Learning: Rally-O and Agility.
Teaching: Rally-O and Pet Obedience.
BSc in Animal Behaviour and Apprenticing in Toronto.
Science-based, force-free training and behaviour modification.
We met up with Rocky and his handler to do some D/CCing in the park today. Maulkin was really fantastic and almost completely ignored Rocky. He did give a little bark at Rocky’s handler when she came up to say hello before we started working, but he warmed up to her quickly.
We also got a few bonus dogs: A dachshund on a Flexi that pulled towards us on the way to the park, a small mutt on a Flexi that kept pulling their owner towards us, a medium-sized spitz dog (maybe a Icelandic Sheepdog?) on a Flexi but well-behaved, and a GSP off leash but well-behaved. Neither of our dogs reacted, though Rocky became a bit fixated on the GSP and the little dog that kept pulling their owner around. (Rocky was about 100 ft closer to the walking path, so bore the brunt of the park dogs.)
Ugh, Scuzzy got into the freeze dried fish while I was in the shower. He chewed up the bag and spilled fish everywhere. Poor Maulkin was so freaked out, he was hiding in the bedroom (as far as possible from Scuzzy and his mess) and started showing appeasement signals as soon as I entered the room. That automatic, unsupervised leave-it was very, very hard for him; and he did such a great job! I wish he wasn’t sick so I could pay him properly for it.
Maulkin had a rough morning today, but I think a pretty good day overall. His first little upset was early this morning when we were walking to work. We take a shortcut through the park and past a nursery so we can avoid traffic along the busy roadways.* The walkway along the nursery is very narrow, so when we saw a woman with a young child and a baby in a carriage, I called Maulkin off the path and had him sit until they passed. I decided not to feed Maulkin because he’s usually amazing with children and incredibly tolerant. Unfortunately, while Maulkin was happy to just watch the kid bounce along and squeak about the doggy, he got upset when the kid’s mother started talking to him. Maulkin barked once without breaking his stay, and I was able to redirect him into a down easily and he maintained it quietly while the mother and kids passed. I don’t think he would have barked at all if I’d CCed him instead of just having him wait, but I didn’t consider how stressed he’d still be from our visit to the behaviourist yesterday. (He was really shaken up!)
At work, he barked a bit when my co-worker and her dog came in, but he redirected fairly quickly and was able to train with me without greeting either of them. Later on, he also barked and rushed a dog and client who came into the waiting area when we weren’t expecting anyone. He needed more help getting away from them. My co-worker actually had to body block Maulkin from getting out the door to investigate the new person and dog, and I had to pull him probably a dozen feet away before he redirected and could move with me on his own. Not a great response for sure, but at least part of it was that I was so startled, too.
Our way home was much, much better! At the park, there’s a set of stairs that goes through a wooded area between the park and the residential area where we live. When we turned to go up the stairs, we startled a shepherd mix who started barking and lunging at us quite ferociously. Maulkin immediately came away when I called him, I think without any tension on the leash. He wasn’t able to focus on me (I was also out of treats; so I couldn’t CC, lure, or reward anything), but he did follow me away and downed when I asked him without barking at the other dog. When the other dog was moved across the park, I was able to direct Maulkin to sniff in the trees and he calmed down quickly despite the other dog still barking at us. On our walk through the residential area, we ran into the same mother and children from the morning. The kids were being very loud and screaming about the doggy, and Maulkin seemed pretty interested in them. Just by coincidence, we turned down another road before they passed by. I would have crossed the street to avoid them otherwise, since I didn’t have treats and thought the mother would be on edge after this morning and would trigger Maulkin. The last big distraction we passed was the pomeranian at the end of the block. He was fenced this time, thankfully, but was barking incessantly at us. As per the behaviourist’s recommendation, I had Maulkin sit and fed him delicious treat pouch dust for tolerating the pom. One of the pom’s owners walked past us as I worked Maulkin in front of their driveway, and I was able to say hello without Maulkin barking. (So good!) I think the difficulty level we were at was too challenging, especially since I didn’t have any real rewards, but Maulkin did really well. I’m going to have to set up CC exercises specifically for working around the pom in the future.
*Mostly, we’re avoiding off leash dogs from the apartments across the street. Ever since that one dog ran across all four lanes of traffic to chase us into a field, I’ve been leery of taking Maulkin down that road at all.
Maulkin’s muzzle training is going fantastically despite my lax efforts. He gets really excited when I pull it out and shoves his nose in immediately. He also seems comfortable wearing it on his own and will perform basic obedience in it. (I haven’t asked him for anything harder yet, but I suspect he’d be fine.) I’m going to keep CCing very slowly inside until Maulkin’s comfortable enough to pant wearing the muzzle. (Maulkin’s incredibly pressure sensitive, and the weight of the muzzle makes him a bit uneasy still.) Then we’ll start again outside.
Maulkin was extremely reactive to other hikers during our hike yesterday. He didn’t seem fearful or frantic (he was eager to greet the one person who passed us closely and otherwise just seemed excited), but I was only able to redirect him during one of four reactive episodes. The strangest part was that he alert barked at a couple as they approached, politely greeted the woman when she spoke to him, and then alert barked when the couple moved away. I could see that if he were being fearful (“I’m afraid, so I’ll bark to scare you off. I’m too afraid to bark when you’re right here. I’m still afraid but brave enough to bark and drive you off when you turn your back.”), but I really don’t think that’s the case. I asked my mentor about it, and she says she’ll have to see what’s going on to offer a diagnosis.
Maulkin’s also been alert barking at people passing our apartment when we’re out on potty breaks but otherwise is great passing people during walks. I’m pretty sure he’s barking in our yard because he thinks it’s his job. I’ve been trying to play LAT as soon as people appear before Maulkin can react, and then redirect him without rewarding him if he does react. I think it’s helping. My mentor recommended just letting Maulkin bark and ignoring him, and rewarding him when he’s quiet so he learns I’m not paying him for barking. I haven’t tried it, because I don’t really like the idea of him barking. Maulkin’s naturally very verbal, so I feel barking will be incredibly self-reinforcing if I just ignore it (certainly more reinforcing than food, at least). I may try setting up a crate outside so I can send him to bed when he barks but let him out to play LAT when he’s quiet. All I need is more free time and for the neighbour’s kids to not harass us when we’re outside….
It’s a completely different experience walking with little Viola compared to Maulkin. Even though Maulkin is well-trained and ignores people when we walk, there are always people (especially kids and teens) who jump out of our way or even scream when they see us. With Viola, people run up and try to kiss her and make a fuss even when she’s barking and lunging at them. Viola happens to be overwhelmingly friendly and was never taught self-control around strangers, so she’s not a danger. But her behaviour looks like any other type of reactivity, and it amazes me people find it endearing just because she’s small.
I’m thinking about adding ribbons to Maulkin’s ears when we walk to make him look less intimidating. While I don’t want people running up to him, I don’t want them running away screaming, either. He takes it all in stride, but I find it really frustrating.
Maulkin holds his breath when I ask him to freeze. That’s a little more frozen than I wanted….
oodsandpoodles/all-kinds-of-dogs, sorry it took so long, but I finally got the video made! The idea is to turn parallel to the dog when they see a distraction so the dog knows you’re changing direction, and then reward them for choosing to move away from the distraction and towards you.
In the video, I teased Maulkin with one of his favourite toys before tossing it under the camera to use as our distraction. You can see how he disconnects from me as we approach and keeps moving forward after I’ve stopped. After I stop, I pivot on my left foot (you should pivot on whichever side you walk your dog) and step behind the dog so my shoulder is aligned with his spine. When Maulkin’s leash goes taunt, I can step back and feed out the slack so I’m getting farther from him but he’s not getting closer to the distraction. (There’s a pretty decent example of that at 0:25.) When the dog turns towards me even the slightest, I mark (Using “Yes!” in the video.) and then offer him a reward at my side so he has to walk away from the distraction to get it.
Maulkin’s obviously already trained for this task, so I actually kept signalling him to get the toy so he’d walk ahead. If he were untrained, he’d probably lunge at the toy for a while, then stand at the end of his leash staring, and maybe try to go for the toy again before eventually glancing back at me. That’s pretty normal behaviour for an untrained dog, especially if they’re used to getting ahead by pulling, so expect that the first few times you try this exercise. If your dog seems fixated on the distraction and doesn’t glance back at you after 30 seconds to a minute, call him away (you can apply gentle, constant leash pressure if necessary, but try not to tug or jerk on the leash), and try again but stop at a much farther distance from the distraction. You can also make this exercise easier on the dog by rewarding with something better than your distraction (so if you’re using a few pieces of kibble as a distraction, try rewarding with chicken). After a few approaches and retreats, Watson should start glancing at the distraction and then back at you for a reward. When you reach that stage, you can try switching up the distraction, moving to a different room, or approaching the distraction a bit closer (though always keep outside of leash range, so your dog doesn’t lunge out and grab whatever you’re using before you can stop him). If you find yourself telling your dog to “leave it” or you just feel nervous, you’re too close to the distraction and need to progress a bit more slowly.
If you find a treat or toy Watson will take outside, you can start using that as a distraction for set-ups outside. Once he’s had a little practice, you can start using this technique on anything Watson’s finds distracting. Keep an eye on his ears and tail especially during your walks, and you should be able to tell exactly when he’s focused on a new distraction. When that happens, you can switch into this activity until you’ve regained Watson’s focus so he won’t be able to pull you forward. You might also find it helpful to have a walking cue and a release cue so you can use environmental rewards. So for walking, you might tell Watson, “Let’s walk!” and then when you see something you think he might want to approach, stop and wait for him to look at you, and then say your release word (mine is “go sniff!”) and indicate to Watson he can go check out the interesting spot. If he’s not interested in treats outside, using a release word will allow you to reward Watson for walking with you.
Anyway, I hope that helps. Please, let me know if you have any questions or if this exercise is still unclear. I might be able to get a video with an untrained puppy on Wednesday if necessary.
If anybody can help with transition from prong to flat, it would be greatly appreciated. Watson was trained on a prong and while that’s fine, I prefer more positive methods. For the year and a half I’ve had him, he’s spent about 6 months total at a B&T with a good friend of mine who uses prong collars and he walks perfectly on it. But when he’s been with me, I’ve been trying to use a flat. We’ve been stuck in the same rut for about a year and can’t seem to get past it. He does perfect in the house, but as soon as we get outside, he will not focus on me or treats, or even toys sometimes, which are his favorite things in the world. It’s incredibly frustrating.
We tried pivots and they didn’t work AT ALL. Right now, I’m just working on saying “YES!” (I have trouble handling leash/clicker/treats) when he makes eye contact while walking with me. At this point in the house, he knows what heel position means when on or off leash with a hand signal, and will stay in that position.
Would you be able to get a brief video of you both walking? What have you tried for treats, and how does Watson react to them in the house and in the yard?
I have two thoughts based on what you’ve said so far: 1. Watson might be incredibly sensitive to pressure, so when he feels pressure on the leash, he gets trapped pulling against it, and 2. Watson is highly motivated by the environment. For the first problem, I highly recommend switching from a collar to a front-clip harness (i.e., a sense-ation or freedom harness, not an easy-walk). That will prevent Watson from getting caught in a tug-of-war with his leash that he can’t escape while also giving you more control. To deal with the second issue, you’d need to dial back the level of distraction (like working just in your driveway or even inside with the front door open) and find a better reward or use environmental rewards.
It sounds like you’ve done a lot of great foundation work already. Just remember that dogs are terrible at generalizing, so you’ll probably need to go back to square one when working outside. If you’re not doing so already, it may be worthwhile to do some basic obedience in the yard on leash (especially focus work), reintroduce heel position as a new concept outside, or whatever else you can to get Watson comfortable thinking and working with you outside.
I don’t know of any resources for working with toys beyond building toy drive. I’ll publish this in case anyone else has any suggestions.
Yeah, that lag time is a huge problem with rewarding with toys, especially fetch. You also tend to disconnect from the dog when using fetch as a reward (because the dog looks and moves away from you), and it’s more difficult than tugging for rewarding in position. You could try rewarding with a ball on a rope, or you could use treats for several repetitions and jackpot with the ball (this is generally what I do, and I’ve had good luck with it). Using the ball as a jackpot will also help keep your dog from tiring out too quickly.
marceline-the-vegan—queen can’t reply to this post for whatever reason, but she says she tosses the ball directly at her dog to reward him. If your dog finds catching or holding the ball rewarding enough to keep working happily, that’s a pretty fast and controlled way of using it.