Are the APBC ethical, humane or fit for purpose?

The APBC (Association of Pet Behvaiour Counsellors) http://www.apbc.org.uk is a self-proclaimed, “Second to none”, group of ‘veterinary referred’ ‘behaviourists’ (read ‘expensive’ – although they claim to work at a “reasonable cost”), which operates throughout the UK. The association proudly places tremendous emphasis on a member’s  academic achievement, yet you will notice ‘applied/practical proficiency’, to be suspiciously lacking in their marketing material. Essentially, the APBC is an association intent upon furthering their own name, increasing (paid) membership and creating an ‘elite’ public persona. They claim however, that their focus is,

“To maintain and ensure the highest professional standards of the practice of companion animal behaviour therapy so that clients can be assured of effective, humane and appropriate advice”

 

Read those three tenets again – “Effective” “Humane” “Appropriate”

 

Read on …

 

The APBC advised the Welsh Parliamentary Assembly on their ban of remote training collars in favour of ‘kinder’ – ‘more effective’ methods of training and behaviour modification, one of which was chasing stock/wildlife.* The (then) chair of the APBC – David Ryan, wrote an article on his website regarding chasing.

You can read it here http://www.dog-secrets.co.uk/how-do-i-stop-my-dog-chasing/.

It begins by bamboozling the owners with the utter bullshit (i’m sorry, but i’m passionate) claims, that chasing is a release for anxieties, therefore the owner must ‘scan their environment’ at home to identify insecurities, which accrue to culminate (like a pressure cooker of anxiety) in chasing – THEREFORE, David Ryan tells owners to treat (for example) firework phobias before tackling chasing!! … It gets better … Mr Ryan, the bastion of welfare, of “EFFECTIVE HUMANE and APPROPRIATE training; the parliamentary ‘go-to-man’ on matters affecting millions of dogs, is asked the following question ….

“I have 2 y/o Sheepdog, of course, bred to herd. We rescued her 3 months ago. We live in a rural area with many deer, armadillos, etc. Our property is not fenced. She has bolted out the door several times in pursuit of deer. I can’t control the deer population, it is what it is here. She does love her toys so I will work on this. My concern, when she is in pursuit, she is fast and hears nothing I have to say. The other problem I have is her barking. She gets walks 3-4 times a day and whenever she sees deer she barks uncontrollably. I tried the rocks in a can, creating a noise and that worked for about 3 weeks then she became immune to that. Will a dog whistle help? I am desperate! Thank you!”

Mr Ryan replies with the following (shortened for brevity):

“If I HAD to keep her using your environment (and my preference would be to re-home her to a more appropriate one, because it is not benefiting either of you) I would forget about walking her and spend the time with her tied-out on a long line so she can’t run off, whilst playing retrieve games with her.”

frustration

YES!!!! … you read that correctly … “REHOME HER, or FORGET ABOUT WALKING HER AND TIE HER OUT” ….

Having NEVER MET THE DOG, and based entirely on the scant information provided in a brief, desperate blog post, the former chair of the “second to none” APBC, the “highest professional standards of companion animal behaviour therapy”, starts out with “REHOME HER or FORGET ABOUT WALKING HER AND TIE HER OUT”.

Mr Ryan goes on to recommend ‘games instead of walks’, ‘practise obedience so that she comes back because she wants to’ [??!! – No actual answer there whatsoever!] ….. And finally … “After that you need a PROTRACTED PROGRAMME [my emphasis] of introducing the stimulus (deer) at a low level whilst keeping her focus on you (toy-reward) and gradually increasing the salience of the deer-stimulus … [Then comes a ‘buy my book’!! .. Followed by] “Good Luck!”

I’m sure Mr Ryan means ‘decreasing the salience of the deer-stimulus’, but here’s the rub … Here’s the really really really wrong part … The worst aspect of all ….

Mr Ryan is LYING and he bloody well knows that he is lying. There is no way in a month of Sundays that a ball will beat a deer for a sheepdog with a well rehearsed chase history. Mr Ryan knows this, which is why he starts out by saying ‘rehome your dog’ – Because his advise is impotent and he knows it … But impotent advice won’t generate income, and so Mr Ryan back-pedals and throws a ‘buy my book’ into the equation too … Best grab a few quid out of it whilst she’s desperate eh David? …. Disgusting. Unethical. Unprofessional. dishonest and greedy.

That’s the APBC for you. David Ryan is presently presenting seminars on chase modification throughout the UK … Where emotions prevail, common sense will fail, eh David.

*You really ought to get your hands on this advisory paper, settle yourself into a comfortable chair for an hour or so and read through it. Depending on your general response to absurdity, you will find yourself either laughing, stunned into disbelief, or enraged. Seldom will you encounter a more emotively biased, evidentially lean, scientifically cherry-picked, anecdotal and factually false piece of work on the subject of remote training aids and the effects of professionally applied correction (positive punishment – Adding a negative consequence as a result of an action), and electronic pressure (Negative reinforcement – Removal or non-occurrence of a negative consequence as a result of an action) on canine behaviour.

 

APDT alarm bells – Here’s the first one I heard ……

During my APDTUK assessment, I was required to teach an unknown class of people/dogs, certain behaviours for (I think it was an hour?) whilst being observed by two assessors placed at either end of a training hall. The teaching requirement was held secret until I entered the hall and began the session. At the conclusion, I was asked to leave the hall and wait outside, where I was led to an undercover area, which joined one of the assessor’s houses.
As I waited, a group of 3 or so dogs (from memory they were Belgian Shepherds – Tervurens or Groenendales) emerged tentatively from the back door of the house, eyed me with great mistrust and wariness, and one of them continued a low grumble, whilst looking towards me from sideways on. “Ooops .. Ignore them” remarked the husband of the assessor as he brought me a cup of tea, “They’re no good with strangers” … He turned to the dogs “G’wan – Inside!” and shooed the dogs away.
I was advised some 10-15 minutes later, that the assessors were ready now, to give me both my aural assessment, along with their feedback on my work. I was taken through to a conservatory, where the two women awaited me. Now I have to say that each of the women were lovely to speak with and both nodded encouragingly as I explained my use of class layout, positive reinforcement, choice of rewards, reward delivery protocols, projection of instruction, explanations etcetera, in relation to the preceding class work.
Then it came to my scores!!
“Do you teach classes already Jamie?” I was asked.
“No, I don’t” I replied
“Why not?” the second assessor enquired
“Because I don’t necessarily believe that hall-based training is the most beneficial training I can provide” I answered, trying to choose my words so as not to offend!
“Well you should!” announced the first lady (not as in the president’s wife .. She wasn’t there .. I just mean ‘the first one of the two to speak in this recollection of dialogue’ … Anyway, I digress) … “You did an exceptional job in there! The woman who kept wanting to do things HER way is a NIGHTMARE to train, but you actually chose HER dog to demo with! It worked!”
I smiled, “Oh .. Thank you”
Then came my results …..
“Well, you scored all but perfect! Well done!! It isn’t very often we get scores like this. You only dropped half a point, giving you a score of 17.5 out of a possible 18!! Well done!!!”
The second, smiling assessor asked “Can you think why you dropped the half-point?”
I thought …. “Errm?? Timing perhaps?”
“No”
“Er? … I’m not sure, was I rude or anything? Did I miss a technical point? .. I really don’t know?”
“Ha ha! Nope!” Chuckled my judge “That was all great! … I’ll tell you ….. Do you remember going through the DOWN exercise?”
“Yes, I do” I answered, a little puzzled
“And do you remember the Poodle?”
“Yes, I do … She was the young one who was taking a while”
“That’s right” said my second judge “And why was that do you think?”
I knew the answer to this, so I replied with confidence “OH! ..That’s because the dog didn’t fully understand the mechanics of the exercise. The owner was choosing to lure for too long, making the dog over-reliant on the visual cue of the hand containing the food – It was as though her nose was attached to it with string .. It moved and she broke!” I smiled …
“Errrr? No …. No that isn’t what WE had down? …. Why else do you think a dog like that may struggle?”
Now I was confused! I KNEW why the dog wouldn’t DOWN; It was for the reasons given! I tried a generic answer .. “Well .. Either the dog doesn’t ‘understand’ the behaviour, perhaps it has a prior training history which conflicts with what was being taught there, or the motivation to perform it is insufficient for that particular dog in the circumstances?”
The ‘professional’ interpretation has stayed with me from first hearing it … This was it …
“No .. That’s not what we think Jamie. What we see is a young Poodle in a training hall in the colder months. Now his fur on his tummy is shorter than the rest of his body and the floor of the hall is pre-tty cold for that little one …..” (I sat – Stunned) … “So what might we have done differently?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! …. But I found the words dropping from my mouth, like broken teeth from the ‘stun-punch’ to the chops I had just sustained … “Put.a.coat.on.it??”
“YES!!! A coat … Or put a warm blanket on the floor!” ….
…….
……. A warm blanket …… Because a dog which originated working in swamps and water, will endure a ‘cold tum-tum’ performing a DOWN inside a training hall ……
.
I think I knew from that moment on, that my future as a member was to be a brief affair ……..

The power of nonsense over naive minds

Imagine you were to try this …..

Shortly after bedtime, you tie a piece of thin line to the wardrobe door handle in a young child’s bedroom, just before you tell them the spooky story about the ‘wardrobe ghost’. The wardrobe ghost sits within wardrobes, unseen, silent … Waiting ….. If you open the wardrobe, you will see nothing … If you scream out, he will vanish and return again, even angrier and even more terrifying .. because the wardrobe ghost is VERY clever … He waits and waits until you are tucked up in bed, before v.e.r.y. q.u.i.e.t.l.y. opening the door and reaching out to take hold of sleeping children’s hands, whereupon they sleepwalk with him, into the wardrobe, never to be seen or heard of again; that is until they too, become ghosts themselves. Lots of parents claim to be able to hear the faint screams and cries for help of their own, missing children when their wardrobe is opened at night ….. 

Light out now, nighty-night ….

Some 30 minutes later, from outside the room, pull gently and silently on the line ….

.. NEVER let on ….. EVER …..

bedroom-closet monster

I can virtually guarantee, that the affected child will carry their fear (or at the very least suspicion) of wardrobes well into young adulthood, and that the memory will likely NEVER go away. Some would quite probably remain permanently affected, sleeping with lights on, open doors, pets on beds and no wardrobes.

But nothing has happened.
Nothing terrible has EVER occurred.
No ghost has been seen or heard (although the child will tell you otherwise).
Wardrobes are inanimate objects – Until they are given purpose through use.
Even rational thinking as the child matures will not eradicate the strength of that terrifying night ….

It ‘could’ happen … It ‘might’ be true ….

A lifetime of belief and suspicion, upon which the only substantial foundation was a moving door.

The rest was completely fictitious, shared so as to knowingly instil a false fear, a lifelong aversion … Perhaps the same fear the story-teller themselves, had also been told …….?

Interesting, isn’t it, how simple it is to create logically, experientially and evidentially unsubstantiated fear and avoidance, simply through the manipulation of otherwise naive minds?

06:00hrs 22/12/15

The curse of the ‘fur baby’ – Dogs and children

“Would you do that to your child?” ….. A remark as revealing about an individual (and in many ways as potentially harmful), as Richard Attenborough’s “Thank you” slip-up in The Great Escape! But what does such a seemingly innocuous question reveal, and why on Earth might it be indicative of harm?

You may be unfamiliar with the terms ‘fur baby’, ‘fur mom’ or ‘fur parents’, and to be completely honest, if you are, I am envious. The subsequent autonomic arousal upon hearing their utterance, has likely taken a considerable (negative) toll on my adrenal glands!  The terms appear to stem from the USA, though worryingly, I have witnessed a proliferation of users in several other countries throughout the world.

fur baby

On any hierarchy of anthropomorphism (the tendency to project human-specific qualities onto non-human subjects), ‘Fur Parents’ must surely represent the present-day’ point of the pyramid’, since one can go no further than to genuinely see the dog as a human infant in a canine costume, and interact accordingly. The abundance and availability of merchandise supporting and indeed encouraging this phenomena is genuinely disturbing.

Doggy strollers, puppy teething rings (1), canine sanitary wear, hair bands, leg warmers – “to maintain that totally awesome 80’s doggy style!” (2), tutu’s, Moses baskets – yep, seriously (3) and sandals – Designed to “Help dogs walk better” (4) .. Move aside evolution ….

There are various reasons why people own dogs, primarily companionship, utility purposes (including medical assistance), self-image and surrogacy.

Surrogacy is seemingly the prime culprit in the cute canine kiddy craze. Couples (and singletons) are opting out of, or waiting longer before starting families with many choosing instead, to project their need-to-nurture onto non-human victims – Yes, I said VICTIMS. ‘Empty nesters’ (primarily females) are equally susceptible, with a yearning to continue cuddling beyond their ‘genuine’ children taking flight.

“Women who do not have children living with them are more likely to develop strong bonds with their companion animals and to develop “mothering” relationships with these pets. It is widely believed that many women have a strong desire to nurture and care for living beings. This urge is typically met by motherhood. When that desire cannot be fulfilled by mother hood, women can develop parent-child relationships with companion animals.” (5)

There is of course, nothing wrong with displaying affection towards your dog. Every bond requires affection at some level as without it, we cannot empathise or have compassion, leaving our animals fair targets for all manner of abuse. But affection too, carries with it the potential for direct (yet unintentional) abuses when amplified to excess. Surrogacy and self-image are often interconnected. We need only refer to the above marketing phrase “maintain that totally awesome 80’s doggy style” to see the overlap – It is evident everywhere. Whilst some may baulk at the presentation of a perfectly mobile dog, being wheeled through a shopping centre in a stroller and a hairband, others will point, smile and (worse still) coo over the hapless ‘infant’. The ‘parent’ in turn receives reward for their absurd, self-centredness, in the form of the attention of passers-by, which subsequently serves to reinforce their extreme anthropomorphic expressions. Even negative attention constitutes attention, and thus carries reinforcing qualities. Many would rather be ‘noticed’ and criticised, than be seemingly transparent – It all boils down to ‘self’ – And therein lies the problem.

Ideally, dog ownership should operate on a symbiosis of mutualism – Both should benefit equally from the relationship. The human should not only recognise the dog for what it is, but more importantly respect and honour the differences. Lindsay (2000), refers to ‘cynopraxis’ whereby this obligation is honoured, with any intrusion on the part of the owner being directly and mutually beneficial to both the bond and the welfare of the dog. No actions are taken to upset or compromise this harmonious coexistence, certainly actions which serve only to favour the whims of a needy human.

“Behavioural control for the sake of domination or for the sake of objectives harmful to the dog or degrading the human-dog bond is inconsistent with cynopraxic philosophy”(6)

Speciesism is evident in many areas of ownership, but none more so than surrogacy and self image. There is absolutely – and I mean ABSOLUTELY – No mutualistic justification whatsoever, for dressing a dog in a ballet tutu, a fur-lined ‘hoody’ or a pair of ‘sneakers’ – I repeat – WHATSOEVER. The practise is indefensible on an ethical platform. The reason dogs have become ‘fur babies’ and owners ‘fur parents’, is because that is what the human wants; period. I CAN therefore I WILL. Little or no regard is given to the species specific requirements of the dog.

Let me provide an example. Anyone owning or exercising their dog in a rural environment containing wildlife, will undoubtedly be aware of the fact that many dogs wilfully (and seemingly joyfully) participate in not only the ingestion of the faeces of neighbouring wildlife, but also the skilful act of identifying, closing in on, and then sliding themselves (shoulder first) onto pungent, tar-like scats. Dissection and analysis of causation aside, the practise occurs repeatedly across many breeds within the species and so can safely be assigned the label of ‘species specific tendency’. Dogs do it, and dogs like it! When dogs get wet, some might smell both ‘wet’ and (seemingly surprising to many) ‘like dogs’. This too, is a canine attribute, and one which would appear to inflict no negative affect on the animal whatsoever. The power of the canine nose is phenomenally well documented; unless you have spent your life beneath a rock, you will be well aware of their olfactory prowess. Indeed a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times greater than that of a human(7) – That’s sensitive! Dogs rely VERY heavily on their sense of smell, in ways in which we are still unable to fully understand or interpret. [This fact is appreciated and utilised by remote ‘scented-collar’ manufacturers, who use the powerful scents of citronella and mustard as punitive consequences for canine misbehaviours (9)].

Take the same animal and raise it in an urban, multi-storey apartment building, owned by a ‘fur mom’ who works 9-5, Monday – Friday. With his arrival marked by a ‘puppy shower’ (10), the dog has subsequently acquired an entire wardrobe full of clothes, his own (full) toy basket and is sent daily to an urban ‘day care’, where he is permitted to ‘play’ with other dogs, but sometimes returns home ‘a little smelly’, whereupon the ‘mom’ deodorises her ‘baby’ with a sweet smelling ‘doggy deodorant’ – One which “has a fresh eucalyptus spearmint scent that is so much nicer than wet dog. Granted, the smell only lasts for a couple of days, but it’s a very easy product to apply. Just refresh it once it wears off”(8). Imagine that .. Having 10,000-x the scent capacity of a human being, and being sprayed with the stench of the completely alien scent of eucalyptus? Then you get ‘dressed’ into your ‘clothes’ and jewellery – maybe your sandals to ‘help you walk better’ – and of you go for a walk – In your stroller …..

The practise is abhorrent …. It serves not a single species specific interest of the dog, beyond perhaps the most basic requirements of food, water and shelter.

Dogs are NOT children …. Dogs are not human … Dogs are not ‘babies’ in fur coats.

Fit and healthy dogs, zipped up in high-end fashion bags, strapped into strollers or (even worse) a swaddled inside a papoose; dogs in sandals or sneakers, baseball caps and hoodies; dogs in moses baskets with teething rings and nappies (diapers) … The whole shebang  … Not a single aspect of this forced-existence (be it conditioned acceptance or otherwise), reflects the necessity, mirrors the reality or honours the individuality of the dog for the inspirational, momentary, life appreciating species it is.

As a human being, these are YOUR desires .. YOUR life-voids and/or emotional vacancies, which YOU feel compelled to fill. You have the means, the time and the ability, and so you do; and, just as a 4 year old child with a doll, you project and animate according not to which sits before you, but that which you wish were sitting before you. The disgusting trend of miniaturisation, glares like a neon example of creating breeds for needs, not breeds for deeds. No dog draws benefit from sitting inside of a teacup – But “Awwww … It’s just TOO DARN CUTE ….”

To answer the (lamely disguised) accusatory, rhetorical question “Would you do that to your child?” … No more than I would feed my child from bowls, watch them writhe in a state of blissful intoxication in a squirt of putrid waste, walk them on a lead and collar, turn them out at midnight to defecate in a hedgerow, have them sleep on a blanket in a corner or bark at guests … No, I would not. But then, my answer stems not from a personal need or an emotive, anthropomorphic distortion of fact, but from logical understanding of a simple conundrum – That being ‘Are dogs and human infants comparable’? No they are not, nor will they ever be. No Puppy has ever been born a ‘Fur baby’, just as no human being has ever been born a ‘fur mom in-waiting’. Both are the whimsical, fantastic wishes and projections of a human being carrying the (sad) burden of either need or grief. A ‘fur baby’ is the ‘My Little Pony’ of the needy adult. It is nothing more than a wilful (and entirely unnecessary) extension of neoteny, ‘just because I can’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) http://www.petsmart.com/dog/toys/nylabone-puppy-teething-pacifier-puppy-toy-zid36-11108/cat-36-catid-100118

(2) http://www.alldogboots.com/Dog-Leg-Warmers-s/77.htm

(3) http://www.teacupspuppies.com/dogbed9.htm

(4) http://www.alldogboots.com/Dog-Sandals-s/57.htm

(5) http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR6-1/turner.html

(6) Lindsay, S.R (2000) Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training, Vol 1, p390, Iowa, Blackwell.

(7) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-sense-of-smell.html

(8) http://petsupplies.about.com/od/dogodors/tp/Four-Ways-to-Make-Your-Dog-Smell-Better.htm?utm_term=perfume%20for%20dogs&utm_content=p1-main-1-title&utm_medium=sem&utm_source=msn&utm_campaign=adid-933f86aa-d7d6-42a3-913c-17192657513f-0-ab_msb_ocode-29581&ad=semD&an=msn_s&am=broad&q=perfume%20for%20dogs&dqi=perfume%2Bfor%2Bdogs&o=29581&l=sem&qsrc=999&askid=933f86aa-d7d6-42a3-913c-17192657513f-0-ab_msb

(9) http://www.masterpluspro.co.uk/tag/dynavet-masterplus-pro

(10) http://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/its-dog-how-plan-puppy-shower/37535

“So will my dog have to wear the E-collar forever?”

95% would be a conservative estimate as to the proportion of clients asking this question when we discuss advancing responsiveness with a remote training collar. In which case, it is obviously a concern people have and therefore worthy of an explanation!

The answer is open entirely to individual preference, with some people opting to use the collar as semi-permanent jewellery, others choosing to have their dog ‘on-collar’ only when walking/working/exercising in new, unknown or distraction rich environments, and then there are those who aim for the target of ‘naked reliability’, meaning a responsive dog without any training tool or control equipment. Personally (and for Take The Lead Dog Training Ltd) the goal is ALWAYS the latter option, to have a dog responding without the need for physical prompting.

‘You tube’ is bursting with remote collar demonstration videos, which is fabulous in the fact that it is the most persuasive medium in terms of actually demonstrating fact over fiction – It is extremely difficult to peddle a myth (e-collars are cruel/barbaric/lazy/painful etc etc) when your audience is provided with an on-hand library, containing hundreds of thousands of recorded examples to the contrary. Unfortunately, most of these recordings (including several of our own) succeed in depicting responsive, happy and confident dogs, yet they are all still wearing the remote training collar. Now in terms of promoting fact over the fallacies surrounding remote assistance tools, this image is of obvious advantage – dog ‘on-collar’ is everything we would wish for them to be in terms of their  happiness; their welfare – but there are woefully fewer examples of (e-collar trained) ‘naked’ dogs in stimulus-rich environments, displaying the same levels of freedom and responsiveness. Consequently, the average pet owner (quite rightly) concludes that once ‘on-collar’, forever ‘on-collar’, but this is not true.

Even on professional training forums there is disagreement between individuals and businesses when it comes to ‘on or off’? Perhaps the most frequently expressed opinion being that is does the dog no harm whatsoever to remain on-collar during outdoor work, or in situations conducive to the elicitation of the original problematic-behaviour for which the collar was initially introduced. The collar provides insurance, it is a reliable safety feature, an ‘invisible lead’ … I cannot argue with any of this. Is it ‘bad’ to keep a dog on-collar? No, of course not, no more than it is wrong to keep a reactive dog muzzled or for an elderly/infirm owner to opt for a harness to control pulling over rehoming their beloved companion. But .. here’s the thing .. A muzzle is insurance (and in my personal opinion a basket-muzzle is entirely responsible) however, (in itself) it does nothing to address the underlying reason for it’s necessity. A harness too, often achieves the required goal of reducing pulling, but in itself it only does so through prevention.

A remote training collar is no different. If we feel the need to keep our dog ‘on-collar’ for reasons of added insurance, a ‘belt and braces’ approach, then it may be  worth asking ourselves why that is? Is our dog actually ‘trained’, or are we (via the training aid) simply ‘blocking/thwarting’ behaviours we find unacceptable under circumstances during which, our control fails? If (we are honest with ourselves and) the latter is true, then it may just be that we need to put in more effort in ensuring that the dog TOTALLY understands that the most important of all behaviours (recall, leave it, stay) are non-negotiable in any situation, for (by this defence) we admittedly have an unreliable dog.

Again, does it really matter if a dog remains on-collar for a duration (or life)? No, of course not. Is it responsible to have a means of directing a potential for welfare-compromising responses, back onto a known (safer) response? Yes, of course it is, but we must then also accept the fact that the dog is responsive not to our verbal signal, but to the touch of the collar.  The more reliant we become on the physical sensation as a means of control, the more conditioned our dog becomes to the same stimulus. Provided we are aware of this fact and pleased to accept it, then that’s absolutely fine. After all, no harm comes to the dog because of it, it is simply a matter of what you set yourself in terms of personal/professional goals.

I prefer to work towards naked-responding. If both my dogs and I become reliant on physical sensations as prompts, then I am as much a wearer of the collar as my dogs.

As a guide, I would suggest that if your dog has been wearing a remote trainer for a couple of months in various environments and has proven reliable in their responses – Without any need for guidance from the collar – Then it is time to trust both your dog and yourself by removing the tool. It is not as though we cannot reintroduce the tool just as quickly as it is removed, but we can never know the strength of our training efforts and the dog’s understanding until the dog works naked. I fully support and whole-heartedly endorse the intermittent re-introduction of the training collar from time to time, be it in a consequence-reinforcement sense to strengthen association (i.e. ‘sheep are STILL hot’), or to have the collar mean nothing to the dog in preparation for training/modifying further behaviours. If you are unsure as to whether your dog will still respond to your signal under highly distracting situations, then do not take the risk until you are! If we allow our dogs to rehearse non-responding, then non-responding will become a strong and favourable option in the given context. By affording the dog opportunity to ‘sometimes’ successfully fail to respond to a given signal, then we are allowing them to develop a random schedule of reward for non-responding. Just as intentional ‘random-reward schedules’ make responding more likely when training, so the same is true when we permit random-responding – We weaken our significance and strengthen the dog’s immediate preference.

So there you have it! A brief overview on the permanence or removal of remote training collars with the key reasons for staying ‘on’, or working towards ‘off’-collar reliability.

Thoughts and comments welcomed.

 

Chasing Orgasms!

s-FEMALE-ORGASM-large

Extremely difficult to out-reward!

This thread looks to question and evaluate the efficacy of positive reinforcement (training solely with reward – zero correction) when faced with an existing self-rewarding behaviour, something that is performed entirely for the pleasure of the performance in itself. Although tongue-in-cheek, the ‘orgasm’ analogy is used to empathetically illustrate the point – something which gives a Very powerful, pleasurable internal consequence for no apparent extrinsic gain. There is no reason whatsoever for an orgasm to exist, unless perhaps one considers the possibility that evolution has placed the human animal on a random reinforcement schedule in order to keep the associative behaviour (reproduction) strong; though this has been hotly contested. (There also exists the theory that the contractions lend a ‘helping hand’ to reproductive fluids however this too is           neither proven, nor relevant!)

For those readers unfamiliar with the concept of reinforcement schedules, the point i’m making is that an animal is far more likely to perform an action for which they often receive little or no reward, but sometimes get very well rewarded, than they are for an action which always earns an expected reward. In never knowing which performance will earn the desired reward, the animal tries harder, for longerThe same is true of the addicted gambler (excuse the cliched analogy)!

So rewarding is this behaviour that for many humans it has become more powerful than the intended consequence, the result; the child. Some might appear to be ‘chasing’ the orgasm.

Here’s the artistic bit (wink!) – What when the chase ‘becomes’ the orgasm?

Enter the dog!

When a dog engages in a self-reinforcing (intrinsically rewarding) behaviour, it does so for nothing more than the internal reward on offer for doing so. Examples include idiopathic barking (of unknown cause), excessive digging, ‘humping’ inanimate objects (also common in bitches), rolling in fox faeces or carrion, and chasing.

Yes, that’s right; chasing.

I’m sorry but you are obviously wrong. ‘Chasing’ forms part of the predatory pattern in dogs. It is a step within a chain of steps aimed at catching prey. Therefore it is performed in order to catch prey, not as an end in itself. The dog is trying to catch something and that is what drives the behaviour, the reward of the capture. Your synopsis therefore, is incorrect.

It is true, absolutely true that so far as knowledge permits, the chase is a step within a sequence of steps to take the dog from a state of hunger to satiated, whether for itself or conspecifics. However, the point to make is that there is a huge underestimation amongst owners, trainers and those who rant from their self-constructed platforms of moral superiority regarding the intrinsic strength of this behaviour. Once released, once rehearsed, chasing is far beyond ‘fun’. It is certainly beyond existing solely within the chain of prey acquisition.

It is much more than that.

For a great many dogs, chasing becomes their raison d’être; their everything. They spend their walks seeking out chase objects, targets (known as ‘triggers’ or ‘releasing mechanisms’ for Fixed Action Patterns), forever watchful; almost hyper vigilant. Sadly however, their ‘addiction’ carries ‘fallout’ which is detrimental to their welfare as they shift from pleasant companion to a nuisance, requiring a life of constant anxious supervision, environmental isolation, long lines and verbal corrections.

Is this in the interest of the animal? Is frustration ( through prevention ) more humane than education? Does restriction equal freedom, or do restriction and prevention enhance frustration, thereby contributing to a reduction in welfare?

Allow me to use a fictitious example of a dog which chases squirrels in a local park. The dog is 3 years old whatever-breed, and has enjoyed and rehearsed this behaviour over a two and a half year period. For the owner, it has mostly been non-problematic. The squirrels always escape and for the most part, the dog will recall successfully, having had a solid foundation in reward-based recall training. It’s only when she sees a squirrel or is engaged in chasing after them that the recall falls apart. She loves food, but isn’t too interested in it when she’s out and about, preferring instead to explore and enjoy her surroundings. She loves chasing balls and anything thrown, but she will invariably either take the ball with her as she tears after a squirrel, or ignore the ball altogether. Once she has finished her chasing of squirrels, the recall responsiveness returns to full strength and the ball-play is suddenly fun again.

Okay so far …

Recently, the owner reports that the dog has started heading off for a particular area of the park (associated with chasing squirrels) the moment the lead is unclipped, even though there are no squirrels in sight. The young dog takes off, shutting down to recalls until she has scoured the hunting grounds and satisfied herself that there are no squirrels present. Sometimes this can seem like an age, but in reality is probably only 5 minutes or so. Over the past 6 months or so, she (the dog), has also started chasing local cats along the fence line at home whilst barking franticly at them, rather embarrassingly this includes bedtime toilet trips and the neighbours have begun to mention her ‘guarding’ the garden.

In these situations too, the recall goes completely out of the window.

In two and a half years and over the course of hundreds of chases, the dog has never caught either a squirrel or a cat.

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Although fictitious, this story is played out for real thousands of times the world over.

When you actually look at it, it defies what many believe to be Universal laws of psychology and learning, that (all things being equal) any behaviour which results in reward or an improvement in the current state of affairs will likely be repeated under similar conditions. Conversely, any behaviour which results in a worsening of one’s state of affairs will incrementally reduce with confirmation of such a worsening following repeated experiences.

In a nutshell – don’t repeat behaviours which result in bad consequences but repeat those from which you benefit!

It is essentially this process which drives learning and therefore training, however there are exceptions; the orgasm being one and chasing being another. Although world’s apart, each is identical in the fact that neither results (nor needs to result) in measurable extrinsic reward, yet both are at the very pinnacle of the reward pyramid at that specific moment in time, in that specific context and for that specific individual. What I am essentially saying is that for both, at that specific moment, the environment is holding all the aces in terms of reward potential.

We are now free to dispense with the orgasm analogy, for it is benign and therefore negates any modification requirement, or further discussion! For a trainer following the ‘laws’ of learning in their entirety, this canine ‘problem’ too, is a non-problem  …. How  do we deal with a potentially hazardous behaviour for which the reward is not extrinsically acquisitive, but internally incomparable? We alter the internal, associative emotional state. Simple. That which felt good, no longer feels so. But that which formerly felt inadequate by comparison, has now gained a reward capacity beyond anything previously experienced!

What follows is a list of the most commonly cited ‘advice’ received by client owners of committed chase junkies from people or businesses who market themselves as ‘trainers’ or ‘behaviourists’ … These are NOT fictitious:

  1. Keep the dog on a lead – avoid 
  2. Walk somewhere else – avoid
  3. Carry ‘higher value’ rewards* – impossible
  4. Go back to training in a sterile environment and expose your dog to the chase-provoking stimulus in a more controlled manner – avoid
  5. Re-home the dog – avoid
  6. Euthanise the dog – avoid
  7. Work on your recall more – avoid/blame
  8. Become more rewarding/animated for the dog – avoid/blame
  9. Say “uh uh” or “Bad dog” and withhold reward for failing to respond straight away – absurd
  10. Consider drugs (for the dog) – mask/avoid
  11. “Premack” the chase behaviour … Essentially, reward the dog for recalling by allowing her to return to chasing – GREAT for vehicles livestock and joggers ….. – absurd, wishful thinking
  12. Positively reinforce an incompatible behaviour … (Tell the dog to ‘sit’ when she see’s a squirrel and reward sitting with food/toys etcetera) …. And if they choose not to comply? – NEVER correct a failure – as per 11
  13. (This is a personal favourite of mine in terms of total b*** sh** clueless academic staples) … Put the behaviour (chasing) under ‘stimulus control’!!! … What this essentially means is, use reward to teach the dog only to chase when you command it to chase, but do NOT, EVER, use correction to achieve this aim .. – as per 11 and 12
  14. DRO …. Differential Reinforcement of Other behaviours …. Meaning – reward everything and anything other than chasing, but NEVER correct chasing …. as per 11, 12 and 13 
  15. Have more lessons – avoid at my gain and your loss
  16. Book a block session – ditto
  17. Buy my book – speechless

* I HATE this stock-answer because there is no higher value reward!

What soon becomes glaringly obvious when reading this (absolutely true) list of advice, is that nowhere at all does anyone suggest correcting the chase in respect of certain triggers. Not one person is prepared to state the most blatantly obvious answer to the problem … Change the perceived consequence.

Once more, the ‘Laws of learning’ (Thorndike’s Law) …. “any behaviour which results in a worsening of one’s state of affairs will incrementally reduce with confirmation of such a worsening following repeated experiences.” [My interpretation – yet absolutely the same].

So why why why why why why why …. Are so many ‘professionals’ claiming the above 17 options as an answer to a problem, Yet not a single one can demonstrate the problem being cured with any of the above answers?

WHY?

Because it is a lie. Because it simply is not possible to achieve such an aim with such a dog with such prescriptive criteria (non-corrective).

If you read this post and think “I disagree, I have achieved that aim (non-chasing) with that dog (committed chaser) using those procedures (correction-free), and I have the video footage to prove it” (and I sincerely hope that someone does), then I will close both my mouth and my business and seek employment with you.

I look forward to your replies.

Quadrant training is all too often, entirely dependant on individual interpretation

I’ve always had an ‘issue’ with ‘training by quadrants’ … Not in doing it or understanding it, but with the ambiguity of it! I’ve discussed this to death with loads of people, yet never reached a satisfactory conclusion – Here’s an example of my issue with it:

I remove my jumping dog to another room if they jump up on guests, and release them once they are calm

The quadrant answer for what i’m doing here is negative punishment, I am removing the opportunity to self reward, something the dog enjoys by manipulating the environment*
Why then, am I not using positive punishment in the removal, by introducing isolation to a social animal which is simply demonstrating it’s sociability in a manner which is completely natural for the species?

*Obviously, if the protocol fails to stop the jumping i’m both wasting my time and either isolation is not punitive to my dog, or I am repeatedly punishing without effect. So does this then fit criteria for psychological abuse? Good old Wiki includes the following as a widely agreed example amongst clinicians of psychological abuse: “Dominant behaviours (eg. preventing someone from contacting their family)” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_abuse

Another ‘strain’ of abuse is “Denial” (as above), in that I am denying access to something which need not be on a physical level. Always smiling at three of my kids for effort, but never the fourth is denial, and it’s long term emotional developmental effects can clearly demonstrate it to be psychologically/emotional abusive.

Staying with the same example, at what point do we conclude that the punishment is ineffective and so becomes abusive? How many repetitions and over how long a timescale? What is the behavioural barometer?

Let us suppose the confined dog now begins to vocalise, either through barks or howls (which is absolutely likely)! We cannot release the howling animal through fear of training it to howl for attention rather than jump, so what do we do? Leave it to howl? Which quadrant are we operating under now? After all, we have purposely confined (or isolated) a social animal, the results of which have cause the animal to display vocal distress.

‘Quadrants’ try to catagorise everything into singular courses of action, trainer intent and canine reaction, whereas life beyond the sterility and manipulability of the laboratory does not allow for such precision (in my opinion – not a referenced piece of work)!

The same for Negative Punishment holds true for Positive Reinforcement when given closer examination. If we have something the animal desires be it on an emotional or physiological level, then the animal is demostrating a state of need. If we then manipulate this state to our advantage (which is R+ – positive reinforcement – training in a nutshell), then we generally frustrate more behavioural responses than we reinforce; by working in accordance with our criteria. For example:
I work on a ‘bow’ with my dog. He’s operant, but my stimulus control needs work and as such he starts ‘throwing’ behaviours as we begin to train. First a ‘sit’, then a ‘spin’, then a ‘back up’ etcetera. I ignore everything but begin to mark-treat approximations of the ‘bow’ i’m after.

If we suppose that my dog is hungry (he’s working for food), and we also accept that hunger is indicative of a state of need, then am I not knowingly maintaining that negative state by preventing access to the resource in choosing not to reward his best efforts? Here’s where many people would claim that this is dissecting the quadrants too much, that emotive states are different to observable behaviours. So why not look to Operant Conditioning, to the quadrants for the answer?

Is my dog learning progressively to ‘bow’? YES. Then his efforts are being positively reinforced as their frequency is increasing.

Is my dog learning progressively NOT to offer alternatives? YES. Then his efforts are being punished as evidenced by the reduction in their frequency.

I asked this question of Dr Sophia Yin on her blog a year or two ago. She told me that ‘on paper’, the argument is true. I don’t quite understand that? Truth isn’t contextual, truth is fact. It either exists or it does not?

For me (personally), quadrants are simply labels, an attempt by human beings to fulfill our desire to categorise control and compartmentalise life! But life is flow, it is a constant interplay of the quadrants depending on too many variables to even BEGIN to attempt listing them.

Anyone else have thoughts on this?