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).