05/27/14

Preparing for Earthdog Season

It’s almost the time of the year for earthdog once again! Earthdog is a ‘winter sport’, spanning from approximately May to August, weather permitting.

Earthdog is a fun sport for dogs of ‘earthdog type’ (small terriers, dachshunds, and mixed breeds of), where these little dogs get to test out their natural instincts. The sport involves small tunnels being set up, so these dogs can have the chance to ‘go to ground’ and encounter ‘quarry’ at the end.  In South Australia, our quarry is typically a deceased rabbit, but judges have the discretion to use other quarry (like fluffy toys).  For many terrier and dachshund type dogs, this is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for, to put all their fire and enthusiasm into what they were bred to do!

 

Earthdog den setup at SACA Park, Kilburn, Adelaide, South Australia.

Earthdog den setup at SACA Park, Kilburn, Adelaide, South Australia.

 

There are two key parts of teaching earthdog: Teaching a dog to travel through the small tunnels, and teaching the dog to ‘work’ the quarry.

 

Tunnel Training

In earthdog tests, we use wooden liners to create tunnels. For those wanting to train at home, you can easily make tunnels out of cardboard. Tunnels should be 9 inches by 9 inches square. For the instinct test, the ‘easiest’ level for earthdog, they are expected to go through 3 metres of tunnel with one right angled turn. Lots of dogs have difficulties with corners, so do make sure you design your home made tunnels with a corner! You can make many segments to create 3 metres or more worth of tunnel.

The simplest way to get your dog to go through an earthdog tunnel is to lay a food trail and get your dog to gobble it up piece by piece, going through the tunnel as they do so.  Overtime you can make the food trail more sparse, and use a word to get your dog to go through the tunnel – a command like “Tunnel!” or “Get the bunnies!” are most suitable.

 

Quarry Training

In an earthdog test, once your dog gets to the end of the tunnel, your dog is expected to ‘work’ the quarry’. Working is normally digging or scratching, barking, or biting at the quarry. I would suggest you either invest in your own deceased bunny (most butchers can order one in for you – make sure they keep the fur on) or, if you’re faint hearted, invest in a particularly fluffy and life like toy. See if you can get your dog excited and tugging on the bunny or toy. Having a dog very committed to getting their quarry is an excellent start.

The next step is to get the dog to work even when they cannot get the quarry. Set your dog up behind a wooden or cardboard grill (again, you can make this out of cardboard boxes).  As you wave your quarry in front of the grill, your dog needs to work (bark, dig, scratch, or bite) at the grill from the opposite side.  Reward your dog by giving him his quarry for small inclinations to work at the start, but over time, build up what you expect from him.  At the most advanced level of earthdog, the dog needs to work for 60 seconds – so if you can get 60 seconds of continual work from him, you’ve got what you need!

 

Put it all together

If you have a dog that is going through tunnels, and is working quarry through a barrier, you then need to put the pieces together by putting that barrier at the end of the tunnel.

 

If you need help, the Earthdog Advisory Committee is running a training day on the 14th June 2014 at SACA Park (Kilburn, South Australia).  It is $2 per dog for you to come try, and get some training and help from members of our committee.  Only dogs of ‘earthdog type’ (small terriers, dachshunds, and crossbreeds of) are eligible to train.  RSVP is not necessary, but if you require more details contact Tegan Whalan on 0421 506 482 or email teganwhalan@gmail.com

03/2/14

The Power of Habit

When most dog training focusses on ‘rewarding the good’ and ‘punishing the bad’, the importance of habits (and habitual behaviour) is often overlooked.

Sure, a lot of dog behaviour is based on consequences. This is well understood.

But sometimes dogs do things because they ‘always have’. The regularity of performing this behaviour in itself drives further incidence of the behaviour.

It’s not necessarily that a dog learnt that it was appetitive to partake in a particular behaviour, but that it learnt that it could do that behaviour, and did that enough times that it became a habit.

HairlessHounds Photography

If you don’t want your dog to stand on the sofa, don’t let it become a habit! Photo courtesy of HairlessHounds Photography.

Sure, sometimes this habit behaviours start because of the consequences. For example, a lot of reactivity behaviour.  Initially, the dog was concerned about other dogs so barked at dogs when they got too close. This behaviour was reinforced, as the scary dog normally went away when that happened. However, while that may have been the dog’s thought process two years ago, after the dog has practiced barking at other dogs for a two year stretch, what was initially goal orientated behaviour became habitual behaviour – “I bark at other dogs because I saw them”.

 

Often, dogs perform behaviours because ‘they always have’, and there is nothing intrinsically appetitive about the behaviour or its consequences.

 

Take for example my girl Myrtle. At one stage, whenever I let her out the door, she would run barking to the fence – and she did this enough that it became a habit. Myrtle’s thought process wasn’t based on reinforcement or punishment. If you asked her why she ran to the fence, her answer would probably be about the antecedent (“I ran to the fence because the door opened.”).  It’s a very simple behaviour chain.

Habits can be fixed by concentrating on the antecedent.

While on one hand habits are hard to break, many are also easy to solve by simple management like solutions, which concentrate on the antecedent. In Myrtle’s case, if I put her into that yard through the gate instead of the door, she did not bark at all. After a week or two of putting her into the yard through the gate, she simply ceased to perform her run-and-bark-to-the-fence behaviour. The antecedent was removed for long enough that Myrtle got ‘out of practice’ when it came to this habit. She now can enter the yard through the door with no problems.

 

Basically, if your dog always barks when he sees the postman, or always jumps up when you come home from work, or always scratches the upholstery in the car, your best way to fix this is to just not let the antecedent happen. Remove the postman from view, don’t allow your dog access to you when you come home from work, put him in a crate so he doesn’t scratch the upholstery of a car.

Every time a dog performs a behaviour, he gets in practice and it could become a habit. You need to minimise opportunities for dogs to practice any type of behaviour you do not want to occur.

 

Instill Good Habits

Want your dog to rest quietly in their bed of an evening? Tether them near or crate them on ‘their spot’ for them to settle there. When you remove the physical restraints, the dog will have learnt to sleep in that spot simply because they haven’t had opportunities to sleep in other places.

Don’t want your dog to barge through the front door when you open it? Scatter treats as you open the door – your dog will never practice barging through the door. They’ve learnt to be slow and stay inside (where the treats rain from the sky), and so never get in the habit of barging through the door in the first place.

There are many more examples. Let your dog practice doing all the things you want. Set them up for success in practicing good habits. When you stuff up, the dog learns alternative and possibly less desirable behaviours – and it’s easy for these to become a bad habit.

 

Habits and toilet training

Through rescue, I have had a lot of dogs come in that are used to living as ‘outside dogs’, and have never been toilet trained. Almost all these dogs have been easily toilet trained with no or minimal accidents inside. Why is that? I would argue that they are in the habit of toileting outside – they may not even know it’s possible to empty their bladder or bowels inside because they’ve never had the opportunity. A good habit has been formed.

The first two weeks that you bring a new dog into your home is the best time to instil good habits, especially surrounding toilet training.  Many good habits can be formed by simply not allowing your dog or puppy to engage in bad toileting practices.

Ian Dunbar’s long term confinement area works on this principle. It prevents puppies from getting into the habit of toileting on carpet, tiles or floorboards by minimising opportunities for them to ‘get it wrong’.

However, there’s another upside to this – not only did you prevent the pup from learning the ‘bad habit’ of toileting on inside surfaces, they also learnt the ‘good habit’ of toileting on turf. It’s a win/win situation.

 

The moral of the story? Don’t let bad behaviours become habits!  Everytime a problem behaviour is practiced, it becomes part of the dogs’ behavioural repertoire.  Use management to break patterns of behaviour so they don’t become a bad habit.

Equally as important is to make sure your dog gets into good habits! Maximise the opportunities for your dog to practice behaviours you want.

 

Further reading:

When Management Succeeds

Ouch! Lead work

02/4/14

Aggressive Breeds via Owner Accounts

Establishing ‘aggressive breeds’ without using dog bite data: Using owner reports to establish the most aggressive dog breeds

 

ResearchBlogging.orgIn 2008, data was published on the ‘most aggressive dogs breeds’, with dachshunds, chihuahuas, and jack russells, coming out on top. Recently, various media reports having been reappearing on my newsfeed on this study, with titles like “The 3 Most Aggressive Breeds Revealed“.

Before we begin, please do acknowledge that I adamantly against BSL. I am heavily influenced by research and evidence and, currently, all the evidence points to breed specific legislation never being effective in reducing the incidence of dog bites, in any place globally.

That being said, because I am interested in science, I am interested in studies like this.

So what can this study teach us about aggression in particular dog breeds?

Cindy the Jack Russell Terrier: In the top three aggressive breeds according to this study.

A Jack Russell Terrier: in the top three aggressive breeds according to this study.

 

The Flaws in Breed Aggression Research

Aggression is a difficult characteristic to assess in dogs.  There are a variety of methods that researchers have used, and all have their ‘downsides’.

Using dog bite statistics is not the best course, as most dog bites go unreported, the dog breeds involved cannot be verified and, even if they are verified, it is impossible to understand how many dogs of that paricular breed exist in the community.

If you’re only looking at caseloads from behavioural clinics, then this data is likely to be biased.  Generally, people with larger and more dangerous (because of their size) dogs are more likely to seek help, as are people who have dogs aggressive to members of their family. (This article doesn’t mention it, but finances also play a role here – only those owners with the finances to attend behavioural clinics would be represented in such a study.)

There has been some popularity in behavioural tests (cough – D&CMB proposal – cough) where they do threatening or scary things to a dog and score their responses.  The problem with this is how this actually relates to the ‘real world’ and the aggression the dog displays in everyday life.

When you ask owners about their dog’s behaviour, their experiences and responses are subjective. And ‘experts’ aren’t much better, with many of them representing ‘shared stereotypes’ whether conclusions from their own experiences.

 

Study Design

In this particular study, C-BARQ was used. C-BARQ has a good record as being pretty reliable when it comes to asking owners what their dogs are like, temperamentally.

Members of 11 AKC club (‘club sample’) and vet clinic clients (‘online sample’) were invited to partake.

1,553 C-BARQs were completed by the club sample, with 29 excluded as they did not meet criteria.

8,260 C-BARQs were completed by the online sample, with 1,257 excluded for being mixed breeds or with no breed indicated, and 2,051 excluded as there was less than 45 of that breed represented – so in the end the sample was 4,952 responses for 33 different breeds.

They were rated on aggression towards strangers, owners, and other dogs.

 

Summarised Findings

The online sample and breed club sample differed in some ways.  Breed clubs submitted more intact dogs, more female dogs, and older dogs than those in the online sample. Despite this, the results were quite consistent across the two samples.

Dog aggression was the most common and most severe type of aggression in the study, but dog aggression was not correlated with aggression to people. This supports the widely held view that ‘dog aggression’ does not indicate a risk to people. Similarly, aggression towards household-dogs was not associated with aggression towards other dogs or people. From the data in this study, more than 20% of Akitas, Jack Russell Terriers, and Pit Bulls had serious aggression towards unfamiliar dogs.

When it came to aggression towards people, the highest rates were found in smaller breeds, ‘presumably’ because aggression from smaller (and so more manageable and less dangerous) dogs is more tolerable.

When it came to aggression towards owners, more than half of the aggressive displays towards owners were associated with the owner taking food or something else away from the dog.

While fear in animals is associated with aggression, fear was not strongly correlated with aggression in this study. Some dogs were aggressive but not fearful, some were fearful but not aggressive, and some were fearful and aggressive.

A quote from the study on their findings,

“Although some breeds appeared to be aggressive in most contexts (e.g., Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers), others were more specific. Aggression in Akitas, Siberian Huskies, and Pit Bull Terriers, for instance, were primarily directed toward unfamiliar dogs. These findings suggest that aggression in dogs may be relatively target specific, and that independent mechanisms may mediate the expression of different forms of aggression.”

Screen shot 2014-02-02 at 5.01.31 PM

Further results on a more breed-by-breed basis (breeds listed alphabetically):

  • Akitas rated higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • American Cocker Spaniels rated higher for aggression towards their owners than other breeds.
  • Australian Cattle Dogs rated higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds, and also rater higher for aggression towards strangers.
  • Basset Hounds rated higher for aggression towards their owners than other breeds, but were below average when it came to stranger directed aggression.
  • Beagles rated higher for aggression towards their owners than other breeds.
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs were among the breeds least aggressive towards people and dogs, and ranked below average on stranger directed aggression.
  • Boxers rated higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • Brittanys were among the breeds least aggressive towards people and dogs, and ranked below average on stranger directed aggression.
  • Chihuahuas rated higher for aggression towards people (both owners and strangers) and higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • Dachshunds rated higher for aggression towards people (both owners and strangers) and higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • English Springer Spaniels rated higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds, and also rated higher for aggression towards owners. Showed bred English Springer Spaniels were more aggressive than field bred lines.
  • German Shepherd Dogs rated higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • Golden Retrievers were among the breeds least aggressive towards people and dogs, and ranked below average on stranger directed aggression.
  • Greyhounds were among the breeds least aggressive towards people and dogs, and ranked below average on stranger directed aggression.
  • Jack Russell Terriers rated higher for aggression towards people (both owners and strangers) than other breeds and higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • Labrador Retrievers were among the breeds least aggressive towards people and dogs, and ranked below average on stranger directed aggression. Field bred labradors were more aggressive than show bred labradors.
  • Pit Bulls rated higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • Siberian Huskies ranked below average on stranger directed aggression.
  • West Highland White Terriers rated higher for aggression towards other dogs than other breeds.
  • Whippets were among the breeds least aggressive towards people and dogs, and ranked below average on stranger directed aggression.

 

Warning against reaching conclusions on the genetic basis of aggression…

The authors caution, “Demographic and environmental risk factors for the development of canine aggression need to be investigated across a variety of breeds so that both generalized and breed-specific influences can be identified.”

 

So what do you think? Are these studies results consistent with your experiences?

 

Reference:

Deborah L. Duffy, Yuying Hsu, & James A. Serpell (2008). Breed differences in canine aggression Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 114 (3), 441-460 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.04.006

View PDF.

 

Further Reading

More on C-BARQ: Can breeders breed better?

12/12/13

Teach Your Dog How To Love Your Baby

This article is designed to help you establish a strong and lasting relationship between the baby and the dog – a relationship that will last a lifetime. These steps are relevant to after you have already brought the baby home and the dog was introduced to the baby.

The trick is to make an association in the mind of the dog between the baby and good things that can happen. You are normally tempted to pet the dog a lot when the baby is asleep while pushing the pet away when the baby is awake. That is understandable but the opposite is actually a lot better.

 

Sleeping border terrier puppy.

 

Offering Treats At The Right Time

You want to teach the dog that when he/she is around the baby, good things happen: petting, playing, treats and so on. Feed the dog when you feed the baby and when you walk the dog, if possible, take the baby with you. When you apply this strategy, the dog basically starts to love it when the baby is active and awake.

The problem is that such multi-tasking is quite difficult. It is a lot easier when there are two adults that live in the same home. If that is not the case, you can still do a lot by simply holding the baby and talking to the dog, stroking him, offering treats and tossing balls.

 

Sometimes Ignoring The Dog Is Better

When the baby is not around, use some reversed psychology. Try to ignore the dog when that is the case and eventually the pet will start to eagerly appreciate the time when the baby is active.

 

You Need Some Quiet Time

Having a baby is time consuming and there are moments in which you want to make sure that you can tend to the child’s needs without being bothered by the dog. Have designer dog beds in the same room where you will feed your baby. Whenever it is time to give the baby a bottle, offer a treat to your dog and more rewards should be given when the dog just stays on the bed. Once every few minutes, throw a small treat so that the association between baby feeding time and treats on the bed is established.

 

Dealing With Baby Sounds

In most cases the dog will ignore the loud baby signs but there are circumstances in which the pet needs some help in order to get to that level. If you see that the dog is distressed when loud baby noises are heard, try to associate them with something that the dog loves. Once again, the treats work! When the baby cries or squeals, throw a treat! The dog will thus realize that the loud baby noises are not a signal that something is wrong.

 

Babies Grow Up

Even if the dog ends up loving the baby because of the perception that good things happen when the child is around, as the baby grows, things do change. He/she will start grabbing, poking and sometimes bother the dog. In order to establish a very good relationship between the two, you need to also continue paying attention to what happens as the baby becomes a toddler.

 

This is a sponsored guest post.

10/22/13

How to Introduce Your Kids and Puppy



Exceptional Canine: Active Dog

How to Introduce Your Kids and Puppy

By the Editors of Exceptional Canine for Exceptional Canine

How to Introduce Your Kids and Puppy

Your kids have been clamoring for a puppy for a while. Now the moment has come, and you can’t wait to introduce your kids to your new puppy.

But don’t let your eagerness and your kids’ excitement keep you from laying the proper groundwork for what should be a long and joyous relationship.

There are a number of steps you can take to make this a positive interaction.

Teach Kids to Respect Your Puppy
Like puppies, kids need boundaries. It’s up to you to establish how they’ll handle the family’s new addition. Consider these steps:

  • Lay ground rules. Remind kids to be gentle. Demonstrate by petting their forearms and heads as you would your puppy. Ask them to practice by stroking your forearm and head. Set a policy about how and when they can pick up your puppy, and think like a kid to determine any other regulations: Plenty of kids have been tempted to dress poor puppies in doll clothes, for example.
  • Ask for soft voices. Remind kids to talk in gentle, soothing voices, as they would to a baby. Your kids should never yell at your puppy, even if he makes a mistake. Explain that dogs can be startled by loud noises.
  • Establish space. Teach kids to respect your puppy’s space, especially at mealtimes. Even the best-natured puppies might bite if they feel threatened.
  • Teach patience. Remind kids to let the puppy come to them. Even the smallest child can spook a young dog if it reaches or grasps for the dog.
  • Make rough play off-limits. Tail-pulling and teasing are neither funny nor cute, and these behaviors can lead to your puppy establishing bad habits, such as jumping up. And holding a toy just out of your dog’s reach isn’t kind.

When Puppy Comes Home
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, aim for a smooth homecoming. Try these steps:

  • Keep your home quiet and normal. Now is not the time to host a sleepover with a half-dozen shrieking preteens. Until your puppy settles in, avoid loud play dates or disruptions.
  • Introduce your puppy gradually. Let your puppy experience your home one room at a time.
  • Limit puppy-kid playtime. Keep interactions short and sweet — between 15 and 30 minutes, two to three times a day. Explain that puppies need plenty of rest.
  • Supervise puppy-kid interaction. Always supervise interaction between your puppy and your kids, correcting behaviors as needed.

As you take the time to make this a positive
experience for both your kids and your puppy, remember: The lessons you teach
now will go a long way toward helping them bond for years to come.