Category Archives: Canine Science

Leerburg Podcasts

I know I made some waves with my “Skinner” post. But honestly, if you look at the comments, I think it sparked some discussion that is valuable.

In the spirit of education, I thought I’d post a link to an early source of info I studied. is a great resource. It has a ton on streaming videos on a variety of subjects. There’s a ton of articles. There’s a very active, and informative blog.

And they have these:

There’s about a dozen podcasts, probably 30+ minutes each. They are really, very good.

They’re by Ed Frawley. He’s a “Balanced” trainer. Which is dog training slang for uses any of the 4 quadrants (from the “Skinner” article), without being a slave to any of them. A lot of  the “reward only” people really, really hate the guy, because he will use a prong collar, or an E-collar. And, people really like to cherry pick some of his more controversial things out of context, and demonize him for it. Thing is, if you actually listen to him, he is actually VERY into the reward based training methods. He is a giant proponent of marker training. Which is essentially the clicker and treat type training that the “Purely Positive” folks love so much.
But, what really made me like him, was in one of his podcasts, he talked about how much he’s learned. He’s this 50 something year old guy, that has been in the dog game forever. Began his education in the old time “harsher” methods of dog training. But he’s got an open mind. And publicly admits he has found a better way. He even goes so far in one, as to say something along the lines of “this tape is an attempt to make up for all the dogs that I trained when I didn’t know better. They deserved better”. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. That takes a level of courage and dedication that in beyond rare now days. I will always be an Ed Frawley fan for that one reason alone!

Check them out.

No Love For Skinner

Quick….. Word association:

Pavlov= Bell. Saliva. Conditioning. Reactions.

Skinner= ________…….. (sounds of crickets)……….

Yeah, that’s what most people do too.

B. F. Skinner. Figured out the other conditioning. Not the “ring a bell- make you salivate” of Classical Conditioning fame. But the WAY less understood “Operant Conditioning”.

Obviously, you can read the links and research this stuff, but I’ll try to break it down.

Classic Conditioning changes how you “react”. (pair a song with something scary enough, and they’ll get scared when they hear it)

Operant Conditioning changes how you “act”. (you can teach a mouse to touch a lever to get food, even though cheese is right in front of them)

The tricky part comes into play in the fact that they both have the others effect eventually. Changing how you feel about something effects how you decide to behave. Doing a rewarding behavior enough times will effect how you feel about that behavior.

Uh oh….. I said “reward”. Crap. I opened a can of worms.

The biggest problem in researching/talking about dog training, or behavior modification, is the “operant conditioning quadrants”

It looks like this:

Now, here the Positive and Negative are more about the “blood test” type of thing. As in Positive means that thing is there, and negative means that thing is not there. But everyone gets hung up in the “feeling” definition of those words. As in positive is good, and negative is bad. The problem is in the most used and understood quadrant (+R), it can be used both ways. Giving a treat to encourage a behavior, is “positive” in the “added to” sense, and also “positive” in the “feel good” sense. But that’s where it falls apart. Because +P (spanking a dog for ex), is positive in the scientific “added to” sense, and definitely negative in the “feelings” department.

So, clearly, I don’t think posts out ahead of time. Because what started as an informative post is turning into the friendship shattering discussion of reward/punishment in training!
Good sense tells me not to write this as it is kind of divisive. In dog training (and people training!) which method to use, and how to use them, starts as many fights as politics or religion.

But, since I care more about knowledge than people liking me, I’ll just go ahead and throw this at you.

There is no such thing as “purely positive” in the feel good sense. Everyone just loves to say that. “we use only positive techniques”, We use only reward based training”. There is no such thing.

For there to be light, there must be dark. That Ain’t my rule. That’s nature. Like it or not, you’re using punishment.

Look at the quadrant again. The diagonal is what’s important. If you use +R, you MUST also be using -P! There’s no way around it. When doing purely positive training,  you say “sit” and the dog lies down you say “no…. Sit” and the dog lies down you DON”T GIVE THE FOOD! That’s punishment. -P, but punishment all the same. Honestly, it just makes you feel less guilty. Here’s the rub: when you ask a “reward only” person what to do if your dog isn’t that food motivated….. Oh, that’s easy. Train before feeding. Or reduce their food to increase “motivation”. Really? Wow. The thing is, it’s all in your focus and intention. If you tell your kid “get a good grade and mommy will be sooo proud”, “get a bad grade, and I’ll be soo disappointed”. You’ve essentially said the same thing. One just feels better because of your focus and intention.

What about the other diagonal. Yes, if you use +P,  you are also using -R. This is the classic “the beating will continue until morale improves” mindset. Look at abused spouses. The reward is not getting pounded. Obviously, this works, but doesn’t build the best relationships. But, we aren’t talking specific examples of the +P concept. We’re talking the concept itself. Which I use all the time. And before you act like I’m an abusive asshole….. Bear in mind….. SO DO YOU.

Yeah, that’s right I said it. You….. With your clicker and hot dogs…… You use +P!!!!!!

Shut, up. Yes you do.

Ever gotten a stern tone and posture, and said “NO” to your dog?

Yep. +P. You added a bad thing, to prevent that action from continuing.

To a dog you were one step from “touching” them.

Dogs warn in this order:

Stillness (the freeze warning)- Pressure (a hard look, lip lifting, or leaning/moving towards you)- Sound (growling)- Touch (muzzle punch, or warning touch)- Attack (try to hurt you)

You froze. Gave pressure. And, made a sound. They stopped to avoid a touch.

You didn’t mean to, but you added (+), the implied threat pf physical violence to stop an action.

See the problem isn’t with the science. The problem is with our understanding.

And our identity. Soft people will “never” use any punishment. And Napoleonic tough guys think reward training is for sissies.

We all use all of them in one form or another.

The issue is do we understand how. Obviously, you want to de-emphisise all Punishments. You CAN”T not use them, but it’s healthier for the relationship if you emphasize the rewarding part of the diagonal that your using.

You should be aware of all your interactions when you teach. Because, you can’t minimize what you don’t realize you’re doing! Understand the quadrants! Understand how they play together. Realize that punishment in your training is a reality you can’t do anything about. Be AWARE of the punishments you use. Try to focus on punishment little as possible.

ALWAYS try to focus on or stay in the R half.

NEVER punish without intending too. That’s irresponsible.

NEVER punish more than is necessary. It makes them not trust you, and it makes you an asshole.

NEVER punish (+ or -) out of frustration/anger. That’s abuse.

Well. There it is. I picked a fight. My only saving grace may be that no one reads this blog. Guess we’ll see.

Feel free to comment. I’ll respond.

Vet’s Sing The Praises Of Exercise! has published an article pronouncing the benefits of exercise for your dog. It’s definitely worth a read. As always, we’re here to help you give your “difficult” dog the workouts, and experiences they need.  This excerpt is taken from the article “The Benefits Of Dog Exercise”. Check it out.

Minimize Unwanted Dog Behavior

Dogs like to chew and dig. Most of the times, they do these activities out of boredom and because they have plenty of energy to spend. If you focus your dog’s energy towards exercise, he will no longer chew or dig. Make sure the activities you offer are challenging so that your dog doesn’t get bored. A dog that performs daily exercise will bark less and will not be hyperactive.

Build Up Confidence

As with humans, regular exercise will improve your dog’s confidence and reduce his anxiety. If you have a shy dog, you can help him by offering the right amount of exercise every day. He will start being more outgoing and happy.

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

The amount of exercise a dog needs varies according to the size and the breed of the dog.

Larger breeds need a lot of motion-at least 40 minutes of moderate to intensive cardio a day (though you shouldn’t push an old-aged or overweight dog beyond his limits). Walking is healthy, but larger dogs also need some more alert movement.



We Walk DINOS!

Dinosaurs? No D.I.N.O.S.

It’s a concept founded by Jessica Dolce, author of the blog; Notes From A Dog Walker.
Here’s her description:

What is a DINOS?

DINOS™ are Dogs in Need of Space.

DINOS are good dogs that need some space while they’re out on walks. They might be DINOS for a variety of reasons, such as:

•service and working dogs

•illness or recovering from surgery

•leash reactivity

•injuries and painful physical conditions, like arthritis

•intolerance of other animals

•fearful of unfamiliar people

•aging and elderly

•learning self control around other dogs

•fearful of unfamiliar or rowdy dogs

•are owned by people who want to be left alone


I LOVE her material! I know there a lot of  DINOS out there. 2 of our 5 are! So her concepts really resonate with us.

Check out her site. Support her movement. People out there with DINOS need to know they’re not alone. And they shouldn’t be made to feel bad for their dogs preferences. It is NUTS, the kind if response you get when you ask people not to pet your dog. They get downright angry sometimes. Her site has a ton of resources, and awesome gear to empower you, and educate others.

Our queen DINOS: Mabel

Mabel was really bad with strangers. Even as a young dog. It was weird. I had never had a Bully that was bad with people. I didn’t know what to do. So…. I did everything wrong.

I felt really strange telling people not to mess with her, which happened often because she’s cursed with unbearable cuteness. Because I wouldn’t say anything, they would approach. Of course, they would do it in a way a dog would consider rude. Mabel show a ton of signs of not digging it, that I hoped they wouldn’t see, cause I was embarrassed. Then, when all of this culminated in an unwanted handling, Mabel would “communicate”. Of course, I would correct her. And, that sucks for a number of reasons.

1. Correcting a dog in drive takes bigger corrections to get through. And I hate that.

2. Constantly getting corrected every time someone touches her, gives her MORE reason to dislike/distrust people.

3. Me ignoring the signs of discomfort she was offering on the approach, made her feel like she had to handle it on her own. This makes her lose faith in my ability to protect her, and tells her she needs to protect herself. Which then puts a huge tailspin on pack structure in the house, and leads to all sorts of behavior problems.

It really is ridiculous how easy it is to fix.

“Hey! Don’t touch my dog.” That’s it.

I began to pay attention to my dog. I realized those signals of discomfort were her asking me for help. So I did.

I would have people stop approaching when I realized she was getting uncomfortable. And at the beginning, that was about 20 yards.

But you know what….. After a while she had faith in me. That I would protect her. And, they would have to get a lot closer to shake her faith. I then earned more trust at that distance. And closer and closer.

And now I can put Mabel in a down and people can literally step over her and she doesn’t care.

Why? Cause I have earned her absolute trust.

She KNOWS, beyond all doubt, that I WILL NOT LET THEM TOUCH HER!

She has learned that I will pay attention to her, and I will protect her. So she finally can relax, and not be the Sheriff.

The DINOS gear makes it way easier to get this across to people. And, the cuteness softens the blow a little. So, owning a DINOS myself, I fully recommend their merchandise.

If you have a DINOS….. keep us in mind. We specialize in them! We prefer them! Our services were designed with them (you) in mind!

We will walk/work, sit your DINOS! It’s our pleasure.


Who Rescued Who?

I’m actually not being cliche. Science suggests this is an actual question now!

The common theory is that we humans saw these canines scavenging around the outskirts of our fire eating the bones that we were tossing over our shoulder. We noticed this and used our immense intelligence to “train and domesticate” them.

Well, a scientist has recently done a paper suggesting that it was far more of a co-evolution. As in, we both learned symbiotically from each other at first. Clearly our intelligence let us eventually manipulate ourselves into the prime position with dogs, but I think the first part of our relationship was much more partnership oriented.

This is the abstract for the paper:

Dogs and wolves are part of the rich palette of predators and scavengers that co-evolved with herding ungulates about 10 Ma BP (million years before present). During the Ice Age, the gray wolf, Canis lu- pus, became the top predator of Eurasia. Able to keep pace with herds of migratory ungulates wolves be- came the first mammalian “pastoralists”.

Apes evolved as a small cluster of inconspicuous tree- dwelling and fruit-eating primates. Our own species separated from chimpanzee-like ancestors in Africa around 6 Ma BP and– apparently in the wider context of the global climate changes of the Ice Age–walked as true humans (Homo erectus) into the open savanna. Thus an agile tree climber transformed into a swift, cursorial running ape, with the potential for adopting the migratory life style that had become essential for the inhabitants of the savanna and steppe. In the absence of fruit trees, early humans turned into omnivorous gatherers and scavengers. They moved into the steppe of Eurasia and became skilled hunters. Sometime during the last Ice Age, our ancestors teamed up with pastoralist wolves. First, presumably, some humans adopted the wolves’ life style as herd followers and herders of reindeer and other hoofed animals. Wolves and humans had found their match. We propose that first contacts between wolves and humans were truly mutual, and that the subsequent changes in both wolves and humans are understood best as co-evolution.

Very interesting. The paper (coevolution03) is long, and, of course, “sciencey”. But, if you can deal with reading things like that you should check it out. There are some very cool concepts in it that may change your view on our relationships with dogs.

Definitely changes the human centric view that we in our superiority, rescued the dog from its unfortunate wildness.

Kind of begs the question:

Who did rescue who?