One plus one is 2, but two ones are 11.I remember being fascinated by this fact when I was about six.When I was in my early twenties and doing the family budgeting for myself and my first husband I learned that this mathematical truism has practical applications.Each of us alone needed a certain amount of money to survive but together, somehow or another pooling our assets and renting only one apartment felt like it didn’t work out as a more frugal alternative.There seemed to be so many things that we needed that I hadn’t felt the need for as a single person.Even simple things that seemed like they would cost less if we were buying for two often resulted in buying two brands of the same product.Two CAN live as cheaply as eleven.
The same is true of raising puppies.Raising one puppy takes a certain amount of time, effort and cost.It seems like you could only be doubling the effort if you get two dogs, right?Plus they will keep one another occupied when you have other things to take your attention, like your children, your spouse, your home, your car or your job, right?If only it were that simple.
I have lived in a multidog household for most of the past twenty years.John and I usually each have one dog of our own, and sometimes one or the other of us will have a second dog who is significantly older or younger.Realistically though, we try and space them out to a new dog every three to four years.We are coming up to the time when we will be considering adding a new addition in the next year or so.At various times for various reasons we have raised two dogs at the same time.
When Eco was a puppy, we were raising a service dog candidate; a standard poodle.They were merry friends who spent a lot of time bouncing around with one another.The poodle was about a month older than Eco and for the first six months or so, he ran the roost.He was faster, stronger and more developed.And then Eco overtook his speed, strength and agility, not to mention that Eco cared a lot more about who got things first, who ran the fastest and who controlled access to resources such as me.
When the poodle puppy came home, we enrolled him in puppy classes (all of our pups go to puppy classes, both our own and those of other schools).When Eco came home four weeks later, we enrolled him in different classes.Why not put both pups in the same class you might think.There are two reasons for not putting both pups in one class.The first is that the older puppy needed to start sooner than Eco.And the second is that jockeying for position that I mentioned above; in a class setting we might have had to restrain one pup while the other played in order to avoid the inevitable ganging up that can happen of these two closely aligned friends against all the other pups in the class!So already, even though John and I were raising two pups and there were two of us, and we both went to both sets of classes, we didn’t double up on the enrolment and put both puppies in the same class.
Then there is the whole issue of equipment; surely with two pups, we could get by with a little less equipment, right?Not so much.Even with a month between the two puppies, we needed full sets of collars and harnesses, leashes, bowls, crates and beds to accommodate both puppies.Furthermore, we had to pay for vet visits twice as often, and usually we find it is better to bring dogs separately to the vet; there is less confusion and we can focus with the vet on each dog as an individual.That means that not only did we have to pay for two veterinary appointments, we chose to attend the vet together, with each puppy on a different day.Considering that our vet is a fifteen-minute drive from home, that means that we had to allocate about an hour for each vet visit for each of us, and pay for an hour’s worth of gas in total to get both dogs to the vet.In a busy family with a company, that was really quite tough!
We had to allocate time to train each dog separately and again, we tried to make sure that each of us got in a training session each day with each dog.We also made time to walk each of the dogs separately each day.That made for more time into this project.John and I like to teach our dogs to trail walk, and for the most part we did that together, so we could cut down some of the doubling up on that front, but honestly we didn’t save much time, and the time that Eco (the BLACK German Shepherd) to Yarrow (the snow white Standard Poodle) swamp walking, we really wondered why we had any dogs at all!
Two baths.Two grooms.Two classes, two vet visits, two sets of everything.And eleven times the mess!We have found that when we compare raising one versus two puppies at a time, having pups one at a time allows us to get to know the puppies better and creates so much less chaos in our lives that when we can, we don’t try and raise 11 puppies at once!
Imagine for a moment that a good friend has died. Someone you love dearly and you are close to, someone you could call at two in the morning and they would come give you gas money to get home if your wallet was stolen. Someone who has shared moments and hours and even days with you. Someone you love. In the days following your friend’s passing, you pull up pictures on your phone, and you fill the vase she gave you with flowers from your garden, and you grieve. Sometimes, you cry.
How do you feel when you go to a funeral? Do your emotions influence your behaviour? Don’t you think that your dog’s emotions might influence his? Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_kzenon’>kzenon / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
A few days later, you go to the funeral home to say your public goodbyes. There is a casket and dozens of baskets of flowers, and a picture of you and your friend, nestled in amongst so many other good warm memories shared by the community who shared your friend’s life. You are sad and there is an empty part inside of you where you used to hold your friend, and it feels like the memories aren’t enough to fill that hole. When your friend’s sister gets up to share the eulogy, she mentions you, and you start to cry.
Imagine now, that the person who is sitting beside you in the funeral home looks at you and says “Just stop it. I HATE crying. Don’t.” How does that make you feel? Sit on this reflection for a moment. How does that make you feel? Do you feel good about the person sitting beside you? Do you want to share tea and sandwiches after the service with this person? Do you want to trust your memories of your friend with this person?
Let’s rewind one paragraph now and imagine that the person beside you quietly and calmly reaches into their bag and pulls out a hankie and gently gives it to you. You reach for the hankie, and he offers you his hand to hold. With one hand, you wipe your eyes and with the other you hold hands with your friend. Deeply sad, you lean in and your seat mate puts his arm around you and holds you close. Assuming this is someone who knows you well enough for physical contact to be appropriate, how do you feel now?
I have seen hundreds of dogs in our training hall. Many of these dogs are happy, but there are a ton of dogs who come through our doors who are traumatized and fearful, and who are expressing their feelings with growls, snaps, snarls, whining and recently one poor dog who shivered and shook for an entire hour while I took a history. The thing that amazes me, day in and day out, is that these dogs keep hoping that the people they live with will see that they need help, and offer them the equivalent of a hankie and a hug.
It is well known in behaviour consulting circles that owners take a long time to seek help for their dogs. One of the biggest reasons for this is that if the behaviour problem isn’t a problem for the owner, there isn’t a lot of impetus to get help. The dog cannot dial the phone and call for help, and neither can he send me an email to describe his problems. Often the dog has been doing everything short of biting in order to get attention, but they aren’t being heard.
When people come into my training hall, they often tell me how difficult it is to live with a dog who is barking, lunging, growling, snarling, pulling, and chasing. I am often told about methods that have been tried to stop the undesired behaviour. These people really care about their dogs, but they often don’t understand that the behaviour the dogs are exhibiting means. The fact is that dogs don’t act randomly. Behaviour is always functional on some level. Consider what it might be like to behave truly randomly. If you were to randomly stop reading this paragraph, and get up out of your chair and twirl around the room and go outside and come back in and jump as high in the air as you are able and roll on the ground and pick up a pen and turn on and off your computer, how would that feel?
Random behaviour is rare. When people behave truly randomly, it is usually an indication of something being wrong with them. When I took animal behaviour in university, the professor talked about an animated Bugs Bunny toy he did an experiment with. He set the toy off a thousand times, and recorded the “behaviour” of the toy. He found that 30% of the time, the toy gave a predictable “What’s up Doc”, and then there were nine other phrases that he uttered on a variable schedule. It turned out that the chip that ran this toy was set on pretty tight parameters, which gave a specific number of repetitions within a thousand repetitions. Ironically, we know that there are two things about this toy that keep kids playing with it and drive parents nuts. From the kid’s perspective, they keep triggering the toy to get the rare and uncommon response. From the parent’s perspective they have to put up with ‘What’s up Doc” 300 out of every thousand repetitions. This random behaviour is annoying and frustrating beyond the interest of animal behaviour professors who want to figure out how often a behaviour happens, and the kid who really wants to hear Bugs say something truly novel.
The other thing about random behaviour is that it is out of context; like the Bugs toy, the last response doesn’t predict the next response. Living with someone who is truly random would be really annoying. Living with a dog who is truly random would also be really annoying. Most of the dogs we meet and live with are actually very predictable. There is an easy little experiment that helps us to understand this. Spend a half an hour watching your dog. Watching Eco right now now, sleeping on the floor beside me, I can sample every minute and say what he is doing and what he is going to do. When I get up out of my chair, he will lift his head and if I leave the room he will wake up completely and follow me. When I sit back down at my computer, he will wander around the room and check out the water bowl, the toy box and the window in the door and then he will lie down again and go back to sleep. He is very predictable and that is part of what allows me to change his behaviour. His behaviour is not random and it never happens in isolation from his environment.
Knowing this, and understanding that dogs are deeply emotional animals, allows us to modify problem behaviours quite easily, but there is one more piece to the puzzle. Skills are under the direct control of the outcomes. Eco standing up and following me happens because he likes the outcome of being with me. Eco barking at the door happens when he is startled and alarmed. The barking doesn’t happen because of the outcome but rather because of the input, and the input is emotional. Could I change the barking behaviour through the application of pain? Sure. But it wouldn’t change how Eco felt about people coming to the door, so treating this as a skill might be more like being at a funeral and being told sternly to stop crying. I could also change the behaviour by getting him below threshold and pairing the situation with something pleasant. The difference being how well I understand what is going into the behaviour to begin with.
A question that is often asked is if feeding the bark will make more barking. Let’s go back to the funeral example. Which would make you cry more; someone who was supportive and brought you a cup of tea and sandwiches, or someone who told you to quit it? When barking is emotionally based (which is more often than not), then removing and feeding is going to help the dog to regain his composure and improve his behaviour. When you do this often enough, you develop in the dog a pattern of barking and then seeking you out. When this happens, the dog is moving out of the emotional state and into the operant state, or the state where he can control his behaviour. Much like at a funeral, if I can get the person who is crying to have a cup of tea, they are often able to calm down and reflect more effectively, and then they can chat comfortably, often about the very thing they may be upset about.
A common tactic when dealing with dogs who are emotional is to give them something else to do. If a dog reacts to something in his environment, then in theory, if he is busy, he won’t be worried about that thing. There are two problems with this tactic. The first of them is that if the dog is upset enough, then he is not going to be terribly compliant. In these situations people start to get pushy and demanding about their dog’s behaviour and it is for exactly this reason that many people turn to aversives in their training; they are asking more than the dog is ready to give them in a given circumstance. For instance, making a dog look you in the eyes so that he stops looking for the frightening things that can creep up on him will only make things worse; he may stop looking but he won’t stop worrying. In this particular case, you rob the dog of the ability to try behaviours other than the undesired one because he is glued on the new behaviour of looking at you, and while he is looking at you, there is always the risk that his trigger will surprise him out of the corner of his eye. This is the second issue with this tactic; you may have compliance, but the dog is still worrying about what might come out and surprise him.
When I was out and about this weekend, I met a woman who told me that her friend had been to every other trainer in town. She told me that this woman was ruining her dog by feeding it when the dog is clearly misbehaving. The popular thought is that if we use food, we can only use it as a reinforcer to get more of a particular behaviour. When you put this into the context of a funeral, and what you would do if someone was upset, it becomes really clear that much behaviour is motivated by emotion and that being clear with your learner does not only mean reinforcing, or punishing behaviours or putting them on extinction. Sometimes, perhaps even often, it means addressing the underlying emotions before even thinking about the behaviours at all.
It has been a while since I have written a blog, and I am really missing doing them. This time, we have a guest blog from Bojan and Amy who live with Lola. Good Dogs are often difficult to live with not because they aren’t nice dogs, but because living with a Good Dog can present a number of challenges when it comes to navigating the universe. Amy and Bojan work really hard with Lola to work through their challenges. Here is there story in their own words, and hopefully that will inspire me to get back to some writing soon! Thanks for the writing folks-it is an honour to work with you and Lola!
Lola is a shepherd-hound mutt, and is the first dog for both my husband and I. She used to be a street dog in Greece and was brought over to Canada by a rescue agency. When we adopted her, we had a soft spot for street dogs and had never heard of reactivity, instead imagining that all dogs loved everything! As it turns out, she loves us but loses her mind over everything else, including people waiting at transit stops, people who pick things up off the ground, people in general, other dogs who are on leash, small prey, bicyclists, skateboarders, streetcars, buses, trucks, and especially kids with sticky fingers or any fingers at all. Some of our friends have questioned how seriously we’re taking things with her and have asked us if it’s really “that bad.” We usually tell them that, if it happened to them, they wouldn’t like it very much.
We have a protocol for everything from how to get Lola out of our seventh-floor condo (hint: it doesn’t involve the elevator) to how to get her from each of her daycares to the car. Both of us walk her together so that one person can be on look-out duty for triggers and the other person can focus on her body language. To share with you what it’s actually like trying to keep her below threshold and not panicking (i.e. barking and lunging and terrorizing) in everyday situations, here’s a breakdown of one of our recent walks. We happened to be 15 minutes late and left our place at 6:15 a.m. instead of our usual before-6:00 a.m. departure.
Similar to superheroes, no reactive dog’s life is complete without an arch nemesis, so our walk began with Lola’s arch-nemesis-neighbour-dog barking at us from inside their unit as we were getting Lola into the stairwell. Lola heard it and froze but disengaged when Amy cued her onwards. Not waking up all of the neighbours on our floor = small victory!
As we exited the stairwell into the alleyway, there was a running truck at the other end that she fixated on, so I played Look At That twice before she would move on. A male in his 30s was waiting to cross the street about 20′ ahead of us and we waited for him to go ahead. In the next alleyway, we heard some noises which made her anxious and did our emergency Oh No Let’s Go U-turn twice just in case. Lola loves this cue and thinks it’s a fabulous game of chase so she completely forgot about the noises.
At the parkette, there was a person waiting for the streetcar that she started staring at and we played Look At That once. After that person got on a streetcar, another woman was walking on the sidewalk towards the streetcar stop about 30’ away. Lola had a hard time disengaging as this woman was looking at her and we played Look At That while backing up a few steps at a time and she finally broke her focus.
We kept moving and got to the main park where a male jogger in his 40s passed by her field of vision about 15’ away. This was an “oh shit” moment because by the time we noticed, he was already too close, approaching her directly, and neither of us were in a position where we could easily block her without causing her to panic anyways. I tried to play Look At That but it turned out Lola could not care less as she was busy sniffing for the perfect spot to poop. With that done, we went into the baseball field to get some more space. A male construction worker walked through about 30′ away and I played Look At That until he was 50’ away. We saw a few off-leash dogs in the distance which she handled well with low arousal, although we still played Look At That since she wasn’t easily disengaging on her own.
Her favourite thing is to play chase, so we ran around with her and then did some obedience practice. We saw an off-leash dog about 30’ in the distance and started playing Look At That, during which she offered a down. We never cue the down so that she can choose to do it when she feels relaxed enough to and it gives us an indication of her stress levels. While we were focused on the dog, we didn’t notice an approaching construction worker who was about to pass us at about 15’ away. Both of us expected her to lunge and bark at him, but she stayed in her down. At one of the park entrances, we saw two familiar small black dogs coming in off-leash, wearing lights on their collars. These dogs have a habit of running up to everything while barking and Lola thinks that dogs who light up are aliens, so it was time for us to go.
We got up to leave, got to the sidewalk and saw a crowd of 3-4 construction workers who had just gotten out of a parked car on the other side of the street. She froze and I played Look At That, but a large dog on leash was approaching on the same sidewalk so we doubled back but were trapped by another on leash dog on the path behind us and a group of three people walking towards us on the sidewalk from the other direction. To add to that, a construction worker was walking towards us and cutting it too close for comfort. Lola was giving me a lot of eye contact so I was worried that she wouldn’t notice the person until they were too close and she wouldn’t have any other option but to freak out, so I played Oh No Let’s Go to get her to back up 5-10’ to a safer distance.
She handled all of this craziness like a champ and we tried to leave again once it cleared, but an off-leash dog that looked similar to her jogged towards Lola. Lola stopped on the sidewalk and perked up, wanting to greet, but the other owner called their dog back. She got to the end of her leash but wasn’t overly aroused, so I was careful to not put any extra tension on the leash. The other dog came back and they immediately started playing, as she doesn’t have any problems with dogs who are off-leash. The owner approached to leash their dog and ended up very close to Lola, who sniffed her from inches away. In this moment, I had to stifle my own panicked flight-or-fight response and just let things happen because any reaction from me would’ve made it much more likely for the whole thing to go south. The woman leashed her dog while completely ignoring Lola and walked away after Lola had a quick sniff. It was a huge success but my main feeling was definitely relief. I regained my thoughts enough to remember to give Lola a handful of cheese and lots of praise!
We had been trapped here long enough that the two small black barky dogs had completed a full circle around the park, and one of them approached Lola while barking, about 5’ away. Lola had voluntarily sat down since we weren’t moving and was unconcerned with the dog. My husband blocked the small dog from getting any closer and finally their owner was able to call it back. With nothing else scary remaining except for the group of construction workers at their car, Lola started to fixate on them and we played Look At That to get past them while on the other side of the street. In the home stretch, we also ran into an owner and an on-leash lab across the street, a 40sM walking towards us from 15’ away, and two people walking in front of the condo building, all of whom we were able to somehow avoid or manage. We got upstairs, closed our door behind us, and my husband and I looked at each other wondering what the #*@^$ just happened because in no way would we have guessed that she could handle even small pieces of that, nevermind all of it together.
Let me say that I did not think taking my dog for a morning walk would be the equivalent adrenaline rush of going to a shooting range on a daily basis. It’s extremely stressful for my husband and I, but things are slowly getting better and we can only imagine how difficult and scary it is for Lola in these situations when we have a hard time just observing and guiding her.
On many walks since this walk, there have been similar incidents that Lola was not able to handle. We used to torture ourselves with the “Why?” question more often, asking ourselves why she was able to do this one day but not the next, but we’ve now mostly come to accept that she’s a different dog on different days and, as Sue likes to say, “It depends.”
Over the past six weeks, I have worked with a number of families with dogs who have finally put down their paws and said “Enough! I don’t like that anymore.” In each case, the families were astounded that their previously kind and calm dog snapped. I hear things like “he always let the kids do that before” and “he never minded when I did that until now”. And in every single case, these dogs have been asked to tolerate things that I would not expect the dog to like.
In one case, the dog snarled at a child in the home when the child bounced off the couch, on to a foot stool, and the over the dog, and finally onto the chair beside him. It turned out that this bouncing game had been going on with the child for an extended period of time and the dog had not protested the first ten or eleven times she did this. The parents were astounded when the dog finally snarled! I asked the parents if they wanted their child to behave this way in the house. “No” they admitted, but they were still upset that the dog had reacted the way that he had.
I think back to my own childhood and the rules we lived by. Running and bouncing in the house was not allowed. Tormenting animals meant that we would get hurt and if we were scratched, bitten or knocked over by the dog, the first question was “what did you do to the dog?” I am constantly amazed that the attitude has shifted from “what did you do” to “why did the dog respond”. It seems that in the face of tolerant dogs, people have forgotten that some of the time, the behaviour we see in dogs is the result not of a flaw in the dog, but of what we ask the dog to put up with.
When you live with a tolerant dog, you can come to forget that the dog has very real feelings about what happens to him. One of the things that I constantly hear is how important having animals in our lives is because it teaches us empathy and to consider the needs of others. When we live with tolerant dogs, we may actually learn that we can push harder than we should because these dogs will put up with behaviour that we should not expect them to put up with.
I regularly see tolerant dogs being asked to put up with highly aroused children or dogs racing around, with the expectation that the dog in question will remain calm and collected while this is happening. If I had a nickel for every student who said to me that they arrive in the dog park only to have their dog lose his marbles I would be moderately wealthy. I often wonder if folks remember being six and arriving at the park and remaining calm and relaxed while watching the other children running around and playing tag!
Although I require my dogs to show self control before letting them off leash to play with other dogs, I don’t expect that they would do so without help from me. Self control is a learned behaviour, not a naturally existing one. If you want your dog to exhibit self control you need to keep in mind two things; first-what have you taught him about self control, and second-how much excitement is he being exposed to while being asked to exhibit this self control.
If you take your dog to the dog park, and you are 100 meters away from the dogs who are playing and your dog spies the active exciting play, it is reasonable that most dogs can disengage from the fun they see and attend to you, even if they haven’t had much training. Stand and wait till you get spontaneous attention, and then take your dog off leash and join the fun! You will be teaching your dog that self control is the key to getting to participate in the fun. Take that same dog into the middle of the game and hope for that same level of tolerance, and you are going to find that you have a highly excited monster on your hands. Just don’t! You can eventually do that if you practice diligently and increase the difficulty very slowly, but it isn’t something that will just happen
This lesson applies to racing children too. For the most part, I don’t want my dogs to run with kids. I have large physical dogs who think nothing of hip checking one another, or grabbing each other by the neck while they run and race. When there are children running around, I put my dogs in their crates, or if I have taught them to, I ask them to lie down and stay. They are tolerant, but it is not worth the risk to the children to expect that they would not hip check a child with whom they were running. It would most likely be a completely benign event, but 50kg of running dog can flatten a toddler or even a primary school aged child. That is not fun for anyone. And if the child charged my dog, I would not be surprised if my dog grabbed the child; why wouldn’t he? Charging is a rude and dangerous behaviour, and my dog doesn’t want or need to get hurt; he will quite likely protect himself. If I have put my dog in a down stay while children run, then I have made an agreement with my dog that I will prevent children from disturbing him and I am very strict about how close I allow play to come to my dogs.
It should be remembered tolerant tiny dogs can easily get in trouble too! I have seen dogs tripped upon, stepped on and inadvertently kicked when they are walked through crowds. When they are resting, people often pick them up resulting in dogs who learn never tot relax in the presence of people they don’t know and trust. Tiny dogs are often not terribly tolerant in part because they never get a chance to be. You can help these dogs by being aware of what they are doing, and what happens to them.
Dog bites are rare, but they do happen. One of the things we can do to help prevent dog bites is to ensure that the people around our dogs treat our dogs with respect and dignity. We can set and enforce boundaries with those who interact with our dogs and help our dogs to move through the world in peace. When a dog is tolerant, he will often put up with things that he should not have to, but we can help. When I am in public with my dogs I am really clear about the things that I allow to happen to them. I don’t let strangers just touch them, or scare them or get in their space. I don’t allow children to play with my dogs like they are inanimate toys. My dogs are really tolerant of a wide variety of bad behaviour in humans, but I do my very best to help my dogs stay tolerant by not making them put up with bad behaviour towards them. I would encourage everyone to do the same.
One of the many things I love to spend time on is a good puzzle. Word puzzles are a ton of fun! In particular, word morphs can keep my attention for hours. A word morph is a puzzle game where you are given a starting word, and an ending word, and you change one letter of the word at a time to come up with the end word. The challenge is to get from one word to another in the fewest number of steps. Often the words are somehow linked, such as cat to dog, or help to safe. Maybe it is these puzzles that really draw me to training using shaping.
Shaping is the process in training where we start with the dog doing something and change that something into something else through successive approximations. What that means is each training step brings the dog closer and closer to the end behaviour. As an example, let me describe teaching a dog to approach without jumping up, as I did with a client’s dog last night. This dog, a young exuberant labrador loves to rush up to people, and throw herself at people. At about 30 kg, this dog is big enough to really hurt someone if she chooses the wrong person to jump upon. This is like the starting word.
The desired behaviour is to have her come up to me, and keep her feet on the floor while I touch her. In behaviour parlance, we would call this the target behaviour and I always like to break that behaviour down into the simplest terms possible. I don’t like to use more than 7 words to describe that behaviour because the more simply that I can describe it, the easier it is to find the steps to achieve my goal. Let’s call this behaviour “approach with 4 feet on the floor.” That is 6 words, so it fits my desire to have no more than 7 words to describe what I am training, but you will notice that it cuts out the touching part. By limiting myself to 7 words at most, I prevent myself from lumping too many things into one training session.
Now that I have the starting behaviour and the ending behaviour, the rest of the training session is a matter of inserting the intermediate steps. This part of shaping requires that I let go of the idea that I am going to run the entire training show without input from my training partner. It requires that I allow my learner to do what she wants without interference. During the training session she may do exactly what I don’t want, and for the purposes of this example I am just going to let her do that. I think that for some of my human students this is perhaps the hardest part of shaping. Most of my students whose dogs jump up are so deeply appalled by the undesired behaviour that when it happens they give the dog feedback that may or may not be helpful. Usually, the feedback they give the dog is just exactly something that will maintain or even strengthen the behaviour. Pushing the dog down may feel like a solution but in fact, teaches the dog that you are more than happy to play a vigorous wrestling game for instance and from the dog’s perspective, yelling is just noisy barking that humans do sometimes.
Here is how the session played out. We let the dog off leash in the training hall and she began to run around away from me. This is not an uncommon reaction when the dog is off leash, so the very first thing I did was to set the dog up so that she was unlikely to do the undesired behaviour. Setting up so that you get what you want is the hallmark of great training. After about three minutes, she approached me and her person, and I clicked my clicker and threw a treat behind her. I should mention that this dog understood what a clicker was and what it meant, so if you want to try this out, you should teach the dog that click means treat before you start.
When I clicked the clicker, the dog stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me. For her, this was probably the first time that she had received any feedback about approaching other than yelling or pushing! She was genuinely surprised at the outcome. I made sure she could see me throw the treat and she took off like a shot to chase the treat. Once she took the treat, she started to explore the training room again, sniffing the toys and finding dropped treats that had been left by previous trainers. It took her another two or three minutes to approach us and again she approached us at a run. I clicked again and threw another treat behind the dog. This time there was a short light bulb moment for the dog; approaching me was a safe, interesting thing to do, and it resulted in treats! From there the dog began to approach me right away after getting her treat. 7 clicks and treats later she was coming in towards us eagerly but under her own control. Throughout this time, I simply chatted with the client, never giving the dog directions, never micromanaging the dog, just clicking the dog for approaching, and throwing the treat away to get the dog to leave in order for me to set up a chance for the dog to return.
From that point forward, I wanted the dog to start to approach more closely while maintaining her self control. To get her to do this, I just delayed clicking until she approached more closely. About 10 more clicks and she was walking right up to me. I had a little bit of history with this dog, working with her on the down stay, so she made a quick leap of logic and without any prompting or cuing or other information from me, she approached me and lay down. I really liked that, so I clicked and threw several treats; I made approaching and lying down really, really valuable!
As I said at the beginning, shaping is a lot like a word morph game. In this case the steps were approach, approach and stop, approach under self control, approach more closely under self control, approach and lie down at my feet. You will notice that the learner added in something I had not planned for; lying down. If she had added in sit, or stand and make eye contact, that would have been fine with me too; in this case, it doesn’t matter to me what she did when she arrived as long as it wasn’t putting her feet on me. In five steps, I achieved my goal of “approach with four feet on the floor”.
In order to get my goal of being able to touch this dog, I would have continued to train, clicking and treating for approaching and lying down while I first stepped towards the dog, and then stepping in and reaching but not touching, then stepping in and touching her and finally stepping in, reaching, touching and stroking her. The important thing to notice in this case is that once the dog is doing what I want her to do, I am shaping the activity that happens around her while she is doing the behaviour that I want. This is an important next step in most training; trainers might call this proofing. What we mean is for the dog to continue to do the target behaviour no matter what else happens around them.
It is popular to only define shaping in terms of reinforcement training but in fact, shaping can happen in any of the four training quadrants; you can certainly use punishment to shape behaviour too. With this very same dog we did this to keep her safe after she jumped up on a treat station and broke it. We have small flower pots on the wall to hold treats, and like many dogs before her, she tried to jump up and use her claws to pull the pots off the wall. She broke a pot and it would be dangerous to her to continue to do this, so we didn’t want her to do that. When she jumped up on the wall near the pots, we called out “that’s enough”. If she stopped right away, we would toss treats for her to clean up. If she continued to the pot, we would call out “too bad” and then quietly and calmly catch her and put her in the classroom crate for a few minutes. Then we would let her out to try again. In this way, the dog learned that jumping up on the wall near the pots was a behaviour that would predict an outcome that she didn’t like very much. It wasn’t stressful for her, it was just something she didn’t like.
It took about five repetitions to teach the dog not to jump on the walls, but that was really only the first step; we really wanted this dog to stop fixating on the pots altogether, so the next step on this shaping protocol was to call out the warning as she approached the wall. This time she learned the game even more quickly; it took her three repetitions to decide that approaching the wall near the pot was not a desired behaviour. From there, almost half an hour passed before she tried the behaviour again. In this way, we had shaped the behaviour we wanted using a negative punishment protocol.
Shaping can work with extinction too. We use extinction to teach dogs not to snatch treats until they are told. Extinction is the process of doing nothing at all until the behaviour changes and then reinforce the lack of the behaviour. At first, we ask only that they not touch our hand when a treat is extended towards the dog. Then we require that they stay off the treat for a second. Then two seconds. Then three, five, seven, ten and so on until the dog learns that trying to get at the treat just won’t work. We essentially teach the dog to stop trying to get the treat for longer and longer periods of time.
The important thing to understand about morphing behaviours like changing words is to make changes slowly. If you want your dog to pay attention to you when there are other dogs in the vicinity, then don’t start in the middle of the dog park; start far away, and pay your dog for giving you his attention at whatever distance he is already successful. Some dogs struggle so much with attending to me out of doors that I start out with just hand feeding outside my front door. Then I take them to places in the car and just feed them in new places. In general, if I have a really distracted dog, I want them to take treats nicely in ten places before I start asking them to do anything at all in a new place. Then I start asking for things they will do at home on my front step or in the driveway. From there, I take them in the car and ask them to get out of the car and do something really easy. Each time, I pay really well for whatever the dog does what I ask. Just as teaching the dog a new skill requires that I increase the difficulty of the skill in a step wise manner, so does working in a new environment.
Just like changing words one letter at a time, shaping or morphing behaviours is a lot of fun. One of the biggest reasons it is a lot of fun is that if you are only changing a little bit at a time, you are going to be fairly successful in very short order. It is a lot less fun when you try and change more than one thing at a time. When you are training, if you are not succeeding, ask yourself if you are changing too much too fast and if you are, slow down and enjoy the success.
One of the platitudes we hear over and over and over again in dog training is that a tired puppy is a happy puppy. When I think about being tired, I think about that feeling of having lots to do and not enough time to get it done, of deadlines, of the desire to do more but the inability to do so. Or I think about the end of a work out, where I just want a shower and to be left alone. I don’t think about tired when I think about content.
Don’t get me wrong. Exercise is an important component of good health for both us and our dogs. Reasonable amounts of exercise that is. Yesterday I took my horse out to exercise her and she was very full of herself. We went to a new area to her, and I got out my longe line and asked her to walk in a circle around me. This is a very common way of exercising horses and my mare is very familiar with it. In a new place though she was very spooky and nervous and when a truck rumbled by and blew its horn she took off. She galloped around me for a solid ten minutes, and that was before we even got really organized. After her spook, I worked her in the other direction so that she would not get stiff on one side, and then I walked her for about twenty minutes to make sure she would be properly cooled out. With horses we have to be very careful about keeping them properly limbered and properly warmed up and cooled out and when a spook like this happens we often end up exercising a horse more than we would prefer. At the end of her work out, Kayak was very tired.
Today when I brought Kayak out for her daily work out, she was very subdued. She was loose and moving well, but she was obviously tired out from yesterday’s work-out. Today I worked her very lightly because although a tired horse can be an easier to handle horse, a tired horse is also a horse more prone to injuries. This is true of all athletes, horse, human and yes, dog.
Often when I talk to people about the behaviour problems they are having, an interesting pattern has developed for the dog. As a young pup, the people would see the puppy get the zoomies and thinking that their puppy needed an extra walk, they would take the puppy out for progressively longer walks. Very quickly, the zoomies move out of the realm of an emotional response to being over tired to an operant way to get more walks. It takes very little time for a dog to learn that racing around results in a walk.
As the puppy grows, so does his stamina and then next thing that often happens is that the puppy develops a lot of stamina. A young Australian Shepherd is perfectly able to run hard for most of the day, regardless of the effect on his future health. This is an active breed that was intended to move large numbers of sheep for hours on end. The race between stamina and the amount of exercise that a young dog can absorb becomes a vicious circle where the human gives the dog exercise, and then the dog is naughty and the human gives the dog more exercise. It is not just herding dogs like the Aussie either; I have seen this happen in spaniels, retrievers, and working breeds. If your dog comes from a genetic background where he needed to be active, then the more exercise you give him, the more exercise he seems to need. Furthermore, if you have been exercising your dog whenever he seems restless, you are inadvertently creating a dog who will need more and more and more exercise.
Attempting to exercise a dog into fatigue who was bred to do this for ten hours a day is an exercise in frustration for families, but likely also for their dogs. Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_kitzcorner’>kitzcorner / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Often the next stop on the journey of exercise junkie is dog day care. There are great dog day cares out there, where the dogs have structured days that include rest periods and down time, but a great many dog day cares are one revolving door of activity, activity, activity. One of my clients came in after his dog was dismissed from daycare because he was aggressive to the other dogs. The daycare would not permit a video to be made to determine what exactly was going on, however from what we can determine, the dog would arrive around 7 am and more and more dogs would arrive until about 10 in the morning. As the dogs arrived they were permitted to race into the day care and plough into the play group. From ten till about two in the afternoon, these dogs would be a more or less stable group, but any time they settled down to rest, a staffer would go out and get them moving. At two in the afternoon, dogs would start going home. By five when my client would pick up his dog, his dog was exhausted. When we added this dog to our play group, it was really clear that he didn’t mind rough play at first, but over time, as he tired, he would begin to build a bigger and bigger space bubble around him. By keeping his play sessions short and not permitting him to play when he was tired we resolved a good chunk of this dog’s problem.
The allure of the dog coming home tired is very attractive to many owners of young dogs, but if the day care doesn’t make sure that the dog gets down time and rest time, then you can be contributing to a dog becoming an exercise junkie. This leaves us with two questions. The first is “How much is enough” and the second is “When should you exercise the dog”?
The answer to how much is enough is completely dependent on how much you think you can live with. If you cannot live with a dog who needs 5 hours of hard exercise a day, then don’t start building up your dog’s exercise tolerance to that level. I have a colleague in Sudbury who is extremely active with her dogs; she does sledding and hiking and biking with her dogs, and she could live with dogs who are able to tolerate five hours a day of hard exercise. This is not typical of my students though. If you cannot tolerate this level of exercise, then don’t get your dog up to that exercise.
When a dog starts exercising stressed, he is going to also be stressed during exercise at least for the first while. Look at this guys’ rounded eyes, pulled back ears and pulled in tongue.
There is a minimum though; dogs do best with at least an hour a day of off leash hiking with their people. Not all of us have the luxury of this, but that is likely the optimal for most dogs and it is doable for more folks, so as a middle of the road guide line, an hour a day off leash is a good amount of exercise. When you cannot give your dog this, you can substitute things like walking (not bounding!) up and down stairs, training games that involve searching for specific items or treats or learning new tasks.
The second question of when to exercise your dog is an interesting one. If you exercise your dog at the same time each and every day, you will create a situation where your dog anticipates exercise and becomes difficult to handle because of that. As the moment of exercise approaches, the dog becomes increasingly aroused and excited. If you then exercise your dog he will learn that being excited and aroused predicts a walk. When nothing else is going on, he will behave in an excited manner and then you will eventually respond by giving him that walk. Although you may be planning your walk at a specific time, your dog may begin to think that his excitement is what produces the walk instead of the other way around.
On the other hand, if you walk your dog more or less randomly, he will begin to tune into your subtle cues that a walk is coming and you have exactly the same issue that you might in the event that you walk your dog at the same time every day. Putting down your reading glasses and picking up your phone means that you are going to go for that greatly anticipated walk.
To avoid these common walk problems, there are a few things to do. First, understand that puppies under 12 weeks who zoom around like small jets are probably tired and need a nap, not another walk. When you see this behaviour, call your pup, put him in his crate with a kong or other appropriate chew and let him be for a while. After twelve weeks you can start to give your puppy more exercise and start to build towards a level of stamina you can live with, while meeting his minimum needs for exercise. If you have an older dog who has the pre-walk fidgets, use that as an indicator that you need to crate him till he settles down too. When the dog is settled, you can take him out if appropriate. We find that most young dogs conk out pretty quickly and take a nap. Older dogs can learn that being silly and excited in the crate does not open the door.
Once you have broken the cycle of being excited and aroused before the walk, establish a routine before your walk. Start out by teaching your dog to lie down. Lying down is a calm and controlled position. When your dog is down, feed him treats, one by one and then work on being able to move around the room, while he stays. If he breaks the stay, just re-cue him and work with him on staying in a down position for ten minutes. At about the ten minute point (sometimes 9, sometimes 10, or even 11 minutes), call your dog out of the down position and go get ready for your walk. Work up to being able to get ready for the walk while your dog is down. If he gets tense or excited (you will notice ears and eyes perking up), then keep working on the stay, continuously feeding as you move things around and get ready to go. When your dog is relaxed, actually calm, that is when walks will start.
This dog is ready to go for a walk. He is calm and he is showing us that his face and body are relaxed.
If you work on this regularly and reliably, then what you will get is a dog who is calm before walks. If you only walk your dog when he is aroused and excited then you are only going to have a dog who is aroused and excited, and that is not much fun to live with. A tired dog is a tired dog. A calm dog is usually a happy dog.
One of the important things that I do when I work with any dog is to include him in my daily routine. My dog isn’t just an inhabitant of my home; he is my partner in pretty much everything I do. This morning for instance, I included Eco in my ironing; I am working on a craft project that requires ironing, and so when I got the iron and ironing board out, I included Eco in the activity. How might that look? It probably doesn’t look very interesting, but when I opened the closet door, Eco poked his head in and then when I reached for the iron and board, I asked him to back up and he backed out of my way. While I was setting it all up, I asked him to lie down and pointed to where I wanted him to go. I didn’t ask him to stay so when I go out the fabric that I wanted to iron, he got up and took a look at what I had in my hand. When I asked him to go back and lie down, he did. After I was done ironing, I needed to get access to my craft table and he was in the way, so I was able to ask him to change his resting place to another point across the room. When I was done with that part of my project, I need to go downstairs to get some water for the steamer in the iron and I asked Eco to heel beside me down the stairs, which he did. We worked together to get the task done. Was it strictly necessary to have 48kg of black carnivore supervising my activities? Did he contribute? Not really. But we do things together and this morning I was ironing.
Sometimes I do things he likes; when I take my daily morning walk, for instance, I throw his feed pan. As a big strong dog, he needed a big strong toy and the thing that worked best for him was a rubber livestock feed pan. It makes a lousy frisbee but he likes it, and he will bring it to me and suggest that I throw it for him. On a good day I can throw it about 20 metres. He includes me in his games and activities because although he doesn’t need a great big primate to amuse him, it is part of how he and I relate.
The bottom line for me is that we share our activities with one another and we each bring skills to the table that the other can ask for and respond to. This is the gift that good reciprocal training gives to me. When Eco was a baby, I did more things that he found interesting than things that I found interesting with him. I spent many hours sitting on the floor playing tug and touch, fetch and search games. As we got to know one another, I began to teach him the words for the behaviours I wanted him to do. This in my opinion is the best kind of teaching to do with a puppy; I didn’t spend so much time at that age formally asking for or prompting sit or down, but sometimes in the course of our interactions, if he offered me a behaviour I was interested in keeping, I might respond by naming the behaviour and then playing a game that Eco wanted to play. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that the names for the behaviours corresponded to what he was doing and that if he did them when I asked, I might do something he would find enjoyable.
A sad tale for me is the story of so many dogs who are not really “one of the gang”. Many of these dogs are well loved and well cared for, but they are not yet partners with their people. The people and their dogs share space and activities in parallel instead of in partnership. The thing to understand about partnership is that it is a two way street, and deep partnership involves more than simply co-habitating and ensuring that your dog has enough to eat and drink. Deep partnership means that we should be aware of one another and respond to one another in a meaningful way. That is probably the biggest reason that I train my dog.
Dog training is the way that I develop a language to use when I am talking to my dog. I do a lot of informal training when I include my dog in my daily activities, but I also need to develop a language that we can share to do more complex things together. If I want to take my dog into the bush and go camping with me, I need him to be able to come when called, lie down and stay off leash, go around obstacles or over them as is necessary and I need him to connect with me so that if there is a challenge we can overcome it together. This is where teaching my dog in a formal setting can really jumpstart what we do together. Sometimes exercises in a class can seem disconnected from what we do informally, but if you start to look for opportunities to incorporate your formal training into your daily life, you not only improve your dog’s overall performance in those exercises, at the same time that you create a better bond with your dog.
If you go back to my ironing exercise, consider all the times when my formal training was integrated into that informal activity. The behaviours that I used during my ironing included backing up on cue, lying down, going to place, moving from one place to another place and heeling so he wouldn’t trip me on the stairs. These are all behaviours that I taught formally in obedience classes. I think that it is interesting that when I use behaviours in context I rarely need reinforcers to maintain them. If my canine partner thinks he is doing something important to both of us, he rarely asks to be paid to work, and I think this is an important clue to successful training. When your dog feels that they are an important part of what you are doing, they are often willing to participate in the activity, and if they have learned the skills to participate, reinforcement is rarely needed.