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K-9 Prodigy

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Questions from Class Series - #1

Posted on 19 April, 2017 at 12:33 Comments comments ()
Last night kicked off spring term's Beginning Obedience Level 1 class. We're off and running! Classes are full of good questions, and I have the idea to make a running series of blog posts highlighting a question from each night's class.

So we'll jump right in!

Context: We were practicing "automatic attention" -- where the dog looks at you and pays attention to you (without you needing to give an attention command) in distracting or novel situations. For beginners, this is done by waiting for the dog to look at you, then marking "Yes!" and treat.

Question: "My dog is looking at me, but he's also jumping up. He's looking at me AS he's jumping up! So do I reward it because it's attention, or do I *not* reward it because it's jumping up?"

This is a FANTASTICALLY GOOD QUESTION. I looked over, and sure enough, her Chihuahua was leaping into the air as he looked at her. The jump and the look were truly happening at the same time, so there was no possibility of "just try to mark really quickly, after he's looked but before he's jumped." There are risks either way you look at it here -- if you *don't* reward the attention/jumping up, you will lose the jumping up -- but you also might lose the attention. If you *do* reward it, you will keep the attention -- but you might also keep the jumping up.

I think that to answer this question, you have to know what's more important to you at this very specific moment. Is it more important that the dog is giving you attention, or is it more important that the dog is not jumping up? Jumping up is obviously an unfortunate habit that can be hard to break, and we definitely don't want to be giving cookies for it... but attention is possibly THE most important foundation skill a dog can have. Trainers have to make this kind of decision all the time, and you will too! I ultimately said for now, go ahead and DO reward. Here are some of the factors that went into my decision.

1) It is usually possible to slowly shape away the bouncing while keeping the attention.
2) The high activity, energy and fun level is something that I want to keep in the dog; it actually will figure in waaaay down the road when weaning off treats.
3) In this complex environment (obedience class) I want the dog to be successful at something right away. If he were to check out and give up now, we would not have a good tone set for the rest of the course.
4) A plethora of "four-on-the-floor," non-jumping, polite greeting, and other calm-related lessons are coming up very soon on the agenda and we can use those to also tone down and reduce his general bounciness.

So, in this case DO reward, but with the following qualifications: 1) When you treat, do it calmly and low on the ground -- treat delivery is highly influential to how the dog ultimately performs the behavior, and 2) Keep a very close eye for non-jumping check-ins (I promise, they do happen somewhere and you can catch them, reward them, and keep them) -- soon you will be getting a mix of jumping ones and non-jumping ones, at which point you can reward only the non-jumping ones.

Again, great question! How would you all handle this with *your* dog? Remember, answers may vary, depending on the dog!

Training Log: Starting Rally Advanced

Posted on 16 August, 2016 at 16:07 Comments comments ()
With the completion of Halo's first Rally Obedience title (Rally Novice) earlier this summer, we're on to the greater challenges of Rally Advanced. More difficult exercises, and the addition of jumps on course -- and did I mention, the entire thing off-leash!


Agility Week 2

Posted on 22 June, 2016 at 19:43 Comments comments ()

Agility Training Logs

Posted on 19 June, 2016 at 15:16 Comments comments ()
It's been so long since we've had training videos of Halo!

So since it's summer and all, and she's physically mature enough to handle agility without injury, and since if all goes well she will complete her first obedience title next weekend (cross your fingers!) it seems like a great time to bring back the weekly video logs, and this time we'll do agility!

This exercise is actually beginning "Weaves." You know, Weaves! The straight line of poles that the dog zigzags between. Finding the weaves (how to get into them) is actually one of the most difficult parts of the exercise. Those skinny little weave poles don't stand out very well on an agility course with the bigger obstacles. So in Two-Betweens, we work on both orienting to getting into the poles, as well as commitment to staying in the poles!

Peek at the trainer's homework! #9

Posted on 16 December, 2015 at 10:17 Comments comments ()

Peek at the Trainer's Homework! #8

Posted on 14 December, 2015 at 10:13 Comments comments ()

Peek at the Trainer's Homework! #7

Posted on 9 December, 2015 at 11:36 Comments comments ()
Charlie doesn't really do "stationary behavior." So I'm actually very proud of his work so far in the paw lift and hold -- we worked on it for one minute each time for nine times, then videoed the tenth. It's the right, not the left paw that we're trying to get the lift/hold for.

Peek at the Trainer's Homework! #6

Posted on 8 December, 2015 at 10:46 Comments comments ()
As your dog's training gets more advanced, you have to start worrying about things like "Will new training interfere with old training? Will this new behavior mess with something she's already good at?"

For example, one of my clients had a Labradoodle who was PERFECTLY trained to wait at curbs. No matter what else happened, the dog would never step off into a street. It was almost guide dog-level training around curbs.

When I went in to do some additional leash training with her (she still pulled on the leash quite a bit, even though she always stopped at curbs LOL!), one method that I do a LOT is work dogs off sidewalks. Sidewalks are terrible places to practice good leash walking. There's heavy scent distraction, and the dog understands the sidewalk as a "path" so there's no real incentive to slow down and see where you're going. You can't do any of the turn practices. And worst of all, if the dog pulls, even if you do a stop and reset, there are so many scent distractions that wherever the dog ends up, it can still sniff, and still end up getting reinforced for leash-pulling! Ugh! So if you live in a quiet neighborhood, a lot of leash-training can be done in the street. (Parking lots are another good choice. Anywhere flat, somewhat boring is a good choice.) This, however, directly interfered with her prior curb training. All along she'd been trained not to walk in the street, now we were going to walk in the street?

We eventually came to the conclusion that we would do the exercises on the sidewalk, regardless of the extra difficulty and probably longer training time. The owner was just too concerned about all of her hard work she'd put into curb training. That's an all right decision. As your dog starts getting more advanced, you find you have to make these decisions!

I thought about all of this with Halo's work on "targeting" this cookie jar. In the impulse control and delayed gratification advanced course we're doing, I'm still not entirely clear on what this exercise will be ultimately used for. I noticed that her "targeting" of the jar looks exactly like her "alert" to the Birch odor in K-9 Nosework. "Uh-oh," I thought, because for Nosework, she's taught to alert to the *birch* odor, and never ever alert to food. But now here she is in this class, alerting to food.

What are my choices?

I could skip the exercise. I could skip the entire class. I could try to shape some different target, such as that she hits the cookie jar with her foot instead of using her nose. But would that foot movement then transfer over to her Nosework, where they are not to use their feet? Ultimately, I made the decision to simply continue with the exercise and see where the training went. We're not doing much with Nosework these days anyway (our current focus is Rally) so if we do this cookie jar exercise for a few weeks, then abandon it entirely for a few months, then start up Nosework again, she may have entirely forgotten about it. 

Aren't these decisions hard? If you are stuck in hard training decisions with your advanced dogs, let me know! Sometimes two heads are better than one at puzzling this kind of thing out.

Peek at the Trainer's Homework! #5

Posted on 7 December, 2015 at 10:18 Comments comments ()

Halo's doing much better with the Impulse Control/Moving Food exercises. Due to the way my little camera was set up you can't see how quickly my hand was moving (you can see a little bit in the reflection in the glass door behind me) but I'd basically cranked it up to full-speed and she was still holding her uncommanded, offered sit.

On to that "Get It" practice. That's just Step One of "Get It." Step Two involves you doing your verbal cue -- but then waiting just half a beat or so before flipping your hand over. The dog is learning the verbal cue as distinct from the "hand signal" (which here is really more of a clue than an actual signal.) I tried Step Two with Halo (not in this video as it's from a couple days ago) and she was conflicted like, "Your voice says go but your body says Leave it." When dogs are getting mixed messages, they will ALWAYS go with what your body language is saying, not your voice. So there's more practice of "Get it" just to establish that muscle movement pattern.

Finally there's the "targeting" of the cookie jar. Remember how I said that I take these classes just to see if there's anything interesting in them for students? So sometimes I get into a class and am like "Ummmm...what is the purpose of this exercise?!" I'm starting to realize that it does take a certain leap of faith to go into a new dog training program and be willing, not suspicious, to go in full-throttle and actually do the exercises! Even if you're not sure what's going on! Anyway, so the homework "targeting the cookie jar." For some reason Halo seemed nervous of the cookie jar. She's such a confident dog in general that I made the decision to just try again tomorrow and see if she was better -- and lo and behold, she was!

We finished off with some obedience and heeling, just because we like doing it.

Peek at the Trainer's Homework #4

Posted on 4 December, 2015 at 10:43 Comments comments ()
Homework for Week One (Part One) was to choose an "Active" Behavior (involves the dog in motion) and shape it in nine individual sessions, each session 1 minute or less. Then video the 10th session of 1 minute or less.

Here's Charlie in his tenth 1-minute session; the behavior I chose was backing up. We are only three days in to class at this point and I think he looks fatigued, unfortunately. Though he's still so willing! I am pleased with my totally neutral body language here. No commands, no gesturing. Shaping at its finest!

The next part of Week One homework is to choose a "Stationary" Behavior (involves the dog holding a position or doing something not moving) and repeat the nine 1-minute sessions with video of the 10th. So stay tuned!

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