Thursday, April 28, 2011

A lot of information.

Up until about seven years ago, all my dog stuff (other than my dog, his crate, and his food) fit in this box. My three well-read dog books. His collar and chew toy. And his brushes. His notebook of health papers.

Now I have a lot more dog stuff. Some of it I use often, some of it I haven't touched in years that kong-dispenser. They aren't made anymore! I haven't even -used- mine!

I used to want to take a ton of classes with my dog, and especially positive reinforcement classes.... now I teach at one of those places that used to be too far away to go for classes. And at a super-fancy place. And we've taken lots of classes all over ....but still not enough. I love being in classes! We're limited in what we can do, only due to the fact I'm teaching at the times when most classes are offered.

There was a lot of dog information on the internet. But now there is -so- much more. And Youtube is sure would have made a difference when I was learning how to train my dog using the internet!

For the first few years I had Blaze, this book was the most recommended agility book. I recognized it as outdated as soon as I read the referenced obstacles no longer used. And today, there are so many agility resources I've only read a fraction of them.

Things are so different now and there is SO much more great (and not great!) information available. It's really amazing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book 14: Clicker Training by Katharina Schlegl Kofler

I picked up this book at the library. And the next week, I saw Dogwise was carrying it also.

Parts of it are really well done. There's a few pages on exercises to do without your dog! The importance of timing! A great format and excellent photos.

The biggest drawback is that it was originally published in German and the translation was NOT done well. There are inconsistencies in language throughout and the rough translation makes it hard to read at times.

Later on, there are a few recommendations for punishment for some types training situations.

It's not something I'm going to purchase or recommend. Without the bit about punishment and with a better translation however.... it could be a great, easily accessible, and well-done product. Again, the photos and outline are great. It seems that most of the photos are not stock photos and were taken specifically for this book.

Scent Success Again

Yesterday at training we had 1-2 false alerts in about 25 repetitions.

The one false alert that I remember was very interesting. Griffin returned to where the scent had been on the previous rep, and indicated without actually checking.

When I did nothing, he stuck his nose in the block to check, started to Down, then realized he was incorrect and moved off to find the right one.

Later, we went to a larger set up (cement blocks with jars inside and PVC tubes set out) and he was doing a LOT of sniffing and searching. It only took us two months, but now he is actually working and understanding the game!

We also used a different sample than previously and he very quickly realized it was also correct.

I'm hoping that as he now knows scent can provide information in training contexts we will be able to return to scent articles with more success than previously. I'll wait another 4-6 weeks before trying again, to get his current work better accomplished.

Monday, April 18, 2011

CCA: Griffin is, in Fact, a Golden Retriever.

The Golden Retriever Club of America offers some specific titles/opportunities. One of them is the Certificate of Conformation Assessment. Instead of comparing a dog to the others in the ring, like in conformation, the CCA is a pass/not-pass test* where each dog is compared to the breed standard.

Yesterday we went to a CCA test held by the White River Golden Retriever Club. The day started with our dog-walking-person leaving the state ...I piled everyone into the van and off we went.

The club was nice and let us check in at noon before our 1:30 start time. Griffin got measured at 22.5 even with his scrunching down. Half an inch below standard, but there's an extra inch above and below. In his official photos he will look ridiculous.... he was sure I wanted him to line up for some sort of horrible vet exam.

We went into the ring with two other dogs-handler teams. If I had known what was coming next.... I would have waited a few years before entering. For the "mingling" portion, the three dogs were supposed to go nose-to-nose and be near each other. This is part of the 'temperament' evaluation. Griffin is not allowed to greet other dogs on leash. He is not encouraged to go up to other dogs. He didn't know what to do and barked at them.... he went licky face to a female and she snarled at him....he puffed up jumped back. And then barked at the people hanging out, as if they would be providing him information.

Three evaluators were present, a dog needs three passes (and only gets six tries in his lifetime) to complete the CCA. We spent about 15 minutes with each of the three evaluators. The evaluator would watch the dog stand and gait, as well as do a thorough hands-on exam, narrating some of it to the owners and making notes to the others.

As for the conformation parts of it...he doesn't have a lot of rib spring and doesn't look like a male. His body proportions are nice, maybe a bit more angulation in the rear than necessary. His head got some interesting comments.... the muzzle-skull comparison some felt was equal, others did not. And one talked about how his muzzle width made his nose appear more long and narrow than it actually was.

And Griffin did pass... his barking was considered rude, not aggressive. I was told he needs better manners, especially as he's almost three. And that this dog really needs a job.

We got to meet some of his extended family, which is always fun!

*I don't know if test is the right's not a trial or a show.... so the word seemed most appropriate!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Written Records and Computer Records

We all know record keeping is important for training. And we also know there are lots of different ways we can keep records. With all the different forms and options, it can be overwhelming at times.

At the seminar last weekend, there was a brief discussion on digital and paper records and how things have changed over times. For some types of working dogs, perfect records have to be kept to show the levels and types of training the dog has had. And there are various concerns about the potential for people to tamper with the records. For a long time, paper records were standard. But paper records are a pain to look through if you are trying to find specifics, and so now most are kept digitally.

That's primarily the reason our records have mostly been on the computer for the last seven years. I have quite a bit of notes and charts from before then and a few stray sheets since then.

I'm often tempted to do paper, it would be easy to transport and I really like to be able to spread out and see everything at once. The thought of a big binder of records is appealing.

In some situations, I'll have paper records and then transfer it to the computer. Most recently that has been used with student progress. After class, I mark off what we did and how the students are doing. And then I will transfer it to the computer and from there I can let the computer do the work of finding averages and maximums and minimums and other mathy-interesting things.

Computer records? Paper records? Or none of the above?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Adding Cues: Two examples

We typically add our cues after the behavior is established.

I've come across a few very 'elegant' examples of cueing that I emailed to Megan this morning.... but the world would probably enjoy them too.

Steve White only adds in the tracking harness after the tracking behavior is fairly well established. Lining the harness cue to the behavior of tracking.

I was reading a book that talked about how a group of math teachers only add in the terminology cues/names AFTER the students have been practicing the skill and have an understanding of it. They don't need the name to be able to do the skill... but the cue/name is put to it after they 'get it'.

The simplicity and brilliance with both of these makes me so very, very happy. Why didn't I think of these?!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Utilizing Errors

A point made all three days was that "Errors are your friends."

If we go through our training and find errors in the performance, add it to the list of things to address. It's better for these to be made now rather than out in the real world or in the ring.

Dog's don't fail, they perform as trained, so we need to be sure that all intentional and unintentional training is directing them correctly. We need to be regularly accessing where we are and what our goal behavior is and how on-track our current behavior is.

And for those who are working with multiple dogs, but especially larger numbers in a professional/volunteer/student-dog situation, we can be looking at efficiency and over time our training plans and lessons should be geared to fewer overall errors. If we are seeing the same things come up again and again....our training plan is likely faulty.

An area my personal dogs are overall too poor with: Go to mat. Stay in place with duration. Recall. I have very efficient plans for some behaviors (walking, stay with distractions). But not so much for other behaviors. So I know to direct my time and energy to make these plans better and get better results for my dogs, student dogs, and the shelter dogs I work with.

Little errors should be addressed too. At the very least, to be consciously making a decision.

At the seminar, a few dogs were working on a targeting behavior to clean up the report/alert to a specific odor. The dogs were sometimes mouthing. The owner wanted a nose touch. We discussed the benefits and not of an open mouth and a closed mouth touch.... Initially the owner determined she didn't have a preference. But later that may have changed (I switched groups and didn't get to see more of that team).... as we realized the open mouth COULD lead to more likely grabs..... Little tiny things! They can be important!

I know that I obsessively track the errors in our training.... It's a step beyond the "We're marking the positive so that's primarily what we see", but we really do need to monitor errors so that we can train appropriately. Many instructors will do this for students, not necessarily pointing out the errors.

My technique for that in class... is to say "Now we are going to make it harder. Keep your hands behind your back/your leash hand at your waist/say nothing/some other incompatible or additional criterion for the human. " The students don't know the errors were happening or that I sometimes was internally cringing at the remote clicker hand or the accidental leash pulls. And they don't need to know. I don't want them to be feeling disappointed, even for a moment. The "now we make it harder" phrase gets them to think "More to master! More to accomplish! we succeeded at that step!". And it's a good way to avoid the horrible, "That was great, but..." phrases that can be quite punishing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Quick Notes from Day Three (Problem Solving: Steve and Jen White)

So. Tired.

1) Steve liked Griffin's heeling and enthusiasm.
2) Griffin spent 3/4 the day inside, crated, in a separate room, but INSIDE and QUIET!. The first time I've ever had a dog able to do this at a seminar!
3) We made fools of ourselves at flyball practice. By my student looked pretty good.

- People have a hard time breaking things down. Even experienced people.
- More record keeping is needed.
- We need to appreciate failures in our training more than we do. It shows us what is weak and what needs to be improved --- before we're in the ring or in the real world.

Off to bed and I'll have to do more on this later!

Quick Notes from Day Two (Raising the Bar) of the Steve and Jen White Seminar

1) Foundations are important. Don't neglect it.
2) Frontload your effort...put a TON of time planning your training, and then you will have to do less actual training to progress.
3) Use video. And use it well.
4) Clicker training is at a sticking point. We need to progress past that. We're capable of more but not getting it.
5) Mistakes can be great.

And then after we had fun. Some REALLY cool super accomplished dogs did some work.... Griffin did some heeling. I was super nervous and did some not cool parts, but he was good. While working he didn't run off and he was adorable and prancy and fairly precise. He did jump on Steve while going from the crate to the working area. After the last incident like that...maybe I should keep a running list of Important People My Dog Has Jumped on in Embarassing Moments.

So. Tired. So. Sad.

Last day!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quick Notes from Day One (Scent): Steve and Jen White Seminar

Day one was very long. Or maybe it's just the result of too many super late nights in a row.

The topic was "Reliable Scentwork for the Real World." We had medical alert dogs, SAR dogs, cadaver dogs, bed bug dogs, and fun/sport dogs. And probably some others. Huge variety!

The morning was lecture and the afternoon was dog work and then some demos. We saw a lot of video and a lot of fancy training tools.

Griffin only got to work a tiny bit due to the needs of our group mates. He did 3 reps of his alert behavior.... right only due to luck, twice I think, with one false alert? He was cute and worked half decent for so many people and dogs present. That's after he got his bowl of water though....

General notes:
- Most of the problems, even with experienced and currently working teams, were lack of a strong foundation , esp for the indication/report behavior ("I found it/it's here"). Foundation is important.
- Many/most of the owners I watched were prompting their dogs. Luring and prompting has it's place...but... most of the morning lecture was about how we really need to NOT be doing this (or be VERY aware of when/how we do it if it's an intentional thing!). Yet there was still a lot of it and some people didn't realize it was going on. I probably did too to some was really interesting to watch.
- Training is really hard. And not. Yet really incredibly difficult to consider all the parts and especially if you're practically and theoretically thinking about efficiency.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scent Success

With our scent training progress we went from 100% errors last week to only about 10% errors yesterday (and those were only in the last session!). Last week it was all about indicating at every single block.... yesterday he would check , check, check, and as soon as he found it, a bit of a pawing and then down.

I don't know what was different. We haven't worked on it since then. There isn't any real reason it should be better.

I was told I handled differently, and rather than let him do everything, supposedly I was directing him from place to place. But it didn't feel different than what I was trying to do last week?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Luring and Prompting

I've been reading several books about teaching. And repeatedly, there are stories, examples, and scenarios about teaching not being effective due to prompting. The student's don't respond or don't respond correctly. The teacher/instructor/facilitator gives the answer, demos how to do the problem, or prompts the students through to the answer. And horray! They move on.

But the learners often didn't actually understand. And because they weren't successful at that stage, more of the prompting was needed at the next stage. And the next stage. And during the exams and tests and standardized tests, without the instructor there....the students didn't do so well.

The authors give examples of how they, themselves, learned a new skill. Computers, video use, cooking.... and a one time demo or explanation is not really sufficient instruction in most cases. The skill needs to be broken down and mastered in each piece before the learner is confident and capable enough to do it on his or her own.

And many dog people realize that. Yet.....we keep falling back into luring. Luring definitely isn't a bad thing, and with care it can definitely speed up how a behavior progresses.

Not that luring and prompting are bad, they definitely can be useful and effective strategies. But choosing luring or prompting out of careful thought is very different from choosing it as a first response (or second response) solution.

I'll be carefully watching for luring and prompting with both the human and dog students tonight!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Recalls Part 3: More exercises we use in class

One of the classes this week was extra fun, only two dogs and both fairly advanced so we got to do even more recall games.

Still-Dog-Moving-Dog: We use variations of this in many of the classes I teach, from manners to reactive dogs. What the moving dog is doing depends on the type of class and goal of the exercise. Here, we had one dog sitting about 6' from the line of travel. A ring gate was placed in front of the team. That dog is reinforced for stillness and attention to the handler.

The moving dog was held by me and then released to his owner. Sometimes just running to the owner, sometimes catching up to the owner and running a bit.

Sometimes this is hard for the still dog, they want to join in the fun or play with the running dog. Sometimes it's hard for the running dog to see someone just asking to play and a person sitting on the floor.

But as they progress, we decrease the gate, remove the gate, and move the still team closer. Every 4-5 reps, we rotate who is still and who is moving.

And then, if we have enough helpers, we're ready for both teams to move

Taking Turns: And this is how we've introduced our flyball dogs to passing too. Dogs are restrained at opposite ends of their lanes. Owners will NOT be calling their dogs straight down the lanes, but angled out somewhat, so the dogs are running towards each other and so that the dogs being released are NOT sitting right next to a happy human.

The less reliable/ more novice dog is released first, and as he arrives at his owner, the second dog is called and released. After a few reps like that, we switch, the more novice dog is released second, and only after the first dog has been with his human a few moments (more time to settle down).

We work up to both dogs being released at the same time. And then change the paths until they are running right past each other.

Very late in the game do we have dogs run parallel..... the visual cue of a calling human is so great, that we don't want the dogs to accidentally go to the wrong human early on. By treating that second owner as a distraction, we're teaching the dog to come to his person and only his person in this training context.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pets are Good for Us

Two days ago I came home to an email about a high school doing a "Health Fair" and needing someone to talk about the stress-reduction benefits of pets.

Yesterday I got ahold of the person to find out what was going on.

And today, Griffin and I went with a friend and her dog to talk to the kids. We got to only spend 10 minutes with each of the 4 groups of kids, but we also utilized the hour in between each of our part of the session to work the dogs.

Griffin was fabulous. During the waiting times we went outside and walked, did recalls and tug games, did training in the waiting room, chewed kongs (note: not a "we" activity), and had more petting. During the sessions, he was attentive to me until it was his turn to pet.

Animals are amazing, and especially our companion animals. Most of them don't actually provide a monetary or product-producing function, yet SO many of us have them (all 50-60 of the kids today had pets!!) in our homes, taking up space and using our money. And it's because they're so brilliant. Our interactions cause different attachment hormones to be released and have all sorts of stress-reduction benefits. We exercise some types of pets, and thus ourselves. Lower blood pressure, better social-ness. Faster healing, better learning, better quality of life. And in most situations, the pets get all those benefits too. It's really quite remarkable how it goes together.

For the first group of kids, I did a thing I tell students never to do.... I gently held his harness and physically prevented any upward motion. Which he tried with everyone. The second group though, he figured it out and got scratching, going from kid to kid. And by the fourth group, he just slowly walked down the line, then turned and came back.

In one group, we had a kid in a very large wheelchair-type device. And Griffin was perfect. He went right up to the kid, I expected extra social whole-body wags, like when he is meeting a new type of animal... but nope, he was just like always. He put his paws up on the foot step, avoiding the student's feet (....Griffin steps on MINE all the time!), and got his head right up on the lap. And even when the kid tried to hold Griffin's muzzle, Griffin just stood there and wagged and gave me a glance of "look! I get a treat for this!"

I love my dog. He's not grown up enough to be a good therapy dog, but when he is more mature, he definitely has another job to do.

Not only was it great to talk to the kids, but it was a FABULOUS training opportunity for my dog. I hope we are able to do more kid work soon!