Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jun's Rules

Jun went to class tonight for the first time in nearly a year. I wasn't sure what to expect, because she's been especially agitated at home lately. But she blew me away! Reactivity? What reactivity?!

She worked with three unfamiliar people and two unfamiliar dogs, movement, closer proximity than she is used to. All of her triggers. And the worst I got from her was a few tongue flicks. No hard stares. She relaxed enough to follow cues. Soft body language and facial expressions. She was even taking treats with a soft mouth the entire time! And I think she worked for about half of the hour, way more than I've ever asked her for! This is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was when we left off last year, and we've done about zero behavior modification work in the mean time.

So why did she do so well? Well, first of all, she is Jun, and thus unpredictable. I think she just as easily could have been a wreck. But I think we have been doing some valuable things that have been helping. First, we've been doing a lot of nothing, which has reduced her overall stress level and leaves her better able to handle the stressors I do expose her to. We leave the house maybe once a week, and usually that is to go to the park or "grandma's." She is exposed to unfamiliar situations less than once a month. Secondly, Jun is a dog who thrives on structure and predictability and even though she's had fewer experiences lately, 99% of them have conformed to the structure I've set up for her, which increases her trust that things will go according to plan.

Some of the rules she's learned that help at class are:

(1) The crate and mat are safe places for relaxing. As soon as we got to class she headed right for her crate where she instantly relaxed. We also did quite a bit of mat work and when she needed a break I was able to just bring her back to her mat even though it was not behind our barrier. She gravitated towards it and even though she was much more relaxed than typical throughout class, she was even more relaxed in her "safe zone."

(2) I'll warn you when there is something scary. When I cue her to look at a trigger, she is MUCH better able to handle it than when she is surprised by it. If we are playing in the yard and she catches a glimpse of a neighbor she will usually react....unless I tell her they are there first. If that happens, she can take a quick look and go right back to playing.

(3) Nobody will touch you. You don't have to interact with people. You can come to me when you're not sure. These kind of all go to together and aren't anything that I've actively taught her, but are just a product of the trust that we have built. She has met several new people lately and done REALLY well. Thankfully, my helpers have been very cooperative and followed all the rules. Whereas she used to react to a new person by startling, barking, muzzle punching, etc., now she will usually just kind of keep her distance for a bit. She initiates the look-at-that game and knows she can come to me for a treat and reassurance. Once she's decided the person might be safe she'll usually go up a few times for a sniff or two. I instruct people to completely ignore her, not touching or making eye contact. Usually at this point she decides they are awesome and jumps on them for petting or finds a toy for them to throw, and then she has made a new best friend. She really does like people. She just wants them to behave in predictable ways.

I don't work set-ups anymore, I'm not following a plan, I'm not even worrying about her occasionally going over threshold. All I've done for the past year is try to build stability and trust. Make sure she knows that above all, I am here. The very first piece of advice I got from a veterinary behaviorist was that I needed to start ignoring her so she would learn to comfort herself. Funny that it's the exact opposite that has worked for her. Jun is not capable of comforting herself. She needs me to be her rock. She needs to be able to look to me for guidance, even if it's just to put a mat down for her and treat her for relaxing. She needs to be able to come to me and lean on me. She finds touch comforting. It may not be a proper behavior modification plan, but my dog is happier. She may not have learned not to fear her triggers, but at least she can count on me to help her cope. And maybe down the line that will be all she needs. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thoughts on some trick training

Not that I have been doing much lately. But a little here and there.

Jun has been working on "limp" again. Picking up her paw was easy. The hardest part was getting her to lift her other paw off the ground at the same time. I finally got that by having her jump UP to a nose touch, and then working to a lower jump, then pulling it forwards. But how to get more than one step? I put her on a stay across the room, asked for a paw raise, used my best ESP, and somehow, miraculously, she got it and took one hop-step within just a few sessions. Then for awhile I got one hop-step every 2-3 sessions. Then it started getting more consistent. Then one day I got two!! And now, all I seem to get is her lifting her paw then putting it down and walking to me normally (which I have never clicked, not even by accident!!!) mixed in with the occasional clickable hop-step.

Seriously, I don't know what her deal is.  When I click Elo for something he keeps doing the thing he got clicked for (which admittedly sucks when I click the wrong thing, but that's my problem). I don't know why Jun insists on continuing to do behavior that is NOT earning a click.....Actually if I put on my dog-trainer-with-a-working-knowledge-of-learning-theory hat, I could probably figure it out. Part of the reason, maybe, is that being right-freaking-next-to me is more reinforcing than the food. And the non-clicked behavior gets her to me faster. I could maybe make more progress if I worked it in heel position. Alas, she can't see my paw-raise signal in heel position. I could train a new one, yes, but it is too damn hard to see whether her paw is up when she's next to me. I tried a mirror. She was VERY confused about why I wasn't looking at her and wouldn't do anything but try to go-out and target the mirror (which is pretty much the correct response on her part when presented with the situation of "heel position and me looking straight ahead" so, go Jun!). And if I just try to swivel my body around to see she takes it as a "stay in heel position at all costs" drill and does weird things. Oh well. I am about ready to put this trick away again for another year.

She did successfully learn a "pray" or "hide and go seek" behavior. Two variations. One in which I kneel on one leg and she puts her paws up on my thigh and her forehead between her paws. And one in which she does the same thing on the couch. I've also been trying to teach her to hold a sit-pretty while I walk in a circle around her. I hold her clicker-light out in front so she has something to focus on. But tonight it worked even better when I showed her a treat, put it on a table in front of her, and then did the same thing. Seemed to keep her attention forward just a bit better.

Elo is learning a bow. I spent the LONGEST time trying to shape it from scratch and didn't get very far. He's never play bowed spontaneously in real life. I think because of his missing leg it's just not a position he feels comfortable in. So after a gazillion sessions and a few method changes I had one front paw stretched out and a head-tucked hold for about 1.5 seconds. I couldn't get the other paw stretched out and if I withheld the click longer I either got backing up or scratching the rug (products of my stupid late clicks). So I put this one away for awhile. Then one day I realized, Elo DOES bow spontaneously....when he's looking under the deck or fence for rabbits! It took all of 5 seconds to teach him to duck into a bow with his nose under a chair. I've been playing with different ways to fade the chair, but tonight I just sort of moved away from the chair a bit and fed him his treats next to the chair instead of underneath. And eventually with much deep thought and concentration, he finally put himself into a bow position next to the chair instead of under it. And I jackpotted the hell out of him!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Happier at Home

Jun had a follow-up with Dr. D. today. I'd like to report that it went amazingly and Dr. D. confirmed that she's well on her way to being a normal dog. But that's not what happened. In the eight months since we saw her last, Jun has made progress. Clomipramine has been great for her. She's been calmer, happier, and more normal. Only . . . at home.

In the past 8 months I took her through a nosework class and a reactive dog class. Her drugs have calmed her enough that she's been able to learn some tools that help her cope better in public. She has a "look at that" cue that can take away the suprise of a person in the environment. She knows how to deal with a person by giving me eye contact. She trusts (at least more than she used to) that I'm in control and I won't let anyone touch her. I can walk her down the block and back in our neighborhood. We can get past people at a certain distance in other places, if we have to. I can't remember the last reactive episode she's had (to a person, that is, dogs are another story now). I've even brought her out to group events a couple times recently at parks where there are lots of other people and she's done well. She seems to tolerate groups better than individuals.

But here's the thing . . . all these things she is now capable of are still stressful for her. Most people who don't know her can't tell and look at me like I'm crazy when I say she's nervous or stressed or doesn't want to be petted, but *I* know and it's not fair to her to ask her to deal with things that stress her out when those things are not necessary. Not to mention I live with the consequences for a week or two when she gets stressed in the form of more barking, more pacing, more clinginess--all her old behaviors.

At some point in the past few months I figured out that leaving the house more than once a week is too much for her--that is JUST leaving. Not leaving and seeing people, not taking a major trip. I'm talking about walking down our street. Once a week (or so), if we get lucky and don't meet anyone, I can take Jun for a half-a-block walk and have a happy, calm, relaxed dog at my side who can respond to cues and take treats nicely. If I try to do the same three days later, I have a dog who needs multiple reminders not to pull on the leash, takes treats with a hard mouth, and takes obedience cues as a sign that danger is afoot.

So we quit. We're not actively doing behavior modification. I really don't think it's even possible to make progress working once a week. And how do you desensitize to "life"?? If we go out, I bring treats. If we see people we practice LAT, or maybe BAT if the situation is right and she's tolerating it well. I will keep taking her out into normal life situations as she can tolerate it, even into mildly-stressful situations, and maybe she will improve. And maybe not. That's ok too. It kills me a little bit to write that, but not as much as it kills me to see my dog stressed and unhappy. She is happier at home, so she will be the best damn home-frisbee-obedience-agility-nosework dog that ever was. And hopefully sleep peacefully every night.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grown-up Dogs

In October, Jun will be 5 and Elo will be 4. They will have been with me for 4 and 3 years respectively. And lately I feel like they are so mature. Like I am finally reaping the rewards of the work I've put in and I now have trained dogs. They know the expectations. They follow them, usually. They don't need as much help to do what I want them to do. I can put them in a down-stay and expect them to pretty much stay there, no matter I'm doing, until released. I can clip on a leash and expect not to be hauled around. Sometimes, they chill out on their own. They don't need to run daily for long periods of time to keep from going insane. We can go for walks (down the block) and it's (almost) enjoyable. Rarely do I use "commands." I just talk to them. And they talk back.

Once, a long time ago, before I was even really into dogs, I heard somewhere that it takes 3 years to have a really trained dog. Obviously, you can teach the basics in weeks, but I think this is what they meant. It takes time to build this kind of relationship. And I think it will only get better. I hate to think of my dogs getting old, but I really want to know what it's like to have an old dog, that has grown with me over 10, 13, 15 years. What kind of an understanding can you have with a dog you have known and who has known you for that long? If any of my dogs makes it that long, I'm guessing it will be pretty cool.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lok's Story

I have written Lok's eulogy in my head a thousand times--a symptom of living with a dog one knows will probably never be old--but now that he is gone, I can't remember any of what I planned to say. I'm sure none of it could do justice to who he was and what he was to me anyway. But he deserves to be remembered, so maybe I will just try to tell his story.
In the shelter. The first picture I saw of him.
Lok's story begins on January 25, 2006. He was born "Pup 2" in a litter of 3 boys to "Bonnie" and "Jasper." From there, his story gets lost until September 27, 2007, when he was relinquished to the Rice County Humane Society, almost two years old. On his kennel card, his owner of just four months had written "Good dog. Needs to be able to run." Someone had named him "Buddy" but he never claimed that name.

First day home.
Fresh out of law school and a new homeowner I went looking for a border collie, a sport prospect. I wanted an agility dog. Lok was the first border collie to show up in a shelter near me so I went to pick him up on October 27, 2007. When I got there, they showed me another border collie mix, who in all honesty I should have taken. The other dog was friendly and interactive. Lok laid by the door and made no attempt to socialize. He seemed shy, withdrawn. But he was the pretty one and I wanted him, so I took him home. A man with a British accent was visiting the shelter: "You here for the Collie?" he asked me. I told him I was. "Nice dog," he said.

First rawhide in his new home

While appearing to be shy and withdrawn inside the shelter, the second we stepped through the shelter door, he was a transformed dog. Head and tail up, he pulled on the leash with all his strength in no particular direction. As it happened, all he had wanted was OUT. I learned early on that he was a free spirit. Independent. He didn't want to be confined or tied down. When he stuck around it was because he wanted to.
Snow dog!

He hated being on leash and never did learn leash manners. He would walk as far away from me as the leash would allow--not pulling ahead, but pulling to the side as he walked forwards. He wanted to be in the same room as I was, but preferred to lie down in a corner or under the table. He eventually learned to  show affection in his own way--every morning I would sit on the floor with him and he would press his forehead into my chest. That was our special "cuddle time" and other than that he avoided touch most of the time.  

Favorite green disc. He would bite the snow through it. I think he liked to hear the crunching sound.

He had a penchant for leaving. When we went to classes or to visit people he was nervous. He would instantly scope out all the doors. When he decided it was time to leave, he would go to the door and wait, or if he was on leash he would strain in the direction of the door. He would slip out at the first chance and start trotting in whatever direction he judged home to be. We took one agility class, which he hated, except for the jumps and tunnels. I still remember the one sequence he liked--jumps and tunnels in a straight line towards the door! He ran that sequence like his life depended on it, and then just kept running!!

He liked jumps and tunnels. (Photo Credit Melissa LaMere)
 Yet he seemed to instantly claim my house as home. On the first day, he walked in, laid down and started chewing on a rawhide. Despite trying to leave everywhere else in those first few months, he never once tried to leave home. He was content at home, especially in his back yard, which was his sanctuary.

Lok and first foster Nova.

I never "owned" Lok. He was his own dog and belonged to himself. I was blessed to be entrusted with his care, and eventually, I like to think that I became his closest friend.

When I let him outside, he would run to the middle of the yard, turn to face the door, then lay down and wait, and wait, and wait, for me to come out to play, no matter how long it took, even if he was buried by snow.

He was my first dog and I struggled. I know now that I couldn't have possibly had an easier dog, but at the time he seemed impossibly difficult to me, in some ways. He seemed not to like people much, including me. He seemed unhappy much of the time and didn't understand play. The toys I bought for him sat untouched. When I tried to train him he would shut down, lay on the floor, and refused to move. He was obnoxiously infatuated with the beeping buttons of the microwave, barking anytime he heard them--it seemed like the only thing he ever got excited about. And he developed a habit of digging in the yard, covering himself in filth minutes before I needed to leave for work time and again.

So we learned together and we struggled together. We fought one another. I don't know that either of us considered the other to be our ideal in those first few months. I wanted a happy, energetic, playful dog. Lok seemed to like just about any man better than me. We took classes at the humane society and Lok earned his CGC. I tried to teach him to play. The one game he seemed to enjoy was "chase" and in this way I taught him his rock-solid recall. He enjoyed being chased in the yard and would even play bow sometimes. I chased him a bit and then sat down and waited for him to come to me. When he did, the game would begin again. Eventually I got him to start chasing sticks, but still he would not play with toys. I would throw a ball and he would stand there, unmoving, as if he didn't even see it. Here I had this dog I couldn't take for walks, who wasn't all that into training, who wouldn't play, and often seemed like he couldn't care less if I was even around. Sometimes I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Sometimes I thought about returning him.

Jolly balls were always a favorite. Until the vet had to remove a bunch of peices of them from his gut.

Things started to change for Lok and I after I read the book Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt. It wasn't the book's exercises that I needed, it was the prologue. In it, Leslie talked about accepting and appreciating your dog for who they are. She spoke of her dog Rumor for whom she had grand competition plans, but one day she realized that Rumor would rather stay home. She spoke of how she honored that choice. I looked at my dog, who, if I'm being perfectly honest, I didn't always like much in those first few months. He wasn't what I wanted him to be and I resented him for it. And I suddenly realized that *I* was the one with the problem. There was nothing wrong with Lok and I was being incredibly unfair to him by constantly expecting him to be something he wasn't. I resolved to do better. I can't say that I was perfect from that point on, but my thinking truly began to shift.

Shortly thereafter in my never-ending quest to get Lok to play, I brought home a 99-cent frisbee from Petsmart. On the first toss he ran and caught it out of the air. I think anyone who has ever watched their dog catch a frisbee for the first time knows what that felt like. There is just something about a dog catching a disc. Even more, there is something about YOUR dog catching a disc YOU threw. And when the dog has refused to play with any other toy up to that point, it feels downright miraculous. We were hooked!

One of our first playdates

For our first nine months together, the disc was the ONLY toy he would play with. I ditched my agility dreams, found the Minnesota Disc Dog Club and we started pursuing Lok's favorite thing in the world. We trained toss and catch, we trained freestyle. Still, I wasn't happy. He didn't tug, he didn't jump, he didn't understand the concept of playing "close up" and sometimes he bit my hands. We would go to the park for an hour and work the same sequence over and over and over again, Lok trying his heart out, but missing the disc over and over and over. "What is wrong with you?" I thought. "Why can't you get it?" And when he bit me, I punished him before making him try it again. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't terrible to him all the time, but I think it's important to admit these things. Remember mistakes so they aren't repeated. Most of the time we had a great time playing together. He was amazing at catching a disc and loved it more than anything. I wish he could have played longer.

We started competing and we did pretty terribly. Especially in toss and catch. It seemed he got worse every competition we entered. He lost discs all the time. I spent more time running onto the field to retrieve discs that he missed than I spent throwing. The more we failed, the worse I threw, the worse he caught. Until one day, he started missing even short freestyle throws. They would sail by his face, unnoticed. "He's just not paying attention," I thought, as I adjusted my throwing technique, adjusted my criteria for him, and made him try again. Some he caught with ease, others he seemed not to see . . . until finally it occurred to me, maybe the reason he doesn't seem to see them is because, he can't see them.

I scheduled an appointment with an ophthalmologist, thinking surely whatever it is will be an easy fix and we can get right back into the game. He couldn't possibly be blind. He was only 2 years old. Instead, I found out that Lok had Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). His retinas were deteriorating. He had significant  vision loss, and eventually would have no sight. "Devastated" doesn't come close to how I felt. Despite assurances that blind dogs "adapt well" I cried for days. For his loss. For mine. For all the times I had pushed and scolded when he couldn't catch the disc, or bit me trying. For all the times he had tried as hard as he could to do it right and given me everything he had to give, and I couldn't see it. I was more blind than him.

Eventually I picked myself up and resolved to make the rest of Lok's sighted time and then the time he would spend blind as good as it could be. We still played disc. I figured out what his limitations were and adapted to them. Short throws, right in front of his face, not too high. The peripheral vision goes first with PRA, so he couldn't see anything to the sides or above his head. We played only in bright light, then only in shade when the bright light seemed to hurt his eyes. He even started flyball, which he may have loved even more than disc! He only got to do it for a couple months. I hated to pull him out, but couldn't risk his safety when he started crashing into jumps. Lok and I had been training in obedience and he had earned his Rally Novice title. We continued to train in obedience, but Lok's sight loss seemed to result in a lack of confidence, especially on stays. He didn't enjoy it, so we took a break from that as well, which turned out to be more or less permanent. We started skijoring/canicross, which he could have continued to do blind, but he was not a big fan. I realized that Lok was happiest "just being a dog" and gave him permission to be that. We played, we went to the dog park. As his sight decreased, his willingness to be on a leash increased, so we started going for walks. Without his sight he had to rely on me more, which I think probably killed him a little bit inside, but may have been the best thing that ever happened for our relationship.

As Lok's sight continued to decline, so did his confidence when he was anywhere other than an open space outside, with a toy. I started coming home from work to find that my perfect house dog had destroyed things. He had to be crated during the day. When he started destroying his crate, he went on Prozac. The Prozac helped immensely, and he was a much happier dog. He stopped chewing his crate trays, stopped licking his paws, he was no longer sitting in a puddle of drool when I got home.

But then the seizures came. After the first one, the vet thought the Prozac might be causing them. We took him off Prozac and his anxiety returned in full force, but the seizures didn't stop. I decided that the anxiety was a bigger quality of life issue than the seizures--after all I couldn't quit my job and stay home with him every day. So he went back on Prozac, along with phenobarbital for the seizures. Despite all the medication, within a year the seizures increased from every couple of months to every couple of weeks. Unlike most epileptic dogs who are normal between seizures, they seemed to damage Lok's brain and it took weeks to recover cognitive function between seizures. His life changed drastically. He didn't really understand training anymore, forgot most of his commands, stopped coming when called. He lived for toys and running only, and I decided he could do whatever he wanted. He didn't have to train. If he didn't come when called, I'd just go get him, no big deal. He liked to play, he liked to be brushed, he like to go for walks and go to the dog park. We would just do those things. I started to suspect he may not be around as long as I might like and resolved to give him the best life I could for however long that may last.

On top of everything in June 2011, Lok ended up in the ICU for five days for an obstruction surgery, an infection that nearly killed him, and another surgery to fix the infection. His doctors were amazing but when he continued to get worse inexplicably, I wondered if maybe life had gotten too hard for him and he was ready to give up. I sat with him in the ICU at 1:00am. Lok was never in the business of taking orders, so I asked him to live. He did. He came home on many different medications and in the weeks after his surgery dealt with phenobarbital poisoning, an infected catheter site that refused to heal, antibiotics on top of antibiotics. And on top of everything the seizures got worse.

(Photo Credit Larry Hotchkiss)

Somehow everything but his brain managed to heal and we went about life as "normal" for awhile. Lok even played in a disc dog competition again, and the JOY and confidence he radiated for that one day won him the Wazee Spirit Award. That was the thing about Lok--he never earned a medal, but you've never seen a dog happier to chase a piece of plastic. His joy and enthusiasm won him many friends and even attracted the attention of a reporter who wrote an article about him.

(Photo Credit Larry Hotchkiss)

 In the last few months of his life he needed to be guided everywhere by the collar, did not remember the most basic of commands, and spent much of his time confined to a room to contain his aimless wanderings (if not confined he would run into things and get bit by Jun for invading her space). This was not a happy time in his life and I won't belabor it because it didn't define him. Despite his many challenges, if he had an open field and a toy he was a happy dog. During the times he could barely walk he would run for a ball. Blind, confused, and unable to find his way around the house, he could somehow still track a rolling disc and catch it clean, bringing it back and spitting it out at my feet again and again. When I first joined the MNDDC there were lots of debates about what "drive" meant. It turns out the definition is simple. If you want to know what drive is, just look at Lok.

(Photo Credit Larry Hotchkiss)

They say a dog will let you know when it's time. I've heard people speak of "having peace about" putting a dog to rest. I never understood how that was possible, but it turns out it's true. The day he died was the only time since he first snagged a disc out of the air that he turned down a toy. He was ready. We were blessed with an uncharacteristically beautiful afternoon on March 27, 2012. We spent the day in the sunshine in the back yard, his favorite place in the world, and there he slipped peacefully to the other side, finally truly free.

(Photo Credit Sarah Beth Photography)

I spent a couple of days angry at how life had failed him. Guilty that I couldn't fix him and give him all the happy and healthy years he deserved. But the anger and guilt quickly gave way to gratitude. Gratitude that he was at peace and no longer suffering and that I had the opportunity, painful as it was, to put him to rest with dignity.  To be charged with caring for a life, including its end, is a heavy responsibility and I am deeply and overwhelmingly grateful to have been entrusted with his. He was a gift. He taught me innumerable lessons: love deeply; forgive easily; assume the best; value the individual; savor the moment; slow down; nothing is guaranteed; and in the end, nothing matters but love. As I sit here I cannot think of a single aspect of my life that isn't covered in his paw prints.

January 25, 2006 - March 27, 2012
Forever in my Heart
(Photo Credit Sarah Beth Photography)

Elo is . . .

 . . . everything that is good about dogs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

March Progress and April Goals

Well, I have been a complete slacker in the training department. It's been two weeks now since Lok passed away and I am finally starting to get the new routine down and be able to put my full energy into training the other two.

We didn't do much in March, but we did accomplish this trick:

Ok, so Elo is still being kind of a wuss about it, but for now, I'm calling it good.

For April and beyond, I am moving obedience and tricks closer to the back burner. We have some serious b-mod work to do. I am cautiously optimistic that Jun's Clomipramine is working for her. Her reactions to people have been FAR less extreme, she seems to be able to get closer, she can take treats nicely and focus her attention back on me (follow commands, etc) after they are gone. This is big progress, if indeed it is progress and not just a fluke. It's too early to tell. However, Jun's on-leash dog reactivity issues have gotten just terrible. And she now obsesses about, fixates on, and lunges at/chases cars. These two things are currently trumping her stranger-danger in making her a PITA to live with. Luckily they are not fear-based so may be easier to fix. Attention, attention, attention, LAT, and more attention. The crappy part is, I want to work on her stranger stuff, but if there are cars around that takes all her attention. So . . . yeah.

So far planned for our summer for both dogs are walks and more walks. Loose-leash walking, attention work, and clicks for looking at various things. So exciting. But I have seen progress from both of them (major progress from Elo if you read the last blog post) so I am encouraged to soldier on.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Elo's No Longer an A**hole!!

Wow, I am SO glad I decided to enroll Elo in Changing Attitudes. The class has been absolutely perfect for him (largely due to the instructor's flexibility in letting me adapt the exercises to his needs) and he has made incredible progress in 6 weeks! The first night of class was rough, with all the other dogs in class barking and being rowdy. Elo and I did nothing but stay behind our barriers, with Elo in his crate for all but about 2 minutes. Even so, I was incredibly proud of him, as he stayed under threshold the entire night, even with 6 strange dogs, strange dog smells, and lots of barking, growling and whining going on around him. Just this was such major progress for him, I was thrilled! And it only got better from there! From being able to step outside his barrier and look at dogs for just a few seconds, to walking the length of the training room past multiple dogs lying on mats. And for the first time ever, Elo has worked around other dogs--doing things other than LAT. I am no longer strictly managing him every time he has another dog within his line of sight! Last night he worked Relaxation Protocol for several minutes with other dogs lying on their mats in view. He looked at the other dogs, but didn't stare and I didn't click his looks at all. Even bigger--we worked on a targeting exercise with other dogs moving around in his line of sight!! He stayed focused and worked enthusiastically! We actually fully participated in the class activities for the first time ever. The class played "there's a dog in your face" with one dog lying on a mat behind a ring gate and the other dogs walking directly towards them. Elo heeled all the way up to the gate with each dog behind it, did beautiful left turns, and stayed focused on me the whole time. Elo was also the mat dog, which was a totally new skill for him--staying calm while a dog walks directly towards him. Elo and I played "open bar/closed bar" while the other dog approached. This was a little harder for him. I know he was a bit stressed because when I released him he fixated on the closest dog, stared briefly and barked once, but I kept the leash loose and was able to get him back using just my voice and keep his attention while we headed back to our barrier. THEN!!!! Elo did PARALLEL WALKING with another dog about 10 feet away!! This was also a little harder for him, but he did it without going over threshold! SO PROUD!!! We have accomplished everything I hoped to accomplish in this class and more! We have one week left. Then a two week break before we start a new reactive dog class. Then in May we are going to re-take Changing Attitudes. Then maybe after that he will be ready to take a real class?!?! Right now, I am confident that the possibilities are endless!!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Goals

Obedience: Continue to work on go-outs and get her going out in a straight line. She is more confident with the target there. Work alternately with and without the target to build confidence. Work on wait, sit, and down on recall.

Tricks: High five in a sit-pretty with both paws. Blowing bubbles in a bowl of water (I have tried and failed at this trick multiple times. We'll give it another go.)

Obedience: Work on finding heel position with me standing still, i.e., build a finish left
Tricks: Blowing bubbles in a bowl of water (first try for him)

Down on a verbal cue and build up duration on down-stay

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Elo's Threshold Analysis

On Thursday, Elo is starting a new class called Changing Attitudes. It is supposed to be a "Control Unleashed" type class, but the impression I've gotten about it is that is used more as a "Reactive Dogs Lite" class. Elo has kind of advanced beyond the basic reactive dog class situation. I'm not entirely sure he's ready for this class, but we're going to give it a go anyway, cause he has nothing else to do at the moment. Part of our homework was to think about our dogs triggers. Of course I immediately decided that I KNOW what my dog's triggers are. But then I got to thinking more about it, and I think it might be a good idea to put a bit more thought into it. So here goes.

Elo now HAS a distance threshold! I'm not sure what it is. But I know for a fact that there is a distance at which he can see a dog and not react. That distance changes depending on whether the dog is known or unfamiliar, looking at him, making any noise, or moving.

Smells and sounds
Elo can handle dog smells (for the most part)! This is major progress. We went to the vet the other day and it was a huge contrast from last year's exam! He was lying calmly at my feet instead of needing to have treats shoveled in his mouth constantly.  He does still have a problem with new dogs that enter the environment after he is already there. This is one area where my expectations exceed his ability and then I get upset with him when he fails. Time for some more SAT (sniff at that) and LTT (listen to that).

I've recently realized that this one of Elo's biggest challenges. He does a lot better with dogs he's worked in proximity to in the past. We've recently been doing some Abandonment Training which has been working great for him, but he had more trouble in our third session, with an unfamiliar decoy, than in our first two sessions, with familiar decoys.   In addition, he had a lot of trouble at our weekly informal training group with a dog who was new to the group. It was the most disappointing training session we've had in awhile, but had I stopped to think about how badly I was over-facing him and stacking triggers it would have made a lot more sense.

Dog Characteristics
Elo reacts to dogs. All dogs. Big, small, black, white. It doesn't matter. He still absolutely cannot handle dogs looking at him. Maybe from a very long distance, but definitely not at 15 yards. He can handle casual movement now, a bit. We do need more distance if the dog is moving, but he can do it. He has even been known to handle running, but I would expect him to need a lot more distance for any kind of fast-paced activity.

What Elo is Doing
When we started reactive dog class a year ago, Elo was not able to look at other dogs while HE was moving. If he was expected to do anything other than concentrate very hard on not barking at the other dog, it would put him over the top. Now, if there is enough distance, he actually does better if he's moving or has something else to think about. If there is not enough distance, asking him to move is trigger stacking. How long Elo is allowed to look is also a factor. We also can't do relaxation around other dogs. If there are other dogs around in any fashion, I MUST be engaging him in some way or feeding him. Actually, that is not totally true. He did successfully relax in a crate in training group the other day, so I guess he can do that sometimes. I should probably play with it a little more and figure out when. CA should be a good opportunity to build that skill.

Monday, February 27, 2012

February Progress

So, I've heard of a recent study that showed that dogs trained only once a week progressed faster (measured in number of sessions to learn a behavior) than dogs trained every day. I sure hope that's true, cause I hardly trained at all this month. Despite that, we made some good progress on our February Goals.

First, I can happily say that The Professor is housetrained!! Well, as housetrained as a 6-month old puppy can reasonably be expected to be. He hasn't had an accident at home in a long time and has done well at friends' houses too. I can trust him alone in a room for short periods of time, which is awesome!

Elo accomplished his obedience goal pretty quickly. I can walk all the way around him in either direction from a variety of angles. We made a little progress on his handstand. I will have to get some video of where we are. He is doing pretty well with pulling himself up unassisted, but still braces his foot on the couch after he is up. He understands pulling his foot away from the couch, but usually is not in the right position to balance this way for more than half a second. Baby steps. We also kept working on his paw cross and now he is able to do it most of the time without starting with the target and we've started to work on stimulus control and getting him to discriminate the cue. I learned SO much while teaching him his paw cross. It was painful at times, but I'm glad I did it!

I am actually really surprised with how quickly Jun has caught on to her go-out. I can't seem to decide whether I want a paw or nose touch, so I still get (and reward) both. And sometimes I get, and reward, just getting really close to the wall--bad trainer! Although ultimately that's what I'd really like, if I can keep clear criteria for "really close." I can send her out to touch a duct-tape target on a variety of different walls in my house and at a training facility from 8-10 feet and she actually kind of hustles! She has even done pretty well touching the wall without a target. Behavior that involves going away from me has always been really challenging for Jun, but I think maybe we have finally been doing enough of it that it's getting easier. One thing she has recently started doing is going out crooked. She will kind of curve around to the target. I am not sure how to fix that without dampening enthusiasm, but maybe just go back to doing shorter go-outs, making her more likely to do it right, and then only reward the straight ones. We haven't added a sit yet, but we are working separately on the skill of "sit on recall" since ultimately that is what it will be.

Jun made no progress on her trick. I wasn't sure how to go about shaping it and she doesn't have enough endurance in a sit-pretty for me to play around with it. I think for next month I will try to get a high-five in a sit pretty. That might be easier and get her to think about using her paws in that position.

We might have made some progress on Jun not freaking out when I sit down. I did work on it some and it seems to have gotten better. I took a classical conditioning approach and tossed Jun a treat every time I sat down. As I remained sitting, she only got treats if she was in a calm down. I also worked on shaping her to automatically go to a mat and lie down when I sat on the couch. Now, instead of whining and spinning every time I sit down, her eyes just get a little wider and she looks for her treat. And last night while I was sitting on the couch watching TV, this happened:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Using a No Reward Marker with a Deaf Dog

I use NRMs from time to time. I know they can be controversial in positive dog training circles, but I find them useful to provide information to a dog and non-aversive. I don't use them in the training/shaping stage of teaching a behavior, but I do have various other uses for them. I usually use the word "oops" and it's not something I set out to train, the dogs just end up picking it up on their own eventually. I've never had a NRM for Jun and sometimes I've felt like it would be useful.

So, Jun sucked (past tense) at going to her mat. This was entirely my fault for not teaching it to her properly to begin with, but is also her fault for being manipulative and gradually training me to accept less and less. No, in fact, I am not smarter than my dog. At some point I realized that Jun was only going near her mat, or at the most, putting her back paws on it.

I wanted to change this so I went back to mat basics, re-shaping the behavior with more specific criteria--elbows on the mat. However, I ran into a problem. Exhibit A: Jun goes to the mat and lays down on it with her elbows off. What do I do? Since this behavior is already fully trained as a duration behavior if I just withhold the click she will keep laying there. I could release her, but her release cue has been heavily reinforced and giving her a release would act as a secondary reinforcer to a behavior I don't want to reinforce. So I can't let her lay there, but I can't give her another cue. What to do? Enter the no-reward marker. In an effort to make her get up but not really give her a release, I started doing a dismissive, swishy thing with my hand. It was successful in making her get up and I did not reward her getting up, so she went back to the mat and tried again. If she got her elbows on, I'd click and treat. If not, swishy-hand-thing. Eventually this (probably coupled with a look on my face that says "that's not right and you know it") has become a NRM. It turned out to be very effective to correct Jun's sloppy mat performance. She now gets elbows on probably 95% of the time. And she also generalized the NRM to other contexts where she likes to see how little she can do--like finishes. If she gives me less than I know she's capable of I give a NRM, re-cue, and she usually gets it right the second time.

It's worked for us. Would anybody have solved this problem a different way?

Agility Jun?

I've never really been interested in agility. Well, that's not exactly true. I got Lok to be an agility dog, but gave up on that idea fairly quickly when I got him home and realized he was not a likely candidate. We did do part of one agility class. He hated it and spent the whole time trying to leave. This particular class forced the dogs onto the contact obstacles at full height by week 3 and had us "sequencing" obstacles in about the same time. I knew it wasn't right. Lok knew it wasn't right. The one sequence he ever enjoyed involved jumps and tunnels and was a straight line from the back of the room towards the door. He ran that sequence like his life depended on it and just kept running straight!! We never went back. Disc was much cooler anyway, and Lok loved it. So I gave up on the idea of agility.

Until now. It started with an irrational desire to watch Elo run through a tunnel. I know, ridiculous, but he is just so damn cute and I felt a tunnel would just intensify the cute. (I was right about that, BTW. He ran through a tunnel last summer and it was A-Dorable.) Next, just out of the blue I had this lingering thought that I should teach Jun 2x2 weaves. I don't know where it came from, but it just wouldn't leave. So last night I started, and now all I want to do is finish her weave poles! She did great! She was running out ahead with enthusiasm (which is a BIG DEAL for Ms. Velcro). It took a bit for her to figure out criteria--first she tried to go around the set, then she thought maybe just running by them was it--but she didn't get discouraged when I didn't throw the toy, and she tried again and got it right! And now I just want the ground to thaw so I can pound some sticks in the ground and work on this at home (since it turned out to be not the greatest activity for reactive dog class, which is where we started).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

February Goals

Obedience: Start to work on a go-out.Continue to work on moving stand.
Trick: Catch a toy with her paws in a sit pretty
Behavior Mod: Not freaking out when I sit down

Obedience: Proof stand-stay so I can walk all the way around him
Trick: Grrr.... handstand I suppose

The Professor
Potty Training!!!!!!!!!

Monday, January 30, 2012

January Recap

Jun learned a trick!! Wait . . . make that THREE tricks!!

January turned out to be quite a good training month for us! We didn't accomplish everything I meant to, but we made some good progress on our goals.

Elo took the BA test. In his defense, he doesn't get to go places very often and hasn't really worked his skills anywhere other than the house. We did get one practice session in at a training facility. We forgot to practice the leave-it while walking and Elo did not even make it past the first three steps, where two balls were placed at either side of the path. I could not even get his attention as he ping-ponged back and forth between them. Oops! The rest of the test, he did fairly well at. He was a bit distracted for LLW, he had trouble with waiting at the door, but the rest of the tasks he performed brilliantly! We will try again another day!

Elo made some good progress on his back-up. I shaped it up to 10 steps in a row and started putting a cue on it. The video below wasn't his best backing up day, but I only had one shot to video, so there ya go. Cross paws is actually coming along! What ended up working for us was moving the target farther and farther away. He will now offer the cross without the target there, as long as we start the session with the target. I think this may be the most work I have ever put into a trick that didn't involve multiple steps, but now that we've gotten this far, I'm determined to finish it! I think it may be a long time before I attempt crossing the other way though.

Nails . . . when will I learn that there is no point to putting a "number of days per week" that I will work on a goal? Five days a week didn't happen. I did about twice a week, and he is still letting me clip 4-5ish nails per session, though not terribly happy about it. Oh well, I don't need happy, I just need willing I guess. That's on the video too, with some interference from Jun who LOVES getting her nails clipped (or at least the peanut butter that goes along with it).

Jun decided to be a little genius this month! We got bored in reactive dog class, so I shaped her to figure-8 around two cones. We got up to two 8s. I think that's good enough. I'm not going to put a cue on it or anything. Jun also learned to balance a treat on her nose, and we finally got her bow on cue!! Three tricks in one month, I think that's more than we were able to finish in the past year!

Scent articles? Nope. Didn't do them. Ok, I did them twice and since we hadn't done them in so long, Jun stopped sniffing and just started grabbing again. We'll try this again when I can get up the motivation to do it every day. There's just so many props, I hate it. We did work the directed retrieve in a couple different locations with different articles. She's doing really well with this skill and I'm not sure what else to do with it, so we'll give that a rest for now.

February goals coming up next!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Targets are not Cues

Or at least, that is the conclusion I have come to. Elo's cross paws trick is . . . sigh. This is why I never use targets. He is brilliant with the target there. I first tried to fade it by imagining the target was a cue and using cue-switching protocol, i.e., cue "cross" wait a couple seconds, then present the target. This was a decided failure. Elo now thinks the cue "cross" means "your target will be presented in a couple seconds" and does nothing but wait, or stomp his paw randomly if I make him wait too long. So I went to the "gradually make the target smaller" strategy with duct tape. We can get down to a 1cm target, and the behavior falls apart after that. I don't think Elo gets the "crossing" part of the behavior at all. If he slides over too far so the target is not in position anymore, he will just hit it with any old paw. So then I thought, well, he's done so many hundreds of repetitions of this behavior, the muscle memory has got to be there by now. I'll just wait for him to offer it. He has never once offered it. And the fact that I couldn't shape it was how we ended up in this targeting mess to begin with. I've tried clicking right before he hits the target, instead of when he hits the target, hoping he would start to understand that it was the crossing movement I was looking for. No dice. Training a simple behavior should NOT be this difficult. So . . . I am open to suggestions. Otherwise I think I'll keep working on the "making the target smaller" strategy. Maybe if I can get him working on a target that is a tiny speck I'll be able to take it away and still get the behavior.

Jun's goals are going ok. Her balance trick is coming along now that I finally decided what my criteria are. Scent articles and directed retrieves, not so much. I've decided I hate working on these skills. It's the resetting/sit in heel between. Jun hates it so I hate it. So we dispensed with the resetting and we're just working the skills informally. It's better, but I still have a negative CER to the whole exercise. She's actually improved quite a bit on the directed retrieve after I put a new cue on it. I hope it's allowed in competition. I'm sending her with a touch cue on her flank. The hand signal I was using was very confusing to her, since she had to look back at me for it after she had marked the article I wanted and often that resulted in her trying to take a different article. And I'd stop her, and she would get confused and shut down. So instead, we started practicing just marking and driving to the article, using a toy straight in front of her. We used some opposition-reflex, holding her back, to get some speed and enthusiasm. I put my hand to the side of her head to encourage her to focus straight in front and send her with a tap when she is looking in the right direction. It's been working out fabulously! And now I am bored with it. I need to practice in a bigger space. Maybe I will practice in the basement with frisbees tonight, since the yard is too icy to play outside.

Quick Professor Update
Such a great puppy! I just love him! Too bad the dogs don't feel the same. I feel bad that he has to be in the bathroom or crated basically 23 hours a day. But luckily he sleeps a lot so I don't think he minds too much. I've never had a dog who likes to sleep in before. I get up at 5 to work out and have been late, cause I have to cheerlead Prof out of his crate. He would sleep until 11 if I let him! Training is going ok. I have figured out that if I am doing an actual training session with food he knows I have, I have to keep it super short, especially if I am asking for control behaviors. He just gets so crazy around food. With the food bowl out, we have gotten a 4-second sit, barely. But I can spring a random sit on him with no food and we have gotten to 7 seconds! I have started working on his vibrating collar, just trying to associate the vibration with food. So far no indication that he is catching on despite about 50 reps last night, but he takes awhile to catch on to things, so I'm not worried. I am thinking about experimenting with using it as a marker. See if he can understand that concept. Training possibilities would explode!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Meet the Professor!

Say hello to my new foster/training project! This is The Professor! Terrible name, but I refuse to change it--dogs whose name I change seem to end up staying for good, and besides, he can't hear it anyway! He's deaf and partially blind. At least, that's what I was told. In reality, I think his vision and hearing are just fine, but his brain doesn't process things right. He has some pretty clear brain damage--the effects are similar to Helen (a short-term foster from this summer) but MUCH more mild!

He's been here for almost a week now. Training him has been interesting to say the least! It is a work in patience, for sure. I feel this is much like training an invertebrate would be. He learns, that's for sure--but I'm not sure how! He doesn't seem to think much during training. He caught on to a hand touch within 5 seconds, but I think that is just instinctual. The hand might have food in it! I planned to teach him a sit, but we have some MAJOR impulse control issues around food and it wasn't happening. So I taught him a spin instead. He learned this pretty well, but it's still lured--just an extension of his hand target behavior. Which is fine. He won't respond to a verbal cue (see: the deaf/brain damaged thing). As long as he can DO the spin, that is all he needs. He compulsively circles and spins to the left, so if his new home works on spin right most days that should help balance out his muscle development.

Ah, impulse control. Not only is he insane about food, but he compulsively paces, circles, and spins. He knows (I think he hears) when I open the food container and starts throwing a fit--from a different room, behind closed doors!! Our first real training session I had to keep him moving with touches and spins, or else he was barking. Sit has been out of the question. We've been slowing working on it. He is slowly improving. We actually have a sit now! For a few days I had to lure his nose with food while pressing on his butt so he couldn't jump up or back up. Then a light touch on his butt with the food in front of his nose. Now sometimes he will sit with just the light touch and no food lure. I still have to shovel the food in his mouth FAST or he gets up. I still am not convinced he knows what he's doing or is making any conscious effort to learn, but he's clearly learning, so . . . . Of course any time he offers a sit (I use "offer" loosely, really he just happens to sit) or standing nicely and quietly he gets rewarded.

We are also working on yielding to collar pressure, walking nicely on a leash, hanging out nicely while tethered to me. Oh, and potty training (ugh).

Other than that, he's a fabulous puppy! Mellow, happy, playful (too playful--my dogs hate him). Here is his blog! Please share it and lets find this little guy a home of his own!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January Goals

I am feeling a little bit uninspired again lately, and I am thinking it might be a good idea to do monthly goals. So Here are January's:

At the end of the month Elo will have the opportunity to test for his C.L.A.S.S. BA, so we should probably brush up on some of the necessary skills. Elo's boundary cue is good, but we have never worked on threshold manners outside the house, so waiting at the door will be one we need to work on. (Actually, the out-of-the-house part is going to be the biggest challenge for all of it, since being highly reactive Elo rarely gets the chance to work in public!) The recall will be no problem, but we have not worked on sitting for leashing up, so we will need to work that skill. The meet and greet will be another one we need to practice. Elo has never learned to sit for greeting. I don't expect it to be a problem, just something I will need to teach him. The rest of the items we should have down pretty well, but we will practice them just to be sure. Jun is not ready for the "stranger" part of the test yet, but I may practice some of these things with her anyway.

My other goals for Elo this month will be: 1) get his back up on cue and work it in front, heel and side. 2) finish his cross paws trick, and 3) work on his nails 5 days a week.

Jun will work on her scent articles and directed retrieves. And a trick. I just have to decide which one.

For both dogs, I want to work on body handling. Neither is particularly uncomfortable with body handling, but I'd like to get them both to where they can lie quietly on their side or stand still and accept all types of handling. I got a clipper for Christmas for the mats that Jun's fur tends to get, and I'd like her to be able to stand or lie nicely while I clip them out. We'll see how that goes!