Thursday, July 30, 2009

What We're Working On


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!

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


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

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.

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


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.


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