Tag Archives: Pit Bull

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.

Winter Dog Sports

I was born and raised in Louisiana. So, I find very few redeeming qualities about snow, and winter. My kicksled is my attempt at the whole lemons/lemonade thing. Running a sled with dogs is damn near the only thing that gets me through winter! Here’s some inspiration I was looking at to get me through this grey, grey Maine morning.

Now, when snow hits, and your dog is amped beyond belief, and needs an outlet, and you can’t seem to get yourself out in that snow….

Call us, we’ll come take them sledding!!!!!



Vet’s Sing The Praises Of Exercise!

Vetinfo.com 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.



Hurricane Stop Our Workouts? No Way!

We’re like the US Mail. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor blah, blah…..

The photos aren’t great but this is how we handled hurricane Sandy.

Lead dogs!


There is a trail under all that debris BTW.

All jokes aside, storm aftermath is a serious thing.

Our tip for the day is: Don’t just assume fences survived! If you rely on a fence to keep your dog safe….. Check it after bad storms. That’s fences in your yard, or the dog park you go to. Wherever.

Storm= perimeter checks.

It only takes one incident of letting your dog out in the back yard, only to see him in the road in the front of your house, to never make that mistake again!

Better safe than sorry.

Endurance Pulling Sports

The ones that we take part in are:




We talked about Canicross in another post, because you have to run to keep up. But, basically, all these are, is attaching your dog to a typically “human” powered vehicle, and holding on!

Ok, there’s more to it than that. The commands needed to take part in these are exactly like Canicross. They are:


– A go command (even though they tend to pull naturally, there are times when they will decide they’d rather not. For this to be a work exercise, they need to go regardless!)

– A stop command (As in, if you stop to tie your shoe you don’t have to tether your vehicle to a tree)

– A leave it command (As in they “tend” to follow a trail, but it’s surprising how brave little forest creatures get when they see a dog pulling. A sudden left turn into a heavily wooded area as they chase a squirrel can just ruin the experience.)

Nice but not necessary:

– Left/right turn (when trails split this is really nice)

In Competitions people like to have these:

– A tolerance for other dogs. There are going to be a lot of them and they will be AMPED!!! you have to make sure that your dog is either OK with that, or you have bombproof management techniques in your toolbox. Cause you WILL need them. Just because people have taught their dogs to pull doesn’t necessarily mean they have taught them manners!

– About left/right (as in a u-turn one way or the other)

– Over left/right (as in which side of the trail to be on. Useful for passing)

Of course the die-hard “Mushers” (what pulling enthusiasts usually call themselves) do it in a foreign language. But I don’t really care about that.

How to get these skills, you ask?

Yeah that’s the problem.

We read about it, and thought it was awesome sounding. So, we of course asked every trainer we could find for help. No one teaches it. Weird. So we just taught ourselves. And started with the minimums. Not bad.

Then we finally found a Musher willing to help us. And that’s when we found out the secret. You hitch your dog to a team of trained dogs. They are literally attached. You say right, the team pulls them right. Eventually, the team isn’t pulling them, cause they know what right means.

Sweet. If your dog’s not reactive/aggressive.

What about…. You know….. Us?

Well, I can tell you how we do it.

I talked about one way in the Canicross article. But, here’s another way.

You get someone on another bike (or whatever) and run a line from them to the dog (or front dog if you’re running more than one). They the person out front becomes the “lead dog”. The driver (person in the pulled rig) calls the command, and the “lead dog” responds. The learning curve is the same as running a new dog behind an experienced lead dog the way mushers usually teach. The down side to this method…… Someone’s got to outrun the team behind them. Or the driver had to ride the hell out of the brakes. So, this way takes less people, but takes way more effort, and I think maybe takes longer from start to finish to teach a dog the commands.

Now, If this sounds like something you want your dog to do, but don’t want to deal with the pain of teaching them how, getting the gear, loading them up, and hitting the trail….. Give us a call. We will come over and take them for a pull!


Weight Pull: Macho Dogsport, Or Awesome Exercise Therapy?

Weight Pull:

Tell you the truth, I’ve had mixed feelings about weight pull for a long time. Until recently.

When I was a kid, weight pulls were basically just legal venues for all the guys that fought dogs to gather publicly and check out everyone’s competition. Kind of a meathead gathering of guys living vicariously through their dogs. I was turned off by weight pull around the same time I began railing against dog fighting. So for about the 25 years I kind of disregarded it.

Until recently. I was re-exposed to weight pull in the spring of 2012. And you know what….. It was cool. The tough guy wannabe’s were noticeably absent. People were very friendly. Not a dog fighting supporter in the bunch.

That was when I was able to look at the sport with an open mind.

Yes….. It’s good for all breeds! (I don’t even know if that’s a dog!)

And what I found was, one of the most awesome training modalities ever!

Weight pull takes a dog/handler team that is in perfect sync. It totally appeals to the coach in me! You have to know your dogs mindset perfectly. You have to be able to tell when they’re into it and when they’re flagging. You have to push them, without it ever becoming a bad experience. You have to spend time in training, developing in them the DESIRE to pull FOR YOU.

That’s the cool part, I think. In competitions (and for most in training), you can’t use anything except praise to motivate your dog. Think about that. Not a toy. Not a hot dog. Not cause you’re yelling and they are scared not to pull. They have to pull this absurd weight…… Just to get to you for a hug.

Wow. The first time I saw it, I almost cried. You can really see the true nature of the love, and determination in a handler/dog relationship when that cart gets heavy. It really is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen done with a dog.

Aside from the relationship building aspects of weight pulling, there are a ton of reasons to do it. It’s a tremendous workout. It’s like Powerlifting for your dog. VERY TIRING! It’s also very environmentally challenging for some dogs. Huge harnesses. Sleds, carts, and drag weight clanging around behind you. Not to mention spectators and so forth if you compete.

As I say with most of these sports, if you want to do them with your dog…… Find a trainer and jump in.

If you don’t have the ability to do it with them, call us! We’ll be your dogs very own weightlifting coach.

Let us come give your dog an amazing workout!

Trust Obstacles

We’ve called it all kinds of names. Canine Parkour. Urban Agility. Doggy Obstacle courses.

But honestly, when we’re talking amongst ourselves we call them trust obstacles. Cause that’s what they are. Your dog develops confidence with environmental stuff, and confidence in you. It’s a huge relationship builder.

Waiting their turn!

Now with all exercise therapies, the depth of the work depends on how hard it is for your dog. So, if your dog is bomb-proof and nothing scares it, then this activity would just be a fun way to play. But for some dogs, it can be REALLY, REALLY hard. Psychologically I mean. They have to trust you enough to do the obstacle, even though it’s a weird-looking thing that they never traversed before. That’s tough for a fearful dog. It takes a lot of trust! And develops a lot of confidence! And, for environmentally shaky dogs, this can be absolutely life altering.

Jax’s first Obstacle session. Look at that focus!


We’ve had that experience with our little pack. It had a great effect on each one of our “Bad Bullies”, but they were all different.

I’ll explain:


Milo hates training. As in traditional obedience. I mean, if you use a box of treats, he may stay interested, but mostly he just pouts, and falls asleep sitting up. But not with Parkour (or whatever you want to call it). His eyes light up like a kid at X-mas! Some of his best obedience is done on an obstacle course. It just really engages him. For him, it’s a party.

His ears give him aerodynamic lift.
Dismissed! His favorite part!


Ah, the devil. She doesn’t get excited about obstacles like Miilo, but, she really likes the praise and attention she gets when she does one. She’s definitely on a “nothing in life is free” type structure to reign in her hyper freak out streaks. And the only time she gets the really over the top excited praise, that she craves is when she does a really challenging obstacle! For her the obstacles themselves aren’t reinforcing, but the reward is. For her, the fact that we are asking her to work for reward, goes a long way to solidify our pack structure. So, it’s a very useful tool for miss Mabel.

Miss Mabel getting her Parkour on!
Tolerating a sit stay to get to her big Dismiss, and a make out session!


Bell’s default mode is fearful. If we don’t expose her to novel (scary) things, on a regular basis, and INSIST that she go through them, she would be a shivering mess in the corner. For Bella, obstacles are a way for us to show her that we are safe leaders, that would never ask her to do something that would turn out bad. And, that even though things look scary, if she just trusts us, she’ll be OK. “Agility” has been one of the MAJOR rehabilitative things we’ve done for her. We know her well enough to see her apprehension sneak up on her in situations, but most people from the outside would think she was as brave as any other dog! For her, this work is mandatory!

Wobbly tires are hard for fraidy bulls.
Through the tire is the hardest for her!

Now, add all those great effects to the obvious physical exercise dogs get doing sessions of agility, and you’ve got a pretty awesome method of exercise therapy! The kind of fulfillment dogs get doing something physically AND mentally challenging is a joy to witness.

A little loose time is a great reward for working so hard. Our little pack. 3 bad bullies and a Jackson!

So, that’s our experience with Trust Obstacles, and how they’ve effected our pack for the better.