First published 8/17
The American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program was designed to foster responsible dog ownership and recognize dogs who have good manners at home and in public. When I first became involved with CGC, over 10 years ago, I took our dog, Ajax, through a training course and the test. Ajax was an exceptional dog, both in his physical appearance (he weighed over 200 pounds) and in his behavior. Even from a young age, he was extremely attentive and well behaved. I found it very rewarding to work with him to achieve his CGC certification, and I learned a lot about how dogs should behave in public in order to be welcome. In fact, though we have always taken our dogs to different places and had lots of people over, I never really thought specifically about the things that your dog should know in order to be welcome within the community. I think the CGC program does a good job of defining good behavior in its ten test items.
The test items are fairly simple: 1) Accepting a friendly stranger; 2) Sitting politely for petting; 3) Appearance and grooming; 4) Out for a walk (walking on a loose leash); 5) Walking through a crowd; 6) Sit and down on command and staying in place; 7) Come when called; 8) Reaction to another dog; 9) Reaction to distraction; and 10) Supervised separation. Most dogs can pass some of the items without a problem. Some can even pass most of the items, but very few dogs pass all the test items without preparation.
One of the things that not only makes the test more difficult, but also more effective is that testing in an unfamiliar area is much more difficult than testing the dog in its home environment. Lots of dogs behave perfectly well at home, but are not accustomed to focusing on the owner and performing behaviors with the distractions of testing in public. I see this at work almost every day. Dogs are nervous when they come to see me. There are all sorts of unfamiliar sounds, smells and sights. Sometimes, I need the dog to lay down, and he can’t listen to the owner because he’s worried about what I’m going to do to him. If you’re never going to take your dog away from the house, it’s not that important that they can listen away from home. But how many times do we take our dogs on vacation with us? How often do they go to the dog park? Or Petsmart? Or on a walk around the neighborhood? A change of scenery is just as good for our canine friends as it is for us. However, it is much more enjoyable for you and your dog if they are well behaved.
Another challenge is that many people think that if their dog is friendly, they will pass. Certainly, the AKC doesn’t want dogs that are aggressive or terrified to pass, but a friendly dog is not necessarily a well-behaved dog. Running up to strange dogs for a sniff is just as unacceptable as jumping up on new people, and can be more dangerous. You can’t assume that just because your dog loves to meet new dogs that the dog they’re greeting feels the same. If your dog runs up to another dog, and they end up fighting, your dog is just as much to blame. Not all people or dogs you meet want an over-excited dog running over to them or jumping on them. In fact, four different test items require your dog to be calm, restrained and in control in situations where they might get really happy. In my experience, item 8, reaction to another dog is one of the toughest items for dogs to pass. To pass that item, your dog must stay at your side and can’t pass in front of or behind you to see the other dog.
I think my favorite item is “Out for a walk.” This is the other test item that gives people the most trouble. I like it because it encourages people to communicate effectively with their dog through the leash. They must work with their dog to follow subtle cues on the leash, rather than either the dog jerking and dragging the owner around OR the owner dragging and jerking the dog. It is truly amazing how difficult this item can be, but it can be so important. Imagine if you didn’t have a fenced yard and you had to walk your dog on a leash. Wouldn’t it be nicer if they listened to you without it becoming a fight? If you dog could walk nicely on a leash, how much more time would you spend together?
Working with your dog to achieve AKC Canine Good Citizen certification is not easy, but the challenges you face with him help improve your understanding of his behavior. They help you communicate better with your dog, and they help your dog be more attuned to you and what you want from him. In three short weeks, it can really change your relationship with your dog, as well as simply improving his behavior. The AKC Canine Good Citizen program is important for many reasons. It can help you get homeowner’s insurance. It can help people identify your dog as a “safe” dog. People use it to help get their dogs in service and therapy programs. There are many benefits, but the biggest benefit is sharing the success of passing with your dog.
First published 7/17
There is a new movement among trainers and veterinary behaviorists to make the use of basket muzzles more accepted. There is a very negative stigma attached to muzzling, and dogs that are muzzled are typically seen as vicious. The Muzzle Up Project is the heart of this movement and seeks to encourage acceptance and educate people about the use of muzzles.
Why muzzle? Aggression is one of the most challenging aspects of canine behavior. Aggression is a behavior problem, but really, it is not just one problem. Aggression is a behavioral response, typically to stressful situations. The situation is a little different with every dog. When dogs are being aggressive, it is not because they want to be the boss or they are mean. There is something about that situation they don’t feel good about. When aggression gets them out of that situation, they are more likely to have more episodes of aggression. In reality, treating aggression is not that much different than treating other behavioral responses except for one big difference. Aggression is dangerous, and an aggressive dog puts all those in contact with him or her in danger in situations where they are likely to become aggressive. Muzzling makes these dogs safer, but muzzling alone is not the solution. Aggressive dogs need to be properly desensitized to a muzzle, and careful work with counterconditioning and desensitization needs to be done to address the underlying problem.
As a veterinarian, I have to do things to dogs that they don’t particularly like. Sometimes, a little bit of time can show a potentially aggressive dog that they don’t need to be afraid of what is happening, but sometimes, we need to muzzle dogs to give injections or cut toenails or draw blood. Muzzling can actually make the experience less stressful if you are firm, calm, and gentle. We do what we need to do and take away the risk of a bite. It gets done quickly, then it is over. If we fight and struggle with a dog, it makes it that much harder to treat that dog the next time we see it.
When a dog bites, it is self-reinforcing. Every time that dog has a bite episode, it makes another bite more likely. When a dog snaps or bites in reaction to something or someone he doesn’t like, that thing stops or that person goes away, and they don’t have to deal with it anymore. Then the biting behavior is successful for the dog, even if punishment follows. I would NEVER recommend punishing a dog that has bitten someone. A dog that has bitten is in an aroused state, and by adding more energy to the situation typically makes it worse.
My dog HATES the muzzle! The first step is properly introducing your dog to the muzzle. This doesn’t mean that your dog tolerates the muzzle or lets you put the muzzle on him without a fight. If your dog is properly introduced to the muzzle, he will run across the room to stick his nose in the muzzle. Believe it or not, this is possible with proper introduction. Does this behavior occur if your dog thinks bad things are going to happen when the muzzle is around? NO. Will this behavior occur if you rush things and put the muzzle on him before he LOVES the muzzle? NO. Will your dog look forward to having the muzzle on if he does fun things when the muzzle is on? YES! Can your dog eat treats and carry around toys with the muzzle on? YES!
How can I make sure that I am introducing my dog to the muzzle properly and using it in a way that he doesn’t learn to dislike the muzzle?
If you have a dog with aggression issues, and you think he or she could benefit from using a basket muzzle, the best thing to do is to find a qualified veterinarian, trainer or certified animal behavior specialist who can help you get started on the right track! For more information, go to The Muzzle Up Project on Facebook or watch a video on counter conditioning your dog to a muzzle on YouTube.
First published 6/18
Dealing with teenagers is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I would rather be facing down an aggressive dog that trying to figure out how to deal with my kids. Don't get me wrong. My kids are great most of the time, but sometimes... Well, let's just say, they're not so great. The up-side? I get to practice all sorts of training techniques I use for dogs. Now, I don't think that my kids are dogs, and I certainly don't treat them like dogs. Well, most of the time. Well, anyway... These are some things dog training has taught me:
The same is true with my kids. One of my son's chores is to vacuum. If I ask him to do it at a time when I KNOW he's not going to do it, the chances of it happening at all are slim. If I keep pestering him about it, but don't tell him to do it right away, that's nagging and he gets annoyed and frustrated. If I say. "No do it now,” he still gets frustrated and annoyed, but when he's done, it's over with. We don't always have the opportunity to ask at the right time, and yes, he can remember that I asked him to vacuum even if he can't do it that second, but it is so much more effective and pleasant when you ask at the right time, sometimes it's worth the wait and hassle.
Yelling at your kids is kind of the same thing. When you're yelling at them, they aren't really going to be listening to what you are saying, they're just going to be thinking that you're upset. This will likely get them upset too, not in a "Oh, gee, I wish I'd done that," way but more like a "Why do they always yell at me," kind of way. And the next time you yell at them, they start down that path sooner. I am not perfect, I have yelled at my dogs AND kids before, but I recognize that my lapses are just that, and they don't make things better.
Teenagers DO speak our language, though, we may not always speak theirs. However, they have a lot of stuff going on. They want to be adults one minute and your little kids the next. Hormones, peer-pressure, homework, extra-curricular activities and jobs are just some of the things that put pressure on your teenager. These things make it difficult to set priorities, plan ahead and get all their stuff done. If they are trying to juggle all their stuff, recognize that, and give them some support. If they are not, then you need to do even more. I know they'll have to do even more as an adult, but it's all new to them now, and it's tough.
I have found the same is true with my kids. Instill values at home, reinforce them over and over, gradually give them more and more responsibility, and hope they remember what you taught them. If they make mistakes, back up a couple steps or figure out what went wrong, and try again.
The same goes for your kids. Maybe they didn't get enough sleep or they're not feeling good. They need to do the minimum: treat you with respect, clean up after themselves. Maybe you won't make them do their chores, but there are minimum standards, and then you give them a break.
Praise is just as important to our kids regardless of their ages. When they actually do their chores without a hassle, make straight A’s or get a part-time job, you should recognize their success and say something about it.
We love our kids, even though they drive us crazy sometimes. As teenagers, your kids may not want you to hug and kiss them in public, but they still need your attention and company. I try really hard to be involved with things the kids care about, and give them hugs (at least when no one is looking).
First published 5/2018
Congratulations on your new puppy
It is exciting to get a new puppy, especially when you have kids, but puppies are a big responsibility and making sure that you are prepared can help ensure that your new puppy is exciting in all the right ways. Picking out the right puppy for your family, providing all necessary veterinary care, and raising your puppy in a structured, supportive environment are the main things you can do to make your relationship with your puppy, and eventually, your older dog, a long and successful one.
The decision to get a puppy should not be a spontaneous one. Before you start to look at puppies, ask yourself why you want one. Puppy is a long-term responsibility, and if you don't have the long-term in mind when considering getting a puppy, you should rethink your decision. The second thing to consider is your lifestyle and family structure, as well as how your future plans fit in with having a new puppy. If you are away from home several hours a day, getting a puppy might not be the best idea. If you are getting ready to move or start a family, that might not be the best time either. It all depends on your resources, experience, and dedication. You should just have a good idea of what you're getting into.
We ended up with an unplanned for puppy when my son was 6 months old. Fortunately, I was home, and we have a lot of experience with dogs, but house training and providing a young puppy with the attention he needed were much more difficult with a young baby of my own.
Another important thing to think about is what type of puppy fits with your personality or lifestyle. Are you looking for a large, small or medium dog? Do you want a dog that is very active or one that is more laid back? Are you interested in a dog that is good with children or one that tends to bond more with a single person? Is there an activity you enjoy, like running or hiking, that you would want to share with your dog?
There are many books about traits and tendancies of different breeds of dog. The Right Dog for You, by Daniel F. Tortora is one that I am familiar with, and it is very helpful because it also rates the consistency of the traits of each breed, some breeds have a large variance in their friendliness, for example. Do your research, and don't just pick a breed because you like the way they look.
Consider if you want a purebred dog or a shelter rescue. Some people like to get purebred dogs because of the predictability in size and temperament as well as expected activity level. If you choose to go the purebred route, you should spend a lot of time talking to potential breeders. Breeders who ask you a lot of questions and have put a lot of time and research into the breeding of their dogs tend to have better quality dogs. They should be a resource about their particular breed. They should also have screened their dogs for common genetic problems like hip dysplasia and heart problems. They should have a contract with or without a spay/neuter clause, and they should have some kind of clause about taking the puppy back if it doesn't work out. A breeder who doesn't seem particularly interested in you and your plans with your new puppy is probably not one you want to get a puppy from.
There are many wonderful dogs and puppies available for adoption through shelters. It is harder to tell in some cases what your shelter puppy will end up like as an adult, but if you know what to look for, you can find a really great puppy at the shelter. There are also many young adult dogs at the shelter, so you have a better idea of their temperament and size. Of course, there is the sense of satisfaction you get for providing a home for a dog or puppy who really needs one.
Money is an important consideration. The purchase price or adoption fee for a new puppy can be just a fraction of what a new puppy costs. Food, supplies, veterinary care, and training are all things to think about and budget for with a new puppy. Healthy puppies typically require 2-4 vet visits for the exams, vaccines and tests needed to get your puppy off to a healthy start. Your puppy will also need heartworm and flea preventatives and, typically, spaying or neutering. Of course, sometimes puppies get sick or injured. You will likely need a crate or pee pads for your puppy, a leash and collar, harness, bed, treats... Also, can you train your own puppy or do you need to pay for training? Will you need to hire someone to walk your dog when you're away from home? Is he going to doggie daycare?
Lastly, do you have the time you need to put into training your puppy? An eight-week old puppy should only have to wait 2-4 hours between potty breaks. Is someone going to be home to let him out? Socializing puppies is vital to ensure they grow into well-adjusted adult dogs. It may only require an hour or so a day, but you should be prepared to take your puppy places so that he is not afraid of or aggressive to new people and things as an adult. Socialization requires preparation and forethought. You want to make these new experiences fun for your puppy, not scare him by exposing him to things he's not ready for. If you're going to take your puppy with you, he will need to be able to walk on a leash, and good manners go a long way to making him welcome. So, obedience training, whether you do it on your own or attend classes, takes time as well.
Getting a new puppy is exciting and fun. It can also be a lot of work and a lot of expense. Planning ahead, rather than making a spontaneous decision can be the difference between a wonderful, rewarding, bonding experience and trouble, even possible failure. A puppy is a lifelong commitment, taking a few weeks or months to make the right choices is such a short time in comparison. Plan ahead and have a great dog.
First published 4/18
This is a great time to be a veterinarian. Thanks to preventative care, improvements in medicine and technology as well as easier access to specialized care, pets are living longer than ever. Indoor cats frequently live into their mid-to-late teens, even into their twenties. Dogs have a much greater variance in life expectancy, but it is not uncommon for us to see dogs that live to be 15 or 16, occasionally older. Pets are a much more intimate part of our lives than ever before. In fact, most owners consider their pets family members. I know we do. The good news is that we have more options than ever for our pets. The down side is that making the right decisions regarding our pets' health can be very hard. Awareness of our pets' heath and providing medical care when needed is the key to longer, healthier, happier lives for our older pets.
Preventative care is a must for older patients. Some recommend twice yearly exam for any pets over age seven. Because health can vary widely for those pets: some being very healthy, and some showing signs of age-related problems, I feel it is difficult to generalize, but every pet, whether six months or 15 years of age should be seen for a routine exam at least once a year. This allows us to keep up with changes your pet is experiencing and advise you on things to watch for that could become problems. Vaccination in older pets is also very individualistic. If your pet still goes camping with you, gets groomed or boarded frequently, it may require vaccines like bordetella and Lyme disease as well as rabies, which should always be kept up to date. Older pets may actually be more susceptible to infections than younger ones, even if they have been vaccinated their entire lives. However, if your pet has an auto-immune problem, we may recommend that vaccines are minimized or even stopped completely. Flea preventative in all pets and heartworm preventative in dogs should continue throughout your pets' life unless contraindicated due to specific problems.
Vigilance is another key to keeping your older pet healthy. Some of the most important things to look for are changes in drinking and urination, changes in appetite or changes in activity level. A change in weight without a change in diet can also be an important sign of a problem. If your older pet is drinking more than usual, it could indicate anything from a urinary tract infection to diabetes or kidney failure. Decreased appetite is also a nonspecific sign that occurs with many diseases associated with aging. Even increased appetite could indicate a problem like hyperthyroidism in cats or diabetes. A decrease in activity level could indicate arthritis or heart disease. An increase in activity can also indicate problems, too, such as hyperthyroidism and cognitive dysfunction or senility. Another big concern for owners of older pets is cancer. With cancer, we can see any of the signs above depending on the organ affected and the type of cancer. The earlier we are able to determine if a change in behavior is the sign of a problem and what that problem is, the better our chances of treating the problem and maintaining a good quality of life for our loved ones.
Older pets typically require more diagnostics, like bloodwork and xrays, than younger pets. If you have brought your pet in due to a change in its behavior, we will likely want to do bloodwork to determine how the organs are functioning. This could be to diagnose a problem or make sure that certain medications are safe to use for your pet. X-rays and ultrasound are also frequently used in older pets to determine the extent of a problem, and how best to treat it. Depending on the problem, a specialist may also be recommended. We frequently refer owners to veterinary surgeons, internists, cardiologists and oncologists to assist with difficult problems in older pets. At this point, the decision-making process can become more complicated, but there are many situations where a specialist is the right choice for an owner of an older pet.
Keeping up with recommended rechecks and medications is vital. Frequently, we will want to recheck your pet, especially if we have started a new medication or identified abnormalities. With many diseases associated with age, if we identify the problem early, we can keep your pet healthy for a long while, sometimes years. But these problems tend to be chronic, and identifying subtle changes can be the difference in your pet feeling great or becoming very sick. Rechecks give us the opportunity to assess if what we are doing is working or if we need to try something else. Medicating older pets can also be a challenge. Often, pets are on several different medications, sometimes with frequent dosing. Making charts with a schedule of when all medications need to be given is helpful. There are also ways to receive medication reminders electronically. If you go to your pet on our website, you can set it up for reminders for doses as frequently as several times a day or just once a month. Medications can also be compounded into several different forms: liquid, chews, mini-melts, powder, to make getting the medication into your pet easier.
With an older pet, loss is inevitable, but being aware of your pets health status, and knowing that you have provided the appropriate care for your pet, can make the loss a little more bearable. One of the most difficult aspects of my job is discussing end of life decisions with pet owners. If it is a pet I have been helping take care of for years, it is emotionally painful, but having that relationship with the owner and pet makes the discussion a little easier. Talking about choices and quality of life, cost and expectations with someone I have only seen a few times takes a much longer time, especially if the owner is emotional and not thinking clearly. Regardless of my relationship with a pet owner, one of the most important responsibilities of a veterinarian is to take the time necessary to answer questions and offer support to the owner so that they can make the best decision for their pet and their family.
Although our pets will never live as long as we would like them to, there are many things we can do to help them live long, healthy, happy lives. A good relationship with your veterinarian is an important part of staying on top of their health.
First published 1/18
There was Superbowl commercial in 2006 where cowboys were herding cats. It's hilarious. (You can check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk7yqlTMvp8 ). Herding cats seems crazy, and the herding cats myth was actually busted by the Mythbusters on one of their shows, but cats can actually be trained to do many things. They even have agility competitions for cats. One of our clients has taught his cat, Parker, many tricks. He can lie down, roll over, play fetch and jump through a hoop, among other things. You can check out his video on our Facebook page. Our housecats all know how to sit and the young ones (6 and 7) can give hi-fives. I even taught our deaf cat some visual cues for "come," "sit," and "good boy."
Cats are not just small dogs. I love dogs. Dogs are loyal and typically go out of their way to please us. Their pleasure in life is to be a part of our family. But cats are great. They are fascinating. They are results-driven, and unless they see a clear advantage in doing what we are asking, they aren't likely to go out of their way to do what we want. That is not to say that cats are cold and unaffectionate. They can be very affectionate and loving. Our clinic cat waits for me outside the office until I get to work. Our cats at home sleep with me almost every night. But it takes a lot more to earn a cat's trust than most dogs. Cats are a perplexing mix of predator and prey, and this has a big influence on how they view the world.
Cats use their small size and agility to avoid dangerous situations when possible. It is so easy and natural for a cat to hide on top of the refrigerator, or under the bed, or behind the couch if they are uncomfortable with a situation. They just tend to disappear. However, when they feel threatened, they have fearsome weapons: sharp claws, sharp teeth and amazing agility. Yes, dogs can be aggressive when cornered, but not typically to the extent we see in cats. This carries over to training situations. People, dogs, cats all have difficulty learning when stressed.
This is what we see when kids shut down when they have to take a test or when a person has to talk in front of a large group of people. It is the same thing that happens when you can't get your dog to sit when it's at the vet's office. The fight or flight reaction takes over, and adrenaline takes away conscious thought.
Historical training methods have employed positive punishment and negative reinforcement. Positive punishment is something we add to discourage a behavior, like a leash correction when a dog pulls on the leash. Negative reinforcement is stopping or taking away something to encourage a certain behavior, like releasing pressure on a dog's hips when he sits. It's not cruel, and dogs typically respond to these things because they understand us and want to please us. Now, imagine doing that with a cat. This is exactly why it is difficult to imagine training a cat, but IT CAN BE DONE. Not in that way, but in an equally or maybe a more effective way- positive reinforcement and conditioning.
So, what does that mean? Obviously, if your cat does what you ask, you reward him, but how do you get him to do what you want? Initially, you can use a treat or a toy to lure him to perform the behavior. If you have a treat, and hold it down and he comes, give him the treat, once he does this predictably, you can add the word "come." Congratulations! You have trained your cat to come. Hold a treat just over his forehead, and when he sits, give him the treat. Add the word "sit" once he gets it. Presto! You have a cat that sits!
Okay, so you can teach your cat to come and sit. Why would you want to do that? Other than the fact that it is fun for you and your cat, it builds communication and understanding. It helps your cat gain confidence in you so that he is not living under the bed or on top of the refrigerator. It helps you make your pet cat feel less like prey and more like a king. Also, wouldn't you rather have your cat doing tricks for you than scratching up your furniture, peeing in the house or walking all over your counters? Basic training in cats can help with all these behavior problems. So maybe we'll never be able to herd cats, but the things your cat can do will amaze you!
Originally published 12/16
There is something about babies and pets that can turn even the most dignified person to mush. Now, I do not claim to be particularly dignified, but I have several clients who were quite dignified, but they, on occasion, act very silly about their pets. One example of this is the names we give our pets. I'm not talking about official names, though I have seen a few official names that were especially memorable. I am talking about unofficial names. Often, dogs and cats have a surprising number of unofficial names. Some probably aren't even aware of what their official name is or that they have one particular name that is the "right" one.
One of our pets that had a greater than average number of names was Bug. We got Bug from a breeder when she was about two. They had never actually named her, but they called her Stink Bug because she had some issues with potent flattulence. The kids did not feel that was a name she should be saddled with her entire life, so they decided her name would be Little Lady Lovebug. That name never really caught on, especially after she ate Gevevieve's boots. After that, I don't think Genevieve called her anything at all. However, Joshua was quite taken with her. So Bug was called all sorts of derivations of Bug: Buggles, Buglet, Hug a Bug, Buggle-Squggle, etc. Now Bug not only had very stinky farts, but she also had a particularly disgusting habit of eating poop: dog poop, cat poop, horse poop, you name it. She also didn't have a particularly good bite, so the evidence of her dietary adventures tended to linger. This earned her the nickname: Poop-A Boog-a-Latte, and since I like Starbuck's, this evolved into Grande Poop-A Boog-a-Latte. Fortunately, Bug did not speak English, so she never knew that we were constantly teasing her, and she was always happy to come to whatever name someone was calling on any particular day.
Another notable example of a pet with an excess of names is our barn cat Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy was also a rescue, and when we got him he actually DID have a name, but I think they just called him Teddy. Now, as you know the original Teddy Roosevelt was a larger than life and go-getter with a "Take no prisoners" attitude. Our Teddy is not quite so bombastic, but he does have some pretty interesting nicknames: Theodore, Teddy, Ted, TR, Fred, Freddie, Freddy Krueger, Fred Flintstone, T-adorable kitty. Sometimes, we even call him Teddy Roosevelt.
Finally, there is our cat Angus Young. He is one of the most affectionate cats, I have ever owned and our official greeter when we have new people over. Perhaps it is his personality or maybe the fact that he is always available for attention, but he has accumulated quite the
list of names as well. Angus was originally named for AC/DC's Angus Young because of the way he would roll around on his back when he was a kitten. Now, we mostly call him Angus because it is just shorter. However, he is also know as Gus, Gus Mus, Angoose, Angoose Gus Mus, Goose, Goose Moose, Goo Moo, Goo Moo Poo, and when he is particularly snuggly, Big Pile of Goo.
So, I suppose the old saying is true that dogs (and apparently cats) don't care what you call them as long as you don't call them late for dinner. (Or maybe they do, I have't tried that particular nickname yet). And, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." We love our pets, and one way we have of expressing this is by coming up with all sorts of ridiculous names for them. I wonder what they would call us if they could talk?
Originally published 11/16
When I think about this, I envision two pictures, both of a cute donkey attached to a cart with a child sitting in the cart.
In the first picture, the donkey and child appear very happy, and the child is dangling a carrot in front of the donkey's nose. The donkey is stretching out his nose to get the carrot. In the second picture neither one looks particularly happy, in fact, they both have very stubborn looks on their faces. In that picture, the child is using a stick to hit the donkey and make it pull the cart. Now we all know that most people do not get horses or donkeys to pull carts by dangling carrots in front of their noses, and initially, the image is kind of silly, but it illustrates a very good point: Which is the better way to get things done: reward or punishment?
Those of you who are total geeks like me or if you have a background in psychology will point out that I have already made a mistake. The stick actually represents negative reinforcement, NOT postive punishment. Actually, it depends on how you use the stick, but we will get into that later.
Those of you who are normal and don't have a psychology background are probably saying to yourselves, "who cares." So, I will get back on topic.
The carrot or the stick? Reward or punishment? Naturally, if you were on the receiving end, you would vote for reward. Most people also prefer giving a reward versus doling out punishment, at least in theory. However, we are programmed as a species to focus on things we don't like, and calmly accept things we like. We don't tend to mark good behavior, and we tend to get angry about bad behavior.
Punishment is a direct result of this. Your dog gets excited and jumps on you when you come home. Do you punish him or reward him? Of course you shouldn’t reward your dog for jumping on you unless this is a behavior you want to encourage. So you focus on reacting to the behavior. Many nuisance behaviors present a similar dilemma. This is also one reason it is difficult to get a child to quit sucking his thumb or why dieting is such a challenge, and why it is so difficult to quit smoking. In all these examples, we are trying to teach a negative. What do we naturally think of when someone tells us not to think of pink elephants? Not blue rhinos, PINK ELEPHANTS. So when you try to teach your dog not to jump on you, he is constantly fighting the urge NOT to jump.
When you punish a child for sucking his thumb, he thinks about it even more. If you go around saying "I will not smoke," you are torturing yourself because you are even more focused on the fact that you shouldn't have a cigarette. The second reason that breaking bad habits is difficult is that, by definition, the reaction to an unwanted behavior is punishment.
There are four elements of learning theory: Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, negative punishment, and positive punishment. For a moment don't think about positive as good and negative as bad. Think of positive as adding something and negative as taking something away. Reinforcement means you want to encourage the behavior. Punishment is what you do to stop or decrease the frequency of the behavior. Therefore, if your dog jumps on you, and this is a behavior you are trying to discourage, punishment must be the response. Yes, that's what I said, punishment must be the
response. Why? Because if you do anything to stop or decrease the frequency of a behavior, that is punishment, by definition. Fortunately for your dog and your relationship with your dog, there are two types of punishment: negative and positive. Positive punishment is jamming your knee into his chest when he jumps up or yelling at him or whatever unpleasant thing people do in response to a dog jumping. Negative punishment means taking something away to decrease the frequency of a behavior. In this example, your dog is jumping on you because he loves you (hopefully) and is excited to see you. Ignoring him is negative punishment. In a dog's mind, ignoring him is often much worse than beating him. Be aware, if you turn your back, but are saying," sit, sit, sit," the whole time or if you are waving your arms or moving around, your dog might think this is a fun new game, and you may be reinforcing your dog's jumping.
It is much easier for us and dogs to learn a positive behavior. A positive behavior being something your dog can do, not something you want him to STOP doing. Puppies can easily learn to sit in 5 minutes at 6 weeks old. This is very rewarding because sitting is considered good manners in the dog world, and it fun to reward our puppy for sitting. You can show his new trick off to your friends, and even people who don't like dogs like them better when they are sitting. Another wonderful thing about sitting is that is physically impossible for your new puppy to jump on you while he is sitting. Interesting... Let me summarize: 1) It is more fun to reward that punish, 2) It is much easier for a dog to learn a positive behavior than a negative behavior, 3) A dog can't jump when he is sitting. So, teach your dog to sit- frequently, in all sorts of situations. Make it so your dog sits without thinking about it. Make it so if your dog is unsure about how to react, he sits. Then, when you come home, and he's excited to see you, and he jumps on you, utilize negative punishment: turn your back on him, ignore him. When he sits, reward him then. Make sure you reward him. That's how you teach a dog not to jump on you.
Maybe there are situations where you need to use the stick, but I prefer to use the carrot whenever possible.