Training Philosophy

THIS TRAINING PROGRAM ADHERES TO THE GUIDELINES OF THE HUMANE HIERARCHY

I’ve spent the last 30+ years with dual careers in both the animal industry and human services, mostly as it relates to behavior. Through the years I’ve continued my education with the help of some really terrific teachers, starting with the humans and animals that have struggled with behavioral issues. I have made it a point to follow experts in both fields, on a regular basis, as I feel it is important to keep my finger on the pulse as each field evolves. This has shaped my approach to start with the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) methods for both behavior and training.

Dr. Susan Friedman, who led the way for the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to be used with companion and captive animals, developed the Humane Hierarchy as an ethical standard in modifying animal behavior. In essence, it states that to modify or manage behavior, the following steps are the most humane and effective practices.

  1. HEALTH, NUTRITIONAL, AND PHYSICAL FACTORS: When I meet with a new client, I ask a whole host of questions to help me identify why a dog might have a sudden change in behavior, or why a maladaptive behavior might be reinforcing to the dog. I might ask if someone moved in/out of the household? Did they introduce a new pet/or did one pass? Has the dog’s coat, appetite, or temperament changed? Has your schedule changed? Has your dog been to the veterinarian to rule out a physical cause for a change in behavior? A simple UTI could cause a dog to suddenly start urinating in the crate or house. A thyroid condition, Injuries, dementia, arthritis, gum disease, ear infections, and many more ailments should be ruled out prior to behavior modification.

  2.  ANTECEDENTS: In order to change behavior you must prevent the behavior from happening. For example, your dog has become increasingly more hyper-vigilant while looking out the window at people who pass by on the sidewalk. He used to just notice and maybe bark once, but now he is in a frenzy to get out the door. He carries on, and you are unable to get his attention, or he has destroyed curtains and furniture in an attempt to get to the passerby. Your first course of action is to use management techniques to prevent this behavior from continuing. The more practice the dog get’s the more difficult it is cure. It means you might keep the front door shut, or use window film or newspaper to cover any areas the dog normally watches for intrusions. You might use a fan to hide noises from the street. Behavior modification/training will go much more quickly if the dog no longer has the ability to rehearse the behavior.

  3. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT: Positive reinforcement (+R) is adding something the dog wants (food, toy, praise) that will increase the likelihood of the desired behavior happening more frequently in the future. Positive reinforcement is the least intrusive way to modify behavior and it’s always going to be my first plan of action. The very worst that can happen is that a trainer forgets to fade out treats which can lead to a dog that only performs with rewards. It’s easy to fix that issue, and no real harm is done.

  4. DIFFERENTIAL REINFORCEMENT OF ALTERNATIVE BEHAVIORS- Sometimes having your dog offer an alternate behavior fixes the problem behavior. A dog who jumps on visitors can be a huge liability, particularly to the elderly and children. It is also terrifying to folks that are fearful of dogs, or people trying to keep their clothes clean and free of rips. Instead, you can set up scenarios with friends and family who will help you teach the dog better manners. You might have your guests reward your dog with treats and praise when he sits, remaining neutral and aloof until the dog does the desired behavior. 

  5. NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT, NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT, & EXTINCTION- Negative Reinforcement (-R) is taking away something the dog likes to decrease the behavior from happening in the future. For instance, your new puppy keeps mistaking your fingers as chew toys. Giving the puppy a brief timeout is an example of -R.  An example of Negative Punishment (-P) would be to stop walking/“Be a tree” when your dog is pulling you on a walk. As soon as there is no tension on the leash, you continue on the walk which is rewarding to the dog. In essence, pulling on the leash/tight collar is uncomfortable (something the dog does not want) and the slack on the leash relieves that pressure and the walk moves forward (something the dog wants) Another example would be an e-collar trainer applying the shock (something the dog does not want) while the dog is misbehaving, and then removing the shock (something dog wants) when the correct behavior is performed. An extinction scenario might go something like this…your dog has never been asked to sit politely to put the leash on and consequently it’s the equivalent to trying to wrangle a soapy ferret (Go ahead, try giving a ferret a bath; you need about 5-6 extra hands, and that might be exactly the number of hands needed to leash your dog!) When you pick up the leash, your dog does her usual zoomies, maybe she barks excitedly as she runs by you and expects that you attempt to catch her. This time, you just stand there, bored and neutral, maybe with no eye contact. A minute or two ( which feels like an hour or two) goes by and now the dog is becoming increasingly more confused and frustrated. She expects to be caught and leashed and then to go for her walk which is rewarding to her, but you are just standing there. She may even amp up her behavior in an attempt to get you to join in the usual game (This is called an extinction burst) but you remain quietly aloof. Finally, she starts to tire herself, and comes to you quietly and inquisitively. She may even offer a sit, at which time you quietly leash her, praise her, and head out for you walk (which is rewarding). Each time you do that, the quicker she will settle down to be leashed .In some cases, extinction can be quite stressful to the dog which is why it, along with -R and -P are not the first choice in training and behavior.

  6. POSITIVE PUNISHMENT- Positive punishment (+P) should always be a last resort. While it is one of the four quadrants of Learning Theory, in most cases (99.9%) it is simply unnecessary.  I consider myself a +R trainer however, if I had tried the most successful options, challenged myself to check and make sure my skills and timing were spot on, consulted other professionals,  and this was all that was left, I would consider utilizing +P, depending on the owners preferences. Example of +P would be a leash pop, an anti bark machine, or using an e collar. You are adding something a dog does not like to decrease bad behavior.