Three articles by Joyce Kesling CDBC
Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant
1. The Problem with Cesar Millan
2. Shock collars
1.The Problem with Cesar Millan,
warning letter to rescue and clients January 2006
Because I continue to see an increase in the use of harsh training methods used on dogs, I decided to publish the following letter. I wrote this letter to a rescue group I had been helping and client list, after hearing one of our local shelters scheduled him as a key speaker! Needless to say, I declined helping an organization who wanted to continue using old by gone methods to train and solve behavior problems.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
To Whom It May Concern:
I realize Cesar Milan has received a lot of attention and endorsed and/or affiliated with National Geographic seems to have elevated his methods in spite of better alternatives. When NG first announced this programming, there was quite an uproar from the positive training circles and in spite of a vigorous letter writing campaign NG declined to pull the program.
The problem with Cesar Milan’s methods are two fold, he ignores what dog’s are communicating (body language) and uses flooding as a preferred choice for behavior modification as opposed to “overcoming fears gradually…ensuring that the dog (or person) is comfortable at each level of the fear hierarchy before proceeding to the next” according to Burch and Bailey (1999).
If anyone doesn’t understand the term flooding, which is used in respondent conditioning, I will explain it using Burch and Bailey’s book as my reference How Dogs Learn. Flooding is a “sink or swim” method as opposed to what is commonly used systematic desensitization. When using flooding procedures, one (trainer or handler) presents the animal or human with the scary stimuli all at once. The theory behind the method holds that “high levels of anxiety and fear will be elicited quickly, and respondent extinction of fear will also occur quickly (Burch & Bailey, 1999).
According to Burch and Bailey (1999), “police and military trainers use flooding to address fearfulness and anxiety” along with “old school trainers who believed dogs should be ‘broken’” and that fearfulness was not tolerated and chose to “throw” dogs into scary situations not allowing them to escape. On the opposing side Burch and Bailey (1999) say, “we believe systematic desensitization is a much more humane method of dealing with fear in dogs.” Burch and Bailey (1999) said, “flooding can result in overwhelming anxiety and distress” and sometimes dogs may become so “traumatized…they lose control of their bladder and bowels” and some may be so resistant “they become aggressive and dangerous for the average person to handle.”
Systematic desensitization on the other hand offers three main components which include 1.) relaxation training, 2.) using a hierarchy ranging from the least to the most problematic situation and 3.) counterconditioning (Burch & Bailey, 1999).
In addition, Pam Reid, Ph.D. says in her book Excel-erated Learning, “sometimes, this form of treatment works and the fear extinguishes…more often than not, the person experiences such fright and discomfort during the experience that the fear becomes even stronger.” The reason for her opinion is according to her, when one is confronted with a “fearful emotion” the normal accompanying responses are “escape and avoidance behaviors” which serve to “decrease the fear.” According to Reid, escape and avoidance behaviors are “very resistant to extinction.”
Her recommendation for flooding to work is waiting until the dog “has become exhausted and is physically unable to respond fearfully any longer” after which point the dog can experience the “feared stimulus without reacting and extinction is able to occur…usually this in not [an] ethical option.”
The second and most compelling problem is Milan chooses to ignore what dogs are communicating, their fears and anxieties. Before I proceed with this topic, I would like to ask everyone how *you* might feel being forced into what *you might consider* an extremely fearful or scary situation. Think about fight or flight, which is a common human and animal response to both scary and dangerous situations. How does your body feel, has your heart rate increased? Are you sweating? Have you lost control of your bodily functions? Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
The following is an excerpt from one of my papers on aggression and you may question why I would include being able to read aggressive dogs and how this is related to fear and anxiety. The reason is *fear and anxiety* is most commonly the precursor to using aggression. When one forces dogs or any animal into situations they perceive as fearful or unknown this causes anxiety and fear, which automatically changes one’s emotional state bringing about chemical changes in the brain. These emotional and chemical changes cause our *fight or flight response* to become activated and when pushed beyond our acceptable thresholds and unable to *escape*, the normal animal will resort to aggression in an attempt to *avoid* the scary and dangerous situation. Things are just not as simple as Milan portrays in thirty-minute segments!
When one decides to work with dogs and particularly aggressive dogs that person should have some idea how to read dogs. According to Aloff (2002), understanding what dogs are communicating and our ability in recognizing their signals may mean, “…the difference between a dog you have to euthanize and one you can work with.” This is a rather important distinction when a dog’s life is in your hands coupled with emotional trauma an owner may be feeling.
Through careful observation, that may include personal observation by the behavior consultant, observing the interaction between the owner and dog, taking a video or still photographs and getting a detailed historical background could all be helpful in predicting the behavior, applying the proper training methods, management and identifying the dogs emotional state.
Understanding how our dogs communicate is essential to resolving behavior problems. Communication lacking clear understanding can influence behavior, so establishing clear communication with our dogs should be considered an essential part of ownership.
Understanding how we can effectively communicate and understand what dogs are conveying to us should be a priority of those working with dogs. The roles of the participants and the context communication takes place needs understood. Too many times thoughts of dominance are used to explain behavior, when in fact, most dog-dog and dog-human interaction is about “deference and avoiding conflict” according to Horowitz (2001).
Dogs are capable of giving subtle signs of deference so quickly it could be understood why the average dog owner might miss them. In addition, much literature still exists suggesting “submissive training exercises and postures” that are more harmful to the human-canine relationship than useful.
Finally, according to Horowitz (2001) the best way we can effectively communicate with our companion dogs is as follows:
- Owners need to understand what deference means, it can be as simple as diverted eye contact
- An owner can establish their leadership by controlling the dogs environment and how it receives reinforcement
- Owners can require calm quiet behavior before getting any reinforcement
- Owners need to understand the context of the dogs behavior and establish their relationship based on the dogs behavior and counter that behavior with appropriate communication
If your organization or any of our local shelters is interested in learning more about these topics, they might want to familiarize themselves with those who might be in a position such as me who can arrange to bring in appropriate individuals so we can all benefit through learning acceptable ways of treating and training our beloved animals.
Joyce D. Kesling
Responsible Dog & Cat
Training & Behavior Solutions
2. Why consider the use of Shock Collars (E-Stimulus Devices) carefully
This is going to be a tad bit technical but a brief overview concerning this issue. I will do my best to make it easy for everyone to understand. In the JVB (2007) Overall evaluated the molecular and cellular use of shock on the learning process. She suggested, using her neurobiological background, we “may be changing other behaviors or processes” with these devices which are technically called E-Stimulus Devices.
Overall (2007) uses what she describes as “a landmark study” by Schilder and van der Borg published in Applied Animal Behavior (2004). Schilder and van der Borg noticed dogs exhibiting more stress related behavior when using these types of devices. The stress related behaviors continued with the control group, even during free time in the presence of the handlers while at parks, a time when dogs should be more relaxed. Stress behaviors and/or conflict resolution behaviors have been defined extensively in recent dog literature.
The authors, Schilder and van der Borg (2004), concluded three negative effects from the use of e-stimulus devices (shock collars). They are as follows:
- This type of training is stressful
- Dogs are feeling pain
- Dogs learn to associate the collar with shock and the presence of the handler/owner!
Overall (2007) suggests even though some guard type dogs are successfully trained using these devices, other concerns have been noted, i.e. “heightened uncertainty and reactivity.” She notes the president of one of the regional detection dog groups located in the US believed “any handler who hits the streets with a dog wearing a shock collar did not have a well-trained or reliably trained dog.”
As said earlier, I am attempting to provide only an overview concerning the use of e-stimulus devices, aka shock collars, not an in-depth study or research paper. There appears to others and me that a growing number of dog trainers are being schooled in the use of these devices. One such school is located in Florida run by Martin Deeley. The slogan for their trainers is “We do this quickly, effectively and lovingly. Plus we GUARANTEE our E- Touch approach and dog training for the life of your dog.”
Guaranteeing one’s results is a very questionable practice in the discipline of behavior and is often advised against in literature for selecting a dog trainer or behavior specialist. Not even a human therapist will guarantee your results. This is purely marketing, and when their system fails, because they have not correctly identified the underlying problem associated with the complaint, the owner will either seek other counsel or worse, surrender the dog to an unknown fate at a shelter.
A legitimate concern exists for newly introduced dog trainers, veterinarians, dog owners/handlers, dog-related businesses, and dog owners who are unaware of these findings and literature on the subject is sorely lacking.
The following statement and review comes from a “Letter to the Editor” in response to Overall’s (2007) editorial cited earlier. This response was published in the JVB (2008) and was written by a “representative” from Radio Systems Corporation, the world’s leading manufacturer of e-stimulus devices which they refer to as “static stimulation.” The brands represented included Invisible Fence, PetSafe, Innotek, SportDOG, and Guardian Brands.
The author begins in the first paragraph by saying, “We are in complete agreement with Overall that decisions to use such equipment should not be made lightly,” and state their literature contains such warnings. I am purposely omitting the author’s two primary reasons for suggesting e-stimulus devices as a “legitimate means of behavior modification.” Primarily this would require a discussion on the four quadrants of learning theory that would require another lengthy paper. The intended target audiences are dog-related business owners, shelters, foster parents, veterinarians, groomers, daycare owners, and dog owners.
Before making an informed choice using any dog-related equipment in behavior modification, a complete behavioral history and medical workup needs to be completed. This preliminary method of gathering useful information about the dog, the family, and dog’s environment, helps the behavior consultant make an informed choice of how to go about modifying the dog’s behavior.
Additionally, any medical reasons sometimes masquerading as or contributing to a behavior problem need eliminated first by a veterinarian.
Once these two things are completed and medical reasons eliminated, the consultant can begin offering solutions including training, modifying the owner’s behavior, and any management measures necessary. If the case involves a dog who has already bitten, a risk assessment is necessary. The owner/handler, rescue organization, or foster care person are apprised of the risks and any recommendation keeping in mind the public’s safety and anyone coming into contact with that dog.
If a certified behavior consultant (IAABC), board certified veterinarian (ACVB), ABS and/or AVSAB member were to decide the use of an e-stimulus device is warranted, then according to the manufacturer’s representative the following must be taken into consideration.
The choice of the targeted stimulation is important, and since instrumental behavior (learned) is usually rewarded by its consequences, “not all behaviors are equally likely to be associated with certain consequences.” They state, “researchers discovered that certain responses can be exceedingly difficult to establish” using shock avoidance!
Here’s the kicker… they admit animals are not ‘biologically prepared’ to associate a negative event when faced with danger. I’m including any type of fearful stimulus. It is widely known in animal behavior that animals have three choices when faced with a threatening situation. They can freeze, flee, or defend themselves offensively. The author points out, “if a trainer attempts to punish defensive aggression in an already frightened dog, the aggression is likely to escalate,” not diminish. Aggression, except predatory, is always associated with fear and unless you change the emotional response, you cannot change the dog’s perspective toward that fear.
The author suggests behavior “targeted for suppression” using e-stimulus devices include roaming, chasing vehicles, prey drive and “other high-arousal behaviors far removed from stress.” The bolded phrase is of concern since “high-arousal” behavior can manifest in a myriad of ways and reasons, it is often already associated with stress! An example of a high-arousal behavior could be jumping, barking, or zooming around the house to release energy! All of these suggested behaviors, often undesirable “high-arousal behaviors,” are always associated with the owner, not the dog.
The dog is responding using normal dog behavior, but is often responding in a negative way because they are living in a dysfunctional environment. A dysfunction environment often does not include clear rules and boundaries associated with a dog’s behavior, and in most cases, owner reinforcement of the negative behavior is often present. So punishing the dog for what often is owner-reinforced behavior, inconsistency, lack of sufficient outlets for energy expenditure, and generally not meeting a dog’s needs seems rather cruel to me.
The following statement made by the author clearly needs to be understood, especially by those dog owners considering the use of these devices. The author states, “experienced trainers acknowledge…motivating learning through aversive control” is only effective if the trainer concentrates on “one response at a time” and “intermixing behaviors only when performance” of the first target response is “fluent” (reliably trained).
The problem is many problem behaviors consist of chained behaviors. For example, dog hears owner’s car arrive home, dog begins to get aroused, owner walks in, dog jumps all over owner. If what they suggest is the correct way to use their devices, this means, the owner/dog trainer must stop the behavior before it gets started, when the dog hears the car! All the other points in the entire chain of behavior must be “fluent” (reliably trained) first, before proceeding to the next! I have to ask, how many of these trainers are training reliably each sequence in a chain of undesirable behavior with the owners? This is exactly how positive trainers shape desirable behavior, but without using punishment.
The author’s argument that other punitive procedures, i.e. time out, are ineffective, citing “electrical stimulation is potentially superior to and safer” than other aversive punishment, i.e. spray bottles, restraint, and noxious tastes, is unsubstantiated. This suggestion is weak and lacks any research or quantification.
I purposely left time out from their list; time out, used effectively and consistently, with rules, timing and appropriate social settings can/is very effective, given the dog wants to remain in the social environment. If the dog’s social environment lacks rewarding opportunities, sending them to time out will have no effect at all, and in some instances, it may provide the dog relief. Therefore, this author’s statement is weak, showing he has no understanding of correct time out procedures and when/where, its use is effective.
The author’s continued justification for using electrical stimulation by comparing it to human cases of “self-injurious behaviors,” i.e. head banging, doesn’t come remotely close to most of the common behavior problems we see in pet dogs and where punishment is being used. A recent study, on territorial aggression suggested owners themselves are most responsible for their dog’s behavior. See a related blog post, “Spoiling dogs, is it really good for them.” Therefore, until owners step up to the plate, take responsibility for contributing to their dog’s behavior… after all, it was their choice to adopt or purchase a dog… We will continue to debate this issue as well as how many dogs are euthanized every day and yearly due to unresolved behavior problems.
Lastly, in the author’s own words the use of e-stimulus devices “should never be considered in isolation from positive reinforcement programs” when used to correct unwanted behavior. My answer to this: if more owners were properly educated in the use of positive reinforcement and life rewards, there would be limited need for these devices.
The only consideration in which I would consider the use of an e-stimulus device would be to control prey drive. A dog diagnosed with clear prey drive, and based on a risk assessment, should be remanded to its property, and if taken out in public he should wear a protective muzzle to protect the public and other animals.
Joyce Kesling, CDBC
3: Dominance- is it appropriate to explain social relationships between dogs and humans?
Recently Science Daily reported, “Using dominance to explain dog behavior is old hat.” One of their references included an article from JVB (2009) “Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit?” The paper is much broader than implied by Science Daily; the following will make clear some of their conclusions.
Associative Learning Theory
The paper suggests stable relationships between dogs can be explained using the “principles of associative learning theory” stating relationships develop over time through repeated encounters with individuals. During these encounters communicative cues from each individual is recognized and becomes predictive of negative and positive responses over a range of differing contexts. These encounters are not as simplified as one might think. The behavior and cues during each encounter is decided based on each individual’s physiological and emotional states at the time the encounter takes place and context. For example, when introducing a new dog into a household with an already stressed animal will greatly influence how the resident animal responds to the “outsider” and those responses set the stage for how the relationship between these two individuals will play out over the course of time.
Dominance, the presence of dominance, hierarchies, stable and unstable environments
The authors suggest pups raised in stable pup-adult environments gain advantages when they develop social skills with the help of mature canine adults. This allows a young pup to “learn consistently that competition with adults is unsuccessful” and appeasement behavior avoids conflicts, allowing more tolerance and availability to resources. The authors suggest these behaviors continue as they develop into adults and maintained as a “dominance relationship” between youngsters and adults until prior expectancies regarding each other’s behavior changes.
The authors suggest an “apparent presence” that hierarchies do develop through social interactions in “stable” dog breeding groups. However, they say, hierarchies do not develop in dog groups often undergoing changes and/or including introducing outside individuals. This can explain why introductions of new dogs in already established households can be problematic and what puppies experience when transferring from a stable breeding environment to human households!
Using a comparative wolf analogy, dominance hierarchies do not exist in non-captive wolf packs usually comprised of kin and occasional outsiders. Contrarily, captive wolf situations are most often comprised of individuals without kinship relations; agonistic behavior between individuals does exist and in some instances, individuals are unable to disperse, they are captives of their situation. This may explain why captive groups of wolves are carefully placed in packs to avoid as much conflict as possible.
The analogy to captive wolves can be used to explain dog behavior once introduced to human home environments. Introducing new dogs into a dysfunctional environment that may include permissive and/or absent owners, lack of rules, boundaries, and training will definitely set a dog up to fail.
Communication between dogs
When companion dogs meet for the first time there are no previous expectations regarding each other’s behavior. The relationship between any two individuals is established based on current environmental conditions, contextual relationships, each individual’s physiological condition, and each individual’s prior experiences within other dog dyads (pairs) during previous encounters. One can conclude using the “learning-based model” there is no need to use dominance to explain the social interaction between two individuals.
Personal experience based on dog-dog social interaction
This seems to correlate with what I have learned through boarding as part of my business. Since offering dog-dog socialization, grouping individuals has to be carefully decided and small dog versus large dog grouping requires careful supervision. However, I have concluded allowing socialization between small dogs, large dogs, mixed breeds, purebreds, mixed sexes, intact, and neutered dogs under close supervision is beneficial.
When observing social deficits, I often attribute the deficit to lacking sufficient adult dog encounters during the early socialization and subsequent juvenile periods. Based on the JVB article, dogs benefit from opportunities to learn how to behave from well-socialized adult dogs. Instances where dogs appear to lack sufficient communicative ability with other dogs, could suggest their behavior is dependent on how well socialization opportunities were provided, what they learned from those encounters and in what contexts they took place.
I have further concluded that because we seem at times to haphazardly introduce dogs into social environments and dog-human encounters we are probably causing most of the social problems some of our dogs have learned and internalized. I seriously doubt dog parks are a good idea for owners who have little knowledge of dog behavior and this paper reinforces this conclusion. I might also suggest dogs attending highly reactive, non-structured puppy classes would also be a mistake. This further emphasizes that owners be very selective where they take their puppies and adolescent dogs for socialization, and considering who they are introducing them to, and the context and environment where these introductions are taking place.
How does this play out when introducing new dogs to human homes?
Applying the same learning process based strictly on communication one-step further, we can understand why dominance has no place in training and/or establishing our relationship with dogs. If the authors suggest pups in stable breeding groups learn from adult canine parents, then using a “parental role model” based on these same principles could be applied when communication is taking place.
Using a “parental role response” means, we need to act as canine adult parents would. This does not imply “dominance” is necessary in establishing rules, boundaries and training methods. Rather, if you apply the same “associative learning theory” used in explaining how dogs learn to communicate with each other the same rules will apply. When we provide clear positive responses to what our dogs are doing right, while ignoring mistakes and/or providing clear and acceptable negative consequences for undesirable and/or dangerous behavior, our dogs learn because we are providing them control over their environment through positive and negative responses.
Where owners get into trouble communicating with dogs occurs when using forceful communication signals like “alpha rolls” while erroneously perceiving and/or attempting to thwart their dog’s attempt to dominate them! If dogs perceive communication simply as positives and negatives, then it makes sense that reacting to undesirable dog behavior using negative communication will set your dog up to view you as a threat rather than a friend. When dogs use appeasement, avoidance, and aggression in those contexts, where you have used confrontational and negative communicative methods would explain any reactive and/or aggressive behavior. When dogs are forced beyond their threshold and resort to aggression it’s not dominance aggression as is often referred and/or described. Rather I prefer what Lindsay (2006) proposes as an alternative explanation that dogs are using “anti-predatory” and/or “auto-protective aggression” in response to what they perceive as human aggression.
This could be briefly explained using the captive wolf analogy I mentioned earlier. Wolves are predators, when we introduce captive wolves to non-kin wolves; agonistic behavior is more likely to occur. These occurrences are affected by age, reproductive status, nutritional condition, aversive experiences, and disputes over resources according to the JVB (2009).
In normal wolf packs, wolves have the ability to disperse, move on, start their own families; in captive wolf packs, members don’t often have this choice. These captive wolves are forced to live with other captive members without choice and ability to disperse and/or avoid an aversive environment. The same could be said for dogs who find they are living in dysfunctional environments, with owners providing little or no training, little or no health care, neglectful, and abusive corrections, and/or treatment. Often these dogs end up in shelters and/or euthanized because they failed to adapt to these conditions though no fault of their own.
It is for this reason that I find it inappropriate for dog owners, those running shelters and/or rescues to rely on methods using punishment in working with dogs who are reactive toward other dogs and/or humans. In addition, this applies to dogs who are fearful in specific situations and/or contexts where confidence building is more appropriate than punishment. In both situations, offensively and defensively reactive dogs are not signs of dominance but rather lack of confidence and trust. Animals lacking confidence are more likely to be reactive, animals who don’t trust owners are likely to be reactive and aggressive.
Joyce Kesling, CDBC