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.