Thursday, February 23, 2012

Personal Space

Personal space is an approximate area surrounding an individual in which other people should not physically violate in order for them to feel comfortable and secure. The amount of personal space required for any given person is subjective. For example, one who is accustomed to busy city life, especially riding on crowded subways, is more tolerant of others impeding on their personal space than someone who may live in a more rural area. In fact one who is used to having their personal space respected may become extremely anxious and claustrophobic when placed in a situation where personal space is a luxury.

Dogs have this same concept of personal space. In a group of dogs, whether intimates or just a gathering at the dog park, personal space is very real. I've had dogs in reactive class that will wait until another dog is within their personal space to snap - before that, the dog is all smiles and wagging tail with many signals of let's meet and maybe play.

How your dog evaluates your ability to control your resources and space can often times, determine whether or not he will listen to you at critical times when you need control of him. If your dog can infringe into your personal space and take something of value like a dog toy you are holding, get on your lap or put his face in your pizza on the coffee table, then your dog’s interpretation is that you cannot control your resources. The consequence of this is that your dog won’t listen to your commands in any other situation.

Puppies have a problem with other's personal space from the beginning. Eventually the adults teach the puppies the value of personal space and what an invitation to come closer is and when it's ok to come closer even without an invitation. But during this learning process, puppies jump and leap and squirm and lick and paw and just cause all sorts of mayhem. In the human world - especialling without an adult dog in household - this behavior largely goes unhandled until the puppy is older, bigger and completely out of control.

This week seems to be the week for dog's with personal space issues. Not their own, but others personal space.

First is Bailey, a 4 year old bulldog mix. Bailey lives with two other dogs, both fairly old, but bonded with each other. Recently Bailey and Guiness started fighting. According to the owners reports, the fights are almost always over space. For instance, Guiness was sniffing a spot on the ground and Bailey came over to check it out as well, invading Guiness' personal space. Guiness takes offense and a fight ensues.

Second is my own dog Storm. Not with me, but with others. A tendency to invade other's personal space I started noticing when she came back from her potential service dog gig. The person she was with loved having Storm climb half way into her lap on the wheel chair, sleep in her bed and just be a lap dog. Now Storm does this to everyone she meets and she is not a small dog - she is 70 lbs of fur.

As a note here, I don't insist my three not jump on guests who come in my house - I live alone, I want people intimidated especially if they come in uninvited. But in the yard, I don't want them being a nuisance to humans or other dogs.

How to teach a dog to respect human personal space.

Method 1:
Stand in the middle of a room with something of high value like a stuffed Kong toy. Drop it on the floor behind you and block your dog from getting it. When he finally relaxes and sits, click and treat him. Expand the exercise to other high value items your dog likes – yes, even use cookies if that is relevant to your (and your dogs) situation.
Now here’s the key: Don’t use any command words at all. Just stand there and wait until your dog sits patiently. By not using words or having any emotions in the process of this exercise, your dog begins to react to your body language. Of course your dog must be able to sit.

Method 2:
Start during feeding time and take a piece of the dogs food and put it between your thumb and palm. Your other fingers keep, I assuming the remaining 4, are straight.  Call your dog over and when he gets to about 18 inches, push your hand forward so your palm touches his nose. When he stops, give him the piece of dog food. Continue this with his food for three days.  When he approaches you in the home give him the stop command, flat palm, sit and then invite him into your personal space.  If the dog does come up uninvited and either leans, paws or jumps on you, just walk away and return to your original spot in a few seconds.  During the first week of this training the dog will be a bit confused, but the dog will approach, and hesitate. Almost as to ask "May I approach?". This is the goal of the training, to simply have your dog stop and ask if they may approach.  Your kids, visitors and people you meet will enjoy this little trick from the dog.

Method 3:
Teach your dog Susan Garrett's "It's Yer Choice" game (explained in Susan's book Ruff Love and there are many video's on YouTube showing how the game is played). Once your dog understands the rules of It's Yer Choice, expand the game to include people, places and other dogs.

On A Walk

Yesterday for Out Of Control class, we took a walk in the neighborhood around Seize the Leash.  There are many dogs in this neighborhood - some are fully exercised, some are not.  Some are formally trained, some are not - but all dogs are "trained" and get training every day, every hour.

Dogs do what gets them what they want.  That dog barking at the fence at you and your dog is usually telling you to please go away.   They always get what they want, you leave.  The actions of barking, lunging at the fence, pacing, racing around, jumping and carrying on are reinforced every time someone walks by that house.  Some dogs get so good at these behaviors the fence starts coming apart from all the pounding.

Yesterday was no exception.  We stopped probably 10 times during a four block walk (we spent some time at the park doing heel work).  Every time we stopped our purpose was two fold - one to teach our dogs that the dogs behind the fence are not all that interesting and that you should just ignore them; and two, to teach the dogs behind the fence that we weren't going to leave until they stopped their crazy behavior.

We succeeded at 9 out of the 10 houses and when we passed those houses again, no noise, no lunging from either our dogs or the ones behind the fence.  That 10th house was the most interesting.

There were three dogs at this house.  One was a shepard mix, possible still young, very anxious and needy.  One was a pit/pointer mix ? who was pretty laid back and the third was an Amer Eskimo mix.  The Eskimo was the one with most of the issues.  We first stopped about 40 feet from their yard because I saw as we were walking up that the Eskimo was redirecting his frustration on the shep mix.  Even Brynda was taking exception to this dog and it took about 7 minutes to calm all of our dogs down. 

The pointer mix just paced from the gate to the front door and back and never made a sound.  The shep mix was up on the fence, licking his lips, high pitched chittering and squeaking.  But the Eskimo was digging at the ground, the fence, jumping and carrying on.  But even this energy was finally disappated and we started to move on. 

In passing by the gate, the shep mix was there trying to come to us and the Eskimo restarted his efforts to fight and redirected on the poor shep mix about 3 times that I saw.  Then I looked up and noticed that the owner was standing in the yard with her arms crossed and a nasty look on her face.

We had stopped to calm our dogs again and it was apparent that she did not like us stopping in front of her house.  So I asked her if it was ok and she said an emphatic NO, stop irritating my dogs.  I started to explain to her that what we were doing would calm her dogs also and that they too would benefit from the training our dogs were getting.  But before I could tell her why her dogs would benefit, she screamed that she would hope that her dogs WEREN'T being trained.

So we moved on.  Our dogs were already calm and it was only the Eskimo mix that was still going ballistic.  But what I couldn't explain to her because she didn't want to hear it was that by leaving,  the Eskimo got what he wanted - all of us leaving - and that his behavior had just been reinforced once again.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are You Afraid of Behaviors?

The other day I was training with a friend who is not a clicker trainer.

I was talking about teaching my 15 month old clicker trained dog to do a straight front and a straight sit at heel. I was having trouble getting the right behavior to click. She recommended that I use a pair of lucite rods to guide the dog into position. I am not a big fan of modeling or physical manipulation but I thought that I might be able to use a touch of the rod as a cue to move away from the rod. So I agreed to try it.

I started introducing the rod with my dog off lead. Needless to say my dog thought it was a touch stick and tried every variation of touch she could think of. I waited patiently. Soon she noticed that she was not getting clicked and started throwing her entire repretoire of behaviors at me. I waited patiently. I could not get the rod into contact with her body. About this time, my friend couldn't watch anymore. All that frenetic activity and the fact that I was not putting a stop to it was too much so she went to train outside. Of course I was putting and end to it, I was letting it extinguish. I did put my dog on a short lead to cut down on some of the wider ranging behaviors. I waited patiently. Suddenly, my dog got still and waited for my next move. I touched her shoulder with the rod. Nothing. I touched her shoulder with rod again while stepping to the side. She crossed stepped with me. Wow. She was doing it. But then I got suspicious. I stepped to the side without touching her with the rod. She crossed stepped with me. Aha, my step to the side was a cue she seemed to understand. It worked both directions.

So all I had to do was transfer the cue. Touch with rod, then step to side, dog steps to side, click and treat. I repeated this until the dog was anticipating my step with the rod touch. I touched her with the rod and waited. The dog started to step and paused and finally completed the step, click and treat. I reinforced this several times and then asked for several steps in a row before the click. Then I just left the rod in contact and waited while she made several steps, click and treat. I reinforced this several times. I had her do it while is side stepped with her and then while I pivoted in place. She was brilliant. Then I changed hands and went through the same training steps to the other side. She was brilliant. Then I got two rods and had her weave back and forth in front of me as I just stood there. This all took about five minutes.

My friend came back into the room and I called out, "Watch this." I operated the rods and the dog weaved back and forth several times before I clicked. I beamed a big smile. My friend said, "Don't do that. You will teach your dog to fidget back and forth like that instead of doing a nice front." My friend is afraid of behaviors.
This is why I mostly train alone.

George Keith
Elgin, TX

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Philosophy of Behavior Training - Alignment

Alignment in my world means aligning the dog to the real world, the human world, the world that dogs have been co-existing with for thousands of years. Alignment is, like attention, a form of communication. Alignment shows the dog that the human world exists differently from a purely canine world, how to communicate with this world and the humans in it and to not be afraid of any of it.

Dogs evolved along side humans for the last 12,000 to 100,000 years depending on which scientific studies you subscribe to. Dog have evolved to look to us for information rather than trying to gather it themselves. I see it more as efficiency than a cognitive deficit.

Convergent evolution is championed by many scientists who believe that because dogs share many of the same behaviors we do, they give us the opportunity to explore the evolution of our own abilities in another animal–something that few other creatures provide.

PBS aired a program - Dogs Decoded - about cognitive studies in animals. One problem-solving study compared the response of dogs to wolves. When faced with a challenge to get food the dogs would invariably look to the human handler for instruction. The wolves never did. The dogs would also give up rather quickly compared to the wolves who would keep at it. One conclusion from this study was that dogs have been bred to respond to and interact with humans.

Assuming the conclusions of this research are correct and dogs share a cognitive ability with humans that our close cousins the chimpanzee lack, then that suggests that this ability resulted from convergent evolution. Much like the wings of birds and bats, this cognitive ability was not shared with common ancestors suggesting that they evolved independently.

One of the behaviors that was discovered that dogs did better then any other animal, is following the gaze of a human, understanding that where the human looks is where they should look, where the human points, is where they should put their attention. So the best and main tool of alignment is targeting.

By the use of targeting - assisting the dog to touch, look at, sniff or otherwise interact with the environment - a dog learns that control by a human is a good thing, that control itself is a good thing, that control doesn't have to be pervasive and that control of himself, his body and the things in his environment are possible.

Dogs are said to live in the moment. But what does living in the moment mean? It means that the dog's attention is in this place and time, that she is engaged with life and the environment, that she approaches it rather than avoids or denies it. When a dog is living in the moment, she is a participant, living life intimately rather than considering life from the distance and constantly looking for the danger the past tells her is always there.

Control doesn't have to be physical and it doesn't have to be immediate. I've found over the years that just my willingness to be in control, creates that control. Having the ability to create something, to keep it moving and to be able to stop what I created and the willingness to do it, means that it happens. I do it, I don't wait for someone or something else to control my life or the small things in it. This is what I give to dogs with "alignment".

A dog becomes reactive because life becomes unpredictable. A reactive dog is constantly checking the threat value of all those (human or other) around him. Some dogs are even checking the inanimate objects for threat value - who knows, something could fall out of the sky and crush the dog. With control, self control, the dog can bring some predictability back into her world and hence become less reactive.
Touching, looking at, examining, mimicing, following and learning to make choices create self control in a dog. This also includes processes which allow the dog to become more aware of his own body, how it moves, how it can be moved and what happens when it's touched by something or someone else.

Targeting processes are designed to assist the dog to live in the moment, unhampered by the trauma of the past. Life becomes predictable for the dog. With targeting, a dog starts to pay attention to what is there and not what he thinks might be hiding waiting to hurt him. He can actually start to interact with the real environment and his humans. Anxiety, nervousness and hyperactivity all disappear as the dog is living less in the past and more in the moment.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Post class play time


Will she leave any for us?

Who's afraid of a plastic bottle?

Treats in the tunnel too!!!

Tunnel Parade

I ain't afraid of no ghost

Is this right?

Ah, this is better

I can see for miles !!

Should I touch the yellow stuff?

I am too old enough !

Micah got up here, how did he do that?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Correction and Punishment, are they the same?

For much too long, we have relied on positive punishment to make unwanted behavior “stop, now!”. What exactly is the dog learning? That his owner is unpredictable? That sometimes “sit” means a cookie is coming, and sometimes “sit” means a collar correction? Or worse, we teach dogs that life is all about avoiding bad stuff, and that owners are the source of bad stuff.

In my experience, the reasons most people employ positive punishment are:

1 – to get quick “results” (i.e., behavior stops)
2 – they don’t know how to train an alternate behavior with positive reinforcement
3 – it’s an emergency management situation

““Punishment happens”, and there is no escaping it.” That is not a justification for using it as a primary training tool. Your point, I think, is that even when we strive to use positive reinforcement with our animals, punishing things happen. Even stopping a (positive-reinforcement) training session can be perceived as punishing by the animal.
If my dog is about to steal my Thanksgiving turkey, I will stop him. He will be disappointed. That is not a training plan, it’s an emergency intervention. If I am a good positive-reinforcement trainer, I will recognize the need to train an alternate behavior and create a positive-reinforcement training plan. What I won’t do is put a shock collar or choke chain on the dog, bait the counter with smelly food, and punish him every time he tries to go for the food. Would both methods achieve the same goal? Probably, if they were well implemented. But ask the dog which method he would prefer.

What I wonder is, if we as humans (vs. dog trainers) have our own preconceived notions about that word punishment. I know that I do based on what my parents called punishing me and how my parents dealt with my misbehaviors. And no, I was not abused, beaten or the like or even spanked. But I was grounded, yelled at, and had privileges removed. While that is not horrible by any means, the word “punishment” still has negative connotations for me (because who wants to be grounded when you can go roller skating?), no matter the science behind it. However, the word chosen by the scientists is what it is. I believe our own life experiences influence how we view certain words in society or dog training and admittedly my own perception makes me hate just the word.

“Correction” is too often used as a euphemism to make the use of aversive stimuli acceptable to clients/students.  But the definition of correction means to change a response by showing what is real and truth.  A correction, by definition, is not delivering an aversive to mark what is wrong.

As a teacher you can mark/grade work which means crossing out the mistakes and ticking the correct answers then counting them up to find the mark/score to be awarded. Useful for ranking. Not for much else. It is NOT correction.
To me a ‘correction’ is rightly ‘showing the student the correct way’.

You can correct a paper/work by indicating where a mistake was made and writing is either the ‘correct’ answer or give advice to the student of how to it would have been better answered. Or you can ‘correct’ a physical exercise by actually showing the student how the exercise should be done.

So in dog training, “Correction should be going back a step and working from where the dog actually does perform as wanted.
It is NOT teaching to only indicate ‘mistakes’ without letting the student actually learn the ‘right’ answer.

Correction is used synonymously with punishment and aversive in the world of dog training, and yet it really is something totally different.