Posts filed under ‘Training’
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!
This is a follow-on from my previous blog post.
I want to write down and share a few events from yesterday simply because GOOD EXPERIENCES are worth remembering and sometimes I get emails from blog readers who are struggling with reactive dogs who ask me if Boogie has changed with the training that I have been doing. If he is a different dog or if he is better than before?
My short answer is that Boogie will still BITE if he feels threatened. He has done it too many times already (up to Level 4) and I don’t think I can ever eliminate this possibility. Boogie is a very sensitive dog, and he still gets startled and freaks out. BUT…. the biggest lessons I have learned are that I CAN help him relax and/or bounce back so he doesn’t freak out so easily. I CAN reduce the likelihood of him feeling triggered out on the streets, and I think he is doing really well in the context of my insanely busy neighborhood. Yes, he IS a different dog from 2 years ago. He is a much more communicative dog than he ever used to be. And whether it’s only because I am better at listening to him, or whether he has actually expanded or clarified his “body language” repertoire… I am not sure. Training works both ways, right?
Here are some more detailed examples of what I see as “progress”. Yesterday….
SCENARIO 1: GIANT MASTIFF
Boogie and I were out walking and he stopped to pee and sniff the ground. He didn’t see that a person and their giant mastiff had appeared on the other side of the street. Knowing Boogie’s tendency to be triggered by “sudden environmental contrasts” (SECs) — ie, he is ok with a group of people walking towards him, but may be triggered by 1 person appearing on a quiet street — I thought it better to point out the mastiff to him so he wouldn’t get startled when he finished sniffing the ground. (Raise head, strange dog WTF! , freak out)
I said “Boogie, Look at that!” (cue to look at something, then look back at me)
Boogie raised his head, turned around, looked at the mastiff.
Me: “Yes!” (mark the “look”)
I was quite surprised that Boogie didn’t want a treat. He turned away from the treat in my hand. Instead he took a few steps back to sniff the ground behind us. (calming signal, self-soothing behavior)
I waited. The mastiff had walked past by now.
Boogie looked up at me: “Ready for that treat, mom!”
I said “Good Boy!” and gave him a treat.
Did Boogie really just direct that entire BAT sequence himself with bonus reward? :)
SCENARIO 2: EXCITED CORGI
We were taken by surprise when we turned a street corner. Right there – a few steps away- was a man and his barking corgi – just standing there. I am not sure what they were doing but that corgi was pulling on the leash barking his/her little head off at Boogie. Not in an aggressive way, but super excited all puppy-like.
Boogie did not take his eyes off the barking corgi. This was not a good time to go anywhere even though my natural impulse was “Gotta get away”.
I waited. My thought bubble: “Relax the leash relax the leash, just breathe” Puppy still barking at my dog.
Then Boogie turned to look at me, and asked to walk in the opposite direction. We turned away together and left the barking puppy far behind.
SCENARIO 3: ANGRY FRENCHIE
A man and his Frenchie were passing in front of us. The Frenchie stopped and stared at Boogie face-on. I recognized this Frenchie – he is left outside in his yard all day to run around barking at passing dogs. Boogie froze. I waited for the the Frenchie to keep walking but instead he was really stuck, just stood there (not sure what owner was doing) staring at Boogie before suddenly exploding in a fit of barks.
Boogie exploded back, pulling, lunging, barking. To me it didn’t sound like his usual “I am going to kill you, asshole!!!” bark, more like a “shut up, you idiot” bark.
Frenchie moved away. Boogie did a whiplash head-turn to look at me. He looked so proud of himself like he wanted a treat.
I gave him a treat for checking back with me and tried to console myself that THE OTHER DOG STARTED THE DRAMA FIRST even if I did not manage the incident very well.
SCENARIO 4: POLITE PUPPY BEHIND A FENCE
Yes, really. These 4 incidents happened all on ONE walk that lasted about 40 minutes. Welcome to my world.
There is a really adorable black puppy who hangs out in his yard, and he is the sweetest, most polite, most mellow-friendly puppy ever… to both dogs and humans. The first time we met this puppy (weeks ago), when Boogie looked at him through the fence just a few inches away, the puppy sat down, averted his eyes, turned his head away, went all “soft and curvy”, basically offered every polite signal in the Doggie Language book until Boogie relaxed. Everything was cool. Both dogs got to greet nose to nose.
We passed this yard again and this time the puppy (slightly larger than before) was lying down on the porch far away from the fence.
Boogie stopped at the fence and looked at the puppy. He would not move. Puppy stayed on the porch.
And I didn’t move Boogie because I felt that things would be OK with the fence there, and I knew that the puppy was super friendly and polite.
Boogie waited. I couldn’t see the puppy from where I was… but in a little while, the puppy was at the fence, wiggling AWAY from Boogie. Totally non-confrontational. Sitting and looking at me sweetly. Boogie turned his head away from the puppy and then I let both dogs sniff nose-to-nose through the fence. Puppy sat again, ears soft, body soft, all curvy and wiggly. Boogie’s body relaxed. I could see him soften then turn away. I gave both dogs a treat. Boogie looked at me as if to say “Puppy is cool. Let’s go”.
And on that peaceful note, we went home. 4 dog incidents. 3 good, 1 bad. Actually it should be 4/4 because the frenchie started it. :) That’s a good score, ok?
I was sort of struggling with the idea in BAT that “distance from the trigger” is reinforcing because it was often hard for me to tell if the retreat is really about “getting away from the trigger” (negative reinforcement) or simply “getting to move towards better things” (positive reinforcement). Most of the time I feel that Boogie wants to move away because he wants to move, not because he is trying to escape from the dog/person. And if there is no -R, then is Boogie really learning to cope with triggers? Or is he just doing what he wants to do anyway? How exactly am I marking and rewarding? Also, if there is no food, then how do we know what exactly is reinforcing to the dog and is it enough?
My experiences from yesterday remind me of a Dr Susan Friedman quote:
Control (over one’s environment ) is a primary reinforcer. To deprive an animal of control is akin to depriving them of water, food.
To the greatest extent possible all animals should be empowered to exercise personal control over significant environmental events.
I am starting to wonder if the Functional Reward in BAT has more to do with “control” or “agency” rather than “distance” per se. I am speaking about Boogie of course. I don’t know about other dogs.
Just this morning, we checked out a strange dog (sniffing around in bushes, on leash, next to his owner) from about 10 feet away. I noted that the other dog was calm and polite so I knew everything was safe. When Boogie was done looking at the dog – yes, I waited until he was totally done getting his information – we both very undramatically walked past that dog in a wide arc (as we usually do with dogs) and kept on moving. There were no reactivity or over-threshold signs whatsoever. Only genuine curiosity and disengagement. It was kinda wonderful.
ONE FINAL SCENARIO: HUMANS IN OUR TERRITORY
Later yesterday, Boogie and I stepped out of my apartment and there were two people in the front yard. Thanks to having done BAT set-ups in this location, Boogie would usually Stop, Look, then Turn to look at me and we would jog back towards the apartment, I give him a treat, before moving out again. (I stopped using a verbal marker when Boogie started being able to disengage and move away by himself)
Yesterday however, he Stopped, Looked at the two people in the front yard, looked at me, and turned 180 degrees away towards the back exit. He didn’t care about a treat. He wanted to leave via the back way instead. Of course I can’t read Boogie’s mind but my guess was that he was saying to me “Let’s not do the back and forth thing this time, Mom. Let’s just go THIS WAY. Path is clear”.
“Thank you, Boogie!” and I gave him a treat.
So I think what I personally take away from these experiences and the BAT seminar are what Susan Friedman said about Control as a primary reinforcer, and I see that when a reactive dog feels he has control over his environment and can move where he wants to move, this can be a powerful reinforcer for non-reactive behaviors. Classical Counter Conditioning is happening at the same time too, right?
I have always felt that Boogie is cool if he has time and space to process things. Grisha has reminded me a couple of times that when Boogie is done looking at the trigger, and does not want to go back and look at the trigger again, I shouldn’t ask him to (not even if I ask him really nicely). The whole experience should remain the DOG’S CHOICE and be completely non-aversive.
On a final note, to people reading this blog, I don’t want to give the impression that we should phase food rewards out of training. I know some people are concerned about this no-food thing, with regards to the fate of “Positive Reinforcement Dog Training” in the broader public context, where old-fashioned punishment-based food-hating trainers still dominate the media. What I am learning now is how to use food rewards with more awareness and sensitivity towards what Boogie is feeling and not rushing things.
Patricia McConnell: https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/tag/bat
Click here for some Susan Friedman quotes I collected via Twitter
NEXT: I still have notes from January’s Clicker Expo that I need to share. Coming soon!