Skills for humans, skills for dogs

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Over the last 5 weeks the team have been running a course for owners whose dogs show aggressive behaviours in some circumstances. We have held 4 classroom sessions, with practical aspects without the dogs in attendance, and examined video footage to break down everything which is going on.

We have worked to the following model

1. What is the goal for my dog’s behaviour?
2. What is the plan to get there?
3. What is the goal for our own behaviour – what do we need to do?
4. Make a plan for your own behaviour
5. Train yourself to do these behaviours
6. Train your dog

(Bertilsson and Johnson-Vegh)

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RULES FOR AGGRESSION REDUCTION

1. Understand scenarios – always be ready for the aggression
2. Recognise the precursors – these may be hidden through prior punishment history
3. Use redirection and/or apply appropriate training strategy when you recognise the precursors
4. Stop/avoid it before it starts
5. Keep records

(Turner and Tompkins 1999)

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Today was our first practical session with half the class and their dogs. -5C/23F in Glasgow this morning (not that cold) and we observed loads of really cool behaviour from the dogs and excellent skills from the humans which they have worked hard on developing over the last few weeks. Well done all those concerned.

We will be running this course several times next year. If you are interested in attending please subscribe to the events on The Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant Facebook Page to keep updated.

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A Very Bonnie Christmas – part 2

 

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In the run up to Christmas we’re all busy; it might feel necessary to put training on the back burner, even though its important to you. This week Bonnie and her family have been working on a very special protocol and have already managed no less than 700 training repetitions/learning points between them in informal, daily sessions.

Seriously. Sound impossible?

SMART-50 is a clear, readily implemented technique devised by Kathy Sdao, an inimitable woman who wrote one of my favourite books “Plenty in Life is Free – Reflections on Dogs and Finding Grace” (read it if you can, it’s beautiful). The book affords many an insight, but I’ll give you a head start on what we’re working specifically on here.

See Mark And Reward Training (SMART) achieves several things in its purity. Put simply, Kathy asks you to train your eye to notice, acknowledge the good your dog is already doing, and reinforce it. How amazing. You can do this anywhere, too.

This week Bonnie’s mums;
*counted 50 healthy, high value treats out each, and each day
*looked for opportunities to reward Bonnie for good behaviour, either requested or already offered
*marked the behaviour using a clicker they had already spent a session learning how to use (you can use a verbal marker too)
*reinforced Bonnie for a variety of behaviour throughout the days/week

This yields powerful, and almost immediate benefits.

Firstly it’s just fun. Julie and Margaret have made a competition out of it, seeing who can reinforce the most behaviours, the winner has dinner bought for them at the end of the week. Bonnie is having a whale of a time and is learning fast what works for her and what doesn’t. (three guesses to the kind of choices Bonnie makes more of these days…) It’s transferable in the environment, respectful, ethical, builds trust and confidence in our dogs and the most wonderful side effect of all? It will change the way you view your animal; you will start to see that your dog is really well behaved a lot of the time.

We’re wired to look for fault, to see the negative, to notice the bad. By consistently looking for the best in your dog, marking it, and rewarding it, not only will you see an increase in those behaviours you do want, but you’ll FEEL differently about him or her. It blows my mind watching it happen and it makes my heart sing; it’s glorious.

Next we’ll talk through the wealth of information available in a short video where Bonnie’s mums implement SMART 50 and discuss where we’ll go from there.

Try it this week…it doesn’t need to be 50 a day if that daunts you, even half of that is enough to make a difference. Most of us have better behaved dogs than we give them or ourselves credit for.

Happy training.

If you like what you have read here, please subscribe to our blog to keep updated

http://www.glasgowdogtrainer.co.uk

A Very Bonnie Christmas – part 1

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Gillian has been working with Bonnie the Cockerpoo during puppyhood and into adolescence. Over the next few blogs she will share more learning points from that time

A very Bonnie Christmas

Bonnie (pictured) is a glorious young cockerpoo about to enjoy her
first Christmas with her family. This time of year can be particularly
challenging for most dogs, nevermind a teenager! Her thoughtful,
wonderful guardians have taken her education and training seriously
from puppyhood and kindly gave permission for me to share some detail
of their recent work and Bonnie’s development; hopefully the next few
installments will help you gain insight and plan ahead as the Festive
season fast approaches.

Typical in adolescence, this confident little lady has temporarily
forgotten some of her earlier training, and resorted to demand
barking, humping and a lot of over excited behaviour including jumping
and balancing on her hind legs, especially in the kitchen at busier
times when she naturally wants to be included in any activity.

Over the course of the next few blogs you can examine our protocols
and progress, along with video and some instruction/learning points to
discuss. There’s lots we can help you with and much you can do in
preparation to make sure not a creature is stirring in your house this
Christmas…

If you need help with preparing you dog for the party season, please contact us via

http://www.glasgowdogtrainer.co.uk

Do the ends justify the means?

This week’s article is written by Gillian who is one of the Glasgow Dog Trainer Team

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“The ends justify the means”

A Netflix comedy this week quoted Machiavelli , and set off the memory
of Kay Laurence’s cadence at a conference in Demark last year. Tonight
I found Kay’s words earnestly scribbled in one my early moleskins
reading:

“HOW something is taught is much more important than what the behaviour is”

Let’s discuss. I’ve had discourse with clients, friends, colleagues
and peers. Opinions range from identifying with Machiavelli, some with
Kay and predictably the majority of folk sitting more comfortably in
the middle; many believing the end result only edges ahead
slightly…in comparison to the kind of journey we have getting
there. Results matter to people. Of course they do.

This conversation is important to me. It’s important to you. It’s more
important to our dogs.

Let’s look at why we train our dogs. Why bother trying to teach
behaviours at all?

1. The most obvious to any of us, I think; we want to keep our dogs safe.
2. Training can make general life more harmonious and enjoyable (for
both parties).
3. To help our dogs cope with the life/situations we place them in.
4. Social obligation/to be a good citizen. Its the decent thing to do.
5. To build communication between you both, to develop your bond and
mutual trust.
6. To enrich the life of your dog, encourage a confident learner,
foster curiosity and build choice into his/her life.

Not an exhaustive list, all noble, responsible and ethical, yes? No
problems there.

What about the kind of relationship you want with your dog, can we examine that?

In the same research, the run of buzzwords go thusly: trust, fun,
companionship, personality, individuality, communication, choice,
play, social, safety, enrichment, love, friendship, partnership,
exercise, outdoors, cooperative. All lovely, and heartening.

Not one person I polled mentioned a whisper of wanting an
automaton/robotic dog who simply “obeys”, couldn’t play, exhibit a
little “sass”, or demonstrate his/her own agency. Surely, it’s the
quirk and individual personality of our oddbod dogs that have us
utterly in love with them?!

Why punishment then? Why do good people who truly love their dogs and
want to foster all of that beauty mentioned up there, feel that the
“how” isn’t as important as the “what”?

Punishment works. Well, it “works”. It took me a short while to see it
as a novice before, for several reasons. I am mentored by an amazing
trainer, as a result blissfully surrounded by incredible professionals
and was in a bit of an intellectual bubble. These people work so hard to
pull animal training into the 21st century that it might gall some of
them to say it to a nubie.

As a species we are excellent at using punishment to affect
change…we are infinitely more practiced at it. We have also become
eloquently dissonant in expressing its terms (“tough love” anyone?) It
is seductive because it does what we think we want it to; it changes
behaviour, often immediately, right before our eyes. Results matter to
people.
What about the change you can’t immediately measure though? The broken
trust, undermined relationships, suppressed behaviour, confused and
increasingly frustrated animal…the problem(s) with punishment is
different post in the making, and a lengthy one.

For now it’s reasonable to say I think if you’ve gotten this far in
reading, you’ve probably already evaluated a) the kind of relationship
you want with your dog and b) the ways and means by which you mean to
achieve that.

Where does how you get the results/behaviour you want stack up
against your means to get them? With training, or any plan at large,
it’s probably decent practice to try to examine our own personal
ethics before we thoughtfully employ strategy. (I reckon I could find
a Machiavelli quote to agree…)

Thank you for reading, and happy training.

Logan – part 22 – Operant learning works on the handler too!

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What reinforces me when I’m training? I like training Logan as I know it is helping him. The more skills I teach him the better his life will be. I also enjoy teaching dogs so this in itself is reinforcing. The post “One More Round” I wrote a few weeks ago perfectly illustrates the dangers of doing too much with him or your own dog. They get physically and/or mentally tired when training and then performance drops off. If we are not aware of this, our frustraion levels can rise.

I train my dog. I fing it reinforcing so I do more of it. Doing more is reinforcing. Unfortunately, doing too much bursts him. Now, you would think that the increase in his arousal and me having to deal with the aftermath would punish my behaviour. You would think so. Training is reinforced immediately. Overarousal punishes doing too much at the time it happens. I also have a long learning history of training being reinforcing. This is what happens when we have bad habits which only punish the behaviour at a later date. Feedback has to be immediate for it to be most effective.

So what did I do? Debriefing training sessions with myself or my peers I am then able to look at my behaviour and build a training plan. I then set the objective for that training session, both in time and what I am aiming to achieve with Logan. This then sets us both us for success. The plan takes into account his tolerances.

This evening I set my alarm for 20 minutes. That was our session. Loads of breaks included within that time. I was using a new protocol for engagement outside, looking for interaction with me. The fact that it’s new needs to be taken into consideration with him; new things perplex him. He did really well, we reached our training objectives and ended the session. I was 5 mintues shy of the time on my alarm! Result.

Johnny can learn new tricks too.

I just need to reframe the picture so that i am reinforced. Operant learning in action.

Logan – part 21 – trigger stacking

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Thursday evening: we ventured into the city centre to do more work visting new places which are busy with people. We have done this several times before, with increasing amounts of success each time. The problem behaviours he exhibits are pulling on the lead, barking and killing of traffic cones, all caused by high arousal levels.

What worked in our favour

  • we have visited the city centre several times in the evening over the summer, all trips were busy with pedestrians
  • we worked in the middle of George Square, which gave us time and distance to watch “stuff”, people, boarders, cyclists, buskers etc
  • we have been making good progress on raising and lowering his arousal levels over the last few weeks
  • he was well fed, watered and exercised but not over-exercised that day

What didn’t do too well

  • we saw three dogs within a very short space of time in the square
  • it was the first time in the town when it was dark
  • there were loads of skate boarders in the square doing tricks – we did work as far away from them as we could
  • lots of tourists with wheeled suitcases – something new for him

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Trigger stacking is when too many of the small things which annoy/upset us happen too closely in time without us having an opportunity to cool off. Think of it in terms of losing a parking place on a sunny day when your life is good versus losing the same spot the day before Christmas when you are loaded with the cold, there is heavy sleet and you haven’t bought your loved one a present. One is no big deal, the other cold cause you to have an angry outburst.

We were doing really well, he was responding well to my cues when I asked for behaviours and we were about to call it a day. In hindsight, I waited 5 minutes too long and then we had a 5 minute walk back to the car. He then became aroused, the probelem behaviours kept occurring and he was having difficulty recovering. Remember, behaviour is just information about how we are feeling and we are always trying to achieve something. He had done too much.

What I could have done differently

  • next time, we will park closer to where we are training
  • more work needs to be done around people in the dark in some quieter areas as the darkness and busy streets seem to spook him
  • less is more, a shorter session.

In working with Logan I have to reflect often on what is working and what is not and then make adjustments. As ever, progress is happening, just not always according to my agenda.

Good points from this week

  • lead walking is improving significantly which means the pressure is off me short term over nail care as the pavement is filing them nicely. We still work on husbandry trainign as part of his daily routine.
  • we walked along a street in the industrial park with cones on each side, he walked past them all, something which was impossible 2 months ago.

Thanks for reading. Happy training.

Logan – part 20 – setting the human up for success

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There are two beings involved in any training process, the learner and the teacher. As Logan and I get to know each other, we both switch these roles over from time to time. He is teaching me to examine the science of learning more deeply so that I can meet his needs more, he is teaching me patience and and to do my best to remain compassionate towards him. He is struggling in certain environments and I need to occasionally remind myself of that.

The point of this is that this lack of progress (which is only the expectations I have, rather than what is going on as we are progressing every day), can lead to my behaviour of training him not being reinforced enough. Behaviour is lawful, that means my behaviour is lawful too. If my behaviour of doing a particular exercise with him isn’t reinforced well enough, then it is unlikley to get stronger or reoccur. Loose lead walking is one of these behaviours. When he came to live with me, he pulled like a train on the lead all the time. And I mean all the time, never not. Because his history of pulling on the lead was so strong, it has taken a long time to change. That, combined with me not practicing enough due to lack of reinforcement means we hadn’ been showing much progress. Having said that, his high arousal levels are the root cause of his pulling and we do work on reducing, or him controlling, his arousal every day and this is paying off.

So what have I done about it? I’ve changed the criteria for my behaviour. I’ll save you all the details as not to bore you but I’ve switched my perspective on his lead walking. This has allowed me to be reinforced more often and to start seeing the progress he is making rather than being frustrated (remember, frustration comes from a previously reinforced behaviour not being working, not enough reinforcment leads to frustration).

The other thing I have done is change my antecedents. I make sure I am wearing comfortable clothing and trainers (sneakers for those Stateside), and always have my treat pouch loaded with goodies for work when we encounter people and dogs. The other thing I have done is listen to my favourite podcasts. Drinking from the Toilet by Hannah Brannigan, The Fenzi Dog Sport Academy Podcast and The Cognitive Dog Podcasts are all on my playlists. I select one which will run for the amount of time I want to be out and let it play while we do our training walk. I have now increased the amount of reinforcement available to me and as such we are doing more training walks and we are getting better at it. Just like anything, the more you pratice, the better you get at it.

As a side note, over the last two days we have seen 8 dogs when we have been out on the lead training walks; number of barks = 6, and these were only at two of the dogs we saw. He has walked by 6 dogs without barking and been far more relaxed around people when out.

Slowly getting there.