- I started by doing the relaxation protocol far enough from the chickens so that Vanya could still stay relaxed.
- Then I moved on to LAT (Look at That) with the chickens staying still (eating), starting far enough away so that Vanya could still stay relaxed around them; slowly decreasing the distance.
- Then LAT with the chickens running around, starting far enough so that Vanya could stay relaxed near them. I did all this as well with the cows on the other side of the fence.
- For our chickens, I then took Vanya inside the yard with them. I walked back and forth perpendicular to the chickens, me armed with a clicker and cheese whiz (his favorite treat), the chickens staying reasonably still eating their food. Vanya was on a line attached to my waist. I made sure to stay far enough from the chickens so that Vanya could glance at the chickens then back at me for his cheese. We weren't getting closer to the chickens in this exercise.
- Then I walked closer to the chickens, with lots of clicks and cheese for Vanya staying calm and loose leash. If he ignored the chickens, good things happened. If he focused on them (alert, excited) we went backwards--a sort of penalty yards game.
- First I found Vanya’s working level with no distractions
- Then I trained a new recall cue (here), using the methods in Mike’s video above.
- Then I introduced very low levels of distractions for the recall, with Vanya on a long line and great treats as rewards for responding to the stim by coming toward me.
- Then I did this well outside the chicken yard with the chickens calmly eating. Then we moved slightly closer to the chickens, and then a little closer.
- Then I had the chickens running around, us well away.
- Then we moved closer to running chickens
- Then we moved inside the chicken yard
- Then we moved to bike riding through the running chickens
- Always stay under threshold, where the dog can see the critter but not go above threshold
- Start, for example, with a cow 100 yards away, standing still. Have your dog on a leash. Imagine you’re on a football field. The cow is standing at one 0 yard line. You’re standing on the other 0 yard line. You walk back and forth with your dog (leashed) at your zero yard line. If your dog calmly observes the cow, lovely. After a couple of calm strolls back and forth on your 0 yard line, you walk diagonally to your 10 yard line (so you are 10 yards closer to that cow). (Lou has the cow walking back and forth on her 10 yard line, but I didn’t introduce that until much later.)
- The moment your dog gets close enough to begin to react slightly to that cow (ie, for Vanya, his tail goes up a little, and he begins to stare, which always precedes his chase), you begin tapping on the e-collar at the dog’s very low working level while walking backwards directly away from the critter. As soon as the dog stops staring at the critter and looks back toward you, you stop tapping and stop walking backward. You use that distance as the new line, and you begin your strolling on that line (so, say, you got to your 30 yard line before the dog stared at the critter. You begin to tap and also walk backwards, and you got 5 yards before the dog relaxed and looked away from the cow. You’re now at the 25 yard line, and you walk back and forth on that a few times before going up to the 35 yard line.)
- Continue until the dog figures out that getting too interested in the cow means he goes backwards away from the cow (and gets an annoying tap on his collar), while staying calm means he gets to go closer. Continue until you and the dog are calmly standing next to the calm cow.
More importantly, I firmly believe (and abundant research supports this idea) that stress is a good thing for animals (including people) when the animals learn a behavior that can end the stressor. Learned helplessness and other fallouts from stressors result not from the momentary aversive, but from the inability to make that aversive stop. When a dog, or a person, learns that a given behavior will end the stressor--and the world doesn't end!--resilience increases. (An interesting study along these lines is Seery et al's recent paper showing that happiness is highest in those people who have faced intermediate levels of adversity. Too little adversity in your youth, and the first little bump in your road throws you into depression. Too much adversity in your youth, and you learn to give up, not to be resilient. See Seery, M. D., Holman, E. A., & Silver, R. C. (2010). Whatever does not kill us: Cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 1025-1041.)
Q8: Can things go wrong with the ecollar?
A8: Yes. Since it's a powerful tool, the temptation is always to increase distractions too quickly and go over threshold. Bad, bad idea. I don't let other people use the ecollar on Vanya, because I'm afraid they'll zap him. High levels of shock can have bad fallout, just as high levels of any aversive can. But that doesn't mean low levels have fallout. The main danger is being impatient and setting your dog up to fail.
Q9: Do you consider using the e-collar to be an admission of failure?
A9: Nope, not at all. But the couple times that I have put Vanya in a position where he went over threshold (ie, a running deer) and I needed to zap him: yes, those were failures. Just as putting your dog in a position where he ever goes over threshold is undesirable. But life happens. Most dogs are resilient, and we can teach dogs to be more resilient by exposing them to small stresses and showing them that they can respond successfully. (When I say "over threshold", I don't mean a little stress, a little shrieking and yodeling and carrying on. Vanya can learn perfectly well when he's tossing a hissy fit. I mean that state when a dog is so over-aroused and overwhelmed that learning can't take place. Imagine your limbic leap when a rattlesnake rattles next to your foot. Your conscious brain isn't processing; you are simply reacting.)
Q10: Hasn't Vanya been made miserable by this horrible tool?
A10: No. He loves it, because to him, it means he gets to run. And running off leash is his joy. So I don't feel any guilt whatsoever for choosing to use it. I think it works on very similar principles to other training protocols common in the positive training community--work under threshold and develop the foundations that create a conditioned response to a stimulus. So then, when high level distractions show up, your dog has a conditioned response. You don't need a t-bone steak to distract your dog if you've done your clicker foundation training correctly, and you don't need a painful shock to train your dog if you've done your e-collar foundation training correctly.