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Archive for the ‘dog behavior’ Category

dare e-collar

I have started e-collar conditioning with Dare this week. This process is not cruel, and it involves no punishment.

What it does involve is her learning that very low static stimulation, which I can barely feel, can be turned off if she comes to my side. This process started on a long lead, and now she is doing it off-leash.  Eventually, this low level stimulation will be used to proof other obedience commands.

We are using the Einstein Mini Educator. Her working level, the level where she can feel the stimulation, is at a 6.  The stimulation levels go from 1 to 100.

People hate on these collars because they can definitely be used as a harsh aversive, and yes, they can be used to hurt the dog.  This way of using lower levels of stimulation to proof obedience, though, really isn’t more aversive than a gentle tug on a leash.

So hate these tools all you want. They are effective and are not abusive if used correctly.

 

 

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Dogs are blessed and cursed by their co-evolution with our species. They are blessed in that their numbers greatly exceed any wild canid species. Many of the ones in much of the developed world receive better access to heath care, good food, and clean water than the poorest people on the planet.

As animals relating to people, dogs go more than half way in trying to communicate with us.  They go even further in how tightly they bond to us.

But this ease of relationship has certain negative consequences. Because dogs are “almost human,” as goes the cliche, we tend to think their entire existence is much like ours.

However, these assumptions are often faulty. We forget that they are still very much carnivorans, very much wolves. Yes, modified by domestication and co-evolution but still they are of that lineage, that natural history. And we cannot deny this simple reality.

We live in world that is increasingly alienated from nature.  The West is heavily urbanized. and fewer and fewer people understand other beings in ecosystems or even in agriculture.

So many people now get dogs without understanding the full context of the animal.  It is the only large carnivoran that most will ever see outside of a zoo, and it will certainly the be the only one that most will ever know on an intimate level.

And herein lies the problem.  The dog’s co-evolution with us gives it special status in our society, but we are largely operating on an understanding that dogs are just like people.

So we have “fur-kids” and “fur-moms” and “fur-dads.”  People are afraid to correct their dogs. They are afraid to train them. They are afraid to cut nails. They are afraid to understand them.

At the same time, the transient nature of modern society has alienated us from each other, and dogs become that ersatz human connection, and this problem compounds with the previous one.

So when I see someone attempting to walk a dog on a harness with a retractable leash, I see two beings in conflict. I see the human, who is seeking to have some sort of communion with the dog, and I see the dog, which has no idea about what is expected in proper society. It is craving essential communication, but this communication it will never receive. If it had received it, it would have learned to walk on the lead attached to its flat collar.

But the retractable leash gives the dog the illusion of freedom, a freedom that it does not seek as much as it would like to know the person on the other end of the line.

The person on the other end, though, either does not know or does not want to know that the dog is not a child. It is no way Homo sapiens.  To confront this reality is too difficult for some, for to admit such a thing is to admit the horrors of modern existence, all alienated from human connection and the natural world from which we sprang.

But there is a profound egocentrism in this convenient anthropomorphism. It is saying that no only does the world revolve around us, even our companion animals must fit our narrow paradigms.

This is the tragedy of the dog in the modern era. It lives better than ever in so many ways, but in so many ways, it is removed from what it is at its core, every bit as much as we are.

Yes, it is weird that I feel a sadness when I see a dog in harness being walked on one of those horrendous leashes, but the sadness I feel is justified.

Because I know dogs for what they are, and I love them for it. I try to give them what their animal side truly needs. The best I can anyway. For I am also short of the Pleistocene hunter-gatherer’s skillset and privilege, but I can try.  Yes, I can try.

 

 

 

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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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