Reactive Knox: 12 month check-in

In January, we made the decision to join a reactive dog class because we were at our wit’s end with his lunging, barking, and all-round embarrassing behaviour.

As a reactive dog owner, you’ll reach a couple of dire moments of “I just can’t do it.. I want to give up.” Some may reach points of “positive reinforcement isn’t working so I’ll use punitive and aversive methods instead. I saw it on TV/read the books so it must work!”

We can reach training burn-out and when we do, it feels like nothing is working right and everything is horrible.

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Training: Drop It

In lieu of a Knox-centric post, a brilliant video tutorial on teaching drop it by back-chaining all the desired behaviours in the cue.

Training: Extinction vs. Negative Punishment

Reblogged from because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Isn’t withholding a treat negative punishment? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it; it feels a bit like semantics right now but… what do I know? I have a lot more to read!

Extinction is the cessation of reinforcement. When you shape behavior, you start by reinforcing a tiny bit of behavior. When you make your criteria harder, you stop reinforcing the lesser offerings. Because these previously reinforced behaviors are no longer being reinforced, the dog stops offering them, choosing instead to offer the new behavior that is being reinforced.

Extinction is not punishment. Punishment is an event. When you punish, you either add something (positive punishment) or take something away (negative punishment) in order to suppress a behavior. Extinction is a “non event.” You didn’t add or take away – you simply did nothing.

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A case against endurance

How did your schedule change after adopting a dog? Well, I used to wake up 30 minutes before work, get to work, stay late (averaging 9 hours a day), and cook dinner. Now:

6:15am — wake, emails, get ready
7:00 to 7:15am — prep for dog walk
7:15 to 8:30am — dog walk
8:30am to 5:00pm — work
5:00 to 7:00pm — dog walk
Sometime around 9:30pm — dog walk

We easily averaged 150 minutes of walking with Knox. Every. Single. Day. We have a Whistle report to prove it! But as it became easier and easier to wake up and walk long distances in -1C temperature, I couldn’t help but wondering “just how do other people so it?!”

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Training: Part 3 – The Open Dog Park

As we were filling out the adoption papers for Knox, I had dreams of taking him to Crab Park and watching him play with all the dogs, or swim in the ocean, or play fetch with us.

After taking him home, all those dreams were dashed when we learned that he was a little reactive, a little crazy pants, and had absolute zero recall. Determined to fulfill my dream, once we got past those pesky bad behaviours, I enrolled him into Recall class with Shelagh Begg of Dizine Canine.

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Training: Part 1 – Clicker Training

“Clicker training” is an animal training method based on behavioural psychology that relies on marking desirable behaviour and rewarding it. Desirable behaviour is usually marked by using a “clicker,” a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct “click” sound which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. This clear form of communication, combined with positive reinforcement, is an effective, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behaviour that it is physically and mentally capable of doing.” — Karen Pryor, Clicker Training

When we were in the process of adopting Knox, we were there luckily on a day that the BCSPCA animal welfare manager, Kim Monteith, was around.

She mentioned that: 1) Knox absolutely requires training and properly socialization to become a great dog; 2) Knox was extremely food motivated; 3) clicker training would be most effective.

Having spent the better part of 2014 reading, watching, and researching about positive reinforcement training techniques, I immediately went to review videos and advice by kikopup.

Within a few days, Knox had learned all the basic commands: sit, stay, wait, say please (sitting before getting anything, going through doors, playing, etc.), let’s go. In a few days, he picked up on walking with loose leash.

#knoxdog settling in

Taken week 1: He settled in really quickly.

Granted, we had lots of help. As he settled into his new home, new behaviours emerged (as we were warned). He didn’t have any calm behaviours: he chewed up his new bed, would tug on his leash, bark for attention, jump on top of me if I sat on the floor, nip my hands and feet if I ignored him…

After lots of research – and new dog owners, please please please do your research –  we enlisted the help of Shelagh Begg of Dizine Canine who has experience with pit bulls and r+ dogs. We learned that we needed better timing with clicking, increasing our reinforcement rate, and clicking when he does something good (eye contact, positioning).

While we have a long way to go, here are some fantastic training videos by Kikopup that I refer to when in doubt:

And for kicks, a video Knox’s hyperlapse on “lie down” “flop” and “upside down”.

On a final note, if you are looking for dog trainers, be dubious of the following terms:

  • lifetime guarantee
  • train your dog in just x number of days!
  • dominance / pack-leader / alpha dog
  • prong / shock / pinch collars
  • fast results
  • flooding

I came across a number of “trainers” that refused to (or made it sound really difficult or a huge hassle to) provide client phone numbers for verbal (real life!) testimonials. I also came across many that offered to take my dog away for a week – for a nominal fee, of course – and he’d be perfectly trained! Or, “just show him who’s boss! Pin him down and he’ll submit to you forever.”

Training your dog is a life-long process and builds the bond between you and your dog. Please don’t fall for the allure of the easy way out. Be an active participant in your dog’s well-being. 🙂 They’re sentient beings; your dog will only be as good as the time you’re willing to put into it.

Do your research on dog behaviour and the dangers of punitive training methods before you send your dog away for any type of training. The best trainers will want to work with you, not take your dog for two weeks to “fix” the behavioural issues, and will be dedicated to making your dog feel safer and more confident. — Alex Andes via Positively “When Good Rescue Groups Make Bad Dog Training Decisions”

Fear-based tactics (dominance, pack-leader, alpha dog, pinning your dog down, etc.) “work” insofar as your dog is scared rather than rationalizing against a behaviour. As the saying goes..

If you want rational responses, look at the dog. If you want emotional responses, look at the owner.