Sunday, January 24, 2010

You can't do behaviour modification if you don't know jack about it

You'd think that would be obvious, but it mustn't be, considering how many blogs I've read this week alone on the topic of "I'm going to train my dog with only positive reinforcement".

Well, first of all, that's not how dogs teach each other in the wild, so don't think you're doing your dog a favour. The only person who benefits from this little New Year's Resolution is you, because now you've created the appearance of a good excuse not to step outside of your little limp-wristed Oprah sentimentality for the sake of your dog.

Second, it's by definition impossible to do behaviour modification using only positive reinforcement. All you're doing is ignoring all the behaviours that aren't within the realm of positive reinforcement. Yay you!

For those who actually want to train their dog, not just make themselves feel all fuzzy and Care-Bear-esque, here is the actual bird's eye view of behaviour modification:

I do something or give somethingI stop doing something or remove something
to make you do something more oftenPositive reinforcementNegative reinforcement
to make you do something less oftenPunishmentExtinction

Let's have some examples.
  1. I give Tinky-Winky a treat whenever she executes the command "roll over." (Positive reinforcement)
  2. I stop giving corrections with the leash when she walks beside me nicely. (Negative reinforcement)
  3. I show teeth and growl at strange dogs when they try to jump on me. (Punishment)
  4. I stop petting a known dog if he starts trying to jump on me. (Extinction)
Is positive reinforcement effective? Of course it is. Is it sufficient? No it's not. You can only increase a behaviour with positive reinforcement, you cannot decrease one.

Unless of course you're using some specious word-play to fit your little personal world to reality. For example, if your dog jumps, and you decide to give him a treat every time he doesn't jump, and call it "positive reinforcement only", you're wrong. You may be positively reinforcing "four on the floor", but you're also using extinction by not giving a reward for jumping. If you're continuing to reward your dog for jumping, it doesn't matter that you're giving treats for four-on-the-floor, the dog is still going to jump. And if your friends are rewarding the dog for jumping, the dog is still going to jump. The only way the dog is going to stop jumping is through punishment and/or extinction. Why? Because by definition, a behaviour modification technique that aims to decrease a behaviour is either punishment or extinction. There isn't really a work-around.

So if you're going to use only positive reinforcement to train your dog, either you don't know what you're talking about, or you've made the decision not to suppress any behaviour that comes naturally to your dog, such as jumping, humping your leg, pissing in the house, chewing your stuff, barking at the door, and demanding food on his own schedule. Hey, good for you. Wish you joy of it.

Yeah... Training is a lot easier when you have an idea what you're doing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

There's no place like home

Now that I'm working in Yellowknife, everyone expects me to move to Yellowknife. Actually, I'm pretty sure if anyone even remembers me in Hay River, they've assumed I moved to Yellowknife already. Like a friend of mine said, leaving Hay River is like pulling your hand out of a bucket of water: it doesn't even leave a dent.

But notwithstanding that they'll have forgotten my name by now, the odds of me actually moving out of Hay River are what my boss likes to call "zero to none." And this is probably the main reason why... Because it's the best place in the world to walk your dog. The top two photos are on the trail, where it's fairly plausible that I can run my dog. The bottom two are actually down the middle of our main street on Sunday morning. Not a soul, let alone a vehicle. You can actually let your dog run right down the middle of main street and not even have to worry about her safety.

I love Hay River.

Things I love about my shiba

I love her hands.

You might think dogs don't have hands, and technically you're right. Dogs have paws. However, Tinky-Winky has remarkably graspy little paws, and by that I don't mean she's avaricious. Well... Ok, she is avaricious, even as dogs go, but that's not what I meant.

The thing with Tinky-Winky is, when she shakes hands, or when I give her my hand to lean on so she can stand up and tell me something, she doesn't rest her paw limply in my hand like most dogs do. Instead she flexes her phalanxes, or her metatarsals, or whatever it is she flexes, so that it feels like she's holding my hand.

And as she's the only one who ever does, I sure appreciate her holding my hand in her graspy little paws.

LOLZ encore

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reader question: how do you establish leadership?


That's a good question, Adam, and the answer is so long that a guy named Cesar Millan is making a good deal of money answering it, in books and on TV. I highly recommend him. If nothing else, read Cesar's Way. It explains exactly how to be the pack leader.


Just because he's famous, doesn't mean he's wrong.

Ok, so as for me answering the question briefly and for free, let me ask you this: how did your boss establish leadership over you?


With mine, it went like this: the phone rang one day, and I pick it up and this guy says "hi, I'm The Boss from The Company." And you know what, he totally sounded like the boss.

So how he "established leadership" is that he told me he's the boss, and I believed him. That is all. And so it is with dogs.

Like I said before, leadership isn't something you "do", it's something you have. And it's especially not something you do vis-a-vis someone else, such as your dog. You, Adam, wrote:

"NOs" with the dog, pretending to be a dog and throwing your dog on its back and showing ur teeth while growling may do it for some things.
Well, you're right about that. It "may" do some things. It's got nothing to do with leadership, though. Seriously. How often does your boss say "NO!"? Does that work? Do you learn anything from your boss walking around saying "NO!" every so often? Do you even listen, or do you think he's a crazy jerk?

Well, probably your boss doesn't say "NO!". Because it doesn't achieve anything.

Rolling your dog onto her back? Either the dog thinks it's a game, or she realizes you're just throwing your weight around. Dogs aren't stupid; they know that a person eight times their weight and with opposable thumbs can put them on their backs. That doesn't mean they're giving anything to you psychologically. And in my work analogy, it would be kinda like the boss coming to your station and saying to you. "I'm bigger than you and you have to obey me! Because I'm the boss! Bahaha! I'm important! I have a big penis! My paycheque is huge! Kiss my ass, you meaningless grunt!"

Not really helpful.

As for showing teeth... I can't imagine why you'd want to show teeth to your dog. Showing teeth is a threat and it's serious. Tinky-Winky and I show teeth when a loose dog approaches our pack. If he keeps coming, we attack. And I do mean "we" attack. Tinky-Winky with her teeth, me usually just feinting at the dog, although I have in the past kicked a dog who had Tinky-Winky pinned to the ground and wouldn't let go. At least I was nice and kicked him in the hip, not in the belly, but I'm certainly not gonna back down from a dog fight if the other dog starts it. Showing teeth, usually, should prevent dog fights by adequately communicating "get out of here or you're gonna get messed up." If the dog doesn't clear out, it may become necessary to mess him up. So why would you show teeth at your own pack? I would never show teeth at Tinky-Winky, and she'd be in a world of trouble if she showed her teeth at me. But of course she doesn't. She has to be seriously mad to show teeth. Like I just said, it's the last thing before she attacks. And there isn't a lot of time between the warning and the attack, either.

Showing teeth is serious business. I wouldn't do it until you really mean it.

So... What do you do? You don't do. You are. You are the leader.

Being the leader means first of all one thing: you make decisions. As long as you're not making decisions, you're not leading anyone. So in your pack, you have to make the decisions. You, not the dog. If the dog tells you when it's time to feed her or walk her or play with her or where she's gonna sleep, she's making the decisions. She's the leader. You should be the one deciding all these things.

Now you might think that because your particular dog is a puppy and you're housetraining her, she has to tell you when she needs to go out.

Except she doesn't.

If you walk your dog often enough, she won't be giving you orders, and it will make her housetraining easier. My neighbour's basset never housetrained properly on three walks a day. She was two years old when my neighbour adopted her and not properly housetrained. So, I told the neighbour to walk her four times a day at regular times. Immediately, the dog was housetrained. It's not that she hadn't grasped the concept of holding her bladder, she just didn't really bother because she didn't believe she'd be walked before it was too late. Once she knew what time she was getting walked for sure, she'd wait for her walk. Likewise with your puppy. Take her outside regularly before she asks, so she knows two things: 1) there is a bathroom break coming before it's an emergency, and 2) YOU decide when the walks are.

Likewise with feeding. One book I read said "never ever free-feed a dog, or you won't be able to use food as a reward." First of all, that's nonsense on the reward part. More food is always welcome with a dog. And second, while it's not necessary to free-feed a dog, if you're not doing it, then you have to make sure you feed only on your own terms. Tinky-Winky gets a dish of home-cooked food once a day, after her evening walk, and she knows that. She's long since given up asking for an extra dinner by staring at the fridge. However, if she's hungry between meals, she always has Iams kibbles. She eats a little bit from her bowl of kibbles every day, and so she never bothers me for food. On the other hand, with our last set of roommates, there was an older woman, Barb, who was Tinky-Winky's slave. Tinky-Winky would lead her to the fridge, and when Barb opened it, Tinky-Winky would stick her head in and pick out whatever she fancied. Then Barb would grab whatever it was, unwrap it, and give it to her. Tinky-Winky never did that with any of the other roommates, and certainly not with me, but she knew it would work with Barb. Between the two of them, there was no question that Tinky-Winky was the leader.

So clearly, an important aspect of leadership is that in order to retain it, you have to make sure your pack's needs are met. As long as the pack has a full stomach thanks to you, they'll follow you. This is almost word for word in the Tao Te Ching, by the way. Keep the people's bellies full and they will be peaceful. More generally, make sure your dog has food, water, walks, chewies, beds, structure and affection, before she has to ask for them. Then she's not having to make her own decisions about when to eat, pee, fight another dog, anything.

Now with your particular case, Adam, because you have a puppy, it's somewhat necessary that she make her own decisions some times, as part of her development. So, she'll have to challenge you some of the time, as a teenager would. I'd say, just keep your cool about it. Be like a cat: pretend that was exactly what you meant to do.

And therein is another important point: be cool. Cesar calls it "calm assertive." You can call it whatever you like, but be cool. Always be cool. My neighbour with the basset used to be almost in tears whenever she opened her fridge because the dog would shove her out of the way, stick her head in the fridge, and refuse to be removed. I told her, just tie up the dog before you open the fridge. It won't teach her anything, but it will take away her power to make you cry.

So, don't let the dog get to you. And don't let the dog see other things get to you, either. If you're walking the dog and someone comes toward you with another dog, and you're getting all freaked out because there's gonna be a fight, the dog is gonna figure there must be a threat, because you're all freaked out, and he's gonna want to do something about it. Such as fight the other dog. So, if there's a dog coming, be cool. There won't be a fight. You can handle it.

Oh yeah, handling it. Because you're the leader, you have to handle things. With Tinky-Winky, quite often she'll want to put a dog in its place, and I think she's right. But because I'm in charge, I don't let her put the dog in its place. I have her sit, I put my arm around her, and then I tell the other dog where to go. Likewise if there is someone at the door, it's not for her to bark and defend our territory. I handle the person at the door. I'm the leader. It's my job.

Now one thing about all this leadership is, with dogs as with people, there is a big difference between a leader and a control freak. You don't need to control your dog's every move, you just need a generally obedient spirit, and to be in control of the situation. Between Tinky-Winky and me, some things are non-negotiable, such as barking at the door. We live in an apartment, so it's absolutely not an option for her to bark. Therefore, she does not bark at the door. And she was an absolutely obsessive door-barker when I got her. On the other hand, if I tell her to jump up on the bed at bedtime and she doesn't want to, I don't insist. It's not really important whether she sleeps on my bed or on her bed, so I don't get all controlling about it.

An aside about the door thing: again the "who's in charge" aspect has a role in that. If I'm home with her and someone comes to the door, Tinky-Winky says nothing, because I'm in charge. But if I'm in the shower and someone comes to the door, Tinky-Winky will give some warning barks, because she's figured out that I don't handle the door when I'm in the shower. So, being the good pack member she is, she has to make sure I know. And so I always make sure to answer her, so she knows I know.

Finally, an important trick I got from horse trainer Pat Parelli: "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard."

It works with people, horses, dogs, anything but cats, I think. Cats don't have a problem going way out of their way to do the wrong thing. But with dogs, it works. For example, about chewing. Many people leave their shoes on the floor and then have a fit because the dog ate them. Ok... Put your shoes in the closet, then. The dog isn't gonna take the time out of his day to grow thumbs, open the closet, find your shoes, and eat them. He'll just find something more convenient to chew on. And this is a particularly important one with puppies, as I found to my chagrin when I had puppies. I had two husky puppies, Scotland and Willow. When I got them, they were tiny and cute. They never ate a shoe, but they ate everything they found on the floor, such as the Yellow Pages. So, I learned to put everything up on shelves that the dogs couldn't reach. Sadly, I didn't account for the fact that puppies grow, so one day, the shelf where my leather wallet had always been safe came within the reach of Scotland, and so she ate my wallet and all my credit cards. Oops...

So yeah. Make it so it's inconvenient or impossible for the dog to do what you don't want, and easy to do what you do want. If you don't want the dog on your bed, have her sleep in a crate. If you don't want her to go into the bathroom and eat the toilet paper, keep the bathroom door closed (it's good feng shui anyway to keep bathroom doors closed). If you don't want her in the garbage, put your garbage in something she can't open, and take it out promptly when you've put something especially tempting in the garbage. Like say, the remains of a rotisserie chicken. You can't blame your dog for fighting her way to a rotisserie chicken through every door in your house, really.

So that's pretty much what I can think of about being the leader. In summary:
  • Make the decisions.
  • Ensure the pack's well-being.
  • Be cool.
  • Don't be a control freak.
  • Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.
And read Cesar's Way.

I hope some of this helps... Feel free to ask more questions, I'll do what I can to answer them.

This isn't my LOLZ

... but I thought it was pretty darn funny.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The advantage of leadership

The first advantage of leadership over not having any is, obviously, you can make creatures do your bidding. Such as, say, your dog. And speaking of dogs, the other great advantage of leadership over whatever dog-handling theory you believe in is, leadership doesn't require you to think, or to do anything. All you have to do is be. Leadership works by wu wei. It's nice that way.

Consider the following. Suppose a dog jumps up on you. Why does the dog jump on you? Well, that's a stupid question. Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question. It's stupid to ask yourself why the dog jumps, because the dog isn't asking himself. The dog jumps on you for the same reason he barks, licks his balls, and has sex with other dogs. He's a dog. That's what he does. It's the Tao of dogs.

A less stupid question would be: why can't you prevent the dog jumping on you? And by "you" I don't mean "a person", I mean specifically you, as in "not me". Because I don't have that problem. I absolutely can prevent dogs jumping on me. In fact, it amuses me.

One time, my neighbour's huge jumpy dog Chaos came running at me in the lobby of the Highrise, thinking she was gonna jump on me. I put my hand on her and she was down on her back before her owner could even intervene. I didn't apply any force to her. It would have been pointless anyway, since she's stronger than I am. I simply desired her not to jump, and she didn't. It's almost two years and the guy still tells that story.

Likewise my other neighbour's basset. She used to jump on everyone who came to the door, except me. If the door opened and I was there, she would stop herself mid-jump and go back to bed.

I love doing that, because it amazes the owners. But I couldn't tell them how to do it, really, because I'm not doing anything. I just desire the dog not to jump. The reason the dog doesn't jump is because obeying me is even more natural to him than jumping on me.

If you had leadership, you could do that too. But since you don't believe in leadership, you'll have to devise some convoluted manipulative shenanigans to try and bribe your dog out of jumping. It's a waste of time and not a reliable method, but oh well. That's what you get for sucking as a dog handler.

With Tinky-Winky, I use bribes to teach her useless parlour tricks such as "pray" and "roll over". The useful stuff, like "come", "leave it" and "down", she does because I want it. She knew none of it when I got her, and I never bothered teaching her any of it, except the difference between "sit" and "down." She just knows pretty well what I want, and she does it because doing what I want is important to her.

We don't even have any kind of protocol for "punishment." We don't need it, that's why. One time an annoying know-it-all guy insisted on making his dog violate Tinky-Winky's personal space. The dog didn't want to. I told the guy not to. He insisted. He pushed his dog into Tinky-Winky's space, and she snapped at the dog. So, the guy demanded I punish Tinky-Winky. Um... no? First of all she didn't do anything wrong. The other dog was rude, albeit not of his own free will, and I support Tinky-Winky's right to put rude dogs in their place. If I was gonna punish someone, it would be the guy. A swift kick in the nuts would have done him good, I think. But the other reason I wasn't about to punish Tinky-Winky is, I have no way to do so, and she wouldn't understand it anyway. I've had her more than four years and she's never been punished. Neither of us would have any idea what "punishment" would look like.

Like any other behaviour modification trick, "punishment" isn't necessary if you have leadership. It's only a crutch for people who have to impose their will through petty, manipulative ways. My horse was the same way, she had no concept of me disciplining her. One time she bucked me off while we were trail-riding bareback in the woods. So I found a mounting block, and every time I stepped up on it, she'd turn her butt away so I couldn't get back on. I think she did it about eight times, and then I said to her "you do that one more time..." And that was it. She stood for mounting and we went on our way. I have no idea what I could possibly have done had she not listened to me. Neither did she. Somehow, the entertainment value of keeping me on the ground wasn't worth pissing me off.

That's the great thing about leadership versus... whatever it is you're doing. I don't need any form of bribe, threat, or nonsensical theories of what dogs are thinking. I don't need to manipulate animals with too much or too little food, or with clickers, or with choke collars. Or people, either. It works at youth group or at work just the same as it works with dogs, horses and cows. I want things. I let the beings around me know it. They do what I want. Everyone's happy.

But yeah, I'm sure whatever theory you're using to fail abjectly in modifying your dog's behaviour is awesome, too. If you're making no impression on your dog, surely it's not because he doesn't care what you want and your complicated behaviour-modification theory is worthless. Maybe it's just that you're doing it all wrong. I guess that all wouldn't matter if you'd just show some leadership instead, but yeah, your complete failure doesn't indicate that your theory sucks, necessarily. Maybe it's just you that sucks.

What kind of dog digs for goodies?

Shibas, apparently. Here is Her Majesty, lying in the snow in -28C (-18F) eating something she dug up. I was wondering how she could lie in the snow for so long when usually she complains of cold feet, but then I noticed she was shivering as she ate. When she finished eating and tried to resume walking, her feet hurt so much she didn't go ten yards, and even after I warmed them up, all she could do was sit and shiver. So, I carried her back toward the car. After a while she felt better and walked on her own, but she wouldn't run. When we got home she had difficulty with the stairs, too, so I carried her to my room, put her under the blankets, and had a nap with her. She seems better now. Crazy animal.

But as to the question of "what kind of dog digs after things": all dogs do. Also, pigs do. And owls. And horses and cows dig through the snow to find food. And bison and moose. And ravens. And chickens. And many kinds of ducks. And bears and racoons. And of course, people. The question isn't what kind of dog digs, really, but what kind of ignorant person would ask such a question.

Dogs dig when they can get something good by digging. And they go after the smell of whatever smells like it's good to have. Why? Because so would you. If you could see that there is $100 buried just under the snow, you'd dig for it too. In fact, we people will grab any resource we find unattended, if we can. I pick up all toques, ski masks, neck warmers, gloves and sweaters that don't get claimed. I have tons of them. If I see money on the ground, I take it. At work, if we see a tool we need, and no one claims it, we take it. We're actually pretty respectful at my work, and try to find an owner first, but in a lot of places you just take what's there and too bad for the guy who left it lying around. Any unguarded doughnut is fair game, of course, and many people will eat someone else's lunch out of the lunchroom fridge, or their roommate's food, even if it's labeled. Those of us who don't are said to have "principles", but that just means we're going against our instincts.

The reality is, all creatures take resources where they can find them, and if they have to do a little digging for it, then they will. Because if something is good to have and you can take it easily and no one will stop you, you take it. Doesn't matter even what species you are, let alone what breed of dog.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The life expectancy question

This shiba just died. She had her own blog too: The Misanthropic Shiba. Like I said, I don't care much for blogs about how much trouble shibas are, but that's not the point. The point is, she's from the same breeder as Tinky-Winky. I don't know her pedigree, but it seems like a useful guideline to answering the question of how long my precious might be around.

The breeder had told me 15 years. The vet says 9 to 12 years for a shiba. Hmmmmm... I need more data.

Unfortunately, the dates on the site contradict each other. Either she's born in 1993, or 1997. If it's 1997, I'm gonna assume it's not relevant to Tinky-Winky, because she's not two years away from death, at least not from old age. Recklessness is another matter.

So, let's say this dog was 16 years old. That gives my Tinky-Winky six more years. That's nice. I don't want her to die this soon.

Your opinion notwithstanding

Apparently, some people don't "believe" in dominance.


How about stupidity? Do you believe in that? How about pork and beans? Snow? Clouds? Money? Cheese? The colour blue? You believe in all these things? Ha. What a gullible sucker you are.

"Dominance" isn't something you can "believe in" or not, because you can just see it with the naked eye. If you've ever had, say, parents, or babysitters, teachers, or bosses, you're aware that some people are better than others at making decisions and having others implement them. Or if you're not aware of that, feel free to start believing in stupidity.

Really, though. It's not a matter of opinion. It's not a matter of semantics, either. Call it "leadership", "charisma", "presence", "dominance" or whatever else, everyone can see it. There isn't even a species barrier in leadership. Whenever two or more creatures have the power to make decisions, one of them will be the most able of the lot, and thus the leader. Like a dog and 20 sheep. Or a kingbird and a hawk.

Other than very stupid people, maybe the exception is the limp-wristed Oprah generation, the people who believe that "leadership" necessarily implies being an arsehole, and that emotional drama should take priority over necessary action. I suspect those people can't see leadership, because they're too busy with their touchy little feelings. Then again they don't have any leadership either, so it might rather suit them if it would stop existing altogether. Though that still doesn't explain their weird denial problem. Just because I have no cheese right now doesn't mean I can deny the existence and/or the validity of cheese.

Leadership is. It's not like transubstantiation, which requires "belief". Leadership just is. Like cheese, like pork and beans, like stupidity, and like the colour blue.

Dogs know this. The fact that you don't is irrelevant to your dog. The dog knows that leadership is, and that whoever has the most of it calls the shots. And since it's not you, obviously, it's him. And if you can't grasp that, then not only is the dog more charismatic, he's smarter than you, too.

I could sure go for some pork and beans just now.

Tinky-Winky's new bed

Tinky-Winky has a habit of tearing her blankets. She tries to shape her bed, then she gets frustrated and obsessive and just shreds everything. I used to buy fleece blankets for her, and she went through a large number of them. Then, earlier this year, I gave her a comforter I had had for 13 years.

Clearly, she was pleased with her new bed. Nonetheless, after a month she had reduced it to this:

Hmmmmm... I gave her another comforter I had had for 17 years. She shredded that one too. Then, I was out of comforters and she had only one fleece blanket left. So, I sewed the fleece blanket into a rectangular bag, and stuffed it with all the batting she had torn out of the two old comforters. Thusly:

I didn't have time to finish the last seam, so it's open at one end, which allows her to knock the stuffing out of it. And she seems to enjoy this system, so I never did bother finishing that seam. I'm thinking of putting in a zipper instead.

In any case, after five weeks the bed looks like this:

Amazingly, it's not getting ruined. She hasn't even been trying to tear it. She paws at it a little, enough to make a depression to fit herself, then she just sleeps like a normal creature. At last, I've solved her OCD problem!

That being said, when she found the remains of her old bed, she dragged them back into the middle of the room and slept on them. So now she has two beds: the new one for being comfy, and the old one for going nuts and shredding everything.

I think she's got it pretty good.

Sunday, January 3, 2010