Monday, July 2, 2012

The Funny Thing About Counter Conditioning

There are a few things I've worked on with Elka on our walks.

First all, the Holy Grail of walking a dog, especially a big one: loose leash walking. I'm happy to say that, combined with the clicker, repetition and improved consistency (I've never said I was perfect; I just play it on the Internet), Elka walks loose leash very well. I still Heel her on my right. We're also working on the left, for which I use the cue "Fuss", which is German for "heel", so we can act all fancy.

We've also worked on reactions to two persistently present things: barking dogs, and machinery, be it from construction or from yard work.




When Elka was a puppy, or at least considerably smaller, my fiance was walking her and somebody mowing a lawn for a service decided it would be great and funny to charge the mower at the sidewalk as they passed. When he told me this, I was livid. It was before we had the EZYWalk harness, so she could have easily slipped her collar, gotten hurt, etc.  As a result, for awhile, she would be jumpy about going past a yard where the lawn was being mowed, a leaf blower was being used, or a weed whacker, that kind of thing. She also extended this jumpiness to construction machinery, just in case, because obviously it was Out To Get Her. So I did what any good New School dog trainer would do (can we even call it that? It isn't actually all that new) and set out with the dog, and some lovely treats, for what we in the business call counter conditioning. The idea is to pair the Scary Stressor with something positive, so that the dog associates positive things with said stress object, and eventually stops stressing over it.

Now? She pauses and watches people doing yard work. And construction. If she was a little human girl, we would say that she "flirts" with construction workers. Because seriously. She does.


Barking dogs are a persistent problem everywhere, I daresay. If the dog's people aren't home, or even if they are, the dog may feel territorial about people (with or without dogs) passing through their view. They may just be bored. Regardless, barking has its own reward, and in my time walking Elka, none of the houses we pass have had an abatement in barking. I imagine a barking dog to Elka sounds like what to me would be a person screaming in my face. Not pleasant, and kind of senseless. She looks nervous, throws off calming signals, and bolts a little bit in order to get past more quickly. Or at least she did.

Now, we pass a yard where she knows there's a barking dog, and she pauses and looks at the yard, and looks at me. She walks more slowly and deliberately. In particular, there is a yard with a picket fence and a little Jack Russell who tears out from God knows where and runs the fence and barks until the man of the house yells at her. Lately, there's been a delay in the barking, and then it starts. If the dog is inside, or not home, and never starts barking, Elka seems disappointed. When the dog does bark, though, she looks up at me expectantly, as if to say "Well, look, there's a barking dog, I guess you should put some food in my mouth."

So, who trains who?



23 comments:

  1. Always looking for the treat, huh? lol It could also be that Elka is growing up and maturing and the scary things are not so scary anymore.

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    1. I have wondered about that as well, if her confidence has grown with age.

      Also, if I don't give her a treat (and I don't every time, and sometimes she just doesn't want one), she doesn't then break her calm, which is nice. Tantrum dog, do not want.

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  2. Woof! Woof! Curious about your harness ... never seen one where the hook is on the side. Happy MM! Lots of Golden ALOHA n Woofs, Sugar

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    1. It's the EZYDog Chest Plate Harness. The hook isn't on the side, it's supposed to be on the top/back, but it always slides. I can't adjust the chest strap more (the company's recommended fix) without it digging into her, so I just don't.

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  3. Good work on the counter conditioning! I can picture Elka slowing down and waiting for a treat -- "Look, I just earned a little something by being SO calm!"

    Lol, I sometimes picture a barking dog being the equivalent to a person yelling, to no one and everyone, "Look, look, there's someone walking by, and look, look, here they come... HEY, HEY, THIS IS MY YARD YOU'RE WALKING BY, and HEY, you just walked by MY YARD!"

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    1. It's so funny just how clear she can be with her body language and expectations!

      I think of a barking dog like that too ^^

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  4. Great job! And does it really matter who is training whom? :)

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    1. Not as long as we all get along!

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  5. Yes, dog training is definitely a two way street. I'm always amazed at how many dogs behind tall redwood fences seem to sense (smell) that we are dogs walking by. Actually I think they must be very lonely.

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    1. I think that a lot too, that they're lonely. Actually, one of the barkers (a German Shepherd) will stop if I look across the street at him (her?). It doesn't matter what day or time of day I'm walking past, that dog seems to be unaccompanied and unoccupied, though he is inside of his house at any rate.

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  6. Awwwe! It sounds like Elka is growing up! She does a good job communicating with you. :)

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    1. Thanks! I'll pass it on to Elka ;)

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  8. Chester and Gretel can almost pull my arm off and they are only 10 lbs! I can only imagine what it must feel like to have Elka yanking on your arm. Good for you on the loose leash walking. You have gotten way farther than us. I admit I am lazy about it because my dogs are so small. They should still learn good manners though.

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    1. Yes, with Elka, good leash manners were always my goal. While I CAN hold her back, I don't want to spend an entire walk maintaining a bicep curl.

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  9. Great job. I have is mastered with haylie except for the first 5 mins... we still struggle with her her out of the gate. Its a huge acomplishment to have conquired this and you deserve a big congrats!!

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    1. Thanks so much! On one hand, I feel like it was a lot of consistent work, and on the other hand (since things are going so well!) I feel like it was easy. How rosy everything looks, once success is reached!

      A main problem really used to be the walk TO the park; Elka would try to bounce all over the place. I'm not entirely sure I know the exact reason why that's resolved, I'm just glad it is!

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  10. What a wonderful partnership you and Elka developed; sounds like she has quite the sense of humor :). Good girl!

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    1. She truly does! Sometimes it's just a matter of we slow humans catching up!

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  11. That's great that you're working on counter conditioning with Elka. I've been doing the same with Linus for years. He's getting better, but I think he will always have some issues with the loud noises and barking dogs.

    Talk to you soon,
    Colby

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  12. I'm quite jealous that yous manage to get elka to walk with a slack leash, we have been trying for ages with Jessie to no avail sadly. I'll try some of your tips tho!

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  13. It's good to be in like company. What a beautiful pup you have, sounds like she's doing well!

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