Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Can cats and dogs get along
You’ve heard the heartwarming stories: Dog meets cat. Cat loves dog. They bond and are best buds forever.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Article in Time Magazine says no
Sometimes when you have a strong opinion about something and want to share your views, someone else expresses what you think so well that all you really want to say is, “Yeah! What she said!” I am currently having that experience. I just read Trisha McConnell’s blog responding to the new article in Time Magazine about the science of animal friendships, and I highly encourage you to take a look at her articulate reaction. (The original Time Magazine article is only available online to subscribers.)
In the article, writer Carl Zimmer makes some good points, but I believe he’s off the mark a bit on some others. On the plus side, he discusses research supporting the formation of friendship in a variety of species other than humans. On the downside, he asserts that scientists have only recently concluded that animals form friendships, which runs counter to the work of Barbara Smuts, Frans de Waal and Jane Goodall, to name a few of the people whose research provided substantial and well-accepted evidence of animal friendships decades ago.
Kudos to the author for pointing out that long term studies of animals are essential for understanding bonds between individuals and asserting that such studies are highly valuable. A thumbs up to Zimmer for understanding that all the anecdotes in the world can’t make up for the lack of research and hard data. It’s true that studies of friendship in the domestic dog are sorely lacking. However, I must insert a thumbs down here since a paucity of evidence because the phenomenon has not been investigated does not merit the article’s claim that most scientists think dogs “fall short of true friendship.”
I’m glad that Zimmer wrote this article so we can participate in the discussion about it. It’s a wake up call regarding the need for more research on social relationships in dogs AND the importance of scientists making themselves available and more easily accessible to people who write articles about science. (Zimmer has written on Facebook that he spoke to several scientists while researching this article, but he didn’t mention any whose work dealt with social relationships in dogs.)
I think there is ample reason to think that rigorous studies are likely to support the idea that dogs form true friendships, and I’d love to see good studies that address the question. What do you have to say about the topic of friendship in dogs?
News: Guest Posts
Tragedy should serve to educate about responsible dog ownership
You may have seen the feel-good footage of a fireman who pulled a dog out of icy waters on Tuesday, February 7. Or the viral video of the same dog biting a news anchor live on TV the very next day when he and his owner were reunited with the rescuer.
Viewers are shaking their heads and pointing their fingers. Some say the dog is to blame. After all, anchorwoman Kyle Dyer, of NBC’s KUSA Denver affiliate, was only leaning in to give Max the Dogo Argentino a little kiss. Others claim Dyer is at fault; she either missed or misinterpreted Max’s warning signals, which included lip licking, blinking, stiff body, turning his head away, whale eye and, finally, just before the bite, baring his teeth and growling.
I say owner Michael Robinson is to blame for allowing his dog to be in the stressful environs of a TV studio a mere 12 hours after Max’s traumatic ordeal and rescue. In his nearsighted quest for 15 minutes of fame, he has risked his dog’s life for a second time.
That’s right—a second time. (Read Denver-based animal behaviorist Kari Bastyr’s thought-provoking essay, “The Perfect Storm,” for more insight.) The initial risk occurred last Tuesday, when he allowed Max—who does not have a solid recall—to be off leash near an icy pond. True, who could predict that a coyote would’ve come along at that exact moment, and that Max would’ve chased him onto the ice, and they both would’ve broken through?
But that’s what training is for, to prepare one’s dog for the unpredictable to ensure his and the public’s safety. If Robinson’s tense leash corrections on Max during the live segment are any indication, the poor dog was ill-prepared in general, not just for the spotlight.
Dyer had emergency reconstructive surgery the same day she was bitten. Hopefully, she will make a full recovery and soon be able to return to work. As for Max, the three-year-old mastiff is being quarantined at a Denver animal shelter.
"Several people interacted with the dog [prior to the segment] and everything seemed fine,” said Patti Dennis, KUSA vice president of news, as quoted in a Yahoo! News article. “Then at the last moment, the dog had behavior that nobody predicted or understood. Clearly we learned something."
One can only hope. Or, if you’re a dog advocate like me, you can do something about it and educate others about reading and respecting dog body language. The majority of dog bites are preventable. Until dogs learn how to speak our language and verbally tell us when they’re feeling threatened, it is our responsibility to learn canine communication.
A good place to start is the ASPCA’s “Virtual Pet Behaviorist,” resource page with photo illustrations. I also like the book Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloff, and the DVD The Language of Dogs: Understanding Canine Body Language and Other Communication Signals by Sarah Kalnajs. Both are available from Dogwise.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Adolescence is only a stage
The puppy was leaping all over the adult dog—batting the older dog’s ears, crawling across her neck, nudging her muzzle and generally acting like he had no idea that she might prefer to rest after their long play session. It’s the kind of scene I’d heard people describe countless times, but this client had video. As we watched, she said, “See, she was so sweet to him. He could do anything to her and she would just let him.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Self-taught rabbit takes on the role of sheepdog
I love watching Border Collies herd sheep. They're so graceful and efficient. But a talented bunny in Sweden is giving sheepdogs a run for their money.
You may have seen the YouTube video of a tiny rabbit herding sheep on a farm in Sweden. Champis, the 5-year-old mix-breed bunny, has become an online celebrity in the last two weeks. More than two million people have watched the video clip in the short time it's been online.
Champis started showing herding instinct last spring. Now, he regularly herds sheep and chickens, adjusting his style as needed. Champis rounds up his subjects and can even stop them from escaping. Despite the bunny's tiny size, he commands respect from the sheep that are much bigger than him.
Nils-Erik and Greta Vigren believe that their bunny learned to herd after watching their sheepdogs work. They never gave Champis any training.
The Vigrens' neighbor, who also happens to be a sheepdog breeder, is in awe of Champis' talent and is the one who posted the video. He says that Champis does the job better than many dogs.
Champis is one amazing bunny! I have an even greater appreciation for his skill since I'm currently trying to teach my Border Collie, Remy, how to herd sheep. Remy has a lot of natural instinct, but he's not exactly stopping any sheep from escaping any time soon!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Kong's Mark Hines on toys and training
It’s not surprising that retired sport dogs Kaya and Dakota are well behaved, polite and respond phenomenally fast to a wide variety of cues. They live with Mark Hines, behavior and training specialist for the Kong Company, who’s logged thousands of hours with them, and thousands more consulting with service dog organizations, shelters, military and law-enforcement handlers, prison programs, behaviorists, breeders, and veterinarians, to name a few. At heart, though, he’s just a guy who loves his dogs. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Mark about using toys as a training tool.
Q: Why do you like training with toys?
A: Basically, because it’s fun! You see more desire on the dog’s part to work, more passion and willingness to perform when you train with toys.
Q: Is one type of dog more receptive than another to this method?
A: High-drive dogs tend to respond well to toys. By drive I mean high arousal, easily stimulated dogs who are willing to work and have the motivation and desire to work. Dogs with drive are dogs who are rarin’ to go. When I see drive, I see so much happiness. I know I can shape a behavior and get a beautiful response.
Q: How do you advise people to begin using toys as training aids?
A: Find a toy the dog likes and that is stimulating. Then, teach a good foundation, which includes a solid “out” so there’s no conflict over the toy. The dog can spit it out on the ground, drop it or trade it for a treat. If you are having trouble with this, try switching to a toy that the dog doesn’t want as much. You can also go up in size to a bigger toy that the dog can’t get into the back of the mouth, an area I call the “power zone.” Or, go to a harder toy that’s not as self-rewarding. For example, a Wubba with tails that flop around is harder for many dogs to give up than a toy that has no movement. If the toy is self-rewarding, the dog may not release it as easily, especially early in the training process. Once a dog has a clean “out,” any toy should be fine.
Q: Not all dogs are interested in toys. What then?
A: Dogs can be taught to enjoy toys, even dogs who seem to be the least playful or toy-motivated. I once worked with a Beagle who was only into food, not toys. I started giving him treats every time he made a toy squeak, and it evolved into play even after I stopped using food as reinforcement.
Q: What about the dog who’s more interested in the toy than in you? How do you stimulate that interest?
A: You have to be engaging. What’s the point of trying to interact with the dog if he doesn’t even want to be with you? Be the gate to play—a clown with gadgets, toys and fun.
Q: You also use food rewards; why do you incorporate both types of reinforcement into your training?
A: Using toys as a reward instead of food is kind of like taking your child to an amusement park rather than taking him out to dinner. Which do you think your child would choose? I consider food as a way to focus the dog (especially puppies) and toys as a way to stimulate play and create drive. Sometimes toys bring out arousal and frustration, which can actually cause a dog to lose focus, so you need to balance toys and food. When working with a low-drive dog, it’s possible to do more repetitions with food than with a toy. High-drive dogs will work for a toy all day long.
Q: Can you use toys to increase a dog’s drive?
A: Yes. Movement is your friend. Show excitement, be active and animated, make an idiot of yourself. Make a toy desirable by holding onto it. Make it something that your dog finds fascinating and really, really wants. Build frustration just a little. Play hard-to-get in order to build the dog’s energy and motivation. Toys on ropes create even more drive because they move faster and are unpredictable.
Q: What would you say is the most common training mistake people make?
A: Not using markers, either a clicker or a consistent “Yes!” Don’t use the toy as a marker. Say “Yes!” or click before presenting the toy or the treat. Otherwise, the dog will only watch the toy.
Q: How much time should a dog be allowed to play with the toy as reinforcement?
A: Train with a pattern of “drive, exercise, drive.” Start with a toy in your training vest or under your arm, then ask the dog for a behavior, and as a reward, offer the toy for a few seconds to rev him up. Ask him to release the toy, then ask for another behavior and continue that way throughout the session. The toy is a reward just as a treat would be a reward. So, it’s sit, yes! toy, out! Then it goes back in the pocket for another exercise. These are not play sessions in between. In training mode, the dog is working for that toy, and he works fast because you are withholding the reward and he really wants it.
A play session at the end can serve as a jackpot for exceptionally good work, and that can be as long as you have time for. At the end of a session, I say “free dog,” which means work is over and we’re having fun.
Q: How can you use toys to help a dog learn a variety of skills?
A: Presentation matters. The dog has to take toys from all over: high, low, different positions. Be versatile. This also helps dogs learn to target. If the dog gets too near my hand and bites by mistake, the game ends immediately. Dogs can be very careful with their mouths, but not enough people require them to be.
Always have the dog come in to you—move the toy away to attract him in. This is especially true with recalls. Throw the ball behind you as the dog approaches, sometimes to one side, sometimes to the other, to keep the dog coming in with good speed and in a straight line.
Q: In addition to fun and training, do you use toys in other ways?
A: Toys are great tools to help dogs recover from something scary—a fallen jump or loud noise, for example. You can take the dog right back to a state of drive with a toy.
Q: Lots of people like to play tug with their dogs, but sometimes struggle to play it correctly. What advice do you give people about this game?
A: If you give an inch, dogs will take a mile. When playing tug with dogs, pull forward and out, not up and down or side to side. To keep the dog from creeping up the toy, keep the toy moving. Dealing with arousal is important. You need to decide when the game starts and ends.
Q: What are your favorite toys?
A: I love the Kong, of course, and the Kong on the rope is my key toy. I also love the large Goodie Bone to train good “outs.” I can hold onto both sides while the dog has it in his mouth, and it is not self-rewarding because it has no motion. To create intense drive, many agility or dock-dog trainers swear by the Wubba.
Q: What other training advice do you wish everyone would follow?
A: Train in short sessions, especially with young or inexperienced dogs. “Short” means just a few minutes, or even one minute for puppies at the very beginning. Multiple sessions throughout the day that add up to 15 minutes are better than 15 minutes all at once. Make it happen every time. It’s better to ask dogs for a behavior 50 times and have them do the behavior 50 times than to ask 100 times and have them do it 75 times. Have fun! The minute a session turns into work for you, give it up because it’s not going to go anywhere. Finally, always, always, ALWAYS end on a positive note.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Video reveals an extraordinary dog
Trainers sometimes bring in one of their own dogs to puppy classes to help shy puppies feel comfortable around other dogs. It takes a special type of dog to do this properly. Very few dogs can handle this social situation without causing more harm than good. The dogs who succeed are emotionally stable themselves, capable of remaining calm no matter what the puppies do and socially savvy enough to adjust their own behavior based on what the puppies seem to require. The right dog can help the puppies learn to greet other dogs properly and to feel more comfortable in social situations with other dogs.
This six-months-old boxer in this video is just the sort of dog that I would LOVE to have around shy or timid puppies and dogs, though the video shows a greeting with cows rather than with puppies.
Notice how even in the first moments of the video, the dog moves slowly and calmly. She is not leaping, jumping or showing any other signs of arousal. She approaches the cows calmly, and when, about 7 seconds in, the black cow on the right seems unsure and backs away, the dog reacts by immediately stopping her forward motion and making herself less imposing. Specifically, the dog lies down and stays calm, even ceasing her tail movement and lowering her head, all of which seems to give the cows confidence to approach her.
For the next three-quarters of a minute, the dog remains still except for movements of her head as she sniffs the cows who come close to her. Though she is not moving, her body is relaxed (rather than being still in a rigid way), which likely helps the cows to feel relaxed, too.
She starts to wag her tail again at around 55 seconds (I’m guessing the time based on slight movement of the body since the tail is out of view until 57 seconds when you can see it wagging) and this is right about the time that the cows become more confident. In fact, they come so close to her that just about any dog would have backed up from the pressure. This boxer, however, simply retracts her neck as much as possible and continues to let the cows investigate her.
I’m impressed by what I see in this video—a stable dog who is confident and composed. She’s a dog who stays relaxed, which indicates tremendous emotional control, particularly in a young dog. She’s also quite social with a clear interest in greeting this other species, and willing to proceed in this greeting at the speed at which the cows are comfortable. I even like the way she periodically checks in with the person holding onto the leash by looking that way. It’s hard to know, but it seems as though she would have been responsive to a cue from that person at any time if one had been given.
It’s just a short video—barely over a minute long—but it’s enough to show some really interesting body language and to reveal a dog who’s really something special.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What a joy!
Dogs bring us joy. It’s that simple and that beautiful. It doesn’t even have to be a dog I know for the happiness to come my way. This weekend, I read about a three-legged dog named Onyx who is learning to surf. To surf! I have all the legs nature originally gave me, and I have to tell you, my experience with surfing is far more about falling in the water at strange angles and velocities than it is about smoothly riding the perfect wave.
I felt such joy learning about this dog enjoying himself on the water, when surely many would have doubted that it was possible. Onyx is in a happy home, now, but when he was found five months ago, he was attached to a wooden post and his leg was a bloody mess. The veterinarian and orthopedic specialist who is now his guardian was worried he wouldn’t even make it to surgery much less survive it because he was severely dehydrated and septic. And now he’s romping, playing and surfing.
His story tells of a more dramatic turnaround than many dogs experience, but he’s not alone in doing things that seemed doubtful at one time. Over the years, I’ve had many clients whose dogs had behavioral issues and were able, after hard work, to do things that they wouldn’t have believed possible. To hear someone express joy that they can take their dog out on uneventful neighborhood walks now even though the dog used to bark-lunge and go crazy at the sight of a dog even a block away thrills me. And the happiness people feel now that their formerly frightened dog accepts visitors to the house without shrieking and hiding is a happiness I share with them.
Anytime a dog achieves something, it’s a cause for celebration, but that’s especially true when it’s the end result of an uphill battle. What does your dog—with however many legs—do that you or other people might have considered unlikely or even impossible, but that is now a source of joy to you both?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What do you think?
Are there differences between the behavior of big dogs and the behavior of little dogs? There are obviously all sorts of influences on behavior, some of which may be confounded with size while others are not, and there are statistical issues with asking about size, but that doesn’t take away the fun of thinking about the differences in the behavior of large and small dogs.
Bark editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska has asked me to address this subject in my next behavior column, which I’m really excited about! Though I have some thoughts about this, I’m most interested in knowing what YOU think.
I’m particularly interested in observations by anyone who has worked with a lot of dogs of all sizes—trainers, behaviorists, groomers, veterinarians and any other canine professionals as well as people who have been guardians to many dogs. But if you have comments based on just one or a couple of dogs, that’s great, too!
I’m so curious what you think, and your opinions on the following questions or any insights at all will be most welcome.
DOES size influence canine behavior, and if so, how?
What does being a big dog person versus a small dog person mean to you?
Do people treat large and small dogs differently?
How does guardian behavior toward dogs of unequal sizes influence their dogs’ behavior? (This question is of interest to scientists. There’s a 2010 research paper called “Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog”.)
Are there different expectations of dogs based on their size?
If you were seeking a dog of a certain size, was behavior a factor in that wish?
I look forward to hearing from you!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Social facilitation alive and well
When I have a dog with me, I am more popular at the elementary school than on any other occasion. At times, I have brought cupcakes and other treats to school, and the dog is a bigger draw by far. Marley came with me when I went to pick my kids up from school last week, and it became apparent that dogs may just be the best social facilitators ever.
I met some parents I’d never talked to before. Some said something along the lines of, “He’s very well-behaved” or “I wish my dog were so easy to have out in public,” but the conversations often moved on to unrelated topics. As a result, I made one new friend who I am meeting for coffee next week, and there are more people I can greet by name at school pick-up and other events than before.
Nearly every child I know and many I don’t came up to talk to me, and to tell me stories about their own pets. I love when kids ask if they may pet my dog, which is a lesson that more and more children seem to have learned. It’s charming when kids say, in that endearingly simple way of the young, “I like your dog” or “Your dog is cute.” My kids love showing off Marley’s training skills by asking him to perform a trick such as high-five or crawl.
Does your dog cause smiles and social mingling?
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