Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Day in The Life a Dog Trainer

Today was a beautiful WI spring day. The sun was out, there was a breeze and the temperature was in the low 70's. The perfect day to work with dogs!

I had 3 appointments, 2 behavior sessions and one new puppy appointment.

Behavior session one was a GSD, Troy, who was adopted. Very little is known about his history as he was a stray at a rescue in Missouri that made his way to Central WI. He is thought to be about 2 years old and that is what is known. One of the issues that has crept up and then reared it's ugly head is BIKES...motorized and not. We have made an attempt at counter-conditioning, but he goes over threshold immediately upon seeing one, so trying to get him to take any treats is out of the question. We are trying to use the CAT method (Constructional Aggression Treatment). Basically we want him to learn his barking, lunging and carrying on is of no value to him, and to get him to have a different emotional response to them. Ideally we would be giving him a treat (and possibly click) in the presence of bikes, but while he is still sub-threshold. This is not at the moment an option since he is too fast to go over threshold.
Session one lasted approximately 45 minutes with a few breaks due to being outside, and the need for water and to cool down-for both Troy and the bike riders.
We have started out with one bike, and Troy and handler about 60 feet away. The instant he saw the bike he was barking, lunging, circling on his leash. The bike rider kept riding in a circle so he was heading toward, then perpendicular to Troy, who kept up his behavior. When Troy was less intense the bike would at first totally go away (so Troy could not see him). After 15-20 seconds of quiet calm and no bike, the bike would reappear at the same distance, continuing to move until Troy was less intense. This actually happened much quicker than we thought and after about 20 minutes we stopped making the bike go away, but rather had it stop moving. The lack of movement seemed to keep Troy quiet and calm.
Each new session of movement from the bike, Troy was less and less reactive so we began moving them closer together. By the 45 minute mark the bike was about 20 feet from Troy going totally perpendicular to him.
Our major "problem" was Troy caught on to the cue for the bike to move and he would begin to bark or pace BEFORE the bike moved, so we had to switch to some hand signaling. (Smart little stinker)
In the last 10 or so minutes we began to offer Troy a treat if he came to his owner, but did not make any attempts to get it to him. Basically we wanted to check in on his emotional state and to our surprise he was happy to take the treat with the bike so close.
For session one this was a huge improvement. At the end he finally just laid down in the grass and watched the bike go by so we ended the session.
Tomorrow we will start and see if we can go back to the counter-conditioning first, and see what happens from there. All in all we feel good about our day.

Session two was with a cute little lab who has been having some very reactive moments with other dogs. He has had some very negative dog-dog interactions in the past, so we need to help him have a better emotional reaction to other dogs.

I had the owners go outside and use one of their other 2 dogs, so Gus could have a lot of success with what we were doing and his owners could learn the technique without being forced to do so around strange dogs. At one point the neighbor dogs were out and all was fine.

The other end of the issue is a dog that cannot walk on lead without pulling. So we set out with a clicker, treats and a bait bag-normal buckle collar and 6' nylon leash. I had the other owner go the end of the block with the other dog and had them walk toward one another. As soon as our little lab friend began to move out toward the end of the lead, I had her turn around and click as his head turned toward her and treat him. He very quickly got the game of "See the other dog, turn my head towards mom, get a treat!" What a great game and they were off walking up and down the sidewalk with lab at mom's side, paying attention. So to up the ante we switched to the other family dog (with whom the lab has had a few altercations-most often started by the other dog) and had them switch ends of the block. Now both owners were armed with a clicker, bait bag and treats and off they went! They were totally surprised at how well the dogs did overall, but especially at how they were able to walk without any training collars and no pulling!

We then addressed the dog-dog issues in the house and set up a game plan. I showed them how to give each a dog a treat upon hearing their name and they were able to get all three dogs sitting to take a treat on their turn and to get their more assertive dog to stop shoving the others out of the way and to wait for her turn. With a few other management tricks they should see a much more peaceful home shortly.
Again another happy successful session.

Our new puppy session was with a 14 week old Golden/Mini Poodle cross. We set up some training tips and management ideas to work with and the cute little guy should be a dream puppy in no time, especially with his owners desire to have a great start on their path together.

My dogs sadly got no time to work today, but tomorrow is another day!
I am glad to have a career I love!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Paris Project

I decided to catch a glimpse of Paris during her barking spell, so armed myself with my digital camera and stepped into the hall--that narrow walk way that amplifies Paris's crazed barking--camera at the ready. Paris just sat at the end of the hallway looking at me, looking around and them back to watching me, watching her.
What a dog!
To help with the door dashing crazies that have been growing, I now come into the house fully loaded with treats. The game is...he / she who sits gets treats, he/she who does not sit gets none. It is amazing how "peer pressure" can work-such that it is for a dog.
Not much on the Paris front, had a busy weekend so we did not actually work too much. Tomorrow we shall get back on track with our relaxation protocol and behavior shaping.
Paris for all her flaws is just the greatest treasure...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

101 Things to Do With A Box

Paris is a quick study and so fun to do shaping with. She learned quickly to place only her front feet on a small box. Our ultimate goal is to have her walk around the box with her front feet on the box.
After having great success in the feet on I stopped reinforcing the behavior in hopes of getting her to move around the box, what I got instead was a good glimpse of Paris's creative mind.
She offered me the following behaviors in hope of a click treat!
She placed her back feet on the box
She placed one back foot then the other back foot on the box
She stood with all four feet on the box (which had her balancing)
She sat on the box with all of her butt and feet on the box
She sat on the box with her feet on the floor in front of her
She put on front foot on
She put a front and a back foot on the box...
She tried to no avail to get that click treat.
Finally I moved a wee bit while her front feet were on the box and she moved with me, keeping her front feet on the box so I of coure gave her the +R she so wanted.
After 15 minutes of working (and entertaining me) Paris was able to move about 1/4 of the way around the box.
Always a project my Paris!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It has been a long time!

We have been busy busy and so have not taken the time to blog, but the goal is to get back at it for 2010. Not only does it keep you up-to-date, entertained and with any luck inspired, it keeps me on track and forces me to keep training and working our problem areas, better our ok spots and to excel where were are already ahead of the game.
Paris has been working on the shaping game. As part of my course work for the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, I was to come up with a behavior to shape in an animal. We picked a "fun" activity; shaping Paris to place her front feet on a "box" and walk around it-much like the old circus elephant trick.
Paris began her shaping with a target on the floor. Our targets are the lids from butter containers and fun treats.
We started like this. A treat was originally placed on the target and when Paris went to eat it she got a click and I tossed another treat for her away from the target. I replaced the target treat for the first 5 or so attempts than Paris was on her own to "do something" with the target. Being the smart girl she is, she immediately went over and placed her nose on the target resulting in a click and tossed treat. Once she had this under control we moved the target to the box.
Now with the target on the box, Paris again received her click - treat for touching her nose to the target. As she was doing this well, the target was removed after 10 successes.
The absence of the target made no difference to Paris she just targeted the box repeatedly. Each time she successfully touched the target with her nose she got a click and the treat tossed away from the box. I ceased this reinforcement upon 15 successes.
Now Paris had to think about how to get the click-treat. She began offering behaviors IMMEDIATELY when it did not work to touch with her nose. The first behavior she gave was to place a foot on the box-CLICK TREAT! GOOD GIRL! So a foot it was. She worked for a total of 15 reinforcements...
Now to up the ante more CT for a foot. Paris walked away from the box, than jogged over to it essentially running across it. Here is where quick timing pays off! I managed to click as her front feet hit it and tossed the treat. She only ran across the box a total of 3 times before simply putting her front feet on it and looking at me. YES! CLICK-TREAT! GOOD GIRL!
So in 15 short minutes Paris went from a target on the floor to two front feet on the box. Success-- we packed up our clicker, treats and box for the night!
Good Girl Paris!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Skill Sets and Agility Work

We are now offering Skill Set Training for Agility. Having decided it will lend itself to a better foundation and overall agility performance we have split up time into...
Contact Obstacles.....Weaves/Jumps/Tunnels..... Small sequencing.......Crosses (front/back)....and more advanced work (competition courses, working away etc).
This should allow trainers to obtain some proficiency in work, while allowing them to move back when things are looking "lost". The skill sets are set up to progress from early learning to competition success....

Watch for stories of our agility hopefuls

Rose and the Bike

Rose, our border collie rescue client, is prone to over reactivity to bikes, skateboarders etc while walking from home to "work" and from within her owner's downtown business. So we set up some bikes for her last night.
Rose and her owner walked around our sheep pastures while my step-sons rode up and down the driveway on their bikes. Rose was walked up until just before her big reaction, and given a reward while still in a calm state, then turned and walked away. This continued in one spot for awhile, they then moved to another location so Rose did not just "get the game". By the end of class she was able to be within only several feet of the moving bikes and would look at them then back to her owner for feedback!
Rose really has come a long long way since we first met only a few short months ago! I am proud of both her and her owner for all their hard work.
Now to see how she does in the shop over the next week or two....

Monday, September 14, 2009

Skill Sets In Action...Behavior Modification

Rose, a lovely little red border collie who is a rescue, has been attending classes with her new loving owner with a small list of issues to conquer. Reactivity being one.
Rose and her owner have been working on the "who (what) is that Rose" game to allow Rose the opportunity to acknowledge other animals or people around her without the frustration of being told no or being asked to do something else.
Every time Rose wants to charge at, pull toward or react in anyway to someone near by, her owner simply said "who is that Rose" and clicked and treated. Rose went from "having to get to" the other to making half-hearted attempts and would return to her owner at the sound of the clicker.
In class last week a new dog entered Rose's Skill Set Level, and Rose wanted him in the worst way. Her new classmate is Max, a 8 month old lab, who is all too willing to charge back and play. Both dogs were working on their "manners on lead" and paying attention to their owners, all while outside on our 10 acre hobby farm (where I raise Australian Shepherds).
Rose made a HUGE break through when working loose lead walking past Max she looked at Max then immediately back at her owner with no attempts to romp, pull, jump, play or react! Rose got it! It is ok to see him, it is ok he is there and there is no need to be frustrated because if you really really need to see him you can..the choice is yours!
I was so happy to see how working to a certain level and continuing to work only a small set of behaviors has allowed this once unruly girl to make huge strides forward!
We shall see what this week shall bring as yet another little dog joins our this level. It is truly a great experience to watch them grow-dog and owner alike!