The many problems of treat training and positive reinforcement – Part 2

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The motivation level found within food treats is always SUBJECTIVE.  Meaning each individual dog (the subject) determines whether they are motivated by the food or not motivated by it.  This is a huge problem in the dog training industry and amongst trainers and behaviorists and for any dog owners that cling to this fragile form of external motivation!

 

Example:  Let’s look at 3 dogs and let’s say we only use food just positive reinforcement as it’s taught by a vast majority of professionals today to motivate them – The first dog is highly motivated by food (he gets very excited and will perform obedience in a hasty manner- many behaviorists and trainers adore these types of dogs because any layman with even rudimentary skill can easily make them perform tricks).  The second dog is only somewhat motivated by food (she will only perform obedience if you offer what trainers call “high value” or incredibly smelly dog treats or human food).  And the third dog is totally unmotivated by food (usually because this 3rd dog is living at a level of fear, anxiety, or aggression wherein he is NOT smelling and tasting the world the way he, and all healthy, socially normal dogs, naturally should be…instead this dog lives his life through his secondary senses – vision and hearing.  Vision and hearing, when overused, always lead to behavioral problems.  Too much vision and hearing lead to fight or flight behaviors and not to eating.  (If you have ever been in a physical altercation or fight you know that eating is the farthest thing from your mind and body at that moment)

So what does the unskilled trainer or behaviorist that only clings to one rigid method of training do for the second and third dogs in our example?  First, when normal treats fail, they come up with excuses and explain to the dog owner how they must find a “higher value” food motivator for their pet.  Then the shoddy pro trainer will typically talk about adding more and more motivation/excitement to the dog (which is really insane when the ultimate goal of the caring dog owner is to have a wonderfully adept, socially normal dog that is fit for the modern world in which we live – which is incidentally a world that is much calmer in many cities and towns than it used to be throughout ancient times and even a couple hundred years ago when dogs were actively employed as our workers.  All dog owners want trust but the way the majority of trainers and dog owners go about getting that trust doesn’t work well for them because they assume adding food and tricks means you can trust the animal).  The trainer who espouses the extremely rigid “positive only” method typically doesn’t know much about parenting in the human family or among the canine family group.  This is why they often have incredibly over emotionalized responses (just read the internet for proof) to anything and everything excepting their one rigid method.

(I will also note here that I’ve observed locally that a majority of these professional “treat-only” trainers are single people or are people without their own human children.  These folks don’t have kids.  (I have four terrific kids – fyi – and I don’t build my relationship with them based on paying them or treating them non-stop) I think that is interesting to consider because everyone knows it would be extremely poor parenting to shove candy down an already bratty child’s throat in place of the proper time, energy, conversation, exercise, discipline, socialization, and loving affection that goes into raising a socially healthy child.  It is a cliche when we think of the dead beat father or mother who tries to make up for a lacking relationship with their own children by way of extra “high value” presents given to the kids at Christmas and birthdays.  Tragically, this is what passes as “scientific” and “modern” dog training today and has over the past several decades.

(I don’t know how these trainers managed to persuade people into thinking these techniques are “scientific” or even “modern” because all external motivation, be it positive or punitive, was proven by teams of scientists in the 1970s (not modern) and then by different teams again in the 1980s (not modern) to be shallow external motivation with results that fade in the long term!  Please re-read.  I mean to say that if you rely on external positive reinforcement (food) or on external aversive/punitive reinforcement (pain) the subject/dog may alter their behavior in the short term (dogs 1 and 2 from our example) but the dog will quickly go back into their old ways in the long term which then elicits the unyielding and overemotional dog trainer or unwitting dog owner to have to consistently give their dog a “raise,” and go to a higher value food treat or, on the opposite end go with a rougher more painful technique as time keeps passing!

And this endless poor parenting (and poor training) procedure has been neatly packaged and sold to the masses, to you and I, by giant conglomerates that just so happen to sell a buttload of treats and bad training!  Isn’t that wild?  Follow the money, people.  I guess we have our answer as to how it became common vernacular to say that dropping a ton of treats on the floor to stop a dog from jumping up on a person is somehow “scientific” and “modern” instead of simply telling the truth and saying it’s “ridiculous” and “wasteful” (those are words I’d use for that specific training technique).  These massive conglomerates spent billions to get those key words (modern and science) into their fragile and unnatural system of failing/fading motivation (because business-wise their system is NOT failing for the massive companies bottom line financially…just like all drug dealers know…once a potential client gets a taste of their stuff it becomes difficult to detox the patient – many dogs, after being treated with tasty food excessively, will soon attempt to totally ignore their owners and not do anything unless you have a treat!  In many cases the dog owner devalues the natural relationship and ends up bribing the dog and they are completely void of trust and respect and instead have a fake relationship they assume is normal because it is status quo.

And we still have not addressed the third dog from our example…the dog that is too aggressive for treats, too fearful for food, too anxious to switch from hyper staring and hyper listening into relaxed smelling and tasting.  This is the dog only some owners and trainers interact with, meaning it is possible for a person to live a long and healthy life and to raise and adopt a few different dogs over their lifespan and still never experience what it’s like to live with or handle and train a dog that is like the third dog.  These folks may never understand unless and until they end up getting a dog like the third dog, a dog that in many instances food treats will simply be ignored because the adrenals functioning within this animal tell it to continually fight or flight and not relax and eat in the presence of their triggering stimuli.  Examine ANY creature on the planet and you’ll discover in the midst of high energy fight/flight excitement the last thing on the creature’s mind is eating!  This third dog is the shoddy dog trainer’s worst nightmare.  This is the unknowledgeable behaviorist’s greatest dilemma.  For all their rhetoric on science and modernity, for all their extreme emotions openly and often violently displayed ad nauseam on the internet towards other types of trainers, they have zero answers for their clients when it comes to helping the third dog because the dog is blatantly ignoring high value food treats!  Unethical, money-grubbing behaviorists may just tell their clients “Oh, your dog is over-threshold and we need to back up further away from the dog’s triggering stimuli (another dog, person, etc) until your dog is relaxed enough to actually take and eat the food treats in order to make a positive association with the trigger.”  Or they may take you into their facility and behind a partition or have your dog-aggressive dog work with a stuffed animal instead of a real dog (the methods get truly ridiculous the more we examine them).  I mentioned unethical and money-grubbing because this technique of theirs may take you, the paying client, a year or three for any sort of decent results to kick in!  (Special note: it is extremely common for us to hear from our clients that what we were able to do in our very first session with their dog and our calming, natural methods, they were NOT able to accomplish in 10 or 15 or 20 sessions with another company that was using this alleged modern positive approach!)

In Part 3 will we turn the corner and go over real world answers towards genuinely helping not only the third dog but greatly aid the human-dog bond with all three dogs in our example.  I’m hoping to end the series in Part 4.

Then, after I am finished with this series I will do one on The Many Problems of harsh dog handling and Punitive/Aversive reinforcement…………Stay tuned all you rabid dog lovers!

 

For more info simply read my Hot-Listed book on dog and human behavior, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and grab a copy of my super practical and hands-on, second book, So Long Separation Anxiety to help you achieve the finest of relationships possible with your dog or pup.

-G

 

 

Dealing with Aggession and hiring a Professional!

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Are you dealing with dog aggression?  Whether it’s dog-dog aggression or dog-human aggression have you contemplated the possibility that maybe you should hire a pro?  In this article I am, as the author of the Hot Listed book Dog Myths, being brutally honest to protect your family, your dog or pup and your finances.  Let’s jump into it, shall we?

 

Many folks hire a professional when their dogs are becoming (or already are) aggressive.  As a professional dog trainer who deals extensively and literally on a daily basis (or almost daily…I recently stopped working seven days a week!  Yay!!) with dog’s manifesting aggression I do recommend hiring a professional to help.  However, and this is a huuuuuuuuuuuge however, big problems occur when good people hire professionals who are more than willing to take their money yet the “professional” only knows how to add more, “sit, down, stay, come, watch me, heel,” etc, etc to the situation!  Please think about this.  Please consider this all-too-common problem!  And, again, let me quote myself here and say that most training and behavior modification is based in Excitement and that is NOT beneficial when dealing with Aggression!

Let me give you a few real life examples/horror stories I’ve heard from my clients who spent thousands of dollars with other companies only to receive little to no help with the real and serious issues of aggression their dog’s were dealing with…

  1.  The professional behaviorist uses fancy talk.  They throw around “science” and “proven scientific methods” like it’s going out of style.  They will convince you that all animals can be trained using “positive reinforcement” (meanwhile they are dogmatically Negative against any and all facts, studies, opinions, contrary to their own dogmatic belief system)!  (I always say that when it comes to working with an animal the only thing a trainer or behaviorist should be dogmatic about is tailoring their custom responses and methods to each individual dog and owner and to be dogmatic about the natural way…ask yourselves What would a balanced mother dog do in the situation!)       While these “scientific,” “positive only” types adamantly disagree with any other methodology; they personally are getting horrible results with the method they keep pushing!!!   I personally agree with them that all animals can be “trained” using “positive only” or “scientific” methods of conditioning.  My point is WHO WANTS TO SETTLE FOR TRAINING when So MUCH MORE IS AVAILABLE!!!!  (Sadly, most professionals are unaware or unwilling to realize that so much more truly IS available to them and their clients!)

2.  The professional will sign clients up for as many sessions or classes as possible!  They want to keep you on the hook.  They want to keep you as a lifetime client.  Great money-making strategy!  Horrible ethics and morals!  I always help equip my clients with the motivation, education, tools and skills needed to work with their dogs themselves!  If more dog professionals were honest and open instead of conniving, thieving, con artists I know they would find greater results both morally, ethically, and monetarily.  In my company we always only start with one session even if clients call and tell me on the phone they want a package deal…I always advise just starting with one!

The goal for the professional trainer or behaviorist should be to sign the client up for the least amount of sessions and do the best job possible in the shortest amount of time (with the caveat of following mother nature’s timing).  Remember if you aren’t more than happy, impressed, and starting to see real results during and after the first session with your professional behaviorists or trainer really consider trying someone else!  (keep in mind, results always start with the owner changing and learning and then, naturally, the results flow to your dogs!)  

I would Never sign my dog up for more than 10 sessions at a time.  After 10 if you need more (some extreme cases may) you can reevaluate.  If someone tried to sell me 6 months worth of classes I’d have to ask why it would take so long…are they really that horrible at training and modifying behaviors?  (Remember, dogs live in the moment and are ready to move on from the past faster than us humans)  If they attempted to sell me a year’s worth of lessons I’d politely just walk away shaking my head!

3.  The professional needs several classes (and more money from you) because they don’t just take action and start disagreeing with the unsocial behaviors while building a healthy relationship and getting to the heart of the issue.  (Example:  Your dog is aggressive with other dogs so instead of equipping you the owners first and then jumping in the pool, so to speak and getting to work on the problem (real life stuff).  Instead they bring you to the edge of a park…I’m talking about the farthest edge possible and when your dog notices another dog a mile away they’re going to try and bribe the dog with food so it has a “positive” experience and begins to associate something pleasant = food with something it usually wants to bite and lunge for = the dog.  Sounds great, right?  Makes sense, right?  Wrong!  The problem is that if you have real aggression your dog will not be smelling once he sees the dog!  He will not be interested in eating a treat because he is not tasting at that exact moment in time.  He is staring and raising his energy and trying to fixate.  He is using his secondary senses (vision and hearing) and ignoring his primary senses to the detriment of his own sociability and to the detriment of your peaceful walk and straining shoulder muscles!  The professional who stays on the edge and bribes will never amount to much.  And, tragically, the client who hires them will think that there isn’t much help for their aggressive dog!  This can lead to the dog being put down unnecessarily!  Or the dog biting another dog or person unnecessarily!  And all due to poor training and behavior mod. methods.)

4.  The professional claims to know about aggression but they seem nervous around your dog.  You would not believe the amount of times I have heard over the years that the clients have seen and sensed that the professional they hired in the past was actual afraid of their dog!  (**note to professionals who are afraid of getting bit…please get another job!**)

5.  The professional enters your home (or you enter their facility) and they start the relationship with your aggressive dog totally the wrong way...either with excitement and bribery with treats and high-pitched human talking (trying to gain trust through the external bribe of food) or by taking an over-board, dominant approach to the point of excessive harshness and smashing the dog down in a roll or lifting a dog they just met up into a hanging.  Both methods are based in excitement and should be super familiar to you but, and here’s the kicker, both are foolish, unnatural, and applied at the wrong time so both are the WRONG way to meet an aggressive dog.  (If I had a penny every time someone greeted a dog the wrong way I’d be a multi-billionaire 10 years ago!)

6.  The professional uses his former military or police experience.  While this, of course, can be beneficial (in protection work, obedience, the sport of Schutzhund, and elsewhere) it can also be a hindrance and backfire, particularly when we are dealing with house dogs!  I see this all the time!!!  The number one requirement for a great house dog is surprisingly NOT obedience!  The number one requirement for a great house dog is calmness!  Again, almost all training and behavior mod. is rooted and based in excitement and over-excitement.  Please don’t confuse a dog performing a “Platz” or a “Sitz” as a calm animal that is learning to self-soothe, lower their own energy and eliminate their aggression.  Police and Military dogs are bred and trained for high intensity work and not as house dogs.  (I am extremely thankful and respectful of our brave veterans and LEOs who have served honorably.  I do feel I  must still warn good folks about the common traps of applying military-style dog handling and training on house dogs.)

7.  The professional makes ridiculous statements like, “Maybe your dog should Not be around people.” Or possibly “Perhaps your dog should Not have other dog friends and you can just be his friend.”  They come up with excuses instead of real solutions.  They should fully understand that a social, pack creature that was once a wolf surviving in a group and then has lived with humans and our other animals for several millenia that sociability is the heart of the matter!  (Remember these are real life stories that my clients have told me about things their previous “pros” have told them!)

Some professionals also quickly turn to the blame game and start to lay guilt trips or threaten the owners into signing up with more classes or sessions, blaming or intimidating the owner all the while.  There is a company out our way with a woman who is infamous for her intimidation and threatening tactics.  Claiming to have a Buddhist-like balance this company is run by a tyrant!  This is a horrible reputation to have.  Almost nothing is worse in business, training and in life!    Other professionals blame the dog, or the owner, or the dog’s past, or whatever else pops into their mind…anything except their own methods!

8.  The professional suggests the use of drugs before attempting natural methods first.  Talk about a current problem, this is it!  As humans many of us are sold Hook, line, and sinker on the quick fix, the new drug, the special technology or formula that can tame the beast.  Instant gratification is a curse.  Proceed with caution when they talk prozac or whatever other drug they are comfortable pumping your dog or pup full of! (Some drugs can and do work, of course, but many do NOT and can be costly in the long run.)  (*I am not a vet – I don’t claim to be)  Many dogs I have behaviorally rehabbed over the years were on drugs and the drugs were not working.  Again, just proceed with caution.

9.  The professional is part of some large, faceless daycare, pet store, grooming, or all inclusive training facility.  These places are very common.  And you may be able to find decent training but remember not all trainers and behaviorists are equipped for aggression (even if they advertise that they are!)  These places founded their business on selling food, treats, pet supplies, grooming, vet visits, dog daycare and then found out they could make more money adding dog training.  They wouldn’t be successful if they only did training and behavior modification. They also will, of course, upsell you and get you to buy all of their supplies (from clickers and treats, to ridiculous potty pads, you’ll have everything you need and many more things you don’t need in your shopping cart before you leave!)

These sort of places will offer to train you as a trainer too and it typically only costs 600-1000 bucks!  Imagine that!  Meanwhile they have training programs for your dog or pup that cost more.  Meaning they must be offering shoddy training methods to you if it cost as much or more for them to train your new puppy than for them to educate, inspire, equip, train and support you in becoming a pro trainer at their facility!   Many of these places push agility training or preparing your pup for the show ring.  The professionals there usually don’t know much of the natural, dog way.  They don’t handle aggression well.

This dog doesn’t need more training.  He doesn’t need to eat more treats or get hanged by the neck!  He does Not need to build a relationship based on anything external.  He Needs To Calm Down!  He Needs Real Leadership!

 

Now where, I wonder, does that leave us?  Who can you hire and trust to provide the best possible services for our own unique dogs and their aggressive issues?  Didn’t I just eliminate almost every form of professional behaviorist and animal trainer?  Do we then seek out some bizarre, incense-sniffing, hippie animal communicator?   (No, we don’t!)

We search around, do our research, make our calls, talk to people, read testimonials and pick through them and look at the types of issues the dog’s faced on the reviews/testimonials (almost any clown posing as a trainer can get some great reviews for a simple group class…but have they fixed aggression in several large and powerful breeds?  Are they recommended by laypeople and several professionals alike?)

My main questions if I was looking to hire someone to help with aggression… Is the professional doing things the natural (dog) way?  Or are they performing some cookie-cutter system?  Do they maintain an excellent reputation with their clients and other pet professionals? (Be careful about the question of reputation, especially in a digital age where any fool can post/snap/tweet/share/review/yelp about almost anything or anyone from the safety and security of their computer or phone…a few bad reviews may not necessarily mean they aren’t a top notch professional.  But the overwhelming majority of reviews and testimonials should be fantastic or great.)  Have they fixed, reversed, or cured aggression before?  Do they have a track record of success?  

Results speak for themselves…“Success requires no apologies; failure permits no alibis.”

Calmness and Sociability are what cure aggression.  The pro has to really have a deep understanding of and be able to apply the dog language.  If the professional you’ve hired isn’t calming you and your dog then your dog won’t be able to go into a social, everyday situation.  If they can’t get your dog to be social you are wasting your time, energy, and money!

Good luck and happy hunting!  I told you I’d be frank and totally honest with ya…remember it’s for YOUR benefit! (These sort of articles don’t usually win us more fans…they are risky to write – especially with today’s victimhood culture but I’ve got to be honest for my clients, my future clients, and of course, the dogs!)

And please take a moment now to order Dog Myths, my book!  When this baby comes out (Update: it is out now!) we will win a lot of new fans and a lot of new hate mail from trainers and behaviorists who are Not open to all nature has to teach.  It will be extremely practical and beneficial to anyone who wants to build a healthy, real relationship with their dogs or pups based on respect, trust, energy control, and actual dog communication through spacial manipulation, touch, and how dogs think and speak.  It will be even more beneficial to those who have a dog suffering with aggression, fear, hyperactivity, separation anxiety, etc etc.  Below is the link to order my book…

Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to BITE You!

Order this bad boy.  I guarantee it will forever change the way you look at the dog –  human dynamic and that it will benefit you and your family greatly.