Monthly Archives: June 2014

Day 18: No Behavior Is Ever Trained

I have decided it’s time that pups and I got back to basics in our training. Back to doing core Recallers games, back to maintaining and upping the criteria in Rally Obedience, back to doing more self-control, just plain old basic stuff. It might not be fancy, but it really has a great impact on the big picture and right now it feels good to do basic stuff.

So this morning I focused on dogs touching my leg during heeling which meant I was clicking almost every step. I had to click this often for Java because she tries to offer all sorts of stuff since I taught her to go backwards around me (she looooves that trick!) and I wanted to make sure that she understood what we’re focusing on. I didn’t want to create a chain of move away from my leg – move close to my leg – slide her butt behind my leg (the start of going backwards around me) – correct position – click – treat. I wanted her to be in correct position 90% of the time. That went well. Then we did heeling over kibble on the floor and I noticed that after I deliver a treat she glances toward the floor (to check if the kibble is still there, no doubt) then she looks up. So I started clicking before she looked down which pretty much meant I was clicking and treating continuously while we were walking over kibble. She stopped trying to look down pretty quickly. Of course we didn’t get much duration yet, I’m saving this for the evening session πŸ˜‰

For Ruby I also had to click very often because he developed a habit of walking 10-20cm away from my leg, which is not so bad in itself, but it seems to me like he’s moving further and further away with each Rally Obedience class and I would like to stop the trend. So today the criteria was that he had to touch my leg while heeling. Not too bad, but not good enough that I would add distractions to the picture, so instead of walking over kibble I had a different distraction exercise for him: I put him in a down and did recall to front with an empty food bowl near his path. That went good, so next time I filled the bowl with kibble. This is similar to one of Recallers exercises that he knows well, so I didn’t expect him to try to eat the kibble, but in RO class he sometimes veered toward the bowl instead of coming to me in a straight line. I am sure he would come directly to me if I used his recall word, but I never use that unless I intend to reward him really really well, and in RO I don’t plan to have a party after recall, so I was using an informal recall to get him to come to me. Now I need to teach him to come in straight line on this cue. Bowl of kibble didn’t even get a glance from him (I also had kibble, so my rewards were no better than what was on the ground). Very pleased. πŸ™‚ Now I need to find the minimal situation in which he will fail.

Another problem that creeped into our training since we started doing RO was randomly getting up from a sit. Ever since Ruby was a puppy, Sit meant “sit there until I release you” and it worked really well once I proofed it. I only used one release word “OK” and he was listening for that. I could shout out “Orange” or run around, or throw his favorite ball, or throw a ball and let Java chase it and he would maintain that sit until I said OK. But with Rally Obedience exercises I didn’t always say “OK” before I gave next cue. Of course giving the next cue releases him from Sit so he can do what I cued, but apparently this has thoroughly confused him because he will now release on all sorts of things that were never meant as release, even just plain movement. Need to work on that release criteria more. This will be fun πŸ™‚

In one of the videos for the Recallers 5.0 Susan Garrett said that no behavior is ever trained. It’s either improving or it’s deteriorating. So true. I should have this framed on my wall!

IfItsNotImproving

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Day 16&17: Storms

There is a storm above Ljubljana right now. My sweet Ruby is a bit worried… I let him sleep on my bed on nights like this. I may get less sleep, but he feels safer. I love his soulful eyes, watching me as the grumbling above us continues.

There is a storm in my life as well, with Java’s mystery injury still unresolved and Ruby’s toe clearly not on the mend. I am hoping, waiting, waiting… waiting for the vet visit this Wednesday. Oh it is coming up so slowly. No one seems to know what could it be that makes her swelling appear and dissipate so quickly. I will hate it if it turns out that the reason is something benign and that I should have let her run around all this time. But I would hate it even more if I would let her run and then it would turn out that I should have rested her. 😦

I am not actually holding out much hope to get a definitive diagnosis this Wednesday. Not without the ultrasound check and it seems we don’t have any vets with required expertise in Slovenia, so who knows where we’ll be going for our next appointment. Well, at least I’m pretty sure this vet will know what to do about Ruby’s sprained toe. Hyaluronic acid worked wonders last time πŸ™‚

Did you ever skip to the end of the book to see how it ends? I so want to do this right now…

Good night. I’m going to dream of the world in which my whippets run free.

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Day 15: To Publish Or Not To Publish

We’re on day 15! This blogging-every-day gig is turning out a bit more difficult than I thought it would be, so considering how crazy this week was and how little sleep I got I am quite proud of myself for only missing two days. I’m still debating whether that means I need to write two more posts or did it suffice that I wrote two longer posts this week?

The downside of writing every day is, the quality of posts must suffer.

funny-animal-captions-oops-brain-fart

I don’t spend as much time thinking about what I’m going to write and I usually end up writing it late at night which means I’m quite tired by the time I press Publish and not inclined to re-read the post 10 times to check for spelling errors and weird sentences (since I’m not a native speaker I’m sure I make plenty of weird sentences either way, I just hope most of them get caught if I re-read the post a few times).

The upside is that you get to read posts you would otherwise never see. I have at least 10 posts (most are long, 1000-word-or-more writeups) that are partially written, but I either didn’t feel like I am competent enough to write about the topic or I lost the inspiration to finish them. The post Why Are Whippets Fast When Running, But Slow In Training? could easily end up as one of them. It was written as I was watching a friend interact with her whippet. I only read through it once or twice before hitting Publish and the moment I did it I was sorry. I felt the post was too patronizing of the reader and that it was missing a big chunk of the story, but it was already late and I really didn’t have time or energy to rewrite it.

In just two days it received over 120 views which is more than any other post in last 30 days. Just shows how little I know about what I should publish.

Thank you all for reading and commenting and sharing! It means a lot to me πŸ™‚

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Day 14: R.I.P. Carpet

Nothing profound to say today. Our living room carpet is dead. It’s been dead for a while, I just didn’t want to accept it. It also had that dead smell for a while… Well yesterday Ruby got a tummy upset and found a convenient spot for projectile diarrhea so I finally accepted it was time to say goodbye.

R.I.P Carpet. You were a vast improvement over hardwood floor. You were soft and warm, whippet paws didn’t skid on you and pointy whippet elbows found a soft resting spot during downs. You even had your moment of fame on Penny’s blog: http://penichops.livejournal.com/140413.html The whippets and I will miss you, though I suspect that Roomba is secretly happy you’re gone.

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Day 12&13: Why Are Whippets Fast When Running, But Slow In Training?

Today I was reminded of something I read a long time ago on a blog:

In my experience Whippets can suffer a bit from the ‘good dog’ syndrome. (disclaimer: of course there are exceptions to every rule!) It’s really easy to teach a Whippet to be well behaved, and I think that might be why one occasionally sees slow-ish Whippets in agility. Unlike some dogs who can take constant reminders not to go wild and act like heathens, Whippets seem to take the lesson to heart too quickly and once they’ve been convinced not to go wild, it’s hard to convince them that sometimes wild is appropriate.
Frankie Joiris

For those who don’t know her, Frankie is a remarkable animal trainer. She has trained several breeds of dogs, cats, birds (sorry I forgot which kind) and turtles for film industry. Heck, she taught her dog to tightrope walk! So when she talks I sit up and pay attention.

You know how with some whippets the handler says “Sit” and a whippet takes like 5 seconds before their butt finally reaches the floor? Are those ‘good dogs’? Sure. Are they well behaved? Possibly. Would I like my dog to sit like that? Hell no! If the butt is not on the ground within 1s (and that’s on a bad day) I’m seriously reconsidering my training session.

I don’t think Ruby was ever in danger of being one of those whippets who slow down because their owners want them to. He had another reason to be slow: he just didn’t care about what I wanted and about my stupid training ideas. He was fast and crazy when doing the things he wanted to do (usually mischief) and slow when it was “training time.” He was one of those 5-second-sit dogs. Well, maybe a little less, but he was sloooow. I don’t think anyone who sees him work today suspects how slow he really was.

Puppy Java in playtraining (c) Yinepu

Puppy Java in playtraining (c) Yinepu

Java is different, she definitely cares about what I think and though she is naturally fast it would be easy to make her slow down so she would be more user-friendly for slow human reflexes. That would make it easier to teach her precise heeling because she wouldn’t be so all over the place from guessing what I want. It would be easier to click at the right moment. But the downside would be that the resulting heeling (or sit, or down, or retrieve, or recall, or tunnel,…) would be slower and less intense.

The thing is, it can be difficult to get a fast, enthusiastic performance of a behavior that was taught in a slow manner. In that case you say “sit” and the dog hears “sloooowly move your butt to the ground”. Whereas if you teach sit in an enthusiastic way then you say “sit” and the dog hears “the quicker you sit, the sooner I’m gonna throw this ball!”.

If you want to see fast, energetic responses you have to train your dog when he is in the fast, energetic state of mind. You want to see sparkling eyes and wagging tail every time you train, so first play, then train. If your dog doesn’t like toys you can play with food, too. Just run around and give him food when he catches you, or roll it on the ground.

Also, try to remove “no” from your vocabulary. “No” is slowing the dog down, decreasing the energy and doesn’t actually tell the dog what to do instead of the “bad” behavior. Instead of saying “no”, teach the dog what it is that you want. Don’t want the dog to jump up to get the food? Teach him that all paws on the ground make food appear. Don’t want him to bolt out of the door? Teach him to automatically sit when you put your hand on the handle and wait while you open the door. Don’t want him to pull? Teach him that only loose leash moves forward.

Whatever you reward is what you will get more of. So if you want to see excitement, reward excitement. Don’t tell the dog “no” when he jumps up. Instead, if he’s jumping up because you’re holding a toy and he’s not usually totally crazy about playing with you (I’m going to contradict my advice a bit…) REWARD that energy by playing with the dog. Don’t say “no”, “calm down”, “feet on the floor”. Just play. Jumping up is energy, so if you want more energy, then jumping up in a training situation is your friend.
Yes, that means he will be more likely to jump up on you next time you’re holding a toy. BUT it also makes it more likely that he will show more excitement and energy when you play. Sometimes you must temporarily sacrifice one goal (your dog not jumping on you) to get another goal (sparkly eyes when playing and working).

Does this mean I let my dogs do whatever they want so they will work with excitement? No. Well, I let them jump on me, that’s true. I find it useful to see when they are at the right level of excitement and ready to work.

Here’s an example of how I teach them my rules AFTER I taught them that working with me is fun and exciting: Yesterday we had a Rally Obedience class after another class where one of the females was in heat. For Ruby this was the first time of doing RO under this particular distraction. He can do agility without a problem, but he would sell his soul for agility, so that makes it easier. We were getting ready to begin and Ruby found a particularly nice sniffing spot. I asked him “Are you ready?” He just chattered his teeth at me, no doubt still very interested in that female’s smell. I smiled and thanked RO gods for a wonderful opportunity to make a point. I could have asked him “Are you ready?” again and then kept correcting him every time he would drop his head down to sniff during RO sequence. Instead, I didn’t say anything. I took Ruby back to the car and got Java out. She was more than willing to take his spot in the class and within 2 seconds Ruby knew that he just lost his opportunity to work. (Java did great! But sorry, no video 😦 ) During next round I let him have a go again and he was a superstar. “Smells? What smells? I don’t smell anything, just don’t let that black bitch take my spot in the class again!” Much, much more effective than saying “no”. And the best part? If done correctly it increases dog’s energy instead of squashing it. With enough practice distractions become cues for the dog to focus on the job more intensely.

Training, communication and building a relationship with your dog is a wonderful, positive, HEALTHY thing to do. And if the dog isn’t having a total blast while you’re doing it, you’re not doing it right.
BrisbeeTheWhite

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Day 10&11: Who Knew Proprioception Exercises Are So Important

Whoa what happened there? Days just whoooshed by! We are doing almost fine. Almost because Ruby’s toe is still not OK 😦 I have an appointment for both Ruby and Java next Wednesday at the vet. I got a list of things from Dr. Radcliffe that we should check on Java’s wrist so that’s making me feel hopeful that we will find the cause of her swelling. The SPARCS conference was great for keeping my mind off these things, as was a little motivational workshop we did with Whippets (and a token King Charles Spaniel) on Sunday.

I found this interesting video which explains how proprioception exercises can decrease probability of injuries and how they can help dog function better after an injury has occurred:

http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/vetmed/Medicine/The-importance-of-conscious-proprioception-in-cani/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/765501

Now… does anyone know of a cheap way to build an agility ladder?

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Day 9: Are Small Breed Dogs Genetically Predisposed To Fearfulness?

This weekend is dedicated to watching the SPARCS conference. Of course not everything is interesting to me, but I try to listen to as many presentations as I can because sometimes you find hidden gems in most unlikely places. Like James Serpell’s presentation on C-BARQ.

C-BARQ is an online questionnaire that was developed as a tool of measuring dog behavior problems. You can go over to http://vetapps.vet.upenn.edu/cbarq/organization-signup.cfm, answer a bunch of questions about your dog and get a score on his fear/aggressiveness/etc. It will also show you how these scores compare to other dogs of same breed and your data will be entered in their database. They say it currently contains data for more than 25,000 pet dogs and 22,000 guide/service dogs. So… a lot.

Now this is all interesting, but I have filled Ruby’s C-BARQ questionnaire two years ago so this was old news to me. James started with explanation about how it was developed and why they think it’s valid and reliable (yawn), so I went to the kitchen to bake some muffins instead. Then something attracted my attention. You see, with such huge numbers of participants you can get some interesting information about how breeds of dogs differ. He only showed the 30 most popular breeds in USA so unfortunately there is no information on whippets, but the statistics are fascinating nevertheless.

Keeping in mind that he only showed the 30 most popular breeds in USA, the breeds most likely to exhibit stranger-directed fear were: Chihuahua, Dachshund, Dachshund (Miniature), Maltese, Poodle (Toy, but not Miniature or Standard), Shetland Sheepdog, Yorkshire Terrier

The breeds least likely to exhibit stranger-related fear: Golden Retriever, Rottweiler, Siberian Husky

The breeds most likely to exhibit dog-directed fear were almost the same as for stranger-directed fear: Beagle, Chihuahua, Dachshund, Dachshund (Miniature), Maltese, Poodle (Toy, a bit less Miniature, but not Standard), Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier

C-BARQ_DogDirectedFear

Did you notice that all these breeds are small? Look at the graph above, there are plenty of big breeds up there… But obviously not all small breeds tend to be fearful, some stay well below that red line.

For nonsocial fear: Beagle, Chihuahua, Dachshund, Dachshund (Miniature), Maltese, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Poodle (Toy), Sheltie Sheepdog, Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier

For stranger-direction aggression: Chihuahua, Dachshund, Dachshund (Miniature), Maltese, Miniature Schnauzer, Poodle (Toy)

The statistics also show that stranger-direction aggression and stranger-related fear are correlated, which isn’t too surprising since fear can be a powerful motivator behind aggression.

The relationship between body size and fear looked very interesting as well, though it is clearly not a straightforward one. The lighter the dog, the more fearful they tend to be:

C-BARQ_BodySizeAndFearfulness

(Mostly) same breeds and (mostly) small also scored higher than average on owner-directed aggression and attachment/attention seeking. Serpell states several possible reasons for this, some of which are related to how owners treat small dogs. But interestingly King Charles Spaniel and the Havanese don’t show these anxiety-related traits despite their size, so he postulates that these behavioral differences could reflect genetic/physiological correlates of selection for small body size.

Interestingly there are some studies actually showing that miniature poodles have significantly lower serum levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF1) (Eigenmann et al., 1984; Guler et al., 1989). In another study German shorthaired pointers were selected deliberately for nervousness/fearfulness and the more fearful they were the lower their IGF1 levels were (Uhde et al, 1992). Molecular geneticists have even found gene pairs associated with the IGF1 gene that are present in toy or miniature dog breeds, but are absent in wolves and very rare among large dog breeds (Sutter et al., 2007; Grey et al., 2010). He says that this doesn’t prove that low IGF1 levels cause those behaviors, but some connection is there.

I think we wrongly assume that we can select for dog’s outward appearance when breeding and the behavior will remain the same. The Poodle tells a clear story: Standard poodle being less fearful and aggressive then his Mini and Toy counterparts. This is the same breed! And it doesn’t end with selecting for size, either. The English Cocker Spaniel Rage Syndrome has been found to vary greatly by the coat color, with solid colored dogs being more affected than parti-colored. The English Springer Spaniel also suffers from Rage Syndrome. Wikipedia says “In English Springer Spaniels, the appearance of rage syndrome has been traced back to a winner at the Westminster Kennel Club show who went on to become a top stud.” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rage_syndrome)

You probably know where this is going. We cannot afford to breed dogs solely on the quality of their looks. There is so much more that goes into a good companion – physical health, mental health, ability to do the task it was originally created to do. I hope the world wakes up before it’s too late.

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Day 8: Rubystar :)

I’m writing this at 1am because I’ve been watching SPARCS conference all day, and I need to get up early tomorrow so I’ll be quick πŸ˜‰

One month ago Ruby had a photoshooting for a story in a dog magazine Moj Pes (http://www.mojpes.com/2014/06/3789/).
It was cold and windy and he really wasn’t sure if that Shar Pei was a dog and if yes was she about to eat him, but he did his job like a pro nevertheless πŸ™‚

Photo by Yinepu

Photo by Yinepu

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Day 7: Rally Obedience Training Notes

I’ll get to Rally obedience in a minute, but first I need to alert you to another source of excellent (and free!) information on dog training: the SPARCS conference this weekend. They offer completely free live video streaming. I missed it last year; I don’t intend to miss it this time! The themes are:

Friday: Aggression and Conflict

Saturday: Temperament and Personality

Sunday: Science in Training

Here’s what I think we need to train according to the weaknesses exposed by Sunday’s Rally Obedience class:

  • Get a reliable and pretty much error-free performance of all RO I exercises when I don’t have food in my hands and I don’t have the treat pouch on. Ruby is pretty forgiving of training without the treat pouch (in agility this is the sign that the real fun is about to begin!), but before I try to improve performance of several exercises without a treat pouch I first need to be sure that he can do them well in isolation.
    • First with treats coming from my pockets
    • Then mixing with rewarding from a food bowl
    • Try it in different environments
  • Which brings me to the question of when will I reward. I don’t like to always reward after the exercise is finished because I think Ruby will learn the patterns of exercises (example of an exercise: heeling, recall to front, sit, go around me into heel position, get a cookie) and the intermediate behaviors will loose their value because he will know for a fact that he only gets a cookie after going around me. This is a behavior chain so one could also argue that every next cue will reinforce the behavior before it and therefore there is no need to reward variably. I don’t know…Β  I’m sure there is excellent information out there about whether always rewarding at the end will hurt the chain, I just need to do some research.
  • Keep heeling with eye contact even when there is food on the ground (on the first pass!)
  • For myself: remember to say Sit after recall, not Down! πŸ™‚
  • It would be nice to find a way to straighten his downs when there is a bowl of food present. I played around with a platform in the living room and of course that’s no issue. But even on the ground it won’t be a problem at home I think… Only at the club. No idea there yet.
  • Also his recall could be straighter πŸ˜‰ Need to refresh recalling by a bowl of food!
  • Sending him around my back while there is a tempting bowl to my right.
  • Maybe teach him to walk toward me without jumping up πŸ˜‰ Not really a priority right now as I don’t think that exercise is a part of RO I

And a video of the second part of RO for those who didn’t get tired of it last time (same course, 2nd try):

Notes to self:

  • Keep rewarding from the hand until there is a really good behavior to reward. Use send to bowl as a jackpot, not as a random reward.
  • Engage him for the whole session just as if he would be a highly distractible dog. It breeds excitement and focus which breeds speed.

A short update on Java: she is having short walks on leash and light tricks training at home, making sure we are not unduly stressing her wrist. I am currently gathering veterinary opinions on how to proceed. I expect we will know more about her mysterious swelling in a week or two and then we will also decide how to treat it.

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Day 6: Happy 2nd Birthday, Java!

Has it really been almost two years since I brought you home? Sometimes it seems like it was yesterday. You were a perfect puppy: great focus, drive, willing to please… with the sweetest puppy eyes and silky soft fur that was made for cuddling. You slept a lot those first months for which I will be forever grateful πŸ™‚

Puppy Java in action! (c) Yinepu

Puppy Java in action! (c) Yinepu


You are not a puppy anymore… I think I really should stop calling you that at two years old πŸ˜‰ I love how you climb on me to say hi, how you demand your special minutes in the morning, how you talk to me when you want something (usually food) and how you jump into my arms when I come home. It’s been a fun two years! Here’s to many more!
Java loves to be in my lap and look over my shoulder (c) Stisnprtisn!

Java loves to be in my lap and look over my shoulder (c) Stisnprtisn!

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Day 5: Recallers!

Sorry guys, I need to interrupt our regular programming with a little bit of advertising for Susan Garrett’s Recallers program, which is about to open in the next few days. I totally understand if you say you don’t need it because your dog’s recall is good enough or if you say it’s too expensive (because, let’s face it, it’s not that cheap). But at least sign up to see her free videos which she will most likely take down once the registration closes. At least that’s what she’s done in the previous years. You’ll need to enter your name and email address, but the information is worth it. (Note: I get absolutely nothing from Susan or anyone else for advertising Recallers, I just think it’s a great course.)

There is lots of fluff in those free videos, but Susan is one of world’s greatest dog trainers and in between the fluff and marketing you will find golden nuggets – completely free of charge. In particular I encourage you to watch the 2nd video (It’s Your Choice game) and play it, even if just for fun, with your furry friends. It’s amazing to see their little brains figure out how to get the cookies.

Although Recallers is comprised of more than 30 “games”, It’s Your Choice is at the heart of most of them. We are basically setting up a million situations in which dog can either choose us (and get an awesome reward) or choose environment (and end up not being able to enjoy it anyway). We set up situations so that the dog cannot possibly self-reward if he chooses incorrectly. Imagine it like this: with every game we’re strengthening the brain pathway that leads to dog choosing us over environment and after a while the dominant pathway (which chooses environment over us) starts to atrophy. We end up with a dog who now has a much easier time choosing us over environment, because the “good” pathway is now stronger than the “bad” one.

Even though I love Recallers and it’s quite possible that it saved Ruby’s life when he started chasing a cat in the city center, I will be the first to admit that it’s not suitable for all people. To get the most out of it you need to know how to motivate your dog or your dog must be one of those who goes crazy for food or toys. Lots of owners don’t even know their dog is crazy about food or toys simply because they haven’t tried hard enough and for those Recallers will work brilliantly. But if you have tried everything and your dog is still meh, then it won’t work so well. You can still sign up and you will get value from it, but I advise you to pay close attention to your dogs emotions. It’s easy to become too focused on ‘self-control’ aspect of exercises. But it’s ΓΌber important to see excitement even when we’re playing games of control. Fail to get excitement and Recallers won’t work.

Last but not least, if you plan to do Recallers, start working on Crate Games today. I am not a Crate Games addict and I should really remember to play them more often than once per year, but when you’re teaching the dog about real-life choices between work and distractions it doesn’t get much better than using CG (well there is one other trick I like to employ, but Crate Games are more fail-proof). When Java was a few months old and went absolutely bonkers when Ruby was chasing a ball and NO TREATS could get her to pay attention to me I used Crate Games to get her to offer waiting with crate door open and feeding her those same treats that she wouldn’t take before. I can’t believe I didn’t get my camera out to video that session. The difference in her behavior was spectacular. She has been doing Crate Games from 10 weeks old so she was used to making good choices in that context. That’s how I was able to throw her #1 distraction at her and she still did her job. With time this translated into making good choices outside of the crate. It’s all about strengthening the right pathways.

Borrow the DVD from a friend, or go over to Susan’s store and get a discounted DVD by entering 5MINUTESCRATE. The Crate Games are described in the course so you don’t HAVE to buy a DVD, but trust me you want to start working on those right away. Get an overnight delivery – do what you must. This really should be listed as a prerequisite before you enroll for Recallers as it can take a while to build sufficient value for Crate Games before they will be useful for training with distractions, which is where their real power to atrophy the environment-choosing brain pathways lies.

I will admit I don’t appreciate Susan’s marketing strategy. I also don’t appreciate not being told that Crate Games will be used before I enrolled in the course. But the information is excellent and Susan gives detailed explanation, troubleshooting and reasoning on which her decisions were based. Call me silly, but I’m willing to overlook questionable marketing tactics to get to the good stuff.

Did I get a perfect dog after Recallers? Are you kidding me??? I love Ruby to bits, but he is still a pretty naughty boy πŸ™‚ If I don’t regularly set up situations to keep reinforcing good choices, the environment pathway can become too strong, but when we do train he will recall from anything, at any time. He will never be an easy dog, but now I know how to make my life easier IF I am willing to pay the price of thinking and training.

Just go and watch those free videos, OK? πŸ™‚

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Day 4: Distraction Monster

I have to admit I’m not a good Rally Obedience student. I had an unusual desire to practice last month and it showed as Ruby made fast progress from being rewarded for every behavior to doing several in the row and maintaining speed and confidence (and mostly also precision). But during past two weeks we only practiced sporadically, in part because it was hot which means Ruby wasn’t as excited to train. I mean, he was still OK, he just lost that little extra spark that I’m addicted to, so I was like meh – whatever – we’ll practice some other time. Though to be fair to myself we did work on one thing: keeping elbows on the ground while waiting in a down position which was quite a project because all his life Ruby was waiting by keeping his left elbow off the floor which then gradually becomes both elbows off the floor and then a half-sit… you know where this is going πŸ™‚

Then we had to miss one class so there was even less incentive to practice. And then came yesterday… It turns out we better practice some more if I want to get rid of having treats on me! It’s funny, if this was agility and Ruby would have a much better focus with reward on me than without a reward I would take it very seriously, make a plan, analyze the videos to find best moments to reward, agonize over the great things that I didn’t reward and so on. Since this is rally obedience I’m just going with the flow, trusting he’s going to figure it out as long as I don’t make any major mistakes and otherwise just having fun teasing Ruby with the food bowl on the ground. When we’ll have a problem that won’t resolve on its own with some practice, then I’ll engage my brain. Until then, as long as he’s happy it’s all good. Of course I’m not saying that’s the best way to train… I’m just not motivated to do any better right now πŸ˜‰

First part of this video is pretty good, but in the second part after a break Ruby is a distraction monster. He reconnects pretty easily, but he disconnects even easier. I’m not worried about it. We’ll just do a more gradual fading of food on my body – some treats in my pockets to reward good stuff on the spot. And practicing more often should help as well πŸ˜› He kept his elbows on the ground much better this time, yay! πŸ™‚

More rally-o video coming tomorrow πŸ™‚

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Day 3: Here We Go Again…

Tonight we had another Rally Obedience class with Ruby and he is still as excited about it as ever. I can’t believe it! He barks and jumps when I ask him if he wants to work (I always ask my dogs if they want to work and they always answer YES!!!) and generally behaves like he’s having a great time. He can’t wait for his turn. Who is this dog? Not that I’m complaining, of course. πŸ™‚

Then we went for the first cool walk in a week as it has been so hot on previous days. Even before I let her run free I could see that Java was feeling frisky and when I did… yep that was some serious zooming. I had to fix her wrist wrap twice as it kept sliding down. The second time I could see a bit of swelling, so with a heavy heart I fixed the wrap, leashed her up and headed home. Twenty minutes later I took the wrap off and there was NO swelling whatsoever. I even started wondering if I really saw swelling before or if I just imagined it. I think I see more vet visits in our future and more searching for answers…

It seems that every time I start posting about good stuff something bad happens. Maybe I should just complain all the time and keep all the good news to myself and my dogs would do fine?

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Day 2: What A Difference Some Play Makes

Such a cute little face! Who would have thought this little thing could be crazy?

Such a cute little face! Who would have thought this little thing could be crazy?

We’re on Day 2 of my 30 posts in 30 days challenge. I have to say it feels weird to write about my dogs again since I wrote about them yesterday ;), so today I’m writing about my sister’s pup and her training challenges.

My sister called me with a question: why is her not-yet-thee-month pup Trinity much less interested in training than she used to be? Why is she starting to look around, throw herself on the ground, bite Mateja’s feet and generally having other ideas what to do while they are training? This happened particularly with things that Trini didn’t know well yet. I asked her to send me a video to see what is going on.

As she sent me this video she commented that she was surprised to see that they worked for 5 minutes straight (it always pays off to video your sessions because you will often find you’re doing something wrong – like letting the sessions go on too long – and you can fix it next time). But length of session was not the only problem. Trinity was not excited about it to begin with.

For everything we do in life there is a specific level of excitement that allows us to perform the task at hand to the best of our abilities. If we’re solving a math problem, we need to be calm and focused. If we’re preparing to run in a 5K race a bit more excitement would serve us better. It’s the same with our dogs – some mental states are more conductive to learning and staying in the training game with humans than others.

For this reason I suggested to Mateja that she should play with Trinity to get her happy and engaged, then train for only 6 repetitions (we don’t want her to practice finding her own entertainment like she did in above video), then play again. The whole session including playing will be less than 3 minutes long. Remember how I said the dogs are taking snapshots of their emotional state as we train? If we keep it exciting and short they will only have exciting memories which will make them love training and with time we will be able to have longer and longer sessions with that same excited attitude.

I also asked her not to give so many pieces of kibble for a single behavior because it takes a while before Trini chews them up which deflates her energy, plus too much food sometimes puts the dog in a sleepy state.

The progression of exercises in that training session was also less than ideal. They started with easy ones and progressed toward new exercises in which Trini wasn’t as skilled. The best approach is to start with the difficult exercise when dog’s brain is still fresh and progress toward easier exercises. But since I suggested to begin with 6 repetitions per session for now this means that if she wants to train several exercises she needs to take a few minutes of break between two sessions, during which Trinity will be a little bored of course, but fear not – boredom between sessions is a good thing!

It is also helpful to prepare the environment, treats, clicker and toys in advance so that once the session starts it goes smoothly. Every time we forget an item and have to retrieve it, move it etc we’re not engaging the dog and their energy visibly deflates. With more sensitive dogs this could be enough to cause some problems in concentration and learning.

Mateja did great at implementing all the suggestions and this was their very next session:

They had four more sessions after this video (with a few minute breaks in between) and Trini was working with focus and excitement in every single one of them. Score! Many excited training snapshots produced πŸ™‚

Still, one question remained: why the sudden change? Trini used to be much more interested in training. The answer was getting too many treats outside these training sessions. Just as it happens to many other unsuspecting puppy owners out there Trini was training Mateja to give her more and more treats as she started declining kibble as reward in some situations. The solution was simple: no more treats until she will accept kibble in all situations. After just a few days Trini happily accepts kibble anywhere.

Thank you Mateja for letting me share your videos & your story!

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Day 1: Agility Retraining Begins

Feeling hopeful

Feeling hopeful

Over the past few weeks I have been slowly increasing the time Java was allowed to run free: from five minutes, to ten, all the way up to thirty minutes in the past few days. In the beginning I made sure she was running in easy, loping strides, but as time passed by and her wrist continued to do great, I let her open up more and these days she is zooming around, running in circles, turning sharply, stopping quickly – you name it, she does it. I am not throwing toys for her and she is still not allowed to run with other dogs (physio recommends that we wait until July), but I think she is stressing that wrist pretty well on her own and it’s holding up. Yeah!

Since everything has been going great we got a green light to do a little agility training – we have done some strengthening and now we are going to test the wrist with ever increasing levels of difficulty. Currently she is allowed to do wraps on flat as long as she’s not coming in with great speed, open weaves and 2o2o position. It took me a few days to get out of the funk I got myself into during her injury, but finally I’m excited! We can train again! Wheeeeee πŸ™‚

Ruby’s toe also seems to be doing well. We did some pulling me uphill on walks (he pulls, I run) and he loved that πŸ™‚ He will start getting some Flexi time on walks so he can run a bit, but not go crazy. Sometimes I can make him run in circles by putting him on Flexi lead and giving him a toy. That would be a nice easy exercise for him these days.

So in celebration of this milestone (and because I need a constant reminder that yes, we are doing stuff, things are improving, it’s all going to be OK) I decided to post every day for a month. There was a discussion about journal-style blogs the other day. Apparently my blog fits the category, so let’s journal!

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Presenting… Trinity

She is spunky and fun and a little bit crazy and so, so cute. She’s my sister’s first puppy evah! So she’s a little bit mine, too πŸ˜‰

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Team Ruby & Java

Look at what my awesome sister made me for my birthday!
TeamRuby&Java
I have wanted a Ruby & Java themed T-shirt for a while and Mateja read my mind and made it for me. Love you, sis ❀ Great job!

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Don’t Succeed In Spite Of Problems – Succeed Because Of Them!

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
– Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, 121 AD – 180 AD

I used to equate success with winning, but these days when I think about my personal success in agility I think of leading the hurricane that is Ruby over a course and not fear for his life. I think of Java learning to do her contacts. I think of the little things, which means I look forward to little things and am incredibly happy when those little things happen. I am not in competition with anyone and this brings me peace.

Success is a happy agility partner (c) Janja Erjavec

Success is a happy agility partner (c) Janja Erjavec


But even in my peaceful little world where there is no competition and only rainbows and unicorns there is Failure. You know, when you have tried oh so many ways to get your dog excited about working with you, but they look like the butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth. Or you are sure your handling was clear, but your dog still ran right past that jump. Or you have spent months and months training running contacts, working through numerous setbacks, only to realize that your dog is a maniac and there is no way running over a dog walk is ever going to be safe for him. No matter what your definition of Success is, Failure is always at the other end of the stick.

The other day I came across this little gem and was surprised by the difference between how entrepreneurs tend to look at failure and how the rest of us do:

Question: A lot of hardware companies have failed at manufacturing. How do you plan to succeed?

Grace Choi: I have failed a lot of times before. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’m a serial inventor and have been through the manufacturing ring before. I know all the pitfalls. We might fail at some things, but we just need to make sure we don’t fail where it counts.
(from http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/05/mink-is-a-3d-printer-for-makeup/)

Grace Choi has failed many times before and she wears that like a crown. She knows the reasons she has failed, and is not afraid to take another chance. She has learned from past attempts and because of this she is now in a better position to succeed.

What a freeing perspective, to regard failure not as something that is blocking you from success or as something that predicts more failure in the future, but as the very reason why you are going to succeed!

How would we look at our training or competition challenges if we had this mindset? Would we try more things? Would we have more fun? Would we ultimately succeed more? Food for thought.

This blog post is a part of Dog Agility Blog Events. You can see all the other blog posts on Success here: http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/success/

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Look, Mum! No Treats! (Well, Getting There)

Guys, I have a confession to make. I am a reward and praise addict. I get nervous if I train a dog for 10 seconds and can’t tell him he’s brilliant five times and stuff his mouth with treats so he wouldn’t talk back. I just feel this… compulsion to reward. Every. Single. Behavior. Except in agility. Somehow my brain figured out that running a sequence of 20 obstacles in agility without stuffing my dog’s face after each one is fine and the sky won’t come falling down if I don’t do it.

This spring Ruby and I started on a new adventure together: Rally Obedience. I thought it would be good for him because Java was getting more training time than him and this would give him some more one-on-one time with me. It would also be good for me because I would have to learn to fight my compulsive feeding habit.

There is a reason why I like to reward every single behavior: it’s crystal clear what I like and what I don’t like. If the sit is too slow, I don’t reward it. If heeling is too wide or the dog looks away during heeling, too bad – you’ll just have to heel a little longer to get that reward. Though heeling is already a grey area because the dog can make many many decisions before I reward. If I reward every behavior that I like it’s easy for me to keep improving it over time, even though I’m not specifically working on it, or at least keep it from deteriorating from lack of reinforcement.

RallyO is making me face my fears of:
– Loosing Ruby’s enthusiasm (which very quickly means loosing ability to work with Ruby – he is either 100% on or he’s gone, there is little middle ground with him)
– Making him frantic, thinking he did something wrong because reward didn’t appear immediately
– Seeing behaviors deteriorate, becoming less precise and/or slower

We practiced doing several exercises before a reward at home, but today was the first time doing it outside with all the distractions that this brings. Main rewards were placed in three bowls positioned around the sequence. I couldn’t help but reward him twice from hand as well – he was such a good boy πŸ™‚ While he did feel a bit “off” sometimes and not as connected as he usually is, I am soooooo proud of how well he did πŸ™‚

I love seeing his fast responses and excited tail. πŸ™‚ I would hate to loose that in the process of reducing frequency of reinforcement. I might combine rewarding from hand with rewarding from bowls for a while, so that I can reward anything he does exceptionally well right away. This way I’m hoping he will figure out that it still pays off when he tries hard and this should keep the enthusiasm up.

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