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.