Thursday, May 20, 2010

Postive Reinforcement, Corrections & Pretty Pictures

Our weekend in Idaho at the Shannahan/Deal clinic was stellar.  I spent the weekend working Brynn, listening, watching and photographing.  My idea of heaven. 

I am putting together a post about the clinic and should have it finished by this evening.  I only had 1600 pictures to sort through & out the best to edit. 

Brynn was off her 'A' game for the weekend.  She refused to eat for two days.  I stopped each morning at McDonalds and got her a sausage/egg biscuit.  That was all she would eat.  I think she was freaked out without any other dogs.  At the clinic she was evil.    After a morning spent snarling, snapping and embarrassing me Dianne finally told me to stop what I was doing....obviously it wasn't working.  So I filled my empty water bottle with rocks - then each time she even lifted her lip at another dog I shook it over her head and let her know I was NOT pleased.  It worked like a charm.  By Sunday afternoon she had pretty much stopped the snarky bratty behavior...thank doG. 

Dianne was right on the money.  You DO NOT allow that type of behavior...EVER.  You do not have to be aggressive, abusive or mean.  You simply let the dog know that it will not be tolerated...PERIOD.

I was afraid to correct Brynn because I have been on both sides of the fence.  In positive reinforcement training you reward the dog for behaving correctly.  Meaning I would reward her for when she looked at a dog and did not react., that was NOT working.  Instead I used a correction based method - built on common sense.  If I see you lift your lip or behave inappropriately you are going to hear a sound right over your head that will FREAK you the F out.  Don't be a brat... you wont hear the sound.  Simple and easy for the dog to figure out in a matter of seconds. 

When Brynn started acting like an idiot I wanted to scruff her neck and let her know I didnt like it.  But I hesitated.  I was afraid to do anything like that to her because I felt someone was going to tell me I was being 'mean' to my dog.  So I tried to distract her and use the 'positive' reinforcement.  I even went as far as to hold my clip board over her face so she couldn't see the other dogs.  Can we say S.T.U.P.I.D?    Not to mention completely ineffective.

Positive training & reinforcement has its place.  Corrections have their place.  Both need to be used correctly to be effective.  Note: I said Correction....not abuse.  Not poking the dog in the neck, kicking, yanking on their collar throwing them off balance etc.  Corrections timed CORRECTLY let the dog know what they are doing wrong. 

I look at it this way.  In raising my kids I used a system that was self explanatory for young minds.  It was called Magic 1, 2, 3.  Kids are just kids! In addition to being delightful, charming and affectionate, children can also present their parents with a steady diet of difficult behavior: whining, arguing, teasing, fighting, yelling, tantrums and pouting.

This system was very simple.  When confronted with a behavior I did not appreciate or wanted stopped I would count.  For example:  Jake wanted a cookie.  Mom says no.  Jake still wants the cookie and starts whining and crying.  Mom says "That is 1" and hold up one Jake the clear message I am not going to play his game.  He has an opportunity to correct himself.  He keeps whining.  I say "that is 2".  He is familair with what comes next....he keeps whining.  Mom says "That is 3" and immediately scoop him up and put him in his room.  I tell him he is in time out (one minute for every year they are old).

This gave the child an opportunity to correct themselves. To think about their behavior and understand what they were doing was going to lead to a negative result.  

That is a very simplified explanation of what I did for minor infractions.  More serious infractions like hitting your brother over the head with a whiffle bat.  Well those went straight to 3 and were sent to time out immediately.  I used this system on my kids clear up to teenagers.  After age 13  they would laugh at me...but they still got the message.  Of course the consequences changed as they aged.  Time out is typically not effective for a teenager that would rather spend most of their waking hours in their room - so it morphed into lawn chores, scrubbing the toilet, loss of privileges etc. 

Caveat:  This method does not work on a young man with schizophrenia.  Nothing works on a teenager with schizophrenia who refuses to take their meds.  The only effective tool there is a cattle prod or tazer - unfortunately CPS does not allow you to shock your children into sanity.  *sigh*  But they allow the local police department to do that.  The magic 1, 2, 3 in his case was 9-1-1. 

I look at positive reinforcement training in dogs as the Magic 1, 2, 3

Corrections are the immediate ' TIME OUT' method.

Both work...and each has their place.  Dogs are not children.  While border collies are extraordinarily smart they do not have a full grasp of cause and effect like humans do.  They need clear, concise and consistent rules...just like kids...or like kids they will run you over.

Okay off my soap box.

Last week when I went to the photo shoot we stopped at several places.  One of my favorites is the Wild Horses Monument 

Ranger and Bonnie love it there

We checked the area out for rattle snakes.  Then broke out Floppy Frisbee for a little exercise.

The scenery is breath taking.  When going east on Interstate 90 you can easily access the monument with a short hike up the hill.  I don't hike.  That is why God made telephoto lenses.  Instead I chose to take pictures of the dogs playing.  Surprised huh?

Ranger is such a wacknut.  He loves floppy.  He loves to toss is around and shake it till it is dead.

The wild flowers and sage brush is gorgeous in the spring.

Almost magical

Sadly it was time to get back into the car and continue our journey to Couer d'Alene.  There is something about a place like this that leaves a brand on your heart.   

On the way home we stopped at the monument on the other side of the freeway.  This side over looked the Columbia River Gorge.  The weather had changed significantly.  Thankfully the dogs are not afraid of thunder or lightening.  We were blessed to quite a show across the gorge.

I tried to get shots of the lighting strikes...but was too slow.

You could smell the rain in the air

The dogs could hear the thunder and feel the electricity.

Bonnie listens to the clap of thunder

But she wasn't bothered.  "Mom, where is the ball? HUH?"


"Don't mind me, I am a star...I am going to look handsome and enjoy the scenery."

I wonder when Ranger's ego will come back down to earth.


Lean said...

Wauw great pictures.

MTWaggin said...

Great photos and a great post. Ranger is allowed to fly high for awhile (as are you)! LOL By the by, we have a "shaker can" at our house for when all the dogs go on barking running freaks (deer alert in other words). Pop can partly filled with pennies and duct taped. Had it for year and as long as it isn't overused it still works like a charm!

Monique said...

Interesting topic.

I think the key here is what the environment will allow. The R+ method you describe only works for sessions where the dog can be kept below threshhold. The P+ method you describe works for dogs who can tolerate it without aggressing more seriously, or shutting down completely. I'm a body-blocker myself. I had an experience like this with one of my own dogs in a clinic situation. I was waiting with my dog, watching, and another handler was struggling with a dog. She took out the shaker can and used it much as you described on her own dog, about 4' away from me.

My dog was terrified (I didn't realize the woman was going to do this in advance either) and I had to crate her from the car the rest of the weekend. (Because the woman had to continue to use the shaker can for the rest of the weekend)

That, of course, raised a separate training issue -- I was criticized, saying my dog was noise sensitive and it was a training issue: "well you need to train your dogs to work even though there is a scary noise." --
(That dog will WORK during the noise, but being expected to wait quietly during it was too much for her).

My reply: If the dog is taught to work in spite of (ie ignore) the shaker can -- it's not going to be as effective when a handler tries to use it to punish the dog by scaring it. Which do you want? I can't do both. I felt really frustrated for being criticized that my dog was afraid of the shaker can.

BCxFour said...

I feel and understand your frustration. I was using 'blocking' to keep Brynn from reacting when it was suggested it was not working. Then I grabbed the rock bottle and used it only when absolutely necessary - keeping in mind that it may scare the other dogs in the area. Due to that concern I moved to the edge of the group to people who knew what I was doing. I did not use the rock bottle for every correction because I was worried she would desensitize to it. I used other methods to get her attention. The most effective was a sharp "AH HA" followed by a 'knock it off'. But this was only after she was focused on me from using the rock bottle a few times.

My experience with a badly behaving dog is much what I felt like raising my kids. We have all been there - seen or had the kid who is acting out in public. Everyone has an opinion, criticism or suggestion of how you should handle it better. Parenting advice runs the gamut. from proponents of spanking to those who feel you should never lay a hand on a child. It seems echoed in dog training. Everyone has an opinion.

The trick for me is to finding the one method that works for my dog and be prepared to be dynamic in changing it, one time positive reinforcement may work, the next time a firm correction is necessary. It is exhausting sometimes.

I wish we all could be more supportive of each other rather than critical. I am sorry your dog was frightened and you were criticized. That just sucks.

Karen said...

Lovely photos as usual, and of course we expect nothing less, you have got us so spoiled now:)
Interesting first half of the post, and I look forward to reading more comments about it. I agree with Monique, that the method that worked for Brynn would not be for all dogs, and could backfire badly with some.
Like you say, everyone has an opinion on the best way to deal with it, and you go with whatever seems to work best for the dog.

fulltiltbcs said...

Great post and GREAT pictures...I mean GREAT GREAT PICTURES! Can you give me some lessons!?!??! PLEASE!!

There is a method for every dog, and NO dog should be allowed to act like that, you are so very very right :) GOOD JOB!

Mini Aussie Ace! said...

What BEAUTIFUL pictures!!! That is an amazing landscape! How lucky that you all were there!

Monique said...


Thanks for the sweet comment. In no way meant to imply you were acting like that person - just another example for discussion.

Different things work for different dogs in different moments. I'm lucky with my dogs. We'll see if I get lucky with the next one ;)

Glad to hear Brynn cleaned up her act. That's the MOST important thing!!

Amy said...

I think something to be aware of when correction is it does nothing to address the underlying emotional state of the dog. Consider, for example, that the dog is reacting out of fear. While the punishment may stop her from acting on her fear, it has done nothing to address her fear - and may in fact prove to her that the presence of the other dog really does predict something bad - which in turn may increase the likelihood of a reaction the next time she finds herself faced with the same situation.

One thing I have found that works very well for this type of behavior is playing the "Look at that" game outlined in the most excellent book, _Control Unleashed_ by Leslie McDevitt.

This has worked very well with my boy who is extremely fearful of other dogs and acts it out by threatening to "kill them before they can kill him." He has come a very long way, however! I am careful to watch the proximity of other dogs and not put him in a situation where he may react, and I also use the "Look at That" game for when we do need to be in closer quarters.

He is an extremely sensitive dog and using any type of correction would set us back. (Oddly enough - and thankfully - he is not afraid of thunder or fireworks, but make a loud noise near him and he is certain the world is coming to an end!)

I swear each and every dog that comes into or passes through my life teaches me more and more . . .

Your photos today, are simply amazing - the colors are *so* vivid! Thank you so much for continuing to share your beautiful art with us! I'm always happy to see when a new post has been made!

BCxFour said...

Amy - I love the Control Unleashed book. The Look at that game is also wonderful. Thank you for such a thoughtfully worded comment. I agree with 100% of what you wrote. Unfortunately anything less than a correction would not have worked for Brynn in that situation. She was not fearful of the other dogs...she was being and stinker resource guarding me. She even went after the kitty who tried to jump on my lap. When she lifted her lip at a person - that is when I knew she slipped over the edge. *sigh* the little stinker. Correction was the only solution...unfortunately.

Waylon Aussies said...

Your post today was right on the money. When Hoss was young, I struggled between training him positively and correcting him for unacceptable behaviors. I was not harsh enough in correcting his aggression, which only made it worse in time because I didn't send him a clear message right up front. Now Hoss has to be isolated from the rest of our household because of that aggression.

Sometimes it is hard for people to realize that by not correcting a dog effectively right off the bat, they are being far, far more cruel by letting a problem behavior continue.

On a brighter note, I appreciated your mention of the Wild Horse Monument. I still have the photos that I took there ten years ago when I moved back home from Washington! I stopped there for a pit stop with my first Aussie, Jack, and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I loved seeing your photos because they took me back and reminded me of what a beautiful place the gorge is!

Anne said...

We have a floppy frisbee, too! They are so fun. Your Mom takes beautiful pictures :)

The Border Collies said...

I think one thing you're going to find is that over time, your dog is only going to behave if you're threatening her with a bottle full of rocks. I think it's probably one of the least successful methods of actually dealing with aggression because all it does is force you to carry a prop through life to deal with your dog's actions, but does nothing to deal with the reason she is behaving the way she is. She will never get better, she'll just be afraid to act out.

You're in a position where you want to go to clinics and trials with your dog, so you won't keep her below threshold, and positive reinforcement won't ever work for you because of the situations you put her in. That's not a judgmental observation, just a practical one. So it's not that R+ is failing to work for Brynn, it's that you're failing to implement + correctly.

I only make this observation because you are discussing training methodology but failing to recognize that your methodology is flawed.

It's like a friend of mine said to me recently that 2X2s screwed up her dog's weave poles. I asked why and she said because her dog drives through the poles and comes back through them again for the toy, so it's taught him nothing. I pointed out that the toy should be hitting the ground in front of him as he drives through the poles FOR the toy, which is the point of the exercise, which she totally missed. Then she said if she threw the toy he would probably run around the poles instead of through them. I said put the poles between two solid objects so he is set up for success and has to run through the poles and she said that just wouldn't work. As far as she was concerned, it was not her fault, it was the 2X2 method's fault, and that was that. And she's a dog trainer for a living!

As far as you are concerned, R+ doesn't work because you won't keep your dog under threshold. R+ is your 2X2 ;-) It's just an important distinction, when you are discussing training methods.

Coming from someone who used to be a correction based trainer and believed everything my stockdog trainers told me,

The Food Lady :)

Erin said...

Thank you for your post. I raise Guide Dog puppies and we use a pop-release collar correction for our dogs when they dive after food or something. So many people criticize us for using corrections when it is really necessary. You can reward good behavior all you want, but if you never tell a dog that what it did was bad, it will keep doing it. But don't get me wrong...we use LOTS of praise too.