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.