Improving the Bond Between Owners and Dogs

One Dog at a Time, LLC

Humane Training Solutions, Effective Results

Shoreline, WA (206) 851-5636

Due to Covid-19 we require all clients to be fully vaccinated

and willing to provide proof upon request.


The Pit Bull That Changed My Life

Posted on October 26, 2012 at 2:31 PM Comments comments (130)

In honor of Pit Bull Awareness Day tomorrow, October 27 , I thought I’d share the story of how one pit bull changed not only my perception of the breed, but the direction of my entire life.

It was my very first day volunteering at a local shelter, PAWS in Lynnwood, WA, when I met Gilmore. At the time I was making a good living as a master finisher in the hardwood flooring business, but the main focus of my life was my band. I had been a musician since a young age and was living out my rock and roll fantasy playing nightclubs, making albums, and going out on tour. I was never concerned with “making it big” but after nine years we had achieved modest success receiving airplay and critical acclaim from all over the world, and even had one of our songs used in a popular video game. I thought that there was no greater buzz than the feeling of standing on a stage, watching an audience rock out to the music I was playing. I lived for that feeling.

I had always wanted to volunteer at a shelter but put it off for years mainly because I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. Just going to the shelter to pick out a new companion had been an extremely emotional experience for me. I was overwhelmed by the number of great dogs looking for homes and saddened by those who were victims of abuse or neglect. But after watching an episode of Animal Cops with tears streaming down my face I decided it was time to get tough because I simply HAD to do more.

I got to be a kennel attendant which meant that I helped tp feed and water the dogs, clean their kennels, monitor post-surgery dogs, and my favorite part: help to socialize them. The minute I started, all my preconceived notions of being in the shelter environment vanished. Far from being a dismal place, it was instead a place of hope where these societal misfits were given a second chance on life. The truth was that for some dogs, it was the best place they had ever been because they now had food twice a day, clean water, and a warm dry place to sleep.

On my first day, after all the cleaning and feeding duties were finished I got to walk through the shelter and go into the kennel of almost any dog to socialize with them. I was immediately drawn to those who looked sad or frightened and it was amazing to watch most of them come around after a minute or two by just being calm and non-threatening. I had worked my way through the wards when I came to Gilmore. He was a young male pit bull who seemed really stressed out, circling in his kennel. While I had an open mind about dogs in general, I was still wary of pit bulls because like most people, I bought into all the bad hype that is continually perpetuated by the media. I had never actually met a pit bull before and Gilmore was a little scary looking with his cropped ears. Still, there was something in his eyes that made me look past all that. I took a deep breath and stepped into his kennel.

I was immediately overwhelmed by the happiest, most wiggly dog I had ever met. His circular pacing was now replaced with enthusiastic jumping, happy cries, and a determined effort to lick my face. I was caught entirely off guard and just decided to sit down so he would stop jumping. As soon as I did he climbed into my lap, flopped over on his back and let out a great big sigh. He calmed down in an instant and then looked right into my eyes as if to say “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me today.” I knew right then and there that there was a buzz much more powerful than standing on any stage, and it was as simple as helping an animal in need. In that moment I made the very conscious decision to dedicate the rest of my life to helping dogs and I have never turned back.

Gilmore was sweet, gentle, and goofy -the antithesis of the media image. This big marshmallow was so content to just sit and snuggle that I stayed with him until the end of my shift. This single dog opened my eyes to the real nature of pit bulls: loyal, loving, and eager to please. I have worked with many, many pit bulls since then and they have become my favorite breed because of those qualities. The truth is, if you adopt a pit bull from a shelter, he is going to be one of the best dogs you will ever have because in order to make it through the shelter system he has to be PERFECT: no aggression, no guarding, and good with kids, cats, and dogs. Sadly, pit bulls with minor behavior issues that can be corrected tend to be put down because most shelters don’t have the resources to rehabilitate them.

It took a few months but Gilmore did find his forever home and I bet he’s snuggling in a lap right now. I went on to volunteer for several more years before taking a job at the Seattle Humane Society, graduating from the Seattle School of Canine Studies and becoming a professional trainer. I still play music and I still love rock and roll, but now I live for dogs and that’s the greatest buzz of all.      

The Shocking Truth about "E-collars"

Posted on August 27, 2012 at 12:55 PM Comments comments (12)
Recently a client of mine told me they had begun using an “e-collar” in place of the anti-barking protocol I established for them. “E-collar” is a rather innocuous term for an electronic shock collar which emits an electric shock as an aversive “correction” to undesired behavior. I was horrified to hear this because I know that using harsh aversives to train a dog can lead to complex behavioral issues down the line, and their dog was simply a healthy young puppy still learning his boundaries. I did not have much specific knowledge of shock collars, and she described their use of it as very limited, so rather than letting our training session get sidetracked with a long discussion about animal learning theory, I gave her a skeptical OK, telling her I would prefer they didn’t use it all. I decided to research the subject further so I could present her with more information and wrote this letter in hopes of dissuading her:
Hi Jane,*
At your last session we discussed your use of an electronic shock collar to curb Rover’s* barking, and while I expressed my skepticism and concern, I did give you the go ahead to use it sparingly. I had limited knowledge about electronic shock collars, and rather than just giving you a textbook “no”, I wanted to explore the subject further to see if there was any compelling scientific research to validate their use. Here’s what I found:
Every article I could find supporting the use of electronic shock collars was, without exception, written by someone without any scientific background in animal behavior. They were most often written by trainers employing traditional methods, which use harsh aversives, who cited their own experience as expertise. I did find two articles which quoted an actual certified animal behaviorist, Stephen R. Lindsay, from a book which is 13 years out of date. I could find no credible scientific research in favor of their use.
I did however, find a mountain of credible scientific research against their use and I’ve included some links for you to read further on the subject. The first describes a scientific study done in 2004. It’s a bit technical and lengthy, but researchers concluded that:

“Avoidance behavior and fear postures during the shocks indicated that the shock elicited both pain and fear and, therefore, were not just a distraction or nuisance.”

“ even when compared to working dogs trained using choke chain and pinch collar corrections, dogs trained with electronic shock collars showed more fear and anxiety behaviors than those trained by other traditional police dog and watchdog methods.”

 “Both dogs trained using electronic shock collars and those trained with other traditional coercive methods (choke chain, pinch collar, physical punishment) showed more signs of fear and anxiety when being trained than when on a free walk.”

The second is a compilation of arguments and firsthand accounts from reliable sources put together by Cathy Toft, an educated trainer experienced in the use of electronic shock collars. It contains statements from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Dr. Karen Overall from the American College of Veterinary Behavior, and the UK Association of Pet Dog Trainers against the use of electronic shock collars. The US Association of Pet Dog Trainers does not have a statement because, as an association, they are trying to include traditional trainers in order to create a dialogue between them and positive trainers. But even their website states:

“Training collars should not be used by novice dog owners or by trainers who are not properly instructed in their use. Use of electronic training collars can result in trauma to your dog and generally are not recommended by positive reinforcement trainers.”
So clearly, an electronic shock collar creates pain, fear, and/or anxiety; none of which are effective or appropriate tools for training a dog. It is also clear that use of an electronic shock collar causes lasting long term side effects. Other research concluded that the pain from an electronic shock collar will linger for 2-10 seconds after the initial shock. With timing being such a crucial element of training, a 2-10 second window of pain communicates a very unclear message to Rover about his behavior. He is a healthy well rounded individual; each shock he receives from the collar is a step towards fear, anxiety, and aggression issues down the line.
In conclusion, after doing extensive research on the subject I am in complete opposition to any further use. I must recommend that you stop using the electronic shock collar immediately and return to the established anti-bark protocol that I outlined in previous training sessions. I encourage you to read the information and I hope it will convince you not to use this dangerous shortcut in training any longer. A sweet little guy like Rover will benefit far more from patience and understanding.
August Henrich, CCS
One Dog at a Time
(206) 851-5636
*names have been changed to protect my client’s privacy

That's Enough of "Bad Dog"

Posted on August 1, 2012 at 11:13 AM Comments comments (214)
A client recently asked me about reprimanding his dog for undesired behavior. This is a common question and the answer is usually surprising to people who have tried traditional methods involving some type of aversive punishment.
Q: Should I ever say "Bad Dog"?  At night Ruby has started to huff 3-5 times when she hears a strange sound and then lets out a howl - should I get a shaker can and rattle when she does this?
A: Great questions! I don't like "Bad Dog" for a few reasons.

  1. It almost always contains an element of anger- not good for bonding.
  2. It assigns morality to a dog's actions. Dogs don't have a sense of right or  wrong. They are usually engaging in some drive related activity which, to them, makes perfect sense. Example: getting into the garbage is a scavenging behavior. Someone leaves the lid off the can and the dog follows his instincts; he's not thinking about whether it's right or wrong.
  3. There are better ways to deal with undesirable behaviors.

Drives are survival based behaviors that dogs instinctively perform. The six main drives in dogs are: barking, chewing, digging, dissecting, hunting, and scavenging.
Ruby's reaction to strange sounds is a great example. In the wild a dog who alerts other members of the pack to potential danger is more likely to survive. She is engaging in a normal drive behavior which, to you, is undesirable. To her it makes perfect sense. I don't recommend the use of a shaker at all; good for scaring your dog, bad for bonding, ineffective for "curing" barking.
Because Ruby has herding breed lineage (Border Collie), barking/alerting is a strong drive and almost impossible to quash entirely; you can't "cure" a drive. The good news is that Ruby is giving you fair warning before she starts to howl by huffing a few times. Here's what to do:
When you hear the first or second huff calmly but firmly say "That's Enough." If she stops barking/alerting offer her LOTS and LOTS of positive praise - "GOOD JOB! THANK YOU! GOOD GIRL!" etc. The positive praise is 100% essential and what makes this method work. My Flat Coat Retriever is an alert barker and I can assure you first hand that after trying everything else (including shaker cans), this is what finally worked.
If she does not stop barking then calmly but firmly say "Time Out" and put her in another room for 10-15 seconds (always keep “Time Outs” short or they won’t be effective). Repeat as needed. If you are still having trouble then try having some treats on hand; say "That's Enough" and throw some treats on the ground. As soon as she stops to get the treats lay on the positive praise. You aren't rewarding her for barking, you are interrupting her and rewarding her for stopping.
With my dogs I use "That's enough" as an all-around general warning for undesired behaviors always followed with either positive praise or a "Time Out" as needed. It sounds too good to be true but it really works. I ALWAYS lay on the positive praise and rarely have to give "Time Outs".

HAVE FUN TRAINING! - August Henrich, CCS