Sunday, June 25, 2006

Self-Control, and Why We Need More of It

Jon and I arrived home late tonight, after a wedding. The dogs were rather emphatic about the fact that dinner was coming several hours late. Shakespeare and Inky lay down immediately in the kitchen, but Laev was having a hard time staying in position. So I fed Shakespeare and Inky immediately in the kitchen :-) and asked Laev to give me a down while they ate. Nope, couldn't do it. Shakespeare and Inky went down to their crates with an extra treat while I tried Laev in an empty kitchen. Nope, couldn't do it. She was so wired about dinner that she was having a hard time controlling herself and kept popping up to look for a cat in the next room, or to start for her own crate down the hall, or to listen for the other dogs' noises, or to move toward my husband's voice, or....

I occasionally use an NRM to mark incorrect behavior (better to let her know as she moves that she's already blown it, rather than waiting for her to run down the hall and wait in her crate for a minute before realizing that I'm not coming) and began using it here. (Obligatory trainer's note: an NRM is an advanced concept and not something I recommend for novice dogs or handlers; it's awfully easy to turn it into P+, which can actually slow down training. Sorry, my instructor's brain won't let me skip that!) Laev got about six in a row, which is WAY higher than I'd ever consider acceptable in a training session, but at least it was coming later each time. My goal was for her to lie quietly while I banged her feed bucket and walked toward the hallway and while Jon and the other dogs made noise down the hall in the feeding area. :-)

She finally got it -- I started for the hall and got to the point where I could see just the tip of her tail wagging behind the kitchen island. I praised quietly (conditioned reinforcer and keep-going signal) and then released her. She launched like a rocket around the island, around the great room and down the hall, careening off a couple walls as she navigated into the bedroom and slammed into her crate. But she got dinner!

And it really worked her brain, too. After eating she immediately lay down quietly and then fell asleep after a few moments, with not a single bark for her usual post-meal bathroom break. Wow.

Obviously, though, I need to go back and spend a lot more time on holding a position in distractions. She *almost* had a sit-stay while guests came in last Thursday, but she finally broke just a second or two before I released her; she was able to do it the second time, but that's not quite good enough. :-) I need to be more diligent.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Rally class today, with a lot of Excellent/Level 3 signs. I ran Laev through once, with passing fair results. She just seemed a little... distracted. Not even looking at other things, but just kind of slow and unfocused.

When it was our turn again, I asked for lots of noise and movement outside the ring. The class obliged, with running dogs, clapping, loud talking, barking, etc. Laev actually did *better* this time, and I kept the rate of reinforcement very high for correct behavior (no lures, nope! just rewards). I lost her twice; oonce she turned when a dog and handler went by the ring gate while playing with a mobile phone, and the second time when Alena went running down the length of the ring with Laev's most favoritest tug toy and banged it hard on the ground (one of my ways to fire her up). Both times she came right back when prompted, though I could tell it was tough to ignore that tug toy! But she did quite well, and I was very happy.

Her left pivots and turns are starting to look really good! I'm so pleased with that, since it's all entirely shaped.

Laev is still severely handicapped by a lazy handler. We need to be doing a lot more tracking than we're doing, and a little extra obedience in other locations wouldn't kill us, either. Bad trainer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I Love It When A Training Plan Comes Together

Okay, last night, it was all good. :-)

Laev's first protection session consisted of only four repetitions. I'd stated that "correct" meant she put no paws on the gate (closed first rep for review, open for all others) or the helper. I was going to let her stop herself entirely, giving her no collar help. I was a little dubious about the coming session, because she was absolutely *wired for sound* and very, very, very eager to work, so I didn't know if she could exhibit the self-control necessary for the hold and bark.

Laev's first try was to run around the blind and hit the gate with a paw, but she immediately realized her mistake and self-corrected before I could even tighten the long line. We completed the rep by allowing her to hold and bark and then giving her a bite; this had the potential for creating an unwanted chain of "touch and off and bark," but I thought I could see her thinking and gambled that she remembered that touching wasn't part of the behavior.

Repetitions two, three, and four were flawless. FLAWLESS. Just beautiful. No paws, no jumping on the helper, no dirty bites, just a fast run in, a beautiful hold just in front of Randy and strong barking. Randy was very good about rewarding quickly with the sleeve to reinforce this awesome behavior. We quit after the fourth rep because, well, why push it?

For her next session, we added even more distance (she's now about 20-25' behind the blind). We had the helper in the blind, two club members working the gates (little to "work," now, but they're on standby to close the gates between her and the helper if she gets dirty), Alena holding Laev's collar so I could send her from a distance while I myself handled long lines from the opposite side of the blind, and one more person to track success rates. When I sent Laev the first time, she tried to go around the opposite side of the blind -- we think she was confused by seeing Randy's shadow on the fabric blind in the artificial lighting -- and then ran around to the front. Later during the session, I took off the long line to the prong at Randy's suggestion, because I don't use it to slow her anymore anyway (she's not trying to break her neck on the leather, and the prong will actually push her forward if used to hold her at the blind) and she doesn't need the stimulation (she already is more than happy to bark strongly at the helper).

Nine reps, this time, and seven very good. Her two mistakes were one jump on Randy and one dirty bite to the sleeve. Her dirty bite, a product of excitement, resulted in me instantly hauling her backward, hand over hand on the line to her padded leather collar, while Laev screamed her frustration and tore out chunks of earth. "Do you think she knows what she did wrong?" asked one of the gate-holders, as I handed Laev off to Alena to send from a distance again.

"Yeah, she knows exactly what it was," Randy answered.

And Laev did. Powered even higher now because of the frustrated last effort, she zoomed around the blind and reached for the sleeve -- and caught herself, without any help from the line or Randy, and began barking with only a slight nose bump to the sleeve. "Good save!" I cheered, as Randy gave her a bite. Yippee!

So she *is* thinking in there! Even in overdrive!

One thing that I really love is that while someone else is holding her collar, ready to release her to the blind, Laev is looking at me. Most dogs focus on the goal, straining toward the helper; Laev looks at the blind and then looks at me, because even though her mind is clearly running along the lines of, "Oh please, please I want him so bad, I want that bad guy, please, let me have him," she recognizes that the way to *get* him is to have me send her. And so her focus is on me. I'm not sure if that's ideal from a performance perspective, though right now I don't see how it could hurt, but from a perspective of her attitude, I could not love it more! She is actively thinking and wants to trade some behavior for what she wants. Yay!

I've got to do more tracking with her, with lots and lots more turns, but at least some part of this stuff is firming up in a good way!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Behavior Geek

(Warning: This is about me and only tangentally about Laev.)

Okay, so I've always admitted I'm way into this behavior stuff. Behavior analysis is my business and my hobby. But I didn't realize exactly how bad I was.

I have to re-certify for my CPDT this year, the initials which say I passed the first national certification program for trainers (with a 95%, if anyone besides my mom cares). I needed to accrue 36 Continuing Education Credits in the past three years to recertify without testing. That's 36 hours of specific CCPDT-approved education.

Sitting next to me, I have documented evidence of 189.75 hours, and I haven't even collected all of my CEU forms yet. That does not include an entire ClickerExpo (another 20 CEUs) or any of the other seminars I haven't dug up the paperwork for yet.

In addition, my husband asked about the other seminars I've attended that were not specifically pre-approved for CEUs. I told him I could apply for credit from those, but it's probably not worth the time it would take me to do the paperwork. :-)

Laev has been to only a few of these seminars, and only one for which I myself earned CEUs (that was the Kathy Sdao Advanced Clicker Training workshop, which was fabulous), but she'll be racking up some more miles with me in the future. Wow. She has a geek for a partner.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Laev's Busy Day

We started with a Rally class this morning. We attend a small class (all Dobes!) every two weeks. Laev did well enough in the class, but when we went to the next ring to play on the agility equipment, she did the teeter and then freaked out about it -- something I never saw even when she tried it for the first time -- and refused to remount it. I took her to the dogwalk, and she refused that, too. "Equipment is scary! It moved under me! It might eat Dobermans!" And I've almost never seen this dog frightened.

Ah, adolescence. I guess it really is hitting her!

We hit Petsmart on the way home, for discount days. I bought a huge stockpile of treats for the coming months. I carried most of them in when we arrived at home, but my arms were full and I left one bagful in the car for a later trip. I also left Laev outside, but my Jeep windows were 2/3 up and I was going to be in the house only 15 minutes before leaving for a private lesson.

When I came out, I found Laev in my car. She had leapt up and somehow squeezed through the window and into the driver's seat, where she had torn open two bags of Charlie Bear treats and eaten about two pounds of dry treats.

I loaded her and Shakespeare into their crates and went to the private lesson (also a Doberman -- it was a thematic day!). Laev showed no trouble, but when we went to our new agility we started tonight (where she and Shakespeare were the only Dobermans), she was sluggish and standing a little funny, so I put her away partway through class. I should mention, though, that she was still anxious to work for those exact same treats of which she had already eaten two pounds! Because Sym and I were able to work her up and over the dogwalk with them, until Laev was trotting happily over the equipment just like she used to. ("Oh, yeah. I'm an adolescent and I'm supposed to freak out suddenly at things and then remember that they're not really so scary.") All for Charlie Bear treats. That's when I noticed her starting to move a little funny, as if her stomach hurt, so we stopped working her. I kept an eye on her and rationed her water intake to reduce risk; because she eats raw, I didn't want her to binge on water after so much dry food and bloat.

Nutty dog. No, she didn't get a full supper tonight!

Schutzhund workshop

This weekend our club did an intensive training workshop, tracking in the morning and then working protection and obedience in the midday and agility in late afternoon. It was also an intensive workout for the handlers! as I had two dogs to work multiple times each. Sunday, we also used Laev as the barking dog in a puppy circle, so that was two extra sessions for her and me -- totaling five protection sessions on Sunday alone. We're tired!

At least, *I* am tired. Laev was totally fine by Monday morning.

Anyway, the weekend's sessions showed Laev's hold and bark achieving a new success rate high of 88%, according to my recorded data. That includes varying the angle and distance of approach and opening the gates partway instead of having them totally closed. Huzzah!

That also demonstrates the need for a Schutzhund *club* as opposed to training at home; we had one helper in the blind, two people working the gates myself on the dog's lines (sometimes someone else will handle the lines, necessitating another person), one person sometimes holding Laev's collar so I could send her from a angle other than where I stood, and a person tracking my data. Whew!

Laev absolutely stops better on the leather than on the prong collar, now that she knows the collar is a cue to stop. I think the prong stimulates her to jump the gate for the helper! She also works better on light pressure rather than on strong; because I've never relied on collar and leash to control her, she has no punishment callous and can think through light contact rather than needing heavy (and stimulating) pops on the leash. She still has more conflict on the outs than I'd like, but we're working on that. It was better this weekend.

Most of the club does not pursue agility competitively, so we didn't do a lot of that, just some jumping courses. Laev is something of a klutz in her jumping (she isn't sure if she should be watching me or not and so jumps awkwardly) but that will change with experience. She did stay with me around the course, which was nice. :-)

Her tracking, after being so wonderful the previous weekend, was sloppy on Sunday. Ugly start, frantic on the track itself, and skipped articles. Shakespeare was the same way, though, and I haven't seen him miss an article in six months! I can't say why that was so.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Right now Laev is lying on my bedroom floor. A few minutes ago, she carried her toy into the sunny spot by the window and, after struggling for a moment with inner conflict, lay down. This is important because it's one of the first dozen or so times that Laev has settled herself in the house without me having to artificially settle her (crate, mat, chew, etc.).

That sunspot crash didn't last too long, and she got up to go raid the kitchen trash. I heard her and went after her, replacing the trash and directing her to another toy. We petted a moment in the kitchen, and then I returned to the bedroom and the computer, and Laev wandered around the bedroom, looking for a soft spot but definitely *not* sleepy. Never sleepy. She finally chose the rug beside the bed and chomped a toy for a while before gradually rolling onto her side....

Oops! Inky just barked outside, and Laev left to check that out. Still, that's pretty good for a dog who's never been able to let herself just stop. Even as a tiny puppy we used to laugh ourselves sore at her, because she'd fight falling asleep so very, very hard.

By the way, Laev has finally gotten the idea of swinging her hindquarters around behind me for left turns. We haven't practiced it a lot, but I was actually getting left 90- and 180-degree pivots in the great room on Tuesday night. Yay!

Oops! Another trash raid. Laev has now been busted to her crate for a (obviously needed) nap.

Thinking Dogs :-)

Saturday, while practicing the hold and bark before the gates in the blind, Laev was experimenting. She really wanted those gates to open! and she knows she's supposed to offer behavior to make reinforcement happen. So in front of the gates she kept barking intensely, as we want, but also shifted positions from sit to down to sit, angling right, angling left, creeping right, creeping left, down, sit....

"Oh, no!" I can hear some cry. "She's not learned reliable behavior!"

To the contrary, she's in the process of learning very reliable behavior. She's asking questions -- is this part of it? is this? will this help me? how about this? -- and getting answers. We were simply careful to open the gates or give bites only when she was sitting directly in front of the helper and barking strongly.

That was Saturday. On Monday, the variability was gone. She had her answer -- sit in the center and bark your brains out! -- and there was no reason to try anything else. If anything, she'll be *more* reliable in the future.

I am keeping data on our hold and bark training. So far it's interesting to see that the leather collar actually stops her at the gates more reliably and with less pressure than the prong. That is contrary to everything the club has seen, but I attribute it to the fact that the prong is a stimulation tool and it makes her *more* determined to reach the sleeve, not less. The leather, on the other hand, is just a physical block and she has no reason to get jazzed about fighting it.

By the last rep Monday night, I didn't use any line pressure at all to stop her at the gate. So the light bulb is flickering, even if it's not on yet. :-)

I don't like where we are with outs, however. Laev is very much in conflict about the outs, wanting to hang onto the sleeve. I want to do more trades, dead sleeve for live, but Randy worries that this will teach her to release the sleeve too quickly. (I don't really understand this -- a quick fast out off the tug does not cause mouthiness while she plays with me -- but I'm not the expert.

Randy says not to worry, that we can always clean up the outs later -- which is true, if I am relying on using compulsion. But I'm trying to be smart enough and plan ahead enough that I won't be. :-)

Someone else pointed out that I might be asking her to hold the sleeve for too long before outing her; I'll try shortening the holds and see if that makes a difference.