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!