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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bay to Barkers and Control Unleashed week 4

This afternoon we stopped by the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society's biggest annual fundraiser, Bay to Barkers. There was a ring of vendors' booths set up, with some games in the middle of the square. There was a little ring with signs from APDT rally. And of course there were hundreds of dogs and people!

Bay to Barkers

Dragon was dressed in his best.

Bay to Barkers

Bay to Barkers

The wind streamlined him.

Bay to Barkers

He's going to fly away on those ears!

I carried him as I checked out the booths so that he wouldn't get stepped on or accosted by larger or rude dogs. I don't let him greet unknown dogs while he's on leash, anyway. He was calm in my arms and got attention from people won over by his ears.

We went into the rally ring for a minute to do some tricks and get reinforcement for focusing in that context. He's not fluent in heeling yet but we did some sits, downs, stands, circle work, spins, and backing up. Of course, heeling and all other performance behaviors are just advanced tricks, so to the dog there's no difference!

From there we drove to Walnut Creek for the last week of our Control Unleashed class. We continued with reinforcing staying on mats and in crates, played Look at That, and upped the ante in the Give Me a Break game by moving the dogs on mats closer to the ring gates. During our second turn in the ring, with the other dogs lying close by, Dragon was suddenly unfocused and checking out every leaf or piece of debris on the ground. Since during the previous turn he had been coming right back to me to restart the game, and doing 4-5 behaviors per treat, it was likely a stress response. Then he started sniffing an area with no debris on it, and I suspected he might have to pee, so I took him outside. He did pee, but not much.

Afterwards he got to hang out with his pal Jacques the papillon while I chatted with Jacque's mom. To commemorate the end of class, I took pictures of them doing a mini-group stay.

Dragon and Jacques

Dragon and Jacques

Dragon and Jacques

We will hopefully see Jacques and his mom again soon, as she is developing her land into a training field and I'd like to lend a hand.

Jump heights.

Dragon's height at the shoulderblades is slightly less than 12.5 inches. His jump heights are:

TDAA: 12"
AKC: 12"
USDAA: 12" in Performance Program, 16" (!!) in Championship Program
CPE: 12"
NADAC: 12"
ASCA: 12"
UKI: 12"

Well that'll be easy to remember!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Agility lesson recap.

We just returned from our second private agility lesson with Maureen Strenfel of Momentum Dog Sports. The weather is still cool here in the Bay Area, but the summer heat has started up down in San Jose, where I take my lessons. We scheduled our lesson for 8 AM, which meant that I had to get up at 6 AM. Since I usually get home from work at 10 PM, and go to bed at midnight at the earliest, this is a difficult thing for me! But as Moe pointed out, once we're trialing, I'll have to do it regularly.

Last time Dragon was easily distracted by people practicing at the far side of the field or coming and going through the gate. Also, birds, lizards, the wind rustling the grass... This time he was much more focused and responsive and it was a joy to work with him. I gave him breaks to sniff around or chew on the woodchips when I would talk to Moe, but he always got back to work when I asked, just with a few second's delay here and there. Better than the cheerleading and running away from him I had to do last time, haha! When I asked him to bring me his woodchip, he would put it right in my hand, a success thanks to all our recent practice with fetching different toys. He also dropped them when asked, which is a cue he mastered way back when I first brought him home, mainly because he's so soft and intimidated if I have to pry a forbidden object out of his mouth. One time he chased a lizard into the bushes and, amazingly, I was able to call him off it by running in the other direction!

We started off reviewing circle work, which is teaching the dog to move next to the handler's side, at the same pace, without switching sides, and doing both inside and outside turns. Think heeling, but faster and less precise. We've been practicing this a lot, and it showed. Moe did coach me to not mix up practicing inside and outside turns because he wasn't sure yet when I would make an inside turn and this caused him to run wide to feel safe. As we practice this more he'll learn to read my body cues better and maneuver quickly and safely. Ah, tiny dogs, they have so much to worry about.

Next we worked with a wobble board which was about six inches high in the middle, and about a foot off the ground at the highest edge. I clicked and treated for making the board tip. At first he would jump off when it moved, but slowly he gained confidence and started to ride it on the way down. We worked with the board three times over the course of the lesson, and by the end he was searching for the tipping point and riding it down 90% of the time. Moe explained that he has to learn to relax his muscles to "surf" on the board, and that under-confident dogs remain stiff and so they get jarred and lose their balance. Once he was comfortable we added an extra element of difficulty: rather than just having him move around and rewarding for causing the board to tip, I would use my hand to move it for him. It's great that's he's learning that it's a fun thing to create motion and noise. However he also has to learn that it's okay if things move unexpectedly beneath him, because different teeters have different tipping points and we want him to be prepared for that (and of course, it's also a good life skill).

We reviewed his targets. I had taught him a nose and paw target to different objects, but I hadn't taught him to stick to the objects, so I need to fix that. I will work on rapid-fire treats for staying on the object. For the nose target, that also means the treats should be down low, just above the target. I don't expect this to take long for Dragon to learn. He already has duration on a few other contact/target behaviors: lying on his mat, putting his front paws onto various vertical objects, and staying in his crate. I had been using a circular foam coaster as his paw target and she suggested that I get a mousepad for that behavior, which won't slide on floors and can be cut down to a smaller size.

Finally we started teaching him to jump! I stood next to a jump, facing the bar in a neutral position (in other words, my shoulders were not telling him to cross in a specific direction because they were parallel to the bar). I held treats in both hands, on either side of the jump, and waiting for him to orient to it. Soon he was taking mini jumps across the bar to get a treat on one side, then the other, and back. I'll have to practice this one at work, though it would be worth it for me to take the time to build a PVC jump, and practice with it in a grassy field near our house. Most of the agility trials in our area are held in outdoor fairgrounds, on grass. Moe explained to me how to move on with jump training on our own: I'll switch to standing next to the jump but facing perpendicular to it, and only reward him for going over in the direction that my shoulders are pointing. I'll reward him in front, turn him around, toss a treat to reset, and repeat. Then I can start working the clock, teaching him to jump from different angles and distances, making sure that my shoulders are always facing the same direction as he will while taking the jump.

Our homework:
- Refine circle work. Seperate inside and outside turns until he's more confident with inside turns.
- Continue with the wobble board.. Use a lower height but move it onto a hard surface that will cause additional noise. On softer surfaces, work on raising the height. Then combine the two elements. When he's comfortable at a given height/noise level, move the board for him, more and more until eventually he's surfing it with relaxed muscles as it's bouncing up and down.
- Make him stick to the nose and paw targets. Transfer the paw target to a mousepad.
- Start jump training, first with low height in neutral position, then raising up to 12", and then adding angles and distance. I also need to measure him and then look up his jump height in the agility venues common in our area.
- Continue with plank work, building speed and independent performance. We didn't practice this today but did discuss it. I had been sending him ahead of me to run the plank, but she said that I should always be moving when sending him across. Standing still should never signal him to take an obstacle. Oops! So we will practice with me moving, faster or slower, closer or farther, and on both sides.
- Play play play! Especially try to get him to play outdoors, because it's so useful for building speed and drive in training. Right now he will only play indoors, but I'll try to entice him to play in new indoor environments and low-key, familiar places outdoors.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking training on the road.

Yesterday morning I took Dragon to a pet supply store to do training. My goals were to get him interacting with novel objects, get reinforced for focusing on me in a distracting environment, and practice nosework in a new indoor location.

It is fun to scan the shelves and find new items to interact with. I free-shaped him to stick his head against the rim of a plastic elizabethan collar. I had him pivot by my side with his front feet on a frisbee. He learned to use his nose to prod at metal choke chains and make them jingle. He did a handstand onto a low shelf about four inches off the ground. He faced his fears and knocked over some plastic toys, creating both motion and noise in order to get yummy treats.

Then I had him lie down on his mat while I went around the corner and hid his nosework tin. We were interrupted a couple of times by bumbling friendly employees who couldn't see that we were working fawned over his cuteness, but when I moved him away and reminded him to search he would get back to work.

He had much better focus than I had expected. Initially he would try to wander off when I asked him to work, but once he realized that we would do a little bit of work and then we would continue walking around the store and he could continue to explore, he was much more willing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Control Unleashed class, week 3

This afternoon we attended week 3 of our Control Unleashed class. Jacques the papillon's mother brought along a boy who looked about 10 years old. Dragon is somewhat fearful of children, as is one of his other classmates, so the humans were happy to have a chance to do desensitization with this calm, well-mannered boy.

We did some mat work and crate work, of course, rewarding our dogs for calmly taking in the environment. Then the instructor had the boy walk in a circle around the classroom and we played the "Look at that!" game. Dragon's cue for the game is "Who's that?" It means that he should look at a person or dog nearby, and I will reward him for looking. It gives him an opportunity to get some information about who is around him, within a structure that lets him know that I will keep him safe and he'll get goodies. Over time, the sight of the things that had made him nervous becomes no big deal, and they're just something to glance at and then move on.

I don't come into contact with many children, and I really should make more of an effort to find some, so I can work to help Dragon overcome his anxiety sooner. However, thanks to my roommate's 8 year old daughter and the two neighbors of a similar age, he is quickly gaining confidence. Younger children, especially babies and toddlers, still evoke a growl when he hears them. They are unpredictable and make strange noises and movements -- in fact, toddlers are the most difficult age group for dogs be comfortable with. Dragon may be learning that 8-10 year olds are okay, but that won't change his opinions of children younger or older than that unless we specifically work with those age groups.

At the end of class, because I was confident that Dragon would be able to interact appropriately with the boy as long as it was a calm, controlled interaction, I asked the boy to sit on the floor and let Dragon approach him. Dragon carefully sniffed him all over, and on my cue of "go say hi", started climbing onto the boy's legs and planted his back feet on his lap. I fed him extra-yummy treats and had the boy give him a couple of treats. I am intentionally teaching him to back his ass up onto laps because it's a good intermediate step between no physical contact and having someone reach for his head to pet him, as humans instinctively do, yet dogs dislike. This way (when I see that he's comfortable enough) I can let the child pet his back, a less threatening gesture which provides a clearer escape route should the dog feel he needs it.

Next we practiced what's commonly called "leave it." I use the cue "off limits," because it feels like a silly cue rather than a harsh command for the dog to do something, and I wanted to avoid attaching any negativity to the cue. I had not taught it to him systematically but he had picked up some vague sense of the meaning -- turn away from what you're sniffing and focus back on me. I had used the cue with him previously in situations where I could use the leash to prevent him from moving farther toward an "off limits" item in the street, and I would reward him when he moved away or looked at me. I had also used it a few times in conjunction with my hand covering something I didn't want him to reach for. However Dragon is a soft dog and any body blocks or use of my hand to block his access are a stressor for him.

In class I practiced putting some treats on the floor and cuing "off limits." Dragon successfully moved away from the treats but quickly started skirting far around them to get back to me, not wanting to receive any "rebuke" for stepping too close. I had him do some hand touches to get him walking close to the treats without needing to focus on their presence, which helped to increase his confidence in the exercise. The treats on the floor are not out to get him!

I also asked the instructor to walk by and drop some treats nonchalantly from her hand, and within 3 reps Dragon would automatically look at me instead of trying to reach the food on the ground. Then I had her put some treats on the ground while he wasn't looking and cued "off limits" when he noticed them. He turned back to me but became nervous again and started avoiding the food. I cued him to move with me at my side and practiced walking by the food until he was more relaxed, and ended the exercise. (This is an example of the fact that dogs are much more comfortable and successful when their humans make it clear what the dog should be doing, rather than just teaching what they shouldn't do but not providing a clear alternative.)

The last thing we did was practice the "Give Me a Break" game within a box of ring gates. On our way into the ring Dragon wagged his tail and sniffed every piece of lint intently, hoping to stumble on more treats. Once in the ring he was not focused on working like he had been during the previous two weeks -- he spent a lot of time scavenging the ground! Unfortunately he did manage to find a few treats left behind from the previous class. Fail. He learned the opposite of what was intended. This can be remedied, of course. During our future training sessions, I will practice with food scattered on the ground, out of reach at first, and then closer and closer as he learns that he should ignore it and instead work with me. I will have to move and manage his movements carefully to prevent him from quickly snatching the treats up but also avoid stressing him out with too many body blocks. If I'm successful in laying a strong foundation with this concept, it will pay off for years to come in future classes and competitions.

In a similar concept, Dragon is already well on his way to automatically ignoring any food that I drop. If I have clicked or used another reward marker, or if I'm praising him, and I toss or drop food, he is free to eat it and happily does so. However if I accidentally drop a treat or human food in a moment that I'm not engaging him, I expect him to ignore it. I taught this by quickly, reflexively covering up the food or picking it up. Because he has never gotten the opportunity to snatch it up, and sometimes I hand it to him as a reward, his automatic response is to leave it alone.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sharing is caring.

On Thursday I was able to witness Jasper and Dragon sharing a sleeping spot for the first time. Jasper had tried to lie down by Dragon a couple of times before, but each time, Dragon had shot up from his spot and run away. This time he stayed, and I was lucky enough to have my camera on hand.


This was immediately after Jasper settled down. Dragon has raised his head and is looking at Jasper with his ears pulled back, expressing mild concern at their proximity. Note that he is not looking directly at Jasper's face -- his gaze is directed past his face and slightly to the right. Looking right at another animal's face would be at best impolite in dog language, and at worst a threat.


Jasper turned his head to look at Dragon, and Dragon immediately turned his head away. This is a polite social signal to keep the peace, and an expression of mild discomfort (note that his ears are still pulled back and his face is tense), and a check-in with me to make sure that I have his back and everything's okay.


The moment passes. Jasper has laid his head down to sleep. Dragon starts to relax and also lays his head down. The mirrored body language is an acceptance of sharing the small space, though his ears aren't back to neutral position yet (though it's possible that that's just because he's listening to the clicks and whirrs from the camera).


Finally, after the "conversation" is complete, Dragon truly relaxes and stretches out as he's most comfortable. Honestly I think that Jasper was oblivious to the whole thing. Then again I'm not as familiar with cat body language so perhaps I am the oblivious one!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trip to Claremont Canyon Regional Park

This was our first trip to Claremont Canyon. We checked it out with my sister, Agnes.

Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve

It was hot outside and the path went up a very steep hill, so we quickly tired out.

Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve

The view of Berkeley was lovely, though.

Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve

Look at that tongue!

Camera outtake

Sometimes when I'm training Dragon, Jasper provides a useful distraction to work through. Sometimes he gets in the way. And sometimes he provides comedic value.

Fashion show

I didn't think that I would be one of those owners, but then my friend Miki gave me a tiny raincoat for Dragon, and he looked so precious, and I enjoy sewing, so... I made a coat for Dragon to wear.


The cut is not very fancy but I think he looks quite dashing in that print.


And it's reversible! Isn't he handsome?


This was the raincoat from Auntie Miki.


She also gifted a shirt! It says "Punk Barker" over the shoulders, has a little floral swirl pattern, a heart, and a skull and crossbones. He tolerates wearing it.


Reinforcement history was again on my side when taking these pictures. We have been working on his stand-stays recently, and Dragon has also learned that when the camera is pointed at him, I often reward him for holding whatever position he's in. I didn't have to ask him to stand-stay as I was snapping these pictures -- he just held still automatically! And I of course rewarded him between takes. (Though to be honest he was also slightly shut down while wearing the shirt -- note the awkward wide stance and low tail carriage in this picture.)


I think at this point he was thinking "Get that damn camera out of my face!"


"Oh, the torture I have to endure."


"Someone please save me."


Speaking of do-it-yourself, this is the cover I made for his mat. We're working with a theme here.


He likes his mat. Food comes to him when he is on his mat. His mat is a happy, relaxing place.




"Are you done yet?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Trip to downtown Berkeley and playing with a friend.

On Sunday morning we took a trip to downtown Berkeley to a comic books store. I usually take the car when I'm traveling with Dragon -- it's convenient and it's a hybrid so I don't worry about the cost of gas -- but for the sake of socialization we took the subway this time. Dragon had ridden the subway for the first time last week, just one stop down and back, to make sure that he would be able to cope of the noises and movement. He was a champ. He settled down in his crate and quietly watched the other commuters going to and fro.

at the subway station

I put on his coat just for the sake of dressing up! For this picture I asked him to hop up onto his crate, which I had never done before. Thanks to the reinforcement history I've created for climbing on things and holding position there, he automatically stayed balanced on top of the crate until I cued him to jump off.

on the subway

Downtown Berkeley

It was a beautiful day, with lots of people bustling around. Dragon confidently strode through the crowds. This was his first time in Berkeley.

Downtown Berkeley

Bringing the camera along meant that I was frequently prompted to ask him to sit and stay in new places. What a great training opportunity!

At the comics store the clerks "ooh"ed and "ahh"ed over him and he rubbed against their legs like a cat, which is his favorite way of soliciting attention. Then we headed over to the campus of UC Berkeley.

on campus

Dragon saw a homeless man carrying a large trash bag over his shoulder, for the first time. He was suspicious and drew in deep breaths as he investigated the strange man from a few feet away, snorting out the air in warning puffs. I gave him treats for being brave and curious, and he soon forgot to be suspicious.

on campus


Dragon was game to do his sit-stays and down-stays in strange places as long as the treats were delivered every 3-5 seconds. Considering that we rarely practice them when we're out and about, I considered this a success. That is, until he saw squirrels running by, and his brain melted out of his giant ears.

bear statue

Before he would sit and stay next to this statue, he politely approached its rear and investigated. Then he came around to the front and slowly, carefully, sniffed the jaws of the bear. Finally he was satisfied that despite its fierce expression, it would not harm him.

bear statue

At this point I realized that if we didn't get back to the subway right now, we would be late for our Control Unleashed class in Walnut Creek. Oops! We hurried back (I carried him past more squirrels) and made it to class 10 minutes late.

This was the second week of a four-week session. We are taking the class as a foundation for focusing among other dogs. This week the instructor coached us through the Look At That and Give Me A Break games. We also rewarded a default behavior of returning to and lying down on a mat, and, of course, reinforced relaxing in a crate.

in class

After the class was over we got to hang out with Jacques, a fellow papillon.

playing with Jacques

Jacques is smaller than Dragon (who is on the larger side for a papillon) and his coat has fully grown in.


small dog is small

Small dog is small.

in the grass

pet me!

Pay attention to meeee!

pet me!



What a cutie!

Monday, July 18, 2011


I decided to make a formal journal to collect my pictures, videos, and writings about Dragon. This will be a log of our adventures as we explore the world together. I will also be making posts about my training progress and plans with him.

I brought Dragon home in January, when he was 8 months old. His first family lived in a rural area and he rarely left their home, so he is getting a late start in learning about the wide world around him. I have been clicker training him since I brought him home in January. He has learned lots of cool tricks, like backing up steps, hugging a toy with his front legs, and pivoting around a bowl. We have been training for K9 Nosework for a few months and recently started private agility lessons. We are currently enrolled in a Control Unleashed class to provide a good foundation for focus around distractions.

As of this post, Dragon is 1 year and 2 months old, and weighs about 8 pounds (though he should gain just a bit of weight -- he's tall for a papillon). My hope for him is that he will grow up to be a well-behaved dog who can go anywhere with me, that he will continue to enjoy learning tricks with me, and that we will have fun competing in various dog sports together.