Understanding Anti-Dog

I had an interesting phone call from a gentleman from an action group designed to put more accountability on dog owners. Without being said explicitly, the group was overall ‘anti dog’. Though there may be some cultural reasons for this I think, overwhelmingly, this group was formed as the individuals are in some way annoyed by dogs in their lives and feel the need to do something about it.

Though the gentleman and I definitely did not agree on many things, it was at the very least an interesting conversation. Below are some of the parts that I recall the most strongly and I believe could be of the most interest.

Please note that I live in the state of South Australia, and my comments are particularly in regard to my state. I do, however, welcome you to comment on any of your own legislation in your country or state, and how you feel it is working, or not. Continue reading


Kenneling Rescue Dogs

Please note that this is an old post and some of my ideas have changed since it was originally published. I leave it up for historical purposes.

Recently, I came across “Minimum Health Requirements for Shelters”. I had the pleasure of working in an animal shelter that did meet most of these standards, and were close to meeting the remaining. This was a big shelter and had many resources, both financially and in terms of staff and volunteers.

However, I believe that my shelter was exception in this regard – many shelters do not provide an enriched and healthy kennel environment. The Animal Welfare Act calls for food, water, and shelter, and all kennels I know meet these standards, but we all know that animal welfare is a lot more than these essentials. Because of the complexity of animal welfare, the practice of kenneling dogs has been brought into dispute.

This post looks to examine how the lack of resources often means that rescues cannot meet these minimum health requirements, and that they ultimately have to make difficult decisions regarding the fate of their animals due to their lack of resources. Additionally, it will look at why many rescues kennel dogs, and the problems associated with long term kenneling. Alternatives to kenneling will also be considered. Continue reading


Paucity in Dog Science

I’ve always loved the quote, “If you put two dog trainers in a room, the only thing they will agree upon is that the third dog trainer is wrong.” Any issue in the dog world is like this: Vaccinations, feeding dogs, desexing, dog-dog interactions… Anything that involves dogs almost undoubtedly also involves some conflicting ideas.

In my opinion, these conflicts are caused by the paucity in scientific literature on dogs. There is a lot of material out there about dogs, but not a lot of it has been studied scientifically. If dogs were studied in this way, maybe we would have less conflict and more solid answers on the right things to be doing with our animals.

So why aren’t we researching dogs? Continue reading


Wolves and Domestication

Considering that dogs can breed with wolves and produce fertile offspring, they are defined as the same species. Obviously, however, there are huge differences between dogs and wolves. I am currently reading Coppinger and Coppinger’s book, Dogs: A new understanding of canine origin, behavior, and evolution (which I highly recommend), and some of the differences that they point out are:

  1. Dogs are more successful than wolves, and in fact any other canid.  There are a lot of dogs in the world, and not so many of any wild species.
  2. Dogs come in a lot of shapes and sizes. Wolves come in one.
  3. Wolves are not very adaptable – environmental changes have considerably disrupted their populations. Dogs adapt well.
  4. Wolves are not highly specialised and are, indeed, a generalised predator.  For any skill or sense, you can find a dog that can do it better than a wolf.  (e.g. Greyhound run faster than wolves, Bloodhounds smell better, etc)
  5. Wolves and dogs do not behave the same.
  6. Wolves avoid people.  Dogs live around or with humans, and indeed seek them for food.
  7. Wolves kill their own food, while dogs rarely hunt (and indeed are quite bad at it, if you consider The Trio of Dogs study I wrote about).
  8. Wolves are had to train and tame, while dogs, obviously, are biddable and tame.
  9. Dogs and wolves have different cognitive abilities. Wolves are better at problem solving, learning by imitation, and observation, while dogs learn from repetition.  Wolves do cleverer things, but dogs are more able to be conditioned to do clever things.

Clearly, there has been a big change here. Dogs are the same species as wolves (Canis lupus), but are a recognised subspecies. There has been a lot of talk about how dogs eventuated, especially considering these very pronounced differences between wolves and their subspecies.

There seems to be two arguements to how this development took place.

One suggests that humans took wolf cubs, domesticated them and, over successive generations, the wolves became more tame, the humans suggested for more dog-like characteristics, and eventually we ended up with a dog.

Another suggests that some wolves found the human camp sites to be of appeal, and chose to occupy surrounding areas. For these wolves, become less-scared of humans was advantageous (i.e. they got more food from it) and so they were more successful.

These two conflicting ideas (humans domesticating dogs, or dogs domesticating themselves) seem to speak loudly in in texts.  Indeed, Coppinger & Coppinger (pg 41) say, “Looking closely at the behaviour of wolves, and understanding the biology of a wild animal, I don’t think there is a ghost of a chance that people tamed and trained wild wolves and turned them into dogs. I think a population (at least one) of wolves domesticated themselves.”

Personally, I don’t understand why the two theories are exclusive.  Who is not to say that wolves floated around campsites and became a little more tame, and some of these wolfpups were taken in and raised by humans?  How about if wild wolf pups were taken into the camp, had strange abnormalities (not unlike what we see in domesticated dogs) that meant they were unsuccessful as a hunter, and so had to, by necessity, float around the camp?

I think this was probably a joint venture – wolves wanted to be domesticated, and humans decided to domesticate as well. And it’s not inconceivable to think that many populations of wolves and people decided to undertake this venture.

For further reading into this area, have a look at this blog (“Evolution: The Curious Case of Dogs”) and I highly recommend the Coppingers’ book.



I’ve always been somewhat sceptical on the concept of jackpotting.  I don’t know why it has never sat well with me – it just seems a bit much to comprehend that dogs can have an understanding of a degree of success.

That being said, my experience does indicate some benefits in jackpotting.  I guess the best description of what I do is ‘mini-jackpotting’.This is what I use when free shaping behaviours, and I reward ‘more successful’ attempts with more food.

Over the last couple of days, I have been training scent identification and indication.  The process was very slow, until I started mini-jackpotting. In this example, my scent was a teabag and I wanted my dog to scratch/dig at the teabag.

Over the session, I was rewarded different interactions in different ways.  My dog would be rewarded with one piece of kibble if the looked at or moved towards the teabag.  I rewarded touching the object with a paw with numerous bits (about 5 pieces). An actual scratch or dig with about 10 pieces.

My dog was very slow at first, but mini-jackpotting seemed to very much speed up the learning process.  There are several reasons that this may be the case…

  1. I read once that dogs understand the time of a reward more than the quantity of the reward… i.e. Dogs find it more rewarding to be given 5 treats in a row, one after the other, rather than being given a handful of 5 treats.  So, dogs find a long reward more rewarding. (Unfortunately I don’t recall the source of this suggestion.)  As it takes more time to eat numerous treats, perhaps the dog understands this as more rewarding.
  2. Another approach on the time front is that when the dog is eating numerous treats, they are actually having time to think. Perhaps when I reward many-treats at once, the dog has more of an opportunity to think through and the improvements I see towards my target behaviour are actually from this thinking time, rather than the reward itself.
  3. The dog might actually understand that if they do x they get more treats than if they do y!

This is the most thought I’ve ever given to ‘mini jackpotting’, and I haven’t been very logical in its implementation.  If this system occurred by accident or subconscious desire to jackpot, I am unsure.  However, I have found it to be quite successful and I would be interested to see if anyone has had similar success.

Further reading: Schedules of Reinforcement