Friday, November 26

On Strike.

Some days, I really hate dog blogs. So, Koda and I are officially on dog blogging strike. For at least one month. Next real article to be due on or around or after Christmas. Or never. We'll see.

As a dog trainer who loves reading about dogs, I've always found it absolutely irritating to read about "How To Train this..." or "Why you should (or should not) do this..." 

Thank you kindly, but if I wanted to know how to train something, I'd simply ask my own trainer/behaviorist. That is, of course, assuming that you've actually come up with something I don't know and really wowed me with it. If he couldn't answer, I'd research and ask my twitter friends (who, by the way, have some amazing dog blogs, most of which don't concentrate on telling me what to do.) What I wouldn't do is look up dog blogs to see if someone has written something about it.

What do you want from a dog blog?

I want stories.

And I want pictures.

I want the author to capture and captivate my mind, steal my heart, and make me laugh.

Do you have any idea how many publishers groan at the mere thought of... not ANOTHER dog training book!

So, I'm begging the readers, the authors, the bloggers.

Please don't turn our niche into another NOT ANOTHER DOG BLOG! world. We have too much to offer, too wide a range of topics, to weigh ourselves down with boring things, with boring information that anyone can find anywhere, or in any book. 

Color it. Walk me through the story of how you trained something if you wanna talk about how to do it. Tell me how silly your dog looked or that he started to chase his tail in the middle of the training session because he suddenly realized that it looked like someone stuck the tip of it into a bucket of white paint.

Friday, November 19

Quadratic Confusion... and Morning Coffee

Mass confusion usually follows anytime I am permitted to make up the questions to test the mettle of our class on their knowledge of operant conditioning. 

I will admit, I'm seriously obnoxious. I come up with statements that intentionally force our students to think critically, using the method that my brother and I made up to analyze and figure out in which of the four quadrants the answer lies. 

Here's my most annoying example to date: 

A very cute dog walks up to his owner and paws her in the leg. The owner smiles and tells her dog to sit, a treat hidden in her palm. When the dog puts his butt on the floor, the owner smiles wider and gives the dog the treat. The dog never sits again.

WHAT?! usually follows this statement. 
Surely I screwed that up, saying that a dog that is given a treat for sitting would never sit again. That isn't possible; it's not even probable! 

Don't worry; I'm just being a jerk. I'll admit it.

I also threw in a lot of meaningless babble, such as "very cute dog," the pawing of the owner's leg, the smiling, the fact that the dog was given a treat, etc. 

Well, how do you figure out where this falls on the grid? Let's analyze and check it out!
(*Note that nowhere do I say "desired" or "undesired" behavior; I simply note that a behavior is performed. Whether or not we like it has little to do with the science.)

Forgetting anything about our preconceptions about what dogs like or should do in accordance to blahblahblah, let's take the sciency way!

(A very cute dog walks up to his owner and paws her in the leg. The owner smiles and tells her dog to sit, a treat hidden in her palm. When the dog puts his butt on the floor, the owner smiles wider and gives the dog the treat. The dog never sits again.)

1.) Identify the behavior
In this case, the behavior is sitting. 

2.) Identify the consequence.
The dog is given a treat.

3.) What happened to the behavior as a result of the consequence?
The behavior decreased.

So, something was applied that made a behavior decrease. So, if you go back up and check out the section of the grid where behaviors are decreased and then check out in which of those two something is applied, you should come up with Positive Punishment or P+.

If you're anything like the people who take my class, you're probably all but ready to jump through the computer and argue with me that a treat cannot be a form of positive punishment. 
(Funny note: That's uncritical anthropomorphism you're using; because you believe that giving a dog a treat is positive, therefore the dog must think that getting a treat is positive. This is not so, and this kind of thought process will bite you in the butt... If a dog doesn't get there first!)

So, with that note: 
Can you critically and scientifically analyze these statements and tell me which of the four quadrants they fall under?
1.) A dog barks while running agility. His handler takes him off the field and plays fetch. The dog learns not to bark on the agility field.
2.) A dog barks while running agility. The owner takes him off the field and puts him in a crate. The dog learns to bark on the agility field.
3.) A dog steps out of heel position and is collar corrected. The dog learns not to step out of heel position.
4.) The leg bands on a front pull harness loosen when a dog chooses to walk closer to his handler.

Wednesday, November 10

The Obnoxiously Objective Interpretation

I am a trouble maker.
And so is my dog.
There, I said it, admitted it, and got it out of my system. Sort of.

I have a bit of a problem, and it goes like this: Most people aren't programmed to think the way I do. (Curious as to what I mean when I say programming? Click HERE! to find out!)
Because of that, I have a hard time communicating with other people.

See this picture? What do you see when you look at it?
Most people would see something along the lines of a submissively postured border collie, right?
I - and obnoxiously so - refuse to make any conclusion about what the dog is doing or trying to communicate.  
As a funny example, one day when I was in high school and deigned to grace the place with my presence, I was happy to find out that I'd come on a day when we were doing a rather interesting experiment in physics class. 
Physics happened to be the only class I liked, never mind the fact that I slept through it, never did my homework, and doodled on my tests.
There was a visiting professor who took half of the first class to tell us that we were entirely too stupid to make it in college physics. 

He talked about how we wouldn't know objectivity if it bit us in the ass and then proceeded to have us do an experiment that would prove just that. 
We were sent into the lab room with orders to observe an individual and report back with scientific observations. 

My lab partner and I went first. He came back and noted that the guy in the room was worried and on a time budget.
The professor nodded approvingly and I wanted to hide under a desk. What my lab partner had said didn't even come close to my observations and I no longer wanted to answer.
Nervously, I shuffled my feet and refused to look up when the professor cleared his throat - a noise most likely aimed at me and my lack of answer.
He asked me three times to state my conclusions and finally, in a very meek voice, I said, "I am sorry; I am not prepared to make any conclusions based on the data I've collected."

His eyes widened for a moment, as though astonished, and then he furrowed his brows thoughtfully. After a momentary pause, he said, "All right, then; tell me about the data you've collected."
Terrified and thinking that I must have messed the entire experiment up and also thinking that he must be right and I was stupid, I nervously told him of my observations. I'd collected data about the subject of the experiment. A LOT of data.
I took almost twenty minutes to explain something that happened in less than five.
The professor laughed and sent us back to our desks with orders for me to see him after class.

He grilled me for fifteen minutes about why I'd chosen to report back the way I had. Confused - and nearly in tears - I told him that that was simply the way I'd been taught to think and that it made no sense to assume I knew what was going on in another person's head. What may have appeared as nervousness to me could have very well turned out to be excitement, too much caffeine, or the side-effect of long term use of anti-psychotics. Yes, I did say that. 
Yes, you are more than welcome to roll your eyes.

So, with that: 
Dear Doggy Dog World,
I have no idea about what is going on in another person's head, let alone a dog's.
I can't claim to know the why of any individual dog's behavior, although I can speculate based on the research of my peers and based on the research of those who are much smarter than I am.

PS: Please forgive my annoying objectivity when it comes to talking about or explaining any dog-related behavior. I am aware of the fact that I tend to offend people by not giving credit where credit is due to those in our field who are actively doing research, writing up studies, and making conclusions about those studies. I just hate conclusions; it's a personal problem.

Saturday, November 6

The Work Always Pays Off

It's been a long day.
Of awesome doggy-dog-ness.

Today was agility trail day.

A day of course maps, bitter cold, weird negotiations with four legged companions, and - best of all - fun.

For now, check out the adventurous nervous dog taking a leap at life.

By the way, have I ever mentioned that Kittie took three years to get to a point where she could not only perform with other people (she's afraid of people) and dogs, but to actually let go of the fact that they were there and just have some fun? 


Check her out.

This is fun. 

All the way.
(You may want to turn down the volume.... a lot)

And yes, I did literally jump for joy at the end.
I know I got first place and everything, but I could have shaved off at least a second or two if I'd set her up to slice some of those jumps -_-;; Stupid handler.
Yay for LVL 1 CPE 

And I am so proud of her. ^-^;;

Oh! Since I have the privilege of running alongside one of the best agility coaches/handlers in the nation (<--I gave him that title, but if you worked with him, you'd give it to him too) here's his video.
I almost want to add nananananana TOLD YOU SO!
But I'll be mature about this.

Friday, November 5

The Label Behavior (Part 2)

The Anthropomorphic Standpoint.
Get ready to - Why is that bunny holding a  ... what is that?!

Ever heard of a guy named Gordon Burghardt
Me neither.
But I have heard of the concept of anthropomorphism, as illustrated by the oh-so-adorable bunny above.

All of my experience, readings, and conversations with professionals have led me to one conclusion: Under no circumstances is anthropomorphism appropriate when dealing with dog behavior.

In fact, too many of the animal professionals I know distance themselves from the possible emotional standpoint of the dog to such a degree that they are sometimes accused of thinking of dogs as robots.

Uhm. Anyone notice that the adorable robot puppy is uh... missing a limb...?

Anyway, I recently revisited a study on Critical and Non Critical Anthropomorphism, and I'm reconsidering my standpoint on anthropomorphism never being helpful and never being appropriate.

Ever heard of these two terms?

Non Critical Anthropomorphism is the sort that you always hear. "My dog ate my shoes because he was mad that I left him in his crate for five minutes longer than I should have last Tuesday." (Yes, a client honestly said this to me once. I just blinked, unsure that I'd heard her correctly.)

Non Critical is also another way of saying "it's not scientific enough for us smart people, so it doesn't really matter."

...which bring us to our next term

Critical Anthropomorphism. 
Now, since non critical is not sceincey enough for us nerdy people, does that make critical just the opposite?
To a certain extent, why yes it does!
....Even though it still seems to me that putting "anthropomorphism" with critical - meaning it is scientific and carefully evaluated - just seems oxymoronic.

In this type of anthropomorphism, you put yourself in the dog's shoes - er, paws - and try to deduce, induce, reduce (whatever kind of logic you use) the why of what he's doing. 

If you yell at a dog and he slinks away, non critical anthropomorphism might suggest that he feels guilty.
This is applying what YOU might feel if someone yelled at you, and doesn't take into account that dogs are a separate species that see the world differently than we do.
Critical Anthropomorphism would turn the equation upside down and rethink the whole situation. What would YOU do if you were a social animal who had just been threatened or confronted by a member of your social group? Remember, your programming dictates that you are much less interested in a fight than you are in maintaining the peace, because fights lead to injury lead to death, and you're all about survival.
(Sorry. Had to add this one.)

So, what do you do when another member of your group threatens you?
You try to placate that member. In doggie speak, you lower yourself and show that you are not returning the threat.

So, what do you think?

Is all anthropomorphism absolutely useless? 

And what do you think about Gordon Burghardt's Critical and Non Critical Anthropomorphism?

Wednesday, November 3

Wit's End

Let's hope we - the vet, the dog, and me - finally get some answers today.

I have left the dog outside for the past ten to fifteen minutes.


Because OUTSIDE, she cannot pee INSIDE.

Beware of the Dog Blogger

Beware of Bloggers. Especially ones that talk about dog behavior.
And welcome to the (somewhat) Revised Edition.
Disclaimer!  I am not referring to Jana (@DawgBlogger on twitter) when I say "Beware of the Dog Blogger."
 Why? Because though I am talking about dog people who blog, she is more than exempt from what we'll talk about below. Check out DawgBusiness. It's a site about dog health, training, and more.
Unfortunately for me, I can't change how the world thinks about dogs, how the world thinks about dog-related information, or how the world thinks about information in general. (Yet again, 5 points to you if you caught the OCD compulsion.)

Because of this, I have a fairly simple question for you, dear reader:
Are you a skeptic?
If not, you may consider becoming one.

Think that's one heck of a strange statement?
Consider this: Just because an author I respect makes a conclusion that she finds to be factual doesn't mean that I accept it as such. I'm always thinking
  • are there any alternative explanations? And if so, does the author state them - or at least state that there are, in fact, alternatives?
  • is the author using the Principle of Parsimony? (Meaning is she using the simplest explanation available and not over-complicating things with something like anthropomorphism?)
  • does she site sources from her colleagues or other reputable sources?
If the answer to any of those questions is "No," I may consider filing the presented information under, "It's a little fishy..."
Just as an example, a few dog trainers, behaviorists, and published - and widely popular - authors I know use a term called calming or cut-off signals and go on to say that these are part of a dog's agonistic language. 
Here's the trick: If we go by the scientific definition of communication, the exchange has to involve two parties: one party sending the message and another to receive it.
Yawning, according to these authors, would be classified as a cut-off signal - a way of telling another dog, "I am not a threat." However, if your dog - nervous and uncomfortable - yawns when she is alone can it honestly be classified as a communication? Remember, cut-off signals are communications that tell another being that the dog sending the message is not a threat.

I must make a note that in this article, I'm making light of a well-researched hypothesis that has a lot more merit than I am giving credit to. Turid Rugaas basically led the frontier in this research. By the way, check her out. Make a decision for yourself.
[And thank Hilary of FangShuiCanines for pointing out that I didn't give enough credit to the research behind the subject of calming signals.]

Just a thought.
...And that thought doesn't mean that they're wrong or that I'm wrong - it simply means that there's too much that we don't know.

So don't fall victim to that ever-annoying nominal fallacy - just because you name it doesn't mean you've explained it, and it certainly doesn't mean that you're right.

We do this all the time with labels.
Apply a label to a situation and you've got it covered - the whole mess is explained, we can all take a deep breath and go home knowing that...
...Absolutely nothing has been accomplished.

So, with that, beware of dog bloggers and dog professionals who claim to have the answers.
When it comes to the doggy-dog world, there's more that we don't know than that we do know.

And it's okay to say these next few words, 
Do you know why some dogs urine mark?
Do you know why some dogs walk in circles before lying down?

If you answered "Why YES, in fact, I do!" I would beg that you re-read this blog and reconsider your answer. Most of the "answers" to the above-mentioned questions are based on misinformation.
And, on top of that, no matter what information is out there, doesn't it always depend on the individual dog?

So, in conclusion:
  • Take it with a grain of salt. No one will blame you.
  • We know less about dogs than we give ourselves credit for knowing.
  • Not knowing all of the answers is okay
And, most importantly,
  • Don't put too much faith in the behavioral information you read online - or in books.