Posts filed under ‘Training’

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

Happy Holidays!

Apologies for the long silences between posts and thank you to everyone who has left comments (advice, tips, personal stories etc) on this blog, particularly with regards to Boogie’s skin issues. I have been out-of-town; now I am happy to be back home and snuggling with the Boogs again. He is less itchy now that the weather has cooled down. His coat is still very thin with the same bald patches, and his poor skin has been dry, flaky, and dandruffy.

I am trying a few new things:

  • No chicken in his diet at all. He has been eating lamb and/or fish-based meals. It has only been 1 week… I can’t tell if there is any difference.
  • Adding Pet Kelp to his food. 3 weeks, now. Can’t tell if this is making any difference with his skin, but his poop is looking very good!
  • Virgin Coconut Oil massage, every other day <– THIS is making a difference! Skin is noticeably less dry.
  • New Year Resolution: Make pet treats with the new dehydrator (which is still in its box)

I am determined to do anything to avoid more vet visits & antibiotics! In fact, I took advantage of Monica Segal‘s recent Black Friday Sale and ordered a dietary consultation for Boogie in the new year. I need help figuring out what foods (if any) that Boogie’s system may not be tolerant of.


 Check out Jordan Rothman’s new book  The Misunderstood Dog, with my illustrations. I would describe it as a simpler, easier-to-read version of “The Culture Clash”, written for dog owners. The Boston on the cover is the author’s dog.  Here is the page.


Order a snazzy little name tag that I designed for blanketID.  A percentage of sales goes to Boston Buddies rescue. I think this would make an awesome Xmas gift. They come in red or blue, and small or large sizes. The photos that I have of Boogie wearing this blanketID tag on his collar are kinda blurry…. Will try again later.  ORDER HERE

Who is going to Clicker Expo in San Francisco next month? I would love to meet up! I know names but not faces, so if you recognize me, please say hi! I will be there for the full three days. First time that I am staying for the whole expo and very excited!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! – Lili & Boogie x

December 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm 5 comments

Catching up. Notes about Behavior/Training.

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

1. Two great books!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2. The DogRead Yahoo Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… which is the point of  this poster illustration –

[click on pic for more info]


November 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm 4 comments

Boogie’s first TTouch Experience

I first heard about TTouch several years ago. At the time, there were no YouTube videos on the subject, no TTouch practitioners anywhere near me, and the only information that I could get my hands on was in a book with very few pictures. It wasn’t until recently when I got a hold of the new edition of Getting In TTouch With Your Dog (which has very clear photos and diagrams) that my curiosity was rekindled.

What I know now is that TTouch is not simply a type of massage, but a method of bodywork that also incorporates “behavior training”. The premise is that if your dog feels right in his body and is able to release tension, he more able to learn new things. Physical health, emotional health and performance are all related.

Whole Dog Journal article: The Tellington TTouch For Dogs

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Tirrell (a TTouch Practitioner who also moderates the DogRead Yahoo group) on Facebook and she referred me to Cynde Van Vleet of IC Paws Abilites, who is based in California. Cynde is our closest TTouch Practitioner – and she very kindly offered to drive 70 miles from San Clemente to meet with Boogie.

Sarah and I organized a session with Cynde at Sarah’s place where our two dog-reactive dogs were kept in separate areas. Boogie was outdoors, Zoe was indoors.

Cynde and Boogie

What I learnt yesterday:

TTouch looks like massage but it is actually works on the nervous system rather than on the muscles. The touches are very light circular motions on the skin, so gentle that the animal physically relaxes while his brain and nervous system are activated at the same time. The thumb is anchored while the fingers do a one-and-a-quarter circle on the skin. There are many different TTouch touches classified by different parts of the fingers coming in contact with the skin.

It was quite a challenge to have to think about these finger/hand motions and be mindful of how gentle the pressure should be. (Cynde: On a scale of 0 to 10, the pressure is a 3) The one-and-a-quarter-circle motion is not as easy to do as it looks 🙂

From the book: “Getting In TTouch With Your Dog”

Interestingly too, TTouch was adapted by Linda Tellington Jones from the Feldenkrais method, when she first started working with horses and zoo animals (hence the names like “Clouded Leopard TTouch” and “Python TTouch”). I find this influence exciting because many years ago, in the early 90’s, I attended Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes in Sydney, and have done “Functional Intergration” sessions for back pain. To be honest, at the time I didn’t have a clue how it all worked and why I felt so amazing after each session.  The movements were all extremely slow, precise, gentle and repetitive. This was like the opposite of getting a deep tissue massage or doing yoga postures. I remember always going home feeling super flexible,  light and rejuvenated with all my physical pain and tension gone.

When Cynde worked on Boogie, she noted that he had a lot of heat in his head (heat = stress)… which eventually cooled down after a few Racoon touches. Boogie also had a lot of tension in his tail – it was pulled in super tight.

NEVER before had I ever done anything with Boogie’s tail (except one time when he had a hotspot underneath that I had to clean) so this was quite a weird and new sensation. Boogie’s tail is like a tiny nub in the shape of a comma… almost bald because he has been chewing and scooting on it. Until yesterday when Cynde pointed it out to me, I had no idea that there were TWO joints in that teeny weeny tail. Cynde demonstrated how to hold the base of the tail and move it around to loosen the tension. Boogie LOVED the Tail Touches. His tongue was flicking in and out of his mouth like in the very last drawing of this poster.

Here’s a video snippet of Cynde doing Tail TTouch with Zoe, who has a real tail.

Boogie also loved having his ears worked on – the Ear TTouches are supposed to be very calming. Cynde did slides and circular movements. I am thinking that these touches might help Boogie relax before I clean his ears….

I tried out some Racoon ( fingertip) touches on Boogie’s body but I might have been doing it wrong or with too much pressure… Boogie got restless and walked away. He relaxed again when I tried the more soothing and less concentrated Lying Leopard (full palm) touches. Blissful Boogie face.

An essential part of TTouch is paying attention to and getting feedback from the dog and doing what feels right for him.

Cynde had also done these same touches on Sarah’s and my backs so that we knew what they felt like.

Body Wrap

Setting up the Labyrinth.

The Body Wrap, Labyrinth and Cones
The Body Wrap works like a Thundershirt and is supposed to be calming. I am not too sure if the stretchy elastic wrap made much difference to Boogie’s energy level … It was hard for me to tell.  Cynde had set up a Labyrinth and series of Cones for the Boogs to walk through but he was so distracted by Zoe’s presence in the backyard at the time, and perhaps also by the uncomfortable heat outdoors, that he was whimpering, pulling on the leash and stepping over the lines like a totally untrained dog. He also vomited up some hot dog… which he immediately ate up again. :/

Eventually, we successfully made it through the Labyrinth and Cones when we slowed everything down and I praised Boogie very exuberantly for every single step…

Cynde suggests that I take Boogie on different surfaces (high and low) and spend more time walking not in a straight line but around objects, a bit like walking around cones and in the labyrinth, while we are out on our walks. Boogie and I actually already do a lot of walking around objects (like parked cars) to avoid scary people and dogs, but I need to be doing this with focus – perhaps more slowly and make it like a fun game.

Touches we covered today. The animal names remind me of Kung Fu moves! 🙂

Noah’s March
Lying Leopard Touch
Clouded Leopard Touch
Racoon Touch
Bear Touch
Turtle Touch
Ear Touch
Tail Touch
Zig Zag Touch

Check out more photos and videos in this flickr set: Boogie and Zoe – TTouch Session

So…. was Boogie calmer? More relaxed? It was hard to tell because it was hot and we were in a new distracting environment. To me, Boogie seemed quite restless when he wasn’t getting the TTouches. He wanted to play, he wanted to meet Zoe and Maya, he wanted to drink from the mini pool, check out Sarah’s rabbits etc.   He was also dying to go indoors with us and didn’t like being left outside.

So far, I like everything that I have learned about TTouch, and it makes perfect sense that a dog who who feels good physically is going to be a more relaxed and confident dog in general. I can see how this would help with training. I love touching/petting/massaging Boogie anyway, and it’s nice to know that I can from now on, stop doing a sloppy job of it and actually have some ‘technique’ to use. 🙂

Thank you, Cynde!

Today’s little buzz: Boogie hopped into the bathtub when I turned the water on. We’d just come in from the 100 degree heat outside. Boogie jumped into the tub BY HIMSELF which is something he has never done before. He stood in there while I splashed some water on his belly; jumped out again, shook off, ran off to grab his toy. Usually when I turn the water on, I find Boogie hiding under a table or inside his crate and I have to lure him out with treats and carry him into the tub.

September 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm 7 comments

Helping dogs to be brave, Another vet visit.

I am subscribed to the posts on the Functional Rewards (BAT) Yahoo group and I really love some of the wisdom I find on here.

This question recently came up in the group:

if the dog shows a calming signal and you move the dog away, doesn’t that mean that you are afraid of the situation too cause you are moving away? a trainer told me to just go pass the person or dog to show that it does not bother you so the dog will think no big deal either.

Two responses below. First by Jude:

Moving away from a scary thing is a perfectly normal thing to do.  If the dog knows that s/he can always retreat, the scary thing becomes no big deal and eventually loses its charge – exactly your goal!

However, if the dog knows s/he must go near it, then it remains a source of concern.  Imagine being afraid of a poisonous snake hanging from a tree branch outside your front door and knowing that you can easily avoid it by using the side door vs. knowing that you must pass close to it each time you leave home just because your partner isn’t afraid of it and expects you to be unafraid, too.

Trying to calm an aroused animal by showing that you are not afraid does not work as a general rule and can increase an animal’s fear and/or shut down the animal. We have seen this on TV!

And by Susan Mitchell of C.A.R.E. for Animals :

I can understand what the trainer you spoke with is saying.  I agree that dogs take their cues from us and that they often interpret something based on our responses (verbal and behavioral).  (Sort of like kids do!)  But if BAT is done correctly, it is done with the handler demonstrating calm, and even confident/happy behavior…. and in response to the DOG’S behavior.  This conveys to the dog that 1- we can handle this, no need to freak out, and 2- I’m not going to be forced to ‘suck up’ my fear and face that thing over there.  It really becomes a “game” or sorts for the dog that they come to understand and maybe even enjoy.

Furthermore, I love what Susan has written below in response to another group post:

I really do believe in my heart of hearts that our dogs do their absolute BEST to do what we ask of them.  Sometimes it is just REALLY hard for them and they just can’t always do it.  It is our job to understand what they are communicating to us and help them out.  Just like they let us know when they need help…. they will also let us know when they don’t need it.  And while I know others don’t agree, I personally believe that the more we offer help, the more the dogs learn to trust us, the braver they become, and the less they actually need the help. 

I think this is really wonderful and inspiring, in that our ultimate goal is to help our dogs  feel brave, independent, make good choices (vs. simply doing as they are told or behaving on cue). Susan adds that in teaching self-control and relaxation to our dogs,  it is OK to go slow, be methodical, ask for advice along the way.

On the right is a photo taken today at the vet. This may not seem like a big deal to anybody with a normal dog, but I want to point out something quite amazing. Boogie is LYING DOWN in a room where there are dogs that he doesn’t know. There are three dogs and two cats in the room at the time this photo was taken (Later there were 6 dogs). The pup at the back is off-leash and very well-behaved. When Boogie is in a room with other dogs that he doesn’t know, he is never THIS relaxed. He will sit but never lie down like this.

This week, on two previous occasions I took Boogie out to busy public places and rewarded him with treats for lying down calmly by my side.  I have also moved Boogie’s bed closer to my desk so I can reinforce calmness and quiet while he is lying down. Before, the bed was too close to the window and he got distracted very easily… couldn’t relax for long.

“Please, can we go home now?”

In other news, Boogie is suffering again from skin issues. Dr. R said that there is no staph infection this time. The allergic reactions have not (yet) progressed to a staph infection even though Boogie’s itchy skin,  hot spots, hair loss, ear infection and goopy eyes don’t look so good. I told Dr. R that Boogie has also been acting sluggish and slower than normal.

Dr R: “Allergies are exhausting.”

And so I am applying Traimcinolone Cream to Boogie’s raw itchy (sometimes bloody) skin, and giving him Temaril-P – which is a steroid med – for 10 days. I really hate the side effects of steroid medications and I’m not happy about this.

I am currently researching supplements to help boost Boogie’s immune system. I am very interested in Canine Immune System Support & Doggy GOO. Any doggies out there familiar with these supplements? I’d love to get your thoughts.

When I was in the vet waiting room, a Yorkie owner advised me to give Boogie Cold-pressed Coconut Oil orally & topically – this will take care of hot spots and infections because coconut oil is anti-bacterial. Elsewhere I have read that Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with water can be used as a flea-repellent spray because of the acidity.  Can anyone confirm this info? Anyone tried these natural remedies with success?

August 4, 2012 at 1:31 am 18 comments

I don’t want to jinx anything, but…

Yesterday, two people on separate occasions stopped us on our walk and asked if they could say Hi to my dog. I said “OK, but don’t lean over him, he is nervous around new people”. To my surprise, on both occasions, Boogie walked right up to these people, totally relaxed with soft ears, nuzzled their hands and invited the petting.  Six months ago, this Boogie used to stiffen or lunge when approached by strangers on the street. Two weeks ago, this Boogie would  stop and turn his head to look at me (“Treat?”) if strangers got too close… or move to one side and sniff or pee on something. Now he is wanting to meet the strangers?

Last week, we passed a very barky dog behind a fence. Boogie barked back as we walked past. Then I stopped some distance away so that the dogs could still see each other. Boogie blinked at the dog.  The other dog blinked back. Good sign. Perhaps this could be a kiss-and-makeup session.

What followed was amazing.  Boogie turned his head away from the dog.  The other dog continued staring at Boogie; calming signal not returned. His eyes were like lasers. “Watch out, little punk. I’m badass.”

Boogie turned his head to look at me. I called him away but he did not want to retreat. He stood there and continued offering a whole bunch of calming signals – he licked his lip, he yawned, he softened his ears…  (“Hey dude, chill out. I want no trouble. I am friendly”) The other dog was back in sitting position, still staring intensely at Boogie, not returning any of Boogie’s calming signals so I led Boogie away. Can I just say how proud I am of Boogie for his calmness and social politeness in the face of danger?

This morning, two giant Weimeraners walked past us (like 5 feet away). Boogie stood there, watched them walk on by. I noted that his body language was still relaxed, then he turned his head to look at me and licked his lip and turned back to watch the dogs moving away. I called Boogie and we continued along in the opposite direction. Two unfamiliar big dogs.  Boogie completely untriggered. No reactivity. I can’t believe it.

I want to say that my scaredy-reactive dog is becoming more confident, he is conquering his fears, he is using more polite signals in his interactions, he is learning to self-soothe, or perhaps I am noticing things that I didn’t notice before and as a result of frequent and consistent reinforcements, he is becoming more social and communicative?  You know, he even barks at me now when he wants to play Tug. At ME! He never used to bark at me before.

If you are the owner of a scaredy-reactive dog you know what a big deal it is when your dog doesn’t react, and when he actively wants to be friendly. I am almost kinda scared to jinx anything by being too happy about it.

July 20, 2012 at 7:18 pm 6 comments

The Put Your Toys Away challenge

I saw this video recently – looks so simple and impressive!

Today I decided to try this method with Boogie. First of all I removed everything from his toy basket except one toy – one that he rarely plays with, if you could even call it a toy. It’s the severed paw of a rubber monkey. Boogie looked at the monkey paw. Click and treat. He put his nose in the basket almost touching the monkey paw – click and treat. This happened about 3 times, then he stopped looking at it and just sat there looking at me. I waited.

OK… so I took out the monkey paw and put it on the floor next to the basket.

Boogie stood up, stepped into the basket and sat down inside the basket. This is a pretty small basket, mind you. He looked so cute I had to give him a treat.

Oh well.

How do you teach your dog to differentiate between games that are done using the same props (eg., box or container) so that he doesn’t repeat the behaviors that he did before?

July 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm 5 comments

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