Sunday, October 16, 2011

More on Competition Obedience training

       Since last December, I have been fighting fatigue, it had turned worse the past three months. It is like fighting to keep your head above water and surviving what you can every day. I would have bursts of energy for one day, then be out for the the next two weeks. How can I have just enough energy to live life even? I had some blood test scares and working with my doctor we are working on a solution. I feel better, but not my usually bundle of energy self. But at least I'm more functional now and slowly coming back. These things just don't change over night.

       I haven't been training Mickey. I would take him to a park and do a little bit, then not for a few weeks. This is not consistent enough to get anything accomplished. He also has been zoning out when I take him to parks. What is going on? I attended a workshop with Denise yesterday and it all hit me. Being fatigue sometimes means your brain just isn't engage to think out the problems you need to sort. But at least the issue came to head yesterday. In the past two sessions I went to Denise, we did use food, then this time I thought we would try his Kong. As we worked with the Kong and when he got his Kong, he paraded around like a happy boy. At that moment I was embarrassed to boot, but I knew any emotions would just prompt Mickey more into his complete silliness. More stress release for me in he knows I"m pissed, so I just didn't get pissed. Just took Denise's lead. However, he is cute when he does that, and I have worked to control this, but that control was gone yesterday. Which when you haven't done any consistent work with your dog for several months, on top of not going out and allowing him to be a silly boy, it all came clear. This poor boy hasn't played with his Kong for several months in this fashion.

        I have worked with Mickey a little here, and there, but I have not taken him out to a big field to be a dog in a very long time. I have a small yard at my house. Enough to go out, feel the son, watch people pass by potty and go back in the house. No real running space. Mickey also feels pushed aside by Divine. Mickey use to be the full-time service dog, now Divine is the full-time service dog. He doesn't know what to do with himself when he sees Divine work for me.

         I was balancing the two dogs well before, but when my fatigue and health issues got worse, I would come home and zone out. I had just enough energy to get out of bed, go to work since I need that pay check, then come home and crash. Forget about what my house even needs, just come home and crash. I was not spending time Mickey. He needs a lot more than a good boy and some interaction when I feed him.

          When I would come home, I had no brain energy to think of the next training plan. Day in and day out, I come home from work,  having spent the day with Divine, and just zoning out. Mickey is such an emotional dog, that he needs that interaction. He loves to train. When I was more consistent when I would skip a day of training, he would bop my elbow to say, let's train! He loves it. We wants to do more, strive for more and have that interaction with me he craves. But I wasn't there for him. I was emotionally, mentally and physically drained, I just couldn't give it to him. My body was on its way to internal organ damage. Days went by, weeks and then it turned to months. With an occasional outing here and there, but not sufficient to keep this specialized hot engine running smoothly. My life literally was crumbling. I wasn't even taking care of my own social needs, nor my health either. How could I take care of Mickey's social needs if I was not doing very good at taking care of myself?  I was in a fight to try and get my normal life back. My blood tests were scary and what was happening was depressing to hear, however, the good news was, it can be appropriately managed to the point that I can live my life with Mickey and Divine. I can get back to the point I can handle both dogs and balance their needs.

         Yesterday at the workshop with Denise, we worked on a little bit of impulse control. Denise had me put the toy on the ground. When he appropriately got into heel position, then I let him go and get the toy. I have actually done this practice before, but only at home, not with 14 pair of eyes peering at him intensely to learn about this method of using a toy to teach heeling. Mickey grabs the rope of the Kong and flips around having a good ole jolly time. Our second session, I realized then and there, wow, he hasn't done this in a long time and it is obvious he has been too deprived of it. To see him so gleefully happy actually made me smile. He certainly was not in the frame of mind to work. At this time, my brain calculating and thinking about it, ok

         It was wrong for me to think he would be ready for yesterday. Friday Night I put him in his guide dog harness, hopped on the trolley and went to the Association of Pet Dog Trainer's exhibit hall. But there he was also beside himself. Just not himself and stressed in front of a bunch of dog trainers. Oh you can just feel those judgements coming right through those eyes as they saw you. Mickey hasn't been on the Trolley and worked as a guide dog for two months. Mickey finally got out into the world he use to know. What over stimulation for him! But I thought getting out like that the night before the workshop would help, but it didn't. Normally it would, but he has been so deprived. How my heart sinks when I think of this.

         This puts me forward in thinking ahead. Now I need to plan. Just like my taped sessions it is all int he planning. I have gotten out of the habit of planning. When I was younger, I was a chronic planner and planned everything to the half an hour and my life seemed to hum along. Some here I just got out of the habit and crumbled. Now it is time to get back on track and habit. To have success with working with Mickey's toy in how to get him to heel. I will take Denise's advice and the previously session. We will get there again. Let's work a plan to get Mickey back into regular play, and a written plan for his training session. I have his old training journal and get back to using it. Since my brain needs to get back into shape, I need to help it along by using tools to assist me. None of this off the fly train what I feel for the day anymore. We will work on Mickey's impulse control.

       So no more coming to the computer and zoning out because I have no energy. It gets me in trouble in many ways. My brain isn't coherent enough to even read the social media and when I write, I'm not in sync and get myself in trouble with other people. I fall on my face. It is addicting when you don't get out enough to socialize with other humans. I don't need a lot, just a little positive energy and I'm ok. The challenges of living alone. But it is all in the plan. I will work through this, use my blank date book and plan the time and then in Mickey's training journal, start putting training entries in again. I will get back on track. Although others at the workshop thought Mickey and I did well, I felt we took several steps back. If I had been consistently training, we would be ready for the ring right now. With the winter festivals coming up, I probably won't get to show until January or later. Mickey will be 7 years old in January. I will be lucky enough if I could get a CD on him. I was hoping to get a CDX on him. We will see.

Cameras, Lights, Action!

         I have been fortunate to attend workshops of some of the greatest trainers and teachers of our time in the field of dog or animal training. The late 90's was when I went to a number of seminar, workshops and conferences to feed my thirst for learning about dogs. What a learning curve and I couldn't get enough. I was fortunate to attend Chicken Camp where Bob Bailey mentioned to improve your training skills, get a video camera. I did. This was back in July of 1999. This was a really nice camera. Nearly top of the line for the hobbyist who just wanted to shoot. I filmed many different things, but never filmed myself training my dogs. I had a huge phobia in watching myself on camera. Having life long ridicule of how retarded I looked, it had stuck for me for many years. Life long teasing or shunning.

             In August 2011 I took a lecture from Bob Bailey to get back into the grove and get me going again. It did. I got a new camera and filmed myself training Mickey one of the behaviors that were demonstrated in the lecture. I knew I could do that. I knew Mickey hadn't done this behavior and I wanted to do it with complete shaping style. No prompting, no luring, just shaping.  Just how I remembered training a chicken 12 years ago.

             The seminar had a behavior where someone would shape their dog to nose the plastic drawer closed. We had audience participation, brainstorming of ideas and how to approach how to get the behavior. They were thinking targeting with a Post It note. clever idea. Instead, I wanted to see a pure shaping example.

             After 12 years of training after Chicken Camp, I finally got the courage enough to video myself training.

             One of the things I did not do, that we learned in the seminar was plan. After all the workshop was called  Think, Plan, Do. I thought about what I wanted, but I didn't carefully plan. I didn't make sure the light was perfect for me to see well enough to catch the behaviors I needed to condition. It was a bit dim so I pulled the curtains, but it wasn't bright enough. My eyes had not adjusted and I just went for it and turned on the camera. I had rehearsed what I was going to say once, but sure enough, I stumbled during my explanation on what I was about to do. When I started to first shape, I was fumbling. Goodness, this is not good! Usually I'm much faster than this and I don't fumble. Oops. As I look at the drawer and in amidst of shaping, I realized it was a bit hazy for me to see. Slight more adjustment and I had started to get better. My adventures of learning how to train in front of a camera.

            Then I realized as I was shaping Mickey, I positioned myself in the wrong place, I get up, and move in front of the drawer. Ahhh, this is much better. It didn't take long after that for Mickey to get the behavior. Was this session my usual good training? No, it wasn't. I just wanted to get through this very first video. Like putting a dolphin in a new tank to train. They are not going to do their usual great performance. This was all new for me and to get over the fear of being in front of a video was huge for me.

           This was a humbling experience. Now I'm put on the other side. Having criticized many videos of other people, I was the one on stage. I now understand how the other feels and feel rather embarrassed at how I didn't really know how to critique others work in a video by not being in their shoes. Another lesson learned. The camera view and what you see while training are two completely different perspectives. It can appear that I'm not shaping or clicking at the right time, when in reality I was probably right on. The big epiphany of learning here was camera placement and where I am located is extremely important. I have a new found respect for those who do this for a living, small or large scale. There is skill and insight to knowing about the camera.

           Dog trainers are an interesting bunch. They always have to give you some method to use. I did the same when I critiqued people. It is just in us to do. Now before I give any suggestion, I am in a better position to ask why someone does something, before assuming. A lot of my responses were from assuming. Dog trainers are very married to their suggestions. I did the same. Why doesn't that person do it my way? Some suggestions can be really good. Some are just opinions of how they would do something, which in many cases it may not make a difference.

          I believe in the science of positive reinforcement training. I try to be as clean and scientific as possible. It is about perfecting skill and most of all perfecting mechanical skill. I do occasionally use luring. It is an important tool. I use it, then  try to shape away from it as soon as possible. So my videos will show more free shaping. Again, I have to emphasize, I use luring, it is a great tool, however, I am a believer that the more you use luring, the more steps later you will have to use to wean the subject off the luring. Less thinking of the dog and less the dog will do the behavior without the dependency of the lure.
          So many things to think of such as placement of food, where to give the reinforcements, timing and the consequences it creates in an exercise. I train with the idea in mind, what will I have to fix later? Tossing food on the floor is not the way I train. I don't want my carpet gooey, I don't want to take extra sessions to train my dog not to search for food while out in public. Being visually impaired and that my dogs are my service dogs, I would have to take extra steps to teach my dog not to search for food when ever they want. Tossing food does tend to create that. Yes, you can toss food but teach your dog the rules when they should and should not. I just do not want to take those extra steps. Especially when I have a a dog that is excessive with their food drive. Will I never toss food on the floor? No, there might be a time I do, but doing it all the time, does create a dog that will search on the ground. I don't want this behavior when I go into a restaurant and there were a bunch of messy kids sitting there before.

          Some people think cuing the dog early into behaviors is the way to go, but I like shaping. The more I can focus on sh aping, the more keen my skills become. The more that when I use other things like luring, prompting etc. the better I can use the m minimally and at the right time. I feel that shaping is a foundation of good clean training. I think the shaping process gets the dog to figure the problem, as long as you use an extreme high rate of reinforcements.

         I did the terrible mistake showing this video to other dog trainers. They saw me at my worst and judged me at my worse. Which now I'm back to not wanting to film myself again, when the purpose of this video was to get me past that hump to just doing it and not be afraid of critique. I succeeded in learning and getting over the first hump, but certainly not from the criticism that I'm so sensitive. Next time I will be more careful who sees my videos. But it has now been 3 months since I filmed myself, now I have to get over the hump of trying to do video two. Sharing it with the right people who understand and know the situation is the way to go. Those who actually have seen me in person train and those who know my training style and my focus. I plan to make a video in the next two weeks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A little slip

          Over a month ago, I finally took the plunge and video taped myself training Mickey. It was a behavior that was done at the Bob Bailey and Terry Long seminar in Anaheim last month. Close a drawer. After the long song and dance from Bob to plan, I actually didn't. I was so preoccupied to video tape myself, I didn't do a good job planning. The video was more to just do it. So that is its quality. I just did it.

          This past weekend I went on a dog training meet-up and one thing that was evident was Mickey and I are not in sync as we have been. It was good to have other dog friends notice this. A reality check that Mickey and I have not been working that much together. We were doing so well, and this little slip is a little depressing, but keep focused forward and we will get bacy in sync again.

           I have had some bouts of anemia, low iron, low Vitamin D and low Calcium. I also had extreme high triglycerides peaking at 1173. My doctor says I should be 150. My cholestrol hit 363.

            I need to get my health back together, and I'm sure I will have more energy to train. I have been feeling rather fatigue and no wonder with all those low values and the high triglycerides. Time to take care of myself and cuddle with Mickey. I someone feel a little defeated, wondering when I will get into the obedience competition ring. Take one day at a time and one focus at a time. Hopefully I will have my energy back. Then get back on track with training, video taping and following good focus for training.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Don't stop training!

     There is always going to be something that just gets in the way of you moving forward. You get busy in life, its too hot, too cold. or you don't feel like it. The past few weeks I haven't done any heeling exercises because I pulled my calf muscle. I've been pulling my calf muscle for over 25 years, so the tissue there is scarred and weak.I have to be careful because stretching the muscle actually puts a strain where it is more proned to injuring the muscle again.

The main reason why I stopped doing dog agility was consistently pulling my calf muscle. In agility you are running, then do a quick stop, the turns, and the burst of runs all put strain on that weak scarred muscle. One time I pulled the muscle in an agility practice it literally felt like someone took a sling shot, and snapped it on my calf with as much pulled back force as possible. I had to have people help me walk off the field. Then a few years later my vision had started to deteriorate and I took a good nasty fall that I sprained my ankle. This took about three months to heal. I figured that I should start getting into another dog sport, like agility. I certainly wouldn't be as prone to injuries. So I thought.

Nearly four weeks ago I was practicing heeling with Mickey. I wanted to see how he would do in a fast walk, since this is required in the competition ring. I burst forward to get Mickey in a trot and felt that little zing in my leg and felt the tenderness in my calf muscle. I didn't hurt it bad, but enough that I had to favor that leg. Then a week later for no reason at all, just walking, not even doing heeling, I pulled the muscle. Since then I haven't been able to practice heeling. I tried at one park, but hurt that muscle again. I need to be careful and allow the muscle to heel completely before I can go back to my activities of heeling again.

       How I so desire to practicing heeling. It isn't that strenuous of an activity, but with my calf muscle injured, and if I try to do heeling exercises, I will just injure myself again. Even if I think I'm doing OK and try to sneak a practice in, like I did two weeks ago, I got into the zone with Mickey, didn't pay attention to my leg and there was that ZAP of pain again. Sigh. There must be away to practice.

        So how do I practice so I won't loose valuable training time? What can I do? There must be some foundation I can build to continue to train. Oh the beauty of problem solving. There is always something to figure out.

        I can still stand which will allow me to perfect heeling in position. I can also do one step sideways, turn in a circle in one place clock-wise or counter-clock wise and even move in a square dance type fashion. I can take one step forward or one step back. All these movements are still like Dancing with Mickey. These movements can allow me to train, until my leg heals. This is very similar to the platform training I described earlier. Although it is not like heeling walking forward, it will enable Mickey to watch my movements and move with me. Similar to my canine freestyle training I have done. Eventually we do left turns, right turns and about turns in the ring. These exercises while my leg heels are perfect for position training.

       Each small movement I do, I set the criteria of Mickey's position. I use high value treats or his toy. He's in the game, we are training again.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Another Step towards the ring

     One of the most difficult things for me to remember is, keeping your focus on the goal. WHen we loose sight of that, then we start messing up and everything falls to pieces. Forget about criticizing yourself. Go back to your focus on the goal. That solves the problem.

       Today I went to a Show 'N Go. I was encouraged to enter Mickey by a few friends. When I first got there I did shy away, and watched the ring for a little bit. I also asked some questions. Then I brought Mickey out. Still didn't want to enter. Of course I could criticizing myself for my not wanting to enter at that moment. But this day wasn't a breaking point or a pivital moment in my life. It was just another step in my journey.

       When I brought Mickey out, I realized I haven't had him at a park in a long time. He was highly distracted, wanting to smell every marking from dogs that have passed by the various bushes. Mickey was leaning and pulling towards the plants with some good tension, hoping to reach to get a more intimate sniff of what was left behind. Ok, we have some work to do.

       I walked over to the area where they were having the event, Mickey was still distracted and not really wanting to stay with reasonable loose lead walking. Hmmm, again, it has been awhile and we are rusty. We had a good workshop session a few weeks ago but only one dog was brought out at one time. Less distraction. We did some nice heeling.

       I watched, but was distracted myself. I decided that I should drop the criteria and work on him looking at me without trying to cue him. Cuing can sometimes turn into nagging if they are too distracted. That's not goo, so I let him look to me and when he did, he got the reinforcements. This will make of a low stress day. In fact, get him condition that obedience trials are no big deal. Since I realized he was distracted and if I went into that ring and gave a cue, there was a high probability he wouldn't take it. Not good, let's not entry, we can do this slow. Do this right, do this reasonable. Let's start hitting as many fun trials and parks as possible and then enter a Show 'N Go.

       I actually saw some stressed people there tense from their dog not taking the command. I saw the tension in the person and it went right to the dog that then responded by sulking, sniffing becoming a statue. Be careful Christy not to get into that trap. Remember your journey. Make this fun for Mickey, make this low stress for Mickey. That's the goal more than getting ribbons, and titles. Focus on reinforcements and that is what I did. I get lost in the relationship with Mickey. I get lost in the science of the training. Its not emotional. With a Belgian, they feel emotions and I need good emotions while trialing.

        I also have to keep positive thoughts for myself as well. I don't have to criticize myself and say, "I wimped out today! I should have entered to get myself going!" So I didn't enter today, so what. It wasn't a crucial pivitol moment. The appropriate thing is pat myself on the back and know that I was smart. I knew I would get tense because Mickey was distracted and I cannot afford that for the first time in the ring wtih Mickey. We do not want to develop a bad association. We work on dog's behaviors and humans behavior in sync and tandem. Push yourself too fast and that is like tripping on a bunch of scattered boxes. You have to pick yourself up and put the boxes back.

        What to work on now? More sessions with shaping heeling. Think of my criteria and break it down carefully. Change criteria at the right increment, pace and momentum. Remember my goal, is to make this a non-stress environment. Allow for positive associations. It isn't about the ribbon or the title, although that is a goal. Getting mentally lost in the science keeps stress level down. It allows for problem solving with no emotions and a better path in moving forward. No room on the criteria page for criticizing myself. Also don't forget your shoulders and keep them straight and level.

       We are moving forward. Planning the next park to practice!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Making a connection with Heeling

      Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in Escondido, California. I attended a workshop with Denise Fenzi. I was in the transition of fading out the luring for heeling since Mickey is very focused on my hand for directions. When ever I would move my hand trying to fade the lure, he would position his body in relations to where I set my hand. It is a good tool for the extreme raw beginning, but fade it fast. Luring can be used effectively for placement of the dog, since that is so important in competition obedience. Then when placement is comfortable for the dog and nearly a default, remove that lure immediately. With Mickey it is crucial or he will follow the hand and not pay attention to where he needs to be in relations to me. I also found that luring can be great for head placement as well, but fade fast. Most people I see do not fade lures fast enough. They become dependent upon it mostly because they a re comfortable getting the behaviors and not as comfortable going to the next step. This is why good shaping skills are essential as they get you to the next step. I prefer starting new students with only sh aping since they become too dependent on luring that they do not get to the next step and get stuck with luring. I found that teaching strong shaping skills first, gets them comfortable with it that when they use luring, they don't get stuck with it.

       With Mickey being my first true competition obedience dog, I'm experimenting with a lot of methods, per my previous blog entries. Trial and error is the best way to fine tune what works. I see better now how I can use shaping. When I start working with Divine, she will enable me to refine my technique. Especially because she is a different breed in a different group along with a very different personality.

         In my previous blog I did mentioned how I experimented with shaping the heel to remove the hand. I was doing well, and then stopped training because life just got hectic. I tried to go back, and noticed Mickey was dependent on the hand again as no matter where I moved it, he positioned his body to keep an eye on my hand as he saw that as the direction giver. I was impatient and tried to jump criteria again where I wasn't going back to the increment steps to fade the hand. Then another three weeks went by with no practice and now time for the workshop. Oops.

         Denise first had me do the heel without the hand, but she said, "talk to your dog." I get so focused on the shaping, that I forget about making that bond and connection. Of course I know how to make that connection with Mickey, we do it all the time when in public while he's working as a service dog. This is when I saw the most wonderful sparkle in Mickey's eyes. His brown eyes staring into mine was the most warming and soothing experience. Connection with him in heeling pattern. I talked to him just reminding me how awesome he is as a worker. I tend to talk soft, which Mickey does respond to his cues in a whisper. Some people tend to like to say "GOOD BOY" loud, but I tend to like to talk to my dog soft for attention and calming affect.

        When I started out heeling Denise wanted both my hands behind me to fade the hand. I took a step forward and Mickey stayed right with me. Click and treat with the right hand across the front of my body with Mickey in heel (left side) position. We then went another step, click and treat. Two steps, and then a few paces. Clicking for appropriate position. Of course it wasn't a perfect heel because you must let other criteria drop, while you focus on fading the hand.

       Then Denise had me walk in a clock-wise circle with Mickey on the outside. When I would walk this circle, I was concentrating on walking, looking at Mickey, talking to Mickey and concentrating when I should click, I started to walk in a straight line. Perhaps this is from when I was in tall flags and marching band in high school. The endless drills of marching straight for parades. However, for now and practice we are doing the circle. It taught me awareness that I need to pay a bit more attention to what I am doing. I also tilted my shoulder. Denise said I will need to work with someone that can spot check my shoulders so I keep them in check. I wasn't even aware that I was tilting my shoulder down where I need to keep them both square. When I turn, that will give my dog direction, but not to tilt my shoulders. The tilting comes from agility. Since tilting your shoulders a certain way is actually communication to your dog in which way you are turning or where you want your dog to go. We are so unaware of ourselves sometimes. Learning obedience has truly taught me a lot. It is a lot about awareness of what I am doing and what the dog is doing on a different level.
       Once we did the circle for awhile, and Mickey and I were doing our drill decent, it was time to change or increase the criteria. Now we walked in a circle, then walked straight for 10 steps then back into the circle. I continued to mark for staying with me in heel position. I continued to talk to him and keep eye contact. I contribute to talking to him to be the main facotr keeping him with me. Of course duration of talking with him will have to occur. But this also tells me how responsive Mickey is when I talk to him. When I walk around my house and see his bright eyes looking at him, I always say, "Hi Mickey!" in an upbeat voice. Having my voice work with Mickey to heel tells me a lot about our relationship. It just gives me tingles to think how much this dog responds to me. How p;owerful my voice is to him. What a feeling!

        Marking his heel position wasn't like my usual intense shaping, but more marking his behavior. It was more like a "yes" than real shaping. I see my intense shaping exercises and training sessions very different from just merely marking a behavior.

         During the treating, my bait pouch is strapped around my waist with the pouch position at my back. I would be treating with my right hand across the front of my body. This did create some forging from Mickey. Then later he started looking behind me during heeling  because he noticed that was here my hands were hanging out waiting to give him the treat when I clicked. So then he shifted from forging to looking back at the pouch and my hands, even though I was using my right hand to reach over the front of my body to treat treat him. A lot of this is basically timing and criteria. I was concentrating on several things at once, that I started to fumble. Timing wasn't as good, sloppy with the hands etc. However, this is certainly common while someone is instructing you and you have about 9 other people watching you in the workshop. Practice and fine tuning will take care of this issue since I already have the problem solving skills.

      At home, I usually try and put a bowl of treats some where and work with a handful of treats. This gets the bait pouch off my body. When I need more treats, I get some more from the bowl.

          Denise then had me heel in serpentine. The S or weave walking pattern. She had me walk slow, fast and medium. Changing the pattern keeps the dog thinking and engaged. Throughout my session with her, MIckey heeled longer without reinforcements than any other time. He was engaged and did not check out. What I mean by checking out is going and sniffing the ground. He knew I was tense, but not angry. Meaning he did something wrong. He knew that I was elated with his performance and that any tension was myself, not him. I find it amazing how Mickey knows the difference. I also described my tension is thinking hard, not frustrated, which frustrations Mickey will "check out." Checking out is when Mickey will go out about three to five feet from me and sniff. This is a stress release response for Mickey to cool things down, take a break from me. He knows I'm not in my logical mind. I was in check with my frustrations and more focused on learning from Denise. This enabled Mickey and I to locked eyes longer than any other time. This did tire me out though. Denise was having me do a lot of things at once and I was concentrating hard. Mickey had more stamina than me! Usually we wear out the dogs first before ourselves. I guess we know who is in better shape. I saw such an incredible improvement with Mickey I'm in total awe with this dog. He certainly out does me. I thought I had took him backwards, but found we were ready for the next leap forward. MIckey is so willing to follow instructions. He's always right there. When I'm in check with myself, this dog will do anything for me.

One soothing and calming exercise was, before my session with Denise, I took Mickey out of his crate, and had him go between my legs and massage him. This is one bonding exercise I use to do with Mickey when  he was a puppy. It seems to make some kind of connection between the two of us. It calms us both down where we are ready to work with each other.  We do have a a lot of fine tuning to do, but this was one of the biggest steps forward showing me we can go into the ring, and we can do well. I will make a routine that before we go into the ring, we won't drill or practice but a little bit, but not right before going into the ring. Instead, we will do calming exercises. If I'm in check, then Mickey will do his part and be an awesome performer.

       What is our plan? Keep doing these exercises. Keep reinforcing for duration. I also told Denise Mickey will work longer for a toy. She said put his toy on the ground and heel around the toy. When the toy is behind us and to the left, send him out to get it. This will enable him to not forge or walk in front of me to get the toy. Which are some of the issues with the food. Placement of the toy is important for how you want your dog to heel in relation to you. I saw this with the front exercises we discussed earlier in how I delivered the reinforcement, toy or food. When I would throw his Kong, he would lean to the side where the toy was located or thrown. I then had to learn how to give him his toy from up above, to have that straight sit. If he forges in front, have the reinforcement behind and so forth.  A lot of obedience is placement and how to give a reinforcement. Once I experiment with these concepts, I learn how to manipulate his body movements. No man handling or touching his body, all on Mickey learning how to move his body to get what he wants. I just love positive reinforcement training and motivational training!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Heeling (part two)

     I don't have a platform for marking heeling position, but I did find a scrap carpet, folded it in half and used that has a mat. I would stand by it and have Mickey in heel position using the mat. (This concept explained more in the previous blog entry.)

     With my low vision, I think a platform will be much better as the contrast and distinction will be much easier to see. But since I have little time to find a platform, I'm winging it for now. I will try to hit the yard/garage sales to find maybe an aerobic platform, step exercise equipment that no one wants anymore. think it is large enough for Mickey. Oh well, no time today to look for one, make one or pay a lot of money for one, I'll just keep training. Figure it all out with what I have for now.

     However, in the meantime, I'm still sh aping my way. I call what I'm doing as dabbling. Because I'm really not sure what my criteria should be sometimes. How do I shape for this or what do I need to shape? So I just start shaping to see where it takes me. Trial and Error through this maze of precision training.

      Last night I saw that Mickey was understanding the correct place for heeling. I was careful not to feed from my body and have him lean over to get the treat. This swings his rump out. SO I'm learning that all treats in heel position must come straight down over his head. This is not only true for his sitting heel position, but for his fronts as well.

       I had recently went to two trainers, both top competitor, one having been to the National Obedience Invitational and has gotten an OTCh (Obedience Title Champion) and the other having gotten an OTCh with scores of 200. Both instructed me to use a lure for heeling. Both slightly different.

        I then thought I would try putting my left hand on my abdomen. Since I had been luring his heel, he was very focused on my hand. One second after I placed my hand on the abdomen while he was in heel position, he scooted up to make sure he could see my hand, waiting and anticipating when I would say "Yes!" My hand to Mickey is a target, it brings the life of a treat to him. He has followed that hand many times and knows to follow it.

        I had to think about changing his perception since he cannot scoot forward to look at my hand in the obedience ring. I would loose points. This also tells me that Mickey's world is following that hand, not understanding his position in the heel. As so many trainers know, the dog follows the hand with the treat, not necessarily knowing that you are really treating for a position. This is where shaping does come in. Luring is an excellent tool, but we need to know when to get rid of it and when we can start shaping behaviors where the dog is not so focused on our hands when working so close to us. I use luring constantly in service dog work to place him in a tight area under a table, or chair, or under a seat on an bus, airplane etc. This direction has also taught him where to lie down when out in public as sometimes i need him on my left side, right side, behind me or in front of me. The hand is a target, lure, and cue for working Service Dog work.

         The fascination I have with shaping is trying to set my criteria. Sometimes I don't know what that is until I dabble and shape to see what I need and want. Competition obedience is such precision training, and this higher level of precision is new to me, so I need to play around and dabble. Then I get set in what I need. So how do I keep Mickey in place in his heelp position, while I have my hand, that he has been highly conditioned to follow? This is the beauty of clicker training is that you can play around with luring or shaping until you get what you need. Again, I'm so fortunate to have a dog that can handle the changes as I go through this maze of figuring out what is the best way to shape obedience behaviors specifically for Mickey. Each dog is different.

          I put Mickey in heel position at my left side. I then placed my hand on my abdomen. Clicked and then the key point, where I delivered the treat. If I treated him anywhere, that allowed him to get out of position, this is defeating my purpose. So just like my fronts, I took the treat, raised it above his head so he is still in perfect position, and treated. His body must be straight with mine. No rump sticking in or out. No legs sticking way forward. So many "little" things to think about and yes, when you are shaping, one criteria at a time. So his rump will be reasonably in place as his feet. I will later shape specifically for feet and rump to be perfect straight.

          After a few repetitions of clicking with my left hand on my abdomen, I wanted to do the big test. Moving forward. This also was a challenge because Mickey wants to keep his eye on that hand. When I move forward to heel, he will adjust himself forward with rump out to the self side. Next placement to fix. He's out of heel position. I did it with one step. The old rule is break down the criteria if the dog is not doing the placement or the behavior you want. So I did a half step. EUREKA! PERFECT position YIPPIE! treat and of course TREAT in appropriate position.

           This morning I was in my long t-shirt nightie, and bare feet. I was waiting for my coffee and thought I would do a 2 minute dabble. For the dog, I changed the environment. I was not in shoes, I was not in pants. How does the dog adjust themselves for a heel? By my shoes? Pants? but...they are gone right now. His heel wasnt' perfect, but a little more shaping and he got it. I then jumped around, which is usually a no-no in training because you don't want to confuse your dog, but I put him in the front and wanted to get him into the finished (heeling at my self side) position. When I put my left hand down, he went behind me and then pushed on my hand wise, WHERE'S THE TREAT! Hmmm, what have I been teaching Mickey? This can't happen in the ring, what do I do? How do I problem solve to change this? Again, that hand is so conditioned from luring and following that treat in the hand, he can't be focused on it in the ring. So shaping to the rescue. I left my hand dangle. I shaped him a few times in heel sitting position, but fed with my right hand. To keep his good position so he wouldn't start focusing on what my right hand was doing, I fed above his head, bringing my hand down and giving him the treat. I also succeed in getting the focus off the left hand. The old rule of treat for position, even after you marked or clicked. A few repetitions of this and he lost interest in my left hand. Now let's try the finish again. A few repetitions and he lost interest in the hand, allowing it to dangle. Beautiful! Exercise Finished!

      In the obedience competition ring, I can put my hand on my abdomen during a walking heel. But when I do a come, front, finish exercise, my hand must be down at its side. All these rules to remember. Can I do it? Will I be able to do a 20 year dream of wanting to enter ti obedience ring and didn't because I despised corrections, my first method of learning obedience and then my perception of precision training was obscure. Now I see the beauty of the journey in precision training. Mickey is right there with me, waiting for the next thing to do. A willing dog. He's so willing that when I'm sitting at my computer, he literally will come up to me, bop my elbow like a true Belgian, and want to train. Am I anthropomorphizing? That he really wants to train? He had dinner already! Is this true, this boring obedience stuff, and he loves it? I'm starting to, after 20 years loving the journey of figuring out these micro behaviors. What a fun journey! I can't wait to get into the ring!

      All this precision training is really allowing me to break down the behaviors carefully. Look at each aspect and environment in how the dog sees the world and shape for that tiny micro moment, position and behavior.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


    Heeling is when a dog walks on your left side with their shoulder in line with your pant seam. The task is to keep in that position the whole time when heeling in the competition obedience ring. The dog will need to stay in this position when turning left, right, about turn, slowing down, walking faster, walking in a figure eight pattern, etc. How well the dog walks with you in position is rated and scored. This one exercise of a few done in the ring.

    There are many ways to teach this task. Traditionally was the snap of a choke chain to get the dog to heel in perfect fashion with you. The science behind this method was the dog is avoiding the aversion of the snap of the choke chain to stay in line to heel with you. Some people today still train with this method.

     Then there is luring. The dog follows a treat in your hand. The treat is periodically given, but the dog is basically following the treat in the hand while walking on your left side. Eventually the hand will have to be removed since this is not how you can do heel work in the competition obedience ring. I have been trying some luring and find that when I put my left hand on my abdomen, my dog wants to focus on my hand. This type of focus is moving him forward where is not in line of my pant seem. He is slightly forward from position. I find that my dog focus more on what my hand is doing and what it is telling him, he is cuing off the hand, rather than staying in place. This is mostly because I have in the past used my hands like a target to move him where I need him to go. For some dogs this luring can work well, but due to how I use my hands in luring for direction, I will need to use another method.

     Some people have used target sticks to keep dogs in heel position. I have not experimented with this method, but there are some people who have had some have success with a target stick.

     There is also the platform or mat where the dog is stationed on a mat or platform to shape position. Once this is solid, the trainer can remove the platforms and get the dog in position without the platform. This has been successfully done with shaping. Then you will go to the next criteria to shaping the heeling while moving forward.Clicking at one step, then increasing the criteria to two steps and depending how well the dog is succeeding with this, will determine the future increments of how many steps the handler takes before clicking and treating.

      I'm going to experiment with the latter. I'm using a folded over piece of carpet. Been shaping Mickey to stand on it. Of course he is thinking his previous shaped behaviors using a mat, which is to lie down on it. He would also put his foot on the carpet and move from it fast and look from me, so I started to feed him on the mad. Treat for position is the old rule. Which helped him slow down and stay on the mat for awhile. I didn't want to lure so he wouldn't be focused on my hand and not think that he is actually standing on a carpet. I noticed when I did lure, it was following the hand, not paying attention to where his feet were being placed. SO back to shaping.

         I'm too impatient and since Mickey knows a loose heeling, I started walking forward to see if he will stay in place. Then, I realized, ok, I'm really not ready for this. I'm too impatient and trying to jump ahead because I know he isn't a beginner, but he's not quiet doing what I need. Communication break down. Poor dog, what do you expect when all of a sudden you are trying a different approach.

          I need to work on the mat placements a bit more so I can give this approach enough time do it right. With Mickey doing loose lead walking with me in public as a service dog for 5 years, it is almost like we are going backwards to try this different approach. But the foundation for this method. When I jumped my criteria too fast, I realized Mickey was not understanding what I wanted and I quickly reverted to other methods I have used. Talk about confusing! To do this method justice, I need to slow down, think of what I am doing and think it through to get that picture in my head of what is needed. Just like when I started out with the fronts, this will take a little time to dabble and find my comfort zone that works for me. Mickey is so patient with these different approaches. What a trooper! I'm so fortunate to have this dog that is willing to allow me to dabble and experiment.

         My goal and focus will always be using positive reinforcement. I will not use any corrective means as that is not the purpose of why I am going into the obedience ring. It is to show it can be done by all positive reinforcement. It is a lot of dabbling, but since there are only a handful of people who do positive obedience, sometimes you are on your own. A pioneer that has to sweat figuring out the maze, but in the end, it will work out and before long, Mickey will be showing in the ring, happy and eager to see what is next in the exercise.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Setting Criteria

          The three principles of training I follow. 1. rate of reinforcements, 2. timing and 3. criteria. These principles were pounded in my head from Bob and Marian Bailey when I attended their workshops. These principles have never failed me. Knowing them well has also made me a much better trainer. Call me narrow minded or stuck on a particular way of training, but it has been the best I've ever used. To deviate from this, my training skills do get sloppy.

          My rate of reinforcements and timing come with practice, but criteria takes a lot of energy of my brain. The thought process of training. What do I want my dog to do? What do I choose to shape and have my dog do to set them up for the next step to get where I want? You can't expect to have what you want and get there in one step. It may take 100 steps to get there. Building slowly. The talent comes in knowing what step to teach next to make a strong foundation. Like a good teacher in mathematics. You don't all of a sudden start doing complex equations in two days, it takes several classes to get to higher level of equations and problem solving.

         Each step I teach is a criteria. The rule of thumb is get 80% proficiency before moving to the next increment step or criteria. Always have your criteria plan ready as your subject may go fast and if you are not ready, training stops and you loose that fabulous momentum. Take the time to write out and plan your criteria. Or if you are better at doing it in your head, you can do it that way as well, but writing it out makes for good training records. Then in a year or two, you can see what you did and the written plan can jog your memory what path you took. I have had countless experiences where five or ten years later I think, how did I teach my previous dog how to do this behavior?

         Recently I have been doing fronts. This is when the dog comes straight in to you and must sit just in front of you, not touching, but be within reach of you. Their sit must be straight in front of you. No hip shifted on either side. So what would be the criteria when training this?

          At this point, the recall is set. The next step is back chaining. You go backwards. So the last thing the dog does in the behavior chain is what you reinforce, thus what you write your criteria. This is the dog sitting in front of you. There are many ways to achieve this and much easier with puppies. Since Mickey is 6 years old and has a lot of practice coming up to me, my approach is different than starting out a puppy.

            I find that making one criteria part of your day is the best way to get it solid. If I'm sitting on the couch and Mickey comes up to me, shape for him sitting straight in front of me. If I'm standing in the kitchen and I have a few pieces of chicken around, do some shaping there. He has learned to come straight in to me and if his rump is off to the side, no chicken. Then of course give the piece of chicken in the exact spot you want him sitting. Treat in position is extremely powerful. I had to learn how to give his treat. Which is straight down from my fact or front of my body. If I give the treat to the side, he will shift his body to be in position for the goodie. So after several days have past and doing about five reinforcements for a straight sit in the kitchen, I will do a few in the living room or outside in the yard. Sometimes I use the ball, sometimes I use a yummy treat. Variety, what's going to happen next and do not do routine. I can't have Mickey predicting a pattern other than you will get reinforced for a straight sit in front of me. That will be consistent, but everything else will not, like where we train, how often we train, what time frame we train etc.

       I get bored very easy with repetition and so will my Belgian Malinois, so I do vary what I do. To do the old traditional training that is so regime is important to some dogs, but other dogs will just tune out. Why I think so many people have gotten out of competition obedience. They are still doing that dry formality of training. Do three minutes in the kitchen, train while you are watching TV like during commercials and of course Debi Davis' famous "Training in the 'Loo!" Break it up. Lack of training is only a lack of planning. Also, we don't have to set an hour aside for training obedience. You need to build duration and training time slowly so you don't get that zoned out look from your dog. With proper shaping and conditioning skills you don't need more than 15 minutes in a full training session. If a shaping session is more than three minutes you are going to fry your dog's brain. This leads to burn out and stress. Yes, you can burn out and stress your dog out with clicker training. Especially if your shaping skills are really fine tuned and good.

        Observe your dog and know when to back off. Many people want to perfect their dogs and over train. They a re very well meaning people, not realizing they are creating behavioral stresses in their dogs. Having trained several assistance dogs, we want them to succeed. Our heart and soul goes into their training because if they do not succeed, they will be career changed to another job, perhaps a pet. This expectation of the dog can literally burn the dog out and you do see the behavioral issues. Sometimes trainers don't see the behavioral problems or brush it off as something else and can't look at themselves. There is a lot of stress with training an assistance dog and too many put a lot of stress on young dogs that are not even a year old. Expectations are high in a young pup. This is a set up for disaster. Back off, enjoy the day and condition in a fun way for the dog.

       Points to remember:

1. Plan your training session
2. Write out your criteria
3. Keep your training session short
4. Keep your shaping session timed and in the beginning, start out with 30 seconds. Eventually build up over a few weeks to a minute. Realize this is a shaping session where you have probably 20-30 reinforcements in a minute. When you get 80% success, incrementally move to the next criteria. Observe carefully if this criteria is working or not. If you are not achieving 80%, then you need to break down the criteria for success.
5. Have any training issues, look at your three principles for problem solving.
6. Try not to over train to burn out your dog. They are very willing creatures and will work past stress level. Watch for signs of stress.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting Serious

       My desire to do well in competition obedience has allowed me to put too high of expectations on myself. Competition Obedience is a precision sport and I invisioned that I had to train Mickey as a robot, always being straight, beyond natural. I wanted to show the world that you can train with all positive reinforcement and get the high scores in the obedience ring. I wanted to show that to get to the top, you don't have to use repetitious corrections, but motivational training and positive reinforcements for the dog to check itself and think what they are dong.

        I have had only one private lesson, been asking people on the Internet who focus on  positive reinforcement and been studying competition videos. Today's workshop, I realized I am further along than I had previously thought. What I have learned in the workshop:

         1. My expectations were too high and unrealistic. Setting myself up right towards burnout.
         2. What I have been doing has been very good.
         3. When I get a little nervous about performing in front of a group, with the instructor giving me a list of criterion that is new, I get nervous. No one can see it, I hide it well, except I can't hide my nervousness from my dog. When this happens, Mickey will check out. Sniffing is a very common stress behavior. Prior to this list of criteria, I was showing a heel, not perfect, but  I wasn't nervous.Mickey was very engaged with me. But when I did get nervous, it is a remarkable difference.  It is very difficult for people to admit that they are nervous and the dog's actions, such as leaving you and sniffing or checking out is because of your inner feelings. People normally want to correct the dog for this, I don't and the best thing for me to work on is myself, not my dog. My dog is a willing participant. If I am going to work on my dog, to teach him when I'm nervous, life is ok and it is still good to work with me. So I will work with this.
         4. I learned some new things to try in my training.
             a. Ease into the official ring slowly, and increase duration slowly so the dog always knows they are going to get some form of reinforcement back at the home base (crate, chair etc.). The dog will see this as fun and not the dreaded stress ring.
             b. Use marking skills with your dog near the distraction, the instant they look at you, click and treat. These are logical concepts I've learned in many settings before, but the actual method and set up used in this workshop was more refining the smaller skills. It was with other people and treats in their hand slightly above the dog's nose and you heel right by it. I've never seen this done, only with one person, but what a concept! Loved watching this! .
         5. I learned proper placement of food dispensing to get nice heeling.
         6. I'm already developing plans and ideas in my head where I want to go next. I have more confidence in myself that I really do know what I'm ding and will work on stress releases for myself along with stress releasing exercises on Mickey.

         I also realized that all my prior training has also lead up for us doing well today. Mickey really is an awesome dog and has a lot of potential to do well in the obedience ring. It really is up to me in how I can stay light hearted, focused on the appropriate goal setting and criterion. This will enable us to move  at a pace that is enriching for both of us. That has been another important goal of mine, to be able to go into a competition ring where there is pressure, but Mickey sees the pressure as an invigorating game and not stress pressure where he wants to check out like many dogs do. Obedience is really teaching me a lot about myself, and my dog. More than I ever realized. More every day I'm seeing the value of training with competition obedience exercises. The precision is such that it puts light on a lot of your handling skills. It isn't about the scores. That shouldn't be the goal, but how to do exceptionally well with being a team with a dog who is ever so willing. I'm now no longer dreading obedience like I once did. I'm seeing its valuable lesson.

         Now to write my plan to when I practice and work on the exercises.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My training beliefs

      In 1992 I was introduced to a new way of training, clicker training. The more I learned, the more I realized I was a believer this was my way of training. As the years went by and I slowly worked on changing my old training ways, by 1997 I was completely dedicated to train with as much with +R as I could. I'm not perfect and no one else is either.

       I had been to a lot of training seminars. The one that allowed my clicker training skills to become light years beyond any other instructor, was attending chicken camp in Hot Springs, Arkansas with Bob and Marian Bailey. The deep insights, the problem solving, the timing, the criteria and the rate of reinforcements was an epiphany like no other I have experienced.  Training a chicken was a humbling experience and taught me that I am an emotional trainer. The chicken taught me how my emotions will not get me what I want. Emotional training interferes with a dog since they do respond to emtoions.

         In the past ten years I have been off and on my training. I still use a positive way of training, but my clean skills have gotten weak. I know deep in my heart if I can get back into my discipline of focusing on a clean goal of training, along with all that I have learned in my life, I will get back on track.

        I strongly believe that clicker training has a lot of responsibility. Not only do we need to be incredibly focused on +R with training of our animals, but we need to be this way with our whole lives as well. When I have been in a negative environment, I get off track. I get back into the nagging of my dogs, my focus of clean training looses its presences. I need to catch myself and get focused again. This is me getting sloppy. Self awareness is one of the most difficult things for a handler to do. This is why Bob and Marian Bailey said video tape yourself.
I see a video as something that doesn't lie and you can't deny the confrontation. To be true to yourself, you need to realize what and how you train to improve. No one is perfect and I have seen self acclaimed all positive trainers use some form of aversion one way or another. This is not a criticism, but a realization that we are all human. The key is to focus on your goal and have a good self awareness.

     We must remember to not criticize someone for getting off track or even using corrections or aversives. It is tempting to get into this judgemental criticism because we think they should know better. I fall in this trap too sometimes, and it actually is counter productive. The key isn't to criticize someone for using it, but to make them aware and figure out why in a coaching or supportive way they have chose to do their actions.

       With learning clicker training for 19 years and dedicated to it for 14, I now can go to any dog trainer's seminar and learn, regardless how they train. I had a recent experience having a private lesson under a well known trainer. She has achieved 200 scores in competition obedience and even has achieved getting an OTCH on her dog. She has a lot of knowledge that is valuable. However, her method of using correction was as if that is the only way to get the dog to go where you want. She cannot see that you can shape, lure, prompt or any other positive method to get to competition obedience. I don't fault her as she hasn't learned the insight enough to see how she can get there. At this point, I don't either, but I know there is a way. There is no need to argue or get emotional that she feels correction is the way to go. My goal is learn what I can from her, which I have and my journey is open enough to find another trainer to fill in the gaps she cannot fill. I may end up going back to her, to fill in the gaps others could not fill. Don't burn your bridges.

       For me, to really believe in +R (Positive Reinforcements) means you apply it to all your life. You focus what you like and what is useful for you. It is about your whole body and existence. Not only train your dog with +R, but learn kindness with humans and yourself. It is hard when life sets in. We fall back to old habits. Especially if we are around a lot of cynicism and judgement, it is very difficult to keep track on our strong beliefs. Recently I have had to face this. I had previously been in a very positive environment, being positive with my dogs, people and life in general. I had to change jobs and now work in a very cynical and judgemental environment. This has been my biggest and truest test for me, can I continue to be a positive perosn when in a difficult environment? I need to ground myself in who I am, and not let the world affect me. It is hard, we do tend to conditionally respond to our environment. That's operant conditioning.

       With the whole mind and body embarsing positive reinforcement, it also means not to find fault in these judgemental and cynical people. This is also true for correctional based handlers. Find the good they do where you can learn. In dog handling, if they use the correction too much, move to the next trainer and learn from them. Criticising them and complaining they do not train like them is hypocritical. You are bringing negative toxicity to yourself and it will not help change those who train with correction, in fact, it will just solidify their beliefs in how they train. Everyone is sovereign to their beliefs. Arguing or criticizing is only introducing more correctional based ideas. Hypocritical. The irony is, you are not staying focused on your positive reinforcement mind set. It is like not keeping focused on peace and spreading your peaceful word. Similar to how the Dalai lama sets out his life.

        I do believe we need to point out when something is aversive, but keep the emotions and the criticism at check. It just brings toxicity to your body, just as when people  criticize and demean others for their religious beliefs, political beliefs, or some other strong beliefs they may have. Focus on what you believe, don't bash others.

         It is hard not to get caught up in a discussion or debate and then loose your focus on positive reinforcement. Its wasted time. As Gary WIlkes has said over the years, "I don't have time to argue, I need to train my dogs."

        As far as competition obedience, when you perfect your skill and win at high levels, you will then get noticed for your training methods. People want to go with the winners. These are the change makers. If they happen to train with corrections, then that is where people go. If you can rise above and show it can be done with positive reinforcement at high levels of competition, then you can show it can be done. People listen to winners, not wanna be-s. I'm right now a wanna be, but hope that my journey will put me at the winners. I experienced with one trainer she felt correction is how you get there. But I did learn from her. She taught me where my dog's place should be in a sit/heel. She helped me understand the figure eight and how to walk around it, I was going too wide. It was valuable information and I'm grateful for that. I know how I can keep focused on what I want to learn. That's because I'm secure in my +R training.

         In less than a week, I will work with another trainer who is strong with motivational methods and very minimal to no corrections in obedience training. She knows already I won't use them. This trainer does see how you can use +R only in training. I can take what I learn from her and keep true to my thinking of +R. My journey is moving forward. They are helping me in my journey. I want guidance as I do not want to be overwhelmed with too much in the ring. Coaching for me is invaluable right now.

          You can learn from anyone. It is we, the people who need to look at people with an open mind and see the lesson. So many people loose out on lessons in life because their critical judgements get in the way seeing the light and enlightenment.

          I am getting closer to my dream. To use 100% +R for competition obedience. I have the dog that is capable of achieving my goals.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Training when you have fatigue

        One of the biggest challenges in my dog training is to have stamina. I get slight joint achiness and fatigue, which sometimes I'm not into training. I can say that most my years as a dog trainer, I was a "wanna be" where I dreamed about doing all these great things and fatigue or other limitations got in the way. Mostly distracted me. The fatigue fog would occur too.

        Not only do I have to chart out a plan for myself to train Mickey, I also need to plan a chart for myself. To keep focused in the direction I want to go, so obstacles become small little step overs. I have to pay attention to my whole body. What can I do to improve myself? I do get sick when I eat prepared food with chemicals. Sometimes an innocent taco, they might have put packaged seasoning on the chicken. Then after eating such a meal, fatigue will set in. It does a lot more to my body than make me fatigue. So I must plan my life. Plan my schedule of making my food, plan my training time and plan my life. This is true for many of those who have fatigue. I want to finally put my years of dreaming into action. I have been practicing and even did a little tonight after work. IT is coming, I'm moving forward. I see it coming. I'm excited.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Problem solving and perfecting the sit

        As I have been conditioning the sit in front of me, focusing on one criteria, I wasn't quite getting clean results. If you are not getting clean results, what is happening? What am I reinforcing to cause these sits to have his rump shift to a side. Careful thought and help from a Chicken Camp Friend, what am I doing? Sits to one side can mean anticipation. Through careful observation and problem solving, I realized the shifted sit was just that. Anticipation that I was going to throw his toy or throw the stick, which is from my right hand, throwing it towards my left side. Thus, Mickey's rump shifted to my right, to set himself up to run to my left. So how do I use the stick or the Kong to reinforce straight sits without the rump shifting? Keep hands to the side, call the dog and when the dog sits in front of you with the correct sit, offer the toy straight down for them to take it in their mouths. Now we are getting rid of the shifted sits. Sometimes I have to start with the toy above, but then slowly fade, hide the toy behind me, put my hands to the side, like a trial, he sits perfectly straight, I grab the toy, and give it to him straight from above. Precision training is becoming a fun problem solving adventure.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Setting Up a Plan - sitting stright in front

       When we enter college, we set out a path, but never realize our college education will help us in other ways we never thought possible. That is another value of a college education. People get caught up that it is to get better job, or that it gives you a trade skill. It really is educating you to critically think, to have some insight to what ever comes your way in life and to problem solve.

        Learning the science of Positive Reinforcement training has been humbling and frustrating at the same time. Here I have a Bachelor's degree in Zoology, a science, but yet, I get lost in the terminology of Positive Reinforcement training. Over the past fifteen years I have had to be very patient with myself and teach myself a different way. The arrogance on the Internet doesn't help. But, as long as I keep focused what I learned in Chicken Camp and apply it, it really does all come together.

        My next step is my training plan. Over the years getting lazy, I now reinforce any behavior. This is not clean training and certainly not focused. How can anyone shape a behavior if you are all over the place? Stick to just one criteria, focus on that only and watch the behavior you are striving and channeling come alive and strong.

        So this is where I am right now. Focusing on one behavior. That is, sitting straight and square in front of me after a recall. This is one of the exercises in competition obedience. Mickey is now 6 years old and has developed sloppy sits in front of me. To the average person they are not considered sloppy sits, but to the world of competition obedience they are sloppy sits. His hip shifts to one side and is not in front of me. When I shape this behavior in a session, he will then sit straight in front of me. If I let two days go without shaping this behavior, he goes back to his old habit of being slightly sideways to me.

         So the criteria is straight in front of me. Then I say "YES!" and throw the branch. Mickey has an obsession with twigs and small branches, so I use that for a reinforcement. I had to since he just doesn't want to leave them alone, so instead of fighting against the grain, use that to my advantage. Because he's obsessed, he isn't focusing on his training, so I shape him. I need to shape him in all kinds of environments. Calm, inside the house we use food, outside with twigs, we use the twigs. At practice with friends I use food. If Mickey shifts and moves his body straight in front of me, I click/treat or say "YES!" and throw the Kong or twig.

         Since we are changing old habits, this will take longer than if he was a young puppy learning this behavior.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Darling Mickey

      For over twenty years I have wanted to focus showing a talent with my dogs. Talent where I can show how well my dogs and I work together in tested precision. By this I mean, compete in a dog sport and be able to perform a beautiful dance with my dog. I've done herding, Agility, Flyball, Canine Freestyle Dance and even tried Search and Rescue. However, not to any advance level. I only dabbled. I have trained my own hearing dogs, which is not competition, but life work. I attended several conferences about canine behavior, training canines and even training chickens to get better at training canines. I have been a licensed veterinary technician, worked in many veterinary hospitals, worked at a dog kennel and for a dog groomer. I also got my Bachelor's degree in Zoology. It is obvious that I have done a lot of work with animals and dogs, but I have never been keenly serious in showing a talent.

        I originally wanted to compete in competition obedience, but I felt it too rigid in my early years. Since then I have changed my ideas and decided to go forward. However, my idea of how to approach this precision training has changed drastically. Currently, I have a dog who I think has great potential in competition obedience. It is mostly due that I need an easy dog since I'm new to the competitive world. I understand concepts of training, but as one great teacher, Bob Bailey, has taught, training is a mechanical skill. You get good by doing it. The reading and learning about it is to set the foundation for the mechanical part. I do agree with Morten Egtvedt and Cecilie Køste that "....9 out of 10 clicker trainers use the technology poorly!" There is a lot of watered down poor information out there. I'm so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to take a Chicken Camp seminar with Bob and Marian Bailey. They really teach the science. All my years I found I learned sloppy skills. Learning with the Baileys brought me light years beyond anything I have ever learned.

       I have learned the correct skills, but have gotten horribly lazy over the years. I have the knowledge, now it is time to put it into a mechanical skill. This is what I am setting out to do. Do the trial and errors, think about what I'm doing, plan, take records and learn from myself. My biggest pitfall in all my training has been not training. It has been a huge hurdle. I enjoy doing it, but for some reason, I'm not moving through. Now is the time to do so. My desire is there, but not my action. This blog is about my journey in taking my 23 years of training dogs to action since the past handful of years, I have lost myself. Now I'm going to get back on track. I have a wealth of knowledge and need to put it to use before more is forgotten. This is my story with getting Mickey and myself in the ring.