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.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fun with a Blind Dog

No  border collies were harmed in the making of these photos. Humiliated possibly, but that's what our dogs are for, right?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reactive Rovers Night Four

Last night was pretty much the same as last week. Elo still reacts to stuffed dogs and now to invisible dogs as well (jingling tags walking around without a dog attached to them)! (He did NOT react to the real live dog he was allowed to look at, interestingly enough. I wonder if the fact that the stuffed dog doesn't behave like a real dog is part of the reason Elo is so concerned about it?) I think next week I need to focus on letting him see the dog for a short time and getting him away before he reacts. In class, he is never completely under threshold. He is holding it together for the most part, but very concerned about everything that is going on, whether it involves a dog or not.  The first piece of dog work we did, he did really nicely and I made the decision to take him back behind the barrier before he got too upset. The rest of the times ended with him reacting, which is probably not a good thing. In real life, I try to make his exposure brief and end it WELL before it becomes too much. In class I think I feel like I have to sit there with him and let him look at the dog as long as the instructor keeps the dog in his view, and I realized after class that I don't actually have to do that and I need to be more active about controlling his exposure. So I will keep that in mind for next week.

We worked on relaxing on his mat, but also on relaxing in different places around our corner. I realized I need to work on desensitizing him to being at the opening of our corner--the only time we've been sitting there is when we're doing dog work and he's now getting really keyed up just standing in the opening with nothing there, looking around for the "dog." We did a bit of LLW and he did ok with that. He had a hard time walking by my side when we were venturing out into the ring space, so we did LLW with him following me in front position a few steps at a time. This seemed to keep him more focused on me.

So, overall, still going pretty well. Lots of work left to do with my high-strung boy.

On another note, Elo's handstand is coming along fantastically! And his disc doggin is coming along great too! He's up to 3-disc sequences. He will drop a disc anywhere! He weaves and spins both ways for a disc, goes around, flips both ways (I have to be careful with disc placement for his flips--he has no concern for his body and will throw himself on his back to get to the disc). He will now go get a disc that is "dead" across the room to earn a tug or a toss (We struggled with lack of interest in dead discs for awhile, but he's now learned that they come back to life if he brings them ot me!). We've started working on tiny overs too! And I've picked him out a freestyle song. Not that he will get on the field this year--maybe if we're really lucky, but hopefully next year!

And Jun's got the hang of lifting her paw and targeting my hand with her nose at the same time! We're working on the next step of getting her to lean forward to touch my hand without putting her paw down, then gradually increase the distance until she has to take a step.