Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It often happens naturally, but can be taught
Many dogs know the names of the humans sharing their home. It’s only natural that they notice that certain words go with certain people. Many dogs will react to the names of their guardians with great enthusiasm when they are not present, perhaps anticipating their return. In the natural course of things, we humans use each other’s names a lot, saying hello, getting each other’s attention, and calling out into the void to see if they are around. We also use it to announce someone’s arrival, as in, “Rich is home!”
Training dogs to know people’s names on purpose is also possible. One of the easiest ways to teach a dog the names of everyone in the family is with a game called Family Circle. One person says, “Where’s Karen?” and then I call the dog to come. If he comes to me, he gets a treat or other reinforcement, but if he goes to someone else by mistake, he will be ignored. Then, it’s my turn to cue the dog about where to go, and I might say, “Where’s Rich?” at which point Rich will call him, and going to Rich is the right thing to do to get reinforced. This game works best with at least three people. With only two people, the dog may learn that the correct response is to go to the person who did NOT just say ‘Where’s . . .?” without necessarily learning names.
In the early stages of training a dog to play Family Circle, the dog should always be told the name of the person he must go find and hear that person call him to come. The person should also be within sight of the dog. Later on as the dog becomes competent at the task, the cue “Come” can be dropped, and later still, the game can be played when the person he must find is out of sight, so the dog must go search for that person.
I love this game because of its practical applications in the event of a lost person, or even one who has just gone out of sight or earshot briefly. Not only does it solidify their understanding of names with a game can be very useful, it also teaches dogs to find the person in response to the cue and gives them great practice with their recall. Among the other benefits are that the dog can get physical exercise without the people having to move, and it can help keep a dog occupied mentally when we are too busy to engage in more active play.
I’ve been thinking lately that dogs who live with only one person don’t have the same opportunities to learn guardian names. If there are no other people in your household, how often is your name spoken aloud in the presence of your dog? I wonder two things about dogs who live with one person: 1) Does the dog know the person’s name? 2) If not, does it matter?
If you live in a family in which you are the only human member, do you think your dog knows your name? What about those of you with multiple people in the family?
News: Guest Posts
Mascot of the El Paso Chihuahuas
He sports a side-of-the-mouth snarl, nicks in his right ear, fiery eyes and a menacing spiked collar.
The face of the El Paso Chihuahuas, the newest team in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, “Chico” is the creation of Brandiose, a San Diego design firm owned by longtime friends Jason Klein and Casey White.
“He’s been in a few alleys in his time, and sometimes he’s even come out on the positive side of a fight,” explains Klein. He and White got their inspiration for Chico by asking themselves, “What would the Oakland Raiders look like if they were a minor league baseball team and their name was the Chihuahuas?”
The product of a “Name the Team” contest, Chihuahuas was chosen to reflect the scrappy spirit and fierce loyalty for which El Pasoans are known, as well as the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. From these elements, Brandiose then created the team’s colors and a marketable family of logos to appeal to kids and families, including Chico swinging a bone bat, crossed (and gnawed on) dog bones below a chewed baseball, and Chico’s signature fierce face.
The team takes its “canine culture” seriously.
The four-level pavilion in right field is the Big Dog House, and the open-air top level is the Wooftop. The game program is called “The Paw Print,” fans park in the Barking Lot and among the concession items are nachos served in a dog bowl. Among their social media hashtags is #FearTheEars, which has also become a hand signal.
The first of two “Bark in the Park” nights, during which accompanied dogs were welcome in two reserved sections of Southwest University Park, attracted more than 300 pooches of all sizes.
Brandiose’s brainchild now is known worldwide. Before the season’s first pitch, orders for Chihuahua merchandise came in from all 50 states and eight countries, and sales have remained strong.
Chico now has many amigos.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
This means “heel” but I use it for kids
Whatever skills you have from your career or any other experiences in life may get used in surprising ways once you have kids. For me, as a dog trainer and behaviorist, there are many obvious parallels between the way I treat my dogs and the way I behave with my children. To use just one example, I like to keep both kids and dogs in physical contact and right near me when there is any danger from cars.
Parking lots and streets are the scariest places in the world with either dogs or kids. In the dog world, that’s what leashes and heeling are for. I’m a tyrant about it with my kids. The rule since they were old enough to toddle was that whenever we were in the street or in a parking lot was that they had to hold my hand or touch the car. (This compares to having your dog on a leash.) When they got a little older (around 3 or 4 years) they graduated to “Stick Close.” In this video, my three-year old is holding my hand as we cross the street but my four-year old is “Sticking Close,” which looks a lot like heeling.
In fact, the only reason I called it “Stick Close” instead of “Heel” is because I didn’t want the other moms or the neighbors giving me weird looks. After we shot this video for me to use in a talk called “Applying Dog Training To Our Relationships With People” at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) conference, my three-year old son wanted to practice “Stick Close” which I had just started to work on with him. As I do with dogs, when learning something new, I work with only one student at a time, so my husband held onto my older son while I took only my younger one with me across the street.
On the first attempt to stick close, he bounced across the street. I was going to stop and start over, and then I thought, “It’s just like a shaping the behavior of a dog.” Shaping behavior is common in dog training and it means working gradually towards successively closer approximations of the true behavior that you want. In this case, the first approximation is that he was not running off, but generally staying next to me and moving in the right direction.
Later I worked towards having him walking rather than bouncing and paying closer attention to me and where I was going. Once I got into that dog trainer mode of shaping behavior and thinking about what I would work on next, listen to how much more of my dog trainer voice I acquired as I praised him. I was a dog trainer before I became a mom, and sometimes that shows!
Have you taken skills and ideas from your experience with dogs and applied them to other situations?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trained pups in New England uncover hidden child porn.
Is there any limit to what the canine nose can uncover? Police dogs in New England are now being trained to sniff out child pornography by finding the hard drives and other tech devices that could contain the hidden files. In recent years, child pornography trafficking has become a growing problem in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Authorities estimate that it's now a $20 billion industry.
The Connecticut State Police Training Academy is teaching dogs, using reinforcement based methods, how to find all sorts of digital devices that could contain child pornography. People hide devices with illegal data in the most unlikely places, like behind ceiling tiles or inside radios. Over 60 dogs have graduated from the 22-week program.
A Labrador Retriever named Thoreau was recently placed at a Rhode Island police department, making the Ocean State the second in the nation to have a digital device sniffing pup. Last month Thoreau assisted in his first search warrant, pinpointing a thumb drive containing child pornography in a box hidden deep inside a metal cabinet.
Thoreau practices every day to earn his dinner, tracking down hard and flash drives inside desks and cabinets. Frequent training is required to maintain fresh skills and to keep up with the ever-changing technology.
I can't wait to see what amazing task our dogs are trained to sniff out next!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A study with insights into welfare
If you think that having dogs who bounce off the walls is problematic for them and for you, you are not alone. “Wall bouncing” is one of the repetitive behaviors that have long been considered indicative of poor welfare and chronic stress in the animals performing them. Other repetitive behaviors that are commonly seen in dogs are pacing, circling and spinning, all of which are generally regarded as stereotypical behavior.
Stereotypical behaviors are those that are not just repetitive, but also pointless and occur because of deficits in animals’ housing situation that cause frustration. That is, when animals are performing stereotypies, they are exhibiting behavior that has no function, and doing it over and over because their living environment is inadequate to meet their needs. A recent study in the journal Physiology and Behavior called Repetitive behaviour in kennelled domestic dog: Stereotypical or not? explored whether all the repetitive behaviors observed in kennelled dogs are actually stereotypies. The reason this question matters is that if their repetitive behaviors are stereotypies, it suggests that animals’ welfare may be compromised, but if they are performing repetitive behaviors for other reasons, then that conclusion may be suspect.
The researchers studied 30 male German Shepherds who are fully trained Police Dogs in the UK and live in a kennel that can hold as many as 40 dogs. They studied their behavior as well as their cortisol profiles (which indicate stress) before and after veterinary exams. They found that all but two of the dogs performed repetitive behaviors, but that very few of them displayed stereotypies. Repetitive behaviors were most commonly induced by a dog and handler walking past the kennel and by witnessing food preparation, which supports the idea that repetitive behaviors are simply a response to situations of high arousal rather than to stress.
The dogs could be divided into four groups based on the pattern of their repetitive behavior and the eliciting stimuli. Twelve of the dogs only exhibited repetitive behavior in response to husbandry events (including veterinary care) or not at all and showed them in less than half of the observation period. Five additional dogs also only displayed repetitive behavior in those same contexts, but they showed it more than half of the time that they were observed. Eight dogs performed repetitive behaviors in response to husbandry and when a person walked by or stood outside their kennel. The last five dogs displayed repetitive behavior in the absence of these and other specific stimuli.
Though all the groups had similar baseline cortisol profiles, this last group had a cortisol profile following the exam that differed from the other groups. These dogs showed a decrease in cortisol immediately after the exam rather than the increase in cortisol seem in the other groups. This suggests one of two possibilities. One is that these dogs are under chronic stress and lack the physiological ability to respond typically to the additional stress of an exam. The other possibility is that these dogs are so attached to people, including their caregivers and the veterinarian, that being with them after a separation is such a positive experience that it balances out the stress of being removed from the kennel and examined.
The relationship between repetitive behaviors in dogs and their welfare status remains unclear, but this study suggests that there is not just one motivating factor behind the expression of repetitive behaviors. Many questions remain about repetitive behavior in dogs who are kenneled. Is it an indication of poor welfare? Could the repetitive behaviors be a result of reinforcement (food or attention) of these behaviors from people caring for the dogs? Why are the cortisol profiles different in dogs who exhibit repetitive behaviors without specific eliciting stimuli?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Sometimes toys aren’t fun
I woke up in the middle of the night with every intention of quietly having a drink of water. Unfortunately, I landed on a particularly loud squeaky toy and managed to disturb everyone’s sleep. A few days before that, I got out of bed and stepped on a dog toy that is not designed for the underside of delicate human feet. I woke everybody up that time, too, and not because the toy was noisy. No, it was me that made the racket as I uttered the sorts of phrases that make films lose their PG ratings.
Ahh, dog toys. I love them except when I don’t, and then I hate them. Obviously, it would be wise to clean them up at night, and we usually do. We are a work in progress, and improving all the time. We’re just not improving fast enough to stop me from causing trouble.
And it’s not just at night that dog toys can be a problem. I am perfectly capable of nearly spraining my ankle on a toy or sliding across the room on one during daylight hours. (I’m just gifted that way.) I don’t know why dogs don’t seem to have this problem. In my experience, when they pounce on toys or make noise with them, they meant to do so.
I’m seeking sympathy. Who else has had an accident with a dog toy?
Here’s an innovative idea from The Lost Dogs’ Home shelter in Australia. In their “Human Walking Program” campaign they are putting a spin on who is adopting whom in the dog+human equation. So at this event it was the dog who is “walking” the human, in this case office workers, in Melbourne’s business district. The campaign was aimed at getting desk-bound people out at a park away from their computers, and out being walked by lovely, adoptable dogs. The shelter was hoping to change the public’s perception of shelter dogs! Very effective campaign, don’t you think?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Axel helped Jason Haag reclaim his life and family
When Purple Heart recipient Captain Jason Haag came home after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he faced a much tougher battle at home--post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Jason suffered from nightmares, panic attacks, and thoughts of suicide. He spent a year and a half locked up in his basement with the windows blacked out, turning to a heavy use of alcohol and two dozen types of medication. The worse part was the way the 34 year old pushed away his family, screaming at his kids and even once choking his wife.
After Jason's wife threatened to leave, he was desperate for a solution that would help him regain his life. Jason then discovered K9s for Warriors, a Florida group that trains shelter pups to serve veterans with PTSD. Jason traveled to their headquarters to meet his new canine partner, Axel, and participate in a three-week training program. Afterwards, Jason was able to reconcile with his family and reclaim some sense of normalcy.
"There's no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't for Axel, I'd be six feet underground now," said Jason, "I'd have become a PTSD statistic."
PTSD affects an estimated 30 percent of America's war veterans, with one committing suicide almost every hour, a startling number.
Shari Duval started K9s for Warriors after her son, Brett Simon, a bomb-dog handler, returned from Iraq with PTSD. The dogs are trained to carry out specific tasks to lessen symptoms. For instance, the dogs can perform “block and center” moves to provide a sense of protection the veterans in public. The pups can also recognize panic and anxiety attacks. Donors fund all expenses related to the program except travel costs to and from Florida, and the ongoing care for the dogs once they go home.
To date K9s for Warriors has graduated 127 teams with a 95 percent success rate. The program's dogs have helped veterans reconnect with their families and with society, facilitated returning to the workforce, and reduced the reliance on medication by as much as 80 percent.
Jason's life was so transformed by Axel that he now serves on the board of K9s for Warriors to help spread the word about PTSD and the benefit of service dogs.
"I think I'll be in recovery for the rest of my life," said Jason. "But my goal now is just to save as many veterans' lives by spreading the word about service dogs and providing hope that there's a chance of recovery."
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
During one of my morning walks through the shelter kennel, I noticed a swelling in the belly of a little stray dog. I stepped closer and she growled and showed her teeth. “It’s ok doll,” I soothed, offering a treat. She continued to growl and I opened the kennel and came in and sat on the floor. She retreated to the far side of the kennel while I sat quietly for a few minutes, hoping to gain her trust. No such luck. She flicked her lips up to show me her teeth every time I so much as glanced her way. From my vantage point on the kennel floor I could see the definite signs of pregnancy. The enlarged mammary glands and distended belly suggested that she was within a week or two of delivery. Poor thing must have been terrified.
Each day I tried to make friends with the little dog. So many of these little dogs calm right down once they see that they aren’t hurt. Not this girl, she was only about 8 pounds but if she couldn’t get at me she grabbed her blanket with all the ferocity of a rabid grizzly and shook it till I thought her little eyes would bug out of her head. Within a week she delivered 5 puppies so I decided to foster the litter thinking mama would come around away from the shelter. At home I settled her into a cozy kennel in my garage. It’s got a dog door to a small private yard so she didn’t have to deal with my dogs or the people in the household. I named her Amber, for her golden coat and big amber colored eyes and each day I hand fed her canned food, in hopes of bringing her around. She gave me a hostile stare while gobbling the food but then as soon as it was gone she would try to bite. I sat with her for hours, tried every possible delicious treat I could think of, cooked for her etc. Nothing. Not one iota of improvement. “You’re a tough little nut aren’t you,” I said softly as she glared at me.
As the weeks went by, I was fascinated and disturbed by her behavior. Even a completely feral dog I had once rescued grew to trust me after a few days. The feral dog never ever wanted to be touched but she took food cheerfully and followed me around with a wagging tail and a big doggy smile. I left Amber’s puppies alone as much as possible, hoping to avoid stressing her out even more but every few days I would cover my hand with a towel and reach in and pick up each baby for a moment and examine them to make sure they were healthy and gaining weight. Amber would grab the towel in her teeth and shake it violently, snarling horribly the whole time.
After 5 weeks of Amber being a terror I approached her kennel one morning and got the surprise of my life. I stood in stunned silence for a moment as Amber wiggled and wagged and greeted me happily. I felt a strange sense of the surreal. I opened the kennel door and reached in and picked her up. It was obvious that I was perfectly safe as she licked my face and wiggled happily in my arms. I’ve had dogs that came around really quickly in the past, some even going from snarls to cuddles in minutes but never one who spent 5 weeks trying to sever my jugular and then decide I’m their best friend the next day. With a sense of amazement, I cuddled her for a few more minutes before leaving her with her babies and heading to work.
Not all dogs come around but once Amber made the switch, I probably could have done anything to her without being bitten. Her puppies were all adopted quickly but Amber was more of a challenge as she was still a terror with some new people. It took a while but I finally found an amazing home with my friend Luann, who is a dog trainer. Amazingly, Luann started agility with Amber and she turned into a total dynamo, racking up agility titles right and left. Amber now lives the life of a beloved and adored companion, sleeping on the bed and cuddling with Luann when she’s not doing agility.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
More airlines will be required to track injuries, losses, and deaths.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently passed a new rule that will require more airlines to report incidents involving animals. Although all airlines must report when a pet is hurt, gets lost, or dies on a U.S. flight, the law only applies to animals kept in a family household.
Currently only 14 airlines are required to report incidents involving any animal, but as of January 1, 2015, that number will increase to 27. The new legislation also covers animals in commercial shipments, which means the DOT will collect data on dogs shipped by breeders.
Last year, the DOT reported a total of 42 incidents involving animals, down from 58 in 2012. However, because airlines seem to underreport pet incidents, it's hard to have confidence in those numbers.
While the system is far from perfect, reporting more of this information can only be beneficial to traveling animals. I always assumed the law tracking pets included all animals and was shocked to learn that an injury, loss, or death could go unreported. I hope that the stricter requirements will encourage airlines to develop safer ways to transport animals.
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