APDT Conference: Day 3

Friday and another full-on day where from now you select who you want to see as there are concurrent sessions running – in fact, there is so much to choose from. For instance, in the past I have done the chicken training but decided to give that a miss so I could see and hear something different. So, this morning I started off with another session from Ken McCort titled “Aggression vs Predation in Canids”.

Ken started off by defining aggression and preferred this definition from Edward O. Wilson – aggression is a physical act by one individual that reduces the freedom or genetic fitness of another. Before he got to this he did open with the controversial subject about whether the terms dominance and submission exist in the world of dogs with a view that they are relevant behaviour terms that have a legitimate use but what they are not is, they are not personality traits, which is maybe where we hear it being used.

He then went on and spoke about how many different types of aggression have been defined in the literature and whether all those different types exist or whether we just like creating terms to suit situations. However, the term is handy but McCort suggests there are only two forms of aggression (regardless of whatever title it is known as):

  1. Offensive aggression, which is where the animal uses agonistic behaviour to obtain a resource – the “Attacker”
  2. Defensive aggression, which is where the animal uses agonistic behaviour to keep a resource – the “Defender” or “victim”

When compromised or threatened the dog has three choices: fight, flight or freeze. What is important to the dog is space:

  • Territory = turf (can be anything the dog can sense and is sometimes more breed specific)
  • Flight distance = distance dog will go when frightened – when frightened the distance the animal will go before stopping & looking back; critical to survival
  • Critical Distance = necessary to stay free – distance dog must maintain to stay loose / free; distance varies on experience and physical ability; often tested and retested
  • Social Distance / Personal Space = very close, physical contact – in most cases, it is a violation of etiquette to enter an animal’s personal space without permission. McCort suggests that this is where most people are going to get bitten.

The dog goes through what is known as the aggression continuum, something which most of us are aware of. The continuum goes something like this: Cut off signals / Conflict & Displacement behaviours; Alarm bark / growl; Snap / lunge; Contact bite; Puncture / laceration; Multiple bites / slashing; Tissue loss / amputation of digits; All out attack / Death.

The body language of a dog changes dependent on how close you get to it. Further, pain can change fight into flight (and sometimes quickly). Think of giving a dog a leash correction; however, McCort also stated that he could see no reason why using an aversive was wrong when it was going to save the animal’s life – the example he gave was stock-chasing. (Like many of those at this seminar, they recognise that four quadrants exist and that each has a purpose and we should not be ignorant of this.)

When working with aggression it is important that you work with the first step in the continuum and not wait. Observation is so important in not allowing the behaviour to escalate. Also on this point, a dog will never miss the first step – the cut-off signal, but may miss one or more of the other steps.

McCort also spoke about the types of aggression, which are pretty much the classifications familiar to most of us, but the key is that the type is based on what is the motivation. Again, when dealing with aggression – why is the dog doing this?

And then he spoke about predatory behaviours, which is based on the motivation for food. The dog is not hungry or upset, it just wants to catch its prey – or to reach one of the other behaviours in the foraging motor pattern – also known as prey drive (which McCort argues is an incorrect term) or fixed action pattern or instinctive behaviour. Those who have done the NDTF over the recent years this is all covered in those specific lectures.

I enjoyed this lecture and hopefully you will be able to access the notes here – ken_mccort_aggression_vs_predation_notes

So that was the start to the day, more to follow.

APDT Conference: Day 2.1

Ken Ramirez followed by another Ken – Ken McCort. Ken McCort is an experienced dog trainer, lecturer and advisor and has also been involved with training and working with the wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana. For my dog training buddies back home, Ken’s dog training business is “Four Paws” – he must be good.

Anyways, Ken’s session was part of a series from four speakers on Behaviour Problems and the Companion Dog with Ken’s talk on “Prey drive”.

This was quite interesting and as with the other speakers, it was based on a real-case scenario. Ken’s was on a wolf-hybrid (he is an expert on wolf-hybrids) and he said that this was one of the actual wolf-hybrids he had come across. The scenario was based on predatory behaviour targeted at the children in the household with an end result that the dog was re-homed. He walked us through a plan (primarily based on incompatible behaviours) and how it was working but the predatory behaviour is always going to be there and on the day the wolf started stalking the children in the backyard enough was enough. I enjoyed this session and followed it on Day 3 with another session from Ken on aggression (another blog coming on that – great session).

This was followed by Malena DeMartini-Price a behaviourist who specialises in separation anxiety. This was captivating and I wrote pages and pages of what she did in the scenario of a 3 year old adopted female border collie called Lucy. When left-alone, Lucy had severe destructive behaviours, anorexia, howling, panting, drooling, pacing and shadowing. The owners recently moved house and the behaviours intensified. Lucy went to obedience classes and was 80% reliable on key behaviours of “Stay” and “Bed”. The owners had never sought help for the SA and Lucy had regular exercise and was on a high-quality diet. When crated, the behaviours were the same as when not crated.

There were two goals to the plan: short term of 1-2 hours absence so the handlers could go to the shops or out for dinner, etc; long-term they wanted 8 hour absences with a dog walker coming in during the day.

And then Malina stepped us through the plan – a four week initial period where everything was re-assessed followed up to week 12. At a little over 5 months the long-term goal was achieved. Malina stressed that any SA plan will take time and there is nothing that can be done about that, you can try medication to make it easier but it won’t reduce the time. There were a lot of key points but I will put them in another blog as I also saw Malina again (and that was an even better session than this one).

This was followed by Colleen Pelar (remember from Day 1) whose session was on “Human-directed Aggression”. Colleen didn’t have any specific case-study of her own but she did have some key points based on others’ experience.

Again, a lot of problems come from the owner – so often it matters who has the end of the leash. Too often people get the wrong dog. And no matter what, you can never promise that a dog is not going to bite (again) – but you can try and manage the circumstances when it may occur.

She had a venn diagram of where aggression comes from with the intersecting circles being: genes, environment and individual character. And for the success of the training plan, well it depends on compliance and non-compliance. And no denial of the seriousness.

This was followed by the three speakers and Ken Ramirez in a panel discussion. These are the points I wrote down:

On problem behaviours: What is the context of where the dog is going to be raised determines whether something may be a problem or not – e.g. killing squeaky toys vs. killing cats.

On handling dogs: It is not about strength, it’s not about power – it’s about being smart.

On diet: We are trainers, not nutritionists; however, a good dog = a healthy dog = a better dog to train (although it was acknowledged some studies have indicated a correlation between poor diet and aggression).

And that was it for the day, as the trade-show opened ($5 Kongs – woo-hoo)

And the doors are open ...

And the doors are open …