Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Wrap-up and 2012 Goals

Well, I didn't set too many goals for 2011 at the beginning of the year. My disc-related goals were to add distance to my long throw and get better at "just playing" in freestyle. And I actually accomplished both--though neither ended up doing me much good. Lok got sick in July and spent all my money, so I did not get to travel to many Quads this year and I didn't even get to play in our local long distance competition. 

Jun and I had the best freestyle we have ever had this season. I decided to get rid of vaults since she had so much trouble with them. I focused on keeping sessions very short, not drilling, not getting frustrated, going onto the field to just "jam" as often as I went out with a training plan and focusing on smooth sequences and highlighting our strengths vs. trying to throw everything we could "sort of" do into the routine. And it worked! She was drivier than ever this year, played happier, jumped higher, flipped better, and we were more connected. However, I retired her from disc at the State Champs in September. She ran off the field and went after a person during our last freestyle round and I now know I just can't trust her in that situation. I don't think I blogged that at the time. I was pretty upset, since I have now retired 2 out of 2 disc dogs at the age of 3. She may come out of retirement if I can get a handle on her issues, but I am not currently counting on it. For her sake I need to think of her as retired, rather than taking a break, since if I think of her as taking a break (like I did for most of the summer) I am sure I will try to play her again before she is ready. She may get to play in smaller, local, well-controlled comps. But we will not be playing out of state anymore. I've made peace with it now. There are lots of other things I can do with my dogs (that I am better at anyway).

My other 2011 goal was for Elo to get his CGC. That didn't happen. But we did get closer to functionality!

Which brings me to the rest of 2011, "The Year of Behavior Modification." In January I decided Jun's fear issues had gotten so bad that I needed to actively try to fix them. We met with a trainer who put us on a behavior modification plan. We focused a lot on calming and relaxing and Jun started to do pretty well. And then Spring hit and all of our progress seemed to disappear. So in May we decided to go to the UofM and start working with a behaviorist and get on meds. Seven months later, we are still trying to find the right med combo for her. Currently she is on 75mg of Trazodone twice a day, off Sertaline entirely, and just started on 25mg of Clomipramine twice a day. Overall, her pacing and clinginess have drastically decreased, making her much easier to live with in the house. We have gone through several behavior-modification plans to try to work through her fear of people and hypervigilance, but have not made much progress. Currently we are taking it very, very slowly, introducing her to new people every weekend through disc play but not requiring (or even asking for) any interaction, and taking her to a couple of classes a week to keep people in her life so she doesn't get even more sensitive to them over the winter. Hopefully between meds and b-mod we will find some solutions for this issue in the new year. I'm not asking for much, really. I'd like to be able to take her for an on-leash walk around other people and have her relaxed and happy.

Elo took a reactive dog class and worked on looking at other dogs in public and has improved greatly! At the beginning of the year, Elo could not tolerate tag sounds, barking, dog smells, or the sight of a dog no matter how far away it was. He can now handle dog sounds and smells most of the time and is doing SO MUCH BETTER with being in the presence of dogs! I am so proud of how far he has come! Surprise dogs are still a big issue, but I can get him very close to stationary or slowly moving dogs and he can even do parallel walking at about 10 yards! So maybe a CGC is in the forecast for this year!

We did a lot of work on obedience and really improved both dogs' heeling in hopes that someday they might be able to actually compete!

Lok made it through 2011, and that is saying something! Managing his health issues is an ongoing challenge, but he remains reasonably happy and content, for the most part. He never got past the first steps of IYC that I posted about a couple weeks ago. We started over at the beginning every day for 5 days, and he re-picked it up every day, but never seemed to remember the next day. And then he had another round of seizures and his mental capacities regressed. I still should do training with him, cause I think he likes it, even though some days he doesn't understand sit. So I think that will be my goal for 2012. Train Lok three days a week and take him for a walk (if he wants to) once a week.

As for 2012 goals for the other two, I am not sure. I'd obviously like to continue to improve Jun and Elo's functionality, though I am much more certain of making progress with Elo than with Jun. Fingers crossed that we'll hit upon the magic drug combo for her. I'd still like Elo to get his CGC--but not only that, I want him to get it in a location where he's never worked before with other dogs he's never met before (yes, I am an overachiever). We will keep working towards that.

I plan to continue to work on obedience skills in case the dogs can ever compete. Other than that, I don't have any major goals for the year. The dogs are in several classes right now and I hope to keep that up, since it gives me things to work on with them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jun Goes to Reactive Dog Class

Last night Jun and I started a reactive dog class. She has done really well in Nosework for the past two weeks--very relaxed and happy--and this week even walked by two standing people on our way out without so much as a sideways glance. I was a little nervous about starting this new class, but turns out I had nothing to worry about. It is perfect for her and she did so well!

While there are only a few people in Jun's new class it is different from nosework in that they don't necessarily sit still all the time. But I went in with a plan to treat it very much like nosework. Mainly, I was not going to do any overt behavior modification. No LAT. No auto-watches. I think she has a negative CER to these techniques since we have never really been able to work them sub-threshold. She would be free to look at people at much as she needed to, but I would only reward when she was engaged with me and calm. We would start with crate relaxation, just like nosework and then see where it went from there.

She relaxed very nicely in her crate. While there are other people around,our spot in the building is shaped in such a way that we are able to keep them completely out of view if we want to. When she was relaxed I brought her out into our little private corner and we worked on a Nina Ottoson puzzle. In typical Jun fashion, she approached it with brute force, but thought it was pretty fun! It kept her occupied and took her focus off the other people who she knew were there even though she could not see them. After that we did some walking around in our area. There was some agility equipment and other things to sniff and explore. I didn't ask anything of her, just kept the leash loose and rewarded when she was calmly looking at me. We were out where we could see a person and she showed some slight nervousness and offered a few autowatches, but I just backed her up a little and then rewarded calm attention. After a few minutes it was back in the crate for some more relaxation before she got too overwhelmed. The next time I brought her out we worked Its Yer Choice, which was also very effective in keeping her mind occupied. We also took another little walk around our area and this time she was very calm. I did not ask for any obedience behaviors but just rewarded what she offered.

This is the first time since starting to work on her issues that Jun has been completely calm working in the proximity of people! Granted we are taking it VERY slow, but we are not doing any overt b-mod so she is basically just learning on her own that people around can be an ok thing and that nobody will ever touch her.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jun Update

Last time I posted about Jun's progress we had decided to wean of Clonidine. After doing so, I am 100% confident it was the right decision. Jun is much happier and more herself off of it and also much more "even." She is able to relax without being sedated.

After a week of doing behavior logs on just Trazodone and the small amount of Sertaline she gets (so small that it probably isn't doing anything for her), we increased her Sertaline by 50%. I only made it through 6 days of behavior logs on this new dose before I made the decision to reduce it! She was having the same agitation response she had to it  the first time we tried to increase it. I emailed Dr. Duxbury the logs and my notes and she agreed that it is time to get Jun off Sertraline altogether and try something else. It's been 3 days off and Jun is still unable to relax (and annoying the hell out of me) but she should be fine by the end of the weekend.

So I will be weaning Jun off Sertraline for the next two weeks and then we will be trying Clomipramine (brand name Clomicalm for animals, commonly known as Anafranil for humans). Interestingly, this is a drug commonly used to treat OCD. I am really interested to see what effect it has, if any, on Jun's sterotypical behaviors, such as tail-chasing and pattern running, and whether it affects her crate barking at all.

Dr. Duxbury is very happy with the results so far of our new behavior mod program, and Jun is doing really well in nosework! At our last class she was a lot more confident and paid less attention to the other people in the room (who have been really great about not watching her while she takes her turns)! I think she is starting to figure out the structure of the class and to understand that while she is working, nobody is going to bother her. At least, I hope that is the case. One of my biggest goals for Jun is building her trust that I won't let anybody touch her if she doesn't want them to. I think/hope nosework class is helping her start to understand that.

Lok Can Learn!

Lok has been doing amazing lately! I've seen so many changes in just the past couple of weeks! He seems less depressed and more engaged in life, and I am wondering if it is the result of increasing his fluoxetine? We increased it probably about 6 weeks ago in an attempt to get rid of some lingering anxiety-related behaviors, so this would be about the time it would be kicking in.

For example, instead of hitting his nose on the step of the deck when I am bringing him in, he's been responding to the cue "upstairs" and lifts his head and feels for the step with his foot. The other day he actually jumped right up onto the deck without even being cued, like he used to do! He has been trotting along when on leash instead of having to be practically dragged at a snail's pace. He has jumped onto my bed three times in the past week, which he has not done since before his surgery last summer. He has been spending more time out in the main portion of the house "with the family" instead of spending all his time holed up in a bedroom by himself. He has been spending slightly less time sleeping. He has been soliciting attention from me. He has picked up bones to chew on. He has solicited play from Elo. And this morning I only had to ask him once to get him up from where he was laying!! These things might not seem like much, but they are signs of LIFE from a dog who has been little more than a shell since coming home from the hospital last summer.

The day he jumped up onto the deck was the day I started working on some exercises from an online class with my other dogs. And that simple act caused me to think--hey, maybe I will give this a try with Lok too! Lok no longer responds to the large majority of what I say to him and seems not to remember most of his commands. I haven't been able to successfully teach him anything since I can't remember when. But two nights ago, Lok LEARNED! And last night, I got it on video!

One of the biggest obstacles to training for Lok since going blind (other than a complete lack of confidence) has been not knowing where the treats are or where they are going to come from. He spends more time sniffing around for the treats than thinking or listening for what he is supposed to do. This game is teaching him that if he ignores the treats they will come directly to his mouth! If he can get this skill down, maybe I can start from scratch and gradually build his other behaviors back up! I am not sure what he is still capable of, but the past two nights have encouraged me to start working with him again and see what he can do! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I am so excited to have the dogs in lots of classes this winter! Sundays we have an informal training group that I put together (with the ulterior motive of having people and dogs to work my reactive dogs around during the winter). Last weekend was our first session and it went pretty well for both Jun and Elo. Elo made it into the entry way of the building, which was more than I expected from him! He had a small outburst when a dog popped out from behind a wall closer than I expected, but recovered nicely and we did some LAT with a dog all the way across the building. The really cool part was, last winter we were in this same building and didn't even SEE any other dogs and Elo could not handle himself. Just the smell and sound of dogs were too much for him. On Sunday, even though there were at least 10 other dogs in the building that he could hear and smell, he was able to keep himself pretty well under control! We did about 5 minutes of work and then left.

Jun did some obedience work off leash with two decoy people sitting in the room. We started working with a toy and she was WILD. I wasn't being too strict on criteria. I just wanted her to have a good time and realize that when she's working, nobody's gonna come get her. We switched to food and she had a little more self control, though she was doing a bit more scanning--looking around before following cues. We didn't accomplish much obedience-wise, but that was not really the goal.

Last night Jun started nosework class. I was pretty nervous at first (I wish I could calm myself better when I'm taking her into situations that I think she will be nervous in). Turned out, she did great! Jun has been doing nosework since I took the class with Lok a year ago, so she knows the drill, but I wanted to keep it really easy for her and make her successful. The class is set up to be great for reactive dogs, as each dog and owner has their own space behind a barrier, the dogs come and go one at a time and take turns hunting. There were 4 other people in the room. Jun noticed them and gave a couple of sidelong glances, but didn't fixate and quickly turned back to me to continue the hunting game. I had her hunting for a toy, rather than food, so when she found it she would bring it to me and we would play a few seconds of tug. She is used to hunting for both, but she tends to relax more with play and I also liked that when she found the toy she immediately sought me out so she didn't have to think about what to do next. There was a lot of downtime while the other dogs were hunting and we worked on relaxing in her crate. She did a great job! She chilled in her crate with the door open while I sat in a chair next to her. At first she was near the door, pseudo-relaxing, but for the last half of class she was towards the back, truly relaxing vs. soliciting treats.

We also learned about a reactive dog class taught by the same instructor that would be great for Jun, so I'm going to get her into that in a few weeks. And I need to find a reactive dog class for Elo too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Another Day, Another B-mod Strategy

Jun had another follow-up with Dr. Duxbury today.

After spending nearly a year working straight counter-conditioning, modified LAT, auto-watches, BAT and pretty much every combination thereof that you could come up with, Jun still has not made much if any progress in her comfort level with people. So, I started to think . . . maybe I am going about this the wrong way. Normally, in behavior modification work, "threshold" is thought in terms of distance from the trigger--usually the farther away the trigger, the more comfortable the dog will be. The more I thought about why my training wasn't working though, the more I started to think that Jun's threshold is backwards!! She is very uncomfortable with people at a distance and MUCH more comfortable with people right up close (in certain situations). It makes perfect sense when you consider how her reactivity progressed. She started out reacting only to people who were far away, and only recently started reacting to certain people up close.

I think that by always working with people far away and keeping Jun otherwise pretty isolated from people, she never became comfortable with the people because they were always an unknown--as long as they were at a distance she can't really check them out and figure out whether or not they are ok, and she has no idea what they might do. In addition, she has become sensitized to the whole counter-conditioning routine and basically comes out of the car primed to react.

So I asked Dr. Duxbury about trying a different strategy, and then before she could respond, I went ahead and tried it and got video. Dr. Duxbury agrees, we may FINALLY be on the right track!

Here's what we're doing now.
  • Starting with the people up close and gradually working to distance
  • Having Jun interact with the decoy through play with a ball or frisbee--short sessions that end with a game with me
  • Not doing anything repeatedly--Jun catches on to patterns too easily
Here is one of our first sessions, and it's not all that polished because I was largely experimenting. The woman on the left as Jun comes out of the truck is a brand new decoy--they had never met before. 
We started off with the decoy as close as possible, waited for Jun to orient to her and then had her throw the disc a few times. We also worked in some hand-touches. Later on we worked on approaches from a distance. Jun was not as comfortable with some of the distance approaches, yet she was still FAR more comfortable than she ever was working from a distance to up close. She is offering me her LAT and this is the first time I have felt like there is actually a positive CER being conditioned "Oh good!! A person! I can look and get a tug game!!" vs. "Uh oh, scary person, but at least I know what to do, look at mom." We switched directions that the decoy was coming from and she was not as comfortable, giving longer looks before re-orienting, so we will need to move a little slower in the future.

Jun will also be going to Nosework class! Dr. Duxbury agreed it was probably not a good idea to isolate her all winter long. With nosework, she will be in proximity of people, but it will be a very controlled environment and she will not be expected to interact at all. I think that will be good for her.

As for drugs, we are scrapping Clonidine. She was all over the place. She was up, down, falling asleep, and bouncing off the walls. The only time it seemed to make any difference for her reactivity was during the first few hours of the dose, when she was really sedated. I got the feeling Dr. Duxbury didn't think the sedation was necessarily a bad thing (she is not really a border collie person), but she totally respected that I didn't like it. We are going to wean off of Clonidine for the next couple weeks, then try increasing her Sertraline again. If she has another agitation response to the Sertaline, we will probably try Clomipramine as our next step.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What We're Working On

So, working on Elo's nails has been a huge success so far! We've done maybe 10 sessions, probably an hour of work at the most. I can now clip one nail and he won't even flinch! The first time I actually clipped one, rather than just holding the clippers on it, he was not too happy and I was afraid I had ruined all my work. Unfortunately, if there is a step between almost clipping a nail and clipping one, I couldn't think of it, so it was a bit of a leap. But I did a few easy reps, ended the session and he seemed to have forgiven me in the next session. It's amazing how much easier this is, just by giving him a choice and reinforcing when he made the right one!

Jun is working on paw crossing. I switched her left-to-right paw cross from a hand signal to a foot signal (crossing my legs while standing in the same direction). That was surprisingly easy! Then I wanted to get a paw cross in the other direction. The first one was very easy to free shape, since this is a behavior she does naturally. The second one I was getting nowhere with free shaping, so I am using my foot as a target instead. This came a lot faster and now I'm starting to fade the target. It should work pretty well, because I will have a built in cue for the behavior.

Jun has a follow-up with Dr. Duxbury next week and I am excited to discuss some new behavior mod strategies I have been mulling over/testing. Clonidine has been a complete bust, and I am ready to throw in the towel with counter-conditioning. 

Elo is also working on paw crossing. I've free shaped almost everything with him, but after two weeks I hadn't gotten anywhere with this behavior. Paw crossing is not a behavior that he offers naturally and my clicks were constantly late or I was clicking the wrong thing. I wasn't sure how to break it down small enough and he was offering me big behaviors. All I was getting was a reach forwards with his paw. He is such a good sport--he just keeps trying even though I'm not being at all clear. Finally out of fairness to him I decided to use a target and that took all of 30 seconds to have him crossing his paws. Last night I started working on fading the target, but this has never been a strong point of mine.

I'm also adding a hand signal to Elo's lie down cue. None of my dogs lie down well, (and two don't sit well either). They ignore this cue a lot. I'm not sure why this is, but considering it's an issue with all three I'm assuming that I am screwing it up somehow. My best guess is that I poisoned the cue in the early stages of teaching them--seeing a down as a "command" that my dogs MUST do, I over-faced them too quickly, asked them for these behaviors in too difficult of situations with too few rewards, and I was inconsistent in consequences. Depending on my patience level, I might punish, re-cue, "help," or stand there and do nothing, because, how do you "make" a dog do something it is refusing?? I wasn't too worried about it when it was Lok (he never did like training much) or Jun (she has her "special" issues). But then I noticed that it was a problem with Elo as well, and he is really focused, driven, and biddable with pretty much everything else, and that's when I decided that it must be me. When I cue a lie down, especially in high-distraction or high-stress situations. He will either stand looking at me and do nothing or stand and look away from me and do nothing. I am hoping that re-teaching it on a hand signal and then gradually increasing difficulty level and making it FUN will solve the issue. I am open to any other suggestions about what I may have screwed up here!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Obedience Videos

Fun with obedience in our "middle of nowhere" training spot! Jun is working on heeling with a toy reward. We have not worked with a toy much because she gets very amped up and very forgy, but I love the enthusiasm I get when I work with a toy so I've been trying to do it more often. I thought she did pretty well, especially towards the end!

With Elo I am playing "choose to heel." As you can see, he chooses to heel most of the time. He likes heeling! I've been very informal about his heeling training and haven't even added a verbal cue. His position is pretty good most of the time, but he tends to forge and wrap around me or swing his butt out and walk in a diagonal, so I am capturing and rewarding when he positions himself correctly here. (P.S., Sorry about the inability to stay on camera.)

Inspiration . . . I Haz It

Well that didn't take long. I got a new book. "Reaching the Animal Mind" by Karen Pryor. Mind-blowing. I want to get a fish, or a hamster, and clicker train it! But I don't have time for another pet, so I will have to settle for my dogs. ;-)

I am working with Elo on learning to let me clip his nails without having to hold him down. I figure, if they can teach elephants to present their feet calmly for maintenance, surely my little biddable cattle dog can do it! (If only his nails didn't grow so fast--the book doesn't say how they take care of these animals in the mean time before they are trained.) I started with straight counter-conditioning. Touch a foot; get a treat, hold a foot; get a treat. It was working, but slow going. A verbal marker helped speed things up a bit more and a clicker was even more effective! Criterion--let me touch your foot without pulling away.

Then I tried something from the book. The book described an experiment in which several dogs were asked to cross novel/scary obstacles (e.g., a pile of rope on the ground). Luring with food had the dogs going around the obstacles, shaping with a clicker and food reward produced faster results, but the fastest results came when the behavior of interacting with the obstacle was marked with a cue for the dog's favorite trick! So you were harnessing the value of not only a single food reinforcement, but also the value of a behavior that has a long history of paying off. I tried it with Elo, reinforcing for not pulling his foot away with a "touch" cue (nose target). After just a couple repetitions of this he immediately seemed more comfortable with the entire exercise and progress has been faster since then. And to keep "touch" from getting boring or predictable for him,  I've been interspersing other cues as the reward, and occasionally rewarding only with food.

This concept of reinforcing a behavior with a cue is mind-boggling, and the idea that a cue with a long reinforcement history could be even more reinforcing than a "primary reinforcer" even more so. I'm not totally sure why it works or how it works. But I have now seen it for myself, so apparently it does work.

I don't really have any more solid plans for training than I did last week, but I sure have a lot of new ideas to think about!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Inspiration Needed

I am totally uninspired lately when it comes to training. I haven't been doing much, cause I just have no motivation to do it. I am sick of dog training. I need a plan. I need a goal.

Jun has been a total airhead lately. I mean, that's not unusual for her, but I think she may be slightly worse since she's been on Clonidine. So hard to tell since its effects vary throughout the day. And since she can be an airhead in general. I do not seem to be capable of shaping with this dog. Part of that, I know, is that her marker is visual, and that's distracting for her. She spends a lot of time looking for the "click" and not a lot of time trying to earn it. But that can't possibly be the whole problem. I'm sure I'm screwing it up somehow.

Take for instance the newest "trick" I decided to teach both Jun and Elo. I live by myself and occasionally have a need to use a tape measure, but without anybody to hold the other end it can be a struggle. Enter, dogs! I knew I had them for a reason!! So I decided to teach Jun and Elo to hold the end of a tape measure. We've done probably 4 or 5 sessions on it. Elo has it down perfectly, because Elo thinks about what he is doing. Jun, OTOH is still working on stepping ON the actual tape measure. She will step near it, then when she doesn't get clicked she will immediately get frustrated and start pawing at it or nosing it. Of course, sometimes she manages to step on it and will get clicked for that, but for whatever reason the fact that she's done it right 5 times in a row doesn't mean she will get it the 6th time. Then there was one session where she was brilliant and we worked up to stepping and holding for up to 5 seconds. Of course, the next day she is back to not being able to step on it. WTF? I don't know what I'm doing wrong with her, but lately I cannot seem to teach her anything new. In fact, I can't even remember the last time she learned something new. I think her "bow" is the newest trick she has and for whatever reason she will NOT do it without being lured. A couple sessions, she was brilliant at it. Now, nope.Every new thing I've tried to teach her lately I give up on because she just doesn't get it and I get frustrated. The weird part is, things she already knows she does brilliantly and even improves on. All her obedience is awesome! It's just learning new things that she doesn't seem to be capable of lately. And I am half hoping that (contrary girl that she is) now that this is down in writing she will go and make me eat my words, like she likes to do so much. I wouldn't mind in this situation.

As I mentioned, I am completely uninspired. I am sick of drilling obedience, and my house is really too small for it. I'd like to train tricks, but working with Jun on anything new is just frustrating lately. Last night I decided to teach Jun and Elo to walk on leash together, both on my left side, and ended up with a dog fight (although they did pretty well up until that point). Thankfully since they were both leashed it was easy to break up quick.

I need a book or a video or a seminar or a class. I need an idea of something new I can do with Jun, start to finish, no giving up! Motivate me . . . ready . . go!

Monday, September 26, 2011


The overall stress level in my house lately is just ridiculous. The fighting, the barking, it's just insane. Friday night Jun and Elo got into a fight over nothing. It's not unusual for them to get into fights, but most of the time they break it up fairly quickly and nobody gets hurt. When they don't, Jun ends up with a hole in her face, and the one she ended up with on Friday was the worst she's ever had. Bad enough that I took her to the emergency vet. They recommended antibiotics but said stitches weren't necessary unless I wanted them for cosmetic reasons. I did, but I didn't want to pay what it would have cost, so we left with our antibiotics.

This morning Lok wandered near Jun and she proceeded to bite him in the face 3-4 times. Thankfully she has great bite inhibition, so he wasn't injured. But I hate when Lok gets picked on. He never deserves it. Of course Jun's "fight" with Lok drew Elo's attention and he decided to join in. Thankfully I managed to separate them before they got to each other.

And the barking. OMG. The second I step out of sight to leave for work Jun starts in. As soon as the door clicks shut, Lok starts in. And as soon as Lok starts barking, Elo starts howling. It is ridiculous. Insane. I feel bad that Lok and Jun are upset and that they all have to listen to each other. And I'm sure the collective stress level is just adding to the individual stress levels. It's a vicious circle and I can't seem to keep ahead of it.

And I am not sure what Elo's deal is. He is just wild lately. I think I've been spoiling him, so it is back to boot camp until he remembers how to act like a trained dog.

Jun is on the second attempt at Clonidine. The first time she seemed to be having an agitation response so we lowered the dose (I was out of town for a weekend) and now are building it back up. She is at the same dose where we left off last time and so far seems ok. Yesterday she was very sleepy. We did some CC yesterday and got extremely lucky to find a lone soccer player in an empty park. This scenario (one person, lots of upredictable movement) would have been a HUGE issue for her in the past, but she was only mildly concerned, then unconcerned. In the past we would not have been able to get far enough to calm her and would not have been able to move closer. Yesterday we closed the distance by half. In addition, two people walked by on the walking path at the edge of the park (another huge trigger) and barely got half a glance. It was a pretty big deal, but I'm not getting my hopes up. As I mentioned, she was very sleepy and not really herself. That is not the long-term effect I am looking from from a drug. If the sleepiness went away and the increased threshold stayed, that would be amazing, but we will see.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Follow-up with the behaviorist - Part 3

Jun is weird. She has always been a big barker, but there was a period of several months after I got her when she stopped. Previous to that, her barking was for attention. It was loud, annoying, and persistent, but it wasn't crazy. I distinctly remember when the behavior in the video started. In fact, I blogged about it here when it started happening, and have blogged at length about the things I've tried to get her to stop since. (Search "barking" if you care. It's half my blog content, I think!) All my strategies have worked temporarily, then stopped working.

The last thing I tried was keeping her in the bathroom when she needs to be confined, instead of in the crate. It also worked. Then stopped working. She started out just great and was totally quiet in the bathroom. It was awesome to be able to get a break from her and not have to put on her bark collar or listen to her barking, pacing, whining or spinning. I could sit down and watch a movie!! I actually started using this strategy intermittently before our first behaviorist appointment. Afterwards, Dr. Reichl wanted me to use the bathroom full time and not use the crate at all. I was hesitant but agreed, and the main reason I was hesistant was because I was pretty sure that after awhile the bathroom wouldn't cut it anymore and then my new-found peace and quiet would be ruined. Sure enough.

So what to do now? She barks in her crate, she barks in the bathroom, and she barks in the car when it's moving. Both Dr. Reichl and Dr. Duxbury believe it's related to separation anxiety and confinement anxiety, and it seems weird to me that it the behavior would be isolated to such specific situations, but I have no better explanation so, ok. Since Jun will chill (she usually sleeps by the door) if I just leave her loose in the house for a few hours, Dr. Duxbury thought maybe we should dispense with confinement altogether. And here is where I decided I really liked Dr. Duxbury---I agreed that may work, but expressed my concern that since every other strategy has worked and then failed I was worried that eventually she'd start to get nervous left alone loose in the house. And then I wouldn't be able to leave her ANYWHERE at all. And Dr. Duxbury listened to my concern, took it seriously and agreed!!!!!  So we are keeping that possibility in mind for the future, but right now we are looking to the drugs to provide some relief from the anxiety, and then hopefully the barking as a result.

So I am to do "crate games" with Jun and Relaxation Protocol in the crate and the bathroom and do things to associate those two places of confinement with good things and not always with me leaving.

The other comment Dr. Duxbury had was that she wonders if Jun is having limbic focal seizures brought on by stress--cause apparently the "staring at the wall" routine is not normal dog behavior. She wants more video to compare the episodes and wants to run it by a neurologist! Not sure if anything will come of that, but I thought it was an interesting idea.

Follow-up with the behaviorist - Part 2

I've been doing BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) with Jun, usually once a week, for three months now. In that time I've made some adjustments, so that what I'm doing is really not BAT at all, but more of a hybrid of a lot of different methods for working with fearful dogs. A typical BAT session is done without treats and involves approaching and retreating from a "decoy" many times in a single session. So, if the decoy was a person standing still at 50 yards, the dog and handler would walk towards the decoy until the dog is somewhat uncomfortable, but not over threshold. The handler then waits for the dog to offer a calming signal (generally a look-away, or sniffing the ground), marks, and rewards the dog by turning and walking away. The reward for behaving appropriately in the presence of the scary thing is that the dog gets what they really want--increased distance.

Jun was LOVING the increased distance part, but never really wanted to approach. And though she was "doing" everything right, she was not feeling any better about it no matter how much we worked. So I've made several modifications that seem to work a little better for us.

First, I'm using treats. BAT says it’s ok to use treats sometimes, but to give them AFTER the retreat. For Jun, this just made her even more happy to get the heck out of dodge and she started offering her calming signals earlier and earlier (when she was well within her comfort zone) because she knew that when she did, not only would she get to leave, but she would get a treat as well. So I broke the rules, and I now give the treat at the end of the approach after she offers her calming signal and she gets nothing for the retreat.

The second thing I’m doing differently is using mild tug games. Jun was not having any fun with BAT and our trainer suggested using some type of play to get her to loosen up a bit and not be so serious about the whole thing. At the same time, it’s important to be careful with this because play increases arousal and arousal can turn into reactivity. So I had to make sure not to get her too revved up. I played around with this for awhile and figured out that it works best to use intermittent play during a BAT session where she is well under threshold. If she is feeling nervous about a situation, it is harder to get her to play and when I do get her playing it is more likely to be an aggressive type of play punctuated by hard stares at the decoy vs. a soft, relaxed play. I’ve found that the best game to use is a combination of “tag and run” (I touch her lightly and then run off) with a tug on her leash.

Dr. Duxbury agreed that these were good modifications to the BAT protocol for Jun’s situation and said that I should continue doing what I'm doing. We looked at two videos that highlighted the difference between the two approaches.

In this video, I am using my modified BAT. You can see how much more loose and happy Jun gets after a little play. She is pretty relaxed and focused on me during this session. I am walking forwards until she starts feeling slightly nervous about the decoys, rewarding a look-away with food and then retreating. Here, our decoy is two people, standing still and facing here. This is a low-difficulty situation for her.

Contrast with this next video in which I am using traditional BAT in a high-difficulty situation. The decoy here is a single person over 200 yards away, but he was moving a lot, running, and doing weird things like high kicks (we just used some random guy who happened to be at the park). You can see how Jun is not engaging with me at all and is giving more hard stares at the decoy. She is really nervous here.

I told Dr. Duxbury that if I had it to do over again, I would not have even tried to do any BAT in this situation, and would have just done straight classical counter-conditioning. Feed, feed, feed, then put her away. Movement is much more important to Jun than distance is and when a person is moving around a lot there is really no way to keep her well under threshold (though she’s not barking/lunging, she is very nervous). Dr. Duxbury is hopeful that the meds will help raise Jun’s threshold, so I can do BAT with her in more difficult situations.

Follow-up with the Behaviorist - Part 1

Jun had a follow-up appointment yesterday, though we switched to a different behaviorist. She has been on sertaline and trazodone for about three months now, and it's time to make some changes. The Sertraline does not seem to be doing anything for her, though the Trazodone has gotten us some peace and quiet in the house. She is not pacing nearly as much and is not as clingy. She will go lie down on her own at a distance from me on a regular basis. However, she is still barking in her crate all the time and outside the house the drugs don't seem to have made much of a difference in decreasing her anxiety around people.

We talked about three things: changes to her meds, the BAT protocol I've been working on, and what to do about the barking. And since this would be a really, really long post, I will break it down into three. First, the meds, and this will be really short.

Dr. Duxbury though paroxetine may be a better fit for Jun than sertraline, so we may try that in the future. But first Duxbury wanted to try adding clonidine to what she is already taking. We are going to Chicago for a disc dog competition over the weekend, so we will start that next week when we get back. Dr. Duxbury explained the reasoning and it made sense at the time, but I can't remember all the terms she used so I won't try. She did say she was pretty optimistic that it would be a good fit for Jun. Since we only want to change one thing at a time, after she has been on clonidine for awhile, we will probably try to eliminate the sertraline, and then potentially the trazodone.

Awhile back I bought two pill boxes for both Lok and Jun (one each for AM and PM). Lok was on about 7 different meds at the time and it was beyond what I could keep straight when I was doling out meds at 5am. Now Lok is on only two (zonisamide for seizures and fluoxetine for anxiety) as well as an herbal supplement--milk thistle--for his liver. Jun is on four--proin (urinary incontinence), and sertraline, trazodone, and clonidine for anxiety.I just get their doses ready for the whole week at one time and it makes it a lot easier. And can I just say how happy I am that Elo is healthy and sound, mind and body, and is not on ANY meds!! (Please stay that way, buddy!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Excuse

I have no real excuse for posting this video other than, A) I have a video camera now, and B) I actually figured out how to get the video off my camera and onto youtube, and C) my dog is freaking adorable.

This is just Elo and I playing some tug, doing some impulse control and working on his "loop" cue, which he's not totally getting yet. He is super cute! And has the world's best "drop" cue!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to "Normal"

Well, life is back to "normal" (as normal as it can be with my crew) after Lok's near-death experience (which I never mentioned on the blog, since I don't think anybody reads the blog who isn't my facebook friend). Today he has ANOTHER infection--one of the wounds from one of his many catheter sites is not healing up properly. So more money and more antibiotics. This dog really sucks at fighting off infection. But other than that he is doing really, really well!! He is completely off phenobarbital now and is just on zonisamide for his epilepsy and hasn't had any seizures since June 8th, the first day he was in the hospital! So three weeks!! He was going about a month apart before his hospitalization, so I am interested to see how well the zonisamide works for him. And now that I've said anything he will probably have a seizure tonight, so excuse me while I find some wood to knock on . . .

Jun has been on drugs for over two months now with inconclusive results. She is up and down, calm and wild, barking and quiet. I have not seen anything that I would label as a clear improvement, and it's tough to know what is due to meds and what is due to the behavior mod work I have continued to do with her. While her general behavior seems to have improved some days, the BIG issue--her hyper-vigilance and fear of people--doesn't seem to have improved at all. I would have expected to see a decrease in her "scanning" behavior when there is nothing around, and haven't. I would also have hoped that her threshold would have decreased and I don't think it has. Or not much. I feel like the BAT work we've been doing, along with CC/DS has been helping her. However, rather than helping her feel more comfortable around people, I feel like it's helping her "operantly" to make better choices in situations that make her uncomfortable (turning to me or walking away vs. starting and reacting). This is a good start, but I would really rather she FEELS better in these situations instead of just being able to suppress her reactions to fearful situations.

Being so busy with Lok and Jun lately, I have not really had time to work with Elo much, which sucks because he is the dog that my work pays off with the most! We haven't gotten out around other dogs much lately, but we've been shaping a lot of obedience foundation stuff! He heels really nicely on both sides! We've been doing a lot of work with pivots lately, in front and heel position. He has an easier time with counter-clockwise pivots, due to missing a leg on the left side, but both are coming along! I've been working on a drop on recall and having kind of a hard time with it. He will down at a distance from a sit-stay or stand-stay, but gets really confused when asked to lie down in the middle of a recall. He finished his recall and then lays down in front of me. It makes perfect sense, but Jun and Elo pretty much did this automatically, so I never had to think about how to teach it. Right now, we are working moving downs in heel position and also working on a "wait" command. I am having him follow me in "front" position, I cue a wait, and he (hopefully) pauses while I continue moving. So far, I am still having to pause with him before continuing to back up, but I think he's starting to get it. Any other ideas?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fun New Naughtiness and Other Things

Well, apparently, Jun's drugs are making her hungry. She has never been a counter-surfer, but over the past few weeks she has eaten a TON of stuff that I thought was left WELL out of her reach. Apparently she is more determined than I thought, and now every time I turn my back she is up on the counters. No more leaving food out, I suppose. She has also gained a little weight from all the food she managed to steal, so now she's on a diet as well. I'm sure she is thrilled about that.

I am not really sure how much the meds are helping her. It's been four weeks now, and so hard to be patient. She is still a lot calmer in the house. Other than that, nothing seems to have improved. She is barking again. Last night she spent half the night barking and also ripped up a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom.She hasn't barked at night since we lowered her Sertraline dose, so I'm not sure what her deal was. She has also never in the past month touched anything in there that wasn't hers. I know she was feeling panicky, but there is nothing I can do about it. If I leave her loose she will just pace and not sleep. Poor girl must be tired.

She's doing great with Relaxation Protocol. Doing ok with walks. Windy days suck, for both her and Elo, I have found. The wind must bring so many more smells than they usually have to deal with. Jun gets all anxious again and has trouble focusing. Elo just gets a little crazy and is all over the place. Gotta love his enthuisiasm for life though!

I have gotten kind of bored with training. Without a solid goal to work towards, I become a terrible trainer. I wish I could have the dogs in some type of class, so I would have some structure. Since I am sick of all the other stuff I was working on, I decided to start training Jun and Elo together. We do this every once in awhile, but I'd like to really ramp up the difficulty level, e.g., heeling one dog around the other while they are in a stay, etc. They did really well! I put them on separate mats across the room and worked one at a time on just basic stuff. It works out great, since Jun only knows hand signals and Elo only knows verbals. As long as I'm not gesturing to Elo to try to get him to do what I want, there is no confusion! I tried to train Elo and and Lok together once and it was chaos. Neither understood the concept of following only commands that were specifically addressed to them. And Lok gets frustrated so easily that I never really followed up. I think not being able to see me makes it harder for him too.

We have also not been getting to the park much this summer, due to Jun's issues, so I haven't been able to work her toss and catch much or distance at all. And if the dogs don't go to the park, I don't usually go by myself, so I haven't been throwing as much as I should be. We work freestyle in the yard maybe once a week. Short TC in the yard once a week. Next competition is in 16 days in Missouri---Quad and AWI qualifier. This was our best competition of the year last year! Our best FS round ever, and our first time making the finals in the Quad. I don't know what I can expect this year since we haven't been working much, but we will have fun for sure, at least.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Three weeks on drugs

This is a super boring post so here is the summary: Week one, good! Increased meds. Week two, bad. Decreased meds. Week three good! Don't know if she's just sleepy or actually feeling less anxious, but either way, I like it!!

Jun is on 12mg of Sertraline once a day and 50mg of Trazodone twice a day. The first day she was extremely sleepy. She cuddled on the couch with me for a quarter of a movie---and she has NEVER cuddled on the couch for any length of time. She slept most of the day. She was pretty sleepy the second day. She'd be looking at me and her eyes would start closing and her head would start getting lower, then she'd force herself awake. She got gradually less sleepy over the first week. Other than the sleepiness, she was a dream. She was pretty much immediately back to her pre-spring-thaw ability to chill out in the house. She has not been in her crate since our appointment and is confined in the bathroom when I am not home or at night. The first week she didn't wear her bark collar at all and there was NO barking.

The second week her Sertraline was increased by 50%. The pills are TINY, so 8mg is pretty much about the size of a medium-sized crumb. Hard to imagine it having any effect. But in week two, Jun went crazy. It was a downhill slide all week with more and more barking, pacing, spinning. I think she was worse and more anxious the second week than she has ever been in her life. She was definitely worse in the car. There was absolutely nothing I could do to keep her from barking except put her bark collar on and then she just sat there looking silently panicked and I felt terrible. I had no connected the deterioration in her behavior with the increase in drugs and emailed Dr. Reichl in a panick. She nicely pointed out that we had increased her dose and had me back off to the first week dose.

Since decreasing her dose again, she has gotten better and better. I was running a disc dog competition all weekend and had to leave Jun home for 10-11 hours. On Saturday, when I got home, I had no time to anything with her. I didn't run her or train her or anything, yet she was able to be calm and chilled out. She even laid down at my feet calmly when I sat down to eat dinner. Her usual MO is that me sitting down is a cue to start pacing, spinning, or bugging me for attention. It was pretty cool that she was able to self-entertain and chill for a night when I was too busy to do anything with her.

I don't know if her behavior changes are a result of being sedated or if they are a reduction in anxiety. I am not sure how to tell the difference. She seems to mostly have the same energy/drive for playing and training, especially when I train right before giving her her evening trazodone dose. A few hours after the trazodone I notice slight decreases in her energy and enthusiasm for "doing things." She is still hypervigilant outside and scanning for monsters buy maybe with a little less intensity. She has also been really nice and relaxed on our short walks and able to be very attentive to me while moving. When we stand still she scans, but we are working attention and getting her to focus on me and think.

We are also working BAT. I love the concept, but I'm not entirely sure I'm applying it right, and I think it's too early to tell if it's making a difference. I'll do another post on that later.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Walk Around the Block!

Elo and I took a walk last night, and we made it around a whole block! That is the farthest we've ever gone! A year and a half of training and my dog can finally go for a short walk! Huge progress and I am really proud of him!

He kept the leash loose pretty much the whole time. About halfway through there were a couple off-leash dogs across the street, standing and staring at him. Thankfully, their owner was with them and they didn't move. Elo noticed them before I did, but didn't lose control. We did some quick LAT, then a dog catch and carried him past. When I thought they were out of sight I put him down and we kept walking, but they came around the edge of the house and kept staring at Elo. Again, he noticed before I did, but was calm and stayed focused on me. This is the dog who, just months ago, would erupt anytime he saw a dog anywhere. Now he is encountering them out in the real world and keeping his cool!

Shortly after the dogs, Elo was a little ramped up and we had to walk on a narrow sidewalk we've never been on before with lots of distractions. He lost his focus a bit and I realized it was a little too much for me to ask for perfection in that situation, so I relaxed my criteria, kept calm, and just marked and rewarded whatever attention he gave me. He actually ended up doing really well and giving me a lot more than I thought he would! As we finished up the walk there was an on-leash dachshund walking towards us with it's people, we did a couple sessions of LAT with little breaks in between as it approached. Elo is getting really good about being able to break focus and walk away in the other direction, so when we do LAT now we will do a few looks and before he gets over threshold we will break by walking away a little ways. When the dog got too close we ducked behind a truck parked on the street until it passed, then walked home.

In other Elo news, he has mastered the "wave" command and now has six commands on cue! For a dog that I thought would never understand any words, he is getting really good about picking up new verbal cues! We are working on "back up" and just started putting that on cue. And still working on his handstand, but haven't made any progress on that lately.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jun on Drugs Week 1

 . . . on second thought, every time I post something about how well Jun is doing, I seem to end up taking it back a week later. The week had its ups and downs, but it had a whole lot more ups than I expected so soon. So I'm just gonna go knock on a ton of wood right now.

Our big challenge for the week--I've run out of ways to keep Jun from barking in her car crate. There has always been something that worked. Even if it only worked for a little while and then stopped working, there would be something else that worked. Well, at the moment, she can have the crate totally covered, a bark collar on, a thundershirt on, and a Kong with peanut butter, all at the same time, and still be unable to suppress her reaction to what I am now really starting to believe is claustrophobia. Though riding "loose" (tied to the door) did not help either, so that might negate that idea. And there is NO WAY this dog is going to get to ride completely loose. She is a disaster loose in the car and we'd all surely die. Since I DO need to get her from point A to point B every once in awhile, I think earplugs may have to be the solution until I find another one.

Oooh! One thing I CAN safely brag on . . . Elo, AKA, "the dog that I train who actually STAYS trained" did SO well hanging out in the Petsmart parking lot and looking at dogs! I feel like I haven't worked with him enough lately and expected some regression. I could not believe how well he held it together with the 5 dogs that showed up while we were there! He'll be a good dog yet, I just know it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

All the Cool Dogs are on Drugs

(Thanks for that line, Laura!)

Jun and I met with Dr. Reichl at the UofM yesterday and Jun officially has Generalized Anxiety Disorder and is going to put on Sertraline (Zoloft). So that makes 2/3 of my dogs on psychotropic drugs. The number of pill bottles on my counter just keeps going up.

Dr. Reichl didn't have too much else to say. She said what we've been doing as far as behavior mod sounds good, but recommended taking more of a BAT-like approach vs. a LAT approach. Interestingly, this is what I had been doing for the past couple of weeks. Straight DS/CC has not seemed to have any effect for Jun, probably because it's impossible to keep her under threshold, which is what DS requires. So now on our walks when we see people, I wait for her to turn to me, then she gets a treat and we turn around and walk away. Too soon to tell if this is having any effect.

Dr. Reichl recommended a calming cap and a muzzle for stressful situations. Sara had recommended these as well, but I had not followed through yet. So we got a muzzle and so far Jun loves stuffing her nose into it for treats. I haven't buckled it on yet.

Some of what she had to say I really didn't agree with. She had no solution for me for the barking, yet obviously didn't want me to use the bark collar. She didn't say I couldn't use it. Just didn't really have that much to say about it. She seemed to think Jun may have separation anxiety. This doesn't make any sense to me. Jun barks in her crate in very specific situations. She spent all weekend in Indiana in a covered crate in the car and chilled the whole time (without the bark collar on). She stayed loose in the hotel when I went out for dinner and was fine. She chills when confined in the bathroom or when left alone loose in the house. When I put her in her crate with her bark collar on and leave for work she lays down quietly and she is almost always sleeping calmly when I get home. I explained this to Dr. Reichl, but all she had to say was that it could be "situational" or it could be "barrier frustration" or "claustropobia" instead of separation anxiety. It sounds like a lot of speculation and I don't think any of these labels gives me a constructive solution.

I asked what to do about her being the back yard to play or potty and freaking out when she sees people. Dr. Reichl seemed to think I should cover my entire fence in tarps so she can't see anything. Ok, I have a LOT of fence, and that would look totally ghetto. It is impossible for me to keep her away from all people all the time and I don't even think that is the best thing to do. Yes, she gets better when she is away from people (like she was most of the winter), but when she is re-exposed she just gets worse. So I am just going to keep trying to limit and control her exposure and make her experiences positive, as I have been doing.

Dr. Reichl also said that I should keep her out of competition for awhile. This one I'm not sure of either. I agreed to keep her out until the middle of July (when Hot Jam is), but I'm not sure I'm willing to miss the Quad, particularly when I don't think keeping her away is going to help anything. The only way I can make sure she never feels uncomfortable around a person is to keep her home the rest of her life and only take her outside after dark. It's not going to happen. I can keep her out of competition in June, but she still has to come to Rochester with me for June Jam. She can stay at the hotel and chill there all day, if need be, but she has no choice but to come. And she will see people at some point. So I'm failing to see how this is any different than if I were to bring her to the comp and have her stay in her covered crate in the car all day except to get her out immediately before our runs. She seemed great with this arrangement in Kokomo, and I'm guessing I will do that for Hot Jam. I'd keep her out of competition as long as necessary if I thought it would help, but I'm not seeing how it would.

Dr. Reichl and the student who helped were very nice. Jun even played fetch with the student. I did get the meds which is good. I have mixed feelings about the behavior mod advice I was given. I don't think any of it is necessarily bad. It just seemed kind of generic, other than the BAT recommendation. But I think that is ok for now, since the main plan is to get her on the drugs and see what that does for her.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kokomo Comp

I am very proud of my dogs' behavior over the long disc dog weekend! They ride so well in the car, so no issues there. The first night in the hotel was a little rough. Someone woke me up pretty much once an hour. Elo didn't sleep much and kept barking sharply. Jun was awake and pacing in her crate, thanks to Elo. Lok was pretty much out cold but was the last one to wake me up barking shortly before the alarm went off at 5am. After the first night, the next two were MUCH better. We all slept all night.

Elo greatly impressed me all weekend. Again, it was a little rough at first. The hotel we stayed at was the hotel pretty much everyone else and their dogs stayed at, so it was kind of difficult to go out to potty dogs without seeing another dog somewhere. Elo started the weekend lunging and choking himself at the end of his leash, and ended it basically ignoring dogs at my command to "leave it." Saturday and Sunday at the comp I made sure to get him out for awhile twice each day. We practiced some loose-leash walking, some LAT with dogs, and some chilling out and just watching stuff.  This was NOT a controlled situation at all and there were dogs EVERYWHERE not to mention smells of dogs and sounds of dogs at all times. He did incredibly well!! I kept him at a pretty good distance and when I didn't push too hard we didn't have any barking. He wasn't relaxed, but that was more because of the environment in general than the other dogs. Of course in my excitement over how well he was doing, I pushed him harder than I should have. It wasn't terrible, but we need to work on just sitting and chilling more. Walking around is still too hard for him in that type of environment. He was wonderful in his (covered) crate, especially the second day! I think will continued exposure over the summer he will just get better and better!

Jun did great both days! My throwing in the quad left a bit to be desired. We started out with a 50 yard catch on our first throw and made it to the final round of our heat, but I just couldn't seem to throw anything good after that. All we needed was over 51 to take the heat, but I couldn't even get 40. Oh well. First comp of the year, and I am fine with how we did. Sunday's UFO local was awesome!! I was MUCH less nervous, not really having any plan or goal. In TC we got 4 throws and three catches. I threw well and Jun dropped the disc perfectly, rather than doing her usual circling and chomping routine from last year!! I guess all our work over the winter has paid off there! I don't know what our score was, but I am guessing about 10.5.

I went out for our freestyle round with no plan but to have fun playing with my dog! We had no routine. I just wanted her to have a good time, stay with me, and chase every disc I threw. She did AWESOME! I forgot some of the sequences we could have done, but she had fun and I was calm enough to even throw a fidget in before a toss, which is saying a ton! Normally my hands are shaking so bad I don't dare try something like that. I have no idea what our score was, but she did so well I think I might try to throw together some kind of routine for our next comp. It is so much fun to play with her when she is having fun too! Hopefully I can just keep the "fun" mindset for the rest of the year and not try to get competitive.

Lok was great too, other than ripping up my brand new jeans when I left him in the car. He spent a ton of time out with me, but was in the car for a bit as well. Lesson learned. Crate Lok when I leave him unattended.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I don't feel like working yet, so I am going to write about my dogs instead, even though I don't have much of interest to say . . .

Jun remains insane with less insane moments on occasion. Her back yard OCD running (to the back corner, slide to a stop, bark 3 times, to the gate, to the fence, to the back corner, repeat), after almost disappearing over the winter, has gotten worse and worse. It is almost always triggered by seeing a person somewhere, even very far away. I am beginning to think it is pure insanity and not fear-based at all. I remain perplexed by this phenomenon and have not found any effective way to deal with it.

We've been doing a lot of training outside and walks in the neighborhood (ok, the block at least). After spending all fall/winter/spring working on it, all 3 of my dogs now walk on a loose leash pretty well. Not perfectly, but definitely a lot better. Newsflash: Loose leash walking is a whole lot more about attention than about the state of the leash or the walking. If the dog is not attentive while you are stopped, you have no business taking an actual step. Once I figured that out (and realized that it was not cruel and unusual punishment to ask my dog to be attentive to me at all times when on leash) we were money. (And, ok, Lok only walks on a loose leash because he can't see where he's going and is too fat to want to go very fast, but I'm gonna take credit for him anyway.)

And since I never post about disc . . . we've been getting out 2-3 times a week for disc work. I have scrapped Jun's whole freestyle routine. For freestyle, we're just jamming and she is doing SO well! She's drivey, she's jumping high, she's not blowing off discs. It's awesome. We've been focusing more on distance and T&C. This is more my issue than hers, since I get so nervous and can't throw a disc, but (knock on wood) we've been doing decently so far. Elo is hit or miss. I'm not pressuring him. We are working dismissal and sometimes he plays, sometimes he doesn't (usually in direct correllation to the amount of goose poop on the field). Last night he engaged with me three times for three 10-second tug sessions and one short roller! Such a good boy!

We have our first disc dog road trip coming up in less than two weeks. Our first Quad of the year. Very excited/nervous! The dog management will be at least as, um, exciting (?) as the disc play. For Jun and Elo, I got an ex-pen to hang out in at the field and I will be covering the sides with a tarp and putting a shade screen over the top. Hopefully that will block their view of all their many triggers and allow them to semi-relax and hopefully they won't fight. Last year, Elo could not even be at the field at all, so I'm hoping he can deal with it this way. We have a local comp this weekend, so I will be giving it a test run. In the mean time, I hope to work some RP in the ex-pen a few times and work on going in and out and getting lots of great treats in the pen.

And for tricks: Elo's got his wave down and we're putting it on cue! He has gotten a TON better at picking up cues and he's already doing pretty well at discriminating the wave from his other cues! That will make 6 behaviors on cue for him! Elo's handstand is coming along great! Last night I started clicking him for lifting his foot off his bracing surface and he's holding 1-2 seconds! Still working on Jun's limp every so often. Making very slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Great Weekend!

I had an awesome weekend with the dogs! Several amazing things happened. First we had a playdate with the MNDDC. I parked at the wrong end of the field at first, but decided to use that opportunity to work with Elo a bit. There were a bunch of guys playing ultimate frisbee off to our left and a dog playing frisbee WAAAAY off in the distance. I was armed with hot dogs and let Elo run on a long line a bit at first. He seems to do better in a new environment if he can check it out "off leash" a bit first and blow off a little steam. First of all, the ultimate guys were NO problem! He didn't pay them one bit of attention! A couple glances at the dog down the field, but not even a little over threshold. We didn't even bother to do LAT. We worked some LLW and obedience and then I decided to see how close we could get to the dog. At the point the dog was lying down with its owner and some of the club members were working throwing. Elo walked nicely most of the way down the field. When he started to get a little over-aroused we'd just turn around and walk the other way for a minute until he settled. Ultimately, we got within 30 yards of the dog who was even standing up and walking a little bit. There were other dogs not visible but barking and whining. Elo said hi to everyone! And the best part--he was genuinely relaxed and comfortable the whole time. I was not in crisis-management mode at all! I could not believe how well he did with ALL of it. Thinking back to this dog when I first brought him home--he barked at everything!! I could not take him out to potty near a lightly-trafficked road because he'd be constantly watching for cars and lunging at them when he saw them. Birds/planes flying overhead, people walking, little critters, dogs that were just specks in the distance. Everything was a trigger for him. He has come SO far and I am so proud of him!!

Jun is playing REALLY well so far this season. We have no routine to speak of. I scrapped everything at the end of last season and we are just kinda jamming right now. But she is into it, and that's cool! I should probably put together a routine soon, since we have our first comp coming up in the middle of May. But I am really enjoying not pressuring her and just jamming. I'd rather focus on our distance game, since that's what we're both good at, and let freestyle fall where it may. Her toss and fetch has been better. We spent a lot of the winter working on dropping the disc and she is dropping better now. Not perfect, but a lot faster.

Behavior-wise, Jun was a wreck this weekend, for the most part. Spring has been a bit much for her. There are people outside all the time and every time we step out the door she is on hyper-alert, whipping her head back and forth looking for the scary people. She could barely see my neighbor, across the alley, through the slats of our privacy fence, but it was too much for her. The people two blocks down who were just specs in the distance were too much for her. Since it was finally nice out yesterday, we started doing RP outside. She stayed on her mat the whole time, flopped a hip, and somewhat relaxed here and there, but was still looking around anxiously. I've decided we need to start doing her counter-conditioning work in our own yard, and took her out front on leash to hang out for a bit and people-watch. On a whim I took her mat with, had her lie down, and sat down next to her. I was not prepared for what happened next. My dog RELAXED!! Like, truly relaxed. For a whole 15 minutes! Granted, we only saw two people. She was a little concerned about the first one, the second one was no big deal. The rest of the time she just chilled on her mat, looking around calmly, just taking in the sights and smells of the day, enjoying the sunshine. I was floored. I don't think she has ever been that relaxed in her life, and certainly not in our front yard with me sitting down next to her. I had hot dogs, but she wasn't bugging me for them. She wasn't offering behaviors. She was just . . .chilling. I have no idea what got into her, but I hope it gets into her more often!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Meet Helen

And no, she's not staying. And yes, I know that's what I said the last time, but it's true this time. She is a foster for Border Collie Rescue of MN, but her foster home went out of town for the week so she's staying with me.

They told me she was blind, so I was all like "Cool, she can stay with me for the week! We can do blind!" They did not tell me she was severely mentally handicapped. She is extremely fearful. She does not like to be touched. She especially despises being carried, and flails and scratches the whole time. Which is unfortunate, because she currently lives in my basement and since she doesn't know how to walk up stairs her options are being carried or dragged. I feel like the former is more humane.

She doesn't know how to walk on a leash, or even, really in a straight line, so a bit of dragging is inevitable here. Her MO is tweaking out as soon as you set her down somewhere, just kind of walking in circles aimlessly, not even circles, really, just kind of pin-balling around in a small area in complete confusion. She doesn't respond to my voice, though she is supposedly not deaf. After tweaking out for awhile she will lay down. If I try to come near her or touch her she starts tweaking out again.

She doesn't really know how to eat. I tried to give her a piece of cheese last night. She was clearly interested in it. She sniffed around for it, sort of, and eventually found it, but then didn't know what to do with it. She kind of mashed it with her lips, but wouldn't open her mouth. She likes her food, but I imagine tries to eat it in the same way, without opening her mouth, because she spills most of it out of her bowl. Apparently she is quite persistent, as I guess she does usually finish eating it. This morning, most of it had been scattered about her crate, so we'll see how much she actually got into her stomach. She drinks water the same way. She doesn't use her tongue--just kind of gums at it.

And she's not really housetrained, of course, most of the time not knowing where she is. And since she doesn't seem to understand even praise I don't know how you'd ever housetrain her.

Poor girl was dumped in a shelter. Not sure what the rest of her life will hold, but at the least, warmth, good food, clean water, a soft bed, and love.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shaping Struggles

I was a bad trainer last night. Impatient. Demanding. My dogs are SO smart that sometimes I just expect them to GET IT ALREADY!!!

I have given up on Jun's limp (for now). She's not getting it. I'm getting frustrated. I'm sick of working on the same damn thing over and over. I'm going to let latent learning work it's magic and in a few months we will try it again and she will magically get it! Jun is extremely smart, but she has a mind of her own. She likes to do things her own way and when shaping it seems she'd rather do what SHE thinks would be cool than what she thinks I might want. I think I might need to get over myself a bit and start being more accommodating to what she wants. She also gets stuck in offering the same thing and I have a really hard time raising criteria for her. I've tried experimenting with raising criteria faster and slower and haven't really had much success no matter what.

Since I ditched the limp I decided to try another trick--rolling herself up in a blanket. It's cute, and how hard could it be? Right? Well, apparently, I am incapable of teaching Jun complex tricks that require her to do more than one thing at a time. She knows a roll over and she has a hold, so day one was just holding a cloth in a down. She wanted to stand up as soon as she grabbed the cloth, but we finally got the hold in a down and started building a little duration. Day two, I wanted to add the roll over with the hold. Fail! She would roll over without the cloth, she would stand up and do a spin while holding the cloth, she would hold the cloth for a few seconds in the down, but after she had the cloth in her mouth it was like the roll disappeared from her repertoire. (She actually DID give me ONE perfect roll over while holding the cloth, which I jackpotted her for, and then never did it again). Then I got demanding, and greedy, and crabby, and continued the session WAY to long, because dammit she SHOULD be able to do it. And Jun got goofy and stopped thinking and started throwing the cloth at me to play fetch and licking my face. Ugh.

I am thinking maybe my problem with teaching Jun complex tricks is being too demanding and working too long. Maybe I should have quit after she did it once. Maybe I need to stop jackpotting her as she seems to completely forget what she's been jackpotted for and never do it again. Maybe I need to move in smaller increments. Keep the session to a minute or so and quit as soon as I get a tiny bit of progress. I don't know, but something has to change, because this dog is plenty smart enough to learn anything I want to teach her and more.

Then Elo. Poor Elo. He is much more compatible with my drill sergeant clicker training style, and it unfortunately encourages me to take it too far. He's been doing SO great with cue discrimination. He has 5 cues down with probably over 90% accuracy, so I wanted to add another. Way back when I shaped a "wave" but never put it on cue, so I went back and reshaped this. Only it didn't look quite right. I wanted his paw higher vs. stretched out in front. So I kept going, and going, and going. Poor dog. But he is plenty food motivated, so he will keep trying and trying and trying despite being frustrated. It's really not fair to him though. I need to knock it off.

And Lok. My only "good trainer" moment for the night. I do next to nothing with Lok anymore. He stresses so much and really is perfectly happy to just chill and be his own dog. He tests my patience much more than the other two, so I have to make sure I am in the perfect happy mood to train him and have a concrete plan. Awhile back I had started working on "roll up in a blanket" with him, so we started working on this again. He did great! Got a good hold and did a couple rolls while holding onto the cloth most of the way! We kept it really short and ended while he was still happy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trick Fail(s)

I suck at teaching limp. I was ready to hang it up yesterday. After switching methods, as I mentioned a couple posts back, it seemed to be going pretty well with getting Jun to jump UP for the target while holding up her paw. Last night she wasn't doing it at all. She was touching her paw to the ground for a split second before jumping and it made me wonder whether she had done it right at all before. It is really hard to see while standing up and pretty much looking straight down on her back since she likes to stand as close as possible to me. In one last-ditch attempt, I decided to try one more thing. Sitting in front of her, she lifts her paw and I hold it up and lure her one step. I am trying to hold it as lightly as I can and have the top of her paw touching my hand (rather than the bottom of her paw or her arm) so that it's not comfortable for her to lean on my hand. She caught onto that. So we'll see if I can wean her off the assist and then get a couple more steps. I never got farther than 2 steps with Lok, so apparently this is one trick I just really suck at teaching.

I am also about ready to quit on Elo's limp. He does really well with a target. His target is a board leaning against the wall. He's fine as long as it is there, even if it is flush with the wall. But I have no idea how to fade the target. When I try to take it away cold turkey I just get really spastic hopping around! I try to mark for his back foot hopping higher and higher, but he's moving so fast it's crazy hard to get the timing right.I'm gonna have to go watch some videos.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night Seven

Last night of RR.

I walked in with Elo and didn't really feel like working with him. I started off pretty much expecting him to be good and normal, mostly ignoring him and expecting him to just hang out quietly. Of course, he decided it was much more fun to bark at smells and sounds. After whining to the instructor about the fact that he should be able to be a good dog and I shouldn't have to keep him engaged constantly, she acknowledged that yes, maybe he should, but regardless, we have to go at the DOG'S pace. Oh yeah. That.

So I got my act together and started actually working him and he was much better for the rest of the night. There were only two dogs in class, due to the fact that winter is BACK (again, ugh). Luckily the other dog that came was the calmest one that Elo has been doing well looking at. We did a bunch of dog work. The instructor had us walk briskly in circles around a barrier and part of the circle passed an opening where Elo could see other dogs. He did well with this and for the most part stayed focused on walking with me. He does best when he has something to do. On one round, I clicked and threw some food on the ground when he glanced at the other dog and then back at me. Instead of eating it, he started sniffing at a spot nearby. Weird . . . he NEVER ignores food. After a second of this, I started thinking he was up to something and just called him to move on. I suspected he was buying himself some time to keep looking at the dog, and apparently his eyes were darting that way. Naughty, sneaky boy.

So our class is over and hopefully we will be able to find some good situations to keep exposing him to dogs at his pace. One interesting thing that came out of the class is that I've been sensitized to tag jingling. I have never noticed jingling tags before, but they drive Elo insane and because of that, they now drive ME insane too! I guess conditioning works at both ends of the leash.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jun Update!

My truly fearful dog has been doing SO MUCH BETTER lately!!! OMG, I don't even think I can really call her insane anymore! She CHILLS! On her own! Without being tethered! She no longer has to be constantly touching me! We only rarely have the pacing and spinning, and when we do, she goes on her tether and chills there. Usually she gets restless if she hasn't gotten any mental stimulation for a day or two. But as long as she gets her physical and mental exercise for the day, she is really, really good! We have fallen off the wagon a bit with the RP and need to get back on it, but we are still doing other relaxation work.

We're still working on counter-conditioning her to me sitting down. I'm guessing the reason she is reactive to this is because I sit down so rarely that it doesn't fit into her "rule structure" and she doesn't know how to deal with it. So I am working on teaching her how she should behave when I sit down. We are working on having her lie down automatically when I sit at the table or on the couch. We're doing this in a variety of ways, but as she understands what she's supposed to do she is becoming more calm about me sitting down. (Ok, maybe I can still call her insane--reactive to sitting?! Weirdo.)

We're working counter-conditioning gradually, still in the Petsmart parking lot. Now that it's warmed up a bit and we have an extra hour of daylight at night, I think we will be able to work this more often. She's made the connection between people and chicken and will look at the people, then back at me for her food, so now we just need to work on slowly approaching. When we're able to get a bit closer, I plan to do another session with our trainer to figure out what the next step is and what our ultimate goal should be.

Jun is still working on her limp. She is really good at holding her paw up while targeting my hand now. After we got that down, I started moving the target farther away so she needed to stretch her nose out for it. Then I started marking for back paw movement. She got her back paws ridiculously close to her front paw, but would NOT move her front paw. We got a hop in place with her front foot off the ground once, which I jackpotted, but it hasn't happened again since. I briefly tried helping her by holding her paw up for her, but got no farther that way, plus I don't really have enough hands to do that. So the new plan . . . I had been sitting on the floor and putting the target in front of her at nose height. I have now switched to standing up and putting the target above her head. If I can get her to jump up to touch the target, maybe she will realize that it's her front paw that has to move.

Reactive Rovers Night Six

Elo continues to improve! This is the first night he has been able to look at other dogs without teetering on the edge of threshold. He was calmer than he has ever been. And we did quite a bit of dog work. Lots more than last week. I kept the exposures super short and brought him back behind our barrier before he lost control. He was even able to look at other dogs while standing and moving which is a pretty huge deal for him!! In addition, his recovery time after reacting was VERY much improved! After getting back behind our barrier he was able to compose and refocus himself almost immediately.

He wasn't as focused as last week. Outside of the barrier we weren't able to do as much nice loose-leash walking and attention. But it makes sense--increasing the difficulty of one task is going to decrease performance of others. He had a lot of work to do, staying calm around other dogs, and I was really happy with how well he did that.

We did the CU exercise "there's a dog in your face" for the first time last night. What that involved was having the stuffed dog walking towards the reactive dog while continually feeding, and then not feeding while the dog walks away. I was pretty sure Elo wasn't ready for the length of exposure this would involve, but thought we'd give it a try anyway. This was the worst he was all night, back to right on the edge of reacting as the dog walked towards him and then he did react as the dog walked away and he wasn't getting fed anymore. Thanks to his new-found recovery skills though, it didn't ruin him for the rest of the night and we were able to do some more nice (shorter) dog work afterward.

After failing at dog in your face, I had a discussion with the instructor about Elo's "fear" issues. She tried to convince me that his "fear" of dogs leads him to react as they walk away. I don't know, I could be wrong, but I still don't think he is fearful. I don't see any fear body language from him. I really just think he was poorly socialized and doesn't know what to do with other dogs he sees. She said that if it was not fear I might as well just treat it operantly, not bother with counter-conditioning, and just be like "oh, you're not going to do that." Interestingly . . . that's exactly what I've been doing for the past two weeks, during which I've seen the most improvement. E.g., now when he starts swiveling his ears around at dog sounds, I ignore it, rather than giving him treats. And when he starts air scenting for other dogs to bark at, I tell him no and redirect him, rather than giving him treats. He only gets rewarded for good behavior.

She also said that if it were not fear it wouldn't take so long to fix. Personally, I think Elo has improved a huge amount in just 5 sessions of work--I don't think that's a long time. And the quick improvements I've seen with previous behavior mod work I have done with him on cars, people, etc. tells me that all he really needs is to learn how to respond properly to these stimuli. The only way I could see him improving faster is if I were to use positive punishment, which I know she's not advocating and I'm not going to do--even though I think it's possible that Elo's behavior would improve very quickly with positive punishment. I don't want to just suppress his current behavior, I want to teach him a new one--looking calmly at dogs and focusing on me around them. Teaching new behaviors takes time, especially when you are trying to replace a self-rewarding behavior. What we are doing right now seems to be working well, so I'm going to keep doing it this way for now.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night Five

We had a really good class last night! We made a few changes this week that seemed to be the right decisions for Elo.

First, I had some discussion with the trainer over the past week and she pointed out to me that I need to stop managing Elo as much and let him learn to manage himself. This is completely true. I think due to the fact that Elo is reactive to EVERYTHING I was treating him pretty constantly for the first few weeks in the name of counter-conditioning, but really all I was achieving was distracting him and not letting him check out and learn to deal with his environment.

I also read an article a few days ago and one quote stood out to me: "Third, it’s not uncommon for owners to inadvertently reinforce barky, reactive behavior.  A dog who’s hysterically upset is not going to act more hysterical because he happens to get a treat while he’s screaming; he’s too panicky to learn from consequences like a small treat.  But a dog who’s feeling worried, but not hysterical, may experience a cookie that interrupts the barking as a reward for barking… and bark more next time." 

I really think this could be part of the problem with Elo. Elo is NOT a fearful dog. He is hypervigilant, over-concerned about everything going on around him, and has a need to control his environment. He doesn't know how to conduct himself around other dogs or in an unfamiliar environment. He is anxious. But he is not fearful! And I really think that if he barks at something and I give him a treat I've just rewarded him and told him that his response was correct! I've seen this happen with him before when he first came home and I inadvertently taught him to go bark at the fence then come back to me for a treat! I've been feeding in the presence of triggers regardless of his response, as I have been told to do (since treats don't reinforce fear), but I am starting to think that is not the right strategy to take with Elo. I think he needs to learn that correct behavior around other dogs is what is going to get rewarded and out of control pot-stirring behavior is not going to get rewarded. I need to stop managing him so heavily so the has the opportunity to think about the situation, make the correct decisions and be rewarded for them.

To those ends, last night I walked confidently into class with Elo under my arm (yes, I carry him in--he's under threshold when he's being carried) set him down behind our barrier, and ignored him while I got our stuff set up. He checked out our spot, but didn't bark. I got his attention back on me and rewarded him by giving him the treat from my hand rather than putting it on the floor. He took it nicely!!! That is as good a sign as any that he is under threshold!! There's another mistake I've been making--assuming my dog is over threshold, when maybe he is really not.  He can be alert and enthusiastic without being on the edge of a reactive outburst. He really is a very nice working dog--drivey and motivated, alert and attentive. Those are good things that I can harness and work with. I don't need him to be half asleep in class.

Rather than moving to mat work immediately and pez-dispensering him with treats, we went to the opening of our barrier and worked there for awhile with him chilling and me basically ignoring him. He got treats intermittently, but not every two seconds and only when he actually DID something for it (e.g., eye contact). After chilling for a bit, we did some movement work. We did a lot of LLW/heeling outside of our barrier and chilling outside of our barrier. This week, the instructor decided to use the entire training room so we had a lot more room to move around without getting close to other dogs (behind barriers). 

We only did 3 sessions of dog work. I decided these need to be fewer and shorter and if at all possible done without Elo barking. We did all of them with real dogs, as I was starting to think that the "weird" stuffed dog was more of a trigger for E than real dogs are. Elo did not bark, but he wasn't as relaxed as I would like him to be. We kept each session extremely short with just a couple of passes of another dog in front of a small opening in the barrier. Still, I would have preferred he be even more under threshold than he was, but it is extremely difficult to find under threshold situations with Elo and other dogs.

The times Elo did react last night were when new dogs walked into the training room. He could not see them but he could smell them and he would start barking. Toward the end of class, Elo started going out of his way to find trouble. He would start sniffing the air in the direction of another dog (that he couldn't see) who he hadn't reacted to all class long and then start barking. Seriously, Elo? Is that really necessary? I didn't reward him or try to DS/CC him. I just took him away from the situation and tried to engage him in something else. That is not reactivity. That is just being an asshole. But an hour is exhausting for me, so I can only imagine how it is for him. 

So that's where we are. Progress little by little. Daylight saving time starts next week and it is starting to warm up a little, so I am hoping to get both Elo and Jun outside more for behavior mod work. Even just taking Elo to a new place 2-3 times a week and doing attention work and LLW will help I think, whether there are dogs around or not. He needs to learn to focus in new environments and not be overly concerned about every little sound and smell.