From Fear to Confidence (for your dog)

A local dog training non-profit organization, Your Dog’s Friend, hosted a lecture called, “From Fear to Confidence”, a few weeks ago. It was given by Tonya Wilhem of Raising Your Pets Natural, a behavior professional from Toledo, Ohio. It was a very interesting talk with lots of food for thought, so I thought I’d share my notes!

    1. Bringing a young dog into your home is an opportunity to prevent fearful and anxious behaviors through positive reinforcement of which you should take advantage! Tonya gave the example of lavishly rewarding her puppy for calm behavior during thunderstorms (for years!), before he started developing storm anxiety. I’d note that it’s probably never too late to use positive reinforcement to prevent undesirable behaviors – so give your dog a treat for being good pupper whenever!!
    2. It is an owner’s responsibility to prevent (and if necessary, manage) situations that will put their dog over threshold. “Threshold” is a term meaning the point at which a stimulus will provoke a reaction. So my Luna can see a squirrel down the street and not react, but if a squirrel pops out of a few feet from us, you better believe she’s going after said squirrel. Thus, Luna’s squirrel threshold is somewhere between “down the street” and “a few feet from us”. For a dog that is suffering from anxiety, it is vitally important to keep the dog under threshold and that may mean the owner has to determine some areas and activities are off-limits. A dog-reactive dog just should not be walked in an area frequented by other dogs, and a stranger-reactive dog should likewise not be walked where loads of people will be.

      It’s worth noting that “reactive” and “anxious/fearful” can be synonymous for some dogs. A dog may be reactive (i.e. barking, lunging, and generally carrying on) for many reasons: frustration, fear, excitement, etc. You have to know your dog and your dog’s body language to tell the difference!

    3. Know your dog’s body language. How do you identify your dog’s threshold, prior to doggo becoming a lunging, barking mess? The dog’s body language! It is unfortunately true that some proportion of dog owners misinterpret canine body language so it’s a good idea for any owner to brush up on their canine body language in general and to carefully study their dog’s body language in a variety of situations. This piece on dog body language from the ASPCA is a good place to start but remember that every dog may be a little different.
    4. Use counterconditioning to change your dog’s emotional response to fear-inducing stimuli while your dog is under threshold. Counterconditioning is the process of pairing a stimuli that elicits an undesirable response with something positive with the goal of changing the dog’s immediate response to that stimuli. The key here is to use counterconditioning when the dog is well under her threshold! So I’ve used counterconditioning extensively with Luna – one example is with the neighbor whose yard abuts ours. For whatever reason (I’ll withhold my non-charitable thoughts about how this guy has never even said, “Hi!”, to me despite my perfectly friendly overtures), Luna has decided that she does not like him and will be barking at him at any given opportunity, thank you very much. To counter-condition Luna’s reaction to him, I kept her on leash (to keep her below threshold) and as we walked around our backyard at some distance from the neighbor, she would get treats for looking at him and not barking. Over many weeks, we slowly closed the distance between the fence and Luna, and now she (mostly) does not bark at him. Counterconditioning win!
    5. Appropriate tools and products are helpful, but they will only get you and your dog so far. Some pet products on the market will definitely make life harder for you and your anxious dog, because anything aversive -or force-based, like shock and prong collars, loud noise canisters, etc., will likely induce further fear and anxiety and undesirable behaviors. Great tools that will help you manage an anxious dog safely are widely available, such as front and back-clip and front-clip harnesses (Freedom Harness, Easy Walk, etc.) and head halters (Halti, Gentle Leader, etc.). In the way of counterconditioning, there are also products designed to help you deliver that special positive counterconditioning treat on the go, like treat pouches, LeanLix, Treat Toobs (fill with yogurt/pureed pumpkin/peanut butter/etc.), a really special toy, etc. And that’s just to name a few, and not including appropriate veterinary care, supplements, food, psychopharmaceuticals, and other products that may be helpful to an anxious dog.

      The bottom line is that a holistic approach to a dog’s anxiety is the only way to move your dog from fear to confidence!

If you enjoyed this entry, please give it a, “Like” and leave a comment below! I’d love to hear about your experience with an anxious or reactive dog.

If you’re in the DMV (that’d be DC-Maryland-Virginia area for you non-locals!), check out Your Dog’s Friend for other FREE dog behavior seminars like the one describe here (and great opportunities for fee-based classes too!)

Dog pheromones: do they work?


Photo credit: Gatorgoon via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

To follow up from my post about the efficacy of cat pheromones, I wanted to delve into the scientific literature looking into the effects of pheromonotherapy (the therapeutic application of pheromones to treat behavior problems) on dogs.

What is pheromonotherapy?

Scientists have demonstrated that many animals utilize pheromones (chemical communication signals emitted by animals) for a purposes as varied as sexual receptivity to spatial orientation to appeasement of infant animals. The idea behind pheromonotherapy is pretty simple: use synthetic pheromones to communicate a useful message to a pet displaying a behavior problem. While no side effects or toxicity to synthetic pheromones are known, the application of pheromonotherapy is complicated by the fact that animals do not passively intake pheromones (as far as scientists and veterinarians understand) – rather, animals must actively suck in pheromones through a specialized organ in the nasal cavity called the vomeronasal organ (VNO). Unfortunately, there are typically environmental or behavior signals that induce an animal to engage the VNO and these signals may or may not be present when synthetic pheromones are applied. Synthetic pheromones are available from many pet retailers in the form of plug in diffusers, impregnated collars, sprays, and wipes.

What can pheromones do for dogs?

The only dog pheromone that I have found on the market is Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), which is supposed to be a synthetic copycat of the pheromone mother dogs produce to enhance attachment and promote emotional stabilization in her puppies. The common application for this pheromone is, unsurprisingly, to mitigate a undesirable dog behavior resulting from stressors  such as loud noises, being left alone, meeting/living with another animal, going to a veterinary office, etc.

So…do pheromones work for dogs?

I separated studies that I found in my literature review of pheromonotherapy efficacy in dogs into two broad categories: those considering dogs in “social” situations (i.e. where many other animals are present: shelters, veterinary clinics, or training classes) and those looking at dogs in a more private home setting. My motivation for this division is the probable increase in the engagement of the VNO in social situations vs. when dogs are just sitting in their familiar environment.

Interestingly, the general consensus is: YES, pheromones are very effective in reducing anxiety and displacement behaviors (barking, panting, avoidance behaviors, destruction, excessive licking, etc.) while promoting relaxed and social behaviors (social greetings of strangers, laying down, normal appetite, etc.) in dogs. In social settings, results have been reported in as little as 4-7 days, while the treatment period for dogs in home settings is typically longer (4+ weeks). One study even found that DAP application had comparable results to an antidepressant medication, clomipramine, on reducing anxious behaviors.  That’s pretty impressive, considering that DAP has no side effects while clomipramine can have serious side effects including GI upset, elevation of liver enzymes, convulsions, and confusion.

Nearly every study that I read included the stern limitation that more research is needed to confirm these positive results. Furthermore, serious canine behavior problems are unlikely to be fully ameliorated by pheromonotherapy alone: behavior modification programs and psychopharmaceutical drugs should be applied as determined by a veterinarian and/or behaviorist.


Photo credit: Bekathwia via Remodel Blog / CC BY-SA

What does the manufacturer have to say about pheromone efficacy in dogs?

I contacted Ceva Animal Health, the company that produces a popular dog pheromone, Adaptil because their products/website purport to have data on file about the effectiveness of Adaptil. A veterinary technician in their customer service section got back to me with three pieces of literature: one was an actual study of pheromonotherapy and socialization in puppies [1], one was a well-referenced summary of pheromonotherapy studies [2], and the final piece was (probably?) a selection from a book that had no references and a single author [3]. Since I expected some data generated internally from Ceva or at least a Ceva-funded study, I was pretty disappointed in this response – all of this information is available publicly, so what’s with the “data on file” statement? I suspect that Ceva (and other animal product manufacturers) are not all that interested in selling an effective product – they just want to sell any product.

TL;DR

Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is pretty well established as an effective treatment for stress-induced behavior problems in dogs. Pheromonotherapy has been demonstrated to reduce anxious behaviors and increase relaxed behaviors in dogs in especially short timeframes (4-7 days) in situations where other animals are present, which appears to hold up in more private home settings over longer periods (4+ weeks). Dogs with serious behavior problems should be evaluated by a veterinarian and/or dog behaviorist because pheromonotherapy is likely only one piece of the behavior modification and treatment program that the dog will need.

References

  1. Denenberg, Sagi, and Gary M. Landsberg. “Effects of dog-appeasing pheromones on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long-term socialization.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 233.12 (2008): 1874-1882.
  2. Landsberg, Gary. “Why Practitioners Should Feel Comfortable with Pheromones – The Evidence to Support Pheromone Use.” Presented at The North American Veterinary Conference. (2006)
  3. Mills, Daniel S. “Pheromones and Pheromonatherapy.” The Henston Small Animal Veterinary Vade Mecum. Part IV: 316-323
  4. Frank, Diane, Guy Beauchamp, and Clara Palestrini. “Systematic review of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 236.12 (2010): 1308-1316.
  5. Tod, Elaine, Donna Brander, and Natalie Waran. “Efficacy of dog appeasing pheromone in reducing stress and fear related behaviour in shelter dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 93.3 (2005): 295-308.
  6. Kim, Young-Mee, et al. “Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs.” Canadian Veterinary Journal 51.4 (2010): 380.
  7. Gaultier, E., et al. “Comparison of the efficacy of a synthetic dog-appeasing pheromone with clomipramine for the treatment of separation-related disorders in dogs.” Veterinary Record-English Edition 156.17 (2005): 533-537.
  8. Mills, Daniel Simon, et al. “A triple blind placebo-controlled investigation into the assessment of the effect of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) on anxiety related behaviour of problem dogs in the veterinary clinic.” Applied animal behaviour science 98.1 (2006): 114-126.
  9. Sheppard, G., and D. S. Mills. “Evaluation of dog-appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks.” Veterinary Record: Journal of the British Veterinary Association 152.14 (2003).

The Trouble with Shock Collars: A Real World Example


Photo credit: Schill via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

A family in my neighborhood welcomed a Great Dane puppy into their lives last fall. The once-gangly, now-100+-lb grey dog regularly greets me and my dog while we walk by his yard with booming barks. This situation has apparently become unacceptable for his owners: this week we have not been regaled with the hound’s vocalizations and he is sporting a shiny shock collar high on his neck.

The training method that shock collars, and all punitive training methods, rely on the operant conditioning strategy of positive punishment. The principal is simple: the dog does something the owner does not like and receives the shock – thereby decreasing the likelihood of the dog to repeat that undesired behavior in order to avoid the aversive consequence. For operant conditioning to be successful, two criteria must be met: timing and persuasiveness. These two criteria are precisely why punitive training methods like shock collars are fraught with trouble – and I’ll tell you why:

Shock collars are not smart.  When using operant conditioning, the trainer’s timing must be impeccable in order to link the correct behavior to the correct consequence, because animals do not possess the mental capacity to link consequences of behaviors that are more than a few seconds apart. Is my neighbor’s dog linking the shock with his barking behavior – or the appearance of another dog? Or a squirrel that just happened to be running down the street at the same time? Or the truck that just drove by?

All types of operant conditioning always involves a little trial and error on the animal’s part. Using aversive consequences for training causes stress in dogs and can likely contribute to the development anxiety disorders, aggression, and a host of other behavioral problems.

Shock collars are not safe. The other vital criteria for successful operant condition is that the consequence of the animal’s behavior must be compelling enough to actually change the animal’s behavior. This is why many dog trainers instruct owners to turn up their dog’s shock collar, despite contrary instructions from the manufacturer.

So what if my neighbor’s dog is connecting the significant shocks to the appearance of me and/or my dog? Well, if human +/- dog = pain, it will behoove the dog to prevent humans and/or dogs from getting near to him – so he will become aggressive towards walkers and their dogs.

Shock collars are not necessary. While I’m having to re-route my walking path due to my safety concerns about my neighbor’s dog (which is actually quite the ordeal for my OCD-anxiety dog), I must admit that I am frustrated by my neighbor’s numerous decisions leading up to this point:

  1. They purchased a dog too large to be adequately contained in their yard
  2. They leave him outside unattended
  3. They are upset that a dog bred specifically for its guarding skills barks at strangers
  4. They chose to install a shock collar on him rather than safely train him to tolerate walkers

Any one of these decisions could have been made differently and our whole neighborhood would be safer! Of course, the welfare of the dog is also a significant concern on mine so I would prefer that my neighbors would train their dog not to bark in a manner that will not cause pain and anxiety.

Cat pheromones: do they work?

I can’t speak for all pet owners but pet pheromone products have been pushed at me from all quarters – pet shop associates, veterinarians, trainers, and even other pet owners! I was initially recommended pheromone products due to car- and moving-induced stress in my pets but if you pick up any brand pheromone dispenser and you will discover a  multitude of potential applications. (Urine marking, inappropriate scratching, multicat tension, excessive barking, hiding, etc.) These products cost a pretty penny too – around $30 for a diffuser or spray, $15 for a pheromone-infused collar. So it begs the question: do pheromone products work?

Photo credit: Trish Hamme via Foter.com / CC B

What are pheromones anyway?

Pheromones are a means of chemical communication. Although not completely understood, it is thought that animals perceive pheromones through a specialized receptor in roof animal’s snouts called the vomeronasal organ (VNO). The VNO does not always pick up pheromones, however – it has to be activated by the animal. Have you ever seen a cat, intrigued by a new smell or etc., open her mouth and “pant” with her tongue out? That behavior is called “flehmen” and it’s function is to suck pheromones into the VNO.

Animals use pheromones to communicate a wide array of messages: territorial marking, sexual receptivity, spatial orientation and emotional stabilization, assertion of social status, alarm marking during fear reactions, appeasement of infant animals – and those are just the pheromones that scientists understand (and there are loads whose functions are unknown).

Scientists and pet product companies have developed synthetic pheromones that can be purchased at many pet stores and veterinary offices. Several types of pheromone dispensation products are available: passive diffusers that are plugged into a wall outlet, pheromone-infused collars, pheromone-infused wipes, and pheromone sprays.

What could pheromones do for cats?


Photo credit: Sander van der Wel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Considering that our pets live in a world full of smells, veterinarians and behaviorists have  been exploring the application of pheromones to treat animal behavior problems because, when used correctly, they are completely non-toxic, have no side effects, and involve little effort on the part of owner or pet. The therapeutic use of pheromones to treat behavior problems in pets is called pheromonotherapy.

The principle of pheromonotherapy is pretty simple: use synthetic pheromones to communicate a useful message to a pet displaying a behavior problem. Many behavior problems are the result of fear and anxiety in pets, so using a pheromone with an emotional stabilization function – like the pheromone cats release when they rub their chin on something to distinguish it as “known”. Reduction of feline spraying has been a target of numerous pheromonotheray studies – no doubt because this is a common and extremely aggravating behavior problem for cat owners. Scientists have also evaluated cat pheromones in calming cats during transport, prior to intravenous catheterization, in preventing stress-induced anorexia, and facilitating the peaceful introduction of unsocialized cats.

So…do pheromones work?

There are real barriers to the success of pheromonotherapy. First, animals generally do not communicate by pheromones alone. Usually there would be a multitude of body signals or vocalizations that would accompany (and emphasize) the pheromone message and open up the VNO so that the animal perceives the message.  Secondly, pheromones may “prime” an animal’s emotional state to be receptive to a behavior modification program but it is unlikely that pheromones alone will completely address behavior problems.

Thus the importance of the scientific evaluation of pheromonotherapy! All of the studies that I read about the use of pheromones for emotional stabilization, i.e. for behavior problems like urine marking, inter-act aggression, transport-induced stress, stress-induced anorexia (see Sources below), were all suggestive of a positive effect. The general consensus is that the longer pheromones were used (4+ weeks), the better the effect. Additionally, many cats maintained improved behavior after pheromones were removed.

I did find a very critical meta-analysis, which is a study of studies. This meta-analysis looked at all available pheromone studies and found that most studies had significant problems with design and/or analysis, such as small sample size, the absence of blinding or randomization, and the lack of a control sample. These problems prevented the authors from agreeing with the positive findings of the individual studies. However…I had problems with the meta-analysis’s problems! The principles of “robust” clinical research aren’t always ethical – especially in a situation where, say, you’ve got an owner whose cat is spraying all over the house and euthanasia is seriously on the table. Furthermore, the funding opportunities for these studies don’t seem to be abundant so gathering huge sample sizes may not be possible. I did not find any study over stating its findings and hopefully the examination of pheromonotherapy will continue to provide additional information.


Photo credit: jenny downing via Foter.com / CC BY

TL;DR

We have reasonable evidence to suggest human-applied pheromones (or pheromonotherapy) can be helpful as part of a behavior modification program for a cat displaying certain behavior problems, especially urine marking and inter-cat aggression. Best results have been seen in prolonged use (4+ weeks) of pheromonotherapy.

 

 

Sources

  1. Frank, Diane, Guy Beauchamp, and Clara Palestrini. “Systematic review of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 236.12 (2010): 1308-1316.
  2. Mills, Daniel S., Sarah E. Redgate, and Gary M. Landsberg. “A meta-analysis of studies of treatments for feline urine spraying.” PloS one 6.4 (2011): e18448.
  3. Griffith, Cerissa A., Elizabeth S. Steigerwald, and CA Tony Buffington. “Effects of a synthetic facial pheromone on behavior of cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 217.8 (2000): 1154-1156.
  4. Mills, D. S., and C. B. Mills. “Evaluation of a novel method for delivering a synthetic analogue of feline facial pheromone to control urine spraying by cats.” RIVISTA DI ZOOTECNIA E VETERINARIA 30.1 (2002): 50-51.
  5. Kronen, Peter W., et al. “A synthetic fraction of feline facial pheromones calms but does not reduce struggling in cats before venous catheterization1.”Veterinary anaesthesia and analgesia 33.4 (2006): 258-265.
  6. Gunn-Moore, D. A., and M. E. Cameron. “A pilot study using synthetic feline facial pheromone for the management of feline idiopathic cystitis.” Journal of feline medicine and surgery 6.3 (2004): 133-138.
  7. Frank, D. F., H. N. Erb, and K. A. Houpt. “Urine spraying in cats: presence of concurrent disease and effects of a pheromone treatment.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 61.3 (1999): 263-272.
  8. Pageat, Patrick, and Emmanuel Gaultier. “Current research in canine and feline pheromones.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice 33.2 (2003): 187-211.

Science-Based vs. Dominance-Based Dog Training: Part 1

Dog training is a somewhat divided profession. On one side, there are dominance-based training methods like those popularized by Cesar Milan and also reiterated by dog training professionals throughout the U.S. The opposing faction consists of the viewpoints of veterinary behaviorists and science-literate dog trainers who promote the use of positive reinforcement based training techniques. If you hadn’t guessed already, I do not subscribe to dominance-based training methods and this post is to illustrate why.

This first entry about why I have determined that science-based training methods are superior to dominance-based techniques will discuss how the theories behind dominance-based training methods have been debunked in recent history and the physiological and behavioral implications of using such methods with your dog.

If you have questions about any of the terminology used here, please see the Let’s Talk Vocab page.

1. Dominance-based training techniques are based on incorrect and outmoded wolf pack research. 

In the mid to late 1900s, publications by animal behaviorist such as David Mech [1] and Rudolph Schenkel [2] on the dynamics of wolf packs suggested these animals had an “alpha wolf” societal structure in which competition-based hierarchies ruled to pack. Schenkel in particular paralleled is studies of wolf pack behavior to that of domestic canines, a behavior mindset that pervaded American vernacular. Unfortunately, these studies were conducted on captive wolf packs (in zoos or wildlife preservations). Further ecologic study of wolves in their natural habit, including work done by Mech, have shown that the behaviors exhibited by resource-strapped wolves held in unnatural environments are not normal wolf behaviors. [3] Natural wolf behavior is much more complex than the “alpha wolf” concept an involves family-based packs and cooperation. [4]

Even if a competition-based social structure was true for wolves, however, it still wouldn’t necessarily be applicable for domesticated dogs. There are likely 15,000 years of selection by humans between wolves and dogs. [5] Because humans selected for social behaviors as well as appearance, dogs are not only distinct from their wolfish ancestors, they even look utterly different from one breed to another. From a scientific point of view, it does not make sense to apply behavior patterns from wolves to dogs on the basis of their shared lineage alone because they are clearly discrete populations.

2. Dominance-based training methods impede learning and cause aggressive behavior in dogs 

Anyone who says that dominance-based training methods don’t work are lying. Dominance-based training methods “work” because anything you to do a dog will impact its behavior because dogs are incredibly cognizant of human social cues. [6, 7] The problem with dominance-based training methods arise from these techniques causing stress in dogs that impedes learning and can result in aggression and fear in dogs.

Let’s take that sentence apart for clarity’s sake. Do aversive techniques cause stress in dogs? Frankly, yes. Researchers have long been able to link physiological and behavioral signs of stress in dogs during and after training sessions that included aversive techniques. [8, 9, 10 and many more]

Does stress impede with learning? Every mammal has an autonomic nervous system, which is made up of the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. A stressful stimuli acts on the sympathetic nervous system, which kicks on the fight-or-flight response. Physiological changes include the acceleration the heart rate, increased muscle tension and the inhibition of immediately unnecessary bodily functions, like digestion. After the stressful stimuli passes, the parasympathetic nervous system calms the body back down and returns to normal bodily processes. [11]

Under conditions of chronic stress – i.e. the stressful stimuli doesn’t disappear or continuously reappears, the body starts producing cortisol to replace the energy stores depleted during the initial sympathetic nervous system response. Long-term exposure to the stress hormone cortisol has many negative physiological effects, including damage to hippocampus cells leading to impaired learning ability and the inhibition of memory retrieval. [12] So, yes – stress impedes learning.

Do aversive, stressful training techniques cause aggression and fear in dogs? Recent work that has largely relied on surveys of owners has indicated that this is the case. [13, 14, 15] There are many potential root causes behind these connections: aversive training may make a dog less trusting of humans, owners who use aversive training techniques may report aggressive behaviors in their dogs for some yet-unknown reason, or something else entirely. A highly likely possibility is that aversive training techniques must be applied in a way that the dog successfully connects the aversive stimuli with the desired behavior, which involves precise timing in application and removal.

If done incorrectly, the dog won’t understand why an aversive stimuli is being applied and those painful stimuli will appear to be happen at random. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, wouldn’t you be edgy if someone yelled at you at random all the time? Or worse, the dog will connect the aversive stimuli to an unintended object or behavior: the often-cited example of a dog receiving a shock from an electric fence because the dog ran to the perimeter of the fence due to an approaching pedestrian and attributing the shock to the pedestrian, rather than the dog’s position in yard. Now the dog barks and lunges at all pedestrians near the yard because, in the dog’s mind, the pedestrian’s proximity means the dog will receive a painful shock.


 

Tomorrow’s post will be the final part of why I think science-based training methods such as positive reinforcement are appropriate for all dogs and dominance-based training methods should be avoided. Stay tuned!

 


 

 

References (for Science-Based vs. Dominance-Based Dog Training: Parts 1 and 2)

[1] Mech, L. David, and Luigi Boitani, eds. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

[2] Schenkel, Rudolf. “Submission: its features and function in the wolf and dog.”American Zoologist 7.2 (1967): 319-329.

[3] Davis, Lauren. “Why Everything You Know about Wolf Packs Is Wrong.” Io9.com, 05 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

[4] Cooperation, Evolution of. With Matthew R. Zimmerman and Richard McElreath. In: Sourcebook in Theoretical Ecology (Eds: Hastings, A., Gross, L.). UC Press, Berkeley (pp.155-162). 2012.

[5] Savolainen, Peter. “Domestication of dogs.” The Behavioural Biology of Dogs(2007): 21.

[6] Cooper, Jonathan J., et al. “Clever hounds: social cognition in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris).” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 81.3 (2003): 229-244.

[7] Hare, Brian, et al. “The domestication of social cognition in dogs.” Science298.5598 (2002): 1634-1636.

[8] Beerda, Bonne, et al. “Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 58.3 (1998): 365-381.

[9] Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1 (2009): 47-54.

[10] Beerda, Bonne, et al. “Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs.”Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52.3 (1997): 307-319.

[11]”New Releases.” Understanding the Stress Response. Harvard Health Publications, Mar. 2011. Web. 02 Nov. 2014. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2011/March/understanding-the-stress-response

[12] de Quervain DJ, Roozendaal B, McGaugh JL; Roozendaal; McGaugh (August 1998). “Stress and glucocorticoids impair retrieval of long-term spatial memory”. Nature 394 (6695): 787–90. doi:10.1038/29542.PMID 9723618.

[13] Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117.1 (2009): 47-54.

[14] Rooney, Nicola Jane, and Sarah Cowan. “Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 132.3 (2011): 169-177.

[15] Blackwell, Emily J., et al. “The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 3.5 (2008): 207-217.

[16] Kathy Sdao. “Forget About Being Alpha in Your Pack.” Bright Spot Dog Training. N.p., 2008. Web. 05 Nov. 2014. http://www.kathysdao.com/articles/Forget_About_Being_Alpha_in_Your_Pack.html

[17] Cooper, Jonathan J., et al. “The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training.” PloS one 9.9 (2014): e102722.

Journal Article: Where’s the Stress From?

Title: Comparison of behavioral and physiological responses of dogs wearing two different types of collar.

Authors: Philip Ogburn, Stephanie Crouse, Frank Martin, Katherine Houpt

Published: February 1998 in Applied Animal Behavior Science

General overview: This research compared behavioral (head position, ear position, tail position and posture) and physiological (blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate and pupil diameter) responses of dogs wearing a head collar (like a Gentle Leader collar) and a buckle collar during brief obedience trials (walking, sitting and turning). The authors found that while there was no significant difference between the physiological responses of dogs to the different collars, the buckle collar resulted in more unruly behaviors (i.e. leash pulling) and the head collar resulted in more pawing at the head and ears and less eye contact with the handler.

My comments:

I noticed a major flaw with this paper right at the beginning of the Methods section: their study population was poorly defined. I believe these dogs are unowned dogs (perhaps from an animal control facility?) because the authors mention that each dog experienced identical housing, feeding, animal care personnel and exercising routines. Furthermore, the authors say that they have no history on each dogs’ previous exposure to head collars but to their knowledge, none of the dogs have worn a head collar before. So…with no history, it’s safe to assume the none of the dogs had ever worn a head collar? That seems like an unscientific conclusion to me.

The researchers’ methodology doesn’t seem awful (each dog was used as its own control: all dogs were tested with a head collar and with a buckle collar, randomly assigned to be test with either collar first). Some of the terminology in the paper seems outdated: the researchers deem a dog “subordinate” or “dominate” based on body posture at the end of testing (to my knowledge, it’s not appropriate to label a dog “subordinate” or “dominate” because those terms describe reactions to situations, not overall temperaments). The authors also reference a few ecological studies that have since been highly refuted to legitimize the way head collars work. But this paper is sixteen years old!

The biggest red flag in this paper is the combination of the findings that no physiological difference was detected between collars but an overall trend of diminishing physiological responses during the test. Since all dogs experienced the same care routines, I believe it is safe to say these dogs were being housed in a kennel situation. Kennels can be extremely stressful housing environment for dogs because they are unfamiliar (to many dogs), don’t allow for much positive human contact and involve many foreign sounds and smells. The fact that blood pressure and respiratory rate and etc. went down during the test regardless of treatment or control might be the result of the dog being removed from their kennel and having a calm interaction with a human.

I was looking forward to reading this study because while I have read papers that looked worse alternatives to buckle collars, this is the first that I’ve seen evaluate a potentially better substitute. Because of the substantially under-described study population, however, I fail to see how this paper contributes all that much besides evidence that dogs wearing head collars do indeed paw their head/nose more than those wearing buckle collars, and that buckle collar-wearing dogs pull more.

Journal Article: Shock Collar Trainers Don’t Follow Device Instructions with Questionable Welfare Implications

Title: The Welfare Consequences and Efficacy of Training Pet Dogs with Remote Electronic Training Collars in Comparison to Reward Based Training

Authors: Jonathan J. Cooper, Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman, Hannah Wright, Daniel Mills

Published: September 3, 2014 in PLOS ONE 

General overview: This article studied the welfare impacts and efficacy of remote electronic training collars (e-collars) in comparison to positive-reinforcement based training. After a preliminary study of 9 dogs to determine method feasibility, the authors compared three groups of 21 dogs each (63 dogs total): Group A (trained using e-collars), Group B (trained by the same trainers as Group A but without e-collars) and Group C (trained without e-collars by trainers who used positive reinforcement-based training protocols). Data collected from the three groups included video recordings of dog behavior, which were evaluated by an independent team of trained observers and salivary and urinary cortisol* levels. Behavioral and cortisol differences were marked between the groups in the preliminary study while behavioral differences only were significant in the larger study. Cortisol levels were elevated in the preliminary study in dogs trained with the e-collars. Stress and displacement behaviors were seen more frequently in dogs trained with the e-collars in both the preliminary and larger study.
*Cortisol is a hormone that is released in association with stress.
My comments: 
I first heard of this study on Science Daily, and it was also reported on the DogingtonPost and DogTime. The revelatory lead sentence to the Science Daily story was, “…the immediate effects of training pet dogs with an electronic collar cause behavioural signs of distress, particularly when used at high settings.” Who would have guessed that giving a dog an electric zap would cause distress? I would have thought that was common sense but I decided to read the study understand the details.
The purpose of this study was to provide evidence to support or detract from the argument that, when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, e-collars are effective tools for avoidance conditioning (learning a behavior to avoid an aversive stimulus). Furthermore, the authors point out that there have been studies on the immediate impacts of e-collars in dog training but they have been restricted to specific populations of dogs, like police dogs or laboratory dogs, and the generalizability of those findings to the general population of dogs is questionable.
From my perspective, the methodology of this study is sound. The authors did a great job defining the study group and control groups as well as the way data was collected and evaluated. The use of the three groups controlled for differences between trainers with diverse opinions about positive vs. aversive training techniques. The use of independent observers for the recorded behavior of the test dogs avoided bias for behavioral responses. I can’t think of any potential confounding aspects of this study that weren’t addressed by the authors.
I understand that this study was novel in its study population (“regular” dogs) but I don’t think it’s particularly interesting that the authors found use of e-collars during training was associated with stress and displacement behaviors in dogs. I’ve read a few other studies about aversive training techniques and behaviors like yelping, moving away from the trainer and lowered ears all seem to be common and expected behaviors with that type of training.
I do think it was interesting that all but one trainer who used e-collars regularly did not follow the manufacturer’s instruction to use the lowest setting that the dog responded to – the majority of these trainers set the devices on the highest or nearly the highest setting right away. The oddest part about this is that the trainers were nominated by the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association. Why did these trainers ignore their own professional association’s directions?
I’m not sure why there were differences in cortisol levels during the preliminary study between e-collar exposure groups and not in the larger study. The authors noted that it may have been due to the time frame differences between the short preliminary study and the several months that the larger study took, but I don’t know enough about cortisol levels in dogs to say whether or not this is a valid argument.
The major finding of this study is that there was no difference in training efficacy between the three control groups: positive reinforcement based training was just as effective as more aversive-based training. The authors note that positive reinforcement training protocols are completely void of the questionable welfare implications of aversive training techniques like e-collars.