eileenanddogs

Category: Dog body language

3 Reasons a Little Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue

3 Reasons a Little Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue

small rat terrier won't lie down and her belly is off the floor
Cricket almost lying down. Note the space under her chest.

When I first started training dogs, things that didn’t work were a mystery to me. Why couldn’t I reward Summer with chasing squirrels like everybody said I could? Why couldn’t I find that slot in the layout of her teeth where the experienced trainers said she should hold the dumbbell? And why, oh why, could I not teach Cricket to lie down on cue? At first, I saw everything through the lens of disobedience: my dogs were wrong when things didn’t work out. As I learned more about training, I realized these things were on me. There was something I was doing wrong. But often, I still couldn’t figure out what it was.

Continue reading “3 Reasons a Little Dog Might Not Lie Down on Cue”
Shelter Pup “Smiles” From FEAR After She’s Adopted

Shelter Pup “Smiles” From FEAR After She’s Adopted

brown puppy shows a submissive grin

The viral video linked below shows a scared puppy.

  • The puppy huddles at the back of an enclosure.
  • At the beginning of the video, her front legs are braced, pushing her backward.
  • She blinks and squints repeatedly.
  • She looks away and turns her head away several times.
  • Her ears are pulled back.
  • She pulls her mouth back into a “grin” that is associated with appeasement.

All of these behaviors demonstrate stress.

Continue reading “Shelter Pup “Smiles” From FEAR After She’s Adopted”
My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training

My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training

I always flinch a little when people start to discuss dogs’ emotions. What’s coming? Relevant, evidence-based observations or woo? I’ve removed some words from my own vocabulary when talking about dogs because of this. Even though my relationships with my dogs are primary and important, I hesitate to talk about “bonds” or “trust” anymore.  It sounds so…I don’t know…West Coast. (I can say that because I’m from California.)

I believe that the people who are out there focusing on magical energy and bonds and leadership and trust and all those other things we can’t describe concretely Continue reading “My Dog’s Emotional State: Crucial to Training”

Does a Wagging Tail Mean a Happy Dog?

Does a Wagging Tail Mean a Happy Dog?

Black dog with tail held high
Zani’s tail is up, and you’ll see in the video below that it is wagging. Does she look friendly and happy?

Why do dogs wag their tails? The prevailing view is that they do so when they feel happy and friendly. Many do, but dogs also wag their tails in other situations. So the answer to the title question is no. Dogs wagging their tails are not always expressing friendliness or joy. Not by a long shot.

Continue reading “Does a Wagging Tail Mean a Happy Dog?”
Scared Dog vs. Happy and Engaged Dog

Scared Dog vs. Happy and Engaged Dog

Black dog with brown ears, shot from the back. Ears express alert dog body language

Here’s a little dog body language study.

My dear Zani shows a lot of emotion, which means she is a good dog to observe. She is pretty easy to read and can teach us a lot.

The short video below consists of two quick clips taken less than two minutes apart. In one clip, Zani is afraid, and in the other, she is having a good time.

Continue reading “Scared Dog vs. Happy and Engaged Dog”
My Dog Is Afraid of the Clicker. What Should I Do?

My Dog Is Afraid of the Clicker. What Should I Do?

I wrote this article especially for people who are either new to using a clicker or have not dealt extensively with a fearful dog.

If your dog is scared by the noise of the clicker, slow down. Switch to a verbal marker for now. Don’t immediately focus on trying to achieve softer clicks. Here’s why.

A brown and white rat terrier is looking eagerly up at her human
Rat terrier Kaci says, “Train me!”
Continue reading “My Dog Is Afraid of the Clicker. What Should I Do?”
Finding the Joy in Agility

Finding the Joy in Agility

What do you see in this professional photo of Summer on an agility A-frame in a competition?

She’s so pretty in that photo, and running nicely, but you know what? She wasn’t happy.

Here are a couple more photos from that same trial.

Summer was not miserable. She was responsive and doing what I was asking her to do. (What a good girl!) But she was stressed. And she was not joyful. I can tell it from her face, which was drawn, even a bit grim. For some dogs, that particular look might just be focus. But for her, it shows unpleasant stress. Can you tell?

How Was She Trained?

Summer’s agility behaviors were trained with positive reinforcement. She was never forced onto the equipment, but was taught gradually and gently. She wasn’t scared of it. She was physically confident and generally enjoyed the activity. So why did she look grim in these trial photos? I can identify three reasons.

  • She was undertrained. She just didn’t have that much experience yet and wasn’t solid. The behaviors weren’t “can do it in her sleep” fluent.
  • She was stressed in the trial environment. It was outdoors, there were lots of dogs, it was muddy and rainy, and she didn’t have enough experience in challenging public situations.
  • This is actually the big one. I had trained her with positive reinforcement, but I had not sought out and used reinforcers that she was wildly crazy about.

Fixing the last one sent us well on our way to fixing all three.

Finding the Joy in Agility

At the time these photos were taken in 2008, I had recently found a new teacher. She helped me realized that even though Summer could perform most of the behaviors, and had even had some qualifying runs, I was trialing her too early.

So, we worked on Summer’s and my agility behaviors. We worked on her distractibility, especially her penchant for hunting turtles. We worked on my handling, so I could be consistent and clear. She showed me that almost anything Summer did (except to run after a turtle) was because I had cued it with my body. We cut down and practically eliminated the times when Summer might just run off after a bad cue of mine, both because my cues got better, and because Summer found it worthwhile to stick around even when I messed up.

At my teacher’s encouragement, I found very high-value treats that turned Summer’s attention on high. And we used a novel reinforcer—playing in the spray of a garden hose—as a reinforcer for a whole sequence.* The water play not only upped her excitement about agility in general, it was also great for proofing her performance. She learned that if she ran straight to the hose rather than following my signals, no water came out. But finish the sequence correctly, and there was a party with the hose. She loved it!

Transfer of Value

In my last blog post I described how I became a conditioned reinforcer to my dogs over the years through regular association with food and fun. The same thing happened with agility.  All those good feelings associated with the high-value goodies, the fun, and the hose bled right over into agility behaviors.

Three years later, we competed again. We had practiced going to new environments. The fun of agility was so strong, and our behaviors were that much more fluent, that this is how she now looked in competition.

sable dog jumping an agility jump with happy look on her face showing the joy in agility

sable dog exiting an agility chute with happy look on her face showing the joy in agility

Summer came to love agility. She sprang from the start line when released. She ran fast and happy. She was an unlikely agility dog with her penchant for turtles and other prey. But she not only got good at it, she loved it. And I loved doing it with her. Even after I got Zani, who was young, physically apt and very responsive—running with Summer was always like coming home.

I thought about calling this post “Going Beyond Positive Reinforcement,” but I decided that was inaccurate. I didn’t need to go beyond it. The difference was just better positive reinforcement training.  More thorough, more general, more thoughtful. And the result was joy.

If you want to see just how joyful, watch the following video. The first clip is from 2012, at a trial. Even though it was late in the day and I made some clumsy errors, she ran happy! The comparison in her demeanor from the previous competition is striking. It is followed by the best example of her speed I have on film: a run we did in 2014 at an agility field (with distractions). Finally, I show some messing around we did at home in 2016, just to share how delighted we were to be playing with one another. She was 10 years old then, and that winter was the last time shared the joy of agility together. (She passed away in August, 2017.)

Link to the agility joy video for email subscribers.

My teacher, and other great trainers who have influenced me, have taught me to set the bar (ha-ha) high. It’s not enough that a dog can do the behaviors. It’s not enough that they can qualify. It’s not enough that they can get ribbons. It’s not enough that they are happy to get their treat at the end of the run or get to go explore the barn area at the fairgrounds.

What’s enough is getting the joy.

*If you allow your dog to play in water, especially with a hose, make sure she doesn’t ingest too much. Drinking too much water can be deadly.

Related Posts

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

Ist dieser Hund außer Kontrolle vor Freude oder aus Stress – falsche Frage

Ist dieser Hund außer Kontrolle vor Freude oder aus Stress – falsche Frage

Click here for the English version of this post. 

Immer wieder machen Videos von Agility Hunden die Runde im Internet, die die “Zoomies” kriegen, also ohne ihren Hundeführer vom Kurs abkommen und über den ganzen Parkour ihre Runden drehen und hüpfen.

Üblicherweise gibt es dann die Diskussion, ob das aus Übermut/Freude oder aus Stress passiert.

Das sind natürlich gute Fragen. Meine Meinung: ich habe deutlich mehr Hunde gesehen, die das aus Stress machen, viel seltener habe ich Hunde gesehen, die plötzlich aus lauter Freude einen Lauf- und Hüpf-Anfall kriegen.

Ich rede mal ein bisschen darüber, was diese “Zoomies” auslösen kann, aber letztendlich werde ich auf den Punkt kommen, den ich viel wichtiger finde als Spekulationen über die innere Motivation des Hundes. Weil für diesen wichtigen Aspekt ist es egal, ob ein Hund aus Übermut oder Stress unansprechbar losrennt.

Wie Zoomies häufig anfangen

Ich habe noch nie – im Video oder auf dem Platz – gesehen, dass ein Hund seinen Menschen stehen lässt um alleine loszupesen, wenn der Agility-Kurs gut verläuft und Hund und Halter gut in Verbindung stehen. Bestimmt passiert auch das, alles passiert mal im Agility. Aber typischerweise passiert so etwas nach einem Führfehler. Wenn man (noch) nicht gut im Agility ist, kann das aussehen wie ein Fehler des Hundes. Schließlich wissen wir Zuschauer, was das nächste Hindernis sein sollte – und der Hund läuft woanders hin. Aber oft rennt der Hund, der vom Kurs abweicht, genau dahin, wohin der Halter ihn (versehentlich) geschickt hat.

Ich höre noch wie Gerry Brown, mit dem ich mal trainieren durfte, sagt “schau auf deine Füße”. Als ich nach unten sah, schauten meine Füße genau in die Richtung in die mein Hund ganz pflichtbewusst gerannt war – in die falsche Richtung. Und auch meinen eigenen Trainer hab ich im Ohr „Du hast sie da hin geschickt.“ Warum auch immer, es ist für uns Agility-Anfänger schwierig zu verinnerlichen, dass der Hund oft genau das macht, was wir angezeigt haben, wenn er diese Art „Fehler“ macht.

Zoomies passieren also häufig, wenn wir den Hund ab ins Niemandsland schicken. Unsere Körpersprache kann dazu führen, dass der Hund vom Kurs abkommt und dann wie eine Rakete losgeht. Zoomies passieren auch, wenn man zu viel von einem Hund verlangt. Sie können vorkommen, wenn der Hund generell Stress hat, sie können auftreten, wenn wir immer wieder vom Hund verlangen, eine Sequenz oder ein Hindernis zu wiederholen, das am Anfang fehlerhaft ausgeführt wurde oder verweigert. Manchmal ist der Grund auch, dass wir den Übergang von Training zum Wettkampf nicht gut genug trainiert haben. Wenn der Hund nicht gelernt hat, auch mal ohne Belohnung zwischendurch einen Kurs zu laufen, dann leidet er unterwegs schon aus Mangel an positivem Feedback und sucht sich eine anderen Verstärker.

Man braucht Erfahrung, gute Anleitung und gute Beobachtungsgabe um zu erkennen, wenn man einen Fehler gemacht hat. Oft merken wir es mitten im Lauf nicht, besonders bei einem Wettbewerb und denken, der Hund hat einen Fehler gemacht.

Beispiel für Abweichung vom Kurs

Hier ein Beispiel dafür, wie es aussieht, wenn ein Hund dahin läuft, wohin er geschickt wurde, nicht dahin, wohin der Halter vorhatte ihn zu lotsen. In dieser Fotosequenz von einem Training bei uns im Hinterhof sende ich Zani in einen Wust von Slalomstangen im Blumenbeet statt über die zweite Hürde.

Im ersten Foto habe ich den Kurs eingezeichnet, den ich für sie geplant hatte. Agility-Kundige können sehen, dass ich nicht gut positioniert bin, Zani hat nicht genug Platz und sie sitzt schief zur ersten Hürde.

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani at the beginning of an agility sequence

Die folgenden Fotos zeigen was passiert ist als ich mich nicht schnell genug und nicht eng genug gedreht habe, um sie über die zweite Hürde zu schicken. Erstaunlicherweise hat sie die erste Kurve gekriegt (obwohl mein Handling nicht gepasst hat). Aber was passiert als nächstes?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani turning in an agility sequence
Sehen Sie, dass sie nun genau dahin läuft, wo meine Gestik sie hinschickt?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani in agility sequence with Zani zooming away
Meine Drehung kommt viel zu spät.

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani zooming into a flower bed
Ab ins Blumenbeet!

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani ending up in a flower bed

Ich hatte versucht, eine scharfe Rechtswendung anzuzeigen, aber meine Drehung war weder ausreichend schnell noch scharf genug. Außerdem wäre ich ihr im Weg gestanden. Als ehrliches treues Mädchen lief Zani genau dorthin, wo ich sie hingeschickt hatte.

Diese peinlichen Bilder veröffentliche ich, um zu zeigen wie üblich es ist, dass der Hund genau das macht, was wir angewiesen haben – ob wir das in dem Moment realisieren oder nicht! So bald Hunde die grundsätzliche Körpersprache beim Agility gelernt haben sprechen sie diese besser als wir. Hätte es kein Blumenbeet gegeben, hätte ich Zani weit voraus ins Nirwana geschickt. Und wenn das ein Wettbewerb gewesen wäre, je nach unserer Verbindung miteinander und danach, wie gestresst wir beide gewesen wären, hätte ich ziemliche Schwierigkeiten gehabt, sie wieder zu mir zu kriegen.

Was passiert, wenn ein Hund “Zoomies” hat?

Also, zurück zum aktuell kursierenden Zooming-Video. Nach einiger Überlegung habe ich entschieden es hier nicht zu verlinken. Man findet solche Videos sehr leicht auf YouTube.

Im letzten, das ich gesehen habe, scheint ein Führfehler oder Einschätzungsfehler zu einem Verlust der Verbindung zwischen Hund und Besitzer zu führen. (Der Fehler war, vom Hund wiederholt ein Hindernis zu verlangen, das er verweigert hatte) Man sieht, wie die Verbindung zu bröseln beginnt. Dann haut der Hund ab und vollführt diese faszinierenden Sprünge über alle möglichen Hindernisse (nicht Hürden). Die meisten Diskussionen über dieses Video drehen sich darum, ob der Hund aus Stess oder aus purer Freude herumzoomt. Zeitweise sieht es so aus, als würde sie Spaß haben.

Aber ich finde, „Stress oder Freude“ ist nicht die Frage, die wir eigentlich stellen sollten.

Operationalizing Zoomies

Hier gibts nichts zu sehen, bitte gehen sie weiter

Was, wenn wir nicht versuchen, was der Hund gerade fühlt, sondern anschauen, was der Hund tut? Was, wenn wir das Zooming exakt als Ablauf beschreiben? In den Videos, die ich gesehen habe, gibt es eins, das alle Hunde tun, während sie rennen und springen.

Sie meiden ihre Halter.

Die Halter winken, pfeifen oder rufen, versuchen genügend Verbindung zum Hund zu kriegen um weiterlaufen zu können. In einem der letzten Videos habe ich in 56 Sekunden Zooming 10 Versuche mit Rufen oder Winken gezählt. Erfolglos.

Dieser Halter hat mein volles Mitgefühl. Mir ist das auch schon passiert. Aber seinen Hund nicht zurückrufen zu können, der volle Pulle rennt, ist nicht witzig. Es ist auch nicht niedlich. Und es braucht nicht als Video mit netter Hintergrundmusik veröffentlicht zu werden. Es ist eine Frage der Sicherheit.

Im Hintergrundton zum Video hört man wie jemand von der Seite reinruft, die Richter sollen auf den Ausgang aufpassen. Ein hervorragender Vorschlag.

Wenn wir also vom Sofa aus gute Tipps geben und darüber diskutieren ob das jetzt Stress ist oder nicht, verlieren wir vielleicht das Wichtigste aus den Augen. Wir spekulieren über die Motivation des Hundes, und fühlen uns auf vertrautem Boden. Aber eigentlich schauen wir ein Video von einem unangeleinten Hund, der nicht auf einen Rückruf reagiert. Wiederholt. In einer Umgebung, die nicht geschlossen ist.

Und das ist das Problem mit Zoomies und Zoomie-Videos. Sich erfolglos in öffentlicher Umgebung um die Aufmerksamkeit unseres Hundes zu bemühen ist kein Spaß. Die Sicherheit des Hundes, anderer Hunde und sogar von Menschen kann auf dem Spiel stehen.

Many thanks to translator Eva Kahnt!

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Is That Zooming Agility Dog Stressed or Happy? Wrong Question!

Is That Zooming Agility Dog Stressed or Happy? Wrong Question!

Brown, mixed breed dog zooming

Auf Deutsch. (German version of this post.)

There’s a video going around (there always is, right?) of an agility dog getting the “zoomies” and taking off on her own, running and jumping all over the ring without her handler.

As usual, there is plenty of discussion about it. Is the zooming dog stressed out? Or is she expressing fun and joy?

I think these are good questions to ask. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen far more stressed dogs zooming.  I think it’s rarer to see dogs who are suddenly possessed with an urge to run around joyfully by themselves on an agility course.

I’m going to talk just a little bit about what can prompt zooming behavior. But I will focus on an issue that I believe is much bigger than speculating about the dog’s inner state. Because in one important way, it doesn’t matter whether a dog is running from joy or stress.

How Zoomies Often Start

I have never seen, in a video or in person, a dog leave her handler to go running around by herself when the agility run is going well and the dog and handler are connected. I’m sure it happens—everything happens in agility. But the more typical time for it to happen is after a handler error. If you’re not familiar with agility, this can look like the dog is in error. After all, we spectators can usually tell what the next obstacle is supposed to be, and the dog is going somewhere else. But often when the dog “runs off,” she is going exactly where the handler (accidentally) sent her.

I can hear Gerry Brown, whom I was lucky enough to have a private lesson and a seminar spot with, saying, “Look at your feet!” When I looked down, they were pointing in the direction my dog was dutifully running—the “wrong” way. And I can hear my own teacher saying many times: “You sent her there.” For whatever reason, it’s hard for us beginning agility folks to grasp that the dog is often doing exactly what we indicated when they make this kind of “error.”

So zoomies often happen after we send the dog off into no man’s land. Our moves can result in the dog going off-course and then taking off like a rocket. Zoomies can also start when we ask too much of a dog. They can start when the dog is generally stressed out. They can start when we keep asking the dog to repeat an obstacle that was executed incorrectly or avoided the first time. Or sometimes they happen because we have not worked at transitioning to trial situations well enough. If the dog is not used to running without added reinforcement, she may already be suffering from lack of positive feedback and will seek alternative reinforcement.

It takes some experience, good instruction, and good observation skills to see when we made an error. We often don’t realize it in the middle of a run, especially in competition. We think the dog made a mistake.

Off-Course Example

Here’s what it looks like when a dog goes where the handler directs her instead of where the handler intended. In this photo sequence of some backyard practice, I accidentally send Zani into a clump of weave polls in the flowerbed instead of sending her over a second jump. Yes, this was a real practice.

I have marked on the first photo where I intended for her to go. Agility folks can see that I am not positioned well, there’s not enough room, and Zani is not facing the jump.

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani at the beginning of an agility sequence

The subsequent photos show what happened when I didn’t turn tightly or soon enough to send her over the second jump. Miraculously, she made the first turn, no thanks to my handling. But what’s going to happen next?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani turning in an agility sequence

Can you see that she now goes exactly where my gestures indicate she should go?

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani in agility sequence with Zani zooming away

My turn is way too late!

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani zooming into a flower bed

Into the flowerbed!

Eileen and little black hound dog Zani during agility training, with Zani zooming into a flower bed

I was trying to cue a hard right turn but didn’t turn quickly enough or sharply enough. Not to mention I would have been in her way. Being an honest and truehearted girl, Zani went exactly where I asked her to!

I offer these embarrassing photos to show how common it is for the dog to be doing exactly what we asked, whether we think so at the time or not. Once they learn the basic language of agility, they speak it better than we do. If there had been no flowerbed, I would have sent Zani off into the wild blue yonder. And if this were in a trial, depending on our connection and both of our stress levels, I could have had a heck of a time getting her back.

What’s Happening If the Dog Gets the Zoomies?

So, back to the latest zooming dog video. After some consideration, I decided not to link to it here. You can easily find several on YouTube that feature what I’m discussing.

In the latest one I’ve seen, a possible handler error of judgment seems to prompt a disconnect between dog and handler. (The error was to repeatedly ask the dog to make another attempt at a failed obstacle.) You can see the connection starting to break. Then the dog takes off, circling the ring and doing these stupendous jumps over non-jump obstacles. Most discussions I have seen about the video are about whether the dog is zooming out of stress or just having a good time. It does appear that at times she is enjoying herself.

But I put it to you that “stressed-out versus having fun” is not the question we should be asking.

Operationalizing Zoomies

Humorous picture of a woman holding an agility tunnel with a small black dog sitting inside it
Nothing to see here, folks, move along

What if we look at what the dog is actually doing rather than trying to assess her demeanor? What if we operationalize the zooming, try to describe it exactly? In the videos I have in mind, there is something most dogs are very obviously doing while also running and jumping.

They are avoiding their handlers.

The handlers beckon and call, trying to get connected enough to resume the run together. In the video I saw recently, the handler either called or beckoned to the dog 10 times during 56 seconds of zooming by my count. Unsuccessfully.

I have all the empathy in the world for that handler. I’ve been there. But not being able to recall your dog who is running around at full speed is not a joke. It’s not cute. It doesn’t need to be published as a video with cute background music.  It’s an issue of safety.

During part of that video, you can hear someone on the sidelines warning the stewards to watch the gate. That’s an excellent idea.

So as we discuss and play armchair quarterback about whether the dog is stressed or not, we are perhaps not perceiving the bigger issue. We are so comfortable speculating about a dog’s motivations. That’s familiar ground. But we are actually watching a video of an off-leash dog not responding to being called. We are seeing a failed recall cue. Repeatedly. In an environment that is not completely enclosed.

And that’s the problem with zoomies and zoomie videos. Trying unsuccessfully to get our dog’s attention in a public environment is no joke. The dog’s safety, that of other dogs, and even of people, are at risk.

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

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Cape Town, South Africa