Sunday, October 19, 2014

BECAUSE I JUST CAN'T LET THIS STUFF GO UNANSWERED...

If you are expecting my promised post about police and aggression, please hang on to your hats. That will come Tuesday. Right now, though, I have to get on my soapbox for a few minutes to address an issue that just popped up.

A friend forwarded me a post that was on the Cesar's Way blog on October 17th. I'm not going to link to that post, but I will quote some sections here to try and correct a few misstatements that need to be answered quickly.

First off, please remember-I am not just talking out of by rear end here. I deal with LOTS of "red zone" dogs (and hate that term almost as much as I hate using fake mystical crap to qualify how a good dog trainer works), many of which would eat most trainers for lunch. In fact, they have eaten someone for lunch-they have killed a person. Dogs that Cesar has never met.

But I'm not interested in playing "my dogs are badder than yours". That is juvenile and the mark of someone you and your dog should RUN FROM.

Instead, let's look at a couple statements and the behavioral realities.

1) " A red zone dog is only interested in escalating the attack and nothing else." FALSE. A dog that is in the "red zone" is a dog that is responding to something it perceives as a threat. All any organism in full attack mode is interested in, unless it is trying to kill something to eat, is making a perceived threat go away.

If the organism is looking for space, then it is only looking to get space. If it is protecting resources, it is trying to secure the resources by driving the invader away. If it is protecting its young, same thing-drive the threat away. The organism only escalates as far as is minimally necessary. Any more is a waste of energy.

In a social dispute, the organism is only interested in using the minimum force needed to solve the social dispute. After all, if all (or most) social disputes ended in one animal wounded seriously or dead the species would die out. Dog-dog aggressive display is normal and is a form of ritualized combat designed to protect the survival of the breed, not to leave bodies in its wake.

To say that a dog exhibiting an aggressive display is only "interested" in escalating an attack is scientifically just wrong. Given another way out, a dog-or pretty much anything else-is only acting to achieve long term survival. The less energy expended, the less injury received, the less risk of death, the better.

2) "You cannot stop aggression with praise and cookies." First off, someone with a true understanding of what aggression is (hint: it's one of many behaviors. Period. Read Tuesday to find out more) would realize that aggression is not a disease to be stopped. Unwarranted aggression is an undesirable behavior pattern that needs to be redirected. Redirection can definitely be accomplished by using praise and cookies. I do it every day. Interrupt the unwanted behavior-before it becomes an avalanche-and redirect the behavior to an incompatible behavior. Reinforce (with praise, cookies, etc). Rinse and repeat. So yes you can.

3) "Remember: dogs want their pack leaders (human and canine) to tell them how to behave and what they can or cannot do." Mostly wrong. Dogs are hardwired for many behaviors, and are taught in the litter many more. Dogs just want to have their five needs met (see last week). To exist in a home environment dogs need to have boundaries set-but that has nothing to do with force. That involves showing a dog the behavior that is proper and reinforcing that behavior. You don't want the dog on the sofa? Don't beat him. Instead, call him off the sofa, tell him that "Off" is good, and reinforce him sitting quietly on the floor. Or on the chair, if that's what you want. Show and tell is so easy even kindergartners can do it.

4) "Where people get in trouble, though, is in using positive reinforcement without realizing it by showing a dog affection when it is not in a calm, submissive state." OK....point for mostly right. Lots of people unwittingly positively reinforce bad behavior. For an easy example: the person who comes to me with a small dog that is snapping and snarling in their arms as they pet it and say "Oh, Fluffy won't bite. She just does this" while petting Fluffy and telling her that she is a good girl.

Wrong. Fluffy is going to bite the stuffing out of anything or anyone that comes too close because the owner has positively reinforced the animal to display this behavior. So yes, here the inappropriate application of reinforcement has produced a problem-guess that shows just how effective positive reinforcement is. It has taken what should have been a social animal and created an animal that shows behavior counter to its own needs and drives. And yes, this produces an issue that I have to fix.

But the big gap in the above statement is that the dog is not in a "calm, submissive state." Get it straight folks: submission has NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. A dog can be in a calm, relaxed state without submission entering into the situation at all.  Submission is something that occurs in dog-dog social interaction. It is part of how dogs allocate resources and access to certain things. It is not the do-all and be-all that the male dominated, hierarchical society of early behavioral sciences insisted it was. Modern research show that canid groups are more democratic and less firmly stratified than we ever suspected. And ultimately - YOUR DOG DOESN'T THINK YOU ARE A DOG (again, see next post). Your dogs don't get together at night and discuss the issue "OK. When Dad shows some weakness, we take the fridge." This is nonsense that has been dispelled by responsible research. Time to put this "dominate your dog" garbage to bed once and for all.

So back to the post: poor or incorrect information scattered among facts is a really sneaky thing. Most  of the story sounds solid, so we buy the whole farm. But we have to use critical thinking skills and examine every piece. When one understands positive reinforcement and studies the basics of behavior it leads to realizing that positive, science based training is the way to go. It ain't magic, it ain't whispering, and anyone can do it. I recognize and value the contributions Cesar has made to the popularization of dog training. I applaud anyone's efforts that get people and their dogs engaged and spending high quality time together. I only wish that people would understand the value of positive, science based methods and would discard outdated methods based on fear, force, and misunderstanding.