Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Griffin at CD Prep Class VII

We skipped two weeks for camp..... I probably would not have signed up for the class if I had known ahead of time that we would be such poor students.... but I'm very glad that we've been going.

Tonight we talked a bit about the next options for class and on the topic of maintaining criteria.
Golden retrievers who love chewing.

We did some group heelwork, I stopped frequently to play with Griffin. It was really hard because his tugging would upset the other dogs if he was too close to them so I had to be sure to maintain enough distance that they would be okay and not get in trouble due to my dog being rambunctious.      Griffin's actual heeling wasn't that great, I ended up reinforcing as soon as he was in position.

The next things we did were individual heeling patterns and figure 8.  Griffin's heeling was pretty great. I talked to him at a few places but did not feed during the pattern.   Afterwards, I did a bit more heeling with frequent reinforcement. I don't want to be going too long between reinforcement yet.    Our 180* about turns and our 90* turns both need work.    The figure 8 was  a bit of a disaster. He wasn't working hard to maintain position. I was sloppy and reinforcing with my left hand, resulting in a forging dog.

Stays:   Our stand for exam was half decent. Feet moved on one rep out of six. We were able to have the "judge" pat him on the shoulder.    Other stays, he started out barking.  The instructor wanted me to return to him right away. I wanted to wait for a pause.   We moved further away and he did well....still need more work.

Recalls:  We did an exercise where all the dogs were staying and being called to front at the same time, but at different angles.  Griffin broke his stay once and twice he left when the judge called, not when I called.   He DID always leave his stay to me....the best type of mistake he could make.   "Leaving on the judges signal, not the handler signal" is a common theme this week.

On our to-do list after this class:
-Increase stay distractions and auditory proofing
- Stays with 'pressure' of interesting things to either side.   Ideally this would include other dogs, but we probably won't have any to practice with.
- About turns, with and without my dog.
- Figure 8/serpentines/loops, maintaining heel position
- Back to reviewing his physical therapy notes and-or another consult....his fronts were straight other than that back left foot sticking out a bit.  
- Get rid of the head tilt on his fronts.   It's not an always thing, maybe 20% of the time....he will turn his head while his body stays in position.
- Recalls with various types of distractions.

We're on the fence about doing the class again. It's good to get me out and keep us working, but it's a bit of a drive and takes away from work/other activity time.    Plus with the heat...he just doesn't work as well as he does when it's cooler.   We have a few days to make a decision....I'm on the fence!

Bonus news: He did his first public scent demo, along with two others we train with.  As usual, he was adorable (something the people noted at the demo as well as his obed instructor!). He worked so well, very focused, even when we had the kids standing nearby (meowing) as distractions.   Best dog.

Other People Handling My Dog

In a Monday night class, we talked briefly about the benefits and risks of other people handling and cueing Griffin.

Griffin was added to my home to be my competition (obedience and agility especially!) dog.... but also my demo dog and to go out and help me help other people learn about training and dogs.   Both are very important, almost equally important and possibly a bit contradictory.

Other people cuing Griffin runs the risk of Griffin learning to generalize. He might responding to cues I would not normally want to be cues. He might start giving poor behaviors or responding incorrectly.  And he may be reinforced for it.   This could hurt his behaviors and hurt the concepts he understands.

At the same time... I do what I can to preserve our cues and behaviors.

  • Performance and Casual cues:  I don't give away my special, "sacred," unique competition cues. I show people things that are not as important.*
  • Supervision:  I can specify what things we will or will not reinforce, so the new trainers are doing things correctly.
  • Consistency:  I am careful that when - I-  train, I do not accept poor responses.  Dogs can and do learn that different people have different requirements. I want to be very clear with what I expect and always expect.
  • Fluency:  In some ways, his response to cues given by other people show that he has behaviors with a high level of fluency. He really gets it.  The behavior is proficient.  I can see what parts of the cue are relevant to the behavior and which are not.
  • Discrimination: At the same time, there are some behaviors and situations where I do not want him to respond to cues given by other people (competition obedience).     So, I don't give away these cues. We don't work on these behaviors in the other-people-handling environment.    
I also recognize the benefits of this environment for Griffin.  He is learning to be even better behaved around kids. He's learning to engage with people.  I am recalling him back to me on a regular basis, meaning great recall training opportunities.  I can see which behaviors are strong, and which behaviors are not strong.

Last week, at the 4H Teen Camp, Luna's job was to come out during lunch. She's too shy to steal a supervised sandwich, but she would go around to the kids to solicit food.  They could ask for behaviors she knows well (Sit, Down, Spin, Wave). They would reinforcer her with a piece of food.  The kids were fairly stationary and sitting to eat, meaning they were not as likely to startle her  compared to the usual activities. By the last day, she was more enthusiastic, working harder, and less anxious compared to earlier in the week.  

Tired Luna.
There is the benefit for the people involved.  Cueing and handling a skilled dog is a very different experience than working with a less experienced dog.  It can help give a good picture of the final behavior, how discrete cues can be. How to shape behaviors and add cues.     In some ways, there is less risk of "messing up" the dog than with a beginner dog. 

The kids we played with on Monday, learned to quietly give a cue. They learned to reinforce the behavior. They learned to start out with the exercise as easy as possible.  They learned to interact with dogs and had a good time with a dog.   And all of that is -so- important. And in the long run, way more important than Griffin doing his beautiful competition behaviors.  That is why I'm so happy to have other people handle and train and play with my dogs.   

Monday, June 27, 2011 camp

Wednesday to Saturday we were at our yearly big youth-dog camp.   Fourteen kids this year... Our cabin had 10 humans and 11 dogs.   We managed, but it was a tight fit. I had to sleep in the "Splash Zone"  by the kitchen sink.

Griffin helped with a few shaping and obedience demos as well as pulling me up the steep hill multiple times. Our kids learned about agility, tracking, obedience, scentwork and many other dog activities.   It was adorable to watch the kids and dogs work.  

We hurried home Saturday night to go to the shelter and let dogs out.... Megan took some great photos that we can hopefully use to update petfinder pages.

This week is a middle school daycamp.  After dropping off Megan at the airport....we hurried over.   Griffin and I are sitting in the 4H center building at the university.  This morning we talked about safety around dogs and then Griffin had 28 kids trying to get him to do agility and tricks all at once.  He was adorable.

Here is Griffin on his last day of camp last year. He was so tired that we could not get him to move so that we could put away the air mattresses.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Camp 1

Luna, Griffin, and I got back from camp 1 yesterday afternoon.   We had volunteered to do the dog activity portions and dog safety supervision at a 4-H camp that wanted to offer a "K9 Camp."     The kids did a ton of the normal camp activities (boating, crafts, etc) and some training, dog health activities, and more doggy things. 

It was really different. We're used to our camp where we have to do 100% of the supervision and planning. Here we had hours to ourselves where the staff were supervising and occupying the kids.  

The facilities were really fabulous and quite welcoming to the dogs.

While the dog kids had to have had at least three years of dog project experience, like at the other camp we run, we did not get as experienced of a group.  We modified our activities appropriately and hope that everyone had a good time and learned some new skills.

On Thursday evening, a storm passed through while we were out training in a covered shelter house.   Even standing in the center we still got wet.  But everyone kept working despite the distractions.  When the storm slowed, we hurried the dogs back to the cabins and went to an indoor building for a very enthusiastic Training Game.   Some teams progressed to cueing and stimulus control, but many kept working on shaping the behavior.  We interspersed the game with some short discussions on cues and chains.   Here's a list of all the pieces we could come up with for "Brushing Teeth".  
We hope the camp will be able to host the event again next year and that more kids will enjoy the opportunity.  Now to finish up some notes on that event and then prepare for our next camp.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Straight Sits

The 4H Agility Games Clinic went quite well yesterday. I had fun with the kids.  We did a more beginner group in the morning and a bit more advanced group in the afternoon.  We were able to stick right to schedule, and if anything, I had a bit of extra time.

During lunch, one of the kids asked about straight sits for Obedience. Her dog has a tendency to sit crooked.   Both the kid and parent spent quite a while telling me about this and how it definitely was the dog just not wanting to sit straight.   

- "He's always done it."'s possibly been reinforced a ton from the humans.   And there could be a physical cause contributing to the behavior.....something more serious like Hip Displaysia, or just the dog's general conformation making it more uncomfortable for him to sit square.
- "He especially doesn't like to sit on mulch."     If you were wearing a swim suit....would you want to sit on mulch?  Remember...your dog is very short haired!   Sitting on cold, hot, pointy, pokey, wet things is not going to be fun.
- "In training we do heeling and then sit"    It's good training to do one thing at a time.  Do you want to fix your sit, or practice automatic sits in heeling, or work on heeling?   If I were in your situation, I would do a lot of sit training separate from heeling, separate from stays, separate from other things....until the straight sit is fixed.
- "We're worried the judge would take off a lot of points."    Not in rally, and likely not much, if any, in obedience.  Watching you work, I would be more conerned about how you pull the leash every time you stop....that's 1-3* points every single time. I would be more concerned about your dog not sitting at all.... 1-3 points.    I would be more concerned about your dog not being parallel with you. You have to set your own priorities.
- "He just doesn't want to do it."   There area  lot of reasons he might not want to....but what you're saying also tells me he thinks it is not worth it.  If I asked you to reach in a big muddy gross pile to get a penny, would you do it?   ("No!")   If it was a thousand dollars?  ("Yes!")   We need to have a reinforcement history. We need to have reinforced your dog for sitting with such good reinforcement and so many times that he will sit no matter what.    My dog Griffin isn't the smartest dog...he's not stupid either.  But he does some silly things due to his reinforcement history.  One day I asked him to put his feet up against a solid wall.....and as "up" usually means get in the car or on a bed....  he put ALL four feet on that wall....looked at me in a panic...and fell.    His reinforcement history for "up" was so good, so strong, that he responded no matter what...until gravity intervened.
- "He really is stubborn."     Maybe there are other contributing factors, like core strength....we can do exercise ball work or that sort of thing to build his physical ability. He is a very athletic working dog, but his types of activities, the types of terrain he works on, the things he does....may not be what he needs for the strength to do this.
-"In his previous competition training, for other sports, he was punished every time he sat."  Then you're doing  a great job to get sits.... we need to improve his history of reinforcement, really get things to pay off.

And then they demonstrated.  The dog sat straight 5/5 times.  The reinforcement?  Came a good 10 seconds after. I demonstrated how to have the food ready and how to give several pieces, very quickly in succession, for the completion of this sit.  Latency, how long it took the dog to respond, and the speed of the behavior were both lacking. 

Griffin worked a bit during lunch.  Outdoors, a rally course was set up.  He wanted to sniff the grass at the start line.  After a minute of sniffing I gave up and led him by the collar inside.  He worked much better there....some bobbles due to drains on the floor and other little things....his about turns lacking.    A few people sitting around clapped for his left turns and later were thinking we were crazy to not be trialing yet.   They didn't see him work outside and probably think I'm too picky about my criteria.     But for obedience....we really do need to "Maintain Criteria!"  I was very happy with how quickly he got to work indoors....and then last night after class, he was just brilliant.   I haven't gone back to watch the video....I'm afraid to see that he wasn't as great as I'd thought!

*While 4H scoring is supposed to be like AKC/UKC/etc..... it's not always....

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lesson Plans and Measuring Progress

I like efficiency.

After classes with my dog, I write notes about what we did and how it went. I have a long list of behaviors/specifics to work on and we usually add about 10-15 things to the list after every class.   Some days it's a lot, lot more.   I put a shortened post on here...the notes to myself are typically longer and much more detailed.

It's not too different after I teach a class.  I go home and that night or the next morning, I write up what we did, what things really stand out for needing work next time, and anything else relevant.   Then the day before a class, I pull up what happened the last 2-3 weeks and I make my lesson plan off of the "need to work on" list and what I get inspired by that week.   These notes get scrawled on a little paper I frantically look over from the time I arrive at the building to when the lesson starts.     After class.... to make written notes.   I don't often type up lessons before group classes  because all of my manners classes are set up to work on the things most important to the family...I try to leave one slot each week for the owners specific goals/things that came up during the week.  

Sometimes I make even more notes.   For several months I was recording what progress on behaviors we made over the course of the classes....     I wanted to see if my students were progressing as much as I thought and to look at what factors determined success (....high value reinforcers...more so than practicing, handler skill, dog breed/age/etc).

It can get time consuming....  sometimes I fall out of it for a few weeks. But I always notice my students stop progressing as fast and that I'm not meeting their needs as well as I could be.       I should find ways to condense things more.   But for the's the system!

Today is completely dedicated to lesson plans. I've been working on my class things, a plan for two 3-hour CPE games lessons tomorrow, camp later this week, and some things for camp next week....  eep.    But we're taking breaks to do some frantic cleaning and training.  Now I'm into a nice pattern of being able to work four dogs, two sessions each, in about 30 minutes.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Griffin at CD Prep Class IV

We're almost done with class!  I miss the next two weeks and then one week left.   Somehow I mis-counted when I registered, I thought I would miss one class and just the very last week.  My counts were very off!

Tonight half the class was away at big shows, there were just two of us present. I almost had stayed at Training Group (in air conditioning!), but was a good student and came despite the 90* weather.

We started with some big looping heeling.  This was the easiest thing for me. I like being able to go and reinforce the specifics I like. Griffin did well with it. I was careful to stop to let him eat the treats and then only walk forward once he was ready.

Our next heeling activity was taking steps forward and then steps sideways.  This went well but it's so hard to do without turning my head or shoulders.  I don't like having to turn to see that he is parallel. I'm fairly confident on when he is parallel if we are going in a straight line, but when we're doing sidepasses, I don't trust Griffin to keep his back feet tucked in yet.

The following exercise was a big surprise to me, I was sure Griffin would do it.  We were supposed to get spins in both directions while heeling, and then add it into turning corners.  He is 100% in front of me and was 8% next to me. We tried to quick re-get, some in front, somewhat angles, and then next to me.   Not so great.  

We did a few sets of stays, some by ourself, the other dog doing Beginner Novice stays, and then some group stays.   The group stays...we had a brand new dog sit next to Griffin, he started moving to the dog twice...we moved a bit further away and he was good. He broke his eye contact to me a few times to watch things going on, but quickly looked back.  One almost-whine and a bit of shifting his head and front feet.

Stand for Exams: We did a few passes with the instructor walking a path 4' away. Horray.  Griffin did not move in response to her.  But he did move after I marked and before I could get up to him to feed. I was moving too fast going back to reinforce.

Figure 8's were interesting, the instructor does it a bit differently than me, cueing the turns 2-3 steps earlier than what I had been doing.   It was a little hard to adjust to... I'll experiment with this a little to see which works better.

Last was a few sets of recalls, what the instructor titles "Fun Recalls" and then a real one.   I'm not doing recalls to me and between my legs, I want him coming to me with his head up, no ducking down thoughts ever.  And I find the other variations painful....walk forward and back to the dog.  Release and run around.  Get the dog excited, yet stationary, and release to a tossed treat.   It felt messy at times, like he was watching my unintentional body language more than my intended cues.

We'll get to do some more training at camps over the next few weeks.  We aren't forgetting our obedience while we're gone.

A few thoughts after class:
- Some of the heeling activities ("Drills") and recall activities are to get us to be unpredictable and fun.  While Fun is never a bad thing.... I'm conflicted on the unpredictable part. I can understand the benefits and the long tradition of this being part of dog training.  But it's a bit painful for me. I think I want my dog to know what is next, I want him to be able to predict so he can respond to cues as quickly and immediately as possible, without having to think.   Or is the benefit of being able to respond to cues no matter what order, variable, etc....   more worthwhile?
- As I've mentioned recently.... markers are important.   In the first week of class, I tried to just reinforce things the way the instructor wanted. I don't want to be a trouble maker.  But without a distinct marker, my dog was watching my hands too much and trying to predict when my hand would move to his mouth.   Since then I've been trying hard to use a good verbal marker.  Things have improved.
- Stays:   Are progressing. Slowly.

What Happens After the Click: II

An important piece of clicker training is that we separate the marker from the reinforcement.  Mark.   And then we reach for the reinforcer.  If we reach with the food as we click, that movement becomes a great source of information for our animal, the movement becomes the relevant marker, the click/other intended marker is less valued, less useful, and just some unimportant part of the environment.

Early on, we learn to click and then feed. Click and then feed.  But we get sloppy over time. Sometimes we might start reaching during the click. Or maybe even before.   It takes a little effort and attentiveness to establish the intended pattern for us.  (We had a great example of this at the seminar last week...someone who had done some clicker training but wasn't making the full use of it that she could. She desperately tried to move as she clicked, even when the presenter was trying to physically hold her still!)

We don't want to wait too long after the click before we reach the food, or else we get some messy supersticious behaviors.  If we click, nothing for seconds, then get the reinforcer, our learners won't do very well. They'll also start adding in behaviors between the click and the reinforcer..... things that we do not want chained in and connected to our goal behavior.

I didn't know what this picture was from.  My dog is asleep while I'm driving...and apparently this is on the way home from 4H camp last year...see the sticker on her head?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Happens After the Click: Part I

We often focus on the behavior, how to get behavior, maintain it, shape it, and use it.  There is this little tiny space of time and the little tiny bit of behavior that has  been fascinating me recently.   All that stuff that happens between the click and when the reinforcer is received.

Beginner students focus on all that behavior happening pre-click. And then they learn to click, give a reinforcer (often food).  Some learn about clicking and play. Some learn about utilizing other types of play (with or without the click).

But as we get a bit more experience and especially as we focus on competition or precise behaviors, we really do need to think about everything that happens.   Because every single thing that happens before the reinforcer being delivered could increase in frequency.   

Now onto some examples:

Stay Behaviors:
We click. We reinforce. If the dog gets up after the click, there are options, here are just a few.   a) Some people do not reinforce.  This however, is less common with people who are utilizing clicker training in many areas and uncommon with people who are very comfortable with clicker training. We risk the click loosing value.    b) We toss the reinforcer and keep going, using an easier criteria next time or modifying as needed.   We can recognize that the getting up was also reinforced.  c) We recognize the getting up as a result of the click. "The click ends the behavior" and some people find this desirable.   Someone at the seminar was horrified that my dog did not get up on clicks. The person thought I was not using him to his full potential, that my click was broken and it was treating my dog like he was not very smart.   The click and go is created and maintained by reinforcers tossed, thrown, somehow away.  While the dog works for the click and to get the click, we recognize that the movement, the run and chase and leaping away from the stay has also been reinforced.  Is this always bad? no. Can it work? Yes. The humans have -got- to be clear about the click before any toss or you get into some messy and problematic things.         

But we can look at it more closely.   What about a dog who doesn't get up after the click, but does some extra little paw twitches?  This is Griffin on his Stand for Exam training.  He has this little anticipatory paw patter thing.  It happens after the click.     I clicked and so I must reinforce... but it's always a dilemma.  With Good stand, click, paw patter, treat.   That paw patter is reinforced. And if I do a lot of repetitions, that is a lot of paw pattering being reinforced.  That is paw pattering increasing. 

My solutions for now?
- Not training. It doesn't improve his stand, but it does prevent the paw pattering from getting worse.
- Separately working on me moving towards him, with food, and reinforcing for stillness there.
- Tossing the food away after the click.  I'm afraid of this and getting messy things in with our behavior.
- Or, at moments where he is doing well, release and then mark-reinforce the release.   Only ever releasing when he is very still.

One of my training obsessions is placement of reinforcer. Where you place that reinforcer can not only help minimize unwanted things between the click and reinforcer, but we can maximize the things we do want, the speed, the movement, the path, the behavior.    More on all of this after-click-before-reinforcer tomorrow.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Gardens, Treibball, and more

Yesterday our 4-H group went to  Schnormeier Gardens in Gambier, Ohio.  We try to do various field trips every year and some of my best memories as a 4-H'er are from great trips we took.

These gardens are very interesting as it's a private residence that opens up once a year for the public to come in.  In the past, they've only been open for two days, but this year extended it to five days with around a thousand people coming in each day.

Lots of art, bridges, water, and interesting plants.   And really impressive given that they've only been working at it for twenty some years.    I wish I could accomplish that much in such a short period of time!

Part way through the day, someone behind us on a trail recognized me from work...and started to tell me about how much she wanted to do Treibball.    We talked about how much they had done, the online resources available and the class options.

I gave her my usual response... get a few people together and we can do a class or a few weekend workshops.

Treibball is a funny thing....   About 18-24 months ago, someone showed me a video clip from 2008. I didn't know where I had been...I had never heard of it or heard a mention.  And about 4-5 months later, I started hearing about it online...and all over the place.

At Griffin's first year at camp, 2009, some of the kids taught him to do parts of it, pushing a ball into a goal, as part of a training challenge.  And I know I did some early work on that when Blaze was young.  Just as silly training challenges.    It's always interesting to see where things go.  I don't know if the interest will decline or if it will end up as a big and exciting event.   We'll see.

We returned home in the early afternoon and after a few hours of misc. work, I went off to the shelter.  Nothing new and exciting there (which is often a good thing).  It was too hot for much training.    I've been trying to pull together various video clips on how to do some of the basic behaviors we use in classes....  I got a few more parts for that and hopefully I have enough or almost enough to finish a few of these projects. It's amazing how long some of these things have been on my to-do list.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Griffin at CD Prep Class III

Before class we worked on sidepassing (...nothing like last minute homework) and his stand stays. Once we get his tail still, it stays still. But that initial stillness can sure be a problem.

At class:
- Review of what we had done the week before. I wanted to leave Griffin in the car for this, so he wouldn't have to sit. But it was just too hot and the current vehicle doesn't have air. Hopefully next week!
- Call to Heel: Tossing a low value treat, calling the dog to heel. Reinforce with a higher value reinforcer. Griffin was working well enough I was comfortable dropping the leash (big garage doors open, ring gates across the front...easily jumpable!). But he was not returning to heel. Out of five repetitions, only two were correct. The other three he came up next to me. The instructor wanted me to keep walking until he was heeling. I wanted to re-set.... I'm afraid of letting him heel poorly, then well, then mark and reinforce and creating a dangerous behavior chain.
- Left and Right turns: Heeling in a big square while the rest of the group is in the center. When we were working his heeling was good for parts, poor for the others. When I'm working by myself I move out of position as soon as HE is out of position, but it's a bit hard to do that in a class setting. Not horrible but not all that great either. While we waited for our turn, we practiced sit stays and stand stays. He did well.

- He wasn't up for tugging. I tried a bit and then the seminar we were instructed to keep going until we get it...but at the same time, that feels like giving a cue and repeating it and repeating it.
- There was some barking and impatience while waiting to work. I need to manage him better next time. Chews or a kong or a crate.
- There was too much excitement. One of the class members left her dog in a stay while she left the building to do something...her dog got up and got in another dogs face. It was tense. There was growling. I tried to hurry Griffin to the bathroom but he didn't want to go in there and so I ended up carrying him away. People think he's very reactive because I'm so paranoid.... but... better than him causing trouble or getting beat up (again).

Next week:
- I'll have a better management plan
- I'll have better training plans to work with him while we're waiting for our turns.
- I'll have a greater variety of reinforcers.
-We'll do more of our homework before class!

And we just realized, weeks into it, that one of our classmates has a dog from the same breeder. Not a very common occurrance!