Winnie, the wonder dog decoy

Frankie and I haven’t done much Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) with Crystal Saling and her wonder dog decoy, Winnie, lately because it’s either been raining — which means scary thunder and lightning — or too hot to spend much time outside. But we managed a get together this past Sunday and saw quite a bit of progress.

That would be in me as well as in Frankie.

Let me backtrack. Frankie gets a tad upset when there’s a strange person or dog in “his” yard; he barks his little head off and has been known to chase the offender around the property. So Crystal and Winnie have been doing set ups (see the first in the series of BAT posts by Irith Bloom of the Sophisticated Dog for an explanation) with Frankie and me. Winnie has been waiting in a corner of my yard with Crystal as Frankie and I move progressively closer to them — but then back off as soon as Frankie expresses discomfort.

After about 20 minutes of the latest encounter, Crystal declared “Mission Accomplished,” and suggested we move on to a larger decoy, her dog Penny.

Really? I’d assumed Winnie and Frankie needed to be BFF before our goal was achieved.

According to Crystal, the training was a success because:

  • Frankie was able to be within 3 feet of Winnie.
  • He gave calming signals the entire time: head turns, ground sniffs, blinking eyes, paw raises, and yawns (see this post for an explanation of calming signals)
  • He gave no distance-increasing signals: barking, lip curling, growling, freezing, whale eye, hard eye etc
  • His body was relatively loose
  • He was able to parallel walk with Winnie, and continued to give calming signals during the walks

When I asked why she thought that was good enough to move on to another decoy, Crystal said:

Getting him any closer is just not necessary.  It is not our goal to make Frankie like other dogs; we want to teach him an alternate strategy to feeling like he has some control over his environment.  So, instead of barking at dogs in the yard to go away, he gives them calming signals.  This in turn has an effect on the other dogs, who return calming signals back to Frankie, communicating they want a peaceful, low arousal interaction. Frankie will therefore feel safer around them.

It is not necessary for Frankie to want to interact with the dogs beyond those calming signals. It’s just not who he is at this point in his life and I have no intention of changing him!

Thank you, Crystal, for reminding me I love him just the way he is — but want to make the world a better place for him.

12 thoughts on “Training Tuesday: A BAT Landmark”

  1. What a great reminder!

    When we see the great changes that can happen through training and conditioning, we sometimes assume we can “fix” every problem and make a dog over into someone else. Just like people, each dog is different and it’s good to remember that our goal is to give our dogs a good life, not to remake them into something they’re not.

    Sounds like you got a great trainer there. Not just for how she works with Frankie but for how well she communicates with you.

  2. I’m so glad you shared this and Crystal’s explanation that Frankie does not need to be friends with the other dog to be okay. That’s always been my goal with a couple of dogs I am working with, but I guess I hadn’t really visualized it that way. Yay Frankie!

  3. I love this: Thank you, Crystal, for reminding me I love him just the way he is — but want to make the world a better place for him.

    That’s it exactly. Thank you for reminding me. I know better, but sometimes still I want Sadie to be the dog I think I want, not the one she perfectly is.

  4. Roxanne and Deborah,
    It’s a constant battle to remember. One of the biggest obstacles is the people with more outgoing dogs whom I encounter every day on the trail. They act like Frankie has a problem when, in fact, it’s their badly controlled dogs who are invading Frankie’s personal space.

  5. Well that was one great lesson! I remember all the newness of everything for Tashi after we moved, especially others dogs which he was not at all accustomed to. The big puppy dogs would gallump and want to play and Tashi looked at them as if they were aliens. It took months but he gets it now and for the most part he doesn’t back away anymore and is curious. But yes, it is always about who the dog is;)

  6. Nice post!! Your trainer is right, your dog doesn’t have to be BFFs with all dogs. You could’ve done some walking together at the point where you stopped, but whatever you do, stop before you mess things up! Dogs can only work for so long. You’ll probably find that confidence will start to build and lead to more curiosity. I did BAT for fear of humans with my dog and he now goes up to strangers for petting. But he’ll never be like my other dog, Spoon, who adores all people and throws herself at them with abandon.

  7. Most of the calming signals are still distance increasing behaviors (or at least stress-reduction requests), they just are ones that we like more than lunging, growling, etc. It’s important that those are heeded, either by you moving Frankie away or by the other dog responding in kind. Way to go with him!!!

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