Consent in the Year of the Dog

I was on vacation for the first week of 2018, so naturally I binged on dog training podcasts. One that made more of an impression on me than I thought at the time was one of Hannah Brannigan’s “Drinking from the Toilet” podcasts, “Five Key Concepts for 2018.” This was an interview with Ryan Cartlidge, founder of Anima Training Academy. The main thing he said that stuck with me is that he thought 2018 would be the year of consent in animal training. In short, this means we strive to get buy-in from our animals, in this case dogs, before doing anything to or with them.

I have been working at doing this for a while, but I must say that I still have a lot of old habits that make it easy for me to roll right over my dog’s attempts to tell me he’s not comfortable. When I realized we were just starting the Year of The Dog just as I am starting a dog training blog, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see where I am in implementing this concept. My apologies for the poor framing of the video–every time I turned the video camera on, the camera zoomed in from what it showed in the preview and I did not realize how tight it was going.

So let’s look at how I did. Maybe at the end of the year of the dog, I’ll take another video and compare.

  • At the start of the video, he’s in a down stay. He looks a little stressed, because he tends to worry whether he’s doing exactly what I want or not.
  • 0:12: I’m working on desensitizing to having a bottle of ear cleaner poked in his ear. He still is pulling back when I pick up the bottle. I need to work to get more active consent.
  • 0:30: I lay the brush on the floor, and this is the only cue I am giving for him to lie on his right side for massage and brushing. A little mouthing indicates he’s doing it willingly, but maybe is a little conflicted.
  • 0:35: I start doing the massage. I’m not doing a great job because frankly at this point I realized my blouse has the potential to flash the camera so I was trying to avoid doing that. My criteria for consent are head down on the floor and relaxed front paws.
  • 0:43: His head comes up, but I don’t give him a break for almost 10 seconds. I’m not pushing his head down there, but stroking his head, which usually helps relax him.
  • 1:00: I take advantage of the itchy spot I found to give him a non-food reinforcer.
  • 1:20: His head comes up again, I notice and stop massaging within 2 seconds this time.
  • 1:38: I start brushing without first showing him the brush and pausing. This is a mistake–I intended to show him the brush and wait for consent.
  • 1:55: The itchy spot again!
  • 2:10: Release and treat.
  • 2:15: I do cue to lie on the other side. It’s not fair to expect the cue of laying the brush down to mean 2 different things. No mouthing, but he does lift a paw to let me know he’s not ready yet.
  • 2:35: He lifts his front paw, but I take it as a request for attention in that area and not discomfort.
  • 2:40: His head comes up as well. Maybe I was wrong. I back off immediately.
  • 2:53: His head comes up again. Again, I respond more quickly than I did earlier in the session.
  • 3:15: Again I don’t show him the brush.
  • 3:32: I release him, give him a cue to shake it off, and give him a treat.
  • 3:45: Completely happy and relaxed for brushing.
  • 4:10: Another cued shake off and treat.
  • 4:15: A little stretching. He’s a little frustrated that I ask for extra stretching to make sure we get both back legs before treating at 4:27.
  • 4:30: Side stretches. He is happy to do these and get his butt scratched after.
  • 4:55: Head down stretch. Still quite happy.
  • 5:10: I cue him to do nails.
  • 5:25: He happily gives me his paw.
  • 5:35: He pulls his paw back, and I stop.
  • 5:38: He gives me his paw again.
  • 5:40: We stop again.
  • 5:43: He gives me his paw again.
  • 5:55: release for treat.

OK, this analysis probably wasn’t as fascinating to you as it was to me, so the TL;DR version is I think we definitely earned a passing score, but we have plenty of work to do still. So, I give myself a B- here.

Here’s to progress in the coming year!


I posted this in a few places to let people know I had started blogging, and I found from the comments a few things weren’t clear, so I thought I’d add a little clarification.

Why is Lackey panting? Lackey is panting because it is lunch time, and he just took a decompression walk on challenging terrain, followed by a brief training session on go outs. It’s not a hot day, but it is the hottest part of the day.

Why are you cleaning his ears? I am not cleaning his ears. Occasionally I do have to clean his ears, so we practice every day so when I need to do it it will be as stress free as possible. I also have him do tricks in the tub about once a week so baths are less of a big deal.

Should I back off with my own dog when he lifts his head or pushes back with his paws? I picked these signals with Lackey because in this situation I think they indicate stress for him. But even if they don’t indicate stress, by backing off when he does these things, I give him a way to communicate to me that he wants me to back off. So over time, he learns that if he lifts his head or pushes back with his paws that I will back off. In theory, you can pick a neutral action from your dog and treat it as if it is a cue to you to back off and eventually it would come to mean that. However, in practice, it is probably quicker and easier to watch your dog’s body language and pick up on the specific ways he is already trying to tell you he is not comfortable.

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