Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Problems in the Adult Dog

Ian’s message on Friday was simple: you can predict puppy problems, and if you start young enough, you can prevent them, too. Ian believes that after 12 weeks of age, it becomes much, much more difficult, and once a dog reaches adolescence at roughly 18 weeks, it’s almost impossible. Despite this focus on preventing problems, he did talk a bit about problems adult dogs have, and gave a very brief overview on working with those issues.

One of the most interesting things was that he categorized dog problems in two categories: behavior problems, and temperament problems. Behavior problems are things that the dogs do, and include house soiling, chewing on inappropriate items, digging, and barking excessively. Temperament problems are things the dogs have, and include fear, aggression, hyperactivity and shyness. Ian says that even though behavior problems are far easier to fix through training, people are far more likely to surrender these dogs. Conversely, despite the fact that temperament problems are incredibly difficult to change, people are far more willing to live with dogs that have them.

Although I was intrigued by this distinction, I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, I agree that many behavior problems are due to a simple lack of training. On the other, it seems difficult to parse out which category a dog fits in, especially since temperament problems must be expressed through behavior. While Ian acknowledged that temperament may affect a dog’s behavior, a focus on behavior alone seems to oversimplify what could be a complex issue.

For example, Ian believes that separation anxiety is more likely to be an owner-absent problem instead of true anxiety. He explained that owner-absent problems happen because of excessive punishment for naughty-but-fun behaviors like barking a lot or chewing on things without instructing the dog what he ought to do instead. Since dogs are smart and want to avoid punishment, they wait to have fun until after their owner leaves, which leads the owner to believe that the problem is separation anxiety.

It does seem like people throw the term “separation anxiety” around pretty casually, and I’ve certainly run across people attributing anxiety to a dog that simply doesn’t know what is expected of him. Even so, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are dogs who are truly anxious, and I felt like Ian minimized this.

I had a similar reaction when he discussed compulsivity and hyperactivity in dogs. Ian said that he thinks that true OCDs or ADHDs are extremely rare in dogs, and that people use these terms to label their dogs as an excuse not to train them. He made treatment sound very simple by recommending that people reward the cessation of the unwanted behavior. The dog will then choose to disengage from the obsessive or hyper behavior in order to receive the reward, and the duration will reduce as a result.

I cannot agree with this. Maisy has some obsessive tendencies, and I do not believe it is possible for her to disengage from light-chasing behavior unless the stimulus is removed. For example, even though Maisy hates swimming, I once saw her jump off a dock to chase the light glinting on the lake’s waves. I very much had the impression that she wasn’t thinking: her entire demeanor changed before she jumped. She became frantic and seemed out of control. I don’t think she chose to jump. I think her brain forced her to.

Ian also recommended redirecting obsessive behaviors to more acceptable behaviors, such as repetitively licking or chewing on a Kong. He said this not only reinforces lying down quietly, but that it also allows the dog to engage in a more appropriate behavior while still getting the endorphin release that comes with compulsive behaviors. But I don’t see how this solves the problem. An obsessive behavior is a problem because it interferes with the dog’s ability to engage in normal life activities. Redirecting the focus of the obsessive behavior does not change this.

And then, there’s the topic of aggression. Ian actually said quite a bit about aggression, so I’ll cover it in more depth another day, but basically, he said there’s absolutely no excuse for fear-based aggression or dog-to-human aggression, with the implication that it is due to a lack of socialization in puppyhood. He acknowledged that there may be an excuse for dog-dog aggression, and I assume he meant that it may be genetic.

I’m mostly okay with this, but I became concerned when he talked about treatment. He said that he can jump start the process by doing “a bit of flooding” in a growl class. I’m not sure what he meant by flooding, but that statement set off alarm bells for me. He went on to say that most of the time he can have dogs off-leash and interacting in a growl class within 45 minutes! While I understand that leashes can contribute to the problem, he made it sound like it’s much easier to fix than it really is. I also have to wonder if the “bit of flooding” resulted in shut down dogs, which is why he was able to get them off leash so easily.

All of this is really captures the problems I had with the seminar as a whole. Ian’s clearly a very smart man, has had a great deal of experience, and has lots to offer dog owners. I respect him a great deal, and think he’s done a lot for the field of dog training. Despite that, his way of lecturing utilized stories and examples that, while engaging, resulted in gross oversimplifications and even seeming contradictions. For example, later on, in order to prove his point that it’s better to spend the time socializing puppies, he said that rehabbing an aggressive dog takes a very long time. This seems to be at odds with the idea that he can have dogs off-leash so quickly in his growl classes.

I know that his focus is the average pet owner, and as a result, he speaks simply in order to reach them. Even so, I would have greatly preferred more a more in-depth and critical analysis of the issues he brought up, especially since I think he had a lot of very good, valid points to make. Unfortunately, he made them so simply that I’m afraid he undermined his own message.

20 comments:

janaARIES said...

A 'growl class'? Sounds terrible....

Kristine said...

Interesting. I'm confused about the growl class as well. What exactly does that entail?

Ian Dunbar has done a lot of great research and I think if I was to ever get a puppy his work would be incredibly helpful. But as the owner of a rescue, I don't find him as useful in helping me figure out how to help my dog.

For instance, if Shiva's howling and whining and general destruction when I leave the house is a result of previous owner-absent behaviours and not separation anxiety, that still doesn't help me figure out how to improve that.

Interesting seminar, to be sure, and I'm grateful to you for sharing what you learned with us.

Crystal said...

I think that's just his term for classes for reactive or aggressive dogs. I've heard all sorts of cutesy names for those classes, but the concept is pretty much the same despite what it's called.

Crystal said...

Kristine- On Saturday (so during a separate topic), Ian said that it really doesn't matter WHY a dog is doing something. He said people get entirely too hung up on etiology in general, and use it as an excuse not to train their dogs. The training is generally going to be the same, so he doesn't worry much about why.

To a certain extent, I agree. A lot of the general approaches are going to be the same when we work with a dog. Occasionally it may matter what the dog's motivation is (for example, with BAT, a specific protocol for addressing reactivity, you need to know if the dog wants to increase or decrease social distance), but for the most part it doesn't matter too much.

I don't know much about separation anxiety (thankfully!), but I would assume about the only thing you'd do different with a dog with true separation anxiety is consider medication. The training is probably going to be pretty much the same regardless of the cause, although maybe Laura will weigh in on the comments. Her dog has separation anxiety, and she's done a FABULOUS job with him.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

It totally threw me off when he was talking about OCD. I thought some studies had determined that it was similar to a seizure occurring (I think, can't remember at all where I read it, so I could be making that up!) so I really wanted more information on his curing it in several dogs with basically just a chew toy for redirection.

I guess I am wondering if when he was describing behavioral issues if he was more so talking about owners who diagnose their dogs with the issues, rather than true cases of it. Like the "separation anxiety" that really is just boredom and not anxiety at all. Or with his growly dog classes if it is more so for dogs with frustration issues rather than true fear and anxiety. I just can't believe that Ian would have such fast results where as all the other great names doing growly dog classes write that it takes months and years and you usually never end up with a dog who learns to love other dogs.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Kristine- Fixing true SA is a ton of work and I sympathize with you. Have you gone through the typical SA protocol? I'll be Home Soon by Patrica McConnell outlines it nicely. It helped Vito a lot although we still have a long ways to go.

Sam said...

Flooding is a very interesting topic for me because it is being used very extensively in human psychology treatment but shunned by many dog behavior people.

Other than the whole idea of blasting a dog with stimuli that it has come to associate with something aversive (other dogs, in this case), the other big problem people have with it is that it's implemented the wrong way. For flooding to be successful, the dog can NOT leave the situation until it is no longer attempting to make escape or avoidance responses (not learned helplessness, but instead basically voiding the meaning of the conditioned stimuli - ie., teaching the dog that it no longer produces something bad).

I personally prefer desensitization in conjunction with counterconditioning (because I believe that the reason flooding works relatively painlessly in humans has a lot to do with cognitive processes as well), but I just wanted to throw that tidbit in there. I've been thinking a lot about flooding lately and really wondering if and how it fits in to the dog world. So I guess your post just piqued my interest in that way! :)

Kristen said...

Maybe it's not as much of a surprise that he's not speaking much anymore at vet conference type events?

Puppies are important. We need to find good solutions to behavior problems. But most of the time it's definitely not as easy as he makes it sound and most of us are uncomfortable with some of his solutions.

I'd suspect there's a lot more dogs with OCD type problems than ADHD type problems. My understanding is there are only ~7 diagnosed dogs with that in the US. Why so few? 1) Most vets can't diagnose. 2) Most trainers won't recognize it for what it is. 3) The dogs are impossible to live with and some are likely euthanized or end up forever in shelters.

But with some of these problems that are more to do with neurotransmitter imbalances... I don't see how some very basic training can fix that. I've worked with/met too many young puppies on behavior meds, and even with that advantage and good puppy training/bmod.... it doesn't always end well.

Crystal said...

LAURA- You may be on to something with the idea that he was talking about dogs who simply misbehave, and their owners "diagnose" them instead of training. That would make sense, especially since he said that often those diagnoses are used as an excuse not to do training. IF that's what he was doing, I wish he would have been clearer about it. I really don't want to misrepresent his views on things, but I can only work with what he said... (And I do hope you'll let me know if I'm totally wrong about something!)

SAM- In regards to flooding, I can think of two reasons it's frowned on in the dog world:

1. Dog trainers don't need any education or training to work as a trainer, whereas it's tightly regulated in human psychology. Therefore, if a human professional chooses to use psychology, it is much more likely that they understand when it's contraindicated, how to do it correctly, and have had training/experience with it in the past.

2. Like you said, dogs don't have the same cognitive abilities as humans. It may be easier to process what's happening if you are warned in advance. It seems like it would be much more traumatic if you didn't know why this was happening to you.

KRISTEN- I didn't know that he wasn't speaking much at vet conferences anymore, but that's interesting.

kat said...

r.e. growl classes I read this on takingthelead.com it's an excerpt of an interview with Ian Dunbar discussing what is growl class...

what are growl classes?

[Bazzer]
Classes where aggressive dogs get together to try to sort out their problems

[IanDunbar]
The whole thing about growl classes are that we have checked out all the dogs and the fight, and they are obnoxious but have not caused harm - not sent a dog to the vet the growl class therefore offers a safe forum (without embarrassment) for the owners and dogs to learn two things -1. How to control their dogs around other dogs all of the owners will learn this

[Bazzer]
That's about right. But they're wearing muzzles - just in case. What would you suggest if they lunge at each other

[IanDunbar]
2. some dogs will also learn to play off-leash, so we muzzle them (mainly for the owners sake) because none of these dogs have ever bitten and then we see what happens because the dogs have been tested to be safe we have many options

[pawsnlearn]
Do you hold them indoors or outdoors??

[Bazzer]
But if they lunge at each other while on lead, what should the owner do?

[IanDunbar]
to let them growl or scrap it out or to intervene - The best way to stop lunging or any obnoxious behavior is to praise the dog when it stops

[Bazzer]
Not shout or jerk the lead? How would they intervene?

[IanDunbar]
we can not do this in normal everyday living but we can in the growl class

[Gill123]
so a "set up" so to speak?

[IanDunbar]
By setting up a troubleshooting situation with one dog on leash and still and the other 7 walking by the dog will be exposed to the same dogs over and over the first few passes will be horrendous but what else is new we just ignore the dog's tantrums and wait - soon, usually after five or six passes the dog's enthusiasm for growling and lunging starts to wane. Now we can start praising the dog - Important point:

[Bazzer]
What about tethering the dog to a pipe or something sturdy and the owner moving away when he lunges?

[IanDunbar]
if we punish the dog for lunging or growling from the outset the approach of another dog becomes the contingent cue for our punishment - hence the dog will growl MORE - Once we have praised the dog for not lunging and for being quiet, this will not be the case and so then you may reprimand if you like I would never jerk or tighten the leash when doing this - no longer anyway - I used to but it just makes things worse

so that answers what a growl class is in his eyes.

I have just started adult socialisation classes with my dog which in a way is like the growl class - though everything is done off lead until the end of the session when your dog is feeling more relaxed about being around these dogs. recently I have felt like i was puppeting him far too much and that his look away, get a click and receive a treat when around other dogs was turning into a trick rather than actually changing his view of them. As soon as i put the clicker down his behaviour would be the same. He did really well in the first session and he is not as scared as i have assumed him to be - i think when you experience the barking and pulling you can get sucked into thinking your dog is really really bad. I know each dog is different but I am hoping this is going to help.

kat said...

r.e. growl classes I read this on takingthelead.com it's an excerpt of an interview with Ian Dunbar discussing what is growl class...

what are growl classes?

[Bazzer]
Classes where aggressive dogs get together to try to sort out their problems

[IanDunbar]
The whole thing about growl classes are that we have checked out all the dogs and the fight, and they are obnoxious but have not caused harm - not sent a dog to the vet the growl class therefore offers a safe forum (without embarrassment) for the owners and dogs to learn two things -1. How to control their dogs around other dogs all of the owners will learn this

[Bazzer]
That's about right. But they're wearing muzzles - just in case. What would you suggest if they lunge at each other

[IanDunbar]
2. some dogs will also learn to play off-leash, so we muzzle them (mainly for the owners sake) because none of these dogs have ever bitten and then we see what happens because the dogs have been tested to be safe we have many options

[pawsnlearn]
Do you hold them indoors or outdoors??

[Bazzer]
But if they lunge at each other while on lead, what should the owner do?

[IanDunbar]
to let them growl or scrap it out or to intervene - The best way to stop lunging or any obnoxious behavior is to praise the dog when it stops

[Bazzer]
Not shout or jerk the lead? How would they intervene?

[IanDunbar]
we can not do this in normal everyday living but we can in the growl class

[Gill123]
so a "set up" so to speak?

[IanDunbar]
By setting up a troubleshooting situation with one dog on leash and still and the other 7 walking by the dog will be exposed to the same dogs over and over the first few passes will be horrendous but what else is new we just ignore the dog's tantrums and wait - soon, usually after five or six passes the dog's enthusiasm for growling and lunging starts to wane. Now we can start praising the dog - Important point:

[Bazzer]
What about tethering the dog to a pipe or something sturdy and the owner moving away when he lunges?

[IanDunbar]
if we punish the dog for lunging or growling from the outset the approach of another dog becomes the contingent cue for our punishment - hence the dog will growl MORE - Once we have praised the dog for not lunging and for being quiet, this will not be the case and so then you may reprimand if you like I would never jerk or tighten the leash when doing this - no longer anyway - I used to but it just makes things worse

so that answers what a growl class is in his eyes.

I have just started adult socialisation classes with my dog which in a way is like the growl class - though everything is done off lead until the end of the session when your dog is feeling more relaxed about being around these dogs. recently I have felt like i was puppeting him far too much and that his look away, get a click and receive a treat when around other dogs was turning into a trick rather than actually changing his view of them. As soon as i put the clicker down his behaviour would be the same. He did really well in the first session and he is not as scared as i have assumed him to be - i think when you experience the barking and pulling you can get sucked into thinking your dog is really really bad. I know each dog is different but I am hoping this is going to help.

kat said...

r.e. growl classes I read this it's an interview with Ian Dunbar and he discusses what is a growl class...

scroll down and look for bazzers questions...
http://www.ttlntl.co.uk/2/ChatHist/Ian%20Dunbar.htm

I have just started adult socialisation classes with my dog which in a way is like the growl class - though everything is done off lead until the end of the session when your dog is feeling more relaxed about being around these dogs. recently I have felt like i was puppeting him far too much and that his look away, get a click and receive a treat when around other dogs was turning into a trick rather than actually changing his view of them. As soon as i put the clicker down his behaviour would be the same. He did really well in the first session and he is not as scared as i have assumed him to be - i think when you experience the barking and pulling you can get sucked into thinking your dog is really really bad. I know each dog is different but I am hoping this is going to help.

Crystal said...

Kat, are the classes you're taking Frank to with other reactive dogs, or are they with stable dogs? I think I remember you saying that it was with other stable dogs?

Raegan said...

@Sam - I wonder if that doesn't have something to do with the gap between dog brains and human brains. Pure speculation here, we didn't touch on phobias at all in my one gen ed Human Psych class, but I wonder if flooding works in humans because we're able to rationally work through it better? I know part of phobias is that you logically know it's silly, but emotionally you're still afraid, is part of the treatment building up the rational part? I don't know that dogs can do that.

Personally, I don't think redirecting OCD to a kong is an acceptable solution at all. Gatsby gets obsessive about food dispensing toys, particularly the tug-a-jug. He'll cover his face in saliva trying to lick through the plastic/rubber. It's really pitiful to see.

kat said...

Crystal, the way they work is that first you work one on one with the 'teaching dogs' it's all off lead at this point and one dog is introduced at a time so at first they are only ever dealing with one dog. Some of the teaching dogs are very calm and some have more energy. All are trustworthy and respect the signals your dog is sending out.

Gradually, when they're ready, they go into a group situation in a field where all the dogs are off lead. It's a mixture of teaching dogs and pupil dogs. There are two groups and Frankie is in the shy guys group, there is also a naughty but nice group where all the pupil dogs are muzzled. The shy guys group is where the dogs are not aggressive as such, they might bark and they might air snap if a dog is inappropriate but they are fearful and some don't have perfect manners, usually because they have been denied meeting other dogs and therefore learning how to communicate. Dogs in real life are like that so I guess it makes sense to get your dog used to those sorts of dogs as well as the perfectly socialized ones. Dogs need to learn that some experiences - like getting a snap for sniffing another dog is not the end of the world. It's normal behaviour for dogs. The dogs learn to read each other better - they learn not to get air snapped at because of the time before - 'oh that dog is looking uncomfortable with my sniffing, he is looking away and licking his lips, I better stop sniffing'

We just went on a walk with my instructors 6 dogs, all ranging in size, dogs that would have previously petrified Frankie and you could see the difference already. He just needs to learn that dogs are a normal part of life and nothing to worry about and I felt that the only way he was going to do that was by hanging out with other dogs.

I definitely value the counter conditioning and desensitization as it enabled us to get to the point where I felt he was ready to be pushed a little into actually facing his fears and already there is a sense that he is thinking 'oh this isn't so bad after all, in fact this is a lot of fun!'

The growl class is totally different because the dog is forced to endure what it hates - dogs walking past, until it stops. It is then praised for the right response - not barking. There's a video of it on youtube but I can't find it. you see a load of dogs being walked on the opposite side of the street past a lunging barking german shepherd. They go up and down until the dog ends up just sitting down looking confused. then it cuts to a video of the same dog lying down in the classroom while the other dogs walk around it. The dog has stopped but I think the difference is that the dog still doesn't have better dog to dog skills it's just learnt barking has no affect of making the other dogs leave.

kat said...

Crystal, I just wrote out a massive explanation and then lost it!
I can't write it all out again unfortunately because I don't have time but have a look at their website...

http://www.dogcommunication.co.uk/

I think it's very different to a growl class because it's a slower process and the leash work is secondary - it's not about forcing your dog to just stop barking by waiting for it to stop and then praising it, it's about teaching your dog better social skills and just being around other dogs so that they accept them as a normal, nonthreatening part of life.

and in answer to your question, yes it does just start off with 'stable dogs' they call them teaching dogs but gradually you are integrated into a group of teaching and pupil dogs. After all if you want your dog to live in the real world it's going to have to deal with rude, unsocialised dogs. Frankie is in the shy guys group so I know they are all just fearful and sensitive - they're not going to attack him.

The naughty group all wear muzzles so they can learn without the worry that they might cause harm. I can't comment on if it works for everyone but I just went on a walk with my instructor and her 6 dogs and after about 1 minute of Frankie running because he wasn't sure he wanted to meet them he just chilled out and we had a lovely walk. By the end when i put him on the lead he was sniffing them happily. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to go to something like this but I definitely see it makes sense.

Crystal said...

Kat, it looks like your massive explanation posted... and I'm glad, because it was very interesting. Your new dog socialization class is very interesting. I hope you'll continue to update us on how it goes!

I haven't seen that video of the growl class. Are they using DS/CC (with treats), or are they just praising the dog when he stops barking/lunging/growling?

kat said...

how weird!
well actually I didn't see any praising, I've only read about that bit. It was basically just a vid of the during the barking to the point where the dog stopped and the after bit. There was no interaction with the dog, they just ignored him and held onto him while he barked and lunged.

Will let you know how it goes with the socialisation class.

Crystal said...

Kat, that kind of sounds like the CAT (constructional aggression treatment) video I saw once, although optimally, CAT should be done sub-threshold. I also didn't think Dunbar did CAT... No matter- this training method wouldn't work for ME. I just don't have it in me to ignore my dog like that!

kat said...

me neither!