Reinforcement Conundrum

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by brodys_mom, Sep 11, 2013.

  1. brody_smom Experienced Member

    I think this is more of a training challenge than a behavior problem, but it does relate to an incompatible behavior I am trying to train.

    Here's the scenario: We have a very small fenced back yard. On the other side of one fence lives a 3 year old female lab who spends most of her days (and nights) alone in the yard, barking at whatever passes by her fence. She is on a corner, so there is a lot that goes past. On the other side of the back fence lives a chihuahua, who is let out periodically to entertain herself, and two small children who have access to a trampoline which is right next to our fence. They can see into our yard easily when standing on the trampoline.

    I have been trying to do training with Brody in the back yard throughout the day: tricks, obedience and some agility, interspersed with fetch as a reinforcer. If the lab or chihuahua barks, or if the children are playing outside, Brody will alert and run to the fence. I have been trying to interrupt him before he gets to the fence and starts barking, clapping my hands, patting my leg, keeping my tone playful, throwing his ball, etc. His reward is continued play and/or treats/ear scratches/praise. This works occasionally, but when it doesn't, I feel I need to resort to firmer tones, calling his name, or cuing "off", as he often jumps into flower beds. If he responds, he gets praise and ear scratches, treats when I have them handy. When he doesn't respond then I say "Let's go!" and head into the house. This almost always works right away, and he usually just gets a "good boy!". I am concerned about giving him too much reinforcement for this as I am likely to set up an unwanted chain where he ignores my other attempts to call him off, but he still gets rewarded for coming to me at the end. I want to find a way to eliminate the behavior of running to the fence to bark.

  2. Mutt Experienced Member

    What I do with Mazzel (he sometimes want to react to dogs that walk by when we are in the yard/the neighbours dog which he doesn't like at all) is ask for eye contact ('focus'), so that I prevent to running to the fence completely (and he gets a reward for this). If he walks off (because I'm too late or he goes after the eye contact) I call him back and ask him for eye contact again (and reward the eye contact). Sit/down are a good way while doing this to prevent the dog to go check it out anyway (as is a very calm behavior).
    This works very well for us and I am often even able to call him back while he is running towards the fence (enterupting him),
    Dlilly and brodys_mom like this.
  3. brody_smom Experienced Member

    This is what I am working toward. At this point (and remember, Brody is only 14 months old, only 7 months in our home) he is trying really hard to make good choices, but if the stimulus comes without warning, as it usually does, he reacts before I do. If he is already at the fence barking before I have even had the chance to ask him for another behavior, how do I call him to me and reward him for his recall without also reinforcing the fence barking?
    Mutt likes this.
  4. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    I would say you could possibly add another behavior when he comes to you, if he can handle it. For instance he comes to you, get him to sit or down or something and then reward. You don't want him to get into the habit of run to the fence, bark, run to mom, reward, run to the fence, etc. But, if he can't consistently call him away from this, then I'd say this is too much to expect of him right now. When you have this scenario, take him in the backyard on leash so he doesn't have the opportunity to charge the fence and you can gently get him back to you to work again.
    Also, one thing I do(if he can handle it and you have enough warning of the stimulus to do it) is reward for looking at the stimulus(dog on other side of fence, kids of trampoline, whatever) but staying calm. So let's say for instance you hear the Lab coming, he looks at the fence but isn't losing it, use your clicker or marker word and reward. Again it would be good to start on leash, and you might start as far from that side of the yard as possible so it's easier for him to keep his cool. If he starts to look like he is fixing to lose it, use your "Let's go!", step inside for a minute, ask for some sits, downs, etc, and go back outside. The idea is the reward comes when he is calmly acknowledging the stimulus, and once he can easily handle that, you can start working on getting his focus on you again. If none of this is successful in the backyard, you may need to try the sidewalk or someplace where dogs still bark and he hears them, but you have more room to get where he is comfortable.
    Dlilly and brodys_mom like this.
  5. brody_smom Experienced Member

    We have a privacy fence, so we don't see the lab coming. She wears a citronella collar to "keep her from barking so much", but no tags that jingle, so the first sign of her presence is her beautiful lab voice.

    When he is just going out to do his toilet, I always have him on leash. He has bitten me three times while on leash because he can't usually see her before he hears her due to the privacy fence. I had been training him to grab a ball or tug toy rather than barking, but when he is on leash, my leg or hand is right there, and he goes for that instead of the ball. When playing or training, the leash is off, but I have treats or a toy to distract him. I really want to get rid of the behavior of biting a toy instead of barking. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it did reduce the amount of barking, especially in the house, but now it has created other problems, i.e. biting my leg when the toy isn't around.

    I will definitely start to ask for another behavior before rewarding him on recall.
  6. Mutt Experienced Member

    Mazzel can't get along with the neighbours dog at all, when that dog was standing nearby the fence he would completely freak (barking like crazy, pumping himself up, I couldn't make any contact with him). What I did (and do if this happens, though it is getting better/easier) is walk towards him, let him take a few steps back if needed to create some space between the dogs, by positioning me between the dogs/fence and "forcing" him to back up (either by a gentle push against the chest/walking to him and taking space, if you know what I mean) and thn si besides him and put one hand on his chest. (No pressure!!) and calming him down with my voice (and eventually asking for focus again). I also (like cowgirl wrote) reward for looking and staying calm.
    This is when I am too late and recall won't work. I have to admit that Mazzel isn't redirecting and is completely comfortabl with me doing this (it really calms him down/relaxes him).

    The second behavior works good as well (I use sit/down an than focus).

    This and the things I wrote in my other post has helped us a lot.
    brodys_mom and southerngirl like this.
  7. brody_smom Experienced Member

    I can see how this would work, but I don't think I can do it, just because of the layout of the area where the fence barking usually happens. There is a raised flower bed with a large tree in it right up against the fence in a corner of the yard. Once he has jumped up there, it is a matter of getting his attention and asking him to get "off". I wouldn't be able to get in between him and the fence.

    When I take him out to do his toilet and have his leash on, I stay away from that side of the yard now so that if the lab barks, Brody will alert, but not usually need to bite something. I just take him out to do his business, then come right back inside. When we are playing, I have to throw the ball over to that side because the yard is just so small. I don't want to keep him on leash when he is running because it gets tangled on furniture and bicycles in the yard, so I have to rely on some form of recall. I would like him to get better at just ignoring her when she barks, but it is difficult to desensitize when I can't control her, and often the barking stops very quickly, so it's difficult to get the timing right on rewarding for calmness.
  8. Dlilly Honored Member

    Rory had a similar problem, but with goats. What I did was let him stay outside for long periods everyday so he would get used to the goats. Once he was somewhat not as obsessed with him, I had him work on watching me (eye contact) and sitting with me near the fence. He will now come to me when I call him if the goats are by the fence 90% of the time. If my obsessive dog who loves goats more than anything can learn to watch me, Brody can too! You might just have to experiment with different ways or maybe buy some super yummy treats that he only gets when training outside.
    brodys_mom and southerngirl like this.
  9. brody_smom Experienced Member

    Because our yard is so small, our house is very close to the neighbor. When Brody is in our living room, where his crate is, he is almost as close to the neighbor's fence as he is when we are playing outside. Since this lab is out nearly all day and late into the evening, he hears her barking no matter if we are inside or out. I try to reward him for not barking, or praise/treat him before he barks whenever I hear her. I was hoping that he would just learn to ignore her, like people who live near airports or train tracks learn to ignore those sounds, but so far, he is still very reactive to barking and other loud noises in the street, such as kids riding their drifters or flipping their skateboards. I have spent time sitting with him in our front window watching and listening for all the different sounds, and rewarding for not barking, but it's just not getting better.

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