“Don’t you want to play with me?”
One area of training Zora and I have been struggling with consistently is when I’m wanting her to turn away from me and then keep moving forward despite limited movement forward from me. So after a couple of different approaches that clearly weren’t helping, I shelved this for a few weeks, month. And thought about it.
I brain stormed, I watched some you tube videos of people and dogs running distance courses, I watched their handling and their dog’s response to said handling, I wrote out what I’ve tried before what hasn’t worked, what has and how. What skills I’ve introduced to Zora, even ones we haven’t used since she was itty bitty. Everything I could think of.
And in the course of my processing, I thought, “Hmm, when she was a pup I used her targeting to the pause box to introduce the concept of distance to her. Why did I stop doing that?”
I stopped doing that because a. the pause box is heavy and therefore harder to move. b. it’s set at 12″ tall and she has to take a running leap to get onto it which limits where I can place it. c. It’s 3×3 square so that’s a lot of area for her to target to meaning less precision on how she approaches it. and d. I only have one, meaning moving it A LOT (see a. once more).
So I thought, ok what other location type target behaviors have I introduced to her before? And remember years ago now (geeze, how can I say that with her, I want her to still be an itty bitty baby! Instead she’s gonna be 3 next month!) during her ‘body awareness skills’ training phase we did some work with an upside down rubber feed bucket on her putting her front feet on it (also did just her rear feet, and sitting on it). And I thought, “Hmm, those are a lot smaller and easier to move. I have a couple of those lying around let’s try this.”
Yesterday morning, I tossed one out on the grass and cued, “Mark” and somehow my brilliant little short dog who hasn’t heard that cue in over a year remembered. Happily tail wagging ran up to the bucket and popped her front feet up on it. Good girl! Great! You remember, perfect! We did a bit of through a hoop, ‘mark’. Then a bit of directions with a couple of jumps. She was happy, tail wagging, thrilled the entire time. I was thrilled!!! Finally clarity for my dog! WooHoo!!!!
Here’s a video clip from our training session this morning with agility equipment. I’d say this is the most success we’ve had with the switch and drive away concept with her being happy, enthusiastic and clearly it making sense to her what I was wanting. Yay!
Some of the reasons I like the upside down rubber feed buckets as targets are a. they are readily available and fairly inexpensive. we picked up a couple more buckets at Tractor Supply this weekend and they were less than $5 each. b. the buckets last. I’ve had a some of mine for many years. They’ve survived freezing cold, rain, snow, heat, dogs, ducks. Because they are a thick yet flexible rubber, they don’t crack when water freezes in them like other buckets I’ve used in the past. The flexible thick rubber also gives them better traction for the dog. c. They are small and low enough to the ground to not be too obvious to the dog until they are near it. unlike the pause box which is large and very visible from a far distance, I like that these targets are just visible enough as the dog approaches to give the dog a nice clear focal point but not so visible that the dog can guess where you are directing them to without really paying attention to your cues. d. they give the dog a really clear behavior to do with them that is very clear to the handler if done incorrectly. Unlike say a bit of rug or plastic lid flat on the ground, which can be hard to know far away what the dog is doing, or a target that requires a nose touch meaning it takes more consistent training for the dog to learn to touch and then stay at the target, 2 front feet up on the bucket until verbally released is a really clear response. and e. they are really great for helping dogs learn to collect in early stage training since you teach them to run straight to the target and front feet up, not run past it then return. I was first introduced to the idea of using rubber feed buckets for such skills by NADAC gu-ru Sharon Nelson, great use for them!
Teaching a dog this type of behavior is also super helpful outside of agility. Person at the door, send the dog to their target place. Dog rushes out the door. Target place, open door, release, cue 2nd target place positioned right outside the now open door. Dog struggles with no jumping on people for greetings, cue target behavior pet and greet dog as long as their feet stay on the target. Nice things about place and location targets are the clarity they give for dogs and handlers, makes it a lot easier to be consistent with criteria I find personally.
Have you played around and used location targets with your dog? Do you find them helpful as well?
Well, seems I managed to get a bit behind on posting of our Skill A Day. So here we go couple of days at once!
Day 22 was Thursday. That morning we took a walk with a couple of friends and had a chance to practice some really good recalls in the woods as we unexpectedly came across other folks walking their dogs on the trails multiple times. Rather unusual for our walks in the woods. This has been something Zora especially has struggled with in the past, the startle of finding strangers in ‘her’ woods, but I was pleased with her on Thursday. The first person/dog, when she saw them she paused on the trail, I noticed her pause and called her immediately. Not knowing why she paused, but I know that pause the ‘indecision there is something I’m considering chasing or investigating but not sure’ pause. She came immediately. Good girl! The second person and dog we came across, it took 2 come cues but once she came she was willing to not think about that person and dog as they passed which I was very happy with as that is hard for her. So work still to be had with her but again progress. Tom was perfect on the walk guiding, so careful that I didn’t slip and fall, and blocking the other more rambunctious dogs in our group from slamming into me. Good boy.
After that walk the dogs were exhausted, my shoulder decided to flare up and trigger a migraine so no other training that day.
Yesterday, Friday Day 23 we once again had an enjoyable morning walk. As my right shoulder was still giving me more grief than usual I was glad I’d spent so much time teaching Zora to walk loosely on leash (she heels on my right side as Tom guides on my left) for the sections of trail where she has to be leashed.
Brady the Basset Hound is now here for the holiday week and he loves coming to visit and go on our walks. Brady reminds me why I wonder why more people don’t own Basset Hounds. He’s a really lovely dog. I’ve been a part of Brady’s life since he was a puppy, he’s now a little over 8 years old and every single time I see him I think, “Why again aren’t Bassets more popular?” Growing up a neighbor had Bassets too and I always wondered that then as well. Sure, he bays but so don’t most more popular scent hounds like beagles and coonhounds, and sure he drools a bit, but so don’t lots of other more popular breeds. But he’s a good balance of smart/not smart meaning for the average dog owner he’s smart and biddable enough to figure out the basics and how to get along well in the house, but not so smart that he gets super bored and creates his own mischief. He gets along with everyone: people, adults, kids, elderly, other dogs, other animals. He’s a great walker, doesn’t need so much exercise that he isn’t happy with a good old fashioned walk a day. And his natural pace is much closer to the average human plod than a beagle or coonhounds (or labs for that matter), so he’s happier with leash walking than many other dogs I’ve found. He’s super social and loves to be petted. Very food motivated so if you weren’t inclined to actually train him to respond to cues, he’s easy to bribe with a biscuit. And quite frankly he’s hysterical, great facial expressions, you always know exactly what he’d like, and you can’t help but laugh as you go “Oh, Brady Boy you poor guy!” as he literally trips over his own ears. yes, that is really a thing Basset Hounds do. Really truly a thing. I’m not saying a Basset Hound would be the dog for everyone, just that I when I’m once again living with Brady, I find myself wondering once more why more people don’t have them compared to some other breeds of dog.
Back to Skill Day, yesterday afternoon we practiced automatic leave its as I cooked and baked in prep for family Christmas Eve celebration this evening. Tom and Zora make me smile as I notice the minute I put on an apron and start pulling out ingredients, they voluntarily move to the other side of the house onto the living room rug, lie down and wait for me to be done. I occasionally reward their excellent choice of local with a tossed biscuit. And then I smile some more that neither tries to go for the other’s biscuit hurled through the air with a “For Tom” or a “For Zora.” Tommy only eats those accompanied by his name and Zora only eats those accompanied by hers. I do love the choices they make. It is rather nice having 2 dogs at present who are really pretty easy to get along with. Most of the dogs in my life in past have needed significantly higher degrees of management and supervision to make safe choices. These 2 really have those past dogs to thank as I don’t take their responses as such for granted.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, I don’t care about obedience. I don’t care if your dog can sit, or lie down or stay or come when called. Actually if you come see me for a behavior concern and you tell me that no matter what if you tell your dog to sit and stay she will, I will cringe.
And now I can hear you, “What?! But you’re a dog trainer!” You’re flabbergasted. “But I’ve come to you for training, I want to fix this problem! I want my dog to be obedient! If I say, “Sit!” I need her to sit. If I say “Come!” I need him to come immediately. When I say, “No!” I want him to stop doing that! What am I paying you for?!”
Safety. That’s what you’re paying me for. To teach you and your dog how to feel and be safe. And by being safe I mean a low bite and injury risk. Some of the most obedient dogs I know are some of the most unsafe dogs I know.
“But, Katrin, how can that be? That makes no sense. I’ve been told all of my life that an obedient dog is a dog under control, doesn’t that mean the dog is safe?”
Uh, no. Let me tell you a bit about what I’ve observed over the years. Dogs that tend to be welcome by people in places tend to meet 3 criteria. Those are:
- The dog has had a wide range of exposure and social history, to where they find very little truly novel or scary. And if startled, the dog has excellent recovery abilities and skills.
- The dog has excellent impulse control and arousal control skills. With a wide repertoire of safe coping skills. A dog who says ‘No thanks I’m going to ignore your sit stay cue and walk away now rather than let this stranger pet me,’ is a safer dog than the dog who says, ‘You told me to sit stay here, so I’m going to tolerate this stranger petting me even though I don’t really like it.’
- The dog has an owner or handler who understands their dog’s communications, is attentive to their environment and who will advocate for their dog’s needs.
If you notice, responding promptly or consistently to obedience commands came into that list no where.
Sure obedience cues are often used as a form of helping teach dogs arousal control. Giving dogs a more effective means to communicate their wants and needs to people. For example how often is the recommendation ‘if your dog is jumping at people coming into your house, teach your dog to sit for petting and attention.’ Using obedience (teaching sit stay) to give the dog a way to gain the attention they want. Sure, this can and does work effectively for many dogs and their people. But there are other ways to accomplish the same as well (which I can go into in another post). And I’m not saying I don’t ever use obedience to aid in teaching arousal control, I’m saying it’s not my primary go to.
My primary means of helping dogs gain an arousal control education is through what a client once jokingly termed, “The Ignore to Earn Program.” (1) Meaning providing dogs many opportunities to embrace the concept of ‘if you really, really want something to happen (or not happen) the most effective way to enable that is to ignore it.’ Notice that I said the dog is doing this. Not the owner. Which on the outset can be sometimes confusing to folks just learning it. Another way to define this is as an automatic leave it response.
Like many behaviors, this is easier to teach a young puppy who is just forming their relationship with the world, than helping an older adolescent or adult dog relearn more appropriate skills. So my suggestion, if you have a puppy take the time to train this response from the get go. And if you have a dog you are looking to retrain, take the time to train this and don’t rush the steps.
When I am teaching an automatic leave it, I think of it in a wide generalized manner. I don’t compartmentalize the response to just a certain situation where I find the response problematic at that time. I want the dog to embrace and generalize the way of life that means ‘stop and think first, not react first.’
So with that Step 1 involves:
- A few training games
- High levels of structure and management so the dog has no or very limited opportunity to practice the now unwanted escalation response
In this post right now, let’s focus on part 2 of Step 1. The environmental management and structure portion. Since without it, progress will be inhibited.
Think about when you go on a diet. When you first start the diet, you want to limit temptation and your chances of say eating a bag of cookies. So you go through the house and throw out or give away all the tempting cookies and ice cream and chocolate bars in the house. Right? Because as your diet progresses and managed eating becomes your new learned normal, then you can start to add temptations back into the home. Once you have learned the skills to manage your behavior so you can eat just 2 cookies instead of an entire bag of them at once. But right now, at the start of your diet, having those cookies in the house would be too much and your weight loss goals would be more likely to fail. Right?
Same with your dog.
If a person coming into the house is just too tempting for your dog and he will jump on that person. At the early stages of training, don’t ask your dog to be right at the door as the guest enters. Instead maybe have a baby gate up and your dog is now 15′ away from the door behind the gate. Or your dog is in another part of the house, safely in their crate as the guest enters. Then once all has settled, you bring your dog out on leash so you can help her make the good choice to not jump on the guest. Makes sense? Right?
Ok, so further examples of management to employ during this process:
- Leashes are you friend. As long as you remember: leashes are emergency safety devices not control devices. So you use the leash to limit your dog’s ability to make a poor decision, but don’t use the leash to make the decision for your dog unless necessary from a safety stand point.
- Baby gates or other barriers are your friend. Use them.
- Wax paper or window film is your friend if you have a dog that window watches or barks at passerbys out the window. Use it.
- Crates are your friend. Work to get your dog comfortable being crated or confined.
- Food is your friend. Use it as needed to help your dog proactively practice a good response to a temptation.
The key to management: use techniques to limit your dog’s chance to practice the unwanted behavior.
Next post we will begin to cover Part 1 of Step 1: Training Games to help teach your dog the new desired automatic leave it response.
- I used to call it No Begging Begging. After how when Monty 1st came into my life at the age of 2.5yrs he was a horrible visible beggar of food. The old classic drool and push at you then if you left food anywhere he’d take it in a flash. So No Begging Begging came to be. Which became if Monty was quietly lying on his dog bed, curled up, relaxed and eye closed as if he was ‘sleeping’ a yummy food morsel just might be tossed at his head. People would sit on our couch with a snack, and he will immediately assume this position and they’d go, “Oh wow! He’s so good! My dog would be all over me begging for this right now!” And I’d laugh since Monty was begging horribly for that food right then and there, but the only begging behavior that over time was reinforced was the one where he lay quietly on his dog bed ‘sleeping’ (which was all an act, he wasn’t actually sleeping but really lying in wait hoping a treat would get tossed to him.) which most people do not associate as a begging behavior.
This morning I got a call from a client who all excited exclaimed, “I had an epiphany while walking my dog the other day. The pulling is the same thing as the whining for him, it’s all related to arousal control!”
and I laughed. Because moments like that for a person mean they are on the road to no longer needing me. Which is fantastic.
This client already has a large number of techniques and games and tools they’ve learned to help their dog learn, embrace and practice more socially appropriate arousal control. And once they as the owner are able to independently start seeing the various ways their dog attempts to cope with arousal in less desirable ways, they can then begin to independent of me help their dog generalize more appropriate coping skills on this like the walk this client was taking.
I have said countless times, “Behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” Chances are if a dog practices a behavior or behavior set in 1 context, they are practicing it or a variation of it in any number of other contexts. And that behavior is meeting the dog’s need someway. And if you want to change a behavior or change the way a dog feels about any situation, you need to figure out what need that behavior is meeting and then work to address that underlying need in a way that works for that dog and works better for the humans in the picture.
“I had an epiphany, it’s all related!” Was a very happy phone call to get.