Friday, December 31, 2010

Biking with Dogs

It was a tropical 50* today. And with our inch of snow melting, everything was very, very muddy.

I took Blaze and Luna to go biking, one at a time. The bikejor tugline was nowhere to be found (maybe in the still-being-repaired-new-used-van-that-I-haven't-seen-in-months?). We took Blaze for about 10 minutes of trotting next to the bike, and Luna for twenty.

When Blaze was younger I wished I could exercise him by bike but it just wasn't safe. Now that he's a senior and has had way more training he's not likely to bolt off and I can keep up with him quite well. But he was wanting to go faster!

Luna was great and very happy. Her tail was up the whole time as she trotted along. When we would see approaching people, I would get off and prop the bike on a tree while feeding Luna for attention, calm, and looking at the other dogs.

She's so happy. And I was definitely not taking a video while riding a bike while holding a leashed dog. That would be dangerous. You do not hear long clicky nails. You do not see her oily neck where she spilled fish oil on herself. I did wear a helmet.

Tomorrow Griffin and I will be visiting an agility trial.

Blaze had three seizures this week. If there's another one, we'll be going to the vet for meds. Once in his crate at nice, once in the car, and once while training in the house. Now I know...that if he has an object and has a seizure...he still won't let go. It wasn't until about twenty minutes later that he finally dropped the sock.

Setting Appropriate Goals

Dog training is very simple. Reinforce behaviors you like. They happen more often. Manage so that inappropriate responses cannot appear or are not likely to appear. Dog training is also very complex: rate of reinforcement, placement of reinforcement, make a training plan, choose the best training plan, types of reinforcers, how to increase criteria.

Goal setting is very simple. Write down something...and work towards it. Goal setting can also be really difficult. Is it realistic? Is it better to go big picture or little pieces? If you take a big picture, how small to you make the pieces? How do you work towards the goal without compromising long-term structural integrity of behaviors?

How do you even decide on goals? There's a lot of options that sound fabulous. They all sound great. I'm not really attached to any particular potential goals.

Obedience? Agility? Tracking? Field stuff? Scootering? Flyball? Or traveling and adventuring? Or concept training? Do we get a big shelter training program going? Expand our kid-dog projects? Too many seminars? Read as many dog books as I can? Do a million tricks? It all sounds good, but we can't do it all.

About fourth months ago, I asked Google about how to set goals. And it made it sound simple, but I still had trouble. I read multiple books about goal setting and achieving. And now I'm having even more trouble setting goals! Especially without that first decisive piece... it's quite a struggle!

I was definitely not reinforced for having the goal of going to the New Years trial, entering, and pulling at the last minute. It was a punishing experience! Now I need to set myself up for success!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Timing Challenge

We did more contact training yesterday. I intended to do distraction training with dogwalk, but he was flying off the end. There are a handful of causes:

1) He really really really doesn't know it.
2) We were using a toy and the last MANY sessions were using food.
3) He was sitting in the car for a really long time before training
4) It was the first thing we worked on.

And really 2-4 show that he doesn't get it. But they are also variables we haven't incorporated into the training yet.

We did Aframe with distractions and later went back to just reinforcing dogwalk.

I put my camera on a different setting than earlier in the week and tried placing it at a few different angles.

Here's a video from the side. Can you click as he's going down and his back feet are apart, landing separately, NOT landing together?

The first part repeats a few times and then the clips are all played at half and quarter speed. It seemed really hard yesterday but a lot easier now!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dogwalk Training: Running Contacts

It's probably been at least two months since we've done a training session on dogwalks. Griffin had a few reps at agility class (and missed every time). And during a private last month (was good, one was a jump). But no 'real' training.

Monday night we did one session and yesterday we did two. I took my camera but it was a little deceptive. I had it on the HD setting, thinking that was the best, but it's not handling the motion so well. I'll try a different setting today.

Last night we had help, and someone else was clicking for me. And I admit that most of the time I was watching his feet instead of running forward 100%. And I usually saw a good touch. But our clicker-er did not.

Who was right? I'm not so sure. And we didn't even have the camera to reliably back us up. Once we saw that I was plainly wrong, I was sure of a touch but the camera said no.

So... please take your camera to training. And remember to charge the batteries first. I've been trying to prompt my students, esp in advanced agility, to bring a camera to class. One of them is reliably doing so, the others not so much.

Griffin fell off the dogwalk, he didn't take a jump before it and then had a bad entry, he caught himself on the up ramp but then across the top he just couldn't balance and he jumped. But the landing was good and he was right back to work. I hesitated between putting him right back up and waiting a few weeks before trying it again, but did go right back to it. On future reps he was a bit more cautious, but still running. Until he got tired. We'll do less of it today.

The day after Christmas we saw a pair of coyotes in the field where I play with Griffin. They were probably bigger than him! Now I'm going to be worried about him going off to explore the scents.

I really need to learn to use my camera!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cleaning: Mud and Dogs

It's been unusually cold for the past few weeks, around 20* (yes...everyone in the Great White North is laughing...). Later this week it's going to get warmer than usual and be around 50 with a ton of rain. But I'm prepared!

Grooming: Dogs who are clean to start with and free of loose hair will bring in less mud and dirt and snow. It's also easier to do a quick bath. Everyone will be getting a bath over the next two days, it's been months and is long overdue.

Drying area: When I bring in muddy dogs, they go right to their crates. After about an hour of sitting on towels, they're almost dry and there's loose mud/dirt in the bottom of the crate that can be vacuumed out.

Quick Rinse: If the dogs are dripping mud, I'll take out jugs of water and give them a quick rinse and then a towel dry before going into the house. This helps the drying-area part go faster and I'm sure the dogs are more comfortable.

A Good Mop: Actually, a good mop bucket is more important. When I worked at the boarding kennel I spent a huge part of my time mopping. Mopping up where dogs had eliminated, mopping up mud, and just extra mopping to get everything clean. I was really good at it. I thought that if I had a good mop bucket at home I would mop more often there too. And it would be easy to do that tiny room several times a day. Yeah right..... But I did get the same mop bucket for home use and I do mop a few times per week. And I always say I'll do it more often. I've had mine for about three years and it's in great shape, doesn't look faded, the plastic isn't stressed. They lasted forever at the boarding kennel even with full time use. And it's only $10! Super easy to use.

Limiting Access to Mud:
If it's really wet out, I'll keep the dogs to dryer areas, walk on the road, walk on the gravel areas near the barn, or go in town. We just don't deal with the mud. Luna has a ton of hair, but the others really don't, though it's still more than I want to deal with. Three is a lot. Sometimes if Griffin really needs a run, I'll let him go for an off leash walk and then give a bath afterwards. But I do keep the dogs out of the fenced yard, this preserves the grass and the better it is, the more days per year we can use it. I love my grass.

I'm prepared for the rain and mud. Anyone else?

In the morning: A timing challenge, Griffin's dogwalk mishap, and coyotes!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Training Two Dogs at Once, Part II

A continuation from earlier today, we've done a bit more with the bell ringing.

One factor I didn't mention, but definitely considered, is the social pressure in the behavior. It's harder for a dog to come right up to another to ring the bell than to ring it when held by a person. It's a bit invasive to be going that close to another dog in this context, and there's a bit of 'respecting' the 'resource' that the dog has.

Blaze has a much stronger target but was still reluctant to touch it when Griffin held the target/bell. This shows me that the behavior isn't quite as strong as I expected and that even as lacking in social skills as he is, Blaze was still hesitant about going that close to Griffin.

I pulled out my trusty Animal Training book to re-read the section on group training and see what Ken Ramirez had to say about it.

- Avoid group training when you can. Have one trainer per animal.
- Non working animals can be stationing/training with their handler.
- If one person is working multiples, those behaviors really should be fluent first before working in the group.
- Be careful about reinforcement. If you have a pushy animal, maybe reinforce him first and further away so that the others don't loose their reinforcement.

On my list for ages and that I've been working on, is a good stationing behavior so that when I'm training dogs in the house at home (necessary when it's COLD out!), the non working animals are not getting agitated or making noise. We've been at the early stages with probably only about ten sessions on it over the last year, but I can ask one dog to do a few behaviors while the other is working. It also makes me realize that I need to develop more markers (visual, tactile) and work on creating more secondary reinforcers.

A slight tangent, I came across the article "Pup Psych 101: Secondary Reinforcement in Agility" article by Dara Tarolli in Nov 2010 CleanRun. While the article talks about secondary appears that it's actually more about markers (which are a type of secondary reinforcer, but not all secondary reinforcers are markers!). Markers definitely are very helpful, but secondary reinforcers can be too. I went to Ken Ramirez's Learning Lab session on this at the last Expo and was helping out. But I want to know more! Anyone else read this article and want to comment?

Training Two Dogs at Once

I thought it would be cute to get the dogs to do some tricks together. Back when Blaze was an only dog, I desperately wanted another dog to train so that he could have breaks, but also so that we could do tricks with two dogs. I had a trick book as one of my first dog books ever, and there was a whole chapter on multiple-dog tricks that I just wasn't able to use!

And somehow that never happened even with dog 2 and dog 3. Luna learned to jump over Blaze but that was about the extent of it.

So last week I decided it would be adorable and festive to teach Griffin to hold a bell and to have Luna ring it. He knows how to hold things. She knows how to target. How hard would it be? A five minute training project at most.

So, Griffin had a session of bell holding. Easy.

And I had Luna do some targeting. Great. Not fluent, but she was touching it and knew that's how she could access treats. If I had more time I would teach her to push it hard enough for a ring. But hey, five minute trick.

But when I put the parts together, her touching was ultimately the weak piece.

Some of my training friends are very strict about marker= treat. And I am to...for the working dog. But you can see when Luna was working and Griffin was present, I fed him too. I couldn't not! And you can see from his expression, he was expecting a reinforcer. What would happen to his click-treat association if I hadn't fed him?

And I used the click for the marker when both dogs were working as well as their separate may have been more efficient to use one marker for together, and each dog to have his-her own separate marker. Then I wouldn't have to feed Griffin for Luna's clicks.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Introducing a Visiting Dog to the Household

My Grandma came for Christmas and brought her westie. And the dogs were surprisingly peaceful. He is used to playing with other dogs when he is boarded (...fairly regularly as grandma travels a ton!), but is very much an adult, probably around 7-8 years old.

Blaze (10) has probably met Oscar before, but never been loose with him. Luna got to visit Oscar the weekend after we adopted her. They were SO cute playing together! She was his size! Griffin has met, but not interacted, with Oscar.

When my Grandma arrived, all of my dogs were in the yard. After Grandma and Oscar were settled (he is tethered to a table....he knocks all gates down!).

Griffin came in first and I immediately gave him a stuffed kong and directed him to a big dog bed. After about 10-15 minutes I restuffed his kong, had Griffin supervised, and brought Blaze in. He went right to his bed with his chew item. And after 10 minutes, I went to get Luna.

She had a scuffle with Oscar last time when he was over, she had rolled a toy to his bed and then said "WHY DID YOU STEAL MY TOY!" I brought her in last after the others were settled, thinking that if they were good, she would at least not disturb the peace. If she didn't do well, she could spend the weekend crated or gated separate from Oscar.

Griffin in the front, Oscar, and then Luna is in the crate in the back.

So this time, she was well exercised and went in a crate located so that she could see Oscar but wouldn't feel threatened by him. And she had her kong in there. When I redistributed toys after about 15 min, I let her out, but led her to a bed.

And everyone was peaceful. They all had moments of "hi, who are you?" and I called my dogs away after 2 seconds. They're much larger and a paw swipe could be dangerous.

Oscar was offered food toys too, and joined in for a while, but he just didn't think it was as much fun as my dogs did!

The biggest problem was when Blaze tried to curl up on Oscars you can see from the picture, it's barely westie-sized. And while Blaze is a smallish wasn't the right size and it distressed my Grandma a little!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Obedience and Agility Pieces

After last night at obedience class, I have a list of skills we are lacking in, but that also made me pull out the list of all the obedience skills we need to work on and we ran through some of those this afternoon.

- Go Outs: Still at using the foot target stage. I'll need to work on getting speed up. If he runs, he does well, understandably, and if he's moving slower, he's less likely to make it. The sit part is beautiful. Today we did a number of reps and then hid the foot target under a mat. He wanted to scratch rather than sit on it, but the second time was great and we probably could have taken it away. He went out about 30'!

- Retrieve: We did a few on the flat. Beautiful pick ups. Nice movement back. Sit was slightly off.

- Directed Retrieve: We probably haven't work on this since late last winter. So on rep 2, we went to one 15' to my right and one 15' to my left, dog facing me, and I sent him. We changed the angle ( objects more behind me) and then I was in heel and sent him. We should do this with foot targets rather than retrieve objects for a while to get more proficiency.

- Stand: We tried to get a better hop and stick in place, clicking when his front feet hit the ground. And theoretically extending the time. Handler still other than re-sets. And hopefully my motion can be added back in

- Exam part...: Very good. He looked completely still for almost all the repetitions. The 2-3 times he moved, it was towards me/away from the person.

And then we went and worked on some agility skills. He's adorable. He is surprisingly proficient on so many skills, I just don't always remember how much help or not he needs. It's interesting to see where he is fluent and where he isn't, he wasn't able to perform a few skills at a distance, but another whole set of cues he was able to respond to with a completely new handler who hadn't ever done agility. Given the right cues, he performed how he should. It's fun that he is so comfortable working with other people.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Griffin's Night at Competition Obedience Class

In the afternoon we had training group, and per the new plan, let him in the back yard for 2 minutes (he rolled around and lifted his leg on a few spots). And then back inside. He ran off to the door only once and that was when his ball went over there.

We did some agility and some obedience, he was pretty good though the flyball has started a few habits that we might need to change. He's powering down any line of jumps towards a tunnel without responding to my cues. But in other set ups he's doing well and even then we can fake it with exaggerated cues.

And then we drove half an hour north to our first competition obedience class! It was somewhat like run throughs, there were a few group parts where the instructor would call out what to be doing, and then we did some individual work and then group stays.

Initially: Poor focus, checking out things on the floor. I'd pause and wait for him to respond and reinforce. This got better the longer we were in class.
Set ups: Needed more help than he should have. I shouldn't have had to help him at all. If we heeled underneath ornaments hanging from the ceiling he would think vertical thoughts. It was pretty silly.
About Turns: He had trouble if he saw something else going on but was otherwise tight.
Fig 8: Wider than he is on straight lines, but still very reasonable. I think we will tighten this up
Stand for Exam: His 'judge' walked past him 3 times, no movement, one with a pause next to him. No movement but a few tail wags. Second turn, he did a little figiting on approach but if I left him, he would stay still while she walked past. Next 3 reps were good.
Recall: First one was about 10 feet, dropped leash. Very good. Second one was leash off and 20ish feet. Slightly crooked front. But very slight.
Dumbbell: I had someone hold his leash, I dropped the dumbbell about 10' away and then went 10' past. I called, he picked it up and came to me. We repeated 3 times, his speed improved. We've done harder variations at training group, but I wasn't about to push him too much in this class.
Retrieve over jump: I wasn't going to try it though he probably would have. I had him hold while I went to the other side and called. First one he was holding it POORLY...but did not figit! and somehow made it over the jump and to front. The next two tries he went around, so I did it without the dummbell and he HURRIED to me!
Stays: I stayed away from the group, they're way more advanced. I fed as often as needed. Stays need a lot of work. He stayed while people walked past but duration was poor and he got figity.

I hope we're able to somehow go back but I definitely know what our weak places in training are.

Griffin in Beginner Agility Class V: How I was reinforced for going to class

All day I deliberated on going to agility class. Only one night left. Griffin had been bad. I didn't want him practicing more bad behaviors. He had already had good training. It was a long drive. Was it really worth it. I'd have to be taking the long drive up there the next night too. I took my warm clothes to our afternoon training just in case I decided to go. And then I realized I left them at home. And then I found them in the back. And then I was going to go home. And then I was going to ask Megan what to do. But she was at work. And the car ended up deciding to go. So we did and got there just in time.

It was a good choice, only one other dog there. We did a lot of contacts. Griffin was tired. I had used up all my food reinforcers. I had two handfuls of (my!) goldfish crackers. 3/4 cup of kibble. 3tbs of cream cheese. And toys. And cans of food. But no spoon. And I can't use that with gloves. And I didn't have paper towels for that was literally going to be emergency use only.

But we survived. And did very well. Griffin ran off and surprisingly tried to play with the other dog (who wanted to play too but was intimidated!). Dogwalk contacts were lacking. I found out that the color markers are for whatever org has a smaller contact zone, so that's part of the problem, but he was definitely leaping. Aframe was scary good. Every. Single. One. Very low, and springing off from there. We used the frisbee and my toss was so good and my timing was not. I hit him in the head as he bursted away. His teeters were good too. I think he could be a bit faster.

But then after, I talked to one of the instructors about running contacts and we might be trying to get together to help each other. That would be great as it's way easier than with one person. We went from no training opportunities to a lot very quickly. I don't want January to come...I don't know how I'll manage to train my dog between everything else!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rate of Reinforcement

When I will be taking my dog to class, I cut up the amount of treats I will need for a high rate of reinforcement. And then I put in at least half that amount more. My goal is to use all of it. And I can't cheat and give a bunch at once. Or spill it.

Some days it's gone well. On Sunday night, we used 1.5 cans of food and some additional treats. I used 1 can within 15 minutes! Great ROR! But then i got worried I would run out and I slowed down/was more selective. So...we'll have more spares next time.

Some days it seems like I don't use enough, and I evaluate afterwards what I could have done better or if it was adequate treat use.

8th day of training (Practicing works)

It's our 8th* day in a row of training group/classes, with two today and two tomorrow and then nothing until Sunday. And my dog is doing better. Amazing! Practicing works!

Things of note:
Sunday Flyball:
Griffin got to run/work a bit before class. And I probably ran him too much. He did his running-to-the-back-door then, as well as jumping-over-barriers. But he also was too tired to run fast or play with toys during the actual practice. Someone else held him while I helped another dog and Griffin was adorable, offering rolling over and wiggling and at least one fake bark was reinforced. I cheated and stayed in the recall/jump stations the whole time and didn't do any box work.
Monday Advanced Agility:
Only one student came, so Griffin got to come and play. During the parts where I was teaching, he was really wanting to come to me. And when it was his turn to run, he would then want to run to the back door. He would run past dogs and people to get there though!) Apparently he saw me as the way to get to the door? He did a little work but I always kept him running away from the door.
Tuesday Agility:
We had an agility time slot with a few other trainers. I had a plan. And didn't stick to it. Next time I'll write it down. By the last working time Griffin was behaving better. He was very interested in the new person and unusually interested in her dog (a keeshond). I don't think he recognized "dog", he was giving exaggerated wiggles and other signals, just like he does to non-dog animals.
Tuesday Manners: Two dogs in class, one person is a trainer and had her own plan, the other is very advanced. So Griffin came out and for half the class we did CGC type pass bys, Walking closer and closer to a staying dog, running past staying dog, being the staying dog, and walking in circles around a staying dog (as well as being the staying dog). Both dogs were amazing, and trying VERY hard to not look at the other. At times they were actively moving away. It was adorable. Now we just need to repeat this about a hundred more times. We did a TON of this when Griffin was in a puppy and I was teaching at the groom shop. But since then... not so much. The benefits and drawbacks of having real group classes.

And then when it was time to go home last night, Griffin pretty much was asleep as he came out of his crate. He still tried to work, but we could see him blinking and moving like he had just woken up.

Today: Training group and our last agility class in the session, tomorrow a comp obed class (last in that session, they're nice and are letting me drop in!)

*I tried to spell that and it did not work. Eight. So. Eigthth? Doesn't look right.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Training Shelter Dogs: Enrichment and Adoption: Interactive Dogs

Every week I do a shift at a nearby humane society. And I work on getting the dogs to have more behaviors that will help them be adopted and behaviors that make them easier to handle. It's not a high volume facility and we don't have a lot of dogs coming in...but that also means there are a lot of dogs that aren't going out.

My first priority is general behavior that makes the dog adorable and attention seeking. Response to name. Offered eye contact. Offering sits. This results in dogs that try to engage with people and that are going to look potential adopter right in the eye!

So how do we get here?

Offered Attention
Stand in the kennel, right outside the kennel, or in a small play yard with the dog. Click when the dog turns towards you, move towards you, or looks at you. Then pull a treat out of your pocket and toss it to the dog. Repeat until the dog is immediately turning back to you after after eating a treat. And then repeat even more. If you can get someone else to do this, all the better!

Response to Name
As before, you can be in the kennel with the dog, standing outside the kennel or in a play yard. Call the dog. If he looks or turns, click and then pull out a great treat to toss on the floor/bed/bowl. Repeat. Get others to participate. Walk away and come back later for another short session. If the dog is not wanting to turn, do the offered attention exercise before trying response to name again.

Offered Sits
This is fabulous because it's easy. If the dog knows that Sit works, he will keep sitting when he wants things and wants attention. And this gives lots of opportunities to reinforce appropriate behaviors. The initial sits can be taught through capturing (feed a treat when the dog sits on his own), shaping, or luring. Many of the dogs do at least offer a Sit making it a matter of heavily reinforcing the responses you get. We want the dogs to think that Sit is always the right answer.

And this is stuff we do in training class all the time. But it's good for me to practice on a lot of dogs and to see all the responses and look at where there may be handler error and where there are dog differences and how the dog differences impact the results.

More to come... as I'm organizing my shelter training notes and this will help me get that done! Every time I check something off my list, I end up adding five more. Kind of like the training questions yesterday leading to so much more.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cues and Precision

Today's training group discussion?

Precision and cues and discrimination. We talked about so much that it's really hard to think about it all and remember all the details. And instead of coming away with answers, I have more questions and confusion and decisions to make.

A list of today's exciting and questioning moments.

1. How much perfect cue-response is needed in agility? Is it beneficial to have obstacles on complete verbal control? On visual cues only with minimal exaggeration? And even though we don't need that, it has to help with fluency to some extent. And so is it a beneficial exercise, or at least for Griffin?
2. What are handling systems really about? I'm an instructor! I've been an enthusiast for years! But I still can't adequately evaluate or explain agility handling systems. The benefits, yes. Consistent cueing!
3. How do we efficiently teach fine discriminations? Not so fine discriminations? There's a lot of theory and I've made and used a lot of training plans. But I don't know what's really most efficient or what holds the strongest! How important is it if I use two different reinforcers? If we start with the obstacles close together or far away? If we only train one, only the other, and gradually mix up what we're cueing for?
4. If we're sending a dog on a line and something is just off to the side, is the dog really going ahead to the jump and learning about leaving things and jumping, or is he just doing what was reinforced so many times? When is it best to add stimulus control?
5. With stimulus control and a table, do you reinforce as the dog is on the table, jumping for it, or lying down? Do we degrade or loose our down performance if we click the jump? If we wait for the auto (and fast) down, is it less efficient than clicking for the jump?
6. Are Griffin and I suffering from poor recalls? a "poor relationship"? Poor obstacle focus? Poor sequence training? Or poor fluency?! Or poor cuing?!
7. Where does Kay Laurence's -train at home to high levels of fluency and then my dog performs well in trials- piece come in? Why do so many have trouble replicating that?

When I started learning about dog training...there was so much to learn. And now I know a lot. And not as much info is new to me. But all these fine little pieces! It's so hard to know exactly what the options are and what the results are. And no one seems to have certain answers. Every training session and every class and every workshop has me going home with more questions, confusion, and too much training to do. Behavior is so simple and so complicated!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Moving and Staying

Training group yesterday and today! Yesterday we did this rear cross exercise. It didn't go as well as I expected. I'm having a hard time switching from how Blaze responds to cues (which is what I would like from the others!), how Luna responds, and Griffin. We had a lot of people in the room and that was definitely a challenge at times.

The best part was Griffin tugging readily the whole time (not so great that he wouldn't take food). He wasn't looking ahead enough to make rear crosses work well and I was having to put in a lot of effort to get him to even take jumps nearby. He may have been sore from his OFA experience two days before, I'm not entirely sure.

Training group today: Great focus with lots of people and dogs. While doing obedience. Absolutely horrible precision. He did great stand for exams. But he was twitching before or after the exam (NONE during the exam which is AMAZING). He was actively trying to hold still for the touching. But the rest was ridiculous. We had a TON of wrong clicks, at least three different people tried. But he moved so much and we responded so poorly. Eventually just giving up and hoping this was a one day thing and not a long term problem.

Second part of his session was spent looking at differences between his obedience focus (high) and his agility focus (not high). So we alternated between 1 min of obed. 1 min agility. 1 min obed... And it was crazy. As soon as we started agility, and not even real agility, sending to a platform for 2o2o, he went off into space, far away.

He also had trouble switching...I sent him to a table and he stopped before it. Sat. Offered behaviors. Not sure where to go or what to do. That was with a Table cue. After a few reps where he showed no interest in the table other than a brief nose target when nearby. But when I sent him with "Up" he went up and did an auto Down. He has great concept ideas. But not the specifics. He saw the table as something to go "up" on, but NO idea of what Table actually meant. Amazing!

And we spent way too much time talking about handler focus and more attention and my expectations and all of that great stuff. We're doing a Super Ton of Training for a few weeks, both in training groups and alone. And it's not enough time between groups to work on all the little problems. There are so many tiny pieces and big pieces I'd love to work on!

That said, Griffin is the best dog ever. We've been going with someone else. And he says nothing about two completely unknown dogs in the car with him. He's jumping into the building and wanting to play. He's adorable. No video from the last few days. I take my camera but forget to use it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Secondary Reinforcers, Toys, OFA's, Walks Without Food. Agility

Yesterday was a Good Day. And we got a lot more done than I expected.

Play: With a few inches of snow, I safely let the dogs play in the yard for half an hour while I cleaned out the van and even vacuumed it. They had fun digging and running and getting snowballs on their feet. Dog cars are hard to keep clean.

Tracking: We met our new training friend to do some tracking. It was about 15*. Wind chill made it about 0*. We didn't last very long, we both ran one dog on three tracks. Blaze's first: he stopped to go to the bathroom. And couldn't seem to find the track, but kept working. But when he was going through a 6" drift and stopped holding up his feet...I carried him to the car. We did his next two on the snowy gravel and he did much better but was still working WAY slower than usual. I was smart and used more food on the later ones... but I was still surprised at how much it slowed him and how well he kept trying!

Toy Play: Griffin was going to have his OFA xrays done in a few hours and couldn't eat food. So after tracking, in my many layers of clothing, I got out a longline and we played frisbee fetch-tug. And it went really well even with no food! I was able to reinforce recalls, and it was just a lot of fun to be at the park with absolutely no one else there at that point. He was adorable and we REALLY need to do more of this. Our play reinforcement value is greatly growing!

Walks in Town Without Food: We had twenty minutes until our vet appt, so we parked and walked around town. Without food. With two golden retrievers. And it went really well. Even with the cold, we saw quite a few people and walked past them. I wanted to reinforce, but had to go with "great dogs! Let's GO!".

OFA sedation and Secondary Reinforcers: The sedation part is what I was worried about. Once sedated, all is fine, but before then, he could be a flailing scared dog. I tried pinning him to the wall (which he thinks is great, do I want a leg lift with that?). And then using his conditioned secondary of head scratching. We repeated several times, and it definitely was a reinforcer. Then it was time for the real thing...and the vet touching was not okay. Griffin reared up and put his front paws on me. So we did the injection like that. And it worked. Much easier than I thought.

Waiting and walking: Blaze and I had twenty minutes and took some treats and went around town again. I took food and reinforced attention and good walking. And once we were to well-shoveled areas, I took off his Gentle Leader for about ten minutes. He was adorable, prancing along and staring at me. And it was somewhat sad to think that even almost-ten-years-ago as a puppy we spent time walking in the exact same places. In some ways a lot has changed, and in other ways, not so much. still, just walking along, wanting his treats. We went back and picked up Griffin and went home. Griffin wasn't up for agility training that night, so I took Luna.

Luna's agility: She was great! Attentive and focus and never wandered off. She wasn't her fastest, but she seemed happy, what do you think?

Sometimes she's super scared there and sometimes happy. I wasn't sure if tail-up was happy dog or if she needed to poop. But I think she was happy. I have to find a way to get her in class and trialing again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow and OFA's

We went in for Griffin's OFA appointment today. And then found out it was moved to tomorrow so that I can be there. Huge thanks for moving it. Not so much for the not-telling-me part. That also means Griffin can't do training tomorrow morning unless he's eager enough to work for his toy. But we'll do what we can.

So while we're here with our 3" of snow that makes the GreatWhiteNorth laugh... I've doen a lot of cleaning. And it's amazing what I find. Old training plans! Seminar notes from 5-6 years ago! My KPA notes! Activities and lesson plans! Score sheets and course maps!

That's a stack of lesson plans and training notes and trial results. Literally almost 3' high. Probably 70+ notebooks! And I can't bear to get rid of them. If I had all my computer training notes the stack would probably be ten times higher. Luckily (and not) my computers die every 5 years and not a lot survives each time....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Foot Lift, Last Session: Stimulus Control

We started this about seven days ago, and followed the training plan very closely. The biggest change was this session.... I changed the foot lift cue to something other than our general 'pick up your foot' cue, which wasn't really formally trained but has apparently had enough reinforcement for small lifts that he only gave the large lifts after multiple repetitions.

Watching the video, I noticed that Griffin was sliding a lot...we'll bring in our foam tiles for future training!

This went WAY faster than I expected, I thought it would take a lot longer to get duration and the discrimination between foot up and foot on the floor... It could get stronger with more practice, but it's not a behavior we really need to work on.

Hmm... what to do next.....

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flyball Links and Notes

To better prepare for our flyball training class/time, I've been gathering resource information.

It's interesting how there's not a lot of recently updated flyball information, most of the sites look like they haven't been updated recently. I don't necessarily recommend everything I'm putting here, but I've gotten some information of use from the resources:

- 2 day flyball workshop in Indianapolois in Feb. I'll be at vet conference and there's NO way I'll give up Ken Ramirez for this!
- Videos of training and tournaments. I wish the videos were in youtube or at least just bigger.... but, it's a good collection to see how this group progresses their new dogs.
- A Denver team has a REALLY nice website, it's clean and neat and easy to read and follow. It's good to see how they've laid out their classes and what info they give beginners before attending.
- The massive amount of text on this page makes it hard to read, but this Atlanta group was very kind to post their 'training manual'
- This is a handout, I'm not sure when it was written or who the author is. I have a feeling it is not the most recent handout and some of the technical training pieces are just incorrect. But it may be useful for us to have some sort of handout to give to students who have dogs appropriate for the class?

Griffin is so cute! He ended up crashing the last jump of this, I was probably too much of a distraction, sitting at the end taking photos while someone else was working him!

And that's how I do research. I read and read and read what I can find online, sometimes I order books/DVDs/etc. I watch videos posted online that show the activity (if available). I have a document that I use to save interesting links, there are a bazillion categories.

After I review information, I break down the dog skills and handler skills and prioritize. I look for the most basic small parts of the behavior to build on, and the different ways we can categorize the behaviors. We continually monitor progress (or lack of) and adjust accordingly.

Yesterday I wrote out the basic outline training plan for our flyball training times at PosiDog, and it ended up being a few pages. I'm going to work to condense it to a page of big font for each station and all as one page for everyone who is helping. I also feel like we should have a progress check sheet like I've talked about for other classes to help people know what to work on at home. It's supposed to not be a class but just practice time with helpers available, and so we can answer questions. But last week I ended up helping more than training my dog and that was not a very good thing. We had three beginners to the class (all have had some sort of class experience with it before elsewhere) and had to do some repair training to get proper behaviors and speed.

The goal is to finish up this modification so that I can take the training plan sheets for tomorrow.

(Why do I keep switching from "I" to "we"? Arg!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Playing With My Dog

I've spent the morning divided between cleaning, reading, working, and training. Most of the time, multitasking and watching this seminar-video of Karen London talking about play.

I LOVE it. I'm definitely going to be re-watching it a lot over the next few months. I wish there was a compact version of this for pet dog owners! I have a suspicion that it's probably in this book that I haven't yet read.


When I worked at the boarding kennel/daycare facility a few years ago, I got to spend a lot more time watching and monitoring dog play (dog-dog and dog-people). Now I don't get to see as much play and I've not been as comfortable with dog-dog interactions as I used to be. At the shelter, I've become more careful about just putting dogs out in the usual groups rather than also new-different-appropriate groups. Several dogs have attempted at interacting through adjacent play yards.

My own dogs don't do as much playing other than with each other. Luna used to go to the dogpark but that stopped (and shouldn't have!) after Griffin came home over 2 years ago. She's not become as good with dogs, I don't know if that's related or not.


Griffin doesn't have a lot of dog friends, but also hasn't seemed as interested as he used to be in dog-dog play when given the chance. Probably because he's getting older?

We'll be having more dog-human play this week for sure....!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Training Myth: Clicker training is one way of training

I'm surprised how often I hear this objection to clicker training. Some people are concerned about being limited to only one way to train, with one training plan, and what may happen if this doesn't work.

The more I learn, the more distressed I get because there are so many ways to teach a behavior and I don't know which is the most efficient in general, let alone in specific scenarios.

Regardless of how 'positive' someone wants to be, learning good clicker training skills can only make a person a better trainer and more efficient. It's about learning to make a training plan (and follow it). Having good timing. Go step by step, one little piece at a time. When things don't go well, make it easier or adjust the environment. Reinforce desirable behaviors. Have a plan for how to respond to errors.

But I just don't know how to respond when I hear that clicker training is "just one way" of doing things.


Let's see how many 'clickerly' different training plans or training variations we can come up with for the behavior "Go to mat/bed/something." I've been meaning to do this for months and it's just not been a priority, yet at the same time I'm continually wanting to reference numbers of variations for a behavior (...or more technically a set of behaviors here...). Be as brief or as detailed as you want.

I'll start with: Shaping, tossing the reinforcer away from the mat after each click.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Front Leg Lift: Duration and Cue: Video

Session 5, we added more duration and started to add a cue.

Adorable! I switched to just feeding throughout leg lifts and to stop the feeding after his leg hit the ground.

It was interesting to see a few times where Griffin would pick up his right foot (never in the other sessions!)

After we had several long points of duration, we started adding a cue.

I kept his "foot" cue for lifting the foot and "Sit" for foot back on the ground. Skip to about 1 min to see that.

I'm not sure if that's the best choice, maybe foot on the ground needs a more specific cue, but at the same time, I want Sit to mean "both front feet on the ground" in addition to the rest of the position.

Yes...I was a bad trainer and repeated cues. Ahem.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I probably spend too much time on these behaviors. And so while waiting for the car to warm up before leaving classes last night...I 'tested' our finishes.

Verbal or visual cues for both the left and right finishes.

I need to move less. But I'm getting better! I think the left visual is our best one.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fish Treats

We really like fish treats.

A little oil. A can of tuna. One egg. And enough flour-oatmeal-something to give it brownie batter texture*. Everyone wants to make it like cookie dough. But cookie dough texture results in crunchy treats and we like soft treats.

Just like with almost everything else, bake at 350* until golden brown. This is usually ten minutes.

If I want to be a good dog trainer, I use a pizza cutter and cut all the pieces into nice equal little squares. If I want to be a not-as-efficient dog trainer I just break it up and then break it even smaller when I'm training.

Knives are not good for stirring.

*I highly recommend that you make brownies so that you know EXACTLY what the brownie texture is. This is important for your treats turning out just right. Bake the brownies before the treats. Unless you want a hint of fish taste.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Front Leg Lift Duration II: Video

First part is here.

Session 3:
Today was not as pretty. Session one had a lot of incorrect offered behaviors and a very low rate of reinforcement (ROR), 13 clicks in 2.5 minutes. But, more relevant with duration behaviors... the training was not flowing well, after one response he was NOT giving another right away. We got a lot of other behaviors for a period of time and then paw swipes rather than holds.
You will see a lot of freezes... that is offered stillness not 'non responses'. He's really good at offering stillness, especially with his head. The tail is usually a give away from times where he's not responding and where he is offering stillness.

Session 4: Much better!
15 clicks in 65 seconds. Sometimes I would click 2-3 times before his foot went back to the ground! We have duration.
From where we left off on Session 3 (...maybe 1-2 seconds), to Session 4 was a HUGE leap. The start of Session 4 is on the video, right after I get him in position, the video starts.

And of course, we worked on this after looking at the AKC obed and agility invitational results for Friday/Saturday. We should be working on those skills...not foot lifts and leg lifts.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Training Plan: Front Leg Lift Duration: Video

Last night, Megan and I talked about leg lifts. Bailey has front leg lefts with duration. Griffin has back leg lifts with duration. And we both didn't know how to train the other one!

We spent a while talking about our training plans and I actually put it into action today.

Griffin is learning to do a front leg lift with duration, and Luna to do hind leg lifts with duration.

Final behavior: Indicated front leg is held up until cued to put it back to the ground. Ideally at least 30 seconds.

What we have now: Either front leg can be lifted on verbal cue of Foot. Left leg will be lifted on a visual cue. He does actually offer an untrained duration leg lift when he is expecting a reinforcer, esp after giving an item. I've worked to decrease that because it's usually NOT wanted!

- Get offered leg lifts at all, reinforce for the raising foot. I may cue it 3-5 times before getting it offered. It's a behavior fairly well on stimulus control.
- If foot is held up longer than 'average', reinforce.
- Or if the duration is all about the same... click for the second leg lift and then the first for a few reps and then second....
- Add duration up to about 8 seconds.
- After the 8 seconds, cue sit or stand. Reinforce for complying. This will be our release/stop of the leg lift.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Training in the Cold

We met with our new training friend today and it was cold! Not GreatWhiteNorth cold, but Ohio cold and there was snow falling during part of the time. My 2-3 layers of clothing wasn't quite appropriate.

When we meet in a week and a half, I'll wear more and better layers and my great Muck boots.

When Blaze was young, we did most of our training outdoors, year round. He was too rambunctious to get anything safely done in the house. When it was really cold, we mostly used toy as a reinforcer, and with water proof (slobber proof!) gloves, we were able to get quite a bit done. When I used food, I would use thinner gloves or even take off my gloves for periods of time.

Now that I'm more proficient at training, the lack of precision with food and gloves really bothers me! Placement and presentation can speed up learning and get more precise behaviors.

So today in the cold, we would spend time using toy tugging as a reinforcer and part of our time using canned food on a spoon. I was hopeful and did try sausage but it was so gross on the gloves that I didn't use it for more than 10 reps.

When we meet in about a week and a half, we are going to work on some tracking! That's much easier to do with gloves on!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Enthusiasm for 2011

In the last few years I haven't done as much 'continued education' activities as I had in the past. There are more seminars and events and good speakers than ever, but there's always this balance of time and money and knowledge to be gained. For a while, I wasn't getting out of the events. I always learn something, but, it wasn't always worth the time and money. And that was sad because I really like learning new and exciting things.

But next year! Will be busy. I've known about some of these for a while, but now that it's all much more official... With vet conference in February, ClickerExpo in March and if I add in 4H camp (always an educational experience!) and my week helping at the state fair dog show in August... that's something big every single month until September. I'm tired just thinking about it. But the really exciting thing about the PosiDog events are that most are brand new seminars that haven't been done before and some are from presenters who haven't done very much presenting here. New topics and information!

How am I supposed to train my dogs and compete and plan around all of this! There's a few other events I would love to go to too... some positive field seminars that just got announced in WI and Deb Gross Saunders in OH next month

For the past few days, instead of finishing work that needs to be done, I've been pulling out all of my competition obedience training plans and trying to figure out which ones were the best, how to improve other ones, which things my dogs still need to learn, and how to train everything to more precision, more speed, and in a shorter period of time. I love obedience.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Griffin Weaving

Isn't he cute?

We've not done weaving in about a month. I reinforced the first response for his effort and then he had almost all correct responses. We ended on about a dozen reps with turns from a jump. I was surprised at how well he did.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Griffin: Agility Lesson #2

Griffin and I were finally able to get to another private. It was only...about two months since the last. My intent was 2 weeks in between. But we DID practice between!

What did I find out?

- Griffin got (...I think?) all his contacts. Including the first time. 1/3 were higher than my critera.
- He worked for his toy for part of the lesson. I think it's easier for him to use his toy when there are other dogs around.
- He still is wandering off more than is desirable at times. But about 1/3 of the times it would be when I sent him off to an obstacle and he just went...away.
- Obstacle focus is still lacking. A lot.
- Contact obstacles should be put into sequence.

And what will we work on?
- Recall. I've probably said before... but he doesn't really have a recall. He has a whistle recall. And a verbal recall word. But that "Don't call unless you're sure he will come" thing...has been taken a little too far. If I don't use it...he can't fail to respond. The only problem there... is that I don't have a verbal recall to actually use. Ahem.
- Contact obstacles in sequence. Yesterday we did that for, mostly, the first time. And he was okay for some, on others he was running off and looking for his reinforcer at the end.
- I need to practice with me ahead of Griffin on contacts.
- I need to practice being closer to the contact obstacles.
- Obstacle focus?

And so our training plan?
- More contact work with all the needed variables
- More adventure walks, etc...
- Working with 1-2 obstacles, using toys tossed ahead as the reinforcer. Add in handler distance.
- Recall. Verbal cue. NOW.
- Get back before it's been 2 months. A few weeks would be more idea.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gaining Control?

Griffin is adorable. Exceptionally adorable. He has the opportunity to get a lot of environmental reinforcement because he is so cute doing so. That's not to say he can do whatever he wants... we have rules and I maintain criteria. But it's not always set where it probably should be.

So, in an effort to prepare for our competitive endeavors, we've changed a few things.

- More training in public and various places.
- Increasing the variety of food reinforcers we use.
- Increase toy/play reinforcers
- Adventure walks: Walking even without attention or polite walking. no frenzied pulling etc... we feed and walk when passing people or dogs. Vary the locations every time.
- ONLY letting him off leash if I'm VERY sure he'll stick with. No being pressured by instructors or others.

And after a week, how's it going? Our adventure walks have been great. Today we were able to use a toy as the reinforcer for most of flyball class. The exceptions were food for the resting in between turns and at the beginning of class before I pulled out the toy.

Griffin didn't run away or think about it during flyball. I felt safe enough to let him get the toy and bring it back, rather than only tug from my hand.

So... something we're doing is working. I just wish I knew which pieces were making the biggest impact!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"He needs a job"

This is a companion to "He would be a great agility dog."

I hear this a lot from students, potential students, and various online sources.

Sure, we know that people who work are happier. But are dogs the same as people?

My dogs love to do training and various activities. I'll talk about how well they work. But it's not about a job and it's often easy to identify the pieces that are maintaining the behavior. The treats. The toys. The smells. It's not about an obligation or earning an income.

And then when you go and see the lists of "work" that people make:
- Carrying a backpack (some people say it's not just the effort, but the dog 'knowing' he is working).
- Picking up items around the house
- Therapy dog work
- Carrying things.
- Pulling a sled

And I go "What?" These are all GREAT things for people to do with their dogs, and especially the activities that take time to train! Time with the dog, reinforcement throughout the day! More activity in the dog's life! GREAT stuff.

But if we say it' a 'job', does that change how we view the interaction? How wrong is it to let people think that's how the dog perceives it too? Usually I just smile and don't say much other than "it's good to spend time with your dog."

How do we KNOW the dog is not only getting tired from the physical activity but from 'knowing it is a job'? Do we run an experiment and have four groups, two with packs or sleds and two without? And tell one group of each that they have a job, and don't tell the others? Where do people come up with this stuff?

Really though, how does your dog "know he is working"? And how does that understanding change the effort involved? Are dogs even capable of that much thought? Sure, my dog knows he is doing xyz at the time. But that extra subcategory of "working" or "having a job" is a bit of a stretch to me...

Why can't we just say "he needs more to do" or "He needs more physical and mental exercise" (which all of the above listed items provide...)? Why does this bother me so much?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Treat Pouch Challenges

I'm one of the few clicker enthusiasts who doesn't like targeting. I use it, yes. Sometimes I teach it. But it's not my favorite thing. My other secret? I don't like treat pouches.

The snap open-close ones? If I leave it open, the treats spill when I run or bend over. If I leave it closed, my fingers get torn up as I stick my hand it to get treats. And the waist belt annoys me.* Do I put it over my sweatshirt or under? Over my coat or under? The little plastic clip is great, I fell in love with my treat pouch when I was able to get it on my back pocket with the clip. I could easily take the pouch off and throw it or leave it somewhere. I could move it depending on what we were training. The few inches lower made it much easier to efficiently get out treats. But they break very easily. I'm probably on my tenth one now.

The small treat pouches with the drawstrings? I'll always remember that 4-H show when Blaze was a puppy. I ran around and all my treats bounced out. I then had to go back around and pick up the treats out of the dirt floor. Blaze helped me with that. It was unfortunate and probably didn't help our score. They don't hold a lot of treats, it's hard to get my hand in there, and that string part always is in the way.

Nail apron types? The sections are great for different types of reinforcers or toys or cameras. The pockets are large. But this also means it's great for the dog to see that "why yes, she does have reinforcers with her today!" and it makes people look at you odd. And they spill. Especially when you take it off to put it in your car. Washability is amazing though.

So, I use my coat pocket and pants pockets and shirt pockets. I try to buy clothing with pockets. Especially large pockets. Small pockets are worthless. You can't fit much in there and it takes forever to get a reinforcer out with two fingers. I just take a lot of stops at my car or other re-fill station. And I'm careful to empty pockets before washing my clothes.

*There has been more than one day where the belt was very useful as a regular belt on a day where I had forgotten to take a belt to work. I was very thankful to have it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book 9: Through a Dog's Eyes

I'm breaking the 'rules of blogging' by doing so many of them. But they're accumulating faster than I'm putting them up. It's time to get it over with! I still have a few more. But three is enough for today....

This is a really interesting book in many ways. The author runs a service dog program and has a ton of dog knowledge. The book looks at various dog topics and has a training section at the very end. There are chapters on dog senses, training, domestication, etc. And a lot about her program and how it started. Those stories are exceptionally amazing and definitely could (and should!) be a book of their own.

It was very encouraging to see someone involved with a service dog program to be so supportive of positive dog training. She very plainly stated that was how the program now operates and she wrote many vocal comments against punishment in training.

Despite citing many journal articles and good sources, there were many places where it just seemed like there was not a complete understanding of the topic or the ‘sciency-ness’ of things. Some studies she used to support her ideas, weren’t all that convincing once I thought about. The writing style had quite a few editing errors that made me have to re-read sections. There were two words she used, adding “ology” at the end and it wasn’t for any words that typically have ology at the end. Babyology? Not a real word.

That said, it wasn’t horrible, but it’s not something I will likely be citing or referencing to. I don’t know that it’s the best book for a non person to read to learn about dogs either. However, I DO hope she writes a book specifically about her service dog program and those stories. Those were the best parts of the book.

Book 8: Successful Obedience Handling

There’s a serious problem with this book: It's not very memorable. Every 12-14 months I’m surprised to find the library has a copy. I’m really excited, I get it sent the nearest branch. I read half of it. And then I realize that I’ve read it before. I’ve probably read it four years now.

It’s great but boring, detailed, lots of practical advice for beginners and even those wanting to be sure everything is well understood. It’s easier to read than the AKC obedience rules (though you should read those too…!).

The formatting drives me crazy. There is a main column on each page, and a sidebar. The sidebar will take a sentence and put it in bold. And it’s irritating, didn’t I just read that? Why yes, I did.

I haven’t found it valuable enough to get my own copy. We’ll see how I feel in 14 months when I read it again….

Book 7: Adventures with Ari

I read this book by Kathryn Miles last month. It’s one of the many “books about someone and his/her dog and the adventures of being a dog owner.” But it’s different in a few ways, and it was nice to have a variation on that somewhat repetitive theme.

Miles writes about adopting her dog and everything they experience in the first year. That means…it doesn’t have a sad ending! The other difference is instead of writing specifically about dogs at all times, she writes about spending time with her dog while exploring nature. Many of the pieces are not directly about dogs, but about various nature topics, decomposition and communication and all sorts of things.

The other nice change is that when they inevitably go to training class, it’s a very competent professional, an advocate for positive reinforcement, and it was not painful to read. When I heard some mentions about training, I seriously considered putting the book down. After reading a few other books like this over the years, I didn’t want to read it again. But, like I said, it was interesting to see a novice dog owner ending up with a good professional. And it was a very realistic description of her understanding of the classes and lessons and reliability (and not) of the experience.

My only complaints, there were some editing errors. I don’t know that I’d read it again or that it’s highly recommended, but definitely one of the better “stories about my dog” that I have read, and I used to read a lot of those!

It also made me really think about how people with their first dog are experiencing all the silly things that dogs do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Griffin in Beginner Agility Class IV: The Teeter

We left really early...and so, we stopped for walks. A new part of our week is going to be Adventure Walks. We just walk and walk and walk in new places. And I reinforce attention if I happen to get any. The only rule is I don't allow marking.

First time around: Barely any glances my way.
second: Some more looks. He gave me a leaf and we played with it. He carried a stick for a while.
Third: Lots of attention and several places we stopped to play. We ended up in front of a building with a few steps... I'd send him up. Ask for a Down! And then release to play. It was bitey-growly cute. And adorable. He was so wound up!
It was a lot of fun other than the rain part.

And we got to class, just in time. But no one was there. So I drove past a few times... and it ended up that yes, we did have class....

Tonight we only worked on the teeter. Griffin is great at the teeter. Goldens are supposedly notorious for teeter problems, I keep hearing this. But both of mine are great with it. Luna is afraid, but, she's afraid of everything.

We started with it low and gradually raised it. Initially our instructor gave us a hard time about running it... so I stopped Griffin a few times. And that was cute. But we were told we could run. And apparently our instructor was impressed with how Griffin runs and waits and runs.

Between our turns... we did some heeling like usual. And some stays. We tugged with the bear. And we tugged with the frisbee! And the tugging was GREAT. He wanted MORE MORE MORE of it. His outs were poor. We used a toy as a reinforcer for our last set of teeters and it was great.

I think part of his high interest in toys was that I wore a scarf. And he REALLY WANTED to tug it. But he knew to leave it alone.

At the end of class while waiting for a turn, we went around and sticky touched lots of things. Number cones. Standards. Dogwalk base. Tunnel. Jump bars.

And we played 1-2-3 RUN TUG.

No off leash I don't know how that would have gone. But the shelties were always about 30' directly from the end of the teeter and he didn't think about visiting them. The other dog in class was a challenge at first, but by the end of class we could sit 15' from where she was working.

What do we need to work on? More time around different dogs. More recalls in varied locations. More being adorable. No...he has that one mastered!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Using a lot of treats

When we use food in training, it can be hard to figure out exactly how to do all the work without making our dogs overweight or filling up a small dog at the start of class. We spent quite a while talking about this in class last night.

- For at home training of behaviors, easy behaviors, maintaining behaviors, use kibble.
- If your dog food comes in smaller sized pieces, use those!
- Get a different brand/kind of dog food (fish!) to use as 'training treats'. More balanced nutrition than other treats, but still different and exciting.
- Measure out food and use that for training.

And with other actual treats...
- Use something lower calories, and cut it very small.
- With many dogs, mixing these things in with kibble can make the boring dog food all the more exciting.
- Use licking treats (canned food, low fat cream cheese, etc)

Other thoughts:
- Develop and utilize other non food reinforcers
- Plan and use food for the things you really need to work on.

I'm sure there are more food tips to list!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Griffin Flyball: 1

This isn't really session one, we've had informal, less organized practice times. But yesterday was the very official, intended-organized, serious-working, super-focused practiced time.

It's set up so teams come and work for the hour, no formal instruction, but helpers around to help problem solve and everyone is definitely expected to be responsible for employing good training skills without a lot of supervision.

THIS is cool because it means I get to work Griffin. I did have to run and get a bagel for him.. I gave all my cheese to a student in the previous class.

After the not so great agility practice last week, I was especially careful. We did restrained recalls where needed for dogs, right near the working lane, and then we just moved over a few feet to start calling the dogs over the jumps to start that back chaining process. We'd work the dogs for just a few reps and switch off.

Griffin was really great. One time after he got his reinforcer he ran off... to the back. And pushed open the HEAVY door. And left. It's a fenced potty yard, so he wasn't in danger, but he was very reinforced for his escape.

His next turn. I didn't want to let him loose. We thought about other options. And blocked off the lane so he couldn't go anywhere. So he pushed down the barriers and then ran off to the back door. So we sat out.

Box-working time for a while. One dog was having his first time on the box and very quickly he was giving his 2o2o. And then we added a go-around pole in front of it. And now he's going around the pole, into a 2o2o and coming back.

None of us are experienced at flyball, we're relying on reading and the instruction of our workshop presenter a couple months ago. But...we were all impressed with what we saw! Griffin wasn't quite as amazing as that dog. But he was working well and stayed engaged with me.

We did another session with the jumps, and he was good for his restrained recalls. I could tell he wouldn't we let him off leash and not only was he doing really well but he was turning towards me at the end and responding to all the cues he should.

He did well... for next week I need to NOT LET HIM GO unless I'm SURE he'll stay with me. No silly barrier blockades. I should try more tugging. And use a higher ROR initially. He went from lunging and wanting to chase the other dog to lying while the dog ran 5' away... but it will be several weeks before we can start parallel recalls.

And to our decisions... I NEED TO DECIDE TODAY. And I don't know what to do!

Hallows or Horcruxes?

Megan and I were talking when I made the comparison. I guess the situation isn't quite that dire.

Or even a completely correct comparison.

But, it's not too far off either. I don't like having to make decisions. And we're at a point where I need to make decisions about what to do with Griffin and how we spend our time and how we spend our money and how to prioritize and set goals.

Our decision will impact our work schedule. It will impact my school schedule. It will impact how I schedule lessons. It will impact our travel and seminar plans and our event priorities for the next year.

And I need to decide one way or the other, and I'll have to do everything I can to make the choice and goal to ultimately work.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Training sessions that don't go well

When things don't go well...there's one good option.


Griffin and I stopped at a pet store for some training on our way home from morning lessons. He refused all the treats I had but was fairly calm, so we hung out in the back for a while. But he still wasn't eating. So we got up and left.

It was really annoying to have to go home without training. And without getting behaviors. And to have driven so far and set up that time specifically to work with him.

But, we weren't going to get the behaviors we wanted. So we went home.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Clicker Training? Marker Training? The difference?

Earlier this week, someone posted this on several lists. The poster wondered if there was a difference and if so, what is that difference.

I haven't read all of the replies, but, I did get through quite a few. The general consensus was that clicker training is about using any sort of marker-noise to indicate that reinforcement is coming.

And it's hard, because, technically, theoretically, in a perfect world, it really is the same sort of thing. Use any marker to indicate reinforcement is coming. Gradually increase criteria.

But, realistically, I've found that people using verbal markers typically are doing something quite different from the typical clicker training.

Common themes:
-- These people often do not also use clickers.
-- The marker is NOT always followed by food. Usually, yes, and during training sessions, mostly. The trainer at hand does not always notice this. I've found myself doing the same thing with my verbal markers.
-- Many of the people using this...cite that you can't use a clicker in the ring/etc...and so verbal markers are better. Completely missing the point that 'the ring' is not the place to do this sort of training. Have a different type of marker for that. Please. The point of the clicker is NOT to take it in the ring.
-- People using verbal markers often do not have good, clear, training plans ...using approximations to reach the final goal.
-- Most do not 'get' clicker training.

I've had this come up in classes a lot, people who have been training for a while, know quite a bit, and are sure using a verbal marker is just as good as a clicker. And it can be.

If we use it the same way.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Management, Training, If we mess up...

Lately I've been using these three categories with clients/students/when working on my training plans.

It can get overwhelming with everything we need to do and can to do in any sort of scenario, and especially when dealing with problem behaviors.

I'm hoping that if we keep using these three categories...clients will start to think through it on their own. We'll see.


We need to prevent the behavior from happening. How can we change your home set up? Your schedule? How can we change the set up in class so that we have success?

This would be crating your dog when visitors are coming, walking at off hours, and using food magnet transports at agility class.


This is where we're addressing the behavior and training an alternate response, an incompatible behavior, and changing the emotional response. This is the important part, but it's not typically successful without the others parts! Until the training happens, we need to be dilligent with the management.

And if we mess up:

This category needs a better name. Does anyone have a one-word name?

We have a plan in place for if the behaivor occurs. Puppies will mouth the owners. Sometimes we aren't good and the dog starts to bark out the window. Or pull on the leash. And if students (and myself!) don't have a plan in place, we won't be able to respond as quickly and efficiently as otherwise possible. The goal is that we NEVER have to use this category, but, we do need this part, just in case.

I'm off to a lesson and definitely see how we'll be using all three categories with the anxious-reactive dog.

** If anyone knows where I got this format....please let me know...!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Luna and the Thundershirt

I bought one to give to the shelter, we have a lot of beagles that are not happy about storms. But now storm season is over for a while and I want to hang onto it until spring...I'm afraid it would get lost in the depths of "stuff" there. And the package was cool so I opened it. And then I tried it on Luna. And then I decided to try it in public.

Griffin thought it was so cool for Luna to wear a tug.

We went to walk around a town on the way to agility last week. Halfway through the walk, her tail came up. She was scanning less. But she was still jumpy about people and whuffed at someone 45-60' away. We turned and went the other way.

The next day, I took her to a different place that she had also never been to. Same number of people. And same behavior.

So...the thundershirt didn't make much of a difference at this point of time. She looks a bit silly in it, she's so hairy but is actually a small dog underneath.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Griffin in Beginner Agility Class III

One word for tonight? Bad.

Good parts:
- He tugged! I offered his disc four times and each time he went right for it and tugged. I cued the out and gave him food each time. And we tugged again. He was less enthusiastic on the last one, so we'll stop a bit sooner. Next week, I'll try to bring it out more than once. This week I'll see about tugging in various places.
- The heeling! BEAUTIFUL attention and movement with me. He was adorable!
- First working minutes. When we had our first turn, he was great while I talked to the instructor. We did mini formal recalls, relaxed downs, and some tricks. He was attentive and going NOWHERE but with me.
- All running was FAST.

He was annoying when we arrived ( a few minutes late.> Garrr!). Next week I'll arrive 5-10 early and do training to get better walking to/from the building. We can definitely be working on this at home and at work.

As soon as we were inside, he was turning to me and ready to work. We did our own things for a while, when it was our turn with the dogwalk, we did two reps and then talked about placement of reinforcer (I'd left our food toss item at home).

And then we worked more with heeling and fronts. We were on the other side of the barn and...Griffin caught scent of ...something. He was REALLY interested. So, unsurprisingly, he ran off during our next turn to go visit the smelly spot. (and someone was standing there with a sheltie....) After two tries, I clipped on the leash. While waiting for our next turn, we heeled over the smelly area, did smell-leave-smell-leave practice, and lots of reinforcement for leaving it. Un

Next turn? Again. He went out. We tried that twice with just the tunnel. It WAS really cool to see that I talked to him and was able to send him 8-10', full speed ahead, he was definitely seeking out the tunnel on his own without extra motion from me. He ran off and visited the sheltie-less lady. Very happy about her.

And that was our night. We'll be doing more public visits, esp in busy areas, and lots of reps.

I'm sad that I let Griffin repeat the incorrect running off thing so many times. I should just keep the leash on when I'm in doubt! Don't be fooled into taking it off!

I was told to use less food and less from my hand. In past 'tests' Griffin has performed equally as well with the food in my pocket rather than my hand. But I know it can be sloppy training!

The way classes balance

It's interesting how classes go. Usually there's a nice balance of skill level and need, both with owners and dogs. But right now it's not like that.

Everyone is at a completely different level. Dogs. And owners. And they all have very different needs. There are more than reasonable frenzied dogs.

One of the classes settles in and everyone works well, and it's really quite impressive the skill level of the very young dogs after such a short period of time. But on the other of the classes is just chaos. I'm definitely re-working the plan for what we're doing next week.

It's been another week of things not going quite as well as it seems everything should be. But then I hear stories about other training classes and I think, well, at least it's going better thant that. And then I hear about brilliant classes and brilliant trainers. And I think "we should be doing better. I should be more competent!" And then I hear not so great stories again.

Does anyone want to fund my fabulous studies on pet dog training? One thing I want to know now is what do the owners REALLY need. Five years from now, what cues will they be using? Everyone THINKS they want sit and stay and down and heel and come and leave it and and and and and. But really, do most average pet dog homes use all of these things? Would we be better with even fewer behaviors trained to a very high fluency? Or do some of these choices shape how people interact with their dogs forever? Will a dog that is trained to lie down, use the down cue more often throughout life? Or not?

I changed topic. Hmm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Transport (Agility Right From the Start)

It was interesting that something on my priority training list with Griffin was a main feature of a lesson last night. The owner was in agility class and had done a lot of classes before elsewhere. The dog was great with equipment supposedly, but lacked focus. So... despite being in an agility class...we spent more of our time working on the set up and the 'what to do at the end of the sequence.'.

I introduced a "food transport". End of the sequence? Reinforce. And then little nibble-licks all the way to the start of the next. No chance for the dog to practice wandering off. Some learning that great things happen for sticking with the handler.

I'm sure they didn't have as much fun with the "agility" part of class... but hopefully they'll be seeing the progress desired soon.

Griffin is great about transports. It's something I had done a little with unintentionally, but the sessions at expo and in the book helped me to be more proficient. That period of time from when the dog gets the reinforcer to when he's set up for the next rep is SO important and undervalued!

In group class with Griffin, I do transports to set him up for the next rep, either food or collar, but mostly food. I think it distressed our instructor a bit because even for incorrect reps Griffin was getting a little lick-nibble of his treats. Yes...we reinforced the incorrect behavior a little tiny bit. But more importantly, I can set him up for the next rep without loosing him.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book 6: Canine Physical Therapy

Dr Debbie Gross Saunders wrote this book. She's known for her numerous articles in CleanRun and some of the other great things she's produced for dog enthusiasts.

This is something I got from the school library to read/flip through. It's not the most entertaining thing to read, but definitely full of information.

My first impression with the book is that it may be getting outdated. It was published in 2002 but a lot has changed since then. Some spelling/wording errors were a bit distracting from the content.

The biggest surprise is that I don't know why there aren't more people offering this type of service for dogs recovering from surgeries, dogs with specific structural problems, and as a preventative measure.

This book definitely made me feel like I should be doing a lot more for my dogs (....ahem.... off to read/watch some of her other materials!) both preventative and to help improve/retain mobility/quality of life with the older dog.

I would pass this on to what types of people...? Anyone who can borrow a copy...or who has interest in this type of work. It's not the best thing for entertainment reading or education reading. There is definitely a need for a good understanding of anatomy first.
Favorite part? The case studies were great. I also really appreciated the way the book was laid out.
Least favorite part: It seems a bit outdated. Some of the information differed from more recent things she has written, there were some exercises that I hadn't heard of before. I don't know if they've just fallen out of favor, if better things have been developed, or why the change.