Thursday, December 31, 2009

What did we accomplish in 2009?

What a great year 2009 has been! In December 2008, I found out that Lok was going blind from PRA. In 2009, we trained in Rally and Obedience and Lok got his RL1 title. Then, due to stress, his obedience fell apart and we gave it a break and worked on tricks for awhile. We took up skijoring and got out on skis once at the beginning of the year, and have been out a couple times so far this winter. I'm really hoping this can become something fun and freeing for him to do even when his sight is completely gone. During the winter, we worked on disc in the basement and put together a nice little freestyle routine for a blind dog. Lok competed all summer and even took fourth place (and was very close to third) at a local competition with a pretty competetive field! Lok's eyes got worse and worse all summer, but even so, he ran in a UFO major in Colorado in August, making probably 3/30 catches in the whole routine. He had a blast though, and I was proud of him! He also ran in the Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championships in Naperville in September. Another poor round, but he had a blast again and even got a newspaper article written about him! http://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=6623893322121422964

Jun officially joined the family in March! Jun, who already excelled in toss and catch, came a very long way in her freestyle disc training. At the beginning of the year, she would not play with multiple discs. After an entire spring and summer of work on this issue, Jun can now do an entire two-minute freestyle round without sticking on a single disc! This has enabled us to start building up a repetoire of freestyle moves so we can do a lot better in competitions next year. Jun learned a crazy amount of tricks, took obedience classes and got two legs of her RL1. Jun also started skiing!

Elo came to live with us in September. He has been doing amazing, learning obedience and tricks, and I'm starting to think he may actually have some drive after all. He will now voluntarily play fetch the whole time we're outside (or until his feet get cold), will tug and chase rollers with the disc, and has officialy made two catches out of the air!

I'm so proud of what my dogs have accomplished in 2009 and can't wait to see what 2010 holds for us!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paw v. Nose Targeting

Laura recently posted about teaching dogs to distinguish between a nose and a paw target. Lok know both "touch" (nose target) and "step" (paw target), but I'm not sure how well he can distinguish between the two, as I've never really worked on both in one session or with the same target object. Jun knows the two, but doesn't know them as well and I know she can't distinguish between them. Elo, however, was a blank slate, not knowing either command at the time I read Laura's post, so I decided it would be a fun thing to experiment with. In our first session, working with a round plastic lid as a target, I started with a paw target. Elo picked this up right away and we ended up putting it on cue in the first session. In session two, we continued to practice the "step" cue. In session three, we worked on a nose target. It took awhile for E to stop offering the paw target, or the paw and nose together, but we got as far as putting that on cue in one session as well. In the fourth session we worked on both, but separated them by short periods of working on other commands. That's as far as we've gotten right now. So far so good! I'll update after the next few sessions.

In other news, Jun skied last weekend!!!! After a brief period of craziness before we started down the trail, tangling herself up nicely, she calmed down and sat next to me, looking down the trail. At that point I gave her the "go" signal and she did great!! We had to reinforce "no stopping and sniffing every tree" a few times, but once she figured out the object of the game she was a rockstar! There were a few other skiers out on the trails and we pulled over to the side and stopped while they passed. Passing was not something I wanted to work on with a deaf dog in our first attempt. Lok also did wonderful, you would never know he can't see the trail with how confidently and joyfully he runs full speed ahead. Skiing is a great outlet for him, I think!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jun's New Tricks

Jun has been an absolute MAD WOMAN lately!! She is a learning machine, soaking up as much as I can teach her almost faster than I can come up with things to teach her. Lately she's learned to cross her front paws, to stand with all four paws on a small overturned bowl. She learned a silent bark in about 2 minutes, on cue and everything. Her "bow" has finally really clicked--so cute, she tucks one paw under and leans to the side (now I need a cue for that). We've been doing tons of retreiving and she's learning to put objects in my hand. She will pick up things I drop and hand them to me without even being asked. Just this morning I dropped the cap for the orange juice bottle (accidentally, not as a training exercise) and Jun got it and gave it to me! She's learning to shut doors. She's learning all sorts of jumping and vaulting tricks. We've been trying to work on leash walking and public behavior a bit, and the other night she did a 10 second out of sight down-stay in the dog food aisle at Chuck and Don's as well as numerous other long sit and down stays, even with distractions like employees walking by! The girl's a genius and so much fun to train! This is the problem with having a dog like Jun and a dog like Lok. Some nights, I just want to skip training Lok (see post below) and spend more time with Jun. I feel bad for my boy. I need to find some things that work for him. He seems to enjoy his obedience lately, maybe we will get back into that.

Lok Frustration

Training Lok has been a challenge lately. Thankfully, we haven't been dealing with shutting-down issues on his part. Lok has been unusually happy and cooperative during training sessions lately, tail wagging and such. But he's also been kind of dense. We were working on "limp" for awhile and once again got stuck. I've been working on a "hold" a TON lately and can't seem to get past 10 seconds without Lok spitting out the object. I've also discovered that "rear end awareness" does not translate to "rear foot awareness." That's right, my dog know where his butt is, but doesn't realize there are feet underneath it. I've been trying to get him to stand on a box, but all I've been able to get is a sit on the box. And if the object is too small to sit on, I can't get his back feet on it at all. I'm at a loss for what to work on with him, as it seems one of these issues is holding up every trick I want to teach him. I can't teach him to roll up in a blanket if he won't hold onto it. I can't teach him a multitude of other retreive tricks if he won't hold an object. And his retreive from the fridge trick is decidedly less impressive when he spits the object out in disgust before I have a chance to take it from him.

As his sight diminishes, I'm also having issues with him being overly distracted by the possibility that there might be treats on the floor. He can't see a treat on the floor, but he can hear it if I drop one and he will spend a good bit of time looking for it, even I pick it up or tell him to leave it. I also don't want him sniffing about for treats in my hand. It seems to be a very consuming distraction for him. So I no longer give him treats on the floor. All treats always come from my hand, and I'm hoping he'll figure that out at some point. Additionally, I'm working on teaching him that when he hears a click, the treats will come to his mouth and he doesn't have to sniff around for them.

As a side note, it is unfair of me to ask a blind dog for eye contact? Eye contact is one of my most important default/foundation behaviors. Since Lok can't really make eye contact, I'm trying to reward for other signs of being attentive to me, but sometimes I can't quite tell if he understands what he's being rewarded for.

The only thing that's been going well is Lok's "line out" training that I mentioned I was dragging my feet on a few posts back. I'm using a duct tape target on the wall. I plan to start fading the target soon. Tonight in fact (I WILL do it tonight, I WILL do it tonight . . . ). We had our first ski of the season last weekend and it went well. Lok needs to work on staying on the trail. In his defense, the trail was not all that clear, so I let it slide. Lok also needs to work on listening for direction while he's running. But he did a good job running and staying more or less in front of me. He even started to pull a bit more than last season and really helped me out up the hills. He used to stop when he felt much pressure on the harness. This time it clicked for him that he was supposed to pull hard and he seemed to love it! I need to work on not letting him roll in the snow in harness when we stop. Until his line out is solid, I should really establish a sit at heel as his stopping behavior. Must remember to bring treats. He's just so CUTE though!!

Elo Caught a Disc!!

Ok, ok, so I basically just spun it right in front of his face, but still . . . I'm counting it!!

I don't know why I didn't think of this before. Last night it was really cold so the dogs and I didn't play outside very long. They were still full of energy, so I got out a tug rope to do some tugging with them one by one. Elo was in a crate and was freaking out while I tugged with Lok, and when I let Elo out to put Lok in the crate, he attacked the tug rope! I've never seen him that interested in a game before. (On a side note, what a good boy, he dropped the rope immediately every time I gave him a drop cue. I didn't realize he knew this command so well!) Then I decided, why not try a frisbee again. I got out a hard plastic disc and Elo was not interested at all. But then I thought, maybe he will play with a soft disc?! So I grabbed a softer plastic disc and he was all over it!!! Tugging, chasing rollers, catching tiny little tosses. Oh yeah, and his favorite, laying on his back with his feet in the air while chomping the disc. And in my excitement of course I played WAY to long, but at least I had the presence of mind to quit before he did. So maybe there is hope for Elo to be a disc dog yet. If only he could get the eye-mouth coordination down!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jackpots

I used to be skeptical about the value of jackpots (an extra large or extra high value surprise reward) in positive dog training, mainly because I didn't think that the dog would really know the difference between a couple pieces of kibble and a handful of kibble, or maybe that the dog would understand the difference in the value of the rewards, but wouldn't understand that it got a bigger reward for a reason. But they DO!! However, over the past few months I have come to be a believer in the value of jackpots for several different reasons.

Jackpots can help build a REALLY strong behavior. If a dog thinks it's possible that they will get an extra special reward for a particular behavior, they will be more enthusiastic about doing that behavior. When I started working with Lok on going to a mat, I wanted this to be a really strong behavior that he LOVED doing. I free shaped the initial behavior and the first time he got the completed behavior (walking to a mat and laying down on it) I jackpotted him. Then I jackpotted him frequently for the behavior after that. A down on a mat became a behavior that Lok was very enthusiastic about doing, and Lok being enthusiastic about anything in training is a pretty huge deal.

Jackpots can help overcome a dog's fear of or aversion to a behavior. Very difficult behaviors that a dog is hesistant to do can be accomplished through jackpots. Basically, you are making the value of the reward outweigh the negative associations with the behavior. Jackpots have helped me immensely in teaching Jun a back stall and a dog catch. I jackpot for both of these behaviors nearly every time. Not only did it help in overcoming Jun's fear of balancing on my back and her dislike of being caught, but it also produced a very strong behavior that she actually LOVES to do now.

In the past couple days I've discovered the coolest use yet for jackpots in free shaping. I wanted to shape Jun to stand on a small, overturned food bowl. The bottom is rubber, so she doesn't slip, but she has to balance with all four feet within a 5 inch diameter circle. Two front feet on the bowl was pretty easy, but three feet and four feet was more difficult.

Once she was offering me two feet on the bowl consistently, I stopped clicking her for that and waited for her to offer me the next step, which I had defined as three feet on the bowl. I didn't get it. I got her back feet closer to the bowl (c/t), I got two feet on the bowl with one back foot raised (c/t) but I couldn't get that consistently, and I got a bunch of other stuff I didn't want. And pretty soon she got totally confused and just started being silly and licking my face and even stopped offering the behavior of two feet on the bowl, since that wasn't getting clicked anymore.

So I took a step back, quickly re-shaped two feet on the bowl. Thinking about what to do next, not clicking every time, but clicking enough to keep the behavior going as well as clicking for back foot movement. But I still wasn't getting what I wanted. I was rewarding her for effort and for thinking, so I was getting continual variation, but still no consistency. Then suddenly she brushed the bowl with a back foot. CLICK/JACKPOT!!! Handful of kibble thrown on the ground, big party! THAT really got her attention and made her think about what she did that earned that huge reward. It wasn't long before she was consistently offering three feet on the bowl. Four was hard again, but I did the same thing. Continued to click and reward for three, but not clicking every time, so she was thinking and trying things, clicking and treating for getting close. Then once, accidentally, as a product of losing her balance, the other back foot came off the ground and moved toward the bowl. CLICK/JACKPOT again!!! And within a couple minutes I had all four feet on the bowl.

I don't think I would have gotten the same results had I just clicked and given a normal treat for the two instances where she accidentally gave me just what I wanted. Why? Jun understands shaping, she understands that when I stop clicking I want something else, but (a) despite valiant effort she might not guess correctly and then she doesn't get clicked at all, gets frustrated, and things fall apart, or (b) she is guessing correctly but not noticing it or there is enough natural variation in the behavior she's offering that she doesn't understand exactly what is being clicked and so I continue to get imprecise attempts that are not exactly what I'm looking for. The click and treat says she's doing it right, but I think she really understands the jackpot as "YES!! That was perfect and exactly what I wanted." Kinda cool!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I am thankful for my dogs

I am thankful for the laughter they bring me daily, the purpose they bring to my life, the endless lessons they teach me, the fun and friends they have brought me, and the love they give me.

I am thankful for my dogs.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jun's New "Trick"

Jun, my little baby girl, joy of my life . . . why, oh WHY do you insist on standing on my DVD player? This behavior has become more and more frequent and I must inform you that it is UNACCEPTABLE.

What's that, you ask? How else are you supposed to get my attention? Well you could try any one of your other, potentially less destructive methods. Let's list them. Stepping on my toes. Jumping on me. Scratching me. Biting me. Chasing your tail. Running in circles. Barking in your crate. Jumping on the couch. Barking outside. Stealing things. Chewing things. Chewing on Lok. Fighting with Elo. Pacing back and forth between me and the door until I let you out 20 times a night. Peeing on the floor. Peeing in your crate. All of these and more have proven effective. Please, leave my electronics alone.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What We're Working On

Haven't done a "what we're working on post" in awhile. Probably because it is way too disorganized--it's terrible. This will be a long one . . .

We are working on ZERO obedience and my dogs no longer have any obedience or manners whatsoever. Except recalls. I require a recall. But the lack of manners is getting out of hand, so I'm making more of an effort to work on that. Except with Elo. He will never have any manners, since every time he does something naughty I just laugh. He cracks me up! Last night, I just watched and laughed as he pulled his crate cover into his crate and proceeded to shred it! The only thing he gets yelled at for is when he tries to control the action around him, growling at Jun cause he doesn't like how she's chewing her rawhide. Barking at Lok and Jun if they are playing. That's not cool.

But anyway, we'll start with the easiest first:

Elo:
He finally has a "lie down" on cue!! We're working on proofing. With Elo, I'm trying something I really wish I would have done with the other dogs, that is, eliminating a stay cue and just teaching duration until released on a down cue. I've recently been exposed to some interesting theory about oppositional behaviors, so I'm doing some experimenting with teaching a release. I've never really "taught" a release before, my dogs have just kind of picked up on it on their own. However, I've realized that my dogs don't really understand a "stay" until they understand a "release" so I've been mulling over the benefits and drawbacks of actually teaching a release as a command. Not sure what I think about that yet. We're also working on proofing a down, that is, teaching "down means lay down wherever you are when I give the cue." That's going well.

Elo is also working on a back stall. He jumps up on cue "up-up" and can balance for a few seconds! We started doing some mat work last night--he picked up on that VERY quickly and it's actually helping him understand a down-stay. Don't know why I didn't start working on it sooner.

Elo knows his name, recalls VERY well (in the house and yard at least), gives up objects in his mouth willingly, and other than that, he is just a little punk. He's my pet dog. He's good at that.

Lok:
I'm kinda just dabbling with Lok right now. We had been going back to working on a limp for awhile, but ran into some road blocks, so giving that a break. He's got his fetch from the fridge down! Working on proofing a "hold." I should have done a better job with this to begin with--he will hold objects, but he doesn't seem to like to, and he will mouth them. Working on a steady hold for duration. Also working on putting objects INTO my hand on a retreive with a nose target to my hand. I should be working on his "line out." I have the foundation behavior, I just have some kind of mental aversion to training that command. I'm not sure why. Probably because I've had such a hard time with it for a year. I also haven't work ski training at all. It's been raining ALL. MONTH. LONG. so we haven't had much time to go work on the trails. Hmm, what else? That's about it. Doing some proofing on other things. One thing I've noticed lately with Lok, with all the free shaping we've been doing, his frustration tolerance level has gone WAY up!! He will work with me for far longer than before and keep trying, keep offering behavior, whereas before he was more inclined to shut down and give up after a very short time. So, that's been pretty cool!

Jun:
I've been working on way too much with Jun! We've recently conquered a back stall and a dog catch! We've been working a lot of freestyle and are beginning to get some of the foundational elements that will really benefit us in freestyle next year. We're working on vaults and got our very first back vault the other day! Her flips are starting to look great and just last night she did her very first flip with a throw instead of a take! Her understanding of switching targets is increasing! Our learning in this area has just been exponential lately, which is always really fun!

Jun has no obedience left at all right now, which I guess is bound to happen to when you spend so much time encouraging your dog to jump onto your back!! We free shaped a new trick: crossing her paws, and are working on putting that on cue. I've had the hardest time putting free shaped tricks on cue with her. If she knows we're working on that trick, she will just continually offer it. The usual method of ignoring the behavior if offered spontaneously doesn't seem to work well with her (but it could just be me not knowing what I'm doing). What I've been doing to combat the issue is first, asking for a single instance of the behavior randomly, then going on to other tricks before she has a chance to get into the cycle of repeatedly offering the behavior. And second, have sessions of working on the behavior where I actually mark and reward her for NOT offering the behavior, i.e., for just standing still and giving me eye contact, interspersed with the cued behavior here and there. We're also working on mat work. I'd like to be able to work with each dog individually while the other dogs chill on mats. We started working on a "service dog retreive" the other night too, and I got her picking up objects and holding them near my hand until I took them. That was pretty cool.

So, I guess that's about it. Good times!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lightbulb moment

I've been trying to teach Lok a "line out" (walk to the end of the skijor line, pull it tight, and stand-stay) for ages. I've tried shaping, I've tried luring. Nothing has worked. So finally I decided to try targeting. I put a square of duct tape on the wall and planned to teach Lok to walk to the target and put his nose on it. So, everything was going fine, except that due to other training we've done, Lok kept wanting to target the wall with a paw before targeting it with his nose. I worked on eliminating the paw touch for like three days. I tried clicking only when he touched it with his nose, but he would still occasionally use a paw. And sometimes, he used a paw and then a couple seconds later he used his nose--so do I click that or don't I? In any case, it wasn't working. My timing was off, it was too hard to isolate the behavior I wanted.

Then, it dawned on me! I stopped worrying about the nose touch and started clicking him just for standing in front of the wall with all four feet on the ground. After just a few clicks for that, he got it! And it was one of those "OH! You want me to keep my feet on the ground! Why didn't you just say that in the first place?" moments that are so fun. Then we added the nose touch back in and it's been perfect ever since! I love lightbulb moments!

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Disabled Dog

Though Lok is blind, Jun is deaf and Elo is missing a leg, Lok is the only one of the three I would consider "disabled." And despite the oft-repeated claims on the blind dog sites that a dog's sense of sight is third most important after smell and hearing, Jun has a far easier time making her way through the world and I highly doubt that a pet dog's sense of smell plays an essential role in his or her day to day life (I guess I can't say for sure, since I've never known a dog without a sense of smell). Maybe in the wild a dog without smell or hearing would be at more of a disadvantage, but in the visual world we human's have created, Lok's lack of sight, even though incomplete, affects him profoundly on a daily basis.

Of the three dogs, Lok takes the most patience to deal with. In training obedience, he now has a hard time positioning himself relative to me, it is difficult for him to find heel and front. I need to remember that even though he could easily do these things just a few months ago, it's not his fault that he has a hard time now. Lok has trouble coming in the house, getting into the car, walking in unfamiliar places. He slows me down, and it's frustrating. And sometimes hard to remember that it's not his fault. I'm sure I'm not the only who gets frustrated--it can't be pleasant to run into walls, fences and other stationary objects on a regular basis.

Sometimes I have to give special consideration to the things I do with Lok. I regularly feel my dogs' ribs at meal times, to make sure they are maintaining a healthy weight, and today he jumped when he felt my hands on him--he didn't see me coming. I'll have to remember to talk to him before I touch him. If things are out of place and in the path he knows, I have to remember he can't see them and move them so he doesn't run into them. Once I accidentally hit him in the butt when I was closing a door and he was afraid to go into that room for the next week!

Lok can't play frisbee, flyball or agility, but the things he CAN do are pretty incredible. At the dog park, he can run through a forest of trees and not hit a single one. How he does that, I really have no idea! Lok can get to the river from any other place in the dog park. I know this because I've lost him more than once and he's been at the river soliciting people to throw things for him each time. Lok can chase rollers by sound and catch them clean. Lok can chase a ball by sound--he hears where it lands and runs right to it every single time. Lok can target a square of duct tape on the wall by smell. Lok never runs into anything in the yard and flies up onto the deck with no hesistation. Lok never runs into anything in the house, unless I move something. Lok loves to learn and can do tons of tricks. And by the looks of things, Lok will still be able to ski with me this winter--he has no problem following a trail in the woods!

Anyway, I don't know what the point of all of this is. Except that people sometimes seem to think I have three disabled dogs, and I disagree. I have one disabled dog. The others are just fine. For that matter, Lok is just fine, but he is the only one really impacted by his "disability."

Oh, and P.S., despite the fact that Elo is "mine" in this post, he is still only mine temporarily.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A good training day!

I love having good training days; the days when everything just comes together exactly the way you want it to! It's nice to keep them tucked away to think about on the days when nothing is going right.

Last night, I played disc with Elo. At the beginning of the week, Elo would chase a roller, then run around the yard self-rewarding and lay down and chew on the disc. He had no retreive, little tug drive. Last night, Elo was chasing rollers, bringing them back voluntarily and dropping them for a tug on the next disc! And when I let him win, he would drop that disc to tug the other! He's making progress!! His eye-mouth coordination is not great yet though (he can't even catch a ball) and his tug is still pretty weak, but I'm encouraged! In other disc news, I played with Jun and she jammed, and I threw my first backhand over 45 yards!! That is huge progress, considering at the beginning of the year I struggled to throw 30 yards!

Also, last night, Elo did his first back stall, Jun is to the point with her back stall where she will jump right up without a lure and she is getting better at balancing on her feet instead of just laying on my back. And Lok was in one of the most relaxed and happy training moods he's ever been in, having fun with it. That is really my main goal with Lok, that he has fun with training, because of how easily he shuts down with just the slightest pressure.

And on another note, thanks to Andrew, exits from the house have been peaceful lately, even for Lok. Man, all the work I put into it a couple months back and the solution turns out to be simple. First, I realized I was not dealing with the behavior from the very beginning. I was addressing relaxation at the door without requiring Lok to walk to the door nicely. So now, if he bolts, I give a NRM and walk the other way. It usually only takes once. The second piece was changing my expectations. I realized that by expecting Lok to wait at the door until given a release, I was the one increasing the value of the threshhold, if that makes any sense. It was like a flyball situation, where energy is ramped up so that the dog explodes from the start line. That was what I was doing with the doorway. So now, the dogs don't have to wait until released. They just have to walk nicely out the door. And the only time I ask them to stay is if they actually don't get to come and I expect them to stay inside. My evenings are so much more peaceful without this battle!

P.S. Is there a limit on the number of exclamation points you can put in a single post?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Elo

Meet Elo. The newest (temporary) member of the misfit gang and canine love of my life. He is an 11 months old cattle dog/shepherd mix. And he only has 3 legs. Not that that slows him down in the least!

Elo is a little punk, and a pain in the ass, which only makes me love him all the more. He whines and barks in his crate, keeping me up half the night. He picks fights with Jun which have resulted in me getting bit three times while breaking it up. He locked Jun and Lok in the car, buying himself half an hour of my undivided attention and squeeze cheeze rewards while we waited for AAA to come rescue us. Yet he is super smart, catches onto things really fast, already has a pretty good recall in low-distraction situations, snaps to attention when I say his name, has learned a bit of patience and self-control. Not only that, he is super cuddly, small and portable, loves to be held and loves to ride shotgun in the car. And he has black eyeliner. <> So far he is not all that into frisbee, but we're working on it and he's getting better.

Did I mention he's adorable?


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ski Training

We are taking a break from obedience to focus on training for the upcoming skijoring season. Last year I started training Lok in November and by the time he was ready and I had all my ski equipment and learned how to ski we only managed to get out on snow once before it all melted. I would like to run Lok and Jun together this winter for some extra power, but first they both need to be trained separately.

Ski training is fairly simple. The dogs need to learn to stay in front and not stop or sniff on the sides of the trails, which is the hardest part for Lok (if they are pulling, that's great, and they usually do, but technically, they don't even need to pull). That's really all you need to get out on the trails, but this year I'd like to enter a couple races, so my dogs need a bit more. Right now, we are working on a "line out" which means go out front to the end of the line and do a stand-stay until you're told to run. The dogs need this at the start line so they don't tangle their lines. We're also working on directions. Last year, Lok got "gee" (right) down pretty well, but doesn't know "haw" (left). Both dogs are doing pretty well on these things, considering we've only been working on them for a couple of days. Jun gets a little worried when she hits the end of the line, so I'm trying to work on desensitizing her to that a bit as well. We also need a stop command. But that's about it--probably one of the easiest dog sports to train and dog power over snow is such a rush!!

Of course, we have some unique issues as well, since one dog is blind and one is deaf. From what I've learned from other mushers, blind dogs can do well as lead sled dogs--they don't need their eyes to follow the trail. But still, I imagine particularly directional commands will take a lot of trust and I will really need to fine-tune his responses to them. Hopefully, having Jun hooked up will help with that. With Jun, all of her training so far has involved her looking at me--it's the only way I can communicate with her. Skiing will be the exact opposite--I want her to NOT look and me and just run ahead. Yet, if I need to give her a command, I need her to look back at me. So that will be interesting as well. But I think we find ways to make it all work.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Freestyle with Jun

Since getting back from CO, I've been insanely busy with work, so haven't had much time to work the dogs in disc. However, for the time I have had, Jun's freestyle is coming along nicely, now that I've once again realized I need to slow down and break things down into baby steps. Though she is now a disc-switching pro, when I try to work on freestyle moves with her she reverts back to sticking on discs. I'm asking her to think hard and so, of course, as can be expected, she reverts back to her natural tendencies. So I've gone back to using a single disc with her while we learn some moves and some more foundational skills and then I will add the multiple discs back in later.

Due to all the tugging I've done with Jun to get her to switch discs in the first place, she has a tendency to crowd me and try to grab discs out of my hands. We've made great progress on this in the past couple of days. We've been doing a lot of sit/down and wait, especially while working on vaults, and we've also been working on just asking her to back up, and rewarding with a tug or throw when she is no longer crowding me. She's really catching on quickly to this and starting to stay back a bit of her own accord. I also realized that I need a more consistent signal for when I want her to grab a disc from my hand to tug, so we've been working on that as well. Last night she stayed a couple feet back from me as I was waving discs around and doing fidgets right in front of her without grabbing for the discs! We are also working on some foundational positioning and still trying to build her flip catches. I'm very happy with what we have accomplished so far!

Lok

Such a cutie!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

best twenty minutes of my life

On tuesdays between working my first job and working my second job, I get to come home briefly and play with the dogs for about twenty minutes. I change from work clothes to jeans, grab a couple balls, sit out in my yard in the warm sun and watch my dogs smile while they chase the balls I throw for them, completely and utterly contented.

Best twenty minutes of my life!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing with a sighted dog

I was playing with Jun last night and working on some new stuff . . . I have to say it is amazing how much faster this stuff comes with a dog that can see than with a blind dog!! Wow! I've actually been dreading a little bit trying to do some different stuff with her. Last year, with Lok, I would work for ages and ages on a new throw or trick or sequence and it might come together if my timing and disc placement were absolutely perfect. Some things we were just never able to get. Which was frustrating at the time, because of course I blamed it on myself and how bad I sucked, not realizing I was playing with a blind dog. And what's more, the more we worked, the worse we got!! It was . . . rather disheartening. Then, when I found out he was blind, it was easier to try to work within his limitations and do things he should reasonably be able to do. But even still, it took a lot of work before things would come together.

So, I think that frustration was one of the main reasons I've been slow to start really working with Jun. Also, I've kind of focused on Lok this year because it's his last. And I've been working with Jun on foundational stuff, like switching discs. But after the CCC, I realized that I can't put it off any longer. She's ready. Lok's about done. So last night, I bit the bullet and started trying some different things. And it was easy!! Not automatic, we have work to do, but it certainly was nowhere near the exercise in futility that work with Lok has been. And it was fun!! Not that playing with Lok wasn't fun. But I can see a little glimpse of Jun's potential. She will be able to do all the things I never could do with Lok. And . . . it's really exciting!!

Crazy how much of a difference it makes when your dog's eyes work properly!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CCC '09 Recap

I can't even describe the awesomeness of this weekend! I LOVE my MNDDC!! We have such a great club, great sportsmanship, great bond, and just really awesome people. It was so cool to have so much support stepping out on the field. The dogs did GREAT!! I was so proud of both of them. Saturday, Jun did well in freestyle. We don't have any routine to speak of, so I mostly just threw a bunch of backhands for her, but she stayed with me and only blew off ONE disc in the whole two minutes!! I considered that a victory for us! Jun also did toss and catch, and I actually threw pretty well. We got 6.5 points. Lok was soooo cute on the field! He had a great time and just played his heart out! The sun was too bright for him and he only caught a few discs out of the 30 or so I threw for him. But we both had a great time playing!

On Sunday, I entered my first Quad (long distance) with Jun. The women's division was three heats of maybe 8 (?) people each. In the first round, it was reduced to 3 people, then 2, then the winner of the heat advanced to the finals. I was amazed when I made it to the second round of our heat. Then I was really incredulous when I made it to the final round of our heat. Then I was still in the game until the very last throw of our heat, when our 36 yard catch got beat by a 42 yard catch and I was eliminated. But, damn, I never expected to do so well at all! I realize it was a lot of luck, since most of those women could throw a lot better and further than me, but it was still pretty cool!

So, yep, we had a really awesome weekend competing and just hanging out with a bunch of great people and cool dogs! We can't wait to do it again next year!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The tips of Lok's ears boing when he runs

. . . like this
it makes me happy :)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jun's Rally Trial

August 1st was Jun's first Rally trial. She did . . . a little better than I expected. Which means that she was only distracted and sniffing for most of her runs instead of all of them. And she only knocked over a couple of signs. Actually, she was able to do each station really well. Her 360 circle lefts were beautiful. She did her sits and downs and stands (without swinging her butt around!!) and her sit/down-stay walk-arounds very nicely all on a single command! Her come-fronts were beautiful!! Her one-two-three step heeling was perfect! Outside the ring, she stayed at my side in a down stay, giving me attention, no problem. It was just moving more than a couple steps that she had trouble with. For the past few days we've been practing heeling starts and having eye contact right away, and once I got her attention back onto me as we finished an exercise I made sure I had eye contact before we started moving and we usually started out with eye contact, but after a couple steps I would lose her and wouldn't be able to get her back for anything. Not light leash tugs, not waving my hand in front of her face, not touching her (which the judge allowed for us in our last run). Sigh. What am I going to do with my easily distractible girl?

The end result . . . we somehow managed to Q in our first two runs. Our last run, Jun was super distracted outside the ring and I was having trouble getting her attention. So right before our run I tried to play with her a little to get her focused on me. We played a little tug with her leash. It must have worked, because this was the only run that she started out focused on me and actually heeled very nicely through the first few stations. I lost her a little bit, but got her back and we did several more stations nicely. Then, on her sit-stay-walk around, which she had done twice already perfectly, she got up. Immediate NQ. It fell apart from there because then we had the looooong stretch of heeling right next to the wall, which she had to sniff the whole way. Sigh. It really doesn't make sense that a dog who isn't paying any attention to the handler for most of the run can Q, yet a dog who has a pretty nice run, except for getting up on a sit-stay fails. Why can every other station be re-tried, but not that one? Oh well.

Oh, and what is it with people that think they should tell you how to train your dog? After my first run, this lady comes up to me and tells me I was moving so slowly in the ring and that it was giving Jun more of a chance to get distracted and sniff. Um . . . ok? Do you know my dog? I don't think so. The faster I walked the more excited and distracted she got. So I walked slowly--it takes more concentration from her and gets her attention better. Thankyouverymuch. THEN, as I was warming up outside the ring with a very distracted dog, she says "do you know you have treats in your hand . . . if you always have treats in your hand, she's not going to do it when you don't have treats in your hand." Ok, thank you again. Actually yes, I DO realize I'm holding a treat. Perhaps I'm doing it for a reason. Perhaps it's what I need to do at this particular moment to get my dog's attention. And as I'm leaving, please don't ask whether I got any ribbons. What kind of question is that? What if I didn't get any ribbons? Actually yes, I did get two Q ribbons, but the number of ribbons I got has nothing to do with how I feel my dog and I did.

Lok came along, just to be my buddy and help me stay calm. He performed his job admirably! Love that dog!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What We're Working On

Lok

Laura inspired me to work on some more tricks with both dogs. We've been concentrating on obedience a lot lately. Lok has been doing really, really great with his obedience work! In fact, last week he made it through a half hour of obedience class and was happy and attentive the whole time! His heeling is more and more enthusiastic and he often offers me a sit in heel position if he gets confused about what I am asking for. Which means this is no longer a position that stresses him out, but one that he understands and likes and is something he can default to! This is a major victory for us! Also, last night Lok did a 3 minute down stay with NO intermediate rewards!! This is a HUGE victory for us! Before we started training at TCOTC, Lok had really great stays, for as long as I wanted, with me as far away as I wanted to be, even out of sight. We started in the advanced class at TCOTC and Lok's first night of class was awesome! His stays were perfect! Then, between the first and second class, Lok got attacked by a dog. The next week at class, when we did our stays in a line, Lok got really, really nervous about the dog he was next to, broke his stay, and that was the end of his stay command for a very long time. After that, I couldn't get him to hold a stay for even a few seconds. So, it's been months and months building his stay back up from scratch and now I feel like it's pretty much back to where it used to be. He is relaxed and happy in his stays. Man, sometimes I wish he wasn't such a sensitive dog. Or at least that he wouldn't attach his stress to his obedience commands--every time he gets stressed out during obedience work I end up having to rebuild whatever command we were working on when he was stressed out. So essentially, I've taught him pretty much all of his basic obedience twice! It's definitely a learning experience.

Anyway, back to Lok's tricks! Right now, we are working on:
Fetching a beer from the fridge, specifically chaining the three behaviors (opening, retreive, and closing)
Backing up in the "bow" position
Backing up in the "down" position
Crossing his paws

Kinda sounds like a lot to work on at the same time, but Lok gets bored with too much repetition. He's enjoying all of this and doing really well!

We're also still working on relaxation at the door, which is going well too! It only takes a few minutes each time for him to be relaxed and focused with the door wide open!

Jun
Working some obedience stuff in preparation for our Rally show that is in 2 days! Yikes!
We're also doing rear-end awareness, specifically, rear-foot targeting and lifting one back foot. Both are going great but I'm having a really hard time coming up with hand signals for them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jun-isms

More funny, obnoxious, quirky, Jun . . .

1. Every day, at breakfast and dinner time, while I am standing at the food cupboard scooping kibble into bowls, Jun puts both her front feet on my foot and stretches, flexing her long, sharp claws as far as she can. Every. Day. I used to think it was just coincidence that her feet were on my foot, but then one day when she was stretching, she noticed that she had forgotten to put her feet on my foot and moved them there just in time to dig her claws in.

2. When Jun thinks something is taking too long, she stomps her foot like an impatient toddler. It's especially funny/not funny when we are working on stays. On the one hand, it demonstrates that she knows what stay means and she thinks she has proven that and wants to be released. On the other hand, it's kinda bratty. But it always cracks me up anyway.

3. At some point every morning, when Jun is laying down and being very good--and most of the time she is half asleep--she will suddenly jump up, run and jump on the couch (where she is not supposed to be) and look out the window, barking. It's obviously not a sound that sets her off. And most of the time when I go to see what she's going ballistic about, there is nothing there. I have yet to figure out why she does this, but I suspect her reasoning is something along the lines of "wow it's boring just laying here . . . I know, I'll get up and run around and bark for no reason!"

4. Oh yeah, and speaking of acting like a stubborn toddler, when Jun doesn't want to do something, like go in her crate, she has a tendency to lay down on her side and make herself completely limp. Then I have to go pick her up off the ground to get her to move, and she stays completely limp, knowing that makes it harder to move her.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rally Run-Throughs With Jun

Last night Jun and I went to Rally run-throughs at a different obedience club. If last night is any indication, next Saturday's competition is going be a collassal rally-FAIL! She was doing really great outside the ring. I had her attention, we were doing some heeling and basic obedience stuff and she was doing a great job! Then we stepped into the ring and it was like we had landed on another planet. Once again, she had to sniff all the signs, the floor, the wall, the cones, the mirror had to be inspected. I barely got her attention the whole way through. The second run was better, but when I got lost on the spiral, forgetting how many times I had spiraled in my elation over the fact that my dog was actually paying attention, I lost her as well. So, next Saturday will be interesting to say the least, but oh well, it's the experience that counts right?

On the other hand, there were three little kids at the run-through, running around uncontrolled, within a foot of my kid-reactive dog, and Jun didn't react ONCE!! She regarded them a little suspiciously, but there was not so much as a lip-curl! So I will consider that the major win of the night!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hastings Pictures

MNDDC is so lucky to have some really great photographers that are a part of our club. They got these great shots of the dogs at Hastings:

Photo by Larry Hotchkiss


Photo by Sean Silvernail


Photo by Larry Hotchkiss

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Relaxation Protocol

Last night I think I finally figured out the key to fixing Lok's door-bolting habit. I was right about needing to train an alternate behavior, but I was wrong about the behavior I needed to train. He is in such a high state of arousal when sitting at the door that no training is able to get through to him, so what I really need to teach him is to relax.

Luckily we've been working on this skill in other areas already. Since Lok learned what "sit" and "down" mean, he's been unable to do these commands in the middle of a game of fetch or tug or anything fun. I had worked on it periodically for over a year with absolutely no progress. I tried ending the game (and he would always immediately lay down when he knew the game was over--talk about frustrating--it was just when there was a chance the game might continue that he wouldn't comply), waiting him out, giving multiple commands, giving one command, applying pressure, removing pressure. Nothing worked. And finally, thanks to Leslie McDevitt (who is close to being elevated from "hero" to "goddess") I realized that it's not that Lok won't sit or lay down during a game--it's that he can't. He is unable to think through his arousal and he simply can't comply.

So we started playing off-switch games and teaching relaxation. Lok loves to tug, so we would start tugging, then I'd ask him to drop his tug (which he has no problems with) and then we would start working on relaxation. I told him to "relax" in a soft, low tone of voice, and then started taking deep breaths and speaking softly to him. I waited for his tail to drop. When it did, I calmly told him "yes" (his marker word) and the game started again. Dropping his tail was just the first step. As we continued to play I would wait for his eyes to soften and for him to start panting (he holds his breath when he's over-excited, so panting is a sign of relaxation for him). I knew we were really getting somewhere when I told him to "relax" and he went to his water bowl and got a drink. Then he started just offering me downs. He still wasn't to a place where I could ask him for a down, but he was offering them on his own, laying down and panting with soft eyes and a relaxed jaw and a lowered tail. Strangely, the only commands he would not perform during a game were sit and down--other commands he had no problem with, but would do them in kind of a frantic manner--like hand touches. So when he was relaxed, since I still couldn't ask him for a down, we worked on controlled hand touches--just a light touch with his nose, with a closed mouth. He's come a really long way, to the point where we can now do obedience exercises with a tug as a reward, whereas previously the sight of the tug would cause him to lose his mind and he was unable to perform exercises with any control at all.

So getting back to last night, I had some time on my hands and I decided to try something. I decided to just try waiting Lok out until he was completely relaxed at the door before letting him out. This took approximately one and a half hours, but it was soooo worth it. The way my entry way is set up, I have a small landing of about 3'x3' and then two stairs up to the kitchen. Lok had gotten better about walking down the stairs nicely, but still bolted out the door. So we spent about 45 minutes getting him to relax on the stairs. I watched for his ears to droop a little, his jaw to relax, his breathing to become normal--a couple times he even went to get a drink of water. First, he just had to relax with the door closed, and me standing there. Then he had to relax while I touched the doorknob. Then while I opened a closed the door a crack. Then with the door open a little bit, until finally the door was all the way open.

When he was relaxed on the stairs I used his new cue word "nicely" (I used to use his release, "ok," but had to replace it, since it's turned into Lok-speak for "run as fast as you can") to ask him to step down to the landing. He did, but he was no longer relaxed. I had anticipated that and we started over with the relaxation exercises. I even got his mat and had him lay down on his mat for awhile. We repeated the relaxation protocol here--hand on the storm door handle, opening the door a little ways, opening the door a little more, opening the door all the way. At each step we did some simple obedience exercises: eye contact, sits, downs, stands, hand touches--until he was relaxed and focused at each stage.

When he was laying relaxed on his mat on the landing with the door all the way open and me outside, I wasn't sure where to go from there. I was pretty sure if I released him, he would bolt. So I decided to stand just across the threshold and call him to "front." He complied and I waited for him to relax again and we did a couple sits and downs. He was now halfway out the door, and relaxed. So I backed up a little bit and called him to front again. We repeated these steps until he was about three feet beyond the threshold and facing the house, sitting at front on the deck, relaxed, focused, and responsive. At that point, I again wasn't sure what to do. So, I just decided to try something. Rather than release him with an "ok" I said "all done" (the word I use to end a game) in a soft, low voice in kind of a disappointed "no more fun for now" voice. And then, the miraculous happened! He gave me a questioning look for a second and then trotted off into the yard. Yes, I said TROTTED! He didn't run, he didn't bolt, he didn't gallop! He calmly trotted away!! Incredible!

We played outside for a bit and then repeated the whole process a little later that night--and this time it only took half an hour. In my enthusiasm, I rushed it a bit and he did try to bolt, but I caught him with no emotion at all positive or negative and we started again. And again, it worked! And again, he trotted into the yard completely relaxed.

So, I figure, if I can stay consistent with this for a few weeks, I should be able to completely eliminate the bolting. It's just a matter of not taking shortcuts and getting lazy. But I have to say, I was pretty impressed with myself and the patience I displayed while training my dog for an hour and a half!! I was 100% positive and relaxed myself the entire time, and I think that made all the difference. Plus, I knew going into it that it may take a couple hours the first time, but that it would probably take half that the second time, and exponentially less each time after that. It's like the Super Nanny method--I should add her to my list of heros! Clear rules, clear consequences, and 100% consistency. No force necessary.

Really, dogs don't want to live in conflict with us. If Lok could speak human language and I could tell him "I really would prefer if you walked nicely out the door rather than bolting" I'm positive that he would say "oh, ok! sure!" But since he can't it's my job to find a way to communicate my silly, arbitrary human rules to him in a way he can understand. I've found that once my dogs understand a rule they are more than happy to follow it. Sometimes it just takes a little creativity and patience to get to that point of communication.

7/22/09 - Spent about 45 minutes getting Lok to relax at the door. He tried to get up and go out the door without permission. Didn't have time to start over, so he stayed in. Later that night, spent about 1/2 hour and was successful again!

7/24/09 - Went through the whole process in about 10 minutes, but probably should have gone slower.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hastings '09 and a V-Collar

Saturday was our Hastings comp with MNDDC. It was an awesome day, full of fun with great people, great dogs, and great disc action. It was an MNDDC-format comp, so our toss and catch game was Catch 22 and our freestyle was 2 minutes. I was pretty happy with how Jun did. I didn't throw very well in C22, but we got two 3-point catches our first round. The second round, I wasn't putting enough spin on the disc and the wind was pushing it down, but against the wind we got a couple of 1-point catches. Lok got two 1-point catches in his first round and made the top 10 cutoff, due to taking the 2-point fastest time bonus! (Not hard to do, when his catches are about 3 feet from me!) He didn't catch anything his second round, but probably got the time bonus again. I'm not sure where he finished up, but I'll update when results are posted.

Jun did a pretty good job in FS. Her first round she started off not catching anything, then took a nature break and was good to go! She wasn't sticking on discs much, and for a 2-minute routine, that was really good for her! There were a couple times when she blew off throws, but I sent her back for them. I don't care if we're on the comp field or not--she is NOT getting away with blowing off discs. I have no problems with training on the field, and I really don't care how it affects our score. Jun needs 100% consistency in the rules, or she will never improve. Other than that, our routine was mostly backhands back and forth, an around the world, a couple fake flip-catches, and a back over. She doesn't really have many "moves" yet, since we're still building up the basics. Last night, for example we worked on stopping in front of me on the return, instead of circling around me. It's hard for her.

Lok, what can I say about my perfect boy! He finished third place in pro freestyle!!! And no, it wasn't third out of three! Granted, not all of the club's top talent was at the comp, but he beat out 5 or 6 dogs with perfect eyesight, finishing right behind Melissa LaMere and Tag and Brian Bruzek and Rocket. Our first round went really well! He was making catches, we were connecting, it was great. I knew going into our second round that we were in third place, and was hoping to hold onto it, but I was sure we lost it after our poor second round. But luckily for us (or unluckily for others, however you want to look at it) we weren't the only ones who screwed up the second round, and we ended up holding onto third!! It's the first time we've placed in freestyle. I was so proud of my boy, and almost cried as we went up to accept our medal. It was a pretty special moment for us. Well, for me. Lok just wanted me to stop hugging him, I'm sure. After the comp a lady who has a similar condition to what Lok has and is losing her vision came up and introduced herself to us. I think maybe it was a little bit encouraging to her to see what he was accomplishing. It was a good day!

In other news, Jun's vibrating collar came in the mail and I've just started working with it a little bit. In the house, it's hard to work on, because if she knows I have treats there is no way she's letting me out of her sight. So we worked on it outside for a bit. It was really cool to see my deaf dog walk away from me, but then turn back to me when she felt the vibration! My deaf dog has the beginnings of a recall! Wonders never cease!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Life is Not Fair

After Lok was diagnosed with PRA in December of 2008, I cried for two days straight. I spent two whole days on the internet researching ways to help him out. I read every blind dog resource on the internet multiple times. I read countless websites confirming what the vet said--that there is no cure and my dog will go blind.

After that, I've been mostly at peace with it. But sometimes it gets to me and last night it struck me how unfair life is.

Frisbee is Lok's life. It is his heart and soul. And that's getting taken away from him, little by little. Jun on the other hand, loves frisbee, but in a much different way. Jun is a workaholic and loves anything and everything that is work for her. But it's not a deep, from the bottom of her soul love. It's more of an addiction. A compulsion. Her mind tells her to work, so she works because she has to. And frisbee is just one outlet for her compulsion. If she could never play frisbee again she wouldn't be bothered--any kind of fetch will do. Fetch isn't even a requirement . . . anything that allows her to use her brain will do.

But Lok--When Lok came home he was shy and withdrawn from the world. He didn't really have any use for people. He didn't really seem to know how to play or want to play. He had no interest in toys. Any type of pressure caused him to shut down. That is--until I brought home a frisbee. The frisbee turned him into the dog he is today. The frisbee turned him into a happy . . . no, more than that--a joyful dog! A dog that loves people, because they are the throwers of that magic piece of plastic. A dog that loves to learn and work for a chance to chase the frisbee. You can see it in his eyes--the passion, the joyful anticipation. Never is he more content than after a good frisbee session. He LIVES for the disc.

Not fair. Not fair at all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What We're Working on 2

Lok:
Still working on building heeling back up. He's starting to be more enthusiastic about it and has even been offering a sit in heel position when he's not sure what I want! I consider that major progress! It means the concept of sitting at heel doesn't stress him out anymore. Along with using a tug reward, I went back to the very, very basics and have been just liberally rewarding for sitting in heel position and for taking 1-3 steps in heel position with attention.

Working on "down." I find it funny that if we are going out to play disc I can give Lok a "down" from all the way across the field and he complies instantly, but sometimes inside right next to me, he balks. I went back to basics on the "down" also. I started with "shaping" it with no command until he was offering me enthusiastic downs. Lok likes shaping--he gets to be right all the time and there is no pressure! Then I put reinforcement of his downs on a variable schedule. Now I am working on bringing them under stimulus control, that is rewarding downs on cue and not rewarding those I don't cue. So far, he hasn't balked at a down in 3 days, so that's cool.

As of the past two days, Lok's "bow" is fixed and he will now do it at a distance from me! Woot! I was pretty excited about that one.

Still trying to figure out how to keep him from bolting out doors.

Jun:
Still working on stays. I think we have had a breakthrough in the past couple days though. At obedience last week, the instructor said two things that resonated with me: 1) a student commented on how attentive Jun is to me and the instructor pointed out that it is because I am so attentive to her, and 2) the instructor noted that sniffing or looking away is just as much a violation of a stay command as getting up and walking away, because it's a break in concentration. Well, previously, after cueing a stay and walking out, I would turn and face Jun with my arms crossed and look off to the side, not giving her any eye contact. Eye contact, I had heard, can cause a dog to break a stay. Well, this week, I decided to give Jun eye contact on her stays and require that she give me eye contact. She is such an eye-contact oriented dog, and I think the fact that I'm giving her eye contact indicates to her that I am just as invested in her stay as I am asking her to be, whereas a lack of eye contact indicates to her that I have broken my concentration. I've also been only working on one type of stay per day, so, for example, not working a sit-stay after a down-stay. She's terrible about dropping on her sit-stays, so I think that makes it more clear for her.

Working on not forging on left turns when heeling. Getting lots better with this, but she's still trying to grasp the fact that she has to slow down to stay in heel position. Lots of rewarding behind my knee has helped.

Both of the dogs' "wait" commands before a formal recall have been awesome, since I've been returning to reward more often than calling them out of the "wait."

In disc, Jun is working on flip catches, back overs, not crowding me, and not biting stacks of discs in my hands.

Jun's sit pretty has gotten stronger and now she lifts her paws up and it's really cute!

Jun has her first Rally trial on August 1st and I am hoping she will be ready. I'm not sure if I should enter Lok yet. I don't want to rush him and un-do all of our progress, but the next trial is not until January. There are only two a year in MN, and we're not going out of state for Rally. So I don't know what to do. I suspect I will enter him in one run, take an NQ and only do as many signs as I can keep his attention for. We'll see.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Things

I'm thinking about a lot of things lately, dog-training-wise, but not sure any of them are blog-post-worthy. For example . . . how do I get Lok to stop bolting out the door and digging his toenails into my bare feet in the process? (Note: he never leaves the house without permission, but when he gets permission he BOLTS out the door like his life depends on it.) I suspect the key lies in training an incompatible behavior, but seeing as I'm only two days into the process, I'm not quite sure what my chances of success are. The problem is, Lok is so 100% balls-to-the-wall about anything that involves playing fetch.* And the backyard almost always means playing fetch. So he bolts, then wheels around and lands in a down, staring at the door until I come outside to play. He will stay like this for hours. So I'm working on teaching him to walk down the stairs and out the door nicely and turn and face me in a sit until I release him, which is fine, but still when I release him he bolts and carries on with the rest of his routine. I think it's just his personality, and I'm fine with that, as long as he doesn't hurt himself or me.

And for example, concepts of positive reinforcement training, like variable schedules of reinforcement, and intermediate conditioned reinforcers. I don't know enough about them, and I wish I did. So I'm re-reading some Karen Pryor stuff to try to figure it out.
And for example, how do I throw a frisbee farther than 30 yards? Am I capable of throwing a frisbee farther than 30 yards? Can I use positive reinforcement training and shaping on myself to teach myself to throw a frisbee farther than 30 yards? Can I then use it to teach myself not to choke in DA? (and why it's so hard to get line spacing correct in blogger?!?)

Jun is funny. She thinks Lok is her best dog friend.














Lok begs to differ.

What?













Jun is also cute. It's a good thing too. Sometimes it's her saving grace. She did really good in obedience last night, except for dropping on her sit-stay. She did a lot better on her heeling left turns. People wonder why she gives me such rapt attention all class long. Probably has something to do with me periodically rewarding her attention all class long, and the fact that I give her my rapt attention all class long. That's what you do in a good working relationship.
*No pun intended

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Training Principles

1. Most of dog training is building good behavior habits and preventing bad behavior habits. A large part of curing bad behavior habits is simply making it difficult for the dog to engage in that behavior while simultaneously instilling a new behavior that you would like to become habitual.

2. Increase the rate of reward. I took this concept from Leslie McDevitt and I reward my dogs often! Especially for paying attention to me. In class, when there is down time an I am just listening to the instructor, I am consistently rewarding attention. If ever I am having difficulty with a concept I find increasing my rate of reward helps drastically.

3. Reward sucessive approximations. When I first started training, I thought I should only reward when the dog got it right. This led to much frustration for my poor dog. I now make sure that I reward each little baby step on the way to getting right, especially with complex behaviors, like heeling. I gradually ask for better performance as my dog's understanding of the behavior increases.

4. If the dog gets it wrong, it is never the dog's fault. So what if my dog has known "sit" for years. If one day I ask for a sit and he gives me a down, why would I not first assume that he got confused, rather than that he is being intentionally disobedient or sloppy. How often have I meant to give one command and actually given another? If I, the one with the big brain, can't always get it right, why should I expect him to? Likewise, there are many, many other reasons that my dog might not get it right: he is not feeling well (why do we so often assume our dogs are robots?), he is hurt, he is afraid, he doesn't understand what I want, I've been inconsistent in the way I gave a command, the dog is not trained to the level at which I am asking him to perform. I try always to assume first that my dogs wants to obey and there is some reason why it is at the moment difficult for him. And if I can't tell what the reason is, I give him the benefit of the doubt anyway. Just last night, for example, Lok and I were at class working on formal recalls. This is something we've been practicing at home--working on getting him to wait while I walk out and turn to call him. Well, as I left, he got up to follow me twice. As our instructor pointed out, I was being inconsistent in the way I gave him the command. I was giving the command as I was walking away and bent over towards him and he was confused. When I fixed my handling skills, he got it right, and did great! Dogs are so sensitive to our body language and I'm learning more and more how subtle changes in body position can totally change a dog's response to a command. Amazing!

5. Don't train when you're not in the mood. You will train poorly; your dog will learn poorly. Sounds simple, right? But it's sure been difficult for me to learn. I slowly caught on, and now I am pretty good at noticing when I am getting frustrated during a training session and ending it, and even when I am not in a good enough mood to even begin a training session.

6. There are many different ways to train any behavior. I am largely a self-taught trainer. My dog Lok had all of the obedience basics down before we ever set foot in an obedience class. I often find that the way I have taught things is not the way anyone else teaches them! Often I will set out to teach a behavior and change my method many, many times before I find one that works for my dog. In teaching people for the past five years, I've learned that people vary widely in their learning styles. The same is true of dogs. You just need to find the method that successfully communicates to your dog what you want.

7. There is no training method, tool, or technique that works for every dog. There's just not.

Monday, June 22, 2009

June Jam!

Great day of disc dogging with the MNDDC! Lok did great! We did D/A, even though I knew it was a lost cause and he was so cute in it! He tried so hard and made two 0-point catches at the end of his round! Yay Lok! His freestyle was great as well. The first round he was way excited and that threw off his catching at first. Then he jumped up and chomped my entire forearm, thinking it was a disc. OUCH!! He realized his mistake and then got super-apologetic and didn't want to play for a minute, but I got him back into it. He made it into the top ten and got a second round, which was much better with a more focused dog, more catches, better flow and no biting me!

Jun would have done great in D/A had I not choked and thrown terribly!!! I haven't thrown that bad since sometime last year! But I was having flashbacks to last year's D/A which sucked majorly. Last year, I was throwing to a blind dog, but didn't know that, and couldn't figure out why we just kept getting worse and worse no matter how much we practiced. It was kind of a blow to my confidence and now I feel like I'm cursed in D/A. Also, even though my throwing has improved a ton and I can throw a lot further than last year, every time I step up to the line I feel the pressure to get really long throws and I think I try to just whip the disc out there and end up with zero form and discs that go off to the side or into the ground. Yuck. Add to that the time pressure and I am a wreck! I need to figure out a way to calm down in D/A and throw like I'm just throwing for fun! I wish all D/A was Catch 22. Lok's very first round of C-22 ever he did AMAZING, so I don't have the same feelings about that game and I've been able to do as well in competition as I do in practice.

Jun's freestyle went about as well as I could expect. She's not to the level yet where she can go without tugging for a minute and a half so she started sticking on discs pretty much right away. The moves we do have I couldn't get her to do. Plus it was hot, and she was getting lazy. But next year is Jun's year for freestyle, I can feel it! She's come a long way and I have faith she will continue to improve. I am finding though, that there are situations where it would be really nice to be able to give her verbal commands! It's tough to hand-signal with discs in my hands! So, I am learning to communicate with her via body language, and learning to be very consistent with the positioning of the discs and my body so she will know what I want from her. At the same time, I don't want it to be at all obvious that she is deaf--I want it to look smooth and effortless. It's interesting and challenging, but I am up to it, and so is she!

We met Matt DiAno from CO and his border collie Maggie. They are really cool and very nice, which is pretty much to be expected, since they are disc doggers after all! Matt and I threw for Jun and Maggie while we talked. Very cool! Can't wait for the next comp in July!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What we're working on

Lok:
Being happy about doing obedience: lots of tugging, ultra-short sessions, lots of variety, fun jumping and retreiving, running heeling, interspersing tricks.
Retreiving a hot dog
Rear-foot targeting
Fixing his "bow" command
Sit pretty-stand-sit pretty
Putting together a disc freestyle routine

Jun:
Building duration and distractions on stays
Working on a stand-stay
Formal recalls
Formal retrieve
Building duration on sit pretty (what a motivator real meat is!)
Learning some new disc freestyle moves

Both of them have been making me very happy lately . . . well, except for the aforementioned wall barking . . . but other than that, very happy!

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Dog Barks At Walls

Yes, yes she does. And I'm really not sure what to do with that.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Deaf Dog Myth #254

Last night in obedience class, Jun and I were working on a "stand" command (very difficult for Miss Perpetual Motion). There is a guy with a giant black Newf in the class and he was working right next to us, apparently not holding his dog's leash. So at some point the Newf (who is a very cool dog with a very cool name, Romulus, or something strong and manly sounding like that) decided that standing was boring and he was going to come over and check out what Jun was doing. Of course, as always, Jun noticed this before I did and started giving the Newf the stare of death. I noticed in time to step in front of Jun and try to block her view and block the Newf(emphasis on the trying part), yet the Newf kept coming. And despite the fact that the owner was about 3 steps away, he apparently didn't feel the need to grab his dog. So the Newf gets within about a foot of Jun's face and of course, being up against a wall with a giant dog bearing down upon her she goes Cujo on his ass. It was then that the Newf's owner decided to grab him. None of that is particularly remarkable, but what really got me was, after Jun got snarky, the instructor commented to the whole class "oh, she's deaf, so that means she can't read dog language very well."

Um . . . what? Now, I understand that there are lots of misconceptions about deaf dogs (number one being that they are harder to train than normal dogs--a misconception which I had already dispelled about six times that very night), but this is not even logical! Certainly not coming from someone who is supposedly educated about dogs and dog behavior and training. Dog communication is nearly 100% NON-verbal, i.e., it can be interpreted VISUALLY! There is nothing wrong with Jun's eyes, nor with her brain, so I'm really not understanding how her deafness affects her doggy communication skills. In fact, Lok is incredibly subtle in his communication style, but she understands and listens to him just fine (when he chooses to communicate that is, and I wish he would more often, rather than just giving me the "why, oh why, does she still live here" look).

I can't decide whether it's the illogic or the ignorance that is more aggravating. Not only can Jun read dog language, in this situation she DID read dog language and responded appropriately! She had a giant dog very rudely approaching her head-on with her back against a wall. The dog very stupidly ignored the clear "go away, I don't like you" message in her stare and her stiffened body posture. I think at that point it was clear which one of them was not adept at reading canine body language. Jun had no choice but to spell it out for him.

Sigh. The people who call themselves dog trainers.

On another note, I think tonight we may try an obedience fun match. That should be interesting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A perfect night

I decided to take the dogs with to run an errand last night. Then after we all got in the car, I decided there was enough daylight left to get in five minutes of disc with each of them. So we went to the park. It was a perfect temperature out, a beautiful night with very little wind, we had the field to ourselves. Just the right atmosphere for some disc miracles! Our best jams always happen when there is no one else around, nobody watching, nobody to impress, just feeling each other's movements, sensing each other's thoughts, no plan, no agenda, just feeding off each other's passion and creativity.

Lok did amazing, considering that last week he ran full speed ahead into a chain link fence, and a couple days ago ran into his crate door which I forgot to leave all the way open, and yesterday ran smack into my great big wooden privacy fence in broad daylight! He was even catching long throws in a little impromptu game of Catch 22. Jun did amazing also. She hasn't been sticking on discs at all lately and we've been working on some new moves. Sometimes I'm tempted to just work distance with her--her speed in chasing down long throws and her leaps to catch them are awe-inspiring.

Five minutes of heaven with each dog. Happy tired dogs. Happy me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Careless Driving

If the legislature really wants to prevent accidents, they should forget about drunk driving and crack down on what I was doing yesterday!

Jun likes to keep me on my toes. She can't make life too easy for me, because, well, what fun would that be? Jun is now wonderful in her crate at home and in her crate at comps. She used to be good in her crate in the car. She decided that was too boring. So after enduring a couple months of shrill, ear-piercing deaf-dog barking in the car I finally decided I had to do something about it.

Step number 1: Figure out why the dog is engaging in the undesirable behavior. In Jun's case, it turned out to be overstimulation from watching all the cars pass by and wanting to chase them. Typical border collie behavior, a-typical Jun behavior, but like I said, she likes to mix it up. Oh well. As I always say, you work with the dog you have today, and today I have a motion-reactive dog.

Step number 2: Develop a plan to manage the behavior so the dog will not be practicing bad behavior while you do step number 3. This one was easy. Cover the crate. She can't see the cars outside. No barking! Now I have an unsightly blue packing blanket covering Jun's crate in the car. Not to mention, when it gets a little hotter, she will be roasting in there. So management is not the ideal permanent solution here. On to Step 3.

Step number 3: Develop and implement a plan to addres the root causes of the behavior. Jun needs to learn to be calm and settled while riding in the car with cars and other things zooming by outside. The plan, basic but effective. Reward good behavior. Prevent to the extent possible and otherwise ignore bad behavior. Classic positive reinforcement training strategy. Unfortunately, not so easy to do when you have to do it while driving (and unlike many car issues, I couldn't work on it while stationary, because she's quiet when the car's not moving). So we start the drive with two sides of the crate un-covered. Jun starts barking, I reach back to cover the crate. Jun is quiet for a minute or two, I reach back to uncover the crate. Jun is sitting or laying calmly and quietly in the crate, I feed treats every 15 to 30 seconds or so. Jun barks once. I cover the crate. Rinse and repeat. While trying to remember to watch the cars in front of me, lest they slam on their breaks, stay in my own lane, stop at stoplights, etc. Easier said than done. But I'm happy to report that Jun had a very successful trip to class and back last night!

So, I'm realizing my blog is seriously lacking in pictures. Too bad I'm not more of a photographer, but here are some black and whites I took with my crappy little point and shoot last night. Taking picture of a black dog in low light is really hard. Especially when the dog's pupils are reflective and take up his entire eye, due to PRA.











Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Random Jun Stuff

I really thought when I started this blog that I would have more to write. Apparently I was wrong. So since I haven't posted for awhile, here are some random things Jun does that are funny, annoying or both:

1. Scratching corners. Apparently she finds this thoroughly entertaining, especially if she injures me in the process. Our most challenging time of day is the hour in the morning when I am trying to get ready for work and not directly entertaining her, so most of the things on this list are things she has made up to entertain herself during that time. This particular game involves laying down with her face in the corner that is made up of the bathtub and the vanity and sniffing intently, as if there is some particularly desirable treasure hidden in the crack (which there is not) then scratching frantically with alternating paws. Generally, this involves scratching my bare feet/legs as I stand at the sink. All the better to her, as that gets a reaction out of me faster. I got sick of this and now laying down with her nose in the corner is grounds for immediate expulsion from the bathroom.

2. Opportunistic fetch. Tuesdays suck for the dogs. I am gone for 10 hours at work, home for 45 minutes (during which they get to play for maybe 20 minutes) and then back to work for 5 hours, getting home about 10pm. I force myself to stay up until midnight to play with them, but last night I HAD to clean my house, so I gave them each a ball and set about with cleaning. If I am not directly involved in playing ball, Jun knows exactly where to put the ball so that I will either accidentally kick it as I am walking, bump it with the vacuum, push it out of the way of where I am washing the floor, etc. If all else fails, she'll drop it on top of my foot so it will bounce and roll or just throw it for herself. Yes, she is quite ingenuis about her fetching. Lok on the other hand will just lay down and squeak his ball if I make it clear that I am busy and not going to be throwing it. My two dogs are such night and day opposites!

3. Spinning. Jun likes to spin/chase her tail. I used to think it was OCD. However, I now know that she just does it to get attention, because she NEVER does it when she is alone, only when I am in the room. The closer to my legs, the better. The more she steps on my bare feet with sharp nails (because she won't sit still long enough to let me clip them--yes, we are working on it) the better. She has even been known to spin around my legs with her tail in her mouth.

4. Squeezing into small spaces. Jun likes to be squished. If I am standing close to an object, you can bet that she will be between me and that object. The tighter the squeeze, the better.

5. Sniffing the garbage. Jun does not actually raid the garbage. Actually, I think she did once--for an empty can of dog food that I had thrown away! But I can have leftover meat, cheese, all manner of smelly, tasty things in the garbage and she doesn't touch it! Not even if she is home alone and loose! She does however, enjoy sniffing it. She will walk over, bump up the lid with her nose, sniff for a minute, and walk away. Strange, strange dog.

6. Stealing paper bags. Every once in awhile, in the morning, when I am not entertaining her, Jun will go and ever so daintily grab a brown paper bag from the place they are kept next to the garbage, and then bring it to the living room and have a blast ripping it up! Being the good dog owner/trainer that I am, I NEVER let her get away with this. After all, it could lead to stealing and chewing up other random paper objects that I don't want destroyed! Therefore, I always take the bag away, make her sit, THEN give it back to her and let her rip it up. LOL!

7. Getting kicked in the head. Jun likes to get kicked in the head. She considers it "petting." BF will be sitting on the couch, feet on the ottoman, moving his foot back and forth, and Jun will come up and put her head right next to his foot so she is getting repeatedly kicked in the head. She enjoys this. Really.

8. Conversations with her tail. Yes, she has them. She will lay on the ground, staring at her tail and waiting for it to move, "talking" at it all the while. Then when it does move, she snatches it and goes sommersaulting around the floor with it in her mouth.

9. Jealousy. The dogs aren't allowed on the couch (except for front paws only when invited so it's easier to pet them). Jun was getting obnoxious so I stuck her in her crate in the living room, then invited Lok up on the couch. She saw that, sat bolt upright, and I swear the intonation of the bark she gave sounded just like a whiny kid saying "What! Not fair!"

10. Inconvenient potty schedule. Every time I sit down at the table or on the couch--EVERY TIME--she runs to the door needing to go out. Every. Time. Without fail.

11. The "help, it's stuck!" Game. Toy are put away unless I'm playing with the dogs, but rawhides are always out. Several times a night, especially if I am trying to just sit and watch TV, Jun will either drop her rawhide in the crack between the couch and ottoman or push it under the couch, then sit and scratch at the couch until I relent and retreive it for her. Then she will do it again, but she will try to be sneaky about it. She'll put it on the edge of the ottoman and nudge it so it moves a little, then she'll nudge it again, and again, until it falls into the crack. Then she'll give me a look as if to say, "honest, I had NO IDEA that would happen!"

That's enough for now. More Jun-isms to come another day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Flyball

Lok has been in flyball for about 8 weeks or so. He adores it! But last time, he knocked over two jumps--like, ran into the jump standards at full speed and sent them flying. Not good. :( I may have to take him out of it. We'll see how he does next week.

Jun is finally back to where she was three weeks ago in flyball. She regressed for a bit and started trying to play fetch with the box loader (or anybody standing on the sidelines) again. Last time, she was back to business, running the full course again! Good dog!

This week Jun starts level 3 obedience. I'm going to work Lok for 15 minutes or so and then Jun will get the rest of the class. I'm finding that the more I challenge her, the more she stays focused in class. When she gets bored, she goofs off. She's is doing excellent with her heelwork! Pivots both ways, sidepasses, backs up in heel position! She is so much fun to work with!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Overstimulation and Other Stuff

Lok gets overstimlated in certain situation. I've just recently realized this and I've just recently started using "off switch" games to fix it." For example, around toys he has a very, very hard time turning off in the middle of a game. If I say "all done" he knows the game is over and turns off immediately. But if, in the middle of a game, I ask for a "sit" or a "down" I get a blank stare and if I'm lucky, he will ever so slowly sink into the position I've asked for, usually getting stuck part way several times. It's something I've been working on with no success since I adopted him. I recently realized that he is not capable of relaxing if he thinks the game is still going on. So I've lowered my criteria. Rather than demand a down in the middle of the game, I've been hiding the toy behind my back and softly asking him to "relax." When he starts breathing again (instead of holding his breath), when his tail drops, he turns his head, and his face softens a bit, then I either reward him by starting the game again or ask for an easier behavior like a hand touch to be performed in a relaxed and self-controlled state. This is going MUCH, MUCH better after just a few days and I'm able to get a sit from him pretty easily most times now. So, hopefully I'm on the right track there.

Lok also has focus issues. He hates obedience and I'd really like to change that, since there may come a point where that is really all we can do together. He hasn't always hated it. In fact, he really enjoyed rally for several weeks, but then got sick of it, and getting stressed out at a competition sealed the deal. It's gotten to the point that he is regularly refusing to lay down on command. I'm not quite sure why. So I'm trying to fix that with mat work, since he is enthusiastic about running to a mat and laying down. I've also been working on basic obedience exercises outside in the context of Leslie McDevitt's "Gimme a Break" game with very high value treats and working on obedience exercises for a toy (though I first need to overcome above-described overstimulation problems).

Lok and I have been challenged to teach Lok how to fetch a hot dog without eating it for our tricks class graduation project. I have to admit, it's been a little humbling. I kind of thought, well, Lok knows how to retreive and will retreive almost anything, so how hard could it be? I just throw it and tell him to retrieve it right? Wrong! Lok wants to retreive it, but is torn between his desire to do what I ask and his entire three years of experience that tell him that a hot dog is food--NOT a retreiving object, and that food in his mouth is meant to be chewed and swallowed. He will hold it in his mouth, but not without licking and lightly chomping it at the same time! So, we've had to start with just holding a hot dog without chomping or licking for just a few seconds. We also had to start with a frozen hot dog, in a plastic bag, with vet rap around it. We've now progressed to just a frozen hot dog, but still haven't worked up to holding it for more than a few seconds. I doubt we'll have it down by this Thursday. But oh well, it's been a learning experience.

As for Lok's vision, the other night when coming in from outside, instead of just jumping up onto the deck, he slowed in front of it, stuck his nose out and touched it, and then slowly stepped up onto it. In anything but natural daylight, he can't see a toy thrown to him on his left side. Outside during the day he seems to do better.

And the obligatory Jun mention. Jun is learning colors. Or, maybe I should say, I am trying to teach Jun colors. So far, it's not going great. However, except for her left front paw, she will sit still to have all her nails clipped! She doesn't like me touching her left front paw for some reason. More desensitization is in order, I guess. I need to stock up on peanut butter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cooper

Cooper stayed with me for a few months while he was looking for his forever home. He was a homely black and tan aussie-type thing (supposedly an aussie, but I was never quite convinced of that) who got a raw deal in life. He was afraid of men and showed it with his teeth. He was not a fan of the man in my life, and despite all my work, he just got worse and worse to the point that he would growl when my boyfriend came into the house, even when he was on a separate floor of the house in his crate! He was not the brightest bulb on the tree. It took me, I think, two months to teach him a “down.” Luring was out of the question, since his brain completely shut off around food. He caught on to the idea of shaping pretty quickly and would offer me a down for a click and a treat, but couldn’t seem to get the idea that the actions he was giving me had names. His “sit” was already rock solid. It was the only thing he knew and I think at some point he just decided that “sit” was the sum total of what humans want dogs to do. I never could get him to do a “stand” or a “spin” because I couldn’t get his butt off the ground! Yet other things—waiting for his dinner, waiting to go outside, going to his kennel on command, coming when called—he learned with no problem at all. He was an odd one and I didn’t quite have time to figure him out. For all his shortcomings, I’ve never met a more loyal dog. Once he decided he was your dog, that was it—he was your dog. And I was privileged to be his person for a few short months. All he wanted was love from his person (well, and to wrestle-play with other dogs and chase squirrels of course). He hated to be outside in the winter because his paws got cold, but he sat right by my side while I threw toys for my two border collies. I had to keep him in the basement by himself when my boyfriend was over, but at night, I would stay up with him a little longer just to spend some cuddle time. He was happy as long as he got a few minutes of cuddles every day. When I went to bed, he would amble off to the bathroom (his self-appointed sleeping place, the warmest room in the house), shut the door, and curl up in the corner on the towel I always left out for him to sleep on. After awhile it became clear that my house wasn’t the place for him anymore and he was taken in by another foster home. I admit I shed a few tears when he gave me that questioning look as I loaded him into a crate in someone else’s van. Luckily, Cooper is a big-hearted dog, so it didn’t take him long to become theirs. But I kinda miss the big furry mutt. Contrary to popular opinion, Cooper was a good dog.