Sunday, July 31, 2011

When A Training Session Doesn't Go Well

Last night we got to the park before teaching a lesson. I took out Griffin. He lined up to heel. I gave him some cream cheese. And he turned away.  I offered it to him immediately, he still refused.  We tried canned food.

I worked to get him tugging. Once I'm sure that it's a reinforcer...we can go back to training. But it wasn't going to be a reinforcer.

After the lesson, we tried again and he still wasn't interested. So we went home.

Not very much happened always I added some things to my "To Train" list.

  • Fix his -go-to-the-bathroom cue.  I think part of the problem was that he needed to....but was too distracted.
  • Get him comfortable eliminating (quickly!) in various locations.
  • Continue to increase the value of varied food and toy reinforcers.
  • Do more sessions of getting out of the car to work for 1-2 min, back in to go to another location (usually a block away).

The work he did was actually quite nice. I was nervous about not having a way to reinforce the behaviors.  There is ALWAYS something happening... the behavior growing stronger or the behavior getting weaker. And I don't want my behaviors to get weaker!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Quickly Solving Problems

It's always my goal to quickly address the most pressing issue that a dog owner has, even when in group classes.

Recently we had a less than year old lab mix in a basic class. The challenge was pulling.

Our plan:
Management:  Front clip harness so that the dog couldn't pull as hard. Stopping if the dog pulled to prevent reinforcement from the continued walk. Avoid walks if it was just a bad day, ONLY training walks allowed.  Exercise before walks.

Training: Backwards walking (handler backwards, dog in front, feed for dog being close. I have video clips of this for it's own well-deserved post), walking next to the owner with frequent reinforcement and then less frequent,  the rally call-front exercise (without the sit), leave it working up to using it on the real world, Squirrel game/ systematic distraction training, pace-change exercise (change pace, click for dog matching).   Pivot box.

If you mess up and the dog is pulling:  Plant your feet. Backwards walking. Treat magnet him away.

After 2 weeks of work the dog is great and now we have to come up with other things to work on in class!  Two weeks!   We stopped the reinforcement for pulling. We trained the dog how to walk. And if the dog did start pulling we knew what the best plan was for that point in time.

I wish everything went that fast. Some issues are more challenging. Some owners are less skilled.  Some dogs have had more practice at the undesired behaviors.  But a lot of it comes down to me really needing more efficient plans.    We keep getting better!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Group Class Exercises for Greetings

1: Offered Sit:  The handler/owner/family can practice this.  When the dog sits...toss a treat. Repeat until the dog is readily sitting with no prompting.  If the dog does not offer a sit but does respond to the verbal cue.... cue the behavior, reinforce. Repeat 5-10 times and then wait and see if the dog will sit.

2 Sit for Petting:  The owner practices petting the dog. Clicking for a still dog (at the hardest point of the petting), stop the petting, feed a treat.  Pet, Click/Stop, Feed. Repeat. Work up to enthusiastic petting.

3: Rotate, Offered Sits:  Everyone sets some treats on a chair 5-10 feet away. One at a time, the instructor holds a dog (reinforcing for quiet, stillness, etc) while the student goes around the room. S/he picks up a treat, approaches the dog, waits for a sit. Reinforces, then goes back for another treat.  We do 3 repetitions per dog, then to the next student dog.   It goes much quicker than it sounds.  Those who are waiting for turns can practice offered sits and sits for petting.   If the dog is doing well, we can add in duration to the sitting or add in petting from the visitor.

4: Sit with Handler:  This time, instead of the visitor feeding the dog, the owner will feed the dog for offering a sit.  The owner holds the leash at half length so that the dog can't get too far away.  Repeat 3x per visitor, per dog. If the dog is doing well, we can add in duration to the sitting or add in petting from the visitor.

5: Turn Away:  Any extra people/instructors are used, ideally one per dog.   The dog and owner walk towards the person, then the owner moves backwards, reinforcing the dog for turning and coming with the owner.  This is done at a distance where the dog is likely to succeed.  This is repeated, walking closer to the person for greater challenge.  For some dogs we have the person sitting, offering food, making eye contact, talking, etc.

Conflict regarding Greeting People

We talked about this at training yesterday and it's been a constant source of....conflict... for me.

How should young and enthusiastic dogs be greeting people?  If the dog is super enthusiastic and it ultimately best for them to be meeting and socializing? Will enough of that calm them down...eventually? Or do we want them to be primarily in work mode?

From when Griffin was 10-18 months (or so)...we tried different ways to get him greeting appropriately. Sit for treats from strangers. Strangers being still if he jumped. People leaving if he jumped.  People walking closer if he was sitting.  He got more and more and more frenzied.

Since then... for the most part, he's not allowed to socialize with people. If we're in public we stay far enough away that no one will ask or we are so focused that people are not likely to ask. If they do?  We're in a hurry, maybe next time.  I'm not willing to bet $100 Griffin will greet calmly and I don't want to compromise his training. I also don't want him to be very distressed about the greeting.

When we do camp and events.... he is great being pet by the kids. Because he is working.  He's watching me, or getting a pet and turning back.  If one kid came over...he did try to jump up and be all over the kid.... but if there were many and the kids were training him or if I was right there?  Work mode.

Greeting people just isn't something we allow happen (same for greeting dogs when on leash). If greeting people happens, we try for it to be completely work, serious, focus on me... (or we try. There are moments where I misjudge!).

We are seeing measurable progress. He's much improved since we took away the greeting. The thought that he  might get to greet had been taking over his head.....and that potential exciting event was just too much.  But now he knows exactly what will happen and the interactions are less stressful for him, me, and the people.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sample Training Notes // Griffin Training Group Notes

Here's an example of the training notes that I made from our training session today.  We had five people, training four dogs...for all sorts of things. We took turns, with some talking and picking through behaviors in between training periods.  Some of this was a bit interrupted by the air conditioner being repaired (....last night I was working Griffin after classes....the air conditioner started to sound like it was exploding! I ran out front to call for help while Griffin ran TO the thing!) and then the power went out for a while.

I'll have these notes in our training file.  It's mostly to record what we did, what parts went well and the areas that need work. All the needs-work things go onto a separate list that tends to grow more than shrink. Every time I take one thing off the list...three more are added.  But eventually the list will get smaller!

Session 1: Directed Jumping:   I would send him from halfway to his Sit platform and then direct him to one of the jumps. He always went to the right one. But he did not always commit to actually jumping. I was not happy. His going to the Sit platform then started to deteriorate after I removed a hairball.  Adding to my to-do list: Repair his sit platform. Proof the sitting with stuff going on, things on the floor.  Work on commitment to the jumps.

Session 2: Sit Platform: Repairing this go out piece. I varied our starting location, gradually moving further back.  I  misjudged on two repetitions. More and more proofing needed.  Lots of tossing his toy to him or to me or far away as the reinforcer.

Session 3: Heeling in a group :  Around 3 people. Somewhat doing figure 8's somewhat as a proofing exercise. I only saw 3 moments where he went away. Otherwise it was AMAZING. SO consistent, so perfect, so lovely. He was not bumping me, not forging, head up and working so well.  He DID run off after toy was tossed and once after I fed him, he ran off.   But not while working.

Session 4: Directed Retrieve. This morning I was SO happy about this exercise and the progress we made.  Today we were working on retrieving from spot 1 and 2 and the discrimination. He was 100% correct.  That part was brilliant. Our areas to work on:  Wide turns. If I click as he commits to the right one, we get a tight turn as he hurries back. Otherwise he does a wider loop than I would like. We'll have to fix that.  His turn and sit at the beginning of the exercise did not always happen... I wasn't looking back and once he apparently had NOT sat... from my perspective, I thought he was!   Our helper called out which spot to send him to....and he ran to jump in her lap the first time. It wasn't horrible and we met our criteria of going to the right one.... just a bit frustrating that other gaping holes appeared.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Foundation Agility: Looking at A Frame Performance

This is one of the Tuesday night classes. I want to be in that class. Except I teach it...and can't multi task like that.

It's fun to spend time on things that aren't super important life skills, yet relate.  Self control. Attention to handler. Recalls. Walking with.    And training skills...cues, stimulus control, shaping, timing, observation.

With someone tonight, we looked at exactly what she wanted her dog's a-frame performance to look like.

Some questions we ultimately ended up with:
- What is the speed? Number of strides? Where does your dog hit the board going up? Where is your dog's head?
- How does he go down, when does he go down? Is this in response to your body language?
- What is his behavior at the end? Where are his front paws? His back paws? His head? Exactly where... off to the side? Straight? What is acceptable?
- How does your dog leave? His speed? His posture? How does he know when to leave? At what exact point, and what is his cue to leave?

And....despite being a dog training enthusiast...I'm worried I may have overwhelmed her.  We only picked through that one exercise, the other five I gave her straightforward instructions for the most part.

My pictures never match the topic.
To add on to that... contact behaviors are one of my favorite things. Even for some of the smaller dogs who don't move quite as fast.... everyone learns this as a foundation skill, not all dogs end up learning it on the obstacles.  It's really fun to see how quickly some teams figure it out.  The first week or two is a bit rocky.... but then they kind of get it. And then it goes well.

A Shaping Class?

Four times this week the topic has come back to training enthusiasts needing to be better at breaking down behaviors into separate components.

Once you've trained a behavior, you often have one (or more) ideas on how to teach it to another dog.  Being able to take a behavior you haven't trained and break it down into the smallest parts is a separate skill.  Those I know who are best at this learned to be proficient through practice. Modifying plans they had been given, taking new behaviors and coming up with plans, and thinking through the many possible options for shaping any given behavior. 

How to teach someone that extra piece of skill is a separate challenge.  I've thought about doing a class or workshop...but most of those  I mentioned are too far away for that to be an option. I've thought about doing an online class....but I don't know if I could get people to commit.  On the to-do list is a website with specific activities for improving shaping.

Students in a pet class typically just need to be given efficient plans, it's the responsibility of the instructor to determine what is likely to be the fastest and most efficient training plan.  In competition classes, it's the same thing. The students want the best plans possible.   It mostly comes down to those who will spend a lot of time working on their own or those who are just training enthusiasts who really want to learn this sort of thing.   In reality, being able to efficiently break things down would allow anyone to do much better problem solving, on their own or in conjunction with a professional. It's much harder to create resources and classes with that angle compared to materials directly for an enthusiast.


Being able to break down behaviors has been a strong point for me for a very, very long time.  Two events, fairly recently, have allowed me to be even more proficient.

One is TAGteach.  I went to a seminar in 2008 and 2009.  It made me very excited about teaching and training.  And I was/am envious of the TAGTeach vocabulary that we don't have in training.  In TAG Teach there is discussion of the one point of instruction, the "Value Added Tag Point", that improves several aspects at once.  We don't have a word for that in animal training. I've put in more of an effort to find and utilize those in training.  There is a big focus on breaking behaviors down into separate points, that just seems more effective than how things are explained for the same concept in animal training.   

The other event was Morton and Cecilia's presentation at ClickerExpo in 2008. This inspired me to get Griffin. They broke down behaviors into just beautiful little parts. Separate and perfect before putting things together.  A high level of perfection.   But also, the way of breaking down behaviors was far more efficient than what I've typically seen.

Exercises to Keep Dogs off of Counters and Tables

We go over this almost every other week.  Usually with young dogs who just discovered the joys of the countertops.  We recently had a dog in class who had been exploring and successfully finding snacks on counters for over four years. The family had the dog wear a bell so that they had a better chance of stopping her.  Five weeks later?  The owner reported the dog was massively improved, people who didn't know the dog had more training were super impressed by the changes.

1) Prevention. The counters are kept cleared off. Obviously, anything the dog eats or plays with can be reinforcing. The feet up and exploration can also be reinforcing.   For the life of the dog you should have clean counter habits.  All it takes one mistake and your dog could eat something incredibly dangerous. It's not worth that risk.
2) Gates and crates: Dog is kept out of the room except for training scenarios until the training process is completed.
3) Dog on leash/crated during meals: Not giving your dog a chance to make those errors. Management is key.

1) Practice stays in that room:  One person preparing meals while the other is reinforcing the dog for down stays. Feeding as often as needed.  This can be done with one person... go open a cupboard, go back and reinforce. Pull out a cup...go back and reinforce. Put water in the cup. go back and reinforce. Most people push the dog too far. We want to reinforce very often, so we have a very strong reinforcement history.  A go to bed/mat can help clarify the staying aspect here.
2) Leave it: Automatic and on cue.  Step one of this is a treat in a closed fist...wait for dog to back up...then click and give a yummy treat. Repeat a lot until the dog is offering leaving things alone. There are a lot more steps to this...but it deserves it's own post.  We do NOT want to be verbally cueing leave it. Most of the counter don't need this with the counters, you want the dog leaving the cake by himself.
3) Squirrel Game: Again, a longer exercise, but essentially walking back and forth past a distraction at a distance where you know the dog can succeed. Feeding often. We want to be working hard enough that your dog is slightly feed often, reinforce those behaviors.

If you mess up:
And see your dog jumping up...calmly leave the room or quietly and causally move to your dog.  You do NOT want to yell or move suddenly or physically stop your dog.  Dogs VERY quickly learn to ONLY take things if you are not present. This is ---incredibly--- dangerous because then you don't know what your dog has taken.   And it makes training very difficult.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Griffin Training: Working on the Search

Griffin is learning to identify a certain odor. When he finds it, he is supposed to lie down with his nose pointing.  In some circumstances he really wants to dig or retrieve.  Other than that piece, his indication is getting to be quite strong and fairly reliable.

One piece we haven't worked on is his search...getting him to work longer before he happens to come across the scent.  We had done maybe one lesson on that and last week did another. I thought the exercise the more experienced dogs were doing would be too difficult for him and that I would need to intentionally start closer to the scent.  

As always, Griffin surprised me.  He got to work right away and kept working, even for several minutes.

Here is one clip of two repetitions. I knew where the odor was but I was trying very hard to not prompt or guide him in any way.  If he seemed to know where he was going, I let him go off of our back and forth path, but if he seemed to be randomly searching, I would bring him back to a search pattern of sorts. 

Never repeat that horrible leash handling...  normally Griffin wears a harness. For whatever reason he did not. I was trying to be careful and not pull on his neck, yet needed to direct him at times.  The results were rather embarrassing  However, the quality of his work is so nice that I can't not share. 

Note that when we change one variable (a lot of search) we decrease our criteria and went back to verbally cueing the Down at times.   This is also to decrease/prevent naughtyness and incorrect behaviors with the odor. 

Isn't he adorable?

This week I came across these videos on youtube:  I've only actually watched two....but been -very- impressed.  Watching two I was really happy and thought, "He -gets- it."  The person has good training skills and good teaching skills and does such a nice job presenting information.  So maybe the rest of them aren't so great....but with the quality of what I saw, I have quite a bit of confidence that most of it, if not all, has to be great.   

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Training Time Responses Compared to "Real Life" Responses

This week I had multiple students tell me that their dogs are great in training but not in "real life."  It's actually not something that comes up too often, usually the dogs are better in "Real Life" than I would have expected.  At the same time it is a complaint that I often hear online.... "My dog is good at class but doesn't listen at home," or "He only listens if I have a treat."

In response, I have these questions:

  1. How does your dog know the difference?
  2. What do you do differently in training compared to other times?
  3. How are we going to change things so that your dog is more responsive?
In watching the teams work, I usually note these things:
  • The dog does not have 'fluent' behaviors. Sometimes the person has to ask more than once. The dog is inattentive. The dog is slow to respond or doesn't seem to fully understand. The precision can be lacking. The dog moves slowly or takes too long to respond.
  • The person is often luring with food. Sometimes the human knows this, sometimes he or she does not know the luring is happening. The dogs learn that food is guarenteed only if they see if first.  The humans see the dog respond immediately when food is visible, thus the human is reinforced by a fast response.  
  • Poor responses are reinforced. When a dog is just learning, we do reinforce approximations. If we are in a very busy environment we will reinforce lower quality responses.   But we do not always reinforce these less than desirable things. And especially a dog that has been through multiple classes, we really should be more selective about what to reinforce and when we decide to move and try again.
The changes we make:
  • There is no difference between training and real life:  Training always can be happening. The dog is working for all of his or her food. The food and treats are dispensed throughout the day for all sorts of good behaviors. Training is always happening. This does a few things; it strengthens the behaviors, the person is wearing the treatpouch/has treats accessible and so reinforces more often, the behaviors are reinforced in real life settings.  
  • Take away the cues: Often these dogs have learned treat pouch = I am 100% sure I will be reinforced. No treat pouch =  no chance of reinforcement.   We wear the pouch and do not pull reinforcers from the pouch. We have other ways for treats to be available; containers throughout the house, pants pocket, jacket pocket, food bin on a nearby table.  
  • More good training:  Perfect behaviors. One cue, one response, then get the reinforcer.  Get fluent behaviors before adding cues.  Work on new behaviors and perfecting those in place.  Only getting out the reinforcer after the click happens, never before. No more luring!
  • Specific activities to teach the dog that reinforcers will happen:  Ask for a super simple behavior. Then run to get really, really great treats.  Systematically teach secondary reinforcers.  Use the "Airplane Security" game*

*Somehow I haven't ever shared this will be added to the "to do" list. I used to use it all the time...but have not in recent years.  Dump all your treats and toys onto a table, just like at airport security. Lead your dog away a bit, ask for a behavior, run to get a treat/toy.  Go away again, ask for something. Return to get a reinforcer. The dog is learning to work even if the reinforcers are not immediately present. The person is learning how to teach the dog to work when reinforcers are not immediately present.
More cute dog picture...not relating to the post.  Isn't this adorable?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Exercises for Manners at the Door

  1. Re-orienting through doorways:  Practice at interior doorways (bathroom to hallway, bedroom to hallway, etc) before doors that go outside.  Use the least exciting exterior doorway to start with, then move to the more exciting doors.  Go through the door with your dog, after you step through, pause. Wait for your dog to look up at you. Click the head turn. Feed a great treat. Turn and go back through. During the training of this behavior, go back and forth 10-20+ times so that your dog gets a lot of practice.  Then move to another doorway.
  2. Automatic sits at the door:  Walk to a door.  Wait for a sit or ask for a sit.  Click the sit. Feed a treat. Repeat a lot. Soon your dog will be sitting as soon as you arrive.  Practice many times, at different doors.
  3. Sit for door opening: This can be taught after part 2, or you can cue the Sit.  Have your dog sit at the door.  Feed a treat. Reach halfway to the knob. If your dog is still, click the stay, feed a treat. Repeat a few times. Reach all the way to the knob. Click while you touch if your dog is still. Feed a treat.  Repeat a few times. Reach for the knob, hold it. Click if your dog is still, feed a treat.  Reach, hold, and turn slightly. Click if your dog is still, feed a treat.  Continue until you can open the door and walk through it.   
  4. Walking Training: Use your walking training activities and practice these through the door. Outside, inside, prop the door open. We often do not think to spend time training in this area.  Yet we want our dogs to respond there.  A little training, and many repetitions of back and forth, will pay off quickly.
  5. Prevention:  Until your dog is trained to wait at the door, calmly go through, turn back to you, there will be times you have to go out.  If your dog barges out, you will be compromising your training and setting  yourself back. There are some options for how to exit without compromising your training. Practice these so that when you need to leave you have a plan.
        1. Treat Magnet:  (From Agility Right From the Start):  Have some treats in your hand, let your dog be licking-nibbling as you lead him through the door. If your dog is NOT licking, his nose is too far from the treats. 
        2. Treat Toss:  Drop a small handful of treats/food on the floor. While your dog is eating, open the door and walk through. After your dog finishes, he will come through.
        3. Carry Your Dog:  Not an option for all sizes of dogs or all owners.  But, when it's an option this is a great way to prevent your dog from practicing undesired behaviors. 
Pretend like this is a picture of a dog at a door.
I had one of those. But this is more cute.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A few quick notes on chaining:

There are many different ways to put multiple behaviors.

It is important that we train each separate part to fluency ("perfection") before we start to put it together. If we have a weak piece, the whole chain may fail.

Let's consider a chain of A-B-C-D-E, that is always done in the same order.  When we put this together, we have a few options to put it together.  Here are the ones I can come up with:
  • Work on adding in the consecutive order. As you work through the chain, you start with the most reinforced, strongest point and move towards what your dog knows less well.  A-Reinforce, repeat many times. A-B-Reinforce, repeat many times. A-B-C-Reinforce, repeat many times. A-B-C-D-Reinforce, repeat many times. A-B-C-D-E-Reinforce, repeat many times.
  • Adding parts, starting at the end.  Backchaining. As your dog goes through the chain, he is working to his strongest pieces, the ones that have been reinforced the most.  E. Reinforce. Repeat many times.  D-E-Reinforce, repeat many times.  C-D-E-Reinforce, repeat many times. B-C-D-E-Reinforce, repeat many times. B-C-D-E-Reinforce, repeat many times. A-B-C-D-E-Reinforce, repeat many times.
  • Vary the pieces. Initially random, smaller segments, then extend the size of the pieces.  C-D-Reinforce. A-B-Reinforce.  C-D-E-Reinforce.  B-C-D-Reinforce. A-B-Reinforce. D-E-Reinforce.   
  • Get each piece perfectly and then theoretically it will all go together brilliantly.  
These are not straightforward. You can be using multiple options.

This is somewhat being put together for an advanced-class-lesson-piece.   I want to share computer. Unfortunately my computer is full. My external hard drive is full. I suppose that means I should use video that I already have?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Training in the Heat

My usual response is to just not train.   Not training will not solve the problems. It will not create the behaviors you want.  

Some realistic responses:
- Find air conditioning. If you are so lucky as to have air condioning in your house...lots of tricks and pieces of behaviors require very little space. Go to a pet store and do training there....or maybe a very large vet clinic.  Sign up for a training class. I had some drop-ins this week due to the heat...people wanting tired dogs and NOT wanting to risk heat related health problems.
-  Train very early or very late.  Tonight it was still 90* at 10PM. Evening isn't as much of an option. But I have been getting up very early to work my dogs.
- Very short sessions. 2 minutes or less. A small number of repetitions.

And... a compromise of most lazy yet really great use of time... work on training plans.  The more time you spend planning, the more efficient you can be during work sessions.  It's a great all around option!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book 16: K9 Behavior Basics by Resi Gerritson, Ruud Haak, Simon Prins

I first saw this book mentioned in early June.  I bookmarked the one seller page.  And then after hearing a few more mentions of it, Bob Bailey again saying it would be quite useful...I had to get it. He's someone you have to listen to.   (...while creating that link, I saw that there's a copy on the discount page... $5 off due to a scuff on the cover!)

At the end of July I finally ordered a copy...and then had to wait a few weeks to get it due to a backorder!   It arrived Friday and I've been enjoying over the weekend.

First off... I was a bit disapointed with the initial 150 pages. It's body language, behavior, ethology, dog history sort of information. It's not bad.  But I've read enough of that and didn't really want more of it.    The next 100 pages is the training information. It's really a pretty basic and straightforward training book.  Short subsections on various topics, lots of analogies, and explanations of the learning theory.

The authors specialize in various sorts of police/working dogs and apparently have been working closely with Bob Bailey on a few of the military projects.  More of the examples and analogies and even some terminiology is more oriented to those fields.  However, for someone with more than a causal interest, this could be a very good beginning training manual IF the person needed a theory book, NOT a how-to.
I had really been hoping for the how-to information given the success, R+ affiliations, and unique things that their programs do....   but this is apparently not the resource for that information.  

Am I glad I purchased it? YES.   But I don't know who I will be recommending this book to as it's not very specific and there are so many general theory resources readily available.  

The direct impact on my training is even more planning time for each session, better record keeping, and more  specific long-term plans.  Currently I have a specific goal for each session, have some vague long-term plans, I make a few written notes after a session, and video at least half of my training sessions.  But if I actually put in writing all the details of each session before hand, I'll be able to use my time even more efficiently. I'll be sure each piece fits into the big picture. I'll be able to look ahead and see if I'm likely missing any key components, and hopefully this will help us measure our progress.  

I don't have pictures of
my dogs doing anything half-working.
Pretend like this is such....
Another change is to go back to creating, using, and perfecting written training protocols for basic (and not so basic) behaviors.  The authors have a format that is very briefly mentioned , an outline of steps for each behavior, that allow the trainers to measure if the dog is meeting criteria or not and then progress, stay at the step, or go back if need be. I have many of these informally and unwritten, but I think I could be more efficient if it's in writing and continually updated.  I started using some of these at the shelter on Saturday night and I'm already making some modifications.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Walking Without Pulling

Last night was yet another 4-H judging opportunity. The club I work with hosted a fun match, we had about 10-15 kids attend, I did all the showmanship, obedience, and rally judging and it went a bit smoother than expected thanks to some great helpers and ring stewards.

Yet again, I saw a lot of tight leashes. It's actually becoming a hugely interesting thing.  Some events last year, the kids gripped the leash right up against the collar.  And they led the dog through the performance like that.  I was completely unsure on how to judge that and ended up with a sort of "standard deduction" value, with any extra leash pulls (esp on the halt-sits) as additional points deducted.  

Even my own club members did this! I see nice loose leashes every week!  I saw pulling for the sits! Hands raised to shoulder height!  Stress does very interesting things to people and dogs.

Luna and Griffin both tell me that leash
 pulling is not a problem if you just let your
dog off leash...
It's led me back to a talk Megan and I have had a dozen times over the last few weeks.  It's hard to teach good walking. It's hard to get dogs to walk nicely without pulling, without punishment.  I've spent the morning to work on reviewing my walking training plans and looking at the variations between what I do and what I have clients/students do.  We'll be doing a lot of walking training tonight at the shelter and see what happens.

A few initial thoughts on the challenges:
-- By the time people get help for walking training....the dogs have been pulling for quite a while. The humans have continued walking while the dog is pulling, meaning the dog got a TON of reinforcement for the pulling ("Look, it makes the humans walk!").
-- People get into habits and patterns. They want to continue with normal walks during the training period, letting the pulling happen there, and thus compromising the training.
-- It's hard to look at the big picture, all the little times where the dog pulls on leash and the dog is allowed to continue forward.  And we miss those moments.   I am so guilty of that, today I counted (...after the fact each time, 8 points in our morning routine where reinforcement is distributed without me being careful to have the behavior I want before that reinforcement is delivered.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Multi Pet Households

This has apparently been the theme for the week, with another call last night.   Multi pet households can be difficult, and especially when multiple species are involved.  The problems tend to fall into a few categories:


- Conflict between animals: Primarily dog-dog or cat-cat.  It can be anything from stress to actual fighting.
- Bullying:  Usually dog to cats...sometimes other combinations. Especially seen with puppies to cats.  Some owners are excessively distressed, but more often they're not as worried as I think they should be.  Many people think that the cat will run off if he's having a hard time...  and some cats will.  It's typically better for the cat to stay put (no dog chasing then), but some are still stressed while stuck in position.    We see bullying with puppies to older/impaired mobility dogs as well.
- Management Issues: This is probably more a sub-type of conflict in the family.   Many times there are dogs that actually get along quite well...except in certain circumstances. Feeding. High value toys. Visitors. Stressful situations.   It's also interesting that most families know what circumstances cause problems, yet do not separate the pets at those times.  I had one family tell me that they dreaded coming home from work every day, expecting one dog to be dead.  We talked about both keeping food put up (no resource to guard, which was the problem) and separating the dogs in case they found some other type of resource. It just hadn't occurred to the family.  
- Compromising Training:  Some situations result in one dog needing to be walked separately until certain challenges have been dealt with...whether it's just establishing polite walking or something more complicated like barking/lunging at other dogs.  The separate walks are really stressful to some owners. It can be hard to leave the other dog/s alone at home. Time restrictions can limit how much walking anyone gets.  Like most species, we want to go the easiest route. And by walking multiple dogs at once...the long-term training is compromised. The puppy spends an hour every day pulling on the leash rather than 30 minutes of nice walking. The reactive dog is not managed as well as possible. The other dogs in the household become reactive.  
- Too much! Overwhelming!   It's hard to meet the needs of all pets in the household.   We're feeling that right now, with four dogs and a cat.  It's hard to meet the exercise and training needs of everyone.  

But multipet households are great.  It's amazing to see all of the interactions between the animals.  The cats rub up on the dogs.... but they also did that with the horses.   A bottle raised calf was happy to follow the dogs around, while the adult cows are typically just very, very curious.  Luna loves to groom the cat.  The dogs play with each other. The cat bats at the dogs as they move past.  Griffin wiggles and play bowed to ferrets.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seminar Weekend Summary: Evaluating Dog Bites and Leash Reactivity Classes

This weekend was a seminar by Cara Shannon, day one was on her scale for evaluating dog bites (dog human and dog-dog) and day two was on how she runs her leash reactivity classes.   Overall?  It was much better than I expected, I was very impressed with how great she is at speaking to a group and how she organized her materials.   I was also really impressed with how well she understood questions that were asked....many times  speakers have so much to be thinking about and worrying about that they can very very misunderstand questions that the group asks.

I'm going to be very interested to see how her dog bite evaluation changes or grows over the next few years.  I absolutely love how much she emphasized that it was created to help create more consistency and communication and to create greater standards for the industry.

The leash reactivity class I help teach is based off of her format.  It's designed to maximize the efficiency of progress and to focus not on a multitude of behaviors, but getting a single, solid, turn-to-me-for-food behavior.  The focus on one behavior allows for maximizing fluency of this behavior. The dogs learn a familiar rule structure. See a dog. Cue. Turn to handler. Food.   This can be used for motion. Stillness. In gradually more challenging scenarios.   It's really quite brilliant and simple.   The last piece of the day was on nose work/scent work/finding food games.   She's found this to be so helpful that all training clients are required to take a lesson on this, no matter what service they're in for.      We had client dog teams in for the afternoon to see a few demos of how classes are run and how she sets it up.  That was very interesting as well.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Training Animals to Readily Eat

About two years ago, I woke up to Blaze vomiting. He did not eat food offered to him.  It could have just been a bad day.  He has always been a dog to eat right away when food is presented. If he had vomited from eating something bad...he most likely would have still eaten his meal when offered. I knew something was very wrong and immediately contacted our vet.  The vet thought my initial concern of an obstruction was a bit hasty, but the next day Blaze was in surgery. It was an obstruction....from eating a clump of wild animal hair.

At the vet conference this year, both Kathy Sdao and Ken Ramirez talked about the importance of training animals to eat readily when food is presented.  In their lines of work, with exotic animals, a missed meal may be the first sign that something isn't right.  Early vet intervention can be crucial and especially as many animals do not display discomfort until the condition fairly serious.

With our dogs and even cats, provided everything else seems normal, we get told that not eating isn't a huge deal, offer food later and don't worry. And in reality it's often not an issue.

But think of the advantage you have with a reliable eater.  One missed meal and you're very attentive for anything else abnormal.  If your pet doesn't eat well?   Only bigger signs will stand out and get your attention....probably when things are more serious.  

Blaze is very enthusiastic about eating when fed.  Luna hasn't always  been, but currently will eat within 10-15 minutes. I don't know when she last missed a meal.   Griffin is not so great.  It's nice that he will stop eating when he is full, it's also really annoying. If we don't have our usual activity level, he won't be as hungry, he won't eat much.  If we have more than the usual activity level, he gets very, very hungry and a bit noisy and wild.

A few things we think about to get better eaters:
- Check with your vet to rule out any medical complications.
- Be sure you are feeding your pet the proper amount. Many animals who do not eat readily are getting more food than they should have.
- For a period of 2-3+ weeks, have your pet work for all his food through training or food toys.  By training, I don't mean, "Sit" and put down the bowl.  I have the dog do a behavior for a few pieces of food...and work through the meals.  We get HUGE improvement this way.
- For meals fed in a bowl, divide meals into smaller portions so that the animal does eat everything offered.
- During the training period, up the exercise 25+% or more (if your vet okay's it).  This will make it a bit harder to determine the amount of food for your pet, but it can help get your pet eating more readily.
- Have your pet eat a small amount of food from a bowl. When the bowl is empty (of the 5-10 pieces or whatnot), give a great treat or play ball or whatever else your pet loves.
-  Do not have food freely available.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Word Choices: Positive Phrasing

A few nice things that came up recently:

Luna has had a lot of points
subtracted. She loves the table.
But she also loves to run all
over the place.
A student recently commented that he was a bit distressed about doing "everything wrong."    And while there definitely were some things that could use improvement with the scenario, we had a nice little talk about how it was more that "There are things that could be more efficient."    Unlike math, with dog training, there are few things that are wrong.   Sometimes there are things that are less efficient or don't work as well.   But rarely things that are just wrong.

Last week at camp, one of our teen counselors was doing an agility lesson. She explained about how the teams can acquire points by completing obstacles.  When the time period was up, teams have to run to the table to stop the time.   And for "every second over time, a point is subtracted from your score."    Subtracted from your score!   I was so proud and so impressed.  This is typically phrased as, "You loose a point for every second over course time."   She turned it around and put it in a much more passive, much less negative way!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Regaining Control

Griffin is a retriever, but not crazy about retrieving.  He does love to swim. And he's starting to learn to love tugging.

Most mornings this summer, we go out to the pond and do some retrieves for play/fun/exercise.  Very quickly I realized that Griffin was really starting to love the water retrieves.  If not working, he would run to the edge of the pond and stand there, staring out, impatiently waiting for the toy to hit the water.   He did not want to come away from the water.

Despite being the most adorable dog, he's not 100% reliable with everything. There have been occasions where I ask him to do something and he says, "No....NOT now."    But when I call him away from the water, he was not politely refusing to come, he was completely non-responsive.  

In most contexts in life, Griffin knows to work to get the things he wants.  He will back away from my plate in hopes of getting a crumb.  He will hold his stay, hoping for a release.  He will heel past smells on the ground, hoping to be released.  He will not look at distractions nearby, hoping to be allowed to explore.  If he wants something, whether material or information, he will turn to me with various levels of intensity.   But with the pond, he just stood there, staring.

This was a good thing in one very important way:  Water retrieves are a high value reinforcer. Probably THE highest value reinforcer we currently have available.   That meant, I had something that was not previously available.  He's never been super crazy about any types of food (raw meat, cooked meat, tripe, bread) or toys (furry or fuzzy, retrieving or tugging or throwing or squeaking....).  The lack of high value reinforcers has really made training difficult.

Our training plan:  Transfer our love of water retrieves to other things.

So, just like working with the secondary reinforcer lesson the kids had on Friday....    for a few weeks we did various combinations.  

  • Tug on frisbee, verbal marker, toss another into pond.   Thus his love of tugging grows to almost the level of water retrieves.
  • Tug on frisbee, ask for a release when he is tugging well. Mark the release, throw the toy into the pond.  His love of releasing the toy grows.
  • Short retrieve on land. He brings it back and I toss that toy or another into the water.  His love of retrieving on land grows.
  • Ask for a return/sit at heel.  I throw a toy in the pond.  His love of returning to heel grows.
  • Ask for a short stay, release, mark, toss toy.  His love of stay releases grows.
  • Ask for a stay, toss in toy (initially, just to the edge), release when he is still.  His love of staying grows.
And as a result?  He's now able to work much better around the water.  On occasion he still is racing to the edge to gaze out hopefully before returning to me and asking to work.   And sometimes on his stays, he is next to me, quivering, but his feet are all in place.   
Blaze Swims Too!

We still have a ways to go, but having that high value is SO helpful.  As I'm sure I've said before.... having high value reinforcer/s is often THE thing that determines student success.  Dog breed/age/gender/history.... not too relevant.  Trainer experience/skill/relationship ...definitely impacts things.  Practicing always helps.   But, if there are high value reinforcers available?  We can teach the dog how to appropriately access these things....and training goes very well.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Mini Lesson on Secondary Reinforcers

Tonight at 4-H practice we had a super short lesson on secondary reinforcers.  As they aren't allowed to use food in the obedience ring, we need to be sure to have lots of ways to motivate and reinforce our dogs.  They may typically enjoy petting or praise, but we want to work up to the dogs as excited as possible.

Primary reinforcers are the things that animals need for survival....the one we mostly utilize in training is food*.

Secondary reinforcers are anything else that can be reinforcing, often they are things we pair with primary reinforcers.  

We worked on introducing a few different things as secondary reinforcers.  For each one we said the word/did the action and then fed the dog five tiny treats.   We repeated this 3-5 times for each one, enough so that I could see the kids were using the correct order.

  • 1+ "magic words"
  • Gently holding the collar
  • 1+ types of specific petting (specific location, duration, intensity, number of pats)
  • Clapping
And then we did a super short session on how we incorporate these into 'real' training.  For behaviors the dogs know well (sit, down, shake, etc), the order of events:   Give the Cue. Dog does the Behavior.  Secondary Reinforcer. Primary Reinforcer.    Again, we did it enough times so that I could see that the kids had the proper order of things.