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Monumental A to Z High On Liberty

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Distraction - part 2

We tried the walk at Capitol Lake again.  Started an hour later and can't believe how many people were still out and about. 

We no more than got out of the car then two nice guys came up and had to meet Gimme.  I managed to convince them that it really would be more helpful if they'd hook a thumb in her collar and keep her from jumping up or climbing on them.  So many people encourage her cuz she is so darn cute - it makes it very difficult to convince her that not everyone is charmed by her muggings.  They were very interested in liver coloring and clicker training.  So we spent fifteen minutes talking, by which time Gimme did calm down (she still loves men, her favorite after her Mom).  Then they had to go so they wouldn't be late for an AA meeting.

There were still people out and about all the time we were there, even when we finished at 8:45, there were still a good number.  There were lots of couples walking, joggers beating the heat, a few people with dogs, a Mom with stroller, and some teens playing Frisbee.  Gimme was interested and distracted, but not so over the top.  We periodically did check-ins, followed by ten for simple behaviors and for the most part she did well. 

By the end of the walk she was being more consistent about not pulling - she'd pull through even with the WalkEase harness, unless I stop and make her turn back. 

Every time we saw someone with a dog, I stopped and did the metronome feeding while she watched them.  She was alert, but not showing the same level of tension in her body as she did on Monday.  Except when the couple passed with the nasty little barking Westie.  Gimme was pretty certain that little snot needed to be taught a lesson...  but, on a positive note, she settled down quicker than she had before.

We also had two episodes of large dogs barking in the distance.  The first one she settled down quicker than she had yesterday at Home Depot.  The second time she almost ignored it.  To be honest though, they were further away, so that was probably a factor.

BTW we've found a local CGC class to get in, starting September 13th.  Its super cheap and run by Parks and Rec.  The instructor is an old friend of mine, so there won't be any problem with me doing my own thing.  It should be a good experience.  We were the 7th to join the class.  Hopefully it won't fill as he accepts up to 12 students, which I think is too many for one instructor. 

Tomorrow I'm getting back to the project.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting Past Distraction

Gimme has always shown a tendency to get over-the-top about new and exciting things.  She often has difficulty calming down once she gets excited.   For that reason, the timing for the classes with Ursula was great.  It gave us a perfect environment for helping Gimme learn to resist distraction and to feel calm in distracting settings.  We made a lot of progress, but we still have a lot more work to do.

Based on the issues we had at Sunday's show, I have created a list of upcoming shows and trials for the next three months (not that I think that's all we'll need).  My plan is to attend at least 2 per month and just find that area where Gimme is able to be comfortable.  We'll do relaxation protocol and just hang out.  If need be, we'll start in the parking lot.  We may not get into any of the buildings for awhile.  Its more important that Gimme be mostly calm and able to deal with her environment.  I'll continue at whatever level we find ourselves, until she demonstrates that she can handle more.  I'll know she can handle more when she can consistently perform simple commands in a particular setting.  Such as: touch, sit, down, a few steps of heeling, wait, etc.

Obviously two sessions a month will not be enough to make solid progress.  So in the meantime I am scoping out other local areas of interest to work in.  There's a great walking trail around Capitol Lake (2 miles) parts of which have small parks adjacent to the trail.  There are a lot of sports fields nearby, some at schools and others in parks and recreation.  Olympia is the kind of city that has lots of events, street fairs and farmers' markets, etc.  All of these are good possibilities for training.

Last night we went to the Capitol Lake park and walked and sat.  Over all, Gimme did well.  We saw boys and girls playing soccer, lots of runners and walkers, about a third of them with dogs.  One lady tripped over her dog's leash and that caused some excitement as a white standard poodle came rushing toward us and relatives were diving for her leash.  I didn't want them to meet like that so did my best to avoid the situation and as soon as things were settled I kept tossing treats on the ground until Gimme was calm again. 

I learned a lot watching her posture and how she reacts and what the fine line is between one emotion and another.  She got a lot of treats for just watching dogs coming and going (counter-conditioning) toward calmness. We sat in the grass at one point and just engaged in some serious people watching.  When Gimme got bored, she started offering "grape" (the dead bug) to get more treats out of me.  Next time I decide to try that place, I think I'll go down there about half an hour later when there is less activity so we can practice calmness.

I would have preferred a setting that was a little less exciting, so Gimme could relax more easily.  Runners, walkers, bikers and skateboarders don't get her going -- until they get close then they might be coming to pet her.  The dogs get her pretty keyed up.  I wish the setup was a little different, since there is no real place where we can be on the periphery and stay outside her threshold.  The grassy area is a triangular strip (100' wide at the wide end, which is where the soccer players were) with the path on each side... so with a constant stream of people and dogs, it was a lot to take in.  We'll try it again, but may have to scope out some other places with less stimulation to start with, places where we can train until we are ready for that.

So today I took a different tactic - parking lots.  I serviced one of my stores and when I came out, got Gimme out of the car.  I just stood there in the grass strip and let her take it all in and watched for any little sign of attention.  I didn't use any cues and just waited.  Any time she looked in my direction, I clicked and gave her a treat.  I had counted out ten treats for the checking-in behavior. 

One funny thing that happened while I was waiting to use up our ten check-in treats... a fire engine went by, sirens blaring.  There's a fire station about a mile down the road from my house and they often go by and sing "hello" to Gimme.  We always sing back.  So we sang along this time too.  Gimme is really funny, she always sings the same words, "wooooooooooooooooooh, wooooh ahhhh woo, wooo ahhh rowh", over and over.  I'm sure people watching thought we were nuts, but we were having fun. 

After we finished check-ins I asked her for a few simple behaviors (again having counted out ten treats).  Sit, touch and down were the most successful.  I tried a bit of heel, but she just couldn't focus that well.  So instead I had her sit in front of me facing perpendicular to me.  I'd step sideways and she'd step forward and sit, for which she got a click and treat.  After we used up those ten treats we got in the car and drove away. 

Our drive was very short, just 100 yards to another place in the same parking lot, where we got out to repeat the process.  This time the 10 treats for checking-in went much faster.  Interestingly this time we were able to do single steps of heeling.  This second mini-session went very quickly.  From there we got back in the car for another short drive. 

This time we ended up at Home Depot, about two blocks away.  I'd planned to stay in the same mini-mall parking lot, but the only other grass strips were on the edges, near the roads and that was more distraction than I wanted.  At HD things started out very well and Gimme seemed to be on track with the prior mini-session, but then I noticed I was losing her focus.  It took me a bit to realize she was listening to a dog barking somewhere else in the parking lot.  He was muffled enough that I hadn't noticed him before.  Sometimes he'd sound really muffled and other times more clear, as if someone was opening a door and then closing it again.

Gimme has always been rather sensitive to the sound of a large dog barking.  So I changed gears and started metronome feeding her whenever the dog was barking.  Metronome feeding refers to giving her many treats, but moving your hand away between and then bringing it back for another treat - in a rhythm, much like a metronome. 

After ten treats, I asked her to sit, but got no response.  Sit is a simple behavior that Gimme is very good at and normally responds quickly to, so it makes a good barometer of her mental state.  If its normal speed when I cue for it, then she's fine.  If the sit is slow, she's showing some "concern" about something, but still able to think and respond.  If there is no response when I say "sit", then she is over-threshold and either needs more time to adapt or needs to be moved away.   In this case, based on the whole picture of Gimme, her posture and expression, I was sure she would adapt, so we stayed there.

After another ten treats of metronome feeding, Gimme was then responsive to the sit cue.  Not quite as fast as normal, but not very far off.  After that I counted out another ten treats and we started over with check-ins.  As soon as Gimme realized that was the game we were playing, it went very quickly.  Then I counted out three more treats (less than the prior sessions because I didn't want to push too much after the barking dog thing) and asked for simple behaviors.  From there we got back in the car and drove out to the fort's training areas for our long Tuesday walk.

I decided that from now on, no matter where we go (except when arriving home) when Gimme gets out of the car we will go through the ten for check-ins and ten for simple behaviors pattern.  I'd like it to be a routine Gimme expects - a couple minutes to get adapted to the location and then expect to work.  It took longer to go through here than any of the other sessions because Gimme is so used to getting out of the car there and just going.  Still, once she understood the rules it went really fast.

During our walk we continued the random clicking for being within my comfort zone.  Gimme did well.  On the way out to the turning point we found a large blood stain on the road.  Some critter lost its life there.  I was able to get Gimme to go past it fairly quickly.  Then on our way back she ran well ahead to investigate it.  Since she wasn't paying any attention to me, I used that as an opportunity to hide behind a tree.  It didn't take her very long to realize I'd disappeared and she quickly came running.  As we walked past the crime scene, she paid no attention to the evidence this time.  That hiding thing always gets her attention glued on me. 

So all in all, it was a good day.  Gimme worked hard and really deserved the new toy I'd gotten for her... 

Weekend report...

Gimme did as well as could be expected on Friday and the judge was too kind. She came away with her first rally leg and a 2nd place.  Since it was a specialty, I got a professional show photo taken.  Here is a short clip of where Gimme pulled it together to do her better work for the day.  Many of her errors were, as Denise Fenzi calls them, errors of enthusiasm.

We spent as much time hanging out after we showed, as we had before.  My friend Nadine helped me fit Gimme for a dumbbell.  She showed me the kind she likes best and I've purchased the stuff to make them in just Gimme's size.  Interestingly, when she brought out her dumbbells to see how they fit, Gimme just grabbed them and really held them.  I'd been using a plastic one that I had and Nadine said she's known a number of dogs that didn't like working with plastic.  So I'm wondering if that is the reason we've had problems with shaping a retrieve.  Once I get these made, we'll see how that changes. 

Later that evening we had an agility lesson.  It was very discouraging.  Not because Gimme did anything wrong.  Rather because the instructor and I are clearly on very different pages as to what is appropriate for a dog with Gimme's age and experience level.  I do feel I let Gimme down, not standing up for her sooner.  In any case, that mistake will not happen again.  I may discuss this experience in greater detail at a later time.

On Saturday we hung out at my parents' house and I did the usual small home repairs, maintenance and yardwork.  Gimme had fun playing and being her usual goofy girl self.  In the early evening I tried to do a training session on "grape", but we didn't get very far.  She did work with me briefly, but it was clear that she wasn't very focused, so I didn't persist.  I should have realized from this attempted session that Gimme still had residual stress from the day before (keep in mind that the stress hormones can take days to dissipate).

Sunday was not successful. The Sammamish Kennel Club show is huge and the site is a nightmare.  We got there very early, which was good, since the hike from unloading to the obedience area was very long.  It took me three trips to get our stuff down there.  Unfortunately that meant that Gimme had to walk through the crowds around the breed rings six times (three trips both ways) which proved too much for her.  My strategy next time will be put Gimme in Michael's crate in the car and walk him on one trip and then put him in Meaggi's crate and walk her for a trip.  They will enjoy the walk and that would limit Gimme's exposure.  Plus I can then scope out a less chaotic route for my walk to the obedience rings with Gimme.  Of course if I bring my roller base next time (couldn't fit it in the car this weekend), that would get it down to one trip.  So next time it is coming along if I have to bungee it to the roof.

The drive from unloading to parking was so long I was afraid I was going to need my passport to get there. Then we had a reeeeeally long walk back to obedience.  By then Gimme was pretty overwhelmed by it all; even I found it chaotic.  I've forgotten how "busy" conformation shows are. We were there hours early and I was hopeful that plenty of quiet time and peanut butter bones would help her recover her wits. Before our run, she was starting to work with me again. I did get a lovely sit at the start line, but then some large dog nearby started a barking fest and that was all she wrote. Even so, the judge had some nice things to say about her.  I'm writing down her name as I'd like her to get to see Gimme again some day when she can do better.

Walking back to the car after we showed, Gimme was admired at length by a terrier person who thought she was "quite possibly the nicest Dal I've ever seen". She said she got her start in dog shows with Dalmatians. She was very impressed with Gimme's structure, lovely head, spotting and great type. In other words, the whole wonderful Gimme...

Closer to the car I ran into Nadine, who was parked near my car. We sat and talked and at one point she asked if she could work with Gimme. She had a special cookie that really intrigued her. Gimme worked nicely with her for a minute of heeling, but that was all her little puppy brain was up for. Nadine had lots of great comments about how nice she was working and lamented that she hadn't gotten near as far with her dog, who is 6 months older. So it was very nice to have her recognize what a special girl Gimme is and how well she's taken to training.

So we have much more work to do so Gimme can be comfortable and function in show/trial environments.  The classes with Ursula were a great starting point, but we have to go on from there.  My plan is to search the AKC events and find nearby shows and trials, and the local events for fairs and the like.  And we'll just go (at least twice a month, more often when I can) and hang out for starters... with the goal of getting to where she can work in that environment.  I'm not in a hurry - though I'll miss showing her off; we are again setting our sights on PSDC, this time next year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Project - Day 9

I have multiple lists of all the things I want to get done before we leave when dawn cracks tomorrow morning. I just don't want to have any detractors. I want it all to go smoothly.

The closer it gets to tomorrow, the more nervous I get. I've competed before in obedience, in conformation and a LOT in agility and I don't ever remember feeling this nervous. The only explanation I have is that I just want to do well so people will be impressed by Gimme and love and admire her as much as I do. I have an emotional investment in this debut, wanting people to see the adorable, loving, smart and funny darling that I've been blessed to live with. I want them so jealous.

I have to keep reminding myself that she's just a puppy and that almost anything could, and probably will, happen. Whatever - I know it will be fun - I always have fun with Gimme.

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
I did a session of this and again Gimme persisted in the front feet first approach, even though I very carefully did not click that, not even a freebie. Toward the end she was getting it right 9 out of 10 times. Then when I switched so that I was on the other side, relative to her approach, she went back to the front feet in first approach.

When she gets it right now, she is actually approaching it head on and then turning away with her front and essentially side-stepping in with the back feet. We got very few backing in today. Somewhere along the way I must have muddied the waters, because she was backing in a lot better and more often before.

We won't get to work on this for a couple of days because I don't have room in the car for the box w/platform with all the other stuff I'm taking for the weekend. When we do come back to it, I may rethink how I set it up so that we get better success. She's so eager I don't want to frustrate her. It occurs to me that I really need to get the mirror in place so I can see more clearly what is happening and click more accurately and timely. That may be all we need.

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
Not trained today.

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
Not trained today.

Peach - head under a chair
Another WOOHOO... its on cue! Despite a slow start (its pretty hot today and the training building doesn't have the best air flow), when Gimme really got going, she was very steadily putting her head under the chair. AND she was putting it in further than before. Before she put her nose under and I accepted that; today was her whole head. A couple times when I clicked a bit late it was clear that Gimme was ready to go under the chair and come out the other side, if need be. 

                            *** No behavior is ever good enough the way I
                            design it, Gimme always wants to embellish. ***

What I was most proud of was how quickly this went on cue. Just 15 reps between the three different stages and she had it. Then we did the test: sit, touch, touch, sit, peach. Again she was really slow the first time, giving me that sideways look. After that she responded to "Peach" quickly for two more mixed sets.

Then just as suddenly, her understanding of the cue was gone. Ursula said it wasn't gone, she was just mentally fatigued, probably exacerbated by the heat. I knew she was right when I thought about it, because the speed in response to "sit" dissipated too, though "touch" was still fast (but its a less demanding behavior). Sure enough when I tried it again later, she went right to it.

Melon - push cube with nose 

Not trained today.

I now have two behaviors that are ready to go to the third stage of learning: waiting for the cue before performing the behavior. Ursula calls that the "true obedience" stage, because in free shaping the dog is in control. When they learn to wait for the cue, the control passes back to the person. When the dog isn't getting rewarded for what they want, they may try to get those rewards by offering their default behavior. So its important when you are working on the wait for the cue, that you refrain from rewarding a dog's offering of their default behavior.
There are four different ways to teach the third stage:

  1. Extinction - simply stop rewarding the behavior unless you have cued for it. Be aware that you will likely get an extinction burst and it can take awhile for the dog to give it up. You will see a lot of frustration. Once they stop offering, then cue it again and reward performance on cue.
  2. Extending the cue - when you are naming a behavior, you start by saying the cue while the dog is performing and saying it earlier and earlier over multiple repetitions, until you are saying the cue before the behavior has begun. You can continue extending how early you say the cue, until you have created a wait.
  3. Mixed sets - repeating the mixed sets, interspersing the newly named behavior in with well known behaviors, will teach the wait, especially as you add time between the cues. Of course, you must have other behaviors on cue that are well known to use this option.
  4. Click for waiting - actually click/treating the momentary pauses between repetitions will help the dog to understand that "not doing" has value too.
Of all of these, I think I like the fourth option, click for waiting, the best. It seems to me that it would be the clearest to the dog. Also, by applying that while doing option three, mixed sets, it should go very quickly.

The Project - Day 8

I'm busy getting ready for the weekend and Gimme's debut in rally.  Friday we have the Puget Sound Dalmatian Club specialty.  Gimme has been doing so well, so I remain hopeful.  Our judge is Allan Immerman, someone I know from years ago.  He was the judge for Patti's second novice obedience leg and I hope we will show him some improvement in my obedience Dalmatians.  After that I'd like to spend some time with my sister Rhonda and Ann (if she can join us) -- if time doesn't allow, we always have Saturday.  Saturday is a wide open day and I will probably spend most of the day doing home repair and maintenance for my parents.  Sunday we have our second show day at the Sammamish Kennel Club show. 


Since I've been so busy getting ready for the weekend, I haven't trained outside of class.  Thursday night is our last class with Ursula for awhile.  She is talking about expanding her program and possibly bringing in someone to teach nosework.

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
We worked at this a short while.  I've modified our box to give it a base that prevents it from tipping.  The modification also has the advantage of being able to hold the box out from the wall.

Gimme seemed to get really stuck with walking through the box, thus putting her front feet in before the back feet.  By the end of our short session, she was getting it right again (back feet only) and on one particularly nice iteration, she got a jackpot and we ended the session.  Gimme had been doing it correctly about 80% of the time, so this seemed strange. 

Ursula suggested that with my known props that its time to stop giving her a "freebie" sooner (a click for any interaction to let her know what we're doing).  She thinks Gimme will understand what we are doing just by the appearance of the prop.  So I'll try it tomorrow without the freebie at the beginning of the session.

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet

Woohoo - its on cue! 

You'll remember the steps that Ursula gives for putting things on cue takes 5 to 30 repetitions each and that dogs need less reps as they have more and more cues learned.  It took us about 15 reps for step one, 10 reps for step 2 and 5 reps for step 3.  Because this is a behavior that takes a little while to do, we actually added a fourth step in there - 5 reps. 

After that we tested.  The process is that I ask her for two other behaviors she knows very well, clicking and treating each behavior and then mix in the new behavior.  The two other behaviors are "sit" and "touch" (hand target).  So it went:  touch, touch, sit, touch, orange.  The first time around she was a little slow to do it, turning and cocking her head looking at me as if to say, "are you sure, its this thing again?"  After getting it right in the mix that first time, she was much faster the other times and seemed to be very impressed with herself.

Next step is that she only gets click/treat when I cue "orange".

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)

Not trained today.

Peach - head under a chair

We did a short session with this.  Ursula found a chair in another room that wasn't a folding chair and so is without rungs and such.  I started clicking for any interaction as if we'd never done this behavior before to help Gimme to realize that she could do the same behavior with this very different chair.  It was a good experience that will help her with generalization in the future.  We left the chair out so I'll be able to work with it again.

Melon - push cube with nose
Not trained today.

This project is proving to be a lot of fun and instructional.  Gimme seems already to be getting more into the process of learning and refining her behaviors. 

BTW Gimme didn't tell you about her other birthday gift.  I bought her a seatbelt harness so she can be more comfortable when we travel.  It is taking awhile to get it adjusted just right on her, but I think it will work well for us. 


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Project - Day 7

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
Not trained today.  I'm going to cut an insert for the box and then attach a base to keep it from tipping over so easily.  Hopefully I can do this before class tonight.

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
Trained this in class.  Gimme and I went walking today and it was very hot and even more humid.  So I did find her getting a little tired (slower responses) and we didn't do as many repetitions as we might have otherwise.  Even with just a few reps, it was solid enough to progress with adding the cue.  I started adding the cue and got to the second step.  Then we had a discussion of how adding the cue will likely progress and what I should do.  Since the Orange behavior is a behavior that takes several seconds to do, there are a couple points where Gimme might stall as she is learning the cue.  It'll be interesting to watch. 

Meanwhile Ursula was cleaning up my technique.  I have to learn to remain quiet when someone is watching me.  I have conquered being quiet when I train alone, but with someone standing there my natural talkative tendency takes over.  I also need to throw the treats more of the time, to reset Gimme for another go at the behavior.

The other thing she noticed was that I usually "reload" my hand with treats right after I click, then toss a treat for Gimme.  What she saw was that it was taking me too long and when Gimme turned back toward me, my hand was still in the bag fishing for treats.  When that happened, Gimme was then focused on my hand instead of going right back to the shaping task.  Ursula said that since Gimme's clicker understanding is so sophisticated, that I no longer have to deliver the treat so quickly, so I can change my habit to reload after clicking while getting the next treat for that click.  This is very useful, since I would probably not have noticed this training by myself.

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
Not trained today.  However, I did notice watching TV, on the show "Frasier", the most frequent trick you see Eddie doing is the dead bug.  He does two versions, still (completely dead) and just like Gimme (wiggly legs).  Of course, Gimme is much cuter.

Peach - head under a chair

Not trained today. 

Melon - push cube with nose
Not trained today.

I also asked Ursula a question related to something else I've been working on.  As Gimme's independence phase has progressed, I've noticed her comfortable distance from me during our walks on the fort's training areas has increased, from 50-60 feet to more like 50 yards.  However my comfort zone has not increased with hers.

My approach was to start randomly clicking any time she is within the original (preferred) comfort zone, as well as any time she checks in (looks at me).  I've noticed two things.  Sometimes if I happen to click when she is headed to the edge of the woods (there are any number of deer trails into the woods and Gimme checks them all), she will turn her head to acknowledge me, continues across the verge to sniff down the trail, and then comes to me for the treat.  The other thing is that if she's on the road ahead of me (any distance from 5 to 50 feet), if I click her she just stops and waits for me to get there and deliver the treat.

If I stop, back up or turn away, she immediately comes to me at a gallop.  I tend to think she is just doing this because its been hot and humid since I've started doing the random clicking and she's conserving energy.  I wanted Ursula's take on it, because I wasn't sure if my interpretation was right and partly because in agility circles you hear people who say your dog MUST take any "reward" you offer.

Ursula answered that as long as Gimme is simply conserving effort, its okay to let her do it.  However, if it becomes evident that she is "training me" to bring her treats, then it has to stop.  So the key is that if I sometimes stop, back up or turn away and she immediately runs in - its likely okay.  The other thing would be if she returns to running in when the weather cools.

As for what some agility people say ... Ursula opined, "if you have to make the dog take it, then its not much of a reward, is it?"  Too true...

Again, will have to do the tertiary reinforcement later --- perhaps tonight.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Morning After, a message from Gimme

Hello everyone, friends, family and fans...

Yesterday was my birthday and now I'm one year old (plus one day).  We had a great celebration of this most extraordinary and fabulously momentous event. 

At training class we shared muffins with the humans and doggie gift bags with the other dogs.  What's that all about?  I thought they were supposed to be bringing me gifts.  Mom says they didn't know my birthday was coming and that sharing is gracious.  Maybe the party will be a hint that they should bring me something and, as luck would have it, they still have three more classes this week in which to correct the oversight.

Once at home, I had a nice surprise dinner of all kinds of treats and goodies.  Mom said it was all junk food and I shouldn't expect to eat any more of it if I want to continue being as gorgeous as I am now.  Even Ursula commented last night (unprompted I might add) about how I am growing up so nicely and what a stunning beauty I've become.  Clearly she is a genius (just like me) and has an astute grasp of the obvious.

Also for my birthday I got a new toy.  Mom bought it at Costco on Sunday and snuck it in the house so I wouldn't know and she could surprise me.  Isn't she just the clever one?  This toy is designed to be the super tough kind, made for power chewers and its supposed to be "indestructible".  I don't know what means, but I had most of the stuffing out of it in less than ten minutes.  I could have done it faster, but I held back while Mom was watching and taking pictures.  I do so love pulling the stuffing out of things and chewing toys into little bits.

I think Mom celebrated too much for my birthday, cuz she woke up with a migraine today.  I told her that exercise is the best solution and she needs to get her heiney up and take me to the fort for a long walk.  She has just taken some drugs to get ready.

However, all that is not the reason for my blog entry today...

I wanted to explain to all my canine friends some important facts about first birthdays and the changes that follow it.  Humans should not be allowed to read beyond this point. 
When you turn one year old, you are officially grown up and no longer have to do as you are told.  You can set your own life agenda now. 
This may tempt you to believe you don't have to listen to your human person any more; in my case, that's Mom.  However, and this is important, you will still need to listen to them.  After all, if you aren't listening, how will you know when they are about to do something important, like give you a treat or more toys?  When you are training your human, you have to listen to be sure they are responding correctly to your instruction and learning what you want them to know. 
Also, at this time in your life, you may discover that your human is behaving strangely.  They will start reviving rules you discarded many months ago.  You have to listen to them all the time if you are going to shape them to become an obedient and clever person, the kind you would be proud to take in public.  Shaping is an important training skill that relies on gently nudging your human (unbeknownst to them) in the right direction.  If you want your person to be a joy to live with, you must listen now, even more diligently than before.
And that, my friends, is my message and my gift to you.  Best of luck in all your human training efforts.  I have confidence in your abilities and the eventual superb outcome.

Love, Gimme

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Project - Day 6 and HAPPY BIRTHDAY GIRL

We didn't do any training outside of class today and because class was a bit more chaotic than usual, we didn't get to do as much there as I'd hoped. 

We started class by sharing Gimme's 1 Year Birthday celebration with everyone at class.  All the doggies got a goodie bag and all the humans got blueberry muffins.  Gimme is not quite sure that is how a birthday is supposed to go - she thinks they should be bringing her gifts and not the other way around.  Once we got home, Gimme got to enjoy the rest of her birthday celebration.  Its hard to believe these guys are a year old today.  It seems just yesterday that I was getting on an airplane to bring her home.  Its been a wonderful year and I look forward to many more.  Gimme enjoyed a special birthday dinner and then got a new birthday toy.

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
We did a short session of this and Gimme went right to it.  She very quickly got to backing in and so I'm thinking the problems last night may have been from it being too close to the wall.  At one point she had to show me just how clever she could be... so she went over in front of her safe place crate, barked once to get my attention and then very deliberately stepped one back foot in and waited expectantly to see if I would be adequately appreciative.  I laughed a lot, but sadly for Miss Gimme she did not get a click and a treat. 

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
We did a few quick repetitions of this at the end of class.  Out of 10 reps, she only backed on once. 

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
I didn't ask for this, but Gimme did offer it to me once when she didn't think I was transitioning quickly enough from one thing to the other.  She didn't seem bothered by the cement, though I expect she wouldn't want to do a lot of repetitions on it.

Peach - head under a chair
Unfortunately the chairs there are all folding chairs, so they have bottom rungs and funny sides.  Gimme was interested in the chair, but didn't seem comfortable with it.  I decided to wait until she is more solid on the behavior.  If I have to, I'll take one of my extra chairs and leave it there for the next three days of class.

Melon - push cube with nose
We got a couple of really nice pushes with the cube on the floor and my hand not on it.  I jackpot those when they happen and there are a few more each time.  I do find that if I leave the cube down too long that she goes back to foot interaction.  Ursula was concerned that it might be too aversive to Gimme for me to pick up the cube when she paws at it.  So she suggested that I stop the training on a good nose touch/push and toss a few treats and then pick up the cube when Gimme is turned away.  It seems that about the third or fourth interaction without my hand on the cube is when the feet start to come into play.

Interestingly... our very last attempt at this, she pushed with her nose and as her foot started to come forward she pulled it back.  I clicked that and scattered half a dozen treats while picking up the cube and resetting to another behavior. 

Again an explanation of tertiary reinforcement is going to have to wait.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Project - Day 5

I started with a session of Apple training, but discovered a camera malfunction, so did Orange and then Apple again.  My plan for today was to simply work each behavior for a dozen (or so) click/treats. 

What you don't see, because its edited out of the videos, is what is happening as we get going for each segment.  Since she now knows what the props mean, I decided I should start the video before I set down the props, so that I don't miss a clickable moment.  Each time, as I'm walking over with the prop (toy chest, chair, box and cube), she's walking along with front feet on me, mugging me to get me to put them down.  She is so enthused about doing this.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love this girl?  

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
The goal for Apple is that she back her back feet only into the box.  I did start this session by allowing her to walk through, but that's not the final behavior and I tried to shape away from it.  She seemed to get stuck on it (including frustration barking) and I'd have to move away to get her to leave the box so she could reset.  The other day she was only backing in, so its interesting that she is so ready to change it again.

It occurs to me that before I've done this with the box out in the open - perhaps having the box close to the wall is an issue, bumping her wagging tail or something like that.  I'll try it out a bit further from the wall next time.  After watching this again, I noticed her "solution" is to almost side-step into the box, with her body parallel to the wall.  Can't wait to see if it changes next time around.

Remember, this is the second session of this today.  Its sometimes hard to see if she really has both feet in, so tomorrow I will set up the mirror.  I don't want my leaning to see her feet to become part of the cue system.  I also wonder if I have occasionally clicked when one foot was still out, since she was so insistent (barking).  I sure don't want that to be a permanent part of the behavior either.

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
You'll notice Gimme was getting on the perch practically the second I was out of her way.  I did decide it was okay for her to back onto the perch provided she backs all four feet on.  I will try to get a balance of forward and backward mounts, and let her decide for herself which she prefers.  I'm sure she will decide for herself that forward mounts are easier.

Gimme has so much confidence that she shows no concern whatsoever when the perch tips under her or her feet slip off the sides.  As far as she cares, training me is the most important thing.

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
You can't help but notice how much she loves this trick.  Gimme has always enjoyed rolling over.  She tends to like anything she invents, but this has been a special favorite and she does it with such exuberance that its hard not to laugh at her.  She doesn't seem to mind that I want to modify the trick she thought up, even though she's usually very attached to her original concept.  Then again, she thinks she is training me, so perhaps she doesn't think I'm the one doing the modifying. 

Peach - head under a chair
This is only the second time we've done Peach training.  So while she really seemed to have it last time, it was almost like she had to relearn it this time around.  Also, last time, the chair was in more of a "corner" so the sides weren't as accessible, making interacting with the back more obvious.  She seemed to get stuck (when she was laying down) for the longest time and in the past I would have helped her get unstuck.  Here I could see by her expression (from where I stood, not from the camera p.o.v.) that she wasn't frustrated, she was just thinking.  Each time she'd get clicked, I kept trying to throw the treats far enough to get her up, but she'd just scoot to get them.  I was worried about throwing them too close to the camera and having her knock it over.  I'll have to bring in a brick to weight the tripod.

Melon - push cube with nose
Sadly the camera ran out of filming time just as things were getting interesting.  I tried to quickly download it and free up memory, but it was also out of battery.  I guess videotaping takes up a lot of juice too.  

Thus you only get to see the first minute and, happily, you get to see her first official push of the cube.  We got a few more really good ones.  Then she went back to pawing at the cube.  I pick the cube up if she uses her feet on it.  Then I present it again to give her another chance.  She went back to using her nose much faster than the original sessions.

I know I promised to tell you about tertiary reinforcement, but its getting late and I have to get ready for work tomorrow.  Hopefully I'll have time to do it tomorrow.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Project - Day 4

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
Not trained today.

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
I still can't find the small stool I originally thought I'd use and I don't want to invest the time into making a perch when I could be having fun training, so I'm going to use a plastic child's toy chest, minus lid.  I always worry about how flexible plastic can be, thus I tested with my own weight, so I'd be sure it would be fine for Gimme. 

I knew she was smart, so it was no surprise to me that she figured out to get on the perch with all four feet in seven clicks.  And it took no time at all to shape that to a sit on the perch.  I decided to add that as criteria, since it would be a useful assumption for her in our agility table training (which I haven't gotten around to yet). 

This session was late in the day on a rather full day, so Gimme wasn't as focused as she has been for the last couple of days.  And I saw a lot of perseverating, referring to her barking insistence that I simply must appreciate and reward her backing onto the box.  At the time I didn't realize that I had actually clicked a couple instances of backing onto it, so it wasn't totally a product of her own imagination.  (gotta love videotaping sessions).  I also moved away a bit too soon and that seemed to happen right before the backing up insistence; you'll notice that I moved back closer to the box so we could get beyond this frustration and end on a reward. 

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
After our walk today, I saw Gimme doing some slower rolls on her back - not like the way she normally hurls herself into a down and roll.  I figured she was a little bit tired or at least had the edge taken off after our 3.5 mile walk, plus its pretty hot here.  It seemed a good idea to use that as an opportunity to shape the dead bug behavior.  It actually went pretty fast, though I'm sure our bug won't really be all that dead looking... I think its going to have a lot of wiggly life left in it.  You will see a couple instances of her hurling herself into the down and roll.

I set up the camera and did a three minute session, but afterward discovered that I hadn't gotten it situated so that Gimme was in the frame... you would only have seen her head.  So I set up again and did it better.  She really took to this training.  I found it interesting how she figured out to curve her spine to make it easier to stay on her back.  She was getting so good at it, that after a break I did another session starting to put the cue on it. 

This video is her second and third sessions.  I could have gone on longer, but didn't want to overdo it and lose her enthusiasm.  Do note she never left me this time, so she is obviously getting into this training.  I love her enthusiasm.  Another reason I didn't go beyond what you see is that I was thinking that doing this involves a fair amount of core strength and I didn't want to risk her getting sore.  We probably won't try this again until Monday.  Enjoy the video of the cutest puppy on the planet.

Peach - head under a chair
Not trained today.

Melon - push cube with nose
Not trained today.

Adding Cues
I thought I'd share with you how Ursula describes adding a cue to a behavior.  Its as good as any other I've seen and I like its simplicity.  You'll note it says "5 - 30 reps"... that's because as you add cues to more behaviors, the dogs get so they understand the process and it goes faster.
  1. 5 - 30 reps, say cue as the dog does the behavior
  2. 5 - 30 reps, say cue as dog starts the behavior
  3. 5 - 30 reps, say cue just before dog starts the behavior
Thank you for following our project - I hope you are enjoying the videos as much as I enjoy making them.  Naturally anything that helps me show off Gimme, in the immortal words of Martha Stewart, "it's a good thing".

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about tertiary reinforcement.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Project - Day 3

[Damn - I already wrote this once and it didn't save it, even though it said it had.]

Normally I give Gimme a day off on Friday.  Its my longest work day and I figure she can use a break from training me.  However, we are on a time crunch with The Project if we are going to get it done by the time our classes end next Thursday.  As it is, I probably won't have time to add the last three phases of learning (distraction, duration and distance).  When I tried to work in the yard, Gimme was pestering me more than usual - she was insistent that she had to have my full attention, so I decided to give it to her.  :-)

I came in and set up the chair we would use and got her treats ready.  I also fiddled with my little camera to see if I could video a training session.  I didn't realize the camera battery was running down, so we didn't get the rousing play session at the end.  The entire video was seven and a half minutes, and I've clipped off about a minute at the beginning and end.  I hope you like it.

Peach - head under a chair
The most interesting thing to me to come out of seeing this video was the amount of time involved in Gimme's two departures.  I define "departure" as her leaving the training area.  If you had asked me how long she was gone, I would have said about thirty to forty seconds.  Yet when I was editing the video I found it was actually only ten seconds (she went to the bedroom) and seven seconds (to the kitchen door). 

I remember learning, when you are working with students and you want them to work toward longer duration behaviors, you should be specific about the time for their goal.  If you don't, almost all of them will come back with a behavior that is approximately seven seconds long.  It seems the human mind perceives seven seconds as a long time and, being human myself, I am no exception. 

Usually when she has these departures, I take it as her way of telling me she is done.  Yet here, since I wanted to at least attempt a video, I waited and she came back both times.  There were no other departures after the second one.  Makes me wonder if I haven't unintentionally taught Gimme to not persist in shaping training.  Clearly she is willing to work for a reasonable amount of time, I may just need to wait and see if she'll come back and re-engage.

I always find it fascinating to see how her mind works as she puzzles through things.  She has a tendency to perseverate (yes, it really is a word and its not misspelled), that is, to persist even when I have indicated its not the right answer. 

I have seen that a lot with Gimme and, upon reflection, that is probably also my fault.  I have a tendency to start shaping without a firm idea of my end-behavior in mind.  I tend to define it as it evolves, so Gimme has been able in the past to derail my intentions to one of her own making.  It is interesting in this project, to see how my approach has changed since I have firm goals in mind.  That is not to say that I won't let her choose her own route sometimes...

I will probably video more of our sessions after this.  Another useful tidbit of information from this video was the number of click/treats we got in the session. Although the tape is 6:26 long, I think we lost almost a minute to Gimme's departures and distractions (checking to see if the treats might be self-serve).  I counted the number of click/treats and there were 51... so that is just under 10 per minute.  It could be better, but its not bad.

I do think this behavior will come along pretty quickly.  We got quite well into it in a single session, so at least this one will be easy.

Also, we got our entry confirmation for Gimme's debut at the Puget Sound Dalmatian Club, a week from today.  I've also entered Sammamish on Sunday, but didn't get that confirmation.  I sent the entries in the same envelope, so I expect it will arrive any day now.

The Project - Day 2

Apple - back into a box, back feet only

I selected a large running shoe shoebox and covered it in bright paper.  I am trying to make her props easy to distinguish from any other props I may one day use in freestyle.  I thought it would be plenty big enough, but in class discovered it is not without its challenges.

Gimme was ready to get her feet in it, but the size means that she is often kicking it over.  We worked on it for a short time in class with Ursula watching me.  Ursula is very good at critiquing training technique and was all over me about my sloppy tendencies.  When I think about it, I can be a very clean trainer, but when I'm really engaged that kind of takes over.  Interestingly when I cleaned up my act, Gimme let me know she didn't think I was doing my part - barking at me.  I know she is smart enough to puzzle this out on her own, but she has become used to me helping her with extraneous movements that give her clues.  When those were taken away, she found it frustrating. 

The environment in class was more distracting than usual, so we didn't get that far.  There were only three of us in class and all more advanced dogs, so they were working outside their cubicles where she could see them.  Also, we were working on leash during the free-shaping, which is cumbersome. 

I did another session at home this evening and we went from any feet in the box to only back feet, to only back feet not preceded by front feet, to backing in.  One problem is that the box tends to flip on its side.  I weighted it with a phone book and that helped, but it would still flip sometimes.  Tomorrow I will cut a 2x12 insert to weight it down.  Gimme has no hesitation with her back feet, so when her foot hits the edge, she just pushes harder and that tends to flip the box.  She does seem to think that if she steps against the back side and box flips on its side toward her back feet (the box under her belly) that she should still be clicked for that.  She doesn't see "equipment failure" as something that should deprive her of a well deserved treat - she is frustrated by the transition from rewards for effort to rewards for success. 

Toward the end I added the refinement that she wasn't allowed to even step over the box with her front feet and she started making a small turn beside the box, then stepping her back feet in.  I like this a lot and think it promotes her thinking more carefully about rear foot placement.  As it is she is quite content to cast all around with those back feet.  I'd like her to use her peripheral vision more consciously.

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
I was unable to find the stool I was thinking of.  I know it has to be here somewhere.  I tried a metal plant pot, but it proved unsuitable.  Its just a bit too high, though Gimme worked at it, even trying to back onto it with her back feet, but couldn't seem to get interested in getting all four feet on it.  Given how readily she does that with anything else, I think its just a tad too small given the height.  Also, it has a rim that may be uncomfortable if she steps on it.

I will look some more for the foot stool and if I don't find it, will come up with something else.  I have plenty of scrap wood and could easily make a wooden box for this purpose.

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
I tried to lure her into rolling on her back and ran into the most lovely kind of problem to have.  One thing that has been a blessing about Gimme is how well put together she is.  Throughout her puppyhood she has never done sloppy puppy sits.  Unless the surface she sits on is slanted, she sits square and most often with a tucked sit to boot.  I never had to teach that, rather just had to exercise a little conscious thought to keep from ruining her natural tuck sit.  In the same vein, she doesn't lay down slouched on one hip.  She always lays down in sphinx style. 

My efforts to lure her to one side for a slower rollover just didn't work well, since she is disinclined to roll to one hip -- something I hadn't anticipated or even thought about.  I'm sure I don't really want to break down this lovely natural precision of hers, so decided to leave that for the moment.  I'll take another stab at free-shaping this. 
Peach - head under a chair
I must've been kidding myself when I said this would come easily to her.  I wasn't thinking that I've often encouraged her to get up in the chair at class, as a station where I could pet her while Ursula was talking to me.  Naturally she was up in that chair very quickly and was quite persistent, believing that I should be rewarding her for that.  I think I've mentioned before that she has her own ideas about the right and wrong of things - she can be very tenacious.

I was thinking it would be a good idea to work on this at home with one of my chairs - on the premise that a different chair might encourage her to look at it my way.  Then just this moment it occurred to me... dumb me, all I had to do was turn the chair around to face the wall.  (envision me smacking my palm against my forehead...)

Melon - push cube with nose
We worked on this in class and Gimme went right back to smacking the stuffing out of it with her feet.  Using her feet is another thing she is tenacious about.  It will be a good challenge for her to do something in a different way. 

We got back to just nose touches and sitting on the floor helped so that I only got one or two touches from a down.  I also started tossing her treats, to keep her moving and thus less likely to lay down.  I'll be looking for harder touches and/or multiple touches next. 

She very clearly thinks this is one of my more boring ideas.  She keeps offering me other variations to spice it up.  I do think she will like pushing it around with her nose, once we get there.  So it will be a good exercise for her to persist with the task and see that something that isn't initially amusing or entertaining might just evolve into something more fun.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Project - Day 1

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
As described, we have already worked on this in class with the big box like a Kleenex box and then again the next day with a plain lower sided box.  Gimme has very sophisticated awareness of her back feet and often uses them independent of her front feet.  Our final goal will be to have her step the back feet in without first stepping in and/or through with her front feet. 

Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
Gimme loves to get on things, so this should come easily.  I have a small low plastic step stool that should be ideal for this.

Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
Gimme already offers rolling over all the time.  Its kind of funny how she does it, since she tends to hurl herself down and uses that momentum for the roll.  She also likes to include furniture and other "things" in her rollovers.  She will throw herself against a piece of furniture, sliding to the floor and then rolling over toward the furniture, which she kicks off with her with her feet, front and back.  It will likely prove challenging for her to slow down and be more deliberate in what she does, but it will be necessary if she is going to do it at class where there are cement floors.

Peach - head under a chair
I believe this will come very easy to Gimme. 

Melon - push cube with nose
I created a cute Dalmatian spotted cube that is roughly 4 inches by 4 inches.  I'm thankful that I used a LOT of clear packing tape on it.   Based on this first session, its going to be taking a LOT of abuse.

I wasn't thinking clearly when I picked this trick.  Somehow I thought it would be easy to shape my busy girl into touching and pushing a cube with her nose.  Hah!  Did I forget that she thinks anything on the ground has to be explored with her feet?  The behaviors I got included:
  • skiing across the carpet with both front feet on the cube
  • pouncing on it with both front feet
  • standing on it with both front feet
  • batting it across the room with one foot
  • both feet on, forehand pivot
  • stepping on with one back foot
  • trying to step on it with both back feet
  • kicking it with a back foot
  • digging at it with front feet
  • rolling on her back and flipping it into the air like a ball of yarn
  • standing over it and spinning around it with no feet on
  • hugging it with both front feet
In this first session in my living room, there were dozens more offerings, but they were happening so fast that I couldn't keep them in my head.  Would have been great to get THAT all on video.  I thought by clicking before she got there, that it would slow her down and drop a hint that foot interaction wasn't what I wanted.  A couple times it did, but after that she took the click as validation of her plans and would still do whatever she had in mind then spin back toward me and demand the treat for the click.  Obviously that wasn't working. 

I tried waiting her out and only rewarding mouth interaction.  I thought for sure she would pulverize my lovely Dalmatian spotted cube before we got any.  When she finally did get her mouth on it, I clicked away, not realizing that from where I was standing I couldn't see that her feet were still involved.  When I sat on the couch I could see better and tried only clicking when her feet weren't touching it.  I did start getting more mouth and a little less feet, but the rate of reinforcement was dropping waaaay down and I could see she was losing interest.

So I decided to take a page from the way Denise Fenzi, Shirley Chong and others teach a dumbbell retrieve.  I held the cube in my hand and presented it to her, click/treat for mouth only touch, and then gradually lowering it to the ground.  After we extinguished the front paw grab of it, it still took quite awhile to shape not-biting, trying to get her to offer more of a nose touch/push.  I hope this doesn't confuse the dumbbell retrieve we've been working on, since we are just getting a light gripping bite on the bit.  I'm counting on the fact the cube and dumbbell are totally different to make it clear to her that the behavior I'm looking for is also different. 

In the course of shaping for a nose touch, Gimme came up with some interesting ideas of what I "could" be looking for.  She went through a period of touching it with her cheek or the side of her muzzle.  She also tried touching it with her hip, shoulder, side, and tail.  No one can ever say she isn't a real thinker.  At one point she thought maybe backing away and barking at it would pay off - NOT!  There was also a brief effort at standing near it and turning her head way.

By the end of 120 treats I was getting nose touches and even had it on the ground, as long as I kept one hand on it.  She was slowing down (maybe getting full).  Sometimes she would just look at me like I'd lost my mind to want such a stupid and boring thing... and then touch it with a very deliberate and careful touch.  These deliberate touches were from a down, which inhibited her movement toward the cube.  It wasn't my intention that a down be part of the behavior, so we'll sort that out tomorrow.  I think it may have been a side affect of me sitting on the couch, when the cube was on the floor and I still had one hand on it that meant I was bending over her somewhat, which may have inhibited her.  Tomorrow I will try this sitting on the ground and carefully shape out the down. 

Do note I said we used up at least 120 treats.  I didn't count, but there were a LOT of them.  This session was about 10 minutes.  Obviously its not my preference to spend such a long time and such a large number of treats on one task.  Clearly there are times when she is quite willing to persist and train for a long time and persist on one task.  I wonder now why this was so intriguing for her and why she was so engaged for so long.  Her attitude was amazing.  We could have gone on even longer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'm So Psyched

I just got back from class and I am totally psyched...

First Gimme is really getting back to her pre-hormonal state. For the first time since the week before "the whelping" she was able to go out on the main floor (outside our cubicle) and do a bit of an obedience routine. Not perfect, but real close and certainly good enough to qualify in rally, provided she holds it together for a whole course.

I also tried something I saw at the Denise Fenzi seminar -- where people have an armband lookalike that they wear and stash a treat in it. In my case I used half a hotdog and when Gimme did something well, I got it out and she got to nibble on it, before I put it back. I learned at the match that nibbling her own bits from a big chunk of hotdog is a high value reward for her, higher than getting several pieces handed to her.

Gimme very quickly figured out that I have many different places I can stash food on my person – I think it is good for her to believe I am never without resources. This will be valuable for our debut a week from Friday when we go in the ring with a real armband and no treats. I'm sure I can find someone to palm off our hotdog chunk to and to palm it back to me the instant we leave the ring.

We repeated "the hardest thing" with Ursula and really stepped it up a notch.

One of the things we were getting yesterday was that every time Robin’s hand came toward her to touch her cheek, Gimme would nose target or lick it. Basically I ignored that and planned to let it extinguish itself over time. Then today I thought it over and decided differently. We've been teaching Gimme to target any hand held out to her by strangers as part of a greeting pattern I want her to learn (nose target hand, then sit).

Originally we thought a touch to her cheek might be less threatening, but since Gimme has a valid reason to think she should target a hand and since that is really not how a judge would do an exam in a stand-for-exam, I decided to just go more for an authentic touch. She was slightly surprised by Ursula's first touch on the top of her head, but she was okay with it. After several repetitions of that we took a break.

The next time around we started with touches to the top of her head and then upped the ante to a touch on the shoulders. Gimme's reaction was hysterically funny. Her eyes got HUGE in surprise and her skin all down her back did that squirmy crawly thing. Her skin couldn't have moved more without crawling off her body and slithering across the floor. The look on her face was PRICELESS -- obviously it had never occurred to her that Ursula might do that. We got a few more twitches after that, but she quickly adapted.

After that, we let her move about and then do sit-down-sit to a hand signal before revisiting the issue. She was doing so well that I wanted to try a couple mock exams (head-shoulders-rump touches) and I didn’t want to add pressure on her by having Ursula bending over her … so I didn't ask her to sit or wait. I just stood beside her treating her while Ursula did it. She fidgeted, but didn't move her feet, even though I hadn't asked for a wait. You gotta love working with a canine genius.

Then for our third run through, instead of working Gimme I asked Ursula the question I had left over from last night - how to get Gimme to work longer on a free-shaped behavior, so I can get more refinement. Ursula had an immediate and sensible answer. She said Gimme knows a lot of things, but they aren't on solid verbal cues. (now where have I heard that before) She even reminded me that I've admitted to her that isn't my favorite part of training and that I like creating new behaviors best of all (dammmmn she never forgets a thing). She also explained that from Gimme's point of view, she has a strong reinforcement history for being creative, so learning new behaviors is the most fun part for her too.

Ursula's solution was to give me the task of teaching 5 unimportant trick behaviors and work them all the way through the 6 Stages of Learning. She said that once I've done that with Gimme - two things will happen. First, Gimme will understand that there is more to learning than just new behaviors... she will see the pattern. Ursula said that most dogs pick up the "stages of learning" pattern by the time they have learned 7 or 8 behaviors; naturally, she thinks Gimme will be faster. Second, once you have those 5 behaviors, you can really play interesting training games where you randomly cue between the behaviors in rapid fire - a game she says dogs love. We've done this a little bit with a couple of Gimme's behaviors and she did like it - Ursula thinks Gimme will find it a total turn on when she has more to work with.

Now I know you are wondering - what are the 6 Stages of Learning? From memory (because my notebook is in the car) they are:

  1. Create the behavior
  2. Name the behavior (add the verbal cue)
  3. Wait for the cue (true obedience)
  4. Add distraction
  5. Add duration
  6. Add distance
So I have selected 5 silly trick behaviors - things I don’t think I’d ever use in obedience, rally, agility, freestyle, tracking or any other performance venue I might one day want to get into. When I started whining about thinking up names for them Ursula, suggested naming them all fruits. So the fruit-tricks will be:

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
Orange - get onto a small perch with all four feet
Grape - dead bug (on back, feet in the air)
Peach - head under a chair
Melon - push cube with nose

I had some other ideas, but since I'm on a time crunch (only five more classes), wanted to pick behaviors I was sure I could shape quickly. I promise to keep you all posted on our progress. Note how I say that as if you could stop me -- you know how much I love blathering on about my girl...

Speaking of whom - If I don't get out of this chair and play with her right now, she might refuse to cooperate on our new goal. She's been looking over my shoulder and you just know she can read!

A Day in the Life

Our day has been quite busy from start to end.  I knew we would end up spending a sizable chunk of the day driving, so wanted to make sure we got a long walk in beforehand.  Gimme has a favorite stick that sits beside the pipeline road that we walk on.  She usually picks it up on the way out and carries it for awhile.  Then on the way back she picks it up and carries it back to where it started.  Here's a short combined clip of Gimme with her favorite stick on the whole planet...

She didn't carry it nearly as far as usual today, but it was very hot and I'm sure that made a difference since stick carrying interferes with breathing, doncha know.  Still she did pick it up again on the way back and return it to its customary starting point.  Don't know why she does that silly routine, but she does.  I think I've mentioned before that she has her own ideas of the right and wrong of things... and this business with her stick would seem to fall in there somewhere.

After our walk we hopped in the car, went to fill the tank and then started out on a two hour drive to Vancouver.  Don't think I mentioned it before, but I noticed almost two weeks ago that she was gitchy in the back - letting me know she didn't want to be touched in a certain spot.  I made sure to get her to see Doctor Dennis for her first bodywork visit before the agility seminar.  Today was our follow up visit. 

Today doc had much less to fix and Gimme was clearly feeling better since she was a lot less willing to stand still for the exam and treatment.  Fortunately her peanut butter tube works wonders.  Doc pronounced her fit to do anything we want - just to watch her and bring her back if anything crops up, and of course to consider regular checkups.

Then it was back in the car for the two hour drive home.  We had a short break at home before heading out the door for class. 

Gimme did well in class and I was pleased with all her efforts.  We revisited the issue of someone touching her during a stay and she did very well with it.   Remember when we first attempted this, we didn't realize she was about to whelp a large baby lamb toy, so didn't know she was going all hormonal... we've waited to make sure she was past that before returning to "the hardest thing" training.   

To make it even harder, it was Ursula's new co-instructor, who is someone Gimme has only met once or twice and this is the first time she has interacted with her.  So I wasn't really expecting her to do this well.  It only took a little bit for her to get the idea.  She figured it out beautifully and did a stellar job.  Of course, that was very hard work for her, so she had a peanut butter bone to refresh herself, followed by chewing on her rawhide. 

Then, while the other students were shaping their dogs to go to matt, Gimme and I played with a box.  It was a funny large box, shaped kinda like a Kleenex box with a cut-out that crossed the top and front edge.  Our first task was going to be to have her put her head in it, but of course she did that the instant we set it down.  So instead I shaped her to back up to it and put a back foot in the hole.  It took all of fifteen click/treats for us to get to that point.  Too bad I don't have THAT on video - it was very cute.

Then of course when the co-instructor Robin came around Gimme didn't want to do that any more.  I couldn't convince her that Gimme already knew how to do it and was bored with that task and wanted to show me other ideas she had.  I would have liked to have gotten feedback from her and/or ideas of how to help Gimme stick with something and perfect it.  But since she didn't really know Gimme's capabilities, or mine for that matter, she was convinced that Gimme hadn't done it and didn't know it.  If Ursula had been working our side of the room I think I would have gotten more helpful instruction on this point.  So, will make it a point to ask her tomorrow night.

It was a very long and busy day and Miss Gimme is sleeping soundly.  I have to wake her in a minute and run her outside before we head off to bed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Agility Seminar

I enrolled Gimme in a one day Novice agility seminar with Stacy Peardot-Goudy.  I honestly wasn't expecting much, since she is still very much a puppy even if she looks all grown up.  Plus we've done very little agility training.  She has had the experience of going through jump uprights, with bars on the ground.  She has also gone over an aframe a few times and over the baby dogwalk in our yard dozens and dozens of times.  Naturally she is quite adept at tunnels having grown up with a kitty tunnel in the puppy pen.  She also likes to play on a Buja board; it is yet another thing she has invented to make me give her treats.

About the only skills I have concentrated on are the foundation recall skills based on Linda Mecklenburg's handling system.  That is so important to the Awesome Paws Handling System (APHS), so we started that very early and its practically second nature to Gimme.  We've done a lot of work with her moving beside me following my hands and I've also done some flatwork - especially teaching her a front cross. 

Gimme's growth plates won't close for another 4 to 6 months, so I'm in no hurry to do more with her.  She has enough kamikaze tendencies that I don't need to add to it.  I've watched some puppy agility classes and the instructors seem to think that just leaving the bars on the ground is enough to protect joints.  I think repetitively luring tight turns around jump uprights is stressful; anything repetitive has a tendency to be stressful.  Puppies do enough crazy stuff without us adding to the mix with repetitive physical training.  I am constantly amazed (and saddened) by the people who feel the need to fast track their puppies in agility.  That's not for us, so Gimme is on the FUN track instead.

At the seminar, when it came to select a jump height - I had planned to do zero height (bars on the ground), but there was a tiny Chihuahua doing 4 inches, so we joined her. 

Needless to say, I expected Gimme to be so distracted for most of the seminar that she wouldn't be able to do anything.  We took a half hour private lesson the day before, which was at the same location as the seminar.  The lesson was devoted to teaching Gimme to follow my hands and walk through the course and through jump uprights as we came upon them.  She did pretty good at it, so I hoped she would be able to do that the next day.

On the day of the seminar, I purposely got there early and was one of the first to set up.  It only took me a minute or two to set up, since I'd left my chair and Gimme's soft crate there from the lesson the day before.  We set up well away from everyone else and I brought Gimme in right away, taking advantage of the extra time to let her get used to all the other arrivals.  She did pretty good, until she saw her old friend Anda - a young BC she played with when she was still a very young puppy herself.  That was very enticing, indeed.

Gimme spent much of the day doing relaxation protocol, chewing on her rawhide and enjoying her peanut butter bone.  As she did at the match, when she got really comfortable, she started coming out of the safe place crate with her peanut butter bone or the rawhide, laying in the grass to enjoy them.  We had MANY walks in the large part of the field set aside for potty walks -- not that she needed to potty, but just to give her a break from the distraction and excitement.  Toward the end of the day she climbed into my lap and lounged there watching the others and even laid her head down briefly.  That is huge for my busy girl. 

On our first couple turns on course, I tried the method we'd worked on the day before and it just wasn't working.  I couldn't deliver treats fast enough to keep Gimme's attention.  She was on leash, so she couldn't leave, but it was just not turning into a productive experience.  After the second turn I thought it through and decided that method was simply too boring in this distracting environment... it was a lot like loose leash walking.  Gimme also started a lot of sniffing -- whether she was looking for treats or giving me calming signals is open for debate.

So anyway, I decided we needed to make things more fun.  My solution was to just handle the sequences as if she really had more training and see what happened -- it certainly couldn't be worse than what we'd done so far.  I started out holding her leash but would quickly drop it and let her drag it.  Gimme did great!  She followed me through the course and was doing all the moves as if we'd actually trained them. 

In the course of the day she did pinwheels, serpentines, threadles, two-seventy turns and forward sends to the back side of the jump!  Other than the pinwheel, you wouldn't see any of those in a novice course.  It was so cool how well she did.  I wasn't luring her, except at the very beginning to get her started.  I really was just handling it much as I would were she trained and ready for novice competition.  It is certainly a testament to how intuitive APHS is that Gimme acted like all this stuff made perfect sense to her, not to mention that it was FUUUUNNNNNNN!

By afternoon Gimme was doing short stays at the startline, allowing me to get a bit of a lead out.  She's always been really good at stays, so it was nice to show them off in this setting.

I lost her attention just a few times and for the most part she would come right back.  That is, except for the one time when she decided check out the wading pool.  She seems to think the water tastes different in different places in the pool.  She would take a sip or two, step forward one step, then drink some more.  She sampled the water all the way around the pool before realizing that her Mum was missing.  Then she ran out looking for me and was quite relieved to find me hiding behind a stump.  She didn't take her eyes off me after that.  She knows from experience during our walks that once my hiding tendencies flare up, there is a strong likelihood it will reoccur, multiple times.

All in all it was a very fun day and I think Gimme had a great positive experience.  She's pretty certain she is ready for competition and should just start at the excellent level.  I agreed with her that she is quite likely right, but that AKC has their rules and they are inflexible on that point, requiring all dogs to start out like novices, so she will just have to humor them.  She only pouted for a minute...