Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night Three

Improvement! Definite improvement!

Got there and got Elo settled on his mat in his little corner area. I was still doling out treats like a Pez dispenser the entire night, but towards the end I was able to slow down my rate of reinforcement a little bit. Elo spent most of the time "chilling" on a mat. He wasn't relaxed, but he wasn't quite as on edge as last week.

He did better with dog sounds this week. At first I was clicking and treating for every dog sound. Admittedly the dogs were quieter this week, but by the end of class he was basically ignoring the occasional bark or whine! We also had fewer reactive outbursts this week. Only 3 or 4, and most of them were towards the stuffed dog when it got too close. However, the dog was closer this week than last week and Elo was slightly more relaxed while looking at it. Maybe. I'll choose to think that he was. He was fine to look at the dog for a second while he was on his mat. Interestingly, he has a harder time when the dog is walking away from him. He wasn't able to get up off his mat with the dog present without reacting. Movement is hard for Elo, whether it's another dog's or his own.

We also had each dog come out of their hide-away for a quick walk to the center of the ring and back. Elo didn't react to the dogs that he could hear walking and was able to walk semi-nicely and sort of focus on me on his turn.

At the end of class, the last 10 minutes or so, Elo was awesome!! We were able to do some mini relaxation protocol work--just moving a step back or to the side, and by the end of class he was nearly as relaxed as he is at home while doing RP! Last week, I wasn't even really able to stand up without him having a fit, let alone take any steps! We also were able to do some LLW with moving attention within our space which he also could not handle AT ALL last week! So a couple small victories!

Monday, February 21, 2011


It is pretty rare that I ask my dogs to do two things at once, and I've realized that it is really difficult for them! Even combining two behaviors that they know is hard. Some of our first multi-tasking experiences involved asking my dogs to hold a dumbbell or other object while performing another task--teaching Lok to grab an object out of the fridge, then turn around to close the door was interesting! Both Lok and Jun would tend to drop the dumbbell before using their paw to shut a door.  Jun had a really hard time with sitting from a stand while holding a dumbbell! I pretty much had to trick her into it the first few times until she realized that she actually could sit with something in her mouth!

Jun is currently learning two multi-tasking behaviors. The first one we've been working on for a couple months--jumping over my leg with a disc in her mouth. That is part one of a two-part trick we're hoping to put into our disc routine this year, and she's finally getting it down! The second part involves releasing the disc into my hand at the top of the jump, and that might take awhile! It would be a lot easier if I could give her a verbal drop cue! We are probably going to do a vault-less freestyle routine this year, so we need to build up some more complex tricks and sequences that do not involve vaulting. I have no idea if this will ever be ready, but it will be cool if it works!

The second multi-tasking behavior is holding up her left paw while targeting my hand with her nose. We've just started working on this the past couple days, and so far she's still putting her paw down to do the nose target most of the time. It's especially hard because my accuracy with the clicker is sucking. I'll think she's gonna hold her foot up, but then she'll put it down right as I click! The idea is that if she learns to hold her foot up while targeting my hand, I can just move my hand further and further away and she will have an automatic limp! I never was successful in teaching Lok to limp more than a couple steps, so we'll see how far I get with Jun. Currently, I am annoyed that no matter what I'm trying to work on I get a paw raise--the downside of being in the middle of shaping behaviors that haven't been put on cue yet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night Two

An hour class is a LONG time with a reactive dog!! About 45 minutes in I found myself praying for it to end! I dont think Elo went more than 5 seconds the entire night without a treat.

Most of the night involved settling on a mat, isolated in a corner behand barriers, and even that was really tough for E, though he did start to settle a bit more toward the end of class. Just knowing there were other dogs "out there" was hard. We did a couple short sessions of LAT work with a STUFFED dog!! The instructor had it on leash and was "walking" it back and forth at a distance. Crazy that all of the dogs thought it was real!   Elo was able to quietly offer glances at it except for once when it got too close.

Overall, I dont really feel like we accomplished anything, but I know it is a process and I need to be patient. Hoping that latent learning will kick in over the next week!

And the instructor was just fine this week! No issues and she liked Elo which earned her a few points. I like people that like my dogs!

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Which Jun is a Happy Dog

This is Jun.

This is Jun off stress hormones.

Actually that is an old picture. That is the very first time I ever saw her sleep--and it was NOT the day she came home. (No, she spent the first day running and running and running and I spent the first day wondering WTF kind of dog did I just bring home and WTF was I going to do with her?) Or the next day, or the next day, or the next day . . . You get the idea. It was probably a couple months later. The occasion was momentous enough for me to take a picture, and I'm not really a picture-taker, if you can't tell by the lack of multimedia on my blog.

I am fairly certain that that was not the first time she EVER slept, since I have THIS picture:

Of course, it's possible that is ANOTHER white puppy with a black ear and not Jun at all. But I am told it was Jun.

Something I am doing appears to be working . . . whether it is the DAP, the intermittent use of the thundershirt, the almost daily Relaxation Protocol work, the fact that Jun's days are now 100% structured, or the fact that *I* have calmed down a TON in the way I deal with my dogs (and I feel like I was a pretty calm handler before, definitely way calmer than I was when I started this dog adventure a few years ago). Probably a combination of all of the above, but she is acting like a normal dog lately. We have no pacing circles, no tail chasing, and no pattern running in the yard. This is partly because I haven't allowed any of it--she's goes out to potty on leash (and to play off leash, but she is totally focused on her toy), when inside if she's not inclined to relax on her own, she is tethered. She is either playing, training, chewing, or relaxing (on her own or forced) at all times, and she just seems . . . happier.

As odd as it might sound, I felt kinda bad about taking away her her pacing and spinning. Like I was taking away a part of her. But lately I've started to see that underneath the crazy is a really sweet, happy dog! 

The relaxation protocol is going well. She is active-relaxed (which I think of as different from operant-relaxed) but definitely calm, and the other day she even put her head on her paws for a few seconds on an out-of-sight stay.

We discontinued the counter-conditioning work for awhile. First of all, temps have been below zero here for what seems like forever. Second, she stopped taking treats on walks. She seemed very nervous the whole time, whether there were any people around or not. It was next to impossible to get her attention and she wouldn't tug or lick peanut butter, or canned salmon dog food from a food tube--both of these she loves in the house! This weekend it warmed up a bit and we had some success! I broke out the roasted chicken--one of her favorites--and we ditched the GL, which seemed to be a source of a lot of her anxiety on walks. We walked about 1/4 of the way down the block and back again a few times. Worked on loose leash walking, which she did GREAT with! And we saw two people at a distance (one walking a dog). As soon as she saw the people I threw a big handful of chicken on the ground right in front of her face, then as soon as she was done eating we turned and walked the other direction. She was calm enough to take her eyes off the people to eat and got right back to her happy LLW when we turned around! So I think we will continue with this strategy for now--occasional short walks, plain buckle collar, lots of chicken!

Disclaimer: Despite what it might seem from my last two posts, I am NOT anti-GL (in fact, I'm not anti-ANY tool that is used correctly). For my particular dogs I have found it to cause a lot of stress and cause them to disconnect from me, which is pretty much the opposite of what I'm going for.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night One

And I'm already in trouble . . . why can't I just "go with the flow?"

I don't want to use a gentle leader with Elo and our instructor is not happy. She wants everybody to use a gentle leader, and she does not like people that disagree with her. About anything. Night one was a people-only lecture and it was liberally sprinkled with groans and eye rolls for people who believe in "leadership" concepts of training and people who use no-reward markers, etc. Well, I believe in being a leader to my dogs and I use no-reward markers in certain situations--topics for another day and I wasn't gonna get into it. But I don't want to use a GL for Elo, and I did get into that. 

For one thing, Elo doesn't NEED a GL. Elo is a trained dog, unlike some of the other dogs in the class who really haven't had much if any obedience training. He's perfectly under control on a buckle collar. It's what we've always used. I have nothing against GLs. I've used one with Jun, but I am currently regretting my dependence on it with her, and with Elo I wanted a dog who knew how to behave on leash on a plain buckle collar. We are well on our way to achieving this. I see no need to introduce a tool (particularly an aversive tool) where one is not needed.

Second, Elo HATES the GL. I put one on him once and he flopped on the ground like a fish WHILE reacting to the nearby dog. Sure, I could desensitize him to it. But why would I want to if I don't need to use it? And you can't tell me that all dogs learn to tolerate the GL. Jun's been wearing hers for 2 years and it's always predicted fun things, yet she STILL doesn't like it and tries to rub it off any chance she gets. It's a distraction when we're training (and it interferes with HER behavior mod work) and I don't want that with Elo. Lok did not learn to tolerate it either, completely shut down and ignored me with it on, and pulled just as hard. Ok positive trainers . . . can we stop pretending that the GL is a positive alternative to the prong collar? At least on a prong, the dog only gets punished when pulling. On the GL a dog who doesn't like it is being punished constantly.

But the REAL reason I was extra resistant to try it with Elo is the stated justification for using the GL for a reactive dog . . . . Supposedly, if your dog is staring at his trigger, about to react, and you need him to stop doing that, all you have to do is gently use the GL to turn his nose away. I am calling BULLSHIT on that!!!!!!!!!  Oh, that is SO complete BS! Jun is reactive and good luck turning her nose away from anything she is intent on staring at! Sure, I might be able to turn her head, but it won't be gentle--she is going to resist and keep trying to look at whatever is scaring her! And if I DO succeed in turning her head, she is just gonna swivel her body around so her head is pointed the way she wants it again!

If Elo is so under control while looking at his trigger that I will be able to turn his head gently, then I would also be able to just say his name and break his focus and get him to look at me. In fact, if I did try to use the leash to control him, it would probably be MORE likely to cause a reaction (tight leashes anyone??). If he is already over threshold, there is NO controlling him and I might as well just get him out of that situation however I can.

I am also extremely put off by the fact that my safety concerns were completely ignored. Elo is a cattle dog. He may be small, but he is STRONG. And when he hits the end of the leash, he hits it HARD, regardless of the amount of slack there is. To me, that creates an extreme risk of injury to his neck on a GL. He's not thinking at that point and is not going to self-preseve--the GL works to stop pulling because dogs are thinking about it and choose not to pull to avoid the pressure on their nose. A reactive dog is no longer a thinking dog and he has suddenly lost the ability to moderate the corrections he receives from the device. This is dangerous for him, period. But my safety concerns were brushed off (more groans and eye rolls).

A gentle leader is supposedly the best option for ALL dogs. I hate inflexible trainers. I hate trainers that assume their students don't think about things and make reasoned decisions in the best interest of their OWN dog. I hate trainers who assume their students know nothing about dog training and should listen to the instructor unquestioningly. In the end, she agreed that we could "see how it goes" without the GL. This is going to be fun.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What We're Working On

Ok, so I HAVE been taking Jun out on leash. I decided it was worth it to me. Just like doing the RP every night and tethering her when she starts pacing or spinning. It's part of her OCD (for lack of a better term) behavior and it needs to get under control. Not to mention the fact that I want my grass to grow back this summer!! So I am committed.

Jun has been working on right and left finishes. I'm tightening up my criteria, trying to get rid of forgy finishes (It's not her fault--I didn't realize they were forgy until recently), and leaning on me. She's getting better. Next step, cleaning up my hand signals. We're also working on kick-back stands. She does them well in heel position on both sides, but tends to step forward when she's in front of me, so I'm working on fixing that.

Tricks-wise, Jun is learning to flop on both sides from a down position. I free shaped this and she caught onto the behavior right away, but putting it on cue has been slow going. I am using a "head signal"--tilting my head to either side. The hard part is, she is not used to taking cues from anything other than my hands. I have to put my clicker and treat hand behind my back or cue eye contact before I give her the "head signal." For the past couple weeks we've gotten inconsistent results, but last night we worked it very briefly and she got 4/4 right! I

Elo is working on kick-back stands. They're physically harder for him, because he only has one back leg. When we stopped working on cue discrimination daily a couple weeks ago he was probably about 90% accurate in discriminating between 4 commands in a variety of locations and body positions. I think that's fallen a bit since adding a 5th command and not working as often, but I'm encouraged by our success rate! I never thought he'd get it! Tricks-wise, Elo is working a handstand. We're working with a board propped against a wall and he's doing REALLY well! We don't do too many reps, since part of it is building skill and part of it is building the strength to pull up his hind end and to balance all his weight on his front end. But I am guessing we'll have this down within the next few months. He seems to really like working on it--usually he is pretty intense about working, but when we're doing the handstand he'll wag his tail when he gets it right!

Elo is also working on his set-up moves for freestyle--throughs, spins, squibs, scoots. He's got the spins and throughs down. I've recently started fading the lure for his scoot and he's doing really well with that--he sometimes loses his balance, but so far that hasn't seemed to be too aversive for him. I'm not sure if we'll do them in a disc routine because they are kind of hard for him physically, but we'll see. I've also been continuing with drive-building and working on multi-disc play. Using dismissal has worked out REALLY well for us! He hasn't disengaged to go sniff stuff in the past several weeks. When I dismiss him he lays down and stares at me, waiting for more. Still keeping it very short, mostly tug and rollers, with a few throws. He is doing mini two-disc sequences! He is drivey enough now that I sometimes have to ask him for a wait to keep him from snatching discs out of my hands and I'm able to ask him for behaviors and reward with a disc! Now if only we can get his reactivity under control, we might be able to get on the field someday!

I feel kinda bad, but I haven't really been doing anything with Lok. We're working on "active" sits (I don't know if this is a "real" thing, I kinda made it up, but when he sits his hind legs aren't doing any work--they're not really under him, and his core is saggy, he slouches--so I'm trying to build a stronger sit position), duration in a sit, and side-lying sit-ups to build up his core strength which is abysmal. But ever since he's been blind I've had trouble shaping new behaviors with him. I will sometimes review his old tricks and he seems to like that. He is diggin the RP--he doesn't have to do a thing and gets all kinds of treats! But I need to come up with with something to do with Lok.