Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Wrap-Up

Whew! Over two months and 13 posts later, I’ve finally finished my series of posts on the Ian Dunbar seminar. It’s taken a lot of time and work to organize my notes and write up these posts, but I think it was worth it; we’ve had some great discussions in the comments section, and I’ve really thought a lot about how and why I train the way I do.

Today, I just want to take a few minutes to cover the things that didn’t fit neatly into other entries. These are just random odds and ends, and I’m presenting them simply because I think they’re interesting. There is minimal commentary here, and they’re presented in the order in which they appear in my notes.

First, Ian thinks that animal shelters can do a lot of harm. They unhousetrain dogs and typically teach them to be hyperactive. They also isolate companion animals. As a result, Ian has founded something called Open Paw. Check it out, and poke around at their minimum mental health guidelines. If you’re like me, you’ll feel horribly guilty that you’re not doing enough with your dog!

Next, are trainers more likely to have crazy dogs than the general public? Ian thinks so, and even coined the term “The Trainer’s Dog Syndrome.” He thinks that we are more likely to have multiple dogs, and as a result, don't have the time to socialize our puppies properly. We are more likely to pick a “crazy” breed. And, we tend to be more over-protective our puppies and create problems as a result. Personally, I think trainers are also more likely to have crazy dogs because they have big hearts and take them in because no one else could handle them, and become trainers in the first place after having worked through their crazy dog’s issues.

Last spring, Premier Pet Products was sold to RSC, a company that makes shock collars. In response, some positive-reinforcement trainers decided to boycott the company. Ian was not one of them, and in fact, supported the decision. At the seminar, I found out why: he has some neat ideas for products. For example, pressure sensitive mats that reward the dog as long as he remains on it. Or how about a leash/collar combo that coaches the human to reward the dog when the leash is loose? And then, there’s his dream of a machine that can monitor a dog’s vocalizations when he’s alone, and dispense treats when he’s quiet. Sounds intriguing. I hope some of them pan out.

Here’s a neat idea: when you’re teaching verbal cues, use a neutral tone and volume. Then, teach that if you shout the cue, the dog will get better treats. This helps improve reliability in an emergency.

Regarding the “negatives,” Ian says that the problem with these quadrants is that you must remove something that has been present for awhile. This means that you must start something in order to remove it, which can be difficult (or even aversive). Further, Ian believes that negative punishment (ie, timeouts) is a waste of training time. It’s also easy to punish the wrong thing when doing a time out, especially if you grab a collar in order to do a timeout. Negative reinforcement, however, is powerful, and Ian believes it’s best for proofing. The drawback is that it can damage a dog quickly since you have to start a bad thing, which can create fallout. As a result, Ian described his training as roughly 85% positive reinforcement, 10% positive punishment, and 5% negative punishment.

I love this one, and I think it applies not only to dog training, but also to life: learn to ask the right question. When you’ve figured out what the question is, you already know the answer. To ask means that you have enough knowledge to formulate the question in the first place, so the solution will be easy. (For example, instead of asking “How do I punish my dog for barking when I’m not home?” you should ask “How do I reward my dog for being quiet when I’m not home?”)

How is food used in training? Well, it can be used as a lure (to give instruction), as a reward (which is a surprise consequence), as a bribe (presented in order to coerce the behavior, which is silly because antecedents don’t change behavior, consequences do), and as a distraction (show the dog the treat, set it down away from you, and request the behavior).

And that’s it! That is officially everything I wanted to share with you guys about the Ian Dunbar seminar I attended. Thank you so much to everyone who has commented on these posts. Your thoughts, questions and conversations have been fascinating, and I’ve learned just as much from analyzing the content with you guys as I did from listening to Ian. I would be sad that this series of posts is over, but I’m signed up for Clicker Expo in March, which pretty much guarantees another dozen or so posts, followed by a weekend with Sarah Kalnajs in April. I can’t wait to discuss everything I learn with you guys this spring!

13 comments:

Kristine said...

There is a lot of fascinating stuff here!

Re: "The Trainer's Dog Syndrome", my dog trainer currently has 10 dogs, other than the puppy she just adopted, all 9 have issues of some sort. I always just laugh and tell her she is nuts but I wonder now if this really is something. Many of the trainers I know do have multiple dogs with problems as most of them are rescue advocates as well. As you say, what comes first? Did thhe crazy dog create the trainer? I know after all my adventures with Shiva, even though I am not a professional, I may be more attracted now to a dog with behavoral problems because I would want to give him the chance others may not.

Anyway, thanks so much for sharing all you have learned. It has definitely given me a lot of information. I wish I lived in a part of the world where seminars like these took place.

Crystal said...

I certainly understand that impulse. There is a definite learning curve to handling a reactive dog. That said... I NEVER want to do this again. I know how, sure, but it's so emotionally exhausting for me sometimes. I'd really rather be able to have a normal dog that I can do normal things with, instead of constantly worrying about whether or not I should take Maisy somewhere. But then I'll see some cute, crazy thing, and it tugs at my heart...

Ninso said...

A few random comments on your random points :)

Yes, I think that trainers are more likely to have crazy dogs, but I'm not sure they create them. (Aside: I also think it depends on your definition of crazy--if you mean behavioral problems, yes; if you mean dogs who simply lack basic manners, then I really don't see it.) I don't know about trainers who get most of their dogs as puppies, but those who adopt adults are probably more likely to be ok with a dog that has behavioral issues than someone who is looking for a pet. In my pack I have leash reactivity, dog aggression, human-fear-aggression, OCD, separation anxiety, storm phobias, and high-energy herding dogs (which is a behavioral challenge in and of itself). And I also agree that having multiple dogs reduces the time you can spend training them, but I'm not sure that's a reason to NOT have multiple dogs, as long as you can give them what they need and manage what you don't have time to work on at the moment.

The Premier stuff is interesting. I probably have a different opinion on this than 99% of "positive trainers" because I use a shock collar (an electronic bark collar to be specific). It wouldn't be my first resort, nor would I recommend it for all dogs. I don't like using it and I would prefer not to. But there are limited situations in which I think even some of these tools we think of as "barbaric" can be a good thing--it just has to be used properly, like anything else. Conversely, I think tools we generally think of as "humane" e.g., the gentle leader--can be just as barbaric as something like a shock collar if used improperly. Ian's ideas for positive use of technology to improve dog training are fascinating and I hope they pan out!

On time-outs: this is one training technique I have used successfully in certain situations. Most recently I have used it to correct Jun's habit of chomping a disc before she drops it. I don't remove HER though, I remove myself--walk away from her, turn my back, and ignore her for about 10 seconds. For Jun, this is very effective punishment, and would probably be even more effective if I could use a conditioned punisher (like saying "no") before I walk away, but she can't hear me and she's not looking at me while she's chomping, so I can't do that. I think it really depends on the dog and how much of an impact it will have on the dog to remove either the dog or yourself from the situation. I also think that having a conditioned punisher to "mark" the wrong behavior would increase the probability that the dog associates the punishment with the actual behavior you're trying to punish.

Crystal said...

I completely agree that some of the "positive tools"- like the Gentle Leader- can be anything but. I'd actually rather see someone using a prong WELL than a GL poorly. Of course, I'd rather not see the prong at all.

Ettel, Charlie Poodle, and Emma Pitty said...

This is wonderful! I didn't see the previous posts on the seminar, but will check them out.

I'm so jealous that you're going to the Clicker Expo. I went to one in 2009, and it was unforgettable.

I know several trainers who've boycotted Premier like you said. I really needed a Manner's Minder for my dogs (made by Premier) and fought with the idea of buying it for a long time before I decided that I really needed the equipment.

I'm so happy that you're sharing all of this, I really appreciate it.

Kristen said...

I want you to go to all seminars for me and take notes and summarize. It's better than actually attending!!!

- Dog trainers: Interesting observation and I don't know how true it is. Sure.... 2/3 of mine have serious problems... but it's not completely from a lack of training. I also got those two before I was a trainer, and went WAY out of my way to ensure that Griffin would be a normal dog. I also know too many people who did tons of research and still ended up with extra challenging dogs. It's just bad luck sometimes (....dogs are still loved... but everyone wishes the dogs were less stressed!).

- Premier... they've had citronella products forever. I don't see the electric products being any better or worse than that.

Seriously great job on all the notes and summarizing! Thanks!

Crystal said...

Ettel- If you click the "Seminars" tab up top, there's a complete listing (well, as soon as I update it for January) of all the seminars I've written about.

What/who did you see at Clicker Expo? Anything that is a must see? I'm having the hardest time deciding...


Kristen- I'd be glad to! Pick the seminar, pay the registration and travel expenses, and I'm there! ;)

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Thanks for all the writeups!!! I really wish I could go to all the seminars coming up but at least I can live vicariously through you!

Tegan said...

Thanks so much for your notes on Ian's seminar. Your summaries are fantastic.


The only comment I have on these random pieces is time outs... I use the bathroom as a time out space for my dog, but I think this is more successful in giving ME a time out than effective as a behaviour modification strategy. That is, it gives me a chance to chill out and rethink. And the dogs don't really care.

Joanna said...

Well, Crystal, you've done it -- you've gotten me to write down a record of my training sessions with Dragon. And of course, you're right, it IS helpful. It's helping me see the holes in my training -- where I don't have clear criteria, and where I can split things out more. Considering we've only just started training, it's amazing to find this already! I hope that it'll help him quickly become clicker-savvy (and I know that it'll help me be a better trainer).

I settled on doing a weekly spreadsheet with boxes under each day in which I can scribble a quick note on anything we worked on. I've automtically started writing in and underlining things to change or keep in mind for future sessions.

The fact that he's not clicker-savvy already makes me feel like a poor clicker trainer -- he's so smart that I must be the one holding him back! He's now deliberately repeating cute behaviors I've been capturing. It's shaping that we still need to figure out.

Crystal said...

Joanna, you should have waited another 24 hours! Today's post will be about training logs. :)

Sherry said...

Thanks for your great recaps, Crystal. They're very informative to those of us who are out in the boonies :0).

I was wondering why he feels shelters make dogs feel more hyperactive. Out of our three dogs, our shelter dog is definitely the anxious/hyperactive one...he doesn't know the meaning of the word "relax." I attributed it to his breed and genetics, but maybe his time in the shelter traumatized him more than I ever thought?

Crystal said...

You're welcome, Sherry!

I believe that his line of thought was that dogs in shelters are usually not getting adequate exercise, are under huge amounts of stress, and find that the best way to get attention is to bark and jump on the gate. This leads to a crazy dog.

Of course... I do think that some dogs might be in shelters BECAUSE they're hyperactive.