Tools, rules, exercise Part 3

Welcome to this three part blog series – Tools, rules, and exercise! If you haven’t read parts one and two, click the links below.

Part one – Tools

Part two – Rules

Now that you are caught up on Tools and Rules, lets talk exercise! Come on, you know you love it!

Exercise – We all know it is good for people. Studies show that regular exercise controls weight, combats health disease, boosts mood and energy levels, and improves sleep. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends people get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity to maintain health. Exercise is equally beneficial for our canine friends, is a necessity for both their physical and mental well being and is in their DNA.

At Super Mutts, along with tools and rules, exercise is a big part of our training program. Most behavioral issues we see are directly related to the amount of exercise the dog gets on a daily basis. A tired dog is a good dog! The first question we generally ask our training clients is how often they walk their dog. Inevitably, it is never enough, if at all. Many people fail to give their pet proper exercise for various reasons.

Some people do not exercise their dog because they pull on leash and are difficult to walk. Some people have dogs with leash aggression and the dog barks and lunges at people or other pets when on the walk. Some people have dogs with high prey drives and when they walk try to go after every little critter in site. Some people just dont like to walk. The truth is that lack of proper exercise will cause all of the aforementioned behavioral issues in dogs and many more.

Dogs have four legs and are meant to walk or travel. Wild dogs can walk twenty to thirty miles per day. A common misconception is if the dog has a big back yard, he gets all the exercise he needs. Yes, dogs get some exercise from walking around your house and yard but unless you live on a farm, your back yard is not enough. Imagine if someone told you, you would be confined to the house and the only place you could go was to your back yard. You do this for months or years with no end in site. Now, imagine instead of two legs, you have four. You probably would start to become a little crabby . If you did not see any people occasionally, you would start to lose social skills and eventually would become stir crazy. I believe the term is “cabin fever.” This is exactly what happens to dogs.
Not that long ago, in circuses, Lions and Tigers were kept in small cages. If you ever saw one, you would see that they pace continuously back and forth again and again and again, rarely stopping. They are trying to walk, to drain energy, even though they cannot go very far, they need the exercise. If your dog does not get proper exercise, he will make his own in whatever environment he is in.

Dogs that never get out of their home and back yard do not have a way to drain energy and will start to show all sorts of behavioral problems. They will be over reactive to sounds, smells and sights and will bark at everything, often we are told, “my dog barks all the time”. Dogs without proper exercise and socialization may become fearful of new people and may start to show signs of aggression such as barking, biting or growling. They will generally have a high energy level and be very alert. They may develop resource guarding of toys or food. They will chew things, dig holes, run the fence line, and a myriad of other things to drain energy. They will often bolt the door when opened and if they get out, will not come back when called. They are going stir crazy…..

Many people say they throw the ball for their dog or play with their dog on a daily basis and yes, this is also exercise and good for your dog and for bonding but not in place of structured exercise. You should provide both. A game of fetch is not enough to drain energy in a dog that never gets walked. Playing fetch gets a dog excited and a pent up dog does not need more excitement. It also does nothing to get him out of the four walls and yard he lives in. Play time with your dog should only begin after he has had proper exercise to drain some energy.

Different breeds of dogs and each individual dog have different energy levels. The higher energy level your dog has, the more exercise he needs. This is why picking the proper dog for your lifestyle is so important, you can read about how to pick the right dog here.

Huskies, terriers, or any herding, hunting or working breed generally have high energy levels and need a considerable amount of exercise such as running, trail hiking or long brisk walks. Breeds such as bulldogs and pugs have shorter noses and lower energy levels and require less exercise but still need some. Of course, all individual dogs, regardless of breed will have their own energy level. When choosing a dog, you should always choose a dog based on energy level before any other characteristic.

Some people tell us they do walk their dog daily. The question then becomes, how far and how fast. People generally walk considerably slower than our four legged counterparts. People saunter, dogs travel. If you have ever seen a group of dogs walking without humans, you will notice, they keep a rapid pace. This is one reason dogs will pull on the leash, the humans simply aren’t walking fast enough. If you ever notice a homeless person walking with a dog you will see that the dog is never pulling and generally very calm. This is because homeless people generally travel by foot so the dogs travel many miles per day, when they stop, the dog rests, he is tired, he has no interest in doing anything else.

Many people walk their dog at a slow pace, stopping frequently to talk to neighbors or for the dog to sniff or eliminate. To properly drain your dog of energy the walk should be for exercise and you should control the walk. You should walk at a quick pace, the dog beside you or behind you and should only let your dog sniff or eliminate either before or after the walk, in a designated area. By teaching your dog to properly walk on leash and controlling where and how fast he walks, establishes rules . Rules make him think, which is good for impulse control and in turn will drain energy. If a dog has physical and mental exercise while on the walk, he will drain more energy than if he simply pulls you everywhere.

If you have a dog with behavioral problems, ask yourself how often you exercise him, if the answer is none, then start. If you walk your dog and still have behavioral problems, ask yourself how fast and far you walk and increase both. If you have a very high energy level dog or if you are incapable of walking far or fast enough, you may need to teach him to run next to a bicycle, scooter, or golf cart or you may need to hire someone to walk, run or hike with him. Teaching a high energy level dog to walk on a treadmill is also a good way to drain energy but is not a substitute for walking outdoors.

Behavioral problems in dogs are often due to the fact that humans do not give them what they need. You can provide food, water and shelter to keep a dog alive but if you want to give him love, give him what he needs, as a dog. That starts by putting the right tools in place, providing security with rules to live by , and providing exercise to maintain physical and mental health. Give your dog what he needs and put all three elements in place and you might find that your dog didn’t have any behavioral problems to begin with, he was just missing something.

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach. 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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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.

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.