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Archives for May 2012

As it turns out

…science does work.  This is what is going on…

Kai has had a definite decrease in teeth baring and growling over the course of the day.  His triggers are tight transitions, dogs playing too rough, dogs approaching me when I am petting him, and, well, just general diva-ness.  DEFINITE decrease in naughty face in these scenarios.

He still goes wild when I click and treat the naughty face and I can go through a bag of treats in no time flat.  He will do a ton of evil looking behavior and then start with the trilling and sighing as he stares at the other dogs.  Twice, he has touched his nose to their nose.  If I had to guess, I think he’s conflicted.  He knows what’s getting him the cookies but he’s not feeling aggressive.  Just a guess.

His favorite place to sit used to be the chair in the den.  All of the other dogs are on the floor and he’s watching from the chair, piping in with growls when he sees fit.  But now he has starting laying on the floor.  I actually tried to get him back in the chair because it’s much easier to see what he’s doing but he keeps going back to the floor.  Why?  Is he relinquishing his diva status?

When I click him for showing his teeth, he will also throw other behaviors at me like spinning, paw lifts, and more.  This says to me that the teeth showing is an operant behavior for him now, separate from the emotions of being annoyed with the other dogs.  Should I cue it?  I think I might although I will wait until the month is up.

Yesterday I was in an awful mood.  Kai growled and I just yelled for him to get out of the room.  Not graceful or polite on my part but, hey, we all have bad days.  I don’t think it affected anything but I wanted to mention it since it is an aberration from the original plan of always feeding him when he did his naughty routine.

Additionally, Kai is by no means a different dog.  I don’t want to give that impression.  He put a nick in the ear of one of the other dogs a few days ago, yesterday he chased another dog out of the room growling the whole time, oh yeah, there are plenty of incidents.  It’s been hard to log since I feel like the real incidents are different than the ones that come pouring out as soon as I click and feed.  Plus, I am horrible at keeping up with logs.  It’s really hard to log, click and feed, observe him, and try to do something like cook food or watch TV.

It’s amazing that it’s only been about two weeks (I think).  I’m excited to see how it goes from here!

Ever seen a whole bag of Charlie Bears get sucked up?

Do you want to? Because I am going to upload a one minute session of what my life is like these days. Fair warning, my clicking is a little off because it’s damn hard to hold an iPad, click, treat, and watch all of the dogs. But I’m getting better. I have lots of time to practice.

You’re all dying to know what’s happening, yeah? What is this – day 5? Day 6? Well! Let me tell you. There is still an enormous amount of clicking going on around here. If I sit and the dogs crowd around it’s an almost perfect guarantee that I am about to click myself to death. I have learned to eat and click, watch TV and click, cry and click (just kidding on the last one).

Luckily, as I mentioned before, I can predict the behavior so I am taking the time to avoid it from happening all of the time. If I take them outside, for example, no naughty face.

I would say that Kai definitely gets that he is being clicked for growling and teeth baring. Especially the teeth thing. I wish I had some of his rapid fire teeth displays on tape.

So, no change during our ‘sessions’. And I am being super consistent about not saying anything when he does his naughty face just clicking and treating.

The changes I have seen have been during other parts of the day. The first time I noticed was with my intern. Then, today Rowan walked OVER Kai. That’s insane, a perfect storm for naughtiness. But Kai remained soft and pleasant. And several times Rowan (god, I love his continuous oblivion) just walks up to me when I am petting Kai to get into the mix. Again, prime opportunity.

The other thing I am seeing is a high increase in head turns to the left. Where I usually sit and type (as you’ll see in the video) I am on the right and he is on a chair to my left. So he is looking at me, then turns his head to the left to find someone to lock onto and growl at. I didn’t expect the left turn thing to happen but it’s not surprising.

OK, without further ado I will upload the video so you can see this excitement in action!

Holy cow!

Well, I just witnessed a stellar moment. My industrious and dog-loving intern is here and she was doing a vigorous head scratch on a very happy Kai. Not wanting to miss out on the action, Rowan (8 year old BC, Kai is NOT a fan of him) ran over for a butt scratch. Well, that is a prime time for showing teeth because Kai believes he should have allllll the affection. But no teeth. No growl. No naughty face! Where did it go? It must be hiding under the moutain of cheese Kai has consumed in the past four days. I’m sure we have yet to see the last of naughty face, but what an impressive moment! Yay!

The Naughty Face

I’ll work on getting a better picture, but here’s what I’ve got for now.

The third day is not a charm

Training is exhausting. Yesterday Kai was on a mission to make me question the sanity of this. Trying to eat, get work done, have a conversation… well, these are all quite hard with a clicker in one hand and a growling dog getting an almost continuous level of reinforcement. There was a definite increase in growling and teeth baring behavior yesterday. He was eye-balling, hard staring, growling and teeth baring his little head off. And this morning he ran into a crate with another dog, growling like a lunatic, and then ushered the other dog out of the crate using a grand display of his teeth.

So, I have two thoughts. One, why have I completely forgotten the use of and benefits of management? I don’t need to subject myself to hours of awkward training set-ups and the inability to eat a meal. I can crate him. I can give him a Kong (more food, ugh). I can switch gears and go play outside which is a highly successful, non-growly thing for Kai. Perhaps we are ALL a little too stressed with this constant learning…or rather, constant exposure. I often tell my clients, the only good treatment plans are the ones that you’ll actually do. So, I need to be a little more proactive in management so that I can follow through.

I’ll admit, last night when I was on my 9th cheese stick with Kai, every time he uttered a sound I just wanted to strangle him. I was like, come ON, give it up – take a breather, buddy! I’ve never been more excited about going to bed. So, yes, definitely time to remember the grace and harmony that a little old fashioned management can bring.

Next thought, why the increase in behavior displays? He is a very competitive dog and well clicker trained. So, perhaps I am getting a huge spike in operant displays while the emotions take some time to catch up. Surely, I don’t think there’s any possibility I’ve altered his emotions at this point. Eight years is a long time to strengthen and build a behavior and the emotions behind it. I’m not going to change it in two days. Maybe, because I am sitting there with a bowl of food and four drooling dogs, I am creating a stressful ambiance conducive to the naughty face. It is definitely stressful for me to have them all closing in on me, panting, hoping for some cheese. The proximity alone is a huge source of tension. Then, there’s the food which increases arousal. Well, actually the food doesn’t really cause the problem… it’s the clicking. The second I click, all of the dogs are like, “What? We’re training? OK, let me show you what I can do”.

I have to think about the most effective way to keep the environment successful but also as organic and natural as possible. I am a hearty believer in training as close to real life as possible. Otherwise, it falls apart in real life or it’s just one more thing you have to go back and fix. And I already give myself plenty to go back and fix.

Well, only two growls while I’ve been writing this.

Rewarding Aggression?

One of the most common questions I get from clients is their concern that if they feed their dog when the dog is showing an unwanted behavior, they are rewarding that behavior. So, if the dog is barking at another dog, for example. and they get a treat then the barking will increase. It’s an understandable question and the easy answer is no, you aren’t rewarding aggression or reactivity if you feed the dog during the behavior. It’s the difference between behavior and emotions. When you’re doing conditioning exercises you’re addressing the emotions. The behaviors you see (like barking) are just symptoms of the emotional state the dog is experiencing. So, as the emotions change, the behavior will change.

I decided to do a project on this topic. For one month, I am going to mark and feed teeth baring and growling in my dog, Kai. Every time I see him showing his teeth or growling, I will click and feed. And we’ll see what happens! I will post regularly to keep everyone up to date on the experiment.

Kai is a great test subject. He is an 8 year old border collie with a definite diva complex. He growls at my other dogs if they get too close, are having too much fun, are playing too rough.. or just because he hasn’t growled in a while. If he wants to play, it’s all good. But if they initiate anything with him, it’s all teeth and growls. But Kai never hurts them. He isn’t a fighter and he poses no danger to them. It’s just annoying and obnoxious.

After 8 years with Kai, I can completely predict when he will do these behaviors and I know what situations bring out the worst (or best) in him. So, for this experiment it will be pretty easy to manage the situation for control. Additionally, he is a very well clicker trained dog, very responsive to clicking. Yesterday, day one, after I would click and feed for showing his teeth he would immediately jump into offering behaviors and seeing if he could get me to click some more.

So, now that I mentioned yesterday, let me share some of my observations on Day One. First of all, despite the recommendation to all of my clients to log behavior, I am horrible at it. But I made my spreadsheet and committed to logging each behavior display. WHEW! Kai was showing his teeth or growling no less than every five seconds. Logging made me realize just how much he is doing it.

I also realized how tricky it is to mark and reward him as I have to make sure I can see his face (and of course he is sneaky… he is an expert at sly and fast teeth baring). And if I have him positioned to see him, then he can see me and he that much more likely to be in training mode versus just hanging out. But I don’t need to worry about that too much. As the game goes on, that should dissipate.

I also have the issue that the second I click, I have all of my other dogs clamoring around me with drool pooling on the floor. And when they hover near me, Kai seems to turn into a permanent grimace (changing his expression only when I try to take a picture of how crazy he looks).

So, this should be an adventure. Today is Day 2. Yesterday, I saw an interesting thing. After several repetitions of clicking and feeding the naughty face, he changed his vocalizations into a low whine. It’s the same whine I hear when there is a ball he can see but not reach. He will lay there, staring at it and expelling his breath in what sounds almost like a cat trilling. Yesterday he did it five times to the other dogs, every time was after he had a big moment of growling and teeth showing. I have never seen him do that before to another dog. Was he confused? Frustrated? I don’t know. It’s exciting though and I am curious as to what comes next!