A Study in Ethics: Pica

A well known dog behavior expert was quoted in a magazine column by another well known dog behavior expert as saying that if you are going to own a puppy you can expect to have at least one very expensive pair of shoes destroyed. The quoting expert agreed with the quoted expert and the rest of the column was a list of reasons why dog owners should lower their expectations, not of behavior modification, but of dog experts. If an expert says it can’t be done, then they can’t be held accountable if you lose a $3,000 hearing aid, right? Wrong. It’s not about shoes. It’s about socks. The sort of socks that lodge in a dog’s belly and block the intestines. ER vets cut things like socks out of dogs and puppies all the time. It’s called pica and it’s often fatal. Continue reading

Reinforcing what you don’t want: Elegant solutions for tough problems

The suggestion of reinforcing an unwanted behavior often shocks people. Nevertheless, it’s a very useful tool to solve complex problems. That is because it is the practical way to get the dog to recognize the behavior as a unique behavior. Meaning your first goal is often to make the dog recognize the sensations that accompany a behavior. This is critical for behaviors like house training. The dog must recognize the subtle sensation of a full bladder as meaning something – just like an infant in diapers. Unless the animal knows that those sensations are connected to specific consequences it will never acquire behaviors that solve the problem. i.e. You can’t know that it’s beneficial to go outside to use the bathroom if you don’t know that a full bowel has anything to do with it. Continue reading

Scientific Confirmation: A Specious Argument

I once met a woman at a seminar who was up-to-date on all the academic blather about why one should never use punishment. She said two things that were completely mistaken – not because she had ever done or seen what she described, but because someone with an academic degree (or some opportunistic “modern, scientific trainer”) had pronounced a rule. The first was the concept that if you attempt to punish aggression, you are only punishing the “precursor” to the behavior while leaving the motivation intact. The implication is that the dog will be seething with pent-up angst and then explode when you least expect it. The other thing she said was that there is “no scientific evidence” to demonstrate that punishment stops behaviors. Au contraire on both counts. Continue reading

Charlie, Pt.1 – a work in progess.

Charley is a dog that looks like a solid gray bearded collie. He lived for three years with a hoarder. Two more years in two different rescue organizations, a month at a vet clinic and now, in a 20 X 15 pen (with a shade tree) and a sturdy dog house behind a horse stable. If you walk toward his pen he will growl at you without moving his head – as if it’s a matter of smell. Like those Japanese movies about Zatoichi, the blind samurai masseuse. This is not your run-of-the-mill growl, but a low, soft grumble that sends a chill up your spine. If you put a leash on him, he will violently bite through it, usually leaving his mouth bloody. As he has long hair around his mouth, it rapidly becomes a clot of blood, spit and dirt. He will not take food in the presence of a human. He will allow you to rub him through the chain link when he’s lying up against it, but he shows no indication that he likes it. It doesn’t change his behavior, either. Meaning that if your tools are “all positive” you can forget about fixing him before he dies.

(Note, I am a month into Charlie’s training. This post is where I started. I will update it as I can. This is  a dog who makes progress but throws speed-bumps in your way, constantly. Solve one thing and you are stopped until you solve something else. Right now we are working on getting him on leash without a war, every time. His leash biting is from being handled only on control sticks/catch poles his entire life. He goes from zero to 100 at the instant he feels tension on a leash.)

 

Half-dead vs. All-Dead vs. Discomforted but Alive

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Author’s Caution: This article is not for the faint of heart or part-time animal lover. It is rated R for adult situations, illusions to graphic violence, personal sorrow and the meaningless but avoidable death of healthy, normal animals.

In the movie, “Training Day”, Denzel Washington plays a very rough, bad cop who has a signature question for the various thugs and lowlifes he meets in the course of his day. “Do you want to go home or do you want to go to jail?” This simple dichotomy cuts through all the nonsense and the street-people know exactly what he means. I was once given a similar dichotomy to choose in an unexpected setting. “Would you rather half-kill a dog or kill it all the way? ” Continue reading

Conditional Reflexes: Pavlov translated

A correct translation of the title of Ivan Pavlov’s magnum opus is not Conditioned Reflexes. Pavlov studied unconditioned reflexes. The title of his book is Conditional Reflexes. In Russian, the word for conditioned and conditional is the same. You can only know which meaning is correct if you put the word in context. The English translator didn’t know the context – just like modern behavioral scientists. If you think this is a small thing, read on.

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