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Archive for the ‘dog behavior’ Category

If you watch this clip, you can see several things.

First of all, the trainer makes no claim that his methods will reform this dog into a dog that will never fight other dogs, and when you see the dog enter the room, it absolutely is on the hunt. She is looking at other dogs that way many dogs look at squirrels.

Some pit bull strains have a had a deliberate selection for this sort of behavior. It’s not all in how you raise them. They absolutely will throw it down to get to another dog and kill it.

That’s why these training techniques, which include the judicious use of the electronic collar, are effective.  This dog is being trained so that whatever drive she has that makes her want to kill other dogs can be managed, and she can have a life.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for dog training, but it is not the only way to deal with them.

The foundation of getting this dog under control was set through this session. It will take lots of work and dedication to keep her safe.

Contrary to what people may have thought about my views on this blog, I was never opposed to electronic collars. I was opposed to using them to inflict unnecessary pain on a dog.

After dealing with several pit bulls in my professional and personal life, I can say that many of them do need a firmer hand than most people are willing to give them.  Some of these dogs, once they know you mean business, will absolutely give you their all.

But you have to give them fair and clear leadership signals. You cannot let them walk all over you.

So if this type of dog is going to be popular (and they are very popular), owners and trainers are going to need all the available tools to deal with their behavior.

Electronic collars are now made with so many features and stimulation levels that they are quite humane devices. There are countless trainers doing wonders with them. There are also quite a few jagoffs who are using them for abuse, but we should not punish those good trainers because of bad ones.

About ten or fifteen years ago,  positive reinforcement only became an idea in the dog world.  Positive reinforcement isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great way to teach stylish obedience. It’s also great for teaching commands.

But this good idea took on a sort of unreasoning fundamentalism.  People would often point out that polar bears and orcas could be trained with positive reinforcement alone, so why not dogs?

Well, the problem with that logic is that orcas and polar bears aren’t walked down city streets. They don’t really live in civilization. When they are in captive situations, the public has almost no access to them– and for good reason.

Anyone who has ever walked a dog on a public street knows fully well that many people believe a dog on a public street is public property that must be approached and talked to, regardless of whether the person walking the dog happened to have been in hurry or not.  Can you imagine walking a positive reinforcement only trained polar bear down a street and have some well-meaning stranger walk up to pet it?

Obviously, that won’t ever happen, but we expect dogs to behave with such extreme composure and control.  Most dogs will be able to handle it well, but the dogs that don’t may require different training tools and methods.

And we should, as open-minded individuals living in a free society, be accepting that it’s going to take a lot more than giving a dog treats and ignoring unwanted behavior to make certain dogs safe in public.

If we can’t accept that reality, then we really must accept the consequence that lots of dogs are going to be euthanized for their behavior, because they do require other tools and methods to manage their behavior.

I am not knocking the great strides that have been made in modern behavior modification and training techniques that have come from positive reinforcement/rewards-based training. Those methods are the absolute gold standard in making well-behaved pets.

But they are not the solution for every dog or for every problem dog.

To say otherwise is to be a bit dishonest.

If you’re going to train dogs, the rule of thumb should be to learn as much as you can from as many people as you can, and never stop learning.  An open mind is as useful as an open heart.

And that’s where I come down on the great dog training debate as it exists.  Too much heat has been exchanged by both sides and not enough light.

The truth requires more nuance and understanding than our social media culture can currently handle at the moment. But if you really want to know things, you can find out.

Just keep that mind open.

And for the record, I have trained a dog using an e-collar at low levels. She got so many treats and praise while doing so that she gets quite excited when I pick up her collar and put it on her.  She knows the fun is about to start when that thing comes out.

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shock collar

Starting in July 2020, electronic collars will be banned in the Netherlands (that’s the country a lot of Americans call “Holland”).

My views on electronic collars have shifted. I have never been in favor of an electronic collar ban, but I have questioned why so many people in dog sports were eager to use one.

Reasonable people can disagree on training devices.  I have used a prong or pinch collar with very driven dog, but after she learned that she could release the pressure from the collar by walking closely, I switched to a fur-saver. Both of these tools are targeted for banning as well.

The thing about bans is that it takes away the right to disagree, and it places the law above experience and judgment, and I have to confess my own ignorance about modern e-collars. It wasn’t until I began looking at the work of competent e-collar trainers, especially Larry Krohn, who has a wonderful Youtube channel that teaches you how to use one these devices humanely.   The way he uses these devices is like having a lead on the dog while it’s off-leash, and using quite low level stimulation, he can get the same results as if the dog were wearing slip lead or a fur-saver.

The modern e-collar is an aversive.  It is used for positive punishment and negative reinforcement, but it can be used humanely and safely.

In a country like the Netherlands, there is a very strong tradition of walking dogs off-lead in the countryside.  The same goes for most of Western Europe. Most of Western Europe has banned e-collars, but it seems to me that this is setting up a real conflict between dog owners and wildlife and between dog owners and farmers.

Dogs will chase ungulates. It’s sort of what they evolved to do. If you let dogs go walking in the countryside off-leash, they stand a real risk of getting after deer or worrying sheep.

It is possible to train a dog a recall or a leave-it when it sees a sheep or deer without an e-collar. However, these tasks require quite a bit of skill, and with some dogs, it can be impossible to break their prey drive. Prey drive is intrinsically rewarding to cursorial predators like dogs, and it is often hard to find a reward that can exceed the internal reward a dog gets while chasing ungulates.

Yes, you can use the Premack’s principle to teach a dog very reliable recall.  There are many skilled trainers who can teach a dog a solid recall without an e-collar.

But that’s not what I am here to debate. What I am here to discuss is that we are allowing one side of the argument, often fueled by animal rights extremist logic and rhetoric, to ban a tool that others contend is essential in their trainer program.

And some dogs need a very strong aversive to proof their recalls and to punish bad behavior. E-collars, used properly, seem to be the aversive that would cause the least amount of harm and still do the job.

These dogs are not going to have good lives in much of Western Europe, where they can never be allowed off-lead. In most Western European countries, allowing the dog some off-leash running is considered vital for all dogs, so these dogs will have to be kept in a way that many would consider cruel.

And when it comes to breaking dogs off of chasing livestock and game, the aversive really doesn’t have to be used that often.  So the dog gets to feel a shock on its neck, but it gets a lifetime of running off-leash and coming when called.  The dog gets to engage in its innate running instincts, but it gets to do so with the highest levels of its safety and that of any potential quarry.

So whether you like e-collars or not, banning devices should cause quite a bit of alarm. Many people don’t like e-collars, but lots of people use choke chains and pinch and prong collars. Those can just as easily banned as well.

And while we’re in the business of banning things, we often aren’t thinking of the greater good or by nuance.  Bans do not do nuance. They are the end of a discussion, a discussion where people on both sides might have learned something.

These devices are getting more humane, not less. They have many lower level and even vibrate-only settings on them.

And yes, they can be abused. You can abuse a dog by feeding it too much, but no one seems to want to legislate how much one should feed a dog each day. You can abuse a dog with flat collar if you leave it on a pup and never take it off. The collar for a young pup can become embedded in the maturing dog, but no one wants to ban putting collars on growing pups.

So instead of accepting that different people will use different tools, we like to assume the worst of the corrections-based dog trainers. In Western European countries, those assumptions are leading to real folly.

I do plan on getting a decent e-collar, and I will be using it as humanely as possible. I see a use for them, and they can help me give my dogs a better quality of life.

But that choice has been taken out of the hands of Dutch dog owners, starting next year. I’m sure they will manage, but I think there are quite a few dogs in that country that will miss out on having a chance to run loose, simply because they cannot be trained to leave game or livestock alone without a clear aversive.

 

 

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Attack Dog Training

German shepherds are one of the most common breeds in the world. I am not opposed to people keeping them and breeding them. Some of these dogs are wonderful family pets. Others are superior law enforcement dogs.

But what I do oppose is total hypocrisy in providing analysis about different breeds of dog.

I have not mentioned on this space before, but I am deeply skeptical of the research put out by Merritt Clifton of Animals 24-7. Not only does he get a lot of breed history wrong– his sloppy use of the term “molosser” is enough for me to question anyone’s expertise about dogs– but he actually engages in pseudoscientific claims about the behavior of breeds he happens to like.

Most people know Clifton for his tireless campaign to prove to the world that “pit bulls” are walking time bombs that are just about to explode at any moment.  Anyone who questions him has been targeted as a “pit bull apologist” or a “pit bull nutter.”

But Clifton himself is one hell of an apologist. Just not with pit bulls.

In his analysis of dog bites from 1982-2014,* Clifton makes some interesting claims about German shepherd bites:

German shepherds are herding dogs, bred for generations to guide and protect sheep. In modern society, they are among the dogs of choice for families with small children, because of their extremely strong protective instinct. They have three distinctively different bites: the guiding nip, which usually does not break the skin; the grab-and-drag, to pull a puppy or lamb or child away from danger, which is as gentle as emergency circumstances allow; and the reactive bite, usually in defense of territory, a child, or someone else the dog is inclined to guard. The reactive bite usually comes only after many warning barks, growls, and other exhibitions intended to avert a conflict. When it does come, it is typically accompanied by a frontal leap for the wrist or throat.

Because German shepherds often use the guiding nip and the grab-and-drag with children, who sometimes misread the dogs’ intentions and pull away in panic, they are involved in biting incidents at almost twice the rate that their numbers alone would predict: approximately 28% of all bite cases, according to a recent five-year compilation of Minneapolis animal control data. Yet none of the Minneapolis bites by German shepherds involved a serious injury: hurting someone is almost never the dogs’ intent.

There are several Clifton’s claims. The first is he conflates herding dogs with livestock guardian dogs. Herding dogs really don’t guard sheep, and the German shepherd’s ancestors were herding dogs. Instead, they engage in predatory behavior that is modified through selective breeding and training. Everyone who lives in a rural area knows that untrained collie-types are a major problem for people keeping sheep and goats. With no training to modify their behavior, they often surplus kill stock. Livestock guardian dogs, by contrast, bond with the stock and protect them. They are selected against exhibiting predatory behavior, and although these dogs sometimes do become predators of livestock, it is not something that anyone would breed for or tolerate within those strains. With herding dogs, though, it is often a tricky balance between herding and hunting.

Note that I said the German shepherd’s ancestors were bred for herding. The modern GSD has not been bred exclusively for this behavior for over a century. If you want an idea of what the original GSD was like, you will have to go to eastern Germany’s Harz Mountains and look for a mid-sized herding dog called Harzer fuchs, which means “Harz fox.”  GSD were partially developed from the Thuringian sheepdog, and the Harz Mountains extend into Thurginia. This dog is actually an active herding breed, but Germany itself has many regional variants of sheepdog. This one just happens to look a lot like the standard German shepherd and is probably similar to the Thuringian type of dog that was crossed into the GSD.

The dog we call a German shepherd dog today, though, has undergone a radical transformation from the sheepdog. One cannot ignore that the dog we call the GSD today was largely the brainchild of a German cavalry officer named Max von Stephanitz. Stephanitz used prick-eared sheepdogs from southern and Eastern Germany, and very quickly began to standardize them and develop them as generalist working dogs. He founded the  Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde in 1899, and his club began developing the breed as the ultimate working dog. There was a heavy emphasis on breeding the dogs for personal protection and military purposes, and a strong selection away from bite inhibition behavior.

German shepherds bite people. His decision to arbitrarily create three categories of German shepherd bite is just weaseling. No credible ethologist or animal behaviorist would recognize these distinctions. GSD have been bred for personal protection and law enforcement. When they bite, it has nothing to do with herding.  I bet there aren’t 200 GSD in all of North America that are used for herding stock, but there are thousands that are bred for protection work and sport and for law enforcement purposes.

What Clifton has done is really good example of legitimizing violence. German shepherds are generally thought of as dogs belonging to the police or a good conservative family, while pit bulls are the dogs of the nonwhite underclass. When a pit bull bites, it is a thug dog. When a German shepherd bites, it is the good shepherd.

In essence, the German shepherd is the equivalent of ” the good guy with a gun” we often hear right wing extremists talk about.

Clifton is treated as an expert on dog bite issues. I don’t know why. I will leave it to more qualified people to make analysis about pit bulls, but I can tell you that German shepherds should not be given a free pass when it comes to dog bite issues.

I am not an expert, but I do know enough about dogs to know when someone is just making stuff up.

Clifton is not giving an intellectually honest answer when he gives his German shepherd apologetics.

I write this not as someone who wants laws against German shepherds, but I can tell you that everything Clifton does is about making law on pit bulls and other “molossers,” which, I’ve pointed out, is actually bogus term.

All I am saying is consult the ethology literature on herding behavior, and read the actual history of German shepherd dogs. They are derived from herders, which is true, but they haven’t been bred exclusively for that behavior in well over a century. A German shepherd is a dog that has been bred to bite people, preferably under control and training. But an untrained, reactive GSD can do a lot of damage to person, just as any big dog could.

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*Clifton, Merrit. “Dog bites and maimings, US and Canada: September 1982 to December 31, 2014.” Animals 24-7.

 

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Source.

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DSC02691 

The problem with snow is that makes a dog’s scent marks less distinct, and they must be reapplied.

 

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bassano pointers

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago:

Why is that people who keep fish and exotic pets are so open to new scientific knowledge about their animals?

Why is that the innovative ways of keeping these animals quickly gain acceptance among their owners, while in the world of dogs, the bulk of the culture has stagnated around a bunch of tired ideas (particularly dominance behavior models and the closed registry system)?

I think the answer has two parts two.

People have been keeping dogs for longer than we’ve cultivated fields, while fish and exotic pets are often only just a few generations removed from the wild.

The best ways to keep these animals are often in a somewhat experimental state, and it’s not always guaranteed that the ways that those who came before had the best way of caring for them.

Caring for dogs is pretty much cut and dry, or at least, that is how it seems.

But the world of dogs, unlike the world of exotic pets or aquarium fish, is very much caught up in some sort of tradition.

When you buy a breed, you buy into a  breed history, which may or may not be true, and you also buy into a culture that pays a lot of homage to those “greats” who came before.

Now, maybe those greats had some insight about the animals at hand, but there often gets to be a sort of cult based upon that great’s ideas– even if what that great happens to believe absolute garbage.

Take German Shepherd dogs and the worship of Lloyd Brackett and his cute incest formula. Brackett was an anti-Semite eugenicist who happened to win a bunch of dog shows, so in the world of show GSD, his ideas are treated as if they were wonderful. Of course,  I doubt that very many people in GSD’s share his views that the Jews were a “superior race” because they were inbred, but many people who show GSD’s hold onto that same logic.

Of course, it’s garbage.

But if you follow Brackett, you might win a few dog shows. Never mind that the bulk of the show GSD population is slowly deteriorating into a bunch of ataxic-gaited hyenas.

This never gets questioned, of course, because Brackett leads to success within  the culture.

And when you buy a dog breed, you’re buying into a culture. You’re also buying into a brand, and within a brand, there are all sorts romantic ideals about what that brand should be.

It is not just within show dogs  that people get caught up in the branding. One of the things I’ve always found amusing about the border collie is a belief that this is a traditional farm dog and that its abilities as a farm dog have been made better through trialling. Except that the original collie-type farm dog was not nearly as strongly-eyed or obsessive as a border collie, and in my part of the world, this sort of “collie” still exists in the form of English shepherds and farm collies, neither of which would ever be able to win a border collie trial in the first place.

A border collie is actually a dog created to manage very large flocks. It was never a dog for small farmers, and what’s more, it exists in its current form largely to win sheepdog trials.

But if you buy into the culture, then you accept that sheepdog trials are “traditional dog work,” when they really are something pretty new in the grand scheme of pastoral dogs.

If a dog person wants to think as an aquarist or exotic pet owner does, then one must be willing to go against the grain.

To accept new ideas is blasphemy in much of the world of dogs.

At some point, you almost have to deny the breed brand and also deny much of the wisdom that came before.

Because science tells us that dogs are organisms. All dog breeds are part of the same species, and special beliefs about dogs– like those that deny heterosis exists within crossbreeds– simply aren’t true. No matter what misrepresentations or jun science studies people come up with, the rules of population genetics still work in the world of dogs.

Further, we don’t now everything there is to know about dog behavior, but it is pretty clear that we were wrong in assuming that dog societies and behavior can be modeled on decades-old and somewhat discredited studies on captive wolf packs.

But if you’ve bought a breed where the people most successful in training it in the past have all adopted some form of  what might be called dog abuse axioms, then to question the way the dog is trained is also to blaspheme the breed.

But if we are to do what is truly right by dogs, then we have to be willing to blaspheme.

And if you blaspheme, there are countless numbers of people who will come after you. If your breed exists only as a specialists’ dog, then you might very well be run out of it– just for questioning shibboleths.

The sad thing about the world of dogs is that rationalists and skeptics exist in a very small minority within the various dog subcultures.

To question is to deny.

And to deny is heresy.

We have allowed our relationship with the domestic dog to stagnate.

Modern science has been relegated only toward a celebration of health testing, as if breeding out genetic diseases within increasingly inbred populations is the best way to manage them. As soon as someone who knows better points out that this is not a good long-term solution, it is automatically denounced as animal rights issue or “socialism.”

It’s very sad that so much of the world of dogs resembles a religion, and in the past, I’ve actually called much of the world of dogs a series of ersatz religions.

One of the things that religion often does is it puts mental blocks when understanding is not complete or when accepted truths are contradicted with obvious facts. In the former case, dogma will fill in the gaps, and in the latter case, facts will be denied or dismissed (often in a vast conspiracy theory).

I have had very stupid people post things to my blog and to my Facebook page like “If every time you breed it’s a crap shoot, then shoot the crap you breed.”  The “if” in this case is what you have to accept if you allow for a certain amount of genetic diversity in a breed– some dogs aren’t going to be winners or have the preferred conformation or temperament one wants in a breed. But if you inbreed, you will get lots of dogs that look and behave alike. Of course, such animals might be fine or even quite healthy, but if an entire population of a breed gets subject to such consanguinity, then the chances for higher levels of genetic load will be heightened and the chance of a real inbreeding depression is almost certain.

But no one cares about that when you’re winning the prizes.

You will be rewarded for pissing away the genes, and it will be successive generations who will have to deal with the consequences.

And it will continue up and until one of two things happen:

The real animal rights agenda comes to power and pushes upon dog breeders a ton of regulations.

Or there is rationalist revolution in the world of dogs.

My hope is for the latter, but I am not holding my breath.

There just isn’t enough blasphemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the great shibboleths in the dog world is that there is a creature known as the “responsible breeder.”

Each person has a definition about what one is, but for many years, the biggest defining point was the adherence to blood purity cult. Usually this would be mixed in with all the delusions of preservation, as well as the delusion of improvement.*

The unfortunate thing is none of these things have much to do with the real world.

In the real world, crossbreeding isn’t evil. It’s innovation.

Take this nice post by Suzanne Phillips over at the Hoof &Paw blog.

In her part of Oregon, it’s not unusual for someone to breed this:

Photo by Suzanne Phillips.

Photo from Suzanne Phillips.

This dog is a German short-haired pointer/Labrador retriever cross. It’s basically a purposely-bred cross that mixes the ruggedly versatile German HPR wit the always popular, hard driving Labrador. Suzanne mentions that when a friend of hers bred such a cross people drove from hundreds of miles to pick up one.

Such is the reputation of this cross.

She mentions another variant of the cross in the post as well. This time the retriever in question is a Chesapeake, but she has been bred to a German shorthair.

Photo by Suzanne Phillips.

Photo from Suzanne Phillips.

It’s hard for anyone in that old way of thinking to say that these were not well-bred animals.

Chesapeakes, Labs, and German shorthairs are all very useful animals. Not a single one of them was created through maintaining closed registries until very recently.

And even now, many people who want a useful dog don’t pay much attention to the old blood purity rules.

That’s because these blood purity rules are way outside of the average person’s experience with dogs. Almost no one owns a dog that is very tightly bred, and virtually everyone in the public would be repulsed by the idea.

Many people talk about the reason why the American Kennel Club is in such terrible financial straight. Animal rights activist get the blame. The puppy mill paper mills get their share, too.

But I think the real problem is that the American Kennel Club, though it is headquartered in the United States and always has been, is really a foreign institution.

Its values were imported from Great Britain at the height of its imperialist glory. As strange as it sounds today, most Americans were very anti-British during most the nineteenth century. Britain had burned down our capital. It allowed the Confederacy to have the delusion that it was on the side of their rebellion.  It was also a major competitor in the Northwest. Plus, tons of Americans were Irish famine refugees.

As America grew wealthier, wealthy and upper middle class Americans began to emulate the British Empire. Some of the first retriever trials in America were held on Long Island. Labradors were the breed of choice, and they were run almost exactly as they were in the mother country.

Meanwhile, American market duck hunters were blasting away with punt guns and heavy shotguns at vast flocks waterfowl. Their hardy “Chesapeake duck dogs,” water spaniels, and retrieving setters were earning their money. The backwoods market hunters were treeing grouse and turkeys with curs and feists. And very few of these people gave a rat’s behind about the pedigree of the dog.

In fact, most Americans didn’t care for this nonsense at all. The most common dog in much of the country was the generalist farm collie, usually called “a shepherd,” which did some light herding work and hunted everything it was asked to.

None of these dog were maintained within a concept of a “fancy.” There might be shows for foxhounds, coonhounds, and beagles, but every single dog in those shows was also a performance hound. And none of these dogs was kept in a true closed registry, and even now, pack hounds are still crossed on a routine basis.

But they are outside the AKC, and they are also outside the UKC.

Americans bred dogs to perform. In the early days of settlement, vast numbers of dogs couldn’t be imported from Europe. Our dog culture became based upon what can survive and what could do multiple tasks well.

The British dog culture was about specialization and arbitrarily classifying things based upon color and coat and size.

It became well-established among “learned circles” that American dogs, like our livestock, were in desperate need of improvement. From the 1870’s onward, there has been attempt to bring America the glories of canine improvement through closed registry breeding.

And it’s been a colossal failure.

It came closest to success in the middle to late part of the twentieth century, when the burgeoning middle class that had grown up out of the Second World War began to own purebred dogs as status symbol. It’s at this time that my own family got their first AKC dog, a registered rough collie named “Cam.”  Cam produced more than a few litters of collie-foxhounds, which were then quite in demand in West Virginia as varmint dogs.

I’ve noticed that when most laypeople watch dog shows, they only want their favorite breeds to win. They want to see the golden retriever go BIS at Westminster. They don’t care about the rare breeds. They are curiosities, novelties to be looked as if one were looking artifacts in a museum.

And that may be too charitable for some breeds.

I’m sure the untrained eye sees many of the really exaggerated dogs as creatures best belong in a freak show.

And of course, one really can’t argue with them.

Many progressive people rightly complain about how Americans have never adopted certain European ideals, but the notion of a national kennel registry to tell us how to breed dogs is one I’m glad we’ve never fully accepted.

So long as a dog fancy remains this insular, very foreign, and reactionary clique, the American people are going to ignore what these people say.

And buy gun dogs like these.

And doodles.

And Texas heelers.

After all, this culture produces good dogs.

And the dog fancy continues to produce freaks– many of which are unhealthy and very hard to care for.

This is how market economies work. There is failure, and there is success. The dog fancy has been a failure in the United States– and our dogs stand a much better chance because of it.

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*There will be a post on this at some point,

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