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Tag: Summer

Replacing a Poisoned Cue

Replacing a Poisoned Cue

A woman reaching down and shoving her hand in the face of a stuffed dog, as if to tell it to stay. This became a poisoned cue.
“STAY!”

Originally published in December 2012; expanded and revised for 2019. The video in this post was featured at Tate Behavioral’s ABA Conference in October 2019 by Dr. Megan Miller.

A poisoned cue is a cue that is associated with both reinforcing and aversive consequences. Poisoned cues were probably the norm for a period in some types of training, and still are common. If you tell your dog to “sit” and he gets a cookie if he sits but gets a push on the butt or jerk on the leash if he doesn’t, then “sit” is a poisoned cue. The term was coined by Karen Pryor.

Continue reading “Replacing a Poisoned Cue”
Dog Interrupted: The Value of Reorientation

Dog Interrupted: The Value of Reorientation

A sable dog is sitting on the grass outside, gazing up at the photographer with a calm expression
Summer reports in

Recently I published, “Miracles Can Happen: Summer’s Good Behavior Generalizes.” This post was about my surprise that Summer started reporting to me for a treat when the big neighbor dog was around, instead of getting herself all fired up running up and down the fence.

A lot of things are coming together for Summer right now. Summer is the first dog I ever seriously trained and also my crossover dog. We have been through a lot together. But I had to put some of her training on hold when Clara came into my life. With three dogs and one of me, there is sometimes a kind of triage that goes on.1)Also, to be fair to myself, it was only after working with Clara that some of Summer’s needs became clearer to me. Clara’s issues were an emergency when she came to me, and remained that way for more than a year. While Summer is anxious and has some behavior problems, she has always been comfortable enough in her skin to get enrichment from being out in the world, and is adoptable in the case of something happening to me. That was not true for Clara. With her feral background Clara had and still has a very short list of people with whom she could be comfortable.

But Clara’s training has been coming along beautifully and I feel that I can finally breathe a little again. In the meantime, Summer has learned to come to me when the other dogs play and also when most other exciting things happen. When she comes she gets a treat, and we will usually hang out and do a little training, or she can just earn some periodic kibble for lying down quietly.

After seeing the movie in the earlier post, a reader wanted to know whether the behavior was robust enough that Summer would seek me out even when I was out of sight. That is what the movie is about, and the answer is yes. Take a look.

**NOTE** In the one of the outdoor clips, there is a moving shadow that looks like I am gesticulating with my hand. In another something comes momentarily on camera, and Summer flinches away as she comes to me. Both of those are actually Clara’s tail wagging. I have taught Clara a very strong Down cue that I use to limit her interference with the other dogs’ business, but I didn’t try to do it while wielding the camera.

Summer’s practice at self-interruption has allowed her to halt in the middle of her own barking and come find me in a different part of the house.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

How Did We Get There?

I would much have preferred working with classical counterconditioning with Summer from the beginning, especially with her fears of trucks and loud engine noises. That means pairing the appearance of a trigger with great things happening, no matter what Summer is doing. There is no behavioral requirement for the dog. Done correctly, conterconditioning can change the dog’s emotional response to a trigger, rather than just teaching them coping methods.2)An astute reader pointed out that what I am doing with Summer can be classified as operant counterconditioning. It too can eventually lead to the fears diminishing or disappearing, and Summer’s fears have definitely diminished. But it is a more indirect route and not my preferred one for an anxious dog. However, the operant work has still helped Summer enormously, and the behaviors she has learned are handy in a multitude of situations, not only having to do with fear.

That’s why I am sharing here a couple of things I have taught Summer that have built her ability to self-interrupt. Even with a non-fearful dog, these things can come in very handy. Every dog, sometime in its life, is going to encounter situations that are so novel or exciting that she has a hard time keeping ahold of herself. The following two behaviors are ones that just about anybody can practice with their dog, except for with the very most fearful dogs.

1) Capture and shape attention. To start off with this, anytime your dog turns or looks in your direction, mark and treat. You can start in the house. Then if you have a yard, you can do this when your dog is calmly going about her doggy business, doing things such as sniffing around, digging, or interacting with another dog. Your dog doesn’t have to completely stop doing what she is doing and gaze at you, not at first. You are capturing mini-behaviors, and over time, shaping her attention to you. She only needs to lift her eyes, turn her head, or take a step in your direction. Anything that is closer to coming to you or looking at you than what she was doing before.

Also, it’s fine if it is “accidental.” For example, let’s say she took a step in your direction while walking around. She wasn’t really coming to you but that doesn’t matter. Capture and reinforce it often enough and it will increase. You can shape it gradually into a recall (if she is not next to you) or eye contact (if she’s right there). Reinforce all these little things and soon you will become a regular focus of her attention.

This is a basic technique of most positive reinforcement trainers and one that can pay off bigime.

2) Alternate periods of arousal with periods of relaxation.  The most common way to do this is to teach your dog to relax on a mat, then intersperse an active game with the mat work. Lots of trainers have versions of this, some with special names for the exercise. But it amounts to about the same thing: helping the dog practice moving from excitement to relaxation and back. For just two examples: Sue Ailsby has this method in the Training Levels, Level 2 Relax. Leslie McDevitt calls it the “off-switch game” in Control Unleashed. Here are a couple of video examples:

Coming Around Full Circle

I am actually doing counterconditioning now with Summer. In a way, we have been working backwards. First I taught her an alternative behavior to getting excited and barking and running around (come check in with me). She is able to do it earlier and earlier and in more and more exciting events. But I’m now going for the whole banana with her, and hope to take the “scare” out of these triggers entirely, starting with trucks.

Since I have seen that her reactivity to mail and delivery trucks has lessened quite a bit through our operant work, I am hopeful that I can take her even farther with counterconditioning. I had always felt that we couldn’t do much about it since I am not always home when the trucks go by,3)One of the guidelines for most effective counterconditioning is that every single appearance of the trigger is paired with something great. and I can’t do a controlled exposure through desensitization. The trucks come when they will.  But I am hopeful that by being very consistent when I am home, and perhaps working a bit with recordings,4)There are a number of things that make using recordings tricky, and I’ll be writing about them in future posts. I can chip away a bit more at her fear.

Has anybody else gone “backwards” like this and taught an alternative behavior through positive reinforcement first, then done counterconditioning? Or does anybody want to share success stories using either method?

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© Eileen Anderson 2015                                                                                                                               eileenanddogs.com

Notes   [ + ]

1. Also, to be fair to myself, it was only after working with Clara that some of Summer’s needs became clearer to me.
2. An astute reader pointed out that what I am doing with Summer can be classified as operant counterconditioning. It too can eventually lead to the fears diminishing or disappearing, and Summer’s fears have definitely diminished. But it is a more indirect route and not my preferred one for an anxious dog.
3. One of the guidelines for most effective counterconditioning is that every single appearance of the trigger is paired with something great.
4. There are a number of things that make using recordings tricky, and I’ll be writing about them in future posts.
The Ex-Pen Garden

The Ex-Pen Garden

How about something light and pleasant to get ready for the weekend!

One of my life goals has always been to have a big vegetable garden. And when I got my own place I did it.

These are low res photos because hey, it was 2001. Scroll over an individual photo for the caption. Click it to enlarge (a little). See the nifty little fence my friend designed and helped me build?

That was my garden in 2001. I expanded it in 2004.

My garden in 2004
My garden in 2004 with a cameo by Gabriel, my late rat terrier mix

But all that was before I had agile dogs. Summer and Zani could both happily jump the fence but I left it there and did garden some. Then this happened.

Link for email subscribers.

That’s 11-week old Clara climbing a fence made of chicken wire and PVC, inserting her little paws in the holes in the chicken wire. I pulled the fence down the next day, since it had gone from useless to dangerous.

As a formerly feral puppy, Clara had all sorts of unexpected skills which she demonstrated with confidence.

So now my garden looks like this. I.e., mostly fallow and overgrown except a couple of leftover herbs and perennials, and being used as a dog playground.

My non garden in 2013
My non garden in 2013

Kind of like a weedy desert out there….

But this year I realized something. Exercise pens can keep dogs out as well as keep them in. Voila: the Ex-Pen Garden.

Ex pen with dogs outside, plants inside!
Ex pen with dogs outside, plants inside!

Introducing the Ex-Pen Garden!
I can cover it easily when hardening off plants

Ex-Pen Garden showing baby pepper plants
There they are:  baby pepper plants

I’ve got five hot pepper plants in there now: a jalapeño, a poblano, a serrano, and two habaneros, and a basil plant. Plus I have another ex-pen. I can expand! It was REALLY nice to plant something!

Of course what has created a decent barrier for dogs (two of them really could jump it but so far are not motivated to try) has turned out to be a magnet for the neighborhood cats. More on that in a future post.

Release the hounds!
Release the hounds! (That was a 50 foot group stay, in case you thought there was no training in this post!)

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Est-ce que votre chien veut VRAIMENT être caressé ?

Est-ce que votre chien veut VRAIMENT être caressé ?

Picture of a small black and tan dog leaning away and giving "whale eye," where a small crescent of white shows at the edge of her eyes, as a person reaches out to pet her.
Zani dit NON.

Pour mes visiteurs français.

Est-ce que votre chien veut VRAIMENT être caressé ? (lien)

En anglais

Merci à Stéphanie Michenaud et Nathalie Perret du Cray de Balade Ton Chien pour leur aide.

Note to all my international readers and viewers: I will be happy to make more translations of this movie, if you want to help.  Thanks to Stéphanie and Nathalie, if anyone wants to volunteer to translate, I can send a text document that has all the English from the movie, with spaces left for translation. It takes me only a couple of hours to change the text in the movie, and I can usually do it within a week or two of receiving the translation, depending on what else is in the queue. Hoping to get some takers!

And of course if you want to translate any other movie or post I would be flattered and will work with you on that.

Thanks for watching!

Merci d’avoir regardé !

Coming up:

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Copyright Eileen Anderson 2013

A Secret for Training Two Dogs

A Secret for Training Two Dogs

Tan and black dog lying down on a lavender mat
Clara on her mat during a difficult distraction

I think this is as close as I’ll ever come to a “how-to” blog. Here is my usual disclaimer: I am not a professional trainer and I have trained only my own dogs.

But there is a secret to training a dog to lie quietly on a mat, chair, or platform, unrestrained, while another dog is trained. I didn’t invent it. Sue Ailsby told it to me. I’m going to tell you the secret and discuss it conceptually. Once you get the concept, it all falls into place.

I will also put what I’m saying into practice and demo with my own dogs.

First, here’s what my dogs knew how to do before we started. I think these are the basic necessities.

Prerequisites

  1. The dog already knows how to stay on a mat or other station for 5 minutes while being reinforced.
  2. She can stay with some moderate distractions. Here are some examples. You can walk 20 feet away and back again. You can trot by her or jump up and down. You can drop a treat a few feet away. You can toss one away from her (like you were tossing it to another dog). You can walk right by her with a  toy in your hand. The dog must already have experience with distractions, because another dog in the room who will eventually get a lot of your attention is a huge distraction.
  3. You either have cues that are specific to each dog, or you can work something out as a way to get Dog A to stay while Dog B comes with you, and a way to release Dog A without releasing Dog B. Frankly though, they can learn part of this as you go along. I include some suggestions.
  4. She knows the other dog and neither is aggressive or overly obnoxious towards the other.

Here is what Sue Ailsby said that made it all fall into place for me.  Sue said that when you start, you need to concentrate on the dog who is learning to wait on the mat. Sounds obvious, right? But lots of people who go about this task the first time, including myself, do it exactly backwards. We start taking the active dog through her paces, and throw a treat to the dog on the mat every once in a while. This often does not work.

The other thing Sue said was to treat the dogs separately. Some people say to give the mat dog a treat every time the active dog earns one at first. Then thin the reinforcement down so that you give the mat dog a treat only sometimes when the other dog earns one.  (Emily Larlham does this in her excellent video on the subject.)

Sue recommends instead that each dog gets treats tied to what they are doing, so that the dog on the mat learns very clearly that she is getting reinforced for doing her job and it is not tied to what the other dog is doing. Sue’s method is a little harder for the human, but I think is very clear for the dogs. Each gets treated separately. (In reality, they frequently get treated in tandem, but I make a conscious effort to break the pattern as well.)

Dogs who live in households with other dogs learn very quickly that they don’t always get a treat when their sister does, and I think this is a good thing. So I like Sue’s method myself.

Cricket and Zani on mats in the kitchen. Good stuff tends to happen there!
Cricket and Zani on mats in the kitchen. Good stuff tends to happen there!

Showing the Dog She Is the Center of the Training

Here is how to apply what Sue said. We want to do everything we can to show the mat dog that she is the center of the training.

So first, ask yourself, when starting a training session with my dog, how does she know? Here is my own list.

  • I get out treats. A camera perhaps. (My dogs get very happy when they see me carry around the camera tripod.)
  • I often look in my Training Levels checkoff list binder.
  • I may gather some gear and props. A leash. A target object.
  • I take the dog I’m going to train by herself to a particular place. I have about 5 places in my house where I commonly train. If there are other dogs there, I crate them.
  • I look at that dog, talk to that dog, and generally orient my body towards that dog
  • I reinforce that dog. It if is a new or difficult behavior, I reinforce heavily.
  • I release the dog frequently or at least periodically (mini releases with the click; longer ones when we take a little break or set up for a new behavior)

All these things are what tell the dog that she is being trained. So to apply Sue’s recommendation,  I am going to get the “mat dog” to do all of these things, then bring in the active dog as a distraction.

How I Proceeded

  • I got out the treats as described above
  • I took Zani alone into my front room alone and cued to get her on mat.
  • I did a little mat training with some of the distractions I listed above.
  • Then I let Summer, the distraction dog, into the room but stayed focused on Zani and kept the treats coming.
  • When I started to do a few more things with Summer, I spoke quietly to her, trying to be as clear as possible that I was speaking to her alone.
  • I often turned my back on Zani to cue a behavior for Summer, then turned back to Zani and treated her.
  • With my back turned, sometimes I gave hand signals to Summer that Zani couldn’t see.
  • I started with Summer doing very easy, calm behaviors with minimal movement. I worked up to more movement, but kept a variety.
  • During our second session I did short duration behaviors with Summer, releasing her with “OK,” which is also Zani’s release word. I continued to be careful to speak directly but quietly to Summer. I treated Zani for staying every time I released Summer.
  • I did my best to be considerate of Summer, the active dog, who was probably getting less attention than normal when we train.

Releases

I started this project without having a completely clean system of releases for individual dogs. Ideally, I suppose I would have had that in place. There are several ways to go about this. Patricia McConnell, PhD, the eminent animal behaviorist, reported that her border collies could never learn individual releases from stays of the type, “Luke, OK,” because each dog would release on the “OK.” She instead taught them to release individually on a singsong call of their name (here’s her video demonstration). However, some people do direct separate cues to their dogs using their names. Emily Larlham who recommends this video as a prerequisite to her training multiple dogs video, demonstrates her dogs responding to individually directed cues, and she releases them separately in the latter video.

I have had moderate success with directing individual cues to my dogs without formally training that, just incorporating some habits into our day to day living. Like Dr. McConnell, I use a special version of their names to invite one to come with me and for the others to wait. But I actually think that teaching a dog to wait on a mat in the area while another is trained is a way of teaching the kind of differentiated individual response we are talking about. For me, there is some tolerance for error in that situation, as long as I don’t apply any penalty for a dog releasing when I intended the cue for another. It is neither as crucial nor as difficult as when you have a group of dogs all waiting to be cued to do the same exciting thing, such as go out the door.

Videos

The first video shows parts of Zani’s very first two sessions of staying on the mat while another dog is worked. I chose Summer according to my guideline #4 above. Clara could possibly be obnoxious to Zani if Clara is the working dog. We’ll work up to that.

Video link for email subscribers

The second video shows Clara doing what is for her a very advanced version. (I taught her the basics when she was about a year old.) She is staying on her mat while I work up to a pretty rowdy game of tug with Zani. She gets up one time when I accidentally say “OK” while tugging with Zani (I say it twice! Knock head on wall!). But she corrects herself immediately. Her head is clearer than mine!

Video link for email subscribers

What’s Next?

You probably noticed I didn’t switch the dogs back and forth. I plan to do that after each of my three dogs in training can successfully stay on their mat while I work either of the other two.

Sable dog on a mat on a sidewalk
Summer very pleased to be on her mat at an outdoor restaurant

The cool thing, though, is that once you can switch dogs back and forth fluently, Mr. Premack can come to visit (the Premack principle states that behaviors can reinforce other behaviors) and we won’t have to keep that high rate of reinforcement for the dog on the mat. Her major reinforcement for staying quietly on the mat will be the chance to be the working dog. I already take turns with my dogs in almost all training sessions; the major difference will be that they are now closed into crates or the next room. Soon they’ll be right there where the action is. It sounds like win/win to me.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

Update: I later successfully taught individual release cues. You can read about that in the following posts

Thanks for reading! 

Copyright 2013 Eileen Anderson

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There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble

There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble

Recently on a dog training Yahoo group, a trainer wrote about needing to use hot dogs and lunch meat to train her dog. She was dismayed that her dog wouldn’t work for kibble. She asked the group if she was going to have to be cutting up hot dogs forever.

There were about 20 responses, all with suggestions for other high value treats that might be less messy or less expensive.

But, but, but…..that wasn’t the question! It was a great question! Not the old, “Am I going to have to carry treats forever?” question. (To which the answer is “yes” for most of us.) And not, “What are some good treats I can try?” Rather, it was, “Am I going to have to carry high value treats forever?”

I have an answer to this from personal experience.

I don’t have to anymore!

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 8.56.53 PM
Summer practicing “Lazy Leash” on the front porch for kibble

Not all the time, anyway. And that’s a huge improvement.

I have written about the value of treats before on this blog. In “Ant-Sized Treats” I described the experience I had when I learned that my treats were too small and hence not high enough value. I want to reiterate that the point of that post is not to prescribe a certain size or value of treat, but to urge everyone to pay attention to their dog, observe what works and doesn’t, and ignore prescriptions such as “eraser sized” or “the size of your little fingernail.” Your dog might need them bigger, or could be fine with them even smaller. You just need to observe to find out. I don’t want you to waste as much time as I did because I followed somebody else’s prescription and stuck with it for a long, long time, thinking my dog was just a little hopeless.

That experience built in some habits for me of using high value treats. This did wonders for both Summer’s and Zani’s agility performance, and made both of them, and Clara when she arrived, really enjoy our training sessions at home.

I have read many times, and even passed on to others, the recommendation to let dogs work for part of their kibble. But ever since I upgraded my dogs’ performance from lackluster, I had unconsciously written off that option for us. Rewarded behavior continues, right? I mean my own behavior! I was reinforced by great performances from my dogs when I gave lots of high value stuff. Why would I change? So instead of using part of their kibble, I habitually used higher value stuff. I decreased their meals when necessary to avoid over feeding.

Then one day on the Training Levels list I read a post by Sue Ailsby about how she was using part of her puppy Syn’s meals every day to teach a certain behavior and how fast it was going. I don’t know what was different for me that day; why I finally considered it. But for some reason I found myself wondering if there was a behavior for which kibble would get a good performance from my dogs. I was rehabbing Summer’s sit stay at the time, and I decided trying kibble couldn’t hurt. I mean, it’s a STAY, right? I loved the idea of not having to cut up treats Every. Single. Time. we trained.

I tried it and Summer stayed interested and motivated. I tried it on Zani. I tried it on Clara (who I had always figured, correctly, would work for about anything). Before I knew it  I was having daily training sessions with all three of them for part of one or both of their meals. Man, my treat life got easier!

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 8.57.11 PM
Zani staying away from food on the ground and keeping the leash lazy on the front porch for kibble

Hey folks, my dogs now work for kibble! With drive, motivation, and pizzazz! And I can prove it!

The following video shows Summer and Zani performing several of the Steps from Level 2 Lazy Leash from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. We had already practiced these in every room of my house, on my back porch, and in the back yard, and in the front room with the door open. But the front porch was still a big leap. And it was quite exciting out there, with joggers, neighbor dogs in their front yards, and next door neighbors out and about.

(Link to embedded video for email subscribers)

You really need to read the other post to get what a big deal this is. Summer is (was!) a hard dog to motivate, and has some behavioral issues that make lots of things extra hard for her. She is hypervigilant and anxious about quite a few things. Zani has a very steady temperament, but is a mix of breeds that are infamous for their independence and, er, hobbies. (She’s probably beagle, dachshund, JRT.) She’s also extremely friendly, so human distractions are very potent for her as well, just for a different reason.

Summer and Zani both now work with me in almost any environment with great attention for much lower value treats. Classical conditioning, transfer of value: whatever you want to call it, it happened to us. (Susan Garrett calls it “Being the Cookie.”) Working and partnering with me is a major focus of both of their lives and a major source of fun.

I no longer have to carry around the liverwurst, baby food, and tuna omelette that it took to get us to this point. Kibble, Natural Balance roll, and the occasional goldfish cracker will do. They still get high value stuff too though; I want their lives and training to be fun and interesting.

The last thing I want to do is let training get humdrum and for their performance to slide down into disinterest. I am not taking this new state of affairs for granted! I usually use the high value treats for brand new behaviors, high distraction environments, and behaviors that take a lot of energy expenditure. (For instance, when Summer and I went to the Rally Obedience trial last week I had not a kibble on me. Performing there was devilishly hard for her. I had salmon dog food in a squeeze bottle, baby food, and Natural Balance roll.) But sometimes they get the special stuff just as a nice surprise.

Clara works happily for kibble as well. (Clara would probably work well for cardboard.) But I also made a video of her doing something very challenging, incredible, actually, for kibble.

(Link to embedded video for email subscribers)

I know there are plenty of others out there with dogs that are a challenge to motivate. Here is a ray of hope. If you are currently having to use salmon or gorgonzola cheese or some other exotic, expensive, or messy treat: Keep with it. Do whatever it takes to build value for the activity for your dog. I think it’s safe to say that the more you do, the more likely you may not have to  forever.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for:

 

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Welcome to the Funhouse

Welcome to the Funhouse

Dog Trial venue
The distracting, sometimes scary environment of a dog trial

Over the weekend, Summer and I competed in AKC Rally. She is such an incredibly good sport.

Sable mixed breed dog walks briskly in heel position next to small woman wearing jeans and red sweatshirt
Summer and I chugging along

After the match I was describing to a friend the ways in which performance events and venues are difficult for Summer. A dog show is never going to be the favorite environment of a dog who is indifferent to most people, bothered by certain types of dogs, and fairly easily startled. Every time you turn a corner, or even when you are in your own little area minding your own business, somebody new is popping into your field of vision or right in your space.

My friend said, “like a funhouse!” For those outside the U.S., or perhaps a bit younger than my generation, a funhouse is an interactive carnival attraction that people walk through. From the Wikipedia definition:

…funhouses are participatory attractions, where visitors enter and move around under their own power. Incorporating aspects of a playful obstacle course, funhouses seek to distort conventional perceptions and startle people with unstable and unpredictable physical circumstances…

Scary_clown
Public domain image of a what some people probably look like to Summer

I think obedience events for Summer can be a bit like going to the funhouse, or even a haunted house (a walk-through Halloween attraction for children that can be even scarier, with monsters popping out around every corner, things dropping from the ceiling, corpses moving in coffins, etc.).

The big difference, of course, is that humans generally enter such attractions voluntarily and consensually. For some reason, some of us actually seek out being startled or even scared. I don’t think dogs do. Summer goes (rarely) to obedience events because I take her. I do my very best to make it easy and pleasurable for her, but I know it’s hard.

As I have written in this blog, I got Summer at about 10 months old from a local shelter. She was clearly under socialized, and was fearful of children and most men. In addition to being indifferent or even fearful of some people, and actively disliking many small dogs, she has also become somewhat sound sensitive over the years. In addition to these traits, she is naturally a “doggie dog,” by which I mean she doesn’t have a huge drive to do stuff with people. Though an extremely mixed breed, her temperament is close to that of a northern breed. She generally wants to do her doggie things like chase varmints and likes her comfort. Finally, she is hypothyroid, on medication, and tires easily.

Perfect performance dog, right?

But on the good side, Summer and I are very very close. We’ve been working together for six years and she reads me better than any of the other dogs. She loves to go places and have me to herself. I have reinforced the heck out of performing rally and obedience behaviors, and she has really come to enjoy them. And best of all, all around the event building there are wonderful smells where other dogs have been (but aren’t there now).

Sable dog sitting in heel position gazing upward at woman (mostly out of picture)
Summer in the ring maintaining nice contact

Accordingly, I do the following to try to maximize the good for her:

  1. We minimize the time we are at the event (about 2 1/2 hours this time, but we were outside for plenty of that).
  2. I leave her by herself as little as possible since it worries her.
  3. I let her visit with the couple of people who are usually there whom she adores.
  4. I take her outside as much as possible. I try to keep in mind that that is probably the most fun part for her.
  5. If there is an opportunity to work in the ring beforehand, we do so, and I concentrate on letting her get comfortable in the space while still staying connected with me.
  6. I set up our crate in a less trafficked area if possible.
  7. I am hypervigilant (since she is). I try to see every possible startling thing before she does, to protect her or give her a heads up. (Also to protect other dogs from a possible snark.)
  8. I take the best treats ever.
  9. I try to be responsive to her energy level and generally don’t take her more than two days in a row.

I’m certainly not the only person who makes these efforts. Our name is legion, if the Control Unleashed and other such Yahoo groups give any indication. Many bloggers, notably Reactive Champion, blog about competing, and sometimes choosing not to compete, with dogs who have difficulties in public situations.

Why do we do it? I have several motivations, myself. One is that competing gives me specific goals and helps me keep focused in my training. It gives me and Summer something to do together with just the two of us. Another is that I like to get out and let people see what a dog trained with positive reinforcement looks like in the ring. Even with Summer’s challenges, she looks much happier than 90% of the dogs out there. Also I want people to see a mixed breed dog competing and doing well. (We are not alone anymore! The first place dogs in both Advanced A and Advanced B were both mixed breeds as well.) And hey, I admit, I’m competitive.

The responsibility I have as a balance to these motivations is that I must temper my ego and preferences so I don’t push my dog too hard.

Sable dog trotting toward camera with her mouth open and tail up (looking happy)
Summer heading for the gate

In Rally Advanced (the second level in AKC) there are 12 – 17 signs in the ring, each representing a defined behavior to perform offleash with your dog. We had to redo one sign during the course, and it was because of a problem I had never anticipated. It was a spiral, where you take the dog in a certain pattern around some pylons. But the pylons were set up parallel to the ring boundary and very close to it. We were actually not able to walk comfortably in the space between the boundary fencing (called the ring gates) and the pylons. I don’t know how the people with bigger dogs did it. Summer is trained to walk in a certain proximity to me and to respond to my changes in direction, and she repeatedly tried to move over, and it sent her to the wrong side of the pylons. She was doing what I had trained her to do.

I kept getting her back but she finally made a move that would have made us fail the sign completely. So we took the option of a do over, which lost us only 3 points instead of the 10 we would have lost if we had failed to perform the sign correctly. I walked a little more slowly the second time and clung to the boundary, and kept cuing her to stay extra close to me. Even with the do over, we got a 96 (out of 100) and second place.

There were some other rocky moments where she was visually or auditorially distracted, and I don’t blame her. There was cheering going on in the other rings, and a bunch of dogs and people gathered around ours. I am massively proud that she stuck with me in this most difficult environment.

I have never posted a video of a rally run before, because we are decent but not all that great. We are true amateurs, competing in obedience less than once a year on average. But I have to say I was pleased when I saw the film. (Thank you, Susan M., for recording for me!) The only times she looks unhappy was a couple of times she had to stay (but not every time!). When we are moving, her tail is up and she is giving me all the attention she possibly can. I even like the parts where she gets distracted and is looking out of the ring, because she responds when I ask her to.

I edited out the first try at the spiral, for brevity’s sake. I’m not embarrassed by the mistake. I would have left it in if you could actually see what was going on, but we were at the back of the ring and it’s pretty hard hard to tell. If you want to see the unedited version, there’s a link at the bottom of the post.

Summer’s official name is now: UCD Summer RA NA NAJ TBAD TG2. Not bad for a varmint dog from the sticks.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for:

Unedited version of rally run.

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Training Levels: Making it My Own

Training Levels: Making it My Own

One of the very cool things about Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels is that they are extremely structured but also completely individualizable.

The Levels provide a method of learning to communicate with your dog and teach her concepts, in the guise of being a handbook of training behaviors. But within this step-by-step method are a multitude of opportunities for the human to think through the benefits of a particular behavior for her own situation and environment.

A lot of these opportunities are in the final steps of the behavior and the “Comeafters.” Because I was involved in the production of the books, I recall that one of Sue’s or Lynn’s ideas for what to call the Comeafters was “Making it Your Own.” That has stuck with me.

I’ve learned to pay close attention to those opportunities, rather than breezing through and checking them off since I am already using some (possibly half-assed) application of them. In this post I am sharing two examples of planned, trained, individualized Levels behaviors that I’m pretty proud of.

Tan dog with black muzzle lying down in the grass looking expectant
Clara during her funny ear period already knew to lie down to get me to throw the ball

Level 2 Down Step 5: Default Down

A default behavior is one that the animal does automatically in some situation, but the term is really an arbitrary distinction. Default behaviors are cued just like every other behavior we train dogs to do. It’s just that the cues don’t come from our self-centered little mouths. They come from the environment, or sometimes from an action we take part in. I figure it’s all the same to the dog, or actually, the environmental ones are probably easier than trying to figure out the nuances of human speech and hand signals.

For example, although we work on this a lot, I could probably think of half a dozen situations where Zani would respond incorrectly to a verbal cue for a Sit. Verbal cues are really hard for her. But if I plunk her in front of an agility jump, she is not going to misunderstand and down or stand instead. The agility jump is a very clear cue.

Back to the down. Sue suggests a default down in the presence of kids and older people, when the human is talking on the phone, etc. Well, my feral dog Clara will probably not be in the proximity of children enough times in her whole life to train a default down, so that one is out. But since she is a bouncy jouncy easily aroused dog at home, down is a wonderful thing, and the more cues for it, the better.

I wrote a whole post on one of Clara’s cues for down: Get Out of My Face: Teaching an Incompatible Behavior.  In the post and video I describe and show how I trained Clara to lie down whenever I bend over or squat, instead of mugging my face. Worked a charm. And you can see another one in this post/video: Play with Your Dog: For Research. Clara knows to lie down to start our game with the flirt pole. She does the same with tug.

But Clara has yet another default down now. The way my house is laid out, I have two steps down into my den from the kitchen. Clara is in the den almost all the time. I have a gate across the top of the stairs. That means that those two stairs are favorite lounging and hangout areas for all the dogs.

Clara, being the high energy dog that she is (that’s putting it nicely) naturally leaps up and crowds up onto the stairs in front of the gate whenever I try to descend into the den. This is yet another situation in which I just need her to back off a bit. So I trained her to lie down on the den floor when I enter. One of the criteria is that it has to be on the concrete floor; not on the steps. That’s an easy distinction since the steps are elevated and carpeted. So we have a special verbal cue for this: “Concrete!” But I expanded this to a default behavior also. I wanted her to down whenever I came into the den. (If you are starting to think I have some sort of queen complex, you just don’t know this dog.) So the cue for that is my hand on the gate handle. Sweet!

Funny thing is, I haven’t thought up a practical default down for either of my other two dogs in training. They are much less, uh, demanding than Clara. But something will come to my attention sooner or later, I’m sure, since Sue has invited me to think about it.

Level 2 Focus Step 5: Use focus as proof that the dog is In The Game (think of a place you could use eye contact in your life)

OK, it’s Summer’s turn. This Step could have been an easy pass for Summer. I’ve been reinforcing extended eye contact for years with this dog. (In this video from four years ago she does flawless 30 seconds, then 40 seconds of eye contact. It’s right at the beginning.) There are a number of situations in which I already ask for it: going out any door being prime among them. She looks at me before I open the door, and reorients and looks at me again after we go through. She generally holds eye contact when I cue Zen. She stares at me for extended periods whenever she wants something, as well. I could have just marked that Step off.

But I try not to treat the Levels as something to race through, even though I like checking off boxes as much as the next person. So I held off and thought about it. Then the other day I noticed something. I taught Summer a puppy fetch a couple of years ago. Summer had zero retrieve instinct and I shaped it with patient coaching from Marge Rogers of Rewarded Behavior Continues. This is not a formal retrieve of any sort and certainly not a Levels retrieve. We don’t have a hold or any finesse with the delivery. It’s just a trick. But it’s relevant here.

This trick was the first thing I trained Summer while having a plate of food on the floor. I got into the habit of doing the plate thing for that behavior and not many others. And lo and behold, the other day I realized that not only was the plate of food part of the cue for the behavior, but she was drifting towards retrieving to the plate instead of me! How helpful of her to position herself closer to the food, to save me all that reaching around!

I experimented with moving the plate around, or eliminating it altogether, and found that she looked for it when she came back with the toy. So I quit using the plate for a while and got us back on track. But Summer is a great “food starer” and even after she delivered the toy, she would continue looking at my pocket or wherever the food was.

(By the way, for some dogs, the Manners Minder, a remote control treat dispenser, would be a great way to approach the food staring. Unfortunately, Summer is afraid of the grinding noise the MM makes when it jams, and since I can’t get it to jam on cue, I can’t desensitize her to it.)

That’s when I got the bright idea. This is one of Summer’s favorite behaviors. Sue says “Use Watch to tell your dog you’re about to do something, so pay attention now!” My throwing the toy definitely qualifies as “doing something,” and it’s something she really likes. So how about if I wait for or ask for eye contact before throwing the toy? Each time! In theory, the cue for the fetch would provide tertiary reinforcement for the eye contact, since the fetch is so fun for her.

So we started off. I learned right away that this was difficult for her. Apparently what she had been doing before when I cued–sniffing around, still thinking about food, had gotten the tertiary reinforcement. When I waited for eye contact before throwing, she could do it a couple of times, but it was spotty, and her enthusiasm for the trick went down. Oh oh. So I took the fetch out entirely. We had several days of sessions where I just asked for eye contact, marked and threw the treat, then waited for eye contact as she trotted back to me. Now we were on the right track! Turns out that when trotting up to me, Summer was most often looking elsewhere than my eyes. Even though in so many other situations, including competition heeling, she did look me in the eye.

Summer had already learned that eye contact was highly reinforceable in this situation
Summer had already learned that eye contact was highly reinforceable in this situation

I had worked eye contact in so many situations, but here was a new one.

Only after we had a good start on building her new behavior: looking at my face when she approached me, did I start asking for the fetch again. I would intersperse the two behaviors. Most often I would reinforce the eye contact on approach directly with a treat, but once every three or four times I would ask for the fetch instead.  After she got used to the alternation, this worked great.

Thanks, YouTube, for the best featured image from the video being one where she is looking at my hand!

Summer’s enthusiasim for the trick has returned, and she gives me eye contact to get me to do it. I think this is probably empowering for her as well. She knows the key to “make” me throw the toy. What do you think?

Bonus question: no prizes except fame and glory, but does anybody see the superstitious behaviors in the part of the video when I am in the rocking chair and we are working on eye contact alone? There are two separate ones. They fade as I start to mark the eye contact earlier.

I would love to hear about your dogs’ default behaviors. Got any interesting ones?

Coming up soon:

 

Eileenanddogs on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/eileenanddogs

Safety Behaviors: Down at a Distance and Recalls

Safety Behaviors: Down at a Distance and Recalls

These behaviors may save a dog’s life someday.

Today I practiced two of our three main safety behaviors: coming when called, and dropping and staying at a distance. We left Zen, the third, for another day.

Clara downs on a hand signal
Clara downs on a hand signal

Down on a hand signal is a Level 1 behavior in the Training Levels, although the one we are currently practicing is not the hand signal that Sue presents there. This is one that I added because I wanted something that my dogs could see at a great distance: putting my hand straight up in the air. It was much harder to teach than the downward descending hand signal though. I think it’s hard because 1) it’s hard for my dogs to make a motion in the opposite direction from my hand (the source of food, after all) and 2) I had to start with a  little bit of distance or they couldn’t see the signal without looking straight up. So maybe it’s not Level 1 after all, even when we’re close together. But we are taking it through the Levels just like every other cue.

It’s important to me, so we have been working on it a lot. We have practiced it in all accessible rooms of the house and started in the back yard a few days ago.

My goal for the behavior is for the dog to freeze in place and collapse down instantly on seeing/hearing my cue. This could save a dog’s life if, for instance, she had gotten loose and was on the other side of a busy street from me.

You’ll see me lump a bit when working with Summer, but maybe not as much as it appears. We do a session of New Cue/Old Cue using the hand signal then the verbal since it’s been a while since we practiced the distance down on the yard. As we are practicing I am moving backwards. But the distance doesn’t exactly add difficulty, at least at the distances at which we are working. Since she learned distance sits and downs in the old levels, she grasps that at much farther distances. I’m moving back in part to find the sweet spot where it is easiest for her to see. But still, I probably shouldn’t be moving around while reminding her of a cue.

As for recalls: we practice them religiously. I enjoy them because they’re fun, and also because I’m lazy about certain things. Recall is a behavior for which I don’t even have to think about stimulus control (see definition and discussion of that here)  or fading to  intermittent reinforcement.  So unless my dog breaks a stay, she gets reinforced for coming to me virtually every time, and we both like that.

Clara Running
Clara coming when called

I have at least three recall cues. One of them I used to call my “informal recall cue” until Wendy, one of the teachers in Susan Friedman’s course, pointed out that a cue is a cue, and “informal” doesn’t have much meaning. So off with that label and I’ll explain it. The cue is “are you ready to come in?”. I reinforce it intermittently with food, but there are other reinforcers present or imminent. I use it when I would like it if they would come in pretty soon, kind of like a three minute warning. But there’s plenty of reinforcement just around the corner. Generally coming back in the house with the group is reinforcing by itself. We might do something interesting, and they often get a piece of kibble for coming when I use that cue.

In the movie you’ll see Zani, little champ, responding to this casual recall cue like Rin Tin Tin. I don’t think it’s the power of the intermittent schedule as much as the fact that she saw the camera tripod, smile.

My second recall cue is “puppy puppy puppy,” which I use when I’m not sure the dog will come or if I don’t have huge reinforcement available. I don’t use that in this video. The third cue is each dog’s name, called out in a singsong tone. That is their hugely reinforced cue. Because of the special tone, I don’t seem to create any confusion by using their names. It doesn’t sound the same as when I use their name to get their attention or to precede another cue.

I love Summer’s recall. Clara and Zani are enthusiastic and both naturally speedy. But Summer puts the most heart into it. Her recall always reminds me how far she and I have come.

What behaviors are important to you? What are the most fun?

Coming up soon:

Contest! The Faces of Summer

Contest! The Faces of Summer

Summer with bedroom eyes
Summer with bedroom eyes

Just the other day I told a friend that I would never have a contest on my FaceBook page or here on the blog. It’s always presented as one of the number one ways to get people to Like, read, or visit your site. It seemed so tacky and pandering to do that just to get readers. I always figured that if I wanted readers (and I do, I do!), it was my job to be interesting, informative, or at least entertaining.

I still think that, but then something happened. I’ve been collecting photos of Summer’s face in different situations for a while, since she is so very expressive. I made them all into a gallery, and made a list of all the descriptions of the situations. I thought I’d ask readers if they could match them up.

Oops, it’s a contest! So I decided to go with it. So put on your observer hat and get ready to apply what you know!

Rules are below. The three top scorers (see rules below) will get their choice of either a print copy (not e-book)  of Alexandra Horowitz’ “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” or Grey Stafford’s “Zoomility,” mailed directly to them from DogWise.

Photos

Descriptions

Here are the descriptions for the photos, in random order.

  • First time she saw a TV
  • In costume
  • Looking for a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle) (see comments for clarification)
  • Looking for a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle)  (see comments for clarification)
  • Looking for a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle)  (see comments for clarification)
  • Found a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle)  (see comments for clarification)
  • Found a varmint (squirrel, rat, possum, or turtle)  (see comments for clarification)
  • After a varmint hunt
  • Sitting uncomfortably close to another dog
  • Has been fussed at
  • Late in day at agility trial
  • At the agility field
  • Watching petals float through the air
  • My mom has her arm around her
  • Playing with Zani
  • Playing with Zani
  • Guarding a Nylabone
  • Being held in my arms
  • During a thunderstorm
  • During a thunderstorm
  • Home from vet after serious illness
  • Asking to train
  • Doing agility sequence
  • Just a photoshoot in the back yard
  • On a road trip in hot weather
  • Waiting to check the back yard
  • Immediately after fence fight with new neighbor dog
  • On a fun outing
  • On a fun outing
  • At the fairgrounds on her mat at a dog show
  • Being petted

Don’t be daunted that there are so many! Give it a try even if you can guess only a few. If it’s so hard, it could be that someone who only gets half of them right could win.

How to Enter

To enter the contest, copy the above list into an email and put the number of the photo next to each description. Title the email “Contest Entry.” Email it to the name of this blog  @att.net. Got that? eileenanddogs at the domain name in the previous sentence. Please include your name in your email. If you have trouble with the email address, send me a message using the sidebar of the blog. I will acknowledge all entries, so if you don’t get an email back from me within 24 hours, try it again.

Rules

  • Please enter only once. (In the event that I have made some kind of error that affects your choice and it is discovered after you have entered, you may amend your entry pertaining to that issue.)
  • For the exact same descriptions that apply to multiple photos (mostly having to do with varmints), it doesn’t matter in what order you attach the photo numbers to the descriptions.
  • Please do not submit your entry  in the comments section of the blog (I will unpublish it if anybody forgets).
  • It’s OK to have discussions of the photos with each other in the blog comments, or on my FaceBook page, or anywhere. Just don’t post your list.
  • Check back in the comments and/or my FaceBook page in case I need to make any interim announcements. I will make the announcements both places.
  • The three winners will be the people who get all 31 right the fastest. Or failing anyone getting all 31 right the winners will be determined by who got the most right, and in the case of a tie, who got that number right first.
  • If you want to guess just for the glory of it and don’t want a prize, please say “decline prize” in your entry email.
  • If you don’t want your name announced if you win, please say so in your entry email.
  • I will notify winners by email as well as by announcing on the blog. At that time I’ll ask privately for your mailing address.
  • Deadline is 12:00 midnight on Thursday, January 31st, 2013, at Central Standard Time (Central Standard Time is GMT minus 6 hours).
  • I will announce the winners during the first weekend of February and publish the answers. I’ll publish the uncropped photos, with some commentary, sometime after that.

I hope this was fun!

Coming up soon:

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