Archive for June, 2011

Metropolitan police dogs die in car

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on June 27, 2011 by guy2932

Not much in life is new. With so many people in the world, most things have been seen before. Everybody is living their own life though and learning from others mistakes doesn’t seem to be something us humans do very well.

How sad then that a Metropolitan police dog handler has failed to learn the lessons that should have been learned after a Nottingham police dog handler allowed his two dogs to die in a hot car in 2009.

The Metropolitan officer appears to have left the 2 dogs, a Malinois and a GSD puppy, in their own vehicle at the Mets training centre at Keston on Sunday 26th June 2011, the hottest day of the year so far. The BBC have the full story.

Malinois (left) and GSD (right). Stock photo.

This time around though it doesn’t seem to have hit the press with such frenzy although it is early days. Accidents happen and I know only too well how easy it is to be distracted and sidelined in a job that is often stressful and demanding but the welfare of your dogs needs to be at the top of your agenda all the time.

It would be unfair to cast judgement without knowing all the facts but it definitely serves as a very sad but timely reminder to the rest of us that with the warm weather approaching we need to ensure the safety of our animals.

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Should I alpha roll my dog?

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 27, 2011 by guy2932
  1. NO.

If you can successfully alpha roll your dog then it serves no purpose. If you’ve got the kind of dog that you think would benefit from being rolled then you will do nothing but create distrust and fear in your dog.

People often feel that the alpha roll is the appropriate course of action after their dog has growled, snapped or made some other gesture that necessitates the dog being put in his place.

The dog must have perceived some form of threat, hence the warning. If you go in with physical chastisement and fighting you are merely confirming his suspicions. The ensuing fight will go one of two not very successful ways.

You will either win and your dog will give up, full of resentment, distrust and fear or he will fight back and you will get hurt.

Both scenarios result in a dog and handler with trust issues and trust as we should all know is the basis of all healthy relationships.

Better to heed the warning and back away. Find a distraction to defuse the situation and when you can, safely put the dog away. THen analyse what went on.

Use your superior human brain to work out what could have happened to make your dog feel threatened by your presence or something you did. Then work out a way to stop your dog feeling like that.

The issues are quite often around valued objects or locations and in my experience, rare in dogs whose handlers attempt to primarily use positive reinforcement.

Anger breeds anger and fear breeds fear. We reap what we sow and what goes around comes around. We live what we learn. I’m sure there are other sayings that are appropriate but my brain has gone numb.

For a bit more on this subject, check out dominance theory is outdated or to really get the full picture you can purchase Positive Police Dogs: Philosophy by clicking here. The book contains everything you need to know about training theory and what makes dogs tick.

Buy a good recall

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , on June 27, 2011 by guy2932

A good recall is important and very achievable.

What is important to remember is that dogs don’t just do as they’re told because you’re the boss. See Dominance theory is outdated for more details.

Dogs, like most animals, only do what’s in their best interests. Things that they find rewarding. Because they don’t think like us they don’t understand long term gratification like we do. I work for a whole month before I get paid but I doubt my dog would keep working for very long at all (doing the things I want him to do) if I stopped paying him.

I pay him with ball throws, food, praise, freedom, water, opportunities to hunt, bite and all the other things he loves to do. If he likes it, it is a possible reward for doing something I want, when I want.

I am always looking for new analogies to help people understand why positive reinforcement training is so effective and should be top of your list of training tools.

If you give a command and your dog doesn’t carry it out then it either doesn’t understand the command or has a more rewarding alternative. Either way, you need to look at your training and adjust things accordingly.

If you know for a fact that you did your groundwork and made the correct associations between command and action ie said come AS your dog was in the act of coming, and later were able to get the dog to come by using your command then your problem lies in your rewards.

You need to ensure that you are rewarding sufficiently. If your dog is happily playing with another dog and you call it to you and put it on the lead and take it home, you have effectively punished the act of coming and made it less likely it will come back in the same situation. If however you gave it a big chunk of sausage and then let it go and play again, you will probably find the dog just as likely to return next time.

Easy recalls with little or no distraction need to be given high level rewards initially. This gets the dog into the habit of coming back and creates a mentality that coming when called is a good thing and more rewarding than what the dog would have been doing.

The rewards can then be mixed and matched as the distraction gets harder. Don’t just make the recalls harder and harder though as you will eventually reach failure. Instead adopt a two steps forward, one step back approach. Chuck in a really easy recall with a really high level reward every now and again to keep the dog sweet.

If you think of it in terms of payment, the big rewards for easy recalls are money in the bank. Each reward you give is a deposit and each recall a withdrawal. Difficult recalls are a big withdrawal and should be balanced by smaller deposits. Keep a rough mental tally of how much money you have in the bank.

The first signs of failure should indicate that you have gone overdrawn, either by making too big a withdrawal early on or by making too many withdrawals and not enough deposits.

With this mentality and approach to training, you accept responsibility for your dogs training and recognize failures as warnings that YOU have not done your job properly. This avoids frustration and blame towards the dog who at the end of the day is just doing what he finds rewarding.

If you want your dog to do something at a certain time and place in response to a given command then YOU and YOU alone are responsible for ensuring he has the skills and motivation to do so.

On street training issues

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2011 by guy2932

We all know training needs to be ‘real’ and many of us carry out on street training. I have recently had a discussion with a colleague about the inherent risks of on street training and whether such training should only be performed with an instructor present etc.

I’m sure everyone will have their own opinions on the matter but I noticed this case in America where legal action may be taken over alleged training in private properties without consent.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case, i’m sure there will be questions asked about how and when such training occurs which will affect UK officers.

Click here to read the full story.

The (very) basics of a good recall

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2011 by guy2932

At last after all the theory I thought I should start writing articles that actually help people achieve real life goals. A good recall is mandatory if you are going to let your dog off the lead. A life on a lead is barely a life and so I will alter that comment to, a good recall is mandatory.

It certainly is for Police and other service dogs and should be top of the list for all dog owners. It is such a straight forward exercise to teach and yet one that seems to cause a lot of problems for many owners and handlers. The main reason is that once off the lead and away from you, it is very much up to the dog whether or not to return. No amount of threats, bribery or compulsion will work if the dog really isn’t of the mind to come back.

This is why knowing your theory and doing your basic foundation training are so important. Far too many people try to walk before they can run and this is what leads to errors that often result in frustration and then the all too common approach of trying to punish non compliance when the real issue is bad foundation training.

Like any exercise the first thing I would look to do is ‘get the behaviour to reward the behaviour.’ No commands just yet. Simply get the dog back to you and reward that behaviour. I would start at home or a secure compound and just wait until the dog looked towards me. I would then make myself look attractive (easier said than done) by moving, waving holding out treats or a ball and when the dog comes to me, lavish verbal praise, give the ball, treat etc.

I do this numerous times. All I am doing is rewarding the act of coming to me. I am making a habit.

When I can consistently get the dog to me, I would add in my given command AS he is in the act of doing it. Some competition trainers may wait until the exercise is perfect before naming it but I work in a world of impatient people where even this method seems too drawn out. Saying the command AS the dog approaches makes the connection between the act and the command. Rewarding him when he gets there increases the likelihood of that action happening again in future.

I would repeat this step around a dozen times just to ensure the association has been made. Most dogs will get it a lot sooner than that but I am generally training multiple exercises at one time and the risk of confusion is increased. There is generally no harm in going too slow but lots in going too fast.

The next stage is to put the command BEFORE the action. I would say my command and then immediately do what I had previously been doing to get the behaviour. Again, repeat this stage a few times. You can slowly increase the time delay between the command and your actions (your actions will eventually be phased out).

There we have our theory in action. Instrumental learning – do something and find it rewarding =more likely to do it again and Pavlovian conditioning between our command and the action.

So we are now happy that our dog understands our command because we have ensured the association has been made. We have also made sure that it is rewarding for him to do it therefore increasing the likelihood it will happen again.

What we now need to look at is the reward level and the reward ratio.

The level is the range in desirability of your rewards from least favorite (low level) to most favorite (high level). Your dog will dictate this not you. The ratio is how often you give a reward and will range from every time to never. For this exercise I reward everytime. Once the exercise is fully trained it will vary from a pat on the head (low level) to a chance to bite (high level) and will include everything in between on a purely random basis.

When the dog is learning the exercise though, the way the rewards are used is critical to the final outcome.

What we are looking to do is make it more rewarding for the dog to come back when called than do anything else. For this to happen we must ensure we adhere to the structure with no failures. The simplest way to avoid failure is to never call your dog in a situation where you aren’t 100% he’ll come back. This may mean avoiding situations for a while or ignoring behaviours until you have a good recall. Control your dogs environment or his movement by means of a lead.

Now we have the dog coming back on command in a certain location, it is time to start varying the locations. From now on, every time you change locations, go back to a simpler recall to avoid any potential confusion before progressing. Two steps forward, one step back.

We want to have really high rewards initially just to create the sense of amazing success in the dog and give high rewards for what is essentially an easy act for the dog. This creates that vital desire to return because responding to the recall is so much more rewarding than what the dog was doing. This mentality and the habit of coming back are what form the basis for the more demanding recalls.

The dog must now be exposed to gradually increasing distractions and recalled away. The odd failure is not a disaster but should serve as a warning to you that you have progressed too fast.

With every situation you should be looking to find an easy version and progressively more difficult versions.

For example, recalling from other dogs. Start by recalling your dog when it spots another dog from 100 yards away. Slowly build your success by getting closer and closer. Allow your dog to play with other dogs and wait until it gets bored before you call it away. Deliberately let it approach boring old dogs that wont play and recall it. As your success grows you will get a better idea of what is within your limitations until eventually any situation involving other dogs, even full playing sessions can be interrupted with a recall.

This may sound long winded but is a sure fire way to get a 100% reliable recall. It is surprising how quickly the dog starts to respond and like a lot of things, experience is the key. Practicing just becomes part of your every day routines.

Giving advice is simple and the proof of the pudding is in the tasting as they say and so I have included a very short video. It shows my Malinois who at the time was 18 months old. To say he enjoys biting is an understatement. His prey drive is through the roof and at the time I had been subjected to some unhelpful training using a schutzhund sleeve but with no control elements. The result was that he would bite one on sight. This fact combined with a bit of agitation produced a very determined run out. It’s fair to say the dog was fully committed to the chase at the point he was recalled and the video doesn’t do justice to how much ground he covered. Once recalled the return journey was just as determined as the chap stood behind me found out.

No electric collar. No punishment. Not even a cross word was used to train this recall which over time has become more reliable.

I hope this helps you to understand how to structure your dogs recall training. As you can see from the video the end result is a dog that wants to come back as much as it wanted to do what it was already doing. To not have to worry about whether your dog will come back is a reassuring feeling. To know that you haven’t had to resort to damaging punishers is also a bonus when your dogs overall confidence is as important as it is to Police and working dogs.