Monday, October 31, 2011

More Fish Treats: Fish Pancakes!

My usual fish treat recipe is great.

Sometimes when I'm short on time and won't be able to bake that long or preheat the oven.... I use the batter and cook it like pancakes.   It takes much less time, flip them over after a minute or two and then another minute or two and they're ready!  It's a different texture (more crumbs...) but convenient.

If there was a timed contest for making treats...I would win!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Asking the dog to work, compared to the dog asking to work.

Most dogs can fairly quickly to get to this point in class.  

For some teams, it takes longer to get to the dog demanding work.  The first things we look at are making sure the dog is comfortable (worried dogs have enough to think about other than work) and making sure the reinforcers are actually reinforcing.

Some handlers try harder and harder to 'make' the dog work and respond and even without using obvious and intentional punishment, the dogs can find the interaction unappealing.  And if the interaction is stressful...they have no reason to stick around.  The dog is more unresponsive and the handler tries harder and it's a really difficult cycle for everyone.  It's understandably easy for the handler to think about the dog as "intentionally" not responding and to start finding ways to justify the use of punishment.  Daily life and interactions become a battle that the person wants to 'win'. 

Many of these dogs are quickly unresponsive to luring. The handlers keep trying because at some point the dog responds, the handler sees the behavior happen, and then the handler is reinforced.   But it's a very different picture than a dog that is immediately and always following a food lure.

This week we saw success after long periods for two of these teams.   For one, I was able to get the owner to only be tossing reinforcers and not hand feed.  This changed the picture, decreased social pressure, and let us go for approximations. We were able to think about only getting what would be ideal and not asking for too much.  Just because the dog would do a million behaviors with luring and prompting didn't mean those behaviors were our competition ideal behaviors.  

For the other team, the person had a ton of stress over the week and really just wasn't caring about the training.  While the other things in the life of the family were unfortunate, it did take away some of the focus from the dog's behavior and misbehavior.  I didn't have to mediate the unspoken 'battle' to 'win'.  They just worked.  If we had a poor response, we easily and completely changed criteria and soon were back.  It was easier for me. Easier for the human. Easier for the dog.   

Until students feel the difference of the dog begging to work, it can be hard to understand the difference or even feel it.  My dogs sometimes overwhelm other people who are not used to the difference.  Once when Griffin was around 7-8 months old, I had a student handle him in a practice rally course to compare the difference between her dog who was lured through and not as responsive.  She enjoyed the experience but attributed to his breed and personality.  While those factors are important, it's not the only thing that gets a dog asking to work.

At the shelter there is a 8+ year old not-very-mobile beagle who always begs to work. She stares right at people and offers her behavior and offers stillness, trying to get any chance to work.  She used to be very non responsive, but with her love of food and a few minutes each week, she has become very demanding!        

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Griffin Agility Class: Week 7

For the last week of the session, we ran a 20 obstacle course..... or at least everyone else did. I tried to do 19 the first time (skipping the dogwalk at the end)...but Griffin apparently still can't weave properly (no surprise) and so we did half and then the second half.   He did surprisingly well despite not having much experience running longer courses.   His lines were nice and efficient and he was running.  It was interesting to see that we made some different handling choices compared to the others in class. Most of them were similarly sized dogs.  Two differences are that he's the only big dog with running contacts and that I just don't try to get in front crosses unless I know I can cue in time. 

I also think that, in some ways, errors are less relevant to me than the others.  I try to not just circle him back..we finish or run for a re-start location. He's attentive and responsive to cues and I want every single slow down cue to be relevant and to be followed by back-to-full-speed after the turn.  I hear a lot about turns and stops that are "demotivating" and "punishing" and "my dog doesn't like it" in both obedience and agility.  I want my dog to feel differently.

He's adorable.  

We then had two hours of teaching agility later in the day...with a new daytime class.  Three hours of agility is not enough! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creating how-to resources

As a completion for a 4-H grant we received last year, we're working on creating a few guides to go along with the workshops we did. The one I'm most responsible for is titled "How to Solve Training Challenges."  In the guide, we ask a series of questions.  Each question-category has 5 questions to prompt the reader (be it advisor, parent, or 4-H'er) to think through the issue at hand.

We start with looking at the behavior, getting a second opinion, checking with your vet, looking at reinforcement, breaking it down, and changing approach.   It's not a "do XYZ" type guide, but we're hoping it will have some use for those who are stuck.

Of course, under the "ask for help" part we're listing contact information and we're always happy to help other advisors and 4-H'ers.  

I'm hoping that over the next few years we'll be able to refine the questions and end up with a very usable and useful guide.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Luna was Brave

On Wednesday, Luna had her first class on since ~May 2009 when we stopped agility due to a lack of progress in agility and an increase in trouble-making.   Luna was in a sort of self-control-around-everything-and-other-dogs class.  She very happy.  She wasn't very responsive to cues, but was offering more attention than I've gotten in -months-.  In our daily training sessions she's been so inattentive, freezing and staring off into the world, and non responsive. But...back in the environment of "class" she was amazing. Last time she was in the training building with me she would jump at every noise and had her tail between her legs. Maybe it's being on anti-anxiety medications, maybe the past reinforcement history of a class setting...I don't know. I walked out ready to sign her up for agility class...then I developed some self control.

It was a huge contrast from Griffin at agility class. He did not have a good week. Our homework is a lot of speed and focus and response to cues.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

SCAMPER: A problem solving tool (part 1)

SCAMPER  is a problem-solving memory-device tool.  I originally learned about it for other purposes, but it's something I use every day in dog training without having to think twice. It's easy to get into the same patterns of thinking instead of looking at all possible options available.

S: Substitute:   Obviously in animal training we have Response Substitution and can ask for alternate and/or incompatible behaviors.  Sometimes another behavior can be used in place of what your dog is currently giving you.  Sometimes another behavior can be pro-active and prevent the problem behavior from occurring.  There can be other variables we can substitute, including the cues and the environment.

C: Combine:  There are often behaviors that a dog already knows or at the very least, preferences that the dog has.  How can we combine the known behaviors in his repertoire or skill set to get our desired results?  

A: Adapt:  How can we change what we already have?  With a little extra work or a few changes to variables, we may be able to use a behavior we already have.  We can change perceptions and make it go well.

M: Modify:  There are changes we can make to the environment to increase or decrease the chances of getting specific behaviors.  When dealing with problem behavior, we want to be sure we aren't compromising our training by allowing the undesirable behaviors to happen at other times.

P: Put to Other Purposes:  The sort utilize the problem behavior for your benefit.  Turn your unwanted behaviors into tricks.  Your puppy is picking up everything? Teach him to bring the items to you.  

E: Eliminate:  Some behaviors we absolutely never want to see.  Look at the behavior closely before working to be sure that you are getting rid of the parts you dislike and you aren't accidental getting rid of behavior you  will want later.  A dog who doesn’t get on furniture can be nice...but if he also doesn't know how to get into the car...that can be another challenge.  We can eliminate behaviors, eliminate triggers, put behaviors on cues and eliminate our use of the cue.

R: Rearrange:  By changing associations or the strength of associations we can change behavior. We can teach dogs to be enthusiastic in certain times and places. We can teach our dogs to like two things equally. We can take away opportunities for reinforcement to make other behaviors less likely to occur.

Friday, October 7, 2011


One of my many amazing 4-H kids made and mailed me this little felted golden retriever!  It's absolutely adorable and the color is so perfect.  The little golden retriever is so adorable! He now sits on my shelf of dog pictures.  Adorable!

This week has been filled with lots of things did not go as well as they should. There were two really great parts.  One manners class of advanced dogs with advanced goals. It was fun to have the whole group working on extra things rather than the "things that need changed right now."   The other best part was my Thurs 6:00 class....  they all have similar goals of young enthusiastic dogs needing better manners.... and they all made HUGE progress in that class.    

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Griffin at Agility Class: Week 3 and 4

Last week... Griffin was very fast, working very well, and amazing.  We made mistakes on every single exercise.  But the speed and enthusiasm are definitely a priority for now. I was very happy.

Today...   Sometimes fast, sometimes not.  Sometimes coming when called, so fast he would skid. And other times running out of the ring for water or to beg his friends for play time.

We had a lot of trouble with some of the exercises.   Griffin was often moving in too close to me, rather than staying out and taking obstacles.  Back to that obstacle focus issue.

For the first time in many weeks, we tried the weave poles... and only got it 1/3 times.  One mistake was continuing on after the entry, and another time he cut out at the end when I moved past him.  He can weave if I'm behind him, but we haven't done work with me ahead or moving past.  

His very best parts today:

  • We did an activity with 'directed jumping' of sorts. He was great, I could be very far away and I didn't have to move to get him over.  Because of our obedience work and fluency work...he already understood most of this.  Many other teams had less experience in this area and they had to be closer to the jumps or move and prompt the dog.
  • Aframe, flipping to a tunnel underneath.   He's always great at this, but we've never done it away from our usual training place.   He was perfect and responsive. It sure was easier for me than it was for many of the teams who had to be much closer to cue.
  • Table:  He's not seen very many tables, but he was able to jump up and Down right away. He almost broke position a few times as I moved, but he fixed it himself.
  • Stays: While others walked the course.  He had people moving within 12" and he held position, easily!
Things to work on: 
  • Straight out of the chute:  He turns towards me quite a lot...making it potentially unsafe (for both of us) and more difficult for any handling challenges.
  • Dogwalk: (Help!).
  • Weaves: esp with entries, with handler ahead, and handler moving past
  • "pushing" out to a jump, away from a line we are following.
  • Recalls.....
Focus points today:
  • Keep food in my pocket until after the sequence.   
  • Feed low (rather than high like for Heel position).
  • Run!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Seminar II: Looking at the Brain

Back to the seminar notes for the Sept 2011 Obi Fox event.

There are a lot of neurons in the brain.  Motor neurons "fire" (electrical/chemical changes within the cell) in response to a specific stimulus and then cause movements of specific muscles or muscle groups.  The type of stimulus depend on the type of neuron.  Some only respond to a visual stimulus, some only to touch, some to specific internal changes...etc.    AND there are some that respond to two specific types of stimuli, and other to three or more specific types of stimuli.

Quite a few motor neurons respond to visual and tactile stimuli.   This means that you are getting the same changes in the brain, the brain is perceiving the same thing... if the individual is touched or if the individual perceives something moving 'within' range.   Specific body areas correspond to a part of the 'personal space' field.  

By moving into a dog's space, the brain can be responding as if the animal was touched.

Just as important is that those neurons will continue to fire until the 'threat' is removed from the space or when the motor sequence is completed.   If someone is too close...those neurons will fire until the dog can move far enough away that the person is out of the dog's 'space'.  

That somewhat makes it even harder to think about dogs that are asked to "just get over it," both shy-fearful type dogs, reactive dogs, and super excitable dogs.

The personal space zone can change over time in response to desensitization or sensitization.  It can get bigger or smaller.

And that's probably enough to think about for today.   Any errors in this post are mine.