Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Researchers in Vienna Demonstrate that Owner-Dog Relationships Share Striking Similarities to Parent-Child Relationships

A very interesting study has been published by researchers in Vienna. 

Lisa Horn (Ludwig Huber Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Austria & Ludwig Huber, Friederike Range Clever Dog Lab Society, Vienna) with Ludwig Huber, Friederike Range Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna claim that their scientific study provides an important piece of evidence for the similarity between the "secure base effect" found in dog-owner and infant-caregiver relationships.

The study is the first to show that the secure base effect in dogs extends from the Ainsworth's Strange Situation Procedure to other areas of dogs' lives and that it can also manifest in cognitive testing. A comparable effect has been shown in human children when they were confronted with a problem-solving task: those children that were able to use their mother as a secure base were found to be more motivated and persistent in solving the task. However, while the secure base effect is usually only evident in infanthood, where it balances the infants' exploration of the world with maintaining the crucial proximity to the caregiver, dogs seem to be unique in having retained this behavior into adulthood. Dogs living in animal shelters have even been found to establish preferences for specific humans after short positive interactions in adulthood, which already strikingly resemble attachment bonds.

Although the secure base effect we found in this study was specific for the owner, unfamiliar humans like the experimenter also seem to be able to provide some social support for the dogs. A similar effect has been observed in human children when they seek social support from non-attachment figures with whom they had been familiarized prior to the test. Although in adult dogs it has so far mainly been shown that owners are the ones who provide social support for their dogs, in dog puppies social support can also be provided by an unfamiliar human. 

It is likely that the presence or absence of the owner might substantially influence dogs' motivation in other more complex test situations. The owner's absence in the generally unfamiliar experimental setting might cause a lack of security, which in turn could influence the outcome of the test.

The message to take from this research is this: your dog is not a child and should not be treated as one.  However, in the same way that young children need to be allowed to develop their confidence and life skills by exploring the world from the safety and comfort of their mother's arms, so a young puppy needs to be able to develop its confidence and understanding of its environment from the safety of its owners arms.  So don't overwhelm your puppy by constantly throwing it in to new and stressful situations.  Rather gently expose it to new and unsettling situations, but always with a safe pair of arms for it to retreat to if everything threatens to overwhelm it.      

Monday, 24 June 2013

Puppy Dog Tales - The SIT, STAY, DOWN

Puppy Training - the SIT, DOWN, STAND

Teaching a very young pup the basic positions can be quite simple as they can be lured in to position more easily than a larger dog.  People who plan to exhibit their dogs in Breed Shows don't generally teach their dogs SIT as they need the dogs to stand for long periods in the show ring so they focus on teaching their dogs STAND instead.

Watch Mum! 

The first thing to teach your pup is to learn to pay attention to you by looking at your face, so when you feed the pup bring the bowl up towards your face and reward him verbally and with his dinner when he makes eye contact.  

You will find that if you call your pup's name it is likely that the pup will sit as he lifts his head to look up at your face as it is so much higher than him.  If you know he will do this, call his name to get his attention then give him the command SIT.  When he sits, praise him and treat him immediately - behaviourists recommend rewarding within 3 secs of the dog complying so time 3 secs on a stopwatch to see how quick you need to be as it is a very short space of time!

When your dog is sitting, use a treat to lure your pup in to a DOWN position.  You can do this by showing him the treat by holding it in front of his face, then drop your hand to the floor immediately under his chin, at the same time giving the command DOWN.  As you do this he should start to lower his head to get the treat, so start to slide your hand along the floor away from his face - still saying DOWN.  His head should follow the treat and if you do it slowly and gently he will drop to the floor rather than walking forward. If he does drop to the floor, reward him immediately with lots of cuddles and praise and the treat. If he stands up, or lifts his back end off the floor, say 'No' and very gently try to manoeuvre him so that his belly is on the floor or he rolls over on to his side - at which point praise and treat as described earlier.  
DO NOT under any circumstances push your pup to the floor, pin him down or put pressure on his back or hips as you could easily damage his growing bones.   

The secret with this exercise is:
  • Firstly to keep your pup calm.  If your pup has been over-stimulated by playing or some other physical activity, he will not be able to focus on you and your commands so wait until he is calm and able to pay attention to you.   
  • Secondly only reward the required behaviour.  Don't reward a partial down or a 'cute' action such as giving a paw - you asked for DOWN so all that should be rewarded  is a DOWN.  Your pup learns by trial and error, so if he doesn't understand or doesn't get it right, say No gently and keep explaining what you want clearly and calmly.  If he is still very young you may only be able to try 2 or 3 repetitions before his attention wanders.  Be guided by your dog and work at his pace as all dogs are different and you cannot expect too much from a young pup.
  • Thirdly make sure you DO reward the desired behaviour.  Your pup will probably accidentally put his belly on the floor just before he jumps up again so be prepared and the instant he hits the ground say Yehhh - Good pup - Well Done... etc and treat him.  It won't take him long to associate the belly on the ground and the reward.

When your dog is sitting, use a treat to lure him in to the STAND position.  You do this by showing him the treat by holding it in front of his face, then moving your hand away from his nose, very slowly and parallel with the floor and giving the pup the command - STAND. You will only need to move your hand a few inches so that the pup comes up on to all 4 feet then praise and reward him.  Make sure you don't reward the pup for taking an extra step or walking forward - something they are liable to do if you move the treat too far away from their face.  Again, wait until the pup is calm and focussed on you before you try this; don't get impatient with the pup, and if he is very young then 1, 2 or 3 attempts may be all he can focus on before his attention wanders. 

Always finish on a positive note - so ask your pup for a sit as they usually learn that very quickly - then as well as praising him have a little game so that he looks forward to training sessions because he knows it will end with you being delighted with him!