Monday, 27 October 2008

Bonfire Night - Keeping your pets safe

It’s that time of year again that all the pet owners dread. Bonfire night

If your dog suffers from fear of fireworks it is worth considering guidance from a behaviourist who can create you a desensitisation program for your pet. To be done properly this takes time and you may want to consider doing this in the next few months ready for next year.

Here are some tips for helping reduce anxiety and stress and preventing incidents caused by Fireworks

• There are several remedies on the market that you can get for your pets from the pet shop and the vets that can help reduce anxiety and stress caused by fireworks
• Keeping your pets indoors after dark
• Make sure your dog gets a good walk before dark. This will elevate their general mood state.
• If your dog is scared of Fireworks, keep them on a lead. Loud bangs can trigger a flight response and they can bolt, many dogs get lost during this time of year.
• Make sure your dog is wearing an Identification Tag at all times. This should be your surname, address and phone number.
• Keep curtains closed, and the TV or Radio on to disguise the noise.
• Stay in with your pets.
• Don’t confine your pet to one room. Fear can trigger a flight response and your pet will feel better if they can move about.
• Do fun things such a playing with toys and problem solving games to keep their minds off what’s going on outside.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Regulation of Animal Training

The Companion Animal Welfare Council is currently looking into regulation of Dog Training. A report was released recently by CAWC with recommendations. The CAWC report can be viewed here

Currently there is no regulation and anybody can set themselves up in businesses and call themselves a dog trainer, behaviourist, whisperer or listener. There is also a wide variety of prices too.

Until there is regulation all I can say is buyer beware.

Dog Training
When looking for a training class. Look for clicker trainers or ones that use food and toys. Go and have a look first. One bad experience for your dog may take months or years to rectify.

Puppy Training
Badly run Puppy socialisation classes cause behaviour problems. These are the most important weeks of your puppy’s life and these should be taken by experienced instructors. Letting the learner instructors take a puppy class shows the head instructors lack of understanding of the importance of getting it right at this time.
Some socialisation classes are just training classes with puppies in and there is not much if any socialisation going on at all.

Dog Behaviour
All dog trainers should have a basic understanding of dog behaviour but if your dog has behaviour problems then the chances are a class is not the ideal environment for your dog.
I would recommend if your dog has behaviour problems then seek the advice of a qualified behaviourist, meaning they have recognised certificates and/or University Qualifications. Behaviour is a science and should be studied.

What is reward based training
Choices of which methods you use show your consideration of the mental well being of your pet.
People and some trainer’s perception of what reward based training is can vary a great deal.

Dogs being checked on half checks, choke chains or pinch collars for pulling on the lead is not reward based training.
Rattle Cans/Bottles are not reward based training
Water Sprays are not reward based training
Spray, remote or electric collars are not reward based training
Scruffing or alpha rolls are not reward based training
Throwing chains at dogs is not reward based training
These are very ‘old school’ methods and the more current kind methods work better and take into consideration the mental wellbeing of the animal. These old school methods remind me of how years ago bears dancing was acceptable. It saddens me that dogs are still allowed to suffer in the name of dog training.

Also be aware giving a few random treats during a class is poor reward based training
Reward based training is where the good behaviour is reinforced using timing methods that have been extensively studied over many many years. The triggers/motivators of the bad behaviour are identified and removed, an alternative is then offered and taught. This means the animal does not suffer any pain, or fear and can learn effectively without stress. Most importantly the animal still feels it has some control of its life.

Qualifications and Membership
Look to see if the trainer has any qualifications or memberships and what these organisations criteria are. There are some out there that only require payment of membership. Some have their own courses that anyone could pass, some are just theory. Others only give a few weeks training and you can declare yourself an expert!!
The CAWC report gives an overview of the main organisations and how they work and details of the courses trainers can do. You should know what these letters mean after peoples names, before you buy into them and put your pet under their supervision.

Years of Experience
There are some excellent trainers out there with no formal qualifications but have been on many seminars, training days and are very good at training dogs. There are others who have trained for years and have always been rubbish at it and still are.

Hobby Clubs
Some clubs are run by people who like dogs, have a bit of experience in training and enjoy it. These people may not have the ability to work outside of the box when something doesn’t go to plan and can address a issue in a highly inappropriate manner. These trial and error situations can be at the expense of your dog. A puppy was recently seriously injured on a choke chain by a hobby dog trainer.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Day with Wolves

We set of on Friday Afternoon to make the 200 mile journey down south to the Wolf Conservation Trust. There was me, my partner Jon and Stewart who trains at my dog club with me. The day was organised by Kirsty Peake, who is a tutor for The Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE). The day was arranged as part of the COAPE Wolf Behaviour Course. I was invited to attend as I am a member of COAPE.
We arrived at the Travelodge around 6.30pm and checked in. We decided to grab some tea at the services. Expensive!!!
Then we set off to find some alcohol. Luckily we found a shop and had to get screw cap wine as no one remembered a bottle opener.
The next morning we got up and set off towards the trust, hoping to find somewhere for breakfast on the way. Max’s cafĂ©. This is a proper truck stop, you can't see out of the windows because of the grease. I had deep fried sausages on a muffin ugh. I decided to give the brown sauce a miss, as it swished around in the bottle when I picked it up!! I was already feeling a bit queasy about meeting wolves, this breakfast certainty wasn’t helping settle my stomach.
We found the trust and immediately saw the wolves in their compound as we pulled up. I thought they would have been bigger that they were.
They began to howl, this is a really eerie sound when you hearing it for real and after watching dog soldiers 2 nights before.

The day started with an introduction and about the trust, the work they do to keep wolves in the wild in Europe and the wolves they have there by Toni Shelbourne of the wolf trust. We then got the opportunity to see the wolves in their compounds. The wolves are hand reared and socialised and behave quite dog like around the trust handlers. Stewart took millions of photos!
We went back and Kirsty did a presentation on the history of Yellowstone and the re-introduction of wolves into the park. Kirsty then shared some of the experiences of wolf watching in Yellowstone and wolf behaviour. This has to be the best lecture I have ever attended, Kirsty is a great speaker.

I was fascinated to learn how wolves actually kill their predatory competition such as other packs and coyotes. I thought they just hunted for food. Kirsty explained some of the hunting behaviour and how they adapt strategies for different prey. She also told us a story of how a pack of wolves set them up at the dens of another pack where there were 3 females with cubs in the dens. The females could not leave the den to feed and hunt as they needed to protect their young. Eventually the wolves left and the females emerged without cubs. The wolf expert with Kirsty believed the females had to eat their puppies to survive. This was the biggest and strongest pack until this year because they didn’t produce surviving young. The competing pack became the strongest pack.
I spoke to Toni about the pack structure of the wolves and it was interesting that the natural alphas were aloof and non aggressive. There was very little conflict or disputes and a pack lead by a natural leader was harmonious. One of the other packs had a female who was not a natural leader but was always seeking status of alpha. This pack had problems Toni said because she is a poor leader. It’s interesting that people believe they should be pinning and growling at their dogs to show them they are alpha because that’s what wolves do. Yet this is the behaviour of a poor leader. The true leader is calm confident, fair and non aggressive.
The one thing I learnt was dogs and wolves have many similarities but they are also very different. I do not have a wolf in my living room and I wouldn’t want one, not even a hand reared socialised one.
In the afternoon they brought out 2 females from the Mackenzie pack. Each wolf had two handlers. We had to line up and allow the wolves to walk down the line to inspect us. The first one walked right passed, they took interest in some people and ignored others. The second wolf stopped sniffed me and rubbed up against me, strangely like a cat does not a dog. Being so close is amazing, i was excited but a bit scared too. These animals have double the jaw strength of a pit bull.
We then walked with the wolves and were allowed to meet and stroke the wolves one at time. It was the wolves walk and we walked behind them and they were really allowed to do their thing, it was only when they stopped and relaxed we could approach. The wolves ignored some people and got really friendly with others. You were only allowed to touch the wolf on its belly. Not on the head or back as people do with dogs. The coat is surprisingly coarse like a wiry terrier coat. One of the females was definitely more sociable than the other and it was interesting to see a group of behaviourists edging towards meeting the more sociable relaxed one.
We finished around 4pm and set of back to Manchester. I was a great experience and would recommend it to anyone.