Sunday, August 23, 2015

Focus/Engagement And The Unaltered Dog

Copied from a post I wrote in the Engagement class at FDSA:

Are you sure Suprelorin is available in the US? I was looking into this stuff earlier this year and thought that the only chemical option for us is Zeuterin, which is permanent. The upside of Zeuterin is that it only reduces testosterone by about half, so you hopefully see some behavioral benefits without removing all of the health benefits of testosterone. However I decided not to do it as the technique hasn't  been around long enough to know about long term health effects.

This topic is one I wrestled with for a couple of years. I feel that it's overall healthier to leave dogs intact (particularly males), however Cai has been intensely focused on dogs since he hit adolescence at 4 months on the dot. He became leash reactive *literally* overnight. His reactivity is almost entirely due to frustration at not being to run over and greet other dogs. There's also a small proportion of it that is alert behavior, that appears when he's off leash and a dog appears unexpectedly, but that seems to be a carry-over from practicing the frustrated reactivity so much.

Cai is also obnoxious around females, both spayed and intact. He obsessively sticks his nose right into their privates and needs strong corrections to be dissuaded. If the girl doesn't correct him, he follows her around non-stop. He's not often off-leash around females except when briefly passing on hikes, so I've just managed him with a leash when the situation's come up in the past.

I polled multiple trainer friends on this topic at ClickerExpo this past January, and they mostly agreed that neutering would *probably* help, but maybe not because he was 3 years old at that point and had had lots of practice at these unwanted behaviors.

A couple of months back I got a chance to meet up with Dr Amy Cook, and she provided helpful insight. She noticed that his reactivity included a lot of posturing, and I said that he also marks after every single reactive incident. Her analysis was that decreasing his testosterone would likely improve his intense interest in other dogs. That was what finally convinced me to neuter him, and he had the surgery two weeks ago. I will certainly provide updates as I see any change in his behavior. (I'm currently on vacation and will be picking him up on Tuesday. In the meantime he's gone from being a dog who will sometimes turn up his nose at his usual high-value treats even when we're at home, to devouring everything he can get his little teeth on. If the neuter changes nothing else, at least I'll have a dog who is easier to train on the food motivation front.)

But there's one more thing at play in this decision: trainer ego. When he was younger, neutering him seemed like taking the easy way out. I wanted to be a "good enough" trainer that I could work through the issue. I've certainly improved as a trainer thanks to him (and thanks to the training methods at FDSA, which think outside the box), but after 3.5 years (and an anxiety attack in front of everyone at Ferretpalooza), he's worn me down.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


The first 48 hours after Cai's neuter were rough. He spent lots of time just lying in his crate whining and crying, and refused water - I had to squirt it into his mouth with a syringe. When he finally peed, it was on my bed. When he finally pooped, it turned into almost 12 hours of diarrhea (and I couldn't wash his butt fluff properly due to the stitches).

After that, though, things improved immensely. On Monday Cai was no longer whining, would wag his tail happily when I greeted him, drank occasionally when I brought him a bowl of fresh water, and ate all of breakfast and dinner -- and has continued eating every meal since. (It's actually unusual for his appetite to stay strong for 4 days in a row, so I'm quite pleased.) He's still sleeping a lot, but also spent time chewing on a bully stick and sitting on my lap.

His stitches look fine and will come out on Saturday morning - just in time for the hand off to Sherry on Sunday, since I'll be in Hawaii next week. Good luck, Sherry!

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Chimera was neutered yesterday (and had a dental cleaning while he was under). The surgery went smoothly and his incision and stitches are looking fine today. He has barely stopped complaining, though. He's spent the past 24 hours mostly lying in his crate and whining until he exhausts himself and falls asleep. He hasn't peed or drunk any water. After checking in with the vet this afternoon, I got the okay to increase his dose of pain medication. Let's hope he feels better soon.

Papillon playdate

Chimera made a new friend this week: a young female Papillon named Eevee.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Back to work!

With the combination of attending Ferretpalooza and Chimera being "flat" on our last attempt at a Rally-FrEe leg, I am recommitted to improving our focus and engagement. I decided to take an FDSA class at Gold level this coming session. I met up with Dr Amy Cook a few days ago to get an assessment and help picking which class - we settled on Denise Fenzi's Engagement class, with the extra homework of revisiting Heeling Games (which I signed up for at Bronze long ago but didn't really work through) as well as finally doubling down and counter-conditioning Cai's reactive response to the sound of dog tags.

We've been working hard since the Tuesday meeting with Amy. On Wednesday Cai stayed at home, but we did many more play sessions than usual. I'm experimenting with how I play with him and trying to improve our personal play. I'm also continuing to build his willingness to bring a tug toy back to me after "winning," which we got help on from Shade Whitesel at Ferretpalooza.

On Thursday I took Cai with me to two consults, and after each one we hung out by the car for 15 minutes. I let Cai look around and sniff within the boundary of the six foot leash, and then did as much personal play, tug, treats, and tricks as he would happily do. The goal was not to get nice work, but to build his willingness to engage in a new environment. Let's have fun together!

This morning I took Cai to the front yard just to play tug in a place where we don't usually do work. There were workers walking around the neighbor's house, but Cai played anyway.

Later I met up with a Rally-FrEe student so that we could introduce our dogs to each other, and be able to train together in the future. We started far away and walked around, slowly getting closer to the other dog, an Aussie named Heidi. Cai gave a bark or two during the first few passes. As we got closer and he had more opportunities to see her and catch her scent, he calmed down. His body language switched from stiff and alert to loose and with a softly wagging tail. At that point he didn't actually care about meeting her; we continued to walk around and sniff. Finally the dogs did meet. Heidi was a little too big and fast for Cai to feel comfortable playing with her. However they were totally comfortable being next to each other and working for their owners. Again we did little sessions of play and tricks, with a bit of heeling thrown in. It felt good!

Now I just need to keep up the momentum!!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Brotherly love

Chimera licks Jasper's ear...

Then puts his head down and Jasper licks the top of his head.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Advanced training props

With the introduction of wooden scent articles to AKC Obedience, I went ahead and bought a set of small wooden spoons.
I also bought a set of little panda figurines to learn the advanced concept of counting items, as presented by Ken Ramirez at Clicker Expo.
Finally, I scavenged around the house and found 15 pairs of small items to learn "match to sample," also as presented by Ken Ramirez.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Second TDAA trial and TBAD title!

At our first agility trial, Cai was too overstimulated to eat or play until the end of the day. On Sunday, he played tug and ate chicken within an hour of getting out of the car! We were at the same place in Vacaville, with Pint Size Agility.

I alternated our free time between walking around and letting Cai acclimate and rest time in his crate, with just a handful of tricks thrown in. I wanted to make sure that he was still comfortable enough to eat, but didn't want to work his brain too hard. He was primed and ready at the start of our first run.

AM Beginner run, regular speed:

AM Beginner run, slow motion:

We did perfectly until the very end, where I was too far behind and Cai turned toward me instead of going straight ahead, and went around the last jump. I knew that that was a weakness for us but he was just too fast for me! We still qualified since I got him back and going over the jump the right away.

This was our third Q in Beginner, so Cai is officially a BAD dog! TBAD, that is: Teacup Beginner Agility Dog.

We moved up to the Intermediate class for the "PM" run (although the trial was so small and started so early, that the "PM" runs started at 9 am). The Intermediate class includes 6 weave poles. I warmed up Cai on a set of weave poles outside the ring. He was getting hot and tired, but I knew that if I didn't, he would run right past the poles in the ring.

PM Intermediate run, regular speed:

PM Intermediate run, slow motion:

This run did not go well. Cai knocked the bar on the third jump. He rarely does that, so I think he just didn't estimate the distances between jumps properly and took off too late. He did the weave poles beautifully. After the next jump, he ran off toward the chute instead of following me to the a-frame. Not sure why; something caught his attention? I got him back and he went up the a-frame a bit slowly. He didn't lie down after the contact and got stressed by my front cross. He may have interpreted it as a correction, or he was just plain confused. He started stress-sniffing. (The front cross would have been fine if he'd promptly laid down after the contact.) I got him back and we finished the last few obstacles. Whew!

Things to work on: proofing the post-contact down, proofing the weave poles, and improving his comfort level with the teeter (he did these teeters fine but was stopping earlier than I like). We're going to do more matches before returning to classes later this year. Due to budget and time constraints, I have to choose between classes and entering matches or trials.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Focus work at park, Home Depot

After Ferretpalooza (which I still need to write about), I've recommitted to taking Chimera to a variety of places to work on focus around distractions. Last week I took him to a quiet park. I picked a shady spot and we hung out. Cai spent twenty minutes mostly scanning the environment. If he looked at me, I praised him and gave some petting. Finally he was looking at me more often and seemed to want something to do. I offered him some chicken, which at first he sniffed but ignored, but eventually ate. Once he ate the pieces of chicken lying on the ground, he would eat from my hand, and then he was able to focus pretty well (about 90%) for 4-5 minutes of work. I should have stopped after just 1, maybe 2 minutes. Greedy trainer! Instead he petered out and had to go back to acclimating. I waited another 15 minutes, but he wasn't ready to work again, and it was time to go home.

I realized that outdoor spaces are still too overstimulation for him. We need to get more success in busy indoor spaces. Yesterday I took Cai on a shopping trip to Home Depot. He walked with me all around the store as I picked up homesteading supplies. Then I packed my goods into the car, picked up my treats, and went back in for training.

I picked a quiet aisle and let him look around, and gave brief praise and petting when he looked at me. I think it was about 10 minutes in that he started to look bored of just watching and wanted to do something more interesting. I tried out asking him to do a few tricks just for attention and petting, which is medium value compared to treats, but he often accepts it as a reward (and it successfully increases behaviors) even when he's too overstimulated to eat. I did see an brief increase in focus and willingness to perform a sequence of behaviors. However it was not a pretty, enthusiastic performance. Then I pulled out the chicken, and he lit up and wanted to work.

We did one trick per reward at first, then combined them into sequences of up to 4 tricks, but none of them required sustained focus beyond heeling 2-3 steps. The rapid cues served to bridge better than doing one trick for a longer duration (such as a long stay or heeling farther).

We moved out of the quiet aisle and toward a corner at the front of the store. There was a moderate number of other shoppers. We did more short sequences of multiple tricks. Cai did better than I'd expected! He barely lost focus as people walked by.

I'm feeling proud - and even better, like I finally have a clear way of progressing toward my goal: a dog who will be able to focus in any environment, whether a trial or a busy public market.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

First agility trial, with TDAA!

Back on May 17th, Chimera made his agility trial debut! This was at the Pint Size Agility TDAA trial in Vacaville. I chose this teacup trial to be our first since I knew that it would be quite small and laid back. Cai was super excited to see all the other small dogs, of course. However, when we went over to some practice equipment, far away from the crating area, he was happy to pay attention and warm up to me.

I felt quite confident before our two standard runs. I drew out our paths on the course map, then closed my eyes and visualized what I would be seeing and doing at every point on the course. I still ended up with one bobble, but otherwise our runs were fast, clean, and smooth! Chimera and I qualified both times.

Here the first run in real time:

The bobble is when I forgot to front cross after the table and almost ran into in Cai. He responds by getting stressed and moving off to sniff the grass. Fortunately he came back with just a little cajoling.

First run in slow motion:

The slow motion shows that as Cai does the jump right before the rear cross (about 4:30), I started to lean into him in anticipation of the cross, and he actually switches leads to land in preparation for going to the left. Good boy! Bad handler, giving confusing body language! He seems to have a preference for being on the right lead?

Second run in real time:

Cai was noticeably slower on this run. He was getting tired from all the excitement of the show. However we ran completely clean!

Second run in slow motion:

Again, I'm seeing slight preference for the right lead. Good to know.