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.