Give Me a Break!

Be patient and you will get there

Be patient and you will get there

A little too often I think we may demand too much  of our dogs. It’s about expectations.  If we push too much, we may ultimately push too far, and this is not good with an animal who soaks up what we give him like a sponge and internalizes everything around him.

Manage Expectations

I sometimes see owners with young dogs and puppies become despondent and, while it’s fabulous to have goals, owners also need to remember that they have a young dog, and that other things can take over when you’re tiny…like chasing leaves and wanting to chew mud and stones!  Being distracted when you’re 14 weeks old is completely normal.  As an owner, if you’ve got goals to attain championship level skills in any discipline, they will come – IN TIME, but please don’t be frustrated by your puppy’s desire to play and interact with other puppies in class or outdoors. This is a hugely important time of social interaction when your dog is learning new social skills.

Recognize His Efforts!

Yes, he does try! I see many dogs, particularly puppies in class who really do try to do what their owner wants them to do, but their efforts are not rewarded.  What you have to do here is make sure you focus on what your dog is doing, and capture exactly the moment he does the RIGHT thing, because the more you capture and mark that good thing, the more he will repeat and repeat that behaviour and do less of the stuff you don’t want.

Chill Out!

Time with our dogs is wonderful but there’s no doubt there are times of frustration. Always stop if you feel your session isn’t going as you’d planned and you can feel yourself getting frustrated, or if the dog is distracted/not focused for some reason.  There’s nothing worse than taking your frustration out on your dog or resorting to harsh words or punishment to try to force him to comply. This will only result in fear or pain.

Quit While You Are Ahead!

If you’ve had a few good or excellent results in whatever you’re trying to achieve with your dog – stop.  It’s much better to quit here rather than push things further so that your dog may begin to tire and then his attention may waver or he may become bored.  You may not have been able to have as long a session as you’d hoped, but a short and positive session is much better than a long and sporadically good one.

Understand It’s A Rocky Road

Having a dog, especially from a puppy, is not an easy ride – its a turbulent one.  You must understand that it’s normal to have periods of regression, in terms of house training, basic training cues etc.  This may because of lapses in the available time you have, breaks in your routine, environmental/family circumstances, hormonal changes etc.  Again, it’s all normal – don’t panic, keep calm – move on.

 He Doesn’t Do It On Purpose

Being distracted, regressions, wanting to play etc. is absolutely normal for a young dog.  He is not behaving this way in order to challenge you, punish you, or dominate you. He is not trying to be “alpha” or pack leader, or any of those other outdated terms!  He is a perfectly normal, bright, happy and intelligent puppy – love him for it!

Quality of Life for Blind/Deaf Dogs

By Debbie Bauer

I receive a lot of great ideas for new blog posts – Thank you so much for those.  I’m always looking for ideas to write about that will be useful to each of you as readers.  One idea that truly intrigued me was to discuss what quality of life a blind and deaf dog can have.  I think it caught my interest because I had never thought about my dogs not having a good quality of life.  I began to think about how we measure quality of life and why.

I have had many dogs in my life over the years, and there have been times when I have made the decision to have them euthanized when they no longer had a good quality of life.  Of course, this was always based on my opinion, the veterinarian’s opinion, and the fact that I knew those dogs very well.  Pain is perhaps the biggest reason I would make this decision.  If the pain could not be controlled and if it was affecting the dog’s daily activities.  If she no longer showed any interest in the activities that she used to love – then, in my opinion there is a loss of quality of life.

But now, I wonder, how do others measure quality of life.  Why would people think that blind/deaf  dogs don’t have a good quality of life?  And were they seeing something that I was not?  I searched the internet, hoping to find some ideas.  I found this quality of life scale on a veterinary site.

I’m going to use some of the ideas that are mentioned there to address my own blind/deaf dogs.  Of course, every situation is different, so I can’t make any recommendations as to the quality of life for all blind/deaf dogs.

The first consideration is pain level and ease of breathing.  This is more of a health-related issue that would not be dependent upon the dog’s ability to see or hear.  My dogs are healthy and pain-free at the current time.

The second and third sections pertain to eating and hydration.  My dogs are able to eat and drink normally on their own.  They are a good weight.  Again, this seems like more of a health-related issue.

The next section is about hygiene.  My dogs have no difficulty staying clean (although they do like to roll in the mud sometimes!)  They have no open and oozing sores.  Treasure does have many skin cysts, but they are not dangerous and don’t cause her any discomfort.  The vet and I keep an eye on them in case they change.

The next consideration is happiness.  I think maybe this is one that most people wonder about with a blind/deaf dog.  The questions suggested on the scale are: does the dog express joy and interest? Is the dog responsive to things around her?  Is the dog depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid?  Can the dog be included in family activities or is she isolated?

My dogs are all members of the family.  We spend a lot of time together as a family group.  They certainly express joy and interest in the activities going on around them.  They wag their tails.  They play.  They seek out affection.  They are responsive to things going on around them, reacting to air currents changing, movement and vibration, smells, the actions of other family members.  My dogs are not depressed or anxious.  I have no questions that my dogs are happy and content, and I do work hard to keep them that way.

Mobility is next.  My dogs have no problem with getting around.  I do manage the environment to keep them safe, but there is really not too much to do once the environment is set up safely for them.

The last section says that there are more good days than bad.  For my dogs, each day has more good in it than bad.  Keeping my dogs enriched and happy is a huge part of my responsibility as a dog owner.  If I was not able to give my dogs what they needed, it might mean that I was not the most suitable home for them, but it would not necessarily mean that my dogs had a bad quality of life and should not live.

I can honestly say that my blind/deaf dogs have a wonderful quality of life.  Some people think that a blind/deaf dog can’t possibly have a good quality of life.  They wonder what enjoyment a dog can possibly get out of life if she can’t see and hear.  But dogs live in a world full of so  much more than sights and sounds.  Their lives are rich in smells and vibrations.  A dog that is born blind and deaf never learns to rely on her sight and hearing.  She doesn’t know that she’s any different.  She learns from the time she is born to explore and enjoy her world.

Even my older dogs that have lost their sight and hearing from age, are still enjoying their lives.  Sure, there is an adjustment period where they may have to learn to rely on other senses and to do things a bit differently than they are used to.  That is to be expected.  But they still enjoy their walks and belly rubs and mealtimes.  They love to sniff around in the yard and find something to roll in.  They may even still enjoy that favorite bone.

I hope the quality of life scale may be of good use to you, and thank you for the wonderful suggestion for this post.  It caused me to stop and think about what quality of life means, not just to me, but to others.  I hope that anyone who questions my dogs’ quality of life watches the videos of them and sees them having fun in all activities.
About the Author

Debbie Bauer, HTACP, operates Your Inner Dog in the Effingham, Illinois area and has over 25 years of teaching and consulting experience working with dogs and their people. She specializes in working with dogs that display shy, fearful and reactive behaviors and also has extensive experience working with dogs with special abilities, including deaf and blind/deaf dogs. Bauer has trained dogs in a variety of fields, including therapy work, flyball, herding, print ad and media work, obedience, rally, agility, musical freestyle, conformation, lure coursing, tricks and scent work. She has over 13 years of experience with custom-training assistance dogs, including medical alert dogs, to match the specific needs of each person.  Her special interest lies in educating the public about dogs which are homozygous merle (often called double merle), and about how deaf, blind, and deaf/blind dogs can live happy fulfilled lives as part of a family.  

Why Every Cat Needs a Place to Hide

By Dr. Lynn Bahr

Orange and white ginger tabby cat hiding asleep in a box

Has your cat ever gone MIA in your own home? I lost an entire litter of kittens once in a small 1 bedroom apartment. All five furballs disappeared while I was out running errands.  Imagine my panic and the frantic search that ensued to find them.  Where could they have gone?  I pulled out drawers, furniture, and the refrigerator to no avail. Fearing I would find them by smell weeks later, I sat on the couch to have a good cry.  That was when I heard the tiniest little meow and a welcomed sign of hope. These little babies had been sleeping in the couch coils after crawling through a small tear in the fabric underneath. The five musketeers had discovered a new, dark, safe place to hide while mom was away.  They knew instinctually how to find the purrfect hiding spot, remain quiet and keep close and warm nestled together.

tabby cat hiding in the woods under cover of branches and bushes

Is It Normal For Cats to Hide?

Cats hide for many reasons and it is a natural thing for them to do.  In fact, most cats love to hide.  It makes them feel safe, secure, cozy and comfortable. Cats lucky enough to rest and relax without worry are fortunate to have the opportunity.  As animals that are preyed upon in the wild, they must keep a vigilant watch at all times in order to survive.  This is why they frequently doze or catnap with one eye open ready to spring into action at a second’s notice.  They rarely have the luxury of indulging in a good deep slumber, unless of course, they happen upon a cozy and safe hiding spot.  Seclusion allows them the opportunity to re-energize by offering a quiet place in which to rest.  Since kittens born outdoors are typically raised in obscure dark places away from the dangers of prey, the need to hide is ingrained in them from a very early age.  Even cats born indoors feel this genetic predisposition to seek hidden, warm, dark places of their own.  Look at what my litter of kittens did when they were left on their own.  They found a hiding spot inside the couch where it was secluded, dark and they were difficult to find.

gray and white kitten in construction concrete tunnel

Should I Let My Cat Hide or Prevent Her From Doing So?

Giving our indoor cats appropriate opportunities to hide is essential to their health and well-being.  While most pet parents know that their cats need exercise, toys, and opportunities to play and climb, they are not as aware of their cat’s need to burrow away in dark, comfortable, and safe places to get away from it all.  Having lots of dens within the home, where cats can tuck themselves securely away, is an important component to keeping them happy and enriched.  Tunnels are ideal for cats to sleep, hide and relax in.  It gives them the chance to escape from housemates, commotion, and noise and helps them cope better with any stressors in their lives.  We all enjoy a little quiet time and your furballs do too.

mother cat laying next to Hide and Sneak with kitten inside

New Ways to Create Cool Places for Your Cat to Chill

Your cats have probably found many comfortable, out of the way, places in your home to claim as their own.  However, variety is the spice of life and indoor cats don’t get enough of it.  If your cat’s “hidey hole” has been previously discovered, it no longer serves its intended purpose and a new one is in order.  Here are some simple suggestions on how you give your cat a richer environment by creating new spaces for them to remain unseen.

  1. Place beds, caves, boxes, or baskets on shelves and bookcases where many cats feel safer nesting up high.
  2. For those who prefer being on the ground, place a box, bed, or cat cave behind the curtains or a piece of furniture. Let them pretend they are invisible.
  3. Create tents with sheets or blankets over different pieces of furniture or place dust ruffles on beds to construct new cool hiding spots.
  4. Give your cats a Hide and Sneak tunnel and periodically move it from room to room. It will create an entirely new fun experience each time.
  5. A pile of old clothes placed in a closet, quiet room or secluded corner makes an excellent den in which to hibernate. Your cat will feel safer surrounded by your scent and will love the coziness of your old clothes.
  6. Under your duvet, blanket, and inside your robe (Ok, they’ve already found all of those, right?)

tabby cat sleeping in cat cave

Pay Attention to Abnormal Hiding Behaviors

These are all simple ways that cat owners can tap into their cat’s natural tendencies and help them cope better with life indoors.   However, while hiding is fun and natural for most cats, some hide for reasons of fear, weakness or because they are feeling ill.  Sick cats will often hide and any changes in habit warrant immediate medical care and attention.  And these signs should be taken seriously and addressed quickly by a veterinarian.  Cats that hide out of fear or extreme anxiety can be helped by professional behaviorists or veterinarians who are trained to correctly address these types of problems.  Giving fearful cats places to hide is an important coping strategy and they should be allowed to do so freely, but there are also medications that can help reduce their need to do so.  These are situations where seeking professional assistance will help your cat deal with life better.

Have you discovered all of your cat’s secret hiding spots or are you still looking for some?

About the Author

Lynn Bahr DVM is a graduate of the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine who credits a special grey and white ball of kitten fluff with leading her down the path of a career in feline medicine and behavior.  Her areas of interest and special care for felines include health and wellness, lifetime enrichment, hospice care, strengthening the animal-human bond, ending the practice of declawing, and the ability to speak cat.  Dr. Bahr is currently the CEO of Dezi & Roo, a company that manufactures and sells solution-based pet products.  She is a Fear Free certified professional and serves on the board of directors for Pandemonium Aviaries.

The Opposite of Force

Clara's pool provides enrichment she can choose when she wants

I think I’ve figured something out.

I continue to see the concept of choice bandied about the positive reinforcement-based training world. It can be a code word for a setup that includes negative reinforcement. “I’m going to do something physically unfamiliar or unpleasant to you and you have the choice of staying here and getting a piece of food or leaving and being relieved from whatever it is I’m doing.” I’ve suggested that this is not a laudable kind of choice; as trainers we can use our skills and take our time so that the dog doesn’t want to leave in the first place.

It can also refer to human-centric preference tests, many of which are subject to extreme bias.

But here’s my new realization. I think we have grabbed hard onto the concept of choice because it seems like the opposite of force.

  • Instead of pushing the dog’s butt down into a sit, I don’t. The dog now has a choice.
  • Instead of restraining the dog for nail trims, I don’t. The dog now has a choice.
  • Instead of pulling the dog away from the fire hydrant by his leash and collar, I let him sniff, or I give a cue for another behavior that I will strongly reinforce. He has a choice.

But there is a semantic mismatch here. Force and choice are not opposites.

Force has to do with our actions. In force-based training a human might push, pull, loom over, shock, scare, or drag a dog to get or stop behavior. Those are all concrete, describable actions. The human performs them.

Choice has to do with an internal state of the dog. We conject about it. We pat ourselves on the back for “giving him a choice.” But “making a choice” is not an observable behavior; it’s an internal event. We see the behavior that follows it.

Not only that, but whatever internal state that might exist when we explicitly “give the dog a choice” may also exist when we are not doing this. It doesn’t depend on us. We don’t have to be the center of the “choice universe” for dogs.

Shock collar trainers often say the dog has a choice, and they are correct. The dog, once it understands the system, can “choose” to endure the pain or can “choose” to perform the behavior that turns the painful stimulus off.

I’m not equating positive reinforcement based training with shock training. I’m pointing out that the presence or absence of choice is not the difference between them. 

The Opposite of Force

So if force refers to a human behavior, what is the opposite? We can’t say “not using force.” That’s a dead man behavior. What human behavior/s are the opposite of using force on an animal?

Force on our part limits and constrains the animal’s choices, besides often causing pain or fear. Therefore:

I’m going to suggest that in a practical way, the opposite of using force is to proactively remove physical barriers (when safe) and provide lots of simultaneous opportunities for positive reinforcement and enrichment.

This is an undramatic thing for us to do. It means noticing what our dogs like and providing opportunities for them to do it. It means being flexible enough to work around them if a dog suddenly discovers something fun that was not part of our plan. It means not demanding a dog’s attention when she is happily doing something that doesn’t involve us.

That last one—not demanding the dog’s attention—can be hard. My rat terrier, Cricket, slept in the bed snuggled up to me her whole life, even after she had advanced dementia. During this time, young Clara slept in a crate right next to my bed. Summer slept in a crate on the bed. (She had been aggressive to Cricket in the past.) Zani was free to be where she wanted, which was usually somewhere on the bed.

After Cricket died, I did away with the crate on the bed and put no constraints on where Summer and Zani slept. I decided not to let Clara out of her crate at night right away. She had always slept there with no apparent frustration. I wanted to give the other dogs a chance to develop new routines. They had seniority. I assumed they would sleep with me.

But they didn’t. Neither Summer nor Zani slept on the bed with me for several months after Cricket died. I missed Cricket and was lonely. A couple of nights I closed the bedroom door with the dogs inside just to have some company, but I felt bad. That was against my beliefs.

So you could say that after Cricket died I “gave the dogs choices.” But let’s operationalize that. What I actually did was to remove barriers (keep the baby gate and other doors open, remove and open up Summer’s crate) and make sure there were lots of comfortable sleeping places all over the house.

Finally, I let Clara out. She got on the bed with me and never looked back. The other dogs eventually came back and have their own quirky sleeping habits.

Two other examples:

  1. I leave my back door or doggie door open when I’m home and the weather allows. The dogs can come and go. I have to put some limits on this because of safety and social concerns (neighbors) but I do it when I can. You can say I “give them a choice.” But what I am doing is leaving a door open and thus providing simultaneous access to multiple forms of reinforcement and enrichment.
  2. Clara prefers to drink fresh, running water, an apparent carryover from her feral days.  When we have been out and I pour some water from a plastic bottle into a bowl, she likes to drink out of the stream as I pour. If I stop because there is an inch of water already in the bowl, she’ll lap a couple of times, then bump my hand with the bottle until I pour again. This is a pushy behavior but no harm done. I always arrange it so Clara can drink out of the bottle if she wants. I didn’t have to teach her this. I just had to pay attention.

The Fine Line

All this choice talk causes me to worry on behalf of people who are new to training and maybe even new to having a dog as a family member.  Giving a dog too much freedom too soon is such an easy mistake and we may be encouraging it in the wrong places. My dogs would love to be underfoot when I cook in the kitchen and wait for me to drop a crumb, but it’s not safe. Hence I have trained them to stay on mats. They would love to run around snatching items from visitors, but I have taught them alternatives. They would love to chew up my furniture and hey—peeing feels good wherever you do it. But I have taught them to chew their own stuff and to pee outside.

Training dogs to live with us involves limiting choices, especially at the beginning. There is no way around that. I think the way to mitigate it is to give them as many opportunities for reinforcement and enrichment we can within the confines we set. There are more limits with puppies or dogs new to our household; we can relax them as the dogs mature, habituate, and learn through training how to thrive in a human household.

Even though it limited her choices in the short term, one of the best things I ever did for my household and for Clara was to keep her crated at night as a youngster. I was consistent. Letting her be unconfined at night before she was house trained and before she had learned to leave my stuff alone would have created many problems. The tippy situation with the older dogs would have made it dangerous. And letting her out before she was ready would have broken both our hearts (permit me that small anthropomorphism) when I was later forced to crate her again for another long period.

Providing Enrichment

So you can train your dog “yes and no” (although it’s much trickier than most methods allow for). You can set up husbandry methods planned around the dog leaving periodically, and call that “giving the dog choices.” Or you could, much less dramatically, observe what your dog likes throughout his life and give him opportunities to do it. You could provide multiple concurrent sources of enrichment. You could notice when he expresses a preference in his own way and honor it when you can. You could practice self-control on your own desires to influence your dog to pay attention to you or stay with you when it is not necessary.

Force is something humans do to dogs. Setting up an enriching life and training with positive reinforcement are the opposites of that. Those are the behaviors we humans can do so our dogs can make choices.

Text and photo of Clara copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Photos with pugs and the pugcat copyright 2017 Blanche Axton. Thank you, Blanche!

Zoophilia*: A Hidden Horror for Animals

I entered law enforcement at 20 years of age.  When I retired 30 years later I thought I had seen the full spectrum of human abuse, violence and degradation.  The cruelty of humankind no longer shocked me, though it wore me down.

Through the years I never investigated a single case of sexual abuse of an animal and none of my fellow officers ever spoke of it.  The crimes occurred under the radar, hiding in the long dark shadows of secrecy, pain and trauma.

Dirty secrets lurk in the dark

Dirty secrets lurk in the dark  (Photo: Happy Buddha Dog Training)

On January 25th of 2018 I was exposed to a widespread dirty secret.  As a new Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) volunteer I was invited to testify before the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, and there I met Melissa Tedrowe, the HSUS Wisconsin Director.  Our goal was to amend Chapter 951 Crimes Against Animals.

The amendment was given the numerically sequential name A.B. 666.  In the Christian bible 666 is the Mark of the Beast.  This sad irony was not lost during the hearing.

In two hours of testimony I learned of a hidden network of animal sex offenders who communicate in online chat rooms.  In later communication with bioethicist, Jessica Pierce, Ph.D. she informed me ASPCA reports at any given time 900-1,000 bestiality networks are communicating, exchanging tips and trading animals.  They call themselves “zoos” and one group has over one million members.

Humane Society of the United States

Humane Society of the United States

What prompted the hearing was the infamous case of Wisconsin resident Sterling Rachwal whose behavior over 35 years was anything but sterling.  He sexually assaulted horses. One horse had to be euthanized due to injuries.

The investigator and district attorney who handled his last case described details of their investigation, and the frustration of having inadequate laws to deal with such persistent criminal behavior.

The investigator testified to video evidence in which Rachwal snuck into a barn in Brown County and repeatedly thrust his arm into the rectum of a restrained draft horse.   A second camera malfunctioned but the breadth of the crime became evident as the farmer described behavioral changes he saw in his three working horses.

The horses spooked when there was activity behind them, such as pulling equipment.  When a 1,400 pound horse enters a flight-fight response it is dangerous.  The farmer had to sell his horses.

A lady living on a farm in Brown County testified how she and her neighbors lived in constant fear for 35 years while Rachwal was sometimes incarcerated and sometimes free in the community.  They never knew whether their animals were safe and so they slept in their barns at night with shotguns at the ready.

Rachwal was fined $105 and was released on probation, according to the prosecutor.  Today he is free to repeat his established pattern of behavior without oversight.

But this is not about a single offender.

(Photo: Internet, Unknown source)

(Photo: Internet, Unknown source)

A veterinarian testified about the many animal clients she had seen over decades whom she suspected had been sexually abused.

On April 15, 2015 Reuters reported on bestiality in Denmark and cited a 2011 Justice Ministry report that found 17% of veterinarians suspected a human had sex with an animal they treated.

Denmark strengthened their animal abuse law as a result.

Veterinarians may be the first line of defense in identifying this offense, yet there is an obstacle to early identification.  In Wisconsin a veterinarian has no duty to report to law enforcement.  How are police to investigate crimes they are never informed of?

By contrast, a medical professional who treats an injured child and suspects abuse is required by law to report to police, who are then obliged to investigate.

Veterinarians swear an oath to “First do no harm” and yet may remain silent when they suspect sexual abuse of the animal client to whom they have sworn a duty.  In my view that makes them complicit and enables the offender.

At 61 years of age I remember the very moment I swore my oath of public office, and I upheld my commitment even upon risking my life for others.  All I ask of veterinarians is to inform law enforcement so they may investigate the evidence they have witnessed.

In my police training on domestic abuse I learned many violent offenders first target family pets as a way of hurting human victims and demonstrating power and control.  I see mandatory reporting by veterinarians as a crucial early warning sign, like the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

If we don’t see it coming it will blow up in our face.

Adult dogs are often described by animal scientists like Dr. Patricia McConnell as having similar emotional and cognitive development as human toddlers.   Jaak Panksepp’s pioneering research identified seven emotional systems that dogs and human share:  seeking, rage, fear, play, lust, care and panic/grief.  Surely dogs, and likely other mammals, suffer terrible emotional abuse and trauma from human sexual attacks.

The reader may wonder if this is an isolated crime, not worth fussing about.  An expert on animal sexual abuse, M. Jenny Edwards offers sobering data to consider.

  • 56% of male sex offenders, 55% of female sex offenders, 38% of child sex offenders, and 11% of rapists reports having sexually abused an animal.
  • 29% of inmates arrested for pornography-related offenses collected animal porn as well as child porn. 25% of men who viewed adult pornography online also viewed animal porn.
  • 6% of juvenile male offenders admitted to sexual contact with an animal.
  • Statistics related to bestiality are artificially low, and the problem is growing. There were more than twice as many arrests in 2015 than in the entire period between 1970 – 2000.
  • There is growing evidence that bestiality may be a lifelong sexual orientation and not just something that happens rarely. Studies have indicated that zoosexuals typically have their first experience around 13; the average age of arrest is 43.
  • 35% of arrests for bestiality also involve child sexual abuse or exploitation. In addition, nearly 40% of offenders have prior criminal records for bestiality, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, battery, adult rape, substance abuse, trespass, public indecency, even murder.
  • To this I add my education from an FBI psychological profiler who hunted serial killers for 20 years and told me many began by abusing animals. The FBI began tracking animal abuse in 2017 as a tool to help identify serial killers.
  • Just this week a friend of mine considered adopting a dog from a rescue in Sun Prairie (WI) that had been so violently assaulted she required vaginal and rectal surgery.
(Photo: unknown source)

(Photo: unknown source)

A.B. 666 passed through the Assembly hearing with unanimous approval and now rests in the hands of the Wisconsin Senate.  Sexual assault of animals is a serious threat to animal and human safety.  If you live in Wisconsin please contact your representatives.  In other states, please do the same.

This crime is not an isolated offense in a single location.  It is time to shed light on this abuse and fight it in our communities.  Will you light a candle and help?

*  As Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. kindly pointed out, there is a difference between zoophilia and bestiality, or sexual abuse of animals.  Cory Silverberg wrote an article about it.  In my brief online search for “zoophiliasex” I saw posts and photographs which seemed to blur the distinction among practitioners.  I apologize for any confusion my use of the terms may have caused.

An Open Letter to Veterinarians on Referrals to Training and Behavior Professionals: Recommended Best Practices

ShockFreerackcard-4inx9in-h-front_FrontDear Veterinarian,

There are numerous professional organizations that offer membership and credentials in the field of animal training and behavior. Few, however, hold their members to a strict code of conduct which involves the application of their trade through scientific protocols and the objective to cause no harm.

Unfortunately, the pet training industry is entirely unregulated, meaning that anyone can say they are a trainer or behavior consultant. As a result, those who call themselves dog trainers, or even “dog whisperers,” may still be utilizing punitive methods, such as disc throwing, loud correctional “no’s” and, in some cases, more extreme tools such as shock collars, choke chains and prong collars. All of these are, sadly, still at large. They are training tools that, by design, have one purpose: to reduce or stop behavior through pain and fear. This, as opposed to a constructional approach where operant behaviors are built, and problematic emotional reactions are changed via positive reinforcement and counter conditioning protocols.

Humane, modern animal training relies on science-based protocols: “Within the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA), there is a 40-year-old standard that promotes the most positive, least intrusive behavior reduction procedures (also known as the Least Restrictive Behavior Intervention, LRBI).” (Friedman, 2010). Regardless, there are trainers who elect not to move into this arena, and/or gain informed consent from clients regarding methods and equipment used. They may still be members of professional institutes, associations and councils because many organizations do not hold their members accountable for the training methods they use. Consequently, it is easy to be fooled when searching for a training or behavior professional.


Dog trainers who are still steeped in using punitive training methods are often known to use outdated terms such as “dominance,” “pack leader,” and “alpha dog,” all of which have been proven by canine behavior scientists and specialists to be inappropriate and inaccurate in their application to pet dogs. In addition, many such trainers use training methods founded in aversive protocols deemed obsolete and damaging – both physically and psychologically (see American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statements under Supporting Documents, below).

At the Pet Professional Guild educational summit for canine training and behavior professionals in November 2016, respected veterinarian, board certified animal behaviorist, author, and PPG special counsel, Dr. Karen Overall stated: “Dominance theory has shut off scientific research and has crept into medicine to the point where we think we can do things to animals whereby we are asking them to ‘submit’….dominance theory is insidious and has crept into everything we do with dogs and it’s wrong. It has gotten in the way of modern science and I’ve just about had it. Every single thing we do with dogs hurts them because we don’t see them as individuals or cognitive partners.” (Overall, 2016).

The Fallout of Corrective Training Procedures

Dogs are cognitive, intelligent creatures that experience emotions such as fear, anxiety, and joy. They are subject to the same laws of ABA as any other living organism. Forcing dogs to comply to avoid being shouted at, told “no” in a threatening manner, or having some other discomfort forced on them through voice control, body language or eye contact does not enhance the canine-human relationship, nor does it create an environment where healthy learning can take place. Rather, a pet repeatedly subjected to aversive stimulation may go into a state of “shut down,” or a global suppression of behavior. This is frequently mistaken for a “trained” pet, as the pet may remain subdued and offer few or no behaviors. In extreme cases, pets may refuse to perform any behavior at all, known as “learned helplessness.” In such cases, animals may try to isolate themselves to avoid incurring the aversive stimulation. This is evidently counterproductive to training new, more acceptable behaviors. (O’Heare, 2011).

For punishment to be effective as a means to training a dog, or any other animal for that matter, there are three critical elements that must be met: consistency, timing and intensity. First, the punishment must occur every time the unwanted behavior occurs. Second, it must be administered within, at most, a second or two of the behavior. Third, it must be unpleasant enough to stop the behavior. In the real world, outside science laboratories, meeting these three criteria is virtually impossible for a dog training professional, and most certainly for a dog owner.

According to psychology professor, Dr. Susan Friedman (quoted above), who has pioneered the application of ABA to captive and companion animals: “Punishment doesn’t teach learners what to do instead of the problem behavior. Punishment doesn’t teach caregivers how to teach alternative behaviors. Punishment is really two aversive events – the onset of a punishing stimulus and the forfeiture of the reinforcer that has maintained the problem behavior in the past.” (Friedman, 2010). Especially troubling for pet professionals is that punishment requires an increase in the intensity of the aversive stimulus for it to have any hope of maintaining behavior reduction.

Scientific “Do No Harm” Methods

All animals are motivated by food. Food is necessary for survival. It is therefore a powerful primary reinforcer and a critical component when used correctly as part of a strategic training or management plan. For behavior consultants who engage in behavior change programs where it is necessary to change a pet’s emotional reaction to a problematic stimulus, food is essential. When modifying observable behaviors such as growling, lunging and biting that are often manifestations of a fearful and/or anxious emotional state, the goal must be to change the underlying emotional response, thus enabling the dog to learn a new, more appropriate behavior. It is frequently misunderstood that fear is an emotion and not a behavior. You cannot simply “train it out.” Indeed, fear is often the underlying emotional state to aggressive behavior, and requires the implementation of a different set of scientific protocols and a greater understanding of emotional learning and animal behavior. A review of the scientific literature recommends the use of food as a reinforcer in desensitization and counter conditioning protocols that are specifically aimed at addressing the underlying emotions of fear and/or anxiety. In reality, using food to countercondition emotional responses is the most widely accepted method for treating fear-based behaviors (Overall, 2013).

Transparency and Consumer Advocacy

“Positive relationship,” “natural methods,” “relationship building,” “positive only,” and “no food necessary” are all taglines regularly used by dog training organizations in their marketing literature. These expressions appeal to pet owners who may not always understand the various training methods available to them, and the fallout and unintended consequences of making the wrong choice.

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) is the one US-based, international member association for pet professionals who use force-free training methods only. PPG holds its members to a very high standard in terms of ethics, protocols and transparency. Members are committed to humane, scientific and effective training, care and management protocols. They never use aversive training devices and techniques. The foundation of their work is always to do no harm.

How to Choose a Training or Behavior Professional

PPG holds that humane educators neither agree with, nor have any need to use correction-based training using devices or aversive stimuli for the care, management or training of pets. Devices and methods that work through eliciting a “startle response,” and/or an alarm reaction to prevent, barking, jumping up, growling or any other problematic behavior are inhumane and just not necessary.

Ramirez-Moreno and Sejnowski (2012) define the startle response as a “largely unconscious defensive response to sudden or threatening stimuli, such as sudden noise or sharp movement” that is “associated with negative affect.” Lang, Bradley and Cuthbert (1990) state that the startle response (or aversive reflex) is “enhanced during a fear state and is diminished in a pleasant emotional context.” These, and many other canine behavior experts consider the use of the startle response to be a management or training technique that uses fear as the motivation. The direct consequences of this can include the (intended or unintended) infliction of stress and pain on an animal by an owner or trainer, and, as mentioned above, generalized fear, suppression of behavior, learned helplessness and/or redirected aggression in the animal him- or herself.

There is perhaps no better way to summarize than the words of Jean Donaldson, founder and principal instructor at The Academy for Dog Trainers, author of best-seller, The Culture Clash, and PPG special counsel, who states: “Dog training is a divided profession. We are not like plumbers, orthodontists or termite exterminators who, if you put six in a room, will pretty much agree on how to do their jobs. Dog training camps are more like Republicans and Democrats, all agreeing that the job needs to be done but wildly differing on how to do it.” (Donaldson, 2006).

A key question, then, for veterinary professionals who need to refer their clients to a dog trainer or behavior consultant, is whether they will refer to those who promote methods that include pain and fear as a means of motivation, or those who use more progressive methods that rely on scientifically-supported protocols based on positive reinforcement and seek to do no harm. Before deciding, PPG urges veterinary and animal care professionals to conduct thorough research given that so many fear-based training and behavior change methods can be very subtle, or even invisible, in the slick, magical way they are marketed to unsuspecting pet owners.

Written by Niki Tudge and Susan Nilson 2016

For more information, please see

Join the Shock-FreeCoalition to make the use of electric shock in animal training a thing of the past.


Donaldson, J. (2006). Talk Softly and Carry a Carrot or a Big Stick? Academy for Dog Trainers Blog.

Friedman, S. (2010, March). What’s Wrong with This Picture? Effectiveness Is Not EnoughAPDT Journal.

Lang, P.J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B.N. (1990, July). Emotion, attention, and the startle reflexPsychological Review 97 (3), 377-395.

O’Heare, J. (2011). Empowerment Training. Ottawa, ON: BehaveTech Publishing

Overall, K.L. (2016, November). Current Trends: Beyond dominance and discipline. Paper presented at the Pet Professional Guild educational summit, Tampa, Florida. (Cited in Nilson, S. (2017, January). Beyond Dominance. BARKS from the Guild (22)10-11).

Overall, K.L. (2013). Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders

Ramirez-Moreno, D.F., & Sejnowski, T.J. (2012, March). A computational model for the modulation of the prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle reflexBiological Cybernetics 106 88888(3) 169-176. 

Supporting Documents

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on Punishment.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory and Behavior Modification in Animals.

Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Shock in Animal Training.

Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Pet Corrective Devices.

Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Pet Training.

New Puppy – What Now?

As puppy owners, we need to do our utmost to ensure the transition from puppyhood to adulthood is as smooth as possible

As puppy owners, we need to do our utmost to ensure the transition from puppyhood to adulthood is as smooth as possible

We’re getting a puppy!  How amazingly, brilliantly, wonderfully exciting…. then puppy arrives! No, really – having a puppy is an incredibly enriching period of our lives and we are indeed privileged to share our lives with these wondrous, funny, all absorbing beings.

Truth is though that we owe it to these dogs, to serve them the very best we can and to do our utmost to ensure the transition from puppyhood to adulthood is as smooth as possible, for our sakes as well!

A Time You Can’t Get Back – Enjoy!

I meet so many owners of lovely young puppies and all are keen to get going.  This is not to be discouraged and it’s great to have goals and objectives, things you want to get out and do throughout your dog’s life – fantastic. What I always say to owners though, especially first timers is enjoy this time.  It’s so easy to coast through the first few months and then think, ‘hold on, where did that time go?’  It’s a time that can’t come back, so enjoy every little second, all those funny things your puppy does, things he does that makes you smile.  Also, don’t cram his mind with hundreds of things all at once, this can be stressful, take your time.  This brings me onto…

Actually Get To Know Puppy and Bond

I always remember a first time owner a couple of years ago, conversation went something like this – ‘can I enroll puppy at puppy class? – [of course, how old is she?] ‘7 weeks’.  OK HOLD IT RIGHT THERE! Great that we have a keen first time owner, but we need to reassess here.  Actually turned out that puppy was just being picked up that week from the breeder.  This time period can be one of great stress and uncertainty (probably in the owner too!) and so is a bonding and ‘getting to know each other’ period.  You will be focusing on socialization, habituation, feeding routines, house training, sleeping patterns and general day to day routine.  All of this in the formative weeks takes priority.  At my Centre, we take puppies for socialization bonding and Starters Classes after all inoculations are complete.

Learn Don’t Cram

Prior to puppy school, I like to ‘bump start’ puppies with a few basics such as habituating to the harness, collar and lead in the home, so that once inoculations are complete, they are accepting of these items and ready to go and enjoy their adventures.  I will also start with some easy stuff such as ‘sit’,which give the owner a means of positively reinforcing the puppy for simply sitting still in a variety of different scenarios and ‘come’, which is obviously super important once puppy is released off-lead into the big wide world.  Cue word ‘come’ can be used whenever puppy comes running back, which is likely many times per day and so is operantly strengthened.

A Bit Of Self Control

Puppies naturally lack self-control, so I like to start, after having taught ‘sit’, with some simple self control basics. I like to work on the notion of ‘puppy gold stars’. A big gold star for example can be earned by the four paws on the floor exercise. Most puppies are very apt at propelling themselves at whoever will give them attention and this is not something to be actively encouraged.  If we can teach puppies that sitting calmly with four paws on the floor will be rewarded however, puppy is likely to choose this response more often that jumping, because the former is what achieves her that reward (or gold star). I like to start with this exercise as soon as possible and I also use it with puppies who have become very mouthy, although I might utilize other self control exercises here as well as substitute responses for what we’d term inappropriate behaviour.

Getting Out and About

I cannot stress this enough.  It is so, so crucial that puppies experience life prior to 14 weeks – socialization and habituation.  Socialization refers to interaction with us and conspecific species the dog will live with.  Habituation refers to absorbing environmental sounds and experiences. So, I won’t go into great detail here because there are lots of available ‘tick list’ socialization and habituation sheets but essentially think about meeting people of different ages, appearances, wearing different sorts of clothing etc. Take your dog past schools, railway stations, experience different traffic noises, household appliances, visits to the vet, trips in the car, up and down stairs.  If your dog will live with other pets, now is also the time for them to be carefully introduced and for your dog to begin meeting other dogs. Your dog should now prepare for adult life, everything she will meet with in her life, you need to be preparing for now.

Sleep Is Gold

Don’t feel the need to constantly occupy your puppy! Like children, puppies often become much more excitable and mouthy simply because they are over tired.  Allow your puppy time to sleep and somewhere where he won’t be disturbed.  That wild, crazy period at bedtime ‘puppy zoomies’ (or to give it it’s full name ‘frenetic random activity periods’) is normal, so don’t respond, just let it happen.  If you have young children, make sure they understand that puppy needs peace and quiet.  Puppy is a living creature who must be respected and isn’t a toy.  Respect should be taught early.

Get The Right Advice

There is a LOT of advice out there and that’s great.  Use it to your advantage but please remember, your dog is an individual and whilst getting advice is great, it isn’t tailored to your pet and can sometimes conflict.  Common areas for seeking advice are; mouthing that”s stepping up a gear, house training that’s just dragging on and on, puppy play that just seems to be a little more than boisterous puppy play. If you need help, always ask for help from a registered, certified behaviour consultant who can give you that individual assistance.

Clicker Training for Cats (3/6)

By Paula Garber and Francine Miller

Training a cat to go to a specific place tells him what to do in specific situations and can be used to resolve many behavior issues. Photo: Susan Nilson

Training a cat to go to a specific place tells him what to do in specific situations and can be used to resolve many behavior issues. Photo: Susan Nilson

Cats learn best when they are comfortable and free from distractions. They are sensitive and will flee from any threat or uncertainty (and we don’t work with them on a leash!) The best place to teach a cat is somewhere he finds quiet and familiar. This may be challenging because with their acute senses of smell and hearing they may be distracted by things we are unaware of.

You should train in a place with a litter box available, fresh water and a place to retreat to or rest. Cats do not usually learn well immediately after they have eaten, so just like dogs, they will be more motivated by food reinforcers if they are hungry.

The way you train should be tailored to your individual cat. This means identifying the best reward(s), the optimal length of a training session, how fast your cat learns and the best training aids to use. It can be helpful to establish cues to communicate to the cat when a formal training session begins and ends. Verbal cues such as “let’s train!” and “all done!” typically work well.

Your cat’s personality and readiness to learn must also be considered. How bold or timid is he? Bold cats are more inclined to get involved in situations they have not encountered before, while timid cats hang back, finding unfamiliar objects daunting and potentially threatening. A cat’s readiness to learn is affected by his mood at the time. For example, some cats are generally difficult to motivate and may seem bored while training. Or a cat may be overexcited by training and too focused on the reward rather than the behavior to obtain it.

Finally, it is important to take previous negative experiences into account, especially if you are going to work on changing the cat’s emotional state to a positive one. Training of this sort will take longer and require a slower pace than if no prior negative association had been made.

It is important to note that cats learn fastest when they are younger and a bit more slowly once they are older. Cats over the age of 12 years may need more time spent on each element of training, but they can definitely still learn new tricks. Training sessions should last only a few minutes three or four times a day, as cats seem to work best in short spurts. These should be well separated to allow the kitten or cat to sleep in between. Ideally you want to end each session while the cat is still interested, but if the cat tires before you do and turns his back and starts washing his face, the cat is done and so are you!

Useful Behaviors to Train

Cats can be trained to perform several foundation behaviors that can be useful in a variety of situations, including come when called, targeting, go to place, and training calm. (For more details on the steps involved to train your cat to perform any of these behaviors, see full article - taken from the article Clicker Training for Cats, first published in BARKS from the Guild, November 2017, pp. 16-23.)

About the Authors

Paula Garber holds a master’s in education and is a certified animal training and enrichment professional and certified feline training and behavior specialist. She is also certified in low-stress handling, and pet CPR and first aid, and is pursuing a diploma in feline behavior science and technology from the Companion Animal Sciences Institute. Based in Ossining, New York, she owns and operates LIFELINE Cat Behavior Solutions, is currently chairwoman of PPG’s Cat Committee and is a supporting member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also serves on the Cat Protection Council of Westchester in her community.

Francine Miller is an applied animal behavior counselor and associate certified dog behavior consultant (IAABC certified associate) who has 13 years experience treating dogs and cats with behavior problems. She currently offers house calls for behavior consultations throughout San Diego County, California under the business name, Call Ms Behaving, and overnight pet sitting in the area around Carlsbad, California where she resides. She is also the vice chairwoman of the PPG Cat Committee.

The High and (Sometimes) Woes Of Puppy Parenting: What They Don’t Tell You!

By Joy Matthews

Getting a new pup is an exciting time but new owners are not always prepared for such a big change in their lives. Photo (c) Can Stock Photo/HugoFelix

Getting a new pup is an exciting time but new owners are not always prepared for such a big change in their lives. Photo (c) Can Stock Photo/HugoFelix

So you’re gettingnew puppy!  More exciting than all your birthdays put together; such cuteness that your insides turn to warm caramel; a huggable, kissable, wriggling snuggle-chum!  But wait, there are a few other things you need to know about becoming a puppy parent. Here’s what they don’t tell you about your new ‘job’ …

Cash –  You blew your credit card at the pet store: a crate for pup to snooze in and be safely contained, complete with soft cosy bedding.  Toys – lots of toys – to keep him/her occupied.  Special (puppy) food and treats and chews (apparently nothing else will do), food bowl, lead and collar, harnesses, brush, poop bag, vet bills, vaccinations, pet insurance…..

Sleep – or rather a lack of.  Puppies can bark, howl, whimper for hours – it tugs at your heart strings but may also drive you bonkers at times! Of course, you can enlist the help of a pet professional to find out how best to address this.

Social Life – Now you can look forward to weeks, maybe months, of boisterous puppy play that takes over your ‘me- time’ or going out. But it’s a lot of fun!

Chewing – Every surface that your puppy can put his jaws around might be tested for taste, resistance to needle sharp pressure and nibbled for relief of boredom.  Anything not fixed firmly in place risks being moved, shredded and indented with teeth marks.  Skirting boards and stairs often particular favourites. Management, aka antecedent control is key here.

Being a puppy parent is not always an easy job but it is incredibly rewarding. Photo (c) Can Stock Photo/DragoNika

Being a puppy parent is not always an easy job but it is incredibly rewarding. Photo (c) Can Stock Photo/DragoNika

Illusions – The illusion of pleasant walks can sometimes start to feel like an obstacle course as you wrestle with various pieces of equipment and try not to step on your pup as he or she zigzags around you.

Embarrassment – Your puppy may well embarrass you at every opportunity: Muddy paws on white trousered strangers, peeing … everywhere!  Tangling you up in other people’s dogs’ leads, mouthing at folks’ shoe laces/cardigans or indeed anything clothing that dangles. Again, a pet professional can set you and your pup on the right path.

Sniffing – endless sniffing.  A beautiful day at the park becomes a view of your puppy’s bottom, tail in air, nose down exploring the local fauna, flora and wildlife and … rubbish.  Puppies just love picking up and trying to eat rubbish – paper towels, sweet wrappers, poo bags.  You name it.

Reality check!   Buying a puppy is not like buying a sofa.  It will be more demanding than you ever imagine; more expensive and will change your whole lifestyle.

Think before getting your puppy…

Try before you buy – See if you can puppy sit or dog sit for a friend. Offer to look after their dog for a day or two.  Understand what its really like to have a dog.  Feel the sharp end and volunteer at the local rescue centre.

Breed? Research what different breeds were bred for.

  • How much mental and physical stimulation does the breed typically need?
  • How much barking can you expect;
  • How much pet hair are you willing to vacuum up?

What are you prepared to give up? Take a long, hard, look at your life style.  Be brutal:

  • Are you going to give up luxury furnishings, a pretty garden and your social life?
  • Will your neighbours tolerate it if your dog barks while you are out? If not, are you prepared to work on the issue with a training professional?
  • Are you self disciplined enough get up at 6 a.m. on cold dark mornings to walk your dog?
  • Can you give up spontaneous weekends away and nights out?
  • Will your love and sense of responsibility be enough to parent this young animal?

And finally …

Being a puppy parent is not an easy job!  Rescue shelters are brimming with dogs whose pet parents found they’d taken on too much.  So, think carefully before choosing your pup – make sure its the right decision for you, your family, your lifestyle and of course the puppy.  If it is then here’s to you enjoying a loving, fun and long lasting relationship together!

Written by Joy Matthews – adapted from the excellent article by Kay Laurence 

You can download Kay’s original article here.

Do Check PPG’s Puppy Training Resources to get your pup started on the right track.

About the Author

Joy Matthews is the Founder of Joyful Dogs, a Cheltenham, U.K.-based dog and puppy training firm. She shares her life with a rescue dog called Gerry and has been lucky enough to be tutored by some of the ‘Dog Training Greats’, like Kay Laurence and Helen Phillips.  She loves working in this field and is delighted by the number of her clients who are now enjoying a more thoughtful partnership with their dogs.  Trying to see the dog’s point of view and finding ways to make learning together fun is what makes her tick!

Tracking Training

By Jane Bowers

Tracking is a fun activity many dogs can do and that most enjoy. Generally if a dog enjoys retrieving, has some prey drive, shows persistence in finding things and is in good health, they will do well in tracking. Success in tracking is also dependent on the skill of the trainer, the time spent teaching the dog the basics and beyond and the rewards for the dog.

Tracking and search work utilizes the incredible senses that dogs possess. In particular, their sense of smell. When trained, dogs can identify and follow the scent of a particular person or animal, indicate to their handler when they have identified a certain odour like that of illicit drugs or the presence of bedbugs for example.

The human body reportedly sheds about 30,00 to 40,000 skin cells per minute (varies due to several factors) and these cells become a part of individualized “rafts” made up of one or more cells and about 4 microbial “passengers”DSC_0013 of bacteria unique to the person. This is what tracking dogs follow when tracking an individual.

By keeping the track simple initially, the dog’s confidence in both himself and the handler will grow. Over time and as the dog’s skills increase, the tracks can be made steadily more difficult in a variety of ways, always working at a pace where the dog’s confidence is built and maintained. There are many things that can influence the difficulty of the track, such as surface of the ground, direction of the track, weather conditions, wind speed and direction, terrain, wildlife that may have left “cross-tracks”, human traffic, buildings, fencing and the speed of the tracklayer’s movement.  The key is to challenge but not overwhelm the dog so he enjoys learning and so he enjoys the search.

Dogs learn quickly when trained using “inducive” techniques, (appealing to his senses, instincts and temperament to provide the dog with a reason to behave in a specific manner), and then rewarding him for the behaviour.

Tracking is a good way to mentally tire a busy dog and dogs of any size and a variety of breeds enjoy fun tracking and search exercises.

About the Author

Jane Bowers BA CPDT-KA CABC runs Dogs of Distinction in Roberts Creek, British Columbia and has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. She also has a monthly newspaper column on dog-related topics and was a former host of a live call-in television show on animals. She has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the CCPDT and as a behavior consultant through the IAABC and the AABP. She is also author of the book Perfect Puppy Parenting.