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Old 01-31-2014, 08:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Getting updated on training methods

As I re-enter dog training after not really doing much of it for over a decade I decided I'd take the time to review current ideas. I am open minded and definitely interested in doing what is best to achieve a balanced and rock-solid-reliable and SAFE, SAFE, SAFE animal (particularly around children).

If you saw my intro post you'll know about Rocky and my early (about 15 years ago) navigation from being totally clueless to getting trained by an active Schutzhund competitor.

If I had to characterize the methods I'd say a combination of Monks (of that era) and compulsion/praise. I started with choke chain but ended-up with e-collars. The e-collar work was low-level avoidance style. In operant conditioning terms this would probably be a "negative reinforcement" approach.

No clicker training but still classical conditioning through verbal and physical praise means.

In reviewing what's out there from Leerburg to Ivan Balabanov to random web searches, I see a big push against compulsion training and, at the extremes, towards pure operand conditioning approaches. Of course, I get it, you are not going to teach a dog or a dolphin to do anything half-way complex by yanking them around through the behavior.

Then there are folks like Ian Dunbar (Ian Dunbar DVM - Google Search) who seem to be advocating an almost conversational approach to training dogs.

And then there's the whole pro and anti-Cesar Millan crowds.

I've never had to deal with aggressive, hard, rip-your-head-off, GSD's so I'll be the first one to admit I have no clue when it comes to that side of the world. I have, however, dealt with powerful 120 lbs males who without solid leadership can be a handful to manage. Rocky could be one of them. Not sure yet.

One theme that seems to repeat in my mind when I watch what I'll characterize as the Ian Dunbar school of thought is that not one of these training evangelists show you videos that start with a dog that would rip your head off if you look at it the wrong way. Every single video I've seen shows dogs that are your typical easy-to-train pet dog. Even when they show you correcting "aggressive behavior" I find that the dogs rarely exhibit what I would consider true aggressive behavior. Most issues seem to come from bad or weak leadership.

I know, without one iota of doubt, that there are a myriad of situations where there isn't anything (meaning food) I can put in front of one of my GSD's to lure them away from the situation. On the other hand, I know that a solid well-trained "out" will do the job. And, yes, sometimes tools such as prong collars or e-collars set to higher levels might be the only safe way to positively punish and reduce or stop the behavior.

My gut feeling is that some of the current trend is simply due to a politically correct movement of some sort. It's easy to be ill-informed and say that e-collars are "shock collars" and that prong collars are torture devices. It's far more acceptable to say you can have a conversation with your dog and use loving gentle praise for everything.

Just a few days I ran into a woman walking a little 25 pound dog at the park. Rocky (who's around 95 lbs now) was on my 30 foot leash free to smell and explore. He alerted me that she was coming way before I actually saw her come around the turn. Once I saw her I recalled him with a "heel". He ran to me and did an almost perfect (got a bit tangled) heel. As we passed she said "I wish I had that kind of control. Fluffy just doesn't want to walk. He pulls me all over the place. I don't know what to do!".

After a short conversation I decided she was going to put zero effort into real training. I told he to get a prong collar. Before I could explained how to use it (it isn't a torture device!) she almost yelled out "That is horrible! I would never do that to my dog!".

So this is what I did. I gave her Rocky's leash and asked her to walk him a little. She was kind of scared but did it. I watched as she effortlessly walked him back and forth.

I asked her: Did he pull? She said "not much". To which I replied: So, do you think the prong collar was being used to torture him into walking with you? She got it and we had a conversation. She's getting a prong collar and I'll teach her how to use it.

My point is that I think a lot of these "modern" methods are extreme reactions to people not understanding prong and e-collars in particular.

I'll admit that both of these can be dangerous in the hands of the clueless. A clicker is a far safer choice and it is probably hard for your average pet owner to royally screw-up a dog and cause seriously dangerous situations with a clicker. Much like a baby rattlesnake is worst than an adult rattlesnake, a newbie trainer with a prong or e-collar and no guidance is a dangerous thing. In that context I would definitely point someone to something like Ian Dunbar's method and wish them well.

Coming full circle, I am no interested in updating my approach in order to take advantage of more modern methods. Operant conditioning is number one on that list. I am not fully convinced that compulsory methods are completely out, yet, as I said, I am open minded and want to learn. At this point I am liking what I see from Ivan Balabanov. I am considering buying his complete video series to learn more about his approach. Frankly, I could spend thousands at the Canine Training Systems website just on videos from various trainers. I've already spent a bundle on Leerburg videos (although I find them a little long and repetitive).

I am also looking at the idea of getting updated through local trainers. I am going to see OJ Knighten (K9 Coach Dog Training) on Monday and have already met Michael Kempkes (Wustenberger-Land).

Any thoughts, opinions, ideas, links and suggestions?


Thanks!

(sorry for the long post).
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Old 01-31-2014, 09:33 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Something you didn't state is what your training goals are. Much more thought and care needs to go into training behaviors for a competition dog than a pet. Pet owners don't care about a tuck sit or lightening fast flip to finish.

IMHO, many methods of training are effective. Sometimes it is about what best fits the dog and trainer. A highly motivated dog with a lot of drive is easiest to train with positive reinforcement. A dog that doesn't care much for food or toys is best suited for escape/avoidance training. That being said, these situations can be reversed with good results if you manage the dogs drive by withholding meals (as an example). I feel the keys to effective training are, the handler understanding the training methods used, engagement with the handler, effective communication, consistency, and having a goal for the training. Classical conditioning works. Operant conditioning works (marker training). Freeshaping and luring both work. Koehler escape training works. What are you comfortable with? What finished product would you like to see in your dog?

All of the people you mention have successfully trained dogs. Their methods all work. There are complete systems available on DVD that take a dog from puppyhood through trialing. If you wish to educate yourself instead of mentoring under a trainer, I would suggest going with a system and sticking to it to avoid conflicting behaviors and communication.

If you decide to work with a trainer, I would find a trainer that you are comfortable with, that understands the system you are training in, and advocates the training principles used in the system.

I personally recommend the Michael Ellis system, as I agree with the principles of his training methods, I believe his videos are easy to understand, his methods are easily implemented by me as a trainer, and there is a great body of material available on his training methods.

I also use low level e-collar / prong collar training (which is not -R, but +P -P) escape training, combined with rewards to shape and proof behaviors. With pet and working dogs, this can lead to very solid obedience in a very short time.

Something that few training systems address is how to live with your dog. Deciding how you are going to shape and manage behaviors in your home is going to effect how you will ultimately communicate with your dog, and will determine your relationship and bond. If you apply heavy compulsion in house manners, that will bleed over into formal training and overall relationship with the dog. Your dog is learning every moment it is interacting with you, so consistency is important on and off the training field.

This is all just my opinion, and I'm sure you will receive other advice that is valid. I know this probably didn't help much, but I feel the more tools you have in your toolbox, and the better you understand those tools, the more effective trainer you can be.
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Old 01-31-2014, 10:10 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I feel the keys to effective training are, the handler understanding the training methods used, engagement with the handler, effective communication, consistency, and having a goal for the training.
Bingo.

In my opinion, the biggest predictor of success is the handler's understanding of, ability to correctly implement, and commitment to using whatever training system you prefer.

I highlight commitment because I think it is the most critical factor. Every training plan, and every team, is going to hit roadblocks and hurdles at some point. If you are predisposed to seeing these as signs that your whole approach is a failure, you will give up at that point.

Conversely, if you're committed to the approach, you might adjust your specific tactics in that moment, but you probably won't quit on whatever underlying emotions and beliefs led you to prefer that approach in the first place. And IMO that makes the difference between who can get a particular methodology to work for them and who can't.
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Old 01-31-2014, 10:20 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Ditto on what david said but id go ivan over ellis but both are worth a long long look.
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Old 02-01-2014, 10:56 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Something you didn't state is what your training goals are.
Good point. Frankly, I am still trying to decide. Deep down inside I am interested in getting Rocky into some serious training. The two areas that come to mind are Schutzhund and Search and Rescue. The latter would obviously be very satisfying from the standpoint of contributing to society in a meaningful way. I am still evaluating these ideas based on the family and work dynamic versus the time commitment this would represent. I can get the kids involved (and teach them!) which would be additive to family time (a good thing).


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I feel the keys to effective training are, the handler understanding the training methods used, engagement with the handler, effective communication, consistency, and having a goal for the training.
Agreed.


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If you wish to educate yourself instead of mentoring under a trainer
If I get serious about this I'd definitely like to work under a knowledgeable worker in order to get my training skills updated, reviewed and corrected. That's why I am meeting the local trainers I can find within a reasonable radius.


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I personally recommend the Michael Ellis system
I like what he does very much. I wish he gave seminars near Los Angeles. I could justify going to Northern California fora weekend or two but it's hard to get away for a week or more.


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Something that few training systems address is how to live with your dog.
Good point. Everyone at home has to be onboard. In many ways this alone puts something like clicker training in a new light. It's very easy to teach a six year old kid to help clicker train your dog. On the other hand, it's probably nearly impossible to have the same kid correctly and effectively use prong or e-collars.
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Old 02-01-2014, 11:35 AM   #6 (permalink)
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"It's far more acceptable to say you can have a conversation with your dog and use loving gentle praise for everything."


Isn't that the answer to everything this day and age .......LOLOL

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Old 02-01-2014, 12:37 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Great post. I recently started a thread around different training methods for certain situations. There are so many methods out there.
I also agree with the others that said it depends on the level of training, the dog, and the handler on what methods work best.
In order to expand my knowledge in other training methods and after alot of advice from the board members here and some research on my own, I decided to order the Ivan Balabanov DVD set. I should be recieving them this week. I will let everybody know what I think of them after I watch the DVDs.
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Old 02-01-2014, 01:23 PM   #8 (permalink)
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One theme that seems to repeat in my mind when I watch what I'll characterize as the Ian Dunbar school of thought is that not one of these training evangelists show you videos that start with a dog that would rip your head off if you look at it the wrong way. Every single video I've seen shows dogs that are your typical easy-to-train pet dog. Even when they show you correcting "aggressive behavior" I find that the dogs rarely exhibit what I would consider true aggressive behavior. Most issues seem to come from bad or weak leadership.
I agree with most of what the other commenters have said, so I won't rehash all that (I took Sirius Puppy classes with Dena, Keefer, and Halo, which were founded by Ian Dunbar, and I worked with a private trainer, Lisa Maze, who is Michael Ellis's business partner in the Loup du Soleil kennel, so I've used a variety of training methods with my dogs), I just wanted to comment on this part of your post. My take on it is how many of those "rip your head off" dogs wouldn't ever have gotten that way in the first place if they hadn't had clueless owners, poor leadership, and no or ineffective training? As you said, most of them are probably not truly aggressive, and I'd tend to agree with you about that. So I guess it depends on whether you're attempting to undo what what you or someone else screwed up from the get-go, or you're starting fresh with a blank slate and building a good foundation.

I am VERY pro-active about preventing problem behavior from the very beginning. I use NILIF, I impose structure and discipline, I control their access to what they value and make them work for it, even if that just means a sit and "watch".That doesn't mean my dogs are perfect, but the more motivational I can be from a young age, the more I can show my dogs that getting what THEY want means doing what *I* want, the more I can teach them to make good choices, to teach them to control their impulses, and to reinforce attention and other default behaviors, the less corrections I need to use down the road. I will make my dogs do things if I need to, but I also want them to WANT to.
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Old 02-01-2014, 02:54 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I took Sirius Puppy classes <snip> I worked with a private trainer, Lisa Maze, who is Michael Ellis's
Can you summarize the difference between the two approaches? Ian Dunbar has an online version of the Sirius program. I am considering all options at this point.

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many of those "rip your head off" dogs wouldn't ever have gotten that way in the first place if they hadn't had clueless owners, poor leadership, and no or ineffective training
Yes. Absolutely. Regardless of how one might feel about Cesar Millan's work and style all you have to do is watch a few of his shows to reveal a common thread, in your words: clueless owners, poor leadership and no or ineffective training. It's almost an inside joke at home. My kids have gotten to the point where they can call it every time we come across a DW episode.

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it depends on whether you're attempting to undo what what you or someone else screwed up from the get-go, or you're starting fresh with a blank slate and building a good foundation.
Oh, I am not. Other than annoying --but perfectly normal-- puppy behavior (nipping, jumping, being a pain in the behind) I have no issues with any of my dogs. My statement was more of an expression of doubt about the effectiveness of these feel-good methods in the case of truly difficult dogs. Anybody can teach a good student. The true tests come at the extremes. One might even argue that the true test is in avoiding the extremes.

I guess I am also saying that credibility would be boosted significantly if the feel-good trainers demonstrated their methods with challenging dogs.

Another aspect I seldom see is the dynamic once you start adding dogs to the mix. Scenario: You are walking two or three GSD's by yourself. On leash, of course. Something comes across --a dog, a cat, a rattlesnake, whatever. One of the GSD's goes off. The others trigger off this and go off as well. How do you deal with it? You are not going to get anywhere clicking away or shoving food in their mouths. On the other hand, between prong collars and e-collars and all of the training that went with them I know I can control the situation very quickly.

That's the kind of thing I don't see in these methods. I don't see real-life extreme cases. I want my seven year old kid to be able to walk two GSD's and have full control. This has nothing to do with training for competitions. This is just real life. I wish the Ian Dunbar's of the world would devote more time to such scenarios.

I am not saying that the operant conditioning methods don't work. I am saying that the guru's seem to go out of their way to only show easy student cases. I've been to the dog pound and seen dogs that launch an attack if you so much as look at them. I'd like to see one of these guys take such a dog and click them into behaving like a trustworthy and reliable pet and trust that same dog around their own kids. I have a feeling most of these trainers would be calling on the methods (or help) of someone like Cesar Millan very quickly.

If you watch dogs in a pack correct and "train" an unruly dog you know there's nothing nice or politically correct about it. It's pure animal communication. And they understand that very well. "Behave this way and I rip your head off" is what my older female tells Rocky when he gets out of control. And he stops. And he has been bothering her less and less. Within two weeks they were sleeping in the same pen. She didn't bring him food to reinforce good behavior. Or take away a toy to punish it. No, she growled, showed teeth and charged him as a last resort. I've seen this a million times. And it works. Of course, she is not trying to teach him how to open a refrigerator door. Different skills require different training methods.

Based on this my conclusion tends to be that there's a room for both approaches. There are things a dog is going to understand far quicker and far more effectively if you use language and methods he is wired by DNA to understand.

You can tell a kid not to touch the hot stove a million times. They touch it once and it never happens again. Two key points there: First. They still touch the darn thing. They eventually do. No matter how many times you told them not to. Two. One harsh self correction and the whole thing is over. Dogs are no different.

Now, if you are teaching what I might term "unnatural behaviors" then, yes, you need operant conditioning. You are not going to teach an Orca to jump through a hoop by forcefully hoisting her out of the water and through the ring. That much is obvious.
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Old 02-01-2014, 04:46 PM   #10 (permalink)
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My statement was more of an expression of doubt about the effectiveness of these feel-good methods in the case of truly difficult dogs. Anybody can teach a good student. The true tests come at the extremes. One might even argue that the true test is in avoiding the extremes.

I guess I am also saying that credibility would be boosted significantly if the feel-good trainers demonstrated their methods with challenging dogs.
I have found that rewards based training is particularly effective with challenging dogs. They are much harder to work against, using punitive training, because their resistance is so much higher. Other than protecting myself in an actual attack or proofing trained behavior, I try to avoid corrections on challenging dogs because they are counterproductive to the relationship. The last thing I want is a strong willed dog believing that he can't trust me. I want him to know that getting what he wants is through positive interaction with me.

My point, which is quite to the opposite of yours, is that the harder the dog, the less productive it is to try and make him do something. I don't want that fight. It is way easier to get reliable results, especially off leash, with a dog that trusts you.


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I am not saying that the operant conditioning methods don't work. I am saying that the guru's seem to go out of their way to only show easy student cases. I've been to the dog pound and seen dogs that launch an attack if you so much as look at them. I'd like to see one of these guys take such a dog and click them into behaving like a trustworthy and reliable pet and trust that same dog around their own kids. I have a feeling most of these trainers would be calling on the methods (or help) of someone like Cesar Millan very quickly.
Something important to note: punishment is part of operant conditioning as well. Compulsion based training is based on operant conditioning. Handler gives command with stim (+P), dog complies to avoid stim and it goes away (-P). Rewards based training uses treats / toys (+R) and withholding rewards (-R). There are 4 quadrants.

I agree that before I allow inexperienced people to walk a dog, the dog should be proofed on leash manners. I do use +P to proof behaviors. There is a big difference in showing the dog there are consequences for disobeying a command through communication using verbal correction, light stim or leash pressure and hitting the dog with a level 7 prong correction. Lots of gray area there.

Something you don't see Cesar do is handle a KNPV trained Dutchie that will come up the leash if you are unfair. That dog knows he can hurt you, and isn't afraid of you at all. I understand that you aren't dealing with this. I only bring up this extreme because handling truly dangerous dogs has shown me the pitfalls of trying to dominate an animal to achieve compliance.

I personally took a very aggressive working dog and clicked our way to compliance. She is now safe around people, off leash, in drive. I'm not going to say there were no corrections involved, but most were verbal. Only 3 physical corrections were harsh at all. We even had a "Come to Jesus" because she attacked me coming out of her kennel, but that didn't mean that I had to physically dominate her in training. She learned how to get what she wanted through positive interaction with me, and eventually other people. She would have remained the aggressive jerk she had become had I did what every other trainer had done; try to correct away the behavior you don't want.

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If you watch dogs in a pack correct and "train" an unruly dog you know there's nothing nice or politically correct about it. It's pure animal communication. And they understand that very well. "Behave this way and I rip your head off" is what my older female tells Rocky when he gets out of control. And he stops. And he has been bothering her less and less. Within two weeks they were sleeping in the same pen. She didn't bring him food to reinforce good behavior. Or take away a toy to punish it. No, she growled, showed teeth and charged him as a last resort. I've seen this a million times. And it works. Of course, she is not trying to teach him how to open a refrigerator door. Different skills require different training methods.
I hear this a lot. I guess I understand where you are coming from. When she gives him a growl and shows teeth, he understands the warning because he is a dog. He has been learning this language from the time he was born. He knows that if he responds properly, she will back down. When he keeps pushing it and she has a outburst because he ignored the signals, it may be loud and showy, but there is rarely pain involved. But you are missing an important point. You are not a dog, and your dog knows that.

Look at it this way. Dogs are relatively dumb compared to humans. They have us beat in a lot of physical ways, but we have the brains. Why would I take the training advice of someone with the understanding and experience of a toddler? I am going to use my big brain and outthink my dog. Dogs use the tools they have, big teeth - little brain, to get the job done. Aren't I smarter than that?

Sure, we can learn a lot about dogs from observing their interaction, like how they react to certain stimulus. A dog that gets corrected all the time by a pack of dogs will shrink away in fear, constantly avoiding harsh punishment by avoiding doing anything new. I don't want my dog to do that. It will also steal things and run away to get what it wants. I don't want that either.

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Based on this my conclusion tends to be that there's a room for both approaches. There are things a dog is going to understand far quicker and far more effectively if you use language and methods he is wired by DNA to understand.
Dogs are wired to understand classical and operant conditioning, all 4 quadrants. Pavlov didn't teach his dogs to salivate.

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You can tell a kid not to touch the hot stove a million times. They touch it once and it never happens again. Two key points there: First. They still touch the darn thing. They eventually do. No matter how many times you told them not to. Two. One harsh self correction and the whole thing is over. Dogs are no different.
Hot stove scenario. You turn the burner on full blast and allow the kit to burn himself, or you place a pan of water on the stove and heat it until it is uncomfortable and then show the kid what hot means. I agree. Dogs are no different, but trainers are.

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Now, if you are teaching what I might term "unnatural behaviors" then, yes, you need operant conditioning. You are not going to teach an Orca to jump through a hoop by forcefully hoisting her out of the water and through the ring. That much is obvious.
I'm not trying to blow apart your post, but there are different ways to approach training. I used to think like you do. I got results training with compulsion. I have since learned that there are other effective ways to interact with the dog, and that they lead to more reliable learning, better understanding and communication, and a better relationship with the dog. I use punishment in training when it is necessary, but I use my brain first to assess what the consequences will be.
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