Friday, April 13, 2012


Most of my "vet school revelations" end up over on the endurance blog, but today I learned a most amazing fact. 

Parvo wasn't found in dogs until 1978.


The disease that was THE puppy disease at the clinic at worked at - what we warned our clients about, the reason we recommended that puppies be carried into the clinic and not go anywhere until they were finished with their puppy boosters (not good advice BTW - it IS possible and NECESSARY to socialize puppies before their boosters are done) - yes, the disease I lived in fear of when I had to let Tess out of the car on the way home from Oregon so that she could pee.  THAT disease wasn't even in dogs until I was almost born. 

There's a very similar disease in cats that causes panleukopenia.  Apparently, cats having lived with this disease for a very long time, have learned to cope and do pretty well.  Dogs on the other hand....well.....apparently having the disease only 30-odd years makes it pretty awful. 

I knew about it coming out from both ends in the puppies, and how super infectious it is, but today I got to see the pathopysiology and let me tell you - it is not pretty.

Sure, there are other awful puppy diseases like Distemper, but to imagine a world where I don't have to worry about parvo is really hard for me.  To imagine what it was like to be a practicing vet in the 70's when this disease starting hitting dogs must have been amazing (from a disease/epidemiology port of view) and awful all at the same time.  It's amazing that we have such an effective vaccine against this disease that hasn't been around for very long. 

It makes sense to me why there are so many vets that still recommend that puppies are completely kept out of public places until after all boosters are done - the recent memory of a parvo epidemic is still fresh.  Better safe than sorry.  I also understand why the "older" generation ( cliche) sometimes seems a bit oblivious to the dangers of parvo. 

Veterinary Science is so cool!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dog play

Recommended post

When I got Tess, I didn't really know how to just play with a dog.  I had read all sorts of books and I knew I wanted to do agility, but I really didn't know what it looked like to train an agility dog, and I had all sorts of "have-to's" and "nevers" floating around in my head.  Things like:

-never play tug with your dog and never let them win if you do.
-let them blow off steam and make sure they are tired when you start your training sessions
-make sure you are the dominant animal in the relationship.
-don't rely on treats because your commands will be "tricks"
-Using a head collar or other training "device" to teach leash walking means you failed.  

Of course I got good advice too:
-get a puppy when you can spend a lot of time with in in the first couple of months (I quit my job early, and spent the first FOUR months with Tess at home without a job or school).
-crate training is essential
-puppy is in the crate when it isn't being directly watched or interacted with
-use the gastro-reflex, crate training, control of food and water etc. to house-train.  House training must be 100% positive.
-Make sure the puppy has a wide variety of toys that fit different needs.

I knew I would be getting a puppy from Tess's litter before they were born - so I had LOTS of time to plan and think and read.  I decided early on that no matter what I was reading, I would train my recall using treats.  I had seen some research that said that behaviors trained with treats tend to "stick" better, especially if you randomly treat.  Recall is so important to me, I decided I would do whatever was necessary to make it 100%, and it looked like positive training with treats was the answer.

After the first 3 days, realized I had a bigger problem.

My puppy didn't like me.  Didn't see any value in checking in with me, being around me, or hanging out with me.  She didn't see any value in me other than when I said "come", and then it was a quick dash away.  She didn't like being petted, didn't care about verbal praise.  Alternatively, she saw LOTS of value in Reed, the golden retriever.

I decided that step one wasn't getting her to sit, down, or even come.  The first step was building a relationship.

The good thing was that she was very very VERY food motivated.  (And toy motivated until she discovered I wouldn't play tug with her. )

I made my decision then that I would use treats.  Lots of treats (actually, mostly her kibble, deducted from her meal).  Every time she looked at me I threw her kibble.  Every time she came up to me, I threw her kibble.  Every time she acknowledged me, I threw her kibble.

Looking back, I'm not sure what prompted me to depart radically from what I had preached to family members and friends and jump "off the deep end" in regards to food, treats, and what the human-dog relationship should look like.  I'm eternally grateful for whatever little trigger occurred because I firmly believe that if I hadn't made that change when I did, I wouldn't have the companion I have now.

So now I had a puppy that actual had some value for me.  But she still wasn't interacting me like I had dreamed she would.  My model of course was Reed (Golden Retriever) who had spent his entire puppy hood (and adult hood, if you must know), GLUED to someone's side and seemed to derive his entire satisfaction from life from "his people".  Can you believe I actually thought I would get a dog like this by choosing whatever breed from the AKC sporting group? *shakes head*.  Of course, I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun, or learned as much if I had!

Anyway - I digress.....I spent my afternoons in the back yard sipping wine and watching the puppies play (ah the delights of a summer off....).  I had no concept of how to play with a dog or puppy beyond fetch - a delightful activity that none of my childhood dogs - but I knew that it was an important piece of the relationship puzzle.  Tess LOVES Reed and so I started to observe HOW they played.  How the engaged each other, their body language, the actual play, how they communicated intentions.

And then I tried to mimic it.

We left toys out of the picture - I still didn't know that tug was OK - but I started to get on the floor and just play.

Oh sure - we worked on sit, come, down, stay etc. - but we spent far more time on the floor wrestling and running and rolling and being silly.  And guess what?  My puppy started to like me, to choose to be with me, and see me as a source of good and fun things.  And that's when we could start to work on those other behaviors like come, sit, and down.  Relationship comes first. 

After starting school and meeting agility people and other dog trainers, I realized the benefits of positive training, tug, treats etc. and I was ever so grateful I had decided to through my conventions out the window and listen to my dog. 

BTW - Relationship STILL comes first.   If I'm having a problem, especially as it relates to recall or leash work, it's time for a relationship check.  Will she tug with me?  Chose to play with me?  On Sunday afternoon I got frustrated during a training session and among other things, put her in a forcible down stay.  It was unfair of me, and Tess knew it.  I spent the next 24 hours doing damage control on our relationship.  Oh sure, she still listened and responded when I said "sit", "down", "come", "weave", "bow", "pout",.....but the she was not thrilled to please and play with me.  Whereas before she would do ANYTHING to get me to notice her and initiate play, now she suddenly found anything more interesting to me - including grass, mud, and the cat.  Only after 24 hours of relationship games was the relationship repaired to the point where Tess once again chose me over the environment, and was a willing, engaged partner.  The more I pay attention to and evaluate relationship, the more successful I am in training tasks, tricks, responsiveness, drive, and motivation.

Susan's blog (linked above) talks about watching 2 dogs in play in order to gain insights have how they play.  I often use this trick.  Last fall, after realizing that I needed to teach Tess how to tug (since I had all but extinguished that behavior) I watched her tug with Reed to discover how she liked to play with the toy and then tried to mimic that.

Tess considers off-leash play with Reed the highest form of reward.  And yes, since they are both toy motivated, it sometimes includes a rope or other toy.  Their play is always supervised more because I can learn an enormous amount about behavior and motivation than because of any real danger to either dog (not to mention it's a training opportunity for recalls and a reminder to Tess that this high value reward came from me).

My advice if you are having problems with your dog is to watch them.  What do they like?  When do they take their naps?  what is their favorite toy?  What is their favorite way of playing with it?  How do they prefer to initiate play?  Training isn't necessarily bowing to every wish and whim of your dog - but understanding their needs, wants, and motivations is the first step towards shaping a relationship of your choice. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

4-8-12 Training Session

Part of my weekly goals is to record one training session.  It's really helpful for me to evaluate myself, and it's good experience to "be in the spotlight" since eventually my plan is to compete with Tess.  There's something about having someone watch you, even if it's a video camera, that makes everything go screwy.....

Today's session is uploaded to youtube and includes notes. (it's hard to see the notes unless you blow it up to full screen - sorry about that).

For some reason recording sessions makes me REALLY distracted and Tess can sense that my attention is a result she isn't as focused or motivated.

This was the first part/skill of the session - I went on to let her play with the ball, and do some other toy related stuff, and a session of Yer choice since she was SO distracted by the treat bowel (had cooked sausage in it for recalls among other tasty things) but this was the best part of the session and so just chose to share this.  Letting her play with obstacles (like the ball) really revs her up, so I probably should have "sandwiched" the shaping session (although this was more of a luring session), between 2 high drive obstacle exercises instead of putting the shaping first.

Why did I chose to lure her into going under my legs instead of pure shaping?  We've been doing a lot of shaping and I didn't want her to get confused that I was asking for something new.  I did fade the lure as fast as I could - if you notice, there was not luring after the initial introduction to the activity.

I forgot to set my timer for the session - as a result, as you can see by the length of the video, the session ran 6 minutes instead of my planned 3-4 minutes.  It's VERY difficult to judge the length of time without a beep every minute or so.

As a side note, some of you may be wondering why I'm bother to teach something like this?  A couple of reasons:

1.  Yet another fun thing we can do together that engages Tess and teaches her that I'm the "best cookie" in the world.
2.  Yet another thing that engages her brain and causes her to think about something
3.  Stretches and uses her body in a different way.  I ask her to do many physically challenging things and I try to balance those skills with tricks and activities that stretch her muscles.  Jumping and running the A-frame requires strength - but it's not the best way to build strength because you can injure the dog - so I do alternative strength activies (and related stretching) to gain a level of fitness so that Tess can learn the technique of jumping. I use the peanut ball for ab strength training, this crawling behavior to stretch afterwards, handstands to strengthen the back, yoga for stretching etc.

Things I really like about this video: 
-even though I was distracted, Tess stayed fairly engaged throughout.  She had one moment of running into the kitchen instead of retrieving - but she didn't do any sniffing stuff.  She was sorta in "slow-mo" mode, but now that I realized that I should have put a higher drive game on either side of the new shaping session, that makes sense. And I can see how distracted I was - it's obvious I'm splitting my attention between Tess, the camera, and where to put the feed bowl.  Tess can definitely tell.....
-I was pretty consistent about not treating for behavior that was "close" but not criteria.
-I realized after watching the video that Tess is all grown up!  

What needs to be improved:
-early in the behavior I'm clicking too late
-More Yer choice in the beginning of the session if realize the treat bowl is going to be a problem.
-Figure out where I'm going to put the treats BEFORE I start the session.  Even though I was good about getting everything staged before the session, that was the one thing I hadn't thought out.
-Should have used the crate games, or some other relationship game other than just toy play between the shaping.  I didn't have enough room to really throw or play and I was trying to manage the treat bowl, the ball, and the camera at the same time.
-I need to stop worrying about whether the camera angle etc. is good.  In this case I did 3 things and 1 of them came out good enough to share.  Chances are, if I just act normal and go about my training "normally" I'll get one or two things good enough to share.  
-Use a timer EVERY time.

Overall I give this session a "C".

The best thing about doing a video analysis of the session......
it was really really really helpful to see and it's going to make it easier for me to do it better at the next session.  I do an indepth analysis of each session that I write in a training journal....BUT there's nothing like seeing a video of yourself and making a commitment to post in a public place to make the lessons sink in.   I think taping myself on a regular basis and sharing it here is probably one of the best things I can do to improve as a trainer.