Sunday, July 22, 2012

Classical conditioning on the fly

So the other night I took Jenny for a walk because it was nice and cool out. It was also dark which is a good time to walk because the pavement is cooler. I had forgotten to bring treats with me so when I parked I dug out my emergency Ritz cracker stash from the glove box. (Ritz crackers with peanut butter for the moments I am starving or have an upset stomach.) Jenny loves all food so I knew those would work to use as rewards if needed. Sometimes we just walk and sometimes I throw in a quick training session. While we were walking by the Stand theater I noticed the girl putting up the letters on the marquee was someone I know. I stopped to say hello while she worked.

I was not paying attention to the way she was doing the work. Jenny saw the long pole moving however and started freaking out, trying to run away and began barking. (The long pole has a suction cup on the end which gets slammed onto the letter, then raised to slide into the slot on the marquee, pull off and repeat for the next letter. Not only is it a long pole but there are scary noises.) Now when I first got Jenny there was a fair amount of getting her to not be scared of walking main street because of the signs that blow in the wind and balloons that were sometimes there and all the noises. She now walks main street like a pro. (I prefer walking main street with my dogs because there are far fewer loose dogs to avoid in those areas.)
Thankfully I had the ritz crackers with me so I pulled them out and began feeding bits to Jenny while my friend worked. Classical conditioning is basically pairing something the dog doesn't like, with something the dog does like. In Jenny's case the thing she liked was food, and the thing she didn't like was the long pole moving and the sounds it made when sticking to the sign. What is important to remember in the time you are pairing the two is that it doesn't matter that the dog is barking. You are not rewarding "bad behavior", we are instead reprogramming the emotional event for the dog. The barking is just the dogs way of releasing it's anxiety and saying "Keep away!" (which is why holding a dog muzzle shut can increase anxiety) I also act confident and just praise the dog anytime she is quiet or calming down at all WHILE I am still giving the food treats.
Some dogs may need to be moved away from the "scary thing" (scary in THEIR perception, not ours) to be what we call under threshold. (far enough away to be less scared so they can think) Then we pair the food anytime the dog looks at the scary thing. We can then move slowly closer over time while we are treating. If classical conditioning isn't possible in the moment simply walk away from the scary object instead. If we force a dog towards something they are afraid of they go into a fight or flight mode. This is an instinctual thing for self preservation. That means they would either chose to run away from the scary thing, or go after it to defend themselves. In either case they are not in a thinking mode and won't learn because they are too stressed. Our job is to get them back into a thinking mode to learn it isn't something they need to be afraid of. The most important part is that we need to remember that it is the DOGS perception of what is scary. Just because we know it isn't something they don't need to be scared of, it doesn't negate their emotion of the event for them.

After treating her for a few minutes and getting her to a calmer state we left to finish our walk. On the way back we were on the other side of the road as we passed. My friend was still there working. Jenny looked at  her, then looked at me. I tossed her a treat, and we kept on walking. Perfect!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm still here!

Wow, that may be the longest non-blogging stretch of mine on record. I AM still here! I have just been busy or pre-occupied to blog. Not to mention blogger changed the layout and I HATE change so I was resistant to jump back in. But that isn't fair to my regular readers. (If they are still out there!)
Things to know: You might see me driving around wearing a surgical mask.

Do not be alarmed, I am not contagious, just fighting an allergy. I have to go see a pulmonary specialist at the end of the month to figure out exactly what the problem is and to see if there are any medications that can help. Currently the only thing that helps is a cough medicine that is strong so I can only take a partial dose if I have to drive or function. If I take a full dose at night then I can't sleep. Not really helpful I know. The mask cuts down on my coughing DRASTICALLY so I wear it to give myself some relief. I am aware it looks ridiculous. Even more so today since a worker at a local cafe in Rockland chose to burst out laughing when she saw me yesterday. Gee thanks. 
I have lost weight. No I am not "sick" like some have been speculating. If you are interested you can read about my weight loss journey here on my food blog:  I have lost 20lbs since changing my diet and adding some exercise. 
On another note my new t-shirts are in!!!
This is the one I will be wearing when I walk my dogs in public. I am my own billboard! They came out great. A shout out to KDK Designs for doing the shirts for me and Paws & Ink for helping me flesh out my fancy new logo. Next I will be getting a jacket embroidered from KDK for fall. 
Zola is doing fabulous. I was worried because she has reached the point where I need to make her food into a slurry now so she can eat. I thought maybe the growth was getting large fast. It seems to have slowed down lately though. She feels great and is a the proverbial naughty puppy. It's a good thing my other dogs will play with her. Her energy level would be wearing me out otherwise. Here she is pushing her way into Jenny's photoshoot for her new thundershirt. Jenny has a fear of things that make sizzling noises when they are cooking so I thought I would try it. Of course we haven't cooked anything that qualified so I don't have feedback for you yet.

The thundershirt has been working for one of our prison dogs Violet. She has pretty severe noise phobias and the shirt has been helping. Thanks to the Loyal Biscuit for the donation of the shirt to the program. Violet is ready to find her new home by the way. I would like to see her go where she has another stable dog to play with. She really does well with a confident dog around to take cues from. She also plays with the other dog over there, Abby, regularly. She will be making day trips to the Humane Society of Knox County on Wednesdays so people interested can go meet her. She lived her life at the end of a chain and is fearful of new things but has come a long way on the program. I would not put her in a home with young children because of her fear of new things and noises for safety. (tho she will chose to run than fight) Contact the shelter for more information. Our programs facebook page is: where you can read updates about the dogs currently there. 

Jack is very happy that we got a new picnic table for him to lay on. We even added an umbrella this year for his majesty's comfort. Such a spoiled boy. He deserves it though. 

In the early evenings I have been spending time reading or doing fiber stuff in the yard while the dogs play. (Fiber stuff = knitting or spinning yarn) 

I tried to get a good photo of all of them together and this was the best I got. Yeah I need to work on that. 

I finally read the Rin Tin Tin book. I found it to be fabulous. The writing is wonderful and it tells many stories, not just about the successive Rin Tin Tins. It was also about Lee Duncan, the man who found and trained Rinty, as well as how dog training got started in this country. There was a lot of information about old Hollywood as well and other people who kept the Rin Tin Tin legend alive. I also loved how the author added her feelings to the story. It is an amazing book and I was sad to see it end. 

So that catches you up on a lot of what has been happening here. If you want to stay current with my shenanigans be sure to check out my facebook page:  I am much better at keeping that up to date since it is a bit more user friendly. I hope everyone is having a great summer!