Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Who is your behaviour hero?

Just been having a fascinating conversation about fashion in training methodology.
Who do you look up to? Who do you regard as your inspiration.
Are you a reward-based type of owner - or are you a compulsion fan?
I'll reveal my personal prejudices - that after 18/19 years of doing Dogs Today, which is often filled with the best behaviour brains, I'd rather hoped that reward-based would have become the norm and that Barbara Woodhouse's stomp and jerk would have by now been consigned to nightmares, but there seems to have been a retrograde step where people who dominate dogs have become iconic.
That to bully is now more fashionable than to reward.
Is it a reflection of today's society? What are we teaching our kids? Is it the carrot or the stick in your home?
Depressingly the most popular trainer on TV these days has been seen stringing up a dog, doing alpha rolls and using electric shock collars. Are people watching to be entertained or are they, perish the thought, learning how to do it in their own homes?
Who is your behaviour hero and why?
Let's just see who gets the votes - perhaps I'm just behind the times and that compulsion is the new black and I'm just out of step...
Check out what the American behaviourists are saying...
I particularly draw your attention to a video clip which I have to say shocked our office to silence.


Anonymous said...

The most popular dog training club in my town still uses old fashioned methods, although they do allow owners to lure the dogs with food, but without any guidance as to how to reward correctly so behaviour is repeated and wean off the lures.

They don't allow choke chains, but half checks are recommended seemingly as a matter of course and we are told that if a dog lunges that's a good chance to do a 'really good check' which I believe is something Babs used to say!

Sadly as long as people still pay for the display team from this club they will keep going, teaching people to yank their dogs about, force them into sits, stand on leads etc. None of their methods worked wth the trainers own dogs (as I was often told they wouldn't bring their own dogs as they'd be shown up) yet they were happy to keep teaching them to us poor idiots.

My heros are the people from the decent clubs, out there every day, trying to teach people kind ways.

I have yet to see any trainer strangle a dog as CM did in that video though.

Geraldine Cove-Print said...

I'm not sure any one person has all the answers, dogs are so very individual and whilst they share common needs and behavioural traits they often display their anxiety, aggression and shyness in many different ways. Approaching every dog with a fixed schedule is bound to end in disaster, it's not about getting the dog to behave with the specialist, it's about showing the owner how to offer the dog the way forward into a balanced relationship and supporting the owner with advice tailored to that specific dog.

Karen Wild said...

No matter what your justification, you have to examine your methods on several levels. Is what you are doing fair? Is it kind? Does it feel rough, or harsh? Is it ethical? Does it cause pain?

Ego is clearly involved with many of these dominance trainers. "I must be 'in charge'", they say. "I must get the biggest dog, and force it to 'submit'". It is just plain bullying. It is macho physicality at its very worst. It also signifies a total lack of concern for the dogs and owners in question. Finally, it indicates that the trainer has been stuck in the past for far too long.

The problem with 'theories' is that they are used to justify the method.

Given the recent animal welfare act and the ongoing cascade of complaints, and court cases, issued to bullying trainers, I look forward to some very red faces.

Anonymous said...

Times they are a'changing! I have got into the dog world on the crest of this change. Bullying methods are finally being seen for what they really are. Most experienced trainers have re- educated themselves to the kinder more positive methods. The ones that don't will probably end up in court charged with animal cruelty! I'm just pleased for the dogs that things are looking better. Everytime I see a trainer forcing a dog, it makes me more determined to become a professional trainer and re-address the balance!

Anonymous said...

This is something I am very confused about! We recently had a behaviour problem with two of our dogs, and when we sought advice (from friends, dog lovers and trainers) the advice was very very mixed. Half said we need to "be the pack leader" and be "the boss" and recommended cesar milan books, choke chains etc, yet the other half said to stay away from them. You only have to google Cesar Milan to find debate after debate on forums about his methods.
I would love to see something about this in the magazine, something making clear the different methods, and their pro's and cons!! x

Angela said...

My behaviour heroes are:

Dr Ian Dunbar, not just because he uses kind, humane methods, but he also simplifies training and behaviour modification. Dog owners are all too often fixed on asking why does my dog do this, why does he behave in this way. While it is important to ask these questions, what is more important is to think. Well can I change the behaviour, and what should I do to change it. I believe in the principle of K.I.S.S. "Keep it Short and Simple" Don't try to analyse too much, just look at what you can do to effectively address the problem, in a kind, humane, positive way.

Other behaviour heroes high on my list:

Karen Pryor
Kathy Sdao
Patricia B McConnell

There are more but I'll keep it short and simple

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sorry but im on the other side here, its more about control than dominance and dont forget CM works with dogs many many other behaviourists have given up on and recommended euthenasia
His methods are different for every dog and they make sense A combination of reward and discipline is the way to go, all reward and nothing else results in out of control dogs which have no place in peoples homes. Bit similar to training children really,look where thats got us a generation of thugs, there are no consequences for bad behaviour, just the usual reward to shut them up I have had great success with CM s methods with my pack of four and no I dont bash em or roll em but i do INSIST they do as I want and not what they want
Just try stopping a stock chaser with rewards and dont forget fear of the consequences is how we all learn, its what stops us running in the road, and playing on the railway. Oh and yes I think Supernanny is the way to go too !

Tony said...

For those confused between Cesar's methods and the more friendlier methods, check out this link. Shows CM getting bitten and then an alternative way...

Reggie Quinn said...

Having only recently discovered Cesar, I may not have seen the full extent of the methods that are causing such offence to others, but I would like to offer my learning experience from the programs I have seen.

I walk my two lovely terriers every day and along the route there are a number of dogs, some in gardens and some out on the road, that bark aggressively at us. At first my two just returned the barks but this escalated to me being pulled along by them even before we get to these encounters, regardless of whether the dogs are home or not.

Distracting them i.e. touch on the neck and a 'shhh' just as they start to anticipate the encounter has worked for me. Now the barking dogs have calmed and we can pass quietly and without any hassle. It feels like they trust me now and just ignore what they once dreaded.

This has given me more confidence and as a result we now have very positive encounters with dogs on leads too.

I didn't feel that I was being dominant in any way. But maybe I'm just an a la carte Cesar fan, picking and choosing what is right for me and my girls! Let common sense prevail.

The Eejits said...

Okay, just a "Jo Public" Pet dog owner here - no experience of behaviour or behaviourists so can only speak as I have found. My first dog was a terrified rescue - even raising of voice illicited and puddle, cowering etc. Honestly, if a dog could have thrown his front paws over his head to protect himself he would have done. Therefore with him I have only ever used positive reinforcement with the odd "passive" punishment on the rare occasions it was needed. Namely disappointed quiet voice and exclusion/ignoring. This has worked well with him. When my little bitch joined us some four years ago now she was bold, confident and cheeky and has unfortunately needed slightly firmer handling - this so far has only ever been raised voice and one scruffing. Whatever the method it must be consistant! I guess it is like a previous poster said: I feel I have to find the best method for the dog.

I can't give a top 5 specific trainers but I find myself most watching and listening to the trainers on Dog Borstal.

Janet Finlay said...

Who are my behaviour heroes? A few spring to mind. Linda Tellington Jones, developer of TTouch - personally one of the most amazing people I have ever seen work with animals - and her training approach, TTouch, can be used by anyone to change emotional responses and behaviour without using fear or coercion. Her sister Robyn Hood and UK TTouch instructor Sarah Fisher are also fantastic and inspirational in the way they work with animals: Sarah's books (the second with Marie Miller - another great trainer) are brilliant. My other absolute favourite is Leslie McDevitt whose programme Control Unleashed is incredibly effective in changing reactive dogs - again all through positive training with no cooercion. All of these have proved time and again that you can change undesirable behaviours permanently and reliably using gentle, respectful and positive approaches.

murphy2402 said...

So - to add my Dog training heroes. Dr Ian Dunbar. Jean Donaldson. Common sense, not flashy, highly effective and NORMAL!

I advocate my clients to become the expert on their own dog, not to copy someone else's on TV. No-one is saying their methods don't work. There are alternatives that don't leave you with the power/dominance/ego boosting energy rush of CM. Maybe that's something we should examine in ourselves.

barrie said...

I was more than dismayed to learn that the first trainer in town to incorporate clickers in her training (pop with prong collar, click, shove treat in dog's mouth) is actually a graduate of Karen Pryor's school and attended a Bob Bailey camp. WTH?!?

This makes getting people to truly understand using positives very, very difficult since they THINK they have been.

Ok, heroes:

-Ian (and Kelly!) Dunbar
-Karen Pryor (I do not blame her for the local trainer's misunderstanding of clicker training in action!)
-Susan Garrett (her stuff is NOT just about agility and even the agility stuff can be modified for practical uses)
-and of course my own personal team of twitter trainers :-)

Meg said...

There are some very amazing trainers out there. The ones that I really respect are:

Ian Dunbar - I am about 25% through "How to teach a new dog old tricks" and I have really learned alot.

Patricia McConnell - I try to read everything she writes.

Suzanne Clothier - I highly recommend "Bones Would Rain From the Sky"

The common thread between the three is the emphasis on the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Are we discussing favourite trainers or fav behaviourists?

Dunbar's great but I never think of him as a behaviourist. Top trainer though.

Heather Houlahan said...

Way to get an honest response!

Who do you like? The lovely, sweet, gentle, "modern" puppy cuddler? Or the horrid medieval abusive dog beater? The answer will reveal whether you are a good person or some sort of criminal. Please discuss.

My heroes are trainers who actually get results -- meaning the dog's poor behavior disappears, and he learns new skills and achievements that elevate him, who recognize and provide a dog what he needs, not what makes the "trainer" feel validated, who can think for themselves.

The screed about the alleged dog beaters is particularly instructive coming from someone who claims that it's impossible to train a bearded collie (!?!) to come when called and refrain from bolting. (Which, for the record, I've achieved with no special difficulty with five or six examples of the breed, mostly dogs already identified as "challenging," using normal balanced methods and not permitting any excuses from their owners.) Beardies are a popular breed for competition obedience in this country. What's wrong with the ones over there?

Lucy King said...

I assume your office were shocked thinking the video was bad?

My thoughts are that he practically asphixiated the dog, hence its quiet behaviour although I would question why it wasn't muzzled.

Beverley Cuddy said...

Seem to have upset Heather! This is a subject that seems to get heated quite quickly!
I do not claim to be a dog trainer, I am just a dog owner. But if you look back you'll find its my Springer that is having problems, not my Beardie!
Although my Beardie has escaped through gates left open and I concede it woudl have been a good idea to train him not to need enclosure, be he is a curious soul and the open gate was a temptation. Didn't take much to get him back, although him finding his way home unaided seems unlikely - he can't find the hole in the hedge that went through 5 mins earlier or scale vertical walls like our Springer. Oscar the Beardie appears devoid of spatial awareness - a bit like his owner. Tess on the other hand appears to have Sat Nav.
Our Springer's problems are complex and we're seeing a new vet to see if there is a more subtle underlying medical prob - certainly don't think someone strangling her would add to the mix!
Oscar can sit, lie down, come back, give his paw and that's about all I've got around to teaching him. He walks okay on the lead, loves everyone. No ambitions to make him an obedience champion.
Tess can do all the above plus jump on a table like she's an agility dog - which was a stupid thing to teach her as can be annoying and embarrassing when she misreads the signal.
It's the erratic nature of her recall that's the problem. Slavish and immediate most of the time - and then at others a glazed expression as if she not only doesn't hear but doesn't even know who we are.
Things really shouldn't get too personal here, this needs to be an ethical debate.
Which method do you pick for training:
Reward or dominance?
If you're saying only behaviourists or trainers should have a view, well I disagree.
Dog owners are the customers.

Skidge said...

I have 2 Beardies, and attended Dog Training School with Beardie #1 which was a complete nightmare, I had spent the money before I was told it was clicker training, and I spend the whole time feeling as if I was choking the poor dog as all he wanted to do was play! Needless to say, that method didn't work for us in the end.

I then had a one to one session on recall, which involved using an extended lead and "checking" him to come back. Again, worked for a while. The he developed severe nervous problems which resulted in may months of heartache of seeing him terrified of open spaces and refusing a walk.

We consulted a lovely Behavourist - Lynne Rixon www.harmonydogs.co.uk who worked with us, changed his diet and introduced us to the Mekuti harness, so control was easier. She also suggested he may need a companion. Enter Beardie #2, and I have trained her myself. Her recall is excellent, and she sits and waits for treats and so on.

I have my dogs as companions, and like any animal or mammal (incl humans) they have their moments, but they know they are loved, they have their little habits, hate fireworks and chase cats!

I have watched Cesar Millan when Beardie #1 had problems and was quite interested in his kind methods, but stopped when he introduced a shock collar. Similarly the kind methods demonstrated by Dog Borstal are worth following, but I stop at hurting my dogs.

A note on Beardies to Heather - Glad you have trained Beardies, but they are skittish and have their moments - as I have put above. Don't use your "success" to publicly critcise someone who is encouraging an open debate, and at least is honest that her Beardie is a little slow on the recall uptake! Mine took nearly 3 years.

alfmcmalf said...

Undoubtedly an interesting, worthwhile and serious issue to debate. And as such needs lengthy and proper treatment. For me it invokes both ethical and philosophical considerations including the most fundamental at play here - why do we have dogs as pets? and why do we choose breeds originally bred for working as pets? I speak as one who has only had pointer type dogs and I keep them as pets.
So I am well aware of the dilemma of having to "channel" instincts into a pet lifestyle. I feel we are already up against it when choosing such breeds as domestic companions because when we talk about a well trained dog we are really talking about one that has had to have its behaviour modified significantly - aren't we?
The other consideration is that of "context". In the context of living in Arizona, for instance, with the threat of rattle snakes on dog walks would I resort to using a shock collar on my dog to teach him to avoid snakes? Actually I don't think I would. I would rather curtail his off lead activities. However would I apply Cesar Millan's techniques for helping me establish good behaviours around our front door here in York city and on meeting and greeting people? Yes I did. And they have worked a treat. I am not bullying my dog just giving him clear direction and rules. So in conclusion when used appropriately I am a Cesar Millan practioner. I loathe the constant "treating" techniques of others - they do not appeal to me at all.

Heather Houlahan said...

As for the horrible video that was so shocking ...

Have any of you ever retrained a biter? Bueller? Anyone?

Here's the sequence of what I saw happen --

Wolfish dog targets at border collie, as expected in this setup.

Trainer taps him on the flank to break focus.

Wolfish dog redirects extreme aggression onto trainer.

Tellingly, he does not go for the trainer's legs, but makes a gambit high up for the trainer's head and body core. This is a sign of serious intent. So is the dog's silence. A dog who is protesting in a confused and snappy way will make a lot of noise. A silent dog means to hurt you. To punish you for insulting him.

Trainer does what any competent animal handler does -- he protects himself using the leash. At least twice, the trainer offers the dog the option of continuing to walk parallel, and the dog resists that option and goes back to a head/core slash attack. The trainer is first and foremost in a fight with the dog now; a goodtrainer who is mentally prepared can both win the fight and teach the dog something important.

Wolfish dog continues to make slash attacks towards body core (hence the defense injuries on trainer's arms). This is a very tall dog with a rather short trainer, which makes both self-defense and instruction quite a bit more difficult. It also makes it physically impossible for trainer to "hang" the dog, as he has often been accused of doing.

Trainer continues to control the attacking dog with the leash.

Would you all have liked to see the trainer give the dog some slack at this point, perhaps offer a cookie? Please explain how you would protect yourself from attack in this circumstance. Stating that you would not put yourself in this position -- which is good policy for people who don't know how to train aggressive dogs -- is not an acceptable answer. There are those of us who are paid to take these risks on. We didn't create the problem, and wishing the problem didn't exist doesn't make it go away.

When the dog signals that he is ready to call off the attack -- that he knows he has lost -- trainer puts him on his side. This is deftly done. The dog stays on his side without physical force.

The dog is breathing normally while on his side, given the amount of physical and emotional exertion involved in the attempted attack. His tongue and mucous membranes are a normal color. He is not cowering or trembling. He is fully capable of getting up. He does not.

Now, were this a trained dog -- one that had at least some obedience commands -- and had it come at me in that manner, I'd have kept the dog in motion and started requiring first simple, then more difficult mental tasks from him. But that's me, and I'm going to guess that this dog has no obedience training.

The only thing more instructive than this video are the various responses that people have to it. Tells me a lot of about what they imagine about animals.

Anonymous said...

Well said Heather, Maybe the bad behaviour of some dogs can easily be diverted with a reward, so can children but have they learnt anything? I had a youngster that flatly refused to have nails trimmed, becoming hysterical, with the behaviour worsening every time(and yes he had nails trimmed from a puppy with rewards) he decided he wasnt having them done full stop, rewards, distractions, waiting till he was sleeping, tiring him out first i tried everything and the whole thing became a nightmare with in the end him trying to bite me. Rather than let this carry on i decided he was having nails done end of, so i held him down calmly determinned whatever happened he wasnt getting up, when he relaxed i allowed him to get up and he had a reward. This exersise was repeated a few times then i did nails, no protest,no struggling ,when they were done he had his reward. What could have been a long and stressful struggle for him and me was solved , he has not had an issue with it since
if i wanted to "train" him to sit or anything of that nature then thats a different issue and i would use all reward training with no compulsion

Janet Finlay said...

Heather asks how we might have done things differently than this video but suggests we are not allowed to say we wouldn't get ourselves into that situation. Well sorry to disappoint but that is the answer! Getting into that position is not necessary if you are prepared to work to the dog's rather than the camera's pace. I have worked with dogs with dog-dog aggression but I don't get myself into a position where the dog feels the need to redirect on to me. For a start I wouldn't start with a dog aggressive dog so close to another dog - what is the point of forcing the behaviour you are trying to address? Instead I would've started working below the dog's threshold - where they don't feel the need to react - using TTouch to release tension in the dog and clicker training to train acceptable behaviours in the presence of other dogs. I would only move closer at the dog's pace. I wouldn't have kicked the dog and if I had any doubt about whether it would bite I would have had a muzzle on the dog. None of this would've made good television as success for me is that the dog is never forced to react - and it would take a lot longer - but it works without putting anyone at risk and without terrorising the dog - and it concentrates on changing the dog's emotional reaction to the other dog making the change in behaviour more reliable and permanent.

I wonder why those who support more confrontational methods feel the need to characterise positive training as "cuddling puppies" and "offering a cookie"? That is not positive training! I use TTouch which reduce stress in the animal (which makes them more able to learn) and I use clicker training which gives the animal clear information about what I want them to do. Neither of these are about about cuddling or offering cookies. But they are about training with respect and improving communication. So I don't expect dogs to behave as I want if I haven't shown them clearly what I want. And I don't punish them for stress reactions or, indeed, for my own mistakes.

TraceyMcL said...

My top behaviour hero has got to be Sarah Fisher. Closely followed by Linda Tellington-Jones and her sister Robin Hood.

I've got to say that I'm baffled that anybody would think you've got to use those methods with any dog. To attempt what CM does with dogs who use aggressive behaviour seems particularly ill advised.

I have a male bullmastiff who is now 8 years old. He has very good social skills with other dogs. He's polite when dogs visit us, gentle with scared dogs and good at calming down very bouncy dogs. He's getting a bit old for it now but people who have dogs that have difficulty socialising have often asked me if they can walk their dog with my bullmastiff.

He wasn't always like that. When he was younger, he had a very unpleasant experience which left him mistrustful of other dogs and he dealt with that by being aggressive. He very nearly killed another dog at the height of his problems.

Nothing would have made me consider using the sorts of methods CM uses. My bullmastiff would quite rightly have hospitalised me if I'd behaved like that toward him. He's a sweet, sweet dog. He's a retired PAT dog and is very good with people but I'd never ever recommend behaving aggressively toward him.

I used TTouch, lots of positive reinforcement of behaviour I wanted, lots of setting up situations so I'd get the behaviour I wanted, lots of patience and lots of help and support from local dog owners.

CM's handling of that dog is horrendous. He clearly sets up a situation where the dog will attack him. Whether this is done deliberately for the cameras or through incompetence I don't know but the dog's reaction is totally his fault.

After doing that, he doesn't have enough responsibility to admit that this mistake was his but continues to blame the dog.

And for some reason, he believes that he is a good leader. That's not what I consider an example of good leadership.

Attempts to suppress behaviour as a means of solving problems just seems odd to me.

You can train a dog to do pretty much anything with a bit of planning and some well timed rewards. That includes behaving well in situations that they currently find difficult.

Mina said...

"Have any of you ever retrained a biter?"

Yes, I think so. Read my Fred's blog (from the beginning). He had to be muzzled because he bit me so often, and although he's a small dog he jumps really high and bites while he's up there.

Possibly he bit for a different reason from the dog in that video, but you mention redirected aggression, and that's why Fred was biting me. He couldn't get to the dogs that were exciting him, so he'd bite me. Often whether or not I was trying to refocus his attention to me.

I found I could protect myself adequately with a muzzle. It felt as if I was exploding from frustration numerous times but I never strangled my dog.

Fred sometimes still needs his muzzle, and occasionally will still use his teeth if he's in pain, so perhaps he's not been 'retrained' at all, but the vast majority of things that used to trigger Fred to bite don't trigger him anymore.

People regularly compliment Fred on his behaviour now.

My heros are the people on the 'bookshelf' on Fred's blog, as I read everything I could to try to help him. I

Anonymous said...

I've been in many debates about CM and his methods and after watching that video can only say i'm glad i know more sense.

Does the dog really want to "relax" or is it just so scared for it's life after being choked and forced to the ground that it feels it's the safer option?

Training is not about creating fear in your dog...any dog that fears you will most likely do as it's told. It's about fun and encouraging the dog to WANT to work for you. Training is about bonding on a level of great trust in each other.

CM uses far to many refrences to dominant behaviour. I think there are in fact very few real cases of dominant dogs. Many people have been led to believe that a dog who pulls you out on his walk is dominant as he's leading you..what a load of baloney!

Granted CM has done alot for dogs on death row and advocated for the rights of Pit Bulls but i don't think this is an excuse for his methods of training with other dogs.

It scares me that people may be sitting at home thinking this is the right way to train dogs!


Passerby said...

"A silent dog means to hurt you. To punish you for insulting him."

Oh Heather, shame on you for anthropomorphizing like this!

Dogs have no concept of punishment - that relies not only on the possession of abstract thought, but also the awareness of abstract thought in others, ie by believing that the recipient can interpret the punishment.

And the idea that a dog could conceive of "insult" (which I assume you mean in the standard, and not clinical, meaning) is laughable!

That poor dog was only trying to defend himself, and comparisons drawn between dogs and children (over the age of three, anyway) are utterly meaningless - even a young child can reflect and understand abstracts, no dog can understand them in any meaningful way.

No good trainer or behaviourist (or owner or vet) should EVER allow themselves to be in a position to be attacked!

You do that by not provoking the dog, controlling his responses using distraction and positive reinforcement, and then slowly rebuilding the kind of trust and confidence he needs to see you as an ally and leader, not a threat or a dominant bully.

I'm shocked by this video and I think the fact that most police forces, the army, and security-dog trainers have moved over to positive reinforcement, and away from punishment and domination, speaks more clearly for what actually works in the real world.