If I counted it right my “30 posts in 30 days” was actually “25 posts in 30 days” which was about five times more than I usually write in a month. Not too shabby. I’m glad it’s over though 🙂 When I started I thought I will be writing about agility and daisies and unicorns, but then it turned out to be wrist and toe problems and witches and bad luck spells. It took a lot of strength to fight depressive thoughts. I think this was my most successful fight so far. So yay! I guess.
Here’s what helped:
- Listening to Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is The Way over and over again. I first listened to the audio book in the beginning of June and I thought it was pretty awesome. Then the reality of Java’s injury hit on June 15th and I found myself going back to it again and again. This is such a first-world-problem to have. No children dying, no epidemics or hunger to fight. But it’s a real problem to me and a real source of sorrow. The Obstacle Is The Way helped me get past the emotional side of it, to act and find other things to focus on. Ryan’s book talks about practical applications of stoicism and while that made me write it off at first (who wants to be stoic? Not me!), the book quickly changed my mind, especially since the stoic principles actually helped me to deal with a rough month better then I have in the past. I might read works of Marcus Aurelius or Seneca in the future. That’s how good this book is.
- Especially with both dogs injured it’s easy to stay at home a lot and be less active, but that is such a mood killer. I tried to spend the same amount of time on my feet even when we weren’t going for long walks.
- Helping to train Trinity was a blast and so was our little Whippet Agility group. It makes me feel connected with the sport even though I haven’t been running around equipment all month. It feels good to help others and see changes in their dogs.
- And of course Rally Obedience! It was great to have something else to focus on, something that we could do regardless of injuries.
Yesterday we had our last Rally class and since Ruby had some mysterious tummy problems I decided not to fill him full of treats, so it was Java’s chance to shine. And shine she did. It’s obvious that she had less practice at it than Ruby and she is a bit bouncy on all exercises which makes it look a bit less like obedience and more like a flavor of Whippet Ballet, but I’ll take it 🙂 She did really really well with distractions. There was a dog barking, an unknown Golden Retriever next to our path (Java didn’t even glance at her), lots of rattling of treat containers and toy squeaking (distracting, but manageable) and instructor tossing a ball into the air while she was heeling (very tempting, but she made the right choice!!!). So proud of my girl 🙂
There’s one exercise in RO where we have been absolutely winging it: Fronts. Both Front on recall and calling the dog to Front while walking. I never taught my dogs to sit in front of me. I mean, they do it in normal life enough of the time, I certainly wasn’t going to put even more value in position that doesn’t serve me for agility. Instead, my dogs have a lot of value for standing and sitting at my side, so when I confused Ruby on this video he naturally tried to assume position at my side. That’s where the value is!
But let’s say I would like Ruby and Java to sit nicely in front of me, reasonably straight and close. Let’s say I would like them to be pretty confident about how to get into this position from my side and from recall… How do I do it? I watched a few videos on YouTube, but it was either luring or using rods. Then I remembered that some people use platforms for this and searched for “teaching front using platform”. I found this:
Yay! Looks simple and my dogs already have a ton of value for platforms. I used a platform to teach tucked sit so I can use that to start with, then I need to make a lower version to help with fading it.
Ruby will have to wait a bit, though. His gait looked funny to me, like he wasn’t using his back end freely, and when I tried to massage it he was quite stiff, so I took him to the physiotherapist. Poor guy, his muscles were all locked up. And it’s not like we’ve been doing anything strenuous… Just walks and a bit of RO. He should be fine in a few days with help of a little heat, though. In the mean time, Java will test drive learning fronts with platforms for him 🙂
Recently I have changed my focus from doing as many exercises in a row as possible (for a single reward) to checking that Ruby knows his job well and fixing heeling precision (he started drifting away from my leg). We’re still working on reducing reinforcers, just in a different way. I’ve been quite good at remembering to work on that it showed in class today. It’s funny how the things I work on tend to improve, while the things I don’t work on do not 😉 Like the about turn (I turn to the left, Ruby circles around me to the right). I haven’t found a good way to signal that. I haven’t actually been trying much, just hoping he would get it on a verbal cue. But he is not a very verbal oriented dog and he has been taught for five years NOT to go behind my back like that, so I will probably need to come up with a good visual cue to let him know it’s now OK to do it. He will do it if I walk slowly, but at normal pace he will sometimes do a front cross instead (and I get it, my body cues totally look like a front cross is coming up).
We also worked on heeling with distractions and I think there was some progress here as well. Really beautiful spiral and perfect focus on heeling around toys even though he knew exactly where they are.
At home we’re working on generalizing his Park cue (a tucked sit) to flat ground which he had a lot of problems with in the beginning, but I think he is starting to get it. He even did it at the training field today, but he’s not ready to start using it as a part of Rally exercises, so for now we’re using Sit.
I just can’t believe how much fun he’s having… he can’t wait for his turn to begin! I need to practice at the field with Java more often and make some video of her, too.
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 😉
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. 🙂 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 🙂
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!
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… 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! 🙂
- 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 😉 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 😉 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.
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 🙂 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 🙂
I love seeing his fast responses and excited tail. 🙂 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.
Ruby… ready to go!
Ruby started his Rally Obedience class last week and really showed off for the instructor. He kept his excitement up for the whole hour without me lifting a finger for it except for releasing him every few minutes so his brain got a break. I wasn’t even using toys, just food. Why do I never get such excitement for work when we’re practicing alone?
Really nice precision in heeling, matching my pace from slow to running and back and following direction of movement, without crowding that I usually see in agility. Backing around me – no problem, changing positions – no problem. Ignoring distractions like a pro. Lovely sends to the table even though he has never done that before. Down stay on the table was iffy – his elbows came up, anticipating recall to heel. In short, he loved Rally Obedience. It did help that we were doing all this around agility equipment. Maybe he thought this was just a long agility warmup 😉 I hope he will keep the attitude even after he figures out that this isn’t agility!
Speaking of warmups they have changed quite a bit since we started K9 Conditioning class. In addition to 15 minutes of walking and some tricks we now do a series of exercises to warm up the joints – even toes! I don’t yet know how much they’re helping, but this week Ruby had first two agility trainings after a month and he looked great in the evening, wasn’t sore at all. Of course I made sure that these trainings were easier on his body after such a long time off, but maybe also the new warmup and cooldown routines helped some. Continue reading