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.

Dog socialization

Dog socialization – The how and the why!

What is socialization?

Socializing your new puppy or dog is something you should start with right when your new dog enters their new home. Socialization does not only cover getting adapted to other dogs or animals, it also involves being introduced to new environments, sounds and many different people.

A puppy’s socialization window lies between the age of 8-16 weeks. This is where they are most perceptible and open to exploring new things. If you have gotten your puppy from a good breeder they will already have started with socializing your puppy to new things. This could be moving them from their box onto grass for the first time.

It does not take much to socialize a puppy in the beginning as everything is new to them. In the first period after you bring your puppy home, your puppy will socialize to you and his/her surroundings.

Where to start socializing?

Dog socialization - The how and the why! 3

The socialization starts with you. Your puppy or dog will start connecting with you, learning how the home functions and in the first period in his/her new home he/she will work on socializing with you. Slowly building a relation with you.

If you have a puppy this relation between you will grow fast as your new puppy’s socialization window is wide open, but even with an older dog it will only take a couple of weeks before your dog has bonded with you.

You can help this relation. By giving lots of love, pets and praises. Looking your new dog or puppy in their eyes will release Oxytocin in both of you. Oxytocin is both the happiness and the attachment hormone. That means that when you look into your dog’s eyes or give them a good pet, happiness will flow through both of you but it will also create a strong relation (Read more about the effect of Oxytocin here).  

Throughout this first period you should start giving your new puppy or dog little daily exercises to create that strong bond. This could be having them look you in the eyes before getting their food or teaching them easy cues and exercises. For your puppy everything in the world is new.

Think about slowly introducing your puppy to as many different environments, people and animals as possible but focus on what is important for your lifestyle and what your puppy will be exposed to a lot in his/her future daily life. Then start slowly.

If you like to entertain and have gatherings, then start by introducing your puppy to a new person and then slowly increase. If you have to take the train every morning for work and will bring your dog, then start with just a little walk to the station to look at the trains.

How to create good socialization?

Dog socialization - The how and the why! 4

Good socialization skills come from happy associations. In another blog I wrote about how important it is to create happy associations for your dog as this boosts their confidence. The more happy associations your puppy or dog gets, the better equipped they will be for future unknowns and experiences (Read more about happy associations here).

Science have shown that by slowly socializing your puppy or dog, you will decrease the likelihood of your dog developing problem behaviors in the future. Puppies that have had a slow but steady socialization showed less tendency to having separation anxiety, general anxiety and was more comfortable being touched and handled.

Despite your puppy being over 16 weeks of age you should not stop socializing him/her. Socialization is for life. The more your puppy experiences the more confident they will be and the better at handling future encounters. Continue providing new experiences for your dog but in small dosages in order not to overstimulate.

How to not overstimulate my dog?

Dog socialization - The how and the why! 5

If you stimulate your dog too much your dog will stop creating happy associations with the new introductions. Instead he/she will become highly stressed and the experience will become negative. If the over stimulation continues your dog might start acting out to release the stress he/she is feeling.

It is a fine balance and here it is important that you are able to read your dog well so you can tell when they have had enough. Give your new puppy or new dog plenty of time to process their new experiences, which is often done with a good nap. Puppies especially need their sleep, but even older dogs need rest to regain energy and process what they have learned and experienced.

Socialization is key in a healthy dog development and should be a part of your daily training. If you have trouble knowing how to start with socializing your dog, then contact me for a consultation and I will help you get started.

You can also start by downloading our freebies:

5 easy steps to clean dog paws (Read blog here)

Teach your dog to have his/her teeth brushed (Read blog here)

happy association

Happy associations for your dog – What is it and how to create them?

Why are happy associations with places, things and people so important? And how should you give those to your dog so they get the most out of it?

It has been found that dogs that gets a lot of happy associations with a lot of different people, places, things and other animals early on in life are less prone to develop fear and anxiety later on in life. But how can you give your dog those happy associations and what if you got a dog that is no longer a puppy but a grown dog?

To answer that we must first talk about socialization.

Dog socializing

Socialization is one of the keystones in racing a puppy/dog in order to create a proper mental and social development in our dogs brain (read more tips here on how to get the best start with your new puppy). But it needs to be done in the right way and at the right time. If done wrongly it might end up having the opposite impact on your dog and instead of getting a confident and happy dog, you will get a shy and aggressive dog (Read more about the importance of socialization here).

So how to give your new dog/puppy those happy associations in a proper way without overstimulating or forcing the dog to be social?

happy association

It is okay to challenge a dog a little, but to successfully socialize a dog to a new thing, place or person is must be done in a positive manner. Say that you are out walking and you come across a field and start to play with your dog there. The field is a little scary, because a big road is right next to it and the cars on it are making a lot of noise, but then you start a fetch game and suddenly the field is the most amazing place on earth.

Next time you pass that field your dog will remember that you played there and it won’t matter that much that the noisy scary cars are also there. You have let your dog be successful in a place, created a happy association and that is the most important when it comes to socializing your dog – You gotta make every socialization an experience where your dog can become successful. It is not only about taking your new puppy/dog to new places, you also have to create a successful experience where they have gained something positive and feel like winners. That is how you create a happy association with people, new places and new things.

Happy associations dogs

Play

Play plays a crucial role here. Play is a reinforcer. Playing with your dog not only helps develop their brain, it is also a stress relief and, as shown in the above example, helps your dog in his/her social competence. It also inhibits fear. Therefor using play in new places, or having strangers play with your dog as their first interaction is an awesome way to give your dog a happy association with either the new thing, place or person. They will also remember this in the future.

Let’s make an example – say that you take your dog to the vet and the first time your dog visits the vet office the veterinarian only plays with him/her. Next time you come in for a vet check your dog remembers this as a place to play and although something not so nice might happen, like a vaccination, that makes your dog a little scared or insecure, your dog is faster in bouncing back because you have created that strong first impression and happy association.

Many times people think that if they just take their new puppy/dog to a new place or do a new activity with them it will be enough, but that is when socialization can backfire on you. It is not only about visiting new places, it is also about creating that happy association where your dog experiences success and that is often what takes time.

So go out and create those happy associations with your dog, but remember to take it in their pace and always make it a successful, positive experience for them. If you want to learn more about how to successfully socialize your dog, read these tips here.

Get help with creating happy associations and get the best start with your dog. Contact me here.

Use this FREEBIE to create a happy association for getting your dog’s paws cleaned.

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.