Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Second Rally-FrEe Novice leg

I participated in December's World Wide Video Event. This was our run:

We qualified with a score of 168 - much better than our previous score of 133! We still lost some points for Cai losing focus, and for overly-obvious signals, but both things were much improved. We lost 7 points on the playbow since Cai did a down. D'oh!

Last Saturday we met up with two members of a local freestyle club to prepare for an event on January 10-11th. Saturday will be two WCFO Freestyle trials, and Sunday will be two Rally-FrEe trials. I fully expect us to lose points again for Cai losing focus, since there will be other dogs and people moving around. But I'm crossing my fingers for earning a third Novice leg and our title!

On a side note, Cai's leash reactivity has improved so much, that he did not bark or growl at the other dogs in open station wagons! He wagged his tail and his body was loose, even though he was pulling toward the dogs. Inside the building, he did get upset when the youngest dog was playing and jumping around, but he was quiet the rest of the time. Good boy!

We're practicing again this Saturday.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Full Metal Papillon

I made this coat a couple of years ago for Dragon, but Chimera is almost exactly the same size. (He's a good replacement.) My family went to Truckee, up in the mountains, for Thanksgiving, and Cai needed coats to keep him warm and dry. He didn't like this one very much, since the sleeves are restrictive, and ugh, the hood.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

First Rally-FrEe Novice leg

I got three of my former Rally-FrEe students to sign up for a video competition with me. I knew that Cai wasn't quite ready - I hadn't done enough prep work for going through an entire course without rewards, and he still gets easily distracted. However I wanted to go ahead and compete so that I could see where any other holes show in our training, and get an objective evaluation.

Here was our entry, due on 11/17/14:

We qualified with a score of 133 of 200. (125 points are needed to qualify.) The scoring in this sport is strict, which I like! We got dinged for: large/obvious hand and body cues, doing more of a pivot instead of a proper circle on the 270s, and Cai's loss of attention. My own stress made me revert to the large signals and smaller circles, so I need to remember about that under pressure.

I'm glad that we did this competition and I saw these problems. Now to continue practicing!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Back to agility!

After a month long break from agility class, Chimera and I were ready to run again! Cai did great; it was like there was no break at all. He was completely quiet in his crate between turns and was frequently offering the behavior of lying down with his head down - something I reward because it is self-soothing for him. The only silly mistake he made during his runs was that when I took my eyes off him to look ahead at the next jump, he cut behind my back to run up the teeter.

We've been working on the teeter here and there during private lessons with Sandy, and he was doing well, but I was still so nervous about letting him do the full teeter without any support (ie, changing the speed, reducing the bang, or delaying the drop). I was scared that he wasn't ready, would get frightened, and then we'd have to backtrack the training. I'm sure that this fear was because Dragon had trouble with the teeter that we didn't resolve before he died, so the issue still hangs over me. Plus, I always err on the side of caution when pushing a dog to do something. Clearly, in this case I was too cautious, as Cai had no problem with the full teeter experience and kept trying to go toward it again. The history of reinforcement was winning out and he was getting sucked toward the teeter like other dogs go for tunnels. Wow!

With that obstacle behind us (pun intended), I decided that Cai is ready to trial. We still need to attend fun matches as often as we can to work on focus in new places and among many dogs. However there is a small club holding TDAA trials about an hour away, a few times per year. That easy-going, less crowded atmosphere will be perfect for our debut.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Baby's first emergency vet visit

Chimera has been staying with my parents while I do a long pet sit. This morning my mother called me to report that he had been lying down a lot with his head between his front paws (rather than the more relaxed lying down on his side) and not following her around as much. He'd also stopped walking and hunched his back here and there. I suggested a GI problem and said to monitor him closely. An hour later my dad called - he was now hunching over a lot and his back legs were shaking. My parents both took him to the nearest emergency vet.

It turned out that one of his anal glands had gotten infected, swollen, and burst. It was bleeding when they reached the vet. Fortunately, the vet's assessment was that pain killers and two week of antibiotics should clear everything up.

I wasn't able to drive down and meet them because I had to teach two training classes while this was going on. That may have been for the best, though - I would probably have been a crying wreck in the waiting room.

He's doped up on pain meds but is resting much more comfortably.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Overview of recent adventures

Oops, it's been months since I last updated Chimera's blog! I've simply been too busy to keep up with logging all his adventures. During the past couple of months:

Cai and Jasper (my kitty) got check ups at the vet at the same time, and the tech and vet were both impressed by how well they got along.

Barney the French Bulldog came over to play for five days, and he and Cai rough housed almost nonstop, as usual.

Cai and I went over to Luz and Catriona's for dinner. I made him wear his belly band, which was a good thing because he lifted his leg on their curtains. Cai played with Sweet Pea and annoyed Nopalito.

He turned 2 years old on July 27th!

We went to Tahoe with Sarah and River and Owen. Cai still did not want to swim, but he did swim twice to get to the island in the middle of the pond we were all playing on.

I took him to a small dog playgroup a few times, and to a small dog park once. Cai still gets super excited (overly excited) about greeting other dogs (especially small dogs), but he is less interested in playing than he used to be. He still loves to chase and be chased, but he'll also spend a lot of time just sniffing and exploring. Sometimes he gets fixated on sticking his nose up a particular dog's butt (usually a female), and then I have to put him on leash to stop him. So I have decided to stop taking him to playgroups and dog parks. He's out of the puppy "play with everyone!" stage.

He spent a weekend with my parents while I did a petsit, and right now he's staying with them for three weeks again. He's following my mother around non-stop and jumping onto her lap every time she sits down. He's becoming a real lap dog. She's giving him walks twice a day. I'm happy that he's doing well, and happy that she has a little companion.

We went to a park with Sherry and Jacques to practice obedience and agility in an abandoned tennis court. Cai still freaks out if he hears tags jangling, but he's slowly continuing his progress in being less reactive at the sight of dogs. We also worked on his recall, and I can see his ability to focus improving.

We did a mini agility demo at Dodger's Paws to celebrate their re-opening after a move. Again I was impressed with his improved focus. It's all coming together!

This past Sunday we attended Paws in the Park, a fundraising fair for Valley Humane Society. I ran an agility ring and a rally-free ring and we did demos. Cai did perfectly in agility and did very well in rally-free (just a little distracted toward the end). My dad was there and took these cool photos of us! (The jumps are TDAA sized and I had them at 8" to make it easy for him in this distracting environment.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Twenty inches

Chimera loves to greet and play with other dogs, especially other small dogs (even better if they're white and/or fluffy, like other Papillons). In agility class today, we did contact proofing exercises with one dog running the a-frame and the other on the dog walk, with white dividers making a solid wall between the two dogs. Cai saw that the chihuahua was on the other side of the wall. I cued him to run the dog walk, and then he kept going to get around the wall, going over a 20" double jump along the way. He only knocked down one of the bars. I was annoyed but impressed. The chihuahua was too interested in his owner's treats to care about Cai sniffing his butt.

Later he took an off course and jumped another 20", a single bar this time. He cleared it. What a cool dog.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A very dirty dog

We took a trip to the Albany Bulb with some friends this morning.

Somehow he was able to pull the stick out of his tail on his own, with a minimal amount of fur loss.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Catching butterflies

Found this small butterfly net at an arts and crafts store. It has a telescoping handle. It'll be a perfect prop for Musical Freestyle.

I can hold it and have Cai put his front paws on the edge, put his head inside, jump over it, or I can use it to give choreography cues that look like they're part of the dance. Or he can hold it and either walk around with it, or just hold still while I toss small and light props into it. I can feel a routine developing already.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Rally-FrEe seminar with Julie Flanery, part 2

Some info about scoring and competition in Rally-FrEe:

All behaviors are variations of staying in precise position (heel, side, center, behind), circle (around the handler), spin, thru (handler's legs), plus paw lifts, the playbow, and free choice signs.

Each full course has 15 signs, plus a start sign (dog might start on left or right side of handler), and includes 4 free choice signs. Clips on the signs will indicate which side of the handler the dog should be on when they reach that sign. The sign is placed so that the handler is sandwiched between the dog and the sign (unless it is a change of direction or change of side).

There are no "do-overs" as in AKC Rally O. However you may pass by a sign and still get a Q, if you get enough points from the rest of the course. Scores are based on the execution of the signs (150 points, 10 for each sign), plus HAT: Heelwork (consistency in heeling), Attention (ability of the dog to focus on the task and the handler), and Teamwork (engagement, enjoyment, and working together) (30 points, 10 for each category). At each free choice station, you can also earn 5 points for creativity/complexity of the trick. 125 out of 200 points are required to Q.

Changes in the proximity of your dog's heeling are considered a fault - it doesn't matter if he slightly forges or lags, if he does it consistently throughout the course. The subtlety of your physical cues is considered - in higher levels, the expectation is for fewer lure-like cues. Cues that look counter to luring are scored higher (ie, putting up your right hand as your dog is going to your left side). You are not penalized for giving multiple cues as long as your dog is continually responding and not exhibiting refusal (ie, chanting "around around around" as your dog is making his way around you).

For free choice behaviors, judging is based on what is presented, without assuming what the intended behavior is. (In other words, if I cue my dog to roll over and he only lies down, the lying down behavior is judged on its own, without assuming that he was supposed to do something more.) BUT apparent mistakes by the handler will be taken into account - so if I then get upset at the dog and re-cue the roll over, I WILL be dinged for it. Just pretend that whatever your dog did, that was what was supposed to happen. Make sure that your dog starts and ends on the correct side of your body when doing a free choice behavior.

Course maps are made available 7-10 days prior to an event (whether live or video competion), so that handlers have time to decide on their free choice behaviors and brush up on any rusty skills. Music is played during live events, and is encouraged but not required for video submissions.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Agility match in Elk Grove

This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 5 am for our second agility match, in Elk Grove. There was a jumpers course set up outside on grass, and a standard NADAC course set up in a barn with dirt flooring.

Chimera was of course distracted by the dogs, and did some demand barking, but I'm still so happy at the change in his reactivity after taking the L-theanine and lactium for a few weeks now.

We were in the jumpers course three times. I went in with food (boiled chicken) because it seemed like Cai was too sniffy and distracted to play. The first time, this worked fine. I kept his leash on and we did some heel work for treats. The second time he didn't take food, and I tried using sniffing as a reward. Unfortunately, by his third turn he was so overstimulated that he barely picked his head up from the grass and I carried him out before our 90 seconds were even up. I was bummed out but decided to go ahead and do our two turns in the standard ring - at the very least it was an opportunity to practice leash walking in a very distracting environment, and I'd paid for it long ago.

Cai was still turning down treats, but I tried giving him a rubdown and scratching above his tail. He liked that. I tried doing some playful pushing on him and running, and he perked up more. Then I leaned forward and blew into his face, and he started barking excitedly! That's something that I do at home when we're playing. I don't remember what gave me the idea to blow on him in the first place, but it instantly revs him way up. I usually use it as a self-control exercise. I don't want to use it so much during stressful/distracting situations that it loses its effect, but clearly it's a secret weapon I can pull out from time to time.

During our final 90 second turn, I was able to take Cai's leash off and have him do one or two jumps, and I used playful bouncing and pushing and blowing in his face as a game, and he was SO happy.

During our weekly agility class, food has always seemed to trump play. Color me surprised.

Rally-FrEe seminar with Julie Flanery, part 1

Back in April, I attended a two day seminar with Rally-FrEe's creator, Julie Flanery. I've been so busy with work that I haven't had to time to write up a summary until now. Chimera had a working spot, and Sherry and Jacques went with us as well.

The seminar took place at a farm with an indoor training building. There were training fields with grass outside, and adjacent to the training areas were alpacas! I was super excited because I really want to raise alpacas someday. I thought that Cai would find it impossible to focus, between the strange dogs belonging to other participants, the strange animals, and the new smells. We have had very few opportunities to work on grass and he's used to an even surface under his feet. I'm happy to say that he surprised me! I had hot dogs with me and started off giving him a very high rate of reinforcement (one treat every couple of steps and after every trick) when we would do our practice runs outside. By the last run on the second day, I was able to lower the rate to one treat every five or so steps of heeling. Considering the circumstances, I thought of it as a big success. Seriously. With alpacas and dogs and smells on grass, staying connected with me for five steps at a time was significant. Everyone starts somewhere.

I have three videos of our runs from the second day:
"thru" course first time
"thru" course second time
full course

Enough about Chimera. Here are Julie's general training tips for those who are interested in Rally-FrEe:

Practice your foundation skills early, often, and on-going ("use it or lose it"). Avoid making assumptions. Video tape yourself and keep notes! Attention is a foundation skill that should be frequently rewarded, and attention/eye contact is always one of the criteria for the reward. Have a plan before you get your dog out for training - be specific on what you want to accomplish during the session - don't practice the same criteria over and over. The dog should be in a relaxed down or a crate when not actively working

When you're practicing at home, replicate the pattern that you'll follow at a show - crate the dog first, get your gear ready and mentally prepare yourself, then release your dog from his crate and immediately start warm up games and work. Keep your dog busy and engaged "from crate to gate." To prevent inattentiveness due to stress, plan and practice every aspect of your performance - make it predictable.

Play music while training so that the behaviors are taught and practiced at the right rhythm (and to create a positive CER). Choose free choice behaviors that are high-value secondary reinforcers in the ring.

Julie's Tibetan Terrier, Kashi, had a long bout of digestive upset and illness as a young dog. She often wouldn't eat, and so Julie frequently rewarded her with toy play, but she also brainstormed ways to get the most use out of the limited amount of food rewards Kashi would eat. As a result, she has become a fan of training props which allow the dog to quickly start performing the desired behavior and get lots of rewards in a short amount of time. She uses x-pens (especially good for shaping a dog to go around the handler or around a prop, and for backing up), target sticks, platforms, and perches for pivoting. This greater amount of environmental management also creates more opportunities for errorless learning, and there is less handler movement to fade out of the final picture. It allows you to avoid NRMs and continued failures, which can cause a lack of confidence and slow, tentative responses. Instead, each successful rep reduces stress in the dog and handler.

Remember to look where you want the dog to go, not directly at your dog. Give multiple treats after your dog performs a trick and then returns to position, to reinforce being straight at your side or straight in center/behind. This is particularly important for the "thru" to prevent the dog from anticipating figure 8s and swinging his butt out. Always do more single thrus than multiple weaves.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rally-FrEe pictures

Chimera and I are training for the sport of Rally-FrEe. He's got most of the Novice moves down; we just need to work on the playbow and paw lifts. Here are some promotional pictures I took of us practicing:

Left heel.

Starting circle around.

Finishing circle around.

Thru to left heel.

Thru to right heel.

Meerkat, one of our common Free Choice behaviors.

Left paw lift.

Right paw lift.

CCW spin.

CCW spin.

Recent pictures

He always looks so good when he's freshly bathed.

At Crissy Field.

Susanne let me use a pack of Bark Art Blow Pens that were at her training center. I put hot pink and purple streaks in Cai's tail. They are fading quickly, though.

Cuddling with his brother, Jasper.

Supplement magic

18 days ago, I started Chimera on L-theanine and lactium twice daily with his meals. I'd tried L-theanine before, but hadn't seen any effect even after a month. This time, I'm getting even better results than I'd hope for.

He's sleeping more often, in more places, and more deeply. He's less likely to jump up and follow me when I move around the house. He's slightly less reactive toward noises, and definitely less reactive toward the sight of other dogs. He is easier to redirect and calms down more quickly when he does have an outburst.

I don't know if it's the lactium itself, or the combination of both that's so important, but I'm not going to mess with his regimen. It ain't broke.

I'm so happy to see him feeling so much better, and of course our outings are much more enjoyable. Last Sunday I took him to a pet fair, last Tuesday we went to Crissy Field, on Friday he was able to deal with a new dog coming into the training building with minimal barking, and yesterday evening I took him hiking and was able to let him off leash because he was greeting dogs appropriately. And of course, the more often we go out in public, the better he gets, so now we're in a positive feedback loop. I also give him 1 Calming treat from Pet Naturals of Vermont when we're going out, and I think that helps take more of the edge off.

Now it's time to do more training in public, around new distractions!

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.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Clicker Expo 2014: Leanne Falkingham & Lori Guyr: The Transformers (Training Shelter Dogs)

enrichment as important as training

typical shelter dog: adolescent (6 months - 2 years), energetic, untrained, medical status - undervaccinated

length of stay for dogs and cats increasing with popularity of no-kill shelters; increased need for trainers

benefits of clicker training for dogs and cats: promotes humane treatment; prevents frustrations and stereotypies

what to teach to benefit new owners: sit, crate training, handling, eye contact (not to name, since may change), taking treats gently
to benefit staff: barking-quiet in kennel, jumping up
in house behaviors: hand targeting, barrier frustration-alternate behaviors, in kennel shaping

jumping and mouthing - common and persistant behavior in shelter dogs - always work on it

platform training - helpful for dogs who jump and mouth

jumping dog:
give treats as dog approaches
ask for sit as dog approaches
call dog, ask for sit

initial assessment training
look for offering behaviors the dog already knows (makes dog happy to get known behavior rewarded - comforting, familiar)
watch out for poisoned cues
c/t eye contact, hand target, platform, LLW, interacting with objects

They brought in a handful of shelter dogs and did quick assessments of the dog's emotional state and personality while C/Ting any of the above behaviors.

Clicker Expo 2014: Emily Larlham: Training for the Easily Frustrated Dog

reassess training plan: rate, timing, criteria, reinforement - what, how, and where? (encouraging calm behavior with reinforcement, calm delivery)

change the training picture: training environment, time of day, temperature, satiation (food and exercise), type of reinforcement, trainer

management and prevention
set up training session for success
if dog gets frustrated, interrupt him to prevent him from rehearsing undesirable behavior and change your training plan
use a release cue, attention noice, or recall (trained without intimidation) to interrupt
change location to interrupt, use fact that dogs don't generalize well to your advantage

lower stress in everyday life - everything is connected: decrease both "good" and "bad" stress; work on IC (LLW, calm greetings, default leave it); work on existing behavioral problems; correct amount of sleep; health - is your dog in pain, ill, or overweight?

remove intimidation: instead of NRMs; reassess plan; don't punish side effects of frustation (ie jumping, barking, pawing) - dog will not feel less frustration in future, get more side effects

monitor arousal levels: muscle tension, body posture, facial expression, etc

signs of frustration: shivering, barking, whining, growling, mouthing, jumping, humping, check out (walking away or lying down), inaccurate or incorrect responses, no response, anticipating cues, repeating behaviors, anger and aggression

overarousal related to reinforcement: don't train anything until the dog is not over-aroused by presence of food or toys

building a calm foundation: capturing calmness (use primary reinforcement to mark calm behavior rather than clicking); settle (watch out for "faking" a settle); handling and massage

looking between the ABCs: what could be reinforcing during your training sessions that you're not paying attention to?

train secondary reinforcers: train calm markers to be used when you need to have lower arousals, and markers conditioned with excitement to build drive
train a marker that means "you may or may not get a treat" and one that means "you always get a treat"

what to do if a cue or behavior triggers frustration?
retrain the behavior (with a different method if possible) and change the cue
if it's part of a chain, take it out of the chain, reinforce with contnuous reinforcement, then put it back in chain and still stop and R+
go back to basics

Clicker Expo 2014: Irith Bloom: The Power of Choice Part II

I had missed Part I of this talk.

more choices = more feeling of control
giving up control = stressful
humans generally provide choice to animals only when there's no alternative for us: big dog (can't force) vs small dog (just pick it up and force it to do something); exotic vs domesticated animals

when to use choice: whenever possible! esp with fearful, aggressive, or anxiour behaviors

a few choice-based techniques: clicker training (cooperative rather than coercive, animal can choose to end session any time), BAT, LAT
Irith is very opposed to NRMs

LAT could be called "notice that" - may be "smell that," "listen to that," etc (I once worked with a noise sensitive dog and C/T perking his ears up, since it was hard for me to identify which noises were problematic)
Irith's version: no verbal cue (offered freely); c/t either looking, or looking and checking in, or looking at handler

training animals to participate voluntarily in medical procedures - most common in zoological settings, should be done more with domesticated animals

successful choice-based training: set things up properly (antecedent management, management, setting the scene), choose a probably behavior when possible, follow the behavior with the right consequences

always strive to provide as much choice as possible: give several "good" choices; use habit to your advantage; use Premack's Principle; use set up that helps you get good choices; animals come programmed to make choices

Clicker Expo 2014: Laura Van Arendonk Baugh: Train That Chain Part 1

I only went to Part 1 of this talk; I had been planning to go to a different one but it filled up before I got there. This was my second choice but it was a very nice reminder of the most important points about training behavior chains. I wish I had stayed for the second part, actually!

chain with external cues - external stimuli provides cues (ie handler giving signals)
chain with internal cues - behavior or environment provides cues

ingredients of a chain: flient behaviors (solid cues with good stimulus control), positive trained cues, well-timed cue delivery (just as with well-timed clicks)

your cue is your click!: timing matters!; poorly timed -> will not reinforce previous behavior; behavior that is not reinforced is not maintained - chain will break down

demo: volunteer got up and was cued to spin, then clap, then put her hands up
first with external cues, then with internal cues (she was to decide on her own when to switch to the second and then third behavior)
the behaviors started to meld, degrade, become sloppy - this happens with all animals

beware of poisoned cues!
does not reliably predict positive outcome (could be R+, P+, etc)
common problem in many behavior chains
a poisoned cue is not a tertiary reinforcer - it will not support the previous behavior
without internal reinforcement, the chain will break down

best choice for predictable chains
always working toward more fluent, more reinforced behavior
minimal confusion, maximum enthusiasm
cheer completed task, not an attempt - avoid aborted attempts, mistakes, R+ of incomplet chain

never fix a behavior within the chain - split it out to fix individually

Clicker Expo 2014: Emma Parsons: Teaching a Reactive Dog Class

crude working definitions:
reactive (over-reactive) versus aggressive (does the dog have the intent to bite?)
generally Emma funnels reactive dogs into CU classes and aggressive dogs into the "reactive dog" class, which she wishes she could call an "aggressive dog" class
all students and assistants are told to act toward every dog as if it were people-aggressive as well as dog-aggressive, for safety's sake

goal for guardian: how to manage dogs safely and teach them the necessary skills effective in real world environments
goal for dog: learn how to keep himself safe in previously challenging environment while trusting that his guardian will make the best decisions for him

the space: large enough for barriers to be placed (can use cars or covered agility obstacles as barriers)
the equipment: collars & harnesses (no chokes or prongs) - 2 collar/leash system in required in case of equipment failure; clicker; highly palatable treats; treat pouch
the rules: good if owner can bring assistant, esp if dog is human aggressive; enter and exist only through assigned doors; class assistants accompany students at all times while on the premises; students bring the dogs in only when told to do so

thresholds: time vs space, can play with this if you have a small area

this is advanced class - students already known clicker and basics
advanced exercises: dog jumping four jumps in pinwheel, while another dog and handler are in the middle
novel stimulus (look for crazy stuff in thrift stores and yard sales) - c/t for looking
combine n.s. and jumping exercise

Working spot: Cai and I stood in the middle while another Papillon (Jack, not to be confused with Jacques) went around the jumps. Cai spent much of the weekend exploding at the other Papillons because he couldn't handle the excitement, but he did just fine with this exercise. Emma could tell that he was somewhat unnerved by the situation/environment, but to the average person he looked "fine". He was sleepy and full of treats for the rest of this lab.

basic reactive dog classes also cover variety of emergency strategies, ie "grab dog" = C/T, get behind something and hide
go over home management, ie don't allow fence-fighting, barking out window
default behaviors

It's always nice to see how experienced people find different ways to work these classes. I'd say that at least 50% of my private lessons are with reactive dogs. If I had the space and the assistants(!), I'd be happy to teach one of these classes.

Clicker Expo 2014: Michele Pouliot: Super Friendly to Super Cool

can be used for overly-friendly dogs or for fearful dogs
basically it's splitting a trigger down as much as possible, and rewarding a default behavior you like or staying next to your side, allowing the dog to learn self control

turn the "trigger" into a cue for the desired behavior
build history of positive reinforcement for the desired behavior
present trigger at level that allows successs
use "real life" triggers - not fake, played up triggers/actors

common triggers: stranger looks at dog, person talks to dog/owner, person approaches, person extends hand, person comes within reach

what is the lowest intensity trigger that sparks emotion in your dog, before a full-blown reaction?

same technique for any emotion in dog
turn it into a game

stand behind a line (can be tape on ground, a crack in the sidewalk, on a platform, or on a ledge that gives a clear boundary) - c/t staying behind line, high RoR, errors should be few or non-existant (else difficulty is too high)
clickable behaviors: not moving toward trigger, returning to handler, loosening pull on leash, looking at handler, offering alternate behavior (ie sit)
may get other forms of exuberance as dog is learning, such as jumping up and down, wiggling
slow down RoR when dog is being successful, and trigger is becoming cue to check in

other tips we all need to be reminded of:
internationally, all dogs know this cue: the hand reaching for the pocket!
don't block the info of the clicker with the info of the food (food visibly in hand, hand in pocket, etc)

I will add this to my toolbox for teaching self control to overly-excited greeters. I like the idea of using masking tape and giving the client a clear visual aid and instructions ("reward frequently as long as your dog is not crossing the line, hold still if he does cross it and wait").

The best part of this lab was when I volunteered to be the first person to try it, in front of everyone else. Michelle told my assistant to talk to Chimera sweetly, and "pretend that he's the cutest dog in the world." In front of everyone, I held up a hand in the "whoa there" position and said with a straight face, "That's not pretending." I got a big laugh and for the rest of the weekend, people refered to Cai as "the cutest dog in the world." He and I both enjoyed the attention. :)

When it was our working turn, Cai quickly caught on that the point was to stand still and check in with me frequently no matter how enticing the assistants were. He already had some foundation for this, since we've been preparing for the obedience Stand for Exam. I actually had one of them give Cai a few pats down the back like a judge would for novice. I would do something similar for a dog who has good control until the human starts OMG petting them!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chimera and friends (Clicker Expo 2014)

We also took a series with friends, who will be considered "the greats" someday:


Chimera meets the greats (Clicker Expo 2014)

You'll notice a theme: the people are super happy to cuddle such an adorable Papillon, while Cai is saying, "Mom, please save me." He gots lots of treats for this. Click on any picture to see it in a bigger size.
Karen Pryor

Kathy Sdao
Ken Ramirez
Michele Pouliot
Hannah Brannigan
Emma Parsons
Emma Parsons
Emily Larlham (KikoPup)
Julie Flannery
Emelie Johnson Vegh and Eva Bertilsson