Replacing a problem behaviour

Stella is a young Staffordshire Bull Terrier who comes to work with her human. When Mandy is working, Stella looks for attention by barking and jumping up. When that attention is given in order to settle her, her jumping and barking is inadvertently reinforced, perpetuating the cycle.
There are a number of ways to train this behaviour but we have chosen to train the building blocks individually and then put them together. There are a number of things to consider
-amount of time on her bed
-how far away her person is
-what her person is doing
-what else is going on in the room
-being able to understand the cues she is given
All of these are elements which make this exercise more or less difficult depending on how they are combined. By understanding these elements, and adjusting them accordingly, we can make good progress towards the desired outcome of Stella being settled in her bed while Mandy works.
Once this is achieved, we can use other reinforcers such as petting, smiles, kind words and opportunity to play or go oustide and move away from food.
Also note that we can train this behaviour extremely easily off lead. There is no need to have Stellan on the lead and physically move her in order to achieve this. The above steps were trained in the space of 30 minutes. If Stella doesn’t achieve what we want and gets up, we only need to go back a few steps and build it up again, no need for verbal corrections, no reward markers (ahah or oopsie!) and no need for physical corrections.
Positive reinforcement training in action.
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What do you smell yourself doing next year?

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How we view the world. Our outlook on life. Our vision for the future. Alexandra Kurland wrote an amazing blog on the metaphors we use. So many of our are based on sight.
 
We would never dream about saying “What does the future taste like to you?” or “What do you smell yourself doing next week?” (Well you might, but it might be a bit bizarre.)
 
I did a scent instructors course a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about the scent picture. A picture os scent. We can’t help it. It is how we represent the world to ourselves.
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The pictures are from Helen’s walk with Watson a few days ago. A full three minutes of sniffing were had. Three minutes. Similarly, the way we view the world (there is another one), a dog’s world is represented by smells. They get information through scent the way we get information through vision. Imagine going for a hike, reaching the top of the mountain on a clear day, only to be told thay you are having 15 seconds and then you are on the move again. How annoyed would you be?
 
Logan did not sniff when out at all for the first 3 months after I brought him home. Now I let him sniff everything he wants, every time we are out. It is his walk, the same way the one above is Watson’s.
 
Your dog’s walk is about exploration and enriching their life. Let them sniff, a lot, for a long time. We wouldn’t want to walk around the world blindfolded or unable to examine interesting things would we?

Logan Part 25 – BAT sessions

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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If you are unfamiliar with BAT, please have a look at Grisha Stewart’s website

http://grishastewart.com/bat-overview/

for more details

Logan Part 24 – are you with me, lad?

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our journey together but we have been steadily making progress over the last few months.

I was out with him this afternoon and wanted to write down some of the process I have been using with him. The amount of time Logan is with me mentally, emotionally and phusically based on his observable body language vaires depending on what else is going on in the environment. Observable criteria are how much time he spends looking at me, how much he is interested in the food I have, how easily or readily he moves with me when I move off. There are 4 broad categories to this. These are my definitions, you may have your own

  1. He is not with me at all
  2. He is not with me but searching/scenting/trailing the ground
  3. He is scenting on the ground around me and will generally move in the direction I am travelling
  4. He is fully engaged with me, seeking food reinforcement.

There is also variations within each of these as number 1 can vary between him holding himself in position watching (usually another dog) and running around barking (usually when he is really struggling and doesn’t know what else to do)

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There are differences in his body language between the image above and below. If you were to look at them on there own, in which one would you say he is more likely to move with me? Noticing the subtle changes in his body gives me information about what I am going to do next. He is not really with me, or connected to me in either of these photos.

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In the image below he is moving with me and scenting on the ground. Scenting at the park is good. If he is sniffing in the presence of other dogs, then I know he is more relaxed than if he is watching them. If I  was to move away in the picture below, he is very likely to follow me or to migrate in that direction. We would be moving together, which is cool and desired.

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Image below, he’s “with me, with me”. Looking at me, engaged and I am able to ask him to do simple, well practiced behaviours.

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Today we were out at the park for around 40 minutes. It was relatively busy but we were able to work at decent distances from other dogs. At this stage, and for a while to come yet, I am really relaxed about what I expect of him. The goal is to have him either scenting the ground for long periods when we are out, or both scenting the ground and enagaging with me when I ask him to. I try to be aware as much as I can that this is his walk and his journey. The objective is calm, relaxed behaviour for the whole (or as much as possible) time we are outside. With this in mind, I do everything I know how and am able to do to help him reach that objective. It helps keep me patient.

In the clip above, you can see him searching the ground for food and looking at the dogs. Look at the quality of how he is looking at the dogs. Relaxed or alert? How easily does he go from one to the other. Is the searching frantic or relaxed?

Lastly, I am also aware of the reasons for him being able or unable to behave at a certain level. Is he eyeballing the dogs because he has just arrived and needs to settle in to his session or can he not concentrate on what I am asking him to do because we are reaching his limit. I have to be mindful of all of these things all the time.

Please think about how you can apply some of these concepts to your own dog.

More to come, thanks for reading and your continued interest in our journey together.

Happy training

A question of ethics – part 1

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I was at the office today (our local park) doing a consultation with a man and his Labrador, working on recall and loose lead walking (connection). We have a really nice community at the park on weekday mornings, the professional dog walkers, the power walkers without dogs, the recreational cyclists and the dog people walking their own dogs.

There is a fella who I see who has two GSDs who he has trained to a high level from the brief glimpses I get of him (I see him several times over the month). He appears to use positive trainng methods from what I can see. He uses food to reinforce the behaviour which he likes and I’ve never seen him physically correct his dogs. When he asks the dogs to do something though, he’s not really asking, he’s telling.

This fella knows I’m a dog trainer and from reading his body language (he never says hello to anyone etc) I get the impression that’s he is trying to show me how it’s really done. Today (and every other dog he sees me), he put his dogs in a sit stay in the middle of the path and walked away. There were other dogs and people around walking past his dogs. The dogs were transfixed by him and then he called them, they raced towards him and then held a heel position targeting his hands for about 50m or so. They were then reinforced with food. Impressive? Yes, maybe. Ethical? I’m not so sure. If this had been in competition for a dog sport, then yes, it’s impressive. If it had been in preparation for that dog sport competition, then yes, cool also. My issues is that it’s done for the benefit of all those watching and at the dogs’ expense to boot.

For me it would be far more impressive if his dogs were walking with him off lead, moving forward in front of him, sniffing, moving with him when he walked on and behaving in an appropriate social manner with dogs and people. But they’re not. The appear to be automatons, with little choice and not allow ot behave like dogs (I’ve never seen them sniff when out)

Training with positive methods isn’t enough. We need to train with an ethical mindset too. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Until next time, have a great Christmas.

John and the Glasgow Dog Trainer Team

Living with a dog in pain

Guest blog from Lindsay Docherty. Lindsay first came to me as a client a few years ago with Millie. Since then she has been studying both with the IMDT, and with Clare Russell and myself. She has been doing some work for me over the last few months.

 

Living with a dog in pain.


Lindsay

Living with a dog with a chronic pain condition can be difficult. There are two types of dogs, those who will suffer through the pain without any change in behaviour and those who suddenly feel under threat from their world.. The change in behaviour can range from a slight reluctance to perform tasks to the drastic who’s behaviour can change completely.

We currently have a dog who falls under the last category.

Millie is our 6 year old rescue dog. At the young age of 1 year old she had a bad fall and suffered internal injuries similar to those of a high speed impact in a car. Collapsed lung, bruised heart and a torn liver not to mention a huge amount of muscle damage.

Our happy friendly pup was now on a long journey of pain management and behaviour change. The changes didn’t happen over night. As her world suddenly became filled with danger and potential hurt to her she modified her behaviour to try and control it. Previously she was every dogs friend and used to love nothing more than a full on sparring session. This was now her idea of a nightmare. Her “friend” dogs were suddenly hurting her. In her mind it wasn’t that she was experiencing discomfort and the other dogs happened to be there it was the dogs themselves that were hurting her.

She’s now really sensitive to changes in her environment. A break in her routine unsettles her and can last for days.

People approaching her in the street spooks her. Visitors to the house is really difficult as she doesn’t want to be touched and that’s what most people want to do with a dog.

When travelling in the car she won’t lie down if she’s having bad pain day.

After a year and a half on and off medication and us making pretty much every training mistake you can during that time the pain had eased off enough to begin behaviour modification training.

Us learning the right approach to take and how to make her feel safe were the first steps.

She’s predictably unpredictable so if we work with the thinking that she’s going to react to everything we can set up the environment to help her make the right choice even in the toughest of situations.

 

Dogs 

As a puppy Millie was Mrs sociable though still a bit nervous around dogs that were quite full on.

After the fall the pain made her completely change in these situations and rather than removing herself she would lunge and bark and tried to get on top of the dogs that she was afraid of. In fight or flight terms she was definitely using the fight method to get the dogs to go away. Luckily she never progressed any further than a lunge and a bark.

Our initial goal was teaching her to remove herself from situations around other dogs that she previously would have reacted to and helping her when she couldn’t do it on her own.

Millie likes to control her own environment and the movement of dogs within it. We haven’t stopped her from doing this but instead heavily reinforced lower intensity behaviours. If she doesn’t want a young bouncy dog to jump on her that’s fair enough so strong eye contact with the dog or a low grumble are far better than a full on lunge, bark and pinning the dog to the ground.

We have to come up with a compromise with her where she can keep herself feeling in control and more importantly not be hurt but also that the other dogs we meet are kept safe.

We spent a long time teaching her avoidance before we let her start meeting other dogs. Only through persistence with the avoidance training and setting this up as the primary behaviour to perform around dogs were we sure that if she felt unsafe she would disengage and come to us for reinforcement for doing so rather than feeling she had to deal with the situation on her own.

If she isn’t happy with a dog’s presence and the dog doesn’t leave we ask her to come with us and we will take her away to a distance she feels safe whilst heavily reinforcing the moving away.

She’s now at the stage where she is able to make some pretty amazing choices in previously highly reactive situations. This can however change depending on the intensity of her pain from day to day.

If she’s having a bad day we take a few steps back and ask her what’s the best behaviour she can give us that day and work with that. Doing so she learns that we can ask her how she’s feeling that day and we won’t put pressure on her to give more than she can.

Something as simple as lying down in the front of car is too much for her some days. If we ask her to lie down and she doesn’t after a couple of requests we don’t get mad. She isn’t disobeying us she just simply can’t do it at that time.

As well as being on the initial stage of my dog trainer journey I am also a part time dog walker. Knowing Millie and how she feels about strange dogs I was able to introduce her to the new dogs whilst keeping her feeling safe around them and I’m happy to say that she now has a bunch of great K9 friends that she can run, play and wrestle with when we are out on our walks.

The first time she initiated play with one of the dogs I was I was in floods of tears whilst trying to video it! A real turning point for us as it had been 3 years since she had initiated play with a dog other than the other dog in our house Leo.

Living with a dog in pain isn’t easy. It’s a full time job especially if they are reactive. We are very lucky in that our good days are so good they make up for all the bad times. We love our girl, and by understanding her body language and what she needs from us to be successful, help to build the dog and owner bond every day.

Captain America and telling our dogs what to do.

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I went to see Captain America: Civil War at the weekend at our local 3D IMAX (It was very entertaining, the usual great Marvel stuff). At the beginning of the film, there was an announcement

“PUT ON YOUR 3D GLASSESS NOW”

My very first reaction to this was “don’t tell me what to do”. Now, I get that “Please put on your 3D glasses to fully enjoy the IMAX 3D experience” is unecessarily wordy, however, I really do not like being told what to do. In my previous job, I had a supervisor who constantly told everyone what to do. He never asked. He was a truly horrible bully of a man. Some of my colleagues who could be pushed around were, they did their jobs and did as they were told but none of them liked him. Those of us who didn’t like being told what to do would do it but very often we would push back, in fact we pushed back at every available opportunity. We stuck it to him whenever we could. The more we pushed back, the more he told us what to do. He then left, and was replaced by a man whom I absolutely adored. Jimbo would ask you to do tasks, never tell you and would do so with the full knowledge that you would do it. He never asked you to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. The guys who could be pushed around relaxed and worked harder, and those of us who were slightly more hard headed worked even harder still. Productivity and morale soared. He was a true leader who brought out the best in his people.

What does this have to do with dog training? Some of our dogs can be told what to do. We can push them around, shout at them, correct them and basically bully them in to compliance. Then there are the dogs who will push back. The problem for these dogs is that when they push back, they almost always lose. We shout at them and correct them, and they growl. We give them a harder time and they snap at us. We push more. They then bite “out of the blue”. Then it’s off to the shelter, vet to be put to sleep or we sell them on gumtree/Craiglist. The solution for all these dogs, whether the soft ones or the hard ones is to explain the rules in a way they understand, set up the environment so they can easily do the things we want them to to and so it’s difficult for them to the wrong thing and motivate them to do what we want them to do. If it works for humans, it can and does work for dogs.

If some of us don’t like being told what to do, is it not reasonable to conclude some of our dogs may feel the same way?