The Norbert Experiment, part 13: what’s next?

I am happy to report that Game can now watch cats moving slowly or being stationary at baseline distance without getting up or getting excited. She is interested, but – just hanging out and looking, and then going back to snoozing. No matter whether the glass door is open or closed. This is a HUGE difference from baseline – here, as a reminder, that first video I took around 2 weeks ago:

Versus today!

I’m calling this a big win, and I love how fast it happened!

Just hanging out, watching a cat walk past at baseline distance!

We have walked past resting cats at about 1m distance from Game in the yard (Game on a leash and muzzled; better not to risk anything), and I can tell her to leave it and she will keep the leash loose and make a little curve to indicate that she is leaving the cat alone. I’ve walked towards a cat and recalled her from up close to resting cats (the ones who don’t mind dogs) and recalled her from them in the yard as well – again, without problem and without using chasing as a reinforcer, muzzled (just in case the cat is suicidal and tries jumping into Game’s mouth) with the leash staying loose the entire time! What a superstar!

Crazy cats and cats closer than baseline distance

While Game can’t chill in this situation yet, we can play tug when cats are close and running/hunting/playing crazy, or sitting right in front of the glass door staring in (some are really curious) – even if the glass door is open. Game and I have come up with a tug – LAT hybrid for this where she’ll look, I’ll cue tug, she’ll tug for a few seconds, I’ll cue an out and then a look, mark the look with my tug cue, tug for a few seconds again etc. Doing this a few times in a row will lead to Game not looking when I give the LAT cue, but keeping her eyes on me. This is how I know that she is ready to move on, and I can cue a (kibble) scatter.

Cat LAT tug hyprid:

If I were to stay longer …

… this is what I would build on: I would start with tug LAT and then add behaviors that are less arousing. Brief ones at first, and more as she keeps succeeding (here, success would be defined as staying engaged between “look” cues).

This is how I would get to a place of working in the presence of up-close tempting cat distractions. (Work meaning that Game has gotten her needs to look out of the way and is able to stay in the game – or the work – with me until we end.) I won’t be able to do this here because we’ll move in a few hours – but that’s what I would do if I lived here permanently. Check out Sara Brueske’s Bomb Proof Behaviors class at FDSA to learn more about where to go from a place like this! It’s a concept class that can be used for any behavior and any distraction.

Finally: more cat photos for your enjoyment as we are packing our bags to leave!

There are two more cats around here that I didn’t get a picture of – apart from these two, I believe you’ve now seen all of them in some post or other.

Conclusion

Things have been going well! No cats were harmed in the making of this project! When we see Norbert again, we’ll be better prepared for sharing a space – at least for a little while!

The Norbert Experiment, part 12: from cat watching right to kibble scatters

Ready to go from cat watching right to kibble scatters?

Video 1

First session – and Game is being a superstar! Go Game!!!

Notes:

  • Door status: glass door closed.
  • Let’s repeat this with the door open!

Video 2 – door open

Notes:

  • Door status: glass door open
  • I LOVE that Game looked at the cat and then at me (that’s what I mark)! There is a moment of looking back catwards before the last treat though. We’re going to repeat this again; I want to see her succeed without looking back at the cat before the treat magnet or last scatter treat.

Video 3:

Notes:

  • Door status: glass door open!
  • Game status: SUCCESS! Wheee! Go Game!

The Norbert Experiment, part 11: from cat watching right to a high value scatter

The hope is that at this point, the cat’s arousal level is only moderately high – ready to be met with a high value scatter!

Video 1

This was hard! Game had to go back to watching (at 00:05) and couldn’t finish the first scatter right away, even though she responded to the treats cue at baseline speed. She went back to eating quickly – but I want that first scatter to be eaten without interruptions before I proceed to kibble scatters. So we got some excellent new information here, and I conclude: we’ll stay at this level until I get a no-latency response, and Game finishes the entire scatter without interruptions before following my treat magnet to the bedroom.

Notes:

  • Door status: glass door and screen door open.
  • Two scatters because Game didn’t finish the first one without interruption (at 00:05 in this video, she briefly looks at the cat).

Video 2

Several sessions down the line, Game is rocking it!

Notes:

  • Door status: glass door closed
  • I want to repeat this with the door open and see the same response before moving on – but in any case, REALLY happy with this one! I could have marked looking at me at 00:01/02 right away rather than waiting for Game to look at the cat again, since looking at me was cued by seeing the cat.

Video 3: high value scatter, door open, Game rocks it!

Notes:

  • Door status: glass door open
  • Upwards and onwards – we’ll try kibble scatters next!

The free-roaming world is not all rainbows and butterflies. No big deal.

This is the long version of my video description to go with today’s Free Roamer video. Subscribe to the channel here to not miss videos I don’t share on my blog. I also love comments, and am happy to discuss, clarify, and go into detail on Youtube.

Stand-offs with free-roamers

What you are going to see is two dogs in a stand-off. They don’t know each other. This is Game’s home range, but we don’t go here often. I don’t know if the other dog is in their home range or core area. First, Game is ready to curve politely. The other dog approaches frontally instead. As a result, the meeting itself starts off tensely: the free-roamer is tense, and Game responds with tenseness herself. They are in a stand-off: both stiff. Neither one giving an inch. I know it’s going to erupt.

I happen to have someone who’s taking video for me (thank you, Rodrigo!), which is rare – that’s the reason I do not interfere or manage when I see the other dog is tense rather than loose-bodied. I want you to see what happens in a situation like this: not a whole lot.

Free-roaming dogs are usually excellent communicators. That is to say, they may have attitudes and opinions; they may even be snarky and barky, feisty and mean. But they do not harm each other. Fights are loud, and then everyone walks away, shakes off, and continues with their day. Think Lucha Libre or Capoeira (it’s ritualized like a dance; it may be about winning, but it’s not meant to harm the opponent), not Krav Maga (few or no rules, and the aim is to knock out, eliminate or even kill your opponent quickly and efficiently).

Let’s define “usually” …

Let’s define “usually excellent communicators”: I have lived in free-roaming worlds (Thailand, Guatemala, Mexico) with my dog(s) for the last five years. In these five years, we’ve met multiple ree-roaming dogs every single day. Let’s say on average, I will meet 5 a day (that is a conservative estaimate). Only twice have we met a free-roaming dog who did not have great communication skills – it happens so rarely that I remember. So “usually,” in the sense I’m using it here, means close to 100% of the free-roaming dogs Game and I meet.)

Game is an excellent communicator as well. She is usually friendly, but can be a jerk, like any living being. Even when she’s being a jerk, she will not draw blood. This is why I am not worried even though I know the situation is going to erupt in this situation.

What if I didn’t want the situation to erupt? I’d manage or interfere the moment I saw a stiff-bodied free-roamer.

What options do I have to manage/interfere?

1. Space permitting, I could curve my leashed dog around the other dog in a wide half-circle, giving that dog space. I can’t cross the street here because there’s a fence separating the two lanes; if I could, I would just cross the road

2. I could do a u-turn with my dog. (I don’t usually do this because Game is a very stable dog, so it’s not necessary. I would do it with a puppy, a dog-aggressive dog, or a fear-reactive dog.)

3. I could tell my dog to stay next to/behind me and throw treats at the other dog.

4. I could tell my dog to stay next to/behind me, and threaten the other dog (free-roamers mostly respect humans and keep their distance).
Levels of threat I can use:
I Facing them frontally.
II Direct evil stare into their eyes.
III Throwing invisible stones.
IV Walking towards/into them while doing I and II.
V Kicking the dog if none of the above do the trick, while still having my own dog stand back. (Game knows if I am taking charge of a situation or if I am letting her take charge.)

5. I could tell my dog to come into “middle” position (see this video), and, if necessary, keep the other dog at bay with any of the methods mentioned in points 3 and 4.

When do I know it’ll erupt?

The moment I am sure it is going to erupt is when their stand-off starts. At this point, I know that the situation can only be resolved by an eruption – but who will give in and who will go forward is not yet clear.

It’s like arm-wrestling: while they are both stiff and staring at each other, it’s like both wrestlers are equally strong; their arms are vertical. They are holding this position for several seconds, and then one of the wrestlers will start losing ground.

The same happens between two dogs in a stand-off like this. One of them will give in. In this case, it’s the other dog. In an arm-wrestling match, this will most of the time result in the winner smashing their opponent’s arm down.

Things were standing still or moving in slow motion until that moment. Because the other dog gives in by retreating a step, Game goes forward (smashes the other one’s arm onto the table).

Loose leash

Notice that I’ve made sure to keep my leash loose the entire time. I can’t tell my leashed dog that she gets to handle a situation, and then keep her from freely communicating by tightening the leash. It would not be fair Tight leashes are only an option if I am going to handle the situation myself, and my dog is not expected to do anything.

However, I’m not going to let her tie herself and the other dog up in the leash, so I just stay where I’m standing. Situation over; you won, Game. She’s already defeated the opponent; it’s over as soon as Game reaches the end of her leash and the other one gets out of dodge (out of Game’s leash radius). And we continue on. All is well.

What if there was no leash?

You may ask yourself what would have happened if Game was off leash. Would she have ended up in the same stand-off? Yes, if I hadn’t managed or interfered, she’d probably have ended up in the exact same stand-off.

What would have happened if I had chosen to not interfere? I would have continued walking because I am a magnet for my dog. I don’t want to increase her power by staying close, but pull her with me by keeping moving. I would have walked past them, and then watched from a distance. Game would have had to finish her stand-off before catching up with me (otherwise, she would have become the one taking a step back, and the other dog would win and smash her metaphorical arm on the table).

Things would likely have ended in the same way: the other one would have given in, and Game would have responded by going forwards (smashing their arm onto the table). Because in this situation, there is no leash stopping her, the “fight” (remember: Lucha Libre or Capoeira, not Krav Maga: sparring for show, not to do harm) would have lasted a little longer. Maybe 30 seconds. Then, everyone would have moved on with their day; no blood, no harm – except maybe for that other dog’s ego.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because people tend to be afraid that when dogs get into fights, blood is going to flow. This is really rare among dogs who grow up free-roaming. It is not so rare among pet or sports or working dogs. If you live in a world mostly populated by the latter, it makes perfect sense that dogs getting into fights is something you are worried about. Free-roaming dogs are different in that their social skills are on a different level.

Why is Game good at this stuff?

Game has been hurt (bitten to the point of blood being drawn) by my own previous dog (who was severely dog aggressive), and she has been hurt by a pet dog who was with their owner. She has never drawn blood herself, even though she has been a jerk on occasion. Why is that? Take a minute and think about your answer before you scroll down and keep reading!

.

.

.

.

.

.

No, it’s not because I’m the world’s greatest dog trainer and turned a blank-slate puppy into the best version of a Malinois. It’s because Game is genetically an extremely stable dog. I would not blame her if she had developed aggression after living with my previous dog. But Game did not develop aggression. She has two personality traits that keep her from it: high confidence, and high sociability. The combination of these two allows her to assume that other dogs she meets are not going to be psychopaths despite her own bad experiences. She acts like a dog who has never had a bad experience, and is simply confident (will not submit if challenged) and sociable (will usually be friendly). So do most free-roamers we meet. Not bad at all, this part of the world, is it?

The Norbert Experiment, part 10: from cat watching right to kibble from hand

Same stair case – but kibble rather than high value treats!

In the video below, Game and I are having a long conversation about the cat (it’s the red cat and it starts out on the chair to the left of the umbrella). I aim for 5 treats from hand in a row before going to the kibble scatter, and have to start counting over again multiple times because Game needs to collect more information about the cat and its whereabouts before being able to give me 5 reps of eye contact in a row. That’s totally fine: she can earn the same treat in two ways: by looking at the cat, or by looking at me.

Notes:

  • Door status: glass door closed
  • I will stay at this step for a few more cats until it is easier for Game to offer 5 reps of eye contact sooner. I will also want to see this on an open-glass-door occasion before removing the kibble-from-hand step from my staircase.


Also, here you go, another (and I promise this will be the last) round of – wheee! – self-promoting, which I dislike – feel free to stop reading here!

Registration is still open for the December term at FDSA, and I’m teaching Finding Five.

It’s a class about …

  • finding five minutes to train your animal (of any species) every day – you are welcome to continue with a previous training project we started together in a different class, or try something new. This class has been taken by dogs, cats, birds, and a Bactrian camel. This time, we’ll be having … wait for it … a horse at Gold for the first time!
  • Time management and self care.
  • Improving your relationship with your animal.
  • Playing ridiculous games (because life does not have to be serious all the time).
  • Retreating to a virtual island in case you need a break from this holiday-infested month or the looming new year. What gets shared on the island stays on the island.

I’m also trying a different kind of “just in case you’re in the mood for it” background fun every time I run this class. This term, we’ll be having a book club.

Come, join! (Finances and time allowing, that is – if they do not, no worries whatsoever. The class will come around again, and you’ll be just as welcome in the future as you’d be today. No need for FOMO. Please put yourself first!)

The Norbert Experiment, part 9: from cat watching right to high value treats from hand

The staircase has only four steps now:

I’m also changing the colors of the stairs to reflect the fact that hopefully,
considering cats is becoming less arousing than it used to be!

I’m counting 5 treats for looking at me (rather than the cat) before going from tongue click treats to the scatter. Go Game!

Notes

  • Door level: glass door closed.
  • You typically only see one video, but I am doing each of these exercises several times a day when we’re at the AirBnB – anytime Game sees a cat! What I share with you are glances into the project, but not all sessions (too much uploading/downloading/editing/uploading).

The Norbert Experiment, part 8: From cat watching right to kibble tosses!

Here’s our updated staircase! Still 5 steps – but kibble instead of high-value treats:

Today, I am going for 5 subsequent reps of eye contact (rather than cat looks) before doing the scatter. Yesterday, I only did three – from now on, it’ll be five! I have to start over a few times. However, note that looking at the cat is being just as click-and-reinforceable as looking at me. I just don’t want to do a scatter when Game needs to go back and forth between the two (since for Game and I, scatters are ideally eaten without needing to look up).

Sorry to be out of the camera for most of the eye contact reps. The video is cut short, but the last two seconds of relaxation are right after getting to the bedroom and closing the door.

Notes about this video:

  • Door status: glass and screen door open.
  • Number of eye contacts pre scatter-for-eye-contact: 5

The Norbert Experiment, part 7: from cat watching right to high-value treat tosses!

Here’s the new staricase Game qualified for in the last video I shared with you:

We now only have 5 steps, and there is no horizontal shift – vertical only!

This is going well! Go, Game!

Notes on this video:

  • Door level: glass door closed (I just hadn’t untethered Game yet; just closed it before the cat appeared).
  • Leash-status pre marker cue: tight, then loose (ideal would be loose at all times).
  • Game followed me as soon as I reached for the container with the high value treats rather than getting stuck cat-watching! Yay!
  • Number of clicks for eye contact: 3 only before the scatter. I will up this to 5 going forwards (new rule: 5 successive clicks for eye contact before the scatter, which will be for eye contact as well.)
  • I also became aware of yet another confounding factor: time of day. I can’t control what time of day Game sees cats, but this surely factors in as well. I am not going to take it into account though because I won’t be here long enough to tease out each of these variables, but want to point out that this is very much not a well controlled experiment.

Further cat-related notes:

I train more than I video. This is how I approach the sessions you’re not seeing:

  • When a cat is much further than baseline distance, stationary, and by themselves (there is only one cat), I allow Game to just watch and observe. This is now possible for her with cats at the white metal table/chairs outside!
  • When a cat is Way Too Close, I start with tug, like I used to (imagine: cat sticking their head through the open door or sitting right at the other side of the glass door staring in).
  • When a cat is just a little closer than baseline distance and I have already succeeded with the respective step at baseline distance, I may try the same step at this smaller distance. This is what today’s video is an example of. (I have already succeeded at this step at baseline distance, but did not video that one.) I call the cat “really close” in the clip, but it’s just a bit closer than baseline.
  • Otherwise, I try to just repeat the step I’m currently at a few times to make sure it’s solid. Not videoing, not paying attention to staying on screen – just paying attention to my dog.
  • I will only ever make things harder after having a good session with the glass door open. For example, after the video in this post, I am not ready to move to kibble tosses: first, I’ll want to do high value treat tosses with the glass door open.


By the way: sign-up is now open for the December term at FDSA, and I’m teaching Finding Five.

It’s a class about …

  • finding five minutes to train your animal (of any species) every day – you are welcome to continue with a previous training project we started together in a different class, or try something new. This class has been taken by dogs, cats, birds, and a Bactrian camel. This time, I believe we’ll be having a horse at Gold for the first time!
  • Time management and self care.
  • Improving your relationship with your animal.
  • Playing ridiculous games (because life does not have to be serious all the time).
  • Retreating to a virtual island in case you need a break from this holiday-infested month or the looming new year. What gets shared on the island stays on the island.

I’m also trying a different kind of “just in case you’re in the mood for it” background fun every time I run this class. This term, we’ll be having a book club.

Come, join! (Finances and time allowing, that is – if they do not, no worries whatsoever. The class will come around again, and you’ll be just as welcome in the future as you’d be today. No need for FOMO. Please put yourself first!)

The Norbert Experiment, part 6: more adjustments to the plan

I’ve decided to make a couple more adjustments:

  • I will keep going down the staircase once and then giving Game a break. She is doing really well with this.
  • I will measure progress by looking what she can do with a cat at average distance – the distance the cat was at baseline, which is where most cats show up. I will not count closer cats (like the one in part 5) or cats that are further away (like the one under the white table in part 2). Baseline distance is here is anywhere in the area I circled, and includes cats sitting on one of these two chairs:

Steps of progress from baseline with a single cat at baseline distance

  1. Skip tugging, and go from cat watching directly to tosses high value treats.
  2. Skip tugging, and go from cat watching directly tosses with kibble.
  3. Go from cat watching right to food from hand high value treats.
  4. Go from cat watching right to food from hand with kibble.
  5. Go from cat watching right to a high-value treat scatter.
  6. Go from cat watching right to a kibble scatter.

In addition, I may add some Give Me A Break CU game sprinkles anytime I toss treats, and it seems like a good idea. Will explain why it felt like I good idea in the commentary going along with my video.

It would be neat to start with a closed glass door, go to a closed screen door and then to the door open – but this may not be possible because the door is already going to be in a certain position (which will be different throughout the day) when uncontrollable cats are being spotted by Game, so I’ll make my life easier and not going to factor this in.

I may not be able to get all of the above on video – note to self: prioritize training – but I’ll video what I can and share. I suspect that by the time I get to #7, I’ll be moving out of this AirBnB – so that’s where we’ll stop. It seems a realistic goal for the time I’ll be here. Whether I get there, don’t get there, or get further than that – we’ll be having fun, and there are going to be treats. “The sun is chirping, the birds are shining, the water’s wet. Life is good, sweetheart. Life is good.” (Bonus points if you randomly happen to know where this quote is from without googling. It just popped into my head – and life is good.)

No video today – but here’s a pic of one of the cats (who would be further than baseline distance):


PS: Note that there are cats several times a day. I just don’t record most of them – my external harddrive is dying (sniff), editing takes too long, and I want to keep this fun for myself.

The Norbert experiment, part 5: a session with the new adjustments goes well … even though this cat is being difficult!

This cat is closer than the baseline cat. It’s not always visible, but Game knows it is nearby, and is tempted to go back and figure out exactly where it is. I think today’s video is fairly self-explanatory since I’m chatting about what’s going on throughout. If it isn’t – ask away in the comments.

I’m keeping this video short – cut out a long part of our tug play and the end, but: I could easily guide Game into the bedroom (which is a small dark room, and that’s the reason we don’t usually hang out there), close the door, and relax with her on the bed for a bit, heading back out into the other room when the cat was gone.

In part 6, I’m going to share how I will try and keep something resembling data on these sessions. Not as clear cut as I’d like, but it’ll have to do, and I think it will work for our purposes. Stay tuned!