Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Focus and field trips update

I have been taking lots of quick trips with Chimera to either take a walk (and work on polite leash walking, of course), or to work on focus in a new environment. We've gone to different grocery stores, a couple of parks, and some residential streets. I used to do this a lot when he was a puppy, but stopped almost completely when his reactivity became full-blown Monster.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how well he is able to focus and think. I only ask him to "work" if there isn't any activity going on, but even so, I was expecting him to be too distracted by smelling everything and looking all around. Instead, when I ask him if he wants to work, he happily answers that yes, he does. At this point I ask him to do one or maybe two behaviors he knows well, give him a treat, and then release him to "be a dog" until he tells me he is ready to work again. It goes quite quickly.

I think this improvement is due to a) our reactivity work making him less worried about the environment, b) some impulse control and distraction games we've been playing at home carrying over, and c) as always, the dog simply maturing and settling down is a factor.

I'm now able to look forward to our continuing focus and ring prep work, since it doesn't feel like it will be such a struggle anymore.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BATting with a Hovawart

Today was our first formal BAT session since April. I had stopped setting them up because Cai was starting to recognize the set ups. Even with that, it's helpful for the dog to get lots of practice rehearsing "good" behavior, but I had decided to switch to just "stealth BAT" instead. That means doing BAT without the other person knowing, such as when you come across someone else walking their dog, or going to a dog park and staying outside to work. Chimera has really improved since that time!

We met up with the owner of a Hovawart (big black dog), in a mall parking lot. Along with BAT and the functional reward of increasing distance, I used treats, Look At That, hand touches, and kneeling down and rubbing his butt as rewards. Grisha would probably frown on that, but I prefer the more active engagement. Cai was relaxed (though curious about the dog and environment) for most of the session. I was most proud when he first saw the dog, air-scented and watched for a while, and then turned back to me. The initial sighting is usually the hardest part for him. On the second rep he got excited and barked some, and I interrupted him by stepping in front of him. After that he calmed down and we were able to quickly close distance. When the dogs were about twenty feet away, the Hovawart was also watching him with interest (she was young and friendly). When the eye contact lasted too long, Cai went over threshold again -- but again he recovered quickly.

During our second session, I was able to close distance again very quickly. I reached the point at which Cai would glance at the other dog for a couple of seconds, then look back at me, and I would ask him to do one easy behavior before getting his treat. (As one small part of prepping him to work around dogs.) This was a form of the CU Give Me A Break game. He was free to examine the environment, and looking back at me was his signal that he was ready to work. After his one easy behavior and treat, I used a release cue to let him know that he was free to examine again. It's all coming together -- learning to work around other dogs in agility class, straight up reactivity work outside, and distraction training set ups at home. What great reinforcement for me!

I had asked the other owner to get her dog more active for this session, since distance itself was no longer a big factor for Cai. Soon she pulled out a squeaky toy, and Cai became more distracted by the toy than the dog! So I switched to rewarding focus on me in the presence of the squeaky toy and the other dog playing. At the end the dogs ended up about ten feet from each other and facing head on, and then I did a few repetitions of just BAT. Cai was curious about her and wanted to watch her, but was able to calmly turn back to me without any prompting other than my praise.

And the icing on top of this delicious BAT cake was that Cai's leash walking was pretty spot on, even though we were in a brand new place!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Getting out of the house

I've been saying for months that I'd like to get out and have more adventures with Chimera, but I was honestly too busy and tired to do it. My schedule has settled down now and I realized that I can finally do it! I've taken him for a couple of walks in our new neighborhood. (I'm not in the habit of daily walks for my dogs, as for years they used to go to my daycare job or on my daily hikes, and that provided exercise and stimulation.) Today we went to Petco to train. We mostly worked on heeling, stays, and position changes at my side. He did quite well, even when we were close to employees. There were no other dogs in the store.

I bought him a floatation vest. I'm hoping that it will help him enjoy swimming more. He's a good swimmer -- from the first time he accidentally waded into "deep" water, he's been able to swim to wherever he wanted to go, even turning around in the water -- but he just doesn't enjoy it. One of my housemate's dogs loves swimming, so we're planning a trip to Lake Anza soon. Maybe the other dog will entice him to follow.

I just have to remind myself that if I don't get him out to work on his dog reactivity, he'll never get better. He's already SO much better than he used to be, but it's exhausting, as every reactive dog owner can attest. Plus, if I want him to successfully trial in any sport, he needs to be able to handle a variety of environments and distractions. So new goal is one adventure a week!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Agility update

Agility practice outside of class is consisting entirely of teeter, dog walk/a-frame contact, and weaves. A few weeks ago I switched to a different way to teaching the teeter. The standard approach seems to be a foundation of wobble board and bang game, then getting the dog to run across a lowered teeter, and then slowly raising it. Chimera was fine until we started raising it. This is the same point at which Dragon started being nervous about the teeter. Yet it was a surprise with Chimera because he'd never shown any nervousness during wobble board or similar foundation exercises. When I met as a 10.5 week old puppy, I put down a serving tray turned upside down, which rocked back and forth a small amount. I lured him over it and got him going back and forth with tossed treats, and he acted as if he didn't even notice the movement. I think the problem with continually raising the teeter, even in small amounts, is that the movement is constantly changing just when the dog thinks that he has it under control. Rather than shaping toward a confident, high teeter, for some dogs it makes them lose faith in the whole thing.

So my instructor suggested that I use Silvia Trkman's method -- go straight to a full-height teeter, hold the end up for the dog, and control the drop completely. Chimera has no issue with the drop itself, once he's on the end. At this point he will happily ride it down at full-speed about halfway, or at a slightly slower speed all the way. It's the tipping point that made him nervous. I'm slooowly starting to hold my hand an inch or two underneath the high end, so that it tips just a tiny amount as Cai goes over. So far so good -- he's excited to go on it again and again for his reward of baby food smeared onto the end (on a piece of duct tape, so as not to contaminate the obstacle).

The dog walk and a-frame have a modified running contact: a down on the ground after running off. I'm using a cut up yoga mat and Cai definitely understands his job when the mat is there. I can run fast ahead or front cross and he will down on the mat. I can also send him ahead of me, but I have to be close behind him to remind him to lie down facing forward instead of turning around to face me, which takes a lot of extra time. (He's about 50% on this now.) Right now I'm building muscle memory and speed and not worrying about fading the mat. Later I'll be able to cut it down to smaller sizes. I need to remember to add a verbal "contact!" to the behavior.

Weaves: I was having trouble adding my fast movement, as he'd get distracted every time and skip poles. I tried very hard to break it down into just slight acceleration, but couldn't quite "explain" to him what I wanted. Finally I figured out that if I moved slowly but stutter-stepped, he also would get distracted, yet after a few failed trials the lightbulb went on and he was able to ignore my strange movements and focus on finishing the poles. Then I practiced dancing or moving backwards, and he ignored me. Then I was able to add fast running ahead and he was able to ignore me. Then I worked on dropping treats in his peripheral vision while he weaved. Success! Now I just need to repeat this process in class to cement his understanding, and so I can really full-out run ahead.