News: Karen B. London
Some dogs figure it out right away
It’s scary for dogs and guardians alike when a dog makes contact with a sliding glass door, and it can certainly be injurious. Most dogs who live in or visit a house with such a door eventually run or walk into it, but some never seem to learn to watch out for it. I’ve known dogs who would run into the glass door every time they are trying to pass through if it were not for some assistance from people.
We can help dogs avoid this danger by putting decals on the glass, blocking the door with a chair or leaving the screen door next to the glass one partly open. Still, it would be easier if dogs learned to take proper precautions on their own like Tucker, who is staying with us this weekend, managed to do.
Tucker is a sweet dog who is fearful of many things. He hesitates or backs away with his body lowered and his ears back if he encounters people or dogs he doesn’t know, new places, brooms, trash cans, sudden noises, and a great many other things that are encountered regularly in modern suburban life.
Given that Tucker is hesitant about so many ordinary, harmless things, it’s no surprise that a door that he bumped into really affected him. Luckily, he was not moving quickly at all when his nose hit the glass, so he was not physically injured. Still, he was obviously distressed enough by the incident for it to influence his behavior ever since.
We now have a chair in front of the door which we only move when we are about to open the door, so Tucker is not at risk of another accidental collision. However, he does not seem to know this. Each time we move the chair and open the door, he approaches ever so slowly until his face is past the “danger zone” at which point he trots through and into the yard. He behaves the same way when coming back inside.
He learned to check that the path was clear after one episode, but that’s unusual. Most dogs don’t seem to figure it out after one collision or even after many of them. It’s likely that the reason Tucker learned this lesson so fast is that he is fearful and is trying to avoid the feeling of being afraid. His response is good in the sense that he is less likely to run into our glass door again, but the ease with which he learns to be cautious of trouble extends beyond that situation.
For example, he was running through our living room to take a treat from me after I called him, and he skidded a bit on our wood floor. Since then, he has walked around that particular spot on the floor. Similarly, he heard a loud noise (I have children!) while he was walking down the stairs, and we had to re-train him to go up and down the stairs using a lot of treats, praise and patience. When my purse fell off the counter, he became afraid of it, and backed away when I picked it up later in the morning. So, while most dogs don’t learn to watch out for the glass door after bumping it to it just once, they also don’t learn to be afraid of locations or items that are innocuous but happen to be associated with a single instance of being startled.
Do you have a dog who has learned to avoid a glass door? How about a dog who easily learns to exercise caution even when it is not necessarily warranted?
News: Karen B. London
CAAB Chat about friendship, jealousy, grief, and bullying
CAAB Chats are a new program featuring monthly discussions among CAABs (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) about topics that matter to people who love animals. This month’s CAAB Chat is about Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs, and will involve a conversation about friendship, grief, jealousy, status, bullying, gratitude, and more. Anyone can register to listen in to the live chat (which is this Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time) free of charge, and replays are available for a fee.
I have listened to the previous CAAB Chats on Canine Communication and Response Prevention and really enjoyed them. This month I’m excited to be one of the CAABs doing the chatting, along with my friend and colleague Camille Ward, PhD. CAABs Suzanne Hetts, PhD and Dan Estep, PhD will be moderating the discussion, and we are all excited about the topic and discussing it with one another. We hope that everyone who signs up to be a part of it will feel like they are listening in as we candidly discuss topics that matter to us, just as we would at a conference or even over a cup of coffee (or other beverage of choice.)
There are so many questions about social roles and relationships in dogs, and this list is just a few of the ones we find particularly interesting and hope to hit on.
How do friendships develop among dogs?
Do dogs have preferences for their play partners? What contributes to those preferences?
How do relationships among dogs, and between dogs and people go wrong?
Why do we seem to have so many dogs who assume a “bullying” role with other dogs?
How are the relationships dogs form with each other similar to those they form with people? How are they different?
Can dogs feel gratitude?
What do dogs experience when another dog they’ve lived with dies? Do they feel grief?
Since the discussion is informal by design, there’s no telling exactly where it will lead, and that’s part of the fun. Additionally, those listening in are asked to submit questions they’d like to see addressed, and those will surely lead to interesting parts of the conversation.
CAABs all have a scientific and research background and many of us have worked with animals with serious behavior problems. We spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, reading and talking about animal behavior (not to mention a lot of time with animals themselves!) We love chatting about our work, which is a labor of love for all of us, and this week’s CAAB Chat is just one more opportunity to do so. We hope you will join us!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog trainer Denise Fenzi talks about methods and perceptions with
On engagement and relationship building:
However, in the switch to food-based training, we seem to have lost some of our basic positive interactions and expressions of joy with our dogs. Instead of learning to joyfully work together, we “pay” our dogs with cookies—and once they’ve paid, many owners forget to tell their dogs how proud they are of whatever [the dogs] accomplished. I think this is a terrible loss. Humans can be so much more than Pez dispensers!
Great training should not be about substituting cookies for approval. Great training should be about getting needed behaviors (often through food), then taking it further. That next step —relationship—is what fascinates me about dog training.
Building a relationship with a dog is much the same as building a relationship with another person. While sharing food is a fundamental pleasure, no one would say that the meals “create” the relationship. Food simply supports one aspect of it.
What’s really being developed (quite possibly over a meal) is an understanding and an awareness of that other person; the thing that develops, which we call relationship, is incredibly hard to explain or put into words. It is sympathy for their circumstances —both what goes right and what goes wrong. It’s about knowing what makes them happy or sad. It takes a relationship to know that, since each person has unique needs. The stronger your relationship with another, the more likely you’ll make the right choices.
We can have exactly the same type of relationship with a dog, but I think very few people are aware of that. When I think about the time I spend with my dogs, most of it [involves] trying to build that underlying foundation. I study my dogs carefully to understand what matters to each of them. I pet them and play with them, and soon I learn what does or does not work for each one. I know what frightens them, and I support them as needed. I also know when to back off and let them solve their own problems. And each dog is completely different!
I do use lots of food and toys to train. But at the end of the day, my goal is much bigger than acquiring behaviors. It is finding out what we can become together. Since this is a unique process (just like it is a unique process to develop a relationship with another person), it never gets tiresome, boring or “rote.” It’s fascinating. And it can take you places that most people have no idea were possible with a dog.
On what her peers in IPO and competitive obedience think of her use of positive reinforcement:
At the lower levels, I think most competitors like what I am doing and are interested in learning how to train with more positive methods. At the middle levels, I think there is curiosity mixed with a good dose of doubt. They have been raised on the idea that dogs must learn that they have no choice about training, and they struggle to believe that this might not be correct. This level of trainer is already using mostly positive methods to train new behaviors, but they don’t understand the final steps that are important if you want to compete and still not use compulsion.
At the middle/high levels, I am an irritation. They want to believe that they have the most current and best methods, and it irritates them that I am succeeding without compulsion, because they are convinced that it is not possible. This group often speaks very poorly about me, but they know nothing about my methods nor do they show any interest in learning. They have already decided that what I am doing is not possible. The high level trainers mostly ignore me. They are successful however they are training, and they neither know nor particularly care what else might work.
Of course, those are generalities. I have supporters and detractors in all camps, but those are my basic observations.
News: Guest Posts
“Do As I Do” scores high
A rambunctious five-year-old Labrador Retriever who until a few months ago knew not a word of any language, obeyed no command, charged around the house or zipped through any hole in the fence before one could utter the name he didn’t seem to recognize has become my 91-year-old mother’s great and constant companion. He sits or lies by her when she is sitting or lying down. He moves with her when she goes somewhere with her walker and when she tells him to give her clear passage. He accompanies her when she walks around the pool for exercise. She says, “He is a good boy.” My mother has never trained a dog. She had a nice trained dog once, but she had been trained by someone else and given to her.
But Rocky, as he was named by my mother’s granddaughter, received no formal instruction from any source. He was neutered, which helped slow him down, but more profoundly, he and she opted for companionship and accommodation over ignoring each other. She talks to him constantly, telling him what she wants him to do. If she praises him, she is not effusive. She may occasionally slip him some food when she is cooking, and he will if given a chance steal her breakfast bagel. There is no system to it, but there is consistency.Top of Form
More than a few dog trainers who follow behaviorist principles that require a stimulus, a reward or punishment, for learning to occur would argue that Rocky is untrained—that is that he still will not perform on command the actions demanded of him—except he comes when called. He moves when told. He tells my mother when someone is at the door and stands by her when she opens it, thereby providing at least the illusion of protection. If that is not training, what is it?
My friend and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff (“Animal Emotions”), might call the process dog teaching or dog learning.
It might not be as quick or as systematic as one of the common schools of training, including those that use electric collars and choke chains and those that rely on clickers and food rewards or other positive re-enforcers. But then again the results might be quicker, deeper, and longer lasting.
I have seen no statistics on the numbers of dogs educated in this fashion, but I imagine it is substantial. Essentially it relies on the dog’s innate curiosity, desire to please, and recognized ability to imitate behavior and recognize words and emotions, traits which arguably thousands of years of living with humans have served to enhance. It also requires the human have an interest in being with the dog and interacting with him or her in a meaningful way—what used to be referred to as “quality time” with the hound. Praise and rewards are meted out more according to the person’s nature than any program or schedule. They do not have to involve food. Our Kelpie Katie was unmotivated by food—she would ignore food rewards—but when a tennis ball appeared she went on high alert. Even then the ball was not essential to her learning something.
This intuitive style of dog teaching is not without its intellectual underpinnings thanks initially to Edward Tolman in the first half of the last century. He proposed that learning had intrinsic value and that people and animals could learn in the absence of immediate rewards—latent learning it is called. That idea underpins what is called the social theory of learning, which also views learning as a social endeavor that can involve imitation of behavior that is demonstrated or verbally described.
In an article in the January 28, issue of Applied Animal (Behaviour Science, entitled “Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the “Do as I do” method and the shaping/clicker training method to train dogs,” Claudia Fugazza and Ádám Miklósi of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, look at a canine system of social learning that relies on the dog’s great capacity for imitation called Do As I Do (DAID) compared with clicker training, which relies on the timely delivery of rewards to employ the dog’s associative abilities in shaping its behavior. (The article is only available by subscription, but here is the Abstract.) The clicker becomes a stand-in (secondary re-enforcer) for the actual re-enforcer, usually food. Clicker training is individualized instruction that requires the dog to figure out what earns rewards.
Fugazza, a graduate student in ethology developed Do As I Do in order to study social learning in dogs. To do that she had to develop protocols for teaching them. Judging from its success, it should gain a wide following. In this method, trainers, usually the dog’s primary human companion, use standard reward-based techniques to teach the dog to associate a small number of gestures with the command, “Do It!” The dog is then shown a new task and taught to perform it upon being given that command.
For this study, Fugazza and Miklósi compared the speed in learning three sets of tasks of increasing complexity, from knocking over a glass (simple) to opening or closing a locker or drawer (complex task) to a sequence of actions, like hopping on a chair and ringing a bell or opening a locker and removing a purse (compound). Objects were involved in each task that were not considered part of the family dog’s normal repertoire so that mastery of the task could be construed as learning. In the simple task there was no difference in performance between clicker-trained dogs and Do As I Do dogs, but that changed as the tasks became more difficult. Do As I Do dogs performed noticeably better, with more of them learning the task in the allotted fifteen minutes than clicker-trained dogs.
No one knows how the dogs are making the connections, and in their conclusion Fugazza and Miklósi thought it more important to downplay that result in favor, Miklósi said in an email, of providing trainers with as many methods as possible so they can choose the one best suited to their needs.
That is a tactical decision rather than a scientific one. It is grounded in the recognition that, especially commercial dog trainers and trainers of working and service dogs, like to use what has worked for them in the past with the kind of dog on which it has worked. That is one reason punishment-based forms of dog training persist.
For home schooling, time, patience, devotion—and a daily reminder of who has the big brain—are the keys to success and those come from discipline we often need more than the dog.
Used with permission of Mark Derr and Psychology Today, see more from Mark Derr’s blog “Dog’s Best Friend.”
Also see http://thebark.com/content/dogs-are-asked-just-do-it
News: Karen B. London
The dogs’ behavior is fascinating
The kinship I feel with dog lovers allows me to share the following with no concern that any of you would fail to understand: Yesterday I was in need of an emotional pick-me-up, but I was short on time, so I wandered over to YouTube to look for a dog video that would quickly make smiling a sure thing.
The first video I came to was called “Dogs Welcoming Soldiers Home” and I watched it once just for pleasure, enjoying the reunions. I especially loved the Great Dane at about 1:20 because a Great Dane on its hind legs is always a striking image and because this was my childhood breed.
Then, I couldn’t help myself, and I watched the video again. This time, I observed the dogs carefully the way I do when I am working. Several aspects of the dogs’ behavior interested me.
The most obvious behavior was also the least surprising. These dogs were exuberant, leaping and spinning (presumably joyfully) when greeting their returning soldier guardians. They were out of control in the best possible way.
They were so revved up that energy was exploding out of them, and that included vocalizations. Many of these dogs were whimpering and whining and making other loud sounds, but not barking. It’s hard to say what all these vocalizations mean, but I feel comfortable saying that they were likely indicative of dogs feeling intense emotions. The sounds they made seemed very expressive to me, even though I can’t claim to know precisely what they were expressing. It is interesting to me that so many of the dogs made these sounds. Since this was a compilation video, it is possible that the loudest dogs were chosen because the person who compiled the clips found these sounds interesting, as do I.
The close physical contact that the dogs sought with the people was fascinating. The dogs generally seemed not to be able to get close enough to the people. Many of them seemed to be pressing their bodies against the people in a way that’s not typical. Primates, including humans, often seek out the ventral-ventral (bellies together) contact of hugs, but it’s not very common dog behavior. Even most dogs who jump are more likely to make contact with just their paws rather than with their bodies.
In other contexts, such as cuddling on the couch or floor, many dogs do seek close contact, but that is more often lying next to or on top of people, rather than behavior that looks more like a human hug. These dogs were not resisting hugs and being picked up the way many dogs often do, but seemed quite comfortable with those human actions. (A few even jumped into the soldier’s arms.) One exception is the Golden Retriever at about 4 minutes who tolerates but doesn’t love the prolonged hug from behind. Even this dog soon settles in and seems somewhat more comfortable with full contact with the person in a slightly different position.
The most surprising behaviors I noticed were the tail wags. It has been well documented that dogs experiencing positive emotions tend to wag their tail higher to the right, and the study found that to be particularly true of dogs greeting their guardians. I would have expected dogs to be so joyous when greeting a guardian after a long absence that their tail wags would be to the right. Yet, in this video, many of the dogs exhibited left-biased tail wags, which I found curious. Certainly, the dogs seemed happy to see the people. After all, their enthusiasm is what makes this video so wonderful in the first place.
I can only speculate about why left-biased tail wags were so prevalent in this video. Dogs cannot understand the concept of deployment, and since most of these service members were probably gone for about a year, it’s likely that the dogs were surprised to see them again. It is my belief that many dogs whose guardians are gone for extended periods of time have already grieved for these people as though they are gone forever, which could make their return wonderful, but also startling. Perhaps confusion or shock factored into the emotions of the dogs enough to counteract the joy of the reunion that I thought would lead to right-biased tail wags.
If you have had an extended separation because of military service or any other reason, what was your reunion with your dog like?
News: Karen B. London
It’s not news, but it is science
I hardly think it will be a shock to anyone reading this, but according to a recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, positive training techniques are better than negative methods. Specifically, they promote less stress in the dog, and are better for the dog-person relationship.
A soon-to-be published study called “Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog-owner relationship” supports the beliefs of many trainers, behaviorists and guardians that there are substantial advantages to training with positive reinforcement.
In this preliminary study, researchers compared the behavior of dogs being training with positive reinforcement (desired behavior results in the appearance of something positive such as a treat or toy) to those being trained with the use of negative reinforcement (desired behavior results in the disappearance of something negative such as pressure on the leash or body). The data were collected in advanced dog training classes at two different training centers and the behaviors of interest were sitting and walking nicely on a leash.
The dogs being trained with negative reinforcement performed more behaviors that indicate stress in dogs (such as licking their mouths and yawning) and more lowered body postures (the tail down and either the ears lowered or the legs bent in a crouching posture) than dogs being trained with positive reinforcement. The dogs trained with positive reinforcement gazed at their guardians more often than the dogs trained with negative reinforcement. This suggests a stronger connection in those pairs, although the authors acknowledge that those gazes could be a result of dog looking for the reinforcement.
The researchers conclude that positive training techniques are less stressful for dogs and likely better for their well being. This matches my experience with dogs and the people training them. How about you?
News: Karen B. London
The trick is in the voice
“Are you such a good dog? Can my sweet girl wag her tail!” It’s lovely to see a dog respond to these questions with a great big tail wag. It’s even more charming if she can take it a step further by performing one of my all time favorite behaviors. Here’s a description of the next step.
The person continues by saying, “Now listen very carefully because instead of wagging your whole tail, I want you to wag just the white part.” When the dog wags just the white part at the tip of her tail, it’s a real crowd pleaser.
Of course, this particular format of the trick requires that the dog’s tail is white at the tip only, and that is only true of some dogs. For dogs whose tail has no white at the end, you need to change your phrasing, perhaps saying, “Wag just the tip” or “Now just give me a little wag” but the dog’s behavior is the same.
It is possible to train a dog to wag her tail in response to the cue “Wag your tail” and to wag only the tip of the tail when she hears, “Just the white part.” However, some dogs will perform the behavior you want without really being trained to do so. The secret is in the enthusiasm of the person’s voice. When you say something along the lines of “Are you such a good dog? Can my sweet girl wag her tail!”, you need to say it in the overly exuberant manner that we all have when praising or greeting our dogs. It’s that enthusiasm that is going to make your dog wag her tail whether she’s been trained to do it on cue or not.
Then, to elicit the small, just-the-tip tail wag, you completely change your tone of voice, becoming very serious and talking more slowly, quietly and slightly deeper. So, when you say, “Now listen very carefully because instead of wagging your whole tail, I want you to wag just the white part”, the key is not what you say, but how you say it. Many dogs will respond to the change in your energy level by dialing back their tail wag to a less lively one, and for dogs with a white-tipped tail, that makes it look like they are cleverly responding to your instructions to wag only the white part.
Some dogs reliably do this the first time and every time, but in other cases, it takes some trial and error to figure out exactly what tone of voice and level of enthusiasm prompt the dog to exhibit the right amount of tail wagging for each part of this trick.
How does your dog’s tail respond when you vary your tone of voice and level of enthusiasm? Do you have a wag-the-white-part (or a wag-just-the-tip) dog?
News: Karen B. London
Making this challenge more manageable
“I would walk my dogs more often if they acted like that!” the man said as Lucy, Baxter and I passed him on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. Both dogs were walking calmly, one on either side of me. They were relaxed, their leashes were loose, and it was a pleasant walk for all of us. While I was dogsitting for them, I was happy to take them out for two long walks a day and some round-the-block-to-pee outings.
It’s fun to take dogs out when they are well behaved, but the sad truth is that if it is miserable to take dogs out for a walk, those walks don’t happen as often as they should. That’s especially true if multiple dogs are involved. After all, it’s one thing to have a single dog pulling you around the neighborhood, but it’s far worse when it feels like a complete sled dog team is putting their muscle into hauling you around. It’s no fun and it’s not safe, especially in winter if you live where there is snow and ice.
The good news is that there are various ways to improve your experience when walking multiple dogs. I like to place the options in two different categories in my mind. Some are short-term solutions and others are for the long term.
One way to make your walks with more than one dog more enjoyable is to change the equipment you are using. Just adding head collars such as the Gentle Leader or the Snoot Loop can make a huge difference. These collars fit over the nose of your dog and act very much like halters on horses. When fit properly, it’s like having power steering for your dogs, and they have helped many people have control over their dogs in a gentle humane way. Another option is the Easy Walk Harness, which also puts physics on your side so that dogs are unable to pull as they can with basic flat collars. I don’t recommend prong collars or choke chains because they can injure and scare dogs.
Before taking all your dogs out on walks with any new equipment, I recommend taking each one alone at least once. These various collars and harnesses are not difficult to use, but it’s sensible to get the feel of walking each dog with something new before trying it en masse. Taking dogs out one at a time allows you to concentrate on how each individual is adjusting and reacting to the change. If you need to make an adjustment to make it fit better, it’s easier to handle that without the rest of the crew.
Walking one dog is easier than walking two, three, four or more, and another short-term option is walking the dogs one at a time. While this is less efficient and results in either more time walking for the humans or less time walking for each dog, it is still preferable to nobody getting a walk. There are people who adopt this strategy permanently, but for most people, it’s just a way to give dogs exercise while working up to walking dogs together once again.
Working towards group walks means training! It may not be intuitive, but if dogs are to be expected to walk nicely on leashes, they have to be taught to do so. Just like any other skill, it takes practice for your dogs to learn and perfect. It is best to work on training each dog in individual sessions before working with them all simultaneously.
The first step in training a dog to walk nicely beside you is to encourage him to be by your side and reinforce him when he’s in the right spot. In an open area with no other dogs present such as a fenced-in yard, let your dog know that you have tasty treats (or a ball or squeaky toy if your dog prefers toys over treats) and then help him earn them every time he walks beside you. Click your tongue, smooch, slap your leg, or wave a treat next to you, and let him have the goodies for taking a stride or two next to you. If he gets ahead of you, turn around and treat him for catching up. Make sure to give him the treats when he is next to you rather than in front of you since you are teaching him it’s fun to walk next to you, NOT that’s it’s fun to be out in front. The goal is to be interesting to your dog so that he wants to be next to you. Changing your speed and direction will make you more interesting to most dogs, so make sure you speed up, slow down and make a lot of turns.
Once the first step is going well, the next step is to teach your dog that it’s fun to pay attention to you and that wonderful things will happen if he decides on his own to join you and walk next to you. In a safe open area, walk in big circles. Resist the urge to help your dog attend to you. The idea is to teach him that he will be glad if he decides to walk next to you, and he can’t learn that lesson as effectively if you encourage him in any way. The goal is for him to learn that choosing you over everything else in the environment will result in good things for him. It’s important to use high quality treats and reinforce your dog for making good decisions about his behavior and attention.
The third step is to add a leash and go on a walk to work on this behavior. Shower him with treats every time he is in the right position. If he is behind you, encourage him to catch up and reinforce him for doing so. If he gets ahead of you, turn around so that he has the opportunity to catch up to you and receive treats. This is a good time to add in the cue “heel” so that eventually you can cue him to perform this behavior. Say “heel” every time you move forward when he is by your side. Heeling is not easy for dogs, so make sure to give a lot of treats in these early stages of training. Giving too few treats is one of the most common mistakes of novice trainers. Remember to be generous like experienced trainers are! Later, you can reduce the frequency of treats. Intersperse short sessions of heeling on the walk, relying on your equipment in the interim periods to prevent your dog from pulling. Most dogs require lots of practice before perfecting this skill, and many short sessions are more effective than a single longer one.
The last step is to put your dogs together and walk as a group. If you have many dogs, you may need to start with pairs of dogs, then triples and then work up to the whole canine family walking together. Some people find that walking all of their dogs on one side works best, but others have an easier time with one dog on one side and one or more dogs on the other. Only you can decide what is best for you and your dogs, but it’s a good idea to observe your dogs to help figure out the best option. Sometimes a dog is uncomfortable walking beside a particular dog and it makes sense to honor that and adjust positions accordingly.
I enjoyed all my walks with Lucy and Baxter, and that’s what I wish for anyone, whether they have more than one dog or not. The combination of equipment that helps eliminate pulling and training dogs to heel should make walking your dogs a recreational activity instead of it feeling like a grueling endurance event.
News: Guest Posts
Does it smell weird in here to you?
You know what I’m talking about. That nagging feeling that something smells “different,” but you just can’t put a finger on it. This has been my life for the last three days. Day after day, I’d enter the living room and think, “Did it always smell like that in here? It smells different, right? What is that!?”
On the fourth day, I finally sat down on the couch to read a book. On the coffee table before me sat a bowl of chestnuts. They had yet to be roasted. “Chestnuts don’t have a smell,” I thought. To the right of the chestnuts, the remote. Electronics, also void of smell (although my Game Boy got moldy, and that smelled). Then, I saw it. Next to the remote sat the biggest, most obvious thing on the table, the centerpiece you might say. A large, overripe cantaloupe. It had been there for 6 days and with the radiator pumping out heat (because it is so cold!), the cantaloupe was starting to mush, and that mush was permeating the air and my nostrils. How could I miss it? It was the most prominent thing in the room. Yet day after day, I missed that the gnarly cantaloupe was behind the new stench.
That’s how I feel about dogs. Not that they are starting to smell (although some of them might be), but that despite them being major parts of our lives, we can overlook the important bits.
I left 2013 by posing a question: How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 1. The answer: If judging by smell, you know your dog pretty well. In one study, people could identify the smell of their dog compared to an unknown dog in a “smell test.” I finished Part 1 suggesting that while we might be attuned to some nuanced bits of our dogs — like their smell — we’re not attuned to all parts of them, like behavior. I’ll explain.
Is Snoopy happy?
We know happy! But…
But fear was different. Study participants who were dog professionals did a better job identifying fear compared to both dog owners and people with little dog experience. The authors suggest that “professional experience with dogs aids proficiency in interpretations of fearful behavior.” It didn’t matter how many years the dog professionals had spent working with dogs; they had the same proficiency in identifying fear.
So why did dog professionals do so much better in identifying fear? One reason could be that professionals looked at more dog body parts for clues, such as the eyes, ears, mouth and tongue, while non-professionals looked at fewer body parts, focusing primarily on legs, paws and tails. More details in the figure provided by Wan et al. (2012).
The researchers summarize: “The results of the current study are among the first to demonstrate that the perception of an emotion in dogs can be associated with human observers’ level of dog experience.”
While many of us love dogs to pieces (Buzzfeed reminds me of this on a daily basis), noticing and interpreting their subtle behaviors can take practice. That’s okay! Behavior observation can be learned.
Keeping an eye out for fear
What does fear look like? It can include a wide variety of body parts and body postures. Wan and colleagues explain, “…fearful dogs are said to reduce their body size – crouching into a low posture, flattening their ears, and holding their tails in a low position. Shaking, yawning, salivation, freezing, panting, paw-lifting, and vocalizing are examples of other behaviors that have been associated with fear in dogs.”
Maybe, in certain contexts, you notice fearful behaviors in your own dog and want to help decrease it. Like gymnasts, fear is flexible. Just as dogs can sensitize to stimuli, so too can they habituate. With classical- and operant-conditioning techniques, behavior management, and maybe some professional assistance (see below), dogs can have a modified outlook on life. What does a modified outlook look like? Check out Masey’s progress over at Reactive Champion.
Sometimes we just can’t piece it together that the cantaloupe smells. But of course, a trained fruit expert would exclaim, “Julie! Your cantaloupe is rotting.” You see where I’m going with this. Sometimes dogs are fearful, and the clues are right in front of us, like a rotting cantaloupe. Learn to recognize dog fear behavior. This is a blog about dogs after all. Not cantaloupe.
Photo: a muddy dog…..is a happy dog via bambe1964; National. Flickr Creative Commons
References & Recommended Reading
This article first appeared on DogSpies, Scientific American. Used with permission.
News: Karen B. London
Tips for helping your dog “go” this season
“Help! My dog won’t “go” in the snow!” Some dogs hold it so long that it’s worrisome and others simply choose to go inside the house, even if this is something they would never do when the weather is more to their liking. Elimination problems when there is snow are common, especially for dogs who have never been in snow and for small dogs who struggle with cold to any degree. There are likely at least two reasons why dogs show a reluctance to eliminate when snow covers the ground.
Most dogs learn at a very young age what surfaces are appropriate for bathroom use. While still puppies, they experience certain substrates such as grass, leaves, concrete, or indoor training pads or litters, and those are what they are likely to prefer for the rest of their lives. When dogs encounter snow, they often just don’t know that it is okay to eliminate on it. Puppies who learn their housetraining skills during a snowy winter are far less likely to have this problem. So, even though I consider raising a puppy in winter to have its miseries, an advantage is that the dog is less likely to balk at eliminating in the snow each winter.
Another issue for dogs with the snow is the obvious one—it’s cold! There is the cold air itself and also the cold snow on their paws (and on their legs and bellies in some cases!) For dogs unfamiliar with snow, especially small dogs who are not fans of cold under any circumstances, they simply hate the feeling of cold and snow. This makes them resistant to head out at all, and unable to relax enough to go once they are outside, which is perfectly understandable.
Luckily, they are ways to help your dog so that eliminating in the winter is still something that happens on the ground outside rather than on the carpet inside. One method that many use is shoveling out a patch of grass for them along with a path from the door to the potty area. I’ve had clients who have tried to minimize the work involved by shoveling a path to an area protected from the snow such as under a balcony or even under a trampoline. Most dogs are more likely to head out to take care of business if it’s easier to walk there and if there is a snow-free area available to them.
Many dogs do better if you go out with them. Not everybody wants to head out with their dogs in freezing temperatures to wade through the snow together, but if you find that it leads to success, it may be worth it to you. In some cases, several outings may be required. You can go out with your dog, and if he doesn’t eliminate within 5-10 minutes, take him inside with you, keeping him right with you on leash so he can’t sneak off and “go” in the house. After another 5-10 minutes, head outside together to try again. You can repeat this many times, and though it takes considerable effort, it does work for most dogs.
Some dogs struggle the most to eliminate in the yard when it’s snowy, but do better on walks through the neighborhood. If it’s not so cold that your dog’s paws can’t take it, walks may inspire your dog to eliminate. Being away from the yard is helpful, and the activity may make your dog’s need to go more urgent. Leading your dog to areas where other dogs have already gone (yellow snow has its benefits!) may encourage your dog, too.
Training your dog to eliminate on cue has helped many dogs potty in all sorts of new and confusing situations, including snow, but it’s most helpful to teach your dog this skill before the weather is working against you. There are two steps to this training process:
1) Reinforce elimination behavior by giving your dog a really great treat every time he pees or poops. Don’t wait until your dog comes running back to the house to give him the treat or he’ll think he earned the treat by running over to you. Stand right near him as he goes and give him the treat the instant he is done eliminating so he connects going potty with receiving a treat.
2) Once you have done this many times and he begins to look at you expectantly for that treat after eliminating, add in the cue. Take him outside as usual to eliminate and give the cue you want to use to tell him to eliminate, making sure to say it before he goes. Common cues are “Hurry Up”, “Get Busy” and “Go Potty.” With enough practice, a dog will learn that when you say the cue, he should take care of business. Continue to reinforce him with treats once you have added in the cue so that he knows he did the right thing and is happy that he did.
Once your dog can eliminate on cue, you can give him the cue in situations where he might not be sure that the area is acceptable, such as in snow or in a rocky area without grass. It’s just one more way that specific training allows you to communicate with your dog and make it easier for him to understand what to do.
Does your dog resist going potty in the snow? If so, how have you handled it?
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