Tag: Leave it

Teaching a Dog to Station While Another Dog Works

Teaching a Dog to Station While Another Dog Works

A tan dog is lying on a green cot while a white dog with brown ears sits on a low platform next to her. Both dogs are looking at something to their left that we can't see.

Lewis and I have achieved two of my personal holy grails of dog training. He can both wait quietly in another room while I train Clara, and he can station successfully in the same room while I train her. Hallelujah!

The effects of these abilities are far-reaching. Since the end of December 2021 when I got Lewis, I have spent most of my training time with him. That means that Clara, my stalwart, lovely Clara, hasn’t been getting as much fun training time with me. I’ve been exhausted from training and managing Lewis. And she loves to train. As you might remember, we were working on her trick titles, ahem. We haven’t stopped, though. We’ve been working on finding lost objects and keeping her other trick behaviors alive. But we’re not working every day as we did before.

A tan dog with black ears, tail, and muzzle is lying on the floor looking seriously at the camera
Imagine these eyes gazing at you every time you go to train the other dog

Lewis came to me with a huge Fear of Missing Out. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t have symptoms of separation anxiety or isolation distress. But he had been in a state of deprivation, living in a vet clinic for crucial months of his puppyhood. He suffered from that and learned a huge palette of demand behaviors as well.

For months, I couldn’t do something so simple as leaving him in the den while I took Clara into another room to trim her nails for five minutes. He would yell and rattle the gate. And sometimes get it open, dammit. Talk about great reinforcement.

But he has learned, over almost five months, that he will get a turn. He will get some. Not every time, but enough to make it worthwhile. (Clara would like me to remind you that he’s been getting more of everything for months.)

I am not great at precision training, but if you need patience and a slow, gradual progression, I’m your person.

Training Two Dogs

I wrote a blog post on training multiple dogs a few years ago, and I still follow that method. The principle of teaching one dog to wait while another gets the active training is very simple. I learned it from Sue Ailsby. When you are training a dog to wait on a mat or other station while you work with another dog, train the waiting dog. Don’t focus on the active dog and give the waiting dog a treat now and then, or even every time you treat the active one. Give the waiting dog more attention, more reinforcement. When you do something with the working dog, start with very little movement and immediately turn back to the waiting dog and reinforce. As you progress, build up to more movement and object interaction by the working dog and continue to reinforce both dogs richly.

The high rate of reinforcement for the waiting dog won’t be forever. You can spread out your schedule later and lower the value of the treats once they learn that in the big picture, they’ll get a turn. And getting to work can become the biggest reinforcer of all.

I haven’t found the videos where I started this with Lewis. But here is one of my old videos starring Zani where I take a methodical approach to teaching this behavior. The video below shows my latest triumph: Lewis waiting nicely on a Klimb platform while I take Clara through some very active training—getting on and in objects. This was a long time coming.

Three things about this movie.

  • Sorry about the crappy camera angle; I almost cut him off.
  • I think Lewis fusses as I cue him to lie down on the Klimb because he doesn’t know how to do that yet with his front feet stationary, and there’s not much room behind him. He figures it out.
  • Clara has a bandage on her left front paw because of a raw spot on the side of her foot and she is holding it up (superstitious behavior) even more than usual. It doesn’t hurt her to use her paw; I think the bandage feels weird.

Next, I’ll teach Lewis to hold his position while I give Clara an object to hold, then finally while I play tug with her. This will be a challenge. Lewis can hardly bear it when Clara has something; whatever she has, he wants.

Zen/Leave It/Impulse Control with Two Dogs

Leaving available stuff alone is a lifesaving skill for dogs.

People have various reasonable criticisms of the terms impulse control and self control but I’m OK with them. They have precise definitions in behavior science. If I had a criticism, it would be that environment controls behavior. The “self” isn’t controlling behavior, but consequences and history of consequences are. But whatever we call the behavior, we can teach dogs, with positive reinforcement, to leave an available goodie alone for extended periods if we start gradually and make it worth their while.

Methods for teaching dogs to leave available food alone are becoming more and more positive reinforcement-based . Marge Rogers and I no longer use approaches based on extinction and negative punishment. There are no periods where the animal tries and can’t get the food as part of the training plan. That creates unnecessary frustration. Dogs don’t have to try to get it and fail in order to learn to leave the food alone.

Instead, I’ve learned from Marge to teach eye contact and fade in visible food as a distraction. Then extend “this food is just a distraction” to other behaviors. The presence of food finally becomes a cue to reorient to me and do fun stuff. To be honest, when I teach the behavior, I inevitably make a couple of fumbles. So there may be some negative punishment involved if I progress too fast, they go for the food, and I prevent access. That’s a mistake on my part; I’m not a perfect trainer. But I’m getting better at this low error approach.

A white dog with brown ears is lying on the floor with his front end on a tan mat. He is offering eye contact to a human we can only partially see. Human has her hands visible and closed.
Lewis is offering eye contact in the presence of two closed handfuls of food

I started with eye contact, then fading in food in my hands, then moving the food around. Then, once Lewis had the basic idea, I transitioned to teaching him to ignore food on the floor (no eye contact required). He now pauses and looks at me even in real life when I drop something by accident. Another Hallelujah.

A woman in a red shirt and black pants leans over and drops a toy in front of a white dog with brown ears who is lying on a mat.
We work on leaving dropped toys alone, too

In the video, we are working on dropped food. The dogs are on platforms but I’m not requiring a particular behavior on there. I start by placing food on the floor, then work up to dropping it and having it bounce around. Note that the presence of Clara makes the stakes higher for Lewis. There’s another dog who could get the food!

You’ll also see an error on my part where I progress too quickly for Lewis—too many kibbles coming straight at him too fast. When that happens, I don’t even try to keep him from the food. He gets reinforced for the wrong behavior—jumping down to grab the food. But I’m not worried; I can keep the matching law on my side.

I do have a verbal cue for leave it: “Pas,” the French word. I picked it years ago because I had taught Summer “Leave It” with corrections and needed an un-poisoned phrase. I sometimes feel a little silly using it (and people think I am saying “paw”). But I can say the short word with the plosive consonant very quietly and the cue is very recognizable. I think I picked a good word, after all. (Thank you, Lynn Shrove, for suggesting it. I haven’t forgotten!)

I practice dropping treats so much, though, that staying away from them becomes a default behavior for all my dogs. In most situations, I don’t need the cue.

When I have time to dig through my series of Lewis videos, I’ll post more of the steps we took for the behaviors in the videos above. But in the meantime, if I can do it, especially with Lewis, I bet you can do it with your dog, too. Please know that I understand how taxing it is to have to devote all sorts of time to the “hard” dog while the patient dog just has to be patient. The good news is that this is usually a fixable problem.

It’s such a relief to include Clara in most training sessions again.

Related Posts

Photo Outtakes

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Dogs Leave it at a Higher Level: Zen on the Move

Dogs Leave it at a Higher Level: Zen on the Move

Pictures of dogs exhibiting self-control while covered with or surrounded by cookies, dog biscuits, or hot dogs are popular ways people Fame their dogs. You can see plenty of them on the Dog Faming FaceBook page. And here is Paisley doing a beautiful job in her entry for the Your Pit Bull and You Calendar Contest. (Go vote for some of those charmers!) Paisley is one of my current favorites, particularly since she doesn’t look stressed with the exercise. Don’t I see a tail in mid-wag? She knows exactly what to do, and also knows that she will be nicely compensated for her efforts!

Paisley the Pit Bull Leaves It!

At my house we’ve been working on a different kind of Zen lately, and although maybe it isn’t as photogenic, it’s a real challenge too.

I’ve mentioned before that I train using Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. There is a step in Lazy Leash that incorporates Zen that I have been practicing with all of my dogs for several months. For my dogs, moving around while performing Zen is a real challenge.

Many training protocols use a treat on the ground as a distraction while teaching leash manners. It certainly has to be worked up to, since just keeping the leash loose at all takes all of the dog’s concentration at first.

Sue is so good at splitting out steps, and I love how she does the Zen/Lazy Leash combination.  Her steps involving the treat include:

  • Handler and dog stand with a treat directly in front of the dog, with the dog on leash. Handler takes one step away in any direction and returns. Practice duration and the person moving in different directions.
  • Handler and dog walk toward the treat on the floor and turn away before they get there.
  • Handler and dog walk past the treat on the floor.

The first step was no problem for any of my pups. Putting the leash on didn’t change the picture much from regular old “food on the floor” Zen. They were all OK with the second step, too. But oh man, the third. Clara and Zani are convinced the treat is going to jump out and grab them! I don’t have any trouble with them pulling towards the treat. However, both of them will sometimes tighten the leash when trying to get away from it!

I have mentioned before that many of us teach Zen at the beginning by reinforcing the dog for backing away from the “Zenned” item. So it can be a new concept for the dog that they it’s OK to be close to the treat–they just can’t eat it. I have some pretty cute footage of Clara trying desperately to keep her distance from a treat in my post Attack of the Zen Field. We have worked on it quite a bit since then and she has improved, but is still distrustful of that scary old treat.

I’ve been using this Step in the Levels as an opportunity to teach my dogs that they can actually go near the treat–as long as they don’t eat it (and in this case also maintain a loose leash).

Here is a short video of the results of that training. Summer is the pro from all the Rally practice we’ve done with treats and toys on the floor. Zani and Clara still have to work through some “cognitive dissonance,” as I teach them that it’s OK to go close to the treat. In short, the Zen is great, but if the dog runs behind me to get away from the treat, the loose leash doesn’t stay that way. But I’m super pleased with everybody’s progress.

Dog Faming: Zen on the Move

Link to the Zen on the Move video for email subscribers.

Other Zen Vids with Bragging Rights

Sniff Zen

Wheee–rabbit pee!

Zen Trap

Great treats popping up in unexpected places!

Zen Generalization: Hole in the Fence

Who says that training with positive reinforcement doesn’t hold up in real life? Get a load of this post!

Hole in the Fence Zen

Copyright 2013 Eileen Anderson

Summer, Clara and Zani, leave thrown kibble alone
Summer, Clara and Zani, leave thrown kibble alone

Zen Generalization: Hole in the Fence

Zen Generalization: Hole in the Fence

Snowy face Zani
Zani after playing in the snow

Sue Ailsby points out the Zen is one behavior that dogs tend to generalize well:

Leave It for all manner of toddler Zen situations…; Leave It nicely gets my dogs out of the front hall when we have visitors; Leave It helps us avoid a fight at the dog park as my dog heads for another dog’s ball; Leave It says “Stop paying attention to that cue hunky Doberman and pay attention to me!” –Training Levels, p. 441-442

It turns out that Leave It (my verbal signal is “Pas”) also means, “Don’t even think of continuing down that fallen tree trunk and jumping down on the wrong side of the ex pen so you can go through the hole that the root ball left under the fence and visit the neighbor’s yard!”

It even means it when I am 20 feet away and up a flight of steps! Good girl, Zani!

And if you’re wondering why I didn’t just call her, it’s because the ex pen fence was between us. I didn’t know what kind of confusion that could engender. So I cued Zen, talked her back the way she came, and gave her a hand signal to go around the ex pen. Life is good!

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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.

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