Sunday, June 14, 2009

My educational weekend.

Yesterday I got to attend a seminar on dog to dog aggression at Happy Tails in Portland (Maine) with Patricia McConnell PhD. It was excellent. The morning was about handling dogs that are reactive (and aggressive) towards other unfamiliar dogs in public. There were live demos as well as some great video clips. (and stories of cases shared) There was one story about a small dog that was killed that freaked me out a little as an owner of small "crushable" dogs myself.
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We learned how to use and teach "Watch me" (which becomes classical conditioning), a "U-Turn" and dealing with surprise greetings. (emergency sit-stays) She also touched on abandonment training (by Trish King) which works great for dogs that are clingy to their owner, and C.A.T training (by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Kellie Snider) which is a method that works especially well if the aggressive behavior is primarily fear based. The methods she showed and taught us are all from her book: "Feisty Fidos: Help for the leash aggressive dog" available at http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/
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The afternoon was about aggression between dogs in the same household. There was so much great info discussed about dominance theory that I really want to share. I will just hit the highlights from her handout (in my opinion) and then share some of my own notes from the discussion at the end. These are her words:
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The "decide who's alpha and support them" strategy hasn't been very effective in her experience. It only works 10 to 20% of the time. (she also mentioned it only working for a short time and then having a serious incident with injuries between those dogs later)
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Alpha roll overs aren't used by wolves nor are scruff shakes as discipline.
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There is social structure in wolves and dogs as with many other species.
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Status is not about who gets what. Zimen describes high social status as the animal with the most social freedom. It's true with us too-the Queen can hug you but you can't hug the Queen.
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Typical social hierarchy consists of alpha (or dominant), a beta group of status seekers and a third, omega group of individuals who are not status seeking. Important to look at our dogs and ask not if they are "dominant" but if they are "status seeking".
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In many species the most aggression is actually from the beta's, while the highest status individuals show the least aggression. Perhaps that might be one reason it will do no good to "support the dominant" if what they really are is a top beta dog.
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Bullies are ubiquitous in hierarchical social animals, from wolves to chimps to humans. Supporting them just causes more aggression, no matter what their social status.
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If dominance is priority access to preferred limited resources, and high status confers the most social control, and if dogs think of us as part of their social group (they seem to since they greet us like they greet dogs) then if any individual is highest in status, wouldn't it be the ones who can open doors and bags of dog food? If so, would supporting a dog then put them in that "beta" category, where most aggression and tension is?
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So -- status is complicated, I'm not sure that anyone can elect a "dominant " dog. You certainly don't want to support an alpha wannabe or a bully -- and neither do you want your dogs vying for status.
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It's also valuable to look at the issue from a learning perspective - whether status is relevant or not, ask yourself what a dog is learning if he gets what he wants by throwing his weight around or threatening others.
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If your dogs learn that they way to get what they want is to threaten others, be pushy and demanding, then at least you have a bunch of rude dogs, at worst you've got some really serious dog fights.
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The most successful program at Dog's Best Friend Ltd. is a program that de-emphasizes status and reinforces dogs for being patient and polite.
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The exercises that were then listed to accomplish that are available in the booklet "Feeling outnumbered? Managing a multi-dog household" by Karen London and Patricia McConnell. (I bought the video of the same which I will review on here after watching.)
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My own notes I think should be repeated about social status included:
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Social status is contextual and is fluid within a group.
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Aggression is most common in the middle of the pack/group.
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An example of dominance in action was: if a pork chop is dropped between two dogs the dominant dog will get it. Dominance is a relationship between the two dogs involved in the interaction.
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Dominance/social status exists, but doesn't help solve behavior problems in dogs.
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There was also a case study about two intact bitches within a home that are fighting for us to come up with a plan for under Patricia's guidance. (The owner was there with one of the dogs.)
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Besides the education of seminars, it is also just fun to get together with other like minded trainers for a day of dog talk. I ran into the other trainer that was in the apprenticeship program with me who now works for her local Humane Society. It was nice to catch up with her and hear about the old haunt. I also got to meet one of my facebook friends in the flesh. (Hi Susan!)
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I was fortunate to have great company for the ride. Elizabeth, a client of a reactive dog, and Candace, one of our local dog walkers. (http://www.boneheadswalking.com/ ) We had a great time talking dogs all day.
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I do wish behavior seminars were required for all dog trainers. There are some out there who could really use the information if they are not actively seeking it on their own. (through the aforementioned books and DVD's) Continuing education is SO important in this field. The more they (the experts) learn about dogs and their behavior the more we can help them and their owners most appropriately. There is ALWAYS more to learn!!! Every seminar I have attended has taught me something I could use.
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I also brought my copy of Patricia's book "The other end of the leash" to be signed. I think it is one of the best books about dog behavior on the planet. I wish every dog owner would read it. It would change so many people's perception of their dog and it's (normal!) behavior. (as well as their own)


I also took the opportunity to mention my observation of "The thinking face" (lip tuck) that I blogged about previously:
http://k-9solutionsdogtraininginc.blogspot.com/2008/11/reading-facial-expressions-in-dogs.html#links
It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it. I would love to see more out there for brachycephelic breeds and facial expressions. (as well as other breeds with "different" and more challenging to read facial structure: Shar-peis, bull terriers, etc. )
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On the way home we stopped at the Planet Dog store. I used the coupon they gave us at the event for a cute pink shirt that says "You had me at woof." (How cute is that?) It was a very long day and my brain is still tired just thinking about it. I now need to watch the new video and I'm sure will want to incorporate some of the exercises in my own blended group of dogs. There is nothing like a seminar to get those training juices flowing. I will be sure to give feedback on it when I am finished.

2 comments:

Logan said...

Hi Marie! It was so nice to meet you in person and thanks for the wonderful recap of the seminar. I am going forward it to some friends who were asking about it. Looking forward to your review of the video and how it compares to the book.

Lauren said...

What a treat! I keep Feisty Fido close by me for my own feisty one and absolutely love it. She has such great ideas!