Titles Achieved to date...

Monumental A to Z High On Liberty

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Girlfriend's back...

My Girlfriend’s back and she’s a little smarty
(Hey la, hey la, my girlfriend’s back)
Every day with her is better than a party
(Hey la, hey la, my girlfriend’s back)

We had a rough week but now that’s all gone…
(Hey la, hey la, my girlfriend’s back)
I never doubted cuz I know she is the one…
(Hey la, hey la, my girlfriend’s back)

Each day last week got better than the one before.  By Thursday she was able to heel 6 steps in class.  Through all of this - even when she couldn't focus as well as she usually does, she was still always very interested in training.  She thinks training is all just a game she invented and she certainly loves to play...

Gimme still has interest in her baaaaaaby, but its not as strong as before.  Now when she checks on it, sometimes she just leaves it where it is (usually in her crate).

Interestingly during this episode, she has developed a rabid interest in a toy we've had all along.  When I got her I already had a couple milking machine toys and then a friend gave me another.  She never really showed any interest in them, only as long as it took to lick off the peanut butter.  I was going to give them away until I noticed Michael carrying one around. 

Then suddenly this week Gimme decided those are her favorite-best-all-time-toys-in-the-world.  She wants to play with them no less than three hours a day and its absolutely essential that I be involved with this play -- essential I tell you.  I've been working on a home repair project that required me to cut a 4 inch hole through the siding and the house, into the crawl space.  Doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but it took several hours.  I grabbed our agility table and used that to sit on.  Gimme thought that worked well when she brought back "milky" since she could drop it beside me or jump on the table and shove it at me, at face level. 

If neither approach brought the desired results, she would then roll milky off the table so it fell where Michael was napping in the shade next to me.  Then of course, the barking began.  Finally I'd pick it up and throw it for her.  After several repeats of this process it occurred to me that I was rewarding a really obnoxious behavior pattern - so milky got a time out. 

On Saturday we went walking with Linda in our usual area.  On Thursday I saw no movement or activity in or near the eagle's nest when we walked, but this was a great day for eaglet watching.  As we came to the place where we could see the nest, first one and then the other eaglet, left the nest and flew across the sky.  Sadly we weren't ready and didn't get a picture of them fledging, but it was still very cool to see.  Later on our way back, my friend spotted both babies sitting in the top of a tall dead crag.  These are the best of the pictures we took.

Later as we stopped to look at something else, I happened to look back and saw them both return to the nest.  They only stayed there briefly before leaving.  Again we weren't ready with the camera.  After they left Linda and I were both sure we saw more movement in the nest.  So we are wondering if there is a third "late" baby that isn't' yet ready to fly.  I'll be watching them over the coming weeks.

Miss Gimme finds eagle watching boooooooring.  She doesn't like it that we stop and gawk for so long.  Instead we should be following her and admiring every little thing she does.

Also, Gimme just informed me that she is seeking to copyright her name. So then every time I use it, I'll have to pay her... I already do, but I think she wants to make it legally binding.  That's my girl - always working the angles...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Hormone For Every Occasion

I'm thinking that title pretty much sums up the last few days...  Poor Gimme, she just seems to be in a constant state of emotional flux.  She tries very hard, but I notice that her emotions are right under the surface and she is easily frustrated.  For now I'm not pushing her in training, but am continuing training.  If I wasn't training she'd be even more frustrated.

We do a lot of walking and enjoying ourselves, with training thrown in.  She's doing well.  However in class last night (Monday) she was very near to official melt-down status.  She was very frustrated by not being able to play with the puppy in the next cubicle... and then another puppy got loose and got too close.  As I said, easily frustrated.  After that we didn't get much done, but got in plenty of practice at relaxation protocol.  I did notice last night after we got home that she was so wound up she just couldn't get calm, so finally had to put her in the puppy pen so she could settle down - which she did.  It's been a very long time since we've had to do that.

This morning I noticed that when she came out of her sleeping crate, she didn't have as immediate of a need for her baaaaaaby and didn't need to keep it close under her chin as before, so I hope that means that she's on her way back to normal. 

We got in a nice long walk today and had a lovely time.  At times she does very well, as shown by her sit-stay here with a Chinook helicopter doing load-ops and coming in behind her for a landing.  I know where they plant their loads, so I knew we were completely safe where we were.  However, Gimme doesn't know, so her trust in me and determination to do her "job" make me so much more than proud.

During our walk we discovered an eagle's nest in one of the trees by the main pipeline road.  Its in the top of a very tall evergreen tree.  This picture is at the limit of my camera's zoom, so you can't really tell anything.  The nest is 6-8 feet across by my guess.

Based on the timing, the eaglets should be ready to fledge (leave the nest) sometime in the next couple of weeks.  I saw a parent coming and going a couple of times, but couldn't get a picture of that - need a better camera, remote shutter and tripod.  The parent never landed, but would hover over the nest before taking off - presumably delivering a meal.  The first reason I noticed them was hearing an unusual bird call, timed with the sudden silence from the woods and fields.  Usually there are all kinds of animal/bird sounds while we are walking.  Then looked up to see the eagle circling overhead before going in for delivery.  I did see some movement, an occasional wing extending over the nest edge and a head popping up - they are clearly very big already.

My friend Carol is a professional photographer and we are going to try to get out there and get better pictures.  She will be able to get more detail and I am sure will grace me with a picture or two that I can share with you.  [stay tuned]

Tonight in class Gimme did much better.  We took the step of taking the end cubicle with more barriers so she wasn't presented with as much distraction or seeing any enticing dogs from close up.  So we got in some good training time and I was happy with our class.  She'd been getting really good at doing a lot of repetitions of things and that has fallen off quite a bit.  Still she is willing to work on many different things with a few breaks thrown in.  That's better than the last two classes. 

And, of course, we are not working on "the hardest thing".  Since that proved so difficult for her before, I don't think it would be a good idea to push her with that right now.  Mostly we are revisiting stuff she knows well and keeping the training fun and rewarding. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's a Baaaaahaaaaby

As you know, Gimme recently whelped a baby lamb toy. She is a diligent mother who is devoted to her little one. Do not allow any rumors about the baby missing its ears or tail convince you that she is anything other than the utmost in tender and loving...

In this close-up you can see the resemblance between mother and daughter.

As you can imagine, being a working mother is very hard work.

All that work is very tiring, so Gimme is taking extra naps to keep her strength up.

In some ways she is a bit needier. She doesn't think she can go outside unless I am there to watch her and she has been more demanding of my attention. She tolerates the others, as long as they don't look at her baby. On the other hand, when we go to post for our walks in the woods, she is actually ranging further from me than usual. So much so, that today I resorted to hiding several times to remind her that its her job to keep an eye on me or I might get lost.

Of course, partly the ranging far out may have to do with the increase in deer in the area. I've walked this same area since February and have never seen a deer. I've seen occasional deer scat and a few deer prints in the soft soil, but no actual deer. Now I have seen deer on our last two walks. On Thursday, I was heading back toward the car and saw a head come into view on the road in front of me over the crest of the hill. It was so big that at first I thought it was a horse and momentarily wondered why I couldn't see the rider. Of course when I got there, there was only a small doe slipping into the woods. Today as I was coming up the hill I saw another doe slipping into the woods.

Gimme didn't see any of these, but she definitely smells them. Her behavior when she smells fresh deer is distinct. She starts hopping around in the long grass on either side of the pipeline road, like a non-stop EverReady Bunny. Back and forth, up and down, then races around in big circles. Occasionally she feints into the woods, but never more than ten feet. And she comes out of the woods five times as fast as she goes in. I don't understand how a dog that faces down Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters with so much bravado can be intimidated by the possibility of coming face to face with deer.

She's been doing well in classes, with one exception. She absolutely doesn't know what "heel" means anymore. It is as if some virus went into her mental harddrive and selectively erased that section of knowledge. All her other behaviors are as strong as they have ever been. She continues to be the star of the classes. But we cannot do even one step of heeling. I discussed it at length with my instructor and she sees the same thing. She said the look Gimme gives when I give the "heel" cue is like she hasn't a clue what I want. Between us we can't think of anything we've done in training that might have caused it. Her sit-stay, down-stay, signal exercises, recalls of all types (she has several different ones), freestyle moves, eye contact game, ability to freeshape and target - everything else is just the same as its been before. Only heeling is affected and that is regardless of where I am doing it - though I can get two steps in my living room and zero steps at class.

For that reason, we are chalking it up to hormones due to the recent "whelping". Our guess is the hormones are making her unable to focus while moving, having to exercise self control, and with distraction. She can do her self-control exercises while still, as well as all the other moving exercises, regardless of distraction. I know when I first went through menopause I had the focus capability of a gnat... so I am assuming this is it. In the meantime, I am reteaching heel from the very beginning, as if we'd never done it before.

One thing that was very nice during the discussion was when Ursula asked me if I'd noticed any deterioration in any of her other behaviors. I said "no". Then she said, "Well, her recall is so good it could deteriorate a lot before anyone would ever notice." Naturally I love hearing compliments like that - especially since we've worked sooooo hard on that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Follow-Up to The Hardest Thing

Last night we got all the elements in place for our plan and things went much better.

We went into the much larger cubicle where we could work on this and play tug without disturbing other dogs (there are a number of reactive dogs in this class, which is set up much like Control Unleashed classes). We also changed so that when Ursula approached she started by walking all the way around us and then just lightly brushing Gimme's cheek with her hand a couple of the times when she went by. We only did two or three iterations per session (three very short sessions - about 40 seconds) and then Ursula would move off to work with other dogs and we'd train on other things until she came back. Gimme did fine. I was ready to tug for reward, but Gimme was much more interested in cleaning up the floor after our work since the previous occupant left a lot of food behind.Between our sessions of "the hardest thing", we started working on brief out-of-sight stays. With this setup I could leave the cubicle and move far enough away that Gimme wouldn't see me over the top of the divider. They were only very short stays of 10-15 seconds, but that is a great place to start. Gimme did great with that too -- not bad at all for a 10 month old puppy.She actually worked through the whole class and never did need a peanut butter bone... a first. I had her thoroughly engaged for almost the whole hour. Her working ability just gets better and better all the time. We did a couple sessions of relaxation protocol when we were back in our cubicle and a couple of the other dogs were working in the main area - so she could watch them and practice being calm at the same time.Right before class ended Ursula asked me if Gimme had any brain left to work and if so, could she be a demo dog for go-to-mat. I said "sure", thinking we were just going to demonstrate what the go-to-mat behavior looked like. What Ursula really wanted to demonstrate was pairing a new cue, the sound of a doorbell ringing, to the behavior. Of course, Gimme only had to have the sequence (doorbell - old verbal cue - behavior - reward) happen three times before we were able to test and see her do the behavior on the doorbell alone. People were astonished, as was I, to see her pick it up so fast. It was cool because the whole class erupted in celebration when she got it right and you should have seen Gimme looking around and realizing how great it is to have an audience to appreciate her. The instructor reminded the students that while dogs pick up things like this very quickly, Gimme is exceptionally quick.

There's a reason I say all the time that she's a canine genius.

BTW overnight Gimme has adopted a baaaaaaby. She's had a stuffed lamb toy since she came home with me and its one of the few she never chewed up. Well she's just two months out of her first season and has decided this will be her baby. At least its black and white... [and yes, it has occurred to me that hormones in the last week of her false pregnancy could have contributed to her difficulty with "the hardest thing"]

Another BTW - check out this link for a great article that does a very good job of explaining why using corrections on aggressive behavior may "look" like it is working but really creates a ticking time bomb. Feel free to share this info far and wide...
Thank Your Dog For Growling

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Hardest Thing

Gimme is such a smarty and picks up most things so quickly, its hardly like training at all. We have now identified the one-thing that will be her biggest challenge -- the stand-for-exam.

I've mentioned before that she was having difficulty "getting" the idea of a stand-stay. We are still working on that. Her sit-stay and down-stay are both so good, that I know once its clear to her what I want, she will get it and be very solid.

I've also mentioned before that she finds people the most attractive thing on the planet. I wrote in a prior entry about her inability to restrain the impulse to jump on people and our recent huge strides in getting past that problem. She's continuing to make headway.

Since we had finally made it solidly on the other side of that hump and since she did so incredibly well on her down-stay, even with our instructor, Ursula, stepping over her body (we had the behavior down cold in less than two minutes)... I thought she was ready for the next step. Without a stand-stay in place, I decided to try the "exam" part of stand-for-exam during a sit-stay.


This is proving to be "the hardest thing" for her. We've tried it three times in class and its quite challenging to read her and relieve the pressure before it becomes too stressful for her. In a left-brain way, its interesting to see how the self-imposed restraint in the face of a positive stressor so quickly builds into a negative stressor.

She is working so hard to do what she knows I want that she is internalizing all this stress. She isn't giving me her usual stress signals - which is a certain look in her eyes that I recognize but can't really describe. As a result we've unintentionally pushed her too far - all three times.

The first time (last night), she broke her stay. She knew she was supposed to stay put and certainly wasn't supposed to go toward the instructor, so when she just couldn't hold it any longer, she broke and moved away. We knew we had pushed her too far and decided that the next time we would do more "ping pong" of the instructor's approach and quit much sooner.

Tonight we did a short session of ping pong (where the instructor moves in and then moves completely out of her social area before returning and varying more the level of difficulty). We stopped when Gimme started turning her head away and got a bit fidgety, but was still holding her stay. When Gimme and I went back to our cubicle, she went in her safe-place crate and had a peanut butter bone and then came out ready to work with me again.

The second session tonight, we kept even shorter because the fidgeting started much sooner. Because of that, I knew we had still pushed her too far in the first session of the class and that she hadn't adequately released the stress between those two sessions. She had to have two peanut butter bones before I saw relaxation in her face. Also this is the first time since the first two weeks in class that she's turned her back on the class to enjoy her bone. Even after those two bones she still wasn't able to actively work, so I practiced relaxation protocol with her.

When the instructor came back around, we didn't do another session, instead she stood there talking to me and giving Gimme treats. It took her about 2 dozen treats to get back to the relaxation we'd had before the instructor's return - and this is a person she really loves. Then Gimme gave her a big love.

We discussed other ways to relieve Gimme's stress in the exercise in a more positive way. She is so determined to be right that I believe the physical stillness of the stay is masking the internal struggle. So we are going to try using an "okay" release as part of her reward for getting the stay right in the face of this distraction. That will help her burn off some of that stress in a positive way and will up the fun for her.

I'm also going to ask the instructor to help me figure out what other stress signs she may be showing that I'm missing. I think when she is working, she gets a sort of game-face that hinders my ability to see the usual look of stress in her expression. Ursula is so good at reading dogs, that she will certainly pick up something that I'm missing.

I've just reread this and I have to say it sounds like we've been pushing the hell out of her. That is not the case. These sessions have been very short. The longest one (the first) was less than two minutes, the second one about a minute and the last one less than a minute.

In closing, I have to say I am eternally thankful for reward based training. Gimme is such a wonderful dog and so smart, it breaks my heart to even think of what it would be like for her if she were being trained by "traditional" methods.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday U.S.A.

In honor of America's 235th birthday, Gimme dressed up in all her most patriotic finery. She enjoyed chips, chicken and potato salad. She seems especially fond of potato salad - who knew.

I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th of July celebrations as much as we did ours.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Making Progress

We've been busy, as usual. Gimme is going to class 4 nights a week. And we go "hiking" for one to two hours, three days a week. Its more walking than real hiking, but its on rougher terrain, so its not like walking in the neighborhood. I had some wonderful pictures from our walk today, but blogger is being uncooperative about uploading pictures and/or formatting around them - so no pictures today.

We are making progress on so many fronts, that Gimme seems to be growing up a bit more every day.

Gimme has suddenly gotten over her anxiety about horses. One day she was barking the moment she saw them and the next she just looks at them and then looks back at me to see what I'm doing. During our two hour walk today, we had three horse experiences. First, there was someone off-loading their trailer near where we parked and Gimme was about to trot over and introduce herself, tail a-wagging. I was headed out though, so she came with me instead. Then twice during our walk we came upon riders and their dogs. Gimme literally paid no attention to the horses whatsoever, being intent on playing with the dogs instead.

Sometime soon I hope to arrange a session to start her working obedience and such near horses. Of course, first I need to read the road trial information on the DCA website, to see what is required to get a title. Obviously, she's only ten months old, so I'm in no hurry. I don't plan to do any conditioning before her second birthday, but I can still work on some of the behaviors now.

One of our three big walks each week is on a developed trail near the house. There are a lot of cyclists that use this path - which I've talked about before. Gimme never chased the bikes or the occasional kids on skateboards. Cyclist are very watchful when they see a loose dog. Even if the dog doesn't chase, there is still a risk the dog will get in the way and cause them to crash. I've always called Gimme to me when I see them and somewhere in recent weeks she started coming to me automatically when she sees a cyclist. I get lots of compliments on how well-behaved she is.

Its time for another confession. In all my years of dogs, I've never had a dog that I couldn't get to refrain from jumping on people. Gimme has proved to be the exception to my skills as a dog trainer. She learns everything else so quickly that it just seemed so very strange that she couldn't get this simple skill, despite all the lessons and all the helpful friends that patiently worked with us. She runs up to people all skooting low ready to sit and then at the last second goes straight up, usually with a friendly nose bump.

This very behavior was the reason for a private behavior lesson several months ago. Our trainer said that Gimme is so social and loves people so much that any interaction with them simply pushes her beyond her thinking brain. She wants to do what she has been trained to do, but the closer she gets the less mental/emotional ability she has to follow through. So we embarked on a counter-conditioning program to use food to calm her around people. We got some results and her jumping was less exuberant - which is good since she is now full size and people are generally less enthused about jumping big dogs than they are about jumping small puppies.

One of the things I've done while working to get this under control was to avoid having her around kids that weren't experienced with exuberant and/or large dogs. And yet, in the end it turns out an unplanned swarm of children of all sizes proved to be the key to solidifying the right greeting behavior in her brain.

Last weekend my niece held a family picnic to BBQ the last salmon that she and Josh caught together. It was wonderful fun. After I stuffed myself, Gimme took me for a nice long walk in the park and when we were well away from the food, I let her off leash. We'd gone quite a distance when suddenly we were surrounded by children. Gimme spent much time with these children without jumping on them - she seemed to instinctively know that she couldn't jump on them. She had a lot of fun teaching them how to give a dog treats properly (meaning she got copious quantities of treats for sitting well-behaved while surrounded). And she even showed them how you can get a dog to do things based on hand signals alone.

Her behavior playing with them was also very interesting. When they were running around, she would romp around following them from about 5 feet behind. She could easily have caught up to them, so this was a self-controlled decision that she made. I saw her air-biting from well behind them and was about to call her back to me. But before I could, I noticed that when she got closer she clamped her mouth shut and then when she did catch up to them, she'd use her nose to goose them on the leg. It was amazing to me to see her instinctual behavior, especially given her limited exposure to children.

Then the very next day in class, we did a long session focused on greeting behaviors. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. Since then, her understanding of how to greet people has improved by leaps and bounds. Its still not 100% of what I want, but we are well on our way.

Meanwhile in our classes, most of the behaviors that are being taught are things Gimme has known for a long time. All along Ursula has been modifying the class exercises so that Gimme and I would get the most out of our time. Gimme has really been keeping her on her toes thinking up new ways to try to distract her... since once or twice with any one thing and then Gimme knows the drill and won't fall for it. She is getting to the point where she knows that Ursula is going to play the distraction game and sometimes she won't even fall for it the very first time - even on things that I think could be an issue elsewhere.

In class on Thursday while everyone else was teaching their dogs to lay down on cue and some were working on down-stay, Gimme and I were in the middle of the class, where she could see everyone, practicing her stays. Her big distraction was for Ursula to walk around her closer and closer until she was finally stepping over Gimme. It took less than two minutes for Gimme to get from Ursula walking around her from 4 feet away to stepping over her... she very quickly figured out that this is just another weird-Ursula-thing. In fact, she only condescended to look at Ursula at the very beginning.

Two other behaviors we are working on is "get-in" (counter-clockwise forehand pivot) and stand stay. While I started teaching the pivots as obedience maneuvers, I will also want them for freestyle. So, my goal is to have two separate directions for her forehand pivots - "get-in" for a counter-clockwise forehand pivot and "close" for a clockwise forehand pivot. I would like her to be able to do a full 360° on cue for freestyle. Now that I think about it, I'll probably want a rear pivot as well, but that will come later.

Since we are using short (sit) platforms and long (stand) platforms for other things, I wanted our get-in platform to be a bit different. So I cut a 7.5 inch wide octagonal "brick". On our first session I got my clicker and counted out thirty treats. The minute I showed her the brick she was interested. The instant the it hit the ground I got one foot on - 1st click. Two feet on - 2nd click. Spent about ten clicks reinforcing the idea of keeping both feet on.

Then I started clicking whenever she moved her back feet. If I moved around it, she pivoted nicely on her front feet to keep facing me, so I was able to get in a lot of clicks for back feet moving. After about ten of those, she decided I was being boring and tried offering other clever ideas. Sadly, having a goal I had to ignore them all. When she got back to moving her back feet, I then tried standing still to see if she really understood that it was movement of her back feet that I wanted. She did and there were some nice 10-15 degree pivots.

I was about to quit, thinking it might be time to let her percolate on what we'd done. She was standing directly in front of me, with her brick about 12 inches from my toes. Then in ONE smooth move, she pivoted all the way around and slid right into perfect heel position, with her usual, "so whadya think of that?" look. (in just 30 clicks, doncha know)

I think she is smarter than I am - that's what I think of that. Thank God I have so many resources to help me at least TRY to stay one step ahead of her or I'd be toast.

Her sit-stay and down-stay ("wait) are both great. But that understanding has not generalized to stand-stay and she has very fidgety feet (front and back). Any attempt to work on the halt-stand-walk-around for rally results in a lovely forehand pivot, naturally. A friend suggested that I shape two feet on a board to help her understand stand-wait. She seemed to get it, provided I didn't try to do the walk-around bit. So I had the brilliant idea of teaching her to do front feet on one board and back feet on another (a take-off from the way some people teach a free stack for the breed ring).

In the course of shaping her to put her back feet on the board, she kept giving me front feet and even a lovely 90° pivot. It broke my heart not to c/t that. Fortunately if SHE thinks an idea is a good one, she'll always come back to it - so I'm sure we'll see it again.

Right now we are taking a few days break. I noticed that her rear feet were slipping on the board, so I want to paint it and add some sand for traction. I can hardly wait to get back to it.

Gimme is so much fun to train -- if I had a tail, I'd wag my whole butt with it!