Friday, October 28, 2016

Week 7 Update

I finally listened to the most recent episode of Cog Dog Radio where Sarah addressed decompression walks in more detail, and she gives some guidelines for how to tell if the exercise you're giving your dog is taxing vs. tiring.  I'm still trying to figure out what that means for Ida, but it might just mean some time in the back yard sniffing out hot dogs.

This last week Ida and I... 

... went to the open field on Saturday morning, as soon as it was light enough to walk; we encountered one dog.  Ida barked at him from far away; when we encountered him the second time she was much calmer about it, easier to redirect towards me and taking treats.

... were finally able to track down some calming chews with the ingredients that I am after - I actually found two brands that might work.  Being a scientist, I plan to try a one-participant randomized trial, but I haven't figured out what the best method for that is yet.

... tried the Chill Dog calming chews before driving to agility.  Ida was perceptively calmer for the first half of the ride.

... ran a full agility course while there was another dog directly in the area that Ida could see and access.  It wasn't clean, and Ida was clearly not happy about it, but she did it and she did it without struggling too much.  She even recalled when we were running right towards the other dog.

... used tug almost exclusively as a reward in class, even mid-run!

I noticed...

... there was less shaking in the car this week without the thundershirt.  I think part of the recent shaking has been from being in a cold car, but she was definitely not worse without the thundershirt.

... when Ida wore a coat in the car, she didn't shake (shiver?); I'm going with the shaking was due to cold.

... Ida setting herself up in 2o2o on the A-frame as soon as we entered the ring.

This next week I plan to...

... make a list of Dreams and Goals for each of my dogs and myself.  It'll be in an upcoming blog post - stay tuned!

... go for an off-leash (or maybe long-line) walk at the park with a dog that Ida has met before and got along with.  Luath is a very gentle soul and she and Ida seemed to get along really well last time.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Agility Video

This is our first ever video of a full agility run!  I am so thankful that I've started listening to some agility podcasts because it' really helped me have some perspective.  We're not perfect, but also Ida is still just a baby when it comes to agility dogs!  I watched a video of the Crufts Agility Finals from this year, and most of the dogs in it were over 6 years old, and several were over 10.  We're not going to Crufts, obviously, but it was a nice reminder that there is no reason to panic if she hasn't learned the teeter or the weaves before she turns two in February.

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Notes on the video:
- Ida had not committed to the dog walk when I tried to rear cross, likely because we have not worked on sending across contacts obstacles so she is used to me running right there with her.  Positive: if she had slipped like that a few weeks ago, she would have totally avoided trying it again.

- We really struggle with 2-on-2-off contacts.  At least now, I think Ida understands the idea of what "bottom" means, but we just haven't solidified the execution yet.  With a bottom she always stops, at least for a split second, with 2 feet on and 2 feet off, but she doesn't usually hold it and she often readjusts.  Watching this video at 0:25-0:28, I think using a target plate will help.

- She was struggling with the table that night, probably because we're out of practice.  She's done solid 10-foot sends to the table.  From this video, she seems to have an understanding of "table" (when I just pointed at it she looks back at me for clarification, vs. when I said "table" both times she jumped right on it).  I should have rewarded the sit-stay the second time instead of walking away.

- Immediately after the first table she takes the jump on cue and then heads for the A-frame.  Although I had my hand out and my body was pointing more towards the jumps than the frame, I didn't give her clear enough directions.  I should've called the next jump just before she took the first one.

- The same thing happens again when we reset on the table.  I release her from the "wait" of the table but don't tell her what to do, just that she's free to leave and she runs to me, probably to get her reinforcement for staying on the table.

- She knocks the bar at 1:17 because 1) I started to cue the next obstacle as she was taking off, and 2) her footfur needs trimming, which contributed to her slipping on the slippy training floor.

- Coming off the frame you can see more clearly how being rewarded for stopping in front of me instead of beside me has shaped her positioning; as a result, she always swings out to face me to get her reward.  A target plate at the bottom, or maybe tossing the food away from me, should help with that.

Things to work on in next class:

- Call the correct obstacles, don't just stand there like a dead fish.

- Don't make a big deal out of downed bars; reward for successfully completing the obstacle directly after a downed bar.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Weekly Update - Week 6

Sad pupper is sad
If you haven't figured out by now, this blog is mainly for me to keep track of what we're doing, the process that we're going through.  I'm trying to include other things so that other people going through a similar thing with their dogs will get some utility out of it, but that is really not the primary aim.  That said, the last weekly update post was too long.  I'm going to stop combining the discussion pieces with the weekly updates.

In addition to our behavior mod and agility work, Ida and I also worked on rear-foot targeting, and I'm trying to put singing (howling) on cue.

In non-Ida related news, poor Snowball had to have a tooth extracted on Tuesday because it developed a resorptive lesion.  They are rare in dogs - I guess he's just lucky. He's had two teeth removed due to the lesions before, and there is a strong correlation between on tooth developing the lesions and subsequent teeth, so it's something we'll be dealing with for the rest of his life.

This last week Ida and I... 
"Rear foot targeting is stupid"

.... did agility drills inside because it was gross outside. I am also getting over a cold that started late last week, which means early in bed, and not wanting to go outside in the cold!

.... played tug/fetch in the cul-de-sac (once the street had dried out) at night.  The darkness added some difficulty, as it was harder to see the things that were far away and making noise (there were a bunch of kids out playing street hockey). Several neighbors drove in/out of the cul-de-sac while we were playing.  We also walked several feet past the electrical box.  Ida was uncomfortable, but still listening to commands and taking cheese.

... still didn't drive anywhere except to agility class.

... started videoing agility runs.

I noticed...

... there was less shaking in the car this week without the thundershirt.  I think part of the recent shaking has been from being in a cold car, however.

This next week I plan to...

... pick-up some calming chews to see if they help in the car.  (I know, I've been saying this for weeks, but it's actually on my to-do list for tomorrow).3

... make a list of Dreams and Goals for each of my dogs and myself.  It'll be in an upcoming blog post - stay tuned!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Using Play to Gauge Stress and a Week 5 Update

Ida loves to play at home.  She chases anything thrown (from balls to cow hoofs), she tugs, she fetches, she wrestles.  But, despite being full of play at home, she's never really been playful (with people) outside of home, even in familiar places like the park or the office at the shelter.  A few months ago, I came to the realisation that it was probably stress dampening her spirit, and I gave up on using play in class.

At the same time, I switched to using play as a gauge for her stress levels while working on her traffic sensitivity.  We start in the front yard and have been moving further and further away from the house and when she starts hesitating when taking the tug, or starts mouthing it but not tugging, or not bring it back the frisbee, I switch to food.

I think this has had the biggest impact on our progress so far.  For one, it's given me a more nuanced read on her stress levels than what I've gotten from food in the past.  For another, I think it is helping her learn how to "work" in environments where she might not be 100% comfortable, or where there are potentially scary things.

It has totally paid off.  She has already come such a huge way in the 6 or so weeks that we've been working on reducing her stress outside of the home.  We're not done, by any means, but this week, for the first time since she was a baby puppy, she took a toy and played tug in class.  She also did not make any escape attempts, even at her first run.  And if that wasn't good enough?  She got a case of zoomies in the middle of her second run.  Not enough to go off course, but she got all bouncy and frolicky and actually looked like she was having fun.

I am really astounded at the change that I've seen in the past 6 weeks, and I have lots of hope that she's going to continue getting better.

This last week Ida and I... 

.... continued our work in the front yard, although the early snowfall precipitated a change in equipment as Ida wasn't so enthusiastic about shoving her face in show to retrieve the frisbee as she was chasing it.  We switched to a fleece tug toy and continued watching the neighbors drive in and out of the cul-de-sac.  Ida even watched the neighbor kids play street hockey, which normally would've caused her to bark because exciting things were happening.

... played It's Yer Choice/Leave It games with a chicken bone that Ida found beside our driveway.  Getting it away from her wasn't a problem (she happily traded it for a bit of cheese), but she took a bit of convincing to leave it alone when it was just sitting there in the open on the drive way.  Oh well! It was a fun bit of impromptu work in a distracting environment.

... used running as a reward; when a scary truck drove past the cul-de-sac right as I ran out of treats, and she stayed with me instead of trying to pull for home, we raced back to the driveway as a reward.

... didn't drive anywhere except to agility class.

I noticed...

... she may have developed a negative CER to the thundershirt.  When I put it on, she started shaking in the car immediately.  I am not sure, however, it the shaking was because the car was cold.

... that her shaking in the car didn't seem to affect her performance at agility!

This next week I plan to...

... keep on keepin' on.  The not driving, playing tug in the lawn, and

Friday, October 7, 2016

Week 4 update

I promised cute photos, I didn't say they'd be relevant
I have had a lot of epiphanies this week.  In addition to the other podcasts that I've added to my playlist, I've started listening to Bad Dog Agility.  It's about agility, which is relevant, but a lot of the guests that they've had on have had some very applicable insights for all dogs, not just performance or sport dogs.  More specifically, they interviewed Kathy Sdao, a dog trainer who got her career started with training marine mammals, and she points out that there are principles used in marine mammal training that -for some reason - has not really made its way into most dog training.  You can listen to her interview here: Part 1 & Part 2.  Even if you don't play agility, it is really, really worth listening to.

One of the things that Kathy brought up was this idea that "dogs don't assume safety". Although I have never put Ida in a situation where she was in danger, I have, accidentally and most lamentably intentionally, put her into situations where she didn't know that she was safe. I have, historically,  through bad or incomplete advice and understanding, not been in her corner.  I don't know how much it helped, but this week before class started, we walked around the whole room, and I let Ida sniff and just remember that this is a place where where good things (agility and awesome treats) happen, and most importantly, where she is safe.  No dogs are going to jump out at you from under the A-frame; the dog-walk isn't a teeter - I promise.

This last week we... 

.... continued our work in the front yard with chasing frisbees and watching the neighbors drive in and out of the cul-de-sac.  Ida was chasing the frisbee all the way into the middle of the road (of the cul-de-sac) and bringing it back.  This is not something she would have done two weeks ago - her ability to retrieve items completely disappears with any kind of negative stress.

... she also sat at the bottom of the driveway and calmly - without stress - watched neighbours drive through the cul-de-sac, she didn't bark at people getting in and out of cars.  Instead of frantically trying to click/treat her for even looking at them, I just let her watch, ready to interrupt if she started showing signs that she was going to bark.

... sat in the car with the engine off and the doors open, climbing around the seats, eating CHEESE.

... didn't drive anywhere except to agility class.

.... did a lot more trick training than we usually do.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that even without specifically working on any "tricks", Ida has enough behaviors to get her Novice Trick Dog Title, so I'll be sending both her and Snowball's applications in at the same time.

... well, I used two different values of rewards at agility class.  Instead of always giving her the highest value treat in the ring and in her crate, she got pretty good treats in her crate, and the super awesome treat only in the ring.  I also did running contacts on the dogwalk.  We have not trained them, but Ida needs the confidence boost and right now I am not worried about her leaping off the dog walk, since she's never done it before, at least not on the way down.  (The A-frame? That's another story).

I noticed...

... that she's developed a conditioned emotional response (CER) to the clutch of my car being depressed.  Probably it predicts the car turning on which predicts the car moving, which she doesn't love.

... that in class, getting her to run, even a little bit, boosts her confidence tremendously.  Also she doesn't know at all how to weave, and I need to figure out how to make a 2x2 system so that I can teach her.

This next week I plan to...

... continue not driving anywhere.

... not do much, really, since I'll be busy all long weekend, which will eat up more than half of my normal daylight (i.e., afternoon) training days.... maybe we'll have to try some things in the dark in the morning instead.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I previously touched briefly on the importance of communication as one of Sara Stremming's Pillars of Behavioral Wellness. As a way to increase communication between us and our canine partners, Sarah is a proponent of Kathy Sdao's SMART50 program, which stands for: See, Mark, and Reward Training x 50.  For me, this concept was so simple and - in hindsight - so obvious that it blew my mind.  And it's just this: throughout the day, reward the good choices that your dog makes - no matter how small - and aim to do it 50 times a day.

Rewarding the good is the first thing that any positive reinforcement-based trainer will tell you to do, and a lot of people that I know, myself included, don't regularly offer rewards for wanted behaviors outside of "formal" training sessions (i.e., they only use rewards when specifically training, or training something specific).  For me, it's a combination of I don't think about it, and also, once my dogs are at a certain level with a particular behavior I consider it "trained" (at least in the house) and stop working on it.

Even though it hasn't been entirely intentional, it is a trap that I am starting to regret falling into with our first dog, Snowball.  When we were working it every day, going to the off-leash park, his recall was excellent.  We have slacked off on taking him to the park since we got Ida, and his responsiveness to "Snowball Come!" really reflects that.  I need to get back to working on it regularly, especially since we have a yard in which to work on it (it's atrocious in the yard too), and are only a 5 minute walk from an off-leash area.

Snowball: "Lalala I can't hear you"
I can't help but think that if I had maintained some kind of SMART50-like program with Snowball that his recall would not have faded as much as it has.  Unfortunately for me, reinforcement has never been presented to me as a general life rule - to always have cookies available and to reward every good choice your dog makes in day-to-day life.  But to me, it makes sense to incorporate this kind of informal training into our lives.  It not only reinforces dozen of wanted behaviors over time, but it will be interesting to see if I end up rewarding behaviors that I would not have otherwise thought to specifically train.

Finally, us as humans tend to focus on the negative - we see all the bad things our dogs do, but SMART50 also trains us humans to look for the good in our dogs.  And I bet most of us have dogs that are better behaved than we think we do.