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.