You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2010.

North American dog owners are becoming increasingly obsessed with “control.” Commonly seen in dog sport enthusiasts trying to be top of their game as well as everyday dog owners who have bought into dominance theory, the need to control canines seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. In pursuit of control, dog owners will limit access to various resources such as “human” food, comfy couches, four-legged friends and other people. This often leads to what we call “Forbidden Fruit Syndrome” (FFS). 
 
The first symptom most FFS sufferers exhibit is an unnatural obsession with something. Most frequently it is an intense drive to get to other dogs or people and can also be directed towards toys or obsessive food begging. Another symptom occurs when dogs are forcibly removed from furniture or if prized chews or toys are taken away without properly conditioning the dog to be receptive to human interference when they are engaged with their favorite things. FFS tends to rear its ugly head in the form growling, snarling, snapping and sometimes even biting as dogs try to keep humans away from valuable “possessions.”
 
We are blessed with a wonderful local resource who has been truly enlightening when it comes to dealing with FFS. Silvia Jay, a trainer who shares her passion for pooches at www.voice4dogs.com has brought the concept of “Mindful Leadership” to our community. Silvia points to dogs’ needs for social inclusion and emotional security as the fundamental requirements for successful human-canine relationships – not the need to be dominant! When dog owners provide these two resources to their dogs, they eliminate frustration, stress, fear and confusion in the dog’s mind and as a result behavior issues are generally resolved.
 
How does Mindful Leadership relate to FFS? Instead of limiting your dog’s resources in an attempt to gain control, Silvia recommends your dog live in a land of plenty. We have seen the benefits of this theory first-hand both in our own home and in the homes of our customers’ dogs. When a dog perceives a resource as being limited, they are more likely to guard it which can quickly escalate into serious aggression if owners confront their pets in the name of dominance. When dogs are provided with plenty of toys, chews, comfortable resting places and playmates they will be far less likely to try and keep their people away and will not be as obsessive when it comes to meeting other dogs.
 
You can use your Clicker Leash to help your dog see you as a gateway to these resources in a positive light. This will ultimately provide people with the control they crave without the fallout that often accompanies dominance-based training strategies. Have a dog that is obsessed with four-legged friends? Click and use the other dogs as a reward when your dog offers you attention. If your dog loves to chase squirrels, put away your hot dogs and give your dog permission to go on a squirrel hunt after you click your Clicker Leash when they do something you like. Silvia suggests you take it to the next level and actually join your dog in the fun, pretending to chase the squirrels at their side. Be a team!
 

We love Silvia’s kind and effective approach to dog training. If you are faced with the challenge of a resource guarder or an obsessive dog, remember when you provide your dog with plenty, not only will you be perceived as a mindful leader but you will also have the luxury of a world of rewards to use when you are training.

Advertisements

 Learning theory does not generally provide the punch line to many jokes or get much attention by the media, but occasionally it finds its way into today’s pop culture. A recent example of this is compliments of one of our favorite sitcoms, “The Office.”

If you are not a fan, the Office portrays life in a quirky paper company that accentuates some of the less than ideal working conditions most people have to endure at some point in their lives. A subpar boss, the office lush, eccentric coworker etc., make this show highly entertaining.

At the beginning of the episode titled “Dwight Helps Michael Prepare,” mischievous office prankster Jim conditions Dwight to want an Altoid every time he hears Jim’s computer boot up. Jim accomplishes this in much the same way Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov did back in the early 1900’s when he first noticed his experimental dogs would start to salivate as soon as they saw people in lab coats. With limited stimuli in the environment, the dogs realized most times they were approached by a person in a lab coat, they were subsequently fed. Pavlov (who was initially just interested in studying digestive systems) noticed this and began experimenting to see what else could get the dogs to salivate. He knew it was the dogs’ natural response to salivate in the presence of food to help with its digestion so he paired it with a completely unrelated event, the ringing of a bell, and found that once the dogs had made the connection between the two, they would start to salivate as soon as they heard the bell. You can play a game here thanks to the folks at NobelPrize.org that will take you through the steps of getting a dog to salivate when they hear a previously irrelevant sound.

So what does this have to do with dog training? Well, from Pavlov’s research stems clicker training. Similar to how Jim conditioned Dwight to respond to the noise his computer makes, we also condition dogs to respond to a click from a clicker. This is often referred to as “charging” the clicker and it is the very first step you must take for clicker training to be effective. Pavlov’s experiments showed us the most effective way to create associations between previously unrelated stimuli is to make sure you click before you present the food and to make the delay between the click and food delivery as short as possible so the dog will easily connect the two events. Once your dog understands what the click means, you can start to use it to shape amazing behaviors and to effectively countercondition your dog to things he may be nervous or afraid of.

Thank you Ivan Pavlov for laying the groundwork for the best dog training practices available and thanks to the folks at the Office for putting a funny spin on the science behind conditioning!