Category: Dog behavior

No Stalking while Walking!

No Stalking while Walking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clara

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

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

Lewis

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

Choo Choo

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

The Function of Following

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Popularity of Stalking

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

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

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

How Do I Get My Dog Into the Pool?

How Do I Get My Dog Into the Pool?

A white hound dog with brown on his face and ears is standing, smiling next to a kid's above-ground swimming pool

In a place with sweltering summers, a way to cool off an active dog like Lewis is a must! And it’s a bonus if he can have fun doing it. So I got a doggie swimming pool. They have improved a lot since I got one for Clara about 10 years ago. I got a moderately large one for Lewis, not thinking about the challenges that might present for him.  

He was unwilling to jump into it at first, so I’m going to share the systematic way I introduced him to the pool.

There were some indicators that Lewis would eventually have a blast in it. He is an all-weather dog. He was entranced by snow last winter. He runs around without inhibition in the rain, even deliberately splashing in puddles. I guessed he’d figure out ways to enjoy the pool, and I got a big one because Clara enjoys water, too.

I knew he might not trust the whole endeavor right away, so for his first introduction to the pool, I took what I felt was middle ground. I chose a hot day (antecedent arrangement). I put the pool in a sunny area so the water would warm up a little and filled it only partway full. I threw a couple of his toys in there that would float. I got in there myself and beckoned him.

No go. No way in hell was he going to hop over the 12-inch wall into the pale blue unknown. I learned as we went along that his caution was more about the enclosing wall than the water inside.

So, on to Plan B. I would work out a sequence of graduated exposures. The goal was for Lewis to feel happy and confident about jumping into the pool, first empty and then with water in it. I needed to create a series of desensitizing activities that weren’t scary for him. And we got there! Here’s how we did it.

Note: this method was for introduction to a kid’s above-ground pool only. If you need to teach your dog to swim in a built-in pool, check out “How to Teach Your Dog to Swim” on the Karen Pryor Clicker Training site.

Desensitizing to Jumping into the Swimming Pool

Lewis is curious and bold but was reluctant to get into this new object in his environment, water or no. It was a little too weird, and the walls were too high for him to step over in a way he felt safe. I could have angled the wall down somewhat and started that way, with me shaping him to step into the pool space. But that could have proved awkward as we proceeded. And I wanted to address the problem at its root and teach him that if I present an object for him to interact with, it’s safe and an opportunity to have fun.

To get him to trust that it was OK to jump in and out, we worked on three foundation skills:

  • getting into things
  • getting onto things
  • jumping over something
A white hound dog with brown on his face and ears is running around a jump made of PVC as a woman dressed in blue and purple watches
Lewis avoiding a jump

I split each of these into a series of behaviors. I combined desensitization with operant conditioning. The desensitization part was the very gradual exposures (you’ll see the list below). The operant conditioning was my encouraging Lewis, using positive reinforcement, to interact with the objects.

 If he had been afraid of these objects in themselves, I would have leaned more toward a classical approach, but I didn’t need to. The pool had already been in his environment for a few days and he had never been scared of it. Jumping in was the challenge.

I had seen him be similarly reluctant with other objects. Here is a video showing his baseline response—avoidance—when invited to jump over or get in some objects, including the swimming pool.

Rather than trying to shape him to get into one thing, as I did with the tray in the “avoidance” video above, I gathered a series of objects with varied characteristics for him to get on, over, or in. I positively reinforced these behaviors to extend his palette of behaviors and build happy associations with the objects and activities. I took things slowly enough that he was hardly ever reluctant to try something I set up. After getting on a couple of platforms and a flat box, he stepped right into the tray he had been avoiding earlier.

Desensitization Order

This is the order of the activities. I never lured him onto or into anything with food or toys; I used a little targeting but mostly waited for him to get the idea and get in on his own, then I reinforced generously.

A white hound dog with brown on his face and ears is sitting in a shallow, tray-like box
This is the box he wouldn’t set foot in
  • Step onto a 2″ elevated platform. (The platforms are important later.)
  • Jump onto a 12″ elevated platform (a Klimb). He already knew how to do this, loved this platform, and was used to stationing there.
  • Step onto a mat (also something he already knew to do).
  • Step onto a piece of cardboard on the floor while I anchor it (no sliding!).
  • Step into a large, shallow plastic tray (this was a big step, even with a tray with very shallow sides).
  • Step into a shallow cardboard box with two flaps ripped off.
  • Step into a cardboard box with all flaps intact.
  • Step into other cardboard boxes.
  • Jump over an agility jump set at 2″. This was another object he walked by multiple times every day but was reluctant to interact with when I asked him to.
  • Jump onto a 12″ platform while it is placed next to and abutting the pool.
  • Jump onto a 12″ platform while it is placed inside the pool (no water).
  • Jump from the 12″ platform onto the 2″ platform in the pool.
  • Jump down from one of these into the pool.
  • Jump directly into the (dry) pool.
  • Repeat a selection of the last three few with water in the pool, and perhaps Eileen in the pool as well.
  • Jump directly into the pool with water in it.

First Steps with the Platforms, Boxes, and Jump

Here’s a video showing the foundation work we did with most of the listed objects. Yes, he really got right into the plastic tray when I asked him to, even though he wouldn’t do that earlier when I tried to shape the behavior.

Applying The Activities to the Pool

Then I brought all the items outside and got him into and on them again. I added the swimming pool to the mix, with no water in it.

I put the 12″ platform next to the pool and had him get on a bunch of times. Then I put it inside the pool, pressed right up to the edge. He jumped on with no hesitation! We practiced that, then I put also the lower platform into the pool. Soon he had jumped down onto the platform and was also comfortable jumping down into the pool itself and exploring it.

I’m proud of thinking of using the platform. It’s hard to split out gradations of getting into an above-ground pool. You are either in or out of it. There are no stairs. But raising the bottom changed the nature of the jump from “into the unknown” to “onto the familiar platform.”

A white hound dog with brown on his face and ears is standing inside a kid's swimming pool that is not assembled and has no water in it
Lewis in the dry, crumpled pool

He was now comfortable jumping into and out of the dry pool. I took a hiatus of about a week when the weather cooled off. But during that time, the pool was on my porch, empty. He jumped in there regularly for fun and to see if something interesting had blown in. And of course, I gave him a little treat or two.

Finally, on another hot day, I put the pool back into the yard with the 12″ platform inside. I put water in it, not even an inch, just enough to create some puddles on the bottom. He happily jumped onto the platform, then from there into the pool, then started jumping straight into the pool from outside of it. Win!

The next time, I put about 2″ of water in it. In the video, the 12″ platform was in the pool, and in the first part, I was sitting on it. Then I got out. He made a game of running around the yard and jumping into the pool.

Why Bother with All This?

A white hound dog with brown on his face and ears is standing inside a kid's above-ground swimming pool

I can hear some of you chortling out there. You just picked up your young dog and plopped him into the pool and everything worked out fine. Or maybe you even threw him in the water to learn to swim. But even if your dog likes water now, those are not good methods.

As with all uses of aversives, there is a risk of fallout. Maybe your dog was lucky and came out unscathed and learned to love water. Many dogs wouldn’t. Besides being unkind in the moment, you risked traumatizing your dog. And it takes significantly longer to address the fear that typically results from that than it does to go slow at the beginning.

Speaking of “slow”—my method wasn’t slow. It took much, much more time to write up this post and edit the movies than to do the training. There were less than 15 minutes of training, and that included the fun play at the end. That’s 15 minutes to give my dog something that will enrich him for the rest of his life.

Will Lewis Love It?

I’ve achieved my primary goal. Lewis is comfortable jumping into and out of the pool, including with water in it. This will be enormously helpful in the hot Arkansas summer. He and I often have play sessions outdoors in the evening, but even after the sun goes down, the humidity keeps it very hot. So it’s actually a safety measure to be able to get him into the pool.

I don’t know whether he will end up being a water dog. Will he seek out the pool and play in the water? We’ll see. My initial belief was that he would. But I have noticed things as we go along.

He is fussy about his feet being wet. He doesn’t like it when his toys are wet. He will hesitate and almost refuse to pick up his Jolly Ball (favorite toy ever) if it has been in the pool and the rope is wet. Even though he’ll jump into the pool now as part of his circuit around the yard, he does it only when I am sitting there. The game he created is basically running around the yard with me as a focal point. This is a variant of games we play all the time; I just happen to be at or in the pool.

So I’ve yet to find out whether the pool will be just a helpful way to cool off, or the center of more fun activities for him.

I’m publishing this now, without knowing the outcome for Lewis, because I know other people are working on the same problem. I hope this post helps some others form their own plan.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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A tan and black dog lies on the grass holding a ball and a brown and white puppy runs toward her

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Two dogs are sitting on a couch. The younger red and white hound dog on the left has a playful look on his face. The older, larger, black and tan dog looks happy but tired.
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Sable mixed breed dog walks briskly in heel position next to small woman wearing jeans and red sweatshirt
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If your dog wanted to jump into your lap or hide behind you when another dog was bugging her, would you let her do so? If you did, would you be reinforcing fear?

Friends and Playmates

My dogs Zani and Clara have been playing ever since the day in 2011 when Clara arrived so unexpectedly. Clara was about 10 or 11 weeks old and weighed 12 pounds. Zani was three years old and 18 pounds. Both were and are dog-friendly and good communicators.

Zani played hard with baby Clara, Continue reading “Rescue Me! (Part 1)”

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