Positives of Negatives & Negatives of Positives

Clouds early morning

Thanks to all who have commented so far in answer to the questions "Are you a 100 % positive trainer?" and "Would you sign a pledge to only use positive reinforcement and never use punishment?" I appreciate the thoughtful discussion that the questions have generated. I'll jump in now, with the caveat that this topic deserves an all day seminar (at least) and I can't begin to say all I'd like to in one post. I'll start however, by summarizing some of my thoughts on the issue. Let me start by saying that I consider myself to be an overwhelmingly "positive" trainer.  I would imagine that those who have seen me work would agree that I am a kind and gentle trainer, and primarily use positive reinforcement when working with dogs. That said, I'd never sign a pledge saying I'll only "use Read More

“Ready?” Using meta-communication to help your dog

A short post today, but I hope a helpful one. It's inspired by the "mud luscious and puddle wonderful" nature of spring, and the need to wipe off Will's paws as we enter the house when it's wet outside. As I was drying Willie's paws a few days ago, I thought about how much easier it is now that I say "Ready?" right before I pick up each leg. Since I started communicating my intention ("now I am going to pick up this paw"), he is beginning, on occasion, to pick up a paw himself, but more often he will shift his weight so that it is less awkward for him. (Yep, I could train him to pick up each paw on cue... also a potential solution, but keep reading for some potential benefits of a more generalized cue.) Keep in mind that this is the dog who, as an adolescent, growled at me  when I picked Read More

Silo Sadness & Sister Happy

Good news and bad news: Best and wonderful news for me is that my sister, Dr. Wendy Barker, is coming to do a reading for her new book, Nothing Between Us, this Thursday night at UW. (Come one come all!) Her book has not a darn thing to do with dogs, but it's pure and simply brilliant and I can't wait for her reading. (For those of you who are interested in a novel in "prose/poetry" form about a multi-racial affair and life in the 60's in Berkeley, California, the talk is in Helen C. White, Room 66191, 7 pm, Thursday the 29th). Full disclosure: Yup, she is my sister and so my objectivity might be a tad, uh, challenged? But I'm not the only one raving about this book... everyone I know who has read it loves it... Sad news is about the farm. It might sound strange, but I have to have my Read More

Could Breeders and Shelters Work Together?

Thank you so much for all your insightful comments about overpopulated shelters and whether responsible breeders could help reduce the number of dogs who enter shelters in the first place. Here are a few, admittedly somewhat random, thoughts about the issue. One: Boy would I like to see more collaborative efforts between good breeders, shelters and rescue groups. I know that already occurs in some areas, and Here Here! to that, but I wish somehow we could more often use the energy and commitment of these groups to 1) publicize a universally understood definition of "responsible breeder" so that the public understands what that really means 2) create more, affordable support systems to help people when they need help with training and behavioral problems. (FYI, I too have heard a common Read More

“Responsible Breeding” an Oxymoron?

I'm working on a column for Bark magazine, in which I'm going to talk about one way to decrease the number of dogs needing adoption from shelters and rescues. Right now the two primary efforts to decrease the number of dogs killed in shelters are 1) encourage spay/neuter & discourage breeding and 2) encourage adoptions of dogs from shelters and rescue groups. I say Here! Here! in general to both of those, and it is heartening how successful both of those efforts have been. However, there is one important aspect of this issue that is missing, and that is encouraging responsible breeding. Ah, some would say, responsible breeding?! Isn't that an oxymoron? Breeding is a dirty word in some circles. After all, aren't there too many dogs out there already? How could anyone justify breeding Read More