Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reactivity Research

Click To Calm

If you have a reactive dog and haven't read the book, Click To Calm, by Emma Parsons, it's a must read. When I started to notice that Chico, my dog, displayed symptoms of reactivity Emma's book was the first one that I turned to. A few weeks ago I was reading Patricia McConnell's blog, which discussed the best types of "markers" to use for training dogs tricks.  The study she was discussing used markers such as the word "good". Another marker discussed was the click of a clicker. 

A clicker is a noisemaker, used to mark a desired response when training a dog. The sound of the clicker is an excellent marker because it is unique, quick, and consistent.  This is the tool that was the base of the book Click To Calm. The last marker was nothing, no click or word, just a treat.  Patricia McConnell's post discussed that the clicker trains dogs faster than the using a marker word.  

This concept got me thinking about the training that I do.  Yes, I clicker train my dogs, but when I doing my reactivity training with Chico, I don't use a clicker, I use the marker word "yes" to mark any other behavior that Chico offers other than reactivity.  I've never been coordinated enough run/walk, carry a clicker, a poop bag, and treat my dog at just the right time. But what if I could coordinate all that as well as implement the key philosophies from the Click To Calm book? Would this coordinated effort make a noticeable difference in Chico's reactivity?  

Click To Calm fan, Border Collie, Chico

The Experiment 

Before I tell you more about my Reactivity Research plan, based on the Click To Calm book, let me say, I'm not a scientist or a behaviorist.  I'm a dog trainer, and most of all, I'm a dog guardian to some pretty awesome dogs.  I'm not a well known expert, but I will attempt to be as honest and forthright in my findings.  I will try and be as fair as I possibly can to have to most accurate findings.  This experiment won't be perfect, but I believe it will be a lot of fun, and a great learning experience.

Beautiful Border Collie, Rue will supervise my study

During the months March and April I will log how many triggers Chico reacts to, and triggers that he doesn't respond to while we are doing our daily run. 

Examples of his common triggers include people running, bikers, and dogs. I will attempt to take the same routes mimicking each day and week in March and April.  I will have three routes, defined as route A, B, or C. Route A is two miles. Route B is 4 miles and Route C is 3 miles.

If Chico is reactive, I will log and identify the trigger, the approximated distance from the trigger and the duration of the reaction.  I will also specify what type of reaction Chico displays: barking, lunging or both. The same treats will be used throughout the study. The treats will be counted prior to our run and when we complete our run. The spreadsheet will include any pertinent weather observations and notes in a special section. I plan the run most nights as Chico and I do now, unless the conditions are unsafe. Chico will wear his Thundershirt as long as the weather isn't too hot.

Click or Yes for happiness! Border Collie, Chico

The difference between the month of March and April will be that in March I will use the marker word "yes" when Chico looks at me or offers or performs any behavior other than reactivity.  

In April I will use a clicker to mark any desired behavior outside of barking or lunging while out on our runs.  You can see the data may already be skewed.  Here in the Midwest, the weather will be colder/wetter and just generally more miserable in March. I fully expect the activity level to increase in April.  In addition, Chico is accustomed to me using the marker word "yes" and I'm accustomed to saying it to.  

Collecting Data

I've developed a simple spreadsheet to collect my data.

Click image to show larger



Here is a breakdown of the treats I'll be using with Chico while out on runs:

20 Tricky Trainers Salmon Flavor Cloud Star Treats
3 Buddy Biscuits Lamb flavor Treats
10 Bil-Jac Liver Treats
20 Little Gooberlicuous Peanut Butter Bil-Jak Treats

It's going to be a little bit of work on my end to record the data, but I'm excited to see the results and share them with you. When April comes I'll need to figure out how the heck I'm going to manage my clicker, treats, leash, dog, keys, poop bag, you get the picture. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what conclusions I get from this experiment. Certainly, I'll learn a lot about my handling skills, as well as my shortcomings, when I review the results. I encourage you to join me in Reactivity Research based on the ideas from Click To Calm.

1 comment:

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