Monday, 17 November 2014

A Blog for the Anonymous Commenter/s (hi there, I see you there)

So someone recently left some comments on a fairly old entry, I don't know if they read much of this blog or just that entry but hey ho, I'd like to address some of their criticisms, cos thats what I do.

First of all, any entry by me that is entitled a 'a review of' and then a TV show or book - that will be my opinion of the TV show or book. It will therefore be biased to some extent, because my opinion may well not be the same as your opinion.

For reviews of Cesar Milan shows, yes I am tearing it down,yes I am biased, yes that is clearly evident if you read the rest of this blog (I have helpfully tagged Cesar Milan in entries about him so they are easier for you to find).

In posts that are not reviews I do discuss not just what is wrong with what he does, but why it is wrong, and what the correct approach would be. I don't think there is the room for that within reviews, particularly as those reviews tend to be aimed at like minded trainers/behaviourists who didn't really want to watch the show itself.

But anyway - so back to the comments.

"keep sayin shit about "good behaviorists" but never cite any studies"
why don't you give us some empirical evidence for your bullfuckery instead of forcing us to take your word for it"

Frankly... you do not seem to be any professionnal either. Just a random amateur like me"

How about reading/watching the following:

Raymond & Lorna Coppinger - Mexico City Dump Dogs, also Raymond Coppingers observations of the dogs of Pemba.

These guys reveal that dogs are not pack animals!

Dr P. McConnell has a wealth of information in her books and online.

Here particularly she discusses the 'dominance myth' - dogs do not seek to dominate us, and if we seek to dominate them, we just cause problems.

Also on that topic I'd recommend John Bradshaw's 'In Defence of Dogs'  and the somewhat briefer work 'Dominance, Fact or Fiction' by Barry Eaton.

If you want some long term, tried and tested, been doing it for decades kinda stuff, check out

Dr Ian Dunbar has been teaching and training with positive reinforcement for over 35 years, he is also a vet and a behaviourist (with the PhD's to prove it).

If you are still in doubt that punishment based training is damaging to dogs and their relationship with humans, what about this article by Stanley Coren

If you haven't the desire to read through that, the relevant study is by Meghan Herron, School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. I recommend you do though, this isn't an article by just anyone, Stanley Coren is a well respected scientist and pscyhologist who has written a lot of books on dogs, the way they think and how we relate to them etc.

Anyway, this study backs up the findings in human and child psychology, that the use of punishment particularly (but not limited to) physical punishment, increases the likelyhood of aggressive behaviour.

And before you say 'ah but that doesn't say that positive reinforcement is better'.. well here, have an other from Psychology Today..

Ok so, this article references a study done on children, but children and dogs are a very good comparison, particularly young children. Also, there are not nearly so many studies done on dogs, purely because up until relatively recently, no one saw much value in financing such studies.

That is now changing and thats great news - which leads me on to tell you about SPARCS - Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science  -

SPARCS have, at the time of writing this, now run two conferences, both spanning three days, with seminars/lectures by the likes of Coppinger, Udell, Wynne, Gadbois, McConnell, Hecht, and many, many more.

These guys are pushing for more and more research to be done, to fill in the gaps that we have, but its worth pointing out, the gaps we have are generally NOT the areas most 'average joe's are discussing - the old 'is Cesar abusive and do his methods cause problems' type questions are old news, theres no doubt there, its not a mystery Yes they are, yes they do, end of.

These guys are researching how canids are using their olfactory senses, how wolves use agonistic and affiliative behaviours, why dogs relate to us so well when other canids do not...

Its interesting stuff and their yearly SPARCS conference can be viewed live and free via online streaming, so its very accessible!

There is quite a lot of useful and interesting information out there, but you do have to go and look for it, its really not going to jump up and bite you in the ass, and most of it is sadly nowhere near as exciting as watching someone on tv appear to work magic.

As for me, am I a professional - I guess that depends on your definition of professional!

I'd say I am, based on the fact that this is how I earn my living, that I blog on the subject of dogs and training in a number of other places, by invitation ( sporadically, for I am a lazy creature), that I spend a not inconsiderable amount of money each year on attending training courses, conferences/seminars and lectures, and I think quite crucially, that people seek me out for my assistance and advice.

Personally my definition of a professional, is someone who not only knows a lot about their subject matter, but is always learning, and knows when (and to whom) to refer a client on when they don't have the answer - because no one has all the answers.

Yours may be entirely different!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

How NOT to deal with resource guarding!

As of a few minutes ago, I discovered that a friend who shared this video from Facebook, has been 'locked down' by Facebook and the video removed.

The original footage and copyright belong to Nat Geo and Cesar Millan (I presume) I make no claim to own this video.

I reproduce it here under the UK copyright legislation 'fair dealing - using the work of others' as specified here:

"Criticism or review
Quoting parts of a work for the purpose of criticism or review is permitted provided that:

  • The work has been made available to the public.
  • The source of the material is acknowledged.
  • The material quoted must be accompanied by some actual discussion or assessment (to warrant the criticism or review classification).
  • The amount of the material quoted is no more than is necessary for the purpose of the review."

The video has been annotated for the purposes of education and discussion so please, have at the comments section here and share this blog anywhere you like.

In this video, Cesar is attempting to demonstrate and address Holly's food guarding and aggression.

It is important to note that a dog is aggressive over food when they fear they will lose that food. Food is a super valuable resource to your dog, to any dog, in fact to any living being, because without food, we'd die.

It is not remotely abnormal for a dog to want to keep its food to itself - however in a home situation its not appropriate to have a dog who is so fearful that food will be taken, that they feel they must defend it by being aggressive.

So the answer is to remove the FEAR - to change the dogs emotional response in the situations they currently interpret as 'you need to be on guard here, you might lose this resource', from fear to joy!

And it is super simple to do - you put down a bowl with just a few pieces of low value food in it, you step back as far as the dog needs you to so they feel comfortable (lets say a couple of metres at least) and once they have finished that food you step foward a foot or two, and you toss in some HIGH value food.

Whoa! Person approaching food bowl = GOOD THINGS!

This is really low risk, the food in the bowl was low value, the dog has finished eating it before the person approaches, and the person only steps a few feet closer and throws the high value food the rest of the way, so the chances of a dogs fear being triggered in this example are really really low!

Repeat this routine over the course of a few days and your dog will start to look up as he finishes his food, hoping the human will step  nearer and hand over more yummies!

Once that happens you can put more food in the bowl initially or you can step a little closer to start with (but don't do both, we want to make this EASY).

Gradually we teach the dog that no one is going to take their food, that approaching humans bring MORE food and are a good thing.

Of course sometimes we do need to take something from a dog - but you know we NEVER need to take away a bowl of food WE gave the dog in the first place. How many times did you accidentally give your dog a bowl of poisoned dog food or a ticking bomb? Oh thats right, you've never done that, and you never will!

If you wanted to take your dogs food bowl to put more in there, just wait until he is done! If you gave him the wrong meal well thats unlikely to cause a problem and if you gave him a meal with someone elses medication in it, again its unlikely to do any harm as a one off, call your vet if you are worried.

The times we do need to take things from a dog, we can teach that skill in advance - its pretty much known as a 'retrieve' - just teach your dog that bringing you stuff he has and giving it to you is HIGHLY rewarding behaviour. Teaching a dog to swap is pretty easy, start out with low value things, hand them to him, then offer him a high value treat - he's going to drop that thing and yay, he gets his reward. Work your way up to higher value items, and treats he can't see immediately (so, hidden in your pocket, treats you have to get up and get for him) so that you fade out the 'bribery' element.

If your dog picks up something dangerous, there is never ever any way that chasing, confronting, or forcing him to give it back will make the situation safer.

If you chase or confront your dog, these are the likely outcomes:

  •   He runs away
  •   He tries to chew it harder
  •   He tries to swallow it
  •   He guards it from you and bites you 

    In no way are any of these options safer, no matter what item he has, than you walking AWAY from him and sneakily doing something you KNOW will attract his attention, such as picking up his lead and offering him a walk, getting the car keys and offering him a ride in the car, making a sandwich and eating it noisily - you know your dog, you know what floats his boat. Offer that and DO IT, do not lie, because you will only lie to him once!

    This is what you do in an emergency situation, it is not how to train a dog to leave, drop or give things up, but it is important to know that there is no emergency worth you confronting your dog and teaching him to use aggression.

    To cut a long story short - there is never any need to do what Cesar does in the video.

    No behaviourist worth their salt needs to confront a dog as Cesar does, to the point where they get bitten. As a working behaviour consultant myself, frankly I wouldn't need to do any of the things in this video at all - if the owner tells me the dog is food aggressive then I will start with the cure straight away, I don't need to SEE the dog guarding food to know what the potential outcome might be, and none of what  Cesar does in the video is involved in the cure.

    Whats more, addressing the problem the way I do, means that if for some reason the owner was wrong and the dog is NOT food aggressive, well all we have done is waste some time, we will have done NO HARM.