Category: Matching law

You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

You Have to Stop! Interrupting Unwelcome Puppy Play Toward an Older Dog

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

Or: The Magic Buffalo Tug

In my post about the challenges of living with and training Lewis, I mentioned that the worst problem we faced was his hassling Clara to play. We’ve made some progress.

When he first came, his most frequent behavior toward her was humping. I remember telling Marge Rogers I had removed him or called him away dozens of times in a day. The humping diminished, thankfully. He does it far less frequently and less intensely and will happily dismount when I call him away.

But the next phase was tougher. A more troublesome problem emerged. Instead of humping, Lewis initiated play with Clara dozens of times a day. Sounds nice, right? No. First, she didn’t want to play dozens of times a day, but she is too retiring to tell him off convincingly. Worse, his methods of initiating play included: 1) growl the meanest sounding play growl imaginable and chew on Clara’s face and neck relentlessly; 2) bite her tail and pull; 3) bite one of her hind legs and hang on; and 4) in the yard, body slam her with no warning at top speed. But since every once in a while she did want to play, she put his rude behavior on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, which increased his natural persistence.

I’ve seen Clara tell Lewis emphatically NO only twice. Once was when his food toy had escaped under the couch and he considered swiping hers. She gave a strong warning bark right in his face and he backed off instantly. She did something similar with a toy she really wanted one day when he made a play for it. But otherwise she has been a pushover. Even when she responds to his chewing on her with growls and unfriendly chomping, he reacts as if she is not serious—and she doesn’t prove him wrong. So I needed to intervene.

Management

Early on, I wasn’t able to get Lewis’ attention to interrupt him out of play or attempted play. He was lost to the world. Both of them were; I couldn’t even get Clara’s attention when she was into it. So once he started, I had to physically remove him if Clara didn’t want to play. That’s why he (still!) wears a harness and often drags a leash: so I can remove him or prevent him from launching at her. I’m not proud of this, but I have to protect my other dog.

I’m well aware of the risks of dogs playing while wearing collars or harnesses. Life with dogs is full of calculated risks and this is where I fall on this particular risk. Clara wears only a breakaway collar and we are working toward one for Lewis. But she is far less likely to chew on him than he is to chew on her.

Back to the problem at hand. I realized that my management method of physical interruptions hadn’t diminished the problem behavior at all. We always hope, right? So I started thinking about what else to do. Crating or otherwise separating him, other than using the tether, was not an option then.

Two Resources

When I considered how else to address the problem, two things came to mind. First, Kiki Yablon posted on Instagram a video of using a structured tug game to teach a lab puppy not to bite at flapping garments and other objects. Second, I remembered something I’ve heard Marge say many times, that when she has a puppy in the house she always has treats in one pocket and a toy in the other.

A toy! I always have treats in a pocket, but I’ve rarely carried a toy. But I liked Kiki’s approach of using toy play as an alternative to play-driven behavior, and had Marge to encourage me. So I bought the tiniest tug toy I could find at Clean Run. I wanted it to be a novel toy, and it needed to be small enough to fit in my pocket. Enter the buffalo tug.

Behavior Chain

From the first, I worried about creating a behavior chain. If the tug play was attractive (and you’ll see how much Lewis delights in tug) and the only way he could access it was by bothering Clara, then guess what was going to increase? Bothering Clara. So I gave it a few tries on the first day but consulted with Marge quickly before I created a problem.

The first time I whipped out the tug toy to lure him away from Clara, it was like a bolt of energy shot through him. He was thrilled out of his mind. He raced to me and we played for a minute or two, then I traded him a couple of pieces of kibble for the tug toy. He has a very good “out” cue already, but I liked the kibble trade for this situation.

Closeup of a brown and white puppy's face as he grips a tug toy
Lewis with the buffalo tug

So I learned I had a powerful tool, something that competed with his favorite reinforcer, poor Clara. Even on that first day, he would advance on Clara, then turn and look at me. “Well? Where’s the tug?” This was both good and bad news. Good because he was stopping before grabbing her. Bad because it could lead to a chain and increase the Clara-bothering. I texted Marge so I wouldn’t create a worse problem.

Punishment

You may wonder why I haven’t mentioned punishment. I do use negative punishment from time to time. But in this case, it would be as a timeout, removing either him or Clara from the situation quickly, contingent on his undesirable behavior. But removing him from the action would be a whopper of a punisher for him. He’s got a giant case of Fear of Missing Out. I never knew how bad that could get. And removing Clara with a clear contingency (“she’s leaving because you were being a jerk”) would be hard-to-impossible. I do separate them to protect her. But I don’t see the management actions I take decreasing the behavior. I would much rather concentrate my efforts on preventing him from doing it in the first place.

Tweaking the Plan

Marge helped me add three tweaks.

  1. I asked for a behavior or two before tugging. I had his full attention, and he was happy to do anything to get the tug. The behaviors he had on cue at the time were sit, down, eye contact, hand target, and go to mat. He defaulted to sit since he already knew to sit to start a game. But I switched it up and asked for different things.
  2. Once he could turn his attention to me instead of jumping Clara, at times I reinforced with food instead of tug. Tugging is what allowed me to get his attention so quickly though, so I still used tug most of the time.
  3. Most important: I produced the tug toy at other times. It was vital that attacking Clara was not the only way for him to get access to such an attractive game. I didn’t want to get clobbered by the matching law. So I also whipped out the tug sometimes when he just came up to me and gave me eye contact or sat. I liked the idea that he could just come and ask me in those ways (rather than grabbing my arm or walloping Clara). I also just popped it out randomly.

Here’s a video from two days after I started using the pocket tug. I was about to interrupt the play because Lewis getting rough and obnoxious. But at that moment he interrupted himself and reoriented to me. Tug game on!

Unexpected and Expected Effects

OK, a professional trainer could have predicted these, but I didn’t.

Tan dog and brown and white dog are chewing on a hairy tug toy together
“Sharing” the buffalo tug
  1. Clara wanted the tug. Of course she did. Why do I always make these plans as if there isn’t another dog in the mix? So of course I had to let her have it, both to play tug with and to chew on. She is the reason there is no long hair left on our tug (see the photo below). And sometimes she and Lewis played with the tug together. This sounds a little like I shot myself in the foot, and perhaps I did, but he was much nicer when they played with an object than if it was just tooth and claw. That’s one way I ramp down their play anyway: get a toy in the mix.
  2. The day I introduced the tug toy and forever after, I could instantly get Lewis’ attention merely by saying his name, no matter how intensely they were playing. Sweet! This added to the safety of the household. I need my dogs to be able to ramp down after they have ramped up. I had already been interrupting their play a lot and encouraging them to do so, but the tug supercharged my ability to get their attention and tone things down.
  3. I became even more of an entertainment center for Lewis. This is a mixed blessing for me, of course, but it’s great to get his focus when I need it.
  4. As hoped, providing him lots more mini-sessions of play during the day seemed to reduce his need to pester Clara. It’s hard to say, because she also started to say no a lot more often and more convincingly. But a combination of approaches switched his play focus more to me (and the neighbor dogs—more on that another time!).
A small, well chewed tug toy made of buffalo hide
The enticing buffalo tug after weeks of heavy use and recreational chewing

Where Things Stand

These systems are working well. Clara and I have figured out several ways to dissuade him. Besides the buffalo tug method, there’s a mat next to my place at the kitchen table she can get on; it’s hard for him to access her there. Sometimes I’ll cue her into a crate or she’ll get in on her own. Clara and I sometimes go off to another room of the house (not contingent on a play attempt, just as a planned activity). This is a big deal because formerly, Lewis’ FOMO would have made him scream. He is learning that he gets a turn.

I wish I could say I’ve solved the problem and Lewis only approaches Clara with respect and finesse. Bwa-ha-ha-ha, if only! These are living creatures, and I’m dealing with a strongly driven behavior on Lewis’ part. But play behavior can be shaped, and I hope he can figure out some ways that work better than ramming folks like a violent cartoon character.

I’ll close with this recent clip of Lewis playing with some balls and **not** slamming Clara, who gets to chew on hers in (comparative) peace.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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Clara’s Intermediate Trick Dog Title: Three-Minute & Three-Month Behaviors

Clara’s Intermediate Trick Dog Title: Three-Minute & Three-Month Behaviors

Hurray for Clara: we got her Intermediate Trick title from Do More With Your Dog this week. It got me thinking (surprise!). We had the beginnings of a lot of the tricks already from previous work. Am I achieving my goal of widening her palette of behaviors?

Foundations

Even if you are a sloppy trainer like me, if you’ve done a lot of training over the years and built some foundations, you can often sit down and train something new quickly. Sue Ailsby calls this training “three-minute behaviors.” And truly, a couple of the new tricks took only a few minutes.

Jumping a baton was one of those. Clara knows a hand target, and she knows a 3/4-inch diameter PVC pipe means jump. (If I had used a piece of dowel, she would have bitten it instead!) The hand target is allowed, so I sat down and targeted her over the bar and gave my “jump” verbal. I mentioned in a previous post that she, alone among my dogs, responds to the verbal. My agility dogs never needed to learn it. She probably didn’t need it either, in this situation. But I included it because I’m a word-oriented human.

Anyway, I could have fancied up the trick. I could have taught Clara to jump the bar back and forth without a hand target, as a chain, or with repeated verbals. But that would have taken a long time for very little gain. Plus, she’s 10 years old and doesn’t need to do a lot of repetitive activity.

I’ll come back to the “How solid do I want to get the trick?” question in the ethics section below. I’ll just say here that getting behavior is by far the easiest part of training for me.

This isn’t from the clip I submitted, but she is so cute holding the orange donut!

The hardest trick in this batch was the hold of an object. Luckily, I struggled through teaching a hold first with Summer. God knows how long it took, since teaching the hold was new to me, and it’s difficult. Hint: if you’ve never done this, the hard part is teaching them not to drop it when you reach your hands toward it. Oh no, wait, it’s getting that first duration hold out of a grab. Or maybe getting them not to chew it. And, and.

Clara and I progressed faster, but we still took some months. That was years ago, and I have kept the hold alive as a foundation for other behaviors. So that was easy to perform and record even though it’s a hard behavior.

“Directional casting” was another three-minute behavior with months of invisible work behind it. The trick instructions are:

Dog will be sent by handler to one of 2 or more platforms or low marks. Handler should show dog being sent to at least two platforms in a row. Platforms should be spaced 3–4 feet (~1–1.2m) apart. This trick is about showing the dog understanding and responding to directional cues and not as focused on the platforms.

Practicing a directed retrieve

This is probably easy to train with only two platforms. I say “probably” because I didn’t have to train it. I have worked on a directed retrieve with Clara on and off for years and more seriously this year. She started to “get it” in the spring and I have been generalizing and proofing.

The directed retrieve generalized beautifully to the directed “go to place.”

Finally, Clara had never done jump wraps before, but that was a three-minute behavior too. A benefit of growing up in an agility household.

Matching Law

You expected this section, right?

I don’t like how we performed one of the tricks, but I let it go. It’s the figure 8s around my legs. I don’t like our rendition because I must cue with both my hands and my legs. I feel like a squirming mess to get her to do the behavior. But the person on the demo video for the trick uses both, so I figured my excessive body English would be OK.

We used to have the figure 8s with leg cues only. I messed around with that trick years ago. But leg movement now means something else for Clara: peekaboo. These days, if I move my legs apart, she will get between them and stay. Matching law! I have a verbal cue for peekaboo but not for the figure 8s. So I added the hand cues to the figure 8s for clarity. But I find it inelegant. I love seeing the freestyle dogs do that behavior with no repeated physical cues (that I can see) from the handler.

In another life, maybe. I sat on my trick submission video for about two weeks because I didn’t like how that behavior looked. But I can’t get it clean until I get peekaboo completely on verbal cue. Right now she still cues off my legs for that, with the verbal cue at the probable level of “lady says something when I’m behind her and she’s holding her legs in a certain way.” So squirmy figure 8s it is!

So here is our trick title video. The behaviors are peekaboo (while walking), directional casting, shake hands, fetch-to-hand, figure 8s around the legs, barrel racing (“fly”), baton jumping, target mark (run to a flat target and lie down on it), hold an object five seconds, stay out of sight 20 seconds, jump wraps, and close the door (drawer).

Ethics

My goals with the trick training are 1) enrichment for Clara; 2) get out of a rut and train some new behaviors; and 3) improve my skills.

I noticed that even though I made a goal to train new stuff, I chose mostly behaviors related to things we already knew. It is so easy to focus on numbers: do enough tricks to get the title! But I’ve pushed back. I’ve also picked new things: rolling out the carpet, biscuit on the nose, and peekaboo in its different versions. Also, opening a drawer, although it didn’t make it into the video because of an execution detail.

With a video submission, if all you want is the title, you can take shortcuts. Do as many takes as you want and use the one out of 20 or more that meets criteria. People do that in public competitions as well, of course. In my agility days, I remember seeing trainers whose dogs were not solidly trained, but they had advanced to the excellent level because the people had the means to go to trial after trial until they had lucked into enough qualifying runs. They were competing above their level.

Closing a drawer was easy because of the targeting exercises we did in the Training Levels

I had this in the back of my mind as I chose, worked on, and recorded tricks. The rules state only that the dog has to do the trick and meet criteria, not that it has to be proofed or even put on cue solidly. This is not a public activity; videoing tricks allows you to curate what you show of your training and your results. I wanted to be fair. But many of these tricks were not things I needed to put on cue and get solid.

I submitted clips that were a little above our actual skill level for only a couple of tricks. One was target stick, believe it or not, but only because I used a stick she wanted to bite. A fit of perfectionism on my part that didn’t work out. So even though I turned in a fairly lucky clip of this novice trick where she bopped the end of the stick correctly several times and didn’t bite the ball at the end, I felt the clip fairly represented her ability to touch a target stick. She has been targeting all her life. I picked a hard target stick, then decided the discrimination (don’t bite the enticing ball instead) wasn’t worth the time. I could have switched to an easier stick and gotten a billion targets, but I went with a recording in which she was just learning not to bite the tricky stick.

Another trick I kind of rushed through was “shaking hands.” She had this behavior from husbandry tasks, but I had never alternated feet. I trained enough that she could do this, recorded it, and will probably never ask her to do that again. She changes feet fluently enough when we do nail trims and that’s enough for me.

On the other hand, we worked methodically on the peekaboo/walking trick because it’s important to me. I want to train her to get in that position out in the world when we encounter something challenging for her. And I’ve only started to get three puppy pushups, though the time when that trick would count has passed. We still work on them!

I’ve let my conscience be my guide. I’ve taken the challenges that interest me and only pushed through “for the camera” a couple times, with reasons I hope are decent enough.

Next Time

I’ve realized it’s more interesting for people if I show my method and our progress, warts and all, rather than presenting a finished video and discussing it. So I think that’s what I will do next.

And regarding “warts and all,” here’s a video of two bloopers. The tricks are to run around a tree (our cue for counterclockwise is “away”), and go lie on a flat target. I’ve sent Clara around things forever, but I had never done it from that angle with the tree, and I didn’t have her complete attention. The lying on the flat target problem is self-evident and cute. Clara is delightful.

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Copyright 2021 Eileen Anderson

Clara’s Stand Disaster and Why She Still Hops

Clara’s Stand Disaster and Why She Still Hops

tan dog with black muzzle stands on all four feet on a mat
This calm stand happened during a time when we weren’t working on it, of course

I considered titling this post “Eileen’s Stand Disaster,” but I thought that might be too confusing. Clara was the one standing, but the disaster part was definitely on me.

Thousands of people worldwide have used Susan’ Garrett’s fun method for teaching the stand and gotten fabulous results. I wasn’t one of them, but I blame myself, not the method.

The method is to have the dog in heel position in a sit, and to use a hand target above the dog’s head

Continue reading “Clara’s Stand Disaster and Why She Still Hops”
Clara’s Tricks: Treat on Nose, Carpet Roll, & Paws in Box

Clara’s Tricks: Treat on Nose, Carpet Roll, & Paws in Box

Yes, Clara has a piece of kibble on her head

Clara and I are learning so much! Here is a quick trick update with a couple of videos.

Treat on the Nose Trick

We are taking the treat on the nose exercise nice and slow. I can now put a piece of flat kibble on the top of Clara’s head for a second or two. I’ll work up to an actual dog biscuit.

There are lots of aspects to the trick.

Continue reading “Clara’s Tricks: Treat on Nose, Carpet Roll, & Paws in Box”
Doesn’t Intermittent Reinforcement Create a Stronger Behavior?

Doesn’t Intermittent Reinforcement Create a Stronger Behavior?

This article was first published by Clean Run – The Magazine for Dog Agility Enthusiasts, in August 2017. I changed the title after publication in this version. Please see the note about that at the end of the article.


Three dogs looking through a fence. Continuously reinforcement. A recall trained via variable reinforcement probably won't get their attention.
If I’ve trained recall on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, how likely are my dogs to come away from the fascinating distraction behind the fence?

Do I have to carry around treats or toys forever?

This is a common question from trainers who are new to positive reinforcement techniques. And most of us have heard the following typical answer.

Continue reading “Doesn’t Intermittent Reinforcement Create a Stronger Behavior?”
How Long Does It Take To Change a Habit?

How Long Does It Take To Change a Habit?

Changing a habit often takes longer than we think. Habits, AKA reinforced behaviors, die hard.

Here’s what happened when I changed the location of my dogs’ eating areas for the first time in about five years. Continue reading “How Long Does It Take To Change a Habit?”

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