NC Dogs Blog

Upset vs. Not Upset

The ability to read dog body language is so important to professional dog trainers. We need to determine whether dogs are upset or not upset to inform our diagnostics and training methods choice (operant conditioning or classical conditioning based). Dogs that are upset need to have the underlying reason for that emotional state addressed prior to focusing on obedience behaviors and results – much like a fearful child would need to be comforted before we would worry about teaching a subject like mathematics.

Upset dogs are fearful, uncomfortable, distressed, worried, or anxious. Not upset dogs are none of those things.

Here are examples of my dogs showing both their non-upset body language and their upset body language:

Notice individual body parts. When Hayley is nervous (picture on right) she has her ears pressed back and against her head, she is displaying “Whale eye” by showing extra white from her eyes widened in fright. Additionally, she is averting eye contact with the person taking the picture. She is stress panting rather heavily. Also something that cannot be observed in the photo is her body trembling in fear.

Contrast that body language with her happy photo (on the left). She is riding in the backseat of the car on the way to the park. Her ears are slightly back because she is listening to sounds outside the window, but not pressed firmly against her head. She has a nice, open mouth grin. Her eyes are opened a normal amount and no extra whites are showing. Her body posture is relaxed as she is sitting calmly.

Here she is again. See if you can identify individual body parts from the photos that give you an idea how she is feeling.

Mocha (on the right) is upset that a person is encroaching on her space. She is displaying resource guarding/ possessive behavior in regards to guarding her bed. Her ears are back, and her lips are pulled back revealing teeth in a defensive threat posture including showing the canines. Her eyes are hard as she is glaring obliquely at the person in her space.

Contrast that with her happy smile (picture on the left). She has nice, soft eyes, an open mouth with lips pulled back in a grin (not to reveal teeth as a threat). Her ears are at regular, normal resting position for her.

When we have an upset dog to train, we need to address the underlying reasons for our dogs to be upset. In both Hayley’s and Mocha’s cases above where they are upset, they would be candidates for a behavior modification protocol involving desensitization and counterconditioning – working gradually up to them forming positive associations with the things bothering or scaring them. We wouldn’t start by trying to teach obedience behaviors with operant conditioning (rewards for desirable behavior) in those situations. We would solve their reasons for feeling upset and focus on their well-being and helping them become happy and content.

Learn more about dog behavior and body language at:

http://www.ispeakdog.org

 

Tuna Fudge

Professional dog trainers use plenty of treats for training new behaviors. One of our dog clients’ favorites is tuna fudge.

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Tuna Fudge Recipe:

12 oz of tuna with the canned water (do not drain)

2 eggs

1 to 1.5 cups of flour

Mash tuna in a bowl or liquefy in a blender – add water as needed

Pour into a bowl – add flour

Spread into cookie sheet

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes – it will be the texture of putty

Cut into tiny squares (about the size of a pea). These can be frozen for storage

Note: you can always check with your veterinarian to get advice on what types of foods are okay for your dog to eat, and the amount that they can be served in a meal or training session.

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Cat Trick

Here is my cat, Alice, showing off her skills.

  1. Alice was trained with reward-based training methods – specifically, positive reinforcement.
  2. Positive reinforcement training consists of an animal receiving rewards for performing behaviors. Each reward reinforces, or increases, the frequency the animal will perform the behavior again in the future. The behavior worked for the animal, she received something of value, so she will be willing to try the behavior again.
  3. After a behavior has been rewarded multiple times, it can be paired with a cue to let the animal know when to do the behavior and when it will pay off to do it. The cue in this video is “Sit up.”
  4. Positive reinforcement training works for all animals (or at least vertebrates with a central nervous system), and zoos and aquariums use it to train their various species.
  5. In this video, Alice is rewarded with pieces of fresh chicken. Other rewards can be used as well including different types of food, treats, and toys.
  6. Training can be a fun activity to bond with your pets.

What cool behaviors have you trained your pets to perform?

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Dog Training Methods Transparency

If you are looking for a dog trainer, you may be surprised to learn the dog training industry is not regulated. There are no formal education requirements, no required practical skills tests for dog trainers, or regulatory bodies to ensure dogs are treated humanely. However, good professional dog trainers exist in the world.

There are plenty of dog trainers that have studied scientific, evidence-based dog training, do not harm dogs, and get excellent training results. How can you tell who these trainers are?

One way is to ask your trainer three questions:

  1. What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right?
  2. What exactly will happen to her when she gets it wrong?
  3. Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?

 

Here is what you should expect in response to those questions:

What exactly will happen to my dog when she gets it right?

Your dog will be rewarded with something she likes. This will reinforce the specific behavior your dog was doing at the time, which means your dog will do the behavior more frequently in the future. Rewards can be anything your dog wants including food/ treats, toys, the opportunity to sniff something or go play with another dog.

What exactly will happen to her when she gets it wrong?

Your dog will not receive a reward. This will set up a discrimination of correct responses are rewarded, and incorrect responses are not. After wrong responses your dog will get another chance to earn a reward for a correct response.

Responses made by trainers that you should avoid would include: your dog will be physically corrected with a leash, choke chain, prong collar, or shocked with a remote e-collar.

Also avoid trainers who are not transparent and talk about using energy, dominance theory, natural or balanced training and words that do not actually describe what they would physically do to your dog. Usually when these types of words are used, the trainers are employing methods that frighten or hurt your dog in order to motivate them to behave.

For example, a trainer might say they are going to motivate your dog with leadership, when what they actually do to your dog is shock him with a remote collar.

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Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?

Not currently. Using rewards to train dogs results in positive side effects, such as dogs liking people and other dogs. To maintain behaviors, you will have to keep rewarding/ reinforcing it with something the dog likes. After your dog is an experienced learner you won’t have to reward every instance of correct behaviors, but you will have to reward some. If you don’t, your dog will not have motivation to do the behavior.

If the trainer is using physically harsh methods, there is a less invasive alternative, and that is positive reinforcement/ reward-based dog training as is described in the first scenario. Side effects of aversive/ harsh training can include causing dogs to fear things or become aggressive. It can actually do harm to your dog and make his behavior worse. Trainers using these methods have to continue to apply techniques that hurt or scare dogs in order to maintain the behavior. If you want to avoid negative side effects, avoid this type of training.

It is your right and obligation to speak up for your dog. If you are uncomfortable with what a trainer is doing to your dog, you have the right to tell the trainer to stop.

Good professional dog trainers also continue their education in animal behavior science and participate in professional organizations.

 

References:

The three questions were created by Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers.