Posts filed under ‘Training’
I haven’t posted on this blog in way too long. The short answer is that I have been too busy and I haven’t had anything interesting enough to spend hours writing about when it is much easier to share photos and simple one or two line Boogie updates on instagram, twitter, facebook…
Reading this article today by one of my favorite dog training bloggers made me look back in time, and look at my life with Boogie today.
You won’t know what your dog can achieve until you try. Listen to him, stay within his limits, and do not put him in situations where he struggles. Learn to read him, and work closely with a professional. Put his best interests first. Stop making excuses. If you find yourself apologizing for poor behavior using your dog’s story as an excuse, stop! Look to the dog you have in front of you right now. Read the page in front of you at this moment, not ancient history that happened weeks, months, or years ago.
I am almost tempted to title this blog post “My dog is no longer dog-reactive” but this is not entirely true.
The truth is that:
Boogie no longer reacts to dogs at a closer proximity on the street. I don’t know when I noticed the change… it has been months? Years? I really don’t know. This ‘new Boogie’ became more obvious to me recently when I noticed that OTHER dogs were reacting to Boogie and Boogie was not reacting back. I mean other dogs barking, lunging, snapping, pulling at the leash towards Boogie. And Boogie looks at them, looks at me, and moves away. It’s like a miracle. If somebody was yelling at me to F- OFF!!! on the street, it would be very hard for me to be as calm as Boogie. (I still don’t let other dogs greet him, and I only very occasionally let strange people pet him… depending on how Boogie is feeling).
What seems to happen these days:
Boogie sees a dog, turns away, continues walking. OR he sees a dog (usually bigger shepherdy type of dog), stops, looks at me ; OR he sees a dog stops, looks for a bit longer, turns around and walks the opposite direction/sniffs the ground; OR he doesn’t even appear to see the dog at all because he is focused on his destination and more interested in scavenging and foraging. The point is that he is no longer showing the signs of distress that he used to. If he shows signs of being triggered, it is less intense. He turns around to look at me, and then he bounces back. We move along.
I still bring treats on walks and I still give Boogie treats – though less frequently now, depending on his body language -when we see a strange dog/person approaching, or when we walk through triggering locations (- is there a term for this? I mean specific sections of streets where Boogie has had a history of negative associations and is more likely to freeze when he sees a person/dog… I think if he saw the same person/dog on a different street he would not care. Some triggers are definitely tied to place). If Boogie’s body language is relaxed, I let him stop and look at triggers to engage and disengage on his own and I let him choose where he wants to go.
Boogie is also 80% deaf now. He doesn’t hear many sounds except very loud or high pitched ones; he doesn’t hear other dogs barking at him, or strangers walking next to/behind us so I think he is generally less triggered by stuff. He is using his nose more. He has become obsessed with foraging. The down side is that he eats a lot of crap off the side walks and I haven’t properly taught a “leave it” or “drop it”😦 Of course, he also doesn’t hear me call his name anymore, so I gotta do something about that.
I was cleaning out my car the other day and I found some handouts from the first dog trainer I ever met/hired, from over 5 years ago. (Yes, I know – I should clean out my car more often)
This was a really uncomfortable and sad reminder of what I used to do to Boogie and how I used to make him cry because this was part of the training program I had paid for. Quote the trainer: “It doesn’t hurt. He is being a drama queen. Correct him again/harder.”
It saddens me that THIS sort of information is still being disseminated to lord knows how many millions of people around the world even in this day and age, and to think that there are so many people who continue to choke, shock, pinch, alpha-roll their dog because they have been taught that this is how it is meant to be. Or maybe like me all those years ago, they don’t have access to any other information or don’t hang around any other dog-owner friends who DON’T use corrections or the ‘pack leader’ spiel… or maybe also like me, they already paid a huge chunk of money to receive advice that tells them to dominate their dog and “show him who is boss”, so they stick with what they paid for. And besides, the advice sounds ‘right’ because it’s the stuff that’s really popular on TV…
Seriously, how can people learn about humane training methods and CHANGE, when there is so little popular mainstream support for doing so?
Anyway, my crossover experience in a nutshell or what made me change training methods:
- When Boogie was on that obedience training program years ago, he became shut down, more scared around people, more tense, and more prone to aggression (lunging and biting). He got worse.
- I wrote in to a Dogster.com behavior advice column with the question: “I don’t understand how this prong collar obedience program is going to help socialize Boogie to other dogs and people.” and the trainer who responded – Grisha Stewart – said: “Throw away the prong collar and look into CAT and BAT” Until then I had no idea that there were other methods that do not require corrections. A seed had been planted though by that piece of advice, and I started reading books NOT written by Cesar Millan.
- Karen Pryor’s “Reaching The Animal Mind” blew my mind and opened up a new world for me. It was a revelation that animals could learn via hands-off training methods that do not require the use of pain or intimidation or by humans having to be bossy/dominant. I went out, bought a clicker and started practicing hand targeting with Boogie.
- Seeing the change in Boogie was the biggest motivator and reinforcer of all for ME to change and learn new ways of interacting with him. I had never seen Boogie so happy and so excited and so responsive. He was perky, relaxed, full of life and it was SUCH A RELIEF that I could BE MYSELF again. I didn’t have to feel bad about “not being dominant enough”, or “too weak” or “too nice” or about not giving commands in a deep enough voice, or even worry about “my energy” (which according to a few neighbors, was the reason for Boogie’s behavioral issues) Friends noted that Boogie had become more relaxed and I was less stressed.
- I gave up on the old training program (the trainer was not keen on the idea of teaching me to use a ‘clicker’, and I didn’t get my money back either). I started visiting dog training forums and found Sarah on the Functional Rewards yahoo group…. etc. etc.
- I want to add also that as I learned about dog body language and calming signals, I could look back on the video footage I took of myself using a prong collar on Boogie and for the first time in my life I understood what all those head turns, lip licks, and yawns meant. I could see the stress that Boogie was experiencing caused by me and I couldn’t un-see what I had learned to see.
It is so great to see more articles and blog posts about crossing over… and how to talk about crossing over. This is still hard for me… I get emotional when I think about the past (the things I did to Boogie) and also when I learn that people I know are fans of aversive training methods or are praising Alpha-wannabe trainers, and I don’t know how to say what I want to say… without feeling like I am going to have a reactive episode. So for now, I say nothing. I do drawings and link to articles like these…
Rise Van Fleet: A Psychologist’s View of Crossover Training
Eric Brad: The Crossover Files
Ines Gaschot: The Crossover Trainer
I want to share some photos and observations from the two BAT set-ups that Boogie and I did last month.
**Please note that when we did these set-ups I had not read all the new BAT 2.0 instructions. The new BAT handouts weren’t available yet.**
Location: A park in Torrance.
Student Dog 1: BOOGIE with me
Student Dog 2: BENTLEY with Kristin Burke
Naturally occurring reinforcers: Lots of grass, trash cans, a fence to sniff/pee on + information from the other dogs/people in the park.
Natural triggers/aversives: Really hot midday sun, one reactive dog in the distance, open field with flat horizon so any people/dogs in the distance were more obvious (Sudden environmental changes)
Food reinforcer: Ham
Bentley is Kristin Burke‘s cattledog. We started at the distance shown in the photo below, and ended with both dogs about 20-30 feet from each other, with a fence in between.
SET UP #2
Location: Elysian Park.
Student dog: BOOGIE with me and Megan McGrath
Helper dog: MURRAY with Chelsea
Naturally occurring reinforcers: Grass, trees, bushes, trashcans, picnic tables, squirrels, lots of smells, giant space + information from other people/dogs
Natural triggers/aversives: Joggers, loose dogs in the distance
Food reinforcer: Turkey
Murray is Megan McGrath‘s very mellow black lab. Chelsea handled Murray while Megan walked behind me to observe and offer guidance whenever I needed it. Boogie and I moved all around the park, sort of circling closer towards Murray, with breaks. We also did some parallel walking with a fence between the two dogs and eventually, the two dogs met.
These two occasions were cool because we had the luxury of large spaces to work in that were quite peaceful, and Boogie was able to move around all over the place, in any direction, and take breaks whenever we needed to. I felt like I was finally doing BAT in the right sort of environment. There was a very low risk of off-leash or reactive dogs suddenly appearing. Not like my busy neighborhood street where I am constantly in ninja mode.
The updated version of BAT by Grisha Stewart is intended to be much more organic (ie, not moving back and forth in straight lines). The emphasis is now not so much on marking and rewarding specific behaviors like cut-off signals, and more on letting the dog navigate the environment.
“BAT 2.0 wasn’t developed because something was wrong with BAT 1.0, but because I was concerned about how people interpreted what I said. For example, people tended to go too close to the trigger (and walk right at it in order to get a cut-off signal. We can work at a much more subtle level and that’s what BAT 2.0 is.” – Grisha on Facebook
As I understand it, our role is to help the dog navigate on his own as much as possible… being as minimally intrusive as possible, but letting him walk in any direction he wants to except directly at the trigger. Grisha uses the lifeguard analogy: Imagine that our dog is exploring on a beach and we (the human) are the “lifeguard” making sure our dog stays on the shore doesn’t move into the water.
The handler’s role is to rescue the dog when he’s in trouble. It would be annoying to have the lifeguard continually bugged you while you were just fine. Working at the right distance in an interesting environment means that the dog is able to do something for a bit and then choose to look up and engage with the other dog for a bit, then move on. The decoy is also just doing the same thing. So when they look at each other, there is a conversation going on. There is a chance for the dog to say, “wow, that guy isn’t so bad, after all.” – Grisha on Facebook
Our job is to give the dog plenty of space to explore and process what he is looking at, to encourage him to move in arcs and zigzags instead of directly approaching the trigger dog. We work on our leash-handling skills and make use of the environment & reward-based games as much as possible eg, letting Boogie sniff and explore trees, bushes, trash cans, etc. and throwing treats on the ground “Find it!”
These BAT set-ups felt more like ‘walks in the park’ than formalized training sessions. Exploring, sniffing, eating, …. this is all stuff that Boogie would naturally want to do anyway.
In Elysian Park, twice Boogie jumped up onto a picnic table and sat there to check out the scene. (Boogie likes jumping up on things) He could see Murray and he could see other dogs/joggers/woodland creatures far away. Best view of the park ever. After a while it seemed like he wasn’t going to move so I called him off with treats.
I notice that at some point during the walk-in-the-park, Boogie’s curiosity or disinterest turned into frustration. It was as if he got “partially sucked into a vortex” (Megan’s words) and he started whining, looking at me, and pulling forwards towards the trigger, like he really really really had to meet the other dog. This happened during both BAT set-ups with both Bentley and Murray. It wasn’t that he was seeing them for the first time, it was more like he had suddenly become magnetized and turned into a “frustrated greeter”.
I had trouble with the “slow stop” or “rebalancing” because Boogie was pulling so hard. I get eye contact from Boogie while he is pulling so it’s not like he is blowing me off… it feels more like he is desperately pleading with me and I think I may have reinforced this behavior many times because I get suckered in by that look on his face. Megan’s suggestion was that I move backwards, further away from the trigger OR move in an arc/diagonal direction/sideways towards the trigger. (Grisha: “Any direction, except straight towards the trigger”) Food on the ground helped take his mind off the trigger. The variety of trees, posts, trash cans and bushes for sniffing and peeing on helped too.
And then when we were out of the frustration vortex, Boogie was able again to move in different directions and focus on different things. We moved closer to the trigger from the side.
2. “treat, please” (possibly over-threshold)
As we got closer to the trigger dog, Boogie switched to “Look At That”/counter conditioning mode. (Megan: “He is now in working mode”) He would look at the dog and then look at me. Treat. Look at dog, look at me, treat. I got A LOT of eye contact from him as we moved in closer to Murray. Then he just ignored Murray the entire time and stared at me. This is the 10-30 feet zone, which is pretty much the distance we are forced to work with, everyday on the streets of my busy neighborhood. The appearance or presence of any dog or person at this distance has been a cue for Boogie to turn around and look at me – Yes! and treat – this game is a normal part of our daily walking ritual. (See illustration in previous blog post ) I know that according to the BAT set-up guide, I am not supposed to use food if there are naturally occuring reinforcers (ie, environmental reinforcers) but I found it hard NOT to give Boogie a treat when he was so super focused on me.
There was also the possibility of an Elephant In The Room type situation. How to reinforce more naturalistic movement? When Boogie has his attention set on receiving food, he doesn’t want to move. One solution was throwing food on the ground to encourage him to move further away from the trigger and for me to pay closer attention to subtler signs of stress and stopped Boogie further away from the “shore line”. I think we might have gone too close a little too soon.
According to the BAT 2.0 Survival Skills handout this is the Mark And Move protocol…. which was sort of what I was doing.
3. The environment is a big deal
To Boogie, Elysian Park was way more interesting than the park in Torrance. There were so many nooks and crannies and trees and stuff. Lots of naturally-occurring reinforcers. There may even have been squirrels. The park in Torrance was an open soccer field, and we were moving around under the hot midday sun so Boogie spent lots of time lying down in the shade of a trashcan. He didn’t feel like moving much. When he disengaged from looking at Bentley, he turned only his head to look at me… still lying there. I think the cool grass was relief from the heat. I waited for him to be ready to get up and move around and used food lures but he was less interested in food and seemed more interested in leaving the park. I don’t think this wanting to leave was about the trigger dog. I think it was the heat that was stressful. (Grisha: “This would have been a good time to end the session”)
4. The Close-Up part
I know that my own stress and uncertainty affects what happens in the final zone (about 5 feet distance). I always feel unsure what is going to happen with Boogie because he has a history of stiffening up as soon as he sniffs another dog. Everything that has happened prior to the final zone could have gone wonderfully (with Boogie remaining under threshold) but I, the human, have been classically-conditioned to expect the worst and so I unconsciously hold my breath and/or grip tight on that leash handle and forget that I have meaty treats in my pocket to call him away with. This is the part of BAT I can’t do on my own… I need a professional dog trainer with me to do commentary on what is happening and to remind me to relax…
So now there is a new BAT 2.0 Flowchart which is very helpful! (It’s locked into my brain now because I illustrated it)
From what I can see, the key moments to consider are… When Boogie sees the trigger…
1. Does he look relaxed like he is getting info? If Yes, then I wait. If No, then I call him away ASAP. (aka Mark and Move)
2. How does he disengage? If it’s easy, DO NOTHING. (Doing NOTHING is not easy when you are used to always doing something!) Follow him. If it’s hard and he seems stuck, wait for disengagement and move further away.
*After these experiences, MORE BAT information has become available with some useful tips and illustrations (by me!)
Here are the links:
What is BAT 2.0 – new!
BAT Los Angeles Facebook Group (invite only)
Intro to BAT for Reactivity – 2 hr webinar Feb 12th. 2014! I will be on the road listening in on my phone!