Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Positive Training Is Better
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: Guest Posts
Pub Dogs

We are impressed and amused by the lengths this pup goes to convince his unwitting new pal to share his bag of chips. We have no trouble seeing any one of Bark dogs going to similar extents to "share" a snack.

Pub Dogs was written and animated by Ant Blades of London's Bird Box Studios. Check out the Bird Box Studio YouTube channel for more of Blade's delightful shorts.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Wag the White Part
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Making Friends
With a Stray Pup

I sat down in the grass, leaned against a post in the sunshine and took a deep breath. It was easy to relax here. Other than the occasionally distant cry of a bird, it was utterly quiet on the remote ranch. A slight breeze tickled my skin and I felt peace descend over me. The reason for my being there lay quietly watching me from 10 feet away. He was a fuzzy-faced mutt of uncertain lineage and completely adorable. I had been called to pick up a stray on the ranch and was told that no one would be home but that the dog had been hanging around the barn for a few days. He seemed friendly but no one had been able to get a hold of him. Sure enough, the dog ran up wiggling his whole body and thrilled to see me but afraid to be touched. I offered cookies and he took them and then darted away.

I had to change my initial demeanor from one of capture to one of friendship. Dogs are often so good at reading our body language that sometimes they pick up on the subtlest of cues that we aren't even aware of. After I allowed myself to totally relax, I could see him start to relax too. He lay down near me and we both gazed over the surrounding hillsides. He glanced at me occasionally, and studied my face briefly before turning away. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. If I reached toward him he scooted away. Every few minutes he would get up and approach for a cookie before retreating again. He sniffed my outstretched legs and boots, studying them thoroughly for clues to my suitability as a friend. Each time he would check me out for a few moments and take a cookie before his fear overcame him and he would retreat again and lie staring into the distance. It was as if he wanted to contemplate the situation for a while before deciding what to do.

Each time he returned he came a little closer. I rewarded every overture of friendship with treats and finally he let me tickle his chin while he ate his cookie. Over the next 20 minutes or so we progressed to stroking behind his ears and scratching his neck as he tilted his head back and blissfully closed his eyes. A couple of times I moved too fast and he shot away from me. Don't be a rookie, I reminded myself. I was starting to feel the pressure of spending so much time on one call but I knew that a few minutes of patience would be more likely to be rewarded with success.

Finally the time came when I was able to stroke his whole body as he cuddled as close as he could get. When he climbed into my lap and leaned his head into my neck and closed his eyes and sighed I knew we were friends. After another moment or two of the love fest, I slowly, carefully eased a slip lead over his head. He panicked and fought the leash until I scooped him up and soothed his fears while stroking his sweet whiskery face. “It's ok hon, you're gonna be ok.” I crooned. A glance at his teeth showed him to be a baby of about 5 months or so. It always frustrates me to find dogs like him who are unsocialized and have obviously never even had a leash on. The good thing was that at this age he would likely come around quickly. He certainly had delightful temperament.

The pup wasn't claimed and he passed his temperament and health evaluations with flying colors. He was vaccinated, wormed and neutered in the shelter clinic and it was no surprise that he was adopted quickly.

I would love to hear reader's experiences with coaxing scared dogs or taking in a stray in need. How long did it take them to feel safe and what made the difference?   

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Westminster Hosts First Agility Competition in NYC
Mixed and purebred pups run together in the Master Agility Championship

As judging gets underway this morning for the storied Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the more athletic pups already had their night to shine this past weekend. On Saturday, Westminster hosted their first annual Masters Agility Championship. It also marked the first time mixed breeds could participate in a Westminster event since 1884 (apparently non-purebreds were included in the early days). The American Kennel Club has only allowed mixed breed dogs to participate in their companion sports events (agility, rally obedience, etc.) since 2010.

To show their dedication to all dogs, regardless of bloodline, Westminster designated spots in the in the final Championship round to the highest scoring All American (mixed breed) in each height group (calculated by their performance in two qualifying rounds). A special award was also given to the top All American across height groups in the finals.

While the top three dogs in each height group automatically advanced to the finals, the remaining spots were given to the highest scoring breeds not represented in the top three. You can imagine if they didn't have this rule in place, the 20" height group for the finals would be nearly all Border Collies.

Although I was a little disappointed that not all of the most competitive dogs were represented in the finals, it did meet the goal of bringing more awareness to this rapidly growing sport. The Masters Agility Championship had the most media attention I've ever seen for an agility competition. Breed diversity in the final round highlighted the fact that any dog can participate in this sport.

The finals showcased many amazing runs, as dogs gracefully negotiated difficult obstacle combinations at top speed, but I was most moved by watching the special bond between the handlers and their dogs, as well as the support and friendship between competitors. Also, I've never watched so many of my friends on television before and it was nerve wracking to watch them!

In the end, Kelso, a 7-year old Border Collie handled by Delaney Ratner of Cape Elizabeth, Me. won the overall Masters Agility Champion award and Roo!, a 6.5 year old Husky mix handled by Stacey Campbell of San Francisco, Calif. won the Best All-American award.

If you missed the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster, the National Geographic channel will be rebroadcasting the finals on Wednesday, February 12th at 9 p.m. ET. The results can be viewed on the Westminster Kennel Club web site.

News: Guest Posts
Zoo Baby: Part 2
Family Greetings
claw marks dog greeting window

There are claw marks on every door in the house. The deep grooves etched in the living room windowsills were there when we moved in seven years ago. My husband said he imagined the dog of the previous homeowners eagerly welcoming them home by tap-dancing on the glass. Rather than caulk over the marks or replace the window frames, we let them be, expecting our own pack to add their signatures.

When we pull up in the driveway, we listen for the distinctive, joyous barks. They’re home, they’re home! Jolie the Dalmatian, usually so dainty and gentle, pops up in the window to perform her welcome home song and dance, as if it were a stage and she had just downed Red Bull in her dressing room. Ginger Peach the Dutch Shepherd joins the show, paws braced against the windowsill as she emphatically tosses her head back with each staccato note.

We never see Darby the Queen, our eldest Dalmatian, but there is no mistaking her growly trills. They start low and grumbly, deep in her chest, then scale a full octave as the notes flow from her throat and escape her clenched embouchure, cheeks puffing out like little bagpipes.    

The poor Border Collie, Magnum, and cats Cricket and Bruiser Bear, take cover, unsure of their place in the chorus. Or perhaps they’re overcome by stage fright. Housebound, they reluctantly serve as captive audience to this musical spectacular.

I wonder how our little Zoo Baby will respond when his dad comes home from work and the show begins. Will he be like my friend’s two-year-old grandson, who happily barks at the window alongside his canine co-stars when she arrives? He goes so far as to giddily lick her face, perfectly mimicking the enthusiastic greetings of the pack.

Or will the explosion of energy overwhelm him? Will he seek comfort from me, clambering into my lap with his hands over his ears? Or will he bound off stage to his room, finding solace with the quivering cats and Border Collie?

Perhaps he will do as his mama does and smile at the happy chaos.

Read Zoo Baby: Part 1

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Meant-To-Be Dog
I was destined to meet Radar

The kids and I came home from a long Friday afternoon following a long week and ready for some R & R, and found that we had company, which was good news. We were all enthusiastic in our hellos to our friend Nick, who we had not seen since before leaving for Costa Rica over 5 months ago. He had come over to see my husband, and us, too. Then, we embarrassed ourselves with bad manners by doubling our enthusiasm for his new dog, who was visiting as well. To exaggerate, it was something like, “Hi, Nick, great to see you!” followed by, “Ooh! Wow! Yay! A dog! He’s so cute! Can we pet him? Oh, he’s adorable!” Pretty typical for our family, I’m sorry to say.

My kids, honestly, are delighted about any canine visitor, and I’m pretty much the same. Still, this time, even I was over the top, and I think that’s a sign that this dog was meant to wander into my life and make me happy, even though he’s not actually my dog. First of all, this dog is a Havanese, which is my favorite breed of dog after the mixed breed. I’m not sure why Havanese always delight me, but I’ve never met one that I didn’t love. This little guy was no exception. (I’ve always thought it was fitting that I fell in love with a breed from Latin America—the Havanese is named after Havana, Cuba—since I am so interested in and comfortable in that culture.)

Second of all, when I asked Nick about the dog’s name, the answer was a pleasant surprise. The dog’s name is Radar. This literally made me squeal with delight because my mentor in the field of dog behavior, Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. used to joke that I was like Radar from the TV show MASH. Her reasoning was that I had a tendency to anticipate what was needed when I was her teaching assistant for her class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I loved the show, I loved the character, and I loved being compared to him.

Regrettably, Radar is not my dog, but I can’t help but feel a strong connection to him anyway. I just love the little guy! Have you ever met a dog that wasn’t yours and was never going to be yours, but you still felt like the dog was supposed to come into your life?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Rescue Effort for Sochi Canines
Volunteers mobilize for a last ditch effort to save strays

While the Sochi government ruthlessly kills stray dogs in preparation for the Olympic Games, animal rescuers have mobilized to save as many pups as possible. On Monday the volunteers were told that they had until Thursday to remove dogs from the Olympic Village or the animals would be shot.

Russian billionaire and Sochi Games investor Oleg V. Deripaska has backed the rescue effort by funding PovoDog, a makeshift shelter on the outskirts of the city. The name is a play on the Russian word povodok, which means leash. Some have called the outdoor kennels a "doghouse shantytown," but there was no time to build an indoor structure.

All week volunteers have been rounding up dogs with a golf cart and bringing them to PovoDog. They've saved about 80 pups so far, but sometimes it feels like a losing battle. Animal rights advocate Tatyana Leshchenko estimates that over 1,000 dogs have been killed since October. Responding to public outcry, the International Olympic Committee told reporters that no healthy dogs were being killed, but that's hard to believe.

Some say that these strays were abandoned by families whose spacious homes were demolished to make way for the Olympic buildings. They were compensated with new apartments but not everyone brought their dogs along. Compounding the problem is the lack of neutering in Russian culture.

Rehoming these pups will be difficult. Shelter volunteer Nadezhda Mayboroda says that everyone in Russia wants a shepherd or pit bull, so the mixed breeds will be the hardest to place—a trend they hope to reverse with a new outreach campaign. In the meantime, volunteers are urging Olympic visitors to think about adopting one of the dogs in need. Check out their Facebook page to meet some of the available pups.

There have also been individual efforts to help out as well. Moscow resident Igor Airapetyan was so upset over the dog culling that he drove the 20 hours to Sochi to rescue as many dogs as he could fit in his car. Now he's back in Moscow trying to find homes for the 11 pups he rescued. Igor is disappointed in the Olympics, which he has always considered to be a symbol of peace. He's hoping that this canine crisis will unite animal protection groups in Russia so that conditions will improve, long after international news crews leave Sochi.

Check out a video of the lucky pups in Igor's car!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Clickety Clips
Collection of online dog training videos

If you’re looking for extra frustration in your life, may I suggest trying to locate dog helpful dog training videos on the web? They are the proverbial needle in the haystack, and trying to find them is an excellent strategy for destroying your daily productivity.

Finding the right dog training videos is a daunting task because there are millions of videos out there and many of them have problems ranging from not being useful to being potential harmful to you and your dog. For novice trainers, it’s a huge challenge just to determine which videos feature techniques that are both humane and effective. Even the most experienced trainers can struggle to wade through the endless amount of material to find what they are looking for.

A new site called Clickety Clips is seeking to streamline the process by cataloging the best dog training videos to make for easier searching. Only videos using positive methods are included. Because the site is committed to positive training techniques, clicker training videos are featured prominently, but if you train with other markers or with a different style entirely, there is still plenty of material of great interest.

The videos are arranged by general topics such as Puppies, Wellbeing, Talks and Fun. Within each main category, the videos are organized further. For example, in the Puppies section, there are videos in the following categories: house training, recall, biting & chewing, before you get a dog, kids & dogs, basic cues and walking.

Clickety Clips is still a new site that is building its inventory of videos, so I suspect it will grow from its modest numbers now to considerably more in the future. It has some great videos from Sarah Whitehead, Sophia Yin, Ian Dunbar, Susan Friedman, Jean Donaldson and Gwen Bailey among others. I’d like to see them include videos from other well-known trainers including Karen Pryor, Laura Monaco Torelli, Patricia McConnell, Pia Silvani and Teoti Anderson.

I had a lot of fun wandering around the site and watching more videos than I had time for. Two of my favorites are Sue Sternberg’s At the dog park: the importance of participating and The Family Dog’s How to kiss a dog (not).  It’s refreshing to see video after video with reputable information and useful instructions.

Have you checked out this site yet and found a video that you really loved?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Being Killed in Sochi
Animals are being exterminated in advance of the Olympic Games

The Sochi Olympics has been met with controversy on many fronts, but now reports are surfacing that the Sochi government is overturning their decision to control the stray dog problem humanely in advance of the Games. The government is worried that the animals may bite visitors or interfere with the competitions.

Back in April, Sochi decided against hiring an extermination company to kill homeless animals after strong opposition from animal rights groups. The government promised to move towards sterilization and build a new animal shelter. Now it seems that they've gone back on their word and returned to the original plan. On top of that, there seems to be no evidence that a new shelter was ever built.

According to Basya Services, the Sochi government has hired the company to "catch and dispose" of stray dogs. Reports also indicate that the pups are not always euthanized in the most humane manner (Poison seems to be common, which besides being a horrible death, is a dangerous thing to leave lying around. There is also a history of people shooting or stabbing stray animals).

If the Sochi government did try the humane approach, it doesn't seem like they allocated enough resources to make it successful. Admittedly the sterliziation method takes more time than their "quick fix," time that they no longer have. I can imagine that existing shelters and rescue groups are most likely overwhelmed.  

At this late hour it seems there is little that can be changed, but I hope that the attention and public pressure that Sochi receives will spur them to make a cultural shift in responsible pet ownership. Neutering pets is not common in Russia and that, along with less people abandoning animals, would make long strides in solving the overpopulation problem. It's sad that so many dogs will lose their lives over a sporting event.