Smart Phones, Smarter Dogs, and more Smart Technology

I would not call myself a techno-geek but for an old lady I do try to keep up with things as the world changes.  Technology can be wonderful in many ways to make our lives better and can even help with training our dogs, especially our service dogs.  While I find my greatest satisfaction comes from getting my hands dirty in my garden or stroking a furry critter, I do try to incorporate the technology in my dog training when I feel it is appropriate.  With this blog I would like to examine a few things in that area that can help with training you might not have tried yet.

Smart phones are a great invention and I am still learning some of the many incredible things my phone can do for me. One simple feature for people training their own service dogs can use, is the alarm feature.  Setting an alarm, a simple task, can help you stay on track with your training program.  Its easy to get distracted so just go to your calendar and set up appointments with yourself for training time with your dog and turn on the alarm reminders.  While you are on the calendar plug in all the dates your dog gets heartworm, flea prevention and when vaccines expire.  I was appalled recently when I learned a client had let heartworm and all the vaccines expire on their dog that they had brought for breeding to my stud.  There is no excuse for this if you have a smart phone.

The phone can also help with training, as it is a great source of sounds.  I use several apps to create noises to help socialize pups or desensitize older dogs. All the apps I found were free too. No reason you should have a noise sensitive dog if you have a smart phone. And while you are training you can also be taking videos from your phone that can be reviewed later by you or another trainer to help with any training situation that might come up.  This is one of the best features of smart phones in my book.

Some other technology that is really useful are the new age electronic collars that have built in lights and tracking devices.  I have a lot of black or dark colored dogs and at night when everyone goes out for the last potty walk the light on the collar really comes in handy for keeping track of dogs.  Here is a link to one of my favorite eCollars that lights up.

c92af701-dd27-4b83-83b1-d9ee92d24d35The tracking devices are super nice too, they run on an app on your smart phone. What a great invention for helping to keep track of dogs, especially in my situation where we are on a farm in the country.  They are very easy to use and very reliable too.

Perhaps the best new thing to be tested so far is a new device that the service dogs wear on their vests.  When something happens to their owner they can pull a tag and the device will repeat, “ My owner needs help” until someone comes to help the distressed person.  There are other electronic devices being tested for dogs to activate to help a person but most of those are still in testing phases.  Dogs might not be able to speak as we do but this is one step closer to allowing them to “call” for help when they sense distress for their person.

I’ve also been doing a little digging into some research on breeding smarter dogs.  There is actually more work being done in this area than I first suspected and I find it quite fascinating. One thing that some of the research supports is that dogs that excel at a job will produce puppies that have a better than average chance of excelling at the job also. This is what has been referred to as Instinctive Intelligence. So dogs bred for example to be great sniffing dogs for many generations do this behavior on their own and require a trainer to just put a few rules to this natural drive to make it work for the partnership.  Another thing that scientists look at is what they call Adaptive Intelligence which is a quality needed for medical alert dogs as they need to learn and adapt to the changes of their person’s medical condition and solve problems presented as a result.  This is something that can vary within a given breed with some dogs having better adaptive abilities than others. This is also different than the dog’s learning ability when instructed by humans, which the scientists called Working Intelligence.  I feel that all three need to be present in a very high degree to in order to make a good service dog, especially a medical alert dog.Morgan and Ranger pups

Most breeders do not train their breeding stock to be service dogs and thus are not able to know to what degree the dogs possess these different levels of intelligence. This makes getting a puppy a very tricky proposition for a person looking for a service dog prospect.   I know one group I was asked to help with their breeding program, experienced greater success with future litters when they finally trained all their breeding stock. They were better able once doing this, to determine how to improve the breeding of future litters.  Smarter dogs are possible and are becoming more available as professionals are learning how to apply what science is discovering, to the practical world of producing better service dog prospects.

I would like to end with a favorite quote and some food for thought:

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. – John Ruskin

 

 

Science and Dog Training.

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

Summer, for me, is a time to enjoy a cool drink on the porch during those relentless hot afternoons that the East coast of the United States experiences. It also gives me a chance to catch up on reading books I’ve meaning to get to. I’ve noticed a trend lately where many people are now referring to science in their writings but not always in ways that do either the science or dog training justice. I am also seeing a lot more trainers advertise “science-based” training and I feel this is a topic that needs clarification.

I was educated and trained as a research scientist and worked many years in the laboratory, and later in administration of several Federal research programs. Working in this environment teaches you to observe, how to identify things that don’t make sense or work to accomplish what it is suppose do. As scientific discoveries are made, others build on those foundations and continue to move the science forward. This is not cheating or stealing others’ work, it is using knowledge of what was discovered, tested, and shown to be a true fact and moving forward and expanding upon that knowledge. That is the way it works in science.

Certainly, many things studied in the scientific community have greatly advanced dog training, dog breeding, and overall dog ownership. While this is true, there is also misuse of this information on many fronts. The biggest misuse I see is taking a work or its conclusions out of context. Scott and Fuller were two major contributors to our understanding of socialization and its impact on dog behavior among other things. So many times, I hear people say you cannot separate

HopeBenPups_9Wks_022

Pups chasing their mom

a mom and her puppies before the age of 49 days because that is the magic number they published. There is no problem taking puppies earlier or later depending on the circumstances and the breed involved. In fact, since that early 1960s work by these two researchers, many others have looked at the various aspects Scott and Fuller established and have elaborated on it, improving our understanding of dogs even more.[1] What has not happened is dog lovers keeping up with the changes in the science.

Many trainers are so eager to try new things regarding scent training, for example, that they don’t bother to completely test their theories out before advertising that dogs can do this, find this, or alert to this or that. So many times, I have seen trainers claim that dogs are sniffing out a medical condition in a person only to test and discover that the alerting the dogs are doing is based more on their keen observations and less on discernable scent changes. I don’t feel it is proper to claim a dog can detect something by smell if you cannot properly isolate or capture the components of the scent for the condition you are asking it to alert to. How can you prove that the dog is alerting to the smell if you can’t even prove you have the stuff he is supposed to be smelling?

While on a recent trip to California to learn more about some bacteria that is causing concern with farmers, one of the first things I ask is can we get a good source of the bacteria? Will it be consistent with what is causing the problem? Also, I need to be assured before I start any new scent detection project that the sniffing will not harm the dog. I hope to be able to obtain some grant money to continue researching the effectiveness of dogs in helping to isolate this bacteria. In the meantime, I will continue to learn as much as I can about it before I ever begin to teach a dog to sniff for it.

I know the average person does not want to spend time reading through very long, dry, and often complex scientific papers to extract a few pearls of facts to use to improve their dogs’ lives and training. However, you can take away from science a few things when training your dog, regardless of what you are training for.

  1. Scientists are good observers and look at all angles of their subject. Watch your dog and observe what he does on his own. What makes him happy? How does he entertain himself? How is it different when you are in the picture?
  2. Don’t keep doing things that don’t work. If you are in a training program and your dog’s behavior is getting worse or he is extremely unhappy, stop and re-assess.
  3. Don’t be afraid to test a theory out, but get all your facts first. Ask for help from more knowledgeable people if you are out of your comfort zone.
  4. Show respect for the work of others, but keep things in context. Not all methods of training work with all dogs or breeds—and you have to keep that in mind. Most trainers are honest and will tell you they don’t work with certain breeds or with dogs that are not, for example, food motivated. Also don’t mix methods and expect good results.
  5. Build on the work of others, but remember to share what you discover so the process can continue to grow for the good of our dogs.

Enjoy your summer with your dog(s) and remember to watch for signs of dehydration and heat stroke. Stay cool!

Arthur Jr sleeping

[1]Just one example recently published is: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/dog-spies/is-dog-training-scientific/