Archive for October, 2010

Time to start training – well, almost!

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , on October 23, 2010 by guy2932

After all this talk on theory, I guess it’s time to start putting it all into practice. Before any formal training starts there are a few things to consider first though. No dog will be able to concentrate on learning new skills if it has an injury or illness which is causing it to be uncomfortable.

If your dog is new to you then a trip to the vets for a medical is not a bad idea. Also, being with strange people in strange environments will unsettle most dogs to the extent that you are unlikely to have their undivided attention.Better to spend a few days settling the dog in and becoming acquainted. The time needn’t be wasted time though as this is where you can establish what the dog likes in terms of food, toys and attention from you. You will also get an idea on his general level of socialization and habituation as you take him out and about on walks.Once the dog is settled and you are happy that he is healthy and happy, you need to establish what motivates your dog and what you are going to use as your main reward (positive reinforcer). I am assuming that the dog will have been tested prior to his acquisition and will have a suitable level of prey drive and so some form of ball is most likely. Tennis balls are not good as not only do they get wet and slippery and can get stuck in the dogs throat but the glue used to fix the felt reacts with the dogs saliva and can cause premature tooth decay. Teeth aren’t very important to specialist search dogs so don’t let their handlers convince you of their merit.A good-sized rubber ball on a rope is ideal as it allows the ball to be thrown long distances, can be used to tug with and will provide something to grab should the ball get lodged in the dogs throat. There are many different types and I always find it amusing how different dogs have a preference for different types. Experiment with different sizes, textures etc. and see which type your dog prefers.

If your dog isn’t interested in balls, it is probably because he hasn’t come to associate them with the chasing, fetching and searching that stimulate his prey drive and so this is your first task. Make that ball move and wiggle, snatch it away and throw it. Make it the most exciting thing your dog has ever seen. The aim is to get the dog in a frenzy of excitement for the ball. This may take no time at all or it may take several sessions over several days, but until you have this level of interest there is little point progressing.

Once you have the level of desire for the ball that you need, my advice is to get another one. Two balls are better than one. We will use the second ball to start rewarding the dog for leaving the first. At this very early stage we will be planting the seeds that will eventually result in a perfect “out in one shout ” from the bite.

Each stage of training will have a knock on effect on the next and will build to create generalised rules, principles and routines that will all piece together to form the finished product. It is a very lucky person who manages to train a police dog fit for purpose without having a well thought out plan to follow. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail.


Criminals pay for drugs dogs

Posted in News with tags , , , , on October 22, 2010 by guy2932

Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire have two new recruits for their dog section in the form of two new drugs dogs reports the BBC.

The unusual aspect of this story is that the dogs were paid for directly by funds recovered from criminals by using the Proceeds of crime Act. My initial thoughts were “what a great idea” but upon reflection it isn’t perhaps as generous to the dog section as it first appears. Both dogs came from local rescue centres and so the dogs would have cost very little in monetary terms. I know things are costed in terms of wages and staff hours etc these days but I am wondering how much money the dog section actually received and whether in this climate of cuts, funding dog sections in such a way would be an option to real cuts. I would be interested to hear from anyone involved as to how the funding works or whether it is more of a PR exercise. I know Essex did a similar thing and am wondering if this could be an option for our force when/if the axe falls.

Electric collars – no thanks

Posted in Training Theory with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2010 by guy2932

It won’t surprise you to discover that I am not a fan of electric collars for training dogs. Not because they aren’t effective but because they don’t do what people think they do. Training suggests the learning of a skill and as the aim of these devices is to create an aversive stimulus they are clearly only capable of being used as a punisher or for negative reinforcement training. You can’t teach anybody anything using punishment alone as punishment merely stops behaviour, albeit temporarily. It does nothing to change the long-term motivation of the recipient unless you cause a trauma so deep that it burns into the recipients core being. Effectively you create a phobia. This may (worryingly) be alright with you but there is a problem. It is impossible for you as the controller of the collar to know exactly what the dog will associate with the pain or the severity of the pain itself  until after the event.

What a lot of advocates of shock collars (many of whom claim to have tried the device on themselves and claim it’s not that bad) fail to take into account is that as a human we are able to rationalise the sensation but for the dog there is no understanding of what this pain that appears to come from nowhere is all about. The surprise alone may have an overwhelming effect let alone the consequence of the pain. You also have no way of knowing what the dog is going to come to associate with the traumatic event. It may associate the location or may generalise and become fearful of similar locations. It may become fearful of the surface it was stood on or the proximity of a certain person, persons, types of persons or generalise to include all persons. It may associate the action it was doing at the time and this may be the intention you had, but it is all too easy to catch behaviours or elements of a behaviour that weren’t intended. The other issue is that use of these collars, even if handled by a master dog trainer with hindsight, foresight and the ability to read the dogs mind, will have side effects. Pain, punishment, fear and distress all take an emotional toil on the dog. Stress causes chemical changes in the brain, just one of which is an increase in cortisol. Too much stress causes distress, which can be thought of as the cessation of normal physical or emotional functioning. Stress has a cumulative effect, and just as you can’t tell the true effects of each individual use of the collar, so you can’t tell what the cumulative effects will be. The signs will be there, but they may not become evident to you until considerable harm has been done. We are all aware of the effects of too much stress at work or of post traumatic stress disorder. Dogs may not have spoken language but be under no illusions, they can and do suffer mental distress and suffering in exactly the same way as you or I. As if the risks of a one-off session aren’t high enough, many dogs are trained continually or have multiple exercises taught or modified with the use of these collars. This will have an effect on the dogs stress levels which will affect future behaviour but will also serve to close the dog down. New situations and learning new exercises can become stressful in themselves, purely because of the bad associations made with training. Dogs trained in this manner are not good problem solvers, rarely cope well in an operational environment and will never be as confident as they could and should be if a less punitive training style were adopted. The fact that the dog is enthusiastic in training sessions is a sign that he enjoys utilising his natural drives not an endorsement for shock collars. Those of you who believe your dog likes the collar because he gets excited then I’m afraid your dog is just clued up to the upcoming training and is excited for the reason just stated. Try a little experiment to let the dog know the collar causes the shock (something I bet he hasn’t worked out yet). Activate it on his nose. Does he still get excited to see his collar? I thought not.

Just to clarify my comment in the second statement, shock collars are effective. Effective at producing an electric shock. There is no doubt that some people are able to train dogs to a high standard and that they use these tools. The collar isn’t the bit doing the teaching however, it is doing the stopping. It is punishing undesirable behaviours. This type of training comes at a cost and that cost is the well-being of the dog. Please do not use these items and if a trainer recommends you do then walk away and find a trainer that can help you train your dog with methods that give him the respect he deserves.

The bond between man and dog has been forged through a symbiotic relationship that spans thousands of years. Don’t abuse that relationship, respect it.


RSPCA seek man seen kicking dog

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by guy2932

The RSPCA are seeking any information that may help identify the male in this video with a view to bringing a prosecution. From his abusive use of the lead to the deliberate kicks to the dog, there is nothing that could justify this level of abuse. His behaviour would be no more forgiveable if he were checking the dog in the name of training or if his kicks were retaliation for some perceived action from the dog. The justified outcry from the public shows that most people have no stomach for this type of treatment of animals and yet some still advocate punitive, harsh methods in the name of training. If you routinely administer physical punishments then you are always only a heartbeat away from scenes like the video when your frustration gets the better of you. By relying on positive reinforcement training your mind set is one of working to get behaviours in order to reward them rather than punishing mistakes and unwanted behaviours.

‘Positive Police Dogs: Philosophy’ now available

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 9, 2010 by guy2932

At last you can get your hands on the long awaited book ‘Philosophy’, the first in the Positive Police Dogs series. Click Hereto go to the shop.

Wild Horses

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , , on October 5, 2010 by guy2932

Negative reinforcement is where an animal is subjected to an aversive that it dislikes enough that it will work to avoid that aversive. Only when the animal has performed the task you require will the aversive cease. The stronger the will of the animal, the harsher the aversive will need to be in order to make the animal work to avoid the aversive, rather than fight against you.

This is the method of choice for the majority of horse trainers and there is a term used to describe the process of taming a wild horse using this method. It is called BREAKING a horse. Breaking his spirit to be more precise. Removing his spark for life until he has no fight left, no free will.

Only then will the horse meekly accept future negative reinforcement with no fight. A broken horse will accept every whip, every jerk of the reigns and every kick of the stirrup.

Is that what we want from our dogs? Broken spirits. No lust for life. I for one want a dog that is as confident as he can be. I want a dog that feels free to try new things in the ever changing operational environment, without fear of being lashed. When I shout I want my dog to look around to see who I am shouting at and join in by barking not cower by my side, fearful of being hit.

Positive reinforcement training produces confident, willing dogs. Negative reinforcement, which carries with it all the negative side effects of punishment such as stress and displacement activity, produces the exact opposite. Wild horses couldn’t make me choose negative reinforcement as my training tool of choice.


Make life easy with an end command

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , on October 5, 2010 by guy2932

It’s frustrating when you work so hard on your long down and the dog gets up when you approach. Or when the dog stops barking on a search because the criminal moved. In both cases the dog anticipating the end of the exercise can cause problems.

What is the end of the exercise? We tend to end exercises with the delivery of the ball or other reward. The dog grabs the ball and you make a fuss. The problem is dogs are quick to learn and soon learn that the criminals arm that moves is about to throw the ball and it stops in anticipation. When you return after leaving the dog, the exercise is about to end. There are ways to overcome these faults and stop them creeping in but each exercise requires it’s own special way of stopping that anticipation from creeping in.

There is a way that will help to get the dog to understand when the exercise is over across the board and that is to introduce an end command. Simply say your end command before you deliver your reward on every exercise and correct any movement that occurs prior to the end command. Simple. The dog will soon learn the general rule do this command until given another command or until given the end command.

It makes life so much easier for the dog and you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. Give it a go but don’t worry, it won’t make you into a lefty clicker trainer (but it might make you want to be!!).