The mailman sessions – Part 1

April 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm 8 comments

This weekend we had two training sessions with Sarah where Sarah’s boyfriend, Fred came dressed as a mailman.

Yes, it was pretty funny. Fred was a perfect mailman: He wore the shorts and high socks, stomped loudly, heaved his bag around, jiggled his keys, made a lot of rattling clanging noises on the mailboxes, and even stared at Boogie with his grumpiest face. A big thank you to Fred for being such an awesome decoy!!!! I hope that he receives many functional rewards from Sarah. 😉

We had two lessons this weekend.  2 x 30 minute sessions of  C.A.T. (“Constructional Aggression Treatment“) and then, on the following day-  2 x 30 minute sessions of B.A.T. (“Behavior Adjustment Training”)

The premise is that when a dog growls at a mailman and the mailman turns and walks away, the dog’s aggressive behavior gets reinforced because he believes that he just chased the mailman away by being a badass. And so the dog does it again and again and gets progressively more aggressive each time the mailman comes and goes. The mailman leaving = a reward for the dog.

Most dog trainers believe that the mailman triggers “fear” and so the dog responds by aggressing.  Sarah noted that in Boogie’s case, it may not be “fear”… it could be a “learned behavior”… it’s like a bad habit he got into a long time ago and he does it repeatedly because it works for him.  C.A.T. and B.A.T. are training set-ups that condition the dog to perform replacement “friendly behaviors” (eg, calming signals like head turns, eye blinks, ears back, ground sniffing etc.)to achieve the same reward.

Here is how I understand the difference between C.A.T.  and B.A.T….

C.A.T. –  I stood with Boogie on the porch as Mailman Fred walked up the path towards us, with each trial,  stepping a little closer towards us. And then looking at Boogie, making sounds, etc. We made sure that there was a safe enough distance so that Boogie remained under-threshold. On two occasions, Fred was too close or did too much stuff too soon (Sarah: “criteria raised too quickly”) and Boogie stiffened, stared, then suddenly lunged and growled… so we backtracked and increased the distance again. Whenever Boogie showed a calming signal, Sarah signaled for Fred to walk away while I made sure that Boogie could see Mr. Mailman leaving before praising him. (No treats. The mailman retreating = reward)

I think the best thing about the C.A.T. set-up is that Boogie learns to relax around my porch and apartment surroundings. This is the area that he feels most “territorial” … the same location where he has chased and bitten people in the past.

B.A.T. – Mailman Fred (the trigger) stood still outside my apartment.I led Boogie towards him and stopped at a safe distance and waited for Boogie to offer a friendly signal. At which point I said “Yes!” and led him away from Fred + treat. (You can see an illustration of this process here)

After an hour of B.A.T., as you can see in the photo below, Boogie got pretty close to Fred and remained calm. In fact, he was pretty relaxed during the entire lesson. The goal is for Boogie to remain interested in Fred and approach him in a friendly manner… We are going to do more sessions next weekend.

If you are registered on the Functional Rewards Yahoo Group, you can read the discussion threads on this session. e g, Boogie and the Postman. Also check out Grisha Stewart’s article on Walking Away From Danger/How to tell when your dog is DONE staring at the trigger.

Sarah said that Boogie is an interesting case because he is so choosy about people and dogs. He likes/dislikes specific individuals and it’s hard to predict who he will or won’t like.

Yes, he is complicated. And high-maintenance. But I love this little fella and who knew dog training could be this interesting!

Ultimately we want Boogie’s newly-learned good behaviors to apply to ALL strangers, not only to Mailman Fred, so in the future, we will be working with different decoys. eg, somebody will come dressed up as a cranky old person carrying lots of shopping bags etc.

Hey, if you are in the Los Angeles area, and want to volunteer as a decoy, let me know! The only criteria is that you must agree to remain a stranger to Boogie (and pretend like we don’t know each other). He must not have ever met you before and you can’t say hi to him or pet him. Also note that the B.A.T. process is very repetitive and may be quite boring…

Thanks again to Sarah and Mailman Fred. See you next week!

Entry filed under: BAT sessions, Training.

Articles on Dominance & Aggression, Photos Mailman Sessions part 2; applying this stuff to real life.

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sarah Owings  |  April 26, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    On our CAT day we actually did several trials before increasing distance, but as you say, I think we decreased the distance too early and then added too many challenges all at once such as Fred talking loudly (plus being close). The great thing about modern dog training, however, is we consider mistakes like that just good information, not failure. When we switched to BAT we were very careful to separate the different challenges, working on only one at a time. That’s partly why Boogie was more relaxed the second day.

    There is also a very big difference between walking up to the mailman (BAT) and having the mailman walk towards Boogie (CAT). It is important to work through those stimulus conditions too because that’s more like real life. So I’m thinking of adding “approaching” to the BAT protocol next time–but still always giving Boogie the option to retreat.


    • 2. Sarah Owings  |  April 26, 2010 at 7:35 pm

      Whoops! I meant DEcreasing distance.

    • 3. lili  |  April 26, 2010 at 7:41 pm

      Hi Sarah

      “I think we decreased the distance too early and then added too many challenges all at once…The great thing about modern dog training, however, is we consider mistakes like that just good information, not failure.”

      This is a really useful point!

      thank you!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barrie Lynn, lili. lili said: the mailman sessions. Boogie's blog: […]

  • 5. Barbara  |  April 27, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Great work and congratulations to 4 and 2 footed students! Thanks for sharing your process.

    • 6. lili  |  April 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm

      thanks, Barbara! Will continue sharing! 🙂

  • 7. Andre  |  May 3, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Hi Lili,

    I commented on your blog last September regarding timing, clickers, and getting rid of the prong collar. I was delighted to see your illo on Grisha’s web site where you created a pictogram for BAT. Furthermore I am overwhelmed with joy that you are working with a Karen Pryor CTP (I am a KPCTP as well), and you have gone from citing Jan Fennell to Suzanne Clothier. Welcome to the “right” side.


    • 8. lili  |  May 3, 2010 at 1:44 am

      Hi Andre

      Thanks again for commenting. Yes, I remember last September…At the time I was trying to cram my head full of Dog Training information (and there is so much conflicting info out there!) There were people telling me to get rid of the prong collar vs people telling me I wasn’t ‘dominant/tough’ enough.

      I am so glad I have found a method that now feels right for me, that has also made Boogie a much happier and more responsive dog!

      I am thrilled too that Grisha likes my illos 🙂



Leave a Reply to Sarah Owings Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

A gallery of Boogie Art

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 256 other subscribers


Blog Stats

  • 934,428 hits

%d bloggers like this: