Becoming the Cookie, Becoming the Moose, and Boogie’s prey drive…

March 30, 2011 at 5:11 am 13 comments

I just did something quite impulsive.I signed myself up for Susan Garrett’s  “5 minute recall formula” online training course and it ain’t cheap. (hmm… what can I sell on ebay? Who wants a doggie drawing?)

I have been seeing link recommendations to this web course on many dog trainers’ blogs and facebook pages and after watching a few intro webinar videos, something hit a nerve. I think it was the term “prey instinct” or “prey drive”. I keep coming across this term on the web, on dog behavior forums, websites, blogs etc. and the more I read about working with “drives” and “building arousal”, the more I realize that:

  1. Boogie has a super intense prey drive (eg, tennis balls, squirrels, birds, cats etc. in motion)
  2. I haven’t a clue what to do when Boogie is distracted or in prey drive mode. I no longer exist for him. The only way I can get his attention is by picking him up off the ground.
  3. Premack works for when he is still under threshold, but not so much for when he is already over threshold /aroused/magnetized by his target object.
  4. Boogie doesn’t chase. He stalks very very slowly. Then suddenly pounces or sits and waits. At which point the squirrel is already way up that tree. This is why I believe that he will never catch the squirrel and may live out the rest of his days in frustration….
  5. Boogie NEVER chases me when we are playing with his toys. He makes me chase HIM. And I stupidly follow every time, so this behavior of “making Mom follow me” is super reinforced.
  6. Food rewards and tug games help –  he runs after me, but then he immediately runs off after eating or winning the toy.
  7. If training with a dog’s “prey drive” requires that I encourage and reward my dog to CHASE ME and fixate on me, then yep, I have a lot to learn….

Metaphors in dog training are kinda amusing. Susan Garrett’s course is about identifying your dog’s “cookies” (= rewards that are food, toys and activities), and “Becoming The Cookie”. ie, becoming the master of all reinforcements for your dog so that when you call him, wherever he is, whatever he is doing or interested in, he will turn away and he will RUN TO YOU. LIKE THE WIND.

Elsewhere on the web I came across another model of dog training that I hadn’t heard of before. It’s called Natural Dog Training and of all the web articles and authors that I have read on the subject, Neil Sattin’s website is the easiest to follow. Based on what I have read so far, the Natural Dog Training philosophy doesn’t involve any physical punishment but is somewhat dismissive of Operant Conditioning. In Susan Garrett’s webinar, she also mentioned the limits of using only Operant Conditioning because “drive states are not considered or manipulated”.

(Here’s one article that says NDT is more Freud than Skinner)

According to Neil Sattin, we should “Become the Moose”. Yep,  Moose! Not Squirrel, not Cookie, but a big ol’ Moose which is NDT’s chosen metaphor for a dog’s highest-value prey object.

It may sound like a masochistic death-wish (yeah I want my dog to hunt and kill me?) but it isn’t. The Moose is supposedly big, calm, powerful and always attractive to the dog. The Moose as uber-prey is the thing that activates a dog’s hunting drive and creates social bonding between a bunch of dogs who otherwise would not be interested in bonding. In NDT, they see resolution of a dog’s innate hunting drive/prey instinct or the release of energy/stress as being more relevant to learning than food rewards.

The stress release focus reminds me of BAT because in BAT, eliminating stress IS the reward. (-R) We want to do everything in our power to keep our dog under-threshold and un-stressed in the first place. The focus is on teaching and reinforcing good choices and self-calming signals in our dog so that ultimately our dog learns how not to stress out when some scary person or dog appears.

In NDT, the goal is the same (a calm unstressed dog) but I see no mention of calming signals… The focus is on encouraging the dog to act out their “natural prey drive” through healthier outlets so that it doesn’t turn into stress/aggression/reactivity towards other dogs and people etc.

They highly recommend letting your dog’s energy express itself in games of tug and ALWAYS letting your dog win (!?!) Or playing chase where you ALWAYS have your dog chase you instead of vice versa because the human is supposed to be the prey aka Moose.  (Ah! In the intro webinars,  Susan Garrett says the same thing  about having your dog chase you and rewarding him with play play play)

I think the logic in all this is that if I teach my dog to assert himself with/through ME when he is all revved up, then  I can still hold his attention and focus even when he is all revved up… I totally fail at this with Boogie.

There is a NDT  exercise called “Pushing” which involves pushing and feeding your dog at the same time to get him simultaneously “aroused” and “relaxed”. The dog is encouraged to “push back” for his reward. More here – Dogwise forum: Has Anyone Heard of The Pushing Exercise? (it’s a very long discussion between Neil Sattin & +R trainers, I haven’t read it all yet)

The first exercise in the Recall Course involves collar-grabbing & feeding at the same time and Susan Garrett explains this as a Classical Conditioning exercise. Action games of tug and chase are also encouraged to break up the exercise and to keep the dog’s arousal level high. *This  is hard… Boogie backs away when I touch his collar.

Two schools of training with different behavior theories but similar exercises …

Now if I can only get Boogie to chase me. When I run off with his toy and call him, he stops and stares at me as if to say “I’ll wait here until you throw it or bring it back”.

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

Boogie! by Jeroen Teunen Home from the vet.

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Annette  |  March 30, 2011 at 5:25 am

    I love your blogs and learn so much about boogie. Let me know how that training goes. Big hug and kiss to Boogie

    • 2. lili  |  March 30, 2011 at 5:29 am

      Thanks, Annette. I am nervous, actually… if I can’t keep up. I wish I had a fenced yard.

  • 3. Grisha Stewart  |  March 30, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Pick and choose carefully in the natural dog training thing… It’s got a physical punishment component if you read carefully.

    • 4. Neil Sattin  |  March 30, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      Hi Grisha,

      I certainly welcome people picking and choosing what works best for them in what I teach.

      When it comes to a “physical punishment component”, however, I’m pretty sure that I’ve never recommended that.



    • 5. lili  |  March 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Grisha

      Thanks for looking out for me! I read through a ton of articles and I couldn’t see any aversive physical punishment. If there had been any hint of this, I would’ve turned away and lost interest. If there is physical punishment, could you please point it out?

      There is a lot of ‘physical activity’ though, playing, chasing, tugging etc.


  • 6. Neil Sattin  |  March 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Hi Lili,

    Thank you for the links, and the interesting comparison between Natural Dog Training and Susan Garrett’s approach.

    From the sound of it, you’ll probably see a lot of progress with Boogie. However, your description of him (pulling away when you touch his collar, running off after he gets food or wins tug, etc.) indicates to me that he still feels a lot of resistance to you when he’s energized. I have a few suggestions to offer to help with that, if you don’t mind.

    1. First, the initial steps of pushing (to which you linked in your article) are meant to help your dog soften to your touch as you increase his drive. I can never emphasize enough that it’s helpful to be gradual in this approach, and to look for even more subtle distinctions in what you do with your dog.

    For instance – even if you want to use Susan Garrett’s “grab the collar” – what can you do BEFORE grabbing the collar that helps you get to that step? In pushing, after simply getting your dog to take food from your hand, the next step is to get your dog to come across your other hand (which stays open/neutral, and simply makes contact with neck/chest) in order to get the food from your food hand. That’s a step that is “in between” feeding and collar grabbing. The next step would be to massage with that open hand while your dog is trying to get the food. Etc.

    If Boogie pulls away, that’s a sign of having gone too far too fast. See if you can dial it back a notch.

    2. With tug, along with letting your dog win, it’s important to use two toys. This way you can always have control over “the game” – and it becomes much more about Boogie’s interactions with you (and the cycles of tension/release with the toy) than about “the toy”. You let him win one toy and prance around proudly – then produce the second toy and tease him with that to get him re-engaged in the game. He’ll drop toy #1, go for toy #2 (which he’ll eventually “win”) – at which point you pick up toy #1. And so on.

    3. Play/work/train outside. Indoors should be time for calm. If you have any indoor interaction at all, make it relaxing massage (for him, although massage for you is always a good idea too).

    4. Incorporate massage/relaxation breaks into your outdoor routine. So you’re not just working on getting the engine revving, revving, revving – you’re also helping Boogie develop emotional flexibility by getting him to relax outside. The overall point is to increase his ability to handle emotional stimulation without getting stressed – and to feel safe releasing energy/stress with you. If you can bring the energy up-up, then way down, then up-up again, then down again, etc. – you are helping him stretch out his emotional muscles.

    5. If you’re not already doing this, use a REALLY long leash when you’re working with Boogie. Helps you focus on the interaction, with plenty of time to respond/collect him if he decides to take off. I use a 50′ leash – probably in 3/4″ nylon for a dog of Boogie’s size.

    6. Finally, for some thoughts on how all this tug/pushing works when it comes to rechanneling Boogie’s prey drive around the things that trigger it (like squirrels), check out this article. Once Boogie learns that you’re actually providing him with a safe/fulfilling way to release energy, you’ll be able to show him that you’re also the way to resolve “squirrel energy” or “cat energy” – or whatever energy.

    But just remember to build the foundation first.

    Anywho – I hope all of those thoughts help, and I look forward to hearing how it goes. Thanks again for bringing my site into the discussion.

    All my best,

    • 7. lili  |  March 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Neil!

      I think my (usual) big mistake is that I move too far ahead too fast. I grabbed Boogie’s collar too soon and he became suspicious of me.

      It’s HARD being ‘gradual’ when trying to increase drive at the same time! For ME, that is!

      Re: training outdoors –
      My dilemma is that I don’t have access to an outdoor space for training. I live in an apartment building in a busy neighborhood and the communal yard has no fence. I cannot let Boogie off-leash or on a long enough leash where problems might occur. He is reactive towards strange dogs and people so a public park is also tricky and I still wouldn’t let him off-leash. Unfortunately, I have no choice but to train indoors.

  • 8. barrielynn  |  March 30, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    What Grisha said 😉 I would stick with Susan Garrett all the way since her methods are actually founded in science! Plus, wait until you get to the Push Back and Jam game in the recallers’ course!! I’m taking it for the second time and the new site makes it way better than round one so enjoy, it is worth every penny 🙂

    • 9. lili  |  March 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm

      Hi Barrie,

      YAY! Someone that I know!
      Well, things are not going as planned. (I posted this on the Collar-Grab page)

      I was playing tug with Boogie, having him chase me, got him all excited. Touched his collar and gave him a treat. I did this 3 times. In between each collar-touch and treat, I tugged with him or had him chase me. I could see him getting very excited. On the 4th time I grabbed his collar and he LEANED BACK from me. (oops. Too fast too soon).

      5th time I called him, I stuck my hand out to touch his collar, he escaped and ran PAST ME then went into a play bow and did the zoomies. !!!!

      After that, when I called him, he went to lay down in his bed instead, ears flat against his head. How quickly I’ve messed up!

      • 10. barrielynn  |  March 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm

        There is no calling of the dog’s name in the Collar Grab game 😦 Unfortunately you backchained something Boogie finds unpleasant with your recall word by grabbing his collar BUT if you play the Call Once Game a bunch that will erase that mistake 🙂

        With a dog as sensitive as Boogie, I would actually NOT initially grab the collar, I would want probably 20 reps over a couple of days of just touching the collar then I would work up to slipping my hand under the collar to rub the dog’s neck if he finds that pleasant.

        The malinois I rescued started with that and now he’ll come at me full speed and shove his neck into my open hand so my hand automatically goes under the collar then I shirt my hand and ta da I am holding his collar 🙂

        Susan is all about on and off switches so the issue of the dog being excited in the house becomes irrelevant and I would definitely work a solid out with Boogie on tugging. Greta Kaplan has some good information in the Clicker Solutions yahoo group files.

        You should also read Susan’s articles on Tug and The Perfect Recall Account on her Say Yes site:
        because it will tell you that when Boogie had the zoomies like that you were weakening your recall by using it at that moment when it was unlikely he would respond to the cue.

        It is a LOT to digest but hang in there, the course is completely awesome 🙂

  • 11. lili  |  March 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Barrie – thanks for explaining this to me, and also for the links to Susan’s articles (aarrgh, yes m- So much to read!!!)

    Honestly, it is hard for me….When I touch Boogie’s collar I really want to use a clicker or say “Yes” (which would make things easier & have Boogie feel like we are “playing a game” vs enduring a weird experiment) but I know the verbal marker isn’t part of the game…. yes it’s also hard because he is soooo sensitive… and mom isn’t always patient.

    • 12. barrielynn  |  March 30, 2011 at 11:13 pm

      You might make that comment to Susan or Lynda and maybe they will pop up with some extraordinary way to transfer that fun vibe from the clicker straight to you. I know that is one of the reasons Susan doesn’t use a clicker very much when she is shaping.

      It definitely sounds like you need A++ treats for the Collar Grab game. That is where I would use something crazy like a spoonful of vanilla ice cream to CC Boogie to having his collar fooled with and also has Susan commented on using a harness rather than a flat collar with the CG game? It may not matter but I can definitely see where it could make quite a difference to some dogs.

  • 13. barrielynn  |  March 31, 2011 at 12:14 am

    OMG I almost suggested you simply use a leash dragging but just was not confident enough to do so but I just read the Recallers FAQ and had to zoom back to your blog to post this:

    How do you do a collar grab on a short dog when you can’t bend over?
    This is not an uncommon problem, particularly if you have an 8 week old puppy (especially if it was a toy
    breed!). When DeCaff was a wee puppy she was terrified of me looming over her, or even stepping towards
    her with her my arm outreached. I simply kept her on leash at first and then when I took a step towards her
    rather than grabbing the collar I grabbed for the middle of the leash then feed her with the other hand.
    Start by doing this with your dog on your bed. Keep the game confined to your bed or a tall pause table until
    the dog becomes more comfortable with it and becomes a more willing partner.


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