eileenanddogs

Tag: preventing barking

Preventing Dog Reactivity with a Barrier

Preventing Dog Reactivity with a Barrier

My back door opens onto an elevated wooden porch. There are ten steps down to the yard. The top of the steps provides a view into the neighbor’s yard, which can be a very interesting place. Clara runs there when anything might be happening, primed to react. In the picture above Continue reading “Preventing Dog Reactivity with a Barrier”

Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

Light can come in but they can't see out!
Light can come in but they can’t see out!

Do you have a reactive dog, or one who simply barks too much at things he sees out the window? And do you also care about how your house looks and value natural light ?

There is something you can do about it. Here’s my story, complete with a video of before and after behavior from the dogs.

The Barking Platform

I have a raised area on one end of my den that creates a nook by the window. I have had a day bed there as long as I’ve lived in the house. The day bed has always been a favorite dog hangout, with the added bonus that it lets them look them out the window.

Summer and Cricket barking at a pedestrian
Summer and Cricket barking at a pedestrian

Here is a picture from 2008, actually a still from a video of Cricket and Summer barking frantically at a pedestrian on my street. You can see the clip in the movie below.

The frantic barking (and pounding on the window panes by Summer) was a problem, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I felt like their ability to see out was valuable and a form of enrichment for when I wasn’t there. At least they could watch the world go by, I thought.

What I didn’t know was this:

  1. A lot of their barking was from fear, especially on Summer’s part. She didn’t like seeing dogs, cats, mail carriers, pedestrians, or bicycles. They made her nervous. She was barking to get them to go away.
  2. In Summer’s mind, it worked. Every creature, person, or machine that has ever been in front of my house has eventually left. A great percentage of those times, she was barking. Ergo, the barking got reinforced. That is clear because the barking has increased in frequency and intensity. Summer has since expanded her horizons to also bark at delivery trucks, the mail truck, and even pickups.
  3. Practice makes perfect. If my dog’s default response to seeing another dog through the window is frenzied barking, snarling, lunging, and banging on the window (as you can see in the movie), those habits could very well express when she sees dogs in person. Aggressive behaviors are being reinforced.
  4. I was unknowingly putting my smaller dog Cricket in danger. You can also see from the video that both dogs are quite frenzied. Although she never did in that situation, Summer could easily have redirected aggression onto Cricket. I was just lucky that it didn’t happen.

I didn’t know any of this then. But as I learned more about dog training and dog behavior, I realized that providing the dogs a barking platform was not ideal. As I became more aware of the detrimental affects, I managed the situation, not leaving them in that area unattended.

Then in 2011 came Clara, bringing the household up to four dogs. By that time I was keeping Summer and Cricket permanently separated.   I also kept Summer and Clara separated during Clara’s young puppyhood. And I kept Clara and Cricket generally separated as Clara got older. With this complex a situation, I had to use my whole house, and I couldn’t supervise all dogs at all times. And I knew one thing: I didn’t want Clara learning the “barking on the platform” routine. I worked proactively with classical conditioning to prevent her picking up Summer’s barking habits in general. See: “The Barking Recall” and “Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking.”  I also knew I needed to do something about the window.

(Interestingly, Zani has remained uninterested in that activity and has not developed reactive habits. Yay, Zani!)

The terrible era of the bed against the wall
The terrible era of the bed against the wall

But I knew Clara would soak it right up. And the stakes are so high with her being feral. I didn’t want to do anything to feed reactive or aggressive behaviors, especially since I am working constantly to instill the opposite with her. So when she started getting old enough to be interested, I stripped the bed and propped part of it against the wall and part in front of the window. I don’t have many photos since it was unsightly and depressing, but here is one.

The Fix

Then Marge Rogers told me about window film. She had used a company called Decorative Films when she needed absolute privacy for a shower window. When she found out how completely effective it was in preventing visibility (even at night with shower light on), she thought of the possible applications for dogs. I took a look at the company’s website and was really impressed, but didn’t do anything for a while. Then a FaceBook friend (Hi Kim C!) posted about how easy it was, so I took the plunge. But instead of buying online, I decided to just get some window film at Home Depot.

That didn’t work out well for me, although it does for plenty of other people. I’m moderately handy, but I couldn’t get the stuff to stick right and it was a real mess. I asked Marge to grill her husband about the kind they got and some details about installation, and I decided to order some online. Cool thing: Decorative Films will send you up to five free samples! There are a lot of really beautiful ones, but I wanted to go for the most blocking possible, plus it’s a front window, so I got a really plain one. The name of the film I got is Clear Sand Blast.

Detail of window film
Detail of window film showing my little flaws

Another cool thing about the company is that you can buy the film in different widths. I got a skinny roll–12 inches wide–since I had multiple small panes to do. That was enormously helpful. I think the whole project took 4-5 hours (I cut 24 panes, even though I ended up installing only 18 of them). That includes washing the window panes and cleaning the frames.

And although it would have been easier with two people, I was able to apply the film by myself. The instructions and the tool kit you can buy for $2.99 are great. You can see from the closeup that I didn’t do a perfect job–there are some wee gaps between the film and the frame, and a few bubbles in the corners, but it looks good enough for me and gets the job done.

I decided to leave off the top row of panes because the dogs couldn’t see anything up that high, but I could see the trees and sky that way. I have the pre-cut pieces if I ever change my mind. I can also remove the existing film easily. It is well secured, but it  comes off easily and doesn’t leave anything gummy.

By the way, I am not affiliated with Decorative Films. Just a very, very happy customer.

Other Options and Resources

Emma Judson recommends Purlfrost for the UK folks.

And here are two other online companies I found in a casual search. They both feature film that stays in place by static cling, with no adhesive. But I have no experience with that. (And I suspect it might not have worked in Marge’s shower!)

Window Film World

Wallpaper for Windows

Also keep in mind that you can get similar products at Home Depot and Lowe’s in the U.S.

Finally, Tena Parker of Success Just Clicks, who provided one of the photos below, has two nice posts on window film and other ideas for helping reactive dogs in the home. Here they are.

Living with Reactive Dogs–Home Improvements

Resolving Window Reactivity–Part 2

The Proof

My poor deprived dogs can’t see anything out the window anymore. (That’s a still from the “before” part that you see in the video embed!)

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Here are more pics by some friends who also are very happy with window films. Click on any image for a bigger version.

Management

Putting up window film doesn’t “cure” reactivity or aggression. It is management. But it prevents the dogs from practicing behaviors you don’t want, and getting themselves all worked up many times a day. Not to mention relieving the humans from a lot of barking! Even if you have a training plan regarding barking and reactivity, you will need to include management such as this to prevent practice of the behaviors.

Anybody have more tips for creating a lower stress environment for an anxious or reactive dog?

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking

Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking

Tan dog sucking spray cheese out of the can
Thrilling photo of classical conditioning in action

Classical conditioning examples of dogs and other animals on YouTube are rare. And there’s a reason. It’s because the process is generally comparable to watching grass grow. The creature being conditioned isn’t necessarily doing anything. The action is often off camera. And you have to do many repetitions to see any results.

You could make a 2 minute video of shaping your dog to blow bubbles in a bowl of water and that is fun and impressive. Lots of action, and look how fast the dog learns! It might go viral. Or you could show your dog doing nothing at all while you feed her because the doorbell is ringing. I’m betting it won’t go viral, but one can always hope. Here’s an exciting picture of classical conditioning in action.

I seem to have a knack for stumbling into these weird little holes in the Internet video world. I like filling them with videos. After I published The Barking Recall, several people asked me to show how I taught Clara to lick her chops, wag her tail, and look for treats instead of joining in when Summer barked. I figured I’d give it a try, boring or not.

Small tan puppy with black muzzle and tail looking up at camera
Clara on the day she arrived (about 10 weeks old)

The process can be summed up in one sentence. Starting when Clara was a puppy, every time Summer barked, no matter what Clara was doing, I gave her her favorite treat:  canned cheese.

The process is pretty straightforward. There are two important factors though: timing and consistency.

The timing is that the treat has to come after the event. That sounds easy, but in the real world it can get tricky. If you are conditioning your dog to some visual event, say the appearance of a silent scary monster, if you see it first and start scrabbling for the food, your dog’s experience can be seriously messed up. To her the food starts coming, then the scary monster appears, instead of the other way around. Food predicts monster.  If you do that enough times your dog could end up getting worried whenever you reach for a treat and still be scared of the monster. Not good. But in our case, since I wasn’t likely to know before Clara that Summer was barking, I didn’t have any problems like that.

The other factor, consistency, can be hard if you work outside of the home. To convert a neutral or scary thing to a good thing by associating it with other good things, you have to provide them virtually every time the event happens, at least at first. That’s why I have never tried to condition Summer out of her fear of delivery trucks. For her to learn that the sound of delivery trucks on the street predicts wonderful things, I would have to be there to provide the wonderful things a large majority of the time. Poor Summer; I just can’t prevent the trucks from coming when I am at work, or take enough weeks off to be there every time.

Again, I was lucky with Clara, in that I was home a lot when she was a puppy, and that I could separate her from Summer when I was not home.

A few other things bear mentioning.

First, note that I am referring to classical conditioning, not counter conditioning. Counter conditioning is when you perform this same process on an animal who already has a negative emotional reaction to the event (like Summer and loud trucks, or Zani and the elliptical exercise machine).  The process is the same, but even more attention must be seminar about counterconditioning aggression in dogs, there is Kathy Sdao’s Cujo Meets Pavlov: Classical Conditioning for On-Leash Aggression DVD set.

I had the great fortune to start conditioning Clara when she was a puppy, so I had a blank slate. She was certainly attentive when another dog barked, but she was too little to join in a barking frenzy, which was the otherwise inevitable behavior I was aiming to prevent.

Another issue that commonly pops up in discussions of classical conditioning is concerns about accidentally performing operant conditioning instead. Once we humans learn about operant conditioning, it’s hard to understand why classical can trump it. Case in point: what if Clara was chewing on Zani or peeing on the carpet right when Summer was barking and I gave her her canned cheese? Cringe. Who wants to do that? Aren’t we reinforcing the biting or peeing? In general, no. Here’s why. Let’s say Summer barked 50 times during a week and I gave Clara canned cheese each time. During each one of those times she was doing something, even if it was just sleeping. But it was a variety of things. During one of those times she was biting Zani. During another she was peeing on the carpet. So she got 50 pairings of Summer barking and cheese, but only one of biting and cheese and one of peeing and cheese. And the barking/cheese relationship still existed even when she herself was biting or peeing. So she is well on her way to learning that Summer barking predicts cheese, no matter what she herself is doing. That will trump the individual behaviors she is performing.

For fun, here is a link to an entertaining video of a Psych project where a man transforms a neutral event, the sound of a cow mooing, into a predictor that he will turn off the TV that his children are watching. He is conditioning a negative emotional response to the mooing sound. You can watch the short video and realize that what the children are doing when the moo sound happens is irrelevant. Even though something bad happens, what they are doing at the time does not get punished. The consistency of the TV going off after the mooing sound makes that the relevant pairing, and it doesn’t involve the children’s behavior.

Finally, here’s some clarification about what the classical response actually is. Classical conditioning is also called respondent conditioning. The internal changes we are seeking have to do with involuntary, respondent behaviors. Sneezing, startling, drooling, or experiencing an emotion are all things that happen without our volition. So if we are conditioning with food, we are aiming for a gustatory response. That means the body is preparing to eat, which causes hormonal chain reactions and preparation of the relevant organs and body systems. This response is mostly internal and invisible.

So how do we know if it is happening? Pavlov was lucky he had dogs, because many of them visibly drool in anticipation of food. If he had been using, say, lizards, would we know about respondent conditioning today?

What if you have a dog who doesn’t drool? Or perhaps the dog is having the gustatory response but not quite to the level that would cause drool. We can extrapolate that the invisible internal response is occurring from the operant responses that we do see. Clara now runs to me, wagging her tail, when Summer barks. Those are operant behaviors that are extremely unlikely to occur consistently without there having been some trigger other than the barking. They are not a common response to a barking dog. But they are likely caused by the conditioning, and pretty reliable indicators of it. In Clara’s case, even licking her chops is operant, but it is a direct result of the commencement of salivation.

So here’s my video on the method of pairing barking and wonderful treats. I hope it is more interesting than watching grass grow.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the video I test Clara’s response on camera when I am not home and someone impersonates the mailman. Both dogs hear the person on the porch. Summer immediately barks and continues to do so. Clara jumps to her feet in her crate and stands there, listening. She does not bark. Neither does she drool and wag her tail. But I am pleased with her response. Someone coming up on the front porch is a event a dog would normally pay attention to and I’m glad she did. She was extremely attentive, but she did not get into a frenzied state or “catch” Summer’s barking. I think this is likely due to the conditioning and its result that she never practices that behavior when I am home. Without the automatic barking and arousal, she was able to make an assessment (anthropomorphically speaking) that the sound of the mailman was the same as it is every day, and it has never predicted anything bad.

And in case you’re wondering: this conditioning did not inhibit Clara’s barking in response to various events that she herself finds alarming or exciting. There are plenty of those episodes. The conditioning just inhibits her from joining in contagious, group barking.

If you didn’t see my post The Barking Recall, you might want to check it out now. It features a video that shows how barking eventually became a trigger for Clara to check in with me, even when I am out of sight, and how it helped create Clara’s strong recall.

Thanks for reading!

Upcoming topics:

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa