|Posted on January 15, 2013 at 10:25 PM||comments (0)|
What is a horse/dog whisperer?
Before reality shows became popular, I remember “whispering” meaning ‘to communicate as quietly as possible’. It seems whispering has taken on a new, abrasive connotation that suggests applying an aversive technique as subtly as possible to mute an existing behaviour without examining the root of the problem.
Every day, people do this to dogs and horses. Picture a ‘child whisperer’ for a moment. Your child has become unruly and spoiled and so you call a child whisperer in to correct the problem. They announce that your child has pushy, dominant tendencies and may become aggressive; but they can fix it and you can be on TV. You believe them because they are very polished and terribly convincing. For the next two weeks film crews come and go from your house at odd hours to acquire enough usable clips to assemble a one hour episode of “child whisperer” (Or “At the end of my motherhood” ) for TV. During these filmings your child is pushed beyond their understanding, frightened,confused, pinched, hit, dragged, and snarled at. Once a clip has been filmed in which your child is so frightened they do not respond... it’s a rap! ...And your child whisperer hits the road for good.
Eventually your child recovers enough from this trauma to return to their usual behaviours. The only noticeable change is that they flinch away from hands and cringe at loud noises.
I do not have it within me to be a modern day “whisperer” but I will always be a Listener. Most animals are pleased to communicate with us if we do not presume to “correct” an undesirable behaviour but instead, find it’s root and help erase it’s cause.
I’ve been looking into something lately called “LibertyTraining” for horses. There seems to be a few different ways of going about it but basically, the horse is loose with freedom of choice. This is how I have always trained horses so I became very interested in what various methods and techniques were being implemented but the leading trainers using Liberty.
At first they all seemed very similar to me in training mentality but as I read deeper into blogs and books I discovered that the end result is always control. It’s a huge contradiction and the point seems to be to either give the horse the freedom to choose to be controlled or to control them by becoming their access to freedom.
This life is not about dominance or control. It is about partnership, guidance and companionship. It is what we are seeking with our active ‘Seeking Drive’ but it has never been beyond our grasp if we listen and communicate.
We must ask.
Dogs and horses are not products from IKEA. They are individual entities with rights and freedom of choice. They deserve the same respect we would offer a stranger, and once we know them, the same respect we would offer a friend.
I have a new horse in training.
A couple of months ago my best friend (Also a horse trainer) and I were offered two paint fillies, almost three years old and never halter trained. They came together, but one is human aggressive and completely unhandled.
I accepted, because I’m a stupid sucker and she stole my heart. Her name is Luna Blue Spirit and her daddy is our very own Medicine Hat stallion, Spirit Dance.
When we went to pick them up we were told that she had “Come At” her owner in the pasture and he had to “beat her off”. Both owners were clearly terrified of her but aside from a lot of avoidance behaviour and a bit of handler directed fear aggression, I saw nothing about her to alarm me.
Unless a horse has been turned mean by a handler, or is so inbred as to become vicious beyond repair, I can think of only one reason a horse might ‘come at’ a hander in the pasture, and that is when cornered. Generally, in such a situation, the horse is frightened and confused, and when aggressive tendencies surface they are not centered around attack but merely aimed at gaining personal space. It would be fairly average behaviour from a nervous,unbroken horse to bolt past a space-invading, amateur hander and attempt a shoulder-check to break free of constraints... but not to attack and stay to fight. Horses are flight animals... when uncomfortable they seek space to flee.
As it turns out, this is an ingrained, learned behaviour. It IS an aggressive display, proximity oriented, with the objective of gaining space... but with some hateful undertones.
This horse is so hostile towards humans that she approaches dominantly, then puts on an aggressive display to force humans out of the space she seeks from them. She drives people backwards.
She has since demonstrated this form of aggression to three horse-savvy parties. As of yet, I am exempt. I believe there are a few reasons for this but mainly, she had come to realize that I seek nothing from her. My end goal is that she enjoy my company and if she can’t do that she is welcome to walk away. I have demonstrated to her that I do, in fact, have seven other horses that DO enjoy my company and if it takes her a year and a day to come around, I have time.
Luna is hyper-sensitive to everything that goes on around her and at an exceptional distance. If someone stares at her across the pasture she can feel it at 100 yards and will make eye contact and pin her ears. She is extremely reactive to disjointed energy and if someone is angry, upset, frustrated or projecting false emotions (Denial, pretending everything is fine) she will immediately react adversely.
She is deeply disturbed by human hands and has allowed no one but me to touch her.
Our first break-though was when I realized that she wanted my attention... just not hands... and proceeded to brush her entire torso with a handful of hay (Her favorite thing...). She earned that hay as a reward for allowing the intrusion into her space. I now have the privilege of petting,scratching or grooming her with hay whenever I choose.
After the hay she allowed me to scratch her with a curry comb. It’s an especially good one so after running away at the first swipe she decided (After about 10 minutes of alone time) that she wanted to come back for more and stood willingly for a short grooming.
Recently she has allowed me to scratch her with my hands (Big break-though!) on her shoulders and neck (Non-vulnerable areas only). She has also finally learned what apples and carrots are. It took me over a month to convince her they were edible.
We are working through her upbringing at her pace. I’m very excited to have this opportunity with her and will blog about her progress as it comes. She is a very special horse with a lifetime of potential and a spark that one is lucky to see once in a lifetime.
|Posted on December 24, 2012 at 4:55 PM||comments (0)|
Well it’s the holiday season and I’d like to share a few pet tips I’ve found helpful over the years.
Is your cat a tree killer?
If your cat obsesses over your Christmas tree, consider moving anything dangerous or fragile out of reach and hanging the lower branches with cat toys and plastic ornaments. It may not bean ideal solution but it is difficult to relax over the holidays if you spend them attempting to tree-train your cat and once you are past the “Don’t break that!..” stage it’s actually pretty adorable.
Travelling with pets?
If you are travelling out of town with your pets or have guests at your home with their own pets consider adding a homemade “Friendly & Just Visiting!” tag to the animals collar with a local contact phone number on it.
If you are travelling out of town and leaving your pets in someone else’s care consider adding a homemade “Over Christmas, please call” tag to the animals collar with their caregiver’s phone number on it.
DON'T EAT THAT!
Most people know that chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats. It is the alkaloid theobromine found in chocolate that is toxic and it is far more concentrated in dark chocolate and unsweetened bakers chocolate than in milk chocolate. It takes quite a bit to make a large breed dog sick but the best thing you can do is phone your veterinarian immediately and tell them how much chocolate the pet has consumed. Be sure to have the package on hand as it will list the amount of theobromine present.
“In dogs, the half-life of theobromine is 17.5 hours, so in severe cases clinical symptoms of theobromine poisoning can persist for 72 hours. Medical treatment performed by a veterinarian involves inducing vomiting within two hours of ingestion...”
Early symptoms of theobromine poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urination but because vomiting should be induced within two hours of ingestion it’s far better to phone the vet immediately and ask then it is to wait for symptoms.
It’s Not Just Chocolate, Though, Is It?
Domestic dogs will eat just about anything and with holiday guests (And their children) coming and going from your home it becomes difficult to guard every snack in the house. If your dog has consumed something non-toxic that has an adverse effect on digestion, (Say, a whole loaf of bread, a plate of crackers and cheese, a tin of cookies with icing, etc.) there are a number of different home-remedies that can help a great deal.
Pets Get Stressed Too...
Please watch your dog closely around guests and watch your guests closely around your dog!
You may have a dog that is excellent with strangers and children but the holidays are both exciting and stressful and it is important to remember that there is no way to explain Christmas to a dog.
Make sure your dog is getting some alone time in a quiet place with lots of chew toys to alleviate stress.
Ensure that no one bothers your pets while they are eating and sleeping.
Remember that your pets have the right to remove themselves from situations they are not comfortable in. Regardless of how cute your niece may be, if your pets wish to leave her presence do not allow her to pursue them.
Watch for signs of stress in your pets and if you see them remove either your pet, or the stress inducing component from the interaction.
Some common signs of stress in dogs:
Some holiday specific factors that may increase stress in pets:
Bite Thresholds: Dogs that do not bite do not exist.
Dogs that do not bite do not exist. Every dog will bite if sufficiently provoked. Dominance theory is fading in popularity but persists in media... the truth about dog bites is that most occur when a dog is anxious or afraid and the warning signs have been ignored or overlooked.
All dogs have thresholds and those thresholds are set in the following order.
3. Snarl (Showing of teeth)
4. Snap (Biting the air, although snaps often mistakenly connect)
These are the warning signs offered by dogs to indicate their discomfort. Thresholds that have been punished may be missing, leaving a dog that “Bites without warning.” If a dog has been punished for growling and snarling until they ceased to do so, they may transition directly from freezing to snapping. If a dog has been punished for growling they may alter their growl and snarl thresholds to whining while displaying teeth.
These thresholds are not evenly spaced. It is common for a dog to freeze and growl at the same time and dogs with compacted threshold often compress snarling, snapping and biting so much that by the time they snarl they are already biting.
Do not fall into the idea that “My dog would NEVER bite someone.” You do not have to explain bite thresholds to your guests for your dog to have a safe, stress-free holiday with the family.
Become comfortable with watching the interactions and saying “I think it’s time to leave Rover alone for a while/put Rover outside for a while. He’s not used to all this excitement” if you see him exhibit signs of stress.
If you witness a threshold display (Even if it’s freeze) “Leave the dog alone please” is well within your rightsand your pet will thank you for it.
And what about New Years Eve?
Even calm dogs that are not sound sensitive can be frightened by fireworks. Statistically, more dogs are reported and impounded for “Running at large” on New Year’s Eve and Halloween than any other time of year.
Fireworks are just plain scary.
Please bring your pets indoors on New Year’s Eve and, no matter how silly you feel, if you are going to leave them home alone put on the longest movie you own and turn the volume up.
Happy Holidays Everyone!
Classes resume in January, 2013!
|Posted on September 17, 2012 at 11:10 PM||comments (0)|
Autumn is puppy season and with it comes the question “Whatis the right age to train my puppy?”
A common misconception is that dogs cannot be trained until they have reached a mature age. The first reason for the original popularity of this idea is that if you administer repeated choke chain “corrections” to a puppy you are far more likely to collapse their trachea. The second reason is that ‘traditional’ dog training is based on a punishment system and adult dogs have an easier time understanding the concept behind ‘if I don’t do what you want you are going to hurt me until I do’. If you are using positive reinforcement a dog can learn anything you wish to teach at any age so long as you are clear and consistent in your communication.
SOME BASIC FACTS ABOUT PUPPIES:
Puppies are more likely to work and learn for fun and praise
Puppies learn differently than adult dogs, but no slower
Puppy training lasts a lifetime and a puppy can learn everything an adult dog can learn
Puppies show more benefit and respond better to training when they are offered early socialization with other puppies, dogs and people
If you teach positive behaviours at the youngest age possible you are far less likely to have to correct undesirable behaviours at alater age
Puppies respond better to tone of voice because they have not become jaded to it; the earlier you begin training your puppy to respond to tone the more long distance control you will have over your pup as he grows up (And becomes a no-leash dog!)
Young puppies do not need to be given reasons for obedience commands and adult dogs often do
Spot in training at 8 weeks: “SURE!”
Spot in training at 2 years: “Why?”
It’s easier to phase out food with puppies than it is with adultdogs
FOOD USE IN LURE/REWARD TRAINING:
Step 1: Use food as a lure and motivator to teach the dog hand signals and commands quickly and without physical contact. The lure is the food treat held in the hand that gives the hand signal. In this way the dog learns quickly to watch for hand signals and interpret their meaning. The food treat is then given as a reward.
Step 2: Remove the lure. It only takes two or three “lures”(Hand signals with food in hand) for the dog to learn the hand signal for each behaviour requested. The Food treat is still given as a reward, but from the opposite hand as the hand signal.
Step 3: Begin shaping better, faster responses by only food-rewarding the best response to each command given. (If the dog lies down slowly every time he is asked reward only the fastest responses.)
Step 4: Stop using treats. Introduce “Real life rewards”such as play, praise, dinner, walk time, etc.
VOCAL CONTROL IN TRAINING:
The earlier you start training your puppy the more responsive they will be to your tone of voice. This allows for praise to be a highly sought after motivator and reward and verbal correction to be very effective in curbing unwanted behaviours without ever physically punishing your puppy.
WHAT IS AN INSTRUCTIVE REPRIMAND?
An instructive reprimand is the verbal correction of an undesirable behaviour. The tone of voice used makes it clear to the dog tha this behaviour is unacceptable but the word spoken tells him what to do to correct the behaviour. If a dog is jumping up and is told to “SIT!” the tone implies that jumping up is ‘bad’ but the command tells him that sitting down instead would be a positive choice that would get him back into your good books and potentially earn him praise. If you do not offer instruction when giving a reprimand (Or physical correction) you leave the dog guessing as to why he’s wrong and what he could possibly do to make it right instead of offering him a more acceptable, alternate behaviour to replace it with.
WHY IS PUNISHMENT INEFFECTIVE?
“The area of the brain that mediates emotion is called the limbic system. It's basic to the brains of both you and your dog. It's often called the mammalian brain. Nestled in the middle of your brain, it includes 3 vital structures: Amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus. The Amygdala attaches emotional significance to the information coming into the brain, and has been called the command center. It controls the emotions of surprise, rage and fear. It generates your own emotions and helps you read the emotions of others.”
Correction (Punishment) based training relies on fear and pain as controlling factors in determining responses. When these are introduced the Amygdala becomes activated and overrules the frontal lobe (The “thinking” portion of the brain.) This means that while the dog is being emotionally programmed to generate a specific behavioural response on command he is not thinking, learning or communicating.
"The frontal lobe contains most of the dopamine-sensitive neurons in the cerebral cortex. The dopamine system is associated with reward, attention, short-term memory tasks, planning, and motivation...
The executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events.
The frontal lobes also play an important part in retaining longer term memories which are not task-based. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the brain's limbic system. The frontal lobe modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms."
Reward based training incorporates interaction and communication in a relaxed way and encourages the dog to experiment with new behavioral responses in the hope that it may earn him a reward. This is an excellent motivator that allows for the dog to become creative and expressive while remaining obedient to his training.
|Posted on September 23, 2010 at 4:16 PM||comments (0)|
Maybe my dog is just misunderstood! (Actually, odds are pretty good that he is.)
I’ve started with a Q/A case study. All case studies are fictional but based on real scenarios encountered.
Case Study 1:
A man comes to the door and the 2.5 year old neutered male GSD charges the door barking and lunging and snarling. When the man enters the house he becomes louder and more agitated, lunging and snapping near the face but always falling a little short. When the man walks towards him and talks to him to try and calm him down he backs up barking, then lunges unexpectedly and does it again. He gets sent to the living room where he remains in a very aggressive and excited state. He finally appears to settle down but every time the man moves he charges him and begins snarling, snapping, lunging and barking again.
When the dog is walked he is like this with every man who approaches him but when he went to stay with family in a different town and was walked by different people he did not behave aggressively.
What the **** is wrong with the dog???
Some Answers Received: (Will remain anonymous)
-The dog is territorial and needs to be dominated
-The dog is unstable and should be euthanized
-The owner must be a single female because “a lot of Shepherds owned by females act this way”
-The owner does not have the leadership skills required to have a GSD
The Answer: Territorial Fear-Aggression
Most common in (but certainly not limited to) young male German Shepherds!
What we have in this case study is a dog that is afraid of men and prepared to defend himself. He feels especially cornered in the house and on his leash. The fear aggression is restricted to his territory.
Fear aggression is a defensive behaviour triggered by pressure. (Especially direct eye contact, direct approach and reaching hands) Its purpose is to drive away threatening stimuli, create a safety buffer for the dog and relieve the pressure felt by an approaching threat. It is also a self-reinforcing behaviour meaning that every time the dog displays aggression and the threatening stimuli is driven away, the behaviour is reinforced and the dog’s confidence in his aggressive display grows. I believe Territorial Fear-Aggression to be the 2nd most dangerous form of aggression (the first being Predatory Aggression) but the prognosis is usually good and behaviour modification is fairly simple (although time consuming).
Possible Causes of Fear-Aggression:
-A dysfunctional background (The owner, previous owners, shelter or breeder)
-Lack of exposure during critical development periods (Under-socialized as a puppy)
-Profound negative exposure at any time (A horrible traumatic experience)
Characteristics of Fear-Aggression and Territorial Fear-Aggression
• Proactive fear reaction
• Aggression directed towards strangers
• Men and children are common targets
• Inability to escape escalates aggression
• Neutering has little impact
• Backing away and hiding from strangers
• Barking at strangers
• Approach-avoidance behaviour to strangers (Approach almost all the way and back off)
• Lunging at strangers
• Escalating confidence and aggression
• Problems obvious by 12-18 months
• Never settling in the presence of strangers
• Rear attack
Characteristics specific to Territorial Fear-Aggression
• Only aggressive on home turf due to lack of confidence
• Change the dog’s perception of strangers by building positive associations through counter-conditioning.
• Train an alternative behaviour that takes the pressure off of the dog (Such as sitting behind you or leaving the room)
• Lower the protein content in his diet. Fear-Aggression and territorial behaviour have been shown to increase with protein level.
• Exercise, exercise, exercise!!! Exercise releases endorphins (feel good brain chemicals) and increases serotonin level (serotonin is a mood stabilizer).
The worst things you could possible do (Or let someone else do) to a Fear-Aggressive dog:
• Frighten or hurt him
• Corner him
• Flood him (Flooding is over-exposure to fearful stimuli)
• Misinterpret his behaviour as dominance-aggression and ‘treat’ him for it
Special thanks and loads of credit to Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, Veterinary Behaviourist, author of “The Well Adjusted Dog” and other excellent books!