Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Don't End Early, Ask Yourself, Why Doesn't My Dog Want More

So, we had a meet-up, and I felt like things were a bit off. Mr Sonic wasn't all that in to me.  What's up? I asked myself, but I soldiered on, because, well, there I was out with a group, what else is there to do. All my toys are out, right? 
I actually like the peer pressure involved in meeting up with other dedicated dog nerds. It is so easy, when out alone, to say, oh well, let's quit while ahead.  I mean, one the most ubiquitous bits of dog training advice is quit while your dog still wants more--and this advice is great stuff, really...

Except when it turns into a lack of reflection as to Why doesn't my dog want to do more?

Thank goodness for video, as it allows me the chance to review, reflect, and learn.

Sometimes what I think is happening at the time isn't.

I thought Sonic was not that into me, but video says he was, there he is trotting at my side, stopping when I stop, following me everywhere with his eyes. What I interpreted as 'meh' from Sonic, is, in hindsight, confusion, uncertainty, and a state of waiting for the next cue. Oddly enough, I've been imbibing bits of dog training wisdom from multiple sources.

Michael Ellis reflecting on the wisdom of jack-potting (3 easy minutes of talking head video).  Well, maybe the general wisdom is not always a good idea.  It made me realize that when Sonic does an incrementally slow 'down' that it's quite possible he is just not sure about that, and by not celebrating his final successful position, I've left him to be even more uncertain about that cue. Stay tuned for a jack-potting experiment: next time I get one of those weird slow 'downs', upon completion, WE WILL PARTY.  And I'll see what happens.  I love conducting harmless experiments.

Mon Ansty wrote a Facebook post on using food to train. (<--good reading) The basic premise: if using food, you still should be making it fun, putting in the effort, talking up, scritching, encouraging chase etc, not just standing there like a pez dispenser. Sonic does not get excited about pez dispenser me (there are exeptions, that tricks me into thinking I can get away with this),
and so,
I am --

Busted! Because yesterday's session was a little meh, why isn't he into me? Wellllllll, it was raining, I was in my big boots bundled up, the leash was heavy wet dirty mess, and......yep, it was meeeeeee. Little trooper still put in a good effort in spite of.

Drinking From the Toilet, Podcast Episode 95
And, listening to part of a 2 hour make my eyeballs roll esoteric jargon filled episode of Drinking From the Toilet (podcast) on back chaining (excellent podcast, just this particular episode, I need to digest in small bite-sized chunks) got me to realize that I never give poor Mr Sonic a predictable sequence. I leave him in a constant state of 'what next' and THAT is what I ultimately see happening in the video above.

He's there, he's present, he's with me 100%, but he's wondering what next, waiting, being a really good dog--so I have some work to do for next time, which will involve a little planning ahead, and using what I know about teaching dance to humans, and treating him like one of those students--stay tuned kids. It's all about fun.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

How to Make a Bang Board and training session gone wrong.

Two videos one unedited how-to ending with a shut down dog.
Second one, a later session with everything fixed.

First up, how to make a bang board and why should I?

A bang board is a simple diy obstacle to prepare your dog for agility, or increase courage for skittish/noise sensitive dogs.  A bang board is a board (plywood square) placed on top of a smallish obstacle. For a beginner dog, especially  a skittish one, place your board on carpet and use a very small obstacle, even a small rag or rubber cap.
For my dog, not a rookie, but rusty, I used a small soft cap and placed the board on a hard surface--very noisy right from the start.

Click & treat (or use a very short sharp vocal reward marker) for any interaction with the board including a sniff or a look or movement towards the board.  Be ready to instantly click/treat party (shower of treats) the moment your dog gets an unpleasant surprise and back up a few steps (use a smaller softer article, move the board onto a soft surface).  You might find, if your treat party happens fast enough, you can just carry on, but what happens at the end of the video is a good illustration of what happens if you make a mistake, and you end up with a shut down insecure dog.  Obviously, if your timing and judgement is perfect or you have a bomb-proof scared of nothing dog, this is not a problem, but depending on your dog, you will have to be more or less careful.  Should things go wrong, no worries.  End the session, do something fun and easy with your dog, reflect on your error and make a plan to correct your error, and start again later.  In this case, I took Sonic inside and dremelled his nails, which he loves, and it made me feel good (useful) too.  Then I changed my reward to string cheese all de-packed and separated into wiggly  strings and went out again.

This time I made sure I could click and reward rapidly, no fumbling.  I also released him off the board with a reward frequently to take the pressure off. IE, making a bang noise get's a treat AND leaving the board gets a treat. I also threw a party every time something surprising happened, like an extra loud bang or spinning board.  Super fun, brave dog is the  happy result.  

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Sonic Earns His Car Ride, Dog Training

Just an ordinary 'before the walk' training session. He earns each and every one of them--doing this. Sometimes short, sometimes long, and okay, if I'm really really super tired, or if the walkway is a sheet of ice, maybe not. I schedule extra time, but even a one minute routine is more than enough to make a point. If I am lazy and don't ask, he'll pogo up the driveway to remind me.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Nail Care for dogs, Sonic gets Dremelled

The question comes up enough, how do I do my dogs nails.
Well, I dremel, I'm pretty much petrified of snipping nails as I have no idea where the quick is, so I dremel. 
Here's how I do it.
First, get you and your dog is a boring smallish space, bring a treat jar or bait bag with really tiny but yummy treats, bring your dremel, bring a book, or better yet sticks.
Sit down and turn on the dremel. If your dog shows any interest at all, mark (clicker or your voice (ie. "yes") and toss a treat his way. Even if he is away, it really doesn't matter, just mark and treat any response. When the dremel is on, treats show up.    Deliver treats to whatever spot your dog feels safe and comfortable, don't use the treats to lure him closer.  Keep that dremel on, read your books, or do as I did, and start whittling sticks, this will give you a feel for dremelling and make a new noise.  Keep those treats going.  If your dog is really comfortable over there, you can slow the treat shower and only treat when your dog looks your way or takes a step in closer.  Don't lure with the treats, make sure it's his idea to come closer.   Make sure your book is very good, or you have interesting sticks to work on, or do your own toes. Doing your own toes is very good practice as you will learn first hand how it feels, pretty comfy, but it might bounce or vibrate which feels weird. You'll figure out how not to do the uncomfortable stuff on yourself. In the meantime, your dog will get used to the sight, sound and smell of dremelled nails (yes, they have a smell, you can wear a dust mask, groomers do). 
Once your dog is very comfortable and lying down or standing close to you, you can briefly touch his paw with the non-dremel holding hand, the dremel is spinning and making noise but not on your dog, mark and treat your touch, repeat, as long as your dog does not pull his feet back.  If your dog pulls his feet away, don't treat just wait for him to come back or act curious, mark and treat, and repeat the paw touch.
When your dog is really comfortable with the paw touch you can proceed to touching with the dremel.  Anytime your dog pulls back, just go back to the step that he was comfortable at. Read your book, whittle sticks or your toes to maintain your good cheer and patience.
Eventually, you'll have a dog happilly running to you to get dremelled.
Nail Maintainance for Dogs is a facebook group that has very comprehensive instructions, you have to join to find them.
Lately, I'm getting close to the quick and Sonic lets me know by pulling his paw back. I let him know by respecting that and often I'll touch that nail with the dremel, but not touch the quick, so that I let him know that I am listening to him, and then I go on to the next nail. Because the line of communication is open, I don't need to worry about dremelling too far into the quick, he will tell me by pulling his paw back, and then give me his paw to continue on.
Dremelling is one of our favourite activities.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Handling Shyness—Sonics little adventure

Handling Shyness—Sonics little adventure

Sonic comes along when we visit and volunteer at a pet-friendly nursing. We used to think he was quite outgoing (he is) and not at all shy (wrong).  People love dogs, and we were quite happy to share the joy with our social butterfly, but then things changed. With Sonic the change seemed abrupt and alarming, as his behaviour went from an apparent 'yay, people! butt wiggle' to tail tucked slink away 'I want outta here' and afraid of treats.  On afterthought, because hindsight is everything, I realized that sometimes forward 'friendly' behaviour is actually 'appeasement' and 'checking out a potential threat' so when all goes well, you have what looks like a 'friendly' dog, and when things don't go well, the shyness seems surprising, but it's not--it was there all along, just not interpreted as such by the humans.

Here's what I did about it.

Sonic has been taught that approaching 'scary' objects is a lucrative win win deal.  Basically, if he so much as looks toward a 'scary' thing, I will mark (using a clicker or 'yes') and offer a treat (tasty tidbits) at that exact moment. Often, this will lead to a full inspection. It's important that he always has a choice to advance and/or retreat.  Outdoors I use a 15' leash (I can always shorten it as appropriate) and indoors a 6' leash (ditto). This would be the pre-training: a skill set I created from my 1st week with him when I realized he was afraid to cross a metal bridge.

Look up-- 101 Things to Do with a Box, and Donna Hills "Look  At That" training video if you need a fill on clicker training techniques, and marking and shaping behaviour.

Once I realized how bad Sonic's problem at the nursing home was (he was beyond taking treats-literally afraid of hands) I needed to first figure out what we did wrong. Wrong was anything pushy, like shortening up the leash so people could pet him. Equally pushy but less obvious, was using a treat to coax him to come closer to people, along with letting others coax him with treats.  Letting people coax or command him into their space with voice and whistles. All these things had been happening over and over again, eroding his trust and confidence.

Some of this was beyond our control, and that's where some active training comes into play.

I chose to mark & treat Sonic anytime someone said his name or whistled or otherwise tried to engage him.  This let him know that he need not worry about commands or pressure from other people, it let him know that it was okay, and quite lucrative to ignore people, and that when strangers say his name (or whistle, etc.) good things happen and they come from me. It let him know that when other people paid attention to him good things happen. It let him know that when other people paid attention to him, he could keep his distance.
If he was still having trouble, I would have him do known, fun, commands, sit, spin, something easy. It would put him in a more confident frame of mind.

Once Sonic's attention was squarely on me, he also became 'less available' for petting. People get bored quickly when the dog ignores them, which meant there was less pressure directed at him. This helped put him at ease and I didn't have to bother with socially awkward explanations or attempts to control the behaviour of other humans.

I added back the 'mark and treat' for engagement or interest in strangers while at the same time marking and treating any 'shy' or 'avoidance' behaviours.  In otherwords, I let him know that any choice he made in regards to dealing with strangers would be the 'right' choice.

Once that was going well, I added back giving dog-knowledgeable (co-operative) people a treat, and he had a choice of taking the treat or not. I mark/treat any choice he makes, so if he didn't want the treat, he still got a treat. If he did take the treat, he also got a treat. Win, win, win!

Things are pretty much back to normal now, and it's a matter of maintainance, which means, no matter how socially awkward it may be to tell someone, 'he's shy, maybe not today' we must not push him into 'saying hi'  and let him make his own choices.

PS.  Sonic is NOT a therapy dog, in this context he is a visiting pet dog. There is no obligation for him to meet with strangers, but socially, it is really nice to have friendly interactions with dog.

PPS.  This is one dog in a specific situation, so it's not general advice, just a story of 'what I did'.  Obviously, if your shy dog choses a less passive method of dealing with shyness, this doesn't apply.