Are You Bribing Your Dog?

There seems to be a fallacy in the world of dog training, and indeed even outside of the world of dog training, and dogs in general.

I’ve had knowing looks on the street, overheard strangers commenting at the beach or lake, had comments directed towards me in person and online, even my mother has (once again!) chided me for my seemingly “poor choices”.

If you train your dog with treats, you’re bribing her.

Bribing – Craige Moore

There I said it.

Anyone who’s anyone knows that all dogs love and respect all humans, and will do as we say because it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they make us happy by doing as they’re told; so it follows that anyone who’s anyone also knows that dogs don’t need treats, or any form of reward, for working for humans. And if you choose to use treats, you’re bribing your dog to do whatever it is you want him to do, because he wont do it out of “love and respect”, or for the joy it brings him in knowing you’re happy with him, he’ll only do it for the food in your hand.

Clearly, all the people making such comments are amazing, wonderful even. They may have spent their whole life working, but they have never once taken a penny – or anything else – in recompense; or if they have they’ve given it all away again.

They have no need of reward or recognition from their employer (or customers, if they’re self-employed), they do the work because they like the fuzzy warm feeling it gives them to help others, and that’s all the payment they need.

Oh, wait…

That’s not true.

While some people can, and do, volunteer their time; the majority of people in gainful employment need to take home a pay cheque every month (heck, even people who are not in gainful employment still have to find a way to get the money they need!).

I don’t know about you, but if my employer decided to stop paying for my time I’d certainly be looking for another job – let’s face it, for humans, money is a very powerful secondary reinforcer.

Money gives us roofs over our heads, various methods of travel, the ability to buy food, books, clothes, music, tickets to the cinema, theatre, or concerts, and even the ability to have and appropriately care for our animals.

Animals see no value in money (aside from the ones who may see value in eating it). They tend not to have pockets to keep it in, or places to keep a lot of it safe, and they don’t have bills to pay, so money as a form of payment is as meaningless to them as hotdog slices as a form of payment is to you and I.

But just because they don’t see value in money doesn’t mean they don’t see value in being “paid”.

Especially when training new behaviours, your dog (or human, horse, goat, lamb, cow, chicken…or any animal) needs paid. They need to feel value in their work (learning), and this value comes from rewards – not only food and toys, but also other things they enjoy doing – digging, barking, running around, sniffing…whatever floats their boat.

These rewards do a number of things: * firstly they help the animal to learn that the rewarded behaviour is worth repeating;
* it adds “money to the bank” for the behaviour, meaning that at some future time when you need to ask for the behaviour and only have dry, biscuit treats (or, worse, nothing at all) your dog is more likely to do as you ask, and not mind too much that you didn’t have some liver or a favourite tug toy handy (however, after this type of situation it would be worth “refreshing” the behaviour in your dog’s mind – and increasing your “bank balance” – by training the behaviour with one or more of your dog’s desired rewards, especially if you made a large withdrawal – such as recalling your dog away from unexpected livestock or wild animals;
* additionally, training using the rewards your dog wants (rather than the ones you think he should want) also has the added bonus of teaching your dog that you’re worth listening to;
* and it’s great for building a strong relationship with your dog.

Looking at that list, I wonder why we aren’t all training with rewards. For me, it all comes back to working: I want my dog to want to be with me, and to not only want to interact with me; but to enjoy interacting with me – whether we’re playing tug, or whether I’m training a drop on recall.

It pains me to see a dog who wants to be nowhere near his human, after all, dogs are social creatures and should have the strongest bond with their ‘family’; but to think that some people actively dislike despise “treat training”, well…I don’t want to think about what they do to their dog in the name of training


The Alan Titchmarsh Show and Cesar Milan

I must admit, when I first heard that Cesar was going to be on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, I was quite worried.  The show is aired from 3pm, a time when many people are at work, so the shows’ main audience is likely to be people who are retired and parents who work part-time – two groups of people that really shouldn’t be using the techniques Cesar advocates with their dogs.

I caught the show on ITV+1, and must say I was pleasantly surprised.  Alan and his team had clearly listened to those of us who had contacted him with our concerns, watched some of the videos that were posted on the shows’ Facebook page and emailed to them, and rightly questioned Cesar on his dubious methods.

After the interview, the number of “likes” on the Facebok page doubled, and the wall was flooded by people thanking Alan for such a wonderful interview – three days later this is still going strong, and a page has been set up calling Alan a “legend“.

Finally, the UK public have had some exposure, no matter how small, to the fact that Cesar may not be all he makes out to be.  Not only that, stories have been run not only by the UK media, but also in South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands, and America to name but a few.

Of course, alongside all the praise, thanks, and positive feelings, there are those who claim Alan jumped on Cesar unnecessarily, that he listened to the lies told to him by the “minority”, that Cesar doesn’t harm dogs, and that he saves the dogs positive trainers refuse to work with, among others.

Sadly, it seems a minority of people have been taken in – often very deeply – by Cesar’s celebrity, his PR machine, his lies, and by his (and often their own) lack of knowledge, not to mention the “glamour” of the thought they practically have a wild animal in their home who they must constantly physically outwit, lest the animal take over.  What his fans and followers have shown both to myself and others, is their lack of regard for other sentient beings.

It’s so sad to see the number of people saying that it’s acceptable to beat, kick, pinch, poke, choke, prod, punch and shock dogs in the name of “training”.  In the UK, we’re supposed to be an enlightened nation of animal lovers, and yet in the past few days I’ve seen people admitting to beating their dogs; saying that they’d use an electric shock to contain their dog (when a leash or a fence not only *would* do a much better job, but is also *proven* to do a much better job than an electric fence); and worse.

It is not, and should not, be a dogs’ fault that his or her family cannot or do not know how to correctly use and apply the methods behind positive reinforcement training – and just like fixing a car or a combi boiler, those people who are unable to do it should seek help from a qualified professional.  Sadly, people like Cesar Milan make it seem like anyone can “fix” dogs, and there are no qualifications (or even real knowledge!) needed.

People watch this man’s entertainment programme, and think that doing so qualifies them to charge other people for their services of “dog psychology”.  These people also lie, and say there are no qualifications to be gained – or worse, gain qualifications based on rescinded science claiming they are “the best” or “only” qualifications, and others are worth nothing.

I for one am sure that a number of universities and colleges who offer qualifications based on current science with regards to behaviour would disagree, as would the many qualified dog trainers and dog behaviourists (which, by the way is the real term, not “dog psychologist”) that we have not only in the UK but the world over.

It also worries me that many of Cesars followers also have children, and that these children are being raised in environments where violence against others seem to be the norm.  After all, whether it’s a dog or a human you’re hurting – it’s still another being, one who’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions you’re affecting.

Additionally, as I’m sure you’re aware, studies have shown that violence to animals often leads to violence against people; and where violence is, seemingly at least, normal in some households with dogs and children I can’t help but wonder if we are inadvertently raising a culture of children who will grow up and go on to abuse or otherwise harm their spouses, friends, and/or children and think nothing of it, let alone the acts that could be committed against total strangers.

Cesar has had his time in the spotlight, and I believe it is high time he is outed for what he really is – an unqualified charlatan practising outdated and dangerous methods.

I understand that many will find this difficult, cognitive dissonance is not be a nice feeling; and sadly I’m quite sure there would be people clamouring to take his place in the spotlight (not to mention the money!), but this time we need someone with some real and relevant qualifications, who understands the science behind what they’re doing, and can make training and interacting with dogs safe for everyone.

It may not be as “flashy”, or as “macho” as a tanned foreigner with an intriguing history, taming “unruly” dogs with physical force – but none of that is important.  The well-being of dogs the world over, on the other hand, that is immensely important.

Did you watch Alans’ show (or the clip on YouTube)? What do you think, is it right that Cesar was called out and his methods publicly questioned, or should Alan have “played nice” and gone along a less direct path when interviewing Cesar?

What Can “A Clockwork Orange” Teach Us About Animal Training?

I’ve managed to somehow avoid watching ‘A Clockwork Orange’ until probably a lot later than some would argue I should.  However, I’m quite glad of that, as it means I’ve been able to really understand the deeper aspects of the film; and I can use a clip to add another thread to explain why aversive and punitive training methods should not be used – whether we are training the family dog, a marine mammal, or a friend.

First, if you haven’t seen the film, or you’d like a reminder, you’ll need to watch this clip, as this is the specific part of the film I’m going to discuss.

What the clip doesn’t explain, is that Alex has a love of classical music – specifically Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  Beethoven’s Ninth is played as the soundtrack to a film which Alex watches while undergoing aversion therapy, using the fictional “Ludovico Technique“.  This involves the use of a specula (which holds open the patients’ eyes), to enable (or force) the patient to watch violent images for long periods of time, while under the effect of a nausea-inducing drug. The aim of the therapy is to make the patient experience severe nausea when experiencing or even thinking about violence, thus attempting to solve societal crime (almost like antabuse).

However, towards the end of the movie – when the therapy is complete and has been classed a success, Alex is locked in one room of a house, while classical music is played loudly throughout the building.  He attempts suicide by jumping from the second floor window, because of the memory of the music, and the feelings of sickness it induces in him.

So, what does this have to do with training dogs, or any other animal, you ask.

Well, for starters it is yet another piece of evidence on the effects of using something aversive to attempt to stop a behaviour, but more than that it shows a great part of the truth that is often hidden from public view by trainers who use aversive training methods.

Using aversive training has negative consequences.

Yes, you may stop your dog from pulling by putting a choke chain on him, and giving a “correction” (or, more correctly, cutting off his air supply); but what is also going to happen is that the dog learns to associate the ‘correction’ with whatever is in the environment at that time – other dogs, kids, men with baseball caps on, pregnant women – the possibilities are endless.

Pair the collar correction with the same environment a few times, and you have a dog who is starting to become worried about seeing certain things, as they often elicit pain.  Very quickly, you can go from having an outgoing, gregarious dog who wants to greet the world (which causes the dog to pull on the lead to get everywhere), to a dog that is fearfully aggressive, trying to keep everything and everyone away from him so that he will not feel pain.

Give the dog a collar correction in varying environments and he can discriminate that it is the nothing more than presence of his owner that causes pain at random intervals. How insidious.

I actually witnessed this happening for myself  a few years ago. I was walking a dog around the local harbour.  Early on in the walk, we were moving towards an older gentleman and his dog. My dog – Spirit – was well trained, and happy to listen to my cues, so I asked him to walk on & ignore the other dog, as the other dog was staring, which is quite a rude canine behaviour.  Spirit did as I asked, looked away from the dog, and kept on walking.  The other dog, however, kept staring and received a harsh tug on the lead from his owner.
Spirit & I continued on our walk, and on the other side of the harbour ran into this man and his dog again.  When they were about twenty-five feet away from us, the other dog began to growl, and continued to growl until they were about ten feet behind us.  At the time I didn’t really know why, but since starting to learn more about canine behaviour, body language, and learning theory – I now realise that this man’s dog was well on his way towards associating the sight of all dogs with the pain & discomfort of his collar being pulled into his trachea.

Learning theory, by the way, applies to all mammals, which is why it’s better to ask your son or daughter to tidy their room, and then reward them, than to threaten them to do it; or why it’s better to thank your partner for doing the chores, than to nag them to do them.  And it’s why positive reinforcement training works just as well with dogs and cats, as it does with dolphins and killer whales.

Just because it works for all mammals, however, doesn’t mean that all humans know how to use it properly, and to good effect, which is why people often complain that their dog only does something if they “have a treat in their hand”, or that their dog only complies with their request “sometimes”. A good trainer, or training book, can help to ensure this doesn’t happen. A good trainer that uses only positive, science-based training methods can help you to have a happy, well socialised dog without fear of pain and physical punishment when it sees certain stimuli.

On Electric Shock Collars

I’ve just seen this video, and wanted to share my thoughts. It is interesting on so many levels.  The fact that the commentators call the people with the remote “despots” – well, yes, the most frequently used definition for despot is “A person who wields power oppressively; a tyrant.”

Obviously, the human participants are willing; they want to try out  “electric shock football”.  As the game progresses, you see the commentators (despots/owners) having more and more fun, pressing the buttons for amusement more than anything else; and the players getting more and more annoyed, and they even seem to be more in pain from the same level of shock as has previously been administered. That, to me, is quite scary; for people to be shocking their dogs is one thing – that a dog could feel more and more pain with each progressive shock (of the same level) is entirely another – never mind that we don’t know whether dogs feel pain on the same ‘level’ as humans do.

I cannot believe people willingly do this to their dogs; and even claim that with some dogs it is the “only” way to train them.  If you need pain (or, if you prefer “stims”, “taps” or whatever you call them so you can feel OK with doing it) then it is safe to say YOU don’t understand the laws of learning. However, just because you don’t, doesn’t mean your dog should suffer for it.

coldwetnose: The One Show – foot in mouth?

It saddens me to know that at least one child has been bitten and at least one dog has now been put to sleep because someone tried to copy of the actions of a TV “dog trainer”.

This should never have happened, and should happen no more.  Dog owners need to be responsible in finding a qualified behaviourist, or training instructor, and in this day and age, it increasingly seems like the actions of the media are copied everywhere.

Perhaps now is the time for the media to teach people how to find a competent canine professional, rather than just blindly trust someone because they charge a fee, or are shown on a TV programme.

On a brighter note, I saw last night that Victoria Stillwell has offered to come to England free of charge and show Roxy’s family a humane way of training her to be comfortable with people around her food bowl.  I do hope they accept her very kind offer.

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An Open Letter to the BBC/The One Show

I have now emailed my letter of concern to the BBC, and directly to the One Show, while I await a response, I thought I would share what I have written on on my blog – if it inspires even just one more person to write in and voice their concerns too, then all the better.

To Whom it May Concern:

Re: BBC’s “The One Show”, September 16th 2011 – Jordan Shelley’s segment

I am deeply shocked and saddened by the BBC, an organisation that would normally undertake proper and full research into anything shown on one of their channels. The BBC had a rare opportunity to discuss with the nation how to find a good behaviourist, or training instructor; but it seems you chose to sensationalise serious canine behaviour problems. After watching Jordan’s segment of the show on iPlayer, I can honestly say that he is no “doggy behaviour expert”(as claimed by Chris Evan, though Jordan did not refute this) – where are his qualifications, what professional body is he associated with, what learning and courses has he undertaken, which training schools has he observed and assisted at, and for how long?

All I can see is a man kicking, shoving, and shouting at a small dog; ignoring the obvious signs of stress and appeasement that Roxy is showing, and generally teaching her that people are unpredictable and must be stopped before they do something scary or hurtful – as is proven by Roxy immediately biting at Jordan’s feet when told to leave the food dish alone after only a few minutes of “training”.

At the beginning of the segment he claims he can “fix” Roxy in “a couple of hours” – I have heard this claim before, but only ever on television where questionable methods are used to suppress a dog’s behaviour. This type of “training” has nothing to do with helping the dog, and teaching it a better way of living in the human world – it only serves to reinforce the dog’s original beliefs.

At the start of Roxy’s “training” we see the family stood around the kitchen, with Roxy, her food bowl, and Jordan taking centre stage, poised to deal with Roxy’s “aggression” – or more properly her resource guarding. At no point does Jordan seek to find out, or even suggest an explanation as to why Roxy might be behaving this way; neither does he tell them there is more than one way to deal with her resource guarding issues, let alone tell them there is a way to help Roxy without putting anyone in danger of being bitten or injured, unless the training was moved through at a pace which Roxy was uncomfortable with. Additionally, at no point is a warning given not to try Jordan’s “techniques” at home, or without first consulting a qualified professional behaviourist – something which I was saddened to read had caused one dog to be handed over to a shelter on the Saturday morning following the show, and no doubt countless others will follow, and will continue to follow as long as this segment continues to be aired on television in it’s current state.

Jordan lets Roxy begin to eat, and explains he will remove Roxy’s food bowl from her – coincidentally, this is how resource guarding actually begins in the majority of cases – dogs being worried that something of theirs will randomly be taken away.

Jordan is shown shouting at Roxy, and staring her down which – unsurprisingly – results in Roxy running at Jordan barking and snapping; Jordan had, after all, ignored Roxy’s body language which shows she is uncomfortable with what is going on.

As the section progresses, we then see a shot of a Roxy cowering beside – and then underneath – a chair; this is as Jordan claims she is “calming down” – if that is a calm dog, I am glad my dog is never calm!

In the section in Samantha’s bedroom, it would seem that Jordan kicks Roxy as she is running out of the room, of course we are not shown this, but from the movements he makes, it is quite apparent to me that he is making a kicking motion. Later, when she is apparently “OK” with Jordan being beside stood the bed, all I can see is a nervous, anxious dog.

Back in the “One Show” studio, Jordan says that there are “two schools of thought, dominance-based training, and reward-based training”, and boldly clams that “finding a balance between the two is really important”. However, scientific study, and hearsay, are two totally different things and are never to be mixed to be mixed, as this can cause more confusion and anxiety for the animal, as well as muddy the relationship between trainer and trainee.

I daresay I am a similar age to Jordan, however unlike him I am currently studying an accredited course to learn about canine psychology and behaviour, and I fully intend for this to be life-long learning so that I can keep myself up-to-date with the latest scientifically proven methods of animal training. It also needs to be life-long learning as I fully intend on becoming a member of the UK Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) – one of the organisations who promote the use of kind, fair, and effective dog training techniques. The APDT are just one of the organisations the BBC should have turned to, if they had wanted to find a qualified, experienced, behaviourist to help Roxy and her family – it may not have made for “exciting” watching, but it would have helped that family on longer-term basis, as well as any other dog owner who was watching the show and decided to try to imitate Jordan.

Yours Faithfully

BBC TV’s “The One Show”

I don’t know how many of you watch – or, for my international readers, have even heard of – The One Show.  It’s a “magazine show”, on BBC 1, usually shown after the news, and before the evening programming, such as soaps.  I’ll be honest here and say I very rarely watch what would be classed as “terrestrial TV”, but when I heard about the segment on Friday’s show with a new “dog trainer”, I wanted to watch it; thankfully we got our internet connected over the weekend, and I’ve just watched the segment of the show on iPlayer.

As I’ve read others’ reactions over the weekend, I decided I needed to make some notes as I watched – I have seven A4 sides, though with my writing it’s probably more like three to four

I heard on the show that Jordan Shelley (the “dog behaviour expert”) didn’t have any experience other than walking his teachers dogs when he was younger.  That’s right, I can throw away my coursework, all my books, and delete the bookmarks for all my favourite dog behaviour, training, and trainer blogs now – all I need to do to become an “expert” is walk other people’s dogs!

In real life, I will be joining the growing number of people who are complaining to the BBC about this segment, and also to Offcom.  I will be taking my notes and turning them into something productive.  While I await my response, I will continue to use scientifically proven, kind and effective training methods with Inka, and any other dogs I encounter in my day-to-day life; I will also continue to study and learn about canine behaviour – both by continuing with my coursework, and by learning from others who I admire and respect.

Tomorrow night, Inka and I will be attending his second proper training class, and over the coming weeks I have several posts lined up, that I want to share with you all.

I want to leave you with a final thought: there are many ways to achieve a change in behaviour, some will promote the relationship between both parties, and some will damage it.  Some will have positive side-effects, and some will have negative side-effects.  I know which I would rather have – what about you?