2 a : a power of one department or branch of a government to forbid or prohibit finally or provisionally the carrying out of projects attempted by another department; especially : a power vested in a chief executive to prevent permanently or temporarily the enactment of measures passed by a legislature
b (1) : the exercise of such authority (2) : a message communicating the reasons of an executive and especially the president of the United States for vetoing a proposed law
When I first started walking Bee, she couldn’t pass another walker’s group on a path in the park. A dog within 5ft-10ft of her caused her to flee, and if cornered she’d snap. Her original owner purchased her as a pup from PJ’s (read: puppy mill) only to leave her in a crate for long hours for the majority of her first year – definitely not a situation the promoted a well-socialized dog! Luckily, this person eventually thought better of keeping Bee in this situation, and re-homed her to a lovely couple who could better meet her needs. A dog’s early life (genetic, prenatal, neonatal, and puppyhood) has a profound effect on later life, and Bee is a good example of this. When I started walking Bee, her owners left her harness and leash on her so I would have no need to touch her to get her in and out of the house. She stayed on leash in the park, and we hid off to the side of the trail to let other dogs pass. Luckily, she would stay under threshold so long as there was no risk of a dog getting in her space.
One year ago, Elsie was picked up as a stray in Etobicoke by Toronto Animal Services. I retrieved Elsie from TAS as a foster for Speaking of Dogs – I was going on vacation in three weeks and thought “No way I’ll want to keep an 8yo shepherd! No problem taking on a foster now…” – but as the story so often ends she became a “failed foster” and took up permanent residence.
I don’t know what her life was before that, but I have no doubt that she had a damn good time chasing wildlife once she hit the streets! All last summer the bane of my existence, and the glory of Elsie’s, were the squirrels in the parks, the cats on the fence in the yard and both critters during neighbourhood walks. If Elsie thought she may perhaps just might have seen a bit of movement, or heard a little noise, that may have been a cat or squirrel her brain would disappear into an alternate universe. She would freeze, stiff as rigor mortis, and her eyes would go completely blank as she stared (and sometimes drooled). The other half of her reaction to critters was full-out hurling herself toward the suspected Squirrel Zone, sometimes screaming like I was killing her, and also running backwards like a crayfish, just about popping out of her collar (this is why she wears a sighthound martingale collar). While there were some squirrel-safe parks, other parks were off-bounds because she would disappear into the forest in hot pursuit of her fluffy-tailed friends. She would not only tree the squirrels, but also chase them from the ground as they ran through the leafy canopy 50ft above.
It’s easy enough to say “work at a distance, wait for her to look back at you and click and feed attention.” Sure, the basics are there. Decrease distraction with distance, mark and reinforce a desirable behaviour. But I had to ask myself: what on earth could I have possibly offered Elsie that was more potent than a squirrel, even at a distance?
Back on the topic of sound sensitivities… unfortunately we’re now fully immersed in the season of fireworks and thunderstorms. Arlo is actually holding up very well, especially considering recent history.
For a time, Arlo was triggered on nearly every walk, and it was difficult to find a day that he wasn’t triggered. His reaction was generally one of two things: shutting down and marching or frantically pulling, frequently towards the house or car. Luckily, the majority of his reactions were of the first, somewhat milder, variety. Increasingly he was being triggered by things imperceptible to me. This was also happening on the street when it previously appeared to have generalized to only parks. I was getting a little bit frightened that he was really going to go down hill. I thought his world was going to get smaller and smaller as this fear generalized…
I’m happy to say, however, that I have seen a lot of progress for the better in the last couple of weeks. Below I’ll go over what I’ve done and what I have yet to do:
What we saw in the following two years was a severe escalation of Odin’s behaviour. We returned to R.H. for further instruction during that time and also kept in email contact. R.H. was less than enthusiastic about us persisting in contacting him. He eventually told us that his insurance didn’t cover aggressive dogs and that we should buy William Koehler’s “The Koehler Method of Dog Training” and to follow it step-by-step, and to buy Cesar Milan’s DVD on aggressive dogs. In case you don’t know who Koehler is, he was a trainer in the middle part of last century advocating ‘training methods’ such as holding a dog’s head underwater, taping a dogs mouth shut, throwing a heavy length of chain to hit the dog, hanging a dog from a choke chain until it stops struggling, and hitting a dog across the face with a wooden stick. Continue reading Confessions of a Cross-Over Trainer – Part Two→
The term “cross-over trainer” commonly refers to a trainer who decides to train using primarily positive reinforcement with a dash of negative punishment but who previously trained primarily with negative reinforcement/positive punishment (for definitions, do a search for “quadrants of operant conditioning”). Of course, the world is not black and white and certainly defining training methods is no exception. There are all sorts of people falling anywhere across this spectrum. So, in this, I also include “balanced” training, which could be anything from a clicker in one hand and a shock remote in the other, to a cheap tidbit for a sit and a haphazard jerk on the leash for anything the owner deems inappropriate. I think this can apply to not only professional trainers, but the average dog owner as well. Correction-based training is very accessible to the general public, what with TV personalities and the like, so many of us subscribe to some version of corrective training when we first dip our toes into training our dogs. It may seem very sensible to say “good job!” as well as “that sucked!” to our canine students, but the end-results are not always what you may expect.