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News: Karen B. London
Agility Favorites
What obstacle does your dog prefer?

I had a dog whose favorite part of an agility course was the table. My theory is that it made the most sense to him. It was the first piece of equipment that he learned how to negotiate correctly, and it seemed as though he always knew what to do with it, unlike some other obstacles, which periodically confused him. I loved this dog, but he was, hmm, how best to say it—not the brightest dog I have known. He enjoyed the things in his life that were straightforward, and that’s why I think he liked the table.

Does your dog have a favorite agility obstacle, and if so, what do you think that tells you about your dog?

 

News: Guest Posts
First Chomper
New York’s governor hires a trainer for his testy Maltese.

Why is it that when small dogs are aggressive and biting it’s treated as a joke? Take New York Governor David Paterson’s Maltese, Cheerio--a full-time tough guy with at least two bites to his credit. Imagine if those teeth belonged to a bigger dog with a tougher reputation living in the home someone with a lot less clout. I’m just glad the governor finally recognized that a pint-sized troublemaker is still a troublemaker and deserves a trainer. Good luck, Cheerio!
 

News: Guest Posts
The Problem of Celebrity
Some veterinarians and behaviorists decry Merial’s partnership with Cesar Millan.

Earlier this month, the executive board of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the Merial’s decision to partner with Cesar Millan to promote their products. Merial is a huge animal-health company and the maker of Frontline and Heartgard. As part of the promotion, the company is offering veterinary clinics a free Cesar Millan DVD titled “Mastering Leadership!” for any client who purchases either Frontline or Heartgard this summer.

“Merial’s executives may not be aware of the fact that the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), the AVSAB, and the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT) have uniformly spoken out against the coercive, ‘dominance’-based techniques employed by Mr. Millan on his television show ‘The Dog Whisperer.’”

The AVSAB statement continues, “At best, the show is entertaining but misleading to pet owners. At worst, Mr. Millan’s techniques and misinformation have contributed to increased aggression and anxiety or resulted in physical injury to the pet and/or pet owner. As practicing veterinarians, we all unfortunately have seen many cases of the latter. Merial claims to ‘enhance the health, well-being, and performance of animals.’ Asking veterinarians to recommend that their clients seek behavior information from Mr. Millan speaks otherwise.”
 
Bark columnist Patricia McConnell supports AVSAB’s criticism of Merial and offers her own seasoned and thoughtful perspective on the problem of The Dog Whisperer on her blog, The Other End of the Leash.

In general, I’m inclined against this promotion even without Millan. I’m skeptical about direct-to-the-consumer appeals by pharmaceutical companies. It’s not that I think doctors or veterinarians should be the only ones with information, but advertising and promotion (a free training video, for example?) is rarely about meaningful education. On top of that, there’s reasonable debate over Millan's approach. Do veterinarians—with our trust vested in them—really want to be seen as promoting his ideals?

News: Guest Posts
A Service Dog Who Bites?
Poor training is not fair to the dog.

A story in the San Francisco Weekly ("Service with A Snarl") describes Tita, a Chihuahua service dog who helps a man named Charles Esler deal with bipolar disorder. A happy, feel-good story, except for one thing: Tita bites. Tita regularly chases and lunges after people in public parks. She snarled and barked at a guard at the Social Security Administration. She bit Esler’s primary care provider. And during SF Weekly’s interview with Esler? She bit the reporter.

 

"'She’s vicious,' Esler says with a smile, cradling the dog, which licks his face with abandon. 'If you were to approach a guide dog without acknowledging yourself, I’m sure a guide dog would bark, too.'"

 

Actually, no. In her recent article for Bark, "The Making of a Guide Dog," Jane Brackman explains that  puppies who can’t learn appropriate ways to deal with stress do not get placed as guide dogs.

“All dogs are born with default positions that they revert to when stressed. The reaction can be anything from anxious whining to more serious issues such as biting. The higher the stress, the more pressure on the trigger. Puppy socialization programs provide an opportunity to identify environmental stressors and modify the reaction, or failing that, release the dog from the program to a companion home.”

Poor Tita! Training proper behavior is as much for the dog’s comfort as for the human who will eventually work with that dog. It seems inhumane to expect an untrained dog to feel relaxed and confident in public situations such as large crowds, public transportation, and all the normal places we humans don’t think twice about. Seeing Eye puppies are gradually introduced to all kinds of these things and carefully socialized from birth. This way, when they finally go out with a blind person, it’s no big deal to hop on a train, take a bus, be in a stadium full of screaming fans, or be around other dogs and new people. They’ve done it all and seen it all by then. Nothing bothers them. And if it does, they are rejected from the program and placed where they belong: in a companion home.

News: Guest Posts
Help Prevent Dog Bites
Learn a few simple tips this Dog Bite Prevention Week.

Yesterday I walked through a crowded Central Park in New York with an old friend and his dog Tracy (as in Spencer Tracy). Tracy is a buttery, 106-pound Golden Retriever, who at six-years-old exhibits the irresistible jauntiness of a puppy. Children are drawn to him like flies to a fly strip, and all around us, they zoomed in on the dog, many of them without warning. I was astounded and relieved by Tracy’s amiability. And I wondered, how would my dogs handle this kid fest? The experience made me realize that I’m so rarely around young children and toddlers, especially in numbers, that I don’t know the answer and that it’s a disservice to my dogs that I haven’t provided the opportunity for them to feel comfortable in this sort of environment.

This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week, and agencies and organizations around the country are spreading the gospel of dog bite prevention. Truth is, while you can’t guarantee a dog won’t bite (remember, even President Bush’s dog snapped at a reporter last year), you can take very specific steps to make it much less likely. Socializing your pup so that he or she is comfortable in a variety of settings, especially with other dogs and wee humans, can be one way to avoid a situation where your dog bites out of fear or anxiety. Other strategies include spaying and neutering your dog and taking a training class with your dog.

Although the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites every year, the CDC considers the problem to be largely preventable. This week, take some time to learn what you can do to protect yourself and your dog.

News: Guest Posts
AKC Announces Mixed-Breed Program
Mutt lovers question the new “separate but equal” designation.

After 125 years as an advocate for (select) purebred dogs, the American Kennel Club (AKC) announced its new mixed-breed program last week. For the past several years, rumors abounded that AKC was on the cusp of allowing mixed breeds to participate in activities, such as agility, obedience and rally. Some folks claimed AKC was growing enlightened, while others claimed it was simply trying to shore up its bottom line. (Obedience entries are down and other venues, such as USDAA and APDT, welcome mixed breeds in their agility and rally programs, respectively.)

Mixed breeds may be registered with AKC as of October 1, 2009, and be eligible for agility, obedience and rally competition on April 1, 2010. No doubt this is a step in the right direction, but I do have mixed feelings (no pun intended) about some conditions of the program. For example, mutts may participate in agility, obedience and rally competitions, however, they will be in a separate class and not allowed to compete head to head against purebred dogs. Are we mixed-breed lovers really expected to support a “separate but equal” class? Why this special designation?

Offering separate classes will create more work for the hosting club’s members and volunteers. Since the inclusion of a mixed-breed class is optional, clubs might simply choose not to offer it at their event. Another rule states that mixed breeds will not be allowed to participate if the agility, obedience or rally events are held in conjunction with a conformation show. So what good is a mixed-breed program and registering your mutt with the AKC if you can rarely participate in events?

What about people who have a rare purebred dog, such as a Catahoula Leopard Dog or McNab? They do not fit either class since they’re neither AKC-recognized breeds nor mixes. Not to mention, the mixed-breed program requires proof of spay/neuter and some rare purebred dogs might be part of a responsible breeding program with another registry, such as UKC.
 
In an old AKC PowerPoint presentation, “Why Explore Mixed Breed Dog Listing” (that until recently was posted on the AKC website), one rationale was: “Exposing mixed breed dog owners to AKC and encouraging them to make their next dog a purebred by showing that purebreds consistently outperform mixed breeds (Purebreds consistently score better than mixed breeds in head-to-head competition. The U.S. Dog Agility Association has given 63 lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance, and only three of those have gone to mixed breed dogs.)”

Aside from the fact that the AKC misrepresented USDAA’s statistics in order to support the superiority of the purebred dog, I find it rather sad and disappointing that AKC even felt the need to reassure its members that their purebred dogs would remain top dog. Was this just a tactic in order to get all AKC members on board? Or will this attitude persist even after mixes are supposedly “welcomed” into the group?

Currently, I compete in AKC agility with two rescue Dalmatians and am training my youngest dog, a mixed breed, to compete in USDAA and NADAC agility. Despite its flaws, I think the AKC mixed-breed program is a step in the right direction and I will likely support it. But I am prepared to hear cries of protest from fellow mutt lovers who disagree with my decision.

This topic continues to be hotly debated between dog lovers both in person and in cyberspace. Some people think the program will only improve if mixed-breed owners support it right from the start and lend their voices to its evolution. Others find it insulting and want nothing to do it with it. What do you think about AKC’s new mixed-breed program? If you have a mutt, will you consider participating in AKC events? Why or why not?

News: Karen B. London
Training Tips for The First Dog
Advice from professional trainers

With the eyes of the nation on the Obamas’ new dog Bo, many people are interested in what training methods the first family will use. Positive techniques have become increasingly common in recent years, and there is no better way to get the message of their benefits to more people than through the actions of the President and his family with Bo. Most professional dog trainers are hopeful that the Obamas will use these methods, which are more effective and result in a better relationship between people and their dogs than old-fashioned coercion-based techniques. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has posted training advice for the new first dog, which applies, of course, to any new dog.

News: JoAnna Lou
An Award Show Fit for A Dog
Winners announced for the 2009 Canis Film Festival.

These days, there seems to be a film festival and award show for just about everything. So it’s about time we dog lovers got a piece of the pie.

Last weekend the winners of the 2009 Canis Film Festival were announced at ClickerExpo in Providence, R.I. Although there were no swag bags or paparazzi, the films starred talented and furry actors showcasing dog training at its best.

The Grand Prize went to Chaos, a Border Collie whose owner taught him to blow bubbles in his water bowl. Not only is this trick just plain cute, it’s refreshing to see training that has no set agenda. Often times I get caught up in training only “useful” behaviors, such as heeling or waiting at the door. But this video inspired me to remember the fun of dog training, particularly with shaping. 

The runner-up was a film on using positive methods to get a dog to use a treadmill and the second Runner-up, my personal favorite, was a touching story on the life changing effects of clicker training from the point of view of an adopted shelter dog.

Conceived by Karen Pryor Clicker Training, the Canis Film Festival showcases the art of animal training. The entries, all less than seven minutes, are judged for clarity of instruction, innovation, entertainment value, positive methods, usefulness and production quality. 

Feeling inspired to feature your dog in a winning film? Details will be posted shortly on the festival’s web site for 2010 submissions. Fire up your camcorders!

News: Guest Posts
“Alpha” Training Can Backfire
Updated. New study shows aggressive techniques yield aggressive dogs.

[3/2/09 update: In a recent blog post, Susan Leisure, the director of AARF (Atlanta Animal Rescue Friends, Inc.), reacted to the latest study on aggression and dog training much like we did (below). But Leisure also recommended a Bark story, Choosing A Trainer, as "critical" reading before hiring a pro. We agree there, too.]

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania confirms what so many trainers already know to be true: Confrontational, aversive training techniques with aggressive dogs only make the aggression worse. The results of the year-long survey, published in the current issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, provide important perspective on dominance-based training popularized on television and in books.

“Behaviorists and trainers should all familiarize themselves with this study so that when speaking with clients, they can inform them of the dangers of using forceful and violent techniques with their dogs,” says Karen London, PhD., an Applied Animal Behaviorist and Bark columnist. “This study shows that kinder, gentler training methods pose less risk when working with aggressive dogs.”

This is no small issue since, according to the study authors, aggressive behavior is the number one reason people seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist.

“This research indicates that when professionals advise clients to use confrontational or aggressive methods when working with dogs, that they are putting the people who trust them, as well as the dogs they love, at great risk,” London adds,  “and it’s not right.”

News: Guest Posts
Putting the Bite on Backyard Barkers
Education is the answer when complaints turn ugly

I understand that the constant barking of a neighbor’s dog can put some fairly nasty thoughts into a person’s mind. I’ve been on the receiving end of the steady woof-woof-woof of an anxious and bored pup. But I never blamed the dog.

When I read the recent report in The Arizona Daily Star about the frustrations of a barked-out Pima County women, I was sympathetic. Her attempts to find her rightful quiet have utterly failed. The county’s “intervention”—in the form of suggesting mediation and fining the dogs’ guardians $200—have, reportedly, done nothing to quiet the voluble pack.

But my sympathy faded fast when I visited the blog of the anti-barking organization she started, Quiet Pima County. There among the limited posts is a list of “How to Kill Your Neighbors (sic) Dogs,” which includes:

    The old standby - antifreeze meatballs.
    A gun.
    Get a pitbull and throw it over the fence.

It's a total gut punch, even if indulging dog-killing fantasies is just a way of blowing off steam. So, I'd like to offer a more constructive strategy that brings barkers in from the cold--safely. Why not help people solve their own barking challenges? I contacted a go-to trainer in my neck of the woods, Amanda Brothers of Sidekick Dog Training, with a few questions about how to help backyard barkers.

Why do they bark? Some barking is meant to communicate, ‘I’m all alone, come find me!’ Plainly said, barking is something to DO all day while the owner is gone and it is a self-reinforcing behavior, meaning dogs get something from it whether or not the owner is there to reward it. And when dogs bark at pedestrians and trucks to protect territory, it works. The person, car or dog moves on, and the dogs thinks their strategy (barking) worked and are more likely to bark again when faced with the same situation.

How long is too long to leave a dog in a yard? The answer to this question really varies depending on a lot of factors: age, lifestyle of dog and guardian (particularly the physical and mental activity and interaction the dog enjoys on a day to day basis), breed, security of yard, proximity to neighbors, dog’s preference, weather, and on and on! Personally, I do not leave my dogs in the yard unattended for any amount of time and don’t like to see others do it.

Can you train a dog out of barking when left alone? It’s tough to train a dog not to bark when the owner is absent without using something nasty and not recommended, such as a shock or citronella collar. The best way to eliminate barking is to provide other outlets for your dog including "work for food" toys, such as a Kong or Busy Buddy. Exercise is always going to help. Tired dogs aren’t barking, digging, chewing, etc. Mental exercise will help as well, including basic training, tricks, agility and other dog sports. If you have a big barking problem, I would vote for leaving the dog indoors when alone, in a crate with a busy toy and the radio on. If the dog needs a mid-day potty break, come home at lunch or hire a dog walker.

Oh, and don’t ever reward barking by giving attention (even yelling “NO!” is attention). Ignore the barking until it ceases for at least five seconds before letting your dog indoors or going out to interact with him. If the barking doesn’t stop, make a noise by stomping your feet or knocking on a window. Then, you’ll get your few seconds of quiet, which you can reward.
 

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