Friday, 29 November 2013

One Year Later

One year ago today I took a huge leap of faith and dropped Riley off for his major surgery.  I was scared to death that I wasn't making a good decision but equally terrified that if I didn't do it his quality of life would continue to deteriorate.  Some readers might not know that Riley had a hemilaminectomy procedure to remove a cyst pressing on your spinal cord.  Today Riley still has some lingering after effects of his condition (mild ataxia) and a bit of a wonky hip but for the most part he is healthy, happy and pain free. I am forever thankful that the surgery and recovery went well.  Past blogs on the subject can be found here.

It is also the USA thanksgiving and because I missed the Canadian version in blogging I also want to share some other things I am grateful for.

- my wonderful husband for supporting me on my crazy dog adventures 
- my dogs for bringing much laughter, fun and challenges to my life
- my cats for all the cuddles.  They are the finishing touch to make a house a home.
- my friends who are always there for me.
- my mother, brothers, sister and various niece, nephews, aunts and uncles.
- health for myself and all those (human and animal) I love and care about.

There is so much tragedy and challenges all around us that sometimes it is important to count the good stuff.

Morning after surgery

48 hours post-surgery

Spring 2013

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Oh my dawg, where have the last two months gone!  Life has been very busy as we have just downsized my mother to a smaller house from the huge house that I grew up in.  Thankfully that it almost done now so life can get back to a more normal.

I have also been having great fun recently with dog training.  Stella and I have been enjoying more on-line courses with the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy plus I got to attend the APDT conference which was five days full of all sorts of wonderful dog trainers (Ken Rameriz, Denise Fenzi, Nicole Wilde, Ian Dunbar etc.).  It has been lots of stuff to learn that I now need to blog about :).

First up was the fact that we participated in August/September as a online working spot (video submissions) for Ob-ility with Denise Fenzi.  This is from the course description:
"But...what IS Ob-ility?  In the teaching phases, Ob-ility is simply a way of breaking the exercises down so that the movement parts of the exercises are separated from the other parts - this makes the work a lot more fun and "flowing" for the dog. "

Stella is not a "high-drive" dog.  She might be different if we were working in agility or field stuff but overall she is not one of those dogs that just loves to work.  She does however find movement and play reinforcing so this type of training helps me to put some fun for both of us into traditional obedience.  It has a great side benefit of helping build duration to training periods without needing to use a lot of regular rewards.

The basics of ob-ility (fly, thru)  build into the higher level obedience exercises.  Fly is used to eliminate stay positions which keeps up energy and allows lots of repetition in short time frames.  Recalls, go-outs, drop on recall, broad jump, directed jumping can all be modified to be done "ob-ility style".

I have seen good carry over so far with added in the finishing parts needed to compete in the ring.  We are still a long way from competing in formal obedience but it feels good to get some of these foundations in such a fun way.

Here is video of Stella and I training for some of the ob-ility course lessons:

We are currently a working spot for "Bridging the Gap" at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and so far that course has been amazing. I am officially now a fan of online dog training courses.  A new session starts in December and there are many great instructors and courses I am considering for audit spots.  I still love working with my real-life instructor but I am enjoying viewing all the different teaching styles and absorbing all this great information.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Journey

This is my 100th blog post and so I am taking a few moments to reflect on my dog training journey to date.

I did some basic puppy stuff with Lucy but it wasn't until Riley began to develop some issues as a two year old dog that I began to get interested in training.  We had already done the basics but registered with a trainer to address the problems we were having.  We "fixed" the issues in what I thought was a positive way but with my knowledge today I regret some of the choices.  I am lucky that he is your typical hard-headed labrador with high tolerance and a very forgiving personality.  I try not to dwell on past mistakes and I am thankful that this was the start of wanting to learn more about behaviour and training.

My first step was purchasing a few books to read.  Lucky for me I picked two from authors that I still think are amazing.  Patricia McConnell "Other End of The Leash" and Suzanne Clothier "Bones Would Rain from the Sky".  I have now seen both those authors at seminars and they are just as wonderful as the books they have written.  I also stumbled upon Susan Garrett and her very first online Recallers Course and she introduced me to a new approach to joyful training.

Lots more reading followed and I decided I wanted to do some more training with Riley.  The dog gods led me to working with a local Karen Pryor Academy trainer who introduced me to rally obedience and encouraged me to try competing.  I really enjoying the work with Riley and could feel how different our connection was with these methods.  My trainer has now become a good friend and we often travel together to seminars and competitions.  A strange twist on "small world" is when I discussed getting a vizsla puppy and the breeders I was considering it turned out she knew Stella's breeder and agreed to vouch for me.

My conversion really kicked in when my trainer dragged me to my first Clicker Expo.  I was now fully hooked on learning about dogs and how to apply all this wonderful positive knowledge to both Riley and puppy Stella.   I jokingly said to my trainer/friend the other day that I must be driving her crazy because I should be taking better advantage of all her knowledge on how to train our way to obedience titles but because of the world she helped me see I really want to explore things in my own way.  With Riley I was happy to follow instructions on how to train the exercises but I want to inject more of my own "style" with Stella.  I'm still figuring out that "style" so I'm not totally stupid and will take advantage of her knowledge and experience but will also have fun figuring things out.  Thankfully I know she is there to help fix my mistakes!

I will not pursue more obedience stuff with Riley as it is to hard for his body but there are other roads we will travel.  Stella is only two and we have a long way to go and will enjoy the journey getting there.

Here are a few pics from our most recent camping trip.  All this training stuff is great but really just enjoying life with these wonderful dogs is what is important.

Such good friends!

Sunshine + beach + ball = Riley Heaven

How do you like my boots?

Campground cavelleti work

Beach patrol

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Heeling Games

I have been participating in some online courses with Denise Fenzi's online Dog Sports Academy with Stella. I recently completed Heeling Games at an audit (silver) level.  I am really enjoying these courses and feel that they are helping me to figure out my training path.  I want to pursue positive training by building relationship and utilizing play and energy as that is my ideal perfect "picture" I hope to have someday in the ring.

I blogged in may about a trial that had not gone well.   I posted  "We need to start to build duration, reduce the reinforcement schedule and be a lot stronger about maintaining criteria.  I also need to figure out how to do all that while keeping things fun and reinforcing for both of us".   

Further reflection led me to believe I needed to adjust my expectations.  The connection and relationship is where I need to put my energy.  The precision fine tuning and reduced reinforcement schedule will need to come much later in this process.  This is a reply from Denise Fenzi to a frustrated session I had with Stella. "Play. A tiny bit of work. Play. Work. etc. If she can stay engaged and playful in public, then she can work. And you will find that is just as hard to get five minutes of continuous play as it is to get five minutes of continuous work. That's because they are both forms of engagement, and engagement (which excludes the environment) is a big deal".

That was a HUGE lightbulb moment for me and all of a sudden I just let stuff go and got back to enjoying working my dog.  Stella also finished her season which helped a lot and I have seen a wonderful, steady improvement in our working relationship over the past few months.  She has just turned two and we have lots of time ahead to enjoy our journey.  

Heeling games has been great for us.  We have always enjoyed playing together but now we have learned to use that play and movement to create energy and reduce pressure.  Various "games" help keep things fun and interesting.  We are creating joy for working together as well as developing muscle memory for that happy healing position.  The course describes heeling as "an intense, exciting dance between engaged partners requiring absolute concentration and energy to be performed well. When heeling is practiced as a series of specific behaviors – left turns, right turns, change of pace, etc, the dance is lost. This class will teach you how to practice heeling as a game – with the end result that your performance will be sharper, more interesting, and with much improved focus and endurance".

Here is a video I have done showing Stella and I working on some our our heeling games while camping last month.  Sorry the lighting is a bit dark but it was stinking hot so I had to wait until after the sun went down to do any work.

There are lots of great online courses being offered at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy on a wide range of dog sports.  I am currently doing our first working spot in Ob-ility and also auditing the Ring Preparation course.  I feel these courses are a great compliment to training with my wonderful "real-life" instructor.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Lab and a Vizsla go Camping

We have just returned from a wonderful two week vacation of camping with the dogs.  We love to include the dogs in our travels and everyone enjoys it but I find it interesting how taking the dogs out of our normal daytime routine highlights the differences in their personalities.

Both dogs are pretty good travelers but it is odd that the two year old "high energy breed" is actually easier to travel with than the seven year old labrador.   Stella goes into the vehicle and basically just settles down and goes to sleep for the duration.  Riley usually needs a walk before a long driving time otherwise he is convinced that we are driving somewhere good to go for a walk.  Every time we slow down somewhere he gets all excited and is sure that the party is about to start.  We manage this but there are times that it can be frustrating to have a big black dog panting in my ear from the back seat.  Even days that he is walked if we drive for a long time he tends to get bored and restless. The dogs wear seatbelts so that helps keep everyone safe and under control.

Riley is a total pain in the the butt if he doesn't get a daily walk but we could skip a day of exercise with Stella if necessary and she would be fine.

Life in the campground usually highlights the princess factor for Stella.  She likes her "creature comforts" and opts to use the dog beds almost always compared to Riley who often prefers the dirt.  She gets cold easily as a single coat dog so loves the sunny spots, sleeps under the covers and often wears a light fleece in the evenings.   When the evening gets cool she makes it pretty clear that she would like to go in the trailer.  Riley is almost always warm so seeks out cool spots and likes the air conditioning.  In the vehicle I always aim the air conditioning vents all away from Stella and towards Riley.

We did lots of swimming on our trip and Stella is an amazingly efficient swimmer.   She easily speeds by Riley to steal the ball much to his dismay but gets chilled easily when swimming for long periods of time.  The lake at the final spot we camped was quite chilly so she opted mostly to splash in the shallows.  Riley is over the top intense when swimming for a ball but luckily there is never a conflict between the dogs and we always have an extra ball to throw so they each get to bring one back to shore.  Riley would swim for a ball until he fell over from exhaustion so we have to watch him to make sure he doesn't do to much.  We also have started to only throw the ball once he is standing deep enough into the lake to need to swim right away.  If we throw from shore he leaps through all the shallows and that tweaks his back and hips.

Both dogs are wonderfully sociable and are always happy to meet other people which is good in a busy campground.  Stella can sometimes be a bit barky at things when we are hanging out in the campsite.  She tends to be suspicious of people standing off alone.   Sometimes they want to bark at other dogs walking by but we always keep a bunch of treats and usually work "look at that" in those situations so now mostly they are conditioned to see other dogs and then look at us waiting for their rewards.

Camping is the perfect "family" activity for us and is the main reason we purchased our own little trailer.  It is much easier to bring our own house along on vacation then to find suitable dog friendly accommodations!

Hubby with the dogs

Stella stalking some ducks

Happy Girl

Can we swim yet?

Hiking the trail

Sunday, 14 July 2013


I started some fun training for nosework with Riley recently.  He loves tracking and searching and this is a good sport to work his brain without to much stress to his body.  It has been lots of fun getting back to working my boy and we have both really been enjoying it.

There are a few different ways to teach this sport.  Our instructor is a member of  NACSW and uses the method which first teaches the dog to hunt for food and then begins to pair the food with the required scents to participate in the sport.

Alternative methods use the scent right away and teach the dog to target the scent and then reward.  Honestly that method makes a bit more sense to me based on the other training that I have done with my dogs.  The food/scent pairing seems to me that it could be a distraction later on when distractions would be introduced but it has the benefit of being easy to teach and understand.

Our instructor is great and very passionate about the sport.  The food/scent method is working well for Riley and the instructor does have us fade the food quite quickly.  I'm not sure what method I would do with Stella as we are working on not sniffing the ground so I would worry that having her search for food would not be beneficial for our obedience training.  I probably will wait a while before I do this sport with her anyway as I am enjoying "Riley time".  She would love it and we will do it in the future but we have lots of other stuff to work on for now.

Here is a video of Riley working.  This is at a campground a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Learn to Weave

I love platform training!  It is amazing how useful they can be to help train new behaviours.  I did a session with Michelle Pouliot at Clicker Expo in January where we started on a few behaviours that I have decided I need to finish up teaching.  Here is a video with Stella learning to weave.  This is a fun trick but I am also hoping to use in as a heeling game to keep things interesting for Stella.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Birthday Dogs

Today is Stella's second birthday.  Happy Birthday to my crazy, wonderful Stella Bean!

Riley also turned seven on May 12th.  It's been one heck of a year with the surgery but he is doing great.  Happy Birthday Handsome!

Here are some pics from our May long weekend camping adventure.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Is That The Same Vizsla?

You know your round the previous day was really, really bad when after your round the following day the judge asks if that is the same V I was trialing the day before!

Two weeks ago we traveled with a friend to Kelowna to compete in a CARO rally trial.  The plan for the weekend was to attempt an advanced title and also a novice team title.   The first round was novice team and it went well.  Stella was a little distracted but I was pleased with some of the choices she made.  We had been working on some of the attention stuff since the trial a few weeks before that and had made some good progress.

Things went steadily down hill from there.  It was a very long day and the facility was stinking hot (around 35C).   Our first round of advanced was awful.  There were a few moments of lovely work but the majority of the round was very distracted despite the fact that we can use food (with rules).  CARO rounds are about twice the length of most CKC rally and that combined with dirt floors was to much for her.  The second round of advanced was even worse and I opted to pull us out part way through the round.

It was the end of a very long day and I'm embarrassed to admit that I ended up in some very tired, frustrated tears.  We are capable of beautiful team work and this trial and even the CKC one before that were showing a disconnect that was getting worse.  Yes I believe Stella is going through a "teenage brain" phase and she is very young but this is pointing out some big holes for us.   We need to start to build duration, reduce the reinforcement schedule and be a lot stronger about maintaining criteria.  I also need to figure out how to do all that while keeping things fun and reinforcing for both of us.  Currently her ability to concentrate in a stimulating environment seems to come in about 12-15 second increments.

So after my mini-meltdown a new plan was created.  I would do two rounds on Sunday.  The first was an on leash round for novice team.  Unfortunately my friend's dog was lame so she had pulled from competition the day before.  They found me a partner and we had a good round.  We didn't Q because our partner missed a station but I was happy with our result.  The next round was advanced and I opted to go FEO (non-competitive) and use the round for training.  We went on-leash and I rewarded good choices.  It was a very good decision as it kept her from rehearsing more bad stuff and helped to end the weekend on a positive note.  We also kept the day shorter and headed for home after that instead of waiting until the end of day for our final runs.  Bad days are never fun but they are valuable learning experiences!!!  

I will now take some time to work through all of this.  This past weekend we participated in two CKC Rally Advanced rounds where I was already registered.  The rounds went very well thanks to the practice match on friday where we were able to get some good training rounds in the facility.  I had a clear plan for our rounds and was rewarded with a 98 and first place on saturday.  Stella also did great on sunday but I screwed up and turned incorrectly losing 10 points and also had one re-do (3 points - my fault again) so ended with a respectable 87.  I hope to train in lots of different environments and practice matches over the next months and re-evaluate competition plans in the fall.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013


I have been a terrible blogger lately.  In my real life I am an accountant so April is very busy plus I had dog stuff (conformation shows, seminars, rally trial) every weekend so not much time left.  The good stuff is I got to attend two amazing seminars with Suzanne Clothier and Michelle Pouliot.

The Clothier seminar was on observation skills and arousal.  She also did an extra session on adolescent dogs which stuck quite a few chords with me.  Stella is approaching her second birthday soon and I have been noticing a lot of distraction and testing of boundaries lately.  When Riley was around the same age that was when everything went crazy with my "perfect" puppy and started my interest in dog training.  Teenage dogs are hard!

Suzanne is a fabulous presenter.  She has a great sense of humour, interesting stories and an appreciation for dogs that shines through everything she discusses.    This blog will talk about the information presented during the adolescent dogs portion of the seminar.  A few favourite quotes included:

"Adolescent dogs are trying to mess with your head. Like Tax Attorneys, if they can see a loophole, they'll drive at truck through it."

'There's a good mind in most of those little buttheads. I agree though that sporting breeds get their brain cells in installments. Once a month, another clump arrives.'

"Stop trying to jam it (energy) up. Utilize it."

"Dogs are brilliant negotiators. I always thought dogs would make great used car salesmen. However, if you sent a really smart adolescent dog in to negotiate with the used car salesmen, he would give you the car and write you a check for additional money. Sometimes you don't even know when you have been had."

Adolescents begins in dogs around 16-20 weeks.  Other dogs recognize it long before most people do and will start to enforce social responsibility.  People recognize this as the end of the "puppy license".  Dogs will then mentally mature gradually over the next 2-3 years.  We mainly fail our dogs in this period because we are not clear in our expectations to maintain responsibility.  We need to be aware of not just training skills but on developing connection.  Suzanne suggests we video tape a training session or other interactions (walking) with our dogs and then watch it as a silent movie.  Show the video to a friend and se if they can identify what you are working on.  Dogs guess their responses based on our actions so they care what is happening not what we intend.  We need to make the information and permissions very explicit and consistant.

That is where "even though" training and connection is important.  "Even though" that dog is walking across the street, or that nice lady has good treats or ....... you must still stay connected to me.  We often silently permit our dogs to do whatever they please and justify it using human type excuses like oh, he loves that doggie friend and is just excited.   The dog doesn't have any feedback  so assumes that rules don't apply when he sees that friend or is excited.   A good way to work on this is to make a list of thing that the dog knows how to do and a list of things we control (because we have thumbs!).  Work these things a lot and change it up.  When we do the same sequence all the time the behaviours become habituated and automated without thinking.  Give one request and have a time frame and performance goal in mind.  When the dog meets criteria then they get what they want.  It is fine to help to remind them but then no reward.  A dog's decisions need to have meaningful consequences especially in the adolescent years.  They need to understand "Why should I ...." and when we train with positive methods we achieve results by smart use of access to resources.  It isn't about controlling our dogs every moment of every day, it's about clear communication and understanding expectations. 

This isn't new information but that seminar combined with a recent rally trial with a distracted Stella has me tightening up some things.  I am trying to have much clearer expectations when we are training (no sniffing, visiting etc) and also doing things that make it easier for her to understand  (on/off behaviours) when we are working.  Day to day rules in the house are more consistant and if I get an "in a minute" response then I go and get her instead of calling a second time.  She really is a very good butthead teenager so I am already seeing some results.  Like Suzanne said ... "She isn't getting away with anything, she is just doing exactly what she thinks the rules are".

Monday, 15 April 2013

Training Technology

I am writing  this as I am killing time at the airport waiting to fly home from an amazing seminar with Suzanne Clothier.  Her book “Bones Would Rain from the Sky” was one of the first books I read that started me down the road to positive training and understanding the power of relationship with our dogs.  I had talked myself into being responsible and not spending more money as I had already booked another seminar this month.  That all went to hell a few weeks ago when I had a frustrating weekend showing conformation with Stella.   That is a whole other blog post but I decided to soothe myself with this seminar.  Luck was on my side as there was a spot available, my brother lives close to the seminar site and I could fly using airmiles.  Teehee, I can justify anything if I try hard enough!

Anyway, this has led to me to thinking about how technology is changing the world of dog training.    Many wonderful trainers world wide have developed on-line courses.  I first did Susan Garrett’s Recallers Course online about four years ago and since then there has been an explosion of on-line options.   Most courses are structured with a small number of active participants that video their “assignments” and  the instructor reviews the video and provides recommendations and lectures.  There are also audit and/or observer spots which get to see all of the lecture material, video footage and interaction with the instructors.  There are many variations on that theme as well as lots of course options that are more learning theory/classroom based.

I wonder what effect this will have on seminars?   Many “famous” trainers have produced DVDs of their seminar presentations but I personally find sitting down and watching hours of a seminar not nearly as great as actually being there.   One of the biggest problems with seminars (besides travel and costs) is that often there is not enough working time for those attending with dogs.   On-line working spots have that direct interaction plus when our dogs do that “thing” that we need to fix but the dog won’t do it in front of the trainer we hopefully have video proof that it happens.  Seminars can be very stressful for both handlers and dogs so this is a particularly useful tool for people that have situations that don't present well in a seminar setting.   It also lets those people who are still fighting old-school methods in their area have another option for training. 

I am lucky to live in an area that has good training options and usually a few good seminars in a year.  I really enjoy the atmosphere of seminars and how the dedicated immersion into the dog training world with similar minded people can inspire me to continue learning and working with my dogs.  I also value the online stuff and see that I will likely be doing more of that in the future.  There are a few courses coming up offered by Denise Fenzi's new online academy that interest me.  The online courses are also another "hit me over the head" reminder of the importance of video recording and reviewing training sessions.  Video is an amazing technology learning tool that I need to use more!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Naughty Dogs

The past month since Riley has been granted more exercise privileges I have driven the dogs the short distance from home to access our local trails where they can run off leash.  Riley's recovery is now allowing longer time and distances so this past week we returned to walking from the house to the local trails and then back home which meant the dogs actually had to walk on leash along the roads.

Isn't it amazing how quickly leash manners can disappear!!!

My criteria for on leash walking is actually pretty basic.  I don't care if my dogs walk in front of me but I don't want to be pulled down the street.  I expect them to walk politely at my side for a short distance (crossing street, oncoming dogs or people etc) when asked.  I also don't want to stop every two paces for them to sniff or munch grass.  That first day I had dogs going in different directions to check out whatever caught their interest and either ignoring me or just pulling me along with them.

Arghhh!  I really wasn't amused but I suppose it was a message I needed to hear.  Riley is getting stronger every day and the rules have been pretty relaxed over the last several months.  I have said in the past that he was a dog that needs to be worked/trained and apparently that is something he has yet to outgrow as he approaches seven years of age.

A little bit of harness adjustments (front attachment versus back attachment) and a few days of walking with rules and reinforcement was all that was needed to slip back to our "normal" walking routine.  I will settle on an activity for Riley in the next while so that we have the needed working time together to keep us "in tune" with each other.   I might go back and do some rally with him or possibly tracking.  We also tried an introduction to nosework seminar last week which could be a fun option.

There are no couch potato dogs in this household!  Some days I wish for nice lazy breeds .... but they are good for me and I wouldn't change them for anything.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Obedience Stewarding

Recently I volunteered to be a ring steward at a local obedience trial.  I did this for two reasons.  Firstly I believe that we all need to step up and volunteer occasionally to support the sports we love.  Secondly I thought it would be a valuable learning experience.  I am new to competitive obedience and have only done pre-novice with my dogs.  I was set to go into the ring with Riley last spring for his CD but we stopped when his physical problems became apparent.  Stella could probably pass her CD fairly well currently but I have decided that I want to train more precision in her heeling and also get a good start on the Open exercises before going into the ring.  I am going to continue with Rally Obedience for now as it is fun and great ring experience.

I found my volunteering experience to be rewarding and informative.  I ended up being the table steward which meant I got to do the paperwork for all the rounds.  Our judge was wonderful, very fair and honestly wanted every competitor to succeed.  Being an "insider" means I got to see how each round was scored and also to observe the patterns and necessary setup procedures.  I find it fascinating to watch how different dog/handler teams work together and connect.  There was some wonderful working teams in all levels.  I still have a "newbie" eye and  I was working so didn't get to watch every round entirely but I picked up on the following observations:

*  Get that proper footwork on your turns.  The judge observed a lot of very bad about turn footwork.

*  Watch out for anticipating commands.  Competitors sometimes forgot to wait for the judges command and dogs sometimes acted on the judges command before the competitor cued the behaviour.

*  Be aware of your leash handling.  Competitors might not realize how much they use that leash to encourage or control but be aware that the judge does see it and it can be penalized.

*  Know and understand the rules.  Score sheets for each level are available here and have a lot of great information on them.  Understanding what type or combination of cues are permitted  (ie signal and/or command versus signal OR command) can either save or fail some exercises.  Reading the CKC Rule Book including the section on commands and signals is in my future!

*  A change of pace to fast means move it!  Lots of competitors "run" but really they aren't moving any faster than they walk and the dog doesn't shift pace.

*  Match your energy to your dog.  More and more people are using play in their training which is wonderful but realize that sometimes ring stress means your dog would prefer a gentle butt scratch instead of a muzzle push back or other high energy moves.  This is something I will need to be aware of with Stella.

It was a long day but I enjoyed it and will do it again.  It confirmed to me that my decision to wait a bit is a good one.  It also was another "brick over the head" that I need to do more video in my training sessions so I can hopefully prevent myself from some of these errors.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


My heart is happy these days because of this .......

Crappy picture but you can still see the joy.  A few weeks ago I decided to take Riley to see our vet chiro/accupuncture that specializes in dog lameness and for whose opinion I have a ton of respect.  We figured with all the surgery it would probably be a good idea to have him looked over and adjusted to help the healing.  The vet evaluated him and did some minor adjustments and then told me I wasn't challenging him enough.  He said that he was fully healed with regards to the surgery and now we need to challenge his muscles and neuro pathways to improve. 

The veterinary teaching hospital gave very generic instructions for return to activity that honestly I was already pushing because they didn't make a lot of sense to me.   They wanted confinement and very minimal activity (potty breaks) for the first six weeks and then a gradual on leash return to regular activity levels over the next two months.  I was supposed to avoid stairs and jumping for six months minimum and preferably for his lifetime.  Riley's hemilaminectomy did not involve any surgery to the discs so we were told that I could give him a bit more freedom compared to most dogs but still I needed to be very, very careful.   I had started using the extendable leash after the original six week period as I thought that pace changes and ability to move differently were important.   We were both getting very bored with those short on leash walks!  

The vet here gave us permission to let Riley run off leash (Woohoo!!!!!).  Obviously we still need to exercise common sense but he wants us to hike trails that have lots of rocks, stumps and uneven ground.  Walking just on the streets means Riley can be lazy with his hind end but the varied terrain will force him to have to pick up his limbs and be aware of how to place them.  We are also doing other rehab exercises such as rear end pivots on a perch and walking over poles.  We are keeping things to about 30-45 minutes and so far things are going very well. I did an outdoor obedience drop in class last weekend that involved a lot of sits and hind end work which he started to show some sorenesss.  He was fine the next day and it was a good reminder that his muscles are still recovering.  He has a much tighter sit compared to before the surgery so different muscles are being used.  I also continue to swim him for now one day a week which is good to stretch out and relax all those back and neck muscles.

Watching my dogs run and play on hikes is one my top ten list of things I love to do.  The first day I got to see them run together after all these months it felt like a bit of my world finally came right side up again.  There are a lot of unknowns about how his recovery will continue.  He still has some ataxia especially in the right rear and his gait is a little unusual but he is a happy dog to be running the trails again.  He may or may not ever be able to handle long hikes or some other activities but he is way more comfortable than he was prior to surgery.  Neuro improvements can take many months so I am hopeful that things will only get better!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Clicker Expo - Kay Laurence Connect Walking

Kay Laurence is amazing.  I have decided that my current dream vacation would be to go to England to watch Crufts and then spend a week training with Kay at her facility.  Her sport of choice is freestyle and her dogs are gordon setters and border collies.  She has an appreciation and love for dogs that is evident in all of her teaching.  She also has a great sense of humour which makes for a good presentation.

I did three sessions with Kay during the expo but will blog mostly about her Connected Walking lecture.  Kay believes that many of the behaviour issues people have with dogs are because there is no connection with the owners.  Her belief is that we should be the "heart of the pack" and quit worrying about being the "leader of the pack".

She believes that connection is essential and reinforcing for both human and dog.  It underpins all communication and changes over time.  It is a two way street and it requires us to accept what can't be changed (breed traits etc.).  We build a connection by sharing positive experiences such as clicker sessions and fun times together.  When we try to suppress behaviour it comes at a high cost to relationship and connection.  An example would be the dog that goes crazy and jumps up at us  when we arrive home.  Many experts recommend ignoring the dog until they are quiet but she thinks that disrespects the relationship.  Instead she believes the behaviour can often be prevented by just taking a moment as soon as we enter the door to quietly bend down and connect with the dog.   Dogs need to reestablish that things are okay after an absence and we should respect that.

We must create trust and reliability by watching out for our dogs when they are out and about.   We must be pro-active in protecting our dogs from unwanted situations like enforced rudeness so that we can find security and comfort in each other.  Dogs have a right to say no and be heard.

Kay discussed the use of various equipment used by people when walking their dogs.  Obviously there are safety requirements that must be considered  but she wants us to be aware that all equipment is inherently punishing.   Most equipment functions on suppressing behaviour and not learning.  This can lead to dogs feeling that being on lead is bad and off leash is good.  A piece of equipment can't build a connection but it may prevent it.

Most people do not walk at a rate that promotes connection.  We often walk at a rate that forces our dogs to pace instead of walk or trot.  A pace is not a natural gait and is rarely used by a dog that can choose it's own gait off leash.  It is physically difficult for them find a comfortable stride that works on leash with our normal gait.  We can slow our rate down to make a walking gait that works for both dog and human or we need to speed up to have a comfortable trot rate for them.  This isn't physically possible for all dogs.  Riley is an example of that as with his size I need to be fully running before he can comfortably trot so he actually paces a lot.  Part of that is the structure problems he has had but I agree with Kay that a lot of it is just him conforming to what is needed.

Establishing a comfortable gait is a huge part to connected while walking.  The other is just being patient and waiting for attention from the dog before continuing.  When you get that attention take a second to connect before moving on.   Leash handles should be looped on our wrist and when a dog is distracted we need to allow that but wait until they check back in with us before continuing.  If we allow them the time to make those sorts of decisions then soon they develop a history of making good choices and it all comes together.  A lot is based on letting a dog "be a dog" and respecting their needs instead of just ticking "walk the dog" off our to-do list as quickly as possible.

I am lucky that my dogs are able to romp off-leash on local trails and most of our on leash stuff is just getting from A to B.  Although the lecture focused on connection as it relates to walking "out and about" with our dogs I felt a lot of what she said was applicable to the overall relationship I want with my dogs.  I feel I connect well with my dogs but Kay's lecture reinforced to me lessons that I learned when our Lucy was an old dog.  The only options then were to amble along at her pace and just enjoy being together and those are memories I will cherish forever.

Another lab I attended with Kay Laurence was on Duration in Moving and Static Behaviours.  I am not going to blog about it because I already found a blog that did a wonderful job describing it from last year.  I recommend anyone interested check it out as it looks like lots of great information there on all sorts of training and seminars  K9 Coach Bog - Kay Laurence .

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Recallers Video

I recently made this video as an entry for Susan Garrett's recaller course contest.  We weren't selected as a finalist but I really like this.  It reflects my journey to the wonderful relationship based training methods I now strive to use.  The course is coming up again and I plan to work through it with Stella this time.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Clicker Expo - Back Chaining

One of the lab and lecture series I attended at clicker expo was given by Cecilie Koste on chaining behaviours.  Cecilie is Norwegian and is a top level obedience/working trials competitor in Europe and also is very active training Search and Rescue dogs.  She owns clicker based training schools in Norway and her dog of choice is a flat coated retriever.  The videos we saw of her working her dogs were amazing!

I suppose I knew about back-chaining and have used it as guided by my instructor but I don't think I had ever really thought out the principles and applications.  We are pretty much set as humans to go forward from A to B so this was a valuable session for me. Cues that are clicker trained have strong reinforcement history so can actually be used to "click" another behaviour.  In a back chained exercise the next behaviour in the chain will always have a higher probability than the preceding one.  This helps to reinforce and maintain every behaviour in the chain.

Backchaining is based on Premack's principle which states that high probability behaviours can be used to reinforce low probability behaviours.  It is important to understand our dog's preferences  and use them to our advantage.  When creating a chain we need to make sure that the first behaviour we use to train the chain has a high probability.  This means the behaviour needs to be either  (a) fluent   (b) have a strong history of reinforcement   (c) have usually produced a high quality reinforcer or   (d) have been reinforced recently.  A fluent behaviour that is recently reinforced will have a very high probability.

Cecilie showed lots of video to demonstrate various chaining (retrieve, roll up in a blanket etc) and then in the lab we all did the chain she wanted first and then chose one of our own to create.  The chain she chose was for the dogs to do a foot target and then sit.  This would be how she would train a go-out for obedience.  To begin we needed to train the dogs to go to a foot target and then return to us for reinforcement.  Stella defaulted to grabbing the target and retrieving it to me so we tried a smaller target (flat coaster) and she still picked up that so we then switched to me holding the target in my hand and asking her for a paw and clicking when she hit the target.  I gradually moved the target closer to the floor and before long she had the behaviour.  Next step was to reinforce the sit which we did by resetting with a treat toss and asking for a sit.  Sit is a very strong default behaviour for Stella so this was pretty easy for her.  The final step is to do a few more foot targets with click/treat and then at the exact moment you would normally click then instead ask for a sit.  Once she sits then she gets a click/treat and voila soon a behaviour chain is created!

My chosen chain was a spin, down, nose touch (jump up).  Stella enjoys the nose touch behaviour so this was my starting behaviour to train the chain.  I worked each of the behaviours separately and then combined the down, touch and finally the spin, down, touch.  Stella did awesome!

Backchained behaviours have a high reliability because the animal always knows what behaviour is coming next so is prepared.  It is less stressful and easier learning for the dog. During training there is usually a "testing" phase where the animal will see if there is an easier way to the reinforcer.  It is important to terminate the behaviour if a mistake is made to prevent the mistake being reinforced.  Try again but if the dog continues to make the same mistake after another 2-3 tries then go back and retrain only that problem part before chaining it again.  Cecilie uses backchaining for obedience so considers anticipation by the dog to be a failure as we only want the dog to do the behaviour when it is cued.  It should be noted that some cues are environmental and not handler cues.  An example would be in a retrieve where the act of picking up the dumbbell is an environmental cue to turn around and return to the owner.

I really enjoyed this topic and Cecilie is a great presenter.  Hopefully I have presented all her wonderful information correctly.  Lots to think about with this and I think it will be very useful for me.  One of my big issues in training is I tend to not break things down enough when training a new behaviour.  I need to start physically writing down all the steps needed and then figure out how to chain that.  Since returning home I have started to backchain the dumbbell retrieve and I am pleased with the results so far.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Clicker Expo

My brain is both mush and bursting with inspiration.  Today we returned home after attending Clicker Expo  in San Francisco.  We travelled with a friend and her dog and after much thought and research (and worry!) I opted to fly Stella with us.  We drove down to Seattle and flew direct from there as it was cheaper and the plane on that route was much better for the dogs than the flight out of Vancouver.  I am happy to report that she handled both the flight and hotel life very well.  She was well behaved, friendly and worked wonderfully in the learning labs we participated in.  She was also good at chilling out and relaxing during lectures when needed and giving lots of doggy love to other participants who were missing their own dogs.

We attended lectures and working labs with Michelle Pouliot, Kay Laurence, Cecile Koste and Ken Rameriz.  The key note speaker was the amazing Dr. Susan Friedman.  I will post more on the individual sessions as I digest and process the information.

One of the wonderful things about this event is the feeling of joy throughout.  Attendees (approx 500) range from dog training geeks (me) to shelter workers and professional trainers in a range of fields.  Some of them are massively clicker oriented and others not as much but all participants have a love of positive training techniques that help us respect and communicate with our dogs.  This was my second trip and the ten year anniversary of the expo.

Stella was a great breed ambassador while we were there.  If I got $10 for every comment about how calm she was "for a vizsla" it would have gone a long way to paying for some of the conference fees!   I am proud of my crazy little bean as this was a lot to ask for a young dog and she was awesome.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Heading back to normal

Today as I was shuttling Riley to his morning swim therapy and then back home to take Stella out for a walk I laughed to myself and wondered if this is what a "soccer mom" feels like.   This week Stella had a dog class and Riley has had two swim therapy sessions plus needs his six week vet follow up.  We are also headed up to Whistler on Saturday (1.5 hour drive) to see the dog chiro/acupuncture guru as Stella has been limping on and off for a few weeks.  Life usually revolves around a lot of dog stuff but the changes in routine during Riley's recovery has made things seem busier.

For the last six weeks we have walked Riley on leash  3-4 times per day for 5-10 minutes each time for his potty breaks and allowed exercise.   I suppose that is not a lot of time in a day but putting on harnesses and towelling off wet dog every time has given me a new appreciation for my fenced back yard especially on those cold, rainy late nights.  Stella added to the fun and games by having her second heat and needing her regular daily hike and training time.  Riley has been confined to an X-Pen during recovery and the dogs have been kept mostly separate to prevent play.

This week big steps in the return to "normal" have occurred.  The X-Pens have come down.  We installed a ramp for the back yard so Riley is now allowed monitored access (no running and playing yet) for his potty breaks.   I also purchased a bench/storage unit for the end of our bed so he can easily step up onto the bed instead of jumping so he is allowed upstairs to sleep in our room again.  It's nice to have my morning Riley snuggles again!  Once we get the all clear from my vet we can start to slowly increase exercise levels and soon be able to get both dogs back on the same schedule.

I am pretty happy with the results so far from his surgery.  He still has a bit of ataxia on his right hind leg which was the worst limb prior to surgery but I feel that overall he is as good as he was prior to the surgery.  The goal of the surgery was to prevent further deterioration but I am hopeful that I will continue to see improvement over the next few months.    Most of his symptoms were caused by the spinal cord being compressed so it takes a while for things to settle after the surgery and then hopefully some of the nerves will regenerate.    He has started doing some things that he hasn't done in a very long time such as scratching fully back with all four limbs after a poop.  I know my yard isn't going to like that but it does show increased strength and balance.  He is also way better balanced when he lifts his leg to pee on something and scuffs his toes much less than he did.  I will continue the swim therapy for the next little while as I think it is important to encourage the best possible range of motion as he heals.  He lost a bit of his muscle conditioning so swimming will also help rebuild those core muscles.

I don't mind being the dog mom equivalent of a soccer mom but I'm looking forward to hopefully doing more fun stuff instead of all this stressful and expensive medical stuff.  On that note I am headed for Clicker Expo this month and I'm really looking forward to it!

Riley really wishes his fur would hurry up and grow in a bit faster.

Stella dreams of sunshine.