Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brave Dog Owners

Last night was week five out of five for a Walking With Your Dog student.   We had progressed in so many ways.... rally call-fronts, systematic introduction of distractions, running through all the training steps for walking so that we could fall back to an easier level if we needed to,  pace changes and stop-sits.    We had even done walking around other dogs and over props and CGC type greetings.

And then....out came The Cat.    A fake furry cat that meows and walks!     The cat was too much, the dog was back to the end of her leash, pulling and vocalizing.

The cat went away, we had both owners walking (easier to get a high rate of reinforcement!). They were feeding for every good piece. Using treat magnets/transports to get the dog past the area at times.  And while it was still hard...the dog recovered.  I came back and she was attentive enough I was ready to pull out the cat....  at a greater distance.

While I had been moving around the room to help other teams....they had gotten comfortable enough to pull out the cat again! And were working only 20 feet away from it!     By the end of the class, they were moving right past it.  It wasn't easy, but they were able to.

The best part?   The people were -so- happy.  They were smiling most of class and looked so sincerely happy, even with the challenges.  In previous classes they would sometimes go from neutral to unhappy if an exercise got hard.  Last night however, they really seemed to be taking on the challenges and enjoying the challenge.  I was very impressed!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Side Changes

One of the classes I teach is pretty much a basic manners+... we get quite a few students who have very interesting goals that don't necessarily fit well into any of the other classes.   A student who started last night is very interested in freestyle.

The primary goal was to get the dog to be walking on the right side.  The dog is typically walked on the left and so has a huge history of reinforcement for being on the left.  While we did a little work on it, I told the student to make the right side walking part of daily life, and to do right side walking only for the next week.

We also talked about how to get the dog to change from being on the left side to the right (and right to the left).  Our training started with a few of the way too many options:

  • Front Cross on the Flat:  Handler turns to the dog, dog turns to the handler, and then they go in the direction they came from. The turns can actually be greater or less than 180* for more...options.  But for beginners...180* is a good start.
  • Rear Cross on the Flat:  Handler turns to the dog, dog turns away from the handler (so both are rotating clockwise or both are rotating counterclockwise). The turns can actually be greater or less than 180* for more...options.  But for beginners...180* is a good start.
  • Leg Weave:  For a dog that knows this behavior...  going on one leg weave (or an odd number of times) can get the dog to go from one side to the other. Horray!
Next week, I'll teach a few more:
  • Multiple Spins: Have the dog do 1+ full spins, then a 180* turn to go in the other direction.
  • Rotating in Front:  Picture a dog going from front to a left finish.....    We can use that type of rotation and get the dog to cross all the way back and forth in front of the handler to the right hand side...back and forth. Dog and handler always facing each other.    We'll start this by using a box and teaching the dog to pivot readily back and forth. before we take away the prop.
  • Ducking Behind:  The dog can go from left heel...behind the handler to right heel.  And back again.  We will start this with a hand target to get the dog to move up and a treat magnet to reset the dog behind the handler.   
  • Foot Jump:  This is combining a few other behaviors... but makes nice use of vertical space.   Dog is one one side.... jumps over handler's outstretched foot, and then rotates back to the heel position on whichever side he is on.
  • "Quartering"  (....I don't have a better description name!).  Dog is moving ahead of the handler, and going on a serpentine path, back and forth, ahead of the handler.   At any point the handler can pick up the dog in heel position again.... typically having to rotate 90* as the dog will be out further ahead.  
  • Prop Use:  When the dog is sent from heel to a prop (to interact with it in any way), when the dog comes back, the handler can rotate so the dog is now on the opposite side.
And there's a start to a list.  The behaviors can be combined in so many different ways and depending on the dog's repertoire, you can get even more options.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Pizza Test

My brothers, Griffin, and I went to get a pizza tonight.  We sat at a nearby park and ate the pizza.

Griffin only ate the crumbs we gave him. Somehow, all his training has paid off. He would stay next to the open box. The box was open and setting on the ground just in front of him.   

I couldn't believe it, but on the other hand, he doesn't take food. He hasn't learned that is an option. He has a good automatic leave it. He's been reinforced for making good choices around food. He knows food will be delivered and that he doesn't need to snatch it.  Griffin also knows that if he will lie on the ground and stare at people, they are likely to share.  Bouncing or trying to steal will get nowhere.

He didn't even -look- at it though! He did wag his tail more when he thought sharing would happen.

We should do more pizza tests.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One Piece At a Time

It's so easy to end up working on multiple things at once.   It's hard to set criteria and stick to it.   Here are a few examples from this week:

1.  Sit AND Take Treats Gently:  I saw this more than once.  Dog owners want the behavior and the dog to be gently taking the treat. If the dog is jumping up or rough, they pull the treat back and then slowly lower it while saying "eaaasy."   Yes, if we give a dog a treat when he's taking it roughly we reinforce the roughness....  that said, we can't be working on our sits, downs, etc AND taking treats gently.  

So?  We stop and work on taking treats gently. We talk about placing the treat into the dog's mouth, rather than letting him come up to take it. We talk about how to hold the treats.  We talk about other options, like tossing, dropping, putting it in a bowl, or holding the treat in a flat hand ("like feeding a horse").    

Then we can go back to our sit/down/etc training....and use the "alternative feeding methods" of dropping, tossing, placing on the floor, so that the dog cannot practice improper treat taking AND we can work on the behavior/s we need.

2. Come AND Sit:  Another one we see often.   Dog runs to the owner! Horray, past the distractions!   And then the dog is asked to Sit.   The dog gets distracted at that point or doesn't comply and wanders off.  Not only do we have a that sit problem.... but we didn't reinforce the brilliant recall.

We work on the running to the owner part of the recall, without an end behavior.  We do consider that by placing the treats right at the human's heels or between his/her feet, the dog is extra close.

Separately, we repair the Sit and teach the dog to auto sit in front of the human.   Toss a treat away. Your dog eats it and comes back. Ask for a Sit. Dog sits. You toss the treat away. Dog eats it...comes back...repeat.  Soon the dog is automatically sitting on the return.  Only after lots of practice in many places do we put it all together.

Dog comes. Gets a treat. Sit. Gets a treat.  And we start the repetition over.  When all has gone well...we start to feed less on the come and still maintain the treat for the sit.  

3. Stand AND Stay AND New Reinforcer AND New Handler:  This one is all my doing. Today at training, some of the others had a Really Great Idea for training Griffin's stand stay.   I wasn't all for it, but it probably wouldn't hurt either. I decided to let them try it....  that way if it was a disaster, the errors would at least be associated with someone else, rather than me.  

His current favorite reinforcer is "Friend with a treat bowl, running away".   We've used this some on his scent work, but especially for his Drop on Recall and some heeling. The person is behind Griffin a ways. He does the behavior. I mark and send him to the person....the person runs off. Griffin catches up and is fed little treat bits until I come and drag the unwilling dog away from his best friend.   He loves this because it's "Friend+Food+Chase+Lots of Food Pieces".  

During his Stand training...he had a new handler, his high level food person reinforcer-thing, and it just didn't go well. He actually wouldn't even stand for the new handler. He was SO excited and worked up that he would sit and down and bounce and bark.   I laughed.   We quickly gave up on that.  

If we were to do it...I would handle him with his running person. I would have his new handler work on quiet/less exciting reinforcers.  And then we would put it all together.

Griffin was -so- happy.  He's adorable when he works and his enthusiasm is very amusing. Part of it is him, part of it is that he's a golden, and part of it is our criteria for enthusiasm.

That said...we only train one part at a time... enthusiasm is one of our primary pieces.... speed.   Precision is much later. That's another story.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More 4-H Dog Show Judging

On Saturday was my last judging assignment for this 4-H year.   This event was bigger than the others, with three judges present so that all the classes could be completed efficiently.

It was very interesting that I received quite a few comments from parents and show staff, "I just wanted to say, you're so good with the kid!"   And while I appreciate the reinforcement... I've been a little puzzled about it.  4-H events only have kids showing.   Shouldn't "good with kids" be one of the criteria used to select judges?

We had many different breeds, some big classes, enthusiastic kids and parents, and some nice audience questions between the different class groups.  Despite the high temperatures.... it was another great day!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Responding to Patterns

At the Steve White seminar in April, Steve and Jen had a short talk on finding and noting patterns. The patterns could be things that happen before or after the desired behavior.  Or in when or how the person cues or reinforces.  Some of these are hard to see without video taping or without another person to point things out.

Today I noted a pattern that has developed with Griffin.  We do heeling at the park. I reinforce a few times for great parts.   The first one is absolutely beautiful.   On the second set, I reinforce at different points, but the same amount of reinforcement.  And he's much worse. Wanders more. Or less attentive. Or sniffing.

A few of my options:

  • Only ever do one set of heeling.
  • Do more, super short sets to see what happens.
  • Do two sets, but use a much higher rate of reinforcement on the second set.
  • Be in a new place for each set

A pattern we talked about last week....  a dog in class would jump every time the leash was put on. They would freeze and wait for him to be still. Then clip it on and go.  But this had been going on for months and months with no change in the behavior.  The dog had learned.... leash = jump on humans = humans ask for a sit = Dog sits = leash on  = go for a walk.   A nice behavior chain, well practiced and maintained for months on end.   

How did we resolve and break that pattern?  
1) Change the leash cue.  Practice leash out, asking for a sit, feed a treat and repeating many times in a row. The many repetitions would help the dog learn faster. Practicing in a different location (not at the door)! will help the dog stop the jumping.
2) Practice sitting at the door. Approach the door, cue a sit, feed a treat. Walk away and return and repeat.The door will be a cue to sit.
3) If the dog does jump up...we will not stand still and then continue putting on the leash. We can go about our day, go check the oven, etc.  Standing still and continuing had -not- changed the behavior.
4) When we do need to hurry out,  scatter treats on the floor and while the dog is eating, clip on the leash and go out. This will break the pattern of jumping and not have the anxiety/frustration that standing still could have.   This is a preventative measure until the training is in place.

Walking is one of my favorite things to teach.  That said, I don't work so hard with my own dogs on walking. Griffin gets absolutely frenzied when we're going to the pond. He is completely focused on pulling ahead and getting there as fast as possible.   So that I don't reinforce the hard pulling, I stop and wait for him to resume some level of manners before we continue.  We go forward a step and he springs forward.  Every week, students tell me about this happening on their walks.  It's not a good pattern.  Pull on leash. Human stops. Look at human. Human goes forward a step. Dog pulls as far as possible. Repeat and repeat.

How do we break this pattern?  Use more reinforcement for the good behavior.  Sure...going forward definitely is reinforcement, but we can see it's not the most desirable in this situation. Dogs can go months without learning to walk well...and Griffin's behavior sure hasn't changed.   We add in additional reinforcement, typically food,  at every single step.  We start close to the house, leaving a few steps, then back to the house, then leaving a bit further, then back up to the house.... back and forth, gradually expanding the area where the dog can walk reasonably.    No more "walks just for exercise" until the dog can walk well... back and forth, back and forth. Otherwise the training is compromised by letting the dog pull.

Griffin is getting that too...we go out about ten times a day for 90-120 seconds of walking training.  Gradually further from the house, gradually closer to the pond.   When I do need to take him there for exercise...we either just don't (and go somewhere else, do something else) or I use a treat magnet/treat transport from well in our safety zone to the pond gate. 

We're constantly watching for patterns (good or bad!) in training so that we can adjust or utilize the pattern appropriately. Most end up not being desirable.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Should I continue with class? Should I come back if there's a problem?"

By then end of a class session, half  the students have typically met their goals and are happy with the progress made.   The other half asks, "what's next?"

What are your goals?  If we haven't met your goals, we should probably keep working.   We can talk about class options to see if there's something else that would be a better fit for your goals.   For example, people wanting off leash control are often recommended to go into agility class, even if they don't aim to do agility. 
Will you practice if you aren't in class?   Some people need the weekly classes to motivate practice at home, others are diligent no matter what.  Those who have more experience problem solving or "just trying things" are more comfortable with time off and without the support of a class.  Others benefit from the problem solving, class environment, and new behaviors.  
It's easier to prevent than problem solve.   Those with younger dogs or who are newer to being dog owners can benefit from more class time and more guidance.  A little experience goes a long way and can add skill and confidence to the human.
Always come back if you're experiencing a challenge.  You're not on your own after class is over.  Sometimes a few weeks in class can help with problem solving or sometimes it's a quick answer on the phone.
How reliable are your behaviors now? How reliable do they need to be?  More class time results in more reliability.   The increased practice, increased challenges, increased skill level all go together to help reach the skill level needed.
What are you getting out of class?  This varies depending on the family. Some people aren't there to just solve problems. They are getting time away from family or time with their family. They are "doing things" with their dog. Sometimes out of the cold winter weather or out of the ridiculous heat and storms in the summer.  The dog is reliably getting this piece of physical and mental exercise and quality time every week.  

There are dogs that I recommend should continue in class. These are typically young, active dogs that are making steady progress every week, but I don't feel they've reached the ideal self control and reliability needed for long term results.   Dogs who are -not- making measurable progress should not continue in class and the situation needs to be re-evaluated...either the dog referred to a more appropriate professional or a change in the teaching style (privates or in homes rather than group class).  

It also makes me sad to hear -so- many people wishfully comment that they really hope and would like to do agility class some day.  As if they're not sure their dog is "good enough" or "smart enough" to do it.  I try hard to change the perception of agility to something that is very attainable and that everyone should consider agility class.   While I understand why some classes require and recommend basic training prior to the agility class.... it could be built into the class format (...which is what I do).  Agility is a great way to the reliability, basic training, self control and relationship building that are fundamental to so many parts of dog training.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pieces of a Good Recall

1)  Dog turns away from something potentially interesting.   This could be a smell, a sound, something still, ,something moving, an animal, or something very edible.    Your dog could be moving or still when you call.
2) Dog runs to you at full speed.    A fast moving dog is less likely to be distracted on the way back and he will have a straighter line.
3) Dog is close enough for you to hold. A dog that stops further away.... is not very helpful in most contexts.
4) You can hold the collar.    This is especially important for emergency situation.

Just like with anything else, we train one part at a time.  We have exercises for each piece.  Once the pieces are separately trained, we can put the behavior chain together and run through the complete exercise.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What are you -really- training?

For six months I've been quite confident I was training Griffin to find a specific scent and to lie down.

However.... it's not as strong as I had thought (and hoped).   If at all possible, he will dig/paw/bite/retrieve the container rather than alert.  The Down is only happening if it's surely inaccessible.

Now... he at least hasn't had much opportunity to practice the paw/mouth behaviors.... but we've also not gotten the other response strong or clear enough that he will resist his desire to retrieve/paw/dig.....

Back to edit our training plans....

Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes students have 'Potentially Unrealistic Expectations.'   Behaviors that they say they want, and that we can theoretically train... but there isn't actually enough time, commitment, or experience to happen.

That's one of the reasons we emphasize management.  Crates, Gates, Leashes, Kongs, Food Toys....   things to keep puppies and dogs from practicing incorrect behaviors, to keep dogs and puppies from making dangerous choices, and to keep people from getting stressed.

And then it comes down to percentage of reliability.  Theoretically we can train a 100% reliable animal.  In actuality, we'll just come close.  Realistically...not always close.

During our anti-counter-jumping training I emphasize not leaving anything up there, even when your dog is reliable. It's not worth the risk of a very sick (or dead) dog.   During our recall and off leash training....we say to be keeping the dog in a fenced area.    When we work with dogs who want to chase cars and tires....same thing, fences and leashes forever.  It's not worth the risk (to me!).  In some situations, an error can result in no longer having a dog.

At the other end of it, is the safety for the humans.  Super giant strong dog and the goal is to walk not with a head collar or harness?   Sure...we can do it. We'll train for it in class.  But I can't tell them to do it at home...I comment they should be using the extra tools.   One distraction too great....and the person could be severely injured. 

Ultimately I do have to tell the people that they are the ones to make the choices, but that I have to recommend the supervision and fences and leashes.  Because I don't believe it's worth the risk or potential for injury and expense.   

I'm all about safety!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

He made it across...

Today, Griffin swam across the pond! With only a little extra help.   We'll get good at going across the "short" way and then work up to going across the long way.

We do only very scattered field specific goals besides the golden retriever "Working Certificate".  

But all the same, it was nice that our training plans came together and it worked out well.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"What was hard?"

After leash reactivity class we try to always ask "Which part was the best and which part was the hardest?"

It's very, very interesting how most people will then tell the best part.. and the "worst" part.

Part of that probably is that "worst" is considered to be the opposite of "best"....and so it just comes out.   It also just seems like a very human thing to do... to perceive the question as where the errors/mistakes/fault could be.

We ask the question so that the following week can be set up to decrease that difficulty, if at all possible, and then work through it.   And also to keep the owners thinking about what is easier or harder for the dog.  Sometimes someone will say that none of it was hard.  If I had seen that the dog -was- finding parts to be more difficult, I can prompt with, "Were there any exercises that seemed to be a little more difficult than the others?"

The difference in the questions is very important.  The "worst" part (not responding to a cue, barking, getting stiff when another dog barks, etc) is not always the "hardest" part (-when- another dog barked, -when- we got really far from the opening, -when- we were turning away).   "Hardest part" tends to be something about the handler's choices or the environment.   "Worst" parts are typically about incorrect or poor responses...and while we definitely have to consider these....     it's the environment and handler that we can change.  And to change the environment and handler, we have to know what parts were harder and what components led to making things too hard for the dog.

I try to ask the "best and hardest" questions after all of my own training sessions.  Griffin has been really great for the last few days.   But a few of his behaviors hinted they could be weaker than I thought. He didn't make errors, he met criteria, and I couldn't even say how the behavior was different.  Something wasn't quite how it should be....and I make a note of these weaker areas so that I can address them separately.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is Dog Training "Too Hard"?

Sometimes at training group we talk about whether or not training is "too hard."   We struggle with parts of it.  Our dogs aren't perfect (except for Griffin....).   And how do we expect people to succeed when they don't want or need to know everything about training?

Sometimes I try to be nice and will give someone a training plan via some online source.   There are management steps ("So we don't accidently make the behavior stronger and so that we don't compromised/undo your training") , a few training exercises/steps to resolve the situation, and a few notes on what to do if something goes wrong and the unwanted behavior happens.   And 90% of the time I get told, thanks but no. The person either then does nothing or reverts to some punishment-based solution that they sometimes regret, and sometimes not.... but typically the problem is not truely resolved.

Sometimes my 'real life' students say something is very important and then they don't actually work on it.  I get busy. I don't always work with my dog like I should.   Despite that study I wrote about.... some things really do need practice at home and not just training class. Practice your greetings at the doors and on walks with real people.  A few repetitions in class is not enough for most dogs to generalize, no matter how great the training plan.     

But is it that they get busy?   Sometimes they can't tell me the steps or exercises.  On a few occasions there have been people who needed it written down and then they could practice. Some people need video so that they can see it.  It's just too many steps for others....and I have to really condense/simplify steps.

An Example:  A while back I had someone in class who had a hard time remembering multiple steps to any exercise, even if we back chained it, even if he was doing it well, she didn't know -what- he was doing.  So we simplified and relied more on classical conditioning for a few weeks.  "Call dog, drop treats between feet" were our early recall training repetitions.  Once that had been practiced quite a bit....   we only dropped treats after the dog came.  Because the dog was going to come after that huge history of reinforcement.

Dog training is hard. There are a lot of pieces to it. Ways to refine the training. Be more efficient and effective.  I probably need to be simplifying even more than I typically am... that said, it's interesting to me how many people do want to know more and are eager for more details and a better understanding.  Then again, we're so attached to our dogs that I shouldn't be surprised.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Conflict: Supporting Dog Businesses

Recently a facility opened in our region for dock diving.  The owners are also affiliated with a national dog training franchise very different from what I do.  It is not clearly evident that the two are related, however the same humans are associated with both businesses and it appears that the training happens at the same facility.

The business is doing a lot of clever marketing.   The event is a good way for people to "do stuff" with their dogs and compete....without necessarily having any training.  Maybe that will prompt them to look into other activities, maybe not.  But regardless, it's an increased quality of life for the dogs.  There are going to be trials RIGHT there.  Not 2-3 hours away where the other events are.  People like proximity....due to time constraints and rising gas prices.  Though, in reality, people probably just didn't know this was a type of competition available in the state.

So....what do I do?  What do I tell my 4-H'ers (who would get a discount...)?  What do I tell my students who ask?

  • Read the rules. There are a few different dock diving organizations.  Find the rule structure that best maximizes what your dog can do well.
  • Does your dog even like the water?  Like thrown toys?  I can be surprised at those who don't have water-liking dogs and want to do this.   Thrown toys aren't required, but to get your dog jumping maximum's important.
  • Of my own dogs... Luna doesn't like water enough. I wouldn't be able to get Blaze out.   And I don't now what Griffin would do.  I don't know that I want him learning to jump, he currently wades into ponds....which is preferable for a retriever.  If he did a wild leap into the water, he could land on something sharp below the surface.   I don't know if having him learn to do dock diving would change his water entry in 'real' ponds.   I don't know that it's worth the risk. We have enough other things we enjoy.
  • I probably won't be discussing this with my 4-H'ers.... It's just not something I'm comfortable with at this time. 

This brought up the conversation with a training is this different than entering a trial and supporting a 'traditional' club?   I know with trials about how much  money is going to the organization and how much is going to the club.   A club is somewhat different than a privately owned business...while the club gets the money (and some of them have a lot of money over time), it's not going to the individual/s associated with the facility.  There are clubs where I do not trial because I am not comfortable supporting the club financially.*

*Due to some of the rule structures in place/behavior towards people.  It's not about the type of training that is or is not happening.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Magic of Cues

Cues mean more than a history of reinforcement if a specific behavior occurs.  Cues can give so much information to the animal!

Griffin and I have been working on and off on his "Drop on Recall" obedience exercise.   We do a session. It goes poorly. I come back to it a few months later.  But something has happened and now he -gets- it.

And not only does he understand, but the behavior is NOT contaminating our regular recall in any way.

If Griffin is on a SitStay and I cue Front....he runs up and sits in front of me.   If he's in a SitStay and I cue either Dog or Here, he will trot forward and drop when asked.  Sometimes on the Here/Dog he will anticipate and drop on his own (I walk to reset).

The really cool part though.... no matter how many drops we do in a row, if I cue Front, he NEVER slows, he NEVER makes an error, he NEVER thinks about dropping.  We've kept that cue clean and the criteria is so clear to him that the similar drop behavior is not impacting the straight recall.

It's amazing!

(A video from last year when I was using a slow motion feature to look at how dogs lie down:)

How often to practice? How many sessions?

In the September 2011 Journal of Applied Animal Behavioural Science is a paper called, "The effect of frequency and duration of training sessions on acquisition and long-term memory in dogs."   

From a first read-over, it looks fairly well done.  The researchers looked at four groups of dogs.  One group that trained 1-2 times per week for one session.  Another 1-2 times per week for three sessions in a row.  Another trained daily for one session and the last group was daily for three sessions in a row.

Interestingly, the group that trained 1-2 times a week for one session had the greatest progress rate.

All groups retained the task when tested four weeks later.

Now..How am I going to use this information?

My current recommendations for students are:

  • Work on only one tiny skill per session (stay for steps away. Stay for duration.  Walking past distractions.  Etc.).
  • Do a lot of repetitions per session.
  • ONLY do each behavior 1-2x if you have a bad day at work and want to see your dog succeed. This is not considered "training."
  • Training sessions should typically be 2 minutes or less.
  • If you want to do more, take a short walk around, play, or petting break and then have another session.  
New emphasis will probably be placed on doing different skills on different days (so, more time between working on behaviors x, y, z).   Obviously though, daily routine things have to happen every day and if you get a chance to see lots of people, polite greetings/etc. will happen. You have to use what's available!

How will my training change?   I tend to only work on one thing for a few days and then I do something else. I'll probably pick 2-3 skills per week and rotate which ones we're doing every day. Again, more time between the specific skill.  Not to say we won't ever be doing multiple sessions or work on behaviors daily. It will really depend on our schedule and what we're doing.

While there is quite a bit of knowledge on spaced practice/massed practice for humans, there isn't so much for dogs. I'm going to try to utilize this as best as possible, while realizing it's only  just a start to what we will be learning about how dogs learn.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Themed Practices

This morning we met with a training friend.  She had mentioned that one of her dogs needed work with leaving food during training sessions. Her other dog had similar-but-not issues, being distracted by people (potential friends).  Essentially, it comes down to the same self control challenges.

We both brought a set of 3-4 food leave it exercises.  Some of them were similar, some were very different.  We got through about half of them this morning and we'll meet on Monday to do the other half.

It's interesting to work on the same overall theme but with different exercises.  Part of the myth of clicker training is that it's just "one way" of training. Any scenario can be approached many different ways and doing so will allow the dog to have a more complete understanding of the concept.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Placement of Reinforcer

For about 6+ months now, this has been one of my favorite training things.

You can click whatever you want, and theoretically all goes well.  But how and where you deliver the reinforcer can greatly add or detract from a training session. This can impact the shape of the behavior, the speed of acquisition, and the speed of deterioration of the behavior.

At training group today, I worked Griffin on several different exercises:
1) Dumbbell retrieve. I was specifically reinforcing a straight front.  I would always feed the treats centered with my body and from my center line. It would be best if I could magic them there...but couldn't happen.
2) We did two sessions of Drop on Recall.   After the click, I would send my dog to a Trained Treat Feeder behind him. The person would feed him treats until I arrived ("Race to reward" technique from _Agility Right From the Start_).
3) Scent Work:  We did 2-3 sessions. After he indicated (down, nose to the odor), I would click and then feed the treats so that his nose was further pointing at the reinforcer.

I could have reinforced in other ways. Variety is a key part to training.  That said... I do make an effort to feed in a way that will enhance the behavior and NOT detract from it.

CleanRun Article: On Leash Agility Class

In this month's CleanRun magazine is an article that we wrote about the "On Leash Agility" class that we've been teaching on and off for about a year.  


The class is really great, focusing on good training, good agility foundations, and providing an agility opportunity for dogs that would otherwise be unable to do agility (not appropriate to be off leash or would not do well if an off leash dog would come up to him/her).  

We don't shortcut or skip training steps....though we do only do activities that are safe to do on leash (no tires/tunnels).  The humans learn appropriate handling, with only slight modifications for the leash in hand.

The only down side of this class?  It always falls at a time slot when Griffin should be at agility or obedience class (As it just did, yet again!).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From the Car to the Class

One of the things I always mean to talk about but never talk about enough is how students should enter class.   Half of the dogs are fine and don't need any extra management.  But the other half should have training start before the car door opens.

It's important to be on time, but it's better to enter five minutes late because "good training" was employed while entering the building.

Dogs are always learning and if polite walking is important, we want the leash to be loose as the dog comes in the room. And if the dog is very excitable, all the more important to be diligent about good walking.

Treats out, ready and go. The dog learns to come out of the car very calmly. The rule structure is in place for long term goals.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Griffin at Agility Class: Aug 8th

There are currently only two dogs in our "advanced agility" class group.  When one is absent...Griffin gets to come so that the dog gets enough rest.   Our amazing terrier friend was absent tonight.

Griffin had some work after class too and he was just really great.  He did go off to find some tripe crumbs and to get water.  But mostly, he stayed with me. Like several of his siblings, he will jump and bark before we start working.  I haven't minded (and even encourage it sometimes), he has enthusiasm, he is focused, and he's under control.

Tonight...was a little different. He was a bit scary for a moment and was very worked up.   He ran so fast and so well and responded perfectly to my handling cues.  It was the best he's ever run. On the other hand, he was agitated when crated and before working.  We still don't have a good balance of enthusiasm and control.

As a result of tonight's work:

  • Have a higher standard for speed. As it is if he's "too slow" we stop working on sequencing. I don't want to practice poor behavior.   He showed me tonight that he's capable of more than he usually does....thus our 'average speed' will be increased.
  • When he is more worked up/aroused, alternate between running/agility and obedience.  Once we're "working" he calms right down to the task at hand (no jumping up at me or biting at me like, ahem, another dog I know).   But I can't reliably get him would up again.   
  • Vary our toy reinforcers more often.
  • Work to find other high value food reinforcers.
  • When he -is- worked up, rather than jumping and barking and mouthing me... get him to express his enthusiasm with super great heeling.   I don't want to loose the bark jump completely but I wonder if I could transform it into something else.
I'm really interested to see what he's like tomorrow.

Stay Training: Exercise Set 2*

This set is more for instructor use.... not enough details for someone who is not familiar with the exercise. 

  1. "Fresh" resets:  Pick an easy type of stay (short duration, short handler distance, minimal distraction).  After each repetition, release and then move to a new location for the next repetition.  Handler should reward the dog either in position or after the release.
  2. Stay for Toy Tosses:  For dogs who have some leave it training.... (though cue is not needed in this step)....   work up to dropping the toy.   Work up to tossing a toy away from the dog.  Work up to tossing the toy behind the dog (but away!).  And then tossing over the dog.  The dog can be released to the toy on 1/10 responses.
  3. Stay for Petting:  Handler works up to petting, poking, enthusiastically petting, the dog. Start with very small pats and working up to enthusiasm.
  4. Proofing of the Stay Concept:  Each repetition, leave the dog on a different surface.  After a few reps, ask for a stay in a "not level" position.  Dog partially on the stairs... or back feet on a low dog bed..... front feet up on a surface.  When you're ready for a greater challenge, only one paw on a surface.
  5. Handler Out of Sight:  Dog is set near a doorway or corner. Handler works up to standing at the doorway.  Then shoulders behind. Return. Reinforce.  Halfway out of sight, return, reinforce. Almost out of sight, return, reinforce. Out of sight and immediately return. reinforce.  Increase the duration of "out of sightness".   An assistant is needed, or the dog should be wearing bells...or on a surface where nails may click slightly so that the owner can return and reset (and do a much easier repetition) if the dog gets up.

*I don't actually know if this is Set 2. If you can't find a set 1.... don't be surprised!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Five Non-Training Tips to Help Your Dog at a Show/Event

1) Give your dog time to see the area. If your dog knows what is going on, he will be more likely to be able to be attentive and comfortable.  Yes, there are exceptions to the rule.

2) Give your dog time to rest.  If your dog has been up and moving for four hours, he will be getting pretty physically and mentally tired.  A tired dog is not going to be able to give his very best performance.  Be sure your dog's rest area is comfortable and not right at a flow of traffic area.

3) Take your dog for regular off property walks.  This will sort of 'passively' socialize your dog to the world. He will be exposed to sights, sounds, smells, and experiences.  If your dog is calm and comfortable in the world, he will be all the better at a show or event.  If your dog never goes off property....the world sure can be exciting.

4) Read the Rules:  In most activities there are things that handlers can do to loose points or even be disqualified. If you have not read the will not be able to perform to your very best.  These points can add up very quickly.  No matter if your dog is typically a good performer or not, there's no reason to loose the points that are in your control.

5) Physically prepare your dog:  Exercise! If your dog gets tired and overwhelmed by the environment...and he's physically not at his best, the event will be even more difficult.  I saw this as a potential issue with some of the dogs at the State Fair 4-H show this year. There were quite a few dogs entered in many events...and if they weren't at their physical best... performances could be less than what was expected.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Local 4-H Dog Show

"My" 4-H kids showed today at our area fair.  We only had four kids (one dropped early in the year, another decided not to show at fair).   1 in obedience, 3 in rally, 4 in showmanship, 3 in "dog care."   Some of the judging was ... different ... than expected, but they all did well, each placed in at least one class and some of them did exceptionally well.

Most interesting, were some parent comments.  Our club is strictly a positive reinforcement type training group.  Most others in 4-H are not...    Our parents are not used to seeing dogs get corrected and some were quite amazed/distress by the way kids were treating dogs.

And they have a I said in a recent email exchange with a dog person...   "It's one thing to be using punishment, even doing it properly. It's another thing to be teaching kids to use punishment and to refine their technique."

Because...when it comes down to it, most of the people teaching 4-H classes are dog enthusiasts, not dog professionals. Many are parents who were thrown into the role.  Most don't have any sort of formal training or enthusiasm for continued education.  They're doing what they've always been doing, and for the most part, it works well enough.

I would argue, however, that it's not necessarily what we want kids to be learning.  We don't want kids to think about getting compliance through force.  We do want them thinking about how to motivate others (humans, dogs, etc!). We want our kids to have empathy for their learner ("He doesn't understand, let's make it easier"), not put inappropriate labels to the actions ("He is stubborn. He knows that we're at a show and he can get away with it.").   We want our kids to be good at problem solving and come up with many possible ways to get a behavior.

Not to mention we don't want the kids getting bit, escalating the force used, or being reinforced for the use of punishment ("It worked...I'll just pull on his collar next time!").

I've talked to quite a few people who don't like judging 4-H.  They say it's too hard, the kids are too unprepared, that the kids don't know what to do in the ring.  It's a very different event from other types of judging and for those who can remember the differences and for those that like working with kids, it can be a very good experience.

Now off to make a few notes in my file for next year....

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ohio State Fair Jr Dog Show

The 2011 OSF 4-H Dog show week is now over!   Agility. Showmanship. Obedience. Advanced levels of obedience. Four days of rally. Service dogs. Therapy dogs. Dog Care. Poster Contest. Skillathon. Drill Teams. Freestyle.   Around 1300 entries, with many kids doing multiple events and/or showing multiple dogs.

Dozens of volunteers staying the week to judge, assist with the rings, help with scoring, and get everyone organized.

Some of the great points:
- Interacting with dog-crazy kids from all over the state
- Training discussions with other volunteers. Specifically about "good training" and the (lack of) interest in such.
- Seeing many of our campers, from this year and past years.  I also saw kids from Griffin's favorite day camp and our regional workshops.
- Seeing many of "our" kids do very well.
- Talking to kids who are in their last year....they were sad but also looking forward to helping in the future

Some of the not so great points:
- Surprise! I was judging...often finding out the day-of the event.
- Seeing a lot of punishment being used....even by very young kids.
- Lots of kids not knowing the rules and loosing a ton of points because of it.
- Some of the judging/policies needing updated to make things easier/cleaner

What I'm going to try and change for next year:
- Be more prepared and ask about my jobs ahead of times.
- Continue with clinics, workshops, handouts, etc for the 4-H'ers...focusing on R+ type training.
- Work on education opportunities for the advisors/instructors to have more good R+ training.
- Increase enthusiasm for knowing the rules. Mention this at all events. Create a few games based off of knowing the rules.
- Make proposals for modifications to rules/policies.

I'm really good at complaining, but I often try to put changes along with it.  If something isn't going well...we need to change something.