Getting rubbed the wrong way

I rarely get involved into discussions but this morning I got “rubbed the wrong way”. Those are actually the words my counter part used in the conversation I had with her this morning.

Facebook and Dog Goups

This morning a post about a woman wanting to re-home her dog due to house training issues popped up in my newsfeed. There may have been more issues going on but it appeared in her first post that house training was definitely an issue. Many judgmental comments followed the post. Not many could validate her decision and indirectly accused her of being a not so good person. I’m pretty sure you have seen those posts as well. Feeling sorry and being in an ever helpful mode I offer my services for free. A phone conversation and setting up a training plan for house training is not going to kill me or my business. I was hoping to help. Maybe today was one of those days I could help make a difference in a person’s world.

Well Meant Advice

Another woman stepped up to offer her help as well. It seemed like the posts were getting more positive. What caught my eye was the information she was providing.  It started with “I have heard….  And Dogs are den animals and … when put in crates they generally adapt very well.” Providing advice about dog training is one of those often discussed topics we professional trainers have. Well meant advice can turn into situations that often cause the behavior to become worse. The individual went on offering behavioral advice saying she is not a “trained behaviorist” but felt she had an “innate guidance about doggies” since she was a little girl.

Animal Behaviorists

Animal behaviorists “study the way animals behave and try to determine what causes certain types of behavior and what factors can prompt behavior change. They usually specialize in certain types of animals, whether it’s fish, birds, large animals, wild animals, livestock or household pets. They also may focus on certain types of behavior, such as hunting, mating, or raising offspring.” Behaviorists are highly educated academic individuals who have spent years studying animal behavior. Behaviorists often stay in the academic setting to continue their research in animal behavior. Some work for businesses or veterinary clinics.

Not even I can call myself an animal or pet behaviorist as I do not have the academic background to call myself that. I am allowed to call myself a dog trainer and dog behavior consultant. Why? I have had years of formal training and hands on experience working with dogs on various levels. Still there are cases I will not take. I refer them to other professionals I feel are more capable of handling them due to their specialization or years of experience.

Back to Facebook and the re-homing thread. I respond on my iPad to the post. I caution the individual not to offer advice in a field she is not trained in no matter how well her intend is. My post was expectantly not taken well. Engaging her full defense mechanism she defended her statements and blamed me for being territorial, afraid of her trying to steal my business and degrading the profession of dog trainer by saying you need no certification to potty train a dog. She thanked me cynically for slapping her on her wrists. Although not intended I guess it was one. Not for the sake of business but for the sake of avoiding individuals providing professional advice on a questionable level.

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Gut instinct does not make you a dog professional no matter how comfortable and knowledgeable you feel. Even if in your heart you believe you are providing the best advice possible to the person seeking help think twice before providing it.

Dog training consists of the knowledge of how dogs learn. Do you know the two ways of how dogs learn? Do you know the stages of learning? Do you know when to apply operant or classical conditioning? What kind of operant conditioning? Should I reinforce or punish a behavior? Do I want the behavior to increase or decrease? When do I use rewards? How do I reinforce? What about timing issues? Am I going too fast or too slow in training? My dog is not responding to the training. Motivation problems? Rate problems? Are you prompting correctly?  If these questions seem like a foreign language to you then you should reconsider your dog training abilities because providing dog training advice means you should have some kind of knowledge of these terms. You can waive them off as dog training jargons, which they are, but they provide the professionals among us to do our jobs without using explanations. It is professional dog training language. Language we don’t use with clients but language that helps us do our job.

House Training Case

Back to our case: A three year old dog is not house trained and causing the family a lot of grief. They feel their only option is to re-home the dog into a home that has more time for this dog and the possibility to tackle the issue. Other issues are unknown at this time. The dog has not been crate trained. That is all the information we have. I would most likely ask her to see her vet first to exclude any medical issues. If those are excluded I would set up a training plan. We start with the wanted end behavior and build up a plan from there. What advice would you give in such a situation? Tell them that the dog is 3 years old and should be able to hold it at least 8 hours? Crate them all day? Any training comes with an incremental plan. A step by step guidance on what to do. What if you get stuck? What if the dog still eliminates even though you have stuck to the plan? What if the dog doesn’t respond well to the crate training? “What if …” A trainer provides you with an appropriate answer. Adjusting the plan, splitting the step where you got stuck and helping you to take your dog one step further into ensuring your dog becomes house trained.

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Good Advice or Bad Advice?

When it comes to dog training and behavior ask a professional. One that has the qualification. Getting the advice of one that has not been educated in the matter will provide you questionable advice. It could be good or bad either way. Just because people have had dogs all their lives doesn’t make them knowledgeable in the field. They may have picked up things here and there, gone through some training and thus feeling content about dog behavior. How correct is their knowledge? Don’t wait to find out and possibly cause more damage to your dog. It is not worth it. If you do take the suggestions of unqualified individuals then be prepared to deal with the consequences. Dog Parks inhabit many so called “dog professionals” with all different answers to one question.

Which professional?

Stay away from professionals with no formal training. If you don’t see any accreditation or education in the “About” part of a business web site then rest assure it is a self-proclaimed dog professional. No education means they are basing their own experience, whatever they have picked up here and there and mingle it together into a whole new “dog training and behavior” guide. A vet is not a dog trainer nor is a Vet Tech unless they have gone through some specific training. They are qualified within their field of education even though they deal with dogs on a daily basis. I don’t do their job and they shouldn’t do mine. If they do ask them for the qualification in dog training and behavior.

What can Dog Connect do for me?

Dog Connect is a group of dog lovers. We have individuals in this group on every single level. From first time dog owner to highly educated professional. If you have a question please just ask. We may provide you with insight, helpful links or refer you to a professional in your area.

Nathalie Mosbach is the owner of Beyond Companions LLC. K9Consultant, The Dog Hikers and pawDOGraphy are a few of her successful businesses. 

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Getting rubbed the wrong way

Consequences: Does the punishment fit the crime?

Originally posted on muttabouttown.com

Photo provided by cdk under Flickr commons license.

Photo provided by cdk under Flickr creative commons license.

Last week, I discussed the role antecedents play in dog training, specifically when it comes to working with fearful dogs. The week before, I discussed the foundations of fear in dogs, and what happens to a dog when fear takes hold. Today, I’ll bring the topic full-circle by discussing what happens immediately after a behavior or event:  the consequence.

Technically speaking, the ABCs in dog training (antecedents-behaviors-consequences) are called the “three-term contigency.” In dog training terms, a consequence is an event that happens immediately after a specific behavior. We give our dogs consequences all the time, sometimes unintentionally. Common punishment consequences include time-outs, and withholding of treats or playtime until the dog performs a specific behavior. Common reward consequences include treats for sits, down-stays and tricks.

As discussed the first article in this series, dealing with emotions in dogs requires a different methodology than what we typically use in obedience training. When a dog experiences a powerful emotion like fear, everything else goes by the wayside. Nothing else matters. This doesn’t mean that consequences aren’t relevant. On the contrary, consequences are intricately linked to whether a dog’s fear strengthens over time.

Dogs are excellent at telling time. Animal behaviorist Pamela J. Reid explains this topic brilliantly in her book Excel-erated Learning writing, “The delay between the response and the punisher greatly influences the degree of learning …The ‘wait until your father gets home’ approach to punishment is not effective.” In this example, Reid is referring to the delivery of punishers in obedience training. However, the same concept can be applied to treating fear in dogs. Think about how you felt as a child when you were afraid. Would someone saying, “Wait till your father comes home, and we’ll give you a hug” work? Probably not.

Similarly, comforting a dog minutes, even seconds after the onset of the fear stimulus (science-speak for the scary thing) is less effective. Why? Because the dog will not necessarily connect the consequence with the scary thing.  With poor timing, the dog will experience a scary thing and then experience a treat as separate events. What we want the dog to think is: A scary thing occurred but immediately led to a good thing, and over time, each time that I encounter that scary thing a good thing happens. If done correctly, the scary thing starts to feel less ominous for the dog.   Continue reading “Consequences: Does the punishment fit the crime?”

Consequences: Does the punishment fit the crime?