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Sophia Yin

Sophia Yin, DVM, (recently deceasedwas an applied animal behaviorist. A long-time The Bark contributing editor, she was also the author of two behavior books.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
VIDEO: Training Your Dog to "Leave It"
Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, has training plan for the sidewalk scavenger

 

To us, the idea of eating food wrappers, horse poop and other smelly things found on the ground is gross. To your dog, it’s like walking into a room filled with French pastries and desserts—and they’re free! They can also be extraordinarily dangerous. Watch as Dr. Yin demonstrates how to change your dog’s hazardous habit.

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Chicken Training with Your Dog
Learning dog training with fine feathered friends

I went through the picture in my head. Chicken number one climbs up the ladder, onto a one-foot-wide platform, makes a 180-degree turn and tightropes across a narrow bridge to a second platform, where it pecks a tethered ping-pong ball, sending the ball in an arc around its post. The chicken then turns 180 degrees and negotiates a second ladder back down to ground level, where it encounters a yellow bowling pin and a blue bowling pin in random arrangement. It knocks the yellow one down first and then the blue one.

Chicken number two grasps a loop tied to a bread pan and with one continuous pull drags the pan two feet. Then, in a separate segment, it pecks a vertical one-centimeter black dot on cue and only on cue three times in 15 seconds. The cue is a red laser dot.

Scenes from a Saturday morning cartoon? A twisted scheme of some sort? Neither of the above. It’s the assigned mission at the August 2000 Advanced Operant Conditioning Workshop (a.k.a. chicken training camp), taught by Bob Bailey and psychologist Marian Breland-Bailey. Nine animal trainers from the U.S. and Canada, including myself, are here to meet the challenge. We have five days. Sounds like a joke, but it’s serious business. We’re here not just to train chickens. We’re here to learn the intricacies of a universal mechanism of learning called operant conditioning.

Elucidated in the early 1900s by psychologist B. F. Skinner, this theory says that if you reinforce a behavior, it’s more likely to occur again. If you don’t reinforce it, it’s less likely to occur again. Says Marian Breland-Bailey, “Animals are learning all the time, not just during training sessions. And they’re learning with the same principles. Operant conditioning is the way that behavior changes in the real world.” As experienced trainers, we know this. We hope that with a better grasp of the principles of operant conditioning, we can catapult ourselves to a new level of training.

The nine of us form a diverse group. Some train animals professionally for theater or advertising, some have competed avidly in canine obedience trials or have been dog training instructors for years and others just enjoy training their own assortment of pets. Despite our varied backgrounds, we all envision the myriad of benefits these five days will bring forth. When we’re finished we’ll return home to train our clients’ animals more efficiently, to accomplish more with our own pets and to instruct our students
more proficiently.

For Marie Gulliford, who has trained everything from cockatoos to pigs, horses and cows, one of the greatest benefits will be in her grooming shop. “I train the dogs who come in for grooming for my own benefit. My grooming shop is a business for profit. It’s much more profitable if you can groom the dog quickly and it’s easier to do that on a dog that behaves well than on one that’s doing all sorts of extraneous behaviors such as jumping off the table or biting you.”

It’s no accident that we’ve chosen this particular training camp to help us fulfill our training goals. Sue Ailsby, a retired obedience and conformation judge who’s been training dogs for 38 years, expresses the group sentiment: “This course offers an absolutely unique blend of scientific facts and practical applications thereof.” Ailsby, who’s trained dogs for every legitimate dog sport and competed in most of them and who’s also trained a number of service dogs including her own, frequently lectures at training, handling and conformation seminars. With her years of experience, she’s chosen to train here because, “The Baileys do it better, they do it faster and do it with a deeper background.”

A number of factors set the Baileys apart from other experienced trainers. The fact that between the two of them Marian and Bob represent 103 years of training and have trained over 140 species of animals is impressive in its own right. However, their contributions, especially Marian’s, to the field of animal training extend well beyond numbers. Marian and her now-deceased first husband, Keller Breland, were at the forefront of operant conditioning when it was a relatively new area of study. They were among B. F. Skinner’s first graduate students in the early 1940s. In an odd twist of fate, their studies were interrupted by World War II when Skinner took a hiatus from his university research and instead worked for the U.S. Navy on a project training pigeons to guide missiles. He enlisted Marian and Keller to help, and it was during this project that the two gained invaluable practical experience with the most advanced principles of operant conditioning—aspects they’d read about in their studies but never seen in action.

Surprisingly, it was the simpler principles that convinced them to make animal training a career. Principles such as behavior shaping, whereby you start with a simple behavior that the animal readily offers and gradually reinforce behaviors that look more and more like your goal behavior.

“Skinner had a push button in his hand and had the electronic feeder outside of the training box,” says Marian, recalling an incident during the pigeon bomb guidance project. “At one point he took one of the pigeons outside of its training box and worked on shaping its response because for some reason the pigeon was not pecking its target. So Skinner demonstrated the shaping process. It was then that Keller and I realized how powerful this system was. And we were very excited about it. We decided that after the war we would get into something where we could apply this.”

Since neither had gone on to get a clinical degree they knew they couldn’t get into the treatment of people using this technique. But since they both liked animals and were familiar with different kinds of animals, they decided to go into the animal business.

They started Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE), a company whose goal was to demonstrate a better, scientific way of training animals in a humane manner using positive reinforcement. They started with dogs, thinking that with so many untrained dogs in the U.S. they’d just demonstrate their new humane way of training and people would begin coming in by the thousands. Says Marian, “We thought it would be a cinch.”

Well, the training part was, but unfortunately, the idea was too advanced for its time. Trainers shunned the new method, claiming that people had been training dogs for centuries already.

Undaunted by this obstacle, Marian and Keller instead headed in a different direction. For 47 years, ABE mass-produced trained animals for its own shows and for animal shows across the country. At their height, the Brelands were training about 1,000 animals at a given time for companies such as General Mills. They also worked on animal behavior research and training projects for groups such as the U.S. Navy and Purina, as well as at Marineland of Florida and Parrot Jungle, where they developed the first of the now traditional dolphin shows and parrot shows. Through it all, they kept rigorous data on all of the training sessions and published several landmark papers in respectable scientific journals.

During their 47 years, they made a number of important contributions to the animal training world. Says Marian, “One contribution was to give the science of behavior to animal trainers. To encourage the use of operant conditioning behavior analysis in many fields of animal work: in medical behaviors for animals, husbandry behaviors, show behaviors. Just a large number of fields have taken up the operant methods and have used them quite successfully. We’ve been quite gratified by this.”

In fact, the methods have become so ubiquitous that trainers have forgotten where the methods originated. Says Bob Bailey, “There’s one area that I think has been overlooked for a long time and that is that it was the Brelands, even beyond Skinner and the other psychologists, who realized the significance and widespread application of the bridging stimulus. That it would be a revolution in animal training. They recognized it as absolutely key to the widespread training and this was back in 1943.”

And they were right. The bridging stimulus, usually a whistle or a click from a toy clicker, is now used in virtually all marine mammal shows and in training of zoo animals for husbandry behaviors. And, over 40 years after the Brelands first introduced it for use in dogs, it’s finally taken off in the dog training world in the form of clicker training.

We use clicker training with the chickens too. In the beginning operant conditioning workshops, our chickens are trained that a click means food is coming. Now we use the sound to bridge the gap between the behavior we want and the food reinforcement. The bridging stimulus allows us to tell the chicken precisely when it’s doing something right.

While few of us will ever train a chicken again, there are many reasons beyond novelty why we use chickens in this workshop. For one, chickens are so quick that our timing has to be right on. The timing required to train the average dog won’t hack it with chickens. A fraction of a second off and you get a chicken who pecks the red cue dot instead of the black target, who shakes the loop attached to the bread pan rather than pulling it or who grasps the ping-pong ball rather than pecking it. Secondly, chickens are particularly skillful at telling us that we need to up the rate of reinforcement. Failure to do so and our fowl friend is running around on the floor in search of food instead of up on the training table learning her tasks.

And the benefits go on. Says Bob Bailey, “A chicken is the best teaching tool for training animals, offering more behaviors and more repetitions in the shortest amount of time.” More repetitions means we can train more behaviors in a short amount of time, and we have more chances to recover from our training blunders.

Yes, even though we’re in the advanced class, we still make our share of mistakes. The difference is that now we know within several five-minute sessions when we’ve made a mistake. Every session we take notes. How many times did we reinforce the chicken for the correct behavior? What percentage of time did the bird offer the correct behavior? By keeping these records we can make better decisions on when to expect more from our bird and when we’ve messed up.

Now, where we would have attributed slow learning to the dim-witted chicken, we instead look for our errors, in timing, rate of reinforcement or consistency. Are we always reinforcing the exact same behavior or do our criteria change from trial to trial thus confusing the chicken? We also record the number of times we reinforce the wrong behavior. A few of these in a row and we’re back to square one. It’s an uphill battle for us, but we’re determined to get the most out of it. And we do. On day five, after a total of 60 to 90 minutes of training per chicken per day, we’ve done it. It’s a room full of poultry performing on cue like pros. Up the ladder, turn 180 degrees, across the bridge, peck the ping-pong ball, turn 180 degrees, down the ladder and then whap! whap! First the yellow bowling pin, then the blue. Click! Treat! Voilà! A flock of trained chickens and nine happy trainers.
 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dr. Nicholas Dodman on Dog Behavior and New Training Techniques
What does it take to be the leader of the pack?

The rules of dog training and care are changing, which means your role is changing. Leading animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman discusses new training techniques and dog behavior with fellow veterinarian, Dr. Sophia Yin and Bark’s Claudia Kawczynska.

Bark: What is an animal behaviorist? What qualifies someone to be called a behaviorist?

Dodman: There are only two qualified types of behaviorists; one who is endorsed and certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the so-called certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (AB). And the veterinary ones, who are the diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behavior. For the ABS the minimum starting point is a master’s degree, but a lot of certified animal behaviorists have a PhD. That’s the non-veterinary variety. In order to become a veterinary behaviorist, you have to do a vet degree first, taking four years after college, then one year internship and then the residency program that is normally three years long. In other words, it’s another four years after the DVM that you become eligible to sit for the specialty examination in behavior. So after leaving high school, the ABS is a minimum of twelve years of study. And then you have to sit a pretty hard exam. These are the two types of people who are qualified animal behaviorists.

Having said that, the fact is, if you happen to have a dog that you trained yourself at home and you think you are pretty good at it, and you believe you have a gift, as some people do; there is nothing to stop you from proclaiming yourself to be a pet therapist, trainer or behaviorist. So the qualifications range from a non-professional-schooled person right the way up to a Ph.D. or DVM-board certified, so there is a tremendous range of people who call themselves behaviorists. I know some dog trainers who go out of their way to avoid being termed behaviorist, so if you ask, “Are you a behaviorist?” they say “no I am not a behaviorist, I am a trainer.”

Bark: What do you feel is the place for punishment or negative re-enforcement in treating behavioral problems?

Dodman: I think that the direct punishment-based techniques are outmoded, a thing of the past, and should be avoided. Nobel Prize winners Lorenz, Tinbergen and Von Frisch might have disagreed on some points, but the three of them were all in agreement that punishment teaches a dog nothing. All it does is to teach a dog how to avoid the punishment. Which is not the same as teaching the dog what to do. There is no learning, other than learning avoidance of certain actions. You don’t need punishment to teach either dogs or children. I don’t believe in the concept of “sparing the rod and spoiling the child,” or sparing the chain-jerking and spoiling the dog. All the techniques that we use in the clinic are 100 percent motivational—we do not use any coercive techniques. I work on the theory that if you can train a killer whale to launch itself out of a swimming pool, roll on its side and urinate into a small plastic cup, given only a whistle and a bucket of fish, without a choke chain, then you don’t need those confrontational techniques with dogs.

As for those prong collars … I sometimes say to clients what John Lennon rudely said about Paul McCarthy—the only thing he did was “Yesterday.” Prong collars are yesterday. There are some trainers, not all trainers, who just seem to know only one thing, and that is how to escalate punishment to reach the desired effect. So they start off with puppies the right way with food motivation. But as soon as the dog reaches a certain age, they go into a slip collar, then a metal choke collar, and if these aren’t having the desired aversive effects, they escalate up to a prong collar; some even graduate higher, to electricity. What you have is a gradation of pain. And the pain is designed with the theory “you teach them to do something, and if they don’t do it, you hurt them.” Konrad Lorenz said that science and know-how aren’t enough in dog training; patience is the vital stuff. I find that non-confrontational techniques are more appreciated by owners who often aren’t of the disposition to want to hurt their animals to make them do anything.

Bark: I know that one of the big problems in training comes up in animal shelters, where some training is given to the dogs to make them more adoptable. Patience and non-aversive training are wonderful, but what can shelters workers do to make the animals adoptable, quickly?

Dodman: You could train fairly fast with clickers. In my office I use a clicker and food treats. I can have a dog at the beginning of a one-hour session without the faintest idea of what a clicker is, but at the end of the hour I do a click and he’ll immediately come and sit for a food treat. They can learn what the clicker means fairly quickly. But in terms of rehabilitation of a dog in a shelter, I don’t think that taking a dog that has gone through the kinds of unfortunate experiences that cause it to arrive in a shelter and then putting a choke chain and popping it a couple of times is going to sort it out. With a lot of the dogs I have seen in the behavior clinic, the relationship with the owner has broken down. Many of these dogs have been to training. They are top of the class. They are very smart. But they are willful or dysfunctional. They have problems that way, and these are the kinds of things that bring animals to shelters. You have dogs that are either relatively normal but untrained, or they are fearful, needing more confidence building. If you put a choke chain on a dog like that, you are going to drive it back in the middle of last week.

It all has to do with communication, too, it’s not about having your dog respond like a little soldier to commands. It is just clear communication. I tell people to just imagine if they were in downtown Shanghai: everyone speaks Chinese and they don’t have the faintest idea of what is going on. That’s a pretty stressful situation to be in. But if someone comes up with just a few basic words—like restaurant, bathroom, transportation—just a few words sprinkled in, that could really mean something and could help with de-stressing the situation. I see communication as being one of the three Rs of rehabilitation for a dog that has gone off the rails. The other two Rs are exercise and appropriate diet. I call that the Reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic of dog rehabilitation. If you are dog, you pronounce that with a rrruhrrr.

Bark: What do you think is the single most important preventative measure people can take to help avoid behavior problems in their pets?

Dodman: That’s a difficult question, because there are several factors, such as exercise, diet, communication, suitable restraints and fenced-in yards and perhaps providing a crate, even if you don’t ever shut the door. Put as the one single thing? Probably it would be to provide leadership. The dog is a territorial animal and when he moves into your territory, he’ll try to take it over; if you feed him, he might keep you on because you are feeding him. So it is very important to provide clear leadership in a non-confrontational way.

I think that dogs and children are a very similar. For example, there was a study done by a master’s degree graduate student at Tufts. She took dogs on the basis of puppy temperament testing who were likely to become a bit extroverted, a little dominant. And she said three simple things to their owners—she had two groups so she did it all scientifically—one group of owners were told, “Have a nice day,” and the other group was told, “Number one, make your puppy sit in order to get fed; number two, make your little puppy sit to get food treats; and, number three, provide the puppy with a crate. (You don’t have to put the dog in there twenty-three hours a day, you can even leave the door open. Make it a safe place for the dog to go to.)” With these three measures none of the dogs in the second group became dominant or gave the owners any trouble. Nearly all the dogs in the first group turned out to be dominant and got into the territorial mode of guarding their property and possessions within their territory.

So I think that leadership is very important because of the pack mentality of dogs. If you are the leader, I don’t think that the dog is unhappy about having you as the leader. And when the owner takes clear control through a non-confrontational dominance program, you can almost hear the dog sigh with relief. It’s as if they are saying, “My god, for a minute I thought it was me who was in charge here.” It’s a relief. They don’t feel miserable. They are not like humans who have to be number one. They don’t care about being at the top of the hierarchy, they just need to know where they are in it. Clearly know .

Bark: In your books you talk about the importance of aerobic exercise for the health of a dog. How can dog owners provide that kind of exercise for their dogs at the end of leash?

Dodman: The vast majority of dogs do benefit greatly from having exercise periods. And walking dogs on a leash is not sufficient exercise. It’s not that they die if they walk on a leash, just as it’s not that a human being dies in solitary confinement either. It is just that it is not optimal for their physiological and psychological well-being. Exercise is good for us and it is good for a dog. People say to me, “I give my dog a lot of exercise, I take him for a walk around the block every day and it is about a mile or a mile and a half.” I say, “Well, I take my 84-year-old mother for a mile walk around the block, but that doesn’t constitute exercise.” We really need to get heart rate to a certain level, and this is done by running off-lead.

Then again, there is another side to the dogs-in-parks issue, and this is where you find people coming out stacked high on both sides. There’s responsible pet ownership. But it is the irresponsible behavior of the few that has made society make rules that are punitive for the many responsible owners. So it is not appropriate to walk along Fifth Avenue with your dog off leash—even if you happen to have a dog trained to heel, all it takes is a rollerblader coming down the street and the dog might run after him or the dog might decide to cross the road because there is a bitch in heat. On crowded streets you need to keep a dog on lead, and people need to be responsible for picking up their dog’s waste; and if you know that your dog has a weakness for, say, attacking small dogs, that is another thing that you should control. The only way you can control it is physically. But that doesn’t mean that you have to forego aerobic exercise. It is the owner’s duty to find a place where they can let their dog off leash to run, safely.

I know how difficult it is when you live inside a huge sprawling urban complex, such as a city like Boston. Tufts is north of Boston in Medford and they have the same issues. All the dog people from the north shore of Boston were using the university playing fields to exercise their dogs. They were all congregating on the only green area. The football players were running around and skidding in dog muck. So they put a little fence around a little area in the corner, so now all the dog people are condensed into that small area. This is a difficult situation—the dog owners have nowhere else to go, but the players shouldn’t have to roll around in the dog doo either. I think there should be certain areas where dogs are permitted to do whatever they want to do, to run. I sometimes tell people if they are in a really difficult situation, though this is somewhat illicit, if worse comes to worst, take their dogs to a tennis court—wing a ball to them and they’ll run backwards and forwards.

So whether it’s continued petitioning to provide parks for dog owners, these things are necessary, considering how many dogs there are in the country. There are something like half as many dogs as there are cars. If you told car owners they could not park on the streets, what would they do? So there is this massive problem. One in five people owns a dog, something like 40 percent of all American households have a pet. And to make a rule that people can’t exercise their dogs off leash might even be one of the reasons that we are seeing an increase in problems these days. The demographics of the human population is such that people are moving into the inner cities, we are becoming a nation of city dwellers, and in the city it is a concrete jungle, as Desmond Morris would say.

Life is very bizarre for dogs who live in Manhattan. It is not at all like the natural life. A dog needs to be provided with natural outlets—being able to run and exercise and chase things and do what dogs were bred to do. Say you have an apartment-dwelling dog who has little or no exercise and is fed one of these high-energy foods. Then add to that that there isn’t much communication because the owner took the dog to obedience training as a puppy and doesn’t do it anymore. So now you have a dog that neither is communicated with properly, nor has appropriate outlets or diet. This situation, which is all too common, is an accident looking for a place to happen.
 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dr. Nicholas Dodman on Dog Behavior and New Training Techniques
What does it take to be the leader of the pack?

The rules of dog training and care are changing, which means your role is changing. Leading animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman discusses new training techniques and dog behavior with fellow veterinarian, Dr. Sophia Yin and Bark’s Claudia Kawczynska.

Bark: What is an animal behaviorist? What qualifies someone to be called a behaviorist?

Dodman: There are only two qualified types of behaviorists; one who is endorsed and certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the so-called certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (AB). And the veterinary ones, who are the diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behavior. For the ABS the minimum starting point is a master’s degree, but a lot of certified animal behaviorists have a PhD. That’s the non-veterinary variety. In order to become a veterinary behaviorist, you have to do a vet degree first, taking four years after college, then one year internship and then the residency program that is normally three years long. In other words, it’s another four years after the DVM that you become eligible to sit for the specialty examination in behavior. So after leaving high school, the ABS is a minimum of twelve years of study. And then you have to sit a pretty hard exam. These are the two types of people who are qualified animal behaviorists.

Having said that, the fact is, if you happen to have a dog that you trained yourself at home and you think you are pretty good at it, and you believe you have a gift, as some people do; there is nothing to stop you from proclaiming yourself to be a pet therapist, trainer or behaviorist. So the qualifications range from a non-professional-schooled person right the way up to a Ph.D. or DVM-board certified, so there is a tremendous range of people who call themselves behaviorists. I know some dog trainers who go out of their way to avoid being termed behaviorist, so if you ask, “Are you a behaviorist?” they say “no I am not a behaviorist, I am a trainer.”

Bark: What do you feel is the place for punishment or negative re-enforcement in treating behavioral problems?

Dodman: I think that the direct punishment-based techniques are outmoded, a thing of the past, and should be avoided. Nobel Prize winners Lorenz, Tinbergen and Von Frisch might have disagreed on some points, but the three of them were all in agreement that punishment teaches a dog nothing. All it does is to teach a dog how to avoid the punishment. Which is not the same as teaching the dog what to do. There is no learning, other than learning avoidance of certain actions. You don’t need punishment to teach either dogs or children. I don’t believe in the concept of “sparing the rod and spoiling the child,” or sparing the chain-jerking and spoiling the dog. All the techniques that we use in the clinic are 100 percent motivational—we do not use any coercive techniques. I work on the theory that if you can train a killer whale to launch itself out of a swimming pool, roll on its side and urinate into a small plastic cup, given only a whistle and a bucket of fish, without a choke chain, then you don’t need those confrontational techniques with dogs.

As for those prong collars … I sometimes say to clients what John Lennon rudely said about Paul McCarthy—the only thing he did was “Yesterday.” Prong collars are yesterday. There are some trainers, not all trainers, who just seem to know only one thing, and that is how to escalate punishment to reach the desired effect. So they start off with puppies the right way with food motivation. But as soon as the dog reaches a certain age, they go into a slip collar, then a metal choke collar, and if these aren’t having the desired aversive effects, they escalate up to a prong collar; some even graduate higher, to electricity. What you have is a gradation of pain. And the pain is designed with the theory “you teach them to do something, and if they don’t do it, you hurt them.” Konrad Lorenz said that science and know-how aren’t enough in dog training; patience is the vital stuff. I find that non-confrontational techniques are more appreciated by owners who often aren’t of the disposition to want to hurt their animals to make them do anything.

Bark: I know that one of the big problems in training comes up in animal shelters, where some training is given to the dogs to make them more adoptable. Patience and non-aversive training are wonderful, but what can shelters workers do to make the animals adoptable, quickly?

Dodman: You could train fairly fast with clickers. In my office I use a clicker and food treats. I can have a dog at the beginning of a one-hour session without the faintest idea of what a clicker is, but at the end of the hour I do a click and he’ll immediately come and sit for a food treat. They can learn what the clicker means fairly quickly. But in terms of rehabilitation of a dog in a shelter, I don’t think that taking a dog that has gone through the kinds of unfortunate experiences that cause it to arrive in a shelter and then putting a choke chain and popping it a couple of times is going to sort it out. With a lot of the dogs I have seen in the behavior clinic, the relationship with the owner has broken down. Many of these dogs have been to training. They are top of the class. They are very smart. But they are willful or dysfunctional. They have problems that way, and these are the kinds of things that bring animals to shelters. You have dogs that are either relatively normal but untrained, or they are fearful, needing more confidence building. If you put a choke chain on a dog like that, you are going to drive it back in the middle of last week.

It all has to do with communication, too, it’s not about having your dog respond like a little soldier to commands. It is just clear communication. I tell people to just imagine if they were in downtown Shanghai: everyone speaks Chinese and they don’t have the faintest idea of what is going on. That’s a pretty stressful situation to be in. But if someone comes up with just a few basic words—like restaurant, bathroom, transportation—just a few words sprinkled in, that could really mean something and could help with de-stressing the situation. I see communication as being one of the three Rs of rehabilitation for a dog that has gone off the rails. The other two Rs are exercise and appropriate diet. I call that the Reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic of dog rehabilitation. If you are dog, you pronounce that with a rrruhrrr.

Bark: What do you think is the single most important preventative measure people can take to help avoid behavior problems in their pets?

Dodman: That’s a difficult question, because there are several factors, such as exercise, diet, communication, suitable restraints and fenced-in yards and perhaps providing a crate, even if you don’t ever shut the door. Put as the one single thing? Probably it would be to provide leadership. The dog is a territorial animal and when he moves into your territory, he’ll try to take it over; if you feed him, he might keep you on because you are feeding him. So it is very important to provide clear leadership in a non-confrontational way.

I think that dogs and children are a very similar. For example, there was a study done by a master’s degree graduate student at Tufts. She took dogs on the basis of puppy temperament testing who were likely to become a bit extroverted, a little dominant. And she said three simple things to their owners—she had two groups so she did it all scientifically—one group of owners were told, “Have a nice day,” and the other group was told, “Number one, make your puppy sit in order to get fed; number two, make your little puppy sit to get food treats; and, number three, provide the puppy with a crate. (You don’t have to put the dog in there twenty-three hours a day, you can even leave the door open. Make it a safe place for the dog to go to.)” With these three measures none of the dogs in the second group became dominant or gave the owners any trouble. Nearly all the dogs in the first group turned out to be dominant and got into the territorial mode of guarding their property and possessions within their territory.

So I think that leadership is very important because of the pack mentality of dogs. If you are the leader, I don’t think that the dog is unhappy about having you as the leader. And when the owner takes clear control through a non-confrontational dominance program, you can almost hear the dog sigh with relief. It’s as if they are saying, “My god, for a minute I thought it was me who was in charge here.” It’s a relief. They don’t feel miserable. They are not like humans who have to be number one. They don’t care about being at the top of the hierarchy, they just need to know where they are in it. Clearly know .

Bark: In your books you talk about the importance of aerobic exercise for the health of a dog. How can dog owners provide that kind of exercise for their dogs at the end of leash?

Dodman: The vast majority of dogs do benefit greatly from having exercise periods. And walking dogs on a leash is not sufficient exercise. It’s not that they die if they walk on a leash, just as it’s not that a human being dies in solitary confinement either. It is just that it is not optimal for their physiological and psychological well-being. Exercise is good for us and it is good for a dog. People say to me, “I give my dog a lot of exercise, I take him for a walk around the block every day and it is about a mile or a mile and a half.” I say, “Well, I take my 84-year-old mother for a mile walk around the block, but that doesn’t constitute exercise.” We really need to get heart rate to a certain level, and this is done by running off-lead.

Then again, there is another side to the dogs-in-parks issue, and this is where you find people coming out stacked high on both sides. There’s responsible pet ownership. But it is the irresponsible behavior of the few that has made society make rules that are punitive for the many responsible owners. So it is not appropriate to walk along Fifth Avenue with your dog off leash—even if you happen to have a dog trained to heel, all it takes is a rollerblader coming down the street and the dog might run after him or the dog might decide to cross the road because there is a bitch in heat. On crowded streets you need to keep a dog on lead, and people need to be responsible for picking up their dog’s waste; and if you know that your dog has a weakness for, say, attacking small dogs, that is another thing that you should control. The only way you can control it is physically. But that doesn’t mean that you have to forego aerobic exercise. It is the owner’s duty to find a place where they can let their dog off leash to run, safely.

I know how difficult it is when you live inside a huge sprawling urban complex, such as a city like Boston. Tufts is north of Boston in Medford and they have the same issues. All the dog people from the north shore of Boston were using the university playing fields to exercise their dogs. They were all congregating on the only green area. The football players were running around and skidding in dog muck. So they put a little fence around a little area in the corner, so now all the dog people are condensed into that small area. This is a difficult situation—the dog owners have nowhere else to go, but the players shouldn’t have to roll around in the dog doo either. I think there should be certain areas where dogs are permitted to do whatever they want to do, to run. I sometimes tell people if they are in a really difficult situation, though this is somewhat illicit, if worse comes to worst, take their dogs to a tennis court—wing a ball to them and they’ll run backwards and forwards.

So whether it’s continued petitioning to provide parks for dog owners, these things are necessary, considering how many dogs there are in the country. There are something like half as many dogs as there are cars. If you told car owners they could not park on the streets, what would they do? So there is this massive problem. One in five people owns a dog, something like 40 percent of all American households have a pet. And to make a rule that people can’t exercise their dogs off leash might even be one of the reasons that we are seeing an increase in problems these days. The demographics of the human population is such that people are moving into the inner cities, we are becoming a nation of city dwellers, and in the city it is a concrete jungle, as Desmond Morris would say.

Life is very bizarre for dogs who live in Manhattan. It is not at all like the natural life. A dog needs to be provided with natural outlets—being able to run and exercise and chase things and do what dogs were bred to do. Say you have an apartment-dwelling dog who has little or no exercise and is fed one of these high-energy foods. Then add to that that there isn’t much communication because the owner took the dog to obedience training as a puppy and doesn’t do it anymore. So now you have a dog that neither is communicated with properly, nor has appropriate outlets or diet. This situation, which is all too common, is an accident looking for a place to happen.
 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?
The great grass mystery

Do you ever wonder why your dog eats grass? Is it because he’s sick and he’s trying to induce vomiting? Is he missing fiber or some other nutrient from his diet? Maybe you suspect that eating grass decreases his intestinal parasite load? Well, finally, researchers at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital are seeking answers to these questions.

Led by Dr. Karen Sueda, a veterinary resident in the clinical behavior program, the researchers devised an Internet-based survey that asked owners how frequently their dogs consumed plants, the types of plants consumed, the behavior patterns before and after eating plants, and the dog’s regular diet, as well as details of their dog’s medical and behavioral history.

For each hypothesis, they made predictions and then considered which predictions the results supported. For instance, if dogs eat plants because they feel sick or to induce vomiting, then dogs who tend to eat plants should act sick either before or after eating the plant, or should vomit after eating the plant.

This isn’t the end of the study—Sueda and her colleagues continue to investigate this puzzle. Stay tuned for updates.

Update: More than 3,000 people responded and about 68% of the usable respondants stated their dog's ate grass on a weekly basis. What's interesting is that only 8% of respondents saw signs of illness before their dog's ate grass. Of the 22% of dogs that vomited after, more showed signs of illness before ingesting the grass.

So contrary to the common perception that grass eating is associated with observable signs of illness and vomiting, we found that grass eating is a common behavior in normal dogs unrelated to illness and that dogs do not regularly vomit afterward. Vomiting seems to be incidental to, rather than caused by, plant eating. ...Our current hypothesis is that plant eating is a common behavior that usually occurs in normal dogs and cats. It is generally unas-sociated with illness or a dietary deficiency but reflects an innate predisposition inherited from wild canid and felid ancestors. More studies are needed, but plant eating likely serves a biological purpose. One explanation is that plant eating played a role in the ongoing purging of intestinal parasites (nematodes) in wild canid and felid ancestors.

So on a final note, they concluded that grass eating is a common behavior and doesn't neccessary indidcate illness.

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