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.


Dewitt Gimblet said...

OMG. What a good way to get bit! Also, you might want to mention the potential emotional risk to the stooge dog - both the stress and the potential of creating another reactive dog.

Ems said...

Yep those are good points!

openyour mind said...

Well fancy that---a polite comment in support of the Turn and face technique has been deleted by the administrator. Where is your open mind? Definitely do not try before you buy but do not dismiss out of hand either(by the way the price is only about £12.99). Like everything else in dog training some methods suit some dogs and people--we don't all live in areas where triggers can be avoided so this is worthy of consideration and can be done with counter-conditioning etc on those occasions that accidentally crop up out of our control ie it is a back up should an unavoidable trigger occur. Please don't diss others--we should all have dog's and owner's interests at heart

Ems said...

I bought the book. I read it. I disagree with the use of this method.

I have not said it does not work, it may well 'work' but as the blog clearly states, for the wrong reasons.

I will not promote this method in any way, including by leaving posts claiming it works and is therefore justified.

There are plenty of training methods that produce results, including shock collars, prong collars and alpha rolling dogs - I wouldn't promote those either.

Since you are quite happy to block and delete (yes I know it's you Denise) comments and people who disagree with you on your timeline and your group I really don't think you have a leg to stand on, complaining about anyone else doing same.