Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fat Lot of Useless! A funny story about a lack of practical skills.

"Do more night tracking." This was the advice of a training buddy while I was having trouble with Laev. His dog was sighting for articles and it had helped them as a team.

Laev's issue wasn't sighting for articles or flags, and more night tracking would probably just result in greater injury for me faceplanting while Laev tracked at high speed. However, I didn't get to leave as early as I wanted tonight, and we reached the park at twilight. So I quickly laid a track and tried to get started before dark.

We just barely made it, though well after technical sunset. I could see my hot pink tracking flags when I was within ten feet of them. I certainly wasn't giving Laev any help on the track, that's for sure!

We didn't spend as long settling before the track, because I was worried about the light. I had my phone clipped to my jeans and a protection-trained Doberman with me (meaning that at a word I could set her to looking nasty enough to call someone's bluff, even if she isn't trained to bite a regular human), so I wasn't as worried about being alone in the park at night, but I did want a chance of success on the track and I wanted to be able to see if Laev missed a corner or veered too far from the footprints. So after some sit-fronts and calm downs, we started with a trail of kibbles to the start flag.

Laev launched, it was ugly, and I disgustedly pulled her back to restart. I got her eating off the scent pad and we started again, still emotionally higher than I'd like but at least really tracking and eating. Already I'd lost the correct direction of the first leg but I trusted my dog and the reassuring crunching of kibble telling me she was indeed on the track. Her first corner caught me totally off-guard, but she was correct. At least I know she's not secretly reading the track from me!

I'd added articles back onto the track, and her first article was very nice, even though I barely saw it before she did. Whee! At least that's held together! I know my cue to track is extremely loaded, and so I just breathed it as a whisper at the same moment that I set a little pile of higher value food between her paws. She ate it and then set off down the track.

Trouble came a few minutes later when Laev realized there were CRITTERS coming out of the woods. Hey, at a popular park, the local wildlife probably eats well and has little fear. Laev started to get frantic and I downed her. We waited, Laev staring intently into the dark toward the trees, me watching Laev, until she finally relented enough to eat a kibble off the track while she watched. I reached into my treat bag, fed her some higher value food, and cued her to track.

LAUNCH! Laev careened down the track, pouring all her critter frustration into her work. I couldn't even properly fix her, without being able to see where exactly the track was. Somehow she fell onto the right path and an incidental pile of kibble, and I guess the fact that it was dinnertime won out. She slowed enough to eat the pile and proceeded to track, though fast, to the next article. There she downed promptly. "Oh, yeah, this!"

She wasn't calm enough to start slowly again, though. She leapt right over the offered food and set off down the track, clearly torn between track and critters. I think, though I am not sure, she missed a corner and picked up the next leg, but she did end cleanly (if speedily) and downed nicely on the final article. I fed her copiously and took her back to the car.

RACOON! Laev scented it, but I saw it before she did, hiding behind a bush. It ran as Laev was clearly hunting it, and she shrieked her fury at being unable to give chase. She did hold herself, actually, after the first couple of seconds, and she sat between my legs and screamed. I apologized for being a terrible mean handler who wouldn't let her chase the local wildlife and loaded her into her crate. Collar off, line coiled, treat bag and articles put away, mobile phone--

Mobile phone. I'd lost my phone.

I looked over the dark field. Stink. There was no way I was going to find it in the pitch blackness that we had now.

But I had a tracking dog! The phone was somewhere along the track, that was certain. And it was saturated in my scent. Laev couldn't ask for a better article.

Unfortunately, Laev's thinking was that we had already run that track once, a second time would be boring as heck and there were RACOOOOOOONS in the dark! Prey prey prey prey prey! So our search ended up being me scuffling along behind Laev as she scanned for critters. Fortunately I hadn't been stupid enough to give any real cues; as my husband quotes, "A good general is one who doesn't give an order he knows won't be obeyed."

Maybe now is a good time to mention that last night, the same training buddy who had recommended night tracking had lost his phone on the training field. He found it himself, as our club field is well-lit. Hmm.

I kept an eye on the car that cruised slowly past, but it wasn't security -- whom I would have asked to call my phone -- or anyone who stopped for less altruistic purposes. Laev glanced briefly at the car and went back to sniffing the air.

So picture us, unable to find my phone. At all. And it's not necessarily Laev's fault, as I had picked up our tracking flags and had no idea exactly where our track had run. It's a big field and I couldn't see any landmarks at all in the dark. I was wishing now I'd trained for the StP (Random Article Search); at least then I could put Laev on a long line and send her back and forth to search for anything with human scent.

Still, there I was, in a field, with a very talented scenting dog and no way to find my lost article. This was pathetic.

But Laev is not interested in human scent, she wants racoons. I want my phone, which has all of my business information on it. Finally I return to my car and, in a fit of inspiration, get my Bluetooth headphones I was using to listen to an audiobook. If I could get within 30' or so, I would be able to get a signal between headphones and phone!

So I began wandering the field pressing the voice dial button on my headphones, waiting for an answering beep. I didn't even know if the headphones would wake the phone, which would have shut itself down by now. Meanwhile, Laev was dragging hard toward what must have been a racoon party, but I held my ground.

Success! I got a static-y response from the phone, and I quickly told it to dial my husband's number. If I could just get him calling my phone, I could track the sound of the ring!

Straight to voicemail. Bad husband! I started swinging about, heading in different directions as the static increased or faded while the chirpy automated voice told me I could leave a message. I felt rather like one of the Baileys' spy cats, tracing a directional tone. By the time the voice stopped, I had achieved a pretty solid connection, and I guessed I was within 25' or so of the phone.

I tried another voice dial, thinking of others I could reach to ask to ring my phone, and as I spun around I was rewarded with a glimmer of light from the black ground. My phone! That was my screen, lighting up for the voice tag!

Laev and I hurried toward it, and she gave it a cursory sniff. I quickly cued her to "find it," an informal cue to indicate, and she picked it up. Dummy. I had her drop it and indicate, and I treated her for pointing to the phone. Who knows, maybe that will come in handy in the future.

Hm. Maybe I will train for the StP.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Our Tracking Is Made of Win. (And a Freaky Moment.

I was running late this morning when Laev started fussing in the crate. I told her irritably from the bathroom to wait a moment, that I was hurrying. As I started brushing my teeth, however, I turned back and noticed that she was shaking.

I crouched in front of her crate, toothbrush dangling from my mouth, and saw that her head was trembling horizontally. It looked like a minor seizure. Laev was alert, though, and responded normally to my cues to lie down and look at me. I yelled for my husband to bring me a dog biscuit, and as soon as she ate it, the shaking ended.

This is almost certainly ideopathic tremor syndrome, something that turns up occasionally in Dobermans and some bulldog breeds. Symptoms are head shaking (vertical or horizontal), the dog may not seem to notice, and the episode often ends when the dog eats. It sometimes shows up and then vanishes forever; it sometimes worsens with time. Affected dogs may show increased incidents when stressed. I don't think it's associated with developing into full epilepsy. Anti-seizure drugs do not reduce frequency. Today's research yielded that current theories range from deep cerebellum disease to a kind of stereotypy.

I haven't seen it in Laev before, though I did have a foster who demonstrated it twice and then never again. It was kind of freaky to see it, though. She hasn't been unduly stressed of late, I hadn't done any diet change yet, and Laev's at about as small a risk for stereotypy as possible; she has a very enriched life. Despite the apparent lack of cause, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on -- I learned about head tremors on a list-serve when I first got into Dobermans -- but just in case, I stayed home for a bit so that if she started exhibiting other symptoms, I could get her quickly to our vet.

That meant we tracked in our field again. I laid a track, came in and did some quick research on tremors (no new info in the last few years, it seems), and then took Laev out to track. Down, treat, hand target, treat. More down and treat. I was using a new treat, a grain-free kibble which I felt was a good size for tracking and still healthy. (She'd never had it before, so this new sample wasn't responsible for triggering her episode.)

Laev seemed to be relaxing into the down, but finally she just couldn't take any more and she leapt from a down straight forward toward the track. I blocked with the line and downed her again. Treats between her paws. I finally dropped a treat far enough forward that she had to crawl for it, and then stand up and eat, and then follow the little trail of kibbles I was dropping for her to lead her silently and sneakily toward the scent pad, which was well-laid with more kibble.

Once she hit the scent pad, I did NOT cue her to track. I've learned that the cue is loaded with excitement! She eased herself onto the track and set off.

Oh, wow. I haven't seen such a wonderful track from her in ages. She never got frantic, she nailed the first serpentine and every curve and corner thereafter except one -- but even then, when she realized she was off, instead of becoming frantic she simply made a tight circle and picked up the track again. She was slow, methodical, ate most of her kibbles, and kept no real pressure on the tracking line. This is a dog who, for the first year, forced me to wrap her line behind me and SIT on it as she tracked.

Because I am a greedy trainer, I even backed down the line on a straight leg and let her work further ahead of me than usual, which didn't faze her in the least. I closed up again before the final corner.

The biggest flaw was at the end, when she didn't want to down on the article. I think she was enjoying the track too much and was resistent to the idea of it ending. I went up and encouraged her to indicate, and then I reinforced with a higher value food, lots of it, before calmly ending the track.

I was very pleased, overall. As I told my club members when I went to join them for bitework, just a seizure or two before the trial, and we'll be fine....

I did take Laev for bitework, as she seemed totally fine. I loaded her into the car after the track and went back to the house to get keys, etc. Shakespeare must have seen us from a window, because he went out the door, checked briefly on Laev in the car, and then ran to the field and the start flag. As I left, he was methodically working out Laev's track, picking up the kibbles she'd left. I called to him that he was a wonderfully brilliant dog.

Laev's bitework was mostly fine, though she got uncomfortably hot and confused during the first session. It was warm today. I need to balance on the fine point between anticipation of control -- her call to heel from the hold and bark is really nice now -- and letting her be crazy and pushy and demanding -- she was starting to anticipate a call to heel and was staying out a bit further and glancing back, wanting the next step in the chain. A few bites for a good hold and bark seemed to cure that, but I have to be sure that I don't reinforce her checking back in anticipation....

There was one incident in her first session when the helper slipped the sleeve before I arrived to collect Laev. Laev joyfully headed toward the car with her prize. I called her, but she was a bit reluctant to share her prize with me, passing and circling, so I stepped behind a blind. (My disappearing is Laev's worst nightmare.) She looked for me quickly, reported club members, and then she headed for the pond. With the sleeve.

I jumped out and called her again, running after her, and she turned at the water's edge and I got her. The next time the helper slipped the sleeve, I played tug with it and her, emphasizing that bringing me her win is a good thing.

We did a bit of side transport work in the second session, which we've spent a little time on but not a whole lot. I really saw Laev "get it" at the end, and she was doing very nice right-side heeling on the helper with me just along for the ride, the way most judges like to see it. Needs some polish, but I'm happy with it for now.

So... more good tracking in our future, I hope?!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Laev Loves a Parade.

Last Saturday morning we went out and did some drive-building with a toy and segued into some nice heeling. Then I packed up Laev -- Shakespeare was already in the car -- and drove down to join a parade.

A nearby library has a reading therapy program, Paws to Read, for local schoolkids. Shakespeare and Laev will be participating with this program when their paperwork is done, and so they were marching in the parade. This would be stimulating enough, but the parade's theme (for some reason, despite the season) was Mardi Gras.

So Alena and I got into costume -- we do a lot of costumes -- and I made some uber-cheap dog costumes as well. These were "totally ghetto," as competitive costuming slang goes, being constructed of cheap felt and hot glue, but they looked pretty decent. Both Dobermans were decorating in red barding and fake bridles so that they looked like medieval horses.

Well, I thought they looked like medieval horses. So did my friends, and at least one spectator kid. But the majority of comments we got were something like, "Oh, look at the jester dogs! They're like, um, something!"

Considering that I looked like a Comedia d'Arte character, I guess that's okay.

So both dogs had to navigate costumed characters (including large mascot characters), lots of swarming and petting kids, noise, music, floats, other dogs, and flying candy. Laev did great on everything except the flying candy. She LOVES sugar. So as we walked down the street, she'd occasionally drop her head to snatch a sucker and gulp it whole, wrapper and stick and all. I didn't worry too much; it was all edible or just paper, it wasn't going to hurt her, and I didn't want to fuss at her too much. Nor did I want to go down her throat for a sucker in front of a streetful of people, most of whom would probably guess that I was choking her with my Mardi Gras mask.

Shakespeare was a pro, as usual, though he seemed more affected by the heat. I guess that's a sign of his age, which is kind of sad. It was quite warm, though.

Lots of pictures were taken, but I have received very few. Here's one, though, of Laev resting before the parade started.

I particularly like this photo because of what you *can't* see -- just outside the frame are a half dozen strange dogs, two or three costumed mascot characters, and a couple of kids. Laev was lying calmly with her back to them, ignoring the whole thing -- not turning away out of stress, just indifferent. I liked her blase attitude.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More mistaken identity!

Just a few days after I was asked if I were Karen Pryor (due to my KPA polo shirt), I learned that Melissa Alexander works at my training facility!

Someone pointed out this post on a local pet forum, which confuses my friend Melissa Heigl with Melissa Alexander. My friend Melissa Heigl was laughing and quite pleased. We haven't asked Melissa Alexander. :-)

The good news is, these are not clicker-specific venues; mainstream folk are using names from clicker publishing without prompting. I am pleased to see how much clicker knowledge is getting out there!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Our Tracking is Full of Fail -- Minus 2%.

So, that didn't start well.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that Laev's tracking is full of fail, because she is just too darned enthusiastic about the track. So I have a new de-revving program for her, and tonight I laid two tracks. The first, for Laev, had lots of food, angles, serpentines. The second had no food except at the start pad but had three articles in its short length.

I returned to the house -- I'd used my own field -- and brought Shakespeare out to track the second one, leaving the first to age. Laev screamed in protest; apparently she'd seen me laying the track from a window. Shakespeare did his track happily, enjoying his treats on the articles. I returned to trade dogs.

"That dog is wired," my husband warned me of Laev. "It's crazy. It wants to track."

Yep, Laev had been mightily offended that she had watched me lay a track and then been left behind as I took the other dog. I knew I was going to have to ride that out as we went through our new calming routine before beginning the track, but I was prepared.

Or not.

I asked Laev to sit on the porch as I put her tracking long link on. She sat, for a short time, and then she exploded. She ran away toward the field where I'd laid tracks, hearing nothing at all of a recall. By the time I got there, she was galloping along the track, air scenting frantically and ignoring all the food.

I stood at the head of the track and called her. She came to me but then bolted again when I asked her to down. Repeat. She came to me, I treated and grabbed her collar, and then I downed her.

Right. Calm starts. Good one, Laura.

I put Laev's equipment on and stroked her for a long time. I also reflected that perhaps mosquito happy hour was not the best time for calm long downs.

I treated Laev, petted her, and tried to get her to relax enough that I could rub her belly. Not a prayer, she knew the track was there! But after a while, she was willing to eat treats off the ground as we walked and I dropped them, so that was a good sign.

We edged toward the start flag and I dropped some treats on the ground, working slowly into the scent pad. She ate treats, sniffed, ate treats, realized that she was on the track, and launched.

Fortunately she was frantic for only a few steps before she settled into sniffing and eating again, about four footsteps' worth. After that she looked pretty good, 'til she got to a corner, which for some reason sent her back into air scenting again. She got a bit wired -- it hadn't been that far under the surface -- and I had to down her on the track, which really peeved her. I treated her in the down, stroked her, praised her, and when she was calm, I soothingly whispered, "Track." I even dropped a treat just ahead of her as I cued.

Okay, so, memo to self: "Track" is a very loaded word. She launched right over the treat and landed on the track.

Recovery was pretty quick again, however, and she seemed to settle into a better working mode. She still didn't eat all the food on the track, but she did better. She was hesitant to down on the single article at the end, but I fed her on the article for a while, trying to ease out of the track as well. Then I took off her collar and line and went to collect my flags while she wandered the field, wondering at this weird finish.

So we might be on to something, but it's going to take some better management to know for sure. We'll try again and see what we get!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"Are You Karen Pryor?"

Saturday I was at a farm show and pet expo, where I gave a couple of demos and handed out information on dog training. This was the first year for the pet expo, held in conjunction with the popular farm show, and it wound up a bit early. I walked over to the other side of the fairgrounds to check out some farming gear, buildings, equipment, beef cattle, and more.

It was a warm day and I'd been working most of it, so I stepped up to buy a drink from a vendor. He glanced at my shirt -- I was wearing my Karen Pryor Academy polo, just in case I enticed a student -- and asked, "Are you Karen Pryor?"

He was just making conversation based upon my shirt, of course, so I answered a bit flippantly, "No, but I work for her!" as I dug out my cash.

"Karen Pryor the animal trainer?" he asked as he brought my Coke. "Really?"

A woman came to join him at the window. "Really?"

So we ended up chatting for a moment, and I left them with a URL to see my chicken training video from some of my workshops with Bob Bailey.

Tonight, however, I was reminded quite clearly that I am not, in fact, Karen Pryor. I put Laev's long link chain collar (our standard Schutzhund training collar, as it's required for competition) and long line on her, prepared to work on send-outs on the field. I couldn't find a training target, though, and I left Laev in a down so I could check in the barn. (Because there had been a C-A-T in the area, though, I put the line on the live ring of the collar so she couldn't slip out in case of sudden temptation, and I kept the end of the line in my hand as I went into the barn.)

Well, no target in the barn, so I decided I'd see if someone had left one on the field. I returned to Laev, gathered up the long line, and asked her to heel with me toward the field. Laev gave me lovely eye contact and nice heeling, ignoring both the agility tunnel we passed and the temptation to scan for the C-A-T. I was very proud of her.

It was her new tracking line we were using, which meant we got almost exactly thirty-three feet out before we took up all the slack where I'd locked the end in the barn door. Poor Laev got a sharp collar correction on a live ring for her heeling.

Fortunately, Laev doesn't really "get" collar corrections, and she figured it was just one of those weird and unfortunate things. I, however, felt really stupid. Nope, not Karen Pryor....

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"Drive Building." And photos!

We've been spending some time at the club in "drive building," which is dog slang for building desire and motivation. (Personally, I dislike the term "drive," as its only scientific definition was in a psychology theory discarded decades ago and its many non-scientific definitions make for imprecise discussions at times. But hey, for now, it means "motivation.")

The method we've been using is play on a backtie, with lots of teasing on the handler's part and frustration on the dog's part. This sounds kind of cruel, but it's not, really -- the dogs definitely enjoy it. Restraint on a backtie allows the handler to give up thinking about safety and control and just focus on wild play. It allows the dog to give up thinking about manners and safety and just focus on crazed desire. We can do things safely on a backtie that would be dangerous to dog or human loose together; I'm not built to take that much weight launched at high speed, but the harness can do it safely! And Laev loves the opportunity to REALLY cut loose.

A friend got a new camera this week, and she snapped some photos of Laev working -- playing -- with me. As a bonus, you get to check out my stylish dog-training togs, T-shirt and jeans. In this case, though, it is a B.F. Skinner T-shirt!

"Do ya want it? Do ya really want it?" Actually, I don't say anything nearly so coherent when teasing Laev. But whatever I am saying, she seems to think it worthwhile. Look at the intensity here.

If you ever wondered what Laev would look like with cropped ears.... I'm not losing the tail, though. It's just too much fun -- even if it is a bit dangerous and painful at times.

Yes, look, I'm teaching my dog to resource guard! Don't worry, it's entirely on cue and we don't have problems elsewhere.

It's not all teasing; she does get the toy. Sometimes she gets it even when I intended to only taunt, when her extendible Dober-neck snakes out to snatch it from the complacent handler.

So what's the point of all this? Laev thinks playing with me is even MORE fun, and so we get better results everywhere else. When I set up for a heel, I whisper quietly to her, "Are ya ready?" and she recalls all the energy and fun from these sessions. Sometimes that energy comes out vocally and she'll bark once or twice, but I don't mind; I can always contain energy, which is much easier than creating it! More often, though, her heeling sparkles and looks more, well, fun. As it should. If both ends of the leash aren't having fun, what the heck are we doing here?

However, Laev still loves to play her "real" games, which involve someone bigger, stronger, and meaner than me.

Here she catches a helper on an "escape bite," which means she is left to hold herself in a down until he makes a break for it. Oddly enough, Laev is faster. ;-)

She is committed under threat....

...and check out that nice out! Seriously, I am very proud of her fast outs. I've never used compulsion to get her to out off a helper.

Well, that's Laev's latest update. If we can get her tracking in order, though, I'd feel better....