eileenanddogs

Category: Dogs’ perceptions

7 Common Dog Training Errors: More Cautionary Tales

7 Common Dog Training Errors: More Cautionary Tales

I have to admit that I likely have a fair number of readers who look forward to reading about my mistakes. But hey, I asked for it, from the very first day of the blog.

My previous post on common dog training errors was very popular and I’m very happy to see it still making the rounds! So here are seven more, five of which I have personally made in spades.

(1) Too much freedom too soon 

The person who should be ashamed is me!
The one who should be ashamed about this is me!

Boy, this is an easy mistake to make. I bet a large percentage of problem behaviors and damaged property (and so-called “dog-shaming” photos) can be linked to this one simple error. Lots of times our hearts overrule our heads. Let’s say you just got a rescue dog. You feel very badly about his history. You work part-time  and you plan to crate him when you go to work. Only problem: he hates the crate. You can’t stand putting him in it the first day you go to work. The idea breaks your heart. He’s sleepy anyway when you get ready to go, so you just leave him loose in the house. You come home to poop in the corner, a chewed carpet, and some overturned plants. What a bad dog! No, he’s just a dog who hasn’t been taught the house rules yet. (Jean Donaldson’s book The Culture Clash explains this heartbreaking misunderstanding about dogs in an unforgettable way. It will change how you look at your patient, long-suffering dog forever.)

When I first got Summer, I had never had a puppy or an active adolescent dog before. I didn’t realize you couldn’t give dogs cardboard to chew on, then expect them to know not to chew up the books that were in a bookcase at floor level. I learned on the fly how to limit Summer’s opportunities to self-reinforce inappropriately, but with my two subsequent dogs I doled out freedom much more carefully from the get-go.

(This is not a how-to post, but in the case of the dog hating the crate, if you have to go somewhere before you have conditioned your dog to love a crate, most would recommend you use an exercise pen to enclose a safe space for him, or gate off the room of the house that is easiest to clear of tempting but forbidden items. And of course, leave him plenty of permissible activities, such as stuffed food toys.)

(2) Value of reinforcement too low

Last time I talked about rate of reinforcement, but what about the value? What if you ask  your dog to run a complete agility course for some kibble?  Or when she finally works up to 30 minutes quiet in the crate, you give her one piece of carrot? Or maybe you are trying not to use food at all, trying to get good results from your dog merely from praise or pats on the head (which are actually punishing for many dogs). No matter how frequently you praise, that just isn’t going to cut it with most dogs.

Chunks of dark meat chicken on a plate, round disks of dog food roll, a ziplock bag with pieces of dog food roll
Yummy stuff!

Food, especially good food, not only motivates your dog, it makes the communication in training crystal clear. When your dog gets a great treat repeatedly for the behavior you want, it makes it very clear to her that this is what pays off. There is no muddy water. If your dog is not responding eagerly in training sessions, check not only your rate of reinforcement, but the quality of it.

I have written about my own experience with Summer, who was highly distracted by her environment and just not really into the work we did. My food reinforcers, though high value, were cut in too small pieces.  Once I rectified that, the nice chunky new treats passed value to training in general and we got over the hump. She is now a training junkie and works eagerly for kibble.

I might also mention, once more, that what is yummy is defined by the dog. I was going to make a photo contrasting chunks of meat with something lower value. I thought of using bread, then remembered that my dog Summer will do anything for white bread. It pays to know these things!

(3) Over-using negative punishment

Negative punishment is defined as follows: Something is removed after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening less often. It often takes the form of a penalty or time-out.

Pulling the treat away when Zani moves out of a sit
Pulling the treat away when Zani moves out of a sit

The thing about negative punishment is that it meshes so perfectly with positive reinforcement sometimes. Too perfectly. It’s an easy default method. You start to hand the dog a cookie for staying in position. The dog starts to move out of position to get it, you pull the cookie back. You walk into the room where the puppy is in the crate. She starts to cry when she sees you. Oops! You turn on your heel and walk away. Or how about this one? You are teaching your dog the cups game, where she figure out which cup has the treat under it, then indicate that somehow. She guesses wrong and indicates the wrong cup. You immediately pull both the cups away.

These are all terrifically easy, and often effective ways to train. In all cases there is a penalty for the incorrect behavior, and it is the disappearance of the goodie the dog was  on the cusp of earning.

It surprises some people that negative punishment is at the same level on the Humane Hierarchy as extinction and negative reinforcement. Most trainers are more “OK” with negative punishment than negative reinforcement, but I think Dr. Friedman is telling us that we need to look at each case individually.

Negative punishment is punishment. It suppresses behavior. It can be unpleasant for the learner. It can directly inhibit them from trying stuff. Two of my dogs, Zani and Clara,  tend to shut down very fast if I pull an item away from them because they have taken the wrong action, as in the cups game example above.

I treat my own over-use of negative punishment as a symptom. When I find myself using it or being tempted a lot, I ask myself what it is that I have not sufficiently trained. If my dog is pulling out of position to get a cookie, there were probably holes in our stay practice. If the puppy regularly whines in the crate, I have lumped somewhere.

I’m not sure if this is an error in the same category as the others. It’s more of a value judgment. Negative punishment is still much more humane than some alternatives. But I invite you to look beyond it, whenever you find yourself or your students using it a lot.

(4) Treating in a sub-optimal position or manner

Pulling Cricket out of position for her treat
Pulling Cricket out of position for her treat

Well, there could be a whole treatise here. I am a former expert at this. You can see in this movie about Cricket in her Prime, from the very first scene, that I built into her training a little leap up for the treat in almost all behaviors. Partly because she was small, and partly because she was so intense, and entirely because I didn’t know any better. In the picture to the right, even though I had already clicked, how much better would it have been to treat her down on her mat rather than letting her jump up into the air? The position of your treat delivery can help train the behavior.

Then there’s the difference between throwing, dropping, or handing over treats. Throwing treats is very exciting and fun for lots of dogs. In certain situations it’s perfect for setting up another iteration of what you are practicing and buys you some time. So would you want to do that every time you click your dog for another increment of relaxation if that’s what you were practicing? Probably not. On the other hand, if your dog is slower than you’d like on some rapid-fire behavior, throwing treats for her to chase can amp things up.

And yes, I get the irony between the picture of my deliberately pulling Cricket out of her sit for a treat, and the picture of my pulling the treat away from Zani when she breaks position. Same picture. Hmm, I wonder how Zani learned to break position in the first place…

(5) Making training sessions look like “training” and not real life

Guilty, guilty, guilty. That’s me. This one is similar to “Failure to generalize,” in the last post but it’s more, um general. When you fail to generalize a behavior, a dog knows how to do it in one location or situation, but not another. So once your dog knows “sit” in all sorts of places and situations, is there something more you should do? You bet. Did you have your treat pouch on during all of those sessions? Or have your clicker and a pocketful of treats? Did you cut up the treats just beforehand? In other words, is everything about the situation screaming, “This is a training session?” Then good luck getting Fluffy to sit the first time your best friend comes over and you are having coffee at the kitchen table. It’s not just the possible lack of treats. It’s a completely different situation for your dog.

So first, the food. Your dog needs to learn that she might get a food treat even if she hasn’t seen all the signs of “training session.” One way to do this is to cache little covered containers of treats out of your dogs’  reach around the house and even the yard or your walk route. Casually, outside of a session, ask your dog for a sit. (Start off in the less challenging situation, of course.) Voila: out comes something really good from a jar on top of the bookcase! You can pull treats out of the sky!

Think about what else indicates to your dog that you are about to train? Do you gather up some props? Get your clicker? Put the other dog in a crate? Take your phone out of your pocket? Believe me, whatever the habits are, your dog knows them. So prepare to surprise your dog. Just like with any other training, start simple and raise your criteria. One of the main reasons most people train their dogs is to make them easier to live with. This won’t happen unless you integrate their training into real life.

(6) Clicking or marking without treating

I still see questions about this. “When can I stop treating for every click?” The answer is, “Never.” Although there are a few rarer training systems where one click does not equal one treat, if you are a beginner, forget about them for now. The clicker (or verbal marker if you use that instead) gets its power from being a perfect predictor of good things to come.

Now, it’s perfectly OK to fade the use of the clicker over time. You don’t have to click or mark every single time your dog does what you cue.  And over time, with skill, you can use food less and life rewards more. But if you click, give a treat, unless you just clicked something totally disastrous. One missed pairing out of 100 click/treats will not ruin the meaning of the clicker.* But just remember the look on your dog’s face when you don’t give them the promised treat, and do your best not to make that mistake again. Because clicking the wrong thing was your mistake, not your dog’s.

(7) Too long a delay between the behavior and the consequence: assuming the dog makes a connection when they can’t

I once read on a dog chat forum some comments by a man who was fervently defending punishing a dog when he got home and found out that the dog had done some misdeed–perhaps an elimination problem or the dog tore something up. He was incredulous that anyone would question his punishment; he said, “But dogs have great memories!”

Yes, they certainly do. His dog probably remembered peeing in the corner or how good that shoe tasted. But how exactly is the punishment supposed to be connected to that deed from hours earlier? The dog has performed hundreds of behaviors since then. Showing the dog the pee or the shoe does not connect their earlier action to whatever punishment is being doled out.

Consequences for behavior need to be very close in time to the behavior for behavior change to occur, and not just for dogs. A behavior analyst named Kennon Lattal has been the go-to guy since the 1970s for studying the effect of time delays and intervening events between behaviors and  reinforcers for people and all sorts of animals. In one famous experiment he tried for 40 days (one hour a day)  to shape a pigeon to peck a disk while delaying reinforcement for each behavior for 10 seconds. The pigeon never got there. When he changed the time delay to one second, the bird learned in 15-20 minutes.  (Paul Chance, Learning and Behavior, Fifth Edition, 2003, p. 160)

So, actually two lessons about treat timing here: when you are training, deliver those treats (or tennis balls, or whatever) as quickly and efficiently as you can. And in day to day life with your dog, don’t assume that if you give them a goodie or a talking to, that they can associate it with something they did 5 minutes or 5 hours ago.

Any of these strike home with you? Care to share? I can’t be the only one making these mistakes, can I?

This post is part of a series:

Coming Up:

  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • What if Respondent Learning Didn’t Work?

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

*There are eminent people who say you shouldn’t fail to treat even in this situation, even once.

Using Sound Masking To Protect Your Dog From Loud, Scary Sounds

Using Sound Masking To Protect Your Dog From Loud, Scary Sounds

If you have:

  • a dog who reacts to noises while at home;
  • a smartphone or tablet that can send a signal to wireless speakers; and
  • wireless speakers

…you can try sound masking to protect your dog from some sounds that might bother him.** 

Two dogs waiting to listen to some sound masking to see if it protects them from scary sounds
“We flunked our part of the movie!”

Continue reading “Using Sound Masking To Protect Your Dog From Loud, Scary Sounds”

8 Common Dog Training Errors: Cautionary Tales

8 Common Dog Training Errors: Cautionary Tales

As the great trainer Bob Bailey says, training is simple but not easy. The principles are very simple and straightforward, but actually applying them in practice can be very difficult.

I’ve mentioned many times that I am not a professional trainer. But I hang out with some phenomenal ones. Plus, I am a student of life and tend to do lots of observation of myself and others. (What, you had noticed?)  And I don’t mind sharing my own errors if it can help somebody along.

Here are eight of the top booboos in dog training. All of which I have done myself, and many of them on camera! (And guess what, I have 15-20 more! You can expect more posts on this if people enjoy this one.)

And by the way, these are errors made by trainers who are using the most humane methods they know and can learn. The list would be much different if it addressed mistakes made by trainers who make heavy use of aversives. I don’t want to write that list right now!

What Can Go Wrong?

(1) Allowing the dog to rehearse the behavior you’re trying to eliminate. One of my trainer friends says this is the #1 problem she runs into with her clients. A client will say, “I bought my dog a bed for his crate and he chewed it. I bought him another one and he chewed it. I bought him another one and he chewed that one, too. I’ve bought him five beds and he’s chewed them all.”  That dog is getting really skilled at chewing beds, and has found a way to occupy himself in his crate.

If a dog has a problem behavior, it’s because that behavior has been reinforced. (Chewing is fun for dogs!) Usually not deliberately by us, but reinforced nonetheless. So we don’t tend to “count” it in our minds. But it’s just as if we had given the dog a cookie every time he chewed the bed, or jumped on the couch or whatever. But if we want to teach them to do something different, we also need to prevent those fun rehearsals of the “wrong” behavior and stop that reinforcement.

Desirable door behavior
Desirable door behavior

For example, you want to train your dog not to crowd up to the back door and rush out when you open it. That behavior is reinforced every time she does it if you immediately let her outside. When you start to teach polite door manners, you doubtless start the training with an “easier” door. You practice with an interior door, and work on the behavior  you want. You reinforce with food.

Undesirable door behavior
Undesirable door behavior–see the linked video–>

But in the meantime, every time you take your dog into the back yard to potty, she continues to crowd up to the back door and rush out when you open it. Getting outside is obviously a potent reinforcer and nothing has happened to stop that. To get the new behavior in place at the back door, you will have to prevent your dog from practicing the old one. That can be a challenge without using aversives, but can be done. With three dogs, our back door behavior is a work in progress, but those bad habits do on occasion get reinforced. And reinforcement “on occasion” is enough to keep them alive and well.

The classic example of rehearsed behaviors and conflicting reinforcers is walking on a loose leash. If you let your dog pull you, using the same gear you use when trying to teach loose leash, that behavior gets reinforced every time that pulling gets the dog where he wants to go, just as purely as if you had given him a cookie for it. That’s why trainers always tell you to cease walking the dog or at least use completely different gear if you must walk the dog, if you are simultaneously trying to teach leash manners. You are shooting yourself in the foot otherwise.

(2) Lumping. Lumping means failing to break the behavior you are trying to teach into small enough steps. For instance, you are teaching your dog to get on a mat and lie down. Your dog is beginning to understand your cue. You stand right next to the mat and give the cue. Dog lies down. You stand two feet away from the mat and give the cue. The dog goes to the mat and lies down. You put the mat in the corner of the room, go back to the center of the room with your dog, and give the cue. Your dog says, “Huh?” Lots of misunderstandings between humans and dogs could be ameliorated if we just took enough baby steps when teaching a behavior. Here is a post about lumping, with a video starring my dog Zani, who lets her disapproval of my behavior be known.

Small black and tan colored hound looking at her trainer with her mouth open. There is a piece of tape on the wall behind her.
Zani says, “Quit that lumping!”
Zani can sit on a crate
Sitting on a crate was Zani’s idea

(3) Neglecting to generalize cued behaviors. Dogs are great discriminators. They notice every little thing in the environment. It’s all pertinent to them. They are not as good as we are at generalizing. And it is very very hard for us to get that through our human heads.

If a dog knows “sit” when in the kitchen facing east, she may not know it while standing on the piano bench in your front room facing north. And she almost definitely won’t know it if you lie down on the floor next to her or stand on your head before giving the cue. All along you thought she was responding to your verbal cue, but she actually was responding to the fact that she was standing in the kitchen facing east, and you have a clicker and treats, and you said a word (which turns out that it probably could have been any word). All of that was actually her cue. I have several movies showing dogs who respond incorrectly to a cue because of the human failure (um, mine) to help them generalize.

And here’s my moment to plug Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. The Training Levels are the best training program I have ever seen to build generalization into every step.

(4) And that leads to…not knowing what the dog’s cue actually is. It may not be what we think it is.  They are generally paying attention to our body language and props way more than we think. Almost all of us (border collie owners excepted, grin), think that our dogs understand verbal cues better than they actually do. I have lots of experience with this, having been blessed with two dogs who are probably less proficient than average at verbal cues. I have yet to teach them, despite many repetitions, some simple word discriminations that some breeds and individual dogs seem to pick up very fast. To really know whether your dog understands a verbal cue or not, you need not only to practice generalization, but get yourself out of the picture for the final exam. I have a fairly embarrassing post and video where I was trying to test my dog’s knowledge of the difference between her “crate” and “mat” cue. I didn’t realize until I saw the film that I was still cuing her with my body.

(5) Trying to train when dog is too stressed. Just about anybody who has gone to a dog training club has either done this or seen this. The dog is trying to take in this noisy, chaotic environment full of other people and dogs. Even if the dog is not scared of strange people or dogs, the noise and chaos make everything difficult. This is where it pays to know and observe your dog, and do some homework on dog body language.

It's not hard to tell if Clara is too stressed to train
It’s not hard to tell if Clara is too stressed to train

Here are some posts, photos, and videos of mine showing a stressed dog, a fearful dog, my own shut down dog, and some other shut down dogs. While some dogs can respond while stressed or fearful, a good teacher will help you work with your dog to get her comfortable in the environment before ever starting to teach “behaviors.” Most would agree that learning to be comfortable in a difficult environment is a more important lesson than learning to sit on cue. And it will really pay off in the long run.

(6) Not being aware of the dog’s responses. This is a more general version of #5. Once one starts learning about dog body language, it can be a revelation to watch videos of one’s own training sessions. You may learn that you are making your dog nervous when you ruffle his fur. Or that he ducks strongly away when you reach down to pat his head. You may learn that you are leaning far to much into your dog’s face. You may learn that you are unwittingly doing something to jazz up your dog when you are trying to teach a relaxed, duration behavior. Or like me, you may learn that your dogs are way more sound sensitive than you thought. (I had the camera on behind my back when I recorded this video.)

(7) Using a verbal cue too soon. I mean, we want to do it at the very beginning, and that’s exactly what not to do! It seems to be almost innate for us to assume that dogs do or “should” understand our own native human language. If you grew up in the “say ‘sit’ and push the dog’s butt down” generation, it is hard to imagine anything else. But remember, the word “sit” is a cue. It is a green light that says, “if you sit now, reinforcement is available.” But attaching that cue to the behavior is a latter step, not the first step. Chanting “Sit, sit, sit,” does not instruct your dog what to do. And doing the butt push move means that the first thing that Sit means is “Mom is about to push my butt down.”

The better way of looking at it, as Sue Ailsby describes it, is that we say to the dog, “That thing you are doing–we’re going to call it ‘Sit,’ OK?”

The first step is to get the dog sitting repeatedly. You can lure, capture, or shape. But it’s a good idea to keep your lip zipped and don’t let that cue come out. Some people say you shouldn’t use the cue until you are willing to be $100 that the dog will sit.

Here is a little video I made of Clara as a puppy. This is the very first time I had used a verbal cue for “down.” I had already gotten predictable and repeated downs by arranging the environment that way. Do you see how startled she is the first time I use it? It’s only the second verbal cue she has been exposed to. As far as she’s concerned, I have interrupted the game we were playing.

(Watching the video today makes me realize I know her better now. According to #6–watching the dog’s responses–I might have ended earlier. Her tail is wagging with a rather low carriage and she is working very hard for a wee one. She was more stressed than I would like.)

(8) Rate of reinforcement too low. “Rate of reinforcement” means the number of reinforcers per unit of time, for instance, per minute. When teaching a new behavior, and particularly to a dog who is new to training, it is desirable for the RoR to be very high. Dogs who know you have treats and are playing a training game but can’t figure out the rules of the game tend to get frustrated, lose interest, or even wander off. It is our job as trainers to arrange the teaching so that the pupil can have a high success rate and therefore a high rate of reinforcement.

Here’s a video of some behavior drills I did with three of my dogs. The highest rate of of reinforcement was in Zani’s first session: 12 treats in 43 seconds. That’s a treat about every 3.5 seconds, or 17 treats per minute. All of the other sessions shown came to a treat about every 5 seconds, which would be 12 treats per minute. Many of the behaviors had a little duration on purpose, so that’s not bad. I checked the video of puppy Clara I linked to in #7 above, and I delivered a treat about every 5 seconds in that one as well.

By the way, I made this list of booboos before I realized that I had examples of so many of them! How about you? Have any suggestions for my next post on this? Bonus points if you’ll step forward and show an example!

Other Resources

Here are a few other articles on common errors. I got a few ideas from them, but most of the above were from my own head and some trainer friends’ heads.

This post is part of a series:

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Wordless Wednesday: Clara got Mail!

Wordless Wednesday: Clara got Mail!

Watch as Clara deftly opens her package from GoughNuts.

We are not affiliated with the company and were not asked to feature their products. We’re just very happy customers: Clara because she loves the balls, and myself because they are the safest thing I’ve found so far for her to chew.

Tan dog lying on a bed, with her mouth open in a relaxed and happy expression. There is a black ball in front of her between her feet.
Clara loves her GoughNuts ball

Thanks for watching!

Stay tuned for:

 

High Speed Nosework

High Speed Nosework

A tan dog and a smaller, black and rust dog play chase. The tan dog has a black ball in her mouth.
Clara’s got the Ball!

Just a little fun for the middle of the week. Clara can now find her ball anywhere in the yard in under a minute. I’m going to have to start burying it, or get a bigger yard. Or I know! I could clutter up my yard some more!

In this video, Zani is with her, and since Clara is running around in circular patterns, Zani takes it as a cue to play. She finally gets frustrated at Clara for not responding and starts fussing at her.

They have a good game of chase after Clara finds the ball.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Cricket standing with her head in a corner

This is a hard post to write, but perhaps not for the reason you would think. My old dog Cricket has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This condition is like Alzheimer’s or dementia for dogs. It’s hard to write about not because I am permeated with sadness about it. It’s hard to write because I’m not. I live with Cricket and attend to her, and I don’t see that she suffers much from CCD. Of course I regret the loss of her capabilities, and the decline can be hard to witness, but for her day to day comfort, I am more concerned about possible pain from arthritis and weakness in her rear legs.

It’s mostly hard to write about this because I’m concerned about being judged. There are a handful of videos on the Internet showing dogs purported to have dementia, and the videos to me are very sad. My visceral reaction is sometimes that the people are not doing the dog a kindness by letting its existence continue. Or perhaps that they are callous to suffering on their dogs’ part. So I wonder whether you’ll have that reaction to my pictures and video of Cricket.

I hope not. I remind myself when I see the other videos, and I hope you all will keep in mind as well, that we are seeing but a small part of the dog’s life. Not only that, but in my observation of Cricket, her own condition is not distressing to her. It can, however, be distressing to witness. It also requires careful management of her environment and a watchful eye on my part to keep her safe. I have written some about Cricket’s care in a previous post: Poop in my Pocket.

Am I being selfish keeping her with me on this earth? I truly don’t think so.

As long as she has enjoyment in life, minimal stress and pain, and still knows me (she has always been very attached to me and I am her anchor), I think her quality of life is just fine. Her appetite is good. She continues to go to work with me several half days a week, and she looks forward to those outings. At the office she is free of bother from other dogs, and has a completely carpeted surface to walk on. She toddles around after me or sometimes sleeps close by. She still sleeps pretty well at night (knock on wood). When she wanders or stands with her head in a corner, she does not display stress that I can see. In fact I see fewer signs of stress or anxiety from her now than I did before she got dementia.

My main purpose in posting these photos is so that others might see what doggie dementia can look like. Cricket started exhibiting symptoms in early 2011, but it was 2012 before I realized what might be going on. The first thing I noticed was a loss of comfort with people she used to be very close to. I don’t have pictures of that, obviously, but it was very disconcerting. Why would she suddenly give the cold shoulder to someone she had formerly known and loved?

By now she has close to a classic set of symptoms. But it took quite a bit of time to tease them out of problems she had because of sensory impairments and body stiffness.  She was diagnosed by a vet early this year. There is medication for this condition, and it has helped Cricket.

Among her symptoms are:

  • standing in corners or with her face next to the wall
  • getting stuck behind furniture
  • confusion about doors (trying to go out the hinge side)
  • forgetting what she is doing
  • circling
  • staring into space
  • occasional tremors
  • pacing or wandering
  • lack of interest in people (other than me)

Another thing I notice that is not on the standard lists is that she can’t get onto mats or pillows in a way that all of her body is on there. I’m pretty sure this is not a physical problem, in the sense of limited mobility or range of motion. She can’t figure out how to arrange herself. She will circle and lie down carefully but end up with her body sliding off the pillow or only a small part of her back on the mat. This is notable in view of her lifelong avoidance of bare floors.

She has lost the general ability to back up, and again, I suspect it is a cognitive problem. She can physically do it. She just can’t figure out that that is what she needs to do.

Here is a the abstract of a scholarly article that links dementia behaviors in dogs with specific brain changes detected by necropsy. In other words, it establishes that the behavior changes are linked to detectable brain changes.

Cognitive disturbances in old dogs suffering from the canine counterpart of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is an article that lists many of the symptom behaviors of CCD.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Dogs.

So here are what some of the behaviors look like.

Cricket standing with her head very close to the wall
Cricket standing with her head under an office chair
Cricket with most of her body on the linoleum instead of the mat
Cricket still missing the mat, and now with her back braced against a chair base
Cricket sitting on the edge of a crate facing into the dark, with her butt hanging out
Cricket sitting on the base of a rolling office chair

Here also, is a video of several of her dementia related behaviors. They are: getting “stuck” behind an office typewriter table; forgetting what she is doing; losing the door;  and circling.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet and have no medical training for animals or humans. The information on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction included in this post comes from my vet, from articles, and my own observations of Cricket as her behavior has changed. If you are concerned that your dog might have CCD, please contact your vet.

I hope this was helpful to you, and not too saddening to view. Cricket has a good life, and seems to be unaware of her limitations.

Thanks for reading.

Note: Cricket passed away on May 31, 2013 at the age of almost 17. She lived a good life to her very last day. I miss her greatly.

Resources

Remember Me 3dMy book on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Web:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Eileen is seated on a short stool and Clara is lying on the floor. They are looking into each other's eyes. There are some training props on the floor.Up to this point, all of my Missed Cue videos have been set up. After I discover or suspect a hole in my dogs’ training I set them up in a situation in which I’m guessing they will fail, and record it as a teaching exercise. (I discuss why I don’t think this is a mean thing to do in the original post about missed cues: Dogs Notice Everything.)

But this one was not set up. It was during a normal training session. I thought I had the bases covered. And I had the camera running.

The behavior we were working on was Level 2 Go to Mat, Step 3 from the Training Levels books: Dog goes 5 feet to the mat and lies down. Clara has been getting on mats and being reinforced for that since the day she arrived. She can go to a mat on a verbal or hand signal from at least 20 feet away. She can stay on it for extended periods (20-30 minutes). She has a verbal cue, a hand signal, and two environmental cues to go to mat. She can do it when I run in circles around her, when the other dogs are excited, and in many other challenging situations.  So I really thought we had this covered. But when we are working on the Levels, we never skip steps. We train every step as if we’ve never done it before. You’d be amazed what we find out by doing that.

I was amazed today. We got to the Comeafter.  The Comeafter in this Step is to add a distraction. In the book, Sue talks about taking care in picking our distraction. And I thought I was being careful. I picked putting some food on the floor as our distraction. This is old hat for Clara. She has training sessions with plates of food on the floor, can do recalls past food, etc. She has very close to a default Zen during training. And this was only a 5 foot trip to the mat.

What could possibly go wrong?

(There is a synopsis of the following video at the bottom of this post.)

I managed to do exactly what Sue warns about in the book if you make a poor choice of distraction. I made Clara so crazy she wouldn’t go to the mat.

This problem is different from those shown in all the other Missed Cue videos. They involve generalization issues with behaviors for which the dog knows the cue in some environments/situations but not in others. This one is more like the conflict of two cues, one verbal, the other environmental. Clara certainly appears to understand what I am asking her to do and just can’t figure out how to reconcile it with other strong default instructions.

The more I think about it, the more understandable Clara’s behavior is as she shies away from the food and won’t/can’t go to the mat. We teach Zen by reinforcing the dog for moving away from the treat. That is a definable behavior, as opposed to “not eating the treat.”  And when we train it, most of us like to see the dog getting very distant from the treats, and we reinforce accordingly.

So how can I re-train this? Clara needs to know that she can pass close by the treats as long as she doesn’t eat them.

Also, why, in the second go round, does she not take the straight path I have made for her to go to the mat? She wouldn’t have to come within 2 feet of the treats. Anyone care to speculate about that? That part I don’t understand. I do note that in both cases she seemed to feel “safer” from the treats when I was standing near her.

I know we are not the only ones this has happened to. Sue has at least one photograph in the Levels book showing one a dog shrinking away from a treat on the floor. And Sharon Wachsler, a great service dog trainer, came up with a name for the thing that she modestly mentions lots of us have noticed: the Zen field. The Zen field is the invisible area around the treat that only the dog knows the boundaries of. Sharon is the only trainer I know though who deliberately manipulates the field during training: taking treats in and out of the field and extending the field by adding treats within it and changing its shape.

I am hereby asking for suggestions on how to retrain Clara to get closer to the treats, and not freak when she is asked to walk close by them.  In other words, we need to shrink the Zen field but retain its potency. Seriously, we need some suggestions. I have only one idea and it is very mundane. I bet some of you can come up with some clever ideas. I’ll choose whichever suggested method seems to fit Clara’s and my skill level the best and video the progress and results.

Discussions coming soon:

Synopsis of the embedded video 

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Scene 1: We see Clara having a training session with Eileen. Clara is practicing dropping a piece of knotted rope into a bowl, and there is a plate of treats close by on the floor.

Scent 2: We see Eileen calling Clara, who runs full speed past a plate of treats to Eileen.

Scene 3: We see Clara running to her mat with Eileen, but plopping down and staying without a verbal cue as Eileen continues running by and going out the back door.

Scene 4: We see Clara going to her mat and lying down on verbal cue from two different directions.

Scene 5: We see Eileen put some treats on the floor next to a mat, then verbally cue Clara to go to the mat. Clara looks at the treats and scoots a bit sideways away from the mat. She looks away, then looks back at the treats several times. Eileen changes her own position closer to the treats and cues mat again, and Clara slowly goes around and get on the mat, sniffing it as she does so.

Scene 6: A silly repeat of Clara shying away from the treats with animated flames coming from the treats and the music from the shower scene in Psycho.

Scene 7: Eileen again places treats on the floor near the mat, but this time on the other side, leaving Clara a clear path to the mat. When Eileen cues mat, Clara again slips off to the side and puffs with her mouth and circles around. Eileen encourages her to come to the other side (actually closer to the treats). Clara eagerly comes that way, then stops very short when she gets close to the treats. Finally Eileen puts her foot over the treats and Clara goes by and gets on the mat. Eileen is chatting reassuringly to Clara throughout this.

Poop in my Pocket: Life with an Old, Old Dog

Poop in my Pocket: Life with an Old, Old Dog

The very first thing I do every morning when I wake up is turn over and take a careful look at my very old dog Cricket. She has a special place on the bed surrounded by pillows on three sides and me on the fourth. Here is what I often see.

Cricket, a small terrier dog, mostly black and white, is asleep between some pillows. Her tongue hangs out a little. She is so relaxed that it is unclear whether she is alive. (She is.)
Cricket sacked out in her fortress on the bed

First, frankly, is she breathing? Then, what is her alertness level? Is she still sacked out or is she looking at me?  Big “oh-oh” if she is sitting up or trying to get off the bed. I have to make an important decision right away. Who gets to go to the bathroom first? Me, Cricket, or Clara the puppy?

Cricket, a small black and white terrier dog with very large ears, is sitting up on a bed. She looks uncomfortable and poised to move.
Cricket needs to go

These days it’s usually Cricket, although once in a while she sleeps in enough that I can get a head start. The other dogs virtually always have to wait since it is not safe for me to leave her out of my sight on the bed.

Cricket has neurological weakness in her back legs and a bit of arthritis. She needs some help in the morning.  And as soon as she stirs, I don’t have very long to get her outside. She is 16 years old, and when she needs to go, it’s right now. In that case I put on my glasses, throw on a robe, step into some shoes, and grab my phone. I lift her up a little and stand her on her four feet on the bed so she can get her bearings and practice standing. Then I pick her all the way up. I usually have a treat in my pocket and I offer it to her (I have taught her to associate being picked up with good things). Amazingly, even bleary-eyed and dry-mouthed, she usually wants the treat. Her teeth are in good shape.

I tuck her under my arm and she chews on the treat as I carry her down the hall. I unlock the door, go down the steps and take her into the front yard. Without fail, as soon as I step out the door she takes a deep sniff, then snorts a little. Then I make the daily search for a moderately level place on which to set her. Every degree of slope counts against us in the morning.

After I choose the place, I put her down very gently but don’t let go. I keep my hands under her abdomen and help her stand up. I try to get her pointing downhill (there is nowhere completely flat). If she needs to pee first, I let her go and she manages. If she needs to poop, she often needs a little more help. I keep ahold of her, switching my grip to keep her from falling over backwards.

Cricket, a small black and white terrier with large ears, is standing by a door, looking up at the camera. She looks a little anxious.
Cricket waiting to go to work with me

Things improve after that first trip outside. Like a lot of human people, Cricket is stiff in the morning and a little slow to get going mentally. But even though she has dementia, she definitely perks up as the day progresses.

By the time I leave for work, she is generally crowding me at the door to make sure that I don’t forget to take her along.

And later in the day, she is downright frisky.

Here she is getting her supper:

But back to the title of the post. The other day I went through our morning routine. I took a look at her and the answer to the daily question was clearly: Cricket needs to go. As I was carrying her down the hall, I offered her a treat but she seemed distracted. This happens sometimes. I took her outside and she peed, but that was all. Now that is very unusual. We stayed out for quite a while, but no go. I got bored and reached into my robe pocket for my phone.

Not yet.

I pulled out my iPhone.

Now.

Perched on the top edge of my phone case was a small, neat piece of brand new poop. I stared at it for quite a while in disbelief, willing it to be something else. It remained poop. I transferred the phone to my other hand and very carefully peeked into the suddenly very interesting pocket. Nothing else. I very carefully removed the phone poop with a leaf curled in my fingers and stuck it under a rock or something. I actually don’t remember that part, even though an embarrassing amount of my brain power is normally spent keeping track of the location of poop. Amazingly it had not smeared around on my phone case or in my pocket. It had just perched there politely. But even a moderate poop cleanup is not something you can do later.  But neither could I run frantically into the house to clean things up because I still had a 16 year old dog toddling around in my front yard. Also, there was a very important question: where was the rest of the poop?

So holding the phone a bit outstretched (wouldn’t you?) in my left hand, I picked up Cricket with my right and tucked her above my hip in her usual place, noting the positioning of her butt and my robe pocket for future reference. Watching my step, I trekked back to the house for cleanup and a change of clothes.

Once inside, I saw the rest of the poop in the hallway where she had dropped it while I was carrying her down the hall. I have never been so glad before to see poop on the floor!

Thanks for reading!

Those of you with old doggies, do you have stories to tell?

Cricket, a small black and white terrier dog, is lying on a chaise lounge facing into the sun. Her large ears are back, her eyes are squinted shut and she is panting but she looks relaxed and happy.
Cricket in the sun

 

Resources

My book on canine cognitive dysfunction:

Remember Me 3d

 

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

A Little Heavy on the Body English

A Little Heavy on the Body English

Part 3 of  Dogs Notice Everything (The Missed Cue)

This is actually the human missing the cue. The dogs are understanding the cues beautifully, but these are cues I’m consciously trying not to give!

Around the time I made the Missed Cue videos, I got very interested in cue discrimination in general and worked on teaching Summer and Zani the difference between the verbal cues for Crate and Go to Mat. Since it is so easy to teach these with hand and body cues, my dogs didn’t really know the verbals, although I used them regularly. So I took a stab at teaching the discrimination and made a video of our progress. The methods in the movie are not bad, but my test of the results leaves quite a bit to desired.

In the spirit of the blog, I present the embarrassing part of the video, where I attempt to test Zani’s knowledge of the verbal cues. The whole point is to refrain from giving any physical indication of which item I want them to go, and I fail utterly at this.

To make it even more obvious I’ve turned off the sound for this short clip. Even a human can tell which behavior I am cuing by my body language every time. I not only fix my gaze on the object, but I turn my body slightly in that direction. And dogs are probably 10 times better at noticing those things than we are.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been the whole focus and point of the training!

Here is the above clip with sound on, in case you’d like to see it.

Does Your Dog REALLY Understand a Verbal Cue?

In case you want to test whether your dogs know a verbal cue, here’s Donna Hill of Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs showing how to do it correctly.

I’m making a goal for myself to teach some cues well enough to pass this test. The first step by itself,  teaching the dog to respond while I am out of sight, could be a challenge. This skill has to be taught gradually as well. Since my dogs can respond to some cues at a distance I’m hoping we have a good start on this.

Anybody else aware of cuing their dog without knowing it? It’s so easy to do. Want to share?

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

Copyright 2012 Eileen Anderson

Fixing What I Broke

Fixing What I Broke

Part 2 of Dogs Notice Everything.

The three “Missed Cue” videos were among the first videos I posted publicly wherein I tried to illuminate an aspect of dog training.

Imagine my surprise when, after showing how Zani and Summer didn’t understand their “Go to Mat” cue at a certain distance from the mat, people started asking me how I would fix that.

Oh dear. I was so proud of myself for showing the world the result of this disconnect between dogs’ and humans’ perceptions. Now people wanted me to fix it?

Let me say again: I’m not a professional trainer. I am not qualified to teach people how to train their dogs or to diagnose or treat behavior problems. But these were my dogs (and this was my mistake!). I thought about it, and decided I would feel OK about posting a solution. I could show what worked for us.

I consulted Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels (the old version) and saw where she recommended moving the mat around from the very beginning. I hadn’t followed the directions, tending to stick the mat in one place and sending the dog to it from various positions. Sue wrote:

When you finally get the mat far enough away from you that she’s not going to hit it naturally, she might go looking for it (EE HAH), or you might have to switch from waiting to shaping.

— Old Training Levels, Level 2 Distance

Well, if I had done that from the beginning I never could have made the “Missed Cue” video. But going back and retraining it was fun for both Summer and myself.

Find the Mat

In the “solution” video I moved the mat farther and farther from Summer so that part of the behavior became looking for it. I put it some strange places as well; draped over a step and on top of the couch. After a couple of days’ practice of this (covered in the 3 minute video) I tested her in the original setup with the mat at the end of the hall, and actually slightly out of sight into a bedroom. She found it and ran to it confidently, going much farther than the point at which the behavior had previously fallen apart.

As usual, we didn’t do perfectly though. I did the exercise with Zani as well, and I have an unexplainable “outtake” at the end of the video where she comes up with a pretty strange alternative to finding the mat.

By the way, my dogs are free to move after I mark the behavior with a click or a yes. But since I treat so much in position in mat and other duration behaviors, they tend to stay there. That’s why you see me doing various things to re-set the dogs in these videos.

The Missed Cue: Generalization

This is the video where Zani failed to generalize the “going around” behavior from a pole lamp to a short plastic box. Or rather, I failed to help her generalize it.  Since the video was short, I included a suggested way to retrain the behavior, where I took a third object, a fire extinguisher, which has a vertical profile, and cued her to go around that as a transition between the dissimilar objects. She ran to the fire extinguisher, offered a couple of behaviors towards it, then tried going around. The second time I gave the cue she responded quickly. Looking back now, I would do this differently. I took a risk using the cue. It is usually not recommended to use the cue unless and until the dog is very solid on the behavior. What I would do today, and what I am doing with puppy Clara as she learns this behavior, is re-shape the behavior each time I introduce a new object in the beginning, and not use the cue until she is offering it regularly. That way I don’t “dilute” the meaning of the cue. As Sue Ailsby says, “Remind, review, reteach.”

Here is a short video of Clara “re-learning” the go around behavior on a new object for her. It only took a few clicks for her to get it. Let me reiterate that this is a re-shaping, not the initial shaping of the behavior. If I recall, that took about 5 minutes and many more approximations, and of course she wasn’t doing it with such ease at the end of that session. I will do the re-shaping on various objects in several environments before I use the cue “cold” on a new thing.

Clara Re-Learning Go Around

Here are two short examples of how well you can generalize the “go around” behavior (called “Distance” in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels) if you use the reteach method and are very thorough, as my friend lynnherself is.

Going Around a Car

Going Around a Building (holding a leash!)

We’ve already had one very nice description of how another trainer solved the distance problem with Go to Mat. How about the rest of you? Have you solved this kind of problem? Do you want to share that in a comment or a video?

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2013

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