eileenanddogs

Month: October 2013

Another Look at a Fearful Dog

Another Look at a Fearful Dog

A small black and tan dog sits in a woman's lap. The dog's ears are back, her mouth is tight, her brow is very tight. She looks, and is, extremely afraid.
Zani is petrified

Little Zani is not sound sensitive in general. She thinks thunderstorms and fireworks are great, since they predict spray cheese at our house. Things like vacuums and generators she is good with. And she hears various beeps, dings, and various other sounds from my computer and phone all day without any apparent adverse response.

So why she is petrified of the quiet chirp of a low battery from the smoke alarm I do not know. I do know that when she does get scared of something, it can take her quite a while to bounce back, as I described and showed  in The Look of Fear.

I am finally learning to change all the smoke alarm batteries on a schedule (Summer doesn’t much like that noise either, but doesn’t get in quite such a panic), but every once in a while one goes low anyway. Since I rarely know which alarm it is, I remove all the alarms in that part of the house and get them outside quickly. I usually take them to my office on the next work day and test and replace the batteries well away from home.

The footage of the video was taken about 20 minutes after the little “chirp.” Zani was still in full panic. This is one of the few times she wants to be in my lap, and she is insistent about it. Of course that is fine with me. I had already been sitting in front of my computer, so I turned on the webcam to get a minute of footage. This didn’t make her situation more difficult for her in any way; we just continued to sit there.

A small black and tan dog sits in a woman's lap. The dog's ears are back, the corners of her mouth are pulled back, her brow is very tight, and her mouth is open and her tongue is hanging out a bit. She is extremely afraid, but since her mouth is open from panting, some people might think she is "smiling."
This is not a “smiling” dog

 

It is hard to see, but she was trembling violently. You can see the panting, which is purely from stress. It was not warm in the house, and she only pants in the hottest of weather, and then only briefly. She doesn’t particularly enjoy petting at the best of times, so I just let her sit in my lap and lean on me, and spoke to her now and then.

The most clear sign of stress for me is the extreme rictus of the corners of her mouth (commissures). Even though we tend to associate the open mouth of a panting dog with a “smile,” the stretched commissures (and ears pulled back) tell otherwise.

Link to video for email subscribers.

I labeled some of the basic signs of stress, but there are many others. What all do you see?

After about half an hour I decided to see if I could distract Zani. She went outside with the other dogs, but quickly wanted back in again. She was able to respond to a cue to get on her mat, and a few bites of one of her favorite foods (commercial turkey meatballs) brought her back to herself and ended the panting and trembling, although she still wanted in my lap. I let her sit with me some more, and you can see some of the fatigue leftover from the fear response.

A small black and tan dog is lying in a woman's lap, with her head hanging over the woman's arm. The dog's eyes are closed or she is gazing downward.  She is exhausted.
The aftermath: Zani worn out from stress

We had one more hurdle, and that was going to bed that evening, since she had been in the bedroom when she heard the smoke alarm. But she came in of her own accord, staying close to me, then planted herself on my lap in the bed. By morning she was acting normally.

I plan to perform desensitization and counter conditioning to help her over this fear, but it will be very tricky. Since that noise is quiet anyway, it will be a real challenge to find a way to start with it quiet and/or far away enough that it doesn’t trigger the fear. I may vary the pitch and start with a lower frequency beep that doesn’t fall into the “scary chirp” classification. I know I can’t completely prevent these chirps from happening, and sound sensitivity generally gets worse over time. So I am very motivated to help little Zani with this.

Coming up:

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The False Hypothesis of the Pack

The False Hypothesis of the Pack

Hey! “Pack theory” is not a theory at all!

Observations of captive wolves in unnatural groupings led to "pack theory"
Observations of captive wolves in unnatural groupings led to “pack theory” –Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Theories vs Hypotheses

One of the biggest misunderstandings between science folk and lay folk is the definition of the word, “theory,” and here we are adding to that misunderstanding.

In science, the term “theory” has a specific meaning. It is much stronger than how we use the word in casual conversation.

From the National Academy of Sciences:

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.

Heliocentricity is a theory although there is virtually no question that the earth revolves around the sun. Gravity is also a theory. So is learning theory (take that, you quadrants bashers!).

Actually, the scientific meaning of a “hypothesis” is closer to what people mean when they say in everyday settings that they have a theory, although it too has some specific criteria for usage.

Also from the National Academy of Sciences:

A hypothesis is a tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested. If the deductions are verified, it becomes more probable that the hypothesis is correct. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis can be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.

Both theories and hypotheses can be disproven, but not proven.

Pack Theory

So why are we still using the term “pack theory”? On the one hand a lot of us are trying to teach people the scientific definition of the word, “theory.” On the other we are referring to “pack theory,” which was never was a theory to begin with.

It was an initial idea and statement about the natural world, and maybe qualified as a hypothesis.

This post is not about the incorrectness of the pack hypothesis. If you are interested, here are two articles I wrote about that. There are some original sources at the bottom of the post as well.

This post is just a small rant about nomenclature and its effects on thinking.

In addition to “pack theory,” one can also see references to “alpha theory,” and “dominance theory,” the latter even in a publication by the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior.** So I think putting a lot of energy into trying to eradicate the terms is probably useless. But personally, I’m going to try to remember to call it “outdated pack hypothesis,” or even better, “pack nonsense.”

Hey, I’m Not the Only One!

I was wondering whether to post this. Figured it might appeal only to other word nerds, but I decided to put it out there anyway. I did one more Google search, and found out that I got scooped! The wonderful trainer and blogger Sam Tatters wrote about this in July 2013! Here is her piece: Where We’re Going Wrong.

Thanks, Sam! I think you were right on target, and more succinct than I was. And why am I not surprised to find the “awesome” Yvette Van Veen chiming in over there as well!

By the way, no disrespect meant to L. David Mech, who is a scientific hero as far as I’m concerned. His book came out of those early observations of captive wolves, and he has corrected the misinformation and is actively rectifying the incorrect application of those early ideas to wild wolves. Here are an article and a video he made.

Thanks for reading! So how are you going to refer to “pack stuff” now?

Wolves
Wolves: Do you think this is a family group? (Photo credit, Wikimedia Commons)

**Comments by a couple of readers made me realize that the term “dominance” is in a slightly different category from the other two, since it is defined and used in ethology. But since it also doesn’t mean what lay people generally think it means, I’m not going to write extensively about that here. Dr. Patricia McConnell has the creds to do so, so here is one of her articles. Thanks, Cynthia and Laura in the Canine Skeptics FaceBook group.

Coming up:

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Leaving the Scene: Clarifying the Science of Negative Reinforcement

Leaving the Scene: Clarifying the Science of Negative Reinforcement

Hares escape a lot (if they are lucky)
Hares escape a lot (if they are lucky) — Photo credit, Wikimedia Commons

Negative reinforcement is really, really easy to get mixed up about. Recently I read something that quite bothered me until I did a little research and figured it out. I’d like to share what I learned with you. What I’m talking about is this:

When I take my dog away from the thing he is concerned about, I am adding distance. Therefore this is positive reinforcement.

This is contrary to what you would read in most learning theory books, but it has its own seductive logic. We are primed to associate the word “add” with positive reinforcement (or positive punishment).  I love puzzles and problems, so I decided to do my best to tease out what, exactly, the problem with this statement is.

I  actually found two problems:

  • One is the confusion between positive and negative reinforcement.
  • The other is the focus on the word “distance” rather than the aversive thing itself.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement in Training

First, a review of definitions.

In positive reinforcement, the consequence of a behavior is the appearance of, or an increase in the intensity of, a stimulus. This stimulus, called a positive reinforcer, is ordinarily something the individual seeks out.–Paul Chance, Learning and Behavior, 7th edition

The stimulus can be lots of things. An object (food or toy), an event (door opening). The dog learns that performing a certain behavior (e.g. sitting), makes this thing available. If it is a desirable thing in that context, the dog sits more often.

In negative reinforcement, a behavior is strengthened by the removal, or a decrease in the intensity of, a stimulus. This stimulus, called a negative reinforcer, is ordinarily something the individual tries to escape or avoid.–Paul Chance, Learning and Behavior, 7th edition

Again, it can be an object (snake) or event (fire alarm ringing). The dog learns that performing a certain behavior makes the thing stop or retreat, or lets him get away from it. If the thing is aversive for the dog in that context, the behavior that makes it go away will increase.

The positive and negative reinforcement processes are pretty different. But there are a handful of situations where it may be hard to tell one from the other. But usually, you can do that by identifying the antecedent. If the antecedent is the presence of an aversive stimulus, and a behavior is increasing, you’ve got negative reinforcement.

There are some people who have claimed that there is not a large difference between the two types of reinforcement,** and there are others who use that point of view to excuse the use of aversive stimuli in training, or do mental gymnastics to convert such use to positive reinforcement.  But luckily a well-known behaviorist has tackled those claims.

Examples

Here is one of the “strained” examples and how one well known behaviorist approaches it. It has been argued that turning off an electric shock in response to an animal’s behavior is actually “adding a shock free environment,” (and that adding makes it positive reinforcement).  That argument has been neatly dismantled by Dr. Murray Sidman.

He reminds us that a positive reinforcer must be something the animal is willing to work (perform behavior) to get. And if you take the bad thing (in this case, shock) out of the picture, a “shock free” environment is meaningless and can’t even be defined, much less worked for.

Let’s apply that method as a litmus test to some other examples. Let’s take out the “icky” thing and see what we have left.

These examples involve either negative or positive reinforcement or both.

• First, food. If you remove the drive of hunger (relieving the state of hunger can be negative reinforcement), is food a positive reinforcer? Yes. Anyone who owns a dog or eats dessert knows that. And I’ve written a whole post about it. You don’t have to be hungry to enjoy and be willing to work for food. Eating food can be both negative and positive reinforcement. (But as I pointed out in my previous post, experiments indicate that the positive reinforcement process is more powerful.)

• Now, how about using an umbrella to protect oneself from the rain? There is an unpleasant condition (getting rained on), you perform the behavior of obtaining an umbrella and opening it over your head, and you escape the rain. This is in most textbooks as a classic example of negative reinforcement. What happens if we say that using the umbrella is really positive reinforcement because you are adding the state of “freedom from rain” or even “dryness”? Let’s follow Dr. Sidman’s lead and take away the rain or other unpleasant weather. Would the behavior of opening an umbrella over your head get reinforced by the “addition” of a dry condition?  No. Carrying around and opening an umbrella is a tiresome, expensive behavior. We wouldn’t do it to add something so ill-defined and meaningless.

A black scorpion -- photo credit, Wikimedia Commons
A black scorpion — photo credit, Wikimedia Commons

• So now to tackle the scenario in the subject. Escaping scary things. Let’s say you are phobic of scorpions. If you accidentally get close to one, it is a great relief to leave the area and go somewhere that you believe is scorpion-free. You escape the scorpion. Now, remove scorpions from the picture. Completely. Not just that scorpion, or even scorpions in general, but the threat or mildest hint of scorpions. They don’t exist. What does a scorpion-free environment look like? Well, anything, right?  As long as there are no scorpions. And is it a positive reinforcer? Well, for starters, we can’t even describe it.  Anytime you start thinking of the environment you ran to as reinforcing, it’s because you are comparing it to one with scorpions or some other scary thing.

The Huge Variety of “Scorpion-Free” Environments

A scorpion free environment
A scorpion free environment — photo credit, Wikimedia Commons

Your scorpion free environment could range from freezing to firestorms to 200 mph winds to vacuum to a 70 degree Sunday afternoon,  and all could be scorpion free. That makes the “scorpion-free” environment impossible to nail down to define.

Not only that, but Sidman points out that the environment could be changing.  As long as it doesn’t have a scorpion in it, it qualifies as scorpion free. But reinforcers generally need to sit still. A piece of meat doesn’t usually morph into a paperclip, nor does a book turn into a clock. If they did, they would lose their reinforcing qualities for hungry people or bookworms respectively.

Reinforcers are definable and describable. I don’t believe a “scorpion-free environment” is.  Compare that to the simple description of a scorpion (ick). That’s very concrete. And to the clear action of becoming aware of the scorpion and getting away from it. The scorpion is extremely well defined. And many people (including me) can’t get away from them fast enough.

Can Distance Itself be a Reinforcer or Punisher?

Here is the second problem. Even if you are in the camp that believes that any negative reinforcement situation can be equally argued to be positive, there is still a big problem. Most of us have learned that using the word “add” is an indicator that positive reinforcement (or punishment) is at play. Something is added to the environment after a behavior that in the future leads to the increase (or decrease) of the behavior.

So at first reading, the idea of adding distance or space from something scary sounds at least similar to positive reinforcement. You are adding something (maybe). But let’s go back to Sidman’s exercise. If you take the aversive, scary thing out, what you are “adding” is nothing at all. If you are standing at the 50-yard line in a football field and move to the 20-yard line, what have you added? The distance or space are meaningless except as escapes from the aversive.

So here’s the important part. It is not distance that is being added or removed.  Distance is an abstraction, not a stimulus. It is the aversive or reinforcer that is being added or removed. Distance is merely a description of the escape (or approach) process. The aversive is the scary monster. Only it can be removed or added. Controlling one’s distance from it is just a way of describing the mechanism of the appearance/disappearance of the aversive.

Also, it is a trick of wording. If you wanted, instead of “adding” distance you could say you were “removing” proximity. Focusing on distance is a red herring. And it neatly removes the real aversive from the picture.

I wrote the following in jest, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that what I have written for the other quadrants is exactly parallel to the claims about adding distance being positive reinforcement. It’s just that the other quadrants are easier to understand, so it’s easier to be aware of flawed logic.

Distance

These are the results if we treat distance as the focus. They are obviously untrue. That’s because the aversives and reinforcers are not “distance.” They are the scary monster, the cookie, and the stick. If you talk about “adding distance” what happens to the actual thing we are trying to get away from? It falls out of the equation.

So did this help at all? Does it make sense? Hope so!

Coming up:

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**Note:

I should mention that there has been a movement for some time to do away with the distinctions between positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment. This is mostly because of the few challenging cases, and because the processes of reinforcement and punishment are difficult enough to discuss and explain without the plusses and minuses. But it is not usually argued that there is no difference between adding and subtracting at all. I’m working on a summary of that research, so stay tuned. But in the meantime–you will still see the plusses and minuses in any learning theory book.

 

But Isn’t it Punishment to Withhold the Treat?

But Isn’t it Punishment to Withhold the Treat?

It would probably be good to decrease this behavior
It would probably be good to decrease this behavior–photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Lots and lots of people think that if you withhold the treat you are punishing the dog. Some will ask the above question in a gleeful, challenging way, feeling certain that they have caught the positive reinforcement based trainers in an inconsistency. But let’s see what is really happening.

Here is a scenario. In the past, you have given your puppy attention and played with him when he jumped on you. But he’s getting big and you really don’t want him jumping on you anymore. You decide to teach him to sit to greet you. He already has a good reinforcement history for sitting, so the likelihood that he will do it in any given situation is fairly high.

So here you are with your excited pup and you are clicking and giving a treat whenever he sits.

  • Pup sits. Click/treat.
  • Pup sits. Click/treat.
  • Pup jumps on you. Nothing.
  • Pup sits. Click/treat.
  • Pup sits. Click/treat.

OK, what happened when the pup chose to jump instead of sitting? You didn’t click. The treats stayed in your hand, your pocket, or the bowl. (You meanie!) You stood still and didn’t react. You are paying for sits, not jumping up.

But lo and behold, the jumping up starts to decrease! Decreasing behavior means punishment, right? You must have punished your puppy for jumping!

No. Let’s look at the definitions of positive and negative punishment.

Punishment

  • Positive punishment: Something is added after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening less often. Example:
    • Antecedent: You approach your dog.
    • Behavior: Dog jumps on you.
    • Consequence: You step on the dog’s back foot, hard. (I’m not recommending this, of course. Just want a clear example of positive punishment.)
    • Prediction: Jumping up on you will decrease.
  • Negative punishment: Something is removed after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening less often. Example:
    • Antecedent: You approach your dog.
    • Behavior: Dog jumps on you.
    • Consequence: You turn around and leave.
    • Prediction: Jumping up on you will decrease.

In the positive punishment example you added painful pressure to your dog’s foot. (Please don’t ever do this.) If the dog finds having his feet stepped on sufficiently painful, jumping will decrease. In the negative punishment example you removed your presence and attention from the dog.  If he likes your presence and attention well enough, and if you are consistent, (and if there is no competing reinforcer–that’s a big if!) this also will cause jumping on you to decrease.

So that’s what positive and negative punishment look like. Now back to our original example. Let’s map it out as well.

  • Antecedent: You approach your dog.
  • Behavior: Dog jumps on you.
  • Consequence: You just stand there.

You don’t respond with physical actions or increase or decrease your attention. Admittedly, this is hard to do, and remember, the lack of response has to be from the dog’s point of view. Even looking down at them is a response. Future blog on this point!

The cookies stayed put
The cookies staying put

Nothing was added: therefore no positive punishment. Nothing was removed: therefore no negative punishment.

(By the way, some people who are very new to learning theory think that the above example is negative reinforcement. Sit, give treat = positive reinforcement. Then jump, withhold treat = negative reinforcement. No, no, no! It has an attractive symmetry, but that is not what the term means at all. Here’s a review.)

So What Is Happening?

OK, back to the first scenario, where you are working on sits with your puppy. Let’s say that after that one time when the puppy jumped and you didn’t treat, the puppy didn’t jump up again. Jumping on you decreased during training. Let’s also say that that decrease continues over time. Why isn’t that punishment again?

Because punishment is not the only process that involves a decrease in behavior. There is another: extinction.

Extinction is the nonreinforcement of a previously reinforced response, the result of which is a decrease in the strength of that response.

In other words, extinction is what happens when the behavior you used to do to achieve some thing doesn’t work anymore. So you stop doing it.

So here comes the big question, especially for those folks who think they’ve somehow caught us out on the withholding the treat business.

How Humane is Extinction?

As with so many things, the answer is, “It depends.” But in this case there is a pretty clear demarcation. In the Humane Hierarchy, extinction by itself is at the same level of negative reinforcement (which involves an aversive) and negative punishment (which involves a penalty for behavior). Not great as first choices. We know that from life. If a machine we use all the time stops working, or a method we use of interacting with another person we care about suddenly gets no response with no explanation, we are left high and dry. It is not fun.

However, extinction also happens in tandem with a process called Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors (DRA). This is how trainers who aim to train primarily with positive reinforcement use it. (There are other differential reinforcement methods, but this is a good general one to discuss right now.) It consists of reinforcement of an alternative behavior while reinforcement for the target behavior is withheld. Done with some care and skill, it can involve very little frustration for the animal, and it is one step closer to the “most humane” end of the Humane Hierarchy. And this is what is happening in the example above. As long as the trainer is being quite clear that sits are being paid for, the fact that jumping up on her no longer gets attention is not so hard on the pup. He has another thing he can do to get something good. He gets attention and food.

The trainer has communicated to the pup a new behavior to “fill the hole” where jumping used to be.

Japanese Drink Vending Machine
 

I’m borrowing this great example of how DRA works from my friend Kim Pike. Let’s say the soda machine at a workplace is not working. People will push the button repeatedly. Some will perhaps pound on the machine or kick it. This is typical when extinction is in play by itself. The people have no alternative, and get frustrated. (I’ll be covering extinction bursts and and extinction aggression in a later post.) Gradually people will stop going to the machine and give up pushing the buttons. Individuals will probably forget, and now and then go try the machine again, then perhaps give it another kick or shove. But after a while no one goes to the machine anymore.

But when the soda machine is fixed, there will likely be a crowd of people ready to buy their sodas. It’s easier than going to the corner store, and involves less planning than bringing drinks from home. The behaviors attendant to getting a soda are all still fluent and easy for people to perform. And they once again get reinforced.

However! What if, when the machine broke, someone immediately set up a system where folks could buy a soda they liked as well or better for less money? Perhaps there was a cooler, or an honor system with soda in the fridge. If that alternative were in place immediately, would the thirsty people typically have experienced the same level of frustration at the broken machine? Nope! (Except perhaps for the engineers and mechanics, grin.)

And the most important question: What will the folks who just want a soda do when the machine gets fixed? As long as the cheaper, better alternative is still available, they will keep heading for it. The machine will have become irrelevant. Maybe once in a while someone will forget, and go to the machine. But they’d then remember that they can get a better drink, cheaper, out of the fridge.

This is what we are doing when we allow an extinction process in tandem with positive reinforcement of an alternative behavior. We clearly offer the animal an attractive alternative and remind them of it to keep it front and center. It’s important that the reinforcer for the new behavior be the same or better than that of the old behavior. This makes for a process with much less frustration.

Extinction in a Specific Circumstance

In my post, How Do I Tell My Dog She’s Wrong? I address “failing to click” during a training session. I feature a short video example from the great trainer Sue Ailsby teaching her young Portuguese Water Dog, Sync, to stand and stay. In the video you can see Sync’s immediate bounce back after the couple of times she tries something other than a stand and doesn’t earn a click.

In that case, sits and downs are not going to decrease into oblivion in every situation, as we might want the jumping up to do in our other example.  But they will go into extinction during training sessions of “Stand” and later when Sync learns a cue for it. Since  dogs can discriminate this easily, it also tells us that when we want a behavior to go away completely, we need to practice reinforcing our alternative behavior in many locations and situations.

Conclusion

So in answer to the critics, no, withholding the cookie in itself is not punishment. And if used in tandem with reinforcing another behavior, it is quite humane. If we put even a moderate amount of thought and planning into the situation, we can set the dog up to succeed. There will be minimal frustration when he does miss the mark on occasion and fails to earn the treat.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on extinction. I’ll be talking in more detail about what happens when extinction is used by itself, and comparing that with differential reinforcement in some human and dog case studies.

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Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

Light can come in but they can't see out!
Light can come in but they can’t see out!

Do you have a reactive dog, or one who simply barks too much at things he sees out the window? And do you also care about how your house looks and value natural light ?

There is something you can do about it. Here’s my story, complete with a video of before and after behavior from the dogs.

The Barking Platform

I have a raised area on one end of my den that creates a nook by the window. I have had a day bed there as long as I’ve lived in the house. The day bed has always been a favorite dog hangout, with the added bonus that it lets them look them out the window.

Summer and Cricket barking at a pedestrian
Summer and Cricket barking at a pedestrian

Here is a picture from 2008, actually a still from a video of Cricket and Summer barking frantically at a pedestrian on my street. You can see the clip in the movie below.

The frantic barking (and pounding on the window panes by Summer) was a problem, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I felt like their ability to see out was valuable and a form of enrichment for when I wasn’t there. At least they could watch the world go by, I thought.

What I didn’t know was this:

  1. A lot of their barking was from fear, especially on Summer’s part. She didn’t like seeing dogs, cats, mail carriers, pedestrians, or bicycles. They made her nervous. She was barking to get them to go away.
  2. In Summer’s mind, it worked. Every creature, person, or machine that has ever been in front of my house has eventually left. A great percentage of those times, she was barking. Ergo, the barking got reinforced. That is clear because the barking has increased in frequency and intensity. Summer has since expanded her horizons to also bark at delivery trucks, the mail truck, and even pickups.
  3. Practice makes perfect. If my dog’s default response to seeing another dog through the window is frenzied barking, snarling, lunging, and banging on the window (as you can see in the movie), those habits could very well express when she sees dogs in person. Aggressive behaviors are being reinforced.
  4. I was unknowingly putting my smaller dog Cricket in danger. You can also see from the video that both dogs are quite frenzied. Although she never did in that situation, Summer could easily have redirected aggression onto Cricket. I was just lucky that it didn’t happen.

I didn’t know any of this then. But as I learned more about dog training and dog behavior, I realized that providing the dogs a barking platform was not ideal. As I became more aware of the detrimental affects, I managed the situation, not leaving them in that area unattended.

Then in 2011 came Clara, bringing the household up to four dogs. By that time I was keeping Summer and Cricket permanently separated.   I also kept Summer and Clara separated during Clara’s young puppyhood. And I kept Clara and Cricket generally separated as Clara got older. With this complex a situation, I had to use my whole house, and I couldn’t supervise all dogs at all times. And I knew one thing: I didn’t want Clara learning the “barking on the platform” routine. I worked proactively with classical conditioning to prevent her picking up Summer’s barking habits in general. See: “The Barking Recall” and “Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking.”  I also knew I needed to do something about the window.

(Interestingly, Zani has remained uninterested in that activity and has not developed reactive habits. Yay, Zani!)

The terrible era of the bed against the wall
The terrible era of the bed against the wall

But I knew Clara would soak it right up. And the stakes are so high with her being feral. I didn’t want to do anything to feed reactive or aggressive behaviors, especially since I am working constantly to instill the opposite with her. So when she started getting old enough to be interested, I stripped the bed and propped part of it against the wall and part in front of the window. I don’t have many photos since it was unsightly and depressing, but here is one.

The Fix

Then Marge Rogers told me about window film. She had used a company called Decorative Films when she needed absolute privacy for a shower window. When she found out how completely effective it was in preventing visibility (even at night with shower light on), she thought of the possible applications for dogs. I took a look at the company’s website and was really impressed, but didn’t do anything for a while. Then a FaceBook friend (Hi Kim C!) posted about how easy it was, so I took the plunge. But instead of buying online, I decided to just get some window film at Home Depot.

That didn’t work out well for me, although it does for plenty of other people. I’m moderately handy, but I couldn’t get the stuff to stick right and it was a real mess. I asked Marge to grill her husband about the kind they got and some details about installation, and I decided to order some online. Cool thing: Decorative Films will send you up to five free samples! There are a lot of really beautiful ones, but I wanted to go for the most blocking possible, plus it’s a front window, so I got a really plain one. The name of the film I got is Clear Sand Blast.

Detail of window film
Detail of window film showing my little flaws

Another cool thing about the company is that you can buy the film in different widths. I got a skinny roll–12 inches wide–since I had multiple small panes to do. That was enormously helpful. I think the whole project took 4-5 hours (I cut 24 panes, even though I ended up installing only 18 of them). That includes washing the window panes and cleaning the frames.

And although it would have been easier with two people, I was able to apply the film by myself. The instructions and the tool kit you can buy for $2.99 are great. You can see from the closeup that I didn’t do a perfect job–there are some wee gaps between the film and the frame, and a few bubbles in the corners, but it looks good enough for me and gets the job done.

I decided to leave off the top row of panes because the dogs couldn’t see anything up that high, but I could see the trees and sky that way. I have the pre-cut pieces if I ever change my mind. I can also remove the existing film easily. It is well secured, but it  comes off easily and doesn’t leave anything gummy.

By the way, I am not affiliated with Decorative Films. Just a very, very happy customer.

Other Options and Resources

Emma Judson recommends Purlfrost for the UK folks.

And here are two other online companies I found in a casual search. They both feature film that stays in place by static cling, with no adhesive. But I have no experience with that. (And I suspect it might not have worked in Marge’s shower!)

Window Film World

Wallpaper for Windows

Also keep in mind that you can get similar products at Home Depot and Lowe’s in the U.S.

Finally, Tena Parker of Success Just Clicks, who provided one of the photos below, has two nice posts on window film and other ideas for helping reactive dogs in the home. Here they are.

Living with Reactive Dogs–Home Improvements

Resolving Window Reactivity–Part 2

The Proof

My poor deprived dogs can’t see anything out the window anymore. (That’s a still from the “before” part that you see in the video embed!)

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Here are more pics by some friends who also are very happy with window films. Click on any image for a bigger version.

Management

Putting up window film doesn’t “cure” reactivity or aggression. It is management. But it prevents the dogs from practicing behaviors you don’t want, and getting themselves all worked up many times a day. Not to mention relieving the humans from a lot of barking! Even if you have a training plan regarding barking and reactivity, you will need to include management such as this to prevent practice of the behaviors.

Anybody have more tips for creating a lower stress environment for an anxious or reactive dog?

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Places! Mat Training for Multiple Dogs

Places! Mat Training for Multiple Dogs

Assigned mats!
Assigned mats! Sorry about your front legs, Summer, but I clearly haven’t been firm enough about “on the mat” criteria, have I?

I recently got a new reader with multiple dogs (Seven of them! Hi Donna!) who was very complimentary about my posts on that topic. I respond very well to positive reinforcement, so here is another “multiple dogs” post.

The previous post I am most proud of discusses our work on individual releases. They come in so handy! And thinking about it made me realize I’ve never written about our specific mat training for the kitchen. Perhaps it may be helpful for some others. It has been very useful to me.

Last year as I was struggling along with pushy Clara, I decided to create “Assigned Seats” in the kitchen. I train all my dogs to get on mats and stay there, both on cue and as an offered behavior. I generally have mats strategically placed all around the house (i.e. strewn around). Most of the time it is “finders, keepers” for who gets what mat. But I wanted to get Clara out of the way of the other dogs and decided to teach them each to get on a particular mat when in the kitchen.

I bought Clara a special elevated bed, and she liked it right off, which was great. It’s a little less convenient to jump off of than just a mat on the floor, so it helped with the stay as well as designating exactly where her place was. Summer and Zani got to go in their long-term preferred places in front. Later Clara chewed up one of the four plastic legs of the bed, so it is propped on three, but she still likes it. I’ll get another bed one of these days.

I actually wrote a training plan for the behavior, and mostly followed it, although the dogs all progressed faster than I expected.

I chose a unique cue for the behavior since it wasn’t just go to mat, it was go to a particular mat. My cue was “Places!” in a singsong tone. Here’s the training plan.

Training Plan for Places in the Kitchen

Behavior: Dogs get and stay on assigned mats in kitchen on verbal cue until released. Goal duration 15 minutes.

 The point of this behavior: Give each dog an assigned place, with Clara positioned so she can’t harass the other dogs or resource guard me. Work up duration methodically and in a disciplined way with a new cue. I haven’t been methodical enough with their generic go to mat cue.

Steps

  1. Use high value treats. Shape each dog, separately, onto their assigned place without other mats or dogs in the room.
  2. Practice repetitions.
  3. Teach them the new cue for going to this specific place: “Places!”
  4. Work each dog, separately, up to a 5 minute stay at their place, including moderate kitchen distractions.
  5. Switch to a different physical mat in the same place so the dog knows it is the place, not the mat, that is assigned. Remove cue if necessary to reshape the behavior.
  6. Take cue off. Add the other dogs’ mats into the room and reshape the behavior, only rewarding when they get onto their own place. Move myself and the dog around the room for different approaches.
  7. Put the cue back on when they are very solid about ignoring the other mats: 80-90%.
  8. Run a test with each pair of the three dogs. See how well they can perform their behavior with one other dog in the room. Decide if anyone needs more practice by herself. Do repetitions.
  9. When everyone is at about the same level, practice going to place with each pair with the cue.
  10. Also have one dog in there already and send another in on cue.
  11. Practice duration up to 5 minutes with each pair.
  12. Run a test with all 3 dogs together. Decide if any individual needs more practice at a lower level or if any pair is a problem.
  13. Repeat Steps 8-11 with all three dogs.
  14. Work behavior duration up to 15 minutes with period between treats up to 5 minutes.

Possible distractions besides the usual body  movements: walk into main kitchen area. Stand still looking at them. Open fridge, drawers, cabinets. Sit on floor. Stand staring into space. Sit down at the table. Drop food. Put things on the floor. Keep back turned. Leave kitchen. Treat another dog. Pet another dog. Act like I’m done training (without release).

Here is the finished behavior.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

By now duration is not an issue. They are often there for 40 minutes or more while I cook. Clara is so good about staying on her place that if I throw her a treat without releasing, and the throw is bad, she just stays on her bed and watches Summer break her stay to go running after it. (Obviously, I reinforce Clara heavily for staying put!)

Oh by the way, I love having behaviors that are cued by actions and situations rather than verbal cues, and I have experimented over the years with having my walking into the work area of the kitchen be a cue for everyone to get on their mats. It often happens that way, but it is not a strong cue since I tend to walk in and out so much. So if I am going to be in the work area for any length of time and they want to be in the kitchen, I use the verbal cue.

Gratuitous adorable picture of baby Clara on on mat
Gratuitous adorable picture of baby Clara on a mat

I do have to be vigilant, because if I forget, Clara will start drifting forward and get on one of the front mats instead. But the good news is that she will yield if she is on another dog’s mat if that dog approaches. You can see her do that in a couple of the takes in the movie.  (Yay Clara! I never thought I would see the day!)

Watching the movie made me a little concerned about Clara’s running to Summer’s mat first, even though she yielded. With a little experimentation, though, I found out that the only time she doesn’t run straight to her bed is when I call them all in from the front room (when they run in from the right). I did that for a little variety in the video, but never in real life. We can just go back to Step 6 and practice that approach to get a fluent response.

But there’s always Summer’s scooching forward and stretching the definition of “on the mat,” isn’t there? I’m never quite done, even when I think I am!

Any other multiple dogs tips out there?

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

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