University of Western Ontario Canine Cognition Research

A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from Krista Macpherson, a dog cognition researcher from the University of Western Ontario.  She found When Hounds Fly and reached out to us because she was looking to partner with a dog trainer with a sound understanding of science-based dog training.  I was floored!

After meeting with her last week and geeking out over dog cognition and experiments, she shared two published studies she worked on.  The first was a radial maze study that was published in Science.  The other was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology and it asked whether Dogs seek help in an emergency (the popular press picked it up and coined it the Lassie Experiment).  Owners faked heart attacks and also faked having bookshelves fall ontop of them.  Unfortunately, the dogs didn’t go out and seek help like Lassie would.  Oh well, that just means we can train “Get help!” as an operant behavior, put it on stimulus control, and have it handy just in case.

Lassie!  Go get help!  Or just sit there.
Lassie! Go get help! Or just sit there.

I’m so excited about this project for a bunch of reasons.  Firstly, clicker training exists because of the work done by scientists like B.F. Skinner in the 60s.  Without science, we would still be stuck following archaic training methods prescribed by old-school compulsion trainers like Koehler or the Monks of New Skete.  Secondly, having an affiliation with a researcher from the University of Western Ontario will help undecided dog owners make a good decision to enroll their dog in a humane, positive reinforcement dog training school instead of choosing a yank-and-crank compulsion trainer.  Lastly, the geek in me (I trained a goldfish after all) gets fired up at the thought of helping run science experiments involving my students’ and friends’ dogs!

If you’re interested in volunteering and having your dogs help out science, check this article out on our main site and let us know.  https://www.whenhoundsfly.com/resources/articles/75-caninecognitionexperiments.html

Book Review: When Pigs Fly! by Jane Killion

When Pigs Fly by Jane Killion
Training Success with Impossible Dogs

Published by Dogwise Publishing, 2007

198 pages

This is the book that inspired the name for the school!  Years ago when I got my first beagle rescue, I was struggling to get him to hear his name while on walks, nevermind train a loose leash walk.  While walking on King Street, a woman driving by slowed down, rolled down her window, and said “Don’t bother! Beagles can’t be trained! They pull!”

If this sounds familiar to you, and you look in wonder why that neighbourhood Poodle,  Border Collie, Golden Retriever, or German Shepherd are so naturally attentive to their owners, this book is for you.

Even if you happen to have that “naturally obedient” dog, this book is for you.

Of all the obedience training books I have read in the last few years, this is the most concise, clearly written training manual for dog owners of all levels.

Firstly, the book helps you understand why certain breeds are predisposed to handler attentiveness while others aren’t.  Killion coins those dogs (the Collies, Shepherds, etc.) as “biddible” dogs, selectively bred for their ability and desire to pay attention to their handlers and follow instructions.  Conversely, terrier and hound owners have “non-biddible” breeds that have been selectively bred for work that does not require handler instruction.  She gives new meaning to the phrase “Release the hounds!”.

Secondly, Killion gives readers a clear and concise explanation of the laws of operant conditioning and clicker training, and specifically calls out the importance of using shaping techniques, not lure-reward methods, for non-biddible breeds.  Non-biddible breeds are known for being stubborn, and as a result, training using shaping takes advantage of their natural breed characteristic of never giving up.  The truth is, ALL dogs, biddible or not, learn better with shaping, so this is particularly why this book should be recommended reading for any dog owner looking to train their dogs.

Lastly, Killion spends the majority of the book on focus and attention, work ethic, and using real-life rewards to train our dogs.  Some obvious examples are using sniffing for Beagles, jumping in a lake for Newfoundlands, or even jumping up and wrestling.

Hands down, this book is now my top recommendation for dog owners who are new to training.  It is concise and easy to digest for casual dog owners, but without insulting their intelligence by omitting key concepts.

Our first post! Welcome!

Hello there,

This is our first post!  We decided to create a separate blog from the main When Hounds Fly website.  The purpose of this blog is to allow us to more frequently update the community about things that we discover along our journey and mission of helping dogs and their owners live happier lives.

The types of content you’ll see here include:

  • Photos and videos of our students and their dogs doing amazing or cute things.
  • Review of books and videos that help us learn more.
  • Information about upcoming events and seminars on all things related to dogs.
  • New developments from the world of dog cognition, behavior, and training.

We look forward to your return soon!  Subscribe, visit, and comment often!