Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog from Training Mistakes

(updated Nov. 2015)

A memoir

BarkLunge

On sale now!

NIEAseal-2014-Winner-200 (1)Best-Book-WINNER2015-gold
Bark and Lunge has received three national book awards:

Indie Excellence Award and Sponsor’s Choice Award, the USA Best Book Award, and a Gold Medal and 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite.

Buy the eBook from Amazon, Kobo, Nook, or Google Play.

Buy the paperback from IndieBoundAmazon or Barnes and Noble. Your local bookstore can order it for you too.

 

Dogging up the new car

When I bought a new Honda six months ago, I didn’t trade in the old one, because it was so dogged up inside that 1) the trade-in value was negligible, and 2) I didn’t want to dog up the new Honda HRV. So we continued to shuttle the dogs around in the old Honda Fit.

On Sunday, Rob had some errands and didn’t want to take the new car. I wanted to take the dogs to the beach. So I put the seats down, laid towels over the parts that weren’t plastic, tethered the dogs so they couldn’t climb in front with me, and off we went.

dogmobile

I regret nothing.

BlogPaws Wordless Wednesday Blog HopThis post is part of the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop. Hop along with us.

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String Cheese: I’ll never let go

. . . one can never give too many food treats during temperament training exercises . . .
– Dr. Ian Dunbar

Squirrel?

.

A few weeks ago I received a very nice message from someone who had heard my two podcasts on The Great Dog Adventure with Fern Camacho. (This one and that one) She related to my struggles with Leo, because she has a reactive dog too.

I never leave my home with out a pocket full of treats. Now when we see a dog, he turns to look at me to get a treat. I was wondering with your training of Leo, have you gotten to the point where you can wean Leo off of the string cheese? I am thinking that once a behavior is reinforced for a period of time, you no longer have to reward it.

I told her that I do still carry string cheese on all our walks. I’ve been doing it for two years, and the thought hadn’t crossed my mind to try to phase it out. Ever.

I’m totally okay with buying two large bags of string cheese every time I go to the store, and peeling the plastic off about twelve sticks before each walk. I went from thinking we’d never be able to walk Leo past a bicycle to having him look to me for cheese before I’ve even seen the bicycle. Now, even if he barks, he calms down pretty quickly.

For example, recently I spotted a bike coming our way. I crossed the street and readied the cheese. Then another bicycle came from the other direction, with an off-leash dog running beside it! Leo was amped, but not barking, and I don’t think he would have if I hadn’t made the tactical error of positioning us next to a dude rummaging inside a sketchy van. I got distracted wondering what that guy was going to do, and Leo wound up barking at one of the bikes.

Who cares. There was a time this would have ruined my whole day. Whatever.

Back to the question from my listener, though. She asked whether once a behavior is reinforced, you can stop rewarding it.

This is true with obedience training, especially if you show the dog the treat before you cue the behavior, because then it is a lure. You want to phase out the lure, lest it become a bribe. I learned this from Dr. Ian Dunbar, the father of reward-based training. (The quote at the top of this post, in fact, is from an article about the importance of phasing out treats!)

To quote my own blog paraphrasing him:

The biggest mistake reward-based and positive-reinforcement trainers make is to not phase out food soon enough. A lure takes a willing dog and tells him what we want him to do. A bribe coerces an unwilling dog to act against its will.

The difference is, I’m not using the string cheese as a bribe, lure, or reward. I’m using it to counter-condition him to things that scare him. That’s why I give him cheese even if he barks at the trigger, because I’m not as much rewarding him for not barking as I am conditioning* him that bicycles (or whatever) mean good things.

That’s why comforting a frightened dog (or human infant) doesn’t reinforce the fear. Fear is not a behavior.

In addition to their obvious applications in all aspects of teaching manners, food lures and food rewards may be more importantly used for behavior modification and temperament training. In fact, food lures and rewards are so effective, their use should be mandatory.

*So, shouldn’t Leo be conditioned by now? He’s getting there. When he sees something scary, he knows he’ll get cheese. And he has a much higher threshold for his triggers than he used to. Last weekend, we sat in the middle of baseball field while Rob practiced flying a drone, and Leo lay down very calmly. Bikes passed by on a nearby trail, at quite a distance, and he didn’t need to be cheesed.

Drone practice

Leo’s the one chilling on the left.

From the CARE for Reactive Dogs website:

You will need to continue to practice DS/CC (desensitization and counter-conditioning) and positive reinforcement of the alternative behaviors you have taught in new situations and locations in order to help your dog generalize the context. This will get easier and easier as your dog’s emotions change and his new behaviors are reinforced. As your dog becomes fluent in these new behaviors, you will be able to decrease the amount of food rewards you give him and use life rewards instead; these are things your dog finds intrinsically enjoyable, such as jogging a few steps with you, play, praise and sniffing interesting smells in the environment.

I still carry the cheese, because I can’t control the environment. It comes down to generalization. Leo could be completely desensitized to a 25-year-old woman traveling in our same direction on a bike at 37 feet away, but not to a 15-year-old boy traveling toward us at 26 feet away. Factor in speeds, and number of triggers he’s already seen that day… well, the cheese keeps him from barking most of the time.

Positive TrainingThis is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below.  Our theme for this month is my positive training journey but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. Our next hop will begin October 3rd and continues for a week.

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That one dog who ruins it for everyone

A peaceful alternative to the noisy dog park: lying in the grass by a ball field while Rob practices flying a drone.

A peaceful alternative to the noisy dog park: lying in a ball field while Rob practices flying a drone.

Dog parks are risky for reactive dogs – all dogs, really – but we’re lucky to have three off-leash areas that aren’t usually too crowded where we can manage our well-socialized dogs. We leave as soon as a small, uncontrollable child arrives, or at the first sign of an unstable dog.

We tend to rotate between these three areas. I was thinking about taking the pups to one of these tonight, instead of the same exact walk we went on yesterday and the day before.

Perhaps the one that’s close to a new Poke restaurant in town. Oh, but no, I don’t want to go there because that’s where the weird lady with the reactive long-haired shepherd goes. (If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, maybe don’t bring it to an off-leash area where there are other dogs. People are always asking if our dogs are friendly. No, they eat other dogs. We just brought them here for a little snack. How does yours taste?)

And we can’t go to the Good Dog Park, because that’s where that dog goes who lifts his upper lip when Leo chases him chasing his ball.

Worse is the Bad Dog Park, monopolized during all the afterwork daylight hours by this ponytailed dude and his spazzy dog. She’s an overly friendly dog who runs up and wiggles against everyone. She gets in Mia’s face. When Mia snarls and tells her to back off, she gets in her face again! She has this crazed energy that infects the whole park, and if I’m feeling particularly empathetic, I can imagine that this guy gets home from work and his dog’s been cooped up all day, so he spends his entire evening with her at the park or else she whines and chews stuff. Except, he doesn’t even play with her! He lets her run rampant while he 1) chit-chats with other owners, usually women, or 2) naps on the bench. And you just know he thinks it’s wonderful she’s so friendly!

So, each of our parks has one (1) dog that ruins it for us. Of course, we’re probably ruining it for someone else. But hey, all of this will be moot soon as we lose daylight and will be walking them around the neighborhood wearing headlamps.

Looking ridiculous doesn’t make us unconventional

The theme for this month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Unconventional Training.

Even though I look strange squealing “cheesy” at my dog when strangers walk, run, ride, or roll past us, I don’t think my String Cheese Method is unconventional at all. Reward-based training, to me, is the most basic, obvious method of training anyone to do anything.

And yet, we still see prong collars and shock collars and people who think screaming at a stressed dog will de-escalate the situation.

I just got back from another flawless walk with my two German shepherds. For more than a year, I’ve had Leo’s leash reactivity fairly under control. We manage, we train. Two weeks ago, I would have said, “Leo does really well on walks when I can see the triggers coming. Of course, he’ll still bark if a bike or a jogger comes out of nowhere.”

Until last week when a jogger zipped around a corner at us. And I was doing the worst thing ever. I was distracted by Pokémon Go. (Shout out to ZoePhee for finding a way to use Pokémon to aid in training, not distract from it!) Fortunately, Leo was also distracted … by peeing. I saw the jogger before Leo did and I said Cheesy and Leo didn’t bark! It was glorious.

On tonight’s walk, he saw a couple of bicycles, and not only did he not bark, he didn’t even seem stressed.

At the risk of repeating myself: Reward-based training works.

If only there were a training guide to help people with reactive dogs who have been getting the wrong memos.

Oh, wait! There is!

dogwalkers-cover

Trainer Annie Phenix’s best-selling book The Midnight Dog Walkers has answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. As soon as I heard the title and saw the cover, I knew this was the book I needed when I struggled with my first reactive dog Isis.

My book about her, Bark and Lunge, is the story of what happens when owners follow “conventional” (old-fashioned) training methods. Now that The Midnight Dog Walkers exists, my greatest wish is that positive, reward-based training becomes the obvious, conventional solution for reactive dogs and their people.


The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are welcome. Linky List open through Sunday.

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Dog Park Art

While I’ve been trying to convince the Internet that saying Police Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter is racist, and explaining that it’s not helpful to try to be inclusive by saying All Lives Matter, Rob has been creating Dog Park Art.

Kiddie-pool Leo

Kiddie-pool Leo (apparently Leo signed this one)

Katch

Katch

Sparkle Pups

Sparkle Pups

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Comfort a frightened dog

comfort

Have you ever heard the ridiculousness that you’re not supposed to comfort a scared dog, because it will reinforce the fear? So not true.

From 4PawsUniversityFear is an emotion. Emotions are involuntary responses. 
Reinforcement refers to an increase in behavior. Behaviors are voluntary responses.
Fear is something you feel. Behavior is something you do.

From Suzanne Clothier:


If fear CAN be reinforced, it’s not by having something nice happen to you while you’re feeling afraid. For example, I’m afraid of ladders. When a ladder got knocked onto my brand new car and dented it, I said, “Oh no, my fear has been reinforced.” But if you put your arm around me and said, “It’s okay. I’m not going to let the ladder hurt you or your car ever again,” that wouldn’t make me more afraid of the ladder. It would not reinforce my physiological feelings of fear.

Not to make this all about me, but I want to clarify this ladder phobia. I’m not afraid of falling off a ladder, I’m afraid of having my hands pinched in it. I’m also afraid of fireworks blowing off the hands or killing someone I know and love. I’m not scared of the sounds of the explosions, but I haaaate them. I also hate leaf blowers. Do not get me started on leaf blowers.

I’m noise-averse, not noise-phobic.

Many dogs are noise-phobic.

Somehow, despite Leo’s barrier frustration and Mia’s anxiety, I lucked out when it came to noise phobia. Fireworks bother me more than they bother the dogs. I wish people didn’t set them off themselves. Leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals, save your fingers, and allow people with fearful dogs to find a safe place away from those shows.

This year on the 4th, I was in an airplane from Portland to Bellingham between 10-11 pm. I could see blasts of light over one in every ten houses or so. It was incredible. I enjoyed it because I couldn’t hear them, but I felt bad for every dog between those two cities. These silent fireworks seem promising, but listen to the video – they still make noise when shot off.

Rob’s dad stayed with the dogs until we got home, “because of the fireworks,” but they couldn’t have cared less. I let them out in the backyard when I got home, and we could actually see fireworks over the roofs of our neighbors’ houses (which, btw is totally illegal), and the dogs were, like, “Whatever.” I told them how brave they were.

This post, rambling though it may be, is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. Read PuppyLeaks’ post for a more thoughtful discussion about Comforting a Fearful Dog. Then hop on over and read the others.

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The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are welcome. Powered by Linky Tools

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