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Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Ben: An Aggressive Dog Case Study", operant conditioning and aggression issues

Pre pickup 5 weeks 5 days old

Ben: An Aggressive Dog Case Study | Karen Pryor Clickertraining'via Blog this'

The article above is a great read, and the book Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog written by the same author Emma Parsons was quite ground breaking at the time (not so much the theory contained, but the fact that there was a book on it), and continues to be a great resource.

I have to admit, when I first started getting interested again in the dog world, I got sucked in by the populist pseudo-scientific and rather antiquated world of Cesar Millan. Only a couple of months reading about dog training and psychology quickly led me to realise that there are much better, more humane ways to rehabilitate aggressive and/or fearful dogs. Sometimes it may take longer, and may not be as 'televisual' but it keeps the stress levels of the dogs in question as low as possible - and I think that should be our aim when training and rehabilitating. You don't need to alpha roll a dog to make it 'better' - for any dog that is struggling mentally that will be an incredibly stressful experience.

The thing is, I think Cesar has some good instincts, he can read canine body language fairly well, he has great timing - and so would be a good clicker trainer.... if he could just reach out to the rest of the dog training community and realise what is going on. Dominance theory is almost completely debunked, and indeed his attitude did change over the course of his shows somewhat, but it would be a huge change for him to move away from it. However, an awful lot of trainers out there are 'crossover' trainers, so there is no reason that he can't change too.

I am sorry to say, I was a J&P trainer.

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In other words, jerk and praise. I added punishment, then I added reinforcement. Like, if the dog started pulling on the leash, I would do a quick jerk, then I may give a treat, or a quick pat. Positive punishment, then positive reinforcement. Cesar is more jerk, without the praise (although he uses the absence of further jerks as the reward - in operant conditioning talk, this is called negative reinforcement). The ideal of a clicker trainer is generally to concentrate on positive reinforcement only (although there is some debate), although it is hard for some occasional negative punishment not to creep in. Negative punishment is like, if the dog is trying to pull, you just stop walking until the dog has stopped pulling, then you start walking again. It is not *adding* a punishment, it is *taking away* a good thing.

Anyway, this particular article is about aggressive dogs, and my previous dog certainly wasn't aggressive (a happy lively and very social Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). Despite a lot of dog trainers out there knowing the benefits of operant conditioning for the rehabilitation of aggressive dogs, the general population continues to know little to nothing about it, and sees techniques like Cesar's as the option.

The majority of the obedience training offered here in my city is of the traditional sort, with only one club out of about four or five major ones, being clicker based. How sad, when communication with our furry four footed friends can go so far with the help of clickers. A lot of resistance to change it seems. In particular, a certain group of GSD trainers here are extremely anti treats and praise, and say GSD "don't need anything like that!" GSDs are so intelligent, they could go even further with clickers, it is a shame to see them doomed to a training regime without creativity and joy. I can see those people treating any aggression problems that surfaced with extreme rigidity and even possibly making it worse. Then occasionally 'experts' like the one in the article above come along.

Anyway, what I wanted to say really is, if you, or anyone you know, has a dog with aggression or fear issues - find yourself a trainer who is very comfortable with operant conditioning. It is the humane way to go, the way that will mean no falling back into old habits as soon as the punishment stops. Do read more on the site where the article is if interested, Karen Pryor is one of the top clicker trainers around and the site has a huge amount of general dog training information.

1 comment:

  1. Aggressive dog behavior can be effectively modified by clicker training, it is proven to be effective.