Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Healing Power of C.A.T

Constructional Aggression Treatment or CAT, as its known, was developed by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, PhD and Kellie Snider. Their general guideline was that aggressive behavior is learned, not innate, and responds to changes in its consequences.

I watched the 8 hour seminar DVD about a year ago and was really interested in the procedure.  I started reading as much as I could about it, and asked many trainers opinion on it.  I was lucky enough to speak to Dr Ian Dunbar about it briefly at a seminar, and he expressed some interest in it, but not the excited response I had expected.  Many other trainers in my area also were interested in the procedure, but also didn't seem to gravitate to it the way I had.  A blog post written by Jean Donaldson (who I love) actually blasted the CAT Procedure for being too stressful on dogs and based on negative reinforcement (

Why was I the only one that seemed to really be excited with this procedure?

What is CAT?

The basis of CAT works like this: The assumption is that aggression is used and reinforced by making a provoking stimulus go away / retreat.  Thus the behavior is kept strong and reinforced because their aggressive act causes the stimulus to flee. In using CAT, you must have full control over the provoking stimulus and then introduce it to the subject animal.  Instead of the provoking stimulus retreating because of an aggressive act, you require the aggressor to display a non-aggressive act or relaxation display, then you reward with the retreat of the provoking stimulus.  The idea is that you "Shape" a variety of non aggressive behaviors, each rewarded with a retreat of the provoking stimulus. If any aggressive displays are shown, the stimulus remains in position, then retreats only when a non-aggressive action is displayed. As more non-aggressive postures and behaviors are shown, the distance between the two is decreased until interaction is possible.

Unfair Criticism of CAT

Many things I read and people I spoke to suggest that CAT causes too much stress. In searching the Internet I found almost no videos of people doing CAT with dogs (There seems to be quite a bit with horses and people however).  The only real video of CAT in action is on the DVD itself, however its wrought with problems.  The live demo on in the video at the end involves dog-dog aggression.  The aggressive dog constantly goes 'over threshold' in that the target is brought too close to the aggressive dog, causing him to react.  The person handling the target dog is an older lady who, despite the verbal instruction from Dr Rosales-Ruiz, has awful timing and distance management.

As most things in dog training, good timing is the difference between solid training, and total futility.

In fact, this demo was so bad that it prompted someone involved in it to rewrite CAT with small changes and market it as their own method (The person holding the aggressive dog in the video was a trainer who went on to develop a procedure called BAT, which has much more internet presence than CAT). The BAT procedure involves moving the aggressive dog in and out instead of a the target dog, and using food rewards and bridging reinforcement, which isn't present in CAT.

Is CAT stressful?

In my experience in using it, no.  What is critical is the distance at which you start, and how quickly you close the distance between the aggressor and stimulus.  What is also critical is that you shape many different behaviors with your retreats.  I almost always start with a look away.  I want the aggressive dog to be rewarded for breaking eye contact.  I usually reward this many times before I worry about rewarding any other behaviors.  I like to also reward sniffing, tail wags, and body relaxation.

Why is CAT more effective than other methods?

One aspect I love about CAT is that not only are you shaping and rewarding different, pro social behavior, but you are also working on systematic desensitization at the same time.  By moving the stimulus closer and closer at distances they can cope with, you also operate on this procedure as well.

In CAT, once the two subjects are close enough, the creators of CAT refer to this as a "Switch-over" where the two dogs (in the case of dog-dog aggression) can start to peacefully interact.  Many mistakes can be made here if the meetings are allow to go too long.  Its critical you continue to break off contact and reward with distance, even if the two dogs are interacting peacefully.

By shaping the different, pro social behaviors, you are giving the dog the tools in order to achieve this interaction by promoting the behaviors they need in order to signal and interact peacefully. For dogs that have no dog 'language' this can be very valuable.

Food Use

In the CAT procedure, there is no use of food. (BAT however does use food).  I however tend to do a bit of both.  I have very strict criteria for using food when doing the CAT procedure.  One is that the dog cannot be too interested in bugging the owner for food.  If the dog is too excited that the owner has food, it is removed.

The second is that it is used in very limited amounts and usually only for what I would consider important moments in the procedure. One example might be the first time he looks away, or the first time a pro social action is shown, like a friendly tail wag. These are rewarded with distance and then a food 'jackpot'.

On the fly

One problem with CAT is its very hard to use in the real world.  In this case I usually advise my clients to use food for counter conditioning by clicking and rewarding the dog for any looks at the target, but still rewarding with distance when possible.  In the DVD it was advised not to do this by 'mixing' procedures, however I think its a fair alternative while still working through formal CAT sessions when you encounter stimulus outside the training arena.

Final thoughts

Unfortunately I do not have my own training facility, and thus all my CAT sessions are done outside in public places.  I haven't been able to get any video of the procedure, and they are often interrupted by distractions in our training area.  I hope to do more CAT sessions in a closed off training building soon, along with video.  I have had great results with this procedure, and many people report their aggressive dog doing things they never thought possible.  I would encourage the makers of the procedure to

1) Take much more video and get it in accessible places such as YouTube.
2) Promote more the critical importance of correct distance and not having any aggressive reaction during treatment at all
3) Include more discussion about how this process promotes Systematic desensitization.
4) Redo the live demonstration on the next DVD or forget about live demos since these tend to not go well since when focusing on talking to the audience while trying to perform the procedure you can goof up your timing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lack of Classical Conditioning

I'm not sure why I don't post more in this blog. I think its because I prefer to keep any behavioral advice in sections on my site, rather than in random rantings on my blog. I'm also writing a book on dominance so most of my writing brain goes into that, however I'm going to attempt at least a regular posting once a month on a topic.

One of Ian Dunbar's messages when I saw him in November was that we aren't doing enough classical conditioning with puppies. I couldn't agree more, and I believe its just as important with adult rescue dogs or dogs with other issues (or basically any dog who didn't have this done as a puppy).

What is Classical Conditioning?

From Wikipedia: In classical conditioning two stimuli are presented in close succession repeatedly, until the response given to one becomes associated with the other. If two stimuli are always presented together, eventually the organism will respond to the neutral stimuli in the same fashion as the response to the pair of the neutral stimulus and the paired stimulus.

It's my opinion that most aggression is caused by classical conditioning or lack of socialization. Both of these issues are in fact cured by classical conditioning. Here's an example:

Freyja gets attacked by a Boxer. Now the sight of a Boxer predicts attacks. This may even be generalized to all dogs may predict attacks. The issue here is the classical conditioning of Boxer/dog-->being hurt in an attack.

Classical conditioning is all about pairing. By pairing a clicker with a treat, we teach a dog that when they hear a 'click' they will get a treat. Thus the sound of the click takes on a message of 'treat'. We pair the sight of a leash with a walk, thus dogs seeing their leash come out get very excited. This is all classical conditioning at work.

I see many dogs in the park on walks that have issues with other, usually specific type dogs, people, bikes, sounds and the list goes on, yet no one takes advantage of the use of classical conditioning.

When trainers say you need to do more classical conditioning, this usually means you need to pair stimulus in your dogs environment with positive things (food, toys, games) in order to develop an association that the stimulus is good (and not something to be afraid / worried about).

If you have a dog who is scared, growls, or otherwise has issues with certain types of stimulus, your first stop should always be classical conditioning. You should have rewards with you at all times, in case you encounter your dogs stimulus (if your not setting up specific encounters) to pair with rewards. Anxiety, or lack of information about what will happen, is a huge problem for dogs. If you teach them that the stimulus predicts rewards, the anxiety is gone.

I would even use a clicker for ease and shape behaviors that i liked. Here's an example of something I see all the time:

Bob owns an intact male dog. They walk in Shubie park on a regular basis. His dog has issues with other intact males, but with all other dogs is very social and playful. When he sees intact males he gets stiff and will slowly walk past them. If they approach he will snarl and for now all the dogs just walk away.

Provided there was no history of damage, this dog sounds like a good candidate for classical conditioning. If I was Bob I would start by 'clicking' the dog whenever he saw an intact male. I would heavily reward whenever seeing the intact males and stop once they are out of sight. I would click any social behavior such as looking, sniffing etc. Any encounters would get praised heavily with quick rewards if possible, certainly before and after the encounter. Intact males would be the predictor of really good things for my dog - and pro social behaviors would be huge jackpots.

A good trainer can help you with this, but the concept itself is quite simple. Make the things your dog is scared or afraid of a predictor of good things and the fear will vanish. Make use of Classical Conditioning, don't ignore it!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Correct Use of Positive Reinforcement

There is a misconception that positive reinforcement is simply using food in training. “My dog isn’t food motivated” or “What if he isn’t hungry” are common remarks to hear when discussing positive training. Some people believe that a dog cannot be trained to recall off chasing a squirrel through positive only methods because chasing that squirrel is the most reinforcing thing for the dog, thus he will ignore the chance to simply earn a food reward. When dogs fail to heed a command in order to receive a food reward, often punishment such as shock collars, choke collars or other methods are resorted to. Many trainers feel moving to punishment tools is justified since the positive method has ‘failed’.

I pride myself on being a ‘positive trainer’ in that I will not use shocks, prong collars, chokes or physical force in my training. There is a myth that positive training does not get reliable results or that some dogs cannot be trained with it. Positive methods are sound and will work with any dog, but you must deploy them skillfully.

Full dog approach

Knowing what behavior change you want in a dog isn’t enough. A full history and detail of the dog’s living conditions and history is required so you can understand what is influencing the behavior. A dog that is jumping or barking needs to be trained to be calm and quiet. However if the dog lacks exercise, is isolated, or excessively confined, or perhaps subjected to inconsistent training (maybe a doggie daycare he goes to encourages jumping and barking!) then the picture starts to get clearer as to why this dog is always hyperactive. All private training should start with a full profile on the dog’s routine.

Rather than force, shock or punish the dog for jumping, I’ll look at ways to improve his living conditions so hyper behavior decreases. Stuffing food in a chew toy for example reinforces calm behavior. While punishment may reduce the behavior, the underlying cause of the behavior is still there. Without addressing the influences, the animal may manifest those emotions in other undesirable behaviors later on. Now we are ready to train.

Classical Conditioning is on your side

Classical conditioning is happening all the time. By pairing positive reinforcement with learning, the dog will enjoy training instead of simply tolerating it to avoid punishments. When you are consistently pairing training with reward, the dog starts to see you, the environment and training as enjoyable. Training is then always viewed as a fun and positive experience. By using positive reinforcement you can use classical conditioning to make things your dog may fear or dislike into predictors of reward. This will change the dog’s emotional state and have an impact on his behavior. Punishment training can classically condition your dog in the opposite direction, to dislike whatever was around him at the time of the punishment – and prompt further aggressive or fearful behavior later.

It’s not all about food

Positive reinforcement is not just about feeding. It’s critical to vary your rewards and use what is reinforcing for that dog in that moment. An open door, a ball toss, a sniff of a pole - Positive training is about putting what the dog wants under your control. A dog that is being rewarded with liver treats every-time will blow that reward off should they favor something else. Positive trainers know the overall message that needs to be clear is “I control what you want, listen to me first”. When the dog understands this message, he is happy to perform behavior, provided he has actually been ‘trained’ to a high enough level.

Positive training involves keeping the environment under temporary control until we build a strong habit so the dog will listen to our cue because he has been conditioned to do so in order to access environmental reinforcement.

Training for success

Learning follows 4 distinct periods:

Acquisition: During this phase, dogs are given continuous reinforcement in order to build a new behavior. We also control the environment by starting training in a no distraction environment so the dog will focus on training. It’s also important the dog has been trained for basic things such as attention before moving onto training a difficult behavior like heeling.

Fluency: The duration of a behavior is increased, slowly small distractions are added. The distractions remain under our control. Trainer Jean Donaldson popularized a method called “push, drop, stick”. Five repetitions of a behavior are performed with a certain level of distraction and difficulty. If the dog performs the behavior 5 times correctly, difficulty is increased. If the dog performs the behavior only 3-4 times, the exercise is repeated. If the dog fails to perform the behavior 3 times, you drop the difficulty to a level that he will succeed at. The behavior to reward ratio should also be increased to 2:1 and is slowly increased until the dog is performing the behavior several times for 1 reward.

Generalization: The behavior is practiced in different areas with increasing levels of distraction. Build the behavior slowly and with only one increase in difficulty at a time. You would not build a 2 minute stay in a house, than expect a 5 minute stay at a dog park. This is just as unreasonable as expecting your son to make a professional sports league after a couple practices at the local arena. During this phase rewards are greatly reduced since the behavior is lasting longer and with increased difficulty. Variable schedules of reinforcement are introduced so the dog is randomly rewarded for correct behaviors, and thus will repeat them since he doesn’t know when the reward will come. Habits are now being formed.

Maintenance: In the final phase you have trained in a number of areas, built up a strong behavior, and now just need to ensure the dog has a chance to practice occasionally. Differential reinforcement is critical at this stage, so the dog only receives a reward for the best and quickest manifestations of the behavior and thus it continues to improve.

Premack Exercises

It’s critical the dog learns that ignoring reinforcement and listening to instruction first is the path to reinforcement. Premack's Principle suggests that if a person wants to perform a given activity, the person will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity. You must change a dog’s perception about how to obtain environmental reinforcement.

Setup a partner who tempts the dog with food in a closed hand. Have the handler recall the dog away from the food. Once the dog listens, the partner runs over and gives the reward. Increasing difficulty with an exercise like this can get a dog running passed open food to run to the foodless handler time and time again. If you’re on a walk with your dog, stop and ask for a sit. He will learn once he sits, the walk resumes, thus reinforcing the sit. Over time the dog will sit immediately on the first cue after just one or two walks.

My method of teaching ‘leave it’ involves leashing the dog and tossing food out of his reach while saying ‘leave it’. Once the dog stops straining on leash at the food and looks at me, he is rewarded – sometimes by me, or sometimes by being allowed to reach the food. This teaches a loose leash towards reward, focus on me, and a “Leave it” behavior that brings his focus back on me and away from what he just saw being thrown. After a while you can remove the leash because the behavior has now become a habit. This method is much more pleasant for a dog than the old traditional style of snapping the leash when a dog went for the forbidden item.

Repetitive re-instruction with negative reinforcement

This is an idea that Ian Dunbar has used for many years. If a dog has had a high level of training yet fails to heed a command, the command is given again and the dog is restricted from gaining any reinforcement until he listens. It’s critical that a dog obey a command once it is given, but this is something that is trained and practiced, not forced through painful or scary punishment.

If a dog fails to sit at the door, repeat the instruction. Since the door will not open unless the dog listens, he will eventually comply to get what he wants. There is nothing wrong with repeating the cue if you feel the dog does in fact know the cue (based on previously sound training) and he is choosing to ignore it because he is focused on the reinforcement (open the door already!). Once he learns the door will not open until there is compliance, he will obey. Thus there is negative reinforcement through the relief of stress and frustration by the door opening (oh, I have to listen to YOU when I want things!). Similar exercises can be setup with chasing prey and playing with dogs.

Using this principle consistently the dog will learn to simply obey the command the first time to cut down on the delay of reinforcement.

Ian Dunbar says about this method:

The secret to success is to never give up. The dog learns that she has to sit following a single command before being allowed to play once more. This technique is extremely effective, works surprisingly quickly, and prevents the need for physical restraint or aversive punishment.

When a dog doesn’t listen

Before simply doling out punishment, review the above. Is the dog’s lifestyle a problem? Did you follow 4 phases of learning correctly or are you asking a dog that just learned stay in the house to now do the behavior on a busy street? Does the dog have a good history of Premack training and handler attention? Have you insisted on commands in the past or gave up and let the dog run off? Did you control the environment and build a habit before allowing the dog more freedom of choice?
Positive training will work for all dogs, but it depends on the skill of that trainer. A successful positive trainer does simply more than toss out cookies!

Professional athletes train every-day and for many years to reach a high level. Your dog is your best friend. Take the time and effort to train him how you would like to be trained if he was holding the leash.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Letter to Cape Breton Mayor regarding current shelter situation

Mayor Morgan,

My name is Tristan Flynn and I’m a dog trainer and behaviorist located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I have been following the Cape Breton SPCA story for several days now and wanted to write you to express my concern for an issue that got no oversight from the recent veterinary review – the mental health and well-being of the animals in the CB Shelter.

I have read that you expressed a desire to see all recommendations from the recent independent veterinary analysis of the shelter implemented which I applaud. However in the report it’s noted that this review was done quickly, that the vets themselves did not have exact expertise in many aspects of shelter management, and that critical aspects of the operation were not evaluated. Quote:

“Due to time constraints, there were a number of areas that we could not assess. These include but are not limited to: vaccination and de-worming protocols, visitor protocols,inspection of outdoor runs and outdoor play areas, staff training, how cleaning products were being mixed and used, behavioral health and mental well-being of animals, temperament testing prior to adoption.”

Clearly this report does not go far enough to evaluate the operations of this shelter. A full and complete evaluation of the mental and behavioral health would likely have brought you another 27+ recommendations.

It is critical that dogs (and cats) be provided with toys, positive training, and a chance to interact with other dogs while in a shelter environment. Dogs should also be receiving several walks per day in addition to outside playtime. A dog that is left in a kennel for long period of time with no activity will become frustrated, bored and their mental health will deteriorate rapidly. Frustration and boredom are directly linked to dog aggression.

The oversights by this facility are a recipe for creating aggressive and hyperactive dogs in your community.

It is also concerning that there is no mention of temperament testing of dogs at this facility. Shelter staff should have continuous training on how to evaluate a dog for things such as aggression around the food bowl, handling issues, aggression towards children / other animals and what special training or considerations an animal may need. Failure to identify and make the public aware of these issues when adopting out a dog is putting your community at risk.

Based on my conversations with people visiting and adopting from this shelter, none of these mental health protocols are in place.

These recommendations regarding mental health cost little money and have been a shelter standard for decades. It’s clear the current management at this shelter are not providing a standard of physical or mental care for their animals.

I urge you to support the provincial SPCA in removing this shelter manager and board of directors. Either through complacency or lack of knowledge, Its clear their leadership is not in the best interests of the animals or people in your community. It’s truly shocking that a quick evaluation report can produce so many deficiencies when the manager has over 30 years of experience.

I understand you are in a tough position since this is the only facility that can meet the needs of your animal control contract however I would urge a more complete report on the activities happening in this shelter in regards to mental health and behavior immediately.

Best Regards,

Tristan Flynn
(902)-469-GRDT (4738)

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oh, My dog already knows "Sit"

The title of this blog is one of the things I hear most in my obedience classes - "My dog already knows Sit"

Do they now? What does "Sit" really mean to you, or to your dog? Most dogs when given a Sit command when close to their owners will Sit in front of their owner.

Since the most common place dogs are rewarded is in front of their handler, it's very often the dog will orientate himself to the front, even if the command was given when the dog was beside the owner.

This is where context and reinforcement come into play. Often the dog is only reinforced while sitting in front of their owner, this is the position they automatically assume when the command "Sit" is given. So already our definition for most dogs knowing Sit has changed from "Sit" to "go in front of my owner and Sit".

If you reinforce the Sit from other positions, this will start to fade away and its likely you dog will start to sit on command rather than re-orientating himself then sitting. You can do this by simply moving yourself beside your dog and delivering the reward. The key is that the dog sees a reward can come from you even if your directly beside him. This is a critical thing to train when starting to learn heeling, since often when stopping and asking the dog to sit, he will start to creep in front of you. It's important he know its OK and also reinforcing to sit BESIDE you.

Distance is another big throw off for dogs. Again, since the reward comes from you, naturally the dog assumes he needs to be close to you when the command is given. More importantly, the dog may not understand the command if he isn't beside you. Training your dog to respond, at a distance, to a simple Sit is a very challenging thing to train. It's almost impossible without the use of a marker word or clicker since you need to reinforce at a distance.

Doing this exercise is a great way to show people that dogs are not 'stubborn' or 'dominate' when they refuse to listen. I can hold a ton of treats in my hand in an empty room with my dog, block her off from getting to me, and ask for a "Sit" and it's ignored.

Why? Clearly she wants the treats I have, clearly there's nothing else better to do in the room, so why not listen to me and get the reward?

Many owners would assume she knows Sit, since she will often Sit when asked - but because I'm standing far away from her, the context has changed, and thus she needs to be TRAINED to understand that Sit, still means Sit from a distance.

What about distractions? Is your dog being stubborn or dominant or disobedient when it ignores a command while playing with other dogs or walking in the park? Unless you have done training in those areas, its likely you'll be ignored too. While the reinforcement of playing with dogs may be greater than what your offering, if you have practiced this enough times under gradually increasing distractions, chances are they will listen - specially if they know they can resume playing or sniffing after!

What about releasing the dog? When does "Sit" actually end? Many dogs know to Sit on command, but the duration which they hold it, and the communication on that from the handler is usually lacking. Some trainers teach that Sit also means Stay, so a simple Sit actually means "Sit until I tell you something different" which can be another command or a release word. Owners will often get mad at their dog if they break a Sit that the owner is hoping they will hold (perhaps you told your dog to sit expecting them to remain that way while another dog passed by) but rarely will people teach this.

In summary - just because you THINK your teaching your dog something, doesn't mean your teaching the exact thing you hope your dog will understand when you give that command! Remember to practice variations, distance, distractions and duration!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What I learned from Dr Ian Dunbar

I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to travel to Toronto for a 3 day seminar with Dr Ian Dunbar, who is without a doubt, maybe one of if not the most important figure in modern dog training. He is credited with the mass use of lure reward training, the creation of puppy classes, and founder of the largest group of trainers in the world the APDT.

Here's a summary of what Dr Dunbar discussed over his 3 days:

Day One: Puppies

He said we are wasting puppyhood and many things that are old must become new - such as classical conditioning. As he put it : "we are not doing one tenth of the training, one hundredth of the socialization or one thousandth of the classical conditioning required to provide puppies with manners, confidence and social savvy"

He discussed that many issues such as guarding, chewing, housesoiling, barking and separation anxiety should be prevented at puppyhood to avoid these problems later in life.

Much of what he discussed during puppyhood can be found in his free books that I've provided on my webpage.

Day Two: Scienced based training

Much of day two was a discussion on learning theory. He discussed why its important not to focus too much on all the science and how easy trainers and people get confused by all the terms and that trainers can sometimes confuse clients with all the jargon. He explained why feedback using your voice is very important to dogs and that most learning theory doesn't discuss this, because the experiments were performed on rats in labs and mostly by computer. While he doesn't discount this science, he wanted us to look past it as well to the relationship with the dog.

He stressed that differential reinforcement is the way to train, always trying to improve the dog performance. Ian talked a lot about punishment and stressed that punishment doesn't need to be painful or scary. Here's something from the notes:

Punishment - Criteria to protect us from our inconsistencies:

1) effective - must actually be decreasing the behavior
2) Immediate -.5-1 second after behavior occurs
3) instructive
4) punishment fit the crime
5) must know appropriate behavior (previous training on what TO do)
6) Warn first
7) Consistent each and every time

He also stated that reward vs punishment should be a 10:1 ratio - you must reward 10 good behaviors before you can punish 1 bad one.

Day 3: Off leash lure reward

One thing Dr Dunbar really stresses is off leash control. He states that a dog isn't trained until he sits at a distance, under distractions under verbal command with no training aids of any kind.

He uses a method he calls 'repetitive reinstruction and negative reinforcement" in that he trains the dog by cuing over and over until the dog listens, then is allowed to return to what he was doing, or is rewarded. He states that trainers go crazy when he says its ok to repeat the cue - but if the dog isn't listening to the cue what use it is anyways. The dog will eventually learn that SIT means do it right now or else I'm going to keep coming.

Thats just a VERY brief set of notes from the seminar - it was 9-6pm each day so you can imagine the information.

I got to hangout and chat with Ian one-one on Saturday night at the bar and it was a great experience getting meet one of your training 'heros'.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Emotions of dogs

I'm one of the first to say that if we treated dogs the same way we treated people, they would be a lot better off. We don't put prong collars or shock collars on children, and we certainly don't think they are trying to 'dominate' us. However many emotions and characteristics we do assign to dogs are very damaging and untrue. Dogs certainly feel things like happiness, pain, anxiety and other basic emotions, but certain, higher level human emotions are foreign to canines.

Guilt - Many people say their dogs are 'guilty' or 'know what they did wrong' however science tells a very different story. In one experiment a handler and his dog were left in a room with an experimenter - the dog was ordered to 'leave it' and a food treat was placed on the floor. The handler then left the room and in some instances the experimenter encouraged the dog to eat the food treat - in others he simply picked it up. The handlers were not informed which event happened, but were told in fact the dog ate it in all circumstances. Dogs displayed 'guilt' each time - however 'guilt' was described with positions such as low tail, looking away and other displacement behaviors. This showed the dogs weren't really 'feeling guilty' but were upset at the owners reaction. I've read stories of trainers proving this to people who were having troubles housebreaking and using punishment because they were convinced the dog 'knew he was doing something wrong' but yet when poop was placed on the floor in advanced by someone, the dog looked just as 'guilty' when the owner confronted the dog - even though he didn't do anything.

Stubborn- Many people say their dog is 'being stubborn' when failing to listen to a command they feel the dog knows. However most people do not realize how difficult it is for dogs to learn commands. Do you think your dog knows "Sit". Go in your bedroom, shut the door, and yell Sit and have someone else outside and see if the dog actually sits. Chances are he will not. If you then walk out and stand in front of the dog and repeat the cue - chances are he will sit. Was he being stubborn before? No, dogs just learn very differently than us and need practice in different circumstances and environments.

Failing to listen to a cue can also be an expression of an emotional state. A dog who is lunging and barking will likely also ignore a known command because they are too worked up to listen. A dog does not want to 'sit' if they feel threatened or scared by an approaching dog - they want to use a behavior that will make the dog go away, usually a bark or lunge. In fact the key to correcting aggression is giving the dog alternatives to these behaviors so they do them automatically.

Anyway, I wanted to write a quick post about these two issues I hear all the time and hopefully this will change your mind.

On a personal note, I got to spend the last 3 days last weekend in Toronto with my training hero Dr Ian Dunbar, I got to buy him a Canadian at the bar and we drank most of saturday night and he shared lots of stories including some about his meeting with Cesar milan for his last book. Great seminar and the true legend of dog training!

Also, I'll be on maritime morning on sunday at 10am discussing dog behavior and taking your questions on fm radio news 95.7 - you can also listen online at