BAT sessions with Logan. Finding the sweet spot where his under threshold and still aware of the other dogs has been and continues to be challenging for us. This morning when we first arrived at the park, there were several other dogs closer than I would have liked for the start of our session.
An off lead dog ran towards us so we ran off in the other direction to give us more distance. I am very cautious of using fast movement when we are training as it increases his arousal quickly and he becomes unable to focus. His ability to recovery is improving so he is able to bring himself down much more quickly after bouts of arousal, whether planned or otherwise.
The first half of our session was faster than I would have liked it to be. He did loads of tracking on the ground and was defintitely searching/scenting, a preferred behaviour to him scanning the environment for dogs, but still too fast and we need to keep working on it. I can tell how he is doing by how hard I am working on the other end of the lead. If I’m working hard, then he’s generally struggling more, if he is relaxed than it’s an easier gig for me too. What’s interesting about this is that I can’t always identify what his fast movement is in response to, the only thing I can identify is that it is about his mood.
In the above and below photos there are snap shots of really nice moments. The black dog approached and kept his distance and they both did really well communicating with each other. I marked and moved and he came with me readily. Great success!
Second half was much better. Loads of scenting, not much need to help him out with food and his movement was much slower and more steady. On the way back to the car, a fella with a Cockerpoo came in, we were about 15m away, he looked and went back to sniffing. Excellent! Getting there.
If you are unfamiliar with BAT, please have a look at Grisha Stewart’s website
Some video footage of Crystal, the Central Asian Ovcharka. Crystal is reactive to people in the street, at varying distances. She will bark and very often lunge at pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, motor bikes and scooters, bin men and a host of other stimuli. She will rarely, if ever, take food when outside. Her normal tail carriage is high and arched due to her breeding (this is our baseline). As explained in the video, Lynn lives in the city centre and has no option other than having to take Crystal into this environment at least some of the time for walks. We are doing work also in a less stressful environment (local park with plenty space), but is it is essential for us to be able to do some work in the urban area as this is where Lynn lives. We just need to do everything we can to minimse problems and are making excellent progress with her. All the stimuli you see in the video, would previously caused her to lunge at these distances before we started working
Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF), Learn to Earn. You may be familiar with these terms. They were devised, probably by well intention people, to allow you to use what your dog routinely gets in his life as ways to train him. The other thing some NILIF advocates is that your dog is behaving in a poor manner because he has unlimited access to resources, is spoiled or thinks he’s the “boss” or you are not the “pack leader”.
Now, some of what I say in this blog may seem contradictory as you read it, but it’s the reason why we are doing it, and the scientific reasons for it’s success/effectiveness which are important.
Following on from last week’s blog, I’ll define a couple of terms again, in simple terms (very simple)
1. Classical conditioning – learning by association.
2. Operant conditioning – learning by trial and error
3. Reinforcement – anything which causes the increase in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour
4. Punishment – anything which causes the decrease in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour
5. Positive/negative – adding(+)/subtracting(-) something from the dog’s environment. In training/learning, it doesn’t mean good or bad. We have positive and negative punishment and positve and negative reinforcement.
Proper understanding of the terms is important, because it allows us to have a greater understanding of what we are doing during training and why we are doing it.
So, to get back on topic. NILIF protocols advocate taking everything away from your dog if he isn’t behaving the way you want him to behave. The dog has no free access to food, toys or people for petting, playing etc. Further, every time your dog wants something, he has to earn it. You can’t just give your dog something, like a rub on the ear, just because he’s your pal and you want to. He has no access to toys he can play with himself, like chewing on a nylabone or kong, or playing with a squeaky plush toy to keep himself amused. Every morsel of food, every game you play with your dog, every time you want to pet her depends on her doing something you want her to do like sitting politely or coming when called.
The NILIF protocol says that when you decide you want to, you give the dog all the good things, and don’t when you don’t want to. What can happen here, is that if owners can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to interact with their dogs, they now have permission not to. It further recommends that if your dog approaches you for attention, ignore him, but when he walks away, then call him back and pet him then. That way, you are dictating access to you, not the other way around.
Now, if you haven’t already thought about this, this can lead to a very sad and frustrated dog. The day before you instigated this programme, your dog was fed regularly, had toys to play with, could come and say hi when he wanted to and you’d say hi back. Now his whole life has been changed, and as far as he’s concerned, not for the better and he can become depressed. The dog can also become demanding if this happens as he is trying desperately to get attention.
The other side of this, is that we can do very similar things to NILIF, but for different reasons and obtain hugely different results. These are all training programmes I’ve learned from the best trainers in the world such as Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Ken Ramirez and Kathy Sdao, among many others. Your dog has to eat. Hopefully, you like going out for walks, playing with your dog and giving them attention and petting. Your dog likes, and needs, these things too. So let’s use them for training. This is where it does become different.
1. Your dog’s food – food is a primary reinforcer. So let’s use it to train our dog. It reinforces behaviour, so when your dog sits, give him a piece of kibble so he’s more likely to do it again. Take your dog’s food out on a walk with you. Sit on a park bench and every time a person or dog walks past, give him a piece of food. This way he learns dogs and people means food comes out which makes him feel good and with enough practice, dog’s and people approaching makes him feel good with there being no food present (classical conditioning) and you are reinforcing him for paying attention to you when people or dogs are around (operant conditioning using positive reinforcement).
2. Your dog’s toys. Let him play with his own toys. He has his, I have mine. Mine are a couple of balls on ropes and a tug toy. He gets to play with his by chewing on them, maybe throwing them in the air and catching them. I let him play with mine, but only when I’m there and there are rules attached, but mine are more fun, beacsue I’m involved in the play. My toys move, I throw throw them and I tug on them. She gets to chase them and tug on them back. The rules are be careful with your teeth, and give them back when I ask you to. I don’t play with my dog’s toys but I do allow her to play with mine, because they are fun (for both of us) and because I can train her when playing.
Your dog enjoys playing tug or chasing a ball, you play tug or throw the ball, your dog will now enjoy playing with you (classical conditioning). You give your dog a game of tug or throw the ball when they come back to you you are now using positive reinforcement to train a recall.
There’s also loads you can do for free for your dog which is still training your dog and classically conditioning you to him in a beneficial way. Playing long games of tug in the garden with your dog, for no reason other than having fun, classically conditions your dog that you are a great, fun guy to be around, Further to that, now when you give your dog a short game of tug after a recall or a down stay, he has that long history of big tug games to refer to and it is much more powerful. Similarly, petting your dog for 40 minutes in the evening when you are sitting reading or watching TV means that clapping your dog when he does something you like now has more meaning.
One of the main differences between this approach and NILIF is that it doesn’t give you permission to do nothing. Your dog needs daily exercise and stimulation for a full life. The more we use our dogs food and play and attention for training, the better trained our dog will be. If you use a quarter of your dogs food for training, rather than all of it, you will only get a quarter of the benefit. That said, you don’t need to hand feed it all, put what you don’t use in a Kong or other stuffable toy and you are now teaching your dog to entertain herself, chew an appropriate item and be calm. The minimum we can do with this, if we’re motivated to is to give all daily food in toys or food puzzles so you are at least getting that benefit from it.
A programme like this leads to a well trained, sociable dog, and a truly deep relationship with you.
When working with dogs, either in training or behaviour modification, we will often notice that there is a level at which a dog will respond or not respond to our request or to something in the environment. You may have heard this referred to as “threshold” and I’ll discuss it a little further here.
For dogs who react to other dogs, I often like to think in terms of building blocks. Say, for the purposes of this illustration, your dog needs to get to a value of 20 before he barks, lunges, pulls aggressively on the lead etc when he sees another dog. The other dog might need to be thirty feet away before your dog reacts, this 30 feet would have a value of 20, so your dog reacts. So you increase your distance to 50 feet, this may cause the dog’s reaction threshold to drop to 15 but another dog arrives. This other dog might represent 10 points to your dog, which puts him up at 25, so he reacts again.
Each time your dog reacts, stress hormones are released into his body. It takes time for these stress hormones to return to their normal level. So, your dog, with a normal threshold from a calm state, takes 20 points before he reacts. He sees another dog at a distance of 50 feet, which only represents 5 points, and appears to handle the situation very well. The other dog disappears from view and you continue on your walk. A few minutes later, another dog appears. This dog is 35 feet away (close to your dogs normal reaction distance of 30 feet). In this case your dog is already at 5 points from the previous dog from a few minutes ago. The dog at 35 feet represents 17 points, so your dog is now at 22 points and he reacts.
Examples of factors which add point are
1. distance decreasing between your dog and the other dog
2. the other dog staring or looking directly at your dog
3.the other dog standing square on to your dog
4. more than one dog
5. the other dog moving as opposed to standing still – faster movement from the other dog usually means more points
6. your dog being in a higher state of arousal from previous interactions with dogs within a short space of time
Conversely, examples of factors which reduce points are
1. greater distance between your dog and the other dog
2. the other dog offering more social body language such as averting his gaze or turning side on
3. the other dog moving more slowly or standing still
4. the dog moving away
The above are examples and are not an exhaustive list and every dog is different. Another application of this, this time for training, is when training a recall. The three Ds of dog training enter here (distance, duration and distraction) Distance from you adds points, distance from the distraction such as play time with another dog will influence it, the amount of time since you last recalled your dog may be a factor as may the number of distractions in the environment or how the dog is feeling (tired, ill etc)
When working with your dog, whether in behaviour modification or training, and your dog does not perform to the level you would expect, this point system will usually be a big part of the reason. Examine what changed and see if you can play with the points to make it easier.
How do you define force free dog training? Is it lack of physical corrections, not using aversive training tools (prong collars, shock collars), or physical molding (such as pushing your dog’s rear end onto the ground to train it to sit)? Do you consider rattle cans and spray bottles a use of force. Is shouting at your dog or constant repetition of cues using force? Do you stare your dog down when she does something you don’t like. These are all things I wouldn’t use in training or behaviour modification either for my own dogs or working with clients.
Now, what about turning around and physically moving your dog when he lunges, either aggressively or playfully, at a person walking past you and your dog when he is on leash? Do you use a long line to train recall or closer proximity to you so you can prevent him from moving towards a distraction? Would you take your dog by the collar and physically move him from the counter if he was jumping up to get the left over roast chicken and you forgot to close the kitchen door? Do you use a crate or put you dog in another room when visitors come in? Do you body block your dog from coming into rooms or use the door to stop him running out the house? If your dog breaks a sit/stay, would you give another cue to ask him to sit again? Would you consider tethering a dog in place for short periods? I do, or would consider using these methods.
Now, the point of this is that all of these influence the dog’s behaviour, and most of them use some physical means to do so. I attended a BAT seminar recently with Grisha Stewart. Grisha talks of “putting on the breaks” using a long line when working with reactive dogs. What this means is that you use a the long line to slow the dog down from moving forward when the dog would normally run forward and this gives him time to think. We physically stop the dog from moving forward, but slowly and gently.
If I use the analogy of a military base. The military don’t want you entering in the interests of both you and themselves. For them, security and secrecy are the motivators. For you, they don’t want you coming in because they might be dangerous and there may be the risk of exposure to live ammunition etc. The fence is first line of physical control. After that, there might be security patrols where they could stop you by their presence or resort to more physical or might detain you.
In the above example, you might not know that you weren’t supposed to be in a certain area. Say the fences were in a poor state of repair. There might not be any signs or you might not understand what they say. As this applies to dog training, your dog might not know what the rules are, but you have a responsibility to keep him safe. You might not have reached that level of training yet and the environment throws you something you can’t manage in that instant. If that’s the case, you need to get physical with your dog.
There’s an expression among force free dog people – “Positive doesn’t mean permissive”. Some circumstances will dictate we need to physically move or restrain our dogs. Sometimes we need to get physical in preventing them from doing stuff we don’t want them to do. As long as we’re keeping the physical aversion to an absolute minimum, work to try to eliminate it and train our dogs so physical management to a minimum, we are on a more enlightened path. For example, teaching your dog to lie down with a stuffed Kong when visitors come in will reduce or eliminate the need to put them in another room or crate them if they are prone to mugging your guests.
We have big brains compared to dogs. Dogs are faster than we are, have better weapons that we do, but we are generally smarter. There will always be times when we may need to physically intervene, but we can train and teach to reduce those times. No force, no fear, no pain or intimidation.
I attended Grisha Stewart’s Behaviour Adjustment Training (BAT) seminar last weekend. I have been using BAT both on it’s own and in conjunction with other behaviour modification methods since I read Pat Miller’s article on the subject in the Whole Dog Journal in 2010. Since I was first made aware of BAT, I’ve also used elements of it in working with clients and there dogs. The weekend was excellent, loads of new information and I got to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while and meet some new contacts too.
The basic premise of BAT is that it uses functional rewards. These are things which the environment offers rather than we offer such as the feeling of relief a scared dog experiences when a dog it is frightened of goes further away or the chance to play with another dog or sniff the grass. From Grisha’s website http://www.functionalrewards.com, Grisha defines BAT as
“Behavior Adjustment Training, or BAT, rehabilitates dog reactivity by looking at why the dog is reactive and helping him or her meet his needs in other ways. In a nutshell, BAT is a dog-friendly application of ‘functional analysis’ that gives the dogs a chance to learn to control their own comfort level through peaceful means. It’s very empowering to your dog, in a good way.”
Eager to put my new found knowledge into practice, I had a session with Reggie, the adolescent Boxer, the following week. Reggie is a great dog, very typical of a Boxer at his age. He is eager to please, super friendly with people but can lack manners in greeting other dogs. He is very keen to meet other dogs but pulls on the leash to get to them (and this isn’t always possible) so much so that he has ripped his pads a few times against the ground and is now starting to show signs of frustration when he doesn’t get to other dogs quick enough or he doesn’t get to greet them at all.
We met at a great park where I know loads of the owners and their dogs, so I was able to choose appropriate dogs for us to work with. We made some really good progress and it took us about 20 minutes until Reggie was able to approach the fenced in area where there was another dog playing (here in the UK we are extremely fortunate that we can let our dogs off leash in public parks and aren’t limited to using dog parks, but some parks do have fully enclosed dog parks also).
We were about 40 minutes into our session when we met Evan who is about a year old. On speaking to Evan’s owner, he told me that he had adopted Evan from the Dog’s Trust a couple of months earlier. Even is a mixed breed about the size of a Labrador. Evan was also a canine social superstar. His communication skills were among the best I’ve ever seen from a dog. Evan gave Reggie enough signals to convey to him that he needed to approach with a bit less energy than Reggie was accustomed to. It also helped that we had been “BATting” Reggie for about 40 minutes at this point.
Reggie greeted Evan from a side angle, they did their “butt sniffing” dance and then Evan invited Reggie to play by bowing and then skipping away, asking for Reggie to follow. Reggie duly obliged but at about 100mph and with as much restraint as a child in a sweet shop. Evan immediately told Reggie that this level of energy wasn’t acceptable by stopping running and sniffing the ground, which is a calming signal for both dogs. You could almost hear Reggie thinking
“What happened there, I thought we were playing?”
Reggis started sniffing the ground too. As soon as he did this, Evan bowed again and skipped off, telling Reggie the game was back on. Reggie responded but went straight to 30,000ft and Evan responded by ending the game as before. Reggie calmed down after a few seconds and you could almost hear Evan thinking
“Will we try this again and see if you understand the rules this time?”
Reggie then played but with much less intensity as before. When dogs play chases, they usually take turns chasing and being chased. Some dogs like being chased but if they do, you can usually tell by relaxed body language and not a panicked look in it’s eyes. If you seen this from your dog when it is being chased or when your dog is chasing another, you need to intervene and stop the chase as it is no longer fun for the “chasee”.
At this point, Reggie stopped chasing Evan, bowed very slightly and then hopped off with Evan chasing him. Real progress. They then played for several minutes and I asked Bryan, Reggie’s owner to call him a couple of times during this time and then release him to go and play with Evan again, so Reggie was still paying attention to him. The whole exchange from initially seeing Evan and Reggie bowing to Evan took less than three minutes. It was a joy to watch, and I wish I had my video camera with me so I could have captured it.
It took us about 40 minutes for Reggie to begin to understand what the rules were when we were trying to teach him. Evan did it in about 3 minutes. We don’t always have superstars like Evan available, but we can use them when they appear. Other than that, the 40 minutes it took Reggie the first time will become 30 minutes before long and when he really understands the rules of what we are trying to teach him, will quickly take less than 10 minutes, then 5 and before we know it and with enough practice, will become his normal behaviour. It’s worth it for Reggie’s sake, for the sake of our own joints so we aren’t getting our shoulders and backs hurt and for other dogs and owners because we owe it to them to raise and teach a sociable dog.