About Gary Wilkes

I have more than 35 years experience working with people and dogs. I have worked at the highest levels of competence and difficulty with real world behavioral control. A big part of my passion is the 8 years I spent in shelters, where killing unwanted animals was a big part of the job. Most of those owners would have kept the dog if simple solutions had been offered to them. At the time I didn't have anything to offer but a kennel and a two in ten chance of adoption. Now I have the solutions. I had to build them myself because those who claim to want solutions to the humane tragedy haven't bothered to. If I make a statement, it's based on more than 25 years experience with thousands of dogs. If it's speculation, I'll tell you. My goal is to provide information you can take to the bank. I hope you like the offering.

A Gardenia clasped by any other clothespin would smell as sweet.

While practical experience and analysis are the best teachers, they do not automatically teach a good understanding of fundamental principles. When trainers are rule-driven or limit their study to accepted applications they can miss important aspects of any training topic. This is a general scent project that will teach you well beyond anything you’re going to get from any single tradition of scent work.
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Pavlov’s Pearl: Doesn’t ring a bell for psychologists.

When I decided to offer behavior services I had already trained two dogs as urban animal control dogs. If you are interested in that story, go to my blog and put ‘Megan’ in the top search box. My dogs were as good in the field as the city’s police K9’s and in some ways better. However, I have a great deal of respect for knpavlov3owledge and learning and decided to delve into the world of science. I called the University of Washington bookstore to see if they had Conditioned Reflexes by Pavlov. (The correct translation of the original Russian title is ‘Conditional Reflexes’. That will make a difference in this conversation, later. )
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I Choose Life. Do you?

I have a couple of priorities that I consider necessary to begin a successful training program. I must have a way to make a behavior more common and I must be able to stop a behavior immediately. If I fail to create a foundation for those things I will eventually find gaps in the dog’s repertoire, later. If the gap includes important behaviors and inhibitions such as escaping out the front door, failing to come when called or chewing a live extension cord, any gap can be fatal. That is an ever-present consideration in my life. If I fail to do my job the dog could die. It’s not just with “serious” behavior problems. It is about creating a repertoire that preserves life. I assume that both polarities must be addressed – creating necessary behaviors and creating necessary inhibitions. Of the two, the overwhelmingly more important is stopping and inhibiting unacceptable behavior. That is the primary cause of death to dogs in the US. They do things that people can’t live with. Stop the behavior, save a life. Ignore the behavior or take too long to fix it and you might as well schedule an appointment for euthanasia. Continue reading

Aggression and Operant Conditioning

About 30 years ago I was a brand-new shelter manager of a small humane society in Oregon. Soon after my hiring I was responsible for performing and supervising euthanasia – a necessary part of the job. One morning I was attempting to give a fatal injection to an adult Lab mix. I was still learning my craft and a little hesitant with presenting the needle. As the needle kissed his skin, the dog jerked his foreleg back and tried to bite my hand.

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A Bird in the Mouth is worth 1,000 Rats in a Box.

Good science does not propose rules that are not confirmed by objective observation of nature. Good science reveals nature as it is. If reality contradicts science, then it’s not really science. This is the “Emperor’s New Clothes” phenomenon. If a child correctly perceives objective reality it doesn’t matter how many highly educated people wish to contradict the obvious. For instance, if you drop two balls of unequal weight from a high tower, you will personally kFallingTubsBathtubnow about terminal velocity. If you suggest that the heavier ball hits first, everyone in attendance can check your statement. The child who says, “They hit at the same time” is correct, regardless of how many peer-reviewed papers wish to question his report. (OK, if you want to be totally anal retentive, if they are Galileo’s balls, used in his free-fall experiments, the ball of larger diameter touches a millisecond before the smaller diameter ball. That doesn’t change terminal velocity – the phenomenon controlled by earth’s gravity.)  Likewise, a traditionally trained dog with a bird in its mouth is an observable fact. If the science-based training does not lead to a dog pointing and then retrieving the bird, that, too, is observable.
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The Permissive Path to Death and Destruction: There’s the rub.

Let’s accept for a second that any use of punishment is horrible. OK. However, I don’t know that it kills very many dogs, outright. It may scare them for awhile and require time to rehabilitate the dog, but death isn’t the usual outcome. However, being intent on clarity, I’m going to accept for a second that punishment somehow kills dogs. My next question is, “how many”? Is it 1:100, 1:1000, 1:1,000,000? The reason I want the numbers is because I want to make a rational decision about the topic. Without some kind of numbers we can’t make logical comparisons. So, we will have to plunge into this topic with some educated guess-work. I used to be a dog catcher. I was a shelter manager. I have real-world experience to help me make heads-or-tails of this. If my perspective seems a little funny, you can chalk it up to my experience. Continue reading

Feral Cats, Neverending

FeralCatTrapI once was the ‘field services’ guy for a private shelter near Seattle. The staff was a combination of rabid animal rights people, clueless little old ladies in tennis shoes and people who were thrust into that job because they had no other skills. I was given the task of trapping out two feral cats at Ivar’s Salmon House in the U district in Seattle. It took about five weeks. First, the cooks threw out salmon for the cats. Second, I could only IvarsSalmonHouseget there about twice a week. Third, I only got one of them. The pregnant female got away. A total waste of time. However, I happened to know of a partial solution and have attempted many times over the years to get it implemented – including telling about 500 directors and shelter managers when I was the main speaker at a major humane conference. So far, no takers. Continue reading

When to say “NO”, literally

TorsoWhen I worked in shelters I was bitten twice by six-week-old kittens and a Chihuahua pinked my little finger nail. Doing what I do now I have three pin-hole marks on the top of my left hand – meaning the dog bit and I was able to relax my hand so that the teeth didn’t come together – no wound on the underside of my hand. In all that time I have only had one real bite. It is insignificant for most of the reasons you might consider and very significant in a couple of other areas.
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How Things Work:

When I was a young man, working in the humane movement, I was offered mounds of information about dogs. It seemed that I was the one person on the planet who was ignorant of the beasts. Every person I talked to seemed to have a great-uncle, aunt, cousin or sister who was a master dog trainer. The various great nephews and nieces would announce their familial relationship, swell up with pride and tell me the secret to understanding the canine psyche. I soon learned to either listen politely to these gems of canine lore or wear protective gear. People who know everything about dogs have very short tempers. Continue reading