For a long time, dog trainers that use positive training methods have tried to convince those who use punishment or aversive methods that aversive methods are detrimental to a dog’s mental health. Now a new study has proven that positive or reward-based training is conductive to a dog’s mental well being and adverse methods compromise a dog’s well-being.
The researchers studied 92 companion dogs from 7 different dog training schools that used aversive stimuli, (this could be shock collars, pinch collars and even choke collars or negative sound devices) as well as schools that used reward-based methods (such as clicker training) and some that used mixed methods. They filmed the dogs being trained, and then they tested the saliva for stress related cortisol. They found that the dogs who were trained using aversive methods were more stressful, showing stress related behavior such as crouching and yelping. The researchers even tested the dogs in neutral environments to see if the stress level remained high. They found that the dogs trained with aversive methods were more pessimistic.
Today we have wonderful methods to teach young puppies. The best method is clicker training. This is a way to communicate exactly what you want the puppy (or older dog) to learn. It is also fun and a great way to motivate a dog to want to work with you. Clicker training is a successful, positive training method. Unfortunately, many people do not understand the technique. Note: although I refer to dogs, clicker training applies to almost all animals. I have clicker trained birds and cats.
It is very sad that many trainers still use harsh punishment methods that cause pain. Imagine if an instructor gave you a complex mathematical problem and told you to solve it. The teaching method was to jerk a rope around your neck or shock you every time you got it wrong. Eventually you would either get it right or have a complete mental breakdown from fear and frustration. Whether you got it right or wrong, how would feel about mathematics? How willing would you be to do the next problem even if you were rewarded for finally getting it right? How well would you like your instructor?
Because people are deeply bonded to their dogs, they forget that dogs do not speak our language. They have an amazing ability to watch our body language, couple it with what we say and seem to understand. But in reality, they interpret what we do based on canine language and meaning first, even though they can learn what our body and spoken language means.
Dogs love to do things with us. They want to understand us, but we can make it difficult for them. When training a dog, you must teach and show them what you want. You cannot tell them. You must not expect your dog to “get it” immediately. Puppies can be especially frustrating because they may seem to learn quickly but in a short time, sometimes hours, they act as though they forgot the lesson entirely. In reality they have not completely forgotten, they have not had enough time to practice the lesson to have it go from short term memory to long term memory. Life for a puppy and a young dog is fascinating, everything is new, exciting and distracting. It can be hard for them to focus on a lesson. This is no different than it is for young children. Like us, the more a dog learns the easier it is for them to learn new lessons. This is because the young dog has not had enough life experience to relate the new lesson to something he already knows, but the older dog has learned how to learn. They can relate it to other lessons. This is no different than the way people learn.
If you show your dog what you want and then reward him for doing it, he will be willing and happy to work with you. Most dogs try very hard to do what we want them to do. Each dog has a different personality and drive to obey. Some breeds are not as willing to obey (being biddable) as others. It is important to recognize this. Before you train your dog, be sure to understand the dynamics of his breed. If he is a mixed breed a DNA test will help you understand the genetics that are dictating his behavior.
For example, if there were a flock of sheep in a pasture and a rabbit hidden in the brush. A Border Collie would focus on the sheep even though he knows the rabbit is there. On the other hand, if a Beagle were taken to the field, he would ignore the sheep and focus on the rabbit. This is a simple example of how genetics affects behavior.
Clicker training is a way to communicate to your dog what you want him to do. The click only says “Yes, that is correct.” What is very important to remember about obedience is this: Once a dog is trained and knows what the command is, the ability to obey depends entirely on how well the dog can exercise self-control, not on how well he knows the exercise. Even people have difficulty with self-control. Think about it.
In conclusion keep these points in mind.
Understand the genetics that drive your dog.
Teach and show your dog what you want.
Do not use harsh methods.
Give your dog time to learn what you want.
Obedience depends on self-control–no one is 100%.
Self-control comes with practice.
Puppies need more time to relate to the lessons.
Reliable obedience depends on positive motivation, not fear.
The Finland program to rehome laboratory Beagles has generally been a success. The program consisted of giving the dogs socialization and training for approximately six months. However, this was not enough time for some dogs who remained timid and suffered from separation anxiety.
The dogs were used to study animal cognition and the basic workings of the canine mind. The dogs lived in packs of eight from two to eight years.
While this program is to be commended for rehoming the dogs, the question that comes up in my mind is how can researchers study the workings of the canine mind when these dogs are not living in a normal environment without normal experiences? This is food for thought about the research that makes claims about what dogs feel and how they interpret their world.
In a study with rodents and ferrets’ researchers found that using treats could mask an animal’s true intelligence. They found a difference between performance and knowledge and that there are two processes, one for
Content and one for environment. The study was conducted by Kishore Kuchibhotla, an assistant professor in The Johns Hopkins University’s department of psychological and brain sciences.
The study wanted to explore how reward-based training affects learning verses performance or behavior. Their research showed that reward-based training improved learning in steps or stages but can mask an animal’s knowledge, especially what the animal learned early in life.
The researchers hope that the results of this study and future studies will help people with Alzheimer’s Disease maintain lucidity as well as improve testing environments for children.
Reward-based training is the most humane way to train a pet, but the pet owner must recognize that the pet is more intelligent than the training demonstrates. This is evident when a pet uses the lessons he has been taught in new ways.
We know that rats in studies create new mental maps for new spatial situations such as a new maze. But scientists do not know how the animal decides when a situation is new enough to requires a new map.
No two situations are ever exactly alike, for animals as well as humans, but how much needs to change to create a new map? The scientists at MIT and Harvard postulate that they can determine this with Bayesian statistics, a mathematical model. This model can take into account individual differences in animals as well as the situation.
Understanding remapping is important because when scientists evaluate a problem or test, they do not know if the rat is thinking about experiment A or experiment B. This will change the results of the test and possibly give scientists false data which leads to conflicting, confusing or surprising results.
Communication is always a problem when people work or train animals. We cannot tell them about the context of an experiment, the animal has to make his own conclusions based on what he sees or experiences. The researchers feel that by using a probabilistic approach, they can determine how uncertainty plays a role when change occurs.
While all of these methods are a good attempt to understand the mind of animals, because if it applies to a rat it most likely applies to other animals as well. However, as I tell my clients, there are only two beings who will know for sure what is in the mind of an animal—the animal and God. No one else, but we need to keep trying.
In Dog Training Tips 2 I talked about how the type of dog, its breed(s) influence the dog’s personality and how biddable the dog is. The term biddable means how willing the dog is to obey. Some breeds are much more biddable than others. For example, most of the herding and some of the hunting breeds are very biddable. Some of the breeds classified as working dogs are biddable but some are not. The least biddable breeds tend to fall into the livestock guarding breeds and the hounds. However, this does not mean that they are less intelligent. As a matter of fact, the livestock guarding breeds are very intelligent but as a rule are bred to work independently, and alone. They must make very important decisions to protect the flock that they are guarding. Many people are attracted to these breeds because they are very quiet and calm. However, they do not make good pets. They are bred to repel an intruder regardless if it is animal or human. It takes a special person who understands this type of dog and knows how to train them to successfully own one.
Created by Bruce Ross
The hounds are another difficult breed to train. Again, not because they are less intelligent, but because they are bred to be very focused. Think of it this way. If a hound is bred and taught to hunt fox, they must only find and follow the scent of a fox. A Foxhound who is side-tracked on the fresher scent of a rabbit or deer, is no use as a Foxhound. But, some of you may say, what about Bloodhounds that look for missing people. Each person has his own unique scent. This is true, but the hound is trained to follow only human scent, whichever human scent his handler indicates. The Search and Rescue (SAR) Bloodhound will not veer off a trail to track an animal.
Because the hounds are very focused, they often block out everything else. For the pet owner, this can be frustrating because as hound owners know, when these dogs go for a walk, their noses are often on the ground taking in all of the scents. Their tendency to focus so strongly on scent, and their ability to block out everything else makes them seem to ignore the commands of their owners. The younger the dog, the harder the hound is to train because he is going to follow his instincts first. This means that the dog’s owner must exercise a lot more patience and realize that it will take much more effort on their part to motivate the hound to break his focus and listen to commands. One way to circumvent this is to use clicker training on the very young, 12-week-old puppy, before he fully develops his ability to focus on scent. All puppies have short attention spans and if you do not want to train your puppy to hunt, then this is a good time to take advantage of the puppy’s short attention span to teach him to focus on you.
Never forget, dogs do not speak human languages. Therefore, it takes patience on our part to teach them and you must take care not to repeat a command. The dog does not understand that “Sit” is one word. If you say, “Sit, Sit, Sit!” the dog will think it is all one word and never sit until you say it three times. A thought for today, did you ever wonder why dogs seem to be able to communicate to us better than we can to them?
Feel free to contact me if you have questions or if you need a certified canine behaviorist.
According to a study conducted by Daniel Horschler, a UA anthropology doctoral student and member of the UA’s Arizona Canine Cognition Center, dogs with bigger brains can perform certain tasks better than dogs with smaller brains. The researchers found that larger-brained breeds had better short-term memory and self-control than smaller dogs, regardless of the extent of training the dogs had received.
The tests showed that brain size did not determine a dog’s performance on tests of social intelligence such as being able to follow where a person points or with the dog’s inferential and physical reasoning ability.
What the study did not define is what is considered small and what is considered large? What the study also did not seem to take into account is the difference between the way humans relate, handle and treat small vs large dogs. As a canine behavior consultant and dog trainer I have seen a vast difference between the way owners treat and relate to large vs small dogs. For example, you do not see owners carrying their Labrador Retrievers around in backpacks or pushing them in strollers. Often small dogs are not allowed to act like dogs whereas large dogs are allowed to act like a dog should act. It is interesting to consider.
They found that stray dogs that were not timid or shy, would respond to a strange human pointing to a bowl. If the dog was friendlier and less anxious, they approached the bowls that the tester pointed to about 80% of the time. This shows that the dogs not only recognized human body language but are able to understand complex gestures.
What the researchers were unable to tell is how much experience the stray dogs had with humans and was it positive or negative. Also unknown is if people had fed the dogs in the past, using a pointing motion to indicate that there was food available.
The study does mention that more research is needed to determine if the personality of the dog is a factor in their response to human pointing. But all in all, it is another piece of information that gives us insight into the mind of the dog.
Prof. Nowotny, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange in the University of Sussex’s School of Engineering and Informatics had determined that animals may not single out a specific odor when they look for a substance. He has found that animals may find it easier to detect a collection of odors instead of a single substance. If this is true, then most of the detection dog training that focuses on teaching a dog to look for one odor rather than a scent picture, may not be the best way to train a dog.
Scout following scent
One single odor does not exist in a natural environment, rather there are a collection of odors. When you consider that it is impossible to isolate a single odor in a natural environment, this discovery makes sense. Of course it is possible and often likely that a single odor is stronger than the surrounding odors, but still it is not the only odor present.
Professor Nowotny suggests that animal and human olfactory systems may not be made to do analytic smelling of pure odors. He uses the example of how an animal will give off pheromones, a complex set of odors, as a form of communication and that it is important that an animal recognize the entire chemical message and not a single element in the chemical message.
For years I have maintained that when teaching a dog scent work that there is no such thing as an uncontaminated scent article. Professor Nowotny has confirmed this with his latest research. Although more studies need to be done, and we should still train our dogs as we have in the past, it does open the door for a less narrow view of what dogs detect and how they detect it and may lead to new training methods. It is always good to “think outside the box.”
Dog owners and breeders know that certain behaviors dominate certain breeds. For example herding dogs have the instinct to herd. Hounds have the instinct to hunt with their nose, some breeds are better guard dogs and the list goes on. This is what makes breed traits what they are. But it has been somewhat of a mystery about how this happens genetically because not all dogs in a particular breed have the same strength of the trait for that breed and some lack it entirely.
In a new study, James A Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues Evan L. MacLean of the University of Arizona, Noah Snyder-Mackler of the University of Washington, and Bridgett M. vonHoldt of Princeton University conducted a study to try to unravel how genetics affect breed trait behavior.
Their study concluded that genes do play a large part in breed behavior, and those gene most affect the brain rather than other bodily tissues. However, they stressed that there is a large margin to allow for the differences between individual animals.
What this means to the dog owner, and especially the potential dog owner, is that getting a dog from a reliable, ethical and trusted breeder is critical to your dog’s behavior. The genetic tendencies can and do vary from line to line. It also means that if you adopt a mixed breed or purebred dog, you will have no idea what it’s genetically controlled behavior will be.
This is important to understand because if behavior issues arise, you will have to allow for the possibility that it is genetically influenced. The method that you use to alter any unwanted behavior that is genetically influence will be different than simple training methods. Always consult a certified behavior consultant. You can find one at www.iaabc.org.
Also keep in mind that genetically influenced behavior is not limited to dogs but is a part of the makeup of all living beings. Yes, environment and learning also comes into play.