Thursday, December 22, 2011

Principles to Train By

Poor Tess has not had good puppy days in these days leading up to the big exam!  Fortunately we have 3 weeks of winter break to do some catching up and play fun games.

One of the best things about working with a knowledgeable friend or paying a trainer is the feedback/reflection of your training.  Several important concepts I've been working DILIGENTLY to adhere to once they were brought to my attention are:

Say it Once - Don't say the command over and over, not for "encouragement", not for "motivation", not to make yourself feel better, not as a reminder to the dog while they are in the middle of the behavior.  Say it once, and if the dog doesn't do it, don't re-cue - enforce the behavior if you can with either a physical touch or a hand signal (dogs often respond better to visual cues rather than verbal ones - so it's important to "pair" them, and then make sure that the dog understands the verbal cue apart from the visual one).  If I feel the need to consistently re-cue Tess, I evaluate the behavior and decide whether I need to reshape it, re - pair it, reduce the number of distractions, or do more relationship building.

No Self Releasing - One thing I have to remind myself over and over is DO NOT RE-CUE THE BEHAVIOR IF SHE SELF RELEASES from a control behavior.  Control behaviors things like sit, down, stand, bow, side, close, house, bed etc.  I don't use the term "stay".  When I ask for a control behavior, there is an understanding that she needs to maintain that behavior until she is released.  100% of the time - not just while training.  Thus, if I tell her to sit because I'm cooking in the kitchen - I need to enforce that control behavior, just as if I told her to sit during a training session.  Being really careful and consistent with my control behaviors will lead to more consistency in high distraction situations. 

Don't Help -This is a hard one for me.  If it's a high distracting situation and I've said "side" (which means line up in a sit on my right hand side) and Tess doesn't do it right away, I tend to step to my left to give her more room on my right and invite her in to that right side.  Instead, I should just wait her out, give her a chance to be brilliant.  "Side" and "Close" (same behavior on the left side) are solid behaviors - we are reinforcing them, but not necessarily training them.  Same for heeling.  When she gets in front of me and starts to pull, I stop.  Because of the pressure on the leash, the correct response is for Tess to "self correct" herself into a side or a close and then we start again.  If that doesn't happen, then I turn 180 degrees and walk briskly.  I'm oh so very tempted to say "side" and "close" during these situations instead of letting her figure it out - and I should just let her figure it out.  The point is that she self corrects/recognizes the error in pulling - it is not a side/close training session!  However, by helping her, this point is lost.  When first training or shaping a behavior sometimes I do help with hand signals, positioning etc. - however, those "helps" definitely become crutches later on and its more difficult to "finish" those behaviors at the very end (verbal command, consistent, Tess understands the behavior etc.)

Treat for the exact response -  Here's another hard one for us!  I tend to take into account Tess's mood and distraction level when treating.  For example.  If I ask for her to go to her "house" and she hesitates, and wanders because there's a dog distraction, but still goes in the house, I tend to think "Boy!  That was really hard for her, so she definitely gets a treat!".  WRONG.  If I make it easier for her because she failed a previous time, or if she didn't do it with enthusiasm (just going through the motions), or if she got distracted and went a 'round-about way, or if she had to be re-cued or positioned - no treat, just verbal praise.  The treat is for telling her "YES - that was EXACTLY what I wanted".  Verbal praise tells her she did good, is on the right track, and she made good choices.  If I can't give her a treat after 3 times of repeating the same behavior, then I need to switch locations, switch what I'm asking for etc.

Once I started applying this principle to Tess's training, I noticed that she tried a little harder - she no longer got treats for just going through the motions - she had to be focused and enthusiastic.  

Treating for exact behavior doesn't apply to the same degree when I'm teaching or shaping a behavior.  I'm treating for "try" and new behaviors, it's only when I get that end behavior and she understands the end behavior that I switch to treating for exact response only.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Onto the next stage!

One of the most interesting things about having a puppy is to watch them go through predictable development stages. 

Tess is now 9 months old.  Tonight, she showed some fear behavior when my boyfriend got home especially late and made a lot of noise on the outside of the door.  She barked and growled and acted fearful - very unusual for her. 

It reminded me of that early fear stage that every young puppy goes through in the first months of life.  The change was marked - literally overnight she went from being a bold, independent, happy-go-lucky puppy, to a pup that barked at the bike in the garage that hadn't been there before.  It took about 2 weeks for novel situations and objects to stop evoking an automatic fear response. 

I've been able to observe most of the development stages in Tess so I wondered whether there was a second fear period around 9 months of age? 

After a bit of searching, it looks like there very likely is!  I love how development is so predictable. 

Tess have reliably moved through each development stage, so I have to assume with the onset of this second fear period, she is very close to puberty. 

This is important - because the plan is for Tess to be a performance dog, I do not want to spay her before the onset of puberty. 

First, a digression - this is personal opinion based on research that I have read (but I'm too lazy to cite right now), heard in class.  I have also grossly simplified the physis closure process and anatomy discussed - obviously more factors than just hormones etc play a role!  I using the radius and ulna as an example.  I have no idea when those two bones specific growth plates close relative to each other, but as it is 3am, I'm not looking it up. 

There is some research indicates that some "performance injuries" such as torn crutiate ligaments etc. may be linked to altering a dog before the onset of puberty.  Hormones play a huge role in growth plate (called a "physis") closure.  If you alter a dog before the growth plates close, the physis will delay closing because of the lack of hormones. 

"What's the problem?" you say, "so the plates stay open a bit longer".  The problem is that some physis' close before others on adjacent bones.  For example, the radius physis can close, and the ulna (adjacent bone to the radius that "connects" on the elbow) can still be open.  This isn't normally a problem - and in fact is normal - because the body has a plan/system/time line for when all the physis' should close so the bones are the correct size in relation to each other.  But when you take away hormones, you are altering that dramactically!!!!! 

So now, the ulna keeps on growing a little bit longer than it should - but the radius can't compensate for it. 

Uh Oh.....

Now that joint and ligaments are inherently under more strain when the dog is doing intense physical activity - like agility and jumping. 

I was really really REALLY hoping she would have had her first heat cycle before xmas so I could have her spayed over the xmas break, however, it looks like it's not going to happen :(.  My guess is that she will be 10 months old (beginning of January), which means I'll spay over spring break.  10 months is average for a dog of her size, and as she's hit all the other "milestones" on the nose, it was too much to hope that she would be early on this one!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You know you're a dog person when....

... the biggest decisions of your day (after getting out of a 4 hour class) is who gets to pee first - take the dog outside or use the restroom?  decisions desicisions!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Puppy Play

This post got rather long, so here's a quick summary of my thoughts -

1.  You are always training with every interaction and situation - either reinforcing or introducing new behaviors (good or bad).
2.  If I have to say the command more than once, I am teaching my dog to ignore me.
3.  When establishing a behavior, a logical progression of situations sets the dog up for success - with a few "test" situations thrown in.
4.  There is a way to give the dog what he needs developmentally, while still preserving the integrity of your training program.
5.  Not everyone is a dog person and its rude to impose my dog on them if my dog doesn't have proper manners - proper manners includes respect of personal space and not demanding attention.
6.  The freedom/off duty time cannot be micromanaged to the point where it is no longer a mental break for the dog. 
7.  How "far" you train the off-leash behavior will depend on your future plans with the dog. 

Ready for the entire discourse?

One of the common questions I get from other people that watch me interact with Tess on a daily basis is - do you ever just let her off leash and play?

This is usually while we are in the home room, which is full of my classmates sitting on couches, heating up lunches, with 3-4 dogs of various sizes and training levels running around.

A thing to keep in mind is that you are ALWAYS training.  When you are walking from the car and you are too busy because you'll be late to class - you are training.  When you only have 10 minutes to take the dog outside to pee and they refuse to play the crate game or put their nose in the gentle leader - you are training.  When you let your dog ignore you in a room full of paper, engage in questionable behavior (ie - excited puppy behavior that non-dog people may be uncomfortable with), ignores their name, and doesn't come when called.  Even then - you are training.

Tess's biggest training issues are related to her distractability and fixation on other dogs, and movement, and her tendency to lick people's noses in greeting.  Tess is bold and independent.  She's well socialized.  I'm not worried about her approprately interacting with other dogs and people on a socialization level - I'm worried about manners and training.

If I put her into a situation where there are a lot of other dogs and people (especially people sitting down on the ground and on couches) off leash, I am setting her up for failure - I know that she will ignore her name and recall, because we can't function in a situation 1/2 distracting.  Until I get good behavior in a less distracting situations, it's unfair of me to expect it in in a high arousal situation - and instead of reinforcing our training, I'll be reinforcing a habit of ignoring me in a high distraction situation.  Even worse - the home room situation would also reinforce naughty behaviors in addition to crime of ignoring me!  The opportunity to jump on people and furniture and knock over chairs and clear the coffee table (and couch) in a single leap!  Don't laugh - I speak from personal experience!

Don't worry!  I know that play and movement and being able to just "be a puppy" is an important part of a quality life!  I regularly let her off leash to play - but I control the situation for success.
  • She gets to play with Reed (Golden Retriever housemate) in the back yard off leash.  I have a pocket full of treats and she regularly gets treats for checking in with me, and for looking at me when I call her name (I then treat and immediately release her to play again).
  • She gets to play with new and familiar dogs off leash inside, if it isn't more than 2-3 dogs and no more than 3 or 4 people in the room.
  • She gets to play with 1 other dog off leash outside in an unfenced area (and drags a very light long line).
  • Every 1-2 weeks I take her to a fenced dog park during an "off time" (usually not more than 5-6 dogs) to play off leash.  I use this as my "check" - this is an extremely high arousal situation - and compare how she is improving over time.  How well does she listen to her name and recalls?  Does she check in?  Is she continuing to greet dogs and people appropriately off leash?  Because she still has a tendency to ignore me in a dog park situation, we don't do this really often - it takes me ~24 hours to rebuild the name game and recall to where it was pre-dog park.  I try REALLY hard not to do recalls or call her name at the park unless I'm almost positive that she was ready to do it on her own - so it lessens my chances of her ignoring me.  Remember that you are always training?  Repeated commands is training the dog that is does not have to respond the first time you say something - Tess ignoring me or me having to repeat a command is more likely to happen at a dog park, regardless of my best efforts, so I can't do it too often - have to rebuild the relationship between trips.  Make sense?  
For the first 3 situations (the dog park is too stimulating) Tess plays a few quick games to establish the value of the relationship before being released to play (and so she understands that although she isn't directly interacting with me during dog play most of the time - this REALLY REWARDING thing still comes from me - the source of all things fabulous in her life).  A few RZ games, nose touches, a few bows and then OFF SHE GOES!!!!!!  And let me tell you - she is BEAUTIFUL at full speed.  :) 

The dog park is important because it's my transition or bridge to high arousal situations (like the homeroom at school).  It's hard for her to be too naughty at the dog park, other than ignoring me.  She's never engaged in a behavior that I had to stop.

When she starts responding to me consistently in the dog park, then she'll be ready for off-leash in a busy homeroom - but not before then.

Am I being picky?  Absolutely.  I have the luxury of being able to keep Tess with me almost 24/7, thus I have lots of opportunities to physical and mentally stimulate her throughout the day without resorting to letting her off leash to run energy off in a situation not of my choosing.

I'm constantly walking the line between these 2 concepts -
1.  Giving her freedom that she has rightly learned and the reward of being "off duty"
2.  Being mindful of what she is learning and what I'm reinforcing while she's enjoying that freedom while not restricting or micromanaging that freedom/off duty time to the point she becomes resentful or anxious.

With your relationship with your dog, you may care more or less about your dogs responsiveness and control - I think a lot of the the decision is based on your future plans with your dog. 

I have big plans for this girl, all of which require her to develop self-control and focus her attention on me in very high distracting situations.  Agility and other performance competitions require a dog that can work through crowds, new places, and unfamiliar situations without losing focus.  I'm also considering designating her as my service dog, which requires many of the same skills. 

A digression - Another thing I consider when letting my dog off leash is that not everyone around me is a dog person.  *I* wasn't a dog person before getting Tess, and even now I don't enjoy unfamiliar dogs (or familiar dogs....) invading my personal space, demanding my attention, and slobbering on me.  My dog is my responsibility - which means that until my dog can run up to a seated person and politely sit a respectful distance away while seeking attention (and not demand attention if ignored), my dog has no business being off leash in an area with other people.  Period.  It is unfair of me to impose my dog on other people in the area.  I'm willing to "test" her behavior in a dog park because I figure there are mostly dog people there.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tess decides my trick is dumb

I did a shaping session this morning to teach Tess a new trick - putting her paw over her muzzle and eye in a "I'm so shamed" look. 

As she sat there and stared at me, and then bowed in front of me and stared, I decided to make my life easier and improve my chances of getting the behavior.

I put a piece of scotch tape on her muzzle. 

Tess was less than thrilled.  She curled her lip and then BAM, put her paw to the nose.


Click. Treat.

I did it again. 

Click. Treat.

After a couple repetitions the tape got less sticky so I put it on the table beside me and waited to see if she would offer it without the tape. 

Before I could react, Tess darted over, grabbed the tape, then chewed and swallowed as I frantically pried her mouth open and stuck my hand down her gullet. 

I guess that's what Tess thinks about me putting tape on her muzzle. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Showoff" moments and training thoughts

 Two show off moments in one post!!!!

Above is Tess performing a "bow", which she does on verbal command.  "Bow" sounds a lot like "Down", so I pronounce it "B-oh".  She started offering play bows when we were working on 2 on-2 off behaviors so on Sunday I took the opportunity to shape and name it.  Our biggest problem? - she should rather bow than lay down!  She'll bow and I'll ask her - "Uh oh! what happened to your back end??????" She's just starting to show hind in awareness and having her switch on verbal command between down, sit, bow, stand is good practice. 

This picture is Tess playing "Yer Choice" with treats on paws.  Unfortunately she took the opportunity while I snapped the picture to eat the piece of kibble off of her left paw.  Definitely a naughty moment to record in the training log. 

Yer choice is one of those games that I have to work continuously - if I go a couple of days, or a week without reinforcing it, she regresses.  Impulse control is a HUGE part of Tess's training and personality, so I'm not surprised that this is one of our top priority games. 

Did you notice where these pictures were taken?  In a parking lot.  I got to school early, parked and decided to have an improtue play session behind the car, and try to catch up on some show off photos.  Training can happen anytime, anywhere.  By training in as many different locations, I'm teaching my puppy that I am the most exciting thing and all good things come from me - no matter where we are.  On our way to the lecture building, 10 minutes after these photos were taken, we had a good tug/play/fetch session. 

How do I know that she was interested and engaged?  For the first time today, I didn't have to use the gentle leader to walk her form the parking lot to the lecture building - flat collar only and no pulling!  It's a miracle!.....or maybe she enjoyed the spontaneity. 

I just finished an article on working with high energy/high prey drive dogs and an important concept to integrate into the training sessions is unpredictability and spontaneity.  This is hard - I'm a very organized, "plan-ahead" person that easily falls into a rut of what I do where.....I literally have to plan ahead for spontaneity - but Tess doesn't have to know that - she just knows that this morning she got to eat her breakfast in the parking lot, and then played with her favorite toy on the lawn while walking to school - 2 things that had never happened before. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tess goes hiking

Took Tess up to Feather Falls where we did the ~9 mile, 4 hour hike (plus an hour for lunch).  Tess did really well not pulling, paying attention to me, and practiced "relaxing" during lunch. 

While navigating trail obstacles (fallen trees from previous day's wind storm) I was able to use "over" and "under" to navigate us both through without tangling the leash.  We played in one of the creeks some and confirmed that Tess is NOT a fan of cold water.  She goes all pitiful and sad-eyed. 

We played almost constant RZ zone games (both sides) and a name game.  Only if she didn't respond to my RZ request did I do 180 degree turns to eliminate pulling.  Having her on leash for lunch reminded me that I need to spend more time with her out of her kennel, on leash, just hanging out with me.  If I'm being perfectly honest, my perfect puppy is a perfect pain and it's so much easier to just stick her in her kennel if I'm not actively engaging her, than to practice her being "chill" while I do something else. 

Overall it was a beautiful trip that I actually ENJOYED because I FINALLY have a puppy who's a joy to be with.

My sister made fun of me when she found out the dogs were coming.  "All we are going to hear is 'Yes Tess', 'No Tess', 'Heel Tess'".  I laughed and told her that actually she should hear nothing.  The strategy behind the training now is to stay silent - no verbal commands until she understands the behavior.  She makes good choices and is rewarded (including staying in that heel position in the reinforcement zone - RZ - and not pulling) and when she consistently chooses the correct behavior, THEN I'll name it.

It's unfortunate that in the action photos she looks like she is pulling.  She pulled very little!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The game I played today

Tess has a hard time with the game fetch.  Her favorite game is tug - so the concept that we will be taking a really good toy and she'll get it and bring it, just to have it taken away so it can be thrown again isn't her idea of a really good time.  

I've tried pointing out that her father was a VERY good retriever so it is IN HER GENES to do this, but she just cocks her head and looks at me with an expression that says "just because you bought me a orange biothane hunting collar doesn't mean I have to act like a retriever". 

Knowing that she regards tug, treats, games requiring lots of movement and speed, and certain toys as extremely high value, I try to incorporate them to make the fetch game have a higher value than taking the toy, running, and playing with it herself all by her lonesome.

 This morning, I played fetch, combined with hide and seek. 

First I let her chose a toy out of the toy box.  This itself is a reward - I usually dictate what toy we will be playing with.  She chose a toy ideally suited for fetch, a hollow rubber/plastic stick.  She ran around with it growling playfully, trying to engage me in a game of chase the puppy, letting me know she regarded this toy as HIGH value - higher value than engaging me. 

I tried some of the other strategies I've been using to reinforce fetch (see list at bottom of this post) but it quickly became apparent that the games were too passive and not engaging enough.  

In a brilliant move of sheer genius creativity - I decided to play hide and seek!

You see - I'm not normally creative, or brilliant, or a source (as my puppy continuously reminds me) of spontaneous fun.  I'm methodical and have a tendency to harp on one concept about 3 reptitions too many. 

I'm quite proud of myself - I recognized the problem, didn't try to play or train in a way that was doomed from the start, didn't get frusterated, and instead found a way to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish - reinforcing the concept of - I am much more fun than any toy, I am the source of all good cookies, and if you lose track of me - you better find me QUICK.  

As a side note - being creative and finding an alternative way to train based on Tess's mood and distraction level, instead of getting frusterated, has been my biggest challenge.  I'm seeing real progress in this area.  More times in the last 10 days then ever before I've had training sessions where I didn't ask for too much, didn't move too fast, and was able to train the pup I had right then instead of the one I planned for.  This is real progress for me as a trainer.  

She likes hide and seek - we've been playing it as part of our recall project, there's treats involved when she finds me and she gets to run around like a crazy idiot looking for me and focus all that energy doing something GOOD (trust me - one of the most difficult things about having a high-prey drive/high-energy puppy).

I tossed the toy down the hall and then disappeared around the corner. 

She tore around the corner with the toy in her mouth and dropped it in my hand.  Good girl!  Treat. 

I threw it down the hall and ducked behind the recliner.

It took her longer this time, and she arrived without the toy.  I looked at her.  She knew she should be getting a treat for finding me - so when she didn't get one, she knew she was missing some element to this new game.  I looked at the toy to give her a hint.  She got it immediately, ran to get the toy and brought it to me.  Good girl!  treat.  (BTW - this is why I love shaping behavior - she thinks through new challenges and looks to me for hints as subtle as where my eyes are going, puts 2 previously unlinked behaviors together, and voila!). 

I hid in progressively harder locations and she got better and better at having the toy in her mouth when she finally found me. 

Success! I created value for bringing me a toy while still engaging her at a high level - I didn't have problems with her trying to run off with the toy, or sniffing around like a bored puppy, or becoming a "distract-a-puppy". 

Training ideas:
For those of you attempting to train or shape fetch, here's some of the other fetch games I've played:
  • Take the toy from my hand, then give it back for a treat.
  • Drop the toy in front of me, pup picks it up and gives it to me for a treat.
  • Throw the toy a short distance, pup picks it up, and I've moved in almost to the toy to give a treat.
  • Gradually throw the toy further and further and stay stationary for the toy to be brought back for the treat.
  • Have 2 toys - a good fetch toy (for Tess, this is balls and other stuff that moves and bounces quickly - she plays with them like a cat plays with a mouse), and a very high value tug toy (Tess goes nuts for the Skinz toys).  I hang the tug toy around my neck so she can see it.  I throw the high value fetch toy and when she brings it back and drops it in my hand I immediately go into a game of tug. This works best if the dog is highly tug motivated, and understands that tug is a reward for doing something I want that may be lower value than what they want.  It also works well for Tess because her biggest issue in fetch is veering off of me at the last moment, trying to engage me in chase, or taking a LONG time to decide to drop it because she wants me to tug.  
  • Run away from the pup when they get the toy in a game of "chase the human" 
  • Sporadically try to beat the pup to the toy after throwing it (nothing like a little competition to get Tess motivated). 
  • Put a pile of 4 or 5 toys a couple of feet from you.  Reward the pup for finding and bringing the toys to you.  Eventually I want Tess to retrieve a specific toy so this is done in silence for now, except for a "good girl" when she brings me a toy.  I reward her, take it away and put it aside and wait for her to bring me another.  
Most of my problems with fetch revolve around keeping her motivated and interested in the game, and having her bring me the toy after she picks it up, so most of my game combinations are centered around reinforcing this.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2 new games a recall project update

It's working!!!!!  Every week I'm able to recall her in more and more distracting environments.  I'm working through my distraction list  (I have listed all the distractions that might cause her to ignore a recall, and rated them from 1 to 10).  Since the zoomie incident in my previous post, I've added 2 more games to our recall games to try to cement understanding of the recall word when it involves her leaving something interesting, and what's likely to happen if she doesn't keep an eye on me. 

Hide and Seek
I will admit that I dismissed this game when I saw it.  *MY* independent puppy would NEVER search for me.  *MY* puppy is FAR too independent to care if I fell off the face of the earth.  *SHE* would continue to live her happy little life in the absence of my presence. Even if she DID notice I was gone - her superior nose would tell her I was still in the area, and she would feel no need to search for me.

I was wrong....oh so wrong...oh so HAPPILY wrong. 

The game is this:  In a secure, safe area, give your puppy freedom.  When they are distracted and take their eyes off you, without saying anything, hide.  Let them whine and get really upset before making a noise to help them out.  When they find you, praise them and give them a treat.   The premise is that THEY should be keeping track of YOU, not the other way around.

I tried it.  In the school homeroom after hours, she took her eyes off me to check out the empty kennels in the area and I ducked behind a couch.  It took exactly 30 seconds for her to start whining and running around looking for me.  AND SHE COULDN'T FIND ME! 

It was wonderful.

She couldn't find me.  I had to start making noises.  When she found me, she was OVERJOYED.

It didn't take her long to lose track of me again - I immediately hid in a different spot. 

It took her about 10 seconds to realize I wasn't visible.  No whining this time, and she found me on her own without help, but it wasn't easy for her to sniff me out! 

She seemed a little confused.  Wasn't the game that I kept an eye on her?  Why did I keep disappearing?????  It's so distressing for a poor little puppy!

Since then, I've tried it in the back yard.  After 2-3 "hide and seeks" I couldn't get away from her to hide - she was DETERMINED to not let me out of her sight. 

Cookies in the Corner
There is an excellent video on MartinisRanch Youtube channel (linked on the resource page) that demonstrates this game.  I like it because it incorporates the collar grab game, sending away from you, rewarding in the R zone, and the recall.  The basics are you send the dog away for a low value treat, and immediately call them back for a high value treat.  They learn that no matter how much they want to sniff around the area of the low value treat....the good treats are with you!  A lot of my recall issues are related to Tess thinking (and getting) reinforcement from the environment that (she thinks) is higher value than what I can give her.....this game proves her wrong!!!!   

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Puppy Zoomies

Puppy Zoomies: Def. puppy brains leak out of puppy eyeballs.  Previously obedient puppy then turns into a gravity-defying missile that ricochets through space and time, running past you, towards you (and mostly) away from you.  Owner most likely turns into a chimpanzee, hooting and chasing.   As one might expect, this has a low success rate in retrieving puppy.

It's time for a recall project update!  I've had one case of puppy zoomies this week and while I did than the initial incident, I could have done better still.

What I did: Called her 1-2x when she broke criteria of the game (ran past the toy, then stopped to look at a man on the sidewalk).  When she ignored me and bolted, I didn’t panic this time - tried to keep track of where she went and follow her - but didn’t engage - didn’t chase - follow unobtrusively, tried to not let her see me.  I attempted to engage her in the game of "chase Mel" when she came towards me.

What I should have done:
Prevention: Drag a long line from her collar - We were in a safe (but not enclosed area) and while I've been granting her more freedom as she earns it, she should not have been at liberty without a line in this situation. The line I had was heavy, bulky, and picked up debris.  I had taken it off for the exercise we were doing because it was interfering with the lesson.  My friend has loaned me a light length of climbing rope since the incident and its much better.  She had been excellent during the lesson, so didn't expect to have an issue with our last toy toss/retrieve.  Without a line on, I should have thrown the toy much closer for the retrieve so I could have maintained better control.

Once the zoomies happened - Do. Not. Call. Her.  Even if I have a 50% success rate for recall in these situations, that's 50% too low and a major reinforce for her to continue to ignore me.  Instead I should have turned my back and walked away.  Perhaps even go around a corner so I was out of her line of sight if she continued to look at me, but not come towards me. Under no circumstance should I have moved towards her or chased after her. 

Zoomies are a result of her getting really excited - which is a good thing - not necessarily that she's trying to get away from me.  Once the zoomies start, it's not a recall issue unless I call her - and at this point in the recall project, calling her when I know I have a low chance of success is counterproductive.  Dealing with the zoomies in a neutral - not negative way - in order to preserve the enthusiasm for our play sessions, while reinforcing the lesson that she cannot ignore me is a fine line!!!  If I don't make a big deal of the zoomies and continue to reinforce the recall and having her keep track of ME through the games below and the recall project, eventually the zoomies will become a non-issue both because of training and she'll grow out of them somewhat. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Solution! - pulling on the leash

There are a lot of different techniques to solve problems in dog training.  My intention in these posts, labeled "solution", is to present a solution that I found to solve a specific issue in Tess's training.

There are a ton of resources to help you solve your training issue - hopefully these posts generate more ideas to solve training issues for you and your dog.

Problem:  Pulling on the leash

Solution: Discontinue "heel" ( defined as asking for a specific position by my leg on a loose leash) - instead, use "let's go", meaning - "whatever my leash length is, don't pull".  If pulling occurs - immediate 180 degree turns.

AareneX has commented both here and on my other blog about her method of teaching a dog to walk nicely by her side, and if you are having a similar issue, I highly recommend you go back and read her comments on this post here. 

What ultimately worked for Tess was a variation of what I read years ago in the "Monks of New Skete" books (linked in the resource page).  To teach leash work they recommended working within a virtual box (ie - there is no box - but the pattern you are walking is a box shape!!!), making sharp turns to both keep the dog interested in your path, to "test" the dog's attention, AND to correct a dog.  It's more of an "oopsy - I turned and you didn't!  You must have not been paying sad."

I dropped the formal heel entirely - heel means stay at a certain position - something that in my current training I refer to as the Reinforcement zone (RZ).  Teaching the RZ AND for Tess not to pull was too much.  So I broke it down.  Instead, during our informal walks and runs I used "Let's go" - which meant she could go anywhere she wanted at whatever speed - as long as she didn't pull.  This was MUCH more fun for her - she felt like she had some control of the situation and choice - while still needing to respond to pressure and my cues. 

Occasional bumps at the end of the leash were tolerated - after all, because I changed the leash lengths depending on the environment, she needed to know the breadth of her freedom.  BUT - any sharp tug (darting forward for example, after a distraction) or pull that wasn't immediately rectified was IMMEDIATELY met with a 180 degree turn in the other direction.  I continued at whatever speed we were moving at - whether that was a walk, run, or sprint. 

The first 2 days I looked like a COMPLETE and utter idiot.  Good motivation to get on campus EARLY and get my run over before classes started.  I didn't travel more than 1 linear mile in 20 minutes because of my running back and forth.  But now, 10 days later, I can get through an entire 30 minute run without doing a 180 correction except perhaps 2 or 3 times in very high level distraction areas.  Tess is having FUN on our runs, my frustration level stays very low - and the most important thing - based on VAST amount of improvement in a short amount of time, I think Tess actually understands the concept, because I've made the criteria very black and white, and it offers her more of a choice in the activity. 

I also like the concept that there isn't anything intrinsically "negative" with this approach.  90% of the pulling is because she gets fixated on something and darts towards it.  By turning around, we are moving away from the thing she is interested in.  It's only once she can walk/run towards and past it without pulling that she gets to go towards it  - which she wants, and thus is a reward for being good! 

I am told this exercise (turns, pivots) will come in handy once I start doing more with my Reinforcement Zone exercises, which will morph into my heel. 

I'm beginning to think that if you don't look like an idiot while training your dog, you aren't doing it right. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Crate Games with Susan Garrett

I spent my Sunday morning finishing "Crate Games" with Susan Garrett - a link to this product can be found on the resources page.

It was absolutely incredible. It's a bit pricey, I was fortunate to be able to borrow it from a friend at school.  After viewing it I can say without hesitation if you wanted to purchase one training video that would give you and your dog a good foundation for WHATEVER you wanted to do, this is probably the best "bang for your buck".

There is so much nuance in the crate games and the game applies to many more situations than I ever imagined when I outlined crate games in an early post.

I'm going to provide a quick synopsis of the DVD, including some of the key training points that I learned and was reminded of....but I highly recommend you beg, borrow, or buy a copy of "Crate Games" if you are interested in applying these principles. Another option is to explore the Youtube channels I have linked in resources - many of the videos on those channels cover crate games and you will be able to get a feel for how the game is played.  What I have provided as a synopsis here is not enough to explain the game fully.

Stage 1 - I love my crate

High value treats to establish value in the crate.  Dog does NOT come out of the crate. 

Stage 2 - Are you a Gambler

Dog still doesn't come out - but you delay treats, move around, provide a distraction like putting on a leash etc. to test the dogs knowledge that he needs to choose to stay in the crate, in a sit position until formally released.

Stage 3 - Yer out/Yer in

Don't play back to back games!!!!!!  This was my issue.....This is the first stage that the dog comes out, but you only reward when the dog choses the crate.  This is considered a VERY important stage, as one of the "life lessons" that goes along with this, is that when the dog isn't being given a job OUTSIDE of the crate, they should really really want to be INSIDE the crate.

Stage 3 - The collar grab game

The DVD puts this as part of Stage 3 Y, however I think it's separate from Yer out/Yer in because you ARE interacting with the dog when he's out.  I'm not sure whether back to back games are allowed with collar grab, or whether it's more of a transition game to the next stage.  This was the only unclear part of the DVD for me.  To be on the safe side, I probably won't play back to back games of collar grab, and will reinforce the collar grab as a separate game too.  The crate game is NOT named at this point.  Gradually work in an arc around the crate, continuing to latch between games. 

The sequence of this stage was shown as:
Dog sits
high reward
release cue
low value cookie after grabbing collar
activate opposition reflex
dog goes to crate
high reward
Close door
open door
low value with collar grap
opposition reflex
dog goes into crate
high reward

Stage 4 - Scholarly Elements

At this point Garrett goes through 5 "scholarly elements" to crate games.

1.  Naming the game - before you name the crate game you must have success at distance, different angles, understand the collar grab, and must have ENTHUSIASM.  Play the game, and name the game as you release the dog.  Don't close the door between repetitions - bungee it open to reduce chance of an accident. 

2.  Changed my mind - release the dog the moment all 4 paws are in the crate.  When they come back play an exciting game of tug.  You can try and "fake the dog out" but playing change my mind a couple of times, and then not giving the release work and seeing if they break.

3.  Adding distance - ping pong the distance - don't just go further and further.  Go far, then close, than farther, than a bit closer.

4.  Motivated recalls - In the DVD she works with releasing on the name - however I do not want Tess releasing on her name.  When I say her name I want her to look at me, not come.  So I will be working on this with my release word (OK) and my recall word (check).

5.  Distraction big leagues - throw all sorts of things at them when they are in the crate to see if they understand criteria - don't break the plan of the door, and stay in a sit (assuming that you have opened the door and they haven't come out yet).  Throw toys and treats.  If they make a mistake (violate a criteria, shut the door and start over.

At this point, "Crate Games" moved on to the applications of crate games and some advanced concepts.  This is where I thought the DVD really shined - explaining and demonstrating the game was only half of the DVD.  Working through it's applications and through "real life" situations that didn't have anything to do with competition is why this DVD would be appropriate for any dog owner that wants a good "dog citizen" and who wants to enjoy being around their dog more.  I'm only going to discuss the sections that I found the most relevant to me right now - more games, ideas, and problem solving tips were shown!

Advanced Crate Game 1

Garrett advocates here that having one dog in the crate with the door OPEN while working with another dog is actually a good thing.  The dog in the crate isn't anxious because it's their choice to be in the kennel while the other dog is working - yes they want to be out there playing, but they are choosing to be n the kennel.  Prior to bringing the other dog out, play Yer out/Yer in with the crated dog and leave the door open- this releases them from the sit because once they go back in, as long as the door isn't closed again, they can go into whatever position they would like, as long as they don't break criteria.  (Initially when the door is opened they need to sit).  The dog in the crate continues to be reinforced for choosing to stay in the crate as you play with the other dog.

Advanced Crate Games 3

I found this to be extremely motivating for me to do crate games with all 3 dogs in the household.  To be able to have them in a xpen (exercise pen) or at the front door and have them auto sit while I released them one by one?  Or to be cooking in the kitchen and have each dog be in a certain place on the floor until I released them and not have them go after dropped food?  Or to have a bed or mat in the living room that they could go to and stay on, just like a crate?  Even when there are visitors - the dog knows to stay in the bed, just like they would stay in a crate?  Or, let's say you are playing with your dogs outside and you want to "crate" one of them while you deal with something....and so you have them jump up in the lawn chair and they know that it has the same criteria as the crate - they will be rewarded for choosing the stay there until they are released.

Trouble shooting

Garrett worked through several issues, some of which related directly to some of the issues I'm having with Tess.  Tess "saunters" in and out.  For drive INTO the crate, Garrett asked -

Are you using really special treats?  Treats that they've never seen before?

Have you built up value?

Have you been helping the dog?

Have you been working Yer out/Yer in stage long enough?

Have you added difficult distractions too early?

Have you been working the change my mind game?

Ummm....All of these ring true for me - there is a reason our crate game isn't where I want it to be - and I CAN be successful at this!  There is a reason Tess doesn't have the drive I want to go into her crate - but I CAN create it.

For drive OUT of the crate, Garrett points out several key points -

Too much value - have I built too much value for being in the crate (probably not)

Lack of understanding - have I been consistent with the criteria, and is it entirely black and white?  Am I moving when I give the release cue?  (ummm......this sounds suspiciously like my issues...)

Too many distractions - be unpredictable with the release, sometimes release right away (I'm very very predictable and need to change it up more). 

Important training lessons learned for Crate games and beyond

Failure: Don't let the dog fail multiple times in a row.  During the stages in the game, once you have a failure, retry at an easier level and work back up to the original level of the failure once you have reestablished value and understanding.  If at later stages of the game, the dog failes 3x in a row (for example, when working at great distances) - the dog is communicating to you that you have a hole in your training.

Cues: Don't say it more than once!  If the dog looks back at you midway through going back to the crate, just wait.  True of most training - not just for crate games.

Shaping: Reward for offered behavior that is different and break up the shaping exercise often with games of tug and playing.  I'm really really bad at belaboring the point and working WAY past Tess's attention span....

Bottom Line
In summary, I felt that the DVD was a great value and demonstrating how crate games are essential foundation exercises no matter what the dog's job is.  My temptation is to push pass the boring essential games like crate games, without taking full advantage of the lessons they teach.  I have a renewed focus and motivation for crate games and can't wait for my next session with Tess.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The line...

...between success and failure is mighty thin. 

And often, whether an incident is a success or a failure is up to you and your actions. 

As you know, I've been working diligently on something I call "the recall" project.  Approximately 60 recalls a day in highly controlled situations, broken into several sessions a day, all with the aim of creating a VERY positive association with the word "check" with progressively high levels of distraction. 

I'm going to preen a bit and let you know that it is going really really well.  Well enough that I've let her start playing with Reed, her very very very best friend in the whole wide world, because (at least in the house) she'll leave her play and come to me!  Amazing! 

So, with this kind of success "banked", why oh why did a situation more reminiscent of our "pre-clicker" days unfold on Sunday? 

Because I turned what could have been a success - Tess recalling to me, even while she zoomed around the dog park like a puppy on meth - into a failure. 

Instead of standing up straight, saying "check" and then engaging her in a fun game of "chase the Melinda", I turned into a hooting chimpanzee.

I may have spluttered out a feeble "come", but mostly ran around, arms outstretched, hunched over, playing "chase the Tess". 

Intellectually I KNEW the right thing to do was catch her eye and run in the opposite direction.  Practically, it seemed impossible and predictably, my fear she wouldn't come to me turned into a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Imagine that. 

As I sat on the grass, my disgraced puppy cuddled in my arms (looking VERY happy I might add, with no understanding that she may have shaved at least 5 years off my life) my instant impulse was to:
  • Swear that she would never ever ever get to go off leash until her recall was perfect.
  • Restrict her freedom even more - insist that she be perfect on a leash before ever giving her the chance at freedom again.  
W came over and proposed a very different solution.

Give Tess more freedom.  Stop acting like a monkey.

She suggested that if *I* responded appropriately to Tess's freedom, Tess in turn would respond appropriately to me when she had freedom. 

Tess has proved she has a good recall - she's not ready for total freedom in all situations, but restricting her freedom more and more, even while she's offering a better and better recall is unfair.  Freedom is important to Tess - the ultimate reward.  Being too stingy with it will lead to Tess feeling as if she needs to "steal" that freedom whenever she has a chance.  Far better that she is given it as a reward for her offering good behavior and giving her "choices" as she earns more and more freedom. 

It's scary.  I freely admit that I'm a control freak.  I love my puppy dearly.  The idea of her laying broken and bloody in the road and it being my fault is absolutely devastating.  One of problems is that I can't even imagine her being good and responsive - my mind can only imagine the worse.  Even though realistically she hasn't really given me any reason NOT to believe that if I act appropriately, that she won't. 

At the end of the puppy play session, we finished up with some agility skills on the playground equipment.  My bold and independent puppy flew up an almost vertical wall (an "A" frame) and then tossed herself down a covered slide. 

Looking very proud of herself, she decided to go UP the slide and then she took a flying leap off the equipment.  She stood there, about 15 feet away, looking at me for approval of her new found agility skills. 

My first thought was to lunge towards her and grab the leash that I had left dangling from her collar. 

I moved towards her like a monkey.

She eyed me as if to say "play chase?".

I caught myself.

The line between success and failure is thin.  Whether we succeed or fail will be dependent on how I react to what she offers.  

I stood up straight.

I yelled "Good Tess!" and moved away, looking over my shoulder invitingly. 

She smiled and bolted TOWARDS me, sitting in front and looking up at me expectantly.

I have a good puppy. 

Puppy play notes 10/16/11

For more explanation on Puppy Play Note posts, see this post here

1.  Can you do it in a box?  Building on last week's "cue vs verbal", we discussed going one step further - can you do it in a box?  The concept is to be able to give a verbal cue, even out of sight in a box, and have them obey.  After confession time (J snaps her fingers, I clap during my recall....), our little group went through all our verbal cues without any physical ones, to see how many our dogs would obey on verbal only.  Tess's list of verbal cues is very short - sit, down, pout, check (come).  So we ran through our list very fast.  The good news?  Provided that the distraction level isn't too high, Tess will respond to these verbal cues with understanding.  The pout is our weakest - which isn't surprising considering it is the newest verbal cue!  This week I am focusing on reinforcing the understanding of the verbal cues of sit and down, by saying the cue as I walk forward for example.  I started this morning - as I walked forward I said "sit" - the expectation that she would immediately sit as I continued to move away.  Sit is better than down, and she seems interested in our new "game".  :)

2.  Paws on the bowl - the next step.  Tess now puts her feet on an overturned bowl and can rotate around the bowl.  By dropping my shoulder and inviting her "in" I can have her start the hip "swing" as she moves into a correct finish or side position.  Starting working on this concept this morning. 
  4. Restrained Recalls  The group played with doing "self restrained recalls" with a long line around a pole.  It takes a surprisingly large amount of coordination.....I promptly forgot my cue for a recall and generally tripped over my own feet.  Other recall concepts discussed:
  • Don't use the dog's name when teaching the recall - the name is an attention getter, not a recall or a release.
  • Say it once and don't "change" the command.
  • If the dog isn't looking at you during restrained recalls, you are too far away - move closer until you have the dogs attention and work from there.  
  • Don't lean over, clap your hands etc.  Stand up straight, say it, and keep your dogs attention - movement, moving closer before asking etc.  
  • Can incorporate a collar grab game into the recall game if you would like.
  • If you are teaching a sit in front in conjunction with the recall, you can let the dog nibble at the treat, grab the collar as the dog sits, and then feed the treat. 

5.  Giving a bit of freedom.  Tess broke her collar when she was tied to a pole on the outside of "play" (we were rotating through dogs doing restrained recalls).  She promptly took off in the "puppy runs" and ran around the unfenced dog park, generally having a blast.  I promptly forgot everything we had been working on and ran around frantically that was later aptly described as a "monkey" - my arms hanging down, hunched over, making strange grunting noises.  After someone had managed to grab my puppy and I hauled her back over to the pole, W explained me that I need to start giving Tess some freedom.  She has a good recall if I remember and follow some basic principles - don't engage in chase, don't hunch over, don't change my recall command - and the best time to experiment with a bit of freedom is during these group sessions when there are lots of people and lots of her friends to act as an anchor.  If I don't let her have any "freedom" and thus the choice to interact with me during "freedom", she will take advantage of any freedom to bolt.  I had a chance to experiment with giving her some off leash freedom (with great success) later on in the play session, but I'm doing a whole 'nother post on what I learned so I won't say anything else right now. 

This covers our "homework" from the puppy play group.  See the updated skills list on the top of the webpage if you are interested in everything we are working on. 

General notes: I was having a "bad" puppy day, had a slight headache, and was in one of those moods all day where I was annoyed at Tess for the most stupid things.  Wasn't Tess's fault at all (of course) and as usual, most of our problems or progress roadblocks relate to my cue or my body language.  It's so encouraging to meet with a group that can give me feedback - I don't stay "stuck" for long and I'm reminded that I DO have a good puppy, that she IS improving, and we ARE headed in the right direction. 

Friday, October 14, 2011


Hey everyone -

You may have noticed some changes on the blog - I have expanded the resources page and added a widget thingy to the side bar that is a slide show of sorts of different products that are on the resources page. 

The resources page has a couple of different purposes:

1.  Keeps all of my sources and tools in one spot as a reference for me!

2.  Let's interested readers know what I'm using and what I've used in the past. 

As I go along, the plan is to include a short review of items I've listed in the resource page - however, if you want to hear my experiences with a certain item that I haven't reviewed yet, send me an email at

I'm still experimenting on the best way to share what products I've really found useful and like - so please bear with me as I move stuff around and try different things.  :) 

The books, DVDs etc that are listed are linked to my amazon affiliate page, so I do get a referral fee if you end up purchasing, but I would encourage you to check your local library, or ask your friends if you can borrow their copies.  I own very few of the books and DVDs listed, most of them I borrowed from friends and the library. 

Please let me know if you have any questions and I'm happy to offer my opinion!  Also, if you have a favorite book or other resource, let me know so I can check it out. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The recall project - the beginning

The resource for this project is:  

Tess has a good recall.  It's excellent in low distraction environments or in places she's familiar with.  It's less than stellar when there are certain types of distractions - an excellent rawhide chew that she's found, birds, butterflies, and strange livestock.

Good is not good enough.

Recall is very important to me.

Maybe THE most important thing.

It was the first training behavior that I decided to utilize treats for, even before I learned about clicker training because I wanted to be POSITIVE and I wanted it to be PERFECT.

W pointed me towards the Susan Garrett article that I have posted at the beginning of this post.  Some of the concepts I have already started - keeping her on leash (even at home) if there is a distraction present that she might ignore me.  This includes playing with other dogs, large uncontrolled areas (fenced or not fenced), any location with lots of birds and butterflies.  Just by not letting her be distracted, and being more involved with her during play and her "free time" (time not spent actively training, or in her kennel) I've noticed an improvement - she's much more reliable.

After reading the article, I've decided to take a more structured approach and really "nail" the recall.  Did I mention nothing is more important to me than the recall?

The defining moment for me in dog training was chasing Tess through the fairgrounds during a bluegrass festival in a merry game of "chase the puppy".  She kept just in front of me.  I knew enough not to say come, as there wasn't a snow balls' chance in hell that she was going to respond.  I chased her silently towards the exit, and the only reason she didn't end up on the highway is because she skidded to a stop at a drainage ditch to drink.  I didn't let her off leash on purpose, I was grooming her and had my hand in her collar.  She did a colossal leap, evading my reaching hands (of course!) and took off.   She wasn't a bad puppy - she was a bored puppy.  We had reached a plateau in our training, I wasn't sure where to go past sit, come, down, heel.  I was treat training, but not clicker training and although I tried to keep it fun and engaging - compared to what we are doing now, it had to be dry and boring for her (and for me!).

The week after this incident, my classmate W offered to help me and Tess and introduced us to the work of clickers and molding behavior.

We've come a long way in a few short weeks, and it's time to add this layer to our foundations

Step 1-Decide on the command

I'm torn.  I've been really careful with the word "come" and it has a lot of positive "deposits".  It's easier for me to pronounce than "here", and it carries better because of the hard consonant.  But everyone uses come, including my boyfriend, who may or may not use it in the way I want - ie follow the process.  Does anyone else have a good word for their recall?

UPDATE:  I have settled on using "Check" for my formal recall word.  As in "check in".  I have a bad habit of putting "come" in a lot of every day tasks, so it's better that I use a completely seperate word.

Step 2- Compile a List!!!!!

I love lists.  I'm suppose to put down everything that distracts Tess that keeps her from coming to me when I call and rate them from 1-10.  I'll rate the major ones here, and add a more complete list to the skills list for future reference.

Fluttering ribbon
Horses and other livestock
Blowing leaves
Other dogs running at play
A really sumptious rawhide chew that was found leftover from another dog.
Other dogs on leashes
New place
Matt's shoes
Holt in my hand
Food scattered on ground
Container of food
Eating horse poop
People (men are more distracting)
Sniffing trash in kitchen
Couches and furtinure (she likes to jump on stuff and pretends to misinterpret commands as "up" - meaning get on something)
Out of sight
Grass (likes to flop around and roll and sniff)

Step 3-The plan
Three recall sessions daily, ~20 recalls a session.  Start with distractions rated at a 1 and see how it goes! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Showoff! - The Pout

I present to you.....

*drum roll*

The first *completed behavior that I taught by clicker training.  In fact, it's the first "new" thing she's learned since all that sit, down, come, and stay stuff back in those puppyhood days.

*I'm defining "completed" as a new behavior that I either molded or captured, and then named, and she responds to the command successfully when I'm showing her off to strangers.  

Puppyhood lament tangent - so hard to believe she's 7 months - I looked down one day and saw a lanky teenager.  Where did the puppy go that I could scoop up and cuddle in one hand? With a short cute nose and big ears that dragged in her food dish? 


Anywhoo - I showed her off the health center on campus and she performed the pout like a charm.  I'm ready to mark this trick as showoff ready! 

Of course, when I tried to get a pretty picture on the lawn tonight, she gave me this:

Froggy - a behavior that we are currently capturing but I'm not even CLOSE to being able to put in showoff category yet!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Post recommendation

Here is the post that inspired the earlier "victim" post.  It's in a slightly different take on the issue, and worth reading.

If you aren't familiar with Susan Garrett, I have linked her website, blog, and youtube channel in the "Resource" section of this website. 

Puppy Play 10/9/11 Notes

For more explanation on Puppy Play Note posts, see this post here

1.  The heel.  I've had the hardest time with the heel.  Tess resents it because it's not her idea and my frustration threshold for her constantly testing the heel is absolutely nill.  W assured me that I will NOT ruin my future obedience heel by using "Let's Go" and letting her walk on whatever length leash I give her, in whatever position she wants, without pulling.  This morning I went on a run with her, using "let's go" and it was hands down the best walk/run we've ever had.  We both enjoyed it immensely.  She didn't feel confined and rarely pulled.  It's back to foundation work for the heel and I won't use it in it's complete form for a while.

2.  Paws on the bowl.  This week Tess learned to put her front paws on the bowl.  The next step is to have her pivot around the bowl with her front feet in place.  This is foundation work for the heel.  I'll be able to teach my sit positions - finish, side, front - using the bowl as a position point for her front feet.

3.  Self correct position - don't really know what to call this, since it isn't a finished behavior/trick, but a transition behavior I need to get before I can start really working on the heel.  Basically, I walk a few steps forward and when she goes back behind my leg to correct herself into the right position I reward near my knee.  I'm rewarding when her butt is in the correct place - not worrying about the nose, since after the click, her nose comes to the treat position at my knee.  If I can get her doing this consistently, I will post a youtube video. 

4.  Cue versus verbal.  Does your dog respond to the verbal cue, or your body language?  Tess is very good on the verbal....if there is no distractions.  At the dog park, the cue barely worked, let alone the verbal.  Concept is - verbal only, wait, if no response then do the cue.  In this way you are pairing the two, since most dogs "get" the visual better.  It's really really really hard to control body language.  One suggestion was to do a cartwheel or handstand while saying the cue to make sure you aren't giving your dog body language cues you aren't aware of! 

5.  Resistance to the Holt.  Tess has accepted her Holt (head harness), but is still quite resistance if there is any pressure on it.  Much like a horse, I want her to GIVE to pressure on her head, so I will be doing some pressure/release stuff with the holt

This covers our "homework" from the puppy play group.  See the skills list on the top of the webpage if you are interested in everything we are working on. 

General notes: Tess was less focused than last week - but so was I.  Was late, had a rough weekend, and just wasn't really "on it", not to mention the LARGE mosquitos (both in size and number) were driving me insane.  My brain really is clicker stupid and for some reason it was REALLY hard for me to "get" exercise number 3.  It's one I really need to sit down and think about the mechanics of.  She's getting better and  better about not trying to rub the head harness off.  This week, she only tried it when she was laying down.  It's really fun to do something on a regular basis because even if you think you haven't made any progress at all, you realize "last week she was (insert annoying behavior here), but this week she's so much better!", which is encouraging.  Tess was even better about the other dogs than she was last week.  I've gradually be introducing more and more play time at home, as long as she shifts her focus to me when I call her, and as a result she's not lunging as badly trying to play with the other dogs while on the leash. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tess makes a decision

Ever had your dog do something "naughty", but it can't REALLY be called naughty because in reality you had total control over the situation?  But you still have an uncontrollable urge to blame it on the dog?


Good thing she's cute.  

Tess HATES her head harness.  Or rather, hatED, as in PAST tense.

We started out with a gentle leader.  I know how to introduce the head collar, I know how to use it, and yes, I know that there is an "adjustment" period - but eventually they DO adjust.


Tess did not adjust.  She continued to do spectacular efforts to get it off no matter what.  If it hadn't been for the fact that she was going to have damage to her throat if I used a more traditional collar or slip lead, I would have given up.  Then she started bolting from me when she saw it in my hand, and NOTHING would entice her - not even hot dogs.

One of my classmates had a head collar that was made by a different company called a "Halti".  It looked like they fixed most of the design flaws in the Gentle Leader that I felt were bugging Tess.

We had more success with the Halti - for the most part she could concentrate on the task at hand, not flail around like a fish, and while no amount of treat association would make her HAPPY to see the halti, she at least did not actively try to get away - settling instead on sad puppy eyes.

I've seen gradual improvement over the past 2 months until.....this week.  She wouldn't stop flailing around in the kennel during a crate game, so I walked away. 

I don't normally leave harnesses or collars etc on a dog in a kennel - I don't want a chance that they might hang up on the kennel.  In this case, Tess's kennel is in the homeroom at school with lots of traffic and I felt comfortable leaving her with the halti and collar on as a training exercise.

I came back to a chewed halti.  That was still functional.

My evil little idea had worked!  Minus a small, almost insignificant part, the Halti was still on and she seemed resigned.

Of course, I couldn't be happy stopping there.  To see if I could get rid of the last remnants of the rubbing and flopping I decided she would wear the halti continuously during the day for a couple of days.

Today was day 1.

Today she chewed the halt off in a matter of 30 minutes of being unintended.

I can't really blame her.  I gave her the opportunity.  She did what seemed like the logical thing to her.

We went on a walk and I discovered that she is neither significantly better nor worse in a flat collar compared to the Halti.

So, I'm making Tess a deal.

Don't pull and I won't put a head collar on you.  Otherwise I still have that Gentle Leader somewhere....

Update - Since writing this post, Tess is now the (not so proud) owner of a blue Holt head harness.  It fits a little better than either of the other 2 brands.  So I'm making Tess a new deal - I promise to not use it unless I need it - I'll attach one end of my leash to the flat collar, the other to the Holt - she just needs to wear the Holt like a lady - not a flopping fish - and I'll use the flat collar.  I promise!!!!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Playing the victim

I've decided to stop being the victim.

There are two other dogs in the household.  Both annoy me on various levels - from how they rush past me, invade my personal space, go insane when I get home, and get underfoot in the kitchen.  They are my boyfriend's dearly beloveds.

In the household there is a clearly deliminated lines of "her" dog, "his" dog.  That doesn't mean that rules aren't enforced for all, or that I never walk his dogs if he works late etc.  BUT, it does mean when his dogs rush past me outside I can roll my eyes and complain about how uncivilized they are. 

I'm playing the victim.

Guess what - that isn't fair.  Yes, he is ultimately responsible for training his dogs, just like it is my primary responsibility to train Tess.  BUT, that doesn't make me exempt from doing any kind of reinforcement with his dogs.  

We all live in the same (very small) household and my attitude towards training (I'll train MY dog, but not YOUR dog) isn't good for anything - including being successful training Tess - because when the other dogs "push my buttons", it makes me irritable, anxious, and frustrated - which (as you might guess) doesn't put in the best mood to be patient with a rather exuberant puppy. 

My boyfriend has different training priorities than me.  If I don't want his dogs to push my buttons - then it's my responsibility to install those behaviors that matter the most to me.  To continue to complain about and be annoyed doesn't fix anything - including the future behavior of his dogs.

And, if I'm being perfectly truthful - having 2 rather large and exuberant dogs in the household has it's benefits.  Tess was remarkably well behaved and focused at Puppy Play this week, because she's used to rather large and food hungry dogs bouncing around while we are working.

As a result, there's a new strategy! A strategy based on clickers, treats, rewards, and attention.  Because heaven knows the victim strategy has produced diddly squat....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Impulse control game

The impulse control game is another basic foundation game that I am playing with Tess.  Here's the video that was shared with my Puppy Play Group.

This is why I'm in love with this game -
  • Teaches impulse control.  Maybe your dog is is the epitome of control.....but I can trace almost ALL of Tess's basic training issues back to the issue of IMPULSE CONTROL.  Why does she turn into a puppy on a string as she dashes after birds and butterflies?  Why does she jump?  Why does she dig in the trash?  Why does she over enthusiastically greet other dogs?  Why is she distracted by people/dogs/butterflies/dogs/scents/sights/motion/insert-anything-other-than-my-presence?  Because she lacks impulse control.  
  • Introduces the concept to the pup of "what is the answer to the question?"  The question is "how do I get the treat".  The answer is "sit, don't sniff, and look at my handler".  This may be the very first time you've done something with your dog that required them to figure out something, without prompting for you. 
  • Introduces the dog to the concept of offering behavior.  They know I have a treat (LOTS of treats).  They want the treat.  They start offering behavior as the answer to the question.  
  • Introduces the concept of "sit to ask".  Very quickly after being introduced to the Impulse game, Tess is quick to offer a sit anytime she wants something.  To be let outside, if we are waiting by a door, if she wants to vacuum the kitchen floor (she's learned that if she chooses to sit OUTSIDE of the kitchen, and doesn't go inside the kitchen to scavange, then there is a treat - so now, instead of having her underfoot while I'm cooking, she is choosing to watch me from a sitting position OUTSIDE the kitchen - even when there is tasty scraps on the floor). 
  • Doesn't use the clicker or verbal commands - it's a very simple, basic game that is uncomplicated by devices.  I have yet to try this on any dog and not have the handful of treats be VERY motivating to find out the answer to the question.  It let's the dog self correct without the handler being the source of negativity (verbal no, or growl/unpleasant noise).  Thus it keeps in fun and the dog is motivated to "be good" without fearing they are going to be reprimanded.  
  • The impulse game easily transferred to non-food behaviors.  Tess has started to get better in many different situations, even when we weren't necessarily playing the game, and even when it wasn't specifically a handful (or bowful) of treats.  I've noticed more self control when walking on a leash and waiting at doors etc. 
  • Rewards and gives credit to the dog when they practice self control!  I think sometimes a dog feels a bit jilted when they practice self control (for example, don't dive after the chicken carcass in the trash) - they can dive for it and maybe get a treat....and maybe get a reprimand IF they are caught.  Or they can practice self control and guarantee themselves no treat....This game says "if you give up the possibility of a treat, I will guarantee you a treat and say YES Tess!  This reinforces a lesson of "restrain thyself" instead of the "don't get caught" lesson. 
What the game looks like right now!

I can place pieces of kibble and other treats on Tess's paws.

Tess will step over and ignore food placed on the ground in front of the kennel when playing the crate game.

I can drop people food (by accident) in front of Tess while eating lunch and she doesn't dive after it

When I place the food dish on the ground, she waits, with eye contact on me, until I say the release word.

We are applying the principles of the game to toys!

Waiting to go through doors, going down stairs.

What we need to work on....

She's not super consistent on all the behaviors listed above.  If she's in the "game mode" than she's very good....but if it's every day life and she has something fall in front of her nose....there's a 50% chance she'll dive for it (better than where we were....but needs to be better).

Toy control.  Need I say more?

The impulse control hasn't totally transferred over to non-food items - like butterflies!  and birds! and scents!  and the trashcan!

Going UP stairs.  She likes bounding up and down stairs.  Thus I put this under "impulse control".....the down is getting quite good, the up is still a bit out of control....

Monday, October 3, 2011

Puppy play and skill list

On Sundays I meet with a group of dog people (most of whom are my classmates) and W helps us with basic training techniques that are the foundation for agility, a well-behaved companion dog, and a good canine citizen.

When starting vet school, a good friend told me that I needed a study group - not necessarily for the studying, although I would need that too - but for the other support that a group can provide.

He was right - and it's true beyond school.  It is true in endurance and it's proving true in dog training.  I'm sensing a trend.....

I made more progress in 10 days, than I did in the past 3 months with Tess after W gave us a few pointers and basics.  Being part of a larger "puppy play group" that meets on a weekly basis is going help us continue that trend.

 Because I am new to dog training, reflecting on our progress and identifying where we need improvement is critical, and I'm using the blog to help that process along.  Unlike my other blogs, Tess's blog is more "training journal" oriented instead of being strictly commentary and narrative. These "training journal" type posts will all have similar titles and will focus on what I've learned in my weekly group training sessions.

Puppy play 10/2/11 Notes

1.  Have a plan - I mixed up capturing and molding behavior!  I was under the impression that when I set out to mold a behavior, that I just waited to see what the pup offered, and then molded from there.  NOPE!  As with horses, set out with a plan, including what the end behavior will look like, and how you will break it down for the learning process.  Capturing has it's place and you do reward, but molding is separate.  I realized that to have a good plan for our training sessions and teaching new skills, I needed to organize what Tess already knew and what needed improvement.  I compiled a current skill sheet for Tess that describes the tricks and commands she knows and learning, posted here.  It can also be accessed by clicking on "Skill List" link below the header of the blog.  It will be updated ~once a week.  It might be useful as an "idea" sheet for your own training.  I realized that the list is pretty impressive for a 6 1/2 month puppy!

2.  Name game - play the name game with the puppy - throw treats at them when they give you their attention.  It is NOT a recall game.  This will be important for Tess, because if I have her attention (by calling her name) is a 95% likely to obey whatever command I give her, including an off-leash come.

3.  Play the impulse game and insist on eye contact.  I've been lax on this particular clause, but now that she's gotten the point of the impulse game, it's time to take it a step further.

4.  How to name a command.  Once the pup is offering the complete end behavior ~80% of the time, you can start to name it.

5.  Did round robin recalls.  Tess looked confused when someone else called her name, but happily came when called.  When calling dogs - remember to stand up straight and not pitch voice.

6.  If you are trying to mold behavior from a position or an object that you have previously molded (and rewarded) from, the dog will probably try to repeat the rewarded behavior first.  Ignore it until the dog tries something else that is the first step towards the new behavior.  You won't "lose" the former behavior - once the dog is rewarded for a behavior they will offer it again (and again and again), even if they aren't rewarded everytime for it.  Example - Tess was presented a box and climbed on top of it and was rewarded for doing so.  Next I wanted her to push and flip the box over with her nose.  I stopped rewarding for paws touching the box and only rewarded for the nose touching.  She quickly offered a new behavior of pushing the box (and eventually flipping) with her nose.

7.  My dog can become better by being a "bad" trainer.  For example, if I wait a little bit longer than I should to reward the "pout" (a behavior that she knows really well now, and knows she should be rewarded for), than she might offer me a bear rug or a froggy, or a better pout which I immediately reward - and now I know I can ask for that behavior since it was offered.  I'm not a bad trainer all the time - but sometimes it pays to not be perfect with your training - you might get something good.

General notes: Tess was quite focused, even with all the distractions (off leash dogs running all over) and the grass (!).  She had no interest in playing tug, but was very treat motivated.  Performed all her tricks and behaviors, although "down" and "pout" took a while because she kept rubbing on the grass. Rarely fixated.   

Saturday, October 1, 2011


 I spend a lot of time thinking about motivation for the creatures that surround me.  If I can tap into that motivation helps make a willing partner instead of a resentful puppet during the training process. 

There's different "layers" of motivation.  It can be very easy to identify a motivation such as "will work for treats, or really anything edible", but there can be other, less obvious motivators that once recognized can help you teach a skill in a way that is efficient and works for that animal.

Recognizing how my animal differs in motivation from the "demonstration animal" will allow me to modify training ideas and regimes to help me be successful.

So.....let's talk about Tess.  (of course we are talking about Tess - it's her blog!)

Here the motivation "profile" I have identified for Tess.  This will also give my blog followers insight into the kind of puppy I have and provide a starting point for any advice you might have!!!! :)


  • Tess is food motivated.  Very food motivated. Will work for food - really anything.  Even kibble sufficient for most tasks.....
  • Second to food only is her love of playing "tug".  She ADORES it.  I'm sorta "eh" about it - but I recognize that she will go through elaborate rituals and literally jump through hoops to get me to play tug, so I humor her once in a while.  In the beginning I watched her carefully, since I had heard that dominance can be an issue with dogs that tug that have been allowed to win a lot - but I don't see that in her.  She plays tug with me a lot like she plays tug with her best friend, Reed the Golden Retriever.  Sometimes he wins, sometimes she does - but no matter who wins, the toy is always placed back into "play" really quickly. 
  • Motion motivated/fixated.  To get her attention quickly, move it. She's a pointer, and bred to hunt.  This is actually causing more problems than being useful right now.  Butterflies and birds make it almost impossible to keep her attention in large grassy fields. 
  • Likes to do a "good job" - You can actually see her how pleased with herself she is when she's taught herself a new trick (catching a ball), or when she's figured out an answer to a question or a new way to do something.  Letting her figure something out actually gives her greater pleasure than me telling her what to do. 
  • Speed - she loves to RUN.  Chase is actually another favorite game - something I'm fine with when I am the quarry - and I exploit that shamelessly during recall games.  But something I try to avoid playing in the other direction if you know what I mean.....

Knowing her motivation help me to identify her preference for activities.  Preferences are both clues to making the training efficient......AND identifies areas that are inherent weaknesses.  Below are some of Tess's preferences, and how I use them to my advantage.....and some of the training issues we have based on those preferences.


  • Tess consistently chooses "fun" and challenge over straightforward.  I think this is related to that "good job" concept above.  For example - when running around the yard, she rarely just runs - she would rather weave in and out under tables and chairs and leap over hydrants.  During training, I have to keep stuff fast paced and "multi-level".  She's quickly bored and impatient.  It's easy to push her too fast when we don't really have the foundations of the exercise down.  She'll do the task as long as it's new and exciting - but loses that consistency once she feels the game has become "hohum" and we should be moving on. 
  • Choses activity over relaxation.  If something makes her run really fast and jump really high with a large output of energy.....that's what she chooses.  
  • Choses the bold and independent path and makes quick assessments.  This is good because I rarely deal with a nervous or unsure pup.  BUT, keeping her attention (motion fixated) and keeping her close (because she's so bold) and keeping her interested in what *I* want to do, instead of her little independent self exploring the world....has been quite *interesting*.  
  • She's *highly* opinionated and *highly* creative.  She's quick to develop opinions and if I'm not observant enough to see what's going on, and then I have a lot of work to "undo".  She's convinced that while I'm clicker training her, she's actually training me and is quick to offer shortcuts and novel solutions.  *sigh*  And yes, sometimes I'm even duped into rewarding it with a treat before I know what I'm doing.  My brain is clicker stupid. 

Another example - the other dogs in the household

Last night, just for entertainment, I did some introductory clicker training with the other two dogs in the household - a 1 yr old Golden Retriever, and a 3 yr old German Shepherd.   The games I played and my process for "teaching" the games varied based on their very individual personality.  Reed (Golden) is lazy, craves physical contact, and lives to eat.  We played "Yer choice", an impulse game without the clicker, and I required him to sit for the reward (he's so lazy he lays down for everything).  It was relaxed and slow paced.  Harley (GSD) is anxious, craves attention (but not physical contact), restless, not particularly treat oriented, SUPER motivated by a "job", and thinks and offers incredible fast.  For her, I used a clicker and taught her to target my hand.  I needed the clicker in order to capture her thought because she moves from thought to thought so quickly.  The clicker also gave her approval in a non-physical way - but still gave her attention, and let her know she had "done good".

Each game was chosen with the dogs natural perferences and motivations in mind.  In time, both dogs will learn both games.....but I tried to set each of them up for success.

These principles are not just for dogs - I can apply these same principles to my mare Farley - and even to my cats.  Jonah (a cat we believe is probably a Siberian Forest Cat) has motivators that are more similar to most dogs, than to cats, and as a result it was easy to train him to come and sit.

If you can figure out what motivates the animal, with some imagination you can train it!

Further thoughts

The definition of a motivator is as broad as your imagination.  I'm learning from my classmates that have substantial experience in rehabilitating animals, that when considering motivation it's important not to project your own needs and feelings on the animal and try to evaluate them as objectively as possible.  For example, consider a rescue dog that has been abused (I use that term very generally) and has learned that attention = negativity.  While the human may see a poor frightened animal that they want to scoop up and reassure and give affection, the animal may want nothing more than to be left alone.  He is motivated by the need/want to be alone.  The kindest thing may NOT be to sit down next to the dog and provide reassuring pats - turning your back and ignoring the animal may be the best beginning.  The process and balance of working within their motivation (and perhaps over time gradually introducing the concept that affection can be a positive motivator) is part of the training (and rehabilitation process).