary for us all, it keeps us all alive.
Imagine if your brain allowed you to stop thinking about the dangers of running away from a hunting lion, because you had seen a tree full of delicious fruits? Humans would not have evolved, we would have all been lion food!

Going back to the lunging and aggressive dog, triggered by the sight of another dog - sure, that is an extreme situation and one you do not want to occur. But WHY is it occurring, what does the dog want to happen?
He might want to go over and beat that dog up, even kill it, but WHY does he want that... the answer is fear.
Because he perceives the other dog as a danger, that's all he is focused on. He isn't able to switch his fear off, and he is a dog, he cannot rationalise that actually, that dog won't get him, his fear is not justified. So he reacts.

There is no point in waving cookies at him, and equally there is no point in telling him off - if he hears you he is as likely to think you are backing him up as he is to think you are telling him off. IF he understands that you are telling him off, he is going to associate that with the sight of the other dog. So now other dogs = get yelled at by your human!

Cesars answer to this problem is to use sufficient pain and fear associated with HIM, that the dog DARE not react to the thing that intially caused the reaction.  But the dog cannot learn a good lesson here, only a bad one - he cannot learn that the other dog is not going to hurt him and that his fear is not justified, because he is now too stressed to do so, due to his fear of the handler applying pain or psychological threats.

So how does the positive trainer fix this, if cookies won't work.

The answer is so simple you will kick yourself. Seriously. It's also the reason Cesar won't use it.

You avoid getting so close to the trigger (in this case another dog), so that the aggressive reaction never happens.

But that hasn't fixed the behavior, and I can't avoid all other dogs forever!

No you can't, but the first stage is to reduce the dogs stress so that he can learn what you DO want from him. If you keep putting him in a position where he feels like he has to react, he will just get better and better at reacting - as the saying goes 'practice makes perfect'.

Once you have got the hang of avoiding other dogs - which means turning around and going the other way, picking quieter routes or quieter times of day, stepping behind parked cars or hedges to block your dogs view - ie,  nothing difficult and nothing you are not capable of doing (no magic here!)...

Then you start to work on changing your dogs emotional reaction to the trigger - and that you CAN do with cookies!

The hard part here is figuring out how far away another dog has to be, before your dog can see it but not react. Its hard because other dogs are generally moving, and other owners will often move towards you when you tell them not to, but stick at it. With enough repetitions of 'other dog = get a cookie', and enough practice at avoiding the interactions your dog cannot yet handle, you will make progress.

This is called counter conditioning - please note, you don't have to use cookies.  You should use whatever it is your dog likes best, and thats something he gets to decide, not you.

But Cesars method works really quickly, yours sounds like it will take ages!

Cesars methods APPEAR to work quickly - with him holding the leash. But to keep up that level of control, he has to continually remind the dog that he is scary, that he is to be feared.

Is that really the relationship you want with your dog? To constantly remind him he must fear you above all else?

Because if you choose his way, that is necessary and if you don't keep that up, your dogs behaviour will get worse. In fact even if you DO keep it up, since Cesar's method hasn't considered the underlying cause of the behaviour (ie, the dog was fearful), it is just a sticking plaster over a festering wound - still there, still going to cause trouble but now its going to be a long term bone infection rather than a sore wound...

My way (and lets be clear here, my way is no more my way than Cesar's is his, both camps have been around a long long time) means that whilst you won't be walking your dog in the dog park or at a busy dog show any time soon, your dog is happy, your dog is relaxing, your dog is enjoying his time with you and the bond between you is becoming better and better.

Your dog is learning to trust you, and with trust comes respect - something I note Cesar talks about a lot, but he doesn't appear to understand that respect is earned, not taken or forced.

Cesar works with dogs that would otherwise end up euthanised.

So do a lot of trainers and behaviourists - but then, a lot of dogs are threatened with euthanasia, and indeed, end up euthanised, because their owners don't know what to do, not because their problems are really serious.

People regularly ask vets to euthanise perfectly healthy dogs because they have made a face at the kids, nipped someone, won't come back when off the lead, haven't learned toilet training, steal food... I could go on and on.

The number of times I have heard of people having dogs euthanised because they want to go on holiday and cannot find a kennel or dog sitter to take them is astonishing.

The fact that an owner threatens to euthanise the dog does not in any way denote the seriousness of the dogs problem behaviour!

Ok, but he deals with serious aggression problems that other people cannot fix! 

Says who? Cesar? You?

There are thousands of trainers and behaviourists around the world dealing with really extreme behaviour problems, particularly serious aggression problems, using positive reinforcement training.

They may not have a TV show, but actually, not everyone wants a TV show (I know, it's really hard to believe, but not everyone does!). But that doesn't mean they are not out there, doing the work.

Sometimes the owners that appear on his show (and indeed owners who appear on other TV shows) will say that they have 'tried everything' and that 'nothing has worked', but we don't get an in depth analysis on actually what they have done, who they saw, how they implemented it.

Very often the case actually is that they have been annoyed by the problem for a long time, they have done very little about it other than stick a shock collar or a prong collar on the dog, or say, incarcerate it in the garage for the rest of its life.
In some cases they have contacted a trainer who has either given them great advice but they have not done the work (because it has not produced an instantly brilliant, cured, dog), or they have gotten a bad trainer whose advice as not helped either.

Some people have such a great desire to be on TV that they will quit working with a trainer who IS actually getting results because they want to be famous. Some people are so keen to be on TV that they will lie to get there.

I can assure you though, there are myriad trainers and behaviorists around the world, regularly dealing with dogs who have bitten people, dogs who lunge at other dogs, dogs who can't walk on shiny floors, dogs who can't go upstairs, dogs who guard food or toys, dogs who are scared of skateboards/motorbikes/cars.... even dogs who have killed people.

They are out there, working hard, and doing a great job.

But Cesar works with tough breeds, reward based training is only good for soft breeds!

If you mean that dogs like Pitbulls, Bull Terriers, Staffies, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Mastiffs.. etc, are 'tough' breeds, you are really quite wrong.

Some of those breeds are extremely intelligent and quick to learn, and if you understand them and how they learn, are very easy to train.

All those breeds (including Pitbulls and pitbull types, because whilst illegal in the UK, they can be exempted) are breeds positive trainers deal with regularly without any need to resort to punishment based tactics.

Reward based training is used on other animals too, for example killer whales, dolphins, rhinos and elephants.

It is not just used to teach amusing tricks, but to teach complex behaviors that humans rely on to save lives - for example, SAR dogs, drugs and bomb detection dogs, guide dogs, canine assistants for disabled people.
One of the most amazing uses is teaching Gambian Pouched Rats to detect and indicate landmines, or how about teaching a gorilla to back up onto a needle for an injection. That means teaching a huge animal capable of more dangerous and violent behavior than any dog you have ever seen, to do something unpleasant and painful, for a reward!

But Cesar isn't a trainer, he is a psychologist, he rehabilitates dogs!

Cesar may say he is a psychologist, but that doesn't make it true. He holds no recognised qualifications in psychology of any kind.

If I call myself a dog psychologist, will you believe me more? I could, even though like Cesar, I have no formal qualifications in psychology.

Whether he rehabilitates dogs or not is a matter of opinion - I would like to see the true figures for dogs he has actually cured, long term. But there aren't any - because Cesar makes the clients and owners that go on his show sign a disclaimer that prevents them talking about it.

Why would he do that if his methods were sure to work, and had no nasty side effects?

You shouldn't question Cesar's methods...

Why not?

It isn't rude to question why someone believes what they believe or chooses to use the methods they use.

If I approached Dr Ian Dunbar, or Victoria Stilwell, or Grisha Stewart, or Karen Pryor, or Jean Donaldson or... many, hundreds of other trainers, behaviourists, authors on the topic of dog behaviour and training, and I questioned them as to why they use the methods they use, why they prefer them over other methods..

I can state quite categorically that every single one of those people would be happy to answer my questions (in fact, several on that list have!).

They would be perfectly happy to answer the questions, they would be able to provide useful answers to them, with evidence and examples to back them up.

Not only that but every single one of those people I list and all the others I haven't listed ,would be willing to listen to other peoples ideas, MY ideas even, and to learn more if they come across something new, or a new way of looking at something old.

Questioning ideas and theories, discussing them with others in your field, being open to new ideas and new learning - these are all part of being a professional, in any sphere at all.

Only someone who has something to hide, would react in a hostile manner to being questioned.

Well, Cesar has done lots of work for charity, and he tells people to treat their dogs like dogs, and to walk them...

Doing good works, and making sense sometimes, does not mean that everything he does is good.

Jimmy Savile did some good works, he raised money for charity... but he also molested children.

Does the fact that he raised money for charity mean that molesting children is ok? Of course it doesn't!

Cesar does talk some sense, and you know what - all the great trainers and behaviourists out there do the same. They will also remind people that dogs are dogs, not furry toys or fashion accessories. They will tell them to walk their dogs, give their dogs boundaries, provide them appropriate outlets for their breed traits..

Most of the trainers I know have done some work for charity somewhere along the line - of course it IS easier to give away millions if you have millions, but they don't need to promote their charity work, because they are not supporting a massive celebrity image..

But Cesar fixes dangerous behaviour...

No. No he doesn't.

Cesar will, temporarily at least, stop a dogs behaviour from appearing dangerous.

He will take away the signs that a dog is fearful, aggressive, whatever - that doesn't mean he has fixed the problem, because those signs are a symptom of something else. And no, they are not a symptom of dominance, dominance the way Cesar means, does not exist. Its a neat explanation for a lot of things but it is not in fact the reason.

Cesar suppresses behavior. If a dog is growling, he will stop it. If a dog is lunging and trying to bite he will stop it.

But he never addresses the real cause of the behaviour, though occasionally he does acknowledge it, he won't teach your dog aggressive dog to actively like the presence of other dogs. He will just teach them to shuttup about disliking them.

That isn't a fix for the problem, the problem still exists, but now it exists silently.

Doesn't it occur to  you that this is more dangerous?

A growling dog is obviously a risk, you don't approach it. A lunging snapping dog is clearly a risk, don't approach it.

A silent dog, with still behavior - how do you know if that dog is a risk or not?

Sure, we need to make sure our dogs are safe around children, that they can eat their food without feeling the need to bite someone  nearby, that they can visit the vets or walk the streets without lunging aggressively.

But Cesar doesn't teach that - he will teach you how to stop your dog expressing how he feels, and that puts people at a huge risk!

All those stories about dogs who 'just turned' or 'he bit out of nowhere' or 'he attacked unprovoked' - do you know, 99% of those dogs had been punished for growling or snapping.

Which just taught them 'don't growl or snap' - it did NOT teach them ' someone walking by your food bowl is fine'.

Positive reinforcement can teach your dog that situations that previously caused him to use aggression are now fine. You CAN take a food aggressive dog and within a week or two, have a dog who actively welcomes people approaching whilst he is eating.

But Cesar has a natural way with dogs...

There are some people who are more naturally able to get what they want out of animals - sure, but that does not mean anyone, ever, is born knowing everything about them.

What's more, some of those people get their own way with animals by being kind, by setting animals up so that they do what is desired without even realising anyone is manipulating their behavior.

Some people achieve it by using domineering body language and effectively, threatening and bullying their way through.

Cesar, in my opinion, is the latter.

His body language is very very threatening and confrontational. He stares, hard, he has a stiff posture and stands over the dog on many occasions. Dogs find this extremely uncomfortable, and they give him body language that says 'please, I don't want this, please stop' and he ignores that.

I don't know if he sees it or not, I think sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't - but whatever, what he says and the way he then describes what the dog is saying is misleading at best and an outright lie at worst.

He describes dogs as being 'calm submissive' when he has pinned them down, but in fact they are nothing like calm, they are terrified. Look into their eyes, look at the tension in their faces, their ears, watch them pee themselves in some cases.

Does that really look calm to you?

Sometimes he will battle with a dog on the lead and you will get to a point where things pause and the dog goes still, and I have seen at least two occasions where Cesar has said the dog has calmed down and yet I can see huge tension and stress, and the dog is waiting for what will happen next.
On both those occasions (one being the Holly video), I could clearly see that the next time Cesar moved toward the dog, he would get bitten.

Guess what, both times I was right.

If you doubt that body language is as powerful as I am saying, please, do this little experiment with someone you know well.

Stand in front of them and stare into their eyes a little longer than is comfortable. Stare hard, and step in a few cm too close.

What is their reaction? I will bet you they step back, they try to look away if they cannot step back, they will look slightly uncomfortable.

Now think back, have you ever had a situation where someone you DIDN'T know or trust did that to you, stepped in too close, leaned over you, stared for a bit too long - horrible isn't it. And its horrible even though the chances are, that person meant you no real harm at all.

Now imagine that you have reason to believe that person DOES mean to do you harm - how calm do you feel?

So you really don't like his methods...

Cesar's methods are outdated, they are based on positive punishment which requires the owner to set the dog up to fail repeatedly so that they can 'correct', ie, punish, that behaviour.

This puts the owner and dog in conflict with one another much of the time - is that the relationship you wanted when you bought a dog?

Punishments can only be effective if they are delivered immediately the behaviour occurs and if the subject can immediately associate them with the behavior that was 'wrong'.

Much of the time, this just isn't the case. Cesar uses punishment and force in ways dogs cannot figure out, which means they are at risk of making the wrong associations.

Imagine a dog, shocked with a shock collar for barking at other dogs. What if that dog doesn't associate it with barking, but with 'other dogs' - if he associates pain with other dogs, won't that make him dislike them MORE?

The fact is, dog training and dog behaviour has moved on - the methods Cesar advocates were outdated 40 years ago.

You may say that Cesar grew up in a poor country and without an education - I say this is no excuse. He has the money now to access all the very latest information. If he truly wanted the best for dogs, as opposed to truly wanting the best for his bank balance, Cesar could learn, educate himself properly, and use the methods that science has proven over and over and over, are more effective, safer and kinder.