The Puppy Nanny

A Brief Autumn Paws
By Tammy Mehmed and Fawn Pierre

Greetings Sirius Students and Alumni,

We haven’t written you with any special updates in the dog training world lately, so we thought it was time to give you our own little editorial on current events.  We hope to do this every quarter.

Some exciting news first:  After 5 years of assisting Fawn, Tammy is now going to be a full-fledged Sirius Puppy Trainer.  She’ll be teaching out of the SF Hound Lounge on Wednesday nights; most likely alternating between Puppy 1 and Puppy 2 classes.  Fawn will continue to teach on Saturdays at the Hound Lounge Puppy 1 and Puppy 2 classes (with Tammy assisting whenever she can) and now we can add more Puppy 3 classes.  Fawn will also continue teaching Puppy 1 classes out of Jeffrey’s Pet Store in North Beach probably changing to Tuesday evenings.  We are also hoping to expand into other specialty classes and puppy socializations at other pet stores in the City.  Stay tuned for schedules – we’ll post one as soon as we get it finalized.

Some not so exciting news about dog walkers:  The other day several of us trainers and dog walkers went out to dinner after a puppy class and were discussing the ever evolving dog walking and dog training world.  One thing that consistently came up was the unnecessary abuse that dog walkers continue to inflict on dogs, i.e., physically aversive training techniques used on dogs that don’t comply.  In one instance one of our friends watched a dog walker flip a dog onto their back and hold them there for not executing a recall.  While we teach you how to teach your dog a recall in our class, it’s clear that many dog walkers just don’t have the desire to “teach” a recall if the dog doesn’t come with one (since most of them are not trainers – let me repeat – most of them are not trainers), so they punish the dog instead.  (See why punishments for improving the recall are not effective below.)  That old alpha wolf crap theory is a great way to keep a dog from coming when called the next time and the next time, and an even better way to get bitten in the face.  Not a good strategy – not to mention, the possibilities of injuring the dog in the process. 

Yet another favorite example was someone observed dropping a car load of about 10 to 12 dogs off into a fenced in dog run, leaving the dog run to go get a cup of coffee (the dogs were completely unattended by the guardian dog walker for at least 15 minutes), then returning and standing outside the dog run drinking coffee and taking a smoke break – never once interacting with the dogs.  Even better was when that dog walker was approached by a person who asked them if they were a dog walker and could they get their card.  (I hardly think it was an undercover sting operation – so, sadly this person is doing a fine business with her drop-off plan at the park and being reinforced by more business.)  There are more horror stories, but this is not the place to share them.

So when you ask us to refer a dog walker, please remember, we take it very seriously and only recommend people we would trust with our own dogs.  Yes, that may mean you pay a little more, or it may not be as convenient for your schedule, but it’s the safest for your beloved companion.    Please see our Dog Walker Questionnaire (it can also be found in our resources on the eGroup site as well as on both of our personal websites and is in the process of being updated).  You can use this Questionnaire to guide you in your interview process for dog walkers, dog sitters, doggy daycares or boarding facilities.

On to our editorial:  In this world where mean-ness is so very in vogue (PrimeTime just did a special on mean teen girls that was absolutely nauseating), people are finding any excuse to be abusive to each other.  And lest we forget the popularity that Cesar Millan has received.  After all if you can have a show on National Geographic, be on Oprah (which by the way his flooding technique on her cocker spaniel failed miserably to the trained eye) and work for “celebrities” in LA, then perhaps we should listen to what he says.  Or not!  There are only two other shows that we can think of that have disclaimers that say “Do not try this at home” – Penn and Teller’s various magic shows and MythBusters.  Could you imagine if we taught our puppy class, but then added the disclaimer – “but don’t try this at home” – we would imagine you would head for the nearest door and ask for a refund.

We remind you that the techniques and the education we share with you in our classes and private sessions are all based on science and learning theory.  The great scientists Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner (Skinner’s name has come back in popularity due to the television show LOST), have paved the way in making it easier and more friendly to train the animals we so care for and love.  In case you aren’t familiar who these two greats were – Pavlov’s dogs I’m sure rings a bell to you!  He discovered purely by accident that when he rang the bell before he fed his group of dogs (of which the purpose of his experiments was to measure salivation), that after repetition, the dogs started salivating as soon as the bell rang and before food was even presented.  And the ah-ha moment of classical conditioning arrived.  So when we tell you to feed your barking dog while he sees the little toddler, scary man in a hat, big dog across the street, we are trying to change the association your dog has with that subject – classically conditioning the response to the subject by associating good things happening.  It is not reinforcing the dog for barking, even though it may appear that way. There is a time when you will stop feeding for barking, but that will be covered in the next issue or in a private session.

B.F. Skinner studied behaviorism and psychology and proposed the widespread use of behavior modification techniques, primarily operant conditioning.  He is also well known for his Skinner boxes – which many of you may have created in high school or college classes.  His research suggested that punishment was an ineffective way of controlling or changing behavior, in fact it does not change behavior it stuns it. What happens with punishment is that you get short term (typically quick Cesar Millan-type success) and a subject that tries to avoid the punishment (by shutting down) instead of changing the behavior.  And so, reinforcing the right behavior was proven to be more effective in bringing about long lasting changes in behavior.  The simple rule is reinforce the behavior and it will get repeated. This is why we remind you to please, please reinforce what you like, instead of waiting for the bad stuff to happen so you can punish it. Be proactive rather than reactive. You’ll get much further, faster.

If you have any questions about anything we’ve written, don’t hesitate to write us – or start a dialogue amongst yourselves on this eGroup.  Thanks for caring about your pups and coming to our classes, learning to train your pup in a safe and scientifically proven way using basic learning theory of all living organisms!

Woofs and Wags,
  Fawn and Tammy

A puppy cannot be bad ...
it can only be a puppy!