Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Laev Outs!

It was awesome. I'd always meant to videotape when I first outed Laev off a live helper, because I was pretty certain it would be a good example of how solid foundations and early installation of "thinking during arousal" would pay off in the long run, but I hadn't brought a camera when I decided to do it. But trust me, it was pretty.

Laev has been doing pretty well in her protection work. She has nice obedience for the bite (though her fronts should be straighter), she is clean in the blind, she doesn't cheat on the blind search. I need to be working on calling out or heeling out of the blind from a hold and bark -- tough, as she learned the hold and bark in exchange for a bite -- and on outs.

Laev has had lovely outs off a toy with me since baby puppyhood. Right from the very beginning, I trained her to know that "out" meant the faster you let go, the faster we get to restart the game. There was no conflict at all in it. (Because she'll be competing in protection sports, I also specifically trained that even if I stop playing, she is not to let go unless I verbally cue, a step unnecessary for most pets.)

But, no matter how wild Laev and I play, she'll never hit the same level of arousal with me as she will with a real helper. Laev and I are a team. The decoy, even though he's not a hated enemy, is an opponent. It's a game, yes, but it's a game Laev takes very seriously. She is playing with me; she is playing and fighting with the decoy. So that means there's a bunch of adrenalin and a cocktail of other goodies rushing through her brain while she's on that sleeve, all working together to make it as hard as possible for her to do a nice, clean, fast out.

So I've held off on even attempting an out off a live helper. Let's get everything else where it needs to be, and then I can worry about that. In the meantime, I can use winning the sleeve to reinforce all kinds of behaviors. I'll add the out later. But then, I realized, now that Laev is three, I should probably get around to it. ;-)

So last Monday suddenly I decided to try it, and we set up for success. I started Laev with a nice long blind search, so she had a chance to blow some steam and wasn't in her first flush of bitework thrills. She performed a nice clean hold and bark and was rewarded with a bite. The helper fought her, came out, and slipped the sleeve as instructed. I called Laev to bring me the sleeve and we played tug.

I paused in playing. "Out." Laev backed out immediately, and I cued to re-bite. Quick review of game. Yes, Mom, I get it. Same game with the toy and the sleeve. No brainer.

So, while playing, I passed the sleeve to the helper. Play, tug, tug. He paused. "Out," I cued. Laev never hesitated. This was the same picture she'd always seen, toy in her mouth and the human still, only this toy was bigger and the human wasn't me. Still, no problem.

Rebite. The helper played some more and then slipped his arm into the sleeve. Ah, better play! Laev got a bit excited, but when I cued, "Out," she came right off. Click, rebite.

Oh, right, I get it! Out for bite! Awesome!

Slip sleeve, out, tease, drag Laev away. Repeat blind search. Slip sleeve, helper plays and outs, Laev rebites on cue, he puts sleeve on, fights, outs. She was good for every repetition except where the sleeve was high and she had her feet on him; she wasn't quite sure she could do it from there and she responded slowly, with a bit of mouthing. But there was no click and we just waited a few seconds before cuing a bite again, and her next repetition was back to flawless.

So one mistake of perhaps 15 or so trials. I was happy with that.

Now, can she do it without running off that first thrill of coming on the field? Not yet. But this is a nice start.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Laev Goes To 4-H

Somehow I became a 4-H leader this year. I know, I didn't really need another project; already my family and friends are cautioning me against burnout and nervous collapse. (I tend to... overbook myself. A bit.) But there was no one to do it locally, and what I heard about alternate programs was making me very uncomfortable, and.... Okay, I'll just schedule the meetings opposite another trainer's puppy class so I'm not canceling anything, and it's a social service, right?

We scheduled our first meeting for last night. I expected as many as three kids (low enrollment due to lack of leader and therefore no publicity), but only one showed up. No problem, we're going ahead!

This boy L. is in his first year of the Dog Project, with a dog they adopted from the shelter just yesterday. Wow. I had asked that the first meeting be dog-less, and we started right off by talking about clicker training. I gave him a clicker and wrist coil, and Alena (my sister and co-leader) gave him a TAGulator. We talked about the clicker marking behaviors for animals who don't speak English, and then I demonstrated nose targeting with Laev enthusiastically touching her nose to my fingers.

Young L. got to practice first with a human dog while Laev settled on her mat with a bully stick. Within just a few clicks he had great timing with our hand-puppet-dog (and earned himself a TAG). Then he watched while Alena and I demonstrated teaching doggie zen, with our hand-puppet-dog; I asked him to identify what Alena was clicking. He started to answer and then hesitated. We repeated the demo and asked him to identify it again. This time he hesitantly guessed, and we confirmed that yes, she was clicking as my hand moved backward.

How early do we start to fear being wrong?

So he got to practice targeting with Laev. She hasn't worked much with other people and usually has little tolerance for late clicks, missed clicks, etc. -- she'll just walk away if she doesn't feel the trainer's up to par -- but his practice had served him well and she gave him some great targets. I think he enjoyed himself.

Laev went back on her mat and we played the Training Game to demonstrate shaping. First he and Alena came up with a behavior for me (hands in large trash barrel) and Alena clicked me through it. Tough!! I got to the trash can immediately, but I think I tried every behavior EXCEPT sticking my arms in it. I even put my head inside and offered to sit in it! Wow. But it was really interesting to me to see all the ways that a savvy training subject and a savvy trainer could communicate; I would subtly change the angle of my fingers or their exact position on the rim to ask questions. Definitely not a place I could afford to worry about being wrong!

Then L. clicked Alena into going to a bag, taking out a pompom and waving it. By that time he was laughing and having a great time. Positive training is reinforcing!

I also demonstrated a first-year obedience routine with Laev, so he'd know what we'll be working toward. I'm a bit worried, because I hear that the other clubs started their meetings in January or February, and this is a novice working with a brand new dog, but on the other hand I have faith in the technology. We have just over 3 months of weekly meetings to get ready for county fair, but we're going to do it, because we click butt!

(Oh, man, did I just say that?)

Laev also went to second grade last week; a student had written to me as I have the job he'd like to have when he grows up. So we demonstrated shaping (Laev putting two paws on a chair away from me) and played the Training Game with a couple of students. Laev didn't shape so well for the students there, but they were a bit stingy with their clicks. It was very clear that she'd rather be working for me; with every click, she'd turn away from the clicker to me and give me The Look. I almost had to instruct her to eat her treat. Perfectly safe, but mildly irritated and wanting to just get on with it, "clearer clicks, please!" Not at all like Shakespeare, who I really think takes some perverse delight in teaching people how to use the clicker properly. (I swear he deliberately responds dramatically to a late click just to get the R+ of seeing people groan, laugh and slap themselves as well as his treat.)

So that was Laev's social calendar. I hope 4-H progresses well!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Back In The Day

A friend in my Schutzhund club sent this video link, of a Schutzhund club in 1936. I think it's a neat clip, because it shows a lot of things....

The obedience is less stylized here, but look at what's expected of the dogs -- they work comfortably in large groups, alongside other dogs at close quarters, and they settle comfortably with their humans at a beer garden. These are not dangerous trigger-happy time bombs, they're good pets.

(I don't mean to imply that today's Schutzhund dogs are necessarily time bombs! I expect my dogs to walk nicely in public and lie down under outdoor cafe tables as well. But I thought that aspect was very obvious in the film clips.)

Also, there are a lot of exercises seen here which have disappeared from the current sport. Remember that Schutzhund was originally a breeding suitability test (and still is, in some parts of the world) and so the dogs' hips and athletic abilities were really tested. We'd have a lot less hip dysplasia if all dogs were required to train like this before being bred! Also, a few of the protection exercises are still present in other sports but are gone from Schutzhund, such as the attack under gunfire (something critical for a police dog).

And it's fun to see what the breeds looked like seventy years ago.... Some have really changed.

Anyway, here's the clip!