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.