Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maintain Criteria

This is something that comes up regularly in the higher level classes or with the more advanced students.

There's a point in training where sometimes we want to reward every response and every bit of effort. Error-less learning can be a good thing.... but if we're having to talk about maintaining criteria.... there are errors that are being reinforced!

Training a dog can be hard, because we do have to adjust our criteria to the environment. It's not quite like cooking where you do one step and then go to the next. We have to be aware of our surroundings and our learner's state and adjust accordingly.

But we do need to remember to maintain almost any stage there are things that we do not need to be reinforcing any longer and it's important to keep the end goal in mind and it's important that we are constantly working towards that goal.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summarizing a Week of Training

Last week I recorded here what I typically record elsewhere....

I found:
Blaze had ten sessions, mostly heeling and tracking.
Luna had twelve sessions; walking, recall, and tricks.
Griffin had forty two sessions, and a lot of different things, mostly obedience skills.

What was good: I do give my dogs opportunities to work on most days. And on times where it doesn't go well (like Griffin before class on Thursday), we adjust and sometimes don't even work then. We saw improvement in many areas, and for the most part we did have those themes on behaviors and I wasn't jumping around completely.

What was not so good: They all could use more work. I could be more efficient with my sessions. Many times, I had a good plan but then didn't follow it, instead I did run through or worked on maintenance more than training an improved behavior. While both of those things have a time and a place, there is no excuse for the amount of sessions I spent NOT actively training skills.

How I will utilize this over the next few weeks: Before I start training, I will literally write down a few words and hopefully that will keep me on track. I'll try to do more sessions spread thought the day, but especially early on in the day. By the evening I get tired, and especially after work I'm less likely to do good training.

Was this a typical week? For the most part, yes. I usually will take Blaze or Luna to work at least once, and I typically work Griffin before and after the Friday class. But in other ways and number of sessions it was fairly typical.

A Week of Training: Saturday

  • No formal training.

  • Recalls: On our long walk, she was on her 50' line...I called and fed several times. Not as much as I would have liked, because it didn't look like she was ready for that.

  • Field Retrieve: We did 5-10 formal field retrieves...sit...wait...item tossed... back to me... I didn't ask for a return to heel, but did start tugging immediately.
  • Field Blind Retrieves: 3 reps, I placed his preferred item (a linkable toy Blaze brought out or a large stick Griffin was in love with) when he wasn't looking, called him over, had him get into heel, and sent him 15-20' to it. He was quite excited.
  • Recalls: A lot of reps. 1/3 for a handful of food and the rest for tugging on my glove. It's really amazing how reinforcing tugging is for him now. He was sticking close to me and I wasn't getting too many opportunities to call him from further out! We did a lot of this while Blaze was busy playing in water and Luna was exploring in bushes.
Our adventure was a 90 some minute walk in the back fields. I often take all three dogs, but today I had Griffin loose, Luna on a 60' line and Blaze on a flexi. When we got to a nice spot, I tethered Blaze by the shallow water so he could dig and play and Luna just explored up the sides of the creek. Griffin and I were able to play together.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Week of Training: Friday

  • Rally: A fake run through, no signs set up, just seeing where we were. We just need to test this elsewhere and do more training with distractions.

  • Tricks: Working on her paws around an object behavior. She's so gentle! This will be a challenge. I need to go get a PVC bar instead of using random things. But she was readily offering the behavior.
  • Tricks 2: Working on getting her up into a begging position. She was sooo hesitant to follow the reinforcer-lure!
  • Scent: I hid his item twice in the shed (in a plastic bin and up on a shelf), he successfully found it each time, I don't think I helped him other than the "Find it!" cue . When I did 2-3 reps outside (once hidden under shrubbery) I pointed him in the general direction with a "find it" and he started scenting immediately!
  • Trick: HOlding an object. He wasn't able to hold his beg position very long, probably sore from yesterday, so only 30-40 seconds on that and I won't do more until tomorrow.
  • Field Retrieve: we did 2-3 reps with a bumper. he has a great return to heel and his wait while it was thrown was good too. I need to work on that steady aspect more though as it wasn't as solid as I would like.
  • Stacking: Again, just a few reps. Megan fixed my accidental training of getting Griffin shifting his weight back rather than forward so now he looks good
  • Grooming: I combed out his back feathers today. We started work on tail but htat'll be some separate training sessions from the back feathers. Tail touch. feed. two hands on tail. feed. When we're doing SFE training I can pull on his tail and swish it and he's steady, but when I have the brush and am thinking brush thoughts.... he knows it. That means I'm going too fast, too far, and not enough reinforcement.
I had all intentions to do tracking at the park or school in the evening, I already had to go to town to work with the 4-H'ers, but it just didn't happen. I intended to do it after, as we finished early and there was still some daylight. That didn't happen either. Hopefully we'll make it out today!

Here's some of the Figure 8 training from Thursday:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Week of Training: Thursday

  • Retrieve: We did play fetch, alternating items (plastic ball, jolly ball, kong wubba toy). Preferred of those is definitely the wubba. At one point he caught the ball part and one of the flaps in his mouth...and his paw was stuck in the loop...he wouldn't let me come near to help, but soon he regripped and his leg was free. I tried to reinforce with meat for the drops, but it just didn't work. The toys were a higher value reinforcer.
  • Heeling: When I should be working on duration or distractions....we had yet another session where my point of reinforcement was parallel dog, and I did lots of left turns to reinforce all those effortful moments of bringing his hind end in.
  • Article Indication: This has been a long-term problem area. I was/am really tempted to do a working spot at the Steve White seminar to work on this... but I don't know if it's a Blaze-isn't-quite-right problem or a Kristen-training-problem. So, we did touches to random objects in hand. Next session, we'll use the same set on the ground.
  • Recalls: With turkey.... call dog, run, feed. (Yes, I've been watching the preview of Susan Garrett's ecourse and wistfully wishing there was a way in our budget to make it work right now). And lots for hanging out near me too. She was quite spooked by things going on out at the barn.
  • Heeling: Outdoors, reinforcing for attention while stationary. It was hard for her. She was hesitant about taking the food. I need to use the highest value reinforcers that we can!
  • Tricks: We worked on foot touches to a cone. She was offering it, but not readily.
  • Scent 1: Toss, bring it back, tug, out, toss a higher value toy, retrieve, tug, out, FIND IT! and start all over. Sometimes I'd hide the scented tug while he retrieved the other.
  • Tugging: And along with that I was careful about our tug training. It's so cool that he knows to work for things. I hold the bumper by the rope in my hand while we tugged on the fleecy scented tug. He REALLY wanted the bumper but knew he had to tug the other to get it. He didn't drop the fleece. He kept eye the bumper and his outs were VERY good.
  • Heeling: Varying duration from 7-27 steps. All was beautiful. Some with food off of me.
  • Holding a stand: We did one session practicing me poking him in the back end and touching, he was great. Second session we started with that, then I worked on cutting a burr off. And the third session I was combing him out. Horray for Griffin.
  • Stacking: Me putting him into a stack. These sessions are more for than him learning much of anything. But he's really cute the way he holds whatever position I put him in.
  • Trick 1: I played with holding an object with his paw. I tried it from a sit but he wanted to nose touch and then bat at it. And then I realized that if he was in the beg position it would be easier because he would be trying to grasp something. He did it for a few clicks!
  • Trick 2: Same thing, not as much success. We did a few reps and I think I let go of the cone too soon and it fell and he was a bit sad as it wasn't an expected thing. Plus he was physically getting tired. We'll hold off on this until tomorrow and see how it goes. I have video to share later.
  • Scent 2: We went out and while he ran off into the yard, I hid the scented tug in the connecting shed. I left the shed, called him to it, and sent him in with a "find it". He started to go around smelling things right away!! He checked out a few corners and then found it... dove into a pile of PVC for it. We did LOTS of tugging. After that, we did 2-3 more tossed into brushy areas. On all but one he started exploring and scenting (neck outstretched, mouth closed, a slow stalking type of walk) right away. The "Find it" is a temporary cue, not a performance cue, but apparently is teaching him to start seeking a source for the scent....
  • Heeling: Right before work, out in the parking lot. No responses, refusing food, after 15 seconds I put him back in the van.
  • Evening training after work:
  • **Heeling: Duration, varying between 5 and 15 steps. We did a few pace changes too.
  • ** Heeling: Figure 8 with imaginary posts and then real plastic bins out. That was harder, his outside loops were poor.
  • ** Drop on Recall: We worked on the drop part, and also introducing the release cue that means a drop will soon come and the stay cue that means you will be released to drop. We did some regular recalls too using those stay and come words
  • **Misc: A few go out reps (10-15' it was REALLY straight!), a few reps with signals. He was really working well tonight. Except when he didn't want to eat the reinforcer of plain pasta.
Today was a training-ful day. At times it was more testing than training (esp in the training building. It's a bad influence!). But we did do a lot of training and made progress in a few areas. I also took some video of the trick and at work, but I'm not sure what to do with that...I do so much video but I never know how to use it for educational purposes beyond my own watching and evaluating.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Week of Training: Wednesday

  • Heeling: Reinforcing head up. Careful to feed in position. He's nowhere as precise as Griffin but he has a feeling of reliability and long history of practice.
  • No fun and games.

  • Shaping: We were at training group early and as I use these spikey round things for shaping games in class, I thought that I should actually do it with my dog. Unlike student dogs, he really wanted to retrieve it. I got some pawing (while he tried to flip it so he could retrieve it!). And then we tried to get rear feet, he did well with that for about 30 sec and 10+ reinforcements, but then wanted to retrieve it again.
  • Heeling: Figure 8's with real people. He was really beautiful for a bit but then wandered off and didn't want to come back. Eventually he did and was nice. We'll play with this at home wtih various items as the post and to just build duration.
  • Stand for Exam 1: Various people walking past at close distance and reaching. He did quite well.
  • SFE 2: One person touching a lot, we kind of walked up to her. He could do this MUCH better and with fewer errors than above. I worked up to having him start in heel, stand, I walk 6' away, the person walk up and touch. So, essentially a real SFE but wtihout me walking around.
  • Scent 1: His scented tug-wool-ring hidden under cones and when he brought it back I would tug with the preferred disc. There were a LOT of moments of good scenting, at one point he spun in a circle after catching scent and was trying to find it. Horray for using his nose!
  • Scent 2: Tug ring under a cone, cones held down, and when he found the right one and pawed at it, I asked for a sit/down, reinforced with food or tugging. We repeated this several times. He sometimes did well but sometimes was just offering sits or downs at either cone without scenting.

A Week of Training: Tuesday

  • A heeling session: Due to the amount of tracking that we have been doing, he thinks outside = tracking. Heeling is difficult. We attempted a high rate of reinforcement for head up and working.
  • Heeling: She wasn't taking the food I had, we used play when she moved into position. I didn't wait for her to complete move, but as soon as she started, I started the play. We were able to keep it up for a few minutes and then I stopped while I was ahead.
  • Contacts: After classes tonight I took her over the dogwalk a few times. She was a bit worried at first and never ended up running but did go over. She only stopped 1/3 times, but 100% at one end of the obstacle....
  • Exploring: She got to meet a few people who were sitting quietly. As she entered the building, she seemed really happy, even about the people, but then someone else came in and she got sad and crouching down and didn't want to work, so we shoveled some treats into her mouth as we left.
  • Heeling: I intended to work on duration but ended up on more for attention and good choices. We were working in the front yard and he was staring longingly across at the pond Those times where he came to me? REINFORCE!
  • Group time: We met with a trainer friend in the afternoon for some work
  • -- Group stays: He did a sit stay (1ish min) and down stay (1ish) next to another dog. I fed him a few times throughout but he didn't think about breaking or visiting the other dog. Or the person.
  • -- Stand for exam: Two sessions on this, we worked on the person going past, pausing, fake petting and real petting. We even did well with a bit of real petting but soon he got silly and wiggly.
  • -- Heeling: in a bit of a group. It was not good. He was a bit floor sniffy, so we worked on offered attention then. And then when he did heel, he didn't seem as intense as he usually does.
  • Scent/Tugging: We got Griffin to tug readily on his favorite disc. Then on his scented tug. Then hid that tug under a cone (two setting out....with holes in them) and we sent him to find it. he did, brought it back and disc tug. We did a few reps and it was okay but not great. There were some floor smells he loved and it was hard to get him back. But then we did another set with food, he found the tug, brought it back and we tugged for food reinforcer. It was really cool to see him work hard at tugging to get the food reinforcer. We had a talk this morning with someone who thought food was poor for retrieves because it makes dogs let go....I argued that a dog that understood food use would just work arder if he wanted the food.
Tomorrow we're supposed to go to training group, but if it ends up super stormy, we'll stay home and do indoor games. There is too much to work on and not enough time. Luna needs more in public and more enthusiasm. Blaze needs enough work to discriminate between heeling and tracking. Griffin....a lot. Esp duration. And practicing with our scent games. I didn't do well with record keeping today but I did well with having specific goals for each piece of the training sessions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Week of Training: Monday

  • A track. It was short, we went across some brushy areas that normally I walk around. He only hesitated a bit, checking other options before going through. We also had two places where we crossed a road, and he seemed to do fine there. It almost seemed too easy. I'm really worried that I might be accidentally cueing him!
  • Handling: I've abandoned her claws for two long. We did a bit of work as I clipped her nails. As I well know/knew, she needs work on that. She will tolerate it and that's not really good enough, we want our dogs to love handling
  • Tricks: Going over and under Griffin. Over is easier, it's what she learned first. Under goes okay if she's Down and I use a target stick
  • Agility: Monday night is advanced agility class, so after lessons, I run Griffin on all the courses. He did well, I didn't. It was sometimes harder to get where I needed to be. However, his behaviors were good, turns were efficient, and he was very, very enthusiastic
  • Greetings: We didn't intend to use this and I didn't have food ready, but he did some really really great greetings with 3 different people. They're people he knows and love, I wouldn't do public trips without food at this point, but I'm still impressed he didn't think about jumping at all.
  • Stays: While I ate lunch and did computer work, Griffin was sit-staying about 3' away. I'd reinforce at intervals from 3 sec to 25 sec. He did really well, at one point he offered some stands and chin targets to a chair next to him, but we soon got back into the sitstay pattern.
  • Cue transfer: At training group, we did a practice of cue transfer (new cue, old cue, behavior, click, feed, and soon the dog is responding to the new cue. We played with transferring his temporary go out cue (Go!) to his new cue (Run!). It went well, in 5 reps he was offering the behavior on the new cue, we did a few other behaviors (spins, downs etc), gave the new cue, and he still responded properly. This got me off on a tangent about our stand not being able to get on a verbal cue.... and then how this is probably the result of too good of stimulus control.
Today I was better about being more specific with each session. Tomorrow we have the morning to work on our own, an afternoon meeting with a newish training group, and then time after evening classes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Looking at a Week of Training: Sunday

Let's see what happens over a week of training. Every week is a bit different, but it's good to check in and see how time is being used and if training sessions are actually productive.

- 1 track in the yard. He did well, I don't know if I'm influencing because I know where it is or if he's actually doing well. I wanted to go to a big park/field to do another big one but we didn't get a chance.
- Fetch in the yard: This is training, he drops one toy and I toss another. Despite being an older dog, it's hard for him, so it's a good thing for him still.
- Stays: in the kitchen while I ate dinner. This kept him off of my plate. Not real good training, more of maintaining behavior and putting trained behaviors to use.

- Recalls in the yard while she was playing with Griffin. I was careful to only call if I thought she would come, so it was more about getting in repetitions than making actual progress in difficulty level.

- Recalls: Same as with Luna!
- Heeling: In the yard for a tug. We were working on increasing duration. I didn't push it past 10 steps.
- Scent: We're teaching him to find a scented tug.... a few reps where he saw it hidden under a blanket and had to pull it out and then a few reps with it under a cone. He was actually smelling for it and the tugging was decent.
- Formal recalls: More of maintaining and testing than training. We did a few reps.

-I do more maintaining and testing than I should.
- I need to be sure we're actually making things harder.
- Megan...where are my training plans?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Training Schedule

We're getting into a nice pattern of working at home, in town, at training group, and after classes. It'll be easier once I have my crates set up in the car better and I can take multiple dogs, but for now we're doing okay rotating dogs.

Thursday night I worked Blaze after class... we're debating on whether or not we're ready to go to an AKC rally trial for his last RN leg.

It's nothing exciting, just some heeling and behaviors. He's cute. And just sort of falls into place with his enthusiasm. It' s a lot different to work him than to work Griffin. Blaze is not as precise, but puts a lot more effort into his behaviors.

When our schedule changes again in another week, I'm hoping we'll be able to stick to our nice working pattern. It's good to be able to get everyone enough training time. The only thing that would be even better now would be if I could get all the dogs into classes. Or any of them!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Unsuccessful with Scent

I am not good with scent. I've been reading about dogs for ten years. Almost that long ago I was reading tracking books. I did very little scent work of any time because it's so hard for me to understand.

Last year I finally got brave enough and started teaching tracking to Blaze and Griffin, with food on the track. The luring-ness was painful, but it worked fairly well.

But then the article indication part happened. I tried multiple things with Blaze. It didn't go well, and I mostly attributed it to his brain damage. Maybe this is one of the things he can't learn (like go to mat, two on two off...and a recall) unless his meds are working?

Griffin has had a bit of trouble with scent articles.

And then with another scent project we're doing. Today was week/session 5. He is nowhere near the other dog that started at the same time. That dog made more progress on the first day than Griffin has so far. Griffin doesn't understand that scent can provide a cue.

We tried shaping. We tried breaking it down. We tried classical conditioning. We tried operant conditioning. We tried using cue transfer.

So we're going for some sloppy training (tugging and fetching and then finding a hidden scented gu) to get him searching and then going back to clean training set ups. And hoping that works.

I need more scent resources and I need more scent successes.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Making the Best Better

That's the 4-H motto.

Today I was at the Ohio 4-H Volunteer Conference. About 1000 adults and about 700 kids. That's a lot of people. There were educational sessions and a big lunch-awards thing.

In the morning, as part of the state dog committee, I helped with a presentation on the dog program this year. I got to talk about our camp, how to teach CPE games, and a little about teaching rally.

Our club advisor had nominated our camp crew for the Innovator Award. And we were one of three groups to receive the award. We have a big fancy plaque to ....hang on the wall when at camp?

But it was amazing to hear about all of the great things people are doing. One of the other innovator receivers had created a day long cattle camp. Another was a kid who heard her county would be shutting down 4-H due to lack of she raised THOUSANDS of dollars to keep it running.

And there were a ton of other really great things. One group of cloverbuds (under 8 years old) had some sort of sponsorship program...they read at the library and got little clovers on the wall representing money raised for the time reading. And then they used the money for hundreds of dollars of books to be donated to their library.

There were also special awards for adults who had been volunteering with 4-H for a really long time. One of them had been a volunteer for seventy years. To be dedicated to the same program, for THAT long, impacting THAT many kids. Wow!

Then, on the other hand, this is my fifth year as a volunteer and in some ways it seems like forever, and in other ways, not enough time at all.

So... we'll keep playing with our 4-H curriculum. We'll keep working on our new projects. We'll keep changing what we're doing with the dogs. Well keep making the best better.

Friday, March 11, 2011

4-H Training in 2011

Last week we had our first 2011 practice with our club. We had 6 members attend (out of, I think 8?) and had a fabulous time.

Typically on the first night, with not having worked the dogs in this environment (if at all) since early August, the dogs are a bit wild. But all were great, 2 are only on their second year of 4-H. And the dogs were amazing.

With our beginners last year, we focused on showmanship. They all did an amazing job. This year, we'll continue on that (in the B classes, they'll have to be even more skilled!), as well as continue to prepare them for rally, and hopefully obedience. I'm also hoping more of our kids will participate in the state fair.

We spend our first half hour working on obedience type skills, second half hour on handling (without the dogs for obed, rally, showmanship) and knowledge, and the third half hour on our showmanship and tricks/agility foundations.

Tonight will be our second practice, I'm really looking forward to seeing the kids and dogs again!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Careful Cueing

Griffin is being taught to indicate a specific odor. And we're having a REALLY hard time teaching this.

It's like a dog that only knows verbal cues.... visual cues are hard because they think nothing else will provide any sort of signal. Griffin doesn't really understand that scent can be a cue.

I think this has been at the heart of his problems learning about obedience scent articles.

Method 1: We had a few cement blocks, a jar set in each one, only one jar with scent. Click when the dog is at the block, feed low over the block. Remove the dog and try again. Griffin stuck his head in the boxes, but there was VERY little difference in the scented one compared to the empty ones. He was offering a head-stick-in.

Method 2: What we were informally calling "the Steve White Way". Helper holds out the scented jar, dog nose touch, cue Sit!, click, feed at the jar. Move and repeat. Griffin was offering the nose touches and sitting when cued. And sitting when not cued, he would do a touch sit. But it was his go out type of touch sit. He was go-outing the jar and looked so proud of himself!

Method 3: A variation. I held the jar and clicked, a helper fed. Same sort of problem as before.

Method 4: We had our scent jar, but had 5 others with dog smells, treat smells, tea smells, etc. I would hold out a random jar. he would touch. Nothing. Hold out a random jar. he touched. Nothing. Hold out the Scent jar, he touched, I cue Sit, I click, he gets a treat. And we'd be randomly mixing how long a jar was held, which ones were held, and sometimes the Sit jar. But it looked very much like he was not thinking, but over 10+ reps he NEVER offered a sit, the cue was NOT transferring, he was treating it as a stimulus control exercise. We've done quite a bit of cue transfers and he typically gets it very fast.... In session two, he was offering sits at that jar, and out of about 15 reps, only one sit on another jar.

So we'll do a few more sessions in that format and then go back to using the jars in blocks.

He just has so many behaviors, he thought we were doing sticky touches, interacting with blocks, go outs, and even stands ( of the first reps with a helper holding the jar, he sat expectantly at me, I had him stand and he stayed while she presented...he turned away saying "look! I'm staying!" I released and sent him immediately).

It was interesting how his behaviors were fitting together and the cue systems that we have in place.

My next dog will definitely be introduced to scent games VERY early on!!

Rally and Agility Games Presentation

On Saturday at a 4-H conference I'll be doing part of the dog program talk.... specifically the agility games (fullhouse and wildcard) and rally part.

The agility part I think is well done, we talk about the requirements and then look at course maps that are color-coded to help us out.

For rally....? I'm not sure what to do. We'll probably pull out some signs and work on those (people only event), maybe a short course?

I have a few notes about why it's an ideal activity for the 4-H beginners. No duration stays. Talking throughout. It might be a few more behaviors for both the kids and dogs to learn, but they don't have to have the same level of proficiency to succeed. Whereas in regular obedience, even with sub-novice options... 3-6 months just isnt enough time to be proficient for most of these teams.

Any other last-minute ideas on how to get interest and participation?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On his way

Yesterday I cleaned up the found-a-month-ago golden retriever with a very good bath and a long walk. And today we left at 5:30 to meet up with his transporter an hour later. He's now with a golden rescue and will hopefully be finding a fabulous home soon.

Now just to figure out what to do with the other dog! I'm sure the golden will be more upset about being separated than the lab mix. We prepared the dogs for this by the dogs getting separate walks, time with food toys, and other interesting things happening when apart.

I'll miss the adorable springing up, he can jump all four feet off the ground, at least 2' off the ground! I hadn't been discouraging it (it was sooo cute), but I also didn't encourage that behavior.

What did the dogs learn with me? Not a lot. We practiced recalls in the yard. We learned about petting and brushing. We started to learn about stairs. We learned about food toys. We learned about walking on a leash. Not as much as my board and train dogs were able to learn about, I didn't want to take these guys out in public or let them interact with family due to not knowing about their health history.

Five dogs is just too many. One is my favorite number.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book 15: Dogs- Domestication and the Development of a Social Bond

This book by Darcy Morey is now my favorite history-of-dogs book.

It took me months to get through it, the book is a compilation of a ton of research projects done all over the world. And it's not in the most easy-to-read format.

There are parts about the different theories of domestication, chapters on when people were eating dogs and when dogs were buried and when dogs were buried with people. There is a chapter about dogs and music and a little about the modern roles that dogs fill.

I had no idea of the thousands of known sites where dogs had been buried intentionally, and often with people. One of the oldest is in Idaho and is thousands of years old. Apparently there are dog-human burial sites all over the world, it wasn't just a practice in one location in one time period. Here and there, other animals are also found buried with humans, but the impression I had from this book was that there is a surprising (or not?) number of dogs.

And the dog remains also give us other information. There's one place (with hundreds of burials) where most were puppies. Apparently there's a lot of thought that the puppies were used in some sort of religious practice. And in another location, a very very old dog was found buried with a child in a thousands-of-years-old site. The dog had extreme signs of old age, and to live as long as it had, it must have been closely cared for by humans in it's later years.

Despite being a dog person... and I know how attached people are to their dogs. It makes everything I do seem so trivial. People have been caring about their dogs for a ridiculously long time.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recalls Part 2: Exercises we use in class

This is the list of the activities we use in class and the typical order. Sometimes the order changes based off of previous training history or how the dog is responding.

Collar Holds: We want this to be very good before we put it with any of the other recall games. We want to practice so much that our dog gets wiggly and happy when we reach for his collar.
  • Reach out with a flat hand, to the side of your dog's head. Touch your hand to his collar. Then feed a treat. Repeat multiple times.
  • When dog is doing well and never moving away, gradually increase intensity.
  • Increase the distance handler moves to the dog.
  • Practice reaching over the top of the head to the collar (we want to always go from the side in real life...but other people who don't know better might try to reach over the top).
  • Get people your dog knows to practice this too.
Call and Run: Speed of handler and how far the handler goes, depends on what makes the dog happy, dog speed, and space available. Food/toy should NEVER be presented in training until the moment you are ready to reinforce.
  • Have a helper hold your dog, or drop a few treats on the ground to distract him as you leave. Talk to your dog in a way that will attract him. When your dog is on his way to you, run away, then stop and scatter a few treats at your side.
  • Dogs that like to play can have playtime when the dog arrives.
  • Repeat many times, varying how soon/late you run and the distance the handler runs.
Call and Turn: This can be combined with the above, based on handler skill level. The coordinated handler can have treats in the left hand if you will have your dog come to your left. If you want your dog to come to your right, have your reinforcers ready in your right hand. If you are not coordinated, have treats in both hands, just in case you misjudge.
  • Have a helper hold your dog, or scatter treats to distract him while you walk away.
  • Call your dog (and possibly run). When your dog arrives, turn away from him a quarter of a turn, then scatter treats at your side. If your dog is coming to your left, you will rotate right. If your dog is coming to your right side, you will rotate left.
  • Gradually increase the amount of your turn.
  • Sometimes, instead of scattering treats, you can toss a big treat ahead at the "moment of reinforcement"
Loose your dog: This game requires some practice of the previous exercise.
  • Call your dog, when he is about to reach you, dart away. Feed as soon as he catches up.
  • Vary where you are turning.
  • Always scatter treats at your side, or toss ahead of you at the "moment of reinforcement"
  • When your dog has had many repetitions with one dart away, you can have two changes of direction before reinforcing.
  • The more practice the dog tries, the harder you can work to loose your dog. At the same time, always plan it so that your dog will most likely succeed.
And with all of this, we need to remember to use good recall training.

It's interesting that the above exercises are very effective for getting the owners to be good about recalls. Scattering provides more reinforcement than feeding one piece. Turning away not only provides motion to encourage dogs to come, but it gets the dog next to the owner so that the owner is not leaning over the dog. Running gets people to be silly and exciting.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Recall Training

At vet conference, during one of Ken’s talks, there was a bit of a talk on recalls. He showed videos of the dogs in his “Pet Training the Shedd Way” show. They had great recalls, their buzzer sounded and the dog would careen around the facility in search of the person with the buzzer. The dogs ran with enthusiasm and speed. They were so happy.

And then he showed another video of animals being recalled. Same type of buzzer. The animals would immediately start seeking the buzzer. They would leave their encloser, training sessions, interacting with others, and just like when we play hide and seek and the dogs run past and turn back, these animals did it too. It was sea lions!

I was amazed. And so we talked about this at the Thursday night class when we worked on recalls. The points I made, summarized from what we talked about at the vet conference:

  • Use high value reinforcers. We want to pay well to get enthusiasm and speed and to develop a history of reinforcmenet.
  • Do many repetitions. We need a ton of reps to get the animals to have a strong history of reinforcement.
  • Keep your cue clean. Don’t use it unless you’re training until well after the behavior is established. We want perfect association of cue, behavior, and reinforcer.
  • Develop a strong foundation: By doing all of the above. Instead of making things harder and harder and harder because the animal is doing well, be sure your animal is doing really, really, really, really well. And then advance.

And so, I came home to be more diligent about recalls. I want my dogs to do sea lion recalls too. The funny part is that I know all these things. It's not really anything new. It's just remembering to do things and keeping it all together. Here's a post I made last spring saying pretty much the same things. Just not quite as concise or appropriate.

Book 13: Retriever Training: A back to basics approach by Robert Milner

Robert Milner is becoming more well known for his positive training interest for retrievers. This book, however, was published almost ten years ago and isn’t as positive as he is now. Retreiver Training back to basics approach is like a lot of other retriever books I’ve read. It tries to cover absolutely everything from puppy care and selection to basic training to the field training and in doing so doesn’t always provide enough detail for a non dog savy person to easily comprehend. Though so many also do use it that… maybe I just underestimate what people can do or maybe dogs are just brilliant at succeeding even when we misunderstand or do weird things.

I didn’t make very many notes, nor am I likely to re-read the book. Maybe I’m underestimating all the retriever books I’m reading, but none of them have been as step by step and working towards fluency as I’d like. Though Milner did stress the importance of not going for perfection, yet still get the dog fairly competent on parts before taking him hunting, so as not to hurt any training progress that one has been working towards.

I’d be hoping to make it to Milner’s seminar in MN on April 2-3 but I just can’t justify the travel time or cost, especially as the first day is spent on learning theory and while it’s good to see experienced people teach others…I’m not going 12 hours for only one day of retriever training.

His more recent books will be going on my reading list.

Book 12: Canine Tracking by Don Abney

Canine Tracking by Don Abney is one of the oddest dog books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of dog books.

It gets bonus points for being one of the very few (if only?) books I’ve ever seen that discusses blood trailing, how to teach dogs to follow a wounded animal…. But it also talks about search and rescue.

It seems like a sort of “all purpose” scenting book, but at the same time, I’m not an expert on either subject, yet it almost seems too basic in some ways. Like there’s a little more to it than the exercises given and that in this many pictures-large font-step by step format might be a bit not descriptive enough to actually get the dogs trained enough for these activities.

I made a few notes, and as I read more books about tracking, it will be interesting to see if others recommend some of the same “patterns” (Z, circles, overlapping [and I’m not talking about cross tracks!]).

It’s not on the top of my tracking/SAR/etc recommendation list… but as I learn more maybe that will change.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Best Class Yet

I don't know if it was because I had an almost normal amount of sleep for the first time in 10 days or if the information from vet conference was finally seeping into my head, or if it was just luck, but class last night was great.

All the dogs made measurable improvement within the hour. All the choices I made were effective, all the dog students were happy, all the human students had a great time.

The night started with a head halter fitting. We picked a color and a size and I shaped the puppy to put her muzzle into the loop. Horray! Less than two minutes! And then while the puppy had a break, the owner was able to practice putting a head halter on a fake dog. Then I did another shaping session with the puppy and the owner had a turn. The team will work all week on putting-it-on-for-treats and putting it on before meals. Next week we'll start walking with it and maybe putting the leash on it too.

In both the 7:00 and 8:00 classes, we started with walking like usual. Some dogs were working on the squirrel game. Some were introducing walking with the "backwards walking" activity. Another was doing pace changes. Puppies were attentive and happy.

We then worked on recalls, while I helped one team, the others worked on reinforcing "more relaxed" behaviors. We talked about what those would be and how we would have to be using a high rate of reinforcment due to the excitement of one dog running. The humans were so good on this. Most of the dogs didn't even stand up. It was amazing. This happened in both classes!

And the recall dogs were great. While we didn't directly talk about "how to train a perfect recall" at vet conference... the things discussed did helped me be very concise and good at pointing out the most important parts to students. We talked about rate of reinforcement, value of reinforcer, and building a solid foundation. Look for more on this another day!

One class had time to do leave it, some dogs were on the first step, others were a few steps into it. Most were wanting to put the cue to it now, so we talked about whether or not we wanted "leave it" to mean "Sniff my hand and back away" or not. As usual, I told my students, "If you want that, I'm okay with it. It's up to you! Personally, I don't want my dog to nose touch my sandwich before backing away, especially if he just did that on a walk to a dead squirrel!"

And then in both classes, we worked on polite greetings. One dog was held by me, getting fed treats and learning it's okay to be with a stranger. And the owners would go to each station and stand at a target, while the dog owners reinforced their dogs for appropriate behaviors.

We talked a little about how to work on greetings at home and then wrapped up for the night.

Usually I walk out thinking about the things that could go better. Exercises I could teach better, places I could be more tag-gy. Exercises I should train differently. Dogs that weren't progressing. Dogs I needed to find ways to lower stress.

But last night was next to perfect.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Waffle in My Pocket: Looking at Reinforcers

I am sitting at school. And I just noticed I have a waffle in my back pocket. And fish dogfood in my coat pocket.

Kathy Sdao talked quite a bit about how dogs don't really get bored. We just need good reinforcers and we need to have a high rate of reinforcement. We should be making dogs work for their meals (and not "Sit" set the bowl down.... remember, rate of reinforcement!) with training and food toys. We need to use high value reinforcers to help get good behaviors.

I say a lot of the same things, but it was good to hear her say it, I'll be more comfortable talking to students, I'll be more comfortable knowing that I am not completely crazy.

What really stuck out about feeding and reinforcers was when Ken Ramirez emphasized that training is not a luxury. It is not really an optional thing. And it's actually important for maintaining a high quality of life for dogs.

Kathy talked about her friend ET the Walrus and how he knew a billion behaviors, not because he was inherently smart or that the trainers had all day, but because the trainers have to provide enrichment for him, and there are only so many simple and husbandry behaviors to teach.

Last year at the same conference, Lore Haug DVM was emphasizing that our senior pets need training to maintain cognitive health and prevent cognitive decline, and this fits right in with how important, and how underestimated, training can be.

And so, I was trying to be a Very Good Trainer last night. I took sausage and fish dog food and waffles to train my dog. We took a favorite toy and a new toy. I rested my dog and planned my sessions. I worked him at his very best and did not work him if he was not his very best. We had short sessions, we broke them up. I reinforced generously. He worked for his food. We did some work with new behaviors, as well as working to further the behaviors we already have started.

But I left the sausage at home, I talked with someone else about my trainer. I didn't put my timer back in the bag afterwards. And I didn't put away my treats. So here I am, at school, after having gone to the store. With a waffle in by back pocket.