Friday, December 17, 2010


Wonderful snow for ski-joring today. Vanya was a little reluctant at first--and nervous about being at the Ice Age Trail area, where he has encountered new dogs in the past. But he soon settled into running, and we had a lovely time. He got to meet a strange man, who seemed a tiny bit off to me (open pants zipper, blood on his jacket, a bit of a leer--hey, maybe the guy was just enthusiastic about skiing), so I wasn't upset when Vanya jumped up and landed a solid one to the crotch.

Then off we went, and Vanya fairly flew back to the car (I think he thought there was a dog there).

What fun! How I love to ski-jor. It's really exciting when I hook both Tiva and Vanya up! The video above is from last winter, when Vanya was just learning how to pull.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BAT for dogs who just want to get closer...

Vanya, like many reactive dogs, often wants to get closer to the other dog. The problem is: when he greets, he often tips over into reactivity. He hasn't had much chance to greet new dogs since we adopted him 3 years ago, in part because we live in a remote place, in part because my fears of his reactivity, and in part because I haven't found good play partners. He plays far too roughly, except with his familiar dogs.

I didn't try BAT for a long time because it seemed as if it couldn't possibly work, since proximity rather than distance is Vanya's functional reward, and nearly all our practice dog partners are also reactive, so we need to keep distance.

But then I realized that I have 2 slightly different goals: 1) find an appropriate play partner for Vanya; and 2) help him learn to be calmer near dogs when he can't go up and interact with them. BAT, mixed with other techniques, is useful for helping him with 2), because it teaches him a learned response to the sight of other dogs: look at them, then relax and look away and wonderful things will happen.

Our functional reward for a calm behavior can be a variety of things. Often it's a playful run sideways for a sniff in the grass, a tossed treat, or a peanut-butter smear on a bone. (We zigzag, in other words, diagonally closer to the other dog, but we always have to stay outside that other dog's threshold distance as well). We also use a variety of other techniques:

From Sophia Yin and Sarah Kalnajs: we work on focus and obedience while in the presence of other dogs, starting first at a great distance, where Vanya can still offer his targeting, sits, jumps, heels, weaves, and other nifty tricks.

From Control Unleashed: we do a zillion LAT around other dogs--I say "Look at that" and point toward the trigger. He glances, I click the glance, he whips his head back to me for his cheese. We get a little closer.

Mat work: we practice the relaxation protocol around other dogs, far away. And we do LAT on the mat as well, and simple obedience exercises.

Parallel leashed walks: we've been working on parallel leashed walks with Cynthia and her two dogs. Some weeks it goes quite well, and we can walk with only the width of the street between us. Today Vanya needed more distance from Gustaf.

Pass-bys: with Jake, the large calm intact very mellow yellow lab who lives in an outdoor kennel by the bike trail. We walk back and forth, passing Jake, who stands and wags his tail and play bows a lot. Vanya sometimes whines a bit at Jake, but not much more. We'll approach Jake and say hi as long as Vanya is calm. Sometimes they sniff noses through the kennel fence, then Vanya turns to me for his cheese. Mostly, these days, Vanya just wants to walk by Jake.

Cynthia and I skipped last week, but I did practice pass-bys with Jake twice. This week, it was very cold and windy, and Vanya whined much of the time. His functional reward was hopping back in the warm car. An unleashed terrier appeared outside a house a few doors away, and Vanya didn't shriek or lunge, but he didn't want to follow me when I retreated. At times, he play bowed and bounced to get closer to Gustaf, which is a lovely sign, even though he's not allowed closer. As always, he was delighted when Cynthia put her dog away and came up to pet him.

Now that winter has begun, we need a warmer place to practice!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More BAT

Vanya did well with his weekly BAT practice with Cynthia and Dottie. He was a bit overexcited when we arrived (because I nearly smashed headlong into a truck, trying to get there on time.) So he vocalized a bit more than I might like, but that's fine.

If I tried to keep him completely calm and below threshold, I'd never take him off the farm. He's a vocal dog: our swiss-mountain yodeling pit bull. He whines and shrieks and yips with joy when he sees his friends, and now when he sees Dottie, he play bows and whines and wags his tail very hard. Too bad that she's not the right dog for him to meet--he needs to meet a bombproof dog who can ignore his goofiness. But, by now, thanks to BAT and peanut butter and repetition, I think he's fallen in love with Dottie. I feel awfully cruel keeping him at a distance from her. But it's good for him to learn that he can't run up and say hi to every dog (or any dog, alas).

I wish I knew someone up here with a calm, playful, lab who likes to wrestle and roughhouse.

At least Tiva will play with him a little each day. They're actually playing very nicely (if briefly) together most days. He bows and bounces and whirls around, and she bows and wrestles in her ancient, slightly stiff, 15 year old ladylike way. He's usually very careful not to push her too hard or to whack her when he whirls his hips around.

I laughed when I read the description of the old bull terrier in INCREDIBLE JOURNEY. Sounds just like Tiva.

Last night, my uncle (who is terrified of most dogs) mentioned that Vanya had calmed down remarkably since last time he'd seen him.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BAT with Dottie and Cynthia

We had our weekly practice with Cynthia, and this time she brought Dottie. Vanya did very well. He did lose it once and start shrieking and pulling when Dottie barked and he was too far from the car. But once we got back to the car, his safe space, he calmed down, had a little time in his crate, and then was ready to play the game again. A few times he whined and bounced, very eager to go say HI to Dottie. Even when he lost it, he didn't seem aggressive at all toward her--just very frustrated that he couldn't go run over and check her out.

He does seem to be getting the game: look at the other dog, look at me, then run off for a click and treat. Then do it over again, a bunch of times.

We also did mat work together--Cynthia and Dottie on their mat, and Vanya and me on our mat, about 30 paces away on the other side of the street. Vanya was able to do his relaxation protocol exercises, with me going back and forth in the usual fashion.

He was also able to stay calm while Dottie was playing tug and romping a bit, from about 40 ft away. As soon as she or Cynthia vocalized, he got more excited, however. And we did a bit of leash-walking together, with Cynthia and Dottie ahead of us, on the other side of the road, and Vanya was fine with that. At moments, I thought--this must be what it's like having a regular old dog and taking him for a walk. (Well, that lasted only for moments).

His reverse-directions are improving a lot, and he was able to leave the situation several times when getting too whiny, without freaking out and lunging.

Progress! Plus probably too much peanut butter--I need to watch the quantities so he doesn't get pancreatis.

On a less positive note, he has figured out how to dig under our very long fence. Right now, he's just getting into the woodlot or DNR land, but I need to dog-proof the fence better, so he doesn't get out when a dog and hunter are in the wildlife lands. While I was at work, he found a possum in the woodpile where the guys were chopping wood, and I gather he got extremely excited (and successful at the hunting-down possums part). By the time I got home, he was exhausted, as exhausted as I've ever seen him, seemingly from excitement, not from actual exercise.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Inspiring post by Sarah Owings

On the functional rewards yahoo group (where people discuss BAT), Sarah Owings wrote this post:

"Today was my last session with Fitz, the bull terrier, (which I'm really sad
about because I love this dog:( ). After two months of solid foundational work,
for today's session I decided to try for some vast-distance parallel walking a
la Turid Rugaas with a little P- thrown in for any barking and lunging. Irith
was kind enough to come help with her dog Franklin.

Fitzy has no fear or any real aggression issues it turns out. He is just Mr.
PUMPED, is an adrenaline addict, and clearly wants to get to the other dog!!! At
one point when Franklin was politely sniffing and ignoring him, Fitz started
barking and it was like "HEY! HEY! HEY! Look at me! Look at me!" Fitz's greeting
and play style are just too over the top for on leash ... and besides I don't
encourage on leash greetings very often anyway--and definitely no play. The
metaphor I came up with today about "proper leash etiquette" was this:

On leash it's like going to a fancy dinner party. You don't get to throw food
and have pillow fights.

Off leash--if the dogs are compatible, listening to each other's cut of signals
and equally willing--then you can have more of a party time... And at some point
we may try and hook Fitzy up with a more compatible play partner. (He needs a
fellow line backer-body slamming-tackling type and Franklin is more of a chase
me--intellectual-chess-player type).

Fitz's owners have been working a lot with the on-off switch game, auto orient,
relax on a mat and doggie zen. In other words LOTS and LOTS of foundation stuff
before attempting even going near a dog.

He wasn't perfect today, but all that hard work has clearly paid off. Even when
he barked, it was short lived and he "turned off" quickly, and 90% of the time
defaulted to an auto-check in.

We started the session with a full street width plus about 50' distance. Calm
behavior meant Fitz got to move towards the other dog. Lunging meant a U-turn,
walk away from the dog and mom gets boring for a minute until Fitz calms himself
down. (Which he did within 5 seconds every time).

Very quickly, the lunging and barking reduced dramatically. And then as we
walked the two dogs up and down on opposite sides of the street, Fitz started
making very conscious good choices. Looking away, checking with mom, sniffing,

Things were going so well, we tried a new idea. With Fitz calmly sitting, we had
Franklin approach on an arc and with low intensity. Fitz could do this! Any good
signaling on Fitz's part like head turns brought Franklin a little closer. Any
tension or intensity and Franklin left.

Fitz threw many lovely signals at this point: head turns, sitting, even laying
down!! Irith brought Franklin to about 20' with this approach and the two dogs
even sent each other what looked like some "I'm interested but not too
interested" signals.

Then we reversed it and let Fitz follow after Franklin. Any intensity on his
part and it was an immediate U-turn and boring mommy again. Calm, he got to move

Long story short, the dogs were soon able to have a polite sniff--disengage and
were even then able to sit side by side for a minute and ignore each other while
both dogs got treats.

During a couple of the initial advance--retreats Fitz tried a couple times to
initiate play by jumping up on Franklin and once got a tiny bit
mouthy/snarky--which may have been play as well--but he got a U-turn for that...
Because we want to teach him that on-leash does not mean play time. But we also
saw some nice sniffing-arcing and soft body postures between the two dogs as

In the end both dogs were laying down about 10' from each other calmly and then
parallel walked about 10-15" from each other back to the car.

My clients were super happy to know that their dog is not aggressive and that it
is possible for him to be civilized around other dogs. When they first hired me
a couple months ago, his explosive outbursts at almost any distance just made
them too scared to try him with another dog until now.

I was delighted because I was not expecting this much success in one day. Whoo

Sorry this is long. I just wanted to share. It wasn't BAT but a good combination
of foundation work, self control, and Premack. I find Fitzy a really interesting
case because I had to bend the formula for reactivity quite a bit. And he taught
me a lot. But it worked!



Sarah Owings
KPA Certified Training Partner
(818) 415-0436

Bridges Dog Training, Los Angeles

For the foundation behaviors, see:

Leslie McDevitt's On-off Switch Game

And Doggie Zen a la Canis Clicker Training


Weekly BAT practice

 Cynthia and I have been meeting with our dogs for weekly BAT practice each Tuesday. I think it's incredibly helpful--much to my surprise, because distance doesn't seem to be his functional reward. Getting closer and greeting is what he wants, but not what he can have with Cynthia's dogs (who are also reactive). Yet  BAT seems to be reducing his meltdowns and his threshold distance to other dogs. Now, after several practice sessions, if I do miscalculate and let him go over threshold a little bit, he's much more likely to tip over into his "oh boy, I see someone, please please please let's go say hi" stress whining (which is the same reaction he gives to new people, if I take too long to set him up to go say hi), rather than his "I'm freaking out, so let's scream and lunge." He had one momentary meltdown on Tuesday when an unleashed dog ran by, but that was really because of me, not him (I don't think he even saw the dog; I think he was reacting to my haste to get back to the crate, and to our training partner as well).

So that's progress.

Perhaps it's the motion that rewards him, perhaps it's the bones that I toss on his bed for him when we retreat after a successful advance, perhaps it's just the weekly practice. And perhaps distance really is rewarding. Whatever it is,
I'm happy with his progress (and pleased with my ability to stay calmer and read his signals better, so I can keep him under threshold more consistently).

Hunters are walking by our fences on the farm, something with their dogs. Frank mentioned that Vanya was running along the fence barking at them. Not good!  So yesterday I asked Remy, one of our farm volunteers, to pretend to be a hunter with a dog, so I could offer Vanya lavish rewards for staying calm. Remy put on some blaze orange, carried a pretend-gun over his shoulder, and walked Miss PLushy on a leash up and down the fence line. Vanya was thoroughly fooled and got very excited--lots of peeing and marking and woo-wooing. I didn't do BAT; instead I played LAT with cheese as the reward. He got the idea quickly, although a couple times he did run up to the fence (but his recall worked and he came bounding back for his cheese).

Good dog! He's got the zoomies today, because I've been mostly sick in bed with the flu, and that's very boring for a dog. For a little while, he curled up in bed with me, snoring with his muzzle on my face and his paws flung over my shoulder. Then he decided a roaring attack on the slippers would be entertaining. He has a little fungus/staph infection under his arms, poor thing, so 2 baths in two days with the malaseb. It looks better already. 

I loathe being sick. Especially when I have 6 talks to write for the Van Evera lectures at Northland College, taxes to do, classes to prepare for next week, blah blah blah. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Happy dog

Vanya is a wonderful dog. I usually post about his rough days, so people get the impression that he's always a handful. But 99.9% of the time, he's the world's most perfect dog. On the farm, he bounds around, greeting people with endless joy, and working hard at his various jobs:
1. sniffing the apple orchard for voles
2. patrolling the prairie restoration for bunnies
3. sleeping under the oak tree
4. checking every person on the farm to see if they've had their daily allotment of kisses
5. greeting all strangers at the gate with wags and kisses, and then escorting them down the gravel drive.

When I come home from an endless day of boring faculty meetings and he hears me at the gate, my heart leaps when he wiggles into the car to kiss me and thunk me with his wagging tail. Then he hops out of the car and races  me down the driveway, running along the fence line as fast as lightening. When Frank lets him into my office and he comes zooming around the corner, he sees me and his face lights up--he wags his tail so hard, he sometimes falls over. How can a girl help but be moved? If a guy loved me with such devotion, I'd be creeped out. But with Vanya, he makes me happy.

So: for those of you readers who think I'm some sort of a saint for putting up with this dog: he's worth every moment! He brings joy to our lives. He may scream at the sight of new dogs, but here are all the things that he's good at:
1. he's great at leaping
2. and bounding
3. he never shows any separation anxiety.
4. every person on earth seems to be his friend
5. if you need him to go away so you can get some work done, he's not offended. He just goes off and snoozes.
6. he's brilliant at being engaged with the world

Perhaps it's the most challenging dogs who are best at worming  their way into our hearts. Or maybe it's just Vanya. He's a nut, but he's the best nut around

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BAT practice

Vanya was practicing BAT today with Cynthia and her dog Dottie (their blog is . Vanya was remarkably calm, not even whining (!), and able to get fairly close, glance at Dottie and back at me, then run merrily back to his bed for his peanut-butter smeared bone. 

He didn't even get too excited when Dottie started playing tug with her owner Cynthia. When he noticed them playing, he did get excited, whining and wagging his tail and bouncing around in his version of play bows--so we doubled the distance and he calmed back down. 

All was going remarkably well until behind us suddenly appeared a lady with 3 HUGE dogs, who began leaping and lunging and roaring on their leashes at Vanya. Oy! So much for staying under threshold. At first he started yelping, rather than lunging or barking, and I bundled him into the car where he threw a bit of a fit, trying to scramble over his crate for a better view. Luckily the woman got her dogs into her car, although it seemed to take her ages and ages.

He calmed down fairly well, but not completely of course, and we ended the session after a few more games that I hoped would help him settle down some more (sniffing the grass, greeting our plushy fake dog, trotting along the trails). 

Unfortunately, he strained his front foot when he was trying to climb over his crate for a better view. Now he's limping, so he'll have a few days on leashed walks only--no chasing gophers in the grass, poor pup.

I think having weekly practice sessions with Cynthia and her dogs will help him a lot--especially if we find a place where I don't have to worry about so many dog walkers. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Vanya update

Even though Vanya hasn't had any updates recently, he's doing just fine. I was off in NW Ontario for a month doing my field research, and Ontario has a pit bull ban, so Vanya didn't get to come along. Instead, he spent August hanging out on the Little Sugar River Farm with Frank and a bunch of WWOOFers (Worldwide Willing Organic Volunteers--people who come and work on the farm half time for a few weeks,  in exchange for room and board). Vanya adored having all the attention. Plus the guests at the guesthouse give him tons of love. So he was a happy boy--no commands, no expectations, just a lot of college kids to jump on and kiss, and a lot of gophers to hunt in the gardens. Now, of course, he acts like he never heard of impulse control games, or anything else for that matter.  He got into certain bad habits I thought he had long ago lost: the zoomies, mainly, where he runs around in circles, trying to get a person to play in the same over-excited way he tries to get other dogs to play.

He's so happy, I can't  help but wonder: why exactly do I keep trying to do all this dog-socialization with him? We live so far from other dogs, when we're down on the farm, that it's always quite the drive to go find decoy dogs. In his normal life, he could go for a decade and never lay eyes on another dogs (this is how Tiva deals with her dog-reactivity. She just ignores it. We all ignore it. Back before she came to the farm, she lived a life of lunging and barking at dogs when she was being walked, leashed, on the city streets, and her former owners used a  prongs to get her to be quiet. It worked, but she looked miserable. She perked right up when she came to the farm and stopped seeing other dogs on the street. Problem solved, more or less.)

Two main reasons to calm Vanya down:
1. So we can go camping and hiking in public together, without me worrying about him.
2. Potentially, so we can get another dog when Tiva dies. Or alternatively, so we can find dog playmates for Vanya, so he doesn't get completely starved of new dog interactions.

But some dogs are happier having human companionship, right? Vanya may be one of those: a dog who wants to be the only dog in a household. Or we may just decide we don't want to worry about the continual household management that goes with Vanya + another dog.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Such a good dog...

Vanya has been a real champ lately. Last night, our kayaking group came over for a bonfire after a sunset paddle around the point, and Vanya reacted to them with his usual unbridled enthusiasm (minus the jumping up, mostly). When he realized that two guys were already down at the fire pit, he ran off down to greet them and he did launch himself into the first guy's lap for a cuddle. "Strangers? Who's a stranger?" Vanya asks.  "I'm licking his chin, so how can he be a stranger?"

A few times throughout the evening, he hopped up onto the table for a treat (no, Vanya, you're not a lapdog. You're not even a table-top dog.) But mostly he lay on his bed chewing on his kong, with occasional jaunts around the fire to greet everyone all over again.

Otherwise, he's been entertaining himself by barking at the waves down at the water, chasing chipmunks, snoozing in the sun, scrambling over rock falls, and tracking down his treats. I had to go down to the Twin Cities for my friend's funeral, and he handled the 12 hours alone in the cabin calmly.

Good dog, Vanya! We haven't seen any other dogs for a while, which contributes to his calmness, of course. He misses the farm, the gophers, and playing with Tiva--but Tiva's getting a bit to old to play in the summer heat anyway.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Very sad

Vanya is fine! But a good friend of mine died suddenly of cancer--well, of the surgery and its fallout. Three weeks ago he was fine. Over Memorial weekend, a minor problem peeing led to the discovery of renal carcinoma. And now he's dead, after surgeons at Mayo tried to save his life.

It blows me away that half of us get cancer--a rate that is nearly double the rate 40 years ago, when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. And yet we're not protesting in the streets. Superfund sites abound, and my friend lived near one, and handled industrial solvents that are linked to kidney cancer. How have we come to accept this as normal?

Vanya is subdued, probably because I'm so sad. He's a sensitive dog. He's had a busy week, down on the farm chasing bunnies, hunting in the prairie, bounding into pickup trucks (filled with dogs, but he ignored them for the chance to lick strangers). This evening, after a 6.5 hour drive, he had his weekly calming session with Lana and her reactive pittie Amber. Amber seems so very calm compared to Vanya. Eventually, we had both dogs in their crates, 10 feet or so from each other, and they both calmed down pretty well. Vanya ate vast quantities of cheese in the calming down process. I think this all is helping. Who knows.

The sun is setting, in spectacular fashion, over Lake Superior, and my friend will never see it again. I feel so very sorry for his wife and children and grandchildren. All of us on Roman's Point will mourn his death.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Over threshold, but trying hard....

Last night was Vanya's first practice with Lana's  young pittie, Amber. Vanya was very, very excited (but calmer than he might have been....). He really, really wanted to go meet Amber, and when he wasn't allowed to, he shrieked. A couple times, he even did his "trout-on-a-fishing-line" imitation, thrashing around at the end of his leash. I put on his gentle leader in hopes of getting a bit more control, but then I felt like I was jerking him around a bit too much. We tried various things--distance, using the car as a visual barrier--to help him calm down, and he did stop shrieking and pulling, but he kept up a low whine for most of the time. Ah well. He was able to do parallel leash walks with Amber (who remained a good ways away--perhaps 40 feet?), and he did calm down enough to do his obedience exercises about 40 feet away from her. We spent about an hour and a half working with the two dogs--first Amber with the plush dog, while Vanya waited in his crate, and then the two of them at opposite sites of a field, and then eventually a bit closer together. Not perfect (ahem), but progress. 

I did try some of Nancy Williams "response prevention", approaching the trigger until Vanya went a little over threshold, then walking backwards with him until he calmed down, treating him, then approaching again. Well, that's the theory, anyway. Here is how the approach was described to me:

"Patient dog approaches trigger. At the point of reaction, the dog is turned away from the trigger towards the handler (hence the equipment) with the handler backing up until the dog stops reacting. Then the dog is fed. For the dogs whose focus is on visiting, the dog is simply allowed to reapproach, although a combination of treats and reapproach can work too."

This didn't quite work as planned, in part because Vanya doesn't just go a little over threshold, and then he doesn't calm completely down. I wasn't sure if his eventual calming was just a bit of flooding, or simple exhaustion, or real calming. Onwards and upwards. 

BAT with distance as the reward seems backwards for Vanya because he so badly wants proximity to the other dog. For now, we'll work on a curving parallel walk, getting closer to the other dog as the reward for a bit of calming, moving away from the dog (and possibly moving behind a visual barrier) as the response to shrieking.  

This sounds similar to the classic cat-desensitization exercise recommended on PBRC 

"What you need:

    • One cat-aggressive pit bull
    • One very mellow cat
    • Lots of treats
    • A Gentle Leader head collar
    • A good strong, leather leash
    • A lot of patience!
I always do this in my living room with no other distractions. I'll put my kitty in a far corner. (My kitty will hold a down stay, but you can give your kitty a bowl of wet food to keep them in place if you want. This will also counter-condition the cat to aggressive dogs!) I'll then bring the dog down the hallway towards the kitty. You must stay calm! When they start to freak out, I'll just walk backwards down the hall without saying a word and without any leash corrections. I'm always facing the cat. I don't turn around at all.

When you walk backwards with a dog on a head collar, their face turns toward you. There's your opportunity to reward them. I don't give commands and I don't ever reprimand. This is desensitizing, not obedience! If you do this every day, a couple times a day, you'll be amazed at the results! (Just be careful the cat doesn't get too fat from eating all that wet food!)

When you get to the point where the dog is getting used to the pattern (if I aggress, we go the other way), what you will be looking for is unsolicited looks. You want the dog to turn and look at you before the leash gets tight. That's when you know you're making progress! The whole point to this is so the dog gets the pattern. When they see a cat, you want them to look at you to get the treat, not look at the cat.

Get closer only when the dog isn't reacting as intensely. Also, don't do this for more than a few minutes at a time at first. This is intense stuff for dogs! This also does not cover outside cats! If they see a running kitty outside, they're gonna go after it! Staying calm and having patience is key.

And finally, is this a surefire way to get your dog to love cats? No way. But, can you get your dog to the point of being in the same room with that particular cat and not freak out? Yes, if you're diligent about it."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Good boy, Vanya!

Today, on our early morning walk (when I expect NOT to see unleashed dogs), we had 3 unleashed dogs and a cat come running up to us (in 2 separate incidents). And Vanya handled himself very well indeed--only one brief shrieking episode, and several reasonably polite, very short meet-and-greets (muzzled).
Good boy, Vanya!

Most of the shrieking being done on the walk was by me, imitating a fish-wife when I tried to get my neighbor David to come outside and collect his two ENORMOUS malamute mixes who were circling me and Vanya, barking at us at the top of their lungs. Vanya was remarkably collected, I must say (pulling on the leash, but not barking or shrieking back at them). Once the neighbor came and got his huge dogs, I slipped the muzzle on Vanya and we did a very brief, 2 second, meet-and-greet with each Malamute, which went well until David let the big dogs go and they started circling and barking once more. Well, life isn't perfect.

David then collected his dogs once again and as they went back to their house, Vanya was able to follow them politely (at perhaps 40 ft distance), loose leash, offering me glances when requested. If a dog isn't looking at him, he's now often able to be quite calm about it.

A hundred yards later, another neighbor let his little poodle Buddy out to play with Vanya. Buddy actually LIKES Vanya, at least when Vanya is leashed and muzzled. We practiced many two second meet-and-greets, and Buddy did his best to get Vanya to interact--play-bowing and dancing around. Vanya made an effort to act like a regular old dog (hard to do when that annoying Treat Lady keeps saying ENOUGH! and turning away with you every two seconds. Jeez, lady.) Then the curious cat then came bounding right up to us (well, 2 ft away), to see what was happening. Vanya just whined and at that point, I decided enough was enough and we headed home. He didn't shriek or scream when we left, although he sure wasn't ready to leave and go back to the boring life at home.

I should add that on weekends, I rarely walk Vanya around here because there are too many people and dogs (I'll drive instead to a quiet forest service dirt road nearby). I miscalculated and figured that, early on a cloudy, windy, drizzly Saturday, we could walk a half mile on the dirt road without encountering too much excitement. Wrong! But he handled it all like a champ.

Perhaps what's helping are: prozac, l-theanine, window film, and lots of clicker practice sessions working on two things: clicker-training his turning politely away from distractions

and rewarding calmer responses on a mat near stuffed dogs:

(this clip followed his shrieking by about 20 seconds: )

And here he is, being forlorn when I "play" with the stuffed dog--but then he can calm down again.

A few minutes later, he was quite calm with the stuffed dog 15 ft away. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Recalls when trained with and without R-

Over on the yahoo list clickersolutions, a lively discussion about poisoned cues is underway. The only research supporting the hypothesis that R- will indeed poison a cue is a single-subject experiment that hasn't yet been published.

So I will do a little anecdotal study (we can hardly call this an experiment) to explore how Vanya responds to a new recall cue trained entirely without R-, versus a new recall cue trained with 20% trials backed up with R-

The R- will be pressure from a long line when he doesn't immediately respond. (For those who get confusing about operant conditioning terminology, when you remove something (negative: pressure on the line) to reinforce, or increase the frequency, of a desired behavior (running toward me), that's negative reinforcement.

Here's what we'll do: train two new cues (let's call them A and B). One I'll train with R-; one without. Start from the very beginning with each cue. Train each with increasing levels of distractions. I'll set up the training protocol on Vanya's blog, in case anyone is curious.

Then have a neutral handler (known as The Friend) come in for the experiments themselves. My friend won't know whether A or B was trained with R-. She will give the cues, under increasing levels of distractions, and she will record how promptly, how enthusiastically, and how reliably under distractions, Vanya responded to A versus B.

Then I'll train the same cues for another set of time, to see if the responses change with greater levels of proofing.

Nope, this isn't scientific, but it will help me learn what works better for my particular dog. I'll report on the results here, for those who might be curious.

Training plan, more details about methods,  and logs for the new recall cues are posted here:

Sunday, June 13, 2010


The weekend is over, without incident! Yippie! Two GSDs bouncing around next door, and Vanya didn't shriek once. Amazing.

Poor shepherds. One was a barker, and the owners use a no-bark (shock) collar on him. Saturday morning, they left the two dogs in the tent while they went kayaking. I heard: whine, whine, YELP, silence. Whine, whine, YELP, silence.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nope, they're two males. Two huge, shaggy male German Shepherd Dogs, with no leashes (because they have their shock collars, so who needs leashes?), that bark a lot. But the owners seem like nice kids, and they agreed not to let the dogs run over to my fence and bark at Vanya. Here's to hoping for a rainy, foggy weekend!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Off leash dogs again

The woods are suddenly swarming with off-leash dogs. On the path to Lost Creek, the spaniel Jake and his distracted, elderly owner Ralph came bounding up. I put Vanya's muzzle on, and let them have a brief greeting (not quite brief enough). Jake got to choose whether he wanted to come up and greet, or just stay away from Vanya, and he chose to come up, several times. Vanya was at first pretty wiggly, and then stiff and a little worried (he sat while Jake sniffed his rear), but he did relatively well, until Jake moved off, then he shrieked like a little madman. Jake came pouncing back to nip at Vanya (not fair! Vanya's muzzled!), but when I asked Ralph the owner to keep Jake from biting my muzzled dog, he did comply. (Later, another neighbor mentioned that Jake is also a rescue with issues, and does a bit of fear-biting with people, so this zipping around and nipping a retreating dog wasn't unusual.)

Lord knows if these greetings are helping Vanya or not. Since I can't control what unleashed dogs do, at least I can control my own reaction--Vanya's muzzle keeps me nice and calm and upbeat.  I talk in a happy voice, give Vanya a ton of cheezwhiz, and don't have to worry about my Vanya hurting someone (nor do I have to worry about him redirecting onto my hand when I pull him away by his harness. He's never done this, but he has snapped at the leash before I got the muzzle). If we have to have unleashed dogs around here, I sure wish we could get a female or two. Update: my next to neighbors just emailed me that their relatives are coming up to the next cabin this weekend, with their two dogs. Eek! Let's hope they're females. Let's hope the relatives believe in leashes!  Let's hope it keeps raining all weekend so it's not an issue!)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 9 Update

An update on the update for Vanya: it's only day 9 for his prozac, but something seems to be making a huge difference. (He also went back on L-theanine the same day, this time in the Anxitane formulation, so that might be part of
it. Plus I got the window film up, which is also playing a role in reducing triggers).

His OCD scanning and shrieking episodes are declining, and today he was able to have a very good meet-and-greet (muzzled and leashed) with the yippie mini-poodle, Buddy. When Buddy told him off (Buddy had found a bit of goose
poop, so Vanya came over to investigate), Vanya didn't snarf back. He did shriek when (unleashed) Buddy first came bounding up to us, but he calmed right down when I muzzled him and let him greet Buddy. Each time Buddy bounded away for a time-out, Vanya whined but didn't lunge or shriek. And when Micky, the world's bravest (or dumbest) cat came up to investigate, Vanya was very interested, but not barking or lunging, and able to take treats and watch me even as the cat came to within 5 feet (ok, dumbest cat).

For your average dog, all this may be no big deal, but for Vanya, it's huge.

Then, when we dropped in to visit his favorite neighbor, he was able to greet her and quickly settle on the couch with a kong--amazing for Vanya, who usually vibrates with excitement the whole time he's in her house. When numerous vans drove by us, he was able to sit and take treats instead of shrieking at them.

So it may be a day too soon for the Prozac to be at steady-state in his bloodstream (according to the one good study I could find), but whatever this is, I'll take it! 

Thinking About Pit Bulls

Last fall, on a clicker-training forum, we got into a lively, at times impassioned, discussion about pit bulls. Some forum members characterized them as "weapon dogs" whose vicious aggression is essentially determined by their genes--dogs trapped in their genetic histories. Some forum members seemed to believe that the dog aggression that was part of their history would inevitably bleed over into aggression against humans. Many forum members, however,  defended pit bulls, with some advocates arguing that their dogs are no different than other dogs. Other pit bull lovers argued that their dogs are indeed fundamentally different than other dogs, and their dog aggression could never be bred out of them without destroying what was essential to their other good qualities: intensity, determination, human- friendliness, toughness, comic good humor. Finally, a group of pit bull lovers argued (or at least we hoped) that it might be possible, with selective breeding,  to maintain what's wonderful about pits while also decreasing their dog aggression. Dogs don't stay fixed throughout their evolutionary history. But selective breeding has a troubled history--often, in getting what you wished for, you also get surprising and undesirable traits as well.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Vanya has been sleeping a lot while on the prozac, and being  a lot less bouncy, but I expect that he needs a bit of time to adjust to it. 

Yesterday: a great walk, until the cat came running up, and then he went into prey-shrieking mode (which he doesn't do at deer, curiously enough). He was able to calm down quickly and practice the emergency turn-arounds with me. For those, our cue is: "this way!" called out in a happy voice, with lots of cheez-whiz for rewards. The idea is simple: let's blow this popsicle stand before Vanya tips over into a screaming frenzy. My goal is to work on his happy turns, even in the face of provocation, so I don't have to drag him off, which quickly leads to shrieks and howls. The cat certainly provided the provocation. Vanya was fine with her as long as she was lying down in her driveway, and he performed quite a few impressively calm LAT with her, and then practiced his calm "this ways" quite a few times. Then she got curious and came bounding up to us (oop!), which was more than Vanya could handle. 

But he was quite calm with the deer at the end of the driveway--barking once, then telling me to hurry up with the LAT game.  And he got two visits to the sea caves beneath the cabin for off-leash hunt time. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Remedial socialization Attempt # 2

Today we met up with Lana and her calm, huge dog-loving dog, Andre, in hopes that Vanya could follow Jean Donaldon's remedial socialization protocol for unsocialized Tarzans that she describes in her manual Fight: A Practical Treatment for the Treatment of Dog-Dog Aggression (pp 27-41). The idea is that Vanya could get some remedial socialization by playing, while muzzled,  with Lana's dog Andre, a dog who loves playing with pitties (Andre is housemates with Amber, a pit bull with a play style very similar to Vanya's body slams). Then Vanya could better work on his CC/DS protocols, keeping a loose leash as he played LAT with Andre in the distance.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way. At first, the two dogs were ok--not playing, but investigating--but Vanya, as always, came on too strong, and when Andre told him to buzz off a bit, Vanya failed to do so. They danced around for a while, and then Andre had enough of Vanya and nipped at him, and we ended the session because Andre was clearly feeling overwhelmed by Vanya.

When I pulled Vanya away from Andre, at that point, he started shrieking and trying to pull out of his harness, and I had to drag him out of sight. He took quite a while to calm down, even though he was crated in the car. When we then walked over to the picnic area where Lana and Andre were waiting and tried LAT from a distance, he was still far too wound up to do it. So then he went back to the crate in the car for another cool down, and then he was able to stay calm (more or less) and do LAT with Andre in the distance. We could actually get quite close without Vanya reacting, just so we went back to the visual barrier of the car for brief cool-downs. Targeting a lid was also quite helpful.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 2

Another calm day, snoozing in the sun for 16 hours, with occasional breaks to lick the UPS Man, greet our neighbor Tim while on a walk, chase squirrels, terrorize chipmunks, chase a few more squirrels, pounce on the everlasting treat ball, explore the caves, and hunt down the buster cube. All in all, a good day. He may have been guilty of a little over-excitement when Tim and the UPS guy showed up, but they think he's cute and they're flattered by his extravagant joy when he sees them. He was able to shut up and sit momentarily for each of them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Much calmer day....

Today is much, much calmer for my hyperalert little pup. We went for a short stroll on the quiet dirt road, and when the van went by, he managed to sit and watch it without flipping out. Good job, Vanya! For the rest of the walk, he was a bit too alert--scanning a lot--but he never started whining, and he was able to relax and sniff.

The big news is: I just talked with Dr Chris, his wonderful vet. Vanya's starting Prozac. I hope it will help him a bit, relaxing some of his obsessive/compulsive fixations (ie, scanning and screaming at spots of light), and I hope it will allow training and his counterconditioning protocols to work a little better.

The rest of the day, we've been exploring the sea caves beneath the cabin, which are now, officially, Vanya's Favorite Place.

I can hang out on the mermaid rock and Vanya can scramble up and down and inside the little caves, clamber up onto promentories, and generally have a wonderful time. I try not to think about how unstable these cliffs are, nor do I think about how many rocks come tumbling down each spring. It's such a good thing for Vanya to have a safe place where he can hunt and explore off-leash.

He gets very cheered up down in the caves, and he loves to come bounding over, leap onto the mermaid rock for his treat, and then go flying off the rock onto the sandstone ledges. (Last year, he screamed his little head off each time he got onto the mermaid rock and then couldn't figure out how to get back down. This year, he magically realized he could simply jump down, flying safely over the waves. Progress!)

Monday, May 31, 2010

anxiety getting worse, perhaps

The holiday weekend is tough on Vanya. He gets to see lots of his favorite people, which is lovely, and he's been very good about not jumping up and not getting too excited when greeting. But with all the dogs running by, all the cars, all the people--I just can't keep him under threshold.

When we're out walking and vans go by without stopping, he shrieks in the same way he only used to do when a dog was too close to him: piercing, heart-rending shrieks. Cars are fine--he can hold a polite sit and watch them quietly. Vans? Nope. He screams at the top of his lungs.

We see two women in the distance, and he begins to warble softly with his desire to go say hello. He's managing to be a good boy about not pulling on the leash when we walk toward the women, but then an unleashed lab comes bounding up (toward the women, still 200 yards from us.) At first, when we see the dog, Vanya is interested and whining, but not shrieking or lunging, and I praise him and then do a gentle turn in the other direction, to head back down our driveway to let them go by. But when he realizes he's going to have to go in the opposite direction of the women and dog, Vanya loses it. He begins  shrieking and screaming and wrestling and trying to pull out of his harness and snapping at the leash, as badly as I've ever seen him. I have two leashes on him, two attachments, so I'm not worried about him getting loose, but I hate to see him go so terribly over his threshold. I can't just stand there and let them get closer, so I  end up dragging him down the driveway behind the car. (When he's out of visual contact, he does quiet quickly down).

Friday, May 28, 2010

playtime, overexcited

We tried playing with Buddy today, the little male, intact miniature poodle. Well, it was interesting. Not perfect, but interesting. We didn't actually set this up; Buddy was just bouncing around off leash and came zooming up to us when Vanya and I were on a walk.

Because I suspected Buddy might be around, I had muzzled Vanya before we walked down the road near their house. When I saw Buddy come charging toward us, I did manage to get Vanya to focus on me for a microsecond.

( If I had been setting this up properly, I would not have let Vanya interact with Buddy until he was politely walking on his leash and watching me when requested. I would have asked Lyle to put Buddy on a leash, and we would have played the penalty yards game, walking toward Buddy as long as Vanya was being polite and going backwards back to the start line as soon as he started pulling or vocalizing. We do this when he wants to greet new people. Anyway, so much for best-laid plans.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Up at the Lake

We're up at Lake Superior for the summer. Here's the cabin, the world's tiniest space (10X20ft). No running water, but I did put in DSL, since I'm addicted to the internet.

Vanya is delighted to see 2 or 3 new people each day. He's so delighted, he sometimes forgets his manners and shrieks and pulls if I'm not walking quickly enough toward his heart's desire. Then we walk backwards until he stops pulling, and try again. Luckily I have the world's most patient neighbors. Some of them think Vanya is insane, but most of them thank he's adorable. Actually, Vanya's antics probably just make them feel good about their own dogs.

Monday, May 24, 2010


OK, it is officially summer here in southern Wisconsin, and miserably so. Yesterday it hit 90, and today is hotter and much more humid.

The dogs are insane. I've been trying to keep them inside in the air conditioning. But nope, they want out. I finally let them out and instead of heading for the shade, they went right to the sunniest spot on the porch. Sunbathing in a zillion degree heat! They're stark raving mad.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Working on leash reactivity again, finally

Today, I took time off from the weeding to bring Vanya up to town with me.

We swung by the big Prairie dog park, which is insanely busy even on Monday, but which does have a big church parking lot across the street, where I can work with Vanya and know that no dog is going to come near us. Much of the time, he was slightly stressed when we played Look at That, but able to calm down and pay attention. (I try to keep him far enough away when we play LAT so that he doesn't show any stress signs and can just lay on his bed and flop over, but that far away, I don't believe he can actually see the other dogs.) A couple of times, however, a large black GSD set him off and he started shrieking (even though that dog wasn't paying any attention to us, she was chasing a ball obsessively). But he was able to calm down quickly enough.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Quiet Life on the Farm

Between the past month of book tour for TOXIC BODIES, and the craziness of spring on the farm, I haven't been taking Vanya out for leash-reactivity work. Instead, he and Tiva lead a blissful life hunting ground squirrels in the fields. Tiva eats them. Vanya just tosses them in the air and then looks puzzled when they stop squirming. He has spent the past 2 hours trying to dig one out from under a pile of lumber from the old greenhouse frame. Mr. Obsessive. When he comes in at night, he's too tired to beg. Well, maybe not that tired.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fourth day in a row of pass-bys: two steps forward, ? steps back

Today was the fourth day in a row that we worked on passbys, polite behavior around other dogs, etc. Most of the time today, Vanya behaved nicely. He completely lost it, however, when I wasn't expecting it: on a long walk in the woods at the state park, when we passed a campsite that happened to have a dog hiding out. The dog barked, and even though we were walking briskly by (on the opposite site of the road, of course), Vanya completely lost it. He couldn't see the dog (which sounded pretty small and squeaky to me). When he loses it, he doesn't actually lunge or bark. Instead, he screams and begins thrashing like a fish on a line. It's very odd. He can wiggle out of his harness very quickly, so I always have a backup system (this time, the canny collar). While he was thrashing about shrieking to high heavens, I tried (unsuccessfully) to drag him out of there, since he sure wasn't paying attention to my cues. Finally, I put his nose-piece of the canny collar on and hauled him away (guess I won't have to clip his nails for a while!). Then, as he finally got his brain back together and started walking with me, the woman came out of the campsite and Vanya once again lost it--this time with his desire to go say hi to her. Same exact screaming, same exact thrashing, but in this situation I know it's all about social desire, not some desire to rip someone's throat out. The woman walked by, and instead of telling me off, she smiled and called out, "he's having a bad day, huh?" We chatted a bit about dogs and their bad days, all the while Vanya was thrashing about on the leash. I did tell her that he was being such a brat because he wanted to say hi, but he wasn't allowed to say hi when he was being a brat. Whatever. I'm long past feeling embarrassed by Vanya's behavior, even though I really do want to avoid sending him over threshold, both because it's not good for him to practice this craziness, and also because pitties have a bad enough reputation as it is.

I was ready to go home, but I decided to take him back up to the Prairie Moraine dog park and practice outside the park. We did that for over an hour, and he actually did very well. He's best in the church lot across the street, where he can walk fairly close to the park and the romping dogs without going over threshold. He was able to do all his obedience cues, and we alternated a bit between BAT and good old LAT. He's really becoming a champ at LAT. A couple of times he started warbling, even as he played LAT with me, so I would take him back to the car and let him settle down. We also did a bit of relaxation protocol in the car in between walks. At one point we were actually parallel walking with other dogs. Of course, they were dozens of yards away, but hey, Vanya was still able to do his cues (heel, sit, down, target, jump, watch, sniff) with other dogs in the vicinity. I'm not sure if he's getting used to other dogs, or just wiped out.

Now he's snoozing. I get to write my talks, do laundry, do powerpoints, and get ready to go to Western Michigan U tomorrow am for the book promotion events.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Third day in a row of practice with new dogs, new places, new people. Vanya did fine with Jake, showing only a little stress whining, although he was reluctant to leave and very cautious about where he placed his feet on the trail, as if something was hurting him. He greeted a DNR worker very nicely, with polite sits and no inclination to jump. This particular DNR guy has American bulldogs, so whenever he sees Vanya he tells us all how gorgeous and well-behaved Vanya is. Vanya likes this. So do I.

Then we went to the village park, next to the lake--same place as yesterday. Today, a cloudy Monday, was much quieter, without people or dogs visible. So we just sniffed around, playing attention games, and then crossed the street to where the park is usually a lot busier. Vanya found a vole or mole hole in the rough grass, and he was transformed--from looking obedient but slightly uneasy and tense, to being a joyful terrier merrily trying to dig out a rodent. I let him dig for quite a while (he was blissful, seeming to completely forget that he was in a novel environment), and then we tracked the scent trail of what I assume was the same rodent. What a happy dog! The transformation was wonderful to see, and I hope we can keep finding opportunities to dig up rodents and track their scents when we go to the park. I should lay a scent track before I let Vanya out of the car, and then have him track it, to see if that helps him relax in the new places. Hmmm--dragging a hunk of stinky salmon may let me lay a track that keeps him absorbed and helps him settle into new spaces. An idea!

Then, after he tracked in the park, we went back to see Jake the Mellow Lab, and Vanya was fine--reluctant to leave, again, even though he wasn't interacting with Jake, just sniffing around the other dog's kennel quite a bit. I tried to incorporate a bit of BAT, perhaps with a little success, following the wonderful diagram in Boogie the Boston Terrier's blog.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another day, another bunch of dogs

Now that the weather is lovely, lots of dogs are out and about. And now that I'm finally home for a few days, I can practice with Vanya around new dogs.

And I think I have finally figured out a set-up where we can stay under threshold and yet not be so far away from new dogs that they're tiny dots in the distance (and so far that I'm not really sure my pup sees them. Aha! No wonder he's minding his manners! He thinks they're ants off in the distance!)

Ok, here's the set-up:
1. We go someplace filled with romping dogs who have better things to do than pay attention to my darling nutcase
2. We go far enough from people so that I don't mind if Vanya starts shrieking (of course, for his sake, I want to keep him calm, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. And if he loses it and starts warbling, I prefer not to have the police called on us for disturbing the peace.)
3. We find a spot where I can leave the car door open for him. I tie his crate door open as well. He loves his crate. He feels very safe in his crate, curled up on his huge dog bed. Why did it take me so long to figure this out? If he can take a quick break in his crate in the car, he calms down much, much faster.
4. We find a spot where either the car or, better yet, some structure acts as a blind. Again, Vanya can stay calmer much more easily if he can get out of visual contact with the dog for a moment.
5. I use his sensible harness, attached with a 5 ft leash to my waist-harness. I also use his canny collar (or gentle leader) as backup, with a 6 ft leash loose in my hand. Most of the time the canny collar or GL nose-piece is off him, but it's available as a quick backup if something happens that means I need more control over his nose. Having 2 leashes makes me feel much more secure, and keeps me from needing to have pressure on his nose-piece for more than an instant.

Near new dogs...

Yesterday, after a morning walk on the bike trail and then a couple hours with Shawn from Capitol Times, Vanya got to go see dogs in the distance. This doesn't sound exciting, but for Vanya, it is. Very exciting.

We went up to the Prairie Moraine dog park outside of Verona, a vast and very crowded dog park with miles of trails, and most important for our purposes, several places where you can park well away from the park and still see dogs and people. We started up at the end of the park fence, and Vanya did well there for a while, playing LAT with dogs in the distance. When he started whining, I'd have him hop back into the crate inside the car, where he could calm down faster. But then an odd man with 4 barking dogs came up along the fence and stopped and stayed too close to us. Even though I had Vanya jump into the car and even though I shut the door and kept clicking away for moments of silence, this still sent him far over threshold.

So we drove to the church parking lot a little further away, and this worked much better. Over and over again we practiced LAT with the distant dogs, then taking a break by jumping into the car or walking off behind the church to sniff the mulch. Vanya was clearly calming down a lot, but I suspected this was a bit of flooding, although possibly a bit of realization that those other jumping, leaping, barking dogs in the distance weren't going to come over near him, so he was safe.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

lots of travelling, not much posting

I've been traveling to promote Toxic Bodies--first for 10 days to the west coast, then to France for a week, and now I'm on the east coast for several days. Tuesday I gave a talk at University of Virginia; yesterday I did a TV show, podcast, and public lecture at the National Conservation Training Center in WV, and this morning I'm driving down to DC to talk in the plenary session at the Organization for American Historians. Then I get to go home, and take a few days on the farm before heading off to Western Michigan University for a few events.

Vanya is having a lovely time hanging out with Frank and Tiva on the farm while I'm gone. He doesn't get any training, but he does get a lot of time running around the fields hunting for voles. Sometimes he actually catches a vole, but as Frank put it, he's too fastidious to eat them. Tiva comes over and watches him very very carefully as he trots around with his prize. Then he drops it and goes over to sniff something else, and Tiva dashes over, grabs it, and swallows it in one gulp. She is not a fastidious dog, to put it mildly.

Really Reliable Recall: When I'm home, we practice Leslie Nelson's Really Reliable Recall games. Vanya's cue is "CHEESE!" He roars over to me, fast as he can, when I yell "CHEESE!" I give him lots of tiny bits of cheese (or salmon, or beef) and tons of praise, then I put him in a sit/stay, go off and hide out of sight, and repeat the game several time. He of course thinks this is tons of fun. Next step is to introduce greater distractions (ie, have Frank playing with Vanya and giving him boring kibble,) then I yell CHEESE, and hopefully Vanya tears himself away from the distraction and comes zooming over to me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two steps forward, two steps back...

Vanya had a rough time staying under threshold yesterday. I had a rough time managing the environment so he could stay under threshold! Oy.

I've been traveling for 11 days, promoting my new book, so Vanya wasn't getting much training. Frank is sweet and takes care of his basic needs, but Vanya didn't leave the farm for nearly 2 weeks, much less practice calmness around novel stimuli. He basically hung out with the guys on the couch and found deer carcasses in the back field (not a bad life, of course).

Anyway, so yesterday the vet came to the farm (to check and make sure that Miss Tiva's new bumps weren't a return of her mast cell cancer--good news! they're not! and to extract 5 little teeth that were in bad shape from 14.5 years of playing with big sticks. Tiva is in great shape, happily). Vanya and Tiva absolutely adore our wonderful vet (Dr Chris Severin, The Visiting Vet, who comes to our farm with her van/vet clinic that's set up for surgeries, etc). Dr Chris gives the dogs super-wonderful treats and tons of attention, and when her vet pulls onto the farm, all the dogs are thrilled. Vanya was so thrilled he instantly forgot all of his manners and tried to jump into her van through the open window. Then, when I tried to put him inside the house so Tiva could have her checkup and surgery, Vanya lost his marbles. He screamed and wiggled and did his "I'm completely out of control" imitation. Even with his harness plus gentle leader on, with 2 separate leashes, I couldn't get him from Point A to Point B without him thrashing and shrieking.

The good thing about this: all this kookiness looks a lot like his extreme response to new dogs. But with the vet, and other people, it's all about a desire to greet, mixed with an utter inability to get control of his impulses when he's frustrated from his desires. This suggests that his extreme reactions to new dogs may be as much about greeting desire and frustration, not about aggression.

What was frustrating to me is that the dozens and dozens of hours we've put in, the thousands of repetitions, the endless endless practices--it's not enough. More, more, more! Sometimes, when I look at Vanya, I think: how much is enough, sweetheart? Can I ever do enough repetitions so that you can stay calm when you want something?

Anyway, when the vet finished with Tiva's surgery and it was time for Vanya's checkup, he was thrilled to bits and was a wonderful boy with Dr Chris. When his visit was over and it was time for him to go back out, he refused, wanting to stay with her and her freeze-dried liver treats forever. She finally came out of her van to walk back to the farmhouse, so I didn't have to haul Mr Let Me Stay with the Nice Vet Forever across the farmyard. My, he looked beautiful as he did a lovely dancing heel by her side, gazing into her eyes (hoping for her liver treat)--he looked like he was ready for the Westminster Show.

Ok, enough excitement for the moment. An hour later, I had to run into the village for some milk, so I brought him along for a practice walk in the village to work on greeting new people nicely, and then a practice walk on the bike trail to walk calmly by Jake the Mellow Lab. As we drove into the village, he started screaming from his crate. When we tried to walk through the village, 7 dogs came by (in 4 different groups). We didn't get far from my car, which I was using as a blind--when Vanya begins screaming at another dog, moving him out of sight can calm him down quickly. Each time I got him to calm down for a moment, ANOTHER few dogs would come running by (luckily, thank heavens, none of them came running up to us, even though some were off leash).  Finally, I just gave up, cut my losses, stuffed him back into his crate, and got the heck out of Dodge.  I'm surprised the people in the parking lot didn't call the police--we sure were disturbing the peace. Oh well.

On the way back to the farm, we did stop by the bike trail to do pass-bys with Jake the Mellow Lab. Vanya actually showed no interest whatsoever in poor Jake, who looks pretty ill. That sad dog seems to be kept in his kennel 24 hours a day--they used to take him out for walks, but this time his kennel had a lot of poop in it, and Jake seemed either ill or just too dejected to come out of his dog house and greet us. Poor, poor Jake. This reminds me that, for all Vanya's challenges, he really does have a wonderful life: tons of downtime lounging around the house hanging out with people, 20 fenced acres to run around in as much as he wants, a long walk or bike ride or ski every day, another dog and plenty of people to play with, and an endless supply of rodents and bunnies to track.

Today Vanya went up to Madison with me for an interview, so I could take him for a long hike on the Ice Age Trail after the talk. He did very well indeed on the walk--no pulling, screaming, etc; only one person and no dogs to greet, but a ton of lovely smells to sniff.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good and bad

Vanya did well on his evening pass-by with mellow Jake the yellow lab. He didn't do so well on his twilight walk in the village of Monticello--everything seemed to get him wired. Twilight clearly isn't his best time for new environments. After a few blocks, I decided to cut our losses and head back to the farm, the super-duper size of Jim Beam in tow. Vanya did get to meet a couple sweet people, who were even kind enough to stand still and wait for him to sit before they cooed and petted him. In his red jacket, he's pretty adorable--it screams "I'm a goofy puppy!" rather than "I'm the terrifying pit bull!"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another pass-by

Another little success today: we did another pass-by with the yellow lab, and Vanya was too bored to even yodel. Yippie! Doing these pass-bys after I ski-jor with him helps a lot--although he wasn't too tired to yodel at a nice couple passing by, who laughed at him, because he was wagging his tail so hard he almost knocked himself over.

I still don't have the nerve to try this with a regular dog walking by on the sidewalk, since Vanya in full cry does a passable imitation of an emergency warning siren.

I've been traveling for work, so Vanya hasn't gotten as much practice as I'd like. We've skijored a couple times in the past week, but I think we're all getting tired of mushy snow and mud. We're working on recalls a lot more, since they've degenerated a bit, probably because of using the e-collar (on very low stim, but it still changed the cue from meaning: "run really fast to Nancy because I'm about to get the most amazing treat and game possible!" to "I'd better amble on over, otherwise something ucky might happen".  Our emergency recall cue was going to be "Cheeseburgers!" but I shortened it to "cheese!" to remind me that this is about Vanya WANTING to come, not about me forcing him to come.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Going to Town

Today we went to the village. How exciting! Well, for Vanya it is. We got to practice: walking calmly past the yellow lab in his kennel, greeting the lab, coming away from the lab, greeting two people (the lab's owners) and trying hard to sit politely while they scratched his ears, looking at other people and not screaming when denied the chance to greet them, walking calmly through the main street of town and ignoring the decrepit souls going into bars at midday on Sunday.

He did much better at all these activities. He was able to keep a loose leash and unfurrowed brow while we approached the kenneled dog, and he wasn't particularly interested in greeting that dog (Jake, by the way).  We passed by the lab 5 times, and each time he was able to glance at the lab and then focus on other things. He did try to jump up on the nice lady (Peggy) who petted him (and who owns Jake) and he did begin to yodel when the worker across the alley didn't have time to say hi to him. And he was pretty intense on the village streets, stressed, but not vocalizing at people (having trouble watching me, however, when cued to do so. Bribes helped). Overall, he did much, much better than he has in the past. Even though he wasn't very relaxed about town yet, at least he didn't go over threshold at all. I tried hard to capture and mark and reward his moment of relaxation and calmness. Now he is very tired. Me too!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Shaping

We shaped front feet up on a perch, rear end circling around, in part for me to practice clicking for behavior, treating for position.

Here's the first clip, when I'm still trying to figure out where to stand:

Another stuffed dog

On another forum, someone who also has a leash reactive dog asked if it's possible to use a stuffed dog to teaching a dog more appropriate greeting behavior. In Click to Calm, Emma Parsons suggests that those of us with reactive dogs can shape better greetings in our dogs, starting by teaching our dog to do a quick nose-target to the new dog (face and bottom) and then return to us for a treat. I was a little dubious about doing this with an actual dog, much less a stuffed dog, but I figured more practice with targets can't hurt. 

Here's a clip of Vanya going over to his familiar Miss Plushy and the new plush spaniel (Puppy) for a nose-target or sniff, then turn run back to either me or the Manners Minder  for a treat. He caught on quickly, although it really seems like target practice, not greeting-a-new-dog practice: 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A real dog!

Today, after a week of Miss Plushy, I got up the nerve to do meet and greets with a real dog--a huge, intact male yellow lab, who is the calmest, least reactive dog in the world, so far as I can tell. The dog lives in a kennel along the bike trail in Monticello, and several weeks ago, Vanya ran up to the dog and greeted him (separated by a fence) reasonably well: play bows, low wagging tail, some wiggles, which is a huge improvement over the usual screaming, lunging, tasmanian devil imitation.

Today, Vanya was very good with the real dog, able to approach him calmly on a loose leash, and actually pretty uninterested in him once he got a chance to go sniff and greet (they were separated by the kennel fence). Vanya was much, much more interested in greeting a person who walked by than in greeting Real Dog. I've never seem him so calm around an actual dog, so maybe this many-times a day encounter with Miss Plushy is working! To be honest, I think the most important thing about Miss Plushy is that she shapes calmness in ME. I've been so worried about screwing something up in actual dog encounters and ending up with someone else's dog hurt, that no matter how hard I try, I get tense. The first few times with Miss Plushy, I could tell my heart was racing, even though the stakes were low. So I'm getting calmer each time, and so is Vanya.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Pigs Fly: shaping games

My copy of When Pigs Fly arrived this afternoon, when I was supposed to be preparing for a seminar I'm leading this evening. So I put aside my notes for the seminar and started reading all about flying pigs. Killon starts off by reminding us owners of non-biddable dogs about the need to shape rather than lure behavior. (Being an impatient sort, I nearly always lure.) So I dug out a wine box, set it on the floor, and started shaping. Vanya likes to play games. If something new appears in his environment, if he can't eat it, he usually steps on it:

At first, I shaped getting in the box, although it hardly counts as shaping if that's his first impulse (sniff? look at the box? nahh, I'll just hop inside). Then I shaped sitting in the box. Then I flipped the box over and aimed for standing on the box, then sitting, then once he started to lie down, I figured my next criterion could be: lying down on top of the box.

Cute, isn't he?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentines Day! Youtube clips of Vanya and his sweetie

Here are some video clips of Vanya and his valentine, Miss Plushy.

First, Vanya is trying to be calm as we walk, on leash, near Miss Plushy. He can manage this for a little while, but then he gets frustrated and tries to pull out of his harness: (he's blurry and off in the distance, upper left of screen); see this video and the others after the break....

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vanya meets Miss Plushy; falls in love

Vanya got to meet Miss Plushy yesterday, and today they had their second date. I think he's in love, or at least in lust.

Yesterday, he was behaving politely near her, so I let him off leash and gave him the "go say hi!" cue, which I also use with the chickens (and it means: sniff and wag, but no teeth). If Vanya had zoomed over and attacked Miss Plushy, I would have been worried. But instead, he bounded over, tail wagging, sniffed her mouth, then curved around and sniffed her bottom then her groin. He began to seem a little puzzled and came back to her mouth and started licking her muzzle. She fell over (what a nice submissive pup!) and he went back to sniffing her groin, then doing some play  bowing in front of her. Eventually, it seemed to occur to him that she was awfully unresponsive, so he started chewing her nose, and at that point I called him away. Then I moved Miss Plushy to new places around the farm, and every time I walked him back into sight of her, he got excited once again: A DOG! Woo Hoo! (Ok, maybe Vanya's not the sharpest knife in the drawer).

I was very reassured that his response to her was to greet her, not to attack her.

Today we went through the routine again. He once again got very, very excited to see her off in the orchard, and had a bit of a hard time heeling politely as we walked in her direction. When I released him to go greet her, he bounded over, tail wagging, and started licking her. So, he's not polite, but at least he's not too aggressive. Just frustrated. Today he decided to try humping her to see if she's wake up and start playing (the very first thing I've ever seen him try to hump). When that didn't work, he decided to chew her toes (ok, I have a pervert for a pup).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

LAT with chickens, Miss Plushy part 2, village walk

Yesterday Vanya did a very nice job being calm with the chickens. His main concern with the chickens right now is getting to eat their food scraps, of course, but he can still play LAT (even though at first he thought I must have been referring to a squirrel, so he scanned the woods for squirrels rather than looking at the hens). That's fine: