Thursday, December 30, 2010

Verbal Discrimination and Differential Reinforcement

 Cue Discrimination Work with Elo

Since THIS post, I've been working really hard on Elo's verbal cue discrimination. In the past couple of days it actually seems like we're making some progress!! The discussion came up on Crystal's blog, so I thought I would post an update on how we've been working this.

I started with just three commands: sit, down, and stand. I tried to work just a few repetitions of each command a few times a day--maybe counting out ten kibbles and just working until I ran out, with a treat for each successful response. I picked a different location to work each time--the living room in different corners, the kitchen, a bedroom. I also rotated between sitting and standing. I tried to just mix up the commands randomly so that he would be doing sits from downs, down from stand, stand from down, and all the possible variations. This actually went really well and I didn't have too many problems. He seemed to know "stand" better than I thought he did.

So I added in a fourth command, everything went to hell, and I gave up.

But only for a little while. We've been back at it after doing some significant work with taking treats nicely. It's a lot easier to be patient when your fingers aren't bleeding! I basically just fed him the majority of his dinner by hand for awhile and required him to take each kibble nicely without being told. Once he started doing well with this, I started adding in commands, since every time I gave a command he got a little bit amped up and started snapping again. We worked through this as well and it kind of progressed back into verbal discrimination exercises.

I've increased the number of repetitions. I try to stop before he gets confused, but if he's doing well I don't arbitrarily limit the number of reps I will do. We are working just four commands--sit, down, stand and bummer (the first trick he learned--head on paws)--and varying location and position as above. I've found that he does best when he is very calm, so I usually wait for and reward eye contact a few times between each command and make sure he is paying attention before I give a command. Instead of cycling through all commands randomly, I am working just a couple per session. For example, for the past few nights we've been working sit and bummer primarily. I also add in a few stands and lie downs randomly so it doesn't get to be too much of a pattern.

I am consciously physically cuing in some ways. For bummer I will lower my head slightly and look at the ground. I will also empty-hand lure a response if he fails to respond to a verbal (e.g., for stand or sit from down). So this probably isn't pure verbal discrimination work, but I am honestly more concerned about correct responses to cues than what he is cuing off of. I am also trying to pay attention to the pitch of commands and keeping them consistent.

And a Couple Thoughts on Differential Reinforcement

Differential reinforcement is another thing I've been thinking about lately--having been brought to my consciousness by a couple of other blogs I read. Differential reinforcement, as I understand it, means essentially reinforcing some instances of a behavior and not others, specifically, only reinforcing increasingly better instances of that behavior.

I am terrible at fading treats. And I have previously had this idea that once a behavior is learned you fade treats by simply reinforcing every other, then every third, and just increasingly spacing out rewards. That's not to say I still treat my dogs for every correct response to every cue, and I don't generally carry around a treat bag unless I'm training something new. But I can't say I've ever really understood the concept of differential reinforcement or ever applied it successfully. But for the past couple nights I've been experimenting with it for Jun's response to a down from a stand--she's been turning it into a "bow" first, since that's a trick we've been working on. I c/t the first bow-down after her butt hit the ground. She offered me the same thing for the next rep. No treat. The next rep was a bit better, so I c/t. The following rep was the same. No treat. The next rep was slightly better but I wanted a bit more, so no c/t. The next rep was nearly perfect, c/t. I don't know if this worked because I applied (or tried to apply) differential reinforcement, or because she realized that we were working down and not bow, but the behavior seemed to improve faster than I would normally expect it to. This is really interesting and I plan to keep playing with it. It sure seems like a more purposeful way to treat than just random reinforcement.

ETA: If I'm totally off track with this, please let me know. It's a concept I'd really like to understand and learn to use.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lok Update

Lok's seizures continue. He had his fifth last night. It's been about a month since the last one. For anyone who hasn't experienced a seizing dog, this description is pretty spot-on:

A typical seizure unfolds like this: At 3:30 am you hear a loud bump as your dog falls off the bed. His whole body is rigid, with his neck pulled backward so strongly that his head nearly touches his back. His eyes are rolled back in his head, and his mouth is wide open - champing frantically at nothing, saliva spewing forth. His legs gallop nowhere. He empties his bladder, his anal glands, and often his bowels. This continues for up to several minutes, during which time he does not breath. Lack of oxygen to the brain means death for brain cells. As the seizure declines, he is unconscious. Suddenly he snaps into a semblance of awareness, but is totally uncoordinated and often blind. He pulls himself up and staggers into a wall or a piece of furniture. Not having an understanding of why he isn't moving forward, he continues to shove blindly against the barrier until it moves or someone pulls him away from it. Over the next 20 minutes to several hours he gradually comes back to his senses.
Then the pacing begins. He doesn't know why, but he must pace - back and forth, back and forth - without end. This can go on for hours. Finally he goes into an exhausted sleep. With some luck, he doesn't "cluster" (having anywhere from 2 to over 50 seizures over the next 2-3 days) or go into status epilepticus (continual seizing that often means death). You try to go back to sleep for a few hours, praying that the seizures are over for now, and thanking God that he lived through this one.

The "post-ictal" phase is the worst. That's after the convulsions stop when he suddenly jumps up and needs to move continually with no idea where he is going. He will walk into walls, and like a video game character will just keep trying to go forward, or will stand there confused about why he can't keep going. He will fall down stairs. I can't hold him still or comfort him (and he doesn't really seem to be un-comfortable--his tail will be wagging like crazy while he's pacing) because he just keeps struggling against me to keep moving, so I put him in his crate where he will pace in circles but he is less likely to hurt himself. I keep him there and sit with him and talk to him until he calms down and then bring him onto the bed with me when he is able to lie still and sleep. It's not nearly as traumatic for me as the first couple were--I kind of have the routine down now--but I still hate to see him going through it.

We went to the UofM several weeks ago. The neurologist decided that it was most likely "idiopathic epilepsy" which is a fancy way of saying "your dog is having seizures and we have no idea why." The other options--some kind of poison or toxin, or a brain tumor--he said were unlikely, and that it wasn't worth doing a CT or MRI at this point. A blood test showed Lok's phenobarbital was not at a therapeutic level, so they decided to increase his dose of phenobarbital to double what it was. He has been getting 60mg twice a day and is now at a therapeutic level. I realized this morning that I missed his dose last night. That may or may not have contributed to the seizure he had last night. He missed a dose last week due to having run out and he didn't seize at that time.

So right now, I will try to do better at remembering to give him his Pb. I am also switching him back from Taste of the Wild kibble to Orijen kibble. I can't remember when exactly I started mixing in TOTW to save money (it's still a pretty high quality grain-free food, but much cheaper), but I think it was around the time he started seizing. So just in case that could be a factor, I put him back on Orijen starting today. I will give that a couple months and if he's still seizing I will look into other supplement options or consider feeding raw. It seems many Epi dogs have improved when started on a raw diet. I also plan to start supplementing with Milk Thistle, which does nothing to help the seizures, but is supposed to prevent liver damage from the Pb.

The UofM also gave me the go-ahead to put him back on Prozac, so he's been getting that again for a few weeks and is doing better again with his anxiety. I'm expecting it to be several more weeks before he's back to where he was. His paw-licking is getting better, he's relaxing in the house when I'm home at night instead of standing around or pacing and obsessively bothering Elo. He's been better in his crate and isn't chewing his crate pan anymore.

So, that's what's up with Lok. He's not doing too bad, but I do hope I can take him off both of these drugs at some point. If anyone has any experience with epi or anxiety and has any input I'd be happy to hear it!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lok's Tongue

Haha, I figured out how to put videos from my camera phone on YouTube! How tech-savvy am I?!

Does anyone else's dog do THIS??

He does his tongue thing EVERY time he drops a toy!!

Exhibit B:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


My dogs are not allowed on the couch.

They also do not sleep on the bed.

They wouldn't dream of getting up on the other furniture.

They have their own beds to use, and they are perfectly content to do so.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Boundary Training Take 3

I started writing about training a boundary cue Here and Here. After the second post, I kind of gave up on it. Jun wasn't getting it and I was out of ideas. Awhile after giving up on it I had an epiphany and realized that I already had a boundary cue on all of my dogs. They all stay in a car or crate with the door open until told to exit. They all auto-stop at the gate to the front yard and don't cross the threshold until told (mostly). And I tested it and found that they will all wait in a doorway if told to do so with the command "stay here" (And yes, I can use "stay" in this context because I don't use a stay command for a formal stay. My dogs just hold a position until released.)

So how did I train this boundary cue? When the dog tries to leave the area I'd like them to stay in, I calmly body block them (or block them with the door) until they stop trying to leave. Then I mark (yes) and reward them with a release. I think the reason I didn't think of this as a boundary cue was because I had never worked it for duration. I had previously used it mostly as a pause at a threshold, but usually released the dog fairly quickly. But I decided to try working duration with it and I got the exact result I was trying to achieve with the work I wrote about in the other two posts. The dogs will usually stand there for a bit, then lie down and stare at me for awhile, but when they realize they're not going to get released right away they decide to go and do other things. Either behavior, I am fine with! If they come back to the boundary and forget they're not supposed to cross it, I just remind them by body blocking. No treats are needed, since their reward is the release to cross the boundary!

Sometimes dog training is simple!!

P.S. Speaking of epiphanies, I realized the other day that Jun doesn't have a default "sit." You know--the one thing EVERY pet dog knows--sit when you want something. I'm not sure how this particular training bit got overlooked (or maybe I just let it lapse at some point), but it suddenly explained why she is always jumping up to try to grab things out of my hands (which I'd been trying--fairly unsuccessfully--to correct by ignoring, but ignoring doesn't do much if the dog doesn't have an alternate behavior to offer). So Jun--my highly trained sport dog--is now learning something that every pet dog in the world knows.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gravity (and Cue Switching)

Jun has a gravity issue. There is a gravitational force that attracts her shoulder to my knee and makes it very difficult to work on anything that requires her being AWAY from me. Her back up is the place where this is most evident--we've worked on it in a variety of ways and every time, just as I think I'm making progress, gravity rears its sticky head again.

We made some good progress on the "accuracy" and "duration" elements of Jun's go-out. She was fine from 2-3 feet away. An inch more and the "accuracy" completely fell apart--it was as if she completely forgot that she was supposed to touch the piece of tape with her foot (or possible that she never knew in the first place and she was doing it accidentally before, but she was so consistent up close that I doubt that's the issue) or was so nervous about being AWAY that despite her best efforts, she just couldn't do it.

So we are now working on another "sending" exercise for the distance piece--going to a mat. We've worked on staying on a mat before, but never really worked the send piece much (see aforementioned gravity issues). I started working little by little on adding distance to the send with the criteria of "elbows on the mat," but was still running into trouble. I'm not sure if she didn't understand the criteria or if she was still just hesitant to get too far away from me, but the further I got from the mat, the more of her body was off of it. When she didn't get a click right away she would back up until her elbows were on the mat. I had hoped she might realize this was what I wanted and give it to me to begin with, but no luck. So I changed my criteria to one I thought would be easier for her to understand--standing up with all 4 feet on the mat. I worked that up close to make sure she understood the new criteria, and then gradually started adding distance. And . . . . she's getting it!! She was even offering back ups and staying back from me further than usual during the rest of our session last night. This could very well be another "Oh, she's got it!! . . . Aw, nope, she doesn't" moments, but I hope it isn't. She's never been so willing to be so far from me, so I think I've finally found something that makes sense to her.

Elo, on the other hand, does awesome at sending to a mat--he's not a cheater like Jun is! I was sending him around a corner with the mat out of sight last night and he was rocking it!

And a note-to-self on cue switching--you may need to keep using the old cue longer than you think. I could not figure out why Jun was responding so poorly to her new "bow" cue when clearly she "knew" it. After all, she had done it for me on cue multiple times!! She seemed confused, so I don't know why I couldn't accept that she was, in fact, confused, rather than avoiding or being stubborn. I went back to using the old cue immediately followed by the new cue for awhile. Then one rep with just the new cue, and right back to using both for several reps etc.  She is now much more confident and happy taking the new cue! I plan to still use the old and new cues together for awhile occasionally until she is confidently and happily doing the behavior every time I give her the new cue only.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Setting Criteria

Confession: I rush my dogs. I am not a patient trainer. I'm a lot better than I used to be, but I still rush. I still sometimes expect Jun the genius to jump from step one to finished products in minutes. But I'm learning.

So, I haven't had many clear goals for the dogs lately, since none of them are in any sports right now and we have no competitions to work for. Which creates an even worse situation for my rushing problems because I don't know what I'm specifically training for and have no clear goals for myself. I bounce back and forth from one thing to another and don't finish things. But in the last couple days I've been setting some more concrete goals and breaking some things down for my dogs in smaller baby steps.

I am teaching Jun a "go-out", obedience style (just for the hell of it, since I doubt we'll ever compete in real obedience). Now, I've done a ton of targeting with Jun, but I've never taught an obedience go-out and I really have no idea what I'm doing, so as usual, I'm making it up as I go along.

At first, I started with targeting a duct-tape square on the floor. Then I jumped straight to going to the duct tape square, targeting it, sitting and waiting. Haha! Yes, the mocking is well deserved. Jun was sort of getting it, but was pretty confused, obviously.

So I sat down (figuratively) and thought about my criteria and the individual components that went into the overall behavior I wanted. To do the behavior properly, I want Jun to (1) go to the target, (2) have a good level of accuracy in hitting the target with a paw, (3) remain on the target for a period of time, (4) sit on command, and (5) do all of this at a distance. Lots of steps I skipped in there. Step 1 is no problem, but 2 and 3 are really tough for Jun, so we've just been working those for the past few days. Jun was not sure how I wanted her to interact with the target--just be somewhere near it? Put a front paw on it? Put all 4 paws on it (that one was pretty comical)? Circle it? Bow on it? Her confusion is understandable, since I hadn't properly conveyed to her what I wanted. We've taken a big step back and are working very closely on hitting the target with one front paw, and standing there until released. And suddenly, with better defined criteria and clear steps to follow, we're making progress.

And oh yeah, at some point we'll have to fade the target. That one will be interesting, and I'll probably have to hit up my obedience peeps for suggestions when that time comes.

Another criteria problem I had last night that I've started working through is the way Elo takes treats. He is a shark and I will not have any fingers left very soon if things continue the way they have been!! Of course I have worked taking treats nicely and he does understand "gentle." But unless I remind him, he tends to snap for it. And even when he's trying to be gentle, he is so concerned about getting the treat into his mouth that he often adds a little snap at the end, just as I'm praising him for taking it so nicely. So last night, we worked on a different method of taking treats, wherein my fingers actually go INTO his mouth slightly. This might seem counterintuitive (and it's not the way either of my other dogs take treats), but it completely avoids the very worrisome (to Elo) possibility that he might not grab the treat firmly enough and it might fall on the floor instead of going into his mouth, thus leading to the little snap at the end that gets inadvertently rewarded too often. This has been working out swimmingly in the two days we've been at it!!

Clearly defined criteria + Clearly defined steps to the finished product = Progress! Imagine that!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Exercise in a Minnesota Winter

My blog is sorely lacking in pictures, I realize. So, this is what it looks like to play outside with the dogs in a Minnesota Winter:

I only assume there are dogs in the picture, since something kept bringing the glowing balls back to me. Metorlite balls are our best friend in the winter. They are soft rubber, and the exact size of chuck-it balls. Their extremely bright glow is turned on/off with a button that is flush with the ball so the dogs don't (usually) turn it off. The battery lasts a long time and can be changed when it wears out (though it's kind of difficult to do). Plus, they can be seen under quite a bit of snow!!

Currently my yard is covered in a sheet of ice, so it's indoor play only until we get some snow. Disc play in the basement and shaping games to put bored dog brains to work.

Speaking of dog brains, Lok's seizures continue despite phenobarbital. He was in pretty rough shape last night, and it's so hard to see him suffering. The age he is (almost 5, and I understand epilepsy shows up usually from 1-3), at the onset of seizures and the other behaviors (paw licking, and other OCD/anxious behaviors) have me worried about a brain tumor. My vet agrees its a concern. I'll be consulting with a UofM neurologist in the next day or two, and possibly setting up a CT scan. Please send my boy some good vibes!! 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jun 1, Trainer 0

How does she get me to do these things?

So, Jun has been really "spooky" lately, which is weird for her. I am used to her spooking at people, but lately she's been spooking at objects A LOT. Especially outside in the dark, branches will move or something will brush up against her and she will jump back. She recovers quickly, but still. We've been working nosework in the basement utility room (which she is rarely in) and she walks around part of the room half-crouched, leaning backwards with her nose stretched out. She will touch something with her nose and jump back. The other day she barked at a paper bag on the kitchen counter. And if I make a sudden move, especially if I have something in my hand, she will jump and cower. This is really weird and is starting to worry me. I swear I don't beat the dog!!

I'm trying to just ignore it for the most part, as well as trying not to startle her myself, making sure she sees me before I touch her, etc. But it's starting to worry me. It's been awhile since Jun has "tried on" a "new" behavior problem. She seems to have settled into her favorites--excessive pointless barking, leash reactivity/aggression, and biting people--which I've given up on solving. I manage the barking with a bark collar, and I manage the reactivity and aggression by just keeping her out of bad situations. But I really don't need a dog who is going to be afraid of THINGS. More specifically, I don't need THIS dog to be afraid of things. She is enough work as it is.

But to get to the point of this post, Jun has been known to be . . . manipulative, and last night I began to suspect she is just doing this to see what she can get out of me or get away with. Last night I was cooking some bacon and Jun spooked at something on the kitchen counter--the contents of the counter hadn't changed all night, nor were they any more or less cluttered than usual. So what do I do? Thinking it may be time to step in and do some counter-conditioning. I grab a piece of bacon, encourage her to put her paws up on the counter and feed it to her there. WTF, Tania?! Counter-conditioning all right--conditioning counter-surfing that is. Smarter than the dog, Tania, it's, like, the first rule!!

And P.S., if any of the like 3 people who read this blog have any ideas on the sudden spookiness, please let me know.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Highlights of the Weekend--Edit

Re: the lack of capitals and punctuation in the first draft--wrote this on my phone and for some reason it won't let me do capitals. Also, it cut me off, so finishing this now . . .

On Saturday, Jun remembered how to do a back vault. she forgot in July, so that's a pretty momentous occasion. She also remembered how to flip, which she forgot in the past month or so. No guarantees she will remember either next week. Jun has been a pretty challenging dog to run freestyle with, and I've finally gotten to the place of accepting that we may never accomplish much in disc dogging. You never know, taking that pressure off may be the key to her greatness, but I think Jun will always be Jun. My focus now is trying to play within her Jun-ness. We are working on patterns and also on NOT being so focused on patterns. Jun is a "rules dog" and and she gets her sequences down pretty well, but if I ever need to change plans in the middle of a routine, due to her positioning, wind or anything else, it all goes to hell because Jun does NOT change plans. "WTF is that disc going in that direction for, mom? This is wrong." And then the whole thing is screwed up. So we're doing sequence work, but also just THROWING so she learns that her job is to chase the disc in the sky and not worry about WHY it is there!!

Elo retrieved about ten rollers at the park!! he has come so far since last year when he had zero interest in the disc. He's catching, retrieving, and tugging! Not getting my hopes up, but I would love to get him on the field next year. First we have to conquer his dog issues, and distractibility, but being able to play at the park was such a huge step for him!

Also worked some loose leash walking with Elo and he did well! I am determined to have at least one dog that can do this skill. After that, we went to a slightly busier park to work some LAT. Elo is pretty much fine around cars and people now! Even if they "surprise" him. His level of focus on me isn't great around distractions, but he no longer flips out! Dogs are still another story. At this park, people walk dogs pretty frequently so i thought we might be able to work that a bit.

It was pretty dead, and Elo saw the first one before I did and started flipping out. I calmly walked backwards until I was able to catch his attention for half a second. Clicked for that, then I did some rapid fire LAT with tons of treats. He was teetering on the edge of threshold, but he was calm enough to eat, which was at least something. I've discovered the putting the treats on the ground, even behind him, is better than having him take them from my hands. When he gets all fired up, his "gentle" goes bye-bye, so putting the treats on the ground not only saves my fingers, but breaks his focus on the target for an extra second while he finds and eats them. It was kinda funny, the lady walking the first dog we saw must know dog training because she yelled out to me "excellent work" when she saw what we were doing. We worked one more dog. Then Sunday we got to work another dog in the parking lot of the pet store. I am hoping that once he recognizes dogs as LAT objects, just like people and cars and moving things and things that make noise, that it will be pretty quick work.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Power of Cheese!!

Ok, updates . . .

Nosework 1 ended last night. Lok was really enjoying the sniffing and had kind of gotten out of "searching" mode and into "random sniffing" mode for a couple weeks, but he brought it back last night with some really nice, organized searches! I credit the cheese he was searching for. Sharp Cheddar! Not many updates on the training process. More of the same. Getting more creative with hiding the food, new locations, putting the food out without a box, etc. Nosework 2 starts next week and it sounds like we'll be introducing scent in a few weeks!

Jun might get to go to nosework class too! The instructor was ok with me switching out dogs from week to week, since I'm working all of them at home. Not sure if I want to bring her, cause it's kind of Lok's special thing, but Jun is brilliant at searching, so I'd like to have her do it too. Jun has been working on tricks. She's learning to balance a treat on her nose (VERY impressive that she can sit so still for even a second or two) and learning a bow. We're working on distance with the bow. Last night she held the treat on her nose for 3 seconds and bowed all the way across the room from me! I credit the cheese!

Elo . . . dog who doesn't know any words . . . suddenly was able to discriminate between sit, down, stand, come, bummer, and flat (lie down on side) all in one training session last night!! I had planned to work on his response to "flat" and we ended up doing all sorts of verbal discrimination work! He wasn't right every time, but he was right a surprising amount, and he was really listening and trying, not just guessing! I credit the cheese!

Cheese is apparently a very powerful thing, which can turn on areas of a dog's brain that were previously set to "off"!! I will have to remember this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nosework Class 3

More of the same. Grrr. The boxes were supposedly spread out more, but they really weren't, besides which, Lok has to search the whole room anyway because he can't see the boxes. We didn't introduce elevation, like she said we were going to. And she didn't even know what week of class we were on. Time to send an email.

In other news, Jun was SO good this morning!! It happens so rarely, I just had to record it, for posterity.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I should have known . . .

. . . I was making it too easy for Jun and she was bored. Jun has a fine line between too easy (and thus boring) and too hard (thus giving up). Crazy dog. Nosework ranking in the house right now: #1: Jun, #2: Lok, #3: Elo.

Jun is doing multi-room searches, elevation, covered boxes, all while running around like a lunatic not looking at all like she's working or even sniffing.

Elo wasn't doing so well last night, but I think it may be because we had a clicker session in between the last two search sessions. He was too focused on me and offering me behaviors--like that's anything to complain about!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nosework Training Week 1 and Class 2

This week I decided to try all the dogs with our beginning nosework exercises. The object of the game is teaching the dogs to search independently by using several cardboard boxes, one of which has treats hidden in it. Once the dog finds the box with the treats, you're supposed to feed additional treats with their head in the box for several seconds--I think this has something to do with linking a new scent to the treats later, or something.

This week, I played with gradually spreading the boxes out to cover more space in the room, as well as partially covering the treat box. We practiced three days this week.

After week 1, Elo is the best searcher! He is methodical and meticulous and loves the game! It was hard to stump him, and he got farther than the others. Last night I was completely covering the treat box with another box and did two successful hides that way!

Lok is the second-best searcher, impeded ironically by his lack of sight. The boxes are not helping him at all. He trips over them and gets frustrated. But over the past week he has gotten better at working slowly and methodically and feeling his way around the room. Two of his hides last night took longer than usual and he didn't lose patience. I spread the boxes out pretty far, but did not cover the treat box for Lok.

Jun is very enthusiastic, of course, but lacks patience, as with everything. If she doesn't find the treats within 5 seconds, she just picks up boxes and throws them around. However, she IS great at sniffing and finding in general--the boxes just slow her down and get in her way.

Class 2!!
Not too much different from class one. Still just teaching them to search independently, which is the most important part--not looking to us for hints or direction or confirmation. We spread out the boxes more, and it's a pretty big room. Lok is kind of disadvantaged, but also kind of ahead of the other dogs out of necessity. The other dogs only have to go to each box and check it. Lok has to FIND the boxes first, and then check them! He was doing great--I was so proud! He was checking out the perimeter of the room, checking corners, even thoroughly checked out the bathroom that is attached to the training room! He didn't give up and after a couple minutes he found what he was looking for. And most importantly--he didn't look to me for a hint even once! His third search he found the treats quicker and it was cool because you could tell he had the scent when he was about 5 feet away from the box the treats were in and was really following his nose! I was proud!

So this week, we work on spreading the boxes out more, and covering boxes so the scent is not so easy to find. Next week we start adding some elevation, and more obstacles in the search area.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Lok started Nosework class last night! He LOVED it!! Lok has not been in class for over a year, and when we left classes he was still pretty stressed about obedience. He has also had trouble listening, even at home, for the past year or so. But this was a great re-introduction to classes for him. It was stress-free, obedience, free, and ALL he had to do was find the treats and eat them!

Nosework is, a brand new sport wherein dogs learn to search rooms, outdoor areas, and vehicles for a tiny amount of an essential oil. Any dog can participate. Obedience is not required. They make it (even the trials) accessible to reactive dogs too (so maybe Elo will get to play next time!) by requiring all dogs to be crated when not working and not getting out the next dog until the last one is in its crate. All the dog has to do is follow his nose to get a reward! There are even trials and titles and all that stuff! In the first level trial, the dog does an indoor search, an outdoor search, and a vehicle search. For the indoor search, there is a line of boxes, one containing the scent they are looking for. When you think your dog has found it, you tell the judge "alert." If the dog was right, it gets rewarded! If not, the judge helps the dog to find the scent and then they get rewarded! I love that the dog always gets to be right and always gets a reward! No failure, and no stress for the dog!

The training process is apparently very similar to the training used for drug/bomb/SAR dogs. I'm not quite sure where it's going yet, but I'm excited to find out. The first step is to have the dog search 7-9ish boxes for the one that has the food. All my dogs are well versed in the "find-it" game. They love it and it's great for a mind-stimulating activity on days when it's really cold and I don't want to play outside for long. So Lok was already a pro at this. Other than tripping over and stepping in boxes, he did an awesome job searching for the food! We practice this step this week. I think I'll do it with all the dogs. Can't wait to see what's next!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shaping Fun!

I decided to do at least something with each of the dogs before going to bed last night. It turned out to be a pretty productive night! I ended up doing some free shaping with Lok. He's never been very good at free shaping, but he was actually giving me a lot last night. We ended up with a side-step/shuffle back and forth with him crossing one front paw over another. Could be a cute trick, maybe. But I at least got him using his brain again. I haven't done any training with Lok in forever.

Elo is always fun to shape! He is the most creative dog I've ever worked with, possibly due to the fact that his training is 100% shaped--no luring. He learned right away to offer behaviors and loves it. Last night I worked on backing up, which I've worked on a little bit once or twice before. I got him backing up all the way across the living room, which at least twice as far as Jun has ever gotten in two years of training! I also really want to have a trick on cue called "count your legs" where he lays on his back with his legs straight up in the air. I shaped the first step for this tonight--lying down flat on his right side. Elo "gets" clicker training way better than the other dogs. He notices exactly what is being clicked, even the most subtle weight shifts. In fact, I think he might offer them to me on purpose. I wasn't sure whether he would offer me a lie down on his side, and just started clicking anything that seemed like a precursor to pulling his front leg under him, as well as placing treats in a position that might encourage that. Finally he leaned slightly further to his right than he had before and I clicked that a couple times. Then he went straight to a lie down on his side!! I love it! He may never have any of his tricks on cue, but he will have a ton of cute tricks! He loves shaping games! He is much more patient and persistent than Jun and much more confident than Lok, so we rarely get "stuck."

I don't currently have a (flashlight) clicker for Jun, since I lost hers and the one I bought to replace it doesn't work very well. So Jun just got to work on things she knows that force her to USE her devious little mind. We worked on stimulus control for shutting doors (only performing the behavior on cue). We worked on performing other behaviors (sit, stand, spins, sit pretty) while holding a dumbbell. And we worked on some distance stuff--getting her to bring an object to a target (specifically, taking her dumbbell and putting it in the dish washer--we're slowly working on a "loading the dish washer" trick, and I finally figured out an easy way to teach her to push in the tray, so we are getting closer and closer!).

Jun does NOT like to get very far away from me. I've finally figured this out. It's like there is some type of gravitational pull attracting her face to my thigh. That is the reason I can't get her to back up very far. That is the reason she has trouble with bringing an object to a target that is further than a few feet away from me. In disc--I used to think she was an "O-dog" just because of the amount of circling she does around me. Well, I've finally figured out she's ACTUALLY more of an X dog, if she gets more than 2 feet away. I've tried an around the world with her a few times--what I get does not even slightly resemble a circle. She will run out straight for a disc and bring it straight back to me, or even curve a little bit on the outrun or return. But getting her to stay a consistent distance away from me while running a circle--it's like fighting gravity.

So, the weird thing I've discovered . . . when I started working on asking her to bring the dumbbell to the target from a slight distance, I was initially going TO her to reward, thinking that if she got her reward at the target it would reinforce that that was where I wanted her to be. It was going ok, but not great. But for whatever reason, the past couple sessions I've started having her drop the object at the target and come BACK to me for her reward, and she's gotten much better. Why is this? Because she knows that once she does what is asked she gets to come back to me? Did I inadvertently Premack this?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Elo doesn't know any words.

It's true. I tested him last night. He STILL doesn't know any words. "Lie down" maybe. But everything else is complete guesses. He knows that when I say something he's supposed to do something but what he gives me is directly correlated to the last thing he did that earned him a click and treat.

Its something I've noticed about him for awhile (and blogged about before) and apparently it hasn't gotten any better. He is acutely tuned in to context. He SEES everything. And smells everything. He HEARS everything for that matter--but I guess words are just sound to him. He pays attention to the way I'm standing while I teach him a behavior, where he is in the room, what else is around him--to the FACT that words are coming out of my mouth--but NOT apparently to the specific words coming out of my mouth. Thus, if I plant him on a rug next to the kitchen and lean against the wall with my clicker hand near my chest and the other at my side, he is guaranteed to offer me a wave. And if I happen to say "wave" right before he does it, it looks like he's performing on cue. But he's really not.

Last night I asked for a "bummer" (lie down with chin on floor) from a sit. No luck. I waited him out and clicked when he got it right. Then I asked for the same thing a few more times. Sit-bummer-sit-bummer (he's getting it!)-sit-bummer-sit-WAVE . . . . uh, you can probably guess what happened next. He wasn't listening to the word at all. Just the fact that I was saying something and he had the pattern down. And he wasn't anticipating the pattern either . . . he was waiting for the cue!

He SEEMS to know a few words, especially the ones that get used ALL THE TIME in his daily life, but I am now wondering if at least some of that is only because there are consistent contextual clues. He knows his name, he knows a recall, he SEEMS to know "lie down" and "sit" though if I am attempting to cycle through his tricks, like last night and add them in he forgets what they mean. He knows "stay here" (boundary cue) and "ok" (release). He knows "kennel." I'm not sure why he knows these things, but still can't tell the difference between lie down, bummer, crawl, roll over, stand, place, and wave. As I've posted about before, he also knew "touch" (nose target) and "step" (foot target) but could never reliably give me the right one if the target object was the same.

It's very strange. My border collies TOTALLY "get" the concept that actions and things have names, and it has always been super easy to name their behaviors--once I have the behavior, all I have to do is pair it up with the command a few times and it's done! Not so with Elo. Facebook tells me it's a cattle dog thing. I'm not sure what to do about it. Not that it's a big deal--he doesn't NEED to know any words. He does the things I need him to do. Maybe I should switch to hand signals only. I haven't done much with him lately--maybe this winter I will try to teach him some formal obedience and see how that goes. I still think he would be a super fun Rally dog, if I can get him past his dog issues.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our new exit strategy

i think i posted awhile back about our issues with calm exits from the house. or at least Loks. well, we seems to finally have that sorted out. my initial vision for entryways was that my dogs would not bolt out of doors without permission and they would exit calmly upon receiving permission. well, we've had the not bolting down for ages. my dogs very rarely go out the door without permission. but we were having major issues with calm exits. it seemed that at least Lok had put far too much value on leaving the house and his release word "ok"had taken on the character of his flyball "go"command.

so, i decided that rather than my dogs assuming they were to stay inside until released, they may assume they can come outside with me unless told to stay in. this has totally transformed our doorway behavior. a simple "stay in" and all the dogs know theyre not coming with me. we even have it down to the point where i can tell one dog to stay and have the other two come with me. its very slick. Lok is not totally calm about exits yet, but he is a lot better than he used to be, and Jun and elo are perfect.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Elo and LAT

I can't believe how far Elo has come since I started seriously working with him on his behavior in public a couple months ago. He blew me away last night! I have to say, LAT is miraculous! Elo, as far as I can tell, freaks out at stuff simply because he doesn't know any other way to respond. LAT has given him a different way and it's so much fun to watch the wheels turning!

We went to the park last night to work on his "asshole training." There were quite a few cars there (mostly parked), lots of kids running around the playground, and even a dog WAY off in the distance. I didn't know if it would be too much for him, but we were quite a long distance away from the action, so I figured I'd give it a try. As soon as I got him out of his crate, he knew the game we were playing and his eyes were glued to mine. He didn't even bother to look around for things he might want to bark at. He was totally fine, so we moved a little closer, then a little closer. Giving me attention while walking (especially with any distractions) is way too much for him at this point, and motion gets him worked up, so we just took a few steps forward and kept working while stationary. He did awesome the whole time! Alternating between offering me little over the shoulder LAT glances, and giving me eye contact. Relaxing in a sit or a down. I thought we might have some trouble when a couple people came walking quickly towards us, but I broke his focus on them before he could react by calling his name and running backwards. He responded immediately and came to me, so he got a jackpot for that and we called it a day.

My other Elo brag--I took him to the park to run on a long line. Brag number 1: He was calm enough in the park to play fetch with a ball!! Last time we were there, he was WAY too distracted to play. Brag number 2: There is never ANYBODY in this park and nobody ever walks by, but of course some lady walked by with a dog and Elo saw it and took off before I could grab his long line (if he's this fast on 3 legs, I can't imagine how fast he would be with 4!). However . . . . when I called (ok, SCREAMED) his name, he STOPPED, turned around, and came to me!!!! Having no treats or toys for him at the exact moment, I rewarded him with a dog catch (his favorite trick) and some love.

It's been almost a year that he's been with me and I can't believe how far he's come! He really wants to be a good boy and I know we'll get there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

traveling with three dogs

We got back from our trip to CO last night. Traveling with three dogs was interesting, and definitely a learning experience. I am VERY glad I bought a second car-sized crate before we went. Jun always rides crated. Lok and Elo are both great loose, but it was a huge sanity-saver to only have to deal with one of them loose at a time. Two crates fit perfectly in the back of my truck and Lok and Elo switched off during the drive.

Elo impressed me greatly on this trip! Not once did he react to a moving car, no matter how close to him they were!!! He only barked at motorcycles when they drove by us on the road. He did react to people in the hotel parking lot a couple times, but stopped that fairly quickly. During the competition days, he mostly stayed at the hotel, but near the end of one day I went and picked him up and brought him to the field. I carried him around on my shoulder for awhile, since he is not reactive when he's being carried, and just let him take in the sights. Then I finally set him down and let him hang out on the ground for a few minutes. We didn't try to walk around at all. We just worked on eye contact and LAT. Another dog walked towards him and he reacted, but recovered quickly, and after that was able to do LAT with other dogs sitting nearby without reacting. He was attentive to me when I called his name and sat or laid down calmly the whole time. I only gave him a few minutes, then picked him up and carried him back to the car, as I wanted to quit while he was successful.

Lok nearly got us kicked out of the hotel due to his barking, which caused Elo to howl. Pretty sure they woke up everyone in the hotel on Sunday morning at 7:30 and I learned that I cannot leave Lok loose while Elo is crated. I knew that, but haven't had them in that situation for so long that I forgot. Lok came with me wherever I went for most of the trip.

Other than that, they were pretty good dogs. It was a lot to handle, but we managed pretty well. It's good to be home though.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stuff and Nonsense

This is the most boring blog entry ever. If anybody is bothering to read this (and I don't know why anybody would), let me just sum it up: Elo: working on not being an asshole in public, doing a little better, also learning frisbee (sort of). Jun: working on a bunch of stupid random stuff. Lok: maybe better on prozac, maybe not. All 3: Road trip soon, outlook grim. Damn, even the summary is boring. I should just delete the rest, but since I already typed it out, I guess I'll go ahead and post it.

Well, I've been keeping up with my training plans pretty well lately. I've been working with Elo regularly on desensitizing him to everything, which I've found basically translates to working on calm and focus in a variety of different places, as well as desensitizing specifically to different triggers. We've probably been out five or six times since my last post, working on quiet neighborhood streets or empty parks. Even empty parks are a big challenge for Elo. Planes flying overhead are enough to set him off, but he is getting better little by little about focusing on me and not being a little spaz. As long as I am clicking and treating regularly. We are also working on loose leash walking, which he is doing nicely with. He's doing better about cars from a long distance. We're working LAT and the other night were probably within 50 yards of cars going by on a road and his eyes were glued to mine, just giving little LAT glances at the cars. Dogs are still a BIG problem. I can't get him under threshhold, no matter how far away we are he reacts. And even out of sight of the other dog, barking will set him off. Elo is also working on drive building with frisbee and that is looking kind of promising!

Jun has been working on random retrieving fun and useful tricks, like loading the dishwasher and fetching things from the fridge. I've also started trying to work a handstand with her. I think she's too much of a clutz to do it, but we're trying. Just random stuff to keep her brain occupied. Frisbee is her main job right now.

Lok's prozac seems to be working. Sort of. Sometimes. The main difference I've seen is that he is calmer when I am home, usually chilling in a back bedroom v. obsessing over Elo, which is nice. Storm phobia doesn't seem to have gotten any better. Separation anxiety seems to be a little better. And he is walking out the door better and responding to recall away from toys better. At least sometimes. Last night/this morning we had all of these issues. It's so hard to tell whether it's better or I'm imagining it.

In 8 days all three dogs will be coming with me to Colorado for a competition. Lok and Jun are good at traveling. Elo has traveled with me once and is a bit harder to manage. It should be interesting!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What we're working on

I have been SUCH a bad dog trainer since we stopped doing obedience classes! With three dogs, sometimes I just get so overwhelmed and we end up doing nothing even when I DO have time to train. If I don't feel like training all of them, I don't train any of them, and I need to realize that training doesn't have to be a marathon. It can just be a few minutes here and there and working with one is better than working with none. I've been a bit better lately, but it's hard when I don't have any specific goals. So here's my plan for the next bit:

Not really doing anything, just trying to get more one-on-one time with him and hoping his Prozac kicks in soon. He's been on it for about 6 days now and so far it hasn't seemed to do anything, but I guess it takes a few weeks to kick in. I'm hoping to see improvements in the following behaviors: storm phobia, anxiety in his crate (barking, digging, chewing, drooling, paw licking), anxiety in strange places, obsessiveness over Elo, obsessiveness over toys and being outside, not responding to commands and pretending I don't exist most of the time, barking, digging, and chewing for stress and frustration relief. All of this stuff happened so gradually I didn't really notice it until one day I looked at this black and white dog living with me and started to wonder who he was and what happened to my Lok? He is so sad and frustrated. I just want him to get better.

I decided to take Elo out in public last night. Bad idea. We went to the lake, and I brought Lok with too. He was obviously very stimulated from the start, but other than pulling on the leash, seemed to be doing fine, leaving people alone. I had him on a long line and he was recalling ok, and checking in with me. Then these ladies walked into the lake and Elo apparently decided that was NOT ok. They were way out in the lake and he was standing knee-deep just barking and growling at them. Then he started barking and growling at EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. I decided to leave and the whole way back to the car he is barking, growling, lunging, practically twisting out of his collar to the point where he was scaring people.

Elo was never supposed to stay. He was supposed to be a foster. Here for a good time, not a long time, and then on to a new home after a couple months. But of course, none of my fosters are ever good, normal dogs. It's been almost a year and he doesn't seem to be going anywhere. So I guess I need a plan to work on this. But where do you start when you have a dog that is reactive to EVERYTHING?!

Jun, my good girl, my princess, my easy dog. . . . . . . never in a million years did I think I'd be saying THAT!! Jun (and all the dogs, but mostly Jun) has been working long stays and doing WONDERFULLY! Its crazy how starting an evening with a 20-minute down-stay has a calming effect on the rest of the night. I started working on a handstand with Jun last night. She is the world's clutziest dog, so we'll see if she has the coordination to do it, but she was having fun getting to use her brain for something new for once. And I realized last night that she has completely forgotten how to SIT. So we did a refresher on that. Still working on our new "back-up" method. We were stalled out for awhile, since Jun in seemingly incapable of backing up in a straight line, so she was missing the target a lot, thus not getting rewarded and getting frustrated. But I realized that if I turn my body 90 degrees to the left, she backs up straight. So, that was working for us better last night. The only behavior issue I need to work on with Jun right now is barking in the yard. That will be easy to fix. I just have to commit to inconveniencing myself to taking her out on leash long enough to break the habit. One of these days . . .

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Elo fun!

Elo is so much fun to free shape! Lok and Jun generally only "get" free shaping if there is an object around they are supposed to interact with. "101 things to do with a box" . . . no problem! "Show me something new" . . . both of them generally just sit and stare. As. Motionless. As. Possible. I've tried to play the "click anything and everything" game with them to encourage more offering of behaviors. But I run into a few problems. First, they get stuck in a rut of offering the same behavior over and over again. Second, the motionless staring, with the only movements made being unconscious things, like ear flicks, which they don't seem to associate with the clicks they get for them. Luckily I've found ways other than free shaping to teach them all their non-prop behaviors. But with Elo, I free shaped pretty much everything right from the beginning. Sit, down, stay, pick up objects, touch objects, all his tricks. Because of that, I think, Elo is awesome at offering behaviors and it's so much fun to do shaping with him! I'm working on shaping a "wave." In his first couple sessions, I concentrated on moving his front paws, since we've never done any front paw work. Then I focused on moving just his right paw. Then I worked on lifting that paw. Last night he was offering me a right paw lift to chest height, so we're halfway there! Fun!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Teach around the skill

We spent last weekend at a disc dog training camp with Pawsitive Vybe. Learned a few things and had a great time!

Jun did her very first flip this weekend. In two years of disc dogging she has never done a real flip, and suddenly she's decided to do it! (Kinda like what happened with her vaults--she wouldn't do them, then one day she just decided to.) I also asked Ron Watson to help me with Jun's backing up. I've been working on it lately and have not been able to get her to back up more than five or six feet. She stops and lays down and won't go any further. Ron had me work on backing up to a rear-foot target. Jun is loving this "new" game so far. I don't know why I never thought of that. Ron said something that really stuck in my mind : "When a skill is hard, don't teach the skill, teach around the skill." That's exactly what's going on with the back up. Rather than continuing to try to get a back up, I'm teaching around it. Jun's not backing up anymore--she's rear-foot targeting and the back up is just incidental. Very interesting stuff.

Elo had a big break-through this weekend! We've been working on the windshield wiper reactivity kind of sporadically, just here and there when I get a chance. On the way home from the seminar it started raining REALLY hard. I didn't have any treats. I didn't really have a way to restrain Elo. I held out as long as I could, but eventually HAD to use the wipers. I worked single-wipes for a little while, marking with a "yes" and rewarding with praise, which was all I had. Elo barely batted an eye. Then I finally had to turn them on high in order to see at all. I knew Elo wasn't ready for this. I grabbed his collar and just held him back. He was fine for a couple seconds, then started reacting, as I figured he would. He wasn't nearly as bad as he used to be though, and didn't redirect on me at all, and then . . . he stopped!! He chilled, laid back down, and was FINE!! Totally fine. So I guess my work there has paid off! One trigger down, six gazillion to go. We worked some reactive dog stuff at the seminar that I am going to continue to try to implement.

What am I going to do with Lok? His newest thing: turning and walking in the other direction when I call him. (His recall used to be PERFECT.) Refusing to lie down. Basically, just generally tuning me out anytime I'm not throwing a toy for him. I get frustrated and correct him, even though I know it's not helping any. No idea what to do with this one.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stay is Boring . . .

. . . for me and for the dogs, I suspect. But at least they get treats periodically while I just kind of wander aimlessly or stand and do nothing while they're staying. So last night I did a long group down-stay while I made and ate a root beer float. It was much more enjoyable for all of us. Well, ok, for me at least, except for all the times naughty Jun got up and I had to put down my root beer float and put her back in position. But Lok and Elo didn't move. I was walking around, I ducked out of sight for periods. It was cool!

I think a dog that will stay in place when told is the coolest thing ever, even if it is boring to teach! I'm trying to work on it more often, in more places, with more distractions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What we've been working on?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Well, that's not totally true. Most of my focus has been on Jun's disc work lately. We had our first comp of the season last weekend and sucked it up big time. Jun was off. Really off. But, this is life with Jun as I know it. When she's good, she's very, very good and when she's bad . . . well, you know the rest.

But the next day we went to play at the park and she redeemed herself. Looking forward to the next comp a week from Saturday, then our first big comp of the year in Kokomo, IN, which is a UFO local and a Quad! I've been throwing pretty well this year, but was really off myself last weekend at the the park, so hopefully I can reel that back in.

Oh! I DID work the other day on some impulse control. I first had Lok and Elo down-stay on mats while Jun and I played the "find-it" game. Then I put Elo in a crate and had Jun down-stay on a mat while Lok played find-it. Then I alternated Jun and Lok with mat work for one while the other played tug. This was quite a challenge for them, but they did well for our first time! Elo is not quite there yet. He sat in a crate and watched and worked on being calm in the crate while watching other dogs play.

I have learned that I can't work my two hearing dogs at one time, especially when I'm also trying to work my deaf dog! Lok and Elo both assume the verbal commands are for them and get really confused, so I try to help them out with gestures, which Jun thinks are for her and it's a whole big mess.

Elo is doing well with windshield wipers still. I can run them on high for several seconds and am increasing the time between treats, sometimes running them briefly without treating at all. He will react if they are on for a long time--it seems to take a lot of effort for him to control himself if they've been running for awhile. I am hoping that with more work on this, the wipers will eventually be completely irrelevant to him.

And finally, the other day I decided to try loose-leash walking with Lok again. Why I continue to torture myself with this I have no idea, but I had borrowed an easy-walk harness to try and so, I wanted to try it (FAIL). I need to give up on this idea of Lok walking nicely next to me. It will never happen and I just get frustrated and upset with him. I also worked it a little with Jun and Elo and they both did a decent job. Now if only I could find more time to train . . .

Monday, March 29, 2010

My first real counter-conditioning success

Elo freaks out at windshield wipers. Actually, let me put that in the past tense--Elo USED TO freak out at windshield wipers. As soon as you would turn them on, he would bark, growl, lunge, be all over the dashboard biting at the windshield and would take awhile to calm down and stop growling after they were turned off. Ok, a little funny, but not so funny when you forget your wiper-reactive dog is sitting next to you in the car, go to clean your windshield out of habit, and nearly have a heart attack when he explodes next to you. Not so funny when you have the choice of not bringing that dog along when it's raining, or bringing him along and hoping you don't crash for lack of ability to see out your windshield.

So, I set out to fix it. My first issue was how to get Elo under threshhold. In the car there was no way to keep him from reacting, and I didn't think he would react outside of the car. I was wrong about that, I found out--he reacted from like 10 away from the car (he was in the backyard, the car was in the driveway), but got over it much faster.

I grabbed a bucket of yummy treats, a clicker, and sat in the driver's seat with Elo outside the car on the ground next to me. He could hear the wipers, but couldn't see them very well from where he was. I swished them once and immediately clicked and treated before he even had a chance to think about reacting. That was most of our first session. Towards the end, I sped up the tempo a little. It actually went really well! After the first ten reps or so, he started to view the wipers almost as if they WERE the clicker and looked for his treat each time. We ended there.

In the next session, we started where we ended the first session for a little review. Then I had him get in the car. He was a little concerned, but we backed up a bit and he quickly realized we were playing the same game. Within a few minutes, I had him sitting calmly with the wipers on full speed!! We took a short break and then went for a drive, during which I ran the wipers intermittently, still clicking and treating for calm. It was a complete success! I know we will need to practice more to solidify the change in behavior, but I'm calling it a win!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On Reinforcement

First, the definition of reinforcement: "In operant conditioning, a consequence to a behavior in which something is added to or removed from the situation to make the behavior more likely to occur in the future."

Reinforcement is defined as ANYTHING that makes a behavior more likely to occur in the future. I think I've mentioned this concept before, but we do not get to pick what is reinforcing for our dogs (or for other humans or any creature or being). Reinforcement is unique to the individual.

I have such a hard time when I hear people say things like "I don't use treats, because praise and petting should be enough for my dog." That is like saying "I don't pay my employees with money, because they should work just for the satisfaction of a job well done." And indeed, for some people, a "good job" from the boss may very well be reinforcing enough to ensure continued good performance or even increase the level of performance. The opposite is also true, while most people work "for money" simply because it is necessary to living, for some people, a paycheck every two weeks is not enough to ensure good performance or motivate a boost in performance.

Dogs are the same way. For some dogs, praise/petting very well MAY be reinforcing for the dog. But each dog is an individual, reinforced and motivated by different things. Food, toys, play, a chance to go outside, an opportunity to chase a squirrel. In some cases when we say "a dog SHOULD work for praise" it is a case of imposing our morality on the dog--we are higher than the dog, we are the dogs master/leader, the dog should recognize that fact and obey (a major pet peeve of mine, but a topic for another day). But in other cases, we are simply making fault assumptions about what motives "all" dogs--after all, dogs like to be petted, it's rewarding for them, right?

In other cases (in, ahem, MY case) we make fault assumptions about what is NOT reinforcing for the dog. Case in point, an owner who pushes the dog off of themselves every time the dog jumps up--potentially an aversive for some dogs, but a wonderfully fun game for many that actually reinforces the behavior the owner is trying to prevent. Or in Jun's case, by me putting on her bark collar.

Jun is a terrible barker. For a long time after she first came to live with me, she wore a bark collar nearly all the time. We would do trial periods without the collar, but the second she started barking, I put on the collar. She knew what it was and would not bark with it on. This "positive punishment" method largely cured her barking problem and I was eventually able to leave the bark collar off most of the time for several months.

Fast forward to laying in bed one random morning after Jun had had the privilege of sleeping without the collar for quite some time . . . I heard the worst screams I have ever heard, unlike any sound I'd ever heard from Jun before (and that's saying something--the dog has a bark a thousand times worse than nails on a chalkboard). I was convinced she was being murdered and ran out to the living room to check on her. I found her staring at the wall in apparent terror with huge round eyes, crouching, body inclined backwards. I had no idea what she saw or thought she saw that set her off, but I immediately comforted her, opening her crate, letting her out, petting her. When she seemed to calm down, I put her in her crate and went back to bed. A few minutes later, the same thing happened, and I responded the same way. I can't remember how many times this happened, and it may have been over a period of days, but at some point I realized, that when I went out to "check on" her, she would go from looking terrified (as I understood the body language she was displaying), to instantly composing herself and looking self-satisfied as soon as she saw me walk into the room. It was a huge "oh crap" moment for me. My dog had trained me yet again and I'd been reinforcing the barking all along--for days even, I think. (Whether a dog can "fake" fear or whether petting reinforces fear is also a topic for another day. My take on it, in a nutshell, is that Jun learned that particular body language and a particular bark got her attention. I think she may have truly been afraid of something the first time, but after that I really think it was a learned behavior reinforced by the attention she got.)

I started using the bark collar again--just like the last time, putting it on anytime she started barking (and here's the real eye-rolling moment--usually with a scratch or a pat as I did it, cause I felt bad about using it again). This went on for months. Probably nearly a year now, and the barking just got worse and worse. She also learned to bark around her collar--very high-pitched barks would not set it off--so even with the collar on, the barking did not stop completely.

Suddenly, one day not too long ago, as I walked towards her with her bark collar I noticed a sparkle in her eye and a slight wag of her tail. It was a total light-bulb moment. I was reinforcing her barking by putting on her bark collar!!!!! The former aversive had actually become a reinforcer for the very behavior I was trying to use it to stop!!!! It was mind boggling to me, but suddenly everything made perfect sense.

I decided to stop using the collar altogether. Jun has not worn it in five days. If we're at home and Jun is barking in her crate, I leave the room or turn away, careful not to make any eye contact or acknowledge her in any way. When she is calm and quiet, I occasionally give eye contact and even a treat now and then or let her out of her crate. The first night, she barked (actually, "screamed" is probably more apt) off and on for at least an hour. The next night a bit less, and then less. Last night, I think she barked once before going to sleep for the night. Car rides, I hesitate to say so as not to jinx it, have been quiet. The barking is still there, but getting less and less every day, in just FIVE DAYS as compared to the nearly a year that I spent using other methods to try to fix the barking.

It's classic positive reinforcement theory at it's most basic: ignore the bad, reinforce the good. But first I had to accept the fact that I don't get to choose what is reinforcing for Jun. She chooses. I adapt.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My cats

Haha! Kidding. I don't have any. I was going to title the post "My dogs and stuff" but then I thought, ok, really, what else do I write about here? So I thought I'd go for the joke.

Well, Dexter got adopted a couple weekends ago and life is back to normal. I've been very happy with all three dogs lately, except for Lok's "destroying stuff" streak that lasted a week, but seems to have subsided for now. He gets frustrated once in awhile. I don't blame him. I probably would too if I used to be able to see and now couldn't. I've been largely NOT training him lately. Trying to figure out who he is, what he wants in life. He's actually been pretty happy lately. Lots of tail wagging . . . well, lots for Lok. He's not much of a wagger.

Jun has been doing mostly disc work. Set-up moves, still working the RLV, which is coming along VERY nicely. Happy with that. We'll see how it translates to a field. I'm not sure if I'm gonna try it at Pet Expo. I'm not sure if I'm gonna try any vaults at Pet Expo. We shall see. Excited for this nice weather to melt all the snow so we can get out and really play! Last night I taught Jun to close the dish washer by pushing it up with her nose. She caught on really quickly and loved it. I think I'm going to get some plastic dishes for her so I can teach her to "load" the dish washer too. That would be a cute trick and she has all the foundation for it. Oh . . . just had a thought . . . I should probably start with cups and bowls. Plates are probably a little too frisbee-like.

Elo has been a good boy lately. I was just thinking last night about how far he's come since he came to live with me. Playing with all three in the yard used to be frustrating because Elo would spend the entire time alternately stealing the other dogs' toys and barking at EVERYTHING. Well, he no longer steals the other dogs' toys. Instead, he spends his time outside playing fetch or chewing on his OWN toy. He also has gotten SOOOO much better with the barking. If he's involved in a game he generally ignores everything else around him. But now, even when he's tired of playing fetch and is just doing his own thing, I can call him off of almost anything he decides to bark at, even cars driving by the yard--previously an exercise in futility.

I'm not quite sure what happened, and I don't think I can credit my excellent dog training skills for the improvement, cause I didn't really "work on it" at all. There was a point when I decided I wasn't going to tolerate barking anymore and as soon as he went off barking I called him. If he didn't come, I walked him down and then I put him inside in his crate. I only remember doing that a few times though. Maybe that was all it took? Or maybe our relationship has developed to a point where I've become more important than barking at things. When people tell me they're having recall problems with their dog (especially border collies, since I know other breeds aren't as easy), one of the first things I wonder about is what is their relationship with their dog like? Does the dog find being around them to be a good thing? More importantly is the owner seen by the dog as "the source of all good things." I know it's not the only necessary component for a solid recall, but I do think it IS one of the more important ones. Often I hear "practice, practice, practice" as a remedy for a shaky recall. But no matter how much practice you do with a recall, when it counts, your dog is only going to come to you if they have a good reason.

I don't know, but either way, I'm glad he's stopped. Now I don't have to threaten to cut off his other leg with a saw anymore!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lok wants to play

Last night, Lok wanted to play with Elo. He walked towards Elo, who ran away and growled. Not being able to see what was going on, Lok interpreted the fast movement as play and kept chasing him. Actually, Elo was chewing on a rawhide and wanted Lok to get away from him and leave him alone. But I could not convince Lok of this. He was thrilled that someone was playing with him from once. So I had to put him in a crate.

When the other dogs play, Lok barks at them. I'm not sure why. Partially, I think, because he wants to play. Partially out of frustration that he doesn't know what's going on around him and can't control it. So I have to put him in a crate. Cause he won't stop barking.


Monday, February 15, 2010

A reminder

Reading PMcC's blog, I saw this in the comments and thought it was stated so perfectly:

"Dogs are not capable of being disobedient because they cannot understand a 'duty to obey.' Likewise, dogs don't understand a 'command' as a 'command.'

Since the day I figured that out, I have not given my dog a single command, and he has never disobeyed me. Instead, he is just more or less reliable for a given 'cue,' and needs more training--and that's my problem, not the dog's."

Even more impressive, I think, because this comes from a person training their dog for field work and that person specifies with pride that he uses no e-collars or force fetch.

When, if ever, corrections are needed and when, if ever, they are appropriate or useful is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I was recently told that I needed to cause my puppy pain and make him afraid in order to housetrain him, that it should only take once, and that he should never have an accident in the house after that. While I found this advice ridiculous and objectionable on so many levels, I actually considered it. Not that I think it's the best way to housetrain. I would always prefer to train without correction. But maybe it is the fastest and most effective, and if so, why would I not use it? After all, I've never tried it, so how can I know? And the giver of the advice swears it has worked perfectly multiple times over.

Thankfully, I have not tried it out, as I haven't needed to. Puppy has been with me for a little over two weeks and I think his housetraining is going well. We've had a couple frustrating days, but since then I've stepped up my vigilance and the frequency of potty breaks and we've had very few accidents. I've also been keeping him in his crate longer and longer and he's learning to hold it better. Dex is great about pottying as soon as I take him out. In the past two days, the only accident we've had was totally my fault. I took him out to pee, which he did, then I called him back inside. He ignored me and started walking the other way, so I went and grabbed him. (He knows his name and recalls well, and I didn't want him to think he could get away with ignoring me.) I brought him back inside and he immediately pooped on the carpet, which I assume was the reason he walked away from me when I called him. He wasn't finished. How unfair would it have been to punish him for ignoring the recall or to punish him for the accident when all along he was just trying to do the right thing and it was me that screwed up? Since then, he has showed me how well he understands housetraining. I brought all the dogs out for one last potty before I left for work this morning. Dex got caught up playing and forgot to pee right away. As I was calling the dogs in, he stopped on his way and peed, clearly understanding that was supposed to be done outside and making sure it got done before he came in. Good puppy!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pushing Boundaries

Nobody's actually pushing boundaries. Well, not in any specific way. I guess my dogs are always kind of pushing boundaries. But it seemed like a catchy title for a follow-up boundary training post.

Tried the free-shaping "broom on the floor" method with Jun again last night. No luck. So I worked on my height barrier idea. I brought her into a bedroom where I could completely block the boundary and set up two yardsticks in an X across the doorway. Not a solid barrier, by any means, but a pretty obvious one. This seemed to work a bit better, but I guess she was kind of pushing the boundary as she had a tendency to want to LEAN on the barrier. I had to make sure my criteria was "not touching the barrier at all" but even so, she got as close as she possibly could without touching. I'm not sure if this was the right thing to do, but when I released her to cross the barrier, I didn't take it down first, I asked her to jump over it. I want her to realize that she is physically capable of crossing the boundary, but choose not to. So, I guess it went okay, but she still wants to get as close as she possibly can to crossing the line, just like when we were working it without a physical barrier, she always had to have her front foot JUST across the line.

Her stays have been so good lately, I'm not sure what her hang-up is here, but she's really just not getting the concept. I always know with Jun that if she's taking longer than a couple sessions to at least start to catch on to something, that I need to find a new way to communicate the idea to her. Once she "gets" it, she always wants to do it right and very rarely tries to half-ass anything.

In Dexter news, on the advice of a friend, I left him in his crate all night last night. I expected to wake up and have some major cleaning to do, but he slept all night, no whining, and no accidents! Since he had been peeing at least twice a night and usually pooping once, I had figured he wasn't capable of holding it that long, but I guess he is.

And in other Jun news, Andrew you will be so proud of me. With Jun's RLV, I didn't even give her the chance to screw it up again. I backed up, started from the very beginning and worked the whole process again. And I will do that every time until I KNOW she'll get it right on the first try. I'm betting we'll have a RLV by pet expo!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thinking Outside the Box

Jun has been challenging me lately. Forcing me to think outside the box. Luckily I'm up to the challenge.

First of all, with her vaulting. I've been trying to get a reverse chest vault and a reverse leg vault for ages, but she will never bring her back feet up and use them to push off of me. So, I started trying to train it with treats, just like I've trained all of her other vaults initially. She got to the point where she would do her RCV and RLV properly for treats, so I got out a disc, and it immediately fell apart again. Hmmm . . . what to do? Well, after some testing, I realized that it's not just asking her to vault for the disc that causes her to lose her mind and lose all track of her feet. It's just having the disc out, anywhere near her. So we went back to vaulting for treats again. Once that was solid, I got out a disc, put it on a table across the room, and asked her to vault for a treat. Her vault totally fell apart, so we worked on it until she calmed down and started thinking again and doing it properly. Then we moved to me holding the disc in my opposite hand, behind my back, still vaulting for a treat. Same issues, and worked through them again. Finally last night, we moved to vaulting for the disc, and she DID IT!!! Her very first real reverse leg vault WITH a disc, pushing off with her back feet like she is supposed to! I was pyched!

Also, I've been working on boundary training with all three dogs, thanks to some inspiration and instruction from Laura. Since I've used and abused "wait" and "stay," I finally came up with the command "fence," since essentially I wanted it to be like there was an invisible fence along the boundary. Elo is doing great! It's so cool to see how well he really understands the concept. If his feet are right at the edge of the boundary and he wants to lay down, instead of sliding his front feet forwards, like he usually does, he will scoot his butt back so his feet don't cross the border. Too cool! Lok is doing well too. Jun on the other hand, does not get it AT ALL! And she is usually my quickest study, so somehow I'm not communicating to her very well what I want. I tried laying a broomstick on the floor along the boundary line, but it didn't help at all. So now what I'm trying is just free shaping the idea of being on the opposite side of a line from me with a broomstick in the middle of the living room. She might have started to catch on a little bit . . . I'm not really sure. If that doesn't work, I think my next step is to go to a higher boundary--something that she actually has to put some effort into stepping over--and gradually lower it. Unless any of you have any other ideas for me.

Finally, I still have Dex. Housetraining is going well. Regular training is going okay. I am amazed at these people on the border collie forums who supposedly have their puppies trained in ALL the basic obedience commands by ten weeks old. Seriously? Dex has the attention span of a gnat. He "knows" sit (I hesistate to use the word "knows" since he only knows it when he wants something from me, and even then, it's iffy. He is getting better at offering eye contact. He is getting better at responding to his name, but if he's distracted--no way! We are working on "lie down." He wouldn't offer it to me. He just kept sitting and starting at me, since that was what I had rewarded in the past. So I'm luring it, even though I hate to. One thing he has gotten really good it is the dinnertime routine. He is expected to sit and wait, with his food bowl in front of him, giving me eye contact, until I release him to eat. We have just recently gotten the eye contact part, but the first day I added that as a criteria, it was so funny . . . he sat and stared HARD at his food for several minutes, clearly exercising every bit of puppy willpower he had not to start eating! Funny! Now he quickly gives me eye contact and gets released to eat.

Monday, February 1, 2010


This little guy has been living with me since Thursday. He is a 10 week old border collie mix. Possibly mixed with springer, based on the look of the other pups in the litter. He is available for adoption through Border Collie Rescue of Minnesota. His litter name is Freeze, but I accidentally called him Dexter once, I think because he reminds me of Food Lady's pup, (not sure why, he doesn't really look anything like FL's Dex) and it kinda stuck.

He is incredibly calm and laid back. Hasn't been much trouble at all. He's technically my first puppy, so I'm learning all about housetraining. Took awhile to get into the swing of things, but I think I'm getting it down pretty well. The other dogs love him and are great with him. He's ridiculously cute, especially the way he thinks he needs to take a giant leap off the deck, even though the snow comes up level with it and he could walk off. Giant puppy leap, every time. When he's not sleeping or sitting and staring at me (border collie much?) he likes to zoom around the house. He loves food and treats and is already learning to sit and wait for his food bowl to be put down.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Training in Real Life

It is always SO much fun to see your training pay off in real life! Last night, about 1:00am I was still up, busy working on some stuff, ignoring the dogs. Elo had to go out and I was ignoring him. Finally I finished what I was doing and went to let the dogs out one last time before bed. We got the entry way and I saw a puddle where Elo had peed. Totally my fault, but I didn't want any of the dogs to step in it and track it all over as I was cleaning it up.

We had previously worked a couple times on an "out of the kitchen" command, basically boundary work, teaching the dogs to stay in the living room and not cross the threshhold to the kitchen, which borders the entry way. Rather than fend the dogs off while I cleaned up, I decided to give the command a try, and it was a success!! The dogs stayed in the living room (with periodic treats), I cleaned up, nobody tried to cross the threshhold, and it was a happy night!

Ah, little victories!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nose v. Paw Target - Part Three

Last time, when I left off, I had observed that, when switching back and forth between nose and paw touches in a single session, Elo generally offered the behavior that was previously being rewarded, regardless of the command given. I had noticed though, that he seemed to always get the very first one right, and had decided to move to single-rep sessions. Well, my initial observations seemed to be a fluke. When we moved to single-rep sessions, Elo generally remembered what command I had asked for the last time we worked the target and just gave me the same one. At this point, I was ready to call it quits, for a couple reasons.

First, I was getting bored with the whole thing. Second, I've noticed that Elo does not seem to be a very verbally-inclined dog in general. He is HIGHLY sensitive to context, changes in my body position, tone of voice, position the room, etc. Numerous factors seem to affect his ability to respond to verbal commands in general, such that even after almost four months with me, he still sometimes has a hard time with "sit" and "lie down," and he often mixes up other commands that result in similar behavior (for example, rolling over v. putting his chin down on the floor). By contrast, the border collies (well, the hearing border collie anyway, though the deaf one does the same with hand signals) easily pick up verbal commands and associate them with behaviors, most of the time filtering out other contextual information, and are much better at generalizing of the signal and context are not exactly the same each time. How much more difficult, then must the nose/paw distinction be for Elo, when the target is not always in exactly the same place relative to my body or his body. When sometimes I ask for a target behavior when he is sitting, sometimes when he lying down, and sometimes when he is standing. When he sometimes looking and me and sometimes at the target when I give the command. When my tone varies. And on top of all of that, the occasional mis-timed or erroneous click when I think he's going for it with his paw, but ends up using his nose instead. Poor confused little dog!

I decided to keep working it, at least now and then. Laura posted some great tips on teaching distinguishing behaviors that I'm going to try to take into account. I've gone back to multi-command sessions, switching back and forth. Could have been luck, but last night I asked for step/touch/step touch and Elo scored 100%. In the mean time, I've learned something really important about Elo's method of processing information and his learning style that will hopefully help me improve his training and the training of future dogs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Manners and Object Discrimination

In the spirit of teaching manners, I've been working with all three dogs on taking treats GENTLY rather than alligatoring my fingers off. They all KNOW how to do this. But when we're working on something other than taking treats nicely, the behavior goes away, and I end up with sore fingers. It's my fault, cause I don't demand it, cause I really don't care that much. The giving the treat part is boring, I want it to be quick and on to the next training thing. That is, until somebody chomps my fingers particularly hard, or until Elo manages to wedge one of his needle-sharp canines under a fingernail, which he does often. So my criteria has changed (for now, we'll see how long this lasts) and the dogs are now required to take treats gently, every time.

In FUN training news, I've started some object discrimination work with Jun. Having never done this before, I'm making it up as I go along, as usual. Two things I would like her to be able to pick out by name, for starters, are my keys and her leash. I started by putting two objects on the ground (keys and another random object) and clicked for a nose touch on the keys. Then I switched to keys and a different random object, then I added more random objects, varied the location of the keys, put other objects on top of keys, put all the objects in a pile, spread the objects out, etc. Right now, she is pretty reliable at picking the keys out of any set of objects, and retreiving them. I would like to be able to send her on a hunt for the keys, thus setting her up to be able to find my keys when they are lost, but that's a way's off. I started the process for the leash last night. The hard part, I think, will be having the leash AND the keys out together and having her reliably retrieve the correct object. I'm hoping it will be a little easier than the nose/paw touch distinctions which I am still working on with Elo.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Picture This . . .

. . . since it was too dark to take an actual picture in my house and, really, to get the full picture it would have to be more of a video. But then, it would be an awfully boring video . . .

Three dogs, Mr. I Stress Out on Stays, Ms. Perpetual Motion, and The New Guy. Ten minute down-stay, all three lined up in a row. Rewards for each dog every 30 seconds to a minute. Not a single bicker over treats. Not A SINGLE Break!!!!!! Not even a close call!!!! How did that happen? I have no idea, since I really don't think any of them have ever done a ten minute stay in their lives. But I was very happy with them. Good Dogs!!

Once again, Laura has inspired me! I've really been lacking on the motivation/inspiration lately, especially when it comes to Lok (whose combintation of vision loss and personality have been making it extremely difficult to teach him anything new) so this is good.

One thing I have largely failed at as a dog trainer is teaching my dogs practical skills and manners. Sure, they know tons of tricks. Sure, they behave at home and can show off at obedience class. Yet, not a single one of them can walk nicely on a leash and Lok is the only one I would even remotely trust to down-stay in public, and not for very long. (All the dogs recall perfectly (well, probably not Elo in public, yet, though he does pretty well) but, let's be real, they're border collies, big deal.) So we've been working on these things, with Jun in particular. Lok stresses in public and tends to tune me out, then I get frustrated and he tunes me out even more. We need to work on that first. But I really want to work more with the dogs on manners and practical skills. I won't say it's a "goal" exactly, because it's not concrete and I'm not sure exactly where I want to go with it. I want Jun to walk nicely on a gentle leader. I want to try a front-clip harness with Lok and see if I can get him to walk nicely on that. The tuning out problem is a big part of why I've never been able to teach LLW to Lok. I'd like both of them to be able to sit/down and stay in public wherever we are, and have that solid enough that I can trust them completely for a minute or two, at first.

And one other totally unrelated, random thing . . . forever I've wanted to teach a dog to "put their toys away" or put things into a box or other container. It's completely unreasonable for me to ask Lok to do it (though this amazing video tells me I may just have an attitude problem--p.s., the lady in this vid is hilarious! obnoxious, but hilarious!), but the other night I finally taught Jun! We were getting nowhere with teaching her to blow bubbles in a bowl of water, but is great at retreiving and she was solid at putting her head in the bowl. It took no time at all for her to combine the two skills and have the idea down of retreiving an object and putting into a container!! Sweet!! My little genius!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nose v. Paw Target - Part Two

I'm still working with Elo on learning to discriminate between a command for targeting an object with his nose (touch) and targeting an object with his foot (step). When I last posted, I was working one command at a time, asking for several repetitions of that behavior, taking a break to work something else, then working several repetitions of the other command. Each time I switched from one command to the other, Elo would start offering the behavior we had worked on previously, before figuring out I wanted the other one. So, for example, if we had started working on "step," when we switched to working on "touch," he would offer "step" the first couple times.

I've since gone on to asking for both behaviors within one session. I'll ask for a few paw touches, then a few nose touches. Occasionally E gets it right, but usually when I switch commands, E still offers the previous behavior before realizing we've switched. I have found though, that he usually gets the very first command of the session right! So for the past couple days, I've been working only on single-rep touches and steps. I start out my training session, put Elo in a sit, put the target down a couple feet away from him, get his attention, ask him for either a step or touch. If he gets it right, that's it, we are done with targeting for the day! If not, "oops" (NRM), no reward, back in a sit, try again. As soon as he gets it right, we're done. So far, I think I'm getting better results this way, but it's only been a couple days, so we'll see.