Tuesday, May 25, 2010

No, your dog isn't a "designer dog"

Hopefully everyone here just went "what's a designer dog?"

The answer is, there is no such thing as a designer dog. It's just what people call a mutt when they don't want to admit they have a mutt.

More specifically, you get a "designer dog" when you breed two badly bred dogs of two different recognizable breeds together, and then make up a ridiculous portmanteau word for it, like "cockapoo."

How do I know the parents are badly bred? Because people who have high-quality, papered, unaltered dogs, breed them to high-quality, papered, unaltered dogs of the same breed. People do not breed their many-thousand-dollars Canadian champion poodle to a cocker spaniel.

The dumbest thing about the "designer dogs" fallacy is that they're actually the very opposite of "design." There are mutts that are bred by design; for example, sled racing dogs. Those are bred selectively to enhance specific desirable traits. "Designer dogs" aren't. It's a one-off cross which isn't intended to produce anything in particular. It's just that your kid has a cocker spaniel and your sister has a poodle and for whatever reason, you think that's a good way to add to the dog overpopulation problem.

Naturally, because they're crosses, "designer dogs" have no consistent type. Which doesn't stop people from writing lengthy notes about what a "cockapoo" is like. Realistically:

These are all "cockapoos." They all look different. You wouldn't even know they're the same "breed" - for the excellent reason that they aren't. They're not a breed at all, they're a MUTT. And if you were to cross two of the above, you'd still have no idea what you're gonna get, because it's not a breed.

A breed is "a group of domestic animals or plants with a homogeneous appearance, behavior, and other characteristics that distinguish it from other animals of the same species." When you breed two of the same breed, you get back the same homogeneous appearance and other characteristics. It takes many generations of purposeful cross-breeding, and selecting the traits you're looking for, to create a breed.

And the fact that the unscrupulous Continental Kennel Club will register your "cockapoo" just shows there is always a niche for taking advantage of the gullible; it doesn't in any way validate your "designer dog" nonsense.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

You still can't train with just positive reinforcement

Last weekend, I reprimanded Tinky-Winky.

Gasp! The horror!

Clearly, I'm a totally abusive dog owner, and I should go to H*, me and Cesar both.

So what happened is, Tinky-Winky likes to tear stuff up. So I'm always careful to make sure she can't tear the wrong thing. Except, when the roommate bought a new futon, I didn't realize that Tinky-Winky had been sitting on it (no one else does), until a tear appeared. Uh... oh...

I keep thinking I'm going to fix it. Any day now. But I still haven't. So on the weekend, I was at the computer, and Tinky-Winky was on the futon, and she started picking the stuffing out through the tear.

Was she doing it because she's bored? No. She sleeps 20 hours a day, she doesn't get bored much.

Was she doing it because she has too much unspent energy? No. We had six good walks on the weekend, she was tired.

Was she doing it because she's stressed and neurotic? No. She's a happy, mellow little dog.

She was pulling the stuffing out of the futon because it's fun. Like smashing light bulbs. Why do people smash light bulbs? Because it's fun. Even if you totally have better things to do, you're not bored, you're not frustrated, and it's late in the day, and you find a stash of old light bulbs, you're gonna smash them, because it's fun. Or if you want to use big behavioural terms, it's a "self-rewarding behaviour." Smashing light bulbs is its own reward, and pulling the stuffing out of the futon is its own reward.

Ok, so then, how do I stop her doing this? Wait patiently for her to stop, with my imaginary clicker in hand, and give her a click and a treat when she stops digging? Right. How much stuffing do you think she's gonna go through before she stops of her own free will? And what is it gonna teach her except "if you dig the stuffing out of the couch, you get a treat when you're done"? And what's going to stop her doing it when I'm not standing there with a treat ready for her?

My dog knows where treats come from. They come from me and only me. If I'm not there, there won't be any treats. But pulling stuffing out of the futon will still be fun even though I'm not there. So... what's going to stop her pulling stuffing out of the futon when I'm not home?


I reprimanded my dog. I said to her "excuse me, what do you think you're doing?" She stopped and looked at me. She knows by my tone of voice when I'm not impressed, and even though she's a shiba, she cares if I'm not impressed. So, she stopped what she was doing. And she hasn't done it again since. Will she do it again some time? Probably, if I don't fix that tear. But it stopped her at the time, and it stopped her even in my absence. Because even when I'm gone, she knows that digging at the futon makes me unimpressed. If she's at all like me, she's going to hear my voice in her head every time she goes to dig at the futon, going "excuse me, what do you think you're doing?" And that will be enough to stop her, for a while at least. Whereas the treat method would only stop her while I'm standing right there.

This is also why so many people think their dogs are trained to stay off the couch, but as soon as they're out of the house, the dogs are all over the couch. They're not trained to stay off the couch, they're trained not to let you catch them on the couch. The dog knows that the consequence comes from you. They know the treats are only there when you are, but the memory of a punishment endures while you're gone. So they're gonna make sure they don't get caught on the couch, but they're sure not going to stay off the couch.

And no, punishment isn't traumatic. All I did was say "excuse me, what do you think you're doing?" I didn't beat her, shock her, wrestle her to the ground, or otherwise abuse her. I just pointed out that I wasn't approving of her behaviour. That's all a punishment is: something you do to decrease a behaviour.

Like I keep saying, if you think you're training your dog with "only positive reinforcement", either you're not teaching your dog a whole lot, or you don't understand what positive reinforcement is.

No, seriously:

Did anyone mistake these for a shiba?

No you didn't. Don't even lie. This looks nothing like a shiba. You know why?

Because it's a fox.

By comparison, this is a shiba:

Again, this is a fox:

and this is a shiba:

They're not the same shape, size or colour, see? That's how you know they don't look alike.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Note to self: the dog knows too much

You know how some dogs can tell if they're going for a walk by what clothes their human is putting on? Well, mine can't because I always wear the same clothes anyway. So I was getting ready for our walk and she was watching me from the couch, wondering whether there was any point in getting up. Normally I tell her "walky", but for whatever reason, I just showed her that I had my camera. And she jumped off the couch and ran for the door.

She knows me pretty well.