Stop using aversive dog training methods

STOP using aversive dog training methods!

PetCo recently announced that they would stop selling shock collars which is awesome news! It is a definite step in the right direction. However, the dog industry still resorts to using too many aversive training methods, and that has got to stop!

Aversive versus rewarding training methods

Aversive

A dog’s learning can be divided into 4 different categories:

Positive reinforcement – we add something to increase a behaviour (we guide the dog to a wanted behaviour, like walking next to us, and they are given treats for following us and for staying where we want them to walk)

Negative reinforcement – we remove something to increase a behaviour (We keep a prong collar tight until the dog walks next to us, and then we slowly remove the pressure)

Positive punishment – we add something to decrease a behaviour (The dog is shocked with a shock collar to stop him from barking)

Negative punishment – we remove something to decrease a behaviour (If your dog is pulling, you stop and keep him from moving forward. You do not move forward until he comes back and the strain on the leash stops)

Aversive methods can be defined as doing something that your dog does not like in order to stop or alter a behaviour. Aversive tools offer a punishment in response to the dog’s behaviour.

However, research has found that for the dog to learn, the punishment has to be strong enough to stop the dog from doing the behaviour again, also meaning that the punishment has to be highly unpleasant and unavoidable. If it is not strong enough it will not have any effect on the dog, meaning that the behaviour you are trying to change will stay the same.

The argument that shock collars and other aversive training tools does not bring pain or discomfort to dogs is therefore faulty as we have just seen that in order for the aversive tool to actually change a behaviour they have to provide such high discomfort that the dog will refrain from doing the behaviour again. That means if you do not bring pain or discomfort the tool simply does not work.

Reasons why you should NOT use aversive training methods

Science has compared the use of positive punishment versus positive reinforcement and they found that positive punishment was not more effective than positive reinforcement. If positive reinforcement is just as effective as punishment, then why not do that instead. By using positive reinforcement in your training you also avoid the greater risk of your dog making an incorrect association between the punishment and why they are being punished.

Example:

You are out on a walk and your dog starts to bark at another dog and he/she is punished by you for doing so. Your dog is most likely reacting to the other dog because he/she is afraid. In fact the majority of reactivity in dogs stems from an unresolved fear they have developed.

It therefor does not make sense to add a punishment, as that will simply give them the association that if I bark or react, something uncomfortable, perhaps even painful will happen and that is definitely something to be afraid of. Their fear has not only been enhanced, it has also been confirmed. This in your dog’s mind can be translated to – seeing a dog means something scary will happen.

This leads us to the next point as to why you should not use aversive tools when training your dog. Aversive training methods does not deal with the underlying problem and believe me, there always is one! This can get the problem behaviour to escalate as the dog is left alone with dealing with his/her underlying emotions. In fact research has shown that dogs that were trained with aversive training methods where more likely to show aggression later on in their life.

Aversive training also does not show the dog what to do instead of reacting. You have to think, that a dog reacting is not thinking about his/her behaviour, they are reacting because of that underlying emotion – stress, fear, insecurity etc. It is your job as their owner or as a professional dog trainer to show them how to handle their emotions and give them alternatives to cope with the situation they find scary or uncomfortable.

Example:

Instead of reacting by lunching and barking, you can come sit here next to me and get a treat.

STOP using aversive dog training methods! 1

By providing alternatives for your dog your bond automatically becomes stronger as your dog now starts to trust you more. Aversive methods do the complete opposite making the trust between you slowly disappear and increases your dog’s stress levels, until your dog eventually shuts down.

Many countries have already banned shock collars completely, and in Sweden (where I live) the use of a shock collar is considered animal abuse and is prohibited by law.

Banning shock collars and taking stands like PetCo is definitely a step in the right direction. There are sadly still many trainers and dog owners that use aversive methods but by sharing scientifically based evidence positive reinforcing training methods will hopefully carve its way forward.

Share this post to help spread awareness of why you should use positive reinforcement when training your dog.

If you are looking for a trainer, then check out this blog on things you should look out for when searching for a dog trainer.

Thank you PetCo for taking a step in the right direction, let us all follow that example.  

If you have a problem with your dog, I am available for consultations, just go here and book an appointment today.

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Mental stimulation

Mental stimulation – Why is it important?

Enrichment and mental stimulation is something you hear a lot about in the dog world these days.

But why should you give your dog mental stimulation.

What is all the fuss about?

The benefits of mental stimulation

Scientific studies have shown that by providing your dog with enrichment and mental stimulation on a daily basis you decrease the risk of them developing problem behaviors and even decrease current problem behaviors in your dog.

Mental stimulation or enrichment tires out your dog in a different way than physical exercise. It also keeps their brain strong which is important both during their development as a puppy, but also to keep their brain sharp during their golden senior years (Read more here about how to keep your senior dog’s brain strong).

Mental stimulation also strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Your dog sees that you are the creator of fun things and that you are helping them, which makes them grow closer to you. Spending time with your dog is also good for you as it creates a higher feeling of happiness. Read more about how happy your dog makes you here.

But what exactly is mental stimulation?

Mental stimulation can be anything stimulating from play sessions, to searching for items or dog training. Anything where your dog have to use his/her brain to figure out a problem.

Dogs are individuals and stimulated and motivated by different things. As a dog owner you will quickly learn what your dog finds motivating and stimulating. Just like humans, dogs need stimuli in order not to grow bored. If a dog is bored he/she will find ways of entertaining themselves which might interfere with your idea of what a fun time is.

Before I started studying animal behavior and learning about dogs’ needs I would be so frustrated with Chester sometimes completely destroying my apartment. Once I came home and was greeted by the happiest dog completely covered in feathers along with the rest of the apartment.

mental stimulation

He had decided to destroy all pillows within range. He had had a blast creating his own feather party, whereas I viewed the remains of my pillows a little different. I know now that it was completely my fault. I was not providing what Chester needed – I was not making sure he was stimulated, so he found ways to do it himself.

Many expect their dogs to be fine being left alone for an entire day without any stimuli of any kind, and then get frustrated with their dogs when they come home to a destroyed house.

One of the first things I always do in my consultations is to make sure that the dog in question gets enough stimuli on a daily basis. Most of the times that solves half the behavior problem. A tired dog is a happy dog right.

Get ideas on enrichment here.

What mental stimulation toys should I choose for my dog?

The dog world is filled with different puzzles and toys to stimulate your dog. You can basically get anything and for many that creates confusion about what to choose.

Dogs, as mentioned above, are foremost individuals. It is therefor important that you find mental stimulation toys that your dog will use and enjoy. That being said, you should also expect a learning curve for your dog if they have never seen an enrichment toy before.

When I first got Belga, she had never seen an activity ball before and just looked up at me completely puzzled by this artifact I had put in front of her, not knowing what to do to get to her food. So down on the floor I went, pushing the ball around, until she finally one day started doing it herself.

Many tell me that they have tried different enrichment toys but their dog is simply not interested. What they have missed is the learning curve that comes with a new toy. They simply haven’t taken the time to introduce the enrichment toy to their dog and shown them how to work it out.

Dogs trust us to teach them about our world and introducing different mentally stimulating toys is part of that learning. I should mention that the key rule with mental stimulation is to make your dog think it is a game. Make it fun and light and don’t be disappointed with your dog if they cannot figure it out right away. Set yourself down on the floor and help them work it out.

Another reason as to why you should mentally stimulate your dog is that it gives them a confidence boost. That is IF they are successful in solving the challenge. This is why both when it comes to enrichment toys and dog training in general you should always make sure that your dog leaves the game with a feeling of success. That way they are more likely to come back to it and try it again (More about happy associations here). If you get angry or disappointed with your dog, he/she will sense it immediately and the stimulation will become a negative and something your dog will avoid.

MUST HAVE enrichment toys

But what should you choose? From my experience the 3 best activity toys to have for your dog is:

Kong enrichment
Mental stimulation - Why is it important? 2
Mental stimulation - Why is it important? 3

These activity toys I have found most dogs to enjoy, but again every dog has specific tastes and likes. Some are happy with the toy as long as they can get treats or food out of it, others are more selective and prefers search games for their food.

Finally, I would like to give you a challenge.

Challenge: Remove your dog’s food bowl for a week and only feed him/her using different mentally stimulating toys and try to observe if you see a change in your dog’s behavior.

If you need help getting started with enrichment ideas for your dog, or you have a problem with your dog then contact me for a consultation.

Don’t forget to download our FREEBIE 30 enrichment ideas for your dog !

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Myth

10 Dog myths – true or false?

The dog world is filled with myths. From everything about a dog’s intelligence to their tail wags.

In this blog we will go through 10 myths in the dog world with the help of the brilliant book ‘Den missförstådda hunden’ by Per Jensen (professor in Ethology at Linköping University). The book is sadly only found in Swedish, but if you are Swedish I would strongly recommend you to get this book (https://www.bokus.com/bok/9789127151871/den-missforstadda-hunden/). The book is based on scientific research in dogs and brings up the many myths found in the dog world.

Furthermore, we did a survey on our Instagram story to see how many of these myths are still believed and got some very interesting results.

Let’s dive into it!

NB! If you want a deeper explanation to why some of these myths are true or false, simply click the link and you will be taken to a new blog where I dive deeper into the reasons behind.  

10 Dog myths - true or false? 4

https://youtu.be/D9EBvHxyUlc

The Myths

  • Some breeds are more intelligent than othersFALSE

(Instagram voted YES 85% vs NO 15%)

I’m sorry to say that that myth is FALSE. We know from humans that intelligence is not only one thing. In fact there seems to be many different types of intelligence in humans so how can we be the judge of whether a dog is intelligent or not?

The lists we find on the internet is based on statements from different dog trainers but has no scientific basis and mainly says something about how obedient a dog is, not how intelligent it is.

We have yet to map and study the different types of intelligence in humans, and science are still pondering how to study intelligence in dogs and if it is even possible!

Breeds are bred for different things. A border collie might show more obedience then a mastiff but that does not make it more intelligent, cause the mastiff might follow a trail better then a border collie. Dogs are smart in different things but to say that a certain breed is more intelligent then another is wrong.

  • Fur color affect a dogs behaviorTRUE

(Instagram voted YES 29% vs NO 71%)

The myth is TRUE, the fur color can say something about a dogs’ behavior. Science has found that behavior and temper in an animal is connected to the pigment in a dog’s fur.

Read how exactly fur color can affect a dog’s behavior here.

  • A dog prefer the person who feeds themFALSE

(Instagram voted YES 63% vs NO 37%)

No, they do not!

Many believe that a dog is an opportunist who is out to manipulate its owner into always getting food, but science has shown that the relation is so much more than that. Dogs attach themselves to their humans as a child would to their parents. The relation is about trust and love, not who they can manipulate into getting them food.

Read more about the relation between human and dog here

  • You should comfort your scared dogTRUE

(Instagram voted YES 88% vs NO 12%)

Don’t pity the dog when it is in pain or scared, that will only make it worse.

We have all heard it at one point or another. Luckily science has proven that you should do the complete opposite – comfort your dog!

Dogs are masters at picking up emotions, and it has been shown that if the owner feels stressed, the dog will feel the exact same way. So if you stay calm and comforting when your dog is scared the likelihood of your dog feeling those emotions as well is very strong so go ahead and comfort your dog when they are upset – it will only make your bond stronger.

Read more about emotions in dogs here.

  • A dog needs a dominant leader – FALSE

(Instagram voted YES 56% vs NO 44%)

I personally believe that this is one of the hardest myths to kill!

Alas, NO a dog does not need a dominant leader. Your dog has no evil plans of taking over and becoming the leader. All they want is to be your friend and make you happy. Science have shown that by using positive reward based methods when being with your dog makes the dog learn faster and prevents many MANY problem behaviors.

Read more here about why you should use positive reinforcement training.

  • Dogs are colorblind – FALSE

(Instagram voted YES 57% vs NO 43%)

No dogs are not colorblind. They do not see as many colors as us because they are missing a cone making them dichromatic instead of trichromatic as us humans. Humans see colors in the range of green, blue and red, whereas dogs only see colors in the green and blue spectrum. So they don’t see red or orange, as that is more of a grey nuance but green and blue they sure do see.

Read more her about dog vision

  • Should you look your dog in the eyes – TRUE

(Instagram voted YES 83% vs NO 17%)

The myth goes: Avoid eye contact with your dog as it can make them insecure and aggressive.

Luckily, as we can see from the Instagram vote many people do believe that you should look your dog in the eyes. And YES you should! Science have shown that by looking into your dog’s eyes you both get an Oxytocin boost which makes you happier and strengthens the bond between you, so go stare into those puppy eyes.

Read more about the effect of Oxytocin here.

  • A dog can plan ahead – TRUE

(Instagram voted YES 43% vs NO 57%)

Yes they can! Science has yet to figure out for how long a dog can plan ahead but different experiments have shown that a dog can plan ahead at least for a couple of hours.

  • A tail wag always mean a dog is happy – FALSE

(Instagram voted YES 38% vs NO 62%)

No, a tail wag does not always mean a dog is happy! The myth is false. Tail wags can mean so many different things and a tail wag is not always positive.

Read more about the many meanings of tailwags here

  • It was humans who domesticated the wolf – BONUS FACT!

Or was it? According to science wolves had lived side by side to humans for thousands of years before the domestication started. Both wolves and humans benefited from this arrangement and slowly evolved to become more and more compatible, a so-called mutualistic symbiosis. As humans evolved so did the wolf and it slowly became the dog we know today.

Read more about the dogs domestication here.

10 Dog myths - true or false? 5

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Nice walk - how to

Teach your dog to walk nicely

How to teach your dog to walk nicely is not only a highly debated topic but also what I find to be what most of my clients struggle with (If you need help, contact me here).

There are so many different advice and methods out there, making it hard for dog owners to chose which one to use. This ends with most of us trying out different methods and often ending up with an unsuccessful result. Along with frustration and giving up.

We’ve all been there and teaching a dog how to walk nicely is definitely one of the hardest tasks to conquer.

So what should you do?

How should you teach your dog to walk nicely?

walk nicely

Let’s first rule out any methods or training advice that involves punishment or negative reinforcers. This could be yanking the leash or hitting the dog. Science has already proven time and time again that those methods do not work.

Then let’s look at the positive methods and reinforcers and let’s start by asking ourselves these questions:

  • Are you interesting enough for your dog to stay with you?
  • What does your dog gain from staying next to you?
  • Are your expectations to the walk realistic?

Are your expectations to the walk realistic?

walk expectations

Let’s start with the expectations. If your expectation is that your dog should walk next to you constantly then that would be highly unrealistic.

Does that mean that your dog should be allowed to pull you around? No it does not.

Imagine that you are visiting a museum, natural sight or something that you have been looking forward to, been excited about and maybe even dreamed about for a long time.

However, when you get there you are told to only walk in a straight line. Not even being allowed to turn your head or get closer to explore the sights more.

Would you think that was fun? Would you even come back to that sight? And wouldn’t you feel extremely disappointed that when you finally got to this place you weren’t allowed to explore it properly?

Now, let’s apply that to our dogs. Taking your dog for a walk is what your dog is excited about. It’s their daily museum visits if you will. Soooo many great smells await behind that closed door and if this human would just open it faster so we can hurry and explore every little dirt pile or grass straw there is then we would be soooo happy!

That is what it is all about!

Making our dogs and ourselves enjoy the walk to the fullest. So why not let them explore? Why not deviate from the normal route and follow that smell? Why not let your dog chose the way?

But how to do that without having your arm pulled off you might ask?

Which brings us to the next question.

What are you doing to make yourself more interesting for your dog on your walk?

Interesting on walk

Are you bringing yummy treats that your dog will get every time they come and walk next to you? A toy that you and your dog can play with? Or used as a distraction should your dog find something more interesting that will make them start pulling the lead?

Having treats or toys (whatever you find to be the best distraction tool for your dog) with you not only makes you more interesting for your dog to stay close to you. It also strengthens the bond between you, and makes your walk more interesting for you both. But most importantly it makes your dog create a positive association with you (Read more about positive associations here).

Doing all these things will not only pay off on your walk but also when you are back home again.

You activated and stimulated your dog both physically and mentally on the walk (Here is why mental stimulation is so important). Your dog is now nice and tired, ready for a sweet dream about the adventure you just had. When your dog is asleep he or she won’t get into trouble. Your dog is happier and calmer and so are you.

As 2018 was coming to an end I saw this quote on Facebook by the well-known dog trainer Suzanne Clothier:

“Perhaps our language needs to shift so that we no longer ‘walk the dog’ but rather choose, very deliberately and with loving attentiveness,  to ‘walk WITH the dog”

Maybe we should take this quote and apply it on our doggie-walks.

Happy walking!

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