Thursday, April 5, 2018

Transitions Part 1

Every day, I go to work and get paid to hang out with dogs. It's a pretty sweet deal most days, and I am grateful that working with them helps us pay the bills. The days it's not all awesome are when I am overbooked and feel rushed (which is my fault), or days when I encounter dogs who have a history of being trained using punitive techniques. I walk away from these dogs with a heavy heart but usually with some hope. Once I explain to their human families that the dog is not acting out of a need for dominance; that the barking, growling, snapping, or biting is out of fear or frustration, we can start rehabilitating their beloved pet.

With coercive training techniques, success is hailed as a dog who appears submissive or quiet. Just because a dog stops reacting strongly does not mean they stop feeling anxious, fearful, or frustrated. If a young child is hit or yelled at for acting out of frustration because they do not have the skills to cope well, does it really stop the feelings they have?

No. They simply learn to hide it, which is something dogs are really, really good at. When a dog is shocked, jerked, or hit for doing something wrong, they simply stop trying. They stop jumping or barking because they are afraid of what will happen. That dog is not any less upset or excited by the trigger of the mailman or a visitor, and in fact is probably even more anxious because she cannot respond in a way that is normal for her- she is left with no way to cope with the situation. She tucks her tail, she sits and waits for the situation to be over. This is not an obedient dog; this is a scared dog. Any trainer worth their salt can tell you the difference- it's very obvious.

Enough from me though, I want you to check out someone else's experience. The article below was written by a trainer who made the transition from punitive training to positive training, what it taught her, and why she will never go back.

Making that transition is tough, but stick with it because your commitment will be repaid. It is so worthwhile to get to see a previously shut-down dog begin to have confidence and actually enjoy training- it's a beautiful transition.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Really Nice to Meet You..!

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Delmarva Unleashed.  It's part of my series on dog behaviors that are perfectly normal in the minds of dogs but entirely socially unacceptable to us humans. I think that its useful to understand that dogs have reasons for their shenanigans, even if they make no sense to us and even if we want to change that behavior. If you know why a behavior happens, you can make better progress in changing it!

One of the funniest things I hear from clients (and friends and family) is how frustrating it is when their dog acts like he has a mind of his own. 
It’s so silly because of course your dog has a mind of his own, he’s not a computer program! He needs that mind, with the ability to think and reason so he can survive, just like other animals. 

Now, it is ok to be surprised about your dog’s ability to reason, just as it’s ok to be baffled by some dog behaviors that seems insane to us, though they do have evolutionary roots. 

Crotch and butt sniffing are two dog behaviors that are quite obtrusive to people but perfectly normal to dogs. This is because we are two different species. Most people seem to get that we are not dogs, but stumble to grasp that dogs are not us. By this I mean that dogs and people have slew of behaviors that are different but perfectly normal and functional in our society. Crotch and butt sniffing are as normal to dogs as us shaking hands with a colleague or neighbor. The reason dogs do this is to learn more about you. There are specialized sweat glands called apocrine glands spread throughout the bodies of all mammals, but they are concentrated around the genitals. These glands release pheromones containing all kinds of information- sex, age, mood, health, estrus, pregnancy, etc. This is very helpful information to learn about another dog, so it’s only natural to want to know the same about their human counterparts. As weird as it sounds, your crotch and butt can tell a dog a lot about you quickly. The other piece of the puzzle we have to put in place is that dogs are made to use their nose, literally. Dogs have a scent detection system called Jacobson’s organ, which is a highly specialized pouch of cells just above the roof of their mouth. It contains ducts that are open to the mouth and nose, allowing a great number of scent molecules to get in and a rich blood supply which allows it to function exceedingly well in finding and discriminating scents. Did you know that there is even an area in the brain of your dog that is dedicated to processing the information from just this system? All so they can smell every little thing about you.
As weird as it is to us, this crotch sniffing is just part of life for dogs- maybe similar to the way we use social media to learn about someone new! 

 So, instead of getting upset and yelling when your dog does this, try to calmly redirect him to a toy or something else better to sniff. Better yet, teach your dog how to do polite human greetings with a sit-stay next to you as you shake hands and they wait for a pat on the head. It is rude in human society to go around sticking one’s head on the crotch or rear end of someone else, so be sure you take the time to practice what is expected of your dog so he knows how humans expect him to act.