Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dog group II

We had our first dog group today! It went really well. I brought Dottie and we were able to walk right past Kelly and Joel's dogs on the same bike path. I was proud.

Patricia McConnell is doing a blog post soon about "steps 2 through 25," basically why your dog can sit and be good in dog class but sucks everywhere else and what to do about it. I'm excited for it, because it's the middle steps that are most important but hardest and there's the least information about them.

Speaking of lack of information, I've come across a few new dog training topics that me and folks in the dog group are interested in. Is it possible to train your dog to play nicer? Is it possible to train your dog to be calmer in general? Is it possible to train your dog to meet other dogs nicely on leash? If so, how? These are all issues me and other people in the dog group are dealing with. Curious if anyone has any thoughts. I had never even entertained the idea of Dottie or Gustav actually meeting a dog on leash, because I just assume it would be a problem. Ditto for playing off leash. Dottie's reactivity has always been hard to deal with: what do you do with a well-trained dog who get's riled up super easily? It's hard to take her camping or other non-home places where she won't get constant attention, because she barks and won't just settle in. Hmmm.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Justin saw a mother-child pair that both dogs had a weird problem with a while back. This time the pair walked pretty much right past the dogs with no problems. Ah, progress!

Also we saw a dog across the street who has really bossy body posture and everyone was cool. Barely. Especially Dottie, although at one point I had to literally shove treats in Gustav's mouth to keep him calm enough.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Having a hard time coming up with titles when all I do is talk about the same thing

Great day today. I brought Dottie to the dog park but we only wandered around in the field outside. It was great. Her hackles were up, but she wagged her tail and didn't bark once. We got lots and lots of great counterconditioning done, with zero possibility that a dog would come up and harass her. I tried to think hard about how the good work is down way below threshold. I kept thinking "ooh, I bet we could go in!" or "maybe I should go a little closer." I managed to restrain myself and everything went great.

After getting home, I took Gustav out and we saw a million people and dogs and he was a star. He even wagged his tail a tiny bit, albeit in the absence of any triggers.

Also, a raw meaty bone turns out to be the key to the dog left behind not crying while I leave with the other one.

All in all, I'm feeling happy about the day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dottie learns a lesson

Similar situation on this morning's walk: we saw a dog in a car unexpectedly. This time, however, Dottie gave a brief bark and then responded really nicely to a sit and look cue. But then there was ANOTHER dog in the car right next to it. Dottie lost it then. But we made it through. At the very end of the walk I circled back past those cars and was prepared. Both dogs made it without losing their tempers. Yay!

Times over threshold: Dottie: 1. Gustav: 0.

Also Gustav is doing GREAT with auto-watches. His eyes are squinty and tail at half-mast when we see people around half a block away, and he's autowatching every time. Yay!

Dottie has a hard time

Just a quick update so I don't forget: Dottie's been over threshold three times in the last two days. Once with a big guy making loud noises getting into his car, while Justin was walking them. The next two times were with me and both involved unexpected dogs. A little pug came out of nowhere and Dottie lost it. It was probably 30 feet away. I was walking Loona at the same time. Yesterday we were walking down the street and I thought I heard a dog from someone's yard, usually not a big deal. Turns out the dog was in a parked car on the same side of the street as us. I dragged them along a bit, but then stopped and had them sit and Dottie was able to calm down and take treats and the dog eventually stopped barking, then we kept going.

So times over threshold for Dottie recently: 3 :(
For Gustav: none.

I only count these on walks, not from the house or the yard. That is somewhat frequent.

This Sunday the dog group is meeting to conduct some walk-bys. I'm bringing Dottie and I think it will be really good for her. I met Katie and Laura's dogs a few days ago and they are really sweet and non-reactive.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dog group

I had the first meeting of the training group today. I am really excited to work with people in set-up situations, I think it will be mutually beneficial for everyone. We're going to get together and do some walk-by type drills. I think I'll bring Dottie to start since she's easier, then try out Gustav later on.


In other news, Gustav and Loona got in a bit of a fight last night. I wasn't there, Justin was. He said Gustav was winning and he yelled "no" and they stopped. Sounded a little scary, and sort of interesting considering Gustav had been so submissive until that point. Guess he'd had enough. Sound like they were competing for Justin's attention, maybe a little resource guarding from Gustav? Loona growled and lifted her lip when Gustav approached Justin while Loona was getting pet. Dottie has never treated us as resources, so I wonder if that's the one area where Gustav won't just take it. When I pet Dottie, he always comes up and tries to horn in. I usually put him on a sit then pet him. Hmmm.

Also, I feel like Gustav is really turning a new leaf in terms of strangers on walks. He just seems extra relaxed and super willing to give up an autowatch. I think it's the increased distance I'm giving him. I haven't pushed him at all in terms of getting closer than half a block or so to people. I wonder if he feels more trusting that I won't get him too close, so he can relax. I also actually got a tail wag out of him while CCing from the backyard. There were some people on the street fixing a car and talking loudly, and we went to the fence to watch them. A tail wag is huge, I think. If I ever got one out on a walk I would probably throw a party.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Head down!

I taught Dottie "head down" while shaping relaxation on her mat. This has been awesome. It was Chelse's idea to teach Dottie a super long down-stay to keep her from bugging me on the days I work from home, like today. I gave her "go to bed" and "stay," then gave her treats every time her head hit the ground. Then every time her hips flipped. Then when she rolled all the way on her side. The stay was so solid that she didn't hop up to bark at something out the window with Gustav, just lay on her mat and bark. I appreciated her attention. This is a perfect happy medium, since I can do my work while training my dog, with peace and quiet, and Dottie can feel like she's entitled to sporadic attention and treats by being calm and quiet rather than making up things to see out the window. Yay! This has been the most relaxing homework day ever, thanks for the tip Chelse! I suspect Dottie really likes the "permission" to just be told what to do and not have the scary responsibility of making her own choices.

Skinny minnie dog on the street

Arrgh. Justin and I took the dogs out, against my better judgment since I had work to do. We saw a skinny golden retriever on a busy street. Justin wanted to save it, so I brought the dogs into the park while Justin lured it with hot dogs and got the phone number. But he didn't have a phone, and I did, so an extremely frustrating encounter ensued. My dogs were barking like crazy, especially Dottie, because their other owner was across the street feeding hot dogs to a strange dog. I essentially reinforced this by drizzling cheese all on the ground so they would shut up long enough for me to hear the phone number that Justin was shouting across the street. I finally got it, after losing my temper more than once and yelling and stomping my feet like a four-year-old rumplestiltskin, and the guy who answered the phone actually told me his dog was in his backyard. No joke. I said, "well, no, he's out here on the street." The guy said to hang on, he was going to check the backyard to see if the dog was there, no kidding. Well, lo and behold, the dog was not in his yard, because, as we already knew, he was on the street being fed hot dogs by Justin. Turns out the guy was like three houses away, came out and got the dog, and we went home with me in a foul mood and the dogs with barely a walk.

Times over threshold: 1 loooong one for Dottie, a short one for Gustav.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Briefer report

Good walk today, saw a few people and Gustav seemed especially at ease and performed some amazing auto-watches.

Dottie has been lagging behind and I'm not sure what that's about. Justin thinks it's that she's obsessed with the hand that has treats in it, I think she's cold and her feet hurt. I cut her nails tonight to rule out painfully long nails.

Times over threshold: 0.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Brief report

Our walk this morning, briefly:
Gustav does not care for his backpack much, but homeboy is fat and needs the extra exercise. So too bad.
Saw maybe three or four people, no dogs. Lots of good CCing, especially the neighbor who came out to warm up his truck and some diner patrons going in and out of the diner.
Times over threshold: 0.
I'm thinking about experimenting with the type of protein for Gustav, as suggested by Chelse. This will make an excellent Skinnerian ABA type study, which I just learned about in skool. A is Baseline: Iams. B is Treatment: some other type of protein (Iams is chicken). A is back to baseline (Iams). This step can be skipped I think if needed, but is nice to control for some validity threats that can pop up with the passing of time (history and maturation come to mind, my teacher would be proud.) The measure will just be times over threshold over the life of the big bag of food. I think this will even out other variables. Interesting to try, anyway.
Shane came over and Dottie barked, but not Gustav. It was tough since they didn't really expect it. Weird, though, since he's in the band and nothing else was different. Dogs are bad at generalizing, it's true.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

People shoveling make good practice

I did separate walks today. Both dogs cried and cried as I left with the other, which I thought was irritating considering they had in their possession an amazing yogurt-milkbone-hotdog kong. Gustav and I snuck back within earshot to make sure Dottie had quit crying since the neighbor guy was shoveling and I didn't want him annoyed by loud barking. She had stopped, or was at least quiet enough that neither me nor the neighbor could hear her.

Dottie and I had a lovely time playing frisbee. These times make me a little sad, because having one dog is easy. But I remember when we just had Dottie, and she was a bit of a wreck. So I know it's better.

Gustav and I barely got a block because of our "quality, not quantity" focus. We stood about half a block from a lady shoveling, making for a perfect pilot study of the CAT procedure. Gustav got fixated, then looked up at me for treats. I jackpotted him. This went on and on, but I didn't see any signs of relaxation to reward him for. By reward I mean briskly walking away from the woman. Lots of good CC, no CAT. The lady eventually had shoveled her driveway completely and went home. We repeated this idea with a guy with a snowblower, who said hello and I told him I was training my dog because he's afraid of people and he asked if he could come over and I said no, he's the mean kind of afraid. The guy said that's ok I have a dog. Gustav did not visibly relax for this guy either.

Great, consistent CCing, though, even though we didn't make it very far.

It was practice night and my dogs love everyone in the band and Gustav solicited lots of petting and nobody even thought about barking as they came in. The dogs, that is. Gustav was super relaxed and draped himself all over Christian's feet and got good behind-the-ear petting from all three boys. It made me really happy.

Times over threshold: 0, although Gustav let out a little woof at the snowblower guy when he talked to me. Talking is definitely a trigger.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Training group

The training group is coming together slowly but surely. We'll have an initial meeting in a few weeks to see where everyone is with their dogs and what people's goals are.

I bet we'll need a non-reactive dog at some point if anyone wants to volunteer! Or if you want in on this group, let me know. I anticipate a lot of leash-reactivity work, maybe some doorbell drills, and some CC with people for Gustav.

I bought new toys for the dogs and they love them. I am a sucker.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Quality time

Separate walks today, Gustav off with Justin and Dottie off with me. We met up in a park. Dottie seems extra concerned to be out without Gustav. She did a lot of scanning and was tense in general. Saw three dogs, no barking from Dottie. Lots of awesome frisbee-ness as well.

Justin reported good behavior for Gustav, notably walking past a yard full of barking huskies, mostly at 12 feet distance, with no problems from Gustav. At 20 feet he even rolled around in the snow.

Times over threshold for both: 0.

Long jog

I took the dogs on a longish jog yesterday, about an hour (well, admittedly I didn't actually jog the whole time, there were breaks for training, sniffing, etc.). The very first thing that happened was we left the house and saw a guy and I was giving Gustav treats, but then the guy saw something in his car and pivoted and started hustling towards us. Gustav lost it and started barking and lunging, Dottie joined in barking but not lunging. Details: guy was wearing sunglasses and was on the same side of the street as us, but we were on the sidewalk. Gustav also hadn't had tons of exercise recently so maybe that played a role. I was frustrated so I just took them back home for a few minutes. I ignored them completely and waited until Dottie stopped whining at me, then got up and tried again. I'm not sure if they understand the meaning of this time out, but I know I needed it to get in a positive frame of mind again.

Which I'm glad I did, because I needed it. On our way out we saw plenty of people, plus some running kids and a few dogs behind fences. Both dogs did well. In light of two facts I tried to keep extra distance: one, in my experience if Gustav's lost it once recently, he has a much lower tolerance for scary stimuli and is prone to react in situations where maybe he wouldn't have another day. Two, I have been giving a lot of thought to two of Chelse's ideas: one is quality over quantity, that one really nice controlled set-up is better than haphazard but longer training. two, counterconditioning works best waaaay under threshold, like the dog is actually relaxed but still noticed the stimulus. So I've been trying to stop way far away from people and do the counterconditioning until the person disappears, if their path of travel makes this possible. For example, if someone is coming towards us I can give treats until they're maybe three-quarters of a block away, then actually turn around and walk away. This is also like a tiny, poorly-executed version of CAT (relaxation equals scary thing goes away). The other advantage of this is that the real trigger is people approaching him, not Gustav approaching the person voluntarily. So this system addresses that issue more precisely by having us stay still.

Okay, so then we got to a nice part, a bike path with no one around and Dottie got to do these crazy runs around the field just because she wanted to, which always makes me happy to watch. Me and Gustav started sprinting around and having a good time.

Then at the bus transfer point we did some more long distance CC (I actually got a tail wag!) then walked up Milwaukee street. Milwaukee street is busy and has no sidewalk on one side, so it's a gamble for safe walking. We walked up it and past some people standing in their garage, no issue. Then we saw a guy walking towards us. I looked around and realized that due to snow and traffic, etc, there was no was this was going to work. So I turned around and when we walked back past the driveway a little dog came running towards us. He only got about half way when his owner got him, but Gustav was spooked. He started barking and lunging and due to the guy coming up behind us and wanted the little dog to not come to the street, we just started jogging quickly away from it all. I can't remember if Dottie was barking or not. But Gustav was really concerned, had all his hackles up and kept turning around and whimpering this horrible whimper. I interpreted that as his discomfort at not being able to see the two scary things, the guy and the dog. When I recounted this to Justin he interpreted it as frustration at not being able to meet the dog. The whimpering made me feel really sad for Gustav, like he is really terrified. Since he's usually such a jerk about things he's scared about, it made me really sad to see this more pathetic manifestation of his utter terror. We finally got to a side street and turned up it. I stopped so we could collect ourselves. We watched the guy who had been behind us pass and Gustav got lots of treats for that. A little kid got into a car across the street with her mom and the dogs got lots of treats. Then after everyone was gone I gave Gustav some firm petting down his spine like Chelse suggested and some calm talking and deep breaths. Gustav got all squinty-eyed and leaned his head into my leg and I felt much better and he obviously did too.


The rest of the jog home was mostly uneventful. We saw more people and I stopped super far away to do CC, which was definitely the right decision based on Gustav's tension even with the people over a block away. On our last turn towards home we were suddenly faced with the husky from across the street. I one-eightied and the dogs didn't even notice the husky. Thanks to dog's best friend classes for teaching us an automatic turn, it has saved us from hysterics more than once. The dogs know it, but more importantly I automatically cheerfully say "this way" or "let's go" (I know I should be consistent but I forget in the heat of the moment) and turn on a dime. I used to just stand there dumbly for a split second while I decided what to do, and in that moment my dogs would decide on a course of action for me.
I brought them back about half a block and CCd at the husky passed and I'm not even sure my dogs noticed the husky, but regardless they were perfect and I was proud, and I know the husky owners noticed and they know I'm working hard on these dogs, so I felt good about that.

Daily stats:
Times over threshold for Gustav: two.
People CCd for: probably about ten.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Read read read.

I've been binge-researching, which is a moderately unhealthy phase I sometimes get into. I get interested in a topic and spend hours reading up on it, somewhat compulsively and usually to the exclusion of other healthy, balanced activities, like sleeping and doing homework.

That being said, I feel like I have a decent handle on this CAT thing, and I'm intrigued. I won't go into all the details, but I found the master's thesis that it's based on and read it. I wasn't bowled over by the scope of the research. The sample size was dismal, definitely in case study range (six dogs). There was no control group or comparison group, and no reliable long term follow up with the treated dogs. I thought the theory was sound, but I'm no expert in applied behavioral analysis.

The real issue is whether it might help Gustav. I have a real problem with the shoddy translation of research to practice in the dog training world, and if I hear one more testimonial as proof that something works, I'm going to scream. All it really means is that someone tried something and their dog improved. The connection is not certain, and doesn't mean it will translate to my dog. Even if the research was really solid, though, my dog could always be the outlier. So Justin and I have to sift through all of this and choose responsibly.

Next step: find out a way to get a hold of the ten-hour, $135 CAT DVD. Chelse thought she might be able to lend it to me, that would be awesome. Then find a decoy and call up Chelse to run a session. I think we should chat about the details, because the application can vary a bit.

Ok! I guess I should attend to other aspects of my life, like getting dressed and going to school. Sigh.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Consultation day!

Just got done with our consultation with Chelse, from Dog's Best Friend. We talked about a lot of stuff, but I'll just highlight a few things:

1. My entry plan worked beautifully! I had Dottie in the kitchen being fed treats, Gustav was in his crate, and Justin went out and met Chelse before she knocked then had her come in and sit down. Then Justin went and got Gustav from his crate on a leash and had him lay down on the dog bed next to where Justin sat, far from where Chelse sat. Dottie didn't bark once, and Gustav barked a few times from his crate but not at all otherwise. Yay!
2. Chelse mentioned the CAT program, which I know a little bit about but not a ton. In brief, you use negative reinforcement to encourage relaxation behaviors, which will hopefully translate to emotional state over time (like smiling to feel better). A person appears on the horizon, and every time the dog shows signs of relaxing, the person goes away (hence the negative: you take something away; the reinforcement refers to increasing a behavior, i.e. relaxation behaviors). I like it because it elegantly manipulates the dog's fears to end up reinforcing what you want. Since he likes it when people go away, you use that fact to gradually encourage relaxing as people approach. Interesting. I'll post more about it as I learn more.
3. We have a few things to think about, mostly the use or nonuse of drugs and the possibility of switching foods. Chelse had the same thing to say as Nancy about the low protein study: too small a sample. I think this is a fair critique.
4. I got answers to all or nearly all my little minute training questions, that are too numerous to go over right now.
5. The take home message: quality over quantity. A high-quality, well-controlled training situation is more important than exposing Gustav to a hundred people a day. This was good news to me.
6. We ran a few door trials, and Gustav even wagged his tail a tiny bit. From the kitchen, as Chelse threw treats. Closer was not as hot, Gustav got a little fixated and grumpy.

Gustav is pooped now from the stress of having a stranger in the house. He was great, though. If anything Dottie was a touch annoying, as she now thinks that visitors mean constant treats and thinks that whining will speed up the process.

Lots to think about, I think forming a training group and setting up some good training situations is next on the list.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Driver's ed video day

Boy, who knew the prospect of homework would make me such a prolific blogger?

Today's walk was what I call a "driver's ed video" walk. Remember those simulations from driver's ed? Where you have to swerve around a little girl chasing her ball in the street and stop suddenly because the car in front of you did? On days where we barely get a breather between, um, let's call them training opportunities, there is a similar feel. The good news is we passed the class and had lots of great moments. We saw an angry woman yelling into her phone across the street, a jogger, a golden retriever, punk-ass kids swaggering and yelling a bunch, neighbors shoveling, mailman in--I'm not kidding--a snowsuit, screaming children frolicking in their yard, etc. etc. etc. I got some excellent auto-watches from Gustav. I've been waiting a second longer to see if he's going to, then I jackpot him if he does. Another great way to get him to look is to stop abruptly, then he usually looks around at me after a few seconds. When he spotted the retriever, he got all tense, then actually decided to turn and look at me. Jackpot! Good boy! I executed an excellent and smooth U-turn when I spotted an off leash dog up ahead, the dogs responded beautifully. Not a peep out of them the whole entire walk. Hooray!

I was on my absolutely last piece of cheese as we got home, and I never ever thought we'd get close to running out. I was also sweating and pretty stressed out by the end. Whew! We played in the yard a bit to cool off, and I got the opportunity to practice "leave-it" with Gustav, as he had uncovered his favorite backyard treat: a poopsicle.

I also just saw Gustav lift his lip at Dottie for the first time ever. I gave him a kong with hot dog in it to entertain him while Dottie and I went to the front yard so I could shovel. After we came back in she got close and he lifted his lip. I said "Gustav!' in a shocked tone, which I regret now because he gave me a (what I interpreted as) mean stare. I made up for it (I hope) by approaching him while tossing treats which he gladly ate. I really think he has the potential to be a pretty nasty resource guarder, so every once in a while I stand over him and drop chicken while he eats, or take away his bone and give it right back. I would never ever have these things around with outsiders (i.e. not me or Justin).

Ha ha, now Dottie has managed to get said kong without incident and is working on it in his crate. Of course Dottie can take care of herself, silly me.

Oh, one last question for the behaviorist: how do I interpret his molasses response to cues? When I ask him to lay down, he frequently does so verrrry slowly and with a bit of an attitude (in my opinion). Do I ask him again? Walk away? Is he being sassy or just dumb?

The boys are coming over for practice tonight and Chelse comes tomorrow morning, so I'm sure I'll have plenty to report.

Second-hand report

Recently I've taken to playing with the dogs in the yard as my daily time with them. I'm doing this because I'm trying to focus on pure aerobics with Gustav, since it turns out he's a bit overweight. He's supposed to lose about ten pounds. The upside is that it's convenient and they are both panting (as am I!) by the time we come in. The downside is that there are fewer counterconditioning opportunities.

That being said, Justin still walks them. He said yesterday that they passed three people right on the sidewalk while he shoveled treats into Gustav's mouth. Good! Also, however, he took them on leash in a park-like woodsy area near our house last night and got mobbed by an off-leash dog. Dottie barked incessantly and Gustav reared up and did his scary low bark, and Justin got pulled down because it was so slippery. The dog quickly realized that his potential playmates were insane and definitely no fun. The owner apologized profusely. This sort of thing is unfortunate, but I honestly think we deserve some of this karmically (does anyone remember Gustav mobbing a sweet dog out for a ski with his owner? From about 100 yards away? And me frantically calling him to no avail? Yeah. I do. I can't get too self-righteous about other people with no control over their dogs. And at least her dog was friendly, if naughty).

Tomorrow is our visit from the behaviorist. At some point today I'm going to sit down and refine my list of questions. Here's a brief overview of my thoughts:
1. might doggie drugs help for a bit? Should we consider them?
2. what about food? It seems intuitive to me that Gustav's behavior is affected by food, just like anyone would be. Is there something I could be feeding him to help? The vet was skeptical of the low-protein, I thought she had good points (i.e. small sample size, and the reasonable assertion that if a dog food company had solid evidence that a certain food was prone to reduce aggression, we would be hearing a lot more about it.)
3. Is it best to go crazy with counter conditioning and expose them to as many people/dogs as possible, even with the increase in over-threshold incidents inherent in this approach? Or best to do mostly yard exercise and then only really controlled exercises, albeit necessarily less frequently?
4. Is it really beneficial to walk them separately? I could do this, and have, but it really cuts down on their exercise in general.
5. Given Gustav's pushy nature, is it best to have visitors just ignore him rather than shower him with treats? Or maybe assert themselves by having him sit first? Sometimes I worry that he will abuse the expectation of treats from visitors by becoming pushy or rude (I've already seen a bit of evidence of this with the band guys).
6. When I start my training group, what's the best way to proceed?
7. What about Dottie's part in all this? Are our dog park visits too much, or a good exercise?
8. What small things can I do with Gustav regarding other dogs? This issue is less important to me than people, obviously, but it would be nice if he could have a few dog buddies or could cut down a bit on his need to be a bully.
9. How tough do we need to be in regards to his general pushiness? Does he have to sit for everything, or are some freebies okay?

I am excited to hear her opinions, because I think Gustav has his own special set of needs that requires a little professional attention.