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Monumental A to Z High On Liberty

Thursday, June 28, 2012

We're In!

First the big news - we won in the draw and got in the nosework trial in Enumclaw on August 12th.  There were only 47 slots and 90 entries.  The sport is growing so fast in this area that there is a lot of competition for events - they are all filling right now.  I ask that you all start crossing body parts now...

In class tonight we worked on several different things.  We made good progress on Gimme's nose push to shut a door.  I had already taught her to do it with her foot, so that has presented a challenge, since paw work is her preference anyway. 

We revisited walking on stairs and she only needed one reminder going each way to get it right.  The reminder consists of me simply stopping and waiting for her to come back into position.  By the second time up and back down, she had it down pat and was able to go an entire flight right beside me on just one click/treat. 

We worked on some calm sitting behaviors - sometimes she has a hard time accepting that stillness is a payable behavior.  So from time to time we do a short session of clicking just sitting still.  We also spent a bit of time with the door closed on her soft crate.  She's great with crates and has spent a lot of time laying in there, but I realized I'd never actually closed the flap, much less zippered her in.  That was no problem. 

I also free shaped her to get on her red rubber Treibball mat.  The other night I thought Tor's yodeling was the reason she couldn't do it, but maybe that wasn't it since she couldn't do it tonight and he wasn't even there.  So I shaped it and she quickly remembered how to get to the mat and lay down with her elbows on it.  I specifically require the elbows because when I first taught this she was creeping further and further forward. 

Our last session with Ursula was in the big pen area and I had her help us with our fronts.  Gimme has developed a variation that is not what I want.  The fronts used to be nice, but not as close as I wanted.  Then I got them close and very quickly Gimme started coming in, sitting and then pivoting about ten degrees clockwise.   I've been trying several things to get them straight again with some success, but thought Ursula might have a different insight.

As it turned out, she noticed that my clicks are late.  Gimme is actually starting the pivot before I can see it and that's getting clicked - evident from where Ursula stood.  So clicking a lot earlier helped quite a bit.  Then we tried another idea that also made it clearer.  I'd back up a step or two and if Gimme sat straight, she got clicked/treated.  If she sat crooked or sat and twisted before I could click, then I would side-step one step to my left and encourage her to come into front again.  All of this was without using the "front" cue. 

We started the session with about 90% of them crooked.  Quickly got to about 50% straight.  By the end of the session, they were about 80% straight.  Nice progress for just a couple of minutes work. 

Gimme is really very self aware, so I know when there is a problem just exactly who is causing it. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Timmy in the Well (NW 4/6)

Tonight we played a training game called "Timmy in the Well".  Results were interesting.  Dogs that usually aren't the best in class seemed to do better; while a couple of the best  dogs (Gimme included) had difficulty.  Her problem had a unique cause.

The set up is that we use barriers to make a smaller than usual search area - ours was an oval about 9 x 20 feet.  The size of the area is intentionally small to reduce distraction and reduce inhibition caused by the handler's lack of movement.  In our class all the dogs did well moving to the far end, except Kia, a Pomeranian.  There is nothing in the area other than 9 boxes (1 with odor) and one chair. 

You walk in with your dog, get your treats ready in your hand and let the dog smell them, then give the search cue and let the dog go.  While the dog searches, you sit in the chair, remaining silent and still.  When the dog finds the right box you get up and walk toward the dog as long as they stay at the box.  If they leave the box, then you stop and wait for the dog to return to the right box and then walk toward them again, treating when you get all the way there.

The dog is considered to have left the box if they turn away from it or take steps away, except they can take one step toward the handler.  The idea is for the dog to be shaped by your movement toward them into sticking with odor.  Movement closer is reinforcing; stopping is not.

Gimme had a problem because she really wanted the treats (sugar-braised beef heart) and when I sat down she turned to me and mugged my hand, which I lifted up.  Then Joyce told me to put both hands on my knees and wait.  That posture is similar to one I use when I shape from sitting down and Gimme decided that's what we were doing, so naturally she threw every behavior she could think of at me, along with a lot of barking.  I didn't expect that there, because its where we always do nosework and the boxes should have been a big clue for her.  On the other hand, we are in the Targeting and Shaping class in that same room (once or twice a week).  Often I've been on my feet all day, so I've probably sat for shaping before.

I tried after our turn (which seemed to take forever) to explain my thinking to Joyce... but she just thinks the boxes should take precedence over everything.  I honestly didn't think that Gimme had really processed the "wherezit" cue before she saw what she thought was a visual cue for shaping (my posture) and visual cues take precedence over verbal cues.  Also I'm not certain she'd really noticed the boxes.  While she was throwing behaviors at me, she had her back turned to them as well.  It wasn't until she'd worn out her entire repertoire that she finally turned and looked at the boxes and went to check them out.  From the time when she went to check out the boxes until she got her treat, she was about average in time for our class.

The second time I purposely did it different, to make it clearer to her.  I took her leash off and put my hand in her harness, then got the treats in the other hand and let her check them out, but not get any.  Then I just paused holding her by the harness and waited until she really looked in the direction of the boxes and then I gave her the cue.  She started toward the boxes, but my movement to sit in the chair caught her attention and she came back.  This time she only threw a couple behaviors at me and barked a few times and then went back to the boxes and had it very quickly.  So she did a lot better the second time and I think my changes had a lot to do with making the task clearer.

Our third session was a simple exterior search with odor stuck in a pinecone, placed under the common pee bush.  I brought Gimme from the car with leash in her collar and let her potty nearby.  Then I switched her to the line attached to her harness, walked her straight to the start line and sent her to find odor.  She moved off the start so quickly that she went past it, but then quickly doubled back to the cone.  Only one dog was faster than her.

Switching the leashes is a little cumbersome, but I want a real clear distinction for her.  BTW on our last walk on a cement trail near the house (a nice 4.5 mile round trip), I really studied Gimme's marking behavior and precursors.  I noticed she tends to find a spot where she wants to mark then side steps her heiney over it before squatting.  So I'm hoping I'll be able to see that side-stepping in time to use it to interrupt any marking during nosework.

Also during that walk I saw the biggest raccoon on the planet.  I swear he was 35 pounds - simply huge.  I was sooooo thankful that I had Gimme on leash, so I was able to make some noise until he noticed us and moved off.  I wouldn't have wanted Gimme to tangle with him.  Raccoons normally retreat if they have the chance, but if they have to fight they are pretty nasty.  Gimme surely would have won, but could still have gotten badly hurt.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Quilt Top

When my dogs are still puppies, I let them choose their own colors.  Every dog seems to have a favorite color that they gravitate to and some are even particular about what shade or tint of that color they like.

So when Gimme was a youngster, I brought home a zillion paint chips and laid them on the floor in groups of ten or so and let her indicate which appealed to her.  Dogs will usually just pick one color chip up over and over again - often chewing on it or carrying it around.  Then if you pick them all up together and lay them out again, they often go back to the same color.

Not Gimme - she was all over the place with her colors and I didn't know what to make of it. I'd never had a dog that didn't pick just one color and stick with it.  However, when we were done and I happened to have all the colors she picked together in one place, it became clear that she had actually assembled a very pretty palette of colors.  Based on her chosen palette, I bought fabrics that matched.

Here is a picture of her first quilt...  We have planned two more...


Tonight's class was frustrating to me because I had a plan that I didn't' get to really work on.  I went to class with the plan of working on our treibball send.  I set up our cubicle with extra dividers and an expen, so we would have plenty of space.  We have been working on this at home, but don't have enough indoor space and its not ready to take outdoors.  I was looking forward to having more room and introducing the idea of doing it somewhere besides my living room.

Unfortunately Tor ended up in the cubicle next to us.  He is a verrrrrry talkative young Alaskan Malamute, with amazing volume.  In the past Gimme has paid very little attention to him, but we've never had him in the cubicle right next door.  She really wasn't able to work on things that she didn't know well already - not with him "talking" right over the divider.  He's a real sweet dog and his owner is a nice and very patient man, but he's one loud boy.

Thus we weren't able to work my plan.  We did work on some of our well known behaviors and I also spent a lot of time letting Gimme clean out one of our peanut butter tubes.

After that we went to the cubicle over by the stairs and worked on her "push" behavior. That's a nose push, as opposed to a nose touch.  Gimme is learning several concept behaviors - they are in essence verbs that she will generalize to do different things with many different objects (named-nouns). The verbs we working on are:
  • touch - nose touch
  • paw - paw touch or front paws on
  • feet - back feet on
  • push - push with your nose
  • pick-up - pick up and hand to me
  • bring - fetch it and bring to my hand
She's doing well with these and so is developing a nice vocabulary that will help us to build other behaviors.  And despite our earlier setback to the plan (because of Mr. Noisy), we did make good headway on "push" tonight.  

We also spent a little time working on loose leash walking on the stairs.  That is a behavior that can be hard for dogs because it seems so natural to them to bound up the stairs. Gimme actually picked that up very quickly.  Then again, she IS a genius.

Class Update

I'm a bit behind reporting on classes.  They continue to go well and Gimme is learning a lot and doing very well on her special challenges.  Last Thursday was an especially great class.

We were working in our cubicle and she could see other dogs through the opening, though basically ignoring them.  A couple arrived late and when they went by, they let their dog stick its head in our cubicle (not supposed to happen).  Instead of behaving badly, Gimme's eyes got big and then she turned to me and demanded treats.  I was so proud.  She was challenged, made a good decision, knew it was a good decision and then demanded recognition - gotta love that. 

Then later in the same class, one of the students was working on the stairs.  Our cubicle was at the bottom of one side of the stairs and I was working Gimme on something that was hard, when the lady comes down the first flight, onto the landing and before realizing we were there, started down the flight that would have brought her right into our cubicle!  She was so focused on training her dog that she got turned around and started down the wrong side on the stairs.  Again Gimme got big eyes, totally forgot what we were working on, but made a good decision, turned to me and demanded the payoff.

And even better - after these two episodes, she remained calm and went right back to working.  There was a time not long ago when she would have spent the rest of class on high alert.  This is evidence of really good progress since both dogs were within 5 feet and intruding on our space.

The thing we were working on was related to listening skills, again.  Ursula had me pick six cues that Gimme knows well, that she could do in class and in a small space.  I picked: kennel, chill, sit, down, touch, paw and melon.  Touch is a nose touch to my hand and paw is shake hands.  Chill is to down and put your head down, wherever she was.  Melon is to push her cube with her nose.

Then Ursula strung them together in different logical sequences.  The idea was to cue the first one and the instant Gimme did it cue the next, and the instant she did that cue the next, and so on to the end.  The last behavior got clicked and treated.  If she made a mistake, we broke it off and then tried it again, starting at the beginning.  We did each sequence about five times (correctly) before moving on to the next.

The sequences we did were:
  • chill-touch-down-melon-sit-paw
  • kennel-chill-touch-down-melon-sit-paw
  • sit-kennel-chill-melon-down-touch-paw
  • paw-down-melon-kennel-chill-touch-sit
  • down-touch-melon-sit-kennel-chill-paw

Even though it was hard mental work to focus like that and especially really listening part, Gimme seemed to enjoy it.  I times I fully expected to see steam come out of her ears.  This girl really loves a challenge.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Young Love

I've been wanting to share with all of you how much fun Gimme and Grafton have together.  They are really so sweet and so "in love".  Young Love is a real joy to see.

While I still haven't been successful getting a video of the Lion Dog on the Spaghetti Plain Stalking the Lovely Dalzelle... here are some clips I put together of them playing...

Here's a bunch of pictures of them...  Many are out of focus because they run and play so hard and so fast that getting things in focus is a near impossibility...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gimme's Public

Gimme was invited to a parade last weekend.  We were there to support Hadian for Governor.  Gimme's part was to be damn cute and entertain the children and, of course, she did a stellar job.  She had her picture taken as the official Conservative Spokes-Dal, with several conservative candidates, along with other parade participants. As expected, she was a huge hit and got her picture taken another 200 times while being petted and fussed over. 

There are at least two thousand more people that know about liver Dalmatians. 
"Yes, her spots are brown – its called liver."
"Yes, she is a real Dalmatian.  Liver colored spotting is in the Dalmatian standard in every country in the world. Her father is a liver and he’s one of the top Dalmatians in the United States."
"It's called liver. Thank you. Yes, it is very pretty…"
I would never have thought Gimme could ever have enough petting and attention, but it is possible. Toward the end of the parade she was clearly "over" the fun of being petted and fussed over. So I fed her treats while it was happening to help her endure. When we got back to the car she was very impatient to get in the car and into her crate. She was sound asleep in minutes. Being a public figure is very hard work. Anyone who has a significant fan base knows just how demanding the public can be. 

Here are some pictures... This is our crew - Hadian for Governor. It may be that Gimme was the only physically fit one of the bunch...  

This is Gimme with the Harley Davidson riders in support of "Tatt Time", tattooing artists.  She was gracious enough to not mention that her beautiful tattoos are all natural... choosing to let them speak for themselves.  They were right ahead of us in the parade, spinning their wheels and making a huge stink of burning rubber and a very loud racket - which Gimme paid almost no attention to.

This is Gimme with the nice man that drove the firetruck that was right behind us.  He ran the siren a few times and so Gimme and I sang along.  She always answers the song of the firetruck that goes by our house.

Gimme took an instant liking to Andrew Barkis - they just hit it off.  It may be the name.

Gimme especially appreciated that the Justin Kover for Utilities Commissioner crew so thoughtfully brought a pretty red sports car to serve as a backdrop for her own loveliness.

Gimme never tires of posing on firetrucks and we both have a special fondness for the antiques. 

It seemed only fitting that there would be a whole squad of cheerleaders standing by waiting for an opportunity to pose with the cutest Dalmatian on the planet.

After the lengthy photo session, Gimme took some time to chill out - conserving her strength before the parade begins.  

Gimme was so popular at the parade and so there was a special request that she attend the Meet the Candidates forum last night.  It was far too warm for her to wear her t-shirt, but she has a nice patriotic scarf for just such occasions.

Here Gimme poses with Mr. Hadian, who we hope will be the next governor of Washington state.  Gimme is completely sold on him and endorses him with a solid four-paws-up.  I must divulge that he did give her a peanut butter cookie.

And lastly, posing with the two girls.  By this time, she was getting tired.  These photo shoots always wear a girl out and Gimme says she has new found appreciation for the rigors models must endure. 

Little Miss Pupularity has already received an invitation to the 4th of July parade in Tumwater!  Gimme wants to do it, but first we have to figure out some logistics, since it will be much warmer then.  Also, in Thurston county, parade participants all have to ride on vehicles, so we have that to consider as well.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nosework (3/6)

The weather was superb, so we did three exterior searches. 

Our first search was in the grass by the building, there was a hide in the grass (in a tin) and then when we found it and while rewarding the dog, Joyce tossed the other tin into an area nearby.  Gimme had no problem finding the hides, but she marked between finding the first and second tins.  Since I had already walked her and she had peed then (just minutes before), this is definitely marking.

I've ever known a female who marks as often as Gimme does.  When we are walking with Grafton, she marks over most of his.  She also sometimes marks three-legged, lifting the right rear leg to pee.  This could be a real problem for us, especially since she is sooooo dang fast and it'll be hard to stop her.  Nosework, like most sports, penalizes eliminating while competing with elimination.  And with nosework you must pass all four elements on the same day to get a title - so this is not something I want to see get established as a habit (especially at $85 a pop).  For the moment, I'm going to try two things: 1) do her potty walks before each search on a regular leash attached to collar and then switch to her line attached to the harness at the startline, and 2) work more on putting peeing on cue.  Hopefully that will be enough to get through to her that peeing isn't allowed when she is working.  If it persists, then I may remove her from the course and return her to the car if she marks - hopefully it won't come to that.

Our second session was four hides on the side of the building next door, three of which were in difficult to access spots.  They weren't actually hard for the dogs to get to, but hard because of where they caught the scent versus the easiest way to get to the tin.  One was a industrial building water meter, one under a cone and the other wedged in a water spigot insulation cover.  For the meter they caught the scent from the front, but the easiest access was from the side - Gimme didn't go around, just stretched her neck up and reached over and then knocked the tin and treat to the ground.  The paint was so thick the magnet wouldn't hold the tin in place, so once she knocked it to the ground she wasn't inspired to go around.  The hide under the cone was on the far side of an open metal grate staircase and we were approaching from under the stairs, so the dogs tended to stick their heads through the stairs first and then have to figure out to go around.  Gimme figured that out very quickly.  The hide at the spigot cover was behind a bunch of supports, so needed to be approached from the side.  Since Gimme caught the odor from the cone first, by the time she came back up, she was already coming from the side, giving her a direct line. 

Our last session was two hides in the grass again, but only a couple feet from the asphalt.  The idea being that the dogs are less inclined to mark when they spend most of their time on asphalt.  Gimme found those so quickly it never occurred to her to do anything else.  That inspired Joyce to say, "Hard to believe this little brat girl has such a great nose and took four tries to pass an ORT."

Hmmmmm someone besides me calling her a brat girl...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

No Easy-Peazy Stuff

Class tonight was so interesting.  I usually start with some look-at-that, especially when there are new dogs present.  Gimme just didn't want to look at them at all... instead she wanted to heel by them with her nose stuck up in the air (okay, she was looking up at me, so she wasn't really being hoity-toity). 

Then when we got to our cubicle I like to warm up by clicking some check-ins and Gimme didn't seem to know how to do that anymore.  She has been doing it since she was a puppy, so that seemed unlikely.  Instead she kept sniffing around and just being generally distracted - working very hard at tangling herself up in her leash over and over again. 

So I changed gears and thought - we'll start with "chill" work in her crate.  She was barely able to do that - getting up to repeatedly turn in circles and get tangled up in her leash several more times.  I finally stopped fixing the leash for her and she proved then that she is quite capable of untangling herself.  The little minx...

When I changed gears to more challenging stuff, suddenly she was totally into what we were doing and working with her usual great intensity and focus.  We worked on several different skills and she did nicely.  It seemed the harder it was, the better she did.  She also demonstrated more improvement in stimulus control... its coming along a little bit at a time.

We ended class with her being able to do a sit stay while Ursula touched and then stroked her back.  She was able to do the same for a stand stay and then for a breed stand.  That has just been the hardest thing for her because she is so very social - so I was pleased to see that leap in understanding tonight.

I don't know what was going on with her when class started.  I've seen that before, where sometimes she just doesn't want to do the usual warm-up behaviors.  It starts out looking like there is no one home cuz she can't/won't do simple stuff, but when you go to challenging stuff then she is all for it.  Other times, she really needs that warm-up and if I try to skip it or rush through it, I don't get her full focus for the other stuff. 

This one is a piece of work, that's for sure...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nosework (2/6)

Gimme continues to do well in Ursula's classes.  She's just a working maniac and learns new things so quickly.  We are doing a lot to focus on the stimulus control aspect of things and I'm seeing progress all the time.  Once she fully understands that concept - she'll be unstoppable.

Nosework class tonight was great - we did a field trip to Home Depot.  We did all of it in the outdoor area, where they had a row of 6 garden sheds.  The first session used the sheds, with hides in 4 of them (one had its door closed).  As we approached them from where we parked, the hides were in the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th sheds.  Gimme was really good and didn't take any time at all to find the hides.  Interestingly she stepped into the second shed and immediately turned and walked out again - showing she knew there was nothing there.  That was nice and clear and a skill she will need as we advance in this sport.

One of the things that was quite interesting was that each dog passed the 5th and 6th sheds, turned left as if to go to the plants area, and then would turn back to work the 6th shed and finish with the 5th shed.  Not having effective noses ourselves, we humans don't know why the dogs all did that same pattern.  It may have been that McDonald's was just up the street and as they came toward the end of the line of sheds, the breeze would curl around that corner and bring the McD smell to them.  Could also have been the smell of the plants drew them to that area.  It had to be something, because all six dogs did the exact same thing there.

The second session was three hides in the plants.  Gimme was going first and I was wrong to give her too much line, so we got tangled in the bushes/trees.  Gimme is so bold, she always just wants to clamber over/through to go direct to things if she can.  I need to get better about anticipating what she's up to and calling her to come with me so I can take her around.  One of the hides was very interesting, since there was a stiff paper/plastic tube (15" tall) around the base of one of the tree trunks and the hide was tucked up under the bottom edge.  Gimme got the odor at the top of the tube and was quite insistent.  She did a good job at this session and I was pleased because plant areas of HD in field trips we've done have proven challenging for her.  I don't know why, unless they use a lot of fertilizer or something. 

The next session was a simple set of four hides, with a tin stuck somewhere along the front support of the four sheds, 3rd through 6th.  As we'd find one and were rewarding the dog, Joyce set the next one.  Gimme got this really quickly.  They were pretty easy hides, so lots of fun and very motivating for the dogs.  Our job on this sequence was to work on how we take the dog away from odor.  You don't really want to pull them away or use any cue, such as leave it.  So instead as we were rewarding them, we'd use the reward to lure them away and into a new direction to continue searching.  Gimme being the genius that she is, twice went immediately back to the one she'd just found.  Meaning that she got more rewards and I got two extra practices at moving her away.  She's so good to me.

The last hide was again along the front of those four sheds, but under the edge and out of sight so that it was blind to us.  Gimme was pretty quick to find hers and just as I was about to nod to Joyce to get the okay to call "alert", she snaked a paw under and dragged the tin out.  Apparently I wasn't responding quick enough and Gimme wanted to be sure I knew she found it.

After class I went to Costco about a block away and Gimme was sound asleep by the time I got there.  Twelve hides is a LOT and the girl is exhausted.  She's sound asleep now. 

One thing I also want to mention is how well she is doing with our work on distraction.  She's getting really good about sticking with things - much less squirting off.  When I do need to reel her in, usually because she doesn't know the search area parameters, she has been great about just accepting it.  I've really only seen one sign of clear frustration from her and that was last week in class when I was ignoring all her false alerts.  So I'm very happy with the results of the way I approached this with Gimme and naturally am much more inclined to stick with my instincts in the future. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Mowzer...

On our walk yesterday Gimme and Grafton saw a mouse exercise bad judgment - it crossed the open gravel road about 20 feet away.  They were both after the hapless idjit creature in an instant.  Sadly for the very fat mouse, he had no hole to dive into on the other side and since Gimme was more persistent, she was the one to catch him.

She carried him along quite proudly for at least half a mile.  Occasionally stopping to chomp a bit, but mostly just carrying him with the tail hanging out of her mouth.  At one point she stopped to chomp some more and then caught up to us without him. 

I assumed she had eaten him.  On our return walk we saw his slobbered wet body on the road.  She sniffed him and then pranced along jauntily, reminded of her earlier prowess.  She'd just eaten before we left home otherwise I'm sure she would have known what to do with a rawfood mouse. 

Never a dull moment...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Demolition Derby

Gimme passed her ORT!!!!

Not before she alerted on ten boxes, a couple more than once. After she was done, they had to replace five boxes, which may or may not include the one that had the odor in it.  Thank God we've got that behind us.

She started well, carefully sniffing the first and second box. Then she lightly sniffed the third box and stepped on it in the process of stepping over it. After that she alerted on every box on her way down that line and back up the other line. She went back to a couple of the boxes, but didn't stick with them. When she finally stuck with one box, despite me continuing to move past and then around her --- then I called "alert".  She accomplished all this in just 44 seconds!  I think I've mentioned before how FAST she is...

I was getting quite anxious about this. How on earth could my brilliant girl be so good at finding odor and still not be able to get past a simple ORT? I wasn't any calmer about this ORT's prognosis after yesterday's class. Class started out well with a simple container search and Gimme found it in good time. After that there was a three hide exterior search, in the rain, and Gimme found all three quickly. Then we returned to the building for a blind search in containers and set up just like an ORT. Gimme then decided to alert on several different boxes and finally got the right one on the fourth try. Needless to say THAT didn't inspire confidence.

Joyce was so good about letting us have another turn. This time she said to not call alert until she told me to. Gimme again alerted on incorrect boxes, but was "stickier" on the correct one. So Joyce had us run yet again with the instructions to keep moving whenever Gimme alerted and see what she'd do. That turned out to be the key to knowing when to call "alert" today - waiting for her to stick a box even when I moved a bit past her.

For the time being, it seems Gimme is willing to alert on anything to get the good stuff. Almost as if she thinks she is being rewarded for alerting, not necessarily being right. We KNOW she knows how to find the right box.  Possibly she is just going through a phase and we'll have to work through it. Joyce and I have devised a plan where we'll use signals so that I don't verbally call alert unless Gimme is on the right one. I'll cock my head if I think she's on the right one and then Joyce will nod "yes" at me, then I'll call it.

So basically we are conspiring to outsmart my conniving little genius. Scary, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Learning Styles

This week our class schedule is all turned around, because Ursula is leaving town (for a herding trial). So instead of nosework class tonight, we'll have it tomorrow morning. At first I was really worried about what affect the change to our routine might have on our ORT Friday evening. Now that I've thought about it, I think it will work out well. After nosework class tomorrow morning, we'll go to the fort for a walk. So Gimme will then have a nice relaxed evening after nosework and a walk. And since what we are working on in Ursula's class is proving to be a bit challenging (and frustrating), I think its better that we did that tonight, rather than tomorrow night.

As I've talked about so many times, Gimme has a real challenge with stimulus control. I recently learned of a model for learning styles that I think applies (been discussing it with a canine behavior researcher in Australia). One thing I really like about this model is that it talks about both the pros and cons for each strategy. "Briefly" explained (blue-green are my comments) it goes thus: 
There are two different learning strategies. The model describes them as either/or; I think its more likely that they are on a continuum. I also think dogs may change strategy or slide up and down the continuum due to various factors. This model surely applies to humans and other critters, it just came from research on dogs. Also, though its described as a "learning strategy" in general, it seems to have the most impact on the stimulus control aspect of learning - which is also what piques my interest. The two strategies are:
  • the stimulus-response strategy (doers)
  • the cognitive strategy (thinkers)
In SR strategy (doers) the dog responds quickly and habitually to a stimulus. These dogs are more focused on consequences and less likely to think through what to do before taking action. They hear a cue and immediately respond without necessarily processing what they heard, often doing the last thing that got favorable consequences. They are behaving by rote in response to a stimulus, any stimulus, and then check to see what result they got. Do keep in mind this describes a learning strategy, so we are talking about the pattern of how the dog learns - it doesn't mean the dog is always that way. IE this isn't etched in stone and yes, it can be modified with training.  Also, just because the doers are not called thinkers, has no reflection on how smart they are - this only applies to how they learn a certain aspect of training. 

In cognitive strategy (thinkers), knowledge of the correct response is linked to a general rule rather than a particular behavior. These dogs might be slower to respond, but are generally more accurate early on. They think about the stimulus and pair it to a known behavior to get a known result.  While the thinkers start out with an advantage... as you will see below, it doesn't seem to last. The doers catch up and in some ways may surpass the thinkers. 

Both groups of dogs end up with an understanding of what different cues mean and the same level of accuracy. The doers eventually pick up the discrimination through association and then become much more thoughtful about their responses. The thinkers are thoughtful right from the start. Thinkers are a little bit faster to learn the stimulus control aspect of the task, but doers are usually super motivated. Thinkers with lower motivation sometimes get bored or distracted and take longer as a result. A focused doer that is not too aroused may pick it up in about the same time, but the tendency is to get over-aroused and then easily frustrated and make more mistakes. And I think vice versa - make more mistakes and get frustrated.

My researcher friend does say that of the dogs in her research project, all but one of the doers tested as overall optimistic. That one doer exception was just neutral, not pessimistic and did turn out to be moderately dysplastic. Every pessimistic dog has been a thinker. She tried to explain to me how the evaluation for optimistic vs. pessimistic is done, but I confess I couldn't get it.

I had an idea that this might be one time when traditional training might provide a "benefit"... When traditional training was in vogue, I think the doers as a result of punishment, had an overall suppression to their behavior. Then being risk averse would cause them to slow down and become more thoughtful - acting more like thinkers. Please do not construe this as any inclination on my part to start using traditional training methods - that stuff is no longer in my training bag, nor do I intend make room for it. Its just a thought I had and my friend thinks it is plausible.
So where this is most interesting to me is that Gimme has really strong doer tendencies. As this model describes, she tends to hear a cue (stimulus) and throw out a behavior, without necessarily processing what she heard.  We've put a lot of effort since last year into what Ursula calls "listening skills".  Ursula noticed the improvement right away when we started classes this time around.  Gimme is  also very highly motivated and attends more to the consequence than the stimulus itself. Because of that, she makes more mistakes, her rate of reinforcement falls off and then she gets frustrated.

Because this is our biggest training challenge, we've been focusing on it, using the learning of "touch" and "paw" to emphasize it.  One of the elements of stimulus control is that the dog waits to hear the cue before acting and that is by itself hard for Gimme.  In the case of targeting, the prop is there and Gimme tends to see-prop-do-behavior.  Since this way of targeting that I'm learning can use the same prop for different behaviors, its a handy way to make it clearer to Gimme to wait to hear the cue.  Of course with her doer tendency, when she hears the cue - she just leaps into doing without actually paying attention to what the cue meant.  So overall, this is very hard stuff for her.  When she gets frustrated, it definitely impacts her abilities.

Please understand this isn't a case of her not understanding the cues "touch" and "paw"... she's got those down cold.  Remember what I described in my blog the other night?  Gimme was switching back and forth between them with great accuracy, as well as "feet" and "bring" with a bit less accuracy (because they are newer behaviors).  However, at that time we weren't doing any waiting for the cue, so she wasn't dealing with frustration.  And just for the record, there have been times when I've noticed this same issue with "sit" and "down"; I am 500% sure she knows the difference between those two.

In class we have been doing short bursts of training with down time between them, but its still been hard for my beautiful girl.  Tonight I flashed back to how worried Michael would get at our early agility trials and how I'd play the "get it" game to keep him busy and having fun (and thus, not worrying about what was going on around us).  The get it game is really just tossing small bits of treats one at a time in any direction, with the cue "get it".  Real easy for the dog to win and burns off a lot of energy (and frustration), while keeping them busy and entertained.

This worked really well for Gimme tonight, so by the time we did the next training burst, she was really refreshed and did much better.  The get it game worked so well, that I decided when I clicked/treated during the session to toss the treat and let her pounce on it.  That also worked and kept the difficulty of the task from building up frustration.  So our last little session was the best of the evening.

Gimme LOVES training and learning and wants to do it all the time.  She thinks training is loads of fun and quite possibly the best thing she ever taught me how to do.   She is not convinced that we couldn't do this any time, all the time, whenever she is awake.  Some tasks are harder for her - specifically some concepts - and, of course, that is frustrating.  Still she is making good progress.  I believe when she finally grasps the concepts of stimulus control, training is going to take another quantum leap in the fun department.

I love that no matter how hard it is and no matter how frustrating it sometimes is... Gimme never gives up and always keeps trying.  She is certainly the most determined dog I've ever worked with.  I really love her attitude.   And, as I've said at least quarter-million times, she is definitely the smartest dog I've ever worked with.  Not to mention (except I will) that she is also the most beautiful, most loving and most wonderful dog I've ever known...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Super Girl

Its late and has been a very long day, but I can't resist writing an entry about class tonight.  Gimme is doing sooooooo well.  She really loves the classes, is learning a LOT and makes clear progress on her issues every time.  I can't help but mention what an incredible smarty pants she is.  I know I say that all the time, but she really is catching on to some new things very quickly.

One of the things our Tuesday class is working on is to teach the dogs to wrap themselves in a blanket - which means they have to roll over.  So we use the smaller upstairs room when we are working on rolling over, because its carpeted.  Gimme knows how to roll over, but usually is challenged enough just by the closer quarters along with lack of visual barriers. 

Each week she makes good progress, doing better just being able to focus on me and work with the distraction of the other dogs being so close.  I have been working on her matt work in that room and was free-shaping her to roll onto one hip, hoping that if she had a more relaxed posture she might actually feel more relaxed.  (there's a name for this principle - I just can't think of it right now)

For awhile tonight she seemed to be getting it and then was stumped again and finally in frustration, she offered me her "grape" roll over!  I was stunned, not expecting her to even think about that behavior, much less do it, in such a challenging environment.  We've never done it outside my own living room, so I was sure it was a long way off before she'd do it in class.  Fortunately I had the presence of mind to jackpot her "grape" with at least twenty treats.  After that I was able to cue and get it three more times.  And this with an Alaskan Malamute just 12 feet away!!!

Have I mentioned recently how smart she is?

Saturday, June 2, 2012


I haven't talked a lot about class.  Its going really well.  Although Gimme usually needs a good 30 feet of threshold in other situations, she's pretty darn comfortable with 10 feet in class.  She is working really well and learning a lot. 

I'm also really proud of her taking the initiative to tell me when she has had enough.  We do "whazzat" to the other dogs as we are moving about or anytime one comes into view, and she's doing really well with that.  Thursday night we were doing "whazzat" whenever Neyla (a yellow Lab) walked by practicing heeling.  Gimme did really good and was working hard at it.  When dogs no longer need to look, they usually just do a nose tilt in the direction of the LAT thing, when they hear the cue. 

Gimme must've had enough and I missed the signs.  So when I gave her the cue again, instead of doing a nose tilt - she moved and turned her back to Neyla.  "Mom, I've had enough, now lets do something else."  So we did.  We worked on other behaviors and made substantial progress with her being able to sit still while Ursula touched her.  She'll hold a sit stay while a Chinook helicopter is doing a 100 foot hover nearby, while the wind from its rotor wash is buffeting her, but someone try to touch her and the excitement is more than she can stand.  I'd much rather work through that than something else related to stays. 

Later right as class was being released, Neyla and Gimme did down stays, about five feet apart, while the other dogs filed out.  Gimme broke once, but was fine after being reset.  So I was very pleased...

The reason for the title "Concepts" has to do with some going back to basics that I've been working on.  Because Ursula teaches targeting different than I'd learned it, we are going back to reteach targeting as two separate concepts - nose "touch" and "paw" targeting.  Sometimes when I send her to "touch" something on the floor, she does both "touch" and "paw" simultaneously.  My clever girl is covering all the bases doncha know; though she only uses her foot on "paw".  I've decided that I also want to teach her the concept of back "feet" touch.  We've been working on that for a couple of days.  Recently Gimme has also been learning to "bring" things to me that I point at (though sometimes I have to remind her to "pick [it] up" first). 

So tonight I did a training session and then decided to test her level of understanding.  I put a rubber furniture coaster on the floor and worked her through "touch", "paw", "feet" and "bring".  She did pretty good.  The back "feet" wasn't as good as the others, but its really a new concept.  And I did have to remind her to pick it up.  Still I'm really pleased that the different concepts are coming together.  Not that I'm surprised, since she is a canine genius...

Nosework (6/5)

Starting last weekend, I noticed that Gimme wasn't herself.  Actually before that, I thought I found a warm spot on her back, but that Saturday she wasn't willing to play as much with Grafton and was more insistent about her refusal to engage with him.  And by mid-walk we noticed she wasn't running as much or moving as far away from me.  When I got home the spot on her back was really hot.  I used TTouch to cool it down.

I tried to get in touch with Tonya, the person who does bodywork and energy work on Gimme, but never did catch her until Tuesday evening -  came home to a message from her.  As I'd guessed, her family was out of town for the Memorial Day weekend.  So Gimme got an treatment Wednesday afternoon.  Her whole back was out of whack, so Tonya had a lot of corrections to make.  Her mid-back was really locked and was the area in front and behind.  Tonya thought it was all related to her original issue.  Also there was a stuck area between her shoulders.  We talked and Tonya thinks I may have pushed the "take a bow" training, since we've been working on duration -- obviously I'm not doing that for a week and then will work up much more gradually.  And both hips were stuck, with no idea why.  Poor baby.

I also asked her about checking her energy and she said she would, but that Gimme might be a bit loopy for a day afterward.  She was concerned about how it would affect our class that night.  She did find her energy slightly stuck in the rear, but nowhere near as bad as the first time.  Tonya had to work hard to get things moving again and asked me to keep her a little less active for 36 - 48 hours.  So today was our first walk again with her Grafton, Mary and Linda.  It went well, though Gimme was still less active.  I checked her during and after the walk for any warm areas in her spine and didn't find anything.  I think she may be worried about hurting and not actually hurting.  Still I'll keep an eye on it and see how it goes and may get her back in for another session after the ORT if she isn't completely back to normal. 

Tonya was right about Gimme being loopy.  Our class was basically three ORT type searches, the first we knew where the hide was and the other two were blind.  Three of us are scheduled for the ORT on Friday (8th), so we were all glad to see container searches, since we hadn't had any for several weeks.

Gimme found the first one, but it was really apparent that she wasn't as focused... for heaven sakes -- it took her as long as everyone else to find it!  The second time she did better, more like she regularly searches.  The third time she was back to normal and little Miss Nose-That-Knows Gimme.  She has a tendency sometimes to give a drive-by indication on the right box, but keeps on going and then will come back around when she's sure there isn't a better one.  She did that the first two times, but the third one stuck with the correct box the first time.

Cross your fingers about the upcoming ORT.  If we don't get this one, I'm just going to lay down on the floor and cry...