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Practice Makes Progress

Methodology:
How Will We Learn?

Tl;Dr

Fuzzles Dog Training provides force-free, science- based training that uses positive reinforcement LIMA techniques. The focus is always on giving the dog agency and teaching them what to do in a given situation, while ensuring their needs are met and stress levels are manageable. We begin by using food as our primary reward - every dog needs to eat! - before implementing a work-to-play leadership style, switching to everyday rewards such as a ball toss or the chance to greet another dog. Management systems are used to prevent any unwanted behaviors from being practiced while the dog is learning a more appropriate alternative, and reactivity is treated by addressing the dog's emotional response to triggers.

Our goal is to adjust your normal daily interactions with your furry friend so they work better for both of you. Training that sticks is a lifestyle, not a one-and-done, and it's easier than it sounds - you've just got to know how to turn every exciting experience into a reward for appropriate behavior! My approach to lifestyle training started forming during my time as a dog walker: training can be part of the everyday activities we already do with our pets, and has the potential to create a powerful bond like nothing else. By helping our companions learn what we want and paying attention to what they're telling us, we can develop a mutual trust and understanding that is respectful of the differences between humans and canines.

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"Pawrent" - A Value Statement

Fuzzles Dog Training does not refer to humans as owners, just as we don't refer to dogs as inanimate objects. While dogs have historically been bred and genetically selected for working purposes as tools, most modern urban dwelling dogs were brought into the home as companions to live alongside their humans for the sake of company and friendship, or to assist with personal medical needs. One standard trait humans have artificially selected for in dogs is friendliness towards humans, and many use endearing terms like "fur baby" and "puppy parent", which sound more like family than property. They can't be turned off like a lamp, either! This can feel unfortunate when some of the other specifically selected traits (high energy output, boundless curiosity, prey drive) start to show themselves...in the apartment.

 

Our furry friends have very different behaviors, needs, and communication styles than people, yet we still want to love them like humans - which naturally leads to some miscommunication. The core principles of our training take this into consideration, both in values and methodology, so we can teach our dogs in a language they understand, and with the same compassion and understanding we'd give any close family member.

Not Just A Dog Trainer

Positive training is a journey humans and dogs take together - when hiring a dog trainer, the most valuable education goes to the pawrent, not the dog! As living, breathing creatures, our furry friends are always learning: they will continue to notice the consequences for their behavior, just as we do, so training is never suddenly "over". Even when trainers work directly with dog, success depends entirely on the pawrent being able to follow through with given guidance to maintain the behavior. Without this, the dog will naturally find what works for them in the new circumstances and adapt accordingly.

Years spent working with dogs and their pawrents in downtown Denver have given me experience addressing the unique adversities that come with dog life in urban environments. Although a proverbial Disneyland waits just outside the door, I've walked on foot through most of the city and have found creative locations to gradually increase distraction level and difficulty during practice. I'm accustomed to many common apartment layouts and creating management solutions tailored for smaller spaces, and have acquired a wealth of knowledge about fulfilling our dogs' enrichment needs inside, since park spaces can be limited or difficult for reactive dogs.

dog as personal trainer with gold medal beside a white and blank banner or placard lifting

The best analogy for how this training happens is to compare behavior to a muscle. At the beginning of a workout plan, we start at a base weight to lift and increase reps when ready. After many repetitions over time, the muscle grows! So, we lower reps, increase weight, and start again from there. So long as the workouts are geared for growth (and there's enough protein), the muscle will continue to grow. We can stop increasing difficulty when we're happy, but if the muscle suddenly stops getting used altogether, then it will gradually grow smaller and weaker.

When we train a dog, we start wherever they can consistently succeed. Often, they have no knowledge whatsoever; why would they know a closed fist in the air means to drop their rear to the floor? Starting in an easy, boring environment, we teach and strengthen skills gradually over time. After many repetitions, the behavior becomes really strong in that situation, and will keep getting stronger (so long as the dog is being rewarded properly). Then we start again in a slightly more difficult environment. We build up to the more difficult situations that real life provides by working our way there one step at a time. Once the skill is learned and strong, we maintain it with scattered rewards, so the dog is constantly "working out" in daily life! When rewards for desired behaviors stop altogether, any dog will begin to find ways to be rewarded elsewhere; if dogs naturally acted how we want them to, we wouldn't need dog trainers!

MANAGE

Prevent unwanted behavior from repeating using management tools such as gates, exercise, leashes, and adjusting daily routine as needed. Reintroduce problem scenarios slowly once new skills are learned.

TEACH

Lure-reward methods encourage the dog to offer behaviors on their own. Fade out the lure, put the behavior on cue, generalize it to different situations. The foundation!

STRENGTHEN

Improve the dog's ability to respond in increasingly difficult or distracting situations. Incorporate new skills into daily routine in return for life rewards, IE going outside.

MAINTAIN

Use appropriate skills when the dog may perform unwanted behaviors to create a more acceptable routine. Establish a lifestyle of leadership, rewarding the dog for listening with everyday privileges such as dinner, walking out of the door, or a ball toss.

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LIMA: Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive

Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive, or LIMA for short, is a term used to describe trainers or behavior consultants that who use the least intrusive, minimally aversive strategies out of a set of humane and effective tactics likely to succeed in achieving a training or behavior change objective. This methodology is considered "best practice" by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and the Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). 

IAABC Statement on LIMA

APDT Position Statements

CCPDT Statement on LIMA

In short, LIMA practices require trainers to be competent in cases they work and up-to-date on current research and literature in dog training. This requirement extends past just knowledge and goes into sub-skillsets such as reading body language, understanding how the dog perceives rewards and punishment, and separating personal bias from the current situation. Behavior consultants should use a consistent, systematic approach in assessing behaviors, their natural rewards, and how to reinforce alternative behaviors while following Susan Friedman's Humane Hierarchy.

LIMA practices help prevent pet dog abuse by removing the potential for inappropriate, poorly applied, and overly-restrictive management and confinement strategies. Potential side effects of punishment can include aggression, counter-aggression, suppressed behavior, increased anxiety and fear,  physical harm, a negative association with the pawrent/handler, increased unwanted behaviors, and new unwanted behaviors. Punishment-driven training styles remove choice and control from the learner and fail to account for the dog's individual nature, preferences, abilities, and need. Instead of focusing on punishing unwanted behaviors, LIMA methods instead hone in on what we do want the dog to do, giving a more guided, direct path to success, while incorporating the dog's individual needs and behaviors.

Listed below are further resources on LIMA for those who want to know more.

Statement from the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants

Positions for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Aren't you just bribing the dog by giving them food?

A: Not at all! While we do use food lures to initially teach behaviors, we quickly move away from presenting the food before the behavior. There are many specific steps we take to be sure the dog isn't searching you for rewards while deciding what to do. Rather, we teach through repetition that giving attention to us when asked pays off. Just like many people work for a paycheck at intervals without employers shaking money in their face, our dogs work for us with trust that they will be compensated! This includes things that we'd normally "give for free", such as play, attention, access to the outdoors, and so on. It is not a natural instinctive behavior for canines to pay attention to and obey humans at all times, so we give them a reason. 

Q: I know a lot of dogs that were trained using aversive methods, and have seen (Cesar Millan, Canine Intervention, etc.) on TV so I know it works. Why don't you use these techniques?

 

A: Punishment-based training works on the same model of learning as positive reinforcement training, and absolutely can work and be effective at stopping behavior. However, there are many potential issues that may arise:  

  • These TV shows do not show the entire training process. They are cut and edited for viewership, and thus often skip over mistakes and steps that would make the audience cringe. True training takes time and effort, despite how easy these shows make it seem. 

  • Many behaviors we see as "being bad" in pet dogs are instinctual and come naturally, such as chewing and sniffing. Others were intentionally bred into certain dogs, like retrieving in Golden Retrievers and hunting small prey in Jack Russel Terriers. Because there is an inherent need to express these instincts, simply punishing the behavior is not enough without teaching a suitable alternative or providing an acceptable outlet. There is also something to be considered ethically about punishing a dog for instinctual behaviors that we humans specifically bred into them.

  • Effective traditional methods require precise timing for corrections, just as positive methods do for rewards. If someone incorrectly times a reward and no learning happens, the dog just got a treat and doesn't understand why. If someone incorrectly times a correction and no learning happens, the dog was just abused because they were physically harmed and no learning happened.

  • Punishment-based methods give humans the tools to easily take out their frustration on their pet dogs. Animal abuse can be disguised and internally justified as "training" when we, the humans, are in a bad emotional state and not thinking clearly.

  • Aversive methods can result in emotions and stress being transferred to other objects. A classic example is using a prong collar to prevent a dog from running to greet other dogs on the sidewalk. The behavior starts out with friendly intentions from the dog, but over time, they associate looking at or approaching another dog with pain and discomfort.  The result is a leash-reactive dog that avoids greeting other dogs and lashes out when they get near. The training was successful and the dog no longer pulls to greet other dogs, but the training methods have left an even bigger problem that poses a safety risk.

Q: Can you teach me how to use/can we use a prong or e-collar?

A: While you are free to use tools in other contexts, as a LIMA-based trainer, I have taken an oath to only use aversive (positive punishment) methods as a last effort in training, once every other potential method has been exhausted. This means it's expected that they are not present when working on training exercises that I've given as homework. Aversive tools can harm the relationship between dog and human, may create unintended side effects such as reactivity or emotional distress, are easily misused, and can become abusive in times when emotions run high. Trainers that use both positive reinforcement and aversive tools are called "balanced trainers", although this covers a very wide variety of trainers. If you are looking to use equipment like prong collars and e-collars in addition to positive reinforcement, be sure to look into potential trainer methodology and reviews: if aversive tools are used before ever broaching the subject of teaching alternative behaviors, these are likely more traditional trainers. Balanced Trainer is a term that covers a very wide spectrum, so some are traditional punishment-focused trainers that sprinkle treats in. Be sure to find the trainer that aligns with what you want to do with your dog.

Q: How do you say "No" if you aren't punishing them?

A:  According to operant learning theory that Rewards and Punishment fall under, there are two ways to "punish" a behavior, or decrease its likelihood of happening in the future. This can be done either by adding an aversive, or undesirable, stimulus, such as when using a prong collar, e-collar, etc. Punishment can also be done by removing a desirable stimulus, such as access to a toy, space, etc. You can think of this as a "time-out" with a child.

R+ training focuses on teaching the dog what to do rather than what not to do.  Rather than giving the dog unfettered access to perform undesirable behaviors, they are managed via gates, alternative outlets for energy, etc., or redirected towards a more desirable option. IE, if a dog is chewing on furniture, we can remove the dog's access to the furniture and provide them with more appropriate objects to chew. After some time, we allow them supervised access to the furniture, along with the toys, and immediately punish any furniture chewing by removing the dog's access to the area.

This method of "saying No" removes the possibility that any negative emotions about an aversive stimulus will be redirected towards something else in the environment that happens to be in sight. It sets the dog up for success and helps us, as humans, be more consistent with lessons by preventing the dog from practicing the undesirable behavior while we are not able to reward or punish as needed.