Month: March 2013

But How Do I Tell My Dog She’s Wrong?

But How Do I Tell My Dog She’s Wrong?

HUNTER SYNC or SWYM at DRAGONAIR getting her Apprentice Water Dog title and making the right choice with gusto.

This is a common question for beginning clicker trainers. First we learn the rudiments of marker training: that if we mark and reinforce the behavior we want, it will increase until we can eventually put it on cue.

But at first most of us feel like we are doing only half our job. We have been telling the dog when she does something right. That’s great! Hardly anybody disagrees with doing that. But it seems to us that we also need to explain to her what is wrong.

How can she really understand what’s right if she doesn’t know what’s wrong? Whether it is purely cultural or a primate thing, as some have suggested, it is deeply imprinted in us humans that pointing out mistakes, which can have a punishing effect, is essential to teaching and learning.

First of all, many studies have shown that it is not necessary for an animal to make mistakes, much less be told about them, to learn a behavior to fluency and extreme reliability. Also, I have already written about the research that shows that mixing reinforcement and punishment is actually detrimental to learning. (You can read Jean Donaldson’s magnificent rant on the subject here.)

But my point in this post is much more “nut and bolts.” Let’s take Josephine the Average Trainer, who may be a beginner and in any case is not conducting her training in a Skinner box (an environment that can block out any extraneous environmental events and help make training very “pure”). Josephine’s dog is probably making a fair number of errors. So the question is, why not punish them somehow? The punishment doesn’t have to be harsh, and clicker trainers generally support the thoughtful use of negative punishment, where something the dog wants is taken away after they perform an undesired behavior. Wouldn’t that speed things up by making the process ultra clear? Increase the right stuff and decrease the wrong stuff, all at the same time?

Watch this video and come back. Pay special attention to what happens at 0:45 – 0:48 and especially 0:56 – 1:01.

First, wasn’t that phenomenal? That is Sue Ailsby and her young Portuguese Water Dog Syn. Sue is the author of Training Levels: Steps to Success, in my opinion the best book available for someone training a dog on their own. In the space of one short training session, Sue teaches Syn to stand, to hold the stand for a few seconds’ duration, and to maintain the stand while being touched. Sue shared with me that the session before editing was about 10 minutes long, with some of that time being spent on Syn’s learning process and part of it dealing with the issues that always come up when you try to film something.

Sue made the video for the old Training Levels Yahoo group. Some members had questions about teaching a stand. One of the things Sue is showing is that you don’t have to wait and capture the action of standing up; you can click while the dog is already standing and they will quickly learn that that position pays off.

But what I love about the video is that it shows a clicker-savvy dog learning from the click and from the absence of the click what pays off. That’s right. Absence of a click was all Syn needed to understand right away that downs and sits (and putting paws on stools) were not what Sue wanted in this session. Nothing else was necessary.

Absence of a click is generally agreed to employ extinction, another way animals and humans can learn. Extinction means not reinforcing a behavior that has been previously reinforced. It too can be an aversive process. But I think most of us would agree that Sue’s just waiting for Syn to try something else (especially since trying stuff is itself a behavior that has been reinforced) is a pretty darn painless response to Syn’s mistake. For most dogs with most trainers it would be the least aversive response by the human.

The video helped me put something together in my mind. Trainers who train primarily with positive reinforcement often say that most trainers who rely on punishment are announcing their lack of skill. Folks, this is not just rhetoric, and this video with a highly skilled trainer demonstrates that. Syn can learn from the lack of click so quickly because Sue’s timing is good. If instead of Sue we had someone a lot less skilled (like me), they would likely have clicked a handful of behaviors they didn’t want, and perhaps failed to click some really good stands. That would mean that the percentage of good information the dog was getting would be much lower. She would then be much more likely to choose the “wrong” behavior. And when that happens is when most of us are tempted to use punishment.

I don’t know about you all out there, but this video inspires me to work harder on my timing. And in the meantime, remind myself that even with errors on my part, just marking what is right, to the best of my ability, will work. We just may not be as fast as Syn and Sue.

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Welcome to the Funhouse

Welcome to the Funhouse

Dog Trial venue
The distracting, sometimes scary environment of a dog trial

Over the weekend, Summer and I competed in AKC Rally. She is such an incredibly good sport.

Sable mixed breed dog walks briskly in heel position next to small woman wearing jeans and red sweatshirt
Summer and I chugging along

After the match I was describing to a friend the ways in which performance events and venues are difficult for Summer. A dog show is never going to be the favorite environment of a dog who is indifferent to most people, bothered by certain types of dogs, and fairly easily startled. Every time you turn a corner, or even when you are in your own little area minding your own business, somebody new is popping into your field of vision or right in your space.

My friend said, “like a funhouse!” For those outside the U.S., or perhaps a bit younger than my generation, a funhouse is an interactive carnival attraction that people walk through. From the Wikipedia definition:

…funhouses are participatory attractions, where visitors enter and move around under their own power. Incorporating aspects of a playful obstacle course, funhouses seek to distort conventional perceptions and startle people with unstable and unpredictable physical circumstances…

Public domain image of a what some people probably look like to Summer

I think obedience events for Summer can be a bit like going to the funhouse, or even a haunted house (a walk-through Halloween attraction for children that can be even scarier, with monsters popping out around every corner, things dropping from the ceiling, corpses moving in coffins, etc.).

The big difference, of course, is that humans generally enter such attractions voluntarily and consensually. For some reason, some of us actually seek out being startled or even scared. I don’t think dogs do. Summer goes (rarely) to obedience events because I take her. I do my very best to make it easy and pleasurable for her, but I know it’s hard.

As I have written in this blog, I got Summer at about 10 months old from a local shelter. She was clearly under socialized, and was fearful of children and most men. In addition to being indifferent or even fearful of some people, and actively disliking many small dogs, she has also become somewhat sound sensitive over the years. In addition to these traits, she is naturally a “doggie dog,” by which I mean she doesn’t have a huge drive to do stuff with people. Though an extremely mixed breed, her temperament is close to that of a northern breed. She generally wants to do her doggie things like chase varmints and likes her comfort. Finally, she is hypothyroid, on medication, and tires easily.

Perfect performance dog, right?

But on the good side, Summer and I are very very close. We’ve been working together for six years and she reads me better than any of the other dogs. She loves to go places and have me to herself. I have reinforced the heck out of performing rally and obedience behaviors, and she has really come to enjoy them. And best of all, all around the event building there are wonderful smells where other dogs have been (but aren’t there now).

Sable dog sitting in heel position gazing upward at woman (mostly out of picture)
Summer in the ring maintaining nice contact

Accordingly, I do the following to try to maximize the good for her:

  1. We minimize the time we are at the event (about 2 1/2 hours this time, but we were outside for plenty of that).
  2. I leave her by herself as little as possible since it worries her.
  3. I let her visit with the couple of people who are usually there whom she adores.
  4. I take her outside as much as possible. I try to keep in mind that that is probably the most fun part for her.
  5. If there is an opportunity to work in the ring beforehand, we do so, and I concentrate on letting her get comfortable in the space while still staying connected with me.
  6. I set up our crate in a less trafficked area if possible.
  7. I am hypervigilant (since she is). I try to see every possible startling thing before she does, to protect her or give her a heads up. (Also to protect other dogs from a possible snark.)
  8. I take the best treats ever.
  9. I try to be responsive to her energy level and generally don’t take her more than two days in a row.

I’m certainly not the only person who makes these efforts. Our name is legion, if the Control Unleashed and other such Yahoo groups give any indication. Many bloggers, notably Reactive Champion, blog about competing, and sometimes choosing not to compete, with dogs who have difficulties in public situations.

Why do we do it? I have several motivations, myself. One is that competing gives me specific goals and helps me keep focused in my training. It gives me and Summer something to do together with just the two of us. Another is that I like to get out and let people see what a dog trained with positive reinforcement looks like in the ring. Even with Summer’s challenges, she looks much happier than 90% of the dogs out there. Also I want people to see a mixed breed dog competing and doing well. (We are not alone anymore! The first place dogs in both Advanced A and Advanced B were both mixed breeds as well.) And hey, I admit, I’m competitive.

The responsibility I have as a balance to these motivations is that I must temper my ego and preferences so I don’t push my dog too hard.

Sable dog trotting toward camera with her mouth open and tail up (looking happy)
Summer heading for the gate

In Rally Advanced (the second level in AKC) there are 12 – 17 signs in the ring, each representing a defined behavior to perform offleash with your dog. We had to redo one sign during the course, and it was because of a problem I had never anticipated. It was a spiral, where you take the dog in a certain pattern around some pylons. But the pylons were set up parallel to the ring boundary and very close to it. We were actually not able to walk comfortably in the space between the boundary fencing (called the ring gates) and the pylons. I don’t know how the people with bigger dogs did it. Summer is trained to walk in a certain proximity to me and to respond to my changes in direction, and she repeatedly tried to move over, and it sent her to the wrong side of the pylons. She was doing what I had trained her to do.

I kept getting her back but she finally made a move that would have made us fail the sign completely. So we took the option of a do over, which lost us only 3 points instead of the 10 we would have lost if we had failed to perform the sign correctly. I walked a little more slowly the second time and clung to the boundary, and kept cuing her to stay extra close to me. Even with the do over, we got a 96 (out of 100) and second place.

There were some other rocky moments where she was visually or auditorially distracted, and I don’t blame her. There was cheering going on in the other rings, and a bunch of dogs and people gathered around ours. I am massively proud that she stuck with me in this most difficult environment.

I have never posted a video of a rally run before, because we are decent but not all that great. We are true amateurs, competing in obedience less than once a year on average. But I have to say I was pleased when I saw the film. (Thank you, Susan M., for recording for me!) The only times she looks unhappy was a couple of times she had to stay (but not every time!). When we are moving, her tail is up and she is giving me all the attention she possibly can. I even like the parts where she gets distracted and is looking out of the ring, because she responds when I ask her to.

I edited out the first try at the spiral, for brevity’s sake. I’m not embarrassed by the mistake. I would have left it in if you could actually see what was going on, but we were at the back of the ring and it’s pretty hard hard to tell. If you want to see the unedited version, there’s a link at the bottom of the post.

Summer’s official name is now: UCD Summer RA NA NAJ TBAD TG2. Not bad for a varmint dog from the sticks.

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Unedited version of rally run.

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Three Behaviors I’m Tempted to Punish, and Why I Don’t

Three Behaviors I’m Tempted to Punish, and Why I Don’t

Whoa there, friends. Don’t misquote me. Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I am talking about negative punishment.

Negative punishment is the kind where you remove something the animal wants when they do an undesired behavior. (That’s where the “negative” comes from. Something is being removed. Check out my post on the four processes of operant learning if you want to learn more.) The dog lunges for the toy in your hand; you make it inaccessible. The dog learns that lunging makes the toy go away.  If you are consistent and there are no other influences involved, lunging behavior will decrease.

Clara goes for the toy...
Clara goes for the toy…
Toy goes away
Toy goes away

So I’m not talking about hurting my dogs. But I am talking about trying to squelch behavior.

Most clicker trainers find the use of negative punishment ethically acceptable in at least some situations. It is considered most useful and acceptable when paired with positive reinforcement. In the above example, you could hold the ball out of reach (or put it away in a pocket) until the dog stopped lunging. The instant the dog did an acceptable behavior, such as sitting quietly, you could whisk the ball out and toss it to the dog. These pairings of consequences can teach the desired behavior very quickly. (Still, I try not to do them as a first choice. Contrary to popular belief, and certainly counterintuitively, animals don’t have to learn what the “wrong” behavior is or get punished for it in order to perform the right one consistently.)

However, I also believe there are times when even negative punishment is clearly unfair. And I can define “fair” in behavioral terms. Fair in this case is when criteria are clear and the reinforcers (or punishers) are consistent. Unfair is when they are not.

It is a problem that negative punishment is so easy to learn to dole out. It can become habitual. And dang, sometimes it feels so good to just get the dog to stop whatever it is. Punishment is reinforcing to the punisher in that way. I don’t pretend to be immune.

So here are my three examples. The things I am refraining from punishing. See if you agree.

The Groan

So a couple of years ago I was at a nice shopping mall with my friend. I had Zani with me and my friend had her dog. We were standing on the pavement chatting. Zani must have been offering behaviors and had failed in getting my attention. I surmise this because after a while I looked down and she was lying flat on her side on the cold pavement, with her eyes cutting up at me. As if to say, “Is this enough to get your attention?” I took a picture that very first time. Here it is.

Zani's first "flounder"
Zani’s first “Flounder”

I have intermittently reinforced that behavior and have it halfway on cue: “Flounder!” It has remained what it always was: an extreme form of down. Her “ultra-down.” As if Zani thinks, “If down doesn’t work, let’s try this!”

Public domain image of a flounder

In keeping with this bid for attention, which I was OK with thus far, I started hearing this little groan when she would flop down. I knew immediately this was trouble. If it got reinforced, I was going to get groaned at in addition to being floundered at. I became super diligent about not reinforcing the Flounder if I had heard her groan first. But I was too late. I think that at the beginning she was groaning softly enough that I didn’t hear it, and that sometimes I still don’t hear it.  Or perhaps at times I have reacted directly to the groan and possibly reinforced it by turning and looking at her. I must have accidentally reinforced Flounders that started with a groan because, guess what, groans are increasing!

This happens most often in the kitchen while she is on her mat while I cook. So now the scenario is that she might have been lying on her mat quietly for 10 minutes, and I feel like I really ought to reinforce such nice behavior, but, uh, did she groan first? I can’t remember. I hope she doesn’t remember either and I give her a treat.

At this point when I hear her groan, I have to hold myself back from picking her up and taking her out of the room. (This would be an attempt at a timeout; negative punishment in the form of a removal from the opportunity from reinforcement.) The behavior is that irritating to me.

Compared to a lot of things dogs do, it’s a small problem. I imagine it sounds petty of me to complain about it. Zani is adorable. But aversives get to be defined by the one who is experiencing them. When she groans now it just goes all over me. And I really really would love to make it stop. But I believe that applying the negative punishment of removing her from her mat and the kitchen when she did it would not be fair. Because from her point of view that means that sometimes she gets reinforced, and sometimes she gets punished for the same behavior.

There are ways that I could train away the groan. They could be time consuming. So at the moment I try my best not to reinforce it, try like hell to ignore it, and grit my teeth.

The Bark, Check In, and Bark Some More Loop

Clara has some pretty choice behaviors too.

This is entirely a behavior I trained. Even at the beginning I mostly realized the consequences, and in an analytical way it is preferable to almost all other choices. However, that doesn’t preclude me from getting irritated.

I have previously written about Clara’s classically conditioned and operant responses to other dogs barking and other distractions. I paired other dogs barking with treats raining from the sky, and she has a positive emotional reaction to that. It turned into a reorientation, then a recall as she started to seek me out for her treats.

You can see the version I’m discussing at about two minutes into this movie. Clara is in the back yard and I am in the house. The back door is open, as always when a dog is out.  Clara barks at something in the yard, interrupts her own barking, and comes in to check in with me. I give her a treat. I love that she doesn’t stay out there endlessly barking. A few barks and a check in are fine.

Except, what typically happens next? Lather, rinse, repeat, that’s what. The door is still open. Whatever was out there for her to bark at is probably still out there. So what is she going to do after she has checked in and gotten her treat? Hang around doing nothing? Nope. Run out there and bark again and come back again. And again. I remember that this is exactly what I taught her to do. I have richly reinforced the behavior. I didn’t convey to her, “And you can only do this once! Afterwards you have to be quiet and stop being a dog.” Doesn’t work that way.

But that doesn’t stop me from being irritated. This usually happens when I am trying to make my lunch, and also letting the dogs be outside for a while to break up their day. What I feel like doing on one of her trips in is sticking her in a crate. But that would be unfair and unproductive. How can it be right that sometimes I would give her a treat for coming in (away from something exciting, I might add), but that sometimes I would give her a sour look and stick her in a crate?

For this situation, my solution is to allow two or three iterations, then the last time I go and close the door so she can’t keep going in and out. (You can hear me mention this in the movie.) There are times when she doesn’t start barking again so I don’t want to jump the gun the first time she comes in. I am careful not to associate anything negative to coming in and checking with me. That’s not the problem! The problem is her going out again to repeat the process. And of course I am pleasant about it when I finally shut the door. I don’t make it a timeout from reinforcement to be in the house with me.

Kitchen Scavenging

Poor Zani gets mentioned twice this time. Her other annoying behavior is also related to matting in the kitchen.

Because of the logistics of four not entirely compatible dogs, Zani is most often in the kitchen when I am. She has a mat to get on that is out of my immediate working area. She gets reinforced for lying quietly on her mat while I work. Before I continue I want to remind myself and my readers that the problem is mostly in my head. I have a dog who will go get on a mat on cue, and stay there for long periods of time for pretty sparse reinforcement. That is a great thing! I am truly sweating the small stuff, but that’s how it is sometimes.

But my dream of how her behavior should be is that my walking into my area (I used to even have a piece of tape on the floor to mark it off for myself) cues her to get on her mat and stay there until released. In return she’ll get some food treats, perhaps part of what I am cooking if that is appropriate. Also part of my dream is that I completely avoid dropping crumbs, so there is never anything enticing on the floor in my area. Dream on.

But because of some complications, I decided I couldn’t rely on the cue of my walking into a certain area of the kitchen. I made a conscious decision long ago that I would verbally cue Zani when I wanted her on her mat, and that the rest of the time she was allowed anywhere in the kitchen. This works fine.

Except that sometimes I forget. And sometimes she gets on her mat first and I think I have cued her but I haven’t. And also, she eats her meals out of a food toy in the very area that I want to be offlimits the rest of the time, so of course it is an enticing place.

Add to all this the fact the Zani is the most intense scavenger of all my dogs, and I have a little dog who comes into “my part” of the kitchen and sniffs around fairly frequently. The worst thing is that I am convinced in my own mind that she shouldn’t be in there at all, even though I made the conscious decision that she should only stay out when I cue her to get on her mat. So I can be doing something completely different, say, sitting at the kitchen table. When that is the case, and I haven’t cued mat, anywhere in the kitchen is permissible for her. But it still really really bugs me when I see her go sniffing around in the cooking area.

Again, I am tempted to perform a timeout. Remove her from the kitchen the instant she heads into that area. Just get her out of there for a while and show her that it’s not OK. For many dogs that would be negative punishment, as one is briefly removing the opportunity for reinforcement. But for sensitive Zani, either being bodily picked up or led out of the room by her collar in this situation would qualify as positive punishment. Adding an aversive to the environment to decrease a behavior. Not just neutrally making reinforcement unavailable. Those things would be very uncomfortable for her. But I can tell you right now they would be insufficient to decrease the behavior. Her urge to scavenge is way too strong. So that’s another reason not to resort to this aversive technique. Even if it were “fair,” it wouldn’t work.


I have shared these scenarios not as some kind of confession of being an awful person. I think I am probably a pretty typical person who lives with a lot of dogs. (Is that an oxymoron?) I get irritated sometimes. I get tired of doggie behaviors. One of the first books that taught me about the mismatch between human and dog behavior was The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. She has been saying it for years. They bug us. We bug them.

The problem is that since I know these neat negative punishment methods for dealing with behaviors, I am tempted to use them as a shortcut to getting what I want.

I shared the stories as an example of the kind of introspection that seems necessary, for me at least, to be a good person for my dogs. This is being tough with myself. And also I wanted to describe once again the seductiveness of punishment. It’s always lurking in the corner, ready to pop out and be put to use.

I remind myself that it is not fair to apply any kind of punishment, positive or negative, to a behavior that is also being reinforced, sometimes directly by me! And I remind myself how good my dogs really are.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for:

Stay tuned for:

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Wordless Wednesday: Clara got Mail!

Wordless Wednesday: Clara got Mail!

Watch as Clara deftly opens her package from GoughNuts.

We are not affiliated with the company and were not asked to feature their products. We’re just very happy customers: Clara because she loves the balls, and myself because they are the safest thing I’ve found so far for her to chew.

Tan dog lying on a bed, with her mouth open in a relaxed and happy expression. There is a black ball in front of her between her feet.
Clara loves her GoughNuts ball

Thanks for watching!

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Being Tough

Being Tough

One of the toughest dogs I know
One of the toughest dogs I know

I think one of the most interesting criticisms of force free training by trainers who use aversives is that we aren’t “tough enough” with our dogs.

What does “being tough” actually mean here and why should it be so laudable? I think it’s fair to say that folks touting toughness are touting punishment. Leash pops, shock collars, and a mindset that says the dog must be shown who’s boss.

Does “being tough” take special skill or practice?

Except in rare cases where a rather small person has a very large dog, we are generally a lot bigger than our dogs. We have a lot more tools at our disposal. We have the ability to control their environment, feed them or not, contain them, and make all their life decisions for them.

Yet it’s thought to be important to get tough or dominant with one’s dog whether you have a Chihuahua or an Akita; whether the dog is aggressive to humans or you are just trying to teach her to sit.

Folks promoting this approach often have a jeering attitude to trainers who choose less aversive methods. We’ve all heard it; I need not repeat it here. It seems to me they are claiming some sort of superior, moral high ground. They are the “real” dog trainers. And we clicker trainers, force free trainers, humane hierarchy trainers, least-invasive-minimally-aversive trainers, behavior analysis folks, and trainers who just want learning to be fun for both parties, whatever we call ourselves: we live in some sort of lala land and get walked all over by our dogs.

I’ve got news.

Being tough with a dog is easy.

It is not a skill that is available only to some elite group of wise people. It’s a reflection of our culture and how many of us were raised. It’s a meme that resonates seductively. It’s not some Masonic secret.

I’m not saying it takes no skill to train with punishment. Using any of the quadrants of operant conditioning well takes skill. But that’s not what the meme is about. And when you can squash down behavior in a crude way, you have less motivation to develop those skills.

It’s physically easy for humans to hurt and apply force to dogs. If you aren’t physically big enough, you can go to your local big box pet supply store and buy any number of devices to hurt your dog or grossly curtail her mobility. And because they have evolved as our companions for tens of thousands of years, they generally don’t fight back, and when they do, they often pull their punches. As horrifying as it is to read of maulings and even killings of humans by dogs, it is still exceedingly rare, given their numbers in our society and the mismatch between human and dog body language and communication. They are amazingly tolerant of the things we do.

More important, in addition to the physical ease, most of us have been psychologically groomed to punish as well. Punishing comes pretty naturally to us, I’m afraid. Our approach to many problems, not just with dogs, tends to be: how do I stop this? We notice what is wrong. We notice what we don’t like. Then we try to stop it. Here’s a post about fighting that tendency.

The corollary is that training a dog in a minimally aversive way takes thought, planning, and understanding. For many people it requires overcoming what feel like instinctual responses. Manipulating the environment and being mindful of our own responses can be hard work at first. Leaving the punishment mindset behind requires an epiphany of sorts. It requires a different way of thinking.

The Science of Dogs wrote a great post about Cesar Milan called “My Way is Not The Only Way.” This writer really put it better than I have here. Even Cesar acknowledges that there are other ways than his to train dogs. The writer asks, with very persuasive examples, why then, if there are alternatives, he chooses to hurt dogs.

I’m preaching to the choir, I know. I try not to write pointless rants or whines or be unnecessarily divisive. But I do have a final point here, thanks to a great friend and training buddy, who helped me with this post when it was all over the place. She said it so well I’m going to quote her:

In the end, positive trainers are MORE accountable for their training skills. Punishment based trainers get to blame the dog (he’s dominant, giving you the paw, blowing you off).  With punishment training you don’t have to accept responsibility for the dog’s behavior or work to improve your observation and timing skills. Just blame the dog.

In other words, people seeking to use the least aversive methods with their dogs are tough after all. We are tough on ourselves.

High Speed Nosework

High Speed Nosework

A tan dog and a smaller, black and rust dog play chase. The tan dog has a black ball in her mouth.
Clara’s got the Ball!

Just a little fun for the middle of the week. Clara can now find her ball anywhere in the yard in under a minute. I’m going to have to start burying it, or get a bigger yard. Or I know! I could clutter up my yard some more!

In this video, Zani is with her, and since Clara is running around in circular patterns, Zani takes it as a cue to play. She finally gets frustrated at Clara for not responding and starts fussing at her.

They have a good game of chase after Clara finds the ball.

Rudelführer (Pack Leader)

Rudelführer (Pack Leader)

Wenn man eine Suchmaschine mit dem Begriff ‘pack leader’ (Rudelführer) bemüht, sind das die ersten paar Funde (tatsächlich aus Google übernommen):

  • Establishing Yourself as Pack Leader (Sich selber als Rudelchef durchsetzen)
  • PACK LEADERS – Canine Advice, Tips, and Tutorials (RUDELFÜRER – kynologische Ratschläge, Tipps und Anleitungen)
  • How to Be the Pack Leader (Wie man Rudelchef ist)
  • Labeling Machine Manufacturer and Supplier in Taiwan, yes, an actual       business called is 4th in the list (Etikettiermaschinen Hersteller und Lieferant in Taiwan, ja, tatsächlich, ein echtes Unternehmen mit dem Namen ist an 4. Stelle auf  der Liste)
  • PackLeader Dog Training (Rudelchef Hundetraining)
  • How to Control Your Dog’s Behavior by Becoming Pack Leader (Hundeverhalten lenken indem man Rudelchef wird)
  • Being a good alpha (pack leader) (Ein guter Alpha (Rudelchef) sein)
  • Alpha Dog, Pack Leader, Dog Growling, Dog Bitting (sic) (Alphahund, Rudelchef, Hundeknurren, Hundebiss)
  • Be the Pack Leader (Sei der Rudelchef)
  • Pack Leader Academy (Rudelführer Akademie)

Wenn man die Suche auf Videos beschränkt, erhält man eine Liste voller ähnlicher Links mit Ausnahme von zweien, die zu einem Videospiel gehören.

All das, obwohl der ganze Rudelchefansatz im Hundetraining komplett, vollständig, und unwiderruflich wiederlegt worden ist.


Rudeltheorie lautet ungefähr so:

  1. Hunde sind wie Wölfe.
  2. Wölfe formieren sich in hierarchischen Rudeln mit einer strengen Statushierarchie und einem ständigen Konkurrenzkampf um die Positionen in diesem Rudel.
  3. Also ist jedes unerwünschte Verhalten, das dein Hund zeigt, ein Versuch deines       Hundes, eine höhere Position im Rudel zu erreichen, mit dem Endziel, dich, deine Familie und alle anderen Hunde zu dominieren.

Jeder einzelne dieser aufgezählten Punkte ist falsch.

1. Wie Wölfe.

Hunde und Wölfe können verpaart werden, sind aber seit tausenden von Jahren auf unterschiedlichen evolutionären Pfaden. Unterschiede im Verhalten zwischen den beiden Gruppen sind offensichtlich und in Studien gut belegt. Ich teile hier eine wissenschaftliche Arbeit und einen Blogeintrag, die nur zwei von vielen bekannten Unterschieden aufzeigen:

„Sind Hunde Rudeltiere?“ (Englisch: „Are Dog Pack Animals?“)  Von Jean Donaldson stützt sich auf Beobachtungen von Wildhundpopulationen. Schon lange wurde festgestellt, dass wilde Hunde nicht wie Wölfe kooperativ in Familienverbänden auf die Jagd gehen, sondern Plünderer sind, die in viel fliessenderen und locker gestrickten Verbänden zusammenleben.

„Der Genomabdruck der Hundedomestikation zeigt eine Anpassung an stärkereiche Ernährung“ (Englisch: The Genomic Signature of Dog Domestication Reveals Adaptation to a Starch-Rich Diet) von Eric Axxelson wurde im Januar 2013 im Magazin „Nature“ publiziert und beschreibt eine evolutionäre Gabelung ziwschen Hund und Wolf. Ein gratis zugänglicher Artikel, der sich mit diesen Nachforschungen auseinandersetzt, findet sich hier:  (Englisch: „Agriculture and parting from wolves shaped dog evolution“ )

Ein weiterer Artikel, der die Studie fasst: „Futter-Wandel machte Wolf zum Hund“

2. Hierarchische Rudel und soziale Leiter.

Erste Studien an Wölfen wurden an in Gefangenschaft gehaltenen Rudeln durchgeführt. Freilebende Wölfe tendieren dazu, kooperative Familiengruppen zu bilden, die von Mama und Papa angeführt werden, nicht wie landläufig angenommen in hierarchischen Rudeln. Der von L. David Mech geschriebene Artikel “Was ist nur mit dem Ausdruck  ‚Alphawolf‘ geschehen?” (Englisch: „Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf?”)  führt das weiter aus. Mech war einer der ersten Forscher, die den Ausdruck „Alpha“ ursprünglich gebraucht haben. Er sollte es also wissen.

3. Dominanz.

Der Ausdruck “dominant” hat eine spezifische Bedeutung im tierischen Verhalten. Er bezeichnet das Tier, das Zugang hat zu einer begehrten Ressource zu einem ganz bestimmten Zeitpunkt. Wenn also mein Hund Zani (der kleinste meiner Hunde) rüberläuft und seine Nase in Summers Hintern steckt, während Summer bei mir ist, und Summer dann wegläuft, war Zani „dominant“ im Hinblick auf den Zugang zu mir zu diesem bestimmten Zeitpunkt. (Und das tut sie auch). Dominanz ist kein Charakterzug. Es ist eine Beschreibung, die in Interaktionen zum Tragen kommt. Summer mag später „dominant“ sein im Bezug auf ein Spielzeug, das beide Hunde haben wollen. (Beachte auch, dass Zanis obengenanntes Verhalten nicht wirklich zu der landläufigen Vorstellung von Dominanzverhalten past. Dominanz in der Interaktion braucht oft gar keine Gewalt.

Das aus dem Weg geschafft, kommen wir zu Erkenntnis: Der Grossteil des unverwünschten Hundeverhaltens dient dem Hund dazu, etwas zu bekommen, das wir oder die Umgebung ungewollt verstärkt haben. Hunde machen, was funktioniert. Sie sind weder kleine, strebsame Menschen im Fellkleid noch kleine Roboter; sie sind aufmerksame Beobachter und lernen, was sie machen müssen, um zu kriegen, was sie wollen.

Wenn diese ‘schlechten’ Verhaltensweisen vom hündischen Machtstreben bestimmt wären, warum sind sie dann kinderleicht zu modifizieren mit Veränderungen im Umfeld und positiver Verstärkung? Ein Mittelschüler mit einer Einführung in Lerntheorie und einer praktischen Veranlagung könnte in die meisten Wohnungen latschen und einem freundlichen Hund beibringen, sich hinzusetzen anstatt 5 Minuten an ihm hochzuspringen, und er könnte die Grundlagen von “Lass es” innerhalb weiterer 5 oder 10 Minuten erarbeitet haben.

Aggressives Hundeverhalten braucht natürlich mehr Zeit und Betreuung, aber die Methoden, welche verlässlich funktionieren, um Hundeverhalten zu modifizieren, sind auch dort nicht gewaltbasiert. Der alte Kalauer wie Alphawurf, Erhängen, Ketten werfen und Nackenschütteln eignen sich perfekt dafür, Aggressionen zu steigern oder den Hund in die völlige Angststarre zu treiben.

Für die Rudeltheorieanhänger dreht sich alles um (eine falsche verstandene Version von) Dominanz. Vor ein paar Jahren hat die bekannte Trainerin Helix Fairweather eine Liste zusammengestellt von allen Dingen, von denen ihre Trainer ihr sagten, es sei „Dominanzverhalten“ bei Hunden. Es wäre lustig, wenn es nur nicht so traurig wär.. (Schlingt beim Fressen? Schleckt meine Schuhsohlen ab?)

Genug gesagt; Was ist mit dem Video!

Ich werde nicht noch mehr darüber schreiben, da das flächendeckend bereits sehr fundiert getan wurde. Vielleicht stelle ich später noch ein paar Links ein zum Thema. Vor allem soll dieser Blogeintrag eine Vitrine sein für dieses wunderbare Video sein, das 21 klasse Trainer mit Zeugnissen, die von grossartig bis unglaublich reichen, zeigt, die nur sagen, dass sie es nicht nötig haben, Rudelchef zu sein. Und genauso wenig müssen wir das. Wirklich herzerwärmend anzuschauen.

Zurück zu den Suchmaschinen. Wäre es nicht herrlich, wenn brauchbare Information auftauchen würde, wenn Leute nach ‚pack leader‘ (Rudelchef) suchen? Wir könnten das erreichen! Teilt das Video. Liked das Video. Schreibt über das Video. Verlinkt das Video. So versuche auch ich, es zu verbreiten.

Hier findet sich ein weiterer Artikel, den ich zur Rudeltheorie geschrieben habe, welcher wiederum dieses Video beinhaltet, aber zusätzlich auch noch eine Liste mit Quellen zum Thema hat. Vielleicht gut, den jemandem zu schicken, der noch überzeugt werden muss.

Vielen Dank an Anne Flueckiger für die Übersetzung.

Thank you to Anne Flueckiger for the translation! Anne, like myself, is a passionate dog lover and supporter of a positive reinforcement approach in dog training. Not a dog trainer per se, she still thinks it is very important to share information like the above, in as many languages as possible. Having a BA degree in both English and German, she thought she’d seize the possibility and venture a translation to be able to spread it in a Swiss forum (

I’ll be posting back in English soon!

By the way, I am always ready to collaborate on translating posts and video narrations. Just send me an email using the sidebar.

Eileenanddogs on Youtube:

Pack Leader

Pack Leader

If you use a search engine and search for “pack leader,” the first page of hits looks something like this (taken from actual Google page).

  • Establishing Yourself as Pack Leader
  • PACK LEADERS – Canine Advice, Tips, and Tutorials
  • How to Be the Pack Leader
  • Labeling Machine Manufacturer and Supplier in Taiwan (yes, an actual business called is 4th in the list)
  • PackLeader Dog Training
  • How to Control Your Dog’s Behavior by Becoming Pack Leader
  • Being a good alpha (pack leader)
  • Alpha Dog, Pack Leader, Dog Growling, Dog Bitting (sic)
  • Be the Pack Leader
  • Pack Leader Academy

If you limit the search to videos, you will get a page full of similar links, with the exception of two that are tied to a video game.

This despite the complete, thorough, absolute debunking of the whole pack theory approach in dog training.

Picture of red chow dog. Text reads: Hi I'm Buffy. My food guarding, object guarding, stranger aggression and dog-dog aggression were all modified using undergraduate level animal learning principles. What the hell is a "pack leader?"
Poster by eminent dog trainer and author Jean Donaldson, used with permission

Pack theory goes something like this:

  1. Dogs are like wolves.
  2. Wolves form hierarchical packs with a rigid status hierarchy and vie for position within the pack.
  3. Therefore any behavior your dog does that you don’t like means that your dog is trying to raise his status in the pack, with the ultimate goal of dominating you, your family, and any other dogs.

Every one of the numbered points is wrong.

1. Like wolves. Dogs and wolves can interbreed, but have followed separate evolutionary paths for tens of thousands of years, and behavioral differences between the two groups are both obvious and have been shown in studies. Here are a published paper and a post that highlight just two of these differences.

Are Dogs Pack Animals? by Jean Donaldson includes observations of populations of feral dogs. It has long been observed that although wolves hunt cooperatively in family groups, feral dogs are scavengers and have much more fluid and loosely knit relationships with each other.

The Genomic Signature of Dog Domestication Reveals Adaptation to a Starch-Rich Diet by Eric Axxelson was published in Nature in January 2013 and describes an evolutionary fork in the road between dogs and wolves. Here is an article that is accessible for free that elaborates on that research: Agriculture and parting from wolves shaped dog evolution, study finds.

2. Hierarchical packs and social climbing. The initial studies on wolves were performed on captive groups of wolves. Wolves in the wild tend to form cooperative family groups run by mom and dad, not hierarchical packs. This article: Whatever Happened to the Term Alpha Wolf? elaborates on that. It was written by L. David Mech, one of the original researchers who initially used the term “alpha.” He does’t anymore, and points out that no serious wolf researchers do. So he should know.

3. Dominance. The term “dominant” has a specific meaning in animal behavior. It has to do with the animal who gets access to a desired resource at a particular point in time. So if my dog Zani (the smallest of my dogs in training) walks over and sticks her nose in Summer’s butt while Summer is visiting me, and Summer moves away, Zani was “dominant” with regard to access to me at that moment in time. (And she does do this.) Dominance is not a character trait. It is a label used in an interaction. Summer might be “dominant” later regarding a toy they both wanted. (Also note that Zani’s behavior would not fit most dog people’s definition of a dominant behavior. Dominance in an interaction often does not include force.)

OK, with that out of the way, the vast majority of day to day dog behaviors that annoy us are methods for the dogs to get stuff that we or the environment have inadvertently reinforced. Dogs do what works. They are neither little ambitious humans in furry suits nor little robots; they are keen observers and learn what they need to do to get what they want.

If these “bad” behaviors are supposed to be all about the dog’s ambitions, why are they so dead easy to modify with environmental changes and positive reinforcement? A junior high school student who has taken a class about learning theory, with a hands-on laboratory component, could walk into most houses and could get a friendly dog to sit instead of jumping on her within 5 minutes, and could get the basics of “leave-it” in place in another 5 or 10.

Dog behaviors that include aggression take more time and care to address, (don’t send your junior high school kid; for that you probably need the undergrad college work that Jean Donaldson refers to, and a few years of experience) but the methods that work reliably to change the dog’s behavior are not force based. And the old chestnuts such as alpha rolls, hanging, throw chains, and “in your face” scruff shakes are great at either exacerbating aggression or throwing the dog into complete fear shutdown.

To the pack theory believers, everything is about (this misunderstood version of) dominance. A few years back, well-known trainer Helix Fairweather compiled a list of all the things her trainers had been told or had said were “dominant” behavior by dogs. It would be funny if it weren’t sad. (Eats too fast? Licks the bottom of my shoes?)

Enough Talk; How About the Video!

I’m not going to write more about that since it has been ably done all over the place. Perhaps I’ll put some links in later. Mostly, this post is a showcase for this wonderful video: 21 great trainers with credentials ranging from great to incredible, all saying simply that they don’t need to be the pack leader. And neither do we. I found it incredibly warming to watch.

Back to the search engines. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some good information came up when people searched for “pack leader”? We could make that happen. Share the video. Like the video. Blog about the video. Link to the video.

That’s what I’m doing.

Here is another article I wrote on pack theory, again featuring the above video, but it also has a list of resources on the topic. Perhaps good to send to someone who needs to be persuaded.

P.S. Special Invitation: Lots of folks are making posters similar to Jean’s above. Please feel free to post them on eileenanddogs on FaceBook!

Addendum 3/6/13. Because of comments from an astute reader, I have changed the resources in #1 above about differences between dogs and wolves. I originally cited a study about dogs, not wolves, being able to follow human communication better, but that has since been called into question. Thank you Åsa!

Coming up soon:

Eileenanddogs on Youtube:

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