Every time I bring out the ear medication bottle (even before I touch or look at the bottle), Boogie KNOWS what is going to happen. He can read me like a book. He makes himself very small, like a turtle, and creeps very low to the ground, slinking away under a chair or into his crate.
I have tried counter conditioning with treats. Things went well (the bottle ceased to be ‘scary’) up until the moment that he realized that liquid dripped inside his ear… and then he stopped wanting food and would back off as soon as he knew what would eventually happen. So I always ended up administering ear drops “by force”, while Boogie endured the ordeal. And then off he would go, escaping to shake off, before returning for the consolation treat.
I have started watching Lori Stevens’s Tellington TTouch For Dogs DVD, and yesterday I decided to try something new.
Of course,as always, Boogie predicted the worst so he pulled his ears back really tight as soon as I touched them. I didn’t pick up the ear meds. First I did some touches on his head and around the outside ear area with the back of my hand (Chimp TTouch). Then I used my whole hand on top of his head to move the base of his ears around, before doing direct ear strokes… and soon I could feel his ears and his whole body relaxing.
(By the way, I had already done these same TTouches the night before, and I knew Boogie enjoyed them, so it wasn’t like a completely foreign experience).
When he seemed sufficiently relaxed, I added the ear drops into his infected ear, massaged this in, and waited for him to escape.
Miraculously, Boogie did not move. He just stayed where he was and looked at me, so I continued doing slides on both his ears and massaging the base of his ears. When I removed my hands to see if he had had enough, he turned around to look at me again: “Why are you stopping?”
It was pretty cool.
I was ready to gloat but then things did not go so well this morning. I went through the same steps as yesterday. I did Noah’s March along his back and some Chimp TTouches around his face and ears… I stroked his ears until his head was resting on the couch and to me, he looked perfectly calm and relaxed. I stopped from time to time to make sure he was still fine… he was.
Then as soon as I unscrewed the ear drops bottle cap, Boogie jumped off the couch and ran away into the bedroom.
I went to get him and slowly he returned to the couch, with not his usual sad-faced ears-pinned-back look that was usually associated with ear medications. Boogie’s ears were up and his eyes were bright. He looked at me, looked at the ear drops bottle on the table, looked at me…
THIS DOG IS NO FOOL.
I was cleaning out my car the other day and I found some handouts from the first dog trainer I ever met/hired, from over 5 years ago. (Yes, I know – I should clean out my car more often)
This was a really uncomfortable and sad reminder of what I used to do to Boogie and how I used to make him cry because this was part of the training program I had paid for. Quote the trainer: “It doesn’t hurt. He is being a drama queen. Correct him again/harder.”
It saddens me that THIS sort of information is still being disseminated to lord knows how many millions of people around the world even in this day and age, and to think that there are so many people who continue to choke, shock, pinch, alpha-roll their dog because they have been taught that this is how it is meant to be. Or maybe like me all those years ago, they don’t have access to any other information or don’t hang around any other dog-owner friends who DON’T use corrections or the ‘pack leader’ spiel… or maybe also like me, they already paid a huge chunk of money to receive advice that tells them to dominate their dog and “show him who is boss”, so they stick with what they paid for. And besides, the advice sounds ‘right’ because it’s the stuff that’s really popular on TV…
Seriously, how can people learn about humane training methods and CHANGE, when there is so little popular mainstream support for doing so?
Anyway, my crossover experience in a nutshell or what made me change training methods:
- When Boogie was on that obedience training program years ago, he became shut down, more scared around people, more tense, and more prone to aggression (lunging and biting). He got worse.
- I wrote in to a Dogster.com behavior advice column with the question: “I don’t understand how this prong collar obedience program is going to help socialize Boogie to other dogs and people.” and the trainer who responded – Grisha Stewart – said: “Throw away the prong collar and look into CAT and BAT” Until then I had no idea that there were other methods that do not require corrections. A seed had been planted though by that piece of advice, and I started reading books NOT written by Cesar Millan.
- Karen Pryor’s “Reaching The Animal Mind” blew my mind and opened up a new world for me. It was a revelation that animals could learn via hands-off training methods that do not require the use of pain or intimidation or by humans having to be bossy/dominant. I went out, bought a clicker and started practicing hand targeting with Boogie.
- Seeing the change in Boogie was the biggest motivator and reinforcer of all for ME to change and learn new ways of interacting with him. I had never seen Boogie so happy and so excited and so responsive. He was perky, relaxed, full of life and it was SUCH A RELIEF that I could BE MYSELF again. I didn’t have to feel bad about “not being dominant enough”, or “too weak” or “too nice” or about not giving commands in a deep enough voice, or even worry about “my energy” (which according to a few neighbors, was the reason for Boogie’s behavioral issues) Friends noted that Boogie had become more relaxed and I was less stressed.
- I gave up on the old training program (the trainer was not keen on the idea of teaching me to use a ‘clicker’, and I didn’t get my money back either). I started visiting dog training forums and found Sarah on the Functional Rewards yahoo group…. etc. etc.
- I want to add also that as I learned about dog body language and calming signals, I could look back on the video footage I took of myself using a prong collar on Boogie and for the first time in my life I understood what all those head turns, lip licks, and yawns meant. I could see the stress that Boogie was experiencing caused by me and I couldn’t un-see what I had learned to see.
It is so great to see more articles and blog posts about crossing over… and how to talk about crossing over. This is still hard for me… I get emotional when I think about the past (the things I did to Boogie) and also when I learn that people I know are fans of aversive training methods or are praising Alpha-wannabe trainers, and I don’t know how to say what I want to say… without feeling like I am going to have a reactive episode. So for now, I say nothing. I do drawings and link to articles like these…
Rise Van Fleet: A Psychologist’s View of Crossover Training
Eric Brad: The Crossover Files
Ines Gaschot: The Crossover Trainer
I want to share some photos and observations from the two BAT set-ups that Boogie and I did last month.
**Please note that when we did these set-ups I had not read all the new BAT 2.0 instructions. The new BAT handouts weren’t available yet.**
Location: A park in Torrance.
Student Dog 1: BOOGIE with me
Student Dog 2: BENTLEY with Kristin Burke
Naturally occurring reinforcers: Lots of grass, trash cans, a fence to sniff/pee on + information from the other dogs/people in the park.
Natural triggers/aversives: Really hot midday sun, one reactive dog in the distance, open field with flat horizon so any people/dogs in the distance were more obvious (Sudden environmental changes)
Food reinforcer: Ham
Bentley is Kristin Burke‘s cattledog. We started at the distance shown in the photo below, and ended with both dogs about 20-30 feet from each other, with a fence in between.
SET UP #2
Location: Elysian Park.
Student dog: BOOGIE with me and Megan McGrath
Helper dog: MURRAY with Chelsea
Naturally occurring reinforcers: Grass, trees, bushes, trashcans, picnic tables, squirrels, lots of smells, giant space + information from other people/dogs
Natural triggers/aversives: Joggers, loose dogs in the distance
Food reinforcer: Turkey
Murray is Megan McGrath‘s very mellow black lab. Chelsea handled Murray while Megan walked behind me to observe and offer guidance whenever I needed it. Boogie and I moved all around the park, sort of circling closer towards Murray, with breaks. We also did some parallel walking with a fence between the two dogs and eventually, the two dogs met.
These two occasions were cool because we had the luxury of large spaces to work in that were quite peaceful, and Boogie was able to move around all over the place, in any direction, and take breaks whenever we needed to. I felt like I was finally doing BAT in the right sort of environment. There was a very low risk of off-leash or reactive dogs suddenly appearing. Not like my busy neighborhood street where I am constantly in ninja mode.
The updated version of BAT by Grisha Stewart is intended to be much more organic (ie, not moving back and forth in straight lines). The emphasis is now not so much on marking and rewarding specific behaviors like cut-off signals, and more on letting the dog navigate the environment.
“BAT 2.0 wasn’t developed because something was wrong with BAT 1.0, but because I was concerned about how people interpreted what I said. For example, people tended to go too close to the trigger (and walk right at it in order to get a cut-off signal. We can work at a much more subtle level and that’s what BAT 2.0 is.” - Grisha on Facebook
As I understand it, our role is to help the dog navigate on his own as much as possible… being as minimally intrusive as possible, but letting him walk in any direction he wants to except directly at the trigger. Grisha uses the lifeguard analogy: Imagine that our dog is exploring on a beach and we (the human) are the “lifeguard” making sure our dog stays on the shore doesn’t move into the water.
The handler’s role is to rescue the dog when he’s in trouble. It would be annoying to have the lifeguard continually bugged you while you were just fine. Working at the right distance in an interesting environment means that the dog is able to do something for a bit and then choose to look up and engage with the other dog for a bit, then move on. The decoy is also just doing the same thing. So when they look at each other, there is a conversation going on. There is a chance for the dog to say, “wow, that guy isn’t so bad, after all.” – Grisha on Facebook
Our job is to give the dog plenty of space to explore and process what he is looking at, to encourage him to move in arcs and zigzags instead of directly approaching the trigger dog. We work on our leash-handling skills and make use of the environment & reward-based games as much as possible eg, letting Boogie sniff and explore trees, bushes, trash cans, etc. and throwing treats on the ground “Find it!”
These BAT set-ups felt more like ‘walks in the park’ than formalized training sessions. Exploring, sniffing, eating, …. this is all stuff that Boogie would naturally want to do anyway.
In Elysian Park, twice Boogie jumped up onto a picnic table and sat there to check out the scene. (Boogie likes jumping up on things) He could see Murray and he could see other dogs/joggers/woodland creatures far away. Best view of the park ever. After a while it seemed like he wasn’t going to move so I called him off with treats.
I notice that at some point during the walk-in-the-park, Boogie’s curiosity or disinterest turned into frustration. It was as if he got “partially sucked into a vortex” (Megan’s words) and he started whining, looking at me, and pulling forwards towards the trigger, like he really really really had to meet the other dog. This happened during both BAT set-ups with both Bentley and Murray. It wasn’t that he was seeing them for the first time, it was more like he had suddenly become magnetized and turned into a “frustrated greeter”.
I had trouble with the “slow stop” or “rebalancing” because Boogie was pulling so hard. I get eye contact from Boogie while he is pulling so it’s not like he is blowing me off… it feels more like he is desperately pleading with me and I think I may have reinforced this behavior many times because I get suckered in by that look on his face. Megan’s suggestion was that I move backwards, further away from the trigger OR move in an arc/diagonal direction/sideways towards the trigger. (Grisha: “Any direction, except straight towards the trigger”) Food on the ground helped take his mind off the trigger. The variety of trees, posts, trash cans and bushes for sniffing and peeing on helped too.
And then when we were out of the frustration vortex, Boogie was able again to move in different directions and focus on different things. We moved closer to the trigger from the side.
2. “treat, please” (possibly over-threshold)
As we got closer to the trigger dog, Boogie switched to “Look At That”/counter conditioning mode. (Megan: “He is now in working mode”) He would look at the dog and then look at me. Treat. Look at dog, look at me, treat. I got A LOT of eye contact from him as we moved in closer to Murray. Then he just ignored Murray the entire time and stared at me. This is the 10-30 feet zone, which is pretty much the distance we are forced to work with, everyday on the streets of my busy neighborhood. The appearance or presence of any dog or person at this distance has been a cue for Boogie to turn around and look at me - Yes! and treat – this game is a normal part of our daily walking ritual. (See illustration in previous blog post ) I know that according to the BAT set-up guide, I am not supposed to use food if there are naturally occuring reinforcers (ie, environmental reinforcers) but I found it hard NOT to give Boogie a treat when he was so super focused on me.
There was also the possibility of an Elephant In The Room type situation. How to reinforce more naturalistic movement? When Boogie has his attention set on receiving food, he doesn’t want to move. One solution was throwing food on the ground to encourage him to move further away from the trigger and for me to pay closer attention to subtler signs of stress and stopped Boogie further away from the “shore line”. I think we might have gone too close a little too soon.
According to the BAT 2.0 Survival Skills handout this is the Mark And Move protocol…. which was sort of what I was doing.
3. The environment is a big deal
To Boogie, Elysian Park was way more interesting than the park in Torrance. There were so many nooks and crannies and trees and stuff. Lots of naturally-occurring reinforcers. There may even have been squirrels. The park in Torrance was an open soccer field, and we were moving around under the hot midday sun so Boogie spent lots of time lying down in the shade of a trashcan. He didn’t feel like moving much. When he disengaged from looking at Bentley, he turned only his head to look at me… still lying there. I think the cool grass was relief from the heat. I waited for him to be ready to get up and move around and used food lures but he was less interested in food and seemed more interested in leaving the park. I don’t think this wanting to leave was about the trigger dog. I think it was the heat that was stressful. (Grisha: “This would have been a good time to end the session”)
4. The Close-Up part
I know that my own stress and uncertainty affects what happens in the final zone (about 5 feet distance). I always feel unsure what is going to happen with Boogie because he has a history of stiffening up as soon as he sniffs another dog. Everything that has happened prior to the final zone could have gone wonderfully (with Boogie remaining under threshold) but I, the human, have been classically-conditioned to expect the worst and so I unconsciously hold my breath and/or grip tight on that leash handle and forget that I have meaty treats in my pocket to call him away with. This is the part of BAT I can’t do on my own… I need a professional dog trainer with me to do commentary on what is happening and to remind me to relax…
So now there is a new BAT 2.0 Flowchart which is very helpful! (It’s locked into my brain now because I illustrated it)
From what I can see, the key moments to consider are… When Boogie sees the trigger…
1. Does he look relaxed like he is getting info? If Yes, then I wait. If No, then I call him away ASAP. (aka Mark and Move)
2. How does he disengage? If it’s easy, DO NOTHING. (Doing NOTHING is not easy when you are used to always doing something!) Follow him. If it’s hard and he seems stuck, wait for disengagement and move further away.
*After these experiences, MORE BAT information has become available with some useful tips and illustrations (by me!)
Here are the links:
What is BAT 2.0 - new!
BAT Los Angeles Facebook Group (invite only)
Intro to BAT for Reactivity – 2 hr webinar Feb 12th. 2014! I will be on the road listening in on my phone!
What happened on New Year’s Day 2014: We were out walking when…
When you have a ‘reactive dog’ , this sort of thing is a BIG DEAL! :) The one and only verbal cue I gave to Boogie was “Yes!” I didn’t prompt him, I didn’t even ask him to sit; he offered the Sit himself. We had been practicing Sits on busy streets, though. We also participated in two dog-dog BAT set-ups this month… I may share our experiences in another blog post.
The other thing I am happy about is Boogie’s skin and coat! Let’s see, back in July 2013, Boogie’s skin was totally dry and inflamed and his hair was falling out so much that you could see the black freckles showing through the white parts of his coat. After months of antibiotics and steroid medications, the crusty bits and hot spots went away but he was still balding. Boogie wore lots of t-shirts and sweaters in the latter half of 2013.
I started feeding Darwins Pet raw food (lightly cooked) around August last year. Boogie did well on the new food but I didn’t see any skin and coat improvements and the Dermatology Clinic had him back on antibiotics and steroids again for another month which still did nothing for his coat.
Since November, I have been adding one Zyrtec (Aller-tec) pill and Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil to Boogie’s daily Darwin’s Pet meals. I don’t know which of these products are making the difference but there has been a difference! Perhaps it’s also the seasonal change. A few weeks ago I noticed that Boogie’s fur has grown back and it is lush and silky like never before. In fact it has been MONTHS since Boogie’s coat has ever looked and felt this good!
This weekend is Clicker Expo and I am really bummed that I could not afford to attend this year. However, I am driving to Long Beach tomorrow (Saturday) and will be meeting up with Lori Stevens and Emily Larlham for lunch. Very excited about this!
I apologize that I haven’t posted anything new in ages. Life has been very busy and challenging…
I started muzzle training with Boogie over a month ago. We were doing a few short sessions each day and things were going really well (we got up to the spray cheese part) when…
And the drama that ensued on the internet and all the stuff I had to do to legally protect and educate myself just sucked up all my time and energy and money. It has been exhausting and it’s not all over yet. The silver lining: I learned that I have a very large group of supporters whom I am very grateful to; I learned that I need to be much more proactive about getting my artwork out there in the physical world, beyond just posting stuff up on the internet… I need to market myself a lot better. Deep breath.
So let me present some stuff that you may want to buy for the holidays (HINT HINT)
1. My new series of Dog Breed magnets and buttons! There are 24 dog breeds in this series and I am selling a few of these in my etsy store. If you are interested in wholesale orders, or know anyone who might be interested in wholesale orders, please click here for the pricing and ordering information.
2. These dog breed designs as well as new Boogie/boston terrier drawings are also printed on totes, t-shirts, cushions etc. at www.society6.com/lilichin
3. The World’s Most Dangerous Foods for Dogs – this is now available as a 4″ x 6″ fridge magnet, and I will have more available soon also at my etsy store. (including a version with blank spaces to write your own emergency/vet phone numbers) The Design Lab Creative Studio webstore is also selling these.
4. Dog Decoder is a new iphone app that I did the illustrations for. This is a really cool and slick app on dog body language which includes a quiz to test your dog-reading skills. There is more information and screenshots HERE, and you can purchase the app at the itunes App Store for $3.99. (Every download helps the artist too, thank you :)) Unfortunately I don’t have an iPhone so I am eagerly awaiting the android version which is in the works.
Socializing Your Dog - Written by Sara Reusche
Next weekend I am going to my first ever Dog Obedience and Rally event as an observer… This will be a totally new experience and I am kinda excited and also nervous (will the majority of dogs be happy or under pressure?) I will take photos if this is permitted.
December 11th is Boogie’s ‘birthday’/adopt-a-versary and it is coming soon! This year I will actually be in town to celebrate with him. I haven’t decided yet what to get Boogie for this special day. Which toys? Which treats? I am open to suggestions! :)