Monday, February 28, 2011

Seminar Weekend: General Thoughts

2 days of Kathy Sdao. 2 days of Ken Ramirez. Throw in school and work and out-of-the-area friends and I'm absolutely exhausted.

I took so many notes. My hands were hurting (especially the day I didn't have my super fancy pen!). By the end, we sounded ridiculous in some of our attempts to make sense of what we'd been learning.

But now Megan is on her way home, two exams are done, my dogs are exercised and semi-clean and only about 1/5 of my notes have been typed up.

General thoughts from Kathy's sessions: There are no good reasons to not do husbandry training. We need to remember how important classical conditioning is. We need to be smart about how we use operant conditioning. We need to have a plan and keep records. Vets need to step up in making husbandry training happen, little changes can be made without much change in time and with little cost. NILF concepts need some reworking and can potentially harm the human-animal bond. We need to watch for triggers and prevent meeting them outside of a training context.

General thoughts from Ken's sessions: There is no good reason not to do husbandry training. It's part of good animal care. Enrichment and training should not be optional. We need to make training plans and use them. Animals in a group is no reason not to train the animals. Though it's often most simple to work one at a time. Most of aggression work is prevention and redirection, and then we need to put in the training. We need to be clever in our problem solving, as well as clear. We need to look at the big picture. Secondary reinforcers are under appreciated. When people are not willing to go with a training plan. Give options. Consider that change might not actually be a priority.

I learned too much even though I've seen some of these talks multiple times before!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Initial Results of Days of Kathy Sdao

I've just had two days of Kathy Sdao talks at a vet conference. And wow! I've only previously been to two of her lectures at ClickerExpo.

It was a great experience, not only does she have a ton to say, not only is she super experienced, but she was extremely generous with her time and answered a TON of questions after the talks!

Unfortunately I've not got very far through my notes yet. I'll be making some changes to my classes now, seriously considering other changes, and applying a lot of it with my own dogs.

I have higher expectations of my students and my teaching than many, but it's really just not enough. My students can be doing better. I can be teaching better. My dogs can be learning more. My training can be better. I can be learning a lot more.

One of the things I've gotten less proficient at over the shaping in classes. We're doing more luring and prompting than we probably should in group classes. The basic manners classes I teach have a wide range of students, but I really should use the adult dogs, dogs with other learning histories, impatient people, etc make me compromise good training.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Time Management

There are too many times where I say, " I don't have time," " I didn't have time," "If I had more time. But this week I heard something this week that has made me really think about what I am doing with my time.

Yes, we all have a limited amount of time. But how we choose to use it is impacted by whether or not something is important enough (or not) to make time for the activity. It's really quite logical. But I hadn't thought of it like that before. And now I can't get it out of my head.

All week I've been looking at what's important to me, how I use my time, and what I really should be using my time on. And I don't quite know what the results of all this thinking will be, but I guess we'll see.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Go Out Training

We hear about a lot of variations. Teach the dog to retrieve something that is ultimately (sometimes) hidden. Teach the dog to foot target the gate. Nose target the gate. Foot target a floor target.

But.... Griffin does remarkably well if he is expecting to JUMP the item! I asked Megan why no one talks of this variation. Apparently if your dog jumps out of the ring its Very Very Bad, but if your dog foot targets the gate and knocks it over, it's only Very Bad.

That said, I think his excessive response to cues and his enthusiasm is great:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ten Years of Living with an Abnormal Dog

Well, a few weeks less. Blaze is now officially ten years old. That's a lot time. Ten years ago my life was completely different. It's especially cool to spend his birthday with a great friend who moved away just months after I got Blaze.

Year 1: My first dog. We started training class at five months. Our first show, 4-H Shomanship, at six months. We got first place!

Year 2: We were with a different 4-H group. He was very mouthy. He bit a trainer for hiting him for mouthing me... We used clicker training to decrease the mouthing.

Year 3: We learned a lot about clicker training. We did our first agility class. It was amazing. We also did our first agility trial.

Year 4: More agility. More training. More dog reading.

Year 5: Luna was added to the family. More training with Blaze and more agility class.

Year 6: We visited a pair of trainers who thought his behavior was very abnormal and recommended a consult with a veterinary behaviorist.

Year 7: We visited the vet behavior clinic at Purdue. We did a lot of playing with meds. Our first AKC rally trial! We started KPA together!

Year 8: More playing with meds. Griffin was added to the family. I was really able to see what behaviors were golden retriever and what were very exaggerated.

Year 9: Not so much work, not so many meds working well. Not so great. A neuro consult led us to find he likely has a brain lesion, likely resulting in his behavior problems and seizures.

Year 10: We started tracking. He LOVES tracking.

Year 11: ???

He's literally changed my life, in very good ways and in very not good ways. If I didn't have him, my life would have likely been completely different. Yet at the same time, I can be extremely empathetic to owners with challenging dogs. It's hard to be scared of your dog. It's hard to be working so hard and seeing no progress. It's hard to not be able to reach your goals. It's stressful, physically demanding, and mentally stressful.

Thinking about euthanasia for a pet with a behavior problem is important but incredibly difficultly and a different scenario from when physical problems are present. Quality of life is very hard to evaluate. We came close more than once, starting at 6 months. The closest was about two years ago, and literally as I was about to make the call, I got an email about an amazing student dog who had just died in a very unfortunate situation. The student just returned to class with a puppy.

Training and management are important. Both to help maintain current levels of behavior and to decrease problem behaviors. Ignoring unwanted behaviors is not enough. Training basic cue response is not enough. We need to be using management and training of incompatible behaviors, and we need to be using response substitution.

Professionals really need to know what they're doing. Numerous vets, trainers, and enthusiasts told me that my dog needed more punishment. More training. More exercise. Better training and exercise. And we never addressed the underlying chemical imbalance until much later in life than we should have. Our life would have had a very different path if this was addressed early on. This goes back to the MOST experienced people need to be teaching puppy and basic classes, and watching out for abnormal things in young dogs. These people need to know enough about normal and abnormal behavior to know when cases should be referred to a vet behaviorist and/or appropriate professional.

It may just be behavior, but the implications of abnormal dogs are much greater than just behavior.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I have been training my dogs

Despite the lack of sharing. Griffin went to Posidog 4 times this week, was in two classes (off leash and flyball). We had some great things at both classes and in our other training sessions... only one of them was not productive. Blaze went once, got to play fetch and run and crashed into the dog walk. Luna went once and did some recalls and running and being brave.

I've been trying to get into competition obedience classes, I have one person for privates potentially, no replies from two others I contacted about group/privates. I emailed another that's running group classes for CD or above and begged to either get into the class (and we'll sit out on what we can't do) or for that person to teach a novice class... basic obedience is run at the facility, but that's not what we need.

It was only Griffin and another dog. We had fun doing (almost) full runs and working on the pass-by skills. The other dog is doing full runs with great box turns (so we think at least!), and Griffin is still limited in what he should physically be doing, so we had him only running down or only running back, depending on what part we were working in. We were bad people and let him go down for the ball and back a few times (no box) and he was so cute.

Off Leash Class:
We worked on recalls past another dog (literally running over his tail!), the dog running past him, dogs heeling past, and sits at a distance.

Earlier in the week:
Go outs that were ADORABLE. There is video. He was pouncy and fast and very responsive to the Sit.

My record keeping system needs a major update. Has anyone made any recent record keepin changes? Found great ideas? I'm currently planning to mush together multiple documents, colored fonts, and some excell sheets....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

High Value Reinforcers

Typically we tell students to use high value reinforcers, especially in class, especially in distracting environments, and especially for super important behaviors. We talk about how to determine what is how value and to be clever and to check and see if your dog actually likes things as much as you think he does.

But then we also need to have Super Special Reinforcers to use sparingly. We can use these for the very best responses, as surprises, and to increase the quality of the response. There's an increase in brain activity when this unexpected reinforcer happens. This can help strengthen the response.

Using high value reinforcers in general can help promote learning and create a strong reinfocement history.

We also talk about using all of a dog's meals for training or in enrichment toys. We talk about how this can increase the value of the food but also help get in more training repetitions. And sometimes people bring kibble to class. And sometimes it's great but sometimes it's not. And what if other food would be higher value? Even though we're getting good responses, what would happen if we're using something even better?

And then there are some instructors who tell you to start out with medium-low level reinforcers and save the best stuff for later. Even if your dog is not doing as well right now. What does that mean? It's good to have something else later, but what happens to your behaviors now?

And I know about all of this and think about it all. And then what did I take to town today when I was training dogs? Kibble and one piece of sausage.

That said, things went well. It was as an exercise and enrichment activity mostly, b ut we did some response to name and recalls with Blaze and Luna, and then Griffin also did some training. Formal recalls and Stand For Exam. And heeling. And stays. He was cute.

It will be almost 60 late next week, I can't wait!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dog Hair Splinter

How is it possible for a dog hair to wedge itself so far into my hand or foot? Seriously!

I thought there was a problem with my shoe. or sock. But no, it was a hair, stuck very far into my foot!

The found dogs are still here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Getting Lost Dogs Back Home

After I posted yesterday, I was about to sit down and start getting through a huge pile of work. I looked out the window and saw a huge golden and black short haired dog.

I ran outside and called them away from the road, they hesitated, but came and ignored the kibble I'd tossed on the floor. I leashed one and held a collar on the other and took them to a chain link kennel behind the house.

We found no tags. The golden was very much a puppy, probably around a year old and the mix is definitely an adult.

Within an hour, we had gone to the vet to check for microchips, called four other vet clinics, called rescues/the county shelter, and posted to a few lost pet websites.

By the evening we had made signs, gone door to door and posted to craigslist.

Unfortunately no one seems to be looking for them yet.... The puppy is GIANT and HAIRY and COVERED in burrs. And did I say he was huge?

Hes really playful but seems like an outdoor dog in smell, hair, and the way he acts around things. I want to let him play with my dogs but as he's still intact and we don't have health info.... no play time.

I'm out to go check with some more people and to put up some more signs. Any other ideas?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Judging Clinic

We went to the 4-H Judging Clinic on Saturday, it was fun to see a lot of people from all over. One of the more exciting was someone I had seen at ClickerExpo last March....she has a fabulous golden and they do obedience. I saw her at a few 4-H events, and finally caught up with her last August. She's given me a name of an obedience instructor that I'll probably be doing some privates with.

Last year was my first time judging with 4-H. Our club did two fun shows (I did the showmanship judging) and I got to judge Obedience, Showmanship, and Rally at a county fair.

During the clinic I learned a lot about what I could be doing better, but I also learned about all the things I was doing well. I disagreed with the presenters at times, but that's the great thing about judging.... unless it's in the rules, it really is up to the judge.

I learned about some new systems for scoring, like flipping up your paper and using the opposite side for making notes about the patterns and noting crookedness, lagging, forging, etc. This will provide more info for the exhibitor and help me keep on track.

I learned how important it is to read and know the rules. It appeared that others did not.

I really like how we do discussions at the end of our fun shows. We talk about what we saw, what the kids really need to work on, what judges are looking for, how things will be the same or different at other fun shows, at county fair, and at state fair.

I learned how to better prepare our kids for events. Some of the things I'm teaching because it's how things are done. Some of the thigns I do because of the project books listing xyz as being important. But some of the things we do are superstitious. I thought I had gotten rid of most of those...but some are still present (too much eye contact to the judges).

Ultimately they had enough demo dogs for the time frame, so Griffin didn't need to work. That may or may not have been a good thing. But he was adorable when he came in for a visit later.

I realized later I should have gotten some of my doggy friends to go, that they could be very good judges. I also wished that the instruction at the clinic had a piece on teaching and how to appropriately interact with youth.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Preparing for a Demo

Tomorrow Griffin and I will be helping with a Judging Clinic as part of the 4-H Committee.

I'm not sure how much we'll do or be asked to do or wish we could do... but we will get in some great training and experiences.

I'm prepared with all my treats. I made Griffin some french toast (It makes the bread not so crumbly and better tasting), fish pancakes (the fish treat recipe cooked on a griddle rather than in the oven), and we have a pack of cream cheese as well as a carefully cubed block of cheese. And some garlic crackers.

The only thing I didn't get was the tripe.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Introducing the Dogwalk

I'll admit...we've put this off with my agility students. The dogwalk we have is not adjustable. We're not yet in a situation where it's an option to purchase or make an adjustable dogwalk.

The instructors have come up with a few ways to transition dogs to the full height dogwalk. But I had not tried anything...until this week!

Our beginners have an introduction to contact obstacles in two ways.
1) We train a solid contact behavior using platforms/planks. Sends and then proofing. Lots of variations. A lot of this. When we're really good at it, we'll do a special hop-on the end of the real obstacles (with an does not approach "facing up" the obstacle) and the dog sticks and is reinforced and then proofed for it.
2) We do some running over low aframes, a plank to a table height, platforms that are about 8" from the ground. Once the dogs are okay and comfortable and happy with this, we do NOT do any more of this stage.

And this keeps them busy for a good 6-8 weeks. Then we raise the aframe. And start with the teeter.

So... I have my intermediate dogs that needed the dogwalk. They were able to do full height aframes. Good contacts there. Teeter training in place.

My plan was to have the dogs get quite a few treats while up and over. I would hold a leash close to the collar to prevent any disasters and prevent the handlers from doing anything weird.

And how did it go? One owner admitted her dog had accidently gone over when she was there for a walking session. And he was great and did his contacts. Dog 2, perfect. But this dog is interesting as he learns so quickly it seems as if he already knows everything.

How will it go with future students? I don't know. But the good foundation, the high confidence level, and careful planning let this go very well.

So, 3/3 dogs, these two, and Griffin, had introductions to full height dogwalks that went great.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Griffin's New Friend

We've trained around this young dog a few times previously. The German Shepherd Dog is only a little over a year old and very adorable.

The goal is for them to exist together off leash without getting wild. During the walk we rotated which dog was on a long line and which dog was off the line. By the end of the walk, we had them both off leash and appropriate minor interactions. They would smell the same spots or run together without playing (while the puppy went to his ball or on the way back with it).


Griffin was very glad to run but it will be several days until we can go again...with a layer of ice outside now, it's too slippery for everyone and too sharp for dog feet.

And just a hilarious capture of a dog in motion.

Book 11: Evolution of Canine Social Behavior

I've only read the first edition and not the newer addition of Evolution of Canine Social Behavior by Roger Abrantes.

While I was reading this class I was taking an animal behavior class. It was fun to see the Abrantes book go right along with the topics in the class. It really is a mini textbook about animal behavior using pretty much the standard vocabulary and concepts that ethologists use. It's a great way for a dog enthusiast to touch on ethology and learn some of the vocabulary and associated concepts that dog culture/consultants/professionals don't always utilize. Not all of the examples and concepts are directly related to dogs or even canids, though most of them do.

That said, I don't think it's directly useful for many of the people interacting with and working with dogs. Having an evolutionary understanding of behavior can help to understand what we're working with (and against) when we are training, but the book is not about training and so that piece is left up to other books or the creativity of the reader.

It can be difficult to take studying domestic dogs as 'real' science, and that's why it has been more difficult for all sorts of researchers to use dogs and study dog behavior. This book definitely reminded me to think about dogs in terms of something other than behavior and how I'll be changing (or not) behavior.