Pulling on lead and conditioned punishers.

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In the Dog Training group recently two members offered their videos on the subject of dogs pulling in lead. My blog is not intended as a step by step guide on solving this but rather to take a look at the big picture and discuss some of the terminology.

Theo made the point that very often we approach the problem from the wrong angle; that is say we aim to teach the dog not to pull rather than what we want the dog to actually do. In other words we are teaching a negative rather than a positive, leading potentially to nagging and a relationship breakdown with our dog.

An owner applying a leash correction, or painful jerk, to stop a dog pulling is applying the principle of negative reinforcement. The dog finds it reinforcing to remove the pain by offering the desired behaviour (in theory). However, the pain is added in the first place by the owner to reduce the behaviour of pulling; positive punishment has been applied initially. If a neutral word, such as ‘heel’ or ‘tsch’, is added simultaneously with the correction, the dog over time learns to associate the two; ‘heel’ or ‘tsch’ has become a conditioned punisher and the physical correction is eventually removed. The dog has been dominated by force.

However, the dog may become habituated to the pain and simply learns to cope. This highlights where it could all go wrong, with the need for escalating punishment and an ensuing ‘battle of wills’, and why positive reinforcement is invariably the better option – the dog walking in the desired position because he has been trained correctly and ultimately chooses to. The derisory “heel” may be substituted with “good boy” or “come on” along with lashings of reassurance!  How often do we see owners blithely walking along taking no notice of their charge? Chatting, singing or dancing along with our dog, in other words, generally COMMUNICATING with him/her is paramount. An enhanced relationship also helps with a reliable recall; a double blessing!

Not only is this undesirable behaviour but imagine the physical damage to the dog’s neck and throat area!

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The current environmental crisis ‘is everyone’s fault, therefore no one is to blame!’

Some will argue that the COVID-19 crisis was a disaster waiting to happen and that it is nature’s way of revenge for mans’ inhumanity to other animals and disregard for the environment generally! The planet cannot sustain the current exponential population growth indefinitely. The bubonic plague of 1347, for example, killed an estimated 475 million people worldwide and the population took some 200 years to recover.

When talking about the environment, Greta Thunberg states, “Some people say we are not doing enough to fight climate change. This is not true because to ‘not be doing enough’ means you have to be doing SOMETHING. In reality we are doing NOTHING. The politicians say it is EVERYONE’S fault. This means no one can be blamed or held accountable and is an easy way to pass the problem on to someone else”

Below are a couple of recent blogs discussing this in greater depth:
https://volatileplanet.blog/2020/04/03/a-planet-in-crisis-is-this-the-beginning-of-the-end/
https://volatileplanet.blog/2020/06/15/its-official-the-sixth-mass-extinction-is-here/

THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH – JUST ONE EXAMPLE OF MANS’ DISREGARD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!

PIE CHART TO YOUR DOG’S HAPPINESS (According to Cesar Millan).

The following is a snapshot of Cesar Millan’s book ‘Cesars Way’.

I am not suggesting that I agree with the stated principles, rather an opening for discussion!

“I have some practical advice to offer you. This advice applies to all dogs, no matter the breed, no matter the age or size, no matter the temperament, or whether the dog is dominant or submissive. This is my three part formula for fulfilling your dog’s life. Be reminded – this isn’t a one-time fix for a troubled dog. Dog’s aren’t appliances; you can’t simply send them out to be repaired once and that’s it. If you expect this formula to work, you have to practice it every day of your dog’s life.

The formula is simple: in order to have a balanced and happy dog, you must provide three things:

Exercise, discipline, affection – in that order.

Exercise: this should be the first and most important activity between dog and significant other.
Discipline: this should be done as setting rules, boundaries and limits between dog and significant other. Discipline also means consistency with the given activities and jobs.
Affection: This should be the last activity done with a dog by the significant other. Affection can also be used as a reward for good behaviour (preferably with no verbal sound.)

Why is the order important? Because it’s the natural order of your dog’s inborn needs. The problem in the United States is that most dogs receive only part of the formula from their owners – affection, affection, affection. Some people do better, giving their dogs half affection, half exercise. Others practice all three but affection first. As I’ve stressed again and again in this book, that is a recipe for an unbalanced dog. Yes, our dogs crave our affection, but they need exercise and leadership first. Especially exercise.”

The almost unbearable heat of southern Spain!

The sometimes oppressive heat and the slower pace of life in Almeria, southern Spain, is typical of Europe’s only desert. The ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ were shot here in the early ’70s for good reason. Horse culture is still prevalent! The Mediterranean coast invariably suffers from drought at this time of the year and relies heavily upon piped water from the River Ebro and other parts of the wetter north coast. This is thanks to the PHN running into billions of euros, largely as the result of EU subsidy!

A typical view of Almeria!

Dogs were bred to pull our sleds millennia ago!

The 9,500 year old remains of a dog found on the tiny island of Zhakhov, northern Siberia, are remarkably similar to living dogs in Greenland, genome sequencing has revealed. The discovery shows that people bred dogs for pulling sleds more than 10,000 years ago.

Mikkel Sindling and his team from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, excavated the remains from an ancient human settlement, along with other less well preserved dogs alongside what look like dog sleds. “We thought it would be a primitive dog, but it’s a long way down the path to domestication – that was quite sensational”, says Sindling.

His team sequenced the remains, along with a 33,000 year old Siberian wolf and 10 living sled dogs from different parts of Greenland, and compared their genomes with each other as well as other dog and wolf genomes. The results show that modern sled dogs in Greenland, who’s ancestors were taken there by Inuit people around 850 years ago, are more closely related to the Zhakhov remains than any other kinds of dogs or wolves. The genomes also show that sled dogs have not acquired any DNA from wolves in the past 9,500 years. Sindling adds “It’s largely the same dog doing the same job”.

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A modern day husky rig!

Climate change: can we trust the scientists?

A vast accumulation of evidence substantiates the adverse effects that human activity is having on the levels of greenhouse gasses in Earth’s atmosphere leading to changing weather patterns. This evidence has been collected over the last few decades by scientist from a wide section of specialisms and all corners of the globe. However, behavioural psychology suggests that we (humans) can never be totally objective and that our values and beliefs affect how we engage with facts. The scientific community is split; some arguing that the facts need to be addressed and reversed, whilst others argue it is already too late and that we should, for example, be concentrating on alternative and renewable energy research. The distinction may seem somewhat blurred but is, nevertheless, an important one!

Contrary to the image that scientists collect data, gather theories and form a hypothesis totally objectively is, by the standards of social science and psychology, a misguided one.  Facts are open to interpretation, bias and the values of a particular scientist. They may be guided by what they want and expect to see rather than what they actually see – in other words they become subjective.

It is important, therefore, that the scientific community acts consensually, pooling knowledge and stretching the boundaries. In 1962 the American philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn (1922-1986), introduced the term paradigm shift – the move away from a particular theory or model. He argued that scientific knowledge does not grow linearly but is an accumulation of, sometimes opposing, theories. This opens up possibilities that would not have otherwise been considered. Science can never be exact and, by definition, a theory is only scientific if can be falsified, tested or refuted. For example ‘all the ducks I’ve seen have feathers, therefore ALL ducks have feathers’. Compare this with ‘all birds have feathers, therefore all ducks are birds’. Which is the scientific statement?

To answer the original question, yes, of course we can and must trust the scientists – after all who else is there?……………….to be continued.

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Thomas Kuhn in 1972

 

It’s official: the sixth mass extinction is here.

The following is reported by The Guardian:

Scientists have found evidence that the disappearance of wildlife is occurring at a rapidly increasing rate – renewing fears of a human prompted ‘sixth mass extinction’ (named the Anthropocene Extinction) which will endanger our survival. When researchers looked at 29,400 terrestrial vertebrate species for which population data is available, they found that of 543 extinctions that occurred since 1901, 173 took place between 2001 and 2014. The trajectory is set to continue climbing. 515 species are are now classed ‘critically endangered’ by the IUNC; that is with populations fewer that 1,000. Examples include the Sumatran rhino and the Hainan gibbon.

Here I digress from the article:

So much of this loss is as the result of human activity, for example an increasing population forcing towns and cities to expand into nature’s habitat. The forcing together of wild animals, especially in meat markets of eastern Asia, often in appalling conditions, means that disease and viruses are more easily transmitted between species.

This was the case in Wuhan, when COVID-19, it is thought, passed from bats – which have a natural immunity – to pangolins. From here it jumped to humans. It appears not to jump the other way as the virus seeks a healthy and hardier species to invade; it is not in its interest that the host should die. The fear now is that it will pass to hitherto unaffected regions of the world, higher primates and, who knows, elephants, dolphins and whales……the list goes on!

In spite of fears of a second peak and subsequent peaks in COVID-19 cases, the UK and other governments have to balance the risk of relaxing the recent punitive measures against a severe and continuing downturn in their economies. This has the potential to prove fatal to human existence on earth. A vaccine has not yet been developed. The common cold, another form of coronavirus, is still endemic. Could cases worldwide exceed those of the bubonic plague of 1347 killing an estimated 475 million people, 20% of the, then, world’s population and taking some 200 years to recover? Well, this may or may not happen; the current crisis could, if we are lucky (!), prove to be a mere stutter towards the inevitable extinction of life as we know it.

A previous blog examines this question in more detail:
https://volatileplanet.blog/2020/04/03/a-planet-in-crisis-is-this-the-beginning-of-the-end/

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The Hainan gibbon found in Hainan island, China

 

BBC News reports the killing of a Ugandan silverback mountain gorilla!

One of Uganda’s best known mountain gorillas, Rafiki, has been killed. Four men have been arrested and face the possibility of a life sentence under a wildlife protection law that was passed last year. They are claiming self defense!

There are just over 1,000 mountain gorillas in existence in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) described Rafiki as 25 years of age and the leader of a group of 17 mountain gorillas within the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (ironically). The group was further described as being habituated to human contact, but that the group is now unstable and may now disperse without a figurehead! Failing that, the group could be taken over by a wild silverback gorilla and revert to the wild. Potentially this would have an impact on tourism to the park with loss if revenue, upon which the Ugandan government relies.

In 2018, the mountain gorilla was removed from the list of ‘critically endangered’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), after intensive conservation efforts, including anti-poaching patrols. It was downgraded to ‘endangered’.

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Rafiki

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Dogs, now goats understand pointing!

Not only do dogs, higher primates, African elephants and horses understand pointing, but research now shows that so too can goats. Goats, of course, are usually associated with their gluttonous eating habits rather than their brain power! At a goat sanctuary in Kent, scientists conducted research by placing two buckets apart, one empty and one containing food, in front of the experimenter. When pointing to the full bucket, more that half the goats from the herd would approach the full one. This was further challenged when the experimenter sat in front of the empty bucket whilst pointing to the full one. The results were similar. This indicates that the goats are able to ‘generalise’ the gesture.

Of course further research would be needed due to the relatively small number of goats involved.

Reported recently in The Guardian

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What exactly do we mean by the ‘science’ of dog training?

A science or an art? The dog training industry in the UK is unregulated – though most would agree it is actually ‘self regulated’. There are many successful dog trainers who, through their own dedication and experience, have achieved success and high regard without necessarily understanding the ‘science’ behind it all. For example, they may not be aware of the psychology involved in how dogs learn. Conversely, a canine behaviourist will be concerned with the dog’s mind, as opposed to the brain, and why the dog behaves in a certain way. Historically, the industry has been bifurcated though, thankfully, with greater awareness by professionals, this is changing.

In a blog of this length it will be impossible to go into depth, rather to highlight, what I consider to be the three main criteria of dog training. These are the ‘intangible debate’, the ‘tangible debate’ and the ‘philosophical debate’. I use the word ‘debate’ as I’m sure we will be discussing these long into the future!

The intangible debate concerns things that we cannot actually see, for example, how a dog learns, the psychology of training, intelligence, his mind and his soul. So, how does a dog learn? Actually it’s no different to bringing up a human toddler up to about the age of three years. Psychology plays a big part here – there are a number of names that, historically, have played a big part in the study of animal psychology and behaviour. These include Ivan Pavlov, B F Skinner, Edward Lee Thorndike, Konrad Lorenz, J B Watson and many others. Dogs and other mammals will learn by association (classical conditioning) and consequence (operant conditioning). This is described in ‘How Dogs Learn’ (Burch & Bailey, 1999).

Whole books have been written on the subject of dogs’ intelligence. This is where science truly comes in – measuring an intangible! In ‘The Intelligence of Dogs’, Stanley Coren describes adaptive intelligence (learning and problem solving), working or inherent intelligence (breed specific) and instinctive intelligence (individual specific). (Coren, 2006). Basically, adaptive intelligence is the ability to learn from experience and adapt to the environment. For a human this could mean learning how to drive a car down the road, how to be a better salesman and so on. For an animal this could mean learning to be a better hunter from previous bad or good experiences. For example wolves may form into larger packs when times are hard and there are fewer prey animals. They learn that the sum becomes greater than the parts and are able to bring down large ungulates. On the other hand a lone wolf may decide, from experience, he would be better off hunting smaller prey on his own. It depends on the personality of that particular individual; loner or socialite! Either way, they have adapted to the environment and have learned after one or two gained or missed opportunities.

Anyway, I digress – back to dogs. Coren, in his blog posted online on July 15th 2009, describes how he compiled his list of canine intelligence criteria comprised of 133 breeds. He contacted all the registered dog obedience judges in the US and Canada. 199 responded which was roughly half of those contacted. One criterion was that at least 100 judges provided assessments of the various 133 breeds. Breeds not recognised by the American Kennel Club or Canadian Kennel Club were not included in the list. The results were amazingly consistent with 190 of the 199 judges ranking the Border collie (BC) in the Top 10 with Afghan hounds consistently marked in the bottom 10. It was further discovered that, of adaptive intelligence, a dog may perform well in learning and ability, but only average in problem solving and vice versa. The Border collie – of the pastoral group – is good at learning and memory aspects, responding well to rote learning but slow at problem solving – in spite of appearing in the top 10 – as are many others of the this group. The reverse appears to be true of terriers and working breeds. My own observations confirm this when a BC, at a recent event, was stranded on the wrong side of a river. He waited for instructions from his handler. A Border terrier alongside, however, dived straight in and fearlessly swam to the other side (some may say foolhardy!).

The tangible debate centres on things we can observe, for example the conformation and physiology of a dog, behaviour, emotions (assuming these are shown), how he responds to training, what he likes to eat and how often, what his favourite toys are – the list is almost infinite. Alas, kennel clubs around the world put much emphasis on the conformation and appearance of dogs – oftentimes to the detriment of their health. In spite of the Kennel Club’s Breed Watch initiative there appears little evidence of any improvement in dogs’ health overall (if any vets are reading this I am open to discussion on this point).

The importance of a basic understanding of a dog’s biology, in particular the digestive system and the limbic system is, I believe often underestimated by owners (and trainers alike). Likewise, the importance of a balanced diet. An imbalance of protein and the production of serotonin plays a huge part in a dog’s behaviour, ability to concentrate and learn, aggression, hyperactivity and general physical health. For more detailed information, this was discussed in a previous blog.

The smell, texture and taste of food, in that order, are important to dogs. There is no evidence that dogs prefer a variety – though feeding tidbits under the table may well produce a fussy, overweight dog.  The feeding of our pet is almost a science in itself as much so as training. Learning to read and interpret dog food labels is essential as these can be misleading, though perhaps not intentionally so. The ratio of moisture will vary between dry and wet food and also between brands giving a false perspective of the nutrient content. For example, a label of dry food may state 30% protein which may actually be lower than a canned food label stating 10% as the latter has a higher proportion of moisture which should be deducted from the calculation. That said, which represents better value as we do not want to pay for moisture which has no protein?

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association discovered that dogs prefer canned meat to fresh meat, cooked meat to raw meat, and meat over cereal. There are two schools of thought regarding the feeding of raw food with little tolerance on either side. It is a decision for the owner knowing what the dog prefers; raw food may well require additional nutrient balancing for a healthy diet. The modern dog, being a scavenger at heart, has a high tolerance to a variety of foods including a degree of vegetable matter, though certain foods, such as chocolate and some fruits, are strictly off the menu!

I touched on canine personality. Any pet owner knows that there are as many personalities as there are dogs, cats etc. But what about emotions? Do our pets have emotions and if so to what extent and are they comparable to humans’ emotions? Much research by eminent scientists such as Jaak Panskepp, Gregory Berns, Becky Trisco and Evan MacLean – to name but a few – have discovered that dogs’ brains release hormones, as with humans, that are responsible for certain emotions. These include vasopressin linked to aggression, oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘love hormone’ and dopamine known to enhance the experience of pleasure. Berns, the first neuroscientist to use MRI scans on dogs, showed that they do react to humans’ facial expressions and will react accordingly. The ‘cow like’ eyes we all recognise are a result of selective breeding, but the cocked head, cute expression may be utilised, after many thousands of years of domestication, to gain our attention! (NB – the dogs underwent months of training to stay still whilst in the scanner. The dog was free to walk away from the experiment at any time). So, yes, our dog is capable of falling in love and does not necessarily bond with you simply because you are the source of food and shelter! Furthermore, we have a responsibility towards our pet dogs as they were specifically bred with socialisation in mind; they are capable of feeling acute separation anxiety unless trained from an early age how to cope with this.

The philosophical debate centres on the ethical treatment of animals. For example, is it OK to kill and eat an animal by virtue of our superior intellect? We just happen to be top of the food chain and animals below us eat each other so, it must therefore, be OK. Or is it? This is discussed fully in ‘Animals in Translation’ by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. Written in an authoritative way, without jargon, and aimed at the layperson. Grandin was the designer of many farming aids consulting with farmers and abattoir operators alike. To our knowledge, animals are unable to anticipate death so, therefore, I would suggest a good life and a good death! Industrial farming is, alas, becoming the norm and is an ethical problem as well as a wider environmental problem.

On a more positive note, man has come a long way in the last couple of thousand years, and even further in the last four hundred years, with regard to the treatment of animals. In the early 17th century, the philosopher and scientist René Descartes philosophised that human beings were fundamentally different to other animals. He believed that humans have a soul that interacts with the physical body. Both act in the same mechanical way but as animals don’t have souls they are incapable of feeling pain. If we step on a dog’s toe he will yelp as a mechanical response, not because he was in pain. He therefore, had no qualms about performing vivisection on live animals!

Some would argue that it is morally and ethically wrong to be showing dogs, tied round the neck, in dog shows. My blog ‘Crufts: The Greatest Show on Earth or Animal Exploitation?’ discusses this. Given another four hundred years, will we be looking back on this with our anti Descartian hat on?

Perhaps of greater immediate relevance are the questions, ‘what is the difference between a fear and a phobia?’ or ‘how does de/sensitisation versus socialisation differ to habituation’? Theo Stewart discusses the latter in her excellent blog here. Are these actually philosophical questions? Well actually no; thinking about it, it all becomes obvious. But isn’t that what philosophers do; think?

René Descartes: manic depressive or a genius?

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On a happier note, Dr Berns shown here training a dog to feel comfortable inside the MRI scanner.

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