Category: Toys and Play

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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Tearribles Review: Neither a Chew Toy nor a Tug Toy

Tearribles Review: Neither a Chew Toy nor a Tug Toy

There are thousands of people searching for that perfect stuffed toy: the one their dog will love playing with and which will last longer than a couple of days.

The Tearrible sounds like that toy, but for us, it wasn’t. It’s a toy meant to be played with in one limited way—a way a dog might or might not enjoy. Surely there are dogs for whom this would be a great toy. But be sure to understand how the toy actually works before you assume your dog is one of them.

Even though it is advertised as very tough, and gives hope to us guardians of super chewers, the company advises against letting the dog just play with it. They recommend playing tug using the toy, but a very specific kind of tug game that stretches the meaning of the word. The toy is not well suited for normal tug play at all.

Tearribles

Tearribles was a Kickstarter project of an innovative dog toy in 2017. The inventors got great backing and set up manufacturing. The toy was a sturdily made stuffed monster featuring removable appendages the dog could pull out: legs, arms, and a tail fastened with Velcro. After the dog ripped them out, the human could press them back in place.

They now have an adorable (yes, it’s really cute) virus toy with16 protein spikes to pull off.

I was an early donor/investor and paid enough to get the Extra Large Tearrible. It seemed like a good idea—if the dog did indeed enjoy playing with it the way it was designed.

That turned out to be a big “if.”

Pros

  • The toys are absolutely adorable.
  • They are made well.
  • They are tougher than a lot of toys.
  • For certain dogs it could be a favorite toy.

Cons

  • I believe the signature removable limbs are of limited interest for most dogs.
  • Dogs can shred and destuff the toys, despite the advertising.
  • They are marketed as tug toys, but they lack the most basic features of a good tug toy.
  • There is misinformation about dogs on the website.

The marketing takes advantage of our desire for the impossible: a toy that is fun for a dog to rip up that doesn’t rip up.

My Experience with the Tearrible

The Tearrible out of the box

I received mine in early 2018. I gave it to Clara and Zani with some other toys. Within just a couple of minutes, Clara had removed an ear from the Tearrible. She swallowed it before I could intervene. She usually spits out the things she tears off, but this piece went right down.

I supervised more closely and let her continue with the toy. She did pull the bottom legs unit off (as the toy is designed for). Then she immediately set to work chewing out the seams she had exposed on the bottom corners. She pulled out a fair amount of stuffing while I made sure she didn’t swallow it. But after she tore off two more pieces of the outer fabric, I traded her some goodies and took away the toy. I didn’t want her to ingest any more fabric after that entire ear.

I had my answer. Despite the marketing, the toy wasn’t magically tough.

Full disclosure: What I did was not how the Tearribles are now instructed to be used. The toy didn’t come with instructions to use it as a tug toy then, although they did say to play with it with your dog. My goal was to check the sturdiness and observe how much pleasure the dogs took in ripping the limbs off, the main selling point. They didn’t. The limbs were just one more bite to remove and discard. They wanted to get deeper into the ripping.

Perhaps breeds that have had the dissection part of the predatory sequence diminished would enjoy them more, unlike my Arkansas varmint dogs.

YouTube and Social Media

I searched for videos and posts about dogs having a great time with Tearribles. I found no video on YouTube of extended (or even more than brief) play in the manner the company recommends. The company marketing video has two short segments of a dog playing with the toy totaling 23 seconds: a few seconds of ripping appendages off while playing tug with a person and a few solo kill-shakes. There is a video review by a fellow who only shows the features of the toys and never shows his dogs playing with them, and there’s a video by Dr. Patricia McConnell of her border collie happily pulling the spikes off the virus, but not playing tug with it. She does have two dogs who enjoy removing the appendages and don’t do further dissection. On her blog, Dr. McConnell cautions not to offer the toy to a dog who swallows small, removed parts.

I found a couple of positive posts about dogs who liked their Tearribles in an enrichment Facebook group. They played with the toys as intended and the toys lasted.

Social Media Addendum

I found some videos. Instagram, of course. Keep in mind, though, that it’s the perfect medium to show a dog tearing the toy apart…once. IG videos have to be short. So it’s hard to tell how how long a dog’s interest lasts. But you can see some very happy dogs pulling limbs off toys.

The Marketing Is the Problem

So while there seem to be some dogs out there who enjoy the Tearrible, the company doesn’t sufficiently clarify the very narrow intended use of the toy.

Original Marketing

There was originally no real caution in the whole Tearribles website that dogs could actually tear the toy up. They implied the opposite. And they made the following strange statement:

In our tests, we played tug of war for 45 minutes with our 80lb destructo-dog, Izzy. The results? Not a single tear on the toy, and one really tired dog.

I took this text directly off their site in 2018, but it is no longer there.

The statement is odd. Playing tug with a human is not how dogs usually rip up toys. Supervised tug doesn’t test a toy. Any well-made toy can have a good lifespan if you play tug with it rather than giving the dog unfettered access.

These tug toys belonging to Marge Rogers are about eight years old. Her dogs and her client dogs have played with them several days a week for years.

Current Marketing

The Tearribles company has amended its claims and includes some qualifiers now. This is from the FAQ page.

Question: Are Tearribles chew toys/indestructible toys?

Answer: No. Dog teeth, no matter how small, are built to crush bones and tear tendons – there is no material (safe to be in your dog’s mouth) that your dog cannot chew through.

True! But they still focus on their toys’ toughness. Their YouTube movie says dogs can destroy any stuffed object in seconds, then says, “It’s time we stopped insulting our dogs’ abilities with weak toys.” That’s not how you sell a tug toy; it’s how you sell a chew toy.

They state on the website that if you play with the Tearrible in a structured way with your dog, the dog will learn it is your “together” toy and will stop trying to “annihilate” it. My take: true if you remove the toy after your “together” time, but that’s something you can do with any toy.

And they top it off with this false statement:

Dogs chew non-food things for two reasons:

  1. they are teething
  2. they are bored

No. Chewing is a natural and necessary behavior for dogs. Dissection is one step in the predatory sequence. Giving your dog a full and stimulating life will not prevent him from wanting to chew stuff up. In fact, chewing stuff up is part of a full and stimulating life for most dogs.

Lewis and the Tearrible

Here’s the hero of our story. I wrote much of this review three years ago. But I never published it, because I didn’t want to post yet another grouchy review. I felt bad about criticizing a well-meaning company that sought to create a novel toy for dogs, even though I disagreed with their claims.

I still have the toy, even with its holes and leaking filling. When Lewis first came, all the Velcroed appendages still worked. He figured the toy out and pulled it apart. He did seem to enjoy that. I put the toy back together and he pulled it apart a few more times, sometimes while I held it. But the minute I stopped putting it back together, he started working on the seams. He removed one of the Velcro strips (I nabbed it before he or Clara swallowed it). So now the bottom legs no longer reattach. But although Lewis likes the toy, even he doesn’t want to limit himself to pulling off arms, legs, and the tail. He wants to continue on to destuff it. But I did finally get a dog who seemed to enjoy the signature aspect of the toy. One dog out of four pulls the limbs off, but zero dogs out of four were happy to stop at that point.

Stuffed Toys and My Dogs

Every one of my dogs has enjoyed pulling toys apart and destuffing them. I’ve tried tough toys, and the tougher they were, the less fun they were for the dogs.

I finally decided the only stuffed toys that made sense for us were cheap ones they could rip up while supervised. I supervise as they pull them apart, then throw away the husks when they become unsafe. Before the pandemic, I would pick them up at garage sales. Nowadays, I concentrate more on edible chews and playing tug and scent games.

Clara and Lewis played with the husk of this Snoopy toy for a long time after it was completely de-stuffed

Why Isn’t the Tearrible a Good Tug Toy?

Unless you want to redefine tugging as a dog repeatedly pulling off discrete appendages and starting over, this is not a tug toy. It does not have the features of a good tug toy: long and slender, attractive to chase, a clear target area for the dog, and a handle for the human. The torso of the Tearrible is a nightmare for the human to hold on to.

The company didn’t originally advertise the Tearrible as a tug toy. Check out this post from July 2018. There is no mention of tugging. They may have added the directions to tug after too many people (like me) tried to use it as a regular chew toy.

Alternatives

  • If your dog likes to tug, make or buy a real tug toy. There are hundreds on the market. The best tug toy is something your individual dog wants to chase and grab and that you can hang onto. Try Clean Run or Dog Dreams Toys. You can even try a flirt pole if they are permitted in your area. Playing with a flirt pole is like tug on steroids; your dog gets to chase and tug.
  • If your dog prefers to shred and dissect, you are probably already letting them tear up stuffed toys. Be sure to supervise your dog closely so they don’t ingest fabric or plastic squeaker parts. There are always risks of swallowing, however. Check out the Canine Enrichment Facebook group for more ideas for safe shredding activities.
  • If your dog enjoys chewing and/or squeaking a fabric toy and you don’t want them to rip it apart, there are some decent options. The Outward Hound Fire Biterz toy is made of firehose material. The goDog toys might do for some dogs. My dogs don’t chew up the canvas-covered toys like Kong Wubbas. The Tearrible may be tough enough for some dogs. And maybe you’ll just want to get one to support an independent business with a very cute and sturdy product.

Bottom Line

The Tearrible may be the perfect toy for some dogs, and I hope it finds its way to them. But it looks like a chew toy, and they market it that way. At the same time, they instruct you to use it as a tug toy and it’s not designed well for tug at all.

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Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Photo of well-used tug toys copyright 2022 and courtesy of Marge Rogers. All other photos copyright Eileen Anderson.

The Gravity Game

The Gravity Game

Clara holding ball

Clara has always loved playing ball. She enjoys chewing balls up and chasing them in equal measure. When she was a pup and adolescent it was a joy to watch her shape herself into quite an athlete, in her drive to chase down and catch the ball more quickly.

She gives her all to it, hurling herself down the hill through my yard. She has never had a ton of stamina, so often we are done very quickly. I let her have her ball only when we play with it and for a short time afterwards, because of her interest in chewing it up. So she has invented various ways to keep the game going longer without wearing herself out.

One of those ways ended up being the Gravity Game.

Clara under the porch steps
Clara under the porch steps

She has always liked to hang out under my back porch steps, and started taking mini-breaks there during our play. She soon discovered that if she let go of the ball while under there, it would roll out. Then, Silly Human might roll it back to her. That was Gravity Game 1.0. Then one day, Silly Human failed at her job. And Clara discovered that without intervention, the ball would usually roll down the hill. She could then play a mildly entertaining game of fetch all by herself. That was Gravity Game 2.0. You can see Gravity Games 1.0 and 2.0 in the video immediately below.

Gravity Games 1.0 and 2.0

Possessing and Chewing the Ball

Clara doesn’t play Gravity 1.0 or 2.0 that much anymore because we have developed other ways for her to keep her ball longer in the yard in between sessions of my throwing it. I’ll be writing about those new activities in a future blog. But I have always let her carry her ball in the house after we finish playing, and Gravity 3.0 was born inside.

The photo shows why Clara gets possession of her ball only for short time periods.

A red rubber ball with many chew marks and pieces missing
The reason Clara doesn’t get to have her ball all the time…

That ball is several years old, so that damage is from many sittings. But still, the longer she has it, the more rubber will disappear, either onto the floor or down her gullet.[1]That is a GoughNuts ball. They also sell balls made of harder rubber, but Clara doesn’t like to play fetch with those.

Sharing the Ball

There is so much I appreciate about Clara. This new indoor game highlights the fact that Clara, as focused as she is on balls, is not overly “guardy” of them. I have never seen her snarl or even give a hard look at either of the other dogs, should they wander close or play with one of the balls. Granted, they both defer to Clara’s ownership of a ball when she has it, but still, she isn’t ugly about it.

More than that, I love that Clara trusts both Zani and me to return the ball to her in Gravity 3.0. Clara knows that she only gets the ball for a limited time after we come in the house, but the game makes it worthwhile for her to release it periodically. I have a predictable routine for taking the ball away from her (she gets a dab of peanut butter), and I don’t ever do it in the middle of a game.

The New Game: Gravity 3.0

Clara is already accustomed to Zani “helping” retrieve the ball. You can see that in this old movie of Clara and Zani’s Team Retrieve, and also the movie in my blog post “What You Reinforce Is What You Get.” Gravity 3.0 is perhaps a spinoff from the team retrieve as well, but one where Clara gets to hang out in a corner and have gravity, Zani, and me do all the work! It fits perfectly that she would develop this game to take place when she is tired from dashing around the yard.

The more I think about it, the funnier it is. Clara has pulled a role reversal. She has taught me to play fetch! She drops the ball down a step, and Zani and I return it to her. Zani, as usual, has figured out a way to get paid for an activity.

From years of observation, I am fairly certain that one of the main reinforcers when Clara plays ball is the physical sensation of catching the ball in her mouth. So in Gravity 3.0, she gets to chew and mouth the ball, she releases it for a few seconds, and then she gets to catch it again. What’s not to like?

What games has your dog taught you?

Related Posts and Movies

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Copyright Eileen Anderson 2015

Notes

Notes
1 That is a GoughNuts ball. They also sell balls made of harder rubber, but Clara doesn’t like to play fetch with those.
Just a Trick?

Just a Trick?

Zani's useful "Trick"
Zani’s useful “Trick”

“Crossing over” is a phrase dog trainers use to refer to the act of giving up training that uses aversives and changing over to training that uses principally positive reinforcement: becoming a Humane Hierarchy trainer, a force-free trainer, or a clicker trainer. (We have lots of phrases to describe ourselves.) Folks who have made this change (and those who never trained traditionally) will attest that this is more than just a different set of skills. It is a change of world view, and it runs counter to the emphasis on and acceptance of punishment in our culture. For many of us, it is not an easy thing to do. Social and technical support are both very important.

My friend Marge Rogers is a crossover trainer who crossed over with no local mentor, although she would credit her wonderful dog Chase, as well as books and internet resources. She wanted to change the way she trained and she needed to do it on her own.  She came from a competitive obedience background. She decided, brilliantly, to throw off everything she knew, put her obedience goals temporarily on hold, and train her dogs to do tricks.

Why Tricks?

Here’s what she told me:

  1. Teaching tricks improves mechanical skills like observation and timing.
  2. Teaching tricks helps trainers learn to create training plans and break down behavior (cognitive skills).
  3. It helps develop critical thinking skills. (How different are the skills for teaching dust the coffee table or blow bubbles in water than teaching drop on recall?)
  4. There is no pressure for the handler. Or the dog.
  5. Trick training encourages creative thinking and problem solving.
  6. Trick training give immediate feedback for the handler (via the dog’s behavior).
  7. There is no handler baggage.
  8. And the best reason for teaching tricks – you’re not burdened by the curse of knowledge for stuff you’ve never trained before.  No old habits to unlearn. In short: it’s the perfect way to become a better trainer.

P.S. You can make your own chicken camp.

The Result of Chicken Camp
The Result of Chicken Camp

Marge is referring to Bob Bailey’s well known chicken camps where trainers learn to hone their mechanical skills. This picture is the outcome of one of her personal “chicken camps,” where she taught her Rhodesian Ridgeback Pride a high leg lift to emulate taking a pee (he normally squatted to pee, by the way). She shaped that leg lift all the way up from a twitch.

Marge’s trick skills resulted in her fame as the “Ridgeback lady” on YouTube, who featured her Rhodesian Ridgebacks in videos such as these:

By the way, Ridgebacks have a reputation among traditional trainers as being an untrainable breed.

Finally!

Many was the time that Marge exhorted me to train tricks. I generally declined, saying that it’s all tricks (true, but perhaps evading her point a little bit), and that I had my hands full with polite pet behaviors and agility (also tricks!)

So a funny thing happened. Recently I broke down and trained my dogs a couple of tricks. It was supposed to be just for the heck of it, but two of the tricks immediately became very useful.

Marge says, “That figures!”

1) Sit Pretty. I’ve been teaching little Zani to “sit pretty.” We went slowly, so she could build up her abdominal muscles, but she really took to it. What’s a more classic “trick” that sitting up? Adorable but useless, right? But no sooner did we have a few seconds’ duration than it came in incredibly handy.

I’m teaching all my dogs to sit or stand on the bathroom scale by themselves. I thought I would have to manipulate the dogs’ feet a little bit so that I could see the readout. But Zani solved that problem by offering her “useless” trick.

Link to video for email subscribers

If I were Marge, though, I’d probably teach the dogs to curl their tails around as well, so they didn’t brace any of their weight on them if they were on the floor. That’s a little more than I have the patience for, though. I’ll just elevate the scale if I need to.

2) Leg weaves. I don’t remember why I decided to do this, but I taught Clara how to weave through my legs. Let me be frank: I think that is one of the silliest behaviors ever. Even when the most accomplished freestylers do it, it’s mostly a “yawn” from me.

But as soon as I taught Clara the rudiments, I discovered something. It’s fun! No wonder people do it. Clara and I both enjoyed it, although I’m sure we looked even dorkier than average. And no, I’m not sharing a video!

Two photos of a tan dog with a  black muzzle and tail pressing up against a woman's feet and legs. The woman is sitting in a chair and the dog is walking under her legs in one photo, and backed up and pressing into her feet in anther
Clara enjoying pressing against my feet and legs

The added benefit of this one is a little harder to describe, but no less real. Clara is a very “touchy” dog. She likes to lean against me, touch me, cuddle, and be as close as she can. So she loved the leg weaves. She got to be right “inside” my personal space. And darned if she didn’t make up a new game: she comes and weaves her way through my legs when I am sitting down, just for fun. Kind of like a very large, pushy cat. She clearly likes the sensation.

I couldn’t get a shot of the actual weaving when I was sitting down, but here she is walking under my leg and pressing against my foot. See how she is pushing toward me in both photos?

So Clara and I have not only discovered a new way to play one-on-one that needs no  toy or prop.  With a little finesse, I could even use it as a reinforcer. But right now, it’s just another way to have fun with my dog.

So thanks Marge, for urging me to train pure “tricks,” but they keep turning out to be useful! Or was that part of what you were trying to show me all along….?

Coming Up:

  • Punishment is not a Feeling
  • Why Counterconditioning Didn’t “Work”
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • What if Respondent Learning Didn’t Work?

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

 

 

Who Was Resource Guarding? And Why We Need to Take it Seriously

Who Was Resource Guarding? And Why We Need to Take it Seriously

What is it with me and contests/quizzes, anyway? The Curse of Knowledge got me again!

Because of the way I made a guessing game out of two pictures of my dogs,  I may have led people to believe that resource guarding is not very serious. I may have even implied that as long as you can take the item away from the dog, all is well.

In my previous post, I wrote:

One of these dogs didn’t want to give up her item, but still, she did so without incident.

This made it appear that I may approve of walking up and taking things away from dogs who are giving fair warning. I absolutely do not recommend that, nor do I do it (anymore). But I used to, before I knew any better, and I should have explained the context of the “bad old days.” In my zeal to make the guessing game fun, I left out the backstories, and I shouldn’t have.

As mrsbehavior, one of my commenters, said, “Just because you can take something away from a dog doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.” Absolutely, and I didn’t mean to imply that this was so.

What is Resource Guarding?

Here is a definition from Jean Donaldson, from her book about the subject, “Mine!”:

Dogs behaving aggressively when in possession of (and sometimes to gain possession of) food, toys, bones, their owners, their resting spots and crates.

Although it is a very natural behavior–would could be more survival enhancing than being willing to protect valuable stuff?–it can be an extremely problematic one for a pet.

Jean Donaldson classifies most resource guarding as ritualized aggression, where dogs resolve conflict with threatening behaviors short of physical aggression. Dogs are actually pretty amazing at this, but they are also quite capable of causing great harm.

Some of the signs of resource guarding that Jean Donaldson lists are freezing up, a hard stare, eating faster, growling, snarling, snapping, and biting. There is no level of resource guarding against a human that should be ignored.

See the bottom section for resources for treating and preventing resource guarding. In the meantime, here are the answers to the previous post.

Cricket Was Resource Guarding

Cricket and her chewie
Cricket and her chewie

In my previous post about resource guarding, Cricket, the rat terrier with big ears, was the resource guarder.

The photo of Cricket with her rawhide chewie is from 2005, before I learned anything about training. I didn’t know resource guarding was that bad a problem, since she would give warning snaps but not bite, and I certainly didn’t know there was anything one could do about it. Some evenings I would separate Cricket and my other rat terrier, Gabriel, and give them each a chewie. If they weren’t done with them when I was ready to go to bed, I would take them away. Clearly, Cricket didn’t appreciate it. I would never do it that way now (see below: My Dogs at Home).

The commenters who picked Cricket named lots of “tells.” I really liked Ingrid’s observation comparing the two photos: I was a lot closer to Summer! That’s a great observation. Even if all things were equal and those were both resource guarding responses, just the fact that I was farther away from Cricket and getting that response speaks volumes. Cricket has three points of contact with the rawhide: both paws are clutching it and she has it in her mouth. Even though she has the rawhide in her mouth, she is managing to push her commissure (corner of mouth) forward, a typically aggressive response. Her little body is tense, down to her back toes. Her ears are back a little from their natural carriage. With her, that was roughly equivalent of a horse putting its ears back. Somewhere between dubious and “watch out!” Then there’s the whale eye, a result of keeping her mouth on the prize but checking up on me. Here are some side by side photos of Cricket comparing her body language and ear carriage in different situations.

Summer was Playing a Game

Summer and her bone
Summer and her bone

The photo of Summer, the sable/brown dog with the big plastic bone, showed play. We have a game where I pretend to try to get her bone. Either of us may start it.

In the case of this photo, she had started the game. I had been walking across the room and she looked over at me, pounced on the bone with a little growl, and looked again. So I played along and pretended I would get her bone. The photo is a video still, and quite typical of how fierce she was acting.

Others have done a good job of analyzing her body language. It’s actually hard to see much of her body, but she was not hunched over the bone. Her muzzle was not pointed at it. Her whiskers are relaxed (you can compare with the other photo below). Notice that it is her bottom teeth that were showing. She was not lifting her lip or snarling. She was vocalizing at the time, this funny high-pitched hooting whine that she does in play, which is why her mouth is that shape, quite similar to when she howls. But I know she looks fearsome, especially to someone who doesn’t have the context of her general personality and behavior. Here is that photo compared with another photo of Summer, where she is actually snarling (also in play, believe it or not). The one with the bone is starting to look a little better, isn’t it?

Some people took the direct eye contact and lifted muzzle in the bone photo as very threatening, and let me tell you, if I met a dog I didn’t know who was doing that, I would do my best to get out of the situation!

I showed these pictures to some friends before I ever posted them, because I myself had a hard time telling the difference between the resource guarding and play signs, even though I know the dogs and the situations. So in the end, although we can observe and analyze away, perhaps the main lesson is that resource guarding and play can look very similar. And we should take care!

Think how many games that dogs play with each other are about guarding places and objects. “King of the couch,” “You can’t have it,” even “Tug.” All sorts of things. My game with Summer was not all that different from playing tug with her. Any game can escalate, but with a clear rule structure they can be a lot of fun.

There is another thing I learned from the photos: one of the reasons Summer looks so convincingly fearsome is that she has a very mobile and expressive face. I have shown lots of pictures of her before, including in my ill-fated contest. She is very expressive. And Cricket, bless her heart, was not. She had those inscrutable terrier eyes and didn’t have near the breadth of facial expression Summer has. So when putting the pictures side by side, Summer’s certainly looked dramatic.

My Dogs at Home

I currently have three dogs, none of whom resource guards anything against me. Partly they came out of the box that way; none of them is particularly “guardy” with humans. But the other part is that I have been doing prophylactic and maintenance work with all of them to keep it that way.

In the rare situation that I take something away from one of my dogs, their reaction is, “Great! What do I get?” I have a huge “bank account” with all of them. I have classically conditioned walking toward them, reaching toward them, touching what they have, or even just looking at them when they have something, to predict great things. (The links below describe this process.)

But if your dog exhibits any of the above behaviors–from either picture–when in possession of something, you should take some steps to get some help about it.

Resources on Resource Guarding

Here is a nice blog by Dr. Patricia McConnell about resource guarding, including steps to prevent or treat it: Resource Guarding: Treatment and Prevention.

Here’s a good article on the Whole Dog Journal about resource guarding: Unwanted Dog Food Guarding Behavior.

Jean Donaldson’s book Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs has written protocols with every step split out. (It is geared toward trainers, but it quite clear and readable for anyone. The trick is that trainers are probably better at recognizing the subtle behaviors tied with tension in the dog than the rest of us are.)

Finally, here is a video that shows a professional trainer dealing with resource guarding and food aggression. It’s not a how-to video, but shows the general methodology, and some of the more subtle signs of resource guarding: Resource Guarding/Food Aggression.

Conclusion

I was feeling bad for a while, since there is not a clear cut answer to this “quiz.” I wished that I could say, with authority and certainty, that if you saw “A, B, and C” happening with a certain dog you should worry, but that if you saw “X, Y, and Z” you didn’t need to. But life isn’t like that. In retrospect, I think it is a good lesson that both of these pictures show behaviors that are worrisome, even if one dog is playing. As reader Jennifer said,

This is a wonderful exercise. I certainly would not risk my own flesh, or the comfort of either of those dogs to test my hypothesis, since really both pictures could be resource guarding.

Exactly.

Coming Up:

  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

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Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

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

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

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

I’m So Glad I Had the Camera!

I’m So Glad I Had the Camera!

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

Clara ball square

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

Zani Uses a Tool

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

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

Clara Discovers Gravity

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

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

Niña Blisses Out

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

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

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

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

Coming up:

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

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

What You Reinforce is What You Get

What You Reinforce is What You Get

A tan dog with black muzzle is looking out from between two wooden steps. Her mouth is open and she looks very happy. Next to her on the step is a beaten up yellow tennis ball.
Clara and her ball

Bob Bailey said, “What you click is what you get.” There is a lot of wisdom in this simple remark. Among other things, it emphasizes to me that we don’t always realize exactly what we are marking and reinforcing, but the animal always does. Or rather, the animal’s actions reflect it.

Since I rarely use a clicker, my version is, “What you reinforce is what you get.” This is still a challenge to keep in mind sometimes. I tend to fail at holding my criteria steady, and it shows in the overly wide range of behaviors I tend to get from my dogs. Plus, putting something on an intermittent reinforcement schedule (reinforcing it inconsistently) makes the behavior really persistent. Not a good idea to do that to a behavior you are trying to get rid of!

So let’s see what that all this looks like. I’m going to share with you all one of my bumbles. I have a video where I can show first what I reinforced purposefully (and successfully). Then I show the dog doing what I subsequently reinforced carelessly. It happened to be very close to the behavior I had been trying to fix in the first place. My dog shaped us almost back to where we started!

I wrote in my crossover story that a turning point for me was when I learned that an animal’s behavior is a map of what has been reinforced. (Punished too, now that I think of it.) You can see the changing landscape in the movie.

Letting Go of the Ball

Clara is my first truly ball crazy dog. I love it. It’s so fun to see that pure passion; how completely thrilled she is about playing ball. She loves it so much, actually, that she has a rather hard time giving it back, even though she lives for me to throw it. She loves both chasing a ball and having a ball.

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.
Clara practicing “put it in the bowl”

I published a movie last year, Retrieving to a Container, about how I solved her problem of reluctant releases. I did this with the help of my trainer friend and also a great YouTube tutorial. I trained Clara to fetch the ball and drop it in a container instead of putting it in my hand, which was so very hard for her. (She will fetch just about anything else in the world to hand, from paperclips to poop,  just not a ball. With the ball, she approaches since she really does want me to throw, but then she usually does that head dodge thing when I reach out. Just c a a n ‘ t quite give it up.)

I could have stopped everything and worked hard and gotten a ball fetch to hand, but the container thing was an elegant solution that would also build us a new foundation behavior. And it removed most of Clara’s conflict about releasing the ball.

I tried teaching my other dogs as well, and Zani took to it right away. So now I had two of them who would drop things into a container.

Zani has a knack for getting in on the fun, wherever it is. So when I would get out the rubber balls and the container, she started barging in on Clara’s game. Clara is good natured about things like that, and I’m a sucker, so now there were three of us. Zani started to pick up the ball if Clara dropped it short of the bucket. Zani would grab it, drop it in the bucket, and I would give her a treat. (Told you I’m a sucker. She even got me to feed her.)

Experienced trainers are smiling now. With Zani’s help, I exactly undid the behavior I had trained. Clara and I play with two balls, so I can throw the second immediately when she delivers the first. The throw of the ball reinforces the previous behavior. So when she started dropping the ball short of the bucket and letting Zani finish the job, she still got reinforced by another throw. It didn’t matter that I was waiting for the ball to hit the bucket, since she wasn’t performing that part of the sequence. So she reverted to her natural behavior of tossing the ball down in anticipation when she got within a few feet of me.

How Eileen’s Behavior Got Shaped

So what about me? Did Clara cause my behavior to change through reinforcement? Yes. Her actions were shaping my behavior. She got me to do two different things. First, when I was holding the container, if she dropped the ball a time or two I got in the habit of reaching out with the container before she let go. I was doing the natural human thing of “catching” the ball with the bowl, rather than being a statue. I got reinforced for doing that since it saved the time of either of us messing around trying to pick it up off the ground. So in this way I also started taking over some of what “should” have been her job, and she got reinforced (again!) for not coming quite all the way to the container. By inches this time, but it only takes that much to miss.

A tan dog with black muzzle and a red ball in her mouth is rushing toward a woman sitting down with a white plastic bowl in front of her. The woman is holding a similar red ball in her right hand, completely covered, and out of sight of the dog.
Take a look at my right hand

Second, she also shaped me to put the second ball out of sight when she approached. Again, she’s so ball crazy that she had a very hard time taking her eyes off the ball I was about to throw long enough to put her own ball in the container. I could have started working on her self control around balls, but instead I  fell into the short cut of putting the other ball out of sight when she approached. This improved her accuracy at the container.

Where to Go From Here

All this makes me sound incredibly sloppy, but I’m going to defend myself a little. First of all, this is recreation. There are some things I put lots of energy into getting just right. Zen. Recalls. Mat work. I am even decent at being moderately precise, as in competitive obedience and Rally. So I cut myself a little slack when we are talking about something that is not life and death important. (Clara disagrees about that assessment, grin.)

Second, with multiple dogs you tend to make little compromise decisions all the time. It was a big plus in my mind that I could play with Clara and Zani at the same time, bizarre as the game was. My bottom line was for them to have a good time and me to be able to not work very hard.

However, the problem with being sloppy in any training situation is that one is changing criteria on the dog.

Changing criteria is unfair without using  clear cues for the different behaviors expected. That’s what cues are for. In this situation, with a different dog from Clara, my behavior might have been more of a problem. Clara is resilient and adaptable, especially when there is a ball involved. When I firmed up my criteria it took her less than a minute to switch from dropping the ball a few feet from me back into taking some care to drop it into the bucket. But it did take a little extinction burst. I try not to get in the habit of creating those!

So in the course of filming and writing about this, I have decided how to fix this situation in a way that hopefully will be more fair to Clara than the current mishmash, and still let Zani participate. I’ve realized Clara is very close to understanding the two different criteria for when Zani is there and when she isn’t.  I can do something to make it even more clear which criterion we are using. I’ll go back to sitting down when I play with her by herself. I think that change, plus Zani’s absence, would make for pretty clear situational cues that it she is in charge of getting the ball into the container.

Link to video for email subscribers.

Also, my friend Marge has challenged me to address self control for Clara around balls. So stay tuned. Finally, for extra credit: why is Zani hanging around me so close when she is part of the game?

And how about you? Have your dogs shaped your behavior? Have you noticed anything amusing that you have been reinforcing? Or noticed slippage into a different behavior as you relax criteria?

Thanks for viewing! Coming up:

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Copyright © Eileen Anderson 2015

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Dog Faming Lives!

Dog Faming Lives!

A tan dog with black muzzle lies down on a white mat on a bed with a pink bed spread. She is relaxed, and her mouth is open. A woman plays tug with a smaller, black and tan dog right in front of the tan dog.
How about Clara’s relaxed stay on the mat!

Remember Dog Faming? It’s a response to the trend of “dog shaming,” where people post photos showing dogs doing “naughty” things. These always highlight lack of training rather than anything intrinsically wrong with the dogs, and often show dogs that are very stressed and unhappy.  Isn’t it nicer to catch our dogs doing something good and clever that we are proud of?

Continue reading “Dog Faming Lives!”
7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog

7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog

Two Dogs’ Experiences with the Flirt Pole

If you have been following the blog, you may have seen that young Clara is an absolute maniac for the flirt pole. It is right up there with playing ball in her list of favorite things.

a tan dog is stretched out at her whole length, chasing a toy on a rope attached to the end of a pole
Clara stretching out to get the toy

I waited quite a while before introducing Clara to the flirt pole because teaching “release the toy” was a real struggle with her when we played tug and ball. I had visions of her getting overly excited and breaking the flirt pole by pulling on the toy endlessly.

Continue reading “7 Great Benefits of Flirt Pole Play for You and Your Dog”
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