POSITIVE TRAINING ALL THE WAY!

[TRE PET BLOG. CO-WRITTEN WITH OREO’S MAMA]

Okay let me begin this pet blog by saying…I’m not a dog trainer. I’m a cat slave.

But this particular cat slave loves watching dog-training shows such as Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer and Victoria Stilwell’s It’s me or the Dog!
Cesar Millan’s pack theory method is really different from Victoria’s positive, scientific and reward-based training methods. Both have their supporters and detractors and… let me just share with you my experience…and I won’t be naming the trainers of the following pups…no, not even if you email me! All confidential. You must learn to differentiate your potential trainer’s methodology and pick accordingly.

So, if you didn’t know by now, today’s topic will be on Positive Training and a particular puppy:

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This is Tasha. Her owner calls her ‘dog with a perverse mind’.

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She’s a cute little Maltese X Poodle puppy, about 6 months old that I babysat while her owners were away last week.

Tasha also has the dubious distinction of being the only puppy I’ve ever known and the only puppy in her basic obedience class to fail the puppy class.

…no, not as in puppy play group. She failed puppy basic obedience. Now tell me…which puppy fails puppy classes?! How is it possible?!! Apparently this one did.

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‘Me? Foster Mama? Me??? But I’m so cute, look at me!’ 

That’s Oreo, by the way. Best four-legged pup-sitter in the world.

Tasha would never sit when asked to. When other puppies stayed, she walked. Down? Nah. WALK ON A LEASH? NOT IN YOUR LIFE. She wouldn’t even sit! She criss-crossed here and there like a mad dog, pulling, jerking, lunging and choking herself to death.

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Choke-fest starting in 3…2…1 

The method used for her puppy class was that of leash-jerking and choke collars. Now, it can be argued that for some out-of-control BIG DOG which might pull its owner off his feet dog a prong or a chain collar MIGHT be of some use, but remember, this is a puppy. A little puppy that weighs a mere 4kg!
See that face!

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All peaches and cream and angel fluff. Yes. 

Tasha was taught to sit when you pulled the leash upwards, and down when you pulled the leash forward. NO TREATS. The dog must obey the owner, regardless. (Imagine, getting punished (by getting choked) when the human boss wants the dog to do anything at all. Instead of getting praised and rewarded or even have the human appear pleased when the dog does something right, the dog gets a painful punishment.)
So anyway this poor pup failed puppy class because she just wouldn’t do what other puppies were told to do and her owners didn’t know what to do with her because she was so crazy, hyper, cute and so-out-of-control.

They then left for a holiday and of course I jumped at the chance to foster a little cutie. Yeah well, I couldn’t resist. I knew she was mad, but seriously… PUPPY!

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PUPPY! 

Anyway, I thought…since the FOLLOW-ME-OR-ELSE method didn’t work, let’s try the positive way.

Guess what? Nothing short of a miracle happened (remember, I’m not a dog trainer, I’m a cat slave).

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Faith and Max were NOT happy when Tasha first came and retreated to their cat condo where Tasha couldn’t get at them. Muffin couldn’t care less.

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Yep. 

In just 3 days, Tasha learnt to wait, stay, leave it and WALK ON A LEASH. Properly without going crazy. She learnt that she had rules and that she couldn’t jump on anyone she liked. All using positive reward-based training, which the entire duration of her puppy class couldn’t get her to do. Just 3 days! Amazing.

First, because Tasha was fat, I rationed her kibble dinner and used them as ‘rewards’. (Owner didn’t want to feed raw. Okay, I respect that decision).

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FAT. BLUBBERPUP. 

Training was done after walkies… about 10-15 minutes 3 times a day while the puppy was still hungry, because if she was full, then…eh, it wouldn’t be very useful. I might add here that she doesn’t like kibble, and I didn’t want to use any more ‘attractive prizes’ such as boiled chicken, which she would trade her soul for. Those were sparingly used as ‘jackpot’. Heh!

We did sit, stay, sit, stay. All using positive reinforcements and treats and happy fun times.
The crazy jumping? She got ignored until she calmed down. Then she got her massages. That went on until she got the message that jumping = no attention.

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After she calmed down, it’s time for massages!

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Oreo’s Mama gave Tasha a bottle of lavender oil (diluted) for massage-time!

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‘Oh woe is me, now I have to work for food…’
Then, she had to work for her food. NO FREE LUNCH.

This puppy had a habit of pouncing on her owner’s hands and scattering all the food on the floor so that while her owner scrambled to grab the bowl, she could eat all the scattered food. So this was a daily routine, and probably one reason why she’s fat. Not in this house. Rules were set:

Puppy cannot go into the kitchen while foster mama prepares food.

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THAT’S THE N. Korea-S. Korea DMZ RIGHT THERE. NO CROSS! 
And puppy must wait before mama gives food.

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Wait. Wait Wait wait.

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That’s a hard-boiled egg in her bowl, by the way. I caved in and boiled an egg for her. 

And since Tasha first came to the house, she ‘sofa-ed’ my mother with her habit of pouncing on people …so I knew it was time for ‘leave it’, even though her puppy class had never taught her that.
So we began. Here’s a video of us doing the ‘leave it’ exercise. No hate, I’m not a dog trainer, remember!

Okay, here’s a MUCH BETTER training video. Heheh!

And by the end of the day, Tasha was NOT jumping on Mother. She would go for Mother, but all I had to say was ‘leave it’! And she would detour like a rerouted missile. (The best part was…this carried back to her house. When her owner told her to leave the luggage alone, she did. )
Mum and Crazy Puppy eventually became friends, something I thought was not possible and would never have been possible had it not been for ‘leave it’.

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Ahhh…the picture of domestic bliss. 
By the 3rd day, not only was Tasha not (that) crazy, she also learnt a modicum of self-control. She learnt to sit and wait calmly for something instead of dashing around like a mad thing doing her best to get her way.

And this was the ultimate test:
THE RAG-AND-BONE MAN. THE NEMESIS OF ALL SINGAPOREAN DOGS.

So Mother had a lot of newspapers and old books to clear. She asked the rag-and-bone man to come get the books and newspapers to recycle…and when he appeared, she was off like a shot gun until—
‘LEAVE IT!’
She stopped.
‘Sit!’ I pointed, ‘Stay!’
She retreated, sat and stayed. I held my breath. And held some more. And then to test it…I left the room.
When I returned (okay, to be fair, quite quickly)..this was what I saw:

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Gingerbread man to protect the identity of hapless rag-and-bone man.

This is the same puppy who failed puppy class? Yes! Yes yes yes!!!

With positive training, she listened and sat!

Even without anticipation of reward (had no time to grab a treat anyway hoho)!

(I need to add here that reward-based training isn’t bribery and part of positive training involves the phasing out of yummies, leaving the occasional treat for the simple things that she already knows/)

And that kept her wanting to do what that is right, because MAYBE she might get a treat! Is it this time? Is it the next? I’d better look at Mommy to see what she’s thinking!

(Do you know why people get hooked onto casinos? It’s because the reward MIGHT just be around the corner. Maybe. Maybe it’s this time. I’ll do it again…again…and again. In psychological studies, rats, pigeons and dogs all respond the same way as human beings to the possibility of reward)

‘Down’ still needed some work, but at least she was responding. On her own, without me tugging anything.

Positive training also worked for The Dad’s dog Jackie.
To cut a very long story short, Jackie’s trainer (who apparently used to train police dogs and search and rescue. BOO to me for not verifying, I just took the recommendation as it is) used punitive measures and the theory of dominance, possibly because Jackie was a big dog, and he came half wild.

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Big. And fat. 

Nah, he didn’t hurt Jackie and thankfully there was no dog-and-man wrestling going on.
To cut the story even shorter, Jackie’s trainer got bitten and he has been missing in action ever since…never mind that I’ve paid for the entire training course.
I hope he’s okay.
And Jackie has done marvelously with ‘leave it’ and walking on a leash…all using positive training methods.

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‘Jackie want a cookie? Cookie?’

He does it because it pleases him to please me (and of course, the possibility of getting that treat!). He does it, like Tasha, because he wants to. Because it’s fun. Because he gets goodies and he’s happy. Because he’s finally thinking for himself instead of being forced to do something.

Some people may say that perhaps the dog is out of control, and that might need punitive methods. Yes…punitive methods achieve results. Of course they do.

Jackie walked perfectly on his leash with the trainer from the first meeting, and only with the trainer for the subsequent weeks. He didn’t lunge, didn’t chase or bark…But one day, out of the blue, he bit the trainer. Yes he submitted to the trainer’s ‘dominance’ …but suppression can only go that far.

You see, the major difference between dominance theory and a reward-based one is that in the dominance methods, dogs’ brains tend to shut down and fear, that makes them appear “calm and submissive” as CM puts it. But they aren’t learning…not to think for themselves, at least. It’s avoidance. As such, if we look at it carefully, that is really about bullying and abusing the dog.

A reward-based method is totally different. Dogs are kept happy – that’s why there’s such a thing as “happy food” and when brains are stimulated to be happy and truly calm, real learning and understanding can take place (that’s the real science, put in really really simple language) and that’s how dogs trained this way understand what they are expected to do and desire to do what we want them to in exchange for more of what is seen as pleasure to them (TREATS! PRAISES! HAPPY VOICES!).

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‘OOH COOKIE!’

Instead of bullying the dogs into submission, positive reward-based methods are about making the dogs learn and understand what we want of them exactly and having them make the conscious choice to do so. It is about collaborating with the dogs to achieve win-win situations. That is why bonds become stronger and dogs become cleverer from training.
At the end of the day, the greatest difference is this, dominance training is based on fear and physical dominance, positive methods are based on trust and respect.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: service dogs are brilliant not just because they were specially bred (to be sure there are some silly dogs out there!) but many hearing assistance dogs are pre-loved and come from the pound. They are trained using positive methods. That is what makes the difference to their brilliance, whether we are talking about search and rescue dogs, cancer-seeking dogs and in fact almost every other working dog, including the police dog, that people used to train using dominance methods.

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‘I love you human dad!’

Sometimes, search and rescue dogs get breaks in the middle of rescue missions by playing hide and seek with their handlers, just so they can find another “live body” when the going gets tough, and the dog is renewed to start another round of work.
It’s fun, play, work and more fun!

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Going out! 
Positive training methods take far, far longer. It’s not a ‘soft method’. But the relationship you get with your dog is worth it.

To end off, here’s a quote…

Dr. Ian Dunbar, world famous vet and dog trainer with a doctorate in animal behaviour from the Psychology Department at UC Berkeley (he has a special interest in development of social hierarchies and aggression in domestic dogs) believes that all training is negotiation.

‘Training is training,’ he says, ‘Whether you are training dogs or spouses. You can instill fear in your kids and get them to mind, but they won’t function better in the world and your relationship will suffer greatly’

For Singaporeans looking for positive-method training for your pooches, you can try:

1. Pup Pup and Away! 

2. APawz

For our non-Singaporean readers, I’m afraid I don’t know which trainers use positive methods in your area. Please do your evaluation carefully when choosing a trainer. 🙂

….

Some books that you can read to get yourself started on positive training:

  1. Train Your Dog Positively: Understand Your Dog and Solve Common Behavior Problems Including Separation Anxiety, Excessive Barking, Aggression, Housetraining, Leash Pulling, and More!
  2. The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think
  3. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know
  4. For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend
  5. Bonding with Your Dog: A Trainer’s Secrets for Building a Better Relationship
  6. A Dog Who’s Always Welcome: Assistance and Therapy Dog Trainers Teach You How to Socialize and Train Your Companion Dog

And if you are still curious, here’s two videos to contrast two different training methods when it comes to dealing with food aggression (a thing that Tasha ALSO has, arrrgggghhh! ) :

Cesar Millan: 

Victoria Stilwell: 

Both work. But one is less stressful than the other.

Can one write essays using different approaches? Surely… but some ways are easier than others.

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(Saw this collie-sized sheltie at NEX and asked to take a picture. Is this your darling? If it is, drop us a note! We have something nice for you!)

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Categories: TRE Pet blog

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