TV Dog Trainers - Part 2 WWYD?
So the previous blog got some criticism, mainly along the lines of 'well what would YOU do?' and after a week of deliberation I have decided, despite my absolute dislike of criticising other trainers (yes really, I'm not keen on it!) I'll watch this next episode of Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly, and add in what I'd do, and why. Whilst I don't like pulling apart what others do, I also believe in speaking out when things are wrong, dangerous, put animal welfare at risk and/or put humans at risk. I strongly believe this show does all those things. This episode sees Diego the Rottie x Ridgeback, Doug the Cocker Spaniel and the Schnauzer brothers known to local walkers as 'the Krays'. Diego is shown jumping up, biting, growling, pulling at his owners hands, nipping bottoms and generally being out of control and a bit scary. Graeme goes to great lengths to frighten his owners about the wording of the Dangerous Dogs Act and to be fair, he is correct that an owner is committing an offence if the dog is out of control and someone has reasonable grounds to fear injury, even if injury does not occur. That said, he's quite willing to risk exactly that sort of offence occurring when he takes the owners out and asks them to let Diego off the lead to 'see the behaviour'. We see that the owners constantly push Diego away when he gets bitey and mouthy, which just ramps him up further. Outdoors we see that playing off lead in water also raises his arousal levels to the point where he lacks the ability to exercise self control. Diego is 5 months old and has a poor early history of abuse and particularly encouragement to bite. Graeme explains that the owners need to be clearer with him and give him one command 'stop', and then if he doesn't, eject him from the room until he calms down. We then see Graeme say 'ahh ahh... stop' and forcibly drag Diego by his collar out of the room, and leave him out until the camera shows he is lying down. Diego is then rewarded for this good behaviour by being let back into the room. *There is no real explanation of what Diego is doing, and why he is doing it, and what motivates this behaviour. Nor is there any explanation of why what Graeme is suggesting works, and what the risks might be in that method. Diego is a young dog, and mouthing and play biting are normal, if irritating behaviours for a dog of his age. Diego needs to bite and rag and pull to learn how to use his mouth, and to help his teeth settle into his jaw - attempting to prevent him doing this at all is likely to build frustration, which usually causes even more unpleasant behaviours. Diego has almost certainly been heavily rewarded for biting and aggressive looking play, but at this point it is still mainly play - however inappropriate and borderline dangerous it is, he is playing. His owners attempts to stop him, push him off, shout at him, simply feel like more play to Diego and ramp him up further. I would have taught Diego an alternative behaviour, which is heavily reinforced using food or toys (whichever he prefers) - for example, asking for a sit and rewarding that means he's not jumping.
It is far more efficient to teach a dog to perform a simple behaviour like sit or down, and then ask for it, than it is to wait for the dog to do the wrong thing and then punish him for that. Teaching him how to play tug games appropriately, gives him that outlet for biting and pulling that he needs, but teaches him rules and helps to build self control. Putting Diego out of the room may give him time to calm down, but only if he is actually ok being shut in a room alone. He may not have been and had he not been this would have created more stress and thus, more arousal. Dragging Diego by the collar is confrontational and threatening to a dog, it could even be painful, and theres a risk that Diego may start to resist this - dogs typically do so by ducking away, running away, turning and snapping or even biting. Creating a dog who reacts very badly to having his collar held is dangerous, and there is no need to do this. Using a time out without teaching Diego what IS wanted of him, leaves him to simply guess at the correct behaviour - and Graeme got lucky that Diego guessed correctly! Leaving a dog shut out of the room for a long time is a really unclear and ineffective way to punish unwanted behaviour, because by the time the dog is let back in, he has forgotten why he was ejected in the first place. I suspect much of Diegos behaviour is down to his age and his history, with a side order of his owners being unclear, and not meeting his needs. What Graeme did simply kept Diegos arousal levels low, which helped Diego not to boil over, and start jumping and biting. However since Graeme did not address why Diego was behaving this way, the minute something exciting happens, Diego is highly likely to revert to leaping and biting. Finally, we again saw Graeme attach a long line to a dogs collar without ever pointing out that this is dangerous and should the dog take off running, stopping that line could cause serious neck injury to the dog. Longlines should only ever be used with a securely fitted harness to avoid this risk. Graeme chooses not to do this, because he prefers a neck collar as he can then deliver punishments in the form of sharp jerks or yanks to the collar.
Doug the Cocker spaniel is a classic case of a busy little gundog doing precisely what cockers do, in a home that really wanted a dog to lie in a basket and pootle out for nice little walks occasionally. Cockers love to hold things in their mouths, and they love to run around busily looking for things to put in their mouths. It is therefore no surprise at all to see Doug taking anything he can find, showing his owners and then running off round the garden playing catch me if you can. Graeme tells the owners off for swapping stolen items for treats and points out they are rewarding Doug for the unwanted behaviour. He shows them a method using a treat in his hand, to teach Doug to leave or 'off' an item he wants, and then rewards him for backing off, and then quickly progresses onto other objects.
At no point does Graeme explain properly that cockers love to carry things and find things to carry and that his owners should be prepared to play games with him that meet that breed trait. Dougs ancestry means that every fibre of his being wants to have something soft in his mouth, to find things to pick up, and to carry them around, and he needs an outlet for that desire, that is appropriate and safe. Whilst Graeme is correct that chasing Doug around the garden is reinforcing the behaviour, I think it's pretty dangerous to try and stop someone swapping a taken item, for a valuable treat - that is a safe way to get something from a dog in an emergency situation. Denying people that route tends to mean people panic and grab the dog and forcibly remove things which is a sure fire way to end up with a snappy bitey dog who guards stolen goodies hard! The simplest way of addressing Dougs issue would be to meet his need to find and carry by teaching him a good solid retrieve - I teach this with clicker training, starting with the final part of the process, the 'drop it in my hand' part. Simply give the dog something fairly boring, have a high value treat to hand, and click and treat the dog AS they let go of the boring item, which they will do because you have a sausage in your hand! Once you have the 'item goes in MY hand and nowhere else' part solid, then you can start to have the dog pick the item up from further and further out, until you are throwing the toy or hiding it and having the dog find and retrieve it. Done this way, the most solid, reliable part of the routine is 'put it in my hand' as the dog knows that part is reinforced strongly. This way, you have a dog who understands bringing you the goodies, as opposed to running off with them, is a really good thing to do AND you meet his need to find and carry stuff. Happy dog, happy owners. I would also teach a leave cue, but a leave cue is only useful when you are there to see the dog pick something up - it isn't useful if the dog is out of sight, and the dog will still want to pick stuff up unless you have met his need to do so appropriately! I teach a leave cue in a slightly tidier manner than Graeme, with the dog NEVER getting to have the item I have asked him to leave. Treat in fist, let the dog sniff and lick, the moment the dog quits trying to get the treat, you mark with 'yes' (or click the clicker) and reward him from the OTHER hand, and for good measure toss that treat away so you are again reinforcing moving AWAY from the thing he wanted. Build up to the treat being in an open palm, then on the floor with you sitting so you can cover it with your hand, then standing, (cover it with your foot) then graduate to leaving other items, then build up again to doing this in other rooms in the house and finally in the garden. Only add in the cue 'leave' when the dog already is offering the action of 'leaving' - until you have a behaviour to label, the cue means nothing to your dog, so it makes sense not to say anything until you have a behaviour that you can pair with that label. Should your dog take something and run away with it - the safest action is to run the OTHER way, and go and do something, noisily, noticably, that your dog would like - his sole purpose in this example, is to get his owners attention - by going the other way, and doing something he'd like to be involved in (get the lead, go in the fridge, do whatever it takes but do NOT run after him or call him) and following through on that promise - you can separate a dog from a stolen prize easily. Chasing the dog never makes the situation safer - a dog who is chased will crunch things, rag them, shake them, swallow them even (all things, bar swallowing, that we saw Doug doing) - there is no item a dog can have in his mouth that is made safer by you chasing him and pushing him to crunch it or swallow it! Ultimately, Doug is simply a clever little spaniel who hasn't actually recieved any training, and has owners who do not understand a spaniels behavioural needs. All of his thieving and running around behaviour is down to attention seeking from a bored dog whose needs are not being met.
The Kray twins, Schnauzer boys Archie and ??? These dogs are incredibly reactive on the lead and also out of the window of their home, walked together they are seen screaming in rage at any dog they see, but appear fairly calm in the home when Graeme visits. We see some footage of one of the dogs resisting a command to get off the sofa and go for a wee and it looks like he might nip the owner if pushed. Graeme explains that Schnauzers can be reactive and barky little dogs due to their heritage as farm dogs and ratters. We see the owner try to walk them together, and they react to everything they see and it appears quite aggressive. Graeme takes her to a tennis court, and uses a steady, old, and huge stooge dog, some sort of Great Dane or Great Dane x and gets them to parallel walk with the fence between the dogs for safety. Again Graeme asks her to use one command to tell the dogs 'enough' and also pairs this with a collar jerk punishment. After some time of parallel walking, the dogs stop reacting and Graeme invites the owner to try the same thing but without the fence between them. The dogs walk nicely and barely look at the other dog until his owner walks him away - a walk of perhaps 12 paces..
Again we see Graeme ask the owner to do something and then do something else himself - he clearly asks her to say 'enough' and give just one command - and then himself says 'oi, ah ah, no' before delivering a jerk to the dogs collar. The process may look mild, but in fact Graeme is flooding the dogs - exposing them to the non reactive Great Dane and punishing any look or pull towards him, until they stop reacting. This simply suppresses behaviour - the owner is instructed once to offer praise but this happens very little, and will simply serve to let the dog know he is not going to recieve a punishment, rather than actually act as a motivating reinforcer. Supressing behaviour is dangerous - it does not address the underlying reasons for the behaviour, it does not change the emotions involved, so the dogs may still feel anxious or aggressive, but they aren't expressing that... for now. It is the training equivalent to a Dr putting a nice clean dressing over a nasty infected wound - ok we can no longer see the wound, but inside it is still festering away and the dressing on its own will not cure that wound. These dogs haven't really learned anything at this point other than 'don't react it doesn't work'. Their reactions are designed to make the other dog, a threat, go away - and for a long time that has worked for them - they have no idea that the other dog was passing and would have gone away anyway, so that behaviour has been reinforced very heavily. The owner pulling on the lead and shouting at them serves to increase arousal and the feeling of being trapped, which again increases the dogs percieved need to react! The danger here is that tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, they will see another dog and will still react - becauses the emotion hasn't changed, and they have only learned not to bother with this in one location, with one dog. Because Graeme is using punishment, the tendancy will be for the owner to continue using that rather than make life easier for the dogs, jerking harder, shouting louder etc. That is a welfare issue. For these dogs, I would firstly work with one dog at a time. The stooge set up with a steady dog might be a useful tool to use, but I would pair seeing the dog, from a distance sufficient that the dog does not react, with a high value reinforcer - cheese or sausage works well - until the dog looks to me, clearly associating the sight of another dog with that reinforcer. Then I know we are changing the emotion that drives the behaviour. I would work gradually, with a variety of locations, levels of distraction and other dogs, being careful to avoid situations and environments that would be overwhelming. Then gradually add in the second dog, with a second person to handle, so that the two dogs are always under control and can be managed safely. Worked this way, the dog never feels the need to react as he is never pushed out of his comfort zone - stressed dogs who are reacting already, are not in a position to learn anything positive, we have to make life easier for them and set them up to succeed! Throughout this episode, Graeme talks about teaching dogs right from wrong - this is a dangerous concept to perpetuate - dogs do not know right from wrong and they CANNOT learn this. Right/wrong is a human concept, and not a simple one at that, if it were we would not have prisons full of people, and we would not have differing laws across the world.
A perfect example is the age of consent which varies worldwide - in the UK we would be quite clear that it is wrong to sleep with a 14 year old child, but in Austria that's the legal age of consent. In Turkey the age of consent is 18. So who is right and who is wrong? It isn't that clear is it! A dog is simply not capable of the complexities of right and wrong - what we can teach them and we should, is 'this will be rewarded' and 'that will not be rewarded' and, manage them in such a way that they do not form habits of unwanted behaviour in the first place. Attempting to teach a dog that he has done wrong or been bad invariably leads to at least misunderstanding, and at worst, abuse - it is a pointless exercise that fails to teach the dog what you do want - after all, to punish unwanted behaviour, you must allow that unwanted behaviour to happen in the first place! I will say that this episode was not as bad as the previous two, because we simply saw bored, attention seeking dogs whose needs were not being met. Graeme still used punishment and flooding and failed to explain the true causes of the unwanted behaviour or any of the risks of the methods he chose, and this leaves those dogs owners open to future failure, for the sake of a TV show and 'fast' results. If anyone wants to discuss the points raised here in further detail they are more than welcome to do so, politely, in the comments section - there is far more detail to all of the above plus the science behind it, than I can fit in here.