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!

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.