Posts Tagged ‘dog training’

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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I have come around to a simple conclusion:  I am not really a “dog expert,” as people normally define that term. I have never corrected a severe behavior problem in a dog, and I have never earned a single title on a dog.

I am a good academic. My background is in social science and historical research. I also can read peer-reviewed articles that use statistical methodology.

I also can communicate well. These things give me the veneer of being a “dog expert.” If you can communicate well enough to convey complex concepts that are documented in those obtuse article or in old tomes of dog lore, it leads the reader to believe that I might have some knowledge or expertise, but the truth is I am quite clueless about things.

The thing is I can use all those skills to write about any other animal on the planet, but with dogs, we’ve created this special condition for one to be considered a “dog expert.”  You must have skills to make dogs do stuff, and dogs must want to be with you over anyone else in the household.

I don’t know if any of those concepts applies to me. I have my own personal dog, and I can get her to obey a few commands. She’s of a breed that is generally supposed to be easy to train, but I do recognize my limitations as a pretty crappy dog trainer. I can’t always get a retrieve to hand, and because this dog has been passed around so much in her life, I have very little interest in doing traditional dog training methods with her.  I am not going to pinch her ears to get a solid retrieve. She listens well enough not be a nuisance, and I can walk her virtually anywhere off-lead. But that’s I’m a magically wonderful dog trainer. It’s that German shepherds generally don’t like to be out of view of the person they’ve decided to attach themselves to.

But now that you’ve read this, a certain percentage of you will discount anything else I have to say about dogs. I am not Ian Dunbar or Karen Pryor or one of those traditional dog trainers of yore. I am not a qualified animal behaviorist, and I am certainly no “dog whisperer.”

I grew up in a place where dog training was this:

If your coonhound runs opossums or deer, you put a shock collar on him.

And then you’ve got a coonhound.

I did not have access to real dog people anywhere, unless I wanted to do scenthound stuff. Most farms had English shepherds at them, but the dogs were almost never used to herd cattle or sheep. They were just there to guard the farm and maybe do some squirrel hunting.

I am only now able to have a dog that I feel is of the caliber that I could ever hope to train to do anything. I am way, way behind in my dog training skills, and this problem is made worse because the only dog training I’ve ever done is with food. Anka gets bored of food very quickly, so I have to reinvent everything I know to make a tossed ball an acceptable reward. So I do have an awfully trainable dog, but it’s like getting a Mac when I have only ever used PCs. It’s a nice machine, but it’s really a challenge for me to work with it.

Yes. I am a certified nerd. The things I am good at would probably bore almost anyone. I do not denigrate my skill, but I do want you to understand that these skills you’re appreciating by reading these posts are not substitutes for any real skill-based practical expertise.

I suppose I have to make this stuff clearer, because when it comes to dogs, we assume that people who have my particular skill-set must surely have the other one. And if that person lacks the other one, then one should never trust anything that comes from reading historical documents or peer-reviewed papers.

Of all the animals I write about, dogs are the one where this issue is quite problematic. If someone disagrees with my interpretation of a paper, all they have to do to ignore what I have to say is to talk about how much experience they have over me.

It’s why have tried to chance the main focus of my blog from being a “dog blog” to a nature blog that sometimes mentions dogs.

So I am not really a dog expert by the classic definition. I’m actually quite an idiot when it comes to putting titles on a dog or making them do stuff.

I’m sorry that we live in a culture of expertise that requires people have those skill-sets to be able to talk about things which have been gleaned from academic research.

And it has been difficult, if not impossible, for me to make peace with this conflict.

I suppose I will always feel inferior around actual dog people with skills, the same way I feel inferior around carpenters and plumbers and tradesmen who are good with their hands. I was born with little tiny hands and ten thumbs, and the hand-eye coordination of Mr. Magoo.  So I have had it has always been a mystery to me how people can build things.

And I am that way with people who can train dogs to high levels. I like to think that I can learn how to train a dog like that, but deep down, I lack the confidence to be of that level.

I guess I will always be the person from the backwoods, who never really had the best chance to learn “dogs.”

And no matter what happens, I think I will always be that person. It’s that much of a problem for me.

And all you have to do to shut me up is just start down this road of experience and skills. It is my Achilles’ heel.




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This guy makes Cesar Millan look like an angel:


This is shocking abuse.

No other way to describe it.


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Raegan left a wonderful link to a blog post by Dr. Sophia Yin on whether dog training should be a craft or a science.

In the post, Dr. Yin explains that the military has been able to train dogs to take commands from radios or laser guides because it adopted a “dog training as science” paradigm.

She begins with discussing the story of a dog trainer for the Dutch police named Simon Prins. Prins was starting to question how far traditional methods could actually take police dogs. Police departments now required dogs that could do a whole lot more, and Prins thought he could come up with a better system that could unleash the potential in so many police dogs:

In 1996, Simon Prins, co-author of K9 Behavior Basics: A Manual for Proven Success in Operational Service Dog Training (2010), was hired to lead an innovative project for the Canine Department of the Netherlands National Police Agency. A test project with a three-year timeline, it would continue if it were a success. The project included a detailed list of tasks for dogs to perform.

“This included normal operational tasks, such as tracking, explosive and narcotics detection,” says Prins. “Also climbing, rappelling, traveling by helicopter and boat, and, the most challenging, training dogs to work with cameras and to follow radio or laser guidance at long distances.”

Although Prins had been a patrol-dog handler in the regional police force for only a few years, he was selected for this project because he was seen as an innovator. “I had been questioning our traditional force techniques because I noticed that dogs would shut down and stop working, or my police dog would become aggressive to me and to the trainer. So I was already looking for new methods.”

New methods were what the job was all about. “The traditional [force-based] trainers all said that radio or laser guidance was not possible,” says Prins. But he was sure there must be a way; so, even though he would not be able to return to his old job if he failed, he accepted the challenge. Within three years, he had succeeded in completing all of the tasks set for him, as well as a few more.

So all these military and police dogs that now take commands from the radio or from laser guiding are only able to do so because they are trained using scientific dog training methods.

However, because dog training had always been treated like an ancient craft that was passed down from generation to generation, it was assumed that it was impossible to train dogs to do these tasks.  This is a very good example of how the “dog training as craft” paradigm has stymied advancement:

At this point, you may be asking yourself — given the fact that people have been training dogs for more than 4,000 years — why did traditional trainers feel these new tasks were impossible. Also, if a guidance system had already been developed for cats [using a cochlear implant] in 1967 in the U.S., why did it take Prins three years to reinvent the wheel 30 years later?

Bob Bailey, who worked on the 1967 project and later become co-owner of Animal Behavior Enterprises after marrying its co-founder, Marian Breland, explains. According to Bailey, it was the advent of animal training and behavior as a science that allowed them to develop the system for dogs, cats and, later, dolphins. “Dog training has been practiced as an ancient craft,” says Bailey. “The science of training wasn’t developed until the 1940s with B.F. Skinner.”

What’s the difference between craft and science? According to Bailey, “Crafts generally develop over thousands of years and tend to preserve what’s old and what has been done before. Information is passed down in secret from master to apprentice, and the apprentice must never question the master.” As a result, when errors are introduced, they tend to be preserved. Another characteristic of a craft is that a change is usually designed only to solve an immediate problem. Says Bailey, “Rarely do they look for general principles.”

Science, on the other hand, is a systematic way of asking questions, a process that eventually weeds out mistakes. It’s guided by principles and data, approaches change and are revised as new information comes to light. As a result, science advances quickly compared to craft.

Bailey backs up his description with an example: “For 1,000 years, the Chinese used gun powder to build small rockets. Then the Turks decided to build bigger ones, which they used on the British. It took them 800 years to develop the technology.” Then, in the 1900s, science and technology stepped in. In 1926, American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-propellant rocket. In 1969, less than 50 years later, the U.S. sent a rocket to the moon. [Emphasis mine].

“So it took 800 years of craft to send a six-foot rocket half a mile and less than 50 years of science to send a rocket to the moon,” Bailey summarizes.

I should mention that Bob Bailey and the Breland family did use Skinner’s methods to train animals, but their work has led to a refinement of Skinner’s work. Their work includes discovering concepts like instinctive drift, and they no longer accept that animals are born blank slates, as behaviorism had initially posited.

Refining Skinner’s work through new discoveries does not mean that the behaviorist theory of learning has been negated. Refinement theories in light of new findings is what science is all about. Darwin never knew anything about genetics. In fact, he actually wound up rejecting some parts of his theory of evolution through natural selection because he had no understanding of how inheritance worked. When Mendel’s work became accepted, Darwin’s theory of evolution became much better understood.

Craft doesn’t refine anything.

Craft is passed onto the apprentice with a series of traditions and shibboleths. Things must be done a certain way, even if they are ineffective.

To do otherwise is to insult the practitioners of the craft who came before. In this way, craft is riddled with dogma.

And this, folks, is why so many modern dog trainers have rejected training methods that have been developed over the centuries.

Better methods have availed themselves through rational scientific inquiry and experimentation.

And yes, they reject them.

No one cares if the ideas of those who came before are negated.

In science, negation of erroneous ideas that others may have held in the past is a major positive feature in science.

Science focuses on what is known now, not what others believed thousands of years ago.

These scientific training methods work, and they are continually being refined as new evidence becomes available.

Holding onto the past, even when it is less effective, is tradition for tradition’s sake.

It’s actually the main target of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.”  Poor readers of poetry might assume that this poem is a celebration of building stone walls with one’s neighbors. It is not.

The narrator in the poem is actually quite ticked that he has to help build this rather pointless wall.  The narrator complains “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out / And to whom I was like to give offense.”  And when he points out that the neighbor’s pine trees will never come onto his property and that his apple trees won’t either, all the neighbor can do is offer up the tired bromide that “Good fences make good neighbors.”  The narrator points out that a wall would really be of use only where there are cows to keep out or in, but all the neighbor says is that same bromide. It soon occurs to the narrator that no matter what he says, the neighbor will still be beholden to that bromide, which his father instilled upon him years ago:

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

And that’s why dog trainers didn’t know you could teach a dog to take commands from a radio or laser.

They were too imprisoned to tradition, and that’s why the science-based dog training paradigm has had so much success.

But because so many people still view dog training as a craft, we’re going to be stuck in so many places.

And this problem doesn’t just exist in dog training.

Tradition for tradition’s sake has also make many people blind to the real problems facing dog gene pools that are being “improved” in closed registry systems.

And these problems aren’t just limited to dogs.

It’s really a major problem for the human condition as a whole.

And it’s one that we need to fix if we are ever to advance to our true potential as a species.

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As you can see, the real reason why they work so well together is because they have an actual relationship– a very strong bond, which is key to everything.

Check out Leonard Cecil’s Youtube channel and website for more information. He has a wonderful resource on dog behavior literature that is worth checking out.

His Youtube channel description explain it all:

I’ve been a dog owner and lover for over 45 years. I used to be a so-called leash-popper, then a so-called balanced trainer and now I’m a +R/-P trainer and use neither choke collar, prong collar nor shock collar. I am neither the Alpha of my pack, nor the leader of my pack. I do have a relationship with my dog based upon mutual trust and respect. I want my dog to want to be with me and share her life with me for the same reason I do with her – because it’s in our joint best interest to do so and it’s fun. So that means, there are times we do what she wants and there are time we do what I want. There are times a “no” is allowed and times it’s not. Rules exist and are enforced without force, pain or fear. In June 2011 I will be finishing my Canine Behavior Science and Technology (Cert.CBST) through James O’Heare’s Companion Animal Sciences Institute. This is a certification concentrating on Dog Training and Dog Behavioral Modification. I do NOT consider myself a “Clicker Trainer” because I do not train clickers. I do however often use clickers in training as a tool. I’m not a “cookie” thrower. I eat cookies but find it rude to throw them, I do however use rewards to tell my dog she did a good job. The rewards consist of treats, play, an encouraging word of praise, a chest rub or ?? I do use punishment where necessary, but without instilling fear, pain, or touching the dog (see the term “negative punishment”). I do hope my dog does NOT know what the meaning of the word “training” is, but rather understands it to be the word “fun.”

This is where dog training is headed.

I think that most people want to have relationships with their dogs like the one Leonard Cecil and Vela have.

That’s why these methods will become the only socially acceptable way to train dogs in the very near future.

We all need to get used to this reality– and embrace them.

For some reason–which I am sure is almost entirely cultural– it is very hard for Americans to embrace these ideas.

But we’ll catch up with the rest of the Western world eventually.

I’m convinced.

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Hat tip to Jess Ruffner.

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Check it out.

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When a dog mouths a bird, after he picks it up, and starts to come to you mouthing it, follow these rules: Take a strap about a foot long, and calling your dog up to you. strap him across the nose two or three times.

Do this several times a day, at home, till he dodges the strap. Always hold him by the collar. After this send him out for the training sack and when he picks it up say “Hold,” and walk toward him and shake the strap at him. He will soon have confidence in you and will know that he will get strapped across the nose. Repeat this several times, then take a dead bird and throw it out, give him the same lesson he had with the sack, and if he offers to mouth the bird, strap him across the nose.

Then take him to the field and send him after a bird and repeat the lesson, if needful; but after a few days you will never have any more trouble with him on that score. The great secret in training a dog is to put him under command and not have him afraid of you.

From How to train Dogs and Cats by Frederick Erb, Jr. (1904).

I’m not going to comment on this method, but I’m sure it works (if you have a dog with very, very strong retrieving instinct.)

Making sure that a dog isn’t afraid of you may be the toughest part (and biggest drawback) of the method.

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