Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dog Training Research and Used Dogs

Boy, I'm telling you, the next time I'm dog shopping, I'm skipping the Goodwill, ignoring the siren call of a Kmart blue light special and buying a this year's model dog, one with a clean, new engine and nobody else's mucky fingerprints already embedded on it.

Yeah, I'm kidding. I like my horse's well-bred and my dogs mixed, and I can't imagine not having a rescue dog or six milling around on any given day. Once a rescue dog really believes they get to stay with you, once fear turns into hope and hope turns into security, they seem to try a little harder than the dogs raised from puppyhood. I truly believe a rescue dog is grateful. No, I don't think I'm giving them human attributes, I have always felt dogs share more of our traits than science gives them credit for.

The thing is, rescues come with somebody else's old Starbucks cups under the seat. Some of them smell like cigarettes, some like barf. It's a bear trying to undo the mess when some jerk trashed your next life-partner before you got to them. It makes the job tougher. It can be minor, like Brockle's bolt out of the blue, or major, like Snocone's catatonia (milldogatonia?).

There is enormous satisfaction in getting a handle on these cases though, and, being the student I am, a lot of exciting learning to be had.

And learning I have been.

I've pretty much finished with Cesar and Victoria. They've been a great help, I was given a lot to think about, but they're kind of like watching the RFD horse trainers, once you get the made for TV concepts, it's time to get to the real meat of the thing, you know?

To all of you Positive Response/Operant Condition trainers who wrote in, even those of you who jumped all over me like an over-enthused boxer, thank you. I've been reading and learning there too. A lot of this makes sense. Creating an automatic response is pretty handy, and I've never been one to thump on my dogs.

Discipline, affection, lively chatter, silence, enthusiasm or doing what I say, because I say it, I found scads of training advice that promotes all of it.

I'm slowly developing a theory or two, not all of it cast in stone, but an evolving idea of who I want to become as a dog trainer/rehabilitator/caretaker.

It's the caretaker part that I dwell on. What's my responsibility here?

My dogs need to be welcome.

With my family, among my peers and strangers, at the horse show or dog park, they need to be friendly, well-behaved and non-threatening.
I'll do my best to protect them  from people sticking their hands in their faces or clutching at them, but they need to be tolerant and NOT BITE, NIP OR SHOW TEETH if someone slips by.

I want people to be at ease when they are around them.

Here's a few of my current thoughts and observations.
For hundreds of thousands of years, dogs have been busting their butts to be our friends and do what we want.
They have even gone so far as to learn to read our body language, our eyes, our expression and where we point.
They read our emotions and health and respond on their own.
Other animals don't, we're not worth their time.
They have aligned to us, even over their own kind.

They have way more depth and intelligence than we give them credit for.

I think many of our training practices diminish them.

Alpha dog dominance?
I don't need to boss my dogs around all of the time.
Except, dogs without leadership can make some very bad choices.
So, while I don't need to always be their boss, they do need to understand consequence if they blow me off. If it takes a swift side of my foot in their butt, oops, I mean Negative Reinforcement, then so be it.

I have seen dogs roll over another dog, stand over it and snarl, until the belly up dog gives in and calms down. So telling me dogs don't work that way doesn't work for me. I've watched it.

Dogs do run in packs when their owner isn't around, so I'm not listening to someone who bases their dog theory on the idea they don't.

Wolf packs and dog packs run on different rules.

When my pack walks behind me, they stay close and travel. When they are in front of me they hunt and are more reactive.

Demanding my dogs always stay compliant makes them worried and unsure of themselves.

When my dogs look me in the eyes it is not always about dominance, it's usually a question or invitation.

Clicker training has its place, but it makes my dogs quit trying to find solutions, they just wait for the click'ntreat.

My dogs learn by example and imitation if it makes dog sense, I do better with positive reinforcement to teach them things that only make people sense.

My husband (stroke) and Snocone (mill dog) are making great strides using clicker training. Jim is teaching Snocone to come, sit, look, so far, they're having a blast. It is helping them both think and react in ways they couldn't before.

Brockle and I are going for help with a pro. We'll be working on socialization and recall among other things. I chose a positive reinforcement trainer. So I'll be learning things correctly and will be better able to state my thoughts.

In the mean time, there are more Tally and some new dog stories coming, so stay tuned.

I also have a third installment on my thoughts on forward with our horses just about ready for you.

So hang in, I'm writing slow, but still writing.


Cindy D. said...

TC and I are currently going through a basic dog obedience class with our two bad dogs. Not that they are really bad dogs, but they sure didn't have any manners. They would take off down the road without even so much as fleeting thought to the older, out of shape person, desperately running behind trying to catch them before they ran out into traffic. They had no qualms about pushing a small child down a flight of stairs whilst grapping the ice cream cone out of his or hand. If you were walking them on a leash they knew they could easily out drag any one of us and go where they wanted.

Now here's the thing. When I was about 14 or so, I showed my Springer Spaniel, Belle, in obedience. I was the highest scoring Jr handler in the state of AZ for 2 years in a row. I trained her myself and I do know how to obedience train a dog. So with that in mind, why are my dogs now so bad? Well, I'm pushing 50 now, and I have kids, and a job, and horses, and I'm a master procrastinator. Also, I know that the methods we used "back in the day" were horrible. The things we did to "teach" were barely short of abuse. I know there are better ways now and I decided I wanted to learn them. So I found a class and enrolled TC and I with our 2 big bad Labradors. (not puppies- 4 and 6 year old dogs each weighing over 100 lbs each)
The first thing I was told was no choke chains.
"WHAT????" Oh....wait, this is new to me, so give it a chance.
We bought new collars, and treat bags, and clickers. Then we had to buy a little light for Mason because he is deaf and the clicker means nothing to him.
We are week 4 into the class and I have learned so much. The dogs are responding well, and TC is even learning some stuff. (and they say you can't teach an old fart new tricks!)

The facilitator has herding dogs, and she brings them to class and shows how they will try different things (sitting, lay down, stand up, lay the head on the ground) to get a reward. Her dogs think of those things on their own. They are herding dogs, so of course they do. She asked me to do it with Mason. She says I have to be "patient, but he will do it."

Mason proved her wrong. Mason is the king of the stare down. If you have food he will stare you down until you give it to him. He can hypnotize you with his eyes. He can hold the stare for as long as you have food. He doesn't have to "think" of anything, he is perfectly content to wait you out. He knows he can wait longer than you can. He has no place he has to go, but he knows that eventually, as a human, you will. My dog may be lazy, but he isn't dumb.

But hey, its ok, because many other things she showed me have worked, and he is very receptive to clear commands, and hand signals. By golly once he is told, "do this and I will give you a treat" he is more than happy to oblige, and that is really the result I was looking for. He sits, he lays down, he comes and he stays, all on hand signals now, and he does it better than any other dog in class.

Okay, so my point behind the worlds longest comment is that in my opinion, dogs are just like kids. What works on one won't work on another. It is obvious by the variety of dogs in the class, and each one learns just a little bit differently.

So what I have learned for me personally is that I can take much of what I knew and toss it aside, keeping only the parts I like, and add to it the things I have learned in my class, tweak it a little to fit my dog, and I now have the perfect training regime.

It seems to me that you are doing the same thing. Taking everything you have read, and know, and seeking out some guidance from someone with some other ideas, and applying what works to your dogs. In my opinion, that is what makes a truly great trainer, flexibility.

Judi said...

I have been injoying your journey into dogs, and everything you say makes sense, but I do think your generalization about clicker training is incorrect.

I use is a little with my cat and dog, but is use it extensively with my horse. Rather than make him automatic, I have found him to be the most creative horse in figuring things out as I teach him new things. He is quick to trial new behaviors when I am teaching him something--they may be wrong--but he tries. He pays very close attention to me. He never tunes out, and he is always enthusiastic about going out to work. To him, it is all a game.

Now, he is the first horse that I have used clicker from day one, and he may be an exception, but I would say that the only thing he is automatic is when I say "HO" and that is just because I clicked it very, very extensively.

It is not in the least automatic with my cat. When he gets tired of it, he just walks away.

I have only done it with my dog for a few things like sitting still for me to put a leash on her, and I fade the treats away pretty quick with her. We have a few games that I keep up the treats just to make it more fun for her.

I can see why you wouldn't do it with multiple dogs in the house. That makes it tough. For that reason, alone, I wouldn't do it if I were you. I can only use it on my cat if the dog is outside.

Keep up the good work.

mugwump said...

Cindy D - You think like me. I want a communication between me and my dogs, mind to mind. I
I don't like fear, clickers or treats between us.
Call me weird, but I feel the way I feel.
I do a little better using voice/treat combos, but I see an enormous difference in our interactions based on food rewards and having them figure out what I want and doing it because they want to do as I ask.
When we're figuring and successful, there is a great physical and mental "High Five!" between us. When I use food it's like they're saying, "Yeah, yeah, whatever, give me more food."
Like I said, I'm having great success using my voice and touch when what I want makes "dog sense."
I go to treats when what i'm asking makes sense to me, but not the dogs.
Judi- I ride with my weight, heels and hand. No voice, no clicker. Those things come between what I'm looking for with my horses.
I am glad however, that you find satisfaction in it.

kabbage said...

I've trained 3 of my own dogs using a clicker for at least some of it, and it's been interesting to see the differences.

My first Aussie, who came from a shelter at the age of 8mo, loved the clicker. She saw it as a game and was quick to try stuff to see if that was what I was asking of her. Very fun to shape her to do stuff like "go out to that chair and walk around it." Maybe not obviously practical, but it taught *me* to break stuff down and reward small incremental steps. She used to try to get me to go into the basement and to the training room I had set up there during the winter (rainy) months so we could work/play.

My second, a Malinois, was traditionally trained and had her championship and novice obedience titles before I got her at 4.5yo. She took a lot of work to adjust to the clicker. In general asking her for repeatedly doing the same thing was not good: she seemed to be convinced she must be doing it wrong and would sit down and stop trying. When I started trying to use a clicker with her, I had to get the idea that she could do no wrong during a training session across to her and that it was safe to move. I ended up clicking ear twitches, eye movements, etc. until she was willing to risk bigger movements. She was never as much fun *for me* as the first one, so I spent less time training with her. Her manners were naturally good, so all the training would have been for fun and/or competition.

My 4yo Aussie has been with me since she was a tiny pup. She prefers to be shown what I want rather than asked to experiment to figure it out, which makes clicker training sometimes challenging. I can use the clicker as a marker while I'm showing her something, but she has limited patience for training where she doesn't see the value. She likes to work with me, but she still has her own agenda at times during that work. If something isn't important to her, she's less likely to humor me than my first Aussie was. When it comes to working livestock, pressure concepts come into play. The speed differential is a problem :-) I do use aversives like taking away her access to the stock (and negatively reinforcing her for correct behavior by removing that block to her access), but I'm frequently in a position where I cannot move fast enough to block her (oh to be 15 instead of 51!).

Okay, I think I'm just babbling now. I may come back later when I can see this entire comment easily and add more thoughts.

Half Dozen Farm said...

Mugs, I think we were sisters separated at birth! Agree with everything you said...I kept nodding my head and going "uh huh, uh huh."

Mustardly said...

Clicker training is a wonderful tool. But, like every other technique, it is just that. It is not a way of life. It can be brilliant to bring a shut down dog out of their shell or a very independent dog (read was a stray/not had much training before - has rather looked after themselves) back to focus on you. I use a proper clicker when teaching formal commands or complex behaviours (sit, down, stay, tricks, etc) but you can't have it out all the time can you?

I use a sort of basic 'clicker training' way of training most of the time. I just find it the most intuitive way. Instead of the precise clicker I just use the word 'yes' or 'good' (said in a bright tone) as the marker. So yes=well done. And rewards wise I sort of pot luck it. Food is sometimes given, verbal praise, big cuddles or a big exciting run around. So I can walk my dog without food rewards which many owners have said that they find impossible. Your goal should be that the dog works for you because he/she wants your approval, food is just a side effect of this approval. I can draw a parallel with parents who always bribe their kids with sweets. We all know that that doesn't lead to nice kids who listen to their parents. But there is nothing wrong with rewarding kids with some sweets now and then. But - getting the dog to want your approval can be very hard with rescue dogs - especially those that have never had that positive human interaction.

When we go for a walk we have an easy rhythm wherever we go. She is never that far away and checks in from time to time. She comes if I call and she chooses whether to interact with other dogs. You see so many people who obviously find their daily dog walk a stressful event.

A note about so called 'alpha rollovers' is that it is so very easy to get them wrong. Even a very dominant dog will only use them rarely. Some dogs will think it is a great game, it will destroy confidence in others and will help in a small minority of dogs. Also, as you mentioned, dogs respond differently to human body language than to dog body language. Dogs rarely stare quizzically at each other but they will do it to people. I can draw a parallel (I like examples) with teaching a horse to back up. Sure you can whack it in the face and it will learn to back up - but what else have you 'taught' it? Then again, there is the occasional rude one who really needs that smack in the face :p.

Heidi the Hick said...

Yay for still writing!!

Y'know, I have found myself mumbling excuses for getting a puppy from a breeder. Then stopping because darnit we had reasons for that instead of getting a rescue. We took a long time to decide what kind of dog, and why. I looked at a pug rescue and saw dogs with so many problems, both health and behaviour. We got a well bred healthy dog who has been with us since 8 weeks old. I think we'll get a rescue dog some day. A mutt. I like mutts.

I'm thinking more and more that training pretty much amounts to deciding what we'll expect out of our animals and what we won't put up with. And remember they're animals, not people, and they're awesome. I know that's waaaaay too simple, but I'm too friggen lazy for clicker training. Blech.

greenie said...

I like where you're ending up with your dog training/theory/methods. It sounds like you're coming to a well rounded and open minded approach.

I have developed a real soft spot for snocone stories, they always tug at my heart, and for all the little white dogs I see as a groomer I think snocone might have one of the coolest names!
So... more please!!!

MissMarie said...

We just adopted a 6yo Cocker spaniel. So far, everything is great: housebroken, friendly, non-destructive, except... He's a leg-licker! I'd really like to know how he picked up that habit, I about choked on my orange juice the first time he snuck under the table and slurped my leg! LOL!!!

Unknown said...


Tilly story!

I'm glad you're day is made when I see a new post!

shadowlake2005 said...

You, and the commenters here always give me so much to think about, and chew over, and I learn so much from the different experiences and viewpoints. I can't wait to see what you bring back from your pro-trainer sessions, after it percolates through your brain. And yes, more Snocone and Tally stories would be great too! Good for Jim, for taking the care and patience to bring her further and further out of her mill-atonia.

Jenn said...

Evolution of training is kind of how it works. Every dog is different. Every dog will teach you something different.

You find what works and that's what you use.

Luck to you and Brockle. He looks like a great dog, let's hope he finds the right combination, too.

(Because as much as we modify our behavior for our dogs, I think our dogs moderate their behavior, trying to get their message into our thick block heads. Hope you both find the way to work together!)

redhorse said...

I just wrote the best comment ever, the first sentence of it was a marvel of syntactic complexity. Then when I tried to post it, it got eaten by the interwebs dragon, and I can't get it back. Or, this is the first day of my senility.

Anyway, one part I remember was this:
One of my brothers has owned, trained, and bred Dobermans for over 30 years. He believes in his training abilities 100%, he has used the "alpha roll" on a couple of his large, high drive, intact males, and he gets as close to 100% obedience as humanly possible. However, when he used the alpha roll on my mother's miniature dachshund, she never forgave him, and neither did the dog.

I think my point was that I agree with Mugs and Jenn's comments. I think it also has something to do with my brother being a rigid know-it-all (followed by bad words) but I really shouldn't discuss that here.

I have to post this before it disappears, so I won't have time to admire my work, or correct any errors. Sorry. The first one was perfect. Really. Don't take too long on the Talley story, we don't need it to be perfect.

redhorse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JENGHIS said...

Question - When I leave a comment, I always come up "Unknown". WHY?!?!?

BTW, meant TALLY...not Tilly and I'm nagging you for a Tally story...good things come to those that wait..impatiently tapping my foot here..LOL

I'm going to choose an identity via Open ID...maybe I answered my own question.

Chelsi said...

Just had to put in there that dogs also learn a lot from other dogs. Sometimes it pays to make sure that your dog has good role models. We had two Ridgebacks that raised our blue heeler and there is no doubt in my mind that those hounds taught that cattle dog more than I ever did (and he was very well obedience trained) including our property borders, how to judge people as friend or foe, and even how to be more like a hound (lay in the sun, relax and keep a calm mind).

Just like a steady-eddie lead mare in the herd or a new wood chewer in the barn, dogs, like horses, are influenced by their peers.

mugwump said...

Jenn - You hit that one on the head. I have had and still have some great dogs. None, except one, was as complicated as Brockle.
I'm not bragging, but more speaking from near terror (kidding, you literalists), when I say Brockle is the most freakily intelligent dog I have ever had decide to take me on.
Which is why I am going for help. The trainer I've chosen to work with advertises positive reinforcement techniques, raises and competes in Shutzhund with GSD, is DVG certified, works with the Pueblo PD, USAF Academy and other area K-9 units and is interested in seeing where Brockle can go.
So, I'm excited.
Brockle has become increasingly devoted and communicative, the way he looks at me makes me determined to help him be the dog I see in there.

mugwump said...

Chelsi - Brockle is being raised by one of the best dogs on the planet, my rat terrier, Charlie.
Charlie has taught him to respect his elders (Dinah and Snocone), respect his people (Jim and I)and that there is only so much herding a good rat will take.
He has also turned him into quite the rabbit hunter.
So far, the rabbits are winning, but Charlie and Dinah were a lethal pair, I can see the same formation beginning to happen between the guys.
Charlie and Dinah are teaching him he doesn't need to bark at every passing bird in the sky.
They know if they bark, I will come, because they only bark when I need to see something, at least in their mind anyway.
I reward them with thanks and pets, I ignore Brockle for his excess, and he's sorting it out.
So yes, I firmly believe in letting my dogs train for me.

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