Friday, December 30, 2011

10 ways I use "Go to Mat"

Along with "Sit when you want something" this is my all time favorite behavior to use and to train. So here are just a few of the uses in no particular order...

1. To keep Reyna away from the door when I'm leaving
2. When I'm cooking
3. During Relaxation Protocol
4. When I need to make notes during training
5. When Reyna is getting confused in a training session
6. When I am getting confused in a training session
7. When I want to use the hedge trimmers and I don't want to put her inside or trim HER
8. To develop an "off switch" during play
9. To signify a change in activity, criteria, whatever
10. When I'm in the middle of a training session, I don't want to leave her hanging, but I need to address a toddler trying to wake up his baby sister.

There are so many more but those were the first that came to mind since I used them all yesterday.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The eagle has landed!'s really a fork...whatever.

All that matters is that there was a conscious effort on Reyna's part to move her head a half turn and get the fork into the bucket! Reps 5 Success 60% and I couldn't be happier...tomorrow we'll shoot for 80% and then who knows....the moon?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A family affair

I LOVE the new training levels! They are very well written and we are checking off level 1 boxes in the book already. I have gotten our 2 year old son involved who loves working with Reyna. I am having him go through the levels with Reyna also to help build their working relationship. It works out well since his attention span is about 1-2 minutes and I really need to keep the training sessions to about that time frame anyway. He already helps out a lot with Relaxation Protocol exercises so this is just a step up from that.

On that note the more I work with Reyna in our new rule structure the longer her attention span is becoming. I have already noticed a marked difference in her stress levels, or should I say lack-thereof. It has also helped me become more aware of signs that she is beginning to stress and needs a break. I am still sticking with the general rule of 5 reps then a break, but we have gone as high as 8 reps for some behaviors with no issues, on the flip side if I notice her mouth open or frown lines we take a break even if we're only on rep 3. I am very excited with the results, we are both enjoying sessions more.

Another lesson I have learned is that adding a cue makes her nervous. We have gotten up to 14 seconds of solid eye contact, which is a miracle in itself since eye contact is on the lengthy list of things that stress her out, so I decided to add the cue "watch" right as she locks in. Something about my voice must reek of "cue" because she immediately started whining and throwing behaviors at me like down, back up, sit etc. So I made a note of it and this morning made an effort to say the cue very softly and remove all duration criteria. watch/yes/treat, watch/yes/treat, she didn't give any stress signs so we'll hold here for a day or two and then try to add back some duration VERY slowly.

In exciting news our object pick up criteria is now "pick up fork, hold, I position bucket under her chin, she sets fork in bucket, yes/treat". Our success rate was 85% this morning which should be a sign to up the ante, but the more I learn about Reyna the more I know slower is really faster so we'll wait for 100% at that level and then start making her have to work just a touch to get it into the bucket. Now I need to start thinking of a cue for it :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Training Levels!

I am very excited! Sue Ailsby's NEW training levels just got here. We have been working the old levels for right at two weeks now and are SO close to passing all the Level 2 behaviors. With our new found rule structure for lessons things are motoring right along. Delivering a plastic fork to a basket is the "trick" we've been working on with the idea being it will make the official retrieve easier and she is doing so well holding the fork I introduced the basket (okay it's really a tupperware container but I couldn't find a basket) today just marking for picking up the fork with the "basket" in the general area.

The new books have taken the 7 old levels and have revamped to 4 total levels with what I feel like is a broader base for foundation behaviors and less of an emphasis on "sport" related behaviors. I plan to start back over with the new levels tomorrow to make sure we don't have any gaps in the beginning behaviors, hopefully alot of the very beginning work it should be fairly quick, but I'm sure we'll find gaps...we usually do.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Less Reps More Success

I have been trying to shape Reyna to pick something up and bring it to me for a long time but we could never get anywhere. She will "take" anything I hand to her, and no matter what it is she will automatically begin targeting anything I put on the floor. In my mind the criteria goes like this...
- Touch item with nose
- Mouth Item
- Pick item up
- Hold item for longer periods of time eventually bringing it to me

In her mind this is the criteria...
-Touch item with nose
-Mouth item
-Fling item across room with paw, run and pounce on it, pick it up, and tear triumphantly around the room until cued to "Out"

Once she started interacting with anything like this it became self rewarding and no amount of treat withholding would convince her to do anything else. After attempting to start fresh with multiple items over the last year and a half with no success we had a breakthrough last week.

I decided to revamp our training sessions, I would actually start writing down my criteria ahead of time and I would employ structured breaks between each behavior in a given session

Trial and error and Reyna's super low stress threshold help shape my training sessions. I started by writing down the criteria with the goal of getting 10 reps, take a break, then start a second behavior. To start us on the right foot I pulled out the mat and did a short session of Relaxation Protocol to get her in a calm receptive mindset. Then we got started with Behavior 1 on the list.

I soon discovered the reason behind Reyna's frustration. Even when consciously trying I had a hard time sticking with my set criteria and found myself thinking "was that rep 9 or 15? how many did she get right? what was my target criteria again?"

So I started counting out treats so I couldn't go over on repetitions. At the same time I was getting the hang of marking the right criteria, but she was still stressing, the behaviors would start spot on and fall apart around rep 8. We were back where we started, both frustrated. So I started cutting back on repetitions until I found the point where she was still successful and eager. Turns out 5 is her magic number.

Now we were getting somewhere. We were both getting more comfortable with the routine...I pulled out my spreadsheets for each behavior, put them in the order I wanted to work them and wrote out my predetermined criteria. We did some RP, then worked five reps of "eye contact" 100% perfect. Down on Mat for structured break, Then 5 reps of target perfect! back to the mat for break time. Then I put the fork on the ground (my latest item I'm trying to get her to pick up) 5 nose touches rapid fire, then I waited for one more just to see (bad trainer!!) she pawed at it *ugh* old habits die hard.My mantra is now...stop at 5, stop at 5, stop at 5.

After three or four days I was noticing marked improvement, I was getting better at being clear in my signals and she was responding wonderfully to the structure. I was working up to 6 different behaviors in one session, had cut our training time by 75% but increased progress by at least 100%!

Best of all Reyna wasn't getting "creative" with the fork, as long as I stuck to the 5 rep rule she was gradually making progress. So much so that today I wanted to try an experiment. Did it really matter if I changed the behavior for each short training blip? I had four behaviors lined up for the session and it went like this...

2 minutes or so Relaxation Protocol
5 Reps of Stand/Stay
Go To Mat
5 Reps of Target
Go To Mat
5 Reps of Loose Leash training
Go To Mat
5 Reps of Pick up Fork (We are all the way to "pick up fork, lift to head height" by the way)
*~This is where I broke the routine, I just had to try it~*
Go To Mat, very brief Relaxation Protocol
3 additional reps of Pick up the Fork PERFECT!!!! WAHOO!! JACKPOT!

Not only have we gotten farther with an object retrieval in a week than I have in the past 18 months, but we have developed a training structure that is comfortable for both of us, we're making solid progress on all her behaviors, and no more mid session whining!

Friday, December 16, 2011

High heels are relaxing

Have you ever noticed how our dogs go nuts when we get the leash out or put our tennis shoes on? Reyna is notorious, she can actually hear us putting socks on, I hide in the closet!

Something else I have noticed recently though is that when I am leaving to go to work Reyna never bothers me, never tries to run out the door, in fact when I'm leaving she is usually on her bed and if I need to take her out before I go I have to coax her over. I started paying attention to the signals I was sending that would tell her I was leaving for work and thus not taking her.

Turns out it's the high heels. She would be pacing around or waiting by the door while I got ready but as soon as she heard my heels clack on the wood floor she went into her crate or chilled out on her bed! It makes perfect sense now that I think about it....I NEVER take her with me when I'm wearing heels, and over the last few months it has become a cue to relax and go lie down.

I wonder if over time she will also learn the difference between my black sweat pants and my black dress pants...I wouldn't put it past her!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reframing, reworking, re...everything

A year is a long time. A year ago my daughter who is now crawling was a gummy bear on an ultrasound screen. A year ago my son who is building puzzles and telling me about his imaginary friends was wobbly on his feet and just stringing 2-3 words together...and a year ago I was at a loss for how to handle Reyna's extreme reactivity towards dogs and overall stress, anxiety, and over-excitability issues.

Reyna was a rock solid puppy, she trusted me to take her into any situation and faced all things new and scary with maturity. At 5 months old she walked calmly up to a fence full of dogs who were barking hysterically and sat quietly until they all calmed down and then elicited play and chase games up and down the fence line. She was already becoming a beautiful example of her German heritage with a temperament to match.

Then adolescence hit.

There were warning signs...I should have noted them...she was always an excitable dog especially when it came to greeting people. We called it "her brain going out her ears". What I didn't recognize at the time was that "brain going out her ears" was a symptom of stress levels and a tendency to go over-threshold. We worked extensively with her as a young puppy on self control, she could tug hard enough to pull me over and soft enough for our 1 yr old son to play, she knew not to go into the play room no matter how enticing the lure, we packed up her crate when she was four months old because we could trust her alone in the house. All of those things blinded me to the underlying threshold issues, like how she would scream like a maniac if she was on leash and my husband and son walked "too" far away. Or how when she would play with the neighbors dogs there was no sense in calling her because Reyna didn't exist in that moment, a crazy whirring ball of fur had temporarily replaced our obedient puppy. I thought she would out grow those things with consistent leadership and training, instead she grew into them.

As she reached adolescence her excitability started coupling with nerves and what seemed like overnight those over-excitability issues became reactivity and annoying behaviors at home became neurotic tendencies. We couldn't stand up without her whining and running around the house, we couldn't make eye contact without her whining and pacing, she leaked noise constantly, and to top it all off we couldn't see a dog without her charging, thunderous barking, hair all on end.

All of that was a year ago...over the last 12 months we have implemented a fairly aggressive plan to lower Reyna's reactivity as well as her baseline stress levels. It involved Control Unleashed exercises and games, Dr. Overall's Protocol for Relaxation, advice and support from talented friends, integration of several rituals into Reyna's routine to increase predictability, a concerted effort on my part to learn Reyna's threshold levels, indicators of excitement, documenting triggers....the list goes on.

Everything we have done has been about first learning how Reyna views experiences, not how she should, but how she does. Then taking that information, compiling all the tools we can and coming up with multifaceted approaches for reframing those experiences.

So where has all this work gotten us? what difference has a year made for Reyna and for our family?

To start with, Reyna's "steps of stress" are

1. Notice trigger
2. Lock on trigger
3. Head raise tail raise
4. Panting
5. Pacing
6. Hair raise
7. Low growl
9. Bark
10. Hysteria

I realized recently that am I consciously aware of each step, a year ago I couldn't even tell you what the chain was it went so fast from 1-10, in fact if I didn't provide some major intervention at or before 1 she would be at 10 before I could react. Now I can't remember that last time she went all the way to 10.

There is no amount of time in the world to describe in detail all the ways in which Reyna has improved and everything I have learned, but there are those light bulb moments where I'm blown away when I realize what I am seeing.

We were on a walk and a loose dog ran up to us, they greeted and we moved on.

We were hiking with Reyna off leash and another hiker with another dog came up behind us, we said hi, the dogs met and then we called Reyna back so we could all continue on.

We came home from being gone for seven hours and Reyna lazily flopped off the couch to greet us.

If you have never worked with a reactive or anxious dog then these probably seem like trivial occurrences, but those of you that have know how monumental these brief moments are. They are jaw dropping examples of how far we have come. 

There is nothing quick or easy about recreating emotional responses or revamping how Reyna interacts with her world, A year ago I had no idea how much I didn't know, or where to even begin. I could not have fathomed the intricacies involved and the commitment it would take. It wasn't just "she's reactive to dogs", from where she sat everything in her life was stimulating, noisy, stressful, exciting, coming too fast, in too many shades of red. It wasn't until we fully grasped this depth, that we could help her take a step back, regroup, and breathe.

Now together we as a family are repainting the world for Reyna in calmer, cooler colors, one brush stroke at a time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A little history

On paper she is Queen vom Nobelos, a German line German Shepherd by VA Amoroso von der Noriswand out of V Davia vom Nobelos. But to us she is simply Reyna, beautiful, loyal, protective, and slightly neurotic.

She is fast approaching two years old so this training journal is a little late in starting, but better late than never!

We have had her since she was 9 weeks old, and no matter how much I teach her it pales in comparison to what she teaches me.

Soon to follow is a long summary of where we've been and where we are now....

No matter how big she gets......

She will always be his puppy