A Review: The Markline IQ Wobbler treat toy and contest!

Healthy animals love playing with their food! It gives them something to do to keep them out of trouble, stimulates their brain, and it’s just plain fun! Personally, I collect enrichment toys for my animals. This was a nice addition to the collection.

I purchased this toy for my mini poodle, Angel, and will also use it for foster dogs and other foster animals.

Angel and I really liked this toy. It’s easy to tilt over, even on carpet; this makes it easy enough for most size animals to use. It rights it’s self pretty well too, better on hard floor than carpet.

I like the ease of filling it allows, you just screw off the top lid and dump hole-sized bits of food in there. Dry works better, but semi-moist can also work as long as it’s not wet or sticky. Kibble is great in this toy. I like using the dog’s meal, or sample sized bags of kibble reserved just for treats. You can also break apart larger treats, or purchase pre-made small treats.

dog toy open

It’s really easy to clean and sanitize. This is something important that most people overlook. Some toys get so filthy over time but don’t allow you to get at the dirt, and they eventually molder and need to be thrown away or animals can get sick. I prefer to clean toys after every use, this toy would do well with a bottle brush cleaner and dish soap. The bottom of the inside would be best cleaned by wiping with a damp cloth, or else you might get water into the metal gears of the timer inside.

I like the design of the toy, the over-all shape and construction. It seems well made and sturdy. I like that there’s nothing to grab on it, so that dogs can’t chew off and swallow pieces, or pick it up and drop it on hard ground. Some dogs like carrying toys up the stairs and dropping them down… They can’t do that with this toy! It seems pretty safe.

dogtoy closed

The chamber size allows you to store a lot of treats. This is where the timer comes into play, but while it has that pro, it also packs two downsides. The ringing noise at the end of the time set will let dogs know that it’s not going to supply anymore food (you can teach them this by immediately taking it away when it rings, and they’ll learn over time and eventually leave it alone). This can startle and scare dogs, and also frustrate them because no more treats are forthcoming. I prefer to not use the timer and instead not fill the chamber up completely, and just take it away when it’s emptied.

Watch Angel demonstrate the toy for you.

Want to win one? Here’s what you need to do:

‪#‎GIVEAWAY‬ 10 lucky people will win the Dog toys IQ treat ball! US only.‪#‎markline‬
Participate to win:

1. Like + share this post in your page and group
2. Like Fans page facebook.com/markline.fans
3. Comment your country + region
TIPS: the more you share/tag the more chances of winning!
Winner will be announced at our Facebook Fans Page on 8/10/2016
Sponsored by: facebook.com/markline.fans (Go and find more Coupons there)
Good Luck!!!

tumber contest

Didn’t win or want one right now? You can get it here. The company has graciously offered  a $30 off code! Enter the code “PN5P4A2J” at checkout! Be sure to like the company’s Facebook pages here and here.

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Your dog wants to take over

But does he though? You’ll hear it just about everywhere dogs are remotely relevant. Pet stores, training classes, rescue events, television shows, the dog park, and so on. Someone always seems to bring it up. The dog is trying to dominate someone or something, is trying to be “alpha”, and you must be the “pack leader” and make them “submissive”. This is the root cause of ALL dog behavior. This is all they ever think of; and the only thing that are capable of thinking of. They are megalomaniacs always seeking to take over the world.

The reason why I use quotations is because these social terms are often used as pertaining to their layman’s meanings, not the precise, nomenclature most researchers and (studied) behavioral professionals go by. That aside, doesn’t this way of regarding dogs seem just a tad paranoid to you? What is all this based on?

In earlier times, the social behavior of dogs was judged by research findings of wolves which has since been retracted due to significant design flaws. This involved obtaining a group of unrelated wolves, sticking them together in captivity, and sitting back and watching social dynamics play out. Much of the resulting social interactions were poorly understood. Wolves form tight knit, family bonds much like most human families. This is the make up of a pack. A bunch of unrelated wolves finding themselves living in captive confinement together is quite a different ball game that won’t reflect the usual wolf social behavior.

What happened in this experiment? Certain trends surfaced. Some wolves appeared to be more in charge than others, others appeared to have less veto of power than others. This was both situational and across the board. Aggression was used to obtain valued resources from others, but other social practices were used as well. Sharing occurred, peace-making signals (mainly body language) were offered, and so on. Aggression did not have monopoly here, but regardless, these are strangers thrown together and havoc will occur. The same can and usually happens with any species. Especially humans. We’re constantly warring with other nations. We fight with friends, family, classmates, colleagues, and so on. No one gets along all the time with everyone. Does this mean we’re all trying to dominate each other, or that we’re simply interacting?

Throw together even a group of humans and strengths and weaknesses will surface, those who are better at a task will usually take leadership for that particular activity as it behooves the group to follow their leadership, also it’s quite impossible for multiple individuals to be doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. Only one person can fit in the driver’s seat. How many people can operate the television remote simultaneously? How many chefs can be in the kitchen stirring the pot? Peace or conflict ebb and flow. Occasionally, you have  despotic control where one individual emerges as leader across the board. This is usually the most qualified individual to lead the rest of the group to success. Survival can pend on this individual’s guidance. Experience, intelligence, physical fitness, and more all come into play. A trade off, at least where animal groups are concerned, is that this individual gets prime resources. He or she is being well paid for what s/he’s contributing to the group.

So, we’ve established that most, if not all social species take leadership and follower rolls. Dogs are no different. Dog also aren’t wolves any longer. For thousands of years, evolution has been taking place. This is time enough for social behavior to change. It’s rare that dogs are forced to live in the wild, forced to take matters into their own paws. Even in colonies of feral dogs, their behavior is vastly different than that of gray wolves, which the domestic dog is believed to have evolved from.

In the home environment, we have too much of an influence over a dog’s behavior. They often can’t or won’t react organically without our changing or preventing their choices. Pack behavior can’t exist when it’s constantly interfered with.

Feral dogs are usually known to form loose, shifting, small groups rather than actual packs, sometimes only consisting of only a couple of individuals. Members of the groups often change. Dogs often converge en masse over shared resources (the garbage dump, bodies of water, and so on) and diverge again, territory isn’t usually established. Plentiful resources, even food, are often not worth fighting over. If live prey is had, it’s usually one dog taking what they want, hunts are unorganized and not dependant of each dog’s contributing roll. It’s a free for all. Females mate with multiple males during a heat cycle. Males almost never help with offspring rearing, and very rarely do older offspring stick around to help either.

Compare that to typical gray wolf pack behavior. There is usually an established mating pair. Females don’t usually mate with multiple males, and males usually don’t mate with multiple females. In fact, it’s common that the leaders of the pack are often the mother and father of the other pack members. They defend territory and resources from other packs as a cohesive unit. They also communally take down prey with organized hunting rolls, each contributing a purpose. Males do participate in offspring rearing, and so do older offspring. The breeding male and female don’t always partake of the most valued resources first. In fact, it’s been observed before that the current batch of pups are given first dibs at freshly killed prey. Are wolf pups, only a few weeks old, possibly most dominant or alphas of the pack? And where are the alpha wolves walking first through doors, or in front on leashes?

It’s too easy to explain away all dog motivation for everything they do as a desire to take over. This idea of “dominance” makes everything fit into a neat, little box. But it’s not reality, if even through sheer statistics.

Let’s consider some common occurrences of proposed dominance:

Fido is “stubborn” and won’t sit when told to. Is it possible that Fido doesn’t understand sit when you’re ten feet away when you taught it to him right in front of him? Or maybe he understands sit in the living room, but not on the busy sidewalk. Maybe Fido is distracted by other dogs passing by? Maybe Fido has developed a spine condition and it hurts to sit, or perhaps he’s injured himself in some way?

Fido snaps when he’s being groomed. Is Fido really trying to “be in control”, or could it be that he’s simply uncomfortable or even anxious about the loud, invasive grooming process? Tugging at tangles, loud and hot blow dryers, vibrating clippers, a stranger in your face… It’s a lot for most dogs, particularly as so few were introduced to it early on and taught to view it as a positive experience.

Fido steals food off the table. It’s as simple as the food being available, access being made possible, and Fido wanting some. Dogs tend to like food. Especially novel human food.

Fido pulls on his leash and walks in front of you. But have you taught leash manners or practiced them often enough to maintain them? Could Fido simply walk faster than a human, or want to get where you’re going?

Fido goes through doors in front of you. Again, could he just be a fast walker or really want to get into the next room because his bed is there or it’s dinner time? Did you teach him another option to going ahead of you?

Fido won’t come when called. Maybe you didn’t utilize rewards correctly the times he did recall successfully. Perhaps you didn’t use rewards that he actually wants to earn, maybe you were too stingy with rewards, maybe you didn’t prepare him for the level of difficulty that recalling off a rabbit mid-chase requires, or maybe you keep showing the reward BEFORE he recalled so he’s learned to come only when he knows that it’s forthcoming (not correct usage of food or any reward, by the way. Even with luring (animal follows food), it needs to be phased out as soon as possible).

Fido tries to fight other dogs. Maybe Fido doesn’t like other dogs, or may even be afraid of them for some inherent or developed reason.

Fido tries to er..hump other dogs. Perhaps Fido wants to simply reproduce, or is over excited. Humping is a behavior that some dogs partake of when over excited. Maybe strange to us humans, but commonplace to dogs nonetheless.

In the end, in terms of non-layman’s meanings, dominance and submission are really all about unchallenged access to valued resources. This includes food, water, shelter, mates, and so on. When one has obtained that unchallenged access, one has become dominant over the others in regards to that particular resource. And when the others allow that unchallenged access, they have become submissive in that context.

Let’s not get all caught up in looking at everything a dog does with a dominance scope. You can find animal behavior professionals who can help you resolve behavior issues without rank reduction tactics. You need not create conflict and turn everything into a power struggle. I think you’ll find that removing some of this unnecessary unpleasantness will enhance your relationship with your dog and improve his behavior. Win, win for both of you.

How is your dog being groomed?

Having had poodles most of my life, I have a strong dabbling in the grooming industry. This blog is going to draw me a lot of fire, but I very strongly believe that owners should be given the power of informed consent when it comes to their animal’s care. It’s up to you to decide how your dog is treated, that is your legal right. What you decide is your prerogative.

Like it or not, most dogs require some form of grooming. This can be pleasurable, to endurable, to inspiring abject terror in the hearts of some dogs, a necessary evil. But what makes that difference?

Just like some people, some dogs are simply worriers by personality, by life experience, and some have a low pain threshold and may even have physical traits to groom that are difficult as it is. For instance, very fine, curly coats are often prone to matting (knots), and will require some pulling at tangles. At best, it’s not going to feel great, at worst, it will be painful. It also depends on technique, tool, and upkeep (as in keeping up with frequent brushing).

But this blog focuses on life experience. What, exactly, happens at the groomer’s?

Grooming in and of itself can be a scary, invasive procedure for animals who don’t comprehend the necessity of it; this can be true even with the best, most gentle of groomers. What does a dog understand of a high velocity blow dryer needing to be aimed at them, with the heat, loud roar, and pushing of skin? What does a dog understand of clippers vibrating against their sensitive skin? Or a human’s face in their face (pretty confrontational, try it some time on a stranger if you don’t mind the risk of getting punched) as their hair is being scissored? How about the squeezing of the vein in the nails when they’re being clipped? (Sometimes is the case, and dogs can remember even if it only happened once.)

Dogs are pretty simple creatures, despite what you might hear. They really don’t set out to be difficult just to be difficult. What would be the point? Why should a dog try to prevent grooming by acting up if they were well and fine with the process? If they were just dandy with it, why put the effort into trying to stop it? Your dog isn’t trying to spite you. Your dog isn’t a difficult, complicated human.

But what about when grooming isn’t made to be as endurable as possible? What about when it’s traumatic for the dog? What, exactly, are some groomers doing?

The largest publication in the grooming industry is Groomer to Groomer by Barkleigh Productions. Their spokesperson trainer publishes behavioral advice in this publication, and does consults and seminars for groomers countrywide (USA). Please take a look at the advice groomers are being given, and ask yourself some questions:

1. Did your groomer tell you that they’re doing this to your dog?

2. Did your groomer get your consent to do this to your dog?

  1. Do you want this to be happening to your dog?

This is one of his many articles in Groomer to Groomer, most have similar advice:

You can also see some of his seminars on his YouTube channel, here is one such video, but you can see his others as well:

As you can see, advice is not limited to his patented “bonks”.

Then we have the most famous groomer in the world, and many other groomers subscribe to his teachings: Namely, dogs are always trying to take over, so we must subdue them with a barrage of manhandling. Often, over the top tactics. This usually consists of “alpha rolls”, which is pinning the dog on his side until he stops struggling, jabs to the throat “hand bites”, cutting off air with collars/grooming loops, and similar. I will not name the man here, and I won’t bother linking to one of his videos because they’re often pulled off the internet when they get negative attention. If you can guess who I’m talking about, you can find his videos on your own easily enough and as a bonus, he does have a nice one where he’s giving treats to a scared dog during a bath. Although…. The food isn’t being utilized correctly, I have to say, which hinders success. (Food is another training tool and like any tool, execution must be correct to ensure likelihood of success.)

Some groomers also come up with ideas of their own, of course. I’ve seen dogs sprayed with water bottles for barking, shock collars put on, dogs struck, and so on. Even a dog being given treats without your knowledge would be a concern for me. Allergies, health problems, and other issues may be of importance.

Whether you feel that the kind of handling mentioned in this blog is suitable or not suitable for your dog is besides the point, the point is that owners are not being told that this is occurring, they are not able to grant their permission, and thus they are not able to decide how their dog is treated.

So, what can we do to avoid all this, if you are of mind to? I’m not entirely sure, honestly, because there’s usually no perfect solution. Like me, you can learn to groom your dog yourself, you can hire a groomer to come to your home to groom in front of you, you can hire a groomer who lets you watch (even from a distance where your dog isn’t aware you’re there because some claim this makes the dogs behave poorly), you can use groomers who have to practice on display (think open grooming set ups where shoppers can see), or you can simply talk to your groomer and decide if you’re able to trust that these things aren’t happening.

While it’s no sure bet, red flags for me are usually talk of being the “alpha”, “dominance/submissiveness”, “needing to show them who’s boss/being in charge”, “calm assertive”, and dogs being blamed for being “bad dogs/spoiled/wanting to get their way”.

Sometimes, but not always, the presence of safety gear may indicate a groomer who doesn’t need to resort to manhandling. This could be a tethering system (Groomer’s Helper, LIPs system), Elizabethan collars, Kongs, and similar.

You may be wondering why some groomers manhandle dogs this way? Well, grooming is a difficult job. Dogs don’t understand and make the process a struggle, some owners have unrealistic expectations (please don’t expect long, beautiful coat miracles if you never brush your dog, for example), dogs have never been trained to overcome their fear of certain grooming procedures, and furthermore it’s back breaking labor. It’s a lot of work! Hard work.

Groomers have a job to do and it ain’t easy, for sure. But that doesn’t make subjecting your dog to this kind of treatment without your knowledge and permission okay.

And if you’ve found a groomer who is upfront with you, gentle and makes grooming as pleasant as possible for your dog? Grab a hold of that groomer and don’t let go! He/she is worth their weight in gold! Consider recommending them to your friends, family, and vet so that their business can flourish and they can continue practicing. We have a mantra in the animal behavior field; positive reinforcement works on people too!


Review: Joggy Dog Hands Free Dog Leash

The Joggy Dog Hands Free Dog Leash is a great hands free leash system. It has everything I’m looking for in a hands free leash.

It has a sleek design, the belt isn’t wide enough to be bothersome when you’re twisting and turning, and moving around. It’s not too thin either, which would be uncomfortable if the dog pulls. It also doesn’t stand out too much, which is great if you want something inconspicuous.

This is ideal for training service dogs, for example. It’s not very apparent that I’m wearing something around my waist, it’s comfortable for long term wearing, it doesn’t compete with my waist worn treat pouch, and it doesn’t get in the way when I’m shopping. I can also freely move my arms to deliver treats as well. I do prefer a waist leash to that of an over the shoulder type as these get in my way. Another added plus to this design is that it’s highly adjustable. I liked how this leash stayed put when I adjusted it for my waist. It’s somewhat tricky to re-adjust it because it’s so secure.

Since the belt is this particular design, it doesn’t really leave any room for padding or any great degree of width, or I don’t think it would be quite as adjustable. This means force wouldn’t be as distributed as with a wider or padded belt. This design also means that you loose out on extra features such as pockets.

The leash it’s self is sturdy and the metal bolt snaps look strong, and the stitching on the leash seems to be quite secure.

Since this hardware is heavy duty, it likely won’t fit on the smallest of “O” or “D” rings, like thinner, flimsier bolt snaps would. But I don’t think you have to worry about this unless the ring is pretty small.

The leash has a pretty firm “boing”. It holds up well to strong pullers without fear of any breaking. I did notice that it helps to reduce shock from sudden lunges.

The belt has two “D” rings so you can attach two leashes to it.

I like that this leash has the traffic loop in the end. I always prefer these on my leashes in case of emergencies.

****I said in my video review that I’m not sure if there’s light reflective stitching in this leash but THERE IS!!!****

I’m more than satisfied with this hands free leash system. I would recommend it to clients, colleagues, and anyone with a dog.

-Sleek, non-cumbersome design that doesn’t get in your arm’s way
-Low profile appearance, inconspicuous looking
-Nice width to distribute force when dog pulls
-Comfortable to wear long term
-Highly adjustable and securely stays put
-Sturdy construction, high quality material
-Strong metal hardware
-Stitching is secure
-Has light reflective stitching for visibility at night
-Firm “boing” that won’t give out with strong pullers, absorbs shock well
-Has a traffic loop
-Two “D” rings for attaching two leashes

-More width and padding would likely be impossible with this design, which also means no handy pockets
-Sturdy, heavy duty metal bolt snaps may not fit very small “O”/“D” rings.

Nail Grinder: Hitachi GP10DL 12-Volt Peak Lithium-Ion Mini Grinder, Cordless

Draft copy

So, this nail grinder is pretty awesome. It’s my go-to grinder for most animal nails. I won’t use it on tiny rodent or small parrot nails, but it’s great on the smallest of dogs nails to the biggest, thickest, hardest of dogs nails, and every kind in between. You could most certainly use it on cats and other nailed or clawed creatures down to about the size of a rabbit’s nails, but I wouldn’t go smaller than that. On the highest speeds, 3 and 4, you get something of a loud(ish) whine. I say “loud(ish)” because it’s not that bad compared to many other rotary grinding tools I’ve had the privilege of trying out. On the lower speeds, 1 and 2, which is all you’ll ever need for animal nails, it’s plenty powerful and quiet. The lowest speed (1) is VERY quiet, yet still powerful enough for most nails, yet, if you have the misfortune to catch it, it will “bog down” (stop spinning), only not as readily as some weaker rotary tools. I compared this grinder at the same time to the Dremel 8220, and the Hitachi is actually quieter. But keep it in perspective that this is a power tool, and animals often need to be (edit for active link to how-to) desensitized and counter conditioned to it’s use.

The light on the business end is very useful to see what you’re doing and the anti-vibration technology helps cut down on discomfort in your hand and on the animal’s nail, but I still recommend gently but firmly holding the nail between your thumb and forefinger so that you absorb the vibration instead of your animal getting the brunt of it.

It’s kind of bottom heavy, but once you get used to it, it counter balances well in your hand for a stable, non-fatiguing hold(picture in hand). Sometimes I rest the bottom half on the ground, if the angle of the nail grinding is compatible with this. I don’t use this with a “flex-shaft attachment” (edit picture), but it could be done. It also has a fold out hook (picture) if you want to hang it from something. The unit (not the grinding bit) never overheats in hand because of the internal fan and vents to allow for air circulation. These are strategically placed and don’t blow in the animal’s or your face. Yet, they’re well protected by a foam filter and haven’t ever sucked in hair/fur. (Close up shot, no open gaps)

The battery charges fast (show battery) (if you’re a professional groomer, I would still recommend getting a second battery to switch out) and it’s lithium-ion! This means no battery memory (I think?). I don’t run into any progressive weakening issues with this battery like I have with NiCad types on other rotary tools. The light on the charging unit changes colors to let you know when it’s done. (picture)

Changing out the bit is quickly and easily done without any wrench, you can just use your fingers. (pic)

It gets nails done fast! But it would be even better with 60 or 80 (rough) grit sanding bands or stones. You can get a single, overgrown nail done in just a few seconds with rough grit. Currently, I’m using a fine grit, diamond grinding drum. It seems to additionally cut down on the vibration over the rougher grits. (pic of bits)

It comes as a 47-piece kit with a hard or soft (it appears they offer both options) case. (pic)The attachments (bits, wrench, etc.)(pics) are all of high quality and stand up to your use and abuse. The bands actually stay put on the drums. These are the common universal size attachments, so you need not buy Hitachi brand name replacements!

I’m not going to lie. I treat this machine rough. I use it for a lot more than just nails and it’s a good little soldier.

It’s slightly cheaper (on Amazon) than the Dremel 8220 and has a longer warranty. Check out your local hardware big box and small box(?) stores. I’ve seen this model on sale for a little under $50.

So, to reiterate:

-Counter balances in hand
-No sucking in hair to the motor
-Ease of use
-High quality accessories
-You can find it at a very affordable price
-Bogs down
-Lithium ion batteries, reliable performance
-Charger has charging status indicator light
-Batteries charge fast
-Has light near the bit end so you can see nails
-Comes with a storage case
-(Body) Doesn’t overheat in hand

-Is expensive from some places
-Doesn’t bog down as readily as weaker grinders
-Bottom heavy, can be awkward to hold until you get used to it

Pictures and video to come.

Desensitization and Counter Conditioning: Keys to Success

This is a very easy to understand write up on how to conduct a desensitization and counter conditioning protocol.


Their recommendations of finding a professional to work with are also very good (if you’re in the USA). This is money well spent. A sound investment. Make sure that the professional uses reward-based methods, no coercion, and practices desensitization and counter conditioning. Asking to sit in on a session or class, without your dog, can be helpful to find out how they work with animals.

D&CC (desensitization and counter conditioning) is so great because you don’t just stop the undesirable behaviors, you address and mitigate the underlying cause of them, the dog’s emotional state. This is important, anything else would just be a bandaid on a festering wound.

It’s a tried and tested, proven method for modifying behavior. It’s also very humane because when properly executed, the animal shouldn’t be stressed.

And you can use a D&CC protocol for more than just fear. You can use it for aggression, over excitement, and the list just goes on.

My personal tips and tricks (*some* of these are my own personal practices, not set in stone or preferred by every animal behavior professional):

-Make sure that the predictor of the positive outcome is very clear. You don’t want to have a false predictor. Make sure that going to the fridge to grab treats, reaching into your treat pouch, or other false predictors don’t occur. PLAN AHEAD. (You may want to stash treats around the house or randomly wear your treat pouch around the house so your dog eventually stops noticing it.)

-PLAN AHEAD. You want controlled exercises where as many variables as possible are under your control. Don’t try to work with your dog on nail clipping (for example) when people are walking around and distracting or exciting your dog. Don’t work on your dog’s on leash reactivity when your neighborhood is at it’s busiest and dogs are popping up around corners. Unpredictability isn’t in your favor.

-I prefer starting with the level of exposure (to what the dog fears) where the dog is noticing it, but still at emotional neutrality. This isn’t always possible but it makes tipping their emotional state towards the positive easier since you don’t first have to overcome any fear.

-Become familiar with dog body language. Google this (look for reputable sources), and also study your dog as well. This will allow you to prevent pushing your dog too far, too fast and to get an idea of how they may be perceiving your efforts.

-Don’t lure your dog closer to what they fear than they’re comfortable with. This is why the tiniest baby steps are so helpful. Each change is so tiny, there are no leaps and bounds.

If your dog acts fearful, you need to abandon the current step and go back a step or two and work your way back up to where you were. If this doesn’t help, you’ll need to break down your steps further. Breaking your steps down as much as possible (writing them out is helpful, I find) can be the key to success.

-Consider if there’s a behavior that would be helpful for your pet to learn (with positive reinforcement) during this D&CC process. Teaching your dog to rest their paw in your hand for nail clipping may be a good idea. For on leash reactivity, asking for eye contact after they’ve seen a dog/person can be helpful. Teaching a chin rest in your palm can make giving eye drops easier.

-If your dog fears people, YOU can and should be the one to be giving treats to the dog. Not the person they fear. Or you risk luring them closer than they’re comfortable with. This can create a fight response.

-I like short and frequent sessions, while the article recommends longer sessions. You don’t have to reach the end goal during one session, go at your dog’s pace. Slow and steady is better than fast. The article also recommends starting where you left off last time, but I prefer to start again at the beginning to further strengthen what we’ve already accomplished.

Do what works best for your dog.

-FINISH YOUR PROTOCOL. If you don’t *eventually* finish your protocol, you haven’t effected full emotional change so back sliding is possible.

-After you’ve finished your protocol, it’s helpful to do review sessions every once in a while. Especially if the trigger (what they used to fear) isn’t something encountered often.

Feel free to print this out or save it.

Of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs and Dogs

“Hello, human. You’re looking tasty!”

Halyomorpha halys, or otherwise known as The Brown Marmorated Stinkbug is an alien species to the North East, USA. They appeared and took over in swarms. So massive are these creeping and crawling, stinking, biting, buzzing swarms that they’ve been known to destroy a whole season’s worth of crops, and to cover the entire southern side of buildings.

“Let us in! We just want to chew on your skin a little.”

These guys aren’t tiny either. They’re about the size of a penny. They have thick shells that will cut skin. When alarmed, they spray a sulfurous stinking deterrent. They’ve also been known to bite.

“My… What a long proboscis you have.”
“The better to suck your brains out with, my dear.”

Outside isn’t safe from them… But neither is inside your home. They always get in. You can find them in bed with you, in the clothes you’ve just put on, landing in your soup, jumping into your bathtub while you’re still in it.

People, they may not be a threat to my well being or even my life, but I have a primal, irrational, visceral fear of them. And unfortunately, they’re here to stay.
I apologize ahead of time for sharing too much info with you, but here I was in a bubble bath when I hear the telltale “buzz” of just such a spawn of Satan in the bathroom with me. Foreboding sets in. Fear engulfs me. It’s there, throwing it’s disgusting self into the vanity mirror under the lights, over and over and over again.

I’m at a distance, but I can’t leave the scene, my towel is too close to it! I’m trapped with it for thirty whole minutes. Time enough for desensitization to set in. But it didn’t.

Each time it ventures a little nearer, I grab my Kindle and shield myself instead of screaming, until it goes back to the mirror. I can avoid it! My fear of it should subside, right? Nope. I’m just as afraid as ever.

Finally I’m done, I just can’t take it anymore! The once nice bath has run cold and I’m miserable and terrified.

I make a break for the towel and run screaming and dripping wet from the bathroom to get someone else to take care of it.

It’s just a bug. Yes, I’m aware. And it wasn’t hurting me. I get that too. But I was much more willing to put up with being freezing cold, and stubbing my toe painfully on the way out, than face my fear of this disgusting, loathsome creature. Even with my human logic and reasoning, I didn’t stop to consider that my very survival wasn’t in the balance. I was scared, and sticking around to face it, even with distance and a safety behavior (remember my Kindle shield) didn’t work.

This is a true story. But what does it have to do with animal training though? There are certain protocols making the rounds, based on exposing the animal in small, graduated but still stressful doses to what they fear, and then rewarding the animal with distance from their fear, for doing a behavior alternate to freaking out. Different, non-freak out behaviors are being reinforced, these behaviors are called stress signals. The animal doesn’t do stress signals unless they’re stressed! Just like I wouldn’t feel the need to use my Kindle as a shield unless I was scared and stressed.

This is purposely exposing the animal to what they fear, over and over again, in measured, graduated doses. At a stressful level of exposure, instead of at a neutral level of exposure. And keeping them there until they’ve performed a desired behavior, and then they get to escape.

The desired behavior (the alternate to a freak out behavior) isn’t going to be reinforced unless the animal finds escape to be a reward. For escape to be a reward, they have to be at a stressful level of exposure, where they don’t feel safe and feel the need to escape.

Just like I could have simply gotten used to the stink bug, perhaps if I only had a minor degree of fear, dogs can simply get used to what they fear too. But this is “baseline”. Neutrality. They may not fear it anymore, but they don’t exactly look forward to it either. This makes sliding back into fear a very probable occurrence. Particularly if it’s something that’s inherently unpleasant. This is called return of fear (ROF).

But if that doesn’t happen, if they don’t just get used to it, the fear doesn’t dissipate and the animal is pressured into behaving in a subdued manner, not free of fear. The fear is still there.

So? So what? My point is, we have other methods; more tried and tested, and far less stressful to absolve fear. Methods that, when correctly executed, teach that what was once an unpleasant thing is now perceived as a predictor to a fabulous outcome. Even if the thing is inherently unpleasant, it becomes something worth enduring to get the pay off. That’s where that extra oomph, instead of just baseline neutrality, really comes in handy.

Anyways, even though my stink bug situation is now over, I sit here writing this, in a cold sweat and feeling somewhat sick from the experience. Fear sure doesn’t feel great.

Pictures sourced in order of appearance:
1. http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/brown-marmorated-stink-bug
2. http://hyg.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=438
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_marmorated_stink_bug