Friday, November 20, 2015

Nose touch to object

Chimera has always loved to put things in his mouth and chew them up. I've managed to change that to putting things in his mouth and bringing them to my hand. However for training Match to Sample, I waned an indication behavior that won't involve always messing up the objects he's choosing from. I chose a sustained nose touch. Today I finally got a nose touch to every single one of the 13 kinds of objects I've set aside for this training.

We'll still need to repeat this a handful more times before the nose touch is fully reliable. Also, realistically, the nose touch will still slide them around when he's indicating, but at least he won't be destroying the object.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rally-FrEe Intermediate leg 1

Recorded at ARF for the West Regional 2.

We only scored 137 - yikes! Cai was pretty distracted, but also the scoring is a bit more rigorous now that we're out of Novice. We need to practice a lot before the live trial in March if we want to qualify then.

There is no audio because I played music for us to work to, and YouTube has removed it due to copyright issues. Sad.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Zoom Room practice

I've been hunting for drop ins and matches to work on proofing Chimera's teeter and weave pole performance, but it's been hard to find anything that works for my schedule. On Wednesday I rented the Zoom Room in Walnut Creek with Sherry and Jacques. They have mini-obstacles, but it was worth it considering how long our break from agility class has become.

Cai popped out of the poles here and there (and especially at the 10th pole, ugh), but he fell into the groove better than I expected considering that their PVC poles have a big PVC base in the middle.

I did a quick review of the training method we'd finally settled on to teach him happy teeter behavior. I held the top of the teeter from underneath the first couple of times he ran up and fed right at the end. Then I let it drop a little bit before I caught it, then more and more. At the end he was running nearly to the end of the board before I stopped it just above the ground. He still slowed down when he felt the tip, but then scooted to the end to get his treat. I'm satisfied with that. I never let the teeter actually hit the floor because it was an exceptionally noisy one and their floor is a thin layer of rubber mats over concrete - yikes!

The trainers at this place were very discouraging of having a tiny dog run to the end of the teeter, both during this visit and when we'd gone in for an assessment (before being allowed to rent the equipment). They're worried about a tiny dog getting bounced when it lands, which is a valid safety concern (especially on their horrid teeter and flooring). However both of them had this weird spiel where they asked me if I had agility experience and had watched "real agility," stating that "real agility competitors" (as a whole, apparently) NEVER train tiny dogs to run to the end of the teeter, but instead to stop at the tipping point and continue down after the movement stops. Um, what?

I explained that I was "over-training" the teeter, meaning that in practice I was encouraging him to come to the very end, knowing that in competition he'd be less comfortable and therefore probably slow down at the tipping point anyway. She was skeptical. Sherry and I finally got them to leave us alone by saying that we trained under an experienced agility competitor/trainer and this was what she wanted us to do.

I might rent the Zoom Room one more time to be able to set up proofing exercises like having toys and treats next to the weaves, but otherwise the value of its mini-obstacles is short lived, and I don't want to spend my training time arguing with them.

Can NOT wait until Sherry has her agility field all set up with equipment!!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Apple core

Chimera surprised us by nibbling on an apple core my dad offered him.

We were in Monterey last weekend and he got to run on the beach off leash. I had the last of the rabbit jerky I'd made a few months ago and his recall was almost perfect! I took a lot of pictures with my fancy new camera but haven't had time to go through them yet.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rally-FrEe practice

We rented the training pavilion at ARF and set up a rally-free course. My goal was to 1) work on engagement first, and only do the full course if Cai was showing me that he could do it with enthusiasm, 2) if he was able to do it, use as few treats as possible, in preparation for the next time we trial (end of October), 3) crate him and walk away between training, to help him get used to quietly resting (a big problem if we're in a new place).

Well Cai blew me away! We only needed to do one round of sniffing around the edges of the ring before he was fully ready to work. Then I had his full attention for the entire run. It certainly helped that I had rabbit jerky on hand! We did two runs, and each time I only stopped to reward once, but I gave multiple treats and lots of praise when it was time. Here's the video of our second run:

As long as he's confident in the skills that are needed for our next Intermediate course, we should do very well!

In the crate, he whined and scratched at the door the first time I put him away. I just waited him out, and returned with treats during moments of quiet. The second time he was quiet, and by the third time he was relaxing with his hips rolled to the side and his head on the floor.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Papillon play date

Angela and I decided to organize a Papillon meet up group since most dogs love to play with others of their same breed. At the first meet, one other purebred Papillon came, along with a mystery mutt that has the right ears and tail, and a shy long-haired chihuahua who lives close by.

This was Chimera's first time being loose around other dogs (besides his housemates and Jacques) since his neuter, and they were all sexy ladies. He still stuck his nose right into their privates, and still sniffed a bit longer than was polite, BUT it was much, much better than before! And once he got a good sniff, he didn't keep going back for more. I was pleased.

He had a blast running around the yard - one of the other dogs would chase him (and then Eevee would bark at that dog). He even jumped in and out of the kiddie pool to cool off. He also jumped on people's laps to get petting.

Is someone coming?!

The center of attention.



Coming through!

Jump! Run!

His girlfriend, Eevee.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Engagement class

The Engagement class at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is finished. Chimera and I had a Gold spot, although as usual, I didn't quite keep up with posting videos. It didn't help that he was down for the count for a week after his neuter, and then I was on vacation for 10 days. Oops, bad timing.

Still, I learned a LOT from this class that I will be using both for Cai's training and to coach my clients. (In particular, I currently have 3 ongoing clients who are training for various sports.)

These were the biggest take aways for me:
  • Learn how to interact with your dog in a fun, playful way, that you can use to practice focus/engagement without using your dog's trained tricks. This is a key intermediate step that was missing for me (and most other trainers!). It builds up your dog's ability to work for you for longer periods and in more distracting areas, without falling into the trap of nitpicking your dog's work (which will cause stress for both dog and handler).
  • Give your dog plenty of time to "acclimate": look around, take in the sights/sounds/smells, and assess the safety of the situation. If you do not give your dog enough time to do this, he will not be able to focus fully on you and the work, and you are setting yourselves up for failure.
  • Sometimes the dog wants to start play/work before he's taken enough time to acclimate, because of the draw of treats and toys. In that case, you need to ignore your dog's attempts to engage until you're sure that he's truly ready. (I've experienced this with Cai a number of times.)

Here's a video of us working on engagement training on August 8th:

I have Cai's attention, but I have to keep the treats coming fast and furious to keep it. If anyone were to walk by, he would have stopped and stared for a good long while before being ready to turn back to me.

Here's our final video, from September 10th:

We have learned how to move and play together without the treats needing to come so frequently. We're both more relaxed. Cai looked away a few times when someone walked by, but after just a quick glance to assess the safety of the situation, he was back to focusing on me. After warming up with playful engagement, I was able to smoothly transition to work, and he stayed happy and focused! No deflation because work is boring or too much pressure or because he's conflicted between me and the environment.

I am beyond pleased - and this was with minimal completion of homework on my part! I feel positive about our future obedience/rally/freestyle/etc career.

Where to go from here:
  • Continuing to stretch out the length of time Cai is happy to interact between primary reinforcers.
  • Continuing to practice in slowly more distracting/busy areas.
  • Getting the food off my body, so that Cai is not dependent on its presence. (Though the food will be nearby and I will still use it to reward him, and it will also function as a distraction to work around.)
  • Teaching new tricks and tidying up old ones at home, separate from working on engagement outside.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cai's vacation with Sherry & Jacques

August 16:
Cai just ate all his dinner up – totally cleaned his plate.

He seemed to be over the rats until they woke up and started their evening activities, and now he’s back barking at them.

Cai and Jacques are getting along. Still not besties, but no problems.

August 17:
Cai attacked and devoured his breakfast and dinner as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. 

He is still going after the rats consistently (I think they are his favorite thing here), but I can’t blame him. The rats are part of the problem! Instead of quietly retiring to the safer upper levels and hiding like decent prey animals they insist upon running down to engage with him, which of course eggs him on, which then eggs them on in a rather interesting cycle. I posted a short – and relatively mild – video on my Facebook page if you want to see. They have gotten quite feisty since I shot that video (and so has Cai), and now all three of them are running down and ganging up whenever he starts in. Last time all three were in the hammock on the lower level. I CAN call him away from them if it gets too intense, but of course he goes back – what dog wouldn’t? I might have to close off their access to the lower levels for a while just to keep some peace in the household!

August 18:
Both meals attacked and devoured, as usual – along with part of Jacques’ dinner. Oops!

He might be a butterball when you get back if he keeps this up.

Confining the rats to the upper levels seems to have dampened his enthusiasm. If they can’t come running down to engage with him, they’re just not that interesting anymore.

August 20:
Reduced food to 2 ½ pieces. You’d think I was starving the poor guy.

He’s behaving very well with Jacques, and Jacques is tolerating him better and better. Still not besties, but…

Cai has decided that everything that is within his reach is his, especially if he finds it on the floor. Good thing you trained him to come and hand you whatever he is carrying – most impressive, and certainly easier than trying to catch him and pry it out of his mouth! He has torn up a few tissues, and a couple of plastic bags, and pretty much gutted and demolished one of the toys you brought. There are a couple of items that I have been missing for a few weeks – wish he would find them!

August 22:
And speaking of your dog, I just heard some doggy lip-smacking sounds, and when I went to investigate found that Cai had opened up a bag of rat food blocks and was devouring them as if they were the only thing between him and imminent death from starvation. And this was, mind you, less than an hour after he ate breakfast.

I don't think you will be able to continue to say that dog is not food motivated. I'm guessing sawdust would be a high-value training treat for him about now.

August 23:
Well, we did do a few sessions with the "two-on, two-off" box last night. Of course, he practically attacked the box trying to get into it - after all, it's got some characteristics of a platform - and he was starting to catch on to the idea that doing something with his front feet was a good idea, and that something involved lifting a front foot, and putting it on the outside of the box. He was still experimenting with that when we stopped. He was also swinging his rear outside the box, which is one reason I stopped. I'll try to do a few  more sessions tonight. He is quite good at shaping.

I had to rearrange things slightly yesterday and today after he succeeded in cornering Sadie in the  nesting box. I'm afraid he got quite a surprise when I opened the top of the coop, grabbed whatever part of him I could, and jerked him out of there. Sadie seemed unhurt (and he was fine - just startled), but of course every time I let him out to pee he headed straight for the chicken coop, so I've kept the kennel gate closed.

He's doing great. He and Jacques seem to have arrived at a modus vivendi, and I might have actually seen a few play moves from each of them, though not much. 

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 2.5 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 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!