Of course, we got in a bunch of morning wrestling fun as well:
Around noon, I took both dogs on a walk around the block before leaving them home alone to head over to a friend’s place to co-work.
My friend and I walked back to my place after, rope-and-facade climbing an abandoned building along the way:
Nature taking back the city – the view from the abandoned building we climbed. There’s a colony of cats living there but – strangely – no humans.
Beauty in strange places: the little things you find on a walk if you know how to see! This hidden piece of art is not much bigger than the palm of my hand. It’s close to the ground (where you may not usually look). Finding it made my day.CDMX readers: I’ll hide location clues in my the next posts! Find it and send me a picture and I’ll buy you tacos!
Then Chai got to see my friend who is her friend as well, too. She got snuggles and attention, and then all four of us went on another walk. Chai saw the same Afghan hound she had found a little creepy just the other day but showed no fear this time. Go puppy!
We also came across a large donut-shaped pillow someone had left by the side of the road. Chai thought it was suspicious. I used the Magic Hands trick to show her it wasn’t out to get her.
Magic Hands is what I (and probably some other trainers; I don’t think it was me who came up with that name) call it when we use our hands to touch an object our dog is scared of. This doesn’t work with all dogs (and all objects), but for the dogs it sometimes works for, it can be an easy solution.
Chai is one of these dogs. I tend to use magic hands in combination with increasing distance (negative reinforcement) for her. I never drag or lure a dog closer to an object – it’s up to them how close they are ready to come.
With the donut-shaped pillow, my Magic Hands alone did the trick: I let her stand back on a looose leash, walked up and touched the donut pillow. Seconds after, Chai walked up to sniff and investigate it herself. Brave puppy!
At night, Chai stayed home alone again for Game’s evening loop. Good, good puppy!
Zane and I co-worked from my house today, so Chai got an opportunity to stay home with Zane during Game’s noon and evening walks and both dogs hung with him in the afternoon while I went to the bakery.
Loose leash walking
We worked on collar mode up and down our street and made it up to 15 and then 20 steps between treats!1 Go puppy!
Fresa Parque freedom and games and LLW success
Chai got to run around Fresa Parque briefly, and then we played a brief 2-ball fetch game at the calm and hot park.
On the way back home, Chai waited for me in front of a store – and then we went right back to do more LLW practice on her collar! She went from zero to 20 steps between treats right away and did amazing all the way back home – even passing a Shih-Tzu along the way without breaking her 20-step streak!1
Our walk was only interrupted by a scary balloon blowing in the street. I used Magic Hands for it and then picked it up and carried it home to have it blow around the apartment as well for some more balloon demystification.
As on most evenings both Zane and I are home, Chai got some social time and human-friend snuggles at night to round out the day.
(1) For more leash walking context, check out the leash walking lectures from Out and About in your FDSA library or look here for my December class and a micro e-book on LLW.
+ Both Chai and Game got to go to UNAM and run around the campus.
+ We had a single positions-practice session.
+ Husbandry: I clipped Chai’s nails on both front paws and she got brushed, and I cut a little around her front paw fur (another thing I’d like her to get used to in case she turns out to be a furry-paw Border Collie!)
+ Both dogs stayed home alone for a few hours.
Day 501 – May 26, 2023: Huayamilpas, kids, cohetes … a full day!
Today was a BIG day!
We started the morning with some more position work. I pulled out the fold-back down and we did two rounds of down with “good” (room service: stay in position; the treat is coming to you) versus “get it” (chase the treat marker) – one round for breakfast and one for lunch. In the video below, you’ll see me work with a hand signal to get the fold-back down some of the time and with a lure some other times.
The reason I help relatively quickly rather than waiting Chai out is that she would otherwise default to a sit (and then try a down from the sit if the sit didn’t work).
I specifically want a fold-back down rather than a down from a sit, and the way to teach this is from a stand.
The video below is an uninterrupted 10-minute session with a 5-months old puppy. As I said in an earlier post, this is not what I’d recommend most clients do (unless they have really worky puppies). I happen to have a worky puppy who loves training and so do I – so I get to do this on days I need something to obsess over or something that I can focus on without thinking about anything else in the world! Dog training is that thing for me, so here we go – both having fun!
Note that often, I will have heavy-training days followed by little or no other adventures or very low-key days like yesterday. I don’t want Chai to turn into a super-athlete who needs to either train or run nonstop. So heavy training days tend to be low-physical activity days (just not today) and heavy physical activity days tend to be little-to-no-training days.
+ We did some cutting of Chai’s front paw fur and I brushed her.
+ We went to ride the elevator.
+ We toured the busy Walmart corridor (people, shopping carts) and a bank with Chai in her backpack. (Thank you so much, Scarlett, for lending me the puppy backpack! It is GREAT!)
Tarps blowing in the wind
It’s a windy day today, and on our adventure loop we saw a tarp blowing in the wind and Chai got a little spooked. After watching it for a while, she was able to cautiously walk past it. This is the second time I have seen this reaction – that’s my cue that tarp feelings aren’t a one-off thing and we need to work on things blowing in the wind! When I got home, I set up the fan and pointed it at the curtains:
It never hurts to learn about the safety of objects and situations in set-ups you can control before encountering them in the real world (again)!
In the late afternoon, we spontaneously returned to Parque Ecológico Huayamilpas briefly before 6pm: when we were there a few days ago Chai barked at suddenly appearing strangers (and they all started to appear around 6 after we had had the place to ourselves all afternoon). I wanted to make sure to counter the experience by orchestrating positive interactions with suddenly appearing people at the same spot (I haven’t seen her bark at people before and I would love for it to stay that way).
Unfortunately, things didn’t start out as well as I had hoped they would: soon after we got there, someone elsewhere in the park, but clearly not far, set off a bunch of REALLY loud firecrackers (you can hear them in the video but they are muffled by the microphone – this doesn’t compare to the real-life volume). I don’t think Chai has heard firecrackers before – and definitely not at this volume. She got worried – not panicky, but worried enough to tuck her tail and seek my consolation.
Right after, the first person suddenly appeared. Not the best antecedent arrangement to set her up for success! Luckily, the person had a dog and Chai trusts dogs. After watching the two approach suspiciously, she greeted the dog and a little later, I had the person do a version of our food protocol (they had already reached for her so I just gave them treats to feed). All was well with Chai and she even jumped up on them for more. We hung out for a bit and talked dogs, and Chai and the other dog – Kipper – socialized and she did drive-byes with both of us humans.
We then followed the next pair of passers-by for a little – an adult and a kid. As we turned around to look back, a family with several kids had come to the concrete snake in the center of the park and we turned around to see them up close. Since Chai could see the family from a distance, this wasn’t a sudden environmental change (which I specifically wanted to work on). Still, she had positive interactions with people at the snake!
Because it went so well, I waited longer and Chai got to briefly greet an adult and a kid walking with two dogs. Then, we called it a day and made our way towards the exit.
Sadly, right as we were walking away from the snake, the nearby firecrackers started up again. Chai was – again – concerned. All I had was kibble, but she was able to eat and I fed one after each boom. Still, the insecurity lingered after the firecrackers stopped. Unease is not the emotion I want her to associate with the snake, the park or firecrackers. So I will probably be going back for another round of sudden environmental change – hopefully without the firecrackers.
The saving grace today was a Lab mix we met at the parking lot: Chai and the dog played for a minute or so, and then Chai, tail proud and high, eyes shining and body language loose left the park on a good note.
By the time we got back home, it was dark out. On the walk from the car to the apartment, Chai got spooked by people unloading stuff from a truck. We watched for a bit, curved around and then I encouraged her to watch some more, but she was ready to leave. Note to self: take more night walks around weird stuff and people carrying strange objects!
Growing up and changing
Today was quite the day! Our outings were not very long, but jam-packed with things going on. Puppies and adolescents change every day – and these days, Chai is highly sensitive in all directions: picking up behaviors from older dogs and having an easier startle response than she usually does. However, the good news is that her recovery is still amazing (playing with that Lab mix a minute after hearing firecrackers? Go Chai!) and that even in a state of firecracker insecurity, she was able to eat kibble.
It is also interesting to see a dog who learns really fast overall have sensitive days: they are impactful in a different way than in the last two puppies I raised (Puzzle and Game). It is like watching Chai have an experience and then assimilate it into this 10 000-piece puzzle that is the map of the world in her head. Nothing exists in isolation. Every experience Chai has gives her a puzzle piece, and she is quick to find the exact spot it belongs in the map of the world she is creating for herself. If we think back to the elevator experience: her baseline assumption about the world is an optimistic one, but she is fast to learn what to exempt from optimism (such as this particular elevator – I don’t know about others because this is the only one I have currently access to and the first one she’s ever been on).2
A slice of Mexico City’s subway web. Maps are necessarily an imperfect representation of the world. Subway stops are one of my favorite way to conceptualize big cities. Once I have a subway map in my head, I’ll generally find my way around. Subway stops are my favorite landmark.
As far as I can tell, Chai’s initial hesitancy around people was based on a lack of exposure and my two protocols (the one for strangers and the one for expanding her circle of friends) have helped her become a socially optimistic dog. She’s a Border Collie, not a Lab, so she is never going to have problems with hyper-sociability towards strangers. But she is now significantly more confident around them and open to making new friends.
In everybody poops news …
(Feel free to skip this paragraph if you’d rather not read about my puppy’s bowel movements!)
Chai peed AND pooped at the park without another dog to imitate! Our house training project is coming along! In fact, she has only had a single accident inside what I define as the living space of our Coyoacán apartment in the last month, since we’ve been here! (She will go to pee/poop on the outdoors patio. If I leave her by herself, I do so in the bathroom, and she will pee/poop in the shower when she has to go rather than waiting – as far away from where my bed as is possible to set up in this small space. All of this is great news for a dog who had no idea about defined toilet spaces when I got her. If I had a yard, she might be doing all her business there already (apart from the occasional accident even adolescents still have).
Sidenote: fear periods
People like talking about the elusive “puppy fear period” or “adolescent fear period.” Some trainers even define at what age exactly fear periods (sometimes called sensitive periods) are supposed to happen and how many of them there are.
To my knowledge (readers: please correct me and send me peer-reviewed sources if I’m wrong!), there is no scientific evidence that fear periods exist or that every dog has them. (Most of the puppies I have raised have not had anything I would label “a fear period.”) In the absence of scientific evidence for “fear periods,” I don’t generally use the term.
Instead, I just think of any young developing brain: there are changes and shifts in hormone levels and neurotransmitters and neural connections and all kinds of other things I do not know about because I have no medical degree. Young brains are brains under construction. When constructing, say, a house, there will be days electrical wires are exposed (and you hope it won’t rain). Similarly, there will be days that a growing brain (the wires) is more sensitive to external stimuli (the rain) than others. Other than with the wiring of your house, you don’t know when this will be because you are probably not cutting open your puppy’s brain. So you just hope that if and when your puppy is having a sensitive day, they happen to not encounter the kind of stuff that would trigger an electrical fire. But if it happens? Well, it happens. Nothing you can do about it. No one’s fault – sometimes life is a shitshow.
Observe your puppy and if you see the experience have a permanent impact (it won’t necessarily have a permanent impact at all, no worries!) or you just want to be on the safe side, give it a few days (to be sure the exposed wiring of your house has been covered) and then repeat the situation under different conditions, setting your puppy up for success. This is what would have happened today with the snake head had there not been firecrackers.
Apart from the fact that young brains are under construction, dogs of all ages – just like other animals of all ages – sometimes have a less-than-ideal day. Sometimes, you wake up with a headache and it just shaves a little bit off of your patience with your coworkers or your friend or your partner. Sometimes, your dog is in pain – it may be invisible pain – and this too can cause a slight shift in their response to otherwise uninteresting stimuli.
How sensitive a dog’s behavior is to pain differs greatly from one individual to the next, just like it does in people. Personally, I’ve observed myself having a shorter fuse under (very specific) pain conditions.
On the other hand, my grandfather has been livingwith a crumbling hip bone for a decade, refuses to take pain killers or go in for surgery and is still the kindest and most patient person you can imagine, just like he has always been. People are different. Dogs are different. And your puppy is a different person every day because they are still in the process of becoming themselves! (We could argue that we all are always either in the process of becoming ourselves or we are dead – but that’s a blog post for another day.)
(1) Day 50 (the 50th day Chai has been with me) – half way to 100! – is a good day to change my diary approach. Going forwards, I will mostly share general Chaiary videos and videos that don’t fit into one of my categories (play, foundations, obedience, socializing, the art of doing nothing, recalls, leash walking, tricks, being brave) in my daily reports. The categories themselves will each get their own posts that specifically talk about THAT category and feature our progress from start to finish (if/when there is such a thing as “finish”). I will link to these more specific posts in future Chaiaries instead of directly inserting the videos every day. You’ll re-encounter some sessions you have already seen under these specific headings.
(2)Update from the future: Chai did not generalize her elevator fears to other elevators! It was just the one. Fundamental optimism for the win!
Tuesdays are market days at Diagonal San Antonio! We used this opportunity to walk through as the vendors were just setting up shop in the morning.
We also did – as we do most days – a little (or a lot of) shaping, drove a slightly longer (about 2 minutes while yesterday was about 1 minute) loop on an empty stomach (success! No throwing up or pooping!), spent some time in the car crate, and hung out at home with Game.
Today Chai went to Parque las Américas and saw lots of people and dogs, heard new sounds, walked on different park surfaces and smelled new smells. Before we got there, we had this little encounter:
We then walked all the way to the park on our own four paws and saw and met, among others:
A person who followed my instructions about how to invite Chai to approach: not from above, but from below, being still and letting the dog take the first steps. I decided, after seeing Chai shy away from hands reaching for her a little more than I’d like to in the last two days, that I will make a point of having her meet people “the right way” every day. There is, of course, no one right way – you’ll have to look at the dog in front of you to find out what works for them. In Chai’s case, I opted for asking people to stand still and hold out their flat hand, palm facing up. If and only if Chai approaches, sniffs the hand and looks comfortable, I will then give the person a few pieces of kibble to hold in their other hand and feed them, one after the other, from their flat hand without touching Chai and holding the hand low enough so all four paws stay on the floor.
I would NOT start with food without having Chai opt in and approach voluntarily first, and if she was shyer than she is, I would not use food here at all. Food can backfire extremely easily if used as a lure to get an uncomfortable dog closer to a stimulus they are unsure about: they’ll take the treat and then realize they are WAY TOO CLOSE! With Chai’s level of people curiosity, it is really just the head reaching she has feelings about. And because she is cute, people will reach for her head. I am countering these experiences by means of providing positive ones in the way I described above. My instructions are simple and easy to follow, and they work well for Chai. In the case of my very first helper (random stranger from Costa Rica I met in the street), we chatted long enough that they actually ended up making friends with Chai and being able to scratch her chin:
We also saw a bakery bike!
… and several dogs …
We met another person who also ended up touching Chai on the side of her head – not something I encouraged, but she was okay.
We walked past an outdoors assembly of some kind and saw a person on a skateboard with a dog, a kid in a stroller and more dogs:
And the Chai and I rested in a (comparatively) quiet corner of the park and she posed serenely for a bit before we made our way back home.
How much is too much?
… you may be wondering. Didn’t Chrissi just get this puppy, who had been confined to her house and yard and a crate from 8 weeks to 3.5 months of age, literally three days ago?
Indeed, I did. And indeed, this would be too much for MANY Border Collie puppies with this (lack of) experience. It would have been too much for Hadley right after T got him and it would have been too much for Mick (and would still be too much for Mick today. Mick is a farm dog who wants exactly three things in life: sheep, a person to work sheep with, and zero other people). Hadley today, as an adult, would likely be okay in this environment – he’d just pull all over the place trying to sniff things, I suspect.
Is it too much for Chai? Am I flooding the poor puppy? No – at least I wouldn’t say that I am. But in order for this term to have any meaning at all, I need to first define it. “Flooding” is one of these buzzwords everyone uses slightly differently.
I just looked at the glossary of my 4 go-to behavior books, and it isn’t in any of them. That surprises me – but maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe flooding is a term trainers borrowed from human psychology, or maybe it is simply a layperson’s word. Next stop: Google.
Bingo! I got lucky at the APA Dictionary of Psychology, which sounds like a decent source. Plus it matches my own definition of the term and the way I’ve been using it, which is reinforcing.
So – no, I have in fact not flooded Chai. She is not an anxious dog – just a curious one who lacks experience. I have not exposed her to a maximum-anxiety-producing situation or stimulus. (I would have on day 2 when I was just trying to get a feel for where we were in terms of exploratory behavior, fearfulness and resilience. Based on what I saw on day 2, I made choices for day 3, and based on what I saw on days 2 and 3, I made choices for day 4.
Because Chai is not an anxious puppy and her sensitive socialization window is rapidly closing, I want a lot of exposure to what is going to be normal in her world if she becomes a Mexico City dog. If she doesn’t become a Mexico City dog but finds a home somewhere else, all the experiences she is currently having won’t hurt either. For example if she goes on to be a sports dog, these experiences might help her learn how to focus on what matters (“gate”) in busy trial environments.
In part 14 of Puzzle’s Superbowls series, we reached our goal: Puzzle is now fluently taking me to bowl #5 and back, and doesn’t worry about the vacuum we’ve plugged into the pattern. This video is a 6-minute review of the training process (explaining the pattern to Puzzle) to the first scary stimulus she conquered with its help (the vacuum).
If you are familiar with CU, but new to the Superbowls game, this video should give you a pretty good idea of how it works:
Will it always take 25 sessions to reach the goal?
We worked on the Superbowls game for 25 sessions. Will it always take this long?
Not necessarily. Remember that the first few sessions were an explanation of the pattern itself – they were not about the vacuum, but about teaching Puzzle how she could make the next treat appear (eye contact), and where that treat would show up (in the next bowl of the line). The first nine sessions were all about the pattern rather than about a specific trigger.
Now that Puzzle knows the Superbowls pattern, we can plug different triggers into it. Say, for example, Puzzle was scared of the coffee maker. I could start my work with the coffee maker right away, and plug the coffee maker in the same spot where the vacuum sits in the video above. Or if Puzzle was scared of grandma, I could ask grandma to calmly sit in a chair in the spot where the vacuum was in this session. I won’t have to start over with a trigger-free line up.
Unless I plug something excessively scary into the pattern, it is also likely that Puzzle will reach the goal faster with each new trigger: in the vacuum series, she wasn’t just learning about the vacuum – she was also learning about the fact that within the structure of the Superbowls game, she will never, ever directly have to interact with the trigger. Every approach will be followed by a retreat, and there will be no touching of or being touche by triggers. This is HUGE. With every new trigger we work with, Puzzle’s trust in the pattern itself will grow, empowering her be braver faster.
Puzzle makes it all the way to bowl #5/5! I release her when she doesn’t offer eye contact quickly after the fifth bowl. The amount of time I waited her is out right for this puppy – this is what we’re aiming for.
I’m curious whether she can approach again, and give it another go after the treat toss release. She doesn’t make it back to the last bowl. This is good information: my gut feeling was right. With Puzzle, I should end sessions after a treat toss release, and try again after a break. (This may differ depending on the dog you are working with! Some will do better in later approaches within the same session. Others struggle more and more as the sessipn continues. Always train the dog in front of you (as Denise Fenzi would say)!
Puzzle goes all the way to bowl #5 in the first round of the session. We approach again after the release, and only make it to bowl #4. I don’t want to push too hard – at this point, Puzzle is a one-approach-at-a-time kind of puppy. However, eventually, I want to get to a point where we can cheerfully approach and retreat several times in a row. That’s when I’ll know that Puzzle truly understands that she will never have to directly interact with a trigger in the context of the Superbowls game!
Puzzle makes it all the way to bowl #5/5 AND BACK! YES! You go, puppy!
Puzzle leads me all the way to bowl #5! She hesitates at the fifth bowl, and I opt for a treat toss release rather than waiting for her to give me eye contact. Since she was so brave, we do another approach. At 00:36, right after eating her release treat, she offers eye contact again: “Let’s keep playing!” So we start over with the first bowl. She’s being a superstar, and makes it all the way to bowl #5, and then back to bowl #4. On her way back, she starts feeling uneasy about the vacuum. That’s okay – treat toss release, and end the session! A well-deserved break!
The most amazing puppy makes it all the way to the vacuum – not just once, but twice, and if I didn’t run out of treats, she’d have kept going! You go, Puzzle!
This ends our Superbowls adventures with the vacuum! Tomorrow, I will show you the Leslie-approved video I submitted for my CU instructor certification, and share some wrap-up thoughts. No worries though: the fact that we’re almost through the Superbowls videos doesn’t mean there will be no more Puzzle posts. Stay tuned!
For more dog training tips and videos, join Chrissi’s February class at FDSA: Calling All Dogs!
We stay at the very first bowl, and then end the session. Puzzle lets me know she wasn’t ready to approach the live vacuum any further, and I listen. CU is all about communication!
In her second session with the live vacuum, Puzzle is being very brave, and takes me all the way to bowl #4. At that point, she does not make eye contact again. I listen to her, increase the distance, and end the session.
Followed by another short session:
We make it up to bowl #4/5 again:
… and again:
In the next session, you’ll see Puzzle reach the fifth and last bowl for the first time! Stay tuned!
For more dog training tips and videos, join Chrissi’s February class at FDSA: Calling All Dogs!
Now that Puzzle has shown me that she can predict where the next treat will show up in the Superbowls game, it’s time to add the trigger into the pattern. In Puzzle’s case, that trigger is the vacuum. She thinks it’s quite creepy!
When working with fear or anxiety, raising criteria slowly (rather than starting with the trigger at full intensity) is always a good idea. In the case of the vacuum, I’ll start with a dead – i.e. silent – one before asking Puzzle if she wants to approach a roaring, growling live vacuum.
Doing SO well! Puzzle is ready to face the live vacuum in her next session! (And if she isn’t, that’s okay, too: she’ll be able to ask me to stop approaching at any time.)
For more dog training tips and videos, join Chrissi’s February class at FDSA: Calling All Dogs!
Superbowls is a pattern game that allows your dog to direct you towards a novel/potentially suspicious stimulus. It consists of a row of bowls. The dog learns that by giving you eye contact, they can cue you to put a treat down in the respective next bowl in the line. In the very end of the line, there’s your stimulus/trigger. Your dog will not directly interact with it within the structure of this game – that’s why it feels safe for your dog. They get to decide how close they want to go. If they stop offering eye contact, you will stop at the bowl you are at, or further increase the distance.
If they lead you all the way to the stimulus you plugged into the end of the line (it could be an object, or a person on a chair – anything goes as long as you can guarantee that the stimulus won’t approach your dog), the next eye contact rep cues you to turn around and move back along the line of bowls in the other direction: approach – retreat. Approach – retreat. Approach – retreat. In CU, when we approach, we will also retreat. Dogs NEVER get stuck near the stimulus you are working with in the context of Control Unleashed.
The first step of the Superbowls game is teaching Puzzle that eye contact makes things happen. In this case, eye contact will cause me to click, and put down a treat in the first bowl. We’ll stay at this stage until she offers eye contact without latency after swallowing the previous treat, and predicts where the next treat will show up: right there, in the bowl. For the first step, you’ll only use the first bowl in your line.
Puzzle doesn’t yet know that eye contact is a payable behavior. You’ll see her figure it out over the course of the three sessions below. Which brings me to yet another reason I love CU games for puppies or dogs who are new to training: they organically pick up different skills along the way! In this game, the meaning of the clicker gets reinforced, and Puzzle learns that eye contact is a behavior she can use to earn treats.
Next time, we’ll start moving between bowls!
For more dog training tips and videos, join Chrissi’s February class at FDSA: Calling All Dogs!