Thursday, 23 January 2020

Still in the news

TV dog trainers are still making the news.  TV dog trainers are still using methods that aren't entirely ethical and some are against the Animal Welfare Act.  AKA the 5 Freedoms which are

  • FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST. by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
  • FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT. by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
And have been the basis of animal welfare in the UK since the 1960s.  Lets just take Freedom from pain etc, yes this means that if your dog is injured you need to have it treated but it also means that we should not inflict pain and the Freedom from fear and distress.

TV dog trainers and a lot of people who are running dog training clubs, or who are offering dog traning and behaviour on a one to one basis use methods that cause pain (there are studies on the use of shock collars showing they cause pain and studies on the use of choke chains showing the same).
Just the other day I heard of a puppy in its first training class learning about not going through doors, how?  By having the door slammed in its face.  Pretty sure that this would have caused fear and distress, the owner says it upset them.  There is another training class where people are being told to use choke chains to control their dogs, the trainer there also has said to me that although they haven't used them personally they would recommend the use of prong collars.

There is more than enough written about dominance theory, another favourite of TV and club trainers.  I wrote a Facebook note on it in 2010  and I also did a Facebook note on TV trainers in 2017,

There is a trainer from "over the pond" advertising a UK tour, although not publishing venues!  This person is well known for their use of punitive, physical punishment of dogs which is certainally not in keeping with UK law.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Animal Licensing Laws (England)

 DEFRA recently brought out some new laws on how dogs, are to be looked after when away from their homes.

This is having a huge impact on the home boarding and day care industry.  While some of the large commercial day care centres are fine the small ones, like mine, are having a harder time.  It's worse for those who offer both home boarding and day care in their houses. 

Some of the rules contradict others and put some people at a disadvantage.  For instance if your dog goes to a traditional boarding kennel they are allowed just under 2sq meters per kennel.  But if you are a home boarder you have to allow one room per dog, but some parts of the house are excluded.  If you have previously been allowed to have 5 dogs at a time but your house is the average size, kitchen, lounge/diner and 3 bedrooms you could in theory still have 5 dogs.  If any bedroom is used by someone under 16 then that is excluded, if you have your own dogs you have to allow one room for them.  That could leave the home boarder with 2 rooms available for boarding, cutting numbers from 5 to 2.  This would include any day care dogs they have. 

On the day care front each dog must be allowed a space of 9 square meters.  It doesn't matter if you have a home based day care or a unit based day care the rule applies to all.  My own sitting room is not this big.  I am not sure if it applies to boarding kennels that offer day boarding.

The rules on how long a dog can be left for have been changed, whereas it was 3 hours for any dog it is now 3 hours for boarding dogs and 0 hour for day care dogs.  The limit the dogs can be crated for in a 24 hour period is 3 and one.  People who are offering a home from home service and need to collect children from school are now tied to having to chose between day care and looking after their families. 

Fortunately this week we have had the on lead/off lead rule changed.  It was boarding dogs can be off but day care dogs on.  You can only imagine the chaos that was coursing.  And with the rules about how long dogs can be left anyone with more than 4 dogs in their care would have to leave some behind as we can now only walk 4 at a time.

DEFRA aren'y alone in the blame, they worked alongside some other organisations  and held a consultation  But this did not include day care centres and as far as I know people in the industry weren't widely aware of the consultation.  The Guidelines weren't released until the day that the law became statute which meant there has been no time for any changes to be done.

As an industry we are fighting to have the law and guidance reviewed, we have been successful on some fronts but feel that we are not being taken seriously and are given non answers to some of the questions.

The biggest thing for all of us is the vaccines that DEFRA insist are used but research data shows they can be dangerous.  Lepto vaccine is the deal breaker for a lot of people as some don't want to vaccinate their dogs, including clients, although titre tests for the other vaccines are accepted.

They have included vaccines for breeders also.  It not only effects big puppy farm breeders, which the legislation does nothing to deter, but it effects "hobby breeders" those who only breed a litter every couple of years in order to keep their own line going for show or sport. 

The law was brought in to supposedly make things standard across the country, but some councils are still making up their own rules and the costs of licensing vary hugely.  This includes confusion over hobby breeders with some councils saying that they are out of scope and others saying that if they even sell one puppy they have to be licensed.

I sent an open letter to DEFRA as well as to other involved people, the only reply I have had is from my MP who has passed it on to Michael Gove.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Dog Training, the good and the bad

Social media has been buzzing lately with loads of arguments from the different dog training camps.  Those who use punishment based training and those who use reward based training have been clashing again. All because of a TV programme that aired on Channel 4 on Friday 10th March.

Why has this programme caused such a stir?  Well to be honest I haven't watched it and I don't think that it is ethical to bash another trainer, but I do think that for the good of dog it is ethical to point out the right from wrong when it comes to training our pets.

Why haven't I watched and what makes me think I can then comment on something I've not experienced?  I have experienced this trainer's methods, the trainer uses dominance, punishment based training to cure dogs of their behaviour issues. I have been called in to help owners who have dogs that have been trained in this way "as a last resort".  I haven't watched the programme as I know the trainer by reputation, plus I was at work helping people to train their dogs using positive reward based training when the programme aired and frankly life is to short to bother watching something that I know will upset me, especially if the comments I've seen are anything to go by.

When looking for a dog trainer what should you be looking for?  There are a lot of phrases and words out there that are popular and misleading. You want a trainer that is using reward based training; Science shows us time and again that this is the best way that dogs (and all other animals) learn. Skinner has said that even using a no reward marker can impede the learning ability; sorry for the jargon, a no reward marker (NRM) is often used to indicate that the dog isn't doing what is wanted, for instance "A-ah". Whereas a reward marker has the opposite effect, ie using a clicker to let the dog know that is what you want it to do.  

Some trainers will talk about corrections, what do they mean by this?  Well most trainers using corrections mean that they will use a form of positive punishment, often this is used to teach dogs not to pull on lead, dog pulls handlers jerks the leash, also called leash pops.  In training positive means to add something and negative means to take it away; a bit like maths, it doesn't mean good and bad that's the reward or punishment bit.  So positive punishment is adding an aversive, something the dog doesn't like, such as a jab in the neck with a choke chain.

One of the popular training types is called balanced.  This means that the trainer is using positive and negative training methods adding and taking away rewards and punishments. So for pulling on the lead the trainer may do a leash pop and follow it up with "good dog" when the dog is beside them.

What about me?  Well I use a holistic approach.  What is this? I look at the dog as a whole and try to find out why it is behaving in the way it is. I will look at what the dog is eating and how this may impact on behaviour, how the dog is feeling at the time it is doing the behaviour, the dog's reasons for doing the behaviour and what the dog is like on a day to day basis in it's general mood. I also use a method known as LIMA which means Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive.  What one dog finds aversive another dog may find rewarding, and vise versa, which is why I believe that a holistic view is the one that is needed when dealing with any other being, whether your pet dog or another person.  It's putting yourself in that situation and finding out how to make it better, for the dog and for the people around the dog.

Back to pulling on the lead, why does a dog do it?  Basic science is pressure causes counter pressure so if the dog starts to forge ahead the handler will try to pull it back, the dog then will lean into the collar (almost all pullers are in collars) and pull harder, this results in a loop where the handler pulls back more and the dog tries to pull ahead more.  We've all seen the dog walking down the street, handler's arm at full length and the dog's tongue almost on the floor, "who's walking whom" is often the quip. Why else is the dog pulling?  It could well be that the dog is having it's only form of mental and physical exercise of the day and is desperate to get to the park having just spent the last 23 hours in the house, with a huge chunk of them alone.  Maybe the dog pulls so much that walkies becomes a huge event because it doesn't happen that often. Maybe the dog just hasn't ever had basic training on lead walking, after all who wants to spend the time training walking?  Isn't walking the dog training it?  Well it's certainly giving the dog the practice at pulling.  Walking the dog isn't training it if the dog is pulling, unless you want a dog that pulls.

So my holistic approach, why is the dog pulling and what can be done to make walking the dog enjoyable for both dog and handler?  Go back to the very basics, put a well fitting harness on the dog, harnesses do not cause the damage to the dog's throat and spine that a collar dogs, plus the dog is getting a different sensation,  I prefer harnesses with front rings as well as the one on the back, used with a 2 point lead this can make all the difference.  Then reward the dog for being beside you.  I'm happy if I can touch the dog, ie the dog is in a radius that could be reached by my hand and if my lead is loose.  This may mean one step at a time and the dog's 30 minute walk doesn't get as far as the garden gate for a few days, you can always pop the dog in the car and drive to a safe place for exercise. I also use a technique known as bottle feeding where the treat is in the hand closest to the dog.  How do my methods help, and why doesn't the dog get frustrated at not walking or get fat? The dog is learning and at the same time earning a treat reward, yes I use food for this the yummier the better,  but the dog won't get fat because the rewards become random as the dog gets better on lead, so the dog will stay on a loose lead as it has learnt that this will bring a reward but it doesn't know when.  Remember that a reward is something the dog likes, which can be switched from food to a ball, or a tug toy or to get off lead at the park.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Things that go BANG!

It’s that time of year that dog owners dread. Along with the dark, cold nights comes fireworks. If possible avoid walking your dog in the dark as you never know when a firework will go off overhead and spook your dog.

It has been proven that dogs who are exposed to sights and sounds get habituated to them and they become part of the everyday background. A CD or DVD with firework noises or display on will help with this. Start by playing noises quietly and gradually getting louder while your dog is doing something it enjoys. Remember that your dog shouldn’t get scared during this as it may cause a set back. Start as soon as you can so your dog is used to the noise before Bonfire Night.

If your dog is already worried about loud noises and fireworks there are different ways of managing this.

If it is a new problem try to act as if there is nothing to be scared of—jolly your dog along and reward for positive behaviour.

If your dog has a serious or longstanding problem studies show that giving your dog the attention he needs will not encourage the unwanted behaviour as your dog will be too scared for it to act as a reward but will be able to take comfort from having you there.

Essentially try to find what helps your dog to cope and let him do this. If he feels safest hiding under the bed then let him do this. But do not shut your dog in as he may feel trapped and panic. Also don’t leave your dog alone as he may panic and injure himself.

 A high carbohydrate meal such as white rice, pasta or mashed potato with chicken, turkey or white fish in the late afternoon may help your dog to feel sleepy and calm in the evening.
There are many products on the market that may help your dog, these include Pet Remedy spray, Thundershirt and other anxiety reducing jumpers, Adaptil and Calmex, although they affect every dog differently and don’t always work.

If your dog has a serious problem, don’t forget, you can always talk to Olwen about a desensitisation programme.  You can contact Olwen through the Cloverleaf website

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Ringcraft Training Classes from a trainer's POV

Little Tatty is 5 months old today.  For the past few weeks I've been taking her to Ringcraft classes as I would love to show in breed classes. Who knows she might even qualify for Crufts.

Last year her uncle Caleb was at another Ringcraft class but that closed down so we found a class that's a bit further away to go to. 

This is the 21st century and dog training has moved a long way since the 1960s.  Apart from at Ringcraft it seems.

Tatty's first week was just to get her used to the atmosphere so I was watching my puppy rather than the other dogs and what was going on.

Ringcraft is generally structured differently from general pet dog training classes, there are mats on the floor making a triangle for you to run along and a dissecting line from top to bottom so you can do a straight run at the "judge" who is the trainer.  They are designed to help you in your dog show journey.

So week 1 of Tatty's lesson, this is the first time she has been on a show lead, the first time she has been on a lead attached to her neck, usually I walk my dogs on a harness.  First thing I get told is to have my lead tight, and coming from the top of her neck, right behind her ears.  Border Collies are shown on a loose lead and it comes from the side not the top.  I tell the trainer this and that if she'd taught on a tight lead she's always going to be looking for a tight lead. I get told that I'm wrong, you have to start on a tight lead so they know they're on a lead! I was also told that when she's jumping up to stop, pop the lead and shout NO!

Week 2 as Tatty is doing her run down the middle mat there is a commotion at the end between a couple of dogs.  Tatty freaks so I pick her up to move her away.  Trainer (this time the lady trainer, last week it was the man) tells me to put her down because (quote) "you're raising her up in the hierarchy".  I am not sure what hierarchy I'm raising her up in and why this doesn't count for the small dogs that get carried around the place, or even if a 4.5 month old pup understands this very human concept of how dogs interact.

Week 3 It's the man again.  Tatty is being a banana and bending away from him and leaning in to me when she's being "gone over" a technical term that means the judge puts their hands on the dog to feel it's shape and muscles.  I'm told to make her stand still and when she leans on mum to push her away and sharply tell her no.  (Hmm I want my dog to come to me when not sure about something).  We do the running up and down the mat, she's ok but during the 2nd run along the centre mat she starts the jumping.  Again I told to do the leash pop (he doesn't term it leash pop he says pull her back) stop and shout no.

Then he notices the clicker!  OMGoodness you'd think I'd brought in something evil. His actual words were "oh you have a clicker" but the tone was total disgust, it couldn't have been worse if Tatty had left a pressie for him to step in.

I have also witnessed a lot of leash corrections going on with dogs who are on show chains (like choke chains but thinner as they don't ruin the line, think along the thickness of cheese wire).  I have also seen dogs being run with their leads so tight their front feet aren't touching the ground (nothing is said). I have seen a tiny terrier breed puppy, at what I think is his first time, stop in the run and the owner being told to keep going, dragging the puppy behind! This is so the puppy doesn't learn he can get away with stopping

So having paid a membership to this ringcraft club I have to decide do I keep going and keep with the R+, ignoring the trainers who are very P+. 

Tatty seems to enjoy it. She is a social butterfly.  Do I maybe not go weekly just go the week before there is a show and keep training her at home with my clicker.  There is another Ringcraft class about the same distance away, I'm thinking of going along to see what happens there.

What I do know I'm going to do is start up my own Ringcraft club as part of GDTS. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Welcome back

I thought it was high time this blog was reinstated.  It will become an extension of the other social media used at Cloverleaf. Which includes Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  All of which will hopefully join up.

Some of the posts will be personal, most will be from a dog training stance, you might even get a mixture both. Hopefully the articles will be informative, but I want to make the blog more from my viewpoint rather than from a third party type view.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Pawprints on your heart

photo of woman and dog
It's a very sad fact that we will, in general, out live our pets.  Some people may say "don't worry it was only a dog/cat/rabbit, you can always get another one".  They are probably the same people who would commiserate with a lost pregnancy by saying "you can always try again"  Ignore them, they obviously don't understand the relationship between a person and their pet.

If you want to look at it scientifically it has been proven that alloparenting (apoting and looking after another species) releases the same chemicals in the brain, such as oxytocin, that are involved with pair-bonding and maternal attachment.

Or if you prefer, we love our pets on the same level as we would love any other  family member. When they die the grief is just as real and as deep as if we'd lost a human family member or friend.  For some people the pet is their best friend, and may be the only other being that they speak to from day to day.

There are set stages to grief and you will go through them, shock, denial, guilt, anxiety, depression, anger etc.  There are also cognitive, physical, social, spiritual and physiological aspects of grief. Grief is individual to each person and everyone will have to find their way though at their own pace.

I believe that the loss of a pet probably brings out the guilt aspect of grief more than any of the other emotion, the feeling of "have I done everything to save my pet's life" or for some people not being able to afford ongoing vet bills, the act of signing the slip of paper to allow the vet to euthanise the pet all contribute to this.  Part of loving someone is knowing when to love them enough to let them go and leave their life of pain, although it will leave you heartbroken.

Don't neglect yourself after the loss of a pet, you will be emotionally fragile, think about how you would advise someone in your postition, what about holding a memorial service?

Do what you have to do to get through each day; don't let the guilt overtake you when you do something you enjoy.  Treat yourself, maybe to a film or a box of chocolates, don't keep your feelings bottled up.  Other family members and friends will also be feeling the loss, talk about your pet and about how you are coping, journal if you don't think you can cope with talking out loud.  You may even want to talk to your GP about grief counselling or antidepressants to help you through the worst.

You may also have lost your routine, getting up in the morning to look after your pet, walking the dog after work, mealtimes and time spent together have all gone as well.  Try to find a new routine so that you don't focus on the what you would have done.

Remember the intense feelings of immediate loss will lessen as time passes.  One day you will look back on your memories and smile, know this is a sign of recovery and not forgetting.  That is when you can start looking to the future, it may be time to give all that love to another pet, or to help a neighbour with theirs.  You could volunteer at a rescue centre, you never know if that will lead to finding a new best friend.