New dogs always bring new challenges, and besides poor Skip’s leg injury, one of ours is his obsession with the cats. Frenzied Feline Focus Syndrome, or FFFS, (I do hope it’s clear I made that up) is common in Border Collies, some of who categorize cats as weird, mutated livestock creatures without hooves. Others don’t, and it seems to be hard wired. Maggie came into the house at 14 months, having not been exposed to cats either, and immediately became protective of the cats when Willie began stalking them. After being here just a few weeks, and having just recently become comfortable enough with Willie to be loose in the house with him, she darted between Willie and the Nellie, nose bumped Willie, and returned to sit beside Nellie like a body guard. They are best buddies to this day.
But Skip? Ah, no. He was mildly frightened of the cats the first few days, clearly never having seen one in his life. Then he was curious, and approached Nellie with his tail wagging. Oh good, I thought, he’s not going to be one of those dogs. And then he dipped into a stalking posture when she came over to rub against him. (Nellie, aka Golden Retriever Cat, has never met a stranger.) The snap didn’t appear to be defensive. It was the exact action you’d see a BC perform, appropriately, toward a sheep that faced him off. Measured. Controlled. But clear. “Get out of my face and move away.”
After that, Skip became obsessed with the cats. He goes into full stalking posture when he gets anywhere near one. He sits at the window and waits for one to appear in the garden. He’s lunged at the cats when they got close to him, and I’m pretty sure he would have bitten Nellie the time she dashed through my legs at the door to the house if she hadn’t had a cabinet to run under.
Needless to say, this is something I’ve been working on ever since we got him. I’ve done all the obvious, including keeping Skip and the cats as separate as possible. (Sorry Nellie about only coming in the house when Skip’s crated, but please remember I’m allergic to cats and you’re not supposed to be here at all. Just saying.) I taught Skip “Look” (at me), first with no distractions, and then gradually worked up to using it around the cats. The goal was to teach him to automatically look at me when he saw a cat. In addition, I began teaching him to go to a “station,” (a rug in the kitchen), first with no distractions, then with moderate ones. We’ve worked hard on “Stand,” which means stop and stand still until released, which has prevented no small number of dangerous chases when Nellie decides to come on walks with us.
All well and good. Cooked chicken as reinforcement is a wonderful thing. Lots of success. Except for the Nellie factor. She is not enrolled in the “gradually push the envelope of the dog’s threshold” concept. In spite of clear evidence that Skip might do her harm, Nellie insists on walking up to us when we are outside. Skip is on a leash now because of his injury, but I need to be able to, at minimum, call him away from her when she gets too close. Skip will respond well to “Look” or “Stand” if she’s ten or twenty feet away, but not if she is closer. It is irrelevant if I have chicken in my hand or not.
That’s when Premack’s Principle came to the rescue. Skip also knows “House,” which simply means “go into the house.” A few weeks ago, when Nellie was insistent on getting within tooth range, I threw out a stream of “Looks” and “Skip Skips” (recall), held out a hand full of treats, and got nothing. Not an ear twitch. Just a freight train of a Border Collie in full-out stalking posture, body rigid, mouth tight. I don’t know why I then said “House,” but I did, and Skip pivoted like a gymnast and trotted toward the door to the house.
Here’s an example that we recorded this morning:
Skip continued happily trotting into the house after Jim stopped taping, even walking past Polly, napping at head level on a chair by the door.
Whaaaaa? Great treats were not enough of a reinforcement to motivate Skip to change his behavior, but going into the house was? That made no sense, until I realized that, once inside, he ran to the window to get a glimpse of the cats from that angle. Ah ha! That is Skip’s “most probable” behavior. Remember Premack’s principle, in which “an opportunity to engage in more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors?” I’m always forgetting Premack’s name (sorry sir), and so think of it as the “probability principle”. Another way to think of it is: What behavior can you guarantee your dog will do if given the chance? That’s what he or she really, really wants to do, so that’s what is most reinforcing.
Here is Skip doing his most probable thing in the living room if the curtains are open: Waiting for a cat to appear. (By the way, the grey collar is his Seresto flea and tick collar, we live in Lyme Central.)
I’ve used this principle so many times, including long before I knew it had a name. For example, I used when I was first working Cool Hand Luke on sheep. Calling a young dog off of sheep is a challenge, because they simply don’t want to stop. But you have to be able to call them back to you–perhaps the sheep are exhausted, or you know it’s a best time to call it quits. I’d start by asking for a Lie Down, and the second he did, I let him circle the sheep again. Then Lie Down and Stay, then Lie Down and Come to me. Every time (except the last of course!), those behaviors were reinforced by letting him work the sheep again. Works like a charm.
Of course, with Skip’s cat obsession, I’m working on reinforcements that don’t have anything to do with cats. Staring out the window at the cats is not a good long term strategy to teach your dog to stop obsessing on the cats. (And I so look forward to the days when we can stop pulling the drapes down . . . ) But I’m ever so grateful for the principle of “most probable reinforces least probable” for now.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you about your experience with this concept. How have you used it? Or how could you use it in the future? On your dog? Or yourself? The person you’re living with who could use some behavior adjustments. (Ha, those will be fun to read about!). It’ll be great to hear what you have to say.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: The 400 + daffodils are starting to fade, but here are some late bloomers that I planted last fall over Willie’s grave. Hard to believe that he died just about a year ago. Seems like forever . . . and last week.
Skip has progressed to 35-45 minute leash walks, which has us enjoying many of the local trails and native wildflowers. Jim and the dogs patiently waited while I shot some photos of one of my favorite spring ephemerals, Bellwort.
I love this shot of the moon peeking through the trees. Last month’s full moon looked huge, and I hear that the next “super moon” will be on May 7th. What fun. Last week Venus was so bright it looked unreal. I hope you managed to see it, it was gorgeous.
And, from last night, a fried chicken and buttermilk biscuit picnic we took to Brigham Park. The park has gorgeous views of the Baraboo Hills, and the chicken and biscuits, if I do say so myself, were about as good as food can get. Thank you Bon Appetit (chicken) and Melissa Clark from NYT Food (biscuits) for the recipes. Scrumptious.
I’m curious, what would Skip do if she ran away from him? My sporting dogs would easily hurt a cat because they see them as prey especially if they run. But do border collies have any hunting instincts at all? I know it looks as if Skip wants to herd Nellie but he wouldn’t want to hurt sheep, right? So why would he bite her?
Thank you for sharing your progress with Skip. It’s comforting to know the most experienced trainers/behaviorist also have issues with their dogs. 😀
As usual, your photos are beautiful!
Great question HFR. BCs do indeed have strong hunting instincts, but the ‘terminal phase” is repressed, unlike the stalking portion, which is enhanced. But it’s not gone. BCs do sometimes bite sheep. Sometimes it’s an appropriate nip to the nose when a sheep confronts a dog. (Make no mistake, sheep have and will attack dogs and sometimes hurt them. Keep in mind they have heads like anvils. All dogs are allowed to defend themselves.) But sometimes a dog gets too aroused and bites. It happens on occasion in competitions, when it is an immediate disqualification. It happens in training with young dogs when they get over aroused or panicked. Skip has done it twice with me when we began working together. So yeah, he could definitely bite a cat at this point. Skip chased Polly once when she walked her way into a fenced pen, oblivious to Skip’s presence. He turned and saw her, and immediately ran at her full bore. She ran in two tight circles, then dove out through the fence. I can’t say what would have happened if he had caught her, but I’m glad I didn’t find out.
Finna was a dedicated fence fighter with the dog next door and I was using the premack principle to try to get a handle on it (the blood streaks down the six foot wood privacy fence where she broke a nail trying to tear through the fence gives you an idea of how bad it was). We were making good progress, or so I thought until the day I let her out and she ran to the usual fence fighting place but there was no invisible monster on the other side. She whined, she barked, she smacked her paws against the fence and I heard the sound of the doggy door next door slap open and closed. The invisible monster threw himself against the fence and commenced swearing at Finna. Finna calmly walked over to me, sat, and waited for the treat delivery. She had deliberately instigated a fence fight in order to not participate and receive treats. I was never sure with her which one of us was training the other. Quite often I think I was the one being trained or at least played for a fool. I confess that living with D’Artagnan who is simply a smart dog is something of a relief after the pair of canine geniuses I had before.
D’Artagnan is very good with his cats. They seem to regard him as a giant furry tunnel as they wander in and out around his legs. Occasionally they’ll even walk across him if he’s in their way. He’d never lived with cats before but being a Pyr he just accepted the cats that lived here first as his flock and aside from once in awhile telling Purrcasso to stay away from his dinner he’s never shown any behavior that is concerning (102 lbs of dog lunging at 9 lbs of cat is always frightening but the cat is smart enough to high tail it out of there and the dog is only saying this is my dinner leave it alone). Strange cats in the yard are another matter. A neighbor’s cat likes to live dangerously and come into our yard. He’s learned though to never be far from a tree or escape route. Personally I wish he’d learn to stay the heck out of my yard; that would be best for everyone.
Margaret Eckert says
Wow! Great message today! I have been training so long that sometimes principals slip you mind….it was a good reminder. I could see it in his eye that he would bite, I had a cat years ago that taught many dogs not to mess with her, thus deferring them from all cats. Some times we get help from our little friends. Great pics!
SUE GARFINKEL says
Thanks so much for this very interesting article! When I first learned of this from a trainer, I found it hard to let my dog Blue go towards a squirrel when I was trying to stop her from chasing them… but… it worked!! The same way I found it hard to run away from my young dog as she was running towards the street! but again… it worked!
BTW – that friend chicken looks AWESOME! Was that the Bon Appetite pan fried recipe?
Yes Sue, pan fried chicken. Peanut oil, no soaking in buttermilk for crisper crust. Best recipe ever!
My newly rescued Brittany has ultra FFFS big time! I had a brittany before and same thing.. it is the epitomy of obsessive behaviour.. it is dominating his whole day 🙂 … (and mine) I was very interested to read your issues and the principle which is difficult to understand and apply, but I will Google it and try to see how to make it work.. given that he has no commands integrated yet, having been 3 and half years behind bars and a lot of free time and opportunity to reinforce FFF 🙂 .. every walk is conditioned by the cat thing.. every waking moment in the garden is alert mode and surveillance for cats.. not helped by the britanys super sonic sense of smell that can smell a cat that is in the next neighbourhood!! Or one that went past the garden 3 weeks ago.. it is exhausting for both of us !! So i am off to research your blog posts to see which commands to start with given that recall once the brittany stare is fixed will not work… as you see even if i was holding another cat and offering it to him.. once fixated, they stay fixated…and NOTHING will tear their mortal stare away. Today he almost got one that for whatever crazy reason siddle up and sat in front of him… he hasn’t been seen since . i hope he is ok!! But more than anything I hope he doesn’t do that again or he may not be so lucky the second time!
Lisa Olinda says
My border collie/poodle is almost one and has decided to herd rabbits. Bella broke her collar the other night to take off after one. I am going back to some of the basics with her. I was less concerned about her going after the rabbit and more concerned about her tuning me out on recall. We remain a work in progress.
One time my border collie and I were going to feed my goats. She works sheep but never works my goats, but finds being near them on the other side of the fence very rewarding and loves to come with me to feed them. We were half way down the driveway toward the goat shed, when she froze at a rabbit 3 feet away in the brush. The dog the rabbit and I were all frozen in a tight triangle about 3 feet apart each, each more tense than the others. My dog was on a line but there was at least 6 to 8 feet of slack. I was frozen in fear that as soon as the rabbit moved my dog would give chase and my arm would be jerked very hard. I could not drop the line because there was a road nearby. I executed what I thought was a Hail Mary pass and said “Let’s go feed the goats” as I moved in the directions of the goats. I doubted she would leave the rabbit, but I hoped that I could reduce the slack on the line by quickly moving away. To my relief and surprise, she actually turned off the rabbit and followed me, the line never tightening. and the rabbit hopped away. Premack at work and such a feeling of reward for me, because who does not like to sucessfully execute a Hail Mary pass? That feeling I had is what I think a herding dog experiences when they control the outcome of where they want the sheep to be. Control is SO rewarding!
Charlotte Kasner says
That you so much!!! I have just introduced this to a client re squirrels and cats. Now I can prove that it is not just a figment of my imagination 🙂
PS drooling at the thought of fried chicken.
Fran Berry says
Over the years, I’ve heard several definitions of the Premack Principle, so I decided to go directly to the source and get the scoop right from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and I thought I’d share this example and explanation from my conversation with David Premack.
“A guy’s eating steak, his more probable or preferred act for that time and place; along comes a dragon and chases him away—getting away is now his most probable or preferred act (for time 2 and place 1). You must always specify prob or pref for specific time and place; reinforcement is never done in general, but always at a specific time and place. Preference and probability are essentially equivalent, the latter more formal than the former, but both must always be tied to a time and place.”
Thanks Fran, love the all important reminder that reinforcement depends on time, place, context, etc. Never a one size fits all!
Barb Stanek says
Fun to read all of the training adventures. I love the Great Pyr setting up a rather complex situation to get the desired result — food! Love, love, love it!
I’m not sure that I have a Premack story this week. I’ve been reading Ken Ramirez’s book and watching his webinar. Those activities have resulted in my working on some foundation training jobs that need to be strenghtened in both my dogs. I’ve love it and the dogs have too.
My year old Portuguese Water Dog got badly matted during the first part of the shut down. I’ve never had a dog that matted that quickly and quietly and didn’t fuss about the situation! So I didn’t know until I started getting her ready for the groomer. Needless to say, when I found out, I was horrified.
Her first grooming appointment after 2 months was not pleasant for her. It has taken her a week to get back on my grooming table. Yesterday, she sniffed the brush when she was on the table. We’ll get back to it. But what a good lesson for me to never take grooming for granted.
All the dogs get combed every day now. I may ease up on that in the future, but I never want to face the mats again! Happy spring, everyone!
Mary Foree says
OH CATS!! Our Cavalier King Charles (Piper) chased our Calico cat so much that the cat (Lily,) started relieving herself on our bed. She put up with Piper for almost 6 years by becoming a loner, living in the basement. It was pretty sad. But despite our attempts at training the dog, it got so bad that we had to re-home the kitty. It worked out beautifully, though – she is now with a person who has no other animals in her home! And she’s happy being away from a dog who always wanted to play. Here’s the ironic part of the story: Piper now has a 12 week old Westie puppy that is obsessed with HER! Lola wants to play all the time, and Piper turns her nose up and gets on the couch, where the puppy can’t go!! I guess what goes around, comes around…And I’m wondering what in the world am I doing with a 3 month old puppy at my age?? I feel every bit of my 66 years!)
And here I thought I was gonna come here and get good fried chicken and buttermilk biscuit recipes. After having failed at this mission so many times during this stay-at-home ordeal….
Judy Hiller says
I have had Clumber Spaniels for over 40 years and have my first Border Collie. Clumbers are not barkers, so this has never been a problem, but the BC feels the need to let the neighbors know that this is HER yard and she will defend it…loudly! I live in town with neighbors on all sides…and didn’t want to develop a problem. Callling her name did NOT overcome her focus, but interestingly, my “house…get in the house” command works every time. She is teaching THIS old dog many new tricks!
Marcelo Goncalves Gameiro says
I love dogs specially when they are well trained. I had this wonderful Border Collie too, she did stay with me for about 14 years, she also had a thing with cats, after she died I put her biography online (https://sites.google.com/site/mggfosa/ ) so many people who new her in different places that we live could know what happen. Of course I have a look on many course on dog training such as these ( http://tiny.cc/DogTrainingg ) but in the end I never really put her on any kind of training, I latter found out Border Collies are very intelligent and she learn many things on her own, of course we need to do thing is logical and methodical way so she could understand things, but as soon she pick up the concept everything goes naturally. I had to learn a little bit how they see and think to be able to that. The most important quality I find in her was her obedience,… I just miss her a lot.
Cathy Balliu says
I have 2 cat-obsessed border collies. Pete just stares. And stares. And stares some more. He also stares at Sean (another border collie). Pete is just intense and obsessed and I can call him off but he reverts as soon as he can. So in the crate he goes. I’m afraid to let him sleep loose at night because he wouldn’t sleep – just stare. And then there’s Spot, my Welsh import. Like Skip, Spot had never seen a cat and now he has 4 of them! He’s gotten better in the 7 months he’s been here (gotten better about a lot of things, thank god), but he still isn’t trustworthy. We can’t work stock at the time so luckily I discovered he likes playing with balls and some retrieving. But what he really obsesses on is squeaky toys. He can destroy on in seconds. He rips it apart. A little frightening to watch actually. He’s destroyed all the soft squeaky toys in the house. Now we’re experimenting with squeaky balls like the chuckit ones. He hasn’t destroyed them yet but he gets so worked up and slobbery that I have to limit his play time with them. I’m hoping this too will settle down as he gets older (he’s 2.5). I had him entered in pro-novice at Vashon but of course that was cancelled. Hoping we can start having trials again and I can do constructive work with him. But I keep telling myself that border collies don’t work sheep 24/7 and they have to learn how to settle.
Cathy, yes yes yes, BCs do indeed need to learn how to settle. But my sympathy, because it is harder to get them to settle if they aren’t able to work sheep. Just ask Skip!
Hey Gordon, I’m happy to share the recipes if you can’t find them on line!
Mary: Nothing like a puppy to remind a person about changing energy levels! I considered getting one at 71, but decided against it! But then, of course, got a freight train of a 3 yr old who needs constant attention because of his injury. Silver lining: I am not bored.
My young corgi who wants to herd everything slipped her collar and took off after a rabbit one morning. No amount of calling her name worked then I remembered how ball obsessed she is. I yelled “bring me the ball” and she was back in seconds and brought me her favorite ball. Yes, I played soccer (her favorite game) with her. So that is our emergency recall now and I make sure to play ball with her every day.
First, I love it when two favorite parts of my life overlap…today, it’s your blog and Melissa Clark from NYT. I LOVE all her recipes! Her pantry recipes have become a staple in our house these last couple months.
I’m using Premack with my insanely-high prey-drive Irish Terrier. He’s not particular: squirrels, birds on the wing, chipmunks, CATS, you name it, they’re all an 11 on a scale of 1-10. He’s developed a sticky predatory pattern of running up the driveway and then into the yard to chase “air squirrels” as we like to call them (because most of the time they’re imaginary). Working him for competitive obedience in the driveway, the most convenient place on our property, was becoming a serious problem; he’d drop into a stalking posture that would make any BC proud the instant we turned to face the back yard, no matter how far down the driveway we were. I put it on cue–“okay, go”–and after a period of brilliant heeling, I unclipped the leash, cued him to run and he’d take off. And the best part of this is that the more I send him away to do the thing he wants to do most, the LESS he wants to do it (I find this so fascinating). So I can use it multiple times in a training session and everyone’s happy, both me and the dog. 🙂
As an aside, the dog has also come in quite handy keeping a very problematic neighbor cat out of our yard. This particular cat is a menace like no other: spraying against the foundation of our house and in our flower beds, killing our birds at our feeders, urinating on neighbors’ driveways, raiding bird nests. One neighbor’s beds are entirely filled with cat poop from this cat, which their Golden was eating every single day and getting sick from. And of course our dog was body-slamming our doors and windows, screaming every time the cat entered our yard, multiple times a day.
After a year of fighting with the neighbor to contain his cat, which he refused to do, our dog got loose twice in one week thanks to my kids not shutting the front door, both times taking off after the cat…my dog’s average speed in lure coursing is 24 mph, but the cat managed to get away both times, just barely. It turned out to be a fortuitous accident: the cat now studiously avoids our yard. I put our dog out on a tie-out in the front yard whenever I see the cat out, and the cat then begs at his front door waiting to be let in. I’m so glad my front yard and house no longer smell like cat urine, thanks to my dog!
So interesting, thank you. I too thought I didn’t want another rescue Border Collie especially not a young one but then there was this boy who badly needed a home at one year old. Shy, sensitive, won’t go near a man, but very sweet and keen wanting go where ever I go…all going well considering and playing with a ball is a great diversion. Today in the wood enjoying a quiet moment when I thought all his attention was on me, he shot off like a bullet, never done this before and it was a cyclist whooshing down the road at the other side of the field, hardly visible. He shot off and shot back just as quick but not at my command. So it made me realise there’s work to be done although I thought recall was reliable. Aaargh ..my instinct is to avoid this place so he isn’t looking for this Adrenalin rush again. If there are any ideas how the premac principle could be incorporated here would be much appreciated. It’s lambing time here!
Kris Collins says
I believe I may have been using a version of the Premack Principle while conditioning my street wise Husky mix to walk on a lead. Huskies love to run …. 6 miles a day I am told. But my dog started out sick – parasites and heartworm when he broke into the yard where the other dogs were. 6 months later he could eat again and was heartworm free. But we both had to live the damage to his lungs and heart now. Slim – as we called this skinny, blue-eyed, sly invader… eventually became known as Slim Dog Millionaire – having traded his street smarts for a couch, fresh food, and his own Cardiologist.
His health quickly outpaced my training skill. He wanted to run and he would yank my arm off and face plant me on walks. Anytime another dog was around, the situation became unmanageable because he ached to get near the other dog. Not to play, but to simply over-react. He could turn a good dog bad. I wasn’t always strong enough to hold the leash. Of course, my first instinct was to manage the situation by avoiding other dogs so as to not reinforce the bad behavior. Eventually, I got Slim to pay attention to me by sitting, looking at me (while he vibrated hostility). Then I would release him to “Go Smell” – which meant he could trace the scent trail AWAY from the other dog. That was his most probable behavior – sniff the other dog. I just didn’t want to allow the raised hackles and reactiveness, so I gave into the sniffing. Worked like a charm. His heart was so damaged that I could not allow him to get over-excited by interacting with the other dog or he would faint. The “Go Smell” command actually saved his life. Now he can walk placidly off- leash. He will even alert me now when another dog is near so he can show off his calm behavior and then be rewarded.
Louise Wholey says
I missed your acquiring Skip. Is there an article about that?
thank you for sharing your article, this was VERY interesting to read for me.
3 years ago after loosing my 2 BCs (one due to age, the other one in an accident) within 3 months, leaving me with my sheltie who was as depressed as me, I decided to adopt an adult shelter dog from a rescue with no information on his background and directly “out of the shelter” without even being able to walk him to see how he copes with my sheltie.
No issue for the sheltie, the deeply love each other since the first sight. Cats were different though, Bou nearly killed one of my cats after opening the garden door, only 2 hours after he came into our house. I spent 4 months doing 3 very short training sessions trying to get his attention. First only downstairs when the cats where upstairs (their smell made him shake and loose all contact with le first). Then in another room, then in the same one with cats up on furniture, dog obviously leashed at all times. Today my cats are there as soon as they hear the clicker and I can fully trust Bou with my cats. However, cats in the neighbourhood are a nightmare and I still have not been able to find anything strong enough (he is not much into food and loves to play but not when cats are around) to get him “off” this. ONE single time I really felt a small success with stranger cats – training agility (he loves) a cat came down the stairs of the training center at exact our turn, singing around. Bou had a short look but turned around immediatly back to work. Any training idea for stranger cats? Issue is, they are not really willing to cooperate on my training sessions.. thanks, Esther
Here you go Louise! https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/hi-im-skip
Leecia Price says
Thank you for your great blog posts & used your great puppy book extensively for my new boy (highly recommended).
Currently I’m struggling to decide on a less toxic flea/tick preventive for my papillon puppy (8 mos.) and I’m reluctant to go again with easy Bravecto. Could you comment on your choice of the Seresto collar?
Also in Lyme central, Maine.
Karen Lobdell says
Thank you for sharing your cat chasing training challenge. I became ABCDT certified after I retired from education in 2016. The beagle mix dog I adopted to train through that process humbles me everyday. Using all of the training tricks you have described including Premack, I thought we had finally conquered the cat chasing last November. Ha…Penny humbled me again when the chasing returned 2 days after I proudly told my husband, ‘Penny seems to like the kitties now!’ Fortunately my cat survived with a slight nip in her head. Back to zero and after working all winter there is some progress showing again. Somedays blinds can stay open and most days she responds to my question ‘Where are those kitties?’ by looking in their direction and immediately back at me for the yummy chicken. And most of the time even a full on chase can be interrupted with ‘Couch!’ because that is her #1 reward…a snuggle on the couch. But…if I can’t be totally attentive and able to intervene instantly the kitties and my little Coton de Tulear are always separated from Penny. Gates and tethers with lots of management is not easy and when mistakes happen (which with humans involved they do) the training does help! High prey drive sure can be tricky! Thanks to Penny I have learned to empathize with and help others who love such wonderful and tricky dogs. And thanks to you sharing your story I have renewed my dedication to stay the course and keep using Premack! Thank you!!
Thank you so much for explaining that for me. The stalking vs the terminal phase is so interesting. When my dog sees a bird he slows down markedly and takes one step carefully at a time. Which when I think about it is exactly what Skip is doing but he’s also making himself low to the ground whereas my dog stands erect. Seems obvious now but I always thought of them as 2 different actions. Thanks again!
Regarding the human end of the leash, what is going on when we suddenly give a different cue in a difficult situation AND IT WORKS (seemingly miraculously, since we figure out why later)? Do you think you were simply throwing spaghetti at the wall, or did your unconscious prompt the use of the Premack principle?
And why is it more fun when we spontaneously and unexpectedly solve a problem behaviour than when we draw up a training plan?
I’m going to go eat a biscuit. Sadly, no fried chicken on hand.
A common ‘spell-breaker’ cue that lots of dogs know and that has worked well for me is ‘wanna go for a walk?’ They can’t help but look at you and wag their tails, and then walk off with you.
The eating steak & dragon example helped me understand the Premack Principle better–that it’s not necessarily just something the dog really loves doing–but what if the the steak eater is so obsessed with steak eating that he doesn’t notice the dragon? Great post as always!
Our two year old Appenzeller Sennenhund is named Maple. In the beginning, we used little pieces of bacon to train her recall; though most of the time we work with her kibble or with healthier treats, we wanted something reeeaaaalllly good for her recall. One day, I came across some cows by surprise while on an off-leash walk. Maple comes from working parents and was born on a dairy farm, so though while we have never trained her to work cattle (indeed, I’ve done the opposite: counter-conditioning her to the best of my ability to livestock), her instinct is very present. I saw the cows too late; Maple had already frozen and was about to run for them. I panicked and, while walking the other way shouted back, “Maple, want some bacon?” I didn’t know she knew the word, but she clearly loved bacon so much that somehow she had figured out its name, despite us never having specifically used the word with her as a cue. She spun around and came charging at me with all her might, tongue hanging out, begging for bacon. Since then, our emergency recall if we’re in a tight spot is “Maple bacon!” Makes us laugh every time!
FSSS! that’s the noise the cat makes when the dog gets too close!
I wish Nellie would hiss at him!
I come running for bacon too, Anna, just try me out.
Sorry to hear about Skip’s injury. I haven’t read your blog for a while, so had to look back a bit. Always enjoy it though! Anyway, just thought I’d mention my 3 year old collie has had hock OCD since about 12 weeks of age. I discovered a great supplement Winston’s pain Formula, it’s actually from the States, I am in the UK. Dylan is no longer limping, it’s wonderful for him to be living a proper life exerting himself and having fun. Anyway thought I’d mention it in case it helps Skip.
All the best
Diane Mattson says
You definitely need to write a book about Skip’s adventures in a few years. Definitely seems like a dog full of misadventure, energy and trouble!
Lots of fun ahead, I’m sure. 😊
Jenny Haskins says
Both of my current German Shepherds are endlessly fascinated by the cat.
It doesn’t help that when she was young she used to tease the dogs through the low windows in our living areas.
I try to never leave the dogs unsupervised in the house (where by law the cat is confines to) but IF the dogs look slightly more aroused than usual, I tell them to ‘Kiss Mim!’ This usually makes them back off :-)
I try to always praise the dogs when they are not annoying the cat – buy have trouble with DH, who thinks that the only acceptable behaviour is ignoring the cat, so tells them off :-(
Mim’s son, when he was alive, trained the dogs. He would sit and stare at them when they were eating their meals and stand guard at open doors to make sure the dogs were truly subservient.
Jenny Haskins says
That said, many years ago, I had a friend whose two Black Persian cats used to chase dogs down the street. The family got a call one morning. Their cats has bailed up a neighbour’s dog in the tool shed (aka no longer used dunny)
Thanks Alice! Good to know.
Tj Rose says
My trainer uses this a lot as I’m training my dog to be a service dog. She’s a huge sniffer not really a chaser though only with other dogs that are very excited and that’s a work in progress. Are used to cure go sniff and We only use a harness when she’s able to do this which is also is a cue. Turn on collar she is not allowed to sniff unless I say now go sniff. As for the dogs I have her sit politely and sometimes I will let her go see the dog if she sits calm and politely.
I’m not a professional but I think I’m getting the concept of Premack’s principle.
Simone Mueller has a book called Hunting Together that addresses ways to allow dogs to practice the predatory sequence without endangering what they are hunting or the human on the other end of the lead. I did her Predation Subsitution Training Course at Canine Principles and learned a lot. It has some similarities to the premack principle and reading through the comments I think it might be useful for a lot of people dealing with their dog’s obssessive need to hunt cats or whatever.
I love the Premack Principle! I trained a rabbit-proof recall in my old dog on our long off-leash walks in wooded parks, calling her back to me almost immediately for a treat then telling her “go sniff”, then calling her back and repeating 10,000,000 times. I think the go-sniff after the treats also boosts their value! We also used this recall routine chasing Canada geese off the Boston College football field. They are year-round pests in that area and generate massive amounts of poop, so the players were grateful. It was amazing to watch this tiny 12lb dog shooting like a bullet into big flocks of birds twice her size, and the best feeling when she raced back to me with her tongue hanging out and her eyes shining. She had a crazy prey drive for varmints, and I harnessed it the best I could. I let her hunt alley rats, calling her back frequently and releasing her again to go sniff. We went squirrel hunting on the Harvard Commons, where I would call her back from a treed squirrel in order to point to a different squirrel on the ground. She was just a hunter, not a killer; the only prey she ever caught was a mouse in my house.
Now I’m using Premack to train my new pup’s recalls. I don’t trust her off-leash in Atlanta parks because lots of homeless people camp out in hidden areas and she is too friendly with strangers. So we practice recalls on a 30’ leash. I was getting frustrated because it felt like I was always pulling her away from the things she wanted in the environment. There is more food-garbage and discarded chicken bones in our neighborhood than I’ve seen in my life, and our walks were just Leave it, leave it, leave it. But why leave an entire fried chicken wing just to get a liver scrap. So I started pointing out squirrels to her, I will call her to me and then we run together to the squirrel and she tries to run up the side of the tree. She’s an adolescent dog and has just recently developed the obedience of a teenager, so I’m trying to leverage environmental rewards as much as possible to get her through this phase. Also I want her to think I’m cool and not just the fun police!
I love your blog so much Trish, been reading 10+ years, and your posts are especially refreshing in covid time.
Aww, Thea, thanks so much! Love your training with your pups!
Thanks Kat for the reference! I haven’t seen that book, glad to know about it.
Chris from Boise says
It was so helpful to see the video and Skip’s complete inability to respond to your usual cues. He was really stuck. And so helpful to hear your encouraging “good boy”, when he finally responded to “House”. It’s so hard to let go of the frustration when one’s dog gets stuck in undesirable behavior, put aside everything else that just happened, be in the moment, and calmly and cheerfully reinforce the dog for the desired response. Thanks for modeling what we strive for.
Puccoon is blooming in our sagebrush foothills – always makes me think of your Wisconsin prairies.