What Can Mayor Bloomberg Teach You About Dog Training?

Bloomberg-Logo-650x400 (This is not a political blog. Please bear with me for a few paragraphs. It will get to dog training, I promise. Also please note I am drawing parallells not commenting on policy. This is a dog training blog, not a blog about politics, (human) education, or race relations. Save it for Facebook!)

The news in New York City has been dominated the past few weeks with the mayoral race. (Now that the primaries are over, we’ve got a brief respite, but it’s sure to heat up again in October.) It’s been an entertaining season, partially because more than one of the candidates are more sideshow than serious politician and partly because of the spectacle of candidates trying to figure out how to walk the line on Bloomberg policies that seem both effective and morally and/or ethically compromised.

Like all New York City Mayors, Michael Bloomberg has been a polarizing figure. I have found some of the controversies particularly interesting because he comes from the same corporate and technological culture I do, and this often seems to drive his policy decisions.

On Wall Street (as well as technology companies like Google and Apple) data is king. Business decisions are made based on measurable results. This is often an effective strategy, especially when you are in the business of selling data (which is how Bloomberg became a millionaire) or selling widgets. What can be more effective than measuring results and then adjusting tactics based on them?

But this very practice is what has gotten Bloomberg in trouble more than once. The two examples that come immediately to mind are his school testing policies and the New York Police Department’s infamous “stop and frisk” practices, which Bloomberg has staunchly defended.

In the case of school testing Bloomberg is following the national trend of administering copious amount of standardized tests in order to measure school results. From a data-driven perspective this makes perfect sense. However educators and parents insist that is leads to “teaching to the test” and unnecessary stress for the children.

In the case of “stop and frisk” data analysis led to Ray Kelly’s ill-advised statement about how “African-Americans are being under-stopped.” Here again numbers and measurable results, examined in a vacuum, led to Kelly’s assertion. The broader picture however, might lead some to disagree. (The more I read Kelly’s and Bloomberg’s defense of stop and frisk, the more I think of the engineer and the balloon.)

So what does all this have to do with dog training?

In the ABCs I spend a lot of digital ink laying out a formula for problem solving. It’s an approach to solving behavior problems that anyone from Bloomberg’s world would embrace. And we can learn a few things from Bloomberg’s successes and failures that apply to using the ABCs too.

Before you can solve a problem you need to define it. This may seem obvious, but it’s not.

What do you think is the problem with education? Basic skills, dropout rates, or college admissions? Which one you pick will have a tremendous impact on your approach.

What do you think is the underlying cause of crime? Poverty? Recidivism? Illegal weapons? Drug use? Again, how you define the problem will have a tremendous impact on your solutions.

In the animal behavior training world the obstacle to defining the problem is often one of using labels and classifications over behaviors. Is “my dog is jealous” a problem? How about “my dog is dominant” or even “my dog is fearful?” Is your definition of “fearful” the same as mine? Roger Abrantes has written about the issues behind defining what dominance really is and for many, including myself, he highlights a conflict that has made the word at least temporarily useless.

Properly defining problems is critical to the solving it because if you can’t measure it you can’t say you solved it. Can you measure dominance? Or jealousy? Or fear? No, you can’t. You can measure barking, lunging, growling, pulling on leash, and fleeing. These things might be part of a “package” we call jealousy, dominance, or fearfulness, but we need to agree on the actual measurable actions first and chances if we do that well the labels are unnecessary.

With Bloomberg & Co. the case could be made that part of their problem is a lack of agreement on the defining the issues and the desired results. “Better schools” is something everyone can agree on…until it’s time to agree on what a better school actually is and then take steps to achieve it.

Similarly “less crime” wins elections, but if your tactics land you in trouble with the public, press, and even the courts, than there is an obvious disconnect between you and the people. The NYPD and the City Administration are measuring a result that does not seem important enough to others given what (they claim) it took to get that result.

I wrote earlier about defining what you want instead of what you don’t want. A critical part of that definition is making sure that what you want is specific and measurable. I’ll be writing more about this in the next few weeks.

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What Can Mayor Bloomberg Teach You About Dog Training? is a post written by . You can see the actual post at Dog Training in Bergen County New Jersey


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Is Your Toolbox Balanced?

"But I like to keep a balanced toolbox!"

I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard or read that one. It’s undoubtedly a big number. It’s usually the end or near the end of a trainer discussion on tools or techniques, and is intended to indicate that while a trainer (at least claims) to be primarily using tools and techniques that employ positive reinforcement, they also still like to use tools and techniques that rely on positive punishment/negative reinforcement. And they make this claim to open-mindedness with a brilliant rhetorical flourish! Or at least it probably seemed brilliant the first time it was used. I’m guessing around 1986.

But hey, what’s more open than reserving the right to use a leash pop or some electrical current when the going gets tough?

But really, we shouldn’t find this shocking (heh) when we still treat each other like this:

If pointless and gratuitous physical coercion to a kid is routine family TV (he really needed to sit in that chair NOW!) than how much sympathy do you think we can get for any non-human animal?

The fact is that human society is chock full of coercion and retribution. Last week I didn’t want to veer too far off into politics and I don’t want to go off on a philosophical tangent here, but consider how we treat each other. Coercion, whether it’s physical (most often with children) or not, is a big part of our society. Rewards are for frequent customers, credit cards, and bounty hunters. So it’s quite natural that our handling of non-human animals is even worse.

I’m currently enrolled in Dr. Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning with Animals course and just two weeks in I can see how this course is going to have a tremendous impact on how I work with both humans and dogs, and with how I solve problems. From the course description:

The philosophy of behavior underlying this course is that captive and companion animals, like all learners, must have power to operate effectively on their environment, in order to live behaviorally healthy lives.

Having the science of Applied Behavior Analysis carefully explained and also seeing it applied to a variety of different species has made it clear: it works.

But let’s look at more visceral example of how much someone can get done with a "closed toolbox:"

The elephant in this video is hanging out at the edge of the pen, happily responding to cues to move into different positions. (The electronic "beep" seems to be an event marker similar to a clicker.) If you watch the whole video you’ll see him lift his leg, allow the trainer to examine his ears, and respond to a variety of different cues. These are behaviors they use to care for the elephant with some fun stuff mixed in. Let’s review the zoo’s options for handling elephants.

  1. Restrain the elephant and force him to submit to handling. This is often where we end up with our children and our pets. Of course it’s easier to physically restrain a child or a dog than it is an elephant. (In Asia people do restrain elephants and treat them quite badly. They generally start out when the elephant is very small.)
  2. Sedate the elephant. This is risky, for both the elephant and the vet staff. It’s also of limited usefulness, since moving a sedated elephant is still a, pun intended, big problem. An awake cooperative elephant is a lot easier to work with.
  3. Don’t provide care for the elephant that requires cooperation. There are undoubtedly zoos that still choose this option.
  4. Do what we see here – convince the elephant that working with the trainer is a good thing.

Some would say that comparing this activity to working with a dog isn’t fair. The elephant is in a pen with steel columns protecting the trainer! I would tend to agree. Many people restrain their dogs so they can’t flee. This elephant has a choice the entire time – he could walk away from the bars any time he wants. But he stays. The trainer gave him a reason to.

This dog doesn’t have that choice:

I see two collars and some kind of head harness. And in case you missed the irony: one of the first steps in "teaching" a dog named a "Retriever" to "retrieve" is by forcing his mouth open by pinching the ear. Poke around Youtube some more and you’ll see video of a "well-respected" trainer needing to use a shock collar for the same procedure.

Yes, we need to shock dogs to get them to hold things in their mouth. I’m sure they’d say it’s complicated and we wouldn’t understand since we’re not professionals.

How did we get here? Where does the idea that when a dog (or child, or employee, etc.) doesn’t behave the way we want that meeting it with coercion and punishment (in the colloquial sense) isn’t just correct but virtuous?

Dr. Friedman refers to this phenomenon as "cultural fog.", based on a oft-cited quote from Gunnar Myrdal. The idea that rewards are "bribes" and the dogs and people should already be motivated to do the "right thing" as we define it is embedded in our culture. Dogs should work for praise. An employee’s reward for good work is more responsibility — which is corporate-speak for more work. And of course any popular artist seen taking money is a "sell-out."

So it’s not surprising that a "balanced toolbox" is seen not just as a necessity but as a badge of honor.

But I don’t accept that. If someone can convince a 15,000 pound elephant to cooperate with a physical examination without restraint or sedation, than there really is no excuse for needing coercion to get a dog to walk nicely on leash….let alone retrieve a bird.

I’ll take the smaller toolbox. Every time.

Is Your Toolbox Balanced? is a post written by . You can see the actual post at Dog Training in Bergen County New Jersey


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A DOG'S LIFE: Cooler weather signals fleas to get moving

A DOG'S LIFE: Cooler weather signals fleas to get moving
I've mentioned before that often in homes with two dogs, one will have fleas and the other will not. We have noticed this in our own home – there are several dogs that we can examine to find out if we have any fleas, because they are the “tasty” ones
Read more on Clarksville Leaf Chronicle

Be consistent, diligent in your flea control protocol
on the premises. All flea infestations originate from a flea-infested environment. It may seem like the flea product you are using doesn't work immediately because it takes time to get rid of the immature stages of fleas that are living in your carpet
Read more on Adobe Press

San Diego lacks off-season for fleas, ticks
Autumn is a good time to remember that fleas, ticks and mosquitoes thrive in San Diego County and do not take time off in the fall or winter. The diseases they carry can be challenging to diagnose and treat; many can be fatal, in people and our pets.
Read more on U-T San Diego

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great blog .. interesting post .. thank you

great blog .. interesting post .. thank you
BAD RAP Blog

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Apr 23, Tapioca in Dog Food | Best Dog Food Guide

Tapioca in dog food as novel starch source to use in elimination diets, to eliminate allergy symptoms, and no grain diets.
Dog Food Blog | Best Dog Food Guide

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Ricky

Meet Ricky who is 6 years old.  I met him at the Fete de la Branda in Gorbio.  In fact, you can see the beautiful old copper still behind him in which the ‘branda’ (eau de vie or marc) is distilled. 

He’s a mixed breed and adorable.

RIVIERA DOGS

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Do you think I can live with a pet allergy without medication?

Question by periwinkle135: Do you think I can live with a pet allergy without medication?
I think I might be allergic to my daughter’s new puppy. My skin itches in random places at random times or if I hold her, then my arm and wrist itch, or if she plays at my feet and jumps on my legs, then my legs and feet itch, or if I snuggle her under my chin, then my chin itches. I can’t bear the thought of not handling her, she’s too cute. I also can’t bear the thought of giving her away ’cause we’ve all fallen in love with her. She’s already a big part of the family. I do not take medications on a daily basis and don’t want to start. I only take the occasional headache medicine. I used to be allergic to cats when I was younger and I got over that ’cause now I have three indoor-only cats. I wonder if it’s possible that I might just get over this puppy allergy, too. Any ideas?

Best answer:

Answer by Stephanie Loves Sammy
its possible that it could go away but if u r allergic to the dog then u will be miserable unless u take meds. it is just so much easier. which would u rather do. not take the meds and be miserable and sick feeling or take them and feel great. my mom was like this too. she was allergic to our cats and she went and got allergy meds and she is fine now. its not that hard to remember. its not going to interfere with ur daily life. just take it once u wake up and u wont have to deal with it til the next day. it really is worth it

Add your own answer in the comments!

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Banner Ads on PetsitUSA

If you are renewing your membership with PetsitUSA, then you can receive a $ 50 rebate on a banner ad for your city page.  There is also a spot available for a site-wide banner ad at a reduced cost!  Discounts will apply while there is space available!


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Evolution of the Domestic Dog Redux

I’ve written about the evolution of the domestic dog before. What makes this such a great time to be a dog science geek is that in the few years since I wrote that post there’s been a lot of new research and new thought on the topic.

This is one of those subjects that is probably never going to be completely settled, at least not without time travel — and even then we would need a lot of luck. Chances are there was more than one "domestication event" and each one had likely slightly different factors contributing to its genesis.

This infographic, from The Uncommon Dog explains domestication with a bit of a hybrid view between the "adoption" theory that was very popular until relatively recently, and the self-domestication theory that I wrote about before (and still find more believable than adoption.) It’s an interesting take on the origins of the domestic dog.

What I really enjoyed about this graphic is the additional information about how dogs may have helped us survive. For more on that and on how we evolved together, start here and here.

Here’s the graphic. Enjoy! (Click for the full size version on the orginal site.)

canine_infographic_FIN

Evolution of the Domestic Dog Redux is a post written by . You can see the actual post at Dog Training in Bergen County New Jersey


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Discount for Pet Sitters from Select Cities – Updated

If you are a pet sitter in Detroit, MI or Newark, NJ, then you can join PetsitUSA at a 50% discount!  These cities could use more pet sitters for pet owners to search for!!  Just include this message in your PayPal payment and your will be sent a 50% rebate!

Check back soon for more deals on other cities!

Updated:

Additional Cities for October:

Orlando, Florida

Phoenix, AZ


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