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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Novel stimulus = eye contact

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This session was about turning the odd, weird, distracting and sudden into a cue to look at the handler.  Dog sees something it thinks is weird?  It looks at the handler.  Dog hears something distracting? It looks at the handler. Dog fight outside the ring? Look at your handler.  Chair falls? Look at your handler.  How handy is this skill?!  It is not taught as an “ignore that or else” proposition. The dog is free to look at and focus on those things, but with training, it learns that life is full of weird stuff, but it’s not going to hurt me, so I can just ignore it and focus on my handler. Dogs learn to ignore other dogs and people, gun shots in some sports, music of all sorts, crowds, loud speakers, Judges, etc. because we teach them how to do that.  This is simply adding the generalization of “anything weird or sudden” to that long list of distractions that dogs learn to ignore when they go for a walk or step into a competition venue.

  • With practice, anything novel/weird can become a cue to look at the handler/ignore the distraction
  • Acclimation to the CONCEPT of novel things (including sounds) helps the dog prepare for weird things that happen in everyday life. Reduces reactivity to sudden environmental change.


  • Dogs are NEVER allowed to interact with the novel item (no sniffing, touching, playing, etc.) because they won’t always be able to interact with things in real life. They need to learn that novel things are no big deal even if they can’t be investigated (and that they don’t all need to be investigated to be determined to be safe).
  • Watch for sensitivities in dogs (could be to noise or movement or size/shape of something, etc.) How the dog feels about the item is top priority. Dog should start and progress at a distance where they are able to look away from the object and not be anxious about it or overly drawn to it. Be extra careful with known “triggers” and start farther away or quieter than you think you need to be.
  • The human should not be afraid of the item (fake snake/spider)
  • Use things with odd shapes, sounds, movement, scents
  • 1- Fixed threshold
    • Start at a distance where the dog has interest in the item, but doesn’t get “fixated” on it and doesn’t try to move away on his own due to anxiety about it.
    • You stand still and click dog for looking at the item and feed when dog turns back to you. If the dog doesn’t look toward you when you click, you’re too close.
    • Repeat several times rapidly (look, click, turns away, feed), then wait a brief pause to see if the dog will look away from the item on his own. Click/reward the dog’s choice to look toward you. (look at item, look at you, click, feed)
    • When dog is ignoring the item and staring at you, move to the next step:
  • 2- Dance with threshold
    • Take a step or two toward the item (just enough to get dog to look at it)
    • Click  while dog is looking at the item
    • Move AWAY from the item as you feed the dog in front of you
    • Repeat till you can get close to the item without dog interacting with it
    • Can use a new item or same item for next step
  • 3- Add a moving task
    • Moving around/near novel items is easier than having to maintain a stationary position (stay)
    • So have the dog do some moving behavior (heeling, jumps, get on/off an agility table, etc.) with the novel thing near by
    • Gradually reduce distance between dog and novel item as dog continues to work and be rewarded for working
  • 4- Add duration of stationary behavior
    • Work on stays (very brief at first) around/near novel things
    • Work on stays (very brief at first) while novel things move toward and away from the dog (people, remote control items, other dogs/animals, etc.)
    • Watch dog for any signs of stress. A solid stay behavior can over ride the dog’s desire to leave and can hide their anxiety.
  • 5- Work on these steps with as many different sights, sounds and smells as possible. When the dog sees something new and immediately looks at you, you know you are on the right track.  When they completely ignore that new thing and remain relaxed and happy, even if you get close to it, the dog understands the concept.

Animals in Control

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Animals in Control by Eva B, Emilie J-V and Peggy Hogan

This was a really fascinating session with examples by multiple species (dogs, horses, birds, etc.). I found I have been doing this without really being conscious of it most of the time. but I’m looking forward to teaching even more choice signals. I love having my dog be able to tell me exactly what he wants/needs!

  • ABC’s of choice: In situation X, if I do Y, then you do Z (must be predictable)
  • 3 types of communication/choice:
    • Request (animals can tell us what they want)
    • Choice (Animals can make educated choices between desired options)
    • “Green light/red light behavior” (Animals can direct when an action will start/stop)


  • A behavior that specifies the reinforcer (getting what is asked for) (water, going outside, leaving the area, etc.)
  • Animal is cued by the desire and/or opportunity (empty water bowl, need to pee, anxiety)
  • If the animal were to get something else, it wouldn’t be reinforcing (going outside when animal wants water would not be reinforcing or could alter the behavior if that consequence happens often)
  • Can help humans meet the basic needs/desires of the animals in their care and open lines of communication can reduce some problem behaviors.
  • How to teach a request behavior:
    • Teach the “alert/request” behavior you want to use and have it on cue (nose poke, chin rest, pawing, etc.) Be sure it is socially acceptable (barking in an apartment/hotel/seminar is not good). In some cases you can use or shape the behavior the animal is already giving you.
    • Read body language to determine what the animal wants (dancing by the door to go out, whining by empty water/food bowl, etc.)
    • When animal gives the current signals, cue the new behavior you want and then reward with what the animal is requesting (nose poke = going outside to pee/poop)
    • Ensure the signal behavior does not turn into other things (take dog out on leash for 2 min., if potty doesn’t happen, come right back in. Don’t let it turn into a request to play outside).
  • Sometimes the answer is no
    • You can teach the animal a “wait/not now” cue once the behavior/reinforcer link is strongly established. Just don’t use it too often.
    • Sometimes the answer is simply “no, you can’t have that”.


  • Might be a single option (would you like this? Yes or no) Animal can respond with a “yes” answer. Absence of yes answer can be the “no” response.
  • Might be a choice between multiple options (would you like this? Or this? Or this?) Animal can pick/select the option/item it wants.
  • Choice adds opportunities for the animal to control his life/environment and you can test the animal’s preferences (do you want to work for the toy or the treats today?)
  • How to train a choice behavior:
    • Animal must have experience with an ABC contingency. They have to know that they can control the outcome with their behavior and that things can predict the availability of reinforcement (basic clicker training) In situation X, if I do Y, then you do Z.
    • Might need to teach an indication behavior (nose touch, retrieve, paw) depending on choices
    • For different objects, the choices can be presented to see which the dog chooses (different toys or treats)
    • For a single option (a yes/no question) the animal’s response = yes and lack of response = no. (Door opened is the “do you want to go outside?” question. The dog going out = yes. Dog not going out = no and door closes)
    • When using items/targets to indicate different options, you’ll need to teach each separately before offering a choice. If the square means going for a walk and the circle means going swimming, you’ll have to pair each target item with its related action first.
      • Show square, go for walk, Show square, go for walk, Show square, go for walk, etc.
      • Show circle, go to the lake, Show circle, go to the lake, Show circle, go to the lake
      • THEN, once those seem to be known, try offering both. Where you go depends on the selection the dog makes.
    • If there is no choice- don’t ask. (Parent asks child- “do you want to put on your coat?” Kid says no, but parent knows they are going outside so the coat has to be put on anyway).
    • If there is something that has to be done (such as ear drops for ear infection) give the animal warning of when you are going to go get the drops. This allows the animal to relax for the majority of the day instead of thinking about running every time you move (having them on edge all day is very stressful).
    • If force will be involved (such as needed restraint for medical care before choice is taught), don’t use treats DURING the unpleasant situation. It can poison the rewards. Instead, give the reward at the very end, where it is paired with relief/escape/desired consequence. Rewards SHOULD be used if the animal has a choice in the process. If the animal is free to leave then rewards can be delivered for staying. If he knows how to do green light/red light behavior rewards can be delivered for that behavior.


  • These behaviors give the human permission. It could be permission to clip nails (by offering a paw), wash an eye (by pressing eye to cloth), drop a teeter during training (by choosing to lower his head), give a belly rub (by rolling on his back), etc.
  • In most cases, the green light is a duration behavior the animal does and “red light” is implied when the animal stops the green light behavior (removes the paw, moves eye away, raises head up, getting up and leaving)
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to teach a “red light” behavior and have the “green light” be implied. If dog gets anxious about something on a walk, stopping and/or backing up can be the “stop” signal that lets the animal communicate his anxiety about what is coming up. If the dog doesn’t stop/back up, the green light is implied and the walk can continue.
  • Why teach these?
    • Useful for getting the animal to offer desired behavior in spite of something unpleasant (offering a paw for nail trim even though dog doesn’t necessarily enjoy nail trims)
    • Gives the animal control to stop something unpleasant if it gets to be too much
    • The control paired with reinforcers for desired behavior can turn the unpleasant into something the animal not only tolerates, but enjoys!
    • Gives us information about how the animal really feels about the situation
    • Can make us better at reading body language
    • From another session at a different Expo- having choices for unpleasant things was explained this way: “We all know we have to go to the doctor and dentist, but few people enjoy those visits or the resulting procedures. We still go, but we know we always have the choice to not go (even if greater illness or even death would result). But imagine how much more scary those visits would be if you were kidnapped, physically restrained, strapped to the chair/table and had zero idea what was going on!” This is, unfortunately, how most dogs see vet visits. And when they KNOW something is going to be unpleasant (nail trim, ear cleaning, etc.) and force is used, it becomes even more unpleasant. But when you teach the animal to be a willing participant in these sorts of things whenever possible, there is MUCH less stress on you and the animal. This video is just one example of this in action:
  • Teaching the permission cue:
    • You may be able to capture yes/no reactions as you are working with the animal. If he pulls away, that can be your signal to stop and move away. If he moves closer, that could be a “yes” signal.
    • Can use shaping to teach the animal the behavior you want (paw in hand) reward for duration of paw in hand
    • Slowly add the negative while rewarding paw remaining in hand (presence of nail clippers, nail clippers get closer to paw, touch nails, tap nails, clip a nail, etc.)
    • Paw being pulled out of hand is a “red light” response and you remove the clippers and the rewards. Paw in hand brings back the rewards and then the clippers at an easier step in the process.
    • You can also teach a specific “stop what you are doing” cue if you prefer. Nose on the target means you stop. With “nose not on target” being the implied consent to continue.
  • If the “green light” behavior has duration, you need a cue or marker that indicates when you are done. “Okay! Great job!”
  • Ensure you are giving a true choice
    • It should not be “the lesser of two evils”
    • If something is unpleasant, be sure there is a choice to be made (or don’t ask)
    • The animal should not be so desperate for the reward that it over powers the ability to choose (food for an animal that is or thinks it is starving, such as due to medication)
    • A super highly reinforcing reward can “over shadow” true feelings of anxiety or fear, but doesn’t remove those feelings. Use lower value reinforcers to ensure you are getting true “buy in” and choice to participate.
    • Take frequent breaks to assess the progress- does the animal beg you to continue? Or does he leave?

Errorless Learning

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Notes from the Errorless Learning session by Dr. Susan Freidman

  • Errors punish effort (Paul Chance, 2003) They slow down learning and generate undesirable emotions (frustration, aggression, giving up)
  • Prompts are information, not bribes
  • A reward may or may not be a reinforcer (word use is important) It is understood in +R language that “reward” means reinforcer, but it’s not an accurate word. A Christmas bonus is a reward, but it doesn’t reinforce a specific behavior.
  • “Errors are not necessary for learning to occur. Errors are a function of poor analysis of behavior, a poorly designed shaping program, moving too fast from step to step in the program, and the lack of the prerequisite behavior necessary for success in the program” (B.F. Skinner, 1968)
  • To set up errorless learning:
    • Make the wrong choice more difficult (small, farther away, visually faded, etc.) and make the right choice as likely as possible.
  • In testing example: In the errorless learning set-up, the animal made 25 errors out of 5000 attempts. In the trial and error set up, the animal made 3,000 errors out of 5,000 attempts. The trial and error sessions had many more stress and frustration behaviors in the learners.
  • Shows that when an animal makes a mistake, the error is in the set-up, not the animal.
  • It is deliberate and thoughtful redesign of the environment for the purpose of getting the learner to do the correct behavior (earn reinforcement) more quickly and without frustration. Can be achieved while working them toward a more complex goal.
  • Reducing errors is the TEACHER’S responsibility.
  • For behavior change/reduction (problem behaviors) you MUST look at the ABC’s.
  • The source of behavior is always (at least in part) the environment (external stimulus or reinforcer) A or C of the ABC’s
  • Know what signals, precedes and motivates and you’ll find what to change in order to change the behavior.
  • When you don’t use prompts and lures, you are going back to Trial and Error learning. You still want to fade them quickly, but they are the best way to GET the correct, markable behavior.
  • Free shaping only works with a highly skilled trainer AND highly skilled animal.
  • If pressure is used, it must be information only and not aversive (which would impede learning). Always start with least possible amount and work up if needed.
  • When an animal doesn’t do a well-known behavior, pause, then cue some easy and very likely to occur, well known behaviors that you can reward before asking for the original behavior again.

Back Chained Release Cue

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The following are my notes from a ClickerExpo 2016 session by Sarah Owings

Back-chained release cue:

  • All stationary behaviors need SOME release cue (either trained release or cue next behavior)
  • Trained release cue tells dog to move
  • Teach one cue for explosive release (start line, dock diving, retrieve, etc.)
  • Teach another cue for calm release (go say hi, out of crate, through a door, etc.)
  • RELEASE CUES ARE “CLICKS” Only cue release when dog is doing something you like!
  • Zen Bowl Steps (calm release)
    • Put food in bowl, say release cue, THEN move bowl down to make food available in a way that the pup has to move to get the food. Repeat till pup anticipates moving when cue is heard. *** Cue THEN move, not simultaneous***
    • Get a brief stationary behavior, then mark that with the release cue then present the bowl.
    • Get some duration, mark with release cue then offer bowl
    • Add bowl/handler movement as a distraction
    • Have dog wait while bowl is placed on the floor
    • Ask dog to work nearby, then release to the bowl.
  • Explosive release:
    • Use a high value moving reward (water from hose, tossed toy, dragged tug, flirt pole, etc.)
    • Restrain pup, say cue, release pup just before you move the reward
    • If possible, have reward farther from pup so he is running before the reward moves
    • Build in stationary behavior/wait so restraint is not needed
  • Go Sniff!
    • Stand with dog on short leash next to mat (scrunched up towel) with good smells on it (odors of food, other dogs, other people, critters, etc.)
    • After eye contact, release to “go sniff” (the mat)
    • Click/reward dog for eye contact with you and use reward to pull dog away from the mat
    • After eye contact, repeat till dog is bored with the mat
    • Ask for a few behaviors before giving “go sniff” cue and toss reward into the towel
    • Repeat in real life environments where dog wants to sniff
  • Uses for go sniff:
    • Teaches on-duty/ off-duty cue
    • Reinforces check ins without nagging
    • Gives dog opportunity to “ask to work” when ready/able
    • Stronger recalls (environment isn’t the forbidden fruit)
    • Allows dog to get info about the environment, dogs, people, critters
    • Can reinforce behavior (premack)
    • Relieves pressure/stress

Training tasks organizer

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Knowing just how many different things I want to train Voodoo, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all.  How will I ensure I am progressing through the check lists for everything and not skipping or missing something important?

So I came up with this system:

3-9-16 training jars sm

I have a pencil cup full of “craft sticks”. On each stick is something I want to work on (& for which I have a training check list). Each day, I’ll pick out some sticks at random and note the next steps for each that will be worked on that day.  Then I’ll put those sticks into the other jar.  This will continue each day till all the sticks are moved to the other cup.  Then the process will be repeated. This will ensure everything gets worked on and I’m working on the next steps in the progression for each thing.

Each of the 42 sticks in the cup in the photo above has a different thing to be worked on, so he has a LOT to learn! But by breaking down each thing into very manageable steps, using a training check list, it should all move along smoothly.

As behaviors are mastered, it can go in a “maintenance” jar. Or if something needs more attention, it might get put back in the original jar, giving it more times “in the rotation”. I think this will work better than the weekly check list I used for Dazzle.


Interesting article re: Hip Dysplasia

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What happens to the pups prior to growth plate closure has a big impact on the development of hip dysplasia. All puppies are BORN with perfect hips but how they develop as the cartilage changes to bone and as they grow can have a big impact. Most of the factors can be controlled by breeders and owners to help increase the proper formation of the joints.

8 little blobs!

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The ultrasound showed an estimated 8 puppies!  This could be the first glimpse of Voodoo!

2-29-16 ultrasound w watermark