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

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!