Just A Good Day

7 04 2013

This is not going to be a deep and meaningful blog posting today.  Sorry (or you’re welcome, whichever!).  I just had a really good day today and wanted to share.

Started with brunch with a friend.  She came over and I cooked (scary, trust me).  I didn’t burn the house down, but more importantly, Inara was pretty damned good.  I had my friend armed with treats before she even came through the door, and having those tossed on the floor really helped Inara keep her feet on the floor where they belong.  She settled pretty quickly, which was great.

After my friend left, me, Inara & Mal just lounged around a little bit, relaxing.  The weather was gorgeous – sunny and mid-60’s.  Doors and windows were open.  Beautiful.  So all three of us just snuggled on the couch:

Lounging together on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Lounging together on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Later in the afternoon, Inara and I met up with a friend and her dog for a walk.  We tried doing some BAT with Inara and her dog, but Inara was so blase about her that we couldn’t really do anything.  Which is exactly the point!  So we said, “forget it!” and just did our walk.  We walked for two hours.  Inara was a dream.  I think she was enjoying the fresh warm air as much as I was.

Ignoring our walking buddy!

Ignoring our walking buddy!

So we walked for about two hours, at which point I was whupped.  Too much fresh air!  So we came home and I crashed on the couch after pulling Inara’s bed into the patch of sunshine on the floor for her.  But Malcolm beat her to the punch and made himself comfy before she could.

Mal getting comfy on Inara's bed.

Mal getting comfy on Inara’s bed.

Poor Inara just stood there for a couple minutes, looking dejectedly between her bed and me.  And then she very gently stepped onto the bed and Malcolm looked up, gave her a little “mrrrow” and put his head back down.  At which point I grabbed my phone to get video:

I loved this.  She was so gentle, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that if Mal had stayed there, she would have just curled up around him.  At which point I would have died of joy overload.  Anyway, after that little flash of “awwww!”, I had ANOTHER one – Mal got back onto the bed and curled up beside Inara!

Holy cripes.  Too much cuteness.  Oxytocin overload!

Holy cripes. Too much cuteness. Oxytocin overload!

Yep, I swooned a little.  They stayed like that for over an hour.  It was really fantastic.  Mal’s been with us for about 3 months now and he’s really starting to come out of his shell, and Inara just really seems to enjoy him.

So yeah, just an all-around good day.  I hope you all had good, relaxing Sundays as well.





Advocacy As I See It

31 03 2013

I want to talk (write) today about what being a pit bull advocate means to me.  It wasn’t in my plans to write about this today (it’s Easter and I have things to do) but I was accused of being a bad advocate/supporting BSL and it really bothered me.  Somebody I know, and his friends that I don’t know, gleefully wrote some very cruel things about me because I had the temerity to disagree with them.  Normally I can brush off people, but this blatant malice really bothered me.  I was up way too late, and up way too early, just thinking about it.  I almost lashed out in return.  I wanted to tell them exactly what I thought.  But I didn’t, as I’m trying to be more peaceful in my life, and quite frankly, it wouldn’t have changed anything.  So instead I’m going to write a blog about what I think our jobs as pit bull advocates are.

Before I begin, I have a disclaimer.  Shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it is – I think pit bulls are the best dogs are out there.  For me. I love them.  Period. 

I guess perhaps I should start by defining what dogs I’m talking about.  I’m talking about any dog that looks like it could be a pit bull or pit bull mix.  That’s right, I don’t care if it’s not been DNA tested and found to be 100% APBT or AmStaff.  Nothing divides pit bull people more than the definition of a pit bull.  It’s insane.  Do Lab people argue about whether dogs called Lab mixes really have Lab in them?  Do GSD people get angry when people call a dog a GSD mix?  Not that I’ve heard.  It’s reserved for pit bull people to argue about.

Our number one job is to realistic about these dogs.  Period.  Blowing smoke up people’s behinds to make them sound like magical little bunny-hugging unicorns in a compact, muscular body doesn’t do anybody any good.  Especially the dog.  Pit bulls are strong, athletic dogs that need something to do.  If you don’t provide the stimulation for them, they’ll figure it out on their own and it probably won’t be something you approve of!  Pit bulls weren’t the nanny dog – Staffy Bulls were.  Were pit bulls historically known for being great family dogs?  Absolutely, but they weren’t the dog referred to as the nanny dog.  People need to stop saying that.  These dogs are phenomenal – it’s not necessary to lie about them to make them sound better.

Nothing gets pit bull people more riled up than the talk of dog-dog issues within the breed.  AS WITH EVERYTHING, there are exceptions to the rule.  But pit bulls were bred for how many years to fight other dogs?  Granted, 99% of them are NOT bred for that anymore.  However, just because it isn’t being bred for, doesn’t mean it’s being actively bred against.  So you know, why not err on the side of caution and assume that your pit bull may not love all other dogs?  I firmly believe that pit bulls don’t belong in doggy daycares or dog parks.  No, your dog may never start anything, and that’s awesome!  But your dog may not back down if another dog tries to start something.  And you know what – your dog will be the one ending up in the news.  And it will make it harder for responsible pit bull owners to live in peace with their dogs.

Pit bulls are terriers/bulldogs and thus, they are more likely than the Poodle down the street to aggress at another dog and not back down.  This doesn’t make them bad!  It makes them terriers/bulldogs!

“But Liz, my dogs love each other and snuggle together and have never even looked sideways at each other.”  Rock on!  That is fantastic and I hope it stays that way forever.  I’d still separate them when you’re gone though.  Can’t tell you how many people I know/stories I’ve heard of people whose pit bulls loved each other for years, until the day they didn’t and e-vets were required and crate/rotate had to become a way of life forever after.

Dog aggression doesn’t mean that your dog will hate every dog on sight.  Most pit bulls are selective – they are okay with some dogs, heck, maybe even lots of dogs!  But some other dogs just torque them and get their panties in a bunch.  Sometimes we don’t know which dogs are going to do that, which is why it behooves us to act as if ANY dog could get our dog riled, AKA, err on the side of caution.

Are there pit bulls that love every other dog on the planet?  Sure.  Are there pit bulls that hate every other dog on the planet?  Sure.  Are the majority somewhere in between?  Yep.  So why risk it?  Why set your dog up for failure?  I’m a big fan of better safe than sorry.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Knowledge is power.  Knowing is half the battle.  All those good things.

Fair warning that here comes the other part of my pit bull advocacy that really angers people: Pit bulls aren’t the right dog for everybody. There, I said it.  Let the stoning begin.  But you know what?  Labs aren’t right for everybody.  GSD’s aren’t right for everybody.  Border Collies aren’t right for everybody.  Malinois?  Holy cripes you couldn’t PAY me to have one!  (Had to throw that one in for my Mal-owning friends!)  I can’t think of one breed of dog that IS right for everybody.  So why do some pit bull people feel that they need to convince every Joe Schmoe down the street that they need a pit bull?

Pit bulls require an owner that is going to be willing to invest some time and money.  They need training.  They need owners who won’t set them up to fail.  They don’t need owners who want a dog that they don’t have to interact with.  They aren’t for people who think dogs come fully trained out of the womb.  They aren’t for people who aren’t ready to educate themselves about possible breed tendencies, or who think “oh, I can love them into being good.”  No, you can TRAIN them into being good, but love isn’t everything when it comes to dogs.

This doesn’t mean that you need to keep your dog cloistered in your house behind closed blinds, never to see the light of day.  This means you don’t take your pit bull to dog parks.  You don’t take your pit bull to doggy daycares.  You keep your pit bull on leash when out in public.  You attend training classes with your pit bull.  You make sure your pit bull is an ambassador, out in public meeting people.  You don’t let your pit bull interact with strange dogs – instead, you set up playdates with one or two other dogs at a time that you know your dog is okay with.  And you SUPERVISE those play dates.  You separate your dogs when you’re out.

“But Liz, doesn’t this apply to all dogs?”  It absolutely should.  We should never set our dogs up to fail, especially if a failure on your behalf impacts other owners of that breed.  But I feel that as pit bull owners, we have a higher responsibility to keep our dogs safe from themselves and others.  

Inara, poster child for dog issues, being a breed ambassador.

Inara, poster child for dog issues, being a breed ambassador.





Changing of the Vet

25 03 2013

Inara has been going to the same vet for her entire life, since January of 2006.  We’d always been happy with her.  She wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but she and her staff were competent, inexpensive and had good hours.  They also seemed to truly enjoy Inara.  So I was devastated when in the past several weeks many of my friends had awful experiences there.  Truly awful, to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to take Inara back there.  So I was stuck with the horrible Changing of the Vet.

Finding vets SUCKS.  Everybody has their favorite, and very few people can agree on one.  You need to figure out what’s most important to  you – cheap prices, good hours, bedside manner, etc.  For me, I really wanted a vet that wouldn’t give me a hard time about doing minimal vaccinations and feeding raw.  Inexpensive would have been great as I’d been spoiled at my old vet ($12 office vet?  Oh yeah.), but I knew I was going to have to suck it up on that end.  Hours were kind of important.  As long as I could get something near the end of the day, after 3 or so, I could easily get out of work to get home.  So what was important for me was somebody who was a bit more natural and didn’t push drugs/shots/meds.

Well, I lucked out.  A few of my friends use Dr. B., who does home visits.  I was afraid I’d never be able to afford such a luxury, but she’s remarkably affordable (at least if you have only one or two animals!).  And she was wonderful.  She came with freeze-dried liver in her pockets and an assistant.  She was here for probably an hour.  She talked to me about Inara’s history, and then we spoke at length about best practices for vaccinations, food, HW/flea meds, etc.  She gave Inara a thorough checkup, at one point exclaiming how slow Inara’s heart was beating considering how worked up she was (two visitors just for HER!  She was pretty wired, LOL).  I panicked and asked if that was bad (me, panic?  Nooooo) and she laughed and said it was wonderful because it shows she’s an athlete and in good shape.  Rock on.  She gave me a couple other suggestions if I want to get Inara off her Prozac and on to something more natural.  She said her teeth are lovely, slight bit of tartar but excellent overall.  They drew blood for her heartworm test (negative!) and tested it right in my living room.  Kind of cool.

So yeah, I’m a convert.  I was fortunate and got a great vet on my first try.  Not everybody gets so lucky.  If you need to change vets, don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment without your dog, so you can “interview” your potential vet.  You’re entrusting your beloved dog’s life to this person, so it doesn’t make you crazy to want to make sure they’re the best they can be.  And hopefully your transition will go as smoothly as mine did.

Inara and Mal enjoying each other's company.  Love them.

Inara and Mal enjoying each other’s company. Love them.





TDInc, Here We Come!

20 03 2013

Way back in the day, Inara was a registered therapy dog with Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs.  She was okay at it, however, she always struggled to keep her exuberance to a minimum at nursing homes.  And I never felt like we’d honestly earned the therapy dog “title” as the test was a farce.  The training center we took it at passed every dog, even the one that growled at a boy as he came through the doorway.  So I never felt we’d actually earned our TD or CGC titles.  Partly because of that, but mostly because it was just not working for Inara’s personality, we quit doing therapy work and didn’t renew our membership with Bright & Beautiful.

Fast forward several years.  Inara has become much better behaved and I now understand that there are more options than nursing homes for therapy work.  So my friend, Laurie, who is a CPDT-KA and CBCC-KA and owner of Side By Side Dog Training, offered a workshop to help evaluate dogs for therapy work and teach us the options that are out there.  I was a bit hesitant as I still sometimes doubt Inara’s and my skills, but signed up anyway.

So I took the day off work yesterday and drove an hour to the public library that was hosting the workshop.  The closer I got, the more jittery I got.  To the point where I almost called Laurie and cancelled when I was about a block away.  It was bad.  And ridiculous, to be frank.  But I can’t help it.  I always have horrible flashbacks of Inara turning into Cujo like she used to do.  And we were going to be in a library, where it should be quiet.  What if she barked?!?

But I put on my big girl panties, parked and made my way inside.  There was already one dog in the (small) room so Inara announced her presence loudly, mortifying me as I dragged her to her corner.  Laurie, being the wonderful trainer that she is, cheerfully told me that Inara’s bark had changed and that it was less serious now.  More of a “oh my gosh we’re dogs!” excited bark than her “I’m going to eat you if I reach you” bark.  That one little comment made a huge difference for me (sign of a good trainer – knows the perfect thing to say to get her students to relax).

After that, Inara was a dream.  She snoozed in her crate during the down times, and worked beautifully with me during the work times.  I was able to bring her out of her corner and work her within a few feet of another dog.  There were six dogs in a relatively small room, so it was kind of close quarters, but we made it work.  I was bursting with pride in Inara knowing how far she’d come.  Hell, how far WE’D come.

So near the end of the workshop, we all wandered through the library with our dogs as part of the observation process.  Of course, almost as soon as Inara and I made it into the main library part, a teenage girl made a huge scene, nearly falling over chairs, as she pretended to be terrified of Inara.  *sigh*  Whatever.  I have no doubt that she’s nervous about dogs, but the scene was unnecessarily dramatic.

Other than that though, it was great!  Inara got some good lovin’s by a couple little kids (who very politely asked if they could pet her before doing so!  Click/treat to the kids and their parents!) and she was very well-behaved.  She had a minor snark at one of the dogs whose owner allowed it to get right up in her face, but it was an appropriate correction from her and she immediately recovered.

After that we went to a nursing home.  The residents loved the dogs!  They enjoyed telling us about their own dogs, and one woman spent about two minutes telling me about how she brushes her dog’s teeth every night when he comes to visit.  She then proudly pointed out his toothbrush and toothpaste.  I asked if she wanted to brush Inara’s teeth for me and she said she was willing to give it a try.  *grin*

One woman just fell in love with Inara and wanted her in her lap.  I didn’t let her though for fear that Inara’s nails would be rough or she’d pull out her oxygen mask.  So she stayed on the floor and got some MAJOR loves, body wagging with joy.  It was really great to see.  :-)

Inara had a couple little barking episodes since a new dog had joined the group, but as Laurie pointed out to me when she saw me getting stressed over her behavior, “dogs bark.”  They do, indeed.  She again recovered and resumed working well, so it wasn’t a crisis.

So we are very close to passing all of our observations – fingers crossed!  Thank you so much to Laurie for having the confidence and faith in us that I sometimes lack.  ;-)

Wandering the library, looking for patrons who needed some pit bull love!

Wandering the library, looking for patrons who needed some pit bull love!

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Inara with the woman who wanted her in her lap. Look at that huge lovely full body wag!

 

The up and coming TDInc dogs!  We are on the end so I can keep Inara's head guided away from the other dog staring at her, LOL.

The up and coming TDInc dogs! We are on the end so I can keep Inara’s head guided away from the other dog staring at her, LOL.

 





Us vs. Them? Doesn’t have to be.

14 03 2013

Many trainers who use aversives dislike force-free trainers and, quite frankly, sometimes I don’t blame them.  So I thought I’d write about why force-free trainers can be so annoying and what we could do differently.  I’m sure some of the Posi-Nazi’s will hate me for this post, but that’s okay.  I won’t lose any sleep over their hatred.  I will also cover what balanced/compulsive trainers could do to stop being so disrespectful to FFT’s.  So, let’s begin first with some definitions (as I’m using them, not official!) so we’re all on the same page:

Aversive – Something the dog finds painful/scary.  There are trainers who tout themselves as “purely positive” because they don’t use physical punishment, but they do use intimidating body language/staredowns to get dogs to obey.  I consider those aversives as well.

Balanced trainer – I consider a balanced trainer to be one who knows how to train basic obedience without aversives.  They later add in compulsion for proofing or for training higher-level skills.

Compulsion – Synonomous with aversive.

Compulsive trainer – These are the people who slap prongs and e-collars on puppies to teach even the most basic obedience skills.  You’ll often find their dogs wearing a training collar of some type 24/7 so they don’t become “collar smart.”

Force-Free Trainer (FFT) – People who choose to train without using the positive punishment quadrant; people who avoid frightening/intimidating/causing pain to the dog during training.

Posi-Nazi – Hardcore “all positive all the time” people.  Those who feel that dogs should never be denied anything in life.  Feel that you should never hurt your dog’s feelings by turning your back on them to reduce unwanted behaviors.  These are the ones who give regular FFT’s a bad name.

 

Now, let’s start with what FFT’s need to do/not do to stop being so annoying to non-FFT’s:

1.  FFT’s claim that aversives don’t work – Really?  If they didn’t work, nobody would use them.  Far-reaching claims like this do nothing but make FFT’s look ridiculous and uneducated.  Aversives absolutely do work, and they often work quickly which makes them attractive to a lot of people.  The problem with aversives is that they need to continue being used to maintain their efficacy.  When I was using a prong on Inara, she’d walk nicely for weeks and then start pulling again so I’d have to “pop” her again, thus buying myself a few more weeks of good behavior.  But flat-out claiming that aversives don’t work is false, and FFT’s need to stop saying that.

2.  FFT’s claim that anybody who uses aversives is abusing their dog and ruining their relationship – False again, sort of.  When it comes to compulsive trainers, those who slap prongs and e-collars on puppies to train even basic behaviors, yes, I consider that abusive.  You are punishing your dog for not being able to read your mind.  Often the dogs of compulsive trainers look truly miserable – sure they’re doing an attention heel and obeying commands, but you can tell they certainly aren’t comfortable doing it.  On the other hand,  many of the balanced trainers I know have dogs that are lovely to watch and obviously adore their owners.  When I used aversives, Inara and I still had a good relationship and she only looked miserable if I gave her an unfair correction (when she should have come up the leash at me – I’m so fortunate she’s good-tempered!).  If she had “earned” a correction, she took it and shrugged it off, didn’t blink an eye.  When FFT’s claim that dogs trained with aversives are miserable all the time and don’t trust their owners, all balanced/compulsive trainers need to do is show their dog being happy and we’ve been proven wrong.  Far-reaching claims, like #1 above, don’t work.

3.  FFT’s say our methods are “science-based” and compulsion is not – False.  Compulsion is Positive Punishment (P+), hence, one of the four quadrants.  What does this make it?  Science-based.  All of the four quadrants are based on science.  Just because it is a quadrant that FFT’s choose not to use does not make it any less scientifically proven as a way of teaching.  Now, perhaps when FFT’s say “science-based” they really mean to say, “peer-reviewed studies have shown that using compulsion often has fall-out associated with it and training without compulsion has been shown to be more efficient as the learning is more permanent.”  Granted, it’s a bit wordy, but it’s much more true than saying, “science-based.”

4.  FFT’s claim that all dogs trained with force are shutdown – Not true.  Are some?  Oh absolutely without a doubt.  But many are not.  So much of it depends on the dog’s temperament.  If you have an already soft dog to begin with and then you add physical corrections, you’ve got a good chance of shutting your dog down.  But if you have a “harder” dog (temperamentally speaking), those dogs are able to take the corrections and shrug them off without any lasting issues.

5.  FFT’s can just be flat-out insulting – I’m thinking about times where we are pointing out body language of a dog to somebody else: “Oh my god, how could they NOT see that the dog is miserable?  Even a blind person can tell that at a glance.”  You know what, not everybody is trained in body language.  Should they be?  In my perfect world, absolutely.  But being rude about it isn’t going to make the person want to listen to you.  They’re going to shut you out.  Maybe try loaning them a book, or a video.  Offer them a discount to a body language seminar.

Now, on the other hand, there are a few things that balanced/compulsive trainers could quit doing that would help mend this giant rift between the training camps.

1.  Stop calling us “cookie pushers” – Believe it or not, I very rarely have treats on me when I’m out and about with Inara.  Why?  Because the beauty of FFT is that dogs learn to do things for the joy of it, and because they get life rewards.  I absolutely have no issue using huge amounts of treats when training a new behavior or doing counterconditioning, or when in a situation I know can rapidly turn into a good training session, but I don’t want to always be carrying treats and a clicker!  Sometimes you want to travel light and NOT have an odor of lamb/turkey/beef/tripe hovering around you!  Treats can be minimized once a behavior is learned.  If an FFT is a “cookie pusher” 24/7, then they haven’t learned about variable reinforcement schedules and need to do some more reading/learning.

2.  Stop saying that our dogs are not reliable at behaviors – Is your dog perfect 100% of the time?  Hell, are YOU?  Of course not.  Neither are our dogs.  However, our dogs can be trained to be just as reliable in behaviors as your dogs trained with aversives.  What you will find though is that often our priorities are different and we train for what is important to US.  So just because Inara doesn’t have a flawless recall doesn’t mean it’s because I haven’t used aversives.  It means that I’ve been lazy in teaching her a flawless recall!

3.  “I don’t have time to train without force.”  – Do you know how often we hear that?  Do you know how ridiculous that is?  Using a clicker and treats to train new behaviors is so fast and easy if you know what you’re doing!  Do you need to proof them and continue training after it is initially learned?  Of course you do, just as you do when using force.

4.  “Dogs need to know who’s in charge.”  – Sure they do!  And you know what?  I’m the one in the household with opposable thumbs that can open up the fridge.  *wink*  What’s that saying?  “Dogs are selfish creatures and I control their things”?  It’s true.  Who decides when Inara eats?  I do.  Who decides when Inara goes outside?  I do.  Who decides where we go on walks?  I do.  Who decides who gets the best spot on the couch?  I do.  Who decides which toys are out and available?  I do.  But I certainly don’t have to use force to teach her those things.

5.  “Their dogs have no rules.”  – I cannot say this enough – POSITIVE DOES NOT EQUAL PERMISSIVE.  This kind of melds with number 4 about being in charge.  Just because I choose not to use force with my dog doesn’t mean she’s running rampant through the neighborhood, preparing to overthrow the city and start a mass revolt of dogs.  Just sayin’.

Why did I write this blog?  Because FFT’s need to remember that positive reinforcement works on PEOPLE as well as dogs.  I have many friends who are balanced trainers that I can have perfectly civil training discussions with – “Oh, you trained it that like that?  Interesting.  Here’s how I would try it.”  I actually love those discussions!  I try not to berate and belittle those who use aversives.  We are all at different points in our training and we all do what we are comfortable doing and what we see working.  The best way FFT’s can spread the word about force-free training is by using our own dogs as examples.  Get them out there competing.  Get them out there just being good dogs on walks.  Trust me, people notice.  Have civil discussions with balanced trainers, see where they’re coming from without judging them.  Perhaps even, god forbid, compliment their dog’s happiness/obedience!  Maybe if we all learned to talk to each other without derision and without overly sweeping generalizations (and yes, balanced trainers – this goes both ways) we’d get a lot further and you know what?  The dogs would benefit.  We all want the same thing – happy, healthy, well-trained dogs.  Let’s remember that.

 

Lovin's!


Lovin’s!

 

 





My Crossover Process

11 03 2013

I’ve been asked to write about my training philosophy and how I came to adopt my force-free ways. This wasn’t an easy blog for me to write as, quite frankly, I’m horrified and appalled at some of the “training” I subjected Inara to. Honestly, I really deliberated about whether to even admit to the techniques I used. I spoke with some close friends and told them how nauseous and upset I was getting just thinking about them, and they gave me some great advice and encouragement.

A lot of force-free trainers I know have always been force-free, which is really wonderful and I envy them and thrill for their dogs. Unfortunately, I haven’t always been force-free. Though I’m not proud of that fact, and I marvel that Inara has come so far DESPITE what I did to her in the name of training, I think that my experience with aversives really allows me to see/understand why people use them and provide quality discussion, above and beyond, “it’s mean.”

I got Inara when she was 8 weeks old. Her mom, Sophie, had been confiscated from a fight ring when she was pregnant. So already there’s a good guess that Sophie wasn’t bred to a dog-friendly pit bull in the hopes of good-tempered, friendly puppies. These were puppies who were going to be used for fighting/breeding. Inara showed a propensity towards lack of concern for other dogs’ pain at an early age (9 weeks or so) when she grabbed her brother by the ear and made him scream. She didn’t let go until I wedged my thumb into her mouth and pried her little jaws open. Alright, bit concerning, but I was prepared. I’d read a ton and knew I could “socialize” it out of her. *insert eye rolling here*

I enrolled Inara in Petsmart’s Puppy Class when she was maybe 15 weeks old. It was all positive reinforcement techniques, mainly using luring. Inara did just fine and even found a playmate that we had over a few times – a young yellow Lab named Sadie. The two played together beautifully and appropriately. I was thrilled as I knew I was winning the battle against dog aggression.

After the Petsmart class, I enrolled her in a class at the Animal Protective League. Again, all positive reinforcement training. Inara excelled and we had a great time together. After that was over, I signed her up for a flyball class. She was super fast and I knew she could be an asset to a team. Her training was going so well – she was at the point where she could go over the jumps, hit the box and come back over the jumps to me. Just flying. Until the day she flew past me before I could snag her harness and ran over to the tiny Min Pin who’d been talking smack to her the entire class. Inara grabbed the Min Pin and put her entire head in her mouth. Fortunately she dropped her immediately and shockingly, the Min Pin didn’t even have a scratch. She had a slobbery head but she was uninjured. What a terrifying wakeup call. Inara was about 7 months old and could have just killed another dog with a little pressure of her jaws. We switched to private flyball lessons while I reconsidered my tactics.

The timing over the next few years is hazy, but here’s the general progression as best I remember it.

I thought I needed to up the ante and I obviously had a potential issue on my hands, so I thought I needed to find some training that was a bit firmer. The Dog Whisperer was one of my favorite shows at the time, so I knew I needed somebody to show me how to be a pack leader. Somehow I found a local trainer, M., who had a strong training history and trained with Cesar’s methods. Perfect. I took Inara for an “evaluation” and found out that she thought she was above me in the pack and that’s why she wasn’t perfect. So I signed on for lessons with M. He required a prong collar for Inara, so I dutifully bought one and carefully and properly fitted it. He then showed me the “technique” he wanted me to do. If Inara took one step in front of me at any point, or if she looked at another dog, I was to give her three level 10 corrections, while saying no with each one, as I did a u-turn. So it worked out that because I was turning while correcting and saying no, Inara would catch back up and be in heel position usually in time for the final yank/no. He said that when she yelped, it was because of surprise, not pain, even though I was putting my body weight into these corrections. I didn’t realize at the time just how asinine that was. Then, also during the first lesson, we worked on stays outside a local pet store. A rather busy one. He had me actually leaving Inara in a sit stay outside the door of the store while I went around the corner. With a parking lot right there. He was probably 20 feet away from her watching. Again, looking back, I shudder. But I did one more session with M. We did the same thing as last time, but this time, when Inara saw M., she hit the ground. He said, “good, she respects me!” Even back then in all my stupidity, I knew something was off, so I quit going to M. I didn’t tell him why because I was too chicken – I just didn’t schedule another appointment.

That turned me off to prong collars for quite a while. I briefly picked up a clicker but Inara ran the first time I clicked it, so I gave up on it. So no clickers, no prong collars. What next? How about an e-collar? Sure! I knew lots of people who used them and they had great dogs. So I needed one. While waiting on it to arrive, I started hunting for a good trainer to show me how to use it. First I contacted S.M.S., a national franchise who trains only with e-collars. The “trainer” knew he was coming out to help me with dog aggression, so what happens? He pulls up, opens his car door, and out bounds two off-leash dogs that come running right up to me and Inara. Oddly, I didn’t send him away. I invited him inside and he started doing his spiel. He strapped one of the special S.M.S. e-collars on Inara and promptly showed me how to make her cower do a recall. Once again, he was thrilled that my dog was hitting the floor – “look how quickly she’s getting it!” Instead of booting him out for being an idiot, I let him finish his spiel and then choked when he mentioned pricing. Negative, ghostrider.

I got a recommendation for a trainer in Michigan who did a lot with e-collars so I made a weekend trip. We had a really great trip and Inara was very responsive to the collar, which was on level 8 out of 120. I was thrilled. I’d found my “cure”! I left that weekend feeling confident, but got home and lost my confidence. I worked with it for a few weeks, but I realized that I was uncomfortable doing so without guidance. And then I thought, “if I’m not comfortable using this without ‘adult supervision,’ why am I using it on my dog?” So I dumped the e-collar.

I still was leery of the prong from my experience with M., so I thought I’d try a slip collar. I tried both nylon and choke, in case it made a difference. I not only used it to pop her when she forged, but if she started reacting to another dog, I lifted her up off her front feet until she stopped barking. That’s right, I hung my dog. It worked momentarily, but then she’d be worse next time. I couldn’t keep doing it, so I lost the slip collar.

So I went back to the prong. This time it seemed to be helping. And by “helping,” I mean that Inara would have a hellacious reaction (snarling and lunging at other dogs) for about 30 seconds and then I’d punish her into quiet. Her pulling on walks was minimal because she’d get a swift, heavy correction if she pulled. I had what looked like a fairly obedient dog.

While all of this was going on, I also tried alpha rolling Inara and pinning her down until she stopped reacting to dogs. I tried swinging my leash in a pinwheel in front of me so that if she forged while heeling she’d get smacked in the nose. I was very well-rounded in my techniques. *insert rolling eyes*

I honestly don’t know at one point I said, “I can no longer do this to my dog.” When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad, she was VERY bad. Something had to give. I went to a seminar with Brenda Aloff (who is pretty darned fabulous) and she helped me see that positive reinforcement COULD actually work with Inara. She wasn’t a special snowflake, not an exception to the rule. Just like every other animal on the planet, she responded to all four quadrants of learning, not just positive punishment. After I got home from working Inara with Brenda, I searched for positive reinforcement trainers in my area. I came across Ginger Alpine of Fortunate Fido.

Ginger, without any exaggeration, is the absolute best thing to ever happen to Inara and I and our relationship. She is my goddess of a dog trainer. She showed me how quickly the clicker can be used to teach behaviors. Inara was a genius! And best of all – she was finally enjoying training, as was I. We’ve been taking classes and private lessons with Ginger for about three years now. Through those lessons, I’ve learned how powerful positive reinforcement can be. I learned it’s not all touchy-feely – there are still rules. There are still expectations. There are still “punishments.” But they are more creative and effective now that I don’t resort to pain and fear. Inara has truly blossomed in the three years that I’ve been working with Ginger. My dog who used to not be able to be within probably 500 feet of another dog without lashing out can now compete in close quarters with other dogs. She is now sometimes (sometimes! She’s not perfect yet!) able to be the calm dog for reactive dogs to be around, which completely warms my heart. We are truly a team now and I get told that we just look happy together and work well together. She happily works on a flat collar during competitions, and a harness for basic walks. Though she passed her therapy dog test once before, we’re going to take it again so she can start working with people in an official manner.

I am astounded that I have such a solid dog after everything I put Inara through. She should have bitten me so many times throughout our past for the things I was doing to her. But never once did she redirect, or even look at me in anything less than a sad way. I truly get nauseous and horrified when I think about what I subjected her to. My heart breaks when I realize, “she’s come so far in three years – imagine how far she could have come since I got her at 8 weeks old???” There truly aren’t words to convey my regret. I still apologize to her, even though I know she’s moved on and forgiven me. But I haven’t forgiven myself. Three years, and I still can’t forgive myself. I mean seriously – who can hang their dog and sleep peacefully at night? I was able to, and that sickens me.

Do I think this blog is going to change anybody’s mind about using force/pain/fear in training? No. People will come to force-free training when they are ready for it. But maybe it’ll put a doubt in somebody’s mind. Do I judge those who use aversives? 99% of the time, no. The only ones I judge are those who are incapable of even putting a basic foundation on a dog without pain and fear, or who slap training collars (prongs or e-collars) on puppies less than 6 months old who don’t even know better.

This was long, and painful for me to relive and write. I ask that you not judge me for my actions towards my dog in the past, but look at how we work now, how we’ve grown and become partners in training, not adversaries.

If you have a story you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. If you’re not comfortable sharing it in the comments, then just post a comment asking me to contact you – your email address is visible to me and I will email you. If you have questions, please ask.

Love and respect your dogs, my friends. They tolerate so much from us and ask for so little in return.

Inara, the poster dog for force-free training.

Inara, the poster dog for force-free training.





Pack Leader

10 03 2013

Every time I hear the term “pack leader,” I get that 60’s song “Leader of the Pack” stuck in my head. I can’t help it.

Cheesy songs aside, let’s discuss what being a pack leader is and is not. To do that, we need to define “pack.” According to dictionary.com, pack is defined as:

pack1 [pak]
noun

5. a group of certain animals of the same kind, especially predatory ones: a pack of wolves.

There are about 45 other definitions, but this one seems to be the most commonly used when talking about dogs. Already we’re kinda at an impasse. “A group of certain animals OF THE SAME KIND…” Hmmm. How can I be a pack leader if I’m a different species? Doesn’t my dog know that I’m not a dog?

Let’s go back a bit (yep, bouncing around all over the place in this posting!) and briefly talk about where idea of dogs needing a pack leader came from. Dogs are commonly thought to be descended from wolves, and wolves run in packs and have a pack leader, hence, dogs need a pack leader. And that wolf pack leader led by force and intimidation, and always got all the resources first, so I have to do that as my dog’s pack leader. If not, she will stage a coup and overthrow the household, possibly the world. Disaster would ensue.

But wait. All these wolf pack studies were done on captive wolves who were forced to live together. Let’s look at wild wolf packs. Do you know what their packs consist of? FAMILY. The “alpha male and female” are the sire and dam. The rest of the pack is their offspring. Order is maintained through respect of the parents, not fear and intimidation. Are there squabbles? Of course there are – don’t you ever argue with your family?

So, do your parents insist upon eating first? Do they go through doorways first? Do they shove you out of the way instead of going around you? Do they make you walk beside them? Of course not, that’s ridiculous. Because parents care for their offspring. Parents (both wolf and human) feed their offspring FIRST. They don’t care if they run around and have fun while on the move as long as they check in and stay out of trouble. They take an extra second and step around them instead of forcing them to move.

That being said, parents (both wolf and human) set rules and boundaries that need to be followed for the sake of safety and peace in the household/den. Teach your dog a cue that tells them to get their hineys off the furniture when you want to use it. Teach them to wait patiently instead of lunging for their food as soon as it hits the ground. Teach them not to jump on guests and mob them.

Be a leader for your dog. But think of your relationship with your dog as that between a dance team – there is give and take, but one person has to be the leader. But that leader leads with compassion and kindness, asking instead of forcing, teaching instead of punishing. Dance teams work together for the joy of it, not out of fear.

So, pack leader? The term will always make me cringe. Pet parent? Makes me cringe, too. I’m an owner/leader, and Inara respects me for that because I respect HER in return. Leadership doesn’t have to equal fear and pain, nor should it ever. Leadership and respect can be demanded/forced, but I’d prefer to earn it. Wouldn’t you?

My name is Liz, and I don't need to be a pack leader to gain my dog's respect.

My name is Liz, and I don’t need to be a pack leader to gain my dog’s respect.








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