Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Look AWAY" and "INCOMING"

I've decided to test George's progress hanging around strange dogs by enrolling him into a regular intermediate class. I think he's ready. He used to LOVE going to classes. Every class he'd end up in LOVE and try his best to flirt. Last year in the on/off leash train and play he was smitten by Buttons a Bichon Frise:) Everything changed with the run of attacks. Thx to all the mentors listed on the side page and others I have yet to add, it's been an interesting process!

The last thing I wanted to do before class is put "Look Away" rght/lft on cue. I've been capturing and rewarding when George has chosen to "look away" from strange dogs, as a calming tool, to let the other dog know he needs space. Most dogs to date have respected the "look away", if it's established from a distance. If I notice the dog ignoring that signal, I'll just u-turn and walk opposite direction if they're coming head on, or I'll cross the street. I refuse to give bullies the reinforcement from getting into George's face and being intimidating.

"Look away" I used Emily Larlham's hand target method (kikopup)

This way if he gets stuck in anxiety mode, I can cue him from a distance and walk through what he can do to diffuse the situation. I would not have put this on cue if George had not offered this up himself. If you put a behaviour on cue that they're not comfortable offering up naturally, sometimes it BACKFIRES! They will perform the cue, only because you've asked them to but they're not emotionally ready to deal with the response from the other dog. When they don't offer it up naturally, within context of a situation where they'd naturally use that to cue another dog.
George already looks away:
1-when being pestered by Keegan and Taiki if they want to play and he's not into it at that time.
2-if Taiki sniffs George a lot longer than Geroge is comfortable with, I've rewarded George for being patient and looking away until Taiki's done sniffing.
3-George also uses the look away when dealing with the bossy old lady of the house Daizy :)
4-when approaching or being approached by strange dogs, which I've again, rewarded PROFUSELY!

If your dog needs to learn how to use this signal in context, it's easier and faster to find bullet proof dogs who once you cue it to your social nerd or fearful dog, the other bullet proof dog will act accordingly in response. Key is to ensure it becomes learned and predictable. If I do this...that happens.

Our 3rd session of the day, less than 1 minute. After dinner I was able capture repetitions without using prompt from both George and Keegan. I had George practice looking away from Keegan. Next up is naming it.

4th session one day later and VOILA- added verbal cue!

Incoming!!!! This was FUN to teach. Car crash game (Leslie McDevitt) deals with "plan of action" when things go sideways and the other dog invades their space.

Again, you need to make sure they're well on the way to being emotionally capable to deal with a flooding aspect of a charge. Luckily I have 4 dogs and George is a play machine, so I just added a fun spin on this game for him. We've done a little testing with strange dogs, with us running by them, and joggers w/dogs running by opposite way on the other side of the road.

Crossing fingers, toes and eyeballs it works, otherwise, it's back to the drawing board for me :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Synchronized Beagles

Wonder if there's a triple's category in Freestyle :) This was our morning kibble workout. Now that it's cold outside, we find ways to have fun inside.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Once...is sooooo much fun to teach and has come in handy!

I chose a situation where a trigger would be heard in the distance (not seen but heard). One where I knew it would peak and then cease, then there would be enough time for us to forget about noise altogether, do our own thing, then silence until the next trigger happened. For dogs with impulse control issues...mine...I always have to be careful to ensure they have enough downtime right after a trigger. So they can truly reset themselves before learning can take place again. It takes their body longer to get back to relaxing and not concerning themselves about the busy, noisy world. That's what I find anyways, and if I pay attention to it, it speeds up their learning curve.

For me working in my backyard at first was ideal. It was an area where I could semi manage.
1-loaded myself up with George's MOST favourite outside rewards (steak, zucchini, cheese), and toy air Kong ball
2-positioned myself to hang out beside him
3-waited for a trigger to present itself
4-once George started his machine gun barking at the trigger (kids screaming, dogs barking), I started shoveling food into his mouth (CC & D) When he stopped barking, we played ball a few repetitions then I went back into boring mode and ignored him doing my own thing.
5-after a few repetitions of triggers presenting themselves, George stopped machine gun barking and slowed his barks down so I could time getting to him after the first bark
6-I then added a predictor, interrupter, a bridge... a verbal signal "thanks man" to delay doling out the treats so eventually, when George barked once, I said "thanks man". He now when I say it, he looks to me and I can call him to me and figure out a reward that he'd appreciate, or we carry on our merry way. It's a round about way of teaching "quiet". They way I set things up, is just a little different.
7-I didn't want to use the word "yes" as I didn't want him to become hyper alert to sounds to get to the reward. Normally when I use the word "yes", as one would a clicker, it's when we're learning a new cue. I didn't want George to think a bark was a cue. For George, putting bark on cue would be a disaster :) It worked for me!

*Bonus was it helped his reactivity with other dogs and being ambushed on trails. He totally relaxed once he realized he could use his voice to communicate information to me. Bonus was there is NO LONGER the anxiety related to his barking. Even if he becomes aroused and barks more than once at the neighbor's dog who runs around on our lawn, it's easy to say "thanks man" and he'll stop. The more rewarding you make it, and pair it with calming signals in the way to reply, the easier it is for them to chill out.

*I'm so glad I took the time to work on rewarding one bark. Learning what the differnt tones/ inflections in his vocalizations I can tell; when he wants to go pee outside, when he wants to come in, if he's frustrated, who's outside and how close are they, and I LOVE the fact he lets me know on trails if he spots someone before I do. It's interesting to note that he doesn't flag all people/dogs, just some of them. I've had some creepy people experiences on trails, so knowing in advance, gives me the opportunity to plan what how I'd like to handle the situation.

*NO anxiety towards the people/ dogs we walk by on trails now as long as they're respectful of George's body language. He's happy to have caught their attention in advance to let them know we're over here, and then more than happy to just continue on our merry way.


George's bed time ritual.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I've worked with dogs who have had their growly drama beaten out of them. "Suppress" behaviour and you will be "creating a time bomb" as Dr. Ian Dunbar says.

I like Dr. Karen Overall's term "Information seeking". ie. If I do this...what will you do?" I call it being "opinionated".

It bugs me when people lump all displays into the "aggressive" term. Dogs use the tools they were born with to let you know they need your help. Majority of the time they've asked politely well before the drama. Some tv shows are NOT helping the matter.

My definition of "aggressive" is:
Intent to do physical harm. CONTACT and intent on drawing blood is where I believe the term "aggressive" may come into play.

My definition of 'opinionated":
In my eyes the problem starts when people don't realize they're ignoring all the non confrontational polite calming signals directed towards you. If you're doing something they're not comfortable with the majority of the time they'll let you know well in advance that it's not sitting well with them. Subtle signs like; the look away, lick lips, sniff, back away, yawn. If you don't take note at that time, the dog will kick things up a notch and use more overt agonistic signals like; freeze, hairy eyeball, growl, lunge, air snap, or even a pressure bite, barely felt by your skin. If they INHIBIT themselves from a full on bite, puncture and tear causing stitches...I call all those signals being "opinionated".

You're doing something that they're not comfortable with, for whatever reason, and they're providing you with feedback. Respect it.

Video courtesy of a foster Beagle Wags who used to be possessive of people and balls, watch him communicate with Daizy:

He went from a slight freeze right to lunge. NO NOISE.
Notice Daizy my Beagle's expression? She was like...'what was that all about', and looked up to me for information. She did the right thing by NOT taking things to the next level. She knew through our work, sometimes the best thing to do is diffuse a situation. I didn't yell or get physical, I just took note and we worked on creating a NEW association when people or other dogs were around his favourite toys or people.

It can be tricky if a dog has been punished NOT to communicate when they need your help reframing a situation to a more positive experience. Teach them HOW to use subtle body language and if need be, their voice before the lunge and contact has been at times a little hair raising.

Good news is once the lightbulb goes off in their head that someone is listening to the subtle signals, it's like a sigh of relief for the dog.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No need to guard food

There's more than enough to go around to those who are patient and polite.

I'm not sure why some have a hard time using food to "train" dogs. It's such a helpful tool to use; be it a motivator, a reward, or a distraction. It speeds up teaching cues and also provides ample training opportunities, especially one very important issue that ALL dogs need to learn to be SAFE around humans and other dogs...RESOURCE GUARDING. Trading whatever they have for a treat or classically conditioning the approach of other dogs or people near your valued possession (be it toys, food, people, spaces...) = MORE TREATS for you!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cleaning up my RM act!

Now that I've started teaching,  working towards my CPDT-KA , I've got to be careful about technique.

My faux pas is after the cue has been established, I'll use the word "yes" my RM, but truly that's NOT what its intended use is all about.  I noticed it in videos, but I didn't realize how often I did it!

RM=Reward Marker, Event Marker, Bridging Stimulus, Conditioned Reinforcer...using something audible, visual, tactile (ie...sound from a clicker, whistle, your voice or gesture like a hi-five, peace sign, even a facial expression when you're teaching the dog something new) ... that is paired up with a primary reinforcer like food, something the dog LOVES without you having to condition them to LOVE it.

This one consistent signal to the dog, because it is paired up with something they LOVE, will eventually teach them to think about what they just did, so they can repeat it and be rewarded by it.

It's to be completely separate from praise.  We want the dog to identify that signal and pipe up...learn to STOP what they're doing and take note.  So they learn..."HEY, I heard that "word, click, whistle" which means that I need to remember what I just did, so I can repeat it and eventually I'll learn a new word to associate with this behaviour."  It identifies a snap shot in time.

Normally it's used when teaching a dog a new behaviour that you have not put on a "command' or "cue' or under "stimulus control".  Something brand new that you would like to teach and before they understand what the word or handsignal means.  I'll go into fading the need for a RM after a cue is established in another post.

Now when I watch past videos I swear it sounds like a romantic comedy..Yes, Yes, Yes ...then someone walks in on the couple...

I'm not going to delete them and start from scratch because the whole point of this blog is to share our imperfect lives, challenges and how we work to turn things around.

So rather than this post being about my dogs, it's about me and how I can improve my communication skills.

This video I made a conscious effort to clean up my act.  I forgot balls at home, but we had fun anyways!  It always amazes me how simple it is to have fun with my guys.  They've got a great sense of humour and make me laugh all the time.  Kee is such a pain to Daizy, it's funny to watch them communicate with eachother.  She's so serious, a keener.  He's the slacker, who just wants to joke around and have fun.

Break= release word and power forward we're doing some agility work
Hup= jump up on what's infront of you
Zoom= my group recall, if I say it without identifying who specifically I'd like to come to me

I'll always be perfectly imperfect to my dogs and LUCKY for me, they'll always do a great job of picking up my slack and making me look good.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy 1 or so month of "Boring NONreactive Walks" for George :p

I video'd today quickly just to continue keeping track of George's body language and my handling skills while walking in a new area.

New area, new day, transitioning into a new environment; ref: Alice @ Dogsmart.ca, Leslie McDevitt, Control unleashed, Dr. Patricia McConnell and host of others backed by my own experiences. Whether it's transitioning from car to a walk, house to backyard, car to dog class...test your dog's anxiety level.  Whether it's doing some OC using treats or environmental rewards, test to see where they are emotionally BEFORE walking.

What does their body language tell you? Are they scanning the area? If you see a dog in the distance do they get stuck on the other dog or trigger? Are they SLOW to focus back on you?  Are their eyes GLUED on your treat hand, pocket, using it to avoid dealing with the approaching trigger?  I go through that mental checklist starting in a stationary position first, then if I or something in the environment is adding movement.

I find it's KEY to be ready to LOWER criteria and to help your dog out if they're having trouble focusing on you.

Even if it's a quick 10 sec of talking to them, joking around, asking them to do some simple tricks, just to see if they can do without my help of rewarding calming and or non reactive body language with treats.

Raising criteria....there's a few key things to look for in their body language to ensure you're raising criteria at a healthy dose.  Always testing at each stage.

Today we got out of the car and just happened to be crossing the street, when a dog appeared, I didn't even notice they were behind us at first.  George never alerted me.  I took that as a good sign and was able to have George sit and watch the dog while I got out my iphone and then started with treats to test George.  He looked good after about 10 sec of OC, rewarding relaxed body and ability to "watch" or check in with me, taking his eyes off the dog across the street.  I quickly started to delay treats and watch him.  His body remained relaxed so we just continued on our walk and shut the iphone off.  Just because treats end, doesn't mean I stop letting George know that he's an awesome little possum from time to time.  I don't take his relaxed behaviour for granted.

I ended up crossing the street and we walked behind these dogs, then cross the street with them.  It just so happened that they had to wait for the lights, and George's body remained relaxed so I just went with the flow.   It feels good to have our groove back on.

After the last round of attacks,  George was hyper vigilant about notifying me and other dogs in the distance by barking and lunging at them, that he wasn't interested in any meet and greet.  I wondered how long it would take or if ever to trust me to handle a situation for him, and or whether or not he would ever WANT to be close to another dog.

I'm so very aware that just like with us, the mechanics of learning what to do to work through your anxiety, the EMOTIONAL recovery to generalize the new routine,  takes it's own time.  Please realize that just because they're "doing what is asked of them" it DOESN't mean that we humans should let our guard down and not be ready to jump in when they need our help.

Being a reactive dog owner is a commitment for life; to understand and condition our bodies to pick up on the subtle signs that our dogs need our help from time to time to walk them though the process or get them the heck out of a situation they are NOT emotionally equipped to deal with.

We're all individuals that can handle only so much and need the help and support of those around us.  After all, that's what friends and family are for.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The importance of play when you have a reactive dog

Actually, even when you don't have a reactive dog.  I can't stress how important it was for me to learn about George's body language and vocalizations during play, whether it's with me or with his dog buddies.

It is especially helpful for me to know what "interest" or an "I'll pass" looks and sounds like when another dog approaches.

Play has so much value in "training', building relationships, learning bite inhibition, impulse control...the list is endless.

Not to mention the fact that it feels great to laugh and find playful ways to communicate and have fun!  You get to see a dog's sense of humour come out as well.

The flipside is you learn how quick it can turn into over arousal, trouble right around the corner.

I made this video for my puppy socialization class but wanted to post it here as well.  I love Marc Bekoff's article on play from Scientific America.   The-ethical-dog

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Circle work based on Sylvia Trkman's heeling video

My goodness!
I didn't expect so many AWESOME side effects with the heeling circle work!
Enthusiastic-SLICK-new tricks to boot!
Bonus was I thought of another fun way to interact with a toy using the circle work!

Silvia Trkman's heeling video

Keegan has a slick heeling performance:

Daizy is soooo funny and such a keener!  9yrs young and was the first to "get it"!

Georgie is soooo cute it melts my heart! It was especially great to increase the value of a frisbee for my non toy motivated George :P