On the adventures and training of Cinnamon Snapdragon, a papillon destined for greatness.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Signals from the dog's point of view

For obedience competition my dog needs to learn to respond to a hand signal to sit, down, and come to front from a distance. I've been brainstorming what use for Dragon's signals. I like to use my right arm to cue my dog, and use it 90% of the time when shaping something new. It would probably be easier to think of distinct, easy-to-interpret signals if I used both arms... oh well. I think I've decided what to use. In order to see whether the signals can be easily understood by Tiny Dog, I took some pictures from a tiny perspective.

signals: sit
This is the classic hand signal for "sit". My right arm will bend at the elbow and be raised straight up, with the palm facing up. This is similar to the motion I made to lure him into a tuck sit, and he already responds to it (if he is sitting directly in front of me, where the camera is).

signals: stand
This is my improvised stand signal. Technically he doesn't need to be able to respond to a stand signal at a distance for obedience, however I will teach it so that he doesn't just switch between sitting and lying down when we're practicing signals. To prevent unwanted anticipation in competition, the dog must be really watching your cues and responding to each cue, rather than doing what he remembers comes next.

Dragon already has a hand signal to stand but it is messy. I will stop using it and switch to this one.

signals: down
Down. My previous dog responded to my arm bending up and away from my side as a down signal because I would raise it up to the side and then bring it down in front to lure the down. He started to anticipate the second part and respond to just the arm going out sideways. (This is wanted anticipation!) I like this because it means that I can easily signal all three positions with just one arm. Dragon responds well to this signal. Roughly half the time he lies down when my arm is out to the side and about half the time I have to finish the signal. When I bring my arm down I also push it forward and down toward him, as this reminds him to do a fold-back down instead of crawling forward into a down.

So this all looks great, right? But then I thought about my "spin" signal:
signals: spin
Looks a bit like the "stand", doesn't it? I think this is actually a red herring, though. Dragon is very reliable with the verbal for "spin" so I don't use the hand signal that much. When I do, I keep my hand lower and make a little twirl with my finger. For the "stand", my hand will move toward my stomach in a different way and the hand will be held in a different manner. I expect any initial confusion to fade very quickly. Still, I will be ready to change the "stand" signal if it proves to be a problem.

I haven't decided on a distance signal for coming to front yet, but it will have to be with my left arm so that it doesn't mimic any of these other motions. My left arm will also be used to signal a left finish into heel position, which naturally tends to be a sort of "bring the left arm out and back" movement. My "front" will have to be clearly different, so it will probably involve raising my left hand toward my chest or my head.

Oh yes, there's also the right finish to think about. I could move my right arm backwards or, to avoid adding too many signals to that side, I could simply turn my head all the way to the right. If he's already sitting in front and looking up at my face, this will be a clear signal for him.

...Or will it? I will have to take more pictures to test that theory.

A few extras:
signals: turn
"Turn", the opposite of "spin".

signals: leg weave
Weave between my legs.

signals: jump over foot
Hop over my foot. He gets these two confused sometimes, because we had practiced leg weaves a lot before I introduced the "hop over my foot" trick, and the reinforcement history wins out. He's improving steadily, though.

Agility Foundation, week 3 recap

Circle work, including accelerating into 2 tunnels, deceleration to test dog staying with us, and front cross.  Even with these very short sequences, I have to run through it in my head multiple times before I can do it smoothly with my dog. It's clear that someday when we're competing, remembering the course and how I planned to run it will be one of my weaknesses.

Contact training, along a 12 foot dog walk ramp, to a target (stopping to nose touch) or to a thrown toy (thrown when he's about 2/3rds of the way across). Got compliments from Suzanne on his drive forward, not even looking at where I am, knowing that the toy will appear ahead. Awesome. His drive has definitely increased greatly since I started using food toys and throwing them ahead for him.

Sit-stays and stand-stays. We've practiced this a lot, and in many different environments, so that I can take posed pictures of him and also in preparation for competition obedience. His stay is far and away the best in the class. I can run around him in a circle or run past the equipment and he doesn't break. He actually has a much harder time holding a stay when I lean over him than he does when I walk out of sight.

Introduced the other class dogs to the table and shaped going between the jump standards. I practiced sending to the table and doing a default down, and doing tight, collected turns around the jump standard.

Before the other students had arrived I also used the floppy lowered teeter and did some conditioning to the sound of the board resetting. He's more comfortable with the noise of the teeter as it hits the ground than when it resets after he's gotten off. The delay in the loud noise (as well as the teeter moving on its own) is what gets to him -- just when he's relaxing or wondering what we're going to do next, BAM! There it goes. After doing a handful of repetitions of CC I went back to having him jump on the board and ride it down, release, and then get a treat for the bang of the reset. However he was unnerved and less confident when jumping on. Usually he doesn't notice it as much because he's moving away or eating his treats at the moment that it bangs. I have to continue being very careful with all the noisy stuff. I think next time I will hold onto the teeter and slam it upwards myself, so that the motion of my hand will predict the noise for him, and the board won't be moving all on its own. Inanimate objects are not supposed to move all on their own!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in California

Christmas day

Blue sky and green leaves. 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Christmas day

Roses cut fresh from the yard.

Dragon was very well behaved at my parents' house for the weekend. I took him out every 1-2 hours and there were no house-training accidents indoors. The only mischief was chewing up a piece from a brand new 4,000 piece (now 3,999 piece) puzzle.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Agility Foundation, week 2 recap

Another week, another fun agility lesson! Only three students showed up today, so our dogs did a lot of work.

We started of course with circle work. We incorporated a tunnel into our circle work again, and added 180 and 360 pulls/outside turns, a front cross, and I also added a lead out once. I had to remember to accelerate toward the tunnel so that Dragon would drive into it. My tendency is to decelerate in preparation for turning a bit to run around the tunnel, but that gives conflicing information to the dog.

We did a number of sit-stay exercises (and I also did a lot of stand-stays). We had the dog run to us and get rewarded in the reinforcement zone. (Dragon is great at this.) We ran with our dogs and encouraged them to race past us for a thrown toy. (Dragon is reluctant to pull ahead of me without a target or obstacle ahead of us; need to condition him more to expect a toy thrown ahead.) We raced our dogs to a thrown toy. (The instructor told us to pick up the toy if we beat our dogs to it, but that would be demotivating for my guy, so I let him get it every time. He was still pretty fast.)

We proofed our targets. The other students are doing 2o2o, but we're doing a running contact. I'm having him run off the board completely toward a target set about 3-5 feet away from the end (to keep his speed up while on the board). I can now run forward past the target and he will stop to touch the target. I'm having trouble adding lateral distance, so that's my homework this week. Also I tried sending him ahead but he was conflicted between going ahead and turning toward me; another weak point to work on.

We reviewed the rear cross foundation on the flat, which is simple.

Dragon had excellent attention and did not try to sniff around except for one spot where he must have smelled a piece of dropped food among the woodchips. During his downtime he chewed on his bully stick on his mat. The weimaraner kept running away from his owner and trying to get the bully stick. Amazingly, Tiny Dog was completely unconcerned when I or the assistant would jump in front of him and catch the weim racing right for him. I gave him a treat every time anyway to reinforce being calm.

After the end of class Dragon and I practiced on the lowered teeter. The end of the teeter is about ten inches off the ground. The instructor commented that she was surprised that he liked that teeter, since the board is exceptionally floppy and bounces a lot after it hits the ground and when it resets. It's a testament to the careful work I've been doing with Dragon all these months. Although he doesn't like it when it noisily resets after he runs off, so next week I will spend some extra time just having him stand by it and giving him treats after I lower it and let it reset. I also had him run from end to end and after he understood how it would pivot and move, he was happy to run back and forth. I'm quite proud of him!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Agility Foundations recap

We got a new skill to work on this week! Laying the foundation for a rear cross: dog sits and you practice stepping from side to side behind him. Easy peasy.

We also practiced front crosses and circle work, of course. The new instructor, Susanne, emphasized getting the dogs to break out of their trots and really run. I was surprised to see that Dragon actually did this for the entire lesson. Last week I was working on getting him to speed up consistently, and it paid off.

I've also been working on building obstacle focus, since Dragon already has a strong foundation in place for working next to me. When sending him to his mat between exercises I've been restraining him and then cuing him to go to his "place". This week I saw the work pay off again: I held him in front of the tunnel and said, "Ready?" and he tensed up and even pulled forward slightly. Release, run, jackpot!! Some of the handlers worked on leading out and staying ahead of their dogs, but my goal was getting Dragon to drive forward.

Reviewed nose targets, and confirmed with Susanne that for running contacts I can switch between a nose target, a toy target, or a thrown toy while running. He has good drive now running over my mini-plank and the plank at the field. Next I'll set out my mini a-frame, lowered flat onto the ground, and transfer the behavior. Also working on proofing my running around as he drives toward a target/toy on the ground.

The instructor and assistant often make comments to me about switching things up and not doing the same set-up over and over. In one session of the nose target I may do a lead out halfway to the target, and then lead out past the target, and then no lead out and run with the dog, and they'll see me just do one of those and say, "Now make sure that you do it different ways and next time lead out [farther/closer/to the side/whatever]." It's kind of annoying.

Afterwards I asked about drills for teaching the dog to hug the inside of the jump when doing wraps/turns. We were practicing that last night and he goes quite wide. Anne, one of the other instructors, suggested more practice of tight turns during circle work, rewarding tight pivots over the jump right by the stanchion, and lowering the closer end of the jump bar to encourage sticking to that side. I wish I could afford to just buy all of Silvia Trkman's training videos! Her Puppy/Tricks online course covered some of the foundation for cik/cap, too. I need to go back and practice that more.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Latent learning

Dr. Patricia McConnell recently discussed a study discussing latent learning. As you sleep your brain processes the things you learned and experienced that day. If you take a day or two off from a complex problem you'll often solve it more easily than if you tried to tackle it over and over throughout one day. This study found that spacing out training sessions resulted in dogs learning a new skill with a smaller number of total sessions than if they were trained more frequently.

My preference is to utilize latent learning by spacing out working on particular skills. I hate drilling (practicing the same thing over and over) just as much as most dogs do. Dragon and I are training for multiple dog sports (agility, obedience, rally, freestyle, nosework, and plain ol' tricks), so we have LOTS of skills and tricks in development. I use that to my advantage. It's uncommon for us to practice the same skill more than once a day or even on back-to-back days. I try to work in at least one day of rest to process the training session, especially if it's something complex. Avoiding drilling also keeps me more interested in training regularly. Instead of thinking, "We have to practice THIS again," I'm thinking, "Hmm, what would I like to practice right now?"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Teeter play

We've been playing around with our mini teeter. Moe had told me to teach the teeter by putting a foot target at the end and teaching him to hop from the ground onto the end of the board. I should feed multiple treats on the target, keeping his body low, and then release him straight forward and completely off the teeter. I should slowly raise the height of the end of the teeter. This means that eventually he will have to be jumping from a raised object onto the teeter, such as a couch or chair.

Yesterday was the first day that I used the mini teeter I created. Since we'd already done lots of work with other practice teeters, I was able to quickly raise the end until it was about 10-12 inches off the ground. At that point it was hard for Dragon to hop from the floor onto the end. I tried to get him to jump from a chair onto the teeter, stupidly without any prep work! He got spooked and I ended the session.

This morning I was ready to actually prepare him for that step. I pulled out his mat and a little round bed. I had him move back and forth between the mat/bed. I put the mat onto a box and had him hop onto that and back onto the bed on the floor. I put the bed onto a chair and had him hop onto there and then back to the mat on the box. This was about 1.5-2 feet above the floor. Now we were ready to transfer this behavior to the teeter.

I put one end of the teeter up on my agility table and the other up on a crate, so that it wouldn't move. I put his mat onto one end of the teeter and practiced hopping from the mat onto a chair and back. At this stage I had to put my arm between the two so that he actually hopped instead of placing his front feet and then his back feet on the mat. When he was happily doing this I moved the crate so that the teeter end under the mat would fall about two inches and hit the agility table. At this point I ended the exercise.

I decided to throw in one more exercise to increase his comfort level on the teeter. I placed the bed on the opposite side from the mat and had him run back and forth, with the teeter falling about two inches every time. This time I cued him to lie down on his mat when he reached it. He liked this exercise. Thank you Control Unleashed!

Next session I will have him hopping from the box or chair onto the end of the teeter and resume slowly raising the height. I think that I will keep using the mat for a bit, then redo it with his foot target when he's comfortable with a good height. The mat creates a softer landing spot for him and will lower the difficulty of the exercise. And I'm going to continue with the running back and forth between his mat/bed, at a much lower height.

Having worked through all these baby steps at home should set us up to coast through the steps much more easily when we're eventually working through it with a full-size teeter in class.

I wish I'd gotten all this on video!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

eye recheck, and agility recap: Focus and Motivation class, week 5

This morning we had another checkup with the ophthalmologist. Everything is looking good. He still has blood in his eye (it takes a very long time to reabsorb) but the healing is continuing without any problems. We are cleared to practice the teeter again!! He is no longer taking the Atropine, and the Neopolydex and Cosopt are now only once a day instead of twice. The Prednisone is continuing twice a day. The next checkup is in February.

Tonight was the last night of this agility session -- next week we become an offical Agility Foundations class!

Today was great. Dragon did not try to sniff/explore during the working time at all. His focus was nearly 100%. The only couple of snafus were when I told him to "take a break" out of habit to let him know that an exercise was finished, and he disengaged and wandered off. Whoops! I need to remember to use a different transition when I actually expect him to stay by me. Usually I pick him up or trot with him to a different area to start a different exercise. He was also more comfortable staying on his mat and chewing his bully stick when I had to move closer to the instructor to listen.

We warmed up with more circle work. I've been working specifically on accelerating during both circle work and obedience heeling. We moved on to running to a nose target. I baited the target a couple of times but for most reps it was empty and he still stopped on it as I kept running past. Success! I just need to watch out because I tend to turn my body toward him to check whether he's stopped, and I know that that's a huge cue to him. I now need to practice having him run to the nose target as I do increasingly more distracting things, such as front cross, run in a different direction, do jumping jacks, etc. We also practiced running to the target over a flat plank, and down the weighted side of a teeter that was lowered nearly to the ground.

We practiced running between jumps standards and coming to front if I was stopped, running toward a toy on the ground if I was moving forward, and running to me and continuing on toward a thrown toy if I was moving forward. We're a bit ahead of the rest of the class in this, although I do need to practice it more. Dragon was more confident in discriminating whether to run ahead or come to me compared to last time we practiced. I need to practice running ahead toward a thrown toy the most.

At the end we played the bang game with the teeter. It was only a couple of inches of the ground and it moved very slowly and made almost no noise when Tiny Dog jumped on it, haha. I was super proud that he was comfortable on it, though. Our months of work are really paying off! At the end of class I raised the end to about six inches and practiced having him hop on and ride it down, and it was the perfect level of difficulty -- he didn't jump on smoothly at first but after a handful of reps had no hesitation.

Another wonderful thing is that he tugged with me! After running to his food toy he would pick it up and tug with me for a few seconds, and then I would mark and reward the tugging with the food inside. It's working very well -- a few times he was super into the tugging, pulling backwards with his whole body, and didn't even let go when I clicked. I have my dog back again!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Follow-up on the miniature agility contact equipment

There has been some discussion over whether I should use the miniature contact equipment I made for Tiny Dog. The concern is that he'll learn a particular stride on the tiny equipment and then be confused and lose confidence and drive on the full-sized equipment. After getting advice from a handful of instructors and agility-experienced friends, as well as asking the local small dog agility group, I've decided to go ahead and use the mini equipment.

I feel that the difference between my equipment and full-sized equipment will be so obvious that he won't get confused just due to practicing on the small stuff. It's not like the difference between a ten-foot and a twelve-foot teeter, where the dog might not see the difference in distance and that might actually ruin his performance. In this case, as long as I also practice as much as I can on full-sized equipment, I should be able to get the benefits of having something to practice with at home. It won't transfer fully, but it will be good to have something that works in a similar manner to regular contact equipment on which he can practice driving ahead with speed. I'll also be able to practice sending him up the ramps at different angles, and do obstacle discrimination with tunnel-like objects underneath the mini dog walk and a-frame. In the end I believe that this will make him more confident in agility. The biggest advantage, though, is having a teeter-like object so that I can slowly raise the height as he practices hopping up onto the end and riding it down. Even if I were to never send him across the mini-teeter, this would be a huge benefit.

People also pointed out that it depends on my goals. If I really want to get to the highest levels of competition, the best way is to choose one or two venues and practice only on equipment that fits their requirements. If I just want to have fun, it doesn't matter so much. I would love for us to reach high levels of competition someday, and I am doing my best to train strong foundation behaviors to carry us through many years of competing. However I know that I will make mistakes, since this is my first time training for agility. We're not going to be on the World Team. I'd rather be able to practice at home whenever I want to than hold out for only working with "perfect" equipment.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Focus and Motivation agility class, week 4

Recap of yesterday's lesson!

We warmed up with circle work and running to a nose target. The instructor then brought out a couple of circular wobble boards, a tiny tippy board, and a dog walk plank. The students rotated between the stations. Tiny Dog was excellent on the boards. On the wobble board I was able to slam my foot down on it and he was airborne for a micro-second and he just continued walking over the board and sniffing for treats. Excellent!! All the time I've taken with that has really paid off. On the tippy board he also was not concerned about the movement at all and I had him hop onto the end and ride it down (all of the two inches) just like we'd last been practicing with a mini-teeter.

With the dog walk plank he didn't drive across it as quickly as I'd expected, but I think that that's because he couldn't see his nose target very well. I switched from the gold metal lid I'd been using (which was similar in color with the woodchips at the agility field) to a bright white yogurt container, but he still has a little trouble in the dark. At one point when all the stations were taken I snuck off to a corner of the field and had him run along a folded-up teeter to his nose target for more practice. (I had him run down the end that was resting along the ground; no teetering movement.)

We did sit-stays and recalls, making sure to separate body movement from the release word, and rewarding by throwing a toy ahead. I used the new food-stuffable toy I made. It works great except that I had to replace the original magnetic close with metal snaps, because Dragon had learned to pick it up and shake it to send the treats flying. Also I need to add some weights to the bottom so that I can throw it farther.

We moved on to tunnels. The other dogs in my group also had experience with tunnels, so we used one that was fully extended. I rewarded by throwing the food toy ahead.

We ended by having our dogs sit-stay on one side of a jump (no jump bars, just a support along the ground), tossing a toy on the other side, and releasing our dogs to drive through the stanchions toward the toy. Easy-peasy for Dragon.

He did well staying on the mat, chewing a bully stick, except when I had to stand about ten feet away to be able to hear the instructor better. Even better was that he didn't try to sniff the ground until the end of class when he had to potty again. His focus was wonderful when I remembered to take breaks and cue him to look around. Next week is the last class of this "focus and motivation" session. After that we will move on to the official "foundations" sessions, although obviously these past few weeks have focused on foundation agility stuff as well.

I'm going to poke around the internet and read up more on Derrett's handling system, since that's what Moe had started us on and Jump'n Java is using it, too. I know that I'll be able to train more confidently once I have the bigger picture in my head. We're quite ahead of the class and I don't want to lose momentum!

Monday, November 28, 2011

homemade agility equipment

I purchased a lot of PVC, a couple of squares of plywood, door hinges, and a number of second-hand cabinet doors at Urban Ore, a local re-use depot for all kinds of construction and household goods. I got leftover sand and paint from a couple of friends. Add to that some foam insulation tubing and a metal pipe from the hardware store, and you have the supplies for some relatively cheap, small homemade agility equipment. It is all tiny-sized so that it can fit in my apartment. Also, I don't have a large yard to practice in; we have to use the narrow street out front.

homemade agility tire jump
Tire jump. He will jump through the middle of the tire about 90% of the time. Occassionally he misjudges the jump and ends up going under.

homemade agility table pre-painting
Table before I painted it. It is TDAA-sized (30" x 30"). The rest of the equipment is even smaller than TDAA. I ended up not using the boards along the sides because they were a bother.

homemade agility teeter, table, wobble board
Wobble board, teeter, and table drying after getting painted. Having a mini-teeter on hand will be super handy. He hasn't been on it yet because his teeter training is still on hold for his eye.

homemade agility dog walk
Dog walk. I did one session in which I shaped him to climb across it, to get him use to the structure. Then I put it away until I figure out what I want to do with his contacts.

homemade agility a-frame
A-frame. Not pictured are the chains on either side to keep it from sliding down, although the 2x4s at the bottom also do a great job.

Tiny dog = tiny, cheap, portable equipment that doesn't need to be as sturdy. Awesome.

So since I have an a-frame I can lower all the way to the ground, I want to do that and then teach him to run across it, driving toward a thrown toy, and slowly raise the height. I don't actually know anything about contacts; that's just my inclination. I think I remember Moe saying that she would have me teach running contacts like Silvia Trkman does if I had access to an a-frame that I could lower, but since I didn't she said to teach a nose target that I could place a bit farther out and that would turn into a running contact. Now I have an adjustable a-frame but I remember her being worried about the dog learning a particular stride on smaller equipment and then failing at trials. I feel like it's worth it to have tiny equipment so that we can get some practice at home, and we'll eventually be practicing on full sized equipment in class. This would be a lot easier if I had more agility experience and could see the big picture. Obedience and rally o is easier for me to train on my own because I know what the overall plan is, and how different training techniques may or may not influence the final picture.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cameo by Jasper: begging in kitchen

This video shows some behavior modification I've done with Dragon's brother, Jasper Fforde.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's playtime!

Last week, Dragon wanted to wrestle with me for the first time in about a month.

Last night and one time last week, he muzzle-punched the cat and tried to get him to play.

This morning after chasing a thrown food-stuffable toy a few times, he grabbed it as I was holding it and started tugging.

My puppy is feeling better!! I am over the moon.

This is the food toy I made, by the way:

homemade magnetic-close food toy

It's made of fleece. The flap has a magnetic close.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tricks showcase for November 2011

I made another big montage of nearly all the tricks we've been working on! It's always a fun project for me, because I think about how far Dragon has come. When I made the last tricks showcase in April, he was still learning heel position by pivoting around on a bowl. Now he's doing full heeling in a semi-distracting environment, and I'm working on fixing up some of my footwork. In April I had just gotten him to retrieve a teeny little leash tab, and now he'll retrieve his harness, toys, dumbbell, metal canning rings, leather rings, pens, plastic bottles... (I love teaching retrieving!) This month also shows him at his best on the wobble board -- on a pivot eight inches off the ground, with my foot kicking the board up and down.

My favorite moments:
The pivoting right at the beginning
Stacking bowls at 1:21 (that's such a cool trick)
Trying to find the platform with his back feet at 3:44
I walk away from the wobble board and he's still tipping it at 5:00

So proud of my puppy!

pet insurance update

Just got e-mails from Trupanion about the first four claims I've submitted to them, to get reimbursed for diagnostics and medications. (They don't reimburse for exam fees.) They are sending me $402.30. Since February I have paid them about $330, so buying pet insurance has saved me money. Of course, in a few months that won't be the case any longer. However if Dragon had needed surgery, or expensive medication (like the Cosopt) for the rest of his life, they would cover that also. The peace of mind is worth it for me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

expensive medication

I picked up another bottle of Cosopt, the glaucoma medication Dragon is on to keep the pressure in his left eye low. It was $45 for a teeny little bottle! I'm still waiting for Trupanion to process all of my claims going back to the date of his injury. There was a hold-up with obtaining records from the first vet he went to as a puppy, since those records are under a different dog and owner name.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

agility dog needs agility lead

homemade agility lead

The collar part is a 1 inch nylon strap with a ribbon sewn on top. The part that tightens is a small braid of yellow and red fleece. The leash part is a four-strand braid of light yellow, bright yellow, red, and black/orange spotty fleece. I can't figure out how to braid fleece without it twisting up so much. Other than that, I'm quite happy with it.

homemade agility lead

homemade agility lead

homemade agility lead

Love how this picture came out. It's the first time that I was able to hand him an object and have him take it and hold it and just stay there long enough for me to take a picture!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Focus and Motivation agility class, week 3

We worked on restrained recalls, restrained recall through a tunnel, circle work, nose targets, and sending the dog forward to a toy.

Dragon won't play with toys right now. I had to go through the whole explanation of, "No, he does have toy drive, and I know how to build toy drive, he just won't play right now because of his eye injury" with both the instructor and the assistant. But I was really happy with the instructor's response of, "Well the border collie people all think that your dog has to tug, but my previous dog never tugged a day in her life. I just used toys with food inside to get her to drive ahead toward something." So I'm turning one of Dragon's old torn-up plush toys into a food pouch that I can toss ahead. That should be good for building drive to run ahead because the prednisone makes him SUPER HUNGRY. Still, I want my playful, tuggy dog back!!

He was much better about staying on his mat during downtime, and a bit more focused as we walked around the yard between exercises. I don't allow him to do his own thing on the field. He's either doing an exercise, walking next to me with attention instead of sniffing at the end of the leash, or he's resting and free to look around while in my arms or on his mat. We also practiced a bit of obedience heeling and I brought his dumbbell and liver treats to practice after class.

During most of the time that the instructor is talking to the class, it's super basic stuff and I'm a little bored, but occassionally I'll notice a hole in our foundation. I need to work more on Dragon driving to his nose target independent of my movement, and especially while I keep running ahead. While we don't get many reps in front of the instructor (we only did two recalls and two runs through the tunnel), the biggest upside of doing a group class is that she sees us week after week, and so we're getting steady advice throughout the training process. When I was doing privates with Moe, it was nice to have her undivided attention, but I can end up training the wrong thing or leaving big holes when I'm left to train mostly on my own.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Scent discrimination with metal articles

Look what Dragon can do!

This is the foundation for a competition obedience exercise in which the dog has to retrieve one metal article among five identical ones. The correct one is the one with the owner's fresh scent on it. We are using metal canning rings. Dragon will bring back the correct one nearly 100% of the time. The "tasting" and picking up of the incorrect articles is quickly fading as he figures out the fastest way to identify the correct one.

This is my first time teaching this exercise and it's thrilling to see him do it so happily and reliably!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Focus and Motivation class, week 2

I've finally managed to find an introductory, competition-focused agility class that fits into my schedule! It is with Jump'n Java Agility and taught by Dorothy Fukushima. The location is an outdoor field covered with woodchips. Unfortunately this time of year it is cold and dark, despite the small stadium-style lights.

We missed the first week because I had a scheduling conflict, but that didn't matter because Dragon is already ahead of the game thanks to our start in private lessons. The point of this class is getting our dogs to be able to focus among distractions rather than about agility itself, though we did do circle work and decell cues. We also did restrained recalls and sit-stays.

Dragon wanted to just walk around and explore rather than really focusing on me during circle work. I think my rate of reinforcement was too low for that part. But he shone during the stays (I even had him do stand-stays) and the recall.

During our downtime I had him on my lap or lying on his mat. He tried to wander off to explore here and there when he was bored but he didn't try to leave the mat due to activity from the other dogs or people. Next week I will try bringing a bully stick for him to chew on. Under normal circumstances I don't think that he would be interested but the prednisone is making him super hungry so hopefully it will work.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cue list

Everyone knows that I'm a nerd when it comes to dog training. At Michele Pouliot's prompting, I decided to make a cue list. This is an excel file that lists all of Dragon's tricks, with verbal cues, any relevant hand signals, other body cues, context/environmental cues, a description of the final behavior, and a quick note about our progress. I listed 72 cues.

Does that seem like a huge number? It includes the basics, such as reacting to his name (a cue to look  at me), cues about when we are or are not working ("Ready to work?", "go sniff," "take a break," and "run free"), and various words meant to encourage him, amp him up, or help him through interactions with other people. These are the kinds of things that people usually don't think about as cues, but we are communicating with our dogs all the time. But does what we are telling them mean the same thing to them as to us? One of the reasons the cue list is helpful is to think hard and methodically answer this very question.

The list also includes the different "positions" used in obedience and tricks (sit, down, stand, meerkat/sit pretty, playbow, etc), classic freestyle moves (spin, turn, jump to hand, weave between legs), and cues for competition obedience, agility, nosework, and just plain ol' tricks. Most of them aren't on verbal stimulus control and I don't expect them to be. I'm okay with pointing at an open door to cue Dragon to close it, pointing at one of his chewies to cue him to bring it over, and then patting my lap to get him to jump up. A lot of them are cued by the presence of specific objects (climbing into a box or stacking some bowls) or by where my arm and body are pointing (run up this tree).

Another advantage of listing all his tricks this way is to look for any similarities between verbals or hand signals that might confuse the dog. It also allows me to note where we're at with each trick and what I need to work on. I was reminded of some tricks we haven't practiced in a very long time (balancing on two legs, for example), and I'd like to bring them back into the rotation to keep his fitness level high.

At the bottom I also listed a number of neat tricks I've seen other dogs do, and which I hope to teach him someday: circling around me backwards, opening his mouth on cue, rolling up in a blanket, retrieving a hot dog or other high value edible, and blowing bubbles in water.

Challenge yourself and give it a try with your dog! A final perk of creating the cue list is that proud feeling you get when you realize just how much you and your dog have learned together.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tiny Dog has tiny dumbbell

tiny dumbbell

tiny dumbbell

Following up on play concerns

I brought up my concern about Dragon not wanting to play with my trainer friend Elissa. She reassured me not to worry about it, and not to bother trying to get him to play until he's clearly feeling better and initiating play on his own. Otherwise I might end up altering his play style weirdly or teaching him to be worried or suspicious of playtime. So, although I'll miss it, I'll put away the toys until he shows me that he wants to play, and just use food in training. He's normally a playful dog, so in the end I should be able to get his play drive back up again.

In the meantime we're making steady progress with his obedience training. I just received a teeny plastic dumbbell in the mail and I did a session of dumbbell = liver treats, woohoo!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Loss of enthusiasm

Dragon has almost completely lost interest in tugging since his eye injury three weeks ago. Even the rabbit fur tug only brings out half-hearted chasing and mouthing. (Before the injury, he went crazy for it and would chase it in circles and was putting noticeable wear on it.) Even his drive to chase a rolling ball has diminished. I am sad to lose the opportunity to play with him in this way. It was a fun way to bond and get some energy out, as well as a great reinforcer in training.

I've been bringing the rabbit tug out every few days when he pesters me for something to do, and putting a lot of energy into encouraging him to chase it and mouth it. I'm trying not to put pressure on him and stress over it, though. I'm telling myself that while switching to using just food as a reinforcer for a few months will impact his play drive for a while, he is a very playful dog and in the end I should be able to get all that tugging joy back. It won't affect him permanently. (I should say that I wasn't looking to play vigorous games of tug anyway, since we want to avoid jarring/shaking actions. Just any excitment over a gentle tug game...)

On the other hand, I'm happy that the prednisone is getting him to consistently eat all his meals, which was a struggle before. Silver lining.

Training session with Janette and Brooky

One dog doing silly tricks is fun. Two dogs doing them at the same time is funner!

We worked on stays and recalls, the dogs learned to target each other, and Dragon took Brooky for a walk.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Check-up with ophthalmologist, 2 weeks post-injury

Dragon's eye is on the road to recovery. The blood is slowly draining but it may take three months or even longer for it all to be re-absorbed. The pressure has come down to the same level as his good eye. He's going to continue taking the same four medications as before, but now he only needs each med twice a day, rather than having them spread out over five times a day. (Thank goodness! It was hard to keep up.)

I told the doctor that I was concerned that he is not interested in tugging or wrestling like usual. She theorized that it might be that his vision is affected and that makes him uncomfortable with it. She didn't think that he's in pain, which is a relief. He's also been sleeping more than usual, but I can't tell if that's because his body is recovering or simply because I've restricted his activities and he's adjusted to that.

He's still restricted from doing much jumping or practicing the teeter. Next week we're starting our group agility class, but the class is starting from the top and I assume will spend the first few weeks on handling and low jumps, so it's okay for us to continue the break from doing fast sequences and teeters and such.

Dragon was working me for treats while I talked to the doctor. One of his tricks is to back up and target a person with his back feet. Usually he just ends up sitting his butt onto a person's lap or putting one back foot up against their leg. Today he ended up doing a whole hand stand against the stomach/chest of a vet tech standing next to the exam table. That was a real conversation stopper.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween at Pt. Isabel

I clipped Dragon's wings onto his harness and we headed to the dog park to show off. Initially I was worried that the other dogs might be weirded out, but only a few were concerned and none of them reacted badly.

Halloween at Pt. Isabel

Halloween at Pt. Isabel

Halloween at Pt. Isabel

He got lots of laughs. One person said, "Oh look, a dragon-dog!" which made me very happy that he recognized the idea.

Halloween at Pt. Isabel


There were a handful of other dogs dressed up, too:

Halloween at Pt. Isabel

The BEST costume -- tiny jockey riding a dane:

Halloween at Pt. Isabel

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Second obedience lesson with Denise Fenzi

Oh, how I love working with Denise. Her attitude puts me right at ease because she is upbeat, casual, and flexible. Her pointers are always spot-on and I end the lesson feeling like I know exactly what we should do, and energized to do it.

Last time I met her we mostly worked on heeling. We started off by reviewing heeling again, and I showed her our progress. Dragon had great position when he was paying attention, nice and close and pivoting beautifully. There was a small issue with his attention drifting. Denise had me tell him to take a break (signalling that he had lost the opportunity for reinforcement) and back up whenever he looked away. If he heeled nicely and payed attention for 3-5 seconds, then he would be paid. It can be surprisingly hard with a small dog to tell whether he's paying attention. I don't expect Dragon to look at my face the entire time because that's hard on his body, but he should be looking upwards and towards my legs. I will have to work harder to be able to recognize right away whether he's focusing or looking past my legs at something else. I'm raising my criteria and working on getting beautiful, attentive heeling before I ask for more duration.

We briefly discussed sitting at heel. I've been using a clear hand gesture/target to get him to sit nicely in position, to build up a good history of reinforcement. Denise cautioned me not to name the sit at heel. If I have to cue it, he won't do it automatically. If I wait him out and he does it and gets rewarded, then he'll learn faster to do it automatically. (When we practicing heeling on the rally course after I finished teaching class this evening, I practiced planting my right foot and shifting my weight slightly sideways as a cue to sit. He responded very well to this.)

From heeling we moved on to making training plans for all the rest of the AKC Novice exercises.

Fronts: During our last lesson, Denise had suggested that I use a front foot target and click for his butt being straight on, but he's been reinforced too much for pivoting from side to side and this was a frustrating exercise. I had decided to switch to backing up and using my hands down low to guide him in close to my legs. By now this had progressed to having my hands up higher and making an upwards motion, and Dragon would sit almost right between my feet. Then I would bend my knees outwards and throw the treat between my legs for him to chase (encourages him to get in close to my legs). Denise liked what we were doing and added that I should stop backing up when he looks at me, so that he gets to do the front and get reinforced if he's offering attention. I can also already fade the hand movement more. Once he's got that down I'll slow down my backwards movement until he's coming to front without my feet moving at all.

Stand/Sit for Exam: The Beginner Novice class has a sit for exam instead of a stand, and Denise recommended teaching that first. It's an easier behavior for the dog to be successful in, since he's less likely to shuffle his feet or move away. We used a CAT-like method to teach him to focus on me as a way to make the inherently-uncomfortable exercise end. Denise would step foward, click when Dragon looked at me, and then back away as I treated him. Build up to the scary stranger stepping forward and reaching, looming over the dog, waving stuff around, etc. I really like this method -- the dog learns that he can make the exercise end by standing still and watching the handler. It always works in the ring! Obviously you have to build it up slowly, so that the dog doesn't start breaking because he's too nervous about the stranger walking right up to him and looming over him. (Also, Denise didn't mention this, but using a stand platform would be a good way to set the dog up for success when transitioning from a sit for exam to a stand for exam.)

Retrieve: Dragon showed off his strong "bring to hand" behavior with his little leash tab. We talked about how dogs have trouble keeping items in their mouths as they sit. Butt goes down = mouth opens up. She liked that I'd been working on having Dragon do other tricks while holding onto his tab, and brought up using a platform, which was also on my to-do list once he was more solid with standing squarely on his new, narrow platform. We did practice with a large platform she had on hand, and lo and behold, Dragon was able to pick up the tab, get on the platform in front of me, and promptly sit with the tab in his mouth. Platforms are magic.

I need to order a dumbbell.

Broad Jump: I need to get some white boards to practice this. We did some jumping with her practice set, and I cued "hup" like I do for agility jumps, and he had no trouble with it. She recommended teaching him to go out to a target after jumping, and also putting a block by the corner of the broad jump to prevent the dog from learning to take shortcuts in training.

Stays: We ran out of time to practice but I said that his stays are great, in many different environments. I need to start practicing them with other dogs around. This will be easy if I remember to do it at work, where there is no shortage of both trained dogs who will hold their stays and green dogs who will be squirmy and break stays, for proofing.

I was amazed to realize how everything is coming together so well. I feel like we have a good foundation going.

Monday, October 24, 2011

pet insurance

Dragon is insured with Trupanion. I just got the last form I needed filled out by the vet who saw us last Monday night, and will mail out the forms and copies of his entire medical history this week. Unlike human health insurance companies who pay the doctor directly, pet health insurance companies require the owner to pay the vet clinic, and reimburse the owner later (or not). Also like with human insurance, pet insurance companies are known for doing their best to get out of having to pay. However I did my research before I chose Trupanion, and I've read their policy twice since his injury, and they should reimburse me for 90% of the cost of diagnostic tests and medications. They do not cover exam fees.

My total expenses for far: $585
I should be reimbursed: $263
My remaining costs (office exam fees and 10% of meds/diagnostics): $322

I enrolled in the program in February, and have paid them dues of $33.47 nine times. I've paid Trupanion a total of $301.23. That means that I've paid them only about $38 more than they will now pay me. Add to that the knowledge that they would have covered 90% of the cost of surgery should he have needed it, and I'd say that it's worth it so far.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween outfit

You knew this was coming, right?

Halloween dragon wings

He now has "dragon" wings! (His left eye is still reflecting light weirdly because one of the medications keeps his pupil dilated.)

Halloween dragon wings

They're made from a mottled green fleece with a wire that loops around his chest and extends along the tops of the wings. The wire is safety pinned to his harness to hold it in place. (This photo also shows the black spots that have appeared on his back as he's grown older.)

Halloween dragon wings

He's so tolerant of my craziness.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Good news from the ophthalmologist!

No more cone!

I think Dragon wanted me to say that first, because it's most important to him.

After much poking, prodding, restraining, muzzling, shining of lights, and an ultrasound, the ophthalmologist was happy to report that there is no retinal detachment in Tiny Dog's eye. The ultrasound was because the blood still in his eye was blocking her from seeing a small section inside, and I wanted to make absolutely sure that there was no real damage. If there had been retinal detachment, he would have needed surgery. Or rather I should say that surgery would have been an option to restore the damage, and I would have done it without hesitation.

The doctor was concerned that the pressure in his eye was a bit higher than she would expect. She examined his good eye to see how his internal drainage ducts are structured. They're a bit tighter than usual -- not enough to cause a concern normally, but she prescribed a pressure-relieving glaucoma medication just in case. She also added prednisone to give his system a boost, and instructed me to give the anti-inflammatory a bit more often.

He has a check-up scheduled in two weeks. Until then he is to continue resting; no agility jumping and running! The current drug regimen:

9 AM: NeoPlyDex ointment (anti-inflammatory and antibiotic)
12 PM: Cosopt drop (glaucoma medication, which reduces pressure), Prednisone (steroid)
2 PM: NeoPlyDex
7 PM: NeoPlyDex, Atropine (pupil dilator, if needed, at least every day)
12 AM: NeoPlyDex, Cosopt, Prednisone

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

eye update

We went to the regular vet today for a check on the bleeding eyeball. Initially the doctor said that it looked like the blood was getting re-absorbed and the eye was on the mend. She instructed me to continue the antibiotic three times a day until the week was up, and decrease the atropine from every night to every other night. She took Dragon to the back to draw his blood, since he happens to be due for his DHP vaccine and I wanted to get a titer first. The light was different there and she got another look, and was concerned to see a slight "fuzziness." It might be nothing, or it might be a sign of a small amount of retinal detachment. She refered me to an ophthalmologist. We have an appointment there tomorrow morning. I am really worried about the possibility of permanent damage to his eyesight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

emergency vet

bleeding in left eyeball

Tiny Dog and I have not had a good evening.

After my shift was done at the daycare, I got him from his room and took him to an outdoor yard to potty. On our way out, this happened:


He yelped but then shook it off and pottied. We went back indoors and had a great agility training session. He was doing jumps, tunnels, running, and playing tug like nothing was wrong. After about ten minutes I realized that the pupil of his left eye was reflecting red instead of black, it was impossibly huge, and it was surrounded by a light blue ring and then a red-tinged sclera. Off we went to the emergency vet.

They took him back immediately to examine him but then I had to wait an hour before I was able to see the vet and get any info. Two families who came in after me were seen by the vet before I was. I tried to console myself that that meant it wasn't too urgent. Indeed, ultimately the vet said that he should recover fine, though he needs another check-up with his regular vet on Wednesday. He has an antibiotic ointment to be applied three times a day for seven days, and another once-a-day ointment to dilate his pupil and relieve pain. And, of course, the dreaded cone. He was coping with the injury well until the cone was put on, and then his life-force was sucked away. He spent half an hour just standing completely still at my feet. I think he was falling asleep but unable to process the idea of lying down while wearing the cone. I'm breaking the rules and letting him sleep on my bed tonight.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Multi-tasking success!

I just got Dragon to take his little leash tab (his strongest retrieve item) into his mouth and sit and hold it!! Twice, even!! I'm over the moon!

For about five sessions now we've been working on what I call "multi-tasking" -- he had to both hold the leash tab in his mouth and do another trick at the same time. I started off combining tricks that would be easy, such as walking over low poles on the ground, or following my hand around. When he could do that we switched to tricks that were slightly more complex, but had a strong reinforcement history and he knew them well. (Examples are spinning in both directions and leg weaves.) Last session I finally asked him to sit while holding it, and the first couple of times he dropped the tab and then sat. Then he was able to hold it while starting to sit, but I had a feeling that he would immediately spit it out so I clicked as he was starting to make the motion.

This session I used his ball as a reward to keep his motivation high. He was able to hold the tab for two full seconds while sitting and looking at me.

He doesn't know how to do a front yet (er, it's on the to-do list). For now I'll continue asking for other tricks while holding, interspersed with asking him to sit for slightly longer periods of time. When he's solid on that, I'll add in the element of distraction -- moving my hands around and towards the tab.

Sooo excited.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

playtime videos

Wrestling with my hand. Look how aggressive he is!!

(Denise Fenzi would be proud.)

Playing with Jasper Fforde:

They get along very well now. I just have to make sure that Dragon doesn't pester him when Jasper is done playing.

Tiny Dog torture.

Today I created a mannequin. A Dragon-sized mannequin. I could have carefully taken his measurements, created a pattern, and sewed one together, but that would have taken a lot of work and time. So instead, I used the classic "wrap the oddly-shaped item in a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of duct tape, and then cut off the duct tape shell."


That's right. I wrapped my dog in duct tape.


I didn't have the heart to take any pictures mid-wrap. He was so confused and unhappy. He tolerated it, though, and as soon as I had cut it off, he shook and then wagged his tail and tried to get me to play with him. He's quite forgiving.

It's a little bit bigger than his body is underneath all that fur, but otherwise it's super useful to have a model so that I can make nicely fitted clothes.


This is a coat I made with the same pattern as his first fleece coat (pre-mannequin), with a pleated skirt added.


He's got something to say about it.


As usual, it's reversible, because why make just one coat when you can easily make two?

Also, here's a cute sweater that I bought for him a couple months back:


God, look at those ears. They're like satellites when they move around.


agility lesson recap

Tuesday morning I drove down to San Jose for our fourth private agility lesson with Maureen Strenfel. I've been taking private lessons only because, due to my work schedule, I haven't been able to find a fitting intro class at a time I can attend. That said, Moe is a wonderful teacher and is setting us up with a good foundation.

This lesson was exciting because we were introduced to new obstacles and got to run sequences of 3-5 obstacles. Real agility stuff!!

We started off doing a sequence of three jumps and a tunnel which were arranged in an uneven circle. I am not very coordinated and this was quite challenging for me. I had to move at the right pace that I was constantly in motion but not moving so quickly that I had to suddenly halt to avoid running into a piece of equipment -- not only would that be painful, but the decelleration would cue Dragon to slow down and come to me rather than continuing ahead. I also had to carefully judge how far laterally I was from the jump standard/tunnel entrance, and where I was pointing, meaning that sometimes my flailing cued my dog to come back to my side and sometimes I sent him wide around the tunnel. Eventually we managed to do it properly. I need to work more angles with our tunnel entrances, just like I've been doing with the bar jumps

After a break we moved on to the new stuff. First, the teeter. We had him hop onto the low end of the teeter and get treats at the very edge, with my hand holding them low to encourage him to lower his center of gravity. We placed a jump standard underneath the weighted end of the teeter so that it would only go up a couple of inches off the ground. Thanks to all the work I've done with him on the wobble board and other slightly unstable surfaces, he wasn't bothered by the slight movement at all. He really wanted to turn in the other direction and run up the teeter, probably because I've done lots of reinforcing for running up trees and ramps. (I have a video of him climbing a steep fallen tree trunk here.) It's important to note that this teeter was outside on grass. Yesterday we practiced with a mini-teeter on rubber flooring, and he was less comfortable with the same exercise, I suspect because it was a harder impact and made more noise. Our homework is to build his confidence and slowly raise the height. Eventually he will have to jump onto the low end from a couch or chair! The final teeter behavior will be running directly to the end of the contact zone, so that he's using all of his tiny weight to drop the teeter, and lowering his body to steady himself for impact. It's critical that he always run all the way to the end so that he doesn't try to hop off early and get hit by the end coming back up. Also I release him to run forward and get another treat, so that he always runs ahead instead of hopping off sideways.

Then we moved on to the a-frame. I've been slacking on working on our nose target behavior, which was assigned after our very first lesson. Bad handler! I need him to drive to a nose target on the ground. I can put the nose target a little past the end of the a-frame, have him hop up, and run forward to touch it. We're using a nose target rather than a paw target to keep him focused low to the ground and try to prevent leaping off the a-frame. We will slowly raise the angle of the ramp to its full height. The final behavior will be a running contact, and it will be used for the dog walk as well.

It's so exciting to be introducing all the new equipment and behaviors! We have a lot of work to do before he sees the obstacles in their final versions, though. And I'll really need to work on flailing better.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Michele Pouliot seminar: Achieving Maximum Performance with your Dog

Last weekend we had a working spot in another seminar. Michele Pouliot is a successful freestyle competitor and instructor, and her specialty is using platforms to jump-start behaviors. In fact, something she emphasized over and over during the seminar was setting up the environment/training session so that the dog could quickly figure out the correct behavior and get lots of successful reps in right away. She also emphasized what she calls "clean training" -- having your treats already broken up into small pieces, having them hidden in your pocket and not in an obvious bait bag, having a plan of action before you start, and getting everything else that's needed (ie platforms, targets, music) set up before you start. Have a clear cue that tells the dog when he's working and when he's not. Afterwards do a self-assessment and figure out if you need to improve your handling, mechanical skills, or plan of action. And, of course, have fun!

The working dogs got to spend plenty of time on the floor. I found that initially Dragon would turn to me and happily do a few behaviors, but after a few minutes he started getting more distracted. That tells me that when we're out and about, we need to keep our sessions short, but as time goes on I need to start pushing his limits a bit. Right now, if we're in a highly distracting environment such as the dog park or the woods, I only ask for 1-5 behaviors at a time. Each training moment only lasts up to 20 seconds. Asking him to work for 5-10 minutes among a number of other dogs and handlers was too much of a challenge, even when it was interspersed with breaks to let him look around. That said, he didn't shut down or blow me off, he was just not 100% focused and frequently looked away and had to be called back. Overall it was a good experience for him, but in the future I'll be more careful to not push him that much so we can really build on success.

We spent most of Saturday talking about the basics of good training, which I found very helpful to review. For example, I may have taught Dragon a number of tricks, but most of them have clear contextual clues, and very few (possibly even none) are truly on a verbal cue. It's something that I've neglected to work on, and I hadn't even realized it. Oops!

We talked about using the leash as a positive training tool -- teaching the dog to move away from the pressure when he feels a light tension from the leash or light pressure from a hand. These can be used to guide a dog into position. She has a cool way to use light lines draped across a dog's sides to cue side passes and other complex movements.

At the beginning of the day Dragon whined in his crate for a minute or so when he was put away, but by the end he was tired and would just go to sleep. The same thing happened on the second day. I didn't cover his crate this time since my chair was close to it.

We discussed teaching attention as a behavior in itself, and not a criteria of something else such as heeling. There are two schools of thought on this. Denise Fenzi doesn't teach a "watch" cue because dogs naturally tend to watch their handlers if the training is fun and engaging for the dog. Michele teaches it and practices just getting attention in many environments, believing that a behavior that is fluent at home will be just as fluent in a distracting environment if the dog is able to focus and watch his handler. Personally I have decided to teach Dragon to watch me. Today we were practicing heeling after my rally class was over. At the end I had him sit at heel for a while, and I realized that he rarely looked up at me to check in. If I had moved forward he would have started heeling with me, but with a delayed response. Does this mean that the training session was simply not fun enough for him, or the distraction level was too high? Perhaps, but I feel that spending some time reinforcing attention will help him be more successful, and it certainly can't hurt. I will split teaching attention with the "give me a break" and "look at that" games from Control Unleashed so that he has a chance to check out his environment without conflict.

We moved on to Michele's signature platform training. For Tiny Dog, my platform size has very little wiggle room -- it needs to be just wide enough for him to comfortably stand on it with all four feet, but only when he's aligned straight on it. Today I made one by cutting up an old phone book and wrapping it in duct tape. His default behavior is to stand on it and look at me. Later I will make a separate, more square platform of a different color for which the default behavior will be sitting in a tuck sit.

I was impressed by all the behaviors that can be jump-started with a platform. The dog can line up in heel or side position with the handler already standing straight, with their arm along their stomach -- no need to twist around to lure the dog into position, which turns the shoulders the wrong way. The dog can also line up in front and get reinforcement with the correct head-on alignment. Along the same line as that, you can have the dog wait across the room or at a funny angle and then call them into heel or side or front, and they'll figure out how to twist their bodies to line up properly on the platform and along your side. They can be used to teach very tight spins, and paw waves without moving forward. (We worked on paw waves at the seminar, and Dragon made very quick progress!) They allow rapid distance training, such as for a go out in obedience, or doing freestyle tricks across the ring. Two platforms on either side can be used to teach the dog to pass in front or behind you or between your legs to switch sides. Another neat freestyle move is teaching the dog to line up in front, but facing away from you. Okay, okay, this list is long enough. I'm sold on the idea; platforms can be extremely useful!

At the end of the day we had some extra time for Michele to talk about anything the audience wanted, and someone asked about a clicker-trained retrieve. She said that in her experience many dogs do not like retrieving a dumbbell even if it was positively trained, and some stress when they are asked to take something into their mouth. Ding-ding-ding, bells went off in my head. So I'm not crazy or doing anything horribly wrong when I'm seeing Dragon shut down when trying to teach him to take and hold! That took such a weight off my shoulders. That doesn't meant that we can't work through the issue, but I'm relieved that even someone as successful as Michele has seen this happen with dogs she's trained. (By the way, so far my tactic of delaying the lowering of my hand is helping.)

We moved on to the topic of getting ring-ready, and Michele stressed the importance of practicing your ring entry routine. Jackpot your dog right at the start of your routine, to classically condition the ring entry as an exciting moment. Routines that start poorly rarely get better as the performance continues. Also make sure to prepare your dog for the audience bursting into applause at the end or even during your routine.

There was another papillon at the workshop and Dragon was super distracted every time he caught sight of it. Otherwise he didn't try to greet the other dogs too much. He's not usually allowed to do so when he's on leash, and my consistency with this allowed us to move through tight hallways without him stopping to try to sniff butts. What a good boy.

If you enjoy teaching tricks and want to get a positive-training perspective on preparing for competition (in any sport), I highly recommend Michele Pouliot's seminars.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

some new tricks

We got up at 6:30 this morning to get ready for a morning agility lesson with Moe. Unfortunately the lesson had to be cancelled at the last minute due to impending storms. Dragon was awake and feeling playful so we played tug and then did some training.

We did our second session of teaching him to put objects (his toys, currently) into a container (large plastic bowl). During the first session he was hesistant about holding his head directly over the large bowl. I was holding my hand above the bowl as a target and he was putting the toy into my hand. Then I would drop the toy into the bowl so that he would be used to the motion in the final behavior. Today he had no problem putting his head over the edge and dropping his toys directly into the bowl. At the end, when I told him to take a break, he even pulled a toy out, poked at it a bit, and then put it back into the bowl! I used plush toys so that they wouldn't make any noise, which would greatly increase the difficulty level for him. I'm teaching him this behavior for a few reasons: 1) it's a useful "service dog" type trick, especially when it's expanded to a more general concept of "carry item X to Y and place it there or perform another behavior," and I enjoy both teaching those tricks and having a dog who can perform real work, 2) it's another way to help him past his noise and motion sensitivities, and 3) it's adorable and impresses people, and really, that in itself would be a good enough reason, right?

Another new trick we're working on is jumping through a hoop. Currently I'm having him walk through it while it's an inch above the ground and I'm wiggling it back and forth a bit, so that he'll be comfortable with it moving a bit while in the air. Since he's already comfortable doing bar jumps, my next step is to get the behavior I want by setting a low bar jump and putting the hoop over the bar.

After the training session I went back to bed for an hour, and let Dragon sleep on the bed with me. He was sooo happy.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Denise Fenzi seminar: Drives and Motivation, day 2

Day 2 was even better than yesterday. Dragon did not cry in his crate other than some very minimal, quiet whining immediately after I crated him. All the dogs got to work more. And of course Denise gave us more fabulous info. The day felt much longer because we covered a greater variety of topics.

We started off talking about ways to make treats more interesting and being more engaging when you're using them, rather than the dreaded "pez dispenser" training. One way is to wiggle the treat right in front of the dog's nose and make him chase it around to earn it. This combines both food and prey drives, so it's building up both of them, and transferring value from the stronger one to the other. Dragon loved this game and we used it to snap him smartly into heel position.

Next we were introduced to one of Denise's signature training tricks, which is aligning the fingers of your left hand along your dog's muzzle as you feed him, creating a tactile cue to move him around in heel position. She used Dragon as a demo dog for this. They'd already done this once before when I had a private lesson with Denise. The first time he'd been shy about getting under her hand or too close to her body. This time he was still a bit nervous but allowed her to position him. Then I asked him to do the same and was even able to get him to side-step as I moved to the right. Proud mama.

Another favorite trick is what Denise calls "squish" -- teaching the dog to relax yet remain ready for work/play while lightly pressed against the human's legs, then focus on the handler when they let go and move away. Dragon likes to rub against my legs on his own terms but was unsure about my hands actually restraining him. I think that if I practice it some more, keeping the squish time very short at first, he will learn to enjoy it. Squishing avoids the grey area where the dog is unsure whether he's working or not, and keeps him ready to engage without over-working him with a long warm-up. (With a tiny dog one can also practice picking the dog up to "pause" the training session, and then put him down and get right to work.)

Denise discussed how utilizing the hunt drive and having a dog search for an object builds his interest in it. For under-confident dogs, teach them to be more pushy by hiding treats on your body or in your hand and rewarding them for moving into your space. There was a long discussion about "dominance" and how in the ideal training relationship the dominance/power levels are almost equal between dog and human, with just slightly more power to the human.

We discussed reasons that a dog may be unable to perform in a particular environment: fear, proximity of dogs/people, novelty of the environment, distractions, and the dog being overworked and tired or bored. We discussed ways to work through those issues. (After I got home I finally, for the first time, properly taught Dragon the Give Me A Break game from Control Unleashed. Took me long enough.)

We played a great game to teach our dogs to ignore distracting people, with a systematic way of increasing the criteria. I won't go into all the details of the system but I started off with calling Dragon away from his friend Cate while she held food, then calling him away while she moved the food around, then calling him away while she did that and cooed at him. Other people are a huge distraction for him since we almost always train alone, so I will definately need to remember to recruit helpers to practice this. The best part of this game is that it eventually reframes the judge in the ring as just a proofing exercise to be ignored.

Finally we discussed playing without toys, using the dog's sense of hearing (what noises and conditioned phrases get your dog's attention?), vision (dogs respond to stalking motions and to running away), and touch (tapping or pushing your dog away to take advantage of the opposition reflex). We played with our dogs one-on-one in front of everyone. Unfortunately by this time Dragon was tired and only interested in sitting on my lap and looking around. He humored me by following me as I danced around, and let me give him little pushes, but he didn't care to wrestle. It was the end of a long weekend for him.

We have plenty to work on now -- or should I say, a lot to play around with? And I'll be scheduling our next obedience lesson with Denise soon.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Denise Fenzi seminar: Drives and Motivation, day 1

Denise Fenzi is a top-notch, force-free, local competition obedience trainer. My friend Crystal had a working spot for this same seminar in Minnesota a few months back, and she was thrilled with the progress she's made with her dog Maisy since then, so I decided to also sign up for a working spot. The focus of the seminar is on building your dog's interest in playing with the handler, both with and without toys, and taking advantage of that in training and competition. This was Dragon's first seminar, and he's only been asked to work/play around other dogs in a handful of places, so I expected him to be nervous about it. Turned out that I needn't have worried!

Initially Denise asked us to potty the dogs, and then stand still and watch them. We were to read their body language and judge what kind of dog we had in that moment. Was the dog tense and nervous about his surroundings? Was he curious and eager to explore? Was he tuned into the handler, and wanting to engage in work or play?

Dragon was most interested in exploring the environment. He wanted to watch the other dogs and the people to gather information on them, and he sniffed the ground, though with perked-up ears and tail and a relaxed body, which was how I knew that it was curious-sniffing and not stress-sniffing. I let him potty and gather information for a minute. (And he had already walked around and sniffed for 15 minutes before the seminar started.) When it was time to play, he was willing to immediately engage and wrestle with my hands. Denise liked that I started off playing with Dragon without toys (she calls it "personal play") and then switched to his tennis ball-tug. Since the ball is his very favorite toy, we want to start with the lower-value play first, because it's much harder to switch from the #1 bestest play to the #2 than vice-versa. He was willing to drop the ball into my hand on cue. He brought it back to me when I threw it or let him "win" the game of tug, but the return was a bit slow. She advised me to do more throws of the toy in one direction and then running in the opposite direction as soon as he picks up the toy, to encourage speedy returns. We should also practice switching back and forth between the two play styles more often, to make it easier to substitute one for the other when needed.

Later in the day, after he'd been crated for a longer period of time and I asked him to play without letting him look around and gather information again, he was not able to focus on me. Good information for me, and tomorrow I'll make sure to always give him that opportunity.

Unfortunately he would cry in his crate every time I put him away. Poor guy. He would settle down after 5-10 minutes most of the time. He was better when I covered the door with my coat.

Denise gave us many wonderful tips to help us understand how dogs play, how it is based on the predatory sequence, and how to get our dogs to play with us. Here are some tidbits:
- The drives you use are the ones you build. If you've only ever rewarded your dog with treats, you'll have a hard time switching to using play as a reward.
- Different dogs will be most interested in different aspects of the "hunt" or prey sequence. Some dogs love to chase but don't care about catching and possessing the toy. Some like the "fight" of biting down and trying to pull the toy away when tugging. For others it's all about possession. Dragon used to be more into the possession part -- he would take his toys away and chew on them, or if he had a ball, he would roll it around and play with it all on his own. I've put plenty of effort into building his tug drive and teaching him to bring the toy back to me, so I've transferred more value to the "fight."

- 8 week old puppies have abnormally high food drive because they've been fighting with their littermates for their food. Often resource guarding seen at this age fades away once the puppy is given ample resources in his new home.
- Start playing tug when your dog is a puppy (if you have him at that age) and maintain that skill into adulthood. All puppies play, whereas it's harder to teach an adult to play.
- Use the correct tug toy -- an underconfident dog just learning how to play does better with long, floppy, soft toys with real fur, whereas Denise's dogs are used to tugging hard on short, rigid, tough tugs.
- Use the opposition reflex. Don't push the toy into the dog's mouth or slow down as the dog is getting close. Use constant tension and motion. The toy should act like a rabbit trying to escape a predator.
There was lots more info, of course!

I bought two toys from Denise. One was a real rabbit fur tug on a long rope, that I knew would be a sure-fire hit. The other was an eight-inch, thin, round tug made from a soft wool-like fabric and stuffed so that it held its shape but had some give when bitten onto. I wasn't sure that he would be interested in this one right away, but I had a hunch that I'd be able to build drive for it. We tried it out at home and played the longest game of tug ever. Initially he didn't know how to bite down on it the best way to keep hold, but every time he lost his grip I would whip the toy away and make him do a trick to get it back. But it wouldn't come straight back -- it would dance around on the floor and run away from him and he had to work to catch it. After about five reps he clamped down hard on it. He liked it when I would partially let go of the toy, as if he had ripped it from my hands, and when I moved toward him as if he were yanking me off my feet and winning the game. I also tried letting him win full possession of the toy, but that actually put a damper on the game. He would bring it back but very slowly. Usually he's faster; maybe he was unsure since it was a brand new toy? Also I didn't have room to run away from him and encourage chasing. We'll work on that. In the meantime I am thrilled with the toy! The game was so long because I was waiting for him to "mess up" and lose grip on the toy one last time before I ended the fun, and it's like he read my mind!

We're looking forward to Day 2, in which we'll discuss play without toys again, and getting ready for competition!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

first rally o course

Today was the first day of a new session of the Intro to Rally Obedience class I co-teach at Metro Dog. After the students left I brought out Dragon and we went through the course. Initially he was a bit suspicious of the signs but after sniffing a few he was willing to work around them. He did the course beautifully! I was so proud, and I really wish that I'd gotten it on video! I rewarded him every two or three signs with a game of tug. He did start to lose interest in the tug toy around the tenth sign or so, so I switched to treats. If I'd been using his very favorite toy (a tennis ball on a string) he probably would have worked a bit longer. He doesn't yet have much stamina for long chains of tricks or heeling for a long time. I think that I tend to fall into the same trap as many people who enjoy teaching tricks -- I spend a lot of time getting brand new behaviors, but I don't spend as much time getting them on cue, proofing them, and building stamina for behavior chains with lower reinforcement schedules. Hmmm, this is something I need to start fixing ASAP or I'll be working against our plans to compete!

This weekend we have a working spot in a Denise Fenzi seminar about drives and motivation. I can't wait! I just hope I manage to get up at 5 AM both days -- I usually get to sleep in until 9!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

jaw update, and different ways of training a retrieve

I don't think that Dragon's aversion to holding a plastic tube in his mouth is due to physical pain after all (or, if it is, it's only a small factor). I think that he was actually shutting down because he didn't understand the exercise. I came to this conclusion after watching him carefully during play and training and checking in multiple times with my awesome, intuitive boss. I thought back on previous times that Dragon had been reluctant or completely shut down during training. He's a "soft" dog -- if he feels overwhelmed by the environment or training set-up, or he's confused about what he should do, or if I try to push him to do something he's not comfortable with, he stops being operant and displays stress signals, or he leaves and finds something to chew on instead of training. I have to be quite careful to keep training sessions short, with lots of encouragement, and most importantly, have to raise my expectations/criteria in baby steps, and only when he has a clear understanding of his job.

The last part is what has been biting me in the butt sometimes. I think that I'm raising criteria only a tiny amount, and he should be able to succeed, but when he doesn't understand what's happening he shuts down even with a high rate of reinforcement. For example, I was trying to train him to hold onto a plastic tube by initially clicking/treating for taking hold of it, then for taking hold of it behind his canines and not farther forward or back in his mouth, and then for holding it just a fraction of a second longer. But the idea of "sit still while holding something in your mouth" is not currently in Dragon's repertoire -- he was sure that he was supposed to be doing something. He was confused and frustrated because he didn't understand why he was getting the click sometimes and not other times. The high rate of reinforcement was not enough to override it, and so he spit out the tube and left the training session.

At least, that's my analysis. I can't know what really went through his head. But based on what I know about him, and the insight of my boss (who has plenty of experience with soft, stressy dogs), it's my best guess.

Now, similar moments of confusion happen all the time when a dog is being shaped to perform a new behavior. It's important to minimize frustration and confusion by keeping sessions short and upbeat and of course raise criteria slowly. But beyond that, I think the problem was that this was just a concept that was hard for Dragon to grasp, just like some people are better able to understand spatial reasoning or language arts than mathematics.

My solution is to change the way I'm trying to teach Dragon this skill, and hopefully find a way that will make more sense to him. He already has a strong "bring to hand" behavior (in fact, I think the strong reinforcement history for moving and targeting when he takes something into his mouth was part of the problem in understanding the new criteria of "just hold it"). So now instead of holding my hand out to him as a clear target on his way to me with an object, I am sometimes keeping it up and then lowering it once he's closer. Sometimes I lower it more slowly than other times. My goal is to start lowering my hand more and more slowly until he is effectively standing still with the item in his mouth and waiting. Then I will start waiting to lower my hand at all until he has stopped in front of me and is waiting and holding.

If this doesn't work, another method I've read about is teaching a dog to place his lower jaw onto a person's palm, and teach them to grab a dumbbell/retrieve object, and then to combine the two behaviors. Dragon does not currently have a duraction contact behavior with his nose or mouth, so this method would involve more new skill sets for him, and that's why I'm not using it as my first choice. Down the line, of course, it would be nice to teach him a chin target.

Eventually, for a formal retrieve, I'll also need to teach him to sit in front while holding onto an object, but I'm not worrying about that yet.

Other aspects of retrieving that we have been working on:
- reaching underneath or into a small space to reach the retrieve object
- reaching up high to reach the object, especially pulling something down (this is quite difficult for Dragon because sudden falling motions scare him)
- pulling something out of a box or over a barrier (speaking of spatial reasoning, this is helping him to develop it!)
- retrieving larger, heavier, or awkwardly shaped objects
- retrieving objects by name (inspired by Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her work with Alex, I'm starting off by trying to teach him the names "ball" for his orange floaty ball and "sock" for his sock tug, next items will probably be "stick" and "hoof" for his pig hoof)

My eventual goal is to have both a formal retrieve for the obedience ring as well as a useful service dog-type retrieve of named objects. I can't explain why but retrieving is something that I really love training with the clicker, and all these variations on the behavior keep the training new and engaging for both of us.