Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reactive Dog Skills

*I would highly encourage anyone with a reactive or aggressive dog to seek professional help from a qualified +R trainer in your area.  Missing critical readings of behavior is disastrous to training and the owner's relationship with their dog.

In working with my dog, Dolce, I'm finding the wisdom of The Third Way's approach to ring true.  Its founder, Chris Bach, says that dogs who are really scared of something can't ever be made to overcome their fear.  If a person is afraid of the dentist, at best, they will likely be able to tolerate, maybe not even be too terribly bothered by going to their appointment.  But there is always that nagging fear that whatever bad thing happened will happen again.

So, as we can't truly socialize fear out of a dog, we can teach the dog skills to cope really well.  These skills are, in my opinion:

  • Sit
  • Touch
  • Front
  • Watch Me
  • Loose-Leash Walking/Heel
  • Let's Go (180ยบ turn)
  • Look At That
  • Bounce (BAT principle)
These are the cues I teach at IDOGS.  The +R manifesto states that you reward behaviors you like, and interrupt behaviors you don't.  One form of interruption can be to teach an incompatible behavior.  If a dog is in a Front position, facing its handler, staring into their eyes on a Watch Me cue, they can't be looking at a trigger.  If a dog is walking on a loose-leash, and can be called into Heel position at any time, they can't be out ahead looking for a trigger around the corner so the handler has no time to prepare or react to the situation appropriately.  Rather than continuing a dog who has encountered its trigger to stare at it, turning around and walking the other direction helps your dog trust that you will respect their discomfort, removes the threat, and will help the situation be a little less scary next time.  If every time the dog encounters its trigger, the owner marks that moment with an enthusiastic, but fairly calm "Look at that" and then the dog is heavily rewarded while remaining under threshold, a new association can form between the dog and its trigger(s).

What then, is this Bounce exercise?  It's how you can close the gap safely, at your dog's pace, while teaching them new skills.  This is the tricky part.  The handler must be able to read the dog's body language.  We're looking for a calming signal when we approach the dog's threshold.  This is basically anything that isn't freezing, lunging, barking, or growling.  It can be things such as tongue flicks, lying down, sniffing the ground, turning away and looking somewhere else, an eye blink, scratching, or sitting.  When the dog offers any of these behaviors, we mark with a word or clicker, and walk the dog away to safety and throw a party when we get there.  It is imperative that as the dog becomes aware of the trigger and starts to exhibit any sort of worry, we stop immediately and wait patiently for them to make a good decision AKA display a calming signal.  If we go too far, and the dog reacts, a simple "Let's Go" will suffice.  That was our mistake, so we needn't be mad at the dog.  Depending on how upset the dog is, we may have to practice calming down (take a break and go walk it off, give the dog a back massage, etc.), or try again another day.

So let's say a successful approach, calming signal, retreat has been accomplished.  It's rinse and repeat time.  If you were to draw your footsteps on a piece of paper, it would look as though you and your dog are bouncing off an invisible barrier.  That barrier is your dog's threshold, and it can only be determined by the dog, on that day, with that trigger, in that environment.  All these different factors contribute to the dog's state of mind for a given session, and we must remember that.  Just because feisty fido got within 3-feet of the exact same trigger in the exact same spot yesterday, it doesn't mean they'll be able to repeat that accomplishment today or tomorrow.

Let's say you've closed the gap, but putting things in motion, especially in close proximity, is still overstimulating your dog.  The Touch game can really help your dog stay focused on you while walking in heel position passed whatever trigger you're working with.  Dogs seem to find Touch intrinsically enjoyable, especially with someone they know and love.  If your dog is walking at your left side passed a trigger, cue Touch several times as you go by to keep your dog engaged with you and his/her mind off the trigger.  Do this several times, and try cuing less and less until your dog can confidently, happily, and calmly walk by the trigger while maintaining focus on you.

These are the tools I'm implementing with Dolce and my IDOGS clients.  Many people come for the first session, get the list of these tools and how to use them, and go on to come back a week, a month, or more later with drastically improved dogs.  It's a method you can't really do wrong, except if you push your dog too far.  You can't hurt the dog unless you get too close too soon.  I tell everyone, "If your dog is yelling at the trigger, you've gone too far!"

What are your favorite tricks of the trade for your reactive dogs?  Does teaching a skill, rather than truly desensitizing and counterconditioning, make sense to you?

That was fun!

The dogs are moving to their own blog.  Follow them here!

This blog will resume its training philosophy/thoughts/ideas/discussion/questions purpose.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Introductions ~JoJo

Howdy, everybody! :)

I know I'm late to join the party.  My apologies for my tardiness, but what a wonderful day!  It's so sunny, warm, and relaxing here.

The youngsters have already mentioned me here and there.  That's fine.  I just wanted to let you know a bit about me, and they can carry on.

I was born to a track in a state called Alabama as Phoney Jonie.  I was a terrible racer, had absolutely no interest in competing whatsoever.  World peace is my greatest wish.  I finished 7th out of 8 dogs in my first race, then 7th again in my second race, and the 8th dog had even less interest than I did -- he didn't bother to run at all.

From the track, I was rescued, transported to a state called Michigan, and put in a foster home for a rescue group called REGAP, where I got the nickname, JoJo.  I really enjoyed snuggling with my foster Mom and my foster pals.  We all got along great!  I was adopted about 6 months later by a nice young couple.  I had decent food, a home, family... it was great!  When my human parents stopped getting along, though, my Mom had to give me back to the foster mom.  I didn't mind too much, just tried to make sure everyone was okay.

A few months after that, I was five-years-old by this time, my real Mom came and met me.  I loved how she smelled, and I leaned into her to let her know how much I appreciated the hip scritches!  Her nails are nice and short, so it doesn't hurt my sensitive skin to get really deep ones. ;)

My Mom has taken me to lots of places.  We lived at a house and an apartment in Michigan for a while, and when we were at the apartment, I got to roam in this beautiful dog park.  I loved meeting everybody human and canine alike, but what I really loved was exploring nature!  If a fight broke out, I made sure to interrupt it so everyone could just get along.  Dudes, seriously, life is too short.  Make love not war.

A couple years ago, Mom moved to a state called California to live with my new Dad.  I miss my Mom 2 and first Dad, as well as the fenced in yard they made for me and my sister, Kibeth (RIP), but I do NOT miss the winter.  No flowers to smell, no warm grass to lie in.  Definitely not as good as it is here!  I've walked in the ocean, run in the sand, and even broken up a few fights at the dog parks here; though we don't tend to visit those as often here anymore.  So much anger and hate from the people and the dogs, it's just not a good place to be and fill yourself with peace and happiness.

My favorite things include:  lying in the sun, eating breakfast and dinner, getting treats, playing with my little sister, Zenzi, and going for walks in the local parks.

I'm nine-years-old now, and I can tell that life is a slower pace at this age.  I really like to just nap in my soft, warm bed all day long.  Sure, I emerge for walks and meals, maybe to say hi to the family here and there, spread the love... you know?

Wishing you all love, peace, and happiness!

P.S.  Some of you were worried about me and my dental procedure on Monday.  I'm fine, but thanks for the good vibes!  I could feel the love all the way. ;)

My New Collar ~Zenzi

So, remember how I said I outsmarted my Mom on that evil Elizabethan collar, broke it, and made it unusable?  Well, I conquered the T-shirt, too!  What do you know, all I had to do was bite the thing and pull it upwards to reveal the incision beneath.  Nothing will stop me from licking my incision now.  Ahahahaha!

But wait, what is this?

Ah!  A new contraption!

Hey, this isn't so bad to live with... I can't quite reach, but I'll live.

I think it makes my head look big, what do you all think?  At least now I can eat, drink, move around, and snuggle without that torture device on my head.  I was a brave girl listening to the 'velcro' being ripped apart as my Mom adjusted it to fit me.  I knew she wouldn't do anything to hurt me, so I just laid there, looking into her eyes.

Maybe this is defeat-able, too, if only I have enough time to think...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


How do you do?  It is Dolce here, please allow me to welcome you to our blog!  For the most part, I believe we have been candidly introduced.  Onto the discussion.

Now that Mum is allowing us all a turn at writing, I have a few things to say, if you wouldn't mind.  Primarily, I would like to remind everyone that although I am now the middle child and no longer the baby, I am still present and accounted for, ready for duty.

I like to think of myself as the helpful sort.  I make me Mum feel better if she's anxious, nervous, or upset in anyway.  How do I do it, you ask?  Well, 'tis simple, really.  I've discovered, through trial and error and my own creativity, that her mood improves remarkably with these human displays of affection called 'hugs and kisses.'  These aren't too terribly difficult to replicate from similar behaviors in dog behavior, really.  Kisses are more how we clean and groom ourselves -- but hey, whatever works!  Hugs are generally an invitation of play; play is something you do with a friend, so I suppose it's not too far to reach that hugs can be comforting as well.  Humans are a bit backwards, after all.  Have you noticed they only walk on two feet?  But I digress.

Mum has trained me to perform over 30 different tricks.  I have what she refers to as 'titles' in the Trick department, and proudly display them in my folder.  I am an Advanced Trick Dog, but am eagerly awaiting the time for Mum to explain just exactly what I must do to become an Expert Trick Dog.  Once this prestigious title is claimed, I may then be crowned a Champion!  Ooooh, how exciting does that sound?  I don't mean to boast, but it would be a grand achievement for a dog like me.

You see, before me Mum rescued me, I was kept in a yard all day and all night for a year with my previous owners.  Nobody bothered to teach me anything, and I didn't even realize there could be such a thing as house manners!  Please forgive me, it's not my fault -- you see, I was never allowed in the house prior to where I live now.  When I first set eyes on me Mum, I'd already been in several kennels at different shelters.  I barked at my owners' fence line, and had been abandoned to these cold, hard, small, lonely places.  Me Dad saw me first, and me Mum got me out for a walk.  How I loved to be free of the kennel, but how big and scary the world was!  There were people all about, walking dogs, running, yelling, talking to each other.  Why did they stand still?  Were they looking to hurt me?  Why did they run so fast?  Were they afraid of something I hadn't yet seen?  I hid under the 'picnic tables' just to be safe, but I felt safest sitting beside me Mum.  I leaned into her, feeling her warmth spread into my lonely heart.  She left me there that day, and I thought I'd never see her again.  The pain was awful.  But a few days later, she was back, and I got to go to a real home.

I learned house manners, I got to play with my family, I got to go for walks, runs, hikes.  They helped me overcome my fear of strangers, though I still find them scarily suspicious in the dark - Why, sir, are you wandering about this late at night? - On the other hand, this past Sunday, I met a delightful woman about Mum's age who taught me to put my paws on her arm.  I am well-versed in clicker training, and I do believe I made a good go of it.  Then she requested I put my head through my arms and under hers.  Very strange request, this human made.  I did my best to obey her, I am rather flexible and agile, you know.  She seemed to enjoy my presence, praised my intelligence, so I offered her some kisses as I do me Mum.  She seemed to appreciate them, too!  I must be a good kisser.

I wish I could overcome this one last hurdle.  I do love me Mum so much and I know she wishes I felt differently, but strange dogs are dangerous and so scary; I just cannot fathom accepting their presence in peace.  Surely me Mum doesn't realize the extremely dangerous nature of some of my brethren?  I am just a wee thing, very thin and light.  Surely I'd be no match in a fight, should worse come to worst.

Me Mum has begun training me in agility with a woman I've never met before, nor has Mum.  We have lots of fun doing the exercises, though, and I, for one, am looking forward to learning more!  I got started on it with a kind woman from San Diego, I even got to meet and greet her three grand dogs.  It took some work for me to be comfortable in their presence, but I felt reassured by this new woman.  She certainly speaks dog.

Oh, and I must tell you of my wife!  I have a beloved Auntie Pam who is the owner of Lily, my wife.  Lily is always wearing her wedding dress, just as I am always dressed in a tuxedo!  Surely we are a match made in heaven.  It was not always so... I was afraid of her, and she seemed offended by me, but it wasn't long before my charms swayed her, and we've been best friends ever since.  I don't get to see my dearly beloved very often, but when I do, I am a real gentleman.  I kiss politely, respect her wishes, and cater to her mood.  Surely a gentleman should know to do such things.

So I bid you all goodnight, and look forward to updating you in my adventures.  I am proud to announce, for the first time publicly, that I am my father's favorite.

Trying something new: From the point of view of the DOG - Being spayed ~Zenzi

Zenzi here.  Just wanted to let you all know I'm alive... barely.

Yesterday started off like any other day.  We walked, we played a little, it was totally fine.  Then Mom put me and big sis JoJo into her car without breakfast.  - Where are we going for training? - I wondered, sure that's why we had been neglected the morning meal.

We pulled into the parking lot at the V-E-T's (whatever that is, I don't care for it much!).  I was really scared.  There's this guy who works there, he has a thick, black goatee.  He's never been mean to me, but I don't know, he kinda reminds me of a grizzly bear.  I'm suspicious.  Anyway, big sis JoJo waltzes right in like it's no big deal.  I sat my butt down on the cement just outside the door.  - Uh uh.  I'm not going in there! - I thought loudly.  I even pulled at my leash, but Mom beckoned me in, so I obliged her.


The goatee man tried to take me into the back room where they drew my blood last week. - No thank you! - I thought as I planted myself.  Mom took the leash, and I felt a bit better knowing she'd be with me, so I walked politely, like I know how to do.  Next thing I know, goatee man points into a large kennel, and Mom locks me in as big sis JoJo walks off with goatee man through a door to another room.  The tall guy, I think he's the leader of the V-E-T, starts talking to Mom.  She seems a little nervous, but she's not obviously upset in anyway.  Then do you know what happened?


I was in this crate thing for hours.  Just sitting there, hungry, thirsty, watching the action.  Everything before the "spay" as my Mom calls it is kind of a blur now.  I got an IV that gave me fluids and helped me not be thirsty.  Then I got some sleepy medicine, and all I remember is waking up, back in my kennel.  I was really loopy, but there was a nice person there with my bunny toy.  That was nice of them.  I felt safer having my bunny toy with me.  It smelled like home, like my brother Dolce (who always tries and FAILS to steal it from me... hah!), like Mom...

Eventually, Mom remembered us and came back for us.  I was really happy to see her, but I couldn't show her like I usually do.  I had this terrible pain in my belly.  Whatever happened while I was asleep, it hurts a lot!  Stupid humans.  What did I do to deserve this?  Big sis JoJo acted like it was no big deal, but she had a similar patch on her front leg like I had on mine.  Something happened to her, too.  That she wasn't so upset about it made me feel better about whatever happened to me.  JoJo is so strong, she acts like it doesn't even hurt!  Though she says they messed with her teeth and they feel all clean now, they didn't cut her belly open and sew it shut.

So yeah.  I've been "spayed."  I'm coping as best I can.  I still love food, which apparently, is a good sign.  Mom always gets a big smile when I eat.  Duh! Mom, I always like to eat.  Don't ya know by now?  I try to lick my wound, but Mom tells me "Leave it."  She's pretty firm about it, but... it hurts so bad!  After I eat, this food must be super amazing, because I feel better for a little while, and then I get another boost at the next meal.  That's awesome!  Some relief from the pain.

This isn't, like, permanent, is it?  That would suck.  I like running, jumping, playing fetch... definitely not up for those things with this cut in my belly.

I'll let you know if I'm still alive in a few days.  The humans put this stupid cone thing around my neck.  It blocked me from getting at my cut, but hey, I'm smart.  I just pulled the damn thing, collar and all, off over my head.  It kind hurt, but I think I broke it so it went eventually.  Mom has one of her T shirts on me now.  I like that it smells like her, but I can't get at my cut!  Ugh.  I have a smart Mom, but I'm smarter...

Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

New Things in Zenzi Land

Well, Zenzi's 4 new titles came and made a pretty addition to her collection. :)
Anasazi Dream Catcher, AKA Zenzi NTD, ITD, BB, BN, BI

Zenzi turned 6 months old on the 6th (!!) and so gets spayed and microchipped tomorrow.  Hopefully it's not too traumatizing for the little girl!  She's been so much braver in public lately.  She's getting over her stranger danger warnings nicely.

JoJo will be there to keep Zenzi company.  She's overdue for a dental.

Zenzi starts Puppy Sport class tomorrow, but obviously, will not be present for the first class.  Unfortunately scheduling conflicts with the spay prevented her from attending, but I will be there.  The trainer has kindly offered one of her MACH dogs for me to work!  I'm so honored!  We'll be attending a Control Unleashed workshop with this trainer for Dolce on the 17th.

[BTW, we have 2 new additions to the house!  Budgies AKA Parakeets, two of them, have made their way into our lives and we're really enjoying their cheerful song and beautiful colors.  I'll be starting a blog for them shortly!]

Zenzi's 3rd Obedience 2 Class

The class was again pretty much a review.  We worked on Touch cue discrimination:  touch the target when I say touch, don't touch it when I don't ask you to.  Then we worked on Leave It.  This was our shining moment... or so I hoped.

You all know how crazy food driven Zenzi is.  She works for kibble as though it's filet minon.  They had a person holding a JAR of peanut butter.  We were to walk up to the person, allow Zenzi to sniff the peanut butter and maybe even get a tiny taste, then walk down a row of 5 cones, spread about 3ft apart.  When we got to the first cone and she looked down the row to the peanut butter jar, we were to cue Leave It.  When she did so successfully (an immediate and sustained response), we would progress down the line until we got to the 5th cone, closest to the person holding the wide open jar of peanut temptation.

Now, prior to this exercise, Rick would say, as each dog/handler team went before us, "Good luck, Zenzi!  You can do it." as though he had serious doubts she would work under such circumstances.  I kept saying, "We got this!"  I was absolutely 100% confident she would nail the cue every single time, despite the fact that I only had kibble on me, and this friendly trainer had peanut butter of the Gods of Goodness.

Who do you think won this bet?

Well, we walked up to the trainer with the jar, let Zenzi sniff, and she gave a good healthy pull, clearly enticed.  We walked away down the line, and she came fairly willingly.  We got to the 5th cone, and turned to face the Jar of Temptation (JT).  Zenzi zeroed in on JT immediately, and I said, calmly and in a friendly, up-beat, quiet tone, "Leave it."  Zenzi's head whipped around to me and she made eye contact.  Click and treat (C/T).  We did that again to prove it wasn't a fluke, and the other trainer instructed us to move onto the 4th cone.  When we arrived, Zenzi was again fixated on JT.  I repeated in my quiet, friendly way, "Leave it."  Zenzi's response was unchanged and excellent, despite being 3ft closer.  We again repeated the exercise, had exactly the same response, and moved to the 3rd cone.  Zenzi was starting to catch on to the game, and wouldn't even bother to look.  I waited 2.5 seconds and she looked at the JT.  I captured that moment to cheerfully and quietly request again, "Leave it."  Zenzi's response was again, flawless.  We moved to the 2nd cone.  Ah, the temptation was so close now, she could practically taste it.  With the fixation came my happy cue, "Leave it." and Zenzi complied happily.  We did this two more times, the trainers were staring in disbelief (aware of her insane food drive), before progressing to the 1st cone.  Zenzi was inches away from the jar at the end of her leash, but not pulling.  I gave the "Leave it" cue one last time, to which the response was STILL flawless.  I showed off a little bit in this last one, I let her really give it a good long look and sniff from where she was before giving the cue.

Everyone in the class clapped, and I must say with just a touch of pride, no one else went down the line that quickly. ;)