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Preparing our animals for success with social encounters and new environments

February 5, 2015 1 comment

Quincy sitting at the checkout line of a pet store. She received both treats and attention as a reinforcer for this desired behavior.

Quincy sitting at the checkout line of a pet store. She received both treats and attention as a reinforcer for this desired behavior.

Does the undesired behavior of your animals prevent you from taking them on social outings or to new environments? This can be changed. So many times I see people restricting themselves from leaving the house or taking animals with them on outings because they don’t feel they can keep their animal under control or keep from being embarrassed about their behavior. This makes me sad for the animal and for the person both. I love seeing happy animals and I love seeing people who are proud of their animals, especially in public. Let me share with you an experience I had yesterday with my dog, Quincy.

We’ve been pretty busy here at the center through the winter with behavior consults, on-line classes, consultations, etc. Many of these consultations are for behavior concerns people want to change now so they can take their animals out for socialization, therapy, etc when the weather warms. I was talking to the other trainer here at the center yesterday and letting her know I wanted to get some of our animals out for more socialization through the winter. There are plenty of places you can take your animals for exposure to people and changing surroundings during the cold months. Yesterday I picked a pet store.

Quincy hasn’t been to a pet store in months. I was careful in picking the store, the time of day, and the weather. I wanted to set Quincy up for success for the behavior I was expecting from her, being able to reinforce the desired behavior, and not pushing her past her comfort level. This began with me getting her out of the back of the Jeep. There are a lot of scents, visual enrichment and distractions, sounds, animals, and potential for people wanting to interact with her. For a dog that hasn’t been to a pet store in months, this is a lot of information for her to take in and be comfortable with. I picked an outing at Quincy’s comfort level and I chose to go on a day that was snowing heavily, early afternoon, and during the week. I picked this day and this time in hopes that my encounters with other people and animals would be low because I need to control as much of Quincy’s environment as possible to make sure this outing is a success. It was but I also recognized behaviors that needed addressing and training.

We got out of the Jeep and immediately saw a woman with a puppy. Quincy gave a small bark. I asked her to sit as the puppy approached. That puppy’s future is just as important to me as Quincy’s. Quincy is a big dog and not all puppies are comfortable with big dogs approaching them. I don’t know how the woman is training her dog and it is not fair for me to decide if it is ok for us to approach her dog. The woman did not ask me if it was ok for an encounter so I reinforced Quincy for sitting until the puppy got in the car.

Within seconds of walking into the store, I could tell this was the jackpot of sensory information for Quincy. She kept stopping and smelling everything. I let her continue to sniff when we entered the store. She is a dog after all and this is enrichment and information to them. Keeping in mind this was her first time in a pet store in months, I relaxed the criteria of what I was asking from her. As we continued to walk through the store she began pulling on the leash. Ahhh, I can work with this. Why is she pulling on the leash? Because she wants to get to the next scent. I identified the reinforcer behind a behavior I did not want to see increase so I used it to our advantage in training. When she pulled, nothing happened on my end. When she relaxed on the leash and looked back at me, I told her “Good” and motioned for her to go and get the scent. As I continued to do this she understood that she was going to be able smell the goodies and that was contingent on a loose leash.

We saw another dog that surprised us walking around an isle. I immediately saw Quincy’s ears rise. The dog was galloping towards us. The person on the other end of the leash was looking at the toys in the isle and not at us or his dog. Since he wasn’t watching what his dog was watching, I redirected Quincy’s attention by asking her to follow me and we walked quickly toward the rabbit isle, an isle I thought the person might be less likely to walk down. I reinforced the heck out of the behavior of Quincy giving me the behavior I asked. I reinforced with an exaggerated “Good girl” and kneeling down in front of her for a neck scratch and a kiss.

After about five minutes we headed to the checkout counter. This outing was successful so far so I wanted to keep it short. There was no one in front of us which was what I was hoping for by picking a day where I thought people were less likely to visit a store. Within a minute someone walked up behind us. She asked if she could pet Quincy and I kindly told her, “Please don’t” and then explained to her my intention. I told her Quincy hadn’t been in a pet store in a while and this was a training exercise for her. I told the woman that I didn’t want Quincy to learn that every time she sees a person that she can run up to them expecting to be petted. The woman clearly understood. As Quincy sat next to me during checkout, I put her goodies in a bag and turned to the woman and asked if she was ok petting Quincy after I told Quincy to go greet her. The woman was obviously happy to do so. Before I told Quincy to go greet the woman, I told her “Good” gave her a treat and asked her if she wanted to go greet the woman. This was something I could tell Quincy clearly wanted to do, so I used it as a reinforcer for her behavior of sitting next to me until I was finished at the check-out line. I was very proud of Quincy. I saw some things we needed to work on so I knew we could work on these behaviors after we returned to the center.

On the way out the door I saw the display isle. I knew Quincy would want to sniff it so I let her sniff the base of it as a reinforcer for walking next to me on a loose leash until we got there. I told her to “Go ahead” as I motioned to the isle.

Dogs have such a great sense of smell. To be in a pet store and not be able to gather information from those smells would be cruel for me to ask. Quincy and I make a team. I enjoy spending time with her and I want her to enjoy her outings with me. Our training makes it beneficial to both of us. If you want to learn more about working with behavior concerns or training desired behaviors you and your animal will look forward to, take a look at our Webinars and our On-Line Consultations.

Here is a video I think might be helpful to people wanting to better understand what your dog gathers through its nose and how it impacts behavior and information gathering. Enjoy and as always, contact us if you have questions.

How do dogs “see” with their noses? by Alexandra Horowitz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7fXa2Occ_U&feature=youtu.be

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