Sunday, February 20, 2011

Send Outs

Gata's send out is beautiful - fast and straight and good (not great) down 95% of the time.  The other 5% of the time she adds in some undesirable behaviors, like looking back at me over her shoulder, or spinning circles after running just a little way.  I know that these reflect confusion or uncertainty on her part.  I don't believe that Gata is "messing" with me.  I'm not sure that I believe that dogs do that at all, but I know that she doesn't.

I've been debating whether or not to try to fix this, since it's not really all that broken.  I've decided that there is absolutely no harm in going back and working on the foundation behaviors that we've put together to create her send out.  As long as I continue to work them positively and use variable reinforcers to reward good vs excellent execution I don't think that I will make it worse.

A couple of things I need to remember with Gata:
1. More than most dogs, she likes predictability.
2. Speed/running is self-reinforcing for her.
3. We have done lots of cone/pot work, so I will need to add those in as distractions on the field at some point in the future.  She needs to be confident in her decision to go "straight ahead" regardless of whatever else is on the field.  I know that cones on the field at MPSC have contributed to this problem.
4. Problem with Gata started when working with Dembouski and switched from my method in which we always did the down to his method in which most of the time the dog just ran out fast and straight to a reward on the ground.  When we again asked for the down all these other behaviors started.  She was no longer certain of what we wanted.

Basic method:
1. Downing on the step pad so that front legs are on the pad - no creeping forward off the step pad entirely or just enough so that back legs are on the pad.
2. Send to step pad and down (particularly important with Gata to always do the down).  Would break this into a few pieces with Tor - go to the pad, put both front feet on the pad, down on the pad.  Plus add in a "Mark" step for Tor.
2. Increase distance to step pad until it is no longer visible to her.
3. Increase distance until I am just downing her before she ever reaches the step pad.
4. Add in heeling with medium-length sends, add distance quickly with Gata.  I think doing too many short to medium-length sends increases the likelihood of undesirable behaviors with her.  It's almost like she starts to count paces and is "waiting" for the down command.

Other things to think about:
1. How close does Gata have to be to the step pad when she downs.  She likes to creep forward.  Do I want to deal with that now, too?  Yes, I think so.  What to do?  Mark the behavior with "Good" but ask her to "Back" up to the step pad, step on it, and repeat the down, until she downs on the step pad.  Which part of her has to be on the step pad?  Black and white, black and white.  Think about this!!!  If the decision is that her front legs need to be on the step pad then I need to work her down on the step pad before anything else.  OK - made up my mind, am going to do that and have amended basic method to reflect that.

2. Fading the step pad.  If I insist that Gata step on the step pad and then down with her front legs on it, I will have to figure out a time when it is appropriate to fade the step pad.  I may have to develop some smaller step pads or come up with another mechanism that allows me to fade it.

So, as long as I am going to be working send outs with Gata I am going to start teaching Tor the send out, too.  We couldn't add in the heeling at this point but will probably be ready for that by the time he gets the rest of it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

We have gotten wet over and over again the last few days.  So not surprising that we should continue the trend today.  It wasn't too bad though.  My timing was good.  Not like last night when I had the dogs on the field during the absolute height of the downpour.

Practiced long sends with Gata to a "Field Closed for Restoration" sign in the field ;-)   The goal is to get her running fast and straight every single time I send with no hesitation, looking over her shoulder or circling.  I know when this started and think I understand why it started but am not exactly sure the best way to get rid of it.  I don't know whether I should be marking the undesired behavior(s) and calling her back at that point or just ignoring those behaviors and rewarding her for going long and fast. 

Since she tends to get better faster with more repetitions, presumably due to increased confidence, I think I will simply reward her for getting there and hope that her growing confidence diminishes those other behaviors.  It's not a big problem but it shows up every now and then and not just for this exercise.  So I know it reflects confusion on her part.  It usually occurs when I see something that I thought was clever or someone convinces me to try something a new way.  Gata likes her routines.  I guess we all do :-)

Tor just got to do more puppy stuff.  Lots of long rewards for both dogs to wear them out quickly before it started to pour on us again :-)  What can I say?  I'm a wimp and I'm tired of having cold, wet feet :-)  The dogs will survive the rain and a few fast workouts.

What Cool Dogs :-)

Went out to club last night.  It was pouring down rain but Dave had prepared a feast and I had promised to bring homemade bread to go with it.  So had to go :-)

The field was essentially one giant puddle with a few islands of muddy ground.  The water was so deep in a few places that we couldn't even find the holes to set up the blinds!  But since the base is pretty hard and gravel packed it's sloppy but not very slippery.  I decided to just play around with Gata.  We don't have any trial plans so no real need to take any chances with either her or the helpers.

So I took her for a walk in a downpour and then went on the field to play around with some OB.  She is just so cool.  She couldn't care less about puddles or downpours or anything else.  If I want to play she is totally up for it!  She poured every ounce of her considerable focus and intensity into the silly games that we were playing and had an absolute blast.  I'm sure that the people there think I am absolutely crazy sometimes but it is really hard not to get into the game when your dog is that into it for you.  We didn't do anything in particular - just silly little heeling games, some out of motions that landed her squarely in puddles, and a couple of short send outs.  But everything got rewarded with big throws into even bigger puddles.  She had an absolute gas and I did, too! 

Then it was Tor's turn.  This was the first real rain that he has been out in.  Previously, he has only seen light rain showers and has mostly avoided puddles.  So I was really curious about what his reaction would be.  I wasn't too concerned - there would be plenty of opportunities for him to get over any dislike of rain that he might exhibit.  However, once he got out onto the field and realized how much fun he was about to have he didn't care about the rain or puddles either :-)  I had switched to the ball on a rope since everything was just so wet and sloppy and I wanted to give them some real throws.  So he had to have a few reminders about playing with that particular toy.  He is great with a regular ball but put it on a rope and it is something else to him.  He preferentially grabs it by the rope and doesn't want to out it.  But he did fine.  I was thrilled to see him splashing through the puddles to get to the ball and bringing it back with his signature leap into me :-)  Didn't really do anything serious with him either. mostly just about having fun in the rain.

Not surprisingly there were only about 10-12 of us there last night, including helpers.  I had planned for it to be an "off" week for my dogs but Dave wanted to work Tor so we did.  We did a little bit of barking work with him.  He's definitely getting the hang of that.  Dave and Dino played the 2 helpers throwing the sleeve around game with him and he was quite willing to focus on whoever had the sleeve and bark.  Then we moved on to outing from various different positions with him.  Normal position (me behind him while he is on the sleeve with Dave), dead sleeve position (from a cradle position), and having just stepped away from cradling him.  I never did any of this sort of thing with Gata and you can tell since she basically won't out the dead sleeve for me (or just smacks me up side the head with it!).  I like it for that reason, but it really just addresses the fundamental issue with so many SchH dogs - "Out" means out.  So, I am more than happy to spend numerous sessions reinforcing that concept with a dog that is very possessive and LOVES to bite.  Dave made sure that Tor had plenty of opportunities to bite the sleeve and own it, too.  He is very aware that we want to make sure that Tor's drives are satisfied by the work, too.

I have to add an editorial comment here.  I hear so many people talking about training their dogs their way and only being willing to work with helpers that will do things their way.  I did some of it when I first started getting into the protection sports with Gata, too.  And, Dave is by no means a positive trainer.  But after about a year and a half, I can honestly say that I have developed so much respect for him and his understanding of dogs and insights into training that I have absolutely no qualms about working with him.  And, though he occasionally thinks I'm nuts, he has always been willing to try to do things my way with Gata.  I am so glad that I overcame my reservations and, truthfully fears about working with someone that had been so successful when I was such a newbie, and started to train with him.  I have learned so much from him in the last year and a half.  And I'm looking forward to learning even more from him as we work Tor.  And, I'm pretty sure that he will learn some from me during that process, too.  It has turned into a real partnership, albeit one in which he contributes more on the field than me.  But the work that I do away from the field is equally important.

By the time the evening ended both dogs were a wet, sloppy mess.  The car is totally trashed from dogs jumping in and out in the midst of mud puddles.  I had rain gear on but totally swamped my shoes.  Need to, at the very least, groom both dogs today and should consider bathing them but there's nothing but rain in the forecast.  Lots of clothes and equipment to clean today but we all had a GREAT time :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Poor, Bored Dogs

Between my cold and the rain the dogs have had a pretty boring few days.  However, I have noticed a few things.

1. The citronella bark collars are working great for these two.  I really debated what kind of bark collar to put on them when I realized that I really had to do it.  I was afraid that if I chose the electronic bark collar Tor, at the very least, would develop a tolerance to the shock or potentially try to break out of the crate with it.  I have philosophical and theoretical issues with them as well, having to do with punishing a natural instinct and making whatever the dogs are barking at a more despised thing than it already is.  But having accepted that I had to do something, I opted for the citronella collars.  I am very happy to report that I suspect that within the next few weeks the only time that I will actually bother to put them on the dogs is in the car at work.  Tor has definitely gotten the idea that it is not OK to demand bark.  What a relief.  I'm sure that he will have recurrences but the quiet at my place the last few days while I have been sick has been blissful.

2. Both of my dogs are too skinny.  Tor worse than Gata.  I think that I had just grossly underestimated the amount of energy they were expending playing with each other.  I have increased the amount that each of them is eating.  In addition, I started adding some cooked oatmeal to their meat mix meals.  It seems to make Gata's stool soft so I am progressing more slowly with her.  Tor is doing great on it.  I think that he has actually started to gain some weight on it.  He's still thin but only about as thin as Gata, not skeletal any more.  What a relief.

In addition, I found out that Tor's daddy, Arras, is a bit bigger than I thought; about 26-26.5" and 84 pounds.  I wasn't anticipating that Tor would get that big and wasn't feeding him enough to start with.  So hopefully, we have that issue mostly dealt with.  I'm sure that as he continues to grow and mature that I'll have to adjust things from time to time.  But he was so thin that I was getting concerned.

I think we will be back to work tomorrow unless I have a bad night or my lungs are bad in the morning.  That's the problem with asthma/reactive airways, once they get going they are very hard to predict.  Oh well ... life's a bitch and then you die ... or in my case I decided to train one ;-)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ugh ... I feel kind of sick ...

Poor dogs, they suffer when I don't feel well.  Been fighting the cold that has been going around at work for about 10 days.  Thought I had it beat but guess I didn't get enough sleep this weekend and it's back.  So, I'm probably going to sleep the day away.

Headed to work and stopped at one of our favorite parks to play with the dogs.  Gave up after about 15 minutes, called in the dogs, and went back home.  Feel as limp as a wet noodle.  Upper airways hot - never a good sign for me.

The dogs will just have to make do with Kongs and little stuff today.  I'm sure that Tor will let me know just how unhappy he is about that ;-)   But at least he won't let me know as loudly as he would have a week ago!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Beginning of a Rainy Week

Winter is back.  We need more rain so I have no complaints.  The dogs like the cooler weather, as do I. Think it makes us all feel good all under to quote an old boss ;-)  If my Dad or brother are reading this, they'll recognize that quote :-)

Nothing special with the dogs today - sort of an easy Monday after a busy weekend.  Both dogs wore their spiffy new citronella collars while in the car at work.  I hope that is going to be enough to keep Tor quiet.  Realized that the collars are definitely being triggered by other things.  I'm not thrilled about that - muddies the message.  Still, I think they are discriminating enough to do the job.

Gave them both a quick run this morning.  Played the ball sharing game with them.  Ended up having a pretty spectacular crash between them anyway.  Tor was going for the long ball.  Gata was with me doing little things for short tosses.  She was going for a short toss when Tor slammed into her with speed on his way back with his ball.  He decided to get hers, too.  That was enough for the morning.  Gata was a little hesitant to put her left front down but walked it off within a dozen steps.  Still - hate to see that sort of stuff.  Makes me very nervous.  Have been moving more toward another park that is really nice, close to work, and well lit enough to work on it in the morning before work even though it is still dark out.  Like to let them just blow off some steam now and then but not if it is going to cause visits to the vet.

Worked both dogs over by Google this evening.  Worked on Gata's SchH send out.  Gave her a throw on a particularly nice run out as she was running to reinforce the speed and straightness.  Ended up getting some of that circling behavior that drives me crazy.  But she does know her job and that only occurred once.  The next send out was beautiful - fast, straight and a very fast turn and down.  She did that about 4 times - all beautiful.  Rewarded each a little differently and that was about it.  All the rewards were long throws - her favorite, difference was in the timing, direction of the throw, and where I threw it from (start position, next to Gata, partway).

Tor was just the basics again.  Realized that I have lost the basic positions in strange positions relative to me.  Have been doing too many in front of me, as part of fronts and with outing the tug.  So have to go back and work on those again.  I don't expect it to take long but I should know better.  Part of it also has to do with the toy reward (tug or ball) - he freezes up a little sometimes when that has come out.  Anyway, more to work on ...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Update - 2/13/2011

The dogs have been doing alot more than just barking in the car or Candy's garage for the last week or so.  It's just that we've been very busy and that means less time to write.

Tor is making tremendous progress in just about every facet of his training.  Pretty much the only area that I am not very pleased with him in is his weight - he is as thin as a rail.  You should not be able to see ribs through the coat of a Terv, even a Terv with a light coat.  He is almost embarrassingly thin.  You'd think I don't feed him but he is growing so fast and is extremely active and intense and he just burns it all off.  I've added more variety to his diet and am giving him extra canned venison or beaver tripe with pretty much every meal and am putting more oatmeal (carbohydrates) in the meat mix.  I'm considering adding some sweet potato or a high quality puppy kibble as well.  He looks totally healthy and seems fine.  He is just too thin for my tastes.

Everything else is going well.  His "Out" is really pretty nice at this point and is solid on me, Dave and a couple of other helpers, too.  His heeling work is going well although it probably doesn't look like much yet.  I decided to go essentially 1-step at a time going for perfect position before we move on.  He's heeling mostly for food - a head-up heeling position, but I occasionally use a tug for his reward.  It's painful to work food with him because he really does try to gnaw it out of your hand.  Working on that, too, but forget about it sometimes and that usually results in a painful reminder.  His tracking is also going well.  Again nothing fancy, just really solid work on pretty basic puppy tracks.  Working a modified Dildei method in tracking.  I don't agree with him on tracking straight lines so much but like the idea of using food to build hunt drive.  So there is still food in every footstep but he is already doing multiple turns.  He's like Gata in that way, turns help to slow and settle him down if he is working too fast.

His focus is really great.  He's like Gata in that way, too.  I worked just a little OB with him on the field on Friday while there was about 5 other dogs out.  He was a little distracted at first but quickly focused on me.  Did lots of rewarding for attention with a tug or ball.  Also worked a little on baby judge stuff.  Had him hanging out on the field around a group of guys that were talking and pointing but didn't have them touch or examine him, just had him sitting or standing and watching me.  Also working on building duration on all of his basic positions.

The one thing about Tor that is a challenge is that he is very single-minded in his focus.  If he is heading out to track - he wants to track.  He doesn't want to sit and give me attention before starting, as in reporting in to the judge.  He's the same way with protection work.  So it is going to be really important to build in those things as part of the "start routine".  In protection I think almost all of his bites will be coming through me.  I suspect that he will need very few repetitions with the helper initiating the activity for him to understand those triggers.

Gata is doing great.  She is learning some basic agility skills - distance work and obstacle focus away from me.  We are working 2-on/2-off contacts much of the time with Derede but I'm not sure that we won't also have to work running contacts with her.  It is unlikely that she will ever hit any of her up contacts unless we train them with her soon.  I should probably spend some time learning more about training running contacts but really don't have the time/energy for it.

Her OB is going really well.  Her heeling position is better than it has ever been - forging is almost gone.  Her out of motions are getting pretty solid for her and her send out is awesome.  Need to check on her retrieves again soon but need to rearrange the car first ;-)   Really need to get back on the long down under distractions.  Not saying that these issues have been fixed just that they are all improving dramatically.  Too bad I didn't teach them right the first time.  It would have been much less trouble to maintain them.

Finally, got Tor's new crate situated in the car.  It's a little bit of a squeeze for him to get in the door - weird angle.  But he is fine with it.  He looks so much more comfortable in it.  It was getting pretty bad in the old crate with his back up against the top and hair sticking out of it from all angles.  Will try to finish the rearrangement of the car next weekend and get both crates strapped in.  Then we'll be good to go :-)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Peaceable Kingdom - or An End to Nuisance Barking

I debated and debated and tried every positive technique that I knew but Wednesday I ordered citronella bark collars for both dogs.  I knew that my neighbors were tired of listening to Tor's demands and I had gotten in a bit of trouble at work for having my barking dogs in my car, even if I was parking off campus.  Nuisance barking was getting me lots of unwanted attention and I wasn't even sure that it was really happening or which dog was primarily responsible.  Gata has always been as quiet as a church mouse in the car but is a little guardy and doesn't really like skateboards.  There is a skateboard park very near where I have been parking at work.

So I ordered a couple of citronella bark collars and left the dogs at a friend's place during the day.  She had a couple of open runs in her garage that they could stay in.  The first day she told me that it was Tor raising a fuss.  Nothing major, just boredom.  Along the lines of "Hello".  "Anyone out there?"  "It's me, Tor."  "I'm stuck in here"  "Maybe you could break me out and we could go play?"  "I'm really friendly."  "I'm sure my mom wouldn't mind."  "Hello."  "Anyone?"  "Hello" ...   You get the idea.

Anyway, so I put the collars on and it has been blissfully peaceful ever since.  I even worked Gata in front of the car a little bit and Mr. Jealous Demand Barker was not in attendance.  The funniest moment came the evening after they arrived.  I was getting ready to go to bed and had taken Gata's off, Tor still had his on.  Tor was snooping around in the kitchen.  He's not allowed in the kitchen and it is one of those rules that Gata has taken upon herself to enforce.  She gave a single loud enforcer bark, which triggered his collar to spray.  It effectively corrected Tor for being in the kitchen and Gata for barking at the same time :-)   I couldn't have done it better myself.

The dogs went to my friend's place again yesterday.  She doesn't work on Fridays so she could give me some more feedback.  I decided to put the collar on Tor only.  That would help me figure out how much Gata was contributing to the problem.  She has a plywood panel between the 2 runs since one of her dogs is dog aggressive.  So, I didn't think that Tor would get sprayed if Gata barked.  Anyway, Candy said she heard one teeny, tiny bark out of Tor as I drove away and that was it.

I thought it might cause problems with their bark and hold, something that Tor is just learning.  But no problems were apparent last night at club.  Tor actually did his first barking on the helper.

I am combining the collars with lots of positive reinforcement for silence at things that would normally provoke barking.  So, hopefully, there won't be much fall out.  At this point, though, my principle thought is ... why did I wait so long?!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thoughts on Heeling

As I start the process of teaching Tor heeling there are many things running through my mind - training principles, mechanics, and previous things that I have learned.

It all starts with a few observations about the differences between Gata and Tor and identifying what I want the final picture to look like.  Essentially, I want Tor to heel like Gata - head up, prancing, intense, powerful.  Gata looks graceful when she is heeling but not in a refined, elegant way; it's in a more powerful, barely contained, get out of her way she's going to explode at any second fashion.  That's what I would like from Tor, too.  However, he is a very different dog than Gata.  He does not move the same way that Gata does to start with.  He is lighter on his feet than she is and at the same time more firmly rooted to the ground than her.  Though he is a very powerful dog, I don't see it in his movement the same way that I do in Gata's.  He stalks me much more than any dog ever has before.  And if I am entirely honest, I don't really like the look of dogs that do the stalking heel.  I don't dislike it, but I prefer that the dog move more freely in heel.

Also, Gata was heeling as well as most dogs ever do at about the age that I got Tor.  So she learned to heel when she was physically small and essentially had to trot and keep her head up just to keep up with me.  As she got bigger and her stride lengthened she had to slow to maintain her position and that essentially turned into her "prance".  She already had developed the muscle memory that dictated that heeling is done at a trot so it never occurred to her to do a flat-footed walk to heel.  Tor is already 7 months old and the mechanics that he learns will be much different than the they were for Gata.  He does not need to trot to keep up with me at a "normal" pace.

So then I think the biggest issue is how to start?  Should I start with movement or with position?  I'm afraid that I won't be able to capture the movement with Tor due to his tendency to go into stalk mode, which I don't want.  So, I think it makes most sense with him to start with position.  Maybe even to the extreme - reward for a perfect basic position, then 1 step, 2 steps, etc.  Then as he gains confidence in the position add speed and movement and hope to add in the power and prancing that I like.

There is no question that he has the physique to do the prancing.  He does it all the time when he is playing.  So if necessary, I could almost train the position and movement separately and then combine them.

We'll see how it goes ...

Tor in the Park, Full Face, 2/5/2011 - 7 months old

A couple of pictures of Tor in the park yesterday. Not the best but not bad considering I took them with my BlackBerry :-).
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tor in the Park, 2/5/2011 - 7 months old

Second picture of Tor in the park yesterday.
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Sitting around drinking coffee ...

And desensitizing my dogs. Gata has been getting a little more protective and guardy of the car. Mostly as a result of a couple of bad experiences but definitely getting worse with time. The addition of Tor has only made it worse. Now I have 2 dogs barking in the car and egging each other on. So, I'm sitting in front of a busy coffee shop and rewarding my dogs for being quiet. What could be better on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in February???

Special thanks to the nice guy riding the really cool Ducati motorcycle who parked right behind me.  He let me use him (in his helmet) and his motorcycle as a desensitization exercise.  Both dogs doing really well by the end of our time there but I'm sure we will continue to work on this for awhile.  I HATE dogs that bark in the car - NOT COOL.

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