Technological advances in behavior modification (Proceedings)


Technological advances in behavior modification (Proceedings)

May 01, 2011

One of the major problems with behavior modification for pet owners is that they are not professional trainers. They rarely possess the knowledge or skills necessary to control their animal's behavior under the best of circumstances. Stopping an unacceptable behavior is often beyond their capabilities. If possible, they can enlist the aid of a trainer or behaviorist to assist them in solving behavior problems. For many reasons, this is not always possible. To fill the gap, new technology offers several products that can solve problems efficiently without great expertise. Here are several that can aid your clients in getting control over their pet. It should be assumed that automated behavioral control has inherent limitations that can be defeated by a persistent or adaptive animal.

1. Head halters: The single most important tool for dog behavior modification is a head halter. There are two reasons for this. First is the mechanical advantage that is gained by controlling an animal by the head. Instead of having to fight the entire beast, you are only forced to overcome the muscles that connect the head to the neck. Second, dogs are supremely visual animals, especially when aroused. A dog that is trying to lunge at a target must keep the target in sight. A head halter causes the dog to jack-knife. Suddenly the target is no longer visible. The dog will be compelled to do whatever it takes to get the target in visual range. With only a little thought to the process, even an amateur can teach the dog to avoid lunging. In the event that the dog does lunge unexpectedly, it takes very little strength to divert a bite. Halters are the best solution to dogs that are easily aroused and add a layer of safety to the process of taking a dog in public.

2. Indoor transmitter based repellant systems: There are several boundary systems that are designed for use indoors. They consist of a transmitter and a corresponding collar that delivers either an electric shock or a spray of citronella. They may be battery powered or plug-in types.

3. Remote collars: Remote shock collars have been around for about 50 years. Though the companies that make them are not particularly knowledgeable about what features a good collar would need, there are several that accidentally have one feature that is critical for stopping behaviors. The feature is a single button that produces a tone followed by shock. Very few collars include this feature. The other types of features that increase the effectiveness for professional behavior modification are lower levels of shock and a wider range of gradients of shock.

4. Bark Collars: Bark collars are often the only means of controlling the excessive barking of a dog living in the restrictions of an urban environment. There are several basic types and two types of consequences associated with them.
     a. Listening collars – These collars include a microphone that senses the sound of a bark and then applies an electric shock. Some of them are advanced enough to differentiate one dog's bark from another.
     b. Vibration sensing collars – These collars sense the constriction of the larynx as the dog barks. They are usually effective for barking but may not cover howling.
     c. Electric shock – Shocking bark collars often come with intricate programming that causes the level of shock to increase if a dog persists in barking or delays that limits repeated shock. In some cases a dog can learn to bark for an increment of time, remain quiet to reset the collar and bark again in a series of bursts.
     d. Citronella spray – This type of collar squirts and aerosol puff of citronella as an aversive stimulus. My clients report that this is the least effective method of controlling barking. It was designed in an effort to create a gentle punishment. This primary concern compromises generally compromises effectiveness when the goal is to inhibit a behavior. Some dogs learn to take the full spray and simply keep barking. I observed a dog move upwind of the spray on one occasion.
     e. Ultrasonic indoor/outdoor devices: There are now devices that sense the sound of a dog barking and emit an ultrasonic blast that is intended to suppress the barking. The upside is that you can actually influence someone else's dog. The downside is that simple habituation may cause the sound to lose its punishing effect over time.

5. Automated litter boxes: The average cat owner uses far too much litter and changes it when the odor gets unbearable. One alternative to this practice is a box that scoops itself. There are three basic types...
     a. Clumping litter, sifting mechanism
     b. Proprietary litter, sifting mechanism
     c. Self-washing, plastic pellets

6. Electrical barrier and collar systems: Two types
     a. In ground transmitter wire
          i. Manufacturer installation
          ii. Owner installation
          iii. Automatic and manual shock
     b. Wireless transmission to collar

7. Scat mats/ultrasonic repellants: There are several types of deterrent devices on the market that are meant to keep an animal off furniture or out of rooms. One is a plastic mat that includes a laced electrical wire through the plastic. If an animal steps on the mat, it receives a mild shock. One limitation of this type of device is that an animal can readily identify it. The other limitation is that it takes several seconds to trigger the shock. Many animals learn to simply step off the mat and adjust their position to avoid the shock. Some ultrasonic repellants are designed to emit a loud, ultrasonic blast when the animal approaches or bumps the device. These have limited effectiveness and there is always a possibility of creating a sensitivity to all loud noises. Conversely, many dogs become desensitized to the sound.

8. Home security devices – Home security devices are very good at providing a signal that informs the dog that a specific behavior is taboo. It should be followed by a tangible punishment. These devices include passive infra-red alarms, electro-magnetic alarms and vibration sensitive alarms. Combined with an electric shock collar, wireless video cameras can stop such problematic conditions as pica with very little difficulty. This form of behavior modification takes the most imagination and a decent understanding of process, but can yield dramatic results.

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