Sunday, September 20, 2015

STOP in the name of dog!

Transparency: the condition or state of being transparent which simply means the condition or state of being honest and open. Not secretive. What does this have to do with dog training? A lot.

Dog Training is a very unregulated industry. One can call themselves a dog trainer right now. Within minutes you can have a professional looking website, have business cards printed, start a Facebook page and call yourself a professional dog trainer. Question is are you one? 

Professional: a person engaged or qualified in a profession

The industry's lack of guidelines and laws concerning the various professions in the pet care world make it a desirable place for many to start their own businesses without any prior knowledge or experience in that field. The only profession that is regulated is that in the Veterinary field. All others such as groomers, walkers, sitters and trainers are not bound by regulations other than city and/or county laws of running a business. Most pet care providers don't comply with those laws either. They are neither registered with the city and/or county, have insurance or the required licenses to run their business.

My personal interest goes to the "About" page. What have they done to become a dog trainer? Where did they gain their knowledge? Are they self-taught? How do we know if these people really know what they are doing? This is where I ask you to STOP and think! 

For someone to call themselves "professional" the requirement should be: special education, training and skills relating to that specific job. Self taught is absolutely acceptable but then have your knowledge tested and/or certified to ensure you provide the services you get paid for and follow ethical rules in the treatment of dogs by using methods that do not include pain and fear as training methods.

Any educated dog professional will proudly and without hesitation provide all that information. They are transparent! They will provide a clear overview of their education and provide clear answers on the methods they use. Thanks to scientists such as Skinner, Pavlov, Watson and Thorndike we have the knowledge we have today of dog training. We know for a fact that dogs learn two ways: through association and through consequence or better known as Classical and Operant Conditioning. Thousands of experiments support the animal learning theory and the theory has successfully been applied to millions of animals. Sadly we have trainers that make up their own theories when it comes to dog training. Claiming to have developed a new method when it all comes pretty much down to above mentioned ways of how dogs learn. Some use force and some don't.

Trainers that use the good stuff (food, play, access to other dogs, toys, etc) in training are the trainers that provide clear information on their websites! All others are usually pretty vague and often manipulative in their description. 

Here is a great example of an "about page" of a random dog trainer and self-proclaimed behaviorist. 

"... She has since been educated in animal behavior as well as canine obedience and training. [Name] holds a BS degree from ##### University and a Masters from #####  University. “ Two sentences glued together almost on purpose providing no substantial information about the education. It almost seems like this person is trying to camouflage the part that is important: “educated in animal behavior as well as canine obedience”. The question here is where? Not at University Number 1 and 2. A quick research provided that the person in question got their degree MS, Math & Computer Science and their Masters in MBA, Marketing and Finance. None of the degrees have anything to do with animal behavior or training. Marketing at its best but not in your best interest.

Another interesting point here is the use of the word "behaviorist." The trainer in this case is misusing the term behaviorist. She has no education in the field. Is it allowed? Regretfully it still is. It is deceitful and unjust for anyone to use that term unless they have been educated in the field. 

"Animal behaviorists are behaviorists that focus on companion and domestic animals, such as dogs and horses, or they may concentrate their studies on animals in the wild. Behavior topics can include what causes certain behaviors, why the animal exhibits that behavior and how the particular behavior influences the behavior of other animals."

Degree level: Bachelor's degree for entry-level positions in the field/ master's or doctoral degree for animal behaviorist positions. 

Here is another example of an "about page" but one of an educated trainer:

"[Name] is a graduate of Jean Donaldson’s world-renowned SF/SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, and holds a post-graduate honors Certificate in Curriculum Development & Design, and a graduate degree in Social Work. She is a certified professional dog trainer, holding her CPDT from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and is a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers." The trainer did mention the other degrees but was very clear where the knowledge of dog training came from and what else she did to be a dog trainer. 

Another good way to identify a qualified dog trainer from an unqualified one is the terminology. If you see words such as methodology, dominance, alpha, pack animals, pack leader, energy, empathic dog training, corrections, commands, understanding the way dogs think, respect, submission, alpha rolling, can full of pennies, helicoptering, tapping, slip leads, every dog has their own unique approach, etc. you know you are venturing into the world of dog trainers who practice training based on the dominance theory. See references for further information.

Terms you should look for:

Those words provide you a clear answer which means these professionals train without pain!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Misinterpretation of a Smile

We idolize our dogs and often attribute human characteristics to them. In scientific terms it is called anthropomorphism.

"an·thro·po·mor·phism. anTHrəpəˈmôrfizəm/ noun 
the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object."

We want our dogs to smile. A smile is a pleased, kind or amused expression and when it comes to our dogs we want to show nothing more than the good side of our canine companions.

 Picture copyright and courtesy of

A smile as expressed by humans is one of those human characteristics that does not exist in the world of our dogs. They don't show their happiness, kindness or pleased mind set through a smile. It does appear on occasion that some dogs do provide us with an expression that looks very similar to a smile. It is called a submissive grin.

Submissive grin

Some dogs exhibit a type of passive submission (or otherwise defined as a calming or appeasement signal) by means of a facial expression we consider a grin or a smile. The dog pulls his lips up vertically and displays his front teeth. The grin is usually accompanied by a submissive body posture. That posture could be a lowered head, squinting of the eyes and overall lowered body. The dog also will avoid any kind of eye contact. It is believed to be an inherited trait as defined by Beaver (1999. Beaver called it the mimic grin in which he determined that it is a facial expression that is an inherited submissive behavior.)

Here are some great examples:

Copyright and courtesy of

Picture copyright and courtesy of Memphis Mutts Pet Photography

Often people identify a submissive grin as a warning signal and consider their dog aggressive when the dog is communicating exactly the opposite.

A Step closer to Aggression

There are people who believe their dog is displaying a submissive grin when in reality the dog is not. A smile misinterpreted. We have had a famous example not too long ago of an upcoming photographer and mom who submitted her picture to C'Oeur D'Alene Press of her young son sitting next to a dog she believed was smiling. Up until today she heavily defends her dog's action saying her dog and her son have the best relationship and that no aggression is involved. When we evaluated the body language the dog is signaling we analyzed the following: the dog's nose is pulled up and wrinkled. The forehead is in a frown. A stare. Ears pinned back. The bunny ears another stimulus that most likely contributed to the facial expression as did the little boy kissing the dog on the cheek. The dog does not have the ability to move due to being pinned between the boy and the glass door. 

C'Oeur D'Alene Press

Another example of a misinterpreted smile. In this case the dog is petted on the side of the muzzle and the owners believe he is smiling in response. 

Picture screen shot of Golden copyright B.C. Marshall

What do these dogs signal? Aggression with the intend to hurt. A dog providing signals as above will retract his lips to expose his teeth clearly. The wrinkle of the muzzle and frowning of the forehead are typical expressions of a warning. The pinned back ears, the stare, the stiff body posture inevitably signal discomfort and dislike. 


No matter what causes the dog to provide a submissive grin or a clear warning signal the information the dog is providing us is the same: These dogs are not comfortable. With submission the dog intends not to harm but wants whatever is happening to stop and with aggression the dog will harm to stop whatever is happening. 

As far as we are informed neither of the dogs displaying aggression has bitten a person. Just because a bite hasn't occurred doesn't mean it will not happen. It does show us great restraint on the part of both dogs. The response of both owners was denial. Honestly, who wants to accept that their cute family companion may not be as cute as they thought he would be. Understanding dog behavior is a crucial element when it comes to preventing injury. Dog bites occur too often and commonly with devastating results. Most dog bite victims are children. When dog bites occur the dog bares the blame. The dog also becomes a victim like the person who got bitten. The very bite the dog placed often result in euthanasia of the dog. Was the dog to blame or were the humans involved responsible for what happened. Either way we know that the dog bite could have been prevented. Never set up either involved party to fail. 

Educate yourself on dog body language. Educate yourself on dog behavior. We have a lot of work ahead of us!

For more information:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring 2015

Spring and Fall are my favorite time of the year. Let the joy begin!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Confessions of a dog trainer. Pet Peeves. Part I

When it comes to dog training many people feel confident and knowledgeable in the field. No one ever seems to hesitate to provide advice. Question: "How accurate is the information?"

In most cases the well intended advice of friends, family, acquaintances or even complete strangers can cause more of a headache than do good. It always amazes me with what easiness people provide training and behavioral advice. Where do these people get their knowledge?

The knowledge has been picked up by maybe reading a few books, watching dog training shows on tv, attending a dog training class, through other people, owning a dog and learning through trial and error. Is this knowledge a good base to provide accurate information about dog training and especially behavioral issues? The answer is NO.

Dog behavior is a complex field. We are looking at the psychology of another species. We are talking about Behaviorism. Have you ever heard of Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, Watson or Thorndike? These individuals were responsible for providing us an insight to the phenomenon of how we learn. This applies to humans and animals alike. The behavioral psychology these famous individuals provided us is still used today. Thanks to all their scientific experiments we know how humans and animals learn.

We humans don't come with innate guidance when it comes to dogs. There is no pre-programmed software package that we get born with. Some people simply have better dog skills than others which were most likely acquired by an early exposure to dogs in their lives. It is not instinct but something we have learned over time.

Now what bugs us trainers? The well-intended but often wrongful advice of others to a dog owner who is dealing with some kind of issue. Why do people do it? Why do people accept it?

"Advice: guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as  knowledgeable or authoritative." Definition 

In human psychology it is known that people usually hesitate to take another person's advice. Your opinion is your opinion. Period. A human will take someone's advice if advice is sought. An answer to a question. If the question is paired with despair and hopelessness and humans believe they have drained all of their options then advice is easily taken and often not even checked for accuracy.

"Are you having behavioral issues with her that you're not figuring out? Let me know what those are - perhaps I can help you." - Quote from a friendly stranger

One of the many examples that turned well meant advice into a disaster is the one of my neighbors. They rescued two dogs from the pound that had belonged to a distant cousin who had recently passed away. My neighbor knew nothing of dogs and nothing of dog training. The dogs were very well trained. The older one was not an issue but the younger one was. He was energetic, pulled on-leash and jumped on people. The dogs stayed with me and I was able to start training the younger dog. He only stayed with me for a few days which allowed me to reinforce some of his good behaviors and start working on the issues they had with him. All of the issues were basic obedience issues. No behavior ones. I provided them with a no-pull harness to decrease the pulling and some tips on how to continue.

Two weeks had passed and I ran into my neighbor. Harness was gone. Choke collar was put in place. He was pulling and she continuously jerked the leash to slow him down. When I approached her she pulled the collar up and used her leg to push his butt down.

A close friend and dog owner of my neighbor had shown her how to train the younger dog. She was not a professional. She had taken a few dog training classes from an aversive trainer. Aversives trainers use force in training. Aversive trainers also often don't have a formal education in dog training. I will be focusing on that in part II of  "Confessions of a dog trainer. Pet Peeves." A choke collar is what it is: it chokes the dog which means air is the training tool and it is used to get the desired behavior. The dog was shut down, ears pinned back, mouth slightly open, panting and his eyes were big. The dog was stressed. A new behavior was developing and it wasn't a behavior that could have been tackled with some basic obedience. The new behavior was becoming a behavioral issue since he was starting to get fearful.

"Again, happy to hear if there are other behavioral issues that you're dealing with to try to guide you. I'm not a trained behaviorist but seem to have had an innate guidance about doggies since I was a little girl." - Quote from a friendly stranger

Another good example I recently encountered. A house training issue. The owner at the end of her wits put up a post to re-home her dog. She had followed through with well intended advice from others. The result was that the dog was still house soiling.

Advice from the online group flew in from all directions. I offered to help the person seeking to re-home her dog. At the same time I engaged with the unofficial dog behaviorist with the innate guidance about doggies. As a professional one of my biggest pet peeves. My advice to her advice was to not provide advice in a field she had no accreditation in. I did so without pointing out what part of
her information was incorrect. Oh my! My advice was not taken well. Human behavior at its best.

"Potty training is something that has been done with doggies long before there was a "professional certification" around how to do it ... that's all I'm saying. I've had dogs all my life." - Response from the non trained behaviorist to my advice not to give advice.

I had to endure insults, belittling and discrediting to my profession and my person. Made we wonder how they would have responded if someone had given advice in their field of expertise. It came down to science schmience. Who needs it? You need no certification to provide advice. Good point. Maybe you don't need a certification but maybe providing correct information would be a good start.

The woman contacted me for help. We talked on the phone for an hour and I wrote up a 6 page training plan providing her with exact information on what to do and why she was doing it. The training will start soon. No more yelling "no" at the dog or pushing the nose into the pee. That well-intended advice just resulted into the dog sneaking off to a save place to eliminate. We are now pushing towards results which means we are finishing the house training by helping the dog to discriminate between inside and outside without any form of harsh punishment (no screaming, yelling or physical corrections). If the owner will pull through with the training she can keep her dog and all will be good!

My advice to people is to stop and think. Use your common sense. Have you ever asked yourself why professionals have agreements? Insurance? Professionals tend to exceed the level of knowledge and expertise in the dog behavior field. That is a fact. Education and training does do wonders! Looking like a dullard is not difficult especially when when the information is not correct. Google is probably not going to be your best friend either since the unregulated pet industry allows all kinds of dog training. Training that is based on science and training that is based on myths. Where do you look? What do you remember? Now that is exactly my point and one that I will discuss in our next part of the series: "Confessions of a dog trainer. Pet Peeves." If you do get the advice from a professional not to provide dog training to others unless you are a qualified professional don't consider it a "slap on your wrist, territorial or stealing the professionals business." You are actually helping the professional get business without realizing it. You are not a competitor. You never will be. I hate to say it. A professional is just providing you advice for your own protection.

"For now stay calm and assertive!" - Definition: Dog Trainer joke!