Category Archives: Solving problems

Reinforcement Gone WRONG

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Often a chain of actions grows a behavior. Barking, whining, jumping up, mouthing, excitement at the doors … are very commonly increased by chained events and unfortunately most of the time the person doesn’t realize that they are growing the behavior instead of reducing it.

So if your dog is doing something you don’t particularly like and you don’t know why it’s getting worse. Take a look back. Usually two steps of actions back and you then will spot the behavior/reinforcement cycle.

What then? Put more steps into the cycle or take out a step right before or after the dog’s usual action. Example: in the above cycle the dog barked, woke the person up, then got affection or maybe play time outside. Options: 1. ignore barking (earplugs) and wait until it completely stops before getting out of bed … stay neutral (non-reinforcing) until several preferred things have been offered by the dog, or 2. Schedule wake up time earlier, before dog would usually start to bark or whine, then reinforce quiet behavior immediately, or 3. dog barks, you wake up and go to bathroom and dog follows quietly and lays down (no speaking), you go to other room and dog is asked to do a series of behaviors … sit, down, do trick … then gets rewarded with pets and praise (with this, you may be just growing a longer chain, but usually not).

In our house, Jazzie goes over by the stairs and leans against the wall when she wishes to go outside. Or if I’m using the computer, she puts her head on my thigh and waits. I see her there or feel her chin, get up and go outside with her and play flying disk games. Lately she’s been increasing her requests. Why? Because the reinforcement of the game. Why was I playing the game … because it’s winter and I have to get dressed to go outside and so for efficiency sake potty plus game.

Since I don’t want excessive requests … I let her out, said nothing, waited for her to go potty and turned around and came back inside. She didn’t need to go potty, so it was just a game request.

I like her go outside reminders, because sometimes I can get overly involved in reading or work, but I don’t want to have to let her out too frequently. So we just won’t play her favorite games outside unless I’m the one who initiated the trip outdoors. I expect this will reduce her requests. We’ll see.

Have you discovered unintended behavior chains?

 

 

Puppy progress (Siggy)

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Siggy is a black, Golden Doodle, 27 weeks old.      photo: J. Renzoni

Siggy has reached, 6 months,  50#s, has grown up teeth, has had a tussle with Reggie (Jack Russell) and been told off by Jazzie (heeler) and Max (shepherd). Getting to be a big boy. His jumping ability is prodigious, his speed is considerable. He’s visited the horses several times and shows reasonable care about it, although I wasn’t on-board with the last tour. His own efforts at becoming a hunter/gatherer, he’s captured and dispatched a vole and climbed into the compost bin and fetched an orange peel out of it (it’s now more thoroughly covered).

He likes carrying large things … boxes, throw rugs, branches and jumping up on things … gates, raised garden beds and perches of any kind.

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photo: J. Renzoni

All of the training we began with has grown, changed, adjusted with his needs and the differences he is showing now. But much of it is just a rule we continue to do each time … like sitting at doorways or at gateways to be released on through. His training is a game of choices … he makes the right choice and gets rewarded – for laying down, heeling, going to crate, fetching, tricks, settling on dog bed, coming … etc. I just counted about 25 cues, plus there’s a bunch of things we’re working on that aren’t named yet. Training comes in layers, in stages – one piece of learning makes it possible for the next piece. And if the foundation isn’t solid, neither are the next steps. Each piece, if played with, approached from many angles becomes better and better understood.  For example: sit … if you teach it at doors, from standing, from you sitting, from lying down, in the middle of tug or before and after, beside you, in all locations … then it becomes a clearly understood cue.

The same thing is important about recalls. With his added speed, confidence and capabilities comes the increased need to practice different levels of recalls … distance recalls on walks, recalls away from other dogs or people and recalls away from fun things he likes. However, if the basic games of coming here when there isn’t distance, when there are hardly any distractions haven’t been done … then now would not be the time to test it and fail.

The recall games begin close, begin with lots of quickly given rewards, begin with fun, but without distraction and without a likelihood of failure.

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Photo: J. Renzoni

Now, with Siggy, I know how good his recall is, so I know when to ask and I know when not to ask. We’re getting to the point of a really brilliant recall, at all times. Now, for us, is the time to find out when it will fail, and use that to clarify expectations.

So many things he’s been taught, building on up. Training certainly isn’t done … actually never done, but he’s becoming a great dog.

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Photo: J. Renzoni

He’s been my demo puppy for two classes, in a couple of weeks we’ll start the third class he’ll be involved in. He goes as a sidelines pup to agility classes (I use it as training time with active dog distractions going on).

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photo: J. Renzoni

One puppy kindergarten class with 6 sessions is just not enough…whatever kind of dog you have. It’s a great beginning, but would you be prepared for life with only the info you got in kindergarten?

This week is Westminster Dog Show, I never went to Westminster, but I did do dog showing back in the 1990s, obedience and conformation. And I know most people don’t even consider doing competition, but one of the things competition teaches is how much effort is needed to get to the level of being able to do things really well as a team (dog/person).

I think we all want to be able to do things with our dogs … in order to set that up there needs to be clarity and understanding on the part of the dog, and the person needs to know the dog’s likes, preferences, fears and strengths and play to those. We can change things for the better, it takes a persistent, fun, building-layers effort.

Don’t stop, when you’ve just begun…

Dog Emotions

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Signal at 8 weeks. Photo by J. Renzoni.

Emotion drives learning, it drives action, change, and behaviors. There are some emotions that are the same behavior from the canine … these are core emotions.

Anger or Rage = snarls, bites, escape physical restraint. The lower level of this is frustration, which is sparked by mental restraint.

Fear = freeze or run away, when survival is threatened in any way.

Social attachment/panic from abandonment = separation calls, basically “come back, don’t leave me” in barking, whining and howling.

Seeking or Anticipation = animal moves forward, sniffing and exploring to make sense of the world around us. Seeking is also wanting something good, and looking forward to getting something good, and curiosity.

There are three more positive emotion systems identified: Lust – description not needed, Care – maternal love and care-taking, and Play – the roughhousing all young animals do which is a sign of good welfare, because a dog that is depressed, frightened or angry doesn’t play.

Max and Signal seeking.
Max and Signal seeking – Max knows what he’s looking for, Signal, not so much.                         Photo: J. Renzoni
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Signal has discovered the joys of horse apples. Photo: J. Renzoni

Rule of thumb: Don’t trigger anger/rage, fear and/or panic from abandonment if you can help it; do trigger – seeking and play.

Exception to the rule of thumb: Do trigger frustration as a way to train impulse control … ie., stay, wait at doors, gates, crates; and as a way to build resilience and tolerance to failures (willingness to keep trying when not understanding a training goal). So we do want dogs to understand that they need to wait to get something they like (freedom, toys, food, fun), and we also want them to keep trying to figure out what we want from them and not just give up and go find something else to do.

The risk is that frustration if too much becomes anger and rage.

Example:

Signal at 10 weeks. Many things are fun.
Signal at 10 weeks. Many things, including grass, are fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni
Smokey at 10 years.
Smokey at 10 years. Puppies might not be considered so fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni

I have a new puppy named Signal. He is ten weeks old, has wavy black hair, black nose and essentially black eyes. He would like to run after our cat, Smokey (10 years old, brown tabby, dog-wise). I have been preventing him, Smokey has been preventing him and sometimes his X-pen fence is preventing him.

This frustration has built up some bouncing and some barking and even a little dodging and weaving. Picture tail high, play bow with intermittent sideways puppy leaps. I am offering food when he’s quiet and looking, I’ve removed him from the scene, and I’ve distracted him, all to make sure the mental frustration doesn’t get too high. I want a pleasant relationship between the two of them.

The cat, has meowed, in an irritated way at him. No hissing or batting and I want to keep it that way, this pup seems like he’d escalate if that were to happen.

This morning when Smokey was doing his jumping routine for treats next to the X-pen. Signal got rewards timed to keep him occupied while Smokey did his thing and got rewarded for it. Soon the two will not think of each other as so novel.

Frustrating, yes. Leads to learning. Anger, no.

 

(To learn more about puppy training join the Puppy Kindergarten class, next one scheduled Oct 15th. See fb for more information).

 

 

Learning Zone – dogs

A stressed dog will not absorb training.

A stressed person will not absorb training.

If you and your dog are in your comfort zone, really in your comfort zone, you’re probably just repeating the habits, repeating the things that you’ve already learned, already done, many times before. That’s why they are comfortable. Same environment, same people/animals, same games, same, same…

Learning happening here? Not unless something changes.

Learning takes you out of your comfort zone, but not too far out of it. It should make you slightly nervous, somewhat frustrated … still you’re willing and in control.

So what happens if you hear/see a handler whose dog was being difficult and she’s proud because she showed him who is boss?

The somewhat stressed handler still felt she was in control, and she felt accomplished. But what about the stressed dog?

Photo by J. Renzoni
Photo by J. Renzoni

So the dog ended up in sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) mode. What does that mean for the next time? Now does it become clear why it’s likely the same problem will be repeated? Why so many dogs trained in this way wash out …

Think about it.

 

Easy Dog training is not so easy

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American Bulldog/Mastiff cross offering behavior – leash loose and handler ready to reward. Note observer (Bella), she’s the neighbor’s dog and she likes to watch classes. Photo by D. Renzoni

Easy and quick dog training is an oxymoron.

Quick knowledge, fast solution and nobody needs to learn anything, but the dog. Try it, what harm can it cause? Who cares about research?  Neighbor said it or multiple studies confirmed it… who wins? Well of course, the neighbor/cousin/friend does, in their random ‘expert’ mode. Science … what science?

Why? Science is all about theories and creating a study and checking. Neighbor/cousin/friend is all about absolute testimonial on a very limited scale (one dog, two dogs, an imaginary dog or a dog seen on video). But somehow people believe testimonials more and are willing to do and allow punishment as a first line of action. I do find that incredibly ugly.

 

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These guys are making great progress! But in general, we often miss the chances to reward the behaviors we like best, by being unobservant or preoccupied. Dogs learn how to get what they want  – jumping up, grabbing … stealing things because it works for them.

What does the science (lots of science) say … ‘Every living thing learns to improve its condition.’ Reward ensures that a behavior will be done more frequently in the future.  Yummy stuff in the garbage – tip it out and eat it (ding, ding, ding – big reward! Behavior will be repeated). Punishment will/can suppress/reduce a behavior. Punishment never creates new behavior (but it can increase fear, increase the punished behavior, anxiety, aggression, apathy and slow learning). Yell NO at dog as he grabs child’s Barbie doll, and dog may drop it and decide not to grab it in the future or… think that grabbing Barbie is one of the most exciting games ever. Other common event: puppy barks or bites and is sprayed with mouth freshener spray, and dog may stop and/or… become afraid of hands or spray sounds or certain scents or…

Learning is a complex topic, which probably is why so many are so confused about how to approach training, and which is also why so many end up training the opposite of what they wanted and then blaming the dog for being uncooperative or stupid and/or … blame themselves for being a bad dog trainer or lacking enough time to have a dog ….

The relationship between the person and their dog is a constant learning process. Given that this process, at least on the part of the person, takes place mostly at an unconscious level, the resulting picture is rarely how you imagine it.

If we think about, for example, walking on a leash it becomes quickly clear that reward and punishment are consistently connected. If the dog doesn’t react, starts sniffing, lunges forward, then most handlers will try pulling him forward or backward (this is positive , +, or aversive punishment). Hence not going forward or going forward too much is what is punished. If the dog walks better, then jerking or pulling are no longer used. This is a negative reward (rewarded by taking the pressure away).

What happens if the leash just stays tight? The dog is not rewarded, but punishment continues for his hard work when he feels pulling pressure on his neck. In this way the dog will become more and more numb to collar pressure, he is being punished continuously through the never-ending use of leash control.  Another confounding factor is the oppositional reflex (you pull, then I pull also, like tug-of-war). Then it is usually a case of ‘He likes to pull’ and so ‘has to have’ a prong collar or choke collar or harder jerks or a harness to save his neck.

Tension on the leash ensures continued pulling, but it also increases the risk of reactivity to dogs, etc.
Tension on the leash ensures continued pulling, but it also increases the risk of reactivity to dogs, etc. Fear of reactivity increases tension in the handler … a closed circle of events.
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Loose leash, attentive and relaxed dog … nice pair. Reactivity becomes unlikely.

This ignorance by handlers of the dog’s most basic learning behavior is what creates one of the greatest problems in having a dog and using a leash. Based on excessive attention given to hanging on to their dog, it is possible to overlook what is actually being told to the dog when walking on a leash.  The removal of pressure has everything to do with training and learning. The giving of a reward when the dog is in the position you want them to be has everything to do with learning.

People have such a hard time releasing pressure, that I often would rather not let them have a leash at all or use a hands-free leash, so they can’t pull on it while they are trying to train their dog where they want them to walk. It comes down to the human handler creating a habit for herself/himself and the dog. Sticking strictly to the rules so the learned behavior becomes the norm.

The flow of info between a dog and person is called communication. Most dogs are totally confused or begin to switch off, because they are getting contradictory signals. In the house these rules apply … sometimes, in the yard these rules apply … sometimes and the rules change daily. Recently a person told me she wanted to have a rule where her pup didn’t go into the kitchen, but currently his food/water are in the kitchen, and his gate keeps him in the kitchen when she leaves, hmm?

Dogs quit trying when there is no way to know what is expected. Symptoms of ‘switching off’ include; sniffing, zoomies, turning away, quickly leaving, not listening/’selective deafness’, no eye contact by the dog … etc.

To avoid this trap we must get used to handling our dog in a consistent way and build up our dog’s trust in our ability to control/offer rewards.

Only if you have a clear picture in your head can you decide whether a behavior is the one you want or not.

Imagine that you are learning something new and you are punished for every mistake you make … you will quickly give up trying to find out how to do it.  Goal:  No punishment when learning.

This game is 'can you put your feet on this?' Each thing, each effort the dog makes is rewarded, otherwise it is amazing how well they can avoid putting their feet on objects. Games like this build trust and build confidence for the important stuff.
This game is ‘can you put your feet on this?’ Each thing, each effort the dog makes is rewarded, otherwise it is amazing how well they can avoid putting their feet on objects. Games like this build trust and build confidence for the future important stuff.

Emotion memory. During training a dog doesn’t only learn the proper cues/commands, but he also memorizes the emotions connected with them. If you are using a lot of punishing actions/sounds, the dog will always recall these negative impressions when you signal or say these cues. From this point of view, its easy to see why many dogs have no motivation to work or learn new things from you. FYI video yourself training something new to check it out – most people use a lot of punishing actions or sounds (no, oh oh, disappointed tones and dog’s name …).

As far as possible, ignore the wrong answers and praise the right ones so that the “cues/commands” are not poisoned at an early stage with bad emotions. If you are having trouble with a cue like come or sit or the dog paying attention when you say his/her name, it is likely you have poisoned the cue – change to a new one and don’t poison this one.

When a dog does not recognize what you want he will try everything to find a solution … set it up so the right solution is likely to happen and wait …   Goal: Set it up and wait.

Divide the movement into small steps and your dog will learn more easily. These small learning steps will also help you to figure out any questions for your dog as simply as possible. Take time to think about it from your dog’s point of view.  Train individual cues one by one if possible (example a good retrieve includes a sit, stay, cued release, run out, pick up/solid hold, tight turn, speedy return at speed equal to the go out, release of item on cue from preferred position).

Easy dog training is not so easy. It takes thought and learned habits. If your neighbor/friend or even veterinarian suggests do ________  to your puppy because he barks or bites or doesn’t want to be restrained. Consider the situation from your pup’s point of view – has he been rewarded often for the preferred behavior? What is he likely to do if you follow the suggestion? Will he trust you more afterwords? In other words, will your relationship improve? What will you do if their suggestion makes the behavior worse because now your pup is more afraid, more anxious, more aggressive and less willing to learn things from you?

 

**note the details of learning are simplified for this blog … the theme of learning is a complex topic which includes significant terminology and concepts with various definitions.  See https://gentletouchdogtrainingblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/here-pup-pup-pup-come-whistle-beep/  for more

 

Dog Training Prompts – rewards or reprimands

Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni
Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni

Both a friend and my daughter have had trouble with the use of cues when trying to stop wildness, goofiness, grabbing stuff and general misbehavior. They both are transition trainers having had a past in training traditionally. But some of the stuff we knew as traditional trainers doesn’t work the same way when we’ve turned the training model good-side-up.

So often dog trainers recommend using a known command to stop a dog from doing something that is not wanted. This recommendation was and still is appropriate if the dog was trained with punishment and negative reinforcement, because then the command is tied with a reprimand.

But in positive training most commands (cues) were tied with rewards, so many times the cue becomes a reward in itself. What is rewarded is repeated…meaning the ‘naughty’ behavior gets rewarded by following it with a command like sit or down or come or…

Ah, light bulb moment perhaps?

Know cues are rewards for these two...    Photo by Jeanine Renzoni
Know cues are rewards for these two… Photo by Jeanine Renzoni

Still there’s the behavior we don’t want to occur. Distract (in a low key manner) the dog or Manage the dog so he/she can’t do whatever it is the next time or Fix the problem by training.

How to distract – this depends on what is happening, of course.

But here are some ideas –

  • slow down
  • stop or hold completely still
  • replace with toy or other activity – smoothly and with no excitement
  • turn face away or look away removing attention
  • slowly turn away
  • leave
  • shuffle your feet
  • sigh or yawn
  • move your hand or body
  • relax your shoulders
  • cough
  • use your ‘non-reward marker’ phrase or word
  • let’s go cue
  • light touch to hip or back (like a little tap)
  • bang/noise (if your dog is sound sensitive keep it softer – and hide that you’re the source)
  • collar grab (if you’ve worked on desensitizing collar grabs, or if it’s an emergency)
  • pull dog away (this can trigger an outburst, which is not a desired response) but we’re getting down to the have to remove zone

Then, depending where you are in your training or re-training a low key reward is offered for the dog’s right choice. You have to decide how soon or how much of the wanted behavior has to be given. Initially, just stopping whatever they were doing and beginning the wanted action should be good enough to get the offer of a low-key reward. The hard thing for most people is their need to command the action when it’s best for the dog to make the choice to manage themselves. The other hard thing is holding back the joy when their dog chooses the right thing (I mean when there’s only one step between the naughty and the right thing. Why? because some dogs chain things together and will start doing the naughty, then the right thing to get the super joy). Just get a bit more space in there and you should be fine and can be a happy maniac…

I think the back chaining phenomenon is more likely in these instances because the dog is already doing it … reward, cue, ‘naughty behavior’, cue, reward and that’s why the handler’s are so frustrated.

I saw a recent post about always rewarding your dog when he comes to you no matter the amount of time or detours. Hmm. I aim to reward only average or better. On less than average I aim to be neutral, but certainly not punishing. If I reward less-than-average performance then I will get more less-than-average performance. This is true of all the behaviors we would like to see our dogs do for us. And dogs learn the back chain on recalls too – go out a little too far, get called, whoopee! Go out too far again… Be aware and you’ll spot the shaping strategy they may be using on you. Then you can turn it back around so you’re the shaper and they’re the shape-e.

Good luck training and lucky you if you’ve got a back chaining dog … think of the chains of behaviors you could get. Fun.

Mat Games (or how to get a dog to stick to a rug despite the door bell ringing)

Dogs are so bouncy and speedy.  Jazz can go down the six steps to the landing, touching the top step, another step two-thirds down and then she’s barking out the narrow, next-to-the-door window before the second ring. Say her name and she bounds back up the stairs. More action by the door and she’s back down to check it out. If there’s someone staring in, doggie alarm phase two goes off. A little too much action and sound.

Enter the plan to stick her to a rug. Glue, weights, magnets, velcro all of which had risks and benefits. I mean, it would have to be special glue, and she’d have to swallow the magnets and what would we do when she sheds off her velcro? And she’s already heavy enough, add weights? Her 35 pound body and springy legs can shift hefty resistance.

I kind of like the harness and pulley, she’s flying like Kathy Rigby plan. Or maybe the automatic appearing slide that reroutes stair goers to the basement, triggering a guillotine gate system blocking their return trip.

Peanut butter – hard to bark when you’re eating peanut butter. Thinking of laser targeted peanut butter delivery.

Management planning: We could block the window, add a gate at the top of the stairs and maybe at the lower level too, and change the sound of the doorbell, but where’s the fun in that?

Think about a doorbell activated dog trapping system – picture Venus flytrap velcro-like action … only faster. Or, I like the doorbell-activated treat dispenser in your princess dog bed, Madame Jazzie.  But she could rush to the afore-mentioned bed, consume her treat and be back at the door, 1, 2, 3. Unless there was the before mentioned guillotine gate or flytrap velcro in the way.

Ah, so what to do? The mundane trainer-ly plans won. Today she was stuck to her rug despite door bells, knocking, yoohoo’s, dancing, people coming and going and other dogs barking. I had a hard time getting her to move off that rug. No glue, no velcro, no guillotine gate or automatic slide, just preference and rewards delivered there over the last three weeks. Two training sessions daily or one or — well whatever, building up the time in place on that ‘special’ rug, the ability to go to her place, and finally, the distractions that might pull her off of her place. Used the Treat & Train, but could have done it by hand. The Treat & Train’s timer and measured system keeps it less random.

cartoon 001What you say? No magic? And she sticks? Yup, she sticks. She can still use more practice, but then can’t we all?