Saturday, November 24, 2007

BH -- Passed

We did it.

As I told a club member afterward, "She didn't show what I know she's capable of, but she didn't humiliate me either, and that's all I was after today."

But first, this morning.... I let Laev and Shakespeare out to air while I finished getting ready and then packed the car. Then I called and loaded Shakespeare, but Laev didn't come to the Jeep.... I wandered after her and found her sniffing intently, circling as she does when she's found prey scent. "Laev!" No response. "Laev!" She went the other way.

Oh, great. Wonderful start to our obedience day. And she never did come, and I finally (needed to get going) got in the car and started down the drive. She caught up and I loaded her with her obvious reluctance.

Outside the gate, I spotted what she'd probably been tracking -- a black cat! running across our field. Lovely! "No, Laev, you are NOT ALLOWED to be chasing BLACK CATS on our BH day." I turned from the drive to the road and a few hundred feet later, a second dark cat ran across the road in front of us. I swear I am not making this up.

Okay, so, it's gonna be a good day, oh yeah.

Laev and another bitch, both in pseudo-heat, were paired together and had to run last, to keep the field as clean as possible for the other dogs. That meant we waited through all of tracking, all of obedience and BHs, all of protection (and probably means that Laev heard a bit of protection in the car, but I suspect that was minimal). "That's okay," I told our judge while waiting, "I think I still have a fingernail left." Then it was finally our turn.

It was COLD. Really cold. As in, a good 10 degrees colder than predicted the day before, and a good 40 degrees colder than what it had been earlier in the week. I changed out of my warm suit for our routine, not wanting to change the picture she was used to practicing with (I am slower and louder in the suit).

I set Laev for the long honor down, but she didn't stay; she walked up quietly toward me (30 paces away with my back to her), downed again when I whispered to her, and I could hear her teeth chattering. She was shivering hard when I went to pick her up.

We started our heeling pattern, and she kept glancing toward the woods. We got pointed for forging (our long runs were toward the woods) and we had some sloppiness that was due to her distraction. She actually sniffed someone in the group, which is unusual for her. The judge caught that I made three German about turns and one U turn; the last was due to Laev's wavering attention and it pushed her back to looking at me! Both turns are legal, though, and I don't know of any rule that says they have to all match. To be fair, though, I was cheating on her, too -- the honoring dog had gotten up and she's very dog-aggressive, so I was glancing frequently at her to know how to manage our distance. Stressed human = inconsistent heeling dog.

No offered dog fights, and we finished our pattern and went for our critique. Unfortunately, my videographer didn't tape the critique. :-( We passed the first phase, and that was huge, because I knew the traffic test would be no problem for us.

Indeed, traffic test was pretty easy, and Laev now FINALLY has her BH. :-) Now we can concentrate on getting her third Novice leg, and doing a Rally Level 2, and, oh, doing tracking/obedience/protection all TOGETHER...!

But we made it, she didn't head for the woods, and she finally has that #%*$&@ BH. :-)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Laev is Armed and Dangerous

So I was out of town at a convention for three days, leaving Laev home with Jon. She was very good, he reported, on Friday and Saturday.

Apparently, by Sunday, she was bored.

She got into the trash, she surfed the counter for tempting treats left in reach. Her worst moment was when she reached into the kitchen sink and took the 12" butcher knife used to cut her raw supper and ran about the house with it. I'm a bit glad I wasn't there to see all that...!

Jon has been reminded of the importance of giving a dog like Laev a job to keep her occupied. She can manage to be mannerly for a day or two, but three days with no mental work is just not reasonable and she will find a way (legal or no) to entertain herself. The next time I leave them together, he'll be stuffing Kongs or hiding frozen toys, I'm sure.

Inky and Shakespeare were apparently model citizens, especially when compared to Laev. ;)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Progress with Prey!

This will be very, very quick, as I have to leave town early in the morning, but I had to share.

I did another session with Laev and the cat this afternoon. Now, yesterday's session was about 45 minutes long, total, to build up to heeling Laev away with a click every step or two.

Today's session, total, was just under 20 minutes, and I quit because I'd done all that I wanted to do, more than once. And then tonight at our Doberman club meeting, I paid for a brag because Laev RECALLED AWAY FROM A CAT. (More than once! though I didn't mention that.)

Now, I'm not going to pretend that she can recall away from a cat in the fresh flush of realization that the cat is there; she still needs to run a bit before she can focus. But she's getting way better!

I cannot believe this improvement! I hope we can continue this, and I hope I figure out a safe way to increase the cat's distraction.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Episode IV: A New Hope (part 2)

I did another session with Laev behind the fence with the cat. My perfect plan would have been to do it Tuesday, to take advantage of any possible stiffness or soreness from her hours of running and wheeling on Sunday, but it didn't work out -- and she didn't look that sore, anyway. Dratted fit dog.

Today, though, I stopped and bought a new tripod on the way home and set up the video camera, fed the cat, and hit record. The cat was eating happily about 25' outside the fence, a comfortable distance for her. She was not active at all, just still and eating and then still and bathing, no real movement to speak of.

(The cat is always free to leave at any time, but she doesn't mind the food and the amusement of driving the dog nutty.)

Laev went bonkers for the cat, right on cue, but it was much less than I'd expected. No screaming, no biting at the fence, just running. She looked almost manageable. However, she couldn't interrupt her running for a long time, even though I got a few "dry" clicks (she didn't stop for her cream cheese) as she glanced briefly in my direction.

She finally did recall the nature of the game, though, and she stopped running at a time well short of three hours. ;) It was very obvious, though, when I over-faced her with a request ("sit") she couldn't bring herself to obey; she took off running again, even though she'd shown no inclination to run the moment before. Again, Laev handles all internal conflict through movement or her jaws; it's self-reinforcing to dump that stress. I'm going to have to figure out a way to prevent that, though, so that she can't get more R- by running than R+ by staying.

But Laev pulled herself together and actually started thinking for a short time, before my husband pulled in the drive. At his approach, the cat ran about 15' away, and Laev lost all brainpower. It took her QUITE a while to bring herself back. In the end, we were able to heel all the way to the house again, but it wasn't quite as good as Sunday, I don't think. (I'm not terribly proud of my technique today, either; I was a bit slow.) We did go through an entire 8 oz can of cream cheese, which might be a problem if Laev weren't running it off so efficiently.

I don't know if I've mentioned that Laev has indeed caught prey, including cats, before; we're working against previous reinforcement as well as genetics here.

I'm rendering that digital video now and will review it and then edit it to a manageable length, to ask some friends and gurus for help. I want to make sure we're progressing as quickly and smoothly as we can.

Episode IV: A New Hope (part 1)

Forgive the post title, but I attended a Star Wars party over the weekend. And this is our fourth post on The Cat Incident and its fallout.

(With only a few minutes' notice that we were attending, I dressed as Callista-Sue Jade. Photo upon request. If you don't know who Callista, Mara Jade, and Mary Sue are, be glad of your social life. ;) )

Back to Laev.

Sunday afternoon, Laev spotted a cat outside the fence and began running the fence line, losing all semblance of control. I know that dragging her away from the cat only creates a stronger desire, born of frustration -- hence the adage of, "Always leave 'em wanting more!" And it's not that simple to catch a Laev in full cat-mode, either. I read somewhere that tests showed the aural-processing bits could actually shut down during true frenzy, and I think I have a sample case.

So I thought I'd try extinction. Let's see how long it takes for Laev to give up on the cat she can't reach, right? Couldn't be too long? The cat was sitting quite still, just waiting about 30' outside the fence for a human to happen by and feed it supper, so she wasn't actively stimulating the dog.

After about 30 minutes I gave up and went inside. After over 3 hours had passed, I didn't want to wait any more. I gave up on the idea of getting a baseline for extinction ("3.5 hours +") and went back outside with a clicker and a can of dispensing cream cheese. (The cat, by the way, hadn't moved; she was sitting exactly as I'd left her. So Laev had kept it up that long on just the visual, not any movement.)

Sometimes I wonder why we even bother to train for the AD*, when it's obviously so natural and easy for a fit dog.

I stood somewhat behind Laev. (I'm not foolish enough to risk my knees by standing in the path of a prey-frenzied dog; I've known two trainers who spent months on crutches after similar encounters and another pet owner who needed months of recovery.) I waited. I waited. I said nothing. Laev slowed to a long trot instead of a gallop. I waited. And then Laev paused, four feet on the ground at once, and I clicked.

No response from her, but I didn't really expect one, either. She continued running the fence. This went on for a while, my clicking whenever she happened to pause for a half-second or so and then her running on.

At last, though, she tipped her head toward me as she passed and I clicked and held out the cream cheese and she STOPPED. I quickly clicked and treated repeatedly, squirting cream cheese into her mouth as rapidly as I could click. Then I hesitated, she glanced up, and I clicked for eye contact.

Ah! The beginnings of communication!

She couldn't hold herself still for long, though, and she went off to run the fence again. But this stretch of running wasn't nearly so long, and soon she was able to pause by me again. I was quite pleased.

I gradually raised the criteria, requiring eye contact for clicks and then sustained eye contact, up to two seconds. Yes, that sounds tiny in print, but trust me, it was big! She kept glancing at me and then hurriedly looking back at the still cat. (The cat was fed by now, eating happily in place.)

I asked for a sit, and that was too much -- she hesitated and then bolted. Conflict must be resolved in movement, with Laev, and if she couldn't move from a stand to a sit, she had to run.

I waited (what had I to lose?) and clicked her back to focus again. This time she could sit, and follow me a step or two. Everything was fine 'til the cat moved.

Laev went berserk, screaming and biting the wire of the fence, trying to tear it out of her path. (This after *hours* of running?!) I waited; it's not as if I could do much to interrupt that, anyway. It would take an awfully strong aversive, and I don't want to go there. Fortunately the cat was content with the chunks of solid cheese I threw across the fence and she settled down about 15-20' away and watched with feline amusement.

I gradually clicked Laev back to focus and rebuilt our short spans of attention and movement. I called her to front, parallel to the cat. Cream cheese reward. I turned after a couple of reps and asked her to face the other way, still parallel to the cat. No problem. Then I took a giant leap and stepped back from the fence, asking her to front with her back to the cat.

It was almost possible to see her brain smoke, but she did it. She kept glancing over her shoulder, but I kept the cream cheese coming as fast as possible in short spurts, and she stayed with me. We went back to parallel tasks (sit and front), with heavy reinforcement for looking at me instead of the cat.

Our crowning achievement was working up to two steps of heeling, with full eye contact, with Laev between the cat and me (looking away from the cat to me). I reinforced massively and then led Laev, step by step, clicking and treating at nearly each step, away from the fence back to the house -- which is at least a couple hundred feet and that's a lot of clicked steps, if you ever wondered.

I wish desperately I had video of that session. We achieved a lot, and I'd love others' feedback on it and suggestions for improvement. Also, it'd be nice to have proof of what Laev's prey frenzy is really like, as it's hard to describe, so I don't always get relevant advice.

But Laev makes me -- forces me to be -- a better trainer. :)



* The AD is an endurance test of physical fitness and ability, consisting primarily of a 12.5 run alongside the biking handler.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Better Day

Last night, I was doing some basic distraction work (my husband has Laev's supper, and she has to recall to me and do work for a click and a send to him for a snack), which took much longer than usual due to my dog's difficult in re-focusing. She was constantly scanning for prey. Once, during a recall, she never made it to me, pausing midway to pounce double-pawed on a passing leaf. Ouch. We HAVE regressed, haven't we?

I was scheduled to do clicker training demos for a veterinary open house today, and drizzly weather meant the event was moved entirely indoors. I got for my training area a very nice matted area -- which also happened to be where the boarded cats lived in one corner of cattery runs.

Oh, stink.

No matter! This is an excellent opportunity for training and working through our current issues. I would try it with Laev. If she were too bad, I'd just stash her in the car for the day; it's not fair to traumatize the cats, who didn't sign up to be guinea pigs. But if she could learn to work beside them, that could be a giant step forward again for us, right?

Fortunately, I'd brought three levels of treat values for the day.

The cats were perfect; I'd like to rent this batch for the future. One shy kitty was covered so she didn't have to see us, and the other two were just awesome -- nice and laid back, not particularly active or spooky. If Laev got too close, one hissed at her, but there was no frantic prey movement and that was ideal.

I did my first acclimatization before any spectators arrived, with Laev safely on leash so that she couldn't rage against the cattery cage doors if she were inclined. She did alert on the cats and go all predatory, but I stayed calm and backed away until she turned, at which point I clicked and treated.

We gradually worked our way closer and closer, until Laev was sniffing most eagerly at the cage doors but could, with great effort, tear herself away when asked. Since I would not have guessed we'd ever be able to get to that point in several weeks, I was very pleased, and we stopped there.

Laev and Shakespeare each did some shaping demos, and Shakespeare "volunteered" for training by a number of visitors. He's forgiving enough that slow or mis-timed clicks, while confusing and frustrating, don't stop him working entirely, and I am coaching to keep the rate of reinforcement high enough that it's worth his while.

Intermittently, however, I'd bring Laev out and work her. When we could heel off leash past the cats without losing eye contact, I thought we'd achieved some sort of training miracle. It's been only three days since The Cat Incident! Is this Laev? Is she ill?

Then we went out front for a bit, where chaos reigned. The building was crowded with an entire fair's worth of exhibits and activities (ferrets, wildlife rehabilitation, toss games, tortoises, raffles, quizzes, a food bar, pet caricatures, photography, etc.) compressed into one space, and of course there are always folks not watching where their leashes pull because their dogs are nice and won't get into trouble, they assume. Laev was pretty freaked out by the press and activity, actually cowering and even trembling twice. (That is NOT my dog.) She snarked at one dog who pushed cheerily right into her face, but only for the second it took to remove the offender. I had given her a toy to carry, so that helped vent her stress safely, but she was clearly having a rough time of it.

But that can't stop us! We were going to work through it. I pulled out the squeeze cream cheese (which had been working miracles near the cattery) and began treating her regularly for sitting still beside me, buffered by myself and a wall. It took probably 10 minutes, but she was soon working promptly for her licks of cheese -- no more hesitation or glancing about. Another 10 minutes, and she was a pro, moving about and not even glancing at the other people or dogs that pushed about us. While she was sitting at front, eyes on me, a strange dog jabbed its head between my legs -- I simply closed my legs to push it out and treated Laev, who barely blinked at it.

I would really like to have returned to the busy lobby later for another practice round, but we didn't have a chance. But it was an excellent experience for her.

Of course, my high came to a crashing end when I arrived home and discovered our outdoor cat beside my car as I released Shakespeare. He chased her (he enjoys making cats move) and Laev, watching through her crate door, went slightly berserk. I didn't release her for some time, hoping she'd forget about it, but nope! she downed and waited nicely for the door and then went screeching off in search of the cat, finding it in the tree and going quite mad below. I collected her physically and put her in her run, but that battle was a loss.

Still, in the grand scale of the war on predation and distraction, I have at least one victory.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

For Sale: One Doberman

Yeek. I just came in from working with Laev in our field here at home.... I am not pleased.

Sunday evening, she was doing nice work with a strange dog in this field. She was a bit distracted by our spectators (man and baby, and she's still very distracted by the baby), and she wasn't as good as I'd like her to be, but she was not bad at all. She did her BH heeling patterns, heeling loops around the strange dog, etc.

Yesterday we had The Cat Incident, reviving all her hyper-predatory insanity.

Today, she had a tough time heeling with any duration. If my feet kicked up a leaf, she broke focus to look at it. And then she scented a mole nearby, and twice I had to go and collect her head from the mole hole where she wanted to dig instead. Aversives (verbal rebuke, tightened collar) kept her from the mole but made it harder for her to focus on me. And my treats were raw chicken!

This is not good. I am not pleased. I'd like to just start over, I think.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kiss Control (and Trial) Goodbye

I've been meaning to post for a while, but I had trouble logging in and it wasn't worth it to fight with the system. This morning, however, I can get it, just in time to report that there will be nothing good to report for a while.

Laev has what would be traditionally termed a "high prey drive." I dislike the highly unscientific and non-specific terminology (Hull's Theory of Drives was discarded decades ago and so the words "high drive" mean something different to many people or groups), but for quick shorthand, Laev has an obscenely high prey drive. In her first AKC obedience trial, Laev really surprised me with her focus and excellent performance, far beyond what I'd expected from a dog approaching her first birthday, until the group stays -- where we were actually excused from the ring, due to Laev's noticing a bird landing and flapping on the ground THREE RINGS AWAY. Ye-ah.

(I learned this spring that her sire is like this, too -- a great working dog, I was told, but far beyond average in prey reaction. Whee!)

So we've been working on this self-control in the temptation of prey business, and we've come a long way. Laev can now walk past a cat on the way to the field and then work the helper (she used to be unable to focus on even an agitating helper if she'd seen a cat; my training director said that he'd never seen it so bad). The other night while I had three dogs holding down stays for supper, my husband stepped on the cat upstairs, making it screech -- and Laev's eyes bugged, but she stayed in her down. That's an enormous accomplishment.

All that was just undone.

Saturday I was working Laev in obedience on our training field, and I could tell she was distracted. She was looking at me, when I politely insisted, but it's quite possible for a Doberman to keep steady, bright-eyed contact on my face and to know exactly what is going on at the far end of the field. And finally, when I was doing some out of motion exercises, she broke and ran full out to the woods at the end of the field.

I yelled once, and then I didn't even call her -- I could tell she was "in the zone" and wouldn't hear a word. I turned and left. I saw Laev race along the edge of the woods (now several hundred feet from me), cut into a horse pasture and react mildly to the electric fencing (she's never known such a thing) and loop back. I slipped into a blind and stayed out of sight.

Laev noted I was missing and got visibly agitated. She began to search for me, looping the field, racing past my blind back to the cars, finding other people and discarding them instantly. Each time she passed me, I could see her coming and slip to the other side of the blind, running a little circle so that even if she caught my scent she couldn't see me. Finally I let her find me, and she was quite, quite stressed -- panting and licking, and Laev almost never licks! I immediately had her do some simple heeling, a down 'til she got her panic done, and then some more heeling. She stayed right with me.

That makes the second time ever that Laev has left me in her life, and the first time (at UDC Nationals this year) I hid and she did not leave me again, even though she and I both knew the area was populated by small, fast-moving critters. Apparently losing me was aversive enough to suppress that crittering -- and in hindsight, now I suspect her motivation for breaking the down-stay when she heard animals in the tall grass, twitched, and then ran for me. "I can't notice the critters -- I'll lose Mom!"

So I thought that this might have shut down the leaving forever, or at least in this area -- she was far more upset this time than in the spring. I expressed the hope that she'd have nightmares and made a mental note to test the field vigorously before our trial fast approaching, but I didn't panic too badly.

Now, now I'm upset.

My husband stepped on a cat again this morning (a different cat, our outdoor farm cat) on our porch, waking and alerting Laev. As she was now awake and barking, he thought to let her out, and he collected her from the crate and took her back to the front door.

This is our outdoor cat, whom we often miss during the summer as she feeds herself on mice and such. She is brilliant at teasing the dogs but very good at knowing just how fast they are and how much room they have. I have seen her taunt slower dogs by running partway to a tree, waiting until the dog is near, and then skimming up just out of reach. (She does not do this with Laev, who will climb trees after her.) She respects dogs, but she doesn't fear them. And in colder weather, when she returns for supplemental feeding, she is to get a fair warning before we release dogs so that she can hide.

My husband had just fed her, which is how he tripped on her as she pushed for her food, so she was quite near the house. And he didn't give any warning before releasing Laev.

The cat got away, reaching a tree in time. But Laev screamed with such amazing vigor and frustration that I woke, certain something was dying, and rushed outside. I found instead Laev leaping at a tree, obviously in a limbic predatory state such as I have not seen in months and months and months. She was so insanely focused on the cat that she did not even notice my husband walking up to take her collar, which was very disturbing, as she hates to be removed from prey.

At that moment I kissed my trial goodbye.

Junkies cannot have another hit. We are going to be so long recovering from this predatory adrenaline rush.... If a leaf blows during training, I'm going to lose her focus. If a leaf blows during the trial, she'll probably break. I am very frustrated; I had so much positive comment on how she's matured and how she was certain to do well this trial, and it's all gone.

I think I should get some credit for not venting at my husband. He hasn't had to warn the cat since March or April, and he was just out of the habit. I'm not really angry at him. But I sure do wish it hadn't happened.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Houston, We Have Control!

We realized we'd been hammering the blind search a little too hard, and she probably wasn't going to improve while we beating that particular deceased equine. So Monday night I said, "Let's do just one blind search, let her circle #5, do a hold and bark in #6 and get a bite, and then let's do something totally different."

Laev must have heard me say that we were doing only one, because she did it perfectly. :-) Prompt, speedy search, straight to me, straight to the final blind, clean hold, good bite -- all wonderful. So we set up for some close agitation and control.

I held Laev's collar and cued her onto the helper, who raged and threatened and teased while she roared and tore up turf. Then I dropped her from midair and called, "Sit!" Laev did (the helper froze at the same moment), watching him intently. "Watch!" Tough, but she had to look at me, and she did -- though not without a few barks of frustration. Then I stepped backward. "Come!"

Oh, no, we can't do that! Turn her back on the helper? Not a prayer. She'd follow me well enough, but always swinging to keep one eye on him.

So we set up a couple of chairs with assistants in them to keep them steady, and I backed between the chairs during the next rep, so that Laev didn't have room to turn. When I had a solid front, I sent her to the helper for a reward bite.

Ohhhhhh...!

Rage. "Sit. Watch." Five seconds. "Come." Five seconds. Send for bite. Repeat.

Saturday, her initial blind search wasn't as pretty (but it was successful, and that makes 3/3 correct), but we faded out the chairs, moving them wider apart and then discarding them on the third rep. She knew the game by then -- "You're not taking me away from the helper, you're telling me how to get him. It's a trade!"

For her second round on Saturday, we added criteria, and this is where she really stunned me: Rage. "Sit. Watch." Five seconds. "Come." Five seconds. And then I turned and started in the opposite direction. "Heel." Laev moved right with me, with full eye contact, as if we'd done this a thousand times. I heeled away about five steps and then sent her back to the helper.

The second time, my training director told me to heel away in a curve to the left, so that she could see the helper over her left shoulder. He told me afterward that he thought she'd just been too surprised to protest the heel and had gotten it right more or less by accident. But Laev had no problems with this, either -- "Yep, I heel, you send me to him! I'm on it!" So we quit on that awesome note.

Now, if only I can make myself work long, long durations....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vroom!

Laev is a very speedy dog -- physically, I mean, she's very fast. When she rounds a blind and sets out across the field to reach the last blind and helper, she's really booking.

It shouldn't be a huge surprise, then, to hear that my friend's 11-month infant (who had to attend Schutzhund training one night with us because her father couldn't sit her) was trying out some of her words for the new audience and, pointing at Laev working, declared, "Vroom vroom!" While Laev may lack the combustion engine required for proper vroom noises, she certainly zipped across the horizon as fast as any car the baby saw.

Indeed, baby Emma further defined Laev as "car," even though she knows the name of her own dog. Laev is simply, to her, "car."

It is a nice example, though, of how we assign meanings to words (cues) which may carry different meanings for others. To baby Emma, a car is anything that moves fast! while we think of it as a vehicle. How, then, could I be upset when I say to sit front and my dog knows that he is to sit facing the wall where we used to practice that? ;-) Okay, that one was hypothetical, but you get the idea. Experience and detail count.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Laev As Exercise Program

I've often joked that Laev's my exercise program, but I didn't realize she was a part of my strength conditioning.

I was working on a new costume and needed to pin the sleeves for taking them in. It was a complicated process, and I kept flipping the garment inside and out as I tried again and again. Finally I realized that I could leave it inside out and simply rotate it on my body, backwards, to size the other sleeve. Wouldn't work with all shirts, but it would with this one.

Well, I spun it around and inserted my left arm into the sleeve. Wow, that was tight! Something had to be wrong; surely my left arm wasn't that much larger than my right. Of course, no one is perfectly symmetrical, but I am right-handed and usually the dominant limb is the larger.

I commented to my husband and sister on the difference and asked if they could help identify where the fabric was caught, as it must be. But it wasn't.

"My left bicep can't be that much bigger than my right!"

Alena looked at me. "Which arm do you use to hold Laev?"

Well, duh. Laev gets to jump and pull in her padded collar during work, and she does it all on my left side.

So now I need to balance that kind of strength training. Heck, maybe there's a market for renting out dogs during practice...?

Scared Me

Laev took a nasty tumble Monday night. It was no one's fault, just a combination of factors.... She had been working on a very frustrating control exercise and was higher than a kite as she worked through the challenge. She'd been working on several different helpers and had developed a bad habit of using her feet as she bit to accommodate the different styles she was seeing. We inadvertently set up the next exercise so that she was running into the artificial light, with the helper backlit and visibility poor. The grass was damp with night dew. All this together, she missed the sleeve, hit a helper in the back and took his legs from under him. He could not but fall on top of her, and he heard a crunch and I heard a canine scream.

I called her immediately -- I didn't want her accidentally biting in fear and pain while the helper was on the ground -- and she ran to me, but she didn't want a foreleg on the ground. I calmed her (she was quite agitated) and checked the leg for obvious breaks before beginning to walk her out. I confirmed verbally that the helper was fine.

After several minutes, she was using the leg almost normally, so we gave her an easy bite so she could leave the field with the sleeve and a good feeling. I returned after crating her and we re-hashed the scene; again, it was no one's fault, but safety always has to be first. There will be additional lights mounted to minimize the effect of direct lighting.

I brought Laev out for a second session of easy work; I didn't want her ending on a bad note. We didn't want her straining her leg, either, so we set up a few easy hold and barks. She was perfect on the first one, but filthy-dirty on the second -- probably some spilling stress! I pulled her out for P-. She was good again on the third, and she went back with the sleeve.

That night I gave her a small NSAID dose, just to fight any inflammation, and the next morning she showed very little soreness at all. The following day, she was 100% normal. So it seems there was no serious injury.

We do, however, need to clean up her habit of using her feet, no matter which helper or style she faces. We'll add that to the fact that I'm still recovering from screwing up her blind search after unaccountably dropping half my cue for two weeks....

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's Really Almost Never the Dog's Fault, Is It?

I came home last week frustrated beyond belief. Laev had several weeks before inexplicably stopped going around the empty blind when sent, choosing instead to remain in heel position, go out a few feet and turn to bark at me, or to generally screw up. This was a skill she'd had for months, nearly a full year, and I couldn't understand why it had fallen apart.

We changed things. We put a helper behind me and shortened the distance to almost nothing, so that she had to be sent around the blind for an immediate bite. We added runaways to motivate additional speed around the blind. I double-commanded.

I video-taped, looking for something that was different. Was I moving differently when I sent her successfully? It didn't seem so.

Finally I resorted to negative punishment, taking her off the field when she failed to go out as sent and, to really drive the point home, letting her see another dog get the bite she missed.

Well, we got frustration, all right. She came back on that field ready to work, but she still didn't send reliably.

It made no sense. Why would Laev refuse to start the behavior which earns her the ultimate reward? Despite what was suggested -- "she doesn't think she has to" -- I knew she had no reason to spite herself and me. Something had to be confusing her.

Okay, I finally got it last Saturday after several days of training; we'd increased distance too dramatically. That didn't explain the initial loss, but that was why she was not progressing reliably. So we got ground paint and marked 5' intervals across the field so that we could bounce distance fairly.

I went home after training on Saturday feeling frustrated. My training director would like me to get our BH and trial for our 1 this fall, and I have backslid almost a year in this exercise. Well, darn it, this dog is going to learn to send to the blind again!

(You know where this is going....)

So I set up for dinner one night, putting a chair across the living room from Laev and myself. "Mark," I said, pointing my left arm at the chair alongside her face. She looked forward at the chair. "Revier!" I pushed my left arm forward, and Laev shot around the chair and returned to me.

I handed her dinner and then stared at my left arm. It had moved forward when I sent her, just as it had when I first taught the send long ago. Just as it had all winter and this spring. Just as it had NOT for the last two weeks.

My arm never moved in that video. Somehow, I had dropped a very salient part of the cue, and my dog was simply missing a chunk of information.

I sent an email to my club berating my foolishness and, last night, we set up again. "Mark -- revier!" and I pushed my left hand forward. Perfect blind search. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Laev made one real error last night, in which she went out, hesitated, and turned to bark at me. I chalk that up to frustration with weeks of changing things trying to fix the problem that was mine. The few other mistakes in our two sessions were honest ones, as she tries to stay focused on the task before her with a helper behind her and I try to time my cues appropriately until she learns to ignore him.

I have no idea why my signal changed, but it's very obvious that the motion was more salient than my verbal cue. /sigh/ Now we'll work through the frustration we built in the last couple of weeks, and then we'll catch up to where we were.

At least, while I feel relatively stupid, I don't have any guilt for having unfairly used P+ or R- to "fix" the dog when it was my mistake. Yes, we had frustration, but I did not apply aversives. I'm glad of that.

It's a good thing our dogs don't write tell-all books...!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stress Testing

I was away for three weeks in June, leaving Laev with my husband. Both of them survived. I was relieved to see that, and I think both of them were a little surprised by it.

Laev had developed a couple of "cheats" while I was gone -- the opening door had become a release equivalent to her verbal "free dog," for example -- but it took only a single reminder in most cases (the door can close if you break!) for her to return to her cleaner behaviors.

One thing I learned, though, is that Jon had Laev loose in the room with Melissa and her infant. Baby Emma is pretty dog-savvy for a 9-month-old (she can summon dogs to lick her face), and Jon had been correctly reinforcing Laev for lying down calmly while Emma was there. However, a baby squeal reportedly unnerved Laev a bit, who showed some agitation after that.

That didn't surprise me, as Laev has an extremely low threshold for sound and movement, but I do NOT want any kind of predatory arousal around the baby. Laev's typically very good around kids, when we meet them, but we're just not going to ever go there. So when Emma and her parents came again with other friends, I brought Laev into the stimulating houseful of loud people and vocal baby.

So here's Laev, being treated each time the baby sqawks. She kept looking anxiously at it at first, but quickly she figured out there was a more rewarding game in town. Somehow from there we built to a "Torture The Laev" session, with Jon, Melissa, Dave, Mark, Alena and Alicia (plus baby Emma) all trying to distract her while I asked her to perform simple tasks (sit, down, watch, front, heel).

WOW. If you ever need distractions...! Dave kept trying to step on Laev's wagging tail while she sat and watched me. Alicia meowed -- which conjures Laev's single biggest failing, cats! Alena got online and played ear-splitting clips of angry chimpanzees and then, oh heavens, a cat fight.

Laev did amazingly well with everything up until the cat fight soundtrack; she had to detour her recall to glance at the computer for that one. But we simply repeated, and this time she did the recall straight and correctly.

Probably a routine rehearsal of this kind of distraction would be excellent for her, but I don't know if I can take that much! I should, however, play the cat fight sound with every work session for dinner....

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Saturday

After the IPO trial, the helpers had an open practice session. I signed us up; I had just seen a number of dogs struggle with the concept of a right-armed helper and Laev had never worked on a strange field or with a strange helper.

I said that I just wanted to do some easy things, on a new field with a new helper, some basic run-bys and then hold and barks in the blind. It was probably my fault for not being specific, and Laev *is* feminine and might look immature to some, and the helper picked up the puppy sleeve without my knowing it. He did a few run by bites, Laev liked him, and then we set up for hold and barks in the blind.

Laev was very good -- she came around the blind and bumped him with an open mouth, just tasting the sleeve, and then she very deliberately removed herself and settled into a good hold and bark. Her second time, she was perfectly clean, no second thoughts. He gave her the bite, and she gripped hard enough that he couldn't slip it! He had to work his arm free to let her carry the sleeve.

Laev got some nice compliments for her brief session. Too bad we still need to get that darned BH before we can show off our other skills.

Laev Learns a New Skill!

It isn't often that I get to see Laev stumped or apprehensive. Getting to see both at once was quite unusual.

Laev had never really been swimming. She enjoys splashing in wading pools and shallow bodies of water, but she hadn't had opportunity to swim in deep water. I wanted her to learn, as the weather grew warmer, how to immerse herself. There's a pond beside our Schutzhund field, so after training on Saturday I enlisted the help of a partner and went to experiment.

I'd let Laev wade in before, after a turn at bitework. She went in fully, slipping accidentally into the deep water and beginning to swim. She turned and came back to shore, probably surprised that the ground had left, but I saw no real signs of panic or stress. She swam well enough, no splashing. I supposed she understood the concepts involved.

I put a long line on Laev, left her on the long side of the oblong pond and circled it so that she had the narrow angle to cross to reach me. I called her and Laev raced down the slope and made a dramatic flying leap into the water. Water splashed up around her like a thrilling movie scene. Laev spun and swam back to her bank, startled by what she'd done. After that, she tried circling the pond to reach me, but my partner blocked her with the long line. Laev began to grow frantic, unable to reach me.

Okay, time to try something else. I went back to my car (listening to Laev bark in frustration and stress) and returned with a second long line. I walked it around the pond and left the snap end, returning to my shore. My partner walked Laev to the line and attached it, so that now we had two lines on her collar. I moved toward the end of the pond, so that Laev could shoot across the narrow, shallow edge, and called her. She came, just bounding through the water, and was thrilled to reach me.

So she wasn't afraid of the water; she just wasn't sure what to do with it, despite her accidental swim earlier. I tied the two long lines together and took her back to my partner. We returned to our original points, Laev on one side, me on the other, with the combined long lines stretching across the pond between us. I called Laev, who descended to the water's edge and hesitated. I held the lines, making sure they weren't tight (I didn't want to drag her across!) but simply blocking her from trying to circle. She also now could see a line leading to me across the surface of the water.

Laev barked and finally struck out across the pond. I cheered her on wildly as she swam -- badly, her head high and her paws splashing water everywhere. She reached me and I gave her several dozen hot dog slivers and then her favorite tug toy.

We tried again, hoping she'd be more confident this time. No hesitation! but her swimming was still ugly. But just as she reached my side, she seemed to right herself in the water; perhaps she was reaching for where she knew the footing to be and therefore was more level in the water? I let her finish the hot dogs and carry her toy back to the car; that was enough for one day. She can work out swimming details another time.

It's Fabio's Fault.

Remember how I said that Laev apparently inherited her surreal prey mania from her sire? He's a Czech-bred dog named Fabio.

Well, tonight my friend Melissa told me that she and her husband had designed a T-shirt for me. It would show an upside-down cat, legs stiff in the air and X's for eyes. A similarly-marked squirrel would be to one side, and a chipmunk on the other. The picture's caption would read, "It's Fabio's fault."

What a conversation piece, as people tried to figure out how a male model had killed my cat...!

(No, I haven't really let Laev kill any critters. If you don't find this humorous, just ignore it. Thanks.)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Friday

The IPO tracking was in the morning, in beautiful thigh-high alfalfa fields. Judge Roar Kjønstad (Norway) was tough but fair, approaching the dogs on the articles to check positions before calling the handlers to approach.

The BHs were supposed to be later, but we realized there wouldn’t be time for them and decided to have them following tracking. Huzzah! Even less waiting! So we all traveled out to the trial field.

The judge checked tattoos and microchips and impartiality well away from the trial field, near where a couple of conservationists gathered gear and started into the tall grass. Laev watched them with keen interest and I turned her away, moving her down the hill away from the temptations. “Don’t think about the grass. Don’t think about the hill. Don’t think about the rabbits.”

Then we went to the field, checked in, and I went to set Laev up for the down. She gave me beautiful attention, hesitated a little in going down – “But, Mom, long downs are boring! Aren’t we going to do something fun?” – and then I left her. Count about forty paces, stop, stare straight ahead. Imagine dog in mind’s eye, lying quietly in place. Watch other dog working, visualize Laev in place.

Roar Kjønstad reversed the standard heeling pattern to use left turns instead of right. No problem, except that it caught us off-guard (the poor first competitor learned on the field as she turned). I watched, waited, thought happy thoughts about Laev’s attentive heeling. She was going to be so ready to work when it was our turn–

A jingle of collar! I turned and saw Laev barreling toward me at high speed. I called a warning to the other competitor, who was setting up for her final exercises, and called Laev, who passed me, circled and came in. I downed her and held her while the other dog finished. What had happened? I hadn’t expected trouble in the down.

Well, Laev was the first dog in that corner, and apparently we hadn’t scared off all the critters. When I watched our video that night, I saw at least a dozen instances of Laev jumping about, obviously hearing something in the grass, and twitching. Her ears were working, her mouth was open – she was ready. And finally, with what I can only describe as the incredibly anthropomorphic, “If I stay here I am going to be bad, so I’m going to Mom,” she bolted for me. A better decision than heading into the grass, yes! but a little hard on our scoring. And so near the end, too!

Okay, time to set up for our heeling. Laev gave me such lovely attention as we moved to the center of the field, but I was in no mood to appreciate it – I was upset by the blown down, and the video and photos show it. Bad Laura. So Laev started with only two-thirds of a handler.

She did well, in the beginning – her heeling was a little wide, but she had nice attention, at least. Change of pace when well, we finished the L and headed into the group. That went pretty well, just one quick eyeball at a group member and then we reversed and sat. Off came the leash, and for the first time in 250 paces or so I could speak to the dog. “Good girl,” I said. “This is the fun one. Stay with me. Are you ready?” Laev’s off-leash work is almost always better than her on-leash work....

But this was going too long with a zombie handler. I hadn’t even done any real praise during our brief respite. Laev was getting tired of my failure to produce a toy, a treat, or even a smile, and she started drifting. My nerves caught me and I tensed more. It felt like slow torture. Laev drifted more, still nominally with me but no longer a dance partner. And then we turned left, directly toward the tall grass....!

Laev froze up during the last part of the L, staring off across the meadow. I gave her an extra, “heel,” but it didn’t take. There was a lot of world out there, and most of it more interesting than the unsmiling alien beside her. I took a deep breath, kept myself from touching her, tried to remember if we could ask to be excused, and waited. And then Laev looked back at me, and I said, “heel,” and we kept going.

I *should* have praised her hugely at the end of that, but I didn’t. (Zombie handler.) Instead I set up quietly for the last exercises and looked to the judge. Our routine was feeling so awful to me...! And when he said, “Thank you,” I thought for a moment that we were being excused, that he didn’t trust us to try the last two motion exercises. But then I realized that he was merely signaling us to begin.

The video shows clearly that Laev recognizes my moment of uncertainty and begins to sniff the grass in avoidance. Again, I *should* have spoken to her, given her a brief pet and then paused before starting the next exercise. But instead I simply said, “Heel,” and started, leaving Laev hesitant behind me. A second command brought her to me, and we did the sit out of motion successfully. But the same thing for the down out of motion – no break in stress (granted, we usually practice the sits and downs as one long chain, but I should have recognized that I’d already violated our contract) and Laev needed a second command to start with me. I downed her and kept going.

I turned back at the edge of the long grass and saw Laev looking across the grass, not at me. I hesitated a bit longer than the standard few seconds and the judge’s signal, waiting for Laev to glance back, and then I called her. She ran for me, veering left...! But she made the correct decision and corrected her path, coming to sit crookedly in front of me instead of heading up the hill to rabbit-land. I breathed again. “Fuss,” and she circled me to heel position, adding a gruff little bark to protest my handling. At least that part seemed to be a crowd pleaser.

I snapped on the leash and went to check in, my mood black. Then we went to wait in the shade, where the judge gave our critiques. Laev had good temperament, he said, great willingness to work, but was distracted.... Parts were excellent, but other parts.... We did not pass.

After the other obedience routines, we went to town for the traffic testing. Laev did not participate, as she hadn’t passed the first part. The traffic testing was more intense than I’ve seen elsewhere but very reasonable; Laev would have had no problems with it, if we’d gotten that far.

Then we went back to Progress City for the breed survey (fit for breeding tests evaluating conformation, temperament and working aptitude). That’s where we set up the second silent auction. And finally we went to our catered judge’s dinner, where Roar Kjønstad talked on temperament, evaluation, breeding to improve faulty temperaments, etc.

I went back to the hotel and watched the video. “Ye gads,” I said, looking at Laev’s twitchy down. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know this was going on.”

“Yeah,” Alena said, “we were all glad you had to have your back to her, or you would have been really nervous.”

I was starting to feel really awful about having failed the BH, but some part of me recognized that at least part of it was due to tiredness and I put myself to bed.

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Thursday

Alena started the AD at 6 in the morning. The other entry had pulled, so Alena and Valenzia were the only pair, with Anne riding beside them to help with traffic, pacing, etc. We had to start early because of temperature worries (the test must stop if the temperature reaches 70 degrees), but it turned out to be quite chilly with the wind. Alena borrowed my new Goretex pants, a jacket from Anne, and gloves from José.

The AD was run on a stretch of road outside Progress City, with unfortunately rough pavement. The wind was sweeping, making parts of it quite difficult to ride, but they held in there, and Valenzia was still running strong at the end of the 12.5 miles. She had torn her pads a bit at the very end (she was fine during the first two checks), but the judge passed her anyway, as she was utterly unaffected by it and he recognized the rough pavement was an issue. Valenzia would have been fine with running some more, in fact, returning to the bike – silly dog. And she never did start panting or take any of the water offered on the mandatory breaks. Doberman.

Afterward, a group of us went for breakfast with the judge and helped Anne grade college tests.

We watched the Search and Rescue demonstrations then, and after that did a Rally introduction. Laev and I of course were already familiar with Rally obedience, but it was good practice and *great* training, working in the conformation ring liberally littered with liver and hot dogs! I had to switch to some nice sausage to keep Laev’s attention up after her initial dive for tasty bits, but by the end she was focusing much better.

Then I went back to the field for practice. Oops! Others had taken the field for protection practice. I waited, fidgeting, for them to finish; I didn’t want to work elsewhere, I wanted to fix the problem we had *here.* Finally they were done, and I pulled Laev for a super-fast session. I put the electric collar on her, just in case, and took her off-leash. Once again, she never took a step away from me. I never touched the electric. Once again, I was very, very happy that I hadn’t needed it, but worried about the next day. Would she remember leaving me when I didn’t have a contingency plan?

Then back to the hotel for the silent auction and draw party! I was running late, due to practicing with Laev, and sent Alena ahead to set up the silent auction. This is a big fund-raiser for the club, and it went very well this year – except for the items which were misplaced! We’d had some mis-communication, and several items were still at Progress City, not at the hotel to be sold. I promised a second auction on the next day.

Draw time – BH number two! We’d do our down first, which was fine by me, and then work the heeling pattern. And we’d get it all done early, as opposed to building up slow nerves while waiting our turn.

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Wednesday

More Butch Henderson observation, more obedience. I didn’t see any conformation at all this year. I left the seminar early to get in some more practice on the trial field. Wow, Laev’s doing well, I thought. This is fantastic. She’s actually going to pass this time. (We failed the BH last fall.)

Well, that was brief. The trial field was a mowed space within a conservation area. I saw Laev alert and reached for her, but she was already off, chasing a critter through the tall grass. She raced up the hill and disappeared.

Well, there goes the BH, was my first thought. My second was, at least there’s no traffic here. I wasn’t worried about her being injured, just about the incredible reinforcement she was getting for leaving the field and myself.

I went up the hill after her, saw Laev, and called her. She ran past me but didn’t stop. I didn’t argue, just turned and walked down the road and around a bend so that I was hidden by trees. Sure enough a moment later Laev trotted around the bend, looking for me. It took a lot of self-control to greet her neutrally, pet her, attach the leash and go downhill.

Stink. What do I do now?

I got a long line from the car and had Alena act as safety net while I set up recalls right beside the tempting tall grass. No problem; Laev’s more than bright enough to recognize a long line.

I went back to the car, put Laev away, and considered. This was not the first time that Laev had left me for a critter. Laev has incredible, intense “prey drive,” to use an inaccurate but popular term, strong even for a type which has been bred specifically for generations to enhance predatory reactions far beyond normal. And she’d just had huge R+ for leaving me.

I wasn’t worried about the BH, so much – if we failed that, it wasn’t the end of the world. Laev wouldn’t know the difference, and my ego would recover. But I had to do something about her leaving me for chasing prey.

I racked my brain. I talked to Alena. And in the end, I decided to use positive punishment. I needed to suppress a behavior, and the alternate behavior I’d trained just wasn’t strong enough to outweigh instinct. (A dog bred for “prey drive” shows stronger reactions than a wolf, who won’t waste energy on difficult prey or when not in need – it’s very nearly an OCD issue with Laev.) So I opted for positive punishment.

I called a friend back at the showgrounds and arranged to borrow an electric collar. I carefully planned my training session, because I was not going to allow this to happen badly. The collar was set to its strongest setting, because I would need something powerful to snap Laev out of her obsession and because I don’t believe in nagging. If I’m going to punish something, it should be finished within a couple of reps. I decided that I would not touch the button unless Laev hit the tall grass bordering the field, fully committing to leaving me for the critters. No half-cocked firing. I don’t use positive punishment often, but when I do, I want to use it in the most scientific manner possible.

So I went back and set Laev up, carrying more of her raw diet and the collar remote. I worked her a long, long time, deliberately setting her up beside the grass, going long stretches without reinforcement, straining our training as much as was fair. If I were going to use punishment, I wanted it to be quick and clean and finished, no fussing about it, and then I wanted two or three days to repair any damage. (Passing the BH would be nice, but I also wanted to be sure that she wouldn’t associate the field with the shock, only the committed chasing, if necessary.)

But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get Laev to leave me. She worked well, in focus, and stayed close. Once or twice she paused to scan the meadow, but she never actually took a step away, and certainly she never hit the tall grass, so I never touched her.

Finally I left the field and went back to the car, stripping Laev of equipment. I hadn’t needed the electric collar! I put Laev on her normal flat collar and went to walk her away from the field...

...where she flushed a feral cat and a rabbit in close succession. Yeek! I dragged the screaming monster back to the van, loaded up and went back to the hotel, hugely grateful that I had not needed the punishment! but also still worried because she hadn’t tried to leave me and because she’d just been reminded of cool things out there. I wasn’t foolish enough to think that it just wouldn’t occur to her again – that was a lot of reinforcement for running away! It would just pop up later, when I wasn’t prepared for it. Still, it felt really, really good to have not used the electric.

The UDC’s annual meeting was that night; lots of reports and updates and business. Alena and I went to bed early afterward, because it was going to be an early morning.

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Tuesday

The next day I audited the Butch Henderson seminar in obedience and protection. I opted to audit not because I don’t trust Butch Henderson, but because I just didn’t know him well. I’m very choosy about who gets to actively work my dog. Instead, I took notes in the notebook brought for that purpose. I had to make a quick break to run and watch Alena and Valenzia in obedience. (I hate that the obedience and conformation rings are always opposite the working seminar – I understand the need to compress events, but it’s a frustrating situation to me.)

It was hot and very windy; the wind destroyed Anne’s tent and the sun roasted us all. However, that wind was bringing a cold front, and an arriving thunderstorm interrupted the protection work and the temperament testing. We hid in cars and restrooms until the worst of it passed.

(Temperament testing, you ask? UDC rules require that all conformation entries enter a breed-specific temperament test, briefly covering acceptable behavior toward strangers and a proper Doberman reaction to a threat on the dog and handler. Dogs may enter the ring regardless of score, but only those who pass the test can earn championships.)

I skipped out early to go to the trial field and do some obedience with Laev. She’d had days off from training while I was gone, and I wanted to get her onto the trial field and do some review before her BH trial on Friday. Laev did quite well, working for toys and her supper. (All of her food for the week had been packaged in quarter pound chunks for easy training. No free lunch!) I was pleased.

Then we returned to the host hotel for a banquet and talk by trainer John Soares. I was in charge of tagging folks, circulating with my sticky nametags and markers and catching unmarked people like a game warden. I ate enough for three people, probably due to the last several days of convention and late nights.

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Monday

I’m sorry; this is *long* overdue. But here’s the final report on UDC Nationals.

We drove home from a fun but hectic four days at Acen, arriving Sunday night. We stripped costumes and panel presentation materials from the borrowed van, loaded UDC necessities and dogs into the van which the Marvelous Dave had repaired during our absence, and Alena and I took off. We drove overnight to Decatur, IL, pulled in and slept in the van for about an hour and a half.

UDC Nationals, 2007, Monday
At six, I crawled out of the van and went to join the tracking workshop, led by the talented Anne Rammelsburg. I didn’t get a chance to work Laev (we just ran out of time with so many dogs), but I paid close attention to what was said about other dogs and will be trying some new ideas of my own, too. Laev is too talented a tracker to be where we are now – she is just too enthusiastically fast on the track, and I need to drop her a few RPMs for competition quality work.

It was then sometime after nine o’clock, so Alena and I checked in for the week, picking up our catalogs and maps and information. Decatur was so nice to us, having a Chamber of Commerce person on hand to greet us and hand out booklets on Decatur services and attractions and restaurants. But all I really wanted at that point was my nice Decatur bed. I called the host hotel, who allowed us to check in early, and we crashed for some hours. That was probably the best sleep I’d had in a week.

We returned to Progress City (the farm show grounds, where most of our UDC events were held) for the annual Search and Rescue fund-raising games. For $5, the dogs could play a collection of fun games and activities. Laev won the obedience relay (go for a walk while holding a full cup of water, leave dog, return to start, place quarters under armpits, call dog, finish without losing quarters – judged on speed and amount of remaining water), and she made a pretty paw painting, and she got to pick a toy from a collection, but her mostest favoritest game was the bobbing for hot dogs. These hot dogs hadn’t been boiled and so they sank rather than floated, but Laev didn’t care – she had fifteen seconds to scarf as many as she could reach, and unlike many dogs, she was quite happy to submerge for them! She was so funny and made so much noise about wanting to do it again later that they let her come back for another 15 seconds of dunking. I think she cost them money ;-) but everyone had a good laugh at her.

Alena and Valenzia had a run-off for the other relay, the Doggie Duds dress up timed event, but they took second. Valenzia was fine with the participation cookies, though.

I had a talk with the owner of Laev’s half-sister, too, who told me that she’d been working hard on suppressing critter-chasing. Yeah, yeah, I can relate to that – Laev’s single biggest challenge is squirrels and cats. It triggers something deep within her, something beyond mere “likes to chase squirrels.” Linda told me that their shared sire has one of the strongest prey drives (I dislike that scientifically vague term, but it’s common parlance) even among working-bred dogs, according to many people, and that he throws that to their offspring. Well, at least now I know where it comes from!

Breed-Specific Legislation, Again?!

I know, I know, I'm *way* behind in updating Laev's blog, but I just couldn't let this go by.

The word is that our mayor Bart Peterson will introduce his BSL again this year. And I find that ridiculous. After all, we've fought it down twice now, and the last time we were very clear that the problems the city was citing could be addressed not by BSL which would hurt responsible dog owners more than the criminal element they complained of, but by cracking down on the dog fight rings and associated drug activity. That's where the Animal Control officers were complaining of threat to their persons -- not from the sweet-tempered family pets who are coming through my training classes.

But I guess it's a lot easier as a politician to invent new laws and create the appearance of activity than to enforce existing laws with less media buzz.

And enforcing the old laws *would* help. That pit bull which mauled the child last year? I don't mean to downplay that as a tragedy -- it's not, it was awful for that child. But that dog and its owner had been reported to Animal Control three times before that incident, with no real action. A basic enforcement of the existing leash law would have prevented that bite just as well (and with much less backlash against responsible owners already obeying existing laws) as a breed ban -- probably more so, since I doubt a legal ban would have fazed such obviously negligent owners.

A friend sent a link to a blog post on dog politics and owner responsibility. The gist of this is true -- this is a human problem, not a dog problem, and it's driven by over-hyped media. (I've seen photos of Lab mixes, posted with bite stories, labeled as "pit bulls." Puh-lease!)

If you own a dog, or if you like dogs, don't think this won't eventually affect you. There are places in the world where Corgis and other small dogs are considered "dangerous" and are regulated by law -- once the precedent is set, it's easy to add any breed with a bite to the list of vicious dogs. I am wholly in favor of safe and responsible ownership! and wholly opposed to breed-specific legislation.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Forget the Heeling -- I'm Miserable!

Well, we'd been making progress, I thought. Last night I had my husband hold Laev's dinner while I took her through roughly half a BH routine, at the end of which I sent her for supper. It wasn't a world-class routine, but it was good enough, and I was happy that she was able to work that long.

This afternoon, however, I felt as if I were begging for every scrap of behavior, and Laev was failing abominably at stuff she's known forever -- the down out of motion, for example, which has been nearly foolproof since she was six months old. What on earth is going on?

My plan was to hit the road and work in all-new locations this week. Conventional wisdom would have me continue at home until she's much better, but 1) I don't have time for that, and 2) I think a good chunk of the problem is conditioned critter-hunting in her own yard. Maybe she'll do better away.

I'm just nearly ripping my hair out. This is a test she should have been able to pass months and months ago, consisting entirely of behaviors at which she's been fluent for well over a year. I had no reason to anticipate particular trouble with this. I don't know why I'm getting trouble with this. She's driving me crazy!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Less-Miserable Heeling

My training friend Wes is taking a Harvard class in behavior and shared with me some startling information regarding open and closed economies in training. Graphs of success rates indicated much different rates of learning -- in closed economies (those without supplemental feeding regardless of performance), the rates were much higher. The two charts looked like different experiments entirely!

I think it's obvious that the average pet dog does not need to live in a closed food economy. He should get regular meals and a fixed number of calories a day. I'm certainly not advocating starving a dog into obedience! But when I found my back up against the wall with Laev -- fast approaching Nationals and a dog more interesting in squirrel-gazing than anything else -- I opted for a closed economy.

Well, we're on day 3, and I've seen a startling difference today. Last night there was a glimmer of brain activity but it came and went irregularly; today, Laev actually earned 1 3/4 lbs of food (she ordinarily gets 2 lbs/day -- yes, it's high-quality raw, and yes, I would shed blood for that metabolism!). Yesterday she maxed out at 1/2 lb earned and 1/4 lb for free because the other dogs were having supper. (My closed economy wasn't 100% closed; I just don't have it in me to make her watch them eat.)

And Laev's attention has improved dramatically. While the other night I was rejoicing to get 25 steps of attentive heeling, tonight she was giving me nearly 100. I opted to R+ at that point, but probably could have stretched it longer. I'll be building up over the next two weeks to a full BH routine and beyond.

We're not using any toys or special treats, just her daily diet. I'm using ground raw in a waist bag with a spoon to dispense it -- not pretty, but clean and effective. I'll be getting the food off me soon so that it's not a cue itself.

So it's been a steep learning curve for Laev, and she nearly blew it tonight; she was doing very well in the center of our yard (several fenced acres) and so I moved behind the big historic barn. Oops! Wildlife area! and she started to fade. I caught her collar for safety and asked for some very simple behaviors with an absurdly high rate of reinforcement until she could refocus. Even then, it was stare at Laura, hear click, scan for critters while Laura delivered food, wrench eyes back to earn another click.... But I did some fast sequential fronts back in the direction of the safe zone and then faded into heeling again, which she did well. I rewarded a final recall by letting her clean out the treat bag.

This is not an easy environment. Our mower broke 3 weeks ago and the #&*$ mechanics didn't pick it up for repair today, so I have large areas which have not yet been cut this year. The grass is knee-deep on me in places; if Laev were a Pomeranian, she'd be lost. And Laev's been watching the squirrels come out after hibernation, and there are favorite cat hiding places all over, and.... Oh, well. When she can focus here, with such a history of R+ for hunting, traveling on the road should be much easier.

But at least I'm seeing progress! Huzzah!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Miserable Obedience

Okay, UDC Nationals is in two weeks, and my dog is utterly brainless.

We'd been doing shorter heelwork, focusing on AKC obedience and AKC/APDT rally over the winter, and I knew we were going to have some work to get back into a full, *long* BH routine. I didn't realize that my dog is completely worthless at this stuff.

Now, part of the problem is that I'm working outside on my own property, where she has a tremendous reinforcement history of chasing cats and squirrels. But I'm having a murderous time getting her to focus through the heelwork. I'm starting to panic.

As of yesterday, Laev's on a closed economy -- no food except for work, with the exception of a quarter pound during standard dinner time when the other dogs eat, too. But that still leaves me nearly two pounds for her to earn through obedience.

Last night she had a tough time focusing and I eventually decided that she could make her own choice -- so she had a half pound of food for the day yesterday. "The thing is," I told me husband, "she's counting on me being nicer than I am. I don't particularly care if she eats it now or later." Today so far she's had most of a quarter pound, but that's it.

I expect that by Friday, I'll have a really focused dog.

I'd feel bad about this if these were new behaviors or a new environment -- but this stuff should be old hat to her, and this is my own driveway! She just would rather hunt this time of year, with the squirrels out from hibernation. Sorry, honey; I've got no plans to fail a second time, and you're working for dinner.

I'm about to go out the door to buy auto parts and I'll take Laev with me to practice in an unfamiliar (and less loaded) environment. We'll see how she does.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Outside In Spring

Tonight we were outside for protection training, as the field was finally dry enough that we could work without outfitting the dogs in water wings. :-) Laev was THRILLED to be working outside! Positively ecstatic. Finally, enough room to run and do things properly!

We started small, though, sending her only 20' or so to the blind for a hold and bark. Don't ask for more than she can give, and she was awfully excited. She executed a perfect hold and bark, though, despite being so wired that after she'd earned her bite and fight, when our helper slipped the sleeve she pulled backward so fiercely that she flipped herself. That is NOT healthy, and thereafter he was careful to release the sleeve slowly until she was obviously centered, but it was just that she was overjoyed and overstimulated to be working and outdoors.

We did a few more sends to the blind for hold and barks, adding considerable length and more agitation before the send, but Laev was clean and perfect every time. Good girl.

And that's one step toward making up for Saturday's trial...! ;-)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Trial Report (another)

Well, that was exciting.

Today we had APDT and CDSP trials in the same building, which was convenient but tiring (I had 12 runs today). It was great fun, because I was joined by a host of friends -- my husband (APDT), my sister (APDT, CDSP), and Connie and Shawndra (CDSP only) with their dogs.

Laev and Shakespeare.... Well, let's just say it was a GREAT day to have all my friends come and watch. Yeah. Because after our ring time, they could feel good about their runs, no matter what. Yep. :-)

I think Laev invented new ways to humiliate me in the Open ring. She didn't want to line up for the heel, which should have warned me...! Her heeling was atrocious; she was with me, but completely unfocused. At the end of our heeling pattern she was obligated to trot over the broad jump in an exploratory fashion, carefully stomping between each board. Fortunately she jumped it correctly a moment later.

Again, it was difficult to get her to sit for the recall start -- she wanted to sniff the tape on the floor. I finally took her collar, which NQ'd us. When she set up properly, she did a fairly nice drop on recall (she has fast drops) and that was gratifying. I figured out that while she didn't want to sit in heel position to start, she would happily down at heel and then sit when asked, so I did the rest of our setups that way.

Her retrieves were both quite decent, especially over the jump where the dumbbell bounced into the ring gate and was semi-hidden among the gate feet. The judge asked if I'd like to re-throw, but we'd already failed and so it wasn't important enough to delay things, and I thought Laev would figure it out. She did, with a nice retrieve. Her go-out, however....

Okay, this one was MY fault. I started training the go-out on Wednesday night for a Saturday trial. Laev had exactly two real training sessions with this, and I did it stupidly -- I'd forgotten that CDSP uses a marked square on the ground, so I could have trained her to target inside a taped square. Nope, I forgot that, so I didn't even take advantage of that legal help. Sheesh.

So I sent Laev, and she went ahead a few feet and hesitated, obviously confused. "My target's not out there!" So I promptly cued her to turn and sit, and she did so nicely, almost within reach of me. :-) End of exercise. Hey, at least we provide good entertainment, and we help everyone to feel better about themselves. That's good work, isn't it?

APDT wasn't much better, though Laev did get her first Level 2 leg. She didn't get a second, because we had food bowl issues. Now the food bowls have always been our nemesis (mostly because I forget to train for them!), so I was thrilled when she heeled right through them! Once, twice, and now for the third loop.... She hesitated and glanced at the nearest bowl (APDT has food in all four bowls). I panicked and reached for her, preferring to touch her and NQ than let her self-reinforce at the food bowl. Well, not only did I touch her, but I stumbled as I stepped backward and stepped on her and nearly fell on her. Yeah, that's an NQ.... I asked to be excused, and the judge was kind enough to let us heel through the bowls once more and leave with treats.

I was proud of Laev in one run, though -- I left her at the marked line for the bonus exercise and moved on. Laev was the first dog to run, and apparently the marking tape had not been applied fully, because when she touched it, it stuck to her paws. So Laev collected a wad of blue tape which clung to one, then two paws as she hobbled toward me on the recall, mildly irritated by it but not particularly stressed or willing to let it interfere with her work. So I was proud of that, at least! (And glad that it didn't happen to another dog who might have been affected by it. Almost nothing physical phases Laev.)

Shakespeare had a mediocre day, too, scoring one leg in Open by the skin of his teeth and performing very poorly (for him) in APDT. His early scores were in the 190s, which is just not his style. (Yeah, Shakespeare has me spoiled.) I actually asked to be excused from a Level 2 run, because he was lagging so badly. I thought he was overheated and tired; it's been unseasonably cold of late and today was suddenly warm as it should be, and I thought perhaps he wasn't adjusting well. I took him out and iced his armpits and stomach and offered ice to chew. He came back to earn a 205 in Level 3 and High Scoring Veteran Dog of the day, so perhaps the heat was part of it, after all. Kind of weird to have Shakespeare be a veteran, though! He's only seven and a half.

And the others? Well, Alena and Valenzia got their first leg ever, in APDT Rally, and Connie and Batman got their first leg ever, in CDSP, and Shawndra and Marley had a nice CDSP run until the final exercise, when Marley went around the jump instead of over it. But Connie and Shawndra are going back tomorrow, so there should be some more news then.

So, I've learned that Laev and I have work to do. We're doing a BH in just 4 weeks, and if today is any indication, we ain't ready! Got to get to work.

Friday, April 06, 2007

CGC :-)

How did I forget to mention this?

I'd been having a hard time finding a CGC test for Laev, because the person who seems to run them most often around here is me. I drove to a test in another city only to arrive minutes after it closed! So Laev had not been tested.

We met a great guy (Kevin England) at ClickerExpo, though, who mentioned during conversation that he was an evaluator. He offered to do the test right there! So I handed him Laev's leash and walked into the store area for the supervised separation. Then, there in the hotel hallway, we ran through the rest of the test. It was a good testing environment; instead of the 3-4 people required for walking through a crowd, we had a hundred, exiting a popular session! And Laev finally got her CGC.

ClickerExpo Cleveland (After) and Now

We had great fun at ClickerExpo, and I was quite proud of Laev. I realized on the second day this was a hugely new experience for her -- while we've done several trials, she's never really been in a multi-dog environment that was closely packed before, not since puppy class when she just 12 weeks old or so. She hasn't done regular group classes or multi-dog sessions outside of a trial environment; her training is almost entirely individual. So her good behavior in the most crowded ClickerExpo I've ever seen was quite gratifying to me! I reinforced so heavily that I ran low on treats. :-)

Thanks to everyone who said hi! It was nice to meet so many in person who had been just names on a computer screen.

Laev and Shakespeare and I have a APDT/CDSP weekend approaching, and I actually need to teach a couple of new behaviors for that. I should get a move on! But more worrisome is that I also need to be preparing for our BH. This will be our second try, since we failed the first one, and it has me worried -- Laev and I haven't been working on that kind of heelwork, and the weather here has taken a serious turn for the worse which is making it hard to practice long heeling patterns. (The BH uses most of a football field, and everything around here is under water!) I feel less prepared for this one than I did last fall!

Morgan Spector showed video of our failed BH in his obedience seminar at the March ClickerExpo. I wasn't there (I was signed up for another Learning Lab at the time), but for the rest of the weekend people would recognize Laev and pull me aside in the hallway: "You were awfully brave to let us see that." /grin/ Well, it wasn't that bad -- everybody's messed up sometime -- and I had confidence that the next outing would be better. Well, now I'm not so sure, and I need practice time. But I need a place to practice, too!

Going out now to run errands, meet friends for lunch, and work Laev in a parking lot. It's not a football field, but it might not have standing water.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Farm Store Visit

We still needed the fence I didn't get to buy yesterday, and I'd promised Laev an outing after disappointing her yesterday, so off we went. Laev's welcome in the farm store and I take care to keep her polite and no trouble; not everyone likes dogs and it's a privilege I don't want to lose.

Well, it's been a while since we've been in a store, and Laev told on my slacking. She was not unmannerly, but she wasn't terribly focused, either. Okay, I know there's good stuff to distract her -- spilled food, lots of friendly people, animal smells -- but usually she'll snort around and then focus up when I ask. Today I had to practically beg for a short stretch of heeling in the side yard. (Okay, I didn't beg. I didn't bribe. But I did verbally nag a bit 'til she gave me eye contact so we could start.)

I did have treats on me and reinforced a correct heel, but I would have been happier if I could have gotten it more quickly!

I left the employee to load our fence rolls (60" 2x4" woven no-climb horse fence -- darn Laev and her lithe self) and went back inside with Laev. I picked up a 12# bag of dog biscuits and heeled Laev to the register, where she was asked to down while I waited and checked out. She was rewarded with one of the biscuits. :-) We went outside to find that the rolls wouldn't fit in the vehicle with Laev's crate in the back.

Well, Laev has to ride in a crate; it's one of my rules. And I couldn't exactly leave the crate behind, anyway.

I'd brought the behemoth van for maximum room. So I put Laev in a sit in the next parking space. She's better at holding a down for a period of time, but I wasn't going to ask her to lie in a parking lot. I pulled the crate from the back, reminding Laev, "Good girl, sit," and wedged it into the paired rear captain's chairs. It could shift from laterally, facing the side door, but it couldn't slide off or flip if we had an accident. I released Laev and directed her into the crate, which confused her at first ("That's not right! My crate's always back there, and I'm not allowed on the seats!") but then she hopped right in. She got another dog biscuit for waiting so patiently and then kenneling as asked, I got my fence rolls, and she got a few nice comments at the store.

Oh, and one of the comments was, "That's a really nice hound." /grin and sigh/ We'll take it. Most people won't recognize her, and that's okay. :-)

1 click, on cue.

Something I love about clicker training is the sheer speed of it.

Yes, I know that initial training can be slow and can feel slower (usually feeling much slower than it really is, if we actually time and track it). But once the dog has learned how to learn, future learning is unbelievably fast.

I felt really awful this afternoon when I took Laev out to the car, so she could ride along to the farm store with me to buy some new fence. (We have to replace the fence line that can't hold up to Laev.) However, I was delayed, and in the end I realized I didn't have time to hit the store before my private lesson after all. I took Laev from the car to her outdoor kennel, and she did NOT want to stay there -- she even spat out the bully stick I gave her and instead stuck her head through the gate to be petted. Oh, I was the worst person alive; all my dog wanted to do was to be with me, and I was kenneling her instead of taking her someplace fun. I felt awful.

So tonight when I got home, I brought Laev into the kitchen for some training time with me. Laev knows a stand hand signal, with my right hand, but she doesn't know the verbal. I'd like to have a left-hand signal so that I don't need to turn my body to cue the stand and so that I can fade it to something legal for competition. So I brought Laev to heel.

"Stand," I said, opening my left hand over her head. She moved out of the sit, probably just because I spoke and she expected something to happen, and I clicked. I went to the counter and treated.

One click, following a novel hand signal and a verbal cue I'd bet money she didn't know. I waved her to heel and tried again. Cue, stand, click. Cue, stand, click. Cue, stand, click.

Okay, I thought, but does she really know the new hand signal, or is she picking up on that verbal I thought she didn't know? I set her up again. "Stand," I said, without the hand signal. No reaction. "Stand," I said again, and Laev adjusted her sit hopefully.

Nope, it's the hand signal. The one she saw a single time, accompanying an accidental behavior which I clicked.

This kind of thing makes Laev a joy to train when I plan well. When I don't plan well, er, well, then I get a good lesson in why I should plan well.

My next goal is to put the stand on verbal cue as well. :-)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Faster Sits, No Barking, and #$%@&* Cats!

Okay, to fixing our sit-for-the-bite latency problem. Quick review: Laev had chained four barks before the sit, making her response a standard of 2 seconds, where I wanted a sit within 1 second, with or without barking.

The advice I received was to make a sharp collar correction to prompt a sit. While it is true that this would probably fix the behavior within a very few reps, and while it is true that Laev would probably not in the grand scheme of things really care much, I felt strongly that I should rise to the challenge and find a non-compulsive way to reduce our latency that final second.

This week I played with Laev, whipping her into a frenzy to chase a toy skimming along my ribs for speed and then freezing and cuing, "sit!" We had 1-second sits with no problem whatsoever. She's done this since baby puppyhood, and it has never involved much barking because it is very predatory in nature and low in conflict/aggression.

I went to training today and played with the toy instead of orienting Laev toward the helper. She did well, producing fast, silent sits again. For her second session, I started her chasing and sitting for the toy, and then I passed the toy smoothly to the helper as we spun and cued Laev to sit. She sat, and I released her to bite the toy from him instead of me.

From that, we developed a pattern of me revving Laev into a whirling frenzy, her teeth just skimming the toy as I whipped it away for several spins, then slipping my hand into her thick padded collar as I passed the toy to the helper just outside Laev's orbit and lifting her slightly as I cued a sit. (The lifting, as in the other obedience for the bite exercises, is to interrupt her lunging and allow her a chance to land in the sit position. It's not a trained cue.) She sat practically instantly, as was her habit for toy play, and the helper rewarded with a bite on the toy. No barking, no delay.

This is not quite as easy as it sounds for the handler! It induces vertigo, among other things, and I can say that my anaerobic capacity is embarrassingly low. But it got the correct behavior in an in-between situation which will likely carry over to our problem scenario.

Our third session was supposed to graduate from sitting for the toy and the helper to sitting for the sleeve and the helper, but we passed a cat on the way in. Laev's brain melted. We went inside without much effort, but all she could think of was the cat outside, not me and the toy. She wouldn't fire up even for the helper -- which stunned me, as I would have sworn if asked that nothing on God's green earth was more valuable than a helper. She simply lost it.

"You've got to fix this. I've never seen a cat problem this bad," commented my helper. That means a lot, coming from someone who works almost exclusively with dogs bred specifically for prey drive.

We swapped modes immediately. Someone brought my treat bag from the car, and I began reinforcing for attention as we circled. My helper traded the bite roll for a cat and the distraction work began in earnest. If Laev recalled to front when asked, she earned food; if she did not, I circled and guided with the collar and leash (mild R-, redirection) until she gave me eye contact.

The decoy cat was very malleable, and our helper bounced him on his lap, tossed him gently in the air, and swung widely him from side to side as he (the helper!) meowed at the dog. Laev figured out she could handle all of that, able to refocus with some visible effort for treats, until he placed the cat on the ground. Then she lost all ability to concentrate, and we did lots of circles! Laev hit a high point of arousal, nipping my fingers and drawing blood as she took treats, and whining frequently along with her lunges toward the cat.

Distance made no difference; her success rate didn't seem to change whether I was near or far. The cat she'd alerted on originally was at a good distance, anyway. Laev has always had incredible prey drive (I dislike that term, but it's a convenient shorthand); it cost us her first AKC leg at 11 months old, when she broke a group stay after a surprisingly good individual performance to pursue a bird which had landed nearly 200' away at the other end of the building. Yeah. So this is a tough project.

What I've found of late is that if I have Laev engaged when the distraction appears, I can usually keep her -- but if she locks onto the cat or squirrel before committing to an obedience task, it's all over. Today when she saw the cat while not under other orders, so to speak, her brain was free to melt away.

We made progress today, in that she was turning away from the cat to front to me, but it's a long way from finished reliability around a cat.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Darned Analytical Obsessive Dogs

So we set up for an obedience for the bite session, with a new goal of a 1 second latency. Revved her up, lifted her collar to bring her out of a scrabbling lunge, cued sit.

Laev barked four times, settled into a sit. Two seconds. Not good enough, so we repeated.

Laev barked four times, settled into a sit. Two seconds.

That's okay, she's a bright dog, she'll think through the fact that she's not responding quickly enough. Rev and cue.

Laev barked four times, settled into a sit. Two seconds.

Okay, we have a pattern. We'd never paid attention to the number of barks as we were working her down from longer latency, we only counted seconds. But somewhere along the line, Laev got the idea that she needed four barks before her sit, and that was locked in. Because she took the time to bark, she couldn't get below a two second response time.

Well, we'd let frustration take care of it, we decided. So we did more reps. I don't know how many more reps we did, but it was something like 15-20 -- and she never got below two seconds. Nor was she reinforced for those slow reps, but she never got it "right," in our criteria; she *knew* she had to do those four barks, because obviously we'd reinforced for them before.

Okay, I'm not that smart, but I'm not that dumb, either. We switched to another behavior. I opted for a recall, just so that she could get some reinforcement, and because I want a strong recall, too.

Laev sees the helper, Laev revs. I let her out ahead of me, straining on leash. He fires her up. I call, "Come!" Laev turns, comes to me, sits. I click and tell her to go for her bite. Laev gave me a shocked glance -- "Really? For that?" and then spins and races for the helper. :-)

I was quite proud of her recalls for the bite (much better from the beginning than the sits), but we're going to have to do something about this sit problem! Our thought at the moment is to take it back to just playing with me, getting fast sits for the toy -- she's done that from puppyhood, but not lately, and while it's a different picture than sitting for the helper (a *huge* difference in control!), the skill should carry over.

Laev is so good at keeping me humble. /sigh/

She's Tired?

Laev and I hope to participate in the AD (endurance test) at UDC Nationals this year (weather permitting). The AD consists of a 12.5 mile run for Laev, followed by an obedience routine (I get a bike for the mileage!). So we've started conditioning.

We just returned from a several-mile ride with my sister and her dog, and I checked pads -- no real wear. I offered water on the run, but she only wet her tongue and was finished. She hadn't slowed down at all by the end.

But... after a few moments of being inside, Laev lay down and is now contemplating a nap. Her eyes are still open -- but she's lying still.

It can be done! She *can* be tired! Whew!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Straight Fronts, Upright Sits & Squirrels.

I'm trying to straighten Laev's fronts, which are, um, imperfect. :-) She sits close, but crooked.

Our Schutzhund helper recommended teaching her to bump and hold the dumbbell against my torso, which is only possible to do correctly if she's straight. We'll see how that goes, and I hope it will carry over to fronts without a dumbbell as well.

In other news, Laev seemed to relapse during obedience to earn a bite today (obedience in high arousal), complicated by a few errant clicks (I have someone else click during this exercise because I know I'm not capable of accurate clicking while handling a lunging dog!). Confused, she went through a half-dozen or so reps without getting reinforcement, because she wasn't meeting criteria. Our criteria was a correct sit -- upright, not leaning forward ready to lunge -- within 2 seconds of the cue.

Frustration was building. She got hotter and hotter, figuratively speaking. And then I dropped her and said, "Sit!" and she bounced stiffly into the position with a distinct air of, "Click the #*@&$ clicker!" We did, and she earned her reinforcer, and after that she seemed to do better, even getting down to a 1 second latency occasionally.

Not a finished product, by any means, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel....

I need a way to control the local squirrels! so I can do this work with them. Laev is such a nice dog, and I really love her, and the ONLY time I want to bash her head in is when she's focused on squirrels! :-) If she's on leash or working with me, I can interrupt before she gets in The Zone and is mentally gone. Today, though, she was loose in the multi-acre yard, and when I went out to collect her, she had no brain for anything but running from tree to tree. /sigh/ Such good training, right....

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why Schutzhund?

I was asked recently, "Why do you train in bitework? I think that is a kind of weird sport, but same can be said of my love of freestyle! I'd love to read a blog on why this sport? why schutzhund?"

Fair question, and here's my answer.

Schutzhund originated as a breeding suitability test. A dog who could not do the work was not considered fit for breeding. Later, it became a sport, but even now for specific breeds in many countries, the offspring of a dog without a Schutzhund title can not be registered. I think this is a good idea; it standardizes temperament and structure within the breed and ensures continued working ability for a working breed.

In this country, Schutzhund is merely a sport, but it's still an important one. It is an advanced partnership with the dog, true teamwork (or it should be!). Rather than a mere few minutes of performance, it is a triathalon for dogs. Though known for its protection work, Schutzhund consists of three phases, Tracking, Obedience and Protection. Dogs must qualify in all three phases. It's like Michelin Tire said: "Power is nothing without control."

I like the Schutzhund obedience style a lot; it emphasizes enthusiasm and willingness as well as precision. Check out these videos of obedience and protection by a Doberman completing a Schutzhund III routine. Tell me that's not exciting! (Sabine Wiedemeyer handling Lennox von Aurachgrund, taking 2nd place in 2006 Deutschen Meisterschaft [German all-breed nationals] with 100-98-95 [100 points tracking, 98 points obedience, 95 points protection, out of a perfect 300])

Because Schutzhund expects -- requires -- the dog to be in a state of extreme arousal, obedience and control are far more necessary and more highly trained than in most dog venues. The dog must be able to hear and respond to its handler when in full fighting drive. This requires not only good training but also a good dog, one with proper genetic temperament. That's what makes the sport an excellent "character test" for dogs.

Many people understand that Schutzhund is a worthy dog sport, but I've also been criticized publicly and privately for participating in this sport. I find that frankly ridiculous. Let me address a few of the more common concerns here. :-)
  • "YOU'RE TEACHING THE DOG TO BITE PEOPLE." -- Um, no. :-) First of all, any dog person should know that all dogs can and will bite with provocation; heck, *I* will bite in the right circumstances! But more importantly, biting is just a behavior, and a Schutzhund dog will, like any trained dog, learn stimulus control. A cue begins and ends the bite, just as a cue begins and ends the down. And there are a host of very specific cues for the bite -- it's not just a free for all! If you've ever played a game of tug with a dog, you've done a miniature version of Schutzhund protection work.

  • "YOU'RE TEACHING THE DOG TO BITE PEOPLE IN SNOWSUITS." -- This accusation had to be a personal favorite of mine. I have video of us working this winter, in which my helper is wearing tan Carhartt coveralls and in which I am wearing identical tan Carhartt coveralls. Amazingly enough, the dog went to the right person when cued. :-) Sheesh.

  • "YOU'RE ABUSIVE TO THE DOGS/YOU THREATEN THE DOGS TO MAKE THEM BITE OUT OF FEAR." -- No. Schutzhund training starts as young as 8 weeks (younger, if the litter is born to a Schutzhund breeder), and all initial training is done as play. Only after the behaviors are well-started does the dog see aggression/threat from the helper, and then it is raised in small doses so as not to overwhelm the dog; the dog must always believe that he can "win" over the helper. Good Schutzhund trainers do not hurt or frighten dogs into biting. (Note: obviously there are always a few freaks in any sport, and Schutzhund can attract a few "macho" morons. Just as there are idjits who will put a shock collar on a dog to teach it an agility dogwalk, there are a few idjits who will try stupid things in bitework. This is no more correct or representative of the field as a whole than the electric collar is for agility.)

  • "THE DOGS DON'T ENJOY IT." -- Please, just come watch Laev in action. She lives for this.

  • "YOU CAN'T TRAIN IT POSITIVELY, SO YOU MUST BE HURTING YOUR DOGS." -- Again, please, just watch. Ask Laev if she feels abused. ;-) Yeah, there are traditional training recipes which aren't as dog-friendly, but we're certainly not bound to use them.

  • "SCHUTZHUND PEOPLE TREAT THEIR DOGS AS THINGS, NOT PETS." -- A good friend of mine came once with me to training and left, angry and disgusted, with this declaration. I was and remain honestly confused by his reaction (he never discussed it with me), as my dogs are cherished members of my family. Yes, some people in the sport use dogs as tools toward self-promotion, but that occurs in other sports as well! Laev sleeps beside my bed and Shakespeare shares my couch; they're my dogs first of all.

Finally, Schutzhund and similar sports/breeding suitability tests are vital for our dog community. Really! Almost all police dogs, drug dogs, accelerant/bomb detection dogs and military dogs, as well as a very high percentage of search dogs, come from Schutzhund breeders and Schutzhund lines. Why? Because it still works as a breeding suitability test, and dogs from these lines are more likely to have the correct temperament and physical structure to do the work, saving thousands of dollars in "wash-outs" from untested lines.

Similarly, Schutzhund and similar training preserves the breeds; if a Doberman was designed as a protection dog, it had better be able to work as a protection dog, or it's not a Doberman, no matter what its papers say. Max von Stephanitz developed Schutzhund as a breeding suitability test for the German Shepherd Dog; if all GSDs were expected to be able to pass such a test now, we wouldn't see such widespread reactivity and fear-aggression in the breed, or such poor hips.

Finally, Schutzhund offers excellent training and physical/mental outlet for the dogs. The socialization afforded by a good Schutzhund club is superb, and the Schutzhund dog gets far more physical exercise, mental stimulation and sheer fun than most pets!

So that's why we do what we do -- it's fun, first of all, and it's a worthy venue, second. And of course we do other sports as well; Laev has a couple of entry level titles so far elsewhere. And at those other venues, she is mannerly, safe, and a good breed ambassador. :-)