eileenanddogs

Category: Dog behavior

Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

Here’s a little body language fun: Who is seriously resource guarding? And what is the other dog doing?

I showed these pictures to two of my skilled observer friends to compare, and they came up with some great observations. Much better than my own, and these are my dogs!

How about you? Care to play? Can you tell which dog is seriously guarding her object? Continue reading “Which Dog is Resource Guarding?”

I’m So Glad I Had the Camera!

I’m So Glad I Had the Camera!

Something pleasant for a Monday morning: Eileenanddogs Funniest Home Videos!

Clara ball square

Here are three incredible and adorable moments that I am very grateful to have on film.

Zani Uses a Tool

I literally grabbed the camera and turned it on to take this clip, so the background and camera work are terrible. But just look what I got on film. This was not set up.

Link to the “Zani Uses a Tool” video for email subscribers. 

Clara Discovers Gravity

Clara has always been good at entertaining herself. This is the day she invented Gravity Game #2.

Link to the “Clara Discovers Gravity” video for email subscribers.

Niña Blisses Out

This is the night I discovered that my friend’s dear little chihuahua (RIP little Niña) would bliss out when I jiggled her back and forth in my hands.

Link to the “Niña Blisses Out” video for email subscribers.

If you haven’t checked out my Blooper Video from when I first started the blog, be sure and check it out!

I’m grateful to live in an age where it is so easy to take pictures and videos. 

Coming up:

  • Big Announcement!
  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • Oh No, I Broke my Dog!
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

The Right Words, Revealed

The Right Words, Revealed

Last week I published four “deceptive” photos in  A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, But Are They the Right Ones? As promised, here are explanations and context for the photos.

#1 Zani doing “Whale Eye”

Zani whale eye
Zani whale eye. Is she stressed or fearful?

Below is the photo in context (it’s #3 of the 4). Zani had been looking at me, turned her head to look at something, and when she turned back to me, her eyes moved first. Sometimes “whale eye” just means the dog turned her head or her eyes alone. Click on a photo for a larger view.

Reader Diana had nailed it in the comments last week, by the way. Here are the “right words”:

Zani’s head, body and tail are all in alignment and tail is out. The whale eye results from looking without turning her whole body. Eyebrows are lifted but eyelids lack tension and pupils are not dilated. Ears lifted at base. Mouth is closed but not tightly.

Also note that in the two photos published here in which Zani is looking back at me (in the direction of the camera), her eyes and the muscles around them are very soft.

Here, for contrast, is a photo of Zani with whale eye when she is afraid. This picture is also featured in my post, “The Look of Fear,” where Zani’s fear response is discussed in detail. You can see whole clusters of fearful body language in the photos in that post, as opposed to the photo above that shows “whale eye” on an otherwise calm dog.

A small black and tan/rust dog is crouched on a green and brown couch. She is leaning away from something (not visible) to her right and looking back in that direction. You can see the whites of her eyes. She looks scared.
Zani scared

#2 Summer looking slightly crazed

Summer stiff still
Summer: Is it a seizure?

This, of course, is not a seizure but a play photo. The uncropped version is below, along with a couple of others from the play session. It is from Zani’s first month in the household, and Summer and Zani played almost constantly in those early times. Summer’s play always has an edge to it, to my eyes, but I supervised very closely, and Zani kept going back for more. Summer and Zani have never had a fight.

Here is the photo uncropped, and two other stills from the video. Click on them for larger versions.

#3 Clara doing “whale eye”

Clara whale eye
Is Clara stressed?

Clara was in her crate in the car. She looked forward to see what I was doing, and couldn’t turn her head far enough. You can see how her neck is pushing on the bars, and her nose is in the very corner of the crate. She would have had to stand up to turn her head farther, and apparently didn’t think it was worth it. She is generally very relaxed in her car crate and sleeps much of the time.

#4 Pride being “naughty”

Pride Naughty
Pride posing #1

This, of course, is a highly trained behavior. Pride didn’t even lift his leg to pee in real life. The reason I include it is how his face looks in the photo. The set of his mouth and his narrowed eye with a tiny bit of white showing make him look, anthropomorphically speaking, rather sneaky or crafty. (Keep in mind that “guilty” looks are generally appeasement signs in dogs, and do not correlate with misdeeds.)  And this isn’t even a guilty look, just a combination of circumstances.

Marge Rogers, who trained the behavior and took the photos, says it was luck and just one of those moments in time. Directly below is another photo from the session from comparison. In that photo you can see that Pride is clearly watching Marge and the camera attentively. I think perhaps both photos demonstrate the awesome eye contact Marge gets from her dogs.

Pride #2
Pride Posing #2

In case you didn’t notice last time, Marge sets up these photos for her wonderful Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue Christmas cards

So that’s “the rest of the story.” Thanks for reading!

Coming up:

  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • Oh No, I Broke my Dog!
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words…But Are They the Right Ones?

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words…But Are They the Right Ones?

Here are four photos that are probably not as they seem. I’m telling you that up front. This isn’t a trick.

The shutter speed of a typical digital (or analog) camera is far less than a second. Especially if your dog is in motion, that fraction of a second might look terrible. How many pictures of yourself do you have with your eyes half closed and you look like a zombie? (Oh, is it just me?) But all you were doing was blinking. Camera angle and lighting can do strange things as well.

There is a lesson here, and it is this: We can’t judge definitively from a still photo. We can use them to learn to observe, but because it is only a fraction of a second, our interpretations, even if based on excellent observations, could be completely wrong. We can come to much better conclusions from a video, but even then, if we don’t know context, I think being conservative in our assumptions is a wise move.

With that said, take a look!

Zani whale eye
Zani in the grass

The above photo of Zani is a video still. She looks–at least–concerned. So-called whale eye is often an indicator of fear. In my followup post (next week) I will show the surrounding frames of the video. Feel free to discuss in the comments. What other body language indicators can you see and what might they indicate?

Summer stiff still
Summer on the bed

This photo of Summer on the bed is also a video still and it is cropped. I used to use it as an avatar on social media until a friend told me it looked like Summer was having a seizure. She wasn’t, but you know, it actually does look that way. In my next post, I’ll show the photo uncropped, and some other stills from the video. Care to speculate?

Clara whale eye
Clara in the car

This is a photo I snapped of Clara in her crate in the car. Why might this whale eye not indicate stress?

Pride Naughty
Pride at Christmas

And finally, this incredible shot that my friend Marge took for her “Naughty or nice?” Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue Christmas card. How did she get this photo and why does Pride look so crafty?  The photo has had some color and lighting adjustment and some cleanup, but Pride’s face and body have not been altered.

Photos remain incredible learning opportunities. And as we are learning body language, they are one of our main tools. For example, I have made available this complete set of labelled photos of poor Clara when she was extremely stressed out. I can vouch for them. She was stressed out of her mind and there are multiple signs of that in the photos. Perhaps in general, the more indicators you see in a photo that there is stress or any particular emotional state, the more likely it may be true. (I’m thinking that one over.) But with a still photo, it can’t be a guarantee.

What do you think?

Coming up:

  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • Oh No, I Broke my Dog!
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Is Hide and Seek All Fun and Games?

Is Hide and Seek All Fun and Games?

Lonely Dog

Eric Brad posted a really great question this last summer on his FaceBook page, Canine Nation. Yes, it’s December now. It takes me this long to mull things over sometimes.

Have any of you ever used a technique for teaching/encouraging recalls called “Runaways”? It involves running away from your dog, hiding from your dog, or even getting in the car without them when they choose not to come when called.

Can you explain the premise on which this technique is based and why it can be effective in getting the dog to come back more reliably?

I looked around and there are several variants of this. Most people recommend the human running away and hiding as a consequence for a dog not coming when called. Ian Dunbar recommends it (as a one-time exercise) without the recall. Just leave the puppy when he is preoccupied and hide from him. Yet other people use running away from a puppy and even playing hide and seek as a game and a motivator. And Trish King of Canine Behavior Associates has a protocol called Abandonment Training that has some similarities but also important differences.

Let’s look in depth to see how this “runaway” thing can work.

First, here is  how people seem to think the first version is supposed to work.

Version 1: Negative Punishment

Just to be clear: the following is not a good behavioral analysis.

  • Antecedent: Human calls dog
  • Behavior: Dog fails to come (Note: NOT a good behavioral description)
  • Consequence: Human runs away and hides
  • Prediction: Failing to come when called decreases (probably untrue)

I believe that people think they are using negative punishment in this scenario. Negative punishment is the process where something is removed after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening less often. The human removes him or herself from the dog’s environment. But Houston, we’ve got a problem.

In behavior analysis, we need to specify a behavior, in this case, whatever is thought to be punished. And we didn’t. “Failing to come” when called is not a behavioral description. People try to make it into one when they say the dog is “blowing them off” or “giving them the paw.” The fact those also are not realistic  descriptions either should give us pause.

So let’s think about what the dog might be doing instead of coming when called.

  • Sniffing
  • Chasing a squirrel
  • Digging a hole
  • Staring at something in the distance
  • Rolling
  • Barking at a stag beetle
  • Et cetera! The possibilities are infinite.

Problem #1. If we think we are punishing a behavior, what is it? We can’t be punishing an individual behavior if the dog is doing something different every time he doesn’t come when called and we left, and he probably is.  However, it gets worse.

Problem #2. Timing. Let’s say Fido is sniffing the ground. You call him. He keeps sniffing. You disappear. Sometime later, he notices you are gone. The problem is that your leaving and his sniffing are not connected. We can’t really expect Fido to review the last two minutes and think, “Oh let’s see, she called me. What was I doing then? Oh yeah, I was sniffing. Now she has disappeared. I’d better not sniff anymore.”

So this may feel like punishment from the human’s standpoint. “I’ll show him! I’ll go get in the car if he doesn’t come!” Just like some beleaguered parents end up threatening to do with their kids. But the analysis doesn’t work out that way. (See below under Abandonment Training for a protocol that removes these problems.)

In truth, we are not looking to punish something as much as we are trying to get behavior.  We are trying to increase the behaviors of the dog staying connected and coming when called. So let’s re-analyze it as a reinforcement scenario. We will have to move our behavioral lens over one notch and start with the human leaving. So now we get the Dunbar version.

Version 2: Negative Reinforcement

  • Antecedent: Human hides, leaving puppy alone
  • Behavior: Pup looks for and finds human
  • Consequence: State of being alone ends
  • Prediction: Pup looking for human increases

The behavioral mathematics work out better here, although it’s a tricky scenario.  I’ll be discussing it in more depth in a later post**. The aversive is being alone, which is very scary for many animals, especially young ones. The puppy can learn to escape being ditched or shorten the time by looking for the human more often, and noticing sooner when the human disappears. The pup can learn to avoid it entirely by looking for (or paying attention to the whereabouts of) the human all the time.

Let’s think about what the dog learns and how, though. Here is a true story from a friend, in her words:

Years ago I had my little sensitive Sheltie down at the oval. She was off leash and running around sniffing the ground, hot on the trail of something or other. Not having much experience at the time I called her to come however, she was that intent on sniffing that she was oblivious to my recall. A Trainer told me to go and hide berhind a car so that she could not see me. I did as I was asked and after hiding for a few minutes Elsa finally realised that I was gone. I will never forget the terrified look on her little face as she ran up to everyone checking them out to see if any of them were me. Broke my heart. I would never put my dog through that again. She obviously was not well trained at the time and should not even have been off leash in that environment. I had set my dear little friend up to fail.

This method to me seems quite extreme, especially since teaching a dog to check in frequently and come when called is not rocket science. If you have built a great foundation and relationship with the dog, you would have a very hard time even doing this test. I personally don’t want to teach, “Stay with me or else.” It’s using coercion as an unpleasant topping on a really nice cake.

Version #3: Running Away

Now the cool thing, and I think the point Eric Brad was getting to, is that you can also use running away as part of a positive reinforcement protocol. My original title for this piece was about the continuum, and how the same actions, running away and hiding, can range from extremely rewarding to completely aversive. Here is the other end of the spectrum from what I described above. Take a look at these puppies practicing running after and with their people.

This is a much happier scenario:

  • Antecedent: Human runs ahead of puppy (optionally calling to them)
  • Behavior: Puppy chases and catches up
  • Consequence: Treat and/or play is added
  • Prediction: Pup running after human increases

And you can see it increase in the movie, can’t you? By the end of their turn, many of the puppies can hardly be left behind anymore and are happily running with their humans.

A small dog, a black and white rat terrier with very large ears that stand up, is running towards the side of a human (you can see only the human's pant leg. The dog's mouth is open, her foot is raised in mid stride, and she looks excited and happy.
Cricket (14 years old in this photo)  liked playing chase games 

So what’s different? First, the humans didn’t hide. They just ran a few feet away from the puppy in wide open spaces. They didn’t lump straight to disappearing. Second, the puppies got a fun treat when they caught up. Third, they got to chase something, a favored activity for many dogs!

Now let’s compare the three different behavioral analyses. In Version #1, the human running away and hiding is the consequence, not the antecedent. It is performed as a result of something the dog did (or didn’t do). It is not an antecedent, or cue for a behavior.

In Version #2 it is an aversive antecedent. The human hides without warning from a young, dependent animal. The puppy is prompted to relieve the stress of being left alone by finding the human.

But in Version #3, the running away scenario, it is a non-stressful or very low stress antecedent. There might be a couple of moments early on where the puppy is going “Huh? where did he go?” But the humans stay close and out in plain sight and the pup learns the game. The difference was that they started out with baby steps. And at that point in the game they called the pups after they were coming to help teach them the cue.

And that leads us to…

Version #4 Hide and Seek

So if hiding is aversive, as described in Version #2, how come some people play it as a game?

The hiding as described in Versions 1 and 2, if used as a training technique, is lumping. In some cases deliberate lumping. The pup has not learned a fun game based on trying to find mom or dad. Suddenly disappearing on a puppy is quite different from doing a careful buildup. The people who do play hide and seek as part of a recall game take it in steps, just like with any other good training. They start off like the people in the puppy video I linked to above. They take care not to push too far and lose the pup’s trust.

Here’s a a short post and video by Mary Hunter, playing hide and seek with her parents’ dog Ginger. Ginger clearly thinks this is fun. Notice that Mary barely even goes out of sight before she calls Ginger. She is demonstrating a great way to start. Building very carefully on this foundation will probably result in a dog who associates looking for and finding her human with some of the best fun ever.

I will mention that I failed to make hide and seek fun for two of my three dogs when I tried it.  It’s easy to go too fast, or fail to notice signs of stress. Clara, the formerly feral dog, and Zani, the sensitive one, both got a little stressed out when I tried this game. Summer was fine and had quite the drive for it. My failure with the others may be solely a result of lumping on my part, or could be connected with their temperaments. But I shudder to think of the effect on them if I suddenly disappeared on them in real life as some kind of test.

Version #5: Abandonment Training

I want to mention that there is a formal training protocol for reactive/aggressive dogs that fits into the “runaway” category. It is Trish King of Canine Behavior Associates’ Abandonment Training for Aggression. And although it is not something I would choose to do because of where it lands on the Humane Hierarchy (negative punishment and arguably positive punishment), it addresses the problems I noted in Version #1 above.

It is a protocol for when the dog performs aggressive behavior. It consists of the handler throwing the leash at the dog as a tactile cue and leaving. (There is also a long line on the dog.) But there are some preparations set for the exercise.

Trish King knows her learning theory, so this method is superior to the “just up and leave” method in terms of coherence to the dog. First, the dog is taught a cue that means the handler is leaving, and is positively reinforced for coming along. (That cue includes the tactile experience of having a leash dropped on its back.) So the dog develops some fluency, in neutral situations, of turning and leaving with its handler on cue. Second, a specific behavior (or set of behaviors) is the target for the punishment. In this case, it is barking and other aggressive behaviors, not a “non-behavior” such as not coming when called). Third, the cue for leaving is delivered exactly when the dog is performing the undesired behavior, so the relationship between the two is clear.

Good Methods for Teaching Attention and Recall

Black and tan dog rushing up steps
Zani comes when called

Except for the puppy recall video, it appears that most of the above is about what not to do. So here are some more resources for kindly and fun methods for training recalls, and a couple of inspirational vids as well.

And for some inspiration:

Amy the rat shows that small animals can learn verbal cues and have a splendid recall.

Promoting Positive Reinforcement Training: A compilation of positively reinforced recalls. This one gives me goosebumps. Special thanks to Ines Gaschot for this showcase.

Thanks to Conekt (Andy Ferra) on Flickr for the top photo, “Lonely Dog.”

Note: In case you regularly check out what is coming up, this post is the one that was formerly referred to as, “OMG Could she really be talking about the Continuum again?”

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

**In Version #2, there could be some positive reinforcement as well: adding the human back into the environment could cause joy as well as relief. Whether the aversive is present depends on the internal responses of the animal, but that’s not uncommon. We can’t “see” if a shock collar causes pain, but we can tell whether it can be used to drive behavior or not. And in both cases we can study the visible behavioral responses and body language of the dog. A third party, present when the puppy was left, could tell pretty easily in most cases whether the puppy was panicked or having a great time searching.

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.

Continue reading “Summer Learns An Alternative to Being the Fun Police”
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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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. We were just lucky 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 entire 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. (She learned it later on a different platform, but I blocked that one, too!) I worked proactively with classical conditioning to prevent her from 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 included washing the window panes and cleaning the frames.

And although it would have been easier with two people, I could apply the film by myself. The instructions and the toolkit 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 left 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!)

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:

Cppyright 2013 Eileen Anderson

Calm Submissive

Calm Submissive

According to the well known TV personality (I won’t call him a trainer) Cesar Millan, “calm submissive” is a very desirable state for your dog to be in.

A small dog is lying on her right side in the dirt. Her legs, belly, and face are tan. She is black elsewhere. Her legs are stretched out in front of her and her head is on the ground. At first glance she looks relaxed, but her front legs are actually stiff and one is being held off the ground.
Is Zani calm? Check out her left front leg before you decide.**

OK, I don’t even want to begin to address the word submissive. So far I’m just thinking about “calm.”

Here is a dictionary definition:

Free from excitement or passion; tranquil.

A black dog with tan on her face and front legs is seen to be sitting. She is looking down.
Zani shut down

My friend Diana and I were discussing seeing the difference between a shut-down dog and a calm dog. I have some video footage, soon to be published, of Zani in a shut-down state. (It was long ago and she had been rude to little Cricket, who snarked at her. For whatever reason, that time it upset Zani greatly. She shut down and tuned the world out for about half an hour afterwards.) Diana said it would be great to contrast the shut down state with photos or video of Zani when she is calm, so as to help demonstrate the difference.

So I started thinking how I would film Zani being “calm.”

First of all, I realized calm is not a behavior. It is an emotional state, but it can sometimes be observed by physiological signs. I would say they include:

  • slow to moderate heart rate
  • slow to moderate breathing
  • relaxed muscles or muscles being used smoothly
  • lack of signs of arousal or excitement

I tried to list positive signs first, but it is easiest to see calm as a lack, yes? Like the definition: free from excitement. In a dog we might notice:

  • lack of barking
  • lack of panting
  • lack of excitement
  • lack of trembling
  • lack of running around
  • lack of jumping on people or chewing the furniture
  • …ad infinitum.

Calm as Contrast

I’ve also realized that in English, “calm” is frequently used as a contrast word. What picture does the following sentence bring to mind?

Henry calmly got out his wallet and removed his driver’s license.

What did you visualize? I bet 9 out of 10 people visualized Henry being stopped by a police officer. The word “calm” in such a sentence would be emphasizing that Henry is cool under pressure, and/or innocent of any law breaking.

Did anybody visualize Henry lying on a couch, watching TV and drinking beer, reaching idly into his wallet to take a look at his license or show it to his girlfriend?  <<crickets chirping>>

Yet even if Henry were a really coolheaded guy, he would probably be much more calm in that situation than when being confronted by a police officer.

The more I think about it, the more examples I can think of where “calm” is used to in a situation where there is something exciting or stressful going on. “Julie was calm in the face of danger.” “David is calm under pressure.” We even say that dogs give “calming signals.” They are generally stress indicators.  Calm is usually noted as a (desirable) reaction to something stressful. Whereas the word relaxed, though related, describes a physical/mental state only and doesn’t necessarily imply as much about the surrounding environment. So it’s kind of hard to photograph “calm.” It’s comparative.

a sable colored dog and a smaller, black and tan dog are on the top step of a porch. They are both looking to the left. The sable dog's commissure is pushed a little forward. The smaller dog is just looking.
Zani and Summer look at a cat

Here’s a “calm by contrast” photo. Summer and Zani are looking at a cat. Summer is starting an agonistic pucker of her mouth and is standing up. Zani, by contrast, is sitting. She is watching attentively but not braced as readily for action. She is more calm than Summer. But is she “calm”? Maybe about as “calm” as Henry was when taking his driver’s license out for the cop.

Calmness in Dogs

At first I couldn’t decide whether to say Zani is calm most of the time or never. In a dog as well adjusted as she is, one tends to take a certain amount of calmness for granted.

But actually, living with Zani around the house, I would rarely call her demeanor “calm.” She’s either asleep, or she is active. When she’s interacting with the other dogs or me she is alert, in the game,  responsive, high energy, even wired. And it was pretty telling that I couldn’t find many pictures or videos in which she looks “calm.”

We Glupling Trainers tend to work on calmness with dogs for whom overstimulated emotional states are a problem. In other words, it’s for their benefit at least as much as it is for ours. My dog Summer is reactive. My dog Clara is feral and also easily overaroused. These dogs need help being calm. So we practice things like Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol and straight relaxation, as in this video I made with Clara.

I’ve always been sure Zani, like any dog, would benefit from those exercises, but frankly, it hasn’t been high on my list. That is, until I recorded a bunch of footage of the dogs doing crate and mat exercises this morning. From watching the recordings, I saw that I have probably underestimated the stress in Zani’s life. Up till now, I haven’t worked on calm with her because she is a trouble-free dog for me. I’m feeling a bit like a self-centered jerk after watching that footage. Some dogs are amazing for putting up with us at all. She is very sensitive. But that’s a topic for my next installment.

Here are the “calmest” pics I could find of Zani, but in the ones where she is cocking her head, she is working me for a treat. She tends to snap to attention when I get the camera out.

Cesar is Confused

Isn’t that a nice way to put it?

Cesar often calls dogs “relaxed” or “calm submissive” when they are motionless but frightened out of their wits, as indicated by trembling, stiffness, rolling eyes, or the release of urine. You can see him do that in this video analysis of “Showdown with Holly,” if you can stomach it. At 3:19, he says, “See the relaxation.” I think he says that basically because Holly is lying down. It’s clear when the camera turns her way that Holly is far from relaxed. But Cesar is not famous for his ability to read dog body language.

For Cesar Millan, “calm submissive” means, “I can do stuff to this dog and it won’t react.” It is equivalent to what we would call “shut down.”

In contrast, the most important state for my dogs to be in, at any time, is “happy.” After that, I value alert, responsive, cooperative. Excited some of the time, calm when appropriate.

As I write this, Zani is sprawled at my feet in the position I call “flounder,” as in the very first photo at the top. She’s lying flat on her side with her head down. Is she calm? No. She is completely alert, offering that funny behavior, trying to get me to give her a treat. And that’s perfectly OK with me. For now. But I need to observe and analyze just how much of the time she is “working.” Maybe I, too, have been  guilty of assuming that a dog that doesn’t bother me is “calm” a lot more often than she really is.

I really thank Diana for her part in helping me to see this.

How about you? Can you define “calm”? How would you take a picture of it? Have you observed or filmed your dogs being calm?

Thanks for viewing! Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

** A note about the first picture. This is not an appeasement display. But neither is Zani relaxed. She is offering that behavior because she thought it up and I have reinforced it. You can see that she is holding her right front leg stiffly out from her body. Her eyes are staring straight ahead and not soft. She is working for a treat.

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