Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I am so excited to have the dogs in lots of classes this winter! Sundays we have an informal training group that I put together (with the ulterior motive of having people and dogs to work my reactive dogs around during the winter). Last weekend was our first session and it went pretty well for both Jun and Elo. Elo made it into the entry way of the building, which was more than I expected from him! He had a small outburst when a dog popped out from behind a wall closer than I expected, but recovered nicely and we did some LAT with a dog all the way across the building. The really cool part was, last winter we were in this same building and didn't even SEE any other dogs and Elo could not handle himself. Just the smell and sound of dogs were too much for him. On Sunday, even though there were at least 10 other dogs in the building that he could hear and smell, he was able to keep himself pretty well under control! We did about 5 minutes of work and then left.

Jun did some obedience work off leash with two decoy people sitting in the room. We started working with a toy and she was WILD. I wasn't being too strict on criteria. I just wanted her to have a good time and realize that when she's working, nobody's gonna come get her. We switched to food and she had a little more self control, though she was doing a bit more scanning--looking around before following cues. We didn't accomplish much obedience-wise, but that was not really the goal.

Last night Jun started nosework class. I was pretty nervous at first (I wish I could calm myself better when I'm taking her into situations that I think she will be nervous in). Turned out, she did great! Jun has been doing nosework since I took the class with Lok a year ago, so she knows the drill, but I wanted to keep it really easy for her and make her successful. The class is set up to be great for reactive dogs, as each dog and owner has their own space behind a barrier, the dogs come and go one at a time and take turns hunting. There were 4 other people in the room. Jun noticed them and gave a couple of sidelong glances, but didn't fixate and quickly turned back to me to continue the hunting game. I had her hunting for a toy, rather than food, so when she found it she would bring it to me and we would play a few seconds of tug. She is used to hunting for both, but she tends to relax more with play and I also liked that when she found the toy she immediately sought me out so she didn't have to think about what to do next. There was a lot of downtime while the other dogs were hunting and we worked on relaxing in her crate. She did a great job! She chilled in her crate with the door open while I sat in a chair next to her. At first she was near the door, pseudo-relaxing, but for the last half of class she was towards the back, truly relaxing vs. soliciting treats.

We also learned about a reactive dog class taught by the same instructor that would be great for Jun, so I'm going to get her into that in a few weeks. And I need to find a reactive dog class for Elo too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Another Day, Another B-mod Strategy

Jun had another follow-up with Dr. Duxbury today.

After spending nearly a year working straight counter-conditioning, modified LAT, auto-watches, BAT and pretty much every combination thereof that you could come up with, Jun still has not made much if any progress in her comfort level with people. So, I started to think . . . maybe I am going about this the wrong way. Normally, in behavior modification work, "threshold" is thought in terms of distance from the trigger--usually the farther away the trigger, the more comfortable the dog will be. The more I thought about why my training wasn't working though, the more I started to think that Jun's threshold is backwards!! She is very uncomfortable with people at a distance and MUCH more comfortable with people right up close (in certain situations). It makes perfect sense when you consider how her reactivity progressed. She started out reacting only to people who were far away, and only recently started reacting to certain people up close.

I think that by always working with people far away and keeping Jun otherwise pretty isolated from people, she never became comfortable with the people because they were always an unknown--as long as they were at a distance she can't really check them out and figure out whether or not they are ok, and she has no idea what they might do. In addition, she has become sensitized to the whole counter-conditioning routine and basically comes out of the car primed to react.

So I asked Dr. Duxbury about trying a different strategy, and then before she could respond, I went ahead and tried it and got video. Dr. Duxbury agrees, we may FINALLY be on the right track!

Here's what we're doing now.
  • Starting with the people up close and gradually working to distance
  • Having Jun interact with the decoy through play with a ball or frisbee--short sessions that end with a game with me
  • Not doing anything repeatedly--Jun catches on to patterns too easily
Here is one of our first sessions, and it's not all that polished because I was largely experimenting. The woman on the left as Jun comes out of the truck is a brand new decoy--they had never met before. 
We started off with the decoy as close as possible, waited for Jun to orient to her and then had her throw the disc a few times. We also worked in some hand-touches. Later on we worked on approaches from a distance. Jun was not as comfortable with some of the distance approaches, yet she was still FAR more comfortable than she ever was working from a distance to up close. She is offering me her LAT and this is the first time I have felt like there is actually a positive CER being conditioned "Oh good!! A person! I can look and get a tug game!!" vs. "Uh oh, scary person, but at least I know what to do, look at mom." We switched directions that the decoy was coming from and she was not as comfortable, giving longer looks before re-orienting, so we will need to move a little slower in the future.

Jun will also be going to Nosework class! Dr. Duxbury agreed it was probably not a good idea to isolate her all winter long. With nosework, she will be in proximity of people, but it will be a very controlled environment and she will not be expected to interact at all. I think that will be good for her.

As for drugs, we are scrapping Clonidine. She was all over the place. She was up, down, falling asleep, and bouncing off the walls. The only time it seemed to make any difference for her reactivity was during the first few hours of the dose, when she was really sedated. I got the feeling Dr. Duxbury didn't think the sedation was necessarily a bad thing (she is not really a border collie person), but she totally respected that I didn't like it. We are going to wean off of Clonidine for the next couple weeks, then try increasing her Sertraline again. If she has another agitation response to the Sertaline, we will probably try Clomipramine as our next step.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What We're Working On

So, working on Elo's nails has been a huge success so far! We've done maybe 10 sessions, probably an hour of work at the most. I can now clip one nail and he won't even flinch! The first time I actually clipped one, rather than just holding the clippers on it, he was not too happy and I was afraid I had ruined all my work. Unfortunately, if there is a step between almost clipping a nail and clipping one, I couldn't think of it, so it was a bit of a leap. But I did a few easy reps, ended the session and he seemed to have forgiven me in the next session. It's amazing how much easier this is, just by giving him a choice and reinforcing when he made the right one!

Jun is working on paw crossing. I switched her left-to-right paw cross from a hand signal to a foot signal (crossing my legs while standing in the same direction). That was surprisingly easy! Then I wanted to get a paw cross in the other direction. The first one was very easy to free shape, since this is a behavior she does naturally. The second one I was getting nowhere with free shaping, so I am using my foot as a target instead. This came a lot faster and now I'm starting to fade the target. It should work pretty well, because I will have a built in cue for the behavior.

Jun has a follow-up with Dr. Duxbury next week and I am excited to discuss some new behavior mod strategies I have been mulling over/testing. Clonidine has been a complete bust, and I am ready to throw in the towel with counter-conditioning. 

Elo is also working on paw crossing. I've free shaped almost everything with him, but after two weeks I hadn't gotten anywhere with this behavior. Paw crossing is not a behavior that he offers naturally and my clicks were constantly late or I was clicking the wrong thing. I wasn't sure how to break it down small enough and he was offering me big behaviors. All I was getting was a reach forwards with his paw. He is such a good sport--he just keeps trying even though I'm not being at all clear. Finally out of fairness to him I decided to use a target and that took all of 30 seconds to have him crossing his paws. Last night I started working on fading the target, but this has never been a strong point of mine.

I'm also adding a hand signal to Elo's lie down cue. None of my dogs lie down well, (and two don't sit well either). They ignore this cue a lot. I'm not sure why this is, but considering it's an issue with all three I'm assuming that I am screwing it up somehow. My best guess is that I poisoned the cue in the early stages of teaching them--seeing a down as a "command" that my dogs MUST do, I over-faced them too quickly, asked them for these behaviors in too difficult of situations with too few rewards, and I was inconsistent in consequences. Depending on my patience level, I might punish, re-cue, "help," or stand there and do nothing, because, how do you "make" a dog do something it is refusing?? I wasn't too worried about it when it was Lok (he never did like training much) or Jun (she has her "special" issues). But then I noticed that it was a problem with Elo as well, and he is really focused, driven, and biddable with pretty much everything else, and that's when I decided that it must be me. When I cue a lie down, especially in high-distraction or high-stress situations. He will either stand looking at me and do nothing or stand and look away from me and do nothing. I am hoping that re-teaching it on a hand signal and then gradually increasing difficulty level and making it FUN will solve the issue. I am open to any other suggestions about what I may have screwed up here!