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.