Friday, September 16, 2011

Frustrations and Solutions

Blaze has been really horrible for the last 4-6(+) weeks.  It's getting to be absolutely ridiculous.  I'm adding more to our management and training every single week.  The naughty dog in the household is supposed to be the young dog....not the 10.5 year old.

For everything that's causing me problems, I come up with a training option (to help things get better long term) and a management option (to eliminate my immediate frustration and to not give him a chance to practice the behavior).

Yes, any sudden change of behavior should mean a trip to the vet.  There's apparently nothing 'wrong' more than the usual issues.   The changes might be a result of me getting slack in reinforcement or maintaining criteria or maybe I let him access reinforcers in his environment too often.  Or a deterioration of his mental health issues. Or normal senior dog issues. Or some combination.

Here's a list of the recent frustrations:

Taking Treats Too Rough: He's always been bad about this. I don't know if he's gotten worse (possible) or if I'm just too used to Griffin (and most student dogs) who are 5,000 times more gentle.   Not only does Blaze take treats roughly, teeth threatening to crush your fingers as he takes the one little crumb....  but he LAUNCHES towards the hand.  The sound of the click is not a cue that reinforcement is coming, it's a cue to launch.  It looks cute.  The enthusiasm is great. The pain is not.

  • Training:  I've pretty much given up on this.  I could go with the recommendations I give students, lots of licking practice, feeding flat like a horse (he still fits my hand in?)...etc...   but 10+ years of behavior is really hard to change and probably not worth the pain.
  • Management: I am NOT feeding him any treats from my hand.  Treats are dropped into a bowl. From the MannersMinder tool, or dropped to the ground.  Completely eliminate the option.  I only started this two weeks ago and it's making my world a lot better.  I loose out on placement of reinforcer...but I keep my fingers.
Counter Stealing:  He's been bad about this his whole life, but we did get to a point where things could be out if he was supervised.  In the past month he's gotten really bad about stealing food (tomatoes, apples, whole bunches of bananas especially).  The thing is...when I looked at the exact scenario, it was always the same.  He's typically reasonable if I'm present.  If I'm occupied or attentive. If I'm near or far in the room.  However...if someone else is in the room and I'm far away?  Then he lunges for the counter.   
  • Training:  More mat work/stay training.  Going into a crate on cue. Leave it practice (verbal and implied). 
  • Management:  Always crate him or stay him or take him with me as I move around the room.  Remove items from the counter.  
Not Dropping Toys:  Again, a lifelong problem that is worse than usual.  My solution for the past few years has been to tie him to the fence with the tie out/leash short enough that if-when he lets go, he cannot reach his head all the way to the ground to pick up the item.   We got to the point that he was dropping items within 30 seconds of letting go.   He's been getting worse. Today it was 15 minutes. 
  • Training:  Practicing DropIt   ----separate--- from fetch sessions. Do not ask or want him to drop toys until we have had a lot more practice separately.  Practice this outdoors as well. And in the fetch area....but without the actual run and chase parts.  
  • Management:  Be sure to only ever use the low-value toys. He probably will drop these easily. Don't be lazy and think he'll be okay with the others. Because he won't be.   Go to the store and buy more low value fetch toys...since we're running low and just have all the nice high value toys for enticing the other dogs to play.   Don't play as much fetch. Find other games so the DropIt is not an issue.

Pulling On The Leash:  For whatever reason, pulling has returned in specific settings. To the door. To the car. To the pond. To the yard. Essentially, this is showing a lack of self control. He's wanting something and just tries to access it by himself.

  • Training:  More walking training in those settings.  And many repetitions. Spend whole sessions walking from the house and then two feet towards the fenced yard. back to the house. Three feet to the yard. Back to the house. Four feet to the yard, back to the house. Reinforcing often for being with me. Other self control activities will also help.
  • Management:  Avoid those areas whenever possible. If I have to take him, treat or tug transport (...which aren't options for him). Collar transport.      Use a harness or head halter so that he cannot lunge and be successful in getting closer to the Desired Things.   Prevent his access to reinforcement (the things).
Barking:  He used to be worse.  But he's recently worse than his average.  
  • Training:  List all the situations that prompt barking and do training accordingly.   Example: He barks if I come into the house and do not walk him the second I come in. It's an attention seeking bark, call-response sort of bark.   For training I could, at a time where we just finished a calm walk or calm activity...  do our session then. Leave and immediately come through and go out. Reinforce using the MannersMinder so that I don't have to approach (or hand feed) while he is in his crate.  Repeat a lot.  Another Example: Barking at cars going by:   Be far enough away and replace with an alternate behavior.
  • Management:  Avoid the scenarios whenever possible. Try to exercise or rest him prior to the usual barking triggers.   Use a MannersMinder over his crate/in his area at all times.

We have quite a few problems and more than enough solutions.  

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