In this episode, we discuss:
- Using concepts around stimulus control to stop demand barking before it stops.
- How cues create expectations of what reinforcement is available.
- Using naturally occurring events that are already built into your routine to signal when reinforcement is available and when it is not.
- Overly-simplified reminders of including good dog household management, which you already know, but sometimes it’s good to hear it again.
- Teaching the stand up-sit down game.
- Principles to apply these strategies in your own home.
This podcast is supported by: MET Conference 2024
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Hannah Branigan: [00:00:00] We don’t control all the reinforcers and the reinforcers that we do control aren’t the only ones that count as far as what’s affecting the dog’s behavior. It turns out we actually control very little, which really is a terrifying idea. I’m not a fan of it, but I’m slowly learning to accept the fact that I need to learn how to accept that.
Hey there, fellow training nerds! You’re listening to Drinking From The Toilet. If you like to geek out about combining the science of behavior with positive reinforcement philosophy in real life, you’ve come to the right place. And I’m your host, Hannah Branigan: teacher, trainer, podcaster, and author of the book Awesome Obedience and its companion, Awesome Obedience: The Field Guide, which are both available from clickertraining.com. [00:01:00]
So this episode is part two on the topic of demand barking and how to address it without necessarily requiring yourself to have some kind of superhuman ignoring powers, because I do not. If you have not listened to part one yet, switch over, listen to that first and then come back. I know they always say that, like, “go listen to that episode first and then come back here, go check out what that creator said,” but truly, go listen to that, because that’s where I put all of the context for what I’m talking about in this part. And of course, as we all know, context is everything. So I mean, you do you. I’m not gonna tell you what to do. Listen to them in whatever order you want. Doesn’t really matter. But this is part two and there is a part one so if you feel like something’s missing, go listen to part one.
This episode is brought to you by the MET Conference and by awesome patrons like Joe H and Cindy C. If you’d like to support the podcast and get your questions answered, get [00:02:00] access to some super-secret extra podcast episodes, you can go to patreon.com/DFTT.
Okay, so in part one I talked about a lot of stuff. I went on for quite some time. But I talked about how the emotional underpinnings on both the human and dog side of the equation come into play with this specific situation.
Really, if you think about it, what we’re talking about when we’re talking about demand barking, isn’t just the barking, right? It’s the whole situation! It’s the barking in the context, in the environment. If a dog barks in the woods and no one is around to be annoyed, is it demand barking? I don’t know.
So yeah, the emotional aspects make demand barking what it is. And the important part that I really want to keep my eye on with this – and what I’m hoping to dig into more in terms of how to solve it, solutions with this kind of problematic barking – is that it so often starts from frustration, [00:03:00] and frustration is a function of extinction. So we should look for sources of extinction and think about what can we do to mitigate that.
Now, I know some of you are hearing, “Oh, you think the dog’s barking from frustration, but this dog is not. That might be true for some dogs, but not this dog. This dog is barking because the humans reinforced it and it’s their fault,” or if you’re the sort of person who internalizes a lot like I am, it’s “your fault.”
(But you can also feel free to blame me, because it could be my fault and I’m already blaming myself.)
But whether or not I am to blame for your dog’s barking, this is one of those places where you might not be wrong. In fact, I’m not even really going to disagree with you. This is one of those places where two things can be true at the same time, which is very irritating.
One fascinating thing that I’ve just found really interesting about behavior when I watch behavior play out, is that even when the conditions that originally elicited the emotional response [00:04:00] that we’re talking about have changed, if the response itself, if that behavior works to access the reinforcer, if it has some effect in the environment, then the behavior tends to stick around when that picture is similar in some way even if the rest of the initial conditions are gone now, have disappeared.
So, if the dog originally experienced extinction, frustration, which led to the barking, and then something happened with the barking, well now it becomes the key to unlock the door. “This is what I do when I want nachos. It’s how I solve my problem,” right?
We all have behaviors like that. This is how learning works. And then it can get attached to cues in the environment, even separately from the ones that originally set up the emotional conditions. It happens all of the time, right? Like, again, that’s how learning works.
So whether you buy my explanation of frustration or not, I hope you’ll hear me out because I think you will still– You can tell yourself [00:05:00] whatever story you want about what’s behind the behavior. Story doesn’t make that much difference. It really comes down to what are we going to do about it? So what strategies are we going to change? What strategies are we gonna to try out? And I think this is a strategy that you may find helpful.
Okay, so we’re playing pretend that you’re believing me, that you’re buying into my explanation. All right, so we know that by definition, extinction happens when a behavior that has been previously reinforced is suddenly no longer reinforced. It’s like it’s broken and it’s not working to access the reinforcer.
And that’s a really sucky feeling. We really don’t like it when that happens with our behaviors. Dogs probably don’t like it either, as far as we can tell. And sometimes I find it really helpful to think about this in terms of expectations. That’s just language that makes sense in my head. If I expect something to happen, and it doesn’t, I tend to feel frustrated. [00:06:00]
So, I don’t know if this is something that’s come up in your therapy yet or not, but at some point your therapist might talk to you about how if you’re disappointed or angry because people have let you down, it means that you had some expectation that they were going to do something and then they didn’t do it. And then it depends on how well you sell your side of the story. They may or may not tell you that the issue was you needing to adjust your expectations versus the other person being just mean and bad.
But whether or not the other person truly was being deliberately harmful, you might be able to see the importance of having clear expectations really either way. Because if you know what to expect from your environment, including the other organisms in it, that’s really important information to have. It’s the sort of thing that we use to maintain homeostasis, literally and figuratively.
And when I say like “knowing what to expect,” of course, expectations are– [00:07:00] I was gonna say “frequently,” but I’m going to say they’re rarely conscious. They’re rarely things that we’re consciously aware of, but they’re still kind of operating underneath. We could probably also just talk about this in terms of learning history, but “expectations” is helpful for me with my verbal learning history. So I just find that useful. Your mileage may vary.
And we don’t even need to go down a rabbit hole about how anyone in particular defines “reasonable” in terms of expectations. And presumably dogs don’t have a complex inner dialogue like some of us do. Is it still a dialogue if there’s more than two voices in your head at the same time? I don’t know, but that doesn’t really matter.
Because we can’t hear what dogs are telling themselves inside their head. And we can’t reason with them either. What we can do is observe behavior and we can modify stuff in the environment, including ourselves in the environment. So we’ll look at the environment and we’ll look at the behavior.
Okay, so one thing that I have learned is that in my house, [00:08:00] the amount of demand barking that was happening with my own dogs has decreased when I took advantage of the effects of stimulus control.
So, I mentioned the idea of stimulus control in the previous episode. We talked about it a little bit and I want to talk about it a little bit more. I wanted to talk about some specific concrete examples and then how you might apply that to your situation.
And I do think that addressing the stimulus control aspect works the best when you’ve already established at least one other (and more is better) behavior that can access the same reinforcer, the one that is the the function of this behavior, the food, your attention, etc. So if you’ve already established a couple of different behaviors that can access that, I think that the stimulus control goes faster, works a little better if you’re already starting with some flexibility. But you can also do them both at the same time. And [00:09:00] in real life, that’s often what ends up happening when I bring a dog into my house.
Alright. So let’s talk about “what do I mean by stimulus control?” That’s a very dry sounding term and we need to talk about it. Maybe you’re familiar with it. Maybe you’re not.
So when I’m talking about stimulus control, this is the stimulus picture that is controlling the behavior, right? Okay, well, that’s just be saying the words in a different order. Not that helpful.
But cues, which are also known as discriminative stimuli, stimuli that that discriminate– Look at me, I can repeat words in different orders all the time! Look at how talented I am.
So we’re talking about the A or the antecedent in the ABC, that antecedent/behavior/consequence contingency. Cues signal when a reinforcer is available for a particular behavior or category of behaviors. So [00:10:00] the light goes on and when the light goes on, that tells you that now the food hopper is live. If you do the behavior, you can get access to the food. We get a little over-focused on the cue/behavior relationship in dog training, I think, and we forget that you can’t slice up the ABC like that. You can’t slice up just like the the A and the B, the antecedent and the behavior. The consequence stays attached.
We also can’t slice them up other ways either. We can’t go vertically or horizontally.
And we’ll often say something like, “Well, when I say the word sit, I’m cueing my dog to sit.” Or we’ll even, we’ll even take it a step further and we’ll say, “Well, it means to put your butt on the ground.” Well, maybe that’s what it means to you.
But really, the word sit is cueing the whole BC, the whole behavior/consequence as a unit. It’s not chopped up. So when you hear the word sit, that means that a treat, in this oversimplified example, is available if [00:11:00] you put your butt on the ground.
And that’s what makes it a contingency, right? It’s an if/then statement. We can’t just leave off the then part.
So when we’re cuing a behavior, we are telling the dog what reinforcer is available and what kinds of behaviors they could use to access it.
And you’ve probably experienced some version of cueing your dog to do a thing, like sit, that has been reinforced with food, and then when you don’t reinforce it for whatever reason or if you’re just too slow and your dog becomes frustrated, his learning history, his experience of the world and how it works has taught him or them to expect that when the human makes that particular sound in this context, if I put my butt down, a treat will appear. And then when the treat doesn’t appear– Because you expected a treat, then the treat doesn’t appear, we’re now in extinction, and you’ll see the behaviors that are associated with that, you’ll see some of those emotional behaviors [00:12:00] pop up, maybe a lot, maybe a little, it depends on a lot of things. Barking might be one of those.
And there’s a lot of ways to address that particular problem, getting a dog to respond to a cue, or to sit, when you don’t have food in your hand. That’s another episode. If your training plan ultimately ends in you being able to cue behaviors without food, I have a lot to say about that. That’s something we talk about a lot in Zero to CD. That’s actually more than one episode. That’s a whole program.
But I’m not gonna— I’m not talking about that right now specifically. In fact, I’m more interested in the opposite effect. I’m more interested in using stimulus control to let your dog know when he should not expect a particular reinforcer.
So, in this case, if the function of the demand barking behavior is accessing attention or some resource that you are controlling – like the nachos that you’re eating, the pizza that you’re eating, tacos, (you could be eating anything; I don’t know). [00:13:00]
Because if you don’t get the cue and you don’t have any reason to expect reinforcement, you’re probably not going to do the behavior. I mean, that is also often part of what goes into play when we think we’re cueing a behavior and we’re not getting it. We think it’s about the reinforcement, but we’ve signaled that reinforcement isn’t available or we haven’t signaled that reinforcement is available. Again, multiple episodes, potentially, in that topic.
Where it gets sticky is that, in this situation, like with a lot of things dog training, your dog might be responding to cues that you’re not aware of.
In fact, I guarantee that all of our dogs are responding to cues that we’re not aware of. No matter how good you are, no matter how long you’ve done this, no matter how much you video, there are cues in play that– And I’m not talking about like ultraviolet or ultrasonic– (You know what? Either! Bees are more of an ultraviolet thing). If your dog sees different flowers or hears different stuff, it doesn’t matter.
Whether or not they’re other things you can perceive, there’s stuff that you are actually fully capable of perceiving that you don’t realize [00:14:00] is part of the information your dog is responding to, that they’re responding to. Because this is just how it works. And part of the training process, especially if you’re going through more advanced training– Like, we were just talking about this in Zero to CD. We talk about this all the time. Your training process is going to show you those over time (especially in front of people and if you paid a lot of money) that you’ve been missing part of the cue. But this also comes into play here as well when your dog is responding to cues that you don’t know about.
So sometimes, we have to play detective. A lot of times, we have to play detective and try to figure out what the cue is or what the cues are that the dog is responding to. And then see if we can figure it out and do some experimentation. Is it if I sit in this spot on the couch? What if I sit in the chair? What if I sit on the other side of the couch? If I’m holding my phone or my phone’s on the table, my phone’s plugged in the charger. I put my phone down somewhere in the house and I don’t know where it is; can you call my phone?
Like, there’s a lot of pieces here. Does it matter if I’m in the kitchen? Does it matter if I’m in [00:15:00] an elevator or on a boat? There’s a lot of different things that your dog could be responding to, different pieces of the picture, and it’s worth it to take a little time and see if you can’t at least pull out some of the obvious ones that kind of jump out at you. That’s going to inform your shaping plan. That’s going to help you set yourself and your dog up for success for how to do the training to fix it, right?
But sometimes it’s really hard to do. Sometimes you’ve guessed at the things that seem obvious and you’ve guessed at maybe some less obvious things, and you’re not seeing a pattern.
Or maybe you are very aware of a pattern, but those pieces of the picture that are part of the cue are not things you can change. They’re not things you can control.
Okay. Well, that’s alright then. In which case we can sort of shift from detective mode into engineering mode and we’re going to go straight to working on the training plan.
And the good news is that you [00:16:00] can work with it either way. Again, it’s nice when we have more pieces that we can play with, but even if you can’t, there’s still so much that we can do to establish clear cues for what signals when the reinforcer in question is available and when it is not. It’s that confusion, it’s that lack of clarity, that is frequently behind the frustration-based behaviors that are the problem here.
I keep saying “reinforcer in question.” And I’m saying it for a reason. Because to really get this, to wrap your head around it in such a way that you can apply it in real life – certainly with your own dogs, and especially if we’re trying to apply it to other people’s dogs (like client dogs if you’re a professional trainer)
In order to do that, we have to shed our human-centric view of the world, which is very hard to do. And we have to be able to look at it through the eyes of another organism, any other organism. While doing that, we need to keep in mind [00:17:00] that we don’t control all the reinforcers and the reinforcers that we do control aren’t the only ones that count as far as what’s affecting the dog’s behavior (or any organism’s behavior) at any given moment. It turns out we actually control very little, which really is a terrifying idea. I’m not a fan of it, but I’m slowly learning to accept the fact that I need to learn how to accept that. Baby steps, though, right?
Anyways, in this case, if we separate the reinforcers that we can control – or I’ll just talk about myself, that I can control.
I can signal to my dog that the reinforcers that I control are off the table right now. There are still a lot of other reinforcers available in the environment. Again, reinforcers aren’t limited to food. They’re not limited to petting. They’re not limited to attention. There’s all of the things that drive all [00:18:00] of the behaviors. We behave all day long for reasons – functions – other than food or attention.
I realize that I’m painting myself into a corner here if I start to think about how many of my behaviors are controlled eventually in the long run by either food or the hope of validation. But we’re not going to talk about that, because again, this is dog training; this is not therapy. You can ask those questions of yourself later.
But probably, the dog has a huge range of behaviors. Much of their day is spent doing behaviors, the function of which has nothing to do with you whatsoever. Which does hurt our feelings a little bit. We’re going to accept it and move on. Or we’re going to act as if we accept it and move on so we can make some progress.
So, I want to be able to effectively put up a sign saying “our business hours are [fill in the blank],” an open/closed sign that lets my dog [00:19:00] look around when the closed sign is up– So when we’re outside of office hours, my dog can look around and see what other reinforcers might be available to them that aren’t on the list of out of stock items right now. “Okay, so I can’t have that. What can I have? What is a suitable replacement?” (Like “your shopper will look for a suitable replacement.”) What would be a suitable replacement? What could I fill my time with right now while I’m waiting for my human to be available for me or at the very least, I’m waiting for my human’s pizza crusts to become available for me.
Being able to communicate that clearly reduces the amount of time that your dog spends– How much am I mixing my metaphors here? Let’s go back to the closed store sign. How much of the time is your dog grabbing the door handle, pushing and pulling and rattling it and pulling harder to try and get the door to open, before they recognize that, “Oh, it’s because the store is closed. It’s not that I’m not working the door the right way. The store’s just closed. I need to come [00:20:00] back in an hour.”
(The number of stores that don’t open until 10 o’clock– And I totally respect that because I would like to think that my office hours do not start until 10 o’clock. And that’s often what I tell people, but of course I’m out getting my kid to school and I would really like to run more errands on the way home. But that doesn’t work out because I’m not gonna sit in my car for that elapsed time.)
That’s not what I’m talking about right now. What I’m talking about right now is that, “Oh, I need to come back at 10 o’clock. Well, in the meantime, what could I fill my time with? What else could I do that would be functional in this space?”
And that’s sort of what I want my dog to do. I want them to see, “Oh, the store’s closed. They’re not open yet. No reason to bang on the door because they’re closed. And so I’m going to look around–” I think I’m roleplaying the dog here. So I’ll say my dog is gonna look around and see [00:21:00] what’s available.
And that might look like playing with one of the hundreds of dollars worth of toys that are scattered around the house. It might look like taking a nap on a comfy memory foam bed. It might look like going to watch squirrels out the window. There’s a lot of things they might do. Obviously it could also look like harassing the cat or pulling stuff out of the garbage can, but my point is there are always going to be other naturally-occurring reinforcers that are available.
And you may have a preference for what your dog does in that time that you are not available, that your reinforcers are not available. And if you do care, if you have some guidelines, some things you would prefer that they engage in during that time, then you can arrange the environment to make those behaviors more likely by putting out those cues. You can put those cues and reinforcers right in front so they’re really obvious, really high contrast, your dog can’t help but trip over them, right? Like, having that comfy dog bed available [00:22:00] close by. So, he looks away from you, and he goes, “Oh, there’s a dog bed six feet away near my person.”
Maybe setting out some interesting toys for independent play. We like Benebones a lot here. I don’t like squeaky toys, because that is a negative reinforcer for me. You might also do things like closing the gate to the kitchen so that the trash can is harder to access. The things that you already know how to do, just good dog household management.
And I know you already know this. I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know. You probably have told other people to do the same thing. “Why don’t you just close the gate to the kitchen? Or close the door to the kitchen? Or buy a baby gate so that you have a way to close off the kitchen. Or put the trash can on top of the back of the toilet. Or in the sink like many dog households do.” And I’m only saying that because sometimes I think when you’re really close to a problem, it can be hard to remember what you already know. I know that comes up for me a lot, and then somebody says it out loud, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Duh. I know how to do that.” [00:23:00]
I have an important question for you. Are you in the Ken Ramirez fan club? Okay, I know that’s a silly question, because of course you are. We all are. All the cool kids approach their most perplexing training problems with the question, “What would Ken do?” WWKD. So you might be looking for another opportunity to hear Ken talk about things like improving stimulus control in the real world through generalization and desensitization, which is something I’m very interested in, or maybe an always-sexy topic: aggression treatment, comparing the most modern tools and strategies.
In that case, you’ll be very interested to know that he will be presenting at this year’s MET Conference, along with other familiar names, like Simon Prins, the author of Dog Training Decoded and Victoria Stilwell, who needs no introduction. And maybe some less familiar names to most Americans, like veterinarian and dog trainer Veronika Uhlířová, who will teach us about taking care of our dog’s musculoskeletal [00:24:00] system, and veterinarian Jana Radošovská, who will teach us about dental health. And also someone named Hannah Branigan, who’s apparently planning to ramble on about reinforcement and building motivation in dogs that you might consider to air quotes “lack drive”, if you’re into that kind of thing.
MET stands for Modern Ethical Dog Training and this is the fourth year they’ll be holding it. It is entirely virtual, and yes, it will be recorded. One of the things I like about this conference is there’s always time for live questions from the audience. This conference is approved for CEUs for both IAABC, and CCPDT. You can find out more by going to their website, metconference.com or click the link in the show notes.
Okay, so let me give you a concrete example of how I frequently teach this framework. I teach this in my own home and this is also a game that I’ve taught for years in my classes – and sometimes even in workshops and seminars if it’s relevant to what we’re working on.
I call [00:25:00] it the Stand Up, Sit Down game, because I am very creative in a lot of ways but not at naming training exercises. That’s not where my creativity expresses itself.
I think this kind of game works the best– This whole stimulus control framework– I think we get the best, most sustainable outcomes when we are borrowing from the existing cues that are naturally built into the context where we need the behavior.
And I think a lot of that really comes down to the human behavior part of things. It’s like everything else; it’s like flossing. Fill in the blank, thing that I’m gonna do to change my life. I’m going to be able to do it for somewhere between two days to two weeks, or possibly if it’s something like intermittent fasting, like at most two hours. But I’m going to do it for a short amount of time. And then eventually I’m going to fall off the wagon.
And so trying to change a major behavior like this, dependent on me becoming a different person – that’s not going to work out. [00:26:00] Whereas if I can take a piece of the routine, that’s already happening, something that I’m already doing, that is built into when I need my dogs to not bother me for attention, to not bark at me in particular, then I’m going to be doing that automatically.
So, looking at my computer, for example. If I’m turning my back to my dogs and looking at my computer, that means I’m not available for their needs in that moment. And that’s something that I’m going to do. So it holds up. And that’s sort of the idea behind the Stand Up, Sit Down game.
So, with this game, the cue of me standing up and looking at my dog signals that my reinforcers are available for the sorts of behaviors that usually access those reinforcers. Things that have been reinforced before with me looking at my dogs, right?
If the reinforcer we’re talking about here is food, attention, or just initiating a training session, if I stand up and look at my dogs, [00:27:00] that’s how they know that reinforcer is available. And it cues that whole big category of behaviors, the whole bucket of behaviors that are associated with that picture: sitting, making eye contact, bouncing, etc.
Okay, but then if I sit down, those reinforcers are not available. If you’ve ever seen me on video when I’m right here, you’ll notice that there are toys behind me, there’s a couple of different dog beds, there’s a soft chair that Rugby really likes, there’s a small dog bed, a big dog bed, there’s a raised cot – so they have some options. Usually the door to my room here is open and Figgy likes to go stand at the front door and watch out the window and look at squirrels. He does that quietly most of the time, so I’m totally fine with that.
And it holds up really well in my real life. This is exactly how it plays out when I’m going about my day. When I sit down at my computer or if I sit down to [00:28:00] read or I sit down on the couch, which is in a different room but not that far away, and honestly, the setup is very similar.
When I sit down on my computer, my back is to the rest of the room. My computer desk faces the wall, so if I’m facing my computer, I’m also facing the wall, and there’s nowhere to stand in front of me at that point. So my dogs then are behind me. I’m not paying attention to them, because I’m paying attention to my computer. My back is to them.
And then when I’m done working on my computer or when it’s time to go outside or if I’m starting a training session, then I’ll stand up and I turn away from my desk. Usually that means I’m now facing my dogs. My dogs are very cute, so obviously I look at them, because they’re adorable. And I give them compliments, because I like to do that. And also, I mean, have you seen them? It’s hard not to compliment them. And the herding dog is always going to be arranged between wherever I am and the door. So it’s not like I have the option of escape to leave the room without him being aware [00:29:00] of it or me seeing him. So he’s always going to be there.
I can’t help but follow this cue pattern, so then I just have to stick to it. And so that’s the pattern.
But then how do we establish that? And how do we establish it without having to ignore and sit through a whole bunch of screaming and carrying on?
My old version would have depended on extinction probably. I don’t have clear memories of this because I don’t know, I’ve disassociated a lot. But my old version definitely would have involved me trying to wait out the barking. What I would try to do is some variation on sitting down and pretending to ignore the barking dog until he was quiet, then get up and give him my attention only when he’s quiet. So just ignore him when he’s barking, only give him attention when he’s quiet.
And that was really hard and impossible to do if you live in an apartment, right? So back to the same challenges with ignoring that we talked about in the previous episode.
What I do [00:30:00] now tends to work a lot faster and better. It’s less upsetting for everyone involved. It requires a lot less emotional control on my part.
The trick is to start with a clean loop. And this isn’t a big commitment. This is not a huge time commitment, either in the short term or in the long term, because it tends to flow pretty quickly.
The learning system is set up for this to work and we’re just taking advantage of it. I think more so than a lot of other, rather more artificial, training plans that we may try to put into place.
So we need to start the clean loop. Instead of waiting for the barking to start, and then eventually stop (“eventually” sometimes being a long time), I’m gonna sit down and then immediately stand right back up again, before my dog even has a chance to draw the breath to make that first bark.
In fact, they start to get bored with me. Like, I sit down and then immediately I stand back up and they’re like, “Oh, what’s happening here?”
So if I’m first starting this with [00:31:00] a young dog, a baby dog, or if I’m starting this especially with a dog that already has an established problem behavior in this space, I am also going to make damn sure to stack the deck in my favor.
I am probably going to try to find a setup that is less likely to at least immediately elicit barking. Like if I can at least get a pause, some delay, some buffer time there. I’m also going to try to make sure that the dog is already a little bit tired, maybe feeling more like settling down for a nap on a comfy bed, rather than engaging in an energetic training session.
So I might train them first, I might take them for a run or a hike, I might set up in a different room than usual. The specifics are going to depend on the individual dog and the individual situation and what’s accessible to me or to the team that I’m working with. But I’m going to do, again, those “good dog training setup” things first.
And let me just asterisk here. [00:32:00] I think we know to do these things, and some of the time that’s all that’s needed and it does the trick. But some of the time, a lot of the time, it’s not. And I think that this is where the gap is, because we’ve been told for a long time that “a tired dog is a good dog.” And what the tiredness is, taking them for the long walk, the run, the hike, doing the training, throwing the frisbee, whatever the thing is – doing those things to get them tired– Well, one, that has, that has limitations because then you’re just setting yourself up for a more cardiovascularly fit dog, right? So you have to run them for longer. That’s just part of your antecedent arrangement, but it’s always just going to be part of it. You’re making the opportunity for rest, to come in contact with those reinforcers, those intrinsic reinforcers. You’re making those more relevant. It’s a motivating operation.
But if you just stop there and you don’t change the rest of this – or you just don’t put any attention into [00:33:00] this, you don’t put any purposefulness into it – then you’re dependent on a little bit of luck.
And I think this is where it can go off the rails sometimes. But now we’re gonna do those things and this. And that means we can de emphasize all of the walking and the running that we may have been trying to do to set our dogs up for success. And we’re going to be very clear about the stimulus control part as well.
Okay, footnote has ended.
So, this is just temporary. Either way, right? I’m starting the training session with my dog set up under the best conditions possible to make the behaviors that I do want likely and the behaviors that I don’t want less likely or at least delayed. Again, all I need is a buffer. I don’t need a cure. We’re looking for a buffer, not a cure. I need a window. Something that I can work with.
Once the pattern’s established, then it’s actually not that hard to layer in or fade out whatever pieces of that [00:34:00] make the most sense. I am certainly not always training my dogs and taking them for a run before I sit down to check my email in the mornings. I guarantee you that’s actually the less common order of events.
But if I have a young dog, yeah, I’m going to make sure that that happens. I’m going to take the puppy out for a run first. I mean, I’m not running my puppies. I’m not putting puppies on the treadmill. Please don’t go posting on the internet about that. I’m going to take them out for a walk around the yard, like you do with puppies. I might take them out for a walk. I might do a little training session, give them some attention, and then I’m going to make sure that there’s chews available, that there’s toys available, that they’re set up in their ex-pen. Again, the things you’re already doing.
And I’m going to sit down and check my email. While the puppy’s in the pen and my back is to them and I’m facing my computer, I’m not going to turn around, I’m not going to throw food at them. I’m going to do my thing and then before the puppy wakes up and needs something, I’m going to stand up and I’m going to get that puppy out.[00:35:00]
The trick is in the short loop, and I think that’s the piece there, right? It’s the setting up for success in that way.
Now when I do this in my classes, I’ve set it up so that the framework or the pattern is that when the instructor is talking, the human sits down in the chair– Everybody has a little training station set up, the dog has a mat or a bed available, they may or may not have something to chew available. The human sits down in the chair, looks at me while I’m talking, so they can hear whatever I’m instructing on. And then when we’re ready for that dog’s turn, they stand up, they turn to the dog, say the dog’s name, start to provide treats.
Maybe we’re shaping, go to mat, maybe we’re shaping something else, maybe we’re just practicing click/treat mechanics.
And then we’ll take a break, sit down, now the dog has the chew or the kong available and the [00:36:00] bed. Very short break with the person sitting down, they stand back up, they turn to address the dog, food becomes available.
And they end that, turn and sit down, food’s no longer available, they’re not looking at the dog, they’re not feeding the dog, and then they only feed the dog when they stand up and turn to the dog.
I think it’s in this piece where that really important crossover happens.
And also, on the other side, I think it’s why it’s such a common story when folks try to train a dog to settle on a mat or on a bed by dropping treats on a mat, that they eventually hit a wall. And they can’t get any further with the duration. To be clear, that’s still a really good way to get the behavior started. That is exactly how I start all of my dogs with learning to lay down on a mat or lay down on a dog bed. But we need to move away from that reinforcer.
Because what so often happens is, as long as you’re still dropping the treats, [00:37:00] as long as that’s what’s maintaining the down on the mat, you’re gonna run into some threshold where you exceed the duration between treats and treats that the dog can tolerate and it’s usually right about when you get invested in whatever it is you’re doing that’s not dog training – if you’re trying to talk to someone, if you’re trying to listen to someone, if you’re looking at your phone, it’s whenever you get busy doing the thing that you’re doing and now you’re coming in contact with separate reinforcers for separate behavior and that’s when the extinction happens and the dog starts to bark.
And of course that gets your attention.
You think, “Oh, I need to reward more frequently!” And we get trapped and we get stuck in that place.
So what we need to do is take that foundation behavior of laying down on a mat and carry it over into real life. And what we need to make that happen is that the reinforcer can’t come from you. It needs to be coming from the environment.
The reinforcer that is maintaining whatever behavior or behaviors – and there can be more than one reinforcer here, just like there can be more than [00:38:00] one behavior – because the only reinforcers that aren’t available are the ones you’re providing, the ones you’re in control of, and then the rest of the reinforcers are available.
We need to transfer the function of the behavior from reinforcers from you, to reinforcers from the environment. And the best way that I have found to make that clear so that your dog isn’t watching your every move to see if you are maybe about to drop a treat–
Like, this is what I see. When I was doing this previously, my dogs would lay down on the mat and they would be staring at me. And they would try laying down a different way, and then a different way. “Is she gonna reward me now? Is she gonna reward me now? Is it now? Maybe, is it a treat now? Is it coming now? How about now? And now is it a treat? Oh, she moved her hand! She moved her hand! Is it now? Ah!” And it’s just the perfect recipe for frustration because you’re building that hypervigilance. They’re staring at you, they’re looking for smaller and smaller signs that maybe this is the moment that the treat is coming and they have downed in exactly the right way.
I feel like I’m describing my own behavior in some contexts here, but again, we’re not talking about me.
It’s the perfect recipe for frustration. It’s the [00:39:00] perfect recipe for that demand barking to show up.
So, for my life, sitting down and turning away works really well as a clear way to signal. And then, because the bed is available, they already have some reinforcement history– It’s a different kind of reinforcement, but while they’ve been eating treats on the bed, they’ve also recognized the comfiness of the bed, because I buy nice dog beds. And you know what? Since he’s been on a run, his legs are a little bit tired anyways. “Well, since she’s gonna be a while, I may as well make myself a little more comfortable until my person is available again.” And that brings them into contact with those reinforcers, whatever’s reinforcing that’s built into taking a nap on a bed. Or, “Oh look, there’s my Benebone. Oh, chewing feels really nice right now.”
And that’s what I need to happen. So, to apply this, rather than treating demand barking as a universal thing behavior that you must cure the dog of in all contexts, [00:40:00] or certainly a characteristic of your dog, “your dog is demanding” or “needs impulse control training.” That can be overwhelming, and I don’t even think the most effective way to address it.
But instead, look at the specific situations where the behavior is coming up. What is going on in your life when your dog is barking at you and it’s bothering you?
Are you trying to eat dinner? Are you trying to watch TV? Are you trying to read? Are you trying to work on the computer? You already know what it is. You’re trying to do something with your kids. There’s some situation where you’re trying to be focused on something else. You really aren’t available for your dog and that’s when it’s bothering you. That’s when they’re most likely to bark. That’s when it’s most likely to irritate you.
Okay, now looking at that picture. If you’re watching the movie of yourself from third person, what would make the most sense? What thing that’s already happening there that would make the most sense as a way to signal to your dog [00:41:00] that you are not available in that moment?
What piece of it? Is it turning? Is it sitting down at your desk? Is it facing the counter in the kitchen and having the cutting board out? I don’t know. I don’t know what your life is like.
And if you want to take it a step further: What are the things that your dog already does at least some of the time – before he starts barking or when he’s not barking – that you would prefer that he do, especially things that aren’t involving you at all. Could you seed the environment with those cues and reinforcers?
Maybe some of the time, your dog goes and finds a toy in the living room. You could bring that toy and make sure that it’s available. Maybe you could have a way to have a dog bed available. These are some options.
Again, telling you things you already know, but maybe need to hear sometimes from someone else. That baby gate in the kitchen. If the barking is happening when you’re trying to feed your toddler or cooking dinner, and there’s not an obvious way [00:42:00] to set that room up for your dog’s comfort while you’re also doing those things, it’s okay to close the gate or crate your dog during that time and put the puppy in the pen. Right? You know these things. You would do these things anyways, but you were thinking that somehow you needed to apply exactly what I said before into this specific scenario. Because I tend to do that as well when I’m listening to other people’s descriptions or instructions.
And I’m telling you, you don’t have to. It is okay to just close your dog out of the room so they can’t see you doing the thing that sometimes elicits some barking and you don’t have a really good way to set it up.
Because here’s the other part about shaping, right? I think there’s some exceptions. There are dogs that truly only do barking or other annoying behaviors in a very isolated set of conditions, so it’s a very specific context. That’s not usually my dogs where I’ve encountered these kinds of behaviors. Usually those dogs have that “All I have is a hammer and everything looks like a nail.” And so they go quickly to those behaviors [00:43:00] in multiple scenarios. So, while trying to watch TV, while trying to eat dinner, while trying to cook dinner, while trying to work on my computer, which was the example I started with, they show up on these things.
It’s okay to pick the easiest version of all of those things to work with first, get that framework established, and then carry it over into the more challenging scenarios that are harder to manage.
Again, that maybe sounds really obvious, because of course that’s how we train everything. But again, it’s so hard to see it when you’re up close to it. Those shaping principles apply here too.
So find a situation that’s very easy for you to tap into here and then you can build it up to those harder ones. Identify what the cues are. Establish the stimulus control over when your reinforcers are available and when they are not. Make sure other reinforcers are [00:44:00] available in the environment. And then let the naturally occurring reinforcers be what maintains that behavior for you. Stop working so hard.
So I hope that was helpful.
For the next episode, we’re going to talk to a friend of the pod, Kiki Yablon, about her work with demand barking with dogs on Zoom. The dogs aren’t the ones on Zoom. Well, as far as I know, actually. But we’ll find out! We’ll find out if the dogs are doing the Zoom calls or if the humans are doing the Zoom calls and who in this scenario is doing the barking.
So I hope you’ll tune in to hear all the details on that.
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