We had a two day seminar this weekend in Corvallis Oregon. I drove down Friday and came back Sunday night.
Debbi Decker was fun, nice and entertaining. That day was mostly about clever ways to teach tricks, though nothing really "exciting" (I'll describe them in the blog). She relies a LOT on luring, which isn't my favorite way to teach things and not as useful for Gimme. Kris Hurley on Sunday was all about Mental Management ("With Winning in Mind", Lanny Bassham), though that was only mentioned in passing in the seminar promotion materials. She's about to become a certified MM instructor. There were no exercises with the dogs - or even with people, even though it was advertised as a working seminar for people. I guess she thinks a 6.5 hour "discussion" qualifies as a working seminar. It was okay, but I wouldn't pay money for her again.
It worked out great for us because the seminar was in Julie's new building with 5000 sq ft usable floor space. Early sessions only had 5 dogs out at a time. I used wire guides to make a reminder barrier, so that other teams wouldn't unintentionally encroach on our corner. Also, I told the instructor we'd signed up for a working slot when Gimme was doing much better, about our recent regression, and to please look for us in the far corner.
We started the day by walking the grounds and coming in before others arrived to work on focus. She wasn't worried - just distracted. So I worked with her until I was getting good check-ins and cue responsiveness.
During the seminar, Debbi came to us last for each session, by which time I had already done a lot of "whazzat", so Gimme was focused and working. Debbi was really impressed with how smart Gimme is and had a lot of nice things to say about her, calling her "exciting" and "gorgeous".
For the 3rd and 4th sessions, there were 8-10 teams on the floor and Gimme was still able to work nicely. It was a little harder for her, so I made it a point to cue "pretty" (a sit up "pretty", as opposed to stand up "dance") and then rewarded her with PB. I've been using the PB to get her to hold the position with the intention of building her core strength. With regular treats its hard to dole them out smoothly and she has a greater tendency to try and grab my hand with her paws to steady herself. Plus she's not as inclined to work hard like she will for PB. So in this case I was able to get two benefits from it.
During one of our sessions in the building we were doing LAT and I noticed that Gimme had stopped turning her head all the way to look at the dogs when I cued "whazzat". Basically she was looking at the wall behind and to my right and then looking at me. I immediately thought someone was *sneaking* up from that side and turned to look. Instead I discovered my little canine genius was using a wall mirror and dog reflections to play LAT. She's always been fascinated by mirrors and particularly likes to pose in front of them and admire her lovely self. She'll even turn so she can admire the other side of her lovely self. So she obviously knows what they do - I just never thought she'd be aware enough conceptually to use them in that way.
We skipped one session because I found her sound asleep and I didn't have the heart to wake her. Then for the last session when I brought her in, she wasn't nearly as focused. A couple of teams were close... though not any more than had already happened. I saw her getting stuck and even with helping her get unstuck, she couldn't work for the cheese. So I worked through her slow and minimal behaviors to a known cue until I got a good response and then rewarded with peanut butter. Cued it again, got a faster and better response and I rewarded her heavily and headed back to the car. It was particularly helpful for me to have looked at the descriptions in what I was writing and to distil it down to a short list of clues that she was reaching her limits. Having just done that, when I saw two things from the list, I immediately recognized it and changed gears.
One thing I noticed when she was getting a little stuck was that when I touched her she didn't turn to me right away. She's so tactile and normally responds to any touch by turning to see what she can get from it. So, I decided to play with that during class today, where she was immediately responsive to it every time (even for the poodle - see below). I will try it in other situations to see if its consistent that she doesn't respond quickly when she's concerned. If so, it may be an easy "test" for when I suspect the environment is getting to her and before it other clues become evident.
In hindsight I should have let her take the rest of Saturday off when she slept through me walking up to the car the first time (she's "psychic" and usually wakes up when I even *think* about getting her). Still I found it encouraging that she was able to work through it...
Interestingly, after noticing the difference in her evening behaviors last week... Friday night when we arrived at Motel 6, she was calm and barely noticed the motel noises. She'd lift her head and softly wuffed once or twice. On Saturday, she was much edgier and barked several times. I went to bed leaving the TV on to obscure much of the hotel noises, turning it off at 3am. So I think evening behavior will be a consistent after-the-fact assessment of how well I managed her exposure during the day.
On Saturday night when Gimme was alerting to motel noises with alarm barking... one of the times I said "what's that" after she bounded off the bed to the door. Instead of continuing to bark as I tried to cajole her to stop (as I had the other times), she immediately ran to me with a change of attitude, thinking I'd cued "whazzat" (which is why I picked that cue). It worked in the morning too...
I got "Through A Dog's Ear" CDs from the library and thank God I did instead of spending money on them. For one thing, I didn't notice any measurable improvement for Gimme. And equally important, I found them intensely annoying. I kept waiting for the next note and it was like Chinese Water Torture, just exhausting... I may consider getting a white noise machine or a small CD player and some white noise type CDs, for when we travel. And could use it here at home when she's had a stressful day.
For today's class, she did pretty well. We were in the park, so it was easy to move around and use space effectively. She was whining a lot, but I took it more that she was wanting to be "doing" something rather than stressed. This class tends to include a fair amount of standing around and that frustrates her. Once we started really working the dogs, then she got quiet and worked well. I did notice that she often was watching the dog that came late (small poodle) keeping one eye on it almost the whole time. The poodle did look in our direction a fair amount, so that could have been part of it - it could also be sudden environmental change, because of them joining our group so late. She responded instantly every time I touched her, so I'll watch to see if that turns out to be a good test for us.
Ursula saw her flirting with Tor (Alaskan Malamute) and she has always been more comfortable with him. So Frank and I are going to try to get together to go walking together, maybe Friday. She needs more opportunities to walk with dogs that are well behaved.
For class on Thursdays (and all classes in the building) I have pretty much decided to continue grabbing the area that has the the only separate door to the outside. I'll also take the expen and stretch it around our space, enclosing the door. I can park my car right outside the door, backing in, so I can use it as a station as well as having her matt inside. There are also visual dividers that I can set up as needed. My initial approach was to start in the building and then leave for breaks... but that didn't seem to work well enough. So now I'm going to flip that and work outside and then dip in for short times, building up from there. Which of course, in hindsight makes perfect sense. Far better to start from a calm place and add small amounts of challenge than to start in a pressured place and try to relieve it. Duhhh...
Also I've been thinking I should try DAP again and see if its beneficial. I tried it and it didn't work when I was trying to solve her car whining, back when I thought it was a stress issue. Perhaps that wasn't a fair test, since I later realized its anticipatory whining, which is a rather different thing.