Logan – Part 31 – a curious incident with a welly in the daytime.

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about the lad and we have made a lot of headway in the last few months. I’ll do my best to  write about what we’ve been doing when I can.

Last week I was out for a walk with him in the field at the edge of town where I take him for his run. There are very rarely dogs or people around so it gives us a chance to be outside in the fresh air with relatively little stress. As I’ve written previously, the barking was a problem for the first year when we were in open spaces and we occasionally get resurgence of it but those incidences are becoming rarer and rarer.

We had been out for about 30 minutes or so and were heading back to the car when he found an old welly (rubber) boot which someone had discarded. Rubber toys are his addiction and he finds them very difficult to give up and this was no exception. I let him have it for a few minutes and then he started to tear the leg part of the boot from the foot part which took him about 30 seconds. Once he had two pieces, I was able to pick up one of them and then ask him to drop the other one in exchange for the one I had, play a short game of tug with it and them let him have it. I then picked up the “shoe” of the boot and threw it for him after he dropped the piece he had. We continued this for several rounds and then I took him by the harness (he is on a long line), threw the other part away and asked him to come with me. Which he did, after only a few seconds of thought. So, no pulling towards the two pieces of boot, no barking and he was able to come with me. I gave him a few treats, again this is progress as historically when he got into that state he wouldn’t be able to eat, and walked him back to the car.

When we got back to the car, he happily jumped in, a couple more treats and then we went home. The behaviour at the back of the car was interesting as this would have been considerably different in the past, with him barking and refusing to get in the car (at best).

It is easy to lose perspective on his behaviour, which is one of the reasons I write this blog; it’s some kind of record of where we have been. Seeing him change from the stress bucket he was a couple of years ago, into showing more and more “normal” dog behaviours is kind of like watching your kids grow, very often we don’t see the changes as they are incremental, constant and over time.

The exchange game we played that day was as a result of all the play I do with him on a weekly basis, taking turns, moderating arousal (both of us!) learning cues, being generous with reinforcement. We are training behaviours all the time, I choose to train those ones which are both fun from him to do and necessary for times when we need it, like when we find wellies in the field.

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Logan – Part 30 – much progress

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It’s been a while since I’ve published an update on the boy’s progress. We have been working hard over the last few months and I’ve also done load of CPD which has been very helpful. We attended practical workshops with Kamal Fernandez and Kay Laurence over the last few weeks, and I hosted Sarah Owings from California a couple of weeks ago and we talked at length about how to progress his training. Sarah has been through a very similar process with her dog, Tucker over the last few years.

I’ll write more about the detail of what we have been doing when I have more time. I’m also presenting at the IMDT Conference on Logan as a case study next weekend so I don’t want to give away too many spoilers!

Bullet points I have been helped identifying over the last few months

  • he needs a constructive outlet for his energies (I was doing this to a certain degree but focused what I was doing)
  • different toys for different games; Kongs seem to be too arousing for him if he is chasing them but ok of he is searching for them, soft toys are good for chase and games where I play a bigger role
  • play more co-operative games with him
  • teaching him release cues to fluency so he knows exactly what is expected of him
  • he is not the same dog as he was this time last year, so the reasons for doing stuff or not doing stuff may (and very often are) either not there at all or very different.

Stay tuned for more over the next few weeks, I have plenty of video and thoughts to share.

Thanks for reading.

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.

Logan – part 29 – welcome home.

I was away for most of the month of March. I had the good fortune of being asked to present at the first Animal Training Symposium in Perth, Western Australia. Steve Mann of the IMDT, Sam Turner who is a canine proprioception legend (author of 4 excellent books on the subject) and I presented on a variety of dog training topics over the 16 days. It was a massive success and the attendees were raving about the information they received.

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Logan was boarded while I was away and we collected him and Watson on Monday afternoon as soon as we returned. After a fairly relaxing week of training (we pottered away at some stuff, more on that later), I took him to the park this afternoon for his fist session around dogs since we got home.

The park wasy busy (a warm and bright day), loads of dogs and people around. Despite this being the first we’ve been properly around dogs in 5 weeks, we did get a few firsts. No barking on entering the park, as he usually gets excited. We had to move directly into the centre of the park as there was a guy practicing his golf pitching in the area we usually go to. This meant we were a little closer to the path and other dog walkers than usual. We were straight into it, as there was a couple walking three off lead dogs down the path, one of which was a big American Bulldog boy. Logan and him had a few seconds of measuring each other and then they both dissengaged. We then ambled through the open space of the park, looking at other dogs, many of which were running and chasing balls, he did really well. The best moment, and another first, we were 20m away from 6 off lead dogs, he looked at them, sniffed the gound, search for some food which I put down and then moved off when I asked him to. I’m delighted.

One of the behaviours he has done historically when he is stressed is to seek out fallen pieces of wood and chew them. This wouldn’t be an issue in and of itself but he then becomes fixated on them and won’t let them go. Today, he found a stick, picked it up and carried it and when we stopped, lay down to chew it. I marked and reinforced every time he let it go (again, more on this later as it’s something else we’ve been working on). When he was chewing it, it wasn’t done with the same frantic energy which I have previously observed. When the time came, he was able to leave the stick, there wasn’t much left though, and come back to the car with me.

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All in all a great session. One period of a few barks, loads of much lower intensity behaviour around dogs then before, more col body language and loads of interaction with me.

Great stuff. The journey continues.

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

Positively Excellent Dog Training Part 2 – Reinforcement Part 1

Positively excellent dog training. We continued today, Saturday 27th February 2016, looking at reinforcement. Reinforcement is such a huge topic that we have split it into 2 workshops, the next one being in the 19th March. Even then, 4 hours of learning can be only an introduction to the topic, which, as positive reinforcment trainers, sits at the very heart of what we do.

After introductions, Clare presented a short input on reinforcement, mainly to get the students thinking about what reinforcement is. What is reinforcement and how does it differ from rewards and treats? Is there a difference? These are not semantics, if we don’t know the difference, how can we expect to apply it to our dogs?

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We divided the reinforcement into three categories; food reinforcers, toy/play reinforcers and life reinforcers.As modern dog trainers, we looked at positve reinforcement, rather than negative reinforcement.

Each of the categories was divided further to identify the pros and cons of each of them, when they could be used, and what behaviours they could be used to reinforce.

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Toy reinforcers pictured above. Divided into chase, retrieve and tug toys. Remember, it’s what the dog gets to do with the toy which is reinforcing rather than the toy itself!

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After discussion on the merits and disadvantages of each, the groups the devised training plans to test the value of various reinforcers.

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Building on the work done in the last workshop, ethical considerations were taken into account for both the handler and the dog, with welfare of the dog being at foremost in our minds. The attendees showed real thoughfulness in their design.


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Homework assignments were given with ongoing support between workshops. If you are interested in attending these, or are interested in hosting us to run these workshops in your area, please contact me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk.

Part 2 of the reinforcment workshop is on the 19th March 2016 in East Kilbride.

Meal motivation – guest blog by Tony Cruse

About Tony

Tony Cruse is a dog trainer and the owner of Tc Dog Training based in Essex. He is a member of The Association of Pet Dog Trainers and The Institute of Modern Dog Trainers and the author of ‘101 Doggy Dilemmas’. Tony works on training and behaviour on a full-time basis. 

Meal Motivation

Like it or not, we all work for food!! And guess what?   Our dogs are no different.

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It would be great if your dog learned to sit at the curbside because Rover respects you or because, well, ‘he simply should, shouldn’t he?’  But that’s more like Disney than real life.  Dogs need motivating and food is the smart option!

Food is a fantastic reward for any animal because it’s both motivating and provides a positive consequence.  The chance to acquire food is what drives a fox to learn several complex chicken runs and rats to chew through brickwork!  Food makes for a powerful reward!  Have I said, we all work for food?!

Food also puts a positive association to events and chemically alters the brain producing endorphins (happy hormones).  It can be used as a lure, to change emotion and as a reward. A positive association to the trainer and the environment where the food is delivered occurs and this is a HUGE bonus in dog training! The same cannot be said of punishment or forceful methods. You want a happy and engaging pupil, right?

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A simple daily method is to divide your dog’s dry food meal quota up into a couple of pots or mugs. Have a ‘Morning pot’, and a ‘Evening pot’.  You can then use some of the kibble throughout the day.   Grab some dry food from the pots at the appropriate time and handfeed it throughout the day and maybe during walks.   Carry it in your pocket or in a treat bag.  Don’t request too many behaviours, capture them like you are taking a photo.  For example, rather than bark, Rover goes to his bed to lie down, you say, ‘good boy’ and give him a piece of his food.  Dogs soon repeat what works for them!

Hand-feeding also teaches your dog that hands are good things.   Hands provide, they don’t grab, poke or remove.  A hand shy dog is an anxious dog and a dog who is likely to either flee or possibly bite.

“To not use food in training puts that trainer, you, at a distinct disadvantage”

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I can never understand trainers who refuse to use food. Toys and games shouldn’t be neglected as a reward but they can amp-up a dog. Over excitement is useful in some exercises such as recall but not necessarily when you are teaching household manners or walking nicely on the lead.

To not use food in training puts that trainer, you, at a distinct disadvantage.  It is yet another possible reward and it’s a quick and effective way to reinforce the behaviour you want.  If you have not yet used this training method to feed your dog, why not give it a go? Ditch the food bowl for two weeks and judge for yourself! You have nothing to lose!