Consequences Drive Behaviour. Teaching Unwanted Behaviour

Consequences drive behaviour.

consequences drive behaviourUnwittingly the young couple have made a rod for their own backs.

They are first time dog owners and hadn’t realised that something only needs to be reinforced just the once to create a behaviour. If the dog barks in the night – that ‘come and talk to me’ bark …and if they go to her just once …she will very likely do the same thing the next night!

Now Freya has them up shortly after 5 am each morning. One of them comes down, maybe lets her out, gives her something nice to chew while they lie on the sofa trying to get a bit more sleep. If it’s a bit later she may immediately get a walk.

What very rewarding consequences for barking at 5 am!

Behaviours harder to undo than to create

It takes a lot more work to undo a behaviour that has been reinforced by enjoyable consequences than it does to cause it in the first place. Continue reading…

Stress. It’s All Down to Stress

Stress. Is it cause or is it symptom?

It’s like merry-go-round. Chicken and egg.

Barking for attention = stress = barking for attention

Barking at the neighbour’s dog = stress = barking at the neighbour’s dog

Shredding the mail = stress = shredding the mail

Wild excitement before meals = stress = wild excitement before meals

Barking in late evening when people gathering outside the pub next door = stress = barking in late evening

Attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher = stress = attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher

Attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal = stress = attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal

Guarding behaviour = stress = guarding behaviour

Growling when approached with lead = stress = growling when approached with lead

Barking non-stop for attention = stress = barking non-stop for attention

Stealing things for attention = stress = stealing things for attention

Wrecking things = stress = wrecking things

Humping her bed = stress = humping her bed

Fear of bangs = stress = fear of bangs

Stomach issues = stress = stomach issues

Pulling on lead, discomfort to her neck = stress = pulling on lead

Obsessive chasing balls and sticks = stress = obsessing

Lunging at dogs = stress = lunging at dogs

Wrecking toy to relieve her stressNoodle barked and barked. She barked because she knew there was food in my bag. The barking got her into a real state.. The increased stress made her – BARK!

Because people eventually for their own sanity give in to barking if she carries on for long enough, she’s in effect been taught to do it.

The couple have had Noodle for eight years, since she was a puppy, and have given her everything a well-loved dog could wish for. There will be a genetic component to her problems.

The common thread running through everything is stress and over-arousal. If we can reduce the eight-year-old Jack Russell’s general stress levels, the resulting behaviours should largely take care of themselves.

In over three hours that I was there Noodle didn’t settle once.

Apart from short sessions spent upstairs to give us and herself a break, she barked for most of the time unless I was focusing my full attention on her, teaching her an incompatible behaviour to barking whilst reinforcing quietness. This is something that will need to be worked on over weeks.

The only real relief for both her and for us was while she determinedly employed herself at dismembering a toy I produced. I could see by the way she was frantically going at it just how much she needed to vent all the pent-up stress inside her.

In order to get Noodles’ stress levels down, anything that stirs her up too much must be reduced in every way possible. Control and management will play a big part in saving Noodle from herself and putting an end to rehearsal of certain behaviours.

We looked at ways they can regularly initiate healthy stimulation to keep her mind busy with stuff that, instead of being arousing, will calm her down and help her to feel fulfilled so that she’s less likely to resort to stealing things, destroying things and guarding things.

We also looked at ways to help her to calm herself down. Chewing, foraging and hunting are all great ways to achieve this.

Her tendency to guarding behaviour will be worked at. She will play fun games that require exchanging objects for something else.

With a dog like this it’s less about dealing with the behaviours themselves beyond putting in management like blocking views out of windows, installing an outside mailbox and using a baby gate, and more about changing the dog’s inner emotions that drive the behaviours.

We discussed how they can make her feel better about the sounds she hears outside – people chatting outside the pub and the dog opposite – by associating them with food. They had only thought about trying to stop her noise, not trying to address the emotions which were causing the noise.

“Surely if you feed her when she’s barking are you not teaching her to bark?”, the man said.

Yes and no.

Next day - in gainful employment!

Next day – in gainful employment!

‘Yes’ if you are feeding to reinforce a behaviour like begging for food and ‘no’ if you are feeding to change an emotion, like the fear which is causing her to bark at sounds.

Feed a behaviour and you make it more likely – that way you can successfully teach a dog to bark. This has in effect happened with the ‘I want something’ barking.

Pair food with an emotion like fear (starting at the mildy uneasy stage where she will still eat) and you reduce the fear and that way reduce the barking too. This way we are dealing with the behaviour at source.  See this ‘Can you reinforce your dog’s fear‘.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Noodle and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Manners Maketh Dog!

The stunning German Shepherd lacks manners

Prince is aptly named.

He is treated like a prince and he behaves like a prince!  He lacks what I can only call manners.

About eighteen months ago I regularly saw a lady walking her German Shepherd puppy down my road. Soon, as he grew a bit bigger, she was walking him on a Halti.

I would watch as the pup repeatedly tried to scrape the thing off on the ground or with his paw.

One day, thinkingStunning German Shepherd lacks manners how frustrated and uncomfortable he must be feeling, I stopped to talk to the lady. I told her about a harness with the ring on the front, the Perfect Fit, and that if she wished I would pop in to show her.

The other day, over a year later, she phoned me. She is at her wits’ end with a dog that pulls despite the Halti. The other day he jumped up at the postman and he wasn’t being friendly.

Although I went to help the lady with walks, it was soon apparent that I wouldn’t get far if Prince isn’t treated a bit differently at home by the man in particular, learning some manners. Prince rules the couple’s life.

The retired man, who chose to have a German Shepherd, is unable to walk him due to health reasons so the much slighter lady has the job.

We need to be in control of a powerful dog. In this case Prince is mostly in control of his humans.

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It’s like the man is the dog’s – not the dog the man’s!

It’s common for a dog to follow a person about. In this case, if Prince is out of sight for a minute the man gets up to check on him.

The dog jumps all over him, he grabs his arm with his teeth. The man will stir up an already excited dog and, to quote, Prince goes ‘berserk’ when his son calls. He finds it amusing but I find it unacceptable, dangerous even.

The man is at home all day and he and Prince are inseparable. He obeys every whim of the dog but if Prince is asked to do something he’s likely to ignore it. The constant attention and fuss make Prince what he is and it seems the man can’t help himself. He insists his dog is the softest dog who would never really hurt anyone.

We were adjusting his harness when Prince air snapped at me. A warning (which I heeded!).

Oh dear.

It’s so hard for the lady to walk a large dog that takes little notice of her. It’s not only about equipment but also the relationship between human and dog.

She walked Prince around the garden beautifully on the new harness. For the next three days she will be going out several times a day for five or ten minutes instead of one hour-long walk, loose-lead walking outside the house.

Then I shall be going back. We will extend the walk a bit further and look at what to do when passing barking dogs behind garden gates and what to do if something suddenly appears.

I must confess I am worried about this one. Prince’s genetics aren’t great. His mother was so aggressive they couldn’t see her. His father was a police dog. Several of the eleven siblings were returned due to aggression problems – having said which, the couple’s kindness instead of using ‘dominance’ tactics may well have saved him from the same fate.

I really hope the man now realises how important it is for them to control Prince (I don’t mean to dominate the dog but to teach him manners and training in a positive way). He really needs some serious training and brain-work. Internet advice may tell them to be ‘Alpha’. Prince would have none of that! Try dominating him or making him do something he doesn’t want to do and it can only go one way – down the slippery slope to anger.

Unless I am taken seriously I can see somebody getting bitten. I worry for the grandchildren. The gentleman knows the new dog law means someone need only to feel threatened for him to be prosecuted. They were lucky with the jumped-upon postman. Next time they may not be so lucky. I feel he’s in denial.

From our bantering and friendly conversation I know the very genial man won’t mind me saying that he doesn’t really take the matter, or me, very seriously.

The lady does, however.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for prince. I don’t go into detail. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get My Help page)

Consequence Drives Behaviour

Leonberger puppyI have just been to the most stunning puppy. A four-month-old Leonberger called Amra.

What was troubling the couple was their large puppy’s painful biting and pawing, particularly directed at the lady when she comes home. The gentleman initially referred to this as ‘dominance challenge’.

It’s easy to explain behaviour where the dog seems to be controlling us as ‘dominance’. This is now an outdated, unhelpful notion that leads to a confrontational training approach which, with a spirited dog, can eventually make for defiance – even aggression.

This beautiful dog fortunately has a lovely gentle nature and merely gets too excited. He then can’t control himself. He’s just a puppy being a puppy, but being the size he is makes biting and pawing, something he’s quite persistent with, painful.

What is behind the behaviour isn’t dominance – the puppy wanting to become Alpha – but that certain behaviours bring him the most reinforcement. When he gets a bit rough he can bank on getting rewarded in terms of attention of some sort. A confident dog and kindly treated dog isn’t at all upset by being told NO. The word may stop him in his tracks, but does it teach him anything positive?

Amra’s ‘silly’ times can be anticipated. They can pre-empt the puppy wildness with various occupations that keep him busy including hunting and chewing.

With each thing they want to change (and there are very few), we can analyse just what happens immediately afterwards – realising that it’s the rewarding consequence that is driving a behaviour to repeatedly occur. Sometimes what that consequence actually is needs searching for.

Here is an example. When the lady comes home from work (the gentleman works from home), Amra gets very excited indeed. The manner of her arrival and their greeting helps to trigger a mad and rough half hour. The pup will grab her leg. What happens now is that the gentleman calls him away and then distracts him – maybe plays with him. The dog’s reward could be that he indirectly gets quality reaction from the man.

I suggest, if they’ve not successfully managed the situation by setting things up differently in advance, that  the gentleman experiments with simply walking out of the room and shutting the door as soon as the dog grabs the lady (and that she wears tough jeans for a week or two)! If that doesn’t work, what Amra is ‘getting out of it’ needs to be re-examined as will the things that lead up to it.

I always love going to a puppy that has been to some formal old-fashioned type of training based on ‘commands’ and ‘control’ and to introduce both people and dog to the notion of using Yes instead of No – constantly reinforcing desired behaviour and having the puppy wanting to please rather than simply being expected to comply.

This same principal applies to when walking Amra on lead. They already have him walking around the house and garden beside them off lead, but once the lead goes on he’s pulling down the road. It’s so easy to have a puppy walking nicely if one has appropriate, comfortable equipment and a different mind-set.

Because Amra will grow to be so large, from the start they have been doing everything they can to make sure he grows up to be a gentle and well-mannered adult dog.

Whippet Lurcher is Scared of Men

Tilly was a stray dog found on the streets in Greece along with a male dog from whom she was inseparable and who now also has a new home. She is one year old and some sort of whippet cross.

Tilly is a remarkably stable dog in all respects bar one – she is still, after four months of living with the couple, very wary of the gentleman of the house, this is despite the man doing nearly everything for Tilly because the lady is often away for a week at a time for her work. Many dogs that have not suffered abuse are scared of men.

Tilly is worst of all when he is standing up or walking about. One can only guess at what must have happened to her earlier at the hands of a man, perhaps the dog-catcher. Apparently the other dog is even more scared of men, which is a tribute to the efforts Tilly’s people have put in so far.

Sitting on the sofa with the lady, I watched as the man walked around the room, making us a coffee. Tilly made sure she had the kitchen table between her and him, eyes darting, tail between her legs and licking her lips.

When he sat down on the L-shaped sofa, Tilly jumped straight up too but as far away from him as she could, between the lady and myself. Here was his dog, snuggling up to me and kissing my nose, whereas if the man so much as moved on the other end of the sofa she shrank back into the seat (see her picture). He feels so very hurt. He is the sweetest, gentlest of men and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my saying that he’s not a macho type. He has tried so hard with her.

The fact that the other two little dogs (photos below) enjoy his cuddles doesn’t seem to help Tilly at all.

Here is a very short video of Tilly thinking the man may be about to stand up, but relaxing when he doesn’t.

He really does adore her, but I feel his efforts to make her accept him are the crux of  the stalemate they have now reached. He needs to start behaving in a way that doesn’t come naturally to him – with some indifference.  I believe that all the effort he makes is, in a way, driving her away. There is too much pressure upon on her (I have had personal experience of this when I took on my German Shepherd, Milly).

Weirdly, off lead out on walks with lots of space she is a different dog, running about and playing, and (mostly) coming back to him when called, but at home, before they can go, she runs around before cowering in a corner for him to put collar and lead on her. Again, it does make one wonder whether it was a dog-catcher that caused her problems with men. Once collar and lead are on, he gives her a fuss – but I did point out to him that at thLittle dog being cuddledis stage a fuss was in effect punishment to her. It can be hard for a loving human to see this from the dog’s point of view.

I am certain that playing harder to get is the answer and to release her of all obligation to come to him or to be touched by him. Easing of all pressure by acting indifferent is one half of the plan for desensitisation. The other is counter-conditioning.

She will now only be fed dog food at meal times and the special stuff – chicken – will be used for ‘man’ work. Starting at a level she could tolerate, each time the man moved and Tilly looked at him, we said a quiet ‘yes’ and fed her. We gradually upped the ante until he stood up and sat down again, all the time feeding her. When he walked around it became too much for her – she ran off to the other side of the kitchen table.

While he walks about, as obviously he must, he will either silently throw food to her as he passes or drop it behind him as he walks, encouraging her to follow him rather than to run away. If he can manage to resist words and eye contact, she will slowly relax I’m sure.

He will become a walking ‘chicken vending machine’! In time she will associate him only with good stuff.Crested Powder Puff

If he resists approaching her in any way for long enough, the time will come when she actively invites his attention, and I feel he should still hold back! To value it, she needs to have to work for it (rather than, as she probably now feels, it being forced upon her). She needs to learn that coming over to him doesn’t result in something that is (to her at the moment) punishing.

I am sure, if he takes things sufficiently slowly and resists showering her with demonstrative love until she is well and truly ready, all will be well eventually. It’s a question of building up her trust.

One month later: ‘Tilly is doing exceptionally well and is turning into a fantastic lady. She is incredible on recall and sits down for her lead in the morning. She sits for her treats etc on the run and walks beautifully. She still goes under the bed but is first on the bed in the morning to lick JIms’s face and licks his hands a number of times during the night to say hello. We are delighted with the progress. Jim is grinning from ear to ear and is very proud of ‘their’ progress. As I write Tilly is lying with her head on Jim’s lap.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Is the Dog Jealous?

Ovcharka mis Milly can be jealousOn the face of it, Milly’s connection with the emotions of her human is very different from the last pair of dogs I went to, who so closely picked up on the owner’s anxiety. Milly is laid-back, quiet and mellow where her lady is animated and chatty. But maybe there is some connection? The dog herself doesn’t have to make much effort. All she has to do is wait and food and attention are showered upon her. Maybe consequently both have lost some of their value.

This is observation not criticism; she has turned out really well.

Two-year-old Milly is an Ovcharka mix – an Ovcharka is a Caucasian Shepherd dog bred for protecting humans and hunting bears.  It’s hard to see the resemblance in Milly. I am promised that there is no Labrador in her and the mix includes Boxer and Staffie.

Milly is a wonderfully friendly and gentle dog and much of this is due to a dedicated owner who has trained and socialised her from the start.

She has just three issues really. She hates getting into the car and travelling, her recall depends upon whether she has something better to do, and just occasionally she puts other dogs she doesn’t know ‘in their place’, but only if the lady is fussing them. The lady feels obliged to make a fuss of the other dog because of the petting the very friendly Milly receives but it makes the dog jealous. This, and possible possessiveness over something edible, only happens when Milly is with the lady, not with her other walkers.

It’s clear this is largely to do with the relationship between them.

At home Milly is unintentionally encouraged to feel that she is in charge of food. Every day, instead of breakfast, a smorgasbord of goodies is left around the house for her. If any of her evening meal, laced with tasty chicken to tempt her, is uneaten, it will be left down until she is ready to finish it.  The downside is there is nothing left that is special enough to reward her with and on account of so many extras she is never hungry. The best way to get a balanced feeding routine around a single dog is to imagine you have four as I do.OvcharkaX2

The recall and reactivity issues really aren’t about training at all, more about Milly’s relationship with the lady who simply needs to be more relevant (again, this is nothing to do with love – love goes without saying) and sufficiently inspiring to race back to.

Milly has always hated the car, ever since she was driven many miles as a puppy to her new home, sick and toileting in terror. She tries to avoid getting in the car although the lady has made sure all journeys end somewhere nice. Lots of patience will be needed and constant repetition around the car, looking at it, touching it, opening the door, getting in and straight out of it, very short journeys round a car park repeated over and over along with constant feeding of something really special. At present the shortest journey is ten minutes – too long.

Many people would give their eye teeth for a dog like Milly. Friendly, polite, fun and good with all other dogs who she loves to play with – the only exception is the circumstances mentioned.

I have been reliably informed that Milly’s dad was actually a Central Asian Ovcharka/Shepherd and this makes a lot more sense. (ears and tail traditionally docked).

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Milly, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).