Rally Trial Outcome

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the delay (gasp, it’s been nearly a month) since posting last, and entering, and competing at my first Rally-O Trial. For those that follow me on Facebook and Twitter well you know Petey did just fine – two runs, and he earned his first two legs, with a score of 183 and 186.

Things I learned:

The crating area is really tight. You can see what it looks like here. Generally the dogs in attendance that day were quiet, but there were a few that would bark sometimes.

Crating Area at Red Barn Event Centre
Crating Area at Red Barn Event Centre

Getting your dog used to crating is a must. Petey is decent at crating now. I can even leave him there and attend the competitor’s meeting, walk the course, go to the bathroom, etc. without hassle.

Petey in Crate
Petey in Crate. He’s stressed here, but settled quickly to sleep.

Warm Up Area. There was a space in the crating area reserved for practicing. I took Petey out periodically while we waited our turn to practice.

Practice Area Warm Up
Practice Area Warm Up

Things Falling Apart in the Ring. In the practice area, Petey looked as good and was working as good as the absolute best practice sessions I had at home or at When Hounds Fly. As it was approaching my turn to take Petey into the ring, he was in the ringside area awaiting his turn – we kept on practicing. Wooo, he looked hot. Sharp pivots, amazing focus, etc. So much so that other people in the area took note.

As soon as was entered the ring, I put Petey in heel position. The judge said I could start, and I took my first step forward and – Petey pulled like a freight train to go sniff the first station sign – they used terracotta pots to hold the signs up. I couldn’t help but laugh. I didn’t get stressed, but I suddenly realized that my expectations had to go down and I would need to go back to the drawing board.

Pretty much all my deductions that weekend were for tight leash, caused by Petey forging ahead to go sniff something interesting.

We did good enough to get a passing score each time. Here’s Petey with his two ribbons.

Petey and Ribbons
Petey and Ribbons

Musings

Get Terra Cotta Pots. They smell interesting. They’re novel. They look like little paint can perches. I need to proof them as things to ignore on the course. A lot of the tight leashes on my first run were caused by targeting the terra cotta pots.

Going back to ClickerExpo 2010 – Cecilie Koste had a few pearls of wisdom that I went back to. 1) Your dog should volunteer to get things started. No kissy noises or nagging or begging your dog to work – that reinforces a lack of focus. 2) Your dog is ready for trial when he performs perfectly the FIRST time, the exercises are backchained, and he is used to working on the required schedule of reinforcement. I am short on a couple of points here (future blog post?). Trial a dog like this too soon and you will have a ring-wise dog (a dog that knows no or limited primary reinforcement occurs in the ring. Or, I guess with correction trainers, that no or limited corrections occur in the ring)

Fun Match – yesterday with Mirkka, I attended a Rally-O Fun Match at All About Dogs. I tested out a few theories. The courses were CARO Rally-O Novice courses, and the environment really did replicate that of Red Barn. A few things I tried:

1) I waited at the Start Sign for Petey to volunteer to get started. Instead of feeling pressure to get moving, I left him sniff the area near the start sign. When he volunteered eye contact, I cued a few simple behaviors. He was ready. I was ready. We started the course. Much better. I have a feeling that at the trial, when I entered the ring, and I was asked if I was ready – I was, but Petey wasn’t finished investigating the area.

2) I stationed him in a crate, but kept the door open. He stays inside and is more relaxed than with the crate door closed. This might keep his anxiety down and allow him to save more for the ring.

We weren’t scored but I feel like Petey did much better at the Fun Match, so I am going to keep on working on some of these theories and get him ready some more. I’m going to wait till September before entering another trial at this point.

Last point: Red Barn Centre in Barrie is a great venue, and the judges, volunteers, staff, and other competitors at the CARO trial were really a friendly bunch of people. Not a single sour face at the venue. If you aren’t sure about trying, I would strongly encourage you to give it a shot!

Very last point: THANK YOU, Petey, for doing an amazing job. You have come a long way from the shelter rescue that didn’t even know how to sit.

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… ?

KPA Reunion Weekend at Clicking With Canines

On Friday, July 29th, 43 clicker trainers (Karen Pryor Academy Faculty, Graduates, and some of their friends) from the Northeast travelled to Endicott, NY for the first ever Karen Pryor Academy graduate reunion at Clicking With Canines. Mirkka and I made our way from Toronto (it’s about a 7.5 hour drive) to attend. I left the Beagles at home so it was just her Aussie, Forbes in the back.

Although very casual in feel, the weekend was extremely well put together. It’s thanks to Steve Benjamin (Faculty, and my instructor), Casey Lomonaco, Donna Devoist, and Abbie Tamber for putting in a ton of hard work to make it an amazing weekend! Obviously much of the weekend was educational in nature, so here’s a little bit about what I learned:

Saturday – Morning Presentations

Jules Nye of Sit Stay Play – Separation Anxiety

Jules Nye on Separation Anxiety
Jules Nye on Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is a big topic and rather than cover the basics (that many readers of this blog will already know – if you want a primer, check out this article I wrote a while ago.

Jules asked a number of rather socratic questions and also made many interesting assertions – here they are:

A common cause of separation anxiety is bad experiences during the departure. That could include a cat that beats the dog up, a thunderstorm that occurs while left alone, or, even the return of an abusive owner (i.e. a previously happy dog is sitting on the couch chewing a shoe – owner returns home and proceeds to beat the snot out of the dog – now the dog is anxious when he’s alone because the return of the owner could happen any time).

Jules is not a fan of plain old desensitization (planned departures without the use of any food or reinforcement). Rather she suggests counter conditioning (which means use food in the planned departure).

Give your anxious dog avenues to calm themselves down. Destruction is self-calming behavior, which is why dogs with separation anxiety destroy things. Redirect their self-calming behavior to appropriate objects (buster cubes, food dispensers, etc.) She also asserts that if a dog has a dog door to the yard, and can actually verify the owner is gone, they tend to calm quicker. Chewing, digging, running around, etc.

Poisoned cues – I wrote about this here when I attended Kathy Sdao’s lecture last fall – you can make a dog afraid of food, food toys, or certain behaviors if you cue them prior to leaving. A great way to kill a dog’s stay is to cue a down-stay and then leave.

Confidence training – teach separation anxiety dogs out of sight stays, or send-outs, so they develop a strong reinforcement history for leaving the owner.

To walk or not to walk – in my own article I suggest exercising a dog prior to leaving them home alone. She posed the question “to walk or not to walk” and it is dependent on whether being outside creates more anxiety in the dog. For example, if a dog is generally anxious and could spook by being out there (reactive to dogs, cars, people?) then walking first prior to departing would only make their anxiety greater at home.

Lastly, Jules stated she is supportive of the use of medication for cases that call for it. Fluoxetine, Clomipramine, Benzodiazepines – drugs can lower threshold so the behavior mod works. In some cases, dogs are just genetically predisposed to being highly anxious and medication can help them relax in other situations where they are under a lot of stress.

Andre Yeu of When Hounds Fly – Business Startup

I did a brief presentation on how I started and grew When Hounds Fly to where it is today. Sorry, you just had to be there for it!

Leanne Falkingham – Shelter Training

Leanne Falkingham - Shelter Training
Leanne Falkingham - Shelter Training

Leanne gave us a glimpse of her world – her dog shelter – where she has implemented extremely progressive training, management, and enrichment programs.

A stark fact she shared is that the majority of dogs surrendered to shelter were only with their owners for 3 months. The majority are between 6 months to 2 years and are showing early signs of aggressive behavior. In New York State, Jack Russell Terriers, German Shepherds, Huskies, and Pit Bulls make up the majority of breeds surrendered or picked up as stray.

Training implemented: Dogs are clicked and treated for being quiet, and sitting when greeted. Unlike most shelters, her shelter is quiet, and dogs know to sit for attention. This increases the likelihood of their adoption (no one wants a barky dog that will knock over grandma). Dogs are required to sit for everything (sit for harness, sit for kennel door opening, etc.) and dogs are taught impulse control/zen around toys.

Environmental Enrichment: Their outdoor area has been setup like an agility playground and staff and volunteers take the dogs out when it’s there turn for outside play. Inexpensive food/puzzle toys are used, such as a muffin tray with tennis balls (treats are hidden under the tennis balls). Dogs also take turns actually spending time with staff in the office side of the shelter, sitting in office chairs or curled up on the floor, meeting and greeting employees and visitors.

She also plays music like Through a Dog’s Ear, but also recommended Canine Lullabies (I had never heard of it before). Check it out.

 

Casey Lomonaco of Rewarding Behaviors – Treiball

Casey Lomonaco - Treiball
Casey Lomonaco - Treiball

Casey is very active in the (new) Treiball community and she gave us an intro to Treiball lecture. Treiball is a very new dog sport, imported from Germany, where dogs are directed by their handlers to push balls into a goal. Can’t visualize it? Just watch this video.

Perhaps the most interesting fact about this sport that I learned is that an untrained dog can easily puncture a Treiball inflatable. One hard paw or one nip and the ball is destroyed. So the crazier a dog is for a ball, the more time must be spent on impulse control. The first skill Casey focuses on teaching is a good strong hard push, without any pawing or biting.

The types of push training she’ll run dogs through include:

  • Turn on a tap-light (those lights that look like the Staples Easy button)
  • Push doors closed
  • Push drawers closed
  • Unroll a rolled up carpet
  • Push a giant popcorn tin
  • Roll a coffee can
  • Push a child’s wagon
Then the inflatables are introduced – initially the balls are held stationary and nose touches on a target (masking tape) are shaped for precision and also push strength.
The other foundation behavior that must be taught is a solid send out. The dog leaves the handler, goes past the inflatables, and is expected to reorient to the handler and lie down until released to push balls.
As the sport is new, rules and regulations are just evolving in the US, but she also gave us a glimpse into the future, in where more advanced Treiball will include inflatable discrimination (the order in which the dog pushes each ball into the goal) obstacles (hilly areas) and possibly even relay teams (like Flyball). Very cool!
Laurie Luck Smart Dog University Nose Work
Laurie Luck discussing Nosework
Laurie Luck is a KPA Faculty Member from Maryland. She gave us a great introduction to the relatively new dog sport of Nose Work.
Nosework is great for all dogs, but especially those that can’t compete in traditional dog sports. Reactive dogs, handicapped dogs, old dogs can do nosework as dogs work one dog at a time while other dogs are crated in other rooms.
The foundation work for Nosework is to build a “search ethic” in a dog. How you start is simply getting a bunch of old shoe boxes and putting treats inside one – release your dog to sniff and find the box with treats. Once the dog has found the box with treats, go in and add more treats to further reinforce the dog’s search ethic.
The next step is to utilize classical conditioning to pair specific scents with treats. Anise, birch, and clover are the three scents used in nosework. By pairing the scent of clover with treats, the dog will eventually learn to seek out the box with the scent of clover alone. Dogs are also taught an indication behavior so that they can communicate to the handler when they have found the scent (i.e. sit next to the box with the scent)
The types of environments that nosework is done in consist of interior rooms, exterior spaces, a series of containers, and a vehicle.
Nosework is inexpensive, easy to get into, and doesn’t require a lot of space. Hopefully we can offer a nosework class in the future at When Hounds Fly!
Mo Carter – Bird Training
Mo Carter Bird Training
Mo Carter - Bird Training
Mo shared a photo album of a trip she took to a bird training camp where they worked with various exotic birds.
Two things that I took from the presentation were: 1) These birds were free to fly away and escape any time they wanted, but they always returned to their handlers when released. 2) The bigger birds of prey are rewarded with mice!!!  Yuck!
Emma Parsons - Click to Calm
Emma Parsons - Click to Calm Classes
If you have a reactive dog, you know who Emma Parsons is, because you’ve hopefully read her classic “Click to Calm”. In her presentation she shared course descriptions, physical setups, curriculum, and video clips of her famous Click to Calm classes she teaches in Boston.
There were three points that stood out and I made sure to remember from the presentation:
Staffing – The class nearly has a 1-to-1 assistant to student ratio. These classes are extremely labor intensive.
Cacophony of clicks – They are splitting like crazy. Click, feed, click, feed, click, feed. No lumping. The video clips made me like a bad lumper when it comes to my old boy Duke when I work on his reactivity.
Regression is part of the process – Relief for me… my own reactive dog, Duke, constantly goes through ups and downs. A few months ago we were passing dogs on the same side of the sidewalk with ease, and then for a number of reasons, became sensitized again – he’s on his way back to being able to pass dogs on the street again. It makes me feel better knowing that from Emma’s own experience, regression is not a failure or even necessarily a function of bad training.
The rest of the weekend was mostly spent outdoors – including an amazing twilight dinner and social at Steve Benjamin’s place (including a dip in his pond – where Deb Ross gave me some pointers on improving my front crawl) and the following day, Mirkka and I were at an agility workshop put on by Abbie Tamber, another KPA CTP who teaches agility in the area. (Other activities included Lure Coursing, Treiball, and a trail hike). I had so much fun just watching, when I returned home, I ordered a set of agility equipment for When Hounds Fly (weave poles, tunnel, four jumps, teeter) and am fired up about training Petey for agility. Pictures tell a thousand words so here are some pictures of Steve’s beautiful property:
Steve's Pond
Steve's Pond
Abbie's Wobble Board
Abbie's Wobble Board
Steve's Place
Steve's Place

 

Abbie's JRT handled by Lori Gwyr
Abbie's JRT handled by Lori Gwyr

 

Forbes and Mirkka running through channels
Forbes and Mirkka running through channels
Abbie's JRT
Abbie's JRT

Video: Abbie’s JRT handled by Lori Gwyr

 

And lastly a group shot! There’s a number of famous dog trainers there (and a dolphin trainer!)

KPA Reunion Photo 07-31-2011
KPA Reunion Photo

 

Again thanks to all the Southern Tier NY State KPA folks for putting on such a big undertaking. Other faculty members are planning reunions in other parts of the country so hopefully KPA CTPs everywhere can have a blast like we did. Mirkka and I are working on something for Ontario-area KPA CTPs for 2012 already…

 

Karen Pryor’s Visit

I met Karen for the first time at ClickerExpo, and it was there she asked whether I would be attending the Professional Animal Behavior Associates (PABA) symposium in Guelph in May.  Unfortunately, I explained that I couldn’t as there would be too many students/too many classes to run, and with the May 24 weekend the following week, I couldn’t cancel classes for the symposium.

After ClickerExpo, via email, Karen suggested that she would like to extend her trip to Canada and after her engagement in Guelph, come visit us in Toronto.  So, after a little bit of planning leading up to it, on May 16, I had the unique privilege to host her for the day in the city!

A world famous author and the pioneer of clicker training is coming to visit and I had a space of approximately 8 hours to make the experience memorable.  If you’re not from Toronto and have 8 hours to spend here, feel free to follow this itinerary – you’ll enjoy it, I am certain!

So, this is what we did:

4pm:  Picked up Karen at her hotel.  I had arranged for her to stay at the Westin Harbour Castle on Queens Quay and Yonge.  Heavenly bed, lakeview room overlooking the Toronto Islands; back in the day when I worked at salesforce.com, a lot of the folks from San Francisco would stay there and remark that the rooms were great and the lakeview at sunrise was stunning.  You can’t go wrong having visiting dignitaries stay there.

430pm:  Karen loves tea.  So our first stop was Nadege Patisserie on Queen Street West, east of the south-east corner of Trinity Bellwoods Park.  We had two pots of tea and an assortment of their perfect macarons.

Nadege Patisserie
Nadege Patisserie, http://www.flickr.com/photos/abakedcreation
Perfect Macarons
Perfect Macarons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcruz3

530pm: Enroute to When Hounds Fly, we walked through Trinity Bellwoods Park.  Had the weather been nicer, it would have been an opportunity to observe a lot of owners with their dogs, but unfortunately, with the drizzle, the park was a bit quiet.  Still, with the ample rain we’ve had, the park was lush, and the few dogs were saw were well behaved.

630pm:  Puppy class at When Hounds Fly!  I had invited all the nearby KPACTPs, all the teachers at our school, and other friends of the school like Krista from UWO and Katie from Queen West Vets to join us.  Karen had expressed interest in watching a class or two at school.  When Hounds Fly opened its doors with puppy class and foundation skills class taught using a modular, non-linear syllabus, which is strongly encouraged in the Karen Pryor Academy curriculum and program. The class that evening consisted of just four puppies; two of which were first timers, and two of which had attended a few classes already.

Tena Kristjanson and Karen Pryor
Tena Kristjanson and Karen Pryor
Ten dog trainers watching one
A bit strange to have ten very skilled animal trainers watching you teach puppy class.

So who came to the event?

KPACTPs Stacey Shaw, Tena Kristjanson, Katherine Ferger with Karen
Julie Posluns, Mirkka Koivusalo, Me, Emily Fisher
Julie Posluns, Mirkka Koivusalo, Andre Yeu, Emily Fisher with Karen

Tena and Katherine own All About Behavior, which runs clicker training chicken camps in Newmarket.  Also in attendance (but I don’t have photos of them yet) – Debra Ross (KPACTP), Krista Macpherson from UWO, and Katie Hood from Queen West Vets.

8pm:  School’s out!  Time for dinner… at one of Dundas Street West’s gems, Enoteca Sociale, just a short stroll from When Hounds Fly.  I had booked their private dining room located in what feels and looks like a wine cellar (I guess it is one) and is also adjacent to their climate controlled Cheese Cave (with a see-through glass window partition).

Enoteca Sociale, Private Dining Room
Enoteca Sociale, Private Dining Room
Cheese Cave
Cheese Cave at Enoteca Sociale

Fiddlestick bruschetta was a featured antipasti, and for dolci, the table was split between their profiterole and a chocolate budino topped with sea salt.

We talked about a lot of things that night, ranging from the likes and dislikes of the recent PABA symposium, animal cognition, horses (I know nothing about horses), animal rescue, e-collars – you name it.  I have to say that it was really amazing to be able to enjoy the company of so many lovely people who are passionate about animals!  But perhaps what was most special is that for the first time, possibly ever, we put a bunch of animal trainers together in a small room that could agree with each other!

ClickerExpo 2011 Chicago Day Three (Sunday)

Here we go!  Day 3…

Session 1:  Efficient Training in Action (Cecilie Køste)

This lab really focused on smart reinforcement placement.  BUT, another key aspect of good training is everything that happens before you start training.

Her mantra is THINK – PLAN – DO.  Thinking is “What is the behavior to be trained?”   Plan is “What is the training plan, what is my criteria, where will reinforcement be delivered, what could go wrong, and what will I do?”  When you are training… no thinking, no planning.  That must occur before training begins.  If the training session is falling apart, you must stop, put your dog at station, and go back to thinking and planning.

Cecilie coaching a student
Cecilie coaching a student

The exercises in this lab were:

Cup Game (Clicker Mechanics)

She had all the students warm up with a basic clicker trainer exercise – the cup game.  How many treats can you put into a styrofoam cup while maintaining perfect form (feeding hand is still till click, no extra movements of the body, no speaking).  I haven’t done this myself since my first KPA workshop over a year and a half ago.

Go to Target

This is the simple “Go to Cone” game we even do at Puppy Class at When Hounds Fly.  The best way to use reinforcement here is to click, deliver the treat to the dog’s mouth, let them nibble it while you lure their body/head back towards the cone.  When the dog has finished eating and is released, the cone is now right in their face for another repetition.  Brilliant!

Beagle playing "Go to Dish"
Beagle playing "Go to Dish"

Finish Position

All the dogs here had finish positions already trained, ranging from kind of wide and sloppy requiring a big hand cue, to verbal only finish cues, to really snazzy jump, rotate mid air, and land in finish Obedience finishes.  Efficient training means when you click and treat, let the dog nibble on the treat while the handler moves around and faces the dog in Front position, tucked really, really close (like Front).  When the dog is finished nibbling, the dog is now ready to offer Finish again. Round and around you go…

Finish Position
This dog had a great "flying" finish. The handler is about to treat and will allow the dog to nibble while she moves to Front position, setting up for another rep.

One tip that was mentioned about any of these obedience behaviors is the dog should get it right and perfect on the first repetition – otherwise you have a dog that learns to do a sloppy finish, then wiggle their butt in to get closer, c/t.  Oops… Petey has that.  Michele Pouliot calls this a “two part finish”.

Long Down – Feed in position (room service) – bring the treat to the dog to reinforce position.

Sit – Feed above head for a more tucked sit.

Stand – Feed towards chest

Reverse Lure – While a dog is in position, tease the dog with food in your hand, almost like you are trying to lure them into another position.  If the dog maintains position, c/t.

“Many Downs” – How many downs can you get in a minute?  C/T and toss the food to reset quickly, or after a down, handler moves away to get the dog up, so you can cue another down.

Rollover – Feed over the shoulder to encourage more rolling.

Hold Cloth – Shaping a hold of a hotel towel.

A common theme throughout the sessions I have taken – everything you do in training should be a conscious decision, and certainly I have learned to be very conscious about where I reinforce and why.

Session 2:  Crosstrain! (Michele Pouliot)

This seminar should just have been renamed “Platform Training”.  Platform training is relatively new.  Michele had a DVD for sale at ClickerExpo that was flying off the shelves and kept on teasing me since it was played on a monitor in the hallway.

Platforms are so new in training that there are next to no videos on it on YouTube.  I just found a handful… this one is the use of platforms to teach position/distance for Obedience:

The use of props in training is not new.  We’ve used walls/edges to limit a dog’s option when trying to train a straight heel or a straight finish.  We’ve used mats for position.  Many are now teaching heel/finish using perches (or paint cans in my case for Petey).  Platforms make it easy for dogs to delineate space.  It makes it easy for us to understand criteria, since if the dog is on the platform, and it’s the right size, by definition, the dog is straight, and in the right position.  Michele showed clips from her new video that shows platforms being used to train front, finish, weaves, go outs, tight spins, stay, and response from a distance work (like paw from a distance, while perched on a platform).

I intend to teach the 18 basic behaviors from Cecilie’s Top OTCh lecture on Day 1 to Petey again, but this time using platforms.  I’m going to build my own platforms using leftover flooring from When Hounds Fly.

Lastly, she talked about other useful tools for training such as chutes, ledges, walls, x-pens, etc. to train behaviors.  I was delighted to see all this, because Julie is doing the same stuff with our students in our tricks class right now.  I love it whenever the methods we use at When Hounds Fly are validated by the world’s top clicker trainers. 🙂

Also, check out her “Step Up to Platform Training” DVD here.  She starts training her litter of puppies at 4.5 weeks old.  Wow!

http://cdf-freestyle.com/store.htm

Session 3:  Learning Games and Play

Kay Laurence is “one of the world’s top clicker trainers” according to Karen Pryor.  All weekend long, people were raving about her lectures so I decided to catch her on the very last track and session for the conference.  I am glad I did!  This topic was appropriately “light” in technicality but brilliant in terms of expanding my horizons of training.  Specifically, Kay has very ingenious ways to incorporate playing with your dog as training.

Through play, we can teach dogs self control, body awareness, and movements such as backing up, side stepping, etc., all of which are needed for many different dog sports.

One important thing to think about (which I often don’t) is the safety of the game. She is adamant that dogs should never run around on laminate flooring, as it’s an easy way for them to pull a muscle, or worse. I guess it’s true -try running around laminate flooring in your socks and see how long it takes to pull a muscle. Her training facility is CARPETED and ripped up and replaced regularly.

She has a pretty large library of videos on YouTube so I’ll just share these videos for you to watch and enjoy.  Have fun playing with your dogs!!!

Games with a Sausage (Catch the Mouse)

Egg Agility

 

 

Lastly, I thought I would share a few things from the Saturday (Day 2) evening dinner featuring Patricia McConnell.  She lectured on the  topic of animal cognition and how much animals think.  I didn’t really take notes but she shared various research on different examples of studies done and also cited Ken Ramirez’s (Shedd Aquarium) work on teaching dogs to understand concepts like Big vs. Small, Mimicry, and of course dogs like Rico and Chaser (object recognition with both noun and verb).  She showed some footage that I’ve found on YouTube for you to check out.  They’re interesting and fun.

She also shared a few other recent studies about dogs understanding our pointing gestures better than chimpanzees, and also a study that showed domestication does not necessarily mean a dog’s problem solving ability is reduced (which is commonly believed to be true).  Anyways I’m not really a scientist so I’ll just ask Krista (from UWO) next time I see her.

Julie, Mirkka, Emily and I had to leave at 4 to catch our flight home, so we missed the closing remarks by Karen and Patricia.  Evidentally it was so moving there were 400 dog trainers in tears at the end.  Oh well, next year I’ll plan to stick around!  In the meantime, I have hundreds of slides and notes to review.  Hope you enjoyed the blog series!

Notes for ClickerExpo
Notes for ClickerExpo

 

 

ClickerExpo 2011 Chicago Day Two (Saturday)

I’m exhausted!  I feel like I’m back in school… also feeling a bit inadequate, but also really fired up about enhancing my own training skills as soon as I get back home.  Cecilie said during her lecture today “You could shape that way forever and be perfectly fine, but doing it this way will make your training more efficient.”  Who doesn’t want to be more efficient?  So here’s a summary of what I did and what I learned.

Session 1:  Shaping Procedures for the Agility Trainer (Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh)

I’m not an agility trainer and I don’t know the first thing about agility.  This is exactly why I took their track.

Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh
Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh

The most important concept they shared today is the concept that shaping is not just Behavior, Click, Reward, repeat.  There is a TON of behavior that occurs between the taking of the reward and the next cue.  What happens here MATTERS.  If you don’t pay attention to what occurs after the dog eats their treat and the next behavior, you end up building a lot of “garbage behaviors” in your training.

A perfect example I have from my own training is with Petey.  He often throws in extra behaviors between reps – a common one I see is he spins clockwise between behaviors.  Another common example I see with many dogs is during a Watch Me exercise – after the dog eats their treat, they often start scanning the room and looking at other dogs.

In both cases, the eating of the treat has become a cue to do an extra behavior.  If we are trying to build focus in the Watch Me, and you continue to allow your dog to eat, then scan, then cue Watch me, then click, eat, and scan, you are actually reinforcing scanning/looking away.

Good training eliminates the garbage that happens between repetitions.  You can manipulate the environment to prevent those extra behaviors, change criteria/increase rate of reinforcement, or work on reinforcement delivery (position) to prevent garbage behaviors from occuring.

Garbage behaviors are also contextual.  In obedience, a great behavior to get after eating a treat is for the dog to look back at the handler, since we are trying to build extreme focus on the handler.  But in agility, we are trying to have the dog continue along the intended path of the course (criteria would be nose ahead towards line).

Session 2:  Shaping Procedures for the Agility Trainer in Action

This was my first Learning Lab for ClickerExpo.  Since I am without a dog, I attended as an observer.

The primary exercises for the dogs in this lab was to implement the “Aim for It” procedure – which in a nutshell, is nose ahead towards intended path.  These exercises were fantastic, however, what really blew my mind was the exercises that preceeded Aim for It.

Eva and Emelie actually spent a good thirty minutes simply working on the protocols that lead UP to beginning training.  This is what happens before you start training with your dog.  It is clear that what happens in between training sessions is key to making each training session impactful, an also getting maximum intensity and the right attitude out of the dog.

Training starts with a dog at their “Station”.  The station can be a mat or a crate.  When a dog is at their station, the dog is off-duty and the handler is free to think, plan, and prepare.  Once the trainer is ready, the dog is moved from their station to their work area through a “Transport”.

Transport, as they define it, is not just walking the dog casually on leash (or off) to their working area.  When transporting a dog, they assert that the handler must be fully engaged and contacting their dog at all times.  That can mean dog is being lured/lead with food from your hand (and making full contact/munching away), lead with a collar grab, or lead via a tug toy.

As soon as the trainer disengages with your dog (food hand is taken away, hand goes off collar, or toy is taken away), training starts, and you c/t the first behavior that meets criteria (for Aim for It, it’s nose ahead).  Once the trainer is done the session, he immediately go back to transporting (by using your last food reward as a lure back to the station, or tugging back, or collar grabbing and leading back).

This protocol takes “pay attention to your dog” to a whole new level for me and I feel quite guilty for leaving my dogs “dangling” after the end of a training session now.

Session 3:  Efficient Training – Making Progress Quickly (Cecilie Køste)

This session had a lot of parallels to Eva and Emelie’s.  A lot of it covered basic good training form (no talking while training, hands by the side (not in the bait bag), etc.  She also spent a lot of time sharing videos of her colleagues training, and they do also have very regimented stations – the dog was sent to his crate whenever the trainer needed a break, or time to setup the training environment (moving props, reloading treats, packing tug toys, etc.)

The biggest takeaway I got from her presentation was placement of reward.  As I mentioned earlier, up to this point I have been pretty relaxed about treat placement.  Primarily, I used treat placement as a way to reset the dog to maximize the # of behavior repetitions in a training session (i.e. click for watch, toss treat for to floor to reset, or click for down, toss treat to side to reset, or click for mat, toss treat away so the dog has to travel back to the mat).  She summarized the four different strategies for treat placement as follows:

  1. Reinforce in position (treat in down for down stay – room service as she calls it)
  2. Reinforce to reset position (to expedite the next repetition)
  3. Reinforce for Direction Sliding (treat ahead of the dog away from you in heel to counter-act the tendency for a dog to become banana shaped in heeling)
  4. Reinforce to next behavior in behavior chain (toss toy over jump, if final behavior in chain is a jump

Session 4:  Click to Calm Unleashed with Emma Parsons

Last lab of the day – I was an observer in Emma Parsons’ Click to Calm Unleashed lab.  She ran the lab walking through the different exercises she teaches in her Click to Calm class for reactive dogs.  What’s amazing about them is they don’t actually require a ton of space, and one thing that was really surprising is how hard she pushes her students… making trainers with their space sensitive dogs work in extremely close proximity by being strategic and careful about entrances, exits, and maintaining high rate of reinforcements (or sometimes just shoveling food into the dog’s mouth).  With more research and planning hopefully I can incorporate some of these exercises for classes at When Hounds Fly.

Car Crash Game
Car Crash
Parallel Racing
Parallel Racing
Off Switch Games
Off Switch Games

 

The evening ended off with dinner with a lecture by Patricia McConnell – I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

Have a good night!

ClickerExpo 2011 Chicago Day One (Friday)

Hi everyone!

Just on break between my last session and dinner so I thought I’d blog a bit about Day 1 lectures and workshops!

Session 1:  Ken Ramirez, Aggression:  Treatment and Context

This presentation categorized and summarized many of the aggression treatment protocols commonly in use in science-based training.  Classical Counter-Conditioning, Constructional Aggression Treatment, Incompatible Behaviors (Watch me), Look at That, Click to Calm, etc. were all covered quickly, and Ken presented his opinions, pros, and cons of each.  Most of the content of this presentation was review for me (since dog aggression is an area I spend a lot of time studying and working on in the field), however, here are a few interesting points I picked up:

  1. Ramirez asserts that training Incompatible Behaviors (Watch-Me) is an excellent tool to prevent the rehearsal of aggression and to keep animals safe.  However, he clearly states that these approaches do not solve the aggression problem by itself. This is something I figured out by accident, which is why I incorporate Behavior Adjustment Training now in the treatment of dog reactivity.
  2. Ramirez showed a video of Kellie Snider in a CAT exercise with a Doberman that is aggressive to strangers that visit their home and has a bite history.  The video showed clips of a 38 minute protocol where initially, the dog would bark and lunge at the sight of Kellie (over threshold), but only at the precise moment the Doberman relaxed would she leave.  If the dog barked as she was leaving, she would return.  After 50 repetitions (roughly), she was able to greet the dog and feed the dog treats, and shortly thereafter she was able to pet the dog on the head.  The video itself was quite amazing in that a) she is incredibly brave – the dog was unmuzzled, has a bite history, and was only restrained on leash and being held by a pre-teen boy and b) this dog had never allowed a stranger to come into their home in many years.
  3. Ramirez did not discuss BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) as he is not familiar enough with it at this time. A bit disappointing, since it is my favorite protocol for reactivity now.

Session 2:  Michele Pouliot – Anticipation is Making Me Great!

Michele is a world champion canine freestyle competitor – which is exactly why I took this track (I know very little about Canine Freestyle).  The topic of this presentation was how to use a dog’s anticipation to your advantage as a training tool.

If you have ever had a dog anticipate your cue and break a start line stay, or impatiently begin offering behaviors prior to the cue, here are some takeaways (Petey is a chronic jump-the-gun dog, and I’m delighted that she frames this “problem” into an advantage)

  • Anticipation when harnessed creates energetic and immediate (low latency) behavior
  • Most errors of dogs starting before cued are handler errors – extraneous cues the handler gives unconsciously – video taping yourself is the best way to troubleshoot this
  • Never correct (even mildly) a dog that anticipates and starts before the cue – you will kill their enthusiasm
  • Create a “Start-Ready” dog by creating a cue that tells the dog “the first cue is coming” so they know to get energized, focus, and wait for the first “real” cue
  • Use a “wait” cue and reinforce it either with a primary reinforcer (c/t) or cueing the actual behavior.

Session 3:  Cecilie Køste – Top OTCh Skills for Top Obedience

Cecilie is world class competitive obedience trainer from Norway.  This is another area I really don’t know much about, so I was thrilled to have a chance to hear her present in person (tomorrow I am attending a hands on workshop with her on the same topic).

A key concept in their training method is to teach a set of 18 “basic skills” that have no cues, then assemble them finished behaviors fluent with very high criteria, then backchain them into performance behaviors, and then assemble routines through backchaining.  The analogy she used is “Letters to Words to Sentences”.

Since I’m working on getting Petey ready for Rally-O Trials, I’ll blog more about this separately but here are a few neat points I wanted to share tonight:

  • They are BIG on Doggy-Zen proofing.  All behaviors in the basic set must be performed with food scattered on the floor or in bowls – once the dog has performed the behavior, a release cue is given to go to the food (or toy)
  • A new term… “reverse luring” – where lures are presented and the dog must ignore the lure and maintain position (a variation of doggy-zen)
  • No cues are given to basic behaviors – so each session is compartmentalized to focus on one of the 18 basic behaviors.  How does the dog know which behavior is being worked on?  The dog offers all 18 and you just c/t the one you are working on in a session.

Two videos that were quite impressive was a dumbell hold while  hot dogs were placed on the dumbell, and a dumbell retrieve where the dumbell is thrown right next to a bowl of food (zen to the nth degree!)

Time for dinner!  Stay tuned for Day Two tomorrow.  Comment below if you have questions!

Lastly… BEAGLES AT CLICKER EXPO!

Beagles at ClickerExpo
Beagles at ClickerExpo

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

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.