Posts filed under ‘BAT sessions’

And Boogie’s ears go back!

Today was our second session with  Irith as decoy – walking up to my porch, looking at and talking to Boogie.

To recap, when Boogie is triggered and over-threshold, he stiffens and stares intensely. He becomes fixated on the person/dog and it takes him a while to loosen up and acknowledge my existence. We had some problems with the last session (2 weeks ago) because we raised the criteria too soon and Irith was too confrontational. Boogie also often got stuck in “staring” mode and it took him longer to offer any sort of calming signal…

Today, we kept things very easy, and started with some Classical Conditioning by feeding Boogie treats each time that Irith looked at him. (No treats when Irith wasn’t looking at him)

The exercise sort of turned into a Look At That exercise where Boogie would look at Irith then immediately turn back towards me. (“OK, where’s my treat, mom?”)

Sarah and Irith wanted to encourage more calming signals from Boogie in addition to head turns, so we used more of  the BAT protocol.

Boogie knew the game. He has done this many times.

He looked at Irith (stiff, staring, ears up) then turned towards me and waited for the reward. Today however, there was no instant reward.

So he looked at Irith again, and then he looked at me and blinked and blinked like there was no tomorrow. When Boogie looked at Irith, licked his lips and dropped his ears back, I marked YES! and led him away into the apartment (= functional reward) and gave him his treat. Good Boy, Boogie!

It was really cool to see Boogie getting it. He started offering even more lick lips and ears back, prior to checking with me. He was so cute. He understood what he was supposed to do. Sometimes Boogie even pretended that Irith wasn’t there and walked back into the apartment towards me.

Sarah says that if Boogie consciously ignores someone on our walks, I need to reinforce this behavior (by leading him away from them). It is Boogie’s way of saying he doesn’t want any trouble with this person.

After this morning’s session, I took Boogie upstairs to see Wes.

As soon as Boogie saw Wes, he dropped his ears back as he always does with Wes. But instead of running forwards towards Wes, he turned towards ME. I thought that was pretty funny. I gave him a treat, of course.

The challenge: Help Boogie retain what he has learned by getting him away as quickly as possible from idiots and strange dogs so that he doesn’t regress.

Sarah: Start watching his choices. These new behaviors need to work for him in order to get stronger. If you stand there too long and Boogie decides that his nice head turn, lip lick, ears back hasn’t worked, that’s when he might go back to lunging.

P.S. Haven’t we come such a long way since our very first Clicker Training session? (See:  Positive Reinforcement Training 101) I am very proud of Boogie and thank you again, Sarah and Irith!

*** EDIT TO ADD***

Just found an excellent summary of the BAT training technique via #dogtalk on Twitter.

Here is the transcript of the chat:

Grisha Stewart explains BAT very clearly. These are my favorite bits:

BAT uses FUNCTIONAL REWARDS – meaning that they learn what behavior functions/works for them to get what they want. …here’s an analogy: What comforts the driver’s ed instructor in a car with a teenager – the paycheck or the fact that s/he has her own set of brakes?

BAT teaches ways to get what they want in that moment. What they want in the moment is space, not food.

I like BAT because it doesn’t create stillness, it creates a dog that can move about and handle (vs. only avoid) social situations.

I think BAT has a desensitization effect on the humans, actually. They also experience successful approaches to the trigger.

Visual folks – there’s a cartoon of BAT here: <– by Yours Truly. I think this chat has inspired me to create another one!

June 14, 2010 at 8:01 am 1 comment

Boogie training update & links

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!

June 9, 2010 at 5:10 am 10 comments

The “crazy old lady” session (more dog training theatrics!)

Today’s decoy was Irith (also a dog trainer):  dressed up as an old lady with a baggy floral dress, glasses, multiple bags and a shopping cart. She rolled the cart back and forth, acted like a weirdo, and spoke to Boogie in a creepy shrill voice: “Hello little dog! You are so cute!”

A big thank you to Irith for being a part of this BAT training session! (our 5th)

It could not have been easy doing this, and believe me, our street was hustling and bustling this evening with all kinds of people walking by and wondering what the heck we were doing.  One guy stopped to chat about his boston terrier. Another stopped to ask if we were filming!

Interestingly, even though our session was frequently interrupted by passing black-clad hipsters, kids, dogs, old people, delivery people, you-name-it,  Boogie was awesome. Not surprisingly, he alerted to all the triggers  with ears and body upright, staring – even more so than to “crazy Irith”,  but it was impressive to see how quickly he turned his head to look at me and then follow me away, whenever I marked with either “Yes!” or the clicker. We went through the BAT protocol 3-4 times with each person who appeared on my street. Boogie got the drill! He knew what to do.

Sarah wondered if the session was too intense for Boogie  with so many triggers everywhere, but Boogie remained under-threshold the entire time, which made it a wonderful opportunity to practice BAT in a REAL LIFE situation….

In real life, people show up all over the place, unexpectedly, anyway. The key is making sure that there is enough distance between Boogie and the trigger to begin with…Also, I have to remind myself  NOT TO PULL him away, and let him look, then reward him with “distance” for his good behavior. And he was a very good Boogie!

At the end of our session, Boogie was able to walk past Crazy Irith and her shopping cart calmly;  as well as look at her, then DROP HIS EARS and look at me. 🙂

Let’s hope that we can keep this up every other day of the week!

May 9, 2010 at 3:49 am 4 comments

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

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.

May 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm 4 comments

The mailman sessions – Part 1

This weekend we had two training sessions with Sarah where Sarah’s boyfriend, Fred came dressed as a mailman.

Yes, it was pretty funny. Fred was a perfect mailman: He wore the shorts and high socks, stomped loudly, heaved his bag around, jiggled his keys, made a lot of rattling clanging noises on the mailboxes, and even stared at Boogie with his grumpiest face. A big thank you to Fred for being such an awesome decoy!!!! I hope that he receives many functional rewards from Sarah. 😉

We had two lessons this weekend.  2 x 30 minute sessions of  C.A.T. (“Constructional Aggression Treatment“) and then, on the following day-  2 x 30 minute sessions of B.A.T. (“Behavior Adjustment Training”)

The premise is that when a dog growls at a mailman and the mailman turns and walks away, the dog’s aggressive behavior gets reinforced because he believes that he just chased the mailman away by being a badass. And so the dog does it again and again and gets progressively more aggressive each time the mailman comes and goes. The mailman leaving = a reward for the dog.

Most dog trainers believe that the mailman triggers “fear” and so the dog responds by aggressing.  Sarah noted that in Boogie’s case, it may not be “fear”… it could be a “learned behavior”… it’s like a bad habit he got into a long time ago and he does it repeatedly because it works for him.  C.A.T. and B.A.T. are training set-ups that condition the dog to perform replacement “friendly behaviors” (eg, calming signals like head turns, eye blinks, ears back, ground sniffing etc.)to achieve the same reward.

Here is how I understand the difference between C.A.T.  and B.A.T….

C.A.T. –  I stood with Boogie on the porch as Mailman Fred walked up the path towards us, with each trial,  stepping a little closer towards us. And then looking at Boogie, making sounds, etc. We made sure that there was a safe enough distance so that Boogie remained under-threshold. On two occasions, Fred was too close or did too much stuff too soon (Sarah: “criteria raised too quickly”) and Boogie stiffened, stared, then suddenly lunged and growled… so we backtracked and increased the distance again. Whenever Boogie showed a calming signal, Sarah signaled for Fred to walk away while I made sure that Boogie could see Mr. Mailman leaving before praising him. (No treats. The mailman retreating = reward)

I think the best thing about the C.A.T. set-up is that Boogie learns to relax around my porch and apartment surroundings. This is the area that he feels most “territorial” … the same location where he has chased and bitten people in the past.

B.A.T. – Mailman Fred (the trigger) stood still outside my apartment.I led Boogie towards him and stopped at a safe distance and waited for Boogie to offer a friendly signal. At which point I said “Yes!” and led him away from Fred + treat. (You can see an illustration of this process here)

After an hour of B.A.T., as you can see in the photo below, Boogie got pretty close to Fred and remained calm. In fact, he was pretty relaxed during the entire lesson. The goal is for Boogie to remain interested in Fred and approach him in a friendly manner… We are going to do more sessions next weekend.

If you are registered on the Functional Rewards Yahoo Group, you can read the discussion threads on this session. e g, Boogie and the Postman. Also check out Grisha Stewart’s article on Walking Away From Danger/How to tell when your dog is DONE staring at the trigger.

Sarah said that Boogie is an interesting case because he is so choosy about people and dogs. He likes/dislikes specific individuals and it’s hard to predict who he will or won’t like.

Yes, he is complicated. And high-maintenance. But I love this little fella and who knew dog training could be this interesting!

Ultimately we want Boogie’s newly-learned good behaviors to apply to ALL strangers, not only to Mailman Fred, so in the future, we will be working with different decoys. eg, somebody will come dressed up as a cranky old person carrying lots of shopping bags etc.

Hey, if you are in the Los Angeles area, and want to volunteer as a decoy, let me know! The only criteria is that you must agree to remain a stranger to Boogie (and pretend like we don’t know each other). He must not have ever met you before and you can’t say hi to him or pet him. Also note that the B.A.T. process is very repetitive and may be quite boring…

Thanks again to Sarah and Mailman Fred. See you next week!

April 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm 8 comments

Training session #4: “Look at that” homework

I am so proud of Boogie. If you look at the chart from 3 weeks ago ( see all the red dots?), then last week’s chart, then this latest chart below, there is a significant improvement! See how few red dots there are?

(Details over on the daily log. I LOVE that Sarah comments on these two blogs!)

Granted that I have been feeling unwell during the past 2 weeks (ie, less training sessions and shorter walks) it is still great that Boogie hasn’t been practicing the bad stuff.

Yep, it’s HARD WORK for me to pay careful attention to our surroundings at all times in order to keep him under threshold, but seeing these results makes me feel good and gives me so much hope. Our walks are so much less stressful now (even for ME) than they used to be… and even when I don’t have a clicker on me.

We still encounter triggers all the time but I noticed this week that Boogie often turned to look  at people/dogs on the street (with stiffness) and then TURNED AWAY FROM THEM instead of lunging or growling, which is quite amazing. Even when he doesn’t turn away instantly, I can lead him away with little to no resistance. This is the pay off from marking and rewarding HEAD TURNS! 🙂

This week we take things to the next phase.

Today, Sarah showed me how to add the verbal cue: “Look at that” which essentially means No interaction. Just look. We first practiced this cue with an indoor object, then outdoors with people on the sidewalk.

What this cue does is let Boogie know that he can look at a scary thing/person and not feel any pressure to do anything else, like growl or lunge to make them go away.

According to Sarah,  “Look at that” is a very powerful cue and I must be careful never ever to use it for objects/people/dogs that I do want Boogie to interact with.

March 21, 2010 at 8:07 am 7 comments

Lesson#3: On the street

In today’s lesson – Sarah and I took it to the streets with Boogie. We praised his (very polite and attentive) loose-leash walking behavior, and observed his body language in the presence of other people and dogs. It must have been Boogie’s favorite walk ever – TWO humans dispensing meaty treats, paying full attention and responding to his every move!

On one occasion I noticed Boogie creeping slowly forward.  Right there about 30 feet ahead of us was a pit bull behind a fence. Sarah said that this was a good opportunity to do some “Behavior Adjustment Training” .  Fortunately, we were still at a safe enough distance that Boogie wasn’t yet growling or lunging. He was tense but still under threshold.

We stopped and waited. It was a spaghetti western moment. Boogie and the pit bull stared at each other – unblinking, unmoving – for what felt like forever.  We waited. And waited. As soon as Boogie relaxed and turned his head, CLICK! and we immediately led him away in the opposite direction.

The illustrated version below. (my pit bull drawing is a little lame, I know :))

We did this a few times.

When Boogie sat his butt down, facing the pitbull, Sarah pointed out to me the communication that was going on between the two dogs — small head turns, eye blinks… which I never would have noticed because they were so subtle. In spite of the tiny calming signals between the two dogs, the pit bull was still standing erect and Boogie was still stiff so relations were not all friendly.

Another really useful clicker game that I will be doing on all our walks from now on: LOOK!

As soon as a stranger or dog approaches, Boogie will turn to look at them. I am to CLICK the precise moment that his head turns. Then treat.

I clicked and treated every single head turn towards every single passerby on the sidewalk — What this does is positively reinforce a Look-but-no-lunge behavior. So useful!

Yep, there is a lot of stuff to remember!

March 7, 2010 at 6:09 am 13 comments

“Behavior Adjustment Training” DVD

I will write more about this later but want to mention a very interesting, awesome DVD that I ordered recently.

It’s a seminar on BAT – “Behavior Adjustment Training” given by Grisha Stewart, the dog trainer who answered my question on this Dogster Good Dog Blog last year.

In a nutshell, this is a training system that focuses on reducing fear and aggression and reinforcing friendly behaviors so that dogs learn to control their needs using socially-acceptable behaviors (no barking/biting) and gain self-confidence in the process.

Doesn’t this sound PERFECT for Boogie?

The process takes a lot of time, patience, and “set-ups” and we would need professional help to try this, but anyhow, I still learned a lot about dog behavior and psychology from this DVD, which helps ME not to stress-out.

What sounds great about this training is that the main reward is not food, but giving the dog what he really wants, which is DISTANCE or INFORMATION to feel safe.

There are lots of details to take into account – timing, proximity, body language  – most importantly, keeping the dog “under threshold” (stress-free) in order for the learning to be effective. When a dog is “over-threshold”  ie, has emotionally-crossed over into that reactive uncontrollable-growly-lungey-zone when his owners no longer exist – oh yes, we know this one well – it is too late.

Unfortunately in life, shit happens when sometimes dogs and strange people appear out of nowhere …

Regardless,  I love having more knowledge about what’s going on. When I feel more attuned to Boogie’s body signals and CAN communicate with him, this makes me so happy and gives me hope.

–> Many examples on Boogie’s Walk Log!

Here is the info on BAT and below is a YouTube clip with an excerpt from the DVD:

*Update: Here is a simpler explanation of BAT

There is also a BAT/Functional Rewards Yahoo Group where dog trainers and dog owners  do Q&As and discuss their experiences.

Just read:

Sophia Yin: How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves <- loved it!

Next on  my reading list:

Leslie McDevitt: Control Unleashed <- highly recommended by lots of dog trainers!

February 18, 2010 at 9:31 pm 8 comments

My question to the Good Dog Blog – a response!

I submitted this question months ago and was pleasantly surprised to find a response!

My Dog Is Unpredictable and Has Aggression Problems » Good Dog Blog.

The part that I find immensely interesting and helpful is this:

The idea is to associate the Scary Monster (people, dogs, etc.) with something good, so that your dog’s emotions change.

I hesitate to tell you too much here, because the devil is in the details. It’s really important to get the order of events and timing right with counter-conditioning. But it looks like this: Dog sees the Scary Monster (usually far away), dog gets treats, Scary Monster leaves (or dog does), treats stop. The treats should be extremely special, not regular dog food but cheesy, meaty, peanut-buttery excellence.

I did in fact try this ‘technique’ on several of our walks. Whenever another dog appeared in our field of vision, I would give Boogie a treat.  Boogie was so focused on the treat that the other dog/Scary Monster became a non-issue. After several days, I noticed that he stopped reacting to other dogs.

Perhaps I should ALWAYS give Boogie a treat when introducing him to other dogs? Or when meeting strangers? There’s also the “no eye contact” rule…


The part that bothers me is the advice about throwing out the  ‘prong collar’ … Honestly I hate the collar and would prefer not to use it, but it works for the leash-pulling business. It works to get the “NO” message across to a very stubborn Boogie. Sure, it may be a short-term superficial solution but without it, we have mayhem.

August 13, 2009 at 11:30 pm 2 comments

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