Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lessons from Practical Living, Class One

pooped out!

After a year hiatus, Duke's back at school! Today was his first day for the Practical Living class at Who's Walking Who, Toronto campus.

The actual class content is a good refresher for Duke, and will be good finishing work, but the main reason why we're there is to expose Duke to as many dogs as possible in a difficult environment to help with his on-leash aggression.

This class is extremely challenging for that aspect, because it is a full house (10+ dogs) in the class prior, and a full house itself (10+ dogs in our class) meaning that Duke has to manage himself in a small room where 20 dogs will go by him at some point in the night. We did not go without some howling - but he only howls when dogs start getting very close. By the end of the 6 week program Duke should be able to sniff and greet many of the dogs in class.

The agenda for tonight:

1) Loose leash walking
2) Heel - with an auto-sit. A good tip we were reminded of was to guide Duke's face away from us for the finish for a nice straight sit (not a lazy 45 degree sit, like we've been tolerating - n.b. he had this problem in Sept 2007 too at Step Ahead, but shame on us for not tightening it up)
3) Sit, stay, and pat on the head, and return
4) Sit, stay, circle Duke, and return
5) Dog bowl manners - place a bowl of food on the floor and expect an auto-sit stay (easy)

All the instructors in class know about Duke's behavioral problem so they were very helpful. We were reminded of some very important points:

1) Reward for the absence of inappropriate behavior. For example, Duke in a down stay while we're listening to the instructor tends to whine. This is actually a behavior he's always had and has nothing to do with on leash aggression. We should wait for a pause in his whining, and mark and praise the quiet. Gradually we would only reward for lengthy periods of quiet.

Applying this principle to on-leash aggression - we should mark and reward for a variety of behaviors, such as sniffing, or avoidance, in the presence of other dogs - not just a watch behavior. If Duke ever makes contact with a dog on leash we MUST mark and reward for that - it is too big of a breakthrough to let go unnoticed.

2) Rewards must always follow markers. For example, in the case of the sit command, we no longer mark and reward for all sits - but IF we choose to mark (YES or click) then we MUST reward. Random reinforcement means the random application of a mark AND reward, not the random application of the reward.

3) A suggestion is we should practice the approach and touching on leash of another dog by getting dog friends to help out. These exercises are well covered in Click to Calm by Emma Parsons and Aggression in Dogs by Brenda Aloff. I need to get serious about getting friends to help out here.

Duke's little brain must be very tired! He aced the obedience exercises but the real challenges lie ahead... like "Meet and Greet" another dog on leash. Duke, you can do it!!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Separation Anxiety Update


Since we initially started this blog to keep track of Duke's progress with his on-leash aggression and separation anxiety, this little post is a quick reminder for us to remember a couple of break through moments that happened this past week.

Ever since we moved, last summer, Duke regressed a bit with his separation anxiety and had to go back to being crated. Well, I'm happy to announce that after practicing planned departures everyday (some departures are as short as 5 min.) for several months, Duke has successfully stayed at home uncrated for 3.5 hours two days in a row!

Both times I found him curled up on our living room couch, sleeping as I walk through the front door. yay :) (Although I do see the sweaty paw prints on our floor of a stressed beagle pacing the house, the fact that he can settle down and nap is awesome beyond words)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Review of Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. and Karen London, Ph.D

Patricia McConnell needs no introduction. She's the author of the seminal book "The Other End of the Leash" (which I feel should be mandatory reading for every dog owner). I've read dozens of books on dog training and behavior and I've also noticed that the most helpful ones are written by people who have a scientific background and formal education (McConnell has a Ph.D in Zoology and her research focused on interactions between animals and their trainers).

Feisty Fido - Help for the Leash Aggressive Dog, is one of a series of short booklets McConnell's publishing company designed to address very specific behaviorial issues and offer advice in a very succinct and easy to digest manner.

This booklet is designed to help you if your dog is suffering from fear-based aggression while on leash. This book won't be that helpful for other forms of aggression (food/resource guarding, handler aggression, etc.)

What I like most about this booklet is the fact that its written in a way that makes me feel like McConnell and London are talking to me directly. My favorite example is when they describe different training situations in increasing difficulty:

On the sidewalk, as Muffy sees a dog she is friendly with 25 yards away

On the sidewalk, as Muffy sees a dog a third of a block away that she's charged at before

Really Hard:
On a walk when two off leash dogs run up to your dog and try sniffing her while their owner grins from a block away saying "It's Okay! My dogs LOVE other dogs!"

The other strength of this booklet is that it is the best description of a classical counter conditioning program I've ever read. Even a novice dog handler could read this book and do a decent job of implementing the prescribed program.

The only shortcoming of this book is its brevity and where this book ends. By following the program you'll have a dog that is counter conditioned to look at you and avoid pulling towards other dogs while on leash. A side benefit of this program is your dog will heel really nicely too. That's plenty for most and when we got Duke to this level, we were able to enjoy walks again and take Duke all over the place. But if you want to go beyond that and have your dog meet and greet dogs on leash consistently, you'll need to look at Feisty Fido as the first step in a much longer program.

(You can buy the book (and support from on the sidebar to the right)

Monday, January 5, 2009

On Leash Aggression with Beagles, Part 2

Just a quick post here. I found this great blog site by the owner of an Italian Greyhound named Peyton. He has made great progress with Peyton and has a video clip showing two very important techniques that we also use for Duke. If we end up getting cornered (dog on the left, right, front, and back) and there's no escape, this is what we do.

The two exercises being demonstrated are the Back Away and Emergency Hold.

Why are these exercises so important? It is very important to set your dog up for success and prevent him from acting inappropriately around other dogs. Each time he lashes out, you are making his problem worse by reinforcing the behavior. Its just like water - over time, water can etch into stone. Each time you put your dog in a situation where he reacts inappropriately, you've etched that behavior deeper into his psyche.

Peyton's blog can be found here for more reading: