Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Training Tuesday: Chicken Edition

With Thanksgiving in the middle of this last fortnight, our training schedule was significantly disrupted. Our travel plans also offered new opportunities for training that I don’t usually have. As a result, this update is not about relaxation, but rather about chickens.

Here’s a video of what we did:

This is why I both love and hate taking video of my training. On one hand, it’s fun to see where things are going well. On the other, it really exposes the flaws in my training. But then again, I do appreciate being able to pick apart those flaws so I can do it better next time.

I did three things well in this video. First, I put Maisy on a long line for (most of) the training. This helped prevent her from engaging in the behavior I was trying to eliminate. Second, I used very high value treats: tortilla chips. Maisy is a sucker for the crispy, carby goodness of chips, and I used that to my full advantage. Finally, I think my timing was pretty good. Although it’s hard to hear the clicker in the video, it seems like most of my clicks were well-timed.

I think the biggest thing I did wrong was not planning my training. I usually plan my sessions in some way, either on paper or in my head, but this one was completely unplanned. And it shows. There are lots of errors in this video, and I think they all resulted from a lack of planning.

I didn’t think about how I was going to approach the chickens with Maisy. I would have been better off doing some parallel walking instead of using a head-on approach which mimicked chasing. At the same time, walking parallel would have allowed me to keep a better distance away from them. It’s very clear that we started out too close to those exciting chickens, which made the task much harder for Maisy than it needed to be.

I also didn’t do a very good job of providing her with feedback. My rate of reinforcement could have been much higher if I’d spent a few minutes thinking about which behaviors were desirable. I was clicking Maisy only for turning away from the chickens to look at me when I should have also clicked for sustained focus, heeling, and offering behaviors such as sits and downs. Maisy really deserved to be paid better for her hard work.

Finally, I did a horrible job of adjusting the criteria, especially in the off-leash segment. Which, let’s be honest, I shouldn’t have even attempted. She was not ready to be off-leash, but she had done so well, and it was my last chance to work with Maisy on the chickens before we left. If I’d done some planning, I would have known she wasn’t ready. But even if she had been ready for it, I failed to adjust the rest of the criteria. When you make one part of the task harder, you should temporarily make the rest of your criteria easier. When I took her off-leash, I should have started further away, worked for shorter periods of time, and used a higher rate of reinforcement.

Despite my not-so-great training, Maisy really did a great job. Sometimes it amazes me that she learns anything at all with me as her trainer. Honestly, if I were to rename this blog, I think I’d call it “Shame About the Handler.” Maisy has a lot of potential, and I don’t have the skills needed to help her live up to it yet. Thankfully, Maisy doesn’t care about wasted potential. As long as I keep her in tennis balls and bully sticks, she’s thrilled to be my dog.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Providing Feedback to Our Dogs

One of Ian’s biggest criticisms of dog training today has to do with how we are providing feedback to our dogs. He believes that the vast majority of training is done with what he calls “Non-instructive Quantum Feedback,” while dogs would be much better off if they received “Instructive Analog Feedback.” It’s an interesting distinction, and today I’d like to spend some time explaining the difference, and why Ian’s so adamant that we switch over to the latter.

First, let’s break down what he means by these terms, starting with “Non-instructive Quantum Feedback.” “Non-instructive” means that the training simply provides consequences, either desirable (click and treat) or undesirable (collar correction), but does not explain why the action was correct or incorrect, nor to does it explain what the dog ought to do in the future. “Quantum” means that that the feedback can be counted in measured in some way. This makes it a simple response, and devoid of emotion.

“Instructive Analog Feedback,” on the other hand, is basically the opposite. “Instructive” means that we tell the dog what we want, either prior to the behavior (by using a lure), or after the dog does it wrong (by explaining what we wanted instead). “Analog” means that the feedback expresses value, which is difficult to measure. Ian does this by using his voice.

You will notice that this does not reference the four quadrants in any way. As I’ve previously written, Ian finds most of learning theory to be unnecessary to dog training, and he says the quadrants fall into that category. Instead of looking at feedback in one of those four ways, he sees it as binary: things either get better, or they get worse.

Instead of worrying about terminology (which is pointless anyway, because your intention and the dog’s perception may not match up), Ian says there are three types of feedback that people use. We reward the behavior somehow, we punish the behavior somehow, or we do nothing. Similarly, there are three ways of combining this feedback.

First, there’s the “old way,” of punishing all incorrect behaviors, but doing nothing when the dog gets it right. In this example, the dog often has no clue why he’s getting punished. It also relies on the use of painful consequences, such as a collar correction, which Ian says (and I agree) are unnecessary for dog training.

Then, there’s the “new way,” of rewarding the desired responses and ignoring the rest. Shaping falls into this category, and Ian isn’t a fan of it. He believes that dogs find shaping frustrating due to the lack of feedback when the trainer is silent. While I certainly believe that it would be frustrating to go “several minutes” without a click, if you find this happening during your shaping sessions, you’re doing it wrong. Shaping should split the criteria up into tiny increments; I once heard Kathy Sdao say that, during a shaping session, you should be clicking roughly every three to five seconds.

Ian also said that he doesn’t like shaping because if you click the wrong thing once, the dog will persist with that action, and you’ll be stuck there for long periods of time. Certainly you get what you click, but a single mis-click is pretty easy to overcome, especially if your criteria is split out well and your rate of reinforcement is high.

Finally, there’s the Ian’s preferred method: using both rewards and punishment. He believes using both helps the dog figure out the task faster. Keep in mind that he believes it’s possible to punish the dog without pain, so he is not combining collar corrections with treats. Instead, he’s using feedback that is instructive and analog, and he uses his voice to accomplish this.

Basically, he uses his language and his emotions to provide feedback to the dog. Not only can he tell the dog if he’s right or wrong, but also how well he did. This allows Ian to let the dog know whether the behavior was average or if it was truly exceptional. It also allows us to inform the dog how serious his misbehavior was, ranging from, “that wasn’t quite it” to “holy crap, that was dangerous!” Ian says this allows the dog to receive far more information about his actions than a simple click and treat, or a buzz and shock from a collar.

Personally, when I’m teaching Maisy new tasks, I use primarily shaping. I do not tell her when she’s getting it “wrong”- but then, I don’t think a dog can be wrong when shaping anyway, since the whole point is that the dog is supposed to offer behaviors and you choose the ones you want to work with. I have tried using no reward markers- when you tell the dog they’re on the wrong track- but I found that they cause Maisy to give up. However, I do add verbal feedback when Maisy does something amazing. Click- jackpot- and lots of praise. Although Ian seems to believe clicker trainers don’t do this- and maybe purists don’t, I guess I don't know for sure- I don’t see why I can’t use my voice in conjunction with clicker training.

As for what I do when Maisy performs a known behavior incorrectly, well, that’s a discussion for another day. Ian talked a lot about how he approaches this: he uses what he formerly called an “instructive reprimand.” However, once he found out that people interpreted “reprimand” to mean something harsh, like yelling, he renamed the method “repetitive reinstruction as negative reinforcement.” This is a very interesting method, and it deserves its own post. I’ll do that very soon.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about how you give your dog feedback, especially when teaching new behaviors. I know there are many ways to train, and I can’t wait to hear how different people approach this!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This Thanksgiving I'm Thankful for Paxil: a 6 Week Update

Wow! What a difference two weeks makes! My last med update was kind of… lackluster. The numbers were actually a little worse, even if, subjectively, I felt she was doing better. This time around, the numbers have improved and my subjective impressions feel much more definite. For anyone interested, here’s the baseline, here’s the first update, at two weeks, and here’s the last one, at four weeks.

I did another round of behavior logs for 48 hours earlier this week. Here’s the cold, hard data:

The 45 minute resting test is where we chill out together and I measure how often she startles or raises her head during a nap. During the baseline, she had 11 instances, punctuated with lots of vigilance. At two weeks, it was also 11 times, but with less vigilance. At four weeks, it was an abysmal 19 times, but I think that was mostly because we’d gone for a walk first, which totally riles her up.

This week… Well, it’s getting much harder to count. Do I count when she lifts her head up or otherwise move? If so, there were 14 instances of that. But if I only count times where she was startled or vigilant, it was three. THREE. Most of her movements were stretching, and when she lifted her head, it seemed more like she was bored, not restless. She was sleepy-eyed, and moved slowly and lazily. This is in sharp contrast to six weeks ago, when her movements were quick, frantic, and she scanned the environment frequently.

Next up: startling or alerting towards subtle environmental stimuli. At baseline, she had an average of 3.375 per day, many at night, with prolonged vigilance following an incident 45% of the time. At two weeks, this number was 2 per day, with vigilance 25% of the time. At four weeks, it was 2.667 per day, and again with 25% vigilance.

This week… Again, it’s so much harder to count. Technically, there were four instances, putting her average at 2 per day. However, most of them were questionable. During one, I was sitting right next to her on the bed when she jumped off. My husband, who was in the adjacent room, said that it seemed like she was startled, but I hadn’t gotten that impression from my vantage point. During another, we couldn’t tell if she was rushing at a cat or not (I haven’t been counting those incidents because it was too hard to get accurate baseline data on them). It had all the qualities of being cat-related, but we hadn’t heard the cats do anything naughty. Finally, in a third instance, I honestly couldn’t tell if she was sneezing or if she was “wuffing.” Which leaves only one honest-to-goodness incident, which had only mild vigilance following it. And none of them were at night. (Yay!)

As for reactivity, this is the part where I have to admit that I haven’t been walking her as much lately; winter in Minnesota has set in with cold, snow, ice and early sunsets, all of which conspire against us. Still, she has had two reactivity-free class sessions, which is amazing!

So, while data looks pretty good to me, what’s even more amazing are the things that I can’t quantify- the little things that are going on around the house, and which prompt me to email my dog friends about five hundred times a day. I think they might be tired of things like “OMG SHE’S SLEEPING YOU GUYS.”

For one thing, she’s sleeping more. I don’t mean quantity- she’s lying down about the same amount as she used to- but rather, quality. Instead of dozing, she’s actually sleeping. On Sunday, she actually began running in her sleep, something I’ve never, ever seen her do before, and which indicates that she’s probably in REM, the deepest level of sleep.

Similarly, on Tuesday morning, I rolled over in bed. Maisy sleeps with us, and usually when I shift, she jumps up and moves. But that morning, she didn’t stir, not when I rolled over, not when I touched her, not even when I lifted her paws up and then dropped them. She was limp. She was asleep.

Further proof that she’s probably sleeping more is the fact that this weekend, my husband repeatedly commented on how cute she was, lying flat on her side. Wonderful though he is, he’s not a terribly observant man, so for something like this to make his screen is pretty amazing.

Maisy is also a world-class beggar, but she's polite about it: she'll lie down with her chin on my foot or leg, and stare at me with her big brown eyes. When she does this, she is very clearly working me, but this week, while begging, her eyes just kept closing. It was like she just couldn't keep them open.

She’s also beginning to demonstrate the ability to self-interrupt. She has long taken on the role of Cat Cop around our house, rushing and barking at them when they do naughty things like jump on the counter or scratch the furniture. Usually, that rushing includes running into them and bowling them over, but sometimes she will stop herself and then look at me, kind of confused about what she ought to do instead. I praise her lavishly when that happens.

All in all, I’m thrilled with how she’s doing. She seems so relaxed these days. Full medication effectiveness comes at eight weeks, so I’m hoping that the little bit of anxiety I’m still seeing subsides. But even if it doesn’t, I’m so thankful for how she now seems comfortable in her own fur.

I wrote this entry on Tuesday morning, because I knew we were leaving for my parents' house for Thanksgiving that afternoon, and that I wouldn't have time to crunch the numbers once there. Of course, I expected that a new environment would make Maisy edgier, but I wasn't prepared for how much. She's returned to pre-medication levels in terms of frequency of outbursts. She's barking, growling and rushing at things.

Even so, I do think the vigilance has reduced. Initially, she seemed to search out the causes of sounds (the hundred year old clock especially unnerved her), but she quickly adjusted. She isn't as relaxed as she has been at home, of course, but I'm pleased that the vigilance has reduced. Even better- she's sleeping here! The picture in this entry, poor quality as it is, was taken on my parents' couch. She was sound asleep, and was even doing that twitchy-almost-running in her sleep! Also, my dad commented that she seems "calmer" than she used to, and he didn't know she was on meds.

I have a lot to be thankful for today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Is Learning Theory Useful for Dog Trainers?

Ian Dunbar is not a heretic- he wants you to know that. Operant conditioning is real. It’s been proven. The experiments behind the theory were repeated thousands of times, and they were validated. It’s great science.

It’s just not useful for dog trainers. Or at least, not most of it. Ian believes that only about 10% of learning theory applies to us because learning theory was laboratory-generated. That is, the experiments were implemented, monitored and controlled by computers, carried out using Skinner boxes, and the animals used were “simple” and had “few interests.” In contrast, we are humans, and we train real dogs in the real world.

If we choose to use learning theory in training, then we must learn to train like a computer. That’s not necessarily bad- computers have some pretty good traits. They are tireless. They are completely consistent in both monitoring the trainee’s behavior and in providing feedback. This allows them to have very clear criteria. By contrast, we humans often have unrealistic or unclear criteria, and are inconsistent in our observations and feedback. So, why wouldn’t we want to train like a computer?

Well, computers as trainers have some drawbacks. They can not qualitatively assess an animal’s performance- they can’t see cute or flashy behaviors and train that into the final product. While they can give feedback, they cannot give instructive feedback. All a computer can do is say yes or no- provide a click and treat or a buzz and shock. They cannot explain why the animal was wrong or what he should do instead, and they cannot explain how important or urgent compliance is. Humans can.

Then there is the matter of reinforcement schedules. Ian identified seven reinforcement schedules: continuous, fixed interval, fixed ratio, variable interval, variable ratio, random, and differential. Ian explained that six of these seven schedules will maintain a behavior, but only one will improve behavior. The one that will improve behavior- differential reinforcement- is the one that computers cannot use. (Personally, I disagree. Computers may not be as good at it as we are, but there is no reason a computer couldn’t reward faster responses. In fact, they might be better at that than I am- I do not have a stopwatch in my head.)

Because we humans cannot be as consistent as computers, and because computers cannot provide instructive feedback the way we can, Ian sees no need for us to try to emulate computers. He finds this to be especially true because most dog owners don’t need nor want the precision that comes about from training like a computer. As a result, he really doesn’t have any use for the vast majority of learning theory.

So what does Ian like? Thorndike’s Law of Effect, which more or less says you should reward the good stuff and punish the bad stuff. Ian says this is simple, elegant, and pure. It doesn’t get into complicated and confusing types of rewards or punishment which cause endless arguments on the internet. Thorndike tells it like it is.

Again, Ian’s orientation as a trainer of pet dogs is obvious. The average dog owner doesn’t care about precision, and doesn’t have the consistency or patience needed to sort through the various quadrants and schedules, so I understand why Ian thinks we should avoid discussing learning theory with clients. We need to quit worrying about the science and terminology and just train. We should help them, not confuse them. It’s hard to argue with that.

Still, as a dog geek, I struggle with this idea. Personally, I enjoy understanding the science behind what I’m doing. Ian said it himself: learning theory is valid. I like thinking about what I’m going to do. I love planning my sessions. I also think it’s fun to take data and evaluate what I’ve done with the goal of doing better next time.

As a competitor, I want precision. I enjoy the challenge of being consistent enough to get amazing results. I strive to be as clear as possible in my criteria. In many ways, I do try to train like a computer, and I don’t think that limits me. I enjoy pairing clicks with not only treats but also heart-felt praise when my dog does something exceptional. I see no reason to have to choose between computer or human. That’s sort of the beauty of being human, after all: I can think outside of the box and combine the best of both approaches.

I know I’m not the normal dog owner. I spent Halloween weekend at Ian’s seminar, and I’m spending hours writing up my notes for this blog, after all. I would ask all of you if you’re normal dog owners, but I suspect I know the answer to that. You are reading this, after all.

Instead, go ahead and analyze what Ian said. Tell me how it makes sense, and then how it confuses you. Tell me how you use, or don’t use, learning theory with your dog. I know you’ll have lots to say!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good with Puppies

Because she's reactive, I always assumed that Maisy didn’t really have very good social skills. I mean, why else would she act like such a jerk to other dogs? (For the record, I don’t actually think Maisy is a jerk, but at the risk of anthropomorphizing- again- I imagine other dogs think she is sometimes. Lunging, barking, and growling when the other dog is acting appropriately isn’t very nice, after all.)

It turns out I’m wrong. She’s actually got decent social skills, barring the barking and lunging, of course, and she’s quite good with puppies! I found this out when my friend Robin got a German Shepherd puppy named Via. Robin’s philosophy on socialization is to introduce a puppy to as many stable adult dogs as possible. Personally, I don’t know that I’d call Maisy “stable,” but Robin apparently trusts her enough to expose Via to her, and I trust Robin (she also teaches our reactive dog class).

So the girls have been playing together. Well, maybe not together, but definitely in tandem. I’ve got two videos of them playing to share. They were taken a couple weeks ago, when Via was about 10 weeks old. The first was taken during the first five minutes or so of the play session:

Now, what I love about this video is how calm and relaxed Maisy is, despite the fact that Via is a bit exuberant at times- Via loves to play with her paws and Maisy… doesn’t like that so much. You can see that Maisy tends to look or move away when this happens- subtle communications which say, “Puppy, that’s too much.”

When Via inevitably ignores that (she’s not much for subtlety yet), Maisy does a very nice job of escalating the warnings, first with a small snap, and then with a larger snap and lunge. She's actually quite patient, and puts up with a lot more from Via than she does from adult dogs. In addition to that, Maisy doesn't go over the top. She makes her point quickly, then moves on, making these corrections not only appropriate, but quite fair, as well.

This second video was taken about 15 minutes later:

As you can see, Via is getting tired. She’s begun barking, and in response, Maisy becomes stiffer and a bit quicker to snap at Via. Even so, Maisy remains fairly patient with Via, and prefers to de-escalate the situation by disengaging from her. We ended the play session shortly after this happened because Via was getting overly aroused, and Maisy was getting stressed, which isn't good for either of them.

Interestingly, Maisy’s corrections never quite work. Via usually momentarily stops what she was doing, but generally comes right back to swatting at Maisy with her paws, or biting her tail (oh, that tail is just too much temptation for a Schutzhund-bred puppy), or whatever naughtiness earned her a correction. I suspect this happens both because Via is very confident and because Maisy just isn't- she'd rather avoid a confrontation if she can.

I’m very curious to see how their relationship develops as Via grows older (and bigger!), especially since Maisy tends to be the most reactive towards large, dark-colored, prick-eared dogs. I’ve always suspected that Maisy’s reactivity is due to fear and anxiety, although I wasn’t quite sure what she was scared of.

Based on her interactions with Via, I’m beginning to think it’s because Maisy just doesn’t have the self-confidence needed to defend herself at close range. She could be a lot firmer with Via and still be appropriate and fair, but she just doesn’t seem to have it in her. Maybe she’s decided that the best defense is a good offense: if she can keep the scary dog away from her, she’ll never have to worry about defending herself.

At any rate, Maisy is good with puppies, and that makes me very happy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Aggression

Ian Dunbar does not like to call a dog aggressive. As a label, he doesn’t find it very useful, and moreover, he finds it unfair. I think he has a good point: people tend to say that any dog that bites is aggressive, even if the dog bites only once during its life, and even if it was the result of extreme circumstances. Part of the reason people are so quick to label dogs aggressive is because bites are so rare- comparatively speaking, more children are killed every year by their own parents than by dogs.

Instead of asking, “is this dog aggressive?” Ian thinks we should ask, “is this dog dangerous?” He points out that simply having a bite history does not mean that a dog is dangerous. Dogs bite for many reasons, and the damage they do varies widely. In fact, Ian uses the damage done as the ultimate indicator of whether a dog is safe or dangerous. After all, every dog has the potential to bite, and until he does, you’ll have no way of telling how dangerous the dog might someday be.

In order to help determine if a dog is dangerous, Ian created a bite scale. This objectively analyzes a dog-to-human biting incident based on injuries sustained.

Level 1: The dog growls, snaps or lunges at a person. The teeth never touch skin.
Level 2: While the dog’s teeth make contact with skin, there are no punctures. There may be some indents or bruising.
Level 3: There is a single bite that punctures the skin no more than half the length of the dog’s canine tooth. Typically the entry wounds are circular or teardrop shaped. If there are slashes, they only occur in one direction because the person pulled away, not because the dog shook his head. Bruising is expected.
Level 4: There is a single bite that punctures the skin more than half the length of the dog’s canine tooth. The dog bit down and held, or shook his head. Slashes occur in both directions and bruising is significant.
Level 5: Multiple bites.
Level 6: The dog consumed flesh or killed the victim.

Ian says that the vast majority of bites happen at level 1 or 2. These dogs have excellent bite inhibition, and are not dangerous. However, these dogs do have a problem, and the problem must be solved as soon as possible to prevent someone from becoming injured.

Dogs that inflict a level 3 bite are probably dangerous, and people working with these dogs should be very careful to ensure they have the expertise needed to treat them.

Level 4 biters should be treated like a loaded gun. There needs to be fail safes in place to prevent accidental exposure to people. They should not leave the house expect to go to the vet, and then they should be muzzled. They need to be locked up when people are over. Ian will not work with level 4 cases. Although it may be possible to help these dogs, he has found that it is too difficult to get owner compliance. People simply do not do the level of management needed to keep the dogs from biting again.

Ian recommends that level 5 and 6 dogs be instantly euthanized.

Astute readers will connect this information with my previous seminar post on socialization and bite inhibition. Without a doubt, Ian used the information on aggression to underscore the importance of both socialization and bite inhibition. Obviously, a well-socialized dog is less likely to bite in the first place, but it is impossible to socialize a puppy to every possible scenario. Teaching our puppies good bite inhibition is the back-up plan. It’s what keeps people safe when socialization fails.

Treating an aggressive dog is not easy work. Ian says that it’s on par with sticking your finger in a dike that’s leaking. It works, but it’s not pretty, and it will never be as good as if the dog had been socialized properly in the first place. Ian discussed three methods for treatment.

First, there’s the obvious stand-by of classical counter-conditioning. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t spend time on it now. However, Ian did say that counter-conditioning should never stop. If you have a dog with a bite history, you should always have a handful of treats in your pocket when you’re out, just in case.

Next, for dogs who bite when touched in certain areas, Ian recommends doing progressive desensitization. To do this, you start touching the dog far away from the problem area, and gradually move closer, pairing each subsequent touch with a tastier treat. If the dog shows and signs of discomfort, start over, both with where you touch, and with lower-value treats. Soon, your dog should want you to move closer to the problem area because it means he gets yummier rewards.

Finally, for dogs who won’t let you near them, he recommended a method called Retreat and Treat. That article has the full details, but basically, this is where you throw kibble over the dog’s head, behind him, so that he retreats away from you. Then, as you move away, drop some liver or other high value reward. The dog will likely come close to you to get the liver, and then you start the cycle over again by tossing kibble over his head. Again, the ultimate goal is for the dog to want you nearby.

Thankfully, Ian acknowledged that this was just scratching the surface of how to treat aggressive dogs. He said he’d need another three days to do the subject justice. Still, I was glad that he spent the time to give us a bit of detail.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Training Tuesday: Relaxation Update

The main thing Maisy and I are working on right now is relaxing on her mat, and after reviewing my recent posts on the topic, I have to say I’m amazed by how this endeavor has evolved. We started out by doing the relaxation protocol, which went fairly well; we got all the way up to day 5 of the protocol. Still, Maisy was working, not relaxing, so I decided to try something I called day zero, which was basically just duration work on the mat with no tasks or distractions. Unfortunately, Maisy was still working, and I ended my last post wondering how I could change the picture so that Maisy would understand that she should just relax.

I ended up changing two things: the location of the mat, and the reward for being calm. Together, this has made a pretty huge difference in how our relaxation sessions are going, so I’m pretty excited to tell you about our progress.

The first change I made was to move the mat from the floor to the couch next to me. This was an easy decision, mostly because I had no idea what else to use as a mat. We’d already used different types of objects as a mat before, which meant that she’d already been introduced to the idea that lying on any mat-type object is a cue to work. But Maisy was already choosing to relax next to me on the couch in the evenings, and since we’ve never done any training on the couch, it seemed like a natural choice. After all, the entire association with lying on the couch is one of relaxation.

The second change was the way I’m rewarding her calm behavior. Before, I was using food treats to reinforce lying on the mat. Since Maisy is a clicker trained dog, she associates treats with working. If she was receiving treats for lying on the mat, that must mean that she should be working, and frankly, this is not a dog who will relax when there’s an opportunity to earn treats!

Now, I’m rewarding calm behavior with petting and massage. I don’t know that this would work for all dogs- and in fact, a year or two ago, it may not have worked for Maisy. She used to be fairly sensitive to touch, and would wiggle and squirm when I tried to stroke her. Since then, though, she’s learned to enjoy being touched, and more importantly, I’ve learned how she likes to be touched. Even better, it’s something we only do when chilling at home, not as a reward for trained behaviors.

With all that said, our typical relaxation session goes something like this: I wait until later in the evening, when Maisy is already showing signs of being tired. For a dog that doesn’t sleep a lot, this means waiting until she’s no longer begging me to throw her ball. Then I place her mat next to me on the couch, pat it with my hand, and ask her to come over. Sometimes I need to ask her to lie down, sometimes I don’t. If she tries to leave, I just call her back. Then, I time how long it takes her to relax, which I define as lying her head down. Depending on how restless she is, I ask her to remain like that for anywhere between one and five minutes. I will occasionally coo at her and rub her ears the way she likes before releasing her. If she chooses to stay on the mat after being released, that’s fine- I just wait until she goes, and then put the mat away.

We had two especially good sessions recently. On Sunday, it took Maisy several minutes to settle down, but once she did, it was true relaxation. She sprawled onto her back with her eyes closed. She looked truly peaceful, and she remained like that for almost ten minutes! Then, yesterday, as soon as I set the mat on the couch, she immediately jumped on it and lay down. She only remained in a relaxed position for about a minute, but even so, I was excited that she understood that the mat is a cue for relaxing.

I don’t plan to change anything for the next two weeks. Before I do, I want her to settle down on the mat within a minute, and to remain relaxed for a total of five minutes. I really think that it’s important to take things slowly right now. I want her to have a solid understanding of the mat as a place of relaxation before I add duration or change the location of the mat.

I’m really happy with the way it’s going, though, and although it’s taken awhile to figure out what will work for her, I think she’ll continue to be more and more relaxed. I already mentioned this, but in class last week, Maisy was calm and quiet in her crate for the entire time- something that had never happened before. Between our hard work and the chemical edge we’re getting from her medication, I’m finally feeling hopeful about her future again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Problems in the Adult Dog

Ian’s message on Friday was simple: you can predict puppy problems, and if you start young enough, you can prevent them, too. Ian believes that after 12 weeks of age, it becomes much, much more difficult, and once a dog reaches adolescence at roughly 18 weeks, it’s almost impossible. Despite this focus on preventing problems, he did talk a bit about problems adult dogs have, and gave a very brief overview on working with those issues.

One of the most interesting things was that he categorized dog problems in two categories: behavior problems, and temperament problems. Behavior problems are things that the dogs do, and include house soiling, chewing on inappropriate items, digging, and barking excessively. Temperament problems are things the dogs have, and include fear, aggression, hyperactivity and shyness. Ian says that even though behavior problems are far easier to fix through training, people are far more likely to surrender these dogs. Conversely, despite the fact that temperament problems are incredibly difficult to change, people are far more willing to live with dogs that have them.

Although I was intrigued by this distinction, I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, I agree that many behavior problems are due to a simple lack of training. On the other, it seems difficult to parse out which category a dog fits in, especially since temperament problems must be expressed through behavior. While Ian acknowledged that temperament may affect a dog’s behavior, a focus on behavior alone seems to oversimplify what could be a complex issue.

For example, Ian believes that separation anxiety is more likely to be an owner-absent problem instead of true anxiety. He explained that owner-absent problems happen because of excessive punishment for naughty-but-fun behaviors like barking a lot or chewing on things without instructing the dog what he ought to do instead. Since dogs are smart and want to avoid punishment, they wait to have fun until after their owner leaves, which leads the owner to believe that the problem is separation anxiety.

It does seem like people throw the term “separation anxiety” around pretty casually, and I’ve certainly run across people attributing anxiety to a dog that simply doesn’t know what is expected of him. Even so, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are dogs who are truly anxious, and I felt like Ian minimized this.

I had a similar reaction when he discussed compulsivity and hyperactivity in dogs. Ian said that he thinks that true OCDs or ADHDs are extremely rare in dogs, and that people use these terms to label their dogs as an excuse not to train them. He made treatment sound very simple by recommending that people reward the cessation of the unwanted behavior. The dog will then choose to disengage from the obsessive or hyper behavior in order to receive the reward, and the duration will reduce as a result.

I cannot agree with this. Maisy has some obsessive tendencies, and I do not believe it is possible for her to disengage from light-chasing behavior unless the stimulus is removed. For example, even though Maisy hates swimming, I once saw her jump off a dock to chase the light glinting on the lake’s waves. I very much had the impression that she wasn’t thinking: her entire demeanor changed before she jumped. She became frantic and seemed out of control. I don’t think she chose to jump. I think her brain forced her to.

Ian also recommended redirecting obsessive behaviors to more acceptable behaviors, such as repetitively licking or chewing on a Kong. He said this not only reinforces lying down quietly, but that it also allows the dog to engage in a more appropriate behavior while still getting the endorphin release that comes with compulsive behaviors. But I don’t see how this solves the problem. An obsessive behavior is a problem because it interferes with the dog’s ability to engage in normal life activities. Redirecting the focus of the obsessive behavior does not change this.

And then, there’s the topic of aggression. Ian actually said quite a bit about aggression, so I’ll cover it in more depth another day, but basically, he said there’s absolutely no excuse for fear-based aggression or dog-to-human aggression, with the implication that it is due to a lack of socialization in puppyhood. He acknowledged that there may be an excuse for dog-dog aggression, and I assume he meant that it may be genetic.

I’m mostly okay with this, but I became concerned when he talked about treatment. He said that he can jump start the process by doing “a bit of flooding” in a growl class. I’m not sure what he meant by flooding, but that statement set off alarm bells for me. He went on to say that most of the time he can have dogs off-leash and interacting in a growl class within 45 minutes! While I understand that leashes can contribute to the problem, he made it sound like it’s much easier to fix than it really is. I also have to wonder if the “bit of flooding” resulted in shut down dogs, which is why he was able to get them off leash so easily.

All of this is really captures the problems I had with the seminar as a whole. Ian’s clearly a very smart man, has had a great deal of experience, and has lots to offer dog owners. I respect him a great deal, and think he’s done a lot for the field of dog training. Despite that, his way of lecturing utilized stories and examples that, while engaging, resulted in gross oversimplifications and even seeming contradictions. For example, later on, in order to prove his point that it’s better to spend the time socializing puppies, he said that rehabbing an aggressive dog takes a very long time. This seems to be at odds with the idea that he can have dogs off-leash so quickly in his growl classes.

I know that his focus is the average pet owner, and as a result, he speaks simply in order to reach them. Even so, I would have greatly preferred more a more in-depth and critical analysis of the issues he brought up, especially since I think he had a lot of very good, valid points to make. Unfortunately, he made them so simply that I’m afraid he undermined his own message.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Medication Update: 4 weeks

Maisy has now been on paroxetine for four weeks, three of which have been at the full dose of 8mg. When Maisy’s veterinary behaviorist prescribed it, she said it would take 4-6 weeks before we saw any results. Since I saw some improvement at two weeks, I was very excited to see what she’d be like at four weeks. So, for the last three days, I’ve been keeping behavior logs in order to get some objective data.

The data has been… interesting. I was expecting to see a decrease in the number of outbursts Maisy is having, but this has not happened. Prior to her appointment, Maisy would bark or growl at subtle or undetectable stimuli an average of 3.375 times a day. At two weeks, this had decreased to an average of 2 times a day. During this week’s behavior logs, Maisy’s average was 2.667 times a day.

Although this is a reduction from the baseline, I was still disappointed when I saw this. Of course, the numbers are the numbers, but I really felt like Maisy is doing better than she was, especially since it seems like Maisy isn’t as vigilant as she used to be. She might be vocalizing when something startles her, but she seems to settle down faster.

So, I went back to the original behavior logs. Although I hadn’t been scoring the intensity of her reactions, I had kept a fair amount of detail. During the basline period, Maisy’s outbursts included extended vigilance (defined as either trotting around the house scanning the room intently for at least ten seconds) 45% of the time. Two weeks ago, she demonstrated such vigilance 25% of the time. This time, she scored the same: 25%. Good.

Next, I did the restlessness test. This is where I settle down with Maisy and watch a TV program while she lies next to me. During the baseline, she lifted her head or got up 11 times in 45 minutes. Two weeks ago, the number was the same, but the amount of time she looked around had reduced greatly. This time was actually worse- 19 times. It really seemed like she was having a hard time settling down. I think this was because of when I did the observation. The first two times, I came home and immediately watched the show. Yesterday, we went for a three mile walk with friends first. I think the amount of activity immediately preceding the test affected the results. I’ll do it again in a couple of weeks and see what happens.

As for her reactivity, she’s doing well. Like I said, yesterday we went on a walk with friends. I was a bit concerned in the beginning when she rushed towards two dogs. However, she was quiet during those incidents, and frankly, I couldn’t tell if she was trying to scare them off, or if she wanted to go say hi. After that, she settled down nicely and passed other dogs, including large, dark, prick-eared dogs, without a problem.

We also had a milestone in her reactive dog class on Tuesday: It was the first time she went through an entire class without any incident. She’s come close before, with only one or two soft vocalizations during the hour, but this week, there were none. Now, granted, she was in a covered crate the entire time, but that’s never stopped her before. Even better, she was actually relaxed- she appeared to be resting instead of working for treats.

Finally, I should note that Maisy is not experiencing any side effects due to the medication. During the first three weeks, she had some harder stools than normal, but that has subsided over the past week.

Overall, I do think the medication is helping her. She’s tolerating well, and she seems more relaxed. The decrease in vigilance is pretty amazing. The medication will continue to build up in Maisy’s system, and full effectiveness should be seen between 6 and 8 weeks. Hopefully, Maisy continues to improve.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Socialization and Bite Inhibition

If Ian Dunbar has a soapbox, it’s socialization. He believes that all behavior and temperament problems in dogs can be prevented if we adequately socialize our puppies. This starts from the day they’re born and continues until the day they die.

The socialization period in dogs is fairly long, starting when the puppy is around four weeks old, and extending roughly through the twelfth week. (Some experts place it further out, closer to 14 to 16 weeks.) During this time, puppies are learning what’s normal and safe in the world. Anything they don’t experience is likely to be classified as dangerous. As a result, we need to expose our puppies to everything we possibly can to ensure that they will grow up to be non-reactive adults.

Ian emphasizes socialization to people- after all, a dog fearful of other dogs can avoid them if necessary, but will be forced to live with people for the rest of his life. To this end, Ian recommends that puppies meet five new people a day during the socialization period. (Of course, he should also meet as many other dogs as possible.) After that, he should meet three new people or dogs a day for the rest of his life in order to remain socialized.

Socialization is not about having lots of experiences, though. It’s about having lots of good experiences. All food should be hand fed so that it can be used to classically condition the puppy to love people and other dogs. While we should phase out treats as rewards for good behavior, we should continue to use food to classically condition our dogs for life.

That said, it is impossible to socialize a dog so that he never has an undesirable response to something. There are an infinite number of variables: different types of people, objects, and situations can come together in unpredictable combinations. We need to socialize our dogs so that they love people, but when we find the socialization opportunity that we missed, it is how our dogs respond that will matter. If (when) he bites, he must not cause harm.

This is accomplished by teaching our dogs good bite inhibition, and Ian’s soapbox about bite inhibition is interwoven with his soapbox on socialization. In fact, he’s created a handy chart to demonstrate this (click to embiggen):

As you can see, while the lack of socialization affects the quality of a dog’s life, the lack of bite inhibition can cost the dog his life. After all, those are the dogs that do serious damage if and when a bite occurs. I almost think the most dangerous dogs are the well-socialized ones with poor bite inhibition. Although they are far less likely to bite than a poorly-socialized dog, when they do, it will not only do significant damage, but it will also come as a surprise.

Ian outlined four stages to bite inhibition. He believes each step is necessary, and that you should follow the order closely. You’ll notice that in the early stages, puppy biting is allowed. It’s important to note, however, that this biting should happen on hands only, not on clothing. It is impossible to gauge how hard a puppy is biting when it’s on an inanimate object. Allowing the puppy to nip at your clothes teaches him to bite hard and to bite close to your body, which undermines the entire process.

Stage 1: No pain. The initial step to bite inhibition teaches the dog that his jaws can inflict pain on humans. Worse, he should learn that nothing good happens when he does. Ian recommends marking the behavior by saying “ow!” and then leaving or ending the play.

Stage 2: No pressure. When the puppy is no longer causing you pain, you must teach him that your skin is very delicate. Although teeth may touch your skin, there should be no pressure involved. Again, end the play session if there is.

Stage 3: Stop when I say. During this step, the puppy is still allowed to use his mouth- without pressure- but he must quit when you ask. Ian accomplishes this by teaching “leave it” (he calls it “off”) first. (You can read about how he teaches “off” here.) Once the puppy understands the meaning of “off,” you can start using it while playing with your puppy. If he doesn’t respond, get up and leave the play session.

Stage 4: Start only when I say. Finally, the dog is not allowed to initiate mouthing. Instead, he must wait for you to give him the cue. Ian recommends using something that others are unlikely to say, such as “kill me!” This step should be practiced daily for two to three years to maintain good bite inhibition.

Bite inhibition is also learned by playing with other puppies, which is why Ian believes going to an off-leash puppy class is so important. It is also why you should not get a puppy younger than eight weeks of age- they learn so much from their litter-mates. I was lucky with Maisy- when I met her at 14 weeks old, she still lived with a brother.

I was glad to hear that Ian doesn’t think that poorly socialized dogs like Maisy are automatically dangerous. Indeed, they can be quite safe if they have good bite inhibition. Although I totally believe that Maisy would bite if she felt threatened or overly harassed, I don’t think the resulting damage would be too bad. I don’t know that for sure- she was only pushed too far once. In that instance, she merely snapped at the child that was harassing her, and didn’t even come close to putting teeth on skin. Although one trial is not enough to accurately determine her relative safety, I’m still glad that she appears to have good bite inhibition.

How about your dogs? Maisy’s a yellow-box kind of girl on the chart above, but I bet I have readers with a wide range of dogs… or even dogs they’re unsure about. After all, less than a year ago, I wasn’t sure what Maisy would do if she was provoked into biting. I’m still nervous about it, of course, and you’d better believe that I’m much more cautious with her around children. Still, I’m curious to hear about your experiences.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Was Maisy's Puppyhood Wasted? Bad Beginnings and Embarrassing Confessions

I know it was wrong, but who could resist this face?

Coming from the Midwest, I am motivated by nothing if not by guilt, which means that Ian Dunbar’s message on wasted puppyhood hit me hard. I felt pretty crummy listening to him speak- I know that I did almost nothing right when I got Maisy- and I interpreted his remarks as “you screwed up your dog.”

I don’t talk much about Maisy’s origins, mostly because I’m extremely embarrassed about them. You see, Maisy was a pet store impulse buy. I didn’t even like dogs, not really, but I was out shopping with a friend who wanted to look at the puppies. I humored her, but mostly I wanted to get back to shopping. While she fawned over the puppies, I rolled my eyes. Yes, puppies are cute. Whatever. Can we go buy some shoes now?

And then I saw Maisy. You guys, she was ridiculously cute. She had these huge, mismatched ears, and she was just so energetic and outgoing, and somehow, I found myself with a puppy. I know that buying a dog at a pet store is wrong, and I feel awful that I supported the suffering of her mother. I hate that I contributed to the demand for “corgi-poos.” And I carry a lot of guilt over Maisy’s early life, because I know that it contributed to her fear, anxiety, and reactivity.

Maisy was born here, and while the facility looks nicer than your average mass-producing puppy mill, it’s hard to believe that Maisy received anything even approaching half-decent socialization. Her early life, with her “breeder,” was clearly wasted. Strike one.

She was then shipped to a pet store, where she lived for almost two months before worming her way into my heart. If Ian is right, and temperament is forged by 12 weeks, then she was doomed before I even met her. By the time I brought her home, the socialization period had closed. Not that it mattered much. As a reluctant dog owner, I’d never even heard of socialization before, much less understood the importance of it. That first month at home? Wasted. Strike two.

I did take her to puppy class, though. We went to a big box store, where everything was taught on-leash with very little play time at the end. The trainer was inexperienced, but she was supportive, and she coached me through those early days. I do wish we’d had a trainer who was more knowledgeable- looking back, Maisy’s budding issues were quite evident, and I often wonder what could have happened if she’d received early intervention. Still, I did my best, as did the trainer. Our efforts may have been inadequate, but I hesitate to call them wasted.

I also hate to say that Maisy’s puppyhood as a whole was wasted. It just sounds so… harsh. I know that her issues are, at least in part, due to the lack of socialization she received. I know that I did a lot of things wrong. But to say that her puppyhood was wasted makes me feel like her life is somehow worth less as a result. I know that’s not what Ian was trying to say- it’s my irrational Midwestern guilt creeping up again- but I’ve got tears in my eyes as I write this.

I love my dog. I love her with all my heart, and I will never regret my decision to buy her. Simply put, I believe Maisy and I were meant to find each other. I don’t want to sound egotistical, but I honestly believe that her anxiety and reactivity would have been far worse if she’d been purchased by the kind of owner that typically buys dogs at pet stores. Between that and her allergies, it’s unlikely she’d still be alive today without me. Maisy needed me.

But I needed Maisy, too. I’ve written about this before, but my life has been made so much better because of her. I have learned so much from her. About dogs, yes, of course, but also about life and friendship and love. I needed her just as much as she needed me.

So was Maisy’s puppyhood wasted? Probably. Do I wish I could go back and do things differently? Definitely. But this is the way things are. I may have failed her when she was young, and I may make mistakes again, but I think Maisy will forgive me. And in the end, the relationship that we have today is all that really matters.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Don't Waste Puppyhood!

When it comes to our puppies, Dr. Ian Dunbar says that we are not doing one tenth of the training, one hundredth of the socialization or one thousandth of the classical conditioning that we should. As a result, puppyhood is wasted, and our dogs inevitably grow up to have behavior or temperament problems. These problems are not only predictable, they are easily preventable if we intervene early enough. Ian’s fed up with dogs being rehomed, or worse, euthanized, because they were failed by their breeders, trainers, and owners. Today, I’m going to write about what he thinks each party should do.

A Breeder’s Responsibilities
Ian says that the eight week old puppy you bring home from the breeder may be so developmentally retarded that he’ll never catch up to where he should have been. Since half (or more!) of the dog’s socialization period happens while the puppy is still at his breeder’s, it is vital that breeders do their share to set our dogs up for success. This includes house training, chew training, and socialization.

On the house training front, Ian says the breeder should have a long term confinement area set up in three distinct sections. At one end, there’s the whelping box, where everyone sleeps. In the middle is a play area, and at the far end there should be a toilet area. Ideally, that toilet area will include natural substrates such as grass or dirt because puppies will develop a life-long preference early on.

In the middle play area, Ian wants the breeder to tie chew toys to the barriers. This makes it difficult for the puppies to fight over toys, plus it keeps the toys out of the toilet area. Ideally, these chew toys will include Kongs, and he wants all meals fed from them to encourage good chew habits early on.

Most importantly, a good breeder will also socialize their puppies. From an early age, all puppies should receive daily neonatal handling by all kinds of people, and especially men and children. They should be exposed to regular household sounds. The puppies ought to meet five new people a day, again, concentrating on men and children of all ages and sizes.

The First Month at Home
Ian believes that a dog’s temperament is forged by 12 weeks, so it’s important that the puppy’s first month at home is used wisely. He wants people to “flood” them with social stimuli. Again, the puppy should be exposed to five new people a day, and the wider variety, the better; every day should be Halloween for a puppy!

New owners should continue to use a long-term confinement area with three distinct sections, like at the breeders. This should be used whenever the owner is gone. While the owner is home, the puppy should be crated unless the owner is interacting with him. It is very important that the dog learns how to be alone in small doses.

Finally, he strongly believes that a food bowl should be a rite of passage. All food should be hand-fed until your dog is perfect for you. Meals should be used for classical conditioning during socialization or for training. If there’s anything left over, it should be put in a chew toy.

Puppy Class
Ian is obviously a huge proponent of puppy classes. Unfortunately, he believes that they have gone downhill since they began in the 80s. Instead of focusing on socialization, many trainers are focusing on obedience commands, which Ian finds to be a poor use of time.

Ian believes that puppies should start class around 12 weeks of age. This is for two reasons. First, Ian wants puppies to be very well socialized to their new families. If a dog is well-socialized to his environment, his family, and their friends, he is less likely to be rehomed later. But also, Ian really wants the puppy in class when the dog enters adolescence at 18 to 20 weeks so he can help them through any rough patches.

Puppy classes should be held completely off leash. The primary purposes of puppy class are socialization and teaching bite inhibition, neither of which can happen unless the puppies are interacting with each other. He also emphasizes off-leash reliability, and he does not think you can get that unless the puppies are trained off leash.

Along those lines, every 15-30 seconds, there should be a training interlude, where everyone calls their puppy back to them. Sometimes they simply grab a collar and give a treat, and sometimes they lure behaviors like sits or downs. Then the puppies are sent back to play. This helps build off-leash reliability, modulates arousal levels, and teaches the puppies to think despite distractions.

Puppy classes should have puppies of all shapes and sizes. Although owners love it, Ian thinks it’s detrimental to have all small-breed dogs together. They simply must learn how to interact with dogs of different sizes. Small dogs must learn not to run and squeak, and big dogs must learn how to be gentle.

Finally, all social problems must be resolved week one. The bully must be stopped, and the fearful dog must gain confidence. If it doesn’t happen then, it will be much more difficult during week two. If it doesn’t happen then, the dog is likely to have a problem for life. For bullies, Ian likes to provide running verbal feedback to the puppy to help him learn to interact appropriately. For the fearful puppies, he carefully pairs them up with suitable buddies to play one-on-one and build confidence.

That, in a nutshell, is how Ian recommends we raise puppies. Obviously, I’ve glossed over a lot of details, and I’ll admit- this post is a bit dry. The thing is, I had some pretty strong emotions about the concept of a “wasted puppyhood,” even though I mostly agree with him. Since I recognize that my feelings might be a bit irrational, I decided to write a separate post detailing my reactions.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you all have raised puppies. I’d love to hear what breeders are doing to socialize their puppies. I’d like to know what puppy-buyers are doing to ensure they receive emotionally-healthy puppies. Did you go to puppy class, and if so, how did it compare to Ian’s ideal? If you were to do it all over again, would you follow Ian’s ideas exactly, or would you modify them somehow? Let me know!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Introduction

Dr. Ian Dunbar: Master of funny faces and dog impressions.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a three-day seminar given by Dr. Ian Dunbar. I was pretty excited about this because Ian is a big name in training. He designed and taught the first puppy classes, wrote numerous books, appeared on television and in DVDs, and founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

On Friday, Ian discussed how to predict and prevent problems in puppies. He believes that all behavior problems can be prevented, with the possible exception of dog-dog aggression. Unfortunately, we waste puppyhood, and as a result, end up with dogs with behavior problems. These dogs are often rehomed, or worse. Ian’s fed up with this, and he says we need to stop producing problem dogs by changing the way we breed and raise puppies so that all dogs can stay in their homes.

Saturday’s topic was “Science-Based Training- with Feeling!” During the course of his lecture, Ian deconstructed learning theory. He believes that trainers have become “sectarian fundamentalists” who only read part of the “Holy Book of Learning Theory.” What’s more, by his estimation, 90% of learning theory is useless for dog training anyway. He explained why, and then shared how he implements the remaining 10%.

Finally, on Sunday, he told us how he gets off-leash reliability from dogs. His emphasis is on lure-reward training, and he told us how he progresses from the first cookie-induced sit all the way up to a solid dog who reliably performs commands everywhere.

Overall, I’m glad I attended the seminar. Ian is a very engaging speaker. He’s funny, and he tells lots of stories. Sometimes, the stories hugged the margins between on and off topic, and I think that I would have preferred a bit more content and a bit less in the way of commentary. I must admit that at times, my mind wandered a bit more than I would have liked.

I also appreciated that the seminar challenged some of my dog training beliefs. I am a clicker trainer, and he is a lure-reward trainer. From the outset, this means that we do things differently. While I understand that the average dog owner will get the results they want from lure-reward training- I am not the average dog owner. I’ve had very different experiences, so I did disagree with a few of his ideas, although I don’t think that means he’s “wrong.” On the contrary, I’m sure he’s had a lot of success with his methods, even if I haven’t.

The seminar gave me a lot to think about. Since I learn best by writing, you can be assured that there will be many posts to come. In fact, there will probably so many posts that I’ll need to spread them out over the course of a couple of months. After all, I still want to write about Maisy’s progress with training and her new medication! In the meantime, if you want a sneak peak into the seminar, check out part one or part two of Laura's summaries.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Training Tuesday: The Lazy Trainer Edition

She'd rather relax on the couch.

Do you ever just have lazy training weeks?

I hope I’m not alone in this, but every couple of months, I just don’t feel like training. Don’t get me wrong- I love training- but sometimes it starts to feel like more of a chore than something I enjoy. I hope it’s good for Maisy, too. I know dogs need downtime, and I’ve read about big-name trainers who give their dogs blocks of time off, so I don’t feel too guilty about it.

Anyway, that’s pretty much the summary of the last two weeks: a break. I even skipped class last week! We’ve done a bit of training here and there, but not much. For example, I’ve only done two relaxation sessions with Maisy.

Previously, I talked about moving to Day Zero of the Relaxation Protocol, which is really just mat work. You guys made some great suggestions in the comments, so I took them! We all agreed that I needed to change the picture from training mode to relaxing mode, so I’ve been waiting until Maisy begins to relax on her own in the evenings. Then I set her mat on the floor next to the couch and direct her to it. This allows me to keep the picture mostly the same- I’m not making eye contact with her, she’s already mostly relaxed, the only change is the addition of the mat.

The first time, it took her three to four minutes just to settle on the mat. She kept getting off it to sit by me on the couch, where she would promptly lie down. The second time, she settled on to the mat quicker, but she was still very “operantly relaxed.” I really think the mat has become a cue to “work” versus relaxing. Still, all four feet were touching the ground (usually, she’ll have several legs sticking straight out, stiff as a board), so she was at least more relaxed than usual.

I have two ideas to address this, and I’m not sure which to pursue. I’m hoping you guys can help me! First, if the mat is a cue to work, maybe I should change the mat. The problem with this is that she seems to have generalized her fake relaxation to any mat-type object, and I’m not sure how else to change the picture. My second idea is to move the mat. She almost never relaxes on the floor next to the couch. Instead, she chooses to lie on the couch next to me. Perhaps putting the mat there would help me get better results. Or maybe I could do both somehow?

We have done a bit of obedience stuff, though. In my last goals update, I said that we hadn’t really worked much on heeling or fronts, and that I probably wouldn’t. But, I felt kind of sad about that. I don’t know if Maisy will ever trial again, but there’s no reason not to train just in case! So, I’ve been working on calling Maisy into heel position from multiple angles, focusing on her being straight. She’s no longer over-compensating and ending up crooked when I do pivots, so that’s cool. We’re also working on straight fronts. I’m pretty impressed by how well she’s doing, even though we haven’t worked on it much.

Anyway, that’s what we’ve been up to. We’re going to class tonight, and hopefully I’ll figure out how to tackle this relaxation stuff so we can start working on it again. Let me know what you think…