Mailman Sessions part 2; applying this stuff to real life.

May 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm 4 comments

We had another two BAT sessions last weekend. On Saturday afternoon with Mailman Fred; and on Sunday evening with Fred dressed up as a “creepy fat person”. He had a pillow stuffed under his black coat, was wearing a hat, swinging a big white bag and doing John Cleese style funny walks… You should’ve been there! Sarah and I decided that a night session would be useful because Boogie is more territorial (more easily-triggered) when it’s dark.

Sunday evening – one hour later – our Friendly Finale: Boogie walked up to “Fat Fred” and gave him a good sniff-over (=gathering information) with his ears back, body relaxed, and the most important part of this was that Boogie turned away from Fred and walked back towards me. Sarah noted that even though Boogie had calmly approached Fred, he was still not 100% comfortable…he didn’t jump up and act all happy like he does with people that he knows and loves. However, to his credit, Boogie did get the information that he wanted in a socially-appropriate manner. Fred too, was polite and didn’t crowd his space.

According to Sarah, even if a dog likes someone, there is still social pressure to interact. Dogs that are socially-confident and relaxed know how to take breaks from any interaction by moving away from time to time.  And dogs with fear/aggression/insecurity issues don’t realize that they can make choices to interact and/or retreat and stay safe without blowing a gasket.

Also, most of the time it’s the human’s fault: We force our dog to be cute and interact and do us proud, or we punish or drag him away from a social situation because we don’t trust him….

To the casual observer, the BAT process is really quite repetitive and boring because we go through the same motions over and over again (forward, wait, mark, retreat, treat). In theory I understood what we were doing, but the actual process was so contrived that I couldn’t help but wonder how Boogie would  react to any other stranger who wasn’t Fred-in-costume.

One interesting thing for me was learning to notice and read the subtle Boogie signals that I would otherwise miss when I am not paying attention in any other (non-training) context. Ideally, I should be paying attention and have things under control ALL THE TIME .. and I guess the point of the repetitive nature of these set-ups is to recondition Boogie to stay under threshold and to make good choices on his own… without force/leash-pressure or treat-bribery.  And it follows that I will be able to relax and trust him more in day-to-day life …..

Good choices = eye blinks, head turns, sits, air sniffs, relaxed ears, ground sniffs, etc.

So… do these sessions work?

– I have been applying the BAT protocol to our walks and this helps! For example, a few days ago there was an old lady on the street several feet in front of us. The moment I saw Boogie slow down on approach, with his ears up and alert, I stopped. He stood and stared. As soon as he offered a calming signal (eye blinks,  head turn) I marked “Yes!” called him and we retreated in the opposite direction (+ treat), before moving forwards again. We repeated this several times before moving forwards, at which point the old lady was no longer a trigger, and we could both walk past her without incident.

– Another BAT example: Yesterday afternoon, I heard the mailman rattling on the boxes so I opened the door and stood with Boogie just inside the doorway. The mailman was out of sight but we could both hear him. Boogie’s ears were up and alert, his body stiff, but he stayed there and didn’t pull outside.  When I saw him sniff the air, I called him away from the door (back into the apartment) and gave him a treat. Then we went towards the doorway again and waited. We repeated the protocol about 3-4 times and Boogie got it. Perhaps he was thinking – Hey I know this drill! This is what we did with Mailman Fred! Really, I don’t know.  Then our mailman appeared into view and walked across my porch. Boogie stood there and looked, then he relaxed and turned his head towards me – YES! – and I led him back into the apartment again and gave a treat. Then back towards the doorway so that he could see the mailman leave. Pretty awesome. NO barking. No reactivity!

– Generally when a stranger approaches my apartment or appears on my street, Boogie stops and stares. This week I noticed that his body appears less tense; he isn’t pulling or leaning forwards like he used to. I am seeing head turns, air sniffs, blinking eyes – which I mark – then call him to me. He turns away and follows me. More often than not, Boogie wants to go forward again to check out the stranger, so we repeat the process… I let him “look”… and then when he is done, we move on.

In summary: What this training protocol does, is teach Boogie that he can make a choice and that good choices = rewards. It also teaches ME to read the communication from Boogie, and to know when and how to reward his good choices.

This weekend, we have a new decoy! Sarah will be accompanied by Irith – dressed up as a crazy old lady. Who knew that Dog Training could be so theatrical! Thanks again to Sarah whom I feel blessed with – she is such an awesome, passionate and dedicated behaviorist/trainer.  Boogie absolutely adores her and he cries when she leaves.

I leave you with another Boogie illustration…

Disclaimer: Boogie’s ears have to be read in context. If his ears are way back and his body is cowering, this is fear, not love.

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Entry filed under: BAT sessions, Social stuff, Training.

The mailman sessions – Part 1 The “crazy old lady” session (more dog training theatrics!)

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Barbara  |  May 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Good work Boogie!

    Reply
  • 2. Sarah  |  May 6, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I echo the sentiments – good work, Boogie!

    Reply
  • 3. Sarah Owings  |  May 6, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Love it! Lili, you are so cool!

    Reply
  • 4. Jen  |  May 6, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I think all your hard work will be paid off beautifully. 🙂

    Reply

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