Category Archives: Behaviour

Seeing Success

How you define success determines its existence; it doesn’t exist until you learn to see it. Success is critical to dog training, but like the mechanics of training, seeing success is a skill that requires development – both in definition and process. Whether or not a person can acknowledge success and what they expect it to look like has profound implications for the outcome of and commitment to training.

In which scenario is this little person most likely to succeed?


Criteria and Success Continue reading Seeing Success

The Real Cost of Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is a fairly common behaviour problem that can affect any breed of dog. At its worst it is a full fledged panic disorder causing self-injury and extreme destruction of property. On the milder end, separation anxiety is distressing for the dog and can result in disruption for neighbours due to barking. It’s not uncommon to see this crop up in older puppies who never received proper “alone training” as a youngster, as well as shelter/rescue dogs who have had their lives shuffled through rehoming. Continue reading The Real Cost of Separation Anxiety

Puppy Socialization

Why is Socialization Important for Puppies?

People, animals, and environments that a dog is not exposed to as a youngster will be unsettling for her as an adult. This is precisely why many adult dogs become reactive, aggressive, or fearful. Raising a puppy in a social/environmental vacuum is more often the cause of behavioural problems in an adult dog than is abuse or being attacked. Socialization is far more complicated than simply exposing a puppy to other dogs. Poorly executed attempts at socialization can be about as harmful as not trying at all! 

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Positive Training and Animal Advocacy: A Catch 22?

Marc Bekoff is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado and an animal rights advocate. He’s a high profile ethologist who uses his position of influence to better the lives of animals: captive, domestic, and wild. Bekoff was invited to present at the Professional Animal Behaviourists Association conference a couple years ago. In one of his excellent lectures he addressed the subject of animal rights and welfare, a topic in line with the theme of the conference that year. He was advocating a vegan diet for his dogs in the name of the welfare of those herbivores that could have ended up dead and in the dogs’ bowls. In the Q&A I asked him what might be used as a primary reinforcer, and particularly how to pursue counter conditioning, if we are not to use animal products in training. His suggestions involved cantaloupe and crackers.

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"Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, 'tis enough!"

I am not a vet, and this is one of the most frustrating aspects of working with clients to address their dogs’ behaviour issues. I see in many clients tremendous hesitation in considering the possibility that their dog’s fear or aggression is rooted in a medical cause, and there is often reluctance to take the dog to a vet to discuss that possibility. I educate myself as much as possible on health matters, but I can’t and don’t speak with the authority of a vet when it comes to diagnostics or treatment. Continue reading "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, 'tis enough!"

Is That a Russian Physiologist on Your Shoulder, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

His name is Pavlov. Ivan Pavlov. And he’s watching you…

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov first documented Classical Conditioning – learning through association – at the turn of last century. While researching processes of digestion, Pavlov found that the presence of the researchers in their white lab coats created an increase in the study dogs’ saliva production. This effect redirected Pavlov’s intended research, when he realized that he had stumbled upon something previously undocumented. Pavlov discovered that a Conditioned Response, an uncontrollable bodily reflex such as salivation, could come to be elicited by a neutral stimulus (something that has no inherent meaning), such as the ringing of a bell. Conditioned Responses also include emotions – joy, fear, irritation, relaxation, etc. The crux of Classical Conditioning is that these responses are not controllable through conscious intent; rather, they are reflexive. Continue reading Is That a Russian Physiologist on Your Shoulder, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Training, Behaviour and Screening for Rescue

Bruno, my first foster

I’ve been volunteering with Speaking of Dogs rescue for the last ~2 years, and I couldn’t have hoped to fall in with a better organization! I started out as a foster home, and one of the biggest considerations in looking for a rescue was how my foster dog would be placed and what my input would be into that decision. Explicitly in this point is how the rescue places value on ethical training.  What I found in Speaking of Dogs is a rescue organization that has ethical and practical considerations that are very much comparable to my own. I use the term ‘ethics’ very deliberately here – using forceful methods to teach a dog something that can better be taught using force-free methods is not simply a matter of choice, it is a matter of ethical choice. Not only that, it may come down to being a matter of public and personal safety (see this study on confrontational training techniques and links to aggression).

Continue reading Training, Behaviour and Screening for Rescue