Saturday, July 31, 2010

4-H Fairs

I do too much volunteer stuff. But it's so much fun to see what the kids are doing and all the differences in how programs are run.

Today I got to go and judge the Athens County 4-H Dog Show. Completely different than some things I see elsewhere.

Obviously lots of compulsion is used. Almost all the kids had tight leashes throughout heeling (getting huge huge deductions!). So either the kids were super nervous or taught that it's better for the dogs to be in position with a tight lead than to be elsewhere.
Many second cues.
But several very nice performances.
And pretty great stays, in exams, for the recall, and long stays. They had success teaching the dogs what not to do more than what to do.

Showmanship: No freestacking, interesting hand stacking. But on top of the patterns. 4-H in Ohio has a section where questions are asked. I try to ask some easy and medium questions and a hard one for each group. Apparently up here we think easy/medium/hard differently than in that area. It's interesting what i emphasize with my kids and what these kids had apparently studied more.

Rally: The kids had a great time! Again super tight leashes. But AMAZING performances for only having one rally lesson before! Incorrect performances only really occursed on a call-front-finish sign, on the 1-2-3 step (because of all the handler not getting dogs to sit and skipping the sits...) and not enough pause on the sit walk around. VERY impressive for the time they'd spend learning!

I loved working with that group and being involved in this capacity.

I'm also looking forward to seeing our camp kids at state fair next week. I sure wish Griffin was in camp mode and super tired and able to go with me to help wtih demos. But I don't have a dog handler and he wouldn't like crating all day.

This is how tired he was at camp:

Day 4. Bedtime. He wouldn't move. So, being the clickerly positive trainer...I used some negative reinforcement. Or tried to. He didn't move. He barely opened his eyes. I wish I could provide enough enrichment and experiences for him to always be in that mode. He's not been as tired since camp...but he's been a lot more steady and reliable and into working with me. Training on Friday was brilliant!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Outdated Information

It's amazing how fast information can become outdated. When I started getting interest in dog things 9 years ago, the premier agility book that you HAD to have was the "Agility Training" book by Jane Simmons-Moake. It was the best resource. But there were a few others. And new things came out now and then.

But today, there's a plethora of agility books and DVD's and resources. On each and every little topic. "Agility" is too big for one resource. You can get weave pole information. Or specific contact training. Or handling. Or foundation. There's so much of it!

On my way out today, I grabbed the _Jumping from A-Z_ by Julie Daniels and Chris Zink. And wow. It does seem quite outdated! There's a ton still relevant and still like what we do. But many reference pieces and training techniques seem so...slow!

An example would be teaching a dog to slow down... put it on cue. Train the behavior by having the dog on leash and using the leash to guide the dog to slow down after you've cued. Not only is that something not taught in many classes.... but probably would not be done with leash pressure. time you're reading...keep in mind the date of publication. I do like this book and the sections on structure and how the authors break down exercises for the owners. But it's surprising how much has changed since this was published 15 years ago!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Still Waiting...

We're going back and forth with a different type of professional to see if we can get a diagnosis/treatment plan in place for poor Griffin.

In the meantime he's wanting to run run run. I let him do a little frolic last night at Posidog. We did a lot of tug too and he thought that was great. The part where we talked to a new student and he had to wait was not fun.

Crating went really well, a large chunk of frozen raw meat apparently can keep a dog quiet for 50 minutes, but only 50. That's the length of our classes but it tends to take a bit longer to get everyone out the door.

Our flyball workshop on Sunday is now full. I'm super excited and I think everyone will have a very good time learning how to get dogs to RUN RUN RUN.

I have videos to post and a few half finished posts. But waiting to find out more about Griffin is making me not very productive. I spend a lot of time frantically checking my email and feeling really sick not knowing what's wrong yet. It definitely could be worse! But we're not good at waiting.

To come soon: More on dogs "knowing" cues, setting and looking at goals for basic training teams, state fair excitement, judging preparations... and stay training. Again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yay! And Not!

We don't know what's wrong with him. They found nothing in the xrays or exam other than obvious pain and discomfort. So we have a few things to check out, but.... my healthy dog is just not working quite right.

Remember months ago when we worked on muzzle training? And Griffin could wear the muzzle and be okay? We forgot the part where muzzle-wearing sometimes involves walking. Today he was too verbal for the vets to be comfortable, so we had to muzzle him...and he didn't like walking in it. That's on our list of behaviors to train.

Husbandry behaviors need just as much attention as other behaviors!

Specialist Vets

Are the best.

We're off to go see one...and hopefully Griffin's "injury" is nothing. And hopefully it's something proper exercise will fix and he'll be happy forever!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sad dog

Bee sting #3 is too suspicious. So we went to the vet. And something isn't right... calling specialists and our vet and our dog friends. Hopefully we'll know more in the next week and life can get back to normal.

In the mean time, dog thoughts have been:
- How compulsion is justified by dog people (and why) and what parts are true and what aren't.
- Catching up on reading of dog resources. Popular resources and materials as well as more text-booky ones.
- Middle part of working on our curriculum updates. I know what needs done...I just need to do it.
- Preparing for state fair. I'll be doing some teaching/demos/fun, helping steward, and all sorts of stuff during the dog show activities.
- Preparing for our fun show next week with our club and for a judging assignment in a few weeks.
- Thinking about puppy mouthing. Leash biting. The frustration and distress to new dog owners.

And how I have the best dog friends ever.

But the curriculum updates are really what's driving me crazy. It's so hard to get it right all around.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"My dog likes agility"

And that's usually followed by "More than obedience" or "more than other training."

And this may be true.

But agility is not inherently reinforcing for dogs. People are just plain better about reinforcing dogs for pieces of agility than they are about a sit or a down or a stay. A dog going over a jump or through a tunnel provides more satisfaction for owners than the sit or a down.

Why, I'm not yet quite sure. It's just another of those silly human things.

But that enthusiasm and reinforcement history creates a happy dog. And a dog that apparently likes agility more than sits or downs or walking.

Not that agility is immune to poor training or 'lumping' (putting lots of parts together before they should be!). But that is another story.

If only we could get everyone to love the sits and downs and walking as much. Then we'd have more enthusiasm for competition obedience. Go reinforce some great sits and downs and walking!

I love obedience.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Long Stays

Stays are not my strong point. I can teach dogs to stay throughout distractions. But staying forever is not as fun. Boring boring repetitive duration.

We have been focusing on duration stays but intermixing a lot of distraction staying.

Griffin can now stay:
- While some types of items are dropped/picked up next to him
- While a small child sits next to him, handwaves at him wildly, or runs in circles around him.
- While I do any or all of those things
- While I go 25+ steps away
- While I throw things away or towards him
- While I gently poke him....

I'm never sure on how to best test our duration as I don't want to push him to getting up but if I never increase criteria....we won't get there either.

Today I learned he can do a 1 min sit stay and a 1.5 minute down stay. Probably longer on both.

But, for the first time, today I could look at him and Know he would stay. Most days I look at him and can tell you that he is staying. But today he was not getting up. He was planted in spot, relaxed, and slightly annoyed at having to stay put. But he was going nowhere.

I think we've made progress!

Friday, July 16, 2010

"My dog knows..." Part 1

Blaze used to know about 250 behaviors. He could do lots of things. He had verbal cues and hand signals and behaviors that could be combined for cool tricks ("Get it!" with the ball "Up!" on the basketball hoop, and "Drop it!" in the basket).

He was really talented.

But then I learned more about behaviors and cues.

And I realized that he needed lots of prompts and additional cues to complete each of the behaviors. He wasn't as proficient as I had thought and if I stood still or gave just a verbal or visual cue, he wouldn't respond. There were at least 2-3, if not more, cues I needed to give for the behavior to happen. I had to lean over, wave my hand, give the word, and move a step or two. With a toy or treat in my hand.

Today, I would say he only knows about 5-10 behaviors on a single cue. And even then, some of them will deteriorate under pressure.

How many verbal cues (only!) does your dog know? Does s/he know them as well as you think?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Recognizing Errors

Karin has got me reading one of her textbook: Motor Learning and Performance. And so, I’m learning more about learning and specifically about learning skills. On one end I’m thinking about how this relates to and applies to the skills we are teaching dogs, from a basic sit or down or stay in position, to the huge variety of agility skills. I’m also thinking about how this applies to the dog owners, learning how to do basic training all the way to agility handling. We often forget how much learning happens with the humans too!

One table lists proficiency levels from “early learning” to “later learning.” In early learning, the person is inefficient, has a lot of errors, is not so accurate, etc… With more practice the person is more proficient and efficient and has fewer errors. But at later learning, performances are automatic, fluid, and efficient. Most interestingly at this level is “Recognizes errors.”

I tend to be excited when I see this happening as I know people are thinking about what’s going on and know enough to know when things aren’t quite right. But I’ve tended to put this before “no error” not as a higher level of learning than being almost errorless.

A few situations where we see handlers recognize errors:
• Leash hand is drifting away from side, and then snaps back to “resting position.”
• Handler feeds for a stay so the dog has to streeeetch to reach the treat. Then the handler cringes and feeds a second treat with dog’s “chin tucked.”
• The treat hand moves before the click happens, then snaps back behind the handler’s back.

Dogs also learn to recognize errors too. This can be harder to see as the owners might be cueing the dog to move towards a correct performance. But dogs do recognize errors and move to a right response. (I want to say “correct” there but arg! That negative connotation in dog-ness!)
• Dog starts to move out of a stay but then relaxes back in position.
• Dog moves away during walking but snaps back to the handler’s side before getting to the end of the leash.
• Dog missed the weave pole entrance and started between 2 and 3… when he gets to the end and there’s a pole “missing”, he pauses or gives a confused look.

A benefit of being able to recognize errors not only indicates that we are able to recognize a right performance and what is –not- right. This can also enable more practice of correct responses at home and less practice of incorrect performances, which also furthers a good understanding of correct and accurate skills.

So… think about the errors you make in training without realizing it, the errors you do recognize, the errors your dog makes and recognizes, and how we can utilize this information to improve our training. And of course, it’s great if we don’t have errors… but sometimes they sneak in…!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Differences between Training Aardvarks and Dogs

A few days ago I mentioned this horrible dream I had where my newly purchased aardvark was going to be doing agility and obedience.... until I realized he was an aardvark and NOT a dog.

Last night at training, it came up that we do some things to dogs because we can get away with it. And because we're human. And often without thinking it through and realizing what we're up to. But we should be more careful to go slowly and progress carefully and have a training plan and use sufficient reinforcement.

Many times we discuss how people can "get away" with "bad training". In reality we mean, how do poor training plans, poor handling, poor reinforcement delivery, poor timing, poor criteria setting, poor rate of reinforcement.....etc... get results. How can SO many people be SO successful* despite all that poor training? A big part of it has to be that we can get away doing those things with dogs. You don't see so much poor training with cats or exotics or anything other than dogs and horses.

So, next training session ask yourself, "Is this what I would do if I was training my aardvark?"

Would you have a different training plan?
Would you be more careful with your reinforcers?
Would you be more aware of frustration and body language?
Would you get more repetitions before progressing?

Dogs are not aardvarks, and we can use all their dog-ness to our advantage. But just because "we can" doesn't me "we should."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Owls and Disobedience

My animal adventures did not stop with the aardvark and bugs yesterday.

In the evening I met with friends for dog training (...."practice group 2") at a Central Location for the attendees. We had a good time working with the dogs on our various goals and then had the required pizza afterwards.

Throughout the evening we had sightings with a pair of owls! I've never seen owls before "in the wild" let alone this close. They continued to fly around the area we were in and make their calls. Note that when he looked at me I moved away....

And onto disobedience. If we go back to our 3 reasons for non-compliance:

- Learner is physically or mentally unable to do the task.
- Learner does not understand
- Learner is not sufficiently motivated

We can look at the piece of "physically unable to do the task" and "not sufficiently motivated".

Griffin's foot was not swollen but it was still causing some discomfort by the evening. He would not sit and he would Down but lean way to the other side. So I stopped asking for those behaviors. But I do have to say it was cute.

Griffin would stare at me and watch and watch and watch. I would cue Sit. And he would shuffle his feet. I tried 3-5 times throughout the evening and every time he did the shuffle. He didn't move away or stand and stare, he gave a shuffle of "I know you want behavior, but it hurts!". It was really neat to see he had such an understanding of cue-response and that he would give an attempt he knew was incorrect. I never fed those attempts yet he continued to offer the same shuffle to the "sit!"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Welfare and Ethics

I like to read journal articles. Today I looked up the Journal of Veterinary Behavior and was very happy to find the July/August issued FILLED with articles and abstracts regarding horse welfare and ethics, with much of it pertaining to training and showing.

Dogs are a big industry, but nothing compared to horses. That makes it a little tiny bit easier for some of this research to be carried out. But this also means that the propositions and findings may have bigger impact than if comparable projects were done with dogs.

A constant theme is that we need to look at increasing the use of positive reinforcement. We need to be aware of the dangers to using positive punishment and negative reinforcement. That there are some rules regarding what can't be done in training and competition, but that there's no way to really know what goes on with training. And that people just don't get learning theory! Those in charge of the organizations need to be making rules and regulations and supporting a sport that improves welfare of the animals. We need to look at conflict behaviors seen during competition performances.

Interesting stuff. I'd recommend getting a hold of some of these articles if you can! I hope there's a comparable set of dog articles and abstracts within a few years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Focus on Long Stays

Luna staying!

Duration behaviors are my least favorite to train. I like precision! And that's just not part of long stays.

In an effort to prepare Griffin for obedience, we've been focusing on long stays. Here are a few of the things we've been doing:

1. Distance stays. Bounce between a small number of steps and higher number of steps away. Maximum number of steps this week is 52
2. Out of sight stays. I circled trees/cars and after a few reps I remain behind the object. Sometimes a little longer, sometimes shorter. Max duration right now is about 20 seconds.
3. Relaxing in position. With a chew or toy, letting Griffin hang out while I do stuff in that room. And then go to the other room and come back. And then stay away longer. Today he was there for about 20 minutes. It was not "good training" it was "I forgot I left him loose with no gates up." He didn't budge. Even with pasta on the floor in front of him*.
4. Distraction stays. Because obviously, this is the part I'd rather train. We're working this week specifically on items being set/dropped while he's still. He finds this hard.
5. Others feeding. I've started experimenting with having other people feed him during long stays. We did this once or twice at home and once at camp. I don't know if it will help but I suppose it won't hurt.

Keep in mind, from early on we've established a rule during stays that I always bring the food to him, he is not to get up. If we are using a clicker (in the above listing, only for distraction stays), and he gets up after the click, I'll feed the treat where I had wanted his head. We also have a rule for stays that I always feed the treat under his chin. So he's not even to be reaching for it beforehand. It's a nice rule structure and makes training new types of stays easy.

*It may have been 95* out. And it may have been pasta I tried to feed him and he didn't want to eat and I didn't want to clean up.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Measuring Student Progress

Record keeping can be hard with your own dog/s... but this is getting complicated to try and figure out how to keep track of where ~50+ student-dog teams are at any given week.

At this point, I'm going to have two papers per student, one side we go over together and monitor progress and goals and where we are.... and the other is for more handler-skills, notes to me on what we need to be working on, and questions I might want to pose to my training buddies so we can better help the team.

It looks like the agility and rally forms will be a bit longer (lots more skills, in some ways!) And I'll be better about lesson planning.

There's a lot to this that I really want to be able to track. I want to find out how fast teams are progressing on average, what teams aren't doing as well and what teams are doing very well in some areas. This will help me plan better. I know I want students to have very good walking skills, but if they aren't getting proficient with 6 walking lessons in 5 weeks, I might need to up the number of walking lessons during the sessions or maybe I need to change activities and rework those lessons to be more effective.

I've started this project a few times before and given up. But it's time to see things through!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Handouts and 90* Days

Thanks for all the comments on handouts and lesson plans and record keeping. Now I'm even more confused about how to do a good job of monitoring progress without spending all my time monitoring.

I think I should get bonus points for making all of my agility students pant and sweat tonight. The people more than the dogs... Seriously! The building is kept air conditioned and VERY cool. More cool than most groceries. It's really comfortable. But everyone was panting and dripping. But these dogs are going to be going FAST!

We had another 90* day here... Griffin had his last agility class of the set ( I think we did 4 weeks, started a week late?). We almost didn't go but decided to be adventurous and try. He did really well! Every exercise beautifully! So of course we had to wait while others made multiple attempts. I try really hard for my students to get equal time...but I completely recognize that it's a challenge. You can't let someone struggle and be sad and frustrated!

By the end he was done and lying next to his bowl and actually refused to get up so I didn't push it, we watched the other groups. He left me 0 times today, despite having a bigger group than before (the golden he LOVES and an aussie and a tiny dog). It was great! Soon we'll be all caught up with our skill level group. Theoretically. Griffin needs a checklist-training-flow-chart.

Tomorrow we'll talk more about the handouts and check sheets. And the next day we'll look at long stays and the training we've been doing on that.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Helping Students: Skills checklist?

One thing I'm struggling with, and esp. in my agility and competition classes where students are not necessarily familiar with all the end elements, is getting students to have a strong foundation before progressing. They're eager and want to do it all now without that foundation in place.

I've made a few skill lists for my agility class. One is foundation skills (separate from obstacles, for the most part), obstacle skills, handler/trainer skills, sequence skills, and competition rule/game skills.

There's a few different ways I could use these. I could have them all available for students in class to see me check things off. I could use them after class. I could have some lists available (foundation and obstacle skills?) and some not (handler/trainer skills?). Or I could come up with a different system.

For the most part, in each section there are distinct steps that can be checked off when accomplished and this might help students see how much there is to go. But I odn't know if this will still get enough foundation strength. Maybe if I am telling them exactly what I need to see before they proceed? I do this some of the time, but I don't think I do this enough?

For those of you in class or pretending to be in class or who have been in class before... would a check list that you and your instructor look at be helpful? Will this possibly help us stay on track?

And then...I want to use dates on there just so I can see how fast teams progress on average. I really really want this in my pet classes. It will make things easier to keep track of on weeks where I'm not there and have to leave lesson plans and it might help me see where we have weak lesson plans.

Griffin needs more lesson plans! Our focus this week is duration stays. Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My "Interesting" Dogs

Blaze and Luna both got to go to Purdue yesterday for behavior appts.

Blaze, because he needed a re-check before they felt comfortable trying a new medication.

Luna because she's always been shy and hasn't made a lot/enough/notable progress.

I don't know if it's just busier in summer or if it was a slow day or if everyone just wanted to see Blaze. We had a head behavior tech student and two other tech students. The vet behaviorist, a vet doing her residency, and a vet student. And me. And my friend. And my two dogs.

Blaze was himself, running around and trying to solicit petting from everyone, esploring everything and then trying to get stuff out of the behavior cart. Luna stood near me but was somewhat friends with the tech student, or at least enough to stay near her and get snacks. Blaze ran around with kongs and eating treats. At one point Dr. L asked about tug...I said it was hopeless and very reinforcing and Blaze wouldn't let go... but he could try. So they did. The toy of choice (by Blaze..not what they wanted to use!) was a christmas rope toy. Blaze almost killed it.... the toy kept talking as he'd bite down. It was pretty silly. When we didn't have luck getting him to drop it, Dr. L tied Blaze to the wall. Total tugging time lasted over 15 minutes (without letting go) and he looked sore..... that was problematic later in the day when a stranger was petting him.

We have a new drug, not used in the US much/at all to try out. But first we'll be doing blood work and a ritalin trial (again). None of us really remember what happened previously when we tried this... I should have kept and not lost better notes.

Luna will probably be on fluoxetine or we'll try a specific melatonin product. We've done generic before when I had it for Blaze.... and so either it was a faulty product or just not sufficient enough to help her. She needs a CBC done too.... then we'll start the fluoxetine.

Horray for my silly dogs and hopefully they realize I have a very normal dog at home too! After we get the vetting done, we'll have a stressful few weeks as I try to keep track of everything and everyone and what's going on.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Think" and "Know"

One phrase I've picked up at PosiDog is about always working where you KNOW your dog will be successful and starting at that level, not where you think your dog might be okay.

The same goes for cars. If someone tells you that s/he "thinks" your car will make the trip. Don't drive it. Please.

We left at 3:30 AM this morning to get to Purdue for a 9:00 behavior consult. All was well, we left on time, traffic was NOT a problem even around Indianapolis. But just as we neared the school things were Not Right. The car was hesitant to go. We may have given it a few "motivational pops". It stopped 70' from a parking spot. Oil was fine. Transmission fluid fine. We kicked it a bit more and got it to the space.

The appt. was great, more on that tomorrow.

But then we had to get home. My AAA card did not come. But it is NOT always necessary to have! BUT most AAA tow drivers do NOT want two dogs in the front, let alone dogs visiting from out of state for behavior problems... Ultimately we bought a TON of ice bags, threw those in where the dogs lay, put the dogs in the car...and stressed out as we went as far as the guy could take us. I was on the verge of getting him to pull over so we could get out many times...and thankfully we arrived at our rest stop before I was too upset. The van was MUCH cooler than the outside temperature. Sooo...if your air ever goes out, get a ton of ice and you'll be feeling great. I tried to give the ice bags away but no one wanted any. They quickly melted outside (....but had barely melted in teh car, even with dogs sitting on top?). After a three hour wait there.... my brother arrived to tow us the restof the way home.

I have a lot of car problems. But I'll keep in mind the think/know rule next time I'm off on a trip.