Posts filed under ‘Training’

TTouch – “Walking In balance” DVD

The only Black Friday Sale I took advantage of last month was the one offered by Tawzer Dog. I got Lori Steven’s TTouch Walking In Balance DVD and last week I finished watching all 3 discs. Lori Stevens is fantastic and the seminar was so interesting and enlightening that now I wish I had ordered the first TTouch DVD too! 

Last year I had tried to read Linda Tellington-Jones’s TTouch book after Boogie’s intro TTouch session with Cynde. To be honest, it was hard to take in and retain all this information from the book without having more tangible experiences. I am the sort of person who needs to see and feel how something is done (vs only reading about it) – and watching Lori Stevens’ DVD has rekindled my desire to learn more about TTouch.  Also – the fact that TTouch was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones from Feldenkrais is something that I find really exciting. I have been obsessed with Feldenkrais all year and have been doing ATM lessons (ATM =”awareness through movement”) at home, a few times a week.


If anyone is interested, here is the  Frank Wildman ATM lesson (45 minutes) you can check out – ‘Folding Your Body With Ease ‘

To quote Lori Stevens, TTouch and Feldenkrais are both “neuromuscular retraining programs”. 

In using non-habitual movements and body work, we reduce tension patterns in our bodies, we gain awareness, we loosen our joints,  experience improvement in posture and gait, which in turn, lead to emotional well being, greater confidence and better physical performance. All these things influence behavior, which is why TTouch is also categorized as a “dog training method” that is humane and force-free.

I totally get the emotional benefits of better posture and gait, and the force-free aspect of this sort of training,  based on my own experiences with Feldenkrais. I still relish the ‘magical’ DIY results even though there is a scientific explanation as to why this all works.  It’s amazing to me that I can eliminate pain from my own body and expand my range of movement just by attentively, doing a series of gentle movements on a yoga mat that do NOT in any way involve physical effort or discomfort. No stretching, no muscle manipulations, no “holding” of poses…   I always feel amazing afterwards – taller, more stable, more flexible, more alert, pain-free etc. and I feel more motivated to work out and do physical things.

To quote Feldenkrais practitioners: We are learning to use our bodies more effectively to move effortlessly. We are training skill, not will. The skill is proprioception.

I keep all this in mind when I think of what I can do for Boogie with TTouch.

The focus of the Walking In Balance DVD is really ‘leash walking’ techniques and how to stay connected to your dog. In the first disc, there is an overview and intro including a Feldenkrais ATM lesson for humans to do (yes I did this! It was cool) so that we know how ‘improved proprioception’ feels.   Then Lori demonstrated some important TTouches on fake and real dogs:  Noah’s March, Zig Zag, Python Lifts, & Tail Work. I loved that she shared details on the amount of pressure to use, how slow the movements should be, where to pause, how to move to the next spot, how not to go over the same areas… etc.

As I was watching, I practiced on Boogie  and took notes. Boogie LOVED the TTouches so much that he left his bed and snuggled up to me on the couch for more.  Some rough sketches:


TTouchnotes-ZigZagTTOUCH notes-PythonLiftsAccording to Lori, senior dogs tend to lose “back end proprioception”. *edit*  Dogs naturally put 60% of their weight on their front end so that as they get older their back ends atrophy.  When dogs pull on the leash, this is not only damaging to the thyroid and trachea, the dog can also develop unhealthy patterns of “leaning”, making things worse. And so in using TTouches and Wraps we can sensitize dogs to more “hind-end awareness” and in so doing,  correct gait issues.

Likewise for dogs who do agility and reactive dogs. The DVD showed some footage of an agility dog whose jumping movements improved after experiencing a Wrap.

“We usually see a change in behavior when there are changes in the way a dog moves.” 

TTOUCH notes-HalfWrap

Boogie had experienced a half-wrap last summer but I am not sure if it made any difference. Perhaps this is because he is usually always wearing some sort of harness so he is used to having “stuff” wrapped around his body so perhaps the Wrap didn’t feel “non-habitual” enough?  Or perhaps it wasn’t helpful to be wearing a Wrap on such a hot day. Now that we are in winter, I will try this again. I have some bandages lying around somewhere.

Another TTouch method demo-ed on the DVD is the Balance Leash with 2 points of contact- which to me, looks quite complicated. I had to sketch it out to memorize what goes where.

*edited 12/31/2013

*edited 12/31/2013

The purpose of having 2 points of contact is for clearer communication or clearer leash cues. With 2 points, the dog can sense much earlier when we want to change direction than if we had one point of leash contact. In the DVD, Lori demo-ed this with humans on leash. With one point of contact, when we turn, the dog would feel more like he was being pulled.  “It takes two to pull”. We pull, the dog pulls.

Quote Lori: In an ideal world, dogs would be wearing harnesses with front and back attachments, not collars. 

In TTouch, we “stroke the leash” to let our dog know when we want to slow down, turn around, or stop. Now I know where the “mime pulling” in BAT comes from! 🙂

Boogie has not worn a collar in years… he wears a Freedom harness and these days, only using the back attachment and a one-clip leash. I could in fact configure a Balance Leash using the back ring only, by having the leash go around his chest…

Note: A good harness should not restrict shoulder or front leg movements nor be too tight. On the DVD, Lori went through different types of harnesses and a few different two-ring configurations for harnesses, some including side rings. I will need to revisit the DVD to remember what these different kinds of harnesses are.

There was so much more information on the DVD (“Labyrinth”, Walking on different surfaces, how to work with reactive dogs etc) that I can’t summarize everything in this one blog post.  I definitely need to go back and watch segments again and refer also to the DogRead Yahoo Group postings which had more detailed discussions and examples. (See postings from Dec 1-15, “Tellington TTouch Techniques: Walking in Balance With Your Dog” Lori Stevens)

A final memo: Before taking our dog out the door for a walk (when he is usually all hyped from being cooped up indoors all day), it is a good idea to have 5 minutes of Calm Connectedness. TTouch is a good way to stay connected and bond with your dog before venturing out.

Thank you, Lori!

Related links:

DISCLAIMER: The sketches in this blog post are rough visual notes that I created after watching the DVD. I did these sketches for fun/for myself because I remember and process concepts better when I draw them. You are welcome to use and share them but please note that they are NOT official TTouch handouts. – Lili 🙂

December 24, 2013 at 9:25 pm 3 comments

“NO!” and unwanted behavior. (Notes from Clickerexpo Part 2)

*This blog post was written a few months ago, following on from Part 1.


From “How To Live With a Neurotic Dog” (1960)


“Eli, No!” – a picture book (2011)

The pictures above are from two books that I bought only for the artwork. The first book is from the 60’s; and the second book is recent.

I think we live in exciting times because there is a cultural shift in thinking about dog training, dog behavior and human-dog relationships, and there is now more information available on the internet and in books  on understanding why dogs do what they do and how they learn, and adjust our training methods to be smarter and kinder.


From “How To Live With A Neurotic Dog” (1960)

Traditional dog training, being based in punishment and behavior suppression put a lot of emphasis on the “No!’s”. 

To (loosely) quote Sarah: “There are people who want their dogs to be seen and not heard and they believe that this is how the relationship should be between human and dog.  And then there are those of us who want our dogs to be able to express themselves, communicate, initiate things, and feel empowered in a relationship”. The inspiring thing about Clicker Expo is that everyone is there to focus on the “Yes’s” – how to train in ways that encourage more behaviors, not less.

At the January Clicker Expo, I went to three Ken Ramirez seminars. Ken Ramirez is an expert trainer at Shedd Aquarium who has worked with many species of exotic animals and all his training stories (mistakes AND successes) were very insightful and heartwarming.

In his seminar on “What To Do When The Animal Makes Mistakes-““No!” is technically referred to as a No Reward Marker or Punisher.

Ken Ramirez said that he will not judge people who use punishment or negative reinforcement in their training methods, but he personally finds no need to say “No” to any student animal that he is training. He is able to accomplish any training goal with Positive Reinforcement.

“We are more creative trainers if we don’t have a way to say NO. You don’t want to say NO to an elephant.”

To Ken, trust is one of the most important aspect of any training plan, and what defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.

One of the most common trainer mistakes is requesting a difficult behavior from an animal when he/she is not yet fluent in that behavior. This messes up the trust relationship. He shared several examples when trainers got too greedy and asked for too much too soon. Trainers might get too caught up in their egos, push the animal too far, the animal is unable to do the behavior he was trained to do (or doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it yet), has some sort of breakdown, stops doing that behavior… and then there is a lose-lose situation where it can take YEARS to re-train that behavior.

Ken Ramirez outlined the various ways that we have learned to deal with unwanted behavior. He cited the 8 methods in Karen Pryor’s classic book “Don’t Shoot The Dog” and agrees with Karen Pryor that “Changing the Motivation” is the most humane positive method. However, this is not always the most practical solution. There has to be a more immediate way to deal with unwanted behavior or mistakes.

Common ways of changing unwanted behavior that are aversive to the animal in some way:

PUNISHMENT – self explanatory. We add something aversive to make the behavior stop. The animal does not learn what is right. Punishing is addictive too to the trainer, and can get out of control. There is a high risk of fallout and loss of trust in the relationship. Dogs as a species may be more forgiving than killer whales but this is beside the point.  Physical punishment works but is the least humane and most intrusive method.


NO REWARD MARKER (NRM) – basically a word like “No”, or “Wrong”, or “Oops!”  or “Stop it”. Which to Ken, are essentially still punishers  (Conditioned Punishers or Secondary Punishers). Even if we use “Oops!” as a warning (“Watch out, this is your last chance or else…”) if we lack self-control and use it too frequently, it could definitely become something aversive and will damage the relationship between human and animal. Even the kindest version of a “No” when overused will lead to frustration.

TIME OUT or Negative Punishment (eg, the trainer leaving the room with all the food, when the animal misbehaves) This is another response that causes frustration and anxiety, mainly because the animal does not have a clue which behavior he did was wrong and does not learn what is right. The information is not clear. Time Outs are also ONLY effective if the animal likes you in the first place or finds the training reinforcing. The animal may be relieved to be away from you.

KR gave a great example of a classic Time Out mistake: Dog does something ‘naughty’, person picks up dog, puts him in the crate and person leaves the room.


NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT = Training a behavior where the animal gets to avoid or escape something aversive. Ken Ramirez says that even though Negative Reinforcement always involves some sort of aversive, this doesn’t mean it is inherently evil. For example we use alarm clocks (aversive noise) to wake us up in the morning. We hate the noise but it makes us wake up. Another example is when we learn to turn off the car lights because every time we forget, there’s that loud beeping noise. The biggest issues with Negative Reinforcement are that overuse will lead to frustration and anxiety. The severity of the aversive can be hard to control and can become inhumane. It takes a lot of skill to use Negative Reinforcement effectively. 

I am thinking of training protocols for reactivity/aggression like  BAT , which include some element of Negative Reinforcement.  To paraphrase what Grisha Stewart said at the BAT seminar – yes, there is the use of an aversive in BAT set ups (presenting the dog with a scary dog/person) but we can’t avoid this aversive in real life. “It’s not like we can sit on the couch with our dog and calmly chat with him about his fear of other dogs”. I see that the humane use of Negative Reinforcement involves working in a controlled environment, not adding any artificial aversives, and always letting the dog feel safe and in control.

I like these Susan Friedman quotes:

Control the environment not the animal.

Control is a primary reinforcer, to deprive an animal of control is akin to depriving them of water, food.

To the greatest extent possible all animals should be empowered to exercise personal control over significant environmental events.

In addition to whether or not a method is effective, we have to consider what is the least harmful or least intrusive technique for teaching or changing behavior, and Ken Ramirez referenced the “Heirarchy of Effective Procedures” chart by  Dr. Susan Friedman.

Here is Dr. Susan Friedman’s original article which is a must-read.


Example: If your dog runs around in the yard all day and growls at people on the street, you could change his environment/antecedent arrangements (level 2) – bring him indoors, or put him in the backyard out of view of the street – this would be less intrusive than actively changing his behavior with reinforcers or punishers (levels 3-5).

Ken Ramirez’s favorite least intrusive method for dealing with mistakes is what he calls the LEAST REINFORCING STIMULUS (LRS).

The LRS method was developed and used in zoos but it is also useful with pets. Top priority:

1. not reinforcing unwanted behavior, and

2. not adding any stress or frustration to the relationship.

This is how I understand it.

1. First of all, there must be already a strong  Positive Reinforcement history (ie, good relationship) and high rate of reinforcement.
2. When the animal makes a mistake or does the wrong behavior (not the one you asked for), be NEUTRAL for  3 seconds. Stay calm and DO NOTHING for three seconds. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand…
3. Immediately ask for another behavior that you know is easy, that the animal can do. Give reinforcement.

Assuming that 3 seconds is the right amount of time, the mistake/unwanted behavior won’t be reinforced, and it won’t be too long of NOTHING HAPPENING for the animal to develop frustration.

Emily Larlham (advocate of Progressive Reinforcement training) reiterates that the problem with “No!” and other conditoned punishers is that:

  1. it suppresses your dog’s behavior (overuse leads to a shut down dog)
  2. you create bad associations for your dog with yourself, your dog will do bad behaviors when you are not around.

Emily’s method of dealing with unwanted behavior is by using a  Positive Interrupter  – a sound (eg, kissy noise) and conditions this sound with a treat &/or petting, so that whenever the dog does an unwanted behavior, she uses the noise to redirect the dog away from doing the unwanted behavior, and then asking for a desired behavior that can be reinforced.

**IMPORTANT WARNING: Always give attention to your dog when he is doing good behavior and reinforce this good behavior. The Positive Interrupter is “attention” so if you use this ONLY when dog does unwanted behavior, then your dog will purposely repeat bad behavior just to get your attention.

Oh yes, I learned this the hard way 🙂


How Boogie learned that barking is awesome.

August 21, 2013 at 5:50 am 2 comments

Dognition games!

I can’t remember where I first heard about – I think it might have been via my Twitter feed. From what I can see, is a website that offers a series of structured games (or exercises) for dog owners to do with their dogs, and through these games, owners can gain new insights into their dog’s personality and cognitive style. I guess they are like doggie personality tests with no right or wrong answers, just an evaluation of how smart your dog is.   The games are organized into these categories: Empathy, Cunning, Communication, Memory and Reasoning.

This week, I saw that Dognition were offering some games for FREE and I couldn’t resist. I signed Boogie up and had Nathan help out.These are short 10-minute games and I love that they are very clearly explained with video demos and step-by-step instructions;  but you do need a human assistant to do them. One person has to follow the online instructions and log the scores while the other person interacts with the doggie. It’s hard to do everything at the same time with only one person, unless if your dog is well-trained to obey commands like sit and stay and um… Boogie isn’t very reliable. Well at least not right now, while he is suffering on Temaril-P (steroid meds) and might starve to death if he doesn’t grab the treat ASAP.

In the Dognition Empathy category, Boogie proved himself to be “bonded” to me.

Nathan: “He’s a boston terrier, after all!”

Dognition: Boogie EMPATHY

I did a series of yawns and Boogie yawned too. During the eye contact exercise, Boogie did not break eye contact at all even while he experimented with changing poses, from sitting to standing to lying down, to stepping back, to sitting down, to lying down again etc. Boogie . did. not. break .eye .contact. Except once or twice when he experimented with a quick head turn to see if these would earn him the treat. Yes, he has always been an eye contact champion. He can stare at me forever while I offer various behaviors trying to guess what he wants….

The Communication games revealed some fascinating results. I placed two treats on the floor in front of me at the same time, one on each side. I had to look at and point (first with my arm, later with my foot) towards one of these treats, alternating between left side and right side. This was a test to see if Boogie responded to where I was looking and pointing, or if he was more likely to make his own decisions.

Interestingly, almost every single time, Boogie moved towards the OPPOSITE treat – the one that I wasn’t pointing at.

The Dognition verdict?

Dognition: Boogie COMMUNICATION

*I forgot to add: Boogie is sort of nervous around hands or feet … (he will rarely take treat that is placed next to a  foot) I wonder if this had anything to do with his decision?

And so we completed the freebie games. To continue,  I would have to pay for membership… not something I can really afford to do right now.

Dognition pricing

I am curious – has anyone signed up for full membership and done all the games? Your thoughts?

July 22, 2013 at 9:05 am 3 comments

PROCESSING… more thoughts about Boogie and BAT.

This is a follow-on from my previous blog post.

I want to write down and share a few events from yesterday simply because GOOD EXPERIENCES are worth remembering and sometimes I get emails from blog readers who are struggling with reactive dogs who ask me if Boogie has changed with the training that I have been doing. If he is a different dog or if he is better than before?

My short answer is that  Boogie will still BITE if he feels threatened.  He has done it too many times already (up to Level 4) and I don’t think I can ever eliminate this possibility. Boogie is a very sensitive dog, and he  still gets startled and freaks out. BUT…. the biggest lessons I have learned are that I CAN help him relax and/or bounce back so he doesn’t freak out so easily. I CAN reduce the likelihood of him feeling triggered out on the streets, and I think he is doing really well in the context of my insanely busy neighborhood. Yes, he IS a different dog from 2 years ago. He is a much more communicative dog than he ever used to be. And whether it’s only because I am better at listening to him, or whether he has actually expanded or clarified his “body language” repertoire… I am not sure. Training works both ways, right?

Here are some more detailed examples of what I see as “progress”. Yesterday….

Boogie and I were out walking and he stopped to pee and sniff the ground. He didn’t see that a person and their giant mastiff had appeared on the other side of the street. Knowing Boogie’s tendency to be triggered by “sudden environmental contrasts” (SECs) — ie, he is ok with a group of people walking towards him, but may be triggered by 1 person appearing on a quiet street — I thought it better to point out the mastiff to him so he wouldn’t get startled when he finished sniffing the ground. (Raise head, strange dog WTF! , freak out)

I said “Boogie, Look at that!” (cue to look at something, then look back at me)
Boogie raised his head, turned around, looked at the mastiff.
Me: “Yes!” (mark the “look”)
I was quite surprised that Boogie didn’t want a treat. He turned away from the treat in my hand. Instead he took a few steps back to sniff the ground behind us. (calming signal, self-soothing behavior)
I waited. The mastiff had walked past by now.
Boogie looked up at me: “Ready for that treat, mom!”
I said “Good Boy!” and gave him a treat.
Did Boogie really just direct that entire BAT sequence himself with bonus reward? 🙂

We were taken by surprise when we turned a street corner. Right there – a few steps away- was a man and his barking corgi – just standing there. I am not sure what they were doing but that corgi was pulling on the leash barking his/her little head off at Boogie. Not in an aggressive way, but super excited all puppy-like.

Boogie did not take his eyes off the barking corgi. This was not a good time to go anywhere even though my natural impulse was “Gotta get away”.
I waited. My thought bubble: “Relax the leash relax the leash, just breathe” Puppy still barking at my dog.
Then Boogie turned to look at me, and asked to walk in the opposite direction. We turned away together and left the barking puppy far behind.

A man and his Frenchie were passing in front of us. The Frenchie stopped and stared at Boogie face-on. I recognized this Frenchie – he is left outside in his yard all day to run around barking at passing dogs. Boogie froze. I waited for the the Frenchie to keep walking but instead he was really stuck, just stood there (not sure what owner was doing) staring at Boogie before suddenly exploding in a fit of barks.

Boogie exploded back, pulling, lunging, barking. To me it didn’t sound like his usual “I am going to kill you, asshole!!!” bark, more like a “shut up, you idiot” bark.

Frenchie moved away. Boogie did a whiplash head-turn to look at me. He looked so proud of himself like he wanted a treat.
I gave him a treat for checking back with me and tried to console myself that THE OTHER DOG STARTED THE DRAMA FIRST even if I did not manage the incident very well.

Yes, really. These 4 incidents happened all on ONE walk that lasted about 40 minutes. Welcome to my world.
There is a really adorable black puppy who hangs out in his yard, and he is the sweetest, most polite, most mellow-friendly puppy ever… to both dogs and humans. The first time we met this puppy (weeks ago), when Boogie looked at him through the fence just a few inches away, the puppy sat down, averted his eyes, turned his head away, went all “soft and curvy”, basically offered every polite signal in the Doggie Language book until Boogie relaxed. Everything was cool. Both dogs got to greet nose to nose.

We passed this yard again and this time the puppy (slightly larger than before) was lying down on the porch far away from the fence.
Boogie stopped at the fence and looked at the puppy. He would not move. Puppy stayed on the porch.
And I didn’t move Boogie because I felt that things would be OK with the fence there, and I knew that the puppy was super friendly and polite.
Boogie waited. I couldn’t see the puppy from where I was… but in a little while, the puppy was at the fence, wiggling AWAY from Boogie. Totally non-confrontational. Sitting and looking at me sweetly. Boogie turned his head away from the puppy and then I let both dogs sniff nose-to-nose through the fence. Puppy sat again, ears soft, body soft, all curvy and wiggly. Boogie’s body relaxed. I could see him soften then turn away. I gave both dogs a treat. Boogie looked at me as if to say “Puppy is cool. Let’s go”.

And on that peaceful note, we went home. 4 dog incidents. 3 good, 1 bad.  Actually it should be 4/4 because the frenchie started it. 🙂 That’s a good score, ok?

I was sort of struggling with the idea in BAT that “distance from the trigger” is reinforcing because it was often hard for me to tell if the retreat is really about “getting away from the trigger” (negative reinforcement) or simply “getting to move towards better things” (positive reinforcement). Most of the time I feel that Boogie wants to move away because he wants to move, not because he is trying to escape from the dog/person. And if there is no -R, then is Boogie really learning to cope with triggers? Or is he just doing what he wants to do anyway? How exactly am I marking and rewarding? Also, if there is no food, then how do we know what exactly is reinforcing to the dog and is it enough?

My experiences from yesterday remind me of a Dr Susan Friedman quote:

Control (over one’s environment ) is a primary reinforcer. To deprive an animal of control is akin to depriving them of water, food.

To the greatest extent possible all animals should be empowered to exercise personal control over significant environmental events.

I am starting to wonder if the Functional Reward in BAT has more to do with “control” or “agency” rather than “distance” per se.  I am speaking about Boogie of course. I don’t know about other dogs.

Just this morning, we checked out a strange dog (sniffing around in bushes, on leash, next to his owner) from about 10 feet away. I noted that the other dog was calm and polite so I knew everything was safe. When Boogie was done looking at the dog – yes, I waited until he was totally done getting his information – we both very undramatically walked past that dog in a wide arc (as we usually do with dogs) and kept on moving. There were no reactivity or over-threshold signs whatsoever. Only genuine curiosity and disengagement. It was kinda wonderful.

Later yesterday, Boogie and I stepped out of my apartment and there were two people in the front yard. Thanks to having done BAT set-ups in this location, Boogie would usually Stop, Look, then Turn to look at me and we would jog back towards the apartment, I give him a treat, before moving out again. (I stopped using a verbal marker when Boogie started being able to disengage and move away by himself)

Yesterday however, he Stopped, Looked at the two people in the front yard, looked at me, and turned 180 degrees away towards the back exit. He didn’t care about a treat. He wanted to leave via the back way instead. Of course I can’t read Boogie’s mind but my guess was that he was saying to me “Let’s not do the back and forth thing this time, Mom. Let’s just go THIS WAY. Path is clear”.
“Thank you, Boogie!” and I gave him a treat.

So I think what I personally take away from these experiences and the BAT seminar are what Susan Friedman said about Control as a primary reinforcer, and I see that when a reactive dog feels he has control over his environment and can move where he wants to move, this can be a powerful reinforcer for non-reactive behaviors. Classical Counter Conditioning is happening at the same time too, right? 

I have always felt that Boogie is cool if he has time and space to process things.  Grisha has reminded me a couple of times that when Boogie is done looking at the trigger, and does not want to go back and look at the trigger again, I shouldn’t ask him to (not even if I ask him really nicely). The whole experience should remain the DOG’S CHOICE and be completely non-aversive.

On a final note, to people reading this blog, I don’t want to give the impression that we should phase  food rewards out of training. I know some people are concerned about this no-food thing, with regards to the fate of “Positive Reinforcement Dog Training” in the broader public context, where old-fashioned punishment-based food-hating trainers still dominate the media.  What I am learning now is how to use food rewards with more awareness and sensitivity towards what Boogie is feeling and not rushing things.

Related links:
Patricia McConnell:
Click here for some Susan Friedman quotes I collected via Twitter

NEXT: I still have notes from January’s Clicker Expo that I need to share. Coming soon!

May 23, 2013 at 9:48 pm 4 comments

L.A. BAT Seminar, Boogie’s session with Grisha Stewart

*slightly edited – May 18th*

Two weekends ago, I attended Grisha Stewart’s first ever BAT seminar in Los Angeles.

As you know, I have read Grisha’s book which I illustrated (see link on right side of this webpage), watched most of the DVDs, I have been occasionally following the functional rewards yahoo group, and done mostly “stealth BAT” on the streets with dogs behind fences. However, in terms of  formal BAT set-ups, I am not that experienced – having done only about 4  set-ups in the past few years – mostly with people triggers – and only up to BAT Stage 2.

Grass is good!

Backtracking a couple of months ago, Boogie volunteered himself as a BAT student dog at Balboa Park in Encino. Thank you to  CBATI instructors,  Ellen Gerdes-Naumann and Kristin Burke for setting this up!  I found it all to be a bit chaotic because Boogie was very distracted by everything around him, and it was really hot. At first I had little luck convincing Boogie that the decoy border collie was more interesting than the tennis balls flying about in the courts, the squirrels and rolling in the grass. There was so much happening around us. (Boogie, pleeeease look at the dog…. we are all counting on you to make this a successful BAT session)

We eventually we closed the gap between Boogie and the collie and there was a brief greeting. I got a bit nervous about Boogie’s intensity and jerky movements (which is what usually happens during Boogie-dog greetings) the raised hackles, and his slapping his paw on the collie’s back, trying to hump her and all that. The instructors reminded me to keep my leash loose and Ellen offered this useful tip: “When in doubt, look at the other dog. If she is not worried, don’t worry. Everything is fine.”

And then last week after the seminar, I was very privileged to have Grisha Stewart – the founder of BAT – and her dog Peanut over here to do a dog-dog BAT session with Boogie and me. Peanut and Boogie did a Parallel Walking session and Irith  and Sarah  took video and helped me organize myself, reminding me to mark, relax my leash hand, also notifying me whenever a stranger or mail carrier approached. And then after the session, we all viewed the video footage and analysed Boogie’s movements and my (crappy) leash handling skills in slow-motion.

Here are some notes from the weekend’s BAT seminar including general thoughts:


It’s Boogie on the screen!


I don’t think I really fully understood this before. In addition to marking and rewarding polite behaviors and/or cut-off signals, a key feature of BAT as a training protocol is letting the dog choose. In other words, asking and listening to the dog.  The dog chooses if he wants to get information from the trigger. The dog chooses when he is done and ready to move away. The dog chooses the direction that he wants to move away to…(Not necessarily a straight line back and forth) The dog chooses the non-food reinforcer (functional reward)… which may be sniffing or moving forward.  Unlike in other training protocols, the BAT handler isn’t supposed to be controlling the dog’s movements, only paying attention and helping the dog stay below threshold. There should be minimal verbal communication and leash pressure at all times.

 “The Five Second Rule” came up as a great example of letting the dog choose.

Grisha: “Socialization should be on the dog’s terms, not ours”.

If the dog comes to you and leans into you, then pet the part of his body that is closest to you. After 5 seconds, stop and wait. If the dog wants more petting, he will let you know by leaning in some more. If he is done, then we should respect that he is done and honor his need for space. This respect for affection boundaries should work both ways. When we are done giving affection to a dog who wants more affection – we should give him an “all done” signal.  This is a great YouTube video about asking the dog if he wants to be petted.


 In the seminar, we did leash-handling exercises and took turns to be the “dog”. One person held one end of the leash in their hand, the other person did the handling. It was quite a revelation to be able to feel the tiniest softest amount of pressure on the leash. The point of this exercise was to show that dogs can feel the lightest movements of the leash. We don’t need to pull them.

“The dog should always feel like he is OFF LEASH except when you stop him to prevent him from going over threshold”

Grisha and Sarah both suggest that I learn the Silky Leash Technique... (Me: “Yes I illustrated this for the book but I have never tried it”)  Watching the video playback, I notice that I  tighten the leash way more often than I think I do, and I do this unconsciously a lot of the time…and whenever the leash tightens, Boogie’s body leans the opposite way.

Two leash techniques covered in the seminar:

The Slow Stop: Use when your dog starts to be magnetized towards the trigger, or just whenever you want to stop.” The idea is to give your dog warning that you want him to stop without yanking the leash.  It’s like slowly braking a car vs. slamming on the brakes. Stopping too abruptly can lead to the dog exploding. I really like this Slow Stop technique. I have been doing this every day since the seminar and it makes a big difference!   I can see Boogie in front of me … his body axis goes from forward-leaning to more centered as he stops. I am using it also as soon Boogie pulls on the leash. When he stops, I wait for both of us to rebalance before we continue walking.


Mime Pulling or How to Change Direction: Get into your dog’s peripheral vision (270 degrees) and “Mime Pull” = slide left and right hands along the leash –  without actually shortening the leash. Call your dog (or make kissy noise), bend knees, turn your body towards where you want to go, so your dog follows. We are giving the dog information (leash flutter) that we are changing direction, without physically pulling him to move. Unfortunately, mime pulling doesn’t work on Boogie when he has his mind set on where he wants to go and will even lie down on the pavement to make his point.   But maybe it will work if I could master the Silky Leash Technique….



In BAT when the dog is looking at the trigger or decoy, the dog is using all his senses to get this information: “Is it safe for me to turn my back? Do I need to fight?”

The idea is to wait for the disengagement to happen naturally, however long it takes, without prompting or calling the dog. We prompt or call only when the dog is stuck and likely to go over threshold. A big revelation for me this week is that while a dog may look like he has turned away – and may give the impression that he has disengaged – he may not actually be fully done. The nostrils may still be twitching, the body may still be leaning forward slightly, ears flicking, and if/when  you mark “Yes!” he may not want to move because he is not ready. In which case, we should keep the leash loose, rebalance, exhale, wait…

This step is not always easy because it takes knowing how to read subtle signals really well in the context of what is happening – and this is why it has been super helpful to have a professional set of eyes around to interpret what is going on, and also to have video footage to review, to see missed signals.

There was a demo dog at the seminar- Kiku, an Akita – who, to my less-experienced eyes, looked pretty relaxed facing the trigger 60 feet away. Before this BAT seminar, I would have marked the smaller signals, which I now know, did not indicate that the dog has truly disengaged.

Video of BAT demo session from the seminar:

Several times during Boogie’s BAT walk, when I marked “Yes!” Boogie did not want to move. When we replayed the video from our session later, (with Grisha doing Boogie’s voice-over: “Let me see how many ways I can turn my head”)  it was clearer that Boogie  disengaged only when he was able to turn his whole body away. He was still engaged on the other dog even when he was turning his head and looking at me.

Video of Boogie turn-away: 


waiting for Boogie to disengage

Maybe it’s because I have reinforced so many Boogie head turns in the past (assuming he was fully done when he may not have been) that for Boogie, head turns = good things = we get to move!

I had thought that the whole point of marking and rewarding polite behaviors was so that these behaviors are more likely to happen… and that this is a good thing and this was the whole point of BAT. However, now I am seeing that there is a distinction between trained behaviors and the dog being ready to move away or move forward, and in BAT we are supposed to honor the “cut-off” moment, more than the smaller behaviors…

Sarah: “This is not like Clicker Training where you click for a high rate of reinforcement. We are waiting for the dog to make a choice.”

Grisha:  “The more it is the dog’s decision to turn away, the more that he will learn”.

From the BAT book

Sarah offered a useful tip:  Think of the verbal marker as a question, like a “Ready?”  or a “Done?”  (vs “Yes!” which feels more like a cue/command to move) This choice of verbal marker doesn’t make any difference to the dog , but it helps us get into the right frame of mind. I really like “Ready?” or “Done?” because I need a different cue anyway, for BAT Stage 3. Whenever I say “Yes!” Boogie looks at me like there is going to be food. I also don’t want to poison the “Yes”  that I am already using in non-BAT contexts if I don’t follow up the “Yes!” with food as primary reinforcer.

So change and progress are relative… I remember during our very first BAT set-up years ago, the best cut-off signal we could hope  for back then, would have been a single eye-blink to break the eternity of Boogie’s staring and stillness. And then he started offering more eye-blinks, softened ears and head turns.  These days, Boogie is a much more relaxed dog than he used to be and generally less stiff and stuck on things. But of course, now for me to be sure that Boogie is really done, I have to wait for bigger signals; bigger changes in his body language.

Yesterday, I was thrilled when Boogie looked at a large dog who was staring at him, and on his own (with no prompting from me) chose to turn away and sniff the ground. This morning, a hyper little dog appeared on my front lawn. Boogie turned his head to look at me the first time. Yes and walk away. The second time he looked at the little dog and did a big shake off. I love it when this happens.

Video: full body disengagement “Yes, I am done here.”

Seminar note: The approach and retreat can be in a zig-zag or curved direction. It doesn’t have to be in a straight line.

During the seminar, Grisha made another interesting point about disengagement and why we don’t call the dog; why we wait:

“Be careful. Dogs with a huge amount of obedience training may not have really disengaged from the trigger just because they walk away with you when you call them.”

Alas, I don’t have the problem of an “over-obedient dog”.

4.  THE “FUNCTIONAL REWARD” may not be what you think it is.

“It is always the dog who decides what the Functional Reward is.”

In the seminar, Grisha brought up a cool “Functional Reward” example:  The case of a dog’s reactivity towards a cat.  First we have to figure out what is really happening. If the dog’s reactivity is predatory (the desire to grab something), then the functional reward can be a game of tug. If the reactivity is fear-based, then the functional reward should be distance away from the cat. Each time the dog engages and disengages, we would mark and reward by letting the dog move away from the cat. At the same time, we can also reward the cat for being calm. The cat’s reward = getting petted, & dog moves away. This way, we are honoring both animals’ need for space; and both dog and cat are BAT-ting at the same time.

In BAT, distance or space is the major primary reinforcer and I learned this weekend that this doesn’t always have to be literally moving backwards. Moving forward or sideways, may be more reinforcing than moving backwards. Sometimes moving in itself is reinforcing. Or moving backwards only a few steps (Boogie: “Why are we walking so far away?“).

Boogie would rather move forward in the direction that he wants to go in, than retreat. In which case, a diagonal movement forward may be best so that he doesn’t get too close to the decoy. Or as Grisha suggested for future BAT set ups: the decoy dog could be walking behind the student dog so that the functional reward for the student dog is moving forward (away from decoy). Several times, Grisha also had Peanut retreat as the functional reward.

Irith suggested that the “Monster In The Middle” set-up would be a good one for Boogie, because he gets to keep moving, provided that the decoy dog is super mellow and has no issues being circled by another dog.

During our BAT walk, when Boogie stopped wanting to retreat and  made it quite clear he wanted to walk forward in the direction of the decoy, we assumed that he wanted to get closer to Peanut. Grisha moved Peanut off the path to one side and when I led Boogie forward, Boogie walked past Peanut without even looking at him. It seemed that the true functional reward in this trial was WALKING FORWARD south on Lyman towards Hollywood Blvd where we always walk, every single day. The familiar route that may lead to stinky stuff in the bushes outside the Goodwill parking lot….

Grisha: “Boogie has the neighborhood mapped out and he knows exactly where he wants to go”.

So I am still a little confused here about the Functional Reward and if it matters whether or not this is a Negative Reinforcer = moving to get increased distance from Peanut,  or a Positive Reinforcer = moving to get ahead to good stuff  on Hollywood Blvd.  Is this distinction relevant? Are we supposed to set things up so that the movement away from the decoy is still about the decoy?

I want to be sure that Boogie is learning the right stuff and if I am reading the situation correctly. If the decoy is becoming invisible after the initial engage-disengage, I am still (without a professional set of eyes present to help me out) not sure how to tell if this is a case of Boogie thinking “I am feeling safe enough now. Let’s go” or if it’s an elephant-in-the-room scenario of “I really can’t handle that dog at all. Let’s pretend he doesn’t exist”.

Grisha said that if  Boogie is completely ignoring Peanut (elephant in the room),  this is a sign that we are working too close, we should not push, we should make things easier for Boogie. We either increase the distance between the dogs, or switch to Stage 2 with clicks and bonus food rewards. Which is what we did… a combo of Stage 2 and Stage 3.


Click, move away, treat

5. On not using FOOD. (BAT Stage 3)

 At the seminar, Grisha had made some thought-provoking comparisons between BAT and other training protocols … and in most cases food was a big issue. Ideally, BAT should be done without food rewards if we want the dog to really learn. Some examples:

With BAT, getting information (“looking” at trigger) = safety. The dog has a choice to be pro-active. The dog also has a choice to move away. With Counter-conditioning (overfeeding), the dog is so motivated by food they are not learning to process what is really happening in their environment. CC is not an active process for the dog. The trigger appears and disappears. Food appears and disappears.

I still use counter conditioning with PEOPLE  on the street because people come and go so quickly, AND because I can’t faithfully predict which people are triggers and which ones are safe for Boogie, it’s easier to do CC with every single person.  This protocol has worked really well for us. Now Boogie  turns to look at me on his own, when he spies a trigger. “Weird guy approaching. Where’s my treat?” Otherwise, he just moves off to sniff and ignores the person.


In CU, triggers are cues for the dog to focus on the handler. According to Grisha, many highly structured click-and-treat “focus-on-the-handler” games  are great for management and survival but don’t really teach the dog how to cope with triggers. Reactivity/aggression/frustration issues are not so much issues between the dog and the handler, but between the dog and his environment. In BAT, we honor the dog’s need to process his environment (“is it safe for me to turn my back?“) instead of having the dog stare at the handler all the time. In BAT,  when marking and rewarding the dog’s “look away” from the trigger, this doesn’t necessarily have to be on the handler.

I haven’t done CU exercises except for “Look At That” so I am not qualified to comment. I still ask Boogie to look at me when people appear on the street as part of CC.  However, whenever Boogie turns away from a trigger and looks somewhere else or does something else (eg. ground sniffs) instead of giving me eye contact, this always feels so much more rewarding for ME.  Then I know that he really isn’t turning away from the trigger just to get a treat (as he does with CC) and that he is able to handle things peacefully on his own.

Grisha: When we don’t use food rewards, we get a more honest answer from the dog… we get a more real baseline of what the dog is feeling. Food also makes a dog conflicted – even though he would really prefer to move away, he will eat. The other problem is when people punish or correct their dog – this  teaches the dog to hold it all in; the dog “lies” to us, we don’t see what he is really feeling.

My visual summary:


#3 is BAT

*Edit to add: I don’t want to give the wrong impression with my illustration above (which I may revise) to  suggest that BAT should replace other techniques or that it is better than other techniques.  I wanted to mainly show where the dog’s brain is at, in each example, based on my seminar notes. I am copying and pasting this from Grisha’s comment :

 Dogs need to really get information about the trigger and if you can use open bar / closed bar classical counterconditioning (CC) or clicker training focus to get close enough to experience the trigger and figure out that it’s safe, rehab is likely to happen. You can even combine tools to allow the dog free choice throughout, but sometimes have food. However, if the dog spends all of her time doing the windshield-washer thing (see man -> get treat, see man -> get treat) then the dog doesn’t have a chance to process the information.

Doing punishment-based ‘obedience’ near the trigger is a common technique with potential for even worse fallout, because the dog is distracted AND the dog can make a negative association with the trigger. At least with food, the dog is having a good time.


BAT is really big on honoring the dog’s need for space. I think Grisha may have said that BAT is a “flight-based” training protocol – we reinforce the dog’s choice to walk away from a scary situation. ( example of a “fight-based” training protocol  would be where the student dog might bark his head off at a trigger and the trigger only leaves when he stops barking. It has more of an anti-social goal  )

Close-up greetings is a scenario that I feel the least confident about because I have done so few dog-dog BAT sessions or close-up greetings with new dogs. Boogie has his friends, but I generally err on the side of caution and avoid unfamiliar (or barky) dogs. Notes from the seminar:

  • Prompt more than you would with dogs that don’t know each other. eg. Sniff, call away, treat.
  • If one dog gives a cut-off signal, call the other dog away (if he/she doesn’t respond)
BoogiePeanut_20130506_130235 copy 2-006

“Do you want to say hi?”

BoogiePeanut_20130506_130235 copy 2-008

Boogie sniffs.

 Above, photos of the final interaction between Boogie and Peanut.  Grisha had Peanut’s butt facing Boogie for as much as possible during our walk up to the end of the session. (to quote Grisha: “The blunt end, not the pointy end”)


After about an hour of parallel walking, Boogie sniffed Peanut on the butt and I clicked. (BAT Greetings Stage 1) Boogie didn’t register the click the first time. He was so intensely sniffing. Second sniff, Boogie got even more intense and pulled forward to sniff Peanut’s crotch. After a short break from each other, I asked Boogie if he wanted to say hi again but he showed no interest in moving closer to Peanut and instead starting digging and eating dirt (sign of social anxiety, conflicted emotions).

Grisha: “He already has all the information he needed”.

We ended the walk  with the two dogs standing pretty close to each other. I think they were both quite relieved that they didn’t have to do any more Parallel Walking. I live in an insanely busy neighborhood and both dogs were quite stressed. Grisha pointed out that  more walks would have helped to lessen the intensity/stress of the greeting.


Sarah: “Listen to Boogie. Your job is to stay sensitive to what is actually reinforcing to him in that moment–while still helping him maintain a successful threshold distance in case he starts getting magnetized.”

Thanks to the BAT seminar and our BAT walk with Boogie and Peanut, I feel I have a ton of new information to process especially with learning how to handle the leash, remembering to relax and rebalance myself in order to help Boogie rebalance. I have learned now that BAT as a training  protocol  is actually a lot more fluid or organic than what I thought it was, and that in the past, I may have made things a bit aversive for Boogie by trying to stick to particular patterns that didn’t need to be stuck to, or not paying enough attention to Boogie’s thresholds & choices in relation to the general environment (not just between Boogie and an obvious trigger).


In the BAT seminar handout there was a diagram explaining the term Threshold = “the line between stress levels”. I think this has always been difficult for me. To identify where this Threshold is, exactly. I don’t want to have to let Boogie go into staring mode to gauge where his engagement zone is. (Quote Suzanne Clothier: “The Think and Learn Zone” = dog is able to split his attention between trigger and on handler) At the same time, I don’t want the opposite… I want to be sure he is engaging with the trigger, not purposely ignoring it because there are more interesting distractions around.

There is also the issue of Boogie not wanting to do BAT for long… almost as if he is bored, or it’s too much work. “Do I really have to go and look at that dog again? I already told you I am done. TWICE.”

After one or two trials, Boogie often seems ready to move on and away (“ok, I know this ol’ game”), unlike the dogs I see in Grisha’s seminar videos – who seem to happily walk back and forth, engage and disengage over and over again without other cares in the world.  Would I be adding stress by having him continue BAT-ting? Or should we move on, and what exactly has been learned here? Would the fact that Boogie only wants to deal with the trigger for a very short period indicate that

1. He feels safe now ?


2. Too much too soon – gotta get away from it all?

Miki sent me this Suzanne Clothier’s article on Thresholds: It’s More Than Under Or Over   which I think it super helpful. ( Made me think of the Good-Cheap-Fast  diagram… it’s a balancing act!)


Miki, Sarah, Grisha all brought up the same point: My environment is stressful. Boogie’s “Think and Learn Zone” is very tiny and narrow when we go on walks because there is so much stuff happening that I cannot control.

And so to summarize, I think the biggest challenges for me are still what they always have been:

  1. the fact that I live in a busy neighborhood with lots of people, dogs, traffic, etc. coming and going all over the place.  There are so many factors outside my control. It’s as if we take 3 steps forward and 2 steps backward each day. And I don’t have a fenced private yard. Grisha suggested driving to a quieter neighborhood and practicing there.
  2. I can only do so much as one person. It’s hard to be vigilant about my environment (watch for triggers), practice better leash skills, and pay 100% attention to Boogie’s body language all at the same time. I need professional assistance for BAT and it would help to have video feedback. (A posse of people around with every BAT session?)
  3. I am not going to see significant progress until I do more BAT sessions in the right environment with nobody else around to distract Boogie or to distract me. It will be easier to read Boogie’s signals , understand his thresholds and functional rewards when we are in the right environment. Thanks to the BAT seminar, I may have connected with a few new people who have mellow decoy dogs we can practice with 🙂

Thank you again to Grisha, Peanut, Sarah, and Irith!!! – Lili & Boogie.

 Disclaimer: Please note that this blog post is totally personal – these are my own observations, thoughts, and visual interpretations of the stuff I read and think about,  and do not officially represent  BAT. I want to mention this because I noticed that  Boogie’s Blog is listed on the BAT Seminar handout 🙂

May 17, 2013 at 10:40 am 12 comments

Classical Conditioning (notes from Clicker Expo)

There were some big lightbulb moments for me at the recent clicker expo, and these were related to the topic of Classical Conditioning.

Generally, the term “conditioning” can be a bit misleading because it tends to conjure up images (for me, anyway) from The Clockwork Orange or The Manchurian Candidate and suggests loss of free will, as if we are turning our dogs into robots. Technically speaking, the term “conditioning” simply means learning, and Classical and Operant Conditioning refer to the ways all living beings LEARN.

According to Dr. Susan Friedman, Classical & Operant Learning are always working together in real life. They always overlap. We artificially separate the concepts for teaching.

In Kathy Sdao‘s seminar on “Classical Counterconditioning for Agression”  she draws out the differences between Operant and Classical Conditioning:

Operant Conditioning/Learning happens in the realm of observable behaviors that we can mark and reward. These behaviors are freely chosen by the animal in order to earn reinforcement or escape punishment. Clicker training is Operant Learning. Golden rule: Behavior is driven by Consequences.


I did this drawing after my last Clicker Expo

Classical Conditioning/Learning on the other hand, is in the realm of reflexive or respondent behaviors – all the hardwired emotional, subconscious stuff that an animal has no choice over. These reflexive behaviors (eg, Flight or Fight) are learned through repetitive association and tied up with survival in some way. You pair something neutral with something that elicits “excitement” often enough, and the neutral stimulus will trigger off excited feelings. You repeatedly pair something neutral with something scary and the neutral thing will trigger fearful emotions.  Antecedents lead to Behavior.

“Classical Conditioning is a powerful foundation for Operant Conditioning. Classical Conditioning will not get new behavior. It will put existing behavior under different antecedents.” – Kathy Sdao.




At Clicker Expo, in different presentations, this memo came up several times: We can’t start clicker training an animal who is fearful or anxious.

Classical Counter Conditioning is the first thing that should happen in order to calm the limbic brain, before the animal is able to “behave”. In the case of triggers that elicit fear responses, we pair these with very good things. This memo came up in Julie Shaw’s and Debbie Martin’s “Behavior Modification Clinic” Lab and also in Sarah Owing’s presentation about helping “WallFlower Dogs”.


Note: This example is based on real life. Whenever Boogie hears a “ding!” bell, he runs to the window and barks. Even if the “ding” is coming from the kitchen, the TV or if I accidentally touch a glass with a spoon. Maybe in his previous home, this “ding!” sound was the doorbell.

Here’s a much more detailed illustration on Counter Conditioing that I did for the Ahimsa Dog Training Manual:

Kathy Sdao talked about the ways in which Counter Conditioning can be ineffective due to these common mistakes:

  1. Weak Unconditional Stimulus. (the toy or treat is not valuable enough; the love of this is not stronger than the fear of the trigger)
  2. Trainer’s hand is in the treat bag and the dog is too focused on this
  3. Rhythmic trials. The ” trigger + treat” event happens at regular intervals to become predictable.
  4. Inadvertant Avoidance Conditioning. eg, if we keep treating before the dog sees the trigger, we might accidentally condition the food to become a “warning signal”
  5. We present the treat without the trigger (eg, dog gets the high value treat anyway, when nothing happens) – treat loses value
  6. Contingency issue. If we forget to treat when trigger appears
  7. NOT following up with Operant Conditioning.

Classical Conditioning is also not considered practical in the real world or in the long term because it is too easy to not do it correctly 100% of the time for it to be effective. This is why we need to follow up with Operant Conditioning of replacement behaviors, which made me think instantly of BAT

Basic BAT protocol

Another example of Classical Conditioning was in Ken Ramirez‘s Lab on creating value in  “Non-Food Reinforcers”. He shared a story about a whale (or dolphin?) that wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t eat and they needed him to take his antibiotics. As they were unable to reward with food, they used “reinforcement substitutes” like belly-tickling, clapping hands, praise etc. and these were just as reinforcing to the whale because they had been previously paired with food over a long time.


Similarly, we can train any novel stimulus – a toy or a human action (eg, clapping hands, thumbs up, “Good Boy!” etc) to be reinforcing if we pair this often enough with Primary Reinforcers (food, social interaction, play) during training. This pairing has to be maintained so that the non-food reinforcer stays emotionally meaningful to the animal.


“Charging a clicker” . Click = treat (anticipation, joy)

Some Ken Ramirez quotes:

“Yes, this is exactly like charging a clicker”

“A toy is not intrinsically reinforcing. It is reinforcing because it is paired with the Primary Reinforcer of PLAY”.

He also talked about learning how exactly your dog likes to play with a toy. Every dog is different. Example with tennis balls: Some dogs prefer chasing and fetching; some like to chew, or roll the ball around; some dogs like to peel the skin off. (Boogie is all of the above) Similarly with “touch” as a reinforcer. Each individual animal likes to be touched a certain way and only by certain people that he/she already has a relationship with.

“Value disappears from a conditioned reinforcer if you don’t know how to maintain it”

Susan Friedman in her closing speech at Clicker Expo also brought up the classical conditioning aspect of clicker training. A clicker is also a conditioned reinforcer… we infuse it with emotional value and meaning because it gets paired with food. The click not only marks behavior, it also elicits respondent behavior/happy emotions (“woohoo! I got it right!”) Not only do we have to be precise with our clicking, we also have to ALWAYS back up every click with a treat to ensure that this powerful training technology is effective.

She showed video examples of trainers not using a clicker correctly… eg, trainers who click several times before giving a treat OR trainers with animals who are responding to other signals and are not getting what the click means and are focusing on the food instead… and as a result, the animals don’t perform as requested or they get frustrated and walk away, or get cranky.

Susan Friedman: “If you click, dammit, TREAT!”

If you were at Clicker Expo and if I have misinterpreted any of the information in this blog post, please feel free to let me know! 🙂

Next blog post:  When animals make mistakes – dealing with these in the least intrusive way.


February 3, 2013 at 9:56 pm 12 comments

National Train Your Dog Month – My dog book reading List

Will I ever get through this list?

1. The Science of Consequences by Susan M. Schneider. I am about 30% of the way through this book and enjoying it so far. It’s like seeing the world with new eyes through the filter of Behavioral Science (Operant Conditioning) and how this philosophical approach applies to genetics, evolution, behavior modification in humans and all animals large and small, etc.  I am very chuffed that Susan Schneider wrote a blog post about my Animal Training poster.

2. The Misunderstood Dog by Jordan Rothman (my illustrations are in this book!) There’s a sale going on this month! So far I have skimmed through the first few chapters and can’t wait to read through it properly. I promise I will post a blog review. The Misunderstood Dog is like an easier-to-read, friendlier, jargon-free version of  Jean Donaldson’s “The Culture Clash”, and it is written for dog owners rather than dog training professionals.

3. 25 Dog and Puppy Training Tips e-book by Emily Larlham. I am a big Emily Larlham/Kikopup fan. I can’t wait to read this. *Does anyone know of a good program that can convert PDFs to Kindle Format without messing up all the photos? The e-book is a large PDF file with lots of photos that got lost when I emailed it to my Kindle.

4.  Decoys and Aggression by Stephen Mackenzie. This book was recommended to me on a dog training forum. I believe this is a book on teaching police dogs to PERFORM AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIORS (in a humane way) and therefore has some very insightful offerings on how to read and shape dog body language . Also liking this video by Steve White, another police dog trainer whose DVDs I would love to watch but cannot afford.



5. K9 Kitchen: The Truth Behind The Hype by Monica Segal. Not a training-related book but one about nutrition. I think I will start cooking for Boogie again soon. *Does anyone have good tips on using a Dehydrator to make pet treats? eg. do you cook the meat first before dehydrating it?

6.  Understanding Cat Behavior by Roger Tabor. Not a dog book.  I ordered this because I need a cat book for drawing reference, one with lots of photos showing various body language poses and expressions. Unfortunately, some of this information might be very outdated. Just take a look at this little blurb on dog training –


So it’s not OK to boss around and scold a cat because it will damage your bond and mess up your cat, but it’s OK to do this with dogs? While it’s great that nowadays many dog-lovers are promoting and teaching the world about modern force-free HUMANE dog training methods, I wonder if this info is also getting through to the non dog people….  And btw, are there any CURRENT books on Cat body language/behavior/training?

Seeing that it’s National Dog Training Month, I am learning to use a MannersMinder!

To be honest, it looked a little intimidating until I watched the instructional DVD which goes into a lot of detail about training games, the correct order in which the games should be taught, and how to work the machine settings. It’s quite loud too. When you press the remote control (to dispense the treat), there is a loud BEEP followed by a loud whirring sound before the treat plops out.

Ah… my scaredy Boogie dog.  As soon as I put the MannersMinder down on the floor, I could tell that Boogie was scared of it. It wasn’t even turned on! I put a treat in the bowl; Boogie looked at it and backed off.  He would not go near the machine.  He went to his bed, instead. After some coaxing, Boogie ate the treat out of the bowl and then everything was fine after that. He learned very quickly how to make the “BEEP and TREAT” happen. So far I have been training “Eye contact”. Tomorrow we do “targeting”. Now I need to find some treats that are of consistent size so that they don’t get stuck…

This is going to be an adventure! 🙂


January 1, 2013 at 11:45 pm 5 comments

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