Friday, September 30, 2011

My goals, student goals

Personally, I'm really horrible at setting goals.  I've put in a lot of effort to learn about setting goals. I've used business resources, athlete resources, and general resources.   And it never really works out that well for me.

I am better at helping students reach their goals. Probably because it's a lot easier to be asking someone else to do all the work to get from Point A to Point B than it is to do that work yourself.  It's why I prefer teaching to training my own dogs!

That said... some of my recent reading has prompted me to re-think client goals.  Should pet and sport/enthusiast classes be different? Shouldn't I hold everyone to a high standard? If I set high expectations, will everyone work to achieve those levels of success?  Or should the content be different because of the different goals?

Blaze's goal is to never leave the water.  Griffin is considering the options.  
The first questions I typically ask in class are, "What are your goals for this class?  What prompted you to sign up for class right now?"  But maybe I need to add in, "How much time are you willing to commit?"  More than usual, I've had a high number of clients who are not meeting their goals.

I don't want to be the stereotypical dog training instructor and say, "They never practice, it's their fault!"   It's my responsibility to help them reach their goals and maybe my instruction wasn't clear or it was too difficult or I gave too many steps.   With a lot of these recent cases, the first thing I hear is "We didn't get to work at all this week.  The XYZbehavior is horrible, it HAS to change!"   No training happened.  More importantly, no management was put in place. The dog practiced the inappropriate behavior dozens of times during the week.  Somewhere I am failing those families and something has to change.

I'm going to start adding in to my questions, "How much time are you wanting to put into training?" and we'll use that measurement to help with the activities. It's part of the reason I don't use the bells that some dogs ring to go outside.... most of my student's don't want to spend the time period teaching the dogs.  I don't blame them...I've never done it.   Last night we talked about a puppy getting into the trash. They've used some management, but not always. The puppy is getting more sneaky. We talked about all the training we could do...."But in reality, it would just be easier to get a locking trash can.  Spend the $25-30, and then you have hours and hours to spend with your puppy training other things.  You don't have to worry about your dog making a judgement mistake and grabbing something that could kill him."  If someone doesn't want to put in the time, we can find variations and management options.  For whatever reason, life-long management sometimes gets a bad name in dog training, as if it's not really resolving the issue.  Sometimes other things are just more important ways to spend time.

On the other end of it, I've had a small number of very dedicated clients, with fairly normal dogs, wanting to do lots of sports and activities, wanting a high level of proficiency, and putting in a lot of practice.  Yet they are getting very little progress.  I can see the weak training skill areas. I try to design lessons to improve the human's ability for training and to address the dog's weak areas.  And it still doesn't go well.  I'm letting down those students as well, but in a very different way.

All that said, I'm not unhappy and am excited to see if the upcoming changes in classes will get even better results.


In other news.... I'm already behind on processing and rewriting my seminar notes.  Griffin was pretty great at class, super fast and not running away. We messed up every single exercise.... but the speed and enthusiasm were our priorities. It should go better next week.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Luna Notes

More than one person has lodged (logged?) an official complaint that I do not say enough about Luna.

There is not very much to say about Luna.  We take walks. She wrestles and chases Griffin. She sleeps.  Sometimes she does training. On occasion we go somewhere.

It's been a very long time since we had our weekly(+) agility classes, occasional agility trials, camping trips, and other adventures.   

We intend for that to change!  In a few weeks Luna will (hopefully) be in a class designed for dogs to learn to be calm and controlled and wild and controlled around other dogs.  There will be some obstacle/object interaction, some playing, and good training.

I'm hoping we can get back into agility trials by the may be wishful thinking, but we'll see what we can do.

Before our class that starts soon...we have work to do.
1) Car rides: Luna hates the car.  Meals and super great treats in or near the car. Jumping in and out of the car.  Time in the car with Griffin.  Short car rides. 
2) Crating: I will probably be teaching a class before/after her class.  Luna will have to be crated in the training building. I've made some bad choices and the only times she has been crated in the last year has been for camp and maybe one day at the training center.  It wasn't because she's comfortable without the was lazyness and not working on her crate-dislike issues.   We'll practice going in the crate, eating in the crate, and spending time in a crate. I'll take her to the training center a few times before class starts and have her crated near Griffin.
3) Off Property Walks:  I'm not able to handle the recommended twice a day 20 minute off-property walks.  We'll try to get out 3-4 times every week. Either a different part of the property or a trip into town to walk.
4) Tricks and behaviors:  Increase the reinforcement history for a few tricks/behaviors so that we have things we can do in class.   
5) Find some great foods: Be sure she is on a good eating schedule, that we have high value reinforcers, and that I will have reinforcer options when we get back to class.
6) Visit the Building:  We're lucky and the class is someplace I visit many times per week. If I take her when I work, she can have some time training and playing in the building after classes.  I did this a few times early in the year, but she was often very skittish and easily startled unless Griffin was out with her.  I think she'll do better in a class setting than in an empty room.  Short visits and play times should still help prepare us for class.

What do I expect?   Luna will be stressed and not happy, tail tucked, inattentive.   After 5-15 minutes, she will probably get more attentive and work better except for moments when people are nearby and she gets scared.   She won't eat well during that first part of the class, but then will eat more readily.  Once she is comfortable, she will do her behaviors.    I also expect that each week she will get to her comfortable point much faster.  

I'm hoping that if we're in the building earlier in the day for training I can let her run around with Griffin. She's much more confident with him nearby. I wish I had a second person who could handle him so they could be together in class, or at least for the first day or two.   I'll just have to prepare and take great treats!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seminar: Looking at "Personal Space"

Last weekend was a very unique 2 day seminar by Obi Fox.  It was a medium sized group of attendees from all over the US.

Day one was powerpoint and discussion with a few short demos and video.  Day two was all about working dogs and considering our new knowledge while watching the teams work.

Day one:  
Scientific Perspective:
Discussion about science, scientific thinking, and the approaches used in different areas of science.  This became quite a point to come back to all weekend. Most of the attendees were dog professionals or dog enthusiasts.... and all/most familiar with an approach to science and thinking about dogs from a psychology viewpoint.   Fox was very much using the ethology vocabulary and giving us that perspective.   This was challenging for many of us, but definitely makes it easier to think about "behavior as behavior" than to be (on the verge of ) anthropomorphic.  I'd thought I was fairly good at looking at behaviors but I definitely have room for improvement.

The conflict for me will be that the more psychology-language can help clients be more empathetic to their dogs.  On the other hand... we do want them to see that dogs are completely different in how they view the world and sometimes we need to help remind clients of that difference.

Some examples of the vocabulary:   If we say a dog is afraid/fearful/shy, we aren't describing specific behaviors, we are describing groups of behaviors in a shorthand that is helpful when speaking to someone else dog-savvy, but not so helpful when it comes from a client's mouth.  We could say specifically, "He moves away, he moves slowly, his tail is tucked."  Or we wanted to group the behaviors under one term, we could say the dog is showing "avoidance".   "Avoidance" helps us know what is happening in general, without the emotion and to not use a word that will prompt additional connotations or as much emotional response from the human.   Another example:  Distractions.  That's a normal piece of dog training vocabulary. We know what it means. Something that's interesting in a problematic way.   "Attractive stimuli" is another way to think of it.  We're not saying it's good or bad.  We're just saying it's there, something perceived in the environment, and the animal is interested.

Flight Zones:
A group of cattle watching the dogs. The cows are about 150' away.  Cows tend to have one or two adults supervising a larger group of young.
This is something I've not had  much formal training with, but I have had a lot of hands-on practice.    All species have a flight zone...and how they are approached can impact the motion of the animal.  Partway down this page  is a diagram of flight zones with cattle (a cow drawing with circle around it).   When I've had to help move cattle...I learned quickly.   Moving slowly is better than fast (unless you want them moving fast!).   They turn and move away from where the person is approaching.  They notice the person a distance.  Closer, and they move.   Factors impact that distance... other individuals nearby, physical environment, speed of the approach.   Flight zones are documented in many, many species. It's especially studied in livestock in an effort to make handling practices  more efficient, safer, and more humane.   We don't think enough about this with dogs.

Overall....the weekend gave me a lot to think about. It's kind of like operant conditioning...once you understand and think about it, you know that's impacting learning all the time, whether or not you want it to, whether or not you're thinking about it.   This weekend opened up another similar concept.  There are always things changing in the environment.  These changes are always impacting behavior.

Taking it to a smaller up will be about motor neurons.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How To Lure

Luring is not evil. You are not a bad person if you lure behaviors.

If you do a bad job of it....then you get your own set of problems.

Practice Following:  We treat it as a magnet and fairly closely follow some of the notes in Agility Right From the Start  book on "treat transport".  The dog should be licking-sniffing the treat the whole way. If his tongue is not on your hand, your had is too far away. Move slow enough so that he can be licking the whole time. This will allow you to carefully control and refine his movements.

Select For Your Behavior, Reinforce Approximations:  If you are getting a may release the treat when you see shoulders drop.  A few repetitions later, release the treat when elbows hit the floor.  And after a few reps of that...release the treat when the back end hits the ground.

Get A Good Behavior:  There's some crazy popularized rule to "lure 3 times then no more food in the lure hand" .  I've not found that to be a good rule to follow.   I use food in the hand until the dog is -immediately- getting into position, efficiently getting into position, and I have the shape of the behavior I want.    Then...some reps with no food in the hand, but same motion, feeding treats as soon as the dog responds.

Cue Transfer:  At that point...  New Cue (verbal or signal), pause, old cue (lure hand with no food in it). Reward.

Should I Use a Clicker?  I often don't.  But sometimes I have students...this helps them be exact about when to release the food. Otherwise they like to as for too much, too soon.

When to Lure?  There are a few places where I am pretty happy and enthusiastic about using a lure:  Fold back downs and kick back stands.  I have ways to shape and get that down, but nothing great for the kick back stands.  I'm not a targeting enthusiast..... but that could be another option. I feel like I can refine movements better with the lure than with a target stick.

I have students lure some behaviors...downs, stands, sometimes sits.   On occasion, I let them get away with luring around cones and that sort of thing.   It depends on their ultimate goals and what my goal is for the specific lesson.

Luring is Horrible!   I've read a few really offensive things recently....  luring really isn't that horrible. It has a few advantages over other ways to get behavior. It has disadvantages. If luring is used doesn't mean someone is a poor trainer or cheating or whatever else.    And I feel quite strongly about that.  At the same time, I'm still sometimes feeling guilty for luring behaviors!

Seminar weekend..... I'm going to have too much to say about it, provided I understand what's said!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Griffin at Agility Class: Week 2

Last week was a bit of a disaster in a few ways.  

During the week we worked did a few things to help us:

  • Almost daily contact training sessions to prep for the dogwalk.  I moved the board taller and taller with a very high success rate. Last night after teaching, I ran him on the real didn't go well. We tried to do training on it...and still had too many misses.  We stopped and will do more work at home.
  • Weave pole work: Running through the steps and filling in the training gaps (addition of the second set of six).  Did about 4 sessions with the weave poles this week.
  • Recalls and focus:  Extra large amount of work.
  • Handling exercises: Practicing what didn't go well in class and recreating some of those embarrassing moments.
And right before or during class, I did a few specific things:
  • Extra exercise.  Some dogs do better without exercise...he needs some right before class.
  • Good treats:  Last week I had hamburger and ham and kibble stored with meat.    This week I took kibble and cheese as my low value and the NaturalBalance rolls as my high value. He LOVES those.  I HATE buying them...they're ridiculously expensive per pound and while the quality isn't bad, it's not the same as just feeding him meat.   I was given a few of the sample sized rolls when judging last we were able to use that. Might have to go buy more for class.
  • Training while waiting: Last week I just tried to get him to settle and did some hand touches and head on floor.   This week, we did that along with duration touches, stand-sit-down work in front of me and some other small-space tricks.
The results?  Griffin was really great.   He didn't run off to visit.  He had less barking than last week. He only missed one obstacle the whole class. We maintained criteria.  

For next week, we're doing exercises specific to class, more weave pole and dogwalk work, and I will remember to bring a kong for our waiting time.  If I could park closer, I would crate him until he needed to's really tight quarters in the waiting area.  Due to his voice.....we get more than our fair share of space. He did a lot of growling today which was scaring people.... it's hard for me to say "don't worry about it" when it's a deep and long growl.   When Griffin is trying not to bark, he muffles it into a scary sounding growl.

I can't wait to see what happens next week!  In some ways we're beginner dogs in the group...some of the classmates have done the class before, many are already competing,  but we're still holding up pretty well in the environment!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Quick Notes on the "Drop on Recall" Exercise

I have not trained this for a million dogs.  Probably only about ten.  This is not a complete training guide.

Yesterday I was helping to judge a county 4-H dog show.  Afterwards, I was asked questions by some of the kids and parents. One parent really wanted to know how to train the Drop On Recall.

I paused....trying to figure out what to say that could make the biggest difference.  These are the few tips that I thought would be most key.  Note that a majority of the dogs were trained....very differently..... than things I would recommend to begin with.

1) I will come and help. Call, email, set up a clinic.  There are a LOT of steps to this behavior and for success.
2) We want the Down to be fluent, that means that the dog should lie down on just the word or signal, without the handler having to bend over, without the handler having to repeat it, the dog responds right away, and with immediacy.
3) Focus on distance, have a parent hold the dog on leash. The person is to not say or do anything but stand completely still.  Kid asks for a Down. Reinforce. Kid moves a step away. Down. Reinforce. Two steps away. Down. Reinforce.   Up to about twenty steps or so.  Teach the dog he can lie down far from the handler.
4) When you go to reinforce the dog, always toss the treat behind or throw the toy behind the dog. This will help to discourage the dog from keeping forward.
5) Consider teaching the dog to lie on a bed.  Then you can put the bed between the dog and handler. Ask for the down.  Reinforce.   Do a MILLION repetitions. Most people get rid of the mat before the behavior is strong enough.

I really hope I get to go do a clinic in this area. It was THE most enthusiastic group I've judged for.  A TON of kids. A TON in Novice!  Many kids showing in brace!  (which I had to judge!).  Many teams!   Many kids with multiple dogs. It was really really impressive.  And many of them do agility as well!

It was also interesting that while everywhere I judge 95% are not showing in buckle collars.... this was teh first time I felt I had to intervene (more than once) in the crating area when I saw things that got a bit too rough.  "Hi!  One of the really important things at dog shows is showing the public how we interact with animals.  They want to see everyone having a good time and good human-dog interactions.  It's really embarassing and hard when your dog does XYZ...  How about we don't give him a chance to practice that... lets (cover the crate, let him stand instead of down stay, walk him instead of standing here in the busy area).   Remember, the public is watching.  And if the judge thinks you are being too rough with your dog, it could impact your sportsmanship score as well.   Do you have any questions about that or how we can help your dog?"

Despite all that, I really really do like working with the kids.   It's going to be a long few months until we start up again in January/February!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Griffin Heeling

Here's a short clip I took to evaluate our progress.  Look how cute he is!

What can I see that I really like?
  • Position: For the most part, he's parallel and lined up well. His position is fairly consistent.
  • Head: I like that he doesn't wrap his head around in front of me. And when I stop he tends to keep his head up, but straight (or nose pointed out), not typically nose pointed towards me.
  • Enthusiasm: Consistent throughout. This part of the criteria for our heeling.
What can I see that needs work?
  • Starts:  I tend to just go and he falls into heeling. We need to work on going from a sit...moving short little bits to reset as we will in the ring between/before exercises.
  • Halts:  Monitor head position. He didn't do it so well in this instance. Are there other times he does it poorly and I miss?
  • Handling:  I have been working on this heavily for a few weeks to make my walk more natural and my turns better.  I've been practicing with an invisible dog, with a person as the dog role, and with another dog.  I fall back into training mode as soon as I have Griffin....and start handling poorly again. I need to make my behavior more fluent!
  • Hands: I have to decide to keep my left hand down and moving (and teach Griffin to heel despite the motion) or have my left hand up and teach him to maintain his position despite the hand up.
  • About turns: And watch his head. I don't mind little flicks to take in information about the environment, but if he pauses as he looks, it could be enough to get him out of position.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Frustrations and Solutions

Blaze has been really horrible for the last 4-6(+) weeks.  It's getting to be absolutely ridiculous.  I'm adding more to our management and training every single week.  The naughty dog in the household is supposed to be the young dog....not the 10.5 year old.

For everything that's causing me problems, I come up with a training option (to help things get better long term) and a management option (to eliminate my immediate frustration and to not give him a chance to practice the behavior).

Yes, any sudden change of behavior should mean a trip to the vet.  There's apparently nothing 'wrong' more than the usual issues.   The changes might be a result of me getting slack in reinforcement or maintaining criteria or maybe I let him access reinforcers in his environment too often.  Or a deterioration of his mental health issues. Or normal senior dog issues. Or some combination.

Here's a list of the recent frustrations:

Taking Treats Too Rough: He's always been bad about this. I don't know if he's gotten worse (possible) or if I'm just too used to Griffin (and most student dogs) who are 5,000 times more gentle.   Not only does Blaze take treats roughly, teeth threatening to crush your fingers as he takes the one little crumb....  but he LAUNCHES towards the hand.  The sound of the click is not a cue that reinforcement is coming, it's a cue to launch.  It looks cute.  The enthusiasm is great. The pain is not.

  • Training:  I've pretty much given up on this.  I could go with the recommendations I give students, lots of licking practice, feeding flat like a horse (he still fits my hand in?)...etc...   but 10+ years of behavior is really hard to change and probably not worth the pain.
  • Management: I am NOT feeding him any treats from my hand.  Treats are dropped into a bowl. From the MannersMinder tool, or dropped to the ground.  Completely eliminate the option.  I only started this two weeks ago and it's making my world a lot better.  I loose out on placement of reinforcer...but I keep my fingers.
Counter Stealing:  He's been bad about this his whole life, but we did get to a point where things could be out if he was supervised.  In the past month he's gotten really bad about stealing food (tomatoes, apples, whole bunches of bananas especially).  The thing is...when I looked at the exact scenario, it was always the same.  He's typically reasonable if I'm present.  If I'm occupied or attentive. If I'm near or far in the room.  However...if someone else is in the room and I'm far away?  Then he lunges for the counter.   
  • Training:  More mat work/stay training.  Going into a crate on cue. Leave it practice (verbal and implied). 
  • Management:  Always crate him or stay him or take him with me as I move around the room.  Remove items from the counter.  
Not Dropping Toys:  Again, a lifelong problem that is worse than usual.  My solution for the past few years has been to tie him to the fence with the tie out/leash short enough that if-when he lets go, he cannot reach his head all the way to the ground to pick up the item.   We got to the point that he was dropping items within 30 seconds of letting go.   He's been getting worse. Today it was 15 minutes. 
  • Training:  Practicing DropIt   ----separate--- from fetch sessions. Do not ask or want him to drop toys until we have had a lot more practice separately.  Practice this outdoors as well. And in the fetch area....but without the actual run and chase parts.  
  • Management:  Be sure to only ever use the low-value toys. He probably will drop these easily. Don't be lazy and think he'll be okay with the others. Because he won't be.   Go to the store and buy more low value fetch toys...since we're running low and just have all the nice high value toys for enticing the other dogs to play.   Don't play as much fetch. Find other games so the DropIt is not an issue.

Pulling On The Leash:  For whatever reason, pulling has returned in specific settings. To the door. To the car. To the pond. To the yard. Essentially, this is showing a lack of self control. He's wanting something and just tries to access it by himself.

  • Training:  More walking training in those settings.  And many repetitions. Spend whole sessions walking from the house and then two feet towards the fenced yard. back to the house. Three feet to the yard. Back to the house. Four feet to the yard, back to the house. Reinforcing often for being with me. Other self control activities will also help.
  • Management:  Avoid those areas whenever possible. If I have to take him, treat or tug transport (...which aren't options for him). Collar transport.      Use a harness or head halter so that he cannot lunge and be successful in getting closer to the Desired Things.   Prevent his access to reinforcement (the things).
Barking:  He used to be worse.  But he's recently worse than his average.  
  • Training:  List all the situations that prompt barking and do training accordingly.   Example: He barks if I come into the house and do not walk him the second I come in. It's an attention seeking bark, call-response sort of bark.   For training I could, at a time where we just finished a calm walk or calm activity...  do our session then. Leave and immediately come through and go out. Reinforce using the MannersMinder so that I don't have to approach (or hand feed) while he is in his crate.  Repeat a lot.  Another Example: Barking at cars going by:   Be far enough away and replace with an alternate behavior.
  • Management:  Avoid the scenarios whenever possible. Try to exercise or rest him prior to the usual barking triggers.   Use a MannersMinder over his crate/in his area at all times.

We have quite a few problems and more than enough solutions.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Impulse Purchased my way into a class...

I typically do not do impulse purchases. I practice my self control by shopping online and putting all sorts of great toys, books, gear...into my shopping cart.  And then never going to the "pay now" page.   I think about getting stuff, but don't. I practice that too often.

Sometimes though...something happens and I make an impulse purchase.  Usually I'm happy about it but...regret the lack of self control.  And that can last for days or weeks!   Even silly little purchases....because they can add up and eventually cost way too much.

Today...I made my BIGGEST impulse purchase ever.  If I'm putting a lot of money into something, I consider for weeks or months.  Within 12 hours, I had made this purchase.   I'll say that my friend made me do it.... I had to resource guard and get it too since she was.

And the purchase?  A working spot in an online class: 

I debated for about two hours on whether or not to do  a working or auditing spot....and did end up working.      The instructor has a very similar style to how Griffin has been trained and I've been reading her materials for a long time.  I'm VERY excited!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Agility is Hard

It's a silly thing to say after a class where my "advanced" group did an absolutely amazing job.

I've been doing agility for a long time.  Blaze started about 10 years ago.  We went to our first trial almost exactly nine years ago.   Luna went to agility class for years on end.  Blaze did quite a few as well.  I've watched a lot of agility, done a lot of agility, and read a lot about agility.

And it's only getting more difficult.

Initially it was about the obstacles and training my dog to do everything properly.  Then we realized the speed aspect and worked to get faster.   Soon after, I got more careful about handling and being able to do "all the crosses and turns."     And that was agility for a long time.

But now....with more practice, experience, and huge changes in the sport....

-Obstacle training to even higher fluency. Proofing activities with all the obstacles.
-Nit-picking training plans to avoid having to re-train or fix things later.
- Working on speed as an aspect before even starting obstacles.
- Looking at dog lines and handler lines.
- Counting strides, is my dog moving the way I expect.

Griffin is three and we aren't near ready to begin trialing.  He still needs to finish weave pole proofing and some pretty drastic repairs to his dogwalk.  His recall can be lacking, his focus immediately in a new environment ( the agility ring) is even more lacking.   Crating all day in a new busy place?  Out of the question.

But on the other end, he's fast, he turns well, he jumps well. He goes where I ask him to. The behaviors/obstacles he has are fabulous.   His stay is quite nice.*

And I'm having to re-learn how to handle.  He's a lot more like Blaze than like Luna.   We run sequences after the advanced class on Mondays and I'm repeatedly finding myself, cautiously and unintentionally, holding him back. I'm doing more rear crosses, handling from behind and completely missing turns.  When I plan to be ahead and have a specific doesn't always happen. It's not that he's ridiculously fast, just much faster than Luna is during training.  Balancing my focus on my path, cueing my dog, where my dog is, my dog's path, his striding, his meeting criteria.... I end up loosing some pieces.

I intend to insert a video here....haven't fought with the camera to process the clips.  Trust me....he's improving, adorable, and working very nicely.  

*in this context!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Your Dog is Not A Fish: Using a longline to teach recalls

We recommend practicing in lots of environments to get very fluent and reliable behaviors.  It's especially important to practice in the environment where you most need the behavior.

For safety reasons, we can't just let your dog off leash in the front yard to work on recalls. And  we don't want to give the dog opportunities to make errors or practice other behaviors (chasing squirrels).

The magic of a longline!  We use longlines for puppies, small and medium sized dogs, and only big dogs under certain circumstances.  We talk about using a harness and safely handling the line (no ropeburn for dogs or humans).  

For big dogs, we tend to only use the longline in already fenced areas, giving us the chance to just let go if we think holding on could cause damage to the dog or person.

What we never -ever- ever -ever- do is reel in the dog like a fish.   I always follow that sentence with, "well...if you saw a tornado coming or a car...then yes, do what you have to."   If you have a lesser emergency, like needing to go to work, do not reel in your dog.  Pick up the line and walk to your dog. You can gather in the line as you go. It's not the dog coming to you, you are going to your dog.  Then you can hold the line at a normal leash length and walk him to the house.

Reeling in dogs teaches them to come when reeled in. It's not a bad skill, but it's 100% different than coming-when-I-call.   Reeling in as a response to an incorrect response does -not- teach the dog he "has" to come when called.  It teaches him he has to come when reeled in.

The real danger is that people then think the dog knows to come when called...and the dog learns to come when called (or else be reeled in).   When the line comes off.... the dog knows it's come when called or go chase squirrels. There is no risk of fish-reeling in.   And then the people get very sad that,"HE KNOWS when the line is on!"

Just like dogs that learn to not jump on the counter if a human is in the room....this is a much harder problem to fix.  We have to go back to small fenced areas, completely off leash.  Dragging a longline in safe fenced areas.  Training the recall in small fenced areas.  Working on all the recall parts separately.  It's really much easier to just not reel the dog in the first place.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where to Reinforce on the Go Out

"It depends"  on which part you are working on. These are not the only option and possibly not the best options... but they're  my current favorites.

Looking ahead while at heel:  Release and toss reinforcer forward
Initially leaving your side:  Send and toss reinforcer ahead of the dog, prompting chasing before getting the food toy.
Running out while further away:  Send and have a helper toss a toy out even further ahead of when the dog is at the "far" point.  Or you can try and toss. But only toss if the dog is looking ahead. And monitor to be sure that the dog isn't looking back to you.
A sharp turn back:  Toss the reinfocer in a way that encourages more of a turn after the dog starts.  Griffin turns clockwise, so as he turns to face me, I toss the toy behind him, to my left. 
A sit that creeps forward:   Behind where you want the dog (practice with ring gate posts but not all the fencing so that the dog doesn't have to jump the fence to go get his toy/treat).  
The launch back after the sit:   Release from the sit, toss the toy in the direction the dog is to go.
The duration/stickyness of the sit:  Run in and feed or play...  gradually adding in duration. Same thing can be done with then tossing away, but if the duration is really a problem, it's best to be reinforcing in position to get the behavior more 'sticky'.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"He doesn't let us know that he needs to 'go' out!"

This is a very common's a common belief that dogs inherently bark or whine when they need to go outside.  In reality? Not so.

Me: Most dogs won't and it has to be trained.  For most dogs, you have to get them into a schedule and remember to take them out on a regular basis.  Be aware of how changes in weather as well as changes in food and water intake will impact your dog's needs.

Student: But my friend/sister/neighbor/coworker has a dog that rings a bell to go out! I want my dog to do that!

Me: Excellent, that's a great goal.  A rough outline of our steps:  5-10 sessions to teach your dog to ring the bell on cue. We want to be careful that the noise and motion doesn't scare your puppy.  We have to have very good house training to start with too.   The next step is to teach your puppy to ring the bell, then go out to potty.  Not for walks or fun play. You will have to put away the bells as soon as you come back in.  The next stage is for teaching your puppy to ring the bell on his own to go out and not to ring it to go out for play.      Some dogs learn this right away with no training..... it might be worth a try.     But on average it takes 4-6 weeks of diligent training to get them started.  

Student: Oh.  

Me:  Isn't your house three floors? Will you be able to hear the bells when you are upstairs/the other side of the house/in the basement?

Student:  No! What do I do!

Me: You could have several sets of the entry point to each floor....  but the same long training process.  It's really much easier to be good about taking your dog out.

Student:  Hmm.....

Me:  Let's address the house training first, and then we will re-evaluate your goals.

Notes on house training:

  • Limit freedom
  • Reinforce correct responses
  • Keep a chart
  • Prevent errors
  • No don't want your puppy to hide to pee indoors....unpleasant surprise.
  • Continue to reinforce outdoors to build motivation. The more motivated your puppy is to get outside...the more likely he is to let you know.
  • Next time around...if you are getting a dog from a breeder, find a breeder who starts the house training. There is NO good reason for a breeder to ignore this.  
  • Bigger crates are better than smaller crates.
  • If you are getting many errors or see a sudden change for the worse, visit your vet.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When is Reinforcement Available?

What started as a short jump-tunnel sequence ended up being a lot of thought on how a dog knows when reinforcement is available.

During the session, the young retriever was bouncing at his handler and then running off to get into trouble.  He wanted the reinforcers, but did not seem to know how to get them.

For Griffin,  he is to get treats if I deliver it to his mouth (as opposed to him lunging forward to take it), if I cue "get it" and toss or drop or present, or if I hold my hand in one of two "come get it" ways. Anything else?  And there is no chance he will get it and he shouldn't try.  We have similar rules for toys.

This allows us a -lot- of freedom that more beginner dogs don't have.   I can have food visible and works without being distracted by it. The food can be on the ground and accessible and he will perform his task.  My preparing/moving reinforcers are not disrupting our training.

How did we resolve the challenge with the retriever in class?  We determined that the owner did have some rules in place about when reinforcers were (or were not) available. We had to make those rules intentional, with conscious decision, and we had to fine tune a few areas where the rules were vague.

Then, after our planning, we had to do some training to teach the dog the difference between accessible and inaccessible reinforcement.  With most beginner dogs this isn't necessary, but he had learned that there were "sometimes accessible" cues and to try and get the food at those times.

I'll be interested to see what his handler says next week after another week to think about it.

Here's a video that I really like....showing how a group of sharks knows when reinforcement is available.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Uncooperative Dog

Griffin is not being very helpful this week.

I note our areas to work on.  I make logical training plans.

Each session, I pick something specific to work on, get our plans and materials and everything together. We go and train and the "problem" is not a problem at all. It's something --else--.

  • Our retrieve turn was really poor last week. Wide looping arcs, rather than a nice tight turn.  Today? 100% perfect.
  • If we did fronts from a distance, he would be crooked.   Last session?   Perfect, up to 3x the distance we need.
  • Out of sight stays were perfect.   Yesterday?  100%.  He didn't even think about getting up.
  • Figure 8 had moments of inattention last week.  Today?  Perfect.  Completely attentive to me.
  • Last week, his stand was crooked.   Last night... perfect.   
So, what's different?  
  1.  I did have good training plans, and for the most part would start the session in ways where it wasn't possible to make an error and build up from there.  That said, I was expecting 20% or so of the responses to be errors. And as a result, we progressed way faster than I expected and were soon up to more challenging stages.   
  2. Maybe these weren't actually problems?   I typically only write things on our problem list it occurs more than once or if something absolutely not good happens.  
  3. It's easier to repair pieces of chains than a lot of broken things. By addressing the one specific challenge area, we can progress faster and then put it all back together much sooner than if I was to be trying to fix the problem area -within- the exercise.
  4. Sometimes we are in different places, different locations, different setups, different reinforcers. All that said, I am really surprised at his sudden perfections.  

Our new weak areas?

  • Fronts with the dumbbell (now crooked is a problem, not distance)
  • Reliable release from stays
  • Right turns in heeling
It's a good problem to have...and we have our new training plans.  We'll have to see what happens with your next training sessions....

Friday, September 2, 2011

Speed of Recalls

Apparently that's the theme of the week. It's something we talked about at training group and something we worked on in classes.

There are a few ways to get speed for any type of behavior... here are the five I hear most often.

  • Train when the dog is already more energetic.
  • Selectively reinforce the responses with most speed/the moments of greatest speed/the act of increasing speed.  Theoretically, speed will be increasing over time.
  • Prompt the dog to increase speed
  • Speed will come once the behavior is fluent.
  • Placement of reinforcer
Like most things in dog training, there isn't one right answer, but there are some things that work better than others and there are some things that are wrong.

Speed will come when the behavior is fluent:   This was a huge change in my training.   6 years ago, I taught Luna to weave using a variation of 2x2....   and unlike the "real" thing (that wasn't available in DVD form at that point...!), speed was not one of my early criteria. Luna learned to weave. And she could eventually weave at class. Up to the 12 required poles.       When she was more excitable, when she was more fluent, she did go faster.  She moved with a bigger stride and then started running into poles or skipping poles and getting unhappy. She went back to her slower weaving.   The act of weaving quickly, with speed, was physically different than weaving slowly.  It required a different number of steps, different size of steps, and different way of moving. I hadn't taught her to do that and she wasn't able to learn it on her own.

IF the behavior is a specific motor skill; weave poles or a contact behavior...  I now make speed a criteria from very early on.  

Shape for Increased Speed:  There are some behaviors where this works better than others and there are teams who have greater success with this piece of criteria.  In my experience, unless there is a very specific "click point" for how to see the dog increasing speed.... it's too much guesswork and not precise enough.

Placement of Reinforcer:  Obviously this is my favorite!   Throwing, chasing, play type reinforcers can help increase speed. Where the reinforcer is tossed can impact the direction and type of speed as well.   Working on fast recalls?  Run!  Feed the dog for catcihng up.  Working on go out speed?  Once your dog is leaving you....  toss treats and toys out ahead.  Turns after a jump? Throw the toy or treats in that direction. 

Prompt the Dog for Increased Speed:  This is another of my most favorite moments from the Agility Right From the Start book.   They have a specific strategy they call "Race to Reward."  We do variations of this in training group and training class.  We manufacture speed with a treat/toy person (who also can choose not to reinforce if for reason something goes wrong!).  We build up speed from the beginning.   We teach the dog how to perform with speed.    The --huge-- advantage with this strategy is that, from the time the dog learns to do the race to reward with speed.... you aren't getting as many slow responses. You aren't reinforcing slow responses. The dog doesn't have a history of reinforcement for slow responses.