Saturday, October 30, 2010

Responding to Errors and Preventing Errors

Part of a good training plan is knowing what to do if your learner makes an error. The challenge is, there are always options on how to respond. And the best response depends on the behavior, setting, dog, and type of training session.

I'll admit that I don't usually plan ahead on how to respond to errors, but I've been training long enough that I typically make good responses. For me, it's hardest in a class environment where I know what -I- would do, but I don't know what the instructor wants me to do.

With incorrect responses we need to know what happened before the error and what's happened since the error and remember that when we do reinforce....we want to be sure we're not unintentionally reinforcing the incorrect behaviors. And that's confusing and complex.


Last night Griffin and I stopped in a town (city? place?) on the way home from the handling lab. All I had left was about 10 tiny pieces of bread and a bunch of kibble. Surprisingly Griffin was eating and then working for the kibble. We did some obedience chains and pieces. It went beautifully and I left thinking, "Wow, he did everything very, very right or very, very wrong." And then I realized that's how he does just about everything.

Blaze and Luna both have a number of behaviors that vary in precision. They'll auto sit, but not always quite parallel or not quite fast enough.

And that thought was followed with, "Well, shouldn't training always be like that? Right or wrong? It can't be in between. We either accept it or not." And that's why Griffin is more precise. I'm just more careful about what to accept or not. And while we love shaping and use it for many things, unlike with Luna and Blaze, I haven't done a lot of "free shaping heel" and "gradually increase criteria for parallel sits.". We've used completely different training plans for those concepts and Heel is only associated with straightness (taught via the pivot boxes). For most behaviors Griffin is clearly correct or not.

That said...I'm unfortunately human and we get sloppy on occasion. He's very cute and forces me to reinforce behaviors I shouldn't.

Summary points:

Make a plan.
Plan response to errors.
Avoid creating chains of error-correct-reinforce.
Prevent errors.
Maintain criteria!
Adjust appropriately.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A lack of adventures

Long long long week. Tomorrow the goldens get to go to the handling lab again.

Training tip of the day: Plan ahead. Know what you're working towards. Both long term and short term. Two days before the trial is not the time to re-check the rules.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Learning is Complicated

This is "I'm overwhelmed with how complex learning is" Part V.

Associations and experiences change the way neurons react. And numbers of neurons. And neurotransmitters. And the numbers of receptors. And the connections between neurons.

And then I just don't know how to apply this to our dogs. It seems like all our silly training is, in many ways, just so primitive and we have such a poor understanding of what's going on and how to optimize learning.

At this point, the most I'm able to apply:

- We need lots of repetitions.
- We need correct repetitions and behaviors.

We talk about the strength of behaviors and history of reinforcement, but just as important is the strength of the neural connectors... which we get by many correct repetitions.

It's amazing. And the stuff we do know in some ways (yes, practice a lot, that's great, don't let our dog practice incorrect behaviors). But. I definitely under-appreciated the little details and how great the brain is.


That said. It's been painful but I've not sent in Blaze's entry for AKC rally next month. Over the last week he's off the wall bouncing and barking and displaying some almost play behaviors I don't think I've seen before. I'm sure that when it's the day of the trial, he'll be brilliant and I'll regret not sending this in.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trying to resume training

We're at a temporary halt.

All four of our training groups have (temporarily?) stopped.

I can't find any seminar this year to go to with a dog (...four next year are marked down!).

I can't find an appropriate or half appropriate class that I can get to on my night off. I've checked at least 10 places!

Motivation to train at home is somewhat at an all time low.

Luna was on the long line today and really didn't need it. She only left my side when she got caught on plants. I was tempted to take her off...but knew better than to do that.

Griffin was fascinated by the scent on the under side of these vines. I took a look and saw that they were chewed underneath, I would guess deer. Later we went back to playing tug with the "devil's snare."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Griffin is Cute

Ridiculously exceptionally cute.

This morning we did tracking and he was very cute. I put on his harness and he put his nose to the ground, closed his mouth and was searching very hard. He knows what he is doing! And he searched and searched and made great choices and found all the pieces of stale peanut butter sandwich that I had dropped. It was adorable.

Blaze however, did not want to let go of the toys (he had two) he found on the yard. I'll let him do a lot of silly things. But I won't let him track with toys.

The last medication we tried with Blaze did not go as well as hoped. And the worst part is that his reaction (increased activity!) don't make sense when we consider his reactions (or not) to other medications. I was impressed that I understood everything in an email I was sent, it was technical and not written for me.

A newfound picture of 7mo Griff offering heeling to my dad....he said "WHAT is he DOING!" Apparently dogs are not supposed to whip in next to your leg if you have food.

Last night Griffin was learning to stand between my legs and put his feet on my feet. I know 100% that I have never taught him this. And within a minute he was doing it. He should not have learned it that fast. And he would put his foot on my foot even if my foot had been moved. And he wasn't looking. How did he know it was there?! He was staring up at my face! But time after time he would get his foot on mine. I suppose he could tell when I would shift weight and move. I tried to fool him!

Tomorrow Blaze gets to go be a demo dog again. And then I might be at a meeting about Therapy dog programming.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Themes this Week:

1) Puppies. House training. When the puppies have been in the home for 2+ months already. "He's getting better" isn't good enough, this should have been done months ago.

2) Puppies biting and tugging on the leash. Please stop moving. Please be quiet. Please hold still.

3) Adult dogs with poor attention. Please use high value reinforcers. And don't miss those ten times where your dog just looked at you.

4) Lots and lots of brand new dog owners. These people are fun because they don't have silly preconceived ideas about how they've raised dogs before. But they also can get distressed or emphasize little things that don't need as much attention.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tracking Workshop

On Saturday the goldens and I went to a tracking workshop. I took Blaze and Griffin... and was intending to flip a coin to determine the working dog. But, it ended up being activities I thought Griffin would get more out of. I intended to work Blaze when we did articles, but Blaze ended up working the whole session.

We started with some discussion about what tracking is and the requirements for the tests and then went out for some training.

The first few activities were to get the dogs to understand the difference between stepped-on-grass-dirt and not-stepped-on-grass. We stomped out circles (and throughout the middle) while dropping treats. The dogs were then brought out to find stopped grass=treats and regular grass= nothing.

After a number of repetitions, we went to straight lines and then a 90* angle. Articles were added when we did straight lines with food on top and under the article.

Griffin was great. Other than his loose leash walking parts. He was PULLING and SNIFFING when going from the car to the track or the end of the track to the car. I ended up just holding his collar and leading him that way.

But his tracking was very enthusiastic, he would work even ~20' from the neighbors barky dog's fence line, even with someone standing and talking to us as he worked. And when he finished THEN he would turn and jump to greet.

We've done a handful of tracking sessions at home, but I did not expect the level of focus or enthusiasm he gave me.

The only disappointment for me was the level of emphasis placed on article indication and the very little time spent actually training it. I'm still not sure what will be best for Griffin and Blaze and how to transition to a good working response. Griffin should be straight forward with training it in another setting and getting the behavior on the tracks... but Blaze has spent 6 weeks with 1-2 weeks with a different article indication training method and essentially no improvement.

We'll keep working and probably try for a test in the spring.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blaze the Demo Dog

Today Blaze helped to teach vet students how to restrain and get lateral recumbency. Meaning the dog ends up flat on his side!

Nine years ago before a show, it took at least 4-5 people to hold Blaze down to get his nails clipped. And today he was calm while he was rolled/flipped/moved dozens of times. The instructor was very good at it, but (understandably!) the students were initially less coordinated.

I shouldn't be surprised at how well Blaze did, after all I did sign us up too volunteer. But most dogs probably wouldn't be so calm and comfortable, let alone on 30th time.

The lesson was very well done and did a great job of using the activities in Sophia Yin's Low Stress Handling book/materials. The students learned not just one way of completing a task, but that there are many options with some being easier or a better choice in certain scenarios.

The most brilliant and most obvious piece was getting the dog into a down. In a training context, we think about shaping, capturing, luring, or using a target. In this context, the students needed the behavior right away, it wasn't a training task but something that needed done right away. Still, there were options.
* Ask the owner to ask the dog to Down
* Ask the dog to down
* Lure the dog
* Put the dog into position (pick up the feet and stretch...very refined from what some dog trainers do in this scenario!)

And that can circle back to something Megan and I talked about today. Adequate training and optimal training. But that deserves more thoughts for another time.

Over the next few weeks we'll be helping out again. I was really hoping Griffin could go and be around a million touching people and then he'd be ready for any stand for exam. But if Blaze ends up being the only dog who can do the Down station, then Griffin will just stay at home.

We'll be going to a tracking workshop in the morning. I'm not sure if I'll be taking Blaze or Griffin. Blaze has learned a bit about tracking but I'm stuck with articles. Griffin has had less training, but I really want him to learn properly and I'm tempted to stop with the baited tracks and do HITT... but that's what I've said since he was a puppy and we never got ANYTHING done until I started doing food a few months ago. Maybe I should flip a coin...

Thursday, October 14, 2010


We've returned to our off leash walks in the woods. High value treats are in my pocket at all times and the leash is on until I'm sure the area is cleared of deer.

Our Monday walk was going really well. Griffin was coming back when asked, splashing in puddles and NOT chasing other wildlife. We headed to the little pond (big puddle?) and he raced off ahead of me to the bushes surrounding the puddle. I called him. And he did not come.

But before I had to make any decisions about what to do next, he RAN towards me and THIS jumped out of the bush after him.

Apparently someone else wanted to swim. Luckily she only went out that far and didn't try to actually chase him for any distance. It's not fun when cows are scared and angry! I made Griffin pose a safe distance away. He's never been interested in the cows and he keeps a safe distance.

For the next several minutes he didn't leave my side. When we reached the other part of the creek he went off to splash and play. His response to recalls were very sharp the rest of the walk.

I'll be interested to see what happens when we get out tomorrow. Will he do his usual response or his turn-on-a-dime? Was the event actually punishment (and we'll see a decrease in the 'run off when called' behavior?)? Or negative reinforcement (stay close or cows will eat you)? Or was it just something scary and his improved response had more to do with heightened anxiety.

Punishment does work and it can work quite well. But it's not something I intend to use in training. If he's worried by the sight, smell, sound, or being closer than 30' to cows I will have a lot of re-training to do. He doesn't need to go right up to them, but, living on a cow farm and going to various events, it could be problematic if he is scared of cows. I also hope he is comfortable working at a distance. It's been amazing to watch how comfortable he is running 80-150 yards from me. He checks in, but is out there and relaxed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book 5: Carrots and Sticks

I was very excited about this book, a textbook on animal training! A new one! Carrots and Sticks, Principles of Animal Training by Paul McGreevy and Robert Boakes is a 2007 book that is a very science based look at training.

The layout is great. They use a ton of citations to studies, but could have cited more for other information sources. The pictures are great. I learned about several researchers and projects I had not been aware of before. The content was very well organized, but it definitely seemed that the authors are more familiar with the scientific papers than how training is actually applied.

Griffin apparently chooses sticks...?

The first half of the book goes through instincts, learning theory, fear/punishment/avoidance, and animal intelligence. The other half is about case histories. Descriptions are giving of various species and various tasks. I loved reading about all the training solutions and was constantly surprised about how these solutions were NOT what I would have done most of the time (a lot of modeling!).

I was surprised to quite a few errors. There were a few places where stuff did not make sense and seemed to be filler that was never deleted. The section on LRS (least reinforcing stimulus) seems to be incorrect. There were mis-spellings and misunderstandings of some animal training activities or props. For example... bird trainers have these little training stands called "T stands" ...because they're shaped like a T. The book called them 'Tea-stands." It's not a big deal... but it was mildly annoying.

It also might be a more interesting read for people who have NOT just taken five million psychology classes. Most of the content was rather repetitive to what I have recently learned, but I would have probably had a different experience if I read this even just a few years ago.

I wish it had a greater emphasis on how to apply what we know from studies. I'm familiar with the information, I just don't always know how to apply it to make my training sessions more efficient.

I would pass this on to what types of people...? This is a great book for anyone wanting an overview of the science behind training. It is not for someone who wants to train his or her dog to do X or as a how-to of any sort. It's not the most thorough overview, there were many parts that left me with quite a few questions.
Favorite part? I loved the case studies. They could be more detailed and I sure wish there was video to accompany the sessions. I can't believe progress was made so quickly for some of the behaviors. And for others...I'm just surprised the training plan worked.
Least favorite part: There seemed to be a few possible errors and a lot of modeling that supposedly worked. I wish the authors knew more about animal training and would piece together more information directly. I'm not entirely sure who the audience of the book is supposed to be. College students? Animal trainers?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tricks Workshop Part 2: Training is Hard

I'm constantly going between thinking that training is really easy, not all that complicated for the most part and thinking that training is so hard, so ridiculously complicated that HOW do ANY animals learn ANYTHING from humans?

Yesterday at the tricks workshop Griffin and I went to I had a really hard time. I'm feeling a little better about it today but I still don't know what I'm going to do about some of these training challenges.

For our third behavior, Griffin and I were working to stick his head in a wooden box thing. He has a good chin target to my lap and often will offer it to other objects. But primarily when it's at an 'average' height. This meant, that if he was lying down, he would easily and readily stick his head in the box. But if he was standing he would also paw at it (really wanting to do a 2 left (or right) feet position or a 2o2o). I wanted a standing chin touch without a foot touch. Again... we're having discrimination problems.

Part 4: Jumping over legs: Our next behavior was to teach our dogs to jump over an outstretched leg. The training plan the instructor recommended was sit with feet outstretched against a wall (so bottom of feet on the wall), wait for the dog to go over, feed. And repeat repeat repeat. And then raise your legs, sit in a chair, and then stand with foot against a wall and then move away from the wall. Griffin would lie down next to me and put his head in my lap. And do nothing else. After a couple minutes, I cheated, cued him with his "jump" cue, he jumped, I reinforced. And then he would offer it on occasion.

We talked about it. I was helping him too much...and for true shaping I should just wait.

But was that the right choice? If we go back to ROR, I should, for the initial parts of most easy behaviors, be getting 15-20+ opportunities to reinforce per minute. My dog was getting frustrated with so little information (waiting for big steps/jumping).

And then I started thinking about cues. I never do training while sitting on the floor or a chair. I have considered it in the past and decided there's no good reason for it and I want my dog to lie quietly while I am sitting. So is it really a surprise that's what he did?

Most dogs don't need a lot of superpowerful cues. Service dogs and working dogs sometimes have these... do X NO MATTER WHAT, even if cued for something else Luna was really great about this with her Stay cue. She would refuse to do other behaviors if I put her on a formal Stay. I taught her that the stay was the over-riding (ultimate?) response to the cue and NOTHING else was acceptable)

Should I have this "me sitting" cueing "dog lying down" as THE only acceptable response? Will I regret this later? Is it acceptable or should I work to get offered behaviors regardless of my position? How do I even make this decision?

And back to the workshop... I gave up on the sitting and went to a chair and cued it and was going to just try standing and seeing if he would offer, but we did not get a chance for the last step.

The next trick was a paw held on a muzzle. Most of the others were using a loop of tape. I want Griffin to ignore things on his face (muzzle, head halter) so I was going to shape the behavior (lowered head and higher paw lifts) but we were given another challenge and went on to work on paw lifts. Last spring Griffin started to learn to raise his two left or two right paws. He was great. He could do a hind leg lift and hold it for 5-10 seconds. He could do both against a wall for about 5 seconds. He offered the behavior a little last month in CGC class. But his duration is gone. We stopped this after his mysterious injuries in the summer (...Lyme!). So... I've underestimated my dog's current fitness level and we'll go back to more of these tricks and more varied exercises.

Our last trick, we worked on the trick without a name where a dog will do a half spin and then back up between the owner's leg. Luna does this but Griffin didn't. I quickly figured out it would be better for his spin to be clockwise. Counterclockwise turns resulted in him wanting to go into heel position.

Things went well. I was getting the turn. I would then reinforce in position (head away) and he would back up from there, he had that piece previously taught. And then, we had some really bad turns where he whapped me in the legs with his back end. I didn't reinforce. After three times... he lied down and gave his "I am a good dog" look. A few times I "reset" him with a hand target, he would stand and be able to respond a few times, but soon went back to lying on the floor.

The instructor gave an interesting comment at this point. "it is...interesting. I saw him giving good responses. And then he just stopped. It's .... interesting." I'm not sure what was implied by that or what her recommendations were other than to "just wait." Do i have the dreaded "helping addiction" that the Canis instructors mention?

I thought I was good about my shaping, to not have prompts, but do I help my dog too much? Do I need to alter my ROR or criteria more often? How do I effectively measure all of this?

At this point, or maybe a little sooner, it was mentioned that at the beginning of a session we might not know what our behavior is and where it's going. I'm a much more "have a plan" before starting. I have plans for all of my students. Sometimes we alter them after we get started. But I'm regularly feeling guilty for not always writing stuff down first and just "thinking" it. But maybe I need to be a little less careful?

There are so many little decisions that can be made in training. And so many variables!

I'd be interested to learn more about over-riding cues... any resources for this?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tricks Workshop: I'm more confused than ever

First off... my goal was to have Griffin working well around other dogs. We achieved that goal! It was a small group (about 6 dog slots, a few people switched out dogs). Griffin worked well and even sat still with me in the 6'x 12' "sitting" area.

The content was good, the participants had a good time. I didn't know any of them but I was surprised that they weren't more comfortable teaching tricks. I always think it's fairly straightforward to at least come up with rudimentary steps...but then realize that's not the case.

Shaping was the real topic of the workshop, the presenter told us... but it got very interesting from that point. There are a bazillion variations of 'clicker training' but it was the first time I heard someone prefer to use clicker training only for stationary behaviors and not for moving behaviors. I'll have to think this one over, the examples given to explain this seemed to be more about criteria and placement of reinforcer rather than clicker use being a poor choice for the behavior.

Most of the behaviors we worked on confused me. A lot. And not because it was poorly taught, it was quite well done!

1) Nose Touching: Griff knows this well, we quickly went to duration to remind him to sticky touch. Great. And then we were to add distance. I was trying for distance on the ground. So each rep, I held the plate a bit lower. And we soon got to the ground. (In July, prior to the Lyme disaster we worked on this as a possible fix for our teeter performance). Soon Griffin was touching it on the ground, sticking until released. And we started adding distance. It was so great! And then he retrieved it. I didn't know what to do, taking it is part of the retrieve chain and could be a little reinforcing even if I did not reinforce with food. I could not leave him there, he has been taught a HUGE duration for holding items still. So I took it. On the floor. He picked it up. We did several more in hand, lowering it to the ground. But he went back to retrieves.

So... What was my problem? How should I respond? I had a few options:
- Give him a few more tries, eventually he might touch again.
- In hand, and MANY reps before lowering to the ground.
- Reinforce as he moved towards the plate
- Get retrieve on cue and good stimulus control
- Put plate touch on cue.
- After the two above, treat it as a discrimination exercise.

And really, fro training tests, one of the hardest things I've ever had to teach was a discrimination with one prop where we had to do two behaviors. Most people in that group chose a nose touch and foot touch. I cheated somewhat and did a nose touch and a hip touch. VERY different. And after that training group..I vowed to never do foot/nose on the same target. It was a horribly evil exercise.

So...we have a big discrimination task with the target...nose and mouth.

My solution? I did more in hand and then the session was over.

But long term? What will be the best way to get a good discrimination here? Should I use a visual cue? verbal cue? or use specific props that indicate x/y/z behavior? Do I want a dog that really understands the verbal cues? Or do I want a dog with super strong responses that are VERY clear. You ONLY do x behavior with THIS prop. Or can I have both? But how much work is it to get both?

2) Behavior two: waving a foot, on visual cue, at a distance.
Griffin has a foot wave on verbal cue only (taught with capturing). It's really cute. Switching to a visual cue is easy. New cue, old cue, behavior, click, treat. I was feeding in position to keep the stationary sit.
And sometimes, he would do well. I got smart and also fed him for NOT waving if I was NOT asking. And then I'd ask and he did well. But now and then... he would not wave. He would look at me and say "I am sitting. You can't fool me!"

There's a proofing exercise that seems to get a lot of attention for a while and then I hear nothing about it for months/years. Take a behavior your dog knows on cue well. You list a bunch of nonsense words. And at some point, give the cue, and reinforce that response. Your dog is learning to only respond to the actual cue, and is proofed against other things. I don't do a lot of this, but all my dogs have had it at some point. Not a lot. But a little.

And this whole scenario at the workshop brought back thoughts from a Friday training group meeting a few months ago. What if the dogs see this cue transfer as a proofing exercise? Is it the best way to change a cue? Why is it such a common recommendation?

Did I change what I was doing? No. I kept working and used the trusty new cue-old cue pattern. But what if I could be more efficient?

Part 2 later... over-riding/ultimate/? behaviors, my dog not in peak condition, and do I have a "helping addiction"?

And I do need new trick pictures to use. I really like this one though.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fall Adventures

My busy days have been a good prompt to get us into daily walking. We have early morning and super late night walks. Sometimes the sun is still out and we can see where we're going. Otherwise I just hope we don't run into loose cows (or bulls!) and if the dogs get very interested in something ahead, I just turn around.

At work we're planning for some great seminars next year, very exciting stuff that will hopefully be available soon. Luna's been on a new medication/supplement product for about a month. We tried it on Blaze and it seemed to make him more agitated. But Luna is doing well and definitely is MUCH more social with me. She's seeking out attention and sticking closer to me, quite a change! I really need to find a way to get her in class... but I'm nervous to jump into a higher level agility class because she's been away from it for so long and was getting a bit growly to dogs during greetings (....hers not mine!).

There's an APDT at the end of the month that I want to go to. I need to decide who to take and how many runs to do. I hate throwing away money for dogs that aren't ready, but it's -close-, and it would be nice to do as many runs as we can while I'm there.

We haven't been able to get another agility lesson in for Griffin...but maybe in a few weeks my schedule will allow it.

Now back to work.....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Training Video: Stop biting the leash!

This is a dog at the shelter where I volunteer. She's a 1-2 yo pitbull (mix?). And like many young dogs, she loves to grab on the leash and tug hard. This doesn't impact day to day quality of life for her, we have a few small play yards and a big one, so she doesn't have to be walked on leash. But volunteers can't walk her to other parts of the property, she can't go to events, and shy away potential adopters who don't rely on a yard for exercise.

This is from several months ago. I just looked it over and I could have done better training. But even with my errors, she learned very quickly. Every week I give her a review and it takes less time. Sometimes she doesn't bite at the leash.

A few points: When she was tugging I either tried to hold as still as possible. She was so strong I could not do that. Instead, I walked where she was pulling, aiming for NO tension on the leash. It's not as much fun if no one plays.

When I would see a looser grip or an open mouth, I would click and drop the treats.

Soon she had no interest in the leash. I took out pieces of the video where she was doing nothing. I left and came back to add in some more excitement.

What could have gone better?
- Higher value reinforcers. All I had was biscuits. Typically I'll have a few other treats with me... but that day all I found was some biscuits in the supply cabinet.
- I could have reinforced more often. All the times she looked and did not respond. When she comes up to me. When she sits. There were a lot of moments!
- Better prepared. There are a few times I had to stop to break up the biscuits.
- Better timing. I could have clicked much sooner on several of these moments.

But really, this is super easy, even the average pet owner can see changes very quickly.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Found Things and a Flyball Box Turn

Yesterday afternoon we went on a walk and Blaze found a thing he carried home. Later we found out it was part of a tire. The dogs really like it. Unfortunately it had a really strong plasticy-rubber smell and was very soon confiscated.

Griffin and I worked on his flyball turn last night. He's not always putting both front feet on and sometimes trying to launch with just one back foot. But overall the % of correct responses is improving.

This is an extension of the 2o2o contact behavior. Several years ago, Deb Nelson told me that they typically taught the flyball turns very easily if the dogs had a solid 2o2o behavior. The dog would go to the box, offer the position and then be cued away and soon it became a very nice turn. I didn't think it would work, but it's gone better than I expected. Griffin offered a 2o2o (as well as a lot of other stuff...leg lfts, both feet on the same side, climbing up, jumping over!) and soon figured out how to get his clicks and treats. I wish I had the early sessions on video!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Registered for ClickerExpo 2011!

For once, I didn't register last minute for ClickerExpo!

I'm super excited to see lots of training friends. I'm already looking forward to Cecilie Koste (I love her! She MADE me get Griffin!) and Ken Ramirez and all of the other fabulous talks. The working spots in labs tend to be very basic for me... but I did sign up for both of Cecilie's... I need every moment of her assistance that I can get!

I'm now starting an official list of questions for her so I don't panic like I did last March when I met her!

Book 4: One Dog at a Time

Most of my reading is training books. But I also read other dog non-fiction. One Dog at a Time by Pen Farthing is about the author's time in Afghanistan and his interactions with the dogs there.

And the interesting part is the timing. Over the last week, in many different ways, the topic of time, money, and rescue animals has come up. Sometimes we can't help, but we also can't -not- help.

The author couldn't not help some of the dogs he met. With incredibly little resources, time, and energy he did make a difference in the lives of many dogs. And since the events in the book, a ton more people and animals have been helped with the organization he started: Nowzad Dogs

The second great point I got from the book is just how important dogs are for us as companions. Pen Farthing made a difference to the dogs, but they also made a difference to him and the others in his military group.

I would pass this on to what types of people...? People who like stories more than training how-to. People who like dog stories. People who support animal rescue (...and have the time to read.)
Will I re-read this? No, probably not. But I will keep an eye out for his other book about his rescue organization and I will check the website.
Favorite part? The author couldn't -not- help the dogs. And one decision to go ahead and stop the abuse of one dog resulted in improved quality of life for many dogs, and eventually the rescue/welfare/education facility.
Least favorite part: It's easy to forget or not realize the abuse to animals that goes on, especially in other parts of the world with incredibly different cultures. Some of the scenarios are really horrible, but again, I'm from a very different perspective and I can't say I would have made different choices. The descriptions aren't detailed by any means, don't let this keep you from reading!

More training books that I'm almost done with has me very excited!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Adjusting Criteria for the Humans

Sometimes in class we adjust criteria for the dogs, but more often it's for the people.

In a recent class, we had a dog making amazing progress. He needed more challenge, there was no reason his part to stay at the current level. But his owner was very stressed, still had some not so stellar training mechanics, and if we made things harder it could ultimately backfire.

So, as we were working with reactive dogs, we changed nothing that team was doing. We had another team get closer. And closer. And then we had the first team move out 3 feet (...we have a huge training space!). And everything was great.

I could have done a training exercise where the team was changing path. Or moving in a different way. Or doing about turns. Or doing long pauses. Or arcing. And it could have gone well, but it also could have been more stress than was needed.

Recently I've been looking at how I might be holding back my dogs. I've been a bit more diligent about video taping (is it called that if we don't use tape?) and looking at the video, and making adjustments. I probably should set aside some time to work on my skills away from my dogs. I've been using the shelter dogs to practice some things I need for work, as well as a few placement-of-reinforcer variations that will impact how I work with my dogs too. It almost feels like I'm flailing, I've never been out of real training class for so long, my dogs and I need it! I've checked with eight facilities, some agility, some everything, some pet training, and nothing is fitting in with our schedule. Maybe its time I work less.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A very, very close look at behavior

Yesterday I came across this link about dog training and the interesting critisisms that there are "three kinds of dog training." My first reaction was that the author hasn't spent enough time around dog people to realize there are a million ways to dog training and that if you do want to group it, it's not "positive dog training" and "dominance dog training," but "training the dog" or "not training the dog." He seems to think that all people training dogs get their ideas from other dog trainers, and neglecting that piece where after you have a bit of knowledge, it's easy to come up with a training plan or technique. I don't have to teach all my students how to train a "go to mat." I just have to teach them a bit about clicker training and they can come up with the plan all on their own.

But the very valid point made, is that many dog trainers don't know very much about how the dog's brain works. We don't all need to, and pet owners don't have to know about how neurons work and all of that. There is definitely room for professionals to better understand the brain.

I'm in a "behavioral neuroscience" class right now. And there hasn't been enough of it yet to put use to what I'm learning. But I'm very much hoping that the class will help me better to think about what my human and dog students are learning (as well as my dogs and myself!).

This is something we watched in the class. And again, I don't really know what it has to do with dogs. Supposedly dogs have these "mirror neurons" to some extent, but not as much of people. I haven't been able to find a journal article specifically referencing this or what research was done. Let alone how we can use this to our advantage! But it could help explain why visualization exercises can be useful for people. And maybe why it's important for people to see things done correctly? Should we be utilizing more demos and watching and videos in training classes?

At times like this I feel exceptionally inadequate with teaching/training!

After all that seriousness a cute picture is needed:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why is Walking so Hard?

I work with pet owners every week. Some are more successful than others at getting polite walking.

What makes teams unsuccessful?
• They don’t practice at all. They’re not typically surprised that the dogs show little/no improvement, but still do half expect to see improvement.
• They don’t practice correctly. I specifically ask teams to go through the same steps we use in class in home and neighborhood environments.
• Reinforce pulling. I can easily identify these teams as they enter the classroom!
• Low rate of reinforcement. Some teams can stretch the ROR faster than other teams. But most teams do need to literally feed every. Single. Step. For 6-12+ steps before the ROR can decrease a little.
• Poor choice of reinforcers. The cheerios or biscuits can work okay for training in the house. Your dog may love those treats at home. But training will go faster and much better if you use those reinforcers in public.
• Poor leash handling/training skills. This is the hardest for me. I know some of the skills that make for good walking but I am not able to identify all of them. And if I don’t know the skills, I have no hope of developing a training plan to make this work.
• The team is feeding every 2-3 steps. Always. No variation.

It should be no surprise that good teams have the opposite list:
• Initially use a high rate of reinforcement and high value reinforcers.
• Good leash handling skills.
• Practice and require good walking. These students typically avoid any poor walking. And sometimes they give me numbers of how many pulls they had all week. This number is typically under 10. And sometimes it’s 0.
• The handler is proactive. When he or she sees a distraction, there is talking to the dog, or a higher rate of reinforcement, or the owner moves away/alters his path.
• Criteria management. These owners are able to easily adjust the criteria, moving from a higher ROR to a lower ROR and back as needed. And if you look at the ROR over the 5-8+ weeks, there is an overall huge decrease in ROR.