A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Posts tagged ‘positive training’

How a Reactive Dog Improves with Classical Conditioning

Gretchen, my 14 week old puppy who reacts to humans by barking, had a great socialization session today.  In my previous posts (found in the dog training section of this blog), I shared my concerns for this dog and some of the things that I was doing to help her adjust.

We went to a new shopping center during daylight hours and there were people going in every direction, but not too many, and there were bikers and children.  Everytime Gretchen looked at someone, I clicked and treated her first, then moved her away.  After a while I simply clicked and treated her for looking at people, but didn’t move away.  Eventually she was giving people “soft” looks, or totally ignoring them, and started refusing treats (I think she was full).

What I did here was to  follow the experiment that Pavlov did with his dogs.  He would present a plate of food for the dogs at the same time that he rang a bell.  Everytime he did this the dogs would salivate in anticipation of the food.  He found that even when food wasn’t present and he rang the bell, the dogs still salivated.  They had come to associated the sound of the bell with something pleasant, in this case food.

I wanted to reproduce a similar effect with Gretchen.  I wanted her to associate people and other scary things with food, something she likes.  So everytime she looked at a human, I clicked and treated her.  I didn’t wait for her to look away, or to offer me a calming signal like sniffing the ground or licking her lips.  I had to click her quickly and stuff the food in her mouth so that she wouldn’t bark.

Why didn’t I just pop her choke collar and yell “no” when she barked at people, some of my readers may be wondering.  First of all, I do not train with choke or pinch collars.  I do not use them on my shepherds, my rottweiler (who weighs close to 100lbs), or my pomeranians.  Furthermore if I were to yank her collar or do anything that would cause her pain in the name of training, she would very soon associate strangers, or other scary things with pain.  That in turn, would exacerbate the problem and lead to outright aggression, aggression of the sort where she would become a liability to me.

With the classical conditioning approach, within ten minutes of being at the plaza, I could walk her with people walking very close to us, and Gretchen wouldn’t bark.  At one point I took her to a low wall to watch the traffic that was passing on the nearby mainroad.  Her mother was afraid of traffic noises when she was a puppy, but got over it eventually.  I didn’t want Gretchen to develop this fear of cars or be bothered by horns.

So, we stood by the wall, and I continued clicking and treating her and she visably relaxed.  While I was putting a treat in her mouth, a child came up to the other side of the wall from the main road to say hi to the us.  To my surprise Gretchen looked at the little girl and wagged her tail and didn’t bark!  Now this child was close enough to reach out and pet the Gretchen (which I’m glad she didn’t).

Next we watched a big tanker back up out of the nearby gas station.  It had just delived gas, and was backing up to get out of the plaza.  Gretchen and I watched the proceedings, and she was not bothered by the size of this massive beast, or the noise that it was making.  We went up very close to it, but remained safely behind a wire fence.  Again, she didn’t bark or try to run away.

Words do not adequately express the relieve and joy of this breakthrough. 

These puppies are at a disadvantage where going into strange environments is concerned.  I just could not take them out before they had all of their vaccines.  There are no leash laws in Jamaica, and we have a lot of unvaccinated strays.  Parvo is a very common disease here, too.  I was not prepared to expose my puppies to this very high risk.

While I was at the plaza with Gretchen I saw an extremely dirty (and perhaps mangy) dog running loose.  It didn’t come up to us; in fact, after I parked my car and got Gretchen out, I didn’t see the dog again.  I can only imagine what sort of diseases the animal was tracking around.

We have a lot of catching up to do, and maybe in delaying this important aspect of the puppies’ training I have made life harder for myself.  So be it.  In the meantime, training and socializing continues.

What to do if your doesn’t like treats

Okay, so I discovered that Tuvok, the puppy whom I thought would be my next CDX, is so not into treats.  His sister, Gretchen, whom I decided to keep back from my litter, at least for now, shows a lot more potential and will take treats.  I have tried bits of kidney, cheese, and yesterday went out and bought very expensive semi-moist treats from the store. 

Tuvok was mildly interested in the treats.  I broke them up really small and got him to eat a few pieces, then I discovered something really important:  he is more interested in sniffing and exploring than taking treats or even looking at me.

The puppy spends most of his time in his kennel outdoors with his two siblings or in the indoor pen.  They have toys, etc, but the big yonder beyond these places intrigue him to no end.  Also, he loves a game of tug.

He’s still a tiny babe with a real need to take in life outside of the kennel with all the sights, sounds, and wonderful aroma of poop.  I must not deprive him of that opportunity now because I’ll be fighting him for his attention for the rest of his life, and that’s the last thing I want to do with a working dog.

So I have decided to ditch the clicker and treats for now (very hard for me because the clicker has almost become an appendage to my body!), and just let the puppy have free, unstructured time with me.  He is tied to me when I’m in the house and can watch him because I’m housebreaking him and he’s doing well with that, and I give a lot of verbal praise and pats.

Once he gets “bored” with just sitting around, he may want to accept treats and work for them

Puppy Chronicles–Day 54

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The The Muskateers are hiding under my bed while their mother lies on the floor playing with them.  They have really loud, penetrating voices now, and LOVE to vocalise.  Last night Turbo Puppy decided to bark for a few minutes–maybe two or three–before she got tired and went to sleep. 

I love the puppies’ energy level, but I’m always so happy when they go to sleep.  Then there’s peace in the house and nobody has to run from the ankle-nippers.

The two white puppies did very well in training today.  I guess they were hungry because the treats that they turned up their noses at day before yesterday, they gobbled down today.  I need to shape more behaviors, though and teach puppy zen.  I am keeping a list of training ideas in my office each day so that I won’t run out of things to train.  It will also ensure that I train a variety of behaviors to keep the puppies thinking.

Turbo Puppy was the only one who didn’t do any training.  After chasing her brother and sister around the house, grabbing toys and running around with them, chewing up my shoes, and, oh yes, barking her head off, she was just too tired to work.  So, she curled up under my chair and watched me.  I should have clicked and treated for that:  at least she was quiet.

I’m off to work now, and will not see the babies until quite late tonight.  I trust they will go to sleep after their breakfast and will do some growing while I’m gone.

Till later…

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