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August 12, 2011

Remember my rant about the viral “guilty dog” video? Well, I promised then to try and teach Lilly to look “guilty” without feeling bad about it, including a wiggly-wag, dropping her ears, squinting, and curling her lips.

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On the charges of failing to teach promised "tricks," we're guilty, guilty, guilty. I could not teach Lilly to look 'guilty' on cue.

We got somewhere early on with wagging and stopping on cue, but it wasn’t a wiggle-wag … just a regular thump, thump, thump. And, I found it hard to put “stop wagging” on cue.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve failed so far for two reasons:

  1. These behaviors are hard to capture in regular life.
  2. For Lilly (at least), they are tied to emotion … so it’s hard to get them without trying to influence her emotional state (not for the better).

When I tweeted my plan, early on, a few folks who are more familiar with Turid Rugaas’s work warned me against turning any canine body language or calming signals thing into a “trick.”

I found that interesting because another book from which we drew some fearful dog advice (Click to Calm) specifically recommended teaching dogs to:

  • Look away
  • Look down
  • Lick their lips

Lilly picked up those three things easily, but we’re finding the rest of these behaviors much harder to teach.

My original plan to video tape what we have so far on these tasks failed. You see, the only time I had time to try last week, Tom and a neighbor were both using chainsaws to cut up firewood for winter.

In other words, it was @#$#@ noisy around here. So, the only thing I learned was that you simply CANNOT ask a sound-sensitive dog to work amid that much noise.

I try hard not to be a quitter, but I think I’m quitting on this task. I just don’t have the shaping skills to pull it off. Anyone else want to give it a try?






About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Thanks for exploring this tricky subject.

    My sense is that one of the most useful applications for putting calming signals on cue is as Rugaas suggests, which is to help dogs who have poor communication skills learn to communicate with each other.

    Does it depend on which calming signal you use? For example, I can imagine it being more problematic to put a guilty look on cue than to put a play bow.

    Thanks again for the great post! I love reading people’s explorations of these “controversial” topics within positive dog training.

  2. Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) teaches a dog, under threshold, to use calming signals rather than aggressive or confrontational behaviors when faced with something they don’t necessarily like. This is one example of teaching calming signals when it would benefit everyone. But it’s also a LOT of work!

    When we put barking on cue, it does override the dog’s casual use of the behavior. But that doesn’t stop the dog from using that behavior when they feel they are threatened.

    I’m of the opinion that if you treat this as a “trick” and don’t follow through with the stimulus control and fluency of the behavior, it shouldn’t override the dog’s natural tendency to display it.

    Additionally, unless the dog is given an alternate behavior, they may still default to the “guilty” look when faced with a situation that calls for it. You can put a behavior on cue and train it for stimulus control, but unless there is an alternative it’s hard not to fall back on natural behaviors.

    Like others have said, you’d have to use the stressful situations with your training in order to teach her NOT to use the guilty look. Which sounds like something you’re not about to do ;0)

    1. I wish, wish, wish I’d known about BAT when Lilly was young. We tried it a year or so ago during a private dog training lesson, but because we’d done so much other conditioning work with her over the years, we had a hard time getting the behaviors we wanted.

  3. My thought is not to try and capture it when he is doing it naturally. That would be very mean, indeed. I am not aiming for the exact behaviours, but something close. It is an excercise in shaping, and this kind of fine tuned shaping is right up my alley.

    He is a sensitive soul, and he tells me quite clearly when he is uncomfortable. But the fact is that shaping is something he thinks is extraordinary fun, so hopefully it will be like any other trick with that feeling attached.

  4. Why would you want to put a natural calming signal on cue as a trick. The “guilty look” from a dog is a signal to another dog or person to calm down or change their behaviour.

    For example, owner has come in and noticed the slippers have been chewed and the dog has the “guilty look”. The dog has read the owners body language and can see they are showing anger and so the dog offers the calming signal to say calm down.

    By trying to put the signal on cue as a trick, this may stop the dog showing the signal in a natural way when needed too in normal life, due to it being put on cue. It is more of a natural instinct, a bit like a human having something thrown at you, your gonna duck or turn away, its instinct.

    This is my opinion though.

    All the best, Jason

  5. I agree that the negative emotion likely needs to cause the behavior which you want captured, so quitting in this case is for Lilly’s benefit.

    Also such a state itself isn’t really the best learning platform. I’ll keep observing and thinking whether there are other situations when these behaviors could happen, but nothing comes to mind so far.

  6. A friend of mine told of a Border Collie that knew how to dull his gaze on cue, because of the “eye” that some BC’s have that can annoy other dogs. Don’t know the dog myself so don’t know what went into training him to do it, but a useful trick.

    I got Bajnok to close his mouth after one session, and I love picky work with a clicker. Perhaps I’ll try. I won’t put a deadline on it, though (perhaps not a good idea, considering me). It is a wiggly-wag, dropping ears (as in laying them backwards or laying them out to the side), squinting and curling the lips. This will take a while.

    1. That is a very cool cue, Julie. We’ve done some blinky-face work, where I can get Lilly to relax her face some … but I’m not sure I could get her to turn off her “eye” when she has really locked on to something.

  7. I would love to give it a shot but this is an incredibly tough one! We’ve worked on the wag on cue trick with limited success. The problem is, she wags pretty much 100% of the time. If I look at her, she wags, if I talk to her, she wags, if I hold food in one hand and a clicker in the other, she wags until she falls over! I am never sure she understands was she is being rewarded for. But I will make a more conscious effort. If I can get her to stop waging on cue, maybe we’ll try the rest of the trick.

    That’s interesting they advise not to label these behaviours and make it a fun trick. My trainer has never said that and I know she is a big fan of Rugaas. Is it because putting it on cue prevents the dog from offering the behaviour naturally as a calming signal? I’ll have to research that.

    1. Kristine, see yawning dog’s comment. I believe that’s the concern … if you put these on cue, then the dogs might not offer it naturally. Think of it as having something on “stimulus control,” if you know that term.

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