Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Vacation Part 2

This is a follow up post to Oregon camping vacation part 1.  The second week of our holiday was spent camping on the gorgeous Oregon coast near Florence.   Florence is about mid-coast and is surrounded by spectacular sand dunes and beaches.    There is something about the wild west coast beaches (OR, WA and Tofino) that speaks to my soul and leaves me feeling both rested and rejuvenated.  Oregon is very dog friendly and it is easy to find deserted stretches of beach to romp and play.  We had great weather the entire week and only had fog on the final day.

I would say based on the following pics that the dogs had a pretty good holiday!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Michele Pouliot Seminar - Part 2

This is a follow up post to Michelle Pouliot seminar part 1.

Visual cues are something I have obviously been aware of but did not give them the respect they deserve.  Michele spent a lot of time discussing how easy it is to sabotage our training with confusing signals and body language. The seminar convinced me that this is an area I need to pay more attention.  Visual cues for me break down into two main areas.  The first is the importance of clean training.  The second is the importance of environmental cues.

Before the weekend we were asked to identify our top three goals and the top problems I have in achieving those goals.  I identified my top problems as a need to improve my consistency, need to improve my mechanical skills and need to plan my training sessions better.  This basically all rolls up into the concept of clean training.

Michele's handout describes "Blocking" a marker (clicker etc.).  Blocking is anything that distracts the dog from its awareness of the behavior that it is performing.  Any action, noise or visual incident that occurs before or during the marker can prevent the dog from understanding what is actually being rewarded.  Handlers can easily block their audible marker with hand movements, a food pouch, body movenments or words spoken before or during the intended marker.   Michele only uses a bait bag when training new behaviours where she would need a high rate of reinforcement and even then makes sure that the bait bag is on the opposite side of the body.  Treats are normally hidden in her pockets and she uses toys that are easily hidden. A favourite trick of hers is to use those flat road kill toys for tugging and she hides several on her body.  That lets her pull one out, play and then put it away where the dog can see.  She then surprises the dog by pulling another toy off her body.  Her theory is that she wants the dog to think she is the source of endless good stuff even if it isn’t right in front of the dog. 

Clean training involves keeping neutral body language when teaching behaviours, marking the behaviour cleanly and THEN moving to reward the behaviour.  Dogs are very visual learners and it is sooooo easy to unconsciously give body cues that end up being the lure to get the dog to do what we want.  Haven’t we all have had those moments where we think our dog knows  a voice cue but instead stares blankly at us when we ask for the behaviour?  We need to remember to keep our bodies neutral (i.e. hands at side, standing casually straight etc.).  Mark the behaviour with a clicker or other marker and ONLY then we may move to reward the behaviour.  It is fine to praise in between the marker and the treat and that will classically condition the praise which can be beneficial.

My mechanics have really improved over the last year but I still find myself with my hands in the treat pouch before they should be or my body in some sort of luring position.  It’s fine to use our body language as a cue for behaviour (and many freestyle moves are cued by body) but we should only be using the position that will be the final clean cue for the dog.   Lures that become habitiual visual cues for the dog will evolve into required cues.  The good news is that I am recognizing my bad habits now which is a good step to stopping them.  This seminar just reinforced that I need to be constantly vigilant about keeping things clean. 

The second part about visual cues is to be aware of environmental cues.  Michele spoke of watching dogs compete the first few times in a freestyle or obedience routine and the moment where dogs that are heavily rewarded with food figure out that there is no reward coming.  Dogs learn very quickly that the presence of ring gates indicate long working patterns with no rewards.  When we throw in stressed out owners it quickly adds up to not much fun for the dog.  She believes in training the entry into the ring as a regular behaviour that is rewarded.  One exercise we did at the seminar was to enter through a set of ring gates with our dogs as if we were to start an obedience round or freestyle routine.   If you have access to someone who can act as a ring steward and usher you in and take the leash that is even better.  Do those types of actions and then stop and have a play party with your dog.  Mix up the reinforcement schedule by sometimes asking for a few behaviors and then having the party.   After the party return to exit the ring gates quietly, leash up and exit the ring.  Repeat often so the presence of ring gates becomes a strongly reinforced cue to start work and also have fun. 

These fun party moments are important ways to reinforce our dogs without using food or toys.  Be sure to note how your dog likes to “party”.  Some dogs don’t like their owners being all crazy and they should be rewarded with calm petting or other things they enjoy.   Stella loves to bounce around but that can also sometimes get her over stimulated so depending on her mood I should mix that up with butt scratches and goofy talk.  It was quite impressive to watch the seminar participants work this exercise.  Many dogs enter the ring very slowly the first time and then look totally confused at the “party”.  Pretty much every dog showed significant improvement in attitude by the third attempt.

These environmental cues are everywhere in competition.  In obedience think of two people standing with crossed arms for the figure eight or a judge following you around with a clip board.  Consider if we dress or move the same way in competition as we do in regular training?  Be aware of those sorts of things and work them to our advantage because if you don’t the dogs will figure out they are cues that another boring time in the ring is ahead for them.

I would advise anyone to take part in a seminar with Michele.  I very much enjoyed my time and hopefully these posts represent some of the information acurately.  If not it is totally my fault because she was fabulous! 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Seminar - Michelle Pouliot Part 1

Stella and I had a working spot this past weekend at a Michelle Pouliot seminar.  Michelle is a top-level competitor in Canine Freestyle and is also Director of Research and Development for programs at Guide Dogs for the Blind.  I saw Michelle at Clicker Expo and really liked her presentions plus once I viewed a few of her freestyle routines I was blown away. Anyone that can complete a long routine like that with no food or toys and a happy working dog has my utmost respect.  The focus of the seminar was freestyle but she also has a strong obedience history and adapted her information for both types of participants.

I came away from the weekend with two "aha" areas that I want to focus on going forward over the next little while.   The first was working attention.   The second was the importance of visual cues.  This really isn't new information for me but I feel that life has a way of slapping us upside the head with information when we need to revisit something.

Michelle feels that we need to train more attention and focus less on training skills in other environments.  This makes a lot of sense to me because once I have great attention behaviours in all sorts of areas then the dog will naturally be able to perform the exercises I request.  This doesn't mean that the exercises don't still need to be trained, generalized etc but the biggest first step is just to get the working attention on cue and with duration. 

I worked attention with Stella as a puppy but realized that it had fallen away as we moved onto "sexier" stuff.   When we competed our pre-novice rounds a few weeks ago we passed but I wasn't happy with her heelwork as she was fairly sniffy and distracted.  She is capable of much prettier work than we gave.  I tend to have a mindset where I still think of her as a puppy and excuse things like distracted behaviour .  She is still a young (14 months) dog but I now recognize that I need to set and maintain some better standards when we are working together.

When training attention we have the following progression of goals:
1.  Have the dog offer attention.
2.  Get duration attention. 
3.  Get attention on cue.
4.  Have on cue attention fluent. 
5.  Attention is reliable in goal environments. 

Attention is a trained, reinforced behaviour for most dogs.  We want our dogs motivated to want to work with us.  We need to have a strong history of reinforcement (food, toys, play, interaction etc.) and a mutual trust and respect with our dogs to be successful.   We can't take food or toys in the ring so the relationship will be what gets us through.  We can classically condition praise by using it after we click but before we treat/play.   Stella has a few pretty good non-food/toy reinforcers in that she likes when I clap my hands and she gets to jump/bounce but that can get her a bit over-stimulated for a ring environment so I'm going to also explore other reinforcers.   Michelle believes in using the dog's favourite natural behaviours whenever possible as rewards.  One of her dogs loves to jump straight up and down and the other loves when Michelle is laying down on the floor.  Stella does love when I get down on my hands and knees with her so that might be useful for us. 

Michelle believes one of the biggest problems we have with attention is that as humans we self-sabatoge by checking out on our dogs.  We do this to talk to our trainer or friends, to think about what our next trainings steps will be, to set up stuff etc.  This teaches our dogs to dis-engage with us and move onto other self-rewarding behaviours like sniffing.  Attention is a two way street and we need to give our dogs 100% when we are training with them.  When we get attention on cue that is our "ON" switch so when we cannot offer our dogs 100% of our attention in return then we need to use our "OFF" switch.  Dogs need to be taught to shift into a neutral off that will allow us to do things like talk to trainers/set up.  This is not the same as an "all done" situation.  With young dogs she recommends placing them in a down (sit or stand also ok), give a cue like relax etc and then step on the leash so it is very short and prevents the dog from exploring the environment.   This is generally not a rewarded behaviour as the object is to teach the dog that we are not going to interact so there is no point in doing anything other than just waiting for us to turn them back "ON".    If you need to remove your attention for an extended period then it is better to crate or tie your dog somewhere.

I did the "OFF" exercise with Stella and she went down nicely and then I stepped on the leash.  She got bored quickly and wanted to explore but while the leash would allow her to stand it wasn't a very comfortable position for her.  She struggled a bit and I totally ignored her so she didn't think this was about me.  She wasn't stressed or freaked out, it was basically a discussion between my dog and the floor and eventually she flopped down and settled.   We've done this a few times since then and each time gets better.  I can see how this will lead to a better understanding of when we are working and expect engagement.   Michelle actually takes the whole thing further and uses a set routine where she crates for a short period before and after each training session and uses a specific leash on/off routine.  This pattern becomes a strong cue to the dog that work is about to start and is also useful in a trial environment when our dogs are often crated.  It certainly works for her!  We were lucky enough to watch her work her dogs and it is impressive.  Her dogs obviously love to work with her and equally obvious how much she loves and respects them.

I've rambled on long enough now so will talk more about visual cues another day. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Remembering Lucy

August 14th marks the two year anniversary of saying goodbye to our beloved yellow labrador Lucy.  She was 14.5 years old when she left us and I miss her.  Lucy was our first dog and was a bossy, smart, stubborn, loveable girl who helped make us a family.  She was a very naughty puppy and we wondered if we would ever survive that stage.  Riley and Stella have seemed like dream puppies compared to her craziness.

Riley is the dog that taught me to love training but Lucy was the dog that introduced me to the world of natural dog health.  She developed food allergies as a young dog which eventually lead me to raw feeding.  When she was five years old she got terribly sick and was diagnosed with Chronic Active Hepatitis and was expected to live less than six months.   We chose to support and fight her liver problems with many supplements and healthy food and she rebounded and did not show liver issues again until much later in life.  She also had bad problems in her final years with mobility so we learned again about things like IMS therapy (similar to accupuncure), dog chiropractors, swim therapy and supplements.  Her smile was ever present no matter what life threw at us.

She had a bad experience with a jack russell when she was six months and held a life long grudge against small, bossy dogs.  I know now that we probably could have trained past that but luckily her situation was easy to manage as it was easy to know the type of dog that would bother her.  She was ten when we brought home puppy Riley so they never really played much but were very good friends.  Riley was always gentle with her and was her great protector in her senior, wobbly years.

When I think of her now I am flooded with happy memories.  Our recent camping trip to Oregon had us laughing at funny thoughts from years camping with our yellow dog.  I still have moments where I cry and  my heart aches from missing her so much but mostly I am just grateful to have known her.  Thanks for being our dog Lulubelle, you are forever in our hearts!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Gotcha Day & New Title

Today is the one year anniversay of our wonderful little girl coming home with me.  I love this dog and she has brought lots of fun and new experiences to our family.

We "celebrated" by competing at a show in Victoria.  Stella successfully passed her remaining two legs of her pre-novice obedience title so now can add P.C.D. to her name.   Next up will be training towards the Rally Advanced (RA) and Novice Obedience (CD) titles .  She did a pretty good job today although her heel work wasn't nearly what she is capable.  My fault for not working it very much lately plus I also entered her in our first confirmation class at this same show so have been cramming in last-minute training for that this week.  It has confused her to go from a heel with attention and automatic sit (obedience) to focus forward and stand/stack when stopped (confirmation).  I'm sure we could easily sort that out with some more time but it made things interesting today.  Luckily she is pretty easy going and adaptable.

The confirmation actually went pretty well and I didn't fall flat on my face or embarass my lovely dog :o).   We competed with some local Vizsla friends so things were very relaxed and friendly.  We didn't come away with any points but it was an interesting experience.  I am still evaluating if this is something I am interested in pursuing further.  I have no plans to breed and showing gets pretty expensive especially when there is any travel.  A lot will depend on how things progress with Riley over the next month or so when we meet with the surgeon to see if we will do hip surgery.  If that happens then the show and training budgets are going to be pretty tight for a while.

Here are a few pics from her first day home with us and then today at the confirmation show.

Already showing signs of her love of shoes

Sneaky cuddler


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Vacation Part 1

Hubby, the dogs and I headed off a few weeks ago to beautiful Oregon with our trailer for some summer camping fun.  First week was LaPine State Park near Bend, Oregon.  This is a great area that would likely be classified as high mountain desert.  The Deschutes River winds through the campsite and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument Park is close by with wonderful sights, lakes and hiking. 

We had a very relaxing, mellow trip.  Riley is okay with shorter (1-1.5 hours) hikes so we did some exploring and took advantage of swimming opportunities.  Stella ate some grass that irritated her throat badly on the first day which then caused her to want to eat lots more grass to throw up and repeat in a vicious cycle.    This resulted in a few miserable days for her where she had an upset gastro-intestinal system (vomiting and a few diarhea poops) and a sore throat area.  Through all of that she still was mostly her happy, bouncy self and everything got sorted out and settled down after a few days.   Both my dogs munch on grass often here with no problems other than the occasional stringy grass poop but this stuff was just longer, dry stuff with sharper edges.  She is also low to the ground and darn sneaky so it was very hard to keep it away from her unless she was tied up on a short rope in the campsite.  Luckily once she felt better it was much less attractive to her.  We still managed to have lots of fun and the warm weather was perfect for dog swimming.

  Stella swimming in Paulina Lake

Riley swimming in Deschutes River

Friends exploring the trails

We also met a fun three month old female vizsla pup in the campground.  Stella had a blast playing with puppy Olive who actually lives fairly close to us here in Vancouver.  It was funny to meet them when we are both so far from home!

Stella playing with Olive