Notes for Pierce’s Article About Ultrasonic Devices

This is a very good article by Jessica Pierce:

Are Ultrasonic Dog Training Devices Really Safe and Humane?

One point of correction at the end of it: their following statement is incorrect.

“Food treats are good to start with but as training progresses your dog should recognise verbal praise and a pat as a treat.”

There is no inherent reason to stop reinforcing behaviors with things dogs prefer (food) and deliver something they may like but not as much (verbal praise and a pat). Each dog has preferences and may prefer different types of rewards at different times, but in general food-treats tend to be higher value to dogs than things such as praise.

Once a dog is further along in training, behaviors can be rewarded some of the time (intermittent reinforcement), which keeps the behaviors strong over time, and different types of rewards can be used including treats, toys, the chance to meet or play with other dogs, the chance to go on a walk or run off leash, or praise, gentle petting, etc.

But there is no reason to completely stop rewarding with food/treats.

Aversive training methods like ultrasonic devices and techniques designed to notice behavior problems and punish them, do harm dogs and can lead to additional problems. Dogs who are constantly, and often times randomly punished end up more uncomfortable. It’s common for dogs who are punished for barking to bark more, even though that’s not the person’s intended outcome.

Using positive reinforcement methods allows dogs to understand how the training process works (they perform behaviors for rewards), and then they can relax, leading to problems like upset-frustration barking simply vanishing or drastically decreasing.

It’s also important to address the underlying reason for barking. For example, if a dog has separation anxiety – an extreme phobia of being left alone – punishment only makes this worse. It just proves to the dog that being left alone is scary. Not only was there original extreme fear, but with electronic devices causing discomfort or pain, it just adds to dog’s mental suffering and anxiety. Instead we want to help these dogs desensitize to being left alone, to make them more comfortable and free from fear.

By Dan Raymer

Foods to Avoid Giving Dogs

When choosing treats for your dog, avoid the following foods as they are toxic to dogs’ health:

  • Onions
  • Grapes
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Raisins
  • Mushrooms
  • Candy or anything with xylitol (type of sugar)
  • Check to make sure peanut butter does not have xylitol, since some kinds do contain it
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee/caffeine
  • Garlic
  • Salt and sugar should be limited

Always check with your veterinarian for food/treat advice as well, since they have the latest medical knowledge.

By Dan Raymer

Puppy Socialization for Halloween

Pre-Halloween

In the days leading up to Halloween complete your normal, daily puppy socialization activities. Expose your puppy to positive experiences with other puppies, friendly adult dogs, things/objects in the environment, veterinary procedures and gentle body handling, etc.

Two main socialization strategies to apply:

  1. Habituation – allowing your puppy to view and experience things passively, watching them and learning they are not scary, but normal everyday events.
  2. Creating positive associations – Actively pairing things/events with treats. Anything that is already scary to your puppy, should now have training target it to teach your puppy it predicts treats.

Allow your puppy to investigate decorations/pumpkins and receive treats for sniffing or approaching them. If you have kids and their costumes are easy to create and wear before Halloween, allow them to put them on and feed treats to your puppy, then take the costumes off, and stop delivering treats. This will provide some positive interactions on a smaller, more controlled scale than the busy holiday.

Planning for Halloween Day

If you have children, decide if your puppy will go trick-or-treating with you. If your puppy goes, bring plenty of high value treats and deliver them to your puppy any time he notices something new or potentially scary. For example, give a treat after your puppy sniffs a yard decoration or pumpkin. Give some treats after a group of children run by in their costumes screaming.

If you will be passing out candy at home, decide where your puppy will be:

  • At the door to witness the trick-or-treat transactions.
  • Somewhere else in your house – for example, behind a baby gate, or in a crate.
  • With you in the front yard passing out candy.
  • Or by the door with your puppy to observe, but allow children to take the candy themselves out of a bowl.

In each of these cases, deliver some treats to your puppy when he sees children, or hears them laughing/talking/screaming (and the doorbell rings), or another dog walks by the door/windows.

You can allow children to feed some treats to your puppy as well, if your puppy is not apprehensive.

Prepare your treats ahead of time. Fresh meat treats of high value are best for these procedures.

You can also give a longer-lasting chew toy, like a Kong, stuffed with canned dog food to allow your dog to calmly eat during the trick-or-treating process, allowing you to focus more on passing out candy and less on your dog. You can wait for the first doorbell ring/children talking sounds, and then deliver the Kong, so those things will predict a positive event for your dog. This could be a great option for older dogs, if you are planning on keeping them away from the children anyway.

Freezing the Kong with canned food will make it last longer for your puppy/dog.

If you have crate-trained your puppy or dog, you can place him in his crate for safety as well, so he will not escape the front door.

Evaluating Your Puppy’s Fear Threshold

Whatever strategy you’re using, make sure no experience is over your puppy’s threshold of fear. This means ideally you will keep your puppy from becoming frightened at any point. Gradually increase the intensity of experiences your puppy is exposed to; for example, if your puppy is scared of kids coming all the way up to him, allow him to remain farther away but view the kids and receive treats for watching, then build up to allowing calmer kids to approach, and then to hand-feeding treats to your puppy.

Adolescent and Adult Dogs

You can follow the same procedure for remedial socialization for older dogs, but be extra careful to keep them below their fear-threshold (so they are not afraid at all), and to not push them into more challenging experiences too quickly, since they already will have previous experiences and emotions attached to things like Halloween, costumes, children, people approaching, etc. – meaning if they are unsure or afraid of any of these things you could actually sensitize them (make their fear worse). This is true for puppies too, but since they are in their puppy socialization period, it’s easier to turn these experiences positive, and average puppies are less likely to do damaging bites than older dogs.

Never force any interactions between puppies/dogs and children or anyone/thing else. Always work to create positive associations.

Post-Halloween

Keep up the socialization work after Halloween as well. If the procedures are applied correctly, you will reap the benefits of early puppy socialization for the rest of your dog’s life.

Happy Halloween!

By Dan Raymer

Happy Easter!

We have beautiful weather in North Carolina. The greenery is showing up in full spring blooming, it remains relatively cool, and there’s plenty of people and dogs enjoying walks in the neighborhood. Despite the virus shutting down many of our normal holiday places, I’m hoping everyone can find some peace and happiness on this special day. Happy Easter!

– Dan Raymer