Category Archives: Philosophical Dog Discussions

Dog Training Consumer Rights

Dog Training Consumer Rights

Our society is filled with intelligent, thoughtful people….until an expert comes along, then we fall apart in abject wonder.  Consumer Rights help protect people from charlatans and those who mislead.  Dog Training Consumer rights appear to be weak compared to other established corners of the market.

Consider a thought experiment:  Your car is sluggish, you are loosing power; you’ve had the car for 100K km (~60K mi.).  Which of the following three mechanics would you prefer to service your car for a tune-up?

1. “I can get you that in a day or two, every car is different so it might take some extra time for yours.  A few tweaks under the hood and I’ll whip it right into shape for you no problem.  It’ll be running like new in no time!”

2. “I can recondition the electrical pulse devices within your internal combustion engine and ensure an adequate air-fuel ratio so that combustion via the electrical discharge ignites the mixture within the chamber providing sufficient exothermic reactions to provide kinetic energy needed to propel you’re vehicle.”

3. “I can change your spark plugs, if required, otherwise I’ll clean them to ensure that no built up soot or carbon is causing the power loss you’re feeling.  I’ll also check the wires to make sure that the electrics are reaching the plugs properly.  If needed, I’ll adjust the fuel injectors as well.”

The first mechanic is a bit vague; the second uses very technical almost scientific jargon difficult to understand; the third is easily  understood, and seems to convey what is required.  The third would seem the best choice.

Now, consider some Dog Trainers; what language might be best providing Informed Consent – a key to any type of treatment plan and improved consumer rights:

Case 1 – The dog needs some training on leash for pulling:

1a — “I’m going to get down to the dogs level and make him understand that I’m the boss and that he can’t be dominant over me.  He’ll learn to be calm, because I have a special energy that works with dogs.”

1b — “I’m going to use Positive Punishment and Negative Reinforcement and perhaps some Positive Reinforcement and Negative Punishment, on your dog.  he will find the first two aversive – that is in their definition and to avoid the aversive he will seek a behaviour to stop the application of the aversive.”

1c — “I’m going to use this device, which will cause the dog to feel annoyance at the very least, but possibly pain – these reactions are what the device was made for.  When he does what I want, I will stop using the device and the dog may do the behaviour faster next time.  Problems associated with this device and technique are that he may come to associate me, you or something else nearby with the discomfort or pain caused, and he may lash out or become fearful.   We may also need to keep using the device in order to continue to achieve the behaviour.”

Case 2: The dog is scared of things on a walk:

2a — “I’m going to talk to the dog in a gentle manner so that he understands that he is not alone in this world and together we can get him to a happy and emotionally calm state.  In time, he will understand that the spirits around him mean him no harm.”

2b — “I’m going to use Desensitization and Counter Conditioning to achieve a shift in the emotional state of the dog when he sees the stimulus that is causing his amygdala to cause him to have his reactions.  We could also try some Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible behaviour.

2c — “We’ll use super treats right after he sees the scary thing.  We’ll start at a distance first, when he notices it, but isn’t reacting; then move closer as long as he is still comfortable.  What we’re doing is slowly changing his associations with the scary thing -he’ll learn to associate it with a good thing, the super yummy treats.  Working to closely to the scary thing might make matters worse, so we’ll keep an eye on how the dog is doing.  Let’s try this first, before we try another approach.”

Out of those 6, which do the best job at  providing enough information to achieve Informed Consent?  Hopefully 1c and 2c.  1c may sound horrific but provides the information needed.  Both explain, in simple, understandable language what is going to happen AND what fallout might occur.

Dog Training Consumer Rights are vague at best and have no specific legislative backing.  Dog trainers should be using clear, easy to understand language so the public understands what is being done to their dogs.

People need to be aware of risks.  Consumers put faith in experts of all sorts.  Consumers should expect Trainers to disclose what may cause harm to their dog or might make the dog worse.   Not doing so is akin to a surgeon not telling you that you have a chance of dieing if he cracks open your chest and stops your heart to preform a bypass.  Informed Consent should be standard practice.

As of this writing a Current initiative on Facebook is setting a challenge to all trainers across the world to disclose what their techniques will accomplish.

The Dominant Dog

A dominant dog?

People say all the time “My Dog is Dominant!”  But what do they mean by dominant dog?  Lets get a definition first.  Dominant = Having power or influence over others. (Oxford Dictionary).  This is more of an idea than an action though.

Can ideas be measured?  Ideas don’t have anything empirical that can readily to measured.  Counting how many times something has power or influence over another is hopeless without first understanding what power or influence might mean.  The parts of power and influence might be measurable but how do we measure those?

Something we can measure, can be changed.  Pasta can be measured; to much, you take some away; not enough, you add.  A dog sits, count the number of sits.  Apply some training, and the dog sits more or less often; change is achieved.  What behaviours are said to denote power or influence in dogs?

Behaviours are often associated with a dominant dog:

  • Jumping up
  • humping
  • guarding a toy/food/person/spot etc
  • demanding (affection/attention)
  • etc (some lists are extensive and label everything a dog does as dominant)

All these behaviours can be measured and changed.  Dogs do what works.  Dogs will not waste energy on behaviours that are ineffective at achieving a goal (goals = getting/keeping good things or avoiding bad things).

Jumping up is a pro-social behaviour; something puppies do for greeting or for getting food (out of mothers mouth combined with licking the dams lips to make her regurgitate).  Puppies couldn’t be dominant over a dam any more than a baby is dominant while breast feeding.  Training – Jumping up can be mitigated by waiting for more human centric appropriate behaviour and rewarding that — “better to sit and not jump and getting food/attention than waste energy on jumping up and getting nothing.”

Humping is a misfiring sexual instinct (inappropriate timing or stimulation).  Dogs are not dominating each other.  Training – a good “off” or redirection usually works -humping is usually fun for humpers so the redirect must be stronger than the humping.  For an avid humper, this may take time.  “I’d rather come and get a tasty cookie than hump this lab!” [ed. Labs seem to be very hump worthy]

Guarding resources is necessary for wild canine survival – ie. another (probably misfiring) instinct.  Something we discourage in our dogs — humans don’t like sharp teeth pointed at them.  Trainingapproaching a guarding dog and providing better stuff can change the guarding to anticipation [ed. Mine! by Jean Donaldson is an excellent resource]. “Oh Boy, here they come again with bonus cookies while I have my bone again, I love it when they do that!”

Demanding attention/affection.  Dogs are social animals.  Social animals seek attention and affection – being pushy about it merely means the behaviour has worked in the past.  Training – wait for a lull in the pushy behaviour then reward for a lack of pushiness.  Increase duration before rewarding, or reward when there is no demanding.  “if I pester, I get nothing; if I wait, or don’t push, I get attention.”

Each dominant behaviour associated with a “dominant dog” can be dissected in this way.

Let me assume for a moment that I am incorrect in my argument and that there is such a thing as a dominant dog.  Living with this dog, I have the ability to stop feeding; stop watering; stop providing shelter; stop the ability for reproduction; stop social interaction with other dogs; even take life from the dominant dog.  Who is dominant?  That the dog is, or could be dominant in this situation is spurious.  Perhaps a better question is why do we ascribe the ‘dominant dog’ label?

Human culture abounds with dominant humans.  We have clear social hierarchies extending well beyond family bounds.  Organizations of commerce and the military have clear order;  who is on top; who is on bottom.  Humans project these structures to other animals because they make sense to us even when there is clear evidence to the contrary.  Dogs only spend energy continuing strategies that get them stuff, or keep away pain (and injury).

That all the behaviours of a ‘dominant dog’ are modifiable without force or intimidation, suggests that even if geared toward a dominant goal, dogs would rather spend their energy not being dominant.