Tag Archives: dog training

Good dog? Bad dog? Your dog’s personality can change

MSU dogs in park

When dog-parents spend extra time scratching their dogs’ bellies, take their dogs out for long walks and games of fetch, or even when they feel constant frustration over their dogs’ naughty chewing habits, they are gradually shaping their pets’ personalities. Dogs, like people, have moods and personality traits that shape how they react in certain situations. New findings from Michigan State University went where few researchers have gone before to reveal that, also like humans, dogs’ personalities likely change over time.

“When humans go through big changes in life, their personality traits can change. We found that this also happens with dogs – and to a surprisingly large degree,” said William Chopik, professor of psychology and lead author. “We expected the dogs’ personalities to be fairly stable because they don’t have wild lifestyle changes humans do, but they actually change a lot. We uncovered similarities to their owners, the optimal time for training and even a time in their lives that they can get more aggressive toward other animals.”

Additionally, Chopik found that dogs’ personalities can predict many important life outcomes. For example, canines’ personalities will influence how close they feel to their owners, biting behavior and even chronic illness.

The research, published in Journal of Research in Personality, is one of the first – and is the largest – studies of its kind to examine changes in dogs’ personalities. Chopik surveyed owners of more than 1,600 dogs, including 50 different breeds. Dogs ranged from just a few weeks old to 15 years, and were split closely between male and female. The extensive survey had owners evaluate their dog’s personalities and answered questions about the dog’s behavioral history. The owners also answered a survey about their own personalities.

“We found correlations in three main areas: age and personality, in human-to-dog personality similarities and in the influence a dog’s personality has on the quality of its relationship with its owner,” Chopik said. “Older dogs are much harder to train; we found that the ‘sweet spot’ for teaching a dog obedience is around the age of six, when it outgrows its excitable puppy stage but before its too set in its ways.”

One trait that rarely changes in age with dogs, Chopik said, was fear and anxiety.

Honing in on the saying, “dogs resemble their owners,” Chopik’s research showed dogs and owners share specific personality traits. Extroverted humans rated their dogs as more excitable and active, while owners high in negative emotions rated their dogs as more fearful, active and less responsive to training. Owners who rated themselves as agreeable rated their dogs as less fearful and less aggressive to people and animals.

The owners who felt happiest about their relationships with their dogs reported active and excitable dogs, as well as dogs who were most responsive to training. Aggression and anxiety didn’t matter as much in having a happy relationship, Chopik said.

“There are a lot of things we can do with dogs – like obedience classes and training – that we can’t do with people,” he said. “Exposure to obedience classes was associated with more positive personality traits across the dog’s lifespan. This gives us exciting opportunities to examine why personality changes in all sorts of animals.”

Chopik’s findings prove how much power humans have over influencing a dog’s personality. He explained that many of the reasons a dog’s personality changes are a result of the “nature versus nurture” theory associated with humans’ personalities.

Next, Chopik will examine how the environment owners provide their dogs might change the dogs’ behavior.

“Say you adopt a dog from a shelter. Some traits are likely tied to biology and resistant to change, but you then put it in a new environment where it’s loved, walked and entertained often. The dog then might become a little more relaxed and sociable,” Chopik said. “Now that we know dogs’ personalities can change, next we want to make strong connection to understand why dogs act – and change – the way they do.”

Link to the journal article here.

Source:  Michigan State University

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How to Deal with a Crotch Hound

We all know the type…but are probably afraid to classify our own dogs as Crotch Hounds since it sounds so rude.  The dog trainer is this video calls the behavior ‘checking the oil’ when visitors arrive!

Here’s a new video with some advice on how to re-train your dog so your visitors are greeted in a more socially acceptable way.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Your dog remembers what you did

People have a remarkable ability to remember and recall events from the past, even when those events didn’t hold any particular importance at the time they occurred. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology have evidence that dogs have that kind of “episodic memory” too.

The study found that dogs can recall a person’s complex actions even when they don’t expect to have their memory tested.

“The results of our study can be considered as a further step to break down artificially erected barriers between non-human animals and humans,” says Claudia Fugazza of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, Hungary. “Dogs are among the few species that people consider ‘clever,’ and yet we are still surprised whenever a study reveals that dogs and their owners may share some mental abilities despite our distant evolutionary relationship.”

memory-research

This image shows Claudia Fugazza and her dog demonstrating the Do As I Do Method. Credit: Mirko Lui

Evidence that non-human animals use episodic-like memory has been hard to come by because you can’t just ask a dog what it remembers. In the new study, the researchers took advantage of a trick called “Do as I Do.” Dogs trained to “Do as I Do” can watch a person perform an action and then do the action themselves. For example, if their owner jumps in the air and then gives the “Do it!” command, the dog would jump in the air too.

The fact that dogs can be trained in this way alone wasn’t enough to prove episodic memory. That’s because it needed to be shown that dogs remember what they just saw a person do even when they weren’t expecting to be asked or rewarded. To get around this problem, the researchers first trained 17 dogs to imitate human actions with the “Do as I Do” training method. Next, they did another round of training in which dogs were trained to lie down after watching the human action, no matter what it was.

After the dogs had learned to lie down reliably, the researchers surprised them by saying “Do It” and the dogs did. In other words, the dogs recalled what they’d seen the person do even though they had no particular reason to think they’d need to remember. They showed episodic-like memory.

Dogs were tested in that way after one minute and after one hour. The results show they were able to recall the demonstrated actions after both short and long time intervals. However, their memory faded somewhat over time.

The researchers say that the same approach can most likely be used and adapted in a wide range of animal species, to better understand how animals’ minds process their own actions and that of others around them.

“From a broad evolutionary perspective, this implies that episodic-like memory is not unique and did not evolve only in primates but is a more widespread skill in the animal kingdom,” Fugazza says. “We suggest that dogs may provide a good model to study the complexity of episodic-like memory in a natural setting, especially because this species has the evolutionary and developmental advantage to live in human social groups.”

For all those dog owners out there: your dogs are paying attention and they’ll remember.

Source:  Science Daily

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

The Most Desirable Traits in Dogs for Potential Adopters

Note from DoggyMom:

Shelters need all the help they can get to increase rates of adoption.  This latest research from Texas Tech University may help them do that and the results may surprise you – traditional ‘training’ may not be the answer.


Alexandra Protopopova has performed extensive research trying to increase the adoption rates and decrease euthanasia rates for animal shelters throughout the country.

Walking down the long rows of pens at any animal shelter reveals a veritable smorgasbord of canine variety.

Big dogs. Little dogs. Outgoing dogs. Shy dogs. Hyper dogs. Calm dogs. Happy dogs. Sad dogs.

But finding which one is right for a potential adopter is a big challenge for animal shelters throughout the country. The way to find that right fit between adopter and adoptee has almost always been about matching personalities and has never really had much scientific theory behind it.

Until now.

Alexandra Protopopova, a behavioral analyst and assistant professor in companion animal science in the Department of Animal & Food Sciences at Texas Tech University, has turned what started as her doctoral dissertation into a major research focus. She is attempting to determine what behavioral traits in dogs are most attractive to potential adopters and then working with shelters to train dogs to exhibit those traits when an adopter shows interest.

“Currently there are numerous pets living in animal shelters, not only in Texas but in the U.S. and around the world,” Protopopova said. “The problem is that a lot of these animals are living for quite some time at these shelters, even if the shelters are well-funded. Because of space restrictions, the animals are typically socially deprived, they are housed in single or very small groups without a lot of human interaction, and the euthanasia rates are still very high across the country.

“Can we figure out a way to train dogs in the shelter so that when people come in and see the trained dogs, it will improve their adoption rate and decreases euthanasia rates?”

The answer, through her research, appears to be a likely, yes.

But finding that answer not only meant discovering and displaying the most attractive traits in a dog, but also breaking down some of the myths that have, over time, seemed to determine the most attractive qualities in a canine companion.

Breaking assumptions
Determining what traits in dogs are most attractive to potential adopters involved not only observing canine behavior but also breaking away from some of the traditionally held assumptions from the past.

These are traits that Protopopova said she has been investigating since her time as a graduate student. Many shelters have training programs that are based on these assumptions, and it took going back to the basics and avoiding the widely held assumptions to determine what true traits in dogs were most and least attractive to potential adopters.

Kennel dog“A typical assumption was that training dogs to sit and not jump or bark would result in higher adoption rates, since that is what we had assumed adopters wanted in their dogs,” Protopopova said. “I also had my own assumption that people really like a dog that would gaze lovingly into their eyes, when in fact we saw no evidence of that in our research. So why don’t we take a step back and systematically figure out what it is people want to see in a dog? We approached it from a marketing perspective, and from there we could see, after knowing what behaviors are favorable to people, what programs we needed to work on to improve behavior and ultimately increase adoption rates.”

An extensive examination of canine behavior in kennels was then undertaken to determine which behaviors were the most and least favorable for potential adopters. Protopopova observed in-kennel behavior and examined everything the dogs did as people walked by.

Behaviors such as barking, sitting and jumping had no effect whatsoever on attracting potential adopters, but a dog that would pace in the kennel, turn their face away from those walking by or lean sadly to one side of the kennel would deter adopters and lengthen the dog’s stay in the shelter.

But the most telling behavior came when there was actual interaction between the dog and potential adopters outside the kennel. It is standard practice at shelters to allow potential adopters to select one or two dogs they might be interested in and allow them to interact in an outdoor area to see if they are compatible.

Two behaviors stood out among all others as the strongest determinants toward whether or not the dog was adopted. If the dog laid down in proximity to the adopter, that increased the likelihood of adoption. Conversely, if the dog ignored the initiation of the potential adopter to play, that decreased quite severely the likelihood of adoption.

Knowing those two key traits in dogs, Protopopova and her fellow researchers were able to develop a structured training program where the shelter volunteer or staff member could go with the potential adopter and guide the dog’s behavior based on its toy preference, knowing the dog would not ignore the toys it likes, or eliminate toys altogether if it was determined the dog did not like playing with toys.

Shelter volunteers and staff also would encourage the dog to lie down next to a potential adopter using treats. All these efforts, Protopopova said, resulted in a discernable increase in adoption rates.

“We also asked people why they chose the dog they adopted and why they did not choose the dog they didn’t adopt after those interactions in the experimental setting,” Protopopova said. “It’s fun to take those words the adopters use, those constructs and figure out what they mean. If an adopter told us they adopted the dogs because it was ‘social and liked me,’ they could simply mean ‘the dog lay down next to me.’”

This training program also is cost-efficient, knowing shelters do not have the resources to afford a professional training staff, which is why Protopopova considers it more behavior management than actual training.

But is it actual training? Or could this be considered more of a way of tricking the dog into behaving a certain way to increase its adoptability? That was certainly something Protopopova considered, though adopters indicated afterward the method was no more intrusive than the control group where the dog was allowed to do whatever it wanted.

“The interactions between adopters and dogs are only eight minutes long because that is how long previous research has shown it takes adopters to decide,” Protopopova said. “The dogs have only eight minutes to show their best side, so if we can do anything to show them off in the best light possible, that is a good thing for the adopter and the dog.”

The next step has been partnering with Maddie’s Fund foundation, which offers grants to shelters that works with community veterinarians, rescue groups and animal control agencies. Through Maddie’s Fund’s help, Protopopova is taking her research to a national scale, trying the same techniques at different types of shelters across the country.

“Will it work in smaller, rural community shelters? Will it work in the big city environment?” Protopopova asked. “Furthermore, will it work in different parts of the country? Our assessment was in Florida, but will it work in Texas, in Boston, in San Francisco? We will take it to six shelters nationally and try it out there.”

Other factors besides behavior
Obviously, factors beyond behavior go into why potential adopters choose the dogs they choose. Adopters can be looking for a certain breed or a certain size of a dog.

Certain breeds such as long-haired dogs, shepherd breeds and collie breeds tend to have high adoption rates, as do toy breeds such as Pomeranians or Chihuahuas. But a second question begged to be asked after the initial research by Protopopova – are some breeds more or less susceptible or accepting of behavioral training?

One problem with answering that question is the majority of dogs in a shelter are not purebreeds, but rather a mix of many breeds or dogs that have never had a purebred ancestor. So determining their trainability based on breed would be difficult.

Age also is an important factor in whether the dog’s behavior can be modified to make it more adoptable. Typically, puppies are more likely to be adopted because of their age and the fact adopters want to find a dog that can be with them for a long time. So training of puppies in an animal shelter setting might not be the best use of limited resources.

Conversely, older dogs that are well into their adulthood tend to stay in the shelter longer because adopters don’t seek them. So the ideal group for this experiment was dogs in their adolescence or just into adulthood. The good news is that, contrary to the old saying, old dogs can be taught new tricks.

“It just makes more sense if you’re a shelter volunteer to put your resources in training adolescent dogs,” Protopopova said. “But how does age affect training in general? It doesn’t affect it a whole lot. But, of course, socialization is very important for puppies. If you haven’t socialized your puppy to different people, different sounds, different environments and other dogs, you will have a much harder time young adult dog is much easier on families. Puppies engage in much worse behavior.”

Protopopova said in some cases it’s also difficult to determine how the dog was treated before arriving at the shelter. Dogs in shelters fall into one of three categories – owner-surrender, stray or confiscated due to abuse or cruelty.

The difficulty comes in owners who surrender dogs to a shelter. Shelters charge a fee to owners who give up their dogs, so in many cases, owners tell the shelter the dog was picked up as a stray to avoid paying that fee, or because they are wracked with guilt for giving up their beloved pet.

Those labels not only make a difference to potential adopters, but an owner-surrender dog, somewhat surprisingly, is more likely on a national scale to be euthanized than a stray, Protopopova said.

While the first study involved roughly 250 dogs, the bigger national study will involve many, many more and will involve dogs from a variety of shelter types, from municipal shelters to limited-admission shelters – a term Protopopova prefers over no-kill shelters. Protopopova is anxious to see how the study works on that national scale and how many adoptions encouraged by a dog’s modified behavior result in some dogs being returned.

Given what has been discovered so far, though, Protopopova is encouraged her efforts and those of her fellow researchers have forged a path to increasing adoptions across the board.

“We are very excited about this procedure because this is really the first time we have experimentally and systematically demonstrated an increase in adoption rates through behavioral training,” Protopopova said.

Source:  Texas Tech University media release

Aim to snuggle, not muzzle

Muzzle vs Snuggle

There’s an old saying:  you reap what you sow

In all my work with special needs dogs, I think this holds true.  If our starting point is muzzling a dog because of their breed, and they are unable to express their natural behaviors or experience the joy of freedom, then we sow the seeds of aggression.

If we aim to make all dogs companions and we work towards socializing and training them, we get the opposite.

Simple, isn’t it?

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Will computers replace dog trainers?

North Carolina State University researchers have developed and used a customized suite of technologies that allows a computer to train a dog autonomously (without human involvement), with the computer effectively responding to the dog based on the dog’s body language.

“Our approach can be used to train dogs efficiently and effectively,” says David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “We use sensors in custom dog harnesses to monitor a dog’s posture, and the computer reinforces the correct behavior quickly and with near-perfect consistency.”

Dog training with computers

“Because the technology integrates fundamental principles of animal learning into a computational system, we are confident it can be applied to a wide range of canine behaviors,” says Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-author of the paper. “For example, it could be used to more quickly train service dogs. Ultimately, we think the technology will be used in conjunction with human-directed training.”

The dog harness fits comfortably onto the dog and is equipped with a variety of technologies that can monitor the dog’s posture and body language. Each harness also incorporates a computer the size of a deck of cards that transmits the sensor data wirelessly.

For the current study, the researchers wrote an algorithm that triggered a beeping sound and the release of dog treats from a nearby dispenser whenever the dog’s harness sensors detected that the dog went from standing to sitting.

The researchers had to ensure that the reinforcement was given shortly after the desired posture was exhibited, and also ensure that rewards were only given for the correct posture. This required a trade-off. If the algorithm ran long enough to ensure the correct posture with 100 percent certainty, the reinforcement was given too late to be effective for training purposes. But if the reinforcement was given immediately, there was a high rate of rewarding the wrong posture.

To address this, the researchers worked with 16 volunteers and their dogs to optimize the algorithm, finding the best possible combination of speed and accuracy. The researchers then compared the algorithm’s timing and accuracy to that of an expert human trainer.

The algorithm was highly accurate, rewarding the appropriate behavior 96 percent of the time. But the human trainer was better – with a 100 percent accuracy rate.

However, while the average response time was about the same for both algorithm and trainer, there was a lot of variation in the time of response from the trainer. The algorithm was incredibly consistent.

“That variation matters, because consistency is fundamentally important for all animal training,” Roberts says.

“This study was a proof of concept, and demonstrates that this approach works,” Bozkurt says. “Next steps include teaching dogs to perform specific behaviors on cue, and integrating computer-assisted training and human-directed training for use in various service dog applications.”

“In the long term, we’re interested in using this approach to animal-computer interaction to allow dogs to ‘use’ computers,” Roberts says. “For example, allowing an explosive detection dog to safely and clearly mark when it detects components of a bomb, or allowing diabetic alert dogs to use their physical posture and behaviors to call for help.”

Source:  North Caroline State University media release

Crate training

I like crate training, particularly because it helps ‘future proof’ your dog.

If your dog needs surgery or rest from an injury at any time, having them used to comfortably resting in a crate saves a lot of time and stress (for both dog and owner).

If you need to travel with your dog, whether for a holiday or for relocating, crate training helps you manage your dog’s comfort as well as your own (e.g. limits the risks of accidents in hotel rooms that will charge you an additional cleaning fee).

Greyhound in crate

Izzy, mostly in her crate, but enjoying a summer breeze coming from the back door. Izzy’s crate is her safe place (the way it should be)

Crate training can be particularly useful for re-homed dogs because dogs will seek out a place that is safe (den-like if you are thinking of wolves).  Giving a re-homed dog a place they can retire to – and not be bothered – is useful for getting them accustomed to life in a domestic home.  It’s also a useful boundary for children to learn.  If the dog is in its crate, then leave it alone.

Unfortunately, over the last 10 or so years, as crate training became more normalised as a concept, it also has been abused.  Owners who are not consistent with their training or not taking the time to truly get their new puppy or dog settled in their home (taking on a dog is a lifetime responsibility, but initially you have to put in the time to get your dog set up for success  for life), have begun using crates as a cage.  A place to go when the owners are out at work (all day, in most cases) or when the dog has mis-behaved and the owner has had enough.

That’s the wrong use of a crate.  There were even stories of dogs locked in their crates during the Christchurch earthquake of 2011 – the dogs were up to their necks in liquefaction by the time they were saved.  That’s not a heartening story if you ask me.  That’s a story of an irresponsible dog owner.

There are many resources to help owners learn crate training.  The Humane Society of the United States, for example, has this useful video:

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand