Dec 17 / Kenny Crawford

'Tis The Season

Do you have a trusting relationship with your canine companion?  
Did you know, there are things we can do that will help develop a trusting relationship. There is no better present to give your sidekick, other than one which involves positive interactions.   Susan Friedman defines trust as the certainty that an interaction will lead to positive outcomes, therefore interaction increases. Martin (2013) highlights how an animal that trusts will willingly approach us, whereas one that does not will display escape behaviours.
When we discuss trust, it is imperative to recognise that it is a complex subject, and that there are many levels of trust. Our aim is to create a 'trust account' that has lots of positive deposits, in return this will allow for withdrawals that inevitably occur (ibid).
The currency of the 'relationship bank' is positive interactions. When discussing positive interactions,  there is more to it than valued rewards. Giving our companions the opportunity to make choices is of the utmost importance. Where there are deposits, there must be withdrawals. These are referred to as "negative interactions" in the shape of force, threats and punishment. In order to keep our trust account in credit, we should ensure that we make many, many more deposits than withdrawals. 
Below I highlight a few key components to building a trusting relationship.
Stop using positive punishment
Chance (2013) highlights that, punishment can be effective in reducing behaviour, though there are many negative side-effects we need to be aware of, including escape, aggression, apathy, abuse, and imitation.
Let's explore some problems in more detail. Avoidance or escape may occur when the person delivering the punishment becomes a conditioned or predicting stimulus. Not only that, but the environment and other stimuli within it, may evoke the same escape type behaviours (Azrin & Holz, 1966). Evidence suggests that aggression may occur when the dog attempts to escape punishment but fails. They are then left with no other option, except direct an aggressive display toward the person delivering the punishing stimulus (ibid).
We want to avoid adding any kind of punishment, as even the mildest form of punishment makes large withdrawals from your trust account.

The key to adding "deposits" is through positive reinforcement and through giving them control by offering choice.

Start using positive reinforcement  
“Ultimately, reward-based training is less stressful or painful for the dog, and, hence, safer for the owner,” (Herron., Shofer and Reisner., 2009). Rooney and Cowan (2011) highlight how previous reinforcement based training increases the bond between dog and owner. The anticipation of reinforcement increases motivation thus increasing the dogs aptitude to learn. Epstein (1985) highlights how emotional reactions are involved in the outcome of the training method we use.
Reinforcement should in essence elicit a pleasant emotional response, and that of which organisms SEEK. Therefore dogs trained using positive reinforcement have a lower number of undesirable behaviours (Blackwell. et al. 2008).

Some basic examples of using positive reinforcement.
● Focus
● Loose leash walking
● Hand touch
● 123 game
● It's your choice
● Up and down
● Super bowls
● Bucket game

Remember you are building your trust account, every single time you use positive reinforcement.

Adding Choice
Lastly, adding choice into their lives has many benefits, which I will highlight below.
Understanding the mechanisms of choice will help us to better understand behaviour (Domjan 2015). When working with any domestic dog, it is imperative we consider how choice can impact their daily life. We can use training and set ups that encourage the dog to make a motivational choice. Therefore, giving the dog a perception of control. When we do this, it encourages the dog to be autonomous, which in return is associated with intrinsic motivation (Arden 2020). TheDoGenius (2020) highlights how intrinsic reinforcers are those that the dog creates themselves, chemical cascades, emotions and feelings. They are also described as consequences generated by the behaviour (O'Heare 2017). All the above encourages greater interest, cognitive flexibility and creativity. (Arden 2020).

What does this all mean for are canine companions?
Bekoff (2019) adapts the well known welfare indicators, the five freedoms into ten. He highlights how Freedoms 6 to 10 "focus on freedoms to be a dog".
● Freedom to be themselves.
● Freedom to express normal behaviour.
● Freedom to exercise choice and control (agency).
● Freedom to frolic and have fun.
● Freedom to have privacy and safe zones.
Examples of how we can other choice:
● Treat/food preferences.
● Freedom to choose where they want to sleep.
● Freedom to choose what direction we walk.
● Freedom to choose to partake in husbandry activities.
● Freedom to choose whether they want to engage with humans.
● Freedom to choose whether they want to engage with other dogs.
In a world where you can be anything, be Kind, Caring and Compassionate.
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