We first learned about the “Look at That” (LAT) game from Leslie McDevitt’s brilliant book “Control Unleashed.” One of the most common dog training issues is on-leash reactivity. Our gut instinct is to tell Fido to knock it off or to try to console them and make them feel safe by patting them and speaking in high pitched voices. Unfortunately for a lot of dogs our attempts at canine communication are often misinterpreted and we see an increase in snarling, lunging and barking at approaching triggers like animals, people or moving objects. If we scold our dogs for acting like a lunatic when triggers approach, we run the risk of creating an even more negative situation for our already stresed or anxious friends. When we try and reassure Fifi that everything is going to be OK, they don’t hear our words but may assume based on our high-pitched tone that we like it when they are nervous and scared and they may enjoy the extra attention it gets them.

Although it goes against our human nature, the Look at That game diffuses both of these situations and quickly results in increased confidence and focus on mom or dad instead of incoming triggers. For a detailed description of the “Look at That” game, we encourage you to check out Leslie McDevitt’s web site and buy her easy-to-understand book or videos but we wanted to give you a brief overview of the exercise because the Clicker Leash makes it so easy to do.

The key is to keep your dog below threshold (ie quiet and calm) while teaching them to look at a stimulus they do not normally like and rewarding them for looking at it. To train LAT, use your Clicker Leash to click and reward your dog the second they look at a trigger as long there is no reaction. If your dog is too intense with the triggers being used, start with a neutral target like a piece of paper or other item your dog has no association with and again click as soon as they look at it. When your dog is offering a quick glance towards the target, name it “look.” Your dog will quickly start to look at their triggers and turn back to you for a reward. If your dog does not turn quickly, it is likely because they are over threshold. You should increase the distance between you and the trigger and try again.

Begin playing LAT with a different neutral distraction for about 30 seconds, as often as you can each day. Gradually progress to more challenging distractions such as favourite toys, the mailman, squirrels and approaching people. Once your dog has mastered the game with various distractions, you can progress to using dogs they like and then strange dogs. Remember, the key here is to keep your dog calm during this game. If they begin to growl, bark or lunge, they have gone over threshold and you need to start again with more distance between you and the object.

If youhave a particularly stressed, anxious or reactive dog, you may also want to check out Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. The protocol provides a clear set of exercises to do with your dog to help teach self control in exciting situations. Remember to keep your training sessions brief and fun so your dog will want more! For more training tips and free video tutorials visit www. clickerleash.com

Advertisements

While at a party last weekend, I met one of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. After six years of teaching group obedience classes, puppy socialization classes and in-home Perfect Puppies programs, I have seen my share of cute puppies but this one took the cake. The little guy looked a bit like a Border Terrier with some long-coated Chihuahua thrown in the mix. He had a striking sable colour pattern with some white spots for good measure. He belonged to the neighbor next door and was out for his nightly rituals. When the neighbor held him up to the top of the fence, he was immediately swarmed by all the “crazy dog people” at the party and he took it all in stride. He soaked in the attention while his owner said how much people seem to be drawn to him and what a great feeling it gave her spiritually to have such a special little puppy in her life after losing her old dog a few months earlier.

It was uplifting for me to see someone so attached to their puppy with nothing but positive things to say. But suddenly, things changed. The woman declared that she was an avid Cesar Millan fan, she followed everything he recommended to the letter and that was why the puppy was so wonderful. I am sure I must have grimaced slightly and the group of educated dog owners that had gathered around my side of the fence seemed to recoil slightly and gradually disband. Visions of three dogs I had tried to help in the past year whose owners had been practicing the techniques they saw on National Geographic’s “Dog Whisperer” swarmed through my brain. One dog had been re-homed after snapping at the child in the family and the other two had been euthanized for biting (one of the dog’s owners required 17 stitches to his face after alpha-rolling the dog for resource guarding). My horror continued as the neighbor informed us that she wanted desperately to go study with Cesar Milan so she could help spread his messages and methods around the world.

“But don’t you find him a bit mean?” I asked. The woman looked at me as if I had just used her lord’s name in vain. Her eyes flashed as she countered that Millan was kind and loved dogs. Various episodes of his show seemed to fast forward through my brain all at once. Dogs with tucked tails and whale eyed expressions, being repeatedly checked and occasionally choked in the name of dominance danced through my head like clips from a scary movie. All I could sputter out was the fact that the man still uses choke chains. The neighbor argued that he only used the tools that his clients wanted him to use.

Typically I do not back down from a Millan debate. With science on my side, a growing number of studies and reputable organizations lending their voices in support of positive reinforcement it does not take much convincing to convert people from dominance theory to learning theory with a focus on reward-based training methods. Once people realize their dogs are simply opportunists, not masterminds trying to takeover the household, they happily leave the alpha rolls, choke chains and other punitive tools behind.

For some reason I felt completely disarmed at the thought of this puppy being checked into submission if it stepped out of line. I felt like the ancient Greek scientists and philosophers who first suggested the world might not be flat. I didn’t know where to begin in explaining how flawed the Dog Whisperer’s techniques truly are. Should I have started with the fact that dominance or rank is rarely the root for bad behaviours in our pet dogs despite Cesar blaming it for virtually every problem he encounters? Should I have taken the time to explain the suppression of behaviors that Millan typically performs on his show often results in fallout on another level? Or perhaps I should have told her about the recent research that found 25% of the dogs observed actually acted aggressively when alpha rolls and other types of force were used?

Instead I walked away and told her the puppy was lovely as I strolled back to my chair. I felt hopeless as I have when in circular arguments in the past. It has been so long since anyone has challenged the ideas and facts that I present them and it was as if I had forgotten how to fight a good fight. I have since vowed never to walk away again. Hopefully the neighbor at the party will expand her readings beyond Cesar and pick up a scientific journal some day but I have my doubts. I have seen these same people in chat room and other blog postings and they are challenging to have logical discussions with because they believe in untruths. Just as it is equally challenging to convince people who believe the world is flat that it is in fact a sphere, it is difficult to argue with Millan’s militia.

One of the most important responsibilities as a dog owner is to train your four-legged pal so he will be a welcome member in the community and a treasured part of your life. Many of us quickly realize though that our dogs have just as much to teach us as we have to teach them. Some of the best doggy teachers are often the ones that initially come with the greatest challenges, including many adopted dogs who have suffered from abuse and neglect in their previous lives. Dogs with behavioural issues teach us valuable life lessons when we take the time to help them overcome challenges. These life lessons include the ability to think creatively, patience and how to communicate effectively.

When dealing with behavioural issues there are no quick fixes.  What works with one dog, may fail miserably with another. The easiest way to assess and treat a behavioural issue is by imagining the world through your dog’s eyes. Analyze what triggers are provoking the unwanted behaviour and what may be rewarding your dog for their response.  Then make a plan to control your dog’s environment so you can prevent or prepare yourself for theses triggers and teach your dog a more appropriate response.  Remember to be creative, breeds like Terriers and Hounds are independent thinkers while other dogs who lack confidence are fearful and often wrongly labeled as being stubborn or dominant.  Make sure to set up your training sessions so the dog can only make the right choice and make sure the dog’s rewards match your expectations.  Most humans wouldn’t go work at their jobs everyday for a pat on the back but will endure sometimes awful jobs for a big reward like a paycheck.

Because there are no effective quick fixes for behavioural issues, dogs are great at teaching humans patience.  Bad behaviours take time to become habit and changing bad habits to good ones doesn’t happen overnight.  It is essential to be calm, consistent and have a clear training plan.  Having patience with problem dogs will transform nervous and insecure dogs into happy-go-lucky, relaxed animals. This transformation is a powerful, rewarding and can give you the strength and patience you will need to face future life challenges, knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The final skill set our challenging dogs teach us is effective communication. We learn that yelling and nagging won’t work to change a dog’s behaviour any better than it does to change a spouse or co-worker. When we learn to focus on and acknowledge the small successes our dogs experience when overcoming a behavioural issue, this will often transfer to the rest of our lives and we will be more likely to see the good in people which results in healthier professional and personal relationships.

Get started on the road to success with a challenging dog by contacting a qualified trainer who focuses on modern, positive training technique. Enjoy teaching your dog new tricks while you learn a few yourself!

As you have probably all noticed there has been a debate raging in the world of dog training over the past couple of years. On one side is Cesar Milan and his fans and on the other side is the likes of Dr. Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson – dog training gurus in their own right without the celebrity status. The Dog Whispering gang believe you have to assert your dominance to have a successful relationship with your dog while the behaviorists like Dunbar and Donaldson focus on the science behind learning theory and positive reinforcement to achieve great things with dogs. Check out the new spin we have put on this ongoing debate with the press release we issued this week. Let us know what you think about our new approach to bridge the gap between these two camps!

Halifax, Nova Scotia (PRWEB) July 22, 2009 — The rise in popularity of Cesar Milan, National Geographic’s Dog Whisperer, has exposed a rift in society’s canine culture. Milan and his followers believe dog owners must act like dominant pack leaders, but a growing number of modern trainers are protesting Milan’s methods, claiming they lead to an increase in dog aggression. Now a Nova Scotia-based company, the Clicker Leash Co., bridges the gap between the two camps with its flagship invention, the Clicker Leash.

The Clicker Leash first drew international attention when a Los Angeles-based PR firm chose the training system for a Presidential Puppy gift box, presented earlier this year to the Obamas. The product evolved from clicker training, a method frequently used by behaviourists, zoo keepers and professional trainers to train all species of animals. Since its arrival in the marketplace, the training leash has been embraced by experienced clicker trainers but has also made waves in dog whispering circles. “Being dominant means you control access to resources and traditionally this has been achieved with force,” explains company president Adina MacRae. “The Clicker Leash clearly lets dogs know you are the one in control of their resources without getting physical. When you use those resources as rewards, you end up with a well-trained dog without using the scare tactics formerly associated with dominance.”

MacRae and business partner Shannon Spruin drew from their love of dogs to start the Clicker Leash Co. Both women own successful dog walking businesses and MacRae offers in-home canine counselling services. As Milan’s popularity grew, she saw an increase in demand for her services. “Cesar draws attention to the need for dog training but there is a reason for the warning at the beginning of his shows,” says MacRae. “When people try to physically dominate their dogs they run the risk of frightening them and a fearful dog is more likely to bite.”

The Clicker Leash can be found in stores across the country as well as on the company web site http://www.clickerleash.com where free training videos are available.

Contact: 1-888-PAWSITIVE

Our friend across the pond Shelley who has a great blog “Four Paws One Direction” brought a new petition to our attention. COAPE, the Centre for Applied Pet Ethology has created an online petition ‘Say NO! To punitive training, dog whispering and outdated behaviour therapy. In their position statement, COAPE urges dog owners to question trainers who recommend punitive methods and tools. They also warn dog owners to stay away from dog whispering and other discredited theories.

A second petition that came to our attention wants President Obama to ban the use of shock collars on dogs. You can sign it here. The goal is 100,000 signatures so be sure to share the link with all of your dog loving friends who want to Train Humane!

We urge you to sign the petitions and let your voice be heard. Let people know you don’t need to be cruel to get results and have a dog that respects you!

Dominance continues to spark long debates among dog training professionals and owners alike but thanks to the work of Dr. Sophia Yin, hopefully some of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of animal behavior can be laid to rest. On her web site you will find everything you need to know about dominance, why it is relevant when assessing animal behavior and how it is mis-used when we look at the interactions we share with our dogs.

We guarantee you will learn a thing or two about dominance and dog behavior if you check out this site! Enjoy and pass it on!

We humans have a diverse set of emotions. They include but are not limited to happiness, sadness, anger, fear and of course guilt. It is common for dog owners to project these same emotions onto their dogs, insisting their four-legged companions are capable of the same feelings. The technical term for this “humanization” of dogs is anthropomorphism. Often, when people experience behavior issues with heir dogs, they will say the dog knew what he was doing was wrong because he looked guilty. These looks of “guilt” include tucked tails, slinking bodies that crouch towards the floor and big whale eyes.

New research out of Barnard College in New York debunks the common belief that dogs experience a sense of guilt because they have done something wrong. With a clever experiment, assistant professor Alexandra Horowitz discovered the “guilty looks” were stemming from the human reaction to what was assumed the dog had done. In her experiment, Harowitz had dog owners leave their pets in a room with a piece of food on a table. The owners told the dogs to leave the food alone before they left the room. Harowitz would then remove the food from the table or allow the dog to eat it. When the dog owners returned to discover the food was gone, Harowitz noted the dogs presented the same “guilty” look regardless of whether they had eaten the food or if it had been removed by the experimenter. She found the greater influence on the degree of the guilty look was the human’s reaction. When the people scolded their pets for being disobedient, it triggered stronger reactions from the dogs.

Our dogs are sensitive beings, often in tune with every discrete movement and facial expression we make. Dating back to experiments with Clever Hans, the counting horse, we have learned that subtle cues give animals all of the information they need to elicit appropriate responses. Our dogs quickly learn that appeasement signals that appear as “guilty looks” usually work to ward off harsh punishments from disgruntled humans. Next time your dog “looks guilty” take a step back and examine what you may be communicating with your body language or behavior to elicit this response from your dog instead of assuming your dog knows it has done something wrong.

One of the greatest challenges clicker trainers face is making the technique palatable to the average dog owner. Most dogs seem to get it right away. A few well timed clicks paired with a valuable reward and it is easy to get a bouncy, pouncy pooch to sit calmly and focused next to you. On the flip side, most people take years to learn the intricacies of timing, reward schedules and all of the terminology that accompanies research that dates back to Pavlov’s dogs.

Since the inception of the Clicker Leash Co., our primary focus has been to boil clicker training down to concepts that can be understood and applied by the everyday pet owner in five minutes or less. We have attended numerous trade shows and expos where we have been competing with countless other products and dog training techniques.  Often we have 30 seconds or less to get people’s attention and peak their interest before they move on to the next tantalizing booth.

We have found the key to reaching most people is to stay away from the jargon that we and other fellow “dog geeks” (we use the term affectionately and with pride) love to throw around. We have broken the years of science down into a few simple concepts. “If you like it, click it” is one of our favourite phrases that we use to explain how to use a clicker. Instead of taking hours to explain the four quadrants of learning theory to people, we sum things up with this one pivotol sentence. The concept is simple and it is catchy so it will stick in people’s heads much easier than positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. We try to use lots of real life, human examples when we explain our training methods so people can quickly visualize and relate to what we are saying.

We also focus on the emotional aspects of clicker training. Let’s face it, this is why most people fall in love with the technique. It enriches the bond people share with their dogs. Because it is such an effective training tool, clickers make people feel a great sense of pride in their dog. Clicker training builds respect and trust into our relationships and this is key to winning people over from dominance-based camps. Dog ownership is evolving into dog parenting and people are looking for ways to train their dogs without using fear and harsh corrections.

Please leave a comment and share your ideas on how to quickly and effectively relay the benefits of clicker training and positive reinforcement to the average dog owner so we can all learn from each other. Together we can make dog-friendly techniques mainstream and relegate punishment and dominance-based methods to a corner of the past!

The queen of clicker training, Karen Pryor, released her new book “Reaching the Aninal Mind” yesterday and the launch garnered her a spot on Good Morning America. Kudos Karen! If you missed the show you can watch it here.  Karen demonstrated clicker training with a bouncy five-month-old Golden Retriever puppy who had been recently adopted by one of the show’s staff members. She worked with the puppy for ten minutes the day before and taught it a nose touch on her hand, explaining that this was a foundation behavior that could be used to get the pup to go wherever you would like without using force. She had the puppy jump onto the couch and then jump off (it was very good at jumping on her too!).

We are happy Karen got the exposure that she did for clicker training but we would have liked to have seen a clearer explanation as to how people can incorporate it into their everyday lives and all of the benefits that come with this method like the enriched bond it forms between human and canine, the speed with which animals learn, the safety of clicker training and the fact that you don’t always have to use food treats to reward the dog. The host even made a comment about all of the treats and the dog getting fat. In our opinion, this is one of the greatest obstacles for clicker training. People who don’t understand conditioned responses and the fact that you gradually eliminate your rewards when you use clicker training argue that the dog isn’t working for the person, they are just working for the food. It is important that people know they can use ANYTHING the animal wants or needs to make clicker training work for them and this point was not driven home. If you control the resources, you control the dog.

Could Karen have won over a lot of dominance-based trainers and people who love dog whispering by explaining that a clicker helps them control the resources in their dog’s life thus making the person important to the dog? We have found that when you use clicker training, you become the gateway to wonderful things which helps instil a great deal of respect between you and your dog. Hopefully this is just the beginning of clicker training’s journey into the mainstream and as we all get more practiced at speaking with the media we will be able to clearly get our key messages across and make an impact on the general dog owning public.

He is very dominant. Of all the words used to describe the goofy dog that was vying for my heart on the adoption floor, these are the ones that stuck with me. I inherently knew what the shelter manager was talking about even though Buddy was my first dog since childhood and I had never studied anything about dominance theory during my university career.  “He won’t start any fights but he won’t back down,” he informed me. Well, I can live with that I thought in my adoption afterglow.

Over the next couple of years I used dominance to explain many of Buddy’s undesirable traits that appeared as he entered social maturity without the assistance of obedience classes to learn appropriate manners. With a wave of the dominance wand I was able to explain all of his inexplicable behaviour problems – counter surfing, bullying puppies, humping, occasionally destroying the recliner and getting into scraps with unneutered male dogs. Everyone seemed to agree and all understood what I was talking about without a detailed explanation. He is just being dominant, I would explain and everyone would nod in agreement.

I was offered plenty of free advice that ran the gamut of using a choke chain to control him, to humping him if he humped another dog. I thought surely these secrets of dog training would help me and my pooch. I had put any memories of the tedious learning theory courses I had studied in university out of my mind and grabbed a hold of dominance theory. It was easy to understand and could be used to describe why a problem was happening and how to solve it. Long ago I had blocked the rules of reinforcement and punishment from my mind that are the foundation to understanding how all animals (including dogs) learn and respond to their environment. It was boring and none of my friends at the dog park ever talked about it.

Since those early days with Buddy, I have heard dominance used to excuse separation anxiety, dog-dog aggression, aggression towards humans, rambunctious play styles and inappropriate greeting rituals. Dominance has become a fixture in dog culture but few understand its true meaning or how to apply it when safely training their four-legged companions.

 According to a number of dog trainers regularly featured in mainstream media, it is important for people to assert their dominance over pet dogs in a style that mimics wolves. They encourage clients to alpha roll unruly pets and otherwise force them to submit in order to correct or prevent problem behaviours. Often, these methods result in immediate “results” because the animal is frightened and temporarily stops the offensive behaviour. However, they do not learn an alternative, appropriate behaviour and often get into the same trouble when they feel it is safe, usually when their caretakers aren’t watching. Some dogs will even stop the unwanted behaviour permanently but may be difficult to train in the future because they fear the consequences of their actions.

What the dog training celebrities seem to have forgotten is that being dominant in the animal world means you have control over resources. These resources include food, preferred resting places and mates. As humans with opposable thumbs and big brains, it is easy for us to be dominant without ever touching, hurting or intimidating dogs. We already control access to our dogs’ food, water, sleeping area, outdoors, affection, friends and toys. By asking our dogs for a desirable behaviour, for example a sit, before we give them access to these resources, we become important in our dogs’ lives and earn their respect in an unaggressive manner.

There is a reason the celebrity trainers who focus on “dominating” dogs warn people not to try their techniques at home. What makes for entertaining television doesn’t always make safe training. Often, they will use force or flooding to change dog behaviour but in essence they are suppressing the problematic behaviour by shutting the dog down. When you suppress behaviours by scaring a dog, you have done nothing to change the behaviour and it may be lurking, waiting for an opportunity to rear its ugly head. Further, when dogs start to distrust their humans, the risk for dog bites increases exponentially.

The easier, scientifically proven way to train a dog without any fallout is to reward behaviours you like and withhold rewards when a dog presents a behaviour you don’t like. When we control access to our dogs’ resources, we control our dogs. Dominance trainers are right when they say not to give everything to your dog for free. They explain that this makes us the alpha. However, the success most people experience with this technique can also be explained by learning theory. Any time a dog is rewarded for an action, they are more likely to repeat it in the future. For example, if you get your dog to sit and wait until you exit a door first (a technique normally prescribed to gain rank), your dog will learn that to get access to the outside, they need to sit until you tell them otherwise. They are not respecting you as dominant, they are earning a powerful reward for sitting and waiting – getting to go outside and explore the world!

Another flaw with training philosophies that focus on dominance theory is that they are based on studies from the 1940s that looked at captive wolves, taken from various packs. The wolves were not part of a natural pack that typically consists of a breeding pair and their offspring from the previous two to three years. The wolves that were observed by the scientists of the time were in an unnatural situation that resulted in increased aggression and fighting.

Modern research of free-roaming dogs has found submission displays are much more important than dominance displays to maintain the peace. Because wild dogs are scavengers and opportunists, not typically predators, they generally live more solitary lives than wolves without structured hierarchies. If you observe an “alpha roll” between two dogs, try to note whether the dog on top forced the bottom dog there or whether the submissive dog actually offered his belly up.

Next time someone tells you a dog is behaving a certain way because he is being dominant, see if you can identify what might be rewarding the dog’s behaviour instead of accepting the dominance diagnosis. Consider the bouncy dog that jumps up on everyone despite being pushed down, kneed or grabbed. Is the dog trying to dominate everyone he meets or does he find human touch so rewarding that it doesn’t matter what form it takes? This approach also works for the growling dog in the safety of his owner’s arms. Is he trying to dominate approaching strangers or does the growling usually cause people to go away and leave him alone with his favourite people?

When you are watching dogs and trying to figure out what could possibly be encouraging an unwanted behaviour, remember rewards are as varied as the personalities of our four-legged friends. Food, playing, cuddling and praise are obvious rewards but dogs can also be rewarded by their own actions. A barking dog may enjoy alleviating feelings of frustration through their vocalizations or they may like the attention it gets from their human companions.

It is important to provide your dog with a clear understanding of what they are required to do to live peacefully within the rules of our society. Given that approximately 90% of aggression in dogs is fear-based, it is critical to provide structure and feedback without using scare tactics. Alpha animals (ie: the parents) act in a calm, relaxed way, leaving aggression to the insecure and defensive. People who work with wolves are quick to point out that they do not tolerate forceful humans. We are unable to communicate with the accurate timing and types of signals dogs and wolves use to converse within their respective species.

Dogs give many clear but subtle signals when they are stressed. Once you know what to watch for, it is easy to pick up on the red flags that indicate when a dog is upset. Test your dog communication skills the next time a dog training show is on TV. Pay close attention to the dog’s mouth, eyes and ears. Is the dog yawning frequently but doesn’t seem to settle? Does the dog repeatedly lick his lips? Can you see the whites of his eyes? Are the ears pinned back? If you look at the dog’s body, is it tense and moving slowly or staying close to the ground? Is the dog panting heavily without having done any physical exercise? Is the dog sniffing the ground frequently in an attempt to avoid eye contact? Each of these clues will tell you a dog is feeling insecure or even frightened. A frightened dog is a potentially dangerous dog depending on whether it chooses fight or flight.

Other not-so-subtle signals that dogs use to communicate with their humans include growling, barking, baring teeth, hard stares, air snapping and actually biting. Of course we try to keep our sensitive skin from experiencing a dog bite but many of the popular trainers also insist on shutting down the other signals dogs use to communicate, again accusing the dog of trying to dominate their owners with aggressive displays. When a dog growls or bares their teeth, they are sending out a loud and clear signal that they are not comfortable. Stopping this form of communication without addressing the root cause and helping your dog feel more comfortable, results in the dog trying to communicate more clearly. A dog that tries unsuccessfully to warn their people with a growl may progress to a snap. If the snap doesn’t get the message across then the dog may resort to making contact with skin.

Establish yourself as a leader by controlling access to resources and you will have a dog that works happily and confidently for you. If your dog is doing something you don’t like, take the time to train a new, incompatible behaviour and use the resources your dog wants or needs to instil new habits. Not only will you have a well-behaved pet, you will have a dog that loves, respects and trusts you.