Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BATting with a Hovawart

Today was our first formal BAT session since April. I had stopped setting them up because Cai was starting to recognize the set ups. Even with that, it's helpful for the dog to get lots of practice rehearsing "good" behavior, but I had decided to switch to just "stealth BAT" instead. That means doing BAT without the other person knowing, such as when you come across someone else walking their dog, or going to a dog park and staying outside to work. Chimera has really improved since that time!

We met up with the owner of a Hovawart (big black dog), in a mall parking lot. Along with BAT and the functional reward of increasing distance, I used treats, Look At That, hand touches, and kneeling down and rubbing his butt as rewards. Grisha would probably frown on that, but I prefer the more active engagement. Cai was relaxed (though curious about the dog and environment) for most of the session. I was most proud when he first saw the dog, air-scented and watched for a while, and then turned back to me. The initial sighting is usually the hardest part for him. On the second rep he got excited and barked some, and I interrupted him by stepping in front of him. After that he calmed down and we were able to quickly close distance. When the dogs were about twenty feet away, the Hovawart was also watching him with interest (she was young and friendly). When the eye contact lasted too long, Cai went over threshold again -- but again he recovered quickly.

During our second session, I was able to close distance again very quickly. I reached the point at which Cai would glance at the other dog for a couple of seconds, then look back at me, and I would ask him to do one easy behavior before getting his treat. (As one small part of prepping him to work around dogs.) This was a form of the CU Give Me A Break game. He was free to examine the environment, and looking back at me was his signal that he was ready to work. After his one easy behavior and treat, I used a release cue to let him know that he was free to examine again. It's all coming together -- learning to work around other dogs in agility class, straight up reactivity work outside, and distraction training set ups at home. What great reinforcement for me!

I had asked the other owner to get her dog more active for this session, since distance itself was no longer a big factor for Cai. Soon she pulled out a squeaky toy, and Cai became more distracted by the toy than the dog! So I switched to rewarding focus on me in the presence of the squeaky toy and the other dog playing. At the end the dogs ended up about ten feet from each other and facing head on, and then I did a few repetitions of just BAT. Cai was curious about her and wanted to watch her, but was able to calmly turn back to me without any prompting other than my praise.

And the icing on top of this delicious BAT cake was that Cai's leash walking was pretty spot on, even though we were in a brand new place!

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