Where Eagles and Herons Watch Dogs (32KB)

Some posts I've made to lists

Excerpts and revisions

Occasional complete post, slightly edited

Introduction to my list-posts

Dog-training methods have been gradually changing among relatively small percentages of dog-trainers in the last dozen years or so.

Clicker-training is becoming increasingly popular, and I think that is probably good for dogs and for their humans. When used as The Baileys taught and teach, the trainer makes a precisely-timed click-sound, using a little box that holds a metal tongue - a clicker.

Immediately following the click-sound, the trainer delivers some kind of reward, or reinforcer, to the trainee-animal.

The effect on the animal is that it's more likely to repeat a rewarded behavior another time, in a simllar environment

Clicker-training is gaining in popularity. Training an animal using rewards instead of uncomfortable or frightening corrections, such as jerking on leashes, or speaking harshly to the animal, tends to elicit willing responses in the animal.

A neuropsychologist who first told me about clicker-training remarked that she wasn't afraid to use food in training, because she appeals to the animal's survival instinct that way.

There are still many, many dog-trainers who are so enveloped in the long-standing beliefs that dogs try to dominate each other, or to dominate humans, that the very idea of teaching a dog to demand food from humans for doing tricks, or obeying commands, therefore, the whole idea of clicker-training, is simply too frightening for them to consider undertaking.

However, trainers and human keepers of companion-dogs who dare to make the investment to learn how to train efficiently and effectively with a clicker discover that their dogs, after all, become quite well-behaved, and far more reliable responding to human cues for precisely desired behaviors than they had been before.

I went through this terrifying experience myself, and described it in a post to the ClickerSolutions Yahoo Group.

Here is the unexpurgated post in which I describe certain terrors I felt when I took up clicker-training.

From Dominance to Pragmatism: behavior and environment

Sat, 19 Mar 2005 16:13:17 -0800

All behavior occurs in and is affected by environment. So, when you observe behavior, you need also to note what is in the environment where that behavior occurs. Keep notes; you need them; as Bob Bailey says, our memories are unreliable.

See the recent posts by, and replies to, Barbara Ray (jadesafyre) for useful examples related to vet clinics.

ClickerSolutions has only a relatively short history, but it is a rich one, and anybody can do well to read any back posts here. To read all of them would seem superhuman and maybe impossible.

The hardest part of learning to observe well, as many have recently pointed out, is to begin with as little personal baggage as possible. We can't entirely dispense with it, but there are a few helpful techniques we can use. The first of these that I grew up using (thanking my very enlightened mother for having taught me this even when I was a very young child) - is, for those looking at dogs (substitute any other animal you want to be looking at) is to look at our dogs as though they were alien creatures.

When we take that position, saying to ourselves, and to dogs, "I don't know you; who are you?" we have a chance to observe somewhat freed from the long history of power-based, or status-based literature concerning dogs and their behavior.

Keep in mind that courses in dog-behavior taught in vet schools, say the Coppingers, when asked, were informed by dog-trainers. That those dog-trainers hadn't reached the stage, as a community, that this list has reached concerning clicker-training, with all its implications: shaping behavior by rewarding the behaviors we like. Well-informed vets, these days, like Joy's vet (Joy, thanks so much for those posts), can take advantage of what is now known about responses to training done by rewarding behaviors we like.

So what is different now from before? Well, that those present here and reading, often posting, become very much personally aware of how responsive animals can be to clicker-training. Or maybe to its close relatives. What we're doing is increasing the likelihood that the animal, notice this in particular - will offer, again, behaviors that come fairly naturally to the animal - that are the ones we want.

Already, clicker-training becomes for us a resource that leads us away from any necessity to ask a dog to defer to us, just for example. We can and sometimes do make jokes about dogs thinking they're training us. But it's not entirely a joke. I remember well the terror I experienced in my first-ever clicker-training session, mid-1995, when I purposely clicked my dog for touching a target-stick; it was his and my first experience ever with the clicker.

I had to go lie down and think hard about what Karen Pryor had written in Don't Shoot The Dog, which, at the time, was my sole guide to clicker-training. It took me about ten minutes to recover, realizing that it was I who had set up the session, I who held the food, I who clicked, I who delivered the food to the dog. Without me doing that, where would the dog have been? Same place as ever before. But it made me dizzy and terrified, at first, to experience "my dog training me to feed it on demand."

Consider deference in that light. Where do you arrive?

What underlies all this? Let's say, the instinct to survive, which is a deeply-buried and always-present instinct in every healthy animal, also, the instinct to use one's capacities, even to the fullest possible, and that provides the animal with motivation to Do Things. The Things the animal is motivated to do are the Things That Animal Was Born (these days, among dogs, Bred also) to Do.

And, given its own direction, and resources with which to manage its own life, dogs will work at survival first, including safety, health next, including feeding itself - and its offspring, sometimes before itself; after all, these are genes to be propagated and preserved in the (dog's) afterlife, right? <hehe>

And comfort? All animals love comfort. Dogs, just the same as anyBody else.

So, if we first look at (our) dogs as alien creatures we don't know, we then have the opportunity to ask the dog who it is, what it is. The next requirement if we are to learn from our dogs is that we understand the dog's answer. That's not necessarily so easy, but there's a technique we can use there, too, and that is, to learn dog-body-language and practice using it, and practice holding conversations with dogs using it. (You can see where the work of Turid Rugaas comes in here.) By doing that, we can gain some kind of comprehension of what a dog is telling us.

The outcome in communication isn't necessarily write-able down-able. Yet we can experience it, and we can ourselves use it.

Consider, for example what human behaviors may evoke in a dog a fear or anxiety of some kind. Do we threaten dogs? Probably list-members here do so much less than humans who are caught in the older literature without benefit of the truly terrifying experience like the one I just described. I was able to grow from that experience, and after a time and practice, I felt much more natural and confident that I could expect responses I wanted from my dogs, if I would stick to this wonderful stuff, clicker-training.

The Baileys, both Marian and Bob, were actively posting at the time I was starting out with the clicker. I asked them numbers of questions. I also read what they wrote in reply to questions from others. And, again thanks first to my mother, I had learned to test and investigate for myself, and I continued to do that, testing what the Baileys were teaching. I found that every time I tried something the Baileys were suggesting, to me or to others, that my dogs responded "as advertised."

A feature of the way the Baileys train(ed) is that the trainee-animal is put under the least possible stress during training. Bob Bailey keeps saying they did this for efficiency and effectiveness; they studied to find out what was most efficient and effective.

Though my training little-resembles theirs, because mine isn't precision-training with a desire for precision-results, I stick as closely as possible to the principles I call the "Bailey Basics": timing (of the click), (high) rate of reinforcment, which aids concentration and speeds learning, and setting criteria well; this latter involves choosing which behaviors to reward (reinforce) right now, at what level of performance. This last absolutely requires that we observe as well and closely as possible, so we can know what our next training-step might be.

Results, no matter how we look at it, if we use principles of clicker-training, and stick to those the Brelands and the Baileys so carefully developed, are to keep stress to a minimum, enjoyment and desired results to a maximum.

Learning dog-body-language and actively using it for communication is another stress-reducer. I'm using it now again extensively, as my elder dog, Kwali, recovers from tumor-excision (I just heard the preliminary results are "benign," though I still have to wait till Tuesday for more conclusive lab results). I can leave Kwali and Kumbi together (supervised, of course), despite Kwali's "injuries," because I've been using the calming signals to monitor and alter behavior, mine and that of the dogs as well. When we use dog-language, we no longer need concepts or models of dominance nor deference.

Trainers of thirty years ago, even twenty, weren't commonly educated in these signals; some might have learned from wolf-ethologists that wolves use signals to cut off aggression already in progress, but Turid Rugaas and her colleagues discovered dogs use multitudes of signals, maybe not as strong as wolf-signals, but more of them, and more constantly, perhaps, not only to cut off aggression already in progress, but also, to prevent any from starting up. So the veterinarians weren't, and many probably still (including most of my own) still aren't - informed on the signals and their usefulness. I am, though; after all, I have put Turid's work through extensive testing on my own, and the results are as Turid says they are; in short, her work is replicable, empirically.

And what do the Coppingers contribute? Well, in their book Dogs, they point out how genetics and early-learning are related and often indistiguishable (very important information for breeders and for trainers), and also, they remind us that probably the Border Collie "doesn't know the sheep belong in the pen." This last, if we can just remember it, helps us achieve distance in our own observations. We do undoubtedly have to work on ourselves to achieve that distance, and I am no exception to that.

Stories to follow eventually, to illustrate life without dominance as a model, and how other factors can replace the dominance model. I'll just say this for now: we don't have to ask any dog to defer to us, provided we meet the dog's real needs, in timely ways. And I'll add that it's perfectly safe to listen to our dogs, and even take cues from them.

If you are afraid your dog is "aggressive," I suggest, look first to see what in the environment is threatening the dog. Maybe it's you, too! Even if that's not your intent. But you could ask yourself.

Sat, 19 Mar 2005 16:12:10

    --Carol

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