Today’s episode has nothing to do with dogs – it’s about Jane McGonigal’s Superbetter game, and how I’ve used it for myself. If you’re not familiar with the concept of gamification, you may want to watch Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk before watching/listening to my video. If you’re here for the dog training, you might want to skip this episode!
I had fun with The Brindle Girl series, and decided to do more video-style posts. I’m hoping this will tie me over until I go back to speaking in front of groups of people. I was going to record these while driving across Guatemala and Mexico – but it turned out that the AC blasting and the car were too much background noise. So I’m only recording these post road trip. They are still travel thoughts, so I’m keeping the name!
The first video post below is my musings about dog/dog sociability. After recording this, I remembered that I recently learned something that contradicts my anecdotal experience: dog breeds, it turns out, are much less predictive of an individual’s behavior and personality traits than we conventionally think they are.
How do we know that? As of today (May 27, 2021), the Darwin’s Ark project has analyzed 3,056,323 answers provided by the owners of 29,233 dogs. At the 2021 Lemonade Conference, Elinor Karlsson explained their approach in a captivating talk that was amazingly understandable even for someone like me, with zero training in data analysis or statistics. If you get a chance to catch one of her presentations – make sure you don’t miss it!
Based on what Elinor Karlsson and colleagues have found, you should take my video musings with a grain of salt! So before you watch my video – here’s the scientific caveat:
In relation to predicting sociability, we’ve learned two things from Darwin’s Ark:
An individual dog’s behavior and personality traits can not accurately be predicted if all we know is their breed.
Dog breeds have some subtle differences in behavior and personality when compared to all (pet) dogs. However, these differences are not clear for all factors examined in the Darwin’s Ark project. For example, there are no statistically significant breed differences when it comes to factors like agonistic threshold, and dog sociability – two factors relevant to my musings below.
Brindle Girl’s last session. A video that starts out very happy, end ends in a train wreck. I am sharing the uncut video here with you so we can all learn from my mistakes.
Make sure to read the subtitles in the video to follow my thought process!
What can we learn from my choices in this session?
When we want to change emotions, luring can be a BAD idea! When we lure a dog, it is easy to tempt them into doing something they aren’t ready for: getting close to the scary thing isn’t a genuine choice because the food is too tempting to say no.
For Brindle Girl, this turned out to be the case even with the low value kibble: by using food lures, I got her to stick her head all the way through the collar. I knew she wasn’t really ready for this – watch the last start button CC/DS session to see how suspicious she still was of it.
Things could not have gone wrong in this way if I had continued taking things at HER pace: by the time she let me know she was ready to put the collar on, she’d have been comfortable with it. Consequently, she wouldn’t have startled herself if I let go of it, and we would have avoided the subsequent fallout.
+ Since the counter-conditioning strategy has stagnated, I’m curious about how Brindle Girl will repsond if I present the collar loop, and try to lure her into it.
+ I talk about why in general, luring is not the best approach when working with dogs and fear.
When we came back from our walk, Brindle Girl (who we had left sleeping in the shade of the door), was gone. Let’s hope she’ll be back tomorrow – our last day at Cerro de Oro, and my last day of hanging out with my Brindle Friend!
Somewhere between sessions 10 and 15 of the Brindle Girl series, I asked students on the FDSA alumni list whether they’d rather see me continue working my slow CC/DS protocol with this collar, or demonstrate how I would put a slip lead on her in a way that keeps stress low, and gets things done. Everyone voted for the collar – so that’s what I’ve been doing with Brindle Girl. But you’re in luck, because Dude Who Wants To Knock Up My Dog – he makes an appearance in Brindle Girl’s session #42 (Brindle Girl Series video #43) – has been hanging around the house as well. Since he’s been in my way, I decided to put a lead on him so I could tether him when taking out Game. This video is me putting a limited slip lead on him for the first time. The very few previous interactions we’ve had consisted of me using a broom to tell him to get off my porch. Here’s what’s happening in this video:
I sit on the windowsill and assess: what’s he like; what does he think about me being up close? He responds by wagging, and he doesn’t get up. Good.
I don’t move my leash hand fast to avoid triggering a startle/fear/bite response, but I do move swiftly, just sliding the slip lead over his head, tightening it – and voilà, it’s a dog on a leash! No big deal; he hardly noticed.
Notice that I approached him with the leash from the side of his head rather than from above.
Remember early on in the Brindle Girl series, when I noted that the very fact that I have been making a BIG deal about the collar may have sensitized her to it? This is certainly not happening with Dude Who Wants To Knock Up My Dog. There’s no time for him to get sensitized; he barely even notices the leash before it’s on. THIS is what I would do in a realistic scenario (for whatever reason, a collar/leash needs to go on a dog who is new to me).
I would have used a different strategy if his initial reaction (when I sit down on the windowsill and ask him how he’s doing) wasn’t a wag. If he stiffened or growled at me, I would not move my hand this close to his head – I don’t want to get bitten.
Would Brindle Girl have responded just like this if I tried this with her rather than using the slow CC/DS approach with the collar? She’d probably not be as relaxed as Dude Who Wants To Knock Up My Dog. Brindle Girl is a more timid dog. I’d have gotten the leash on her equally quickly, but she may not have stayed quite as relaxed. Still – just comparing this to the CC/DS approach with low value food: the difference is striking.
Comparing the two approaches shows how sometimes, the pragmatic approach will get you further much faster, and that it doesn’t necessarily imply behavioral fallout.