Holy shit, that stuff is hard, and hard is a euphemism for impossible! So we’ve decided to go back to the original plan: Hadley will mainly be Tom’s responsibility – he is his dog, and the more I do with Hadley, the less Tom gets to do. So while I will still keep Hadley company when Tom is at work, take him on walks and fun outings with the rest of the crew, and love him just as much as Phoebe and Fanta, all other training and mental stimulation will be Tom’s job. And of course, we’ll keep working together to solve the potentially obsessive floor-digging riddle and help Hadley become as happy and OCD-free as he can be.
Up until now, I ended up doing most training. I’ve spent a lot of time with Hadley during the day, since I mostly work from home. This way, I got to know him well – probably better than Tom, who has an office he goes to every day. I saw what Hadley needed and provided it for him: desensitizing and counter-conditioning to scary stuff, getting him used to various challenging environments (city, public transport), socializing him with dogs and children and people in wheelchairs, providing him with enrichment, shaping games and walks.
When Tom got home at night, a content puppy was waiting for him, ready to have some cuddles with his dinner and then fall asleep. For the most part, Tom didn’t need to worry about training, mental stimulation, or exercise, since I had already taken care of this. Consequently, he worried about other things that nobody else was taking care of instead, like work and finishing his phd. However, Tom still got to call the shots as far as Hadley was concerned – after all, Hadley is his dog. And this turned out to be more and more frustrating for me: because I was investing a lot of time and effort in raising Hadley, he felt more and more like “my” dog. I was doing more with him than I had ever planned on doing, but did not get to raise him the way I would if he had been “my” puppy.
Now that Hadley is an adolescent, he has started needing more activities to engage his BC smartness, so my investment grew even further – and to a point where I got angry at Tom and felt like he “ruined” my cues when he was using them differently than I was. This clearly wasn’t working: Hadley was turning into my dog, which was frustrating for Tom, and I felt that I had somehow ended up with all of the responsibility without getting to do things my way. Luckily, in contrast to other species, the human animal can reflect on its actions. We decided to change what we were doing, because the current approach hasn’t really been working for us. Clearly defining our jobs regarding Hadley has already made things easier and gotten rid of conflicts, and has brought Tom and Hadley closer together, and it has also taken the frustrating parts out of our relationship again. I’m really relieved – Tom’s my favorite person and sharing a life with him feels different than any past relationships. I want us to be happy together and kiss at red lights when we’re riding in a car together rather than fight about how to raise a puppy!
When it comes to dogs, it turns out, we have different ideas and approaches, and I don’t think we’ll be training together anytime soon. That’s okay, it just means that it has to be clear who is responsible for what.
It is nice to see that Hadley is now really turning into Tom’s dog, and in the 7 or so days that Tom has been spending more time training, walking and playing with him, I think they’ve already grown closer. After all, that’s what it should be like to have a four-legged best buddy. That’s what it’s like for me with Phoebe and Fanta, and I want Tom to have the same kind of relationship with Hadley.
Right now, the two of them are taking their first 1-on-1 lesson at AHA. I hope they’re having fun – I’m not the right kind of trainer for the two of them, but I’m glad that Tom found someone to help him out with BC adolescence related things, and help him train. Maybe he’ll even find his own community of dog people there and get into agility once Hadley is old enough.
While I’m glad we talked about this and decided that I would take a step back, training-wise, it also makes me a little sad that there won’t be any more fun shaping session with the little black-and-white rascal. I’ve done a lot with him these last months. Not as much as I would have done if I had brought him in to raise him as my puppy – I want my next puppy to be a performance puppy and would place a higher focus on teaching engagement and focus in any environment from an early age, and I’d do a lot more shaping, balance and body awareness exercises, and introduce him to group classes while still a puppy … But Hadley and I still did a lot together. I socialized him to dogs, children and people in wheelchairs and on skateboards and scooters, introduced him to city sounds and riding public transportation, got him used to wearing a muzzle and husbandry training … I shaped lots of tiny little throw-away behaviors, just to teach him to offer behaviors and be creative … I made sure we rode the car for a few minutes every day so he’d get more comfortable in it … I crate-trained him and made sure to reinforce calm behavior throughout the day in those early puppy days, and worked on Dr. Overall’s relaxation protocol … I did lots of food puzzles and fun recall training, and reinforced voluntary attention and good choices on walks, and worked on Hadley’s leash reactivity … Well, you know: basic puppy stuff and then some.
So on the one hand, I’m happier now that I don’t feel frustrated anymore – Tom is taking the responsibility for his puppy that initially, I had somehow ended up with. But I’m sad at the same time, since it was fun to have a puppy to train! Oh, so much fun! But that’s okay – I know that some day, there will be another puppy – the one I’ve been thinking about for about a year. I hadn’t decided what breed she would be yet. Border Collie was one possibility – I’ve been keeping an eye on the Firehillborders, and particularly on Uschi’s Border Collies von der Saußbachklause ever since I met Tina’s red merle girl Anny, and on Lene Simonsen’s beautiful and talented BCs. Another option was a Kelpie, or perhaps a working-line Aussie … Or maybe something completely different. We’ll see – once Hadley is a little older and I have a bigger house. For now, I have time to focus on Phoebe again. We’ll give agility another chance: while the group classes weren’t for us, Phoebe and I will be taking private lessons with Angelika Heitmann in February. We can’t wait 🙂
I’m going to stop documenting Hadley’s and my training adventures, since they are about to end. So you’ll be reading more about Phoebe and Fanta again. In any case, here’s a few more glimpses at the things the little rascal and I did together in his first 3 months with us. A few newer videos, and some older ones I hadn’t uploaded before. I think I did a nice job helping Hadley have a good start as a city dog, and overcome his various fears. But now it really is Tom’s turn!
FDSA Performance Fundamentals with Deb Jones and Judy Keller at Bronze, Weeks 2 & 3:
More settle on your mat training at a department store:
Working on off-leash encounters with dogs:
Recall training via Premack Principle – using leaves as reinforcer, and using playing with other dogs as reinforcer.
… in which our hypothesis is confirmed and we see some interesting video proof.
As you might remember, Hadley had me worried with his obsessive floor digging and biting, which appeared to be getting worse rather than better over time despite redirection. I implemented the changes Nicole and I had agreed on during our last consult (see Part 1). Here is a summary of my observations from November 30 to December 2, 2015: Summary Part 2 (pdf with video links).
What we hypothesized and how we intervened – a quick recap:
In my last post on this topic, we had developed the hypothesis that floor digging/biting was being reinforced by owner attention:
Reflections on floor – Hadley bites/digs floor –> Tom and Chrissi look at and talk to Hadley.
In order to test this hypothesis, we were going to change the consequence of the unwanted behavior by means of P-:
Reflections on floor – Hadley bites/digs floor –> all people leave the room.
If floor digging/biting was truly reinforced by owner attention, leaving the room should function as negative punishment and extinguish the unwanted behavior. Furthermore, if floor digging/biting was truly reinforced by owner attention, it should never happen when Hadley was home alone. If, on the other hand, the behavior was self-stimulating, it should continue after I left the room, and also occur when Hadley was home alone.
What we learned and what this means:
In the three-day observation period, there were 7 incidents of floor digging/biting. I reacted by means of immediately leaving the room every time, and recorded 6 of the incidents. By means of having a camera pointed at Hadley, I could see what happened after I left. As you might remember from the last videos I posted, when I used to stay in the room and observe, the floor digging/biting tended to go on for up to several minutes. Here’s an example of what happened when I left – watch this video if you only want to watch one, since it has a better camera angle than most of the others:
Further video evidence for the effectiveness of P- for Hadley’s floor digging/biting:
In each one of the 6 incidents I have on video, Hadley immediately stopped the unwanted behavior. This confirms our hypothesis: his floor digging/biting was really reinforced by owner attention! Believe it or not, but this made me very happy. No other scenario was as easy to resolve as this one! Plus, Hadley was young and we had caught it early. There would most likely be no need for meds, and we should get a grip on his obsessive floor digging/biting in the course of a few weeks.
Differential Reinforcement from November 30 to December 2, 2015:
When using negative punishment, it is advisable to simultaneously strengthen alternative behaviors in order to avoid creating a “behavior vacuum” where no functional replacement to the unwanted behavior is available to obtain the desired reinforcer. In Hadley’s case, the reinforcer is attention (talking, eye contact, petting). While weakening the unwanted behavior, we strengthen a replacement behavior that will allow him to ask for attention in an appropriate way: sitting or standing in front of me and seeking eye contact.
In the pdf summary above, you find the number of times I reinforced specific behaviors or the number of times specific things happened. Here’s what this means.
Table “Wanted behavior”:
Date, Time: refers to the date and exact time the session started.
Duration: refers to the duration of the respective session.
FI: refers to the schedule of reinforcement used during the session. FI stands for fixed interval and the time stated defines how many seconds or minutes have to pass until reinforcement becomes available. For example, FI 15min means that reinforcement becomes available after 15 minutes. When my timer rings after 15 minutes and Hadley happens to be showing one of the alternative behaviors I have defined, he will be reinforced.
The alternative behaviors I am reinforcing on a FI schedule are: “being awake and doing things by himself” – e.g. lying on the floor/couch/rug/dog bed/crate, walking around, playing with a toy by himself, chewing a chew toy, drinking water.
The reinforcement used for this is eye contact and talking to Hadley in a calm voice for at least 5 seconds.
The DRA column refers to the number of times I reinforced alternative behavior in the respective session. This number does not always equal the duration divided by the interval because I did not reinforce when Hadley was asleep or playing with one of the other dogs.
The DRI column refers to the number of times I reinforced behaviors incompatible with the unwanted behavior in the respective session. We defined two incompatible behaviors: sitting and standing in front of me and seeking eye contact. These behaviors were reinforced with eye contact, cheerful talking and petting for at least 5 seconds.
The DRL column (DRL = differential reinforcement of lower-intensity or lower-rate behavior) refers to the number of times I reinforced the unwanted behavior occurring at lower intensity. In our case, lower intensity was defined as stretching and/or rolling on the ground/couch. The videos in the first observation phase (see Part 1) had shown that these behaviors often preceded the unwanted behavior of digging/biting the floor. So in phase 2, whenever I caught Hadley stretching and/or rolling on the couch/ground, I reinforced him by means of calmly walking over, talking to him in a calm voice and petting.
Let us take a closer look at DRL, since reinforcing part of a problematic behavior – even though at a lower right – might seem counterintuitive at first sight. What’s its purpose? DRL procedures are useful for behaviors that are generally acceptable, but occur too often or in an exaggerated form. In Hadley’s case, rolling on the ground and stretching are perfectly acceptable dog behaviors. However, what they tend to turn into in Hadley’s case (floor digging/biting) is an unwanted behavior. By means of reinforcing lower rates or intensities of an unwanted behavior, we avoid the need for punishment: when I pet Hadley, who is rolling on his back, he half-closes his eyes and his muscles relax in response to my belly rubs. If I did not walk over and reinforce this lower-intensity behavior, he might start floor digging/biting, which would result in me leaving the room, i.e. negative punishment. DRL procedures, then, are an effective means of working with certain kinds of unwanted behaviors and an alternative for punishment. (1)
The P- column (P- = negative punishment) refers to the number of times I left the room as a consequence to Hadley’s floor digging/biting in the respective interval. Since we had established that the unwanted behavior was being maintained by attention, leaving the room turned out to be an effective means of negative punishment. My videos show that Hadley immediately stopped floor digging/biting whenever I left the room.
Check out the video above for an example.
Table “Unwanted Behavior”:
Whenever the unwanted behavior (floor digging/biting) occurred during the observation period, I also made a note in this table. As you can see from the left column, it occurred a total of 7 times in the 3-day period.
The Date, Time column specifies the exact date and time the unwanted behavior occurred.
Die “P- successful?” column shows if my leaving the room interrupted the unwanted behavior. In all 6 cases I recorded, the unwanted behavior stopped immediately. Instance #2 has a question mark because the camera crashed and I could not review the video.
Table “Alone Condition”:
On each of the three days, I also tested Hadley’s behavior in an alone condition of about an hour (30.11. – morning, 1.12. – night, 2.12. – noon). I filmed Hadley while I and the other dogs were out. Never did floor digging/biting occur in the alone condition, which further confirms the hypothesis that the unwanted behavior is reinforced by attention.
Nicole made a graph from the data I collected:
On December 3rd, I had another phone consult with Nicole to look at what had happened during the last days, and see where we should go from here. We agreed that our hypothesis had been confirmed and that I should keep doing what I had been doing in the last three days, with some minor modifications:
DRA: I will keep up my DRA routine, but start not only reinforcing with eye contact and a calm voice, but also petting in slow, long strokes. For the time being, I’ve set my timer to 15-minute intervals, which I am planning on keeping up for the next weeks.
DRI: I will keep continuously reinforcing the incompatible behaviors of sitting or standing in front of me, making eye contact, with a cheerful voice and petting. For the time being, I will keep up a continuous schedule, but in about 3 weeks, I might start intermediately reinforcing instead. Once these incompatible are well established, they will be further strengthened and made resistant to extinction by means of an intermittent schedule.
DRL: I will keep reinforcing lower intensity behavior, i.e. Hadley’s stretching/rolling on the ground/couch with petting and calmly talking to him. For the time being, I will keep reinforcing continuously; in about three weeks, I might introduce an intermittent schedule of reinforcement for this behavior.
P-: Whenever Hadley bites/digs the floor, I will keep doing what I’ve been doing and leave the room for 10 seconds.
I will keep taking notes and see what happens. Stay tuned for Part 3 of the potentially obsessive floor digging riddle!
Further ponderings: Holy shit! Have we been looking at stereotypic behaviors/OCD all wrong?
These last weeks have been most intriguing for me. In the beginning, I was worried – a lot. I did not want Tom’s puppy to develop OCD and need to be on medication for all his life, and to be constantly on the lookout for interrupting, and to … argh!!! What would his life be like? Would he be unhappy and ruled by obsessions, chasing shadows, for the rest of his life rather than living the blissfully careless life a puppy should have?
Well, then, with Nicole’s help, I made a plan and started looking at the behavior from a applied behavior analysis point of view. Things started making sense, albeit in an unexpected way: it wasn’t interrupting (i.e. attending to Hadley) that was the solution, but the very opposite: leaving the room (i.e. withdrawal of attention)!
This realization, together with the results of the study by Hall et al. (2) and the fact that a number of knowledgeable, experienced trainers recommended me to redirect (i.e. give attention) as soon as Hadley engaged in the unwanted behavior made me wonder: is there a big number of dogs out there who are on meds these days, and still suffer from occasional compulsive outbursts, simply because their well-meaning human families unknowingly reinforced their stereotypies by means of redirecting (i.e. giving them attention?), making the behavior not better, but worse and worse over time? It wouldn’t be very surprising if this was the case: my first intuition had also been to interrupt what worried me! It seemed like the obvious thing to do! Apart from that, most of us are predisposed to look for problems inside the animal rather than looking at environmental consequences. I’m not saying that the problem will never be inside the animal – of course, this is also possible. However, how often is “the problem inside the animal” really the case, and not simply a convenient interpretation? We can only profit of developing the habit to take a good look at the antecedents and consequences of an unwanted behavior and making sure we’re not strengthening a problem behavior with a seemingly commonsensical approach.
The good thing: I’ve learned a lot in the last weeks, and my wish to study behavior has once more been strengthened. I’d really like to learn more about applied behavior analysis and its implications for dog training! Well, I guess I’ll just have to keep saving up for the program of my choice. 🙂
(1) See Chance, Paul. Learning and Behavior. Fifth edition. Belmont: Wadsworth 2003. S. 211f and 356f.
(2) Hall, N.J., Protopopova, A., & Wynne, C.D.L. (2015). The role of environmental and owner-provided consequences in canine stereotypy and compulsive behavior. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 10, pp. 24-35.
Mr. H. has been a very good dog, so he’s been allowed lots of off-leash fun on our walks. I think it’s really important to work on good off-leash manners and a solid recall before adolescence kicks in and the once-brilliant puppy brain stops working for several months or even years. My hope is, of course, that if we practice these skills now, the little rascal will be able to keep some, if not most of his privileges in those difficult times yet to come.
For me to be happy with my off-leash dogs, I want them to do two things: 1. come when called, and 2. check in voluntarily on a regular basis. That is to say: I want them to know it’s their responsibility rather than mine to make sure we don’t lose each other.
This is how I work on the voluntary checking-in with me:
Step 1 – continuous reinforcement.
On every walk, I try to set aside at least a few minutes where I concentrate on reinforcing every single time Hadley chooses to look at or come towards me without being asked to. We know: behavior that gets positively reinforced will happen more often in the future. For Hadley, I mainly use food treats. I usually have a puppy trail mix in my treat bag: there’s some special kibble, cheese, and hot dog slices all mixed together. Hadley never knows what he’ll get, but he loves all of them.
Step 2 – intermittent reinforcement.
Once Hadley has his checking-in down, I’ll switch to an intermittent schedule: I’ll reinforce most of his check-ins with praise and attention, but only some of them with a tangible reinforcer like food or a toy. This creates a slot-machine effect, i.e. a dog who will check in with me a lot!
Phoebe’s checking-in is on an intermittent reinforcement schedule, and if you know her, you’ll know how often she does a drive-by on walks. For her, the reinforcer I mainly use these days is the happy voice and then telling her to run ahead, play or go do doggy things.
Recall away from dogs & people
We also did a little bit of intermediary recall training today: I walked towards a group of people and off-leash dogs in the distance, then called Hadley back after noticing them without changing direction. The smart little bugger did very well! For the recall, I use the highest value reward of Hadley’s choice: liver paté.
… and morning zoomies!
Of course, there’s also plenty, plenty opportunity to play and have fun on every walk. Here’s today’s morning zoomies with some random happy recall practice.
In Hadley’s book, quite a number of things are alarming. One of them: new objects in familiar spaces, like the neighbor’s trash bag that hasn’t been sitting out the day before, or a penguin wearing a hat, standing provocatively at a doorway where no one used to stand. (I totally get that. Penguins are not supposed to wear hats; now that’s just weird!)
My favorite way to deal with scary stuff is to make it part of a game. I’ve done this with Phoebe back in the day when she had a random-objects-are-scary phase in her adolescence, and now I’m using the same strategy for Hadley. By means of shaping, I want to give Hadley the experience that he controls the situation, and can turn scary stuff into cookie vending machines by means of choosing to engage with it.
Engaging with scary objects in return for a cookie is entirely his choice, not mine. I’m not luring him closer, and I’m not forcing him to engage with the scary object in any other way. Hadley decided whether he goes all the way up to an object, touches it, or just plays a little LAT from a distance. If he chooses to disengage after a little while, that’s okay, too.
Now that I’ve finally decluttered my camera phone, I got to film today’s encounter with a penguin wearing a hat. We met that weird bird on our way home from a walk in the neighborhood. We frequently walk past this house, and never before has there been a penguin standing in front of it. Obviously, Hadley was concerned. It looked quite devious in its green hat, pretending to be all innocent, just standing there provocatively. It might just have been planning to murder us all, and Hadley was right to point this out to me.
This is what our penguin session looked like:
Note that rather than using strategic points of reinforcement, I’m feeding away from the penguin, so the increase of distance acts as an additional reinforcer (R-). The whole thing took about 5 minutes, including a few breaks whenever either Hadley chose to disengage and do sth. else for a little bit, or when I went to reinforce Phoebe who I had put in a sit-stay. When Hadley offered looking at the penguin or approaching it again after a break, we were back in the game. At 0.30 in the video, you can see from Hadley’s body language that he’s getting too close. I should have clicked sooner, i.e. after fewer steps towards the penguin. He trusts me enough to keep playing, so for the next click, I lower criteria to just a few steps, something he can easily do. Then I gradually increase criteria again. At the end, you see his first bold touch. He’s not worried anymore and recognizes the penguin as the latest cookie-vending machine that has been placed here for his convenience! Engage with it, get a cookie from mum. Sweet!
Karen Overall defines OCD as “[r]epetitive, stereotypic motor, locomotor, grooming, ingestive, or hallucinogenic behaviors that occur out of context to their “normal” occurrence or in a frequency or duration that is in excess of that required to accomplish the ostensible goal.” It may either be “primary (truly endogenous) or secondary and associated with thresholds for stimulation.” (1)
When I observed the following on several days in a row, I started worrying: was Hadley starting to develop OCD? And if so – how could I stop it?
Hadley digging and biting the floor.
I was overwhelmed and worried. This was the first time I had been confronted with behavior like this. I knew that Border Collies were said to have a predisposition for compulsive and stereotypic behavior, and I was afraid that, unless I did something now, this was going to get worse. Tom and I had already observed this behavior in Hadley’s first week with us. The first times it occurred, we always redirected him to a chew toy, not sure what to make of it. After a few weeks where the behavior kept creeping up every once in a while – every two or three days – I decided to not redirect, but observe if Hadley would stop on his own. He did so, after about 30 seconds. However, in the following weeks, I felt like the floor digging/biting was happening more often, and whenever I observed without intervening, it lasted longer and longer – up to a few minutes, looking like in the video I posted above.
I decided to consult Nicole Pfaller-Sadovsky, a trainer whose approach I appreciate and admire. She would have a scientifically sound strategy to tackle this molehill before it grew into a mountain, and her outsider’s perspective would help me see through my loving doggy-mum interpretation, and focus on the functional analysis we needed in order to get to the root of Hadley’s floor digging and biting.
Nicole and I agreed that I would observe Hadley’s behavior for two to three days, take notes and do a functional analysis, i.e. identify the antecedents and consequences of the behavior. In case you’re interested in the details – here’s my observations from November 24 to 26, including the informal notes I jotted down and the videos I took.
Duration: 23 sec (1.32-1.55)
Shadows: almost invisible since it’s the middle of the day.
I’m having lunch and watching a TV show. Hadley, who (I am pretty sure) was sleeping under the couch, comes over and starts rolling on his back and making noises – this is when I start observing him. He rolls around on his back, makes noises, and then starts floor digging. He stops again after a few seconds, gets up, wanders around, sniffs the floor and then lies down near the stairs.
This has been a quiet, not particularly action-filled day.
Duration: 15 seconds
Shadows: the black plastic floor of the crate is somewhat shiny, but there is no direct light. Hadley’s shadow is visible, but not as prominent as the other day. I cannot tell if it’s his shadow he’s trying to grab.
12.30. Hadley has been in his crate for 15 minutes and has lunch kibble hidden in two cardboard boxes stuffed with newspaper. He has fun with these toys, then lies down for about 5 minutes and relaxes. He then cleans himself, starts playing (still lying) with the cardboard pieces and his tail. I’m on the phone. Hadley is watching me from the crate (I’m probably pacing the room).
00.59 – after looking out of the crate for a few seconds, Hadley gets up, turns and immediately starts digging in the corner of the crate. 1.02 – 1.17 (15 seconds). He turns while digging and biting the floor (twice), and starts making his noises. He then turns, lifts his head with a short licking intention, walks around and sniffs, and goes back to playing with his cardboard boxes.
His tail is still up, and there’s no panting.
Observation 3: (no video)
I’ve taken H. out to pee, and forgot my keys. I’ve been waiting in front of my apartment door for about 5 minutes, talking on the phone, while Hadley just hangs out there, mostly lying around looking bored. Then he gets up, sniffs and starts digging for about 10 seconds, then stops again and lies down. (I don’t interrupt my phone call but observe. This is a tile floor. There are no shadows visible, but, depending on your angle, there is a blurry, plate-sized blotch of light.)
Observation 4: 17.50h (no video)
Hadley was lying on the floor, on the spot where he then started digging – I heard a scratch and turned around, and turned on the camera as he was just getting up.
Observation 5: 17.15
Shadows: Where he starts digging, his own shadow/the shadow of his head is visible. When he wanders away, sniffing (but not digging), shadows are hardly visible.
Duration: 7 sec (0.21-0.28) I might have interrupted him by moving closer with the camera, as he looks up at me when he stops.
The three dogs had a little run on the fields and 5min of llw training in the morning, and in the afternoon, I took Hadley to the first district for 30min of city training.
We’ve been back from our walk for a little over an hour.
Observation 6: 17.30 (no video)
Same thing happens on the balcony (door closed).
Observation 7: 18.45
Shadows: Hadley’s own shadow/the shadow of his head is visible, but only lightly.
Duration: 50 sec (0.58-01.48)
I had been outside about 10-15min ago (didn’t expect peeing). He’s panting, then sits by the door (“I need to go out.”).
Observation 8: 17.15h
Shadows: shadows of objects are visible, but very blurry.
Duration: 11 min (1.40 – 13.00)
Digging starts at 1.40 and lasts until 13.00, i.e. 11 minutes. This is the longest episode I have observed so far. I follow H. around with the camera and comment on what I observe, since he does not seem to even notice.
In the end of the video, after following Phoebe to the door, Hadley lay down near the stairs; then changed to a different spot of the apartment (opposite kitchen counter) and fell asleep. (Tom did not come in at that point after all.)
This day has been filled with more activities than the day before: in the morning, we went for an hour-long walk with Helene, Xandro and Arkani. On the way to meet them, while Hadley was still on leash, he reacted at a Golden in the distance. When we got home, Hadley slept until noon, then had lunch in a home-made food toy. In the afternoon, he had a raw meaty bone in his crate while Phoebe, Fanta and I went for another short walk and a little dummy practice around the corner. After sleeping some more, he got one short skateboard shaping session (about 15 treats long). Then he went back to sleep – until the above video happened.
Finding a hypothesis
On November 27th, I shared my notes and observations with Nicole, and we planned a behavioral intervention. I had not been able to determine clear antecedents and consequences. After some brainstorming, we decided that the triggers were likely reflections/shadows under certain circumstances, and we came up with the hypothesis that Hadley’s floor biting/digging is reinforced by attention. My past redirecting and occasional ignoring might have put it on an intermittent schedule reinforcement: Reflections on floor – Hadley digs and bites floor –> Chrissi/Tom look at & talk to Hadley. I will test this hypothesis over three days, starting on Monday, November 30.
Testing of hypothesis & intervention
P-: To test the hypothesis that attention reinforces floor biting/digging, the first and most important step Nicole and I agreed on is that during the next observation period of 3 days, I’ll immediately remove attention by means of leaving the room as soon as Hadley engages in the unwanted behaivor. I’ll keep surveilling Hadley by means of cameras, so I’ll be able to see what happens after I have left.
This way, the consequence (attention) is going to be different from now on. We’ll see if Hadley soon stops once I have left the room, and we’ll see whether the behavior decreases in the course of these three days. I’ll stay outside for at least 10 seconds.
Reflections on floor – Hadley digs and bites floor –> all people leave
Furthermore, I’ll differentially reinforce alternative behavior:
DRA: when Hadley is awake and either plays by himself or decides to chew something by himself, when he is just looking around, or when he is wandering from one sleeping spot to the next, I will reinforce this wanted behavior with attention. I will reinforce alternative behavior on a high frequency with low-key attention (look at and talk to him). I will scrupulously take notes and set a timer reminding me to reinforce him – I’ll start with a fixed-interval schedule of 30 seconds, and, if all goes well, soon use a thinner FI60s schedule, and keep making the schedule even thinner to last several minutes, say, FI10min, then FI15min etc.
DRL: as you may have seen in the above video, Hadley’s floor digging/biting is frequently preceded by rolling on the floor, lifting his head, pricking his ears, seeking eye contact. In fact, in the last three days, these behaviors have become the leads that let me predict that floor digging/biting was about to happen. Therefore, in addition to the alternative behavior mentioned above, I will also continuosly reinforce this lower-intensity behavior with attention (calm petting, calmly talk to him), i.e.: every time he starts rolling on his back, I will reinforce him. The interesting question: will this keep him from escalating to the full-blown floor digging/biting?
DRI: I’ll also differentially reinforce incompatible behavior for getting my attention. For now, Nicole suggested we pick a well-known behavior. Hadley has already learned to sit and seek eye contact if he wants something. In the next three days of observation, I will strongly and continuously reinforce either sitting or standing in front of me and seeking eye contact. As a reinforcer for this, I will use a cheerful voice and calm petting.
I’ll also video Hadley for periods of time when neither I nor the other dogs are at home. If our hypothesis is correct, Hadley should not be showing the floor digging/biting behavior when alone, since there is no one around whose attention could reinforce it. I will do one alone condition of 30 to 60 minutes on each of my three observation days. I’ll have one in the morning, one at noon and one at night.
Why don’t I interrupt/redirect the floor digging/biting?
When I originally asked fellow long-time herding breed owners and experienced trainers about their opinion and showed them the original video, 14 (!) people – all of them with experience with OCD dogs – suggested redirecting immediately (either to a toy or by means of having him perform an incompatible behavior, like calm lying on a mat), 10 (!) people suggested medication, 7 people suggested more physical and mental exercise and more enrichment, 6 people suggested managing potential triggers (putting down carpets, preventing access to all areas where this has happened, change lighting), and 2 people suggested less physical exercise and stimulation.
All the people whose opinion I included here are experienced working-line herding breed owners and/or trainers. Interestingly, everyone’s advice – even if they suggested interrupting – mainly focused on what they perceived to be the cause of the problem. No one looked at the immediate consequences the behavior had had for Hadley up until now.
I was a bit at a loss. Consulting with Chris, we agreed that Hadley had a healthy amount of physical and mental exercise and enrichment, and also enough calm and relaxing down-time to balance out the excitement. I’ve put a lot of thought into how much or how little mental and physical stimulation Hadley should receive in his first months, and am still convinced he’s on a healthy balance of stimulation and relaxation. However, reading the redirect-suggestions of all these people whose opinion I appreciate, I was even more concerned about Hadley’s mental health than before I had asked the question. And I was at a loss: more exercise, really? I wasn’t so sure. Interrupt … okay, that seemed to make sense. But it hadn’t really helped so far! Originally, we had always interrupted, and it still seemed to be getting worse! Meds? Ahm, nope, I didn’t want to go down that road – it seemed way too early for such a step! Removing all triggers? Yes, that made sense. But I wanted to solve the problem, not just manage it … What was I supposed to do?
I asked Nicole’s opinion, and she informed me that there was a study suggesting obsessive behavior might be reinforced by owners’ attention. Should this be the case, the problem would be fairly easy to solve by means of P- (see above). This hypothesis would also be fairly easy to test: if my attention was reinforcing the floor digging/biting, withdrawal of attention should decrease the behavior. If the behavior was being reinforced by owner attention, it should not occur in the alone condition. Also, if the floor digging/biting really was reinforced by attention, redirecting would not help, but strengthen the behavior – after all, redirecting is a form of attention.
Only if the behavior was truly self-stimulating should redirecting help. In this case, the behavior should also occur in the alone condition – and the behavior would be truly hard to treat.
Rather than starting by means of assuming the worst, we’d go with the hypothesis that attention was indeed the consequence that kept the behavior going and had made it worse. After all, since Hadley had been with us, his floor digging/biting had been on an intermittent schedule of reinforcement: we had sometimes redirected (which might be reinforcing) and sometimes not redirected. Let’s hope that three days from now, we will know more!
Thank you, Nicole, for helping me think clearly, and make a plan – I already feel better. Also, now that I have a plan, the worried doggy mum inside of me was replaced by the behavior analysis nerd. And that’s a state of mind a definitely prefer! 🙂
(1) Overall, Karen L. (2013) Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from amazon.de
(2) Hall, N.J., Protopopova, A., & Wynne, C.D.L. (2015). The role of environmental and owner-provided consequences in canine stereotypy and compulsive behavior. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 10, pp. 24-35.
A few days ago, we met Tini and Nayeli for a walk. Hadley recognized Nayeli after briefly alarm-barking at her from the car, and immediately started playing chase with Phoebe and her! Wow – this is the first time he has played as intensely with a dog who isn’t a family member. Nayeli is simply a great role model, and a wonderful auntie to have as a puppy. I’m sure Hadley will have fun with Tini and her when he vacations with them in January.
We encountered two strange off-leash dogs on our walk. The first one was a tiny, shy puppy. Phoebe, Fanta and Nayeli didn’t care about the tiny dog, but Hadley approached him with a friendly wagging tail! WOW! Best. strange. dog. encounter. ever! I was soooo happy; proud of my puppy and of my training success, and happy that my dogs get to have dogs like Nayeli in their lives.
The three musketeers are having fun near Lusthaus.
Today, we had another very successful outing: we went for a walk today – just Phoebe, Fanta, Hadley and I. Off leash, on the fields.
After a few minutes, two women with a dog slightly bigger than Hadley, also off-leash, crossed our way. We saw them coming from a distance. Phoebe and Fanta walked over to say hallo, and Hadley … looked, wagged, and went back to playing chase with Phoebe! He had only hesitated a moment, than decided that the strange dog wasn’t a threat. He didn’t keep close to me, and didn’t mind walking or running close to the strange dog. The women and I walked together for about fifteen minutes.
Phoebe, Hadley and the first dog we encountered on today’s walk.
A little later, the next challenge: a with an on-leash Spitz about Phoebe’s size came straight at us. I took my dogs on leash, and made way for the Spitz to pass, started feeding treats when Hadley noticed the strange dog and went on feeding until he had passed us. Hadley watched the dog attentively and calmly ate his treats, then quickly switched to offering sits – the strange dog wasn’t important enough to pay attention to! Hah! I am SO happy with how he is developing!
Phoebe, Fanta, Hadley and the two women’s small dog were let off leash again. Another few minutes went by, and we met the next dog: an old, off-leash Maltese who was standing quietly near his even older owner. The Maltese told our group in body language that he was neither a threat not interested in interacting with any of them, and they all curved around him. Hadley followed suit! While curving, he had his tail slightly between his legs and glanced sideways at the Maltese, but followed the other three without hesitation. Woohooo! Witnessed how to deal with dogs like this, and did it himself! Wonderful puppy, and I’m happy my training has helped him become more confident around strange dogs!
Fanta, Hadley and, in the distance, the dog who walked with us for a while. Everyone’s happy doing their own thing. There’s plenty of space for everyone, and no need to feel threatened.
We parted ways with the two ladies and their dog. I played with my camera while Phoebe and Hadley played near the water and Fanta had one of his rare it’s-my-favorite-season runs.
On our way back, we met an off-leash Border Collie; an adult black-and-white female. Phoebe mistook her for Xandro and was quite startled when she realized that Xandro isn’t the only beautiful Border around. I didn’t interfere with Hadley’s behavior because it had been going very well so far. Hadley looked and I could see that this dog was more concerning to him than the others had been. She was more active, and held her busy tail up high. And then she even looked at him directly! Hadley made one tiny bark. I kept walking and called him, he came. She came over, he let her sniff him submissively, and then happily greeted her human. We exchanged a few words while Hadley watched Phoebe and the Border discuss who was going to keep the stick they had found.
We walked on, and passed the old man with the Maltese again. They were still standing at the same spot, chatting with an acquaintance. This time, Hadley curved around the Maltese without hesitation and without putting his tail between his legs. Yeah!
Almost back at the car, we met a woman with a big, on-leash dog resembling an Akita, but slightly smaller. They were walking straight at us. I put my dogs on their leashes, and noticed that the woman deliberately lead her dog on the side of her body that wasn’t facing us and was feeding treats while approaching us. It always makes me smile to see other dog people working with their dogs in similar ways as I do! Also, I’m always happy to encounter polite dog owners who are as keen to avoid on-leash encounters as I am.
We walked a little to the side and let the two of them pass. Hadley requested that I play LAT with him! He looked at the Akita, then back at me. At the Akita again, then back at me! Hah! This is awesome! Thank you, Leslie McDevitt, for coming up with this simple, yet brilliant game. Of course, since he asked me to, I played with Hadley, and he got to earn a few treats for looking, and then for the sits he offered. And on we went, off leash again, back to the car.
I have to say, I am relieved and really, really glad Hadley’s attitude towards strange dogs is slowly relaxing. I am also glad that the strategy I chose for dealing with his issues is turning out to be the right one for him!
Wow – time really does fly. So much has happened since the last time I found a moment to sit down and write a blog post. Where do I begin?
The little rascal has been a pretty easy puppy to take care of. He’s been spending lots of time with me when Tom is at work, and I couldn’t help comparing him to Phoebe. In most regards, Hadley has been less of a challenge than Phoebe when she was his age. Phoebe was an extremely high-energy puppy, and she was very mouthy. Hadley has mostly been relaxed and friendly.
There is, however, one thing that concerns me: Hadley is a rather wary puppy, particularly when it comes to strange dogs. From day 1 onwards, he has been alarmed by strange dogs, even the ones that were 1.5 blocks away. I am worried about this because Hadley spent his puppyhood among all kinds of different dogs – his breeder has more than 10 Border Collies, Norwegian Lundehunds, and a Beauceron. To my knowledge, Hadley has only had good experiences with her dogs. In theory, these positive early socialization experiences should have turned him into a dog who approaches new dogs with curiosity and confidence. However, this is not the kind of puppy he turned out to be: initially, he would avoid other dogs whenever possible, froze/stared and eventually barked when avoidance was not possible, and tried to hide/flee if they came too close. He also took a comparatively long time (read: several meetings over the course of several days) to warm up to new dogs. However, once he considered a dog a friend, he’d play with her like any other happy puppy.
After consulting with friends and colleagues and debating how best to handle a dog-sensitive Border puppy, I came up with the following plan, which I’ve been working on since Hadley has moved in:
Part A – socialization
introduce Hadley to my friends’ friendly adult dogs in various short sessions. Always put up a portable crate and/or familiar blanket for him to retreat to, and make sure the other dogs respect his safety zone. Let him watch and decide for himself whether and when he is ready to initiate interaction. Never force contact. Never overwhelm or flood him.
My idea was that I would provide Hadley with a number of distinctly positive experiences that lead to dog-dog friendships, rather than create lots of neutral dog-dog experiences. I hoped that the more dogs he got to know and make friends with, the easier it would be for him to be around new dogs in the future, and that eventually, he would start considering strange dogs to be interesting rather than scary.
Part B – management and alternative behavior
I would also work on Leslie McDevitt’s Look at That game (LAT). That is to say, I would teach Hadley to earn clicks and treats by means of looking at strange dogs from a distance: I wanted him to start seeing strange dogs as cookie-vending machines rather than potential threats. “Dad, mum, there’s a dog, did you see it? Look, it’s over there! Where’s my cookie?”
LAT makes use of both classical and operant conditioning. One the one hand, a potentially scary stimulus is repeatedly paired with a strong reinforcer (tasty treats), which changes the emotional response to the stimulus. On the other hand, the dog is being empowered as he learns that he can use dogs he spots on the street to make a treat happen. All he has to do is point them out to his humans with a movement of his head.
If strange dogs were too close, I would retreat by means of putting a barrier between ourselves and the trigger, changing sides or doing a U turn.
Part A has been going well. Apart from my own two dogs, I’ve strategically introduced Hadley to 12 dogs by now; some male, some female, some neutered, some intact, some small, some large:
1 Border Collie
4 Miniature Pinschers
1 Irish Setter
1 Golden Retriever
1 American Staffordshire Terrier X
1 Akita mix
1 Sheltie X GSD
1 small Terrier X
He has met all of them several times in safe, short sessions, and made friends with all of them. The first few outings, he would just sit in his safe space and observe from a distance until we went home again. I did not try to convince him to come out, but focused on making sure he felt safe. Apart from that, I did not distract him with food, but let him choose what to do – stay in his safe spot and observe, walk away and do his own thing, or initiate contact with the new dogs. Helene, a friend who shares her life with 7 wonderful dogs, has been a huge help with this. (Thank you, Helene, Xandro, Wasti, Arkani, Schoko, Hexi and Guinness!)
Helene lives just around the corner. So we would meet up at a meadow close by. I would get there first and set up Hadley’s safety zone: a pop-up crate and a blanket in front of it. He could choose to hide in the crate, sit on the familiar blanket, or come all the way out on the meadow. I took one of my own dogs with me so Hadley could see that they were not afraid of the new dog we introduced him to. If he wanted, Hadley could take the crate’s side exit and go explore the forest and shrubbery rather than engaging with the other dogs, who did their own thing out in the field.
The first two times, Helene brought Border Collie Xandro and Miniature Pinscher Wasti, and I brought Fanta and Hadley. Helene and I spent twenty minutes sitting on the blanket and chatting. Hadley stayed in the crate or on the blanket with us, but did not approach either of her dogs. This was okay. It was his choice. After twenty minutes, we left and Hadley went back to sleep at home to sleep off his adventures and maybe do some latent learning.
The third time, Hadley approached Wasti with a cautious wag … and started following him around at a distance. Whenever Wasti turned around, Hadley would hurry back to his safety zone, but soon after, his curiosity took over and he followed Wasti again. He did, however, still keep his distance from Xandro.
The fourth time, Hadley was happy to see Wasti and followed him around more, even if it meant moving further away from his safety zone. His overall confidence had clearly grown, and he even sniffed Xandro’s tail a few times – of course, when Xandro turned to face him, he would retreat like he used to do with Wasti. But from behind, the Border Collie had stopped looking all that scary.
We did numerous sessions like that. Once Hadley had grown comfortable with one dog, we’d introduce another one. The last time Helene and I met, we didn’t need a blanket or crate anymore, and were able to take all 9 dogs for a walk together. Hadley had fun from beginning to end. He mostly played with Phoebe, but did not mind running ahead with her, getting close to Helene’s dogs, and quickly bounced back the two times he didn’t respect Schoko’s personal space and got a reprimand by his new auntie. I’d call this a BIG success – thank you very much for your help, Helene, and a big thank you to your patient, friendly dogs who have already been a big help in raising Hadley!
Hadley is having a good time during a 9-dog outing with Phoebe, Fanta, Xandro, Guinness, Wasti, Arkani, Hexi and Schoko.
Another dog who has been immensely helpful is Olivia, the dog who’s mum runs our local pharmacy. Olivia is a friendly and very patient Dalmatian. We’ve been visiting her several times in the course of the last weeks. At first, we kept Olivia in a back room behind a baby gate, while Hadley could look at her from the far end of the adjoining room. He could choose to walk closer or leave, to just observe Olivia who slowly wagged her tail and looked sideways, or to engage with the pharmacy personnel who were happy to greet him and let him lick their faces. (Meeting people is something that has always made Hadley happy.) The second time we went, Hadley chose to approach the gate and cautiously greet Olivia and lick her lips. The third time, he was able to meet her without a gate, and was happy to dance around her and explore her space. Olivia, the patient girl, gave him all the freedom in the world and happily took my thank-you treats.
Hadley and Olivia – first time without being separated by a baby gate.
Phoebe’s best girlfriend, the Golden Nayeli, has had a very easy time when it came to making friends with Hadley. She and her mum visited us at home and spent an afternoon with us. In his own home, where he feels most confident, and able to watch Phoebe and Nayeli play, Hadley quickly decided that he wanted to join in the fun – and that’s what he did. Thank you, Tini, for helping Hadley make a new friend! Nayeli has already been a great aunt for Phoebe when she was little, and now she’s doing the same thing for Hadley. It takes a village, doesn’t it?
Various other helpers later, Hadley has made great progress! By now, he will cautiously approach new dogs with a wag after only 1 or 2 minutes of observing from a save distance.
However, his initial response is still fear, and unless I carefully set up these situations and manage the initial distance, he will default to freeze/stare or hide/flee.
It was interesting to visit his breeder two weeks ago. His mom, dad and brother were there. Tom let Hadley out of the car. Hadley saw his father and immediately hid under the car. His father lowered his head to look at Hadley, and there was a lightbulb moment of recognition – as soon as he recognized the Border Collie in front of him, Hadley was ready to approach and happily greet his dad. Or at least, that’s what it looked like to me. It’s not that Hadley is afraid of his father – but until he recognized him, he wanted to hide.
Hadley, his parents and his brother Horace got to have a little family reunion when we visited the breeder.
What does this mean? Does he have a genetic predisposition to being on the fearful side? His breeder remarked a while ago, when I commented on Hadley being cautious, that he had always been “the most sensitive of the litter”. Is sensitive a euphemism for something else? I don’t know. And in the end, it does not matter. No matter where a certain behavior stems from, the laws of behavior always apply. And these laws are the foundation of all training. Also, no matter who Hadley was yesterday, is today, or will be tomorrow, the one thing that will always be true is that he’s the world’s most wonderful puppy, and the most perfect dog Tom could have adopted 🙂
But back to Hadley’s dog issues:
Part B has also been going well. I’m always armed with clicker and treats anyway, so I’ve been playing LAT with all the random dogs we met on walks. I like how having an objective (teach Hadley that the LAT game is fun!) changes my attitude towards dog encounters: it makes me happy whenever I see a dog in the distance rather than annoyed that I have to change sides or do a U turn. This always happens when I play LAT with a new dog – Pirate and I also had a lot of fun whenever we went out trigger hunting and LAT adventuring. It became one of our favorite bonding games.
As for Hadley, he is becoming an LAT expert. I’ve started naming the behavior, and the distance we can play at has shrunk. We can now play with (calm) dogs on the other side of the street rather than 1.5 blocks away, and after only a few Look-s, Hadley will now switch to offering a different behavior (usually prolonged eye contact or sit). Definitely a success worth celebrating!
Tom and Hadley also participated in my recall workshop the other day. Hadley had to keep a bit of a distance at first, but soon was able to comfortably work near the other dogs, and was happy to play with them after class. He’s a very brave little puppy!
Tom and Hadley testing the quality of treats. Even though the other participating dogs are nearby, Hadley can relax and concentrate on his task.
The nice thing about writing these things down is that it makes me see the progress. When I don’t keep notes, it’s easy to miss out on the tiny little steps of progress I’ve been making every day or every session. It’s like watching a kid (or a puppy) grow up: you see them every day, and you don’t notice how they get bigger – unless every once in a while, you ask them to stand with their back to a door frame and draw a line where their head is. Taking training notes is like drawing lines on a door frame. It helps me see change.
I’ve made another observation that makes it clearer what often happens to clients who have reactive dogs: when I’m out with Hadley in our neighborhood, we hardly ever have an incident. I’m always ready to change sides, make a U-turn, play LAT … Tom and Hadley, on the other hand, still have those encounters where Hadley starts barking or freezes for a moment or two. That means Hadley still practices reactivity.
I’ve been thinking about why this happens to Hadley and Tom rather than Hadley and me, and come up with the following list of reasons. I think being aware of these might help me better coach clients with reactive dogs:
– Until we’ve trained our eyes and brain to selectively focus on dogs in our environment, we tend to see them too late (aka after our dog has already seen them).
– Until we’ve fine-tuned our observation skills to read the fine print in a dog’s body language, we tend to notice fear only when it is obvious – i.e. when our dog is about to react or has already started reacting.
– Unless we have experienced fear ourselves, or really taken an interest in how it works, it is not obvious to us that a puppy’s dog reactivity is a reason to worry in the first place. We tend to assume it’s just a phase he’ll grow out of, or that it will go away with random exposure to dogs, or that a dog is still capable of learning when in fight-or-flight mode.
– Unless we have experienced fear ourselves, or really taken an interest in how it works, it is not obvious to us that aversives are not a constructive solution for reactivity.
– We tend to forget that dogs learn all the time, not only in the training sessions we specify: we’re likely to forget clicker and treats when we take our dogs out to potty rather than setting up for a training session.
– Putting our dog’s safety and comfort level first, even if it means ignoring/stopping/avoiding/standing up to friendly strangers (and their dogs) is an attitude we have to consciously adopt, and to practice.
I wonder how I can make these pieces of the puzzle more accessible to my clients to get them to this point sooner rather than later. I want to minimize their frustration and maximize the quality of their and their dog’s walk. The more “mistakes” happen, the longer it will take for a reactive dog to get over his fears. The longer it takes for our reactive dog, the longer we will have to actively work on his issues, and the longer it will be until being out and about with our canine companion will be the walk in the park will be the uncomplicated, fun activity we’ve been looking forward to.
Of course, this is not to say that Hadley and I don’t run into problems on our walks, too. Walking a reactive dog is hard. It requires both background knowledge, concentration, the desire to be our dog’s advocates, and a number of skills we need to practice: observation skills, timing of the click, and speed (as little time as possible should pass between click and reward). We need to prepare before we go out (clicker, treats, mindset), and keep in mind that like children, our dogs learn every minute – not just when we want to train. Walking a reactive dog is not a walk in the park, it requires your full attention. At least for me, it still requires my full attention. When I don’t pay attention, I often run in a situation I become aware of too late. While walking around my neighborhood has been categorized by playing LAT and hardly any reactive incidents for me, going new places is harder because I don’t know when and where to expect the next strange dog. The other day, Hadley and I were hanging out at a park. He was on leash, and since it was a sunny Sunday and a number of people were out walking their dogs, I ceased the opportunity to play LAT from a safe distance near my car, always ready to retreat behind it, should it be necessary to get another barrier between us and a strange dog. After a while, a woman with her French Bulldog on a flexi lead passed us. Hadley was off the road at a little distance, and on a short leash. It should have been pretty obvious that I was interacting with/training my dog rather than seeking social encounters. The Bulldog came closer, and the woman let it run on the flexi … I politely asked her to stop her dog from coming closer, since my dog was afraid. But what did she do? Let the Bulldog keep running towards us rather than stopping her flexi, telling me, “Well, he has to get used to other dogs at some point, doesn’t he?”
Hadley barked before I had a chance to retreat behind the car. Encounters like this really annoy me. It’s NOT up to you, stranger, to decide when, how and what dogs my dogs are meeting up close. And it is never okay to let your dog run up to a dog on leash without asking. Dogs are on leash for a reason: maybe my dog is scared, or maybe he’s on a leash in order to keep your dog safe from his teeth, or maybe he has flees that I don’t want him to pass on to yours! ALWAYS ask before letting your dog great a strange dog on leash.
Anyways – time to post this update, which is, in fact, already a few weeks old – I just haven’t found the time to finish it yet.
I noticed that Hadley seems a little wary of kids. I think he has been well socialized to dogs and people at his breeder’s place, but probably hasn’t come across many (if any) children. It’s important to me that he get along well with children, since I know how hard it can be to live with a dog who used to be reactive to them. I constantly have to read Phoebe’s body language when we’re around kids in order to either reinforce calm behavior, play LAT or curve around them. I thought it would be nice to start Hadley out on a path to a friendly relationship with tiny humans.
My motto for a potentially hyper-vigilant and easily over-stimulated breed like a Border Collie is: quality before quantity. I want him to have several distinctively positive experiences with kids rather than lots of neutral ones.
So when I took him out the other day, I looked around and saw three kids playing with a kite in the fields. Hah! I carried the little rascal over there, put him down at a distance of about 60 meters, let him look, and counterconditioned with liver pâté. Alican, the youngest boy, turned out to be a big dog fan. He came over and asked if he could meet my puppy, and I instructed him on how to greet Hadley in a safe way. Soon, he could feed Hadley treats, and Hadley would climb on his lap, wag his tail for Alican and lick his face. Alican’s brother also came over to meet Hadley and got to feed him treats as well. After a few minutes, we left and I took Hadley back into his crate, where he slept the well-deserved sleep of adventurous puppies.
The next time I took Hadley out to potty, Alican was hanging out in our street – he had been waiting all afternoon for Hadley to come back. Hadley was also happy to see him and let his young friend give him belly rubs. Hadley was a little tired at that point, and Alican gave him a gentle puppy massage – belly, side, ears, legs, paws. Hadley was completely relaxed. I’m very proud of this puppy, who learned to to trust and relax around his first young friend in only a few minutes of socialization time!
There are two things that worry me a bit though. Hadley, at 10 weeks old, tends to growl at strange dogs and hide behind his humans when we encounter them on the street – Tom told me about several encounters he had with strange dogs. Tom and Hadley also encountered kids playing land hockey, and Hadley was run-away-level scared. I haven’t had this particular problem, because I never leave the house without treats, and usually retreat in time and stuff him with treats when I see his body get stiff because of something he sees – countercondition, countercondition, countercondition!
Phoebe was similar when she was little. I did lots of desensitizing, counterconditioning, and played training games like LAT, but it either wasn’t enough, or her genetic predisposition to nervousness was too strong – she’s still a wary adult dog.
The sensitive period for puppy socialization is between 3 weeks and about 3 months of age. (1) The people, animals, things, sounds and surfaces puppies have a sufficient number of positive experiences with in that time will be considered safe by the puppy once it grows up. Neutral experiences are not enough, and negative ones (and fear response is a negative response!) are detrimental. For example, if a puppy does not learn how to appropriately behave around adult dogs, they might have poor social skills for the rest of their lives – or need a lot of training time later in life. If they don’t get to have positive interactions with children, men with hoodies, or skateboarders, they might develop aggression towards them later on. A puppy who is scared of a particular kind of person, animal or situation at this age is likely to become more scared as his senses get sharper and his fear response grows further – unless he gets to make positive experiences with these particular people, things, sounds or situations that outnumber the scary ones.
Knowing that puppies generally don’t “just outgrow” their wariness, I’m going to tackle this problem systematically before the molehill grows into a mountain:
It’s time to get a hockey sticks and a pucks, so I can countercondition and desensitize Hadley to that particular stimulus. I’ll also get the skateboard out (maybe teach Hadley to ride it himself?) and enlist Alican’s help with the scooter. And as far as leash encounters with strange dogs are concerned, my dog friends will have to step in to practice safe and happy encounters!
When I took Hadley out at noon today, we met Alican again. He was on his scooter, so I asked him to show it to Hadley. He dropped it in the grass at a distance. Hadley went over to explore. Then I lifted it up. Hadley checked it out again. Next, I moved it back and forth in the grass, where it was less noisy than on the pavement. Hadley looked relaxed. Next, I asked our young friend to slowly ride the scooter up and down at a little distance. Hadley looked interested, but not scared, and I fed him liver pâté and other delicacies. I then rode the scooter myself, and Hadley followed without worrying and without trying to attack it. Yeah!
This had only taken a few minutes, and since our young friend was there, I asked his help for a different task – for a restrained recall. I’ve been working on the beginnings of a whistle recall. This time, I got Alican to hold Hadley, walked away for about 5 meters, whistled, clicked and reinforced with yummy treats when he got to me. Oh, what a happy puppy, running as fast as his little puppy legs would carry him and throwing himself into my outstretched arms!
I got to watch Hadley yesterday, while Tom was at work. I used this opportunity to work on a few things I consider important. One of them is crate training. This is how I started the process:
I let Hadley explore his crate first, clicked and treated for stepping inside and settling inside, then closed the door and gave him a dried cow’s nose to chew. He chewed himself tired. Then I treated for relaxation (first for sits, then for downs, then for lying relaxed in his crate – gradually increasing the time between the individual treats, as he got more tired and relaxed.) When he did get up and made a fuss, I ignored him until he was quiet (which usually went hand in hand with sitting down). Then I slowly counted until 3 (1 quiet puppy, 2 quiet puppy, 3 quiet puppy), then treated for being quiet again, then chuted-and-laddered my way up to longer and longer periods of relaxation. Now, for example, he’s sound asleep in his crate. When he wakes up, I’ll take him out to pee before he starts making a fuss in his crate. We’ll have a little adventure outside (either having a few minutes of positive experience with the neighbors’ kids or playing beginning recall games for a few minutes), then he’ll come back in and go back in his crate, and hopefully be ready to relax even faster. Rinse and repeat.
Indeed, in the course of a day, I had a puppy who happily walked into the crate whenever there was nothing else to do and sat down, waiting for a treat to happen. He also retreated into the crate after Phoebe startled him, and at night, he went into the open crate and fell asleep. Success!
In the morning of day two of crate training, he settled quickly after I put him in. Inspired by Emily Larlham, I marked with his marker word for quiet behaviors (“Top!”) whenever he was not thinking about the treat for the first few minutes. Using a special marker word for quiet behaviors is something I learned from Simone Fasel.
In the late morning, Hadley got to join Phoebe and Fanta for a few minutes of off-leash fun on the field across the street. Afterwards, he found it more difficult to settle – especially since I was stuffing Kongs with smelly tripe and potatoes, and he was stuck in his crate and couldn’t come check it out! However, Phoebe, Fanta and the little Rascal got to lick tripe goop off my fingers whenever they showed signs of relaxation, and soon, everyone was happy. Hadley also got a little lesson in frustration tolerance whenever I waited him out for the next calm 1 calm puppy, 2 calm puppy, 3 calm puppy moment. I learned from the Phoebe experiment that
a little bit of extinction is not only acceptable, but even beneficial – as long as it is part of a DRA or DRI protocol.
I took this video on Hadley’s second day of crate training. Once he had learned to comfortably settle, I combined the crate training with leaving him alone for short periods of time. One of the big advantages of using a crate is that your puppy can’t get into trouble while in his crate – he cannot destroy your furniture, and cannot hurt himself, and won’t have accidents in the house when you’re not looking. Since Hadley moved in as dog number 3, I want to make sure that he is okay even if Phoebe, Fanta, Tom and I are gone. About half the clients who contact me with puppy problems have puppies who cannot stay home alone – and I want to make sure Hadley doesn’t become one of them! Once you’ve got a full-blown case of separation anxiety or isolation distress, lots of patience and training is required. Better to start early, so separation anxiety and isolation distress don’t even have a chance to develop!
On day 2, Hadley relaxes in his crate while Phoebe, Fanta and I leave for 3:15 Minutes. We’ve gradually worked our way up to this amount of time, starting with no more than a few seconds, and starting with only me leaving, then only me and one dog, then only me and the other dog … As you can see, systematic training pays off! Hadley hasn’t even had a moment of fear of being left alone, and I’d like to keep it that way, working our way up to a few hours.