Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cookie Pushing 101

This is Wallace. Isn't he handsome? Don't let that innocent face fool you though. He has a thing for tennis balls. A BIG thing. Can we say resource guarding everyone? It's ok though since he has a patient owner willing to work with him on it.

Alert~Serious topic ahead. Not my normal fare. (hence the warning)
There was a discussion over on another blog that frustrated me. So much so that I made a stupid emotional response that probably made me look like a know it all jerk. Crap. Sometimes it is best to step away from the computer. A fact I lost sight of. For the record I do NOT know it all. I wish I did, because if so I would have many more financial assets than I do currently.
It was about positive training methods. It started with a discussion about the veterinary field and a stance on behavior modification methods that also mentioned Mr. CM. (Go to to see the post and following discussion.) It made me wonder why I care so much about how I am perceived as a trainer based on the methods I use.
It would appear that many people think positive method trainers are nothing more than a bunch of cookie pushers that need food treats to bribe their dogs into compliance and that we also let our dogs do whatever they like when no cookies are present. (How's that for a run on sentence?) Anyone who knows anything about positive training knows nothing could be further from the truth. It seems hard to convince the hard corp CM fans and traditional trainers otherwise though. Interestingly enough though, I don't know any traditional trainers that approve of his methods.
It got me thinking....why do I care what others think of my training aside from my clients and the dogs I help? Perhaps it is just how I am personally wired. I served 6 years in the Marines, so maybe all those years of having to be (perceived as) tough all the time has affected me long term. Showing weakness as a female in the Corps was a guaranteed way of losing respect from the men, so I made sure it didn't happen. Repressed emotions anyone? Maybe I am just that type of person in general which could be why I found the Corps attractive in the first place. It is in interesting question. And I'm not sure the answer really matters anyhow.
I do have a hard time not speaking up with I hear about people doing things that are counter productive in training. Some of it even abusive. (Would you want YOUR nose pushed into urine or feces?) Much of my job involves teaching people how dogs learn, so they can better understand why they do the things they do as dogs. The more you know about dog behavior, the easier it is to make changes that make sense to all involved. This is one reason I think all dog trainers should be required to learn about dog behavior. You would be surprised how many don't know much on the subject. It boggles my mind. Dog training is an unregulated field remember. ANYONE can hang a shingle and say they are a trainer. (or get their own TV show-fodder for a future post perhaps) You may want to ask for references or about their experience before you let them have control over your dog. ( Get specific! When was the last seminar they attended? What was the topic? Etc, etc. )
For the record I don't need food treats to get my dogs to comply. Yes it is used during the acquisition portion of training, as a paycheck. However IF used improperly it can become a bribe, which we don't want. So knowing how to use it, and how to phase it out, is very important. You can also use other things as rewards, or currency, for your dogs. Feedback to your dog is also important. Positive method training does involve corrections! Letting them know when they do a behavior we don't want so they understand us clearly is an important communication between us. It is just done in a different manner than traditional methods.
There is a science behind positive methods that cannot be denied. Drug dogs and search dogs are trained with it, not just our household pets. Scent work cannot be forced. Many other animals are trained the same way. (think dolphins, horses and elephants) For a great book that looks at animal training in general, check out the book "Kicked, Bitten and Scratched" by Amy Sutherland. It is a great read with lots of good info on the behavior and training/learning link.
I am also not totally against compulsion training, I just prefer to see it used correctly IF it is used. There is a right way and a wrong way to use those choke or pinch collars. If you are going to use them, please use them fairly for your dog's sake. Timing is critical. It is also not something you can use effectively for the long term to modify behavior. (Don't even think about using it for fear issues.) True it may suppress behavior, for awhile, but not without possible serious negative fallout. The key is to change the emotion of the event for the dog to change the behavior long term. Something that CM fans don't seem to understand or want to admit. There is no such thing as a dog psycologist. He made that term up! There are however canine behaviorists. None of which uses corporal punishment in their programs. He looks great on TV and makes it all look so easy. I would love to see those same dogs a year down the road. I am willing to bet it isn't all happy endings.
But I will admit CM does have some great points. "Dogs aren't people in fur coats. They need exercise, discipline, and love." I just disagree with some of his outdated (and dangerous) methods. Do not try this at home needs to be taken more seriously. (Let's count the number of times he is bitten shall we?) I even had a volunteer at our local shelter use CM's trademark "sstt" and hand bite on Grizz, the dog now at the prison, who was shy of people and contact from them. NOT appropriate! This was a dog who needed to learn humans are not to be feared. Not by getting hands on "bites" to his body for trying to get away from them. (He is doing MUCH better now thankfully. She was well meaning but inappropriate as are many watchers of his show.)
Dogs are individuals and it is true that not all methods are for all dogs or their people. There is no cookie cutter here. All training needs to be tailored for the dog you have. My biggest point is to learn how to best use your method of choice humanely for the dog. After using and being trained in both methods, and learning more about dog behavior, I choose positive training as my first choice whenever possible. I can't deny the results I have seen, both in my dogs performance, and in my relationship with them. I can only hope those that those that decry positive methods as "silly cookie pushing" would do abit more research into them before they discount their value. They may be surprised by the info they find, and the results they get. I know I was.
Tail wags.


Katie said...

FWIW, I don't think you came off looking like a know it all jerk at all. But then again, I agree with you and understand what you're saying. I "get" positive training, I "get" the benefits. I've learned so much in the past four years of owning a difficult dog that I was able to go from the leash-jerking that did not work to other methods that did. And I don't know what I would have done if I had not had somebody to show me the way.

It's easy to get caught up in these kinds of discussions. It happens to me all the time. I've put so much time, effort, and heart into learning about this stuff, and I'm passionate about it. It's good to be passionate, I think. Even if it sometimes gets a little out of control and you end up feeling sheepish afterward :)

Riley said...

I got your package yesterday and am so glad you enjoyed the book and the DVD. Thanks for the magazine! I haven't had time to crack it open yet but I am looking forward to reading that sled dog article. :]

People on the internet can be way harsher than they would ever be in real life. I don't think you came across as overemotional or anything; I read the whole thread and agreed with everything you said. Positive training is NOT cookie pushing, I couldn't agree more. I still give Apollo his little "paychecks" but he will always obey without treats (except when it comes to recall, but hopefully the neuter and a little more maturity will help us along there, lol). It's harder with my husky bitch because she is so much more independent and snarky (they call them bitches for a reason) and doesn't thrive on praise the way Apollo does. Could also be because she didn't have as much human contact early in life.

If I had listened to the idiots who told me that an intact Doberman male would need a heavy, harsh hand, I'd have a shut down dog right now. Rewards and a positive outlook on life have turned him into a dog I'm proud to own and have raised. Does he get corrected for inappropriate things? Of course. But I have never laid a finger on him and never will. He doesn't need a swat or a leash pop to be a trained dog.

I don't know everything about dog training (duh) and maybe some dogs really do need the different style of training. I believe you when you say that you have found that this works and can be tailored for all dogs, though. All dogs respond to happy, smiling owners and a reward for a job well-done.

So yes, I'm rambling, but I just wanted to thank you for all that you do. I think you are a fantastic trainer. :] And for what it's worth, that comment about playing ball instead of chasing the squirrels made total sense to me. Redirecting my dogs has worked so much better than trying to just keep them from getting excited about people at the front door (and who really wants to punish their guardian breed for being happy to see a visitor?).

Marie said...

Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it alot. I need to try not to get so invested in future conversations. I guess it surprises me that these conversations still happen. I mean, who would argue against a guideline written for the humane treatment of dogs? Apparently poeple who disagree with the definition of harsh treatment. It just astounds me.

Bev said...

I am sorry if this is not the appropriate place for this request but I am struggling with finding a post on our exact situation.
We have an 8-year-old Manchester Terrier, Holly, and a 6-year-old Beagle, Lady. They have gotten along quite well for 4 years. Holly is definitely our "alpha" dog. She appears to believe she is "in charge" of the world. We have had to verbally tell her that we have it all under control and she can let go and go to bed. She has always seemed to understand this concept. It is eerie how smart she is. In the past, if she bothered something that was not hers to bother, I would simply say that is one of Mommy's things and forever after, she has left it alone. She has even brought me items of mine that the other dog had bothered! My daughter rescued a German Short-Haired Pointer, Gomer, when she was in college. She had been a breeder dog at a hunting club and was approximately 8 years old. At times, Gomer had to come and live with us. She had never been in a house before and had never played with toys or had any fun. She copied everything that Holly did, to the point of taking small mincing steps like her and scratching at the door in the same way. Over the years, Gomer has come and gone. This has been her second home. We have never had any issues between the three dogs. My daughter and her husband and Gomer came to live with us for the past year and just recently moved out again. In the weeks since, Holly has become defensive and too protective with Lady. She growls if Lady comes near me or if Lady wants to also get on the sofa where Holly is. There are never food or meal issues except when Holly feels the need to guard the groceries until I put them away. All 3 of these dogs were rescue dogs and both Holly and Lady had separation anxiety. We have had a lot of experience with this with other dogs in the past. Holly's seemed to disappear almost immediately when she moved in. She will quietly greet me as I come and go and does not feel the need to follow me around. Lady, on the other hand, still deals with some of this every day and is constantly watchful that I might leave the room. Among other things, when I leave the house or come home or feed them I do it quietly, something I learned to do the hard way! I have been distressed at Holly's new dominance and aggression towards Lady. She has even bared her teeth at her just because the Beagle walked by.
Our vet said, that when Gomer moved out, Holly's world was altered and she lost control of it and is now trying to regain it. I understand this but I am worried for her. She now barks quite aggressively when people come to the house, even we we speak to her. She is also very fond of my husband and growled at me when I went to sit on the couch with them!
I have a grandson who is almost 2 who visits about about once a month and so far so good. I would never blame a dog who got upset if a child tried to take their toy or bone and we are vigilant about avoiding such situations. She seems to understand that Max is a baby but I wonder if that will always be the case. He has two huge dogs so we work to teach him to be gentle with our dogs - that he can't push them away like he sometimes has to with his!
Holly has developed COPD and skin conditions and I feel that her illness is adding to her behavior. She is on medications for this, and we have now started her temporarily on Amitriptyline in hopes that we can reduce her anxiety level. It does not appear to be helping so I feel we will discontinue this.
I love these dogs and want to do right by them. We are in this for always. I also love my little Max and want to avoid any potential future problems. Any advice you can give me would be welcomed. I apologize for the length of this!

Marie said...

Hi Bev,

I cannot really give you great advice over an e-mail. There are alot of things at play when it comes to dogs relationships with each other. It sounds like you have some resource guarding doing on and maybe some inter-dog conflict which can be more common with 2 female in a home especially with the male gone. (Who's presence may have been enough to difuse the situation.)I'd suggest contacting a trainer in your area to work with to put a behavior modification plan in place. You can do a trainer search at Medication isn't going to work without a b-mod plan in place. It is designed to help the dog chemically be able to learn, not solve the problem on its own. I would also suggest a lyme test and a thyroid test for Holly to rule out 2 medical problems that can exaserbate aggression. Good luck and I hope that helps a little. Aggession is nothing to take lightly expecially with a baby around the dog so PLEASE get some hands on professional help.