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 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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Does The Command Actually Mean (to your dog)?

So, I feel like a little bit of a genius. I know, I know, if I were really a genius, I wouldn't have made the mistake in the first place. Nonetheless, I feel pretty cool to have figured it out.

Lok will do any command at a distance from me except his "bow" command (termed "streeeetch" so as not to be confused with "down"). If I ask for a bow at a distance, he will do it, but will invariably end up practically on my feet! I've tried and tried to fix this, gradually adding distance, just like with any other command, but to no avail. Last Thursday night I talked to the instructor of our tricks class who recommended using a barrier, such as a baby gate, to prevent him from scooting forward. Ok, sounds good! So we tried it. Lok will do any command behind the baby gate except for his bow. He seems utterly confused and starts offering random behaviors that have been successful for him in the past: do you want me to target the gate with a paw? no? how about my nose? my chin? my other paw? ok, what if I retreive the gate? LOK! STOP!

So, that was as far as we got with that. We gave it a rest. Then last night, we were back to trying it the old way: Lok, wait. I walk a few feet away. Spin. Yes! Twist. Yes! Streeeetch. Lok lands in a stretch at my feet. Epiphany!! I was reminded of the time I was teaching Lok a "stand" from a "sit" in heel position. Until that time, I had never paid much attention to how he stood, just that he did when I asked him to. But every time I asked him to stand he would take a step forward with his front feet to get into the stand position, which of course resulted in him standing out of heel position. It only makes sense, since I had taught a stand by luring him forward with a treat. Fixing this was a simple matter of holding a treat ON his nose while I asked for a stand and clicking when he popped his rear end up without moving his front feet. About two repetitions of this and he has never moved his front feet to get into a stand since.

So, back to bowing at a distance. It occured to me that Lok actually thought that "streeeetch" means "slam your front end down and slide forward until you are nearly on top of me." Truly! In his mind, he was doing exactly what I asked him to do. No wonder he wouldn't do a bow behind a baby gate. In his mind, he couldn't!! So, I began re-teaching the bow from square one, asking Lok to keep his feet in place and simply lower his front end while shifting his weight back. A couple repetitions with a food lure. A couple repetitions without a food lure. Click-treat, click-treat, click-treat! In less than two minutes Lok was bowing very nicely a whole foot away from me! Sweet!

So, what did I learn? Sometimes what you think a command means isn't actually what it means at all! And the only meaning that means anything is the meaning your dog attaches to the command. Just goes to show once again, the only one who "fails" in dog training is the trainer.