Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hungarian Super Dogs

There is great stuff coming from Hungary. A few years ago I read Vilmos Csanyl’s book “If Dogs Could Talk”. Csanyl is a companion dog owner, and the head of the Ethology Department at the University of Budapest. In his book he wonderfully fuses science and relationship.
His ethology research group conducts very interesting studies on behavior, canine cognizant abilities and how dogs and wolves are different.

And then there is this Hungarian group of dog owners who take chaining tricks into a cool performance to a whole new level. Last year about this time I saw a Youtube clip called “A Doggy Christmas Surprise”. You may have seen it – it’s a bunch of dogs, intact as they often are in Europe, decorating a Christmas tree. And last week someone sent me the sequel, called “A Doggy Summer” – it’s the same group of dogs having fun at the beach. Both clips are awesome, and well worth watching. If I’d be any computer savvier I would have a direct link to it from this post, but because I am not, you have to go to www.youtube.com and type Mirror Method Dogs into the search box. Doggy Christmas is the first and Doggy Summer the third clip, and in between is one about the group and their training philosophy.
That clip is called “About Our Group” and the method called Mirror Method. They say that the dog reflects the behavior and personality of the owner, and in order to change the dog’s behavior, one has to make changes in his own first. Wise words.
The Mirror method consists of three, equally important, parts: relationship – training – natural for the dog interactions.
They use the word hierarchy and leader, but state that leadership is established without force and violence. They also talk about distance between owner and dog and I’m curious what they mean by that. They say that without that relationship first, obedience isn’t possible and I totally agree. The mindful leadership relationship is what I call the foundation necessary for learning and good behavior.
For the mechanical part, the teaching of tricks and positions, they use a clicker and treats. I am not a clicker trainer, but do believe it’s a great tool for purely mechanical learning – when the cerebral cortex in addressed, not the emotional limbic system.
The third part is to tap into the dog’s instincts; in other words create opportunities for the dog to live his nature. Living his nature doesn’t mean free for all, but structured teamwork that allows the dog to do things important to him. In the clip they showed retrieving and protection work – I love tracking, cause most dogs are interested in purposeful nose work.
I agree with one more statement the group makes: that marvelous things are possible with every dog, if the owner follows the holistic three-part philosophy of Leadership Relationship; Training and Practice and Purposeful Teamwork and Interactions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

DNA Test Results

Will and Davie’s DNA results are in. You might remember my post a while back when I announced that I sent DNA My Dog about 100 bucks to send me a DNA testing kit for both our girls. The results were emailed to me today, with the hard copies to follow.
When I sent the swaps back, I intentionally didn’t add a photo, cause I am a natural skeptic and I didn’t want to give them any hints what Davie and Will look like.
So according to DNA My Dog, Davie is a combination of:
20-36% Sheltie, 20-36% Greyhound, 20-36% Border Collie, 10-20% Australian Shepherd and less than 5% Parsons Russell Terrier.
Will is a combination of:
37-74% German Shepherd, 10-20% Min-Pin and less than 5% poodle.
The skeptic in me says: “Hm – I wonder?”
I understand that dogs are a combination of many different genes – get that. And Will could somewhat make sense, even though her mother looked a lot like a border collie.
But Davie? Greyhound? By the way, she was sold as purebred Australian Shepherd.
So, I am disappointed. Not because Australian Shepherds are my favorite breed and mine is only 10-20% one, and Will is not a classy Tervuren or even a special coydog, just an ordinary shepherd cross, but because I am not convinced that the test is accurate.
That’s another natural personality trait – if I don’t get the outcome I like I question things, including DNA evidence. So Mike suggested to send for another test kit to the US company whatever their name is, who’ve been doing it for years, just to see what they come up with. Next time I feel like wasting money, maybe I will.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Juveniles and Young Adults

Coincidentally, I heard from several friends and acquaintances recently that are struggling a bit with their juveniles. Most of them are males – go figure – and three of the same breed: German shepherd. Now, I am very fond of German shepherds, but truth is that they can be a handful once they are past the baby stage and before they reach maturity.

When a dog reaches social maturity varies with breed and gender. Aussie Davie was seriously on-the-job at 16 weeks, while our Newfy Baywolf finally got a brain around 4 years of age. Generally, females mature faster – go figure again – and smaller dogs do too, and dogs bred to do serious work also do.

Every dog can go through different developmental stages until they are adults. That includes the well-known newfound juvenile confidence and independence, but also fear periods, and that many people are not aware of. They go to puppy classes, socialize, train and practice and the pooch is progressing nicely and then, all of a sudden, the beloved and so far perfect young canine exhibits a behavior that stuns them. And if their classmates and friends’ dogs are still little perfect canines, they think that something is wrong with their dog – or them, when in fact it is quite common for dogs to regress in obedience and react to something they’ve never reacted before.
The way to deal with that is to backtrack to the last successful level and incrementally build up on that. Pushing through just leads to more fear, or more friction and frustration. The fearful dog should not be exposed to anything new when in a fear period, and the selectively hard of hearing dog should be reminded that, indeed, it is the human who has the bank account – or like my friend Laura, owner of an adolescent German Shepherd, said recently: “Keeper just needs to be reassured that the talk-to-the-paw attitude doesn’t work”.
If need be, don’t be afraid to desensitize the adolescent as if he were a pup, and to clip the leash back on to a dog who already graduated to off-leash cause he had perfect recalls. It’ll be temporary – and the more sensitive, yet casual, you are about your dog’s changes, the faster it’ll be over and he will make leaps in the right direction.

Adolescent times are not necessarily the most difficult. If there are deeper-rooted issues, they often come fully to the surface once a dog has matured.
It’s not that the problem behaviors did not exist before, but are not as seriously followed through and sometimes not that overtly expressed. A younger dog, like a teenage kid, still lacks the confidence; is on some level insecure, despite displays that can be showy and offensive. Adults are a bit more serious.

Especially for dogs bred to have a job, during adolescents their need to play decreases and the need to work increases. Popular belief has it that we live with the perpetual juvenile wolf, and one reason why humans and dogs seek one another is the common lifelong love of play. I dare to differ. Dogs do grow up, and with that their needs change. Misbehavior is often being a working dog without a purpose.
My herding instructor lets his border collies play around till they are seven months, then serious work begins. And please, work does not mean force and corrections, but purpose.
Meanwhile the average dog owner still takes the eighteen months old working breed every day to the dog park to play, and that is often the only activity they do together.
Play, with humans and dogs, can always be part of the interaction, but many dogs have to get out of the sandbox to become the best dog they can be – and it’s up to the owners to facilitate that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Unpredictable Results of Corrections

I got an e-mail the other day from an owner of a reactive, mixed breed, dog. She is not a client, but visited my website a few times and wanted to share some positive feedback, which is great, cause that is what my website is meant to do – change people’s minds and approaches, and offer a few how-to tips.
The person had hired a local trainer to help her with her dog’s reactive outbursts whenever she encountered dogs on the walk, which is a common problem. The trainer’s method was to put a prong collar on the dog and apply a strong correction each time the dog flipped out. I’m not going to say who that trainer is, cause it’s not appropriate to bash a colleague, but it also doesn’t matter because that method is used by many, especially cause it is also the one Seen On TV, and has become very popular again.
As a good owner should, the person who sent the e-mail followed the “expert” advice - and saw her dog’s behavior deteriorate. Now, she is not only afraid of other dogs, but also of her person. The trainer, so the e-mail says, at that point threw in the towel, stating that some dogs are just like that – are happy alone hiding in the basement.

One of the profound differences between forceful correction training, and purely positive reinforcement, is that when you begin correction training, it is impossible to predict the outcome, and with positive reinforcement, you can always, accurately, predict the consequences.
With correction training, the handler suppresses (or tries to) expressions of fear and stress, and coerces obedience. The unanticipated results are:
The dog lashes out and aggresses – against the owner or others - or
Secondary problem behaviors develop, because fear and stress is increased - or
The existing ones intensify, which requires to correct even harder, and things spiral out of control - or
The dog avoids and tries to escape out of fear, for example hides, bucks, pulls - or
The dog becomes neurotic and develops compulsive disorders like obsessive licking or tail chasing and biting.
Some dogs shut down, deflate, and emotionless and mindlessly obey with precision, but other than that do nothing anymore. They are the ones called well behaved, obedience titled and shown as success stories; the ones the public sees. The fallout, dogs that respond in any of the other ways and are euthanized, dumped somewhere or with someone, surrendered to a shelter, or delegated to a lifelong solitary existence in the back yard, the public doesn’t see.
The person who wrote me the e-mail deals with an outcome that is all too common.
I see it dealing with dog owners. I witnessed it at an aggression seminar where a pooch, reactive to dogs but super friendly with people, at the end of two days also reacted to people.
Even the mighty Dog Whisperer is not immune to that. A beagle mix, a case in season one, was terrified of the garden hose and ran away, but tolerated being bathed in the bathtub. After Millan forced him with corrections to deal with the hose, he began to offensively aggress when bathed in the tub. The behavior changed from fleeing from one trigger, to fighting in a general sense, whenever water was involved.

When Positive Reinforcement is applied, the consequences are 100 percent predictable.
Although changing the reactive dog’s mind about a trigger stimulus can take time, and some dogs need to be managed for life, during rehabilitation following things always happen:
The dog becomes increasingly motivated to work with the owner – and
Stress and fear decreases – and
The dog is learning acceptable coping skills – and
The dog is learning to trust the owner, and once that is accomplished, she begins to feel safe at home and in novel situations - and
The dog is eager to learn - and
The relationship improves and as a result the dog’s behavior.

I commend owners that don’t give up and search for a different way after their last trainer deemed the dog incurable; after the trainer failed the dog, then blamed the dog. Such trainers keep us positive reinforcement pros in business – unfortunately, cause I would rather see all dogs treated kindly, even if I’d have to look for another job.
Whenever I do meet a correction trained “fallout”, the first step is to reestablish the relationship with the owner, cause as long as the dog doesn’t trust that her person is a refuge, she will feel alone when in conflict and express that in emotional outbursts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All About Food

My professional background, before dogs, was holistic therapy for humans, including nutrition, including a little dog/cat nutrition tied into the first course I took in Frankfurt/Germany. That led to me to make my own food for our first dog Cedric, which led to the founding of Baby Barks, our whole dog food business in Calgary, in 1995. Shortly after, and because I met so many dogs with so many problems, I became increasingly re-interested in behavior, and studied that to offer my clients a holistic solution to their dog problems. We cooked for hundreds of dogs of all ages and sizes, many with behavioral and physical problems, and many with allergies, and all those dogs taught us a lot.
We sold Baby Barks in 2007; I still make most of Davie and Will’s food, but rarely talk about nutrition anymore – until recently, that is. In the last few weeks the food topic comes up almost every time when I am with clients, hold a seminar or meet friends. So I thought I might as well post a "Silvia's opinion" summary for everyone to read.

In Calgary our dogs, guest dogs and foster dogs, ate what we cooked for our clients, and we measured everything; had consistent recipes. Here in Nova Scotia, I settled into the more laid back lifestyle quickly, and cook by “rule of thumb”, which is about 1/3 meat protein, including fish and eggs, 1/3 grains and 1/3 veggies and fruits.
I cook the meat, because in my opinion domestic dogs are not natural hunters, but natural human-waste eaters. And humans that cook have cooked leftovers, which makes cooked food the ancestral diet for dogs.
I cook the meat together with veggies that are nutritionally more bioavailable when cooked, for example carrots, beans and broccoli, scoop it all out and cut up finely, then cook the grains the broth, and then mix it all into a mush.
We use grains for the same reason we cook meat; it's a part of dogs' ancestral diet. Since the agricultural revolution, grains are a food stable for most humans, therefore also for domestic dogs. Grains increase serotonin uptake and are rich in calming B vitamins and magnesium. Glucose is the only energy source for the brain, is needed to produce body-own vitamin C in the liver and serves as “food” for beneficial intestinal bacteria. Grains means whole grains, not refined white flours and sugars.
After the food is cooled I add fruits and some raw veggies I put in the blender, and oils. I alternate between extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil and flax oil. At that point I might add plain yoghurt to the dinner, kelp or brewers yeast, tumeric or cinnamon. I might also add culinary herbs while the grains cook, for example parsley, oregano, thyme or sage. In Calgary, as required, we also added medicinal herbs.
I believe that feeding a variety of food is better for most dogs, and so we use all kinds of meats and veggies and grains, except the known toxic ones, for example onions and grapes. Here in Nova Scotia we have much better access to fresh produce, plus we grow our own stuff, and all of us love to be able to eat what’s in season. Right now the girls munch a lot on spaghetti squash that grew in abundance in our garden this year.

We are fortunate that our girls are healthy and not allergic to anything, but many dogs are. In our experience, chicken is the culprit more than any other food item, followed by beef.
Chlorinated water (and antibiotics) destroys beneficial gut bacteria, and that lack of digestive help contributes to allergies. Where we live now we have fairly decent well water; in Calgary we cooked the dog food in filtered water, and that is also what our dogs found in their water dish. I always recommend to put a dog who has allergies on a probiotic supplement for at least 6-8 weeks, sometimes longer.
Many dogs are also allergic to vegetables that belong to the nightshade family, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
We never use(d) soy, wheat or corn. Not only do they rank high on the allergen list, but a diet high in corn can lead to a serotonin deficiency, and that is correlated with aggression, obsession, learning difficulties, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and anti-social behaviors.
That was studied with people, but dogs and humans are physiologically very similar - all mammals are.
Another study with people showed that children that ate candy every day were more aggressive as adolescents and adults, including getting in trouble with the law.
Of course, it is difficult to determine if the sugar is cause or correlation. Perhaps parents that allow their children to have junk food every day also lack common sense in other areas of rearing youngsters, and that could be the cause why they misbehave.
In any case, nobody will deny that refined sugars are bad for an organism, and refined flours metabolize in the body like sugar.

There is a new book published on November 17 - The New Holistic Way for Dogs and Cats is based on the work and experience of DVM Paul McCutcheon, who might be the longest practicing holistic veterinarian in Canada. The book is authored by Susan Weinstein, who is also a member of the Mindful Leadership google group.
I haven’t read the book yet cause it’s not out yet, but can’t wait to get my copy, because it deals a lot with stress in connection with health, and my specialty is stress in connection with behavior, and because it includes nutritious recipes for dogs and people. That is brilliant, cause the main reason why many people don’t cook for their dogs is because they don’t have the time. Having recipes that are good for every family member means to simply cook one more portion for the dog, which hopefully means that many more dogs will be chowing down “real food” real soon. You can preorder the book on Chapters, I’ll get mine for free because yours truly provided a tiny bit of behavioral advice.

When clients ask me about food, I always tell them to get the best they can afford, and to read and investigate the ingredients list, and to research the manufacturer. Even small manufacturers often get their meat meals from large renders, and that means that the meat base can be processed to death and/or contaminated.
Dogs are what they eat – and what they are able to absorb and metabolize. Although I have seen healthy and old dogs who were fed the cheapest kibble, mostly it is either to spent money on good food, or having to spent it on mounting veterinary bills.