eileenanddogs

Month: November 2013

Sharing the Blog

Sharing the Blog

Share!
Share!

Every once in a while someone asks me if it’s OK to share one of my posts or videos, or perhaps link to them from their webpage. How polite of them to ask!

And, um, the answer is YES! If you want to, please link. If you are moved to, please share.

I decided to write this invitation since I deliberately do not plead with people to share my stuff, to sign up to follow the blog, or to Like my FaceBook page. Those options are there for those who want them, but I promote them almost not at all.

It occurred to me, since people ask, that people may not really know that I would love my stuff to be shared around. So here is an invitation.

Pressure Tactics

I write a lot about negative reinforcement. One of the reasons, I admit, is that I personally hate pressure, nagging, and attempts to influence my behavior, especially by self-interested people. A good friend says of me, “You’ll get along just fine with Eileen as long as you don’t try to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do.” I have a huge opposition reflex.

Applying pressure on the web is easy. You know those pop up windows that either prompt or actually require you to put in your email address before you can see some content? That, my friends, is classic negative reinforcement. Even without the annoying window, it can be R-, if the reader feels pressure to sign up for something or share personal information or take any particular action in order to get to something that interests them.

Here’s one that popped up while I was reading the first few paragraphs of an article. I decided it wasn’t worth it. Even though they gave an option to bypass the window, I decided I didn’t like them anymore.

Caption
A pop up window that came up multiple times while I was glancing at an article

Here’s one that appeared after I scanned an SEO company and decided I wasn’t interested and was heading for the button to close the window.

A popup that appears when you try to leave this website
A pop up that appears when you try to leave this website without signing up for their services

After that I really wasn’t interested!

You won’t see popups on my blog or FaceBook page, as long as I am in control. (I can’t imagine a situation where I would lose that control, but I tend to avoid absolute statements. Especially regarding FaceBook!) And as long as I have the means, and the online providers don’t change the rules, you won’t see ads or anything else you have to click away on my blog or YouTube channel.

I do have empathy and respect for people who earn their living, or part of it, through providing online products and resources. I understand that the basic marketing principle is to provide some information for free, develop an email list, and use it to sell the product. Lots of folks are very generous with their information, and it’s fair to promote their goods or services that have a price tag as well. But just FYI, you marketers out there, I personally don’t respond well to:

  • Popups that appear before I can see anything at all on the website;
  • Popups that appear when I’ve spent 30 seconds on a website just trying to get the sense of it;
  • Popups that appear repeatedly after I close them;
  • And popups that appear when I try to leave.

It’s so ham-handed. I can make my own decisions, thank-you-very-much. Buh-bye.

I will certainly sign up for someone’s email list on occasion if they take a low pressure approach and put a signup box on the page somewhere, or if a popup comes up after I click to say I’m interested. And I have been known to pay for an ebook or other resource from someone after I sign up for their email distribution list. I’m not looking for a free lunch. I just want to make decisions on the merits that I perceive, not because someone got pushy.

There’s a difference between making it easy to buy something and hard not to.

My, this turned into a little bit of a rant, didn’t it?

Spreading the Word

So given all that, I’m an unlikely candidate for a proselyte, but that just goes to show you never know where life will take you.

One of my big motivations for writing is to share the message about training as free from force, pain, and pressure as we possibly can. Sure, I have an ego. I’m a writer. I want to be read. But I have an additional motivation. I want to share good training practices with the people who are teetering on the edge of what methods to use and are tired of battling with their dogs. I also want to reach those who always knew that was the way they wanted to go and support them. Anyone who wants to listen. I get huge positive reinforcement when people respond to my posts, riff off them, and spread them around.

So, I’m saying to you: if you think my stuff is helpful, I would LOVE it if you share it.

One of the main ways that a website, including a blog, gets ranked highly on Google is if other sites link to it. And sites that rank highly on Google get on the first page of results. For instance, wouldn’t you love it if this site came up high in the results if someone is searching on terms related to shock collars?  I would.

What to Share

Share whatever you like the most, feel the best about, and whatever you think will help spread the word about training without pressure and pain.

In the menu at the top of the blog, there are four menu items that lead to topical pages, but I will link them here as well:

But there are lots of posts that don’t fit into those categories. Along the sidebar there is a search box where you can look up an old favorite; a list of the currently most popular posts; and an archive where you can view older posts  by date.

How to Share It

At the bottom of each post and page is a panel that says “Share this:” with lots of sharing options. Feel free to pick one and click it! And if you have your own website or blog, feel free to link to any posts here that you like. You can highlight the URL at the top of your browser, copy it, and paste it to share.

How to Follow the Blog

In case you didn’t know of these options:

  • If you want WordPress to send you an email every time I publish a post, click “Follow Blog via Email” in the sidebar at the left.
  • If you want to follow me on Twitter, click here, then click Follow. I am not very active there, but I do tweet every new post and the occasional post from someone else.
  • If you want to get an announcement of each post on FaceBook, you can Like my FaceBook page.
  • If you want to follow via RSS, click on the RSS link in the sidebar.

Other Favorites

Just to share the love a little, here are my current top four favorite posts from other folks. Feel free to share them, too! (Note that I am breaking a cardinal rule here, and may be shooting myself in the foot by sending you off somewhere else right at this crucial moment. But hey, these are GREAT posts.)

Thank you, most of all, for reading!

And for sharing if you choose to.

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Summer Learns An Alternative to Being the Fun Police

Summer Learns An Alternative to Being the Fun Police

Sweet little Summer
Sweet little Summer

I have mentioned before that my dog Summer is reactive. Reactive has come to refer to a dog who reacts strongly (and inappropriately in the human’s view), usually with an aggressive display, to some specific triggers. Some of Summer’s triggers are strange dogs (in some settings), strange men (in even more settings) delivery trucks, certain noises other dogs make, and rowdy play on the part of her housemates. The latter earns her the moniker of  a “Fun Police” dog. She tries to stop the other dogs when they do things that bother her, and she is not very nice about it.

She does not have the finesse of a dog who merely “splits” the other dogs away from each other, or tries to herd someone away. She is not any kind of peacemaker. What she does is dash into the middle of the play, growling , snapping, and even biting. Since the other dogs are typically already aroused, this is dangerous.

How About an Incompatible Behavior?

I have discussed the process of Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible Behavior (DRI) before. This means you teach the dog, via positive reinforcement,  to do something that is incompatible with the original behavior whenever the triggering situation (antecedent) arises. I have examples of DRI in my post of examples of the steps of Humane Hierarchy, and in the post and video about teaching Clara an alternative to jumping up and mugging my face.

In the “Fun Police” example I have chosen to make it worth Summer’s while to come to me in the yard instead of trying to boss the other dogs around with her teeth. She can’t do those two things at the same time.  I reinforce her for coming to me, offering eye contact, offering a sit or down. Basically she hangs out with me having a mini training session instead of starting a fight.

Modifying a Problem Behavior

Clara (the blur on right) is mostly playing. Summer is not.
Clara (the blur on right) is mostly having fun. Summer is not.

Deciding how to intervene with a potentially dangerous behavior can be tricky. I did have some other choices. I could have used management and decided to keep the dogs separate. I have done that in the past with combinations of dogs who were incompatible and too volatile. This included keeping Summer and Clara apart when Clara was small, because I wasn’t sure Summer would grant her a puppy license. I could have worked on to desensitizing and counter conditioning Summer to the other dogs’ play, although it would be challenging because I can’t turn their play on and off and control the intensity or distance well. It would have had to be in the context of a whole program of work on her reactivity. Which–hey, I am doing anyway, with relaxation and confidence work with her, and sound desensitization–but in the meantime my dogs need to go outside.

If her aggression were more serious, I would have chosen the above options. But because her reactions were undesirable but not completely scary, and because I am always with the dogs when they are outside, instead I tried DRI. I became a treat dispenser for her if she would come over to me when they started to play. I called her to me the first few times, but it didn’t take long for her to realize the connection between “Clara and Zani playing” = “Easy training session for Summer.”

As I’ve mentioned before, Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible Behavior involves extinction, not punishment, of the original unwanted behavior. Ideally that behavior gets no more reinforcement. I want to point out that in this example, I have not eliminated the potential for Summer to get reinforced by rushing in and snarling at the other dogs. That is one reason that this method would not be appropriate for lots of dogs. It worked fine for us though, because Summer appeared very glad to be taught something different to do, and because my other dogs are pretty tolerant (in case we had slipped up). Summer latched onto her new “job” very quickly, and it has been more than a year since she has shown even an inclination to intervene in the other dogs’ play. I believe she is glad not to have to be a cop anymore.

By the way, this also wouldn’t have worked if my passing out treats had interrupted the other dogs’ play. I like it that they play, and I don’t want to interrupt things when they are playing appropriately. But as it turns out, they know full well I am giving Summer treats, but continue to play because they enjoy it so much.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

The Dominance/Punishment Model

When discussing possible methods above, I “forgot” to mention punishment. Oops. So let’s discuss the option just for a moment. Leaving ethical considerations for later, first let’s see how practical it would be.

Zani and Clara play about once a week. That’s once out of the fifty or so times per week that I go outside with my dogs. So I would either need to put a prong or a shock collar on Summer, keep a leash on her so I could give her a jerk, or–I know!! Get some of those bags or chains that certain franchises sell you to throw at your dog. I would have to stay ready to do something to Summer if the other dogs started to play and she launched into them. For that one time out of fifty.  My timing would have to be superb. If I threw something, I’d need to avoid scaring the other dogs. Not sounding too practical, is it? Maybe an air horn? Yelling wouldn’t do it. That would affect my other dogs at least as much as her, but it also wouldn’t function as much more than an interrupter. It would not be likely to decrease the behavior in the future, so it wouldn’t be punishment. Compare these gyrations to having treats in my pocket (which I generally do anyway), and calling her over to me to do a few behaviors when they start to play. Easy peasy. 

And the ethics. Need I even say that I can’t stand the thought of hurting Summer when she is already such an anxious dog? Her behavior is not some gleeful flouting of my authority. She’s trying to stop something that makes her nervous. We don’t need to be hurting or scaring dogs for any reason, and certainly not one who is reacting out of stress and anxiety!

Not a Recommendation

Finally, as successful as it was for me, please note that I am not suggesting this method to others with problems in multi-dog households.  I can’t make any recommendations on other people’s situations. This method was a good choice for me because I work with an excellent professional trainer who knows Summer well and has taught me some methods of reading her and dealing with her behavior. This solution would not be appropriate for every dog, and trying it could even be dangerous in some situations, for instance if a person’s carrying treats triggered resource-related aggression when the dogs were already aroused. My dogs are used to my carrying treats, and none is a serious food guarder.

The best advice you can get on the Internet if you have a dog who aggresses at your other dogs is to keep them separate, get off the Internet, and consult a professional trainer. Get some help.

The Pet Professional Guild has a page where you can search for a local force free trainer. Also, here is a list of Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists in the U.S. and a few worldwide.

You know I love to hear from you about your own dogs. Got any examples of DRI or other interventions for obnoxious behaviors?

Coming up:

We get to play unmolested now!
Zani and Clara get to play unmolested now!

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

P.S. A reader speculated about something that brought up a great point (thanks Ann M.!), and that was whether Summer’s new calmness carried over to when the other dogs played when I wasn’t there. Great question, and an important one. The answer is that my dogs are completely physically separated when I am not there, so no play occurs. Between Summer’s reactivity, Clara’s sometimes overbearing behavior, and Zani being so much smaller, they are separated when I am not home, always within my earshot when we are in the house together, and completely supervised in the yard. I have not changed Summer’s emotional response enough to count on it carrying over.

Shut Down Dogs (Part 2)

Shut Down Dogs (Part 2)

Cane corso rolled
The video from which this still is taken says that this dog has “submitted and become relaxed”

This is Part 2 of a two-part series.

In Shut Down Dogs, Part 1 I talked about the fact that people appear to believe and say that a shut down dog is relaxed or calm since it is motionless. In that post I included a video of my own dog Zani after she had been scared by an air snap from my rat terrier.

In this post I am putting my money where my mouth is. I have put together a compilation of clips from many published movies in which dogs are either motionless or moving in very guarded, unnatural ways. In most of the examples of motionless dogs in the movie, the narrator says that they are “relaxed.” They are far from it, and it takes no advanced knowledge of dog body language to tell.

In the clips of dogs demonstrating very guarded, unnatural motion, no one is saying that they are “relaxed,” but in all cases they are from videos that are supposedly showcasing successful training. Their behavior is obviously thought to be desirable. The dogs just happen to be scared and intimidated out of their minds.

Most of us learned in elementary school that animals both in the wild and domesticated may become motionless and freeze to hide and protect themselves. People, too! We have seen the careful movements of animals who are scared. So we actually should know better than to confuse stillness with relaxation across the board. But our cultural mythology about dogs–which I must say I have not been immune to–trumps that. It is like the Emperor’s New Clothes. So many things we take for granted about dogs are obviously wrong once we learn to actually perceive the dog in front of us. And when we learn just a little bit of science, we can start to see through even more misconceptions.

The video is pretty unpleasant, but I hope it communicates. Please feel free to distribute far and wide if you think it is helpful.

Note: You may see ads on this video (alone among all of my videos). That’s because the owner of one of the clips I included under Fair Use made a copyright claim to YouTube. He is allowing the video to stay available with his clip in it, but gets the revenue if the ads are clicked on. Those few pennies he might get are worth it to me to keep this educational video available and intact. But of course I hope you don’t click on the ads. 

Link to “Shut Down Dogs” video for email subscribers.

Shock trained dog "Coming to Heel"
Aversively trained dog “Coming to Heel”

Dogs in Motion

A special note about the dogs that are shown in motion. At least two of the three clips show shock trained dogs, and I suspect the third does too.

Although some breeds deal with it better, including those who are bred specifically to stand up to high use of aversives in training, there is often a certain look to dogs who have been trained with shock.

These dogs move with extremely inhibited movement, as if they are afraid of getting one toe out of place. They do not wag their tails (they usually tuck them). They hunch their bodies and keep their heads down. They are apathetic and guarded. But their movements can be quite jerky, as you will see in the video of the German Shepherds. When cued to get up from lying down they move as if shot out of a cannon, then pack themselves around their trainer and slow back down. (It’s pretty easy to guess how that was trained.)

Also, and this has been remarked upon by others, in two of the clips when the dogs lie down on cue, they do so in slow motion, very carefully, as if every muscle and joint is hurt by the movement. You can see this in the clip with the German Shepherd Dogs and the last clip with the white dog.

Shelter Dog Photos

I did not put clips of these dogs into the video, because in these cases the humans involved correctly and sympathetically identified that the dogs were extremely stressed. I am including the pictures here as more good examples of shut down dogs. They are all traumatized by the shelter environment and probably experiences from before they entered the shelter. (All three of these dogs are said to have recovered and were adopted.)

Each dog is avoiding eye contact and has a body posture which is avoidant and drawn in on itself. The papillon and lab both have visibly roached backs and tails tucked close to their bodies. All three dogs were unresponsive or avoidant of  human touch in the videos.

Relaxation

light tan dog with a black tail and muzzle lying on her right side, relaxed, on a navy blue mat
Sometimes I find it hard to believe I actually taught my dog to do this!

So if watching the “Shut Down Dogs” video is like taking some bad-tasting medicine, don’t worry, you get a treat afterwards!

I have also compiled a video of dogs in various stages of relaxation, and most importantly, who are being taught to relax using positive reinforcement and classical conditioning.

We’ve got a variety of techniques going on. With Clara I used marking for stillness (since I had already messed up and marked too quickly for relaxed behaviors and got a dog who flailed around). In the photo above, she is less relaxed than she is in the clip in the movie, but I still claim bragging rights. (You can still see some slight, telltale wrinkles in her forehead.) She can get to that state faster and faster these days, and in more stimulating environments.  With Summer I marked for progressively more relaxed behaviors. It worked well because she is lower energy. I also did Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol with Summer.

Sarah Owings used Nan Arthur’s Relax on a Mat method from Chill Out Fido: How to Calm Your Dog. Marge Rogers used several techniques, and demonstrates the On/Off Switch Game from Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed. Elizabeth Smith demonstrates settle on cue (after exciting activity) from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. Tena Parker describes the method that got her an amazingly relaxed dog at a noisy agility trial and many other chaotic environments in the article: Help, My Dog is Wild!

A word about classical conditioning and Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation. (The link is to an old version of the Protocol that is somewhat out of date but it gives the idea. The newest version can be found in her new book.) Rather than specifically reinforcing relaxed behaviors, the Relaxation Protocol only asks of the dog that she perform a down, and the trainer does progressively more active and potentially arousing things in prescribed orders. Walking around, trotting, clapping hands, backing up, going through a door, ringing a doorbell, saying hello to someone (imaginary), etc. After each action, the dog gets a treat. What it teaches the dog is that when she is on her mat, whatever happens out in the world doesn’t matter. She doesn’t have to respond to it. She can zone out and not worry. After the dog “gets” the basics of the protocol, you can start working in many other events and actions to let the dog know that they are also “no big deal.”

I’m pointing this out because you can see something interesting in the video. In the short clip I clap my hands, give Summer a treat, then jog in place, then give her a treat. She flops down on the mat after each treat, but the interesting thing is that each time I finish my activity, her ears pop up, anticipating her treat. She knows from oodles of repetitions that the treats depend on my actions, not hers. That’s the result of classical conditioning. Each weird action on my part predicts something good.

Summer is moderately relaxed on the front porch
Summer is moderately relaxed on the front porch

I have also reinforced relaxed behaviors with Summer. I’m sharing the photo on the left to show a step towards relaxation in a more stimulating environment than our front room. She is not as relaxed as she can get, however, given that she is on the front porch with a view of the street, a very exciting place for her, her level of calmness is coming along nicely.

If you want to see even more stills of relaxed dogs, check out the cute ridgebacks in Shut Down Dogs, Part 1.

Link to the “Relaxed Dogs” video for email subscribers.

Conclusion

I will be accused of cherry picking videos with particularly miserable dogs. That’s not what I was looking for. There are plenty of those, let me tell you. The point of this post is to show that a certain segment of the population finds the behavior of shut down and forcibly restrained dogs desirable (and makes up stories about them being relaxed). That was my criterion: videos demonstrating that people have illusions about certain behavior (or lack of behavior) from dogs.

Videos of intimidated, apathetic, or frozen dogs are dead easy to find. People post them on YouTube to show off their training skills, to “educate,” or in some cases, to let their friends laugh at their dogs.

I think they perfectly demonstrate what Dr. Jennifer Cattet describes in her thoughtful piece “When is Controlling Our Dog Too Controlling?” A demonstration of the desire to control, not such a great thing to start with, gone completely amok. When the dogs are controlled down to the level where there is no spark of life left in them.

In contrast, what you see in the section on teaching dogs to relax are dog owners who are training a behavior for the benefit of their dogs. Sure, it helps the owners, too, but it directly makes for a dog who is more comfortable in this world of ours. I believe it is a big hearted thing to do.

I hope this comparison of shut down intimidated dogs and relaxed dogs was helpful. Anyone want to share more relaxation techniques?

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

But if You Use Negative Reinforcement Aren’t You Also Using Positive Punishment?

But if You Use Negative Reinforcement Aren’t You Also Using Positive Punishment?

Minus plus

Surprisingly, no. Not necessarily.

You could actually get my answer to this question by reading this other post: Only If The Behavior Decreases!  But of course I’m writing some more anyway.

This issue was a big stumbling block for me when I first started studying operant learning. If negative reinforcement requires for an aversive to be removed, then it had to get there in the first place, right? That’s only logical. So whenever it appeared, there must have been punishment, right? I used to argue about this in my head all the time. But the answer is no, it doesn’t follow that there necessarily was punishment. There absolutely could have been, but it is not logically necessary after all. Here’s why.

Positive punishment: Something is added after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening less often.

Look at the second half of the definition. I’ve harped on this before, largely because I need a lot of reminding myself. The definition of punishment (and reinforcement also) is recursive. We can only know if punishment has occurred by traveling to the future. If the behavior didn’t decrease, there was no punishment.

Aversives, Negative Reinforcement, and Positive Punishment

Employing an aversive and using negative reinforcement do not mean one is also positively punishing a behavior. I have this from the words of Susan Friedman, PhD, in one of her lectures in her Living and Learning with Animals Professional Course. For punishment to have occurred, a behavior must decrease in frequency. That’s the definition. And if one is in a negative reinforcement scenario, the behavior the animal is performing at the onset of the aversive could very well be randomized, because that is not the focus of the training. The animal may not always be doing the same thing when the aversive (e.g. shock,  pinch, pressure, nagging, or appearance of scary monster) starts.

Examples

R- collage 2
Some typical implements and examples of negative reinforcement. Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons (cat o’ nine tails; man scratching), Alan Cleaver (alarm clock), Eileen Anderson (shock collar and stuffed dog with tight leash)

If I decided to teach my sensitive dog Zani to back up by consistently walking into her whenever we were both in a certain hallway (note: I don’t teach backing up that way), her behavior of coming into that hallway when I was there would definitely decrease. Coming into the hallway with me would have been positively punished.

But let’s say in another training scenario I play a mildly aversive noise whenever I want Zani to come get on her mat in the kitchen, and the noise stays on until she gets there. The mat is a “safe place” and getting on it turns off the noise. (Again, I would not do this.) Zani could be anywhere in the house when the noise starts. Her behavior at the onset is randomized, so nothing gets punished. But if I started doing it consistently when she was sitting in a particular chair, she would likely stop getting in that chair.

Since we humans fall into patterns so easily, it is very easy for positive punishment to start happening when we regularly use an aversive. But the point is that it does not have to happen.

Let’s face it, people use noxious stimuli all the time without behavior decreasing. That’s one of the many problems with trying to use positive punishment: unless the noxious stimulus is strong enough (and well timed enough, and several other criteria), the original behavior may maintain its strength.

Ramifications

So does this mean that negative reinforcement is OK? No. An aversive is an aversive. Just because there is no positive punishment going on doesn’t mean that the training is humane.

If you wanted to reword the question in the title, you could say, “But if you use negative reinforcement aren’t you also using an aversive, just like in positive punishment?” As long as it is recognized that the aversive is used in a different way, the answer is yes.

But the funny thing is, I’ve heard the relationship between the two processes that use aversives used to make two opposite claims, neither of them true in my opinion.

First is the claim implicit in the title. It usually goes like this:

If you use negative reinforcement, therefore you are using positive punishment, so neeter neeter neeter.

I have dealt with that one above.

The second claim goes like this:

Yes, you can have negative reinforcement without positive punishment. And that’s the GOOD kind of negative reinforcement. As long as there is not positive punishment going on,  negative reinforcement can actually be kind of nice.

Excuse me? The existence or non-existence of concomitant positive punishment is irrelevant to how aversive a stimulus is. It is possible to train with a shock collar using a negative reinforcement protocol, for instance.   Again, as long as the point at which the shock is turned on is fairly random with regard to the dog’s behavior, you may not necessarily see a decrease in a behavior as a result of the commencement of the shock.

Negative reinforcement is only one notch up from positive punishment on the Humane Hierarchy, and for good reason.  It always involves an aversive, and employs escape and avoidance, pure and simple. So don’t anybody dare use my argument above showing that there is not necessarily positive punishment in order to say that negative reinforcement is OK.

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods

How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods

Zani mainlining spray cheese
Zani mainlining spray cheese

Emergency Method: If you are currently in a struggle trying to administer a pill to a reluctant dog, try the multiple meatball method. The other techniques in this blog are specialized and probably won’t help in an emergency situation.

Link to the video on the multiple meatball method for email subscribers.

Longterm Training Method: If you are in the opposite situation and have the time to train your dog from scratch to take any kind of pill you need her to, without force or disguising the pill,  read my post on how I taught my dog to take a (plain) pill with positive reinforcement.  Also check out where I originally got the idea: Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s post “An Easy Pill to Swallow.”  In my opinion, this is the gold standard method.

Now that I’ve sent half of you away, is anybody still here? Following is the original inspiration for writing this post.

Administering Pills with Spray Cheese and Food Tubes

If your dogs already eat spray cheese sometimes, or will eat a moist mixture out of a food tube, this idea could save you some time and hassle. 

I realized a few months back that spray cheese extruding out of the can, as well as moist food exiting a squeeze tube, both make excellent “carriers” for pills.

Link to the video on giving pills with spray cheese and food tubes for e-mail subscribers.

My dog Summer takes a small thyroid pill twice a day, and having several options for administering it makes it easy. I often have a food tube with some leftovers from a training session in the refrigerator, and the spray cheese is a staple at my house. For Summer, it only takes a tiny bit.

We Can Train This

When I read Laura Baugh’s post on teaching a dog to take a pill, I was chagrined. Why had it never occurred to me that we could teach a dog to swallow pills just like we teach them other behaviors? Zoo and marine mammal trainers train this kind of thing all the time, so why not dogs? Most of the pill administration methods out there for dogs (including most of the ones linked in this post) depend on trying to disguise the pill. Older ones use plain old force to open the dog’s mouth and put the pill in, then hold the dog’s mouth closed. That’s unnecessary in this day and age.

So I really appreciate Laura’s post about training the behavior: An Easy Pill to Swallow. And I was delighted to find out how straightforward it was to train!

I haven’t had to put a bunch of energy into disguising pills over the years. My dogs have a huge reinforcement history for sucking cheese and other goodies out of gizmos and for eating gobs of peanut butter. They get these things daily whether they are taking pills or not. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal when there are pills present. Still, I’m glad that I finally got around to teaching Clara to take pills in a straightforward manner. It’s a useful behavior, whether I use it every time or not.

 More Good Tips

Donna Hill has a video with some great tips for giving pills: 4 Tips to Give Your Dog a Pill.

More inspiration for those of us teetering on the edge of training this behavior. See Michelle Chan shape her sheltie Juliet to take pills in one impressive, less than three minute session: Juliet Pops Pills.

And check out mymeowz blog: Here we have a cat getting trained to take pills. Can it get any better than that?

Kathy Sdao has a really nice article with information on all sorts of husbandry techniques: Husbandry Training for Dog Owners.

Nickala Squire points out that crunchy peanut butter disguises pills better than smooth. What a good observation! I’ve been using it ever since.

And Tegan Whalen suggests washing one’s hands between handling the pill and administering the treat. Another great idea.

Food Tube Info

Summer is ready for the food tube
Summer is ready for the food tube, pill or not!

I use food tubes for high value treats, both for Clara’s socialization sessions, where we do lots of counterconditioning, and in agility. I actually throw these tubes ahead of the running dog in agility, so they are tough. I’ve never had one come apart or have the lid or clamp pop off. I buy them online at REI. (Google “Coughlan squeeze tube” if that URL ever goes out of date.)

You don’t always have to use high calorie or high fat treats in them, either. I’ve made a mixture of pumpkin, low fat yogurt, and some peanut butter that my dogs really like. The trick is to get the right texture. If it’s too runny or not homogeneous, it will drip out of the tube and make a mess. If it’s too thick or has lumps, it won’t come out well. Experiment a little to find the Goldilocks point and you will be in business.

 Let me know if you try anything new, either from this post and the linked resources, or from something completely different. Especially if it works!

Coming up:

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Successful Desensitization and Counterconditioning

Successful Desensitization and Counterconditioning

Alligator ellipticalI have an elliptical training machine in my back room. I’ve had it for three years. Zani loves that room because that’s where the kibble, some human food, and other interesting things are stored.

But when I get on the elliptical to exercise, she’s outta there. It doesn’t really have alligator jaws attached to it, but I think that’s a good portrayal of  how Zani used to see it.

For those who aren’t familiar with these exercise machines, here is a video of an elliptical in motion. It is similar to mine. You can see where a sensitive dog could be alarmed with the motion.

I have mats in that room for dogs to hang out on, and Summer and Clara stay on their mats and get the occasional treat while I exercise. Cricket did so too in her day. But not Zani, until now.

The other day I realized I could probably help Zani get over her fears. It took all of 5 days, and I did it while I was exercising.

Desensitization and Counterconditioning

The techniques of desensitization and counterconditioning (DS/CC) are often used together to help animals, including humans, recover from fears. They are not bandaid solutions that mask the symptoms. When done correctly, they change the animal’s emotional response.

Systematic desensitization is a procedure in which learned fear of a neutral stimulus is extinguished by exposing the animal to the stimulus so gradually that involuntary fear responses are never triggered. –Standard definition, as worded by Susan Friedman in her professional LLA course

This is the technique where you start with the thing the animal is scared of (the stimulus) at a distance or intensity where the thing is not scary.  When the animal is OK with that, you gradually bring it closer or intensify it. Dr. Friedman points out that desensitization can only get the animal from scary to neutral. It doesn’t make the animal delighted or happy with the stimulus. But it can get the animal OK with it.

With counterconditioning, the animal’s respondent behavior to a stimulus is replaced with an opposite automatic response.–Standard definition, as worded by Susan Friedman in her professional LLA course

OK, counterconditioning is the frosting on the cake. Counterconditioning is the technique that can actually replace fear or another undesirable response with a positive emotional response. This is done by associating the scary stimulus with something wonderful, while the animal is under threshold, consistently over time.

Here is an article that defines the terms desensitization and counterconditioning and lays out how to design a training protocol.

Zani’s DS/CC Story

…is very short.

Starting point: Typically when I would get on the elliptical, she would leave and go into the bedroom across the hall. She often went out of sight and got on the bed. That was her comfortable distance from the elliptical, so that’s where we started.

Picture 1: Since I was tossing treats to the other dogs anyway, I started tossing some into  that bedroom (bank shot!). She learned to hang out by that doorway and get the treats. She could be out of sight of the elliptical if she chose. Distance: 16 – 19 feet.

Pictures 2a and 2b: Soon she started waiting in the hallway instead of in the doorway to the bedroom, so I started aiming the treats into the hall. I could tell she was comfortable because she didn’t retreat to the bedroom anymore or show any signs of concern, just happily chased down the treats. Distance: 12.5 – 16 feet.

Picture 3: All my dogs are trained to get on mats. The mats have good associations with relaxation and treats. So I threw a mat down in the area where Zani was already comfortable. She immediately got on it and stayed there happily when I got on the elliptical and started tossing treats. This was a big step, because previously she had been on her feet and moving. If she had had any residual fear, she was free to trot away farther. Staying still in the presence of the elliptical was a big step. Hence, I didn’t cue her to get on the mat. I gave her the choice. I would have tossed treats either way. But she immediately plopped down on the mat and stayed there.

Technically this was a switch to the technique of Differential Reinforcement of an Incompatible Behavior, or DRI, from counterconditioning, since Zani was now also being reinforced for getting on her mat. However, as I mention below, operant and respondent behaviors can be all knotted up at times. Distance 12.5 feet.

Picture 4: Over two more days I moved the mat closer. I could tell that Zani was fine with that because her body language was comfortable, and she always got on the very front of the mat. Final distance: 10.5 feet.

That’s it! She can now participate in the “Eileen exercises and dogs lie on their mats and get treats” event. She is within my treat throwing range and she is completely comfortable. I don’t want any of the dogs closer than the current “front row” while I’m exercising since the moving parts of the elliptical could be dangerous for them. Since Zani generally likes a front row seat, it will be interesting to see if she moves up to try to join or displace another dog. I’m betting she will. I may have to train her to stay back from the elliptical!

Here is a slide show of the steps we took.

I apologize for the poor photos. I wanted to show my view from the elliptical, and the actual distances involved. The light (and the clutter in the room) was not conducive to that. Pictures 1, 2a, 2b, and 3 are reconstructions by the way. I didn’t take photos during the process.

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Slow Techniques?

To review: the desensitization part was moving Zani gradually closer to the doorway of the back room while the elliptical was in motion. The counterconditioning part was the yummy treats that accompanied the process. DRI came into play when Zani started settling on the mat. It worked because I didn’t rush. I watched Zani to be sure she wasn’t scared and just venturing forth to get the treats, then retreating to safety again. She had to feel safe with every step.

Desensitization and counterconditioning are often said to be slow. They certainly can be. Depending on the history and intensity of the adverse reaction, the attractiveness of the counterconditioning item (usually really good food or fun play), correct timing, and the skill of the trainer, these techniques can take a while.

But guess what? Not always. I was frankly amazed at how fast Zani got over her mistrust of the elliptical, and felt badly that I hadn’t tried to help her in any systematic way before.

Even when these techniques take time, they are always my choice, along with operant learning using positive reinforcement**,  for helping an animal overcome its fears. They are completely humane, and the science has supported for decades that they create a true emotional response in an animal. I am privileged to watch my formerly feral dog Clara, under the care of a skilled trainer, blossoming into a comfortable, sociable dog, using these methods.

By the way, the treats I use for the elliptical mat game are pieces of Prairie kibble (which is small) and the undersized leftover pieces from when I cut up Natural Balance rolls. My dogs don’t typically need much encouragement to hang out on mats, and since I am throwing the treats while in motion, I don’t want to cause a scuffle if I were to toss something high value right between two dogs. But if I had planned better I would have used something higher value during Zani’s rehabilitation. The animal’s ultimate conditioned response can only be as positive as its response to that particular item, so one usually uses something really spectacular.  Luckily it turned out I didn’t need to. But perhaps to cap things off I’ll surprise them all with a piece of liverwurst (hand-delivered) now and then.

Do you have any great DS/CC success stories?

Coming up:

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** Operant learning played a role in this protocol as well. Dr. Friedman talks about the “Gordian Knot,” of operant and respondent learning frequently. They become almost instantly intertwined in most training protocols. Once the good feelings associated with the unconditioned stimulus start spreading to the previously feared items, the animal will often on its own develop behaviors to hasten its access to the goodies. In this instance, Zani performed the operant behaviors of chasing treats and lying on her mat. Both of these are familiar, comfortable, and pleasant for her. Sometimes just having a job to do is a great help. On the other hand, the mat itself has already been classically conditioned as a very nice place to be.

Haters

Haters

A black and white cartoon of an angry looking man shaking his fist
Photo Credit–Wikimedia Commons

We interrupt this dog blog for a rant about rhetoric and civil discourse. 

Here is why I plan never to call anyone a “hater” or refer to them as such.

History: Haters Gonna Hate

It’s a good bet that the contemporary use of the term “hater” was taken from the song lyric, “Haters gonna hate” from the song “Playas Gon’ Play.”  A  history of the phrase is here on the Know Your Meme site. The “Haters gonna hate” phrase came to be a call for people to disregard hostile criticism. It supports strength, individualism, and in the early usages, being true to romantic love. Most current usages are similar to the older phrase,  “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” It gave rise to some cool artistic applications (do an image search on the term if you are interested).

So far so good. I’ve got no problem with that as an inspirational meme, especially for a downtrodden individual or group. I do have a real problem with extracting the word “hater” and aiming it at one’s opponents in a discussion or argument.

Reviewing the Dictionary Definitions

Here’s the traditional dictionary definition:

A person who hates.

Here’s a transitional one from Dictionary.com:

1. a grudging or spiteful person, esp one who disparages others: “a woman-hater”; “a cop-hater”; “Don’t let the haters get you down”

a. someone who hates a specified person or thing: “a passionate hater of tyranny”

Here’s the one from Urban dictionary.com, which is said to be the earliest version of the “comtemporary” definition:

A person that simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person.

Hating, the result of being a hater, is not exactly jealousy. The hater doesnt really want to be the person he or she hates, rather the hater wants to knock someone else down a notch.

And finally from Wikipedia:

A derogatory term in reference to critics of a person or object. Associated with jealousy/envy. 

And the Online Slang Dictionary:

A person who disapproves of something; a person who is jealous; a person who criticizes something.

Here’s Why I Won’t Use the Word Myself

1. Traditional Definition

First, by the traditional definition, I am a hater. I hate racism, sexism, animal abuse, bullying and plenty of other attitudes and behaviors. I’m human so sometimes I hate the people who do those things. I have hated people who have wronged me or ones I love. I don’t think it’s wholesome to dwell in hatred, and hating can make a terrible motivation to action. It easily becomes infected and unwholesome. But I think it can be a natural reaction to a horrifying act. I won’t pretend to be immune to it.  And I believe that there are worse things than being honest about hating something or someone. Waaaaay worse things.

2. All the Other Definitions

Second, every single one of the other definitions, when used in argument, are ad hominem attacks, or even plain old name calling. The worst sorts of arguments in civil discourse. They are basically insults that try to discredit one’s opponent in discussion (or behind their back) rather than address their points. And I think they are particularly insidious because they have a Polyanna quality of characterizing oneself as innocent and wounded, while one is actually slinging an insult. It’s an attempt at claiming the moral high ground and simultaneously throwing a cheap shot. And incidentally failing at rational argument.

Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement--credit Wikimedia Commons
Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement–credit Wikimedia Commons

Calling someone a “hater” is calling someone a name while pretending you’re not. It’s an insult, like “jerk” or “asshole.” I’m not fond of name-calling, but I admit to a preference for someone who calls another person a jerk over calling them a hater.

Some people actually accuse others of being divisive of a community and call them haters. But to me, calling someone a “hater” is the epitome of divisive. It is “otherizing” someone. Calling someone an asshole comes across pretty much as your opinion. There are lots of different “asshole” qualities. Calling someone a “hater” attempts to put them deliberately in an inferior group and dismiss whatever they say.

Like all name calling, it goes circular very fast. “No, YOU are the hater!” “No YOU are the hater!” This gets a discussion nowhere.

Finally, to me it often comes across as juvenile. I admit to some bias here, since the first place I heard the term was by fans of Cesar Millan, who often have an instantaneous defensive reaction of the slightest criticism of Millan’s techniques.  They cry, “You are haters; you’re just jealous of his success and all the money he makes!”

That’s a great way to avoid arguing actual issues.

Coming up:

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