Boogie training update & links

June 9, 2010 at 5:10 am 10 comments

THIS SUNDAY’S SESSION with Sarah’s pitbull, Zoe:

We met up at a park in Eagle Rock. Sarah had her Zoe (who is also a reactive dog) and I had Boogie. We did BAT with the two dogs at a safe distance, progressively leading them closer and closer to each other. It was a really hot afternoon so I think Boogie was more interested in exploring the shady areas (and climbing the Jungle Jim) than in interacting with Zoe. I think too he was a little confused to see Sarah (one of his favorite people) with an unfamiliar BIG DOG.

Boogie did really well. He offered lots of calming signals including new ones like sniffing the ground and he often acted as though Zoe wasn’t there… which also helped Zoe stay under-threshold. Several minutes later, the dogs were able to sniff each other and walk next to each other without any problems. They didn’t love each other, but they were fine.

Then Sarah took out a treat for Zoe,  Boogie barged in front of  Sarah (“I want a treat too!”) Zoe growled at Boogie, and Boogie growled back. This could have escalated into a nasty fight because we made the mistake of raising the criteria too quickly – the dogs were too close to each other. And then it happened again when Boogie stared at Zoe , Zoe bared her teeth and I made the mistake of pulling on Boogie’s leash (it was a knee-jerk reaction) which intensified the problem.

Memo to self: Err on the side of  DISTANCE. No pulling.

LAST SUNDAY’ SESSION with Irith walking up my porch:

We did a BAT session with Irith walking onto the porch of my apartment. On two separate occasions, Boogie has bitten people on this same porch.

Sarah’s assessment of Boogie’s aggressive behavior is that it is neither  dominance nor fear-based but  an “operant behavior” or “learned behavior”, a bit like a reflex behavior that he repeats because it works for him. The person backs off or leaves. Much like when a bug lands on our arm and we slap it without thinking. Our goal is to teach Boogie to replace this behavior with friendly behaviors, including the option to move himself away from the trigger.

We broke down the triggers into small components and raised the criteria slowly…

  1. Irith walked casually across the porch
  2. Irith stomped loudly across the porch
  3. Irith stomped loudly across the porch, stopped and stared at Boogie
  4. Irith stomped loudly across the porch, stopped, stared, stuck her hand out at Boogie.
  5. Same as 4, but one step closer towards Boogie

Boogie would pull to the end of the leash and  stare intensely at Irith ( = slightly over-threshold),  and then when he showed friendly signs like blinking, air-sniffing, relaxed ears, head-turns etc, I  marked “YES!” and led him away into my apartment and gave him a treat. We did this several times and then once, Irith came too close and came on too strongly and without any warning, Boogie’s stiff stare turned into a quick lunge forwards.

It wasn’t an ideal scenario but I was actually glad that Sarah saw Boogie lunge at a person because until now, she had never seen this behavior and had only taken my word for it. (People rarely believe me when I tell them that my sweet, cute and friendly boston terrier has an aggression problem).

Sarah’s summary of our BAT sessions so far:

Here’s something we’ve learned about Boogie. He seems to get tense but is still be able to handle weird stuff like shopping bags, fat  people in hats, crazy old lady with a cart, a mailman jangling keys, a big dog walking by, etc– most of the time—but one thing he cannot handle for sure is any kind of perceived confrontation.

The three times he has gone over-threshold in our sessions were:

–When Fred raised his voice, looked right at him and moved closer

–When Irith combined the rude hand gesture with hard eye contact and moved closer

–When Zoë got snarly and lunged

These then are the stimulus conditions we need to carefully pull apart and work through now, I think.  If we can get Boogie handling these types of confrontational situations better, he should find a lot of the other stuff easy in comparison.

Yep, Boogie is a hypersensitive dog when he is dealing with someone that he doesn’t know.

Anyway, I still feel that all this Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) is paying off because Boogie is so much more responsive to me than he has ever been. He seems a much more relaxed and happier doggie in general, even when meeting new people.

I have already accepted that Boogie will never be 100% “cured”. As they say, dog training is really people training or learning how to manage the problem in the most humane way and in this sense, I feel that we are on the right track. The Boogs and I are communicating and learning new stuff together. He really is an awesome dog and I love him more and more each day. Just look at that face.

Dog Training-related links:

Victoria Stilwell vs Cesar Millan

Real Man’s Guide to Dog Training: Dominance is not Leadership

Next blog post:  Boogie photo session!

Entry filed under: Articles, links, BAT sessions, Reads, Training.

Boogie and Rosie! And Boogie’s ears go back!

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ashley  |  June 11, 2010 at 1:52 am

    It must feel so heartwarming to not only see the changes in behavior when faced with whatever challenges you put in Boogie’s way, but also the changes in his happiness and relaxation in every day life.

  • 2. Sarah Owings  |  June 12, 2010 at 3:23 am

    Yep. I got a little overly optimistic because Boogie and Zoë were doing so well. Up until that point Zoë was sending lots of her friendly, relaxed signals–including a full, soft tail wag with her ears back and mouth open in a friendly pant. And just seconds before they had the problem she had gone right up to Boogie and sniffed him, then turned away smoothly. She ordinarily is okay with small dogs and up until Sunday has never had a problem guarding treats (she usually guards her territory once she’s been laying or sitting down for a few minutes). But I thought parallel walking would be fine. My bad. Next time we’ll be much more careful, maybe have a fence between them for interactions. There was no danger of a fight though really because after all the work we’ve done I am able to get Zoë back under control very quickly and Lili handled Boogie well too. Live and learn. 🙂

  • 3. Cynthia  |  June 13, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Just curious: since the aggression is operant, meaning results in making people go away, isn’t it also fear-based? Wanting people to go away implies a fear of people, right? Otherwise it wouldn’t work as a reinforcement.

    I have an aggressive dog that I’m using BAT/CAT procedures with, so I’m just curious. Thanks!

    • 4. lili  |  June 13, 2010 at 1:54 am

      Cynthia, I’ll let Sarah respond to this in more detail.

      Boogie doesn’t appear to be scared of the people that he lunges at or tries to bite. I think it’s a “territorial” behavior because he only lunges at people around my apartment, on my street and in my neighborhood. The closer they are to my apartment, the more triggered he is.

      From what I understand, it’s not that important WHY he does what he does… The goal is to teach him other (stress-free) options.

  • 5. Cynthia  |  June 13, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks, I’d love to hear what she has to say. When trying to use functional rewards, I feel like it’s important to figure out what the dog really wants. If my dog is not actually afraid of people but is frustrated that they won’t come over and say hi and therefore barks, then using distance wouldn’t produce the effect I want: more appropriate behavior reinforced by distance from the person. I don’t think that’s the case with my dog, it’s just an example. However, in his case, I’ve found that making the stranger walk away rather than making my dog walk away is much more reinforcing for him, because he doesn’t like the idea of turning his back on the scary stranger and therefore doesn’t find the experience as reinforcing as when the person is the one to walk away. But I’m sure this differs from dog to dog.

  • 6. Sarah Owings  |  June 14, 2010 at 3:55 am

    I agree with you Cynthia. Reinforcement drives behavior so figuring out what your dog wants is really important. If you’ve chosen the wrong reinforcement, your target behaviors probably won’t increase.

    As for the “fear” versus operant issue. I consider fear an internal state. We can only guess at internal states based on what we see the dog doing behaviorally and on the consequences of those behaviors. I believe aggression (barking, lunging, baring teeth, etc.) is an external state, a learned behavior which often begins as a fear response, but once it gets negatively reinforced, it becomes kind of like a knee-jerk reaction that gets stronger over time the more the dog practices it.

    Unlike my Zoë, Boogie doesn’t show signs of fear. He doesn’t cower. He doesn’t ever try to retreat or avoid conflict. He charges forward and takes control. Yes, he wants intruders to go away, but I wouldn’t call it fear with him. And he too is a dog who doesn’t really like to turn away from a perceived threat. He holds his ground and stares. So we’ve added lots of bonus rewards for turning away because we’d like him to be better able to diffuse conflict that way–especially with dogs.

    Behaviorally all I know for sure is that when approached by certain types of people or dogs in a certain way, he lunges and will bite and that this has been reinforced by people and/or dogs moving away from him. We are working via sort of a combo of BAT (Boogie leaves) and sometimes CAT (decoy leaves) for this reason.

    Hope that answers your question.

  • 7. Cynthia  |  June 18, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Yes, that’s great, thanks. I’ve always thought of my aggressive dog as “suspicious,” since “fear” didn’t really seem to describe his combination of insecurity regarding the intentions of strangers and total faith in himself to take care of business if need be. And the idea that aggression gets reinforced over time makes a lot of sense given that my dog slowly developed his problem from age 2 to 3 or so. I think he was always suspicious of strangers, it just wasn’t obvious since he hadn’t tried an aggressive response. But just once he gave it a try and it worked and the rest is history.

    Thanks for your explanation, I appreciate it.

    • 8. lili  |  June 18, 2010 at 5:34 pm

      Cynthia, I think you hit the nail on the head with the word “suspicious”. That’s it! He’s not fearful, but overly suspicious.

  • 9. Alex V  |  June 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    It’s hard to swallow that our dogs may never be cured completely, but it is an awesome and heartwarming adventure to see them go as as far as they can go.

    Side note: do you still use the martingale on a regular basis?

    • 10. lili  |  June 15, 2012 at 5:44 am

      Hi Alex, Thanks for commenting! I no longer use that martingale. Boogie wears a harness for walks.


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