Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's like losing weight....

It occurred to me having lost 25 pounds, that working with a reactive dog or aggressive dog is a lot like losing weight. Let's face it there's some baggage to tone.

It also occurred to me that this is the reason for slides in progress, regressions, and renewals of commitment. Like losing weight, most cannot do it themselves. A coach is needed and that's where I come in. Inspiring, motivating, getting things back on track, suggesting new ways to do something and even giving a little lecture once in awhile keeps the process on track.

Feeling guilty about why we've let ourselves go equates perfectly to why did I let little Fido get to this point. Best to leave the guilt behind and jump on the bandwagon to progress. Ups and downs are as much a part of the process of losing weight as they are of modifying behavior in dogs.

Further, I don't know of anyone who lost 25, 50 or 100 pounds in a day or a week. There is no quick fix for losing weight and there is no quick fix for changing behavior. Dogs being the emotional creatures they are will take a systematic process and moving too fast will see setbacks, as will moving too slow. There has to be balance, hard work, constant evaluation and yes, the ever critical WEIGH IN.

Setting goals and cheering on milestones is a huge part of the behavior trainer's day. There are set WEIGH INs to see where we are, where we're going and what we've achieved.

And when a new dog emerges, well that is my greatest joy to witness. New tools, new ways of doing things in the environment and as the little monster disappears and new beauty, happiness appear it reminds me a lot of how confidence builds, beauty appears and the body changes after weight loss.

Ok....back to the apples :).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The intake form reads....

"Used shock collar, didn't work. He would yelp and continue bad behavior."

"We've tried everything and used a shock collar for many months."

"We use electrical invisible fencing for our dogs."

Gulp. I am usually the last resort for those using pain devices. The dogs bond closely when they discover I am consistent in how I treat them...no pun intended. Treat as in reward and treat as in what they can expect from me. Positive reward-based "hands-off" training for the owners seems to be harder than pressing an electrical button, jerking on a prong or hanging with a choke.

Yesterday's dog had all of the above in play. Several times I heard my voice say - stop jerking, try this. Luckily, this owner is a quick study and was amazed at the results we got from a dog who would pay no attention to her, to one who was quite attentive and relaxed in a mere 1.5 hour session. Imagine what consistency of application would do.

A dog with two or three homes can be unstable to begin with and add electricity to the mix and you can change behavior, but you might not like it. A clicker gets faster results and longer lasting compliance, and positive reward-based training and behavior modification provides a safe atmosphere for the dog.

I think people listen to all the nonsense out there about positive training and about treats. Positive, of course, is not permissive, there has to be guidance, education, teaching, rules, boundaries. People have been led to believe a team of weenie throwers are on their way and without treats the dog will do nothing for them. On the contrary, rewards are a motivator, a paycheck for a job well done and who doesn't deserve that?

Yesterday's dog was shocked for looking at and lunging, barking at dogs. Guess what? The behavior became stronger, more intense. Dog = pain. Now we've got our work cut out because dog = pleasure, reward, and "oh look there's a dog"....irrelevant. People feel they've tried everything, but everything is an elusive word because where knowledge ends aversion seems to take flight. Positive reward-based training is changing the way people interact with a species, changing communication patterns from negative to positive and assuring positive is ok.

That's a day in the life of a behavior trainer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How much behavior can really be changed?

The question ''how much behavior can really be changed?' is a hard one because animals are emotional beings with moods and maladies. I hear all the time "My dog is probably as far as they're going to go." In my experience the real question should be "How far will the commitment, time and money go to change the behavior?" Each dog is a unique individual and scientifically speaking behaviorists say a dog's behavior can be changed up to 80%. Realistically, I think behavior up to 80% is where the commitment, time or money ended.

The majority of the dogs I see have challenges from aggression to sound sensitivities and separation anxiety. I know the dog can be helped implementing a systematic process of desensitization and counter conditioning. Most can be helped a great deal over 80% cure and many well into the 90th percentile. Some can even see 100% cure evidenced by case studies.

Veterinarian Behaviorist, Dr. Margaret Duxbury, University of Veterinary Medical Center, Minnesota, states dog behavior is malleable and can be changed even in older dogs. She says behavior is fluid and dogs have memories too. As trainers we know this, we work with this everyday and the frustration of knowing tugs at our hearts.

This week two past clients stated, the first "my dog is about as far as they are going to go" and "I know my dog still has issues but I'm not working with her anymore." These are clear choices to deal with prevention and management for the lifetime of the animal, and since they are choices they are to be respected. The reality is these dogs could be changed and go much further than where they are now.

How much behavior can really be changed is dependent on the commitment to the animal, the correct implementation of the process and the time and money to keep the therapies going. How much behavior can really be changed is at the end of the day up to those involved in the training process. An animal who has a clear health history, one who is willing and able to learn and has a commitment to change, will transcend the percentile averages incrementally learning new skills to replace their challenges.

Is the process easy? No it is not. Changes are long lasting with positive reward-based methods. With tough cases decreasing the number of times a dog aggresses is what you strive to achieve so the periods between aggression lengthens and eventually disappear. Often there are subtle results to begin and then noticeable changes. The key, the magic, is in committing to do the work in between sessions, as outlined, ask lots of questions and report the good, bad and ugly to the trainer throughout the process.

When I hear "my dog is about as far as they are going to go", I hear "my resources (time, commitment, money) are as far as they are going to go." Sometimes that is the only answer and at other times I know the dog can go further, if only...............

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Positive reward-based ONLY

This is a blog about a day in the life of a positive reward-based only behavior trainer....me. Under no circumstances do I add pain devices to a dog's training process, whether I'm training a puppy or a dog with challenges such as aggression, reactivity to the environment, noise sensitivites, separation anxiety, shy/fearful dogs and more. Where knowledge ends, aversion begins and I truly believe this. The day in the life of a positive reward-based behavior trainer has a lot of twists and turns from questions clients ask to general media entering the minds of unsuspecting dog owners who have little or no knowledge. How does one deal with all of this?

Kindness does count and knowledge goes a long way in positive reward-based training. It is better than aversives, it is scientifically proven to be better and it is longer lasting in the results achieved. It encompasses more than a clicker, a touch, a kind word. It is not permissive and food is just one element of a comprehensive system.

Transforming challenges into positive solutions so dogs avoid euthanasia, ending up in shelters and are able to stay in forever homes is my mission. My policy is authority without dominance; respect without fear and love without submission. Am I serious, yes I am.

This is my focus, this is my life. The journey is sometimes serious, sometimes humorous and always a passion. Will share videos, photos and my own techniques of the aggression puzzle and my tolerance acclimation process/technique for intra-household aggression. See where this positive journey takes us.

"Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by
the fear of punishment and the other by
acts of love. Power based on love is a
thousand times more effective and
permanent then the one derived from fear
of punishment." - Mahatma Gandhi