Wednesday, August 28, 2013

(Over)Confidence, Revisited

First of all, that quote in my last post? That's what's called an ugly quote, as in I never read the source I just thought it sounded good/on point when I happened to stumble across it. I was looking for a Pratchett quote about hubris, but I couldn't find it (and can't remember which book/character it was from). I do read Pratchett. (Religiously.) Still can't Google up the quote though... Let's go with another one of his, just because.
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
(Terry Pratchett)
This is not a quote about hubris, since cats just keep getting away with it...

As, it turns out, do I. So far... I find it hard to evaluate my actions and choices in regards to Monster's freedom, what is the right choice after all? Since I do keep "getting away with it", perhaps I'm overvaluating the risk? Or is it just chance, setting me up for a big fall?

Err... Whuh?

Last night Mom wanted to go berry picking again. Fortunately(?) as I arrived at their place with Monster a guest on a bike (Monster: "RRRRAAAAAAARRRGH! An ENEMY!") arrived at the same time, and Mom got a good demonstration of how I actually am not "constantly exaggerating" Monster's problems. To the point of asking me if I perhaps shouldn't leave him at home while we went to the forest... I patiently (well...) explained to her that absolutely nothing had changed from yesterday, or any other day when she blithely ignores my concerns on risk management with regards to Monster and thinks he should basically be allowed to run around free. And acts on it, if I don't keep a careful eye on her! Since he was no more dangerous after her seeing him react to the biker (as opposed to hearing me tell her about him reacting to something), her concerns should be no greater than before. Monster hadn't changed at all. With this he came along, and Dory too. This time I was however more successful in getting Mom to move further from the road (also helped by us going to a different spot, where the terrain was easier for her to navigate), which was a relief for me. The evening passed without incident - a couple of times Monster perked up toward the road and started to move toward it with interest, but he turned away immediately when I called him. Dory was very much getting on my bad side however, since she kept trying to lure him away! Following a path through the forest for a couple of minutes would lead to a couple of houses with dogs outside, and Dory quickly ran off to visit them (Mom: "... She'll come back eventually." Me: "!"). She did indeed come back (dogs howling and barking in the distance, to Monster's fascination), but only to fetch Monster. She ran around him in invitation and got him to follow her down the path, but! He wouldn't go more than 70-80 meters or so (after stopping them a couple of times I allowed it to see what would happen - hubris again, right?), when he reached the "too far" line - as decided by him - he sat promptly down and refused to take another step no matter what Dory did. When she eventually ran off without him again he started barking in frustration and running around, but he would not follow her! How about that...?

That's cause I'm a Good Boy.

Today, on our daily walk down to my parents' house, we encountered yet another chance for me to make the wrong, risky choice. Of course I took it! As we came around a bend in the road we spotted a deer in a field (150-200 meters away). Monster was off leash and noticed the deer a little after me, but I chose to not distract and leash him even though I had the option (probably). As the deer noticed us, and we kept moving towards it, it turned and walked into the forest behind the field. Monster, by then perhaps 20-30 meters ahead of me, picked up speed, his body tense, head high, tail rigid and upright. I let him go. Could I have called him back at this point? I think so now, and I thought so then. But I wanted a greater distraction, I wanted a test... Monster was running ahead, toward where he'd seen the deer disappear, and I could see the instant he crossed the scent trail - if he'd been running before he started racing now. I still let him go. He followed the trail into the woods, running flat out and completely fixated on the hunt, and when I couldn't see him any more I called out once, turned and walked away...

Did you think this through?

... And was instantly rewarded with an almighty crash behind me, as Monster immediately took the most direct route toward the sound of my voice (I'm guessing), and rather than retracing his steps through easier terrain just barged through bushes and small trees instead. He came literally thundering up behind me, covered in branches and leaves! Happy with this success I immediately proceeded to test him further (of course! why not end in defeat?), and turned around again and set off on a course where we'd cross the deer's trail quite close to where we'd seen it disappear. Monster still off leash. As we came to the spot Monster again became agitated, sniffing around, craning his head toward the forest edge, stepping in place and looking toward me. I didn't interact with him at all, just kept walking past. And Monster just dropped it, followed me and was as relaxed and responsive as before the whole thing. That's something, right?

(To be clear: the deer walked away quite calmly - for a deer - and had a good head start. If it had run off, if I had thought there was any risk of Monster getting very close, if it had set off across open terrain instead of into the forest, or if in some other way I had judged there was a risk of severely stressing the animal, I would have (attempted to?) stopped Monster from engaging. I do not think the world is around to serve our/my needs, I do not think I can make others "pay" for Monster's "gain". I made two judgments, the first that the deer was in no risk from Monster's pursuit, and the second that I could stop Monster from prolonging the pursuit beyond the point where I felt I had a good overview of the situation. You may well judge me as having put the deer at risk anyway, and I'll have to live with that, but I did believe at the time that I had the situation under control. I do believe in retrospect that I did not cause any harm to the deer beyond the initial alarm on seeing us approach - and that's unavoidable whether leashed or not.)

Down south where we live, the stupid animals hang around staring at us until we're just 10-20 meters away - or less - before they go running off in a panic across wide open fields. In that situation Monster would never be allowed off leash to begin with, much less allowed to pursue.

So. Did I do the right thing? Was it a horrible mistake? The result would (perhaps?) indicate I evaluated the situation correctly... I thought I could recall Monster from a hunt situation, and I succeeded. I thought even at a distance of a couple of hundred meters, out of sight, and more or less wholly engrossed in a strong behavior (tracking/hunting/pursuing), Monster would respond to my recall. Well, he did. I thought that even when seriously revved up by the experience, rather than it drawing him back to it again he would let it go when I showed no interest to engage in it with him. He did. So I walked away with a confirmation of my expectations. But the question I'm stuck with is whether or not that's actually a good thing?

Why not?

Because adding to my confidence levels, both in my control over Monster and in my ability to judge my control over Monster, could after all lead to disaster down the line, right? There is a line between training and real world we all have to cross eventually, in most of our training. There is only so much "controlled environment exercise" you can do successfully, before it becomes time to (gradually) move it out of that environment. (Unless you're content with staying there, but few of us are I think.) I have zero ambition to walk Monster off leash in for example a city environment, but I do want to be able to let him off the leash in less stressful surroundings. In order to get there, I have to let go of the leash. But when? Where? How? I don't want Monster to be a threat to others. I don't want him to even frighten others (within reason; people getting upset at the mere sight of a calm, leashed dog some distance away can just learn to deal with their own problems, frankly). I think I have sufficient control over him off leash in order to be moving carefully across that line into the real world (while still staying in a very unchallenging environment), but how do you know? Well, I know the answer to that: you don't. You can only try to be objective and responsible, and keep evaluating as you go. Right? But for something like off leash control, the 80% rule doesn't really apply I think. You need to be much closer to 100%. But you never actually reach 100% though! You can never know with absolute certainty how a situation will develop or how your dog will respond, the best you can do is "fairly sure". (No matter what some people will tell you! No one can guarantee their dog's absolute obedience in any situation, it's simply not possible. And quite frankly, anyone who makes that sort of claim is someone I'd steer quite clear of, as it to me reeks of poor judgment and lack of responsibility.) And for a lot of people, even less than that is quite acceptable (at least to them); they have dogs they don't need to control all that closely, as they're perhaps small, cute, with zero interest in other people or animals... Monster is interested. And while I think he's about the most adorable creature who ever lived, not everyone shares that view of him. He's certainly not small. I need to have him under control. But at which point is he under sufficient control?

Just how much harder do you want me to work, really?

If I thought he was actually dangerous, he'd be permanently leashed. But I don't. If I thought he'd run off from me to confront someone we came across, he'd be leashed (perhaps permanently, but I'd at least try to work on that). But I don't. If I thought he'd go after the wildlife, he'd be leashed. But I don't. My assumptions in these things have been tested (1 by meeting a man on a close path, Monster barked at him but returned to me when called; 2 by walking past people picking berries in the woods by the road before I realized they were there; 3 by getting called off the hunt today), but that's not really proof of anything more than success in those specific situations. Sure, it's also good indications of reliability of behavior, but it's not proof. Proof can not be had. So. What to do? Do I (try to) rein myself in, or do I trust myself more? Because it's not like I'm impartial after all. No matter how hard I try to objectively evaluate myself, Monster, results, etc, I am also always driven by ambition. I want a specific result. How much am I influenced by that in my evaluations?

Don't you trust me?

Teach, you need to teleport up here and help us out! An objective view is sorely needed. I'm all alone up here... ("Try a shock collar!" I was told today. And then they stop listening when I patiently(?) try to explain why that's a terrible idea.)

What's that now? "Shock collar"? Fine with me - I'm the one holding the remote and they're the ones wearing the collar, right?

I would like to try some setups, I think... I would like to encounter people (with and without dogs) at various distances, moving and standing still, in our path and off to the side... But there is no one here to ask - no one who wouldn't use aggression and intimidation on Monster if he should approach them. And that's not a variation of setup I feel ready for. Not because I'm sure it would go badly - I'd estimate perhaps 80% certainty that I'd still be able to call him away - but because it's a somewhat higher risk, and most of all because it's not the kind of experience which will aid Monster's progress...

Nah, what could possibly go wrong?! I'm a very stable dude! No bad experiences are going to influence me...

And since quoting Pratchett is a lot like that proverbial popcorn eating, here are a couple more I couldn't help myself from cramming in here...

A difference I often observe in traditional vs. positive dog trainers:
"The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to those who think they’ve found it."
(Terry Pratchett)

And something for all of us to keep in mind:
"Sooner or later we're all someone's dog"
(Terry Pratchett)

 I had to put them last so I could stop myself from just writing more and more by quickly pressing "publ

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Hubris Calls for Nemesis...

... and in one form or another it's going to get it, not as a punishment from outside but as the completion of a pattern already started."
(Mary Midgley)

We're enjoying the (comparative) freedom up here, Monster running around free of the leash every day - something he never gets to do back home - and me laughing at his antics and finding pleasure in how responsive and focused on me he is. But... The reason he gets to run around off leash is because there's a much (much!) smaller risk of encountering anyone else on our walks (animal, human or vehicle). The reason is not because I think he's magically "cured" here. In other words, I'm relying on the environment to accommodate his issues. But how does it affect me that it does? Because Monster has been off leash daily since we got here, for hours, and every time all goes well. I find myself expecting it to go well, taking greater and greater risks. And naming the beast ("hubris") does not seem to grant me control over it...

Woohoo, why would you want control!?


Last night Mom (my mom; Monstermom's mom - this alias business can get confusing if you don't think things through before you set them apparently) wanted to go out and pick some berries. Since she has trouble with her hips and can't negotiate off road terrain very well we needed to stick very close to civilization. We brought her dog Dory and Monster along (I shouldn't have agreed to this, she has zero control over her and while Dory's quite friendly to others she will approach them, and Monster tends to follow her around everywhere). I kept wanting to move further from the road - Mom could stay where she was, a mere two-three meters from the road, but I wanted to take the dogs further into the forest so I could have some time to react in case someone turned up on the road - but Dory would stay with Mom and Monster would drift back toward them over and over again. Instead of realizing that the situation was out of control and calling it quits (leaving or putting one or both dogs in the car), I just muttered, rolled my eyes, or something equally constructive, and just kept at it. I picked berries and kept half an eye on Monster, calling him back to me if I felt he strayed too far but accepting that he was quite a bit closer to the road than I was. And eventually what I knew/ should have known would happen, did happen. A man who walks his (reactive) dog along that road every evening, walked his dog along that road this evening as well. Who'd a thunk it!? I noticed both dogs perking up and taking an interest in the road, Dory setting off for it with Monster close behind. I couldn't see what they were reacting to but let out a loud "YIP!" (my sadly halfassed "emergency recall", nowhere near as well trained and religiously reinforced as it should be, as well as being way, waaaaaaaay overused) to call Monster back - and he turned on the spot, thundering back to me with ears and jowls flapping in the wind! Perhaps he hadn't realized there was someone on the road, simply following his friend's interest rather than being interested himself? But no, when I recalled Monster the man approaching us called out to us too, to inform us he was coming up on us with a dog. I saw Monster notice his voice, but while he glanced in that direction he didn't hesitate for even half a step. He ran straight to me, and sat down at my feet when asked. Of course, as soon as I clipped the leash on him he lost the plot completely, lunging and raging at the man and dog passing by (by then visible from where I was standing too). So what does this mean? Was it a good thing or a bad thing? Well, good things:
  • Monster showed a near perfect response to recall, to the point of leaving his friend who was running in the opposite direction
  • He showed zero aggression while off leash
  • Even with a fairly strong distraction (the man calling out to us) Monster remained focused on me
  • While he was by then tense, staring at the man and dog visible on the road, he allowed me to clip the leash on
  • ... I suppose it could be a good thing Mom got to see Monster's bad side, as she generally tends to think I'm exaggerating the problem (and takes him out for walks if I'm not looking!) ?
Not so good things:
  • As soon as he was on leash he tried really hard to live up to his name
  • My complete lack of judgment, putting us in the situation to begin with
  • It took some time to calm him back down again
  • The good points above
Wait, what? Why are the good points bad? Well, here we return to the point of this post: hubris. It all went well after all, right? Even in this potentially disastrous situation it was an utter piece of cake to control Monster! Surely I can relax and allow us both greater freedoms - what problems there may be, I can handle. Right? Right, let's go for that date with Nemesis right away, shall we?

Bah! I ain't scared!

But the problem is as I've already said, even though I can see my own hubris I can't control it. I think it's driven as much by desire as success, in that I want Monster to have more freedom so what successes we find have a squared effect on me. A lot of people with a fairly limited experience with reactive dogs (as in they used to have/know a dog who lunged on leash, they tried something or other and the "problem" stopped - they must be masterful dog trainers! ... I used to be one of those "helpful" know it alls...) will claim that the greater part of the problem is the handler's expectations - you expect the dog to react negatively and convey this with your body language, thus causing the dog to react negatively. I'm sure there's some truth to this, but with so many other things it's greatly exaggerated. I expect Monster to do splendidly, I really do. Every time we have a failed encounter of some kind, I'm surprised. The (or at least a) definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result; this may be slightly different in someone else (Monster) keeps doing the same thing in the same situation (reacting with demonstrative aggression to triggers) and I never expect it, but I think it could work as a definition too... I've been aware of this ridiculous optimism before (I consider myself a skeptic by nature while those around me describe me as a gloomy pessimist, so it's rather glaringly out of character), but now! Things just keep going well, even in situations where I find myself breathing a sigh of relief afterwards when I think about all that could have gone wrong, nothing does go wrong. So this stubborn streak of overestimation of chances, underestimation of risks just gets encouraged.


Maybe you're wondering why that's even a problem, since things are after all going well? See the quote up top. While I'm strangely optimistic in the moment I am aware of Monster's issues being quite real when I'm not in the moment (and usually about .0001 seconds into the moment as well). He is insecure around strangers, he does use aggression to get distance from triggers when he's restrained, and I don't have sufficient control over him to safely have him off leash around strong distractions - he's barely even trained at all around distractions, after all. So I'm taking risks I shouldn't. And I do it anyway. Admitting you have a problem may be the first step towards solving the problem, but it's not a very big step, is it?

I think you're exaggerating these so called "risks". And MonsterGran's with me on this!

I've been meaning to film a walk we take daily, a short one around half an hour, along a fairly deserted road (from the cottage where we're staying to my parent's house) - I realize it's about as boring a film as anyone (other than me) could ever see, but hey, my blog remember? I want to see/show how well he listens to me off leash, how far he ranges from me, how well he responds to recall and other commands, and, perhaps most of all, how well I pay attention to him and encourage good behavior (like checking in). Today I did, and of course it turned out not very typical at all! For one thing Monster was quite bad at keeping the "by me" command (a very loose "heel", where he just needs to keep kinda, sorta by my side), something I've been very happy with so far. But today, nope, wouldn't stay by me for more than a couple of seconds at a time... Maybe that's just because I had to make a more objective evaluation of his behavior, now that I have video evidence? But I don't think so, Monster has truly been performing "by me" in an exemplary way up here, I've been using it a lot (instead of leashing him around blind corners or cross roads, where I usually would) and I've been paying close attention to his performance. On this point I think we were simply having a bad day... Or!? Idea... Perhaps I wasn't communicating with him as well as usual, with my attention (at least partially) on the camera all the time? Was he simply responding to/mirroring my distraction?

I can't see you!

Another thing I reacted to was how much I used corrections with him, and this may genuinely be something I'm guilty of and didn't know before I found a new way of observing myself... Or, possibly it's another effect of being unfocused, defaulting back to old behaviors? Maybe a bit of both. Something to pay more attention to, in any case. (The corrections I'm talking about are simply verbal corrections, lowering my pitch slightly if he doesn't listen or breaks position, sharpen a command to stay if he doesn't stop right away, that sort of thing. From what I can tell it didn't have much of an effect but they were automatic and not something I was doing deliberately. At no point did I use anything stronger than verbal corrections, but I did natter on with those quite a lot...)

I tell you to: STOP! that nonsense...

I also meant to show/see how often I missed Monster seeking contact with me, by a glance or simply by angling his ears back to check for me (he spends most of the time ranging ahead). I mean to encourage all such contact, but I think I miss a lot of it. But today there were few glances (and I think I caught most of them - although I was quite late on many of them), and he kept his ears trained on me more or less nonstop! Perhaps this also was due to the activity of filming him changing my general behavior?

Hellooooo? Anybody home?!

On top of this, we wound up with a couple of surprises along the way. First it turned out there were people picking berries beside the road, Monster was behaving a little "off", showing me he was picking up on something, but I didn't figure out what it was until we came across their ATV parked on the side of the road. Monster didn't leave the road and seek them out, which is of course great - I've wondered if he'd be confrontational if we'd come across pickers ("gatherers"?), especially in areas we visit every day where he can be expected to feel slightly more at home, since there are quite a few of them to be found in the area at this time of year (I've been picking mountains of chanterelles myself, yum!), so I'm happy to see he stayed with me. Maybe he didn't notice them? No, I think he certainly did, as I knew he was reacting to something before I spotted the ATV.

There's something going on over there...

And immediately after we'd inspected the ATV (I let Monster walk up to it and take a look, as all changes and new things are a problem for him) we met a woman walking a dog coming toward us. I don't know if Monster noticed them, I'm fairly sure he didn't (I haven't watched that far on the video yet, maybe I can tell from that), but by then he was on leash already - I leashed him when we spotted the ATV - and he turned immediately when I told him we were going back. We headed off road slightly and let the woman and dog pass by, by then I know he at least saw her (we also called out a greeting to each other) but I don't think he could see the dog over the tall ferns. Either way he handled it very well, calmly curious more than anything else, although he was a bit eager to sniff their trail as we moved up on the road again.

We should be walking in the other direction if we're to catch up with them...

So not our regular walk after all. But probably not an interesting show for anyone (else), I do realize that! Still, that wouldn't keep me from posting it... But it turns out to be completely impossible, since it would take about a day - or more - to upload it, and would use up a lot more than the monthly GB allotment this Internet connection allows! So, you will tragically have to wait for this riveting watch until we return to civilization.

Poor you! I'm so photogenic!

And on that note, it's time to leave you. (Apparently the cows have gone through the fence again. How fun.) A final word of wisdom: enjoy your Internet connections - you don't know how good you have it...

The cows? They're loose!? I'm staying right here until you've fenced them in again...

(Disclaimer: this is a fairly long text - sorry about that - and I haven't the time to read through it for mistakes or off topic - hah! - so it's quite possibly even more unreadable than usual. And there aren't even any new Monster pics to sweeten things up, thanks to the dearth of Internet here. But, you know, the cows are loose, deal with it.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Err... Hello...

So. Let's just say I've had some sort of miniature nervous breakdown, specifically related to spending time on the computer, and it's in no way my fault. OK?


Yeah, didn't think so... How about this: sorry. I'll try to do better!


Fine, OK, I won't be doing better right now exactly... But I'm thinking about it! And it's the thought that counts after all.


All right, all right! Here's the thing: the nervous breakdown isn't exactly wrong really, although obviously exaggerated... I've really been struggling with some sort of strong aversion to sitting down by the computer, presumably from having spent so much time here when I was stuck in a cast. That's not an excuse though, I should do better even if I don't feel like it. And the part about being sorry really is true! Also, a while back my sister asked me to dig them a garden pond while they went away on holiday. They life on stiff clay soil, making it quite hard work to dig there. So I spent all day every day at their place digging, until they got back home. At which point they all stood around and stared and asked me incredulously why I made it so big!? (It was smaller than the outline they'd given me before they left, due to some irrigation pipes and the like I had to work around... I was rather annoyed.) And after that the pile of dirt had to be removed as well, which even with help took quite some time. We did fill it with water a couple of days ago though, so now it's finally finished - well, my part of the work is anyway. They still need to finish the edges with whatever they decide, but I'm finally free of it anyway. Unfortunately now they're apparently using it as a swimming pool and don't want to put the fish and plants in... They already have a swimming pool, it's larger (5x12 meters) than the new pond (~5x7 meters), and while the pond may be slightly deeper in some places (the pool is 1,6 meters deep, and on average the pond is probably slightly shallower since there are shelves for the plants) I can't really see why the pond should be better. I think they're just doing it to annoy me... Ah, who cares. The pond is dug, my entire body still aches (oh, back! oh, my feet! oh, my hands!) but at least I'm finished with it. Now, though, I'm leaving.

Wait, whaaaat?

Yep, time to head up North for a little while. It's very late this year, but I can't really not go and now most chores are done here it's definitely time. This year we won't be away as long though! But same situation as last year, (usable) Internet hasn't really made it out to the sticks where I'm from so you won't be seeing much from us for a little while again. See, isn't it a good thing I've been weaning you off updates on this blog already? I'm so thoughtful!

Never mind her, she's just broken... You get used to it.

While I was digging my sister's pond Monster was hanging out with me. They live a little more isolated than we do, and much of their yard is fenced in (while there are gaps in the fence they don't face anything interesting - like the road - and Monster doesn't wander) so he got to walk around free all day. I liked that (I'm still working on the fence around our garden, but still not finished), and in fact that was the main reason I agreed to do the digging: Monster got some freedom. Unfortunately I wound up far too exhausted from the digging (and the heat!) to be able to make much use of the opportunity for off leash training, but he did enjoy the freedom anyway. He also helped me out a bit:

(I know it's an awful video. But that cannot possibly be news to anyone who's ever watched something I've filmed before - it's simply not one of my talents. At all. In this one I'm also prattling on non stop. Awesome. New ways to get worse rather than better... But I stand by my ultimate point, which is: anything with Monster in it is good, even if I've tried my best to ruin it.)

There, that's all the Monster you're getting for a while. Sorry. I'll shape up! (Eventually...)