Monday, March 11, 2013

Shock Collars

The term "shock collar" refers to many types of dog training collars including:  remote training collars, shock collars, Zap collars, Ecollars, or e-collars.  Using a remote, these devices deliver varying degrees of electronic shock to the dog's neck (some may also be used on other places of the dog's body).  Some collars may include a tone or vibration mode, or a GPS tracker to locate the dog.

Originally used to train hunting dogs in the 50s and 60s, the shock collar really gained popularity in the 1970s.  Early electronic collars were used to break dogs of unwanted behaviors like chasing livestock and not coming in with the party after the hunt.  These collars were very powerful and many dogs that were frequently jolted often became afraid to work and lost spirit.  The fear of doing something wrong and of being punished with pain made many dogs react to corrections with panic.

New versions of the shock collar are now widely available.  Today, shock collars are used for a large variety of things including:  military, police, and service training, obedience training, behavior modification, and pet containment.  Proponents of this method of training state that using the shock teaches dogs avoidance and eventually cessation of a behavior.  This tool "works" by instilling fear, distrust, and pain.  This method of training only marks the bad behavior, what the dog does wrong.  A dog will be punished for doing the wrong action, but he is never rewarded for doing something correct. Sensitivity to shock varies by each individual dog.  Dogs who are more sensitive to the shock will shut down sooner.  There is no current standard level of shock for the many brands of shock collars today.

Used appropriately, correctly, and with proper training, a shock collar can be a very effective and helpful tool.  However, it is a tool.  A shock collar should not be viewed as a "quick fix," and should never be used as the first method of training.  Many trainers today widely promote the use of shock collar training and even have their own brand of collar you can buy directly from them.  Be very careful of these so-called "trainers."  Many times these people have no formal training or background in other methods of dog training (such as positive reinforcement, energy balance, and dominance).

The decision to use this tool should not be taken lightly!  I am not a huge fan of the shock collar, but I do believe they can be useful in certain situations, if properly used and combined with positive reinforcement training.

Again...I like to look at it this way...
Think of your job, no matter what it is...
Would you rather go to work and work really hard to get rewarded?
Would you rather work really hard to not get punished?

If using a shock collar is truly something you are thinking about, do your research.  Make sure you find a professional dog trainer that is trained in how to properly use the shock collar AND in positive reinforcement dog training.  Remember, no matter what your dog's behavioral issue may be, there are many other methods of dog training to try before using a shock collar.  It is very rare that positive reinforcement training will not work to improve your dog's behavior or issue.  This is why good professionals will tell you to only use an electronic collar after all other methods of training have been used.  It is much better to encourage our animals to enjoy their training so they will become more confident and-well adjusted members of society.

Studies have shown that misuse of shock collars in dog training can cause long-term damage that may make your pet less trusting and more reactive.  Aversive training such as the use of shock collars can add serious stress to the dog and may result in psychological damage.  Generally speaking, hurting an animal creates a barrier to learning and causes distrust.  People who train large animals such as lions, killer whales, bears, and walruses use positive reinforcement training.  Using pain/punishment training in these large animals is considered highly dangerous and foolish.  These are also wild animals, whereas dogs have been domesticated.  If all these professional trainers can train such large, un-domesticated animals without using pain, don't you think we should be able to do the same with our dog at home?

The real problem with the shock collar is that it is widely mis-used.  Again, this is not a "quick fix" answer to your current dog problem.  The real answer to your dog problem is training.  When we take an animal into our home, we take on the responsibility of caring for its needs.  Many behavior problems arise because the humans have not properly fulfilled the needs of the dog.  Lack of proper exercise and lack of proper leadership (by the owner) are the two main causes of behavioral issues in dogs.  So why are we punishing our dogs for something that is our fault?

There are a vast array of problems that can arise from improper use of shock collars.  A few of these include:  infliction of stress and pain, suppression or "shut down," escalation, redirected aggression, generalization, and unintended dog injury.

Pictures like these are well-known on-line.  But what about the damages you can't see.  Your dog may not show physical signs of pain, but that does not mean he is not experiencing any pain.  Stress is very harmful to humans and dogs alike.  Stress can affect our eating and sleeping habits, as well as over-all health.  Escalation can easily occur in many cases when pain is added.  The dog that used to growl will now bite without warning.  Or maybe your dog will just shut down.  A dog that does this is so terrified of being caused pain, he is unwilling to make any decision, for fear it will be the wrong one.

It's never too late!
Training can start today!

I don't care if your dog is 3 months old or 12 years old, it's never too late to change behavior.  You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!  Besides, did you forget why you got your dog in the first place?  You got a dog to have a buddy, a friend, a companion...someone to hang out with and play with, someone to love, and someone to love you back!

Don't forget all the many reasons you love your dog.  Yes I love my dog, but I also want him to behave...that's what you're thinking right?  Well guess what, it all starts with YOU, the owner!  If we give our dogs what they need, they will do what is asked of them.

So...what does my dog need?
First, dogs need Proper Leadership (see the full post)

Duties of the Leader:
1)  Establish the rules
2)  Enforce the rules
3)  Maintain social order

It is vitally important the owner takes the leadership role right away and maintains it!

Other important things your dog needs:
Proper exercise.  Dogs need regular amounts of daily physical and mental exercise.
Rules & Boundaries.  All dogs must be taught was is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Routine.  Dogs need a regular schedule of daily activities.
Consistency.  All members of the family should have all the same rules ALL the time.  Changing rules from person to person, or place to place is confusing for dogs and curbs their training progress.
Proper Motivation.  This is where that "positive" part of positive reinforcement comes in.  We all need motivation right?  You wouldn't go to work if they didn't pay you would you?  Our dog's need motivation too.  Motivators are different for each dog, so you must find what works best for your dog.  Common motivators include:  treats, toys, attention, praise, and petting.
Socialization.  Dogs must be properly socialized.  A dog that has been exposed to many different situations with many different people and other animals will remain calm and confident in new situations.  Dogs who are not properly socialized become overwhelmed when outside their normal environment and react in undesirable ways (barking, lunging, shying away, hiding).
Patience.  One of the biggest things our dogs need from us is our patience.  Dog training can be very stressful for both humans and dogs alike.  But if you remember to stay calm, it will help keep your dog calm and learning can continue.  Dogs will not follow a leader who is stressed, fearful, or angry.  Be sure to always be calm, but firm when training.  Remember, all good things take time and practice.

Start practicing Responsible Dog Ownership with your dog today!

{This post is part TWO of two.  Check out Part One on Shock Collars too!}
Also check out this fantastic article:  Why electric shock is not behavior modification.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Proper Leadership

After starting a new Basic Manners Level One class today, I got to thinking about more and more dog training information.  I do my very best to include as much helpful information in class as possible, but there is just so much, sometimes it's hard to cut things out.

Although I do touch on the subject of proper leadership in class, I do not go into detail.  Because of this I have developed a handout for participants to read outside of class.  Extra information is always helpful, so today I am sharing my handout on Leadership.

When adding any new dog to your family, leadership is very important. 

To be a good leader to your dog, you must be strong, consistent, and dependable.  Dogs become extremely stressed without a leader.  A dog will only fill the family leader position if there is no strong leader for him to look to.  Dogs can become very stressed when forced into the leadership role, however some dominant temperament-type dogs can manipulate their way into this role.  The dog that does this will use aggression to maintain his leadership status.  Obviously, this is not something we want.
Duties of the Leader:
1)  Establish the rules
2)  Enforce the rules
3)  Maintain social order

For many past centuries, dogs have had a job within the family unit.  Some of these jobs included:  hunting, protection, herding, pulling carts, eliminating vermin, and locating lost people.  

Over the years the dog has become a non-working member of the family.  Humans unknowingly treat dogs as leaders every day.  These things include:  letting a dog eat as much as he wants whenever he wants, receiving constant free attention, and being able to demand sleep time, affection, and alone times.

Remember, your dog gets nothing for free.  The dog should work to earn everything he gets.  This can be as simple as sitting and waiting to be fed or for a treat.  EVERY item in your house is yours, NOT the dog’s.  This includes the dog food, dog bowls, dog toys...everything.  The dog will learn to follow if you teach him that he must work for the things he likes.  A dog can learn very quickly that all good things come from you, but the really important part is to teach him to earn these things.
It is vitally important for the human to establish and enforce house rules from day one!  Don’t forget:  consistency is important.  All members of the family should have the same rules all the time.

Relationship Exercises can help maintain your strong leadership role while building a strong bond of trust between you and your dog.  When you control your dog's access to everything, you can more easily train your dog while also keeping him (and your belonging) safe. 

Feeding.  Leaders always eat first.  I encourage people to have their dinner and then feed the dog(s) afterwards.  By doing so, your dog is not only learning to wait nicely (no begging), but learning to work for something he likes.  He is earning his food, not just getting it for free.  Dogs that get things for free tend to develop many different kinds of unwanted behaviors.
So when feeding your dog, make him sit and wait while you put the bowl down.    I also always require my dogs to "watch me" (look in my eyes), before being rewarded with food.  Also, do not free feed your dog.  A dog should be fed twice every day.  If the dog does not eat the food within 30 minutes, remove the food.  The dog will not get fed again until the next regularly scheduled mealtime. 

Sleeping.  I strongly try to discourage people from allowing their dog in their bed.  Start your training by only allowing the dog on the floor and his dog bed.  If you initially teach a dog he is not allowed on the places humans usually rest, you are reinforcing your leadership role.  This does not mean they will never be allowed on the furniture, but dogs should only be allowed up when invited by you or other members of the family.  You make the decision, you do not allow the dog to make the decision.  
Also, I encourage people with young puppies to sometimes remove them from wherever they are sleeping.  Dogs can become possessive over their favorite sleeping spots and this can sometimes lead to an aggressive response.  Every so often, move your dog from their current sleeping spot and claim it for yourself (sit there for a few minutes).  Positively reward any calm behavior the dog offers when doing so.

Free Time.  Access to freedom throughout your house is definitely something that should be earned by your dog.  When first bringing a new dog into your house, always start with an on-leash tour.  Go through the house, only entering a new room when the dog is calm, waiting, and paying attention to the leader on the other end of the leash.  The person should always enter the new space first.  New dogs and puppies must be consistently supervised and should only be allowed limited access when not being watched.  A new dog or puppy that is left alone should either be crated or left in a small area where they can't get into any trouble.  Remember part of training is preparation and maintenance.  If you leave your dog in his crate with his toys, he can't really do wrong.  If you just leave him locked in a bathroom with regular bathroom items around, you will have a big mess to clean when you return (any possibly a very sick little puppy).  Remember to protect your dog (and your things) by planning ahead.  Get down on the floor on your stomach and look around.  There are many little things down there that you don't normally think of that are staring your dog right in the face.  Things like electric cords, poisonous items, and choking hazards are probably lurking just under your nose.

These are just a few items and examples of how to take proper leadership over your dog.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Trainer Tips--Monthly Reminders

I have noticed recently that many people are asking me about flea and tick prevention, as well as heart worm medicine.  I believe that some dog owners are not currently aware of things they must do EVERY MONTH for their beloved pets.

In order to keep your pets happy and healthy, it's very important that your pup receives regular vet visits and is up to date on all necessary shots, including:  Parvo, Distemper, and Bordatella.  But beyond that, it is also important to keep your pet on a few monthly preventative medicines as well.

The first monthly reminder is Heart worm pills.  This is a pill you give your dog once a month to prevent heart worms.  It is important that you get your pet tested for heart worm prior to using the medication.  If your dog already has heart worms, a different course of medical action must be taken.  Heart work can kill you dog if left untreated.  Once your dog has been tested for heart worm and found to be negative, you may start your monthly treatment of pills.  They are meat flavored, so your pet should have no problem taking it.

The second monthly reminder is Flea & Tick medication.  I have seen many people say, "oh I won't worry about it unless they get fleas or ticks."  Believe me, those people took that statement back when they were forced to actually deal with the problem.  Fleas are an extreme nuisance and can many times be quite difficult to fully get rid of.  Ticks carry things like Lymes Disease, and can have a very adverse affect on your dog's immune system.  A female tick only needs a few days on your dog to be strong enough to lay eggs all over your house.  This can lead to an infestation.  Believe me, you do NOT want this to happen.  Most topical medicines for dogs today treat both Fleas and Ticks in the same application.    Two examples of this are:  Frontline & Advantix.
The medication is applied between the dog's shoulder blades along the skin.

The third monthly reminder is to make sure your dog is clean and his nails are trimmed.  Nail trimming may only need to be done every few months, depending on your dogs activities.  But most dogs should be bathed about once a month.  This can vary from dog to dog, and by breed.  During or after your bath, don't forget to check the dog's ears and paws for anything out of the ordinary.  Clean your dog's ears if necessary.  When your dog has mostly dried after his bath, be sure to give him a good rub down (to check for any missed pests like ticks).  Also be sure to give your dog a good brushing after he has fully dried from his bath.  This will help keep the dog's coat healthy, and help keep your floors a little less furry.  :)
Remember to be calm when bathing your dog.  It is especially helpful to tire your dog out before bathing and nail trimming.  If they are nice and tired, they will have less energy to object.

Using a washcloth for the dog's face is much less invasive 
than just running the hose over their head.
This also protects the ears from too much water.

To nail clip your dog's nails be very calm and confident!
Get the dog to lay by you and give love and affection before you begin trimming.

Nekita sits very well for things like this.
In a previous Trainer Tips blog, I talked about getting your dog used to be touched all over.
This is where all that work and training pays off.  
You will have a dog that sits nicely for you.

Shake it girl!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Breed of the Month--Chinese Shar-Pei

Chinese Shar-Pei

Color:  Solid colors & sable, no white
Height:  17-20 inches
Weight:  40-60 lbs
Life Span:  9-10 years

Breed Health Concerns:  Shar-Pei Fever, cherry eye, hypothyroidism, pyoderma, hip dysplasia, entropion, patellar luxation, and skin problems.

Coat:  Straight, single, harsh coat, length varies.
Country of Origin:  China

Visit the American Kennel Club for breed standards and more information.

It is believed that the Shar Pei has ancestors in the Chow Chow and Mastiff breeds, but its exact origin is unknown.  The Shar Pei was used for protection, hunting, and herding for many centuries and can even be seen on pottery drawings dating over 2,000 years ago.  When the breed was brought to the United States in the 1970s, its popularity quickly grew due to his unusual features.

The Shar Pei is a devoted and loyal member of his family.  He is calm, alert, and dignified.  With his scrunched up face, abundant wrinkles, and tiny ears, its easy to see why many people fall in love with the unique look of the breed.

A good brisk walk once a day is plenty of exercise for this breed.  It is important not to allow the breed to overexercise in the summer because he is very sensitive to heat.

The Shar Pei's coat should be brushed regularly and weekly baths are recommended.  Special care must be taken to make sure the skin folds do not stay moist, which can lead to irritation and infections.

Although usually easy to potty train, the Shar Pei must be socialized and trained right away.  Training this breed requires a firm but gentle approach.  Training must be made fun to keep the Shar Pei interested.  He has a willing nature but must be taught right away to respect the trainer, or the breed can easily become dominant.