Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Heeling work, relax, stays and counter conditioning

Taking a small break from munching on a bone, still damp from
loose leash training outside. This morning there actually was
some improvement!!! I think there may be a steady dog inside
Knightley who will be able to walk nicely on his normal flat
collar. It's just going to take some more work.
Knightley and I have both come in wet from the rain (what a strange Australian summer it is!!) and I have given him some nice juicy bones to keep his teeth nice and clean, and to let a dog be a dog. I'm listening to him get really into it, it sounds like he's having fun.

I'm still struggling with my health a bit more than normal, which is why this post has taken several days to write, but Knightley and I are able to train reasonably normally. I'm doing a lot of heeling work offleash inside and in the backyard, getting him used to being beside me at all times. He is absolutely great inside and really knows where he is meant to be, but does get distracted outside.

Eventually, in addition to the 'heel' cue telling him to walk at my left hand side, I will teach him 'side', a cue to walk on my right hand side. In shops, especially places like clothes stores where the places to walk can be tight, and what you may want to look at doesn't involve looking over a dogs back, it makes sense to swap your dog briefly to the other side. This is why I will teach the other cue. For now however, we are working on teaching Knightley where I want him. The other thing to consider is, when he is finally starting to wear a mobility harness, he will need to walk slightly ahead of me, whereas in a classic heel position, his head should be equal with my knee. I am guess the equipment itself will act as a cue. Often this learning of equipment and what is expected because of certain equipment is called 'equipment association' and can be helpful - or can be rather annoying because a dog knows he can get away with worse behaviour in a particular collar.

We're also doing loose leash work - basically the heeling but with the leash on, but trying to pretend the leash isn't there. I am keeping the click/treating super regular to try to keep the leash completely loose, even out the front in the street. It works well if I keep up the level of reinforcement and there are no serious distractions. I think we are just about at the standard to pass Level 2 loose leash, but we have some more work to do on his relax and stays, so loose leash will get more work done on it. Yesterday evening we were out in the street practicing loose leash, and the people who live across the road called out to us, calling Knightley's name..... sigh. So much for loose leash. With a serious distraction like that there is no hope! However, I think we may be actually getting somewhere. It wasn't a pretty heel or anything, but we went for a little walk in the rain today and he was quite loose the whole way..... until anything happened that is, sigh.

Knightley on his new bed, with lots of things to play with and
chew around him. He still lies in his crate sometimes, but now
he has the choice. He has grown so much... at first we thought
the size of the crate was absolutely ridiculous, but now when he
is stretched out it is almost too small!!
The house is still in disarray after my brother moved out, but it has meant that instead of being in his crate when we go out every day, I have let Knightley have the run of his pen because that room is yet to be filled with furniture. He is definitely completely house trained, we have no accidents at all... and I think he enjoys the extra freedom of the pen. There are more things to chew on, extra things to lie on, and I have the two doors of the crate open, which he seems to like. He has a new bed too, as he had outgrown his original one, and he is becoming quite fond of it.

In the last three days I have started extensive counter conditioning to get Knightley to accept the feel of a buzzing tool (in this case a battery powered lint shaver) against him voluntarily. This is part of Level 2, and is to make grooming easier (pet clippers), and also in case your dog ever needs to be shaved for surgery. The idea is to get Knightley actually liking the buzzing sound and feel by associating it with food and praise. So I started with just showing him the shaver, and telling him to 'touch' it, so that he reached out with his nose and touched it. This is a good way to introduce a dog to an unfamiliar object. I then turned it on at a good distance from Knightley (far enough away that he was unsettled but happy to stay there voluntarily) and instantly started click/treating him very quickly. As soon as I turned the shaver off, the kibble stopped. I turned it back on, and the shower of kibble started again. By that technique I was trying to get into his mind 'great things happen when the buzzing starts! it isn't scary at all!' He had definitely relaxed about the sound after several repetitions.

After doing that quite a bit, I turned the shaver off, and brought it close to Knightley, but he had become scared of it, so I held both kibble and the shaver in the same hand, which got him nice and close to it again, and he realised it wasn't eating him. As I moved the shaver towards his body, he shied away, but came back for more kibble, and I started click/treating like mad as he relaxed next to the shaver. I managed to briefly touch it to him while it was off and still have him relaxed, and have it on, a good metre (3.3 feet) away and have him only a little tense. We left the first session there.

The second session was more of the same, I just started bringing the shaver closer to him whilst it was on, until it was only 50cm or so (1 1/2 feet or so) away from him. He was happy to have it against him for a couple of seconds while it was off, but was quite scared of it when it was on still. I had to be careful I didn't push him too far - I wanted him to be able to be completely relaxed by the end of the process. I started throwing 6-7 kibble on the floor, but holding the on shaver in the midst of the scattered kibble, so that Knightley had to choose to come near in order to get the kibble, but I didn't stop him from backing off if he felt he needed to. After a few tries of that, he was definitely getting a lot braver.

I have been intrigued by the training technique called Behaviour Adjustment Training (known in dog training geek circles as BAT), which uses small amounts of stress and negative reinforcement to teach new reactions to situations. For instance, say there is a dog who is scared of and stressed out by strangers, and starts barking at any when they come too close. Using BAT, you would get yourself a stranger to train with, increase your dogs stress by going towards the stranger, and judge it so that the dog is stressed but is still calm and not barking.... and if the dog is doing well and behaving itself, you reward it by walking away from the stranger (this 'pleasureable' relief from stress is known as negative reinforcement, as opposed to something like a treat, which is positive reinforcement). It is very empowering for a dog to realise that its behaviour can actually control the environment like that, whereas its barking rarely did what it wanted. Further sessions would involve going closer and closer to strangers, and rewarding good behaviour with a withdrawal... until the dogs stress level would go down and down, as it knows that sooner or later it will leave and be able to relax, it just needs to keep being polite.

I was thinking about BAT as I was doing the third shaver session, so decided to use the ideas involved a little more deliberately. If Knightley let the shaver get really close to him whilst it was on without getting too worried, I would reward him with both treats, and removing the shaver entirely, and turning it off. If he was upset I would concentrate on click/treating calming signals and slowly moving the shaver further away and closer until he settled down a bit. When he really did well and went a step further than previously, I would take it away entirely and turn it off. It seemed to make sense to Knightley, because the clicker coupled with these ideas really made progress. By the end of the session, I was turning on the shaver against him for a second or so, with little reaction. I've done one more session since then, and I think I've nearly completed this part of Level 2. It can sit against him, continuously on, and he is happy to lie down on the couch next to me, just feeling it buzzing on him. Tomorrow I will make sure he is happy to have it all over him - ears, feet, tail etc. He has done very well though, and every bit of handling we work on the better.

You know what, I would use this technique for any sound or sensation I wanted to get a dog used to. This is pretty much how I got Knightley used to being brushed happily, how I got him happily to have his teeth fiddled with and now is just about happy to have them brushed, to have his nails clipped (a big one for many dogs), to get used to a vacuum cleaner, to get used to something like a coffee grinder or dishwasher that makes an odd noise. Of course some of these things you can't physically move around, so for the BAT techniques of negative reinforcement, I would actually move away with your dog for a short time if it had done well, praising and treating all the time. So many of the techniques I use to train aren't just for the behaviour I use them for - they can be used for so so many things and once you realise how adaptable they can be..... you're always going to have an idea to solve a training problem... or three or four....    

Knightley's relax got up to 35 seconds tonight, which isn't bad. We are having trouble making that minute though. He stays lying down, but his head pops out of relax position. We're also having trouble with the one minute down stay at 6m (20 feet).... we get to about 30 seconds or so, before he decides he is bored and there are more interesting things to do. He is better in the sit because it is closer, but still isn't rock solid. He is doing better in stays than many 6 month old clicker trained dogs - from what I have heard..... but still, this is really what is holding us back now - the duration behaviours.

We also did some towel zen this evening. It has been raining today, so Knightley has needed drying off most times he comes in from outside, and somewhat foolishly, from when we got Knightley as a tiny puppy he has been allowed to play with the towel when being dried, the favourite being tug. Sometimes I don't mind, because he really does love the 'towel game' as we call it. Sometimes however, when I'm trying to dry his feet or his ears, I would appreciate a quiet dog. So we practiced him spitting out the towel and not touching it until given clearance to do so (leave it..... OK!). He actually did very well, I was able to drape the towel around his head and everything, without him latching on, which is usually a given. Our zen cue is soooo useful! If you weren't to teach all of Sue Ailsby's Levels, but were to pick and choose, I would go for zen as my number 1 behaviour. Zen creates a dog with self control, who thinks before it acts. I am a huge fan.

Anyway, this has ended up as a huge massive post, congratulations and a click & treat if you read the entire thing!

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