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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Second Nosework Class (2/1)

First an update.  Its been cooler here, so I've taken Gimme to work with me more often.  Yesterday was a cool day and when I came out to the car between and after stores, I indulged in short training sessions.

The first time I first walked her around behind my Shopko account.  Remember this is where she once showed a lot of concern about the large truck noises on the freeway.  We walked right up to the edge of the behind-the-store parking lot and she showed no sign of even noticing the truck noise.  She was too busy sniffing and eating blackberries. Then we walked back toward the car and she found a squished and rotting bag of garbage that she wanted to investigate.  I took her past it closer to the car and did check-ins, then some eye contact.  After that decided to use that distracting garbage (never let a good distraction go to waste) to work leave-it and heeling with distraction.  She very quickly figured out that the goodies I have are far better than garbage - who knew....

After my TopFoods account we did more check-ins and then more eye contact.  We also did some heeling and I discovered that her duration in the sit between movement needs work.  Gee, wonder who's fault that is...?

I have to report a wondrous discovery.  Remember I lamented in an earlier post how the good behaviors never globalize like bad behaviors do?  Well I've discovered one of Gimme's that has - to a certain extent.  She was taught early in life to wait for permission to eat her meals.  I can set her full food bowl down and then put all the makings away, wash my hands, gather up the other dogs' bowls and go through the door, before sticking my head back in and giving her the "okay" to eat.  It is, without a doubt, her best self-control behavior -- showing that she obviously is capable and I just need to train more of it.

Well the other day we were going somewhere after breakfast, so I put her outside and got breakfast ready for everyone.  I set Gimme's breakfast outside the back door expecting her to find it and eat it.  Two minutes later I looked out the window to discover her standing there waiting for an "okay" to eat.  What a good girl she is! 

After that I started paying closer attention and realized that when she is fed in her crate, she's doing the same thing, after a fashion.  She runs in and out of her crate, even though the bowl is already in there and I was thinking she was evidencing that she didn't want to get in the crate.  I've been putting her in and walking away.  Now that I've watched her, I realize she is waiting for me to give her permission to eat.  No telling how long she's been sitting there ignoring her uneaten breakfast all this time.  Bad mommy for not noticing good Gimme's good behavior.

There are also rules to this behavior that I probably need to work on, rules that Gimme invented and that are too too funny.  First, Gimme thinks this only applies to her meals in her bowl on the floor.  It does not apply to dropped food.  It does not apply to her bowl on the counter.  It does not apply to Meaggi or Michael's bowls.  That's my girl - Queen of Hoots...

On the way to class last night, Gimme was fussy, which surprised me, since we had trained twice already.  I had to stop five times on the way to Albertsons - which promised to make it a long trip to class.  When I came back to the car, she was clearly still primed to whine.  So I got her out of the car and did a short training session there.  Again check-ins (interrupted by a child that had to come and pet and hug Gimme), then eye contact.  There were a lot of comings and goings and so this was very hard for her. 

When we were done she got back in the car and was completely quiet for the rest of the drive.  This lends more credence to my thinking that she is happier and calmer when she gets plenty of training.  Is there such a thing as a training-junkie?  Could she be developing train-aholism?  Hmmmmm.

Once we got to class, she whined briefly, but quickly settled down and was quiet for the rest of the time.  Woo hoo...  Next time I'm going to get her out when we get there and do a set of check-ins and eye contact and see how that works.  If that's what it takes to keep her happy and contented - its certainly a system I can live with.

Nosework class was great.  Now that the class is broken down into smaller groups, we are in the later group of five teams.  Gimme is far and away the best in the class.  My buddy, a Boxer-mix, is the next most enthusiastic.  There are also two Border Collies and a blind Aussie.  One of the BC's is fairly enthusiastic. 

During the first set, there were less boxes than before and more spread out.  Gimme was all over the place and just wild to find them.  She is verrrrrry busy and verrrrrry fast.  This week we were to follow them and add food to the box when they found the hide.  That was hard for me because Gimme would snarf up the food and be gone so fast I couldn't catch up some of the time.

During the second set, the boxes were more spread out and again Gimme was little Miss Speedy.  The instructor was trying to distract her by moving around the room and past Gimme with other boxes, but she only fell for that once.  She is very into this game and thrilled that so many people went to so much effort to invent it for her enjoyment.  It's great being the center of the universe.

The third set was done on leash.  The boxes were set up around the perimeter, with one up on a chair (the box opening was to the front, not up).  Gimme raced around the room and found all the hides.  She missed one the first time around that was in the first corner, since she was going so fast and rounded that corner.  Denise Fenzi would call that an error of enthusiasm.  The instructor said that as the finds get harder, she may slow down to do what she needs to in order to find the hides.

She came home and slept without moving until it was time to go to bed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I'll Probably be Kicked Out of Class -- The Project - Day 17

First, the good news.  My plan for Gimme to get better benefit from the class worked very well.  I had planned to prop the door open so I could work in the hallway, but the instructor objected.  As it turned out, the room we use has a door that adjoins to a small conference room, and the connecting door is right there in the alcove where I set up tonight.  So I propped that door open and Gimme and I spent much time in there.  I kept her in the car until all the dogs had settled down and stopped their barking and growling and such.  Then after she came in the only dog noise she had to contend with was the one that whined through the whole class (the owner has been training with this instructor [Mr. Dinosaur] for over a year, her dog knows almost nothing and is not a happy worker by any stretch of the imagination).

Gimme was able to do a lot of work in the conference room and was showing me some of her best stuff.  Then we'd come out into the alcove just off the main room and work.  Gimme got some peanut butter bones, but didn't need as much as before.  She was able to do some relaxation protocol.  And she was able to play tug with me, which she couldn't do last week.  At one point, we even took one turn heeling around the room "with" the class.  I hugged the wall where I could and was very careful not to get too close to the other dogs (mostly stressed out and handled by clueless people).  When they did fast heeling, we sought a corner and practiced one-step-sit heeling.  Gimme did pretty good.  Overall I was very pleased with how she did.

So, why am I gonna get kicked out of class?  Tonight was problem solving night. 

The instructor is, at best a dinosaur - and I'm only there to take advantage of the opportunity to train in that environment.  I wouldn't use his methods for anything.  I hate that I'm supporting him financially, but I need the environment and there is no place else to go. 

The instructor thinks because he no longer trains using the strict Koehler method that he's a gentle trainer.  He promotes himself as a reward-based trainer, but then on the first night of class said that a prong collar is the original "gentle leader".  He used his 15yo limping dog in a prong collar as the standard to which the class should aspire.  He taught the class how to do a "motivational leash pop", again using his old dog to demo the technique (my heart breaks for poor old Eddie).  Of course, the instructor is completely clueless about how stressed his dog is and makes excuses for his dog aggression problem. 

I've told him before that I thought a "motivational leash pop" makes about as much sense as a "motivational face slap" --- "here, let me demonstrate".  But it doesn't sink in.  He's so far behind the times it would be funny if he wasn't screwing up the relationship between so many people and their poor innocent dogs.  He's been teaching for the City of Olympia parks and recreation for 20 years and hasn't changed a thing.  I keep hoping he'll retire...

I managed to stay silent through all the stupid advice he gave out.  Even though some of it gives the owners a 50-50 chance of getting bitten.  Even though one very young GSD who came to class just out of control, is now coming on a prong collar (upon Mr. Dinosaur's advice), is still out of control, dragging the owner and is now exhibiting the beginnings of aggressive behavior.  I have to admit I almost lost it when he told the woman with the 5 month old miniature poodle, that nips her children when they try to pick it up that, "You should get rid of him and get another dog.  That's inappropriate behavior for a poodle and can never be tolerated.  I'm serious, you should get rid of him."  The kids that are trying to pick the dog up are 5 and 6, so you can imagine the picture of what being "picked up" is like for the dog.

Anyway, I hung around a bit longer after class than I needed to and gave the poodle owner one of Ursula's business cards and suggested she contact her.  Unfortunately the owner of the whiny dog saw me talking to her and will likely report back to Mr. Dinosaur.  I know that's a fo-paw to refer his students to other people, but I'm willing to take my licks.    Actually he probably won't even say anything to me, since he's been enamored of me for years.  I think I could kill someone in class, leave a dead body laying in a pool of blood in the middle of the room and provided I cleaned up the mess at the end of class, he wouldn't say anything.  Honestly I'm not going to test that theory...  <eg>

We walked on the fort today, which Gimme thoroughly enjoyed, not having gotten any walks over the weekend.  Since we got to class earlier than necessary, we took a short walk on the boardwalk before class.

Peach - head under a chair
Gimme still didnt' think the cue for this behavior applied to my white plastic chair.  So we shaped it over again and went through the drill of putting it on cue again.  Then I switched to another chair and started over.  It went a little faster this time, but I realize in hindsight that I didn't go through the drill of putting that chair on cue.  Also I think the session may have lasted too long, because she was acting confused when I tried mixing in other behaviors.  I do know that I sometimes push forward too fast.  So will drop back a bit next time I work this.  Take my time if shaping is needed and re-attach cues to each of them. 

Its good that I get to re-learn this stuff on behaviors where it doesn't matter.

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)
Melon - push cube with nose
Not trained today.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Project - Day 16 and Dog Show for Distraction

My plan had been to go to the Gig Harbor Kennel Club show after church.  We had a church membership meeting and by the time that ended it was pouring rain in Dupont. I know most of the Gig Harbor show is outdoors, so I didn't think we'd be going.  However when I got near home where I'd have to take the exit, the sun was out and the sky almost clear, so headed for Shelton.  Naturally, right before we got there it started raining again.  As we arrived it was drizzling, but I decided to get out and at least do ten check-ins and some other stuff so it wasn't a total waste of gas.

When we got there it was already 2:15, so many people had already left.  We took our time wandering in to the grounds.  We watched the last of the Basenjis from a distance of about 30 feet.  Then sat and watched a couple groups from about 60 feet.  Gimme was excited and interested in all the goings-on, but not out of her head excited.  She couldn't work, but did give me check-ins and the occasional offered sit.  Then the tear down crew came and removed the gates between us and the group ring, so we moved a bit closer. 

We started at about 30 feet from the group ring and Gimme was doing really well.  Even when the whole group would run around the ring together, she didn't get too distracted by it.  She'd watch it quietly and then turn to me and say, "well aren't you going to give me peanut butter or something?"  We moved around several times and by the time the terrier group was in the ring, we were within 5 feet of the ring's corner.  

Gimme did really well.  The only time she expressed concern was when someone walked by with an English Setter that was pulling on its lead and seemed to be trying to hack up a lung.  There were other dogs she took an interest in, watching them intently.  A very young pointer held her interest for quite awhile - she was just certain it would play with her if she could just catch its eye. 

From time to time she would get bored and then would pester me to work with her.  So she'd get a few cues to respond to and be treated.  There were times she'd lay on her belly with her legs stretched out behind her and calmly watching some activity or another.  I was very pleased to see her be bored - that's a good thing in my book.  I think it made a big difference that most of the dogs she was seeing were experienced show dogs, so they were really well behaved and fairly calm.  The ones that didn't fit that category were much further away.

The funniest thing was that Gimme really does believe that the whole world revolves around her, of this, she has no doubt.  So every time the group winners were selected and the spectators erupted in applause, Gimme would leap to her feet and strike a pose, the better to be admired, doncha know.  She has the most wonderful natural stack I've ever seen - at least 90% of the time her poses are ring ready.  She'd be ring ready 100% of the time with just a hint of training on that. 

After we got home and I was working in the yard... Gimme was just sure there must be local people who would need to admire her.  So she spent quite a bit of time striking a pose on the baby dogwalk in the front yard.  She's always done that when people walk by, but tonight she was just doing it and then holding it for several minutes without pedestrians.  I'm going to have to stop wearing sweats when I do yard work so I'll have pockets to put the camera in.

As we left the grounds heading to parking, we practiced some heeling and overall she did a really nice job.  Since we'd been there 2:30, I wouldn't have been surprised to have her be too tired to work.  She loves to work and she loves to be admired.  Once she realizes that the Rally and Obedience rings all have spectators, there'll be no stopping her.

Apple - back into a box, back feet only
After finishing the yard work, I did a short session (20 repetitions) of the apple behavior.  I've been doing this on leash to help her "get" the concept of backing in.  I decided tonight to not use the leash (okay, really I couldn't find it with the mess my living room is in as I'm reorganizing and ripping up carpet).  Instead, I took a page from what I'd decided before, I think on Melon, to:

  • ignore bad attempts - stepping through front feet first
  • minimum reward - side-stepping in
  • jackpot - backing in
Naturally, she very quickly figured out which efforts paid the most and soon the vast majority of the attempts were backing in.  It seems she has also figured out that the base board tells her when she is aligned with our little box.  She will then back up until she feels the side of the box with her hocks then neatly step her feet in - most of the time.  Once doing this, she hopped both feet in together.  I love that and if I see it again, she'll get the biggest jackpot she's ever seen.  I'll make sure to have a big piece of chicken ready just in case we need that super jackpot. 

Right now she is sound asleep.  Its been a pretty full day for the little munchkin.

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
Not trained today.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Project - Day 15 and Horses...

Our day started with a short training session at the arena (after a completely quiet ride over).  Gimme took a little longer than last time to get focused, but I'm sure that was because the two barn dogs kept hanging out by the arena gate.  On a positive note, even though she was frustrated by the gate keeping her from them, she didn't act as frustrated, so that shows some improvement. 

When we did get to work, she did nicely.  I decided to get started teaching her to rear cross.  I've taught her to spin away from me on both sides before and she'd done well with it stationary.  When I tried to do it with some movement today, well lets just say my hands took quite a beating.  She's always loved to be mouthy with me and is so good and gentle about it, that I've let her continue (especially since she isn't mouthy with others).  Something about the movement and the hand signal (like the hitchhiker thumb) I was using, she took as an invitation to jump up and play with my hands.  It took awhile to sort it out.  Once she was doing better, we added in a jump (bar on the ground still), approached at a slice and she did well.  For some reason, when we added the jump she stopped trying to get my hands.  I have no explanation for that change. 

Toward the end of the session I lost her attention and focus altogether.  I was pretty certain we had simply used up her baby brain.  I waited for her to choose to re-engage.  She tried a couple times and just couldn't pull it together.  Since she wasn't stressed, I waited some more.  The next time she came, we got through the simple exercise one more time and I jackpotted her with every treat I had.  She thought that was waaaay cool.

My plan for the day had been to go to the Shelton Kennel Club show, which is only 25 miles from here, and do some training and counter-conditioning there.  But, as I was headed to find the barn manager, one of the ladies who has just started as an agility student (lovely GSD) told me she was about to work her young horse in the round pen and I was welcome to bring Gimme over to train her near the pen.  That was an offer I couldn't pass up.

Gimme has only seen horses that were standing or walking.  Seeing one trot and canter was LOT for her to take in.  We basically stood there and watched and she got lots of peanut butter.  Her eyes were HUGE for most of the time.  At times she would leap away during the cantering approaches or bark and lunge toward the horse.  This told me I needed to adjust how close we were and when we were a bit farther away she was able to watch and suck peanut butter.

Then Anine came over and just stood there and petted Gimme and gave her treats, while her horse was right there too (through the fence).  We've been unable to convince Gimme that a horse snorting isn't a death threat and she barked back her, "you and who's Army" response.  I may have to get the horse snort on tape so I can get her used to it.  They just don't do it often enough, so if I had it looped on tape I could work with the sound a bit better to get her used to it. 

When she was standing there with her horse, Gimme went into this cycle of barking at the horse and so Anine was cuing her to sit and then would reward her with the treats I'd given her.  Very quickly the barking got worse.  In the past I would have called this I'll Be Bad So I Can Be Good And Get Rewarded syndrome.  I'll probably still call it that, but I realized very quickly that this was a perfect example of the flip side of tertiary reinforcement.  We stopped cuing the sit when Gimme was barking and quickly the barking went away.

Tertiary Reinforcement is when a cue for a known behavior acts as a reinforcement for whatever behavior came before it.  We are using this a lot in agility, where cuing the next jump reinforces completion of what came before.  It is the opportunity to continue on course and get closer to the reward at the end that makes the next cue reinforcing.  Likewise, what Ursula wanted me to get to is the point where I can have a series of multiple behaviors on cue and use them in much the same way where:
  • the reward for behavior one is the cue for behavior two
  • the reward for behavior two is the cue for behavior three
  • the reward for behavior three is the cue for behavior four
  • the reward for behavior four is the cue for behavior five
  • the reward for behavior five is click/treats
I did this a little in class and it was clear that Gimme thought it was a lot of fun; her eyes got very bright.

Anyway to continue, in the case of barking at the horse, cuing a sit was essentially rewarding the barking by giving her an opportunity to do something for which she would be rewarded.  Hence the name I'll Be Bad So I Can Be Good And Get Rewarded syndrome, and thus the barking behavior increased.  Once we waited out the barking and only cued the sit when she chose to be quiet, the barking rapidly went away.  That was such a cool example of tertiary reinforcement, as well as a perfect example of how people unintentionally reward undesirable behaviors.

After Gimme was completely calm with the horse just standing near by, Anine did some more trotting and cantering in the round pen and Gimme did a lot better.  We were able to be much closer and she didn't need the peanut butter, though she still got some.  So we made some good progress.  Which, by the way, Anine got training value with her young gelding who showed quite a bit of concern about the strange dog in the beginning.

Since that was a lot of mental/emotional work for Gimme, I decided not to go to Shelton.  We may go after church tomorrow.  After a few errands, we came home and goofed off for most of the day. 

In recent re-reading of some of my Project entries, I could see where I have sometimes repeated "learning something" related to one or another of the fruit behaviors.  So I copied the entries all into a word file and cleaned them up.  I'm reorganizing them under the individual behaviors, so I can quickly check the last couple of entries about training a particular behavior and know what I decided last time.  That's one of the things I have loved about blogging, is how it works for me as a training journal.  I am much more inclined to blather on endlessly about what we did to share Gimme with the world, than I ever would be to take notes in a private journal.

Melon - push cube with nose
We have not trained any of the fruits in 2.5 weeks, so I started today with Melon because its our weakest behavior of the five.  I sat on the floor and each time reset the cube on its smaller end.  I also was tossing the treats more, which gave me a moment to reset the cube and it also meant that Gimme did a bit less of the pushes while laying down.  We had at least 60 treats and one large chunk of freshly boiled chicken.  I've found Gimme finds it very, Very, VERY reinforcing to bite off a piece chicken.

She actually did very well.  I saw a lot less foot action and when we did see it, it always followed an accidental foot touch.  For instance, if she nose touched and I clicked and tossed the treat, if she happened to hit the cube with a foot when she dived after a treat most of the time she would come back and bat at it with her foot right away.  I figured out this pattern toward the end of our session, so didn't have time to deal with it, but next time I think when she accidentally hits it with her foot, I'll pick it up and pause so she sees me resetting it and see if that resets more than just the cube. 

When she did good nose pushes I gave her several treats tossed one at a time.  A few times I held out for multiple touches and when i got those, again she got several treats tossed one at a time.  Her best efforts were rewarded with nibbling the chicken.  At the very end, she did a very nice push tumbling the box more than a foot, so she got all the treats I had, one at a time, and then got to nibble the rest of the chicken out of my hand.  Hopefully that will be a big reinforcement that percolates in her little doggie mind. 

This has been our best session on Melon thus far.  And I have to add, the container I was fishing the treats out of was sitting next to me on the floor.  Gimme never tried to help herself... there's that great work ethic again.

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
Not trained today.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Frustrating Friday - New Lesson Learned

I expected that Gimme would be fussier on the drive today.  So, I made it a point to play with her some before we left, but oh good Lord, it took 2:10 to drive 2.5 miles!!!  By the time I tumbled to just how long it had been, we were already past the halfway mark and I was getting lower on gas.  I thought that at least once we got to the park and walked, I'd be able to drive home without a lot of stops.

The weird thing about tonight was that she was much fussier than she has been all week.  And there were a few short tantrums during the stopping breaks, before she would settle down.  We haven't had that during the drive -- only at the end when she was insisting that it was time for Gimme to get out and play RIGHT NOW.  Once we got there, she fussed for about 20 minutes and then finally settled down a bit.  Then I had to do the reach, pull away, reach, pull away drill for a bit before she remembered that the way we get out of the crate is to sit and that pawing at the door and whining are not part of the sit behavior, even if she is so multi-talented that she can do all three at once.

When I got her out, she just couldn't focus well enough to walk decently, even though she was wearing the EasyWalk harness.  I finally got so fed up with having my arms jerked out of the sockets that I sat down on a bench and tied the leash to it.  Then just clicked her for any sign of attention, any check-ins, any default sit, etc.  That helped some.  I got her in my lap and tried doing some Ttouch to settle her, but it didn't help.

Weirdly there were very few people in the park at that hour and she was even more distracted than usual.  I don't know if that was because she was still keyed up from the drive.  Or possibly because there was so much less going on, it was easier to focus on really minute things that she'd never noticed before. 

Since we weren't making any real progress, I decided we might as well head home, cuz if it was going to take two hours... it would already be past midnight before we got home. 

Walking back to the car she was still flinging off in all directions.  So I started doing what I do in the arena, only this time on leash.  If she went left, I went right.  If she went forward, I went back... whatever she did, I did the opposite.  I have to admit it felt sort of Koehler-ish.  Probably because I was frustrated by this time (and I always found training that way frustrating), though Koehler was always trying to set them up for a big leash correction.  Since Gimme was in a harness she wasn't getting any corrections. 

In no time at all, I had a super attentive dog on the other end of my leash.  She was into this and thinking it had GAME POSSIBILITIES.  Not being one to disappoint her, I turned it into a game.  I was dashing all around, changing directions and constantly making it more challenging to her.  When she'd catch me, she got clicked and treated.  I changed directions a LOT, but still generally heading toward where we'd parked. 

It was fun for both of us and has given me pause for considering things...  but, I am sooooo going to pay for that tomorrow with sore achy knees.  So the drive home was absolutely silent.  Gimme went from crazy dog on the drive down to the contented puppy on the way home.  She is dozing right now, contented.

So I've rechecked my blog (which doubles as my training log) and I see that when the whining went from annoying to much worse was after our classes with Ursula stopped.  It increased again after started doing the distraction training at the beginning of the month and then when we stopped training the fruit project 2 weeks ago to try to spend some time on tightening up her responses to sit and down cues.  Each of the noticeable differences seems to coincide with changes in our schedule that resulted in less training and/or less mental challenge.  And now that we've been working on the whining, she is getting even less training, but the sharp uptick tonight seems late - unless you consider that the extra exercise in the form of walking around Capitol Lake and on the boardwalk may have bled off some of the mounting frustration. 

Perhaps I'm wrong, but its certainly something to explore.  Gimme has always loved to train and I've often thought she needs the mental exercise.  I think she is the kind of dog that has to have a job.  We learned during classes with Ursula that Gimme doesn't do well when stuff is too easy cuz she gets bored.  When its hard to puzzle through and do, that is when she thrives.  So it may be that while I've been focusing on stuff she knows, trying to tighten up her responses, that I've unintentionally been boring her during the training that we have been doing. 

Anyway, that's kinda where my mind is right now.  So will play with that over the next few days and see what we get.  On the fruit training, I'll work on the three behaviors that aren't on cue yet.  And with the sits and downs, I think I can make them more interesting for her if I throw them in with a bunch of heeling games. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Nosework Class (1/1)

Last night's Nosework class was a LOT of fun for the Cutest Nose on the Planet.  Gimme comes from a long line of excellent Dalmatian noses, so she took to it like the proverbial duck to water.  The moment her nose told her there was food in one of them thar boxes, it was all over but the gobbling. 

There were twelve dogs in class; they come in one at a time.  The 12 will be broken into two groups for the next class.  Each dog got three turns throughout the class.  The first time they come in and there's about a dozen smallish boxes on the floor and food has been put in five of them.  As they clean out a box, the instructor put more in a couple of them, so the dogs get 7 finds.  Gimme was so fast it was almost like not getting our money's worth.  Of course her little bit of tracking experience helped, since she knew the moment I put the line on her tracking harness, its time to use your nose.  The second time we came in there were only three finds - it went by so fast I almost missed it.

Most of the dogs were slow and tentative.  Two others were eager, one was a Yellow Labrador that was almost as fast as Gimme.  There were several shy and fearful dogs.  A couple red bandana reactive dogs.  Nosework is set up with these dogs in mind, so everyone can play and be comfortable and successful.  One of the dogs in class is nearly blind and by her third turn she was really getting it and was quite methodical in her search for the food.  They all showed clear improvement by their third turn.

On the third turn, the instructor flapped the lid closed on one of the Yellow Lab's boxes.  For Gimme's third try, the lid was flapped closed and that box was set inside another deep box.  It never even slowed her down.  She was so sure she was the best, I fully expected her to break out in a high five.  We are both looking forward to the next class. 

Catching up on other things that have been going on

Last Saturday when I brought Gimme in to train after I taught agility, she got over the distraction much faster - in about half the time.  She did well focusing on what I wanted for most of our little session, except at one point where she kept losing focus.  I was trying to help her, but she finally just threw her little paws up and said, "Mom, I can't do this."  Before I could stop her she ran to the far corner of the arena and pooped.  After that she came right back to me and was ready to give me her all again.  She really is such a good little worker. 

Afterward we went to the fort to walk and had a nice time.  It had been lightly raining earlier, but it stopped long enough for us to walk and then started again as we were driving away.  The rest of our day was spent working on the living room.  I think I mentioned that we are tearing out the carpeting and needless to say its a big dirty job.  I'm reorganizing and getting shed of junk while I'm at it. 

On Sunday I played hooky from church and Gimme and I spent the whole day working on the living room.  She isn't nearly as much help as she thinks she is, but its not for lack of trying.  I needed to run some errands too, so I broke them up into groups.  Thus we were home for awhile, then in the car and running errands and then back home again and repeating...  For the two earlier trips in the day, the DAP worked very well for Gimme and she was quiet and peaceful.  For the last trip, around 4:30, she was fussy again.  It was a quick run to Home Depot and I stopped twice on the way.  But when I came out of HD after about half an hour, she was all settled in and quiet.  I thought for sure that meant that I simply needed to give her more time for the DAP to take affect.

Monday is one of my longer work days, so I expected Gimme would not get much help from the DAP.  Still I gave her a good fifteen minutes to settle in and she sure seemed that way when I got in the car.  Still I didn't get but a block and a half, with four stops along the way, before she was whining again.  That put us by the park.  I tried several variations on a theme to figure out what would get the message across to her.  Sometimes they seemed to work, but only for a short time or one or two repetitions and then she was back to full force whining.  The moment I moved the car or sometimes even started the car, she started in again.  I basically wasn't making any forward movement, now and then a few feet.

Since I was so close to home, I buttoned up the car to keep her safe and walked home.  There I picked a book, as well as the earplugs I use when I run my saw.  When I got back I got in the car, plugged up and read a couple chapters.  Gimme finally settled down after which I read a couple more pages.  Then I started the car and drove about half a block before needing to pull over again.  Turned off the car, plugged up and started reading again.  The next try I got almost a whole block before having to pull over.  I repeated this, but soon had to leave off the reading because it was getting too dark to read, so I practiced my deep breathing exercises while I waited.

I did a few things different than what I've been doing before - other than the obvious.  I did change the criteria.  She has to lay down and stop whining - no cue, just do it.  Then I did 15 deep breaths (takes just under a minute) before starting the car and taking off.  I thought that gave her more time to be solid in the behavior and the deep breathing on my part might change the "energy" in the car.  It also gives me time to scan the mirrors and pick a time to start up the car and re-enter traffic.

I also relaxed my standards for what constitutes whining as far as it relates to stopping the car. I just wasn't sure how much of what sounds like whining to me, she is even aware of doing.  Obviously some of it she is, since she has shown some conscious control of it.  But then some of the squeak-breathing type whining may be a stress thing that she doesn't have awareness of.  So my criteria for pulling over was a subjective judgment call on my part of when it sounded like she was "actively whining".

Each time, the distances got longer and the time it took her to settle down seemed to get shorter.  I used the breaks while waiting for her to settle down again to put my jacket on and get my food pouch on and leash ready.  Then the last segment of the drive was FOUR BLOCKS and into parking at Capitol Lake. I was practically dancing in my seat and literally singing and yakking at her to distract her for the last half block and into a parking space so she wouldn't whine before I could leap out of the car and get her out.  I wanted her to be successful and to get an immediate payoff.

I think the reason this worked is that by waiting for her to do a behavior that physically simulates calmness and then having her hold it... she was actually getting into to a calm state before we moved on again.  There is scientific evidence that acting like a specific emotion causes people to feel that emotion, so it stands to reason it would work for dogs as well.  Before, by responding so soon, she was never actually calm - just quiet.  For instance, if I tense up and hold my breath, I may be quiet, but I won't be calm... and I can't be quiet that way very long.

I took a back way home and only had to pull over twice.  That's huge.  But then, she's always done better on the way home.

Tuesday night is our CGC class.  Earlier in the day, after working one of my stores, we went to the fort to walk.  Gimme did well on the ride to my store and then afterward toward the fort.  I made it a point to stop before she could recognize where we were going and let her out of her crate.  I'm giving her peanut butter in her ball to distract her, like a pacifier.  Had to stop twice to refill it, but at least she was able to arrive in a more relaxed mindset.  She was relaxed and quiet on the way home.

On the way to class, we only had to stop twice and Gimme very quickly settled down again.  I was very pleased with how much progress she's made in such a short time.  However, once we got there she was very whiny, wanting out of the car right away.  Fortunately we were about half an hour early (I'd left home with a lot of time to spare in case we had to stop more often), so I had a lot of time to sit and wait for her to get calm again. 

Class was even more chaotic this time around, the dogs were "heeling" (read that being dragged and jerked around in a circle).  Gimme and me aren't doing anything the way the class is being done.  I'm just there to use the environment and the instructor knows better than to even suggest anything to me. 

Next time I'm going to change how I do things for Gimme.  The class is just too much for her to take in.  I'm going to set up in the alcove near the far door.  That will have us a little farther away and the lighting there is a little dim.  I'm going to set her crate at an angle so when she comes out, she can work behind her crate - acting like a visual barrier.  Plus we can go out that door periodically to give her a complete break from the chaos.  I can't use the other door because the two stupidest students keep parking on either side of it and they haven't mastered the concept of getting their dogs to come in close enough so someone can actually come through there with a dog.  (imagine me rolling my eyes to heaven)

After class we went for a very long walk along the Percival Landing boardwalk.  Its a nice way to relax after class and Gimme thoroughly enjoys the sniffing and snooping.  She was quiet as a little church mouse on the way home.

Wednesday is another long work day for me, though it wasn't too bad this week.  Not much merchandise came in, so I had a shorter than usual day.  I left home with Gimme in plenty of time to allow for a lot of stopping on our way to nosework class.  But then didn't need to stop even once!!!  WOOHOO!!!  I was so proud of her, that was a huge improvement and especially on a day when she'd been cooped up for most of it.  I was so happy with her I had goose bumps all over me.

Naturally once we got there she was insistent that she had to get out RIGHT NOW.  I sat with her for awhile until she got quiet and calm again before getting out of the car.  It didn't really help long term since she resumed carrying-on the moment I left.  She knew where she was and was just sure class couldn't start without her.  When her turn came, I went out to get her a little early so I could wait out any whining, but she very quickly figured out the drill.  Interestingly after her first turn, she was quiet for the remainder of class (two hours), only fussing a little when I went to get her.  So we'll see how it goes next week.  If the same pattern is present, I may try taking her out of the car for a quick walk before class and see if that satisfies her.

Today, Thursday seemed to start out quiet on our way to the fort.  But then halfway there she started whining and I ended up stopping three times without getting to the place where I intended to break out the pacifier.  I was close enough on the last stop, so once she was whine-free again, I let her out and we used the pacifier to get to the fort.  Naturally when we got there, she immediately pooped, so I'm wondering if that was the problem all along.  Bad mommy.

Since it had been a stressful ride, I opted to leave the treat bag and clicker in the car, planning to just walk.  Never do that.  Even if you don't plan to train, always be prepared for the possibility.  Naturally, even though we haven't seen a horse in over a month, today we did and I didn't have anything to reward her with. 

So the rest of our day has been uneventful.  Still puttering on the living room project from hell.  Still enjoying snuggle and play time with the Cutest Puppy on the Planet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

About a thousand years ago, when I was a teen, an adult friend told me "Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud".  At the time I was "in loooooove" and she was trying to explain to me that all those things I most loved about the guy would reveal the things that would most annoy me one day.  Basically, the flip side of the traits you love are the things that are most likely to be crazy-making over time.  The idea was to consider it from that point of view to be sure you'll be able to live with both sides of those traits.  As it turned out, the object of my affection didn't feel the same way, so I didn't really apply or learn the lesson.

Later when I married, I didn't even think about what she said.  Six years later when I divorced the guy, I thought about it a LOT.  Sure enough, many of the traits I enjoyed when we were dating, were right there in the middle of what drove me bonkers.  I won't go into detail, since 17 years later it still makes my blood boil to remember life with the ex-butthead.

I've since looked at that lesson with fresh eyes and it really applies to almost anything.  I can apply it to friends and I see that the things I love about them are revealing to traits that are not so lovable (to me - other people will have different loves and annoyances).  This works for the friends that stay and those that don't.  It definitely works for any relationships. 

It also works for puppies.  When I first began to wonder if Gimme was "The One", she was less than 24 hours old and had just climbed over her mother to look for faucets on the other side and not finding any, made the more arduous climb back.  I loved the no fear attitude and persistence she showed - AT LESS THAN ONE DAY OLD.

Later she was the puppy that was caught motoring down the hallway after having her nails done, while the other puppies were sound asleep in the basket.  She was among the first to escape confinement from the puppy pen.  She was the puppy that ruled the roost and told the other puppies what to do.  She did have some difficulty with one puppy, but the others pretty much let her have her way.  The puppy who is now named Grace is also strong willed, while the other puppies are more mellow in temperament, more like their mother.  In any case, the signs of who Gimme would be were plentiful.

When I was there to get her, once she decided I was acceptable and adoption-worthy, she also decided none of the other puppies were allowed to get in my lap.  When one of the girls came back a second time after being run off and Gimme discovered her in my lap - to say the least, her response was not endearing and it took quite awhile for her to settle down again.  She screamed bloody murder for the whole very long drive to the airport when she experienced her first real confinement in the carry-on luggage.  These were definitely signs of who she would be.

What did I expect from Gimme?  I expected her to be brilliant, definitely too damn smart for her own good.  I expected her to have a mind of her own.  I expected her to be both very confident and very persistent, in good and in bad ways.  I expected Gimme to have a Queen of the Universe attitude.  I also suspected she would be over-the-top in how she approached things, but didn't really know how that would manifest itself.  I already knew how cute she was and how hard it would be to resist that little pixie face. 

She is ten times smarter than I ever anticipated - after all, she did invent 'sitting to demand things' after just one bite of cheese-n-cracker.  She has also invented an impressive and sophisticated freestyle move that other people spend months teaching their dogs.  If I want her to do things my way, I let her think its her idea and make sure it pays very well.  She always thinks she is the one training me.  Her confidence and persistence is a challenge OFTEN.  I really have to work hard to set limits for her because most of the naughte' things she does are also too too funny.  (Note the European spelling for naughty - its so much better that way)  

I put her toy basket up out of reach, so she redefined her reach and then I caught her perched on things 6 feet off the ground getting into her basket.  [She had already dumped most of her toys on the floor and was just waiting up there so I'd have a chance to notice her stellar accomplishment.]  She is part monkey and she has no fear.  It doesn't occur to her that I meant for her to not get in the basket and spread her toys all over the place - rather she believed I must have wanted to give her a new challenge to work through and she doesn't want to disappoint my faith in her abilities.  I work hard to stay ahead of her.  Gimme actually thinks she was Queen of the Universe, but now she is Empress of the Cosmos.  

Although the signs that she would be over-the-top in how she approached things were all there, I had no clue what that would mean in our life together.  This has become the area of our greatest challenge.  Some dogs (Gimme is definitely one) would be a disaster in the average pet home, and yet in the right home they get their needs met and the training they need.  Living with Gimme is a lot like living with a gifted child.  She gives 200% to everything she does.  And that applies to getting distracted and wound up as well as it does to outsmarting me and playing with me and loving me and training me.  When she gets aroused, she has real difficulty getting back to a normal state.  When she is frustrated, she has difficulty dealing with those emotions too.  She tends toward reactivity.  These are all things we work on. 

The reason I often don't talk about this side of Gimme is because the terminology used to describe these aspects of her personhood have become so emotion-laden among dog people and I don't want to give the wrong impression of my darling girl.  These terms have been applied so often to dogs with serious aggression issues, that they've almost become synonymous with aggression.  That's not the case with Gimme and I'm sure its not the case with many dogs, though I suspect it could be if they are not taught to deal with these emotions constructively.  I've worn out a few Thesaurus looking for different words that are still accurate, but haven't found any.  The dictionary defines these terms as:
  • Aroused: aroused to action, emotionally aroused and brought to a state of great tension.
  • Frustration: the feeling that accompanies an experience of being thwarted in attaining your goals. 
  • Reactive: participating readily in reactions and tending to react to a stimulus. 
These definitions describe Gimme more accurately.  Whining is just one manifestation of this side of her personality.  While whining drives me to distraction and is a safety hazard when I'm driving, teaching her to ride in the car without whining is about more than that.  Gimme needs help learning to calm down - its not her first choice.  So I've always tried to promote behaviors that have her in a thinking brain state as opposed to a reacting brain state.  Ursula has helped us a lot with this.  Since the whining behavior was getting worse (when it first started it was quite insignificant) and other approaches didn't work, she wasn't in a thinking brain.  I don't know if it started out as stress, but I think it was becoming a stressor.  Even a good stress is still physiologically stress, causing the same physical wear and tear on the body and mind. 

BTW -- Ever notice how behavior problems are like weight gain?  Its starts out so innocent and insignificant enough.  Just an ounce here and a whine there.  Then one day you notice a pair of pants feels a little tight across the beam and the whining is starting earlier and earlier on the drive.  But you make an excuse for it.  Must be water weight gain.  Or, oh jeez, she's just excited to get there and spend time with me.  Then it gets a bit worse, sliding straight into annoying.  Your wardrobe shrinks because of all the clothes you can't fit into.  The whining is now applied to other outtings.  Damned annoying, but still livable.  Then one day the airlines charges you for an extra seat and the dog is shrieking in your ear while you are trying to focus on traffic.  Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration... but you get the picture.  

Hmmmm, did you ever notice that good behavior doesn't mushroom and bloom in quite the same way?

Moral of this segue -- Don't beat-up on yourself (or anyone else) for not noticing a developing problem.  It happens.  Be glad you noticed it before the dog-abuse-police (or the fat police) came to drag you away.  Get good advice, knuckle down and commit to solving the problem and doing better from here on.

Now where was I?  Oh yaaah. 

If Gimme is going to be all that she has the potential to be, then its my job as Mommy to shape and mold her to adopt behavior patterns that tend toward a thinking brain.  We are making headway and still, it may take years to get "there".  Is it sometimes frustrating to me?  You betcha.  Is it a challenge?  Most definitely.  Is it a lot of work?  Absolutely.  Is it satisfying when we achieve snippets of success along the way?  Without a doubt. 

Do I still love Gimme with every fiber of my being?  Is Gimme still my darling?  Is Gimme still the center of my universe?  You are nuts if you even have to ask. 

You know, how over-the-top would manifest itself isn't the only thing I didn't anticipate about Gimme.

She was always too cute for words and that hasn't changed.  She continues to be the most incredible people magnet.  So if there are people around, I'm going to have to allow extra time, a lot of extra time, to answer questions and let them all pet her.  At the specialty, people who are used to cute Dalmatians still had to touch this one - even if they didn't say a word to me.  There is a quality about her that simply draws people to her.

I've since noticed something very unusual about her magnetism.  Last week when we walked at Capitol Lake a man struck up a conversation about Gimme, pronouncing her beautiful.  I'm so used to people wanting to pet her that I unconsciously started moving closer to him, then he asked me to stay back because he is afraid of dogs!  I thought that was odd, since most people who are afraid of dogs don't even want to talk about them or talk to you if you have one with you.  Then on Sunday night when we were walking, it happened again.  A man asked many questions about her, said she was gorgeous and then asked me if I could keep her really still.  You see, he too is afraid of dogs, but he still really really reeeeeally wanted to touch her.  Gimme was completely happy to get a non-stop stream of treats and he petted her for quite awhile, saying she was every bit as nice to touch as she was to look at. 

I think this means she has the gift of healing and I'm as thrilled as I can be about it.  Gimme and me are having some talks about how much more healing she can do if she learns how to be a little more moderate in her behavior toward people.  I'm not sure she is convinced, but I'll just have to show her how persistent I can be. 

Gimme isn't perfect, she doesn't have to be.  She is perfect for me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Want Some Cheese With That Whine?

Gimme has developed a troublesome whining behavior.  The only thing I hate worse than whining dogs is whining kids.  We've been sorting through approaches to this to find some things that will work to modify (read that eliminate) that behavior.

She was great in the car, until about six months ago.  I am certain she doesn't experience car sickness or anything like that.  She seems to genuinely enjoy car rides.  I think this is "anticipation whining".  I'm guessing its related to her over-the-top response to frustration.
I got her in the winter and would take her to work with me, so she rode in the car a lot.  She stayed crated in the car, between my visits during breaks.  She never fussed in the car, never, not ever.  Then as it warmed up and she had to stay home... I noticed she started whining as we got close to where we go on the fort for our long off lead walks (three days a week).  The whining started earlier and earlier during those drives.  Then this summer during the four nights a week classes, by the end of the first week she was whining on the drive to classes.  It has gotten to where she starts whining as we leave the driveway and its now pretty much non-stop on the way to anything.  It used to be that she never whined on the way home from activities, but now she's starting the whining as she realizes we are getting close to home! 
As with most behavior problems... it starts out as no big deal, but over time the problem escalates until its unmanageable or intolerable.  I have a very low threshold for whining - rather noise sensitive.  In any case, since the behavior had no consequence to it, it was free to develop.  Essentially it was on a schedule of apparent reinforcement because of the lack of consequence. 
None of my own ideas to eliminate or even reduce the whining were working more than a day or two, so I sought counsel from friends and I am trying a multi-prong approach. 
  • She gets DAP on a bandana around her neck as soon as she gets in the car.  Hopefully this will help her create a new calm association with car rides.
  • She's never allowed to get out of any confinement until she is both sitting and quiet.  She gets nothing she wants if a whining type utterance is coming from her.  She must be whine-free for five seconds to get what she wants.
  • Stopping the car any time she whines and only move forward again when she is quiet.  Again, she gets nothing that gets her even closer to what she wants if she is whining and again the five second rule applies.
  • Taking her along to run errands where she never gets out of the car, to try to break her association that all rides are for activities.  As soon as the weather cools, I'll go back to taking her along to work several days a week.
  • Sometimes peanut butter bones as pacifiers/distractors for acute situations, with care taken for timing it so she gets them before the bad behavior.
The first time I tried the DAP  it worked very well (that was Thursday).  Then yesterday (Friday) it had no affect at all.  Today it worked beautifully again.  So the challenge is to determine why it works sometimes and not others.  Based on what the days were like when it worked - I wasn't working, so we left home early in the day.  Probably she had no frustration built up, plus had just eaten breakfast both those days.  On the day when it didn't work, she'd been crated all day and, while she had been out for 90 minutes before we left, she may already have had a fair amount of frustration built up.

I'll be testing both those theories.  First of all, we'll continue using the DAP and see if the same pattern holds up.  If it seems to, then at some point I'll give her a lighter breakfast that day and then a light dinner before we take off.  That should show if having a meal is a real factor or if it just seems that way.  Another thing I can try is to have a couple short/fun training sessions and a play session with her before going anywhere, which should bleed off some frustration and if that changes the pattern, I'll know I'm on the right track.

Tonight and tomorrow night, as well as on Thursdays, I'll be making sure we have a short trip in the evening that doesn't go anywhere.  There is a small park near my house and I can go there and drive around it making all right turns.  If she whines, it'll be easy to pull over until she stops.  Then I'll come home without letting her out, to break up the pattern of every ride leading to an activity for Gimme.

I also plan to make it a point to get to places earlier, so she has to wait in the car for a minimum of five minutes before she gets out.  Today when we went to the fort for our walk, when we got there, I took a 30 minute nap before we got out to walk.  And when we got to my friends' house later in the afternoon, Gimme didn't get out for an hour.  The idea is to break the association in her mind with arriving equaling activity for Gimme.

Its been frustrating, to say the least.  Its a definite challenge to my patience to not let her push me.  Wish I could find those old noise cancelling headphones for the times I am waiting her out.  There have been some pretty impressive extinction bursts.  Her tantrum last night when we got to Capitol Lake park and she didn't get out right away, well, its the stuff that legends are made of.  Still we are making some progress, though right now I'm sure she thinks I'm broken. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Walking for Distraction

Today we walked the Capitol Lake area again - took just over an hour. 

I handled Gimme's leash differently.  I noticed that sometimes when she pulls I stop immediately when the leash gets tight (straight), other times my concentration slips and I allow my hand/arm to get pulled forward and only realize what is happening and then stop when its fully forward.  Realistically that means she is on a variable schedule of reward for pulling.  So about a third of the way through our walk, I put the loop through my belt and only used my hands to keep the leash up off the ground and from getting tangled/wrapped around her leg(s).  That seemed to work, because when I felt the tug on my belt it really caught my attention and so I was more consistent.  I think we did better that way. 

Gimme is much better about the other dogs.  I noticed that when we were walking the path that has a green between it and a parallel path 40-60 feet away, that Gimme only really paid attention to the dogs that were coming toward us on the path we are on.   Before she paid attention to all of them.  She also pays little to no attention to dogs that come from behind and pass us, going away.  Of course, I pay attention to them no matter where they are coming from, so she isn't getting any surprises. 

The most interesting thing I realized today is that she shows some concern about big black dogs.  She's never had a bad experience with any, so I'm not sure where that comes from, but its pretty noticeable, especially now that she's responding less in general to the presence of other dogs.  Statistics show that more people are afraid of large black dogs, so I wonder if that same bias is true for dogs.  Curious.  I'll make sure that when we do our dog group with Ursula, that I mention the need for her to interact with a solidly sweet large black dog if possible.

Toward the end of our walk we finally saw the dog walking group I've been hearing about.  No one who mentioned it seemed to know what it was about.  Today they were meeting near where we parked, so I got a chance to talk to someone from the group.  A local veterinarian (local means 45 minute drive to his clinic) meets here with some of his clients on Wednesdays and gives a short "good thing you can do for your dog" talk.  Then the walkers each get to say something about their dog, based on a selected topic.  After that they all go walk around the lake.  The lady I spoke with was very nice and invited us along, but we'd already finished our walk and I thought it might be too much for Gimme to go again, even following from a distance. 

I think it would be a great experience for her to follow them some time, unfortunately this was their last scheduled walk for the summer.  On a positive note, Gimme was able to observe the group relatively calmly from, first 50 feet and gradually as close as 25 feet.  There were probably 30 people with their dogs, all types and sizes.  So I was very proud of how she did with that.

We did another session on the sits and downs tonight.  I continue to use touch now and then to break it up.  One of the problems I've noticed is her tendency to drop from a sit to a down if it isn't clicked soon enough (and vice versa).  She used to have a really good limited hold for her sits and downs, so I'm guessing I have failed to continue rewarding that aspect.  Also, its a common problem for clicker trained dogs, that many of them view lack of a click as a failure, so will throw another behavior at the trainer.  While initiative is great, in this particular instance its a problem.  I think this is a result of the dog not having that sophisticated understanding of the phases of learning that Ursula mentioned as being at the root of some of the problems we've had.  (see my August 17, post called I'm So Psyched).  I suspect I'm not the only clicker trainer out there that enjoys creating behaviors more than naming and getting stimulus control over them. 

Another thought I had was that since she is so responsive to down by a hand signal, that perhaps she is anticipating a down based on random hand movement.  I know there have been instances of her dropping when I've moved my hand for some other reason. 

So in tonight's session I focused on two things.  First, absolute stillness in my hands.  I should do that anyway and it is one of the things Ursula always nagged me for.  So I will strive to be much more aware of my hands.  For the time being I won't use any hand signals with either cue, until we've worked this out for verbal cues.  Second, I used my keep going signal to encourage Gimme to hold a position and wait for the click even when delayed.  I use an elongated "yessss" as our KGS.

It started out slow, but really went well once we got going.  I wasn't sure what to do when she fails.  A lot of people use no reward markers and supposedly they are okay to use for confident dogs.  But, Ursula was saying that studies on the topic have shown no significant value to them and all dogs, even really confident ones show some calming signals when NRMs are being used.  So for now I am simply giving her 2 seconds to respond and then turn and move away.  After which I turn back and give her the same or another cue, in random order. 

The sits were the best and the KGS helped to get her to hold them.  By the end she was pretty close to 95%.  The downs are not as strong - keep in mind that she has been most responsive to hand signals for downs, so it should be expected that it will take a few sessions to build it up on verbal alone. 

We are effectively working on duration with the KGS.  Before long we'll incorporate them back into the distraction training when its low distraction and she can be correct more often.  I'll have to figure out how to teach her to sit or down where she is instead of moving toward me before doing it (distance).  If anyone has any ways you've taught this, please share.

So that's it for today... I'm off to do some paperwork while watching John Wayne movies.  Gimme will enjoy it since we are watching True Grit tonight and that has lots of horses... she will watch with great anticipation in hopes of spying a cow.  BTW the other night we saw another movie with lots of Indians.  Gimme found the whooping noises very intriguing, but decided she didn't like the Indians when she saw them being mean to John Wayne.  Some day I really must get a video going of her watching TV... it really is funny.

Work Ethic?

I have a pretty mindless job, which I know I've mentioned before.  Anyway, it gives me a lot of time to contemplate and cogitate about what is going on in my life and naturally much of that contemplation and cogitation is about Gimme, the Cutest Puppy on the Planet.

While working today I had another thought about how Gimme is progressing.  At class she spends a lot of time in her crate getting what some people call "free food for doing nothing".  Likewise, when we are working or just hanging in a challenging environment, she often gets more of that same "free food for doing nothing".  

Yet, when she is mentally ready for the environment, she essentially comes out of the crate on her own.  Likewise when we are hanging, she makes it clear that she's ready to work.  I do give her an attitude check, but if she really was just there for the free food, wouldn't she just stay in the crate and get some more?  I've always thought she had a really good work ethic and this is more support for my belief in her (and belief in this process). 

Recently I've had a couple of discussions with people who just don't understand and are convinced I'm making her into a mentally and emotionally lazy dog by doing what Ursula, Control Unleashed, Jean Donaldson's books and the Pigs Fly book, all agree will teach a dog how to function in environments that they find difficult.

I think the proof is in the pudding.  Gimme is getting better at this and able to handle more distracting and stimulating environments all the time.  Her progress is undeniable.  Letting her learn to deal with these things in a gradual and systematic way, means that she is able to have the experiences, learn to work amidst a level of chaos that she can handle and get rewarded for it - all without feeling bad or in any way overwhelmed.  Bad feelings mean negative associations and no matter what happens later, most of those negative associations never go away completely.  So, if all Gimme's experiences have a positive and rewarding outcome, then she will become mentally and emotionally stronger and more resilient, not less so.  

She really does love to "work"... or else she's just phenomenally determined to get me trained - no matter what the personal cost...

Our First CGC Class

Gimme had her first CGC class last night... but let me catch you up on the rest of our day first.

In the morning, I did a session on sit, down and touch to establish our baseline.  It wasn't as bad as the night before... but still not as good as I expected it to be after a night of rest.  She was doing better toward the end of the 3 minute session, so that's good.  We'll need to continue working on that.

From there we went to work.  I was going to work Gimme in the parking lot, but then decided I wouldn't since we had class that night, that it might be better to leave her a bit fresher mentally. 

After working we went to the fort to walk.  It was cool, so during our walk I did some simple recalls and asked for sits and downs.  In doing this I noticed an interesting thing.  For sit, Gimme responds best to the verbal; for down she responds best to the hand signal.  She was pretty good on the recalls, but not that responsive on the sits and downs.  Clearly we have room for improvement.

Class was okay.  Its certainly not my style of training, but the instructor and I have an understanding that I'm just there to train in the environment.  It was a lot to take in for Miss Gimme, since it was an open floor plan with eleven other dogs.  We spent the first half of class with her in her crate just getting peanut butter in her Kong ball.  I covered two sides of her crate to give her a bit of visual break until she was ready for the room.  As she'd polish her ball clean, she would roll it out by my foot for a refill.  Each time I'd give her an attitude check and then refill it.  She ate a LOT of peanut butter. 

When she was ready, I brought her out and we worked on the same exercises the class was working on - attention, sit and down.  Of course, she knows all that and was doing very nicely.  From time to time she would look around at the other dogs, so I'd say "whazzat" ("look at that" from Control Unleashed), then she would look back at me and get treated.  That is very helpful for her. 

I find it interesting that for most dogs when they are concerned about something, they can't turn their eyes away from it.  Gimme has learned along the way that she feels better if she doesn't stare at stuff that worries her.  She looks, but then then is quickly satisfied and turns her back on it.  I see that as the beginning of her learning to calm herself.  Woo hooooo.

Also during class I discovered that Gimme may not care for the beef I'd cooked and cut up for treats.  She eats them okay, but isn't inclined to work as hard for them as she will to nibble a bit off a big hunk of boiled garlic chicken.  That may explain why she wasn't as responsive during our walk on the fort.  I think she really misses the hot dogs and deli meats.  We have no choice since I discovered it was the sodium nitrite in them that was causing her to have itchy ears.  If you look up side affects for sodium nitrite, one of them is pink and itchy skin.  There is much evidence that food sensitivities often show up in ear irritation or infection.  Put those two things together and its no more processed meats for Gimme.  [Of course, I came to this discovery just days after laying in a sizable stock of those things from a meat sale.]

Class was shortened last night, which worked well so that Gimme didn't have a prolonged exposure.  Afterward she made it clear she didn't want to get in the car.  She did have to while I went back in to gather our stuff.  Afterward we went for a nice walk on the Percival Landing boardwalk.  Gimme had never been there and was fascinated by all the different surfaces and textures to walk on as well as smells galore. 

There aren't nearly as many people walking on the boardwalk as there are around Capitol Lake, so we may go there again.  We met some people, almost all of whom had to pet the Prettiest Puppy on the Planet.  Anyone who likes dogs is just naturally attracted to her.  One young girl was a little afraid of her...  so I put Gimme on a sit stay and then stood next to the girl and helped her tell Gimme what to do using hand signals. 

I was very pleased that Gimme still had so much desire to work left in her after class.  I expected her to feel wiped out.  This tells me that she is making good progress on the things you don't see as well as the things you do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Capitol Lake again

We walked around Capitol Lake again.  We didn't talk to very many people, but those we did talk to were longer conversations.  Gimme was quicker about reading the pee mail and I'm starting to introduce the idea that you don't have to read every drop, "let's go" and I start walking.  She's mostly okay with it.  There were a LOT more dogs today... at least twenty.  So by the time we stop for a peanut butter break, that eats up a lot of time.  Thus our 1.5 mile walk took 1:23...

Came home to do a session of just sit, down and touch - trying to tighten up her responses.  I'm really convinced now that she doesn't listen that closely and often just throws one at me, guessing and hoping it is right.  Either the verbal cues were never strongly in place or they've become lost along the way.  The "touch" is probably the most accurate.  However, since that is accompanied by my hand moving into position, she may be responding to a hand signal rather than a verbal.  Her accuracy on sit and down was only about 60%.  That really surprised me.

In my living room with no distractions to speak of, she should be very close to 100% on those three.  Granted we just came from a walk and she may have been a little mentally fatigued, but I still think she should have been more accurate than 60%.  I will try it tomorrow morning when she is "fresh" to establish a baseline. 

Obviously we are going to do a lot more with this before I go back to using it for the wait for the cue phase of learning on the two fruit Project behaviors that are on cue. 

Tomorrow night we start the class downtown.  Its a CGC class and so we should come out of class with that certificate.  Though, of course, my main goal is for her to be able to work in that setting.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 Memorial

After our lesson yesterday, Gimme and I went out to the fort for our usual Saturday walk.  It was very hot, so we took it much slower and even enjoyed a break in the shade.  After the walk we headed home to lounge around for the rest of the day. 

In the evening, we met my friend Carol (a professional photographer) who was doing a shoot at a local fire station.  They had set up a large display for the memorial service they were holding today.  There were 343 flags, one for each of the firefighters who died in New York on September 11, 2001. 

It was a beautiful display and Carol did a wonderful job of capturing the majesty of the display.  Naturally, she had to spend some time photographing Gimme at the display and with one of the fire trucks.  These are the five best shots...

Now, if they would just have given her the keys, Gimme was ready to roll...

Its All About the Attitude

I teach agility on Saturdays and this weekend after class I placed six jumps (uprights only) in a simple circle and brought Gimme in to play.  Initially I turned her loose to investigate the arena, since she hasn't been there in many months.  She ran around excited and wild and when she buzzed by me, I clicked her.  I only did that once or twice, because she didn't stop for the treat, so the clicking was pretty meaningless.  I figured she was too far out of her thinking brain to respond, so I just let her go and get it out of her system. 

What I did do was to walk around and back and forth in the arena.  Whenever she buzzed by, I'd change direction and walk in a direction more or less opposite to where she was headed then.  I didn't say anything or in any way try to curtail or change what she was doing.  I simply walked and changed directions as her movements called for it.  Before long I noticed, while she was still buzzing by, she was almost immediately curving back to pick up my new direction. 

When I saw that she was actually giving me some brief eye contact as she went by, I tried clicking again and sure enough, she was ready to respond.  She got her treats and then was free to go.  I repeated this until she indicated she wanted more from me and was ready to work.  After that we had a nice training session where she was totally focused and giving me all she had. 

At one point the barn dogs came out and were looking in the gate.  She was distracted then and left briefly to go check them out.  I was happy to see that she didn't show any posturing and soon came back to work.  So we are already making progress on that front.  Woohoo...

I was very happy that she gave me such complete focus in what is essentially a new place for her and worked hard for ten minutes.  I was even happier that despite distracting to the dogs, she came back to work with the same great level of focus she had before.  What did she learn in this session?  Not much agility, just going through uprights which she has done before.  But more importantly:
  • Mom respects my needs
  • I can play agility in a strange place
  • Mom is fun
  • Agility is fun
  • Dogs watching are okay
Contrast that with a recent semi-private agility lesson.  It had already been a pretty full day and in retrospect wasn't the best time to have a lesson, especially a semi-private (not my choice -- it was sprung on me when I arrived).  Gimme did well for most of the lesson and was trying hard to give me what I wanted. 

While things started out well enough, after awhile Gimme started sniffing. The instructor told me that I was certainly more interesting than the ground and Gimme had to return to work.  I worked her through it as best I could and was getting some success.  Even if she wasn't learning anything, she was, at that point, still having a positive experience.

However as things continued, Gimme became more and more distracted and was clearly starting to stress. She started running out to the wading pool after the second jump in the sequence. The instructor would go and herd her back by pestering her.  As this pattern was repeated the pestering became harassing.  Gimme's brain was basically fried (my thoughts and later the instructor's exact words) and she was trying to avoid what she couldn't concentrate well enough to do.  The pool was then turned over and the next time she went that way, the instructor went after her, got in her face and yelled "get back to work." Gimme then came right to me, but she still couldn't do the exercise.

The instructor insisted that Gimme had to learn to work through her "fried brain" and that she could only quit on "my terms".  She said it wasn't up to Gimme to say when she was too tired and couldn't work anymore.  She would not accept that Gimme had enough, too much, in fact, or that it was sufficient reason to give her a break. I let it go on a few more minutes, broke down the exercise and basically the last time Gimme walked through it getting treats every two feet.

While the instructor insisted that was so much better, she couldn't see that Gimme was very stressed and behaviorally suppressed, only seeming her usual lively self for the last obstacle, a straight tunnel. Then after having said before that when Gimme did what I asked, we would quit on "my terms", she told me to do the sequence again. I said "no, that's enough" – which ended the lesson. I should have quit much sooner.

What Gimme learned from that awful lesson is that:
  • Sometimes agility isn't fun
  • Sometimes Mom isn't fun
  • Sometimes Mom doesn't listen to Gimme
  • Sometimes people aren't nice to Gimme
Obviously that's not where I want our training to "go".  Gimme is too great of a dog and has such a wonderful attitude.  Fortunately she has enough confidence and plenty of attitude to bounce back, even from that crappy lesson.  So what did Carla learn from that dismal experience:
  • Don't let someone surprise me into doing something that isn't right for my girl (the unplanned semi-private).  I should have said "no" when I realized we weren't going to get what I had scheduled.
  • Don't listen to someone who tries to push me into training in ways that my girl isn't ready for.  Such as exercises that are too difficult for her level of experience or discouraging me from luring Gimme to help her deal with the difficulty and/or distraction.
  • Don't listen to someone who criticizes the advice I was given my another instructor who has worked much more with Gimme and who's method is showing results.
  • Don't listen to someone who shows a lack of understanding about canine calming signals and who shows no evidence of having even read some of the latest works on helping dogs deal with distraction/stress, such as Control Unleashed.
  • Don't listen to someone who is starting to channel Cesar Milan.
  • Do tailor the training method to where Gimme is at in that moment.
  • Do remember that while she is full size, Gimme is after all still a puppy.  She doesn't need to experience stress while learning (no dog does).
  • Do pay attention to what the whole Gimme is telling me.  Its okay for her to tell me when she is done working; its not important for me to be in charge.  
  • Do respect Gimme and her needs. 
  • Do defend Gimme's needs at all times.
To clarify the title, "Its All About the Attitude"...  I'd rather have a dog who chooses to work with me, than one who is compelled to work with me.

I have to admit its embarrassing to share with the "whole world" how poorly I stood up for my darling girl in this instance.  I could hide it and keep my reputation intact.  I could explain in nauseating detail how and why I think it happened this way.  I could try to defend or justify my errors in judgment.  I have already analyzed it to death for my own benefit.  However, I think the important thing is to share it with you so you can benefit from what I learned. 

Please learn from my mistakes...  Do not try this at home.