Thursday, December 29, 2011

It Takes Two to Tension: The Foundation of Good Leash Manners

A puppy-buyer emails to tell me that her puppy class instructor has recommended a "no pull" harness to correct her pup's leash-pulling.

Top of my skull shoots off.

I'll be shooting video of dogs hobbled by these canine straightjackets. Suffice it to say, I do not approve of this kinder, gentler method of destroying a young puppy's shoulder joints. Not to mention the all-positive nature of employing chronic pain as a management tool.*

Here's how you both prevent and correct leash pulling.

You go get the book The Koehler Method of Dog Training, and you follow the instructions in the first chapter. It's easily available on Bookfinder or at any public library where the book-banners have not gotten to it.**

To be clear, I am not a "Koehler trainer." Bit too cultish for me, to be blunt. But "The Foundation" is the pre-homework for my basic obedience classes, and I use it with most private client dogs and most of my foster dogs. And all lungers, leash-pullers, dingbats and thugs.

Here's the homework that my group class students get on the first night, the week before they bring their dogs to class. (They also have the exercise demonstrated, and then they practice hand and footwork with the help of one of my dogs.)

The Foundation

Before we train your dog to walk on a loose leash, come when called, heel, sit, down, stay, and more advanced obedience commands, you will provide him with one week of pre-training on your long line. This training will form the foundation of the rest of his obedience training by teaching him to be attentive and responsible to you, and by teaching you to be quiet and authoritative with your dog. It will also help you develop the physical skills that make leash-handling smooth, so that you don't confuse yourself and your dog later on. If you can do this exercise twice a day for 15 minutes, that's great; if only once a day, go for at least 20 minutes.

Day 1:

Make sure that your dog has not eaten within two hours, and has had a chance to relieve himself.

Take your dog to an open area that is free of obstacles, ice, mud, bad footing, etc. and is fairly level and smooth. Be appropriately dressed and shod. Suggestions: playing fields, church parking lots, mowed areas in office parks, large yards, fairgrounds. Avoid busy parks and places where it is likely that dogs or people will run up and try to play with your dog or otherwise interrupt your progress.

Fit the training collar† onto your dog, and clip the 15' long line to his collar. Hold the loop of the 15' line in your right hand as you practiced, and anchor it on your navel. Anchor your left hand over your right. Keep your left hand off of the rest of the leash.

Choose a target at the opposite end of the open area.

Tell your dog "let's go" and briskly set off towards your target, keeping your hands anchored.
Do not look at your dog to see if he is paying attention. Don't try to get his attention, cluck at him, tug on the leash or coax him along. Just go.

Your dog has 15' of leash slack to work with. Make sure he always has that full 15'.

If he shoots off in any direction, stop, plant yourself firmly, and turn away from him if necessary to keep a big dog from dragging you. Let him hit the end of the leash, but don't add any tugging to that. If he starts dragging you towards your goal, stop and plant yourself.
If your dog lags behind, keep walking briskly towards your target. Don't worry yourself if he screams, plants his butt, bucks, froths, bites at the line, or dashes in all directions. Don't stop to untangle him -- he has 15' feet of line, and can step out of tangles by himself. Keep your hands planted on your belly. If your dog trots along nicely with the slack of the line dragging between you, that's great -- but you still need to continue the exercise and repeat it each day.

Smile at your dog if he trots beside you and looks at your face. This should be the sincere kind of smile that starts at the eyes. He'll get it.

Don't say anything to your dog. Use duct tape if necessary!

When you reach your target, stop for 30 seconds and rest.

After your break, choose another target, and set off for it silently (no further commands) just as you did the first. Stop for 30 seconds when you reach it.

Continue this sequence for 15-20 minutes.

At the end, tell your dog "OK" and let him sniff around for a few minutes before heading home/inside. Don't make a big deal out of it, don't erupt into celebration or start a game of ball. Let your dog "process" what he's learned quietly. This is a good time to do your "Sit on the Dog" homework.

Day 2:

Exactly the same as Day 1. You may use the same training area, or move to a different one. Don't repeat the same pattern of movement.

Day 3:

Use one of the training areas you used on Days 1 or 2. Begin the same way, by walking briskly towards a goal. If you see your dog start to take off in a particular direction without paying attention to your movements, turn (away from the side the line is on, so you don't trip on it) and dash in the opposite direction, anchoring your hands firmly on your belly and heading towards a new target. Don't warn your dog that you are going to do this. Repeat as often as necessary. Be careful that you don't foul in the line and trip.

Day 4:

New training area, preferably with different kinds of distractions. Same as Day 3.

Day 5:

All week, think to yourself "What is most likely to tempt my dog into bolting?" On Day 5, set your dog up with one or more of those temptations. That might be another dog, a cat, children playing, an open gate, a family member, a radio-controlled car, food on the ground, a tennis ball, or a park full of squirrels.

Take your dog to an area with potential temptation(s). Place the temptations yourself before you bring out the dog, if that's what it takes. Put on the training collar and long line, and march your dog straight towards the temptation, with the full 15' of slack line available to him.

As soon as he heads for it or his attention becomes fixed on it, turn on your heels and run in the opposite direction. (Again, be careful -- stay within your physical capabilities here.) If you have done the groundwork for the previous four days, there's an excellent chance your dog will not hit the end of the line.

If your dog does give in to temptation, walk away from the "bait" until he is once again following along with you, then turn and walk directly towards it again, repeating the setup as often as necessary.

Day 6:

Same as Day 5, but change the location and possibly the temptation, depending on how well your dog did on Day 5, and how many things are especially tempting to him.

Day 7:

We'll evaluate your foundation on the long line as you arrive for class on Day 7. I'll ask you to walk to a target on the field outside the training building (be sure to be dressed for this, as the field can be wet). I'm looking for a dog who walks pleasantly beside or behind you with a nice loop of slack dragging behind the both of you. Remember that the kennel property is going to be full of wonderful distracting things. Don't flinch from the temptation setups on the previous two days, and don't cut your practice short.

Back before I could do video uploads, I had a Yahoo photo account, and posted these photos of my then-foster dog, Teddy, on Day 5 of his leash training (Day 6 of living with us). Yahoo photos went away, but I recently resurrected the files from an old external drive.

Since we were having a lovely blizzard, the photos aren't great, and my technique is somewhat hindered by bad footing and visibility. I more lumbered than ran when I about-turned. But Teddy was a great and willing student. You can see the difference between the first and second approaches to a great temptation in the photo sequence. More important, you can see the position of the trainer's hands, what the leash is doing, and how to make the turns so you don't end up face-planting and then hog-tied by a dog.

*Which is also the correct term for a "trainer" who is so effing lazy and useless that she straps these S&M gizmos onto dogs -- much less baby puppies -- instead of, you know, training them.

** That's not a joke. Wanna make a self-proclaimed "positive" trainer pop a vein? Just whisper "Koehler" under your breath as you walk by. I used to think that apoplexy was a quaint figure of speech that did not correspond to any actual physical state. Anyway, Bill Koehler knew how to jab 'em, and wasted no opportunity. In return, and in revenge for having their asses handed to them by his followers in competition obedience, they ban his books.

† For this exercise, this is either a properly-fitted traditional slip collar in chain, leather, or nylon, or a properly-fitted martingale collar. Do not use a prong collar for this exercise. It would be bad. Do not use a flat (static, non-constricting) collar for this exercise, or any kind of harness. And under no circumstances ever use a head halter for this exercise. Unless you are attempting to kill the dog via cervical dislocation. That might work well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Sincere and Comfortable Conviction

Some years ago I found this parable quoted in Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. It's from The Ethics of Belief by the mathematician and philosopher William Clifford, written in 1874:

"A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms, that it was idle to suppose that she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

"What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts."

It's a nice time-warped exegesis on the Upton Sinclair saw, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

At the time I found this and shared it with my friend Keith, he was leading the van to debunk a now-notorious swindle, and I was one of the many flankers.

The peddlers of the DKL Lifeguard made the mistake of attempting to sell their dowsing rod qua Klingon disruptor at a meeting of the board of the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference. We were meant to swallow their pitch that the magic whizzbox could detect live humans -- and only live humans -- through walls and at great distances out in the shrubberies.

Because, you know, buncha dumb grunts who schlepp around in the briars and mud, right?

Including aerospace engineers, herds of extra-class HAM operators, physicians, physicists, a biochemist, nurses, and yours truly, who served as the alpha-test audience for a professional sleight-of-hand magician starting at age three.

Don't try to pull a amateur snow-job on a room full of that much geeky goodness.

Separately, the sharp minds in that room saw sundry holes in the DKL peddlers' lines about radio frequencies, antennae, cardiology, electronic circuits, and recognized the ideomotor effect in action as well as the half-competent use of stage misdirection, during the demonstration.

Over lunch, we put it all together. Keith literally dropped a dime and called the FBI that day.

The upshot? The FBI initially expressed interest and then mysteriously dropped the matter; we surmise that they had already bought some of the units on our tax-paying nickel, and were embarrassed or else infested with True Believers who quashed the action. Or perhaps our Commonwealth's former senior Senator put the kibosh on it -- gotta help out those constituents. Sandia National Laboratories conducted double-blind tests of the whizbox, in which it performed slightly worse than random chance, and then deconstructed one of them to find no actual circuitry, and some human hair intentionally glued to the boards.

James Randi offered DKL his million dollar challenge prize to prove the whizbox worked; no nibbles.

Oh, and Keith was threatened by DKL via lawyer-letter, and I was threatened by a True Believer cop whose department had bought a couple whizboxes and was using them in, for example, hostage standoffs. Nothing came of either set of threats, though if you ever hear of me being pulled over and the fuzz "finding" fifty kilos of cocaine and a dead hooker in the trunk, you can be pretty sure about what happened.*

And DKL's officers are not in prison for fraud, not bankrupt, not ridden out of town on a rail, and are happily selling their whizbox to the Chinese. Probably a good idea for them not to travel to China themselves, given that government's penchant for shooting a few scapegoats when too many of its citizens die due to fraud and corruption in too-public a manner. (Hey China. Bet you could have avoided this expensive and potentially lethal error with a simple Google search. Too bad about that.)

So that's that story, such as it still is, proof that tenacity is the ultimate virtue of the swindler -- a commercial manifestation of the Big Lie in action.

But the context of the Clifford quote in this story is this: My friend Keith is so generous in his estimation of human nature that he was actually defending the DKL swindlers, because, as he said, they seemed to genuinely believe the hocus-pocus they were selling, and had probably invested their savings in the company based on that belief. He had empathy for them on that basis.

I am not so expansive. I didn't and don't believe for a minute that the sales pitch is sincerely held. We argued a bit about this. But as neither Keith nor I are privileged to peer inside the mind of another, I submitted Clifford's argument to him as a refutation of the morality of his more charitable estimation. Even if the DKL pitchmen believe that their gizmos perform the improbable feats advertised, they have no right to believe on such evidence as is before them.

My mother's second husband was a salesman. Not a man who made his living selling stuff, a salesman. Whatever he was selling was The Greatest Thing Ever. When he was selling some noxious overpriced "diet program" with its vile prepackaged shelf-stable food -- well, the food was delicious, the weight loss was inevitable, everything was healthful, and the cost was absolutely negligible. My failure to appreciate these obvious truths was an affront to morality. He was relentless in attempting to sell me this whole system, despite the fact that I was a skinny and impoverished twenty-something who had zero potential to actually become a customer. It was just as much fun as having an evangelizing cultist in the family. And Mike was immune to all objections, including "I don't like the taste of that sawdust bar you just tried to feed me." Because even aesthetics becomes absolute for a True Believer, especially one who has had to work extra-hard to overcome the overwhelming evidence against his position. The more patently absurd the belief, the more ardently it is held.

This principle holds for so many things in life. On the "demand side," it is always prudent to beware of True Believers who are selling you something, or "selling" you something, such as an idea, religion, political candidate. The greater the investment -- whether material or identity -- in whatever thing, the higher the potential for self-deception. Because a sincerely-held false belief makes it much easier to lie to others and reap the benefits of the lie.

Which brings us to dogs.

Not that human beings ever become irrational about dogs, right?

One of the most productive fisheries of human self-deception that I have surveyed is ongoing over at Jemima Harris' Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog.

Read the comment streams on any post. While all our previous ethological work on the habits of trolls had characterized them as fairly solitary culvert beasts, they descend on PDE in great anonymous insectoid swarms, bringing with them a profane and illiterate alternate reality of eugenic inbreeding, jaunty, healthy English bulldogs, beautifully-moving German shepherds, free-breathing pugs, and champeen cocker spaniels that put their hair up into curlers on Monday and hunt for supper.

Great numbers of the Anon legions appear to be afflicted with reverse body-image dysmorphia by proxy. In other words, they look at a sick, deformed, objectively hideous, crippled and suffering animal, and see beauty, grace, happiness and health. And like those fetishists called "feeders," they seek to amplify the deformity in order to gratify their own twisted pleasure, all the while calling it "love."


I love you so much, you don't need oxygen.

I commend Jemima Harris for providing a venue in which those members of the show dog fancy who, along with their other malfunctions, lack a functioning prefontal cortex -- the part of the brain that would otherwise tell a chronological adult Don't say what you are thinking, other people will know that you are a douchebag -- can reveal in public the disordered groupthink that prevails in their usual deranged self-referential cliques.

Alas, the show-fancy set may set the gold standard for a sincere and comfortable conviction in a self-serving and cruel delusion, but they are not alone in the dog world. They are joined by many fellow-travelers.

Entitled crazies who mistake self-absorbed neuroses for an ADA-protected disability, and their untrained, equally neurotic pets for "service animals."

Profiteers who prey on the parents of genuinely disabled children, selling them untrained "service animals" for astounding prices with unconscionable promises of burdens lifted and miracle therapies.

Clickerians who keep lowering the bar for what constitutes "training" and "trained" in order to justify their fantasy methods and general lack of skill or standards.

"SAR handlers" who fail to meet the ordinary expectations for competence, but "mean well" and "want to help." The entities and individuals who have never worked in search and rescue who "certify" them for a fee. The responsible agencies who field them because they can't be bothered to learn the difference between a real credential and paperhanging.

Breeders who adopt a see no evil policy to health testing for breeding stock and followup on puppies sold, and construct a sales pitch designed to mollify buyers who may have been helpfully told what to ask about, but have no idea what constitutes an acceptable answer.

Health registries that allow owners and breeders to conceal non-normal results while exploiting any normal results as advertising copy, thereby (wink wink, nudge nudge) making themselves willing accomplices to the defrauding of naive buyers by unscrupulous ship owners breeders.

"Miller Lite" breeders whose slick or folksy websites (watch for Bible verses and cartoon angel animated GIFs) belie the reality that each of their four bitches is bred to the stud that they conveniently happen to own at every opportunity. Paypal accepted. But we are not a puppymill, nooo, we lurve all our goggies.

"Rescues" that are anything from fishy revolving-door retailers to frank back-door sales outlets for unsold puppymill stock.

Buyers who "stifle their doubts" when the flags are all red, when they have even been explicitly warned about a breeder or "rescue," and then complain about having been swindled.

None have come by their convictions, whether sincere or "sincere," honestly. And none can claim exemption from culpability for what their systematically stifled doubts have wrought. All can look forward to being guests here. It's going to be a long winter for patient investigation.


* Especially tricky because my car doesn't have a trunk.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Photo Phriday: Nature Bats Last, Asphalt Edition

Parking lot of a defunct carpet store, temporarily repurposed as a Halloween shop.

Wetland don't need your protection. Wetland just needs time.