Clicker Training for Hannah's fears

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Postby Hundilein » August 14th, 2008, 12:51 pm

amazincc wrote:How did you achieve that??? How out-of-control/fearful was Hannah? How did you get her to focus on you in the first place when she exhibited fear aggression?
I have grappled w/this issue forever. :oops:
And I, by no means, used physical corrections nilly-willy... it was actually a last resort. And I hated doing it.

Sorry, Liz... this is SO NOT what you asked for. :P


I decided to start a new topic for this since the other thread was already split once, and this is sort of a different topic again.

I will try to explain what I did with Hannah, though it's been an on-going process that started two years ago, so I am guaranteed to forget some things. :mrgreen: And this is going to be very long, I apologize. :oops:

First, how out of control was Hannah?
Hannah came to me at around 4 months old. She was being returned after being adopted at 6-8 weeks old by a family with two or three young kids. Their reason for returning her was that she was growling and snapping at the kids (I can't remember if they said she actually nipped a kid once). They said this happened a lot when the kids were eating, and that she was guarding her poop from the kids. They also described her as "Jekyll and Hyde".

When I met Hannah on the night I was going to take her home, she growled and snarled at my friend and I when we looked at her in her crate. She was okay with me once I got her home, but I was also careful with her. Any time she met anyone she didn't know, she would bark and growl, and if the person didn't back off, she would bark and growl and lunge at them. I could tell she was fearful, but she was not backing off. She had decided the best defense is a good offense. Kids were the worst. There was a toddler walking with his parents on the opposite side of the street, probably 200 feet away from us and she exploded with barking and lunging. I was worried that she would bite someone if they got close enough.

What I did with Hannah (in a very large nutshell):
I started clicker training with her right away, teaching basic obedience. She is extremely food motivated, which helped a ton, and she loves to learn. I have a great trainer friend who let me take a class with Hannah, and as long as everyone ignored her, she was fine. (If she hadn't been fine, I would have waited on the class.)

I started taking Hannah to a local coffee shop where we could sit outside and watch people. I took really tasty treats with me and we waited for a person to come by. As soon as Hannah noticed a person, I started shoving treats into her mouth. If she was growling or barking, I didn't care, I just kept shoveling treats into her mouth. If she was too upset to take the treats, we moved away from the person until we were far enough that she could eat again. When the person went away, so did the treats. I did the same things on walks. We walked in places where we'd see people on a regular basis, but not a ton of them, and not large crowds. The only criteria for treats was the presence of a person. I did this until Hannah started to growl and then look at me for treats. That's when I knew she was ready for the next step.

We went to the coffee shop and when Hannah noticed a person, I would click and treat (c/t) before she got upset. If she looked again, c/t. If a person got too close, we would move away until we were far enough away that she could focus. Leslie McDevitt calls this "look at that!". A big part of this was me learning to read the tiny nuances in her face and posture that meant she was getting uncomfortable. Her mouth goes forward, her ears raise slightly, and her eyebrows move together. If I don't catch it there, her hackles go up, her tail goes up and "flags", and she barks, growls, and lunges.

I also used the "jolly routine" sometimes. Basically, when she noticed a person I would get all silly, and say funny things to her like, "ooh look, it's a person, you're so silly, that person doesn't want to eat you, you're a black dog, and everyone knows that black dogs don't taste good". My silliness made Hannah feel more relaxed, and if the people heard what I was saying, it made them relax too, which made them less scary. I still tell her all the time that people aren't going to eat us.

I also taught Hannah to target my hand (touch my palm with her nose). When she started to get more comfortable around people, I recruited dog-savvy people to help me and sent Hannah to touch their outstretched hands. When she touched someone's hand, I'd c/t. The treats always came from me because I didn't want her to go close to the person for the food and then freak out about being that close to a scary person. This changed the person from something scary, to something she could interact with to get treats.

Hannah was very reactive with people walking past the house. She'd bark and lunge at the door, or the fence if she was outside. To work on that I would call her and run to the kitchen (conveniently located at the back of my house) every time she barked at something going past the house. Eventually, she started running to the kitchen or to find me all by herself without me saying anything.

During all of this, I also managed Hannah to avoid situations she couldn't handle as much as possible. If I wanted to go to the coffee shop and actually enjoy my breakfast, I didn't take her. If I was going to the pet store and actually needed to buy something, I left her home, or left her in the car while I went in and got what I needed, then let her come in with me after. At home, if we had people over, Hannah went in her crate in the bedroom with a kong or other food-stuffed toy. If they were dog people, I'd let her out for short periods of time to work with her, if not, she stayed in her crate. On walks, if there were kids riding their bikes or skateboards (her ultimate fear), we'd turn around and go the other way. If she couldn't handle something, I didn't push it. And I still don't. That doesn't mean that I let her get away with things though, I just recognize when something is too hard for her and she can't handle it...YET.

This is a really simplified version, please feel free to ask questions. I love talking about training, but I get long-winded, especially when I'm talking about my own dogs :oops:

Hannah still has outbursts sometimes, but she's getting a lot better. She can walk around at crowded flyball tournaments without losing it, and she's actually made friends with a few people at flyball, and with some people who have come to visit and have stayed at our house, including my nieces who are 3, 5, and 12. She cuddles with the 12 year old like she does with me, and even let my niece run her at flyball practice this week.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » August 14th, 2008, 12:55 pm

Wow! Sounds like you did a really great job with her! That had to take a lot of patience.
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Postby Hundilein » August 14th, 2008, 1:08 pm

pitbullmamaliz wrote:Wow! Sounds like you did a really great job with her! That had to take a lot of patience.


Thanks. It did take patience, which is not something I'm good at. Hannah and Renee have both made me grow so much as a trainer, though. I'm very lucky that I had an awesome mentor to go to for help.
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Postby TheRedQueen » August 14th, 2008, 7:25 pm

I'm low on patience too...and clicker training has taught me a great deal about being patient with everyone...dogs and people. 8) I still have a long way to go of course...

Anyways...I was just reading one of Emma Parson's articles on training Ben, the dog that inspired "Click to Calm". She uses the clicker even if the dog won't take treats, because the science behind it says that it calms even if the dog won't take a treat/reward. Because it goes straight to the amygdala...the primitive part of the brain...and helps calm the dog, where as talking and such doesn't work as well. The click as a conditioned joy stimulus, as KP puts it.

Have you tried working with this at all...I haven't clicked and not treated...but it seems interesting to me...
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby Hundilein » August 14th, 2008, 7:34 pm

TheRedQueen wrote:I'm low on patience too...and clicker training has taught me a great deal about being patient with everyone...dogs and people. 8) I still have a long way to go of course...

Anyways...I was just reading one of Emma Parson's articles on training Ben, the dog that inspired "Click to Calm". She uses the clicker even if the dog won't take treats, because the science behind it says that it calms even if the dog won't take a treat/reward. Because it goes straight to the amygdala...the primitive part of the brain...and helps calm the dog, where as talking and such doesn't work as well. The click as a conditioned joy stimulus, as KP puts it.

Have you tried working with this at all...I haven't clicked and not treated...but it seems interesting to me...


I have never intentionally clicked and not treated, but I have been in situations where I thought the dog could handle it, but she couldn't, so I clicked and she wouldn't take the treat. I generally view that as being too far over threshold, so I move away from whatever the dog is worried/excited about.

Interesting stuff.
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Postby amazincc » August 15th, 2008, 10:20 am

Wow, Sarah!!! You did/are doing an awesome job!!! :shock: :clap:

I wish I had read this stuff about 6 years ago... :sad2:

Re-training is SO much harder than doing it right in the first place.

How does Hannah handle vet visits?
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Postby TheRedQueen » August 15th, 2008, 11:11 am

amazincc wrote:Wow, Sarah!!! You did/are doing an awesome job!!! :shock: :clap:

I wish I had read this stuff about 6 years ago... :sad2:

Re-training is SO much harder than doing it right in the first place.

How does Hannah handle vet visits?


Oh I don't know...I find the challenge of re-training kinda fun...that's why the middle three were all adult rescues.

I can answer for my Inara...she HATES vet visits...and I've been very lax about setting up fun visits for her. I take her muzzle when she goes...and she gets lots of c/t while we're there. I'm allowed to hold her too...which def. helps.
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby amazincc » August 15th, 2008, 11:29 am

Ah... but you can start off w/a "clean slate", so to speak, even when you get an adult rescue. You and the dog have no previous history together, hence no "expectations" on either part.

Mind you, I "trained" mine to be the way he is... for six long years. It was/is hard for his little brain to wrap itself around totally new concepts now, especially since the "old rules" don't apply anymore... despite of him not liking/trusting people any more than he did before.

But I gotta give him credit - he tolerates them a lot better, mostly in an effort to please me. :)
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Postby TheRedQueen » August 15th, 2008, 11:35 am

Well, true enough.

I did start training the traditional way...my basset hound was trained by me with a choke chain. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a basset hound to heel and pay attention to you when you're practicing obedience in a sheep barn? Near impossible. But I kept at it. Lagging, sniffing, no interest in doing anything I said..."stubborn", "stupid", were words I heard..."bassets can't do this stuff" I heard.

Then I found agility, and slip collars, prongs, etc were not allowed due to safety issues. Hmm.

I started working my girl in a new way...off-leash (a basset off leash! Yeesh!) and with treats. It was amazing...suddenly training was worth her while. She then picked up clicker training at the age of 7-8 years old...and loved it. Finally...a training style that worked! lol I've been doing it ever since. :D

She died a few years ago, with agility and flyball titles to her name...all earned in the last half of her life!
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby amazincc » August 15th, 2008, 11:46 am

Good God... I know how stubborn Basset Hounds can be. :shock:

Fear aggression - totally different ball game.
Especially when the behavior was encouraged/tolerated for so long... poor Beast - all he knows is that lunging was "okay" for the longest time, and suddenly it's become a huge no-no.
I'm pretty sure he finds most people just as scary as before, but he trusts my judgment a little more... treats help, but they aren't the deciding factor, I don't think.

And I shall not dwell on "what could've been, if I had known all this when he was a puppy..."... bah. :nono:
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Postby TheRedQueen » August 15th, 2008, 11:57 am

amazincc wrote:Good God... I know how stubborn Basset Hounds can be. :shock:



Not stubborn at all...just not motivated by much other than food...and chasing rabbits. Once you realize that they're not golden retrievers, all is well. 8)

P.S. I wasn't comparing...I was just mentioning why I got into clicker training and reward-based training. I started out using corrections...that's the only way I knew at first.
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby amazincc » August 15th, 2008, 12:11 pm

TheRedQueen wrote:
amazincc wrote:=
Not stubborn at all...just not motivated by much other than food...and chasing rabbits. =


They're stubborn... I know one. :rolleyes2: lol

But you're right... finding the right "motivational tool" is half the battle won. :wink:
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Postby TheRedQueen » August 15th, 2008, 12:31 pm

One of my favorite articles on "Hard to Train" breeds...

http://www.flyingdogpress.com/difficult.html

I think of this imagined dialogue when my dogs don't want to do something...

Handler: You should do this because you love me.
Siberian (truthfully): Love is a feeling, not a reason.
Handler (a bit pompous): It is important that you do this.
Siberian (with great wisdom): Humans give importance to the wrong things.
Handler (growing angry): If you don't do this, I'll punish you.
Siberian (with dignity): Then I may have no choice but to comply. But I can choose not to trust or like you.
Handler (calmer, trying another approach): I'll make it fun for you.
Siberian (interested): How much fun?
Handler: So much fun that you'll beg for more!
Siberian: On that basis, I'll try it. But remember, I'm easily bored. This better be good.

Now, if the handler was trying to get this Siberian to run, the dialogue would be much different:

Handler: I want you to run like the wind.
Siberian: I'm already gone!
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby amazincc » August 15th, 2008, 12:45 pm

I like that dialogue... lol

Here's ours:
Me: You shouldn't lunge because you love me.
Mick: I'm feeling the love... but I want at those strangers!
Me (very exasperated): It's important that you do this.
Mick: It's more important to get at those strangers!
Me: If you don't do this, I'll punish you.
Mick: Punish away... let me at them NOW!
Me: I'll make it fun for you. ( LMAO )
Mick (brightens considerable): How much fun? Can I bite as well as lunge???
Me: So much fun that you'll beg for more!
Mick: On that basis, I'll try it. I might lunge, bite... and knock them to the ground! :dance:


Me (giving up and sighing loudly): I think I'll have a cookie...
Mick: Why didn't you say so in the first place? What strangers? I already opened the jar for you! :D

Me (thinking to myself): Woohoo! I've discovered something that works!
Mick (thinking to himself): Woohoo - a cookie!!! There are plenty of strangers left to be menaced tomorrow.
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Postby Hundilein » August 15th, 2008, 6:33 pm

amazincc wrote:Wow, Sarah!!! You did/are doing an awesome job!!! :shock: :clap:

I wish I had read this stuff about 6 years ago... :sad2:

Re-training is SO much harder than doing it right in the first place.

How does Hannah handle vet visits?


Thanks! Like Erin, I actually enjoyed the challenge. It came at the right time in my life. (Renee's a different kind of challenge, and she came at the wrong time, so I have many more problems with her...but at least she's not fear aggressive ;))

Hannah is not great at vet visits, but is getting better, despite the fact that I haven't worked with her on them :oops:

The first time I took her to the "vet" it was the spay/neuter clinic when she was around 6 months old for her spay surgery. The tech came out to get her and Hannah barked and growled at her. The tech suggested a muzzle and I happily agreed. Hannah let me put it on and then went with the tech into the back. They said they didn't have any more problems out of Hannah for the rest of the day. Of course, she was knocked out for most of it, and the anesthesia really did a number on her.

I was not at her first visit to the regular vet (my mom took her), but I am told that the vet walked in and immediately sat down and started tossing treats at Hannah. It only took a few minutes before she was in his lap. I think maybe that was just a very basic exam visit, with no shots. After that visit, she barked at the vet and tech and we had to muzzle her.

At her last vet visit, we actually didn't have to muzzle her, but my mom and I were both there, so we tag-teamed her. I held Hannah while mom fed her really tasty treats.

A big part of how well Hannah does at the vet has to do with our vet. He is wonderful with her, and spends at least 30 minutes with us doing the exam. He's the only vet there, so he's the one we always see. He knows us, and knows Hannah. He always comes in prepared with treats, and he doesn't force her to do anything. He is very calm and relaxed and doesn't rush. He's never confrontational with Hannah. And he lets me hold her because he knows it makes her more comfortable. And I have no problem asking him for the muzzle if I'm worried about her. (I am bad and have not bought Hannah her own muzzle to work on desensitization with, but it doesn't seem to be a big deal for her.) He actually gave her a shot in the waiting room one time because Hannah was really relaxed and he thought she'd do better there than if we took her to the exam room, and all she needed was the one shot, not a full exam. We were the only ones there, and that's the way it usually is. No crowded waiting rooms, and very little time waiting to see the vet.

While I don't take Hannah for fun visits to the vet where she just gets treats (something I really should do), I do take my clicker and treats and we work on fun stuff while we're waiting for an exam room, and then while we wait for the vet and tech to come in. And then we spend a couple of minutes showing off tricks and having Hannah touch the vet's hand for treats at the beginning of the exam.

Hannah has had two trips to the emergency vet, and neither went as well as trips to our regular vet. The first was down-right horrible, and it had a lot to do with the vet's demeanor. He was very brisk and didn't give Hannah any time at all to get used to him. He also acted like I was a complete idiot and didn't know anything, just because she was scared. The second visit was with a different vet, and was much better. It was also just about a year later. The vet gave Hannah a chance to get used to her while she talked to us, and then just matter-of-factly took Hannah into the back for some tests. Hannah got worried, but the vet just gently made it clear that Hannah was going to go with her, and it all worked out fine.
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