Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mandatory Date Night

Hello lovelies!  To whomever is still tuning in, thanks for still hanging in there!

Hmmmm...what to update on.  I've got a few things and then I'll get to the title of this post.  The french bulldog national specialty was at the end of October and Ruthie and I had our very first time in the ring!  Considering that I didn't have her physically conditioned as well as I would have liked and had been seriously slacking on the training the past few months, she did REALLY well!  She qualified in both Beginner Novice and Rally Novice! :0)  I have to say that she is the most enjoyable of my dogs to take into the ring right now.  Heffner is concerned about the other dogs, and I in turn am concerned about that.  Bess either shuts down on me in the obedience ring or she stresses up in the agility ring.  Ruthie just takes it all in stride and does her thing.  Due to work constraints I was only able to attend one day of the national, but that day was quite full and a ton of fun.  I have to admit that I am seriously considering a frenchie puppy.  I have no idea on the timing or anything like that, but it's something that I have been thinking more and more about lately.  I'm still on the list for a dane puppy, don't get me wrong there.  But seriously, a frenchie puppy??!!  Hard to resist!

In other performance related news, I have made the decision to pretty much retire Heffner from agility.  This was going to be his last year regardless, but I decided that I want to retire him while we were still ahead.  He's still very sound and not having any age related or other issues and I'd like to keep it that way.  He'll be 7 in January and I think it's just time.  Plus, I have to admit that dealing with the reactivity at trials was really just stressing me out and wearing me down.  It's really hard to be in an environment where every single second that he's out of his crate I have to have my full concentration on him and what's going on around us.  It's very draining and I know that it was also hard on him.

I am getting back into the agility ring with Bess this month.  Actually next week I have her entered on one day of the AKC agility trial.  We haven't done much in the way of training, but her over all conditioning is where I want it to be.  The aspect of trialing with her that I still have a difficult time gauging is her stress level in the ring.  We could either start off with a decent run or she could take off and rip around the ring.  I'm expecting her to take off, but will hope that we can still get something out of that first run.  We'll see!

And now to the actual intended topic of this post.  Mandatory date night!lol  I know it sounds weird and it's not quite what you think it is.;0) Since Adam and I split and I've been in my own house, I've been trying to find a balance with a lot of things.  Trying to find time for everything.  I really thought that it wouldn't take me as long as it has, but apparently some things will just take as long as they take.  In my "quest" to find the right balance, I ended up over doing a lot of things and just generally burning myself out.  Not getting even close to enough sleep because there just weren't enough hours in the day to fit everything in.  And just running myself ragged in general.  In the process, I started feeling like I wasn't spending enough quality time with my dogs.  Yes they were getting out for regular exercise and we were doing whatever training we were doing, but I was neglecting those soft, sweet moments where we would just simply cuddle.  Those moments where I wasn't preoccupied with what I was trying to fit in on what days, trying to figure out how to pencil everything in.  I had stopped enjoying my dogs for the individuals that they are and was just doing what I felt I needed to to meet their basic needs.  That made me feel horrible.  Even more so when I thought about the fact that I am really they're only outlet for human contact.  Yes I have friends over who also interact with the dogs, but it's not the same.  So I decide to do something about it and instituted a mandatory date night with my dogs! :0)

The concept is really quite simple and I've found that it really helps to rejuvenate me in general.  I take the dogs out for their respective exercise, feed them, and get them all settled in.  Then I cook myself a lovely dinner, which usually involves all three hanging around the kitchen to see what I'm up to.  Depending on what I'm cooking, I'll give them all little tidbits as I'm going along.  Sort of pretending that they're helping me with dinner. ;0) Once dinner is ready, we all curl up on the couch, I eat my dinner, and we watch a movie or whatever.  I don't take any phone calls.  I don't do any texting.  I don't answer any emails.  My phone is pretty much MIA.  All four of us just cuddle up on the couch, relaxing, and enjoying each others company. 

Now I will admit that I feel a little "crazy dog lady" admitting that, but considering how awesome those date nights are for me, I don't really care.  It was a real wake up call how badly I needed to just chill out savor these moments.  I can't quite explain it, but it's one of those great, utterly peaceful moments that keep me going throughout the subsequent days.

Since my schedule (both work and otherwise) can be a little all over the place, I don't have a set week night reserved for this, but I do make sure to fit one in per week.  It's pretty fabulous and I highly recommend it!;0)

Monday, September 10, 2012


About two weeks ago as of tomorrow, I had a fun little trip with Bess to the emergency clinic.  I'll save the drama and say that she is doing very well now and was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia, again.  Two Tuesdays ago I was taking the big dogs out for some exercise and Bess was just totally off her game.  As in, they were both off leash in the woods and she was walking.  Not only that, she was steadily falling behind me.  She was acting weird enough that I just decided to scrap the outing and head home since something was obviously up with her.  At the time, I thought that maybe she just tweaked something.  Once we got home she went right to the spare bedroom and plunked down on the bed.  I did some things around the house, mowed the lawn, and then came back inside to feed the dogs.  Heffner and Ruthie rushed to their food, but Bess stayed on the bed.  Okay, seriously not normal.  Then I noticed that she was starting to shiver.  I've been down this road enough with her to know that shivering means fever.  So I took her temperature just to verify and sure enough, she was at 104.6. :o(  Not okay!  Thankfully I've got a great emergency clinic that's only 10-15 min. from my house now and I took her there.  Long story short, I ended up leaving her there over night so that they could run blood work, do x-rays, and put her on fluids.  Her fever self regulated over night and her blood work was rather boring.  Her chest x-rays did show something slightly amiss with the right lobe of her lungs (the one that was previously shown to possibly have some scarring from the last bout with pneumonia) and they were thinking pneumonia.  So I picked Bess up in the morning and took her over to my vet to finish getting checked out and to compare the current x-rays with her previous x-rays.  The diagnosis came back with aspiration pneumonia.  Awesome.

One of my biggest fears when splitting up with Adam was being able to cover emergency vet bills on only my salary.  It's incredibly convenient to be a two income household where the other person makes significantly more than you do. ;0)  "Thankfully" I didn't have a house payment in August, so I was able to cover the vet bill without dipping into my savings.  Thankfully I also have a savings account that allows me to not stress so much about emergencies with the dogs.  It also keeps my puppy money safe (and yes, I am still holding onto my spot with the same breeder with the same great dane puppy bitch in mind!).;0)  A girls gotta have her priorities!  Anywho, I weathered that storm with not too much stress.  Though it's a lot easier to say that now that I know what was wrong and Bess is clearly feeling much better.  Obnoxiously so.

I take her back in to see my vet this Wednesday to get her final set of chest x-rays to make sure that the antibiotics cleared it up again.  From the way that she's acting and her lack of coughing, I'm feeling pretty good that we're good to go.  I have learned from last time though, and she won't be going off leash any where with a possibility of deer that she could chase and split her chest open again!  One emergency vet visit is enough to last me quite a while, thank you very much!

Otherwise things are going really well!  The dogs and I are still working on getting our routine cemented.  Things will most likely change in the fall when I'm not having to take them running at 5:00 am to beat the after work heat.  Unpacking is still a process.  I have been horribly negligent with training, but that's going to end very soon.  I'm trying to organize the vast quantity of dog stuff enough that I can get to my basic training essentials easily.  We're going to be starting back to obedience lessons soon!  Ruthie will be my primary focus for a bit because we've got the frenchie national specialty coming up in October.  I even got my sparkly pink "obedience" shoes to go with our theme!

So there you have it as things are.  Things are good.  Busy and still settling in, but good.  I'll leave you with a picture of Ruthie being SUPER helpful while I was packing things up at the old house.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder...

I've been waiting a little while to update the blog.  Now that everything has already hit the fan and the fallout is mostly done with, I can finally stop being cryptic on the blog and just put it all out there.  There has been a lot going on in my life lately. 

Probably the understatement of the year.

Some things are still very personal and few people know about them, others aren't mine to share, but life has definitely changed over the past few months.  Adam, my husband of nine years, and I got a divorce.  It had been coming for a little while and though not terribly unexpected, it was still difficult and painful to go through. 

I then bought a house.  Turns out that finding an appropriately sized rental house that will allow not only three dogs, but two of which are over 40 lbs. is rather difficult.  Not keeping all three of my dogs was NOT an option.  Period.  We moved into our new home last weekend and are all adjusting to our new life.  At this point, I dare say that we are all growing to love it.  The street is MUCH quieter, with less things for Heffner to bark at and he seems more settled within the house than he did at the old house.  Though he's still mostly glued to my side, he's starting to realize that I really don't need a chaperone EVER WHERE within the house.  The house is also one story which makes me much happier as these guys start to get older.  Bess is adjusting the the living room floor.  She's texture sensitive and the flooring in the living room is her absolute least favorite.  But she will actually walk on it now, albeit hesitatingly.  And Ruthie has only had two accidents within the house.  This past week has been weird with getting things unpacked, set up, and figuring out what I need to buy immediately and what can wait.  Now that we're more settled, I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to a more normal routine for us starting this week.

Work is still crazy busy.  On the up side, it's job security.  On the down side, we don't have enough people on board for our impending work load and that has me a bit stressed.  So I just try and take it one day at a time.  Thankfully I work with really awesome people, so it makes things so much easier. 

I have been very fortunate during this difficult time in my life to have a great support system around me.  People who were there for me no matter what in whatever way they could.  It helped me immensely to get through all of this.

While things aren't entirely back to normal, we're getting there.  I'm looking forward to putting more effort back into the blog again!  I really enjoyed posting and I have missed it over the past several months.  I hope that everyone is doing well and I look forward to hearing from everyone as well as starting to follow the blogs that I've loved reading!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Reading Materials

I know that I was doing a monthly post where I would do a review on a dog and great dane related book that I had read.  I have a feeling that it's going to be a little while before I get back on that train again, but I thought I would do a little post about what I'm currently reading and see what others are also currently reading.

I'm kind of juggling reading materials in three different areas.  There's the work related area where I'm trying to get caught up in background information.  Basically reading the papers and books that get cited a lot and that people in the field feel are the most relevant.  My basic interest is animal behavior.  The specific area that I'm doing my reading on is stereotypic behavior.  It's something that I've found interesting for a while, but now that I'm actually doing some reading up on it, I'm even more interested than before!  What kind of behaviors are people seeing in various animals?  Do we know what triggers it?  Do we know why it starts or stops?  Is it good or bad?  What are the physiological and neurological factors driving this behavior?  What has been done to alleviate it and/or prevent it?  It's some really interesting stuff!

My second category of reading material is dog related.  This a really broad category and is anything from sport specific, to breed specific, to conformation, to movement, to just stories about dogs.  I'm currently just starting "Peak Performance," but I'll be switching gears a little in a couple of days and taking on another book.  As I rotate through my dog related books I feel that it keeps me mentally invested in the things that I do with my dogs and why I do it.  It keeps me thinking (when I'm not having my moments of burn out more recently) about what I want to continue to do with them.  Areas where I want my training to improve.  Different methods to train the same task or behavior.  I really like to rotate my reading material in this area because it basically keeps me thinking.  I'm always picking up little golden nuggets from one area that will help in others.  There's so much exciting stuff out there that it's no wonder I have a giant stack of unread books sitting on my desk just waiting to be opened!

The third category is just my "pleasure" reading category.  While the other two areas are also enjoyable, when I'm reading those materials, I want to be more mentally engaged in what I'm reading.  For those books I want to be really mentally present and trying to take in, retain, and apply what I'm reading.  My pleasure reading category are the books that allow me to sort of check out.  I get to read them simply for the pleasure of reading them.  This is also the area that generally falls by the way side when I'm more backed up with reading in the other categories.  I'm currently reading "A Dance With Dragons."  This is the most recent book in the Game of Thrones series.  It's taken me a while to get around to reading this book, though we got it right when it came out.  I am happy to say that I'm not a bandwagon Martin follower.  I was reading these books back before the TV series brought them to the attention of the mainstream world.

So that's my current reading material.  What are you reading?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hello World!

Ouch!  Have meant to get on here many time, but it's the same ole story.  Too much going on and not enough motivation to actually write anything.  I've been in a bit of a slump with regards to training the dogs and getting myself to actually work with them on the variety of things that we need to work on has been trying.  I've been feeling incredibly unmotivated and I don't like it.  I've been keeping up on their physical exercise, so no fatties here!;0)  Business at work has also caused my schedule to jump all over the place as well.  Like I said, same story, different day.  However, I'm going to make a commitment to get back on here at least once a week.  I don't want to set the bar too high and burn myself out before I even get back into the swing of things, so we're starting with lowered expectations.

I don't even know where to fill things in.  Currently all three dogs are in their summer time off.  We won't be doing any competitions again until the fall.  I'm actually pretty happy about this.  I was getting a bit burnt out.  I have more weekends free and I feel like I'm getting more stuff done around the house (because I am) and seeing more of friends (because I am), which are all good things.  I'll still be showing Elizabeth's girl Ruby in conformation, so it's not like I'm disappearing completely, I just won't have my own dogs to juggle, which is immensely easier.

I believe our last big show that we did was the Great Dane Club of Northern California's fabulous specialty weekend!  I still absolutely love that show, love the trip, and love getting to see everyone.  They also pulled off an awesome addition to their fabulous show this year and had dual obedience and rally trials!  Totally awesome!  Naturally, I entered Heffner and Bess in everything.  Without going into too much detail (and because it's been long enough now that my mind is a little foggy on the exact details), Heffner ended up doing way better than I expected and Bess did way worse than I expected.  While Heffner still had his moments of distraction in the ring, I was incredibly pleased and impressed with how well he did even as things were heating up!  Bess, well, she had a rather stressful day and admittedly I didn't handle it very well.  I ended up scratching her from the second trial all together.  She ran out of the ring during her Graduate Novice run and completely stopped moving during her Rally Advanced run.  Not great.  In all, she only qualified in Rally Excellent.  Heffner earned to qualifying legs in Beginner Novice and one Rally Excellent leg!  He would have had a second Excellent leg except that I screwed up one of the new stations TWICE!  Ouch!  In conformation I got to take Bess' sire into the ring in the veterans class.  On Saturday he took best veteran in show!!

After the show itself was over, we all (Ruthie came along as well for Monday's activities) headed down to San Jose to stay with my friend Megan, who was gracious enough to let us stay in her house!  And the reason we were down that way was to go to a Denise Fenzi obedience seminar!!  I was able to get three working spots so that all three dogs could get worked!!  It was awesome!!  She had some good ideas of stuff for us to work on and I was pleased with what advice she had.  A lot of what she mentioned with Bess totally made sense.  In a nut shell, I'm often way too much for Bess when I'm praising and verbally rewarding her.  It's basically causing her to shut down a bit.  There's a whole lot more, naturally, but I don't want this post to get too long.

And that pretty much leads us up to now.  Just this past Tuesday Bess got spayed and also got a gastropexy.  She is recovering beautifully, though the inactivity is starting to wear on her and therefore me. 

All in all, things are good, I just need to get my rear in gear on a few fronts and get out of this funk that I've been in.  Hopefully my posts will become more frequent than just once a week, but we'll see how things go.  I really look forward to trying to catch back up on everyone's blogs and see what's going on.  And the new Blogger format is creeping me out a bit.  I don't do with change that isn't mediated by me!!!lol

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


So that's the longest that I've ever gone without blogging! Holy cow! Lots of the usual. Busy with work and busy with the dogs. I ended up getting offered the new position that I was applying for. And my boss has counter offered. I'm just waiting for my official offer letters to give my final decision.

Gad zukes! The biggest problem with going this long without blogging is that there's way too much to catch up on to fit it adequately into one post. And since my memory can suck at times, I'd probably be pretty sketchy at trying to retell it. I'll do a brief over view.

I mentioned that Bess got her Beginner Novice title! She still didn't sit on the one and only halt in the heeling pattern. And her sit was a bit dysfunctional throughout, though she managed to totally nail the halts on the figure eight. Go figure, since I never throw in the halts when I'm practicing. I just reward for staying with me and for the speed changes. She also got another RAE leg that same weekend. Her performance in rally was pretty poor. Obedience was definitely much better. And then I did this crazy thing where I stopped coaxing her through part of the Advanced run and put my hand on my stomach like I do for our obedience heeling patterns. And she magically got better. I'm not saying it was great, but it was much improved. Maybe there's light at the end of the tunnel!

I also audited a Dee Dee Anderson obedience seminar. It was great! A lot of information packed into two days. Lots to think about and work with.

And then this past weekend I had the danes entered in an AKC agility trial. I apparently did some misrecording of where Bess had what legs. I thought she was in Excellent JWW but it turns out she was one run short. The flip side of that is that she actually qualified in Open Standard back at the beginning of February and she is now in Excellent Standard. Well, this past Saturday after two crazy runs in FAST and Standard (due to too much rain all week, the dogs didn't get a lot of exercise and an under exercised Bess is not such a great thing), she stuck with me and nailed her Open JWW run for that final leg!! Heffner was fabulous in both of his runs that day, but we had little bobbles that cost us the runs. However, he was really enjoying himself out there and I can honestly say that I had more fun running both dogs that day than I've had in a quite a while!!

Technically I had the dogs entered again on Sunday, but that wasn't to be. Ruthie seems to be a little constipated and she also periodically goes through these phases where she gets ticked off in her crate at night and will scream at random hours for no reason that I can figure out. Saturday night was a particularly bad night and she was sounding off at least once an hour. I don't think that I got more than a half hour of "sleep" at a time all night. When my alarm went off the next morning I got up and was going to see if some coffee would help get me through. Unfortunately that just wasn't going to be enough. I was not functioning really at all. There was no way that I could memorize courses let alone run them. And operating on less than all my faculties while trying to maneuver my very large reactive dog around an agility trial venue is not the smartest thing to attempt. So I drove up the fairgrounds to pack up my crates and headed home to try and catch up on some sleep. As soon as I hit the bed, Ruthie started screaming in her crate again. I'm not going to lie, I was not terribly fond of her at that point. Because I was seriously sleep deprived and about to lose my mind and possibly go all homicidal on her screeching butt, I put the bark collar on her and peace thankfully reined in the house.

My wonky sleep schedule over the weekend left me feeling almost hung over on Monday. And I've got a relatively calm but long day at work ahead of me tomorrow. Fingers crossed that all involved are feeling cooperative tomorrow. My sister also went into early labor today and I'm kind of on pins and needles waiting to get the call to head down to the hospital. So lots of exciting things going on!!

I hope that my absence hasn't upset anyone!! And hopefully I'll be back to blogging on a more regular basis. :0)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quick Check In

I realized that I hadn't posted anything in over a week and thought that I should do a bit of an update. Things have just been so busy and I've had a few different things going. First and foremost, Bess got her third and final qualifying leg for her Beginner Novice title this past Friday down in Albany, OR!! The next day she also managed to get RAE leg #7. I have more to say about all of that, but I still have much to get done tonight.

Part of the reason I've been preoccupied is that I'm applying for a new position at the same campus that I work at. Without going into too much detail, my primary responsibility would be training animals. Pretty cool! With the application for this position I realized that I haven't done a serious revamping of my resume in about eight years. And writing a cover letter actually took two nights to get through. I already have an interview on Monday!

I've also developed this strange fascination with trying to get an adequate amount of sleep lately. I've been going on a rough max of five hours of sleep a night on week nights and sometimes less on the weekends, depending on what I've got going on. I discovered that getting to bed a little bit earlier and "sleeping in," i.e. not getting up early to work the dogs on the week days, has been decidedly delicious!:0)

I've also been taking some fun new exercise classes with some of my coworkers and it's been a blast! Tends to tweak my evening schedule with the dogs a fair bit, but it's been overall worth it.

So things are good here and I will hopefully be getting around to a more detailed post on the previous weekend with Bess in a day or two! I hope everyone is doing well despite a variety of not so good news that I've been getting caught up on. Two more days and then it's the weekend!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie Monday

I finally did it!! I made a video blog!! I opted to do it in just one shot, which wasn't all that hard considering I didn't go into it with a clear goal of what I wanted to talk about. I also decided not to edit it. So here it is and hopefully it doesn't seem too dorky. ;0)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy Friday!

I'm so happy it's Friday! I'm currently waiting for the rain to stop long enough that I can hopefully take the big dogs out for a run. I'll be down in Salem this weekend for a rally obedience seminar/workshop that is going to go over the new AKC rules that roll out in April. I decided not to do a working spot because my focus is on what exactly is wanted with the new exercises and what exactly is meant by the new rule changes. Specifically I want clarification on what is considered luring and how points will be deducted for it. I've heard a lot of people lately talking about the new exercises, but I think some of the general rule changes have been over looked, such as the deductions for luring in the ring. I feel pretty good about my signals for the dogs in the ring, but I want to make sure that what I'm doing isn't considered luring or using an air cookie. We had enough struggles lately that I don't need to add point deductions for things that I wasn't even aware I was doing!

The down side of a weekend spent without a dog in a working spot is that all three dogs will get left at home. Unfortunately I also won't be getting home until it's already dark, which rules out taking them on a hike to release their pent up energy. I predict that Heffner is going to find something to shred, Bess is going to be doing a lot of spinning in the downstairs living room, and Ruthie is going to poop in her crate.;0)

And since it's also been a relatively low key week, I don't really have anything else to report on. Here are the break downs for the Idita Walk and the Pedometer Challenge:

Iditawalk minutes so far: 1,144, so we have technically finished the Idita Walk, but we're going for 2,500 minutes!

Pedometer challenge daily totals:

Feb. 12 - 8,711
Feb. 13 - 27,184
Feb. 14 - 25,811
Feb. 15 - 25,389
Feb. 16 - 20,704

Happy weekend everyone!!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Training Thursday

I actually got a video put together!! I combined the "extreme" hand touch trick and the catching treats from mouth trick into one video. Slowly but surely all three dogs were building in enthusiasm for jumping to touch my hand. With further practice I'm pretty confident that I could continue to build their enthusiasm for it.

The catching the treat from my mouth part was pretty hilarious. The first time that I tried it I got a variety of responses from the dogs. Bess tried to hop up and get it from my mouth. Heffner's initial timing was off and he started snapping at just the air. And poor Ruthie. She started to develop a complex that I was just spitting things at her and she started to actually flinch. She never got to the point where I could get her to look up and try to catch the treat before it hit the ground.

Here's the video:

The next trick of the week is going to be teaching your dog to back up away from you. Shoot for whatever distance you want to. Bess already offers this at times, so I'm going to shoot high and say I want her to back up the length of the upstairs hallway. Heffner doesn't offer this already, so I'm going to shoot for getting him to take at least three steps backwards away from me. And I haven't even taught Ruthie to back up yet. So I'm going to be conservative with her and say that I want her to get to a point where she's backing up a step away from me. Good luck!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Movie Monday

I've got a few videos to get caught up on, but before I get into that, I am finally getting ready to actually do the video blog that I mentioned previously as a supposed monthly goal. For reals this time! Before I get into dorking around with that, I was wondering if anyone out there reading this blog had any questions that they would like me to answer in the vlog? If you've got a question, something that you want me to explain about my dogs, or an idea, shoot them my way!!

Now for the videos. I've got some agility videos and some Beginner Novice videos for Bess that I haven't gotten around to posting as of yet. In each of these cases, Kennedy has been gracious enough to video us! Now lets see if I can get these in order.

Here is Bess' first BN leg after a very loooooong day at the expo center:

Bess' BN leg #2:

Bess' JWW and Standard runs from February 4th:

Dorking around in FAST:

And finally the big boy in Standard:

Phew! I feel better having gotten all of that caught up! And I even managed to get a training video put together for Thursday!! Happy Monday everyone!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend Wrap Up

We had a nice mellow weekend at home this time around. I meant to get up early Saturday morning and take the big dogs up to the mountain so that I could do some cross country skiing and they could burn off some energy, but that didn't happen. My alarm went off and my skating by with the bare minimum of sleep for the past few weeks over rode. I reset the alarm and took the big dogs for a long hike instead. It's really quite nice to spend an hour round trip in the car versus three plus if I were to go up to the mountain. It's hard to beat!

We also ended up having a visitor on Saturday night! Bora came to spend the night! Since the big dogs got plenty of exercise that morning, Adam and I took Bora and Ruthie out to play in the soccer fields near our house. I attempted to get some pictures of them in action, but none of the pictures really turned out except for the one above. I thought it was pretty cute! I did manage to nab a couple of videos as well. As it turns out, any videos that we take on our newer camera crash my laptop when I try to edit them. Not cool! So I just had to upload them as is.

The second one is definitely the funnier of the two!

And since I didn't do my little Idita Walk and Pedometer Challenge update this past Friday, I'll get to it now. Anyone else joining in??

Idita Walk minutes so far: 908 minutes

Pedometer Challenge daily totals:

Feb. 3 - 9,930 steps
Feb. 4 - 24,246
Feb. 5 - 7,906
Feb. 6 - 24,231
Feb. 7 - 15,771
Feb. 8 - 26,079
Feb. 9 - 12,221
Feb. 10 - 10,678
Feb. 11 - 23,793

I hope everyone had a great weekend!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shout Out!

You've heard me mention her serious collar making skills before, but I wanted to give another shout out to my friend Kennedy of Kennedy's Kustom Kollar Kreations!! I don't even know how many of her collars we have right now, but we have quite a few including the seriously awesome, custom Backstreet Boys ones that she did for us just a few months ago. She's got some great fabric options. She does amazing custom work. And she can honestly come up with some pretty amazing stuff even when her customer isn't all that helpful in the ideas department (**cough**ME**cough**).

To put it lightly, she has not had the most stellar start to 2012. I would really love it if we could all show her some love, give her some encouragement, and help make this venture a really positive point for her. I pretty regularly put orders in with her and just put in one for a St. Patrick's day collar for Ruthie (The Midget isn't yet fully outfitted for all of the holidays). And really, who DOESN'T need another collar???

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Agility Trial!

Today the big dogs and I spent the day up in Ridgefield, WA for an AKC agility trial. I did my same night before routine of getting to bed early and having the truck all packed up. I was set and ready to go this morning. I wish I could say the same for my handling.:0/
First up was Bess in Open FAST. The whole point of entering her in the FAST class is to potentially burn off any zoomies that she might have and to work on contacts. Specifically not using the A-frame as a launching platform. The result was that she was great! She even got to open up a little bit and run, but still stuck with me. She nailed her down contact on the A-frame!! I didn't plan the most flowing of courses and didn't get to the send portion before the buzzer, so no Q, but a great run otherwise.
Next up was Heffner in Open JWW. It was a nice course and I knew that we could nail it. I had a great warm up with Heffner and he was pretty spunky getting to the line, but in a good way. Not in an over the top reactive kind of way. He was moving along really nicely in the class and felt like he was enjoying himself. Then something happened around jump #13. I think I managed to pull him off it. So we garnered a refusal. He had so much momentum when I pulled him around and I wasn't able to get him fully around the jump before he back jumped it. D'oh! Of course. NQ. Otherwise a great run.
Shortly after he ran in JWW Heffner was up again in Excellent Standard. This was another nice course that I knew we could nail. During the walk through I knew that I was going to need to be careful about the jump after the A-frame. If I wasn't fully ready for it I was going to screw him up. Even though it wasn't that long ago, I'm now starting to blank on what exactly we screwed up on. I think I threw him off for that first jump after the A-frame and then he knocked a bar on the jump after that. NQ. He just wasn't fully able to get a good landing and take off for that second jump. Otherwise he did really well and I'm still proud of him.
Next up was Bess in Open Standard. Funny story about this course. I almost forgot to run her in it. I got so focused on running her in JWW that I completely forgot about Standard. It wasn't until they were rebuilding the course and someone was asking me how our day was going that I realized I hadn't run her in Standard yet. Shortly there after they opened the course for walk through. Jeez! This actually ended up being the best run of the day. Bess nailed everything! Her contacts were good, she did her weaves all the way through and nailed her entrance. She was a little slow, but she stayed with me the entire time and we completed the course for the only qualifying run all day!
The final run of the day was Bess in Excellent JWW. It was a nice course. My only concern was that I remember to send her to the tunnel at #14 because that area was so similar to the Open course that I was afraid I might go on automatic pilot. Thankfully I didn't. Unfortunately I did manage to pull her off of #9 for a refusal and NQ. ARG! That sucked. Otherwise she ran great!

So that was today. A pretty relaxing day and I didn't even freeze at the trial today since the weather warmed up quite nicely. Now I'm headed off to finish up some cleaning around the house and take The Midget for a walk. Happy weekend everyone!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hooray for Weekends!!

I'm not sure what it was about this week, but it left me feeling pretty well wiped out (which is part of the reason why this post is going to jump around a bit). So much so that I actually reset my alarm by an hour this morning and completely skipped working the dogs. I feel pretty guilty about it, but it was some much needed sleep! I am most definitely looking forward to the weekend!! Tomorrow I'll be at an AKC agility trial with the big dogs. Then on Sunday we're hosting a little Super Bowl gathering at our house that comes complete with my husband opening bottles of champagne with his newly purchased sword (yes.....a sword to be exact). Which will most likely be followed by me making a 911 call because he has severed a finger in the process.
Yesterday was such a gorgeous day that I could only manage to put in a half day at work and cut out to take all three dogs on a little hike. The hike was fantastic and soooooooo what the doctor ordered!! In the Pacific Northwest we normally have fairly mild winters by comparison to most parts of the US. This year it has been exceptionally so. We had temperatures in the 50's with hardly a cloud in the beautiful blue sky. Now you know it's a gorgeous day if I'm actually happy about a lack of clouds in the sky.;0) Things have been dry enough that I was able to bring Ruthie along and she powered through the two hour plus hike. She's a beast of a midget!
And if you'll notice, I've added my contact information to the right side of the blog. I've been pondering that one. This past year Blogger went through some problems where people weren't able to post comments on various blogs. And while I think I've fixed that problem, I didn't have any way of knowing for sure if people didn't have a way to contact me and let me know. I wasn't comfortable with putting my personal email out there for anyone on the internet to see, so I created an email address just for this blog.:0) So if you're reading this and haven't been able to post comments or questions or you have a question about something but don't want to necessarily put it in the comments section, feel free to shoot me an email!
At our obedience club meeting on Wednesday I volunteered to be the chief ring steward for our club's March match! I had already volunteered to be a ring steward, but they were in need of a chief ring steward and I have been meaning to try taking on a little more responsibility at the matches and trials. And since this is only a match and any potential screw ups that I make won't ruin someone's run or tick off a judge (though that is still possible at a match!), now is as good a time as any! I still need to verify if people who are not members of the club can help out with the match, but if you're interested in joining an awesome obedience club, learning more about competing in obedience, or just want to have a good time and help out, shoot an email my way!!
And finally, I think I mentioned that I wanted to do a weekly update with anyone who was participating in the Idita Walk and/or pedometer challenge. How are things going? Has anyone signed up to do the Idita Walk? Anyone wanting to join in on the pedometer challenge? I know that it's only been a little more than two full days for the challenge, but I'll post where I'm at so far.

Idita Walk minutes so far: 208 minutes (not counting anything that I've done today)

Pedometer Challenge Daily Total:
Wednesday - 15,219 steps
Thursday - 23,141

I'll leave you with the rest of the pictures that I took on our hike yesterday.:0)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Training Thursday

I've kind of left this running thread hanging for the past couple of weeks, but I'm picking it back up! I have to be honest and say that I haven't done much with the "extreme" hand touches.:0/ And because of that, I have no video to share. I do promise to be better and I will work on it with the dogs over the next week and should have video of it by next Thursday. But I do want to still move on with the "weekly" training challenges. If anyone has done any extreme hand touches and you have a post and/or video clip of it, please share!!

This week's challenge is another trick that I have never gotten around to teaching my dogs, but I can see how it would be useful as well as just plain fun. The challenge is to teach your dog(s) to catch/take a treat from your mouth! Happy training!!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Platform

As requested, this post will be talking about what was gone over in Michele Pouliot's lab on the Platform. The lab was focused primarily on getting the dogs onto the platform, building value for it, and then getting them to understand the exact position for the respective sport while on it.

You begin by initially just clicking when the dog shows interest in the platform. If you have a dog who's already used to hopping up on things, say for example you do some of the core conditioning stuff, then you'll progress faster. Once the dog is showing interest in the platform, you increase your criteria and wait for the dog to put one foot on it. You continue to build up to the point where the dog gets all four feet on the platform. Prior to doing this, you need to have decided what the default behavior on the platform should be for the dog, i.e. sit, down, stand. Once the dog is getting all four feet on the platform, you start clicking for your default position.

As the dog gains understanding of what is expected while on the platform, you build up the drive for the platform. You want to make it a high value thing for the dog to be on there. She used the example that you want them so excited to get on the platform that they're practically climbing it as you're putting it onto the ground. Bess in particular will do this with our taped up phone book that I use for front pivots. She gets very excited when she sees it come out. Part of building up this drive is to have a rapid rate of reinforcement. You don't want the dog to put one paw on the platform, and then pause before putting the second one on. You want to do a rapid rate of reinforcement, so that they are really eager to take the next step and they're really ramping up their energy level to get into position.

Once the drive for the platform is built, you start calling the dog into the positions that you will actually use, i.e. front or heel. You can use as many platforms as you feel are needed to hit all the positions that you want. The dog is then driving into correct position, with you in correct position, and getting rewarded for it.

From here you can add in some distance work to get them holding in position. You can walk away. You can run away. You can go hide behind something. Essentially you're proofing the dog staying in THAT position.

As far as how to progress into removing the platforms, that wasn't gone over very much. Michele used her newest dog as the one example given. In her DVD Step Up to Platform Training, she said that she shows an unedited clip of what happened the very first time that she took one of the platforms away (I haven't watched the DVD so I don't actually know how it went). From what I gather, the dog had built up such a solid understanding of what the position was that she caught on pretty quickly that the position was the same with or without the platform. Eventually she got to a point where she was only doing platform work once a week with her puppy to continue reinforcing the behavior.

She did also mention that this puppy was the first dog that she purposefully did NOT teach a moving heel to. The dog developed such a reinforced idea of what heel position was, that the behavior carried over really well to beautiful heel work. Michele said that even she was blown away by it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Movie Monday

Finally back on track! This is a video hodge podge of clips of the dogs playing with the iBalls toys. The first few are of Heffner. I was TRYING to get a shot of him bouncing around and playing with it, but he had been playing with it for a while and mostly just wanted to squeak on it. The last half of the video is mostly Ruthie. Cause she's pretty freaking cute!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Portland Clicker Expo Day 3

Today was the final day of the Clicker Expo. So sad! I decided to start the morning off with a talk by the KONG representative titled "It's Fun to Have Fun But You Have to Know How." This was a shorter presentation lasting only 45 minutes. I went just out of curiosity to see what he had to say. The representative himself is an interesting guy because he works a lot of law enforcement officers and search and rescue teams from a training and behavior standpoint. So throughout his talk he would put in little stories, pictures, and videos of his work in these fields. He talked about using various puzzle types toys like the KONG to mentally stimulate your dog and the advantages of this. He also talked about the correct way for your dog to chew the KONGs and make them last longer. And finally he showed a new addition to the KONG family that is due out in February or March.

Following that talk I went to "Smart Reinforcement" with Ken Ramirez. This talk was basically about how to use reinforcement effectively to maintain behavior. He started by going over the basics of reinforcement. How precision marking and timing are incredibly important to gaining the correct behavior. Additionally, immediate delivery of reinforcement aids in cementing the behavior. When you're working with multiple animals, stationing them makes reinforcement clear and clean. He also brought up the issue of fairness when working with multiple animals. Even though you may be only working with one animal at a time while the others are say, on down stays. Those animals on the down stays are working the entire time that you're working with the "active" animal. They deserve reinforcement for this just as much as the animal getting directly worked with.

Novel reinforcers can be effective at making an event memorable, though you have to be careful that it's not in a negative way. When you use something that you've never used before you run the risk of the animal being afraid of it, not liking it, or spending time figuring out what it is. At that point it's not a positive reinforcer. Know your dog and choose wisely.

He went over primary reinforcers versus secondary reinforcers. A primary reinforcer is inherently reinforcing because it satisfies a biological need. The perfect example of this is food. Secondary reinforcers acquire their reinforcing value through association with a primary reinforcer. The perfect example here are clickers. You pair them with food so that the click becomes reinforcing.

A few other reinforcers were briefly touched on. These were the keep going signal, tertiary reinforcers, reinforcement substitutes, and conditioned reinforcer. Ken's favorite out of these are the reinforcement substitutes.

Reinforcement substitutes are trained just like a behavior in order to build up the value of them with the dog. Their success is dependent on a few things. It depends on what kind of a reinforcement history you've built up for them. It's dependent on what kind of a relationship you have with your dog. How you implement them. What kind of training and observational skills you have. And their effectiveness is also dependent on how you introduce them.

Following this he went into reinforcement schedules. While there are many nit picky ways to break them down, generally speaking they fall into two categories. It's either reinforcement given continuously as in treat after treat after treat for every behavior. Or it's given on a variable schedule.

The advantages most often touted for variable rates of reinforcement are that they have the potential to strengthen behavior. And that you are able to get behaviors of longer duration. The primary disadvantage is that it can lead to the animal becoming frustrated.

Ken prefers to use variable reinforcement instead of a variable schedule. He uses a mixture of primary and secondary reinforcers. All throughout his emphasis was on knowing your dog and knowing what will work and what won't.

After Ken's talk I was eagerly anticipating "Hold It, Get It, Bring It, Give It!" with Michele Pouliot. And you guessed it, this talk was all about the dumbbell retrieve!!! Oy vey, the dumbbell is going to be the exercise that does me in yet. After listening to Michele's talk, I am excited to try out her method and see if we can get beyond the spots that I'm stuck at primarily with the danes (Ruthie only got introduced to the dumbbell last night). Throughout her talk she used a TON of great video clips that perfectly illustrated what she was talking about.

Before you start into a training plan, you need to clearly define what your retrieve goals are. These are going to be somewhat dependent on the sport or use you want for this behavior. If you're doing this for a service dog, your requirements are going to be slightly different than those of someone who is training this for the competition obedience ring.

Your first step along the way is to create a LOVE for the article. You are clicking for interaction with the article and using a rapid rate of reinforcement. You can start with something as simple as the dog just looking at the dumbbell when you produce it (you're offering the dumbbell from an upright position while holding on to it). The most common result of this stage is the dog nose touching the dumbbell. However, you don't want to stay at nose touching for too long or else it becomes more difficult to move on to the next step.

The next step is to get a mouth behavior on the dumbbell. You are clicking for the dog opening their mouth towards the dumbbell even if it's just lip movement. That's still opening the mouth and moving in the correct direction. As with the first step, you don't want to stay at lipping or teeth bumping the dumbbell too long or else it will be more difficult to mover forward.

Step 3 is open mouth behavior on the dumbbell. Closely behind that is step 4, duration hold. Here you are withholding clicks to create duration of the hold. If you are stalling out at this point, then you move to Michele's second option which is to place the dumbbell on the floor and start from the beginning to get the dog to pick it up. You are clicking when the dog picks up the dumbbell. If at any point the dog drops the dumbbell, they don't get the click until they pick it back up.

Step 5 is a hands off the dumbbell hold duration. You are clicking for the dog holding the dumbbell without your hands on it. Up to this point (unless you were using the alternate method) you've been holding on to one of the bells.

From here you start placing the dumbbell on the ground with your hand still on it and the dog has to pick it up and finish delivering it to hand. Gradually you move your hand away until you are standing fully upright and the dog is picking it up and bringing it to you.

Once the dog is solid at this point you employ the use of a helper who will hold your dog. You place the dumbbell in between yourself and your dog and have the helper release the dog. The dog picks up the dumbbell and delivers it to hand. From there you gradually move to an actual retrieve where you throw the dumbbell and do the real retrieve. Michele's advice was once you have the hold you're pretty much golden.

The important part of the dumbbell retrieve (and the part that I know I haven't and won't do a good job explaining) is that your hands on the dumbbell are the cue for the hold. The rest of the exercise is just running out, grabbing the dumbbell, and bringing it back. You are training the dog to hold while your hands are on the bells after they've retrieved it. This helps to negate the behaviors where the dog spits the dumbbell out once it comes back or drops it as soon as your hands start coming towards the dumbbell itself.

After Michele's great talk I decided to go to the "Training With Play" lab with Kay Laurence. OMG! Her lab was fantastic!! It makes me wish that I had caught some of her other labs/talks! I really didn't have any expectations going into the lab as to what I was going to see, but apparently other people did because the room was totally packed! As the title implies, the lab was all about using play in your training and using it effectively.

The basis here is that the tug is the reinforcer. You get a behavior, click, and the dog gets the toy. The toy can also help you get the dog to offer some behaviors depending on how you use it. The primary toys used were a tug and a whip it toy (which is one of those toys attached to the end of a lunge line thingies). Of course, when using a toy, you need to have a reliable out command. As part of this, she recommended (and did a great job of demonstrating with dogs that she's never worked with before) that you use your body posture to signal to the dog when it's time to release. While the dog is tugging you're not making eye contact. You're making sure to maintain constant pressure on the toy to avoid rebiting and gradually moving up towards your hand. And your body isn't fully facing them. When you're wanting them to out the toy, you face them in a calm manner and stop playing WITH them. If they're not outing the toy, you simply put your hand into the collar under their chin and apply slight pressure. This is only so that the dog can't continue to self reinforce, it is not a collar correction. And then you wait. It's up to the dog to let go of the toy. Gradually the dogs pick up on the body cues. And while they may not immediately out the toy at first, gradually it builds up to a point where you starting to move your arm in the direction of the collar is the cue to drop. And then you fade from there so that your body cues are what they're picking up on.

She did all sorts of things with the five dogs participating and it's kind of difficult to relay absolutely everything that was going on. It's something that is way more effective to just watch her work with a dog.

When she was using the whip it toy, she emphasized that the toy must behave like prey in order for it to be interesting for the dog. It also won't be interesting if you constantly keep the toy well out of reach of the dog. The prey is more interesting when they are within an inch or two of capturing it. It builds their need to get it.

You can use the whip it toy to reinforce stays by pretending it's a bird. For this you are moving the toy in an arc over the dogs head rather rapidly. After having to constantly switch direction to keep an eye on the toy, the dog will eventually just stop and stand still. Boom, there's your stand stay! Click, and reinforce with the toy, letting the dog catch the toy.

By using toys as a training reinforcer, the behaviors you are eliciting are kill behaviors. By doing this you are not going to have the dog offering up a roll over behavior. You're going to get things like chase, stay, sit, down, etc.

Building up the dog's need for the tug toy can take some time and creativity on your part. Some dogs may really not be that interested in actual toys. A terrier in the lab wasn't interested in the toy at all, but loved to catch rabbits and vermin when it was out and about and had done so on a few occasions. Kay's advice was to find a fresh kill (road kill) and put a toy in a bag with the kill so that it would absorb the smell. This could then be exciting to the dog because it smelled like something that it really would like to chase and kill. Gradually you build up value for the toy itself.

Like I said, there was a whole lot more going on, but it was difficult to take notes on absolutely everything. Should you get the chance to watch Kay in action, I totally recommend it!

And that brought the 2012 Portland Clicker Expo to a close. There plenty of other talks and labs that I wanted to go to, but I since I can only be in one place at one time, that just wasn't possible. In the closing talk, they did release the January dates and location of the 2013 Clicker Expo and are still working on the March one. Next January it will be in San Francisco and unless the other location is more appealing I plan on attending. There's still so much to learn and this Expo has really helped to fuel my desire to learn more about training in general. I'm very lucky this year in that I'm already signed up for a couple of training seminars that I'm really looking forward to. The more you learn, the more possibilities there are! I have so many things rolling around in my head that I want to try out and work on with the dogs now! I need to start creating weekly training plans so that I can be as effective as possible with my time while also making sure that I'm able to fit everything in. Here's to 2012 being a great training year!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Portland Clicker Expo Day 2

Today was day 2 of the Clicker Expo. I started off the morning by going to "The Education of Today's Trainer" with Aaron Clayton. This talk was an over view of the benefits of going to the Karen Pryor academy and becoming a certified trainer. I just wanted to get a general feel for what the program was about. I went out of curiosity. I thought it was an encouraging talk and hit very generalized questions. I don't really have anything in particular to say about it that mostly can't be found on the web site.

Following that was "What a Cue Can Do" with Kathy Sdao. I've never heard Kathy Sdao talk before (which is actually true for all of the presenters at this conference) so I thought I'd give it a go. This was a foundation level class (each class is given a difficulty level to better help people choose what's right for them), so it covered the basics. Sometimes it's good to go back over the basics. One of the first things she mentioned was the curse of knowledge. The longer you've been training and the more experienced you get, the more difficult it is to remember what it was like when YOU were first learning.

Kathy is a very animated and enjoyable speaker to listen to! She had some great video clips to go along with her slides. One of which was about Einstein the African Grey parrot where he tried out for some televised pet trick competition.

In general, the whole talk was about the basics of what a cue is. Cues tell you when you may do the behavior productively. They do not cause behaviors, reinforcement does. Cues should not be added until you have the behavior that you want and it's consistent! Each of the cues we use should be salient. They should leap out from the background. As such, they should also be distinct from other cues. It is also best to minimize compound cues. Her example was asking for a down. Often people not only do the verbal and the hand cue, they also tend to bend over. How do you know which of the three cues the dog is actually going to think belongs to the down?

Following Kathy was "The Right Touch" with Michele Pouliot. Her talk was great! There were two focuses of her talk. Using collar pressure and using body pressure to get behaviors. This was an advanced level class and the reason was because you are technically using negative reinforcement to get a behavior. If you are not careful it is all to easy to turn collar pressure into collar drags or corrections and body pressure into just physically moving the dog around. Her goal was to build this negative reinforcer into a positive opportunity for the dog and use just the lightest amount of pressure. Ken Ramirez touched on what she's done with Guide Dogs for the Blind, so I had a pretty good idea going into this of how she was going to cover it, but it was still great to hear in depth how she goes about things.

In order to train collar pressure, you start by having the dog tethered to a stationary object. The use of a stationary object is to avoid the handler actually pulling on the leash versus applying constant pressure, which is what you want. You have some sort of mild stimulus that causes the dog to lean into their collar. What you are looking for is the instant that they let up on the pressure. For this it's helpful to have your hand on the leash so that you can actually feel that moment when it happens and quickly click and treat. Gradually you get to a point where the dog chooses to not pull into the collar. This is advantageous when using collar pressure as a directional cue. You can use the lightest amount of pressure and the dog automatically yields.

Body pressure is trained in a similar manner minus the stationary object. The amount of pressure you use is just enough to be annoying to the dog. Not heavy handed pressure, but just enough. She used multiple examples related to freestyle for getting the dog to start volunteering behaviors. One of which was a paw cross. The dog lifts a paw into your hand. By the lightest of pressure on the side of that paw you are able to guide it into a position across the other paw. After a few repetitions, the dog may start to automatically put that paw into your hand if you open your palm up in the intended position.

After Michele's talk it was time for my favorite talk of the day! "Top OTCh" with Cecilie Koste. Her talk was about the basic skills that you need in order to be a top obedience competitor. This is important to keep in mind for the first recommendation that she makes. She recommends starting off with a serious obedience dog if you want to be a serious competitor. That's key. If you want to be a top OTCh competitor, then you should pick a dog that will get you there. If you just want to compete as high as you can with the dog that you have, that's totally fine. But if your goal is to be a world class competitor, you need to pick the right dog for the sport. I know that this can be a little disheartening sounding if you have a non-traditional breed, but she isn't telling you that you can't succeed with that dog, just that the dog you get should be dependent on the level at which you want to compete at. I actually really appreciate her honesty on this, since she had to have known that a statement like that isn't going to sit well with at least some of the people.

She then went into the 18 basic skills that you need to train your dog for in order to have a solid foundation for obedience. I know that it sounds like a lot, but it really breaks down well and you find these skills in the various exercises. I'll first list the skills then I'll go into the notes that I took on some of them that better described what to aim for for me personally. The skills are: look at you, targeting, sit, rear end control, sit at heel, gallop towards you, walk and look up, down, stand, stay, doggie zen, hold, let go, bark (her caveat was that if you are going to only do obedience, you don't necessarily want to train this), jump, scent discrimination, tracking, and go to person. And throughout her talk she had FANTASTIC video clips to perfectly demonstrate what she was talking about. Like I said, her talk was absolutely my favorite!!

Before I get into the individual skills, she emphasized the fact that you are getting the dog to OFFER these behaviors. You are not getting them by luring, cuing, or verbal encouragement. These skills are all things that the dogs are capable of offering up, you just need to set the dog up for success and then capture the behavior that you want. And while you are capturing and reinforcing these behaviors, you are NOT adding a cue in at all. The cue doesn't come until the dog is getting close to being competition ready and you are putting these basic skills together to create the exercises.

Rear end control. For this you are capturing hind leg movement and building from there. For backing up, you are clicking when the dog moves a back foot. Gradually you build up until they are actually walking backwards. To help the dog along, start out by having them positioned in between a wall and yourself. For teaching backing up while turning use corners. Gradually you fade away the wall and use lower and lower barriers until you aren't using any barriers at all. At that point, the dog will hopefully realize that your leg is what they are to stay in contact with and that is what will tell them the direction to go in. For coming into heel position (and this is something that I am absolutely going to start doing with my dogs) you start by using a box. You begin by moving in a clockwise motion around the box and click the dog for moving their back feet in a similar direction. Gradually you build up to the point where you remain stationary and the dog has to move into heel position to a point where they are in contact with your leg.

Gallop towards you. Start by training this skill when the dog is fresh and excited. Say when you get home from work and they're all happy to see you. You need a helper to hold on to the dogs collar while you walk 50 ft. away. Once you are in competition position away from the dog (it's important that you start by presenting the dog with the picture that they are going to see) the helper releases the dog. You click when the dog is at the speed that you want. Slowly you decrease the distance, but always clicking when the dog is moving fast.

Walk and look up. You start with the dog making eye contact with you. Click and treat. Then you reward for them making eye contact with you while you're moving backwards slowly. Then you increase the speed with which you move backwards. Then you start moving sideways and click and treat for the dog moving with you and making eye contact. Finally you move into heel position and reward the dog for being in position and making eye contact with you.

Stand. You start by simply capturing a stand. Then you capture the stand while you are slowly moving backwards. How do you get the dog to offer this behavior without you giving some sort of encouragement? You reinforce multiple stationary stands first. Then you start moving. The dog is not getting rewarded for just moving, so obviously that's not what you want. Maybe they'll try a brief stop in standing position. Bang! Click and treat. You've got to be ready to reward that possibly small hesitation so that the dog has something to go off of. Gradually you shape for speed.

Stay. First choose your dog's most probable position. Click and treat your dog rapidly just for being in the position. They are getting multiple rewards for simply remaining in this position, so why should they move? Always bring the treat to the dog. Gradually you increase the time before you click and treat. It's also a good idea to train this exercise when the dog is relaxed so they are less likely to spring out of position or move. That way you have plenty of stationary behavior to reward. Once that position is solid. You train the stay from the next probable position. The caveat being that you must get the dog to first offer this position before you start working with it.;0)

Doggie zen. I had never actually heard of this term before Cecilie's talk. The basis of it is that the dog gives something up in order to get it later. For example, you put a bowl of dog treats on the floor. The dog cannot eat it until give the release to do so. You put the food bowl down. The dog ignores it and works with you. Then you release the dog to the food bowl. The way that you add the cue in to this is that you wait until the dog is digging in. The dog then has to wait for the cue in order to go for the bowl.

At some point in your competition career there is a possibility that your cue will become broken. In other words, you'll give a cue and your dog will not respond appropriately. For this, Cecilie says to simply go back to these basic exercises and work on the ones for the competition exercise that broke down. Start small and build back up. It's then from these basic skills that you start to put together the competition exercises. Your dog therefore has all the tools to accomplish these tasks.

She mentioned that you could be thinking that this is rather overwhelming and now you potentially have a dog that is throwing all these behaviors at you. If you break things down again, you'll realize that there isn't really that many behaviors that they can throw at you all at once. When the dog is in heel position, what behaviors can they throw at you? Sit, down, stand, or go out. That's pretty much it. They can't exactly offer jump, because there's no jump. They can't offer a dumbbell, because there's no dumbbell. It's not as overwhelming as it seems. Through your training the dog also learns the difference between you in a position where it's okay to offer behaviors and you in a position where there are specific behaviors expected. Specifically, it's okay to offer behaviors when the handler is facing the dog and/or moving backwards (things are also a little different in Scandinavian obedience because they don't have a front position). When the handler is in "normal" position (i.e. heel position) the dog must wait for a cue.

When you start to train for the competition exercises, it's important to back chain them. The dog is most likely to perform the most recently reinforced behavior, therefore you're making your job that much easier and less frustrating for the dog. Once the exercises are good to go, you start training for actual competition. She was pretty much out of time when she started touching on this and didn't really get to go too in depth. But her recommendations were to use a variable rate of reinforcement and to train with distractions. The distractions should actually be a part of the basic skills training so that you can continue to build on them. You aren't really ready to compete until you and your dog are capable of succeeding at the exercises on the first try. There are no second chances in the ring. You should also increase the quality of your reinforcement.

Following her awesome talk, I went to her "Top OTCh" lab. In the lab the handlers were working on the basic skills that she talked about in her talk. I actually ended up leaving the lab early because I wasn't really gaining new information from the lab.

So there you have it! Two days down and one left to go!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Portland Clicker Expo Day 1

Today was the first day of the Portland, OR Clicker Expo and I was really excited to see what was in store for me! I had a little taste of what was to come when Crystal went last year and posted about her experience. I got all registered first thing and then started going through my goody bag. Inside were a bunch of raffle tickets. The goal for the tickets are that you reward people basically for acts of "goodness" that are really defined by you. Kind of like you're clicking them. You can give someone a ticket for introducing themselves to you. You can give someone a ticket for the way they were mindful of their dog's needs during a lecture. Or in my case, you can reward someone for the fact that they brought their frenchie to the expo! It's all up to you and it really helps to inspire a positive attitude where everyone is going around looking for something good to reward. I love it! The tickets are good for a drawing for a basket at the end of each day.

As I was going through my registration packet and reading over the welcome material, I read a passage that I absolutely love and wish it was something that the general pet population would take to heart when out and about with their respective dogs. "Does your dog always want to rush up to other dogs and try to play? You may think your dog is being friendly, but to other dogs that behavior is incredibly rude. Your dog may be getting in the face of another dog that has worked long and hard to gain self-control in that situation. If someone's dog snaps or snarls at your dog, it is your fault, not theirs." This was also reiterated by Karen Pryor herself in her opening address. This is so incredibly true and I really appreciate that they emphasize this at the expo!

As I started typing up my experience from the talks, I realized that these posts could easily become incredibly long and/or take a matter of weeks to get all the way through. So in an effort to minimize this and create posts that don't make the reader feel like they are going through a long drawn out novel, I will do my best to summarize each day in one post and make them relatively brief. However, this is me that we're talking about here.;0)

After the opening session it was time to get down to business and go to the talks or labs of your choosing. The first talk that I chose to go to was "Oops! What to do When Mistakes Happen" by Ken Ramirez. First and foremost, Ken is a fantastic speaker! He completely filled up his two hour time slot and held my attention the whole time. No small feat considering that I was already starting to get a little hungry at the beginning of his talk. In order to talk about how he handles mistakes in training, he first had to give a little background on the various methods that trainers utilize. The first he talked about was a no reward marker (NRM). This is pretty much what it sounds like. The trainer uses a marker to indicate that the animal being trained has gotten it wrong. Something as simple as an Oops! Part of the problem with this method is that the animal can get frustrated at not moving forward and this can lead to a negative training experience.

The next "method" is the delta signal. This is essentially a warning before a negative stimulus happens. He likened it to his mother telling him to clean up his room multiple times with no effect. It wasn't until she used his full name that he knew she meant business. It was the use of his full name that was the delta signal that if he didn't do as he was told there was going to be a negative stimulus coming his way. One of the down sides to this method is that the delta signal can end up becoming the new cue for the behavior.

Following this is the time out method. Scientifically speaking, this is a negative punisher. This too can create frustration in the animal being trained. Time outs must be very well timed lest you punish the wrong behavior. Additionally, the time out doesn't actually teach the animal what behavior you WANT.

Next up was negative reinforcement. This is a subject that many people are not fully clear about. Negative reinforcement is using the removal (negative since you are taking something away) or avoidance of an aversive to increase a behavior. An example of this would be teaching a horse to neck rein. The aversive would be the pressure of the reins on the horses neck. The horse learns that they are to move away from the pressure. When they do so, the pressure, and thus the negative stimulus, is released and they are therefore rewarded for their behavior. Negative reinforcement does not always mean something that is abusive.

Ken's preferred method of dealing with mistakes in training is by using a least reinforcing scenario/stimulus (LRS). You are taking an inappropriate behavior and dealing with it in a way that isn't frustrating to the animal and keeps them wanting to work. His preference is to use a 3 to 5 second neutral response. He had some great video clips (he actually had really great clips throughout his talk) to demonstrate exactly what he was talking about. For example, if the animal in question doesn't respond to a sit command, he would pause for 3 to 5 seconds and then move on to something that the animal will reliable do, so that he can reinforce that. The animal doesn't get rewarded for the inappropriate behavior, but the trainer and animal continue moving forward to other more reinforcing and reliable behaviors so that the animal realizes that they will only get reinforced for correct behaviors.

He then went on to discuss some alternate response training. This topic he plans to cover more thoroughly tomorrow during his talk on aggression. The notes I took on this topic were very basic.

After Ken's talk I went to a lab (workshop) with Michele Pouliot titled "Crosstrain! Teach Your Dog the Skills Critical for All Canine Sports." This lab focused on using the platform to teach a solid understanding of position to the dog. This position could be whatever you need it to be depending on what discipline you were interested in. The two most common examples were obedience and freestyle. I got a LOT of really great ideas from this lab that I can't wait to try out with the dogs!! It also added a few more items to my list of "must have" training tools. I have a feeling that list is never going to get much shorter.;0)

The strongest advantage to the platform is that it is a well defined space for the dog to be on. Once the dog learns to go onto the platform, there isn't a lot of room for them to futz around on. The platform essentially doesn't allow for crooked sits. You are able to constantly reward the dog in perfect position. The platform also allows the handler to be in the goal position so that the dog not only learns what position they're supposed to be in, but what the handler looks like when they're in that position. Too often while we're training, we're correcting the dogs position, which throws us out of the stance that we should be in. The dog learns that ideal position for them involves us being twisted into some shape. When we're in the correct position, the picture changes for the dog, so they change their positioning in order to get their picture of you back the way they were rewarded in. If that sentence made any sense!

She also emphasized magnetizing the platform. You build up so much reinforcement for the platform that the dog is practically climbing on it as you're putting it down. They're excited to get on there and into the position that they KNOW they'll get rewarded for. From there you start using the verbal or physical commands that you want the dog to know and it's a piece of cake for them to associate the correct position with the command!

Following Michele's lab I wen to "Shaping Procedures for the Agility Trainer" by Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh. I have their agility book and just recently started reading, so I can already tell that a lot of what they went over in their talk will be reinforced in the book. Their talk, by far, was the hardest for me to wrap my head around. I am going to try my best to summarize what they were talking about, but I know that it won't be half as good a job as they did. And hopefully it will come out at least moderately clear!

First and foremost, you must understand that these two ladies are the masters at breaking things down. This is part of the reason why it took me a little bit to fully catch on to what they were describing, since I tend to have difficulties breaking things down into smaller steps. Not only do they break things down into smaller steps, but they break them down into MINUSCULE steps! Seriously! The best example I can give is that before you want a specific behavior, figure out where you want your dogs head facing and reinforce that. If you have a behavior in which you want the dog moving forward, like you do for agility, then you wan their nose pointing forward. So reinforce that, and only that. Because you want the dogs nose pointing forward, you don't want them looking any where else lest they add that into the behavior. This particular example was much clearer to me when they showed a video clip of this exact thing. The reinforcement was so rapid that the dog didn't have a chance to look any where else. Therefore the ONLY behavior that was getting rewarded was this position.

Obviously as part of this shaping process, the reward is very important. How you give it, where you give, how frequent, and even what it is, will effect the end goal. There was a fair bit of description on this, which was best illustrated by the nose forward position. Rewards given rapidly to the dog in this position did not allow for any of what they call "garbage behavior."

They continued to further break things down in a sort of mind boggling circle. In essence, the taking of the reward is a behavior in and of itself that also must be trained. You don't start into a training session with a picky dog and a treat that they've never had before. If you present them with something unknown, they may take the time to sniff the treat and taste it. At that point, what you originally were trying to reward is not what's actually getting rewarded.

To further screw with my mind, the method that they used to explain all of this involved starting at the end. You start when the reward ends. Just the reward ending can be a cue for another behavior. You give the dog a cue, they execute the behavior, you reward, then they stare at you to figure out what comes next. The end of the reward you just gave is what's cuing them to stare at you and wait for what's coming next. This is something that I TOTALLY never thought about like that before. They're talk was basically filled up with little brain benders like that. I just wasn't used to thinking like that and it took me a little bit to wrap my brain around it.

That's really as much as I'm going to attempt to describe from their talk. I'm really afraid that I'll butcher anything more that I haven't already! Their talk was great and I definitely recommend that if you get the chance to hear them speak, you should.

I also gained some ideas for ways that I can go about getting Ruthie used to and ready for the tunnel (I'm a bad trainer and have not done any work with trying to get her to go into the tunnel since she very adamantly told me that she's not a fan). It's little things that I just hadn't thought about. I'll talk more about them as I actually start to implement them with the Mighty Midget. I also learned a little Swedish from the talk! It turns out the the word slut means the end!LOL That was a pretty funny moment when at the end of one of their video clips the word SLUT popped up in big bold letters!

Phew! I made it through and hopefully anyone still reading this did as well! Tomorrow is another day and I'm looking forward to it. Now to figure out what to do with these poor neglected pooches of mine....