The Genius of Antecedent Arrangements

While looking around the Internet, I came across an old post by a blogger I used to read when I was much more into the training thing than I am now. Eileen and Dogs was filled with such revolutionary information for me back when I was inhaling dog behaviour tips with my morning coffee. The quality of her wisdom has not diminished. Thought the writer claims she is not a professional trainer, she has absorbed plenty of knowledge through her personal experiences. I wish it was possible to download half of her brain into my own.

Anyway, the post that struck me this week was all about antecedent arrangements. Ms. Eileen has written about this training classification in the past but it sounded too convoluted of a concept for me at the time. I didn’t understand it right away and so I moved on. Reading about it now, with no pressure, I realized this training method is something I have employed all along. I just called it something different.

I don't know the name or breed of this dog, but when I see him, I call him Little Bear. Finding out his real name wouldn't make him less adorable.

I don’t know the name or breed of this dog, but when I see him, I call him Little Bear. Finding out his real name wouldn’t make him less adorable.

In essence, antecedent arrangements mean managing a behaviour as opposed to training a dog to do something different. Does that make sense? In many circles, management is looked down upon as the lazy way of doing something. I’ve always kind of disagreed. In my world, managing is setting the dog up for success. It is also one of the least invasive ways, for the dog, to handle a disagreeable situation.

For instance, I set Shiva up for success by putting a set of blinds on the window of the back door. This way she can’t see the downstairs neighbours coming in and out and doesn’t feel the need to bark at them. This is an antecedent arrangement. In another example, while on a walk this evening, I climbed up a slight hill to put space between Shiva and two approaching strange men. I overheard the men talking about my odd behaviour as they passed but it made Shiva more comfortable and prevented her from barking and lunging.

Shiva really wants to sniff the muddier side of the path where she often finds yucky garbage to scarf

Shiva really wants to sniff the muddier side of the path where she often finds yucky garbage to scarf

Put another way, an antecedent arrangement involves controlling or rearranging a dog’s environment to encourage desirable behaviour.

I am betting you do this too and not just when it comes to your dog. There are lots of ways we can set ourselves up for success. If you are tired of rushing in the morning, you can rearrange your environment by making your lunch the night before and making sure your keys and everything else you will need to grab on your way out the door is all together in one place. If you want to write more often, you can tell your friends you are going to write 100 words every day and ask them to heckle you if you don’t follow through. These are antecedent arrangements. They are things you prepare ahead of time to create scenarios where you are more likely to succeed.

By rewarding her for walking on this side of the path I avoid the difficult situation of making her drop the disgusting trash and she still gets to sniff. I could train her to "leave it" and not pick up the rubbish in the first place but after five years, the antecedent arrangement is much easier for us both.

By rewarding her for walking on this side of the path I avoid the difficult situation of making her drop the disgusting trash and she still gets to sniff. I could train her to “leave it” and not pick up the rubbish in the first place but after five years, the antecedent arrangement is much easier for us both.

This is now my favourite dog training phrase. I find myself looking for them everywhere. It is true that management can become a default of passive trainers. I won’t exclude myself from this. But when thought about in a careful manner, this method can be a great tool for a trainer who strives to use as little force as possible.

Do you employ any antecedent arrangement techniques in your household? What are the ways you set your pets, or yourself, up for success?

Soliciting Advice: Time Perception in Dogs, or, Another Dang Post About the Crate

Crate Picture UprightSo Shiva has this crate. I might have written about it once before. It’s hard to remember. This singular item has been a gigantic focus of drama and contention in my life for so long that I have no idea what I have said and to whom. Considering how much I loathe the dang thing, I know I have spent a terrible amount of time defending it.

The thing is, I will always defend it. This bothers me. One of the reasons I hate it so much is the fact that so many people have their own opinions on the subject and each believes she is right. There are a lot of areas in dog training that are factious. The use of the crate is right up there with prong collars and raw food. I don’t like that I automatically leap to the defensive side when it is mentioned. My shoulders tense, my forehead wrinkles, and I feel my lower lip slide into a pout. I like to think I am the kind of person who is open, who questions her assumptions, and who can listen to alternative points of view. When it comes to the crate, the arguments become personal. Thus, my mind remains closed.

No doubt you have your own ideas of the what the crate represents. Some of you may use it with your dogs without question and some of you may look upon it has a cage of horror. You are both correct. Because if I have learned anything during this enterprise of dog ownership, it is that success has more to do with the actions and feelings of the human than it does with right and wrong. There is no perfect way to get things done that works for all dogs. But if you feel like crap about something, your dog will too.

But I digress. I feel like I am repeating myself. Another philosophical discussion is not the purpose of today’s blathering.

As I say, Shiva has this crate. Shiva also has separation anxiety. This same metal box has been an intrinsic part of the formula for keeping her safe for the last five years. Whether you agree or disagree with its use in this situation is irrelevant. We’ve used it, Shiva knows what it means, and we can all earn our pay cheques without worrying she is hanging herself on the blinds. Even though the crate has enabled us to move on, I still hate it. I hate putting her in there every morning. Always have. I made peace with it, yes, but I have never liked it. Not because I think crate training is bad but because it is not the ideal way for Shiva to spend an afternoon. It is one of my biggest personal failures that we are still using this thing after five years.

I feel like I should underline that.

There has been some headway.

The crate is currently located in our bedroom, not because she sleeps in it at night but because it is a room in which she feels safe and comfortable. The light is low and we can close the door to prevent our jerkwad cat from harassing her. She has her blanket and her Kong and her water and she trusts that we will return. She knows that her only job is to lick peanut butter and sleep. Recently, with my heart in her indelicate paws, when we have gone out for only short periods of time, such as to the grocery store on weekend afternoons, I have taken the chance of leaving the door to the crate open.

Crate picture landscape

The routine is just the same. I take her outside for a potty break. I prepare her Kong of deliciousness. I refresh her water bowl and straighten her blanket. Shiva dashes inside the crate like it is the answer to all her hopes and dreams. I wait for her to lay down and then I give her the toy. She forgets I exist and dives in to her snack. On a typical day I would then close the crate, turn out the light, and then shut the door of the bedroom. But now, on the occasional short jaunt, I have been skipping the step with the crate lock.

So far, we have seen very positive success. Not only has she not hurt herself, but she behaves in just the same way she does as if the crate door was closed. With one significant difference: when we return home she is not locked in the small space but she is lying on our bed. It is a much happier sight, let me tell you. She is not relaxed, I wouldn’t say that, but her location cozied up to our pillows looks so much more… Natural?

I would love to give this a try for slightly longer stretches of time but am so scared of what could happen. We have done this before – experimented, played with the process, attempted to give her more freedom – and it never worked out. She just couldn’t handle it. Having free reign of even one room proved to be too stressful.

Is she ready now?

I guess there is only one way to know. But is it worth risking her safety? Should we just continue on as we are? Is it better to give up on my dream of one day walking out the front door with Shiva snoozing on the sofa?

The big question I am hoping you can help me answer is: how do dogs perceive time? 

Is leaving Shiva alone in the house for one hour the same as leaving her alone for three? Do you think she knows the difference? If she can handle 60 minutes without being in the crate, is it possible she could deal with four times that?

I’d love to know what you think. In all of your observations of dogs, in all your tremendous amounts of reading, do you think they perceive time the way humans do? Do you think it feels longer to them or shorter?

Please, if you have any thoughts on this subject, no matter how obscure, I’d be so grateful if you would share them.

Train Your Dog Year Challenge: Month #1

Because I am who I am, I have decided to choose the hardest challenge first for my personal Train Your Dog Year bonanza. I could have gone with something simple yet cute, like teaching Shiva to hold a stuffed animal in her paws, or conceivably something practical, like how to relax when someone is knocking at the door. Both would have been good choices. It could be Olympic fever – urging me to go for the gold – given that instead of basing my decision on logic, I’ve decided it is time to get serious. Mega Man style.

Be afraid, Shiva. Be very afraid.

Be afraid, Shiva. Be very afraid.

Any guesses? What is the one behaviour most dogs perform naturally that Shiva has never, ever, in her life, been able to do with any form of consistency? Sure, if I stand on my head and quote Patricia McConnell while humming the opening theme to The Littlest Hobo, she might occasionally pretend like she knows what I am asking. But even then it’s a toss-up. I am certain it’s an accident. The Cat probably puts her up to it just so he doesn’t have to listen to my cajoling any more.

If you haven’t come up with it yet, the behaviour to which I am referring, and the aim of January’s challenge is the basic retrieve. You heard me right. The action most dogs are born to execute, the reason some dogs are alive, is the same action Shiva has no aptitude for whatsoever.

I have tried teaching her this an infinite amount of times before. I have tried using a clicker, I have tried luring, I have tried running around like a crazy person. No matter how many videos I watch or how many books I read, none of the advice as worked. I still cannot get her to reliably return an object. No doubt the problem is me. My impatience is the stuff of legends, especially when it is something I want really badly. My childhood dog didn’t retrieve either. She loved chasing a ball, but she preferred to toss it up in the air and catch it all by herself while her hapless humans looked on. Shiva, on the other hand, prefers keep away, or chomping on the dang ball. Bringing it back so I can throw it again is such a foreign concept to her I may as well be asking her to translate Russian.

Or look at me when I am taking a photo. This will be Challenge #2, stay tuned.

Or look at me when I am taking a photo. This will be Challenge #2, stay tuned.

The biggest issue is, Shiva and I have already mastered most of the tricks in all of the dog books we own. She crawls, she rolls over, she closes doors, she dances, and she even jumps through my arms. All of the easy behaviours, we’ve had in our repertoire long ago. All of the ones that don’t involve her holding something in her mouth, that is. If we are going to be champions, even in our own eyes, we have to nail the retrieve. It is the only way forward. The retrieve is the only thing standing between us and  dog trick glory.

Of course, if I am ever going to have a dog who plays fetch, my lifelong dream, I am going to have to grit my teeth and fight for it. No more diddling around. It will be frustrating. I am going to give up at least a dozen more times. But I have to remember that it’s worth it. Shiva one day bringing me a beer is worth all the tangled hair, all the tears, and all the sleepless nights in the world.

Luckily, I am not alone. I have the genius of Zak George to help me and I have your support. At least, I hope I do. I can do this, right?

Does your dog retrieve? Is it something you taught or does he or she do it out of pure joy? Do you have any helpful hints?

Train Your Dog Year Challenge

My innate laziness has always made the concept of New Year’s Resolutions anathema to me. The idea that I am going to change my whole lifestyle because of a simple calendar flip seemed ludicrous. Besides, everyone knows January is one of the darkest, most depressing months of the year, it is hardly the time I am most motivated to do something crazy, like stop eating sugar. Can you imagine? Giving up the very thing you need the most to survive? I don’t think so.

I don’t like setting goals I know I won’t meet. They used to make us do that in school. I remember being forced every year by my homeroom teacher to write down five things I hoped to accomplish. Cripes. It was junior high. The only thing I wanted to achieve back then was invisibility. Every time she handed out the sheets of paper I would have to rack my brain in order to make something up. I became quite skilled at telling people what they wanted to hear but it didn’t help me obtain anything. If nothing else, the involuntary practice just made me even more resentful and bitter.

But I digress.

Train Your Dog Month

The wise author of Something Wagging This Way Comes has once more been generous enough to dedicate her time to promoting the annual Train Your Dog Month Challenge. As much as I may loathe resolutions, I do appreciate the theory behind the yearly event. Originally conceived by The Association of Professional Dog Trainers, dog owners across the world are encouraged to spend the month of January working with their furry friends on everyday manners and social skills. It is a fun way to get motivated to work on some of the things we all know our dogs are lacking. Whether it be anxiety-based reactivity or teaching our dogs not to counter surf – ahem, Delilah – the notion is that we will buckle down and use the cold month to achieve something with our of which we can be proud. I adore the thought. If only it was so easy to put into practice.

This is where Something Wagging’s brilliant blogger challenge comes in.

As an obliger, I realize I need outside pressure in order to fulfil my commitments. It isn’t enough for me to say I want to do something, I need others to nudge me into doing it even when there is a fantastic new book series loaded into my eReader. This is why I signed up with Alfie’s Blog to co-host what is always a fantastic blogging event. Not only am I obligated to follow through this time as a certified co-host but I am also going to be the recipient of all of your ingenious inspiration. It is a win-win as far as my pets – and I – are concerned.

This will be the third year of the challenge and I fully expect all participants will be giving it there all. It’s not about competition over who teaches the neatest trick. Rather, it is about building the bond, dedicating the time to enhancing our relationships with our animals. No matter how perfect your dog or cat or hamster is, and I am sure they are all fabulous, no doubt there is something you would like to work on. This is your chance! It doesn’t matter whether or not you succeed, what is important is that you spend that little bit of extra time together.

As I mentioned above, I detest New Year’s Resolutions. They are so floppy and inevitably meaningless. We only make them because we think we are supposed to. This year, however, I have made a resolution that I hope you all will help me keep. In 2014, I am resolving to spend more time with my dog.

That’s it. No special behaviours, no fancy moves, just quality time building our relationship. Since we are no longer actively involved in agility, I have noticed a lot of things slipping. Not due to any fault of Shiva’s, of course. Mostly because we just don’t break out of the routine very often any more. We walk, we cuddle, we play tug, we go to sleep. And that’s it. I would like to change that. Shiva and I used to be a unit, a team, an awkwardly deluded duo. I’d like to get that back. I mean, there was once a time, I even convinced her to prefer my praise to chasing The Cat!

This time, I am taking Train Your Dog Month one step further and declaring 2014 Train Your Dog Year. Each month I am going to work with Shiva on a new behaviour. It may not be exciting. We may end up utter failures. We will definitely make idiots of ourselves. But we are going to have fun and revitalize our former synergy.

Remember these good old days?

So. Who’s with us? If you need a little monetary incentive, APDT is also offering a cash reward for winning videos showcasing testimonials how training your dog improved both your life and your relationship with your dog.  They are looking for clips that let the public better understand the value and benefits of training your dog, which is what Train Your Dog Month is all about.

Plus, for anyone who participates in the blog challenge, we’ll pick one training team at random to win a $25 donation to their favorite pet charity and a prize pack for you and your dog. Pretty awesome, eh? You’ve got nothing to lose!

I do hope you’ll join in. Remember, you don’t need a dog or even a cat to participate. I’d love for this year to be the first fishy participant! All species are more than welcome. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!