The Brindle Girl Series – Day 6 (Sessions 33-35)

Session #33

First session of brindle girl’s third training week (May 3rd, 2021).

Review: touch without collar – bracelet/collar – holding collar like an object.

Session #34

Holding the collar like an object (rather than a bracelet) is obviously more difficult for her!

Session #35

  • I start easy now that I’m holding the collar like an object: not approaching her all the way.
  • I end up with a nice start-button set-up, and while she isn’t yet comfortable with the collar up close, she gives me several quick start-button looks in a row.
  • Thoughts about patience, and Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 5 (Sessions 28-32)

Session #28

Belly rubs, and thoughts on habituation.

Session #29

  • I lower criteria when reaching for her with the collar-bracelet.
  • This session shows a good set up of treat placement versus direction of her start button look.

Session #30

Back to actually touching her with the collar (still wearing it like a bracelet/glove).

Session #31

Brindle girl and I continue discussing how it feels to be touched by my hand versus the collar (hand: okay, collar: weird), and she shows an interest in my treat hand.

Session #32

+ She starts out lying down in a relaxed position, and I start by just touching her with just a hand before adding the collar back into the picture.
+ Her growing confidence shows in an attempt to mug my treat hand!
+ For the last reps of this week, I transition from wearing the collar like a glove back to holding it in my hand. This is harder than wearing it glove-style – but we’ve made progress!
+ We manage a clear start-button set up (look to her right to request that the collar approach; feed to her left) for parts of this session.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 4 (Sessions 21-27)

Brindle girl’s Thursday sessions!

Session #21

I need to lower criteria a little, and not move the collar quite as close to her face as I did in the last rep of Wednesday’s final session.

I also decide to make a change to her start button behavior.

Session #22

I try to change the start button from glancing up into my face to looking in my general direction.

Session #23

Since putting the collar on her will require a combination of accepting the collar near her neck and accepting my touch, I mix things up and have a session of just touching her neck/head/shoulder/ears.

This session is a good illustration of the classical association that has been created: anytime I touch her, she expects food.

Session #24

I try a new approach: wearing the collar like a bracelet or glove. This works really well!

Session #25

Working up to touching her with the sleeve of my sweater as a precursor to being touched by the collar.

Session #26

I go back to touching her with the sleeve of my sweater …

Session #27

I work up to touching her with the collar worn like a bracelet/glove.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 3 (Sessions 13-20)

Today’s first session (session #13) goes into what I would do if I *had to* put a collar/leash on her right now (option 2). Then, you’ll see me continue along option 1: counterconditioning her to the collar, assuming that I have an infinite amount of time to reach my goal. I also talk about why in a real life scenario, we might NOT want to choose option #1 after the collar response we observed in last week’s sessions.

Session #13

Session #14: a single-rep session. When working with a learner who is not particularly interested in your reinforcer and free to leave, some sessions may only have a single rep.

Session #15: continued counterconditioning, and I talk about appeasement signals

Session #16: more appeasement signal musings

Session #17

Session #18

Session #19

Session #20 – the last one for Wednesday, and a lovely one to end the day with!

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 2 (Sessions 5-12)

Session #5

Session #6: approach – touch chin – feed – retreat.

Session #7: continue with approach – touch – treat – retreat. Things go really well.

Session #8: Touching head, neck, and shoulder with one hand. Short session.

Session #9: Process isn’t always linear when we work with emotions. I mention the importance of respecting the trust established by the start button behavior.

Session #10

  • Petting her is going well. I proceed to touch her with both hands in preparation for putting the collar on her.
  • Her increased comfort level shows: she lies down during the session.
  • Thoughts on choosing an angle of approach that ensures she doesn’t end up being cornered.
  • Last rep of this session shows the first time I touch her with the collar!

Session #11

I start out by moving the collar towards her neck. Her body language shows she isn’t happy with this: my hands were easier to accept than the collar!

Session #12

+ The element of satiation (more session in a day – the dog is less hungry).
+ Reasons I use low value food (kibble).
+ Her discomfort with the collar near her body becomes more pronounced.
+ I recognize that accepting the collar near her head is harder than I expected – this is not going to happen on the timeline I predicted.



THOUGHTS AFTER REVIEWING THE SESSION ABOVE

The original hypothetical goal was getting a collar on her within a relatively short time. Realistically – if I really had to reach this goal to take her to the vet – I would not spend more than 10-15 sessions of a few minutes each on this. I have not reached the goal!

After reviewing the video above, I asked the FDSA alumni group to let me know which of the options below they’d like to see:

Option #1: I’ll change the hypothetical objective, and show you how I would continue counterconditioning her to this collar, and eventually put it on her. New timeline: we have all the time in the world. I’ll make things easier – not move it all the way towards her – and then slowly continue from there. You’ll see lots of boring sessions: slow and steady for the win! The kind of trainer I am today would probably not continue along this route in a real-world scenario – but this is not a real world scenario, so anything goes!

Option #2: We continue the same hypothetical scenario: I need to put a collar/leash on this dog to take her to the vet; I’ve tried counterconditioning her to the collar, but counterconditioning hasn’t worked in time. I still need to take her to the vet – so I will be pragmatic, and put a leash on her anyways. I’ll show you how I’d do this in a way that keeps her stress low while still getting things done.

Option #1 was a clear winner, with requests to explain how I would work on option #2. Stay tuned for day 3!

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 1 (Introduction and Sessions 1-4)

A free roaming dog has been coming by my AirBnB – just hanging around, sleeping on the porch, enjoying the view and the company. Well: if you’re an animal and you show up within the perimeters of a space I am renting, I can’t help but try and engage with you!

Since life has been socially distant, I wanted an audience! So I asked the FDSA alumni group for ideas: what would people like to see me demonstrate with my unsuspecting volunteer?

The FDSA students asked me to show how I would work up to touching the dog, and I made up a hypothetical scenario to go with this goal: putting a collar on her so she can be taken to the vet. In this hypothetical scenario, the vet visit isn’t urgent (if it were, I’d put a slip leash on her and just take her). However, I want to accomplish the hypothetical goal within a day or so, spending no more than 10-15 short sessions on slowly getting her used to my touch and the collar.

The following videos show the progression of this project.

Intro video:

You get to meet our free-roaming friend, and Game has a lot to say about our new project!

Session #1 of working up to touching a cautious dog. (Hypothetical scenario: I need to put a collar on her, but it’s not an emergency – so I can take my time working up to it. I estimate reaching my goal within several session (within a few hours/a day if I lived with this dog, and had access to her anytime I wanted to work on this).

Session #2

Session #3

Session #4 of working up to touching a cautious dog. I really like the last rep in this video, where I’m putting my hand under her chin, and she shows no avoidance.

The Little Rascal Files 3: Children

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.

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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!

(1) Compare Yin, Sophia. Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy off Right.