Recently on the Training Levels yahoo Group Sue Ailsby said, “When the earth shifts under your feet, you have only a few choices. You can run, you can attack, you can freeze, or you can start hysterically, rabidly, desperately learning. It’s exciting, isn’t it?!”
Ever since I got my new Training Levels books I’ve been in the “rabidly, desperately learning” phase. The books are even better than I expected, and I have to say I had high expectations!
I had one those earth shifting under my feet moments when I read one of Sue’s “Very Important Ideas”. She says, “You can’t teach a negative.” Sue then explains it doesn’t help you or the dog when all you can think about is how to get the dog to STOP doing a behavior you don’t want.
The ground started trembling. . . “Don’t think of what you want to stop???. . . Hmmm . . .”
I keep reading. . . Sue points out three questions to ask when your dog chooses to do something you don’t want them to:
- “What do I Want the dog to do in this situation?”
- “How do I stop her from being rewarded for the bad thing?”
- “How do I reward her for doing the good thing?”
The earth is shifting at this point. . .
I think, “This is positive training, if I think only in negatives how am I supposed to teach my dogs anything with positive methods?”
After sleeping on the idea, today it all came together for me.
We are hanging out with a friends dogs, and helping out with their boarding kennel this week. The house is across the driveway from the kennel field and when our dogs go out they can see the kennel dogs in their field. This is always a challenging situation for Maizey.
We have done enough work here that the reactivity to the kennel dogs is minor. This trip she has done even better, and I would qualify her barking as much less reactive and more just letting me know there are dogs there. In my head the question was always, “How do I get her to stop barking at the kennel dogs?”
Here is where the earth shifting came into play. With Sue’s wise words, “you can’t teach a negative” in mind, today I stopped thinking how to get her to stop barking and started asking, “What do I want her to do instead?”
I want her to be relaxed and quiet in the yard. I want her to know it’s okay to let me know the dogs are there, but I have it handled, she doesn’t need to bark more than three or four times. Ultimately I would like her to be able to go out, feel confident enough to not bark at them at all. (The criteria for now is three or four times because I know asking her to not bark at all is beyond her ability at this point. Her barking to let me know they’re there works with other training we’ve been doing for reactivity.)
What I came up with was to let her out of her fence and let her meet the kennel dogs through their fence, with high reinforcement for quiet, calm meetings. She doesn’t bark at dogs she knows, only “strange” dogs. She greeted the kennel dogs when we got here, but sometimes when she goes out they’re there and sometimes they’re inside, so to her each time she goes out they are “new.”
Then I wondered what would happen if I went in the field and talked to her while I was with the kennel dogs. A novel idea, one I had no idea if it would make a difference to her, so I went out with the kennel dogs, she started barking and I said, “Hey Maizeymay, whatchta tellin me?”
A bunch of words that weren’t cues, just my happy confident voice saying “what’s up?” It was so funny! She perks up, looks around and then runs to the door looking for me. I say, “Hey girlie, I’m over here.” Once she found me I told her what a good girl she was and went about my business. She hasn’t barked at the kennel dogs again!
I don’t know that this is a permanent solution, I don’t know that it wasnt all coincidence, I don’t know that she learned anything. What I do know is my thinking has shifted and I’ve learned something!
Another example: She gets her detox in a spoon full of yogurt or something yummy. With six other dogs around it takes more management to get her in a space where she can eat with out being interrupted by curious mouths. Instead of thinking how can I get these dogs to stop bugging her when she takes her detox I started thinking, “What do I want it to be like when I give her this medicine?”
The answer? I just need a little space and the other dogs to wait their turn for a treat.
The solution? Have Maizey hop on a kitchen chair and sit while the other dogs practice some treat zen and wait their turn. Then give each one a treat and wallaah! We have a simple, peaceful way for Maizey to get her meds and all the dogs get to practice a little self control. We’re all happy!
Short story long I’m loving my Training Levels books. If you haven’t ordered yours yet I highly recommend it. They are an invaluable tool for any one with a 4legged friend!.
Now, I’m off for more rabid Training Levels learning!
Does your dog think? To some it may seem their dogs only think of how to get in trouble!
I keep jokingly saying of Magnus, “Why did I teach this dog to think?”
He is not afraid to try anything! He is on top of, under, over, inside, outside, around and all over everything. Apparently teaching him he doesn’t have to be afraid and is capable of anything really just taught him there is nothing off limits to him.
Kitchen table? “What Crazymomlady? I figured out how to get up here, why shouldn’t I do it?”
Bathtub? “Oh you don’t want me to get in the shower while you’re in there? Why not?”
Under the couch? “What do you mean I don’t fit under there anymore? I can just dig a hole in the floor and then I’ll fit!”
You get the idea. This boy has decided he has a brain and he knows how to use it. Well, at least he’s learning how to use it. I hope.
I may find it trying to keep up with this little guy, but most of the time I just love to watch him figure things out. I know he can learn what’s a good choice and what isn’t, we are just in the period of his life where he’s figuring it all out. We’re in the, “manage what I don’t want while he learns to choose what I do want” phase.
It’s actually my favorite thing about clicker training. Every time you mark a behavior you teach a dog what behavior is beneficial for him. You teach him to think, to be discerning and make a choice.
While this is one of my favorite things about positive reinforcement, I know it’s the least favorite thing of more traditional trainers. Today I was looking at a site for a dog training school and the criticism was made that clicker trainers leave the dog to figure things out for themselves, creating stress for the dog.
So thinking is a bad thing?
I don’t get it! This statement was made in the context of using a shock collar to “explain” to the dog that he had no choice.
Now I don’t want to get into a big debate about shock collars. I don’t choose to use that method on my dogs and wouldn’t suggest it for someone else, but while we’re on the subject of choice, I respect that is their choice.
But this statement really bothers me. I mean what’s wrong with thinking anymore?
For me teaching my dogs to make choices that makes them peaceful, productive members of a predominantly human community is inspiring. It’s exciting and joyful. It’s fun and thrilling.
For me to force my dog to make the choice I want, especially by methods that cause pain, is taking choice out of the matter completely. Obey me or be caused pain, is not a choice.
So I ask again, “What’s wrong with thinking?”
I’m afraid as a society we are becoming too non-thinking. We see examples of it everyday and I’ve probably been guilty of it myself, the attitude of “my way or the highway.” I might have what’s the best way for me, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best way for my neighbor, my friends, the stranger reading this, or even for my dogs.
Maizey has been instrumental in teaching me this. My “way” of training was not good for her. I started out using methods I was familiar with at that time and looking back I used some methods I would not use again. She clearly let me know, “This doesn’t work for me. This is not the inforamtion I need to know how to chose what you want.” She let me know it, by never choosing the choice I was trying to explain to her. She showed me I had to look elsewhere, learn more, and most of all think more.
She keeps showing me an amazing ability to figure out how to choose what I feel is a better choice, she shows me a willingness to choose that when it’s in her ability to do so. She shows me she knows how to think, and it’s not stressful for her.
Today brought me a new 4legged lesson:
A thinking dog is a beautiful thing. When my pups use their brains to make choices that benefit our community, that too it’s a beautiful thing. When they make choices that aren’t beneficial I know I need to give them more information to be able to make a better choice.
Sue Ailsby says her training philosophy is, “A philosophy which asks that I do no harm. That I listen to the trainee and respect her opinions. I discovered that listening, respecting, and doing no harm is an AMAZING training philosophy, and an even better training method. When you listen to a dog, the dog listens back!”
I agree and subscribe to that philosophy whole heartedly. It’s my determination to listen to my dogs, give them the information they need to make beneficial choices, to “do no harm”, and always enjoy my thinking 4legged friends!
Today Maizey started her Clicks and Tricks class.
The class is awesome, only three other dogs and based on a combination of shaping, luring and some capturing.
Today we covered basics: hand touch, spin, twirl, backup, and settle on one hip.
Backup is the only one we have never worked on. Our homework is to get multiple touches for one c/t, get her spin and twirl on verbal cue only, start backup and refine the settle.
Settle I have to think about a little bit, I currently use a settle cue to mean, “lay down, chill out and quit bugging me, but you can move when you want.”
I’m not sure with this being a trick if I want to cue something different, something clever. . . of course I’m not feeling too clever right now so I’ll have to think about it.
For backup I have a similar question of what to cue. I think for a trick “beep-beep-beep” like the backing up of a big truck would be funny, but that’s not a cue I would use for a more formal backup like they use in Rally, so do I need two cue’s? Is it two behaviors? Again, I don’t know, so it looks like I have homework to do!
We were given a list 24 tricks to choose from and as a class we chose a total of 12-15 to learn over the next six weeks. Some are very basic (roll over), some are more advanced and require a behavior chain (moon walk, which is a play bow where the dog walks backwards in the bow.)
The class is going to be great, but right now I’m exhausted! Not because of the class, but because my Princess Of The Shrill Bark lived up to her name today.
After her success in Petite Pals I really wasn’t expecting today to be this hard for her. I didn’t see an abnormal amount of stress before class, we followed our routine and she seemed fine. We had the same set up as her last class: us in a corner behind an x-pen with blankets covering it to reduce stimulation.
I’m super proud of her, this is her first class with no play time so she doesn’t meet and greet the other dogs and it was hard for her. It was like she could work for me as long as it was very basic skills she already knew, then something in her head would trigger and it was like all of sudden she was thinking, “Oh crap there’s dogs out there! MOM! MOM! MOM! DOGS! DOGS! DOGS!”
Then she would reorient and be like, “Oh yeah this is the coolest game! I’m so good at this, I’ll offer you anything!” Then the alarm in her head would go off again and it was back to reacting for a second.
Honestly I almost just quit half way through, the most important thing is that she not be traumatized. It’s also the hardest thing to tell at this stage. It used to just be she was constantly reacting and couldn’t even think. She was obviously over threshold the whole time around other dogs.
Now it’s more like she just needs impulse control and experience to keep her brain engaged. The trouble is it’s my job to read her and know when enough is enough and it was easy to know before, now it’s just harder to tell.
I got to the point that I thought, “She’s just not going to pull out of this today, we just need to go to the park and shake it off.” I picked her up and snuggled my face into her face and just breathed with her. I felt her relax, that has never happened before, I was so glad to experience that. It was as if my breath cued her to take a deep breath and after that I just stayed on the floor with her and we mostly just c/t for quiet while we worked very basic skills.
By the end of the class she was laying quietly, even if I wouldn’t say she was relaxed. So I’m glad we stayed. I dont know how she will ever learn to get through that anxiety if she doesn’t get a chance to ride it out, and let me help her.
But it’s so tiring for both of us. The mom part of me kicks in and I just want to snuggle her and make her feel better, but that’s not the answer. We both have to work so very hard to keep our brains in gear and keep the anxiety down.
I know it certainly doesn’t help her if I just get to feeling bad for her so mostly that part just comes after, it comes now. The human part where I feel so sad that this brillaint, eager, clicker savvy, offering, loves to work dog can’t enjoy this fun class ’cause her brain is short circuiting hits me hard and it’s hard not to second guess every choice I made.
The other human part is similar to what I felt for meeka when people would judge her for being a Rottie, there was so much beauty and grace in her that they never got to see. When you have 14 pounds of barking, lunging Cavalier people tend to look at you funny.
I can’t blame them, if I saw her coming towards me and my dog I’d go the other way too. But it’s still hard not to let it hurt a bit. Not personally for me, but for what they are missing in knowing the true her and what she’s missing in getting to live a full life.
All I can do is keep trying, be thankful that I have good trainers to help me and remember she is a happy girl, and even if she never overcomes this she has a good life, even if it’s one with limitations.
Therein is today’s 4legged lesson: Modesty means being aware and accepting your limitations. Modesty is hard, it doesn’t mean you don’t try to overcome your limitations, but it does mean if you have a Princess Of The Shrill Bark and she may always be a Princess Of The shrill Bark you help her as much as you can and love her twice as much. She doesn’t judge herself for her limitations why should I or anyone else?
As for Tricks and Clicks class? I defer once again to Sue Ailsby, “It’s all tricks, relax!”
I’ve said it before and I’m sure this wont be the last time but there are few things in my life as rewarding and complicated as having a fearful Maizey.
But first let me tell you about her Petite Pals Class.
Petite Pals is a basic obedience class for dogs under 25 pounds. In her first class they covered basic sit, down, touch, stand and mat.
For Maizey this class is not about obedience skills, for Maizey it’s about learning to be around other dogs and not react. It’s about learning to meet and greet and play like a normal happy girl would.
For Maizey week one went great! I set the goal of being a serene trainer and I actually succeeded!
I have to give a huge shout out of thanks to Nicole and Michelle at Calling All Dogs for setting up a special place in this class for Maizey. They set up an x-pen for her and then covered it with blankets to further reduce the stimulation.
It worked perfect, I was able to click for calm and quiet orientation to the other dogs. I learned to click for her being quiet even when there is just vocalizing from other dogs, which now seems so blatantly obvious of a thing to do that I can’t believe what an opportunity for reinforcement I was missing.
Maizey only reacts to dogs she can see so I never c/t for her being quiet when a dog was vocalizing. Nicole explained she knows there is a dog there, but she isn’t reacting so she deserves to be rewarded for that. It makes perfect sense and provides many more opportunities for me to reinforce that she doesn’t need to react. It is a perfect example of why I need to take classes, there is just so much I don’t know or think of.
After a half hour they let the dogs have a play time and by that time she was showing some eagerness to interact and meet these other little 4legged friends. I have to admit I was nervous, but by that time I had been able to observe and get an idea of the other dogs personalities. Since I also had Nicole and Michelle there to help I let her loose to meet the other dogs.
She lived up to her moniker of Princes Of The Shrill Bark, but it was not so much conflicted reactivity as really loud vocalizing. It was then I learned a most valuable lesson. I am so protective of her I wanted to jump right in and calm her down, but Nicole had me hang back and watch her. It was so hard for me! I said, “She’s barking! What should I do?”
Nicole said, “Stand there and let her bark, she’s not aggressing forward, she’s not being aggresive, she’s just talking to them.”
With total insecurity I said, “Just let her bark?!?”
With total reassurance in her voice she said, “She’s okay, lets just see what she does.”
I could see she was safe, and I could see her little brain working out this problem that, in my protectiveness, I have never really allowed her to work out for herself, so I just let her bark.
As I watched I was reminded of another valuable 4legged lesson: sometimes dogs learn from other dogs so much better than they learn from humans.
Here are seven other little dogs and they looked at her barking like, “Hey ya freak whats up with you?” Then they would just run and play.
It was like my girl was so confused, “Hey! Didn’t you hear me? I’m telling you all I’m here!!” But the more they ignored her the braver she got and she quit barking and followed them.
Then they would be like, “Oh hey, you want to play?”
It was just so funny and so tragic ’cause she I swear when they tried to play with she was like, “OH CRAP!! DOGS!!” And she would run away.
But I was so so proud because she knows enough now to look at me when she’s scared and the two times she got pretty overwhelmed she ran straight to me and leaned on my legs. I am so proud of us that we have built that trust, we certainly didn’t have it when she was younger. Now I think she is learning she doesn’t have to scare off all the scary dogs by herself, I will always be there to protect her.
I considered the whole thing to be a fabulous success. Thus you would think I would be eager to follow up such a great experience with two weeks of class since then and I was. Unfortunately two weeks ago we lost a close friend in death and his funeral was the same time as her class. Sometimes Real Life is just more imporant than our 4legged life and of course we missed that class.
But that takes me back to the begining of this post. The rewards are obvious, the complications not quite so easy to understand. Yesterday we were all ready for her class, but she has been extraordinarily anxious the last couple days, and frankly yesterday I was the reactive one. I won’t bore you with all the 2legged details, but just let me say, us humans sure can come up with a lot of drama for ourselves and that happened yesterday.
So as I was fighting to get things settled down to go to class I realized if I take my nervous girl to class with myself already in knots I may be doing her more harm than good. It was hard but I made the executive decision that I was not “in the game” and we didn’t go to class.
Was it the right decision? I don’t know.
What I do know is I promised to protect her and yesterday I felt like what she needed protected from was not being able to rely on me to be the stable one. I know others that have fearful dogs have felt the pressure of needing to not communicate their own nerves to their sensitive 4legged friends. I know friends with performance dogs that worry about sending their ring nerves to their dogs.
Most of all I know my Maizey is my little emotional psychic and if I might make her more nervous I will not push her into a situation she may not be successful in. There will be another opportunity and we will take it, but we will not rush in where we may not be successful.
That too is a Maizey promise, and a valuable 4legged lesson: it’s okay not to rush things, it’s okay to play it safe and it’s always okay to do something else together that is good for both of you.
Yesterday for Maizey and I that something else was take a nice long nap together.
But look out for us next week Petite Pals Class, we’ll be back and ready to learn, play and yes, probably bark!