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Understanding the way dogs think to help with training our dogs

Royal Aggression

We read that Princess Ann’s' dogs have caused the death of one of her mothers Corgis. We then hear that one has attacked a member of the royal household staff. A further little article tells us that Princess Ann had a gun dog trained for hunting but her mother purchased her a new whistle that left her dog confused and wondering if she was talking to her or another dog. This just shows that whistles may sound the same but to dogs, all whistles are different. Now that is keen hearing. Reading of such problems does beg the question is it the dogs that are at fault or the owner or is it a bit of both.

Whilst I am certain there are regrets at the dogs attack on the two children visiting the royal park but it is when the attack is against ones own family that the problem really begins to sink in and one begins to wonder what the problem is.

We know that stopping Dotty from chasing children on bikes by using the remote gas collar worked but it was only for this type of incident so this was only curing one symptom of a bigger problem. Because of her reaction to the collar, she could react favourably to compressed air but which dog is actually responsible. The information we are reading in the press seems a little unclear.

Princess Ann must now be reviewing her position because of the bad press these incidents are generating particularly for her chosen breed of dog. Both breeders and owners of such dogs must now be dreading any further incidents. People must begin to wonder is there a problem with this breed or is it just lack of control by their owner. It is unfortunate that what ever happens being so widely reported there are far more difficult decisions to make than ordinary owners have to consider.

Keeping the dogs without correcting the problem then another incident is almost inevitable. Changing her patronage of this breed of dog could only make potential owners do the same. If the decision were to put the dogs to sleep this too would also discredit the breed. The only one to choose is to use corrective methods followed by sociability training.

Many people own more that one dog so why do such problems of some dogs in the same household becoming aggressive whilst others trained the same way are not. All dogs are different and in many cases, general obedience training does not seem to work. Though all dogs are born with the same basic blue print of how to act for survival, how to use it has to be learned. Dogs do not act aggressively simply because of their genetic breeding. Such aggressive dogs have learned to survive in atypical way even though they may have had exactly the same training that has worked successfully with other dogs.

When established training appears to fail this is when even experience owners begin to think it must therefore be the fault of the dog often calling them rouges. This is not always the case. It is the need to understand the learning skills of each dog along with the dog-handling skills of the owner before choosing the correct and appropriate teaching method.

I know I cannot teach Winston to open and close doors using the same method I taught my other dogs. Winston only likes to walk on stable ground so a door that is slightly ajar the first time Winston jumps up to close it will frighten him from ever jumping up in the future. I must first teach Winston to walk on unstable planks, boardwalks, open and metal staircases before I can ever hope to start to teach him to close a door.

Every dog has the same knowledge of the skills for survival as well as basic traits, strengths and weaknesses. How it adapts to these it must learn from the owner and other dogs. Teaching a dog in the same way as previous dogs does not always work. It does not mean just because one method of training works for a majority of dogs does not mean it will work for them all.

In order to cure aggressive dogs they need the appropriate corrective training like using compressed air first to calm things down. Once a dog stops its attacks it then needs socialisation training so it learns there is no need to use aggression as a defence.

A Dog’s method of Thinking

One statement I regularly hear is that training dogs is like training children. There are seemingly many examples that support this but in fact, any articles written about teaching children you cannot simply rub out the word child and replace it with dog.

Children are capable of thinking ahead, planning and of thinking of more continuous actions in order to attain a goal. Dogs only sense and react yet watching dogs achieve a goal appears very similar to that achieved by children but in fact, it is only following a series of linear choices. A child can look at the end move first and then calculate the rest of the individual in between moves they need in order to achieve their goal.

The other day I had an owner who could not understand why his 11-month-old dog did not like having its collar and lead put on when it loves going for a walk. Surly the dog should see this as a good sign and want to wear them but in fact, it would refuse to come for the fitting. Should it not come eagerly as surly it should consider the walk as its reward.

This is not the case because it has not yet learnt that the collar and lead equal walking. A dog does not correlate the fitting of the collar and lead and a walk as part of the same routine. The dog does not like a collar so it rejects any attempt to wearing it. It has sensed something it does not like and reacts by running away. It would be simpler if the dog was first encouraged with a titbit as a reward for coming and another for the fitting then it will wear it as well as being happy for the walk. These are three distinct and separate actions of coming, fitting and walking.

We often think that dog’s act like children and that dogs must think like children. Children are way ahead of dogs but when we watch a dog, we can easily deceive ourselves in the way we think they are thinking.

A favourite example is the dog that knows exactly when it is mealtime. This assumes a dog can tell the time and is watching the clock waiting for its meal. A dog does have a very good body clock but it is not like looking at a watch. When the time arrives, a dog senses the time and prepares itself. There can be in addition other signals for a dog like the owner looking up at the clock and starting to get up at the appointed time.

Dogs sense and react in a continuous linear method of trial and error and learn by repetition where one way will provide a good result whilst another will give a bad result. A dog could never play chess, as it would only learn one way to win and would try to follow the same way each time. A young child on the other hand can learn to play basic chess with the aim to win by different moves depending on the changing moves of the opponent. A dog would give up.

Many writers think dogs have deductive powers and can solve problems by being able to think ahead. There are many books and articles written expounding dogs thinking skills yet when scientists carry out tests on such dogs they find no signs of any deductive reasoning ability.

Take for an example a child and a dog sees something away in the distance that they both wish to reach. A dog will make straight for it and only when it meets some barrier will it, using trial and error, find a way round it. On the other hand, a child can see obstructions and work out an efficient method of getting to that point. Is this not a perceived goal in need of calculative thought? No, any barrier it confronts a dog will simply sense and with trial and error, it will solve.

It is for this reason that the young dog sees the fitting of the collar and lead as a restriction even domination by the owner that it will try to initially resist. It does not learn for some time that the lead is an indicator of going for a walk.

It is not possible for a dog to understand that an event in the future is a reward if it accepts something it does not like doing in the here and now. Only after time having learned to accept the collar, it becomes simply part of an established routine for going for a walk. In time, it recognises the collar fitting as part of that regular sequence. It is then that the dog will look to the lead because it wants to go for a walk. Because of this, we therefore think a dog must be able to reason rather than when it needs to go for a walk it must have its collar on only as the first part of a sequence.

If you are trying to train your dog and your dog is not responding in the way you think it should. Take a fresh look whilst remembering a dog will only do something for some type of reward given instantly following completion of that something. A dog will not understand you saying do something now and it will get a reward in a minuet. Even giving a reward a few seconds later is too late. If you want your dog to do something and keep on doing it then you must reward your dog instantly so it knows why.

Feline Leukaemia Support

Since bringing, our two cats to Spain they have both contracted feline Leukaemia. The older cat is 18 and though she has a positive test result, she does not have any of the problems prone to the younger cats infected with the disease. Do immunise your cats before you come to Spain or as soon as possible after you arrive. It is not 100% but it is the best protection for what is now becoming a very common problem here.

If you would like to learn more then there is a web site www.felineleukemia.org dedicated to providing you with the most up to date information regarding the methods and drugs currently available to fight the effects of this disease. If you do not have a computer, I can send you copies of these interesting and informative pages.

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