Saturday, March 18, 2017

Negative signals, are they neccessary?

Today I came across an article on dog signaling, a soft debate on whether to let a dog know when they have done something wrong. For example if the dog is doing something right, the ideal way to enforce this behavior is usually by praising, affection or treats, sometimes together with a vocal command (eg. "Yes", "Good"). However if the dog is doing something wrong, would it be advisable to let it know that the particular action is wrong, by correcting together with vocal command (eg. "No", "Off")?

So to explore further this author consulted a psychologist, the psychologist then used crossword as an example to explain the effects. When you fill in a crossword puzzle and succeed in completing, you naturally get a sense of fulfillment/fun, which equals reward. However if you fill in the wrong information and receive a negative signal to notify you for making a mistake, wouldn't it make the crossword puzzle less interesting? The psychologist insisted that dogs learn better with just positive experience.

Well this is a tricky question and I have my thoughts on the logic used, but I do find the information and topic interesting enough to be shared.

In my opinion the usage of games, especially puzzles as an example defeats the purpose because this ideology is more towards positive training - treating all training sessions like a game instead of lecture. Being a trainer with leadership mentality as the main focus, I like to divide training into 2 sections. When it comes to pure learning sessions like commands and games, rewards are used and no negative signals would be practiced, but when it comes to important stuff like behavior modification and walks, rewards are still used but negative signals would be incorporated to lead the dog into the correct path.

Imagine this scenario, a dog pulling excessively during walks, barking whenever it sees something and snapping at anyone that gets near, would you still treat this as a game or want the dog to believe that this is a game? A negative signal usually comes in conjunction with a vocal command, for me it's a "No", and this negative signal does not need to be painful, stopping and not allowing a dog to walk further can be a form of negative signal, since it is uncomfortable enough not being able to rush, together with a vocal command this will remind the dog that if it continues to rush, there won't be any further movements allowed. When a dog is trained using just games and fun mentality, a lot of positive experience has to be built into the foundation, for puppy i'd say it is fine, but if a dog is already 5 years old (for example) and had unknowingly built up bad habits be it during walks or other dogs/people it had met, these negative experiences can be very hard to modify by using games as a platform. Therefore in my opinion, a negative command is useful in such situations to first stop the unwanted behavior, then lead the dog to the action the owner want. This way of training is much more easier for dogs to understand.

That being said, if I were to regard dog training as a game, I would say that video games with the risk of dying is much more interesting to dogs than crossword puzzles :)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Taiwan 2016

Hi guys, we're back from our recent trip to Taiwan! During this trip we've managed to learn a bit about the dog culture there and would be glad to share our views (and photos) with you :)

For those who have not been there, Taiwan is an extremely dog friendly country, you can see dogs almost everywhere you go even in rural areas. The moment we touched down at Taoyuan airport, we've already been spotting dogs all over the place with their owners. I started to wonder, what is it that makes them different from us, what we can do to create more awareness, to let people know that Singapore too can be a dog friendly place?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Do we really need our pets to be competitive?

Recently there was a news regarding the treatment of a dog who was cast in a movie, where it was forced by its handler to enter the artificial rapids, poor dog was struggling in fear to get out but was thrown back into the water couple of times, there was also an instant where the dog was seen drowning and filming had to be stopped. Well I'm not surprised that such things are happening in the competitive world, in a way I can totally understand why. A movie is worth millions of dollars, every scene is just as important and costly, if the handler were to refuse putting his dog into the pool then he could've been in deep trouble, using cgi in animal films like this is not cost effective, it may also flop and cost investors a lot of loss. 

Just take a look at the second link, someone(actor?) trying to cover up the footage by saying that the person who submitted the video was not showing everything and just want to ruin the movie. No matter what the agenda is, anybody with minimal behavioral knowledge can clearly understand that the dog in the video was extremely stressed out and was even forced into the pool repeatedly, drowning with one of the staff screaming to cut was not even close to fake.

Well I've been wanting to write something about this long before, and I guess this news pushed me to finish the article. Competitive dogs, which in my opinion means dogs that are trained for competitive purpose - dog shows, obedience, agility, tricks, movies, online stars, models etc. All these requires a lot of dedication, daily practices and natural talent to stand out. Since young I've always been wondering if things like these are needed and if they are really beneficial for dogs, I've always been a person that thinks differently, which I believe helps me to overcome problems that most people would find impossible. More often than not, ideas like these will result in hate from the community because it defies the natural reaction of an individual, and I believe after sharing my thoughts on competitive dogs, many trainers would also disagree and some may even be pissed off, well I'm sorry because I don't care, this is my opinion.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Are table scraps really okay?

I was inspired to write this article after someone asked a question on a group recently - if it is okay for dogs to eat chicken rice, apparently he was referring to chicken rice made for human! Admittedly, I was rather pissed but still wondered if this person was really unsure if the food is suitable for dogs, I decided to reply with a very straightforward answer:

"If you care about your dog, No, if you don't care, then Yes".

Alright it's a bit harsh, but my point is there. He got offended and said that he wouldn't have asked if he knew. At first I felt bad and tried to understand his view, but after reading through the comments and his replies towards others that agree, I noticed that the post wasn't really a question but rather an attention seeking post to see who was doing the same thing. Understanding that it was pointless to contribute to the post further, I deleted my my replies, I could foresee that it will end up in never ending arguments if this goes on. 

Now for those that enjoy feeding their dogs junks, before you get all worked up I'd like to highlight that this is MY opinion. Everyone have different opinions and if you are asking a question openly, you should expect to receive different views, but if you are just doing it for attention, then there's no point for experienced owners to contribute their thoughts. Which is what I am doing, rather than arguing I prefer to share my thoughts on my blog. This platform is created to help owners that are unsure and wish to learn from us, as usual if anyone do not agree, then don't read.

Monday, December 26, 2016

We humans create anxiety in our dogs and secretly enjoy it while saying "we can't bear". 

Truth is we do it to make ourselves seem precious in the mind of our dogs.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Special Care

This year end wasn't the luckiest, with 4 first time guests, 3 had anxiety issues and kept us up for 4 consecutive nights. We were so worried that they might hurt themselves or create trouble for the neighbors and had to check on them almost every hour, as well as making sure the ones that were not involved can rest better.

Because of this, I'll like to officially announce that we now have a separate category for dogs that requires special attention due to behavioral issues, this category is called "Special Care".

Monday, December 12, 2016

Can you? - part 1

J: Can you send any message to my dog?

Psychic: Yes as long as your dog wish to communicate

J: Can you get her to roll over now?

Psychic: No, she said she doesn't want to

J: *got the dog to roll over*

Psychic: That's because you have food with you, your dog loves chicken!

J: Here's a treat, now get my dog to roll over with telepathy

Psychic: Wow you are funny! It doesn't work like that, oh by the way..... she loves duck too.....

You mean you can send messages and tell me that my dog says she loves me and loves specific food and toy, but she can't understand simple commands? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dog myth 14: I can judge a dog's temperament based on its breed

Dog myth 14: I can judge a dog's temperament based on its breed

How many of you have considered a specific dog breed because "The Book" says that their behavior suits your specific lifestyle and is perfect for you?

While there are evidence that different breeds tend to have varied temperaments due to inherited behavior(s) from their ancestors, dog breeding have come a long way and many of the claimed personality are slowly diminishing over the years. The reason I've decided to bring this point up was due to seeing a question on a post, where a user had asked about general poodle behavior. So here was my reply:

"It will be best not to predict the temperament based on general breed info(they have not been up to date for a very long time lol), and with all the mass breeding and stuff their temperaments are most likely messed up.

Many have purchased a poodle thinking that they are affectionate, intelligent and easy to train, but in my opinion it varies greatly, you can have one poodle that likes human attention and easy to train and suddenly the second poodle turns out independent and learn things slowly (takes years to housebreak, barky etc).

Own with an open mind and slowly learn the characteristic of individual dog, then you won't be disappointed"

I then got a direct reply from someone to my quote, who claimed that the temperament of dog breeds will never change even after hundreds of years. This is also implying that a breed, for example poodle will forever behave like what professional breeders had written in  books. To be fair, everyone can have different opinions and are entitled to it, so in my opinion I'd have to say that the idea that dog breeds will never change is very wrong, the poodle breed in Singapore is already a very fine example.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Scam at its best

Recently my Facebook newsfeed was surrounded by someone whom had lost his dog. I didn't really read into details until one day I start seeing a lot of urgent posting to get people into helping him "trap" his dog, curiously I read the post further to find out more. So it's actually a timid dog that had ran away from home, and due to its behavioral instinct, trapping was needed to keep it from escaping. But the million dollar question was, how did he know where to find his dog?

"The AC said it will appear at XX time"

AC, which is a short term for Animal Communicator in Singapore, simply meant psychic, not Air Con.

Ok so right after reading that sentence, my head started to be filled with gazillions of *face palm*.

Honestly speaking, part of me did not wish for the dog to be found as predicted by the psychic, and yet another part of me hoped the poor dog would be found. Though I do not believe in psychics, chances will logically increase the more time you spend out there looking for the dog.

Well, unsurprisingly, the dog wasn't found.

People started questioning, and the psychic's reply was impressive - "the dog was wary of people and decided not to show up"! And then out of nowhere, this fellow provided ANOTHER SET OF DATE AND TIME, ugh.

For the last time, I decided to check back out of curiosity, nope the dog wasn't found. Another set of date perhaps? I got tired and stopped following the post.

If you find this story similar to what you've encountered, please don't be offended as it probably isn't you. Many owners have faced the exact same situation countless times and do not wish to share them, either because they still have some hope in their beliefs, or they just don't want to be embarrassed.

Personally I just feel that the exchange of money for false information is a crime, not to mention sad for owners that have to go through so much and then learn that they could've easily solved the problem by looking elsewhere, instead of specific areas given by psychics that waste a lot of unnecessary manpower and time.

For more links on psychics:
Psychic Detectives
Conversation with a Pet Communicator
Dog Communicators
Dog myth 10: Psychics can talk to my dog

Friday, November 25, 2016

Will Facebook ever fix this????

was notified of a case from an unhappy customer, after listening to the problems I am starting to doubt Facebook's business ideal.

Here's the story:
David (not his real name), was very disappointed in an online groomer and had left negative reviews on their page, moments later he received a threat message that demands him to remove his review or he will be charged for "defamation". 

He continued to maintain his position as an unhappy customer, so the groomer had no choice but to remove their review function, which hides away all reviews. 

All sounds normal right, now the worst part - the groomer started to receive a lot of complains from different people! So what the owner did? Just change the name of the business on Facebook page!! And the crappiest part, due to Facebook's weird policy, changing of business name can still retain previous likes and reset review score at the same time. So in another words, a page with 5000 likes can simply pass over to another business name at the convenience of a click and preference of a new business name.

I actually went to check on the page and holy crap, it was not a joke. This is not the first time I've heard such a thing but to experience it in person was unreal! Imagine any unethical business can create ads attracting likes and then once they screw their reputation up, just a name change can do the trick. True enough the face of the owner will not change (unless they go for plastic surgery), but he/she can just avoid taking in the same customer and act as if nothing happened with the rest.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Amber's soft side

We were walking Amber in the park and decided to stop at a playground for her to have a little fun (it was an isolated playground).

At the playground we decided to play a bit of catching by hiding and let Amber search for us, she always enjoyed this game at home. As it was dark, Amber couldn't really see us by just using her eyes, especially if we stood still leaning towards the pillar, the eyesight of dogs are not very strong, they are really good at spotting moving objects though! So if anyone is standing in a dark area without movements, most dogs will not be able to spot them by just using their bare eyes. To counter this issue, they will usually rely on their nose to track things that they are looking for, in Amber's case she had forgotten to use her nose!

We made use of this chance to watch her reaction when left alone in an unknown environment, she started off with her tail wagging and running around the place to look for us, after about 30 seconds being unable to find us, she suddenly stopped moving, only turning her head left and right vigorously. Throughout this time, a couple of passerby started to walk past the playground, as a friendly dog Amber would usually stare at them and wait for their signal to play with her (bending down, waving hands etc), however in this case she didn't care about them, just standing still and turning her head. Another couple of seconds passed and her tail started to go down, Amber panicked and became afraid, it was a good experiment to see how she would react as she had always been trained to be friendly and independent since young, and the bad part about this is that she can just tag along with a stranger and still enjoy the company without us.

After seeing enough, we called out to her name and she started wagging her tail and rushing towards us, good to know that Amber still has some conscience, lol!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

All dogs deserve the chance to learn, by skipping and giving up training is just the same as deserting them. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Encountering yet another ignorant owner

While waiting for transport, I thought I had seen a well trained a little chi hua hua being walked off leash, then it started rushing past dozens of passerby, out of nowhere I heard a man shouting "STOP", I looked back and noticed that the owner was at least 5 meters away from his dog, screaming while walking slowly like it wasn't the first time his dog did that. Apparently the chi hua hua ignored his shouting and continue moving forward. I was really pissed off but knowing that it wasn't my dog and that this kind of conversation will usually end up in quarrels, I simply watch quietly, or and did I mention that it was a narrow path right beside a busy road?! Luckily the dog saw a bush and started doing its marking while the owner caught up, he then stood behind his dog and kept repeating "STOP", which obviously the dog didn't care and just continue what it was doing.

I'm not sure how many times he had allowed this to happen but his luck will soon run out one day, and the one suffering will not be him but the poor dog.

( It's been awhile since we had time to update our blog, we are going for our vacation soon and kept boarding and training slots empty during this period of time, hence there's a bit of time to do some writing. It's been a great year and we've made lots of new friends (both dogs and humans), thank you all for the support all these years! )

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Raw Chow

After the last experience with Amber being diagnosed with UTI and diarrhea from trying K9 Natural's raw dehydrated food, we learned that her body isn't suitable for raw even if it's supposedly nutritious.

A few months had passed and we decided to give raw another try, this time instead of K9 Natural, we gave Amber Raw Chow from Sunday Pets. Sunday Pets is a New Zealand brand and is only available at Pet Lovers Centre in Singapore, apparently they are the sole supplier and do not wish to share this products with other retailers so the only way to get this product locally is to purchase from their outlets.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mini Paws Town event 2016

It's been awhile since we last attended a dog event. On 30 July 2016, we went to Mini Paws Town's first official event!

Photos copyright: Mini Paws Town

The event took place at Bishan park, we've only been to this park twice prior to this event, with the first time meeting baby Amber and her breeder. Bishan park is a very beautiful place, it is really huge and even has a dog park, saw a couple of children playgrounds too. The bad part of the park - huge but not categorized properly, very hard to locate specific parts of the place. We took a cab there and the driver placed us at the wrong spot! Nicole was unwell and we had to walk more than 1km to our destination, it was a torture.

Nevertheless we managed to reach the right destination in one piece. Luckily we were in time, I was actually invited to give a 30 minute talk on dog behavior and had selected 3 participants for the program, needed some time to talk to the participants and make sure their dog was misbehaving the way they were supposed to.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Just another day

Rufus's 4 weeks Board + Train program had finally ended! We brought him over to his owner's place to start lesson so that they could follow up what was taught during his stay with us. It was a memorable journey as we spent a lot of time bonding and teaching him necessary skills, will never forget how he looked forward to the play sessions, his nudging on hands for a pat and the happy prance he does during walks. Some of the owners opting for the program do go overseas from time to time, so we get to see them regularly, others have family and friends to help take care of their dogs, which we understand but still misses them at times.

During the car ride, Rufus rested on my lap and licked my arms a couple of times, it suddenly became an emotional journey. We had our last off leash walk near the estate before bringing him up, upon reaching and guiding on his commands, he kept staring at me as if waiting for me to command him even though the treats were not in my hands. During walk practice he hesitated and wouldn't move much without me following beside him. It was tough to hold back emotions, nevertheless I still maintained a strict attitude and ignored all of his attention seeking reaction throughout the lesson. Upon ending I resisted and did not even give him any last look before leaving, he whined really loudly for attention and I heard he did not sleep well on the first night.

Our job after Board + Train is to pass the ownership back to respective families so that dogs will enjoy working with them instead of relying on trainers, but it can be really heart wrenching when it's time to part. Some might feel that we are numb from seeing so many dogs everyday and have no emotions, to be frank we treat all of the dogs like our own no matter if it's correction or affection, when a dog comes for long term training the bond would be even closer due to the amount of time spent on training. Unless one does not love dogs, being firm to them is not easy, it takes a lot of personal sacrifice and many will never understand, there was a period of time when I thought of stopping Board + Train service for good, there isn't any benefit for us, an additional $10/day for training just doesn't add up to the disadvantages that we are experiencing - lack of sleep, overworking, isolating of slots for cases of aggression, I would almost always find myself feeling sick or moody after ending each course and it's not hard to figure out why. But due to seeing more and more dogs suffering with owners requesting such service, we started offering them again after a period of time.

Nevertheless, the sacrifice usually pays off when owners appreciate and start cherishing the lessons and skills that their dogs had learned. Last I heard, Rufus had been sleeping really well from the second night onwards.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The misconception of ATP's training

In this article I will be sharing on my ideas, training concept and most importantly the misconception people have about our training ideas and goals.

If you've been following the blog, I've shared a couple of times about my experience throughout the years, for those that have not and prefer a short version of it - I've been practicing different dog training techniques for more than 10 years and have made sure all of them would work on similar problems before moving on, I do not believe the one method fits all theory and will always customize program based on 2 things, the personality of the dog and owner.

When we talk about Board + Train program, many may associate it with what they had seen on dog whisperer show, now this is one of the major misconception that I want to talk about here. Honestly I am not a big fan of the current series but I can understand how it works based on feedback of owners whom had participated in the program as well as some information gotten from the dog training circle, therefore it would be fair to us if people can stop associating our program with what they see on television.

I hope that this post will not only clarify the difference with us and celebrity trainers, but also towards any other trainers and training programs that may try to associate themselves and their ideas with ATP.

I do not encourage nervous dogs to interact by putting it with a pack of dogs

There are some nervous dogs that learn that there's nothing else to do to escape from the stressful situation, hence accepting their fate and start learning to survive. The sad truth is that there are MORE cases of dogs becoming so stressed that they start turning aggressive and attack anyone who attempt to get close to them. This becomes a bully game for the rest of the residents, where the pack may get even closer to provoke nervous dogs like this, many times fight break out and the one on the losing side will always be the weaker/insecure dogs.

This happens a lot at boarding/daycare centers where staffs are not assigned to watch over interaction and stop unnecessary provoking of nervous dogs, in return these weaker dogs may become even more sensitive till a point where even slight movements/sounds can trigger fear aggression. And if these aggressive behaviors happen to work, they will soon learn to abuse it as much as they can.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How to reduce demanding barks

Barking is one of the very few ways that a dog can communicate verbally, the tone of the barks may have different meanings but they are definitely not as complicated as human language.

Imagine waking up every morning at 6am to find your dog barking nonstop for attention, this is what many families have been experiencing with their dog throughout their lives, thinking that it is normal and not possible to rectify.

How do you know if it's demanding barks?
Attention seeking barks should not be linked to anxiety, guarding nor aggression, if you suspect your dog having more than just attention seeking issues then this article will not help, it will be better to engage a trainer instead. Here are a few examples to help you understand if the barks are solely attention seeking behaviors:

• Your dog barks at a certain time every morning
• Your dog start barking every time it finishes pee/poo
• Your dog stops barking after meals
• Your dog stops barking after you provide attention

The above mentioned scenarios are most likely attention seeking behaviors, some dogs might even progress to howls and it can be really annoying. Good news though, attention seeking barks are actually one of the easiest to eliminate compared to other behavioral issues, the key is patience, time and consistency.

Friday, July 1, 2016

5 reasons why we don't provide daily updates through messages

I'm sure most of you have heard about the update service that is becoming popular with boarding hotels nowadays, where owners are being sent messages daily to update about their dogs? Well this is a very sort after and easy way to gain awareness, however at ATP we still don't believe in providing such service at this point of time. There's a reason for that, in fact we have 5 if you are interested to learn why :)

From an innocent owner's point of view, messages updates may have lots of advantages and zero risks. It serves to provide owner as ease of mind knowing what their furkids are up to, as well as showing that the person cares about the wellbeing of the dogs they are taking care of. Daily updates can also let owners know if their dogs are eating well and even to the point of whether their behavior is good. The truth? Nothing is perfect, there are always pros and cons to everything.

Now here's the disadvantage, if the information (updates) you receive is wrong/made up, it could affect how you perceive your dog's behavior and cause MORE unwanted problems in future (i'll explain more later on).

In this post I will be sharing information from feedback collected throughout the years from our experience, and also a bit of secret shared by a friend who had been in the dog business for over 10 years.

Here goes the 5 reasons why we do not provide updates through messages:

It's impossible to have new updates, daily
Logically, it's impossible to have new updates about dogs everyday, it's not like human diary where you know what is going on deep inside in your mind and then write them down on paper. Dogs are not as complicated as us and they do not think like human beings, unless your dog is undergoing intensive training or behavior modification program, progress can take days and sometimes it can even take up to weeks before changes can be seen. During this point of time their daily routines are usually the same, we at ATP understand that dogs love fixed daily routines and we strive to provide them the exact thing they need every single day.

So for example, if a guest had chicken for meals, played with Amber, peed/pooed on pee tray, went for walk at 9pm and slept at 10:30pm today, it's most likely that tomorrow would be the exact same routine and so on. If you expect every single day to be different for your dog and convinced that the varied updates you received are true, read the next reason.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What is Pride worth?

I was having a chat with one of our student, Amber was there and she wasn't exercised enough for a few days due to the rain and pest appearing more frequently.

For a start, she was behaving rather well off leash, coming back by herself after roaming too far off and doing her marking near the drains as we've taught. Then suddenly, one of our boarding guest started to bark non stop, Amber followed and soft barked a couple of times, our student seemed like she was expecting a correction from me, but I didn't do anything and continued our conversation. Moments later, Amber started to whine as she couldn't get any attention from the humans, I kept quiet and ignored. Everything started to collapse when she was asked to go into the carrier, well she did it perfectly, only problem was she didn't want to come out when called, instead of punishing her or pulling her out, I walked over to Nicole, brought out some treats and rewarded her when she came out.

If you've been a teacher or attempted to teach someone before, you'd understand the feeling of being the person with knowledge, and students no matter if they are children or adults will be looking at you for guidance. If at any point of time there's any mistake or failure on their part, many teachers would feel ashamed of themselves and start doing something to amend or cover up these weaknesses.

Now in my situation, I was supposed to feel embarrassed of the way my dog behaved, if I were to shout at Amber and forced her to listen, she'd follow everything and behave herself, but i can predict that within 5 minutes she's start all over again. And the reason? It's not her fault, it's mine that she didn't get enough exercises! If this was a normal situation and she does that then of course I would correct the behavior, but in that particular situation, I felt that there were no need to embarrass her in front of other people just to cover for my mistake.

I remembered when I was young and in school, I attempted to protect my sister by threatening the student that bullied her. The student's parent came and I was caught by the discipline master, I knew that the action was wrong, but I denied and continue acting tough, showing that I've done nothing wrong, it was all about a stupid thing called PRIDE.

The discipline master then said this to me:
"How much is pride? How much does your pride cost per gram, come I buy from you"

True enough, I noticed that many relationships are tarnished by pride, if I were to cover my embarrassment, it'll always be at the expense of pushing the blame to another person. In Amber's situation, if I were to cover my pride by embarrassing her, she may seemingly behave better but at at the expense of losing trust in me. I've encountered situation during lessons where dogs don't listen to my commands and demonstration, nevertheless I would just persist, repeat and guide the dog till I succeed and gain the respect I need, and this always turn out well no matter how tough the situation is. In fact, I've never felt embarrassed by problems, if there are no problems then there will be nothing to learn, why not just learn to admit it and move on?