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.

Good trainer

Dog trainer: Tips on how to find a good dog trainer

As a dog owner we want the best trainer for our dogs, but finding the right trainer can be hard. Here are some tips on how to find the good dog trainer.

Watch video :

Today is Sunday and time for a little relaxing, so me and the pups are on the couch and I thought I would watch a little TV while they had their siesta. I turn on the TV and I find this dog show about this so-called dog coach, teaching people how to handle their problem dogs.

YEAH! What better way to relax than to watch dogs?!?

However, a couple of minutes in I am not relaxed at all! Rather, I feel my heart pumping very fast and my blood pressure rising! What I am watching is not only very disturbing but also a VERY wrong understanding of how dogs learn and how you should train a dog.

I see pulling on a dog’s cheek to make him/her obey. I see rough hand handling to make the dog move, not to mention the very tight leash around the dog’s neck! But what is worse is that this so-called “dog-coach” is telling the owners that this is how dog’s communicate and that this is the only way they will learn!

Not once is a dog given a reward to do right, cause we are after all the leaders so the dogs should just obey us of course!!! ( feel the heavy sarcasm!)

What signs to look out for in your search for a good trainer?

Good trainer

Now, it has been scientifically proven that dogs do not aim to be our leaders, they do not try to control us or any form of situation (Read Debunking the alpha dog myth and Pack leader or companion). This understanding of so called “dog communication” is an old fashioned way of thinking before science told us better.

Therefor, my first prayer is that if you get a trainer and they start talking about being the leader or tell you that your dog is trying to take over. RUN, run as fast as you can and do it fast!

Furthermore, if you do not see any use of treats, praise or reward in their training but instead they use force to get what they want, like the above mentioned example, run even faster!!!

Now I see the appeal in wanting to get a quick fix for your dog, which these type of trainers offer, but this is not fixing the underlying problem (yes, there always is one!).

This type of “training” is scaring your dog into obeying you, cause after all who would want to be pulled on their cheek! However, this will destroy the trusting bond that should be between you and your dog and will lead to a very stressed, fearful and distrusting dog (Read more about the human-dog bond here).

Also, your dog will never understand what he/she did wrong in the first place, and worse yet what they are doing right. All they know is that if I lie down in a corner and are very still, I will not get hit, pushed or pulled.

Hello, what is your credentials as a trainer?

Dog trainer: Tips on how to find a good dog trainer 2

What I find even harder to believe is that this show is shown on national TV right in prime time, but where are all the shows where the lead person actually has an education and has studied dogs and their behavior, and most importantly is backed up by science?

This is why you should always make sure that your trainer is qualified. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or expert, but if they do not have a proper education or credentials to back up their title then stay away from them.

It is our job as dog owners to educate ourselves in dogs. The knowledge is out there. Several ethologists, such as myself (Book a consultation) are standing on their tippy toes from the eager of sharing their knowledge with you. Not to mention all the dog instructors out there who makes an honor in keeping themselves up to date with the newest knowledge on how to train dogs, and YES it is in a positive, force free and effective way.

My second prayer for you today is therefor please please look into the trainers background. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they use positive methods (treats, praise)?
  • Are they force free?
  • What is their background/knowledge?

The most important thing you can do is listen to your gut feeling. If you are not comfortable using these methods with your dog, then there probably is a reason.

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? 3
Mental stimulation - Why is it important? 4

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 24 enrichment ideas send right to your inbox!

Pack leader or companion

Pack leader or companion? Discover the scientific view on dog training methods

This blog handles a controversial subject. I am presenting what science has found over the years and what science supports, comparing the pack leader mentality against being your dog’s companion.

Please read the FULL blog before you start commenting.

The dog world is split into two. Those who believe that the dog should be a companion who is treated as a family member against those who believe that you should be the pack leader and use dominance against your dog.

But let us rewind for a second and look at how this historical split happened.

https://youtu.be/-UbmERCphD8

The Norwegian chickens

In the beginning of the 1900 a Norwegian psychologist was studying a group of chickens (I know, why am I talking about chickens when this is a dog blog, but hear me out). This Psychologist was no ordinary psychologist as his dissertation ended up changing the way we view our relation to animals.

After studying his chickens, he found that within the group there was a specific pecking order – a rank if you will. One hen was in the top of the order and another was at the bottom. Each hen had her place in the pecking order, and should someone try to move up in rank it would result in a fight.

This notion quickly spread among other animal scientists and science started using rank to explain the animal to animal relation and group dynamics.

Of course, this was soon also applied to the wolf. Scientists who studied the wolf observed that there was a specific rank among its members in a pack. The alpha being the top wolf and the omega being the wolf lowest in the hierarchy. As many believe that the dog is a descendant of the wolf this believe quickly spread to the dog world and many behaviors was described as dominant or submissive when studied by scientists.

Pack leader and the dominance theory

This Dominance theory as it was named also moved to clarify the relation between dogs and humans. Many dog owners and trainers started to believe that in order to have a functioning relation with their dog they needed to become the pack leader and make sure that their dog didn’t take over the home (sadly, many still believe this to be true!!!). They believe(d) that a dog’s sole purpose is to establish themselves as the leader of the family, and that if you do not keep them in check (yes, with force) they will start to take over.

Have you heard of the alpha-roll? It was believed (again, some still do this!) that when you got your little puppy home, you should grab it by the neck and press it firmly to the ground. That way the puppy would immediately know who the pack leader of the home was, and you would never have to train your dog, they would simply do as you said…Always!

Questioning the pack leader

Now, if you are a smart cookie, and I am sure you are. You will already have questioned how you can move a term used to explain the relation between animals of the same species, to the relation between two different species. Already there we should back up and question this Dominance theory – Can you really apply this theory to the relation between two different species? Does the dog really want to become the pack leader?

I mean a lot of problem dog behaviors can be explained by this theory right? Does your dog pull on the leash or growl at you when you get too close to where he/she eats then it is probably because you haven’t established a proper rank and the dog is trying to become your leader…..OR…

Debunking the Dominance theory and pack leader mentality

Here is where the Dominance theory falls apart (YEAH, finally!). The newest science is consistent in today believing that the Dominance theory is not only wrong it is also highly dangerous to use. The Dominance theory can directly harm your relation to your dog and cause more behavioral problems in your dog then if you use positive rewarding training (Read more about the dog-human bond here). AND science has also found that the whole idea about ranks among animals of the same species is soooo much more complicated than what our friend the Norwegian psychologist found (I mean, he is more than a 100 years now😉).

Let us also remember that although dogs and wolves share a common ancestor, they have gone two different ways during their evolution. Dogs have gone through a domestication process where their brains have actually altered in order for them to adapt to their life with humans. I mean just look at their amazing way of communicating with us – they literally know how to ask for our help not to mention how remarkable they are at reading us and our body language (Read more about dog domestication here).

Furthermore, the whole dominance theory has been debunked on wolves as well, even by the scientist who first claimed it (I know right…read more about that here).

AND look at street dogs (I know it is a sad sight). They do not form hierarchies where one is the pack leader and leads the hunt. They form small groups with no leader or apparent rank. They use their smarts to find food in the trash or use puppy eyes to get humans to feed them. If that is not debunking this dominance theory, I don’t know what is!

Now whether dogs who live in groups, like in a shelter, form a hierarchy is still debated among scientists. Some say that there are hints of a rank system while others say that the relation between individuals change depending on the situation.

Us that has a multiple dog household also see that our dogs have established some kind of…let us call it agreement. An example from our home is that Belga knows to keep her distance when Chester is eating, but at the same time she will gladly jump into a crazy tug-a-war game with him. This is not a rank, it is just co-existing – Chester is saying I like to eat alone and undisturbed but he does not think he is the pack leader and will gladly let Belga “take the lead” in other situations.

The human pack leader

What science can agree on is that to move this whole hierarchy Dominance theory idea on to the relation between humans and dogs is totally bunkers (my words not theirs 😉). Instead we should focus on what is really important, and that is how to create the best relation and collaboration with our dogs (Read more about creating happy associations here).

Using dominant training with force and physical gestures (to put it nicely) and thinking of yourself as a pack leader will only destroy your relation with your dog – Do an alpha roll, as we talked about in the beginning, and that is a sure way to lose your dog’s trust.

Physical punishment will not help either you or your dog, if anything it will only create a bad relation between the two of you and a more dangerous dog.

Remember, your dog chooses not to bite you, but that does not mean that they can’t!

Here is what a study from the university of Bristol found.

Dogs that were physically punished showed an increase in behaviors such as increased barking in general, higher aggression levels when meeting other dogs and strangers. Furthermore, they had a higher tendency to display fear and separation anxiety. All in all, they had all the problems you don’t want your dog to have.

Now, this is not to say that you are treating your dog in a wrong way if they have one of these problems. Problem behaviors can yes stem from the use of wrong training, but it can also be due to that dogs’ personality. Some dogs are more nervous than others and some dogs simply don’t like other dogs.

Just like us humans, dogs have different personalities and it is up to us as their humans to give them support, love and care and try our very best to learn to understand them and teach them gently what we want them to do (also read the blog about the relation between dogs and humans) just as you would with a child.

Conclusion

I know, this was a long one right!

Your dog is not trying to take over your home or rule over you as a mighty king. They are NOT trying to dominate you or be the pack leader. In your dog’s mind there is no such thing as rank between you!

It is simple – treat your dog well, reward them when they do something you like and they will do their very best to follow and please you.

If you need help getting on the right training track with your dog, then contact me today and book a consultation.

understand

Do dogs truly understand what we are saying?

Does your dog understand what you are saying?

Do you talk to your dog? Tell them about your day and how you are, ask them questions? I certainly do, but how much does our dogs really understand and does it matter how we speak to them?

In a study from 2016 it was found that dogs can process both what we say and how we say it. Through fMRI scans the study found that different parts of a dog’s brain were activated depending on what was said but also how the words were said – the intonation of the word. The dogs were presented with familiar praises and neutral words all said in either a neutral tone or a praising tone. When the dogs heard a familiar praise, the left hemisphere was activated whereas intonations where processed in auditory sections of the right hemisphere. This means that dogs can distinguish what we say from how we say it.

Watch video here about the study:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9QQxa6eLPc&feature=youtu.be

Does your dog understand or have they just learned?

But does your dog understand what you are saying or have they simply learned to understand words used often and that provides a positive feedback?

That proves to be a little bit more tricky. We all know Chaser the border collie who learned over a 1000 words for different items. She definitely understood the difference between the words for each toy, she even understood what she had to do with the toy.

Does your dog understand you

But does that mean that our dogs understand everything we say? Maybe, maybe not. What we need to keep in mind is that dogs like Chaser has had extensive training over a profound period of time.

I think what we can say is that our dogs have learned to understand the everyday words that we say often and that brings them something good, like a treat or a pet. They know the phrase “Let’s go for a walk” or “Do you want food?”, because they have learned the meaning behind those words.

Whether or not they understand everything you say to them or whether they have the same understanding of a concept as us, are more difficult questions.

As we have also learned, the beginning of a word is the most significant to a dog and the one they respond to. This is why it is important to keep your cues for your dog short and precise. You might say the phrase “let us go for a walk” but all your dog picks up is the word ‘walk’ cause that is what they have learned to associate with going outside for a walk (more about that here).

The intonation of words matters

What is also interesting in the study above is that they found that dogs can differentiate between the intonation of our words. This means that they can differentiate between what is being said and which tone it is said in. This knowledge should make us even more aware on which tone we use with our dogs. Yelling or scolding our dogs will have a negative effect on our relation. We want our dogs to link our voice as something positive so they will always come to us.

Should I keep speaking to my dog?

YES! Of course we should keep speaking to our dogs!

The more we speak the more words our dogs will learn to associate with different things and the better they will understand us. Speaking to our dogs also helps us humans feel less lonely and it increases our bond in general with our dogs (Read more about the human-dog bond here)

So keep speaking to your dog and think about your intonation when you speak to your dog, it is no secret that they love that high pitched baby voice so if you want to really praise them remember to use a light happy voice.

Finally, as written above, our dogs puts the most significance on the first part of the word so try this little exercise at home:

Instead of saying “sit“, try to say “si” and see if your dog responds.

Try not to use any body language but just see how your dog reacts and if they sit or not.

Let me know in the comments how it goes.