Friday, December 30, 2011

Griffin: Attitude and Arousal

Griffin and I are having a great time in our online obedience class.  It's one of the best things I've ever done. I'm learning so much and we're being challenged in many ways.

But with the class has come a horrible realization that I've made some huge, huge mistakes with Griffin.

In many sports and activities there's a bit of discussion about arousal and performance.  If you're really relaxed, you won't do well at most sports. If you're too worked up, you also aren't going to do so well.  The optimum arousal will depend on the activity...obviously the optimum arousal for chess is different than that for speed skating.

I've made an effort to make enthusiasm and attitude part of Griffin's training.  If he's not being excitable enough, we don't do heeling or retrieves. I don't want poor responses being reinforced, ever.

If you train low latency (time from the cue to when the dog responds) for a few behaviors, it's often generalized for everything.   The same sort of thing seems to have happened.  Griffin is quite excited and enthusiastic about training.

This is great for some behaviors, but not too great for others.  I've intentionally-but-shouldn't-have trained him to be a bit --too-- excitable for many behaviors and this is (likely) contributing to the slow progress of stay duration.  

Over the last 18 months we've worked really hard to increase the number of reinforcers we have available as well as to increase the value of the reinforcers.  This is adding arousal to the behaviors. His attitude to training is continueing to improve.  

Another challenge area was that I compared Griffin to the diagnosed-as-hyperactive Blaze.  And in comparison, Griffin -is- calmer.  But that doesn't make him calm.

Now to develop more ways to intentionally decrease arousal and excitement.  We have to create a lot more calmness.

Exhaustion is not the same as calmness.
After 4 days of camp, Griffin was so tired he would not move. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shaping: Shy dogs and outgoing dogs.

Shaping is the same type of process, regardless of species or individual.  But it can look very different depending on the type of learner, the learner's history, the skill of the trainer and the relationship with the trainer.

On Tuesday I did two training sessions, each about two minutes long.  Here, you can see the first minute with two very different dogs.

Dog 1: Luna is a very shy dog. Notice that she is constantly scanning the room, frozen, then turning back to work. She gets distracted by small noises in the empty room and she is not quick to engage.
Dog 2:  Blaze is a very confident and outgoing dog.  Notice that when he is not working, he is often staring at me, almost asking what he should be doing.  He gives me a lot of behavior to choose from.  When he gets distracted by a person entering the room, he is able to quickly get back to work.

Shaping with shy dogs is often a lot slower. More in between steps are needed. There may be more pauses between behaviors while the dog is thinking about his environment.  Shy dogs often move less and this gives the trainer fewer things to select from. If you miss a few clickable moments, you will probably have to backtrack and make the exercise easier.  Otherwise, your dog might not offer the same thing again.  Having treats the dog loves can help, but there will still be thoughts about the scary things out in the world.  When the dog is spending a lot of time worrying about the monsters, he's not able to devote as much time to the tasks at hand.

Shaping with outgoing dogs can also be challenging.  Blaze and Griffin sometimes give people so much behavior that it's hard to select or get the timing just right.  There are more things to choose from, making the process go a little faster. The dog is less worried about the environment, making high value reinforcers a good option when working in a distracting location.  It's a lot easier to work against things that are interesting than things that are scary.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Not Good Enough"

One of the things that many dog teams will say, especially those working on competition training or behavior modification, is "I just think he would do so much better if you were training him."

And the thing is, most dogs would do better with a trainer handling them.  It's not that there's anything magical about most dog trainers (though there are a few I wonder about....).  Most of these people have spent a lot of time training dogs, which means more practice, better decision making, better timing, better able to adjust criteria, and  being able to evaluate the situation**.

That said, it's important to recognize that most trainers probably think the same thing at various points.

What would Blaze and Luna be like if they were in a home where they got appropriate help as puppies?   Several trainers I admire talk about their challenging dogs and being able to overcome the challenges.  I've had to accept that it just won't happen with Blaze.   With Luna, who knows what progress is available, we're battling the lack of early socialization and bad luck with genetics.  And while Griffin is a very normal and adorable dog....   he has siblings competing at the highest levels and yet we've had to twice walk out of the rally ring after less than half the course.  It's definitely all me holding him back.

I know Griffin would do better with many of my students.  He would benefit from long walks in town every day, from a busier household, with more time and attention and regular attendance in class.  Hours and hours in the woods.  A classroom full of kids every day.   He would do well with someone who is a perfectionist.  And I can't give him all of those things right now.

So what do I do?
-  I make training plans for my dogs to address the biggest issue areas. I try to be productive with our time.  We try to maximize the benefits of any choices we make on how to spend our time.
-  I try to improve my skills. I spend time training my dogs and any others ( of the reasons I volunteer at  the shelter!).  With good practice, I should get better.
- My class/lesson students are also part of this.  This allows me to see things that work and don't work as well with hundreds and hundreds of dogs.  There's no way I could learn so much with just working with my own dogs.
- I learn more and try new things. Seminars, books, DVDs, online articles and resources. Training groups and classes.  There is just so much information available now.
- Learn from the best:  In whatever area we're looking at. We use whatever materials we can get ahold of. We use what we can, make modifications of others, and try to evaluate and work to maximize our success.

And how is that working?   I'm continually making refinements to our training plans. I'm getting better. The learning curve is not as steep as it was a few years ago.  But if a small change cuts off minutes or hours of training, all the better.

Photo by Terri Tepper, 2008
**Massive amounts of practice or dedication are not, alone, sufficient.  The practice time has to be "good practice."  Spending many training hours of late clicking will only let someone get more proficient at late clicking. Some people are able to self-evaluate. Others need class and learning opportunities to become more proficient.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Training

Last year I really wanted a photo of Griffin holding a bell and then Luna ringing the bell with her nose.  Easy enough, and it would make an adorable card, right?

Training needed:  Griffin to hold the bell.  Luna to target the bell with her nose.   They have both behaviors.

It proved harder, as Luna didn't want to get that close to Griffin, especially while he was all serious holding the bell. It was an invasion of personal space.    We gave up.

This year I tried again, we got a little better results. And with 2 training sessions a year, maybe we'll be able to do it in a few years.

This is not "good training practices".   This is a last minute what-can-we-get, can-we-cheat-to-get-the-photo.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Book 18: Dog University

Dog University by Viviane Theby .  Another really great trick training book!   Amazon has used copies, I picked up mine ($6!) at a HalfPriceBooks in Columbus (they have it at multiple locations... I'm going back to get more copies!).

The author is obviously quite influenced by Bob Bailey and Ken Ramirez.   There are simplified versions of many of the activities that those trainers utilize/talk about.   The book almost makes it sound --too-- easy to teach a dog to copy another dog or be able to perform multiple behaviors with the same prop.

This book isn't going back on my shelf or even to my bedside table where my other "Can't live without" books reside.  It's going right next to the box of training props so we can flip it open and be prompted to work on some of the behaviors/concepts.

Like some of the other trick books, it is probably too simplified at times and the steps might not be small enough for some teams to do well.   At least one of the activities did list the how-to instructions in two different ways, one for more active dogs and one for less active dogs.  

It's definitely a great book for people wanting to do a little more than the usual dog tricks!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Professional Responsibilities

I read a book a while back that I really wanted to write about.  This book really distressed me. And even two months later, I'm still upset!  The training was, at times....not so great...but it was the instruction that horrified me.  I didn't think it would be fair for the author to potentially read the post and be offended or upset because it's entirely -not- her fault, she's the one that deserved better.   A large portion of the book is about the training instruction the owner (author) and her dog receive.  The author wrote about how she dreaded practice, how the instructor would treat the human and dog students and the relief she had when practices or the relationship ended.    That's not how it's supposed to be!     

Why is it that instructors feel like they need to yell at students?  Maybe it's because I've been clicker training for so long? It's not my responsibility to stand right there and physically/verbally "make" someone give a specific response.   When errors happen, it's about reviewing the teaching plan, making modifications, and continuing the lesson.   It is my responsibility to teach a certain skill set and that's through the teaching process, not just yelling out impossible tasks.  

When clients/students are confused or responding incorrectly, the instructor needs to make modifications.  Maybe use the same phrase once more, but if the same phrase is being used dozens of times, maybe the learner really just doesn't understand or doesn't have the skill set to respond correctly.

I took horse riding lessons for almost ten years.  I was not very good by the end, though I had some amount of proficiency from the repetition.  Looking back at that learning experience, I'm horrified at a lot of the things that happened.  I can't believe how the instructor was allowed to be teaching kids. I can't believe that parents did not speak up or do something about it.  There were some pretty basic skills I was never able to learn.

Some of it seemed to come down to what we see with dog training and in teaching dog owners/handlers.... instructors sometimes take the errors personally.   The learners do want to succeed. They want to avoid the embarrassment or attention or 'correction'/direction they get with errors.   They want to go on and do more things.  

I'm amazed at the number of clicker-ly instructors who put blame on the human clients/students.  If it was the dog, the instructor could look at breaking down the skill, using reinforcement, setting the team up for success. But with the human, they can't do it, take the errors personally, and direct the blame to the humans involved.

To some extent, the dog can't learn all week at home without the person working, and the person does have to take the initiative. On the other hand, why aren't people practicing? How can we make it easier, seem more achievable, more entertaining?  Maybe they need some additional notes on what to do, or need to see or hear the instruction in a different way. Maybe they need to take a few notes themselves so that they remember what to do.  Maybe we gave them too many things and need to simplify. Maybe they don't understand how to do it at home on their own.

It's also hard that dog trainers spend so much time learning about dog training. They go to conferences and seminars and learn more. Read books and lists and learn more.   There aren't enough opportunities on teaching the humans. And often those are skipped in favor of training education sessions.  Most of us spend more time teaching people than training dogs.   Not only are we teaching the humans...but a wide age range....  young kids to seniors, everyone in between and a huge range in skill level. It's pretty ridiculous at times.  

No snow here. It's been raining for a week.  The pond is really full.  Griffin has gone swimming.  On Wednesday it was 60*.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Working with Multiple Challenges

Very few people seek dog training help with only one little problem.  Typically there are a few things that need addressed, sometimes these are related and sometimes not. Here's the things we think about when trying to prioritize.

1) What are the safety risks?  We need to minimize risk for the dog, the people, and any other animals.  This means getting solid management plans in place and addressing the issue through a few different training angles. Example: Anything involving growling, freezing, snapping, unhappy barking, jumping up if there are small kids, etc. 
2) Will one thing work towards solving multiple issues?   In TAGTeach there's a thing called a "Value Added Tag"  where one clickable moment will solve many different problems.  There's no word for this in clicker training, but the same sort of thing exists.  Example: A dog bites his owner....when the person is "punishing" the dog for eliminating indoors.   Solution: Housetrain the dog dog..... no more accidents inside, no more biting.  The dog still needs some handling training...but we're closer to success. 
3) Which aspects cause the most stress in daily life?   Tackle the bigger issues. Later, address the things that only come up in rare situations.  It is all important and can all be addressed.... but save the smaller things for later.
4) Which aspects have the potential for great damage to the human-animal bond?  Sometimes these are the same as question 3...but not always. Sometimes the people don't realize the bigger issues at hand or they don't realize how the issue could get worse if not addressed. Example:  I walked into an appointment for a dog that is not social (but not afraid/aggressive) with people.  I find the dog has torn up furniture all over the house after busting out of his crate that day.  The people are worried that the dog is not actively social. I am worried about the destruction/separation distress.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Rescues/Humane Societies/Animal Rehome Facilities are Facing.

11 months ago, I found two dogs running loose in front of the house.  I was able to catch them and get two clinics to check for microchips.  Local animal control and rescues were notified, posts were made to the local newspaper/lost and found resource.  Within a month, one went to Golden Retriever rescue.  The other is -still- with me.

And the thing is, it's not like I have no connections. I train dogs and spend hours and hours with dog people every week. I have volunteered at a Humane Society for 5-6 years, at least once a week taking a 'shift' and caring for the animals, going to fundraisers and events, hauling animals to adoption events, helping with volunteer training and everything else.   I know lots of dog people in the area.  I know what you're supposed to do when you find a lost dog.   This is a normal dog too.  He can get upset confined in a crate, but is great in an expen type set up.   He walks well. He gets along with other dogs and kids.   He's had training and does tricks.  

One local rescue facility places a lot more dogs than where I volunteer (and they haven't had room for him!  I'm there every week and can see for myself.).  They've taken information in the past and it was a little upsetting the way they essentially told me he was unadoptable.   I went in today to beg and plead in person.  They looked back through months and months of calls...and found the records.  Why don't they want him?  He's black.    I get that black dogs are very unadoptable.  But it's not appropriate that dogs are sitting in rescue for so long.  And after hearing about other dogs sitting there for months and months...I know he would deteriorate in that environment.

I've been able to hold onto him for 11 months.  What if it was someone else? How many other dogs are in poor situations because of how hard it is?

I have more than a few students/clients in similar situations. Taking in a dog until it could be taken by the rescue. The rescue backs out or just "doesn't have room." The person gives the dog additional training to make him/her more adoptable. And it still doesn't go well. It's not that those people, or myself, don't love the dogs or want to help them...obviously that's why we dedicate so much time to the animal.  But it's not always a good match and we aren't in a position to really add another dog to the household.  

For us, four dogs means shorter walks for everyone, as I can only take two at a time (Luna isn't fond of Scottie, plus all four would more than outweigh me).  Training time is limited.  I can't take everyone to classes.  Difficult rotational schedules so that we don't have any altercations.  I can't do the normal training to get dogs to like each other as I don't have a helper to walk Luna (or Scottie) while I have the other. I can't take board and train dogs...just no more space, time, or energy.   And I have to limit my travel to the bare minimum. It's hard enough to get away with just my three.  But leaving potential fights isn't something I feel safe with.

After the seminar last weekend on behavioral health in a shelter.  It was a good reminder that we shouldn't just go with the way things are and we need to be sure we're working to improve the behavior health of the animals.    The facility I volunteer at is great, I know the people and the dogs and the volunteers. They trust me to let me do what I want in regards to working with the dogs.  But they're also, understandbly, overwhelmed. And in the rush to get by day to day, it's hard to think about enrichment, training, behavior health, preventative training, etc.   Other facilities in the area haven't been so into those ideas either.  I'm glad to not be meeting the resistance that others see....but the tolerance isn't enough to make changes happen. The management really do need to embrace the changes.

So what can I do?   Complaining can be fun and can make people feel better. But it doesn't resolve the issues.

  •  I do plan to keep volunteering where I am, and to continue to offer help to others.  It is very good for me to get training practice in with so many dogs every week.  Handling the animals and knowing how a kennel situation operates are important skills for me to have when interacting with others who work or manage a similar environment. It's a different set of challenges than dogs in a pet environment.
  • I could find other group/s where my skills can be better utilized. I'm hesitant as in the past some groups have wanted to abuse this offer (" Please take this dog to house train him, then we'll place him!  No, we don't want our foster term to learn how to house train a dog....why would a foster home need to know THAT skill!").
  • I could be a little more....forceful with my interest in more enrichment, education, training, behavior changes etc.  My polite notes and reminders and casual offers might not be enough to get changes. But if others aren't ready, it's not good for the perception of the humans if this would be a battle.  It needs to be a team effort.
  • I could work on more side-projects to get better understanding of behavior health, enrichment, problem prevention, etc...     I have a list of ideas for these projects, most are manageable on my own or with a small amount of help. I could do these through my business.
  • I could start another rescue group to focus on education and prevention.  I think I could make it work through potential grants, contacts, community involvement... but there's no way to say for sure.  And as I don't know where I'll be in five years (literally and figuratively), I don't know that I would want to make this commitment. In some ways this is the easiest option....not a problem to do things my way.  In other ways, it would be the most work by far.  

Other ideas? Solutions that work in your area?

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I'm probably too careful to not use any human-type words or traits and I know it's annoyed more than a few people who spend a lot of time with me.

One I hear most is about "stubborn" dogs.
Lots of students tell me about how their dogs are stubborn.   Many times, it's used to justify the use of punishment.   With some people I help them by joking our way through the situation. 

"My dog is so stubborn! She won't walk with me!"    Me: "Does she enjoy staring at squirrels?  How much fun has she had chasing/staring at squirrels?  How much fun has she had for walking nicely?  Remember....we've only been working one week.  If you were a dog and given a choice, what would you probably do?  Would that make you, she's just doing what is more fun."

The other part....stubborn seems to imply that the dog is making a choice to specifically annoy the humans, or at the very least, the dog is intentionally resisting the training process. This means the dog has to understand right-wrong.  The dog knows what will "annoy" the person. The dog is intentionally avoiding the reinforcers/"taking" the punishment to further annoy the person.  That's a really complex situation.....

So what's going on?   I try to get the dog's family to look at what is going on. 
  •  We may be reinforcing the wrong behavior (Incorrectly done "Look at That")
  • We may not have strong enough reinforcement history for the situation (above example of dog and squirrels).
  • The dog may just not understand the behavior.
  • The interaction may be punishing to the despite reinforcement being offered, the way the reinforcer is delivered or something about the environment is making the dog really want to do something else (Think, a scared dog and the teeter). 
In this situation, Griffin will often refuse food. Even raw hamburger.
He is too excited about the environment to be interested in food.
He is not making a choice to leave the food. He is not intentionally try
to get out of training.
What tends to help the most, is getting the people to develop some empathy for the dog and understanding of his situations. The most damaging part of some labels, like "stubborn" is that it puts the people against the dog and it's too easy for the humans to take the situation personally.  Once we're able to step back and in Karen Pryor's words, see it as "just behavior," the training and interactions go better.  Teamwork rather than putting the dog an person against each other.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Asking Questions

In my classes, I ask a lot of questions.  When I have problems, it's often because I didn't ask enough questions or I didn't ask the right questions.

Example:  Family presents the problem of the dog (adult, young Labrador Retriever) approaching family members and growling.**  
Question:  When does this happen?
Response:  When we are sitting on the couch.
Question: What is your dog doing during the growling?
Response: He has a toy. He comes over and growls.
Question: What do you do?
Response:   We put the leash and walk him around and make him sit.  We put him in his crate sometimes. Sometimes we ignore him.
Question: What is he doing right before the growling and right after?
Response:  Before, he gets a toy, comes over, hits us with the toy and growls. After the growling, he puts his front end on the ground and is wiggly.

We suspected it was about inappropriate ways to get attention. The initial training steps have been teaching the dog to stay/relax, to focus on the handlers, to get his attention needs met before the family settles for the evening, and to teach him better ways to get attention.

The questions I most ask:
Do you want to change that behavior?  Is it important to you to stop/change the behavior?  Sometimes the family does not. Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they think they do, but don't want to put in the work (which is understandable!).
Do you think he enjoys/likes  XYZ?  
What are your goals?  
Has the behavior changed (better, worse, the same) over time? How?
How would you use a stay/sit/down?   Sometimes people want behaviors for things that aren't as relevant for the problem.

And a few questions I've been asking more often:
What can I do to help you learn, what kinds of things make it easier for you to understand?   (Sending home books/written notes for some students, demos for others, letting them watch me, or directing to a video)
Is XYZ an option?   Rather than say to do XYZ..... (put the dog in his crate, keep him on leash in the house, etc.... I ask about compliance before sending them home.  If they won't do it....we need to find another way.)
How do you know XYZ?

Some of the questions I ask are to see what the students understand.
1) I see a dog pulling on leash.    "Is he pulling on the leash?"   "No!"   I learned that the student has a different understanding of pulling or is not able to perceive the added pressure from the dog.
2) I hear that the training didn't go well in the week.  "What exercises did you try?"   And then the student responds with things that are completely NOT what I said...but I can see how they had misunderstood.  I go over things again and then write down the key points or have the student write it down.
Happy 2nd Birthday to this dog who was a board
and train as a puppy. He's training to be a Search
and Rescue dog and I really miss him!
3)  "What are his distractions/challenges?" "Can you write down his training plan?"   And I get some interesting lists.  There are things I would have added, there are things I didn't know about, and there are some parts I disagree with.   Maybe I'm wrong or maybe the student perception is different.

**A few details changed for privacy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Seminar: Behavior in a Shelter Environment

The morning was about stress and then behavior assessments.  The afternoon was on learning theory, resource guarding, and training with specific types of problems.   Attendees were from surrounding states and a lot of local people.  It was great to see so many students/friends/people I know (a 4-H camper parent came!).  It's -so- different than even 3+ years ago when I went to events and knew absolutely no one there.

What I got out of this:
1) It's really, really hard to keep a low-stress kennel environment, as well as to maintain behavior/prevent behavior decline over time.
2) It's important to have management support (not just tolerance) to have a good program.
3) Some types of behavior assessments are better than others.  Often, something is better than nothing. If potential problem areas are known, more assessment can be done and-or treatment/training can happen.
4) Many problem areas can be addressed, even in the shelter environment.  But someone has to have the knowledge and make that effort.
5) We need to be realistic about how much stress the animals are facing in a shelter environment and do the best we can to help the animals.
6) Train and utilize volunteers.
7) Facilities who have the luxury of not taking in all animals should think twice about which animals to take in. There are only so many resources.   What is the quality of life for long-term residents (....depends on the dog personality, some thrive, some don't).
8) Some problems/challenges are more easily addressed than others.  But only if you have someone to actually do the the work.

The seminar is prompting me to make changes to how I spend my volunteer hours and what I'm doing.  I have  management tolerance for the behavior/enrichment things during my shift, but that's only 1/14 of the shifts out of the week.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dog-dog problems in the same family.

Theme of the week!

1) Separate everyone. 2 barriers (doors, crates, gates, leashes, fences) between the trouble makers at all times.  We want a week or two of no incidents.   This is to help the dogs calm down, but more so to give the humans a break. The humans need to start returning to the feelings of safe and calm in their own household.
2) Make a list of all the problem areas.  Things that triggered fights, disagreements, growls, barks, freezes, stiffness, or stress.   We can look for patterns.
3) If appropriate right now, off property walks for the trouble makers, 1 dog per human.  If there is only one person in the household, this sometimes needs to be modified.  If your dog is not good at walking....they aren't ready for this.  If your dogs will still be upset on opposite sides of the street, not ready.  Dogs should be far enough apart to feel safe and happy.
4) Have a plan.  If the dogs were to get into a fight, we want to know the safest way to respond.   We do not want people or dogs getting hurt.   If we have to use this plan, and especially if it has to be used more than once, we HAVE to find out how "Separate everyone" is not working and how we can resolve that issue.  

And, schedule an appointment with an appropriate professional.  We want to be sure we address all the issues at hand.  Sometimes one of the dogs has had a history of resource guarding with people as well.  Or is a generally shy dog.   Or is physically uncomfortable.  All things that increase stress and can contribute to problems.

Note: This is play.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Drop on Recall Part V

Apparently I've already written about  Drop on Recall. More than once.  More than twice.

  • I looked at the parts of the exercise
  • A year ago, I tried a lot of different techniques for the behavior (mats, food placement, tethering). Interestingly, at that time, food/toy behind Griffin was not successful.   I don't remember what happened and the descriptions in that post are not specific enough to give me feedback.  The post led to the video below, where I looked at how a dog will Down....playing the video very slowly.   Per the advice of many people, the type of Down supposedly doesn't matter as long as it's fast.
  • And then I did another technique, dropping my dog just after calling and adding a new cue.  I don't really remember doing this. I also don't remember who the "instructor" was.   That's what I get for trying to keep everyone anonymous....
  • Lastly, the most-simple tips I could give a 4H parent on teaching this exercise. 

Onto the new parts!

Griffin has been learning a (slow and painful) front-feet-still down to use for our signal exercise.  It's incredibly slow going. He's still not offering it reliably.  But he is offering it more frequently. We have, essentially, no distance.  However, in the week we've worked on this behavior, the morphology of his DropOnRecall has changed dramatically.  

Look at the weight shift back! Much fewer forward motion steps to slow down! It's fascinating.   I wish I could find a before-video to compare with this.  This video was from Sunday or Monday night.   And yesterday he was even better!  Running faster, only stopping if I cued, only slowing when I asked for a stop. 

During training group, we would do parts of the exercise. I would release Griffin to a toy at different parts. Sometimes I would feed him in position (at the stay or at the drop or at the front or at return to heel).  We only did the whole thing through once.  Sometimes I would turn at the last second and he'd run off to get a treat/toy I would throw.  My favorite part was that he would respond to his "back" cue (turn 180* and go get a toy).  The toy was not placed ahead of time, it was thrown after I sent him back. He didn't question me, and just ran back towards the start area.  

Behavior chains are wonderful!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Griffin: Agility Class Week 6

We did a pretty good job with the skills in class, but not with putting them together.

The last few weeks have been extremely variable. Sometimes really fast, sometimes not.  Sometimes really attentive, and last week he couldn't even do one obstacle.  Some weeks he's taking all sorts of obstacles whether asked or not, and sometimes he's so focused on me that he won't take something 2' away.  I never quite know what we'll get.

We're probably going to skip class for Jan/Feb and do some more fixing.  

  • Griffin can now weave, even in sequences. We've done some proofing exercises.... but I'm not as confident as Griffin yet.    
  • Dogwalk needs trained and repaired. 
  •  A greater reinforcement history for sticking with me.
  • Consistent speed.
  • Longer sequences.   
  • Teeter end behavior repair.
  • Chute repair: (straight path out)
  • Jumping repair....
  • Aframe proofing.
The part that's hardest will be the long sequences.  We're pretty good with --any-- handling challenge, in a small enough piece.  But the more that's added before or after, the more I struggle to get where I need to be. I end up slowing him down or just not directing him well.  

Things that are really great: 
  • He is fairly calm while the other dogs work (even noisy dogs)
  • We can do the various handling activities.
  • He tugs.   
  • Consistently enthusiastic (...this hasn't really ever been a problem.... but some of our classmates do struggle with this!).
  • He's not afraid/avoiding obstacles.
For the next 2.5 months: More repair work and training and hopefully when we return, things will go better.  It's pretty funny that he was entered in a trial a year ago (and we pulled before going).  A year later and we're still not quite ready despite not having any serious problem areas.  Being in a weekly class definitely has helped us and from here, it's probably just working on the skills.   

We've moved some of our equipment to one of the pastures (Only well-fenced on the road sides) so we have more space than in the fenced yard.  There's been so much rain this week, we've only made it out one day this week.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Details: Getting a Down

The online class we're in is very detail-oriented. I like it, but it's also challenging. I'm having to re-look at what criteria I've set previously and some of if it is just not good enough.

Griffin will down in place without moving his body forward (his shoulders remain in place), but his feet sneak out front. This is good for some situations (probably a moving down, DOR).  But not so great for the signals exercise. As I've noticed, if I'm not careful, it turns into a bit of creeping.

So we're working on learning a Down where the front paws stay in place. It seems easy enough, and would have been if this is what we started with three years ago....  the repair work is slow.   I click at some of the wrong times, and miss other opportunities, but overall, he is giving me more of the behavior.  Another modification is to feed lower, for longer.

But the next sessions, I modified and it's continuing to get better.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Heeling is Hard.

His position is typically great and he is very happy about heeling. Things we're working on:

- Being called into the ring. Reinforcing Griffin for staying on the ground when the judge is talking.
- Using different 'judges'.
- Duration. Hahaha.
- Judge calling a pattern. Sometimes following the directions, sometimes not.
- Alternating between releases to a bowl with treats, release to a toy, and a freeze in place, reinforce in place.
- Distractions
- Feet on the floor, especially on the step off (no leaping!).
- Distractions.
- Susan-Garrett-Crate-Games-Structure

And of course, good training and only doing one part at a time. He's adorable and the heeling is continuing to get better. We especially have improvements in new environments.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Retractable Leashes?

There's a lot of hatred for retractable leashes....  and there are a lot of people who love them.  And then the people who hate them, but then add they're okay or great for some types of training and situations.

When Blaze went to training class as a 6 month old dog, we were told about the evils of retractable leashes.  "They are the most frequently returned item to [large pet store]."  "They break, and then your dog is free!"  "You do not have a good grip on the leash!"  "It trains your dog to pull!". "You could get rope burn or your dog could get rope burn, or you could CUT OFF A FINGER!"

And so, I too joined in the dislike for the retractable leashes.   Last year I ended up with few as part of a product-testing situation.   One was for small dogs and I gave it away.  Another broke (It locked up on super-short), and the third is still occasionally used when I have a leash shortage.

There definitely are disadvantages.

The webbing could break or the spring that creates the retracting could break.   But regular leashes could break too.  I've had multiple leashes break on me. I've seen leashes break for other people.

Rope burn and tangling can happen, but it also can happen with regular leashes and longlines. I know from experience!   Fingers could get hurt from being caught in the webbing (I've never heard of this happening, but I'm sure it has.)

Fingers can also get caught in the plastic case....    I had a student who experienced this.  Her large breed dog circled behind her, and instead of rotating in place, she raised her hand holding the retractable leash up and over her head. The dog lunged away when behind her back and it pulled on her just right that she had serious fractures/broken bones/something resulting in many surgeries.     With a regular leash....she probably would have been hurt too, but maybe not as bad or maybe she would have broken her whole arm when pulled over backwards.    I know someone who had a finger get fractured when it was caught in a regular leash and her dog lunged.

A dog does have to put tension on a retractable leash to get more leash out.  This can, theoretically, be teaching dogs to do more pulling.  At the same time..... many people choosing to use this tool probably aren't all that concerned about polite walking or they wouldn't need or want their dog 10' away.   So while this point is valid.... I don't know that it's convincing.

Are they a commonly returned item? Maybe they were at that point 10 years ago.   A few years ago I worked in a pet store and never once had one returned while I was there.... I wasn't there long, but....0 returns in a few month time frame?  Not a frequently returned item.

"How about NO leashes"- Griffin
"Irresponsible owners letting their dogs wander!"   There's a reason I keep my (relatively friendly) dogs away from others when we're in public. We stay far enough away that it's not an issue, regardless of the type of leash.  This might not work in all communities, but we've been successful for 10 years.   I have seen just as many attempts of moving closer with regular leashes as again, it's a bit unfair to put these characteristics to just those who use retractable leashes.....

Probably the most valid point is that there isn't much communication to the dog from the handler.   Screeching stops and pulling the dog back so that the handler can then retract the leash a little more.....    So what's the alternative?  Training people to use a long line.  How often are people interested in this?  How many people would come to a class or session on using a longline?  The people who are most comfortable with the retractable leads are the ones I feel it would be completely unsafe to use a longline ( slower response times, older owners, poor mobility...)

The point?  It's fine to dislike retractable leashes....but there may not be as much validity to the dislike as it is just opinion and part of some-dog-people-culture.

I think I only have made the recommendation once in the last five owner with poor mobility and  a small dog that got tangled in the leash.  Walking in her own yard, not out in public.   The elasticy leashes were too long and the dog still could get tangled.

Can I or will I bring myself to recommend retractable leashes? Not by any means on a regular basis. But I also can't bring myself to talk poorly about them without strong evidence of their evils.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book 17: Dog Games by Christiane Blenski

I'm really far behind on my notes of dog books for this year!

This book deserves a special mention.  There are a million dog trick and dog game books right now. And the books are all very repetitive. Basic.  Similar.   I found this one at the library, but I'm going to have to get a copy for myself!

Dog Games by Christiane Blenski has some of the usual dog tricks and activities, but also some that I hadn't ever heard of or thought of before!   Much of the content was new as well as things that are realistic and manageable.

My major complaint of tricks books is that the steps outlined aren't as easy as the book makes it seem.  Sure, some dogs might do okay with the lumping and types of prompts...but I don't think most dogs would.  There are a few places in this book with this type of activity, but much of it is things that I can picture my students being able to do after reading the book.

The pictures and formatting are just fabulous. The dogs are happy and engaged and there are pictures of almost everything, not just the easier tricks.   There are a lot of pictures with kids too!

There are chapters on less active games, more active games, outdoor things, activities with kids, and more.  The grouping seemed a little odd at times, but there definitely is a lot of variety, and again, truely unique things.

One of the ones that I really loved was for an adult to hide a few big treats in a room of the house.   Then the lights are turned off (play at night) and send the dog in to find the treats with his nose, and  a kid (or adult!) in to find the treats with a flashlight.   I can picture this as a great activity for dogs and kids who won't have trouble with resource guarding/rushing to grab the treat at the same time.   And if the dog might take the treats too hard....  there could be treats for the dog and some other marker for the kid.  Occupy everyone, good interactions, structured activities.

I've made notes to use some of the activities in class and to play with my dogs.

My only complaints:  Again, lumping on some activities.   And not so great editing.    But the book is worth it! I wish -this- was the trick book available in stores here!

(( The publisher is having a 40% off sale right now, and if Google is truthful, shipping is only about $5! Some of the other books look great too!))

Shy Dog Class Review

We finished up our first 6 week "Shy Dog Class" this week.

The class consisted of confidence building activities around people, noises, and the environment. The handlers learned about body language, making choices, and getting the balance between awareness of environment and focus on the handler.

Things that went really well:  
      The activities in the "noise and movement" chapter of Agility Right From the Start.  I'll say this is the only thing that had complete success for all the dogs.  We modified it slightly from the book due to the skill level of the students in the class, but again, it was a huge success.
     Object Interaction: Even with less than ideal training (my fault), the dogs all were interacting with at least some of the things to go on and over.

Things that will be changed:  
       Kay Laurences Cavaletti DVD makes it seem like caveletti are the answer to all the worlds problems. And it could be!  But with this group of shy dogs it took so many weeks to get them just  to step over happily that not all the dogs were able to progress to trotting over lie we had expected.  Will we keep this exercise?  Yes, with some modifications.
      Choices:  We wanted the handlers to learn to work at that "point of success" where there was challenge but the dog was not concerned about the person/whatever.   It was harder to get the handlers to take initiative and make choices and to differentiate when to be guiding the dog (body language, voice, and if needed, the leash) and when to be letting the dog explore.  Next time around, we'll do more foundation exercises for those skills.
My shy dog looking very nervous!
     Good Training Practices:  Even with a good demonstration, the handlers focused on a different part than intended.  Next time around, we'll do more handouts and a video demonstration rather than a real-dog demonstration.
     All of the dogs can repeat the class again.  Two were recommended to stay in the class and the others had additional options (some moving into regular classes, focus and distraction, or on leash agility).  

I wanted to see more progress at class, but all of the dogs made big accomplishments at home during this time frame, and that's really the most important part.

The class will next run in January. I'm looking forward to the next group of dogs.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Approaching and Turning Away

This is one of my current favorite exercises for pet classes, reactive dogs, shy dogs, excitable dogs!  We have a few variations:

- 2 teams walk towards each other, turning away while at a success point.
-  1 team walking towards a person approaching, both turning away at a success point.
- A team walking towards a stationary dog and handler, both turning away at a success point.
- A team walking towards a stationary person, both turning away.

This is really nice for teaching people to judge how much their dogs can handle.  We play it very safe with the reactive dogs. With the shy dogs, slight avoidance signals us to turn away on the next repetition.  For the excitable dogs, any jumping forward signals us to turn sooner on the next repetition.  The dogs give the handlers feedback about the choice of the turn around point.  

This "success point" changes over time and the many repetitions start to get the handlers to be very aware about how they are working their dogs.   A dog jumping up is no longer "Making mistakes," "having a bad day, " "Being awful!"   The dog is saying "you were too close."    Even though I have verbally discussed this in class, it wasn't enough. Now, students are making much better choices. It's black and white for them.   Turning dog = slightly closer next time.   Jumping/moving away = more distance next repetition.
In a class last night, we were doing an exercise where two teams walked toward each other, then away.  One handler was clicking as the dog was looking ahead but walking nicely. The dog is slightly reactive but also has a lot of dog friends and likes playing with those dogs.   It is good he can remain next to the handler while walking forward.  But by reinforcing looking at the other dogs, we were increasing their relevance in the environment. * We clicked for turning away (the goal of the exercise to begin with).  Soon the dog was glancing at the other dogs but not doing the stare he previously was trying.

Another component is the type of turn.   A U turn to block the dog gives the advantage of a visual and physcial block between the dog and whatever else, but also allows the dog more leash to move TO the thing (not good for excitable or reactive dogs).  An about turn, with the dog on the outside, limits the leash but leaves the dog "stranded" between the handler and the "whatever else" for a moment. The dog could make a good choice....or a not so good choice.    The other option, is a front-cross turn, both handler and dog rotating to each other, then walking away with the dog on the opposite side from where he started.   This limits the leash, this refocuses the dog on the handler, the handler is watching the dog the whole time, and most people can turn fastest this way (once they understand it!).

We talked about all the options last night and then tried the variations.   My favorite is still the front cross turn.

* Yes, I'm aware of look-at-that type exercises.  We would probably introduce that with neutral things, then moving parallel to things, then right towards the distractions.  The timing would be different than what was being used in this exercise (Duration of nice walking forward to the other dog).