Sunday, May 28, 2006

Tracking, BSL, and Hold & Bark

Today's track went very well! I'd been something of a slacker, having given the dogs a tracking vacation, but today we resumed in a new field. I not only placed articles but dropped treats in occasional footsteps, making the track itself reinforcing as well as the articles and, I hoped, slowing down my little manic tracker puppy who would love to do the entire track at a controlled run.

It worked; Laev slowed herself down without help from me, and she overshot her corners by a foot or so instead of six. She also, for the first time ever, I think, downed on every article without any reminders from me. Why, yes, I did make that worth her while. :-)

In an interesting coincidence, the school lawn we were using for our tracks had a woman walking across it while I laid tracks. Oh, well, I thought; just a cross track. But it turns out that she was laying a TDX track for a friend! I've never bumped into another tracker, ever. How fun! And so we talked.

As most of you have probably detected :-) I am pretty adamant against BSL (breed-specific legislation). It should be absurdly obviously that phenotype does not determine behavior, and outlawing certain breeds or types of dogs because they are "inherently dangerous" is first unfair to all dog owners and second dangerous to the public, as it creates the idea that somehow all the remaining legal breeds are "safe."

Anyway, this tracklayer and her friend had Goldens, and they brought up the subject of breed discrimination. Yep, them, not me -- see, I was being restrained! I was very glad to hear that they were not biased on the basis of breed -- they said right off that it was breeding and training, not breed itself, which created or prevented problems. (We've had two awful and high-profile cases of dog bites this week locally. One toddler lost an eye in the attack -- but it was the *fourth* reported bite for this particular dog and owner. Why did it ever even get to this point? We don't need laws banning the breed, we need to enforce the vicious dog laws already extent!)

But even though these two experienced dog people knew that breed did not determine behavior or danger, it was sad to note how many discriminatory phrases were used in the conversation, simply because they have (I'm sure) never thought about it. Things like, "The kids were scared of my dog because she was big, and I said, It's okay, she's a Golden," and "I saw one of those attack dogs, you know, that breed that was in California." The first implies that Goldens are inherently safe (not true) and the second that the breed in question was inherently "attack dogs" (also not true).

Language is vital, and it's so easy to create an impression without thinking about it. For me, it's necessary to specify that not all small dogs are yappy and nipping, something that is easy to imply if I'm telling stories without paying attention. :-) For others, it's easy to say, "Mean dogs like Rottweilers and pit bulls" or something similar. But if we want to keep the legal right to have dogs -- all dogs -- we need to be careful that we're not giving any reason that we shouldn't.

Back to Laev. So then we worked on the hold and bark again. The data sheet shows a success rate of 60% and 40% for my defined criteria for our two sessions. My impression is that she actually stops herself better if I let the gate do it or just bump the leather collar, that bumping the prong actually drives her forward into or over the gates (not unusual, since the prong collar was designed to stimulate a dog rather than inhibit it! and now it's commonly used for a completely different purpose and usually poorly).

We varied angles, distances of sending, etc. Laev started strong on the second session and actually got worse as time passed; I think she was getting tired and hot and less capable of truly thinking. It was hot and humid today, the first really of the season after a very stormy spring, and the dogs weren't prepared to handle it yet. Laev carried the sleeve back and dove under the car with it -- "Shade!"

We'll see if the hold and bark continues to improve, but I think this gate bit is working far better already than using the lines alone. She just had to see the gate in the blind, one more step, to connect that the revier in the open is the same as the revier in the blind.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Shaping "Spin"

So I brought Laev out tonight and started shaping, clicking for head turns to her left. I wanted to get a spin counterclockwise. But Laev has been clicked for many targeting behaviors, and she was convinced she was supposed to be interacting with something in the room. The two or three clicks I got in didn't really mean anything to her. Finally she spotted a blanket on the floor behind her (because I'm a lousy housekeeper) and turned toward it.


Laev froze mid-step, her head cocked over her left shoulder and tail up. Hmm. What was this click for? Because I use a click as an event marker rather than as a keep-going signal, it interrupted her concept of the reinforceable behavior and replaced it with mine!

I tossed the treat; Laev ate it. She faced me, looked confused, and turned again toward the blanket behind her.


Oh, huh. The click has something to do with being *here* and not with the blanket at all!

Laev ate the treat I tossed and very carefully turned to her left, looking at me. Yes!

We didn't get a real spin right away; it started with a lot of smallish circles, and of course she didn't really understand what I was clicking for yet. But her body was going through the motions, even if she couldn't yet distinguish all the details I wanted.

Enough of that, I thought. I put down the Simon & Huey's treats and picked up a bag of kibble and similar items. Laev was looking frisky, so I threw a toy and clicked when she bucked her way back, killshaking it. Within a moment or two I had her bringing the toy back with a calm hold. I clicked for the hold; I'll worry about adding the formal give later.

After a number of reps, Laev dropped the toy and fussed for a moment in front of me. I waited, willing to throw the toy again when she was giving me good attention. But she didn't look at me, turned away, turned back, turned away....

Oh! She's offering me circles to the left!

I'm guessing that she decided she wanted some more of the better treats, and those had been coming for the circles rather than the retrieves. :-) So I grabbed the good stuff and began reinforcing.

Very quickly we had smaller, tighter circles and then a real nose to tail spin. It was still a little jerky, but it was recognizable.

At that point Alena arrived with Cesare, the 15-week-old puppy. This of course distracted Laev temporarily, but within a few minutes Alena and I were both seated with clickers, working the dogs individually. Great distraction work! and when Laev and I quit, I had continued tight spins to the left, getting clicked at anywhere from 1/3 to 1 3/4 rotations.

This clicker stuff is kinda fun. :-)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

On Sunday, Laev earned her first performance title by finishing her APDT Level 1 Rally debut. :-) She didn't quite make the Award of Excellence, missing it by two points in her second leg. The judge hit us for 3 points for a second cue (my continued posture), while I know (because I know my dog) that it was just a slow response to the first cue and by the time she looked around and saw me it appeared to be a second cue. However, I also feel that if we were cutting it that close, we didn't really deserve that Award of Excellence, and she'll just have to pick it up for Level 2.

We actually NQ'd on her first time in 1B (for titled dogs; follows 1A, for untitled dogs) -- or, I should say, I NQ'd! Laev was getting a little fussy and started some "vertical heeling" (bouncing in place at my side) and as I spoke to her to get her back on track, I did a 360 right instead of the 360 left the sign called for. Oops! That would have been a decent run, too. Oh, well.

Shakespeare finished his Level 3 and has way more than enough points for his ARCH; he needs 2 QQs for that. We'll get those our next time out!

On Monday, I suggested we go back to using a gate for the hold and bark. Laev just isn't holding herself in the blind and I don't think she really understood that the gate work should carry to the blind. So we're combining them. We didn't make awesome progress in our two sessions of about five reps each (why would we in ten reps?), but on her last attempt she just bumped the padded leather collar instead of hitting the prong, and she was holding herself nicely at the gate. So maybe the light bulb will come on.

Tuesday... And then there are some days when you just don't like her.... Today I took her out to a friend's agility field, and she just could hardly be bothered with me. Didn't want to play, didn't want to give me attention, just wanted to zone. I did get a little dogwalk work and a couple of tunnel runs, finally, but she had to go back into the crate twice (if you won't play with me, you won't play, is the rule) and never really "turned on" for this session. Tired? Probably, but I wasn't asking for that much, and I know she could do this. Adolescent brain distracted by something shiny, just as likely.

But Sunday and Monday were good. :-)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rally, day 1

Two runs with Laev today, both qualifying. That was good. The second suffered a bit of "puppy brain" -- she was a little distracted and therefore slower to respond -- and we scored only a 188, knocking out our chances of an Award of Excellence for Level 1. Drat. Still, she did very well overall, with crisp heeling for the most part and no major bobbles in attention.

Shakespeare -- I know this isn't his blog, but lemme brag on him -- really surprised me today by holding it together for six runs. The trial ran from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., so I was amazed that the stressy dog was able to maintain it. But he's always liked Rally, and he qualified six times, all scores above 195. Yippee!

I'm a little worried about tonight; Laev eventually went to sleep last night and was very good 'til morning, but today she spent most of her time in the crate and Shakespeare and I are exhausted. Right now I'm buying peace with a raw marrow bone on a towel from home, but if she eventually gives up on that and is fussy, she'll go in the car.

'Twas the Night Before Rally...

...and Laura's getting what she deserves.

It was a healthy drive to our Rally trial this weekend, and I'm running eight courses a day, so I thought I'd drive over the night before and get some rest. Wasn't that a nice thought?

I forgot a crate for the motel room.

So Shakespeare is lying on my bed like a good dog, wondering why we're all still awake. Laev is sleepy but resisting, and she keeps leaving her makeshift bed (a towel and my jeans) to roam the room -- stealing a shampoo packet from the bathroom, my keys from the table, a bar of soap from the tub edge, or whacking the trash can for the fun sound it makes. She's almost never stolen and chewed illegal items at home, but she's also never been great at settling herself; she's always needed an outside hand or crate to keep her still long enough until she could pass out when she's tired. I thought she was doing quite well for a while, but apparently she just can't get to sleep.

I could put her in the car overnight, but I'll wait a while longer before I resort to that.

I don't understand the attraction of the soap, really.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Workshop Weekend w/ Kathy Sdao

If you haven't been to a Kathy Sdao seminar yet, quit reading this blog and go find one. I'm not kidding! I have seen her three(?) times and I think she's fabulous.

Okay, this weekend was an advanced clicker training seminar, and between lectures and dicussion we did dog work focusing on discrimination and adding cues. I had been a little worried about taking Laev to the seminar -- I thought she might not be advanced enough -- but I thought she needed the mileage and it would be good experience. Well, she did better than expected. :-)

First, Laev learned to target a ceramic saucer from among a hat, book and saucer, no matter the arrangement of the array. (Kathy suggested we wear opaque sunglasses to reduce the additional cues from our eyes.) She also learned to touch a plastic bottle, from an array which did not include a saucer. No sweat for either, of course. Then we added a cue for touching the saucer or bottle -- that broke the flow a bit, because she didn't understand my new action, but she pretty quickly caught on to that. I was flashing a matching object as a cue, and at first she tried to target it (it was, after all, a saucer!) and was confused when that wasn't reinforced, but after a single session (10 reps) she got the idea that flashed saucer = go touch saucer.

When she had learned the cue for touching the bottle or the saucer, it was time to put the two hot objects together and see if she could discriminate between the cues. This may sound easy at first -- hadn't she already learned the cues for these objects? -- but of course it's not that simple! All the cue had been 'til that point was permission to go and touch the hot object; it had nothing to do with identifying the object, even though it might appear that way to a casual observer. Of course Laev would go to the saucer when shown a saucer -- why would it even occur to her to target the book, when that had never been reinforced? But going to the saucer when the bottle was also available, and it also had a reinforcement history, now that was challenging.

This is why when clients tell me that their dog already knows "sit," I don't always believe them. :-) Yes, the dog probably knows to plant his rear end, but he probably doesn't really understand the cue like they think he does. Can he distinguish between 3 or 4 or more cues for different behaviors reliably? Then he knows "sit." Otherwise, you're just getting lucky in that you're asking for what he's already guessing.

Laev didn't quite "get it" in our limited training time. I have data sheets showing success rates of 40-100% in various sessions, but she could not consistently stay above 80%. But given the amount of time we spent on this, that was to be expected; none of the other dogs present really nailed it, either.

I'm going to try to continue this work at home and see if we can get a solid "match to sample" behavior under our belts.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Therapy Greetings

Every year Shakespeare does Agility demonstrations for the Reach For Tomorrow program for handicapped and at-risk children. It's a five-day program servicing about 3,000 kids, but this year we participated only two days, as I had other committments. But that's still two days of several hours of running agility and greeting kids -- each demo is followed by an opportunity to pet the dog and learn basic dog safety -- and that can be quite tiring for a black dog in the sun. So I took Laevatein along this year to help share the load.

Laev hasn't had the therapy training that Shakespeare has, so during the meet n' greet sessions I have her lie on a blanket and take occasional treats from me while the kids pet her back. I also make sure to choose Shakespeare for those kids with special equipment or more obvious mental handicaps, as he seems to be a little better than average at recognizing that this particular "abnormal" is not a threat of any sort. He's actually great at this; I've seen kids overcome with emotion at actually being near the dog begin to shriek and flail their arms excitedly or even step on his ear as he's lying on his side, and he doesn't react. Laev is never going to be that kind of dog, so I didn't even ask her to do that.

But Laev did some basic jumps and tunnels for the kids (delighting them and teaching her to handle applause and audiences). She also learned very quickly that if she flopped on her blanket and ignored the kids touching her, she could get very tasty treats. That was pretty simple for her, as she's confident in groups already and all I was after was reducing the number of Doberkisses she distributed to kids to may not want them, but she thought it was a great game.

We had trouble only once in the two days, when I delayed in talking too long to a new group and lost Laev's attention while she was waiting. She actually left our "ring" (marked by a line of flags, nothing more) and went loping across to the next station -- the archery range! My heart stopped for a moment as I called her, but fortunately no one released as she ran by. (There probably wouldn't have been serious damage, as these are small bows designed to let kids try it for the first time, but it sure wouldn't have done her any good.)

Laev did recall to me, but more slowly than what I've seen before. It was a loop back to me at a lope rather than a racing gallop. Granted, she was moving through a crowd of people in an open field with wooded edges and there were a thousand things competing for her attention, but I'd rather see her come more quickly even in that situation. Guess we'll be seeking out new recall distractions for practice! I wonder where I can find crowds through which we can legally train.

Laev stayed on leash for the rest of that afternoon. At the end of the day, as crowds were clearing, I took her off leash again and did some heeling and short formal recalls in the area. No problems then, she was happy to stay focused for her toy. But I ain't trusting her yet. :-)

We're headed to a Kathy Sdao seminar this weekend. I'm actually really looking forward to that, trying a conference setting with Laev. She's not as fluent in clicker skills as I would like (she is less inventive than Shakespeare in offering new behaviors for shaping) but that's what seminars are for, right?