Monday, November 1, 2010

One Day at a Time

Here's where we are now:

Today, all four of the dogs and I played ball for forty-five minutes. Rubi refused to give the red ball back, so she lost the privilege of playing with it and had to play with the green ball like everybody else. Then Rubi and I went for a walk, because tired dogs are good dogs. I tried using the Freedom Harness and figured out after about a block and a half that I didn't like it. It might be a better tool for dogs that aren't so heavy in the chest or so into pulling (basically, for dogs that aren't pit bulls). I might pull it out again for a dog that doesn't work so well on the gentle leader, but for now, I switched B from the Freedom Harness back into her gentle leader, since I had wisely brought it along. I also found out that while the Lickety Stick does have a high-value enough treat to use for reactivity, the ball occasionally gets stuck, and the dog can't get the treat out. No treat does not work for reactivity training at all. I'm rather disappointed.

Anyway, for our walk today I decided to head for an area that I had previously avoided. There are five dogs on this route: a lhasa apso that likes to run up and down it's fence really fast, a very reactive, very angry shepherd mix, and three shepherd/huskie mixes that aren't particularly reactive - but there are three of them. We approach all three yards from the other side of the street to give B and I plenty of space. The lhasa is first: as soon as B sees it racing around the corner of it's house, I shove a handful of treats in her face. Rubi thinks this is a great idea! She happily trades me looks at the other dog for treats as we make our way by. w00t!

Next is the hardest dog: the angry shepherd mix. True to form, he charges the fence like the Tasmanian Devil himself, snarling and barking and biting the fence. This proves to be too much for my own Tazmanian Devil - she snaps to the end of her leash, but I don't give her a chance to react beyond that. I get my body in front of her and body block her back the way we came. After maybe five steps, she looks up at me in frustration and JACKPOT! I click and throw a fistful of treats on the ground.

The throwing treats on the ground trick is handy for a couple of reasons. First, it's a huge reward for B's brief moment of attention, and it will also serve to momentarily distract her from what she was doing - namely spazzing at the other dog. If I'm quick like a bunny when she gets done with the treats, I should be able to redirect her behavior into something more appropriate. Second, it gives the angry shepherd a calming signal; Rubi looks like she's sniffing the ground from where he is. Of course, he doesn't seem to care, he's still wailing at the fence, but for some strange dogs, it can help. Third, throwing treats on the ground and letting B clean them up gives me a few precious seconds to decide what I'm going to do next. I could turn around and head back home, but I hate to leave on a bad note, and we've hardly done anything yet. Or I can try to work through this.

Time's up, look alive! B's head pops up, and she starts looking for the angry shepherd again (he's kinda hard to miss). I click her and give her a treat. Oh, hi! Yes, I exist - and I have tasty food. She looks at the other dog, I click and treat. She looks at the other dog, I click and treat. She looks at the other dog, I click and treat.

And here's the part where I'm a bad scientist: She looks at the other dog, I click and treat. She keeps looking at me, so I click and treat again. Technically, you're only suppose to work on one variable at a time. For example, when you're practicing heel, your work on walking next to you OR you work on duration (how long the dog stays in heel) OR you work on sitting when you stop OR you work on pace changes. If you try to work on more than one variable at a time, you end up confusing the dog and everything can fall apart. So technically, we should just be practicing auto watches - look at the other dog, look at me, get a treat somewhere in there. Here's the thing, I've been around dogs who's owners just worked the auto watches. Their dogs get around other dogs, and the poor things look like they're going to give themselves whiplash they look at the other dogs/owner so fast. I also know that dogs repeat what you reward. So I reward B for her auto watches, and I reward B for looking at me any instant longer than she has to. I don't mind if she looks at the other dog, but I'd rather she looked at me.

Remember when B and I started CA and she would try not to look at the other dogs until she was already over threshold? This is how I build attention without losing confidence. B doesn't feel like she can't look at the other dogs, but ultimately, looking at me is going to be more rewarding.

So this is how we go forward: I mark and reward B for looking at the other dog, I turn around so we're going the same direction. I mark and reward B for looking at the other dog, we take a step forward. I mark and reward B for looking at the other dog, we take another step forward, and B's still looking at me, so I mark and reward her again and we take two steps forward. Meanwhile, there's a dog across the street making like a banshee. You get the picture. With my other dogs, no one is allowed to go forward unless they are focused, attentive, and absolutely under control. With Rubi, I have to balance that against her pacing and working herself up. The longer we stay in one place, the more anxious B gets, and the harder it is to refocus her. There's no easy way about it, it comes down to knowing my dog. This is one of he reasons we're taking CA again - to learn to be calm and still around other dogs.

The rest of the walk was relatively easy. After the angry dog, the three dogs weren't nearly as big a deal. Of course, then we had to turn around and go back home. Before we tackled that, I wanted to give both of us a break. So we sat down on the side walk and practiced sits and downs, right and left shake, and some hand touches - really simple, easy to reward stuff that would boost both our egos. Then we headed home.

Once again, the three dogs were only moderately interesting. We approached angry dog's fencing line, and once again he charged us. B looked at him, let out one enormous and heartfelt sigh, and went back to working for me.

Good girl!

After that, the lhasa apso was nothing. We didn't even cross the street to ease ourselves in. "Ha!" Rubi seemed to say as she pranced by, tail wagging. "I've pooped out things bigger than you!"

And that, I suppose, is progress.


  1. Hey Laura! It's Tania. Nice work!! You're working on a lot of the same things I am with my cattle dog Elo. I discovered the "treats on the ground" trick this weekend and it works great! Man, I can't wait until we're at the place where we can actually take a walk. Elo is reactive to EVERYTHING. Finally get his attention in one place, take one step forward and it's like we've entered a whole new world with new distractions and things to bark at! :) But he is coming along, and it's so rewarding to watch their progress!!

  2. You're outed now! Facebook stalking can be dangerous :)

    You have a very nice writing style, especially compared to all the run on sentences I tend to use. I look forward to reading more about you and Rubi

  3. I like your blog so far :) What's a Lickety Stick?