Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Question your dog Training methods - are you causing your dog to be stressed? Use of Shake Bottles/Cans/Water Guns etc.

The Incident
On the 3rd of Jan, I took my 4 month old pup to the park to socialise with lots of dogs and people.  Being a dog trainer, and having worked with a great range of dogs, people, temperaments and behaviour problems, I do my best to switch off whilst not at work.  But I could not help noticing that whilst walking down a wide path a woman tense up with her husband, and Boxer dog, instantaneously ripping off her glove and yanking out a fruit juice type bottle and shaking furiously in an attempt to punish her dog, that was mearly looking at my dog.

When I saw the woman tensing, I moved away, and took the pup to the other side of me, as a knee jerk reaction as, as it made me feel unconfortable, and I felt that something quite nasty was about to happen. Whilst passing she continued to use her shaky bottle that sounded like it had stones in, whilst raising her voice with a forceable No, repeatedly.  Again the dog to me didnt appear to be doing anything other than appearing: "oh, gawd not again, im going to get reprimanded for merely looking at another dog".

I'm obviously not aware of the case history of this dog, and the method she was using does work on some dogs temporarily, or why she is using it, however I would certainly not recommend it, and here is why:

Previous Work & Why it annoyed me to see this situation
I have recently been working with a Adult Boxer dog, that has been rehomed to his current owner.  This dog cannot cope with seeing another dog.  With very little case history and from working closely with this owner, and the dog, we have made tremendous progress.  When this particular dog first came to me, he was extremely stressed in being in a new environment, slowly but surely he has started to come around, eating in new places, offering behaviours that he didnt offer previously, all through the use of positive reinforcement.  Now if this dog had been trained, and socialised properly in a positive manner using the correct training methods, we would have a well balanced, obdient dog, that would be happy to see other dogs.  This dog would not be so stressed and it would not have taken so so long to undo the experiences he has been through. 

Why was this incident inappropriate?
The reason that I am writing this blog, is for you to question old training methods, and why these may be inappropriate for your dog, and why changing the way we treat our dogs, and ensuring we stop this misunderstanding of training techniques that leads to problems, and when the problems dont go away, people tend to give the dog away, and then replace the old dog with a new one.  Let's stop this.  There are way too many dogs in rescue centres, hoping and pawing that they will find their forever home.

The Training Method - Positive Punishment - dont get confused!

Positive punishment is something that is applied to reduce a behavior. The term "positive" often confuses people, because in common terms "positive" means something good, upbeat, happy, pleasant, rewarding. Remember, this is technical terminology we're using, though, so here "positive" means "added" or "started". Punishment is something that the dog is punished with that the dog doesnt like.  I hear many times people telling me in a jolly fashion how they have used a water gun to try and punish their dog and they thought it was a great game.  It saddens me however that we tend to instantly use punishment first rather than teach our dogs to go about showing the correct behaviour.  We teach our children what is right and wrong and tend to forget that our dogs need to be taught also.  Dogs are born not knowing that chewing the table leg is the right thing to do, or in the case of the example above it could be that the dog pulls to go towards other dogs. 

The timing of a positive punishment must be exquisite. It must correspond exactly with the behavior for it to have an effect.  If it doesnt them you end up punishing another behaviour, and thus potentially causing a future problem/or an aversive.  This can be dangerous,  if you have a growing pup going through the stages of

What does Positive Punishment do to the dog?
Dog will start to dislike the punisher.

Become emotionally upset, stem cause of behaviour problems such as obsessive compulsive disorders, i.e. tail chasing, spinning.  Destructiveness etc.

Physically upset.  Dogs that are stressed may loose fur,  have bad skin, and produce dandruff, may even loose weight.

Depending on what the dog has been punished for, and the environment, and if it was applied at the wrongtime, the dog may be aversive to something unrelated in our eyes to the incident, which may then lead to fear, and agression.

All the above relate to the Boxer in the park incident plus other affects include:

Think of an incident when you were punished, or when you see an item you may recall a time when an incident when you were punished. 

Same with dogs, lets look at the boxer in the park, by using the shaky bottle could instill fear of the other dogs, when the rattle bottle is used as the puppy walks past, the dog may start to learn that dogs are bad things.  This is a possiblity of what may happen next in a short space of time: When a dog is around, I get scared by my owner using that bottle, and they are bad, so next time I see one I may get scared and even try to protect myself by scaring that dog away by using my teeth, growling etc, so that I dont get punished again.  

What about other dogs in the park, if they are on a regular route, it might scare the other dogs, and therefore the other dogs walking past will learn that boxers have a loud noise to them, and to be scared/fearful of them.  This all depends on how the dog views the situation of course, and vice versa.

Knowing your breed means so much.

Boxers are beautiful dogs, I was brought up with one as a child and have very fond memories of Cassie.  The problem is the design of the dog. The posture of the dog is a very confident one, the faces are a little squashed up, and with the small dock of a tail, this can be difficult for another dog to read, especially unconfident dogs.  This is similar to meeting people, we make judgements based on how people approach us etc, and then we change our opinnions and judgements as we get to know them more. So dogs may read a Boxer as a confident dog, when it may not be.

If you see this technique, and you even chat with the owner and they speak how wonderful it works, chances are they have a pretty bad bond with their dog and they dont even know it.

DONT TRY THIS AT HOME, contact/consult a reputable dog trainer that uses positive reinforcement dog training methods NOT positive (adding something) Punishment methods.