Monthly Archives: December 2012

Confessions of a cross over trainer

I first started training dogs over 43 years ago with a very patient black Labrador named Lisa and a check chain. Poor Lisa she was drilled every walk and I used a leash pop with the check chain as the cue to make her sit. (Sorry Lisa I really wish I knew then what I know now, Please forgive me). Lisa was a garbage guts and the use of food would have revolutionized our training but I was not to know.

 

Then I got my chow chow called Chi. My first dog that was all mine not the families. I had no experience with a Spitz breed and no understanding that when they didn’t want to do something they just didn’t do it. Neither did the head trainers at the top obedience clubs (who shall remain nameless) that we frequented over her life. More drilling for an hour each day and more leash pops and no food still and very little training at home.  Sorry Chi but you and Lisa must be shaking your heads at me up there in doggy heaven. I did get drops and sits and sort of recalls but never to a competition standard. I just had the wrong dog for obedience I was told as none of the head trainers could work her out either. Barbara Woodhouse was all the rage on TV and “walkies” in a high sing song voice was the catch phrase. Great to get a dog to walk with you but useless for a dog that insisted on pulling me along.

 

Along came my first Belgian Shepherd called Mistral and by this time we were still leash popping with choke chains now renamed check chains but we had also added alpha rolls and be a pack leader to our techniques. This was back in the mid 80’s and it is a wonder I never got my head bitten off. I decided to try out conformation showing with Mistral as I really didn’t have the hours to devote to obedience training. This introduced me to the use of baiting with food or a toy in the ring to get the dogs attention. That worked well, we came to the line up and used food to get the dog to give good eye contact. Why didn’t I think about food for other uses outside the ring?

 

Meanwhile Chi was still barging badly on a lead, dragging me all over town on our walks and I had heard of a trainer that had another method that might be helpful for her. Off Chi and I went to a lady call Chris Johnson (or Johnstone) who introduced me to a more positive method of working with my dog not trying to force her into what I wanted. Well that was an amazing about turn and unbeknownst to me I had started on my route as a positive trainer. In a couple of lessons she achieved what hours and hours of obedience club drilling and lease pops had not. Chi was a different dog and we could enjoy lovely walks and I commenced to implement her techniques on hundreds of dogs from that point on.

 

Many Belgian Shepherds later I am still using food as a bait in the show ring but not so outside the ring. Fast forward to early 2000 and I have Mistral II. Crazy woman, says my ex-husband, why get another dog and call it the name of the first nut case that was Mistral I and expect to be anything other than a handful. Yep he was right Mistral II just refused to get the recall command. A high prey drive that meant she was totally oblivious to even $200 a kg steak waved under her nose when cows were around to chase. I went off and brought Melissa Alexander’s Click for Joy book and a clicker and armed myself with the yummiest of treats. It was OK as a training method if the cows were not around I got much better compliance from Mistral II but I really couldn’t get the hang of clicker training and well old habits die hard. Back to the check chain (which I was fairly well trained in using to check and release) and more hours and hours of obedience club drills. Forward and back, in and out, weaves, sit, drop and stand your dog. She did it but well she never really enjoyed it, neither did Jet or Alexia.

By this time I was also working as a groomer and had gained a reputation of handling very difficult dogs that others were not able to. I had rehabilitated numerous hard to groom dogs and learn many things about what goes on inside a dog’s head. I found out that force achieves nothing but force or aggression back.

 

I decided to enroll in the Certificate IV companion animal studies with Delta Australia and the second of the one in a million trainers came into my life. Kerrie Haynes-Lovell taught me how to use a clicker correctly and the pivotal moment is still strong in my memory. Over at the RSPCA at Yagoona with Kerrie behind my shoulder and me facing a young lab cross (Lisa reincarnated I believe) who was jumping six feet in the air. With Kerrie’s assistance that dog had stopped jumping in about 2 mins. I was hooked.

 

Late in this course I had to produce a video showing me training a complex task with a dog and a simple task with another species. Which dog and which species was the issue. After trials and tribulations with the long suffering Nicky the Belgian cross farm dog, Cherry the miniature poodle, Zena the horse and a unnamed ferret I settled on Zena for the simple other species task and Cherry for the complex task. Neither of these animals had ever been clicker trained and I had jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool.

 

Zena was pretty easy as all I had to go was convince her to touch my hand when she got clicked and rewarded. That took a few sessions as she was being trained with no restraint so when it all got to hard for her she walked off.

 

Cherry was much harder. She belonged to my business partner and had a number of behavioral issues as a reactive dog. She also had had limited training and I had decided to get her to discriminate between two different margarine container lids called one and two on command.  An inexperienced dog and inexperienced trainer and a deadline for assignment submission to a person who would see all the faults wasn’t fun. But cherry got it and a bonus was for the first time ever this training made her relax and sleep properly. 30 minutes of training and she would then curl up on the lounge and snore for 2 hours. Bliss!

 

Since then I have started many dogs using reward based training, always off lead where possible. I have trained many dogs who have been trained under force based punishment methods and rehabilitated all of them. I still have not stopped Mistral II from chasing cows as it is not possible to undo hardwired genetic behavior, she is managed so she does not get a chance to chase them.

 

Would I ever go back to force based punishment methods? No way as using positive reward based methods means I have fun, the dog has fun and my client has fun. It is a delight every time I find a new dog and owner that this wonderful method can be used to change their lives and in a very short few minutes “fix” serious behaviors that owners had not had success fixing before.

 

BUT I am so sorry I never worked this out 43 years ago.

 

Regards

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

www.elitepetcare.com.au   |    www.petcaremagician.com

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

 

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Do dogs get PTSD?

I have been writing lately about fearful versus aggressive dogs and also about how the grooming process can flood dogs and set up unwanted aggressive behaviors  It is not uncommon in a grooming salon to have a new dog in and when you start to do something like check in their ears or scissor or clipper near their face the dogs go ballistic. Screaming and throwing their bodies around, even biting. Why would the dogs do this when the groomer has never touched them before and didn’t touch them in an aversive way?

Not all dogs are flooded in professional settings and not all dogs react to aversive events in the same way. In humans a disorder known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is well known. It is commonly seen as a result of being involved in traumatic events. There will be a number of PTSD cases as a result of the tragic school shooting recently in the US. It is well known in soldiers and policeman who are regularly involved in traumatic events. What is not understood is why PTSD affects some individuals and not others even thought they have been through the same experiences or why a person can get PTSD from one traumatic event whereas others who get it experience months or years of trauma before being affected. Even people who do not witness the event but are affected by it can get PTSD.

PTSD is not well documented or understood in dogs. Do dogs get PTSD? If you take a dog that has lived many years in a puppy mill situation regularly being punished with lack of food, heavily matted coats causing pain, fleas, worms and even dog fights, or suffering spacial deprivation it would stand to reason that the repeated trauma to those dogs would result in some degree of PTSD. Do dogs that attend a groomer that regularly exposes them to forceful procedures that the dogs are forced to endure, such as dryers and clipping get PTSD? Do dogs that are harshly punished day in and day out at home for simple normal doggy behaviors such as barking get PTSD?

View the video from Channel 7’s Better Homes and Gardens show where Dr Harry recorded a segment on a dog that had a traumatic grooming experience. View video here

Go back to the example I started with, a dog that when you put scissors to its face goes ballistic and bites. Some years ago this happened to me when grooming and after finishing the groom I returned the dog to the owner and asked why he was so upset about scissors near his face. The owner then told me that they had been trying to trim the dogs face and had cut his face a few times. I also regularly see this effect of dogs retaining memory of trauma when it comes to issues with feet. If I get a dog that fights badly over a particular foot it is not uncommon for the owner, when asked, to tell you the dog hurt that foot badly years ago. A puppy that was living with me years ago broke her front leg and to this day she panics whenever that leg is about to be touched. This is not a physical issue as the panic starts before touching the leg.

The work I have been doing with River demonstrates this as well. River is a farm dog, rarely goes into town and in order to take these videos and have him see a vet for allergies I had to forcibly put him into the car crate to take him to town.  He was not impressed but eventually I got him in and traveled the short distance with no ill effect. However on every day since then when he gets into the car crate he lets go of his bowels. I have had to perform the desensitization/counter-conditioning process for the car crate as well as the grooming salon crate. One bad experience and he was traumatized, likewise one bad experience for a dog when being groomed and they may be traumatized. One bad experience or ten of an owner who is trying to clip their dogs face or pluck ear hair and they may be traumatized  This may well fit the diagnosis of PTSD in dogs. There is very little in the literature about this disorder in dogs.  How often do we force our dogs to do something they don’t like and how often do we think about the consequences of doing this and find a more humane way to do it or do we just adopt the attitude “they will deal with it” Luckily many dogs do deal with it and do get over it but not all do.

Regards

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

www.elitepetcare.com.au

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

Are all abused pets in puppy mills?

I have just been looking at many posts on Facebook and Yahoo grooming groups from groomers Australia wide and I am very angry.

There is photo after photo of horrendously matted dogs and cats that groomers have had to do “whatever it takes” to get the matted coats of these animals removed. I can hear you all saying “oh those poor dogs they must have come from puppy mills”

BUT

These dogs have not come from puppy mills they are owned by people who let them get into horrendous messes and then front up to a groomer hand over the dogs and say “please fix this” and sadly groomers can fix it and do but at what cost to the animal. Please don’t get me wrong I am not having a go at groomers, this is a very clear swipe at pet owners who think it is OK to buy an animal that needs far more day to day maintenance than they are prepared to give.  To make matters worse every groomer can tell you stories of owners who present time and time again with the animals in EXACTLY this same condition six or twelve months later. I am one of those groomers. After thirteen years professionally grooming I now have zero tolerance for owners who give me all the excuses under the sun as to why their dog is a matted, sometimes poo infested mess. They know I can and do make their dogs better and that if they present the dog back to me in the same state up to a year later I will still be able be able to fix their problem.

THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE IN THIS MODERN SOCIETY

It is time for pet owners to take responsibility for the care of the animals they own and to be prepared for the amount of grooming that many breeds require.  It is not OK for dogs to be kept in puppy mills and not be given adequate grooming and it is equally not OK for dogs to be owned by people and also to be allowed to get into horribly matted messes that take hours and considerable “manhandling” by groomers to fix. Yes we can fix it and yes we normally do so at far less charge than we should be charging but that doesn’t make it OK.

Pet owners of Australia you need to be responsible for the day to day care of your animals and to think long and hard before you get your next pet.

To those wonderful owners who present dogs to us that are beautifully groomed and cared for thank you so much you have no idea how grateful your groomer and your pet are. We wish every owner was like you.

To the groomers out there who day to day fix this problem at far less payment than they should charge – The pets thank you. If you would like to send me pictures of some of your worst cases of dogs that have been owned by people and been neglected please email them to me.  Address   Feel free to post a comment below of some of the excuses you get given. It is time to life the lid on what we see behind closed doors.

Regards

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

www.elitepetcare.com.au   |    www.petcaremagician.com

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Groomers who chose to use positive methods to groom dogs and cats

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

A Reactive Dog, No Power and No Internet – Help!

The electrical providers are performing major work on the power lines over the last two days so we are into our second day with no electricity. There have also been moderate thunderstorms for the last week so the atmosphere is also electrically charged. When you are in a house out of town with the only sounds being the cows, birds and the very rare passing car when the electricity goes out it demonstrates the type of hum that a normal house has all day every day. This background noise is much more evident to the dogs than us due to their enhanced hearing.

 

So that would make for a  much more relaxed environment you would think, that is unless you have a reactive miniature poodle that does not cope at all well with any changes to her environment. Poor cherry is not having a good day today reacting to every outside noise by trying to jump up and run down the corridor barking out of control. White noise (background noise) is used as a very effective calming technique for reactive dogs. I use it extensively for her, always leaving a radio or television on so there is an ambient level of noise in her environment. It also works well for me as having PTSD and its associated anxiety I find that I am calmer when there is some noise around me. Not to mention that no computer, no internet, no television and no cup of tea has made me a bit on the stressed side today.

 

Luckily I have a store of good books to catch up on and Cherry and I are lounging around with her snuggled up next to me getting a nice calming massage while I read about canine body language and, until the phone battery gives out, my iTunes library.

Regards

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

www.elitepetcare.com.au   |    www.petcaremagician.com

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Groomers who chose to use positive methods to groom dogs and cats

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

 

Are dogs being groomed aggressive or just scared out of their wits?

Grooming dogs as a professional is not an easy task. It is a physically demanding job that frequently involves working with dogs considered aggressive. Society labels any dog that is performing actions, that we believe, are designed to hurt us as aggressive. The owners of these dogs are often at a loss when the groomer tells them their dog is aggressive. The general comment is “But fluffy is never like that at home”

Are these dogs aggressive or are they just scared and exhibiting aggressive behavior?

More often than not these dogs are just plain frightened and the only way they can show this is by using aggressive behavior  in an attempt to get what is scaring them to stop. They are scared because they are anticipating danger, pain and/or they are in a totally unfamiliar environment. They are also scared because their normal pattern of dealing with what they see as an aggressive act towards them is not working and they are unable to flee from the aggressor. They do not understand that what is being done is for their own good.

 “Fear elicits a series of physiological and anatomical processes aimed at the best possible solution for survival. Fear usually leads to flight or immobility and sometimes to displacement behavior.” 1 p.18

Dogs are hardwired with an aggression inhibition system which means that when faced with aggressive acts they undertake behaviors that are designed to stop that aggression by the opposing dog.

Roger Abrantes in Dog Language – An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior provides an excellent description;

“Puppies play by tumbling around and biting one another. Suddenly one of them gets a grip on the other’s ear. It bites hard and the poor brother or sister howls in pain. The other puppy succeeds in getting its teeth in the tender skin of its sibling’s belly. Much whining and yelling follow. They stand still for a short while, then let go.

Next time they act slightly differently. One will gasp the other’s ear only until the puppy begins making noise. It will react to the sibling’s vocal distress, which works as a mechanism to inhibit or control aggressive behavior  Previous experience showed the puppy it is better to let go at the first signs of vocal behavior, or its belly will hurt“1 P.23

Evolution has designed dogs to avoid threatening situations they believe will lead to injury by setting them up with strong behaviors that act to moderate any aggression from others in their social group, including humans. Sadly evolution forgot to teach those communication skills to humans.

Consider then a dog or puppy that has learnt this behavior but is now in a grooming salon. It is frightened by the strange person, the weird noises and the process that is occurring. It considers the loud clippers or dryer hose to be identical to the threat posed to it by an aggressive sibling. It wants to flee but is prevented by the grooming noose or the big scary monster holding the dog in place. It initially displays calming behaviors,2 such as lip licking, looking away and yawing, all of which normally work to defuse a potential situation. Confused by the humans inability to understand its communication signals it is then forced to move to the next level by growling and then possibly nipping. This dog is doing what it is hardwired to do, enacting the aggression inhibition system, but it is totally confused as to why it isn’t working. In a best case scenario, for the groomer, they shut down. Shut down is however not a best case scenario for the dog as the stress hormones signalling the need to fight or flight are still circulating. In a worst case scenario you have a groomer, unskilled in canine body language and failing to understand these calming signals who exacerbates the problem by failing to understand how a dog’s aggression inhibition system works. They push the dog harder and harder to submit to the process and in so doing undermine the learning system of this dog. They teach a dog that calming signals, whining and growling don’t work and force it into more aggressive behavior such as biting.

Dogs do what works and repeat behaviors that gain them the outcome they prefer. A dog that is finally forced into a bite wins as biting is a sure fire method to stop the unwanted interaction. In an older dog this is less concerning however if this is a puppy, especially if it is in a fear period, can be disastrous. Over time this dog learns to forgo all the initial methods of communication and go straight to the bite. In a vicious circle the groomer then mark this dog as aggression, or worse all dogs as aggressive, and develops harsher grooming methods.

So what is a better way to manage this interaction?

  • Learning about calming signals and low levels of aggressive behavior and understanding that when given they mean the stress level is rising and the dog needs some time to become more comfortable and that alternative handling procedures need to be employed.
  • Not pushing a dog until it is past the point of no return and the encounter ends up with either a shut down dog or a bitten groomer
  • Learning how to apply counter-conditioning and massage methods in a grooming situation.
  • Running a salon or mobile van that has a calming environment with staff that have calming energy.
  • Encouraging owners to bring their dogs in before they are horribly matted and before they are older and having them on an appropriate schedule so they are less stressed during grooming
  • Teaching owners the importance of socialization so that their dogs are exposed to unusually situations from an early age and develop the ability to deal with them.

 Regards

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

www.elitepetcare.com.au

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

Further Reading:

1Roger Abrantes Dog Language – An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior. Wakan Tanka 1997

2 Turid Rugaas – Calming Signals official site

Bill and his love of sauce!

 

There are a few main tenants of positive reward based dog training:

1)      Dogs continue behaviors because they are rewarded for doing so

2)      Dogs stop behaviors when they are not longer getting rewarded by it.

3)      The reward is determined by the dog.

4)      In order to stop behavior it must stop being rewarded and it will stop in a process known as extinction.

5)      Extinction burst can occur before behavior stops.

6)      Punishment does not stop  behavior it just suppresses it

7)      Positive reward based methods promote new behavior more effectively

 

But what does this actually mean in human terms?

I would like you to meet Bill.

 

Bill is an ordinary everyday kind of guy, married and works in a pretty ordinary job. Noting fancy but he is really keen on brand ABC sauce. Nothing tastes OK without this sauce according to Bill but  he has to drive 15 minutes out of his way each time he needs it and his wife refuses to go and buy it for him.

 

He had tried his hardest to get me to like this sauce but I hate it. So this fulfills point 3. The reward is determined by the person (or animal) being rewarded.

 

Every time he goes to this shop he buys a bottle of this sauce comes home, puts it on his meal and thoroughly enjoys the taste. He continues to go 15 minutes out of his way each time to get his reward. The behavior of going to the out of the way shop continues as he is rewarded by the shop having his favorite brand of yummy sauce.

 

All is fine until one day he gets to the shop and the sauce is not there. Not a problem thinks Bill they will have it tomorrow. Tomorrow he finds there is still no sauce. No problem says Bill, I have enough to get by for two more days. Two more days later still no sauce. This is extinction or point 4. So Bill is now getting pretty desperate as his world is not OK without his sauce. He gets up 15 minutes early the next day and goes before work and again after work but sadly there is still no sauce available. (Extinction burst as he tried harder and harder to continue the behavior)

 

How long Bill will keep attempting to get his sauce we don’t know as extinction can be a quick or slow process depending on how entrenched the behavior was.

 

Let’s back track a bit and find out what would happen if Bill had stopped at any time in this process to complain to the shop owner. Not an uncommon scenario as most people don’t like their heavily rewarded behaviors being upset. Bill goes up to the shop assistant and asks when his ABC brand of sauce will be in. The shop assistant is dismissive and implies he is being a pest. Bill feels punished for his like of the sauce. He is determined to go back next day and this time talk to the shop manager.

 

Next day the shop manager tells him to stop annoying them; he gets angry and pushes Bill out the door telling him to go away. Bill is now fuming. How dare this shop treat him say negatively, he has been a good customer for years and his love of ABC sauce is no threat to them. He returns the next day and has another altercation with the manager, who this time calls the police and Bill is arrested for disturbance of the peace. He still does not have his sauce and he is now really angry at being punished so unfairly. This could keep going on for a while with Bill stuck in his need for ABC sauce and the shop stuck in their punishment methods. Not much fun for either of them. A lose / lose scenario for both Bill and the shop as Bill does not have his sauce and the shop has this person annoying them every day.

 

What would have happened if the store manager had chosen to use a positive reward based method instead?

 

This time when Bill confronts the manager to complain the manager tells him he is so sorry but that sauce is no longer available and because Bill has been such a good customer he sends him home with 3 complimentary bottles of XYZ sauce to try. So Bill, being Bill, is still not so happy that his regular sauce is not available but hey this is free let’s try it. He does and finds it is almost as good and that given time he could find it as rewarding as the previous brand. Meanwhile he has avoided an ugly confrontation with the shop and the police. A win / win for both parties and Bill and the store manager have both avoided the need for blood pressure medication. The shop has kept a customer and Bill is on the way to a new more acceptable behavior replacing the previous one.

 

Humans and animals work on the same principles of behavior modification so why not give a more positive method a try next time you want to change an unacceptable behavior your dog is exhibiting. Interactions that result in win/win outcomes are always more fun than those that result in lose/lose.

 

 

Regards

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

www.elitepetcare.com.au   |    www.petcaremagician.com

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Groomers who chose to use positive methods to groom dogs and cats

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

Lifting the lid on traumatic dog grooming methods.

NOTE: This is not aimed at any groomer in particular and is written as a general article from years of research and work as a groomer. Once I become a positive trainer and learnt how to read Canine Body Language I was horrified at how I had forcefully handled dogs for years as a dog owner and as a certified groomer.

Dogs live in our world and are expected to conform to how we want them to behave. For dogs this puts them into a totally alien environment where they are must be prepared to submit to such procedures as brushing, washing, not chewing, digging or barking. How do we make dogs do this?

In an ideal world they slowly and systematically become trained to our way of thinking. Brushing, washing and clipping are pleasurable activities they often experience that make them feel good. They understand that barking at 3 am in the morning is not acceptable and that the $200 pair of new shoes is not the same as the well chewed old pair of shoes they found in the laundry. They grow up in environments where they have not learnt to be frightened of novel events. Their fears are taken into consideration by trained professionals when being handled.

Sadly however this is not the case for some dogs. For a number of reasons they are scared of noises, scared of strangers and scared of procedures that are required to keep them happy and healthy in our human world. These scared dogs are presented regularly at grooming salons and veterinary clinics where it is expected they will submit to the procedures required or else. Dogs need to be clipped, washed, have nails trimmed and brushed. Vets, veterinary technicians and groomers are not always trained in the best methods to use to get a scared dog to submit to these procedures. Often they fail to realize just how terrified the dog is.

All of these places are busy and commonly the procedure must be done in the fastest possible time and dogs are expected to “deal with it”. A technique known as flooding is employed.

The concept behind flooding is simple – force the dog to encounter a stimulus that would generally elicit a flight or fight response, but prevent the dog from using those two coping mechanisms to deal with the stress.  The hope is that when the dog experiences that nothing scary happens from the encounter – they will learn that the flight or fight response isn’t necessary and will therefore put them on the path of a more normal behavior for that situation.1

 

Flooding works on the theory that the body cannot keep up a stressed out state of alarm forever and that they will eventually replace the fear they feel with a feeling of relaxation. It is an old fashioned psycho-therapeutic method used on humans to overcome phobias. Imagine that you are scared of spiders and in order to prove that spiders won’t hurt you are LOCKED into a very small room and thousands of spiders are released. Sooner or later the theory is that you will come to love spiders. If it works it works very fast but only when applied on the right phobia by trained personnel under controlled conditions using psychologically proven relaxation techniques  and only when the phobia is causing significant life disturbances and as a last resort.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIR2-oPbxjk  – Flooding a dangerous dog used as a training method by professionals experienced in the technique. Flooding was used appropriately when there was no other option as dog was facing euthanasia

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfZMVzckClE  This is flooding used in a grooming situation. Read the comments for more information on why this is not an appropriate technique.

This technique is seen regularly on television as a cure all for all manner of behavioral problems and every day thousands of vets, vet technicians and groomers are doing it all over the world. So why should this technique not be used?

  • The experience is traumatic and the fear is often not cured just suppressed with the dog learning to exhibit learned helplessness while the stress hormones evoked still circulate at very high levels in the dog.
  • The most common side effect is enhanced fear.
  • Other techniques such as systematic desensitization take too long and most people don’t understand the difference between this and flooding and are not trained in these processes.
  •  It is often done with significant positive punishment and physical negative reinforcement resulting in the fact that people are becoming unable to tell when a dog is shut down and they believe that a quiet dog is calm or submissive when in fact they are far from calm from the point of view of their nervous system.
  • Because we no longer believe dogs deserved to be punished for normal or scared behaviors.
  • Because there is now an understanding that dogs need socialization and experience of scary events from an early age

Victoria Stillwell in her blog on Positively.com makes the following comment about the use of flooding:

 In some cases flooding works, but this therapy is controversial because the likelihood of failure is so high. In the majority of cases flooding only makes a dog more anxious and forces the dog to adopt a different coping mechanisms such as fighting, irrespective of how many dogs there are, or shutting down – where the dog becomes almost numb to the environment and behaves in a way that is truly out of character – an instinct that keeps him safe and ensures survival. This shut down lasts as long as the dog is in the flooding environment, and once back in his comfort zone, the dog is free to be able to show his true feelings again.4

Is flooding still an appropriate technique in this modern age?

NO

Groomers, vet technicians and vets should be willing to adopt more humane methods when it comes to dealing with dogs and cats that are brought in for their care. If flooding is deemed to be, after everything else has been tried, the most appropriate method to use it should only be done by professionals specifically trained in the procedure. Pet owners should insist that their dogs are not traumatized in the process of being cared for by pet care professionals.

Regards

Louise Ker
The Pet Care Magician

www.elitepetcare.com.au

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

1http://selfhelpdogtraining.com/wordpress/?p=115

2.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flooding_(psychology)

3.   http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/140102.htm

4.   http://positively.com/positive-reinforcement/victoria-stilwell-articles/flooding/

5.  Practical experience as a professional groomer for 13 years

6.  Thousands of Facebook, Yahoo group posts, You tube videos and blog entries from groomes and trainers  per week over a career of 20 years as a Pet Care Professional

7.  Hours of video and audio tapes and attendance online and in person at seminars.

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