Topsham & Exeter Dog Training Tips

Welcome to our group and this website. Topsham & Exeter Dog Training Tips is for those in the area seeking tips and advice on all matters of dog training. This is a not-for-profit group and advocates totally force free training. This post is written at the height of ‘Lockdown III’ and, as such, face-to-face meetings and consultations are suspended. Please feel free to ask any questions and get involved in the discussions. The various blogs below are on general aspects of dog training rather than dealing with specific issues or training problems.

The group does not advocate the use of punishment or dominance as training methods – nor of dressing dogs up in COVID masks or fancy dress!

NEW Woofbuzz online community App is now available for download from your App store. Still early days and many more new sections are planned. This is the beta version currently only avaiable on mobile devices. Full access, including for laptops, is planned for May. This is a free educational service. Paid for video consultations will also be available. Hope to see you there!

The group’s link is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/topshamdogtraining.club


My personal Facebook business page may also be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/richardthedogtrainer

Channel 5 are urged to drop ‘Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly’ with immediate effect!

This blog relates to the seventh episode in the third series of ‘Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly’ shown on Channel 5 on 16.02.21. It is a version of an official complaint to Channel 5, Ofcom, the RSPCA and the Guild of Dog Trainers. I should point out that the three cases discussed below are just examples and that, almost without exception, cases of animal abuse are evidenced in EVERY episode.

The program goes downhill within the first two minutes when the narrator, Joanna Scanlan, announces, “He (Graeme Hall) has helped many owners…………….with his no nonsense techniques”. This implies domination over the dogs. We know from research that dogs to not form an inter-species linear hierarchy – that is within their human family – and do not respond well to dominance training (as with children). Dogs will communicate with us using body language and posturing, facial expressions, barking and other vocalizations, and rely on COOPERATION between the species. The techniques advocated, including a case of ‘flooding’, have the potential to be extremely dangerous (to the human) with the consequential repercussion of a worsening of the unwanted behaviour and psychological withdrawal of the dog. These I discuss below. Punishment training is self rewarding for the trainer in the sense that it appears to have quick results, (ideal for a 15 minute TV slot) encouraging even more punishment. If the punishment does NOT work, equally the temptation is to escalate this until a battle of wills ensues, the dog/human relationship potentially breaks down, and the dog learns nothing other than helplessness. In any event the dog cannot learn if he/she is frightened.

The first dog was a Border collie called Frank. Frank becomes highly aroused with much barking when his owners get up to answer the phone, make a cup of tea or get ready to leave the house. After an initial assessment Mr Hall says, “I can tell you what it ISN’T, separation anxiety”. Not only IS the dog suffering acute separation anxiety the dog has, I would suggest, multiple behavioural problems subject to further questioning, including canine obsessive disorder (COD) – chasing his tail, which Hall either misses or chooses to ignore. The protocol for dealing with this would be a program of systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning (DCC) over an extended period of days, weeks, even months. Hall does not mention this. Instead of this, Hall proclaims, “He (Frank) needs someone to look up to”, whilst the narrator proudly announces, “Frank needs to be shown who’s boss”. In other words a training program based on intimidation, punishment and negative reinforcement, the LAST thing Frank needs. Hall then goes on to give a firm “No” – a negative interrupter (NI) (why not a positive interrupter – (PI)?) and proclaim, “How long did that take?” I would suggest a nanosecond but what has the dog actually learnt? To do nothing, as Hall admits. Doing nothing is a ‘non-behaviour’ – he should actually be teaching the dog an alternative or incompatible behaviour using differential reinforcement (DRA/I) as part of the desensitisation protocol. This could be something as simple as going to bed – if the dog is in bed he cannot be chasing his tail! Hall is encouraging the owners to shout “No” and “Quiet” at the barking dog, adding to the dog’s excitement and anxiety, who presumably thinks they are joining in (with the barking). Furthermore, he encourages the lady of the house to “Puff your chest out a bit”. The dog, which is already in a hyper aroused state, may perceive this as threat with the potential for a counter attack. And, we haven’t even started on the underlying problem of separation anxiety!

The second dog is a Labrador called Lulu. Lulu is showing ‘food aggression’, one facet of the broader behaviour of resource guarding. Unless this is dealt with in early puppyhood it can become an exasperating problem for the owners, as was clearly the case. At one point Hall suggested that euthanasia may be one solution. The owner, in his innocence, believes he has to adopt the ‘alpha’ roll in order to take the dog’s food away although it is not made clear why he wants to take the food away in the first place and is egged on by Hall. As with Frank, the unwanted behaviour may take many weeks of caring and patient desensitisation and counter conditioning rather than the confrontational methods Hall advocates. After a period of such confrontation, Lulu freezes as if resigned, her erect hackles can clearly be seen along the length of her back (piloerection) and, what looks like saliva, can be seen drooling from her mouth. This part is particularly difficult to watch and is reminiscent of a torture scene. Her torment is palpable! Hall fails to mention, or point out to the owners, her body language. What are Hall, the director and the camera crew thinking here? The dog is obviously suffering EXTREME distress all in the name of entertainment. Please, please remove the dog from the situation followed by a period of calming and reassurance rather than the onslaught of the bullying techniques and torment on show! Towards the end, Hall declares, “I want to ramp this up” and encourages the owner to leave his fingers in the bowl. REALLY!

The third dog is a Husky called Nico who has a fear of stairs. Hall’s answer to this is to force the dog up the stairs by pulling on his lead. This appeared to work at the first attempt, but I wonder how many ‘takes’ were actually needed and what ‘training’ occurred whilst the cameras were switched off? He even admits, “There has to be an element of you HAVE to do it”. The dog does not HAVE to do anything against his will. Patient encouragement with one of the the owners calling from the top of the stairs, with the other one freely leading with a food lure, as happened eventually, would be the most obvious solution. The use of food rewards (or any primary rewards) are conspicuous by their absence throughout the whole episode. Food is know to be a major motivator for dogs. Here, Hall is employing the controversial method of ‘flooding’. If not carried out with sensitivity it can go BADLY wrong with the potential for an attack and the dog’s fear being reinforced – the stairs being associated with the punishment (Pavlovian conditioning) – followed by the inevitable fallout – learned helplessness.

Notwithstanding any of the above, common sense, humanity and compassion tells me this cannot be right. The dog owning public are led to believe archaic methods of cruelty and punishment are correct and acceptable. Not only is this in contravention of the Animal Welfare Act (2006) but has also set reward based training (R+) back by many decades. Before any training program is drawn up, a health questionnaire, possibly even a vet check, would be helpful. I must seek a second opinion from the Guild of Dog Trainers, of which Hall is a member, to establish if they condone these methods.

I would suggest the program comes with a warning – ‘DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME’. There is a real potential for someone to get seriously hurt!

NB: As of 22nd March, Channel 5 plans to continue with the program. Ofcom are taking no action. The Guild of Dog Trainers is silent on the matter. The RSPCA, however, have launched an investigation.

The related blog here discusses this further: https://volatileplanet.blog/2021/02/07/the-cannel-5-debacle-the-abuse-of-dogs-in-the-name-of-entertainment/

The Siberian Husky

Passive Training vs. Active Training

Training, whether it be a dog, cat, child or sports person must be consistent, ongoing and continual. An obvious statement perhaps, but how many people (I’m thinking specifically about dog trainers here) practise the ‘continual’ element. Positive reinforcement is an EXTREMELY powerful MOTIVATOR. For example we can reward our dog for lying quietly in bed; appearing to the outsider, for no apparent reason! We can reinforce the wanted behaviour of lying quietly with a few kind words of ENCOURAGEMENT and a chin rub. Here we reinforced the behaviour passively – we are not actually encouraging a behaviour, rather, waiting for it to happen and capturing the moment. This is continual training; we offer rewards at random for a wanted behaviour – not only in ‘formal’ training sessions.

Conversely, we can employ ‘active’ training, in a more formal setting, whereby we set the dog up to succeed, cue the wanted behaviour, followed by the behaviour itself, then the reward (known as the ABC of training ‘Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence’). The idea of setting the dog up to SUCCEED cannot be overstated. Failure will not do and we must always end any formal training session on a high note. I also believe that many trainers overly rely on food and mechanical aids, ‘clickers’ for example (I’m not suggesting that clickers do not serve a purpose – they have their place in the correct situation). Better to rely on communication with our dog using EMOTIONS and body language. Dogs are able to pick up on the slightest nuances, ones which humans would not notice in a thousand years!

Instruments of torture on sale in Britain’s High Streets! NIs vs. PIs.

The UK’s pet industry is worth £6.5billion including food, accessories, grooming and veterinary. Accessories alone amounted to £1billion of this total in 2020!

Pet stores, so it appears, will happily sell you a negative (aversive) interrupter (NI). These are in the form of water pistols, compressed air horns, choke chains, ultrasonic zappers, citronella sprays, shock collars etc. What they won’t sell you is a positive interrupter (PI) – there must be an opportunity there!

NIs are based on the principle of positive punishment (P+). It interrupts an unwanted behaviour, for example barking, jumping up or ‘humping’. The problem with punishment is it does not teach the dog (cat, horse, chicken etc) what to do instead. There is also the potential for fallout in the form of learned helplessness and/or a relationship breakdown – not to mention the ethical question.

Positive interrupters (PIs) work on the principle of classical (reflexive) conditioning. The interrupter here could be a click, whistle, shaking of a kibble box, the theme from ‘Colonel Bogey’, or “Yippee”! The PI is previously paired with something the dog finds pleasurable. This could, for example, be a piece of kibble, piece of liver cake or a game of tug. He/she will learn this within about thirty seconds but will need proofing in different environments and with varying distractions. Once the unwanted behaviour is interrupted, the pleasure ensues followed by “look at me – sit – stay – good dog”, followed by – another piece of liver cake! In the words of John Rogerson, one of my favourite trainers, “communicate”.

I should point out that interrupters are used as an exception rather than the rule. Correct training in the first place will negate their use.

This Collarless Ultrasonic Pet Trainer (instrument of torture by another name), sold by Pets At Home, claims to have both a
PI and an NI. The question is can the dog tell the difference?

The Channel 5 debacle: the abuse of dogs in the name of ‘entertainment’!

This blog relates to the appalling treatment of dogs meted out by Graeme Hall in Channel 5’s series ‘Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly’.

Nothing gets a debate going like talking about dog training. Suffice to say that Hall’s methods are based on punishment and dominance. I have only watched Episode 1 of the current Series 3. In the ‘case’ of the unfortunate Great Dane, for example, look at his body language, towering over the subject with chest puffed out and hands on hips, yelling ‘no, no, no’! If I were a dog I’d be terrified! How often do I hear ‘yes, yes, yes,’ followed by praise and reward? He demonstrates no understanding of the science of learning – dog training in particular. Not once, in the episode was food involved – known to be a great motivator for dogs. Maybe the odd half hearted ‘good boy’, with the timing of a back-firing car! The viewer is presented with a false picture; that punishment works. Of course it works in the short term but don’t forget we only have (what appears to be) 15 minutes to resolves the dogs’ ‘issues’. In reality they may be resolved in a couple of hours at best, but more usually days, weeks, even months.

Are you having a laugh C5? But, in THEIR words the program is classified as entertainment, not education. Entertainment? The abuse of animals in the 21st century?

The problem is that using punishment to train a dog is not actually training him/her. It is only teaching him/her to avoid punishment and the perpetrator, not what to do instead. When punishment is used in training, there is always fallout later and the dog will end up with a different behavioural issue to that which was first presented, not to mention an unhappy, withdrawn dog. For punishment to be effective the timing has to be exquisite with the timing of a computer (or indeed the dam) which most trainers do not have. Reinforcement can be hit and miss which is one reason why it works so well. In any case how is a dog expected to learn when he/she is frightened? – they tend to run away given the opportunity – or, for example, exaggerate / escalate any pulling and lunging as happened in the episode!

Hall is presented with such; a pulling and lunging Great Dane. His so called ‘flick and release’, along with ‘blocking’ the dog, is advocated. He makes no attempt to remove the dog from the flashpoint causing much distress for the animal. What about desensitisation and counter conditioning (DCC)? The Great Dane, at one point, is eyeing the trigger, but below threshold. Rather than praising and reinforcing the wanted behaviour (NOT pulling and lunging), Hall is ignoring the dog whilst chatting to the owner. Typically, the reward here would be to induce self calming by placing treats on the ground and allowing the dog to sniff. This acts threefold; putting the dog in charge, calming the dog, establishing and reinforcing an alternative behaviour whilst being aware of the trigger – not simply distracting him. Talk about a missed opportunity!

Training involves use of ‘The Training Quadrant’ but for brevity, suffice to say that we use ‘positive reinforcement’ (R+), and very occasionally ‘negative punishment’ (P-), that is the withholding of a treat or reward. Often I hear: “dogs are pack animals and need to be told who is in charge”. This falls into two categories; the pack theory and the dominance theory. And that’s just what they are; THEORIES!

1. The OED has some 13 definitions of the word ‘pack’. But for our purposes, ‘a group of wolves living and hunting together’ or ‘a group of wild animals hunting to bring down prey’. We can see that neither of these is true of the domesticated dog and observations will confirm this. For example ‘street dogs’ may hang around in groups but will scavenge or hunt for small prey as loners. (NB: before you ask, the African wild dog is not actually a canid but of the species Lycaon pictus).

2. Dogs may or may not form a linear hierarchy amongst themselves (intra-species), depending on their individual personalities, but there is no evidence (in fact the reverse is true) that they form an inter-species ‘pecking order’. They have no desire or interest in dominating their human, nor should we want to dominate them. All dogs want is a quiet life and for their basic needs to be met. Sure, we need to show them the way by using R+, encouragement, communication, empathy, kindness………the same as we would a three year old child. Dogs’ and humans’ brains have a remarkably similar physiology. In both species the release of, for example, oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone, and dopamine, responsible for ‘feeling good’ and addiction, occurs. Yes, dogs can actually fall in love with their human/s!

The general public are presented with the false notion that punitive methods of training work. It makes good TV. It does not show the potential fallout for the dog and the potential danger to the dog owning public by creating an unhappy, unbalanced and potentially dangerous dog.

This topic is discussed further in a related blog: https://volatileplanet.blog/2021/02/25/is-dogs-behaving-very-badly-all-set-for-a-forth-series/


It would be prudent to become familiar with The Training
Quadrant

Has dog training become overly complicated?

“Over the years, dog training has become overly complicated, time consuming, technical, mechanical and impersonal – lacking in communication, interaction and relationship. I feel that dog training has lost its way, its voice and its soul. We simply have to get things back on track before dog training……(dare I say it?)……..goes to the dogs” (Dunbar, 2015). So wrote the renowned dog trainer and clinical behaviourist Dr Ian Dunbar some six years ago. Does he have a point?

“Throw away any preconceived ideas you may have about how to train a dog using words of command, mechanical clickers, whistles and hand signals, and understand the universal language of emotions. It is your emotions, when coupled with the giving or withholding of rewards, that will enable you to communicate with your dog better than most academically trained behaviourists ever could. Welcome to the real world of dogs” (Rogerson, 2010). Emotive words indeed from the renowned dog trainer, behaviourist and author John Rogerson.

A mere twenty years ago the idea that dogs are capable of feelings and emotions would have been laughed at by the academics. In 2012, Dr Gregory Berns trained dogs to enter an MRI scanner. The scans confirmed what owners already knew, that dogs are able to recognise faces and emotions thereof. Activity in the caudate nucleus region of the brain causes the release of hormones, as with humans, 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. It appears then, that your dog IS capable of falling in love with you, and not simply because you are the provider of basic needs!

Until about the early 1970s, dog training was the preserve of police forces and the military. Pet dogs were left to get on with it; any apparent ‘misbehaviour’ or aggression being dealt with, by ill-informed owners, in the form of beating into submission, chaining up or euthanasia. As I recall the first ‘celebrity’ dog trainer, with her own TV series, was Barbara Woodhouse in the early ’80s. Training was in the form of dominance with ‘yanks’, reprimanding, bullying………..the lot! Some of her Youtube videos are difficult to watch! To this day, Cesar Millan espouses similar techniques with pinning down, kicking and all. This is also evidenced on his Youtube channel.

The point is that, even now, some dog guardians may treat their pets as objects of desire rather than sentient beings. For example, one of the most common ‘problem’ behaviours guardians encounter, and one which I am often asked to help resolve, is pulling on lead. Ironically this is also one of the easiest problems to deal with. Every day I witness handlers yanking and pulling back in resistance. Punishment does NOT work, period. (Link re: punishment, pending). If it did, why do we see this behaviour over and over? The temptation is to escalate the punishment, potentially with dire consequences; an unhappy, withdrawn dog and a relationship breakdown, not to mention long term damage to the neck and throat area – thyroid glands (dogs have two), muscle and blood vessels. This abuse has to end somewhere!

The other side of the same coin is to COMMUNICATE with our dog, explaining exactly what we want him/her to do using plain English. Yes, plain English; dogs are capable of understanding up to 1,000 words. Of course this is over simplistic as three or four words strung together may be their limit, even then failing to comprehend the literal meaning – but you get my drift! As far back as the ’40s, William Campbell devised the ‘jolly routine’ of singing and dancing to ENGAGE the dog. He was way ahead of his time! The dog should WANT to walk alongside rather than in front. How about a game of tug on the go until the dog gets the message. Why simply ‘manage’ the behaviour when we can actively train for an alternative behaviour? – that of walking WITHOUT pulling. In the trade we call it ‘differential reinforcement of an alternative behaviour’. It is far easier to teach a positive (R+) than it is to teach a negative (R-)! My mentor, Steve Mann, shows this eloquently on his Youtube channel.

So, to answer my own question – training a dog may APPEAR complicated but science has truly shown us the way forward. This all started in the late 1800s when J B Watson, the father of modern behaviourism, was of the opinion that we (mankind) needed to take an objective view of behaviour by observing rather than relying on emotions. The ‘science’ of behaviour was thus founded. But don’t be disheartened, the best form of training is COMMUNICATION, ENCOURAGEMENT, and LOADS of REINFORCEMENT for the wanted behaviour!

Engagement and relationship building!

Some thoughts on the current crisis in dog training.

As a kid in the ‘50s I lived in the Camden Town area of London. Now it has been regenerated and gentrified. Children and dogs would take themselves off for the day and play on the bomb sites. They would return in the evening for their tea. The dogs were invariably mongrels and today we would call them ‘street dogs’ (except they don’t exist in the so called ‘developed’ world). Behavioural problems were non existent so something has happened in the intervening years to change this. I suspect it is to do with the population explosion, overcrowding, poverty (or peoples’ expectations) and, in general, peoples’ lack of respect for each other. Of course this has impacted on dogs’ behaviour – you can only put so many rats in a cage before they start to fight!

Today’s boom in ‘breeds’ has led to a reduced gene pool and consequent health issues and, dare I say, behavioural issues. Yes, people today lead busy lives and may underestimate the time and work needed to bring up a dog successfully. Choosing the right breed plays a big part. A client of mine acquired a Welsh sheepdog from a working line and was surprised when the dog was anxious and restless during the day unable to settle in his crate. The dog was eventually returned to the farm. (NB the Welsh Sheepdog Society does not allow the sale of its registered dogs to non-working homes – this one slipped through the net).

For a lesson in dog training, observe the behaviour of a dog with a homeless owner. They are as close to the wild as ever, will follow their guardian everywhere quite happily, off lead and with no ‘misbehaviour’. They rely on their guardian for everything and he/she has assumed the role of family leader, all without any formal training. Lesson learned!

A typical London scene in the early ’50s

Your dog will appreciate analogue feedback!

As responsible dog parents it behoves us to ensure that our pet behaves according to acceptable standards both indoors and when out meeting other dogs, people, cats, etc. How we deal with a ‘situation’, for example lunging on lead and barking, will depend on our understanding of the dog’s emotions and of the steps necessary to resolve the situation and ensure it does not happen again – or at least take baby steps in the right direction. A dog acting in an aggressive way does not mean the dog is aggressive per se – something else may have caused the display. Very often this is fear-aggression. Why, and what is the dog fearful of will need to be addressed to placate this. The lead itself may exacerbate the dog’s anxiety! Behaviours have consequences, a pleasant one will likely mean repeat of the behaviour, whilst an unpleasant one will likely mean the behaviour will NOT be repeated. Of course this is the fundamental theory of training and of the subject’s learning.

This then raises the question: to punish or not to punish. “Of course not, I would never punish my dog”, I hear you say. According to behavioural psychology something as apparently insignificant as the word ‘no’ constitutes punishment – perhaps not so in every-day usage. Degrees of punishment will fall on a continuum with extremes at both ends. The withholding of a treat/reward is technically punishment, albeit negative punishment (P- something is withheld or withdrawn to help decrease a behaviour, for example, jumping up at a visitor [time to get back to basics]).

There is a school of thought that we simply ignore an unwanted behaviour. Well fine, as a rule of thumb. This may work if the dog, for example, ‘lays’ instead of ‘sits’ – it’s fairly benign! It’s a question of context and if there is any imminent danger. If your dog is jumping up in excitement at a visitor whilst mouthing (but why is your dog/puppy doing this in the first place?!) or is about to run into a busy road, would you ignore this? Of course not. The dog must be aware that this is not acceptable and, ideally, offered an alternative behaviour. In other words we teach a positive rather than a negative.

Your dog WILL appreciate feedback rather than being ignored or left in limbo. But, how and what feedback do we give. Punishment would be punitive and, in any event, depends on consistency and precision timing – which of course most people don’t have. If the punishment does not work – which invariably it doesn’t – the temptation will be to increase it. Where would it all end? – with an unhappy dog, a battle of wills and a relationship breakdown. The goal of training is to produce an internally-reinforced and self-motivated dog that is under reliable verbal control when off-lead, at a distance and with distractions. Understanding the science and theory is one thing but let’s not forget feeling and communication – feedback.

Analogue feedback is a term borrowed from electronics. Feedback can be either analogue or digital. As with dog training there is also both negative and positive feedback. Imagine digital as an on/off light switch – there are two poles, there is no in-between except a nanosecond’s time delay between the two. Now imagine a dimmer light switch as analogue – it is continuously variable and instantaneous. With dog training the aim is to give the dog appropriate and instantaneous feedback. Hence we have ‘analogue feedback’. As with voltage (input) and current (output), input from the trainer = output from the dog!

Furthermore, feedback needs to be unambiguous, binary, precise and instructive. The dog needs to know if he got it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – binary feedback. But what about the grey area in-between, the intervening variables of thinking it through, attention, perception, and decision making (known as cognitive psychology)? What happened between the initial stimulus and the response (more broadly known as S-R psychology or cause and effect)? Did he get it ‘almost’ right or ‘completely’ right? He needs to know how well he did. The DEGREE of feedback and praise – differential reinforcement – reflects this. Verbal feedback, therefore, becomes effortlessly analogue. Differential reinforcement allows us to concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives insofar as the dog succeeds whatever the scenario! A previous blog further discusses this concept:
https://richardthedogtrainer.com/2020/12/14/what-exactly-do-we-mean-by-the-science-of-dog-training-part-2/


What’s on the dog’s mind? Notice the raised paw, soft eyes,
yet raised and forward pointing tail – will he or won’t he?
The handler is showing empathy, awareness, reassurance and great leadership skills.

Mentor Dog or Teacher?

Calming signals and more obvious body language are examples of conspecific communication in the animal kingdom. There are far more nuanced and subtle signs that humans will inevitably miss. For example, a dog ‘sees’ the world through sense of smell and can decipher another dog’s intent via pheromone signaling. A mature dog will build up a reservoir of knowledge and experience and learn, often the hard way, how to deal with a situation. An on-looking, less mature dog may, through intuition, pick up on this and mimic the other’s behaviour – allelomimetic behaviour. Thus, our senior dog has unwittingly evolved into a ‘mentor dog’.

Dogs will form readily into a hierarchy in a conspecific ‘pack’, ‘group’ or ‘family’ (different adjectives meaning much the same but used in different contexts). However, in a heterospecific family the hierarchy is more fluid – if it exists at all. Accordingly, one dog ‘reprimanding’ another may be a natural occurrence; on the other hand a human ‘reprimanding’ a dog may be thought of as abuse!  Whilst we may disagree with many of Cesar Millan’s methods, he is an advocate of introducing a newly arrived dog to his ‘Dog Psychology Centre’ via the existing pack and that many problems, actual or potential, are resolved this way (Millan, 2008).

Turid Rugaas is of the opinion that it is not possible to train a dog to become a mentor to other dogs but we can reinforce subtle ‘calming signals’ (Rugaas, 1997). This assumes that we, the human, is capable of recognizing them in the first place. These include head turning, softening the eyes, blinking, paw lifting, turning away, lowering tail, licking the nose, shake off, sneezing, freezing, walking slowly, pacing, scratching, using slow movements, play bow, stretching, sitting down, down, yawning, sniffing, curving on approach, ‘mirror, matching and balancing’, splitting up (two or more dogs), and tail wagging…….. These signals fit into a complex self-organizing system and are used to achieve stability within a group rather than dominance. When two or more dogs meet they quickly arrive at a point where they are able to interact yet maintain their own integrity. They are also capable of doing this with other species. Interestingly, Turid does not mention the ‘head tilt’. Perhaps this is not considered a calming signal, rather an appeasement gesture (to OUR eyes) fine tuned after millennia of domestication! This is also known as ‘triangulation’ or ‘orientation reflex’ – in an attempt to accurately pin-point a sound. A primeval reflex when out hunting. The converse, of course, is threatening signals, perhaps not so subtle and more obvious to the human eye!

A mentor dog can be any size or breed; more importantly they will display calm assertiveness, authority and, the all elusive ‘energy’. They will invariably possess ‘A’ type personality (see previous blog) and will instinctively aid another dog which is showing difficulties in a given social situation (Duno – Modern Dog, 2010). Some mentor dogs will work with aggressive dogs, simply through having no choice and are ‘used’ to it; but many will not.

Mentor personality types may be described thus: 1. Monitor: Quietly confident and assertive.  2. Constant: Confident and calm but showing little interaction. 3. Nanny: Gentle, confident, relaxed and playful. 4. Clown: Confident, exuberant, highly interactive. Four very different personalities but note the recurring word: CONFIDENT – one emotion over which we, as the dog parent, can exert much influence!  

REFERENCES:
Millan, Cesar (2008) – Cesar’s Way, Hodder & Stoughton (UK).
Rugaas, Turid (1997) – On Talking Terms with Dogs, Dogwise Publishing (Wenatchee, WA).
https://moderndogmagazine.com/blogs/steveduno/mentor-dogs

Mentor or teacher?


Type A Personality Behaviour (TAPB) vs. The alpha dominance theory – Alpha, Beta, Omega (ABO)

TAPB is taken from human psychology, whilst ABO is from Ethology. They may, however, be considered as similar, and in many ways, parallel continuums.

TAPB – Type A Personality Behaviour

TAPB continuum

Type A<———————————>Type B<———————————–>Type C

Type A personality is highly competitive, dominant, unaccepting of any faults though often self-critical, and characterized by a constant feeling of working against the clock. Individuals generally experience a high stress level, hate failure and find it difficult to stop working, even when they have achieved their goals, oftentimes resulting in sleep disruption and insomnia. They strive toward goals without feeling a sense of joy in their efforts or accomplishments.

Interrelated with this is the presence of a significant life imbalance. This is characterized by a high work involvement. They are easily ‘wound up’ and tend to overreact. They also tend to suffer from hypertension.

Type A individuals tend to be easily aroused to anger or hostility, which they may or may not express overtly. Such individuals tend to see the worst in others, are highly critical, displaying anger, lack of compassion and sometimes show envy. When this behaviour is expressed overtly it may involve bullying, even aggression.

Individuals in this group tend to be naturally dominant and display high levels of energy and charisma – nature over nurture has intervened here. History shows this. Think of the Blair / Brown relationship. Brown may have been the ‘power behind the throne’, with the necessary qualifications, but was he a natural leader, or did he display the aforesaid qualities to be so? More recently, think of Trump / Pence. Trump’s mindset led to him achieving the highest post in US politics (possibly the world), rather than academic qualifications or intellect. He was a natural ‘No. 1’. Pence, on the other hand, a natural ‘No.2’, or Type B personality – though he may not agree with this definition!

Type B personality is characterized by a relaxed, patient, and easy-going nature. Individuals with a Type B personality work steadily, enjoying achievements, but do not tend to become stressed when goals are not achieved.

People with Type B personality tend to be more tolerant of others, are more relaxed than Type A individuals, more reflective, experience lower levels of anxiety and display a higher level of imagination and creativity.

Type C personality has difficulty expressing emotions and tends to suppress them, particularly negative ones such as anger.  This means such individual also display ‘pathological niceness,’ conflict avoidance, high social desirability, over compliance and patience.

Interestingly, Lewis Goldberg, in 1993, developed the Big Five Personality Traits theory. These are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – (OCEAN). Of course, we all lie at varying points on the continuum; it’s never unequivocal! Various surveys may be found online and a useful link is here: https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/IPIP-BFFM/

ABO – Alpha, Beta, Omega
This generally refers to a hierarchical structure in the animal kingdom. This is illustrated in the continuum:

ABO Continuum

Alpha<————————————->Beta<———————————->Omega

‘Ranking’ may be considered a fluid state with different species achieving rank in different ways. For example, gorillas achieve high status using force and aggression, chimpanzees by using a combination of aggression and intelligence – forming alliances, and some species of birds often working in unison with a male ‘beta’ helping the male ‘alpha’ in finding a mate. Here we are concerned with canids and in particular the grey wolf (Canis lupus).

Classification of wolves into dominance hierarchies of alpha, beta and omega, were based on studies, in the late 60s/70s, of unrelated wolves in captivity. Dr David Mech et al, author of the studies, later rescinded the findings as incomplete, indeed, irrelevant. Alas, this terminology still endures today for the sake of convenience and disambiguety! Furthermore, due to the negative connotations of certain words, today the ‘alpha pair’ is often referred to as the ‘breeding pair’ and the ‘pack’ as the ‘family’. Common usage, however, means the terms are often used interchangeably. It rather depends on the context: for example we talk about wolves ‘hunting as a pack’ but ‘living as a family’. Of course, in modern day dog training, the word ‘pack’ is rarely used, except in certain genres and by certain people!

This blog is not intended as an explanation of wolf and family life, but as a brief summary of the notation ‘ABO’. There is a fluid hierarchy with the alpha at the top; usually, but not necessarily, male. At the behest of anthropomorphising, think of a chain of command. There may be an alpha pair or breeding pair – the only family members allowed to breed. The alpha will have attained his/her position through cheer force of character and energy, not necessarily through strength. Second in command (the sergeant) is the beta – also a diplomat and collaborator, ensuring deference in the lower ranks. The beta may, but not necessarily, assume the alpha role in the event of abdication or death of the current incumbent. All other family members are the omegas who show complete deference and submission to the alfa/s. The family lives as a cohesive entity, relying on cooperation rather than dominance. Unlike dogs, the male is fully involved with care of pups as well as heading hunting expeditions. In lean times, pups will be given preference to food. Second generation siblings, aunts and uncles will also share in caring of the young. First generation siblings by now will almost certainly have left the pack in search of a mate or another pack.

An omega personality is not necessarily the smallest or weakest animal. A study of the Sawtooth Pack in Idaho, identified Lakota as being the largest and strongest wolf. This proto-omega type personality – the ‘lone wolf’ – is more self-reliant, less collaborative than a beta, and less focused on leading a family. They will hunt smaller prey independently but may rejoin the family in lean times as larger packs tend to bring down larger prey. The ‘Allee Effect’ – safety in numbers.

As the result of the 70s wolf studies, the mid 70s/80s saw dog training at its worst, using dominance and punishment based theories. Think of Woodhouse, Fennell and, to this day, Millan and Daniel Abdelnoor aka ‘Doggy Dan’. Comparative psychology and zoology can help up to a point. However, a dog is not a wolf; even if the theory were correct, why would we, humans, use these methods? It’s akin to studying bonobo behaviour to understand that of humans!

There may be some truth in the theory that a person’s personality and appearance is in sync with that of their dog’s (or their wolf’s for that matter!)

Shaun Ellis the Wolfman in his Cornish hideaway!