Thursday, 15 August 2019

Corrections

A pup learning submissive behaviour from an ewe.


Corrections
©Louise Liebenberg (June 2019)
Many people struggle with corrections, reprimands and punishments when it comes to working with Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD).  Unfortunately, I have never yet managed to only use positive reinforcement when working with a naughty LGD. As much as I aspire to set up situations and create teachable moments, sometimes a dog does need a correction. In an ideal world it would be the livestock that hands out swift and an impactful correction to the naughty dog. Some people like to believe that the mentor dog will step in and correct the young dog, however, this rarely happens and ultimately the onus lies with you to guide and at times, correct the dog when things are not going as smoothly as you would like.


In today's world of vigilante actions groups, activists and well-intentioned do-gooders, it is increasingly hard to find the line between a correction and animal abuse. For some folks, anything, but positive reinforcement constitutes abuse.  In some cases, people conveniently forget that if the LGD is harming the livestock and is not corrected for this behavior, it often ends up with a farm animal dying and a dog being euthanized. A well-timed correction could be the difference between life and death.

I think, a good starting point when it comes to raising LGD is to try and ensure the dog has every chance to succeed. If you ensure the young dog has all the opportunities to bond to the livestock, spends the largest portion of his time in with the animals, you have secure fencing, supervise him, age appropriate livestock for the pup to be with, then you have created a good opportunity for the pup to learn. If you spend a few minutes everyday with the pup teaching it some basic manners such as come, sit, walk nicely on a lead, back off, not jump up against you then it will soon associate our words, to have meaning.

“No”, is a word that a dog can learn quickly, it has a meaning, and possibly a consequence. I believe that this form of verbal correction is the starting point, the dog needs to understand that his actions are unwanted and needs to stop. The word “no” is not up for debate. The “no” is communicating the following to the dog; stop what you are doing, change your behavior, back away and should always convey your disapproval.
A well timed “no” is probably the best form of correction, and in some cases the only correction needed! This verbal correction can be very impactful when the dog understands what the word means and that it is correlated to his actions. Timing, tone, intensity and intention can all be conveyed to the dog with that verbal correction. My dogs understand very clearly when I am really upset about their behavior, they can read it in my tone, body language, my expression and I am sure they recognize enough cuss words to really gauge how mad I am!

If the dog does not respond to the verbal correction, then it either, does not associate the word with the meaning to stop its behavior or it is overly focused on what it is doing that it ignores you. A dog chasing the sheep, might hear you, but its excitement is so high it just continues to do what it is doing. The excitement overrides the command. At this point just yelling “no” over and over will probably have no effect except to reinforce to the dog that what is happening is making you excited too and reinforces he can ignore you. In such a situation the verbal correction might have to be followed up with a consequence. The consequence could be, you run into the field and catch the dog while admonishing him, it could be that you toss a well aimed bucket at him to break his attention,  a load noise or in some cases perhaps he will get a shock from a E-collar.  The verbal command now has a consequence, and that consequence should jolt the dog out of his current mindset, stop the bad behavior and make him  aware that you are disapproving of his actions.

Remember, you goal with administering a correction is that you are not punishing the dog, you are punishing the behavior. The punishment should also “fit the crime”. If the dog jumps up against you, turning away or pushing the dog away is usually enough. If the dog is mauling a sheep, then an E-Collar might be a more likely to stop the behavior.

I am not a believer in alpha rolls, I do not believe that the dog thinks our alpha roll has anything to do with what other dogs would do. Dogs understand that we are a different species and have different ways of communicating. I am not sure if a human trying to mimic an adult bitch when she rolls her own pups, is as effective as some like to think it is. In some cases, it can dangerous.

When it comes to punishments and rewards, each can be used to get a desired behavior from a dog. A positive reinforcement can be praise, a treat, a pat or sometimes just left alone. Using a treat to encourage a shy dog to come to you will be more effective than yelling at it. A positive punishment can be when a wily old range ewe butts a pup that is too interested in her newborn lamb. The dog learns quickly that that should be avoided. Negative punishment can be something like taking away a bone that the is causing a dog to be food aggressive. By removing the bone, the dog has no reason to be food aggressive.  The best reinforcements are those that are consistent. If the dog touches the electric fence, it will 100% of the time get a shock. This is consistent and most dogs learn very quickly that electric fences are not to be touched.

I have found LGD respond very well to pressure and release,  the idea is that when the dog does something wrong you place pressure on him, this can be verbally or physically ( a lead), when he does good, you allow him the freedom to hang out with the stock and do his thing. I know my dogs like to be in my good books, they are mindful and respectful of me and really do not want to be “ousted” by me. When a young dog does something I disapprove of, he is not in “my good books”, I make sure he knows it. I find this to be an effective way to correct a dog.

In many cases punishments can be avoided by avoiding situations that can lead a young dog to make mistakes. Placing an adolescent dog without supervision, with weaker lambs could result in some problem behavior. If you can supervise this dog in that situation, you have created a teachable moment. If you ignore the dog and it makes a mistake, you have potentially created a bad situation. Putting a young dog in an area with poor fencing, could encourage the dog to roam, simply because he can easily get out and does not learn to respect fencing.    
My motto is find those teachable moments, avoid potential problems and trust the dog until it gives you a reason not to trust him.



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