21 September 2016

By Laura Monaco Torelli

Welcome back to the Trainer’s Ring.

Fall is here! This is my favorite time of the year. Gone are the days of hot, humid Chicago weather toward brisk temperatures and beautiful colors.

My keen eyes have been watching dog dynamics all summer. At times, I observed dogs wearing various styles of muzzles. Some were good choices, and some quite questionable. Whether each muzzle had a proper fit, or was limiting the ability to thermoregulate, my trainer eye was keeping a close watch.

A colleague of mine, Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Kelly Ballantyne once said, “Basket muzzles are like air bags in a car. They are extra insurance for our safety in case we need them. But, we don’t test the airbags by driving into a tree.” She attributes hearing this brilliant metaphor from Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Laurie Bergman.

How often do we see dog handlers using a muzzle as a protective measure rather than a proactive measure? Unfortunately, we observe this much too often.

Here is the good news. There are many excellent resources at our fingertips to better educate others’ about the proper and humane use of muzzles. Dogs that wear muzzles unfortunately have been given labels.

In her online Living & Learning with Animals course, Dr. Susan Friedman writes: “Constructs are a particular kind of label that goes beyond simple description of observed behaviors into the realm of hypothetical (many would say pseudo) explanations for why an animal behaves as it does. We say a dog bites because it is dominant, or a bird plucks its feathers because it is anxious, or an elephant fails to offer it’s foot when cued because it is unmotivated. However a concept can’t cause behavior. Constructs have a place in theory building, and conveniently summarize patterns of behaviors with a single word, but they lack the specific information we need for the objective analysis of behavior – our goal.”

Let’s take a look at these useful resources that advocate for the relationship between the handler and the dogs in our care. All the while making it our goal to remove the labels and improve our observation skills to accurately describe (operationalize) behavior.

Trainer Debbie Jacobs’ website, Fearfuldogs.com, http://fearfuldogs.com provides excellent resources that cover an array of topics to better understand canine companions that have this label (fearful). It is Debbie’s proactive approach, books, and her prolific Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/fearfuldogs/) that help to dispel unnecessary myths.

Chirag Patel provides an excellent video tutorial about the successive approximations needed when teaching this behavior. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FABgZTFvHo

Dr. Patricia McConnell provides wonderful tips via her blog. http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/conditioning-a-dog-to-a-muzzle

The Muzzle Up Project (https://muzzleupproject.com) is another added valuable resource to have at our referral fingertips.

So many reputable resources, so easy to share with dog handlers and caregivers!

Canine Husbandry Care: Allergy Injection Behavior

Fall is also the season for allergies to pop up. Nothing can be more stressful than telling a dog owner they need to administer injections on a regular basis. This may be the case when the injection procedure is an aversive situation for them and their dog.

Here is my latest video with a brilliant dog named Deenie. She is also under the care of veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Kelly Ballantyne.

We hope this video inspires you to help reduce the stress for all involved!

Continuing Education Information

Additional resources will be added in each subsequent newsletter. Here are a few upcoming events to mark on your calendars.

Training Conferences and Seminars
1) ClickerExpo
• Denmark (October 28-30)
2) APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers)
• October 12-15 (Las Vegas, Nevada)

5) Pet Professional Guild Force-Free Summit
• November 7-11 (Tampa, Florida)


1) ClickerExpo
• Portland, Oregon (January 27-29)
2) ORCA (The Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals)
• February 25-26, 2017 (University of North Texas)
Happy Training!

Laura Monaco Torelli

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