To Beat or Not to Beat

To Beat or Not to Beat…  that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep.

What is harsh handling and is it needed in training our dogs to do agility?

We all have different opinions/ definitions of what each word means to us, I love an ice cream but I also love my family. Before I took up teaching agility fulltime I was a builder and I worked flippin hard physically, I saw others work “hard” or their version of “hard work”. Somewhat different to what I’d call hard work. Some peoples definition of poor or rich would be very different to mine, (if I have £20 in my wallet I feel well off).

How do we determine what harsh is? A quick look in the dictionary and the meaning is ….

adjective: harsh:

  1. unpleasantly rough or jarring to the senses.
  2. cruel or severe.

Number one seems to cover more physical and number two covers a much broader range potentially covering mental, physical, emotional etc.

Personally I try to only use positive reinforcement with my dogs at all times but in reality we are all going to use all of aspects of learning theory no matter how much we consciously try not to.

On occasion I have been training someone and asked them to use the word “go” for whatever reason maybe a release command etc, they have then said I’d rather not because it sounds like “no”.

My own dogs hopefully do not know the word … “no”. I try to never use it but of course I do sometimes in the heat of the moment. Do they know the word? I don’t think so but maybe we all get tonality when we use the word No which they respond to rather than the actual word. I much prefer to ask my dog to do something than have a go at them for doing something. So if they are jumping up me I’d ask them for a down rather than saying no, or maybe send to their bed, sometimes if we don’t let the dog have some instruction on what to do they potentially may find their own destructive thing to do. Many working breeds can be in such a neurotic state they have no idea what to do with themselves so rather than keep saying no to them at everything they try to do it’s better to tell them what to do, ie sit, stay, down, heel, walk.

Every week at least one person says to me they think it is important their dog understands the word “no”. Some of you will agree with this and I am not disagreeing I just don’t find I ever need it. When they say this to me I ask them this …. If you see it as important they “understand” it how did you actually teach it to them? No one has yet given me an answer because the answer is..  they didn’t teach it they just shouted it when the dog was stepping into the coal fire or when the dog was trying to steal off their dinner plate.
So does saying “no” to your dog constitute harsh handling? Of course not. Does shouting “no” loudly and aggressively constitute harsh handling? Yes it does in my opinion.

I am not anthropomorphic but I do treat my dogs as though they are children. As I have said before I do have qualifications in psychology and I use child psychology in all my dog training. I treat my dogs as though they are children that can almost rationalise but are at an age that can’t be quite trusted to behave themselves and do the right thing all the time. I keep them on leads near the roads just as you’d hold a child’s hand, I trust my dogs will walk by my side along the path and not run out in the road but I don’t trust them enough to take the risk so on lead they will stay. If my dog is pushing things in training trying to do the things they find extremely rewarding and not showing the impulse control,  I show them to the naughty step, ie their crate or just to the side so they are no longer playing, the same as you would a child. Oh wait wouldn’t we scruff the dog and drag it with hind legs bouncing and front feet off the floor potentially damaging its trachea and throw it to the naughty step? Would we do that with our children? Grab your child by the hair and drag them for their naughtiness.

Is frogmarching your dog out of the ring for their “naughtiness” harsh handling? Yes it is, it’s potentially damaging the throat, it’s mentally damaging and it is not the way I want my relationship with my dog to be. It’s also ugly to watch and setting totally the wrong example for the whole sport. Basing training and relationships on fear and intimidation is a bizarre concept that doesn’t compute in my little brain:

  • Smacking the dog in any form = harsh handling
  • Grabbing the dog aggressively by the scruff = harsh handling
  • Throwing something at the dog = harsh handling
  • Giving the dog a good yank on lead = harsh handling
  • Threatening the dog using intimidation = harsh handling
  • Certain “dodgy” collars = harsh handling

If you witness any form of what you deem as harsh handling at a show then please report this. Please do not stand by and moan to others how bad it was, stand up and be counted even if it doesn’t go further, then at least you can hold your head up and not turn your back and walk away. At Kennel Club shows you can put something in the incident book, the incident book gets glanced at by the kennel club but in my experience nothing more gets done which comes to the second option. You can make an official complaint so if the show secretary tells you to put it in the incident book and you see it as quite severe then tell them you want to make an official complaint and this will get looked at in more depth. Get as many witnesses as possible but you do not need witnesses if only you saw it. Please help protect our dogs as things seem to be getting more acceptable and as the sport grows it can go in one of two directions, one that allows this aggressive forceful, Victorian dog training style or we can go down a path that promotes totally happy dogs that are reward based.

We all get frustrated because our dogs cannot read our minds and I am certainly included in that, I get frustrated as much as most others, but the best thing to do is take deep breaths, get things in context, smile and remember its only dog training. Use child psychology on your dog and treat them as though they were your child, find how to communicate with them and get rid of any negativity, reward the correct behaviour and enjoy them.

Premack Principle

How to get more speed without relying on natural drive

My belief and a sentence I can often be heard saying is …..
The motivation for speed needs to come from the desire to get the reward.

How can the Premack principle help you in agility?

Some people are lucky enough to have a naturally high drive agility dog that no matter what the reward they will tear around the course like their life depends on it offering behaviours at the drop of a hat. Some people may be clever enough and patient enough to have worked on it and put the drive/motivation into the dog. There are many at their wits end trying anything to give the dog the drive and energy, everything from running every inch with the dog, squeaky voices, every toy and every treat or nice food possible and yet still the dog isn’t remotely interested.
Some may be despairing how to motivate or get their dog to enjoy agility.
This is the area where the Premack principle can help.
Firstly what is it?
David Premack was a psychology professor (born in 1925 in the USA)
Professor Premack did behavioural experiments on chimpanzees and Cebus monkeys (among others) and came up with the “Premack Principle”. (as well as lots of other brilliant behavioural works)

In behavioral terms Premack’s principle states that any high-frequency activity (high-probability behaviour) can be used as a reinforcer for any lower-frequency activity. (low-probability behaviour)
The best example that is widely used to explain Premack’s principle is “You have to finish your vegetables (less enjoyable) before you can have your pudding/dessert/ice cream”. (yummy, more enjoyable) Personally I don’t like to use this line too often as people usually just agree and say oh yeah I understand. When in reality if we use it cleverly and develop strategies it has so many more advantages and uses.
Premack principle obviously applies to most species including humans, this isn’t just canines or monkeys. Just the same as most of learning theory is relevant to most species on the planet.
Here it is in layman’s terms.
If two behaviours occur, the first we will call (A) and is closely followed by behaviour (B), and B is more desirable (enjoyable) than (A), (A) will likely increase in frequency, desire and improved performance.
If behaviour (A) is enjoyable and is closely followed by (B) but (B) is not very desirable this can lead to (A) becoming less enjoyable and potentially the performance standard will drop, a decrease in frequency may occur to perform that behaviour.
Some basic examples
If the dog walks nicely on lead (and doesn’t like that behaviour) and gets let off in the park to go crazy (and the dog loves going crazy) then walking nicely on lead will likely become more frequent and probable and maybe even more enjoyable.
The dog has to wait nicely and not barge its way out of the vehicle and gets freedom, the behaviour of waiting patiently to be invited out will become more frequent.

So what does your dog love doing?

How can you use that? That depends how dedicated you are!!

So what are my dog’s favourite things to do? There are many things my dogs love doing but each has their favourite. Shy’s favourite is chasing squirrels until they run up a tree and then loves barking at them. Bold’s fav thing is swimming. Coys is probably racing the other dogs when out on a walk. (not always a great thing to allow)
How can I utilise their desire to do this behaviour into our training sessions?

Ok let me discuss how I could’ve and maybe have used my dog’s favourite behaviours to improve our agility. My previous agility field had a wooded area full of trees right next to it with lots of pheasants, rabbits and squirrels in it. Let’s say I had a slower than I’d like behaviour on the dogwalk from Shy. I could’ve set the dogwalk up heading towards the woods , got Shy to do a dogwalk then raced her over to chase a squirrel which would’ve been lurking nearby. This would’ve increased the liking for the dogwalk and encouraged her to put more effort, speed into the dogwalk. If Bold had a weave issue I could’ve taken stick in the ground weave poles down to a river or lake, set them up, popped him through them and then threw a ball in the lake, he would’ve been in heaven. (he actually loves weaves almost as much as swimming)

Bold loves weaves so much we can even use the Premack principle by linking two obstacles together, so if we did dogwalk then weaves,….. then dogwalk weaves etc., eventually his dogwalk is likely to improve as it starts to get associated with the weaves.
This is one of the things I noticed with my puppy Coy a couple of months ago, I’d get her out the van, warm her up, do a couple of minutes of something agility at my field which she was mad for and loving. I generally only train my dogs for five minutes or so. The session would go brilliant and she was really fired up and so excited and up for it and then I’d…… put her back in the van. Obviously this is a fast way to teach her that being excited and fast and up for it in agility gets you…. Put in the boring van. So I was actually in danger of making exciting agility a negative association.
My answer to this was to let the other dogs out of the van for her to play with rather than put her back in the van, so she does agility and gets excited and then gets to play with the other dogs, doesn’t get better than that for her.
I did actually use Premack principle to get more drive to the dead toy, Coy would have to run fast to a dead toy then straight after she could run with the other dogs like a looney. (be careful allowing maniac dogs to run together)

Getting the dog to play with toys or tugging are really useful for many physical and psychological reasons and also very handy to then use as a reward in agility but, what if your dog isn’t naturally into a toy? This can be encouraged using Premack. A very quick game or even just a nose touch on the toy and then fly into doing their favourite thing may then build up the value in the toy play.
Be creative, there is always something your dog is naturally in to, think what this is and then think how you can use this to link it with agility or their general dog training in some way. It may be chasing a squirrel, watching golf on tv, digging at a rabbit hole, sex (seems to work for humans) howling at the moon, being groomed, (unlikely).
Dogs (and humans) are constantly linking two (or more) things together so use this in a positive way to enhance/improve your training and your dog’s happiness.

Just for the record I do not promote or condone our dogs chasing little animals and no little animals were harmed in the making of this article. Also be very careful allowing your dogs to race the other ones when out on a walk.

Food for Fought

Food for Fought

Recently in the UK we had a one off hour long TV documentary on “dog food”, this wasn’t promoting one or another but discussing the pros and cons of kibble, raw, vegan and home cooked etc. I watched with interest but by the end they seemed to have contradicted themselves lots and nobody was any the wiser which food is best for their dogs.

In my younger days I was obsessed with my own personal fitness, I was a fitness instructor for a while and read and learnt all I could on nutrition and fitness for humans. What was and is as clear as can be is the correct nutrition generally does play a much bigger part than we think. Ask any bodybuilder and (apart from illegal drugs) they will tell you the correct diet is probably more important than lifting heavy weights. The food we eat can affect our mental health, mental state, energy levels, moods, body shape, strength, motivation, smell, memory, skin condition, teeth, breath, our senses, sleep patterns, behaviour, thoughts, eyesight and probably hundreds of others things that haven’t the science to back them up yet. We generally just think bad diet means I will get fat. Many people have a bad diet and never get fat or overweight at all, doesn’t mean they are healthy or the diet isn’t playing a big role in their life.

When you see members of the same family that all wear glasses due to poor eyesight is it because their poor eyesight is a hereditary disease or is it because they all have a similar diet which is lacking in the correct vitamins that promote great eyesight? (Probably both.)

So if we know that diet is this important for humans surely we can relate this to dogs and all other animals too. I am not relating human diet to canine diet, I am relating that the healthy correct appropriate food will benefit each species.
Pandas live on bamboo yet cannot break down the cellulose very well so need to consume huge amounts of it each day just to get by, they survive on it and have done for thousands of years since they stopped being carnivores, this shows animals can live on inadequate food and allow the species to continue for thousands of years. “It hasn’t done them any harm” !!!!

Personally I feed a raw diet to my dogs and I have done since about 2005 after many years of researching it. It went against everything I had grown up to believe or heard dogs should or shouldn’t eat. Someone convinced me (Tracy Flower) that dogs were meant to eat this way and I gave it a go. One of the best decisions I have ever made.

Competing in dog agility we are constantly looking for that edge, we are breeding the dogs from agility lines and these are getting fitter and faster, we are working on exercises to improve their strength, balance, muscles etc., we are working on handling and training but an area that perhaps lacks science and facts is the correct nutrition. Olympic athletes do not abuse their bodies with fast food or junk food, they have strict regimes that allow their bodies to thrive on the correct vitamins, minerals and anything else their bodies may need to get from the diet.
I think we need some real research into canine nutrition so we can use facts to state this or that is the case. Rather than a vet that has less than a day’s training on canine nutrition given by a rep of some kibble company.
The following are my personal observations or beliefs (some are proven facts) I believe that dog’s suffering with the issues such as stress, obesity, hyperactivity, aggression, skin conditions, bad teeth, (plaque on teeth is related/linked to heart disease) motivation, low/high energy, separation anxiety, fear, sensitivity, depression, anal glands that regularly need help emptying, digestive problems, many cancers, biddability, actually every aspect of the dog’s behaviour may be diet related and I really wish the owners would make that their first thought when their dog does anything they see as inappropriate behaviour. The title I gave this “Food for Fought” is obviously a play on words implying the food can affect aggression and temperament.

I can honestly say my dogs are brilliant examples of health, their teeth obviously, their energy, their behaviour, they have never in all the time of feeding raw had any health issues whatsoever.
I always get told “you are lucky to have such healthy well behaved dogs”. Is it just luck?

An advert on TV states that one in four dogs suffer with periodontal disease and need dental treatment, (I have three dogs with great teeth, I better not get a fourth) they also state that looking after dog’s teeth can add two to five years on their life span.

Shy (top photo) is 12 and her teeth are a bit worn down but still lovely and clean. Bold is ten years old (middle photo) and as you can see they are pretty perfect. Coy is 16 months old. (bottom photo)

A couple of things that may surprise you are a bag of kibble is loaded with salmonella and kibble fed dogs faeces are loaded with salmonella too.
People say that dogs fed bones can choke on them or get them stuck in the gut. Of course this may be possible but I have never known it, I have however known over 30 dogs fed kibble that have had gastric torsion, many of them died.

It is very convenient to dip into a bag of kibble, throw in a bowl, job done, especially when feeding large numbers of dogs. One of the things that people new to raw feeding seem to delight themselves with is taking pleasure in preparing the dog’s dinner. It may be lamb heart one meal, chicken carcasses the next or blended veg with eggs and yoghurt or we may just throw them a mackerel. Shys favourite is chicken wings, Bolds is sardines, and Coys is duck necks.

I know of a small number of dogs that have been moved to a raw diet that haven’t taken to it for whatever reason but most will thrive on it. For convenience sake there are now many pre packed raw food companies to make it easier for us. Here is the one I use. Let’s do the best for our dogs.