Category Archives: Canine Science

Building and Breaking Trust

Everyone that reads this thing regularly, knows I do a lot of training through game play.

And, not in the surface “Create a reward event to make them work” sort if way.

But, in a profound way. Almost a spiritually fulfilling way. It impacts so many different levels.

Gives activity which is physically healthy. 15089859455_43f4e6a968_z

Gives psychological fulfillment, as the activities let them express their natural drives.

And we’ve always said that it builds relationships. Builds the language we will use. Builds fluency in body language for both dog and handler. All that good stuff. I’ve always thought there was carry over into just living with your dog. Past just the “tired dog is a good dog” line.

Well, now we have a bit of proof!

In this study, they talk about how dogs develop, and LOSE, trust!

Once you read that, you will have a greater understanding of how your “Game” can effect your day to day relationship. When I coach people in play, I constantly use the common phrase “breaking trust” to tell them why not to do certain things. And, on the surface….. It could be about just the game. Like… Giving fair presentations of the toy so they can get it without clipping you. Like moving it enough that they have to “try” but not so much they feel like they “can’t”. Tugging hard enough that they are in the “fight”, and not “overwhelmed……. All that seems to be only Game related.

But this study shows that dogs can learn from how you play and do trivial activities what kind of trust you deserve.

Seems like the Clarity the dogs learn from your Game will effect them in all aspects of your relationship.

A lot of times when I work with a dog, I start with play. And I’ve always felt it wasn’t just “play”. But us really learning one another. Build trust and language, before trying to navigate sticky situations.

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Kind of cool when science tells you you’re on the right train of thought!

That’s it.

Go play with your dog!

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Selective Attention & Behavior Modification

Watch This…. Then we’ll talk:

Ok….. So……. What does that have to do with Dog Training?

Well, there’s a lot of attention on Kayce Cover’s method lately. And with good reason…… It’s pretty damn effective.

But….. (and I love you Kayce) the amount and style of communication just flat puts people off.

It put me off. I was right away fully into a lot of her method. But, man, that naming everything……. And the staccato style of intermediate bridging she does…… I just couldn’t do it.

Then, I worked with her and her instructors in person. And, it totally worked. I don’t care who you are….. You can’t say that shit doesn’t work. I SAW it. And, believe me…. I was trying not to. I really didn’t want to change my position on it (aka start doing something new).

So…. now I know for sure it DOES work. But…. WHY?

I felt I needed to figure that out.

The obvious argument against it, is that the dogs don’t know what the hell you’re saying. And….. To a point…… I think they may be right.

Look, I think dogs do understand WAY more than the joke in that video. Clearly. I think they can learn a ton of words. And easily make Binary choices. Hell, I’m seeing dogs now giving cognitive feedback now that blows my mind.

BUT…..

I don’t think they fully understand entire soliloquies.

I think sort of like in that Frazier video, they “get” portions of what we are saying. But, I think they know we are trying to get something across to them.

And THAT brings me back to the basketball video.

Us giving a stream of feedback that they partially understand but know is supposed to be more meaningful, gives them a task to focus on. Figuring out what we are trying to say!

You know how people give “Incompatible Behaviors”? You know, if a dog’s sitting they aren’t jumping on you sort of thing.

Well, I think this may be a sort of “Incompatible Thoughts“. As in, if the dog focuses on trying to understand me, they may miss their own gorilla!

I don’t really know. I just process thoughts like this.

Hell, maybe it’s just totally distracting white noise?

But it sure didn’t feel like it. Felt like more. But how much?

I’m not ready to say they got the full English version.

But, I think I am ready to say it’s inducing “Selective Attention”.

Feels right.

We’ll see.

But, don’t take my word for it. Hell, don’t take anyone’s word for anything! Go test.

And learn some shit!!!!!!

(if you haven’t been exposed to Kayce yet, you owe it to yourself to investigate. It’s paradigm challenging for sure, but worth looking into!!!  http://synalia.com/ )

 

 

Why “Break Sticks” Are Shit.

If you’re a dog trainer with an interest in rehabbing dog aggression……

Please. Throw the “Break Stick” away.

Look, I know why you have them. It’s a logical mistake to make.

You want to break up a fight that involves at least one committed dog. (a concern you NEED to address if you work in rehab). Well….. Who has the most experience in breaking the toughest dogs apart? Dog fighters.

Yep.

If a dog gets fanged in a pit, the ref breaks them. If a dog in a roll (practice fight sparring match) starts to get hurt, you break them. Hell, if there’s a management failure in the yard and two dogs get going, you break them. These guys have hands down THE MOST EXPERIENCE breaking game dogs.

How do THEY do it?

Break Sticks.

Ergo….. You want to break game dogs fighting. You use a Break Stick, no?

NO.

Yes….. They are effective. IF……

You have 3 people to the 2 dogs.

One handler goes in for hind leg suspension (another pass down from the pit) on each dog. This kills their ability to punch back in and re-grip. That’s good. It means, All you have to deal with is the current grip. The 3rd, (and sometimes 4th) person, go in and use the break stick to mechanically separate the grips.  And it works! Well. It breaks the dogs.

So…. Why should you NOT use it?

1- Most people didn’t know that above scenario. They just stick a break stick in their pocket and will somehow utilize it to make things OK. They don’t understand the 3 to 2 principle. They don’t know or practice that teamwork concept of “wheelbarrow” and split. If you aren’t in a yard with multiple trained, people all, of who have Break Sticks in their pockets. All of who, know the drill and can fluently assume one role or the other in rhythm with you…. It’s worthless. Trying to separate a game dog (let alone 2) by yourself with a Break Stick is futile, and dangerous for ALL involved.

2- Even IF you understand AND practice the above method with ALL your staff (shut the fuck up, no you don’t)…….

YOU STILL SHOULDN’T USE BREAK STICKS!!!!!!

When you use a Break Stick you are mechanically separating the dogs. Ever hear of “Restraint Frustration”? “Barrier Frustration”? Well, when a dog is in HIGH DRIVE, and wants to get at something and can’t, it’s drive goes UP!!!!!

Think about it. Leashes make dogs more reactive. Fences make dogs more reactive. On, and on. Those are things preventing them from accomplishing their goal. And it makes them want to go at it more.

Hell, that reaction is so strong, that trainers utilize it. We tease dogs with food to increase drive for it. We try to wrestle the tug out of their mouth to make them want to grip it harder the next time!

When you pry their mouth off that dog….. Guess what they want to do MORE now?!?!?!

Yep…… Bite.

And THAT’S why the Pit men used them. It’s the only way to reliably separate a game dog and NOT DIMINISH IT’S WANT TO FIGHT!

Hell, it increases their drive to fight through frustration. And for Pit men, that’s a good thing.

For you, in your home. Or daycare. Or rehab facility……. Not so much.

So unless you’re looking for a tool that takes more dogs than handlers acting in coordination, that INCREASES aggression after the fight…….

Please.

Throw the Break Sticks away.

(How TO break a fight is a tricky and dangerous subject that can’t really be done in an article. But check the services page for avenues of instruction.)

 

Tug: 2.0

So….. If you’ve read the blog at all, you know I’m a fan of tug.

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Particularly, in the Balabanov tradition, with Ellis making a close second. They’ve always said that it develops:

1. Engagement

2. Relationship

3. Language of training (terminal bridge, intermediate bridge, & no reward mark)

4. Impulse control

5. A high value “reward event” that isn’t food based

But….. If those weren’t enough reason to do it, I now have a few more!!!! And, they’re BIG.

1. This one is practical: It begins to “shape” the Conditioned Relaxation exercise Kayce Cover calls the “Toggle”. The way I teach the “out” is by using a “Dead Toy” out. It’s a form of Negative Punishment. Basically….. You make the toy become less fun. They “restart” the game, by letting go. I always knew that it shaped the idea that a sudden shift in body language could stop play. But once I learned the Toggle from Kayce (shifting from “Alert” to “Easy”), I realized that teaching tug first helps them understand the concept of “shifting gears”. Toggling just takes it much further.

(This little guy picked up the “toggle” much faster after teaching tug. A little bit of shaping, and a little bit of stress relief. Bringing me to #2)

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2. This one is theoretical: Biologically appropriate activity. That’s huge for a couple of reasons. First, it is a big stress reliever. And I don’t just mean in the way that exercise dissipates stress.  That’s totally true. Any exercise alleviates stress. But biologically appropriate activities are more than just an energy drain. Temple Grandin describes the “Freedom to express normal behaviors” as one of the four freedoms that define a healthy lifestyle. The others being freedom from hunger, pain, and fear! Well, for a dog, ripping and tearing with their mouth is as biologically fulfilling as it gets! Hell, developing COOPERATION over a thing we’re both gripping is natural!. Watch a pig hunt…. dogs hunting a pig…. not a pig hunting, that would just be weird. But, of all the activities you can do with your dog it is probably the MOST biologically fulfilling activity you can engage in with them.

Yeah, those are more “realizations” of what the hidden benefits are, than actual technique discoveries. But still….. Way more reasons to do it, if you don’t already.

Not sure HOW to do this?

Let me show you!

 

“Pack Structure”

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while but……. Every time I try, I feel like my head will explode.

Giving it another shot:

Pack structure.

When, I got into dog training it was to help troubled dogs. To that end everyone was talking about various ways to enforce what many times is referred to as “Pack Structure”. There are lockdown style procedures that take away literally all freedoms. And more subtle programs like NILIF that even the “fairy farts and rainbows” crowd will condone. But everyone that works with rehab cases, at some point, throws some kind of “Pack Structure”, or “leadership building” stuff at you.

Here’s a list of the ones I use:

Resource Access (NILIF):

– NO resources, aside from water, should be freely accessible. including YOU (or other people) The dog should be “asking” to get affection. If they are being pushy and weren’t “invited” to interact, say “ah ah” and push them off. Only allow it if they stop and wait to be invited. And obviously you can initiate affection when you choose.

– You may slacken this protocol incrementally, as they prove they’re getting better manners.

Yielding/Drawing:

-Look for opportunities to step into your dogs space and have them yield to your Spatial Pressure. Also look for the opposite…. Draw them to you with body language. NOT A RECALL COMMAND. Just body language/sounds. This should be very subtle and organic. As simple as this practice is, it is PROFOUND in relationship development.

-Use this as much as possible as a style of guidance in the house. you should be guiding them through your home with your body language. You should be able to move them away, and pull them to you without touching them.

Kennel Training For Structure:

-Feed in kennel

-Feel free to put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

– DO NOT let any person/animal harass your dog while they are in their Kennel. Use spatial pressure to prevent this. It is a naturally understood pack language. And, all parties need to know you can speak it.

Tether Training For Relationship (Umbilical Cord):

-Try not to use the leash to “steer” them. Try to use the “Yielding/Drawing” protocol If that fails….. Ignore them and let them figure out that staying close to you is the way to turn off the leash pressure.

– Feel Free to calmly handle your dog while tethered. Look for any opportunity to Capture/NameRelaxation.

– Can Sleep tethered to your bed instead of you, if they sleep in your bed, or a bed in your room. Otherwise, they sleep in Kennel.

– If you are not able to adhere to these rules, or just need a break. In the kennel they go. You may put a chew toy, puzzle, or marrow bone in with them. But DON’T turn the Kennel into Chucky Cheez. They should also be developing the ability to relax in them.

– Once they have a “place” command, you may put them in a hold instead of kenneling.

– Give freedom incrementally, as they prove their ability to make good decisions on their own.

Obedience Training for Team Building (Leadership):

– The purpose of this isn’t to make the dog more “obedient”. Or to develop “tricks”. This is to develop team building through learning how to work together to achieve a goal.

– This is done through clarity of communication, by learning how to give and receive information, feedback and consequences.

– After the relationship is developed “embedded” obedience will keep your team running smoothly.

………..

“”That is a great list…… Which one do I use?”

&

“Woah…… Do I have to do this forever?!?!?!”

For most old school style trainers, the answer is “all of them”, and “for as long as you need to”.

But, the problem is that’s just easier than trying to figure it out for every dog.

The truth is, you only need to use the ones that help.

And, you only have to use them until you don’t need them any more.

Yep….. They’ll say do it for a “while”. And, slowly reduce structure until you notice a backslide, then add more.

But that gets into the thought that forever dogs are little conniving shits, that are just WAITING for the opportunity to seize back their dominance!

I just don’t buy that in most cases.

But… I also work with people daily that have OUT OF CONTROL dogs, with ZERO structure. Hmmm.

So I’m left with these two contradictory paradigms.

Both I can see helping dogs in some cases, and failing them in others.

Both I can see value in but can’t figure out how or when to prescribe them.

Enter Temple Grandin and Suzanne Clothier!

Temple Grandin:

In chapter #2 of her book “Animals Make Us Human”, Temple discussed the difference in “Pack Structure”. She suggests that there are 2 distinct kinds:

“Forced” & “Familial

This is from a handout I give clients that briefly summarizes my understanding of the two:

PACK STRUCTURE:

Dominance Theory was postulated from observing “forced” “non-familial” packs. It is necessary in these situations to maintain harmony.

Wild Canids usually “pack” in mostly familial packs with a few “adopted” members.

In familial packs, when the relationship is intact, there is no need for Dominance Theory. The “parents” behave as “stewards” of the pack. They guide the actions, and development, of the pack.

For dog owners, this means that when introducing a dog to your family, or the pack, you are creating a “forced” pack, and must observe Dominance Theory to some degree. If, you are able to nurture the relationship between ALL members of the pack, it may become a “familial” style pack. This may take a day, or a year. It is strictly up to the strength of the relationship.

This explains the old school procedure of going into “lockdown” when bringing a dog in. And as they get more “trained” these rules can be relaxed.

What is happening, is that the relationship is becoming strong enough to shift from “forced”, to “familial” pack structure.

If the relationships cannot be developed. Or, there are too many unrelated dogs in the pack. Then, you may be stuck with Dominance Theory for long term.

If you get a puppy, or an extremely soft dog in a single dog home, you may be able to follow “familial” structure from the beginning. But, if issues arise…. We may need some structure for a time.

Here’s where Suzanne Clothier comes in….

How to tell which state your in OBJECTIVELY!

I use my version of Suzanne Clothier’s Relationship Assessment Tool.

 

Score 1-10. 1 worst- 10 best. Handler Towards Dog: Dog Towards Handler:
Connection Love: Love:
Awareness: Awareness:
Respect: Respect:
Communication Information: Information:
Feedback: Feedback:
Consequences: Consequences:
Commitment Attention: Attention:
Responsibility: Responsibility:
Trust: Trust:

 

Here’s the Clarity-Relationship Handout I give clients explaining each category…. In case it’s not super obvious.

But….. The idea is, do an honest assessment of these categories.

If they score low in  a lot of areas, their relationship is not strong enough for a “familial” pack structure.

They are in a “forced” pack setting and will need structure to not just not get into trouble but to DEVELOP the kind of relationship that makes that structure unnecessary.

If the dog (or handler) scores low in an area, use a modality (from above) to help shore up that area.

Like…. If communication is bad: Work on “Obedience Training for Team Building”.

If the connection is bad: Work on “Tether Training for Relationship.

Etc……

When they score higher, the structure is reduced. When a team has high scores throughout, they will need less structure and naturally fall into the “familial” side of things.

If a dog is scoring low on most of them, or is dangerous….. They get “Lockdown”. That’s ALL the modalities at once.

But, rather than “guess” when it’s time to reduce….. You have a litmus test. Each modality will affect different aspects. When they score well, that modality gets dropped.

Yeah…. If you have a pack of hard dogs, you may never get to full freedom. You may always have to use some structure strategies (hence the Milan “always” type of rules).

Or…. If you have some monster dog that is unable to fully connect. You may always have to have some structure.

I’m not stupid. I get it.

But….. If you can formulate a plan……

You may be able to get closer than you would’ve without one.

Anyway……

That’s my .02$

This is all a working theory! Just thought I’d share in case it helps, or gets someone’s wheels turning.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones….. But Words Make Me Want To Stab You.

RANT WARNING:

Yeah.

I’m in a mood.

Semantics in dog training is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever encountered. It’s like trying to debate religion. It’s nearly impossible.

Here’s a couple of gems from this week that have gotten me on a rant.

“Getting dogs out of adrenaline” 

“Reinforcing fear”

& the one that put me past the edge……..

“Conflict Aggression”

Conflict Aggression.

I’m seriously about to display some conflict aggression.

Don’t even get me started on the use of positive and negative. Or any other word involved in learning theory.

Look….. Words are useful. I like them. I’m using them now.

And like we’ve discussed on the podcast many times it is on the speaker to try to best describe their idea. And not to assume the listener will be so committed to learning that they can get through your lack of clarity.

You have to TRY to help them understand.

And I really do. I really try to get people to see what I’m saying.

But I get the feeling that people are sitting cross legged like a little kid with their fingers in their ears screaming “no…. I can’t hear you…. lalalalalalal”.

It makes me want to punt them across the room.

And just to be clear that’s a metaphor…… It would take much more antagonizing than that for me to kick a baby across a room. I do follow L.I.M.A after all.

Oh….. Wait….. No I don’t. I have been informed that even though I AM committed to using the least invasive, most minimally aversive thing that I can and still help the dog….. I am not supposed to say that word, because it’s a club, and I don’t follow the cartoon diagram that defines their secret method. And….. I didn’t do the handshake right, so they wouldn’t let me in the treehouse.

I honestly am teetering on the brink of one of two actions.

1- Not talking to any dog trainers ever.

2- Making a dog training dictionary so we can all agree on terms and clear up all the nonsense.

Yeah….

I don’t give up easy. So

I’ll start.

1. LIMA: is a concept. Not a protocol Or a club. . It means that said trainer commits to using the least invasive most minimally aversive option possible out of all the possible effective options.

2. Conflict Aggression: I don’t even know how to start. I can’t tell if it’s a ridiculous term. Or if I’m just irritated past my ability to reason. So I will field suggestions on this one! (see…… I AM reasonable!!!!)

3. Positive: Lets try this…. Positive with the capital we will assume to be the scientific term. As in the addition of stimulus. If its written without capitalization it means the aaawww feel good version. If it verbal we shall say that if we air quote when we say it…. it means we are not using the scientific term. First amendment: We shall assume that when talking to a client that they have never read this dictionary and so we will assume they are ALWAYS using the air quote version, until they have been allowed in the cult…. errr… I mean learned enough that we can use “real” dog trainer speak with them.

4. Negative: Follow the same rules as Positive.

5. Reinforcing: Straight up science definition here. Means that it makes the thing more likely to occur in frequency, duration, or intensity. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOUR INTENT WAS!!!!!!! This defines the result. NOT the intention. If the dog bites the leash and you try to yank away yelling. You meant for that to stop the behavior. On dog A that worked…. Therefore it was a not reinforcing. But dog B thinks it’s the best game of tug ever. So it IS reinforcing. These terms don’t describe anything other than the result. can be R+, and R-.

6. Rewarding: Ok…. “Technically” this means the exact same thing as reinforcing… But we’re gonna make another slang term out of this. It means GIVING something GOOD AFTER they do something you want! This is R+ for you geeks. This is “client” language.

7. Punishment: Science definition. Opposite of Reinforcing. Can be P+, or P-.

8. Correction: Slang definition. Opposite of reward. only P+.

9. Interruption: “client” language. Technically this would be punishment, OR a correction….. But implies a less invasive style. Like a noise…. A movment that steals attention, or a light touch to distract. The defining characteristic is the misdirection is what  breaks the dogs attention. Not the aversive quality. This gets grey. I’m up for help on this one.

And finally

10. Adrenaline: This shall be used to define a dog that is in a frantic OVER adrenalized state. This is not intended to describe any presence of adrenaline, such as naturally ocurring elevation of adrenaline at the sunrise. Or while doing enthusiastic obedience. This implies a lack of ability to control decisions on the part of the dog. OVER adrenaline. Also….. This is not meant to imply that adrenaline is the ONLY stress hormone released during this state. Yes cortisol and many others are present. This is a nod towards common vernacular. People say adrenaline rush, or dump. No one says “wow that roller coaster sure did elevate my cortisol and norepineopherine levels.”

Good.

Can we all agree?

Or at least agree to try to communicate.

Please.

Because sticks and stones can break your bones, but words…… Words can make me lose my carefully contained shit and beat your face into a small dish of pudding.

Just sayin.

Rant over.

 

 

 

 

 
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