Thursday, February 26, 2009

TDI update! - a ray of hope!


The phone rang a bit ago, and it was TDI! It was a different staffer, and she was not only friendly and polite, she was helpful! I explained to her the situation, and she not only took note of what I said and promised to look into it, but she actually even called me back with an answer!

The short version is, Laev's TDI registration should go out tomorrow. I also have instructions on how to submit an appeal for Shakespeare. I left aside my other concerns, preferring to raise the odds of success by splitting criteria ;-) but I hope that we can get some of the other items addressed as well.

But I wanted to in fairness promptly report this development!

Therapy Dogs International -- strong language follows

I thought I was done with all this TDI-bashing, but I think I'm going to finally come out and say this. Some -- not all, certainly, but some -- of the TDI office staff are liars and con artists.

I really, truly feel I have been taken in by an organized con. They have my money and the high ground of saying they're a charitable institution doing good. I am left to sound whiny and plaintive. It's brilliant.

But after all the previous TDI foolishness, I finally wrote to the president directly (a concerned someone passed me a direct address). I received an email response and a phone call from another staffer.

The staffer sounded appropriately horrified. "Oh, no, we would never ask for money if you weren't already a registered member. You're in our system because your dog was approved."

I pointed out that we had tested in July 2008 and that this was January 2009, and we had never received our approval paperwork, nor any answers to my queries.

"I don't know why you wouldn't have been answered or why you didn't get your paperwork; you're approved. I'll send new paperwork out now."

She also listened to my story of Shakespeare's rejection despite his numerous references and the patent ridiculousness of his being rejected for dog aggression after he had to serve as the neutral dog for TDI's own testing (because the evalutor's "neutral dog" was still barking and lunging against the crate door even in another room). She agreed and suggested I submit an appeal.

She also was very interested in my report of a TDI evaluator passing dogs who were growling at the medical equipment and about which handling warnings were given to the evaluator to avoid a bite during testing. (Really.) The staffer said she didn't know why the test organizer's letter on the subject hadn't received a reply, but she would be sure to call her for more information, now that I'd given her the organizer's phone number.

That was in January. This is now the end of February. I have never received Laev's paperwork indicating that she is or has been registered with TDI. The person who contacted TDI about the dubious evaluator never received a phone call asking for more information. And her attempts to contact TDI have met with no answer -- they will not answer the phone, they will not respond to her emails.

But I said, stuff happens, maybe stuff got lost in the mail, who knows? So I called TDI again. "I am still waiting for my dog's registration paperwork. She tested in July 2008, and in January someone told me it would be sent again, and I still need that."

The staffer told me to renew online. When I tried to explain that this wasn't that type of renewal, she wouldn't let me finish my sentence, just repeating "Renew online!" again and again. I finally interrupted, rather more sternly than my usual self, and said that I did not want to pay another year's fee to get the paperwork I had not received from 7 months ago, that I had been told I could have my original registration. The staffer said she would look up my check -- and then she hung up on me.

When you take money for something -- registration, paperwork, insurance -- and then don't deliver it, that could be stealing or it could be gross incompetence. When you take money, refuse to deliver the product, and hang up on people who call to ask where the product is, that's pretty definitely stealing.

So, makes me wonder about the rest of TDI, too. If a TDI dog should bump or startle an unsteady patient who falls, what are the odds the promised insurance will come through for the handler? I wouldn't bet on it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Say It Out Loud

I hesitated to post this, lest it sound whiny and self-absorbed. I don't want that! But if this blog is about my thoughts and experiences training, and the following are indeed part of my thoughts on training, then here goes....

Today during training, a club member asked me about some behavior he saw in the dog working at that time. I answered with my observations. He asked about the behavior's origins in puppyhood, and I answered again. Where it seemed I might be commenting on the handler personally, I specified, "This is not to sound judgmental about [the handler], I love her to death, but if that were my puppy, this is how I would do things."

Of course, the dog is not a puppy -- she's several years old -- and the handler didn't have this dog as a puppy anyway. Obviously moot point for that dog, but the question related to his own puppy, so it had some relevance.

But someone else, returning to where we sat, saw us speaking quietly. "Say it out loud!" he ordered, taking me by surprise. "Whatever it is, say it out loud!"

I stammered something, worrying he thought I was talking smack about the handler. I wasn't. And the person who called me out explained that he had just seen too many clubs hurt by gossip, even if it was only perceived gossip. But after all was said and done, it got to me thinking.

Dangerous, that.

The point today was that we didn't want anyone to think we were talking bad about someone else. Would I want someone talking about me? Thing is, I know people talk about me, now. I do overhear conversations behind my back or get private emails. Sometimes it's good -- I'm really pleased when I hear that someone finds the blog inspiring or helpful in their own training. Sometimes it's not so good -- protestations that I think I'm the world's best trainer, or that I have a nice dog, shame about the wacky handler. I've had people say that the sport of Schutzhund itself is cruel and no dog-loving trainer would ever even try it (clearly an ignorant opinion). I had someone write to accuse me of lying on a training discussion list. That hurt, even though the accusation was fairly idiotic.

People talk. That's nothing new. I should probably be grateful that I even merit their time. ;)

Yesterday, someone asked me how I handled being a clicker trainer at a competition venue where people are jerking and scruffing and punishing their dogs. I said that I will talk with some people who seem to want to talk, but I don't go looking for fights. "Shut up and show off," I said. I don't need to vindicate and proselytize, I need to train my dog. When they want what we have, I'll share.

Not that we're always a prime example. Today as I was trying to determine my day's training plan, a friend asked me to complete the sentence, "I wish Laev would...." I finished, "Pass the stinkin' Schutzhund 1!" Obviously, I'm still a little bitter. I'll admit, I cried when she failed. Heck, I sobbed on the way home. That was a tough week for me even before Laev flunked and humiliated me, and yes, I cried. And it further bothered me when someone said that we failed because I was a clicker trainer.

We failed because I had a hole in my training. Incomplete training is incomplete, no matter what kind of training it is. Laev was the only Schutzhund entry that day; I never stood up and said that another dog wasn't ready to even try because they use physical corrections. That would be just ridiculous as well as incredibly rude.

The saying goes that the only thing two trainers can agree on is what the third trainer is doing wrong. :) Steve White, whom I greatly respect, told a story of watching another trainer working a dog. It included techniques which Steve didn't use and found silly. He said he was just starting to feel superior when another trainer commented, "Hm, obviously that's been working for him."

That comment interrupted Steve's judgmental attitude, and I think it's a very valid one. We are lazy creatures; we don't do things that don't pay off in some way. Sometimes methods are more effective short-term than long-term, or sometimes the inverse, but we don't invest time and energy in something with no payback. Training is the same way. I don't like to hear clicker trainers bash traditional coercive training with "it doesn't work" because the truth is that it DOES work for many (not all) dogs. If not, it wouldn't have made it this far.

The fact that I think I have something better doesn't mean that the alternative has no validity.

Still, there's a lot of pressure to perform. This blog seemed like a good idea 'til I found myself posting about mistakes and failures. ;-) And when I'm trying to demonstrate TAGteach and I keep using improper language -- me, the instructor, the so-called expert -- it's frustrating. Someone pointed out an error today and I answered, "Yep, my dog and I aren't perfect!" And I don't think we are. But I do think that sometimes there's a higher standard. But so what? If I let that get to me, whose fault is that?

So say it out loud. If someone thinks I'm doing something right, great! If someone thinks I'm stupid, or a liar, or a person who manipulates this blog to make myself look good (right, sure, that's where my posts about failing the trial or being the worst tracklayer ever come from!) then oh well. It won't be anything new, saying that I'm screwing up my training.

But let's be honest. I don't pretend to have all the answers, and I don't pretend that I have perfect training. I just intend to do the best I know how to do. That's all any of us can do.

In other news -- Laev's obedience during bitework is getting shoddy. She isn't loading properly when we start but wants to wait 'til she sees the helper to get excited and focused. We can't have that. She's also losing precision. Grrr. I'll be making training plans for a while....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back to back.

Monday, I got a call from my training friend who organizes the therapy dog reading programs for the county-wide public library system. One of their regulars was ill and they needed a substitute dog.

So Monday night, Laev went to her first therapy dog visit. She was a bit too forward when greeting the effusive librarians, but then she remembered to sit nicely. I'd managed to walk out and leave her quiet-toy at home, but she downed on her mat and lay still while shy kids worked up the courage to approach her, pet her, and eventually read to her. Laev spent a great percentage of the time lying on her back, enjoying belly rubs, while kids and parents took turns reading. She was very, very good.

Then I tossed her mat into the car and drove up to join Schutzhund practice, where Laev worked on more obedience for blind searches, calls out of the blind, and avoiding predicting outs.

Yeah, back to back. That's called stimulus control. That's my dog. :)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Worse Tracklayer Evaaaaar.

The warm spell has begun. Temperatures jumped from below zero to about forty degrees on Saturday, and our accumulated snow (over a foot at my house) began to melt. This meant Saturday was our last chance for snow tracking!

I planned my track in advance. I've been working on getting strict focus right from the start of the track, instead of Laev's usual "Ooh, tracking!" launch at high speed. One thing that works well is to approach the track from an angle, so that the track could run in any direction from the flag (not straight out); jumping forward means she loses the track. So we'd do that. We'd also have an article just a few paces in; she's not used to finding articles that quickly, so that might surprise her and prompt her to think instead of rushing the track.

When I arrived at the tracking field, much of it was already tracked. No problem -- we'd use a crosstrack, too, so that Laev had to concentrate on her track.

Well, I just kind of ignored the rest of the conditions. Not entirely, of course -- when, while I was pondering how to cross a running stream of melt, the deceptively safe ground I stood upon turned out to be a melting ice bridge which collapsed and dropped me calf-deep into running snowmelt, I didn't entirely ignore that. (I spent the next 6 hours with cold, sodden socks and boots.) But I hadn't taken the melt into account while I laid track. I put down six articles in all. About 45 minutes later, I brought Laev to the start.

Laev was eager to track and rushed straight from the flag, going right off the track (which actually started to the left). She self-corrected and went down the track to the first article. "Eh?! What's this doing here?" She backed away from the article, looked at me, and said clearly, "I'm not lying down in this slush."

She had a point; my footsteps were filled with water. Snow was floating on the field. Her slick Doberman coat wouldn't be much protection.

But I couldn't let her be reinforced by continuing the track without performing the previous behavior in the chain. So I held her collar, gently insisted on at least a crouch, threw some hot dog down and released her to track. Right into the cross track.

Oh, my. How could I have missed that this crosstrack was baited with hot dogs?! Laev hesitated, sniffed both tracks, and then started eating. Reinforcement for exactly the wrong thing, and who can blame her? Bad tracklayer!

We got through that somehow -- "No, no, track! Your track! Track! Good girl!" -- and went on. Now the snow was no longer floating on the field, but every footstep was full of about 3" of water; it had started seeping in after I made prints. Laev didn't bother eating most of the treats I'd left occasionally. She did NOT like the articles, however. She offered me alternate indications -- "Look, lady, I'll point at it with my nose, or paw at it, but let's NOT do the down, okay?" -- and I had to again take her collar and insist. The track is just too powerful a reinforcer for her; she can't have it unless she performs the previous behavior in the chain. If I had predicted the awful cold, wet conditions, I could have used fewer articles and avoided this conflict.

The serpentine again proved to be the best device for forcing Laev to pay close attention to each footstep. At the final article, she pawed it, backed away, got distracted by something in the distance (pure displacement!), pawed it again when I prompted, backed away, and downed. Big hot dog party! And I kicked myself again, because there was a big pile of dog poop just a foot away from my article, which I had totally missed in laying the track. Bad tracklayer -- and bad dog owner, whoever that may be.

So, we'll have some cleanup work to do.

In other news, I really, really need to work on getting and reinforcing the sit before the blind search. Laev is happy to heel for bitework, but she hates sitting at heel. Boring! Let's just straight to the fun parts! So I need to do more there.