Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Talking to Belinda

Had a loooong chat with my friend Belinda from across the street. She had her dog with me and I had just Gustav. We were sort of behind some parked cars so I think he wasn't faced with the full-on stimulus, although he certainly knew they were there. I gave him chicken and he was tense at first but eventually just sat down and enjoyed his somewhat steady stream of hush money (chicken?). It was nice and I hope he starts to associate chatting with people with lots of wonderfulness.

Belinda was one of the very first people he lunged at way back when we started noticing a problem. She had pet him (our new dog! It was so exciting!) and then stopped petting him and backed up onto her lawn. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he barked and lunged and scared all of us. That's one of the reasons me and Justin were entertaining the idea that he was a pushy dog that didn't want petting to stop, since this was the pattern with a few other people. But I think it was really that he was too frozen and scared to do anything until the dreaded petting stopped. He's since felt emboldened.

I also brought Dottie to the park with just the two of us to play some frisbee. She is an amazing frisbee dog. Wow. I love one-on-one time with my dogs, I only get to do it every so often but it's so relaxing and easy compared to two. I feel like I'm going into battle every time I take both out by myself. When I get just one at a time, I feel like I'm walking a super awesome laid back dog. Who just can't be on the same side of the street as people/dogs.

Talking to Kathy

After I did a bunch of CCing with the workers next door, Justin came home after I had left for something else and went outside. He said he was able to have a conversation with Kathy about the landscaping she's having done. The perfect thing happened: Gustav started by woofing and trying to get Kathy to leave, but everyone just ignored him. So he gave up and Justin chatted with Kathy with no interference from the dogs and no treats. I hadn't had success with this fairly recently, so I was extra impressed. I tried to talk to Kathy but Gustav barked a bunch because I was out of treats and I was petting him to try and keep him calm. Now I know that next time I should just ignore him, and maybe he can stop on his own.

Also, both dogs declined to bark at the golden doodle who lives one house over in the back yard. I guess she's old news. She barks at them every time, and my dogs used to rush the corner of the yard barking back and we would call them, etc. etc. This time they both looked up but then just went about their business. Actually, Gustav did and Dottie came inside to avoid the issue.

Imagine it: actually talking to my neighbors even with my dogs out. Amazing. This is the summer for it, I can feel it.

I'm doing a CAT session on Wednesday with my friend Grace in the park.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dottie's barking

Oh, one other short thing. I've been working from home more often, and Dottie is a giant pain. I've tried a bunch of different things, but today I decided I'm just going to ignore her barking/whining completely. Not put her on a down-stay, or wait for her to be quiet and throw treats at her, just totally ignore her. Well, actually, I'm considering giving her some treats when she does something constructive with her boredom like chew on a bone or something. At least that's something concrete I can reward. I feel like when I give her treats/attention for going to sleep I'm ruining the calm, like I'm telling her not to calm down but to keep paying attention to me in case I pay off. I can't decide.

I just get the overwhelming feeling like she's playing me like a slot machine. Smarty pants.

Progress report

Good day today. I informally signed up three friends for future CAT sessions. Now I just have to call them. I'm hoping to do one to two a week this summer.

Also, I had a brief conversation with the mailman again, from across the street, with no bad behavior from my dogs. Hooray!

Also, there are guys working in my next door neighbor's backyard and we went out and the dogs ate chicken while looking at them. Gustav didn't bark once, even when they said hello to me. No hackles and a nice low tail.

I've been thinking a lot about how to get Gustav beyond just tolerating people and actually changing his mind even a tiny bit about them. Supposedly CAT is really good for it. I see what they mean when they complain about counterconditioning being good for tolerating people, but they never learn to switch over and actually be friendly. That's exactly what I see in Gustav; a begrudging tolerance. Hmm.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A stranger comes over

Good day! A friend of mine, but stranger to Gustav (I think they met once a long time ago, and Gustav barked at her. We were out on a walk) came over. I brought Gustav out on a leash and he was really good. I sat down and pet him and she just ignored him the whole time. After a while he was calmly approaching her. I decided I wasn't ready to try a meet and greet, so since he didn't want to lay down by me anymore I put him in his crate with a big meaty bone. He was happy with that. Dottie got her to throw a ball a bunch, so Dottie was happy with that. I was very pleased with the calmness.

It reminded me that Gustav has actually never had a problem with anyone in the house and we used to have plenty of people over, some of whom would pet him. Well, actually, there was one person he disliked and barked at and danced around. I never figured that one out. And of course the famous bone incident that was just doomed to failure, where Gustav lunged at Justin's mom and hit her in the face because she was petting him on the head and leaning over him while he chewed a meaty bone. But that's different.

It made me want to have people over more, now that it seems pretty manageable. I don't know how I would decide to let him roam free. Any ideas? When is a dog comfortable enough to trust around visitors? Would I be able to relax a little, or would I just spend the whole time staring and feeling nervous? How do I know when he needs a break in his crate? Hmmm.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

CAT videos and DAP: Acronym day!

Here's my videos of Gustav during his CAT procedure yesterday. The first one was right away, then the second one was after about a half hour of work. There was more, but the camera ran out of memory. Warning: these will seem incredibly boring, because it's pretty much about 7 minutes of Gustav and Justin standing in a field. However, here's what's going on:

Chelse, the behaviorist, is standing really far away, like 40 yards away. She walks up to a certain spot, then stands there. Then when she sees Gustav do something she likes, she retreats. After she retreats, she sort of pretends to be examining the prairie grass and just hangs out. Then after 15 seconds, she repeats, this time going a bit closer (about three steps). She used her keys to mark her spot in the grass. Justin held Gustav, and I taped it and also communicated with Chelse via hand signals. If I saw something she should shape for I made a sign. Then about every five trials we took a little break and Gustav and me and Justin wandered around the park a bit.

Interesting details: Gustav is a pretty stoic guy, but I've identified some of his signals of relaxation. The first video and second video show how much more relaxed he's gotten. His tail is lower (a big one), his mouth is open more often, his general body position/muscle tone is more relaxed. You can also tell when he notices Chelse or something else in the environment: his mouth closes and he stiffens slightly.

Here they are, enjoy my inane, one-sided conversation with Justin :)

Also, I tried out DAP spray on bandannas for the dogs today. My personal opinion is that it made a big difference. I had a conversation with the mailman from across the street with no hysterics. Gustav got a bit tense at a few dogs, and Dottie barked once at a lady on a bike who said hello. But other than that they were exceptionally calm. I'll keep it up and see if I see a big difference. I was thinking about maybe running a scientific experiment where Justin either does or doesn't spray them, without telling me, and I can report on behavior on the walk. After maybe ten trials maybe a clear pattern will emerge. Or maybe I won't do that, it sounds hard. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CAT session

Today Chelse, from Dog's Best Friend, came and did a CAT session with Gustav at the park. I brought Dottie over to my mom and dad's house so she wouldn't feel left out.

Chelse started from really far away and just walked up to a certain point and stopped. Then when Gustav offered something we liked, like sniffing or head turning, she walked away. She worked waaay under threshold, even more than I expected, but I can see how that would be a good idea. He definitely noticed her but never reacted more than closing his mouth. No hackles, no growling, and no super high tail. We talked about what to reinforce and shape for. Chelse said the best thing to shape for is signs of actual friendliness: soft eyes, a relaxed approach, friendly air-sniffing, maybe even a little tail wag. None of those were displayed too much, but it's good to know what to look for.

My verdict: Gustav definitely never got reinforced for being anything other than totally relaxed. The big question is: did he begin to associate his relaxed state and/or specific behaviors with Chelse walking away? That's the goal. I couldn't say for sure whether he was making that connection or not, it's hard to tell.

Chelse said the biggest draw-back to CAT is the impracticality. It has to be a pretty set-up situation. I also pointed out that, to the untrained eye, it basically looks like nothing. Expensive nothing.

I was really happy to see a professional do it, because she's got a great sense of body language and was very careful and precise. I video-taped Gustav during the procedure. It basically looks like he's standing with Justin in a field, since I couldn't get both him and Chelse in the shot.

Next up I'd like to try it out on my own. I'm hoping I can get a friend who Gustav doesn't know to volunteer. For me, I will believe in it when I see Gustav make a new friend and change his emotions towards a particular person. Now I'm trying to think of someone who wouldn't mind hanging out in a field with me for half an hour or an hour a few times, who Gustav doesn't already like (that cuts out Dad, my brother, and everyone in the band. Basically all the people I would normally ask to do something like this.)

I'd also love to try it out with Dottie and a dog, but I need a good decoy dog. Chelse said her dog is a great decoy dog and would be willing to do it. I'll think about whether I can afford it or not. If it's hard for me to think of someone to do it with Gustav just as a person, it's double hard to think of a person AND a bomb-proof dog who would be willing to do it.

So, it wasn't a dramatic success (yet?), but it wasn't a letdown either.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Poor Justin

Poor Justin had a bad experience in the park. A little boy around four saw him from waaaay across the park and started running towards him and the dogs. Justin shook his head, then said "no, no, my dogs aren't friendly, you can't pet them" Then he had to yell "stop! go back to your dad! stop!" and the kid still didn't stop. The dad finally noticed and came running over and stopped the kid when he was about ten feet away. Yikes! Dottie was barking and Gustav growling, but no real lunging. We talked about it and decided next time (hopefully never) Justin should probably just run away. Surely he can outrun a four-year-old. Justin felt bad since technically we aren't supposed to be in the park. He went back to apologize and clear things up after returning the dogs home, but they had left.

I reassured him, since nothing terrible happened and the kid is fine. And he did the right thing being assertive. Who knows, Gustav might have been fine, but who wants to find out?

On the bright side: tomorrow is our CAT session! I'll will post all about it tomorrow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sycamore run

We went on a new favorite route of mine: around the dog park and into the neighborhood beyond. This is a great route because: 1. it's a five minute drive from my house 2. apparently people in the suburbs hardly ever walk their dog or hang out in the front yard, so it's not a constant obstacle course, and 3. I can use the giant fenced dog park as a beautiful controlled training situation. The dogs are free in the dog park, but I can absolutely control the distance between us and them thanks to the fence.

Today was also pretty good, with a few less-than-stellar-moments. Well, just one really. There was an off-leash little lap dog hanging out and it started running towards us (this was in a neighborhood). I started dragging the dogs across the street awkwardly as there were lots of parked cars to negotiate. The lady was yelling at her dog to stop. No dogs had barked yet, amazingly. I got the dogs across the street and her dog stopped and I said "my dogs are not very friendly" so she would take extra care not to let her dog come up to us. She scooped up her dog and said "oh, that's too bad" in a snarky tone (grumble). I responded "we're working on it." During this little exchange Dottie started barking. I had her sit and said "enough" and she stopped. Then we continued on our way, but Gustav took that opportunity to turn around and start barking at the dog. So neither dog was perfect, but to be honest both of them seemed kind of half-hearted about it. When Gustav started I stopped and had everyone sit, because I don't like these incidents to end "I threw a fit and that dog went away, I should definitely try that again next time." I like them to end in a calm quiet sit while the dog goes away. If only I could control everyone else and their dogs! So it wasn't the end of the world, the dogs weren't lunging like crazy or anything, just being a little barky and sassy.

Dottie found a snake, which was funny. I've never seen her respond so gratefully to "leave it!" in my life.

Otherwise, we saw tons of dogs and a fair amount of people. Gustav is still really slow with his watch cue, he still doesn't trust me to take care of the situation completely. Especially with dogs, with people he's a lot better.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Run with my brother

Took a jog with my brother and the dogs today. Dottie thinks Christian is the most exciting human being ever to walk the earth, but managed to greet him with only one bark, thanks to my big bag of chicken. We met at a park and it was interesting to see Gustav switch from "stranger!" mode to "friend" mode once he recognized Christian. His whole body changed from being forward and hackled and tail up to being much more relaxed and a lot less offensive. When I let Dottie off leash during a certain part of the jog she went up and jogged next to Christian, looking up at him adoringly. Also when we got to my house and he walked away, they couldn't stop looking at him and had to watch him walk away for a few minutes before I could coax them towards my house. Awww.

Jog went great. Once Dottie barked at a dog across the street. I was busy keeping Gustav good, so after Dottie barked I just let her bark it out. She never was hysterical, and I didn't want to give her chicken for barking. If it had been just her I would have had her sit or do a trick and then reinforce her, but I just couldn't manage. Sadly she was still reinforced since the dog went away, but oh well. Also Gustav growled and sort of lunged towards a woman on a bike, not a proud moment for him. But otherwise they were both great and we saw lots of dogs and people and got all tired out.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Danger zone

We had a really cool fun scary walk yesterday. We went to a secret patch of land with unique features, like creeks and fences, that make it a pretty good candidate for letting Gustav run free. He was doing pretty good: maybe 80% compliance when asked to come when called. Obviously not good enough to warrant letting him off in places where we might see people or other dogs because I guarantee he would be gone while I shouted apologies from afar. But he kept up with us and stayed fairly close by. If he weren't such a jerk I would let him off more often, that's how Dottie learned to be a great off-leash dog. She wasn't perfect. but with lots of practice she is very nearly perfect off leash now. Even if she did stray and go up to someone or some dog, it wasn't a big deal like it would be with Gustav. Our old dog Morgan who died a few years ago was also very helpful in teaching this skill to Dottie, I hope she can now help teach Gustav the skill of staying within a certain range of your people even in the face of distractions.

We also saw a coyote, which was exciting and a little scary, in my humble opinion. It wasn't that far off and stared at us picturesquely from a ridge. Not sure if the dogs saw it or not, but they were definitely leashed up while we looked at it.

Excited to think about a few years down the road, because I feel reasonably confident we can do stuff like this more often and less "training." I'm not really a training nut, I don't really love dog sports or anything. I just want dogs that are trustworthy in the woods, can handle visitors, and can take a neighborhood walk/jog without major problems. Come on, Gustav! You can do it!

The dogs are still exhausted and smell like the creek.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gustav's regression

Gustav has been pretty tense recently, and we don't know why. He's bark/lunged at two people in the last few days: one was while I was jogging with him, as we passed a house a guy came out of his front door suddenly. The other was with Justin. Justin reports that they were passing someone and Justin said "howdy" and the guy nodded, or vice-versa I can't remember (does Justin ever say howdy? Hmmm). Then at the last possible moment Gustav growled and moved towards the guy. Could be the guy made eye contact; any possible sign that the person might actually come over seems to be a trigger for Gustav: eye contact, walking quickly right towards him, and talking between the humans involved.

He had been so relaxed, I don't know what this little regression stage is all about. Maybe he found this kind of behavior useful recently and has increased it in his repertoire. We were on a good path of extinction up until now. Dottie has had a similar situation with her dog thing, but I'm pretty sure it's from that one time with the off-leash dog. I've taken a step back and heavily counterconditioned even the sound of barking dogs, plus leaving extra room between us and other dogs. I also hadn't had to use Dottie's watch cue (her name) for a while, since she was autowatching so reliably. I've had to go back to getting her attention proactively, rather than it being an automatic response from her. Sigh.

Oh well, I've been here before and I know what to do, we'll just keep chugging along. On the plus side, Dottie is improving in her sit-stay in the kitchen while I go in and out the door. I can now close the front door completely and she has about an 80% stay rate. Next I'll be letting the screen door close as well-I'm sure that will take a few weeks. Then I'll add knocking or the sound of the mailbox lid going up and down. Once that's solid it's time to take the show to other visitors. Maybe I'll start with Justin, then the band boys, and so on.

Also, their "bow" is coming along, despite my delinquency in practicing a lot.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Edgy dogs

Boy, the dogs were edgy today. Maybe the thunderstorms? Less yard time? The dog who ran up to us the other day? Spring time? Astrology? Who knows. Gustav bark/lunged at a guy who came out of his house unexpectedly. When Steve, a good friend, came over, Gustav wagged his tail but also started staring so intently, and his hackles went up, that I called him away. It was unnerving. Dottie compulsively licked the couch cushion while the band friends were over. Gustav gathered all the toys he could find and put them in a little pile in his space while everyone was sitting around in the living room. I disapproved and took them all away to avoid any guarding. He even woofed once in the kitchen from excitement when I came up from band practice in the basement, a really unusual thing for him to do. All this after a forty minute jog, which was refreshingly brisk since they seemed so full of energy. Weird weird weird. I can think of a million possible reasons (change in schedule: I just went back to school after spring break, meaning fewer jogs and home time; the aforementioned weather and possible connection to stress and/or less yard time; the off-leash dog incident); but alas real life doesn't provide us with perfect experimental conditions so there are too many variables to consider.

Oh well. No class tomorrow, so we can take a nice jog. I scheduled a CAT session with Chelse in a few weeks. I'm thinking about recruiting someone from the dog training group to try one with Dottie and a dog.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Set back.

We got mobbed by a friendly and exuberant off-leash dog yesterday, and Dottie has been way worse around dogs since. The dog came up and met Gustav, who was on-leash. Gustav kicked its ass, as he is wont to do, and the dog decided it didn't want to play with a crazy bully. Dottie, off-leash, helped out by barking incessantly from the sidelines. It only lasted seconds, and the dog was easily called away. The next day we saw a dog from at least half a block away, across a street, and Dottie lost it. Totally freaked. Later on the walk we just HEARD a dog barking and Dottie put up all her hackles and stiffened quite a bit. Sigh.

The silver lining is that I was more or less unruffled, which means I've come a long way in not getting upset by bad days and setbacks. I just thought "oh well, we'll just keep doing the same thing and build up again."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Great day!

I took a great jog with the dogs today. We saw tons of dogs and people, and there was no drama. Three things of note: one, we happened across a group of children playing duck duck goose on their front lawn with their mom. Perfect training opportunity! They were running and screaming, but totally predictable location-wise. We stood there and I fed treats until I saw a really relaxed Gustav (tail down, mouth open), then we left. I tried to time it such that maybe possibly he might associated relaxed behavior with leaving.

Then we saw two little yappy dogs on those long extenda-leashes barking like crazy at us from across the street. In addition the guy was walking really slowly, so it took a long time for them to pass. We just stopped and the dogs looked at me and I tossed treats in the grass. I like this technique because it gives them something to do for two seconds (sniff out the treat) and buys me more time to deal with two dogs at once.

Finally, we were doing our sprint across the park at the end, with Dottie off leash. I noticed her tense and pull the corners of her mouth forward and put her tail up like a flag. I looked back and there was an off leash dog running towards us (a dog I had "rescued" before, to the annoyance of the owner who clearly had no problem with her dog running around the neighborhood all alone). I told Dottie to come and we outran the dog and got across the bridge. By then the dog gave up. Hooray!

I feel really good that we can have a nice pleasant jog around the neighborhood without drama, provided there are streets to cross. I'm also experimenting with stopping in sight of some stationery trigger (like a dog on a line or behind a fence, or a person doing yard work or waiting for a bus) and waiting and watching for calm behavior. Once I get a low tail and no hackles and maybe an open mouth or small tail wag, I say "okay" and we increase distance. Kind of like a mini-CAT where we move instead of the trigger. It makes sense, since even though they like food, what they really really want is to get away from the thing. Like if your dog comes when called and then you release them to go chase the squirrel if it's safe. Why not use the reinforcers present in the environment if at all possible? Another way I use this is when Gustav pulls on the leash, and I stop. As soon as he looks back and loosens the leash, I say "good" and we get to go sniff whatever he was pulling for.

Jogs and CAT

I guess I haven't posted in a few days. Not much to report, we've been jogging on the days I'm don't work (hooray spring break!), which has been going great. The dogs get tired, I don't have to jog that fast and I have a ready excuse why not. Yesterday I drove them to a different neighborhood for the novelty, an aspect of dog exercise that Patricia McConnell pointed out on her blog. I think it's smart, even I have a better jog when there's new scenery. So they're getting aerobic exercise, novelty, choice (they get to sniff a lot, it's not a force march all the time), and mental stimulation through the brief door training we do at home. They seem pretty content to me. Yesterday we also had both my nephew over and the band later for practice and a show. I think visitors are very tiring for them, especially my little nephew who is a tornado and also a constant source of food for them. They like to follow him around in case he drops his cracker or whatever, but they also have to be on guard since he makes loud, unexpected noises sometimes. If they seem stressed I put them in their room for a break. I also put away all dog items when he comes over to avoid an inadvertent resource issues, I know this isn't Gustav's strong suit and I'm not sure what his reaction would be if he felt like Bjorn (my nephew) was after his stuff. When we go play in the yard I don't allow Bjorn to approach Gustav if he has a toy in his possession. It's not that fun, but I think it's important.

Pretty soon I'll be doing a CAT session with Chelse, our behaviorist. I was thinking how a great "watch me" is perfect for jogs and other neighborhood outings (we couldn't be doing the jogs we're doing without Gustav and Dottie's major progress in this area. The fact that I can be across the street from anything now is huge. We can also deal with people just by stepping off to the side if needed, although I still prefer crossing the street if possible to reduce pressure on Gustav). CAT would be good for getting Gustav to like specific people: Justin's mom and her boyfriend (huge!), the vet, the behaviorist, and my sister-in-law would be great. Otherwise just getting past people is fine with me. CAT would be nice for Dottie to learn some alternative ideas on how to increase distance with dogs, but there's no specific dogs I'm dying for her to be friends with. I'm really excited about this procedure, and it makes a lot of sense to me.