Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Agility 3.1 summary

The title of the new 6 week session is "Dog Meets Jump". Today we had our dogs going over a jump bar for the first time! (In theory, as Chimera has been doing a bunch of handling work on super low jumps since he was little. I'm an overachiever.)

We did a few different jump foundation exercises. Restrained recalls, including with lateral distance. Jump around the clock, focusing on rewarding stays even more than practicing releasing over the jump. Shaping a collected jump with us standing in decel position. And using a collar grab to get our dog to focus forward, then running with them and throwing a toy/treats ahead. Most of this was old hat for the monster. We did some at 4 inches and some at 8 inches. It's hard for me to measure him, but he seems to be just under 12 inches. Eep, I hope he doesn't measure over 12, since that would put him in a higher jump height.

Since we've been working on retrieving different kinds of objects, I figured it was time to introduce a small treat container as a throwable reward. Up until now, I'd used toys when throwing rewards because I knew he would run away with any food containers. Toys are lower value, though. I did use socks with treats inside, and that worked okay, but he kept ripping giant holes in the socks and then the treats would fall out too much. So today I tried out a little pill bottle with cut up sausage, beef liver, and peanut butter flavored Zukes inside. It was a big hit! He let me put my hands on it every time so that I could open it and hand him a treat, and a few times he even brought it toward my hand. What a good boy. Besides using the retrieve to combat his guarding problem, I just love having a dog who retrieves all different kinds of things. I dream of teaching him the hot dog retrieve someday!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The shaped retrieve is one of my favorite things to teach my dogs. In the past, Chimera has learned to retrieve small tennis balls, other small toys, a pill bottle (covered in duct tape so that it's not so slippery), his dumbbell, metal cannings rings, and small leather rings (for obedience scent articles). Just now, I did a generalizing session in which he retrieved, twice each: dumbbell, pill bottle, metal canning ring, leather ring, clicker, tiny leash tab. The last two were brand new items, and his first impulse was to play with them. With a little verbal encouragement, and after jackpotting a successful retrieve with multiple pieces of chicken, he decided that it was better to hand them over. Hooray!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Agility 2.5

Circle work all in a group. Fairly good attention.

Crate games, working on lateral distance. I only did a handful of reps because this requires him running enthusiastically to a toy, which he will only do a few times before he starts calmly trotting to the toy instead.

Fun sequence with a curved tunnel: circle work all the way around the tunnel, rewarding the dog for NOT going in on his own, then sending in and doing a pull to continue on (so we stayed standing at the entrance and our dogs came back to us after exiting, circling around again, and then sending in and doing a front cross to finish up with the dog on our other side. Cai could hear that I was staying by the tunnel entrance so he had a lot of trouble continuing on to the exit, and would turn around and come back out. After a couple of failed attempts I did move to the exit so that he could be successful. The instructor didn't like that -- she didn't want us to change our handling if the dog is struggling. She had us do it again, and this time he was successful without me moving toward the exit, but I think that that was because I had helped him the previous time.

We did the exercise again going in the reverse direction, and again Cai didn't want to go all the way through the tunnel. She stood behind the exit so that the dog couldn't see her, and she had me send him again and tossed a treat to him when he came through the exit (so it was just raining down from the sky). We did this a few times until he was happily going all the way through while I stayed by the entrance, and we finished the exercise without any more problems.

Then another fun sequence with ladders, working on rewarding our dogs for NOT taking the ladders if not cued, taking them when cued, and one rear cross, which Cai did well. Yay!

All the dogs had been doing pretty well at the wobble boards (though Cai was able to handle the highest, wobbliest board, if I may brag). So we lowered a teeter and put a towel under the heavy end, and had the dogs bang the other end. Cai did just fine with this -- we started it quite low, and raised it twice, and he was quickly jumping on and off.

Things I need to practice more at home: running to a toy/food item (sock filled with liver needs the tears sewn up), stand-stay with distractions, circle work among small distractions, lateral distance with crate or our known mini-obstacles. I have also been working on contact training for a while -- I want him to do a modified running contact, in which he does a down on the floor immediately after the obstacle (obviously not for teeter, that will be a crouch/down at the end of the board). I have a target (piece of yoga mat) for him to down on. However he's pretty slow at getting to it and lying down. He lies down slowly. I guess I'll try timing him in my head and do some sessions just rewarding faster downs. I would prefer for this to be pretty solid before we start it in class (which will be a while). I've also been rewarding him for running over a plank at home.

Good BAT and failed BAT

Had a wonderful session with Rebecca and her mastiff mix, Luke, whom we did one session with before. We discussed beforehand that we would act like strangers on a walk, and not talk to each other, and Rebecca would randomly come toward us, cross our path, or hide and walk/jog out into our path. Cai of course barked a couple of times the first time he saw Luke, but then he quickly settled down and was able to give me good attention. I was so proud of how he did!

He did so well, in fact, that I decided to try taking him into PetCo a couple of hours later. A pair of westies came in, and he saw them as they were moving in our direction, and he lost it. Lots of barking and straining at the end of the leash (and slipping on the smooth floor). I walked him around and he calmed down a bit, but then he caught sight of a pair of toy poodles (why all in pairs today?) and growled and lunged, so we left the store. That was disappointing. It's too hard in the store to get a sightline on another dog, from far away, and make sure they're not coming toward us.

I guess the next step is to try BAT in a store with a friend who will stay on the far side, while avoiding other customers as best I can. I will also continue our work at the local trailhead where I want to hike with him someday.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Two great BAT sessions!

This morning I took Chimera to a popular trailhead, and we positioned ourselves on the side that is less used. We were in luck -- there were a few owners and big dogs milling about, waiting for another person to arrive with her dogs. Cai was AWESOME. I cued him to look, and he would look, gather some information, and then look back at me, and we'd jog away, and I'd reward him with dehydrated duck liver, another super duper favorite treat. This lasted about ten minutes. Then we were ambushed by a lady coming right toward us with two big, excited dogs pulling on their leashes. With a bit of a leash tug, I managed to get Cai turned around with just one bark in protest. I think it was solely because of our head-on work with Iroc yesterday morning that he was able to do that. However it still rattled him, and he went over threshold and barked mindlessly at the next two dogs he saw, even though they were farther away. We left after that. Despite the poor ending, I'm happy the session, and I think he'll do even better next time. I just need to keep sessions super short if we're working on sudden appearances.

In the afternoon, I did a BAT session with a client, during which I was holding the decoy dog. The client's dog is, overall, more reactive, but he too has learned to recognize the setup (and me) and quickly habituated to our decoy. So I put the decoy back into the car and got Cai out, and we did a mutual BAT session -- like an improvised dance, constantly moving towards and away from each other, at different angles. Cai did amazingly well at first. Again, I cued him to look at the dog, and he was able to look at him and then back at me, amazingly calmly. After a handful of reps, the client accidentally got way too close, both the dogs started barking, and then Cai was on edge for a few minutes. After four or five successful reps from much farther away, he settled back into the rhythm, and was again doing very well. We ended on opposite sides of the street, passing each other, which was difficult for Cai but he held it together. The duck liver really helped.

This time he did not seem to recognize that it was a BAT setup, as he did yesterday. I think this was because it was less controlled, and the client and I didn't talk to each other. I will keep that in mind for our next session.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

BAT with Lea and Iroc

We had a morning BAT session with Lea and her Doberman, Iroc. Chimera had either never met Iroc or had met her when he was a wee puppy; can't remember which it is. We worked in a residential neighborhood which Cai had never been to before, although we did arrive early and walk around for 30 minutes before the session started.

At first I asked Lea to slowly walk around with Iroc as if they were out for a walk. Chimera stiffened and stared the first time he saw them. The decoys stopped, facing us, and we waited. Cai let out one frustration bark but then turned toward me and we jogged away. I also rewarded him with freeze-dried salmon, a particular high-value treat, and one he'll eat in most situations. On the next rep he again stiffened and stared, but no more barking. After a few more reps he stopped becoming so stiff and only delayed looking back at me if he was air-scenting to get more information about Iroc.

We progressed to having Lea hide and then walk out with Iroc in front of our path. That barely changed Cai's reaction. Then we did passes, which made him strain toward her, but in a friendly, wanting-to-greet way. We moved to a different block and did more surprise appearances, which made Cai stiffen the first time, but he responded quickly to "let's go!" At the end we even had Lea and Iroc jog right toward us, and I had to use a little bit of leash pressure to get Cai to move out of the way the first couple of times, but then he started moving out of the way with me.

It looks like Cai now recognizes that when we're doing repeated approaches, he can relax -- he's safe, and he won't get to interact with the dog, but he'll get engagement and treats from me. We have another session scheduled for Saturday, and I'll start with sudden appearances of the decoy heading toward us, since that's what gives us the most trouble when we're out for a regular walk.

I was very proud of how well he did!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Agility class 2.4

We arrived early, and did a few dumbbell retrieves to warm him up. We're working on adding the length of time that he's holding the dumbbell confidently, without just adding a ton of throwing distance. I've been backing up and sometimes zig zagging around, which encourages him to come to front. I slow down, but not stop, right before I take the dumbbell (with hands on both ends).

After that I played fetch with a small ball, and was happy to see him reliably bringing it back to my hand! That is something that I shaped by playing fetch in our narrow hallway, and I'm pleased that he transferred the concept to this new location. It's not natural for him to bring anything to me, because of his strong resource guarding.

The other dogs started to come in as we were playing, and I cued him to look at them, and again was so happy to see that he understood the cue, and reliably looked at them and then back at me. Woohoo!

The first exercise we did was circle work all together in a big circle, and once again I joined the group, and Cai did pretty well as long as I threw in subtle extra pace changes or turns in place to break up moments of extended heeling (beyond 4-5 seconds). The instructor called out when we should front cross, or stop and have our dogs sit or down.

We moved on to ladder work, using the dog's drive to go through the ladder to practice rear crosses in action. This was our first time doing a real rear cross. The first time, I was a bit late in rewarding and Cai spun to try to find me. The next two times, I rewarded as soon as I had moved behind him, which kept him pointed forward and then he continued on through the ladder. Perfect!

We used crate games to work on lateral distance. Cai had low drive to get to his toy (sock with liver pieces mushed into the end). I need to sew up the holes he's torn in it so that I can fill it back up with big pieces of liver. At home, I can use tug toys for this kind of thing, but in class he doesn't drive to the tug toys as well.

Next was a "don't cross me" drill, first with a toy distraction (easy for Cai because he didn't care that much about the toy), and then with a food bowl (big, big distraction, great practice).

Finally we did wobble boards. Cai is ahead of the other dogs in terms of climbing up on very high boards. The instructor put a FitPaws circular board on top of a big blue pilates disc, and it was very wobbly indeed! Cai rose to the challenge for a few reps, but it was clearly a lot of work for him to balance on it, and he tired out quickly.

Friday, April 12, 2013


We went to a local riding arena to practice being calm around horses. I brought Chimera there once when he was a puppy, and soon after he saw a horse on the trail, and both times he was unconcerned and even did tricks training quiet close to the riding practice. As I expected, this time he was reactive to the horses. We did BAT and LAT and eventually were able to hang out about 10 feet from the paddock fence while the horses were trotted along it. When they trotted in our direction, Cai would go still and stare but not go over threshold. We should go back at least once in the near future.

I'd never before seen other dogs at the arena, but this time there were three loose dogs walking around and sunning themselves. This was a problem for Cai, but fortunately they were out of sight most of the time.

I am sad that I have to limit where Cai goes and what we do so much. I usually hike my dogs in Redwood at least once a week, and I'd like to be able to walk him around downtown shopping areas. I can't even take him to the pet supply store. He has so much energy and lives to run but I have to keep him cooped up. Pt Isabel is the one dog place we can go, because there are too many dogs to be reactive, but he has to stay on a long line because his recall is nonexistant around other dogs.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Agility class 2.3

I forgot to write up class 2.1, and I couldn't attend last week. We've done introductions to tunnels now, although Chimera's been running through my TDAA-sized tunnel for a few months already. He knows he should just zoom through to get his reward! The instructor had us do circle work around a tunnel, incorporating front crosses and pulls, and switch that up with doing a front cross that sent the dog into the tunnel entrance. This teaches the dogs to pay attention to our cues rather than just getting sucked into the tunnel.

She has the class do circle work all together in a big circle every week. Today was the first time that I joined the circle with Chimera. Because he was super distracted by close proximity to other dogs during our first couple of weeks of class, I had been doing circle work in our own space, steadily getting closer to the other dogs. He was ready for it today, and focused quite well for most of the exercise. I worked in little pace changes and circles in place as well, to keep it interesting for him. He needs heeling/circle work to include lots of "doodling" to stay in the game.

We did crate games, and the instructor had me pay attention to a new detail of it: requiring Cai to turn toward me once he's entered the crate and is turning to face the front (in other words, turn to his left if I'm on his left, and right if I'm on his right). He was only going to the left at first, but with the help of smart reward placement, he caught on to the idea.

Another piece of the puzzle is adding lateral distance, which is a weakness of ours due to limited training area in the apartment.

We did a little ladder work, focusing on rewarding the dog when he's looking ahead rather than up at us. Cai's been doing a lot of pole/cavaletti stuff over the past month.

The instructor set up a super wobble board that had a cement-filled cone going through the middle, which raised the entire board up into the air. Chimera has had enough wobble board training that he jumped right onto it, and wasn't bothered by the extreme movement! Super puppy! I got one of my classmates to video it. This was our second go at it, and he's actually slower because he's getting tired.

The instructor showed us how to construct little towers of items for our dogs to knock over, a la Agility Right From the Start. I had practiced this a lot with Dragon, but hadn't gotten around to it with Chimera. I don't think he'll have a problem with it, haha. It's a great exercise for teaching the dog to be confidence creating movement and noise, which is foundation for teeter training, but also a good life skill.

The last thing we did was introduce speeding up as a cue for acceleration, another weakness of mine due to limited space. We ran forward, then sped up while throwing a toy forward. After some repetition, speed up first and then throw the toy as a reward for the dog moving ahead in anticipation.