Posts filed under ‘Training’

Boogie update



I haven’t posted on this blog in way too long. The short answer is that I have been too busy and I haven’t had anything interesting enough to spend hours writing about when it is much easier to share photos and simple one or two line Boogie updates on instagram, twitter, facebook…

Reading this article today by one of my favorite dog training bloggers  made me look back in time, and look at my life with Boogie today.

You won’t know what your dog can achieve until you try. Listen to him, stay within his limits, and do not put him in situations where he struggles. Learn to read him, and work closely with a professional. Put his best interests first. Stop making excuses. If you find yourself apologizing for poor behavior using your dog’s story as an excuse, stop! Look to the dog you have in front of you right now. Read the page in front of you at this moment, not ancient history that happened weeks, months, or years ago.

I am almost tempted to title this blog post “My dog is no longer dog-reactive” but this is not entirely true.

The truth is that:

Boogie no longer reacts to dogs at a closer proximity on the street.  I don’t know when I noticed the change… it has been months? Years? I really don’t know. This ‘new Boogie’ became more obvious to me recently when I noticed that OTHER dogs were reacting to Boogie and Boogie was not reacting back. I mean other dogs barking, lunging, snapping, pulling at the leash towards Boogie. And Boogie looks at them, looks at me, and moves away. It’s like a miracle. If somebody was yelling at me to F- OFF!!! on the street, it would be very hard for me to be as calm as Boogie. (I still don’t let other dogs greet him, and I only very occasionally let strange people pet him… depending on how Boogie is feeling).

What seems to happen these days:

Boogie sees a dog, turns away, continues walking. OR he sees a dog (usually bigger shepherdy type of dog), stops, looks at me ;  OR he sees a dog stops, looks for a bit longer, turns around and walks the opposite direction/sniffs the ground; OR he doesn’t even appear to see the dog at all because he is focused on his destination and more interested in scavenging and foraging. The point is that he is no longer showing the signs of distress that he used to. If he shows signs of being triggered, it is less intense. He turns around to look at me, and then he bounces back. We move along.

I still bring treats on walks and I still give Boogie treats – though less frequently now, depending on his body language -when we see a strange dog/person approaching, or when we walk through triggering locations (- is there a term for this? I mean specific sections of  streets where Boogie has had a history of negative associations and is more likely to freeze when he sees a person/dog… I think if he saw the same person/dog on a different street he would not care. Some triggers are definitely tied to place).  If Boogie’s body language is relaxed, I let him stop and look at triggers to engage and disengage on his own and I let him choose where he wants to go.

Boogie is also 80% deaf now. He doesn’t hear many sounds except very loud or  high pitched ones; he doesn’t hear other dogs barking at him, or strangers walking next to/behind us so I think he is generally less triggered by stuff. He is using his nose more. He has become obsessed with foraging. The down side is that he eats a lot of crap off the side walks and I haven’t properly taught a “leave it” or “drop it” :( Of course, he also doesn’t hear me call his name anymore, so I gotta do something about that.



November 9, 2014 at 6:42 pm 4 comments

Plugging my work (sometimes still Boogie-related!)



Or click here:!mailing-list/c1ll2

There are some new things happening this month, very soon :)

Meanwhile, I have just signed up for Donna Hill’s online course:  DOG AS A SECOND LANGUAGE. Everything I know about dog body language so far I have learned from Boogie. Yes, ONE DOG only. So much more to learn!


March 29, 2014 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Crossing Over…

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? 

This is an old photo from 5-6 years ago. I was supposed to have Boogie wear this collar 24/7.

This is an old photo from 5-6 years ago. According to the trainer: he was supposed to wear this collar 24/7 and get corrected for every little thing he did that we didn’t want him to do.

Anyway,  my crossover experience in a nutshell or what made me change training methods:

  1. 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.
  2. I wrote in to a 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

From the American Association of Veterinary Behaviorists.

From the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.


February 20, 2014 at 8:20 am 16 comments

Two BAT set-ups – January 2014 (BEFORE BAT 2.0)

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.



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.



1. “frustration”
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”)

Boogs-BAT-lying down

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!

New BAT 2.0 handouts

BAT Los Angeles Facebook Group (invite only)

Grisha Stewart Interview on BAT2.0 on the Modern Dog Training And Behavior Advice  Facebook Group. (Alt link: Saved HERE)

Intro to BAT for Reactivity – 2 hr webinar  Feb 12th. 2014! I will be on the road listening in on my phone!

February 10, 2014 at 11:06 pm Leave a comment

TTouch – “Walking In balance” DVD

The only Black Friday Sale I took advantage of last month was the one offered by Tawzer Dog. I got Lori Steven’s TTouch Walking In Balance DVD and last week I finished watching all 3 discs. Lori Stevens is fantastic and the seminar was so interesting and enlightening that now I wish I had ordered the first TTouch DVD too! 

Last year I had tried to read Linda Tellington-Jones’s TTouch book after Boogie’s intro TTouch session with Cynde. To be honest, it was hard to take in and retain all this information from the book without having more tangible experiences. I am the sort of person who needs to see and feel how something is done (vs only reading about it) – and watching Lori Stevens’ DVD has rekindled my desire to learn more about TTouch.  Also – the fact that TTouch was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones from Feldenkrais is something that I find really exciting. I have been obsessed with Feldenkrais all year and have been doing ATM lessons (ATM =”awareness through movement”) at home, a few times a week.


If anyone is interested, here is the  Frank Wildman ATM lesson (45 minutes) you can check out – ‘Folding Your Body With Ease ‘

To quote Lori Stevens, TTouch and Feldenkrais are both “neuromuscular retraining programs”. 

In using non-habitual movements and body work, we reduce tension patterns in our bodies, we gain awareness, we loosen our joints,  experience improvement in posture and gait, which in turn, lead to emotional well being, greater confidence and better physical performance. All these things influence behavior, which is why TTouch is also categorized as a “dog training method” that is humane and force-free.

I totally get the emotional benefits of better posture and gait, and the force-free aspect of this sort of training,  based on my own experiences with Feldenkrais. I still relish the ‘magical’ DIY results even though there is a scientific explanation as to why this all works.  It’s amazing to me that I can eliminate pain from my own body and expand my range of movement just by attentively, doing a series of gentle movements on a yoga mat that do NOT in any way involve physical effort or discomfort. No stretching, no muscle manipulations, no “holding” of poses…   I always feel amazing afterwards – taller, more stable, more flexible, more alert, pain-free etc. and I feel more motivated to work out and do physical things.

To quote Feldenkrais practitioners: We are learning to use our bodies more effectively to move effortlessly. We are training skill, not will. The skill is proprioception.

I keep all this in mind when I think of what I can do for Boogie with TTouch.

The focus of the Walking In Balance DVD is really ‘leash walking’ techniques and how to stay connected to your dog. In the first disc, there is an overview and intro including a Feldenkrais ATM lesson for humans to do (yes I did this! It was cool) so that we know how ‘improved proprioception’ feels.   Then Lori demonstrated some important TTouches on fake and real dogs:  Noah’s March, Zig Zag, Python Lifts, & Tail Work. I loved that she shared details on the amount of pressure to use, how slow the movements should be, where to pause, how to move to the next spot, how not to go over the same areas… etc.

As I was watching, I practiced on Boogie  and took notes. Boogie LOVED the TTouches so much that he left his bed and snuggled up to me on the couch for more.  Some rough sketches:


TTouchnotes-ZigZagTTOUCH notes-PythonLiftsAccording to Lori, senior dogs tend to lose “back end proprioception”. *edit*  Dogs naturally put 60% of their weight on their front end so that as they get older their back ends atrophy.  When dogs pull on the leash, this is not only damaging to the thyroid and trachea, the dog can also develop unhealthy patterns of “leaning”, making things worse. And so in using TTouches and Wraps we can sensitize dogs to more “hind-end awareness” and in so doing,  correct gait issues.

Likewise for dogs who do agility and reactive dogs. The DVD showed some footage of an agility dog whose jumping movements improved after experiencing a Wrap.

“We usually see a change in behavior when there are changes in the way a dog moves.” 

TTOUCH notes-HalfWrap

Boogie had experienced a half-wrap last summer but I am not sure if it made any difference. Perhaps this is because he is usually always wearing some sort of harness so he is used to having “stuff” wrapped around his body so perhaps the Wrap didn’t feel “non-habitual” enough?  Or perhaps it wasn’t helpful to be wearing a Wrap on such a hot day. Now that we are in winter, I will try this again. I have some bandages lying around somewhere.

Another TTouch method demo-ed on the DVD is the Balance Leash with 2 points of contact- which to me, looks quite complicated. I had to sketch it out to memorize what goes where.

*edited 12/31/2013

*edited 12/31/2013

The purpose of having 2 points of contact is for clearer communication or clearer leash cues. With 2 points, the dog can sense much earlier when we want to change direction than if we had one point of leash contact. In the DVD, Lori demo-ed this with humans on leash. With one point of contact, when we turn, the dog would feel more like he was being pulled.  “It takes two to pull”. We pull, the dog pulls.

Quote Lori: In an ideal world, dogs would be wearing harnesses with front and back attachments, not collars. 

In TTouch, we “stroke the leash” to let our dog know when we want to slow down, turn around, or stop. Now I know where the “mime pulling” in BAT comes from! :)

Boogie has not worn a collar in years… he wears a Freedom harness and these days, only using the back attachment and a one-clip leash. I could in fact configure a Balance Leash using the back ring only, by having the leash go around his chest…

Note: A good harness should not restrict shoulder or front leg movements nor be too tight. On the DVD, Lori went through different types of harnesses and a few different two-ring configurations for harnesses, some including side rings. I will need to revisit the DVD to remember what these different kinds of harnesses are.

There was so much more information on the DVD (“Labyrinth”, Walking on different surfaces, how to work with reactive dogs etc) that I can’t summarize everything in this one blog post.  I definitely need to go back and watch segments again and refer also to the DogRead Yahoo Group postings which had more detailed discussions and examples. (See postings from Dec 1-15, “Tellington TTouch Techniques: Walking in Balance With Your Dog” Lori Stevens)

A final memo: Before taking our dog out the door for a walk (when he is usually all hyped from being cooped up indoors all day), it is a good idea to have 5 minutes of Calm Connectedness. TTouch is a good way to stay connected and bond with your dog before venturing out.

Thank you, Lori!

Related links:

DISCLAIMER: The sketches in this blog post are rough visual notes that I created after watching the DVD. I did these sketches for fun/for myself because I remember and process concepts better when I draw them. You are welcome to use and share them but please note that they are NOT official TTouch handouts. – Lili :)

December 24, 2013 at 9:25 pm 3 comments

“NO!” and unwanted behavior. (Notes from Clickerexpo Part 2)

*This blog post was written a few months ago, following on from Part 1.


From “How To Live With a Neurotic Dog” (1960)


“Eli, No!” – a picture book (2011)

The pictures above are from two books that I bought only for the artwork. The first book is from the 60’s; and the second book is recent.

I think we live in exciting times because there is a cultural shift in thinking about dog training, dog behavior and human-dog relationships, and there is now more information available on the internet and in books  on understanding why dogs do what they do and how they learn, and adjust our training methods to be smarter and kinder.


From “How To Live With A Neurotic Dog” (1960)

Traditional dog training, being based in punishment and behavior suppression put a lot of emphasis on the “No!’s”. 

To (loosely) quote Sarah: “There are people who want their dogs to be seen and not heard and they believe that this is how the relationship should be between human and dog.  And then there are those of us who want our dogs to be able to express themselves, communicate, initiate things, and feel empowered in a relationship”. The inspiring thing about Clicker Expo is that everyone is there to focus on the “Yes’s” – how to train in ways that encourage more behaviors, not less.

At the January Clicker Expo, I went to three Ken Ramirez seminars. Ken Ramirez is an expert trainer at Shedd Aquarium who has worked with many species of exotic animals and all his training stories (mistakes AND successes) were very insightful and heartwarming.

In his seminar on “What To Do When The Animal Makes Mistakes-““No!” is technically referred to as a No Reward Marker or Punisher.

Ken Ramirez said that he will not judge people who use punishment or negative reinforcement in their training methods, but he personally finds no need to say “No” to any student animal that he is training. He is able to accomplish any training goal with Positive Reinforcement.

“We are more creative trainers if we don’t have a way to say NO. You don’t want to say NO to an elephant.”

To Ken, trust is one of the most important aspect of any training plan, and what defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.

One of the most common trainer mistakes is requesting a difficult behavior from an animal when he/she is not yet fluent in that behavior. This messes up the trust relationship. He shared several examples when trainers got too greedy and asked for too much too soon. Trainers might get too caught up in their egos, push the animal too far, the animal is unable to do the behavior he was trained to do (or doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it yet), has some sort of breakdown, stops doing that behavior… and then there is a lose-lose situation where it can take YEARS to re-train that behavior.

Ken Ramirez outlined the various ways that we have learned to deal with unwanted behavior. He cited the 8 methods in Karen Pryor’s classic book “Don’t Shoot The Dog” and agrees with Karen Pryor that “Changing the Motivation” is the most humane positive method. However, this is not always the most practical solution. There has to be a more immediate way to deal with unwanted behavior or mistakes.

Common ways of changing unwanted behavior that are aversive to the animal in some way:

PUNISHMENT – self explanatory. We add something aversive to make the behavior stop. The animal does not learn what is right. Punishing is addictive too to the trainer, and can get out of control. There is a high risk of fallout and loss of trust in the relationship. Dogs as a species may be more forgiving than killer whales but this is beside the point.  Physical punishment works but is the least humane and most intrusive method.


NO REWARD MARKER (NRM) – basically a word like “No”, or “Wrong”, or “Oops!”  or “Stop it”. Which to Ken, are essentially still punishers  (Conditioned Punishers or Secondary Punishers). Even if we use “Oops!” as a warning (“Watch out, this is your last chance or else…”) if we lack self-control and use it too frequently, it could definitely become something aversive and will damage the relationship between human and animal. Even the kindest version of a “No” when overused will lead to frustration.

TIME OUT or Negative Punishment (eg, the trainer leaving the room with all the food, when the animal misbehaves) This is another response that causes frustration and anxiety, mainly because the animal does not have a clue which behavior he did was wrong and does not learn what is right. The information is not clear. Time Outs are also ONLY effective if the animal likes you in the first place or finds the training reinforcing. The animal may be relieved to be away from you.

KR gave a great example of a classic Time Out mistake: Dog does something ‘naughty’, person picks up dog, puts him in the crate and person leaves the room.


NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT = Training a behavior where the animal gets to avoid or escape something aversive. Ken Ramirez says that even though Negative Reinforcement always involves some sort of aversive, this doesn’t mean it is inherently evil. For example we use alarm clocks (aversive noise) to wake us up in the morning. We hate the noise but it makes us wake up. Another example is when we learn to turn off the car lights because every time we forget, there’s that loud beeping noise. The biggest issues with Negative Reinforcement are that overuse will lead to frustration and anxiety. The severity of the aversive can be hard to control and can become inhumane. It takes a lot of skill to use Negative Reinforcement effectively. 

I am thinking of training protocols for reactivity/aggression like  BAT , which include some element of Negative Reinforcement.  To paraphrase what Grisha Stewart said at the BAT seminar – yes, there is the use of an aversive in BAT set ups (presenting the dog with a scary dog/person) but we can’t avoid this aversive in real life. “It’s not like we can sit on the couch with our dog and calmly chat with him about his fear of other dogs”. I see that the humane use of Negative Reinforcement involves working in a controlled environment, not adding any artificial aversives, and always letting the dog feel safe and in control.

I like these Susan Friedman quotes:

Control the environment not the animal.

Control 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.

In addition to whether or not a method is effective, we have to consider what is the least harmful or least intrusive technique for teaching or changing behavior, and Ken Ramirez referenced the “Heirarchy of Effective Procedures” chart by  Dr. Susan Friedman.

Here is Dr. Susan Friedman’s original article which is a must-read.


Example: If your dog runs around in the yard all day and growls at people on the street, you could change his environment/antecedent arrangements (level 2) – bring him indoors, or put him in the backyard out of view of the street – this would be less intrusive than actively changing his behavior with reinforcers or punishers (levels 3-5).

Ken Ramirez’s favorite least intrusive method for dealing with mistakes is what he calls the LEAST REINFORCING STIMULUS (LRS).

The LRS method was developed and used in zoos but it is also useful with pets. Top priority:

1. not reinforcing unwanted behavior, and

2. not adding any stress or frustration to the relationship.

This is how I understand it.

1. First of all, there must be already a strong  Positive Reinforcement history (ie, good relationship) and high rate of reinforcement.
2. When the animal makes a mistake or does the wrong behavior (not the one you asked for), be NEUTRAL for  3 seconds. Stay calm and DO NOTHING for three seconds. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand…
3. Immediately ask for another behavior that you know is easy, that the animal can do. Give reinforcement.

Assuming that 3 seconds is the right amount of time, the mistake/unwanted behavior won’t be reinforced, and it won’t be too long of NOTHING HAPPENING for the animal to develop frustration.

Emily Larlham (advocate of Progressive Reinforcement training) reiterates that the problem with “No!” and other conditoned punishers is that:

  1. it suppresses your dog’s behavior (overuse leads to a shut down dog)
  2. you create bad associations for your dog with yourself, your dog will do bad behaviors when you are not around.

Emily’s method of dealing with unwanted behavior is by using a  Positive Interrupter  – a sound (eg, kissy noise) and conditions this sound with a treat &/or petting, so that whenever the dog does an unwanted behavior, she uses the noise to redirect the dog away from doing the unwanted behavior, and then asking for a desired behavior that can be reinforced.

**IMPORTANT WARNING: Always give attention to your dog when he is doing good behavior and reinforce this good behavior. The Positive Interrupter is “attention” so if you use this ONLY when dog does unwanted behavior, then your dog will purposely repeat bad behavior just to get your attention.

Oh yes, I learned this the hard way :)


How Boogie learned that barking is awesome.

August 21, 2013 at 5:50 am 2 comments

Dognition games!

I can’t remember where I first heard about – I think it might have been via my Twitter feed. From what I can see, is a website that offers a series of structured games (or exercises) for dog owners to do with their dogs, and through these games, owners can gain new insights into their dog’s personality and cognitive style. I guess they are like doggie personality tests with no right or wrong answers, just an evaluation of how smart your dog is.   The games are organized into these categories: Empathy, Cunning, Communication, Memory and Reasoning.

This week, I saw that Dognition were offering some games for FREE and I couldn’t resist. I signed Boogie up and had Nathan help out.These are short 10-minute games and I love that they are very clearly explained with video demos and step-by-step instructions;  but you do need a human assistant to do them. One person has to follow the online instructions and log the scores while the other person interacts with the doggie. It’s hard to do everything at the same time with only one person, unless if your dog is well-trained to obey commands like sit and stay and um… Boogie isn’t very reliable. Well at least not right now, while he is suffering on Temaril-P (steroid meds) and might starve to death if he doesn’t grab the treat ASAP.

In the Dognition Empathy category, Boogie proved himself to be “bonded” to me.

Nathan: “He’s a boston terrier, after all!”

Dognition: Boogie EMPATHY

I did a series of yawns and Boogie yawned too. During the eye contact exercise, Boogie did not break eye contact at all even while he experimented with changing poses, from sitting to standing to lying down, to stepping back, to sitting down, to lying down again etc. Boogie . did. not. break .eye .contact. Except once or twice when he experimented with a quick head turn to see if these would earn him the treat. Yes, he has always been an eye contact champion. He can stare at me forever while I offer various behaviors trying to guess what he wants….

The Communication games revealed some fascinating results. I placed two treats on the floor in front of me at the same time, one on each side. I had to look at and point (first with my arm, later with my foot) towards one of these treats, alternating between left side and right side. This was a test to see if Boogie responded to where I was looking and pointing, or if he was more likely to make his own decisions.

Interestingly, almost every single time, Boogie moved towards the OPPOSITE treat – the one that I wasn’t pointing at.

The Dognition verdict?

Dognition: Boogie COMMUNICATION

*I forgot to add: Boogie is sort of nervous around hands or feet … (he will rarely take treat that is placed next to a  foot) I wonder if this had anything to do with his decision?

And so we completed the freebie games. To continue,  I would have to pay for membership… not something I can really afford to do right now.

Dognition pricing

I am curious – has anyone signed up for full membership and done all the games? Your thoughts?

July 22, 2013 at 9:05 am 3 comments

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