Posts filed under ‘Books & DVDs’

Catching up. Notes about Behavior/Training.

It has been a crazy month – major computer issues, health issues, catching up on a huge backlog of work – and poor Boogie’s Blog has been neglected. I don’t have time to go into too many details, so this blog post is a quick summary of stuff that I have found interesting.

1. Two great books!  

First of all, I am plugging Grisha Stewart’s  Ahimsa Dog Training Manual  – I am doing new illustrations for the next edition! 🙂

Paul Chance’s First Course in Applied Behavior Analysis   is about modifying behavior in people, not dogs, but the philosophical premise and methods are the same as what are used in modern dog training methods, and I enjoyed learning about the same concepts in “human contexts”. Some quotes:

ABA is concerned with using environmental events to change behavior in desirable ways.

Much of the time, a behavior problem means either that a behavior occurs too often or that it does not occur often enough. The task of the parent, teacher, manager or therapist is to increase or decrease the frequency of the behavior.The chief difference between the people who live inside mental hospitals and those who live outside of them is not that we never behave as they do but that we behave as they do less often than they do.

One of the great things about ABA is that is focuses on what people can do rather than on a label or on some mysterious, unseen psychological disorder.

Please note that reinforcement strengthens BEHAVIOR, not PEOPLE. Everyone slips up now and then and speaks of reinforcing a person, as in, “John was studying very hard so I reinforced him”. You don’t increase the strength of people with reinforcement; you increase the strength of their behavior.

Some people think that people with Ph.D’s go around thinking up new terms for everyday words just so what they say will sound more sophisticated. There may be some truth to that, but the word reinforcer is not just a synonym for reward. Here’s the essential difference: Rewards are defined by consensus; reinforcers are defined by results. If an event strengthens or maintains the behavior it follows, it’s a reinforcer; if it doesn’t it isn’t a reinforcer. There is no other defining characteristic of a reinforcer.

This is an important point; one students often miss. People often get the impression that a behaviorist is someone who carries a bag of reinforcers about and whenever behavior needs strengthening, he reaches into the bag and hands out reinforcers. The essence of behavior analysis is not handing out reinforcers but analyzing the effects of antecedents and consequences on behavior. That includes identifying consequences that are reinforcing.


2. The DogRead Yahoo Group

I am subscribed to the DogRead group  by email. Every month a new book/author is featured readers can interact directly with authors, ask questions etc.  This week, the amazing Kathy Sdao is on DogRead. Kathy Sdao used to train dolphins for the Navy, and I almost included this example in my poster. I love Kathy Sdao’s response to this reader question:“is it always possible to use only positive, gentle reinforcing training methods with dogs?”

My experience has taught me that we tend to presume a false correlation between reliable behavior & the use of aversives. IOW, it seems to make intuitive sense that if the animal “must” do something really important (e.g., locate a bomb, track down a criminal, guide a blind person), we have to use some sort of force to teach the animal he doesn’t have a choice.

Yet, I believe we revert to coercion and force when our skills at implementing structured, clever, careful reinforcement procedures run out. The dolphins I trained for the US Navy reliably located deep-moored mines (as much as 600 feet down), reported the mine’s presence to their trainer on a small boat, then carried a heavy packet of explosives back down to the mine, attached this in a quite specific location on the mooring cable, then swam back to the small boat and leapt onboard for the long ride back to their pier-side pens. This behavior chain was long, cognitively and physically challenging, performed in the presence of huge distractions (including live food-fish swimming all around the work site), and ended with each dolphin choosing to go back to captivity.

It is beyond the scope of this discussion of my book (Plenty in Life is Free) to further discuss details of this training, except for the critical fact that we did not use “corrections.” We obtained accurate reliable real-world performance through the use of careful design of the training environments and tons of R+ over the course of many months of training. Punishment was not part of the program.

When folks say “yeah, but those were dolphins and they’re really smart,” I respond that dogs are every bit as smart. It’s just that their trainers are more often seduced into believing that punishment is necessary to teach “the important stuff.”

My affiliation (as an occasional consultant) with Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) over the past few years has allowed me to see how amazingly effective positive-reinforcement training can be when done by skilled and creative trainers. Their implementation of clicker-training over the past ~five years has been amazing to watch. Their results have been so impressive that guide-dog organizations all over the world are seeking GDB’s advice on how to modify their own programs.

Hanging by my desk is this quote, from one of my all-time favorite books, Dr. Murray Sidman’s Coercion & Its Fallout (2001):

“An overworked and incorrect bit of folk wisdom pronounces the carrot to be of no avail unless backed up by the stick. But the carrot can do the job all by itself.”

… which is the point of  this poster illustration –

[click on pic for more info]


November 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm 4 comments

Bloggers Unite for Pet Rescue & Mall Dogs

Dog Rescue Success
Aargh. I am one day late! Today is July 24th. Via this site:


  • Blog about a Dog Rescue related topic on July 23rd, 2012
  • Add one of the badges below to your blog and help spread the word
  • Donate to a local dog rescue organization
  • Foster a dog
  • Volunteer at a local shelter or rescue organization
  • Share this post across all forms of social media and encourage others to participate!

I could blog about my rescue dog Boogie, but we’ll take a little break from Boogie for now. I want everyone to know about a new documentary film project called MALL DOGS.

The film is by Jessi Badami, whom I met at Clicker Expo last year. We sat next to each other in the Kay Laurence seminar, chatted, exchanged business cards, and kept in touch over the year.

Jessi is amazingly prolific – she writes, she acts, she makes films, she rescues dogs, and she was going to enroll in the Karen Pryor Academy this year but changed her mind and decided to concentrate all her energy instead on making this documentary about Lucky Paws, a very unique and successful pet shelter in Albuquerque, NM, that is located inside a mall.

You can read more about this film on: the website  and on the film’s Kickstarter page.

Watch this video:


In short, MALL DOGS is an uplifting rescue story and I can’t wait to work on it. I will be creating illustrations and animations.

However, the Mall Dogs project can not happen if it doesn’t receive full Kickstarter funding in 30 days! Please donate. You can pledge any amount from as little as one dollar. Higher donations come with bigger and better premiums! Then, please share this blog post, tweet it, facebook it, pin it, do your social media thing.

“Mall Dogs” – Visit the Kickstarter page

Coming soon to Boogie’s blog:

  • My experience of Nicole Wilde’s seminar on “Separation Anxiety” & “Dog-Dog Play”
  • A review of the new “Tough Love” film

July 24, 2012 at 10:06 pm 3 comments

Pattern Games DVD

Leslie McDevitt’s PATTERN GAMES DVD was my birthday present from our trainer Sarah. I finally got chance to watch it last night, taking notes as I went along.

I broke down each game into “Click Points” and “Tag Points” on my notepad..

I already had a copy of Leslie McDevitt’s book Control Unleashed®: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog but I hadn’t read past Chapter 2. The only CU game that I was already familiar with is Look At That (LAT), similar to BAT Stage 1. In LAT, the dog is rewarded for looking at a trigger + reorienting to the handler over many repetitions.

On the Pattern Games DVD, there are 6 games – explained with live demo footage – and they look unbelievably simple. According to Leslie McDevitt, any dog who is comfortable on leash can play these games. No other prerequisite training required. From what I can see, the Pattern Games are about maintaining a fast and consistent rhythm in clicker training, and it is this rhythm that gives the dog a sense of safety (and something to focus on!), and keeps both human and dog strongly connected even when there are distractions present.

A few days ago, Sarah, Boogie and I went for a big long walk around our neighborhood and Sarah demonstrated Pattern Game #2 – Take three steps forward, click and drop a treat behind your feet. 1,2,3, Treat…. 1,2,3, Treat… 1,2,3, Treat… repeat. This particular game has nothing to do with what the dog is doing, and is primarily for the dog handler to practice getting into a rhythm which is harder than it sounds if your eyes, hands and feet are not totally coordinated. I found myself way too consciously counting my steps (1-2-3) then fumbling for the treat, forgetting to click, etc.

On the DVD, there are two live demos per game, and in the second demo,  another person shows up in the training scenario and Leslie McDevitt demonstrates how to incorporate the other person into the game (Look At That) so that what is potentially a trigger or distraction becomes part of an already familiar and fun rule structure for the dog. And this is particularly useful if the dog is likely to freak out around new dogs/people or sudden environmental changes.

Sharing here a short video clip of Boogie at his favorite window. That’s one of his beds right next to it. Remember when I covered all my windows with film? I had to leave one window uncovered because I need to breathe, and this is the window that Boogie continues to stare and bark out of. It’s not a big deal, because I have sort of managed to teach him to look outside and turn back to me. Almost like LAT. Cue: “Boogie, who’s there?”

The world outside is always a very fascinating place….

May 30, 2012 at 7:38 am 4 comments

Classical Conditioning, summer games

It was my birthday last week and Sarah, our trainer gave me this PATTERN GAMES DVD by Leslie McDevitt. Thank you, Sarah! Sarah understands how complicated Boogie is and how much he needs to “feel in control”.

Here’s a YouTube video explaining what the DVD is about, with doggie footage. I look forward to watching this DVD, doing the games with Boogie and of course, I will blog about our experiences!

I think Boogie’s main problem is that not only is he triggered by certain types of people,  he doesn’t do well with Sudden Environmental Changes. I have read that S.E.C is actually quite common. Due to lack of socialization as puppies, dogs can grow up to be easily spooked or startled.

Boogie can be in a room full of unfamiliar people and he will be perfectly fine. But put him on an empty street, and he will go nuts when ONE unfamiliar person appears. Or when we are walking on a busy street, if one person turns around to look at him, that person will get his hackles up. I think having some sort of “rule structure” or “pattern game” to deal with surprises would be good for the Boogs. In some ways, I have already been working on this issue…

I have been doing major classical counter-conditioning with Boogie for the past 3 weeks following an ‘upsetting incident’ on which I would rather not elaborate.  Every time we see a person on the street, no matter how near or far, how big or small, old or young, carrying bags or not carrying bags, walking slow or walking fast, I have been giving Boogie treats. As soon as Boogie registers the presence of the person, I ask for eye-contact, we move to the side and he gets a treat. The closer or larger/scarier the person, the more treats he gets. Sometimes, if Boogie remains under-threshold, we continue walking and I give Boogie a treat right after the person has just passed us. Instinct tells me this is important because Boogie used to lunge at people from behind.

On the morning of Mother’s Day, Boogs and I were walking along on an empty street. About 20 feet in front of us, an old man appeared. Boogie saw the old man, stopped, did a whiplash turn around and looked up at me with a face full of hope. “Where’s my treat?”

This morning, an old man on a bicycle was moving towards us. Usually when I see a bike coming, I get us out of the way fast or Boogie would lunge and bark. Likewise with joggers. Today, I did not see the cyclist coming until he was almost running into us.  The guy said “Sorry! My fault! know I shouldn’t be on the sidewalk”. At my feet, a bright-eyed Boogie face was looking up at me: “Where’s my treat?”

Boogie has not lunged at a single cyclist or jogger in the past 3 weeks. I am still amazed that he either:
1. completely ignores them and continues walking <– treat for being calm
2. moves to the side and sniffs the ground (self-soothing behavior) <– treat for good choice
3. turns around and looks at me for a treat <– treat for connecting with me

Jean Donaldson writes about Classical Counter-Conditioning (re: Austin, who has a problem with of men)

It is behavior “blind”-we  don’t care what Austin [dog] does, all we care about is that once men are on the  scene, good things happen to Austin. It is a powerful conditioning technique  but difficult for people to get their heads around. The behavior-blind part  flies in the face of what is an extremely operant conditioning-oriented training  culture. It’s a piece of cake to fulfill the men=cheese contract when Austin  just looks at the guy, but much harder psychologically to provide the cheese  if Austin goes off at the guy. It feels to the trainer like she is “rewarding” the  behavior. When Pavlovian counter-conditioning is used in conjunction with  desensitization, this issue is mostly avoided because the desensitization part  (by definition) prevents the dog misbehaving (unless you screw up). But in a straight-up counter-conditioning procedure (i.e., one performed without  desensitization), you will often find yourself supplying the fabulous thing  right after the dog is naughty. To do otherwise would be to weaken the connection  between men and goat cheese. There are no effective “schedules” in  classical conditioning, just extinction trials, which are bad for the cause. The  closer you can approximate a 1:1 ratio of men to goat cheese, the stronger the  conditioning.

In a sense, we are going back to BAT Stage 1 (or Look At That) with human triggers but sometimes I deliver the treat even before we walk away because I want to strongly associate the sudden appearance of people with good things. In life, surprises happen all the time… I want to help Boogie not be so easily spooked. Sometimes, there is also no room or time to move away.

Here’s another activity for the Summer. I recently got a copy of Secret Stairs: Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. Yep, Boogie and I will be staircase-hunting on long hikes around the neighborhood!

Boogie has a thing about climbing stairs and is definitely way more fit than I am .

Here’s a very old video clip of Boogie on Radio Walk in Franklin Hills. (I know I am biased but how cute is that butt!)

May 23, 2012 at 7:40 am 4 comments

From Suzanne Clothier’s book…

I just finished reading Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships with Dogs  by Suzanne Clothier. 

Well, truth be told, I skipped over several chapters and sections in this book (that I found too repetitive or too sad) and read only the parts that had Suzanne Clothier interacting with her dogs or dealing with the problem behaviors of  her clients’ dogs. These chapters were wonderfully enlightening, and I loved the way Suzanne Clothier retells scenarios from the dog’s perspective with such amazingly heartwrenching detail. It is also so refreshing to read a book about “human-dog communication”  that isn’t full of scientific/training jargon.

Sharing a few clippings from my Kindle copy:

“Training is a mechanical skill.” The problem arises when we mistake the skill of training for the relationship itself.

A good deal of dog training is rather Procrustean. Procrustes was a mythological fellow who had a special bed that he guaranteed would fit all who tried it. And amazingly, it did—because he would stretch anyone too short for the bed and cut off any parts that were too long and hung over the bed. Perfect fit, every time! And we do this to dogs, stretching them unnaturally to suit our training demands and lopping off the parts we don’t like or the parts that don’t neatly fit within our paradigm.

It’s okay to guess what your dog is trying to communicate as long as you’re willing to accept that you might be wrong, correct your misunderstanding and try again. It is not okay to guess what an animal is thinking or feeling if you are unwilling to accept nothing less than absolute compliance with your wishes.

…every interaction with a dog is one that the dog takes seriously. He has no other way of interpreting his world. The dog’s world does not contain careless interactions. In every interaction with another dog or person, a dog says what he means.

All of the simplistic never advice contains the implied but unspoken phrase of dire warning “or your dog will become alpha.” This is as silly as saying if you let children run and play, you will never have control over them. The truth is that if you don’t have control over the children in the first place, then when they do run and play and get terribly excited, you won’t be able to control them in that situation. If you can’t tell your dog to get off the furniture or out of your bed, it’s not because a comfortable couch has eroded the dog’s respect for you. Particular actions in and of themselves are not usually the problem when it comes to leadership issues. The lack of respect we have earned from our dogs is the problem.

The dog does not need to be “deranked” so much as the people need to learn to act like people worth listening to.

…the loophole in the canine possession law—if you voluntarily turn your attention away from an object and another dog swoops in and takes it, that’s fair. 

We want to believe in the Lassie myth, to focus only on the dog’s gentle, forgiving, loving nature. Of all the rocks on which we may stub our emotional toes, this is a big one. We do not want to think that the dog lying at our feet is a predator and a powerful one at that. It may be that we’d prefer that the people and animals we love most dearly have no dark, ugly side; we idealize them with this simple “Oh, he’d never do that!” or “She’s just not that kind of person.” In any relationship, such sanitized, idealized views of another being does not lead to deeper understanding or a more intense connection but to the inevitable disappointment that occurs when we are unable to embrace both the potential for both light and the dark contained in all of us. This is not to say that all dogs will sooner or later act in aggressive ways, no more than all humans will eventually harm another person. The dark potential that lurks within each of us needs to be recognized, and our relationships shaped to encourage the joyful lightness of being, not trigger the ugly possibilities.

In the United States, roughly two thousand children die every year at the hands of their own parents, but less than a dozen are killed by dogs. And yet people don’t look at children and whisper, “Be careful. Parents can turn on you.”

If I am mature enough to understand that not all behavior directed at me is about me, I am then in an even better place to carefully search for the real message behind the behavior.

My experience is that very often, an animal needs an acknowledgment of the motivation behind his resistance more than he needs us to simply withdraw our request. Though it sounds terribly simple, I am endlessly amazed by what happens when I assure an animal that I do understand why he finds something unpleasant or scary, and I believe that like all people I know, animals also need to be heard.

March 23, 2012 at 8:17 am 3 comments

Boogie Says PLEASE…

[Look, it comes with a BAT book bookmark!]

A couple of nights ago, I read Kathy Sdao’s new book : Plenty In Life Is Free (I saw Kathy Sdao speak at last year’s Clicker Expo and she was an amazing, feisty and inspiring speaker.) It is partly a memoir, but mostly a critical look at the  NILIF “Nothing In Life Is Free” sacred cow of dog training, also known as “Learn To Earn” or  “Say Please”.

NILIF is something that almost all dog owners already know about. It is sort of a “relationship philosophy” for humans and dogs that is often said to prevent and/or fix behavioral issues. With NILIF, the dog has to earn his food, attention, permission to get on the couch, anything… by first performing a specified polite behavior, usually sitting. Coincidentally, I recently finished doing some illustrations for Sophia Yin’s “Learn To Earn” program so the NILIF regimen is still fresh in my mind even though, thankfully Boogie is already mostly a calm, polite and patient dog so I don’t feel any need to micromanage his behaviors.

According to Kathy Sdao,  NILIF puts a lot of emphasis on withholding attention/love/food (aka Negative Punishment) and making the dog earn these things. Even though she herself has advocated this philosophy for years,  she now questions if NILIF is in fact a not so benign, “passive-aggressive” way of communicating that doesn’t foster trust and intimacy in any relationship. In some extreme (and unethical) examples  of NILIF  in action,  trainers even starve their animals in order to get more compliance out of them during training.

NILIF also often contradicts some behavior modification protocols. One problem that I can really relate to is when Boogie sees a trigger on the street that he might lunge or growl at. I have learned through many experiences that the WORST thing I can do is to ask him to “Sit” (regardless of whether I give him a treat or not). The sitting only makes Boogie more intensely magnetized to the trigger and there is a higher chance of reactivity or aggression. As I have learned through BAT, the best thing I can do for Boogie is to reinforce voluntary polite signals with MOVEMENT.

There is one page in the book that I found really fascinating and interesting… it’s about Chained behaviors , and also related to asking a dog to SIT for what he wants. I think Sarah has mentioned this before. When Boogie jumps up and I ask him to SIT, then reward him for sitting, I am accidentally reinforcing both behaviors –  “JUMP UP +  SIT”.

My brain went off on a tangent and I started thinking about how Boogie often  sits and stares at me whenever he wants something.  He never barks at me, he never pounces on me. He just sits quietly and waits, and he can do this for a very long time. To most people this might be the sign of a well-behaved dog, but I’ll admit that it sometimes drives me nuts. Yes, Boogie, you are very polite by sitting and saying Please, but WHAT THE HECK DO YOU WANT???

I also don’t always notice him sitting there because he is so quiet.

And then there have been times when I wake up in the middle of the night to see Boogie sitting at the foot of my bed, staring at me, hypnotizing me to wake up because he needs to go outside and eat grass, do a poo, or whatever. I feel so bad because I don’t know how long he has been sitting there quietly and desperately waiting. Any other  dog would probably bark and paw me awake. What if I had taken a benadryl and slept like a log?

Afer four years, even though I have learned to read most of Boogie’s sits (eg, when he needs to go outside, he sits with front legs  held really close together and his ears go back) a lot of the time I am still presented with a multiple choice quiz.  I have to look at the clock or get up from my chair to find out if Boogie will lead me to the kitchen, couch, front door, or bedroom.

Disclaimer:  These drawings are exaggerations.

In the book, Kathy Sdao advocates a protocol of “fifty rewards a day” and also SMART, acronym for SEE, MARK and REWARD TRAINING. In place of  NILIF, we could be devloping better training skills, the main ones being:

1. Seeing/Noticing when our dog voluntarily does good behaviors
2. Marking/Pointing out to the dog when he does these good behaviors (click or “yes”)
3. Rewarding the dog so that we increase the strength and frequency of these good behaviors.

“Seeing, Marking and Rewarding voluntary behaviors violates versions of NILIF that require trainers to ask their dog to respond to a command (or to a trainer-produced cue) before the dog recieves any rewards. SMART frees us to reward dogs anytime they aren’t worrying or annoying us. The more we do this, the more our dogs will behave in ways that please us and the less risk we’ll have of accidentally reinforcing them for pushiness.”

March 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm 10 comments

Doggie Language, and a very funny book

Have I posted this before?

I have drawn several “dog body language” illustrations, but my Boogie Doggie Language version is the largest one, and available for FREE download!  This has also been translated to Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Thai, … more languages coming soon.

***EDIT TO ADD:  – reading body language in context!

Recently I started reading How To Raise A Jewish Dog.

This is not a dog training book, it’s supposed to be filed in the HUMOR category and OMG, it’s hilarious.

Amazon Link

This book is a parody of the Monks of New Skete book (haven’t read, no interest in reading) and the authors say you don’t have to be Jewish or want to be Jewish to follow this program, which is not about training or rewards or punishments, but about “solving problems together”.  Techniques include Praising Dog to Other People, Guilting (in private), Situational Matyrdom, Pampering, and Use of Subtext. Ha.

Pages for your amusement:

“Enlightened Acceptance” happens too frequently in this household 🙂

January 16, 2012 at 7:49 pm 8 comments

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