Please Help (a dog trainers dilemma)

Imagine, you get a phone call or perhaps an email from a frantic person. This person tells you they have a problem (A huge problem) and they were given your name by someone who knows you and knows you possess knowledge to help. This person says they have tried everything to solve this problem to no avail. They give you all of the details of the said problem and then say, I need your help desperately or I am going to do something rash! Many people would immediately want to help, especially if they had specific knowledge on how to solve this persons problem, right?

You tell the person that you can help and schedule to meet them. You take the information and tools necessary to help solve their problem. You arrive and meet the person and explain your specific knowledge with this said problem and they seem delighted and relieved by the information you give them. You then tell them how to use the information to help their situation. They have an excuse as to why they cannot do it or why your specific tools won’t work for them. You offer different solutions, all knowledgeable, that can work yet all are countered with an excuse from the person. They want you to fix the problem without taking any of the information you offer. “Maybe, you could take the problem home, keep it for a while and bring it back when you have solved it? ” they say.

Later, when you have given all of the information necessary to fix their said problem, you find out they did end up doing something rash and saying they “tried everything, even went to you for information and nothing worked”, they had no choice.

How would that make you feel? Think about it. It is utterly ridiculous, makes absolutely no sense. Clearly they didn’t want a solution to their problem and were going to do something rash regardless if you helped or not! They didn’t want your help, only to complain, to make it look like they did something so they could feel better when they did the “rash” thing.

Welcome to dog training!

Ask any dog trainer what their most difficult problem is and I guarantee you, it won’t be the dog. The above scenario happens more often than we like. People contacting us with dog training issues but not wanting to implement anything we offer. Just fix the dog. Don’t get me wrong, not all clients are like this and some will do the work needed but sadly, a vast majority will not. I assume this is because everyone has an opinion on dogs and dog training rather they have studied dog training or not. You can get dog training opinions from your neighbor, your uncle, your friends, pretty much everyone who has owned a dog. Therefore, I think people also take the information given by dog trainers as just that , an opinion, rather than educated training advice.

When giving dog training information to a client, trainers give instruction on what the person needs to do to get the desired effect from their dog. The person has to change before the dog ever will. Sadly, many people just want the dog to change.

Trainers are often contacted by owners saying that the dog in question is out of control, they have tried everything, they are at their wit’s end and if something doesn’t happen the dog will be sent to rescue, a shelter, or euthanized!

When a trainer arrives at a person’s home they will offer several suggestions on how to fix the behavior, often times with push back. Let me explain in greater detail. Please note this is not all of what dog training encompasses but a quick summary.

There are 4 quadrants of operant conditioning in dog training that dog trainers follow. and you can read about them here. for the purpose of this blog post you just need to know that dog training is primarily based on motivation. You have to motivate a dog one way or another, either positively or negatively.

All trainers generally start with positive reinforcement as it is the least invasive, minimally aversive type of reinforcement. Some trainers use “all” positive reinforcement and no other. All training needs to incorporate some form of positive reinforcement to motivate the dog to do what you want. Positive reinforcement, when used correctly, along with timing and consistency, helps to motivate the dog to do what is expected and works very well for many dogs. Positive reinforcement needs to be used frequently in the beginning stages of training, tapering off once the dog has learned a behavior. Even though there are many studies and articles published on the effects of positive reinforcement in animal training, dog trainers are often told by owners ” I don’t want to be dolling out cookies all day”

If a dog is doing something that could pose a threat to himself or others such as car chasing, bicycle chasing or leash aggression, along with positive reinforcement to teach engagement with the handler, counter conditioning and desensitization, often times a training collar will be needed. A training collar could be a martingale, prong collar or e-collar. All are tools that “if used correctly”, rarely have to be used at all. These tools motivate the dog to stop doing something it shouldn’t be doing with a negative consequence. These are tools that need to be implemented with a trainers supervision and in combination with positive reinforcement can work very well for these types of behaviors , yet trainers are often told the owner “WILL NOT ” use a training collar.

Management should also be used during the training process but is also the only other option a person has if they refuse to use any form of reinforcement. Management simply means, keeping the dog out of situations that you know spark the response. It includes using baby gates, pens, kennels or fences to manage the dog. Management does not fix the problem, rather just manages the dogs behavior. It still takes work. Many trainers are told for different reasons, that the owner doesn’t want to contain their dog in a kennel or pen or behind a gate.

Often times, I guess due to human nature, a client goes through a trainers program, progress is being made yet still slacks off and goes back to their old ways, only to find the dog doing the same.

Many times I have gone to a clients house after several training sessions and find they are not wearing their treat pouch to positively reinforce good behaviors, they have changed the training collar to a harness which actually motivates a dog to pull, they stopped using their kennel to manage certain situations, and they no longer practice daily with the dog on the things they were taught such as obedience, leash walking and exercise, Then say………”I’m afraid, it’s not working.”

So, what is a trainer to do if the owner is unwilling to use positive reinforcement, positive punishment, management or anything we suggest? Welcome to the dilemma!

This is why many dog trainers do not take clients with behavioral problems or instead focus on teaching different classes such as obedience, agility or sport dog. When dealing with changing a dogs behavior, you are more than often dealing with changing the humans behavior, and that is much harder to do…..

So what am I saying, what is my point? I guess this is a plea to people with dog behavioral issues everywhere, help us help you!

Before you hire a trainer, research what kind of trainer they are, how knowledgeable they are and what their experience level is. Once you pick a trainer, regardless of what you have been told by non dog training people, listen to what they have to say, implement the training advice, and do the work….all of it! Don’t rule something out because of what you think about it based on what someone else said, without having any experience with it.

Dogs are not plug and play and all need some form of training, some more than others. When hiring a trainer don’t think he or she is there to fix the dog. They are there to teach you how to behave so your dog behaves. Realize there will be a lot of work on your part and……DO THE WORK! Help us, help you!

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, and pet stylist. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.

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Making sense of operant conditioning

For those who read our article Please help.

When it comes to dog training, dog trainers use what is called Operant conditioning. While many people become confused when they hear the word operant conditioning, the principles and categories are actually pretty straightforward.

Operant conditioning, or trial and error learning, is simply a description of how animals learn, a description that requires a few important definitions.  I have found that the best and most easily understood description regarding the 4 quadrants of operant conditioning is by Dr. Sophia Yin from her book How to behave so your dog behaves.

from How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves by Dr. Sophia Yin)

Reinforcement vs Punishment

The first two definitions to know are reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. For instance, if you call your dog and then give him a treat when he comes, he will be more likely to come the next time you call. Thus, by giving him a treat for coming, you reinforce his behavior of coming when called.

Punishment is anything that decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. For instance, if you call your dog and then yell and scream at him when he comes, he will be less likely to come the next time you call. Thus, by yelling at him, you punish his behavior of coming when called. This second scenario may seem an unlikely event, but it happens to people every day. When owners call Rover five or six times before he comes running and then yell at him for taking his time, they are really punishing him for coming when called.

Positive vs Negative

The second set of terms to know are positive and negative. Positive and negative do not mean good or bad; instead, think of them as a plus sign or a minus sign. Positive means that you’re adding something, and negative means you’re subtracting something. Positive and negative can be applied to both reinforcement and punishment.

Combining the Terms

Now we can combine the terms into four categories—positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Here’s what the categories are:

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement can be positive or negative. In either case, we are increasing the likelihood the behavior will occur again. Positive reinforcement means that by adding something the animal wants, you increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For instance, if you teach your dog to come to you by giving him a treat when he comes, you’re using positive reinforcement. By giving him food, which he likes, you’re increasing the likelihood that he will come to you the next time too.

Negative reinforcement means that by removing something aversive, something Fido dislikes, you increase the likelihood the behavior will occur again. For example, you decide to teach Fido to come by putting him on a leash and choke chain. You pull on his leash until he takes a step forward, and as soon as he comes forward, you release the pressure. That is using negative reinforcement. By removing the pressure as soon as he starts coming, you increase the likelihood that he will come the next time in order to avoid the pulling.

Another trick for remembering negative reinforcement is to think of it as nagging. When I was a child and my mother wanted me clean my room, she often had to keep telling me until I cleaned it. I would finally clean my room in order to avoid her aversive nagging.

Positive and Negative Punishment

Punishment can be positive or negative, too. In either case we are decreasing the likelihood the behavior will occur again.  It seems odd, but when we talk about punishment, we’re usually talking about positive punishment. Positive punishment just means that by adding something aversive, we decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For instance, your dog raids the garbage can when you’re not looking, so you booby-trap the garbage with mousetraps. The next time Spot sticks his nose in search of a snack, he gets a mousetrap surprise, which scares him. This booby trap decreases the likelihood that he will raid the garbage can again; thus, it is positive punishment.

Negative punishment means that by removing something the animal wants, we decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For instance, when dogs greet us by jumping, their goal is to get our attention. If we remove our attention every time Spot jumps by holding perfectly still and even looking away, eventually he will stop jumping. By removing the attention that he wanted, we decrease the likelihood that he will jump again.

 

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, and pet stylist. She is the owner of  Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs.  She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.