Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For the New Year: resolutions and wishes and time.

This is the time of year when people go around wishing you all sorts of things, and then expecting you to make great resolutions about what you will accomplish in the New Year. Of course, we all know most wishes and resolutions are gone as quickly as the high cirrus clouds borne on the jet stream.

Next week we will get back to the serious stuff, particularly how your dog assesses life, their environment, and how you can work within this framework to keep Fluffy secure and why bad things are bad...and how being a jerk doesn't work.

But for now, I want to pass along a few wishes and maybe a resolution or two.  Simple resolutions are more likely to stick. After all, less effort = more success.

Here are my simple resolutions to make the upcoming year more enjoyable for both of you.

Resolve to teach your dog ONE THING. It doesn't matter what. Just one thing. It may be to sit when you ask, or walk on a leash without dragging you like a mule plowing a field. You might teach Franklin to shake hands, or roll over. Teach Sassy to look at you while walking whenever she sees the neighborhood cat they hate so she learns to recover from distraction and walk calmly. Teach ONE THING.

Resolve to try ONE NEW ACTIVITY with your dog. Agility, fly ball, obedience, nose work, dancing...there are a huge number of activities that you can try with your dog. Try one. Any one. Do one thing that involves both of you. At least once.

Do something for ONE DOG that is more than forwarding sad, tragic requests on the Internet. Forwarding and networking takes up a lot of time and makes a lot of people feel better, and may actually connect people and dogs in need, but GET OFF YOUR CHAIR. Leave the computer for a few minutes and do something. Drop off a bag of food at a rescue (and donating remotely doesn't count). Take a single day and walk one dog, any dog, at a shelter. Take brownies to your Vet's office. Take cookies to Animal Control to let them know that even if they aren't perfect you appreciate the things they do right. One time in the next year get out of the house, and out of your comfort zone, and do something for ONE DOG.

Learn one new thing ABOUT your dog. Read about body language. Look up the history of dogs and humans-it goes back a long way. Watch one training video and then decide how that particular trainer is full of nonsense and YOUR DOG is better than that. Ask your Vet about one thing going on inside your dog that you don't understand. Read a blog about pets by someone you hate and use it to find your own better way.

Now for my (and Petey's) New Year's wishes for you and your companion.

I wish for you and your dog good health, physical and emotional. I wish for the bond between you to grow stronger through the year.

I wish for you and your dog to find one new challenge this year. One new adventure, one new experience. Take your dog for an ice cream cone. Take them to hike a park you have never explored. Walk or jog a dog-and-owner 5K for a cause. You both could use time off the couch.

I wish for you good surprises and joy. I wish for you adventure and quiet time together. If you have an older dog I wish for peace and comfort and ease in their last years, and a quiet, restful passing if they need to move along.

I wish you snuggles and fetching and tug toys and late night barking at invisible ghosts (they are tricky those ghosts-a dog's gotta be watching all the time!) and a few (not too many) holes dug in your yard after evil moles. I wish belly rubs and cookies and chasing of tails (you should try it-even if your tail is too short). And if you have the chance I wish you puppy breath and tiny paws on the floor and puddles and chasing butterflies.

Above all I wish for you and your dog the gift of time. We have so few years with our dogs that we need to steal a few extra moments when we can. I wish for you to find a few of those extra moments to steal, and steal them greedily. Moments not squandered on distractions. Moments on the couch and in the car and on the trail and sitting curled up. Moments looking at your dog in wonder and in real life, not just snapchats and vines and pictures on a screen. Moments interacting, not just observing. These moments are moments invested, not spent. These moments are the snips and snorts in between all the other stuff in your life. That's what we and they are here for.

I wish you wishes granted and promises kept and intentions followed up, even if just once. That one time will live on long after for both of you.

These are my best wishes for you all. Peace, pets, and good sniffs.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Understanding perceptions.

It happens suddenly some times.

We are out, or at home, with our Wookie-like companion (yes, this is Star wars release week), and everything is going swimmingly well. People are greeting the Wookie, our Wook is happy and loving the attention, getting pats from strangers...and suddenly Wook gives someone the look and backs away. We don't see a problem. We get defensive and tell Wookie to go say hello, and Wook responds by backing away more, and maybe even growling or raising a lip to show just the hint of teeth. We get upset. Maybe we even scold Wook, and amid profuse showers of apologies we retreat, internally (or otherwise) cursing our stupid dog that chose that moment to go all Cujo. We don't get it, and we might assume the worst-our dog has suddenly developed "aggression problems."

What is going on here? Has the Wookie "snapped?"

Are we doomed?

The incident makes more sense if we understand that animals assess and classify everything they encounter into one of two default states: safe or unsafe.

Our pets, all animals (ourselves included), are constantly evaluating their environment, scanning for threats. It is not something we have developed as "sophisticated" organisms: this evaluation is a survival mechanism that goes back into what we call the reptilian brain, that part of us that is trying to keep us from being eaten. Dogs have this too. They are, no matter how brilliant and secure, constantly checking for survival cues. Threats may be learned or automatically recognized. The onrushing charge of a bigger animal makes hardwired sense. Dogs understand and avoid this threat. We also recognize big issue threats like this pretty well.

Some threats, or perceived threats, are less obvious. Our dogs have a fine sense of position and body language. Their hearing is different, with a far wider range than ours. Their sense of smell is phenomenal. They pick up cues the we miss. I have said before that I believe dogs think we are their “slow” relatives. Our dogs, while evaluating the environment, are constantly evaluating people too. They are calculating safe versus unsafe.

Cues, subtle and not so much, couple with socialization and training to form the basis for their decisions of how to act or react. We, as good owners, have taught them a lot of different things. We have taught them manners and guided their development as welcome additions to the social scene. We have nurtured their positive interactions with people and dogs, and given them clear but generous boundaries within which they are safe and secure.

But sometimes our Wookie picks up cues that we miss. We may never know just what they are: it could be the scent of something that lingers around a person. It could be small movements that don’t add up for Wookie. It may be pheromones that we cannot possibly detect. After all, dogs can detect chemical imbalances like a pending seizure. We only consciously pick up a tiny fraction of those cues, but have you ever met someone who just gave you the willies? That. Exactly. Our best buddy the Wook has picked up…something.

Just because there is something strange in the air, Wookie doesn’t get a free pass to be a jerk. We do demand a certain level of civility. No lunging, snapping, or acting like a wild thing towards people. We can, though, pay attention to the Wookie’s actions, and reactions, and we can respect Wook’s space. Remember that we talked about “Minding the gap” several posts back? If not, take a second and go check out that post here.

Minding the gap and respecting our buddy’s space is critical when dear Wookie shows that something is off. Forcing contact and the invasion of Wookie’s personal space doesn’t accomplish anything other than stressing him out-and maybe setting him up for future problems.

If you place your Wookie in a social situation and he tries to tell you he is uncomfortable, respect that. First, as Douglas Adams said, “DON’T PANIC!”. Don’t allow Wookie to respond with force, but allow Wookie to maintain his space.  Redirect him into a safe, quiet behavior and respect his reaction. Be a buffer between Wookie and the person he is reacting to. Ask them to give Wook his space. Tell them it’s not personal, but don’t push the issue. Remember when Wookie is calm to reinforce that response. He may well relax enough to reevaluate his perception of the person and decide to solicit contact after he sees your reaction is stable and calm.

We must remember always that our perceptions and our companions’ perceptions can be profoundly different. Acknowledge this, respect this, and pay attention.

Personally, if my dog reacts badly to a particular person, I tend to believe the dog.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

We are always looking backwards.

The late and sorely missed comedian Mitch Hedburg had a way of boiling things down to the their elements. One of my favorite of his shticks was about a guy that showed Mitch a picture of himself when he was younger. Mitch's response was "Every picture of you is a picture of you when you were younger."

After the laugh you think a minute: yep, every picture is a picture of you when you were younger. Pictures snap moments in time, but they are always moments that are gone. No one has ever gotten a picture of their older self. We don't get to look ahead, which is probably a good thing for the most part.

Yet we are asked to predict, to look ahead, all the time with animals. We administer a rank of tests that we then try to present our results as predictive of what any specific dog will or won't do in the future. We try to guess which dog will fit better in which family, or who is a better prospect for what project or program.

We have gotten pretty good. There are tools such as SAFER, Assess-a-Pet, and MatchUp, and others that are scattered all over. Each of these tests is used by owners and trainers and shelters to try and predict the behavior of a pet and whether that pet will or won't succeed in X situation. Sadly, some groups and shelters use these tests to determine, on a single trial, whether an animal lives or dies.

I use tests too. We all do. My difference is that I use the tests, generally, as diagnostic tools. I am called in when the dog has become a problem. My job is to find the problem (which may or may not be the problem described by the owner) and try to assemble a program that just might bring things back into a sustainable state. The big aims, of course are 1) try to keep people from being hurt, 2) try to keep the dog from being hurt, and 3) try and keep the family unit together-or if not, help them evaluate options.

Now don't get excited. None of us are "pure". I also work with a few programs where we select dogs that have varying problems and try to bring them up to "adoptable" status. So yes, I am guilty of trying to predict future behavior. We have to try and select dogs that show the ability to be kept in somewhat close quarters and are at least somewhat focused on human social contact. Sometimes we are dead on-and sometimes not so much. When we are on the "not so much" path, that is where we have to reach into that creative tool box (remember last post?) and look for solutions.

The point of this ramble is that we, as trainers and behavior consultants, have to remember the use and function of behavioral testing and evaluations. These, just like the pictures we have on our phones and on our walls, are snippets of time, locking in forever the situation at a specific moment. They don't give us a look at our futures selves. Yes, we can look at these pictures and get an idea where we have come from, something that helps us to make decisions in the future. But they are all in the past. Prediction, be it from a detailed scientifically rigorous test or from gazing into a darkened mirror, is inexact and mostly peering through the fog. The same goes for our clients. We get an imperfect idea of what their past is, and can capture an image in the moment, but our testing and evaluating is still peering through the fog. We need to remember to approach these tools as they are, and build from the information conveyed rather than accept an evaluation as a final, unwavering truth.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Don't be a cover band: The Dog Trainer as a Creative Professional.

For a number of reasons, most that have nothing to do with dogs, I have been reading quite a lot about people in creative fields and the challenges they face. Articles about process and design catch my eye, and "How they work" bits demand a click - even when they are sunk among other clear click-bait articles. Maybe I'm trying out new methods of being productive, and maybe...I'm just finding more productive looking ways of goofing off.

In either case, the whole idea of creative professional struck a chord, and it finally dawned on me why: we as dog trainers and behavior consultants are creative professionals!

As you scratch your head, wondering what we could possibly be creating when we work with a dog that growls at strangers, think about your job a moment. You are presented with a dog that needs training or, in my case, has developed behavior that is undesirable or even dangerous to the dog and to the humans involved. You look in your tool box and you find what you hope is the right wrench to fix the loose wing nut, and truck on your way. Case done, move along.

This strategy works for most situations, and there are plenty of trainers who operate adequately doing just that. After all, how much brain power and creative muse does it take to teach the average dog to walk on a leash? Most trainers have a "system" that they apply across the board. Many trainers have a nice set of nesting boxes that contain their sets of responses to the usual problems, and most times that works just fine. People and dogs are better off, lives are put back on track, and all is well in Pleasant Valley for the weekend.

But. That is not always what happens. There are plenty of dogs and people that don't fit big box training. Their special problem just doesn't quite match the program. Sure, a particular trainer may have a bunch of glowing reports from clients: "Oh, the trainer at Doggies R Friends did such a wonderful job teaching Flitzie how to sit and not poop her crate-I was at my wits end. Thanks to Progressive All-Around Animal Training Inc. International for their help." But what happens when little Flitzie needs more than a cookie-sit and some regular walkies to get her on track?

What happens is that owners often bounce around from trainer to trainer, never quite finding the right box to cram Flitzie into. And that is where the owner has to look for a trainer or behavior consultant that has become a creative professional.

To begin, according to much of the material that I have been reading, a creative professional (or at least a good one) is constantly looking for the hook, the particular angle that suits the client's needs. They are constantly recognizing differences, not just repeating successful similarities. If a client wants a template, a canned instant product, they can just Google it online and do it themselves. Instead, a good creative professional is looking outside regular templates. Not everyone is Coke, or Starbucks, or whatever. In the design world people like Aaron Draplin deliberately push beyond templates. Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative, puts it succinctly: "Cover bands don't change the world: don't be a cover band."

With truly challenging dogs and their problems, we can't be cover bands. We have to develop skills centered around problem recognition and solving. We must look deeper than whether Flitzie sits. We can't just say "You have to be the ALPHA" in an Arnold voice and hope everything will be fine. In the more challenging cases we have to look for the real problem, not just the issues the owner presents. We have to develop new ways of looking and asking questions. Sometimes we have to develop new answers for those questions. Sometimes we have to go beyond just new answers for old questions, but look for new questions. Although the statement is trite and worn, "if we always do what we have always done we will get what we have always gotten" is really true.

So what do we as trainers do when we run into these new issues? What about old issues that just don't respond as they always have? What do we do with that one dog that just didn't read the instruction book?

We become creative professionals.

We learn new looking. We constantly adapt. We push beyond the templates.  We dig deep in our toolboxes, and if we don't have the right tool we make one.

Making and creating are not just things that people with brush and pen and chisel and screen full of code do. Creating is not restricted to pouring over the sketches of a new product. Creating and making apply to our field, to our interactions with both dog and owner. There are times when the old ways and our comfortable habits are just not enough. We have to draw out new fonts, customize our User Interface, or even come up with a brand new operating system for a client population of one.

This is not wishful thinking. This is the future. This is our responsibility, our duty to our clients two and four legged. We may not be able to save all the animals in the world, but for one dog we can change the whole world.

Cover bands don't change the world. Don't be a cover band. Change someones world.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Frightened dog? Unadoptable? Not with this Angel.

In the absence of a recent post (mostly a mixture of sloth and being horribly tied up with my Master's Degree work-more on that later) I wanted to pass along the following article from The Dodo.com about one of my patients.

Angel is one of the dogs that my friends at Pit Sisters Rescue in Jacksonville, FL have been able to step in and save. Angel was fearful and withdrawn. Once she built some trust with me her real nature came to the fore: a loving, social and welcoming dog that needed someone to trust. Pit Sisters has stepped up for many dogs like Angel, and I have been honored to assist their mission. I am also very pleased that Pit Sisters has taken command of the TAILS (Training Animals and Inmates Life Skills) program here in north Florida. The animals in TAILS come from Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services and are dogs that are somewhat challenged in their life skills, challenges that have made them less likely to be adopted. Now, with the TAILS program, these dogs are learning manners and good behavior from inmates using positive reinforcement techniques. This training not only makes the dogs more adoptable, but the inmates learn patience, empathy, and skills they can use to make better life choices in the future.

So pending my next regular post, here is a success story. The original story can be found here

Pit Sisters is here:  Pit sisters Rescue

Dog So Scared At Shelter She Can’t Stop Shaking

By Christian Cotroneo

It was almost as if Angel could smell the despair.
Within moments of being dumped at a Florida animal shelter, she began shivering uncontrollably. Cowering and shaking, she was paralyzed by terror, unable even to lift her head.
In the video, the cries and barking in the background are deafening. This is what a dog looks like who just had everything in the world taken away from her. Only a year-and-a-half old, the latest resident at Putnam County Animal Control.
The video, posted on Facebook, was viewed more than a million times.
Among those viewers? Jen Deane, who runs animal welfare group Pit Sisters, sees Angels every day.
"I saw the video and immediately called about getting her rescued," Deane told The Dodo.
But had the world already sunk Angel? Was she beyond saving? When it comes to screening dogs, the group often relies on a canine aggression expert. When that expert paid Angel a visit at the shelter, she, well, exhibited very much the opposite of canine aggression.

"He absolutely loved her," Deane recalled. 
So Pit Sisters pulled Angel out of the shelter and found her a foster home, where she lived with other dogs. 
"She came out of her shell pretty quick once she was out of that shelter," Deane says.
And certainly, in just a short time with the organization, made her mark.

"We still keep in touch with her mom, who absolutely adores Angel. She's a very spoiled little girl right now."
Pit Sisters rescues countless dogs from shelters and dire situations across the country.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Use of Aversives in Dog Training

My last post included this, but in case the posers of the Internets block that one...here is the paper again, without links to Positively.com



James W. Crosby

Dog training methods and the question of animal welfare have become issues of major concern for pet owners and Applied Animal Behaviorists. The presence of trainers with marketable programs and the questions-and problems-that these trainers can raise has brought companion pet behavior widely into the public eye. The plethora of methods and the dissemination of non-scientific information over social media has increased the need for scientific evaluation of training methods and the effect of these methods on the welfare of our canine companions. Owners and Behaviorists are both concerned with the welfare of their charges, but there must be consideration for the intended effect of training. The focus of both groups ultimately is behavioral change. The owners want healthy, compliant companions. Are some methods better than others? Are particular training methods effective and humane?
Applied Animal Behaviorists bring the ability to apply scientific scrutiny to claims and methods. Scientific methods allow the assessment and quantification of the efficacy of training methods, and a better ability to establish the line between humane and cruel training tools.

Behavior can easily be defined as simply whatever an organism does. Eat, sleep, feed, move-behavior is simply what the organism is doing at any particular moment. Behavior has no intrinsic moral value. Good and bad are human values overlaid on behavior. Behavior is either productive or non-productive. Productive behavior results in the organism being able to achieve a goal. Non-productive behavior fails to achieve a goal. Productive behaviors are reinforced and, as such, remain. Non-productive behaviors tend not to be reinforced and fade.  Additionally, behavior can be considered as normal or abnormal. Normal behavior allows an organism to meet its needs.
In companion canines, owners typically seek to produce behavior that allows them to coexist at a level that the human is willing to at least tolerate, if not actually solicit. Behavior training is the process of teaching the dog the difference between appropriate or desired behavior and behaviors that are not wanted. This can be for specific skills such as sit on command, fetch an object, or walking calmly on a leash.
Dedalle (2103) explains the different methods of behavior modification and training: “(the method) can vary by their nature and occurrence: they can be the appearance or disappearance of appetent or aversive stimuli. It follows that there are 4 types of instrumental conditioning procedures: 2 types result in an increase in the rate of responses (positive reinforcement, R+: appearance of an appetent stimulus; negative reinforcement, R−: disappearance of an aversive stimulus) and 2 types result in a decrease (positive punishment, P+: appearance of an aversive stimulus; negative punishment, P−: disappearance of an appetent stimulus.”
This give us two methods of training: reinforcement based, or positive methods, and aversive or punishment based methods. Both of these methods can be used to either produce a desired behavior or to reduce problematic behavior.
Hetts (1999) provides a clear definition of positive reinforcement. “This outcome can be defined as the occurrence or presentation of something pleasant immediately following a behavior that will make that behavior more likely to occur in the future.” This is most commonly seen in the use of food (a primary reinforcer) to reinforce a behavior. A dog is cues to sit. The dog sits. A treat is presented immediately upon producing the sit. The sit, if coupled often enough with the reinforcer, becomes a more likely behavior upon the presentation of the cue.
In training canines there are a number of commonly used positive reinforcers:

Food or treats
Physical touch
Dog-dog social contact
Direct human attention
Verbal marker
Complex activity (problem solving)
Learning tasks
Free activity or exercise

An alternative to positive reinforcement is negative reinforcement. This involves the deprivation of factors that the organism either desires or needs. Negative reinforcement ranges from the fairly benign such as removing attention from a dog that exhibits unwanted behavior or social isolation (a “time out”) to deprivation of essential needs, such as the food deprivation regularly practiced in the training of marine mammals.
Punishment based training, on the other hand, is centered upon the idea that an organism will act to avoid pain or unpleasant circumstances. An aversive stimulus is presented to the organism that results in the reduction of the associated behavior. The animal learns that the specific aversive stimulus is coupled with the particular behavior. The targeted behavior becomes unsuccessful to the organism, and the organism learns to avoid the behavior.
Punishment can also be used to effect non-compliance to a cued behavior. The dog is cued to perform a behavior (that it hopefully understands). The dog fails to comply, and as a result a punisher is applied. The dog learns to comply to avoid the aversive applied.
Common punishers used in dog training include:
Verbal command (NO!)
Pain (prong collar)
Loud noise
Electric shock
Physical force
“Alpha Roll”

Punishment has a substantial chance of unintended side effects. Trust and a positive relationship is threatened by such methods. According to Overall (2007), “Such tools ‘work’ by engendering fear, pain, and distrust, and in doing so they cause long-term damage that make dogs more reactive, less trusting, and less able to reach their full potential in their partnership with humans, no matter what form that partnership takes. These are not my opinions: these are the findings from the scientific literature, and this is an essential point.”
Other problem issues arise in conjunction with the application of punishment to achieve a behavior. In dogs, aggression directed towards another dog or directed towards a human is particularly concerning.
“While on the issue of dog training, one of the most practically significant findings found in this research has to do with the effect that the type of training has on a dog's risk of aggression. There have been a number of studies that have reported that training procedures based on punishment can have negative consequences (Coren 2012). In this study the researchers defined such punitive training techniques as including things like physical punishment (hitting the dog), verbal punishment (shouting), electrical or citronella collars, choke chains and jerking on the leash, prong collars, water pistols, electric fences and so forth. Such punitive techniques apparently increase the risk of aggression in dogs. They are associated with a 2.9 times increased risk of aggression to family members, and a 2.2 times increased risk of aggression to unfamiliar people outside of the household.” (Coren 2014)
Side effects of punishment may include physical injury (Becker 2014).  Whereas positive reinforcement also acts to allow an organism to achieve its needs, punishment may interfere with the ability of an organism to meet basic needs, at least on a short term basis.


The effects of using choke chain or prong collars may be immediately life threatening. Dr. Karen Becker (2014) illustrates one possible outcome from the practice of “hanging” a dog to correct problematic behavior in training.
“The owners of a 1-year-old German Shepherd dog brought their pet into a veterinary clinic for incoordination (loss of muscle coordination) and circling to the left behavior. The owners were honest in admitting the dog had been "disciplined" a few hours earlier by being suspended off the ground with a choke collar for almost a full minute. When the owner lowered the dog to the ground, the poor animal was panicked and soon lost consciousness.
At the veterinary hospital, a neurologic examination uncovered severe disorientation and left-sided pleurothotonus, a rare disorder in which there is prolonged and repetitive involuntary contraction of muscles resulting in jerking, twisting and abnormal posturing. Reflexes were reduced in all the dog's limbs, and he was blind. He was also suffering from nystagmus (involuntary eye movements) and paralysis in the left side of his face.
The dog's symptoms indicated a multifocal brain injury, and an MRI showed severe brain swelling due to the prolonged lack of blood flow to the head.
The final diagnosis was strangulation. Due to the extent of the injuries, the dog was euthanized.”
Negative effects of strangulation and “choking out” by use of a chain type collar extend beyond the physical injuries. Emotional damage due to the extreme stress is clear.
“Because oxygen deprivation is a survival threat of the highest urgency, however, the homeostasis-restoration process is not limited to a purely physical response, but also utilizes very strong emotions such as panic and terror. This is why humans-and by all evidence animals-that may be trapped underwater and running out of breath are infused with extremely intense fear and panic, which compels immediate and powerful corrective action.” (McMillan, 2005)
Yet these extreme physical methods are not necessary, even in the specific, high stress environment of police work. In contrast, the Metropolitan London (England) Police Force does not permit the use of choke or prong collars. During my visit to and work with the Met Canine Unit during June, 2014, their policy was explained and illustrated. The Met handlers will, in fact, be subject to termination if they are found to be practicing the use of such tools. Despite these limitations the Canine Unit of the Met is consistently ranked as one of the top performing police canine units in the world.

Electronic collars are designed to produce a measured electrical pulse that is delivered to the dog through electrodes placed tightly against the skin of the dog’s neck on the inside surface of a collar. The electrical impulses are controlled by one of two methods; automatically by sensors that are either triggered by proximity to a boundary (usually established by a wire that emits a short range radio signal) or, in the case of bark prevention collars, by the vibration of a third sensor probe that contacts the dog’s throat near the vocal cords, or by a human-controlled remote transmitter. Both methods usually provide a means of adjusting the level of shock given. In the automatic modes the shock usually escalates based on time, proximity (in the case of electrical fences), and sometimes on the number of “offenses”. As an example of the latter, an electronic anti-bark collar manufactured by Innotek Inc. starts with a warning beep when the dog barks. If the dog barks again within eight (8) seconds of the beep the collar automatically administers an increasing level of shock until the dog stops barking. (Innotek manufacturers’ instructional materials).
On remote training collars directly controlled by the owners the level of stimulus is directly set and adjustable by the handler. The stimulus can also be selected for a momentary impulse (less than 0.5 seconds) or a continuous shock. The continuous mode, in most manufacturers’ models, has an override that stops the impulse after about eight (8) seconds of continuous application. (Innotek manufacturer’s instructional material, Dobbs 1993, Polsky 1994).

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

Applying the five freedoms to the practicality of dog training, we must look at what our goal is and whether the method of reaching it falls within these guidelines. Our goal (the stated purpose of training) is to elicit or change behavior. Our responsibility is to assess whether our training methods fall within the boundaries of the Five Freedoms, and thereby within the parameters of positive animal welfare.
To change behavior and to assess change of behavior requires description of the behavior and quantification of the change from baseline. To do this the Applied Animal Behaviorist needs to define the behaviors desired. To evaluate whether a method used is humane also requires quantification. The observation that a behavior occurs is not enough to assess the appropriateness of the training method. The overall status and condition of the dog, and the dog’s interactions with humans and other dogs help establish whether the method is humane or not. Measures have been developed that allow the AAB to assess whether the dog’s behavior is normal or abnormal. These measures include:
Willing human contact
Acceptance gestures
Fear indicators/body language
Positive body language
Warning vocalization
Gaze at owner
Brevity or absence of warning in threatened situations


Negative affective state (shutdown)

Illustrations of the presence of negative behavioral measures resulting from highly aversive training are documented. The use of electrical shock appears to carry more negative behavioral consequences than harsh physical training. For example, during free walking training, police service German shepherd dogs that previously wore a shock collar showed lower ear posture and more stress-related behaviors (lowering of body posture; high pitched yelps, barks, and squeals; avoidance; redirection aggression; tongue flicking) than dogs who never received collar shocks, although they were also trained with harsh methods (Schilder and Van der Borg, 2004).
Chemical support for the observed negative impact of aversive training methods, particularly electric shock, have also been established using cortisol level studies. Beerda et al. (1998) also showed behavioral and cortisol effects on laboratory dogs that were administrated 6 different unpleasant stimuli; “the findings suggest that stimuli like shocks or sound blasts may have been particularly stressful to the dogs because they were associated with a very low posture and an elevated level of cortisol.”
Predictability of a punisher in a dog accustomed to that means of training affects the biochemical status of the dog, and thereby affects the dog’s stress level. In Schalke (2006), the following observations were made: “Three experimental groups were used. Group A (Aversion) received the electric shock when the dogs touched the prey—a rabbit dummy fixed to a motion device. Group H (Here) received the electric shock when they did not obey a previously trained recall command during hunting. Animals of group R (Random) received the electric shock arbitrarily, i.e. the shock was administered unpredictably and out of context…
Group A did not show a significant rise in salivary cortisol levels, while group R and group H did show a significant rise. When the animals were reintroduced to the research area after 4 weeks, the results remained the same.
This led to the conclusion that animals, which were able to clearly associate the electric stimulus with their action, i.e. touching the prey, and consequently were able to predict and control the stressor, did not show considerable or persistent stress indicators.” Even those animals that were able to predict the electrical shock, all three test groups in this study showed an elevated cortisol level related to the administration of the electrical shock, showing a clear stress/distress reaction.”
These physical findings, coupled with the behavioral signs, give a behaviorist evidence to make an evaluation of the dog’s state of welfare as it is defined by the Five Freedoms. The use of pain, be it from physical impact, choking, or electrical shock, appears to be present. This violates the principal of the second and third freedoms, freedom from discomfort and pain or injury: discomfort is shown by lowered body posture, excessive licking, and other indicators. Pain and injury can be proved by the level of pain indicia such as dilated pupils, avoidance, and certainly by clinical signs such as the strangulation cases listed above. These same indicators show that the fifth freedom, freedom from fear, is equally disregarded. Fearful behavior can be simply assessed by the behaviorist and quantified by such measures as speed and willingness to approach humans voluntarily, number and type of interactions, and the display of warning behaviors.

These measures should be sufficient to allow the establishment of use of aversive training methods as less than meeting the needs of a dog under the five freedoms. But is it cruelty?
The definition of cruelty in Florida State Statutes is: “A person who unnecessarily overloads, overdrives, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal…commits animal cruelty.” (Florida State Statute 828.12 – 2012). Although this is a bit looser than the provisions of the Five Freedoms, we can still make a case that, based on the behavioral observations of an animal that is being trained using painful and frightening aversive techniques is being “tormented”. More on point are those cases wherein dogs are being physically injured. Although the provision for “unnecessarily” may come into play, we can revert to the purpose for the training; a change in behavior while maintaining animal welfare and a proper quality of life. Many other states in the US reflect this wording in their statutes, or are at times more stringent. The quantifiable, observable behaviors available to the Behaviorist may well be able to establish that the reactions to these training methods are abnormal and maladaptive and thereby show a needless level of distress.
Further amplification of this is given by other sources.
“Our results indicate that the immediate effects of training with an e-collar give rise to behavioural signs of distress in pet dogs, particularly when used at high settings. Furthermore, whilst best practice as advocated by collar manufacturers mediates the behavioural and physiological indicators of poor welfare detected in the preliminary study, there are still behavioural differences that are consistent with a more negative experience for dogs trained with e-collars, although there was no evidence of physiological disturbance. E-collar training did not result in a substantially superior response to training in comparison to similarly experienced trainers who do not use e-collars to improve recall and control chasing behaviour. Accordingly, it seems that the routine use of e-collars even in accordance with best practice (as suggested by collar manufacturers) presents a risk to the well-being of pet dogs. The scale of this risk would be expected to be increased when practice falls outside of this ideal.” “These findings suggest that there is no consistent benefit to be gained from e-collar training but greater welfare concerns compared with positive reward based training.” (Cooper 2014)
“In conclusion, confrontational or aversive behavioral interventions applied by dog owners before their pets were presented for a behavior consultation were associated with aggressive responses in many cases. Owners of dogs aggressive to family members are especially at risk for injury—and their pets at risk of relinquishment or euthanasia—when certain aversive methods are used. Ultimately, reward-based training is less stressful or painful for the dog, and, hence, safer for the owner. It is important for primary care veterinarians to advise owners about risks associated with aversive training methods, despite their prevalence in the popular media, and to provide resources for safe and effective management of behavior problems.” (Herron 2009)
“More owners using reward based methods for recall / chasing report a successful outcome of training than those using e-collars.” (Blackwell 2012)
“There are alternatives to aversive devices. I recently watched a Schutzhund dog work just as well on a Scruffy-Guider (Misty Pines Dog Park, Sewickley, PA) as he did on a choke collar, but he breathed better. I have seen military dogs learn almost instantly using head collars (Gentle Leader; Premier Pet Products, Midlothian, VA) because the target of their focus was clear. And I have seen my own dog, Flash, recover from being hung from a choke chain until he passed out, after which time he put the trainer in intensive care. That is how he became my dog…he was my patient first. Some people reading this may have met him, and so know what an amazing dog he is. Flash is the individual who first opened my eyes to learning to think in a different way simply because any forceful interaction with him would have resulted in injury to those exhibiting the force. No exceptions. His lessons have benefited many.” (Overall 2007).


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