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The Listen Dog Blog

Welcome to the Listen Dog Blog!

 

I'll be keeping it up-to-date with regular catch-ups on what I've been up to, plenty of original articles on obedience training and behavioural best practice, plus top tips and ideas you can work on at home with your own four-legged friend!

 

If there's anything you'd like to see covered here, simply drop me an email at:

 

Lisa@ListenDogTraining.co.uk 

 

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By listendogtraining, Dec 31 2016 09:00AM

These two types of rehabilitation form the basis of how we treat dogs who have a negative emotional reaction to any given stimulus – be it other dogs, men, women, children, traffic or anything else which causes them distress.


Whilst both immersion therapy and desensitisation involve exposing the dog to the stimulus that causes them fear or anxiety, they wholly differ in their approach. Desensitisation involves overcoming the fear gradually, at a slow and comfortable pace, ensuring the dog does not become overwhelmed at any stage of the process, whereas immersion therapy – otherwise known as flooding – involves presenting the cause of the dog’s anxiety directly to the dog, and all at once, allowing the dog no opportunity to escape or avoid the situation.



So, if we were dealing with a fear of other dogs, for example, desensitisation would involve a gradual exposure to another dog, at first from a great distance and for a short period of time; perhaps the dog would only glance at the other dog walking past at the very end of the street for a second or two. As time went on, the exposures would become slowly and steadily closer in proximity and perhaps longer in duration, all at a pace the subject dog appeared comfortable with, until s/he could happily allow another dog to pass by him unaffected on a walk.

Immersion therapy, in stark contrast, would involve introducing the dog to another dog in close proximity, which may then immediately be walked towards and around him. Flooding (immersion therapy) is a far quicker approach than the slow and steady desensitisation, however it can cause overwhelming anxiety and stress in dogs – some have become so traumatized that they lose control of their bladder and bowels, whilst others resist flooding so intensely, that they become aggressive, and the problem is only made worse.


Whilst there are some professionals who have and continue to practise immersion therapy, at Listen Dog Training we advocate a slow and progressive desensitisation-based approach, as although it can take longer, the risk of causing more damage to an already anxious dog is minimal, and it is a wholly safer method for your everyday dog-owner to utilise.




By listendogtraining, Dec 30 2016 09:00PM

These two types of rehabilitation form the basis of how we treat dogs who have a negative emotional reaction to any given stimulus – be it other dogs, men, women, children, traffic or anything else which causes them distress.


Whilst both immersion therapy and desensitisation involve exposing the dog to the stimulus that causes them fear or anxiety, they wholly differ in their approach. Desensitisation involves overcoming the fear gradually, at a slow and comfortable pace, ensuring the dog does not become overwhelmed at any stage of the process, whereas immersion therapy – otherwise known as flooding – involves presenting the cause of the dog’s anxiety directly to the dog, and all at once, allowing the dog no opportunity to escape or avoid the situation.



So, if we were dealing with a fear of other dogs, for example, desensitisation would involve a gradual exposure to another dog, at first from a great distance and for a short period of time; perhaps the dog would only glance at the other dog walking past at the very end of the street for a second or two. As time went on, the exposures would become slowly and steadily closer in proximity and perhaps longer in duration, all at a pace the subject dog appeared comfortable with, until s/he could happily allow another dog to pass by him unaffected on a walk.

Immersion therapy, in stark contrast, would involve introducing the dog to another dog in close proximity, which may then immediately be walked towards and around him. Flooding (immersion therapy) is a far quicker approach than the slow and steady desensitisation, however it can cause overwhelming anxiety and stress in dogs – some have become so traumatized that they lose control of their bladder and bowels, whilst others resist flooding so intensely, that they become aggressive, and the problem is only made worse.


Whilst there are some professionals who have and continue to practise immersion therapy, at Listen Dog Training we advocate a slow and progressive desensitisation-based approach, as although it can take longer, the risk of causing more damage to an already anxious dog is minimal, and it is a wholly safer method for your everyday dog-owner to utilise.




By listendogtraining, Dec 30 2016 07:00PM

‘Classical conditioning’ – otherwise known as ‘Respondent conditioning’ was discovered and observed by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist who was studying digestion in dogs at the time. He noticed that the dogs would salivate before they were fed, and investigated the idea that perhaps the dogs were associating the lab assistants who fed them (or even the sound of the door opening) with the immediate presentation of food, and so tested this theory by ringing a bell just before the dogs were fed. He presented the sound of the bell immediately prior to the food, several times, before going on to present the sound of the bell alone. He discovered that, after this exercise, the dogs still responded by salivating, even though food was not present.


This type of response can be described as unconditioned or reflexive – the dogs cannot help but salivate when food is presented, it is a natural physical response that they do not decide upon. In classical conditioning therefore, an unconditioned stimulus (food) elicits an unconditioned response (salivation). It is a natural reaction. The sound of the bell began as an entirely neutral stimulus which elicited no response, but eventually became conditioned (by its association with the arrival of food) that it ended up causing the once unconditioned (but now conditioned) response of salivation. And it is this process of conditioning which is described as ‘Classical conditioning’.


Whereas the unconditioned responses that form the basis of Classical conditioning have a biological basis related to survival – i.e. reflexive actions of the glands – Operant conditioning, in contrast, involves the muscles of the dog which control his voluntary actions, such as sitting, running, and barking.


Operant conditioning was the work of B.F. Skinner, who wanted to take Pavlov’s findings (and the work of another scientist, Lee Thorndike) on to the next level, and explore how behaviour could be influenced by reward. It is the work of Skinner which now forms the basis for what we traditionally refer to as ‘dog training’ – teaching a dog to respond to verbal commands such as ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ etc. Skinner discovered that dogs learn faster when the desired behaviour is consistently rewarded – so if every time a dog responds to a certain cue by ‘sitting’ he is then given a treat, he will eventually learn to sit on command, by realising that this select behaviour is being rewarded, and voluntarily deciding to perform said behaviour. In stark contrast, the responses elicited through classical conditioning are not voluntarily decided upon by the dog, but brought about as mere reflex reactions, which are elicited on cue simply because this chosen cue was so frequently paired with the original, natural stimulus.


So to conclude, operant conditioning conditions voluntary responses decided upon by the dog, whereas classical conditioning conditions the involuntary, biological reflexes. To this end, it is operant conditioning that we apply in order to train assistance dogs, trick dogs and general obedience… whereas it is classical conditioning that we apply to help with socialisation, fear-rehabilitation, and the overcoming or prevention of any other problem behaviours that are a direct result of how the dog feels.




By listendogtraining, Dec 29 2016 07:00PM

Despite the fact that every decent dog breeder, trainer, and behaviourist will wax lyrical about the importance of good socialisation and habituation from an early age, there are still many dogs who grow up with fears and anxieties because they simply haven’t been exposed to the big wide world in the right way at the right time.


Any poorly socialised dog suffering from such issues must be reintroduced to the world slowly, and in an entirely positive manner. For example, if the dog shows anxiety or fear around other dogs, do not flood him into sensory overload with a trip to a dog-filled park, instead slowly introduce the concept of other dogs in his vicinity at a great distance. If another dog is visible in the distance and your dog spots it, praise and treat him incessantly. This kind of classical conditioning can be used to gradually build up a positive association in your dog’s mind, with the presence of other dogs. The same method can be applied to a range of anxiety-inducing stimuli, such as traffic, children, or men. Generally speaking, the best way to reduce fear is to keep introductions incredibly gradual, and make strong positive associations throughout.

As advocated by behaviourist Nicole Wilde, this process of desensitisation must be done steadily; never flood a dog with the trigger that frightens him, as this can be a traumatic experience for the dog, will not help to resolve the problem, and can in fact make matters worse, because now the dog has a problem trusting you as well.


So if we take the sound of the hairdryer as an example, you could first turn it on upstairs whilst your dog is downstairs, and treat the dog. Then repeat this with the hairdryer in a nearby room on the same floor, then again in the next room, then again with the doors open, and then in the doorway of the room the dog is in, and so on and so forth.


For fearful dogs, confidence-building is a lengthy and heart-rending process, which requires dedication and understanding on the part of the owner; progress will be slow, but much more effective if taken at this pace. Be careful to pay attention to your dog, and watch out for subtle signs that your dog is getting stressed or anxious, such as excessive yawning, lip-licking or scratching. If, at any point during the desensitisation process your dog starts to display these behaviours, take a step back to a point in the process where your dog was not reacting with stress at all.


It is also critical to educate any friends and family who will be coming into contact with your dog on the current state of affairs, and ensure that these people do not behave in a way that may compromise any progress that is being made – it is incredibly frustrating to put in oodles of hard work as an owner, only to have a house-guest come striding in and undo it all in one fell swoop! If for example the dog seems fearful of people, spread the word to ensure that no-one approaches your dog quickly or noisily, or reaches out to pet the dog when it has not yet sought out contact.


Be wary of any behaviourist who says they can ‘fix’ your dog’s problems in ‘just one session’ – such results will probably be obtained using less than positive means, and will likely be short-lived. Genuine rehabilitation takes time, patience, consistency and dedication, but with commitment, and the help of a good professional, you can certainly rehabilitate your dog from a range of anxieties, and help him to enjoy life!




By listendogtraining, Dec 18 2016 01:40PM

To say that ‘there are no bad dogs, only bad owners’ implies that the actions and behaviours of the owner are the ONLY possible influential factors that can affect the personality, motivation, and behaviour of a dog – and this is certainly not the case.


We know that dogs are affected by a vast array of stimuli from incredibly early on; Bruce Fogle goes so far as to say that dogs can even be affected by the state of mind of their mother, during their time in her uterus, alluding to research that suggests that stressed pregnant mothers can produce more fearful animals, and in particular that bitches who are stressed during their third term of pregnancy are more likely to produce puppies with reduced learning ability, extremes of behaviour and increased emotional states.


There are so many factors that can influence a dog’s personality and behaviour outside of those within the owner’s control, including experiences with its mother and littermates, adequate or inadequate socialisation with other dogs during puppyhood, the memory of traumatic experiences, such as being attacked by another dog, the dog’s genetic make-up, breeding history and state of health... the list goes on.


However, whilst there are many factors outside of the owner’s control, it is equally true that there are many, many factors within the owner’s control, which can greatly alter a dog’s behaviour also. So if you took two genetically identical puppies, who had reasonably similar personalities, it is safe to assume that if one puppy was placed with an owner who provided adequate socialisation, obedience training, nutrition, exercise and companionship, then that dog would be seen to thrive in comparison to his counterpart, who had been placed with an owner who did not exercise, socialise or train their dog appropriately. Such a neglected dog would be more likely to develop problems such as aggression or anxiety around other dogs due to poor socialisation, bad manners due to poor training, and problem behaviours such as destructive chewing or excessive barking due to inadequate exercise or stimulation.


The above is a very controlled comparison; the point still remains that no two dogs are the same, even if they are selected from the same litter. Add to that the further diversity that exists as a result of the myriad breeds we have today, all bred for different purposes and to display incredibly varying behaviours, and you find it is impossible to place sole responsibility for a dog’s ‘bad’ or ‘good’ nature on the owner alone.


Nevertheless, what can certainly be said, is that whilst the owner is not the only influence on the nature of their dog, they can be an immense influence, and this is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.


When investing in a puppy or dog, you must always take full responsibility for providing the essential training, socialisation, healthcare, exercise and companionship that that dog requires, to provide them with the best chance of growing into a well-rounded, good-natured canine companion. When the breed traits and natural instincts of a dog are left unfulfilled, behaviour problems are going to occur, so to do your best to ensure a dog is happy, balanced and safe, you must take into account the needs of the dog you have chosen, based on its breed and its individual personality, and provide the most appropriate lifestyle and care possible... the rest is up to the universe!




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