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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Restarting the teeter

Dragon's teeter training was going well a few months back. He would run across the teeter any time we were walking next to it on the field. But at some point something went wrong. He started slowing down at the pivot point here and there. Each time I was able to re-energize him and get him to drive to the target at the end, but finallly last time I raised the teeter, he slowed almost to a stop as he hit the pivot point, and I knew that I needed to retrain the teeter rather than trying to work through this.

It's disheartening, when you've put so much work into something, to see it fall apart. I have done a lot of foundation work for this. Tiny Dog will happily walk around on a very high wobble board, even when I'm forcefully bouncing him up and down, throwing him into the air. He will close cabinet doors and knock things over (though he's still rather sensitive about the noise). He will jump onto the end of the teeter when it's 12 inches in the air, about the limit of how high he can jump and twist to get onto it. But still something went wrong.

I believe that the hardest part about the teeter for him is the unpredictability. Perhaps every time I thought that he was doing well and raised the height, it actually undermined his confidence in the obstacle. I think that I initially did well with raising it in teeny tiny increments, but as it got higher I started lumping, since it was harder to judge the height and I thought he would "be fine".

Wendy, our current instructor, suggested a technique that she used on her papillon, as well as other dog. She gets the dog running across toward a toy or handful of treats, and uses that reward to "drag" the dog across the pivot point, and off the teeter onto a table at the end. The idea is that the dog is so excited about the reward and chasing it down that they don't even really notice the tip. (The teeter is lowered at first and gradually raised, of course.) I tried this with Dragon but it was not the right technique. He doesn't drive hard toward toys or even favorite treats that way. He actually became more nervous about the tip because it would now catch him off guard. After two sessions I could see that this wouldn't work for us.

This morning we went to the field for our own practice time, and ran into Susanne, our previous instructor, with whom I connect very well. She commented that Wendy's technique wouldn't work well for a nervous dog, because of what I'd seen and because the table causes them to be in close proximity to the teeter moving back up again. We brain-stormed other things I could try. One variation on the "bang game" that I really liked was doing it as a restrained recall, with the dog jumping onto the end of the teeter (sideways) to get treats held there by a helper. We're going to try that with the teeter lowered all the way again. I'm going to go back to my foot target or teach a nose target to a piece of tape sticking up an inch above the end of the teeter, and slooowly work height in again. We'll also play around with holding the high end of the full-height teeter up and having him drive up it without any tip. We did that a few times in the past and he was running up without any problem. It reminds me of Silvia Trkman's technique, in which she holds the end of the teeter and slowly lowers it for the dog, over time increasing the speed. If I were very careful and consistent that might be something that would work for Dragon, since it would add in that predictability he craves. I will keep it in mind.

It's inevitable to have setbacks here and there, and I knew from the beginning that this would be Dragon's most difficult obstacle. We will figure it out. There's no rush.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

2x2 weaves sessions 4-7

Session 4 (local park):
Dragon nailed the entrance every time when we reviewed 1-6 o'clock on my left side. On my right side at 6 o'clock he did fine, but as I started to etch toward 7 he again faltered but recovered. Then I realized that I'd been practicing only sends, and had not been adding in my movement. I did that, and he fell apart. Was watching me instead of where he was going and ran to the right side of both poles. Had to end the session early because he got distracted by a bug in the grass and decided to stalk it and pounce on it instead of bringing his ball back. Next session will maybe start with distracting movement from me during easy entrances.

Session 5 (agility field):
Just some review in between other exercises. He hit 7 o'clock on my right side almost every time. At 1 and 2 o'clock he initially was shooting ahead toward another jump, going over it, and then wrapping right for the ball. After I did more practice on the other side of the clock he seemed to remember the reward line and started to wrap after going through the poles. He has trouble collecting, though. Something for us to work on separately.

Session 6 (classroom at work):
Started with review. Used a food toy instead of his usual ball so that I could throw it with better aim and have it land closer to the right-hand pole. This way I could encourage him to wrap closer to the pole when sending between 1 and 3 o'clock. It worked well. Then I moved toward the other side of the clock, 6-7. Here he was mostly getting the right entry but he started to stop between the poles and look at me, waiting for me throw the toy. I think that he was scared of me hitting him with it -- it's not really an issue with the ball because of his inherent drive to chase it as fast as possible. (I like having a crazy ball dog!) I added motion and ran along with him to speed him up. It did get him to run instead of stopping but he started missing the entry unless I did an obvious hand signal of when he should move out and in, which defeats the whole purpose of shaping 2x2s. Played around with larger distance and slower speed to allow him more time to focus on the poles and think, and his entry improved. Stopped there.

Session 7 (classroom at work):
Same day as the last session, after my shift at work was over. Used his ball this time and he was fast as usual. He seemed to wrap the right pole better, as I'd hoped. I think I'll set that issue aside until I add the second set of poles and am lining them up, as then he'll have to figure out how to do it on his own. Did both stationary sends and running with him. Worked mostly on 6-7 o'clock again, on my right side, interspersed with easy entries (2-5 o'clock on my left side). Realized I needed to start him farther away from the poles to give him more time to think and adjust his entry. After that he nailed it almost every time. I suppose in a separate session I should work from a very close distance as well, but then I have to be very careful to angle my body and the send properly or he'll fail.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More handmade collars!

Apparently you can never have too many!



Yellow butterflies, because he's a papillon!

Green squares.

Brown swirls. This is my favorite one of this batch.

Orange zig-zag-y pattern.

Blue/purple leaves. He has a lot of nature-themed ones.

Brown crooked checkerboard. Brown looks quite good on him.

This will be it for a while. I feel like I've finally saturated the collar-making urge.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Agility on our own

On Tuesday morning I got up a bit early and drove to the agility field to practice on our own. We are more than ready to be using training the equipment and working sequences on our own. I expected to only practice for 30 minutes or so, but before I knew it, 45 had gone by, and Dragon was eager to keep going, so we stayed for an entire hour (with breaks to rest).

My running contact training had been making me uneasy for a while, and I couldn't pinpoint why. I finally realized that it was because I hadn't taught Dragon a clear criteria for his contacts, I just... hoped he would do it? I'd been thinking about the clear criteria he has for the teeter (stopped contact), weave poles, etc, and realized that my running contact training was not "clean" and precise. Our set-up at home with the plank on the stairs didn't allow me to do that very well. However he was confident enough now at driving up and down planks that he was ready to practice on the real equipment. (Sure, ideally I'd get better contact behavior before practicing on real equipment, but we don't train in an ideal world.)

I had to practice watching Dragon run down the end of the dog walk and a-frame, and then practice timing my clicks properly, before I could effectively communicate what I wanted to him. However by the end I was able to click as he was doing a real run, and withhold any time there was any jumping, even very small. I didn't have him do the whole obstacles, just run down from a few feet up, and I still used the PVC square about two feet past the end of the contact to give him something to drive toward. I think that if I keep this up for a while, he will figure out the criteria, and then we'll be good.

After we finished practicing the a-frame and dog walk, he kept running up them every time we were within 10 feet of the obstacles.

We also practiced the teeter and I raised it up again after a warm-up. Every time I raise it I have to baby him and use a hand target and happy voice to get him to run all the way out to his target instead of stopping midway through. Otherwise looking good, though.

Jumps and sequences:
He was introduced to a triple jump at 12", and sailed over it every time, even when I accidentally cued him to take it backwards.

I worked a lot on doing big pinwheels. Had trouble pointing him out to the middle jump properly instead of turning my feet too quickly toward the third jump.

Did longer sequences of pinwheels, front crosses, and rear crosses, and it was so useful to be able to play around with this without the pressure of a class setting. I was able to figure out myself what went wrong when: my acceleration to get into position made him accelerate and then sail past me to take the triple the wrong way; my feet were pointing in the wrong direction and he took the wrong jump; I tried to rear cross before he was truly driving and committed and he ran to the side of the jump because he thought that I would crash into him. But we also did a lot right!! It was cool to see him responding to exactly what my body was telling him, even when I accidentally "told" him the wrong thing.

The last thing we did was the second 2x2 weave pole session mentioned in the last post.

I plan to practice on our own (or with one or two other students) on the equipment a few times a month. I can see that it will make a huge difference in our skill level.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2x2 weave poles sessions 1-3

I have not yet watched Susan Garrett's 2x2 DVD, but my friend Elissa lent me her set of 3 2x2 poles, and I HAD to get started training right away. I figured it out as I went along.

I've been using Tiny Dog's rubber ball as a reward, as it's his #1 toy, it's easy to throw, and the "fetch" format meshes well with teaching the dog to run out over and over and over.

Day 1:
Had Dragon on my left side. Started with just throwing the ball for going straight between the poles, at 6 o'clock. He figured that out very quickly thanks to jump training and running through PVC square that I made to keep him from jumping contacts. I started to move to the left (toward 5 o'clock). I did this faster than I should have -- I should have built more of a reinforcement history for easy entrances at 2-4 first -- but he mostly managed to figure it out. I figured out quickly that I should throw the ball to the right, making him exit the poles in the direction that he would have gone to continue weaving a full set.

Day 2:
Worked Dragon on my left again, and moved to the right, toward 1 o'clock. Again threw the ball to 12 o'clock, so he was wrapping around the right pole as if to continue weaving. This was easier for him than working the 5 o'clock entrance, since he has a strong history of running out, wrapping around a standing object, and returning toward me.

Day 3:
Started off with Dragon on the left, reviewed 1 through 5 o'clock (no problems!), then moved toward 6 o'clock. After a few mistakes he figured it out and nailed it every time. It was super cool to see him bounce to the right, left, right to go through the poles and chase the ball!

Then I switched him to my right side and worked 6 o'clock again, edging toward 7. This was difficult for him. However I'm assuming that latent learning will fix that up next lesson, just as it did for the left side.

Now I will actually watch the 2x2 DVD, as I'm sure it will make my training more efficient than figuring it out on my own!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Another obedience lesson with Denise Fenzi

We had a wonderful lesson last week. As always, I was proud to show off our progress, and happy to get pointers on where to go from here. Dragon was SO focused and enthusiastic. Denise commented on it many times and it felt great to work with such an eager partner. Of course, we have lots of work ahead of us to get that same focus and enthusiasm in high-distraction settings like trials!

Dragon does fairly nice fronts but he doesn't have a lot of enthusiasm, and I asked Denise for advice on creating it. She suggested that I teach him to go through my legs, turn around, and come up into heel position. This would encourage him to come in straight and close (anticipating going through the legs), break up the monotony, and create more movement and therefore fun with fronts. I've been trying it out already and Dragon thinks it's a fun trick. Score!

The other thing that I really needed her advice on was leather articles. Dragon can do metal canning rings, plastic medicine bottles, and plastic pens with consistent, nearly 100% accuracy. Yet with the leather rings, he kept guessing and bringing back random ones. Denise had us warm up with the metal rings, warm him up with a single, well-scented leather ring, and then put down one more decoy leather ring. She had us work in the corner so that I was hiding what I was doing with my body, to make him more interested. She also had me treat once in front for Dragon retrieving the correct ring, and then toss a treat away for him to chase while I reset the rings. This worked well and after some incorrect guesses Dragon suddenly started to sniff them out properly.

We repeated it at home, and after some initial frustration and confusion again, Dragon seemed to sort it out. I think I'm finally "explaining" the exercise properly to him. I'm not sure how he got mixed up with it in the first place, considering how quickly he caught on to metal and two types of plastic!

We got to show off our amazing stand for exam. I'd expected this exercise to be extremely difficult for Tiny Dog, because he gets easily initimidated by people leaning over him and reaching for him. However we progressed slowly with the foundation (again provided by Denise) and have been practicing a LOT, and he performed perfectly for her! Now to continue practicing in new environments, and with lots of men, with whom he's more shy.

The rest of the exercises to work on were suggested by Denise. Of course she had us demonstrate our heeling, and Dragon was on fire (pun intended). I hope and pray that we will someday be able to have enthusiasm like that in the ring. I didn't talk to him very much, as she pointed out during our last lesson that I talked too much and he didn't needed it. But I did give him a particular smile with my lips parted a bit, which I've been conditioning as part of a keep going signal or trigger. I give him the smile and blow air between the apex of my tongue and my hard palate, making a soft "hhiiii" noise. He already perks up when he hears it and/or sees the smile. At this point it is always followed shortly by a treat or play, but eventually it will be able to bridge longer stretches of work.

Denise set up ring gates with a break in the middle to mimic the ring entrance. She instructed me to warm Dragon up, heel into the ring, and party. I used his rubber ball for this, his #1 reward. He quickly started to pattern and forge in anticipation of the ball being thrown forward. When he forged I would slow down and rotate my left shoulder backwards, and he would hop back into position. When he was more in control of his pace, we extended the pattern so that we heeled a few extra steps before tossing the ball. One of our homework assignments is to work with ring gates or appropriate stand-ins and continue the conditioning of "passing through a gate = focused work = party!!"

We practiced the go out and jumps for the first time. Since Tiny Dog drives into his crate very well, we set it up past the jumps and I sent him to it. Then I would give him a huge signal (actually whole body movement) at one jump or the other. Since he already has high value for taking jumps on cue thanks to agility, he quickly figured out what I wanted. For homework I will teach him to target a post, stick, or similar, possibly with the help of blue painter's tape, and then turn around and sit. I've also already done a session of sending him to his sit platform and then taking a jump on cue.

We discussed my use of a non-reward marker for Dragon's loss of focus during known work (not when learning something new). I saw a quick improvement over his focus when I started using it. I think that Denise was spot-on: he did not understand that keeping attention on me and ignoring distractions was a criteria. Now he will look away if he is nervous or there is a big distraction, but he's able to ignore the little things and doesn't stop to look around as much. I'm sure that this was a big part of why he was much more focused during this lesson compared to last time. Of course I am always watching his body language to assess whether the NRM is stressing him out or simply providing useful information.

That was a lot to get done in 30 minutes! We scheduled another lesson a month away.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Tiny Dog has graduated -- he is now allowed to sleep outside of his crate at night. He loves sharing the bed with me. No matter how excited and zooming around he is, the moment he hops up on the bed, he sinks into the comforter and zones out.

Sometimes he still puts himself to bed in his crate before I turn in the for night, and then he usually stays there. That also makes me happy, as it means that he's quite comfortable in it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Nosework birch ORT

This morning we got up ridiculously early and drove an hour to take an Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for the sport of K9 Nosework. The test is made to be simple and easy to pass: there were twelve boxes set out in two rows, and the dog has three minutes to indicate which box contains the planted odor, and the handler has to correctly identify when their dog has indicated the odor and call "Alert!" The purpose of the ORT is just to certify that your dog has, in fact, been trained to find the odor in question in a new, exciting location. There are three odors which are used in this sport: birch, anise, and clove, in the form of essential oils on q-tips. The first level of competition uses only birch, and that's what Dragon and I tested for today.

There were two sets of five warm-up boxes in the parking lot, for which I was extremely thankful. When Dragon and I made our first pass, he did not indicate AT ALL on the box which was marked as containing the odor. Boy, did that stress me out. But I waited until he passed by it again and rewarded him handsomely with boiled chicken. On the next pass he paused a bit at that box. On the third try he didn't indicate clearly but was more interested in it and wagging his tail a bit. We stopped there and rested in the car.

Nosework ORT

After about an hour we were called "on deck" and had a chance at the second set of boxes. This time Dragon was ready to work. I used one of our "triggers" to get him excited about working: I wrapped my arm over his body as he stood next to me, hand flat against his chest, waited for him to look forward, then let go and ran with him. I cued "searching!" and he locked onto the boxes and found the odor right away. Good boy!

When we entered the building for the actual test, he was a bit distracted but ready to sniff out the birch oil. I got him ready with the trigger again. He slowed down and gave an extra sniff at one of the boxes, and I wondered if that might be the correct one, but wasn't ready to call it yet. He continued on but I noticed that he was also sniffing the floor around that box more than the rest of the area. We started down the other row of boxes and then he switched rows and went for the same box again, stopping to give a quick lick to the floor along the way. He reached the box and sniffed at the opening of the lid with his tail raised up (showing increased interest/excitement). At that point I was sure and called "Alert!" The judge confirmed that we were correct. The search took 57 seconds.

Dragon and I are now cleared to enter K9 Nosework trials at Level I. We are not ready though, as we have more training to do in new indoor and outdoor locations and especially on vehicles. Time to step up our game!

Birthday boy! and agility and tricks

So much going on, that I haven't had time to update!! Last Sunday was Cinnamon Snapdragon's second birthday! A few of his friends came over and we went on a two mile hike.

birthday hike

birthday hike

birthday hike

Afterwards we made BLT sandwiches and Dragon got two pieces of fried bacon to celebrate his two years. We napped for an hour and then went to visit more friends, where he is being slowly introduced to their new kitten. He was on a tie-down in the living room with his mat and a bully stick. He settled down nicely and the kitten ended up approaching to within a foot of him that day. He thought that it was a wonderful birthday!

Agility update: The mini-teeter has finished serving its primary purpose, to build his confidence with the movement and banging noises. I introduced movement and height very slowly (after first spending months training with a wobble board) and used high value reinforcement (boiled chicken and rubber balls). It has gone so well that now he has teeter-suck instead of the more common tunnel-suck. Earlier this week I raised the pivot point to about six inches. Next session, he zoomed over the teeter so quickly that he skidded down the contact instead of stopping at the target, and then took another three tries to recover and run it comfortably again. So I will lower it back down to four inches and just use it to practice running a teeter in sequences. We will continue our careful, diligent practice with the real teeter at the agility field.

On the other hand I brought out the mini-dog walk and put the PVC "hoop" right at the bottom and we were able to practice our running contacts. I think that I wasn't careful enough when initially teaching them and that's why he ended up jumping the contact zone in class a few weeks ago. It's extremely difficult for me to click/reward only when he's running and not when he does a little jump because it's so fast. Also I'm limited in the locations available to practice running across a raised plank, and don't have anywhere where he would get full speed like in class. So the running contact failure so far isn't a problem with the method per se (get him to run across it and slowly raise the board, rewarding only running), but rather with my application of it. However I'm a big believer in developing muscle memory and I'm hoping that the hoop will be a huge help.

Speaking of methods not working, I tried using the "go and throw" method of teaching the dog to run forward as fast as he can, but it doesn't work for Dragon because he's scared of the toy hitting him and runs out in a curve like a border collie. Oh well.

Recent tricks we've been working on: weaving backwards through my legs, coming to front from a distance, verbal discriminations with my body turned sideways so he can't cue off subtle body language, and moving from my side to circle around a big inflated ball and stop directly on the other side (for treiball, but I'm teaching it just for fun here and there). On the last one I again have to watch my body language -- if I hold my arm out for too long as I'm signaling him to head out, he will circle too far around. If I lower my arm back down after he's committed to circling the ball but before he reaches the center, he generally hits it dead-on.