Thursday, June 25, 2009

Woo-Hoo! Happy Dance!

I just have a moment to quickly update, but this needs reported....

So, Laev can lie on the mat, chin down, comfortably resting, while I fire the cap gun right beside her. Even repeated shots. Even repeated shots, live and dry firing.

Aw yeah. :)

Lots more work to do, obviously, but we've made the first step!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I see progress -- I swear, I saw it!

So, as mentioned previously, I finally deduced that Laev has developed an anxious response to gunfire, though she displayed not trouble at all with it in her early life. Knowing where it came from doesn't help, but I told myself that what was learned can be unlearned and started a new path. My goal was to teach Laev to relax herself and slowly introduce gunfire.

This was easier said than done, of course. My first attempt to install a conditioned relaxer, by pairing a verbal cue with a naturally relaxed (sleepy) state, just didn't take. Laev sleepy is not Laev relaxed, it is Laev sleepy. When Laev is aroused, she's not going to go sleepy. Ain't gonna happen.

So I tried matwork, a la Control Unleashed, Laev had done matwork before, of course, but it was always infused with the thrill of training. She could be still on the mat, but not relaxed, and not always even still (as described in a previous post). I persisted, swapping to a different clicker. (It was suggested to me that I use a verbal marker instead of the exciting clicker, but I knew I needed the split-second timing a clicker afforded to capture Laev's minute muscle extensions. The Clicker+ was familiar enough to recognize but different enough that it didn't spark the same kind of excitement in my dog. Your mileage may vary.) Gradually, I got Laev to relax onto a mat.

Feeling pleased with myself, I introduced the gun. I'd bought a cap gun, keeping noise and gunpowder scent while reducing the intensity of both. Within a few days, I was able to fire the gun while Laev lay on her mat and then present her with her supper, without Laev bolting into the hinterlands with displacement activity. I was so happy.

The next day, I sent Laev to her mat and dry-fired the gun (no cap, no bang, just a hammer click). Laev couldn't handle it, began wandering restlessly about. Displacement activity. Stink. We'd had success, but we got it too fast and it didn't have enough foundation.

Back to relaxation on the mat... I learned that she could hold the mat for two or three dry-fires each followed by individual clicks and treats, but even if successful and reinforced she was then over threshold and couldn't stay through the next. It's very frustrating, because her stress signs are SO VERY SUBTLE and I have a very hard time identifying her threshold. Back to work.

And a change of venue. One thing I'd noticed is that Laev had definitely associated gunfire with geographic location. She could hold a lovely 10 minute long down on one side of the field, where we never practiced those, but got twitchy after 30 seconds in our usual trial down location. So tonight I took the mat to club training and threw it down in the front yard, where we've done little work and no gunfire. Laev was initially interested in the local wildlife but after a couple of moments settled nicely, resting her chin on the mat and waiting for her click. (The chin rest starts as "faking it," not real relaxation, but like method acting, she does start to relax after a moment of practice.)

When Laev was nicely stable, I took the cap gun from my pocket, held it to one side, and dry-fired. Laev kept her head on the mat. Click/treat. Repeat.

I worked for a while, trying to ride the threshold. If Laev moved at all when I dramatically presented the gun to one side, I simply replaced it behind my back. No dry-fire, but no treat. But it worked wonderfully. I called a friend over, whose dog was also having gunfire issues. "Look! I just want someone to watch this and verify that it really happened!" I brought out the gun and dry-fired once, twice, thrice, at five second intervals. Laev kept her chin on the mat and her muscles loose. "Look! It really did happen!"

/happy dance/

I wanted to carry some of this relaxed success to the field, loaded with all sorts of emotions. But I didn't want to let myself get greedy, so I deliberately put the gun back in the car before we trekked out to the field. Went to the trial honor down location and dropped the--

WHOA! Laev lit up and a jillion volts of electricity spattered everywhere. There was something in the tall grass beside the field, and she was standing on her hind legs against the leash, too jazzed even to vocalize in her intensity. I haven't seen that much from her in a while; this was something much more important than a rabbit. Coyotes? I held on, somehow dropped the mat, and gradually manipulated her backward with the leash, asking her to down (I knew she was incapable of looking for the mat). She did, but she was too buzzed to bother with treats. I started pegging her with treats as I clicked, knowing that if it actively bounced off her body, she'd turn and eat it. After a moment this worked, and she started giving me quick glances between turning back to the field. From there, it was a long road to shape relaxation, but that was my goal.

Good thing I'd left the gun behind; my goal here was just to get a semblance of matwork!

We were doing pretty well, actually, and we probably just went too long. Laev suddenly flipped a switch from mostly stable to leaping off the mat and lunging toward the field again. Again I blocked with the leash, brought her back, and started working slowly toward self-control. It took quite a while, but I'm pleased to report that Laev finished the session with her chin between her front paws and her hips rocked to one side, which is pretty darn impressive for her non-sleepy mode and near miraculous for her predatory mode.

I put Laev away and returned to where club members had gathered to start bitework. "Was Laev getting dirty?" one asked me with a grin. "Is that why she had a mat?"

I only smiled. "That's her security blanket."

And it is, in a way. When she can handle actual shots again on the mat, we'll fade it, but for now, I am very happy with what we accomplished tonight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Scales & Tails

I was extremely proud of Laev on Saturday. We attended an event called Scales & Tails at our state museum, where Laev worked nicely among LOTS of dogs, cats, ferrets, raptors, lizards, snakes, and the public. I was very, very happy with her self-control around the kittens in training (who helped by staying nice and calm), even when they were inches from her nose (never loose!).

She did a couple of demos on training, nothing fancy. We showed how to teach nose targeting and then how to use that to get loose leash walking and easy handling for vet exams and nail trims. The kittens showed beginning cat training (just nose targeting; they'd come from a shelter only two days before and weren't far along) and Shakespeare happily volunteered behavior for audience members who got to try shaping for the first time.

When we first entered the building, Laev got a bit overwhelmed by the crush of excited dogs and people. I glanced down as we were en route to our area and saw her quiet, but hackled. (Remember hackles can be simple arousal as well as fear-aggression!) We paused, I spoke briefly to her, she glanced up and gave me a wag, and the hackles went down. Off to our spot, and she was fine all day after that. I didn't give her a chance to get riled about the kittens (she had not seen them before) which were crated next to her; I took her from her crate, immediately clicked her for looking into the kitten crate and noting them but BEFORE she could get excited, and quickly got her looking at the kittens as a visual target. She offered a down and glanced happily but calmly at the kittens. Yay!

Overall, good behavior at the museum.

That night, however, Laev depressed me during our training session. She had MUCH better things to do than recall from distractions. Finally got her working, but ugh. Still in remedial school on some things!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

When CU goes wrong, or, my nutty dog :-)

I put Shakespeare in a crate with a chew (which, offended, he did not deign to eat) and Inky in another with a chew (which she ate) and kept Laev out for a training session. I had two exercises in mind.

1) open her mouth, with a big "say Ahh" movement
2) relax on a mat in preparation for gunshot desensitization

I'd started the open mouth idea a full year ago, but I'd not worked very hard on it and hadn't kept it up. No reason to. Now, however, I suddenly need to fill more time at our demos this weekend, and Laev needs a cute trick. So back to the open mouth game. I'd done one session on it last night, just enough to remind her that jaw movement works for clicks. (It's very hard getting jaw movement with no vocalization!)

It would be very wrong to say that Laev doesn't do much with her mouth; Laev is quite oral. But she doesn't lick or kiss or pant like most other dogs on the planet. Seriously, I generally see her pant only during summer bitework or after mile 10 on the AD. It's not even a common stress signal for her. So it was bizarre when I sat down to start our open-mouth session and she was panting.

Not really panting, after a moment. Just sitting there with her mouth open. Did she actually remember the open mouth? I didn't think so; she was just "stuck" that way. This was not as good as it sounded -- I couldn't click her opening her mouth!

So I abandoned that project and went to the other side of the couch, where I set out a mat. Laev parked promptly, but I wanted to shape her into relaxing. I clicked for chin down, etc., but she was faking. She wasn't relaxed, she was working the click system.

It took a long while before I could click a hip flop. As I clicked, she immediately popped back into a sphinx down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. She tried the other direction. Cool! Mom will click either hip flop! Watch me work both of them!

Finally I got her stable for a few seconds. She looked at me, lying on one hip, and gave me a big open mouth. And another. Way better than before.

I don't want to click the wrong behavior in the wrong place. Back to the couch and clicking for open mouth.

Laev started getting the open mouth, offering it more regularly. (Never as good as on the mat!) She had some superstitious body movement too, but I can live with that; it's just a silly trick. I decide that we're not going to have time to finish the full open mouth and hold before Saturday, so I'll go with an open/close/open/close movement and call it something to do with "goldfish." :-)

Back to the mat, on the other side of the room. Laev starts working the hip flops, never actually relaxing, just trolling for clicks. I stop clicking hip flops and click only what can be accomplished with muscle extensions -- legs extending, head lowering, ears relaxing, etc. In theory, this should relax the dog.

I just had a FABULOUS session yesterday with a dog in this. This fear-aggressive boy used to aggress at dogs across the street; relaxed on his mat, he was able to lie quietly and calmly while Shakespeare did happy treat dances back and forth about 15' away. I was thrilled with his progress, and in theory I know the concept of shaping relaxation on the mat.

But not with Laev. Determined to make me click, she started throwing everything she could think of at me -- crossing and uncrossing her front paws, flopping from one hip to another, raising and lowering her chin, and opening her mouth repeatedly. ALL AT ONCE. She looked like some sort of demented Rube Goldberg device. I couldn't help laughing, but we were not getting relaxation on the mat.

Finally got an instant of stillness, clicked and threw the treat off the mat, and let her reset. Clicked and treated for stillness. Not relaxed, but at least less like a steam engine about to explode.

Back to the couch and the open mouth, where I started adding a cue. We don't have the behavior anywhere near stimulus control yet, but I think it'll be good enough to fake for Saturday's demos.

Back to the mat. I settled for clicking for a hip flop and chin rest, though she was faking. She wasn't really lying still, not in her brain. She was ready to launch if I asked!

So... yeah. She's not nervous on the mat, but she's not relaxed. We have a way to go. :)