Its The Dog

Learning through dogs

Archive for the month “April, 2011”


This time of the year is always busy. Between yardwork, dogs(and other animals) and up coming finals I dont have much time to type out in any detail. The next few weeks will mainly be photos. Until finals are over at least.


Prey drive inhibition

Dasy and an emu chick

Aside from dogs, My house shelters other small animals as well. Living with small prey animals and two decent sized predators can be exciting sometimes. I have gone through great lengths to ensure the safety of all, including proper management.

When Dingo was a puppy our 18-year-old cat, Misty, taught him the proper way to socialize with felines, and my pair of Rouen ducks taught him not to be overly nosey with birds. Ozzy the cockatiel has influenced him by way of a few hisses when he was being to intrusive. Over all he’s fairly good with small animals, but being part terrier he will at times become a little too intense. He’s never killed anything but he has given chase to rabbits and robins in the yard before. I trust him not to cause harm to the smaller members of our family but I’d never put him in a position where he’d have the opportunity to harm them.

Dasy on the other hand only had the cockatiels and budgies to learn from. The turtles mainly live outside and by her arrive Misty the cat had passed away. However she’s my bomb proof girl, I trust her wholly not to harm anything. If she’s around chicken chicks and one peeps funny she’ll check all her paws to ensure she didn’t step on one. She’s very mothering toward infants of all species. During her first 6 months with me I would make regular trips to a petting zoo with her where she was exposed to goats, sheep, horses, llamas, chickens and peafowl. Of them all the horse was the only one she wouldn’t approach, maybe she knew Mr. Ed has a habit of biting.

Many breeds of dogs have high prey drives, German shepherd dogs are notorious for their prey drive. Airedales are always game for a good chase. And border collies have a modified prey drive, this is where the herding instinct comes from after all. Despite having high prey drives all of the breeds above have the potential to be trusted off leash, and around other animals.

While exposure from a young age can help create prey drive inhibition, there will have to be some training as well. A reliable “leave it” could be taught for a dog who may be a little too nosey, or a little too intense. A “be nice” cue could also be used. Counter conditioning is also a method that could be used to curb prey drive and create tolerance.

In the end though it comes down to management. very few breeds were meant to live with and around small prey animals, those breeds are known as livestock guardian dogs. It’s always safest to supervise all inter species interactions.

Some photos for you

Some photos to get you through your holiday weekend. Enjoy.


It’s a flood

Flooding as defined by the Webster’s dictionary is; to  fill quickly beyond capacity. As you can assume from that, flooding in behavior is the act of overwhelming the organism with until the anxiety/fear/etc subsides. The problem with flooding is it often leads to learned helplessness toward the stimuli. In other words, they just give up, totally.This has been done in labs numerous times, one instance C.P. Richter’s study during which would squeeze rats in his hands until they stopped struggling, he then placed them in water. Rats that had been squeezed would drown within 30 minutes, compared to rats that hadn’t been squeezed which swam for 60 hours. That’s a big difference.

Flooding is often used in traditional methods, people assume because the dog is moving that it’s accepting that it is okay. Dogs that are shocked repeatedly and give up will move around the cage, they know they cannot escape the shock and they give up on trying, they do not necessarily accept the shock as okay however. Dogs who are flooded will often exhibit stress-induced displacement behaviors when confronted by the stimuli that triggered the anxiety/fear/etc. previously. This would lead me (at least) to believe that flooding does not work to do anything other than create a helpless state.

Most dogs that are abused are flooded, the end result is learned helplessness. This is why dogs who’ve been beaten do not react with a bite; the bite has been beaten out.

Displacement behaviors are behaviors that are normal by nature but out of context. For example a dog walking on leash wanting to greet someone would not be expected to yawn, or some other behavior, but many puppies will do this when their handler ushers them away from the person they want to greet. Dogs exhibit displacement behaviors when two or more behaviors are at conflict with each other. The puppy wants to be with his handler, but also wants to greet this new person. It’s fairly common to see puppies plant their rear ends to the earth and scratch their necks or ears or some other self grooming behavior.

Stress-induced displacement behaviors often turn into an obsession. Paw licking to the point of self-mutilation could be a stress-induced displacement behavior gone obsession. There are other reasons for excessive paw licking, such as allergies, boredom and many others. Stress-induced displacement behaviors are not limited to paw licking, some dogs may become destructive in the home or to other parts of their bodies as well. These behaviors are often called stereotypic as they become repetitive.

Counter conditioning and desensitization

So what other methods are there to work with biting dogs? A little thing called counter conditioning and desensitization of course. But what are they?

Counter conditioning

CC as it’s often called is a tweaked version of Pavlov’s classical conditioning. Pavlov used a neutral stimuli to trigger a response. In the case of counter conditioning you’re taking a negative stimuli and giving it a positive meaning. remember last week when I mentioned habituated responses? this is what I was talking about.
The point of this method is not to go over threshold so you never put the dog in a position where it feels the need to defend itself. This is why it takes so long. 


Desensitization is not the same thing as socializing. It’s the process of getting the dog comfortable in the presence of a trigger without going over threshold.

What do these two methods used together look like? well like this.

Notice the dog is fairly comfortable throughout the session, her head and tail are high, she’s focused on her handler and the leash is loose. There’s no physical contact with the dog other than during the transfer of treats.
Heres a dog who’s afraid of the world beyond the comfort of the house.

This video touches on what I will talk about tomorrow, flooding and displacement behaviors. displacement behaviors are similar to calming signals, however they mean something different. Calming signals are used to diffuse stressful interactions, displacement behaviors are used when the dog is experiencing two conflicting drives. An example would be a dog is afraid to move forward but want to stay with his person. More to come tomorrow.

The truth about dominance

As I mentioned last week, many popular and famous trainers boast about dominance. Helix Fairweather made a list of the behaviors often refered to as dominance behaviors, the list follows; 

1. paw whacks
2. going through the doorway first
3. jumping up
4. not instantly performing whatever behavior was just cued
5. sitting/lying on the furniture
6. being destructive in the house
7. barking at strangers on the street
8. peeing in the house
9. pulling on the leash
10. leaning on people for petting
11. barking while family is eating
12. struggling with/trying to paw at head halter
13. chewing through leash
14. scraping feet after peeing or pooping
15. putting a foot on top of owner’s foot
16. rushing out the door
17. walking in front of you
18. not getting out of the way
19. stealing a Kleenex
20. non-compliant dog, refusing to do as you ask
21. nudging, pawing, begging for attention
22. bumping into you
23. standing over you
24. putting dog paws on your shoulders
25. barking at you in response to a cue
26. stealing your items
27. house soiling past the usual expected time a dog should be trained
28. body slamming you with their rear end
29. having his “lipstick” out (HF: male dog, think about it, it took me a minute)
30. won’t sit, down, or anything else unless he feels like it
31. barks at me when I yell at her
32. bites me (my favorite was the recommendation from a vet regarding a 5 -week- old rescue pup whose mother died, he instructed the foster mom to alpha roll the pup 3 times a day)
33. eats too fast (i’m not kidding)
34. won’t come in the house
35. won’t get off the bed/sofa
36. barks at strangers
37. barks at the cat
38. barks at cars
39. when in the car, barks at people who walk by the car
40. growls when i try to take his bone
41. growls when i try to take his toy
42. lays down when i’m walking him (young giant breed puppy, being walked 2 miles in the heat, idiot is lucky the pup is still alive!)
43. barks while i’m getting her meal
44. throws his food bowl around
45. mounts my 3 yr old 46. stood on my bed, looked me right in the eye and peed on my pillow
47. growled at other dog when they were introduced (after questioning the poster about the situation, they were introduced in a 6′ x 6′ hall where there were 4 adults and 3 children)
48. my puppy puts everything in her mouth
49. obeys my husband, doesn’t listen to me
50. mounts me
51. mounts my brother in law
52. barks when left alone
53. pees in crate
54. isn’t neutered
55. 8 week old puppy dives on golden, bites him
56. licks the bottom of my shoes (huh?)
57. is dominant over my other dog and my other dog gets hot spots
58. growls at me when i put her citronella collar on her
59. snores (another real eye opener for me!)
60. eats rocks
61. eats off of kids’ plates
62. lunges at people
63. steals my shoes
64. poops on husband’s clothes (in my never humble opinion, serves him right for leaving his clothes on the floor…tee hee)
65. stares at me
66. puts her paw on me when i pet her
67. when he’s bad and i shake his scruff, he’s started to growl at me (wow! what a good start at owner induced aggression!)
68. tried to bite my son when my son tried to drag him out from under the bed 69. when trying to grab his collar to take him inside or finish playing he starts running crazy away from you
70. always wants more food
71. peeing on your leg
72. not giving up items on request
73. being stubborn
74. growling, snarling, snapping, biting
75. sitting on owner’s foot

What this basically means is dogs should be robotic, they should lack the free will.

Lets see what dominance looks like. Here a man is making a dog “submit” to him by alpha rolling him, pay attention to the dogs body language, what is the dog telling the guy.

So did you watch the dog? Did you notice the dogs reaction when the man approached? Did you see the calming signals throughout the video? That was a fairly mild video, lets look at more.

Here a man is working with a “dominant aggressive” cane corso.

Whats going on? I’d be willing to bet the dog has an underlying health condition going by the thick vaginal discharge. The dog throughout the video is giving calming signals, and some threats. After he “alpha rolled” her you notice she stayed down, blinking, squinting and averting her gaze, she’s on her way to learned helplessness. The averting gaze continued til the end of the video, the only time she looked at him was to make sure he wasn’t going to attack her again.

I am not saying that a biting dog is okay, however there are better ways to approach their training, and I will touch on those tomorrow. For now lets continue.

Can you see what happened here?

You can break it down. Dog 1 starts a low rapid tail wag(calming signal/excitement) Dog 2 gives a side ways glance(whale eye threat). Dog 1 continues low rapid tail wag and possibly attempts to mount dog 2(excitement and stress relief), Dog 2 becomes tense(anti social) and lunges(anti social). Dog 1 appeases(a calming signal) and stops the attack. Dog 2 backs off and Dog 1 continues with the calming signals.

Calming signals

Lets look at some behavior.  Starting with calming signals.

What are calming signals?

Calming signals are behaviors and postures that dogs exhibit to diffuse tense situations. They’re a dogs way of saying “I mean no harm.” There are times when these behaviors are not calming signals. If Fido is outside in the sun and lays down, that doesn’t mean he’s stressed.

Sniffing the ground

Sitting, laying down

These dogs are exhibiting very nicely sitting, laying down, and averting gaze, they are not comfortable

Lip licking, tongue flicking

he doesn't appreciate this embrace

lip licking and whale eye, he doesnt appreciate this embrace

The human in the photo appears happy, but the dog, not quite.

Blinking, averting gaze, turning away, whale eye

Many hound breeds will give what is affectionately called hound dog eyes. These gazes aren’t always calming signals. Looking at the whole dog will usually tell you the dogs intent. Whale eye is usually accompanied by stiffness or other calming signals. If the dog is laying there looking at you showing the whites of his eyes, he’s more than likely just looking at you.

Notice in this photo there are many calming signals.

The dog he’s holding his tense and tongue flicking, ears pinned and whale eye.

The tri color terrier is whale eyed and pinned ears, he’s also raising a paw.

the bi color terrier is sitting and squinting

the grey terrier is completely turned away.

the yellow terrier in the foreground is showing pinned ears

None of these dogs is comfortable with this situation, I dont blame them.

exhibiting obvious

calming signals.




Notice in tis photo that the 3 GWPs are exhibiting obvious calming signals.

There are many other calming signals and I will touch on those tomorrow.


I mentioned before that tools have rules to be used properly. So what are tools? In aversive training the typical tools are choke chains and prong collars. In reward based training head collars, front clipping harnesses and clickers are commonplace. So lets look at them.

Choke Chains

Despite the name, choke chain isn’t mean to choke per se.  They were designed to give a “correction” by jerking the leash. This can cause some dogs, particularly those not use to it, to cough and gag. The trauma of the force against the trachea can cause it to collapse. A harsh correction can break the hyoid bone in the dogs throat and repeated trauma can cause thyroid issues.

Choke chains are often abused by people who’ve not been properly trained to use them. Many people let their dogs charge out in front of them pulling and choking themselves. The collar has to be places on the dog facing the correct way. For left side walking you place the chain on your wrist and let it fall, if it forms a P you then slide it over the dog’s head from your wrist. If the collar is backwards it will not slide properly.

Prong Collars

Prong collars look vicious, but they are a little more nice than choke chains. They still run the risk of collapsed trachea, broken hyoid bones, and thyroid damage. But because the pressure is dispersed over the whole length of the collar. However, prong collars can be abused and misused.

A man who bred, worked and showed giant schnauzers in the 60’s and 70’s told me the proper way to use a prong collar is to employ negative reward by applying steady pressure on the collar until the dog performs the demanded behavior.

Front clipping harnesses

Front clipping harnesses use physics in favor of the handler/trainer. If the dog lunges or pulls the pivot point at the chest causes the dog to spin around. SOme dogs may find these harnesses aversive, others don’t mind them. There are many different designs available depending on what you and your dog is comfortable. Some dogs may chafe at points of contact such as the sternum and arm pits.

Head collar

You can find these tools being misused in averisve training, but that is not the intent. Averisve trainers will often give corrections to a dog with a head collar, this is a dangerous method as you’re yanking the dog’s head. Head collars were designed similarly to the front clipping harnesses with the pivot point being closer to the leading part of the dog. Similar to a horse halter, if you stop the head you stop the animal. They were also designed with pressure points in mind. The top of a dog’s nose is a sensitive part of their body, slight pressure on this point has the ability to signal endorphin (a calming hormone) release. They do look a little like a muzzle, and odd looks accompany their use.


A marker is a tool used to mark a behavior the moment it happens creating a bridge between behavior and reward. The marker sequence is mark the reward. To establish this with your dog you have to charge the marker. 

Made famous by trainers such as Karen Pryor who initially used them in training marine mammals. There are several different kinds of markers, from whistles to clickers. The only danger that may arise from marker training is obesity. To avoid over feeding you must adjust the animals diet to assure they’re not consuming too much food. Rewards do not have to be excessively big, a chihuahua would do fine with a treat about 1/4 the size of a pea. A great dane would be happy with a pea sized treat.

So that’s an over view of some common tools!

The Miracle Dog

Today I’m digressing a little on behalf of Be the Change for Animals. The Blog the Change for Animals  events occur on the 15th of January, April, July and October.
Blog the Change

It seems there are always stories in the news about dogs and cats being abused, or mistreated by neglectful owners. One such story was that of one-year-old Patrick the pit bull who was found in a bag in a New Jersey apartment garbage shoot last month. He’d been tied to a railing for two weeks prior with no resources while the woman who “owned” him was on vacation. The woman claimed she’d hoped someone would take him during her absence, but that didn’t happen. Instead of surrendering him to her local shelters, she allowed him to deteriorate, starving him nearly to death. Upon his rescue, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, Patrick was found in the garbage shoot severely emaciated, dehydrated and a low body temperature. The vet staff at the Garden State Veterinary Specialists said he was in such bad condition, he was the kind of dog they usually euthanize to end their suffering. But Patrick was different, although he couldn’t support himself he still made an effort to look at his rescuers. He had some fight left and the staff were willing to help him as long as he was willing. They put him on some heating pads, fluids, and a blood transfusion.

Today Patrick is slowly gaining weight and recovering from his ordeal. His story has made international news and people all over the world have sent him gifts from money to toys. The woman who abused him is now facing animal cruelty charges.

While everyone is rightly angry with the woman who did this to Patrick, the apartment complex where he’d been kept was a 22 story building. There is no doubt that people saw him suffering everyday, or had some knowledge of his existence. Knowledge of a crime and not acting to do the right thing is basically the same thing as you committing the crime yourself. Yes the woman is to blame but so are the many people who walked by him everyday and did nothing.

Hopefully people will wake up and take note of what’s around them, perhaps we’re just so desensitized that we see nothing wrong with a dog who cannot even support his own weight, whose muscle mass has been converted to energy to survive one more day. This needs to change. If people open their eyes and see what’s occuring around them, perhaps more innocent lives could be saved from a life of suffering.



In training the word “method” is commonly heard. Method refers to the kind of training you take part in, or what quads of operant conditioning you take part in. There are some other dirty details and I’ll talk about those as well. But first; the quads.

The quads of operant conditioning.

During the early 20th century a scientist by the name of B.F. Skinner experimented with learning theory with pigeons, rats and dogs in a laboratory setting. Through his studies he defined a basis of learning in which consequences influenced the future behaviors of an individual organism. Today Skinner’s works are employed in behavior modifications from whales to hamster.

Positive Reward: Through a positive consequence a behavior is strengthened(more likely to occur again).

Negative Reward: A behavior is strengthened through avoiding or ending a negative consequence

Negative Punishment: The withdrawal of a positive consequence results in the decrease of a behavior

Positive Punishment: A behavior is followed by a negative consequence resulting in a decrease in that behavior.

What about Extinction?

Extinction is part of the operant conditioning model, but is often forgotten or considered a phantom quad. Extinction as a learning element is the act of ignoring an unwanted behavior. Under the theory that a behavior that is not reinforced will diminish(read be come extinct). When employing this as part of your lesson plan you will likely encounter extinction bursts where a behavior becomes more intense and frequent prior to diminishing.


There are many different methods at the disposal of trainers(lay persons included). Often you will hear terms such as “dominance” and “positive training” But what do they mean?

Dominance as described by ethologists is the relationship between two or more individual organisms that through force, aggression and submission is established for priority to resources. Resources are defined as food, water, shelter and mates.

Dominance is a term you often hear in traditional training techniques based on captive wolf social interactions. The problems with this are; Dogs are not wolves, dogs are dogs. And wolves in captivity do not behave as they do in the wild due to the stresses of confinement. Forcing a hierarchy on a species that does not establish a solid alpha position can lead to undue stress. Many dog behaviorist have shown that dominance theory can create aggression, or make an aggressive dog worse.

Positive training Positive training takes many forms, and as I said training is liquid and sometimes those forms aren’t exactly positive. Some traditional trainers will call themselves positive trainers despite their use of aversives. Although typically this type of training makes use of positive reward and  negative punishment.

Marker (clicker) training falls under positive training. But as I said some traditional trainers do make use of marker training along with aversives.

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