Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Teaching an old dog new tricks

A comment made by a fellow dog trainer recently made me think... She said that in this area (Norfolk) there is not much demand for adult dog training classes. Hmmm...

I wonder why? Perhaps all the puppies get so well trained here that adult dogs no longer need training? That would be wonderful, but I doubt it. Perhaps all the adult dogs here get such interesting daily walks that they don't need any further mental stimulation? Perhaps more so than in the city, but probably still not enough? Or perhaps none of the owners are interested in any canine activities? That would be such a shame. Or do people simply think that you can't teach an old dog new tricks - as the saying goes? Or they might just not realise that there are classes available for older dogs?

We all know of course that we have to train puppies; they need to learn basic obedience and general manners. However, I think owners often forget or are not aware that older dogs benefit from training too, whether that’s a new rescue dog, whether it's an adolescent that is now testing his boundaries or whether it's simply to provide mental stimulation and have some fun. And yes, we can teach old dogs new tricks!
 
Dogs are never too old to learn; even my 10-year old (my saluki in the picture on the left) and 13-year old ones still love their regular training sessions. It is exercise for their brains and it keeps them mentally fit. They also enjoy this 1-2-1 quality time, something that we often neglect within our busy lives and is even more important if you have more than one dog like me.

In addition, most breeds are originally working breeds and not designed to be idle for most of the day. If they don’t get the physical AND mental exercise (e.g. training, doggie activities) that they need, it can lead to boredom, lack of control or even major behaviour issues.

Our training classes are for dogs of any age and breed, even if they have never had a day’s training in their life or are already quite well behaved and whether they are tiny or giant and anything in between! Come on, give it a go. Find yourself some reward based training classes, improve the bond with your dog, enjoy better control which leads to more freedom for your dog which then of course leads to a happier and more content dog and also owner! See you around!


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

My puppy is out of control

There are some issues that most new puppy owners have to deal with. And how to deal with a puppy out of control, and very often particularly in the evenings, is one of those common questions.

The regular bite inhibition advice generally works very well with puppies, but often in the evenings, they have their "mad 5-minutes" (or more) where there seems to be no reasoning with them at all. They seem to go mad, biting and pouncing and no amount of calming them down, distracting them, do some training or putting the bite inhibition training to work seems to make much difference.

Now puppies need a lot of sleep and it's important that they get regular resting times during the day, in particular in busy households where the puppy seems to be on the go all the time as well. So "Down-Time" is important for them. I generally put them in a crate for an hour after each meal, or at least for a couple of hours at lunch time... otherwise you can end up with a manic, hyperactive and difficult puppy simply due to over-tiredness.

But this doesn't stop the mad times entirely that puppies have sometimes. Now, I am not saying that you need to stop the puppy having a run around or even to stop the "mad 5 minutes"... it's a perfectly normal thing. But if the puppy's biting goes out of control and the puppy doesn't stop at all, then it's time to teach them to calm down and settle... and this is what this blog post is about.

I have recently had a question about exactely this issue and with the permission of the owner (with no names of course) here is our email conversation that new puppy owners might find helpful to deal with this particular issue:



OWNER:

I wonder if you can offer me any advise regarding our puppy. We are getting on quite well with his training and he is doing OK during the day.

In the evening he seems to get more and more uncontrollable, jumping up and over-excited. The problem is that his unwanted behaviour is directed towards me and he is biting me, has even drawn blood on my arm this evening. He does not exhibit the same behaviour towards my husband and my son.

I have tried the high pitched yelping, ignoring him, then putting him somewhere else, taking myself away from the room, and the stern "no". Please can you offer any advice? I have not been angry with him and do want to retain the reward based behaviour approach but am finding this very difficult.


WTDT:

What you are describing is in fact quite normal puppy behaviour, however, it does of course have to be dealt with.

When he starts biting like this (the sort of out of control behaviour that you are describing), then I would put him in a crate or behind a baby gate for a good while - possibly as much as half an hour or an hour: not as a punishment but to calm down and to sleep. Chances are he is doing it because he is overly tired and/or over-stimulated.

If this period always starts at around the same time, then you could preempt it by putting him into a crate/behind baby gate before he starts or you could try to do a training session to break the cycle.

But once he is in that mode, he needs time out to calm down, relax and settle. And he also needs to learn that this behaviour is not acceptable and that it will result in withdrawal of attention for him.

I can tell you that this period will pass, but I know that it is frustrating to deal with this at times.


OWNER:

Thank you very much for your email.

We have been isolating my puppy when required, but clearly not for long enough, certainly not as much as half an hour. Do you have a view as to whether it is better for him to be in a separate room? His pen is in the living room at present where there is likely to be someone from the family, but I could shut him into the utility room where he will be alone.

I had been concerned as to why it is me that his biting etc was directed towards, but I think it is probably because I do more with him than the others. I will try the longer period this evening and let you know how we get on.


WTDT:

It isn't the isolation we want as it's not punishment!; it's not strictly a time-out, more like some down-time if you like to get him to calm down and settle. So the pen in the living room is perfect.

Also don't put him in there angry or annoyed, but in a calm manner like you would with a baby saying something like "Oh dear, we are a bit overtired, aren't we, let's go and settle down for a bit!"... If you like you can give him a stuffed kong or chew toy in there.

Puppies do tend to pick certain people to "practice" their biting on. It is usually because they get more of a reaction from them than from others, hence why children are often the target...


OWNER:

Thank you again for your advice. Last night we put our puppy straight into his pen once he became over-excited and biting rather than trying to calm him (which doesn't work!), and left him for longer than we had before. We also all agreed to be much calmer with him in the evening, rather than playing or training. I am pleased to report that we all had a much more pleasant evening.

The same this morning; about an hour after waking up our puppy tends to exhibit the same behaviour, so again he went straight to his pen for a (shorter) calming down period, and is now a gorgeous boy. Thank you for training me and we will stick at it!


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The One Show, Dominance and Resource Guarding

What have these three topics to do with each other? Let me explain... What happened?

1. The One Show

On September, 16th, 2011 BBC's The One Show introduced a dog trainer/behaviourist to their team. His name was Jordan Shelley. They showed an episode of him teaching a Jack Russell Terrier to stop food guarding. These are fairly run of the mill issues for dog behaviourists and shouldn't really cause too much trouble. But this one did...

When the JRT who was eating his food growled and snarled at Jordan Shelley approaching the bowl, Jordan pushed the bowl away with his foot and then used his foot trying to push the JRT terrier away from it. The dog kept biting his foot and continued snarling and growling. This went on for apparently 45 minutes at which point the dog finally backed off when Jordan approached the food bowl.

In no time at all, The One Show, the BBC, OFCOM and the RSPCA had a huge amount of complaints from dog trainers/behavourists, animal welfare organisations and dog owners alike... I too complained of course as I too was as shocked by the whole episode as everyone else. Why?

2. Dominance? Or Not?

Dominance type training was the way training was done years ago where most behaviour was put down to the dog wanting to be dominant and the owner had to be the "alpha wolf" to control their dog. The theories of this were derived from a captive wolf pack in the 1940s which was observed as to their behaviours with each other. This theory was then popularised by the Monks of New Skete that advocated alpha rolls, scruffing and the like to establish dominance over a dog. Studies in the last 50 years however have shown that the original observations on that wolf pack were flawed as it was a captive wolf pack with members of different wolf packs thrown together. This of course makes for a much more aggressive way of life than a natural wolf pack would lead if comprised of family members growing up together like it happens in a wild pack.
In addition, it has also been found that dogs differ in many ways from wolves due to their domestication many thousand years ago. So wolf behaviour can sometimes not be applied directly to our domestic dogs.

Ok, so we now know that dominance isn't the way to go because it is based on a flawed theory from the early 20th century... but what is the actual problem with it? After all, not all outdated stuff is bad, right? Correct... however, dominance based training can have a pretty disastrous fall-out in some dogs and is a rather uncomfortable and miserable way of learning for most dogs (and owners for that matter).

First of all, dominance based training usually puts an awful lot of pressure on the dog by using aversives (e.g. alpha roll), by forcing them into behaviour they don't understand (e.g. punishment for natural behaviours) and by flooding them and making them face their fears. This puts enormous stress on the dog, doesn't promote a good owner-dog bond and makes the dog comply through fear of what happens if he doesn't! This type of training also tends to focus on correcting the dog, and not on teaching them the right behaviour... as you might know from your own experiences at school, work or in the family, not a nice way of learning!

Secondly, dominance based training usually addresses the behaviour, not the underlying cause. This means that although the dog may now behave as desired, the underlying emotions of fear, anger, frustration etc. are still there, trapped, building up and waiting to explode at some point! And bingo, you have got yourself a dog that attacks out of the blue in a seemingly unrelated situation. Have you ever come home from work where you were reprimanded for something (perhaps even something you haven't done or wasn't your fault), and you complied because of the fear of losing your job, but you then had a go at your spouse about a trivial thing that wouldn't normally bother you? Well, there's your emotions building up and frustration coming out... in an unrelated situation, but it can be traced back to surpressing certain behaviour earlier in the day.

If you are "lucky" you have one of these dogs that just comply and give up, and you then have created "taught helplessness", in other words, the dog doesn't try behaving in a certain way anymore (good or bad) and simply shuts down. A perhaps very compliant dog, but often not a happy one.

So if dominance isn't the way to go, how DO we teach dogs what we want them to do?

Positive reward based training is, as you know, what we use in WTDT Classes and Personal Training. Why? Science shows us that dogs (and any other animal for that matter) learn the same way as we do: we repeat behaviour that is rewarding and stop behaviour that isn't rewarding. It's as simple as that! We use that simple learning theory principle. Unlike in dominance/aversive based training, where behaviour is mainly corrected, positive dog trainers teach the dog how to behave correctly so "bad behaviour" doesn't happen in the first place. This is of course very simplified, but it's the basic principle.

Positive reward based training is also much safer than aversive/dominance type of training as the underlying cause of behaviour is addressed, not just the symptom which is the bad behaviour. So the dog isn't stopped communicating and the behaviour doesn't just get surpressed but is actually resolved (and if it isn't, at least you know about it as the dog will still give warnings!).

2. Resource  Guarding

The issue on TOS was resource guarding of food. This is a very common problem in dogs, and many other species like for example us humans. Someone on a blog so nicely explained it: how long would it take you to stop a guest removing all your furniture from your house? The guest probably couldn't even make it to the first door with your TV set, right? That's resource guarding - and of course perfectly justified.
And then I have this friend that pokes anyone that is trying to take food from her plate with a folk - another human resource guarder!
How much you guard your possessions depends on the value of the resource and on your temperament. So how much a dog guards their food will depend on the same values... and considering that food is one of the most valuable resources in any species, it is no surprise that many dogs will guard it.

Although it is perfectly natural behaviour, it is of course not a very desirable behaviour for a dog living in a family and perhaps with children around. So in most cases, we will want to change this behaviour. Punishing the growling and snarling will - as we know - surpress the behaviour but not stop the dog feeling anxious about people taking the food away. The aggressive behaviour could then resurface at any point if the dog is pushed far enough, or perhaps more importantly, it could resurface in other situations seemingly unconnected; and there won't be any warning of this happening as you have just thought your dog to surpress warnings too.

So what do we do? We teach the dog that people around his food are rewarding, that people's hands near their food are a sign of good things coming, so the dog won't feel the need anymore to guard and hence won't. Here's my suggestion on how to achieve this (especially useful also for puppies to prevent them from becoming a food guarder), which is one of many possible positive ways of doing it - but please remember, if your dog is already a resource guarder, contact us or another good behaviourist to help you with this issue!

Aim: the dog is happy for you to approach him and touch him when he is eating and you can take something away from him if necessary. Make sure that you keep yourself safe at all times during this exercise. Do not allow children to practice this!

NEVER take any food/toy away from your dog as this would only reinforce the need for guarding (unless of course your dog has taken something dangerous).

  1. Approach your dog to a distance where your dog does not show any aggression (body stiffening, growling, looking) and throw a special treat towards him, e.g. cheese, cooked meat etc.
  1. Gradually decrease the distance where the dog does not show any aggression and when you see your dog expectantly looking up to you for the next treat.
  1. Once you can get close to your dog without getting an aggressive response, drop the treat in the bowl. Repeat this until your dog is really looking forward to you approaching him.
  1. Then put the treat in the bowl (or next to the treat/bone) with your hand. Again repeat until your dog is perfectly happy with you putting treats in his bowl.
  1. Take the bowl up, put a treat in (give the dog a treat) and bring it straight down to the dog again. This will teach that even taking the bowl away is a great thing as it is returned IMMEDIATELY with extra treats.
If at any point, your dog shows aggression, back off and go back to a previous step where the dog was still ok. Never challenge your dog and never punish him for an aggressive response in this situation.
Chews/bones etc: if your dog is eating a chew, do the same kind of training, but never take the chew away. Always offer an extra treat when you approach (built up in the same way as above) until your dog is not bothered by your presence there anymore.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Do male dogs have to lift their legs on every lamp post?

I was recently watching a gentleman with a dog walking in central London. The large dog pulled him from one lamp post to pillars, to bins and then lamp posts again... I have also had this question from clients on several occasions... Do male dogs really have to lift their leg on every lamp post they come across?

The short answer is: NO, they don't!

It is of course perfectly natural behaviour for a male dog (regardless of whether they are neutered or not) to cock their leg and leave their mark wherever they go - it's their way of communicating with other dogs. However, a dog can be taught to walk without pulling the owner from one lamp post to the next provided of course they get ample opportunity to mark in appropriate places.

So it is perfectly acceptable and actually good manners to expect your dog to walk next to you on a pavement without pulling left and right to mark every vertical surface they come across. If your dog is already used to walking like this then it will take some getting used to until the dog learns that it is not allowed anymore, but in no time he will understand the new rules. The side effect of stopping the marking whilst road walking also means that your dog is less likely to pull and you won't annoy the neighbours if your dog is not the first of many that mark their house wall or garden fence.

Of course, as I mentioned before, the male dog needs to have opportunities to display their natural marking behaviour, but there is a place and time for everything!

TRAINING TIP: if the lead is short, the dog is not allowed to mark or venture from your side in any way, when the lead is long, then the dog gets more freedom. Simples!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Aggression over toys when playing ball in the park

Q: I often play ball with my dog in the park and he loves it, but when another dog goes near his ball, my dog becomes very aggressive and attacks other dogs. How can I stop him attacking?

A: Guarding toys against other dogs is perfectly normal behaviour for dogs. Many dogs guard resources they love (e.g. toys) and do so with lots of aggression! Playing ball or playing with any other toy in the park with your dog whilst there are other dogs around is asking for trouble. So your best and safest option is to simply keep the toys in your pocket when there are other dogs around. This applies whether your dog guards toys or not as you never know what an approaching dog might do, e.g. steal the toy and then guard it against your dog. So, be safe and only play with toys in the park when there are no other dogs around!

If your dog is guarding indoors against you or your other dogs, then that's a different story and will be material for another blog post in the future.

Hi and Welcome

So here we are, applying what we do in class to real life - that's what dog training is all about! I will cover topics that come up either in classes, as questions from members or in the press. If you have any suggestions of topics YOU would like to see covered, please give me a shout! Stay tuned in.