As our Comfort Trainer halter is currently winging its way towards us from the US, I thought I might get a headstart on the counter conditioning. This is very much necessary with a halter, so that the dog can happily wear it with little to no effect to its personality and creativity, and without it bothering the dog physically. A lot of people buy a halter for their dog and put it on immediately, impressed when the halter causes the dog to become slow, withdrawn and in the worst cases, depressed. The main cause for this psychological effect is the noseband of the halter - where it sits just below the eyes. When a dog is displaying its overt dominance to another, it sometimes will hold the other dogs muzzle in its mouth, putting pressure in many of the same places a halter puts it. It is hard wired into a dog that this pressure = dominance, which is why you see the psychological effects to halters. Some dogs won't be too bothered. These are the emotionally robust and physically insensitive dogs, however even then they certainly aren't going to like it.
In order to have a dog wear a halter with a little inhibiting effect, you have to do a lot of counter conditioning, and that is something I can do before the halter actually gets here. I plaited three strands of twine into a width of thick string that will be very similar to the width of the noseband of the Comfort Trainer. I then settled down for a clicker session. I held the plaited string out to Knightley, and if he ignored it, he got a click/treat (c/t). I formed a large loop of the string and slowly started moving it towards Knightley's head and muzzle. After every c/t I would withdraw the string as well. This is using the ideas of a technique called Behaviour Adjustment Training (BAT), which is a very geeky dog training technique that involves negative reinforcement (a feeling of pleasurable relief from stress, eg walking away from something stressful as a reward). By with drawing the string as well as c/ting, this let Knightley know that if he behaved nicely, the string (which he didn't much like) would eventually go away. Slowly I increased the time the string stuck around, and also started touching it to Knightley's muzzle and the rest of his head and chest, c/ting if he remained calm. I had to use my zen cue (Leave it!) a couple of times as he thought eating the string would be a good idea lol.
After writing about my socialisation and public access training plans in my last blog post I felt pretty inspired, so today Knightley and I took a walk up to our local shops. He did great! I focused on a couple of different things:
- Not pulling towards people in order to say hello (if he pulled, we backed up until he was in heel position and was under threshold again)
- Not picking up any leaves, garbage or food from the ground (he did pick up some plastic covered with leaves at one stage, but when I told him 'leave it' he dropped it. Good boy!)
- Staying calm - or at least calming down when asked (we sat down on a bench a couple of times and I had him go into a down - he relaxed nicely, I would like to practice having him calm when people pat him, but there is a lot of work to do there)
- Obeying basic cues (we ran through the basics, especially focusing on our eye contact cue ... he found it difficult with all the distractions but we were able to get up to about 8 seconds with no problems - we can do 30 seconds at home though!)
- Being neither seen nor heard (the ideal for an assistance dog is that no one ever notices that it's there, so we focused on heeling nicely, being quiet and being invisible - I did notice several people startle when they realised there was a fairly large panting dog just lying there)
So far so good! There is a lot more work to be done of course, and I am looking forward to having both the halter and the vest, so that people will leave him alone in public. That will make a lot of difference to our training.
I decided a couple of days ago to do something about Knightley's 'crate' behaviour. He is very eager to obey if, and generally only if, I have some nice food. If he knows I don't have any food, he certainly isn't eager to get in the crate, and when he does get in, it is very slowly and sometimes he doesn't even go into a down once he is in - and that is absolutely *required* as part of the behaviour. So, I decided to teach the behaviour again, from scratch. I didn't actually teach 'crate' very well, it was my earlier days with Knightley, and I have learnt so much since then. We are putting a new cue to it - 'box' - and I have shaped it from the beginning. It is looking like it will be a faster version of the cue, and Knightley is always going into a down at the end of the behaviour chain. I think this is one of the very best things about clicker training (and something that more 'traditional methods' completely fails at!), that if you don't like a behaviour that you have trained, that you can train it again completely from scratch and get it better the next time around.
The last big thing we worked on yesterday - apart from loose leash, which is a given! - is our stays. We are getting really really close to properly passing Level 2 now. The Manners Minder (MM) is definitely helping. Knightley gets a bit bored in a sit stay and used to slide down into a down... so I put the MM on top of something so the chute was more at his mouth level and it wouldn't tempt him to go into a down when the treat came out, but would instead *keep* him in a sit. It worked very well, and I slowly walked around the room with Knightley in a stay, at first giving a treat at 10 seconds, then 15, then 20, then 25 - which took us to 1 minute 5 seconds. I then returned to him and gave him a big chunk of dried liver. Then we tried again, starting at 15, then 25, then 30 and returned to him. I then did some shorter sit stays, about 10 seconds. It's important to sometimes make it easy, not always just hard hard hard, or the dog will give up. We then started again, 15 seconds, then 25, then 35, then 40... which added up to a whole lot more than 1 minute, although of course he was getting reinforcement. He did almost break in that last one, his butt did come off the floor, but I quickly said 'sit!!!' in a deep authoritative voice and he sat back down.... and I hit the treat button twice in a row on the MM and praised him gently as we were at a distance from each other and effusive praise can make a dog break. We did another set of times, and got up to 45 seconds with no treat in between, which is our longest sit without him sliding down... but if you look at the amount of time between me giving the stay cue and returning to him, many of those times it was well over a minute. So I was very happy with our progress. We worked on our down stay in much the same way, and then later in the day did it without the MM. We got up to 50 seconds at the required 6m (20 feet).
So Level 2 is getting so very close to being done.....! I am going to try making a video of some of the things in Level 2 - there are too many things to get them all in, but we'll have a go.