Friday, March 26, 2010

Cues are Important

One feature is that they mean one thing...and one thing only.

I have a few cues that are general. And for training cues, that's fine. "get it!" is a casual retrieve cue. "C'mere!" is an informal recall.

But this can cause problems. "Up!" sometimes means get all four feet up. And usually it's just about putting front feet up. A few times poor Griffin has had all four feet on a tree trunk, a moment panic with a "THANKS!" look, and then back on the ground to ask "what's next?"

Today we had a poor turnout for 4-H practice (first day of spring break, 30 some degrees out, and we were outside rather than indoors like usual). Griffin and I were training while waiting and the only tug item we had was a work glove. We played, trained, and did some great retrieves.

And then I wanted it back on the car. So, being remarkably intelligent, "Up!" And my dog was on the front of the van. And then on the windshield, and almost on the VERY TOP! Before I knew what to do there he was. I carefully guided him towards my edge and lifted him to the ground.

We will learn to discriminate between a front-feet-up and an all-feet-up cue this week. No more dangerous situations as a result of my faulty cueing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Diseases Preventable by Vaccination

Great title, right?

Our 4-H'ers this year are -extremely- enthusiastic. But especially about diseases preventable by vaccination.


We spend about half an hour on obedience training, half an hour working on knowledge/handling/skills without dogs, and half an hour on showmanship.

During the knowledge part, we do a quick review on things we've talked about before (breed groups, diseases preventable by vaccination, parts of a dog). And the favorite, by far, are the diseases!


It's interesting to see the responses we're getting this year compared to past years in regards to training skills, knowledge skills, and handling skills. Unsurprisingly, "breaking it down" is even benefiting our members who have been involved for much longer.


Our 'curriculum materials' have continued to be modified, based on what's happening. And I hope I get the opportunity to keep working on this for several more years. This year we had 7 new members. We've NEVER had seven new members at once before! And we have practices twice a week. Most are only coming to one... but the twice a week is making it so kids are coming to more practices than in the past, have higher participation, and higher skill levels. Unlike past years, most of our dogs do not have 'behavior issues severe enough to impact the 4-H project'.


Another change for this year is our homework policy. In the past, we'd pass out weekly handouts and email them too. This year, all the homework is sent by email, after class, so that we're sure to include what we worked on and even have specific comments to certain teams.

We also include links to videos by other people, from big websites (like Westminster...they were to watch "their" breeds and juniors), and videos we create specifically for our curriculum. Horray for the magic of the internet and the accessibility of youtube!


We love our kids...and are starting the frantic work on our dog 4-H camp and 4-H workshops to give our kids cool opportunities to learn more, do more, and be further challenged.

There's nothing like the enthusiasm of kids shouting out diseases!

Now, off to train my own dog.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Missing ClickerExpo...

I've been home for three days and I'm so sad.

The sessions are great, but the dinners and hallway talks and cornering (or being cornered) the faculty was just as fabulous.

A couple weeks ago after a class we had a talk about Griffin's lack of retrieve. He has been taught to hold the bumper still to get a c/t. But that wasn't transfering well to the dumbbell or other items. S. played with him for a bit, and got some possibly better responses.

Today! It went great! About 25/30 correct responses. He was offering the hold. I could click him for it. I could Out him for it and then click the Out. I could wave food around. I could touch it. I could putmy hand under it.

And so what's the point? Keep data. Go slowly. If something is not working, review to be sure you are proficient. If you're doing well, change what you're doing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Expo Notes: Evaluating Your Training

One of the labs I helped with was "Smart Reinforcement" by Ken Ramirez. Those who know me...know I love him. He's amazing. Not only is he fabulous at training, but he's great at speaking. And he can speak to professionals, dog professionals, those he's 'training' to be trainers, and the public. Not very many people can do that well.

The session was mostly about creating secondary/substitute reinforcers (...he says some of his animals have 20+ of those. I have none! I need to get busy!). And that will be on my priority list.

But...what really stuck out was that training needs to be evaluating. His trainers have monthly evaluations. MONTHLY! That sounds like a lot (..every four weeks. I evaluate my ever?)...and not a lot ("only" 12 times a year). These sessions have the trainer run through behaviors, doing everything a few times. And the evaluator (or video camera) go through and mark on a scale for things like latency, precision, focus, etc...

I'd like to start visiting and revisiting my overall training on a regular basis. So we'll see what happens. That'll be on the agenda for tomorrow....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Agility: Right from the Start

Clicker Expo is over. Very sad and very "wow!"

Today will be spent typing up my notes and reviewing everything I learned in attempt to remember as much as possible.

My most favorite part was the presentations by Emelie and Eva. I've been long-awaiting their book and it's already exceeding my expectations. It's HUGE! Over 400 pages of information and pictures to guide people through foundation training. This is now going to be THE resource I recommend when people ask about agility. It'll be recommended reading for my classes. It'll be something I need to read multiple times and will want to read multiple times. It uses Tag Teach and does tons of activities without dogs to help handlers be ready for the exercises and have their half of the exercise down. I've used a lot of this in teaching, but will now be doing a lot more.

It's all going really well with what what Cecilie Koste and Morton Egtvedt presented on obedience two years ago (prompting me to go out and get Griffin!). Cecilie was AT expo and I did get brave and talk to her a few minutes. Apparently, at some point my enthusiasm for her was known and I did get thrown at her one point to talk. In that setting it's sure hard to remember the questions you've been thinking about for years!

Three most important things I got out of Eva and Emelie's presentations:
1) Yay. I'm doing a lot of things 'right'. Teaching concepts is more important than exact skills. We need to keep our cues 'clean', and utilize placement/presentation of reinforcement as much as possible.
2) Use more TagTeach and non-dog activities. For students to be successful long-term and with immediate exercises we need to help them as much as possible, not just expect them to do things and figure it out on their own or after 50 reps. Lessons need to be set up to help them learn to be good at training their dog, as well as the specific "what we're teaching the dog" activities.
3) Transport! This is something I read on a Clicker Solutions article years and years ago. Probably before I even got Luna. At classes, people tend to sit/stand with their dog on leash. Then go and expect the dog to be super focused during the exercise, reinforce the dog, and then stand around again. The dog has associations that aren't "just working" and where he can make choices he probably shouldn't make. "Transports" are specific ways of keeping a dog busy from mat/crate to the start of the exercise and then right at the end of the exercise. The cool part is that I've been using variations of these but not necessarily in the same context. And I LOVE the idea. It'll be interesting to see how we can implement it in class and how that whole process goes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Clicker Expo!

Is great! I'm super glad about some things I've been doing in class...I"m happy to be making some great changes and wheee! More to share after I sleep and enjoy the rest of the event.

Griffin has been great. I want to say better than expected but that would almost imply that I brought a dog I expected to be troublesome.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Good walks

After class last night, we had quite a talk about teaching walking and management and how to be better helping students teach good walking.

It was brought up that I don't insist upon good walking in most reasons for that were along the lines of:
-We don't have to do a lot of leash walking.
-Some dogs adjust to head halters quickly. Griff and Luna are not in that category
- I have other stuff to work on.

That said, in preparation for Expo this weekend, I've been taking Griffin to Granville to do lots of walking. I am really upset I didn't video tape all the sessions! It's gone really, really, well.

Four sessions*. In four sessions he is able to walk down the block and back without pulling. Past people, kids, food, restaurants, trash cans, food on the floor. Next to me, not heeling, just really great walking.

Despite not doing a lot of walking, it's one of my favorite things to train dogs to do (...note "train"... not "teach owners"). Warmer days at the shelter... that's what I tend to be working on. And very quickly have the dogs walking well. But how do I transfer all of my "training skills" to students so they can be successful? Hmmm...

But, really, four sessions, I'm feeding him only every 5-6 steps and could probably push it further (...but I don't want to compromise the long-term integrity of the behavior.). I have a few ideas on why it went quickly, and I hope to get the chance to test this out more.

My skills:
--I'm fluent with handling leash, clicker, treats, dog
-- I can multitask, train and be aware of my environment
--My leash-handling skills. Being aware of any pressure and of when I release it
--I'm super consistent in that environment. Dog out of position? I'm --never-- continuing forward.
--I have a training plan. I know where we are, where we are ending up, and have a rough roadmap of how to get there.
--I set him up for success. All our walks have been at night. Our first walk was on a quieter part of the town (but not residential..didn't want to encounter any dogs in yards). Second walk, we ventured to another block, a bit busier. The third walk, we started in the quiet area, and then went up the side, spending about 20 steps in a busy sidewalk area, then back to quiet. And tonight, we were in front of all the shops in granville, back and forth, multiple times.

Dog skills:
--Griffin is special. (Ha ha ha... I have to say it! There have been quite a few skills he's learned abnormally fast. I really don't think it's just that I'm --that-- much of a better trainer since Luna was a puppy.).
--I am very clear. We only work on one skill at a time. If we are changing what we are working on, we have an obvious break.
-- He understands what to do with pressure on the leash. He knows to move into the pressure and the release will be reinforced with food. He knows that to get what he wants he should -not- be continuing forward.
--We have a small reinforcement history for causal walking with me.
--We have a strong reinforcement history for heeling. No, this isn't causal walking, but this is still a pretty exciting place to be.
-- With heeling and several other behaviors we have systematically introduced distractions.

Now I've got to figure out how to better help students learn this.

Tomorrow morning, provided I get some baking and laundry and dog washing done in a timely manner... We'll run into the bank and have a daytime-slightly-busier session in town. And then, we do what all bad trainers do, take it on the road and go to clickerexpo where we will be passing lots of people and lots of dogs in tight hallways. Good training eh?

Second note...these things probably are supposed to be shorter. But I guess this is not going to be a real marketing tool...just a tool for me.

Muddy Griffin makes me so happy because he is so happy. Today, in the field, he ran off, back to the dog yard to play in "his" mud puddle. Then he ran back to me and we played tug and running and fetching. Luna escaped the yard today. By the time I noticed, she had to have been gone at least five minutes. I was sure she had taken off and would be lost and I'd have to stay home from Expo to search for her. Nope. She's in the barn right there, hunting for cat poop. Covered. COVERED in the big evil burrs. And she was so happy, I was happy. The best part, she came when called. One dog bathed, two to go.

* He has been walked in varied locations in the past. Usually on a pulling harness. But...only four walks in town. Yesterday we did three other walks, a pulling walk at the metropark (...harness on), one at another people park, and a short collar walk outside of a dogpark. I looked at the nice little fenced "agility" area there...and how you had to walk through the whole park to get there. Alas.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Contact Training

It was interesting. I was able to see where most foot falls were and the abnormal responses.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trainer Skills

Back to that thing about repetition and practicing... it's important not just for the dogs, but for trainer skills too!

I'm super excited that I might get to be *cough cough* teaching something like this soon.

Students today were pointing out how good their dogs were for me. I'd take the leash and suddenly the dogs were focused and responding and moving with me. The students commented on how quickly I handled the reinforcement and props.

We talked a bit about how to improve. And I pointed out that I've had a lot of practice, but if I switched hands and fed with the left hand, my precision and speed and fluency greatly decreased.

There are lots of important trainer skills that can be worked on, and especially outside the context of a pet class where students just want the dogs to "be good."

Creative problem solving is super important and fits so well into clicker training. CPS is something I -love- thinking about and teaching. When I was in school I absolutely loved the CPS program I was involved in, and my year as a team manager for two teams (kindergarten and a high school team!) was the best. Now that I teach every night of the week...I just don't have the after-school hours to have a team.

What? Back to CPS. Being able to take a situation, brainstorm a ton of solutions, change the way of looking at the problem, approach it from different ways, use different props, manipulate the scenario, use what's available and come up with fabulous, brilliant, different, and workable scenarios is a super important skill for anyone who is teaching and for dedicated students. And it's something I don't practice enough. I have fairly efficient ways of teaching just about anything and I do need to keep experimenting with my own dogs and students to find even better ways of training certain behaviors, improving fluency, and a better experience for the dog and handler.

Mechanical skills are just as important too. I'm really efficient at holding leashes, clickers, treats, props. But only in a certain way. I need to change things up, develop leash handling skills with my right hand, be able to feed with my left. So, what will I be doing? Practicing without my dog. Imagine that. Yay for invisible dogs.

And...because I'm good at making these long, "trainer skills" is something we're focusing on with our 4-H kids this year. It'll be interesting to see how the kids do compared to past groups. We haven't taught a Sit yet. We've lured/captured/prompted for fold back downs on ONE practice. We do stays and heeling every week. But those are behaviors. Skills: We do 30 min of obed, 30 min on knowledge/trainer skills and 30 min on showmanship. The kids have lots of exercises to practice without their dogs. They're looking GOOD. If they look just as good with their dogs...they'd be ready for fair tomorrow! "Breaking it Down" is just as important for people as dogs.

And here's an image about tomorrows post and my "new contact training technique" hah.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Treats and Expo

I hate buying dog treats. I have goldens. Goldens like food. Especially food you are eating. But at the same time, in a training context, nothing makes Griffin or Luna quite as wild as any food does with Blaze. I'm not so keen on buying store dog's almost all over priced and with too much sugar.

But we use a lot of treats in this house.

I've been against hotdogs because they smell really bad to me. My mom gave me several packs of turkey hot dogs that the humans of the house did not want. I finally experimented with preparations methods I've read about. It took forever! I cooked them. I soaked them in water. I sliced them. I cooked them. I tried to cut them smaller and ended up just breaking them. I cooked them. It was about a 20 minute process. I probably won't ever do it again. But they're well cooked, a little crunchy but also soft, and don't smell nearly as bad as "warmed and cut" hotdogs do. I wish there was a better way to cut them...they just want to smoosh.

A few weeks ago, I made a bunch of Tuna Treats to take to the 4H Teen Conference. Those went well, but aren't a lot of treats for the time put into it. (...Oil, Egg, Tuna, a bit of salt, and flour/oatmeal to a batter texture. Pour onto a greased pan. Flatten as thin as you can. Bake until golden brown. ) I did learn that the reason my oatmeal cookies never really turn out is because if you put in a ton of oatmeal/flour... people or dog cookies turn out crunchy and crumbly and dry, rahter than soft and squishy. And I probably over cook my cookies. After removing from the oven, the treats can be pizza-cutter-tooled into little tiny pieces.

I've used frozen meatballs for training quite a bit. I can get a big bag at Kroger for about $10 and that'll last me 4-6 weeks.

Griffin really likes biscuits. He didn't really get any until recently and now is somewhat enthusiastic for them.

Cheese melts and gets gross. Plus, when you wash it, it's really gross. I had to re-wash a load of laundry three times today.

Sausage is great. My dogs like sausage. But like hotdogs, it's hard to precut.

Yes. I'm already worried about having enough/variety/valued treats for expo next weekend. A week from now I'll be having a great time with all my training friends! It'll come and go too fast. Somehow this is my third expo. This will be a super exciting one though as I know a lot of people going (compared to 0 the first time and 6 the next time). I'm finally taking two friends (and camp staff). I started bugging a student about it last summer...and not only is she going, but she's a KPA student and I'm super proud. It'll be a good weekend. I miss my KPA groupmates and will be very glad to see some of them at expo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Technical Training

The more technical and precise aspects of training are so exciting.

"Being wrong" came up again last night. And a few days ago in regards to a human student. And another two-legged student last night. This dog owner has never been told by me that s/he is incorrect. I'm careful to "Now, we'll make it harder and..." But s/he's apparently so worried the team almost didn't come to class! The dog is very focused and they're both very proficient... but I got several comments about the owner being worried on doing "everything right". Next week we might try them on a tether and see how it goes.

And more technical-ness. Cues! And indicating what is next!
We had a short talk last night about how to cue dogs that we're working on something different. My usual strategy is to 'break' from what we've been doing with walking around for a bit ( can be a minute or more, but I usually go about 10-15 seconds), a bit of petting, or just moving to another area.

I'm really not a fan of running through every behavior the dog knows 2-3 times each. It makes people feel good. I tell students they should do this if they've had a bad day at work or if they want to show off for friends. But it's really poor dog training. We want to work on developing strong behaviors and reliable responses. A few repetitions won't allow much learning and new brain connections to be happening (...see my post from a few weeks ago on repetition).

At the same time, doing one aspect for 5-10 or 15+ repetitions and then going right into something else can cause confusion for the dog... without an indication of the change...the criteria suddenly completely changed. And what just worked is now not working and confusion is never good.

There are probably more scientific type resources on that. But I don't have them. (yet).

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I've recovered from the biting thing now. But I sure was distressed over that last night!

Now we're on to barking and adventures. Blaze's behavior vet would like us to drive back over (..."only" 4 hours) or send some video clips. Video it is. I've had an amusing time with that, but ultimately the barking is a combination of his behavior problems/brain injury and poor management. There's a limit to where the crates can be and how my schedule is and how many dogs I can be walking at once. And how much barking I can take! So I'm not sure that this'll make much of a difference for us.

The snow is slowly melting. Half of the property is without any, and the other half still has 4+" covering it. We visited the local bike path (still unplowed!) yesterday in the quest for "Griffin to be working in public Every. Single.Day. In Preparation for ClickerExpo in two weeks". Today we're going to stop at a big state parkish place on the way to a lesson.

A very clever parent has me come out about every month for a few hours to help her 4-H kids prepare. I wish my parents had done something like this for me!

Today we'll be doing lots of stay and heel work (...that's where the points mostly lie in SubNovice..!), a few agility foundation skills, and learning all about showmanship. My novice students tend to get more of an education in showmanship so they go to fair with one thing they're really well in, and by the second year, hopefully they're ready to do quite well in Obedience. We'll see. I've really modified (yet again) my 4-H curriculum this year. And as I always tell Karin and Megan... we need to play to win! (...or at least do really well with strong behaviors and great responses and knowing what we're doing!).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What?! Dealing with Biting

I hear a lot of weird stuff.

Today I was talking to someone who works with young kids. Biting kids came up, and were supposedly the worst to deal with. Not because of the pain, but because "you have to shove your hand in to teach them a lesson."

I was horrified. I have heard this before...but for puppies. How can anyone be thinking this is appropriate for kids! Of course I had to call Megan (...who is never wrong...har) and verify if this was a regular practice. She answer was very comforting... keep your hand in so you don't tear your skin (just like with dogs!).

So of course the person and I talked about threshold. And apparently that's not a term typically used with small children!

At camp, we definitely don't use positive punishment with our campers. We have a sufficient number of adults for the group and set up an environment for success.

So, unsurprisingly, there's just as much strange advice with kids as with dogs. I did get to do quite a bit of puppy cuddling at the shelter and that made me a bit happier. Beagle puppies are very, very cute. But not as cute as goldens!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Being Wrong

I'm somewhat learning how to do this blog-hyperlink-thing. I'm learning. Slowly.

Interesting posts by clever people yesterday. Posts? Blog post. (...item. Whatever it is called.)

And that clever post followed by clever comments got me thinking about the "being wrong".

Of course few being /like/ being wrong. Or is it? Is that what we've just come to know and love? But I suppose, being right tends to result in good things happening (yay, you answered the question right and get $1000, or pass the test, or...) or avoid bad things ("Wow, we did turn the right way back there. Otherwise we'd have gone 10 miles off our course.... "Yay..I -did- get the question right and I pass the test" "Yay, I did lock my house and so no one stole the really hideous antique items I hate.")

Maybe those were poor examples. But if being wrong was more enjoyable, that'd make life really difficult, and arguably isn't possible because if you liked eating poisonous things or trespassing onto someone else's territory, there could be serious death.


So what does this have to do with dog training? We need to help our dogs be right. If our dog is 'wrong' too often, we need to adjust our criteria so we have a higher rate of reinforcement and fewer errors. The dog should be able to keep repeating the things that get reinforcement and offer fewer other behaviors.

This does come back to a question I've been meaning to mail out... at vet conference this came up with someone in our training group: If using a Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible behavior, is it better to have the undesired behavior happen on occasion or absolutely never? What results in better long term results? Not having the undesired behavior ever happen fits with "good dog training" but does it fit with good learning?

I don't know of any studies, I half hearted looked it up and half heartedly started to write up an email to a few different people who should know the answer but probably don't. At this point I'm okay with my dog trying things and find out what works and what doesn't (...except in high-arousal situations. But that is another story. Maybe?). But if those other behaviors popped up regularly or increased in frequency, I'd get worried and re-look at my training plan.

So, like I tell students, "There's no /wrong/ way of training something. But there are often more efficient ways."

Which goes along with what I tell Megan, "I'm never wrong...." That doesn't mean I'm always right.

Aww. Look at Griffin not being wrong! Megan needs to get more pictures of him.


This week has been an interesting cue week.

We have lots of behaviors that aren't really on cue, some that are not on the cue they should be, and some that aren't ready to be on cue yet. This is not the exciting part of training for me, I like shaping the behaviors and working on fluency. Putting behaviors on cue tends to be an afterthought and that's a problem for our competition behaviors!

Some upcoming cue-related goals:

-Agility behaviors on verbal cue, with motion. The verbal cues alone are usually enough to prompt a response. Griff may respond to any verbals I give...but I'm not too worried on that. He does however, have a harder time finding obstacles when I am also moving.

-Crawl: Our Go Click Challenge of the week is crawling. This behavior is nowhere near fluent enough to be ready for a cue. That fluency is a key piece.

Last week I talked a lot with various people about cues. Some common themes:
-Keep cues clear. Avoid having verbal or visual cues that are similar. With verbal cues, consider the tone used and how the words come out when you are frantically running.
-Cues provide information. Where you feed the treat provides information. I always feed under the chin when I'm working on a stay behavior. This gives my dog more information and less guessing is necessary.
-Errors in discrimination is often related to cues. Be aware of your cues and how your dog perceives them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I like to use my time in classes effectively. Part of the reason I dropped out of agility class with Luna last spring was because I didn't have time to do the (unassigned but obvious) homework that we needed to progress. We weren't making progress in class without the homework. And that just wasn't reinforcing for me!

I know that my students give up a lot to go to class. It takes time for the class and the drive. There's the cost of the class, the gas, the time. And so I try to give sufficient homework to help them get the most out of class. But I have to restrain myself so that I don't overwhelm anyone!

At the same time, many people take classes just to get their dogs out and about and to have that special hour of the week. I don't want to be condescending about a lack of homework completion either.

With my private students, we typically go two weeks between lessons to give everyone time to work on skills in between and get the most out of the lessons.

Some examples of agility class homework from a class last week with a student who also teaches with me ( I try to pile on the homework so that she has more to pull from when working with students).

-Work on the stay part of her contact behavior
-Work on getting into position, front feet on the ground, back feet on the board (2on 2off)
-Getting a fast response to the down cue
-Getting an automatic down on surfaces
-Working on a stay from a down
-working on a stay from a sit (student uses for lead outs)
-Work up to moving 50' away.
-Tugging with varied items.
-Find tossable treats
-Send distance to a cone
-backing up
-Running with the handler
-Turning away from the handler when cued

That's nothing isn't it...