Lab afraid to walk through tight spaces

Discussion in 'Labrador Training' started by iconic1, Nov 27, 2018.

  1. iconic1

    iconic1 Registered Users

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    Long story. Sorry.

    Daughter got an 18 mo girl rehome/rescue. Her name is Lucy and she’s just the sweetest good girl. Our issue started when we tried to get her to go down the basement steps - she wouldn’t. We get her to put her two front legs on the first step but her back legs NEVER leave the landing. No how, no way, no amount of treats will work. So, we originally thought she had a fear of steps until...she raced up and down our main steps, no problem. No fear at all. Up and down, stop in middle and turn around and even sit on them.

    Difference between the types of steps? The basement steps have walls on each side at the door at the top of the steps. The main steps are open on one side with railing. Our daughter’s house has a garage entry into her basement so she can walk Lucy into her basement easily. Lucy will go up the same steps and through the door if it is open only. If door is closed she will stop on the steps where the walls start on either side (bottom of steps are open with railing each side) then she will stop, turn around, and retreat down.

    Today Lucy was crying, wanting to come to me from one room to another through a doorway. She had come through it many times but this time she sat and cried. My wife pointed out that Lucy didn’t like that there was a cardboard box sitting to the side of the doorway - it made for a tighter fit (still way more space than needed for Lucy to walk through). Sure enough when we moved the box she trotted through happily. Discussing this situation with my daughter, she said she had similar happen to her this weekend when Lucy retreated and ran from walking through a path between some items in her basement - when she moved things aside Lucy was fine.

    So it seems Lucy has a fear of places or pathways where she feels squeezed. She loves her crate (with cover!) and will walk down normal hallways no problem. Our first thought was to put her food bowl at the bottom of the steps and leave it there till she gets good and hungry. Daughter doesn’t have the heart to do this lol.

    Any help? Being able to traverse these steps is very important. Thank you!!!
     
  2. Michael A Brooks

    Michael A Brooks Registered Users

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    Hi @iconic1

    I would go to the supermarket and get 2 large cardboard boxes.

    Locate the boxes apart the width of a hallway she is comfortable with. Traverse the gap bewteen the two boxes. Yes and treat. Rinse and repea a couple of times.

    Move one box closer. Traverse through the gap. Yes and treat if successful. Use higher and higher treats as the gap gets less and less.

    Gradually over many repetitions move one box closer towards the other. Don't rush it. And don't make it too narrow.

    Now go and get two more boxes so that she has to walk through a longer gap. You may need to make the gap wider inititally. Gradually reduce the width of the longer gap.

    Never pull her through the gap. Be calm and supportive. It might take quite a few sessions. Or it may be quick. Use your evaluation of her body language.

    Once she is comfortable with walking through the relatively narrow gap onpar with the width of the staircase at issue, try the steps. Let us know whether this works.

    Alternatively, if she has a friendly dog she plays with, who will walk the staircase see if mimicry might overcome the problem.
     
  3. iconic1

    iconic1 Registered Users

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    This is a good plan, thanks. Last evening we discussed trying something very similar and will be trying it today.

    Lucy stays with us during the day and we have a 3 yo yellow boy who tries to show her the ropes. He entices her to come down the basement steps - in fact we all go down the stairs to the bottom, sit halfway with treats and toys, etc, but so far all she will do is put her front paws on the first step. She whines, wags her tail, and seemingly wanting to come down but doesn’t. When she eventually starts pacing and panting the game stops for the time being.
     
  4. Michael A Brooks

    Michael A Brooks Registered Users

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    Hi @iconic1

    Good attempt with the other dog. I guess she did not get into high drive, in which she might have overlooked issues of width.

    The fact that dogs don't generalise well will work against you and my suggested plan. If she gets used to the cardboard, then you may need to line the staircase with cardboard so that the presentation is similar.

    Good luck.
     
  5. iconic1

    iconic1 Registered Users

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    Thanks again. So is putting her food bowl at the bottom of the steps, with idea she’s a lab and will eventually get hungry enough, a bad idea?
     
  6. Jo Laurens

    Jo Laurens Registered Users

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    Yes, it is forcing a dog to override their fear of something in order not to starve. That is never a good plan, in fact it's a pretty cruel one - so please don't do it! Force (whether due to fear of impending starvation or physical!) is never a good plan and is not going to lead to the dog feeling more confident. It's why we also don't recommend that fearful dogs are fed treats by the people they are fearful of... and why that never results in them feeling less fearful - because they are put in a position of conflict over wanting the treat versus being scared of the person.

    You might want to take a look at this video of Chirag Patel, shaping a dog to go downstairs:

     
  7. iconic1

    iconic1 Registered Users

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    Thanks for your response and the video. What specfic action is the click on? Head movement forward?
     
  8. Michael A Brooks

    Michael A Brooks Registered Users

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    Agree with Jo's general position. As dog trainers we should implement solutions that reduce the level of anxiety, and postively reinforce desirable behaviour. I think the LIMA principle is a good srarting point for dog training.

    As I understand your account you have already tried putting food at the end of the staircase. Starving the dog in order to perhaps achieve an impact is not an ethical approach.

    I don't know whether the cardboard boxes will work. But I would definitely try them. You indicate she is fearful of tight spaces. The box idea was motivated to desensitise her to tight spaces, and thereby tranfer it to the tight staircase. The desensitisation will reduce her level of anxiety..

    By all means you can try shaping.as demonstrated in the video. The dog trainer writes that the lead should never become taut. The dog is making the choice whether she will approach the first step. And whether she will approach the next, and so on. Note too, although it's especially clear from the video, the dog trainer is rewarding the dog for making movements not using the food to lure the dog down the steps.

    So all the methods here share the idea of building the dog's confidence by letting the dog choose how and when she approaches the trigger. The debate, if there is any, is how do we do that..
     
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  9. Jo Laurens

    Jo Laurens Registered Users

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    The click is marking any behaviour in the direction of going down the stairs. A click should always be followed by the treat, but the treat is not delivered in such a way to lure the dog...
     
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  10. iconic1

    iconic1 Registered Users

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    Update... boxes all over the house in many configurations and Lucy has showed no hesitation going by or through them. We may have a false flag with them. Will keep a watch out.

    We are trying the click/treat at the steps and no real progress so far. When I do it she actually regresses and is very hesitant to come to me voluntarily at the top of the steps at all and if she does move forward, the audible click (from me) seems to scare her more. Just to be clear, I’ve never, ever tried to pull her or force this, or any other behavior, but we have seen some slight, passing distrust of men generally. When my wife works with her she does much better than I do but no better than previously, two paws on first step but NO WAY are her back paws leaving the safety of the main floor! Wife will keep at it.

    Thanks
     
  11. Michael A Brooks

    Michael A Brooks Registered Users

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    Hi @iconic1

    You can try a different make of clicker or put the current one in a sock to quieten it down.

    The other alternative is to use a marker word, Yes. It's used in an identical fashion to a clicker.

    I don't think there is sufficient evidence to say the dog is afraid of males. Most females naturally have higher voices, which dogs find to be arousing/comforting. It is for that reason, and others, that most of the best trainers are females. And it means that the tone of your voice is something worth taking into account when you train your dog. Do you sound exciting?

    If she never showed any hestitancy at all to the boxes even when there was a narrow gap, then I'm afraid that I've given you a false suggestion. Sorry.

    Since your wife is having more success, let her know that she might mark (click or yes) if the dog's hind paws move in the direction of the steps. Shaping is a balancing act. If you keep treating for two paws on the step, then that is all you will get. You need to slightly raise the criterion. Two paws on the front. Wait, no marker. See if she moves any hind paw in the desired direction. Mark and treat. If you fail to reward the front paws being on the step, then you will reduce the likelihood of that behaviour. Accordingly it's a balancing act of requiring more and occasionally having to backtrack to reward what you have already won

    Shaping is very tiringon the dog so make exercises short.

    It will also make you better trainers.

    What rewards are you using? Try sardines, fish, something she normally doesn't receive. Taxing behaviour requires special treats.
     
  12. Jo Laurens

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    Have you done any other clicker training? If not, you run the risk of the association going the other way - her fear of the stairs being associated with the noise of the clicker and her deciding the clicker is also scary.

    You first need to do some clicker training in a safe and familiar environment so she understands what the clicker is and how it works as a marker. Look up Kikopup on YouTube for basic training videos and ideas.

    Only use the clicker with the stairs once she is fine with it training other behaviours.

    Secondly when you do use the clicker, be sure you are not trying to lure her further towards the stairs when you deliver the treat. You always deliver the treat AWAY from the stairs, so she gets to return to 'safety' to eat the treat.

    It is important to forget about your end goal, here, or you will run the risk of going too fast and putting too much pressure on her to do the stairs. Just think about hanging out at the top of the stairs and having fun clicking her for looking or a foot moving or anything whatsoever towards the stairs....

    You need to convey to her that she is in control - because control breeds confidence and safety. That is why we don't want to put pressure on her or force her in any way. If she learns that this game is about 'using' the stairs to generate clicks from you, and she is in control of generating those clicks, then you will see her confidence soar...

    Think about this being a completely neutral game like shaping a dog to stand in a box, or shaping a dog to pivot around a disc or anything else - only you are using stairs.
     
  13. Keithmac

    Keithmac Registered Users

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    Have you considered she may have been locked in the basement during her former life?, maybe it's not the steps/stairs but the basement itself?.

    Just a thought with her being a rehomed dog.

    I know if our Lab decides she's not happy it's not happening full stop!.
     

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