Calling My Dog off Rabbit Scent at Night

Calling My Dog off Rabbit Scent at Night

A black and white photo shows a bright white dog standing in a dark backyard with leaves on the ground. The dog is alert and his tail is curled over his back.

I love training recall. When my dogs come to me, I love making it worth their while. I love being generous with treats, toys, and fun.

It’s hard to stage a surprise recall with Lewis. Whenever he is lingering in the yard and I get the bright idea to go get a high-value treat and practice his recall, I find him waiting for me at the door when I get back. He and his nose are too smart for their own good. (He’s not the first one of my dogs to have that problem!) But the other night he was very turned on by recent rabbit visits in the yard. He was enjoying it so much I let him spend quite a bit of time out there. I sat on the cold cast iron patio chair longer than usual, taking occasional videos while he galloped, paused, stopped, sniffed, and galloped some more.

He was so engrossed that I was able to go into the house and get a sizable chunk of roast chicken. I came out, he was still engrossed (and out of sight), and I called him.

Sound warning in the video: jingling tags.

One thing you can’t tell from the video is the large quantity of chicken I gave him because my hand was initially out of the frame. By the time I moved the camera, the food was already down the hatch.

A brown and white dog has his mouth on the palm of a woman's hand, having just eaten a treat she was holding.
By the time of this frame, Lewis had already sucked the chicken right down

I’ve stopped doing the often-recommended practice of parceling out multiple pieces of food to make the reinforcement activity last longer. This is a personal decision, based on three things.

1. Dr. Erica Feuerbacher’s recent research about treat delivery.

2. A comment by Ken Ramirez in his book, The Eye of the Trainer. It’s a short section on drawn-out treat delivery on page 47.

3. Observation of my own dogs.

Oh yeah, one more thing: it’s easier!

I’m not suggesting anyone else change their practice; I know that giving multiple treats is part of some brilliant recall methods. There are probably good reasons to do it either way. I hope to write a post about my decision later.

But in the meantime, I didn’t want anybody to think I was being skimpy. That was a mondo piece of chicken Lewis got!

Then, on impulse, I sent him back out to explore again. Why not strengthen that recall just a little more?

Related Posts

The Barking Recall
Oops, I Trained the Better than Perfect Recall
Teaching Your Dog to Self-Interrupt
Safety Behaviors: Down at a Distance and Recalls

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

“No” Is Not a Behavior . . . But That’s Not the Problem with Saying It

“No” Is Not a Behavior . . . But That’s Not the Problem with Saying It

Lewis, a brown and white dog, is lying on a leather couch holding a snuffle mat between his paws. He is looking at the camera.

I don’t think this post is going to win a popularity contest, but here goes anyway. I can’t get it off my mind.

Trainers regularly work hard to teach people alternatives to endlessly saying “No!” to their dogs. Even those of us who know the pitfalls of the habit lapse into it from time to time.

But I seem to disagree with many others about what exactly those pitfalls are.

Here’s why I think yelling “No!” is a bad idea: most people who are doing it haven’t taught it as a cue for a behavior trained with positive reinforcement. It ends up as an aversive method and carries all the usual potential for fallout. It relies first on a startle response. If the dog habituates, then people escalate the aversives.

But that’s not the objection I usually hear.

The Common Objection to “No”

I read it again the other day, in a discussion advising someone who was dealing with an undesirable behavior by her dog. She had been telling her dog “No!” when he performed the behavior. Several people chimed in, pointing out two related things: “no” is not a behavior, and saying “No!” didn’t tell the dog what he should do.

Both true statements. But they point to a failure in training, not some magical property (or lack of property) of the word.

Eileen is sitting on a day bed reading a book about behavior. Her three dogs are with her, doing "naughty" things like pulling trash out of a wastebasket.
A moment when it might have been tempting to say, “No”

The statement that “no” doesn’t tell the dog what to do is also true for every single verbal cue we use—we have to teach the association. For instance, merely saying the phrase “turn around” doesn’t give the dog any information about what we want them to do, either. A cue and a behavior are two different things. We train the latter and associate it with the former.

R+ trainers commonly say two things that are contradictory.

  1. On one hand, we tell newbies any word can be a cue. This is true. “Lightbulb” can cue sit. “Resonate” can cue the dog to look at me. Trainers just have to remember them and be able to teach the dogs. Cues don’t even have to be words. A cue can be a hand on a doorknob, the sound of a car approaching, a time of day, or the odor of vinegar. This takes a while for most of us to comprehend, because the language aspect is typically much more salient to us humans than anything else. And we tend to backslide. We persistently mix up the meaning of the word with its function as a discriminative stimulus. I discuss this in my blog post, “Good Sit!”
  2. But then we also tell people that “no” is not a behavior. That’s also true, but not really relevant. When we say “sit,” “down,” or “lightbulb,” those aren’t behaviors either when they come out of our mouths. They are cues. “No” is not a behavior, but it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to indicate reinforcement is available for a behavior. We don’t say that a hand on a doorknob or the smell of vinegar can’t be cues because they aren’t dog behaviors.

Singling out “no” as uniquely meaningless isn’t logical.

The Real Problem with No

Eileen is sitting in a chair outdoors. Her young dog Clara has put her head under the arm of the chair and is prodding Eileen's breast.
A moment when I definitely said something suboptimal

I believe the root problem with “no” is that people don’t train it; the word doesn’t point to a behavior that will be followed with positive reinforcement. And if saying it doesn’t successfully interrupt the dog, people usually escalate. So “No!” comes to predict aversive conditions: nagging, yelling, stomping, clapping, or even physical aversives like hitting.

Dog trainers rightly advise their clients to start over and use another word if they are going to teach a “leave-it” or an interrupter, because most of us rarely say the word “no” to dogs nicely.

But we can. I have a friend who practiced for ages to use “no” as her leave-it cue for her service dog so she could say it in a pleasant and neutral tone of voice.

When I Yelled “No!”

Lewis, a brown and white dog, is on his hind legs, sniffing a container full of food on a counter.
A reenactment of Lewis’ countersurfing with a tempting but safe food

Believe it or not, I yelled “No!” on the same day I started this article, right after I was pondering this whole thing.

I make a baked dessert out of oatmeal, egg whites, almond butter, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate. A lot of dark chocolate. I warmed a piece of it that night on a plate and put it on the counter. You know what’s coming. I turned around and Lewis was countersurfing. He had his nose up, sniffing the dessert, about to take a bite.

Even though I have taught Lewis a leave-it cue, I panicked, yelled “NO!” and clapped my hands. I did exactly what I’ve been describing. I yelled, hoping to startle him, and when that didn’t work instantly, I clapped, with the same goal.

What did Lewis do?

He didn’t cringe or cower or run away. He slid slowly down from the counter and calmly came to me, expecting a treat. I gave him a handful, then I removed the dessert from his reach.

I haven’t trained the word “no” as a cue, but I’ve trained several other words that function to interrupt, and he is accustomed in particular to being called away from the counter. So to him, it didn’t matter what I said, nor, apparently, how I said it. Lewis associated a behavior (reorienting to me) with my saying “No!” because of other things I trained.

I taught him “Pas” (leave it), “Excuse me,” (put all four paws on the ground), and “Lewis” in a high, singsong tone (come here). None of those words or phrases “was a behavior” when he first heard them either, but now they signify good stuff if he performs the behavior I’ve associated with them. And by generalization, so did the “no.”

I used to train “Hey!” I carefully conditioned it to predict great things for dogs who come to me, since that was what usually came out of my mouth when I panicked about something that affected a dog. I even practiced it in an irritated tone, so the good reinforcer hopefully counterconditioned my cranky tone. You can see a demo here. I should do this with Lewis as well.

There is a lesson to be learned here. The positive reinforcement-taught cue for Lewis to get down from the counter is: “The lady says something while I have my feet up on the counter.” Yes, any word can be a cue, but often it’s not the word at all. We humans are the ones stuck focusing on the words.

And of course, I’m not suggesting that yelling “No!” to our dogs is a good thing. I’ve delineated the problem with it already. It worked out for me in that instant without fallout, but only because it resembled real training I had done. We might not have been so lucky. It would have been safer if I’d come out with one of my trained cues. I need to practice more, or maybe I should condition “No!” as well as “Hey!”.

Not Only a Semantic Argument

Zani, a small black and rust hound mix, is lying on a mat looking up at the camera. There is a big pile of pieces of something she has ripped up in front of her.
I don’t think I ever said “No!” to Zani

I thought hard before publishing this. It may give people the false impression that I am supporting yelling “No!”. I’m not! Or it may seem pointlessly picky. Maybe.

But my motivation is practical. Focusing on the word “no” and what it means or doesn’t mean feeds into the idea that cues drive behavior. If we center our argument on the word “no” not being a behavior, we are very close to implying that words like “sit” and “down” are behaviors. And this can strengthen our unconscious tendency to believe that dogs automatically understand language the way we do.

That’s the downside of saying, “No is not a behavior.” It adds to the confusion about words that are both cues and verbal descriptions of behaviors. Sometimes cues may describe behaviors, but it’s not necessary that they do.

I understand that the statements people make about “no” that bother me are shortcuts. Trainers don’t usually give a lecture on discriminative stimuli when first introducing people to R+ methods. And it’s true that people yelling “No!” are not usually thinking of what they want the dog to do; they are thinking of what they want the dog to stop doing. So it’s great to introduce the concept of training with positive reinforcement and get people thinking about building incompatible behaviors instead of repeatedly reacting in the moment.

I’m not a pro trainer; I don’t work with humans training their dogs every day. If telling people that “no doesn’t tell the dog what to do” helps most of them break the habit, then great.

But I bet there are others like me who eventually want to understand this stuff about cues a little better, and the claims about “no” can slow that down. I know, because it’s taken me 10 years to unravel even a little of it for myself.

Related Posts

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Just a Whisper: The Early Signs of Fear in Dog Body Language

Just a Whisper: The Early Signs of Fear in Dog Body Language

A white dog with brown ears and ticking, wearing a blue harness, looks at the back of a construction worker's trailer

It’s pretty easy to recognize intense fear in dogs. A tucked tail, crouching, panting, a tight mouth and wrinkled forehead, shrinking away. But my friend and coauthor Marge Rogers has taught me the importance of seeing the early signs. The whispers, she calls them, that precede the “shouts” that come later if we don’t heed the early warnings.

I caught a “whisper” on camera.

Exploring a Novel Object

The other day, I started taking photos of 18-month-old Lewis as he explored a trailer newly parked in front of the house next door. I’ve been taking Lewis on walks since a couple of months after I got him at the end of December 2021. Lewis is entranced by novelty, as long as he feels safe. That’s a bit of a paradox, maybe, but we usually find the sweet spot. And he investigates things mostly with his nose (no surprise!).

Since I was already photographing “curious Lewis,” I also caught on camera the moment he got nervous about something.

If you look at the photo above alone, there are two things you’ll probably catch: the front paw lift and his weight shift backward, away from the trailer.

After you look at it in context, you’ll see at least two more. Let’s back up to when he felt better about the trailer. The following four photos show him investigating it.

I took all of these photos within the space of one minute as Lewis moved along and around the trailer, exploring it with his nose. I was not giving him treats, as I often would while a dog is interacting with an object for the first time and could benefit from a positive pairing. I had made the call that he was comfortable and that the sniffing itself was likely reinforcing.

Lewis’ Body Language

In all the photos, Lewis’ tail is up and curled, and his ears are in various positions but not flattened against his head, which is what he does when afraid. In the first pair of photos, while he is on the grass, he is standing a little back from the trailer and reaching forward to sniff it. In the second photo, you can see that he is bracing his back legs. In the third and fourth photos, he looks comfortable being close.

Then this happened, also within that same minute.

A white dog with brown ears and ticking, wearing a blue harness, looks at the back of a construction worker's trailer. His tail is droopy, his front paw is raised, and his weight is shifted backwards. This is the same photo as the one that opened the post.

The most obvious thing is now clear from context: Lewis backed off. He created space between himself and the trailer. The other thing that is obvious when we can compare this photo to the others is that his tail went down to about half-mast. If you didn’t know Lewis and his normal tail carriage and saw this photo by itself, that might be hard to detect.

There are two things the photo caught that I didn’t notice at the time: he was not reaching forward with his head as strongly and he had shifted his weight backward. I didn’t notice because I got busy and gave him a treat, then led him a few steps away from the trailer. He recovered quickly and soon wanted to check out the trailer some more, and we did. He remained comfortable this time. We moved on with our walk after he sniffed it all up.

What Scared Lewis and How Bad Was It?

Of course we wonder: what was Lewis scared of? Once in a while in this situation, I find out later. But I think this time, I’ll never know. The bag sitting in the trailer appeared to be of insulation of some sort; Lewis gave it a couple of good sniffs and moved on. The last thing he sniffed before he backed away appeared to be the edge of the trailer behind the wheel. It’s also possible that the trailer shifted and made a noise, but I’m an auditory person and I usually notice things like that. I’m still betting on odor.

It would be nice to know for the future what bothered him, but in the moment, it didn’t matter. Whatever it is, short of an actual danger, I will do the same things. I’ll pair food or play with the novel object, and if he’s in over his head, I’ll help him get a little farther away from it.

There’s another thing we don’t know. That is whether the whisper was going to turn into a yell. But even with my limited experience, I’ve learned to take every whisper seriously.

I have previously seen Lewis get nervous, then downright scared, while sniffing something. On early walks, he often used to freeze and get “stuck” when that happened, getting more and more upset as he sniffed. That’s why I led him away as I gave him a treat. Taking a dog in public is full of these momentary decisions about how best to support them. Lewis is getting more resilient, so he may not have needed my intervention. But in any case, he bounced back.

Why?

A white dog with brown ears and ticking, wearing a blue harness, has his chin propped on a large green stuffed toy and is looking straight at the camera
Pretty boy Lewis

Why is it important to learn these more subtle fear-related behaviors? Because we love our dogs. We live with these wonderful creatures of another species. Caring about their welfare means learning what they are saying in their own language. And the more of their body language we learn, the better we can help them to live happy lives.

It’s imperative to perceive the whispers when socializing a puppy or working with a fearful dog. We want to notice before the fear is in full bloom. If we don’t notice early, we risk making them more afraid overall instead of helping them to be comfortable in the world.

Marge Rogers tells a great story about dogs and puppies whispering to us when they are worried. I decided not to replicate it here, since she tells it so much better. I stole her phrase and used it instead! But you can read her version in our book on puppy socialization (page 65 in the paperback).

Lewis went from cautiously curious, to comfortably curious, to worried, all in the space of 60 seconds. I missed some of it, seeing it only later on camera. But I saw enough to offer him a little support just when he needed it.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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Review of Pawnix Sound Cancelling Headphones for Dogs: Unlikely to Work as Described

Review of Pawnix Sound Cancelling Headphones for Dogs: Unlikely to Work as Described

A pink Pawnix headset for dogs and the box it came in

The claims made by the Pawnix company sound too good to be true. I believe that is the case. The company makes assertions about its sound-cancelling headset that are not possible with current consumer technology and for which they don’t provide evidence.

There are many products that market to the concerns we guardians have for dogs who are sensitive to thunder and fireworks. Like many of the others, Pawnix’ touted benefits are not well supported by evidence.

Sound phobia is a serious condition. If you have a dog who is sensitive to sound, please seek the help of a vet who specializes in behavior, a certified behavior consultant, and/or a veterinary behaviorist. These professionals often work together and can help your dog by changing his emotional response, implementing behavior change protocols, and prescribing medications.

When investigating a product that fits snugly on my dog’s head and contains electronics, I expect to find details on safety testing performed by the company, cautions and step-by-step instructions for conditioning the unit, and a clear assessment of the product’s strengths and limitations. After buying a Pawnix, I studied the instructions that came with it, studied their website, and watched their videos. I found none of the above. I came away with grave concerns.

Looking for Ways to Protect Dogs from Unwanted Sound

Many of you have read my post about how you can’t soundproof a dog crate, especially from low-frequency sounds. The same goes for other soundproofing attempts within the home.

Some have seen my presentations (my webinar Sound Decisions hosted by The Science Dog and my webinar “Beethoven for Your Dog…Really?” at the Lemonade Conference 2021) in which I talk about the weak evidence for calming effects of music for dogs, and the fact that music specially written for dogs has been unsuccessful in peer-reviewed studies.

So many disappointments! I hoped for the possibility of active noise cancellation for dogs. It would work best in an enclosure like this prototype crate by Ford, where speakers could be mounted at a distance from the target area (you’ll see why below). This setup would have a better chance of working for sudden noises like thunder than sound cancelling headphones, but when I saw the Pawnix headphones advertised, I still bought a pair. Then I reviewed the literature. It turns out I should have done that first.

Sound Cancelling Headphone Technology

My master’s thesis was on active sound cancellation in an enclosure. Active sound cancellation works by using one or more microphones to sample incoming sound, an electronic processor to compute a sound wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with it, and one or more speakers to play this computed “anti-sound,” all before the original sound wave reaches the subject’s ear or a target area in a room. (I can hear my professor wincing at the term anti-sound, but it gets the point across. It’s still normal sound, though.)

The sum of two sound waves 180 degrees out of phase is approximately zero

When I performed the literature review for my thesis, I included articles on sound cancelling headphones. The particular challenge created by active noise control (ANC ) headphones, as opposed to ANC in a room or enclosure, is that the length of the path between the microphone and the speaker is very short. ANC implements a race between the speed of sound and the speed of electronics. Speaking from experience, it’s easy to lose that race, even in a large enclosure. So being able to compute and output the new sound wave during the time sound travels about an inch from the outside to the inside of the headphone is a challenge. However, when the sound is regular and predictable, ANC headphones can be effective. That’s why the ones for humans are marketed for riding on planes and subways.

Current Headphone ANC Doesn’t Cancel Sudden Sounds

I knew the limitations of active sound cancellation in headphones in 2008, so I focused my recent studies on whether they have been surmounted. They have not. Experts agree that ANC still works best for low-frequency, periodic sounds, such as engines and fans (Kuo & Morgan, 1999; Zhang & Wang, 2021). Consumer products are not yet available for sudden sounds (impulse sounds) or sounds above 1000 Hz because of the technical complexities, although there is progress in that area (Zhang & Wang, 2021).

The limitations of active noise control in headphones mean that the sounds that bother dogs most, the things we are trying to protect them from, are the very ones that sound cancelling headphones can’t really help with.

Active noise control is comparatively ineffective on:

  • thunder claps (it may have some effect on the following long-term rumbles)
  • fireworks
  • gunshots
  • short digital pops and clicks
  • all digital beeps over about 1,000 Hz

The last three items can largely be addressed with passive sound control: the insulation in headphones. Some beeps and pops could be practically inaudible, and the intensity of gunshots could be lowered considerably. But as for the rest—insulation doesn’t provide much protection from low frequencies, and today’s sound cancelling headphones can’t significantly shield dogs from sudden sounds. A company that markets its noise cancelling headphones for thunder and fireworks is putting out incorrect information.

Pawnix’ Claims and Characteristics of the Headphones

This Pawnix unit is a size extra small, so a bit tight on mystuffed dog

The Good

  • Pawnix has a conservative limit for the volume of the sound output to protect dogs’ ears.
  • Pawnix recommends that the headset be worn in non-scary situations first, so as not to make it a predictor of scary things. (They do not thoroughly instruct how to create a good association through counterconditioning, though, nor do they link to the online resources that are available on the topic.)
  • The stated active frequency range covers dogs’ hearing range well: 10–40,000 Hz (although it’s unnecessary since consumer ANC is ineffective for more than 95% of that range).
  • Pawnix incorporates the option for playing music, which could provide a masking effect.
  • Pawnix headphones provide some passive sound control via insulation.

The Bad

  • Pawnix headphones have not been experimentally tested for efficacy or safety on dogs in a controlled setting. The only “evidence” of their performance Pawnix presents consists of perceived changes in behavior of one dog who belongs to the founder of the company. Here is what they say:

    “How Do We Know That It Works? First, we used audio testing technology to prove that the electronics were in fact cancelling the frequencies that were found to be problematic. Then, only after we felt it was mathematically sound, we put it on Emma in different loud situations and it worked. We could visibly see a difference in Emma’s behavior.

    I think the Pawnix company means well. But the above statement demonstrates a certain naiveté about science and evidence. The founder’s dog? That’s it?

    Without unbiased testing, there is no evidence that the headphones work as claimed, and there is no assurance that they are safe (see below about the missing safety warnings). I emailed Pawnix to ask whether they plan on funding a study, but they did not reply.
  • Pawnix explicitly claims that the headphones protect dogs from the sounds of fireworks and thunder. This is not possible to a significant degree. Check out these New York Times Wirecutter articles that include info on the limitations of sound cancelling headphones.
  • Several standard safety warnings and instructions included about headphones for humans are missing. You can read the safety instructions for Bose headphones to get an idea.
    • Pawnix does not caution to remove the headphones if they get warm or if there is loss of audio. How can we check them frequently enough for overheating? And how would we know if there is loss of audio? If one of the most respected makers of sound equipment for humans gives these warnings about their headphones, should we not worry about a company only a few years old that shows us no evidence of quality control or serious testing?
    • Feedback (often a crackling noise) can be a problem with sound cancelling headphones. How can we know if the Pawnix unit is generating it? Feedback could be a nightmare for a sound sensitive dog. The headphones might sensitize rather than protect. Here is an article about crackling feedback sounds from Bose.
    • So-called “eardrum suck” may be present on the Pawnix. This is an unpleasant sensation some people experience when wearing some models of sound cancelling headphones. It is thought to be due to the filters used to control feedback (see previous bullet). We don’t know whether dogs are vulnerable to this disorienting phenomenon. We need to know this, and we need to know if there is help for our dogs if this were to happen on the Pawnix.
    • The welcome video for the Pawnix includes the following statement: “The noise cancelling portion is a wavelength and always tuned up to 100%, because since this is a wavelength it does not hurt our dogs’ hearing.” This doesn’t make sense and raises doubts about the company’s knowledge of its own product. A wavelength is literally a distance. For example, the wavelength of a 200 Hz sound is about 5.6 feet. A sound’s wavelength doesn’t describe its intensity or volume. Every single sound has a wavelength (almost always a group of them) and this does not prevent loud sounds from damaging our ears.
  • Two design annoyances:
    • The built-in fabric hood prevents humans from testing the headphone output on our own ears and certainly appears that it would be hot for the dog.
    • The control button and status lights are underneath the fabric, which makes them hard to use and is also worrisome from a safety standpoint.
The status lights and control button are underneath the fabric and the USB charge cord goes through an opening

More Problems

“30 dB Noise Reduction”

The Pawnix, along with many other ANC headphones, claims a reduction of sound of up to 30 dB. This bears discussion.

First, when a company claims a 30 dB reduction in sound without specifying a frequency range, this doesn’t guarantee that any particular sound or frequency band will be reduced by that much. It’s an average. So, for instance, a low frequency rumble that we were concerned about might get only 10 dB of reduction, even if the sound overall is reduced by 30 dB. Some frequencies might actually increase in volume (see the scholarly articles linked below).

Second, the cap on the volume output of the headphones is a double-edged sword. It’s absolutely necessary; it would be dangerous to allow the unit to put out sound at a high volume. Dogs can’t turn down the volume or let us know why if they become uncomfortable. But a higher volume might be necessary to effectively cancel a particular sound. You can’t cancel a shout with a whisper.

Your Dog Can Still Hear You—But Why?

Zani listening

Pawnix states that your dog will still be able to hear you speak because they designed the headphones to cancel sound in frequencies that “affect dogs the most.” You can find this claim here, on the fourth page. A common way to exclude certain frequencies from an algorithm would be with a “band-stop filter,” which prevents a range of frequencies from being affected. The reason that this is a troubling claim is that the frequency range of human speech, 80–8,000 Hz, completely encloses the range where ANC works best. If they excluded that range, the headphones would hardly cancel sound at all.

Some headsets designed for human ear protection from gunshots claim to leave speech audible but attenuate guns. A common algorithm is for the electronic cancellation to turn on whenever there is a sudden, loud noise, but stay off otherwise. Then speech would be discernible during the quiet periods. This cancellation is not perfect—speech isn’t be very clear if the headset cancellation gets turned on by a gunshot close by—but is helpful combined with the passive control provided. However, this algorithm is probably not added to what the Pawnix does, since the company describes their process as selecting by frequency only.

The good news is that your dog can likely hear you just fine wearing Pawnix, but it’s probably because of inherent limitations to ANC and not a special adjustment the company made. Speech is unpredictable and irregular. That’s why your dog can hear you (and any other irregular noises like speech).

This may seem like a minor point, but it indicates a company that may not understand the technology behind its product and one that is not accustomed to how scientific evidence works.

The Paradox of “Relaxation”

Pawnix has in common with compression garments for dogs such as the Thundershirt that if poorly conditioned, it could shut down a dog. Some dogs appear to go into tonic immobility when swaddled. This can appear to some people that the dog is “calm.” This stillness and the caregiver placebo effect can both cause guardians to believe that a product is helping when it may be neutral or even harmful.

Somehow, we have gotten it into our heads that dogs who are freed of their fear and anxiety should just lie down and relax. Perhaps this is because of the sedative effects of some anxiety-reducing medications. Perhaps it’s because of the longstanding belief that quiet dogs are being “good.” But the opposite of a scared dog isn’t necessarily a snoozing dog. It’s a dog going about its daily business. It’s a dog exploring, eating, playing, and interacting with its human and animal family. And yes, sometimes napping. But not as a default.

I haven’t seen a dog acting normally in this way in any Pawnix videos. In the videos Pawnix provides, the dogs are motionless or moving stiffly while wearing the headphones. They seem unnaturally still; they crouch or sit with their heads motionless and often only their eyes moving. I haven’t seen a dog in a video wearing Pawnix with loose body language, soft eyes, a relaxed lower jaw, or anything to indicate they are happy and comfortable.

Extraordinary Claims

By stating that their headphones can protect a dog from the sounds of fireworks and thunder, Pawnix is claiming that their product can do something that the highest end human headphones currently can’t. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Any evidence would be a great start. Pawnix states they used audio testing technology to prove that the electronics were in fact cancelling the frequencies that were problematic. So how about they publish the data? Show us the performance of the headphones, not only with constant sounds, but with sudden thunderclaps and the pops and booms of fireworks. And if the headphones were tested when not on a dog, which they imply, they need to be tested on dogs for behavioral responses as well.

I hesitated to publish this review for a long time. I wanted to test the output of the Pawnix, but the headset design and my lack of the equipment to give a fair test prevented me from doing so. Finally, I realized it was not up to me to disprove that they work. Pawnix is the one making the extraordinary claims. They are marketing a product that fits snugly on dogs’ heads and plays sound directly into their ear canals. It’s up to them to give us solid evidence of safety and efficacy.

What’s the Alternative?

There is not a consumer product on the market that can protect your dog from the sudden, low-frequency sounds of thunder and fireworks or make him feel significantly better about them.

Clara wearing properly conditioned Mutt Muffs

If you want to try pure passive sound control, Mutt Muffs are effective at protecting dogs’ ears from engine noises and the company is straightforward about the capabilities and limitations of their product. They do not claim that Mutt Muffs help with thunder or fireworks.

For a dog with sound phobia or sound sensitivity, please see a certified dog behavior consultant, a veterinarian who specializes in behavior issues, or a veterinary behaviorist. And in the meantime, use careful sound masking to the best of your ability.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

References

Consumer-Aimed Articles

Scholarly Articles Cited

I Got Trained Like Pavlov’s Dogs—Then Things Fell Apart

I Got Trained Like Pavlov’s Dogs—Then Things Fell Apart

A black and rust colored dog lies on a pink mat. Dog is lying on her side and side-eying the camera

Rinnnggg! I learned to expect something nice when I heard that sound. Then things went south.

The Sound

When I first started out as a blogger in 2012, I used a hosting site called WordPress.com. Their smartphone app has a pleasant little notification sound effect. I soon learned that the app played the sound when I got comments, likes, or follows.

Here’s the sound effect.

The sound is an arpeggiated C major triad, in the 6/3 position, pitched high (the lowest note is E6 at 1,318 Hz), with a timbre resembling a celeste. For most people accustomed to Western music, it would be a fairly pleasant sound, a lot more pleasant than, say, a buzzer.

Positive Feedback for Blogging

Getting positive feedback is fun for any blogger. But when you are just beginning and have no idea whether anyone will want to read what you write, it’s thrilling to find out that someone likes it well enough to follow. Or when they simply press the Like button. Or the absolute best, when they leave a positive comment or a question.

I didn’t realize until I started blogging how important comments are. When you write, you put your stuff out there and hope people read it. Encouraging comments act as positive reinforcement. You want to publish more, and to do that you have to write more! It was a great feeling whenever I found out that something I wrote helped somebody and their dog.

I feel lucky (most of the time) to be a writer today when immediate feedback is possible. I think about the writers of yesteryear, for whom positive responses often came only after they were dead, if then. But I can write a post and get responses on the same day.

The Classical Association and How It Was Built

You can see where this is going, right? Here’s what happened when I first started blogging and got the WordPress app.

  • **Chime**: I look at my phone and see that someone liked my post
  • **Chime**: I look at my phone and see that someone followed the blog
  • **Chime**: I look at my phone and see that someone made a positive comment
  • **Chime**: I look at my phone and see that someone liked my post
A hand holds a smartphone and a bunch of like and other symbols float in the air above it

Et cetera. We’ve got both operant and classical conditioning going on. That’s always true, but it’s especially easy to see in a situation like this. I look at my phone when I hear the chime and get reinforced for doing so. But I also get a great feeling about that chime.

The chime was meaningless the first time I heard it (a neutral stimulus) since I didn’t know what it predicted. After a few repetitions, it predicted social approval. After a couple dozen repetitions, I started getting a surge of happiness when I heard the chime!

This is one of the clearest examples to me that the stuff that goes on with our brains and emotions is chemical. I could feel happiness wash through me when the chime played. And you can bet that whenever possible, I grabbed my phone to see what had happened. The pleasure that had at first come from a like or a follow or a friendly comment had moved forward in time. It started surging in when I heard the chime—even before I saw what had arrived on the blog.

The WordPress.com notification sound is custom, not shared by other phone apps to my knowledge. It’s beneficial for their sound effect to stand out. For me, as the end user, it facilitated the classical conditioning. It meant that the pairing of “the chime” with “cheerful news about my blog” was completely consistent, so consistent and distinct that I could feel my body chemistry change when I heard it.

Expulsion from Eden: The Association Changed

Portion of Michelangelo painting Expulsion from Eden: A serpent with a woman's head is wrapped around a tree.
The serpent from Michelangelo’s Expulsion from Eden

So it was bound to happen, but I didn’t see it coming.

What happened when I got my first nasty comment on the blog?

I heard the chime and got the thrill of joyful anticipation. I looked at my phone to see what had happened. I got an eyeful of vitriol! My mind and body were primed for a treat, and I got hostility.

The happy brain cocktail had started, but cut off as I felt an unpleasant flush. My skin got prickly. A wave of nausea washed over me. I was upset and hurt.

I sound like a real baby, and maybe I am. But the above is the best description I can give of my feelings. And from my amateur observations, it may be similar to what my dogs go through when disappointed and hurt as well.

I had been floating along in a honeymoon period, and it was not in my mind that someone would respond unpleasantly. Too bad WordPress couldn’t assign a different sound to nasty comments, eh?

The important thing was that it only had to happen once to completely change my reaction to the sound.

The next time I heard the chime, I had an unpleasant dual reaction. I momentarily had the old response, then the new unpleasant one washed in. The prediction of good stuff no longer held, and the purity of the chime was history.

And worst of all, there was still a prediction! Something was waiting for me! But was it a nice thing or an icky thing?

My negative commenter didn’t leave right away, so the negative feelings started being my principal response and the joyful reaction faded. Instead of happily reaching for my phone with a slight sense of euphoria, I looked at it with dread.

The Association Changes Yet Again

Fast forward a few months. I had had no aggressive commenters for a while, so when I heard the chime, I usually looked forward to checking out what was going on. I would never regain the pure joy reaction, but the chime had moved back into the positive side again.

In June 2013, I got an email from the WordPress.com staff that one of my posts was going to be featured on Freshly Pressed, the daily WordPress showcase. It was thrilling to have a post chosen out of the millions published each day. They didn’t tell me the date of the feature in advance, but I knew exactly when it happened because the chime on my phone blew up. It went off constantly for more than an hour. Wow! My post had been showcased for a potential audience of millions. All sorts of people outside the dog training community, including other writers, read my post and many followed my blog!

The chime went off at a very high rate for more than a week, and there weren’t any comments that were exceptionally hard to deal with, so all was well.

Cans of Spam on a grocery shelf

But about a month later, I noticed something. The flurry hadn’t quite died down, but my new followers didn’t look like real people from their usernames. This took a while to sink in. But when most of the usernames were things like reebok4ever, vi_gracheap, and gucciandcoach, I started to get it that not everyone who followed the blog or liked a post was passionate about dog training. They were interacting on the blog for a different reason. These bots and spammers would like a post because their icon and a link to their website could appear in a list at the bottom of the page.

Soon most chimes were predicting these spammer likes and follows. They greatly outnumbered serious followers, and I wasn’t getting any comments. So the chime became meaningless. Why would I want to know when another non-entity followed the blog?

I turned off the chime.

Dogs

This post isn’t just about me.

As a human, I have a big cerebral cortex and some cognitive skills that are unknown to dogs. I can reason and predict and justify. But I experienced the change of the chime physically, and the switch from yay to yuck was very unpleasant. Dogs have similar neurological chemicals and reactions to those of humans. And I can only imagine what it would be like to go from trusting that something great was about to happen to finding out that I might get whacked, without the cognitive skills to understand what was happening.

This is the classical conditioning version of the operant poisoned cue. I’ve written about the effort I made to replace such a cue that was negatively affecting my dog. Now, when I establish a classical pairing, or assign a cue to a behavior, I make sure in both cases that they predict only good things. Not only for effective training, but to be fair and kind to my dogs.

Here’s an example of a situation that could have gone south, but I managed to not let that happen.

I reinforce my dogs generously for getting on their mats. Most times, the mat itself is the cue. I reinforce “offered” mat behavior. So little Zani, who ceaselessly sought goodies from me, decided when we first got up in the morning and headed to the back door to run ahead of me and lie down on every mat. She was such a clever little cuss. Trouble was, she got underfoot, and some mats were in my way. I caught myself many times wanting to fuss at her for plopping down in front of me on a mat. There I was, stumbling sleepily along. I thought, damn, she should know better!

A black and rust dog is lying on a navy blue mat holding a sports shoe and looking directly at the camera
Zani on a mat with a shoe: a double bid for reinforcement

But she was doing exactly what I had daily reinforced her for doing. Mats predicted nice things happening. I hadn’t put mat behavior on stimulus control. And I was the one who put the mats in the walkway.

I know I mashed up operant and respondent learning in that example. But it was mashed up in the chime example, too. I have reinforced my dogs for being on mats so much that mats are classically conditioned as good, happy places.

So did I really want to create a similar nasty experience for my dear little dog? Did I want to switch without warning from “mats predict great things” to “getting on a mat can make Eileen pissy”?

No. Never. I didn’t want to dilute the power of her cues. I wanted that happy brain cocktail for her as part of our interactions always. And I still want it for all my dogs.

Copyright 2013, 2022 Eileen Anderson

This post was first published in 2013 under the title “Goodie or Doodie: When a Classical Pairing Gets Stomped On.” I’ve rewritten it substantially.

Spam photo from Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Angry Red Hammer Guy under this license. I cropped the photo, which originally showed that the Spam was misplaced in the Kosher section of a grocery store.

Serpent photo from Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain.

The smartphone illustration is from CanStock Photo.

The two photos of Zani are copyright Eileen Anderson.

No Stalking while Walking!

No Stalking while Walking!

A white dog with reddish brown ears and ticking is standing on grass and alertly watching something off camera
Lewis watching a man in the neighborhood move his trash can

I’ve been walking two to three dogs every day since April 2021. One of my goals is to give them the most fun and freedom possible within the constraints of walking on leash in a suburban neighborhood. I have a post in the works about the ways I work on these goals. But in the meantime, I’m sharing this fun contrast in the behavior of three dogs.

I minimize the control I put on walks with the dogs. They are on leash, but I give them all the freedom I safely can. I have very few “rules.” There are many paths through the streets of my quiet neighborhood, and they get to choose. I live at the end of a T intersection, so even at the beginning, there are three directions to go. I don’t have a rule forbidding backtracking, which makes for walks that are foreign to a goal-oriented human. One of my dogs (Lewis) sometimes takes “walks” that don’t even go anywhere and seem chaotic to this human. We often spend a lot of time with him doing power sniffing in my front yard in the flowerbeds. That’s his choice, so that’s fine.

A white dog with reddish brown ears and ticking is sitting in a street next to a driveway looking at something off camera.
We stayed here for about five minutes while Lewis watched a rabbit

A friend recently asked me what rules I do have. Keep in mind we walk in the suburbs, and the dogs are on six-foot leashes. I said 1) a dog can’t go over six feet into someone’s yard; 2) no staying out in the middle of the street for too long; 3) If there is a car parked on the street, we walk around it on the outside (the street side) together rather than walking in someone’s yard; and 4) the dog needs to follow my lead when I have to intervene, say, if a car is coming or we need to avoid something.

But I forgot one rule. The fifth rule is no stalking: no turning to follow other walkers at a close distance after they pass us. The funny thing is that all three of the dogs I walk with want to stalk, but for three different reasons.

Clara

Clara is curious. Even though she was formerly feral, and her human social circle is four persons big, she is curious about people. Just not in an affiliative or sociable way. She’s interested in the same way she might be attracted to an inanimate object with a novel smell. Plus people move, so that makes them more interesting! But not as…people.

When we were playing catch-up socialization at the shopping mall when she was young, she got comfortable enough that she wanted to follow passersby so she could get a good whiff. You can see it in the video at the above link. I let her do it sometimes in that locale, since stalking was less obvious with lots of people milling around. But if you are walking on a suburban street and someone passes you, they will notice if you instantly turn around and follow them. So I don’t let her do it immediately, although if she still wants to when they are a socially acceptable distance away, I let her follow or at least watch.

Lewis

Lewis is often aroused on his walks. He is reactive, but in an excited Tarzan manner. People and dogs thrill him. He might give off a bark or two when he sees a person, but if they beckon, he will be all over them. Literally all over them if I don’t intervene. We don’t interact with most people we see. There are three whom we stop and say hello to. But for those others who move on—nothing would make him happier than to follow them, see what they’re up to, and catch up and jump on them.

Choo Choo

Choo Choo is my friend and partner’s chihuahua mix. She had a rough start in life and has many fears. Over several years, she has learned to go for walks. She enjoys it and has become very courageous about new things and exploring on a microscale. Her behavior is an interesting mixture. When she sees people, she appears quite calm about them (except she hackles up). But as soon as they pass, she wants to follow and (possibly) catch up to them. Her philosophy is that the best defense is surveillance, and her experience is that coming up from behind is the safest. Since most people don’t enjoy being stalked by a small, intense dog, I don’t allow this! But we do stop and watch.

The Function of Following

I think it’s interesting that all three dogs want to follow the walkers who go by, but for completely different reasons:

  • Clara: non-affiliative curiosity
  • Lewis: reactive sociability
  • Choo Choo: fear

Their behaviors look different, too. Clara’s is calm and neutral; she is interested but not passionately so. You may see her sniffing the air. Lewis is excited and may strain to catch up. He might let out a yip or two. Choo Choo is hackled up and also intent on moving forward, but for the opposite reason.

If the people going by had wanted to interact, they would have stopped. So in all cases, I prevent the behavior. Unfortunately, it’s socially unacceptable. But if I were trying to modify it by training, I would need to know the function.

For Clara, there is no way to improve the situation with training at this point. Even though she will walk up to a stranger and accept a cookie, she does it as a trained behavior. She is polite and cooperative, but doesn’t want to be friends. So letting her trail people to sniff them can’t end well. Either they will be weirded out, or they may turn around to be friendly, and she’d rather not interact. In most situations, you can’t say to a stranger, “Hey, could you stand still with your hands to your sides and look at that lamppost while my dog sniffs you?” So I manage her behavior. The best I can do with passing people is let her turn around and sniff as they leave (but not follow them) and try to provide her with other interesting things to sniff and investigate.

For Lewis, we are working on his excitement, but not methodically. As he makes more friends, perhaps he won’t want to stalk people so much. With his existing friends, we practice not losing his mind (four on the floor and no jumping or pawing). And when people who aren’t his buddies (yet) pass us by, he gets to watch and sniff (but not follow) like Clara.

A white dog with reddish brown ears and ticking is standing in the street and watching two people and two dogs walking away in the distance on the
Lewis watching a group of two people and two dogs from a polite distance

For Choo Choo, we are working gradually on her fear. We do ad hoc counterconditioning when we are unavoidably close to people, and that has made her much more comfortable over time. She is also very decisive about turning away from anything she doesn’t like the looks or sound of. But I think it will always be important for her to monitor people we have passed, and she won’t want to stop tailing them. She doesn’t get to do the tailing, but as with the other dogs, we at least turn around and watch the people leave.

The Popularity of Stalking

I’ve learned that plenty of other dogs want to follow passersby!

If you walk your dogs on leash, do they want to stalk people or dogs who have passed? What do you observe as the function? Do you ever let them?

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

How I Taught My Dog to Sleep Later in the Morning

How I Taught My Dog to Sleep Later in the Morning

A white dog with reddish-brown ears and speckles lies asleep in a curved position on a colorful blanket
Lewis sleeps in

When Lewis first came, he had just spent 10 critical weeks of his puppyhood living in a vet’s office. He grew up keeping clinic hours. He was ready to get up in the morning between 5:00 and 6:00 AM.

Groan. Now, I’ve been both an early bird and a night owl, and sometimes, unfortunately, both. My current hours lean more toward the night owl. But the switch to getting up early was not the problem. The problem, and it was a big one, was that on Lewis’ schedule, I lost my morning work time.

My normal schedule for the past few years has been to get up sometime between 7:00 and 9:00 AM, then work in bed for a couple of hours before I take dogs out and do “getting up” chores. And suddenly my morning work time, my prime time, was gone. Because when I first got eight-month-old Lewis, we sure weren’t going back to bed after we got up.

There’s a Fix for This

I knew there was a fix for this problem; I had even recommended it to some of the desperate people posting about their morning woes on social media. “My dog gets me up at 5!” or “My dog is getting up earlier and earlier!” But I had some immediate panic. What the hell? I couldn’t do my work?

Then I reminded myself of the training plan and talked to Marge Rogers about it. It took every ounce of willpower I had, but I did it. I taught him to get up much later, and in general, to wait until I was ready to get up.

The Fix

This plan is for an adult or late adolescent dog who has no problem sleeping through the night without having to get up to eliminate. If you have a young puppy, you’ll be on their schedule for a while. In that case, don’t try this as I have written it. Lewis had already learned to sleep through the night, so we didn’t have to work around house training at the same time.

The concept is simple: it starts with getting up earlier than your dog.

This seems counterintuitive at first. It’s tough to convince yourself to get up earlier as a step toward the goal of getting up later. But it makes sense in the long run. Here are the steps I took, written out as instructions.

  1. For 3–5 days, record the time your dog gets you up in the morning. Include workdays and non-workdays in your record-keeping.
  2. Using the information you got, get up earlier than your dog, consistently, every day. If they’ve been getting you up at 5:30 AM, get up at 5:10 AM. Whatever it takes to beat them to it.
  3. Keep this up for a week or more at that oh-so-early time. You are teaching them a new cue for getting up or “dogs are active now.” Lewis’ previous cue, I assume, was the staff arriving at the vet clinic, and that was probably at a consistent time. He internalized that time of day as “time to get up.” I wanted his new cue to be me getting dressed. Not the time he got accustomed to before, and not just me stirring around (details about this part in “My Personal Challenge” below).
  4. Once they’ve learned the routine, write out a schedule to gradually and SLOWLY push the new ritual later. First in perhaps 5-minute intervals, then maybe 10-minute intervals some days. Not more than that, and not every day. Keep some days the same, or even get up earlier again. You are adding duration, and just as when you train a stay, bounce around a little. Don’t create a schedule that gets inexorably longer with no breaks.
  5. Now implement your schedule for changing the time. Be ready to adjust the schedule in case you have made the time change too fast. Again, this is like teaching a duration behavior.
  6. If you mess up one morning, and your dog gets up before you do, get up immediately. Don’t give them a chance to bug you. Also, do not succumb to the temptation to coax them back to bed. It probably won’t work. What will probably happen is that they will fidget and bug you, and you will finally cave and reinforce a long sequence of bugging. Cave instantly and you won’t teach duration behavior. If this happens, backtrack your schedule and get up earlier again.
  7. Be fair. This is for an adult dog, but don’t ask them to stay in bed for 12 hours. If you stay in bed in the morning, give them a chance for a late-night potty. Or teach them, as an offshoot to this plan, to go outside for a potty in the morning and go back to bed. And obviously, if your dog is in distress, drop the schedule and get up with them.
  8. Gradually adjust the schedule until you have one that is to your liking.
A tan dog with a black muzzle has her head propped up on the corner of a laptop while she sleeps on a bed. There is a white dog sleeping back-to-back with her.
Clara shows her cute teeth while snoozing on the laptop

If you have already reinforced your dog for nudging you, poking you, running around the room, rattling something, barking at you, or for any other behavior by getting up and starting your day, this will be a harder process. I’m not mocking anybody; I’ve done it all. It’s a hard cycle to escape. You can use the plan above as a jumping off point, but you will probably need to stretch it over a longer period and change the time in smaller increments. I was fortunate to start as soon as Lewis arrived, and that helped a bunch.

Also, I wrote this as step-by-step instructions, but such a plan doesn’t have “if” branches for all the ways things can get off track. There are plenty, and I can’t address (or even think of) all the individual issues. For instance, I didn’t go into detail about shifting the cue to something other than the human getting up, but I described below some of what I did. Non-pro trainers like me might need to consult expert help. But I hope this plain version will be useful for some people.

My Personal Challenge

My situation had a specific challenge. Because of my work habits, I needed to wake up but not get up. I needed the cue for dogs getting up to be a couple of hours after I got up. So once I taught Lewis the initial predictors that it would be time to get up, I tweaked them. I taught him I was going to stir around a little, then come back to bed and work, and dogs weren’t getting up yet.

Two dogs lie on a bed. One is tan with black ears, muzzle, and tail, and is stretched out. The other is white dog with reddish-brown ears and speckles. He is curled up but his eyes are open and he is alert.
The dogs wait while I do morning chores

Once I got him staying in bed until 8:00 or so, I started quietly, with as little fuss as possible, getting my laptop out at 7:30 and working for a half hour before doing the full “we’re getting up now” routine. I didn’t even turn my light on, which was probably bad for my eyes, staring into a back-lit computer. But I needed to decouple “Eileen wakes up and does stuff” from “we all get up.” And I did this while keeping the getting up time steady. I started moving it again after he was used to this addition.

He also learned my alarm going off was not a cue for us all to get up. He doesn’t even stir now when my alarm goes off. And he learned that Nothing Interesting for Dogs happens while I’m in the shower, so that was another way I could extend my morning activities before it was time for dogs to get up.

The Hard Part

Keep in mind: Lewis’ arrival in my life diminished my ability to work to about one hour a day at first (if I was lucky). I was desperate to work, getting behind, and starving for some focused time for myself. I had to absolutely force myself to hold to my pre-planned time of getting up before him. It was so tempting, while I was on a roll with some work and he was sound asleep, to tell myself I could cheat a little and work longer. But I didn’t do it. There’s that human tendency to push our luck until the dog does something “wrong,” then we can correct it. That sequence of events doesn’t work here! This is an example of a situation where it’s essential to minimize errors.

Despite the temptations, I held to my schedule. I knew I had to put up with diminished morning work time to create a permanent change in his behavior. I played the long game, and I won.

This is another example of the ways I have limited choices for a younger dog to give them more freedom in the long run. Grownup Clara enjoys our mornings in bed, but also can jump off the bed and look at me, and we’ll get up when she wants to instead.

The Science

What was the mechanism of this behavior change? Did I punish Lewis’ behavior of getting up before me? Did I put it on extinction? I think neither. I changed the antecedents. I established stimulus control for getting up out of bed in the morning. He still got up in response to an external cue; I just taught him a new one.

Getting up in the morning is followed by a whole crowd of potential reinforcers. He still has access to all those and also seems to enjoy lounging in the bed while I work.

Epilogue

The morning after I wrote the bulk of this post, Lewis hopped off the bed at 7:30, at least two hours before the dogs usually stir now. I instantly turned on my light, got ready to get up, but also invited him back up on the bed for a snuggle. He loves to do that after Clara, who has priority and seniority, has gotten off the bed. We had our snuggle, then I got up “first.” He settled down and waited while I did my getting up stuff and got dressed (that’s exactly what he’s doing in the photo above). He has practiced our system enough now that an occasional glitch doesn’t hurt anything. But mostly, he dozes through the morning as he waits for me to start the day. And after that one-day deviation from the schedule, he was back to lazing in the bed longer again.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Eileenanddogs Is 10 Years Old

Eileenanddogs Is 10 Years Old

A white dog with reddish brown ticking and brown and black on his face is lying on a mat very close to a tan dog with black ears and a black muzzle. They are both looking to the left.
Lewis and Clara in 2022

There are a lot more important things happening in the world right now, but I’m going to hoist a little flag as the 10th anniversary of my blog flies by.

I published my first post on July 21, 2012. I love writing this blog. It is my dessert after other tasks, it’s a refuge, it’s fun. I have published 367 posts.

I feel like I should write an overarching retrospective about how creating the blog has influenced and steered my life, because the effects have been huge and positive. But I don’t seem to have the mental energy. Instead, I’ll show you which posts have garnered the most views, then, for the first time, I’ll provide a list of upcoming posts.

Historically Popular Posts

Here are my top posts for all time. I was pleased that the post about the “smiling” dog made the cut.

Text:
Top Posts for all days ending 2022-07-13

"Does Your Dog REALLY Want to Be Petted?"
Home page/Archives
"Ringing the Bell to Go Out: Avoid These 4 Common Errors!"
"The Secret to Quick Non-Crumbly Homemade Dog Treats"
"No More Cutting! Make 500 Non-Crumbly Dog Treats from a Pyramid Mold"
"Is That 'Smiling' Dog Happy?"

And here are my most-viewed posts for the last year. (Not necessarily published in the last year.) I’m super pleased that two posts on dogs and sound made it to the top group.

Text:
Top Posts for 365 days ending 2022-07-13 (Summarized)
Text:
Home page/Archives
"I Just Show Him the Water Bottle and He Behaves—I Don't Have to Squirt Him!"
"Ringing the Bell to Go Out: Avoid These 4 Common Errors!"
"Does Your Dog REALLY Want to Be Petted?"
"No More Cutting! Make 500 Non-Crumbly Dog Treats from a Pyramid Mold""The Secret to Filling a Food Tube"
"How to Tone Down That Plastic Dog Collar Click (and why)"
"How Does Dog' Hearing Compare to Humans'?"

Posts in the Works

I’ve backed away from controversy lately, I think because the state of the world is so stressful that I can’t add any more stress to my life. But oh, I still have opinions on things. I currently have 233 draft posts in the works, ranging from 3,000-word tomes to just a title and a couple of notes. Here is a sampling.

  • Yet Another Fake Dog Video (or the title my friend Marge suggested: Stop Sharing Those Videos. Just Stop.)
  • Goodbye for Now, Dr. Premack
  • Conditioning a Dog to an Explosive Sound Like a Gunshot
  • What If My Dog Responds Only When I Have Treats?
  • Not Punished by the Poop: Decoupling Positive Punishment and Negative Reinforcement
  • Hard Mouth, Soft Mouth: How Does My Dog Take Treats?
  • Contrafreeloading: What’s Cool About It. What to Be Careful Of.
  • Does Licking Food Release More Endorphins than Eating? (Hint: Probably Not)
  • What If My Dog Is Scared of a Very High Frequency Sound?
  • I Got Trained Like Pavlov’s Dogs—Then Things Fell Apart
  • One Big Bite: Delivering Magnitude Reinforcement
  • Surprise! How the Rescorla-Wagner Model Can Improve Our Classical Conditioning Technique
  • Why I Don’t Use the Term “Consent” in Dog Training (While Training Similarly to Those Who Do)
  • Optimizing Freedom on Suburban Walks
  • What Happens When We Use a Cue Before the Dog Knows It? Maybe Not What We’ve Been Taught.

I’m sure there will be posts about Clara’s and Lewis’ latest accomplishments, as well.

There you have it: a peek into the blog’s future. I sincerely thank you for reading.

Photos from 10 Years Ago

A tan dog with a black muzzle looks out from under a staircase with a yellow tennis ball next to her
Clara in 2012
A sable dog and a smaller black and tan dog are together on a purple mat, looking at the person holding the camera
Summer and Zani in 2012
An old rat terrier in the snow wearing a red coat looks off into the distance
Cricket in 2012

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Experiencing a High Magnitude Punisher and Its Fallout

Experiencing a High Magnitude Punisher and Its Fallout

Black and white cartoon drawings of two stinging insects flying together in a threatening manner
Cartoon stinging insects, since I don’t want to trigger any phobias. See the link immediately below for photo of Polistes exclamans, the common paper wasp species that was living on my porch.

Photo of Polistes exclamans in nest

silver metal storage cabinet with a blue tarp on top. The cabinet door is partially open.
This was the cabinet on the day that I found out there was a wasp nest under the blue tarp

One day last summer (2021), I was on my back porch. I lifted a tarp I keep over my cabinets so I could close the door, something I’ve done without thought dozens of times. A wasp flew out from under the tarp at warp speed and stung my hand so hard and painfully that it felt like a blow. For a moment I didn’t know what happened, but my hand hurt like hell, and I realized that a stinging insect had gotten me and that there were more of them.

I yelled and scrambled back into my house, frantically scanning to make sure no wasps had come in the door with me. I slammed the storm door and the wooden door inside it. But the wooden door doesn’t latch all the way in the summer and wouldn’t stay shut. I needed to get away from that wasp and its colleagues so badly that I leaned on the wooden door with all my body weight for an embarrassingly long time, on the off chance that a wasp might be between the doors. I recovered slowly from my scare. My hand throbbed and started to swell.

A New Experience

I’ve always gotten along very well with stinging insects. I am a gardener and around bees and wasps a lot in the yard. I have gotten very close to paper wasps on my porch before, in many situations. I’ve always felt friendly toward these creatures and have never panicked when they buzzed around me. When I sit on my porch steps, I sometimes hear the wasps chewing on the cardboard I have stapled there. You can tell how close I was when I made this cute video of a different species of paper wasp to capture the chomping noises.

I’ve had a few stings in my life. I got stung by honeybees a couple of times as a kid when I accidentally stepped on them. I’ve been stung three times by yellow jackets as an adult, but these were not bad stings. In each case, they felt like “warning” stings, as if they weren’t full strength. These stings didn’t swell up much and went away within a day.

This was different.

The Surprise Factor

The sting was painful. But the shock was worse. I’ve written before about my experience of drinking a big swig of sour milk as a kid. The experience was a disgusting shock, in part because I didn’t understand what was happening. I was young; I didn’t even know milk could go sour. That intense experience changed my behavior for life.

a woman's hands palms down on a surface. Her left hand is swollen from a wasp sting
Three days after the sting, my hand was still swelling

The wasp sting was similarly shocking. There was a sense of disorientation that came with the pain. A moment of pure physical response, while I was confused about what had happened, knowing only that I was somehow under attack.

Now I know that the wasps had defended their nest, which was under the tarp. But at the time my body only knew to run.

Behavior Change

I received an aversive stimulus from the environment. For people who are more experienced with them, a wasp sting might just be a normal day, a minor irritation. But for me, the sting and the shock were of high magnitude. My behavior changed.

I was curious to see how extensive and long-lasting the effects were, so I kept track.

I’ve written about the fallout from the use of aversives, and this includes that fear and avoidance can attach to the location and other elements of the environment besides what directly hurt us. This is one of the many risks of the use of aversives in animal training. Did this generalization happen to me? You bet, even with my human cognition and the fact that I was analyzing the experience.

This one event caused fear conditioning, punished several of my behaviors, and negatively reinforced even more.

Changes in Emotions and Respondent Behaviors

Here are the respondent behavior and emotional changes I’m aware of.

  • The sound and sight of a wasp was followed by pain, so I underwent respondent fear conditioning.
  • After that, I experienced what is called a fear-potentiated startle reflex. I startled when I heard buzzing or when I saw an insect flying toward me. This response was heightened when I was in the area where the sting happened. Previously, these stimuli would have evoked only caution.
  • I retained a bad feeling about the tarp.

Behaviors That Were Punished

Punishment, even from a strong aversive stimulus, doesn’t always last forever. These behaviors stopped for several days, then gradually came back into my repertoire after I got rid of the wasps (see the reinforcement section below). Even then, most of the behaviors were still less frequent for quite a while.

  • I stopped moving the tarp. At some point I would have to, but it would probably be a long time before I reached up thoughtlessly to move it. That behavior was punished.
  • I stopped going out my back door and stopped hanging out on my back porch.
  • I didn’t use any of the tools from my cabinet, even though the door was open. Reaching into the cabinet was punished. The wasps might be in there, too!
  • I didn’t close the cabinet door because I would’ve had to move the tarp.

Behaviors That Were Negatively Reinforced

The first three of these behaviors were escape behaviors; the rest were avoidance behaviors. All negatively reinforced.

  • I ran away from the wasps.
  • I closed the door between them and me.
  • I leaned on the door and scanned for wasps inside the house.
  • For the first few days, if I had to go into the back yard, I went out the front door, then went in the side gate.
  • I did the same for the dogs.
  • I was hypervigilant when outside, and scanned frequently for wasps.
  • When I did venture out my back door, I closed it quietly and skirted the other side of the porch. These wasps were defensive, not out to get me, but I didn’t know where their nest was or whether there might be more than one.
  • I hired an exterminator. I hated to do that. I had a lifetime of experience getting along just fine with these small creatures, and I try to treat these little lives with respect. I hated to kill a bunch of them because they made their house in the wrong place. But I needed to use my tools and to close the door of the cabinet and to keep my dogs safe.
  • Well after the exterminator had come, I gingerly pulled the tarp off the cabinets. Wasps couldn’t live in there out of my sight anymore!
  • I laid the tarp out on the grass to “cook” in the heat for a couple of days, then rinsed it with water before drying it and putting it away.
  • I Googled a bit because I got a large localized response to the sting. My entire hand swelled over the course of about four days and stayed that way for another three. I found out that my high magnitude localized response might mean I would be more likely to have a systemic response (anaphylaxis) if I were stung in the future. This made me redouble both my reasonable and over-the-top precautions.

Aftermath

It’s now a year later. Most of my behaviors that were punished have returned to baseline, and I have some last remnants of the avoidance behaviors.

Until recently, all that remained was some slight watchfulness; I was no longer blasé about wasps, but the fear and avoidance had ramped down. I’m more careful than I used to be when they fly around me, but that’s about it. That lifetime of good and neutral experiences with stinging insects buried most of the fear.

Then it happened. One day last week, I went to the back door, opened it, and a yellow paper wasp flew in and lit on the inside of the door as I closed it. But I didn’t startle or panic. My former, pre-sting self was back in charge, even though I was in the situation I had tried so hard to prevent before: a wasp was in the house with me.

But this was a situation I had dealt with many times in the past. I kept an eye on the wasp and slowly opened the door again. The wasp stayed put for a while, then started walking around a little on the door. Then it took off and flew in the right direction (the porch). It circled very fast, then flew away. I didn’t startle or flinch.

A storm door with the key in the lock and a shiny metal chain hanging down from the key
Seeing the flashing chain out of the corner of my eye triggered a “WASP!” response

I was thinking about my behavior changes and how things had about gone back to baseline when the metal chain on the key on the lock caught the light as it swung. I startled! The proximity of the wasp had woken up that response again. The quick flash in my peripheral vision was similar enough to the flash of a fast-moving insect that the reflex got triggered.

I’m a little out of my depth to be making any generalizations, but I think it’s fascinating that my operant responses are mostly back to where they were before, but the automatic, respondent behaviors were waiting right there to jump into action again. Thank you, sympathetic nervous system, for remembering and working to keep me safe. Thank you also for reminding me of the persistence of the fear response.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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Photo credits: Wasp illustration is a CanStock photo. Linked wasp photograph is a public domain image by Alex Wild via Wikimedia Commons. Photos of the cabinet, hands, and keychain are copyright Eileen Anderson.

6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW

6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW

firecracker exploding in the air with lots of orange sparks

Is your dog scared of fireworks? Don’t wait until Canada Day or Independence Day to start worrying about it! You can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.

Get Ready

Here are some things you can do today.

1. Check with your vet about medications
If your dog gets very anxious about noises and you have never talked to your vet about it, do so now. He or she may be able to prescribe something to help. And if you can’t get in before the holiday, do your best with some of the other ideas here to get through it and call your vet as soon as you can. This is a long-term problem. Sound phobias tend to get worse and are not something to be taken lightly.

Continue reading “6 Ways To Prepare Your Dog for Fireworks Starting NOW”
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