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 www.cloverleafcaninecentre.co.uk

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.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Where's Mum?

Responsible breeder bred puppies

There was a debate in parliament today about puppy farming: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown There has been a campaign, headed up by Marc Abraham MRCVS and some dog welfare charities including Dog's Trust and Blue Cross aimed at stopping puppies and kittens being bred and sold by what is commonly called "puppy farmers".

The word farm conjurers up images of green fields and fresh air.  Not so when it comes to puppy farms, also called puppy mills or even backyard breeders.  Think more along the lines of battery farming.  The parent dogs are usually kept in small crates in barns, with crates piled on top of each other, the crates underneath getting covered in mess from the crates above.    The dogs are only brought out of crates in order to be mated and are then put back,  the puppies may well be born in these crates and spend the first weeks of their lives there.

So although Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoons may have fond memories of the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, most of these puppies they don't have the best start in life and if they live past the first few weeks they are taken from mum early and sold on to pet shops, or they are advertised on the internet and you meet the breeder at a service station on a motorway or in a lay-by somewhere.   Occasionally you will go to the home of the breeder and see the puppies, but usually mum is in such a state the "she's on a walk as she doesn't like strangers" or "she will be upset to see the puppy go so she's with a friend".   This "breeder" is often a dealer, they have brought a litter of puppies from a puppy farmer and are passing them off as their own, or they may be associates of the puppy farmer where the profits are split.

Which brings us to the question of where do I get a dog, puppy, cat or kitten from?
As dogs are my area of specialty I'm going to talk about them more than cats. 
There are a lot of rescue centres up and down the country rehoming abandoned pets.  They can range from very reputable to ones that may not be much better than a puppy farm anyway.  But if you do go to a rescue centre expect to have your entire life looked in to, you will usually have home visits before you can adopt a pet, some places will come out to you 2 or 3 times.  You will be expected to fill in a questionnaire and be asked about your contingency plans for holidays and emergencies.

After all that you may be placed on a waiting list until the rescue thinks they have a dog that is suitable for your life style, or you may even be turned down as the criteria for adopting from that particular place hasn't been met (many won't home to people who are at work all day or who have young children).  What won't happen is you turn up in the morning and are walking away with your new best friend at lunchtime.

The other option is to buy directly from a breeder. But the trick is knowing which breeder to buy from.  Do not be put off if you come away from the breeder thinking that they don't think you are good enough to have one of their offspring.  You should be happy that they are concerned enough about the welfare of the animals they breed that they are being thorough in finding the best homes possible.  You may have to go through some of the same processes as you would in getting a rescue pet.This tends to apply to breeders of pedigree animals, cat breeders can be especially picky. 

You may find that the occasional or accidental breeder isn't giving you as many hoops to jump through, they may have had a roaming romeo mate with their female and now they have a litter of babies to rehome. They will still want as good a home as possible but they tend to be charging very little or offering the babies free.  This is the way most of us got our pets in the 1960's - 80s, dogs and cats had more freedom to roam then and there were more accidental litters, if you wanted a pet you always knew someone who's dog or cat had some babies.

Today if you want a new puppy you have to find someone who is breeding the type you want, pedigree or designer cross breed you will still need to track down the puppies. Some are advertised on websites such as preloved or gumtree but for a pedigree dog the kennel club should be your first point of contact as they have a "find a puppy" section on their website.  Champdogs is also used a lot by pedigree breeders to advertise their litters.

As I have said, expect some hard questioning, don't be afraid to ask questions of your own.  Find out about health tests, see certificates, pedigree dogs may be registered with the kennel club and have papers, but they may not be and the price will reflect this.  Ask why they aren't registered there may be a good reason for this but it also may be that they have bred the same bitch twice in one year and only one litter can be registered or there has been a close family mating.

To be sure you are getting the puppy that has had the best start it possibly can have see them in their environment, this may be the kitchen or it may be an outdoor kennel.  A lot of professional dog people will have the litter bred in the house and once the puppies are mobile move them outside.  Ask what basic handling and socialisation the puppies have had.  A really good breeder will have used the Puppy Plan or something similar and have a progress chart for you.  Another thing a good breeder will give you is a folder with all the paperwork you will need including information on your chosen breed, how to look after and train your puppy.  You may receive a contract from the breeder which outlines their and your responsibilities for the puppy, usually you have to give the puppy back to the breeder at any point in its lifetime if you are unable to look after it.  You will also be told if the puppy has had any vaccinations or parasite treatment and when, some breeders will also give 4 weeks free insurance
 Being able to see mum and the other litter mates is  a big advantage, there may be a rare occasion where mum isn't available, for instance if she rejected the puppies or she died as a complication of birth.  The puppies will have a good relationship with their surrogate, usually the breeder will have hand fed and raised them, there may be a substitute adult dog helping to care for the puppies too.

Many breeders have the extended family of their puppies about, ask if any are available.  You should be able to gain a good idea of how your puppy will turn out by seeing its relatives.

Most of all, if anything makes you worry, walk away.  Do not feed in to the puppy farm business by buying a puppy because you feel sorry for it. 






Friday, 25 July 2014

Rescue centres part 2

A rescued dog
Something that came to mind after I wrote yesterday's article.

People also complain about rescues wanting fees to take thier pet in or an adoption fee if you want a pet.  There is no government funding for any animal rescue, even the RSPCA relies on donations.

To take in an unwanted pet costs the rescue centre.  For instance a dog that comes off the street as a stray with no history will require a vet visit, vaccinations, neutering, worm and flea treatment as a minimum.  This animal will also need housing and feeding while it undergoes various assessments.  Once they are completed there is the advertising of that animal for rehoming as well as the ongoing care.

Even animals that are owner surrendered have to have checks done, owners are not always truthful when giving up their pets.  Many come with glowing reports about how they are the perfect pet but suddenly someone in the house has developed an allergy to the fur.  Often this means that Rover has serious behaviour issues that have been allowed to develop to the point that the family can't cope and don't want to pay for a trainer, they'd rather pass the problem on.  Or it may mean that Kitty has become pregnant and the family don't want to have the hassle of helping rear and home a number of baby cats.

All of these problems cost the welfare organisation taking in that pet.  An average rehoming donation is £200 this does not cover the money laid out to get the pet to the stage where they are able to be rehomed.  Animals that are euthenised cost the rescue and there is no way they can get back a fraction of that money.

The shelters that ask for an abandonment fee may only ask for between £50 and £100.  Add that to the rehoming donation and that is a maximum of £300. 

Boarding a dog while you are on holiday costs around £15 a day.  If we add this to the equation the basic cost of rehoming a dog goes something like this:

Daily board at £15 a day for 30 days = £450
Vaccines ......................................... = £25
Neutering..........................................= £100
Worm and flea treatment ..................= £25

Total cost ........................................ = £600
Total rehoming fees........................... = £300
Cost to shelter ................................. = £300

So assuing a dog that is owner surrendered at a cost to the owner of £100 needs vaccinating, worm and flea treatment, neutering will cost the rescue shelter £300 after they have have had a rehoming donation of £200.  This does not cover any rehabilitation and training work the dog might need, treatment of any medical conditions or any other expenses that may come with that dog.