Keeping children (and adults) safe around dogs – and of course dogs safe around people – is a topic that occupies many dog behaviourists. The 2015 APBC symposium was devoted to this subject and we are fortunate in the UK to have many dog welfare and behaviour organisations that provide information and advice on how to live with dogs safely. In Cambridgeshire, Wood Green Animal Charity, known for rehoming of companion and field animals, also have an education department which holds talks and events for schools and the community.
Following these three simple rules will improve your dog’s behaviour, make your dog happier and strengthen the relationship you have with your dog.
When your dog’s reaction to something or someone is causing you, your dog or others a problem:
1. Don’t put your dog in situations where you know he or she will react.
The first step in any behaviour modification is to prevent the behaviour occurring. Your dog will otherwise just be practicing ‘bad habits’. They will also be practicing unwanted emotional responses and triggering unwanted emotional responses (annoyance, anger, frustration etc) in you! So give your dog a break from those situations while you sort out how to help him or her.
2. Don’t correct or punish your dog if they do react.
Punishing your dog when he or she is over-excited, fearful or angry is unlikely to teach your dog what you intend it to and there is a possibility you will make things worse.
3. Reward your dog when he or she is spontaneously ‘good’.
Know what your dog finds rewarding and when (can be different according to the situation they are in). Then make sure your dog gets these rewards whenever he or she is behaving in the way you would like them to.
The steps are simple – but it can be hard to know how to implement them for your particular situation and your particular dog – contact us if you would like to ask about one to one or class training or behavioural help.
(with thanks to Karen Overall and Kendal Shepherd for being able to boil it down ‘in a nutshell’ so eloquently).
True behaviour modification involves shaping (encouraging) certain behaviours in a safe, non-threatening context, using desensitisation and counter conditioning and replacing the rules that encourage the dog to react with new rules that allow the dog to relax and take cues from the environment (paraphrased from Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavior). “For this to happen there must be clear signalling and learned trust from both parties and reliability from the humans” (Overall, p 66).
In Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg’s new book on oxytocin, she talks about the role of the hormone within human and human-animal relationships and its importance for bonding, health and in therapeutic treatments.
“For a relationship to occur, you need in some way to get closer to the other individual and to do this you need to not be afraid of that person.“
“During closeness in various kinds of relationships, the body’s reward system is activated and stress and tension are decreased. After some time, these reactions are automatically linked together with the other person and that makes it sufficient for their mere presence to trigger positive reactions.”
( Uvnas-Moberg: The Hormone of closeness: The role of oxytocin in relationships  – paraphrased slightly for ease of reading, emphasis mine)
This applies not just to human relationships but also to our relationships with dogs and cats. When you understand this, the futility of using training or behaviour modification techniques based on fear or pain are obvious. You cannot build a relationship with a dog if there is fear or mistrust (on either side).
What does this have to do with behaviour modification?
“Behaviour modification involves encouraging certain behaviours in a safe, non-threatening context, using desensitisation and counter conditioning and replacing the rules that encourage the dog to react with new rules that allow the dog to relax and take cues from the environment”
“For this to happen there must be clear signalling and learned trust from both parties and reliability from the humans“
(paraphrased from Karen Overall, Manual of Clinical Behavior, p 66).
When you use fear or pain to train, you may get an animal to perform a behaviour, but can you build or sustain a relationship with that animal?
When you can get both through kind, reward-based training, then why do anything else?
Braem, M. D., & Mills, D. S. (2010). Factors affecting response of dogs to obedience instruction: A field and experimental study. Applied animal behaviour science, 125(1), 47-55.
“Two factors were associated with a
significant decrease in obedience: the dog’s attention to its handler and the handler giving
additional verbal information preceding the actual verbal command”
In practice: 1. Make sure you have your dog’s attention before asking them to do something 2. Try to just give the verbal command without any additional chat!
This might mean that you need to call your dog’s name to get their attention first, but once you have your dog’s attention, don’t use their name just say the command!
A successful and enjoyable first workshop for Level 1 nose work at Daisy Dogs near Saffron Walden. Handlers learnt how to engage their dog in using their noses, sniff out a target (non-food) scent and indicate their find. A variety of breeds took part and Barney the cockerpoo demonstrated his skills including his domino trick! The next Level 1 workshop is to be held on 1 March and there is a Level 2 workshop for those who have reached the necessary skills at Level 1.
For details on the workshops contact Daisydogs@btinternet.com or see the events page of the Cambridge Dogs website: http://www.cambridgedogs.co.uk
There are a number of exercises that can help your dog develop greater self-control (although some of it is down to your dog’s individual personality). Help them develop to the best of their capacity.
http://drsophiayin.com/resources/video_full/leave-it_demo1 – Leave it exercise (though here Sophia demonstrates using Leave it then letting the dog take it from the food; we prefer picking the food up and giving it to the dog or giving them some food from elsewhere rather than letting them go and get the food themselves)