The purpose of this brief article is to demonstrate the value of identifying “good dog trainers” and incorporating this knowledge into your veterinary practice. The following recommendations represent a consensus document compiled by the authors as one of the final projects in the Advanced Applied Clinical Behavioral Medicine course at the 2004 NAVC PGI. Many of the authors are now using these recommendations in their practices in ways that have increased their productivity and altered the way they now practice medicine.
AN OPEN LETTER TO VETERINARIANS ON REFERRALS TO TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR PROFESSIONALS
“A common flaw in stimulus-controlled behavior is anticipation: Once the cue has been learned, the subject is so eager to offer the behavior that it acts before the cue has actually been given” (Pryor, 1984, 1999). I prefer to use the training correction “stops” given the context is connected with actively training dogs versus using timeouts for social corrections. There are inherent differences between the two types of context and use. To avoid confusion and provide consistent feedback between dog and owner/handler, understanding when, why, where, and for what reason should be considered at all times. Dogs learn best when provided clear rules concerning their behavioral responses, doing this avoids anxiety produced when any subject is unsure about any consequences that may result from their behavior. This also explains why using punishment, especially incorrectly, can cause serious learning deficits.
“Adult elimination problems represent a significant source of distress for both owners and dogs. …incomplete house training is the leading cause given by dog owners for relinquishing their dogs to the uncertain fate of the animal shelter…underscoring the importance of preventing and resolving house-training problems”
Canine Communication Understanding how to communicate with dogs effectively is partly achieved by understanding how dogs developed under domestication, as well as how they adapted to their ever-changing environment. Another reason why is partly founded in one’s acceptance or non-acceptance that “animals are endowed with a private experience or self-awareness comparable to our own” which presents a “moral crisis” according to Lindsay (2000) that “would revolutionize how we view and treat animals under our care.” Temple Grandin (1995), suggests dogs are “…akin to the thinking style of artists or musicians” considering things in “…terms of their immediate sensory significance, relevance to the animal’s current motivation state and associated memories” added into the context or situation (Lindsay, 2000). What does communication mean? Communication among animals is described as a transmission of information between one animal and another or between groups of animals with the intent to affect behavior. Typically, communication takes place-using signals that may include verbal, tactile, odors (pheromones), facial expressions and body movements. The communication exchange will usually have three components. These components consist of 1.) the person sending the message, 2.) the person receiving the message and 3.) the communication signal. The purpose of the message is to change the attitude, mood or behavior of the recipient. The receivers’ response indicates whether the senders’ message, the function of the behavior has served its purpose. Communication can take place between the same species (intraspecific) or with another species (interspecific). In the case of dogs, Canis lupus familiaris communication is common in both situations. The ethological definition according to Miklosi (2005) is the “…skill to change the behaviour of the other occurs always in a functional context like aggression, courtship, parental behaviour, cooperation etc.” He further says, “[t]he evolution of dog-human communication depends on both changes in the communication system and changes in other behavior systems that have facilitatory effect on communication.” Why do species communicate? According to Lindsay (2000), “…expressive social behavior…exercises an important modulatory effect over emotion and mood.” Communication is a behavior, says Horwitz (2001), having a “goal and function.” Communication in higher organisms serves to “regulate social interaction” among members of the group with the purpose to facilitate “cooperative behavior,” according to Lindsay (2000), which is vital to the groups survival. Wolves have developed complex ritualized communicative behaviors of “threat and appeasement signals” for sustaining “dominant-subordinate relations” among pack members (Lindsay, 2000). Dogs in both intraspecific and interspecific relations, utilize some of these same behaviors with the purpose of increasing (agonistic) and decreasing (affiliative) social interaction.
Behavior is the result of learning, comes under the influence of genetics, biology and physiological constraints, and is subject to one’s motivational state. The subject of this essay is to illustrate how understanding and manipulating antecedent stimuli affects training new behavior and modifying or changing existing behavior. The answer lies in the reinforcement history for any given behavior.