Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Is A Thinking Dog?

Liz and I had an interesting discussion last night after watching a DVD on platform training and clickers.
Traditional training creates a dog who listens to and responds to humans, but doesn't specifically know how to make decisions based on environmental input. Clicker training - strict clicker training like I've seen in most of these DVD's and the clicker trainers here in town - also create a dog that listens to and responds to humans and doesn't truly know how to make decisions. I know that sounds odd since clicker training is suppose to create a thinking dog, however, the only thinking I see in most clicker trained dogs is "what movement do I make to get the treat". not "there is a cat and there is my human - I choose human". I suppose I look at all things based on behavior not obedience, but what I see with most clicker trainers is just a gentler way of completely controlling a dog.
Does that make any sense?
I want my dogs to respond to their environment based on choices and decisions of the past in similar circumstances - which is what we as humans do and what evolution encourages. I know most (99%) of even trainers, not to mention the lay person, say that can't be done, but it can if the dog is allowed to make it's own decisions and choices and not forced (whether it's with a shock collar or a clicker) to respond only in the direction the human wants, it does happen. What I want is for my dogs to respond to their environment like a dog (mostly with their nose) and modify their choices based on knowledge of what the human has helped them do and decide in the past about the world we all live in. What I see in most training - force or reinforement - is a weakening of a dog's natural abilities. Most training takes choice away from a dog. What needs to happen is to strengthen a dog's natural senses, natural sense of environemental and social balance and then add the knowledge of a human created world.

I include clicker training in this because so many clicker trainers never look beyond the mechanics of "wait for a close approximation of the final behavior, click and treat". Everytime that click and treat happens, it breaks down the dog's choices as to what to do next. I've had dogs do a tricky behavior like circle around a cone in three tries compared to 50 or 60 that I've seen on DVD's teaching the same behavior. I can only attribute it to the fact that I don't interrupt the dog when it continues to move in the direction I'm teaching just because it moved a fraction of a inch closer this time.

It takes great observation skills to see what decisions the dog is making or about to make. You need to "know" what the dog is communicating and be able to respond immediately once the decision is about to change. It's a change in engagement, in interest, in curiosity. In nature, a dog will only stay engaged with a new object long enough to determine if it's a threat, if it's food or if it's a female in heat. Once that is determined, the interest and engagement wanes and then disappears and that object is filed away as benign. In our world, we want the dog to respond in various ways to objects, spaces, scents and sounds that in the natural world would be ignored. We have to create engagement by paring a totally uninteresting object with either food or something fun. If you don't know what the interest level of your dog is, then the only thing you can do is control the dog and her responses. Do rapid click and treat for small movements, tiny pieces of engagement, controls the dogs responses. It does not create a thinking dog. I won't even mention what shock collars, leash corrections, alpha roles, etc don't create.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Separation Anxiety Protocol


Day 1

hour 1: in the house, go into a room, close the door – dog outside the room. Count to 10 open the door, walk to the next room (do not interact with the dog). Repeat in every room in the house that can be closed off with a door and every closet in the house until you can be in a room/closet for 5 minutes.

hour 2: Do exactly the same as hour one except when you come out of the room, provided the dog is not going nuts and is calm, play WITH the dog (push a war, smack it, tug, something interactive IT MUST INVOLVE PLAYING WITH YOU). You should be able to get to 10 minutes separated from the dog in a room or closet by the end of this hour. The play session should not last more then 1 minute. You can do more then one play session each time with a break of 30 seconds between 1 minute sessions.

hour 3: repeat hour 2, this time with food instead of play. Food should be accompanied by the HUMAN getting really excited about giving the food to the door. Get to 15 minutes. Obviously that means only 4 or 5 rooms will be used in an hour.

Take a break until evening, do not feed the dog dinner.

Hour 4: time to start heading outside, use every door in the house, start at the count of 10 again, NOT at 15 minutes. This is to the dog a totally different game. It will go faster however since the rules of the game have already been established in the first 3 hours.

Hour 5: Write down every routine you go through when you are about to leave the house. It doesn’t matter whether the routine is for going to get the mail, or going shopping, or going to work. Humans are creatures of habit and routine and if you think about it, you can write down every step you take in each type of routine. Put each step in those routines EACH on a 3X5 card and shuffle them. Then grab 5 cards, do the actions in those 5 cards (even if it means putting on your shoes and then taking a shower). At the end of each 5 card routine, go outside rotating doors each time, and continue your counts until you can get to 10 minutes outside with no reaction from the dog.

Hour 6: Do hour 2’s actions of play, but instead of room and closets, go outside. Try and get to 15 minutes.

Day 2

Hours 1,2,3 Do the actions from hour 6 on day one alternating play with food. Get to 20 minutes separation time. The play sessions should be longer now – 1 minute play, 1 minute no play repeated 5 times. The concept that dog gets here is that play always restarts. If you make it one long play session, the dog is left feeling like you’re never going to come back and play again.

Hours 4,5,6 Continue what you were doing in the morning, get to 30 minutes separation time and 2 minutes between 1 minute play sessions.

Day 3

This is the day for the long separation times. When you get up, shuffle your cards and pick out 10 to do, then leave the house for 30 minutes, actually driving away – you can run some errands if you wish so you come home with a bag or two of stuff. When you get home, walk in, ignore the dog no matter what he is doing. Wait until he is calm and then have a 10 minute play sessions (30 seconds on, 30 seconds off).

Wait two hours and repeat with a new set of 10 cards. Leave for 45 minutes, make sure to come back with dog goodies. Again wait until the dog is calm if necessary and have a 15 minute play session.

Wait two hours and just leave, no routine, just pickup the necessities and leave. Be gone for an hour, don’t bring anything back but do have the play session once your dog is calm – 15 minutes is good.

Wait 3 hours, do a normal leaving routine for going to work and then leave for 90 minutes. Everything should be fine by this time. The dog should have the concept that you will always come back and that if he is calm you will play with him for a long time. 15 minutes is a long time for a dog.


Notice that you don’t need to take your dog for a walk during these three days. Your dog will be really tired from the mental exercise and the play sessions.

On play, if your dog doesn’t tug or have much interest in toys at all, there are two games you can play with him. Push-a-war: push lightly at the dog and run away making silly sounds. Game of Deke: with a squeaky toy in your hands, start bouncing back and forth squeaking the toy, your dog will start bouncing with you. There is never a need to give the toy to the dog, just keep bouncing and occasionally run away. Once your dog is playing these two games, you can add one called Smack It. Sit on the ground with the squeaky toy in your hands, smack the toy on the ground to your left saying “smack it”, then to your right and back and forth until your dog is diving to each spot trying to get the toy.

The intention with these three games is to put so much value into playing WITH you, that anything you have is also valuable. The toy you are squeaking becomes valuable to the dog and he wants it Then you can start with tug, drop, run (wait til your dog bites the toy, drop it and run – he should run after you with the toy in his mouth).

Make this whole routine fun for both you and the dog. You can enthusiastically charge out of closets and rooms to start the play sessions or throwing a handful of treats (or his dinner). Really get into the card shuffle game and realize how silly humans are with their routines and habits and laugh at yourself. Your emotions and energy level will affect how well your dog does with this.