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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Recap & NW (1/7)

Gimme likes Christmas - she thinks it is the one time of year when everything aligns to treat her in the style she would like to be accustomed.  Starting on the 21st, she got a present every day for seven days.  The first gift was a new collar, and then a new toy every day for six days.  Gimme definitely thinks Christmas should last longer - especially now since I've figured out the parameters of her ideal toy.  I hit the mark with 4 out of 6.  She'll play with any toys, but particularly likes long floppy ones.  If its too stiff, she will de-stuff-afy it.  Not to destroy it, but so it flops more to her liking.  Her favorite this year was the new duck toy - a 2 foot long body and 18" wings and legs.  She really prances around when she carries it about (she has to, to keep all its body parts up off the floor).

Her first gift: the day I brought home 3 new collars and let her pick the one she wanted.  While she enjoyed picking the collar and does think the one she selected is very pretty on her - she thinks I'm particularly obtuse, because I keep asking her to do it again, so I can be sure its the one she really wants.  First I laid them out side by side and told her to pick one.  She immediately went to the light blue one with the orange edging and nosed at it a lot.  So I rearranged them and asked her to pick again.  This resulted in her sighing dramatically, then going over to nose the same one again.  So I rearranged them and asked her to do it yet again.  She sat back staring at me, occasionally rolling her eyes, and sometimes staring at the ceiling in her best, "why me, Lord?" look.  When I urged her to pick the one she wanted to keep, she sighed loudly, rolled her eyes again and in a clear "whatever..." went over and picked up the purple collar!  She looked me full in the eyes, certainly to be sure I was paying attention, and then dramatically threw the purple collar to the floor.  I sez, "so you don't want the purple one?"  She sat back looking at me with an open-mouthed dumb-founded look, before going over to nose at the royal blue collar until it fell on the floor.  I said, "so I guess you want the light blue collar".  To which she rolled her eyes even more dramatically, then slowwwwwly and deliberately picked up the first one she had selected and placed it in my hand.  To seal the selection process, she placed her paw on top of my hand and the collar.  When I said, "so this is it?", she hung her head low and walked out of the room in disgust.  She clearly wishes I could "hear" her the way Tonya does.  She loves me, but is more and more convinced I might not be entirely bright.

Christmas Eve and Christmas day were interesting, to say the least.  I thought I  had everything planned perfectly.  I arrived to the family gathering a little late, but still early enough for the important stuff.  Put presents under the tree and put my world-famous mushrooms with the other snack foods.  Then I went to the car and got my change of clothes.  The festivities were fun and I ended up with the same gift I started with.  This was fine with me, since I don't bring stuff I wouldn't want.  I'd made up little "I love my Dad" picture frames with pictures of my Dad for my brothers and sisters, which were a hit.

Later I went to get Gimme from the car only to discover I'd locked it.  So I went upstairs to get the keys out of my pants pocket, only to find my youngest nieces had been playing in the guest room and had tossed the place.  TV stereotyping of FBI agents has nothing on these kids.  It took me awhile to find my pants and the keys weren't in them!  I got help from the kids' parents and we checked every nook and cranny in the room looking for my keys and restoring it to its original state.  Then five of us went around checking everything we could in my parents' large house.  Several people took flashlights and looked outside between my car and the house in case the keys had dropped out of my pocket.  Finally I called USAA and insisted they send a locksmith to unlock my car, since Gimme had now been inside for 6 hours.  It took the guy 2 hours to come and Gimme was relieved to get out.  

Needless to say I didn't sleep well, tossing and turning all night.  I knew I had to work on Friday and yet couldn't even go home until I got new keys made by Nissan, whenever they opened.  Then Gimme would have to wait in the car all day while I transitioned my largest account.  Finally I expected to be home trying to get in the house in the cold and dark.  Mom insisted on looking for the keys and I just let her.  Afterall, 5 of us had looked, so I didn't hold out any hope she'd be successful.  She handed them to me five minutes later!  Never underestimate an 84yo great-great-grandmother.

On Christmas day we joined my sister and family for dinner.  Then Mom and I went to see my Dad at the memory care facility.  It was sad to watch my Mom trying to make a Christmas moment, when my Dad, who has Alzheimers, was really out of it and didn't care about the presents or attention.  I do think he liked the fuzzy blanket I brought him, since sleeping is really his favorite thing to do.

Since then I've been busy transitioning my accounts from Christmas to Valentines.  Not one of the Valentine sets was packed correctly, making each transition take twice as long as usual.  I still have one to finish because not all of the order has even arrived.  Meanwhile Gimme and I have been doing extra training to make up for the lack of exercise with my long work days.  She does love training doncha know.

I was so mentally fried after work on Monday, I completely forgot to go to nosework class.  Fortunately I was able to get a make-up on Tuesday night.  The exercises were relatively simple.  For the first search there were 6 hides, we each got to set some.  I set a relatively easy inaccessible hide inside a crate and then another under the edge of the wall.  My inaccessible hide turned out to be very hard because another person set another hide just 7 feet away.  Inaccessible and converging odor is a hard pair of challenges. For the second search there were just four hides, I set mine in the middle of the room in a large crack in the floor.

The instructor followed the dogs for the first search and placed a piece of blue painters' tape on the floor wherever there was a change of behavior (COB).  Of course the idea was to help us see where the COB occurs.  The goal being for us to note it and then if the dog has trouble locating a hide, encourage them to go to where you saw the COB.  The second search there was no painters' tape put down, we were supposed to verbally identify where the COB was.

Gimme did the best of all the dogs.  In particular she did well with the floor crack hide.  This is an advanced concept for dogs.  We spend so much time putting the hides on things, so the dogs tend to look for it on things.  Most of these dogs hadn't even seen a floor crack hide.  A couple of them had difficulty with the hide under the edge of the wall and they tended to spend a lot of time checking out the chair a foot away.  It was like they accidentally found it while detailing the nearest chair leg.

Of course, it makes sense Gimme would do better.  She goes to a Advanced Competition class for NW3 dogs.  This class was Advanced and most of the dogs haven't even competed at NW2 level.  There was one really fast Doberman though.  Her handler never even rewarded her, just saying "its there" when the dog was close to it and then the dog was off to find another.  I don't quite see how this will work in competition when the handler doesn't know where the hides are.  Interesting...

Well, tomorrow is another day and another year.  Meanwhile, Gimme wants another training session, then there is a movie I want to watch.  Seeya next year...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

RallyFrEe (4/2)

We had a good class today.  Kathy set up a course with 18 stations.

Before we walked the course, Kathy had us do a couple of exercises - to demonstrate a point.  First we had our dogs figure-8 leg weave, from each side.  Then we did a figure-8 leg weave twice, from each side.  It took a minute to get Gimme into working mode (we couldn't do our usual walk of the perimeter for her attention warm-up because I was late & others were using the space).  Once I had her attention, she did really well.

After this warm-up with figure-8 leg weaves, she had us do another exercise to demonstrate how our dogs might respond.  We were to walk up to a line, do two figure-8 weaves, then proceed to the next line and do "one weave".  I misunderstood what she meant by this and so had Gimme do one figure-8 leg weave.  What she really meant was for us to do a thru-transition at the second line.  

The point was to demonstrate how the dogs might assume it was a figure-8 if we use the same footwork.  However if we step forward with the thru leg, rather than to the side, then the dog knows its a different behavior.

The dog will readily pick up the difference between a thru transition and walking leg weaves because the walking cadence is  different.  Also by the time the dog might be about to turn into you for another leg weave, the near leg (in this case right) would already be coming forward and thus no space would form for them to go through.  

After we finished these exercises, we each got to work through the course.  Overall Gimme did really well - naturally I thought she did better than the other dogs.  My classmates sweetly (and accurately - just ask me) commented about how flashy and pretty Gimme looks when she is doing the moves well.  We did have a bit of a problem when we approached the end of the room the second time, because this was the perimeter we didn't get to walk as we entered the building.  The chance to walk the perimeter is very important to Gimme.  Still we worked through it on the spot by increasing the rate of reinforcement for sticking with me and not sucking to the distraction.

The last exercise was to work J'Anna's dog on the next steps of crossing his paws.  We were supposed to work on each of our tricks, but ran out of time.  Still, it was helpful to me because I was able to bring to it a couple of questions which relate to how Gimme and I are doing with "cane" and "orbit".  

Specifically, I asked questions about how Kathy teaches behaviors which are done in two different directions.  I already know Kathy puts them on two different cues - such as "cane" and "orbit".  I asked her if she separated the training of them and if so, how.  She does separate them, and said she teaches one through to verbal cue.  Then she waits at least several weeks before starting to teach the opposite.  In the waiting time she doesn't practice the first one either.  

Since the last time we trained, Gimme and I did "cane", we continued and trained it again this evening.  Gimme is having difficulty giving up offering the behavior (you know how she always wants to be the one driving the train).  So once I had her solidly warmed up, then I switched gears and started alternating "cane" with "heel".  I chose "heel", since if she is heeling, then she can't be offering "cane".  I found I really needed to raise the rate of reinforcement so she could resist the urge to offer.  She was doing well at the end.

Now in a little bit, I'm going to start training her to cross her paws.  Kathy gave us a lot of details about the progression and given how much Gimme loves to use her paws, this should be a fun exercise to work on, while I come up with another prop support for "can".  I found the wood sticking out from under the can made Gimme think she was supposed to keep her front feet on the wood disc while having her back feet on the can.  Unfortunately this puts her body at a steep angle, so she's unlikely to do the sideways steps I need for the pivot.  Besides I think its unnecessarily stressful for her shoulders.

So I need cue help for the paw crossing.  I'll probably use "cross" for one direction.  I'd appreciate any suggestions you might have for its opposite. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nosework (6/6) & Workshop

We've been busy for the last few days.  I bought a tree-stand platform at Home Depot and my neighbor (the guy who does my remodeling) helped me modify it to take care of the two things Kathy suggested about my props.  So Gimme and I have been working on "orbit", "cane" and "can" as much as we can.  She's having difficulty getting the difference in direction between "orbit" and "cane" and so I've started training them in different sessions.  She didn't seem to have the same problem when I taught "spin" and "turn" in the same sessions, but I was using luring to teach them, so I think it helped her know which is which.  

On Saturday after I taught pet classes, Gimme and I went for a walk.  When we came back, no one was using the arena, so I did a quick session there.  Gimme hadn't been in this arena for about a year, so she was really distracted to begin with.  I just gave her the time she needed to acclimate and clicked/treated when she was close.  I was beginning to think it wasn't going to be a good session, when suddenly she turned on and we had a fabulous session.  I'm seeing this trend with her lately where she is totally focused when she is ready.  Before it was a more gradual to go from the acclimatizing process to ready to work - now its almost like flipping a switch.  This could possibly be the extra training we've been doing, but I also think it could be due to the recent flower essence remedy changes.

Sunday we attended a 2-hour NW3 workshop.  It was a beautiful sunny day and I was looking forward to learning a lot.  Unfortunately Gimme did not do her best searching, though some was really good.  

The first search was a container search with lots of distraction and she did really well with it.  After we found the four hides, Dorothy had us continue to walk our dogs around, basically being the dumb handler.  The idea was to have the dog still only commit to real odor and not suck into alerting just to make us happy.  Gimme did well.  The second search was an exterior and Gimme was brilliant.  I think she was much faster and more accurate than the other dogs I watched.

As I was walking her back to the car I went by a patch of wet shiny pavement and a splash of reflected sunlight hit me directly in my right eye - instant migraine.  It came and went for the rest of the day.  Our two interior searches were minutes later and Gimme didn't do as well for these as I would have expected.  She couldn't get one and really struggled with an easy hide she's seen before.  At the time I didn't understand was was going on, but in hindsight, I'm sure it was my migraine.  I've seen before where she isn't as able to focus when I'm in pain.

Our third time was a vehicle search and where they had it set up was in deep shade, so the migraine abated a LOT and Gimme did much better.  There were three vehicles lined up in a row and we had three minutes to find the hides.  We were allowed no more than 1 minute per vehicle and once you left a vehicle, even if early, you couldn't come back to it.  Gimme found the first hide fairly easy and so I walked her around it again with our remaining time.  Just as we were about to get to the back bumper our one minute was up and we had to move on.  Gimme found nothing on the second vehicle and wasn't even particularly interested in it - we walked around it twice.  On the third, a long trailer, Gimme found a hide on the far side and then was showing a lot of interest on the top of the trailer.  She could only get her front feet and nose up there, but kept walking the edge checking.  After we were done Dorothy asked me where I thought there might be more.  I said it was possible there was an inaccessible hide high on the trailer, but it could also be because air was moving from the hide-side under the trailer, then hitting a nearby wall and curling back on the trailer.  She agreed with my assessment and then said the other hide was on the back bumper of the first vehicle - the one we ran out of time on.  Gimme had sniffed it briefly on our first approach, but didn't indicate.

Try as I might to stay out of or face away from the sun, I still got eye-zapped several more times from reflective surfaces.  I walked to the last search (exterior) staying in the shade, but then had to cross through sun again.  By this time the migraine had really geared up.  Gimme searched and found one hide really nicely.  After it, she then got stuck fringing 12 feet from source, which is not like her at all.  So again, I think she was distracted by my pain.  Dorothy had us walk back and forth between the two small wood spools (one had odor, the other fringe).  When she indicated the right one she was rewarded, when she stuck on the fringing one - nothing.  This let Gimme sort it out for herself.

Last night in class we got 1 search, with 8 minutes to find as many hides as we could!  The room had been set up this way all day, so there was a ton of odor.  Of the eight dogs in our class, all but one found ten hides.  Little blind, arthritic and slow-moving, deaf Hallie found eight hides.  It was interesting to watch all the dogs go through this process.  They each came in and found one or two hides pretty quickly, then they'd get kind of overwhelmed by how much odor was in the room.  You could see in their behavior they just didn't believe there could be this much and weren't sure what to do.  But then each dog would just hunker down and bring on their A-game to really focus and puzzle through the converging odor challenges.

Gimme could have been the dog to get 11 hides, but I messed her up.  She went in the bathroom and sniffed around the edge, spending a little extra time on a heat vent on the wall.  Then she went up on the sink and indicated the paper towel dispenser with enthusiasm - she really loves high hides best, as long as she can reach them.  I rewarded her and then just left the bathroom.  After all, everyone knows there is only going to be one in such a small space - except there was another in the heat vent.  If I had waited and let Gimme be the one to make the decision to stay or leave, she likely would have gotten the second hide.  Its common for dogs facing a converging odor challenge to find both without indicating, then indicate them one by one.  So she might have gotten the 2nd one if I hadn't drawn her out of the bathroom by leaving it myself.

Since converging odor puzzles take extra time to work through, its interesting the time average per hide was 48 seconds for each of the dogs (except Hallie).  I've always known she has good persistence.  From her behavior, I'm sure Gimme would have found all fourteen if she'd had enough the time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

RallyFrEe (3/2)

The night before we went to DaPaws for training, mostly with the intent of repairing the negative association.  I set up a bunch of signs next to agility equipment, but never really used them.  I brought Gimme in and we did our acclimatization walk.  She seemed to get ready to work faster than before, which I thought was a good sign.  However, when I removed the leash, she tended to drift away.  She wasn't leaving me, but she wasn't connected either.  

I could have put her back on leash, but I wanted her to make the choice to work with me.  So I just walked around and click/treat whenever she was close.  At times she walked a few steps with me and then would forge well ahead and disconnect, so I turned 90-180 degrees and walked away.  Again c/t whenever she was close.  I was not seeing improvement, so I pulled a chair out into the arena and sat down and waited - Give Me A Break style (GMAB, from "Control Unleashed).  At times Gimme came up to me wanting attention.  In GMAB, the idea is to wait for the dog to offer a default behavior (assuming they have one) to ask for interaction.  I didn't sense Gimme was really ready to work, so I just gave her some attention.  In the course of petting her, she might sit, at which point I got up with her and did some light training with a high rate of reinforcement.  

Any time she disconnected, I returned to my chair and waited.  At one point she didn't come to me for several minutes and when I looked around to see where she was, she was just standing behind me, not doing anything.  Clearly she was confused.  I realized it was because I had sort of pushed her away when she wanted to put her paws on my shoulders for hugs-attention.  I had a good shirt on and was trying not to get it covered in black dirt.  Obviously she had taken it personally, thinking I didn't want to interact with her.  So I encouraged her to come around and drape herself across my lap for attention.  After this, we got in some more training, until Chris came in.  Then I had to wait for Gimme's attention to return, we trained briefly and headed out ourselves.

I really wasn't impressed with this session.  There were some good moments, but we spent 75% of the time disconnected.  I pretty much figured it is going to take awhile to undo the poor association.  Time will tell.

The next morning was RallyFrEe class and as before, its been good.  Most interesting was to see Gimme ready to work and offering attention almost from the first moment we walked in the building.  This has not been the case before.  I wonder if its a result of the session the night before.  It could also be the new flower essence remedy Gimme is taking - which she'd been on for a week.  Usually we walk around the long way to where our crate was situated before she offers attention consistently.  This time it was consistent from 15 feet inside the door.

We warmed up on our "can" prop while waiting for class to start.  The first two exercises were about focused heeling, not heads up healing, just making sure to interrupt any time the dog checked out.  I mostly train alone and its easy to let bad habits creep in, so Kathy has a LOT of work to do with me.  Once I got my handling and timing correct, Gimme improved rapidly.  I may try some of this when we go to DaPaws next week.  Done right, it'll have a high rate of reinforcement, so should work well.

Then we did a short course of some turn transitions.  It should have been easy for us, but right before it was our turn, three people with large active dogs walked by our training area.  Gimme got really stuck on them - which is consistent with her SEC (sudden environmental change).  Kathy was very patient in helping me help Gimme work through it.  By the time we were done with the exercise, she was back in work mode.

The last part of class was to pick a free choice behavior we wanted to work on.  I selected "cane", which is where Gimme circles around a cane I am holding.  I want to do it as a three-part figure-8, and I want it from either side, so I need her to understand to turn away from me.  I had it in my head she would be able to understand to turn away from me to go around the cane, much like the old turn-away cues popular in agility many years ago.  I started with the side we needed for our recent RFE video entry and she has been unable to understand the other direction, so I was stumped.

Kathy took a completely different approach to teaching it and broke it down MUCH further than I did.  I take a lot of pride in my ability to break things down to tiny increments, but Kathy really broke it down much more than I thought of.  She also started with the idea of teaching Gimme to go around a free standing cane and then to name each direction separately.  We talked about what I was thinking about the agility turn-away cue and she pointed out there was likely a lot of supporting body language which made it easier in the agility context, whereas we want to eliminate body cues as much as possible.  

Gimme understood running out and around it very quickly.  She's done similar things in agility send work and we've also worked on "cone" in the house (run out and around something) with direction being relative to me.  If she's coming from "heel" position, she goes clockwise and if from "side" position, she goes counter-clockwise.  So Gimme had a great time doing this, since it was similar to stuff she's done before and she could easily be right and get rewarded. Then we started naming the behavior as she was doing it.  Its "cane" if she turns left around it (counter-clockwise) and "orbit" if she turns right around it (clockwise).  

Once this association is strong, then I'll start setting her up to go from me and turn away from me to "cane" or "orbit".  The idea is to start with me facing at an angle.  This sets her up to make the right choice.  

I really like the way Kathy broke it down.  Its very different from what I had in mind and I'm sure it'll work.  Another thing Kathy did during this part of our session was to lock the outside door, which comes right into the training area we use for class.  We were close to the end of class and she wanted Gimme and me to work through this off leash and not have to worry about someone walking in while we were working.  I can't help but love her thoughtfulness.  

So I'm going to finish making our free-standing cane tomorrow, so Gimme and I can get to work on this.  I'm also going to make something Kathy suggested to stabilize our "can", since Gimme sometimes gives it a little kick when she dismounts.

Coming soon "Gimme's Cow".

Monday, December 8, 2014

Nosework (5/6)

First let me tell you, Dorothy confirmed we can qualify and get a leg or title with up to 3 total faults and no more than two faults in one search area for an element trial.  Clearly my understanding was "faulty" (pun intended).

Class tonight was about seeing how the dogs would deal with an exceptionally high inaccessible hide.  The red square was a canopy with the hide inside at the center apex.  The white rectangles is a configuration of tables with a green plastic tub on the table.  The green chair symbols were single chairs.  The two blue chair symbols were stacks of three chairs and the pink chair symbol was a stack of ten plastic chairs.  In addition to this layout, there were about 15 small plastic containers with novel scents in them, everything from household cleansers to garlic to strawberry extract.  Dogs are often drawn to novel odors, not just food odors.

The first search was simply this layout with the one hide in the canopy.  All the dogs were challenged by it.  Gimme probably gave the strongest indication and even her indication was weak - I would never have called it.  Mostly the dogs tended to follow scent up the legs, but none of them ever acted like they knew where the odor was - even after they'd seen it three times.  Whatever they did that tended to indicate "up" while they were under the canopy we rewarded by putting our reward hand as high as we could under the apex and bringing it down to them.  They were happy to get the rewards, but there was no sign our rewarding made sense to them.  It sure would have been handy to have smoke matches to see how scent was actually moving.  

For the second search, the odor in the apex of the canopy remained and she added a hide under the bottom of the tote on the tables after moving it to an edge.  With easier odor to find, the dogs were even less interested in chasing down the odor under the canopy.  Gimme found the tote odor quickly and then when she happened to chase some scent up a canopy leg I rewarded her.  

For our third search, the tote with odor was moved to another spot on the table.  Dorothy also added odor to a chair third down from the top in the stack of ten.  These are plastic chairs, so they have slots in the seats and based on the way the dogs acted, the odor fell through them to the floor and/or lower chairs and also drifted to the two shorter stacks nearby (blue).  

Gimme headed over to the chairs right away, but when I didn't accept her indications lower on the chairs, she left them.  From there she went to find the odor under the tote.  Then she came back to the chairs and tried again, but I still wouldn't accept her indication because I wanted her to make more effort to get to source.  So she left again and went to the canopy and was rewarded for chasing scent up a canopy leg.  Afterward I encouraged her back toward the chairs again and stayed there with her.  

She expressed her frustration with whining and by repeating her low indications - honestly in a trial I would have called alert with what she was giving me.  Without helping her solve the puzzle, I just encouraged her to keep trying.  When she did put her feet up and got really close to source I made a big deal about it, partying with her and gave her probably a tablespoon sized squeeze of peanut butter.  Frustration is her Achilles heel, so I wanted to make it memorable and well worth her efforts to have worked through it.  Dorothy said I handled the challenge "perfectly" and spent time pointing out to the class a number of things I did which were noteworthy. 

After I came back in from returning Gimme to the car, I asked Dorothy about the setup.  Since Gimme had given me solid indications which were not to source and I was sure I would have called "alert" in a trial situation, I wanted to know whether the judge would have accepted the call.  She said, first, we would never see this hide in an NW1 trial - there might be odor in a stack of chairs, but it would be likely to be on the bottom chair or under the bottom chair.  For an
NW2 or NW3 trial, she said any call on the stack (the way it was set) should be accepted.  

Of course the purpose was for the dogs to learn to put extra effort into getting to source.  After having a completely inaccessible hide three times (the canopy apex), Dorothy thought it was important the dogs also experience success on a hide which was more challenging to get to source, but which was also doable.

8th Title, L1C

This is our last competition for the year and Gimme came away with her 8th TITLE - of course, I'm not bragging, just "highlighting" a fact. 

Saturday Level 1 Containers trial
Gimme did  an awesome job on Saturday, getting her L1C with a full titling round (means the “leg” from her last trial wasn’t needed).  She was focused and determined, doing a great job.  Her overall time was 59.93 seconds for 15th place overall (she’d have been 8th place based on time alone, i.e. without the fault).

Our first search was 6 boxes on the benches in a boy’s locker room.  She was briefly distracted by heading toward the toilet stalls.  I called her back and she walked down the benches, indicating the fifth box.  Even with the sniff toward the toilets she finished in 8.34 seconds for 7th place.

The second search was 8 boxes in a bunkhouse… with not much floor space.  Gimme sniffed one of the bunk beds then got right down to indicating the box.  She pawed it lightly, but it was such a flimsy box it crushed.  She didn’t get a fault.  This search was 24.26 seconds and 12th place.

Her third search was 9 triangle shaped shipping tubes along a sidewalk in a tiny courtyard.  She walked right up the left side, briefly crossed to the right side and then went straight to hit on the end box.  Gimme finished this search in 5.57 seconds for 2nd place.  First place was just ½ second faster!

The fourth search was our most challenging search.  It was a large open area with just 20 boxes set in a random pattern.  Gimme doesn't get excited about boxes mixed in with other stuff, but show her a field of just boxes and she goes into full demolition mode.  In this case stepping on most boxes, crushing five with a full throttle pounce and demolishing the odor box.  She earned a fault here.  Even with her style points, she finished the search in 21.76 seconds for 25th place.  Not counting the fault, she was actually the 14th fastest.

Sunday Level 2 Interiors trial
This was another great bunch of searching for Gimme.  She was focused and determined as always.  There were three searches with a total of 7 hides.  You have to get 75% of the hides to get a qualifying leg, which in this case means 6 out of 7.  This we did.  Twelve dogs titled, exactly half of the entries and 8 more got a leg toward a title. 

Our first search was a small cabin with just two rooms, bunk/living area and dressing area, with one hide.  Gimme found it quickly in the leg of a bunk, but I didn’t call “finish” until prompted by the judge.  Our time shows up at 52.34. (Gimme was a LOT faster than our time would indicate)

The second search was an identical cabin with two hides.  This time I did remember to say the “f-word”.  There was a hide under the edge of a bunk and the other was in the baseboard next to a closed door (in the dressing room). He assessed our time as 1:14.59 for 19th place and gave us a fault (Gimme was a LOT faster than our time would indicate). Our time here shows as 1:14.59.

I don’t know why, but the second search shows a fault and the first one didn’t.  I’m sure the fault should have been with the first search where the judge prompted me to say the f-word.  So either the score room erred and entered the data wrong or the judge wrote it in later and put it on the wrong score sheet. 

Our third search was a tough one, a four room cabin with 4 hides.  We entered through the kitchen and I held up in the doorway hoping Gimme would come back to the threshold, which she did briefly, but didn’t commit to anything.  From there she got her first hide under the edge of the couch, second hide on the leg of the bed in one bedroom and the third hide under the edge of the bed in the other bedroom.  She tried going back to the hide in the living room, but I only thanked her and reminded her to find me another. 

Then she went back to the kitchen and spent a lot of time detailing there.  She sniffed around the refrigerator (light blue) and stove (black) and between the stove and trash can (green oval), but didn’t indicate.  Then she spent a LOT of time at the doors under the sink.  They had no handles, but instead had slots cut in the doors and she sniffed those a lot.  Being a Level 2 trial, there was the possibility of an inaccessible hide, but she never really committed to this.  I didn’t want to block her ability to leave the kitchen if she wanted and ended up standing where you see the “X”.  I tried to move a bit in the small space (indicated by the purple arced line).  When they called the "30 second" warning, I counted to ten and then called "alert", hoping she was close enough, not.  O
dor was actually between the trash can and the stove, so I was effectively standing between her and odor.  In hindsight I should have edged over to stand next to the entry door.

Another point – I thought we could only get one fault per search and no more than two faults overall to qualify for a leg in an element trial.  Gimme got two faults on her last search and three total and yet it shows under her stats page as a qualifying leg.  So I must be mistaken.  I'll ask Dorothy in class tonight.  She's working on becoming a certifying official, so I'm sure she'll know. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

RallyFrEe (2/2)

We haven't had classes for two weeks and our last class was the one where Gimme had her seizure.  Believe it or not, I was actually nervous about attending class - looking forward to it, but still nervous.  I was also nervous about putting Gimme in her soft crate.  Now I know logically neither class or the soft crate caused the seizure, but logic didn't help with the ache in my stomach.  So, I can clearly see where dogs might make a completely unrelated emotional association, since I'm guilty of the same. 

In any case, today marks three weeks without another seizure - a good thing indeed.  Now just 21 weeks to go before I can relax a bit.  Trying not to obsess, but still every misstep puts me on alert for a few moments.

Class was good.  Several of us entered the World Wide video event.  So Kathy talked to each of us to find out what areas were challenging and planned class around working on those challenges. 

In our case, the issues were all emotional/attitude/focus, which bled over to cause a big loss in precision.  Also Gimme isn’t too sure she thinks doing many exercises and waiting for treats later is such a good deal.  Heeling has always been really fun for Gimme and so I’m looking forward to getting the fun back.

In class today it seemed to take her longer to get focused and ready to work and most disturbing, we had to repeat the process each time we went onto the floor to work.  This confirms my worst fear, Gimme has a bad association to the work itself, not just work-at-DaPaws.  Fortunately Kathy was very patient and let me work through it the way Gimme needed to get into the game (she’s really a very good and patient instructor).

The exercises the other students were having problems with were: bow, spins, circle around, and to center.  Other than bow, we’ve always done well with those; however, with the lack of focus, today we had difficulty with all of them.  So it was still a great class for us, since we were able to work through them and reward a lot for success – which is exactly what we need to get Gimme’s attitude back.

Bow – basically I jumped ahead too soon.  So Kathy had me go back to basics and Gimme was really getting it and doing nicely.  She does sometimes go from bow straight to down, especially when tired, so Kathy had me give her the treat when she was back up in the stand.  Gimme was starting to offer bow to the verbal “salute”.  Kathy says she never does more than 3 or 4 bows to a side in one session.

Spins – she’s always had nice tight spins, but right now she takes a gander in the middle of them.  So Kathy had me go back to luring and then click/treat only after the first step in “heel” or “side”.  At one point Gimme was doing it all wrong – well, until I realized *I* was using the wrong cue.  I was saying “spin” and she was on the “turn” side.  Poor kid.  I apologized and gave her treats for putting up with my mistakes.  After this, I gave her the correct cue and she did a lovely “turn” with a bit of airs-above-the-ground embellishment.  She just had to show us how proud she is to see me learn something – I’m so challenging doncha know.

Circle around – Gimme was doing a gander in the middle of this too.  Part of the problem was my leash handling and the rest was a bit of stress.  Kathy put up an expen barrier for us so I could drop the leash and she had me go back to luring it.  In no time Gimme was doing beautiful tight circles to her verbals “around” and “behind”.  We still have the hand signal back in there, but I’m sure it’ll be gone soon.

To center – Gimme was tending to come in off center, looking toward whichever hand last provided a treat.  So I practiced with the cheese in my mouth and spitting it down to her.   I’m not a very good spitter, so she got quite a few extras.  At least she was happy.  And despite my inaccuracy, she did straighten up quite a bit.

So all in all, it was a good class and we have lots to work on.  I’m looking forward to next week. 

In a strange turn of events, Gimme has rediscovered motherhood.  She brought the baby in from the car and was playing with it a lot to begin with.  However, now she has been carrying it around for the last couple hours.  I’ll let her keep it until she drops it somewhere and then will see if I can sneak it away.  Time will tell…

RallyFrEe video event

I entered the 2nd annual RallyFrEe World Wide video event.  It was my first attempt at RallyFrEe, and sadly a dismal effort.

We had a few issues with her supplements, which caused Gimme to become very emotional.  First I dropped back the dose on the leaves from the loading dose to normal.  It took a couple of days and then, boom!  Suddenly Gimme was very emotional and this was most noticeable on a training session we had at DaPaws.  At the time I thought it was because she was distracted by the agility equipment being too near.  When I got home and she was still unfocused and needy, I knew it had to be something else and realized it was the change in her leaves dose, so I put it back up to the loading dose.

Our next practice session was fabulous and I thought we were home free.  So two days later we tried to do the video session and again Gimme was unfocused and avoiding work.  I tried a number of things to help her get back into the game, but she just couldn’t get there.  This was probably our worst session ever.  I didn’t think I had anything worth submitting.  I realized afterward, Tonya had reduced Gimme’s flower essence remedy for her ADHD.  It might not have been so bad had it not been on the heels of the change in the leaves dose.

So I put her back at the normal dose and we’ll try the test again in January.  I want her to be stable for now, especially through this weekend.  And, any future reductions in dose of anything will be done more gradually, since it appears Gimme is pretty sensitive to changes.  At this time I still planned to enter a local video event, so I also wanted her at a stable point for it as well (I have since decided not to enter).

After the dismal taping session, I went home, rethought my approach and planned one more session to try to get the video.  I changed a lot of things, being much more upbeat and playful, trying to get a successful tape, but no such luck.  Basically I’ve broken my dog.  Between the changes in the supplements making her more emotional and my goal-intensity about taping, and other changes, she’s gotten a negative association to this game.

Gimme has decided obedience/rally/RFE is less fun than anything we’ve ever done together.  She is holding onto a negative emotional association, so I have some work to do repairing it.  Fortunately William taped everything, so I had a lot of material available to review.  And review it I did, very carefully.  I made a long list of ideas for things to change, things to do and things to not do.  Fortunately we have a LOT of fun association behind us, so I know we’ll get it back.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nosework (4/6)

We started class with a vehicle search - outdoors in the bitter cold.  It was below freezing at the time.  The vehicles were both huge.  One was a large yellow truck with a crane to it.  The other was a large white truck with a flatbed.  We were told there was between 1 and 6 hides on the two trucks.  

Actually there were three hides on the yellow truck and only one on the other (red dots).  As you can see from the layout, there was a strong possibilty for converging odor.  At the same time, because of the bitter cold, there wasn't much scent to follow.  Gimme was the last dog and while she used 3 minutes, she did find all four hides.  The other dogs all had difficulty with the one hide on the flatbed.  Gimme found it a challenge, but did locate it and was confident when she found it.  She also spent some time investigating the other side of the truck (blue dots), but never really settled in any one spot, so I didn't call it and went with her when she chose to leave the area.
Interior A

Interior B
Interior C
After this we went inside and Dorothy had set up another table and chair configuration, but with a very different goal.  This time the idea was to see if the dogs showed evidence of pattern searching based on a same-but-different search.  For instance when they came in the door and went to the table/chair set-up and found odor on the back side of the rightmost chair, did they then show preference for checking the same chair as they approached the other same-layout areas.  In each of these searches they did tend to check similar spots first and then not finding odor, went on to check the rest of the layout.  

I really expected they wouldn't based on a search we'd done earlier in our training.  My prior instructor set up an interior search with three hides.  We came in from the outside (main door), searched the area, then went into the bathroom.  After two minutes we came out and searched again.  None of the dogs showed any indication they remembered where the hides had been.

Upon further thought - I realize there are a number of very different things at play here.  In the search a couple years ago, the dogs were much less experienced and they approached the search area from a different direction.  I think I could replicate the same thing now and Gimme would check the spots where she'd found odor before.   In fact I'm sure I've seen her do this when I put her in the office, set up a search in the living room, and when finished put her outside.  Then I move the hides.  When she comes back in from outside, she does check where odor was before.

What Dorothy was doing was different, because the dogs always came into the search area from the same door.  Also the dogs were seeing a layout-pattern replicated four times in the search area.  It makes sense as a survival skill for a dog to remember a pattern, especially when it was productive (or scary/bad) before.  If it was pleasant/productive, they would check a similar occurrence again.  After all it would be inefficient from a survival standpoint to need to learn each and every time how to find food.  Likewise if the pattern had something scary or bad to it, a dog who had to relearn the scary outcome might not survive the next encounter.

Good news - Gimme has given up the baby, just 5 weeks and 2 days into the mothering phase of her false pregnancy.  This is very early for her.  She went from being pretty interested to forgetting all about it in one day.  She left it in the car on Saturday and since then hasn't shown any interest or concern about finding it.  And she's gone on to being very playful, as she always has after she finishes with motherhood.  In fact, she now has all her toys spread out all over the floor - its quite the tripping hazard.  

This is very exciting, seeing such a big change for the better in her false pregnancy.  This has been one of our biggest challenges and has been getting worse with each successive occurrence.  I'll be eager to see how it goes next time when I can start the two new remedies, the two which have had the most affect, earlier in the cycle.  I do plan to write a separate post about all the things we've tried, what worked and what didn't.  You'll have to wait for it though, probably until after the weekend.  

Remember we have two nosework element trials this weekend.  We have Level 1 Containers on Saturday morning (need 75% for another leg and a title) and Level 2 Interiors on Sunday afternoon.  Cross any body parts you can spare for us.  This will be our last event of the year.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nosework (3/6)

We had the most interesting setups for class tonight.  The whole goal was to see how well we could handle the dog on leash if the search area was challenging.  So Dorothy purposely set up a situation where the dogs were going into narrow channels AND could pass under at the back, where the handler couldn't.  Here is the layout:

The green half-moons are all chairs and yellow squares are tables.  The orange lines are a room barrier, which restricts movement, but not air flow.  The lower right triangle is the door to the area.  Blue square is a filing cabinet and black square an open cabinet full of stuff.  We were to come in and treat the entry as a threshold regardless of whether there was odor there.  We had four searches and the last one was blind.

The first search was off leash so we could observe how our dogs worked in this complicated area.  Gimme found both hides very quickly.  Many dogs tried to push through/behind the barrier, but Gimme just quickly went around it - something she learned long ago on vehicles.

The second search was on leash and quickly proved challenging.  You can drop the leash in nosework, but need to pick it up really quickly again.  There are instances where a judge may fault you for dropping a leash if they think its unsafe, such as an open exterior search near a road.  Many of the dogs, Gimme included, thought we were about to dish out treats when we bent over to pick up the leash.  By the end of this search and the next, they were already getting used to our clumsy leash handling and picking up and dropping it.

The third search was a definite case of converging odor and it was interesting to watch the dogs sort it out.  Gimme didn't seem to find it particularly challenging.

The last search was blind.   Our instructions were to open the door, hold onto our dogs and announce (after observing their behavior) whether we thought the hide was "threshold" or "deep".  We could do it either on or off leash.  I decided to do it off leash and to work the threshold the way I normally do, which is to let Gimme blast into the area as she likes to do, and I just hang out near the threshold - she always comes back and checks the area then.  I watched her nose and saw her sniffing and there was a slight pause as she sniffed toward the right, so I called it "threshold".  When I turned her loose she went down by the chairs in front of the tables, then seeing I hadn't moved, came back and found the hide.  It was probably a six second hide.  

Dorothy thinks Gimme would find the threshold faster if she was on leash, but I have my doubts.  I find frustrating Gimme slows down her searching.  Of course, the best time to test these ideas is in class.  So we'll play with it some.  Its a good time to introduce new ideas.

I did see Gimme was a bit baby-needy this class and she wasn't last time.  She even tried to convince me she should bring the baby in once and could search with it in her mouth.  I made her leave it behind.  It occurred to me she had been much calmer before the weekend, which was just a couple days into when I reduced the amount of the remedy she is getting for her false pregnancy.  She'd been on a loading dose and after ten days I reduced it to its regular dose.  I've since added more in, and she's getting a dose halfway between loading and normal.  

Sunday night I'd tried practicing at the arena for our upcoming RallyFrEe video debut.  It was one of the worst practices we've ever had.  After last night and adjusting her dose up a bit, we practiced again tonight.  Gimme was very good - the difference was dramatic.  And this practice was with William and Chris there observing and occasionally moving a bit.  They were so kind to hang out for our training benefit.  William will be videotaping us, so it was great to have this opportunity for Gimme to get used to his presence in the middle of the "ring". 

Its good to have Gimme back to normal.  I notice she is back to playing with her toys as well and the baby doesn't demand her presence every minute.  Sometimes it lays in the other room unattended for 30 minutes!  I'm really encouraged with this new herb and can't wait to see how it works next time around when we can start it much earlier in the process.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nosework (2/6)

We went to class, even though I've had a severe migraine since Gimme's episode on Thursday.  I got into my chiropractor yesterday and it helped a lot - I was even better after a 2 hour nap.  Still, the drive to class was interesting and challenging, especially with all the bright lights and reflections.

Our first search was a vehicle search outdoors.  Gimme found one of the two hides.  She was not terribly interested in searching and I wondered if the cold was diminishing her enthusiasm, even though I've never noticed it before and she was wearing her t-shirt for extra warmth.

The second search was a series of 4 threshold hides.  Gimme found them all, but again was her not her usual focused and enthusiastic self.  At this point I concluded she was worried about me... and indeed it was hard to for me to focus and the lights were very painful.

Before our third search I talked to Gimme and told her I would be alright and I needed her to do it all for me, because I couldn't.  I urged her to have fun with the search and not worry about her Mom.  This was a repeat of the threshold series, though the hides had been moved about.  Gimme went in and knocked it out of the park... boom-boom-boom-boom.  She did them so fast it was hardly any fun at all.  

I learned on 11/9 we had been moved up and got into the Level 2 Interior trial on December 7th.  I'd no more than sent in our check when I learned we moved up to a working slot for the Level 1 Container trial on December 6th.  We need a leg to complete our L1C and of course I'd like to earn the L2I.  So cross any body parts you can spare.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Seizure! (RFE 1/2)

RallyFrEe class promised to be a good one.  Gimme is responding well to a new supplement for her false pregnancy, so I expected she'd be a LOT better focused in class.  She was better, but not a lot better.  Since I had her on the floor checking out the area, we were volunteered to go first in the course Kathy had set up for us.  The plan was we would walk the course (which I'd already done), do the course with our dog, individually walk the course again with feedback from Kathy - particularly about timing and smoothness, and then do the course again with our dogs.

Gimme did okay, though she was distracted here and there and some of her turns were wide.  Still there were other spots where she did a beautiful job.  I was sure she'd do better on our second turn together.  Gimme was in her soft crate and I was watching the second team, thinking how much better Gimme did, when she suddenly started flailing around in her crate.

It was like she was chasing her tail (which she's never done), while flopping over onto her side and swimming part of the turn.  I immediately got my hand in the crate to calm and steady her while trying to figure out what she was doing... she kept falling into my hand and trembling and I realized she was having a grand mal.  I yelled to the instructor about needing help and directions to a nearby vet.  The whole class sprung into action... I brought Gimme out of the crate and she was still very unsteady on her feet and clinging to me.  Within a minute I was given a hand-drawn map to a nearby vet and we headed out.  By the time we got to the car, she ignored my attempt to help her and jumped in on her own.

The vet got us in right away, but there was nothing to see.  Gimme seemed perfectly normal and was her usual kissy face self.  There was no evidence whatsoever of illness.  They took blood for lab work and it was normal, other than a very elevated WBC count at 20K (normal range is 5-16K).  We were unable to collect urine since Gimme had peed both when we arrived and on the way out of the training building.  The doctor felt a WBC count so high indicated some infection, which might be the cause of the seizure, especially in combination with the stress of class.  Gimme had been pestering me to go out MANY times the night before - so I thought it could be a UTI.  When it was happening I hadn't thought too much about it because Gimme often rings the bell to go outside in an attempt to get me off the computer.

Gimme had also been picky and uninterested in her breakfast, but this isn't unusual when breakfast comes early and especially if I'm rushing about, so I paid it little attention.  In hindsight I think differently.  Of course, since she had her evening soup very early Wednesday night and ignored it Thursday morning, she might have been slightly dehydrated.  Severe dehydration can cause seizures because it throws off electrolyte balance, which the first vet checked and found within a normal range.  Still subclinical dehydration can cause vestibular syndrome, so I'm not ignoring the possibility.

We did get a urine sample analyzed, but it was normal - with just a little bacteria, which our regular vet thought was from contamination routinely seen with free catch samples.  He poo pooed the idea of high WBC count indicating an infection which could cause a seizure.  However, since then I've talked to my chiropractor, who has a dog with a seizure disorder - he said seizures can be caused by a high WBC count, as well as seizures causing high WBC count.  I've confirmed this by information on several different websites. 

I've also considered her atlas vertebrae might be off, so have scheduled her for a chiropractic adjustment.  I know when my atlas is locked up I get migraines.  My chiropractor agreed a misaligned atlas could be a contributing factor for a seizure, but also said it wouldn't be the only cause.

So right now we don't really know anything and I am in wait-n-see mode.  In most cases, if you can get through six months without another episode, there is a good chance it was a one time occurrence.  Of course, this is not a guarantee and there are many exceptions to the rule.  My chiropractor said many times dogs (and children) will have single event episodes which are never repeated - he referred to it as a "perfect storm" of different factors which together cause "disorganized and sudden electrical activity in the brain".   

Needless to say I am on pins and needles...  while Gimme thinks a large dish of vanilla ice cream every day would prevent a recurrence.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

All Whacked Out

This blog post is going to consist of a (very long) rebuttal to a recent blog post by Gary Wilkes, What is Real Clicker Training?  There is so much therein, which is counter to my entire paradigm about dogs and dog training. 

Wilkes believes it is a necessity to have "unpleasant consequences” for unwanted behavior or for failure to obey.  On the surface this sounds reasonable.  Missing in his analysis is a discussion of what is necessary or even appropriate "unpleasant consequences".

I maintain it is unacceptable to allow a guest to bait a dog into unwanted behavior and then to punish the same unwanted behavior (as shown in the video) with bonking.  The dog did not jump on the guest until invited up by the hands spreading wide.  To me this is patently unfair when you could just as easily set up a training session and teach the dog how to behave correctly and reward those successes.  If you are certain you are going to have a large number of stupid behaving guests who will make inviting gestures (spreading the arms toward the dog), then simply spend some time teaching this gesture as a new signal to sit.  Why not teach the dog an opening-door is another cue for sit?

So what is the problem with the approach shown?  For one thing, this is presented as only taking three tries to get from untrained to perfect behavior, still its clearly an edited video - so we don't really know how many times the dog got bonked.  In the first clip, the dog has a full body tail wag, a sign of a dog who is relaxed and comfortable.  By the end of the treatment, the tail wag, while still wide, is now lower and circular, showing a nervous quality.  The dog is now looking at the owner in a way which suggests anxiety.  Remember, just because the tail is wagging does not mean the dog is happy - in many dogs it is a simply a sign the dog is having an emotion, also dogs wag their tails to pacify others.

I will not say the bonking method mixed with marker training doesn't work, but remember, just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should.  This method has potential side affects.  One of the main side affects is a dog who now associates the bonk-giver with the bonk.  I don't know about you, but I want my dog to trust me and know I will keep her safe.  I don't think my dog should ever have mixed emotions about what to expect from me.  I don’t want her to watch my hands and ever wonder if the thing I’m carrying will be used to hit her.  I can provide relevant consequences without hitting her.  I don't have to use some tool and give it a cutesy name to cover up the aversive nature of the strike.

The other big side affect is when the dog associates an aversive with what they are looking at when it happens.  This dog could just as easily believe the approaching man is the reason he got bonked (i.e. not the jumping up behavior).  We don’t know how this dog will react over the long term.  It could be the behavior is only temporarily suppressed and may resurface.  Any question of potential negative side affects could have been avoided entirely with strictly reward-based training to teach better door manners.  I am particularly fond of how Victoria Stillwell (It’s Me or The Dog) approaches this problem.

Wilkes’ fault-finding of Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, isn’t particularly accurate.  It said you can teach an animal to do anything they are physically and emotionally capable of achieving. I found her book made a point of a saying a dog could change/control their own behavior every bit as reliably (and perhaps more so) to earn rewards as to avoid punishment.  Punishment often gives a false impression of improved behavior due to the overall suppression of behavior, which is not always permanent.  Aversives do have potential for more side affects than reward based training.  Karen Pryor is not the only person to say these things.  Many authors with more actual dog training experience are saying the same things.

And speaking of Pryor’s experience in marine mammal and other not-dog training – why would we assume her training expertise is invalid because its not dogs.  Dogs learn by the same processes as every other species.  If zoo trainers can teach an orangutan to take a small urine sample cup, pee into the cup and then hand it back without spilling it – well I just think it shouldn’t be too hard to teach the family dog not to jump on people.  If you really want to understand the complexities of training other animals, check out Kathy Sdao’s blog about E.T. the Walrus.

Weighing in at two tons, hormone-laden E.T. could easily have killed any of his handlers and had killed other exhibit marine mammals.  Using reward based training and some environmental enrichment, E.T. was transformed from a dangerous bully to a talented boy.  One of his behaviors was to voluntarily permit a blood draw.  Kathy is fond of saying you learn what is possible in reward based training when you can’t punish the animal because it might kill you.

Wilkes says the four assumptions are “neither scientific nor true”, yet provides no science to prove them wrong.  He says the assumptions of “all positive” training are not applicable to predatory beasts like dogs.   So I guess the other predatory zoo animals trained with reward based training are some kind of anomaly.  You know the ones – lions, tigers and bears, oh my.

Wilkes unfairly describes the thinking of reward-based trainers in very all or nothing terms.  He also alludes to his reality where the “advanced clicker trainers” have only trained a few dogs.   I have used aversives, but only when I ran out of reward-based options and only to the minimum extent necessary to create an opening for reward based solutions.

Bob Bailey talks about people who say they had to use punishment because “nothing else worked”.  When pressed for what they had tried, they only tried 2 or 3 options before resorting to punishment.  I can think of ten different ways to teach a dog not to rush the door or jump on guests.  Doesn’t it behoove us to try most of them before bonking the dog?

Wilkes’ blanket statement, “only aversive control is capable of stopping a dog from being a dog when it feels like it” is not true.  If teaching a terrier not to chase squirrels is the gold standard, sorry Wilkes - its been done.  In fact the opportunity to bark at squirrels became the reward one owner used in agility training her terrier on her way to a MACH.  The chief difficulty with this kind of training is controlling the squirrel resource. 

I don’t know about the behavior of Karen Pryor’s dog, but found Wilkes’ mind-reading abilities astounding, the way he read her mind and knew so exactly her motivation and thinking for the things she said about training a squirrel chasing terrier.  I also do know the old saying, “the cobbler’s kids got no shoes”.  Many people admit their own dogs’ training suffers when they got famous and were so often gone on the lecture circuit, so its easy for me to assume Karen’s dog is not an exception.  Some famous trainers make it work, Denise Fenzi springs to mind, but I think its because they have an internal motivation and commitment to train their dogs and they have competitive goals to meet.  For someone like Karen, who doesn’t compete and only enjoys her family dog, I think spending the time tweaking every little behavior just doesn’t have the same driving force.

I do find it interesting he never defines “aversive control”.  He never discusses what the limits are for its use.  Certainly the example he showed in the video didn’t justify the breaking of trust, in my opinion.

Wilkes repeats his claim about there being no “real world examples of dependable performance with dogs”, which is simply false.  Service dogs of all stripes are trained using all reward training.   Many highly successful agility dogs are trained without aversives.  All the nosework and barn hunt dogs I know are trained without aversives.  I don’t know of any freestyle dogs who are bonked down the road to success.  Denise Fenzi’s dogs are trained without aversives…  so much so - her dogs find losing an opportunity to train/perform their biggest aversive.  Even if there were no examples of really reliable high quality training done with all positive training – the real fly in the ointment is how many thousands and thousands of dogs trained with aversives and competing at high levels are unable to demonstrate truly reliable behaviors.  So clearly “aversive control” is not all its cracked up to be – its not the panacea for all dog training problems everywhere.

Wilkes tries to claim scientific training is flawed and can’t be used reliably in the “real world”.  He completely side-steps the fact of how his own brand of bonk and mark training fits so neatly into the operant conditioning model.  While he states how “traditional dog training methodology has worked for more than 15,000 years in hundreds of different applications with hundreds of millions of dogs”, he fails to address the abuse and near torture which has been heaped upon many of those hundreds of millions in the name of traditional training.  In fact, at one point in human history, it was scientifically fashionable to say animals could not reason and had no feelings, essentially they were no more than meat-machines.  This view helped to justify the cruelty used to train and work animals for centuries.

Personally I’ve been to at least 300 agility competitions and have yet to see even ONE dog leave the ring to attack another dog.  Of the dogs with start line stay issues, as many were aversive trained as were positive reward trained.  One of the worst obedience stay problems belongs to a Weimaraner who is trained traditionally and jerked around or "accidentally" has its foot stepped on when it fails to stay.  The dogs I’ve seen with table issues were dealing with anxiety issues and I do not believe adding more anxiety in the form of punishment would suddenly cure the problem.

The reality is – any form of training, any training philosophy is only as good as the person doing it.  As Wilkes says, traditional aversive training has been around for 15,000 years, so it stands to reason there are many more people who are really good at punishing dogs.  Compared to the thirty years of reward based dog training.  Reward based training has come a long way and its getting better all the time.  To be sure, there are still many people who are ineffective all positive trainers.  My guess is they’d be just as ineffective with punishment.

Wilkes wants you to abandon an all-positive approach and return to a more traditional style of training.  Be very, very glad the Wright brothers, Cugnot and Rivaz didn’t abandon their early powered transportation attempts even though they were slower than the local mule.  If they had, you’d be driving a buggy instead of a Chevy.

The use of rats and pigeons by scientists is prevalent because of space constraints, its about economics.  Quite simply you can work with a lot more rats and pigeons than you can dogs for the same dollars.  Also, for a long time, studying dogs was considered unscientific and was largely frowned upon.  To leap from there to a conclusion saying learning processes are different is just unscientific.  I don’t know what dogs Wilkes has been around, but I have never met one who sneered at a treat when hungry because it was the wrong time of day. Seriously?  My dog can tell me down to the minute when her next meal is due.  In over four years, she has only refused treats a couple of times and it wasn’t because of the time of day. To say a dog doesn’t learn the same because its progenitors ate about once a week is just silly.

The failed examples he gives of early attempts to train dogs using Skinner-Breland style methods simply did not take into account the one thing which is truly unique about dogs – their relationship bias.  Dogs are far more sensitive and intune to human behaviors, picking up the subtle nuances of our moods and attitudes, than any other species.  I believe the early failures were because of trying to be too clinical, depriving the dogs of the relationship connection.  We’ve bred dogs to be connected and they notice the subtlest of things.  Successful trainers, like Denise Fenzi, get great results using all positive training because they use the relationship connection to enhance training.

His explanation about some carnivorous predators being more like grazers (dolphins) than others (wolves) doesn’t fly.  He states wolves eat things which are 10 – 15 times larger than they are.  The strongest studies on the diet of wolves shows they eat a huge variety of other animals, from ungulates to earthworms.  When they do eat large game, they prey on the old and infirm.  Its not because they don’t want to risk injury, its because they are conserving their own energy.

I found his argument about “instinctive drift” unconvincing at best.  While “instinctive drift” can be an issue, I saw nothing to suggest using Wilkes’ “aversive control” would resolve it.

Oddly, one of Wilkes’ arguments to refute the effectiveness of all positive training, actually proves the problem we, the ideologically myopic, have with punishment.  He said “a host of others have failed to integrate a dog’s ability to “take the hit” and continue to perform happily”.  For many dogs this is true… to the point where dogs will continue to perform despite showing calming signals and other negative symptoms of their internal stress.  This is more prevalent in some breeds than others.  Some dogs will tolerate more and more and more punishment, to where you must use excessive force to control/inhibit unwanted behaviors.  I fail to see where this is a good thing.  Again, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

In any case, using reward based methods have greatly expanded the number of breeds which can be highly successful in performance sports.  Its no longer necessary to own one of the few breeds which are highly resilient or obsessive compulsive if you want to compete in dog sports.  From Bulldogs to Borzois, Dachshunds to Dalmatians, Huskies to Hounds – there are now breeds of every size and temperament able to compete in many different sports, because they don’t have to endure aversives to be trained.

Wilkes insists the only way to break through any dog’s special distraction is to use aversives/punishment.  Those of us who align with reward based training know we can split the elements of the distraction down to its smallest effect and teach the dog how to work through it one step at a time.  Those who work with reactive dogs (regardless of their trigger) know the most important thing we can do is to work through the individual bits of the trigger.  To quote Bob Bailey, “Be a Splitter, Not a Lumper.”

Wilkes assumes all clicker trainers have a rabid aversion to aversives.  He assumes there can be no reliable training without aversives, then demonstrates a training scenario where use of aversives was entirely unnecessary.  Any ten of my students could have solved the jumping up without hitting the dog.  Wilkes assumes aversives are a necessity – thus he jumps to their use almost immediately (just watch some of his youtube videos – I sure don’t want to be a bar setter in the ring with the agility dog he threw the bonker at).  Whereas I assume aversives are a last resort – thus I almost never need them.

To be clear, while Wilkes uses a clicker (the little plastic noisemaker) in his training, he only uses it as a marker signal.  Clearly (based on his article and the few youtube videos I watched) he has no interest in finding a less aversive way to modify dog behavior and even the simplest untrained dog behavior must and will be met with force.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

RallyFrEe (6/1) & Agility (6/6)

We started the morning with RallyFrEe class.  Gimme did okay, despite being separated from the baby for a full hour.  Each time I set up her station a little different, tweaking it to make it better for her.  Gimme was mostly able to do relaxation-is-its-own-reward.  She came out of her crate to watch other dogs a few times, but was nicely calm about it (which Kathy noticed and commented on).

Kathy set up the room with two "circles" of five platforms and ring gates between them.  Gimme didn't do as well with the first circle because some of the platforms were a bit small for her.  She did best at "heel", which we've worked the most.  "Side" was more challenging, simply because we haven't done as much of it - so I practiced it the most.  I had to remind myself to go back to basic-basics and click/treat attention to engage her brain.  I used her special bowl and when she did something particularly nice - I released her to "bowl" for treats.  I think running to the bowl adds to the reward for her.

I thought we were going to get a semi-private lesson because only one other person showed up.  But about the time we moved to the second circle side of the ring gates, another person showed up with her entire entourage (long story).  "Sudden environmental change" is the hardest for Gimme, so I had to go back to c/t basics.  By the time we were partway through our work with the second circle, she was getting into it.  I think the releases to the special bowl helped too.

For the last part of class, each of us was given some novice signs and one at a time we came out on the floor to demonstrate them and work through any challenges we are having, with Kathy coaching. Since we were the only dog on the floor and the others were crated, I was able to have the leash off when I needed to and discovered Gimme really likes working without it.  In many respects she is much better than students who have been training with Kathy for awhile.  Once she got into it and realized she could move at speed, she was very flashy.  A couple people commented how nice she would look in freestyle.

Our first sign was the left-side-switch-back.  Gimme knows this well and can do it fluently.  Our first try wasn't very good, but when I cleaned up my hand signal she got it.  Then a few repeats and she was fast and beautiful.

My second sign was figure-8-twice and Gimme was a bit distracted when she saw someone in the hall (an area where she's seen dogs going through).  She was tending to make big distracted circles, instead of tight turns around my leg.  When I got her making tight ones, she then demonstrated her special version, which is to go through and immediately turn around and come up under me.  Kathy thought my hand position wasn't clear, so we cleaned it up, but Gimme did it again anyway.  What seemed to help the most was dumping the leash.  For one thing, it means I can move more smoothly and then Gimme can move faster.

Our biggest challenge was the bow sign.  I only taught her to bow in front of me, facing me - who knew it would ever be an issue.  So we worked through it with Gimme next to a barrier and in front of me facing to the side.  I've been working on this since then and it is coming along.  Sometimes I even turn so I'm just 45ยบ off parallel.  I can't do it much right now, since I strained my knee at work and kneeling is painful.  So, I am trying to do just a couple short sessions each day.  

My current plan is to enter the World Wide RallyFrEe video event - open now for entry.  Then shortly thereafter Kathy is hosting a video event, which we will also enter.  I don't know how ready we are, but I figure its a good opportunity to work out the taping bugs.

Thursday night was our last agility class for now.  Tonya was there when we arrived and I had her check with Gimme to see if she needed adjusting, which she did.  We decided to hold off adjusting her until Friday, rather than risk throwing away the adjustment.  We only jumped 12" so it wouldn't hurt her.  The first session she was really good, responding well and pretty darn focused.  She was even playing with a toy we brought in.  For the second session she wasn't nearly as focused and kept running off to sniff and a few times going to the door.  I think two classes in one day during baby-mode is just too much.  So I got her to do the weaves nicely, rewarded her with all the treats in my bag and then took her back to MrFroggy baby.

Today we started using a the new stuff Tonya gave us for her false pregnancy.  According to the company owner it works wonders for dog's with false pregnancies.  Tonya said Gimme has the most severe false pregnancies she has ever seen.  Its too soon to see if its really helping, though she does seem relatively calm.  She got them today around noon and was interested in the leaves, sniffing a lot, but not eating them.  I poured a tiny amount of chicken juice on it and she snarfed it all up.  I just gave her a second helping.  Tonya said to start with the maximum amount.  So she gets it twice a day for ten days and then I go to once a day.  After, if its working, we'll start reducing the amount to find her maintenance.  Cross your fingers.