Commitment

You call the number in the advertisement, you visit the breeder’s home, and you select the perfect puppy for your family. In your mind is an expectation of what life will be like from this moment on. You can imagine all the places you’ll go and the things you’ll do with your new, happy-go-luck furry little friend.

Many of us purchase or adopt a dog with a certain idea or mental story about what life with that dog will be. We imagine all the great things we will do together, and how much fun owning a dog can bring. We know in the back of our minds that we are making a huge commitment, but not many of us will think very long or hard about what that commitment really means….

I spend a respectable amount of my time doing volunteer training and rehabilitation work for rescue organizations, and animal shelters. Some of the dogs’ families were undoubtedly in very tough positions, and had little other choice but to give the dog up for adoption. However, many of the rescue cases that I work with are simply the result of failed commitments. Cases where humans had a certain story of dog ownership to tell in their minds, and when reality didn’t match up their story, they ditch the dog and start over. This is just one of the sad realities of the human/dog saga, and it is a fact that we will likely always have to face.

As a dog trainer who is recognized as one of the leaders in the field when dealing with problem behavior cases, I am blessed to be able to work with hundreds of committed owners, who refuse to give up on their dogs. These are the people who uplift me. Every now and then a couple of humans will come along that truly inspire me, and give a renewed and strengthened meaning to the commitment we make when we bring a dog into our lives.

Two years ago I received a phone call from a woman named Christine. “K9 Connection, this is Tyler,” I answered as I always do, and she immediately began her story.

I could hear the concern in her voice from her first words. The story began when her dog was only about six months old. He had gone in to the veterinarian for routine neutering. Normally this is a very non-invasive surgery with little risk of complication. However, Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, eventually it will; and on this day, it did.

Christine’s boyfriend Josh received the phone call, and rushed to the hospital. When he arrived, the assistants were all in the hallway in tears…..

One year later, Christine and Josh walk into my office. Josh is holding what appears to be a small dog carrier, but it is completely covered by a thick blanket. “Hello, I’m……” I started, but as soon a the words began from my mouth an explosion erupted beneath the blanket which was now rocking furiously in Josh’s arms. Moments later a foul odor filled the room, which I recognized immediately as the smell of a dog who had expressed their anal glands out of fear. That was the first time I met Loki, a then one and a half year old long haired mini-dachshund.

When Josh had arrived at the hospital on that dreadful day, he quickly discovered the reason for all the tears. Loki had a complication due to the anesthesia during his surgery. He had died on the table. For nearly two minutes, by all vital signs, Loki was pronounced dead. Yet, somehow, he miraculously was revived. This baffling and dramatic turn of events would forever change the story of Josh and Christine’s life with Loki.

Loki was monitored closely during his recovery, and although he was showing signs that he would pull through and be healthy, it was clear that some things would never be the same. As Loki began moving around, his gait was distinctly off. He walked with a certain erratic pattern and varied from the normal smooth rhythm of a canine stride. It also became apparent that his depth perception was a bit off, which made it difficult for him to judge objects, including people and dogs. In short, it had become clear that Loki’s brush with death and likely caused some brain damage, the extent of which, we still do not know for sure today. The doctors told Josh and Christine that they could not be certain exactly what Loki’s cognitive experience was like, and what limitations he would have.

As time when on, Loki’s experience began to manifest itself in his behavior. He was becoming completely anti-social. The mere sight or sound of a new person or dog would send him into a frenzy. Josh and Christine began to fear that Loki would have to live a life of isolation from the outside world. They began to call around looking for help. They spoke to several local dog trainers, but every one of them said that there was nothing they could do. They reached out the the Cornell University Behavior department, and received nothing of any assistance. Everywhere they looked, they were being told that the case was helpless.

Josh later confided in me that there were times when he questioned whether he should give up, whether he was doing the right thing by keeping Loki alive, whether Loki was having an acceptable quality of life. But, he would always think back to Loki’s return from death, and subsequent recovery. “Every day, the vet would tell us he was getting better and stronger,” Josh told me, “Loki wouldn’t give up, and neither could I.”

Sitting in my office that first day, I saw a burning determination, and overwhelming compassion in Christine and Josh’s eyes. “Listen,” I said, “I think we all know that Loki may never be a ‘normal’, happy-go-luck guy. But I’m willing to bet that we can make some improvements however slight they may be. I’ve got some ideas about how we can help Loki reach his maximum potential.”

Dog training of this nature is not cheap, and many people would be hesitant to invest a significant amount for the possibility of… maybe… sort of, being able to help. Christine and Josh did not bat an eye, they looked at me and said “You are the first person who’s  even been willing to try, let’s do it.”

I explained the plan, a long term plan. We would start with a foundation of balanced training. Loki needed to learn that his choices could effect the consequences, both good and bad, around him. I explained that we were going to be very compassionate to Loki, but that his disabilities did not excuse him from learning the value of discipline either. We would use reward marker training to communicate the choices we like, and traditional leash training to communicate the choices we disagree with. It may take some time, but we would eventually get him to a point where he could be in a room, on leash, with new people and dogs, and control himself. Once we accomplish that, the goal was to get him into my Pack Socialization class, where the leash comes off, and he learns to make responsible choices on his own, when at liberty.

Christine and Josh gave me their trust, and were fully on board. Thus we began the process. Beginning in private session and moving on to group lessons. Every week, without fail, Christine and Josh showed up for training. The process was slow, but the progress was beginning to be evident.

Now, close to two years after we began, with Loki now three and a half, they are still coming every week to training. Loki can now run off leash in a group of people and dogs with only the occasional half-hearted outburst. He zips through the room at top speed with a huge grin and distinctive swagger. Although he is still a work in progress, Loki lives a happy life, meets plenty of new people and dogs on a regular basis and enjoys two of the most loving committed humans that a dog could ask for.

Last week, I called Josh and Christine into my office after class. I had some things I wanted to say “Listen, everyone here has taken notice of your determination and commitment to Loki’s well being. Owners like you are the reason that I got in to this business. Every time I think of your case I am inspired by what you three have accomplished together. I think we all know at this point that there will be limits to what we can do. Personally I think that Loki will need training and socialization throughout his entire life to maintain what we have put in place. Loki refused to give up, you refused to give up, and I refuse to give up. You have invested a ton of money into training, and now you are done. You embody what it means to be a dog owner. K9 Connection is pledging it’s support throughout Loki’s life. You will never see a bill for Loki’s training from me again.”

Christine started crying, I started crying, and Josh started crying. Loki smiled and wiggled.

-Tyler Muto

Josh, Christine and Loki

Loki having fun in Pack Socialization class

Now That I Have Your Attention

By Tyler Muto

My recent post A Silent Killer, created quite a stir as anticipated. The words within contained a pretty serious charge: That a very small faction of trainers, who believe that no dog should ever be trained with the use of aversives, regardless of the situation, are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of dogs.

Of course there was some pretty heated criticism of this assertion, unfortunately much of that criticism was unjustified. There will be more to be said on this matter, but for now I only have the time to address one of the main concerns.

Of the critiques, the most popular seemed to be the misinterpretation that the above statement somehow translates to “Positive reinforcement training is bad.” I’m not even sure how someone could draw that conclusion based on what was actually stated in my post, but let me be the first to straighten out the confusion:

Positive reinforcement training is great. I love it, and I use it every day. It is a vital component of any overall training program, and in many situations it may be all that is necessary. There has been so much advancement in the realm of rewards-based training that we are able to do so much more than we ever could before.

Where I differ from some of my critics, is that I do not believe that reward based techniques will work with every dog/owner in every situation. In fact, I don’t believe that ANY tool or technique or philosophy is going to work ALL the time.

To be clear, what I am saying is aversive free techniques by themselves do not work all the time, and neither do tools such a prong collars or e-collars.

And here we come to an important distinction: Although positive techniques do not work all the time, I do believe that they should ALWAYS be employed, even when utilizing other tools as well. Aversive techniques do not work all the time either, and should NOT always be employed for every situation. However, there are some situations in which aversive techniques are necessary and preferred (in conjunction with positive techniques.)

No single technique, philosophy, tool, method or approach is going to be the holy grail of dog training. My personal belief, and what I have seen in my daily practice working with dogs, is that the best chances of success occur when we utilize several techniques in varying proportion based on the individual dog. In fact, in my experience (yes, my subjective experience) is that the whole is often greater than the sum of it’s parts. In other words, by combing techniques I have experienced that the outcome is far better than the outcomes of the singular techniques. The more tools that we understand and utilize, the better the likelihood of success.

To be fair, there are many traditional “punishment” based trainers that really need to educate themselves better on the modern aversive free techniques. They may try to use rewards in training, but they do it rather poorly. These trainers could be far more effective if they were able to employ modern learning theory and operant conditioning into their protocols. But again, at least they try, and they are not attempting to rid the world of clickers and cookies.

“So,” one might ask “why are you saying that the trainers who oppose aversives are responsible for the deaths of dogs, and not the trainers who oppose positive techniques.”

The answer to this is simple, and it is entirely based on my own subjective experience. I have met many trainers who oppose all use of aversives. Many are my critics, and they claim to take their position on ethical grounds. However, I have never met a trainer who opposed all uses of positive techniques. I have never met someone who points at the person using a clicker and says “That’s inhumane and abusive.”

If I ever did encounter the person who held the belief that “No dog in any situation should be trained with aversive free techniques ever.” Then I would hold them just as responsible and place as much of the blame on them.

My standpoint is simple. See, no one who is reasonable will claim that they are successful 100% of the time. No one who is reasonable would even say that the techniques that they use are always successful 100% of the time (Not even the ‘science’ would support that claim). We all fail sometimes. So my question is this: In those instances when you fail, can you say honestly that you exhausted all possibilities that are within your ability?

If the answer is no, then I wonder how that answer is justified in the name of ethics.

What I am pushing for is a bit more open-mindedness. a bit more willingness to try techniques that you may not love, but that could mean the difference between success and failure. A little bit of understanding that by abolishing a tool or technique completely, we may actually close the door for a lot of dogs.

This is not a debate over which technique or tool is the best. In fact it’s the opposite. Far too much time and energy is wasted between trainers arguing over methodology. Somehow it gets forgotten that we are all in this working towards the same goal: We are trying to improve the lives of dogs. While well-meaning trainers are arguing with other well-meaning trainers over who’s methods are better/more scientific/more humane/more effective, there are real evils out there such as puppy mills, hoarders, neglecters, abusers, and breed specific legislation that we should be uniting against.

If you read between the lines of my original post the message is clear: Close-midedness and hatred amongst dog trainers is responsible for the deaths of hundred of thousands of dogs.

Yes, I made a very jarring statement. But it got your attention didn’t it?

 

Post Script:

I purposefully interchange between labels such as “positive training,” “Reward-based training” and “Aversive Free training“. There were tons of critics who decided that it was more important to argue about the terminology of my original post rather than the principals at hand.  I get it, I know that some of these labels aren’t accurate descriptors based on the proper use of learning theory terminology. I also don’t give a hoot. There are more important things to discuss. I know learning theory and the appropriate use of terms like the back of my hand. If you are going to comment and argue about terminology, please go elsewhere and don’t waste our time.

Post Post Script:

This is my opinion. If you don’t like it, you are free to read something else.

 

A Silent Killer

By Tyler Muto

The post is very important to me, and it is likely to upset some people. Those involved will not admit their guilt, will deny every aspect of what I am about to say, and place the blame elsewhere.

There is a silent killer in the dog training world. It is not a virus, not a piece of equipment, not a bacteria.

It is an idea.

It is the idea that all dogs, in all situations, should be trained with nothing other than rewards, and without ever the use of aversives. “Reward what you like and ignore what you don’t” is the mantra that is preached, and all will be well in the world. In the dog training community this philosophy goes by many names, some call it Pure Positive (which is not an accurate description), some call it Progressive Reinforcement, some call it Reward only, but for the purposes of this article I will refer to it as Aversive Free or AF

*Aversive Free (AF) Training can be defined as training which involves only the R+ and P- quadrants of learning. When I refer to Aversive Free (AF) Trainers in this article, I am not referring to those who simply choose this approach for themselves, but I am referring to those who vehemently oppose the use of aversives for any dog in any situation.

Let me be clear, what I am referring to is not the idea that reward only techniques are good, and work in some cases. What I am referring to is the dogmatic belief that this is the ONLY way to train a dog, or deal with behavior problems. The aversive free philosophy is that any type of consequence other than simply removing the reward, is cruel, inhumane, and barbaric.

I want to avoid going into a dissertation on learning theory here, but let me also be clear: If you think rationally, and apply simple logic, it becomes clear that this approach to training dogs will have significant limitations. ‘Contrary to their claims, a aversive free (my edit to terminology) training approach is not as effective and takes considerably longer to reach any level of reliability even close to what a balanced approach can produce. In some instances, reliability cannot be realized using a positive only approach and some dogs will not be trainable at all until appropriate corrections are included.’ (Quoted from Roger Hild.)

“Well,” you might be asking at this point. “What does this have to do with death and killing.”

Quite a bit in fact. You see, rewards are used primarily to create new behavior and offer little to no assistance in communicating to a dog that a certain behavior is unacceptable. However, millions of dogs are killed in this country every year because of behaviors that are deemed “unacceptable.”  The AF fanatics have made such a roar that the majority of shelters and rescues have adopted an aversive free philosophy within their organizations. Why? Well probably a few reasons. For one, it sounds great on paper to say that you only reward dogs, and never punish with aversives. Secondly, they have drank the kool-aidThe aversive free proponents have created such a buzz, and are so good at promoting their philosophy that they have many people believing that anything can be accomplished with reward based techniques, and that corrections are always bad and will ruin your dog forever.

Yep, shelter staff, daycare owners, breeders, veterinarians, and many others (most of whom have only trained a handful, if any dogs in their life. And likely have never worked a dog, hands on, through a serious aggression problem.) have been duped into believing this non-sense.

Many well meaning dog owners have also been sucked in, believing that, armed with cookies, hugs, and rays of sunshine they can transform their aggressive, unruly pooch into a well mannered pet.

It’s an easy argument to sell. After all, rewarding dogs is fun, and correcting is not. So when people are told by a professional that they never have to correct their dog again, they are all ears.

Unfortunately, most dogs with serious behavior issues will not be helped with this approach.

And then come the excuses, “This dog needs medication,” “He was traumatized too much as a puppy and will never recover,” or the classic “It’s not the dog, it’s the owner.” the list goes on and on.

When the AF approach fails, the only other option is euthanasia. After all, it would be unheard of to just give a dog a simple correction, to help it understand that there are certain behaviors in life that have consequences. Simple, immediate, consequences.

Dog Aggression training in buffalo ny, k9 connection

Luna the Aussie has a history of biting eight people and dogs, Georgia has attacked several dogs, now they are rough housing together without a problem.

Use a leash and prong collar to create momentary discomfort. . . .Oh no, anything but that. Death is certainly a better option. 

Don’t believe me?

I am a member of many online dog forums, one of which used to be over-run by the AF cult. (For more on the ‘cult’ of aversive free see here). One woman had a young dog who she was having some trouble with. Even though she was using the aversive free techniques that supposedly can fix any problem, she was continuing to struggle with her dog. Several people on the forum advised her that she should try a prong collar to correct her dogs behavior. “No way,” she said, “I’d sooner put him to sleep than do that.”

Well folks, guess what wound up happening to that unruly pup? That’s right, euthanasia.  (Murder if you ask me.)

Needless to say, she was subsequently kicked off the forum, and other members stopped listening to the AF nonsense.

More recently, I was brought a foster dog by a rescue volunteer. The dog had been showing some fear aggression and no one had been successful in making any progress in the months that he had been with the rescue. The volunteer had been a client of mine with her own dogs, and seen success with similar issues, she had also been to the AF trainers that the rescue recommends, and seen no success. The rescue coordinator had already made it very clear that this dog was “running out of time.” (That means either he will be euthanized, or dumped on another rescue.) Several of the rescue’s volunteers had pleaded with the coordinator to let them bring the dog to me, because it is well known that I have a very high success rate working with aggression cases. “Out of the question,” they were told. Simply because I apply a Balanced Training Philosophy. In other words I apply both reward and consequence (beyond the removal of reward) to help create understanding. Yep, the rescue would rather give up on the dog, than send it to a trainer who doesn’t conform to their religion. Then, in subsequent emails, they blamed the volunteers. The very people who reached out to help this guy, took the blame for his failure.

dog Socialization, pack, dog psychology

Over 50% of these dogs have histories of aggression to people and dogs. By enforcing rules and leadership, every one can be together peacefully. (At our Pack Socialization Class)

Unfortunately, this dog’s fate is likely doomed now.

The other unfortunate thing is that these “trainers” who claim to be so positive with dogs, are often not so positive with people. The same trainer who yesterday recommended euthanasia to a dog, today will publicly bash me and call me cruel and inhumane for rehabilitating the same dog, all because I gave a small correction. I save the dogs life, but I’m the cruel one! Myself and thousands of other Balanced trainers have had to deal with name calling, accusations, slander and defamation by the AF. I even had another local trainer say to a client of mine “I recommend euthanasia for him, but whatever you do, don’t go to K9 Connection.”

As a close friend of mine has said, “The Aversive Free mantra should be ‘Death Before Discomfort!'”

dog aggression, dog pack, dog behavior, buffalo dog training, dog training in buffalo

The Black dog in the back had been told by other trainers that he should be euthanized due to dog aggression. After ONE correction, he is able to exist happily.

Of course if you talk to any Aversive Free trainer, they will never admit this. Why would they? It would put an end to their reign of terror.

Even in the situations were an AF only approach can work, it often takes a very long time. and time is something that many shelter dogs just don’t have. If they don’t show quick improvement, then off to the chopping block they go.

This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of dogs in this country.

Let me say that a bit more clearly: Aversive Free dog training is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of dogs every year.

I am tired of this issue being pushed under the rug. I am tired of clients coming to me in tears after being told by positive dog trainers that their beloved pet could never be helped. And I am sickened to think about the numbers of innocent dog owners who actually took their advice. 

The Aversive Free Trainers say they never punish, I guess capital punishment doesn’t count.

dog aggression, buffalo ny dog trainer, dog trainers in western NY

Gracie the Pit Bull would have died in the shelter if a volunteer hadn’t pulled her out and brought her to me.

Again, I must restate. I have nothing against positive, rewards based dog training (I myself use positive dog training every day, it is a necessary component of a balanced approach), or those who choose the positive approach for themselves. It is the dogmatically Aversive Free mentality that I am speaking against. Those who force this philosophy on everyone around them, believe that it is the only way, and bash other techniques.

We need to wake up and realize that there is a balance. Using corrections does not mean you must cause pain, fear, and intimidation. Aversive free training has a place in the dog training world, but it is not the only place.  We need to return to open-mindedness in dog training. After all, lives are at stake.

Please read the articles linked at the bottom of this post, and if you love dogs, share this article. It is time for a change.

Relevant links:

Video of me introducing a prong collar to a foster dog. (If anyone can call this abuse, I’d be shocked.)

Plan B – Kill The Dog by Roger Hild

Behaviorism Vs. Intelligent Choice by Roger Hild

The Power of Balanced Training. By Sean O’Shea of The Good Dog

Love. By Jeff Gellman of Solid K9 Training

An Interesting Article on the direction of dog training from the Toronto Sun

Cults In Dog Training by Roger Hild

Last but not least, A Great Article by the very provocative Terrierman Patrick Burns.

 

Training Vs. Fulfillment

A new client brings her dog into my center and begins describing her dog’s problem behavior.

“He is constantly getting into things,” she says. “He sits at the window, waiting for any movement outside and then he’ll bark like crazy. When he goes into that mode, he doesn’t even hear me calling his name”

I nod in acknowledgment of her frustration.

“If he wants my attention, he’ll just start barking at me, and when I tell him ‘NO!’, he just barks more.”

“I see,” I reply. “How much exercise does he get regularly?”

“Well he spends time out in our yard every day.”

“What about walks?” I ask, “Do you ever engage with him in exercise so you can challenge him mentally and physically?”

“Well, we probably don’t walk him as much as we should”. . . . . . .

Which means “No.”

Believe it or not this is a very common scenario at our center. The dog in question was a young, healthy hound mix, with a med-high level of energy. The woman was looking for a training method to eliminate these behaviors. “Just do this, and he’ll never act that way again.”

I had to inform her that what she was dealing with was not a training issue, it was a fulfillment issue. Ask any high energy level human how they would feel if they were forced to sit still for a couple days, with no physical activity, and without being able to leave the house. Most would tell you that they would become very agitated. In fact, they would probably become physically uncomfortable as their energy became more and more pent-up, and their body began looking for ways to release it. It is not a good feeling, and would not be a happy individual.

Now imagine how your high-energy dog feels when he’s been stuck in the house all week. I’ll bet he’s literally crawling in his own skin, and its no wonder he’s getting into trouble as he desperately looks for ways to release his energy.

I have three dogs, but the one who is most often in the public eye is Lobo, my 2 1/2 year old Belgian Malinois (belgian shepherd). He is not a German Shepherd, although he looks similar. Most Malinois have significantly higher levels of energy than the average German Shepherd. Lobo is a very high-energy dog. People meet him and are always impressed. He has a great energy, he is stable and balanced. He holds down positions while I wrangle with aggressive dogs and doesn’t bat an eye. However, I’m always amazed at one thing: Many people see his behavior and say “Well, that’s just because he is shepherd.”

No.

Anyone who knows me and Lobo, also knows the amount of work that I do with him every day. Sometimes I’m tired, but I know that I am his steward, and he is my best friend. He does so much for me, the least I can do is keep him fulfilled. . . .

It’s Wednesday, April 18th, 7:00am

While I make coffee and eat breakfast, Lobo is on the treadmill. He does a steady 5 mph with no leash. He completes about 2 miles in just under a half hour. Then he gets a chance to go outside and slow his breathing before he eats his breakfast. Then we get ready to head down to the center.

8:30 am

We stop at a park that’s right around the corner from the training center. The treadmill is a good start, but Lobo doesn’t get to really run full boar on the treadmill. Lobo needs a chance at least once a day to really let loose!

The ‘Chuckit’ ball tosser provides the perfect solution. Lobo has a very intense ball drive. This is also why off-leash training is so valuable. Here we are, just outside of downtown Buffalo, and right next to the I190, but I can trust my dogs 100% off leash. After about 20 min of intense running, mingled with obedience exercises, we pack up and head to the center to check in on my staff, and get organized for the day.

10:00 am

Lobo and I meet one of my clients at the waterfront to help her learn how to walk her troublesome Olde English Bulldog past other dogs. Here Lobo did a lot of walking, and a lot of holding down positions while I gave instruction.

11:00 am

Lobo and I are back at the center working with the pack. Lobo is great at helping dogs become social. He’ll spend a good hour out here in the yard interacting with dogs.

And that’s just what happens before noon!

As the day wears on, Lobo helps me with various other appointments, and does a lot of pack work. Later in the evening, we do some more play and training with just the two of us.

9:00 pm

Lobo is able to settle down and chew a bone at home. He’s not exhausted, but he’s content. Believe it or not, without that much exercise, he would still be very antsy, pacing around the house and over all being kinda annoying. It’s not his fault, without exercise it is obvious that he is physically and mentally uncomfortable.

In short, Lobo is not balanced and well-behaved because he is ‘a Shepherd’. He is balanced and well-behaved because he is fulfilled. His life is enriched through exercise, discipline, structure, and fun. He has a job, and his life has purpose.

This is what it takes to own a high-energy dog. For some it is a dream come true, for others, a nightmare.

Before you bring a dog home, consider that dog’s needs. Pay close attention to their energy level. What will it take to keep that dog balanced. Many of the behavior problems that I see are simply the result of the dog being higher energy than the owner.

If your dog is displaying problem behavior around the house, ask yourself: Have I fulfilled my dog’s needs today?

 

 

Tobin Hits The Jackpot!

Helping rescue organizations to rehabilitate difficult dogs is one of the many things I do to keep myself sane. With all the chaos of running a business, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of what’s important.

Kristy, the director of Buffalo Paws and Claws Animal Rescue, brought me a dog named Tobin, a shepherd mix, a few months ago because he was displaying some pretty serious food aggression.

Kristy and I worked together over a few sessions so I could give her some strategies to overcome this problem. The aggression however, proved to be too much for her to handle on her own, and she was growing increasingly afraid of Tobin. If Tobin couldn’t be rehabilitated, there was no way Kristy could safely adopt him out, so failure was not an option.

Together, we decided that it was best to enroll Tobin in my Boot Camp program.

Under the supervision of myself and my staff, Tobin turned into a model student. In fact, while he was here, he even helped us train other dogs.

Tobin, looking proud while he acts as a distraction for Lucy and her human (background)

At the end of a two week bootcamp, Tobin was showing no signs of aggression and, as the stars aligned, there was a human ready and waiting to adopt him.

I told Kristy that on the adoption day I would meet her and Tobin out at the new adopter’s home so I could show her the exercises that we had been working on, to ensure a smooth transition into her home. Everyone agreed, and as a team we were ready for Tobin’s big day.

I arrived at Tobin’s new home at 3:00 Friday afternoon, it was a gorgeous sunny day; the perfect day for an adoption. I peeked into the backyard and saw Kristy and Theresa, Tobin’s new mom. Tobin saw me and began dancing around on his hind legs, as if he was saying “Thank you!”. I looked around the yard, and was blown away. Tobin literally hit the Jackpot. Theresa’s home was equipped with a giant yard enclosed by a picket fence, a waterfall, a pool, beautiful landscaping, and Tobin even had his own dog house. Once we were all there Tobin began sprinting around the yard at top speed with a smile on his face that I had never seen. I took one look at him and said “He’s happy because he finally made it home.”

Tobin and Theresa, home at last.

We brought Tobin inside, and prepared some food for him. I briefly demonstrated for Theresa the exercises that we used to help him overcome come his food aggression, using a balance of reward and correction. I explained that he had a lot of rehearsal in the past of being successful with acts of aggression, and although he was doing great, I wanted him to have more rehearsal of doing it the right way before he could be completely trusted around food. Theresa understood, went through all the exercises like a pro, and Tobin showed nothing but his gentle side. Kristy was blown away with the progress in just two weeks, as the last time she saw, he was snarling and biting if you came anywhere near him while eating.

Sometimes owning a business can wear you down, it’s easy to lose track of yourself. I am so proud of Tobin. I left Theresa’s house with a giant grin, grateful that I was able to be a part of Tobin’s life. These are the days that drive me. Thank you Tobin for breathing life into me. 

 

 

Conversational Leash Work and the Future of Dogmanship

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a couple professional trainers at my center to offer them some education and insight on some of the training programs I offer, and some of the concepts that I have been developing.

Let me just start by saying how overwhelmed I am with the success of my training philosophy. When I founded K9 Connection nearly 5 years ago, I had in mind a simple, common sense approach to training. At that time I never would have thought that the simplicity of my approach would have created such a buzz.

Now at 28 years old I am humbled that professionals from around the country are seeking me out to help them improve their techniques, and the services that they offer to their clients. In my mind, what I am offering is still just a common sense way to improve our communication and relationships with our dogs.

That being said, last week myself and my staff were honored to have Jeff Gellman of Solid K9 Training in Rhode Island, and Sean O’Shea of The Good Dog Training and Rehabilitation in LA come to visit for a very fun and informative couple of days.

Sean and Jeff at my training center while we give all our dogs a bathroom break.

One of the topics that I was able to teach was a concept of leash work that goes beyond the typical leash correction. I call this “Conversational Leash Work” because it involves not only us as the humans using the leash to guide the dog and tell them things, but it provides a framework for using the leash to feel the dog and “listen” to them in a sense, and then respond. In fact, when done properly, there is very little “correcting” in the traditional yank and crank sense. The idea is to use very subtle pressure on the leash to give the dog information, and a very active release of that pressure to respond to him and tell him that he is making a good choice. Personally I love this type of leash work because when practicing it I feel connected to the dog in a way that is particularly unique. In all my years of dog training, I have not experienced a technique that works as fast and as universally to establish trust and respect with a dog.

The following video is a very rare glimpse into the private demonstration that I provided for Jeff and Sean. The dog Jack, is a foster who I just met, and who had no previous training. You can hear Jeff and Sean’s commentary in the background. Some of the information may be too advanced for some folks, but it is too good to edit out. I should also note that this is the first time Jack has ever worn a prong collar, and this video demonstrates how prong collars can be used in very gentle ways.

Incidentally, Jack was brought to me because he was showing aggression to other dogs. In fact, he couldn’t even be within sight of them while out on walks without starting to lunge and bark. Here is a picture taken the day after we shot the video. Within one day of my leash work program, Jack showed tremendous improvement.

Jack in the foreground with his foster mom, Sean O'Shea and Josh Moran helping out with some dogs from our pack.

About 15 minutes after this photo was taken, we were able to socialize Jack, off leash, with a group of 6 stable dogs from our pack. The rapport, trust, and respect that was created through the leash work is what facilitated the whole chain of events.  

The idea of conversational leash work involves a lot of give and take. The goal is develop a sensitivity with the dog whereby the more he knows you are sensitive and aware of him, the more sensitive and aware of you he becomes in return.
This is a cooperative approach to dog training that aims at establishing a high level of mutual trust and respect very early on. The end result is a dog who works with you because he enjoys the process, and any external rewards and consequences serve simply to amplify that foundational relationship.

The quote in the beginning of the video is taken from Chad Mackin’s article: Relationship: The Hidden Motivator, you can view that article Here

I truly feel that work like this is the future of pet dog training, and Dogmanship.

Pause. . . Listen

We talk a lot about getting respect from a dog. But what about showing respect to the dog. What about having respect for the fact that when we are dealing with dogs we are dealing with an element of the animal kingdom that is far more in tune with mother nature than ourselves.

Many people do not know that wolves and dogs differ by only about 1% of their mitochondrial DNA.
That’s right, as far as DNA is concerned, your cute little Maltese is extremely close to a wolf. Their link to wolves is much closer than our link to apes, which can be demonstrated in the fact that dogs and wolves can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

I do not mean to infer that dogs and wolves are exactly the same in every way. They’re not. All this wolf-talk is really just the backdrop for a more important discussion. Here’s some questions to start us off:

Would you as a human, walk up to a wolf and immediately start groping her face?

Would you stick your face in the face of a wolf that you do not know, make direct eye contact and start speaking to them in ways they do not understand?

Would you walk up to a wolf and stick your hand right in front of the wolf’s mouth?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it may be time for a psychiatric evaluation. The Majority of us will answer no to these questions, which presses me to ask: Why do so many of us feel that it is ok to do these things to dogs?

The fact is that too many of the dogs out in the world, any of the actions stated in the above questions, when done by a stranger, are considered threatening, stressful, or irritating. Many dogs learn early on to tolerate such foolish human behavior, but very few actually like it.

I do have one theory as to why we treat dogs this way. I propose that it is because at some point along the line, our society began treating and viewing dogs as infants. Not children, infants.

It is well known that many people treat their own dogs this way, rolling them around in strollers, and carrying them in purses etc.. However, we as a society appear to treat other people’s dogs in very similar ways that we would treat other people babies: bending over, cooing at them, and reaching out touch them almost immediately.

Of course we wouldn’t act this way to someone’s 18 year old son, and that is precisely my point. We don’t show infants a whole lot of respect, and I believe the assumption is that they don’t really know how to communicate much anyway. Therefore we impose our own will onto them, “I want to squeeze the babies cheeks,” so I do, “I want to put my face in their face and make weird noises,” so I do. We do these activities because for some reason we enjoy them, and we rarely stop to think about how the baby feels.

This is exactly the type of behavior I see people do to dogs. We see a cute fluffy dog and we just have to touch him. Who cares whether he likes it or not right? Wrong. Dogs do know how to communicate, and they do it very clearly. Humans often just 1) don’t even give the dogs a chance to communicate before we impose our own will, or 2) just don’t seem to actually care what the communication is.

The majority of dog bite cases that I see come into my center could have easily been avoided if the human would have taken an extra second, observed the dog’s body language, and respected mother nature.

Although there are many dogs who love the contact of any human who is willing, there are at least as many who do not. If the average human would stop for just a moment when approaching a dog, they would be able to see an animal that is showing signs of apprehension, uncertainty and probably a little nervousness. In other words, the dog will show pretty clear signs that they are not ready to be approached quite yet, and certainly not ready to be touched.

There is an act that I call “asking the dog’s permission”, and I think everyone should practice it whenever they are interacting with a dog. Instead of just diving right in whenever you want to touch a dog. Practice these steps to show the dog that you respect her, and she can trust you. Here is the formula:

**These steps assume that the dog is not showing any outward displays of aggression as you approach.

1) Move towards the dog, and stop about 2-3 feet away.
2) Do nothing
3) Observe the dog.
3a) if the dog seems curious about you, sniffing the air in your direction and wagging her tail in a low, relaxed way, then allow her to approach you and sniff while keeping your hands to your self. Only pet her if she nuzzles you for affection.
3b) If the dog is ignoring, than either ignore her, or walk away, which ever you prefer. She is telling you that she is ok with your presence, but not really interested in socializing at this time.
3c) If she lowers her head, diverts her eyes in a purposeful manner, turns to the side, or tightens her lips, calmly just give her space, and back off. What she is telling you is that she is not comfortable with your proximity and she needs a little more space to feel secure.

Whatever her communication is, RESPECT IT.

Notice that none of the steps above involve sticking your hand out for the dog to smell. You can remove that one from your repertoire.

It is also worth noticing that we are reading her communication, and stopping the interaction before it has become a growl or a lunge.

The beautiful thing is, that even if she initially displayed the behaviors shown in 3b or 3c, as she sees that you consistently listen to her communication, and respect her, the more comfortable she will be with you and then may begin to want to interact socially with you. But don’t expect this to happen after one try. She needs to see that you are consistently respectful.

Likewise, just because she has let you pet her once, doesn’t mean that you can dive right in from here on out. Always ask her permission, and she will thank you for it with mutual trust and respect.

Respect

This seems to be a recurring theme around here lately. Owner after owner bringing dogs in with behavioral issues ranging from fear, to anxiety, to aggression, and the common thread that runs through almost all the cases is the apparent lack of respect between the dogs and their humans.

Note that I didn’t say “The apparent dis-respect“. There is a difference.

To me, disrespect would imply that the dog knows what it means to be respectful, and is choosing to disregard that knowledge in favor of his or her own agenda.

Lack of respect means that the humans never taught the dog what it means to be respectful to begin with. Sometimes because they didn’t know how, sometimes because they didn’t try.

So what does it mean for a dog to be respectful? For the purposes of this discussion, we can say that Respect is the adherence to well established rules and boundaries, and the appropriate response to pressure. Pressure here can mean physical pressure (leash, touch, electronic collar), social pressure (eye contact, forward body language, claiming space or yielding), or what I call achievement pressure which is the pressure we all feel when there is something which we strongly want to achieve and we have to figure out how to do it. This last one takes the form of respect building when the item or event that the dog wants to achieve is controlled by the human, such as a treat or the activity of going outside.

Think about it. Have you taught your dog what it means to be respectful? Have you established boundaries and rules? Will your dog respond appropriately to all three forms of motivating pressure?

If your dog is displaying inappropriate behavior, and you have not taken the time to teach your dog what it means to be respectful, it’s never too late to start. She might surprise you with just how well she can follow rules once she know what they are.

 

Operation: Rescue Gracie

Gracie, the black and white pit bull, with the pack after 7 days of rehabilitation

My friend Julia Taylor from Pawfect Love Pet Care found Gracie and pulled her out of the city shelter. She had been showing signs of aggression towards both humans and dogs. The shelter agreed to release Gracie pending an evaluation from me. I of course, knew I could help before I even met her as I firmly believe that 99% of dogs can become balanced with the right leadership and guidance. 

It was clear right from the start that Gracie had never truly had the opportunity to be social. She had a ton of pent up and frustrated energy, and this was to root of her aggressive behaviors.

The unfortunate reality is that most shelters are not equipped to adequately assess and rehabilitate dogs like this on their own. I commend the Buffalo City Shelter for allowing an outsider to step in and help. The other unfortunate reality is that if Julia hadn’t pulled Gracie from the shelter, she likely would have been euthanized due to her behavior.

Three pit bulls, Gracie in the middle, viciously making out with each other.

 

Gracie’s rehabilitation program with us has included obedience training, vigorous exercise, treadmill training, and pack socialization. She has been in my program for 8 days now, and she is truly a changed dog.

Gracie is currently up for adoption, if anyone is interested in her you can email me and tyler@conectwithyourk9.com and I will forward your info to Julia.