Optimising welfare in dog training classes

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1 Optimising welfare in dog training classes Gaille Perry Delta Society Australia Ltd Dogs are the most popular companion animal in Australia with 37.8% of households containing a dog (Australian Companion Animal Council, 2006). Each dog owning household has an average of 1.43 dogs (Australian Companion Animal Council, 2006). Dog owners are required by state legislation and local laws, to control the behaviour of their dogs. In Queensland, the Environmental Protection Regulation 1998 defines a dog owner s responsibility to control their dog s barking. This is administered under local authority regulations eg the Brisbane City Council s Animal Local Law The Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 requires a duty of care of owners which includes provision of ability to display normal behavioural patterns. This obviously includes provision of exercise but as the Brisbane City Council s Animal Local Law 2003 requires that dogs are walked on leash when in public, except in dog off-leash areas, owners must determine appropriate methods to provide adequate exercise and enrichment while complying with council regulations. There are now many more requirements and restrictions on dog ownership than in the past and this may, in part, be responsible for the decreasing rate of dog ownership reported by the Australian Companion Animal Council (2006). Dogs are social animals and it is probably this aspect of their behaviour, very like ours, which has resulted in their close relationships with people. They have evolved to live as part of a group, but, with long working hours and more single person households, many people do not believe that they spend enough time at home to care for an animal satisfactorily (Australian Companion Animal Council, 1996). This is supported by the fact that most dogs reported to the Brisbane City Council for barking did so when their owners were not home (Perry and Seksel, 2007). The Petcare Information and Advisory Service (2006) noted an increase in the proportion of dogs showing undesirable behaviour, despite more owners providing training (38$ had attended training classes) and general care for their dogs. The most common problems reported were noise nuisance, jumping up and aggression towards other dogs. To optimise welfare, owners need appropriate advice on management and enrichment strategies

2 for improving the welfare of their dogs and, for most dogs and owners, this can be provided at training classes.. Although there are many places in Australia where dogs other than service dogs cannot be taken (shops, public buildings, national parks) it seems probable that a well trained dog which is comfortable in a variety of social settings will be taken out more, providing more time with its owner and more enrichment activities and thus optimising its welfare. An owner may also be more likely to give a calm well trained dog access to the house when they are home, providing more opportunities for interaction. It is important, therefore, that owners can access suitable classes to achieve this level of training. A 1999 study into the reasons owners attended dog training classes found that 82% of owners wanted to achieve an improvement in their dog s behaviour and 45% sought a better relationship with their companion (Perry, 1999). Only 13% of owners were interested in entering competition obedience and 2% had enrolled because their dog had a specific problem behaviour. Training should therefore be aimed at teaching the dog behaviours which are relationship building and teaching owners to manage their dog s behaviours so it does not become a problem to them or their neighbours. The Australian Companion Animal Council (2006) reported that, in 2006, there were 586 dog training establishments operating in Australia, an increase of almost 22% in the previous three years. This suggests that more owners are seeking help to train and manage their dog. The curriculum and methods used by these training organisations vary from pet dog manners training to preparation for participation in competitive obedience, and from positive, reward based methods to the use of negative punishment using check chains and positive punishment using physical correction methods such as electronic collars to achieve compliance. Positive reinforcement, reward based training involves the use of prompts to encourage the dog to comply with a request, then rewarding (food, praise, physical interaction) to make the behaviour more likely to occur under similar conditions in the future. The behaviour is then generalised to a variety of everyday situations. This is usually combined with negative punishment, where undesirable behaviour is ignored (Delta Society, 2006). In pet dog training, this may be used to achieve behaviours such as sit, drop, come, walk nicely on lead and to reduce undesirable behaviours such as jumping up.

3 When negative reinforcement is used in training, the inappropriate behaviour is made undesirable and the discomfort is removed when the dog performs the correct behaviour eg removing the pressure on the dog s neck when it walks beside the owner. This is often combined with positive punishment, where, if the dog does not comply with a request, an aversive is applied eg it is forcibly placed in position. Commands like the more formal heel and stay are often taught using these methods. The major difference between these methods is the choice the dog is given for positive reinforcement it can choose to work for a reward or not, for coercive methods, it must choose to remove or avoid an unpleasant experience or to experience them. If stress is defined as the state of an animal when it is not able to act in accordance with its motivational state (Jensen and Toates, 1997), then reward based training, which allows the animal to choose whether to work for a reward or not should be less stressful than aversive training where the choice is to accept or avoid an unpleasant experience. In the management of behaviour problems such as aggression, punishment is usually counterproductive if the precursors to an attack (growling, snarling, stiffening) are punished, this behaviour may be reduced but, as the motivational state has not changed, the result may be a dog which now attacks without warning. Ideally in class, dogs and owners are sufficiently distant from each other that the presence of other dogs and owners do not cause anxiety. Exercises should maintain this distance until dogs are sufficiently comfortable to accept a closer proximity. Some classes do not provide this distance because of large numbers in a restricted space or training philosophy they may have dogs and owners too close to each other, or contain exercises such as having dog and owner weave along the line of dogs and owners, perhaps with a stop (in which the dog is required to sit) close to another dog. While this is intended to achieve obedience and teach the dog to accept this close proximity it may have the opposite effect. If an anxious dog is forced to remain in a stressful situation (flooding), it may simply cease to react this may be interpreted as acceptance but is more likely to be learned helplessness, defined by Overall (1997) as occurring when an animal is forced to be exposed to an uncontrollable situation where no change in its behaviour effect a

4 change in the environment and therefore a serious animal welfare issue. Blackwell, Twells, Seawright and Casey (2007) found that attendance at any form of training reduced the incidence of behaviour problems in dogs, with positive reinforcement training having the greatest reduction. Those dogs which had been informally trained at home were more likely to have been trained with aversives and showed more behaviour problems than those which attended classes. Dogs which had been trained using aversives were more likely to show a fear response to other dogs. This supported the earlier work of Hiby, Rooney and Bradshaw (2004). In their study the efficacy of various training methods for 7 common tasks were compared positive training was more effective in every case. Eskeland, Tilung and Baken (2007) found that owners who used high frequency and harsh punishment and several methods of punishment had a significantly higher level of training problems and lower obedience, while the use of frequent rewards was correlated significantly with lower level of training problems and higher level of obedience. Thus, as well as compromised welfare in the short term by the immediate pain or distress caused by applying aversive stimuli, the longer term consequences of aversive training was the expression of problem behaviours. Serpell (1996) considered that behaviour problems in dogs often reflected a state of chronic anxiety and could lead to relinquishment or euthanasia. This is supported by data from RSPCA Queensland where, in 2005, owners on 24% of adult dogs surrendered to their refuges stated that the primary reason for surrender was a behavioural issue. Thus appropriate training should reduce the incidence of surrender and enhance welfare. Training for those who conduct classes varies the Animal Care and Management Training Package (nationally accredited training for the companion animal industry) contains a competency on conducting training classes and all competencies require animals to be handled gently and calmly. The individual is required to develop an empathetic understanding of animals in their care, so that stress and discomfort can be minimised. Some training organisations, like the Delta Society Australia, conduct this competency but the interpretation of this statement is in the hands of the person delivering the course. Most training clubs provide in-house training for prospective trainers this is not accredited so the organisational culture determines the training program conducted and methods used.

5 Conclusion Companion dogs are an integral part of the lives of their families, providing companionship (Australian Companion Animal Council, 2006) and better health (Headey and Anderson, 1995). To maintain dog ownership and welfare while providing due consideration to the needs of the community, it is imperative that appropriate training is available to assist owners to manage their dogs behaviour. References: Australian Companion Animal Council (2006). Contribution of the Pet Care Industry to the Australian Economy. Australian Companion Animal Council (1996). The Power of Pets. Blackwell, E.J., Twells, C., Seawright, A. and Casey, R.A. (2007) The Relationship between Training Methods,and the Occurrence of Behaviour Problems in a Population of Domestic Dogs. In Landsberg, G., Marriello, S. and Mills, D. (eds) Proceeding of the Sixth International Veterinary Behaviour and European College of Veterinary Behaviousal Medicine Companion Animals. European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology. Delta Society Australia (2006). Delta Canine Good Citizen TM Lifetime Manners Manual. Eskeland GE, Tilung RH and Baken M, (2007). The Importance of Consistency in the Training of Dogs. The Effect of Punishment, Rewards, Control and Attitude on Obedience and Problem Behaviours in Dogs. Landsberg G, Matiello S, Mills D (eds) Proceeding of the Sixth International Veterinary Behaviour and European College of Veterinary Behaviousal Medicine Companion Animals. European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology. Heady, B. and Anderson, W. (1995). Health Cost Savings: The Impact of Pets on Australian Health Budgets. Petcare Information and Advisory Service, Melbourne. Hiby, E.F., Rooney, N.J., and Bradshaw, J.W.S. (2004) Dog Training Methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Anim. Welf. 1313,

6 Jensen, P. and Toates, F.M. (1997) Stress as a state of motivational systems. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 54, Overall, K.L. (1997). Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. Mosby, St Louis. Perry, G.A. (1999) Attitudes to the Management and Training of Dogs and Cats. Perry, G.A. and Seksel, K. (2007). A Survey of Barking Dogs in South East Queensland, Australia. In Landsberg, G., Marriello, S. and Mills, D. (eds) Proceeding of the Sixth International Veterinary Behaviour and European College of Veterinary Behaviousal Medicine Companion Animals. European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology. Petcare Information and Advisory Service (2006) National People and Pets Survey a Decade of Progress. Serpell, J.A. (1996), Evidence for an association between pet behavior and owner attachment levels, Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci, 47:1-2,

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