OCD, Chloe and a crack in the fence at a baseball game:

ChloejumpNote: This is an article from my column printed in Groomer to Groomer. It assumes the reader is a groomer.

So, you have a client with a dog that paces and licks the floor 30-40 minutes every hour. What do you say? “Get thee to a vet.” My question is simple – why would you say that? In modern parlance, this dog, let’s call her Chloe, is displaying a condition known as obsessive compulsive disorder – OCD. You can see her here: http://youtu.be/BevB7CadN7M

(Note: Please forgive what looks like an infomercial. I didn’t write the script. This was the owner’s own words when I simply asked him to put together a before-and-after set of videos. I work primarily by veterinary referral and have never advertised services commercially. A month later, Chloe was fully off-leash controlled in public and the OCD simply didn’t happen anymore. Chloe’s owner also overstates my attitude about psychotropic drugs. When they are appropriate, they can be effective but usually as a “helper” – not a stand-alone solution. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eeo1kU_MtNg My real objection is that behavioral solutions are logically the first ones to try but are literally never recommended by the people who wish to prescribe drugs – drugs they know are not entirely effective, if at all. )

The reason I question sending a dog with OCD to a vet is simple. For 15,000 years, dog trainers have been taking intentionally created obsessive behavior and melding it into working repertoires. The result is mentally healthy dogs. No blood tests, no drugs, just effective behavioral control. If that surprises you, consider the English Pointer. This dog is literally crazy. He will run 50 miles a day looking for a bird he will never get. When he finds the bird, he stands over the top of it, immobile. He will do this until his feet are bloody, even if the bird flies up and a shotgun goes off. If you put him in a crate to prevent him from seeking birds, he’ll give you a perfect set of symptoms for another modern problem – separation anxiety.

The reason that we do not think of trainers first is the result of a myth fostered by behavioral scientists. They want us to think that they know more than we do. If you want to blow this concept out of the water, answer this question. If you were temporarily blind and had to navigate Manhattan with a guide dog, do you want it from the Seeing Eye,26cityroom-blind-blog480 or from a veterinary learning college? One group has 80 years experience creating thousands of marvelous working dogs and the other has never trained a working dog at all. As a groomer, this would be like comparing someone with 30 years experience grooming against a pet owner with a PhD in hair biology. There is obviously no logical comparison once the terribly matted Lhasa is on the table, in a loop. You know what to do and the learned Doctor doesn’t know why clipper blades have numbers.

To describe the problem further, consider that the only real tool of veterinary medicine is drug therapy. The drugs used to correct things like OCD have never been rigorously proven to stop the problems. To logically test them, you’d have to use the tools of science – like “blind trials.” That’s where the examiners do not know which animals are on the drugs and which ones aren’t. They would also have to test their drugs against known solutions to the problems. As scientists have never figured out that trainers know how to control obsessive behavior, master trainers are never consulted to offer a comparison “control group.” This would neither be expensive nor difficult to do. If the drug companies wanted to test efficacy, all they have to do is get 20 English Pointers and give them a drug that makes them not hunt. The list of dogs that would be perfect test subjects is long – Australian Cattle Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Border Collies and all types of terriers. So, pop the pill and stop the behavior. I would love to see a drug that can make a Jack Russell ignore a lure test. If you can’t do that, you aren’t going to stop him from killing cats in the backyard. Lessening the problem isn’t good enough. If he only maims the cat, you’re still in hot water.

Though drugs are the only things offered for OCD, behavioral scientists do talk about “behavior modification”. However, they are not trained as trainers. (If you are on your toes, you will realize that “behavior modification” and “training” mean the same thing.) They learn a methodology created exclusively by watching rats press levers and pigeons peck lighted keys inside a tiny, blank box. This means the animal has no option to do any behavior other than what the experimenter will allow. The resulting scientific knowledge, called “learning theory” is about like watching a baseball game through a very tiny crack in the fence. Now tell me you would be able to understand baseball from this tiny slice of information. This myopic perspective is almost laughable. If you ask a child what is special about a pigeon, they will tell you that pigeons fly. What pigeon behavior has never been examined by behavior analysts? Flight. A real pigeon isn’t going to play the game of pecking keys if he can fly away and get bread crumbs from someone in a park. The mechanism by which animals switch to other behaviors is barely examined by behaviorists but is logically the purpose of “behavior modification.” Their experiments never examine an animal when it has all of its options open. To quote the great behavior analyst, Ogden Lindsley, “You must always remember that the box is not there to keep the animal in. It is there to keep the world out.”

By contrast, you and I work in a world where controls are limited. Animals get to make decisions to use whichever of their innate and learned behaviors might solve a problem. Consider the garden variety Chihuahua for a second. He isn’t going to let anyone tell him what to do. If he can’t get your sandwich by begging, he’ll gladly dine-and-dash the instant your attention fades. A solution to this problem isn’t about teaching the dog to press a lever to get a sandwich.

Remember that crack in the fence at a baseball game? That is a big part of the issue. The scientists don’t have a full understanding of the game. If you didn’t know what baseball was but were intrigued by the hooting and hollering you’d probably want to get inside the fence and see what it was all about. Not behavioral scientists. They intentionally do not look at what trainers have achieved for thousands of years. That is why OCD is considered a disorder and there is an implication of a malady requiring medication to make the dog stable. The leads us to a logical question: if an agility trainer can control a Border Collie’s obsessive behavior, why not use the same methods to fix any other breed or mix that displays similar characteristics?

If this column seems one-sided, there is a simple reason for it. Her name is Chloe. I know how to fix the problem behaviorally. So do thousands of other trainers out there. Shoving a healthy dog into a long, expensive testing and treatment program requiring permanent medication is not an option for her. Listen to her owner speak with pride about his progress. He loves that dog. He wants her faculties at their sharpest. I am not suggesting that there are no dogs or owners who can benefit from the now-common solution of veterinary treatment. Some dogs really are crazy and drug therapy can sometimes be the correct answer to their problem. Sometimes not. That’s my point.

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