Monday, August 31, 2015

Viva finds out that playing can be fun!

I'd guess Viva doesn't have experience with toys.  She's had very little interest in toys so I decided it was time to work on play.  

 Play is important as it releases stress, increases problem solving ability, increases confidence and if you are part of the equation, builds a stronger bond between you and your dog.

I brought out the ever popular egg babies.  I tossed one and Viva just stood there and stared at me.  So, time to break the play down.

I sit on the floor and place the egg babies on the door ledge.  Viva shows interest...

"What's the point of these things?"


And then I give the babies a little push and the fun begins!

And she even brought one back to play this game some more!

We played the above game a number of times.  Each time she was more engaged, clearly having fun and her confidence was building.     Here she is after a session of playing the game and she brought the egg baby into the dinning room.  Her face tells you how much fun she's having!

We then try something else... Check out her intensity. This girl has found her love of the egg babies. Foster mom on the other hand struggles with video taping and tossing the egg baby!

And now Viva is really into this game.  I'm not interested in her bringing the egg baby to me.  What I am interested in is that she's having fun and clearly that's the case!

What a happy gal with her egg baby!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Do food reinforcers make a dog fat?

Not if they are cut into small pieces and the human manages the portion size at meal time.
Viva needs to lose about 3 pounds (she was 19lbs when she came into foster care) and remember we've been using lots of food reinforcers.  She is fed twice a day and I always measure out her food.  I'm currently feeding her 1/4 cup of kibble twice a day.
That's a flat 1/4 cup

There are 53 pieces of kibble in a 1/4 cup.  That 53 times - twice a day,  that I can use to reinforce behavior.
Here's the hotdogs and cheese we've been using as high reinforcers. 
Below is the actual size and really the cheese could be cut smaller

Viva is adjusting well and everyone is sharing space so, I've now stepped down the reinforcer. Meaning the actual reinforcer (not by much and what I use, they are still pretty high value to all dogs) and then frequency.  When she first came to us, she was reinforced every time she was with Catty and D'light and anytime she was giving the behaviors of ignoring them and looking away.  Now she does this on her own. She is still reinforced randomly for the above behaviors but, it's way less than when she first arrived. 
With Viva, I'm now using a variety of food reinforcers and what I chose depends on what behavior I'm asking of her.  If I'm asking her to do something that she's really good at (like sit) I may use her meal kibble.  If I'm asking her for a more complex behavior like "look", then I will use a higher value food like bison lung.  And if I'm asking for a behavior that is still hard for I will bring out the big food guns of hot dogs or cheese.  

Here's a great blog The Importance of a Paycheck
I use all protein treats that are broken down into small pieces. Dogs don't know that they are getting a small piece or a large piece - they just knows they are getting a very tasty reinforce.
I also like offering a variety as I can see what the dog likes, doesn't like and what's their favorite. Viva's favorites are bison lung and  haddock.
Below you can see the original size of the food and then how I've broken it down.  I can get a good amount from the "standard size".  The only one that I don't break down is the haddock.
Thank you to our Northwest Adoption Coordinator for helping me with the above picture!
The majority of what I use is from Boulder Dog (you can buy it through Amazon)

Stinky Beef Tripe from Evanger's (can buy it through Amazon)
The haddock is from The Honest Kitchen (can purchase it through Amazon)

So again, up to the human to manage the food intake!
Oh and if your dog eats something other than kibble you can still do all of the above.  Catty and D'light eat raw food and we've had foster dogs eating Honest Kitchen and I've still applied all of the above.  In fact our last foster dog with lots of behavioral issues was Seven (I'll be talking about him again) and he was eating Honest Kitchen.  He and I did a ton of training similar to Viva and he also lost 2lbs that he needed to lose, while with us.
Another piece to this is also exercise.  All three dogs get a lot of walking which helps to burn calories in addition to many other benefits.  Right now I'm burning a lot of calories since I can't walk all three together.  Viva gets walked solo and then D'light and Catty are walked together.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sitting and looking fabulous

Viva loves the landing at the top of our stairs.  I'm guessing she likes it so much because she knows that the door at the bottom of the stairs equals us coming home and it's the way we go when we are going out for a walk or a car ride.  These thing have created a positive emotional response for her.

Viva also has a beautiful sit.  I noticed this when I evaluated her in the shelter .  Within 24 hours of meeting Viva I knew I was going to be reinforcing the heck out of her sit since it was a skill she already knew how to do.   As we get to know each other it's helpful to ask her to do a good behavior that she already knows how to do.  This builds our relationship quicker and it helps her to put the game together of "the human gives me something awesome when I do something they like".  In addition in builds her confidence since I'm continuously asking her to do something she already knows how to do and then again reinforcing her for that behavior.

Viva now sits frequently and then looks to us.  This is awesome as it gives us two excellent behaviors - sit and the look.  I will be maximizing that looking at us soon enough.  She will do this on a variety of occasions.  It happens when she is excited about something (having us pay attention to her, going for a walk, going for a car ride). All of those things I just listed are reinforcers - remember while food is a reinforcer it's not the only one.   So, Viva is putting the game together - if she gives me a behavior that I like she gets reinforced in a variety of ways.   

Given she likes the landing I thought this was a nice way to see her beautiful sit and her gorgeous self!

"I see that bag of treats up there"

"Watching the bug behind the curtain"

Pretty, pretty girl

Oh and here's something completely random - she's missing a toe nail on her front paw.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Management, management, management - Part 2

In case you missed it, here's the link to Management, management, management - Part 1
Viva has been in our house for a little over two weeks. When we are home, we are at about 80% integration with Viva and our dogs.  We are still supervising when the dogs are together and continually reinforcing behavior we are looking for.  This behavior includes: giving space to each other, sitting/waiting patiently, looking to me or Brett.  Specifically for Viva, she continues to be constantly reinforced for the behaviors of: ignoring the dogs when in the same area,  reduced intensity of butt sniffing of the other dogs and a reduction in growling when first seeing each other after breaks from the other two dogs.  Things are going great thanks to all the management & training we've been doing!

We've only had 2 "dust ups" and 1 potential "dust up".  There's no doubt we've had so few issues because of us managing the environment and the behavioral work (using positive training) we've done up to this point with all three dogs.  If we had just "dropped" Viva into our house we would have a huge mess right about now and everyone would be stressed out and miserable.

   All of the "dust up" events involved the same behavior by our dogs triggering Viva's behavior.  The behavior was that Catty and D'light growled and Viva wasn't about to try to figure out why they were doing that.  Remember where Viva came from not that long ago. She was in a shelter for a good amount of time with dogs lunging, growling and barking at her on a daily basis and never knowing when this was going to happen. She's learned from her shelter experience, that trying to sort out why a dog is acting that way wasn't a good idea.  So, while we all know Viva is not in the shelter, she had a long time to practice a number of behaviors that she used in attempt to keep herself safe.  We often have very unrealistic expectation and timeline for dogs - expecting their behavior to change to what we want overnight.  This sets everyone up for frustration and it's usually the dog who suffers.  If we step back and really think about things from a dog's perspective I'm guessing we would adjust our expectations and timelines. 

The 2 "dust ups" were with Catty and since Brett and I are always with the dogs we quickly intervened.  The first one was when Catty was lying on a bed and Viva walked to close to Catty.  Viva was ignoring her (good girl Viva) but, Catty didn't want her that close so gave a warning growl.  The second one was when Catty was playing with a toy.  Viva was baby gated (no visual barrier) down the hall in another room and Catty is a loud player - lots of growling.  Viva heard that and with her strong self, down came the gate and she came a running.  Again, I was right there and interrupted the behavior with no bad outcomes.

The potential dust up with D'light.  He was walking towards Viva with a "baby" and he growled (he will do this when he's unsure/conflicted). D'light social skill are stunted and most dogs find his behavior strange - not surprising about Viva's reaction.   I was right there and I saw Viva's body language quickly starting to change and intervened immediately.
So all of these interactions give the human 3 choices.  Punish the behavior, do nothing or rework the environment.  Of course punishing the behavior is not acceptable and will increase fear and aggression and erode relationship building between the human and dog. Doing nothing will get you more of the same behavior and probably make future situations worse.  Reworking the environment is the way to go for everyone.

When Catty and D'light are playing with toys we double baby gate, use a taller gate and we use a visual barrier. This has really helped and Viva does well with this set up.  We do reinforce Viva with food when the dogs are playing with toys or each other.  If Viva seems to be getting close to going over threshold with the noise of the growling, then Viva goes into a room (with something to keep her brain busy) where she cannot hear the growling.

We still have gates up as everyone still needs time away from each other.

But the gates are not up as much and the dogs are doing well with sharing space.   All the while we are still doing lots and lots of reinforcement with high value food.

You can see Catty sleeping out on the deck while Viva relaxes under the table after a good walk.  Viva's behavior was reinforced with food.

Nice space ladies and good job with focusing on me!  More reinforcement opportunities.

More time a the room together - Catty on the bed, Viva on the red mat.

More good behavior by both girls and they were both reinforced

More good work and Viva' sit is beyond amazing.  I'll be talking about that later...

"Oh good grief D'light!"

"Reinforce us!"

Lovely spacing in the kitchen - more opportunity for reinforcement

I love this picture.  Viva choosing to have her back towards Catty. Yes for this behavior!

Putting out mats to practice "go to mat"

"Why are we done with this game?"

Rest time!

Viva is a wonderful girl who is making excellent progress!  Viva's growling is decreasing and it's clearly linked to her feeling anxious, nervous and/or uncomfortable. 

And again, we are at this point because of management and positive training.  You can read more about this this from my earlier post Training before we head out

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Viva's first Seattle adventure

Earlier this year, a friend had told me about the Chief Sealth Trail and so I checked it out.  I was less than impressed. In my opinion it a boring trail with very little environmental simulation.   I appreciate that the city created this trail in  an otherwise unused land but, it was just not interesting and I didn't see myself spending any time on the trail.

Then Viva came to us and I knew this would be a great place to start walking with her.

So why is this a great trail for Viva?  She's very reactive on leash - reactive to dogs and other moving things that she anticipates may come to close.  Viva's reactivity is a behavior, based on fear and her needing the thing to go away.  This doesn't make Viva a "bad" dog, she just needs help learning new skill to create different behavior while reducing her fear and changing her emotional state during this time.  Here is a good starting article to read if you are unfamiliar with leash reactivity and how to begin working on it with positive training methods

Before we can even begin to work on the reactive behavior, we need to walk together in a low stress environment.  We still are getting to know each other so it's still important for me to manage the environment to the best of my ability.  This also gives me more opportunity to observe Viva on leash in the outside environment.

While this trail is boring to me, it has amazing sight lines and it's not boring for Viva.  Sight lines are important as they give me lots of opportunity to see what is coming and to prepare for how work with Viva as it arrives.   You will see the wide the strip under the power lines. So, if a dog, person or whatever else is coming, we can move far to the right or left giving Viva distance from what is causing her to react.

This trail is 4 miles long and we give it a go.

While I can see a lot - Viva can smell a lot which is fantastic for her brain.

The trail runs under a series of power line towers

I have her on the long line so she has lots of freedom to explore.  I do have my "working bag" with me. This includes high value food reinforcers, a standard 6ft nylon leash and poop bags.  

Viva is one that pays a lot of attention to her environment

There are some random P-Patches along the way

Again, amazing sight lines and if a dog is come there's ample space to move and give lots of space

No one coming our way!

Time to stop and smell who's been here

Off we go and Viva was having a grand time

So much to smell and explore

Time to start heading back and you can see the trail is pretty much all the same for the whole 4 miles.

This trail connects up to Kubota Garden so, that will be an adventure in our future!