J Randy Davis
The Longer Story
J. Randy Davis was born in 1971 in Virginia. He was raised in a small town on the East Coast along the marshlands of the Chesapeake Bay. This environment provided many opportunities for encounters with all sorts of wild animals, including birds, snakes, amphibians...
Randy kept some as temporary pets,
and helped rehabilitate many others that had been injured or that had lost their parents at an early age.
Randy learned to fix broken wings, splint damaged legs, feed and care for hatchlings, and wrangle unruly snakes as a youngster. He knew from an early age that he wanted to work with animals as an adult.
Randy also grew up with family dogs. The Bull Terrier was the breed of choice, so Randy was exposed to difficult and intense dogs from an early age.
In 1990, he attended the University of Virginia where he studied Biology and Psychology-- a combination that he would later say "...allows me to talk with the animals, professionally."
In 1996, Randy decided to take a job at a vacation resort in Mexico, a decision that would turn out to change his life forever. The resort housed 24 horses that were used for riding excursions and lessons for the resort guests. The stable manager put Randy in charge of maintenance and care for 6 of those horses, all of which had significant behavioral issues, and were considered to be the most challenging of the 'herd' there: one of the horses had previously mounted an instructor after a lesson; another horse would jump or flee if you even raised your hand in the air; another wouldn't pick up its feet to be cleaned; and still another became dangerous at the sight of a needle or the smell of antiseptic solution. Randy took all of these circumstances as personal challenges, and resolved to help each of these horses with their respective problems.
Toward the end of the season, Randy had a chance encounter with a guest on vacation at the resort who 'works with problem horses' back at her ranch in Northern California. Randy convinced her to come down and take a look at the horses there, and it was at that moment that Randy saw the possibility of what could be done to communicate with horses. The guest as it turned out, was a bona fide Horse Whisperer, a protégé of none other than Tom Dorrance himself!
Randy quickly put into practice what he had learned, and he soon began to see accelerated progress with the horses under his care. After he finished the season at the resort, he booked a flight to Northern California to study natural horsemanship with his new friend.
Shortly afterward, Randy settled in Southern California and continued working with horses through a hippotherapy program as a volunteer at an Animal Center. After several years, he decided to re-connect with his other animal passion-- dogs.
In the early 2000's, he began volunteering at a local Humane Society. Immediately, he was drawn to the 'problem' dogs there, badgering the shelter manager to allow him to work with the dogs that had "Staff Only- No Volunteers" scrawled in red ink on their kennel ID placards. Randy quickly realized that he had found his calling.
Randy began each of his volunteer shifts by standing quietly in the center of the facility, where he could see, in his peripheral vision, each one of the dogs in their kennels. Something would catch his eye-- some minor difference or aberration in the behavior of one or more of the dogs... not the over-stimulated, anxious, or frustrated behavior that was common in kennels... but something else, something that was missing.
Sometimes it would be a behavior that wasn't typical for a 'normal' dog, or sometimes it was just a behavior that was simply absent... It could be the way that a dog positioned its paws on the floor; or whether or not the dog avoided presenting the left side of its head toward a person; or the tension in a dog's breathing pattern; or the angle that the dog held its head relative to where its eyes looked; or the absence of investigative sniffing behavior... Once identified, this was the 'Dog of the Day' for Randy, and he set out to observe and learn as much as he could about that particular animal. Randy believed, as he still does today, that if you can come to understand, work with, and successfully rehabilitate the toughest of cases, then every other dog after that will be easy.
Visual analysis of complex moving systems was just part of a normal day for Randy. His day job at the time involved working with individuals who had suffered physical injuries or traumatic accidents. Randy would carefully assess the movement patterns of each of his clients, and then create corrective or manually-assisted exercises suited for their individual needs. The reduction or elimination of compensatory movement patterns was an important step in helping those with chronic pain and neuromuscular dysfunction, and an accurate analysis of those movement patterns was crucial.
While his visual analytic skills were put to good use at work, the study of dog behavior became merely an extension of this same ability. Randy has what is known as Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism-- he processes visually and interprets literally. He sees things as they are, and catches nuance and subtlety in movement that others often miss. This ability has been instrumental in his success in understanding and rehabilitating the behavior of problem dogs.
Randy continued his work at the Humane Society for several years, and during his time there recorded many 'saves'-- turning around dogs that were designated to be put down (euthanized) because of unresolved behavioral issues. Despite being a so-called "No-Kill" shelter, dogs were still put down at this facility, just as they are at many other "No-Kill" shelters. The term "No-Kill" isn't clearly defined, but usually means that a shelter can claim that they do not kill or euthanize adoptable dogs. 'Adoptable' is a very ambiguous criterion, and if a dog has a behavior problem, then it can be deemed 'un-adoptable' and therefore can be killed. And many dogs at this "No-Kill" shelter were killed.
In 2009, when a staff change at the shelter led to increased challenges for saving the troubled dogs there, Randy made plans for his departure. When the shelter decided to put down 'difficult' puppies on the suggestion of the "Positive-Only" clicker trainer consultant they had recently hired, Randy knew it was time to move on. In 2009, he formed Better by the Pound, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit rescue whose mission is to help rescues and shelters by providing real solutions for their difficult and problem dogs. Part of Better by the Pound's outreach efforts include classes and education sessions for the volunteers and foster parents of other affiliate rescues. Better by the Pound currently works with over two dozen rescues and shelters in San Diego and Orange Counties.
Soon after establishing Better by the Pound, Randy began working with personal clients that had dogs of their own with behavior problems. He often chides that "Dogs don't really have behavior problems until they get themselves an owner." And it's true that some behavior problems only exist as a relationship dynamic between the dog and a specific human. The hardest part, he says, is getting the owner to acknowledge that they must change how they interact with their dog on a daily basis in order to bring about the desired change in their dog's behavior.
Randy continued his work with rescues and select shelters to save lives of many more dogs that would otherwise not have survived. In 2011, he formalized his concepts for Deference-based Training for dogs, an innovative, unique, and comprehensive approach to training that can be used for both the prevention and rehabilitation of some of the most difficult and dangerous of behavior problems. A special Deference-based training program for puppies was established called 50 x 5. This program covers the 50 essential behaviors that a puppy should know before 5 months of age, thus 50 by 5. It is primarily a behavior problem prevention program, providing young pups the skills and knowledge necessary for surviving and thriving in human society.
And no, Sit and Down are not on the list of essential behaviors...
In the years that followed, Randy continued to take on difficult and severe behavioral cases, and has successfully rehabilitated hundreds of dogs. He has worked with extreme anxiety and fear-based problems, as well as with various forms of aggression. Randy has worked with dogs recovering from severe neglect and/or abuse, and has
achieved success where other training and behavior modification efforts have failed.
Along the way, Randy has developed unique and effective re-conditioning protocols for emotional behavior modification not predicted by current learning theory models, such as his R.I.C.E. and B.E.N.E.S. protocols for reactive behaviors.
Randy also set out to clarify and codify for dog trainers the differences between Parallel and Serial Conditioning (learning) processes, and to explain their relevance in dog training and behavior modification. He has proposed the idea that Parallel and Serial Conditioning processes result from the formation of Direct and Predictive Associations, respectively. He has written a thorough and critical review of the "Operant Conditioning” paradigm for dog trainers, exposing the significant shortcomings and critical weaknesses of this model for conceptualizing Animal Learning. Chief among these criticisms is that Operant Conditioning attempts to express both a procedural (consequential) component alongside a probable or supposed outcome (result) component, and combine them into a singular concept. This proposition is neither practical nor possible in most situations, yet is still widely used to described learning processes. He has also written about the limitations of Classical Conditioning as a model for understanding the establishment of Predictive Associations through Expectation (Anticipation /Anxiety) and Direct Associations via Transference.
Randy has presented a new model for conceptualizing learning and conditioning that accounts for various observed behavioral phenomena, such as: sensory-pre-conditioning, second-order conditioning & stimulus-stimulus learning; Blocking, Overshadowing, Interference, & similar prior-experience effects; Safety signals and non-reward markers; the ineffective nature of after-the-fact punishment procedures on both voluntary and emotionally-driven behaviors; non-specific escape and active avoidance learning; R.I.C.E. counter-conditioning procedures, etc. all of which cannot be predicted by or adequately explained via the aforementioned traditional models of learning and conditioning. He has summarized these ideas in his paper Meta-Modern Learning Theory.
Randy's expertise in the area of canine Behavioral Rehabilitation has been sought out nationally and internationally. He continues to lecture and teach classes to those individuals dedicated to learning more about dog behavior and acquiring the skills needed for preventing as well as modifying significant behavioral issues.
Randy hopes to establish a ranch-style facility for problem dogs that would not only serve as sanctuary for these animals, but would also function as an educational facility where trainers, handlers, shelter staff, and rescue volunteers could come to learn the skills necessary for managing and rehabilitating difficult dogs.
- Michelle Lyons
J Randy Davis