Thursday, March 20, 2014

Crissy Field, pet store, plant nursery

Happy spring equinox, everyone! I devoted the day to my dog and my garden in celebration.

My friend Miki and I took our dogs to Crissy Field this morning. I'd never been. The beach had a number of dog walkers, regular dog owners, and parents with little kids. I initially had Chimera on a long line, but I took a deep breath and let him loose.

He did way better than I expected! He still would run off farther than I'd like to greet new dogs, and I still can't call him away mid-greeting. (And if he ends up in a dog walker's pack, he has to greet every. single. dog. before he will return to me.) BUT if I called him after the initial greeting, he would run happily to me for a piece of fresh chicken. When there were little stretches of beach without dogs nearby, he would even heel next to me and do tricks! Now that really put a smile on my face - my dog choosing to play with me instead of running off to explore.

We drove back to Miki's and said hello to her family, and Cai greeted one of her cats without barking. Then we stopped by the pet store to get a new tag for his collar, as the old one was covered in so many teethmarks that it was hard to read. While the tag was printing, we practiced short distances of heeling with the goal of 100% focus. Then we practiced something new - heeling right up to something (like a shelf of products) and doing an about turn (again with 100% focus). After a few false starts and the help of the pocket hand, Cai got it. Finally I asked one of the male employees to stand still and let us heel around him, like an obedience post. Cai suprised me - he was perfect on this! He did not try to sniff the man's pant legs or even glance at him, even when we did the left turn. So I upped the ante and had the man hold a treat two feet above Cai's head while he sat, and then while we heeled. Cai glanced at it but then refocused on me. I was impressed by my little monster! I really need to up the ante with his training. He's ready for it!

We had one more stop one our way home, which was a plant nursery. I took Cai inside with me. He walked nicely beside the cart and didn't try to pee on any of the merchandise, but he did mark in two spots underneath outdoor tables. It was obvious where other dogs had marked before him - his nose would be glued to those areas.

I am so proud of my monster.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Running at the beach

He was SO excited. This was at the Albany Bulb.

Improved dog reactivity, and swimming

I am so happy to report that there has been a significant improvement in Chimera's dog reactivity since Clicker Expo. I'm guessing that it was a combination of tons of practice plus flooding that helped. Since then he's been better able to notice a dog without barking, and is quicker to calm down. That said, it only applies to the sight of the dog. He still reacts with the same intensity to hearing dogs barking or tags jangling.

I'm now more relaxed when we're walking and I'm enjoying our outings more. We've been going on leash walks in areas where I expect to see other people walking dogs.

Sandy Rogers told me that if you act like your dog is trained, he will behave like he is trained. If you act like your dog is untrained, he will behave that way. I needed to hear this - I needed to increase my expectations of Cai's various behaviors, including recall as well as various tricks.

Last Friday we went to an open house at The Rex Center in Pacifica. There were delicious cupcakes for the humans, and the dogs were welcome to try a free swim in their therapy/conditioning pool. I've always wanted a water dog and I've been encouraging Cai to play in water since he was a pup. He does like to play in shallow water, but he doesn't like swimming. Still, I couldn't resist sticking him in the pool. At the very least, it's good exercise and practice in case he ends up in deeper water than expected. He's a natural swimmer - he can even change direction easily. I cooed at him and took lots of pictures (coming soon) while he swam around with wide eyes and unhappy ears.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Teeter, and leash walking

We had a private lesson with Sandy Rogers this morning, continuing our work with the teeter. I hate the teeter! It's too difficult and scary! Cai likes it okay, but we want him to be great at it or the behavior will deteriorate over time.

Mostly we're holding the end of the teeter up with a jump bar wedged underneath, and encouraging him to race up it all the way to the edge. Occassionally we remove the bar. We want him running to the edge so quickly that he's already there before it really starts to tip.

Afterwards I drove all the way to Livermore to check in with some vets and pass out more handouts and business cards. While we were in downtown Livermore, I took Chimera for a walk. It took us an hour to walk up the street two blocks, cross the street and head one block back, then cross the street again and finish the last block on the original side. It was kind of painful.

I kept Cai on a short leash near my side (either side), so that I could give him almost immediate feedback. The feedback was: if you speed up, the leash will become tight and you will not be able to continue forward. If you were really rushing forward toward some smell or something on the ground, you have to do penalty yards. If you calmly, slowly, walk next to me, you get to sniff everything we pass.

He was terrible at it at for the first half, getting a little better during the third quarter, and then he pooped and was significantly better for the final quarter. It's always been the case that he lunges to sniff less once he's pooped. Silly monster.

First agility fun match

On Sunday Chimera attended his first agility fun match! I expected him to be distracted by smells on the new floor and the presence of strange dogs and people. My goal for the day was simply to work on focus in a new setting. To help Cai be less reactive, I dosed him with two drops of Rescue Remedy on a calming treat from Pet Naturals of Vermont.

First up, let me say that there was definitely an improvement in his reactivity thanks to the supplements. He was still dog reactive, but it his growling and barking were noticeably less intense, especially at the beginning. He got lots of treats every time we heard dog tags jingling or there was a dog near his crate. I will be using the same supplments in the future when we go to agility class, hiking, or on any other outings.

We had three runs, lasting 90 seconds each. The jumps were set at 12 inches and I had copious amounts of beef hot dogs on me.

During our first run, I kept him on his short leash and simply waited for him to turn toward me, and then I would mark and reward. He stopped looking around and was ready to work much more quickly than I had anticipated! So I started cuing just a few steps of heeling (either side) and rewarding that, then releasing him to look around if he wanted. At the end I dropped his leash and had him run through a tunnel, and then back in the other direction. As we left the ring, one of the instructors for classes at this training center commented, "I love it when I can tell what the handler is trying to do!"

For the second run, I started off just rewarding attention again, and quickly increased criteria to short bursts of heeling, coming to front, pivoting, a tunnel, or 1-2 jumps. Once he was in work mode, Cai only got distracted by a stray scent once or twice, and would quickly return to work when I called him.

For the third run, I asked him to do more work -- up to four jumps, mixed with tunnels and lying down on the table, plus a bit of heeling.

After the match was over and I was letting him potty, a different member of the hosting club came out to tell me that she was so happy to see me using a high rate of reinforcement and working on our focus foundation. That was great positive reinforcement for me!

I was so pleased with how well Cai did. It was a perfect setting for his first match, since it was indoors and there were only six or so dogs signed up for the afternoon session. (Apparently there were around twenty during the morning session.) Now my job is to continue to sign up for matches! And if there aren't any, take time to linger around the edges of trials and work on his ability to focus via obedience/freestyle/tricks.

Friday, February 14, 2014


It's true love when he's willing to roll over for his playmate.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Clicker Expo 2014: Sarah Owings: Wallflower Dogs

Susan Friedman's Unlabel Me campaign:
label dog as damanged -> feeling guilt, pity -> can't help as well
two was to create a wallflower dog:
1. accepting your dog's limitations
2. not accepting your dog's limitations - living in denial

understanding pressure:
too close for comfort
performance stress
fear of punishment (anything dog finds punishing - may be eye contact, looming, etc)

is your dog having a "wallflower moment"?
1. "low wattage" - taking treats, moving, but it's all low energy
2. avoids eye contact
3. feeling of being "blown off"
4. stress signals
5. split personality (ie indoors vs outdoors acts like a different dog)
6. gives up easily
7. refuses food
8. unnatural stillness

action plan for change:
health check
stress check (appropriate outings, not too many)
reality check (does your dog really want to do this?)
life enrichment (know what your dog wants - games indoors, dog friend?

where is your dog's bliss?
let yourself grieve for dog you don't have
"our biggest enemy is expectations" - Helix Fairweather

recognizing thrive:
relishes life
moves freely
asks to work and play
does naughty things like real dogs
eats with gusto
sleeps deeply
rare stress between housemates
"sparkly dog"

best practices:
safety before obedience (dog's sense of safety)
what is your dog's safe space? train there/start there
careful of poisoned cues - even poisoned treats - don't make it "look" like training - change entire context - low wattage is signal of this
strategic reinforcement - make the food really cool
1. food precisely to mouth to prevent any confusion at all
2. predictable movements and food placement on target
3. click and place food and walk away
4. toss treat away
5. jackpots
6. jackpots on cue
7. wrap food in a towel
8. food in glove/objects
9. face plant in bait bag

don't cheap out - expensive behaviors require high pay - fresh meat, lickables, forbidden things (like cat food)

capitalize on the high point of your dog's day - put emotions on cue, do high energy training when dog is feeling up

ritualize the training game:
make it predictable, consistent
very clear criteria
clear starting and ending points
GMAB from CU

wallflower threshold model, like bite threshold model - stacking triggers = dog shuts down

redefine "short" sessions - maybe even just 1 rep at a time

forget "quit while you're ahead"

trust -> empowerment -> movement
clicker training!

trust building games:
treat and retreat (give treat and leave, let dog eat; then treat, click when dog starts to eat; then click and leave)
treat treasure hunt
engage/disengage (like BAT), for approach-avoidant dog
there and back again (like BAT), cause use car as safe "home base"

empowerment games
eye-contact activate (capturing eye contact, GMAB)
beginning object interaction (may be better to use lots of novel objects to capture more interest; can use food under object to prompt/lure interaction
advanced object interaction - push it, paw it, move it, bang it (provides clear focal point for action; dog is in control of noise, movement, etc; intensity can be built up slowly; don't use 101 things to do with box - not enough structure/consistency)
body puzzlers

movement games (change body position)
targeting - hand target most frequently used
go to mat / get it!
shaped playfulness
captured excitement
jackpot rituals
"find your mat" game - seeking and movement

side effect warning - will act like a normal dog!

Clicker Expo 2014: Ken Ramirez: Who Nose? (scent detection overview)

I love Ken Ramirez. Everyone loves Ken Ramirez.

in 1997 Ken was brought in to provide an R+ perspective for SAR group, now consults with many SAR and law enforcement agencies
discovered many myths and a focus and reliance on less important aspects of task

types of scent detection: SAR (general and specific), tracking, explosives, drugs, agriculture detection/airports, arson detection, medical detection, wildlife detection (conservation and invasive species, including home pests), sport (hunting, obedience, nose work), and more!

basic training sequence:
train/determine alert or indication behavior
present the scent, cue alert behavior
short search for scent
dilute strength of scent
disguise scent
long search for scent
search for scent with distractions and obstacles

teaching scent detection
we don't teach it - dogs are already expects at this
we teach: what to find, where to find it, and how to react after finding it
easiest part to teach; only 10-20% of actual work

most complex part, 80-90% of work
proofing - distraction training - obstacle work
once alert on scent is well established, majority of time is spent preparing dogs for real world scenarios: adverse conditions/distractions/obstacles, lots of people in panic, other search dogs
train alert with great reliability first
set dog up for success in early stages so he succeeds and task remains enjoyable

alert of indicator behavior:
aggressive: paw at, dig
passive: sit and stare, down
report: bark, rope pull

the "all clear":
a behavior that indicates the absence of target scent in search area
not commonly used, but something Ken strongly advocates
virtually eliminates false alerts
allows animal to get R+ at completion of every requested search
teach indicator for "all clear" first
do short empty search (ie a few boxes), when dog passes them all, cue down (or other "all clear") and R+ (pair completion with new cue)
expand size of search area
alternate real hides/searches with clean area searches
same R+ for all clear as for alert

brownie analogy: if you train a dog to find chocolate using a browie, he may alert on sugar or flour or oil as well
container - inadvertently teaching dog to alert on plastic container, baggie, tape, etc - changing the container regularly
mixed scents - dog learns companion scent
inadvertently touching "clean" object with hands contaminated with scent

pressure to succeed creates anxiety for trainer, increases anxiety in dog
real world scent detection may be serious work, but dog should look at it as fun

false alerts
serious issue in many disciplines - more common with high pressure to succeed or more punishment in training
missed finds even more serious problem - missing the explosive or not finding the victim in time
teach "all clear" signal
can be caused by handler error - accidental cuing

ongoing training is necessary
mimic real world conditions - long drive, middle of the night practice, panic

common errors:
if food is used, has to be faded and actual scent used as fast as possible
use of corrections - almost all scent detection trainers use R+ after correct finds, but many traditional trainers insist on using correction to prevent reactions, punish mistakes, maintain "obedience" - causes shutting down and mistakes
forward chaining - shaping alert last - less reliable
using modeling - shaping alert by pushing butt down - less reliable, slower learning, dog refocuses on you instead of the scent
micromanagement - prompting (because trainer knows location); inadvertently teaching to alert for what we are doing and not what they are smelling; talking to the dog
not trusting the dog - once trained and reliable, never doubt your dog when showing normal alert behavior; causes accurate but unknown finds to not be R+
showing the find before R+ - need immediate R+

(Take that, K9 Nose Work.)

Clicker Expo 2014: Emma Parsons: Creativity as Therapy for the Reactive Dog

Emma Parsons is putting out a new book! It will be called something like "Leading the Journey from Reactivity to Reliability". I plan to buy it.

benefits for the reactive dog
dogs can experiment with their behavior without fear
dogs can learn how to deal with the frustration and confusion that comes with the learning process
dog feels more confident in trying new things
can strengthen themselves without being in the presence of the trigger but still reap the benefits

benefits for the reactive human
humans can experiment with the timing of the click and learn how to make training decisions quickly
learn to deal with the frustration and confusion that comes with the learning process

isolate a body part (unfreezing)
sit down while training
if you stand up, c/t your down movement; don't take it for granted that any dog will be comfortable with your movement
pretend your elbow is glued at your side, small motion toss/drop treat
don't think about the end product
pick a body part you have not worked with before

working spot: we moved to a spot away from other people and I tried to c/t Cai for moving his ears. You would think this would be easy since they are so huge, but I was tired and frazzled and he was confused so it didn't work very well. Afterwards Emma asked the teams how it went, and I commented that Cai had offered some other behaviors. She said that with a new dog, that's good info - see what the dog knows and where you can go.

shaping with an object (shape something never before attempted with the working dogs)
I picked up a giraffe-headed plastic bowling pin toy and started to click for any interaction, without having a goal in mind (as I would with a brand new dog who I wanted to "unfreeze"). Cai sniffed it, then knocked it over with his nose, then nose targeted it a few times, and then suprisingly switched entirely to targeting it with his paws. I think that touching things with his paws feels safer than touching with his nose. The times that I've tried to get him to nose target something that he was unsure about, it was hard to get rid of the pawing behavior he kept offering instead. With the giraffe pin, he ended up standing on it with his front feet, and attempting to balance on it with all four feet. This got lots of "awww!"s from the nearby audience.

My mentor was big on doing shaping games with reactive dogs, especially ones which increased body awareness. She also had the humans doing "urban agility" with their dogs during walks - hopping up and down off curbs, going up and down stairs one step at a time to increase awareness of individual movements, going in circles around trees or weaving between trees. I still like this approach, although I only bring it up with clients who aren't overwhelmed by the DS/CC, LAT, and BAT we primarily work on.

Clicker Expo 2014: Hannah Brannigan: Break It Down To Build It Up

get better at practicing to get better at performing
deliberate practice
how you practice matters most
understand weaknesses
invent specific tasks to address deficiencies
more repetition is useless
what are your challenges? be specific - don't just practice stuff that's easy for you
push past barriers and grow

mix skills practice (deliberate) with occassional tests

prevent accidntally rewarding poor behavior within chain
introduce proofing more safely out of context
preserve performance cues so they don't get poisoned during proofing (split, get it out of context, or use alternate behavior); ie target to practice go outs without poisoning cues of "go", "sit", "jump", etc

ingrain success - superfluency

"it's fine" + ring stress/pressue = behavior breaking down

review priorities:
1. emotional state
2. engagement (dog wants what you have, understands contingency, capable of giving you his attention)
3. train behaviors

more to less specific:
concepts <- across="" and="" applies="" b="" behaviors="" big="" here="" improvements="" multiple="" results="" skills="" small="" state="" yield="">

concepts: offering behaviors, stimulus control, focus, impulse control/access to reinforcerment, distance, speed (shaping for speed, that it's something the dog can vary), body awareness

skills: targeting, jumping, retrieving, positions, platforms, heeling

behaviors: front, finish, go out, etc

make a plan
which task is needed?
how can I isolate that piece? (design training plan that focuses on the specific skill you are trying to teach)
what are my criteria?
how will I reinforce?
how will I respond to mistakes?

drop on recall: (incomplete) map of concepts
sit - distance, duration
come - speed, duration
down -  movement, distance, latency
come - speed, distance
front - precision
finish - precision

increase complexity
starting with simple isolated behaviors
gradually increase difficulty
add distractions
add distance/duration (if applicable)

once the piece is fluent by itself, put it back into context

* take out sits when isolating something else. no sits!
* heeling = lots of muscle collection = fatigue

This is the training approach that is most widely supported in the online R+ competition obedience groups I'm in (of which Hannah is a member of, of course). It was still great to see it laid out in a presentation rather than trying to piece it together from discussions. Hannah is definitely on my short list of presentors to follow whenever I can.