Monday, January 30, 2017

Trick Training Tutorial

I posted this trick on my Facebook page, and a friend of mine then asked on Facebook how I taught it, and after I had written out a 500 word essay, I thought I should maybe post it here instead, complete with videos.

Getting Started:
Like any behaviour, there's more than one way to do it, but any way you choose should address the basic components of the final behaviour. These are: 1) jump over a thing; 2) jump accurately over a specific point; 3) jumping through a narrow space between two objects, and 4) jumping with something above their head; 5) all of those things at the same time. If the way I did it isn't working for you and your dog, think about what part of those 5 seems to be the problem, and then you can work on just that part some more.
- Ida started out already having a "jump" command, so we skipped most of the "teaching to jump" part.
- what I'm calling a baton can be literally anything that is a couple feet long and easily graspable with one hand - a broom stick, a ruler, a wooden spoon, a jump pole, etc. Just something straight(ish) and rigid.
- When you start making a hoop with your arms without any other props, it helps to have a mirror so you can see what you're doing. It is surprisingly hard to tell what's circular from the side!
I started by teaching her to jump over my arm using a baton as an extension to make it easier for the dog to figure out the initial behaviour of jumping over a thing. Once she was consistently jumping over my batarm, I shortened the baton part by adjusting my grip further and further down, so less of it extended from my hand, until I was able to drop it altogether and she was consistently jumping over just my arm. We worked on arm jumping until she was comfortable jumping over my arm at shoulder height when I was sitting. This didn't take us very long because we've been doing set-point for agility and she's easily clearing 24" from a stand-still.
Tip: If the dog tries to go under or around instead of over, lower your arm until it is easy for them to step over and then raise it a tiny bit with each rep until they’re jumping. The baton also helps with this… I was almost laying on the ground initially, so having the baton meant I could teach her to jump just over the baton leaning on the ground to start and then slowly angle it up.
Once she was comfortable jumping over my arm, I slowly started angling the baton/pole upwards, which helps the dog 1) jump over your arm while it curves slightly, and 2) get used to jumping in a more confined space. This was the first date we started working on it; initially when I started to angle the baton, I put my hand back down on the floor to make it easier, with the baton angled up.
Once she had the hang of it though, I raised it up more.

Once she was comfortably jumping over my arm with the baton upright, I angled the pole back out again and started moving my other arm into position. I started just with it angled over my head and gradually lowered it with each successful rep until I was eventually holding onto the pole with both hands with about 18" between. A bigger dog might need more space to be comfortable. This helps the dog get familiar with jumping through an enclosed space but with lots of room still.
Once she was jumping through the closed hand-pole hoop, I made the hoop gradually smaller by moving my hands closer together an inch at a time. The pole adds additional benefits here: 1) holding it with both hands makes sure you're actually making a closed hoop for the dog to jump through, and 2) it teaches the dog where to jump in relation to your arms. When we initially started fading out the pole, Ida jumped "outside" my arms if my hands weren't lined up well – she’d kind of jump between my hands instead of through my arms. I think keeping the pole in play until she was consistently jumping through the middle of the hoop would have eliminated that.
I don't have any videos of the intermediate part where I was holding the whole pole. :(
Once my hands were a couple inches apart, I got rid of the pole altogether and started making loose arm circles with my fingertips a few inches apart. Then I gradually closed them, and voila! A dog jumping through my arms.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dreams and Goals

I have never been good at long-term planning.  Not because I don't like it, but I have always struggled with sticking to a plan, and learning how to alter it as I go along.  And most importantly, I never learned to set goals, which I think is a real weakness of mine.

I really like Bad Dog Agility's definition of "dreams" vs. "goals".  Dreams are far away things, that you someday hope to accomplish but there are too many steps between here and there to see a clear path, while a goal is a target with a foreseeable timeline and clear steps for how to get there.  They also recommend taking an immediate step towards any goal that you set but...

So here's my dreams and goals for all three of us - Snowball, Ida, and Me.

Dreams - Snowball
- TEAM1 Title
- "Compete" in some kind of scent sport
- Get his intermediate trick dog title

Goals - Snowball
- Submit the papers for his Novice Trick Dog (NTD) by Friday, January 13, 2017
- Hind end conditioning with the end goal of pain relief for his arthritis (and improving his sit) - ongoing.
- Enter the Barnhunt fun match in Red Deer in March 2017.

Dreams - Ida
- Be comfortable around traffic
- Be comfortable around other dogs
- Get her CGN
- Title in agility
- Have running contacts

- Submit papers for her NTD title by Friday, January 13, 2017.
-  Attempt TEAM1 by May.
- Learn weaves and teeter by Summer 2017

Dreams - Me
- Incorporate dogs into my current work
- Be more organized

Goals - Me
- Take Snowball for a walk every day, even when the weather is bad*
*walking a circle around the cul-de-sac counts in really bad days.
- Train at least 5 minutes per day with each dog.  Seriously me, 5 minutes isn't that long, set a timer if I have to.
- Drink at least 1000 ml of water every day for the rest of January.
- Take at least 7500 steps every day for the rest of January.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Dog In Front of You

I hear a lot that the handler should train the dog in front of them.  Often it is said in the context of training methods - some dogs do best with luring, others can easily be taught to use shaping, etc.  Regardless of what you're trying to teach, recognize that - just like people - not all dogs learn the same and you should use the best method for the dog.

But I also was very recently reminded that "the dog in front of you" doesn't stop there.  It's not just about the individual, but also about that individual at that specific point in time.

Dogs have off-days, just like humans do.   try to remind myself of that, but I think we could all benefit from the occasional reminder - before the dogs in front of us fail to meet high expectations set by the previous training session.  But, we are often not conscientious of how the environment of this training session differs from the one before it, not just physically, but also temporally and -probably more importantly - emotionally.  Anything that is different this time may affect your dog's performance during a training session: sounds that weren't there last time, being in a different room, whether the dog is tired or hungry (even just compared to last time).  Did something really exciting or really scary happen earlier in the day?  Is there a meatloaf baking?  Does the dog really have to pee (yes, even though they went out 2 seconds ago, Ida)?

All of these are mostly small, and almost entirely invisible things that we may not have consciously identified when we sit down to train the dog in front of us. Even though us humans might not notice them, they can all affect our dog's focus and stress or arousal levels, and thereby impact their performance and its time we started making more of an effort to think about them.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Photographing white dog in snow = hard
Merry Christmas, Happy Winter Whatever, etc.  Okay, I know it's a bit late, but I have been busy!  Both with the dogs and without.

To start, just before the holidays I accepted a part-time position as a behaviour evaluator at our local shelter.  So now, instead of volunteering one day a week, I do the same thing but get paid for it.  Not much, but I'm not doing it for the hourly wage (although I have to admit having the cost of my gas covered by my wage is nice).

Snowball had a great holiday; I was off from Christmas until New Year's, which meant he got lots of walks at the off-leash park, there was someone home almost all day to let him in and out of the hard as he pleased.

Ida and I did practically nothing over the holiday.  Just before the break, I could see that two classes a week was starting to wear on her.  I think more the four car-trips than the the classes themselves; regardless, I made it my goal to not make her do anything with the car over the holiday, and I stuck to it.  We did a few desensitization walks around the cul-de-sac, but mostly we just worked inside on agility behaviours, which I'll write more about our holiday-time break in a separate post.  We went back to class this week and the break really made a difference.  Ida was full of vim and vigor and tons of enthusiasm in our jumping class.  And - excitingly and annoyingly - she was also operantly barking at the other dogs when we walked past.  That is, she was not freaking out and lunging at them, but barked 2-3 times at the other dog and then looked as me as if to say "Now where's my cookie?".  Unfortunately I had run out of cookies (bad human!), but seeing her interrupt herself without any intervention from me was so, so awesome!  I don't think we are there yet, but it really gives me hope that we'll be able to participate in "normal" group classes again.