Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Prison trained service dogs raise money for their organization this February.
I don't care about Valentine's Day flowers, but this delivery from Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) is one I'd like to get!
This week, a group of service dogs in training delivered almost 650 Valentine's Day gift boxes throughout Indianapolis as part of Puppy Love Valentine 2017, an annual fundraiser for ICAN, a local service dog organization. ICAN trains pups in three area prisons to help people with disabilities like PTSD and autism.
The dogs arrived with gift boxes that included goodies such as cookies, canine designed artwork, candles, scarves, and greeting dogs featuring the ICAN service pups. Many of the items are made by the prison inmates. This year, Pendleton Correctional Facility's culinary arts program baked cookies in the shape of paw prints, while others made heart-shaped candle holders. The inmates involved in the service dog program also helped the pups create the artwork, which involves having the dogs step in paint and touch the canvas with their paws, noses and tails.
Puppy Love Valentine 2017 raised more than $30,000 for the organization.
Valentine's Day marks an important date for ICAN. The organization began working with local inmates on that holiday in 2002. ICAN founder, Dr. Sally Irvin, saw the program as an opportunity to rehabilitate inmates while providing training to the dogs. They began at juvenile detention facilities, but because of high turnover, ICAN shifted to maximum security prisons because the inmates are there longer, providing more stability for the pups. Now ICAN has about 50 dogs in training at any given time across the three prisons they work with.
“What we challenge everybody here on is that the easiest and most positive way to turn something around is to give back,” said Pendleton Correctional Facility Assistant Superintendent of Reentry Andrew Cole. “To know that these dogs, after all your hard work, are going to help somebody for the rest of that dog’s life, it’s an amazing thing.”
Training the dogs gives inmates a sense of freedom and purpose, while also developing a new skill.
The inmates go through a rigorous interview process to participate, ultimately earning credits for an animal trainer apprenticeship. Out of 1,750 inmates, a group of 15 dog handlers and six alternates are involved in the program. The pups in training live with their trainers in a special housing unit, spending 24/7 together. ICAN staff comes to the prison weekly for a formal training session.
“We serve two under-served populations, prisoners and the people with disabilities who the dogs will serve," says ICAN Director of Development and Outreach Denise Sierp. “It’s the dogs that bridge it all together.”
Good Dog: Studies & Research
They show a bias against them
In a study called “Third-party social evaluations of humans by monkeys and dogs” scientists evaluated capuchin monkeys and domestic dogs to investigate their responses to people after watching them interact with other people. Specifically, researchers studied their evaluations of people who were either helpful or who refused to help another person. There’s an entire behavioral area of research involving what are called “third-party social evaluations” which simply means the study of how individuals respond to people after watching them interact with others.
In the experiment with dogs, the person pretending (for the sake of science) to be in need of help was the dog’s guardian. The dog watched as the guardian spent about 10 seconds attempting to open a clear container holding a roll of tape. In the “helper” situation, the guardian then turned to one of the people on either side of him/her and held out the container. The helper held the container so that the guardian could open it. The guardian removed the roll of tape, showed it the dog, put in back in and replaced the lid. In the “non-helper” condition, the person who the guardian turned to for help responded to the non-verbal request for assistance by turning away, at which point the guardian continued with the unsuccessful attempts to open it. In both cases, there was a person on the guardian’s other side, who was not asked for help.
At the end of this role-playing situation, both the person who was asked for help and the other person next to the guardian offered the dog treats. When the person had helped the guardian open the container, dogs were equally likely to take the treat from either person. However, when there was a refusal to help, dogs were more likely to choose the treat held by the person who was not asked for help. Dogs chose to avoid taking treats from people who were not helpful. This study found similar results in capuchin monkeys, and the same pattern is well known to occur in children.
It is interesting that dogs act as though they assume that people are okay and trust them—until they have evidence to the contrary. In this study, they gave people the benefit of the doubt, reacting just as well to people who were never asked for help as to those who did provide help. Once they observed someone refuse to help their guardian, though, they avoided taking treats from them. This matches the experience many of us have with dogs in that behaviorally healthy, well-socialized dogs seem to like and trust people in general. It as though dogs pursue a “trust unless specific information advises me to do otherwise” strategy regarding social interactions.
Dog's Life: Humane
A routine human test provides a pup’s innocence.
A young Belgian Malinois from Detroit already had an incredible story when he went from homeless pup to service dog. But just months after his rescue, a misunderstanding threatened his new life. It would take a test usually reserved for humans to prove his innocence.
Jeb was barely a year old when he was found chained inside a shed last January. His owner had passed away and no one else in the family wanted him. When Jeb was taken in by a local dog rescue, volunteer Kandie Morrison thought he’d make the perfect service dog for her father, Kenneth Job.
Kenneth, a 79-year old Air Force veteran struggling with a neurodegenerative disease, took an instant liking to Jeb. So neighbor and veterinarian Dr. Karen Pidick trained Jeb to help Kenneth stay steady and assist in helping him get up if he fell.
Kenneth and Jeb came to rely on each other, but eight months later everything changed in an instant.
One August morning, the Jobs’ neighbor of 30 years, Christopher Sawa, looked out his kitchen window and saw Jeb standing over the lifeless body of his Pomeranian, Vlad. Christopher ran outside and tried to give Vlad mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was too late. With 90-pound Jeb towering over 14-pound Sawa, you can see why Christopher might blame Kenneth’s dog.
Animal control took Jeb into custody and the case went to trial.
The Jobs were horrified. Jeb lived peacefully with their three other dogs, seven cats, and a coopful of chickens. "We've never had any children," Kenneth would later testify. "The dog was like a child to us."
Kenneth had been outside with his dogs that morning when all four pups ran off toward a favorite swimming hole.
Despite the fact there was a lack of physical evidence linking Jeb to Vlad’s death, and there were reports of other possible culprits, the judge ruled that Jeb met the legal definition of a dangerous animal. Jeb would have to be euthanized.
The Jobs were desperate and came up with the idea to have testing done to compare the DNA in Vlad’s wound with Jeb’s DNA. Samples were taken and sent to the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida. They determined that the DNA did not match, proving Jeb wasn’t the dog that killed Vlad.
After the test, Jeb was allowed to go home, but nine weeks in animal control turned him in a different dog. Jeb lost 15 pounds and his social skills. He was also afraid to go outside.
Nonetheless, the family was relieved to have Jeb back home. However, the Jobs wondered why they had to come up with the idea of DNA analysis. Why didn’t the court do it before sentencing Jeb to death?
The test was under $500, but canine cases are handled differently in our judicial system.
"In a criminal prosecution, where you're putting a person in jail, we have the highest level of protection," explains law professor David Favre. "Dogs have no rights. They're property.”
I don’t think courts will make DNA analysis automatic anytime soon, but the Jobs hope their story will make more people aware that this tool can save lives.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Study finds dogs exhibit resting behavior when listening to books on tape.
Last month I wrote about the Sarasota Orchestra cellist who played for dogs at her local animal shelter. There’s been a lot of research about the impact of music on animals, particularly the calming effect of classical music. As a result, animal shelters and boarding facilities not lucky enough to have their own live performance, often play the tunes of Mozart and Bach throughout their kennels.
But is this calming effect exclusive to classical music or could it extend to other audio with a pleasing cadence? Hartpury College in the United Kingdom set out to explore different sound types and the effect on canine behavior. Their researchers looked at the effect of regular kennel sounds (the control), classical music, pop music, psychoacoustically designed canine music (tunes specifically designed to be pleasing to a dog), and an audiobook. The tracks were played for two hours a day, skipping some days so the dogs wouldn’t become habituated to the noise.
Not surprisingly, they found that pop music resulted in the highest rate of barking. But it wasn’t classical music or the psychoacoustically designed canine music that was associated with the most calm behaviors. It was the audiobook that resulted in the dogs spending more time resting and less time displaying vigilant behaviors.
The book used in the experiment was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe performed by Michael York. Given the calming effect of the audiobook, it would be interesting to do a follow-up study comparing the effect of different audiobooks and voices, as well as other speaking tracks, like the news.
While shelter staff and potential adopters may find the audiobooks strange, the results of this study on the dogs seems worth experimenting with a few titles.
Do you think you’ll try playing an audiobook for your pup?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Behavioral changes may be falsely attributed to age
It’s natural for an older dog to rest more, to play less and to be without the pep so prevalent in earlier years. The aging process changes us all, but that doesn’t mean that every change in an elderly dog is due to aging. Sometimes a dog is feeling unwell, and we make sense of his actions by attributing it to his age. This is especially true when the decline is gradual.
We often don’t realize that the behavior we’ve been seeing is a result of a medical issue until it is resolved. That’s when people say things like, “He hasn’t been this energetic in three years!” or “It’s been so long since I’ve seen him play with our other dog. I thought he just didn’t like to play anymore.”
Recently, I had a friend share with me that her 12-year old dog was diagnosed with cancer. The dog has recovered well from the surgery to remove the tumor, and is currently undergoing additional treatment. The change in him in the six weeks since learning he was ill has been remarkable. He is eager to run at any pace and to go on long hikes, which is in contrast to the indifference he exhibited towards these activities in the last couple of years. He is playing with the other dog in the house, a seven-year old female, which he has barely done for two years. My friend is thrilled to see him doing so well, and appearing so energetic and happy. She is also heartbroken with the realization that his “old man ways” were because he was sick, not because he was getting old. She wishes that she had known to get him into treatment earlier, but nobody could blame her. He went to the vet regularly and had no obvious signs of the illness until recently. The decline in energy as well as losing interest in play happened so gradually, and at the age when it affects most dogs.
I’ve heard many similar stories over the years, because it’s so easy to attribute a general decline in energy and playfulness to getting older, when that may be only one piece (or no part!) of the explanation for the changes. Have you had the experience of realizing that your old dog’s behavior wasn’t just due to the passing years?
News: Guest Posts
Dog’s name and age: Peg, 4.5 years
Nicknames: Peggy Wiggle
Peg was rescued from a kill shelter in Romania where she had a badly infected paw and eye. Unfortunately, she hadn't been receiving any veterinary care while at the shelter in Romania so vets had to remove both as the infection had spread too far for either to be saved. Peg's people were looking for another special needs dog to adopt when they saw a notice on social media for her. Because Peg only has 3 legs and 1 eye, she didn't receive much interest from other adopters. Thankfully her people immediately started the adoption process after reading her story. Peg was in Romania but after her passport and transport could be arranged, she met her new people in the UK 13 days later. Though they had never met her before the adoption, as soon as they saw her, it was love at first sight. Her enormous smile just melted their hearts.
Does Peg with with other dogs?
Yes! She shares her home with 3 other special needs rescues.
She loves her hops around the neighborhood. Since she was a street dog, she loves watching the world go by and likes to stop at doorways hoping for a treat or a fuss. She sleeps on the bed with her people, so she races up the stairs to roll on the bed, then she'll stretch out for a full tummy rub before settling down to sleep every night without fail.
Peg is a free spirit, a fighter and survivor but hasn't lost the ability to love and be loved.
SHARE YOUR SMILING DOG!
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Humans’ empathy, personality and experience play a role
People understand and react to the facial expressions of dogs in ways that are similar to their responses to people’s expressions. Dogs can distinguish positive human expressions from negative ones, showing that they perceive the emotional content of human expressions. Our mutual understanding of one another is astounding considering that we’re not all that closely related, and yet few humans are surprised by it. We feel a kinship with our canine companions that goes beyond what we share with members of any other species except our own. The biological miracle of our relationship with dogs deserves the attention of scientists, and happily, that is happening more now than ever.
One recent study investigated the role of empathy, personality and experience on people’s ratings of facial expressions. People were asked to rate the expressions (in pictures) of people and dogs showing neutral, threatening or pleasant expressions with regard to each of the basic emotions of happiness, sadness, anger/aggressiveness, surprise, disgust or fear. They also rated how negative or positive the expression was. The study, “Human Empathy, Personality and Experience Affect the Emotion Ratings of Dog and Human Facial Expressions” found that many factors affect how people perceive the expressions of others.
People’s experience plays a smaller role in interpreting facial expressions of dogs than their personality and ability to be empathetic. This suggests that people have a natural, inherent ability to understand the facial expressions of dogs. Perhaps this is because we have co-evolved with dogs over thousands of years, but it may also simply be a result of the similarity of many facial expressions between humans and dogs. We share many of the same muscles and movements as dogs, as do many other mammals, an idea that was made popular in Charles Darwin’s classic work “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” which was published in 1872. In that book, Darwin made the case that similar behavior in humans and other animals indicated similar internal emotional states, including emotions such as anger, fear, surprise, happiness, disappointment and love. He presented photographic evidence that humans and other animals reveal their emotions through similar facial expressions and behaviors.
Though the role of experience is minimal, it still has an effect on people’s interpretations of canine facial expression. People who were involved in dog-related hobbies such as agility, obedience or hunting, rated happy faces of dogs as “more happy” than people who lack such experience. Experienced people were also more likely to rate neutral expressions as happy, perhaps indicating the subtly of relaxed, content expressions in dogs, or a more positive views of dogs among people who have a lot of experience with them.
Empathy—the ability to understand the emotions and experiences of others—played an especially strong role in the way that people perceived canine expressions. People who are particularly empathetic interpreted the facial expression of dogs more intensely and more quickly than people who are less empathetic. Researchers point out that it is not known whether empathetic people are any more accurate in their assessments of canine expressions.
Personality traits such as being extroverted or being neurotic influenced people’s interpretation of facial expressions. Extroversion influenced ratings of human expressions, but not canine expressions. Neuroticism scores were correlated with lower rankings of anger/aggression in neutral expressions of both species.
The results of this study show that there are many facets to interpreting the emotional expressions of both dogs and humans, and that psychological factors in the observer have an influence. Reading dogs’ facial expressions is a talent and a skill—both natural ability and experience influence people’s reactions to them.
Dog's Life: Humane
It just got much harder to know what's going on in U.S. animal research labs.
The field of human-animal studies is growing rapidly, as is public interest and awareness about animal welfare and animal abuse. My email inbox has been "ringing" constantly for the past few hours about an unprecedented and reprehensible move toward censorship, specifically because animal welfare reports and animal abuse data have been wiped from the United States Department of Agriculture website.
Below are some updates from major science journals, global media, prestigious organizations, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It's not only animal welfare or animal rights organizations that are incredibly upset. Indeed, people around the world are extremely put off and deeply concerned about this reprehensible censorship. You can find many more reports and outcries here. And, the number is rapidly growing.
US government takes animal-welfare data offline: Nature News & Comment
USDA removes public access to animal welfare data
The Government Purged Animal Welfare Data. Now the Humane Society Is Threatening to Sue
Animal Welfare Reports and Abuse Data Wiped From USDA Website
It Just Got Much Harder To Know What's Going On In US Animal Research Labs
USDA blacks out animal welfare information
USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website
USDA Shuts Down Portal to Records on Animal Abuse
It Just Got Much Harder To Know What’s Going On In US Animal Research Labs
USDA removes animal welfare reports from its website
Animal Welfare Act Data Suddenly Removed From USDA Website
Nation’s Best Zoos and Aquariums Disagree With Decision to Remove Online Access to USDA Inspection Reports
Information on animal welfare disappears from USDA website
USDA Scrubs Public Animal Welfare Records From Website
USDA removes online database that included animal abuse; activists cry foul
I can say no more other than please contact members of congress now. And, please sign this petition.
The animals need all the help they can get.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Having your dog’s attention is one of the most important and underrated aspects of positive dog training. It’s obvious when you think about it – how can you train your dog, if your dog doesn’t pay attention to you? Luckily, we’ve come up with three simple and fun exercises designed to help get your dog’s attention, making training your dog a little easier.
TEACHING YOUR DOG TO BE A GOOD STUDENT
Training your dog to pay attention teaches them to be a good student, ensuring that they will sit quietly and wait for instructions – once these foundations are in place, training your dog will become a great deal easier. Later on, we will cover two of the best attention exercises available, which are centred on being a good student, paying attention and awaiting instructions.
Although it is often underemphasised by dog training experts, ensuring your dog is capable of paying attention is one of the core principles in positive reinforcement training, and an absolutely necessity if you are to ensure your training is a success. This post aims to rectify this issue, by providing you with the mind-set and training exercises required to train your dog to be pay attention – eventually leaving you with a happy, well-trained and trusting member of the family!
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE YOUR DOG’S ATTENTION?
The easiest way to see if your dog is paying attention to you is to observe whether or not he is looking at you and following everything you do closely. Once you have an attentive dog, this will be very obvious, especially to other family members or friends, who will note that your dog seems to follow you around and work for your attention – particularly at feeding time!
However, it is worth remembering that some dogs are discrete – they might not seem interested in where you are or what you’re up to, but the moment you disappear, they’ll appear right next to you – my dog can even be upstairs while I’m working downstairs, but the moment he can no longer hear the sound of me typing on my computer, he’ll come down to check that I haven’t nipped out without him. This is attention in a nutshell - when your dog is aware of your movements and what you are doing at any time of day.
IS HAVING YOUR DOG’S ATTENTION REALLY NECESSARY?
You might wonder if all this talk about attention is overrated – this outlook is typical of more traditional or ‘old school’ trainers, who believe you can get better results by forcing your dog to pay attention when you demand it. In my experience, though, this approach doesn’t work anywhere near as well – there’s a notable difference between a dog who focuses on you because he has to, and one who focuses on you because he wants to please you. The goal of this post is to help you reach a point where your dog is focused on pleasing you, as this is the easiest way of training him successfully.
DON'T TAKE YOUR DOG'S ATTENTION FOR GRANTED
In my experience, dog owners take a lot of things for granted – too many, in fact. When a dog first comes into the home, he relies on us completely, and we have his full attention at all times. After a few weeks, however, your dog will relax into the environment and encounter new, fresh and exciting experiences which are more interesting than you – and that’s not good news for your relationship, particularly where training is concerned. By remaining at the centre of your dog’s world, you’ll not only enjoy a stronger bond with your dog, but stand a much better chance of being able to train him successfully.
So how do we accomplish this? With consistent training – every day, all year. By making training a habit, you’ll make it second nature for both you and your dog, ensuring you’ll have the basics – sit, come here, down etc. - covered quickly and efficiently, allowing you to move onto more complicated routines.
Now that we understand what it means to have your dog’s attention and why having your dog’s attention is so important, we can move onto the frameworks we use for teaching attention, along with a few simple exercises you can undertake to ensure your dog is always paying attention to you.
YOUR DOG KNOW WHEN YOU'RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION
First things first - when training your dog to pay attention to you, you have to really be present with your dog, not just physically but mentally; remember, your dog can feel you! He knows when you’re sad and when you’re happy, and certainly knows when you are lying and when you are not. By taking an active role in training your dog, you can make the framework very simple, rewarding your dog not only with treats but praise and happiness. Here are three of my favourite ways to train your dog to pay attention to you:
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #1 – EYE CONTACT
The first exercise is based around eye contact, and is the exercise that teaches your dog to sit quietly and pay attention to the teacher. Grab some treats and then sit beside your dog, waiting for them to look at you. This requires a bit of patience the first time you train this, but hang in there – it’s worth the wait! Once your dog lifts its eyes to meet yours, praise them warmly (or use your clicker) and reward your dog with his favorite treat. Then simply keep still and wait for them to meet your gaze again - keep doing this until your dog understands that he will be rewarded for looking into your eyes, and he will be more than happy to do it whenever necessary.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #2 – HAND TARGETING
Sometimes, you’ll need get your dog’s attention in order to protect them from something that might harm, scare or upset them. Occasionally dogs will become fearful and, naturally, will look to either run away or attack – neither of which are desirable outcomes. However, it is possible to interrupt this natural response by training your dog to keep attention on you even in stressful situations. Try putting your hand in front of your dog’s face, the palm of your hand right in front his nose. Say nothing, as it is important that your dog learns to make these associations for himself. Once your dog touches the palm of your hand, give him a reward in the form of praise or a treat. Repeat this exercise, and eventually your dog will come to understand that when your hand is down, he can receive a reward by touching it – and while he’s focused on you, he will be unable to focus on whatever might be scaring him, allowing you to avoid conflict with others and protecting him from harm!
See the below video for an example of how to do this.
DOG ATTENTION EXERCISE #3 – IMPULSE CONTROL
This exercise is called impulse control, and is really more of a concept that an exercise, because there are so many variations to work with.
Once your dog knows that he should be looking at you (see exercise #1) you can use this when training him. For example, you can ‘drop’ something from the kitchen table and if your dog tries to grab it, simply cover it with your foot. When your dog then sits and eventually looks at you, make sure to praise him and then allow him to eat the dropped food. Once more, your dog will learn to associate looking at you with praise and a reward – and over time will begin to realise that everything he wants can be channelled through you. As far as your dog is concerned, you are the origin of everything that is good in life. Clever, right? See the following video for more information.
As you can see from the video above, treats are often used as a reward for behaviour we wish to encourage. With this in mind, I usually retain around half of my dog’s rations, which I distribute throughout the day during training sessions. If treats are not withheld, your dog will either lose motivation to be rewarded or simply end up overweight – by rationing them and associating them with good behaviour, you can ensure your dog is healthy and well-behaved.
In summary, the most important, fundamental principle of dog training is attention – both your dog’s and your own. This element of training is sadly underutilised by most dog training experts, so make sure you don’t make the same mistake – ensure your dog associates paying you attention with rewards and praise, and you can ensure your training exercises are easy and successful. Good luck with your training!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
After two months on the run, a young girl is the only one to earn a dog's trust.
Last year a Shepherd mix named Daisy was adopted from a Northern California animal shelter, but escaped from their backyard just two days later. Members of the Hollister Animal Lost and Found Facebook group recorded sightings and organized searches, but Daisy was in "fight or flight mode" and no one could capture her. Local animal rescuer Deanna Barth compared Daisy's skill at eluding capture with that of a coyote.
After two months without success, Deanna knew they needed a different strategy and decided they needed to find someone that Daisy trusted. Deanna found out that that prior to her adoption, Daisy was with a foster family and had become attached to a little girl there. Deanna managed to track the family down and enlisted the help of six year old Meghan Topping.
Meghan may be six, but she has a lot of experience fostering and training dogs. In fact, 75 homeless pups passed through her family's home in the last year alone.
So in December, Meghan and her mom drove to one of Daisy's usual spots, an empty field. From there, Meghan says that Daisy told her what to do.
"She told me, because you can talk to dogs in your brain, if Mom stayed in the truck she would come to me and I believed it," recalls Meghan.
Meghan got out of the truck, walked to the middle of the field, and sat down patiently. She also got on her tummy in an army crawl. This made Daisy curious and she eventually crept closer to Meghan and began wagging her tail. Daisy finally let Meghan pet her and clip on a leash.
"I used all my experience with dogs," explained Meghan. "We earn their trust--play with them, trust, love."
The adults were all left in awe. You can hear Meghan's mom, Karen, in the background of the video saying how proud she is of her daughter.
Meghan and Daisy's bond is apparent, but the Toppings didn't end up adopting the Daisy. Instead they wanted to continue their focus on helping the thousands of other dogs in need of fostering and training. However, Daisy is in great hands.
She's been adopted by the nearby Craft family. Their daughter Ava missed the therapy dogs she encountered while spending time in the hospital several years ago, and Daisy was the perfect fit. Now Ava wants to train Daisy to become a therapy dog and help other kids.Watch the video to see Meghan work her magic!
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