Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dog is My Co-Pilot: Friendship & Adventure

dog with chick on head

Cedar, our five-year-old yellow Lab, is extremely calm and gentle. We have laying hens, and one day, when I took some of the chicks into the yard to play, Cedar let them climb all over her. The chicks were very curious about Cedar, and Cedar welcomed them as they went about discovering who she was. Watching them gave me the idea for this photo.

After I set the chick on her head, Cedar remained very still, as though she knew that was the best way to keep the chick safe. The chick was quite content there, and probably would have stayed on Cedar’s head all day if I hadn’t eventually helped her down. (The chick is a Rhode Island Red; when she grows up, she’ll lay brown eggs.)

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why I’m Not a Purely Positive Dog Trainer

First of all, I have certainly never referred to myself as a ‘purely positive’ dog trainer, but I have heard many others – usually pretty vocal opponents of humane modern dog training – label me and others with that description. It seems to be somewhat of a dog training unicorn, in that there are those who still believe firmly in using ‘anything that works’ with dogs, who speak authoritatively (and usually derisively) about the ‘purely positive’ crowd. The problem is, from where I stand, I honestly cannot think of one trainer I know that is in that mythical ‘purely positive’ club. It is like the people that hurl the ‘accusation’ are not actually aware that their target does not really exist in real life.

Traditional trainers (and users of the ‘purely positive’ moniker) generally believe in using whatever works when training dogs. That can often include positive reinforcement and rewards, but it also means a healthy dose of physical or emotional punishment that creates some amount of pain, fear and/or intimidation in order to get the dog to comply. These trainers prefer to call themselves ‘balanced’, meaning they use a balanced approach which includes all available positive and negative tools and methods when training dogs. I am not a fan of ‘balanced training.’

So as a dog trainer, what do I believe, and have I changed my tune since working closely with law enforcement K9 units during my web series, Guardians of the Night?

Here is where it gets tricky: when I started Positively almost 10 years ago, there was no description I could find that accurately described what I and countless other dog trainers like me did and believed. There were lots of names – force-free, reward-based, positive reinforcement, fear-free, and, of course, purely positive – but when you dug a bit into what these phrases really represented, there were holes or inconsistencies when compared to what we actually practiced. As our current political climate is re-teaching us, words matter. So it was important to come up with an accurate description of what we believe and do as dog trainers.

So I created a name: Positive Training. It’s not anything official. You won’t find it in scientific journals or hear a behavioral or cognitive scientist use the term. I coined the term for myself and the thousands of other dog trainers who did not have a neatly-packaged phrase to fit what we practiced and preached. I will get into how I define Positive Training in a minute, but first it is important to reiterate what it is not.

Positive Training is not ‘purely positive’.  Never has been.

Applied behavioral science has provided us something called the four quadrants of operant conditioning, which is a series of terms relating to the various influences that increase or reduce certain behaviors from happening. In short, here is what they are:

  • Positive punishment – adding something aversive to a situation to reduce unwanted behavior (i.e., hitting a dog)
  • Negative punishment – removing something desirable to reduce unwanted behavior (i.e., taking food or a favorite toy away from a dog)
  • Positive reinforcement – adding something desirable to increase the likelihood of wanted behavior reoccurring (i.e., giving a dog a food reward for responding to your cue, such as when you ask a dog to sit)
  • Negative reinforcement – removing something aversive to increase the frequency of a wanted behavior (i.e., stopping a continual shock in order to get a dog to return)

Now I honestly do not know for sure what people mean when they use the term ‘purely positive’, but my best guess is that they mean only ever using positive reinforcement from the list of the four quadrants above. The problem is, that is not what most positive trainers do.

In terms of the four quadrants, positive trainers practice both positive reinforcement AND negative punishment. Yes, we reward good behaviors to increase the likelihood of wanted behaviors reoccurring, and we do this in a variety ways – food rewards, toy rewards, life rewards (going for a walk), praise, affection, attention, etc.  And yes, we also remove things that dogs want in order to reduce unwanted behaviors – taking away a treat or a toy as well as utilizing other ways to get the behavior we want – ignoring, interrupting or redirecting behaviors we do not like onto alternate behaviors that encourage the dog’s success. 

Positive trainers focus on teaching behaviors we want the dog to do, rather than focusing on punishing behaviors we do not like. We also put great emphasis on giving dogs an element of choice, using natural motivators to encourage problem solving and techniques to increase confidence and promote emotional stability, rather than exacerbating emotional anxiety and instability with traditional techniques and devices intended to suppress negative behavior without understanding why the behavior is occurring and with little emphasis on teaching the dog to do something different in a similar situation.

Aside from the fact that it appears to focus only on positive reinforcement and discount negative punishment, ‘purely positive’ also does not work as a description because everyone’s definition of what can be defined as aversive is different – and that is even before we take into consideration what a dog might find aversive.

Some may argue that taking a dog’s favorite toy away when he is misbehaving (negative punishment, and squarely within what a positive trainer may do) is aversive. When I have to close the kitchen door to keep my dog Sadie from accessing the rest of the house because I have to clean the floors, for example, if you asked her, I’m sure she would tell you that closing the door is aversive for her. Positive trainers routinely do many things that may easily be called ‘aversive’ depending on your definition of the word and your subjective opinion of what is undesirable from the dog’s point of view.  Everyone has a different view on what an aversive is and although we might think something is not aversive to the dog, it is sometimes hard to tell because we don’t know what the dog is actually thinking and the reaction might be so subtle, we miss it. We might think something is not aversive, but it is to the dog. Going out and leaving the dog at home is commonly unpleasant for many dogs, especially ones that get distressed when separated from their human family. It was not your attention to be aversive, but your action of leaving is. So in that sense, again, positive trainers are not ‘purely positive’.

So where do we draw the line with the definition of aversive? How do positive trainers like me define something as an aversive we won’t use?

It’s pretty simple, really. Anything that causes pain, fear, or intimidation to a dog is something that a positive trainer will not use. Note that I did not include frustration. It is possible for a dog to become frustrated and sometimes a little stressed while being trained by a positive trainer, and while that is something worth trying to minimize, it is sometimes unavoidable. But positive trainers will never use a tool or method which intentionally intimidates the dog, or causes pain or fear.

That means my definition of ‘positive training’ goes way beyond just the four quadrants. In short, positive training is comprised of four pillars:

  1. Use of positive reinforcement (and, for you behavior geeks out there, negative punishment)
  2. Avoiding the use of intimidation, physical punishment or fear
  3. Truly understanding the common misconceptions about the word ‘dominance’
  4. Appreciating the dog’s point of view when training

My work with police dogs has been hugely rewarding in many different ways, but it has also brought out the (usually incredibly vocal) traditional trainers who mislabel positive training as ‘purely positive’ and assume that it cannot or will not work on high-drive dogs like police K9s. It can be threatening when something that you believe to your core is shaken and someone shows you that there is another way. I know – I have been there myself at various times as a dog trainer. But what I find extremely exciting is sharing the opportunity to expand our knowledge of what drives (and indeed what negatively affects) these amazing creatures, both as household pets and as the ‘Ferraris of the dog world’, as police dogs are often called.

Believe me, I would be the first person to hold up my hand and say a working dog such as a police dog cannot be positively trained (using my definition of positive training and not ‘purely positive’) if it were true, but that is simply not the case.  After nearly five years of filming with different k-9 units in different countries, I have seen all methods being used and that includes hundreds of high drive, top class, badass police dogs that have been trained without the use of chokes, shock /e-collars, prong collars or techniques that intimidate and suppress behavior. If it can be done successfully by these departments, then the argument that positive training does not work on high drive working dogs is now debunked.

So call me whatever you want – I’ve been called worse, I can assure you – but stop calling me and other trainers like me ‘purely positive’. It does not make any sense and betrays a lack of either interest or understanding in what progressive positive dog trainers do every day. We are living in a golden age when our collective understanding of animal behavior (specifically dogs) is exploding, and as a positive trainer, it is a beautiful thing to see how effectively, quickly, safely and humanely we can learn from and with our dogs to help make the world a bit better for all of us.

The post Why I’m Not a Purely Positive Dog Trainer first appeared on Victoria Stilwell Positively.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

The post Forget About Stress & Anxiety appeared first on Fearful Dogs.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

The post Forget About Stress & Anxiety appeared first on Fearful Dogs.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dog Helps to Monitor Air Pollution

Pollution monitoring team of teen and his dog

A boy and his dog are out to show that air pollution can be a lot worse closer to the ground—specifically, right around the height of a toddler or a stroller (and of many dogs). Surprisingly, that’s not the zone where air pollution is monitored in the UK, which has some of the highest asthma rates in Europe. There, the monitors, mounted on lampposts or signs, are nearly five feet off the ground.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rescue Workers From Across the Country Join the California Wildfire Animal Rescue Efforts

Last week, I mentioned that there were a number of people coming to help locally with the emergency animal shelters established here in Butte County, California, where the North Complex West Zone fire, formerly known as the Bear Fire, has killed 15 people, burned at least 750 homes, and displaced thousands.

The fire was originally started by lightning storms on August 18. Locally, it was controlled and extinguished, but in a neighboring county, it burned in remote, mountainous areas until September 8, when it re-entered our county, driven by a ferocious windstorm. The wind pushed the fire more than 30 miles in the direction of the town where I live, Oroville, California, burning through the small town of Berry Creek and other even smaller remote communities. Within just a couple of days, the existing facility that can shelter small animals in emergencies such as this was holding a couple hundred dogs and cats.

I know this is just one fire among many burning across the western United States right now, so I’m even more humbled by the fact that volunteers have arrived from far and near to help the displaced and evacuated animals in my community.

Hundreds of dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and smaller pets, and dozens of horses, llamas, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens and other barn yard birds are being sheltered in three different locations in my town. Caring for them are a few animal control officers and dozens of volunteers. Many of the animals are considered “stray,” having been brought to the shelters by first responders on the fire lines, or by citizens who found them running loose as they themselves evacuated from the fires. Others were brought to the shelters by their owners, who have either lost their homes or are being kept from their homes by road closures in the area where the fire is either still actively being fought, or where the damage from the fire and firefight have rendered the area unsafe (downed power lines, trees fallen or falling across the roads, roads damaged by bulldozers, etc.).

As with the infamous Camp Fire of 2018, it’s expected that it will take weeks, if not months, for most of the displaced animals to be identified and/or picked up by their owners. Some may be surrendered to the county animal control, if their owners have no place to keep them.

Once again, our local animal rescue group NVADG leads the rescue efforts

Much of the heavy lifting is performed by volunteers belonging to a local group, the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG, pronounced as “NAV-Dag). When animals are affected by a local fire or other disaster (including floods, animal trailer rollovers, horses who have fallen off cliffs, etc.), county animal control officers contact and activate NVADG. Experienced NVADG volunteers set appropriate actions into motion; in this case, volunteers immediately went to work opening buildings lent to NVADG by the county to use for this purpose, and started setting up crates and an intake process to identify and track each animal brought to the shelter. NVADG volunteers care for the animals, with supervision and oversight provided by county animal control officers.

It’s a rough fact that the process of keeping these animals safe is highly stressful for the sheltered small animals, no matter how good their keepers’ intentions for them are. Cats are in cages with small litterboxes; for the most part, dogs are kept in large wire crates. (Especially huge dogs, such as the Anatolian livestock protection dogs that we are sheltering, or large dogs who prove to be particularly hard to keep enclosed in a wire crate, are kept in small pens within the temporary shelter buildings.) They are taken out of the crates and walked about three times a day – which sounds (and is) incredibly minimal, and yet requires an army of volunteers to accomplish.

I’d like to mention a few of the organizations that have sent workers or volunteers to our shelters from out of this area. I’m honored to have worked alongside many of them.

IFAW

Image courtesy of IFAW

First on the scene from out of the area were folks from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW, pronounced eye-faw). The organization describes itself as a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. They work in more than 40 countries across the globe, partnering with other animal welfare groups and even just concerned citizens who are trying to help animals in their communities. IFAW workers were a huge part of the response to the Camp Fire two years ago, and some of the same individuals who came here then returned to help us again.

IFAW workers flew into California on September 14, and immediately began setting up a second temporary shelter in a leased warehouse. Within a day, animal control officers started transferring “stray” animals from NVADG’s overcrowded site to the more spacious temporary facility. Some IFAW workers stayed on the new site, working alongside NVADG volunteers to care for the animals, while others went into the fire zone with search and rescue teams, looking for hurt animals and ones that had been left behind. These folks work 12- and 14-hour days while thus deployed, and are, to a single person, cheerful, hard-working, and driven to improve the care and treatment of animals in any way they can. Their expertise and guidance to local leaders is incredibly valuable.

Sonoma CART

I lived in Sonoma County, California, during my high school years and as a young adult, so I know that the differences between that county and this one could not be more stark. Sonoma County is wine country, home to lush redwood forests, grassy foothills grazed by dairy cows, an unbelievably gorgeous coastline along the Pacific Ocean, and affluent towns that are home to many urban tech workers. About 200 miles to the north and inland, Butte County is much more economically challenged, hotter, and drier. Butte County’s largest city is smaller than most Sonoma County cities; its total population is less than half of Sonoma County’s.

But they have one thing in common: They both experienced horrific destructive fires in the past three years. The 2017 Tubbs Fire burned in Napa, Lake, and Sonoma counties, but its worst devastation occurred in the city of Santa Rosa, where it killed 22 people and burned thousands of homes and businesses.  Sonoma County Animal Rescue Team (Sonoma CART) was already in existence at the time of the fire, and its trained volunteers were instrumental in providing assistance to the animals affected by the Tubbs Fire. In the months and years after the Tubbs Fire, many Sonoma County residents joined Sonoma CART and took its training classes – and many have gone on to respond to calls for help during other California disasters. I’ve met eight or more members of Sonoma CART while working with dogs at the NVADG shelter during this fire, each of whom drove hours to get here, spent their own money to stay in local hotels, and labored for days in a row to feed and walk dogs and care for other animals.

At least one volunteer I worked with spent a week here, working 12-hour days. On her last day here, we shared some bonding moments over a blind, elderly yellow Labrador who needed some extra TLC, and she shared photos of her own senior Labrador, who had died not long ago. She also confided in me that she did this work in honor of her mother, who lost pets in a fire some years ago and “has never been the same since.” We both shed tears as she recounted her mother’s pain; with heavy smoke in the air, surrounded by displaced animals, we could only too keenly imagine losing our own beloved dogs.

Thank you, Sonoma CART, for sending such generous, open-hearted people to help us.

Red Rover

Image courtesy of Red Rover

This is another national organization who showed up during the 2018 Camp Fire disaster to help run the emergency animal shelters – and who has sent workers once again to provide our weary local animal control officers with some much-needed respite. Red Rover has more than 4,000 volunteers who have taken one or more training courses in emergency response for animals, and they help provide emergency sheltering assistance for animals displaced by natural disasters and rescued from other crises, such as puppy mills and hoarding situations.

Red Rover workers have been on the ground here for the past few days, and, I hear, more are due to arrive this week. The emergency shelters here will likely be operating for at least another month, if not longer, as so many people have no houses to take their pets home to, so the extra help is highly needed and will be appreciated.

After two weeks, many of us local volunteers are exhausted, or have given as much time as we can spare. Thank goodness for fresh boots on the ground!  I’ve been working closely with a Red Rover worker who flew in from New York, who has been helping to run the NVADG shelter for the past few days, giving the NVADG volunteer leaders who had been operating the shelter for the past two weeks a chance to sleep and catch up on their regular-life duties. She’s been amazing and cheerful, even in the face of poop-splattered crates and a too-thin list of local volunteers arriving for the 7 am dog walking and crate-cleaning shift. Devon Krusko, thank you!

Image courtesy of Red Rover

Find an “animal rescue” class and take it!

If you ever had a hankering to pitch in to help animals in (or near to) a disaster zone, check out the national organizations IFAW and Red Rover. Both offer courses to help people understand how to work in conjunction with professional rescue workers in an “Animal Incident Command System Matrix.” And if fires or floods or other natural disasters commonly affect or displace people and their pets in your local area, look for a local organization such as NVADG or Sonoma CART to train and work with. Helping feels a whole lot better than just watching and worrying from afar.

The post Rescue Workers From Across the Country Join the California Wildfire Animal Rescue Efforts appeared first on Whole Dog Journal.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dog is My Co-Pilot: Friendship & Adventure

dog with chick on head

Cedar, our five-year-old yellow Lab, is extremely calm and gentle. We have laying hens, and one day, when I took some of the chicks into the yard to play, Cedar let them climb all over her. The chicks were very curious about Cedar, and Cedar welcomed them as they went about discovering who she was. Watching them gave me the idea for this photo.

After I set the chick on her head, Cedar remained very still, as though she knew that was the best way to keep the chick safe. The chick was quite content there, and probably would have stayed on Cedar’s head all day if I hadn’t eventually helped her down. (The chick is a Rhode Island Red; when she grows up, she’ll lay brown eggs.)

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Meet Widgie

Widgie loves to zoom! She gets the zoomies playing with her Labradoodle friend and with her stuffed frog that croaks. She loves watching squirrels, armadillos, cats and people

Tags: 

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Is a Cup Not a Cup?

Accurately measuring dog food matters
Measuring out dog food is important

Many vets believe that understanding how much to feed your dog is one of the biggest factors in the worldwide epidemic of pet obesity. It really matters to your dog’s overall health to get this correctly. So, knowing not only the correct amount of food to give to your dog, but how to actually measure it out, is important.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Meet Truffle

Truffle’s favorite activity is nose work, but she also loves doing rally, obedience, and tricks too. Truffle is a certified therapy dog who goes to college to provide stress relief for students.

Tags: 

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment