Border Collie? Malinois? I Don’t Need One!! (Or Do I?)

(This is the next blog post on interesting things I learned from the recent PABA Conference at the University of Guelph. See Part 1 to learn about it plus Dr. William “Deak” Helton.)

Before I begin let me confess two things: One, I absolutely love watching Schutzhund. I say watch because 1) I’ve never trained bitework or tracking 2) I don’t really own a dog that’s “suitable” for it. I think I like it for the same reason I like participating in triathlons. I just think it’s amazing for a single athlete to excel in multiple disciplines.

Two: While I am training my Beagle-mix Petey for Rally Obedience, I do have an eye to the future, so it’s no surprise to my friends I one day want a Malinois or Tervuren. Objectively they just look cool (see Hannah Branigan and Gambit):

But besides looking cool… why do I want one? Why do I need one? Dr. Helton’s lecture on working dogs also included QUITE a bit of interesting information on Breed Intelligence/Trainability and the overall Selection Template for working dogs. Maybe I don’t need a Belgian Shepherd after all?

Stanley Coren’s Rankings (1994)

His book, “The Intelligence of Dogs” suggested that Border Collies, Poodles, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Dobermans were the most intelligent and…

Afghans, Basenjis, Bulldogs, and Chow-Chows were the least intelligent.

Most dog enthusiasts have heard of the book, but what you may not know is how the rankings were achieved. It was from surveying AKC and CKC judges for their personal opinions about dog breed intelligence. Not exactly objective or quantifiable data.

Dog Sports Data Holds Answers

Helton went to the world of dog sports to seek out data. Competitive sports of any sort is useful for scientists as a) everything is measured and data is accurately tracked and b) scoring and timing is consistent since that’s required for fairness and honesty in competition.

Going to agility, he found two interesting facts:

  1. Precision (frequency of faults) was equal across all breeds, assuming level of practice and experience of dog and handler were equal
  2. Speed (time through course) was better for “elite breeds”

No mystery there – Border Collies are designed to move fast. But, all dogs can be trained to have reliable contacts or enter weave poles accurately.

Scott and Fuller – A Better (and Older) Study:

So let’s forget about Coren. Instead let’s look to Scott and Fuller:

“We can conclude that all breeds show about the same average level of performance in problem solving, provided they can be adequately motivated, provided physical differences and handicaps do not affect the tests..” Scott and Fuller (1965, p.258)

Physical Characteristics Are Key:

So, if all breeds are generally equal in intelligence, then it’s the physical traits of the dogs we should be focused on.

If you’re looking for speed, we’d want a dog like a Greyhound. They are built for running.

If you’re looking for a fighter, we’d want a dog like a Pitbull. They are built for fighting.

Here are a few other considerations:

Size and Thermoregulation – dogs that are too large will overheat; dogs that are too small will freeze. That’s why sled dogs are pretty small – they are designed to dissipate heat while sledding long distances.

Ocular Overlap – Dogs with eyes spread far apart (sighthounds) have less visual acuity in the centre, but are designed to see the horizon. Dogs with more centre-set eyes have more acuity in the centre and see less on the peripheral. These dogs can see what’s in front, and as a result, are more focused on what’s in front of them, and less distracted by things happening on the horizon – obviously making them less distracted during training.

Built for Speed vs Built for Biting: the broader, wider mouths of dogs like the Pitbull are designed to cause maximum damage during biting, whereas the mouth of a Greyhound would deliver far less bite strength.

The Goldilocks Rule

But, historically, dogs serve many purposes, and the most useful ones do multiple tasks well (going back to Schutzhund – obedience, tracking, and protection). So trainers have a bias towards dogs that aren’t too big, aren’t too small, are fast enough, but can kick ass enough. (German Shepherd!) Helton suggests its no wonder why all the dogs favoured by the AKC and CKC judges are all roughly the same size, shape, and even generally have similar shaped heads.

Perhaps the most important consideration for breed selection is simply convenience of the size and shape to the trainer. Let me tell you, Petey is a little dog, and it is a pain to feed him during heelwork training. A dog whose mouth is exactly where your hand is during heelwork is a lot easier to train. When I was working with Chase, the Jack Russell, his physical size required me to get down on the floor and use props to elevate him:

Since these “Not too big, not too small, just right” sized dogs are easier to observe (and hence reinforce accurately), and comfortable to train (no bending, crouching, or gymnastics required), that would bias trainers towards them. If I had two dogs – a Daschund, and a Labrador Retriever, I would most likely spend more time training the Lab, since I would get tired of having to hunch over the Doxie for extended periods of time!

Innate Skill or Born With It?

Helton suggested that practice is the most reliable predictor of success.

However, he shared a really interesting study done by Slabbert and Rasa (1997) – Observational learning of an acquired maternal behaviour pattern by working dog pup: an alternative training method?

Puppies that were allowed to stay with their mother and simply OBSERVE their mother perform work were significantly more likely to become skilled at that work later in life.

Helton went on to explain that this may explain why there is a tendency in human family trees to see multiple generations pursue the same craft – grandfather was a doctor, dad was a doctor, and the son is a doctor. Is there a doctor gene? A more likely explanation is early role models greatly affect early socialization and gives the child a huge head start in getting practice in the skill. The child of a professional hockey coach is much more likely to be dragged around to hockey rinks before they can even walk, and have a huge advantage to his peers when he finally hits the ice.

Perhaps keeping your border collie puppy with mom for a bit longer, and letting him watch mom do weave entries and contacts could become part of raising the perfect agility dog?

Love Your Little Dog

Maybe you’re like me and have a little dog. Fine, maybe Petey doesn’t look as cool as Gambit because he’s tiny, but that’s OK – I’ve gotten used to having to crouch to feed in position.

There are many jobs out there where little dogs SHOULD be the ideal candidate.

Like for Search and Rescue. Why would we want a big heavy dog like a German Shepherd, that occupies more space on transport, requires more food and water, and can’t crawl into small spaces, when we could have more Momo the Long-Haired Chihuahuas searching for victims?

Or more seriously why would I want a heavy dog that will set off mines doing mine detection, when a Beagle or a Jack Russell would be light enough NOT to cause us to get blown up?

Mine Detection Dog in Bosnia

Schutzhund For All?

And maybe I could try bitework with Petey. After all, he is part Jack Russell, just like Claudia Romard’s Mr. Murphy. After all, he’s just as intelligent as a German Shepherd.

Why Can’t My Dog Stay on Task? (The Vigilance Decrement)

I just came back from the third and final day of the Professional Animal Behavior Associates symposium for 2011 – this year, the presentation was focused on working dogs (search and rescue, detection, etc.) I’ll let you read about the lineup here. The PABA conference draws a lot of folks from across Canada, including my friend Katherine Mutzke from Clever K9 Sports in Squamish, BC, Alice Fisher of Dogsmart from Vancouver, Carolyn Clark, Karen Pryor Academy Faculty, and Nicky Barnham of Carolark in Ottawa.

This year I knew I had to go, because I knew absolutely nothing about the topics being presented, and only knew of one of the presenters speaking (Steve White). Having no expectations going in, I went in and right off the bat with the first speaker I was delighted with what I was learning!

The headlining speaker that I found brought the most new information to the table for me was Dr. William “Deak” Helton, the author of “Canine Ergonomics – The Science of Working Dogs“. He had a ton to say, and MOST of what he said I had never heard of before – enough to fill multiple blog posts for weeks… so in the interests of brevity I am going to write about his discussion of the Viligence Decrement. I believe it has tremendous application to us in pet dog training, because it can explain why our dogs fatigue and stop working in class or in dog sport. In class I often point out to students that their dogs “look fried” or “check out”. Here, a scientist was actually going to explain what might be going on in our dogs when this happens!

(Before I begin, you have to understand a bit about my background – I stopped taking sciences in Grade 11 – public school, I focused on Liberal Arts, and in university, I majored in business. So go easy on me if I get anything wrong)

Vigilance Decrement – What is it?

Vigilance decrement is defined as “deterioration in the ability to remain vigilant for critical signals with time, as indicated by a decline in the rate of the correct detection of signals”

In real life, it is as simple as an airport security officer missing contraband items hidden in baggage under x-ray, or a working dog failing to detect and indicate the presence of a landmine. For the airport security officer, that might be the shape of items on screen that fuzzily match what contraband looks like. For a detection dog, that might be the scent of a landmine. In both cases, shapes and smells are just signals.

In my opinion it’s reasonable to assume that a verbal or visual cue is also just a signal. A cue is a signal to indicate there is an opportunity to perform a behaviour and earn reinforcement. Why would a dog respond to a cue one minute, and assuming motivation is sufficient, and the cue is delivered identically, why would a dog not respond to the cue?

Important to note – we are always assuming that the learner is sufficiently motivated. For training, we would assume the food is appealing enough, or the toy desirable enough to want to continue doing work.

Two Competing Theories of Vigilance Decrement

The first theory is boredom. The task is so easy and repetitive that the subject withdraws effort and stops paying attention – and the subject is then distracted and daydreams.

The second theory is fatigue/resource theory. Mental energy is limited, and task performance draws on mental energy. Unless replenished, mental energy is depleted.

Helton does not believe the boredom model holds true. If it held true, you should get greater vigilance decrements if you gave people easier tasks vs. harder ones. In fact, the opposite was true – in studies with humans (male and female) and rats, the harder the signal detection test, the faster the decrease in performance.

In plain English – if I gave you a book on quantum mechanics and said “hey read this”, you’d probably look very bored by page three. But it’s not because it’s too easy – it’s because it requires a ton of mental energy to follow it.

Applied to dog training? In class, many students (especially newer ones, with greener dogs) often attribute the dog’s unresponsiveness as boredom. If a dog stops responding to a known cue in class, assuming sufficient motivation, it’s NOT because their bored, but in fact, have run out of mental energy. I believe their brain is no longer detecting the signal/discriminative stimulus.

Evolutionary Function of “Shutting Down”

Simple! As Helton explained, the brain is not unlike an engine. Excessive use will cause damage, so by shutting down, it is protecting itself. The brain, literally, heats up from use, which is why brain damage can occur with high fever, and we’re mentally more capable if the brain is kept cold. Helton shared that you can measure the temperature inside the ear canal as an accurate way to monitor when the subject is going to burn out!

Refilling Mental Energy

Through rest! That’s why agility people swear by Crate Games – so mental energy is preserved or restored between performance.

On “Daydreaming”

The likelihood of the subject to start “daydreaming” or focusing on off-task activities increase as resources decrease. Just like in my last post – where Petey only noticed the bowl of food in the training area at the very end of the training session. Ignoring distractions requires frontal lobe capacity – going for the food bowl is a “lizard brain” type decision. Using the frontal lobe draws on mental energy, and once depleted, lizard brain kicked in.

A Model for Predicting Detection Success

Drawing from human-models, Helton shared his model for predicting whether the expert (in this case the detection dog) would correctly respond:

P(A) = sS – eFEF + (ex EX + vV)

Probability of Attending = Salience of of the Olfactory Target – Body Movements + Expectations + Value of Information

Salience = How big/obvious is the target?

Body Movements = How much does the dog have to worry about navigating the environment while working? i.e. searching in dangerous rubble vs. a lab environment

Expectations = If you only train the dog to search the floors, he’ll never think to sniff up high where the item may be hidden

Value of Information = I think this means the importance of the consequence to the dog – What’s in it for me if I respond?

Applying his Model to Scent Detection

Rather than have the dog do the search on-site, Helton suggests the dog could stay inside a controlled laboratory environment, and just be given air samples of the targets to smell inside the lab. For container search, for example, air samples of containers could be captured and then brought to the dog to sniff one by one. The salience increases, and body movements are minimized. Another example would be for detecting breast cancer. Rather than have the dog sniff the actual patient, patient breath samples would be collected, and then sent to the dog.

In Norway, there is a company that is doing this – they call it RASCO – Remote Air Sampling for Canine Olfaction.

Applying this Model to my Training

I have thought about how I might apply this to training (and already do):

Salience = make cues easy to discriminate for the dog. If verbal cues, avoid using similar sounding cues (down and bow). Keep them clean and consistent so mental energy doesn’t have to be wasted thinking “was that really the sit cue? or was it something else?)

Distractions/Interruptions/Noise = I think that anything that causes mental energy to be expended, either consciously or subconsciously, will cause performance to drop quickly. So that’s why we follow good training practices to train with high intensity and make it easy for the dog to focus and preserve mental energy.

Expectations = I think this closely relates to the process of generalization and gradually training in as many environments, with as many variables (over time) as possible.

Value of Information = This is just creating good reinforcers, to make sure that our cues are worth paying attention to and acting upon.

Other Ideas (Buck Rogers Stuff?)

Random musings, but…

Should I put an ice pack on Petey’s head between training sessions? Or right before we do our runs at the CARO trial?

Caffeine reduces vigilance decrement in people AND honeybees (yes, it was in the presentation). Caffeine pills for Petey before training sessions or at least trials?

Fun Fact (PABA Related)

The Canadian Border Services Agency’s detection programs were created with the help of the University of Guelph. Their dogs are trained using positive reinforcement – they work for a ball! Three working dogs were brought for demos over the course of the weekend. This black lab cross was too much for his past owners – not a good house pet for the average dog owner – but perfect for working dog life – and worked like a champ looking for currency in the room (he catches people that lie when they say they aren’t carrying over $10,000 in currency).

Currency Detection Dog
Currency Detection Dog

The next post I’ll do about this topic will delve into Helton’s findings regarding breeds and dog characteristics and their intelligence and suitability for work. As a Beagle owner I loved hearing this. Maybe I don’t need that Malinois after all… ?

Icelandic Sheepdog Puppy Party

On February 20th, When Hounds Fly hosted a party for a litter of 7 week old Icelandic Sheepdogs from Sulhundur Icelandic Sheepdogs.  Besides being a ton of fun for all the guests, this was an incredibly efficient way to have these young pups meet over a dozen people and experience a ton of new things!  Guests included the future families of the puppies, owners of pups from past litters, and a few friends and colleagues of ours.

Remember, puppy socialization is the single most important thing you can do, and you don’t have much time to do it.  Socialize and train early! (And check out the videos and photos below).

 

 

Icelandic Sheepdog Photo Set on Flickr
Icelandic Sheepdog Photo Set on Flickr

The Heart Rules the Head

There is a little daschund in our neighbourhood that I see periodically on our walks.  The little daschund must weigh all of 8 pounds soaking wet.  Her owners seem to really care about her because she gets walked regularly, even in this cold weather.  I also believe this little daschund was probably a rescue, because it’s been the same size since I first saw her.  Unfortunately I have never talked to their owners because this little daschund is leash reactive (she barks, lunges, and acts aggressively when dogs get close by).

A short while after the daschund arrived in the neighbourhood, I noticed that they began walking the dog on a pinch collar (also known as a prong collar).  For those of you who (fortunately) do not know what a pinch collar is, here is a picture of one:

Pinch Collar / Prong Collar
Pinch Collar / Prong Collar

A pinch collar is a tool of punishment.  If the dog pulls, the metal ends jab into the dog’s neck causing pain, which causes pulling to stop.  If a leash correction (leash tug) is applied firmly, the metal ends jab into the dog’s neck also causing pain.  Most dogs will walk gingerly and carefully when you put a pinch collar on them to avoid pain, so they are often used by dog owners who are too impatient to teach loose leash walking.

The owners of the daschund, while on walks, would apply a leash correction every time the dog barked, lunged, or reacted to nearby dogs.  Very quickly (within a couple of short weeks), the daschund’s outbursts stopped.  She could walk right by me while I was walking Petey and it was as if the little daschund didn’t even see him.  On the surface, I’m sure the owners of the daschund were delighted with the results.

A few months after that, I would see the daschund being walked in the neighbourhood, and thankfully, the owners had switched to using a harness.  We’d run into each other while walking our dogs; I did my best to give the little girl enough space, and despite the removal of the pinch collar, she still was able to walk by without outburst.  I remember being impressed that she was still suppressing her outbursts despite the absence of the pinch collar (this was summer).  But I knew all was not fixed with that dog.  When I see quiet and still dogs that are reactive or fearful, I think back to this German proverb:

“The silent dog is the first to bite.”

Fast forward now to January.  Petey and I were out for our afternoon walk and we see the little daschund again.  I actually didn’t recognize her at first since she was all bootied and coated up.  As Petey and I walk by, she started barking, lunging, and pulling towards us.  Because the threat of punishment is now a long gone memory, her old behaviors have returned.

The moral of the story is – the heart rules the head.  Fearful, aggressive, and reactive behaviors are rarely driven by conscious decisions – they are driven by emotions.  When behaviors are driven by emotion, the only way to change the behavior is to change what’s in the dog’s heart. The pinch collar never helped the little daschund learn to be confident – in fact, she looked quite depressed while she wore it.  It never helped her learn to feel comfortable around dogs – in fact, the sign of a dog coming meant the risk of leash correction was imminent.  All the dog learned to do was stay still and bottle her feelings up.

I can understand the allure of a “quick fix”.  I wish I could help my clients with reactive dogs walk by other dogs in close quarters and be cool with it in a matter of a couple of minutes.  I can’t – but a punishment trainer can throw on a pinch collar and create an illusion of a “fix”.  But it’s just temporary suppression – not long lasting change.  My clients, however, day by day, week by week, are slowly changing what’s in their dog’s hearts.  And once you have changed what is in a dog’s heart, their head will follow.

Conditioning Sequence – Kathy Sdao Seminar Seminar Pt.2

The second big thing I (re)learned from Kathy Sdao’s seminar is the importance of the sequencing and contingency required for effective conditioning (or counter conditioning).

In plain English – if you’re trying to get a dog to love something, or get a dog over their fear of something, you can’t screw this up!

Everyone knows about Pavlov and his dogs right?  We would be very wise to pay close attention to the following diagram:

Pavlovian Conditioning
Pavlovian Conditioning

In Diagram 3, the bell proceeds the food.  That’s how conditioning works – the stimuli is followed by the food, so that in Diagram 4, the bell causes salivation.

If the food were to be delivered before the bell, no conditioning would occur.

Sounds simple right?  The emotional qualities and feelings the dog gets with food bleeds backwards into the bell.

Here’s where this simple sequence gets mangled in practical dog training and behavior modification.

Ruining Food as a Reinforcer

What if you were trying to get your dog used to being left home alone as part of separation anxiety work, so you begin by getting out a very special food dispensing toy, take it to the kitchen counter, and take a block of cheese and begin dicing it up and prepping the toy.  The dog sees you do this and gets excited.  Then, you give the dog the food toy and then proceed to put your shoes on and go out the door.

By going in this order, the food dispensing toy, block of cheese, dicing and prep at the kitchen counter will very quickly become a predictor of something really scary happening – you leaving home.  With enough repetitions, your dog might start exhibiting signs of fear and anxiety at the mere sight of the food dispensing toy!  That’s because the sequence is all wrong – food, then departure.  One of the participants at the seminar remarked that her dog started hiding in fear whenever she brought out a can of dog food and began opening it – because that always meant she was leaving.  For this dog, instead of conditioning good feelings around a departure, bad feelings became conditioned around cans of food!

Beagle is suspicious of food
Are you crazy? If I eat that, you'll leave!!!

A better way to handle this would be to put your coat and shoes on, get your wallet, keys, and cell phone, and then prepare the food.

Poisoning Cues and Behaviors

If you have a fearful or reactive dog, you can also easily ruin cues and behaviors.  If you’ve done work around managing and treating reactivity, you are likely familiar with the “Watch me” protocol, which is to train the dog to look at you when the dog sees the trigger that bothers them (other dogs, strange people, etc.)

Let’s say you are working with a reactive dog and off in the distance, you see a dog approaching but your dog hasn’t spotted it yet.  If you cue a behavior (like “Watch me”) and the dog performs it, and gets their click then treat, you may think you have dodged an outburst.  But if the dog performs that behavior and then immediately after that, sees the dog, you can easily poison “Watch me” to mean that a dog is coming!  Very quickly, you’ll see a dog start panicking and scanning when you cue “Watch me” because you got the sequence wrong.

The only way to handle this is to ensure that the dog sees the trigger first BEFORE you cue “Watch me”.   Otherwise, if dogs follow “Watch me”, the fear and anxiety of dogs will bleed backwards into “Watch me” and ruin your cue.

Creating New Reinforcers – Kathy Sdao Seminar Pt.1

On September 18th and 19th I made the six hour drive back to Endicott, NY, to attend a weekend long seminar hosted by Clicking with Canines (the school where I completed the Karen Pryor Academy).  This was my first time hearing Kathy Sdao speak in person and with over sixteen hours of lecture, I left with so many new ideas that I’ll have months of blogging content in the hopper to draw from now.

Kathy Sdao
Kathy working with Casey Lomonaco and her celeb Saint puppy Cuba

One of the biggest topics of the seminar was the concept of conditioning new reinforcers.  Big revelation right there for me.  We spend a lot of time conditioning new emotions towards stimuli (i.e. getting a dog over fear) and training new behaviors.  But, how often do we go out of our way to create new things that we can use to reward our dogs?

At When Hounds Fly, I spend a lot of time encouraging students to look for reinforcers they can use to train other than food.  Food has limitations – dogs get full, you can’t always have food with you, and sometimes its not practical to use food (i.e. in evaluations and performances where food is not allowed).  Creating new reinforcers is all about using classical conditioning to transfer the value of one reinforcer (i.e. food) to another (something that is not food?)

Over the weekend we saw many clips of Kathy from her University of Hawaii days working with dolphins.  One reinforcer they conditioned was a hand clap.  In one clip, a dolphin performed a behavior on cue and the handler didn’t feed it a fish, but instead, did a big open air hand clap.  The dolphin saw the handclap and became absolutely giddy with joy!  How awesome is that?

In thinking about how we can apply this with dogs – what if we could condition our dogs to react with joy when we do the following things:

– Praise the dog with a hearty “Good boy!” (assuming your dog is currently not that praise motivated)

– Give the dog a thumbs up

– Wink at the dog

Or,

– Transfer the value of food (from a food motivated dog) into a tug toy (for the same dog that is not toy motivated?)

The process of creating a new conditioned reinforcer is relatively easy!  In fact, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already conditioned the following reinforcers:

– Bringing out the leash (your dog wags his tail and gets giddy)

– Clicking (your dog reacts with joy and looks for their treat)

– Walking towards the entrance of When Hounds Fly (your dog starts going crazy looking for the green door)

How did you condition a leash, a click, or coming to school to produce such strong emotions?  Simple – every time you showed your dog any of those 3 things, something wonderful happened immediately after.  The leash is always followed with a walk.  The click is always followed by a treat.  Going through our entrance is always followed by a ton of food-based training.

My personal training goal is to now condition my dogs to have additional reinforcers.  I’m trying to train Petey to become tug toy crazy.  All I’m going to do now is prepare his dinner (in a bowl) and hide it somewhere like a bookshelf or counter.  Then, I’m going to bring out the tug toy and tug with Petey for 15 seconds and then quickly bring down the food bowl and surprise Petey with dinner.  Just by doing that, I’m going to attempt to transfer the emotional value of dinner to the tug toy.

Similarly, for both Duke and Petey, I’m going to try to condition a “thumbs up” as a conditioned reinforcer.  All I’m going to do is when I click for a behavior I like, I’m going to give a thumbs up first and then feed my dogs.  The emotional value of the food reward should bleed backwards into the thumbs up, and what I’ll be looking for is tailwags and a smile when I give my dogs a thumbs up.

So, my challenge to you is – you’ve trained a lot of useful and cute behaviors in your dog.  What new conditioned reinforcer will you start creating?

Update on Canine Cognition Research

Over the weekends of August 21 and 22; and August 28 and 29, canine volunteers and their humans came to visit When Hounds Fly after classes ended to participate in the first set of canine cognition research experiments, conducted by Krista Macpherson from the University of Western Ontario.

It’ll probably take quite a while before any sort of paper or findings are produced, so here’s my lay-person’s attempt at describing what went on, and what I anecdotally observed.  (Krista will have to analyze hours and hours of video footage to actually see if anything meaningful happened)

Krista was interested in determining whether or not dogs understand the concept of timing – so this is the experiment she designed:

Two Manners Minder remote training devices were setup to dispense food on different intervals – one was set to dispense every 15 seconds, and the other was set to dispense every 60 seconds.  After multiple repetitions, were dogs able to figure out how frequently each one paid off, and proactively move towards the machine that was ready to pay off next?

Soley the Icelandic Sheepdog
Soley the Icelandic Sheepdog getting conditioned to the Manners Minder

At first, the dogs were introduced to the Manners Minder machines.  The machines are set to produce an audible tone prior to dispensing (the tone is normally used as an event marker, i.e. clicker, for training).  Relatively quickly, each dog learned that the tone meant that the machine was going to pay.

Next, the machines were moved over and placed on mats created by taping different colored bristol boards together.  The bristol boards serve as a visual indicator for analyzing the position of the dog relative to either Manners Minder during the task.

The owner and the dog start at a chair placed in between the two machines.  The owner is wearing sunglasses, as dogs often can pick up on where humans are looking at for cues and information (i.e. the owner might start staring at the next machine to pay, and the dog will very quickly learn to go to the machine the owner is looking at).

What I found particularly interesting was something that Krista said about the differences between dogs and other animals.  When doing these sorts of tests on rats or pigeons, the variance in behavior is relatively small.  What was particularly interesting to see is the wide range of behaviors and strategies that each dog used.

Some dogs were very thoughtful and deliberate in when they chose to move back and forth between machines.  Others used brute force and just simply went back and forth between machines almost non-stop.  Many dogs (especially ones trained using shaping) initially believed that behaviors they performed could influence whether a machine would pay out (common behaviors included intense staring, pawing, mouthing, nose-targeting different parts of the machine – my Beagle, Petey, offered a play bow to the 60 second machine; Arlo, Emily’s hound, offered a favorite trick – the armpit sniff – to the machine; Farley, Jenn’s Beagle, howled at the machine as if to say “Feed me now!!!”).

A handful of dogs appeared to really be “thinking about it” and there were times where it seemed like they went over to the 60 second machine to get their payout right on time.  My Beagle, Petey, just decided to pick up one machine and drag it closer to the other so he didn’t have to travel as far!

Some of the dogs are highly trained (agility dogs, advanced obedience, or just a really well trained family dog) and others were pretty raw (brand new rescue, zero training) – since the activity has nothing to do with performing behavior, it seemed to me that trained dogs did not necessarily figure things out faster or better.

Here’s a few more photos I took of some of the dogs that volunteered in August.  If your dog tells you they’d like to participate, just email me at andre@whenhoundsfly.com and I will include you in future calls for volunteers.  Krista is going to be running another set of experiments on the weekend of the 18th and 19th.

Farley the Beagle
Farley the Beagle's first taste of Roll Over!
Arlo the Hound
Arlo and Emily getting ready to start
Ruin the Rotty
Ruin doing a practice run while wearing his Thundershirt
Petey the Beagle
Petey frantically running back and forth on a practice run
Kaiya the Siberian Husky
Kaiya's "thinking about it"

Adding Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) to the Tickle Trunk

As many of you may know, my rescue Beagle, Duke, is dog reactive.  Initially, he was fearful and aggressive towards dogs in all settings (off leash, on leash, at the dog park, anywhere!) and before we began working with him, the mere smell of a dog (a dog’s scent lingering in the hallway of our condo even thirty minutes earlier) would trigger a howling fit.

At the time, the commonly prescribed approach to address dog reactivity was to train alternate behaviors (Watch Me, ignore the dog) and also desensitize and classically counter-condition new feelings towards dogs.  Books like Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell and Karen London, Fight! by Jean Donaldson, and Click to Calm by Emma Parsons covered these protocols in great detail and are very well-read in my library.

Next, Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt introduced another tool – rewarding the dog for looking at the scary/hated dog and putting that on cue with “Look at That!”.

Along the way, we got Duke’s reactivity down to a point where walks became sane again and Duke was able to return to attending group obedience classes.  But, after nearly four years of working with him, his reactivity is reduced, but not cured, and he is what I’d call “manageable”, but still requires a lot of management.  Many dogs (including ones I’ve been hired to help with) DO become “cured” from this work but Duke isn’t there yet.

While completing my studies with the Karen Pryor Academy, Casey Lomonaco of Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training introduced me to a new technique for rehabilitating aggressive dogs called Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT).  Created by Grisha Stewart of Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle, BAT is a protocol that uses operant conditioning to help dogs learn socially acceptable ways to deal with things that scare them (dogs, people, objects, etc.)

Recently, I ordered and viewed Grisha’s first DVD on the subject – Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) for Fear and Aggression from Dogwise.com.  This DVD is a live recording of a lecture she did on BAT in Novato, California, in January 2010.  It is NOT intended for average dog owners (its way too dog-geeky) but is a perfect watch for professional dog trainers and behaviorists that have a solid understanding of operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

BAT for Fear and Aggression DVD
BAT for Fear and Aggression DVD

In a nutshell, Grisha explains that reactive dogs have learned that lunging and barking sends scary things away.  Either the handler, due to embarrassment and wishing to stop the dog from rehearsing unwanted behaviors, backs away and creates distance when their dog reacts – or the scary thing (the other dog owner, for example), leaves because they are afraid of the lunging dog.

In dog-geek terms, using the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence model we have:

  1. Antecedent = Scary Dog is approaching
  2. Behavior = Bark, Lunge, Growl
  3. Consequence = Scary Dog goes away

BAT is all about changing this sequence to:

  1. Antecedent = Scary Dog is approaching
  2. Behavior = Any calming signal or distance increasing body language – look away, sniff the ground, turn away, scratch, yawn
  3. Consequence = Scary Dog goes away.

There are three stages of BAT, which I won’t go into detail with here – but in its third, purest stage, no food or toys are used.  The simple functional reward of being allowed to leave by offering an appropriate calming signal is the sole reward.

When I first heard about BAT, I found the concept interesting, but I am delighted to say that with some preliminary exercises I did with Duke, the results have been quite positive.  Today, by coincidence, just before completing this blog entry, I had a chance to work with a reactive dog client with some ad-hoc BAT exercises at the nearby dog park.  Both of us were extremely pleased with the progress we were able to make in decreasing distance and keeping the dog calm and under threshold.  The relaxed body posture and demeanor of the reactive dog was significantly different than when we previously were using traditional food-based classical counter-conditioning techniques.  The dog’s owner commented on our swift progress and how much her dog seemed to “enjoy the game” of BAT.

I look forward to working more with BAT and sharing this new technique with the reactive dog owners in our community.

For average dog owners wishing to learn more, Grisha has put out a second DVD called Organic Socialization that appears to be better filmed and presented in a way that average dog owners can absorb and comprehend the information.  That being said, for this or any other aggression issue, consult a positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist that has a solid understanding of operant conditioning and classical counter-conditioning when you get started.

Here is a short clip from Organic Socialization including a brief clip from a real life BAT session:

Learn more about BAT here:

http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/bat/

And discuss BAT and similar techniques on this Yahoo! Group:

http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/functionalrewards/

Our first post! Welcome!

Hello there,

This is our first post!  We decided to create a separate blog from the main When Hounds Fly website.  The purpose of this blog is to allow us to more frequently update the community about things that we discover along our journey and mission of helping dogs and their owners live happier lives.

The types of content you’ll see here include:

  • Photos and videos of our students and their dogs doing amazing or cute things.
  • Review of books and videos that help us learn more.
  • Information about upcoming events and seminars on all things related to dogs.
  • New developments from the world of dog cognition, behavior, and training.

We look forward to your return soon!  Subscribe, visit, and comment often!