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.   

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