Friday, November 28, 2008

Training Rant - Bean Bags and Chains

Ok, so I know this lovely Golden Retriever. He's almost a senior, has been owned by the same people from the day he left his mama's side. Lovely story, eh? Well, here's something to think about ... This dog has some agression issues. Mainly it was in and around the food bowl. It started innocently enough, as a puppy, he would growl at his food while eating it as fast as he could. The owners thought it was cute.

**I can NOT stress enough to people ... If it's not going to be cute as an adult, then why is it cute as a puppy?**

Ok, so that sounds not so bad, right? Well as the dog got older, the growling increased. It was so subtle that the owners didn't notice. As the growling increased, so did the obsession. He began turning his head towards people and growling while eating as fast as he could. This increased until it turned into charging.

Well, you know the people didn't notice or worry about it until their own dog started charging at them! Why oh why didn't they care when he was growling??!!? Ok, so now they have realized they have a problem. At this same time, the agression flooded into anything the dog had or wanted ... toys, bones, food, couches, floor space.

So they call a big name dog training team who come in to assess the dog. The company says "no problem, with a little training, we can stop this behaviour!" The company gives them some very detailed instructions, invites them to weekly training sessions and gives the owners a handful of bean bags and chains.

"What is this all about?" ... is what you might be asking if you had experience with dogs. Unfortunately, these people did not and they took the word of these "professionals" as gospel. So they did as they were told. Every time the dog was eating and growling, they threw bean bags and chains at him. The training company said it would "desensitize" the dog.

What do you think this did?? Well, you'd better believe that this increased the behaviour!! I would like to pause in my relaying of the story to say ... asshats! *headdesk, headdesk, headdesk*

At that point, instead of fixing the problem, it got worse (no kidding!). When it was meal time, the people took the food to the kitchen, dropped the bowl on the floor for the dog and were forced to turn and run out of the room for fear that their own dog would attack them.

They have since found a NEW trainer who is helping them to work through these agression issues, but it has become a long and hard struggle when it should have been something so simple to fix! Luckily for the dog, their owners (who may be dumb people!) really love that galoot.


Now I need to say something that may end up controversial and remember, this is my opinion. A lot of people "test" dogs by playing with their food. In the home ... Why would you do that?! What better way to create a food obsession by saying, "here Fido, here's your food ... nah I changed my mind, It's mine ... ok, here's your food ... nah changed my mind". Good grief, just by typing that it makes me frustrated!! I hate to say it, but if I were a dog, I certainly would NOT respond well to that. (Yes, I am aware that many professionals do this, but I don't agree that it is a necessary test)

If you do see signs of agression, please talk to MULTIPLE behaviour specialists, read some books on your own (I recommend any books by Dr. Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell, or Karen Pryor), and make your own conclusions about whether or not that professional is offering you sound advice. If you choose to trust that professional, then hire him/her on and have them help teach you how to train your dog.

I would like to suggest that the person should have their CPDT papers (Certification for Pet Dog Trainers), but unfortunately, this does not guarantee that the trainer will be any good with behavioural problems. Most CPDT's are great with obedience, but many aren't versed overly well when it comes to complex behavioural problems (note that I did say "many" ... some are good with behaviours, I'm sure - just not any I've met). For those trainers that I know, the ones that are awesome at training obedience don't know how to deal with serious behaviours, and vice versa.

And please remember people ... there is NO circumstance that would require you to throw chains and bean bags at your dog ... it will only make the behaviours worse and prove to the rest of us that you are an asshat that shouldn't own a dog. Go get a pet rock. I have a few for sale if you'd like?

17 comments:

Barb said...

Great post! I will second the opinion that many good obedience trainers aren't skilled at dealing with problem behaviors. I can say that because I am such a trainer. I've put an AKC Utility title on a dog - a Great Dane, yet! - and have taught obedience classes for many years at many different levels. I can teach you how to teach your dog to heel, or retrieve, or jump or find an article with your scent on it. But I'm pretty clueless with all but the most simple behavioral issues. I have been fortunate enough not to have had any serious issues with my own personal dogs, and I just don't have any experience in that area.

But at least I AM smart enought to recognize that, and to refer people who come to me with serious behavior problems to a trainer who CAN deal effectively with them! :-)

Barb said...

Oh, and speaking of food guarding. One of my pet peeves is people (a lot of shelters do this) who use the fake hand to test so-called "food aggression".

The thing is, your average dog is PLENTY smart enough to know the difference between a fake hand on a stick, and a human hand. Start poking him in the face with the stick hand while he's eating, and unless he's been very well acclimated to odd goings-on (which, since he wound up in a shelter is a long shot) or is naturally very mellow, he's going to tell you to cut it the heck out. Whereas that same dog might well not be nearly as quick to snap at an actual human arm.

I'm not suggesting that the shelter workers risk their own hands by reaching down toward a strange dog while he's eating, but I don't think the hand-on-a-stick is a fair test.

eleanor_rigby said...

Really great post! It helps you realize how a small behavior can grow into a big problem. I'm not sure how I feel about the dog dish being given, then taken away, then given, then taken.....In one way if the dog is used to his dish being touched and moved, and picked up, and anything you can think of from day one....I would think the dog would be desensitized to anyone around his food, or other posessions.......I could be wrong. I do think that the more a puppy is exposed to the better.....

OK, that being said, what do you think would be the best way to deal with food aggression? Any ideas? (my dogs don't have this problem, but just curious)

I think it may be associated with the 'pecking order' of the 'pack'. They don't respect you as the leader....???

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Barb - yes, that hand on a stick bothers me. Can't stand it. I agree with your thoughts - it's a stick.

Honestly, I wish all trainers would know and understand their limits. I guess that could be said for a lot of different things though ...

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

eleanor_rigby - it really depends on the dog. Not every dog will respond the same with each method and the first thing is to understand that. IMHO You are absolutely right about the lack of respect.

I have seen methods work with different dogs. Keep in mind that if there is food agression, usually there are other things that cause it (instability somewhere else).

I truly believe that behaviours all come from somewhere and that sometimes the best way to teach a dog not to do something is to correct that which causes the behaviour. (maybe not the behaviour itself)

So, I had a dog who was growling when eating. For this guy, a verbal correction "Name, No" resolved it. I have found this doesn't work for most dogs unless you are really thought highly of by them.

I have had other dogs (don't forget, these dogs I refer to are often foster dogs with undetermined history) where you need to feed them multiple times a day (think 4 or more) to get them used to the fact that you are feeding them. Tag that along with some good old obedience training (with ONLY positive rewards, no corrections), and also working with toys and the "Out" or "Drop It" command, then usually you can curb the behaviour. It seems unrelated, but it really is one and the same and it does work.

I have also seen methods where you feed the dog, then call them and get them to stop eating to pay attention to you. You do this by offering something WONDERFUL that they can't say no to (like hot dogs) in exchange. Then, once they take your offered treat, you let them finish their meal.

I have found that for even the worst dogs, you can usually teach them with that last, trading, method.

Like I said, each dog is different and there are different methods for each dog. Food agression will almost always develop into resource guarding and vice versa. This means that you may have an issue where someone comes over (perhaps a child?) to play fetch with your dog and the dog bites. I've seen it happen more times than I'd like to count.

Most behaviours can be corrected indirectly.

GoLightly said...

Great Post seconded!
My epiphany-producing Cesar has done a couple shows on food aggression. I can't get over that pseudo-trainers' bad idea! Oh, yes, throw things at the dog.
I have read all of those great authors you've mentioned. I think Brian Kilcommons has the right idea too. At least his book was a god-send to me, as a first-time puppy mommy!
My puppy is fine with food. I trained her from the beginning to wait for my permission to eat, and then occasionally asked her to stop eating. When she did, she got another bit of food. Now, I can walk in, move the bowl, whatever!
It is amazing what some owners consider cute:)
Thanks:)

Barb said...

Although - like I said before - I'm no behaviorist, another method I've heard of for resource guarding/food aggression is to feed the dog by hand. Basically you sit or stand there with the dog's bowl out of the dog's reach, and just scoop up little handfuls and give them to the dog one at a time until the food is all gone. Then you let the dog lick out the bowl. Obviously there are some dogs that this wouldn't be safe to do, but the idea is to teach the dog that human hands in the food is a GOOD thing.
What do you all think of this method? I've never used it, it's just one I've heard of.

eleanor_rigby said...

Barb,
To me, feeding the dog out of his/her bowl by hand, sounds like a really good idea. when I give my dogs treats, I always feed them right from my hand and make sure they take it nicely. It would also make the dog realize that you are in control. The other idea of stopping the dog several times to pay attention to you sounds good too. I do think that some dogs may have a genetic trait to be more possesive... I used to have a chihuahua that became very posessive of my daughter.

Splash said...

Throw chains are pretty old school, but (ahem) those of us old to remember them know that they were used to DISTRACT. You threw the chain to make noise. Nowadays, many trainers use pennies in an empty coke can. Same idea.

Although we may not use those methods anymore, it is worthwhile reading Koehler's books. Some "new" ideas, Doggie Zen for one, are actually in Koehler's books. It pays to study history!

Like Barb, I can train obedience and solve behavior problems with my own breed, but don't ask me about aggression or training little dogs. I have no clue!

Splash's mom

GoLightly said...

Splash:
I read Koehler first. I wish I hadn't. His methods encouraged harsher methods, IMO. I just about collapsed my Rusty's poor trachea, early on. Thank god, I then looked elsewhere for more training books.
Re-direct is one thing. Pain is quite another. Koehlers' methods did not help the new dog owner. "Hanging a dog until he faints". Yeah, try that, newbie owner. Great.
Carol Lea Benjamin helped me get back to kind/soft.
Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Patricia McDonnell, Brian Kilcommons. Ian Dunbar.
I think Cesar Milan is a miracle trainer.
I think Koehler was a bit of a sadist. I think he trained cowed, fearful creatures.
JMO.
:)

Splash said...

Hey wait don't get me wrong!!
I'm not recommending you follow Koehler's methods! It's just history. You can read about old methods without using them, right? I myself tend to use a clicker, have been since about '88 when I heard this new guy in town, Ian Dunbar, speak along with his friend Karen the dolphin trainer. :)

But I still read all the books I can get my hands on, even the really old ones! Basically, I listen, read, and try to learn. I believe if you learn one thing from a book or conference, even if it is "I really dislike this guy's training style", then it was worthwhile.

Or I guess I could have said don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, that would have been simpler.

LegendsLiveOn said...

Great post! I can't stand trainers who harm or advise causing harm to you dog, and the dummies who go along with it. Hitting a dog never solved any problems.

I've never had problems with any of my dogs. My two boys are guard dogs, but well trained. I've never had to touch them, just verbal commands and basic obedience... and they're bigger than me. :-)

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Barb - I have heard of and used the "feed bit by bit by hand" and this does work, however you have to be VERY careful. Depending on the dog, it may create an obsessive reaction to the food, or you may be bitten. For those dogs that have serious food/resource guarding I wouldn't get that close. I would start with the trade offs and work towards feeding by hand

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

further to my above comment...

when working with food/resource guarding dogs, you must always remember safety! If I were working with a serious case, I would never want to get close enough that they could take my arm off

It always depends on the dog.

GoLightly said...

Splash
I am SO jealous.... Karen is one of my heroes! Lads before The Wind, what a book!
"Don't shoot the Dog" just kept firing off light bulbs all over my head!
I hear ya. I finally stopped reading after I confused the hell out of my old Rusty dog, when she was 12 or so. I read a new "technique" for leaving them, and tried it. Poor dog looked for me for half an hour, according to my husband. If I'd done what I'd always done, she'd have been fine:)
I'm the worst for too many methods all talking in my head at once at once. I just try to go with the flow now:)
I haven't STOPPED reading I guess, I mean I'm confident enough, FINALLY, to listen to what I nned to at that moment..Discard the rest:)
Oh, yes, I did read Brian Kilcommons and he was a god-send, for me as a first time puppy owner. I'd never HAD a puppy. Wow, what a difference. My first several had been 1.5 year old rescues..
But no, I'm not good with other people's dogs. Little min-pin at the vets the other day skeered the crap out of me. Little tyrant:)

That's what good training is, I think. Use what works kindly, with the least amount of effort, for the dog & trainer.
And with my kelpies, being careful about what they will train me to
do;)
Scritches to all!

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

I haven't read any Kilcommons, but now I'll have to get one of his books! Sounds great. I'm currently waiting on the arrival of "Click to Calm" by Emma Parsons. It should be here any day ... the anticipation always kills me!

I don't think I will ever stop reading new/different books - especially regarding dogs. To do so would suggest that you stop learning. :)

Also, I haven't seen much Cesar. I watched an episode every week for about 6 months or so, but then stopped watching ... I found he was too hands on with the dogs and that his techniques don't work with many rescue dogs. I haven't seen him use chains, so can't comment on that.

I have read one of Cesar's books and I do agree with certain things he preaches, but I guess you'll see that with every trainer. You pick apart what you like and agree with and discard the rest.

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