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!