Monday, January 28, 2013

Upward and Onward

A friend is a behavioral specialist with a school district. As you can imagine, her knowledge of behavior has been valuable through the years in settings domestic, professional, and social.

Long ago, after I had complained of some habit of my daughters that drove me round the bend and my friend had helped me devise some manner of encouraging a change in their behavior, my friend warned me of the extinction burst, or the temporary increase of undesired behavior that occurs after the commencement of efforts to extinguish the behavior. The temper tantrum is a good example; when you ignore a tantrum, it may increase in volume and intensity before (finally!) fading to mere sniffing and whimpering.

You can read a more thorough description here.

My Bad Dog and I went for a thirty-minutes-longer-than-usual walk yesterday morning. During daylight hours, because Sunday is, blissfully and thanks be to an all-merciful Divinity, a day of rest for mail carriers and FedEx drivers. At the park, I thought it would be fun to try to teach My Bad Dog to jump up and walk the length of the bleachers.

Say what you will of My Bad Dog, but in terms of tricks, she is what my grandmother would have called a quick study. She understood immediately what I wanted her to do, and she did it, over and over. We tried benches, the narrow brick raised border of a yard, and the low planks by the tennis courts, and My Bad Dog confidently trotted the length of each.

She was exhausted when we got home. My daughters and I noticed how little she barked the rest of the day, just a few times at our neighbor, who has the gall to enter and depart his home without asking My Bad Dog's permission, and once to reprimand the driver who parked in front of our house with what must have been criminal intent. Then again, it was Sunday. Not only were there no mail carriers, but the street was quieter than usual.

Today, we again took a longer than usual walk and again worked at plank-walking (in addition to gopher-hunting and squirrel-sighting). My Bad Dog was so tired that she slept through the arrival of the mail carrier, waking only after he'd dropped off the mail and was almost out of the yard. Even then, she didn't bark. Five minutes later, the mail carrier drove past our house and although My Bad Dog signaled her continued deep and abiding interest in his activities by intently looking out the window, she did not bark. Nor did she bark at the high school track team that ran by on their way up to the hills, nor at the garbage truck.

At this point, either her restraint gave way or she reached down deep for inner resources, and she registered her loud disapproval of the man across the street. What he did to annoy her, I don't know, maybe he committed the unforgivable offense of getting out of his car.

I'm not sure I have the pure-hearted faith to believe that what happened Saturday was an extinction burst. It seems more likely that Cesar Millan may be right (about the exercise thing, anyway, at least for My Bad Dog; I've never tried alpha rolling, which is a subject of vigorous debate, although My Bad Dog often does of her own volition roll over on her back, in which position she looks about as dangerous as a teacup Yorkie (not this teacup Yorkie).

In any case, the decrease in My Bad Dog's ferocity is powerful reinforcement to take longer walks each morning. I seem to be responding well to training.

Daily Kos
Dog Whisperer
National Geo Wild: Cesar's Way
Paws Across America
You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self-Delusion

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