Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Science supports what we’ve long believed
Our dogs are our kids. It’s not rocket science—we love them, they love us. They look to us for comfort and care. We call them our fur kids or our four-legged children. So, even though it’s not news to us, it’s validating to see science confirm what we already thought was true: Our dogs are like children to us.
Children have been shown to explore the world most confidently if they have a strong attachment to their caregiver (usually a parent.) They use the parent as a secure base from which to explore their environment if they have learned that the parent is dependable and reliable, and this phenomenon is called the secure base effect.
In the recent study, The Importance of the Secure Base Effect for Domestic Dogs—Evidence from a Manipulative Problem-Solving Task, researchers conclude that dogs are bonded to their guardians in the same way that infants are bonded to their parents. They found that dogs use their guardians as a secure base, just as children do.
In the study, dogs were tested in each of two experiments and their behavior was quantified. In the first experiment, dogs were given the opportunity to obtain food from interactive dog toys, and the amount of time the dogs spent attempting to extract the food was recorded. The dogs were tested in three different experimental situations: 1) with their guardian absent, 2) with their guardian present and encouraging them, and 3) with their guardian present but silent and unresponsive. Researchers also recorded how much time the dogs spent in close proximity to their guardians as well as to the experimenter, who was present in all conditions.
The results of this experiment showed that the different situations had an impact on how long the dog manipulated the interactive toy in an attempt to extract the food. The dog manipulated it longer when the guardian was present than absent, but there was no difference in response to whether the guardian was encouraging the dog or remaining silent. The dogs spent an equal amount of time close to their guardian regardless of whether they were receiving encouragement or not. They spent more time close to the experimenter when their guardians were absent than when they were present, suggesting that the experimenter offered some security, social support or comfort in the experimental context.
The second experiment was designed to determine if the effects seen in the first experiment could be explained simply by the fact that in the situations in which the guardians were present, there were two people in the room, whereas in the guardian-absent condition, there was only one person. In other words, what if dogs are not affected by having their guardian as a secure base, but simply react to the presence of more than one person in the room? So, in experiment two, the first experiment was modified to include a fourth condition in which an unfamiliar person (rather than the guardian) was present along with the experimenter.
The results of the second experiment were that dogs manipulated the interactive toy longer in the presence than in the absence of their guardians, regardless of whether an additional unfamiliar person was in the room. The dogs spent more time near their silent, unresponsive guardians than to the unfamiliar person, who also refrained from interacting with the dog. The addition of the unfamiliar person condition allowed the researchers to determine that the guardian had a specific effect on the dog’s performance that cannot be explained by the presence of just any person.
Prior to participating in this experiment, all dogs were tested for their willingness to eat food in the absence of their guardians. They were also scored for their tendency to exhibit separation distress when kept away from their guardians. Interestingly, there was no relationship between the time spent manipulating the toys in the absence of their guardians and the amount of separation distress they showed, which means that the results of the experiments cannot be explained by a tendency of the dogs to manipulate the toy less because of the distress of separation.
This is the first study to demonstrate that the relationship between dogs and guardians is similar to the relationship between children and their parents in that both involve the secure base effect. This raises concerns about experiments into cognitive abilities that involve problem solving that is far more complex than in this study because the absence of guardians could significantly lower performance by the dogs.
It also confirms the view that most of us have about the canine members of our family—they are like kids to us!
News: Guest Posts
A fine memoir of a road trip with dogs to the World Sheepdog Trials
Not far into Mr. and Mrs. Dog, Donald McCaig says of himself and his talented “Blockhead” of a Border Collie, Luke, the male of the title: “I’ve never done as well with Luke as a better handler might have, but Luke adores me. When I go out at 2 a.m. to check lambing ewes, Luke comes too. When I wake with the night sweats, Luke wakes. He thinks I am a better man than I am. If I sold him, his earnest doggy heart would break.”
It is a tribute to McCaig’s capacity for self-reflection and humor that he is willing to admit his own failures as an occasionally over anxious sheepdog handler. He knows that dogs are not machines and we are not infallible. Ultimately all you can do is the best you can do under sometimes disastrous circumstances.
Upon reaching 68 years of age half a decade ago and finding himself with two quality border collies in their prime, McCaig decided the time had come to launch a campaign to fulfill his dream of the worlds.
Traveling 34,000 miles in his twenty-year-old car, McCaig, Luke, and June (Mrs. Dog) compete in sheepdog trials around the country hoping to compile enough points to secure invitations to join the American team in Wales. At the last minute, June garners the invitation, and Luke gets to compete as McCaig’s second dog.
If his best-selling Nop’s Trials is McCaig’s contribution to “lost dog” literature—think of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang—Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies is his homage to an equally venerable tradition, the “the dog road trip,” of which John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is perhaps most famous. McCaig is on the road not only to qualify for the worlds but also to broaden his dogs’ experience of different sheep and environments—in a fundamental sense to educate them so they will be better able to cope with situations and varieties of sheep they have not seen before.
Although June pulled them through on cumulative points for the year, her most memorable performance came at a trial in West Texas when she decided to forego herding sheep and goats in favor of far bigger game--a huge, ground-thumping oil exploration seismograph truck. “June wanted, nay NEEDED to fetch that big thumping, flickering weirdness,” McCaig writes, “and nothing I said—neither my shouts nor redirects—swayed June from her goal.”
Once abreast of the thumper, June realized she had not a clue what to do with it and returned to McCaig, but there were no longer any goats to fetch. Her assault on the seismograph thumper had disqualified her.
Hoping to further his own education, McCaig periodically detours from the sheepdog circuit to visit trainers known for their skill in training methods they have developed or adapted. Along the way, he correctly points out that the battle between practitioners of what we might call punishment-based training and those who prefer awards-and rewards-directed training is now more than 100 years old.
For much of that time it appears that punishment has ruled—aversive training, as it were. McCaig himself is something of a follower of William Koehler, the Disney animal trainer from the mid-twentieth century, who developed a method of obedience training relying on long lines and various chain collars and leashes. Even today, most people attending obedience classes probably follow some version of Koehler’s method.
McCaig is looking for training epiphanies; bright moments of understanding or enlightenment that will help him better train and manage his dogs. He meets animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, and attends sessions given by trainers using the dog’s ‘innate’ drives, rewards, the Koehler method, and shock collars, which so engage him that he adopts the industry’s terminology and calls them e-collars.
Over the years, McCaig and I have agreed to disagree about shock collars, and in future postings, I hope to examine different approaches to training. For now, I’ll just say that people searching for a blanket endorsement of shock collars or other training devices or methods will not find them here—with the possible exception of the thirty-foot long line, which need not deployed in punitive fashion.
McCaig’s book arrived shortly after I had visited my favorite trainer, Lourdes Edlin. She is one of those gifted people who will have a dog literally eating out of her hand within minutes of meeting it. She understands that to train a dog, she must learn what motivates it—food treats in many cases, but in others a ball or Kong® or simply praise.
Edlin said that she was growing tired of teaching people basic obedience—sit, stay, heel, come—and becoming more focused on “teaching people how to do things with their dogs.” The basics would follow from that.
I was reminded of Edlin’s comments when I read McCaig’s reflections on his forays into the world of training. “Though each trainer believes his or her method is best, I don’t think it matters which method the pet owner adopts so long as that owner finds a capable mentor and sticks with the training,” he writes. ”Eventually you will learn to see your dog and when that happens the richness of your and your dog’s lives will tell you what to do next.
“Neither Luke nor June was ever trained to ‘heel’ nor ‘sit’ nor ‘stand for examination.’ They have never retrieved a ball or dumbbell. They rarely play with each other and never play with other dogs. Yet they would be mannerly in any human environment. Not because they were ‘trained’ for good manners, but because they were properly socialized, exercised daily, and have a job—stock work. Mannerliness is a by product of that training.”
A few paragraphs later, he concludes, “Have the highest expectations, do the work, and your dog can walk at your side anywhere on earth. He’ll become the dog you’ve empowered to change your life. As Luke and June have changed mine.”
McCaig’s account of the trio’s trip to Wales is informative, amusing, and somewhat sad. The two males manage to win a local Welsh competition, the South Wales Sheepdog Trials Hafod Bridge, where McCaig penned his sheep brandishing his Stetson® hat instead if the traditional shepherd’s crook. A revolution was doubtless averted when McCaig confessed that he simply had deemed his crook too difficult to manage on the flight across the pond and he had neglected to obtain one. Clearly a telescoping shepherd’s crook is in order.
Luke, June, and McCaig washed out in the first round of the big show. McCaig blames himself for failing to meet his expectations, but he should not.
He’s written a fine book and made a most excellent life with Mr. and Mrs. Dog. Moreover, they have had many an excellent adventure. What more could a dog or human want?
This blog originally appeared on Psychology Today. Reposted with permission.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Squirrels, bicycles, deer, runners
You are enjoying a pleasant walk with your dog when you are suddenly faced with a distraction. The severity of the situation depends on your dog’s natural excitability and level of training along with the specific distraction that has appeared. The situation might be no big deal, a chance to proof your dog’s training, a bit of a hassle or a serious problem verging on a catastrophe.
The iconic distraction is the squirrel. It’s no coincidence that when people are pointing out that their dog is distracted by something, they just say, “Squirrel!” in an excited way. It’s true that squirrels cause incredible challenges for many dogs and their guardians. Many dogs will alert, tense up and chase a squirrel if given the opportunity. Others will bark, whine or spin in circles. There are dogs who will lie down silently before bolting towards the squirrel, as though they have been stalking it. And yet, there are plenty of dogs who aren’t overly interested in squirrels and don’t react at all. Perhaps those dogs are just not easily distracted, but some of them just find other things distracting instead.
Among the animals that can be distraction nightmares for guardians are sheep, chickens or other birds, cats, other dogs, horses, deer, and elk. Any sort of person can be problematic as a distraction, but top honors usually go to shrieking children, bicyclists, skateboards, roller bladders, and runners. Distractions can even be inanimate objects such as plastic bags blowing by, trash cans, trucks, cars, motorcycles, and balloons.
What’s your dog’s biggest distraction—the one thing you really hope you never see on a walk?
Just what does it take to get people to pick up their dog’s poop? In Brunete, a town in Spain, they has come up with a fairly ingenious way of cracking down on non-poop-picking-up dog owners. Not only did their strategy work but a media campaign was developed for free by advertising agency McCann, and it went on to win the “Sol de Plata” award at a recent Ibero-American Advertising Festival.
So just what did they do?
Community volunteers strolled the town’s streets looking for offending dog owners, those who totally ignored the poop and did not scoop. They came up to the owner and struck up a casual conversation to discover the name of the dog.
“With the name of the dog and the breed it was possible to identify the owner from the registered pet database held in the town hall,” explained a spokesman from the council.
Here’s the really clever part.
The volunteers then scooped up the excrement and packaged it in a box branded with town hall insignia and marked ‘Lost Property’ and delivered by courier to the pet owners home.
In all, 147 “express poop” deliveries were made during the course of the week in February and the town with 10,000 residents has since reported a 70 per cent drop in the amount of dog mess found in its streets.
The year before a similar attempt to tackle the issue saw offending dog owners chased by a remote controlled dog mess on wheels with the label “Don’t leave me—pick me up.”
Does your community have a creative solution to poop offenders?
News: Guest Posts
One dog at a time
For Havana's dogs, it's not the best of times, but it's not the worst either. Some improvement is due to the efforts of the non-governmental Cuban Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants (ANIPLANT), an organization focused on improving the lives of dogs and other animals in Havana. Founded in 1988 by Cuban entertainer Maria Alveres Riso, and Cuba's first prima ballerina, Alisia Alonso, ANIPLANT eliminates animal suffering through massive spay and neuter campaigns, public education, animal health promotion, and hands-on intervention in cases of animal suffering. The founder's daughter, Nora Garcia, who is now president of the organization, talked with me during a visit to the re-purposed house located within walking distance of the heart of Old Havana. The neighborhood, like many in Havana is a contradiction—tidy and clean in spite of decades of neglect.
Prior to my November 2012 arrival in Cuba, without too much difficulty I'd arranged to meet Nora. When my friend, Florence, and I arrived, we received a warm wet-nose welcome from 11 rambunctious happy dogs. Like most, they weigh between 15 and 30 pounds. All are rescues, but unlike their street counterparts, they are on the portly side, mange and parasite free, confident and playful.
The 2000 square foot building, originally a 1920s home, was officially turned over to ANIPLANT in 2007, in very bad shape. Donors, usually dog-loving tourists, helped to rebuild the interior, donating office equipment, lights, chairs, time and money. But money goes only so far in Cuba, because there is very little to buy. The reception area was welcoming, squeaky clean, and decorated with photos of dogs before they were rescued accompanied by after photos as well. Staffed by a few dedicated volunteers, the clinic is open two days a week. Veterinarians volunteer their time as well, but are sometimes paid a small fee when possible.
In urban Havana, people who own dogs often give them free range. I saw a few dogs wearing hand-made ID tags, indicating that someone takes care of them. However, taxes and tags are expensive, so most people own dogs unofficially. I estimate that less than 15% of the city's free-ranging dogs are true strays. The others are sustained by some type of care, from scraps and water, to real meals, to indoor privileges.
ANIPLANT rescues dogs in jeopardy. But they also respond to phone calls from concerned citizens. Many are tourists, who often make donations for the rescue and care of specific dogs, usually ones that frequent the hotels. Some tourists want to take the dogs home, but this is especially tough in a country like Cuba. Most rescued dogs suffer from mange, anemia, distemper, gastroenteritis issues, tape worm, ear mites and renal infections. Due to lack of space, money, homes and people who can't afford to care for a pet, dogs are medically rehabilitated, sterilized, then placed back on the street where they receive minimal care from neighborhood dog lovers. Special case dogs stay at the clinic as permanent residents.
We took a tour of the ANIPLANT facility. The kennels are more like rooms and corridors that can be closed off when necessary with ancient wrought iron gates. Except for the upstairs office, the facility seems to be open for free-run. In Havana homes, interior rooms open to a patio courtyard and this one is no different. I'd be stretching it to say this is an outdoor exercise area. It's more like a lounging area where dogs siesta and soak up sunshine. For easy clean up, they are trained to pee and poop in potted plants. Building materials are neatly stacked outside, waiting for money and an opportunity to be turned into something more useful than just shade. But in Havana, shade is good, too.
In 2007 it was estimated that 20 thousand dogs roamed Havana streets. You can help. To find out more about ANIPLANT and see more photos of my visit, go to http://doctorbarkman.blogspot.com/2013/06/street-dogs-in-havana-cuba.html
News: Guest Posts
Tough guy persona melted away with dogs
By now, most everyone is aware of the sudden death of 51-year-old actor James Gandolfini. The actor died on Wednesday of a heart attack while vacationing in Italy. His death came as a shock to his many fans and admirers, and we count ourselves among them. Like millions of others, we looked forward to sharing Sunday evenings with The Sopranos. Gandolfini’s nuanced portrayal of Tony Soprano, the violent yet charismatic crime boss in HBO’s critically acclaimed show was nothing short of brilliant. His performance connected with the audience in ways not seen before, and thus his passing seems particularly sad, and personal. Still, I doubt few of his fans will miss him more than his dog. In addition to being a loving husband and father, Gandolfini possessed a deep affection for dogs. He was an admirable advocate for Pit Bulls, believing them to be a misunderstood breed. His own pooch, a rescue dog named Duke, remained an important part of his life. The slew of photos found online of Gandolfini and Duke walking together, getting coffee, and driving around attests to their bond. Gandolfini’s last film will stand as a legacy of his passion for canines: Animal Rescue, a crime drama slated to come out in 2014, stars Gandolfini (with Tom Hardy) and revolves around a lost Pit Bull pup. We offer our condolences to his family and friends, celebrate his illustrious career and admire his contributions to the animal world.
News: Guest Posts
This weekend I’ll be the keynote speaker at the 5th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods of Pet Population Control. The conference title is a bit of a mouthful, but the basic idea is this: Can scientists develop a drug that will permanently sterilize dogs and cats? Or, put even more simply, can we make “the pill” for pets?
Now a lot of you may be asking, “Don’t we already have birth control for our companion animals?” Well, yes. Spay/neuter has been around for decades. But it’s not a perfect solution. For one, it’s expensive. That means not everyone can afford to sterilize their pet, even at a low-cost clinic. For another, it’s time consuming. That’s been a huge problem for non-profits trying to tackle America’s feral cat problem. With tens of millions of these felines on the streets, volunteers can’t catch and sterilize them quickly enough to keep up with their numbers. And if you think things in the U.S. are bad, consider China and India, which are home to tens millions of stray dogs that bite and spread rabies, yet these countries lack the resources to implement even meager spay/neuter programs. As a result of all of these limitations, millions of cats and dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year, and millions more are shot and poisoned around the globe. If scientists could develop an injection or pill that would work as well as spay/neuter surgery, we might have a shot at eliminating the world’s homeless pet problem.
Enter the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D). Founded in 2000, the Portland, Oregon-based non-profit has been working with scientists and animal welfare advocates to create a non-surgical sterilant for pets. In late 2009, the mission got a huge boost from a U.S. billionaire named Gary Michelson, who announced $75 million in grants and prize money for the development of such a product. The announcement spurred dozens of research teams to begin brainstorming a solution. Some have proposed drugs that would kill the cells that produce sperm and eggs, treating them, essentially, like cancer. Others hope to go after the brain, shutting down pathways involved in fertility and reproduction. I covered these efforts in my award-winning 2009 article in Science, A Cure for Euthanasia?
ACC&D is behind next week’s symposium. It will be giving an update on these efforts and describing some new approaches to the problem of pet overpopulation. I’ll be talking about the topic of my book and what feral cats teach us about the changing status of pets in society. I hope you’ll check out the important work this organization is doing!
See more from David Grimm who is a reporter for Science magazine, you can see more from him at davidhgrimm.com
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
One step closer to increasing the penalties for animal cruelty
Earlier this week, the New York State Senate passed a bill requiring animal abusers who have violated Buster's Law (the state's anti-cruelty legislation) to register their name and address with the criminal justice services. The bill also requires all convicted animal abusers to undergo psychiatric evaluation and bans the person from ever owning a pet again.Buster's Law was named after an 18-month old cat who was doused in Kerosene and lit on fire by a teenager in 1997. The culprit is now a three-time felon and was later convicted of sexually abusing a 12-year old mentally disabled girl. Buster's Law was a landmark bill for pets in New York, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Besides the registry, there are several bills that have been introduced by local politicians to strengthen and enhance Buster's Law. They include expanding the law to cover abuse to all animals, not just pets, and increasing penalties for animal fighting. The registry would not only serve as an invaluable resource for keeping our pets safe, but it also sends a strong message that animal cruelty is a serious issue. It's a well known fact that many animal abusers go on to harm people, like in the case of Buster. The registry bill now lies with the state assembly where it is sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Tedisco.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog to the rescue
June 21 is “Take Your Dog to Work Day.” For those of us who treasure our dogs company, being able to have our companions with us on the job is such a bonus. I’ve been blessed as an animal control officer to be able to bring my girl Breeze, a rescued Doberman, with me to work. On a rough day in the field, just being able to reach over and stroke Breeze’s silky coat can make the day bearable. I provide a soft bed next to my desk when I’m in the office and she’s expected to lie there quietly while I work. Of course, sometimes when there are several employee dogs wanting to socialize, we do allow them a play break. In the truck, she snoozes between calls and gets a potty break when I take mine. She doesn’t leave the truck unless invited and I take every precaution to keep her safe.
When we have our dogs join us at work, It’s critical that they be clean and well-behaved, and that we protect them from well-meaning but pushy or in-your-face people. Make sure your dog is comfortable with strangers and always expect that people will do silly thing to dogs. Even the nicest dog can bite so make sure your dog is enjoying any attention from co-workers or customers.
An added bonus to having Breeze along is that sometimes a scared stray will come to another dog but not a person. If my offers of treats, sweet talk and toys haven’t done the trick with a loose dog, sometimes bringing Breeze out is all it takes. On a recent call, two 5-month-old hound mix pups were dumped far out on a rural road. Sadly, one pup was killed by a car the first day, while the terrified and traumatized littermate wouldn’t come anywhere near people. He had taken up residence in an empty shed, but the minute I pulled up he took off through the pasture toward the nearby forest. Breeze was sitting next to me on the seat watching the pup intently. I got permission from the property owner and then took Breeze into the pasture where the shed was. Breeze loves everyone and is sort of the social greeter with dogs and people everywhere she goes.
The pup stopped at the sight of Breeze. With his tucked tail and hunched posture, he was the picture of dejected loneliness. I unclipped Breezes leash and said “get the puppy, Breeze.” She raced across the pasture, eager to meet a new friend, while the pup watched warily. As she reached him his tail began to wag and he curled his body into a submissive gesture of appeasement as she gave him the sniff over. Feeling more confident, the pup began to kiss her muzzle and press himself as close to her as he could.
As soon as I could see that they were buddied up, I sat down in the grass to be less threatening and pulled out a handful of treats. I called to Breeze, who came running with the pup close behind. I gave Breeze a treat and tossed one to the pup who stopped just out of reach. His body language was still terribly afraid but he clearly wanted to trust. Within minutes the pup worked his way close enough to take cookies out of my hand. In no time at all, he crawled into my lap, wiggling and wagging and soaking up the attention like he could never get enough. I slipped a leash on him but he immediately panicked. Obviously, he had never had one on so I scooped him up and carried him back to the truck with Breeze trotting by my side.
The hound pup was adopted soon after and he was just one of many examples of Breeze’s presence making my job easier.
I’d love to hear from readers who also take their dogs to work. Tell us the best part of having your buddy along on the job (or the worst!).
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Should they stay or should they go?
We were heading to a neighborhood party where the majority of the guests were most excited about the beer pong and the glorious buffet. As for me, the main draw was an opportunity to see Schultzie, whose guardians were hosting. I have already written about Schultzie, who I love. We have had the joy of dogsitting for her several times, and I couldn’t wait to see her.
You can imagine my distress when I arrived and was told that Schultzie was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the night. Yes, I was disappointed, but I was also relieved that Schultzie would be safe and free from the angst that affects so many dogs at parties. Most dogs can handle a few guests, but bigger events pose significant issues for many of them.
There are the physical risks: being stepped on, going outside through a door that is inadvertently left open and ending up in the road, being hit by errant throws in ladder ball, disc golf or any other garden games so common at summer gatherings, consuming something unhealthy that drops on the floor or that a well-intentioned guest offers—including alcohol.
There are also psychological risks: it may be too loud, the dog may be unable to locate the guardians, the amount of activity may be overwhelming, unusual behavior by guests may cause stress in the dog, and staying up later than usual may be problematic.
There are many solutions for making sure that dogs do not suffer because of a party at their house. They can visit friends or family members and avoid the party altogether, as Schultzie did. They can be taken to a professional boarding facility. If they are comfortable with it, they can spend the party cozy in a crate in a closed room, or just be put in a closed room without the crate.
Another option is for the dog to be under the watchful eye of a person who is constantly watching them and running interference to make sure that the dog is protected from any party dangers. This is a big job, similar to watching a toddler. It is not enough for the person to casually attend to the dog. That can lead to a situation in which someone asks where the dog is and the answer is something like, “Hmm, she’s around here somewhere,” which indicates inadequate supervision.
How do you protect your dog from the risks when you are entertaining large groups of people?
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