Friday, February 17, 2017

Multiple behavior focuses means being flexible

A busy week makes it hard to focus on one issue. Day-by-day this week included board/train Doberman female who loses focus quickly, reacts to dogs, and is a resource guarder;teaching a  puppy class; then a bully pit-mix, learning to develop my own webstie so I can keep it current and save some money. I have also been taking a graphics creation class for the same reason I'm learning to re-create my current website, which is horribly out-of-date.  Coupled with the work of business and tax season, an article for a magazine and working with issues of house training faux pas, diahrrea and diet, jumping up on people and teaching dogs to ring bells, a busy week was carved out. As a result, a brief focus on multiple dog behavior issues, seven issues to be specific, versus choosing one focus is the way this blog will go this week. Dogs are not one dimensional and neither is teaching them or changing behavior that crops up.  Here are some tips and go tos for seven challenges you might be faced with in teaching a dog.

Loss of focus

Losing focus can mean a lot of things such as, taking a training session too long for what the dog is able to handle, environmental distractions take precedent over interaction and participation with handler, handler is not engaged or reinforcing, dog is used to losing focus and/or age of dog means shorter teaching sessions are required.  Whatever the reason, ending on success is a goal so focus builds and work ethic strengthens. Loss of focus equates to the fact, the brutal reality that the dog does not want to listen, to work, to engage with you. Other things are more engaging, reinforcing. A good place to start to teach focus is an attention trilogy formulated by Pamela Dennison in her book "How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong" where she talks about three valuable parts to getting a dog to focus and those are, eye contact; name recognition; and name response plus adding a cue afterwards, like come.  These three pieces then become a nice transition to other engaging training, impulsivity curbing, and a real joy to participate with handler as a team no matter what is in the environment.

Resource Guarding

Resource guarding can come in many forms, to food, to locations, to any space (i.e. digging a hole), to a doggy friend, or to the guardian themselves.  It presents itself in growling, barking at, lunging, hard stare, holding tight on to whatever the prized possession might be, chasing away dog or human, standing ground guarding a location.  It can be very scary and it can escalate and become habituated. The reality is all dogs can become resource guarders and with practice can get worse and worse.

Starting go tos for changing a resource guarder into a willing participant of giving up what they have, sharing locations, asking permission take on three steps.  The goal is to reinforce the behavior you want, not resource guarding.

  • Drop - I teach my dogs and client dogs Chirag Patel's "Drop" technique found here 
  • Trade - simply teaching trading one item for another similar or different item - present item, say "take it" and when presenting other item say "take it" and when item dog has drops from their mouth, you can say "give" OR you can click and reward the item as it drops from the dog's mouth, name it give when it is strong, and reinforce further with giving dog another item - simply a give and take process that is fun and rewarding.
  • Get it, bring it - I use this for ball play, toy play and for bones - anything I'd like the dog to get and bring to me - and I make a game out of it.  Get it said happily. Dog has to have some experience with this, so rolling a ball and cueing going out for it "get it" is first step. I like to click/reward dog bringing item back to me. Click means item will drop from mouth and if I have an extreme resource guarder the last thing I want to do is bend to pick it up. I like to toss a reward left or right or up and over back and as dog scurries to get it, then I pick up the item.  Soon the dog sees this as a fun game and rewarding game.
  • Move over is for dogs who have location guarding issues (not touching on those dogs who have "pass by" issues as in when other dogs or animals or people pass by where they are lying). This is more for couches, bed etc.  Simply have a handful of rewards and as you enter toss a handful of rewards to another area, or off the item and as you do say "move over" (this will translate/generalize in car rides also). Dog will get up, move over, and forage for treats.  
  • Off - Off is four feet on the floor. So when dog is standing, add an off cue and toss a reward away from you.  When you need to say off, i.e. counter surfing, jumping up, then they will know what you mean. It should be more rewarding to stay off versus jumping up.
With my own "extreme resource guarder" we worked through all of the above. Take a look at his story here. (if you are on Facebook)

Puppy socialization

As we all know, this is so vital and so important, but it needs to be done correctly.  Just taking your dog out to public places, to a dog park, etc. is NOT socializing.  Socialization covers seeing successfully many types of people and dogs, interacting with them only if it is safe and confidence building, and also covers movement, variable surfaces, sounds, multiple distractions and more. Taking time to do it properly pays big rewards. One of my favorite websites is The Ultimate Puppy and of course, Dr. Ian Dunbar's book "Before and After You Get Your Puppy" (free online).


Resrouces for working with bully dogs can be found in Jean Donaldson's book "Fight". A dog who is a bully may have learned to be one in the litter, it could be genetic or it could be learned behavior that has become habituated.  Frequent call aways from dog dog interactions, if allowed, is a critical learning piece. Short durations of play time.  In sync with that would be a very good focus, relationship building process and teaching self-control through learning that curbs impulsiveness. Some dogs, like the one I worked with this week, find bullying highly reinforcing and the older the dog it becomes a matter of realistic expectations and prevention and management.  Teaching a get back cue, an interrupter, and a call away cue are all helpful.

Multi-dog households fighting

My article in Barks from the Guild, a PPG online and hard copy magazine will focus on multi-dogs fighting and a step-by-step process to regaining the peace that has been lost.  It will be the May cover story, so watch for it.  Dogs who have gotten along in the past and now have vicious fights can be scary to live with and highly stressful for all involved.

Jumping Up

Jumping up can become habituated. The more it is done, the more it will be done. So teaching alternative behaviors, or putting jumping on stimulus control can be quite helpful. Here are some suggestions:

"Dogs jump up naturally and are quickly and randomly reinforced for doing so. To change behavior, many owners tell their dog to sit instead and reward the sit, but smart dogs learn quickly to repeat the reinforced sequence of the jump-sit-reward. To circumvent this problem, try to anticipate dog's behavior and reward "before" she jumps up. As she approaches or looks at you, mark her standing before you and place food on the ground or below her mouth level. Ask friends and family to do the same and you can avoid jumping in a positive way." Lynn Honneckman

"Some jumpers are seeking touch, so use a good chest scratch as a reward for the sit in advance of jumping up (just making sure people know how to keep their noses out of the way by their position). I've had really good luck with touch as a reinforcer for those types of dogs with this particular behavior." Rise VanFleet, PhD

Top Nine Force Free Ways to Stop Jumping Up 

1. Teach dog to target a palm to greet visitors and then turn away from visitor to get reinforcement.

2. Teach a SURPRISE cue, tossing a hnadful of treats up and out and "over the dog's back", so they turn away from the doog, drop their head and search for food as visitor is coming in door.

    Surprise Technique:
    Toss entire handfuls of very high value rewards (chicken, hot dogs) behind the dog as a guest enters, while saying "find it" or "surprise" (which becomes your cue for turn away from guest.  Then once the dog has finished foraging for food, it will be easier to redirect to a sit or more appropriate greeting or simply walk guest through and drop tiny bits of food as dog walks calmly with you.  As far as those who do not want to use treats, other items need to be high value, like tennis balls, a favorite toy as they enter and say "TOYS!!!"  Surprise is simply a redirection technique that engages the dog "away from" an entering guest.

    3. Reward dog when NOT JUMPING. Practice greeter approaches and feed dog on the floor. If pup jumps you can also turn back, walk away, ignore.  If dog sits or keeps feet on the floor, reinforce with treats, attention and toys.

    4.  Teach a default behavior (sit, down etc.).

    5.  Use a baby gate or xpen (exercise pen) to stop door racing and to introduce dog when they are calm. Allow them to sit for a treat.

    6.  Put on stimulus control, meaning teach the dog to jump (cue it) and then don't cue it. The dog learns that they can jump, when cued, and so might not find it as rewarding anymore to do so "just because".

    7. Teach an off and a jump "up" cue. Off equals cue when four feet are on the floor and "up" is for when you want special cuddling from your dog. If you don't cue "up" (stimulus control cue as in item 6), it is not completed.

    8.  Play invisible dog and wait for dog to calm themselves, meaning they lay down or get involved in a toy before calling them over. Much of jumping up is attention seeking that gets reinforced, so this allows the dog to understand they will receive attention without jumping up and when they are calm.

    9.  Hand dog a filled kong and teach a solid mat behavior. That involves teaching a solid go "to mat", a down, and a strong stay.  Dog is not to move until release cue is given. Guest arrives, filled Kong comes out, and is given behind protected contact (barrier of an xpen or  baby gate or to a dog who has a solid go to mat cue).

    Sample Videos (jumping up)

    Kikopup How to stop jumping up Emily Larlham
    Why we shouldn't use punishment to teach a dog NOT to jump up by Emily Levine, DVM, Psychology Today

    Teaching to ring a bell

    This is a target/touch behavior. Dog touches bells with nose to move them to ring. A solid teaching of targeting a stick, a lid, a sticky note, two fingers and a palm prepare the dog to transfer that behavior to other things like bells.  I like to fade away a target to a click stick. I also like to click and reward each time dog touches the bells and rings them (the reward is going oudoors).  There are many videos on teaching a dog to target something that is static and touch (which requires movement toward something).  Once the dog learns the door opens when the bell rings, it provides them with a choice and the ability to control their environment.

    All of the above are just a day in the life of a behavior trainer.

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