18 July 2018

Interview with Lori Nanan

Lori Nanan on training dogs to love nail trims and why slowing down is good for us.

Interview with Lori Nanan, pictured, about helping dogs love nail trims


Last week I wrote about desensitization and counter-conditioning in dog training. Lori Nanan’s course Nailed It! shows people how to use this technique to teach dogs to love having their nails trimmed. I caught up with Lori to find out more.


Zazie: Why did you decide to write the course?

Lori: It started a few years ago. I had a dog, Rocco, who for his entire life nail care was pretty traumatic. I was never able to make it right and it really kind of ate away at me for most of his life. And when we brought Hazel home, I was sort of determined that that would never be the case for any other dog of mine. So I guess in 2014, 2015 I wrote a blog where I laid out steps that I followed in a training to plan to get Hazel comfortable with my handling of her legs and paws and restraining for toes, getting her to love a nail file – I actually used a nail file at that time – and then being comfortable and relaxed with me filing her nails. And the blog was very successful. I got lots of feedback from lots of people that they were actually able to use it, which was fantastic.

And then at the beginning of 2017 I suddenly got this bug in my ear that I had to take on the next level of challenge which was in my mind using a Dremel. And so I bought a Dremel and it literally sat in the box for about 2 months because I was so afraid to try to use it on her. Then I buckled down and got myself comfortable with it and had success with it. And my initial thought was ‘Okay well I’ll write another blog’. But then the more I thought about it the more I thought there was a bigger opportunity to get this particular information and related information out to people. So I decided to create the course.


"Slowing down is as good for us as it is for the dogs."


As I was creating the course, I had different people testing different implements, taking their own dogs through a plan, just to make sure that it actually did translate as well from nail files to Dremel and then clippers as well. And just like with the blog, these people were able to successfully maintain their dog’s nails and gain an understanding of things like desensitization and counter-conditioning and classical conditioning, and why I felt it was important for a lot of dogs and help people to use those methods rather than operant conditioning and say give me a paw, I clip your nail, you get a treat. That’s the quick and dirty of the whole thing, which has been way more successful than I ever would have imagined. I knew that people had this problem, I just had no idea that there were so many of us.

Zazie: I’ve seen the course materials and it’s fantastic so I’m not surprised so many people are finding it helpful. Why do you think nail trims are difficult for so many dogs?

Lori: There’s a couple of reasons. One of them is an intrinsic evolutionary biology thing about restraint. A lot of dogs don’t like being restrained and that has to do with wild ancestors being prey animals, being injured in the course of being predators, and if you lose a leg, guess what you’re not going to be able to chase prey any more. And that means you’re going to die, you’re not going to be able to reproduce and continue your lineage. So there’s that, that’s just sort of in there in the dog.

Many dogs have bad experiences. We’ve for decades and decades performed procedures on dogs without their consent and sometimes they’re painful, sometimes they’re simply uncomfortable, sometimes the dog isn’t comfortable with the stranger or the person doing it and the procedure might be okay but then they make an association between the two and things can go downhill. One bad experience can cause a lifetime of negative reactions to things.


My Rocco, the very first time I clipped his nails as a puppy I cut the quick, which is the blood supply through the nail, and it was traumatic for both of us. He was definitely afraid of letting anybody come near his paws after that and I was definitely afraid to do it because it was awful. And so it becomes charged for people if they have had that bad experience doing it themselves on their dogs, or had a bad experience seeing a veterinarian do it for their dog. And that one bad experience can really ruin it for a dog for life, unless we get to work in a way that is systematic, gradual, granular, and step-by-step to help them feel comfortable again.

Zazie: You said that you thought it was more appropriate to use classical conditioning rather than a DRI in this case. Can I ask you why you think that?

Lori: I think I’ve seen it probably hundreds of times at this point, where people say ‘My dog used to be comfortable with giving me a paw, me clipping, and then giving a treat’. But I think that for some of the reasons I explained a couple of minutes ago, that becomes too expensive for the dog. The payoff of a treat for a clip is often just not enough, because they’re probably truly not comfortable, they’re just doing it because dogs do those sort of things. They’re pretty good sports in a lot of cases, they go along with things maybe because there’s a payoff but maybe just because they’re good sports and docile and they put up with a lot from us. But I’ve seen it time and time again where people will say my dog used to be comfortable with that, give paw, get clipped, get treat, or my dog used to be comfortable using a scratch board and then getting a treat, and eventually the payoff just is not enough for the dog.

Zazie: So it’s too hard really. One of the things that you focus on in the course materials is that people need to have a 1:1 ratio. I was wondering if you would mind explaining for blog readers why that’s so important.

Lori: It’s really, really, important when we’re doing things like classical conditioning or counter-conditioning or desensitization that we keep the criteria clear for the dog. So we do the thing and this is what happens. We really want the dog to be comfortable with the whole process. It’s a way of ensuring that the dog is comfortable with the whole process that we’re not pushing past where we are currently just because we feel like it. It’s sort of a contract that we’re making with the dog. And any time we break that contract or don’t keep that clear, we weaken the association that we want to make. Which is, touching your arm is not scary, touching your foot is not scary, because we’ve done it in a way that keeps you comfortable every step along the way.

Zazie: Another thing that I really like is you say, you can never go too slow or be too generous. Do you think that’s a message that people find easy or difficult to get?

Lori: In our human world, we are very used to instant results. We’re very used to getting information at the touch of a button, we can make purchases at the touch of a button, we have pizza delivered to our house in 30 minutes or less. We’re used to things happening fast, fast, fast. And so when we ask people to slow down and do things at the dog’s speed, yes it’s absolutely hard.


"We’ve for decades and decades performed procedures on dogs without their consent"


For a lot of us, it’s not a way that we’ve always interacted with our dogs. We just kind of take for granted that they’re going to go along with things. And slowing down is as good for us as it is for the dogs. It helps us be more mindful of what we’re doing and it helps us learn how to pay attention to what’s happening for our dogs. For some reason, I see it all the time and I’ll be honest even with my own pups, we like giving dogs treats, we’re pretty generous with that. But when it comes to working with dogs, people tend to get a little stingy. Being generous for me means okay we’re going to upgrade, we’re not going to use kibble we’re not going to use commercial grade treats from the grocery store. We’re going to use something super delicious that the dog really likes and we’re not going to be stingy about it because this thing matters and that’s what helps the dog make the association between the process and enjoying it.

So I want people to slow down to bio-speed a little bit and be more observant of what’s happening with their dog, and be generous throughout the process because we really need for these associations to be strong. And we also want the dog to like processes like this. In cases that go beyond nail care, like veterinary care, we need the dog to like the process in order for it to go smoothly and successfully.

Zazie: I also wanted to ask you about different ways of clipping nails because you have plans for the nail file, Dremel and clippers. Do you have a personal preference now for one of those?

Lori: I have to admit that based on my experiences with my Rocco years ago, I’ve not been able to get over my clipper fear. So that’s definitely the lowest on my list. I am in awe of people who are comfortable with clippers and I give them major props for that. For me the margin of error with clippers is much bigger. I think the opportunity to accidentally clip a dog is bigger with clippers. The Dremel goes quicker than the nail file, but for me I like the nail file. I use a Dremel currently. Every once in a while I switch back to a nail file. I feel like I do the best job with a nail file and I think it’s the easiest for people to get comfortable with, even for big dogs. I used the nail file on Hazel for 2 years before I switched. You can do a dog’s nails sustainably with a nail file so the Dremel is definitely quicker but it doesn’t have to be just a starter tool. I was able to do it for 2 years. I just bought bulk files from Amazon and worked on Hazel’s nails about 2 times a week. Which is about what I do now, I try to fit in to the schedule. Either a nail file or a Dremel are the easiest for people, and I do recognize that I have a little bit of a bias there.

Zazie: People can find Nailed It! on lorinanan.com but I heard that you’ve got some other courses in the works, so what else can people look forward to finding there?

Lori: We currently have a course out with Malena DeMartini called Separation Anxiety: Mission Possible. Malena has written a book on separation anxiety, she’s the expert and she travels the world speaking about it. We also have another course called Pestering Pooches with my friend Kristi Benson which is all about teaching dogs not to jump on guests when they come in the house, not to pester and bug people while they’re eating, and it’s super fun. Kristi’s got a fantastic sense of humour and a fantastic way that she presents information. I’m actually taking Hazel through all of the plans because for her entire life with us so far we’ve kind of allowed her to jump on people because she was afraid of people when we first brought her home and now she loves them. And so we want that to be the way that things are but she could probably be a bit more polite about it. So we’re going through the training plans and it’s actually been a lot of fun. And then we’ve got some other things in the works but they’re a bit further down the line right now.

Zazie: Tell me about your pets.

Lori: Hazel is a 7 year old. She’s considered a pit bull mix, she’s really just a bunch of terriers and bulls that put together have a little bit of a blocky head. Her blocky head is not as blocky as many other pit bull type dogs. We adopted her from Philadelphia Animal Care and Control and she is just wonderful. I call her famous. She’s the face of a lot of things that I do, a great dog for training and just a lot of fun. She really loves people so she’s a joy.

And then we have a cat named MooMoo who my husband adopted the day before we met, about 11 years ago now. And MooMoo is a very sweet and personable cat who happens to not like other cats. So we’re a one cat, one dog family at this point. And I’ve actually trained MooMoo to sit for a verbal cue which feels like a massive accomplishment for me because cats are different from dogs. She works for dried minnows, she likes those.

Zazie: Nice! Thank you so much for your time.


Lori has provided discount codes for anyone interested in the courses at lorinanan.com:
Nailed It= 40% off coupon code CAP
Pestering Pooches= 40% off coupon code CAP
Separation Anxiety: Mission POSSIBLE= 20% off coupon code CAP
There is also a free course called Where Advocacy and Behavior Meet.

About Lori Nanan:
Lori Nanan is the owner of LoriNanan.com, a company which creates online courses for dog owners and professionals, as well as marketing and support services for reward-based dog trainers. She also works for The Academy for Dog Trainers as a project manager and is the founder of the nonprofit Your Pit Bull and You. Lori lives in New Hope, PA. with her husband, Paul, their cat MooMoo and a dog, Hazel, who is the love of their lives and serves as inspiration for everything they do.

Companion Animal Psychology has published interviews with talented scientists, writers, trainers and veterinarians who are working to promote good animal welfare. See the full list, or subscribe to learn more about how to have happy dogs and cats. And stay tuned for more posts on how we can help fearful dogs!

11 July 2018

What is Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning in Dog Training?

A user-friendly guide to desensitization and counter-conditioning for fearful dogs.

How to do desensitization and counter-conditioning to help fearful dogs like this little Maltese hiding under the bed
Photo: Alzbeta / Shutterstock


Whether you want to use counter-conditioning to get your dog to like other dogs, or desensitization to teach your dog that alone-time is okay, this guide is for you. It explains what these technical terms mean – and, importantly, the tips you need to know to get it right.

First, we’ll look at how to spot a fearful dog, because these techniques are often used to help resolve different kinds of fear.

Sometimes, desensitization and/or counter-conditioning are used alongside medication. If you are concerned about your pet or want to know if medication might help your dog, speak to your veterinarian.


Recognizing signs of fear in dogs


It can be difficult to recognize signs of fear in dogs, and people often miss it, even in situations where we know many dogs are afraid (e.g. fear at the vet or in response to loud noises).

This means many dogs are not being helped with their fears because their owner does not realize their dog is afraid. Another issue is that when dogs are afraid of fireworks, people may do their best to help their dog cope at the time – and then forget about the problem until a night like Halloween or 4th of July is coming up again.

When is the best time to start to help your dog get over their fear of fireworks? It’s actually right now, because this is something that takes time.

Some of the signs of fear to look for in your dog are a tucked tail, ears back, lip licking, looking away, lifting a paw, trembling or shaking, a lowered body posture, yawning, grooming, sniffing, seeking out people (e.g. looking for comfort from you), hiding, not moving, urinating and defecating.

Desensitization and counter-conditioning for dogs. The poster shows a fearful Jack Russell hiding under a blanket



Systematic desensitization


Desensitization means very gradual exposure to the scary thing, starting at a very low level and building up very slowly. It should be systematic, which means you have a plan to build up gradually. At every step on the way, you dog should be happy and comfortable.

If instead you notice your dog is even a tiny bit scared, you need to immediately go back to an easier stage of the plan. If you jump ahead too fast and frighten your dog, then you might be doing sensitization (making it worse) instead of desensitization!

As an example, suppose your dog is afraid of fireworks. You find a recording of firework sounds (such as the recordings from Dogs Trust that come with a booklet explaining what to do). You can’t start by playing the sounds at anywhere near normal volume, because you already know that frightens your dog. Instead, you start at a really low volume – maybe even barely audible.

Then gradually over time, always making sure your dog is comfortable, you keep turning up the volume a notch. Then another notch. And so on. Over time, assuming you get it right, your dog will learn to tolerate the sounds.


Counter-conditioning


Counter-conditioning is a type of classical conditioning. Have you heard about Ivan Pavlov and his dogs, how when he rang a bell the dogs salivated because they had learned it predicted they would be given food? Then you’ve heard of classical conditioning!

Classical conditioning involves automatic responses, like salivation, changes in heart rate, or nausea. These are involuntary reactions (not behaviours).

Most classical conditioning uses a neutral stimulus (like the sound of a bell). In counter-conditioning, we are trying to teach the dog to like something they already don’t like or are afraid of.

For example, suppose you have a dog that is afraid of other dogs, and you want to teach her to like them. In counter-conditioning, every time another dog appears, you would give your dog some very delicious food. Over time, she will learn that other dogs predict yummy food, and so she will learn to like other dogs.

Did you notice I said every time another dog appears? That’s because we want to have what’s known as a 1:1 ratio. If instead, sometimes when another dog appears your dog gets food, but sometimes when another dog appears they don’t, this won’t work very well.

Therefore, if you’re counter-conditioning something you might run into outside training sessions (like other dogs), you need to have a plan to either manage it (so it doesn’t happen) or to always have treats on you so you can still do counter-conditioning on those occasions too.


Open bar/closed bar


Jean Donaldson’s open bar/closed bar technique is a great way to do counter-conditioning. What it means is that when the scary thing appears (e.g. the other dog, or the sounds, etc…) the bar is open: treats will keep on flowing. Yay! It’s like a party! (Hopefully that’s what your dog will think).

Then when the scary thing stops (e.g. the other dog goes away, the sound stops, etc.) the bar is closed and the flow of treats stops. Now, nothing happens – the party is over.


A positive conditioned emotional response


Learning to recognize a positive conditioned emotional response is an essential part of doing desensitization and counter-conditioning, because you can’t move on to the next step until you’ve got a +CER.

Look for signs that the dog is happy and expecting food, such as a wagging tail and a happy, open mouth.



Desensitization and counter-conditioning


Desensitization and counter-conditioning are often used together. Trainers often abbreviate it to dscc.

If we stick to the example of a dog who is afraid of other dogs, we can use desensitization by keeping a suitable distance from the other dog. We should also take account of other aspects of the experience (for example, a moving dog might be more scary to your dog than one that is still, so a moving dog would need to be further away).

At the same time, we can use counter-conditioning by feeding delicious food as soon as your dog notices the other dog. Using these two techniques together works really well.

Desensitization and counter-conditioning is a good alternative to negative reinforcement because it does not involve aversive experiences for the dog.

There are some cases where we might use desensitization on its own. An example is to help a dog with separation anxiety get used to being left alone for gradually-increasing periods of time. The good news is that new technology can help in separation anxiety cases, because it enables you to see video of your dog at home to check she really is okay.

If your dog has separation anxiety, as well as speaking to your veterinarian, I recommend trainers with a certification called CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer). They are specialists in resolving this problem, and many offer distance consults.

And at times when desensitization is not possible (or, due to a mishap, went wrong), you can still use counter-conditioning on its own.


Some common mistakes


There are some common mistakes that people make with desensitization and counter-conditioning. If you’re thinking, “I tried it and it didn’t work,” see if any of these might apply.


Not using good enough food


A common mistake is to not use good enough food. For counter-conditioning, I recommend using good food like chicken, cheese, or roast beef. For more ideas, see the best dog training treats.


Getting the timing mixed up


Your aim in counter-conditioning is to teach your dog that the scary thing predicts good stuff like great food. Have you ever had the experience of doing counter-conditioning, and then finding that when you offer your dog food, she starts looking round to see where the scary thing is? That means the timing was wrong and the dog now thinks food predicts something scary!

The thing to look for is when your dog notices the other dog (or whatever the scary thing is), and feed then. You have to pay attention to your dog in order to get this right.


Going too fast


This is probably the most common mistake of all: starting at too hard a level and going too fast for your dog.

Learning how to do desensitization and counter-conditioning will teach you to slow down, because you have to go at the dog’s pace. This will vary from dog to dog, but it will usually be very slow at the start. Then hopefully it will speed up along the way. But this dog training technique is not for the impatient!

Signs you are going too fast include the dog having a harder mouth when taking treats or only sometimes being interested in treats. Also watch out for any signs of worried body language such as a low tail or low posture. If you see any of these, go back to an easier step in the plan.


Not reading the dog’s body language


Learning how to read a dog’s body language is a skill that times time to acquire. To use desensitization and counter-conditioning, you need to be able to recognize when a dog is afraid (so you know these techniques are relevant, and so you notice if you accidentally go too fast). If the dog is afraid, you risk making things much worse instead of better.

You also need to be able to recognize when you have got a positive conditioned emotional response – a happy reaction to the previously-scary thing. It’s only when you see this that you can move to the next step in your plan.


Using a clicker


When we use a clicker in dog training, it’s to mark a behaviour that will be rewarded. In counter-conditioning, we are not teaching a behaviour; instead, we are trying to change the dog’s emotions. So there is no behaviour to click.

Even if you love using a clicker when doing operant conditioning (teaching a behaviour), put it away when doing counter-conditioning.


But I only want to feed the dog for being good


Sometimes people only want to feed the dog for being good. But the thing is, counter-conditioning isn’t about behaviour; it’s about changing the dog’s underlying feelings. So it does not matter what your dog is doing.

Sometimes we make a mistake and get too close to the scary thing. We’ve all done it! For example if you get too close to another dog and your dog lunges and growls at it. Sometimes people compound this mistake by telling the dog off for lunging and growling, but this won’t help and might make things worse.

Instead, you should get your dog further away from the other dog and then offer the yummy food anyway. The reason is that in counter-conditioning they should get the food every single time they see the scary thing. If they don’t, it’s basically an extinction trial that is starting to undo your training.

This can be quite difficult to do in public with other people looking on. But you shouldn’t feel embarrassed for doing the right thing for your dog.

So if your dog goes over threshold, get away as fast as you can and then feed them anyway. Of course, you might also like to say sorry to the owner of the dog yours just growled at as you move away, but you don’t have to get into a discussion.

The other thing you need to do is make a mental note that next time, you need more distance. Think about whether there were other things going on that might have made it more difficult for your dog – this is known as trigger stacking. And then plan to do better next time.

Remember, you’re trying to teach your dog – but it’s also a learning experience for you.




What about a DRI instead?


Sometimes dog trainers will choose a DRI (differential reinforcement of an incompatible behaviour) instead of counter-conditioning, with the aim of getting a classical conditioning side-effect. You can read more about this, and about the factors that will help you decide which to do, in my post on negative reinforcement. (Look for the section on alternatives to negative reinforcement).


A word on punishment


If you have a dog that is fearful or afraid, it’s important that you stop using punishment on your dog. Punishment is stressful and there is a risk it will make your dog’s fear worse, or even make your dog afraid of you. Punishment may suppress behaviour, but it does not teach your dog what you would like them to do instead. For more information, see my post on positive punishment in dog training.

If you are using any kind of punishment (including prong and shock collars), stop. This is an important part of helping a fearful dog.


Summary


Desensitization and counter-conditioning are powerful techniques that we can use to help dogs learn to like something they are afraid of. They can be used in many dog training situations, from fear of loud noises to fear of being left alone, fear of implements like nail clippers and stethoscopes, and fear of strangers.

These techniques are more advanced than obedience training, and it will take practice (and a good plan) to learn to get them right. Hopefully this article has helped explain the basics. Stay tuned for more posts!

If you need help with your dog’s issues, see my article on how to choose a dog trainer.

Subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology to learn more about how to have happy dogs and cats.


Further Reading


Interview with Jean Donaldson about The Culture Clash

Dogs Are from Neptune by Jean Donaldson.

The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis. Systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning is one of the key skills taught in this book, and there are plenty of examples of its use with cats.

From Fearful to Fear Free: A Positive Program to Free Your Dog from Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias by Marty Becker, Lisa Radosta, Wailani Sung, Mikkel Becker, edited by Kim Campbell Thornton. Lots of tips, including sections on desensitization and counter-conditioning.

Excel-erated Learning: Explaining in plain English how dogs learn and how best to teach them by Pamela Reid.


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04 July 2018

An Interview with Prof. Hal Herzog

Hal Herzog on our complicated relationship with animals – and what it says about being human.

Interview with Hal Herzog, pictured here with Snakey, about our complicated relationship with animals


Prof. Hal Herzog’s fascinating book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals was the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for June 2018. I was thrilled to interview him about the book – and book club members asked some questions too.


Zazie: Many people have said the book is fascinating, and some have said it’s disturbing as well.

Hal: Oh good! Well that’s what I was going for!

Zazie: I think it’s because of what you refer to as “flagrant moral incoherence” when it comes to animals. Why is our relationship with animals so complicated?

Hal: That’s the whole theme of the book really. There’s a couple of answers to that. One is that when it comes to thorny moral issues, most of them are complicated. One of the reasons why I study human-animal relationships is I think they offer a window into how we think about ethical issues generally. So I think the same principles apply. The same complications, quandaries, and paradoxes, occur in our relationships with other people as well. So one reason it’s hard to think straight about animals, one reason it’s hard to think about animals ethically, is it’s hard to think straight about many things when it comes to ethics.

The other is that you have a lot of variables affecting how we think about animals. One is you have this conflict between logic and intuition, you have the fact that the way we think about animals is determined both by biological instincts and also our ability to think rationally, and other factors such as the words we use, that is language. And what cognitive psychologists call mental heuristics, which are quick and dirty rules of thumb which don’t always lead to truth, which sometimes lead to erroneous judgments.



Zazie: I think that’s why it’s such an interesting book, is that there are these inconsistencies. The next question is from book club member Sarah McLaren and this question relates to the section about cruelty to animals in childhood, because we hear a lot about the supposed link between cruelty to animals in childhood and later criminal behaviour, but your book includes examples from completely normal people, and I think a lot of people found that quite hard to read about. So the question is, I wonder if there was ever any correlation between the action of those children who were cruel to animals and the actions of their parents? Were they children who had harsher discipline or a family without animals?

Hal: I don’t know the answer to that. I didn’t ask them about that specifically so I don’t really have a good answer to that one. My guess is probably we saw the same sorts of variation in their parents as you do in most other people. That’s to say, some of them were probably exposed to cruelty when they grew up and some of them probably were not, probably in about the same ratio as other people. The other thing that I think is interesting is what we consider cruelty, for example oftentimes people forget that hunting is a form of animal abuse. I remember when Obama was President he declared October National Hunting and Fishing Month. And so we have these forms of institutionalized cruelty. Not only did he say it was National Hunting and Fishing Month, he said take your kids outdoors for hunting and fishing. And we don’t think of that as sort of institutionalized cruelty. My own view is that probably the vast majority of people that are engaged in hunting and fishing are not wantonly cruel in other aspects of their lives. They compartmentalize that. I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that hunting and fishing are about killing and hurting animals.

Zazie: Interesting, thank you. This question is from veterinarian Dr. Carol Haak. She says, in the process of doing research for the book, did you find your position of feelings on any particular issue change? Or did you remain mostly in the troubled middle?

Hal: I remained mostly on the troubled middle. I’m a little bit different than a lot of other researchers, probably most researchers in the field, in that a lot of them are drawn to the field because their lives are tied up with animals and they’re animal-lovers. I’m an animal lover too, but I’m not an animal protectionist historically. I’ve got a PhD in Animal Behaviour and I’ve always been fascinated by animals, but I was really drawn to the field not because of my love of animals, it was because I saw this way of looking at some very complicated ways of human psychology. Interestingly, the thing that I changed my mind about most in writing the book wasn’t about ethical issues, it was about the role of evolution and culture in human nature.

Zazie: Oh wow.

Hal: Yeah, I really made a major change in that while I was writing the book. For many, many, years I’ve considered myself an evolutionary psychologist and I still do, but I really strongly believed that most of our behaviour was determined by biological factors that shaped the minds of our ancestors. And I no longer believe that. And the reason why I no longer believe that, the real key to changing my mind on that, is I studied how people choose breeds of dogs for pets. And what I realized is that the role of culture was really much more important than I had realized. That came up in a couple of areas. One was popular culture change, which was the dog breed study. I think if I had to write it over again I would change one thing, and that was I did not realize the importance of culture in how much meat we eat. The degree to which we eat meat, I was thinking everybody’s like Americans and everywhere in the world people are eating a couple hundred pounds of meat per capita per year. And that’s just not true. There are places where people eat 10 pounds of meat per year per capita. In most places in Europe, people eat maybe 150 or less pounds of meat per year. Really the United States is an outlier when it comes to meat consumption. So my argument that humans are natural meat eaters, I don’t believe that. On the other hand, I believe that culture plays an enormous role in the form and frequency that meat eating takes.


"I wanted to get at this issue of how you wake up in the morning and get through the day trying to be a good person in a world which is incredibly morally complicated."


Zazie: That’s really interesting. I wanted to ask you a related question because you write a bit about lapsed vegetarians in the book, and I’m a lapsed vegetarian but I also had a mostly-vegetarian upbringing. So I wanted to ask you about the role of culture in influencing whether or not people eat meat or become vegetarian. Why do you think there are there so many lapsed vegetarians?

Hal: I think that’s really a great question. One is that a lot of vegetarians aren’t really serious about it. So it might be when you look at those percentages – I’ve written a blog about that – it looks like about 85% of vegetarians and about 75% of vegans go back to eating meat. In some cases because they weren’t really serious vegetarians to begin with, they might have done it for a little while, a couple of weeks and then they stop. But more interesting were people that were vegetarians for many years. For example, my daughter was a vegetarian for 20 years. In her case she went back to eating meat for health reasons. And I’ve done some studies and other people have done some studies as well, and there’s not one reason why people go back to eating meat. There are several reasons. One is health, if you feel like your health is going down. Another is social pressure. Less common is that they miss the taste of meat. What we found was very few of the ones that we talked to had changed their ethical stance toward meat. So it wasn’t like they suddenly opened their eyes and said ‘oh, my belief that we shouldn’t eat animals because they’re sentient creatures, that view was wrong’. Hardly anybody felt that way. So they managed to start eating meat but yet still basically keep their moral stance with animals intact.

Zazie: You referred already to your work on the popularity of dog breeds. This question is from book club member Patience Fisher.  She says, I liked how you used the baby names and fashion to illustrate the rise and fall of trends, including choosing dog breeds. I have read that in fashion, there are a few trend-setters that can jump-start this process, which is why the fashion industry gifts their items to celebrities. But it's not just them -- there are also the popular kids and other more local trend setters. I think the same with the dogs – you’re more apt to get a breed you've actually met, especially if it was owned by someone we admire, like a trainer.

Hal: I expect that’s true. I’m almost certain that would be true because from what we know about cultural change, the first part of the question was exactly right, there are influencers definitely. So for example when Paris Hilton gets a Chihuahua, it makes it more likely that other people are going to get Chihuahuas. One of the biggest trends that I see with dogs is the fact that more and more people are getting dogs that are rescue dogs from animal shelters or that have been abused. You see this a lot in celebrity interviews, or movie stars, where they’ll be talking about their dogs and they will almost always say it was a rescue animal. And I think those sort of testimonials have a big impact.

Zazie: Another question from Patience Fisher. She says, I find this book interesting but troubling. I'm wondering if you had trouble sleeping or eating while researching it, and if any of that still haunts you?

Hal: No, and the reason for that is that I’ve been dealing with these issues for 30 years. As I described in the book in the chapter on cock fighting, I originally started thinking about these issues seriously when I started hanging out with cock fighters. When I first started going to cock fights, I had exactly that experience. When I went to my first cock fight I was very, very, troubled by it. It kept haunting me and I could not sleep at night. I had sentences going through my head about what I’d seen at the cock fights. It wasn’t just the chickens dying, it was also that the whole scene was so strange and bizarre. Being around people who on the one hand had obviously enormous respect for animals and really knew a lot about them – cockfighters I wouldn’t say loved their animals but had this enormous respect for them – and at the same time were engaged in this blood sport where they’re killing them, and then once the animal’s dead they just threw it in a pile. I just could not wrap my head around that and I became more and more intrigued by them. The other thing is I found myself liking these rooster fighters. They were very nice to me and my wife and I had just moved to the mountains and were intrigued by our rough Appalachian neighbours. And so I sort of worked my way through that.


"Human-animal relationships offer a window into how we think about ethical issues generally."


And I also had trouble when I did the study with slaughtering for college students and I spent three days helping them slaughter animals. And the same thing, I couldn’t sleep at night. I didn’t write about it in the book but I did a study with circus animals, and the same thing happened. I was very disturbed by hanging out with these circus animal trainers and seeing how much they cared for the animals, and on the other hand how it’s impossible to justify if you think about the ethics of it. So there have been a number of times in my career where I have had these experiences but I had already dealt with it by the time I was writing the book, does that make sense? I had already come to grips with the issue.

Zazie: So a related question. Were there any bits of the research that were particular highlights for you and that you particularly enjoyed?

Hal: Yeah, absolutely. The chapter that I enjoyed writing the most was the chapter on meat, because I learned so much. A lot of the chapters I knew a lot about the material already because I’d written in the area or I’d done research in the area. But the chapter on meat, I had not, and I was just fascinated, for example by the woman I open that chapter with who is a former vegetarian who is eating raw liver for breakfast. The other highlights came when I was writing the last chapter. The book originally didn’t have a last chapter. So when I talked with the publisher, Harper Collins, it turned out that he had been an animal rights person when he was younger and he understood what the book was about at a very deep level, which a lot of people did not when I would first talk about it and the proposal. He understood it and he looked at me and he said, ‘You know your book really needs a last chapter, doesn’t it?’ And I knew that deep in my heart and I said, ‘Yeah’. But I did not know how I was going to end it until I was more than half way through the book and that’s when I ran into Michael Mountain. When we went out and spent a weekend at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, it was a real highlight, hanging out there. And then meeting that woman Judy Muzzi In a bar in South Carolina and going out with her on the turtle rescue mission, those were real highlights too.

Zazie: I like what you say in the last chapter about what it means to be human and what Anthrozoology can tell us about being human and I wondered if I could get you to say a bit more about that?

Hal: I think that’s really why I wrote the book. At one time I was interviewed by a guy that has a radio talk show named Frank Stashio. I walked into his office and he said, ‘Ah, Dr. Herzog, I’ve just finished your book. It’s not really about animals, is it?’ And I wanted to kiss the guy, because he totally got it. On some levels the book is about animals, but I really wanted it to be deeper than that. I wanted to get at this issue of how you wake up in the morning and get through the day trying to be a good person in a world which is incredibly morally complicated. I’m constantly torn by the cultural and moral issues that we’re dealing with now, particularly related to the political system we’re in, and I think these are played out in our relationships with animals. One of the things about the study of human-animal relationships is people are so passionate about their relationship with animals. So if you take an issue like the debate over breed specific dog legislation, the partisans on both sides of that issue are so passionate. You know the issue really well. On the one hand you’ve got people who think pit bulls are the most misunderstood creatures on earth, on the other you’ve got people who think they are the devil incarnate, and it’s so hard for them to reach common ground. And that’s the sort of thing we’re dealing with in our political situation. Pit bull legislation is particularly interesting in this regard because the underlying theme in some ways is race. And so we see these really big themes about human nature played out on this arena of how we think about other species.

Zazie: So if you were to pick one particular human-animal issue that you think is the most important, or the most important at the moment, would you pick pit bulls or would it be something else that you would pick?

Hal: No it would not be pit bulls. The most important one in terms of the grand scheme of things would be meat eating, because we’re talking about pitting human nature, our desire to eat meat and in some ways our need to eat small amounts of meat, versus the knowledge that as more and more people decide to eat animals we have an environmentally unsustainable position. So we’re not only talking about millions and millions of animals killed for our dining pleasure, we’re also talking about the environmental cost of raising these millions and millions of animals. And then you’ve also got political issues for example in China, in India, in parts of Africa, where people have not had the luxury of eating meat. As they get wealthier they want to eat the stuff that we’ve been eating. So do we have the right to tell them, no you can’t eat that? So I think if you look at suffering, the environmental cost of the human-animal relationship that would be one of the biggest. And I think another big one would be the ethics of our relationship with pets. What right do we have to take an animal, the descendants of wolves, breed them in ways which cause them harm, intentionally breed them with harm, bring them into our home and not only do we feed them what we want to feed them we decide that they don’t have the right to a sex life and we cut off their reproductive organs. And we do this because of our personal pleasure, because we really want to love these animals. In some ways there are parallels between our love for pets and our love for meat, in that they both involve our preferences for what brings us joy, at in some cases a cost to the animals, but with meat always a cost to the animals.

Zazie: That’s really interesting, thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Hal: Well just thanks to you for picking the book and to the members of the book club for reading it and thinking about it, discussing it. Their questions are very thoughtful.

Zazie: Thank you!

You can read more about the book on Hal’s website halherzog.com , follow Hal on Twitter and read Hal’s blog Animals and Us at Psychology Today.

Companion Animal Psychology has published interviews with talented scientists, writers, trainers and veterinarians who are working to promote good animal welfare. See the full list or subscribe to learn more about how to have happy dogs and cats.

Bio: Hal Herzog is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Western Carolina University. He received a BS in psychology from the American University of Beirut and a M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Tennessee. Trained in animal behavior, for the past 30 years his research has focused on psychological and social aspects of human-animal interactions. These have included studies of public attitudes towards the use of animals, the decision-making processes of animal care and use committees, the roles of emotion and logic in moral judgment, the psychology of animal activism, and the impact of pets on human health and happiness. His articles have appeared in journals such as Science, the American Psychologist, Ethics and Behavior, the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, Anthrozoƶs, Society and Animals, Animal Behavior, the American Scholar, and Biology Letters. His articles and op eds have also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, Time Magazine, and Wired Magazine. His book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals (Harper) has been translated into nine languages, and he writes the blog Animals and Us for Psychology Today magazine. In 2013, he was given the Distinguished Scholar Award by the International Society for Anthrozoology.  He lives near Asheville, North Carolina with his wife Mary Jean and their cat Tilly.

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Companion Animal Psychology is also a participant in the Etsy Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Etsy.com.

30 June 2018

Fellow Creatures: Two new posts

Two new posts on dog training and pet behavior problems over at my Psychology Today blog Fellow Creatures.

The first, Does owner personality affect dog training methods?, looks at intriguing findings from a recent study of personality, punishment in dog training, and dog behavior.

A woman playing with a dog against the sunset
Photo: Wyatt Ryan/Unsplash


Meanwhile, Pet behaviour problems: In the eye of the beholder? looks at the factors that influence whether we consider a pet's behaviour issue to be a problem.

A Yorkshire Terrier in the garden
Photo: Shannon Richards/Unsplash

Have a great weekend. And Happy Canada Day!

24 June 2018

Companion Animal Psychology News June 2018

Make sure you haven't missed a thing with the latest round-up about dogs and cats from Companion Animal Psychology.

Don't miss a thing with the latest round-up on dogs and cats with Companion Animal Psychology


Some of my favourites from around the web this month


Homeless people and their pets: ‘She saved me as much as I saved her.’ First-hand accounts in The Guardian of how much pets mean to homeless people in the US. “She wakes up so excited every morning and gets so happy about the littlest thing, like rolling around in the grass or even just the weather being nice. Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too.”

Dogs and humans have similar social and emotional brains. Dr. Carlo Siracusa of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists says dogs struggle in a society they don’t always understand. “They are attached to humans and willing to share their lives, but they want to feel safe in an environment that is almost entirely controlled by humans.”

What’s the deal with vegetarians who hate vegetables? Dr. Hal Herzog on some fascinating new research into our sense of taste and vegetarianism. “Because cruciferous vegetables taste bitter to supertasters, you would think supertasters would be less likely to become vegetarians than nontasters.”

Dogs use various gestures to get what they want from us. Dr. Marc Bekoff on a new study about referential signaling by dogs. “The four requests that were most commonly used that resulted in dogs being satisfied (ASOs) accounted for 242 bouts of communication and included: “Scratch me!”, “Give me food/drink," “Open the door, and “Get my toy/bone.””

Predation and dogs: Normalizing behaviour. Guest post by Lisa Skavienski at the Academy for Dog Trainers. "I hope it helps people to step back and view these events for what they really are and find some patience and understanding for their pet dogs."

How your pet REALLY sees the world: Images reveal animal vision by Cheyenne MacDonald for The Daily Mail. "Compared to humans, most species ‘see the world with much less detail than we do,’ says lead author Eleanor Caves, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke."

When do kittens open their eyes? An informative post from Denise LeBeau at Catster  “Answering the question "When do kittens open their eyes" gives you insight into more than just a baby kitty’s eyesight. Knowing when a kitten opens his eyes can let you know his age, what to feed him and how to care for him.”

Why you’re probably training your cat all wrong by Linda Lombardi at National Geographic. “Yes, they're independent and willful, but felines can be taught certain behaviors—to the benefit of both cat and human.”


Help Researchers with a Survey on Aging in Dogs


The Family Dog Project is conducting a large survey of aging in dogs and they would like your help!
In a blog post about the study the researchers say, “There are still many unanswered questions regarding the natural ageing process in family dogs. While it is common knowledge that ageing leads to the decline of cognitive and physical abilities, the nature and dynamics of these declines is still very much under debate. So far, there is no agreement as to what age dogs start to show symptoms of ageing.”

You can help! They are hoping for a large number of participants from around the world.

The survey is already available in several languages, and more are coming soon. You can take part here:

The questionnaire in English - UK

The questionnaire in English - USA

The questionnaire in English - Canada

The questionnaire in French - France, Canada

The questionnaire in German - Germany/Austria/Switzerland


Animal Book Club


The book of the month is Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog, and it’s been generating lots of discussion. Are you reading it too?

You can find a full list of all the books read by the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club here. The book club will be accepting new members in July so check the page for info.





The Train for Rewards Blog Party


The Train for Rewards Blog Party was a huge success, with 27 bloggers writing about the training of dogs, cats, parrots, humans and velociraptors. Check out the blog party for some fun, thoughtful, and interesting posts.

Huge thanks to everyone who took part, whether by contributing a post and/or sharing your favourites.



Support Companion Animal Psychology


I have signed up for Ko-fi, which allows people to support creators by buying them a coffee. Ko-fi is free to use and does not charge admin fees. If you like what you see at Companion Animal Psychology, you can show your support in this way. Thank you!

The button is on my 'about' page, and you'll find my ko-fi page at https://ko-fi.com/companionanimalpsychology




Here at Companion Animal Psychology


I spoke to Dr. Ainslie Butler of Science Borealis about catnip. If you won’t talk to your cat about catnip, who will?

In early June I was honoured to speak at the BC SPCA’s Animal Behaviour Science Symposium. It was a wonderful and inspiring two days packed with interesting talks about dogs and anxiety. Many thanks to the BC SPCA for putting together such a brilliant conference! I was delighted to learn there will be another ABSS next year.

I was also very happy to meet so many people who read Companion Animal Psychology - thank you to everyone who came and said hello!

“Yes, they're independent and willful, but felines can be taught certain behaviours—to the benefit of both cat and human.” – Dr. Marty Becker.

On the blog, you’ll find a fascinating interview with Dr. Marty Becker, who told all about how the Fear Free movement came about. It was a real pleasure to speak to him and learn more about how we can help pets at the vet, and ambitious plans for Fear Free.

My recent post, study outlines reasons to ban electronic collars for dogs, has also been getting a lot of views. Dr. Marc Bekoff wrote about the study, my post, and the responses he got when he shared it. And in late May, I reported on a study that found most adopters are happy with their new pet even if there are some behavioural problems.

Meanwhile my series on dog training continued with an explanation of negative reinforcement in dog training.

As well, I have a blog post at Psychology Today on a new study that looks at whether service dogs help military veterans with PTSD.

If you have suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered on Companion Animal Psychology, do let me know. You can email me on companimalpsych at gmail dot com.


A Better World for Dogs and Cats


These are the latest images from the series about a better world for dogs and a better world for cats.

Dr. Ilana Reisner on choosing to train dogs with kindness and generosity


Dr. Jenny Stavisky on how cats see the world


Dr. Pete Wedderburn on breeding dogs for good health

20 June 2018

Study outlines reasons to ban electronic collars for dogs

A review of the scientific research finds there are risks to using electronic collars in dog training and says it's time for a ban.

Scientific research shows risks to using shock collars and calls for a Europe-wide ban on their use. They are often used as positive punishment for unwanted behaviour, and are worn on the dog's neck, as shown on this Golden Retriever.
Photo: Parilov / Shutterstock


Last year, a position statement from the European College of Veterinary Clinical Ethology argued against the use of electronic collars in dog training and for a Europe-wide ban on their sale and use.  Now an article in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour by Dr. Sylvia Masson et al explains the reasons behind their position that electronic shock collars should not be used.

When people use electronic shock collars, it is typically as positive punishment to punish a dog for an unwanted behaviour. They are also sometimes used as negative reinforcement by applying the shock until the dog does the behaviour that is wanted. These days many electronic collars have a time limit on the application of shock, making it less likely they are used as negative reinforcement.

The paper considers all three types of electronic collars:

  • Antibark collars that are activated by noise and automatically give a shock when the dog barks
  • Electronic boundary fences that have underground sensors. When the dog crosses the boundary, the dog’s collar gives an electric shock
  • Remote-controlled collars that enable a person to deliver a shock to the dog via a remote control.

The paper concludes,
“...there is no credible scientific evidence to justify e-collar use and the use of spray collars or electronic fences for dogs. On the contrary, there are many reasons to never use these devices. Better training options exist, with proven efficacy and low risk.”

They go on to recommend a ban on the sale, use and promotion of electronic collars across Europe.

The paper outlines reasons people may give for using electronic collars: they say they work; they want fast results; they’ve tried it on themselves and think it didn’t hurt (not taking into account differences between human skin and dog skin); they think the risks are lower in the long-term than other alternatives; or they think it will be cheaper than hiring a dog trainer or animal behaviourist.

The paper looks at the scientific evidence and demolishes all of these reasons. Ultimately, the use of electronic training collars poses risks to animal welfare, as found in Ziv’s earlier review of aversive training methods more generally.

For example, people who use shock collars may end up paying more on a dog trainer or behaviourist if use of the collar affects their relationship with the dog or the dog’s welfare. The application of shock may result in fear, aggression or learned helplessness. Poor timing on the part of the trainer will increase these risks.

Studies show increased fear and stress in dogs trained with shock collars. And it is possible for dogs to associate this with things other than the behaviour being punished, for example with the trainer, the location of the training, or (in the case of boundary fences) with people or dogs who happen to be walking by.

Meanwhile, there is no research that suggests electronic training collars are more effective; in contrast, there is some research that suggests positive reinforcement leads to better results. (For example, one study found no benefits to the use of shock collars to teach recall but some risks to animal welfare).

So although people give various reasons to support the use of electronic collars, there is no evidence to support those reasons. The paper says many people are reluctant to use electronic collars and prefer to use humane methods.

The paper also considers spray collars that release a puff or air or a spray of citronella when a dog barks. They say that if spray collars are used, it should be under the supervision of a veterinarian or behaviourist. The collars do not address the cause of barking, and this needs to be taken into consideration.

"...there is no credible scientific evidence to justify e-collar use and the use of spray collars or electronic fences for dogs"

And they recommend physical fences instead of electronic fences. One study found a higher risk of escape with electronic fences compared to a physical fence.

The scientists also consider people’s sources of information about dog training, which are often poor. This means many people may not know positive reinforcement is a better way to train dogs.

This is an important paper that clearly states the many problems with the use of electronic collars in dog training. It remains to be seen whether the European countries that do not already ban shock collars move to enact such a ban.

Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Slovenia, Scotland, Sweden, Wales, and some parts of Australia already have a ban on electronic collars. England has plans to ban them.

In the meantime, if anyone is wondering whether or not to use an electronic collar on their dog, this article gives many reasons not to do so.

If you need help with your dog’s behaviour, choose a good dog trainer who will use positive reinforcement.

Professional organizations recommend the use of reward-based training methods (see seven reasons to use reward-based training methods).  You might also like my post the ultimate dog training tip. You can also read about my own article (published in the same issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior) on why don't more people use positive reinforcement to train dogs.

Subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology to learn more about how to have happy dogs and cats.

If you’re interested in the science, I keep a list of dog training research resources where you can find the research on dog training methods (as well as places to read about it for free).



Reference
Masson, S., de la Vega, S., Gazzano, A., Mariti, C., Pereira, G. D. G., Halsberghe, C., Leyvraz, A.M., McPeake, K. & Schoening, B. (2018). Electronic training devices: discussion on the pros and cons of their use in dogs as a basis for the position statement of the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology (ESVCE). Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1558787818300108


Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Companion Animal Psychology is also a participant in the Etsy Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Etsy.com.

16 June 2018

The Train for Rewards Blog Party is Now Live!

The Train for Rewards Blog Party is now live with posts from many talented bloggers exploring the topic of reward-based training.

Check it out here.

Then share your favourite posts on social media.

And share a photo of your pet on social media with the hashtag #TrainforRewards.

Post for the 2018 Train for Rewards Blog Party hosted by Companion Animal Psychology



The blog party is hosted by Companion Animal Psychology. Thank  you to everyone who is taking part, whether by blogging or sharing your pet's photo on social media.


Companion Animal Psychology...

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