We often assume collars are safe and rely on them to carry our dog’s identification tags, but dog collar strangulation is sadly a possibility and there are more and more stories about this type of accident occurring. The collar may get caught in some branches or one dog may get stuck into another dog’s collar when playing. More and more doggy day cares are changing their policies on the use of collars and there are fortunately some safer alternatives to regular collars to help prevent the chance for dog collar strangulation.
Risks of Dog Collars
A regular dog buckle collar may look like an innocent piece of equipment. It simply encircles your dog’s neck and it carries important information such as your dog’s identification tags, rabies tags and proof of dog license.
Your dog’s collar also comes handy should you quickly get a hold of your dog or quickly attach a leash to it. However, the same collar one perceives as “safe” can pose great dangers and even cause death.
There are several reports of dogs being strangled to death by their collars during play. How does this happen? All it takes is a dog’s lower jaw to get twisted into the other dog’s collar or a tooth to get stuck in a buckle hole while the dogs are playing. Both dogs panic, and by the time the owners rush to help the dogs, it may be too late. It takes only a few seconds for strangulation to occur. Collar accidents can therefore even happen with close supervision.
As mentioned, another risk is the dog’s collar getting stuck in something. The collar may get snagged in the wires of a crate or kennel and if the door stay outdoors, the collar may snag on branches a fence or the deck and many other things out there. While collar accidents may sound like freak accidents, the fact that more more people are reporting them means that they are more common than thought.
Did you know? An estimated 26,000 dogs a year suffer from injury or death due to collar strangulation accidents. Sadly, most of these accidents could have been avoided.
Taking Precautionary Steps
Back in the days when working for an animal hospital, collars were the first thing we removed from a dog upon admission into the hospital. This meant all dogs coming in for medical procedures that required an in-hospital stay even for just a few hours, had their collars removed immediately.
What did we replace the collars with? We used these flimsy looking identification collars made of the same material as medical hospital identification bracelets with the pet’s name and owner’s name written with a black marker.
We prepared these “collars” the day prior to the dog being admitted. The same collars were used for dogs just dropped off for grooming or dogs boarding while the owners were on business trips or on vacation. In a dog day care setting, most business owners are starting to recognize that most collars are safety hazards in group play. These establishments are therefore removing dog collars and replacing them with collars that have been purposely designed for safety in group play.
“You can think of it as you would any safety measure such as backing up your computer or wearing a life vest, seat belt or bike helmet…Taking collars off dogs is a safety measure to prevent the worst-case – when the dog’s collar might get entangled on another dog or an object, and the dog chokes to death. At that point it’s too late to say, “if only . . .”~Gail Fisher
Alternative to Buckle Collars
So what is a safer option to prevent dog collar strangulation? A quick-release collar is purposely crafted in such a way as to prevent collar strangulation.
Quick-release dog collars as their name implies, have a buckle that releases quickly when pressure is applied allowing quick intervention should the need arise.
When a buckle collar gets snagged onto something or one dog gets trapped into the collar of another every second counts. It’s unfortunate, but most people won’t have access to a knife or strong scissors to cut free the dog free in time to save a dog from asphyxiation. The quick-release buckle therefore allows fast intervention. Another option is a safety breakaway collar. This collar looks similar to a buckle collar, but has a safety mechanism which allows the dog to break free of the collar when excessive force is applied. Other options include the Safe Dog ID Collar and the Tazlab Safe-T-Stretch Collar.
A word of caution is needed for these too though: with this collars, should you end up one day with the need to grab your dog by the collar to either stop him from greeting an unfriendly dog or running into traffic, you risk ending up with the breakaway collar in your hand and loose dog in danger!
And what about identity? Many people wonder about this. Many quick release collars have D rings so to allow owners to attach their dog’s collar ID tags, but ID tags can also be dangerous, so some of them offer the opportunity to engrave contact information directly on the collar. Are they entirely safe though? Safe is a difficult word to use, so perhaps it’s just better to just say “safer.” Some doggy day cares prefer to play it safer rather than safe and cut their risks for liability by simply adopting a “no collar rule.” And of course, loads of supervision to keep everybody safe is greatly important too!
“If you’re nervous about having your dog naked (and without ID), use a collar with a buckle that can be released even under tension. Another option is a safety breakaway collar.”~Nancy Kerns
Flickr Creative Commons, Logan Ingalls Gus was in the hospital – HE’S HOME NOW! CCBY2.0
Wikipedia, Nylon quick-release buckle collar with identification and medical tags. The original uploader was Elf at English Wikipedia – CCBY3.0
When it comes to naming your dog, you are likely looking for names that are appealing and have a special meaning to you, but have you ever thought about what’s best for your dog? Names are perceived differently by dogs than the ways us humans perceive them. Dogs aren’t born knowing their names; just as with a dog whistle, it takes some associative learning to understand the meaning of certain spoken words or sounds. Since dogs don’t perceive words like we do, it’s also important that the name you choose has certain characteristics so that it’s not confused with other words that are commonly used. So here are some tips on choosing your dog’s name. Perhaps, you can find a name that is appealing to you and that’ll also work fine for you canine pal as well, a win-win!
Keep it Different From Other Cues
It’s often forgotten that a name from a dog’s perspective is simply another cue that tells him to pay attention to you and come running to you when it’s followed by the word “come!”
If your dog has been already obedience trained, most likely he’s very familiar with certain cues such as sit, down, heel, leave it, watch, drop and stay, so you want to pick a name that doesn’t sound too similar to these words.
If your dog is a puppy and has not been obedience trained yet, then you’ll have to be careful about names that are going to sound similar to the cues you’ll be using in the future.
Advanced planning is important but if you really like a name that might be confused with a certain training cue, then for sake of clarity, you may want to change the word used as a training cue to avoid confusion.
Here are a few examples of sound-alike names that may sound too similar to training cues.
For instance, “Brown” or “Clown” may sound too similar to the the training cue “down.” Kay, Fay or May may sound too similar to the cue “stay.” Phil or Steel may sound similar to “heel.” Butch or Catch may sound similar to “watch.” Tidbit, Smith, Quick, Pit or Kit may sound too similar to “sit” and the name “Oliver” may be confused with the trick cue “roll over.” And so on.
Fortunately, nowadays there are extensive dog name options and choosing a name that doesn’t sound too similar to regular training cues should be quite easy, but wait there’s more to keep into consideration when choosing your dog’s name!
Tip: if you own two dogs try your best to give them names that are easy to distinguish from one another.
Keep it Sweet and Short
Have you ever gone to a dog show and felt intrigued by the long and weird names of certain dogs? Well, in the world of showing dogs, those long names are there for several good reasons! First off, those show dogs needs a name that stands out and doesn’t resemble in any way quintessential dog names such as Missy or Fluffy, but most importantly, often, the dog’s name includes information about the dog’s ancestry, something that the owners are very proud after years of breeding certain bloodlines.
Not to mention, sometimes special titles are also added into the mix making these names even longer! For instance, Sky, the wire fox terrier who won the 2012 AKC championship is named “GCH Afterall Painting the Sky.“The GCH in this case stands for the title of grand championship.
As you can imagine, if a show dog would be called by his official name, he would be long gone and missing by the time the owner ends up finishing pronouncing the dog’s name! But of course, things must get practical, which is why owners of show dogs give their dogs another name to respond to, in this case a shorter nickname that’s formally known as the”call name.” Ideally, dog names show not be longer than two syllables. This way you can pronounce the name quickly in the circumstance where you need your dog’s immediate attention.
Did you know? The American Kennel Club allows registration of dog names that can be up to 36 characters long. Need more? For a $10 fee owners can use up to 5o!
Use Strong Consonants
Look for names with sharp consonants. What consonants are considered sharp? The letters P, K and D are consonants that make quite an impact. According to Patricia McConnell these hard consonants are known for creating “broad-band” sounds (just like those produced by clickers), that carry a lot of energy and are great for capturing a dog’s attention.
For those interested in neuroscience, interestingly, the sounds produced by such consonants are more prone to stimulate a dog’s acoustic receptor neurons in the brain compared to flatter sounds such as those produced by vowels or soft consonants.
Of course, a name with sharp consonants isn’t a must, as you can train a dog to pay attention to any name if you work on creating positive associations, but hard consonants along with just one syllable, maximum two, can make a difference, especially if your dog is a working dog or engaged in dog sports when you might need his immediate attention.
There, now you know why so many border collies are named Hope!
“If you analyze the acoustics of spoken language, you’ll find that saying hard consonants, such as “k,” “p” and “d,” create what are called “broad-band” sounds, with lots of energy across a range of frequencies.” ~Patricia McConnell
Give it a Meaning
As mentioned, dogs are not born knowing what their name is and they don’t perceive words the way we do. As talkative humans, we must keep this into consideration. So when our dogs first hear their names it’s a pretty irrelevant sound, or at most, they may show an orienting response by turning their head or twitching their ear our way when we first pronounce it.
It’s important though to not make the grave mistake of pronouncing the name over and over without giving it a meaning. Don’t fall into the “broken record trap” often seen when owners repeatedly say their dogs’ name inadvertently making their names less and less powerful up to a point that the dog starts caring less about all the meaningless blabbering.
So how do we give a dog’s name its meaning? Imagine the process of giving your dog’s name its meaning as charging a battery; you want to make your dog’s name more and more powerful through powerful associations. And how can we form these powerful associations? With things and activities your dog loves and looks forward to everyday.
Food is always a great incentive to start with. In a quiet room with little distractions going on, pronounce your dog’s name. The moment he turns around, toss a treat on the floor. Now wait for him to wander away a bit from you. Call his name again, the moment he turns around again, toss a treat on the floor. Repeat several times. When your dog gets the idea, you can know incorporate some fun training if your dog is trained already. Say your dog’s name, the moment he has your attention, ask him to sit or respond to some other cue he knows. Then reward him with praise and treats.
Now it’s time to make your dog’s name music for his ears. Say your dog’s name followed by the cue “come!” when it’s meal time, when it’s time to play, when you have a bran new toy hidden behind your back to give him or a bone or when you are about to go out in the yard together or go for a walk. Here’s a big, big rule of thumb though: never use your dog’s name and/or ask him to come when something negative is about to follow. Like saying your dog’s name and calling him and giving him a bath if he dreads baths. This is like un-charging that battery you worked so hard to charge, weakening it and possibly leading to a dog who is more and more tentative to respond to his name and come when called! Keep your dog’s name always positive, fun, upbeat and meaningful for your dog!
“A dog’s name becomes a signal which tells him that the next sounds that come out of his master’s mouth are supposed to have some impact on the his life. Thus a dog’s name linguistically translates into something like “This next message is for you.”~Stanley Coren
Re-Naming a Dog After Adoption
Did you get a dog from the shelter who promptly responds to the name his previous owner gave him, but you’re not too enthusiastic about using it? You may have heard that’s it’s not a good idea to change a dog’s name after adoption, but changing a dog’s name is possible as long as you follow a particular procedure to make it a success. Here’ briefly how to do it.
For sake of example, let’s say your dog’s name was Cujo and you want to call him ‘Samson” so you can prevent people from thinking that your sweet dog is a mean dog.
So in a quiet room start by calling your dog’s name “Cujooo!” and giving him a treat when he looks at you, do this at least three times. Then in the middle of all this, say “Samson-Cujooo!” he may hesitate when you say Samson a bit, but should come to you upon hearing Cujo. When you get his attention give him a treat. This might sound long, but you’ll need to do this for just a few trials. Then, start fading the name Cujo a bit. Say “Samson-Ujo!” give a treat for looking at you/coming towards you. Then make it ‘Samsoon-jo!” and keep giving a treat for coming to you. Finally, just say “Samsoooon!” dropping the old name altogether and when your dog is paying attention/coming to you, this time give him a jackpot, basically give him 3-4 treats in a row so that it really makes a great impact on him.
Keep practicing in the quiet room a bit but also start practicing in other rooms where there are more distractions going on and then in your safely fenced yard. Don’t forget to have other family members practice too!
Psychology Today, The Art and Science of Naming a Dog, retrieved from the web on Dec 9th, 2016
The Bark, A Dog by Any Other Name, retrieved from the web on Dec 9th, 2016
Let’s face it: dogs love couches, chairs, sofas and beds for the same reasons we do: they are comfortable pieces of furniture and make dogs feel secure, you may therefore be looking for ideas on how to train a dog to get off the bed or furniture. Training a dog the “off cue” requires a little bit of initial effort, but with some tasty treats, your dog should get the concept in no time. Dogs aren’t brought into this world knowing what the “off cue” means so it’s ultimately our job to teach them. So here’s a helpful guide on training your dog to get off the bed, couch or other furniture.
First, Skip These Harmful Training Methods!
If you feel compelled to get your dog off the bed or couch just because “you said so” by grabbing him by the collar or pushing him off, consider that this may cause problems in the long run. Scruff shakes are a big no no, which could backfire and lead to worse problems, and scolding a dog for not getting off the bed often accomplishes nothing other than causing fear and stress as the dog often has no clue of what he’s being asked for.
So what’s left to do? You can train the positive off cue, which will tell him what you exactly want him to do. Indeed, most dogs who are trained “off” using positive, dog friendly training methods are often collaborative and willing to give up the comfy bed when asked.
Why do we call it the “positive off cue?” The word “command” gives the idea of asking our dogs to “get off or else” and this is a type of warning rather than a benign signal for getting a dog to willingly complete the action of getting off the bed.
“A cue is completely different from a command. There is no threat implied with a cue. A cue is like a green light that tells the dog that now is the time to execute a behavior for the chance of reinforcement.” Joan Orr
A Word About Words
Using the “off” word comes handy if you want to find a way to get your dog off the bed or off the couch and you never used this word before, but you may have to re-consider using the word “off”if you used this word in the past and it has assumed negative connotations (poisoned cue). If you used the word “off” before in a harsh tone of voice or worse, used it when pushing your dog off the bed or pulling him by the collar, you are better off using a whole new, fresh word. What word can you use? You may want to skip “down” as you might use this to cue your dog to lie down and thing get confusing with using a cue for two different actions, so why not try with “floor” or “jump” instead?
How to Teach Your Dog Off
Teaching your dog off comes handy both for preventing problems such as a dog who acts protective of the bed or growls when asked to get off the couch. If your dog has shown signs of aggression though, you want to have a dog trainer or behavior consultant guide you through this training for safety purposes. We don’t want anybody to get hurt!
Here’s how to teach a dog the off cue. Arm yourself with a clicker and some tasty treats. If you do not have a clicker or don’t know how to use one, you can replace it with a verbal marker such as “yes.”
Wait for your dog to jump on the couch or bed. If your dog doesn’t go, you can try to persuade him by tapping on the couch or bed. If your dog goes on the bed at certain times of the day, plan your training sessions around that specific time.
Say your cue “off” or “floor!” and then toss a treat on the floor with a downward motion of you hand. Treats that are hard and make a noise as they make impact with the floor work better as they’re more likely to grab a dog’s attention.
Just when your dog jumps off the bed or couch, say “yes” or click your clicker and then your dog is off to eat the treat.
Repeat this exercise several times when the opportunity presents making it a fun and upbeat activity.
At some point, say “floor” without actually tossing the treat. Just pretend you toss it. When your dog jumps down say “yes” and feed him the treat, but this time from your other hand. Your goal is to say”floor” and stop tossing the treat. You can morph the tossing treat hand movement with you just pointing at the floor and then feeding the treat from your other hand when you dog jumps down.
Now, it’s time to further raise criteria. A day may arrive when you need your dog to get off the furniture and you don’t have treats. Start mixing in praise without giving treats or other rewards such as offering a favorite toy you have hidden behind your back or pocket or rushing together to the yard to play. Don’t stop giving treats altogether though, especially if your dog is particularly food motivated; he may still need the occasional treat to keep himself motivated!
Tip: what if my dog keeps jumping up more and more on the bed because he has learned he gets a treat when he’s asked off? If so, congratulations! You got quite a bright fellow there! It’s called a behavior chain, just like dogs learn to jump on people and then sit for a treat or to pull on the leash and then heel for a treat, in a yo-yo-like fashion.
How to break the chain? Here’s a little tip. When your dog jumps off the bed, don’t immediately give a treat, instead, ask him to do another behavior instead such as a sit, a down or a cute trick. And don’t forget to close that bedroom door: bed out of sight, bed out of mind!
You may have heard about dog whistles, special devices often portrayed as magically turning a distracted dog into an obedient dog who runs towards his owner immediately, no questions asked. As much as dog whistles may seem appealing, they are not really these magical training objects as they are often portrayed. No training tool will train your dog with no effort, suddenly turning incorrigible Marley into the most obedient dog of the planet. Here are some interesting facts about dog whistle training to be aware of before tossing the dog whistle into the trash.
1) Dog Whistles are Not as Modern as Thought…
When you purchase a silent dog whistle, you may think that it is some modern invention of the 21st century and that silent dog whistle training is a new trend.
In reality, dogs have been whistle trained for a very long time. Using their tongues, lips and pair of effective lungs, shepherds have been providing instructions to their herding dogs through whistle pips and blasts for centuries.
Whistles have also been used by hunters for many years so to provide their pointers, setters and retriever dogs with directions from a distance.
Did you know? The invention of the actual silent whistle dates back to 1876 when sir Francis Galton created it when studying how humans and animals hear. For this reason, dog silent whistles are also known as “Galton Whistles” so to honor his creator.
2) But They Come Handy in the 21st Century.
In more modern settings, police have been using silent whistles to signal to their dogs commands from a distance for quite some time. The whistle blast may tell the dog to corner a suspect without prior warning, so that the suspect doesn’t know what to expect, explains Stanley Coren in the book “How Dogs Think.”
You don’t though have to be a shepherd or a hunter or a policeman to reap the benefits of whistle training. Anybody can enjoy the amenities of silent whistle training their dogs.
Indeed, you can keep the tradition of whistle training dogs alive by simply relying on your own natural whistling abilities, or if you are a poor whistler, you can always purchase a professional dog whistle so that you can start whistle training your dog.
The art and tradition of training dogs with a whistle indeed has made a comeback, and it is being used with success even for training dogs simple cues such as a sit or a powerful recall. For a good reason more and more dog trainers are wearing their silent whistles on a lanyard around their neck! This way, they don’t have to fear about losing their whistles and they can still provide additional visual cues such as directional hand movements as needed.
3) Silent Whistles Reach the Ultrasonic Range…
The silent whistle for dogs gains its name from the fact that it is meant to emit sounds that are in the ultrasonic range. What does this mean? It means that its sound can be detected by animals, but not necessarily by humans.
Dogs in particular are known for having a sense of hearing that can detect the ultrasonic range possibly courtesy of their past as hunters. Several squeaks of small rodents indeed tend to reach the ultrasonic level and this may have been helpful to the dog’s ancestors.
“Ultrasound may posses some innate significance as a directional indicator for detecting and locating small prey animals whose distress vocalizations are expressed at ultrasound frequencies” says Steven Lindsay in the book ” Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning.”
A dog whistle is therefore expected to reach the range of 23,000 to 54,000 hertz which is above the hearing range of humans considering that humans can only hear sounds between 64 to 23,000 hertz.
“Ideally dog whistles emit a frequency of between 23,000 and 54,000 Hz although some emit frequencies as low as 16,000 Hz (which people can hear) or much higher than 55,000 Hz (which dogs can’t hear).” ~D Caroline Coile, Margareth H. Bonham
4) But They are Not as Silent as Thought
The term silent whistle is a bit of a misnomer considering that the majority of silent whistles on the market emit a sound that humans can detect.
Humans though may not hear the silent whistle the same way dogs do and over the same distances, but they can detect a hissing sound.
Many dog owners are annoyed by the fact that they hear the sound. They believe the silent whistle must have a pitch that only dogs may hear, and therefore think they have fallen victims of a gimmick, but after all, this feature comes handy, as at least you get to know the whistle is working properly!
“Silent dog whistles make use of the high-frequency sounds that dogs can hear and we can’t, but they are something of a gimmick: Whistles that produce at least some sound audible to human ears are much easier for us to control. (How can you tell when a silent whistle isn’t working?)” ~John Bradshaw
5) Dogs Aren’t Born Whistle Trained
Many dog owners toss away their silent whistle or ask the company that produces them their money back. Why? Because they expect their dogs to respond to it with no previous training!
If for instance, you look at several reviews, you might stumble on several dog owners making remarks such as: “My dog cared less about the silent whistle!” or “It doesn’t stop my dog from barking.”
Dogs are not born whistle trained and the dog whistle is not meant to stop a dog from barking, unless you invest some time in training your dog to respond to its sound so to interrupt a behavior and re-direct it by giving something else to do.
Just as with other training tools such as clickers and target sticks, dogs need some guidance to fully understand how dog whistles work.
But they Can Be Conditioned to Respond to its Sound
A big mistake dog owners make when using a silent whistle is to not allow it to have a meaning.
Without any training, the dog may just show an orienting response the first few times the whistle is blown. The dog may twitch his ears in direction of the sound, perhaps turn his head or even come running to check on its source. Some dogs may bark.
On top of that, if the silent whistle is improperly overused, it just teaches dogs that it’s a sound they don’t need to listen for. Therefore, instead of learning to pay attention to it, they learn to ignore it (learned irrelevance), which is the opposite of what you might want.
To train a dog to come running at the sound of the silent whistle, the whistle needs to become a conditioned reinforcer for it to become effective. Conditioned reinforcers are basically things that are neutral and therefore don’t have much significance to the dog or minimal significance, but that through experience your dog has learned to appreciate because they have been associated with a primary reinforcer (anything your dog doesn’t need to learn to love) such as food.
How does a dog whistle assume such special meaning? Here is brief guide on whistle training a recall.
Whistle Training a Recall
If your dog is already trained to come when called and reliably responds to his name, adding the whistle to the mix can be as easy as pie. Simply, let three to four repeated blasts precede the regular words you use for a recall repeatedly (eg. 3-4 whistle blasts then “Rover come!”), strongly reinforcing every time he comes to you with several treats given in a row.
After several repetitions of hearing the 3-4 whistles blasts followed by his name, your dog will soon start understanding that the new whistle blasts are a cue that precedes being called.
Since dogs have a tendency to anticipate, at some point, you’ll notice that he’ll start responding to the whistle alone even before you call his name!
If your dog instead isn’t reliable when it comes to coming when called, then you’ll have a little more work to do. Your first step is giving the whistle a strong meaning, and the best way is to do this is with tasty treats.
So start by blowing the whistle, and then giving a treat. Blow the whistle and give a treat. Repeat this exercise several times in a row, until your dog makes the association that the sound of the whistle means that a treat is coming. You know your dog got the the idea when, upon blowing your whistle, Rover comes looking for his treats.
Gradually, start increasing distance and adding distractions. Try blowing your whistle when your dog is away from you at a short distance and then when he is a bit distracted.
As your dog gets good at this, increase distance more and more and add more and more distractions. If your dog struggles coming to you at any time, you know that most likely, you are asking too much and your dog is not ready for this level of difficulty yet.
Progress slowly making sure you don’t jump ahead too much at a higher level when your dog still hasn’t mastered dealing with the challenges to the level prior to that.
Tip: If your dog loves meal time and it’s one of the most anticipated events of the day, have a helper hold him (use caution if he gets too frustrated) while you prepare his meal. Then, use those whistle blasts a split second before you place the bowl on the floor as your helper releases him. Your dog will rush to eat his meal. Repeat a few times in the next few days. Then, prepare his meal one day while he is out and about exploring in the yard. Then, place the bowl on the floor, open the door and use those whistle blasts to announce to him that his dinner is ready in his bowl. Your dog should come dashing inside and the whistle sound will soon become music to his ears!
The Bottom Line
Whistle training is great tool that can bring appealing results. It comes handy when you are working on distance and when rain or high winds may cover your voice. A whistle works better than voice in guiding dogs because its sound is more consistent than voice.
The only few drawbacks is that you’ll need some conditioning exercises to introduce it to your dog so that it has a meaning and that you’ll have to carry it with you all the time you plan on training (but it’s a good idea to always keep it on you just in case). Look for a model that you can carry around your neck.
When it comes to pitch, consider that there are whistles that are fixed while others are adjustable and therefore come with a locking nut that can be loosened so to adjust the pitch. If that’s the case, you might have to experiment and figure out which pitch your dog responds best to.
Why Do Dogs Like Balls?: More Than 200 Canine Quirks, Curiosities, By D. Caroline Coile, Margaret H. Bonham, Sterling (September 2, 2008)
Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend …By John Bradshaw, Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (May 8, 2012)
Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning, By Steven R. Lindsay, Iowa State University Press, 2000.
How do dogs learn? When it comes to learning, dogs can be taught in several ways. Dogs do not come with an operating instruction manual nor with a troubleshooting guide. It’s up to us to understand how to teach a dog so that the dog can learn. It is only by understanding the underlying machine that motivates dogs that we can really understand the engineering behind the art of dog training. Understanding how dogs learn is not difficult, nor should it be intimidating for dog owners. Today, we’ll be taking a peak at four ways dogs may learn that a particular behavior has a consequence. By fully understanding dog learning theory, basically, the four consequences that can take place when dogs interact with their owners and their environment, you can make the learning process easier. Also, you can identify which dog friendly training methods to use so that you can better bond with your companion.
Life is About Consequences
If we take a look at life, we will notice how many things we do are driven by consequences. If we go to work, we get paid, if we put on mosquito spray we make mosquitoes go away, if we make many mistakes, we fail a test, if we are rude to customers, they may leave and perhaps even never come back again.
In other words, things happen because we do things, and dogs as well learn the relationship between their actions and their consequences. In the world of learning theory, this is known as “operant conditioning” that is, learning (conditioning) based on the ways we “operate.”
Thorndike once said: “responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation.”
A Word About Reinforcement
Reinforcement is a behavior change process that takes place when the likelihood of a behavior increases in rate.
Reinforcement encourages behaviors and therefore it increases the likeliness of the behavior occurring.
Reinforcement can occur as the addition or subtraction of stimuli.
In order to be effective, reinforcement must occur in a timely manner and it must be contingent upon the behavior occurring.
For reinforcement to occur, the reinforcing stimulus should be added or subtracted during or immediately after a behavior.
When it comes to how dogs learn, there are two scenarios where dogs are more likely to increase and strengthen behaviors: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
Did you know? Reinforcement can sometimes be generated directly by the behavior itself within the dog (self-reinforcement), rather than being socially mediated by the interactions between dog and trainer.
A Word About Punishment
Punishment is a behavior change process that takes place when the rate of a behavior decreases in rate.
Punishment suppresses behaviors, and therefore, it decreases the likeliness of the behavior occurring.
Punishment can occur as the addition or subtraction of stimuli.In order to be effective, punishment must occur in a timely manner and it must be contingent upon the behavior occurring.
For punishment to occur, the punisher stimulus must be added or subtracted during or immediately after a behavior. When it comes to how dogs learn, there are two scenarios where dogs are more likely to decrease and weaken behaviors: positive punishment and negative punishment.
Confused by all this? Let’as take a closer look at how dogs learn with some practical dog operant conditioning examples.
1) Positive Reinforcement
Also known as added reinforcement, in this case, we are talking about the addition (thus, the term positive) of a stimulus, during or immediately following a response.
In order to be considered positive reinforcement, there must be the addition of a stimulus that increases the probability of the behavior repeating (reinforcement).
For sake of an example, a cookie (the stimulus) is given to the dog (added) the moment the dog sits for the purpose of increasing and strengthening the sitting behavior (reinforcement). As the dog learns the association between sitting and getting the cookie, the dog will soon be sitting more and more.
*Non socially mediated example in a dog’s environment: a dog has found some tasty rabbit poop by the fence line. The behavior of visiting the fence line should therefore become more frequent when the dog is hungry.
Remember: it’s up to your dog to determine what he considers to be reinforcing. If you use your dog ‘s kibble and your dog is a finicky eater to start with, he might find the fact of being offered kibble not reinforcing enough to make sitting repeatedly for it worth it. In such a case, you may have to experiment with high-value treats or other rewards, to get the sitting behavior to increase. Rather than speculating on whether your dog likes something or not, sometimes it’s far more productive to evaluate whether a behavior is increasing or not.
2) Negative Reinforcement
Also known as subtracted reinforcement, in this case, we’re talking about the the removal (negative) of a stimulus, during or immediately following a response, that increases the probability of behavior (reinforcement).
In order to be considered negative reinforcement, there must be the removal of a stimulus that results in an increase in the probability of the behavior repeating (reinforcement)
For sake of an example, pressure on the dog’s back (the stimulus) is removed (subtracted) the moment the dog sits for the purpose of increasing (reinforcing) and straightening the sitting behavior. As the dog learns the association between sitting and removal of pressure from his back, the dog will soon be sitting more and more.
*Non socially mediated example in a dog’s environment: a dog retreats to his dog house when he feel the heat of the sun burning on his back. The behavior of retreating to dog house should therefore become more and more frequent when it’s hot.
Remember, it’s up to your dog to determine what he considers reinforcing. If your dog is really, really eager to be touched, even if that includes, pushing on his back, his sitting behavior will likely not increase. The behavior will increase only if the dog perceives the pressure as unpleasant and wants to escape it. Same with the example of the sun, in order to retreat to the dog house the dog must find the heat unpleasant. A Nordic dog with a heavy coat may therefore retreat more frequently or with minimum heat compared to a Chihuahua.
3) Negative Punishment
Also known as subtracted punishment, in this case, we’re talking about the removal (negative) of a stimulus during or immediately following a response, that decreases (punishment) the probability of a behavior.
In order to be considered negative punishment, there must be the removal of a stimulus that results in the decrease in the probability of the behavior repeating (punishment).
For sake of an example, every time a dog owner comes home from work, his dog greets her by jumping up on her. The owner therefore decides to implement a new strategy. He asks his dog to sit, but if his dog fails to sit and jumps on him, she says “too bad!” makes a quick about face and exits the room contingent upon the jumping behavior.
*Non socially mediated example in a dog’s environment: every time a dog pounces nearby a wild animal, the wild animal retreats in a hole. With time, the behavior of pouncing may reduce and stop as the dog plans a more effective hunting strategy.
Remember: it’s up to the dog to determine whether he considers the removal of a stimulus punishment. If the dog is home alone all day and socially motivated, there should be a significant decrease in the rate of jumping as the dog doesn’t like to be left alone. If the owner is home all day though, and the dog is often corrected for doing things which creates stress, the dog may perceive the owner’s absence as reinforcing, as he gets a feeling of relief.
4) Positive Punishment
Also known as added punishment, in this case, we’re talking about the addition (positive) of a stimulus during or immediately following a response, that decreases the probability of behavior (punishment).
In order to be considered positive punishment, there must be the addition of a stimulus that results in the decrease in the probability of the behavior repeating.
For sake of an example, when Rover is asked to sit and jumps on this owner instead, the owner scolds the dog by pointing his finger to him and saying in a firm, tone of voice “bad dog!” right the moment the dog jumps.
*Non socially mediated example in a dog’s environment: a dog approaches a skunk and the skunk emits a powerful mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals which causes the dog’s eyes to burn and drooling. Afterward, the dog’s behavior of approaching the skunk reduces and the dog stays at a safe distance.
Remember, it’s up to the dog to determine whether the added stimulus is punishing enough to make the behavior of jumping stop. If the dog in question is a soft dog who is also frightened by his owner when he uses a firm voice, the behavior of jumping may reduce and eventually stop. If the dog has been alone all day and is eager to greet the owner, even being scolded may be perceived as music to ears, so the scolding may be actually reinforcing if it gives him a slice of attention. In this case, the behavior will like not stop.
As seen, dogs can learn from us and their environment in several different ways. One important question one must ask is: is the frequency of the dog’s behavior increasing or decreasing? This can reveal a whole lot about the whether the training is working or not. Among the four quadrants of dog training though, only two have a reputation for being “dog friendly”: positive reinforcement and negative punishment. Negative reinforcement and positive punishment involve the use of aversives. Here are 13 negative effects of aversive dog training, a worthy read to understand why many behavior professionals frown on these. Well, this is not all folks! Dogs learn in other ways, but we will see them in another article or two. So stay tuned, for part 2 on how do dogs learn.
“The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that veterinarians identify and refer clients only to trainers and behavior consultants who understand the principles of learning theory and who focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors and removing the reinforcement for undesirable behaviors. ” AVSAB Position Statement
So to recap:
Excel-Erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach by Pamela J. Reid, James Kenneth Publishers (July 25, 2011)
How Dogs Learn (Howell reference books)by Mary R. Burch, Howell Book House; 1 edition (April 21, 2008)
Flickr Creative Commons, TheRebelRobin Graduation! Blaze graduated from Dog Training 101, CCBY2.0
The web is filled up with a plethora of articles about the most most difficult dog breeds to potty train, but many articles fail to point out why certain dog breeds may be harder to housebreak compared to others and are short of providing tips to overcome some breed-related problems. Getting better acquainted with the reasons why these dogs are perceived more difficult to potty train is important so to be better able to help them succeed. Labeling several dog breeds as stubborn or even worse, stupid, is not only unjust, put will put a dent in the potty training process causing dog owners to seek out inappropriate training methods that will potentially do more harm than good.
Trouble with Toy Breeds
Dog breeds included in the toy group often top the list as the hardest dogs to potty train. What dog breeds are we talking about? Chihuahuas, Maltese, papillon, miniature pinshers, Pomeranians and Shih Tzus just to name a few.
These are pups of diminutive sizes that are quite popular among city dwellers and people with small living spaces. While toy breeds have a great reputation for making ideal apartment dogs and perfect lap warmers for chilly nights, they have quite a bad reputation in the potty training department. Why is that?
There are various theories, one popular one is because of their tiny bladders. Another one is that owners of small dogs tend to treat them like babies and carry them outside instead of teaching them to signal their physiological needs to potty at the door.
While the above can surely be factors to consider in the potty training process of small dogs, often something that is overlooked is the owner’s perspective. Let’s face it: owners of pint-sized pups are likely to be slacking off when it comes to cleaning up messes left around. A Kleenex can easily wipe up a small dribble and poop can be easily picked up in single one swoop, whereas, with the larger dogs an industrial mop and a garden shovel is needed.
On top of that, consider the subtleties of being small: a quick squat can be easily missed even by the most attentive dog owners and small dogs can secretly eliminate behind objects without being noticed!
“In the case of housetraining, I would be willing to bet that there is an incentive effect going on. Great danes who still urinate in the house at the age of six months create massive Def Con III incentives to buckle down and get the dog pottying outside, whereas, Yorkies might elicit only sighing or eye rolling.”~Jean Donaldson
Tip: Try having the same expectations as if you were potty training a Labrador retriever or Great Dane. In other words, be extra vigilant so that, upon noticing the first signs of your dog needing to go potty, you can quickly give your cue word and head together outside. To prevent your small dog from going potty in the house, do not make the biggest potty training mistake of many novice puppy owners: giving too much freedom at once. Your puppy should always be either in his pen, in the puppy-proofed yard, on a leash ( think umbilical cord technique) or under direct supervision in the house that’s limited to a small area with nothing blocking your view (and, most of all, stratrgically nearby the door!)
Struggles with Scent Hounds
Next in line, for the hardest dogs to housebreak are many dogs in the scent hound category. These include basset hounds, beagles, bloodhounds and dachshunds. Often these dogs are blamed for being difficult to housebreak because they are particularly stubborn dogs. In some cases, they are even labeled as stupid. Oh my!
Hounds are not stubborn nor stupid, they were simply selectively bred by humans for their powerful noses, and it’s not their fault if their noses interfere with the process of potty training.
One main issue is the fact their powerful sniffers are still able to detect soiled areas (yes, even after being cleaned) and therefore have a tendency to return to them because they simply, to put it bluntly “smell like a bathroom.”
Another issue encountered is that once taken out to potty, hounds may forget all about going potty and may decide to follow their noses instead. This is a behavior that can also be seen in several setters, spaniels and pointers, as dog breeds included in these categories have a strong tendency to explore and hunt.
“Some breeds, generally those that have been selected to have a particularly keen sense of smell (e.g, beagles) can be difficult to housebreak not because they are stupid, but because they scent any previously soiled area and return to it.” ~Karen Overall
Tip: Avoid cleaning products that contain ammonia or ammonium. Clean up all messes with enzyme based cleaners, and if your hound still returns to the same area over and over, try cleaning again, or worse comes to worse, block off the area with a piece of furniture. To prevent hounds from wandering should you have a large yard, fence off a small area of the yard and turn it into a formal designated potty area or take your hound out on a long leash.
Setbacks with Sight Hounds
Sight hounds include several dog breeds with a history of hunting by primarily using their eye sight. And indeed, the vision of sight hounds is quite amazing! Several sight hounds though are known for having a reputation as being difficult to housebreak. Irish wolfhounds, borzoi, Italian greyhounds and whippets in particular are often included in the list.
What’s up with them? Like the scent hounds, they may be easily distracted, but this time by anything that moves. So one moment they may be sniffing to go potty, the next they are going, going, gone. And when they are sent back inside, you named it: they’ll pee and poop on the carpet and owners perceive it as a setback.
Another issue with sight hounds is that many owners of rescued racing greyhounds may have to start potty training from zero, considering that many have only lived in a kennel environment and never in a house before, explains the Greyhound Adoption Program.
Not to mention another challenge: greyhounds and whippets are not too fond of cold weather and may not like to be sent out when it’s wet and cold, and who can blame them? They might therefore go out and put their bladders on strike or they may do a quick dribble just to make you happy and “open up the fountain” minutes later on your favorite rug.
“Many racing greyhounds have only ever lived in a kennel environment, with regular ‘let-outs’ for a run and toilet break during the day. Some greyhounds never receive any formal toilet training, and for a few of them, all the world is one big concrete toilet!”~Greyhound Adoption Program.
Tip: a long leash may turn helpful so to keep these dogs focused on what they need to do: go potty! Even if your yard is fenced, keep in mind that sight hounds have long legs and they can easily jump over a fence if motivated enough. Remember that sight hounds may take off after anything that moves and that includes squirrels, bikes and even the neighbor’s cat! And to prevent your sight hound from pottying when he comes back from outside, make sure to escort him outside – regardless of the weather, watching him like a hawk and making sure that he has eliminated before coming back inside. Oh, and don’t forget a cozy jacket so your dog stays nice and toasty and no more excuses for not pottying in the cold!
Tribulations with Terriers
Terriers are often categorized as being difficult to housetrain and these mostly include the smaller, working terriers bred as vermin hunting dog such as rat terriers and Jack Russells. Often these dogs are accused for being difficult to potty train because of their temperament.
Terriers are often depicted as being stubborn, independent dogs who are unwilling to take directions from their owners. Sure, terriers are quite smart, but it’s not like they have an agenda of outsmarting humans turning into bullies who want to eliminate where and when they want!
Terriers are just tenacious, independent thinkers considering that their job of hunting down underground critters did not require close teamwork with humans.
“Owning a terrier is a unique experience. These little bundles of canine determinedness often behave quite differently from other types of dogs; they can be noisy, feisty and always on the move… Something made each of us decide to share our hearts and homes with a terrier… now we need to accept the consequences of that decision and learn how to train these dogs to be the very best terriers they can be.” ~Dawn Antoniak-Mitchell
Tip: as mentioned, terriers are quite intelligent dogs that are quick to learn, and this goes both ways meaning that they are fast in learning good behaviors with proper motivation, but they’re equally fast in learning bad habits. Consistency is very important and you must ensure there aren’t any loopholes in your potty training program. This of course, applies to any dog, but terriers are just more apt to this.
Slow Maturers Lagging Behind
Think only small dog breeds are difficult to housetrain? Think again. Many people are surprised when owners of several large breed dogs are also struggling with potty training their dogs.
The problems with these dogs is that they quite slow to mature, which often translates into longer times to accomplish potty training. It’s not like these dogs aren’t smart enough, it’s just that their bodies and brains are just a step behind.
Large and giant dog breeds such as great danes, Saint Bernards, Bernese mountain dogs, Chinese shar-pei, Rottweilers, and mastiffs generally are not fully mature until they reach two years old or older. This doesn’t mean though it’ll take 2 years to potty train them!
Fortunately, owners are deterred by finding horse-size messes in their homes, and this certainly expedites the process. However, it’s not unusual for puppies of large and giant dog breeds not to be fully potty trained until they are on 6 to 8 months old, when other dog breeds may take less.
“Not all dogs develop at the same rate, and clients need to make allowances for this variability even if they have had the same breed or obtained the dog from the same breeder and lines.” ~Karen Overall
Tip: be patient! You may go through periods of time during which you think your dog has finally aced it, to other times where you notice a regression. Potty training slow to mature dogs breeds is made of these ups and downs and they’re perfectly normal.
Other Factors to Consider
So far, we have debunked some myths about certain dogs breeds being difficult to potty train such as some dogs being accused of being stubborn or plain stupid or others trying to become bullies so they can eliminate where they want. But perhaps an even bigger myth to debunk is that breed is the only factor.
Even within a dog breed, or even within a litter, there may be great variances in the potty training process from one pup to another. This is because, when having trouble potty training a dog, there are a dozen and more factors to keep in mind.
Is your puppy on a feeding schedule? Adhering to a feeding schedule can help you determine when your puppy is more likely to potty. Are you actively supervising? Failure in doing so means you’re missing important opportunities to train. Are you praising and rewarding for going outdoors? Behaviors that are rewarded tend to strengthen and repeat. Are you using puppy training pads? These can be challenging to use.
Are you ensuring your dog enters the home with an empty bladder/bowel? If you don’t, your puppy will go potty the moment he comes in. Is the puppy from a pet store? Puppies in stores often come from puppy mills and are more difficult to potty train. Are you punishing your puppy when he has accidents? Doing so will only make the process more difficult as this just teaches your puppy to secretly go in area out of your sight. Is your puppy peeing when he greets you or when you scold him? You might be dealing with a case of excitement or submissive urination. Does your puppy have a substrate preference? Acknowledging this can make things easier. And if you’re struggling a whole lot, give your puppy or dog the benefit of doubt and, with the help of your vet, determine if you’re dealing with a behavioral or medical problem. With all that said, happy potty training to all!
Oh Behave: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker, By Jean Donaldson, Dogwise Publishing (April 1, 2008)
Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 1e 1 Pap/DVD Edition, by Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)
Despite the advancement of modern dog training, there are still countless dog owners and trainers who rely on using aversive dog training methods. Even veterinarians use them at times. Not too long ago, a client reported to me that her German shepherd puppy was barking at the vet when the vet decided to give the puppy an alpha roll correction because (in his belief) the puppy was trying to challenge him and deserved a lesson in respect. Still as of today, this angers me because the pup was only taught to fear vet offices and vets and being touched. It’s unfortunate that these training methods are still popular today, but it’s not surprising considering that they’re still being promulgated by television shows along with the belief that these methods are more effective.
What are Aversive Dog Training Methods?
So what exactly is aversive dog training? Let’s take a closer look into the word aversive, what does it mean? Webster dictionary defines it as “tending to avoid or causing avoidance of a noxious or punishing stimulus.”
Wikipedia talks about aversive in psychological terms:
“Aversives are unpleasant stimuli that induce changes in behavior through punishment; by applying an aversive immediately following a behavior, the likelihood of the behavior occurring in the future is reduced.Aversives can vary from being slightly unpleasant or irritating (such as a disliked color) to physically damaging. It is not the level of unpleasantness, but rather the effectiveness the unpleasant event has on changing behavior that defines the aversive.”
How are aversives applied in dog training? Here are a few examples.
By positive punishment, by adding an unpleasant stimulus when the undesired behavior occurs. (Example: a dog is startled with a spray of water the moment he jumps on a person. Result: The behavior of jumping should reduce and stop if the dog hates water enough–by the way, this is often how dogs become water phobic, then one wonders why they dread baths and don’t want anything to do with water)
By negative punishment, by removing a pleasant stimulus when the undesired behavior occurs (Example: a dog is punished by removing access to other dogs –timeout- the moment the dog plays rough. Result: the behavior of playing rough should reduce and stop if the dog is socially motivated )
By negative reinforcement, by removing an unpleasant stimulus when the desired behavior occurs (Example: a dog is continuously shocked and the delivery of shock is only removed once the dog performs the desired behavior of coming to the dog owner. Result: with time, the chances for a dog not coming when called should reduce since the dog should be more eager to comply to avoid the shock. In this case, the dog is reinforced by removing shock, but there’s also an element of punishment at play since the dog is repeatedly shocked using the continuous shock feature for not coming when called. For more on this read training a dog to come with a shock collar. )
” Negative reinforcement requires that an aversive first be applied or threatened in order for it to be removed.”~ Melissa Alexander
The Individual Factor
As seen, the aversive methods described above vary quite greatly in intensity. They go from denying social access through a time-out to continuous shocks until the dog complies to come when called.
Therefore, as Wikipedia mentioned, the term aversive doesn’t necessarily need to be associated with pain. It can range from a mild discomfort from being exposed to some unpleasant social situation (a child being embarrassed in front of the class for forgetting to turn in homework) to withdrawal from attaining something desired (telling a child he can’t stay in line for ice-cream until he stops whining).
One important consideration is keeping into consideration the individual dog. The dog is ultimately who decides what’s aversive. Using a cookie-cutter approach in training methods without considering individuality, may lead to problems, big problems too. For instance, many dog trainers use negative punishment under the form of time-outs when dogs misbehave, but can you imagine how aversive a time-out can be to a dog suffering from separation anxiety?
Even what we perceive as “dog friendly” training methods can turn out not being not as dog friendly as we think if we “listen to” the individual dog. This can be shocking, but let me give an example. Not too long ago, we had a very sensitive dog over for boarding. The owner said she always dreamed that her dog learned a few basic cues such as sit and down. She took her dog previously to classes and her dog wasn’t able to learn anything. Nothing. And yes, the trainers were skilled and invested in using positive reinforcement.
Turned out, upon closer evaluation, this dog didn’t want anything to do with hands near her face. So putting a cookie (no matter how great it smelled) near her nose to guide her into a sit was highly aversive to her. Any hand movement caused her to close up and withdraw inhibiting her from learning. Did she learn to sit and lie down? You bet, and she even turned out to be an enthusiastic learner which the owner was ecstatic about, but we had to use a different training method known as “capturing “ for all that.
Now, this doesn’t mean that aversive dog training doesn’t work. To the contrary, done correctly aversive dog training methods can be effective. Do these methods work? Yes, when punishment is delivered at right time, at the right level of intensity and contingent on the problem behavior, it can be very effective but…, and this is a big BUT, is it worth it?
” Punishment is like carpet bombing. The behavior you wanted to target gets hit but so can a huge portion of the dog‘s whole repertoire.”~ Jean Donaldson
Effects of Aversive Dog Training Methods
One main issue about aversive dog training methods is the problematic fall-out; basically, side effects that can be far worse than the original problem that owners and trainers were trying to correct. These effects are more likely to happen with the more intense versions rather than the minimally aversive ones.
Back to the German shepherd puppy, sure, the pup stopped barking when once pushed to the floor by the vet, but what happened next? What did the puppy really learn? Dogs learn by consequences but also by association, so likely, the pup learned that vet offices are scary places and vets are not to be trusted.
But perhaps even most concerning, the pup likely learned that since his warning bark to “please stay away, I am not comfortable around you,” was suppressed, he had to rely on a more effective strategy to protect himself from somebody cornering him and putting his hands on him next time. And not surprisingly, that’s what the client was actually seeing me for that day. This German shepherd pup was nipping at hands and had a high reluctance to being handled and touched. Of course, it didn’t help that the owner continued applying the training advice from the vet, that “sound advice” to alpha roll the pup any time he engaged in undesired behaviors. But this is only one fallout out of 13 (and likely more) that can derive from the use of aversive dog training methods.
13 Negative Effects of Aversive Dog Training
1 ) Aversive dog training methods can be risky, especially when applying methods that can induce defensiveness from the dog. A dog who is being alpha rolled may (rightfully so!) decide not to take it one day, as the pup described above, and may bite as soon as he sees the hands moving towards him.
If the vet performed the alpha roll instead of on a puppy, on an 85 pound, 3-year old German shepherd he could have been severely injured.
Therefore, as seen with my client’s puppy, aversive training methods potentially evoke defensive behaviors to surface that often were non-existent if such methods weren’t utilized in the first place!
Why does the popular National Geographic show featuring scruff shakes and alpha rolls feature a big disclaimer: “do not try this at home”? Because of these risks. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, warns about these risks explaining how people recommending these techniques are taking a liability risk.
Did you know? According to a study conducted by Meghan Herron, DVM, DACVB, Frances Shofer, DVM and Ilana Reisner, DVM, DACVB, of the Matthew Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, it was found that when dog owners resorted to harsh confrontational techniques, dogs responded with aggression.
More precisely, just to get an idea: 43 percent of dogs responded with aggression when being hit or kicked, 39 percent reacted to an alpha roll, 38 percent responded aggressively to having an owner grab their mouth and take out an object forcefully and 26% percent responded defensively when given a scruff shake.
2) Aversive dog training methods can be potentially reinforcing to the person applying them. If a person is frustrated by a dog who is repeatedly jumping, he or she may feel better when he pinches the dog’s paw and the dog stops jumping and yelps in surprise or pain. This circle of reinforcement is what causes the person applying such methods to want to use them more and more, even possibly as the first line treatment of choice. It’s what makes people swear on the effectiveness of aversive methods and be reluctant to want to try other methods. It’s also sadly what causes some to want to engage in more and more severe forms when they milder ones may no longer be working, initiating a vicious cycle that’s abuse or very close to it.
3) The application of aversive dog training methods have a tendency for generating emotional response such as fear and anxiety. Through conditioning, dogs tend to form associations with the unpleasant happening. As in the case of my client, it would not be surprising if her German shepherd would develop fear or a general dislike of the vet’s office and veterinarians in general or just being approached by a stranger.
“Positive reinforcement should be the first line of teaching, training and behavior change program considered, and should be applied consistently. Positive reinforcement is associated with the lowest incidence of aggression, attention seeking, and avoidance/fear in learners.” ~Association of Professional Dog Trainers
4) On top of forming negative associations with certain stimuli or events, through a phenomenon known as “generalization”dogs may generalize their anxiety to other similar stimuli or events. For instance, a dog may be fearful of a broom because a person in the past used it to scare off the dog but then may expand his fear to people walking with canes or people mopping the floor.
“Even when punishment seems mild, in order to be effective it often must elicit a strong fear response, and this fear response can generalize to things that sound or look similar to the punishment”~American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
5) Once aversive training methods allow fear to establish and put roots, these responses become difficult to eradicate and this is because dogs (and generally all living creatures) have an instinct to act defensively or avoid stimuli or events that are perceived as frightening.
6) When a dog is subjected to training methods based on aversion and intimidation, their cognitive functions can potentially shut down and this may interfere with their ability to learn.
7) When a dog learns to rely on defensive behaviors, such behaviors quickly become part of a dog’s new behavior repertoire because these behaviors are often reinforcing. If the German shepherd tries to bite hands that are moving towards him and the person quickly withdraws his hands, the snapping at the hands behavior is reinforced and will become more difficult to eradicate. Of course, this problem would be non-existent if aversive based methods were not employed in the first place.
8) Aversion-based methods contribute to stress and on top of developing defensive behaviors, dogs may develop escape behaviors and displacement behaviors such as repeated paw licking and scratching.
9) Aversive training methods are not guaranteed to work. If a dog’s paw is pinched when he jumps on the owner, not necessarily this will discourage further jumping, if the joy of greeting the owner supersedes the temporary pinch. This is why many dog owners are frustrated that their dogs still pull on the leash despite being choked by a collar holding them back. The reward of sniffing a bush or greeting another dog may supersede the temporary pain or discomfort.
10) If punishment is not always contingent upon the undesired behavior, the dog has the opportunity to rehearse the undesired behavior without consequence, which means the undesired behavior will continue to surface and even become more troublesome since the behavior is put on a variable schedule (sometimes it’s punished, sometimes it’s not) which is the schedule that triggers addiction (just as it happens with people gambling at Vegas.)
11) When an unwanted behavior is suppressed through aversive dog training methods, it creates a void that will likely be filled with other problem behaviors. For example, if a bored dog is punished for chewing in the yard, he’ll likely start digging and barking because he’s not provided an outlet for his needs for mental stimulation.
“Punishment can suppress aggressive and fearful behavior when used effectively, but it may not change the underlying cause of the behavior. “~American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
12) When using aversive dog training methods, there are risks that the dog starts associating punishment with the person’s presence. If a person smacks a puppy with a newspaper for urinating on the carpet, such punishment will not teach the puppy to go to the door next time, but rather to urinate under the sofa out of the owner’s view. This because the puppy has learned to associate punishment with the person’s presence.
““Receiving shocks is painful experience to the dogs, and the S-dogs (the dogs who received shock) evidently have learned the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces the reception of shocks even outside the normal training context.”~Matthijs B.H. Schilder a,b,∗, Joanne A.M. van der Borg
13) Last but not least, aversive based training can inhibit dogs from offering new behaviors as it may happen with dogs who become tentative in picking up objects. If a puppy is consistently punished for picking up objects with his mouth such as the remote control or shoes, the puppy soon learns that it’s bad to pick up anything with their mouths. This can create great difficulties in the future when training the dog to retrieve an object. A better option with no negative side effects? Teach the trade game.
Alternative to Aversive Dog Training Methods
“But I have been using these methods for years, they have worked for me, why should I ditch them?” This is often a self-defense mechanism due to fear of something new, it’s the (normal) resistance associated with the hesitancy of embracing an unexplored world.
It’s often comforting to stick to past methods, just as it was comforting in the past for teachers to have all children use the right hand because that was the “right side.” Long time lefty here who survived the right-hand movement, thanks to a stubborn mom!
Most of all, the resistance is because of lack of awareness of alternatives to effective non-aversive methods.”If I don’t use aversives what is left that can equally effective?” Knowledge is ultimately power.
There are plenty of alternative methods and more and more trainers, behavior consultants and veterinarians are embracing them. They are effective, most are minimally aversive, but never forget the golden rule of considering the individual dog.
Management, sure this is not actual active training, but it prevents rehearsal of problem behaviors
The use of prompts helps the dog to perform desired behaviors
Antecedent arrangements can be incorporated so to help dogs make good choices
Positive reinforcement strengthens desired behaviors and increases the chances of them repeating
Differential reinforcement can be used to specifically reinforce desired behavior and extinguish the undesirable
Desensitization with counterconditioning work great for behavior modification
Negative punishment used to stop unwanted behaviors by removing access to things the dog likes.
Extinction helps extinguish problem behaviors because they no longer gain reinforcement
Learn how to implement Leslie McDevitt’s LAT or Jean Donaldson’s Open Bar, Closed Bar
Having a hard time? Don’t be too quick to move on to using aversive methods! Ask around, many trainers will be willing to help out, ask what methods they use or get creative and invent your own methods and give them a try, you might come up with something powerful!
As seen, there are plenty of better options that do not involve, pain, fear and intimidation! Why rush up on using aversive training methods when there are many options you can try first? You’ll be surprised how you may attain results and often quickly, without the need to ever use shock, pain and intimidation.
Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors Meghan E. Herron, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner, Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3900 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010, USA
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals, retrieved from the web on Novermber 6th, 2016
Emily J. Blackwell, Caroline Twells, Anne Seawright, Rachel A. Casey, The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, Volume 3, Issue 5, September–October 2008, Pages 207-217
Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J. and Jones-Baade, R. (2005) Stress symptoms caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs (Canis Familiaris) in everyday life situations.
Training Dogs With the Help of the Shock Collar: short and long term behavioural effects(Schilder, van der Borg) Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85 (2004) 319–334
Michael Gil, Discipline!, No Dogs were harmed in the taking of this picture! CCBY2.0
Let’s face it: we live in an era where everything seems to come with some sort of guarantee, from coffee makers to faucets, to offers that promise 100 percent money back if customers aren’t entirely satisfied; however, when it comes to dog training offering a guarantee may not be as good as it may sound. Sure, there may be legit and ethical dog trainers who offer certain types of guarantees, but if we’re talking about the type of “we’ll fix your dog’s problems in one session, money back guarantee” type, this is a red flag often denoting a lack of fundamental understanding about what truly goes on when it comes to training dogs a new skill or changing dog behavior.
Dog Behavior Problem Guarantees
Your plumber may be able to fix your clogged toilet in one appointment and your mechanic may change a tire in just about an hour, but dog behavior problems cannot be “fixed” in one behavior modification session. It may sometimes appear so, but it takes much longer than that, especially if we’re talking about certain behaviors that have been rehearsed for quite some time and are have become quite established in a dog’s repertoire of behaviors.
Statements and promises such as ”your dog will be cured from aggression” or ”you’ll have a totally changed dog in this “x” amount of time” or ” we guarantee instant results” should raise a bright, red flag.
The truth is, a dog behavior consultant who is able to “fix” a problem in just one session is often using harsh, punishment-based methods. What looks like a “fix,” as often seen happening in TV shows where dogs are magically transformed in just a half an hour program are just dogs responding to harsh methods which aim to suppress outward manifestations of behavior problems rather than addressing the underlying, internal issue (an issue of emotions).
Dog Training Guarantees
Sure, a dog can be trained to sit in one, single training session, but is the dog really “trained?” It depends on how you interpret the word “trained.”
If you mean that your dog will sit when you move a cookie from his nose to the back of his head in an upward motion, then, yes, your dog is “trained” to do so,” but if we’re talking about training, where your dog sits upon hearing the verbal cue sit in any place and any time most of the time, we’re a far cry from reaching that goal.
Training a dog takes time, as muscle memory sinks in and behaviors become more and more fluent as dogs are exposed to increasing levels of distractions.
Is a dog really ever fully trained? Most likely not . A dog is always in training as he’s constantly learning and improving in a never ending journey throughout his life.
A Matter of Ethics
Offering guarantees is not only unrealistic, but it is also unethical too. According to the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers Code of Ethics, certficants must “refrain from providing guarantees regarding the specific outcome of training.”
According to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers members must “refrain from giving guarantees regarding the outcome of training, because there is no sure way to guarantee the cooperation and performance of all parties involved and because the knowledge of animal behaviorists incomplete. This should not be confused with a desire to guarantee client satisfaction with professional services.”
The Pet Professional Guild, an association for force-free pet professionals, claims “A professional force-free dog trainer will not guarantee their training results. There are too many variables involved and a professional dog trainer cannot control these…The results will be dependent on many things, including your level of commitment and compliance to the recommended program.”
The Bottom Line
Training a dog a new skill or tackling a behavior issue is not something that can be accomplished overnight. The saying “too good to be true” also applies to the world of training dogs and changing behavior. If you expect your dog to magically change at the touch of a wand as seen in a Hollywood makeover, think again: this is likely not going to happen.
Also, dog owners should remember to read the fine print. Often, what is being guaranteed is not the outcome of the dog’s training, but the client’s compliance in following the instructions provided in the training lesson. Therefore, the guarantee is no longer considered valid when owners fail to follow their training program to the letter. Dog owners should therefore be wary of unrealistic promises such as “instant results”, “guaranteed results” or “lifetime guarantees. ”
If you live in an area that has dangerous snakes such as rattlesnakes, you may be looking for solutions to prevent your dog from encountering snakes or perhaps you are thinking about enrolling your dog in some sort of snake aversion training. Today, there are several solutions to prevent your dog from interacting with dangerous snakes and there are also steps you can take to prevent your dog from becoming another victim of a snake bite. While most snake aversion training involves the use of painful shock collars, nowadays, more and more trainers are offering snake avoidance training for dogs without the use of shock.
Conventional Aversion Training
Conventional aversion training is based on the belief that, in order to train a dog to avoid snakes, something really negative must happen that will leave a strong impact on him. And of course, since getting bitten is out of question, this is where the use of a shock collar comes into place. The purpose is to create a setup similar to what has been done in many past studies on rats that were conditioned to avoid things through the use of shock. For example, a rat may have been shocked every time he pressed a lever, so with time, the rat quickly learned to avoid pressing that scary lever so to avoid the shock.
In snake aversion training, something very similar is happening. If every time the dog shows interest in a snake he is shocked, at some point he’ll associate the snake with pain and will no longer want to have anything to do with the snake. In order to accomplish this though the shock must leave a memorable impression on the dog, therefore the shock used is often so intense and startling that the dog literally jumps off the ground yelping in pain. Some trainers may use milder shocks but in a repeated sequence until the dog learns to leave the snake alone.
The Problems with Shock
As much as using shock seems effective, on top of the pain and fear it evokes, there are several things that can go wrong. For instance, some dogs may end up purposely attacking rattlesnakes after snake aversion training because of all the negative associations, explains Jamie Robinson a dog trainer who teaches snake avoidance classes without shock in Tucson, Arizona. Talk about training having the total opposite effect! Not to mention the risk of side effects such as dogs fearing things other than the snake or even developing phobias of things that somewhat remind them of snakes such as oscillating sprinklers that make a hissing sounds resembling a snake’s rattle, further explains Jamie Robinson in an article for the Whole Dog Journal.
But it doesn’t end here, there are even more problems. According to dog trainer Nancy Tanner, the most common areas dogs are bitten is on the leg or chest as dogs are running around and get bitten while in motion. This suggests that no amount of snake aversion training will prepare dogs for these scenarios, as the bites occur unexpectedly. So a dog may be running through a field hunting when he steps on a snake and the bite comes unexpectedly.
On top of that, one must also consider than no training is foolproof, and that even snake aversion trainers, recommend holding “refresher” classes to ensure the dog is reminded that snake encounters are painful. Many people are lulled into a false sense of security with this type of training and end up putting their dogs at unnecessary risk. Management, basically the good, old adage of “staying out of the trouble” is ultimately the wisest approach and this is the dog owner’s responsibility.
Did you know? According to Red Rock Biologics, approximately 300,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States
Staying Out of Trouble
How can you keep your dog away from dangerous snakes? For starters, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the type of snakes that are living in your area. Most States have a website that lists the varieties of venomous and non-venomous snakes that have called your local place their home. You don’t need to become a top expert herpetologist, just learn more about the variety of snakes in your area, their preferred habitat and how to stay out of trouble. For instance, most rattlesnakes are found in the southwestern United States, and they like to stick around rocks and nearby edges of water such as creeks and rivers. It’s therefore best to avoid tall grass and rocky areas where snakes can hide, and of course, play it safe by keeping your dog safely on leash and being extra careful of where you step!
Tip: keep the grass cut low in your yard and clear out piles of wood, rocks or rubbish where snakes may like yo hide. Secure garbage cans and don’t leave bird seed around. Also, keep animals snakes prey on, such as rodents and crickets away from your property. You might want to consider installing a snake-proof fence.
A Few Training Tips
But what if a dog owner wants to train a dog to move away at the smell, sight or sound of snakes? Or what if no matter all of your precautions your dog ends up one day encountering a snake? There are several training cues that can turn helpful to re-direct a dog away from a snake. Here are few tips.
Polish your dog’s emergency recall. You want to make coming to you so reinforcing that your dog just stops in his tracks and comes running to you, no questions asked. A solid emergency recall can turn out being a life saver, whether your dog got loose and is heading towards a road full of traffic or approaching a venomous snake. Practice the emergency recall in different scenarios and situations, gradually increasing the level of distractions, preferably under the guidance of a trainer.
Train the “leave it” cue. This teaches your dog to leave whatever he is interacting with or about to interact with, and come to you for a reward. You don’t have to always have treats in your pockets for this. In the case, you are caught empty handed with no treats, your dog will still “leave it” if this cue has a strong history of reinforcement. Make sure though to lavishly praise and play a game with your dog.
Practice recall and leave its with a fake plastic snake. Place the fake snake in the middle of a room and practice walking your dog by it as you say “leave it” and praise and reward for ignoring it. Afterward, practice this with the snake placed outdoors around the yard and then you can even try having a helper drag the fake snake around tall grass while you practice distraction training. Ideally, try with different types of plastic snakes.
If you have the possibility, practice with a live or dead non-venemous snake. Ask a snake expert to borrow a non-venomous species such as a bullsnake for practice. This is an important step because a live snake has “eau de snake” something that fake snakes don’t have. This is as close you can get to training with the “real thing” in a safe way.
What if you are not around to call your dog or tell him to “leave it?” Training a dog to leave a snake alone is no different from training a dog to alert about finding drugs, truffles or warning a person about an impending seizure. If you are interested in training snake avoidance without shock consider that there are books and classes offered by several trainers nowadays.
Did you know? Nowadays a rattlesnake vaccine is crafted for dogs who are potentially exposed to rattlesnakes.
Whole Dog Journal, Snake Aversion Without Shock, retrieved from the web on October 13th, 2016
Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J. and Jones-Baade, R. (2005) Stress symptoms caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs (Canis Familiaris) in everyday life situations.
Diensthund der Bereitschaftspolizei Würzburg, TheHidden – Own work (= “Selbst fotografiert”) CC BY-SA 3.0, edited to focus on dog
If you are in the process of training your dog to come, you may feel tempted to using an e-collar/shock collar/remote training collar. You may have heard that training your dog with a shock collar may be the fastest, most reliable way to train a solid recall, but how true is that? You may have seen trainers using shock collars in videos or demonstrations and portraying this training tool as far superior to all other training tools and techniques, but is training your dog to come with an e-collar really the best way to train? In this article we’ll be taking a look at what really happens when your are training a dog to come with an e-collar.
How Shock Collars Work
Many people are attracted to using shock collars to train their dogs, but they might not know exactly how they work.
You may have heard that shock collars only emit a small “static” correction that is meant to help your dog learn.
However, an important piece of information that is often missed is that, in order for that small “static” correction to work, it must be perceived as unpleasant enough for the dog to want to avoid it.
So when trainers or product representatives are telling people that shock collars don’t cause pain or discomfort as they only emit an innocent “tickle” or a “tap” this is misleading information, and unscientific too, because in order to stop a dog from engaging in a particular behavior, that “tap”must be perceived as painful or unpleasant enough for the dog to want to avoid it!
Introducing Continuous Stimulation
To train a dog to come using a shock collar, a training method known as negative reinforcement is used. Negative reinforcement is basically avoidance training at best. What it means is that behaviors that remove something that’s unpleasant will reinforce and repeat.
For example, in experiments, rats were often subjected to continuous shock that only stopped if the rats pressed on a specific level. Because the rats obviously didn’t want to be subjected to repeated shock, they soon learned that in order to stop the shock quickly, they better press that level! Rats and scientific laboratories aside, something similar happens when training a dog to come using a shock collar.
When using a shock collar to train a dog to come, the continuous shock feature is used. What this means is that you will have to deliver continuous shock until your dog makes the right choice, which is coming to you. This can take a split second, a handful or seconds or even more, depending on the dog’s level of training.
Because the decision of coming to you is ultimately what stops the shock, the dog should eventually learn to come quickly so to avoid the shock. So basically, by using the shock collar in this way, the ultimate goal is for the dog to learn how to turn the stimulation (the shock) off.
A Dozen of Risk Factors
Using a shock collar doesn’t mean that you will obtain a remote-controlled dog that will mechanically respond to you no questions asked. Dogs are not robots or remote-controlled toys and no type of dog training is foolproof. Unfortunately using shocking collars comes with many risks and some of them can be quite serious, so much so that trainers are often employed to fix the problems dog owners or other trainers have created through its use!
Here are some significant risk factors that should be kept into consideration before considering to use a shock collar to train dogs.
Dogs may panic and run off the first time they are introduced to an e-collar. These dogs are basically trying to escape the shock and are clueless and confused about how to turn it off. There was a case of a dog who ran off and got run over by a car the first time a shock collar was used on him. Sadly, the dog didn’t make it.
Shock is not always felt in dogs in the same way. When a dog is focused on something or his adrenaline levels are high, he might not feel the shock as much as when he is relaxed. For example, when a dog is sniffing and his brain is highly concentrated, he might not feel the shock much, but the moment he lifts his head he may suddenly yelp in pain. For a soft, sensitive dog, it may take time to recover from this.
As dogs are presented with stronger and stronger distractions during recall training, the level of shock will have to be increased significantly to get the dog to respond. This causes people to start shocking at higher and higher levels, hurting dogs more and more.
Not always things go as planned. Dogs learn through associations and some dogs may end up being terrorized of leaving the owner’s side because they have developed a strong superstitious belief that moving away from the owner will lead to shock. Sometimes dogs associate other things like objects around them with the shock other than not coming when called.
Think dogs are “thick skinned?” Think again. Many may find this surprising, but a dog’s skin is thinner, much thinner than in humans. According to Vet West Animal Hospitals, the epidermis in dogs is 3 to 5 cells thick whereas in humans, it’s at least 10 to 15 cells thick. Fun trivia, can you guess where a dog’s thickest skin is located?
Shock collar training may lull people into thinking they can walk their dog off leash reliably which puts dogs at risk. No dog training is foolproof enough to make it worthy to put the dog in peril.
Shock collars may end up causing dogs to feel demotivated and fall into a state of learned helplessness.
There is hard data (eg. Schilder, van der Borg) showing the many adverse effect shock collars can have. See references for studies.
Many owners depend on shock collars quite a lot which means they put them on during training but also keep them on daily for extended periods of time so the collar is readily there in case of the need for a correction. Keeping the collar on for extended periods of time though can lead to “collar sores.”
Many people are tempted to crank the level of shock up when dogs do not respond promptly. Shock collars have a strong potential for misuse. It is not a training tool for the inexperienced.
Great timing is essential so dogs know exactly what is causing the shock and what is stopping it. Problem is though that nobody is perfect and timing can be misjudged even by the experienced.
And last but not least, virtually every thing can be taught entirely using non-aversion based techniques and the best part is that these friendly techniques lack the possibility for risks and serious welfare issues. So if there is an equally – if not more efficient way to train a dog to come when called, why shock a dog in the first place?
Schalke, E., Stichnoth, J. and Jones-Baade, R. (2005) Stress symptoms caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs (Canis Familiaris) in everyday life situations.
Training Dogs With the Help of the Shock Collar: short and long term behavioural effects(Schilder, van der Borg) Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85 (2004) 319–334
Diensthund der Bereitschaftspolizei Würzburg, TheHidden – Own work (= “Selbst fotografiert”) CC BY-SA 3.0, edited to focus on dog