23 April 2009
This page is a quickie outline and report of Kenai’s early progress in 2008 with exercises in a book called “Control Unleashed” by Leslie McDevitt.
We met with mixed success. Not because of the techniques, though. I had a terrible time making headway with Kenai’s inattentiveness. He is very much an environmentally focused, independent sort of fellow, ie not especially operant and biddable.
So I will return to this page after working through some or all of the exercises in the book “When Pigs Fly” by Jane Killion.
“Pigs Fly” is I believe the missing link for Kenai and I, written to shape an independent dog into an operant dog so they can train like an operant dog. We’ll revisit this page of “Control Unleashed” in the hopefully near future.
We’ll start at the beginning two exercises and build from there, as we improve. For me the relaxing “twilight times” and “come and go” focus training are very important, and I want to really master them before moving into more exercises.
It’s really a whole new approach for me, though lots of people now use clicker training, quite successfully. Personally I don’t use a clicker, prefering to make the noise with my tongue so I don’t have to keep track of the clicker or using some other sound/word.
“Control Unleashed” is based on the principle of “operant conditioning”, meaning the dog learns that his behavior can cause a reward to occur. Using something like a clicker or other sound to mark the desired behavior helps the dog to learn. When learning something new, any movement towards that goal is marked and rewarded. For example, if teach the dog to back up, anytime a foot is picked up and moved backwards is clicked and rewarded.
There lies my first difficulty with clicker training: the tunnel vision of fibromyalgia. I cannot multitask to save my hide. I can watch Kenai’s head or I can watch his tail, but not both. That capacity is gone now, stolen by my illness, and may never come back. So I don’t expect to rocket along like a clicker queen! I will reward what I see, when I see it, but the keen eye and fast response is a definte weakness for me. All the same…give it a go.
One very important factor in a dog’s learning is their ability to concentrate and focus. A dog that is overly aroused, or conversely, understimilated, will have difficulty learning in that state. Finding that “zone” where your dog is neither bored nor stressed is key to training.
To understand when your dog is bored or stressed, you have to watch and know what their body language is telling you. A book called “Calming Signals” by Turid Rugaas is an excellent resource. Also, observing your dog carefully in various situations will help you recognize their state of mind.
Another book whose principles I’m starting is the “Tellington Touch” method of theraputic touch for animals. It’s not a puppy massage, but a way to calm, focus, and assist any animal that must perform or need healing: show horses, dogs, cats, tigers, reptiles..she covers it all.
CALMING AN OVERLY EXCITED DOG–Twilight times
A dog that is stressed and overly aroused will show it in their body language. Eyes will be wide and not blinking, looking around at every movement. The tail will be tense, either wagging very fast, standing up, or tucked between their legs. The legs will be stiff, their weight shifted towards the back legs. The head will be either low or held high, and the ears will be standing tall, sometimes moving quickly to catch every sound.
If you see these signs, your dog has passed their threshold of comfort, and training will be an anxiety producing event. Teaching them to relax in stressfull situations is a vital skill for any dog owner. All dogs will encounter things that make them uncomfortable, and if you can teach them to relax, you’ve done them a great favor!
One way of conditioning is to make a relaxed posture a default behavior. Just like in humans, you can change a trigger that turns anxiety into a cue to relax. Begin by watching your dog: any signs of calmness should be marked with a click or sound, and rewarded.
The heavy lidded “sleepy eye”, rolling onto their side for a nap, blinking when they look at you, laying down in a social situation…anything your dog does when he is relaxed is marked and rewarded. You put a word to it, and it becomes a trick, like sit or down is.
Every single time you see a calm behavior, anywhere, anytime, it is marked and rewarded. This is the term “operant conditioning” in action. The reward will create a desire to repeat the action, and it slowly becomes a default behavior, one they will turn to when unsure of what else to do.
Also using the theraputic touch to cause changes in the dog’s brain and nervous system is very helpful when the dog is too stressed to give, and be rewarded for, a calm behavior. It is biofeedback, puppy style. I recommend reading the book about Tellington Touch, since it is sufficiently precise enough for me to confuse it for you! Used in combination, the two techniques are a potent tool to help both you and your dog.
5/16/08–Kenai is not a cuddler puppy, so getting him accustomed to the unusual touching pattern might take a week or so. It might take me that long to get an idea of what is helpful to him. The book about Ttouch has 15 or so different patterns to explore. Starting with the basic cupped hand, moving clockwise one and a quarter circles, on various parts of his body, I’ve found that Kenai needs to be somewhat relaxed to do this, or he just continues what he was doing.
5/29/08–Kenai and I haven’t exactly applied ourselves to this, and it shows. He doesn’t mind my touching him this way, but like I said, I haven’t been regular with it. After yesterday’s terrible obedience class, that will now change. I began last night, and my little buddy seemed to really enjoy it. He had just thrown up, and it perked him up enough to want to go out and have breakfast. Two hours and food has not come up. He is teething, so he’s after my hands every chance he gets. I’m thinking about trying the touch on his lips and gums.
6/5/08–Kenai’s response to Ttouch has been remarkable: he’s become nearly a pest about wanting my touch and attention. When we go out, he is responding to it. I had to get his ears retaped last week, and there was an anxious, noisy dog in the waiting area. Kenai was on a down stay, and was starting to shift about and whined once. So I used the Ttouch and he relaxed. I caught it early, so he responded.
6/16/08–Kenai really enjoys his Ttouch now, though I haven’t found it helpful when he gets too close to threshold yet. His brother drives him nuts, so we’ll have another line of work to follow for that. But he’s much more willing to relax. I’m just plugging away at it
6/25/08–Kenai found himself in a high stress situation, going to a very large basic obedience class last night. The energy in the room was super high, and there were several reactive, vocal dogs there. He gave me 45 minutes before it was too much for him! Unfortunately I stayed the full hour inside and he was over threshold. The Ttouch did bring him down from whining and tension 3 times! Next week, halfway through class I plan on taking him outside, letting him run off the energy he’s absorbed, then using the touch to calm and refocus him before going back in
7/15/08–Kenai absolutely came apart on me in class last tuesday: nothing brought him down. Scooby doo in a haunted house. When the other dogs calmed down during the “twilight time” they instituted, Kenai calmed down too. But as soon as the activity (and noise) started up again, he went all goofy on me. BB has been taken to the hospital with an obstructed bowel, so my boy is very glum. He’s wanted to play some, but I haven’t done it (shame on me) because of fatigue. I’ll have to do alot of Ttouch and massage for him this week.
7/28/08–My boy is starting to nap on the bed with me! He’s learned that touching feels good. I wasn’t really doing the official “twilight times”, but find that Kenai likes to rest his head on me, give me tummy rub times when he’s sleepy and the like. He doesn’t like me leaning on him when I lay down, but has started to enjoy leaning against me.
8/16/08–Nap time together is a regular tradition with Kenai. How wonderful it is to have a warm pressure on sore muscles. He’s reverted a bit to the hand mouthing, so “no bite” is the rule. He usually settles down for a good snuggle. We have a chakra balancing CD that gets used for the official massage and energy work: my purpose is the totally relax him for naps, and releive some of his discomfort from growing pains.
When we are out in public, the Tellington touch has a limited helpfulness. His excitement level goes way up, but it has an effect if he is sub threshold. If I was to be religious about using the ttouch at home, and increase it’s use during gradually increasing stress, I’m sure I would have better results. As my health is waning, I must now focus on only one or two things at a time–controlling his excitement requires too much energy right now. But I won’t give up!
9/12/08–Kenai has decided it is good to nap with me, though he prefers the back to back position. I have to watch my own energy, because if I approach with tension, anxiety, or “I’ll fix it” he doesn’t enjoy it and usually wants to move away. Our twilight times are normally at night, and it is a bonding thing rather than a formal “thou shalt relax”.
In public, Kenai does relax and get reassurance from a more formal use of Tellington touch, with the proviso that I am calm and relaxed. Normally we use this during the settling phase of a long down stay, at the cafe or somewhere. We are soon to begin practicing at school. Right now he is stressed at home, which carries over.
Kenai is not a particularly operant dog, so if I can introduce a new environment using a relaxing touch and positive reward, the habit of this command or that command stays. Being such an associative learner, he wants to have habits, to walk in and know what he is supposed to do.
Come and Go Training–teaching to focus
This can turn the typical “thou shalt watch me no matter what” training that most obedience and agility teams struggle with on its head. The idea that a dog is allowed to be a dog, to smell, to look, to be aware of what it going on around it, seems normal enough, but is often disregarded for “performance”. I was doing it myself… most trainers are. Few and far between are dogs so focused, so bombproof that they don’t care what’s around them.
A reactive dog in public is a problem, spinning around, barking, snapping, and other anxious/excited behavior can get you in lots of trouble, not to mention disqualified from agility trials. But often forcing them not to sniff, and look about will make them more reactive because they can feel vulnerable. Something’s out there, and it might get me, but I can’t look or I’ll get in trouble.
So the “come and go” training allows a dog to look or sniff or watch, but teaches them to re-orient to their person. With consistancy, the dog gets to where they barely glance away, and even bug you to “practice”.
Start in a relatively calm environment, by waiting for any acknowlegement of you: turning in your direction, looking at you even for a moment, and as soon as you see it, you click to mark the action and immediately reward. Then return them to what they were seeing, sniffing, or playing with right away. It is using operant condition to make looking at you a default behavior.
As the dog looks to you more and more, you can being slowly introducing things or places that excite your dog and have caused them to forget about you in the past. Clicking and rewarding ALOT when they show signs of knowing you’re there and are interested in you too, changes the uh-oh and yippee reaction to the object into a cue to notice it then look at you.
A “look at that” game develops, as a dog looks at something, then turns to you for reward. The same with “smell that” games, and “bring it” games, “touch that” games…The interest in the smell, toy, looking and such is reduced because it isn’t forbidden fruit to the dog.
5/16/08–first day, I’ve found that Kenai just doesn’t even turn towards me outside. Okay. Inside is different: he took the idea right away because there are fewer distractions indoors. So I’ve started and he has already improved his attention the first try.
5/29/08–not been very regular about this and still getting results! outside attention remains elusive, save for a ball or a stick. I’m going to start clicking when he comes to play with what I have in my hand. Indoors, Kenai’s fetch has improved by leaps and bounds! I get his attention when the treats are out, I toss his toy, he chases it, then comes for his treat. And his looking at me had doubled in frequency. He actually wants to play with me–yea! My next goal is to try this out in public since we haven’t been out much (not feeling well). Other dogs and people are a big distraction to him, as are smells.
6/5/08–Kenai’s focus has become so much better. Right now, it is still the treat that gets his attention, but he can be weaned off later. Even outside playing, now that I am clicking when he comes towards me, it has become a game: he starts coming, I click, he does a rocket run towards me. The running is the reward, and when he zooms past, he turns around and comes for his hugs and rubs. When vested and walking in public, he doesn’t look at me much, but is becoming aware enough of my movements to go where I go. We still have work to do on the heel, and I’ve gotten some super high value treats that I want to try in public, but he’s come a long way from avoiding the leash and pulling like a sled dog.
6/8/08–Normally I’d wait a week before reporting more, but Kenai’s outdoor play has seriously morphed. He’s decided it’s fun to stick near me when playing, and the happy clicking when he comes back to me seems to be a great reward. He doesn’t really care for food outside, so the clicking and running is the reward he prefers. And his heeling is vastly improved: he had his debut inside a restaurant yesterday, and did remarkably well. I’m so excited about his progress!
6/16/08–Outside play is so much better. He rarely does the run off or refuse to come now. It can still be a tough day at times, but my outdoor control of him is vastly improved. His look at me is better too, but I haven’t been feeling good, so I haven’t been rewarding as much as I could. That’s up to me to improve. He starts a group obedience class, so hope he gets a happier attitude towards “practice”. It’s slumped a bit again. In some ways, Kenai is so easy, and some ways he’s kinda high maintainance!
6/25/08–Class was tough for him! There were some wildly uncontrolled but friendly dogs, and some highly reactive and vocal dogs there. Having worked on using his name to get him to look at me paid off, especially when paired with chicken liver treats. He did beautifully for 45 minutes, but the last 15 minutes were just too much for him to handle around all the noise and commotion….We’ve had some problems with his outside play, with him “tuning out” and ignoring me. Hence, the chicken liver, ground lamb, ham, kitty cat treats. I’m thinking of adding in favorite balls and such as a reward for coming. Oh but he has swung me back and forth between excellent puppy and knucklehead! We keep at it though. I’m still staying with Ttouch, look at me, and come and go until it’s down pat. But I am studying and adding in the “whiplash turn” part of the book.
7/12/08–Kenai came unglued in class. Nothing helped. So I’ve bought another gentle leader, and it totally brings down his anxious excitement around loud noises and such. Now that he’s controllable, out public outings have been very easy for me: no rubbernecking, no side stepping. He’s still anxious, but now obedient. we are still working on his coming when called, then told to go and play. I haven’t played with him as much as he wants, indoors or out, fighting a bout of CFIDS. Bad momma. I’ll try to do better.
7/28/08–the come and go has become so ingrained it is less of an exercise and more like “just how we play”. He comes and gets his love, a game of tuggie, then goes and plays on his own before coming back to me. He’s paying attention much more, and I catch him looking at me when I wasn’t paying attention myself!
8/16/08–the smart bugger… he has the principle of come and go, but I’m fighting the ignore-yous again. He’s being stubborn, wanting to decide whether or not to do what he’s asked. Certainly my current weakness (darn CFIDS) has given him an opening to assert his independent side. I’ve found that a squeaky toy will bring him back to me when called, if not used every playtime.
That still leaves the problem of his coming because I have what he wants, as opposed to coming because he was called. Perhaps I only need to allow time for him to mature while continuing the effort? I’m considering using his squeaky toy for some unvested public practice. His willingness to sit, down, stay, wait, and walk loose leash is giving way to anxiety. Perhaps I can use it as a motivator, and to return some fun to his public work.
9/11/08–Come and go at home has it’s good days and bad days, especially in the field playtimes. I try to mix up the number of times he comes before I attach the leash and go inside, or he learns to avoid coming that 3rd time or 4th time. Come and go has to be a game and fun for him, with a rather quick release.
In public, I don’t use the come and go when his vest is on–going when you’re working isn’t allowed. But when it’s just a relaxed outing, say a puppy store where he is allowed to go off leash, it’s fun for him. Focus on me is still a very hard thing for him. He’s more of a check out my environment, and “take care of Mom” dog. Especially when I’m weak. That is normal. But overall, I have much better response to his name.
Look at That Game: reconditioning
Look at that, or LAT, is a game designed to change a trigger to react into a trigger to return attention to the handler. Instead of seeing another dog and freaking out, the sight of another dog is a cue to look at the handler. This has reduced BB’s reactivity to children almost miraculously.
The technique is to watch the dog and when they notice something, call their name immediately. The moment the neck turns towards you, click and reward. Any attention at all they give you is marked and heavily rewarded. If they turn and look at you, let them hit the jackpot and stick their whole nose in the goodie bag! The idea is to make seeing something that upsets your dog a good experience: one they will enjoy seeing and start turning to you for their treat!
With consistent practice, LAT will carry over into a default behavior. That means if the dog has the notice/return attention down solid when they see another dog, they will begin to do it when they see the skateboard for the first time. Sometimes when starting out, you have to practically shove the treats in them.
Kenai is triggered by movement at puppy class–he gets excited and wants to join in. So I needed super high value treats that mean more to him than the pup waking past him. He gets a chance to see the movement, but I have to be really fast in starting with the treats in that moment between seeing movement and getting excited.
As the dog progresses in not getting excited, I then swipe the treat in front of them and bring it up to my face. That’s not really in the book, but it returns Kenai’s attention to me better. He isn’t the highly operant type dog that makes the association with looking at me on his own. So I encourage the look at me as a part of the Look at That game.
7/28/08–I haven’t been doing much with Kenai and the LAT, focusing instead on obedience commands. But Kenai is quick to get excited with other dogs or if a person shows interest in him. I need to work on LAT in public. I really need to, but I’ve been down with the CFIDS, so I don’t really have the energy to use the LAT with Kenai’s excitement. He does need it, though.
For BB, however, it is a weekend ritual. He reacts with barking and some fearfulness to my 2 year old neice, particularly when she runs towards him. After many weeks of LAT with BB, he has changed his association with Emily from fear/defensiveness to getting excited. He still goes nuts when she approaches if he is in his expen or on the couch, unless I see her coming first and start the LAT right away. If he is loose in the living room and I hit the LAT with good timing, he will even play with her now!
8/16/08–Kenai’s current anxious/stubborn emotional state might be giving me an opportunity to use LAT. If I can find a toy or treat that he wants more than attention/play from other people and dogs (and one he doesn’t get bored with), I might have a chance to make looking to me an ingrained habit. I just have to find the energy…
9/11/08–The instability at home is affecting both pups. BB isn’t doing well with his overall reactivity, because of the stress. I’ve made some serious changes to my routine and how much stress I allow to affect Kenai, and his difficult behavior has almost entirely stopped. He has developed a chase instinct in the field, so I have had to use the LAT with him more.
Recall: The whiplash turn
Since recall is one of my BIGGEST problems with Kenai’s outside play time, I have chosen to begin implementing this exercise. The whiplash turn done right is that stunningly obedient off leash command where the dog immediately stops what they’re doing and runs back to the handler. It’s high speed, and amazing to see for those of us having problems with a dog that ignores us…
There are 3 parts to the whiplash turn: disengaging (leave it), reorienting (look at me), and returning (come). It is not a single command, so much as a chain of behaviors, and each should be perfected seperately before trying to put them all together. If a dog has long since learned to ignore his name, teach a new word or sound that is used ONLY when you want them to look at you.
The leave it, look, and come need a very high rate of reinforcement (clicks and treats), and a high value reward. The very moment the dog disengages from the object of their attention, be it stepping back, dropping the ball, or just not playing with the toy, there should be a super fast reaction from you, with tons of reward. The same with reorienting: any turn in the neck, any attention returned to you requires quick click and favorite reward. With come, any movement towards you, even one single step is clicked and rewarded heavily.
6/25/08–without knowing it, I was working on the “parts” of the whiplash turn: leave it, look, and come. Kenai’s leave it is good with some things, but not his brother or stuff in the field. His looking at me with his name is improving, but I think I’m blabbering his name too much when he doesn’t respond. Duh. Come is not so hot, and so I will be focusing now on the “big three”, since his loose leash walking is going well.
7/12/08–Kenai’s recall is vastly improved. We had ourselves a ‘recall bootcamp’ and it seemed to get the idea across that he has to pay attention even when playing. I still get the ignore-yous some of the time, but some days he is just wonderful at it. I used chicken liver, ham, and other meats since packaged treats aren’t enough incentive. I’m also upping my excitement level when he starts towards me, giving lots of affection.
7/28/08–He is nearly 100% solid on recall now! I continue working on it every time we go out to the field, and I feel so much better that he not only comes when called, but ‘checks in’ for no particular reason. He is following me, instead of me following him in an attempt to get his attention! Kenai doesn’t usually do a come front or come heel unless I use the command and have a treat or toy. He will rocket run towards me, then slightly past me. If I ask then for a come front or come heel, he’ll do it. I’ll work on making it one smooth chain of behaviors: whiplash recall winding up in a heel sit.
8/16/08–Oy, what a pain. He’s gone back to totally unreliable on recall. He seems to get bored with the game, sometimes even with his favorite squeaky toy. He has even slipped on the “you can’t find me” game, where he rockets towards the sound of my voice. How do I keep his interest, is the question? I have to find a way.
When I need him, I need him, and I’ve fallen twice this week. I can’t use his body to brace me, or help me get up until he is done growing, but he is old enough to come when I call and go through the touch motion when I get up. Can’t teach him to stand on my weak side and let me touch his shoulders if he isn’t there… Puppies!