Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring jog

Great jog today. The dogs were just wonderful. We saw some, but not too many, dogs and people and got lots of quality counterconditioning done, plus fun running around and otherwise enjoying one another's company.

I'm watching the constructional aggression treatment I bought on ebay. Really fascinating, I'm curious to try it out, but I think I'd like my behaviorist to be involved, at least at first. There's some decisions to be made, like what constitutes "acceptable alternative behaviors" that get reinforced by the scary thing walking away.

My goal of enjoying the dogs is going great, I feel less anxious and more just appreciative of them. I ignored Dottie's whining for about twenty minutes the other day, and lo and behold she just gave up and went to sleep, rather than tricking me into fixing her a kong or otherwise entertaining me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Morning walk

We actually talked to the guy who owns the hated JRT across the street. He didn't have his dog with him, but he chatted with me from about 15 feet away as we walked down the street. Gustav was tense but checked in with me and got loads of treats. Dottie barked and was her usual hysterical self, but maybe Gustav is learning to ignore her a little better. Talking to people is usually a major trigger, good job Gustav! We also walked right past some hobo types hanging out on the bridge that crosses the creek. They talked to me and Dottie barked and Gustav was good. Had them both sit fairly close for a second, then moved on. Dottie got to play some frisbee, Gustav ran around on his line. Nice morning for us, Dottie's barking nonwithstanding. In accordance to my more relaxed view, I decided that Dottie is a barky dog and not every bark is a cause for immediate and extensive training. At least when she barks at people it's out of a sense of overarousal and excitement, not "I'd like to kill you, please."

The people on the bridge stayed there and we ran around the park a lot. Gustav was able to completely ignore them and have a good time, and even came when called a few times. It showed me that the people were not a big deal to him. I've definitely seen him bark and lunge from very far away at joggers in that same park. People sitting are much less threatening to him than people jogging, plus he's just better in general.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back from vacation

I'm back from vacation. The dogs were excited to see me, as I was to see them. They seemed so happy and relaxed and Justin said they had a great time. It got me to thinking about priorities and attitudes, etc etc. Justin pointed out that we already have a workable treatment plan in place for the dogs, and it seems to be working. So lots of little new ideas and constant research are maybe just making me anxious instead of helping. I think he's right. So my post-vacation resolution is going to be prioritizing dog things and spend more time just enjoying their company and doing things I know they like and are good at.
Here's my thoughts on my most important dog training goals:

1. counterconditioning: people and dogs for Gustav, dogs for Dottie. Really really important for both of them, obviously effective, and can be done during routine walks, or in more set-up situations if I feel like it.
2. Door work: good for both of them to associate the door with good things and reinforcement for staying in the kitchen and being calm. Easy to train in tiny sessions throughout the day, and gets automatically worked on with visitors due to band practice once a week.
3. Play bow and sniff: good for eventually meeting people and dogs. I don't think this will happen in a long time given the current state of things, but it's easy to train and might be really useful down the road.
4. Rev up games: Mostly good for Dottie, who is high strung in general, to help her with emotional control. Would be useful in weird situations like camping or when she gets too excited about visitors.
5. Mat work: Again, mostly good for Dottie, who sometimes does not want me to do homework but would rather whine and bark at nothing. Also would be useful for weird situations as mentioned above. Easy to train in the sense that I can shape it while working at home, as I have a mat right next to my desk and a jar of treats on my desk.
6. Gustav's recall: Similar to number 3, in that it will eventually be indispensable but he sure isn't being let off leash anywhere besides the back yard for a long time. I work on this with a line at the park. It takes a lot of planning, frankly, and slips pretty quickly if I don't keep it up. I've decided not to feel bad if I don't do a lot of this.
7. Miscellaneous: meet and greet protocol (great idea! Someday when we might meet someone it will be a great tool); shaping, clicker training, etc.: fun but not crucial for now; a dog friend for Gustav someday: I'm not going to push this because it stresses me out just to think about it and Gustav really doesn't have it so bad right now; leave it and stop: great cues but not on the front burner right now; Gustav's light tendency towards resource guarding: not an issue with us and might only be an issue in the future with visitors and high-value items, therefore easily avoided for now.

Miscellaneous are all things I've gotten into for a while, then let it slip, then felt bad, etc. etc. I've decided I don't care and if I feel like it I'll do it, but numbers 1-5 are most important. I've always liked Patricia McConnell's idea of mastering a few things rather than having okay response to lots of things. If Gustav can someday be off leash or meet people or dogs, then I can hone in on those issues. But for now I think it's best to relax a little and focus on what's most needed and what's most effective.

In other news, and in total contradiction to what I just said, I got the CAT (constructional aggression treatment) DVD on ebay for cheap. I can watch all ten glorious hours of it during spring break. I think it would be most useful for Dottie and her dog issues, because I've seen her snap pretty rudely at dogs and boy, does it ever make them go away except for the few times its gotten her attacked and bit. She's smart enough, I think, to start exhibiting other behaviors if she thinks it would make a dog go away. I'm hoping to watch the DVD then enlist Chelse, my behaviorist, to run a session with us to get some professional advice, then go from there.

Gustav barked and lunged at a big lady with shopping bags today, because he was barking at a bird or cat or something in the bushes, then turned around and saw her and transferred that arousal to her. He was able to calm down pretty quickly, but it wasn't a shining moment for him. Otherwise both have been doing great. Oh, also Dottie can't seem to hold her door stay while I close the door. Not sure how to get past that one, I guess just practice and reinforcing Gustav heavily.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We've had better days . . .

Dog training group today! I brought the dogs on what was supposed to be a jog this morning to burn a little extra energy before training. It was not really a jog, because there were millions of people out and we had to cross streets, turn around, stop, etc etc. Everyone did well except Gustav growled at a couple of guys who came out of their house unexpectedly. And Dottie barked at a kid running across the street, which was annoying since I was focusing on Gustav and didn't expect trouble from her.

So we went to meet Kelly and her pug Olive to do some training. Gustav did great, he was wagging his tail and looking at me with soft eyes and seemed pretty okay. He did look at the dogs in the dog park a lot and would get tense or stuck, but I could call him away with no problems. Me and Kelly walked towards one another until a certain point, then turned away. Gustav did great. People with dogs walked through the park, he did great. He lay down at one point but then Olive moved suddenly and he jumped up and started barking at her. I asked Kelly not to move away so Gustav wouldn't be rewarded, and sure enough thirty seconds later he stopped and looked at me (after hitting the end of his leash), then I praised and treated him and moved away.

Then I asked Kelly if she wouldn't mind putting Olive in the car and doing some people training. I decided to try out the concept of CAT, at least in a small pilot sense. So I had Kelly walk towards us until I sensed Gustav was uncomfortable, so we could mark off that spot. I watched Gustav, and he all of a sudden started barking and growling. So I said to put the cone there and Kelly walked away. Then I had her walk towards us not nearly as close as the cone. Unfortunately by now Gustav had gotten pretty freaked out by her and the concept that she might actually come all the way over and his threshold was much easier to reach. I was really torn. Kelly was standing at least 20 feet away or so. I didn't want Gustav to take home the message that barking and growling is a good way to make people go away, but I also didn't want him to have a bad experience. I decided, wrongly I think now, to have Kelly stand there until he calmed down on his own. He was barking really defensively, which is somewhat new. That is, instead of lunging and hitting the end of the leash, he was leaning his whole body against me and barking in a sad, slightly high-pitched sort of way. He was obviously frightened and it was sad to watch. After not very long (maybe ten seconds?) he decided to stop and turned away and sniffed other things and sat down, etc etc. I had Kelly move away then. The key issue is whether I think he stopped because he got less fearful since she wasn't moving forward anymore and his barking wasn't working (i.e. habituated), or if I think he stopped out of helplessness and despair, or feeling shut down (i.e. flooding). We did a few more where he didn't get to barking but as soon as he looked up at me or did some other affiliative behavior, like turning away or sniffing or sitting, then Kelly walked away.

Definitely I misjudged the threshold. I didn't want him to go over, I didn't want to make this a flooding exercise because I don't believe in that method. I hope that by the end, after we corrected distances and he could be more relaxed, that he took home the right message: relaxation makes good things happen, either treats or the person going away.

I got him in the car and he lay down and I was really conflicted. Most of the session went great, with lots of attention and relaxed behavior from him (tail wags! out in public! in the presence of people and dogs!). I hadn't been faced with his fears about strangers for a while since I'm so careful while out on walks, and it made me stressed and sad to see it again. Also his switch from lunging to pushing his body against mine while frightened was encouraging, but also made me feel like I let him down when he was appealing to me to get him out of there! I will be more careful about this in the future and I'll try to err on the side of decreasing the stimulus instead of being worried that he'll be reinforced for bad behavior.

While I was gone Justin brought Dottie out to play frisbee. It was fun, except that they got surprised by the hated JRT on the way back. Justin said she absolutely freaked out. They were about twenty feet from it and had no escape. Justin said she tried to get out of her harness and basically wanted to kill the dog. Ugh. Poor Dottie. I hope they never meet, that's the only dog I think Dottie would actually injure on purpose in a horrible blind rage.

Well, I need to not think about dogs for a while and get over it. Sigh.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fun with wet spring weather

I brought Dottie out to a pretty hiking area, Governor's Island, with my friend to jog this morning. There was no one there, and Dottie got to jog along off leash. We had a great time. Right on our cool-down walking lap, a ton of dogs showed up. We managed to avoid all of them but one. I could tell from afar this was a sweet old dog that wouldn't pose any problems. I warned the owner that my dog was a little snappish but it wouldn't be a problem. Her dog approached slowly and very politely. All of Dottie's hackles went up, but I just threw gobs of kibble and cheese on the ground. Dottie happily slurped these up while the dog gently sniffed her butt, then came over to meet me. I chatted with the owner briefly and gave her dog a treat. Dottie's hackles stayed up the whole time, but hopefully the gentle nature of the greeting and the loads of treats made her feel okay about the whole thing. I was very proud there was no snapping or barking.

Tomorrow morning it's Gustav's turn to go to dog training club, the Good Dog Society. It's not a formal thing, just that group I put together for people who want to run drills for free. Hope it goes well!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Another video

Here's Dottie and me doing tricks:

I love her enthusiasm. She's a very sweet dog and loves to eat.

In other news, we went to the park today. I put Gustav on his 50-foot line to practice coming when called. In the meantime, Dottie gets to play frisbee. I will take a video of her someday, she's really a remarkable frisbee player. Something I read on Patricia McConnell's blog recently made me think about how Gustav's responsiveness drops off significantly after about five repetitions. I first discovered this when I was first working on his "watch" cue. True to my type-A overly enthusiastic personality, I was asking for a watch about every half block. After about five of these, Gustav would give up and just start ignoring me, which I found very irritating. But on the blog, people talked about short and sweet sessions being both more effective and easier for lots of dogs. Dottie could probably do this stuff all day, although she does get a little overwhelmed sometimes and starts offering random behaviors (in the video she goes to her mat halfway through shaping, and at least once she rolls on her back in response to a totally different cue). With Gustav's recall I noticed he would start off strong then fall off pretty dramatically. So I'm trying to do five recalls tops while we're out. We did a few from far away but he wasn't doing anything, and a few while he was sniffing but I was only five or ten feet away. Then we did one as a bicyclist went through the park, far away. He got them all, although was a bit hesitant and slow on a few, so I know it's not time to get harder yet. I also give him treats just for showing up, I appreciate his check-ins. Distance and distraction. (duration N/A)
I have to remember to work them separately.


Thursday, March 11, 2010


I took a video of door training and a few other things. So far only door training is uploaded. Thanks, She takes a lot of nice videos of training her dogs.

I also have one of Dottie tricks and a short one of Gustav tricks. I'm still working on uploading those.

Another tail wag!

Got another little tail wag out of Gustav while we watched a guy with a backpack go to the bus stop. He was looking at me while he wagged, but it right after he was looking at the guy. I brought the clicker along on our morning walk today and clicked while he looked at people. Then he would swivel his head to get the treat he knew was coming.

In sad news, Justin reported to me that Dottie got pretty unhappy with the presence of elderly people yesterday. I guess her hackles were up and she was a bit growly. To be fair I can't think of any experience she's had with older people. Maybe I'll do a little people CCing for her just to safeguard, since I'm already doing it with Gustav. She also had just barked at an old guy with a beagle across the street, maybe she was associating slow shuffly walking with beagles? Sometimes she anticipates that certain people will have dogs with them, even if they don't. Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sniff cue

This has been really fun to teach. Since I've long since realized that I'm the neighborhood crazy lady with my crazy dogs, I don't really care what I do when out and about. I've started labeling "sniff" when the dogs are sniffing a tree or hydrant or whatever. So now I'm the neighbor who says "sniff!" out loud while my dogs sniff. Ha. At home I hold a piece of kibble in my fist and tell them to sniff. Then they get a "good dog" and get to eat it. Someday when I think they get it they'll sniff it without eating it. No rush. I find I can point to nearly anything and say "sniff" and that's what they'll do. Wonderful to work with nature on this one.

Some strangers came over today. Gustav was crated for ease, but Dottie got treats thrown in the kitchen. She met them and only let out a few excited barks. Not bad for her. Throwing the treats really helps, she thinks it's fun to go sniff them out and it gives her something to do besides wait for me to feed treats to her.

A little testy

Gustav was a little edgy this morning on our jog, getting awfully tense and hackly at a jogger that I didn't think would be a big deal. He made it with no outbursts, but it looked like he was pretty scared.

Dottie barked briefly at a dog behind a fence I didn't see. Luckily we had time to sit there and calm ourselves and eat treats. The dog stopped barking, which I think is a great lesson for my dogs: chill out and maybe they will too.

Started clicker training sniff and a play bow last night. It was pretty funny, half the time they end up in a down, but hopefully I can use shaping and the magic power of clicker precision to tighten that up over time. I'm also working extra on "get your toy" for Dottie, my ultimate plan is to leave a squeaky toy in her room where she spends her time alone, and ask her through the door to get her toy rather than bark. I'll be able to tell if she did it because it will squeak. Clever, huh? I never open the door while she barks, but she's gotten smart and barked to her heart's content, then stopped for a few seconds for me to open the door. Finally, the dogs can hold a sit-stay in the kitchen while I go in and out of the door. Next I add a knock. Once they're perfect while I go out, knock, and come back in, I can try friends/Justin, then some day a stranger. (Hello, pizza guy!). I estimate this will take at least a few months, my goal is to have it down by September. Having a stranger knock at the door is a big deal, having them come in while the dogs hold a stay sounds like some kind of impossible paradise to me.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dog jogs

What wonderful jogs we had today and yesterday! The dogs are totally pooped and I get that "two birds with one stone" feeling that comes with exercising and walking the dogs at the same time. They did amazing. We saw tons of dogs and people and nary a bark and hardly a hackle.

The big moment was today. We stopped to countercondition across the street from a family: two adults, and two kids on noisy little big wheels. Gustav looked up at me, lowered his tail, and WAGGED it. A teeny bit, but still. What a fabulous display of relaxed behavior in the presence of something that is frightening to him. I won't lie, I may have gotten a little teary. Our months and months of work seem like its translating into real life a little.

I'm feeling really good about it. Then we had a family snuggle on the sunporch on the futon. It made me think about what a sweet and gentle dog Gustav really is. Dottie was licking a wound he has managed to scratch into himself on his head. When he got tired of it, he did the gentlest most low-key correction I've ever seen. He just sort of aimed his open mouth at Dottie's muzzle without any contact or growling or anything, and she stopped. He also loves being close to us and cuddling, something that Dottie's not all that into even though she's friendly to people. If can just get him to give newish people the benefit of the doubt, I think he'll be a really sweet dog to others as well.

I love spring.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dogs dogs everywhere

Well, it's forty degrees today, which means everyone in Wisconsin puts on shorts and takes their dog for a walk. Justin and I walked the dogs up the street. I had Gustav and he had Dottie. First we saw the doberman mix thing about half a block up, walking perpendicular to us. We went back a bit and got some great attention and counterconditioning done. This particular dog is funny, because its owner always walks with a big stick and a scowl. The stick is not for walking with, but presumable for whacking things with. The dog is always held within about six inches of the owner and gives a pretty hard stare to everything. So I was proud of the dogs. Then a few minutes later the hated JRT from the apartment building appeared across the street. My dogs hate this dog so much that they hackle up even when they smell it, even if it's already out of sight. We stayed across the street and both dogs made it without a fuss! Yay!

Now I'm taking them for a jog, and I expect a lot of people and dogs out, so wish me luck.

Also, the whole neighborhood smells of skunk, which is a little worrisome.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Smile to feel happy

I'm thinking a lot about shaping relaxation cues, thanks to a good discussion over at Patricia McConnell's blog, If I could get Gustav to play bow or do some other action that he only does when he's relaxed on cue, I could use it as a feedback loop whereby by acting relaxed he could feel more relaxed. Dottie could surely use something like this too.

What should I try to train? I'm thinking either play bows, because they've both been trained a bit on it already and it's such a big obvious one, or maybe an open mouth for Gustav. He NEVER opens his mouth on walks, except if it's super hot. And he's not a nervous panter or anything. For Dottie, I'm not sure. She's so good at trick learning that it wouldn't take long to do a whole bunch, so I can go more trial-and-error to see what works for her.

In other news, still getting lots of autowatches and keeping our distance, which has been working great. Also, a dog barked from that same truck on that same street. Dottie put up all her hackles, but restrained herself and came looking for a treat instead. Hooray! We've been having really nice walks, they have nice leash manners and are a real pleasure to be out with as long as there are no big bad scary things.

We went to the park and did some line work, which reminded me that Gustav's recall has really fallen off. It would be nice if he had a decent recall if/when he is not a total public health hazard. Dottie has a great one, with the exception of when she's mid-roll in something disgusting. Oh well, dogs will be dogs. I'm not going to worry too much about it, Dottie deserves a good roll once in a while :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dad comes over, I feel proud

My dad had to drop by to pick something up so I decided to try out the sit-stay in the kitchen I've been working on. Most days I put the dogs on a sit-stay in the kitchen, which is within sight of the door but not right next to it. The front door opens onto the living room, so conceivably a visitor could come over and sit down while the dogs sat and stayed in the kitchen but could still watch all the action. I don't think I could successfully train them to actually exit the situation entirely. So every day I do the stay, then go out the door and come back in, then go give them a treat and release. I give the cue "kitchen!" so they run to the kitchen without too much confusion. I've gotten so I can go out and in the door, but haven't been able to add the knock yet. Interestingly Dottie is the real stinker at this one, Gustav just sits patiently and has yet to break his stay. Dottie needs lots of reminders.

So today I instructed my dad not to knock, that I would just let him in. I was watching for him out the window, but totally missed him! So we weren't off to a great start. The dogs barked while I crazily jumped up and directed them to the kitchen in a less-than-calm manner. I knew they wouldn't be able to pull this off, so I had Justin stand in front of them and give treats. They got past him anyway and barked a little and rushed my dad, so I sent him out again. Good old dad! We tried again. This time I put the dogs on the stay and opened the door myself, holding out my traffic-cop hand. Dad sat down on the couch and I released the dogs. He had Gustav sit and gave him chicken. Gustav loves my dad, so I wasn't worried about aggression. Dottie still let out an errant bark, but was quickly quieted. We did this a few more times and the dogs held a stay in the kitchen until he was let in and sat down each time! Yay! I was feeling cocky and proud so I ran Dottie through her tricks (bang!, go to bed, spin, place, targeting, head down, through-the-legs). I was feeling pretty great. Dad was impressed and I was bursting at the seams. Good dogs!

Gustav wagged his tail low and slow, but he was pretty intent on my dad. After Dad sat down Gustav pushed his head onto dad's lap and dad pet him. I was a teeny bit nervous. Gustav has always liked my dad and has never been aggressive to someone who he has chosen to approach, with one exception. The first behaviorist we met with stood sideways with treats. I let Gustav out of the car on leash. Gustav took the treats, then bark-lunged from behind the behaviorist. It was weird. He took the treats from her side, but went out of his way to do his bark-lunge from behind, even though he easily could have retreated.

Justin was a little nervous about Gustav's pushy approach with my dad. He pointed out that if Gustav changed his mind about someone, he was in very close proximity to do some damage. I don't know how I feel about it. It's true, it's a little scary. On the other hand all his body language is relaxed, if alert (read: alert for treats, I think), and he's never been aggressive to anyone in that situation. Also, like I said, he likes my dad even though he hadn't seen him since before we decided he's aggressive. Gustav used to be loose and free with lots of guests, even parties. We hadn't had a problem. But we got spooked when he got a little weird and he hasn't had experiences like that since. So I don't know. How do you learn to trust a dog who's broken your trust? To his credit he hasn't actually bitten anyone. He sure can be scary, though.

So! Great entrance from someone they haven't seen in a while. The band boys come over tomorrow, I'll give it a try then. Someday I hope to have a knock, then the dogs run to the kitchen and I can either let the person in and sit down, or just pay for the pizza without a big fuss. I have to admit, it's pretty impressive watching them sit in the kitchen. Dottie was so beside herself she let out a sad whimper/squeal, but she managed to hold the stay. Good girl!