First, the good news. The counter-conditioning portion of the get-Frankie-into-the-car-comfortably program is going great. I demonstrated last week how our trainer, Crystal,  is accustoming Frankie to street noise by having him associate it with eating. I served Frankie his meals  semi-alfresco, moving his dish closer and closer to a door that was opened progressively wider.

The next step was getting Frankie not to fear the gear associated with car rides, his harness and leash. To that end, I was instructed to get him outfitted for a trip outside and then feed him, with no follow up excursion.

It turns out that Frankie is pretty good at eating while ignoring various annoyances such as street noise and outdoor gear.   Actually working for his food by performing different behaviors?

Not so much.

Which behaviors? We’re practicing “Look at that,” whereby I point to an object and — surprise! — try to get Frankie to look at it; and hand targeting, which involves Frankie tapping on my hand or on various objects I hold in it, such as pieces of junk mail and my TV remote control. I admit that I didn’t initially see the purpose of these exercises, but Crystal explained that they’re designed to teach Frankie to investigate his environment, and that giving Frankie jobs that he can succeed at will make him more comfortable in a stressful situation. She used a great analogy:

It’s like giving someone who suffers from shyness or a social phobia a job at a party. If that person is passing out drinks or handing out napkins, for example, she won’t focus on the stress of having to make conversation.

It’s a great theory. But Frankie doesn’t seem to want the jobs. He would do the nose tap thing a couple of times and then walk away. Or bark at me in annoyance. I’m not completely fluent in speaking Dog but I’m fairly familiar with the Frankie dialect and this particular bark — a new one — had a definite tinge of irritation to it.

It’s gotten to the point that when I put on the white apron that signals training — it has lots of pockets for the clicker and treats — Frankie runs away.

So what has Frankie learned? To avoid the party hostess.

I have some theories about what’s going wrong. But I’ll wait for the expert analysis.

Stay tuned…

31 thoughts on “Training Tuesday: Will Not Work for Food”

  1. Well, I’m not an expert, certified trainer, but have a few ideas. 😉

    When you point your hand at something and want Frankie’s eyes to follow, things often go faster if you ensure that your feet (and therefore your entire body) are also pointing in the same direction. I’m sure one of the trainers can explain why this is the case. I’ve just noticed that it usually is through trial and error. 😉 And that when a dog doesn’t attend to what you are pointing at with your hand, he is often attending to what you are pointing to with your feet.

    If he’s compliant with targeting exercises at first and then gets bored, perhaps something is going wrong with the reinforcement schedule or value of reinforcers? The barking could be anything from frustration (he’s not sure what you want) to rudeness ( I know what you want, but it’s not what I want! And I’ll now tell you that, loudly! )

    I love the way you tell these Frankie stories, by the way. It’s like we’re in the room with you! 🙂

    1. Thanks for your feedback — and your nice words about these stories.

      I suspect you’re right about the positioning of the feet. Crystal mentioned that I kept looking at Frankie while pointing — well, heck, how could I tell that if he was looking at what I was pointing to — so I’ve tried to peer out of the corner of my eyes.

      Frankie’s diabetes creates problems with the schedule/value of reinforcers; he’s really only supposed to get fed twice a day, with a snack in mid-morning when his blood sugar’s lowest. But I’ve been thinking of ways to get around the value of the reinforcers (bits of hamburger , which I put on his kibble, in pockets…?)

      1. Yes, looking at him expectantly is something he’s learned means “Stop what you are doing and watch my face, because I need your attention. And I’m going to reward you in some way, too!” It’s been rehearsed thousands of times (pretty unconsciously on the human side of this) and he’s learned that he’s generally doing the right thing when he returns your gaze! Looking at our dogs when we want their attention somewhere other than our faces is such a difficult habit for we humans to break! It’s in our DNA to look at any face with which we’re trying to communicate. But yes, sometimes we really do confuse our dogs with this behavior. It’s a great example of the dog being a better observer of our behavior than we can ever hope to be. 😉

        I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had a dog with diabetes. I’m really sorry that Frankie has that health issue. Sounds as though you may have to sort out non-food reinforcers? That’s probably one for the actual, certified trainers to answer for you.

        1. Not only did I have the Frankie looking at me issue to contend with; I also had his disheveled chic look. I finally trimmed the hair around his eyes so I had a better sense of where he was actually looking when I gave him those sidelong glances. 😉 And, yes, we’re working towards non-food reinforcers.

        2. That’s a great observation Keeping Awake about a dog looking at our face for visual cues.

          I’ve noticed that when I am working on getting Penny to bring her ball back to me, if I look at her, she will stop a few feet away and drop the ball then look at me…but if I look down at the ground and tell her to bring the ball, she will usually bring it all the way back and drop it right next to me.

          1. This is one of those situations where engaging a real, certified trainer is a huge help!

            As owners, we get so focused on what we’re trying to do (and what not to do!) that we can easily lose track of what the heck our bodies are doing! We’ve all done it, and I’ve certainly done it (perhaps repeatedly)! We’re thinking about reading the dog, about reinforcement schedules, our tone of voice, etc., that we forget the dog is really watching us intently and is mainly looking at what we’re doing physically, at least in the early going.

            I wish I could say that I had the genius to have figured it out on my own, but I didn’t. 😉 Had help from trainers along the way, too! 🙂

            Sometimes the best thing a trainer can do is watch you interact with your dog and help tweak your performance! Extremely helpful! And why I still recommend that even experienced owners and handlers invite a trainer into their routines. We’re all making mistakes of some sort, and a kind, experienced trainer can help us to break habits that are counter-productive although quite well-intentioned. You often realize that you could really use fresh, experienced eyes when the mistakes you got away with for Dog #1 are just killing you with Dog #2, or Dog #25! 😉

          2. I think I might have to have Crystal film me, embarrassing as that will doubtless be, so I can share that on the blog. At least I won’t be wearing the apron…

          3. You may feel awkward, but those of us watching you won’t. No, we’ll be slapping our heads as though we just realized we could’ve had a V8! Because we’re doing the same things!

            I sincerely doubt that you’re doing anything that we all haven’t done or may still be doing. Heaven knows I’ve made enough mistakes to fill several novels (and still do)! With several different dogs, too! ( I just had the good fortune to have access to experienced trainers, handlers and breeders who pointed out what I was getting right and where I was just on another planet. Accident of birth in my case!) Yes, you feel a bit self-conscious being watched, but in my experience the feedback has been like light-bulbs going off!

            So most likely, you’d be providing a great help to other owners who will likely see much of themselves in your tape. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I will also learn from it! 🙂

      2. Does Frankie respond to praise rewards or primarily to treats…? With Penny we potty trained her initially with treats but slowly replaced the treats with hefty amounts of exuberant praise rewards because we didn’t want her to become a cute little Bichon “fatty” after getting a treat after every time she used the bathroom.

        That’s interesting about a dog’s focus being on where your feet may be pointing…I never thought about that but it makes sense. Perhaps you will have more success if you strike the classic “sailor” pose with one hand across your brow, one hand behind your back and balancing on one foot when trying to get Frankie to look at something.

        1. Frankie expects praise, Jon. He thinks it’s his due. But because of the diabetes I can’t overfeed him anyway so we’re working on other rewards — including playing with his squeaky chili.

          I’ll bet Penny laughs at you when you strike that pose…

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  3. I would lose the apron. Rather than having formal training sessions, integrate with the normal day (as much as you can) and literally catch him by surprise. Five 2 minute sessions may be better than one 10 minute.

    KA’s point on body language is very good. Especially since it’s tough to tell what a smaller dog is really looking at sometimes.

    1. Yeah, the apron’s going to go (and here I felt so proud of finding a use for it…). I’m not sure how good — or bad — it would be to give the treats over the course of a day because of the blood sugar issue. Maybe I’ll check a glucose curve to try to figure it out.

    2. Thanks! I’ve not put anywhere near the time, study and practice into understanding dog behavior that you have. And that’s why we all can benefit tremendously from the folks like you who did the heavy lifting!

      I was just suggesting a way in which my behavior has totally confused dogs in the past. If it’s helpful, that’s great!

      And excellent call on the apron setting off a behavior chain! 🙂 And that brief sessions, incorporated into regular life are highly effective ways to train! 🙂

  4. Is it just me, or is training Frankie to NOT fear going out the open door a really bad idea?
    Do we (since the blogging community has taken ownership of His Frankieness) want him thinking strolling through that open door — en route to incredibly busy street– will get a reward.? I am not at all certain that even Frankie will understand there is a magical and invisible stopping point.
    I may be extra-sensitive on this point. One of my dogs, Bandit (a mostly standard size dachshund) was abused and terrified of stepping out the front door when he arrived at mine. This morning he zoomed under my walker and took off through the neighborhood. Took half an hour to corral him, and me collecting him by car (I had back surgery a few weeks ago and am not supposed to be driving). Since I live in a coyote-friendly neighborhood, having a smallish dog on the loose is a more than ordinarily unnerving ezperience.
    I miss the good old days. Now the only time Bandit shrieks and drags his feet is if someone puts a leash on him! Yes, I know, that is a great candidate for a conditioning program.

    1. Welcome back to my blog, my curmudgeonly friend! (For those who aren’t regulars, Rebecca is not only Frankie’s rescuer but the owner of Charles (Not) in Charge)).

      As you should know better than anyone, Frankie is not a bolter. And, more than that, I never enter — or leave — without body blocking (I should say shin blocking since he’s so short) him if he’s not on a leash. He’s very rarely by the door when I leave in any case. Not that I sneak out or anything…

    1. Ha! I was waiting for someone who knew me to call me on this. It was a gift from a restaurant benefit I was involved in; nothing that I purchased for myself, I promise.

  5. As KA said, love these stories about Frankie, his training adventures, and of course your wonderful writing style! It was particularly funny to learn that he hates that apron. That he is not at all interested in being involved in any party duties whatsoever was not so surprising. I mean, really, he is after all the star of a movie (he doesn’t know it’s a trailer for a book, and it seemed like a full length feature to him, with the costume changes, trip around the world…). Rebecca was right, we’ve all become your Frankie’s fans.

    Eric’s point about several 2 minute sessions is interesting, and maybe that new annoyed bark will disappear if you switch to smaller bites of time. I look forward to next time!

    1. You’re right about Frankie’s view of himself as a movie star, Mary. Perhaps he mistook the apron for a sign of further subservience on my part and was particularly irritated to discover that he was expected to participate in food earning duties.

  6. p.s. I appreciate that these great stories are accompanied by photos of the ever-photogenic Frankie. The more the better!

  7. Our biggest disappointment with treat training has been trying not to get our dogs to pull on the leash. We don’t reward them when they come back to our side, only when they actually take several steps at our side without pulling to get ahead. When we walk Ty and Buster together (and let’s face it, it is nice for all of us to be together) the desire to be out in front by a nose outweighs the treats. Go figure.

    1. That’s very interesting from an evolutionary perspective Rod. You would think that the desire to be ahead would stem from a desire to be first to the resources. But the resources — i.e., the treats — are available to them only if they don’t try to get ahead. Hmmm. Guess they never read Darwin.

  8. Of course, Frankie is not a bolter. Although since the legendary SnortMaster Charles tried to invite himself along on a walk for which he was not scheduled, I am not sure I believe in anyone’s homebodiness right now.
    I was really hoping to provoke one (or more!) of the experts who regularly join in this blog into explaining why food by open door program is safe. I want to leash-train Bandit once I can risk the pulling, and I know from experience that getting him out the door wearing a leash is traumatic for everyone, what with him shrieking in terror and all. (. As opposed to dashing out the door on his own, which he has gotten far too good)at). Anyone?
    I think I’ll just let the apron thing pass. Fortunately, Edie can’t hear me howling with laughter — or even giggling.

  9. What if you took off the apron and wore a chefs hat instead? Just kidding.

    My dog’s hate hats and sunglasses. Could be the apron it may have him flustered. When he sees it: Maybe Frankie is thinking, oh good lord more of this crap.

    It sounds like neither you or Frankie is having any fun at this. If it aint interesting you will both end up quitting. Maybe work on finding whats fun to Frankie first then introduce training slowly and for brief periods like Eric said.

    1. I did lose the apron — treats are now on the table! — and yep I gotta admit we’re not having much fun. But like I told Eric, Frankie’s diabetes prevents me from giving him small treats throughout the day; I have to work with him during mealtimes. And I was hoping to desensitize him to the car before our upcoming car trip to San Diego.

  10. Agree with Keeping_Awake with the pointing tips. It is not natural to dogs to respond to us pointing at something with our fingers/hands, pointing with the entire body (face, feet) is what dogs understand. Stanley Coren explains that really nicely in one of his books.

    They can learn to respond to hand pointing, our guys understand that well.

    I am not an expert either, but I can offer couple suggestions:

    1) did you try starting by pointing at actual piece of food? I think that would make it clearer why it makes sense to follow the pointing in the first place? Put something really yummy on the floor and point to it until he notices it

    2) I think I would try to get this thing going by getting his to share MY interest. Get down on all fours and ‘sniff’ something intently. Apparently dogs respond really well to that.

    1. I am going to have Crystal — our supremely qualified trainer — respond to all these questions/suggestions. She is knows the situation on the ground, as it were, and is better able than I am to explain why she is doing precisely what she is doing

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