Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holiday joys

Last year the holidays started off very stressful because of Reyna's over-excitability. Fortunately we stumbled across a management method that worked for her and for us so we could all enjoy life again.

We kept up with that protocol throughout the year and along with everything else we have done to help with her over excitability we have a different dog than we did 12 months ago. I am pleased to say that this year the holiday season has gone wonderfully. We went to the in-laws house and the first half day we followed our old protocol...either she was in the crate or she was on leash tethered to me. But the second day we let her out of the crate in the morning and never needed to put her back in. She relaxed on the floor while my mother in law played and read with the kids. I was even able to be in a totally different room and not worry about her. She sat quietly for petting and often would self calm by removing herself from a room if she got too excited.

When we got back home we had guests over and let Reyna out after a few minutes she was a little over excited and wanted to lick faces but calmed down quickly and then was so quiet I thought Norm had put her back in the crate...nope she had just gone to her bed to lie down and nap!!!

Now we have my brother, his wife, and their two young kids staying for four days...that means four adults and four kids under 4 running around. We have put Reyna in her crate a couple times like during lunch today so she wouldn't be underfoot, but we do that as a normal part of our day at home too. 99% of the time she has been out of the crate with the run of the house. She's not perfect, she tries to lick my sister in law in the face too much, or she runs up and down the hall with the pack of toddlers, but nothing that a quick..."Reyna, cool it" doesn't fix. Most of the time she has actually been self calming by leaving the room or just backing away a few feet and going into her "relax" from the levels work.

On the reactivity note, last year my brother wanted to take her running and I said no, while she was doing really well her reactivity was still too intense to let anybody else handle her, I couldn't afford a set back. This year he asked again and I said yes without hesitation and never worried the whole hour they were gone. My brother even said an off leash dog followed them for a little while and Reyna didn't appear to care.

I am so happy with where we are...we had a small get together at the house with four more 8 adults and four kids, laughing, eating, cooking, and playing. Reyna excused herself and napped on her bed during the mealtime with no cue from me. When too many people were sitting on the floor Reyna started to look a little like her old stressed self so we put her up in the crate for about 15 minutes. Then brought her back out and she did wonderfully. We worked on some CGC stuff for the test coming up and she did awesome. She also chilled on her bed while my dad chased the toddlers up and down the hall screaming and yelling. Again she is not perfect, we are currently working on not licking faces when people are sitting especially while people are sitting on the floor.  For this holiday season though I am going to bask in the joy of a dog who is truly part of the family, and is finally able to participate in our events instead of being managed through them.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

This Christmas season hasn't gone as planned...the flu x4 then bronchitis and sinus infections for everybody, followed by food poisoning for the whole family. Cookie recipes didn't do what they were supposed to, rain came through on "outdoor yard work day", the kids fought and yelled all through Miracle on 34th Street, and to top it off our lovely little Christmas tree came crashing down without warning on Saturday, taking with it a large chunk of our Christmas spirit.

But somehow it's okay...we just take another deep breath and keep going. The traditional breakfast casserole is in the fridge ready to cook tomorrow, I forgot to grease the pan, but I'm sure it will be okay...all my family is one by one making it safely into town, and the kids are settling in to bed with dreams of grandparents and wrapped presents under table? Oh well...


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Levels and stuff update...

First I think I should clarify something from the previous post...I said all my goals from last year had been met, that does not mean that Reyna is bomb proof. Not in the slightest. Last year I just wanted her to be a "normal" dog.

I wanted to be able to walk her down the street without a head collar, and without either of us anxiously scanning the environment for triggers. I wanted to take group classes where she could work for a full hour and actually enjoy it. I wanted her to be able to greet other dogs properly instead of charging and barking, and to be able to come when called in mid romp. I wanted to be able to have guests over and have Reyna be able to relax in her crate, or even out and about in the house (I seriously never thought we'd get that far but we did).

We still have goals to meet and progress to make, but now I can have a neighbor walk Reyna without me who has no dog experience, and not worry if she will explode at some SEC along the way, it's an amazing and freeing feeling.

Now back to other stuff...

Levels - we are chipping away at level 3. The retrieve was pretty difficult at first, like all duration behaviors, it takes her a little while to figure out that doing nothing is exactly what I want. Having to sit there just holding the pen...for 15...whole...seconds. It's a lifetime in Reyna's world. She kept wanting to snatch and play with it. Five broken pens later...we had a major break through when I sat down instead of standing up, and then rewarded her when she pushed it towards me instead of pulling away. Now she can do the 15 second hold with five different objects, and we can even do the part where I take a step back, but that still needs some work.

Her relax is doing okay, since we are dealing with duration it's just going to take a while to ladder it up...but at this point I trust the system :)

Her lazy leash is doing very well, we are starting to work around the feral cat feeding station...Reyna's nightmare distraction. She is doing very well around people and even dogs!

We have passed sit, down, come, crate, zen...very exciting!

CGC Class - I still don't know if we will pass by the end, but she is really improving, she is starting to check herself when we are approaching people in set ups...her focus is much better throughout the class, good eye contact, even doing well on the supervised separation.

Nose Work - we are signing up for an ORT in January and hopefully if we get into the ORT aannnddd if we pass we will enter the march trial. I am trying to get better about rewarding as soon as she alerts to source. I got stuck a couple of times because the source was reachable but she alerted  from a different direction, and i confused her by not rewarding right away. Now my criteria is that if I could tell a judge where it was based on her alert I reward immediately, and so far that has cleaned up that handler error. Poor Reyna.

Phew! That's a lot going on...but then it has been awhile since an update. CGC class tomorrow.....hurray!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

50th Post

Well this is officially my 50th post since starting this blog last year, and like last year I'd like to take a look back...

Two years ago I learned what "reactivity" meant. When I started this blog, a year into Reyna's rehabilitation, we had made great strides towards normalcy. She would still react to triggers but her reaction process had slowed to the point where I could intervene and avoid a full blown snark most of the time. I was extremely vigilant of her environment. In the past two years we have used the following methods...

Control Unleashed
Relaxation Protocol
Sue Ailsby's Training Levels
Behavior Adjustment Training
Counter Conditioning
Management Protocols
Nose Work Classes

All with the goal  of increasing her confidence and "elasticity" (ability to bounce back quickly),  decrease her stress and anxiety levels, and raise her thresholds to a point where she could function in the world.

I am going to be perfectly honest here...I think we have met all of our goals!

Now that being said we will never be "done". In fact I have just ordered Crate Games by Susan Garret to start adding that to our list as well. And somebody seeing us out and about for the first time may think we have a LONG way to go as Reyna jumps on our TD class instructor for the 5th time in a row...but what they don't see is that Reyna is taking food in a garage classroom with three other dogs present, and that she has not barked, puffed, up or even started stress panting the whole time we were there.

Last year when I wrote my recap of the previous year I pointed out some experiences that bench marked how far we had come. Here are just a few moments from the last two weeks alone...

At class last week a dog with reactive tendencies saw Reyna coming out of her crate as a Sudden Environmental Change and exploded....inches from Reyna's face...her tail raised about a third of the way up and she turned to me for her treat and ducked back into her crate...AMAZING! 

We were going for a walk, two dogs charged barking to the end of their invisible fence on the same side as Reyna about 5 feet away, Reyna shifted into heel position with no cues from me and just kept going.

At TD class last night she performed the "walk up and greet somebody with a dog" behavior....WHOA

When strangers, dogs, or cats enter our yard she gives one bark at the window and then comes to find me.

When my in-laws came to visit she was able to be off leash in the house with them. 

Sunday I took her to the dog park and she did a focused heel past a small terrier yapping, and she kept a loose leash while we walked around the outside of the dog park fence with dogs playing and wrestling inside (with a high rate of reinforcement).

The biggest theme from last year was that I was learning to read Reyna, be hyper-aware of potential triggers, recognize OT signals, intervene, manage situations, help Reyna recover when necessary, lower her baseline stress levels, and build up trust that I was there for her.

This year has been stamped with Reyna learning to relax on cue, learning that she can perform alternate behaviors to reacting, such as self imposing a time out to her crate in class when the other dog reacted, she is now telling me when she sees a trigger and I no longer have to be nearly as vigilant to everything that moves because if it bothers her she will tell me. She is developing default behaviors when she starts to go over threshold - currently her default is "focus really hard on mom" because she associates a very high ROR with that behavior so she finds comfort in watching me while scary/arousing things happen around her.

I would have to say that I would now classify Reyna as an excitable dog who can be insecure in situations where her job is unclear. When a dog barks at her, for example, she knows her job is to come see me so she is now quite confident when dogs swear at her from the ends of their leashes and behind invisible fences.

The biggest payoff is that she "leaks noise" less, the wrinkles on her forehead are softer, she eats her dinner, and she always wears a flat collar or a harness and never the head collar anymore.

With such an amazing year what do we have planned for 2013?

To start back where I should have when we first got her (and maybe she never would have been reactive in the first place...who knows), addressing her excitement levels through self control exercises like the crate games, hopefully passing L3 and 4 of the training levels, building strength, flexibility and confidence through trick training, and hopefully start competing!

I don't how I would have felt two years ago if you had told me where we would be right now...would I be disappointed? elated? I'm glad I didn't know, that as we have been trekking down this path we have taken it one step at a time with no deadlines looming. We have celebrated every little victory and tried to learn from each set back, and then we turn to look back and say "wow, look how far we've come!"

My heart goes out to those just starting, or who haven't even started because they don't know where to begin. I see it on their faces when we're out walking and their dog lunges and barks as we walk calmly by...stress, embarrassment, frustration, anger...I hear it in their voices as they almost plead "he really is friendly" or "I'm sorry, she won't bite". I want to hug them and say "I've been there, it's okay, it's called reactivity, have you heard of Leslie McDevitt..."

Thursday, November 8, 2012


HOLY SMOKES! We signed Reyna up for Therapy Dog classes with Melanie. Monday was our Orientation, which is normally without dogs, but Melanie also does boarding, so I brought Reyna to meet all the Loveline Goldens so we could be sure it would be a good fit if we ever needed to board there.

So let me give you a little background to the day...

I was at a conference last week, so poor Reyna didn't get out much, then over the weekend she stayed with our friend Elizabeth and her GSD Sam while we took the kids to watch the blue angels in Pensacola. We got back Sunday evening and then I had to work all day Monday of course. I came home and utter chaos ensued as we tried to get the kids ready to go to the sitter so I could take reyna to the class. I loaded all her stuff and her into the car, we dropped the kids off and booked it o Melanie's house.

Since we had the orientation to class first reyna had to sit in the car for an hour and a half. After the orientation was over Melanie brought one of her goldens out and as i went to bring Reyna out of the car I remembered I hadn't let her out to the bathroom in all the craziness of departure...crap...well this was going to was dark, she'd been cooped p this whole time with no exercise today, we were in a strange place with a strange dog, and she is ALWAYS more reactive when she has to

I let her out of the car, on leash and immediately asked her to potty before she noticed the dog. Fortunately we have been working a lot on going on cue in new locations, so she went right variable down.

I was armed with chicken and as Melanie and I walked our dogs increasingly closer together and further away I marked and rewarded any looks at the dog and reorientation. Or walking toward the dog but turning back to me before she reached the end of the leash. Before I knew it they were doing drive by sniffing and then a couple more prolonged interactions. All without a single bark. Of course if I noticed Reyna starting to key in too much we would move away and start the approach over.

Melanie said that this was her most calm dog and we had like five others each getting progressively more difficult, concluding in a reactive dog of Melanie's.

The next dog to come out was another laid back female and we had no problems at all...same protocol, mark and reward any notice/reorient or any voluntarily moving away from the dog to focus on me. This time we walked with the dogs side by side for just seconds at a time. No problems.

After that we met Hobby, a big beautiful male who was very interested in Reyna. She got pretty playful, but calling her name or walking the other way would get her attention back. The goal throughout all of this was for the dogs to meet and sniff some, but then catalog the dog as part of the background and not something to get stressed or excited about.

The next challenge was a puppy named Hannah who was an absolute doll, and oh so playful! Same rules and rewards and both dogs did awesome...Reyna cried a bit when she left, she loves puppies, but quickly redirected.

The final dog we met was Melanie's reactive toy drive dog Biba, hmmm sounds familiar...

I was prepared for a challenge, but the dogs barely paid attention to each other. They passed head on in heel position inches from eachother. Performed simple obedience behaviors, and Reyna even held a voluntary sit/stay while Biba blasted after a ball Melanie threw. Let me repeat that...Reyna...Reyna sat down in heel next to me in the presence of another dog with no cue from me, and remained seated when Melanie threw a tennis ball across the yard and Biba shot after it. In fact, not only did she hold her sit, when Biba took off Reyna flipped her head toward Biba and then right back to me...she just played Look At That with a dog chasing a ball! HOLY SMOKES!!!! What the heck did I just witness!?!?

I could not believe it as I headed home that night. Reyna met five dogs she has never seen before in a place she has never been before, on leash, with food as a reward, and never once even puffed her hair up. I can NOT believe how far we have come. December will mark two years since we started on this journey with a highly reactive crazy dog and a book called Control Unleashed. Unbelievable.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Speaking of rewards...

I changed Reyna's Nose Work reward.

I know, I know... I had awesome drive and enthusiasm, her focused response was coming along nicely, she was working very well with why change?

The main reason is safety and predictability.

With her ball I would do my best to control the flight path, but once it impacted with the source all bets were off it could go anywhere. If Reyna caught it right away no big deal, but if she missed or tipped it she could send it flying in any direction. This was especially a problem doing indoor hides and hides near parking lots or roads.

Inside the ball could (and would) go crashing into stuff with Reyna skidding across the wood floor in hot pursuit....not very safe for our possessions, herself, or anybody who happened to be in the house at the time. But even more dangerous was outdoors. As we have started going to busier locations that have more foot and vehicular traffic I have had to be very careful, often just handing her the ball. This is okay from time to time, but I don't want her to learn that the busier the location the more boring the reward. I also don't want a wreck because her ball went flying into traffic. You may say just stay farther away from roads, but you should never underestimate how far a chuck-it ball can travel when it's being pursued by a crazed German Shepherd.


Enter the tug

Why the tug? Why not a ball on a string if she is so obsessed with her ball?

Because she loves her tugs, not as much as the ball, but nothing compares to "orange ball" except  for "other orange ball". She tugs well, works for them, and has a long history of being rewarded in training with her tugs. She has also played lots of "find it" games with them before we knew about Nose Work. And the best part doesn't bounce.

So how do you switch rewards like that? Slowly.

The first hide I just wanted to see what she would do if I switched cold...she locked on odor, I threw the tug right into her face....she didn't even flinch, she actually stared harder as if to say "you can't distract me with that tug, if I wait long enough the ball WILL appear".

So then we went back to the start...

Out came the boxes and we started off with two or three hides with the box open so she could self reward. Two or three with the box closed to build up some drive for it, and then quickly moved to odor in the boxes and throwing the toy. Her willingness to accept the tug as a reward quickly shot up as she realized it was the same game.

Then we moved to area searches outside. After I threw the tug she would still hang on odor for just a second before snatching at the tug, so we did several quick, fast and easy hides. I would throw the odor tin across the yard and then let her go. Or I'd very elaborately place it down while she was watching and then walk back and release her.

It only took 3-4 sessions over the course of one day to have her fully engaged with the new reward.

For the next several days we would still start with her first hide being paired, in a box, or a cabinet, or a drawer so she could snatch the tug out of the container and then we'd move on to me rewarding for the rest of the hides.

Now she can go out cold and shoots after the tug. I'll try and get a video of good thing I didn't anticipate is that she is MORE focused on the odor now because the tug is less distracting....I can wave the tug in front of her face or flop it around her head right before a search but she just stays staring forward waiting for the "Go Find" cue.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


How do rewards change the way your dog processes new information?

Reyna used to be "unshapable". Shaping stressed her out to no end. Even just two or three clicks into it she would whine, pace, and shut can read posts from much earlier for more on that, but suffice to say we had to throw out shaping in it's purest form.

Then we started the levels and I started to look first at the training pattern I was using, the criteria I was setting and the number of reps I could do without her shutting down. It was pretty 2. That meant slow progress on shaped behavior but at least we were back to some shaping and Reyna's endurance started going up.

Flash forward to now...

I haven't shaped anything in a while since we've been working more on her reactivity, strengthening known behaviors, and Nosework which is not a shaping exercise of course. We are now on NL3 Retrieve Step 2 - You and the dog together hold an object for 5 seconds. Now Reyna is very good at holding things and not crushing them...she can deliver everything from towels and socks to business cards and twisty ties unharmed. She started this after I taught her the trick of putting something into something else

But it is not on any level of stimulus control. She randomly brings me stuff all day long, or doesn't bring me things I do ask for....and she doesn't hold onto it...the second I reach for it she spits it at me, sometimes I can catch it most times it falls to the floor...very helpful :P

So we are starting from scratch and shaping. But because of all the relationship building we have been doing over the past several months "off" from the levels it never occurred to me to switch back to the old way of sitting silently with a monotone "yes" and delivering a tiny treat whenever she made an attempt to grab the pen. This time I looked at her, smiled, talked to her, rejoiced when she got it right, was very generous with the treats even to the point of throwing a handful on the floor for her to spend a minute or so cleaning up. We took breaks in mid session, but not for a structured "go to mat" so she could calm down...they were little mini breaks like the treat tossing or just prolonged chest scratches.

The result was that little miss 2 reps shaped for 7 minutes with absolutely no stress, genuinely enjoyed the experience, kept re-initiating the game on her own, and made real progress. I was able to actually up criteria in mid session!

Now we have also worked a lot on relaxing etc. so her baseline nerviness is way lower now. If I went back to stoic tiny treat shaping would she go back to whining and pacing? It doesn't really matter because I'm not going to. I have learned that for Reyna interaction with me during a training session turns it more into play and less into a lesson and relieves virtually all stress she was experiencing in shaping. All by changing what I consider a reward and I how I view the session.

In other news....we passed NL3 Sit, Down, Focus, and we are two steps away from passing Zen and just starting Retrieve and Lazy Leash. Her distraction for the down stay was a hamburger piece just out of reach while I left the room for 30 seconds. She stared at it for a few seconds, sighed, and dropped into a Relax (I watched from a  window reflection)...very cool!

Nosework is still going well

We start therapy dog classes in a couple weeks I am super excited about that!!!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Nosework Video

I finally got a video of some Nose Work practice...

The first hide cracked me up, I placed one in the truck, and one in the yard planning to do the yard first, but I guess the wind had other ideas, because Reyna got a whiff of that hide and wouldn't leave until I opened the gate so she could search the truck HaHa!

The second hide I planned to be extra hard. I have never hidden one in that area and almost all her hides are on the near side of the yard...imagine my surprise when she make a beeline for it and leaves me in the dust. You can really see how much fun she's having 'cause her tail is curled almost all the way over her back!!

The third hide was one of my favorites because we have been using the drawers to improve her drive to remain at the source even when I'm not there, and we've been working on her focused response, she really displays both her as she confidently alerts and waits for me to come around. She breaks for a second to look at me, but goes right back to it without a cue. I could have thrown the ball from behind to encourage her independence, but I wanted to make sure she was right on the source.

The fourth was a joke, I swear she cheated somehow.

The fifth was fun because we had just done two in the yard and I sort of expected her to bolt for the yard, but she found it in no time on the van!

We are having a blast!!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nosework & Levels

Lots to update...

First off we are actually working on the levels again. She has passed Focus, Sit, most of Zen, and Down. We haven't tested the specific Come steps, but we use it all the time in daily life. She will come in mid play with another dog and walk away with me off leash. She will come off of squirrels, and deer, and away from people petting her. Her nightmare distraction is feral cats, and while I have called her off cats in the past I'm not 100% confident she will come if I set up a situation.

The other times a cat has shot out in front of us and I have called her back fast enough that it was muscle memory that brought her back more than anything else. I would like to have confidence that I could call her AFTER she had committed herself to chasing the cat. Luckily we have a feeding station not too far from out house so I should be able to get to work on that.

The weird thing about Down is that it never seems to stick with her. If we stop paying attention for even a couple weeks she reverts back to thinking that "Down.....Reyna Lie Down" means down. Sit seems to be ingrained in her brain and never really leaves, even sit from down is very easy. Just for fun I stood on the couch on one leg with my hands in the air and said "Sit" while she was lying down, she immediately popped up into a sit.

Another behavior she is great at is putting her front feet up on things...light posts, trashcans, trees, fire hydrants, concrete pillars, you name it and she is willing to "paws up" on it :) I might teach her to push the crosswalk buttons for me :)

Which reminds me, I'm going to start working on service dog skills as we get through the levels. I would like for her to tug/pull on cue to help me up, and to retrieve something if I hit it with a laser pointer. I'm not sure if that's possible, but as we progress through the levels I would like to try. And of course all that falls in line with hopefully passing the Therapy Dog test eventually.

Then there's nosework...

She is doing AWESOME in my book. I love love LOVE this sport. It requires so little gear and so little monetary investment to start and the possibilities are endless. Today I took her out walking on the square to work on some Levels ComeAfters but as we were walking I would subtly place hides while she was distracted smelling a bush or something and then we would just continue on. About 15-20 minutes later when we returned to that area I would tug her harness and cue her to search. Even with people walking through the search area, and the smell of burgers from the local restaurants she didn't miss a hide. She finds them high, low, on the ground, in sidewalk cracks, under benches, in tree's so much fun to watch.

 Her focused alert is really getting better. It's nowhere near a final product, but she will stick her nose on the source and if I pull her harness she leans into it instead of coming away from the odor which is awesome. I'm still not asking for much duration, maybe 1-3 seconds at the most. Working on the drawers is really helping strengthen her indication. Also another benefit is that I was able to proof her alerts on odor.

I paired a hide in a drawer, she found it.

I put her ball in the first drawer and paired the odor with another ball (identical) in the fourth drawer. She found the first drawer with the ball and alerted on the drawer, then pawed it, I just waited as if I hadn't noticed, after a minute she moved on and as soon as she nose touched the fourth drawer I opened it so she could grab the ball and threw a party.

One more time like that (moving the hides of course) and then I put her ball in one drawer and unpaired odor in another, she didn't even glance at the ball drawer and flew right to the odor.

Next I started putting the ball out in the search area (I always carry an identical one to reward with). First I put it in a shoe so she couldn't grab it and then later just set it out in the room, one time she picked up the ball, then dropped it and went back to searching and the next several times she blasted right past the ball.

I hadn't asked our trainer about doing that at all, but I figured the earlier I could teach her that no matter what was in the area only the odor got the reward, the better. It was really pretty easy, but we do a lot of work and play with toys and food that are physically accessible to her but she understands they are off limits until I release her to get it. So generalizing it to Nosework was a simple zen exercise, to get the ball you have to leave it and go find the odor....thanks Sue Eh?

Super fun! 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Toddlers and dogs

Talk to any rescue and they will tell you puppies and babies don't mix. I can't blame them, I can only imagine the issues they see on a regular basis. That being said I wouldn't trade the world for our three crazy kids. David is 3, Reyna is 2, and Penelope is 1. We are gluttons for stress I suppose :) It honestly is like having three children 3 years old and under, that is the amount of time and heart that goes in to keeping everybody safe, meeting all their needs, and trying to teach each individual (two legged and four) to respect the rights and space of the others. Not to mention the colossal amount of poo we have dealt with in the last three years.

But then there are the proud moments...

About a year ago I posted a video of David and Reyna playing the Treat Game...100% David's invention...

Now a year later I am pleased to present the sequel...starring our own little P...

I am so proud that they are learning from each other :)

Don't get me wrong it is not all sunshine and roses. Like when Penelope decides the best seat in the house is Reyna's head, or Reyna thinks the best way to relieve stress from David being at Preschool is to eat his favorite book and I have to make a next day delivery order from Amazon. Or how Reyna used to mug David for his crackers, or Penelope decided try out Reyna's favorite chew toy for herself. And it absolutely drives me crazy that Reyna thinks the best time to do a full body, collar rattling, ear flapping, shake is right after I lay the baby down for a nap.

Potty training was a whole other story in itself. First trying to keep David out of Reyna's messes and later that year Reyna out of Davids, and why is it that the Poo Pen section of the yard seems to have magnetic appeal for toddlers? Then they smile, or cuddle or make up The Treat Game and I can't help but beam.

Knowing what I know now would I do it again? a heart beat...three actually.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Busy life...

I cannot believe it has been a month since I have posted anything!

We are progressing in nosework, she is doing really quite well, showing obedience to odor. If we have multiple hides I have to space them in such a way that I have a reward area where we can play ball without her catching the next hide or she'll disengage from me and take off after it before I'm ready!

I was avoiding pairing hides very often, but on Melanie's advice I have started pairing hides more again and it definitely helps her drive for source. I am trying to work in drawers from time to time ala Andrew Ramsey in conjunction with our other training to help build up her obedience to odor and hopefully start the foundations of a focused response. Simply by launching the toy so it seems to bounce straight out of the odor she is developing a clear indication where her ears shoot forward and she dances her front feet. It has been hard to build up duration on the focus though because if it's unpaired she almost immediately looks back at me and sits andif it's paired she tears into whatever contains the toy...that's where the drawers come in. I can control access to the toy and I'm hoping that helps bridge the gap between self rewarding by snatching the toy out of a box or whatever and waiting for me to deliver it.

We have been taking our show on the road a lot. That is one thing I really love about nose work, the lack of gear I have to haul around. If I'm running errands I can do a quick hide or two in a parking lot or on the vehicle or by the building. It is really helping her reactivity...just today in the vet office there were several dogs in the waiting room and reyna was a bit nervy about the whole thing, it didn't help that I was just picking her up after being gone for a week. So as I started to run low on treats instead of just feeding them to her I would stick them around our little corner of the waiting area and when a dog cam in I would say Yes Go Get It (different than her "go find" cue in case you were worried) and she would hunt the treats. It worked a lot better than just feeding them to her. Whole visit and not one reaction or even a raised hackles!

We have also gotten back to the levels work and I am pleased to say that even with the long break she tested right through level 2 so we are working on level 3 right now. First thing is door zen and we're on step 3 - Dog waits one minute while you carry items in and out through an open door. My goal is for this to be without a cue of any kind. I thought this would be easy but like most duration behaviors for Reyna it is proving to be more difficult than I would have hoped. Oh well we are taking our time.

I have also started to work on Reyna's comfort level in small spaces...I have been feeding her dinner while she sits under my legs. At first I had to be sitting on the couch with my legs propped on a chair and she would just dart her head in for the treat and back out. Now she will lay on the floor and eat dinner while I sit on the floor with my legs resting on her and me petting her. Physical contact is very exciting for Reyna so this is a major accomplishment towards teaching her that touch can be relaxing.

With the progress she is making I am starting to revisit thoughts of therapy work with her in the future. That had been a goal of mine, but it went out the window when she started reacting to everything. Melanie, our nosework teacher, also teaches therapy dog classes, so in addition to a NW1 title, I would like to get her Therapy Dog certification as well. She may not have the temperament for the actual work, only time will tell, but just having the skill set to pass the test will be huge. At that point if she loves it great, we have something else to share, if she can't handle it that's fine to she will be a better adjusted dog for the work we put in to the training.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nosework 8/5 and back to levels

I don't have video to show for it, but Reyna searched on leash in harness for food indoors at a brand new location! Her tail was up and moving, she was working the area quickly at a trot often leaning into the line. Her body language was what I used to only get if she had no gear on and was outside looking for her ball. I'm very happy with how her drive is improving!

Since it was our first time at that location I made sure to drop the criteria significantly at first (a lesson I have finally taken to heart thanks to Sue Ailsby's Training Levels). Her first hide I set right in plain view about six feet away and gradually working up to using the entire space and placing hides high, low, in other objects etc. She found every hide and stuck on it even when I moved around her! I'm absolutely thrilled with how she did and can't wait for our next Nosework class on Saturday!

Speaking of levels, it's time to get back to work on those. Since it's been so long we'll start over with level one and two to remind her if she's forgotten any of it and then on to level three!!!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Nosework Update

Here is an update using our formula from before to increase Reyna's comfort level searching in harness in and around boxes....This is her first time with boxes all the way closed...I didn't get it on camera, but one search I put the box with food in it on the ground and piled all the others on top of and around it. She pushed and pawed all the other boxes away until she had the correct one isolated and then stuck her paw on it and looked at me! I was super proud of her since three weeks ago she wouldn't pick her ball up out of a box let alone push one off a pile :)

As you can see she is still nervous about things that move. When the bike shifts she avoids that search area for a little while.

We don't have class for a couple more weeks so hopefully we aren't doing anything terribly wrong.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Beginning NoseWork

We are signed up for a K9 Nose Work foundation class that meets every other Saturday. We had our first class last week and I'm glad they are two weeks apart because it gives me time to work out kinks. Here is what I have learned so far...

Reyna loves...
Searching outside
Searching off leash
Searching for her ball

She likes...
Searching for food
Searching inside

She is less comfortable...
In harness

She is not fond of...
Cardboard boxes
On Leash

So that means that if I want to increase her drive I should have her search off leash outside with no harness looking for her ball.

If I want to decrease drive I should have her search in harness, on leash, inside, with food hides inside boxes.

The difficult part about that is the class is inside, with boxes, on leash preferably with a harness, and food is easier to reward with. Sounds like a recipe to destroy her enthusiasm doesn't it? Now I could just ask her to do those searches and hope she "gets over it" and learns to love it, or I could break all the components down into easier chunks and help build her confidence.

Needless to say I'm going with number two!

Now how do you go about breaking everything down so it makes sense...well I know the three things she is least comfortable with are boxes, her harness, and being on leash so we will not be doing any sessions that combine those. The harness is the easiest so we'll start with that...

Harness Goals:
Comfortable moving in it
Comfortable leaning into it
Happy searching in it

For the first two we have spent time playing fetch, wandering in the woods, and jogging in the harness with praise and treats if she put weight into it and pulled at all.
Once she was comfortable moving in it we started searching...but I paired it with everything she loves...searching offleash for her ball outside. Her search enthusiasm in harness with her ball has increased and we're ready to start searching for food outside, offleash, in harness, I am starting over as if she has never searched for anything before...once she is in love with that we will move inside and go back to the ball and start over.

Next is the boxes...

Box Goals:
Gets excited when she seems them
Is comfortable moving around them even when they are unstable
Is comfortable searching inside them and pushing them around to reach the source

For this one just taking the things she loves was not going to be enough. Her dislike of the scary boxes was enough to overcome her drive to search for her ball outside off I took it one step further...we didn't search (I stole this idea from Lisa Mallory) I have spent the last two days playing fetch (her favorite game) around the boxes. I started by just having them in the yard while we played, and quickly was able to work up to throwing the ball into the boxes or knocking the boxes over with the ball. The key here was that the focus is on the ball not the boxes at all. Reframing this experience for her Reyna has already reached all three goals off leash outside after just two days. We will continue emphasizing the awesomeness of boxes, but I'm going to start back at square one and throw food in and around the boxes and then I'll bring them inside and go back to the ball again.

When she is very enthusiastically search in boxes inside for food, AND doing area searches inside for food in harness I will put the two together and go back to the beginning where we are playing with the ball in and around the boxes outside with a harness on and work our way back up. 

For searching on leash that is going to take a little bit more time. Right now I have just started jogging with her on leash with the harness and she is happy with that, but I want to get the boxes and harness taken care of before we start adding the leash into the Nose Work.

This may seem like a little overkill, but she is very prone to shutting down, and her joy when she is in the game and loving it is worth all this component training.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Work has been taking it's toll on our training time but here are some updates and exciting things...

We have not done ANY levels work, the summer is an extremely busy time for us and it's all I can do to keep up with Reyna's exercise needs.

In good news though, while her levels behaviors are suffering, her reactivity continues to improve. We pass dogs on walks with just a flat collar and no treats without issues. Two weeks ago we rounded a corner and came nose to nose with a big collie. Her hair didn't even go up.

We went up and visited some good friends of ours last week and their wonderful dogs. Reyna really did marvelously. More and more Reyna's reactivity is becoming a thing of the past. We are still not all the way there yet, but I think I would call it very mild at this point. We continue to use classical conditioning whenever possible to keep those experiences positive.

She complained about being crated away, she would always settle down but that is definitely something to work on. When she realizes whining does no good she settles in just fine and doesn't destroy her soft crate, but I still need to work on her tolerance for being left out of the fun.

I was VERY proud of her on the fourth of july when fireworks were booming and flashing around my brothers house where we were visiting and instead of stressing and whining she just fell asleep...good girl!!!

In other exciting news I have picked up a new dog sport...Nose Work!

As fickle as I'm sure I sound I just could not keep up with he time and equipment commitment for agility right now. I needed something I could really do anywhere, anytime, and NoseWork seems to fit that bill.

Lisa, who we visited in NC has her dogs on odor already and it's very cool to watch them work. Reyna is still on food only, and we just enrolled in an intro class just down the street from us. I'll try and get a idea of her working soon but no promises.

So I really need to get back to work on the levels and I may do some Rally work as well when we are not searching the yard for a hide:)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Update and a video...

I have been so busy with work and family I haven't had much time to work with Reyna...we still have not even begun NL3. In what little time I do have I have been trying to get Reyna out for walks and keep her energy levels down. We have been doing well on that front lately, getting in a 2-3 mile walk most evenings.

She is doing fine with walking and even occasionally passing other dog/handlers along the way without issues. We have three doggy friends in the neighborhood now, Sam a nine month old GSD, Lily a 4 year old Bichon/Maltese and Charlie a two year old Pointer. So three very different sizes, shapes, and ages and Reyna does very well with all of them. She can even walk with Lily or Sam, which has been very freeing. Even 6 months ago her leash frustration was so bad that if she was going to be close to another dog she HAD to be off leash or she would flip her lid. Now she can walk side by side with Lily or Sam and even have one person walk both her and another dog without a problem.

I have also noticed that Reyna has started defaulting to avoidance instead of reacting when she is uncomfortable. If I am walking her with the stroller (which I almost always am) and another dog runs out, barks, leaves their yard to follow us, Reyna will actually switch to the other side of stroller all on her own. I have been cueing this behavior for a long time (dog runs out barking - I make a gap between myself and the stroller and cue "other side" and she will duck between the gap to the other side putting the stroller between herself and the trigger) but now she has started to offer it at times when she would have reacted before!!!

Proof that even during training breaks learning still happens :)

For her agility training I have just been piddling around with it on the weekends, but she is still doing well. The 2x2 weave poles I made have been great, but as Reyna gets more confident I need to stake them down because they shift easily when she bumps them and they require constant resetting (as you'll see in the video).

We are up to 6 straight poles, just solidifying entries from all points on the arch and starting to introduce new locations...the left side of the back yard instead of the right, going towards the house instead of away, and even the front yard!! GASP!!! 

If I have time next week I may even take the poles to the park and start over out there to see how she does. The poles have really worked well for me, especially for $19 for the whole set. I think my next purchase will be twelve stakes with a spacing ribbon, since it will take up a lot less space than an actual twelve pole set, or even a 6 pole set on a base.

Reyna is also jumping full height now, she has only been there for a couple days, so you will see her clip the jump a couple times, but no bars down and no tail thwapping the stanchions!

I'm not really sure where to go from here with the jumping...I guess it's time to actually purchase the Developing Jumping Skills book...I think we've gone as far as we can on our own without risk of messing her up.

So here it is in all it's unedited glory...

That's all for of these I will get back to work on our levels...don't want any backsliding that's for sure!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

NL2 Pass!!!

Well we did it! Reyna has officially passed level 2 of Sue Ailsby's Steps to Success! I can hardly believe it, and the change that Reyna has gone through is remarkable! She default relaxes when I come home from work...she now sees my truck pulling in as a cue to relax and won't get up until I release her!

The other incredible thing is that I don't get angry or frustrated with her during training sessions...if she is having trouble I don't drill it anymore, I was soooo bad about that. Now I just make it way easier and remind-reteach-rethink I am gradually learning to treat everything like a game of chutes and ladders.

Lessons learned...
- Never say never...Reyna wil NEVER learn to relax on cue
- Never say can't...she just CAN'T sit on the wood floor without sliding her feet
- Train the dog who shows up...just because I trained her to do xxx doesn't always mean the dog she is in this exact moment can perform xxx
- Do not hold on to the past except to enjoy it and learn from it
- Chute back to the start after the second missed attempt it saves so much time in the end.
- Pre-brief...Be brief...De-brief
- Play!!!!

I love these levels!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Reyna makes friends!!!

Ever since our agility class I have been working a LOT on being more present with Reyna, the more I watched myself the more situations I found where I would just go cold in the face of Reyna's triggers, quietly marking and feeding her treats, but not actually truly interacting with her, touching her, talking to her. I have started responding to things like "reorienting away from a dog" the same way I would if she had just successfully hit all four weave poles and WOW amazing!

Just in the few weeks that I have worked on changing my behavior I have noticed a HUGE shift in Reyna's. Her thresholds are higher, she is more more confident, resilient, focused. It wasn't just over night but I think this is how somebody with a GAD dog must feel when you get all the meds correct and things start clicking.

We went back to the dog park last weekend and played "watch those dogs wrestle" issues. When one of the dogs left there was a 6 month old GSD still in the dog park. We walked up to the fence and away from the fence and up to the fence and away from the fence. The puppy didn't pay any attention to us and Reyna watched him, but wasn't concerned, aroused or anything.

So then we went into the adjoining section of the dog park and I let Reyna off leash. Neither dog really paid attention to the other. So a massively risky endeavor I took her into the side with the other dog (with the owner's permission of course). I played the 1,2,3 Treat, and 2 Step games from Leslie's Pattern Games DVD. When I was comfortable that Reyna was focused I held back and let her wander on her own, the puppy wandered in the same general space until they happened to meander into mutual space and greet briefly but going off in separate directions. They did this a couple more times and then initiated play and romped around. They played for a little while without incident and then we left. She didn't bark or whine and enthusiastically tugged with me all the way to the car!

Then yesterday we met up with a neighbor and her 8 month old puppy who is one of Reyna's good friends. We took them both to a large field to play, they walked nicely next to each other neither dog harassing the other. While we were out at the field another family showed up with a little maltese cross. Reyna noticed it, her friend took off to say hi, but Reyna stayed engaged with me until I released her to go play, which she did without charging, barking, growling or anything. She actually barely paid much attention to the little dog and just romped around happily with her buddy.

I am so proud of how far she has come. I know we are not done yet, but I feel like we have crested the mountain!!!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Level 2 update

With the incredible feat of passing L2 Relax we moved on to Communication our last task in Level 2!

I got Reyna's dinner out, lured her between myself and a wall and stepped towards her, she swung out of my way to the left before I finished my first step...hmmm...I tried it again without a block...same thing, perfect.

Okay this is weird, I've never worked on this before...I'll stump her this time...I have her sit in front of me facing my left side...take a step forward, she swings all the way around into heel position...WOW

So we just tested our way cold through most of L2 Communication!

I still need to get her to back up stairs and untangle a leash from around her own leg then we are done...not just done with Communication but done with Level 2 HOLY SMOKES I can barely believe it

And speaking of things I can barely believe I took her to our local dog park to work on remaining calm while other dogs play within earshot. It was pretty quiet, no other dogs, until a guy pulls up and lets his dog out of the car without a leash. The dog comes straight for us, I pulled Reyna behind me, he stopped and the owner regained control.

Reyna was understandably amped, but she never barked at the dog even when he was less that three feet from us. I walked us away to put some distance between her and the other dog. I took a deep breath (her prep cue for relax), she looked at me, I took another one, she sat,another one, she laid down, then I said " can you cool it?" and she DID. I didn't wait for duration I immediately released and rewarded! Total time from dog rushing to her relaxing...two minutes...that is unreal!

Then we walked towards the dog park area and did some look at that with the dog in the park getting all the way up to the fence line. She even watched him chase a tennis ball! She locked in the first time so I walked her away before she could escalate, but after a few reps she was able to watch the dog chase the ball and look back at me. At one point we were about 30 ft from the dog park, she could see the dog playing, I said her name, she looked at me..."cool it please" and she relaxed into the flopped down, no prep breaths or anything! I definitely want to go back out and start working relax at the dog park more for duration, but WOW she was upper focused, willing to play tug, did her LL, didn't react to anything and even did some off leash work. She is really coming along nicely!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We passed Relax!


It took a LOT of work and time, and patience, and patience, and time, and work...but here it is, the behavior I never thought I would get out of Reyna....Relaxing. I chopped large chunks out, because even I couldn't handle watching it at full length...deliciously boring during the settle portions!

I started to film this just using food to get her excited, but then I decided that would be wimpy, so here it is with a tug no less! WAHOO!!!!!!! Just about done with Level 2!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2x2 Weave Poles ~ $19

I have faced a major hurdle in Reyna's weave training...I don't have any weave poles. Until NOW!

After looking around and price comparing I couldn't find anything that I could afford. I was actually looking up plans to try and make single stake-in-the-ground weave poles which took me to this website where I stumbled across these

Those looked super simple to make, but they required that dadgum 4 way elbow that I would have to order. Then it struck me...I jotted down some notes, drew it out, ran to Home Depot and voila...2 hours (including shopping time) and about $19 later I had this...

Luring is just for the photo op I promise

A set of 6 (one off camera) 2x2 weave poles!!!

The braces are 18" which may prove to be over kill, but I worried about Reyna knocking them over and it's way easier to trim shorter than it is to glue back together :)

It took four 10' SCH40 3/4" PVC pipes chopped up like this...

1 = 3 36" weave poles (12" leftover)
1 = 3 36" weave poles (12"left over)
1 = 6 18" braces (12" left over)
1= 3 20" center spacer bars (60" left over)

Then you just get 12 end caps, 6 3/4" 3 way elbows (I couldn't find what I wanted so I had to go with a 3 way elbow that had two 3/4" slip openings and one 1/2" threaded opening and then get an adapter to screw into the threaded section)

Put it all together...the adapter part facing up to slip the weave poles into and TA DA! a 6 pole set of 2x2 weave poles for under $20!!!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Miles to go before we sleep

We went out to John Tanner park today for a family picnic and a little fishing. We never got to the fishing part but the intent was good. The picnic went well, Reyna was a bit nervy and scanning when we got there. We settled down and ate lunch and she did okay, not great, she wouldn't settle, she didn't bark or lunge but she just sat a looked OT a lot. Part of that was because she needed to potty, forgot to take her before we left, oops, but I am again reminded of how much I enjoy having a dog who eliminates on cue. Walk up to a tree...hurry up Reyna...she does her thing, we go back to the playground no big deal, and now I KNOW she won't poop in the sandbox instead of just having to hope :)

We walked to the playground with David and really she was okay, but again not great. She barked once at a guy walking with a goat, didn't see that one coming! She did not bark or even react at all really except to look over when a little dog swore at her from the nearby picnic table. I understand but it's still a little frustrating that the same behavior out of Reyna and we probably would have been asked to leave the park.

Then two little girls came running up behind us and Reyna jumped over to say HELLO!!! I stopped her before the knocked either one over. They were very eager to pet her. I said no but that they could each give her a treat. I walked them through how to hold the treat in their fist. The first little girl did okay, she didn't drop the treat on the ground when Reyna backed up, but she at least didn't wig out when Reyna slobbered on her hand taking the treat. I think he next girl learned by example because she did it perfectly, treat in fist...wait...Reyna lies down...she drops treat on the ground. Overall they were tickled to death that they got to help train and for Reyna it helps create a default down when present with kids, treats, or kids with treats. Several other kids during our stay asked to pet Reyna, I just said no but thank you for asking to everybody else. I find that Reyna is sort of like a pied piper, if I let one hundreds more will follow us around. She is big and fluffy and smiles like a clown, I see the appeal.

Later we were walking by a car and didn't notice the little papillon inside until we were about 3" from the dog. They touched noses through the window but neither dog reacted.

Really she did pretty well as far as not reacting to anything (except that goat), and she was way more chill at the end than when we first got there, but never truly relaxed the whole time we were there, and was pretty borderline most of the time. She is light years ahead of where she was even a few months ago, but today reminded me that we still have a long way to go. I would love to make a road trip to NC for a private with Karen.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Busy relaxing

We have been super busy lately, plus the kiddos haven't been going to bed on time so my nightly walks and training have sort gone the way of the dodo bird. I have been trying to reinforce any calm behavior especially when I first get home from work. Yesterday she relaxed on cue for like 3seconds in midzoomies so that is pretty huge for us.

I am trying really hard not to rush through the last few behaviors in level 2 because I know it will just come back to haunt me later.

I am also still working on Reyna's homework from our agility lesson. She is up to a 20" jump so that is pretty major progress for us. She is also driving to the target with a lot of enthusiasm. We haven't started anything else. I can't wait for out next lesson!! I need to build a travel board and figure out a weave pole solution to be able to start Susan Garrett's 2x2 program.

That's about it for to bed!!!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Right on target

Had our first private agility lesson last Saturday!! It was AWESOME!! We worked basic foundation stuff, attention, walking on a board, and then also foundation jumping skills from the Mecklenburg handling system, driving to a target as a base for contacts AND the very first steps of Susan Garret's 2x2 weave training.

If that sounds like we covered a lot for one lesson it's because we did! I really enjoyed the instructor, and I learned a ton!!!

One of the big takeaways from the lesson for me was that I need to be way more present with Reyna. I was marking and feeding her for calm behavior, but the instructor pointed out that I really wasn't interacting with her. I started being actually THERE with her and suddenly her stress level dropped , her focus went way up and we had a blast!

Great experience overall, super pleased with the instructor, the environment, and well...everything!

We have a ton of homework to do before we go back again. Yesterday I was working on her driving to a target, I think I'm getting the drive I want, but it's a little tough to tell. Or at least it was until I called it a day set the target On a hedge so we could just play and Reyna tried to climb the hedge to get to the target! I think I would call that enthusiasm :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reyna Relaxing?!?

It's true! Reyna is not only relaxing on cue, but she can also relax after being mildly excited AND she passed her test for a one minute relax today! The next step is to get excited for one minute relax for one minute excited for one minute and relax again for one minute. A month ago I would have said never in a million years, but now I have no doubt that given clear expectations and patience it's only a matter of time.

In the midst of working on relax we also been checking off steps in other behaviors, like handling. Reyna is pretty cool about just about everything...except being brushed. I have spent the better part of her life chasing her around with the brush, fussing at her when she gets up, leashing her so she can't get the idea.

Then I actually decided to stop complaining and start training.

It was simple chutes and ladders. I measured out her dinner in the evenings and plopped myself on the kitchen floor...One brush stroke, yes/treat, two brush strokes, yes/treat and so on. At first I was doing more marking than brushing and I had to keep the rate of reinforcement even higher on areas like her tail that she especially disliked. If she got up I just sat there and waited. The first session she got up four or five times, but always came back, the next couple of times she only got up once and after that she hasn't gotten up mid brushing at all...a HUGE improvement considering it's a behavior that has annoyed me for almost two years!

I made sure to consider any whining the same as getting up and walking away...chute back to one brush stroke or even half a brush stroke.

Now after just a few weeks I have what I've wanted all along...a dog who lays still while I brush her all over, head to tail, with no fidgeting or whining. AND this evening I got sidetracked while brushing her and hadn't given her a treat for a long time...she looked at me pointedly, and went limp...RELAX!!!...she just defaulted to relax when she wasn't getting enough feedback!!! Mind-boggling!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Teacher and student at once

We checked off a few more levels steps over the last few days, nothing major....most of handling. I decided as a come after to see if she would hold a stand/stay while a touched her head tail and feet. She was sitting so I cued her to stand. She lifted her butt like an inch off the floor and plopped it right back down triumphantly...weird.

I cued stand again...same response, a very enthusiastic repositioning of her sit

I cued it again but with the hand signal this time...she laid down

Without a pause or even thinking about it I lowered the criteria all the way down as if I was reteaching from scratch. Asked for back up, as soon as her rear popped off the ground I marked and rapid fired ten treats in position, then released her, rinse/repeat two more times. The next time I did the same thing, but waited a beat before marking. Then I asked her to sit, yes/treat. Asked her to stand and her rump came off the floor BAM! mark and rapid fire treats. Down....treat...stand (she does) 2 second pause....yes and she got the last of the kibble.

So we didn't get done what I was hoping for which was a stand for exam type behavior, but I was halfway through the remind, reteach process before I realized that I had not gotten frustrated, I did not correct her, yell at her, or throw objects around the room. I just recognized that she was very confused and took the time to clarify what I wanted. 6 months ago I would have been irritated and would have killed off the enthusiasm she had in offering what she thought I was asking for in my attempt to tell her she was wrong. Instead this time she remained In The Game, I was enjoying the process and in the end she was still cheerfully sitting, but now she was also enthusiastically standing.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

2 Years Old

WOW Reyna is 2!!! Where did the time go?

When we were first talking about getting a puppy I told my husband that it takes two years of hard consistent work to create a "good" dog. Now that Reyna is two it's amazing to see where we are now...

-She hasn't soiled in the house since she was 10 weeks old
-She doesn't destroy stuff when we're gone
-I can walk her pretty much anywhere on just a flat collar, I don't even know where her head collar is
-She is even more calm and careful around Penelope than she is around David
-She has a pretty darn solid recall, even off of dogs, cats and an armadillo
-She is still VERY excitable, but I would now call her base reactivity mild
-Her motion reactivity is still moderate-to-high when it comes to other dogs
-I am learning that I never have to settle for halfway focused, with a few minutes of work I can go into a building on relaxed loose leash
-I have learned that a calm focused foundation is way more important than a list of fancy tricks she can't do because she's too distracted or stressed

We have a lot of work to do on her over excitement and a good bit left on her reactivity if I want to compete in dog sports. I missed a major window of opportunity by not addressing either of these issues until well into adolescence, but we are making up for lost time.

Even if we never win or even enter a single trial I have learned more from raising Reyna than I did in all the previous years and dogs combined.

Thank you Reyna, and Happy Birthday!!!!!!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Almost through Level 2!

I've been wiped out lately, so we've been taking it easy and just puttering along on some level stuff here and there, nothing major.

I also took Reyna to a friends house about a week ago and got to play in their agility tunnel, Reyna had a blast with that. So much so that I signed her up for a private at The Dog's Place in Canton. It's not for a couple weeks, but I can't wait.

I've been really all over place lately, which generally means we both need to take a break and walk in the woods for a few days in lieu of training. Too drained from the rest of my life to be In The Game right now. So I figured it's a perfect opportunity to work on Relax. I sit down with some kibble next to me and read or write, or whatever and whenever she forgets I have kibble sitting there and slumps to the floor Yes/Treat. Which meant that she would immediately get back up again and we'd start over.

 The little smarty pants got the idea faster than I thought she would. The first evening she got the general idea that I was marking for non interaction, and the second night I started shaping our specific "cool it" position...laying down on one hip, front legs wide and head stretched flat on the floor. It took 1/2 cup of kibble and on the very last piece she got the whole thing....

But after doing that a few times I decided she looked much more relaxed like this....

So now that is our new standard. You may wonder why we don't follow Sue's example and teach her to flop all the way over onto her's because when she is overexcited/stressed and I tell her "down" she goes all the way over to her side but completely rigid, giving us the whale eye and pretty much looking like she was shot or stabbed, it's not becoming. I'd rather not do anything to encourage her to assume that position until I can get her relaxing on cue in a different one, and then hopefully I can transfer those feelings to "all the way over".

Tonight we got to the point where even if I tossed the treat across the room she would trot right back and offer the relaxed down so I started to name it "cool it"..."CHILL" is already in regular use, and supremely ineffective, so "cool it" it is! 

And for the daily dose of awww...

 Here is Reyna doing her favorite and most important job...munchkin guarding....


hmm...I'll pretend I didn't see that...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just passing by

We checked off New Levels L2 Step 5 Target - Close a cabinet door. This was something I tried to teach her when she was little, but I didn't know enough and she got very frustrated with me and I with her until we dropped it.

This time around I actually know how to communicate with her on some level. If she started to open her mouth, a sure sign she was starting to get confused or frustrated, we took a break to play or just lay down. If I asked her for a particular criteria and she goofed twice, I didn't drill it, I changed something to make it easier for her to understand. For example, she had been doing great touching the sticky note on the cabinet door so I did 3 or 4 quick reps and then took the sticky note off and gestured toward to cabinet. She walked behind the door and looked at me. I brought her back out and reset, same response. Time to change something. I went back to the sticky note, she got 100%, so we did that couple of times and then instead of taking the whole thing off I tore a piece of it and stuck that back on. She got it right away, then I put a piece of clear tape, no problems, THEN I took all the tape/notes of any kind off and gestured toward the door again, she cheerfully bopped it shut....YAY!!!

Now she is solid on one cabinet door, very reliable on another one, and any other it takes one or two reps with a sticky note and then she can do it straight. I figure the more doors we do this with the more she will generalize.

So once we got over that hurdle we made quick work of a lot of the next stuff...

Passed all of NL2 Go To Mat behaviors...even ignoring treats on the ground near the mat

Passed all of NL2 Crate steps as well, but both of those are things she has done fluently since she was a teeny tiny puffball so that was no surprise

Passed most of Distance work with Bye as the cue for clockwise and Way as the cue for counter-clockwise. I need to have her go around a new pole and have her go through a doorway and turn to face me.

Jump shouldn't be too difficult, we'll see

Relax....that's a whole different story...I foresee every step in Relax taking quite a while to trudge through.

I am exceedingly happy with the results that I am getting out of working the New Levels. I find that when we hit a snag and work our way through it following the steps and advice in the book it really does make a huge difference. Leaving a treat on the ground on our walks helps her self control which means that when she sees a cat run by she starts to jump after it, but she gets herself under control much faster, and her reactions aren't nearly as strong.

I've said it before, but I owe my sanity to the combination of Sue Ailsby's Training Levels, and Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed program...I want to be like them when I grow up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Life Rewards For the Win

I've started walking Reyna regularly, I know, it's about time. Anyway I am really enjoying our nightly walks and Reyna's LL is seriously improving. Sunday we had a bit of a crazy walk, but I feel like it shows a lot about how we're doing.

If I'm taking Reyna on a walk I skip her dinner and load the kibble up as treats to take with me (I know I've said it before but it still amazes me...kibble...k.i.b.b.l.e...a year ago this dog wouldn't take grilled chicken if we were off my property. Sorry...moving on) So I loaded up our bag of treats and headed out. I decided to take a minute to test our LL and "stuff on the ground zen" so I set a treat on the ground, got Reyna, asked her to leave it as we walked by 1' away from the treat easily within reach, flicked a glance but nothing else. I'd call that a pass for sure! Tried it again with the leash off, perfect!!

Then we headed out, with the leash back on of course/

I normally walk about 2.5-3.5 miles on any given day, Sunday was a 3 mile day. A little way into the walk I decided to work a little more on leave it so I threw a treat way ahead on the path and as we approached it I would say leave it and we would walk by. After a couple of time I got brave and asked her to leave it as we walked right over the top of the treat, no problem....she's a zen pro :)

Then we got to campus. The wind was blowing and Reyna is always a little bit nervier in the wind so I took the time to help her settle. Then she balked at a textured section of the sidewalk that wheelchairs use for traction, so we spent a few minutes learning that it was really just a piece of ground and not a cleverly disguised dog swallowing cavern. About this time I noticed we had gone through half our treats and we weren't even half way yet, time for a short cut. What I didn't think about was that the short cut took us through a whole new section of the college where Reyna had never been so she suddenly started scanning. It took me a minute to figure out what was going wrong and that she needed help processing the environment. So I *gasp* slowed down to give her the feedback she needed...I's a miracle!!!

We played Pattern Games...up and down, ping pong, 123 treat with stopping to feed, then 123 treat while moving and two things happened as a result of this process 1. I had my dog back 2. I was down to 3 pieces of kibble with 1.5 miles to go! ack! Then a dog brayed at us from across the street she looked at me...I had to pay I had 2 treats left. The dog across the street was still barking at us, I had to think quick. Normally "go sniff" is Reyna's favorite non toy reward, often even more value than treats. But I could tell she needed way more structure right now than being told to wander around and sniff stuff. So I took our whole picture and looked at ways I could change it that would be rewarding for Reyna. Well we are ickily close to barking dogs...she would enjoy getting farther away from them. And we were out for a walk, and given the choice she would rather be out for a jog. I had it!

Dog barks, Reyna remains calm, Yes/Jog a few steps. People pass us by, Reyna keeps a loose leash, Yes/Jog a few more steps. We did that all the way home and managed to make it to our house with 1 piece of kibble left and no reactions or loss of focus.

I am very proud of both of us :-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Leash Leaning

We have crossed L2 Sit off our list.
We worked through all the target stuff really quickly up to touch a sticky note on a wall. Now I just need to teach her to close a cabinet door. Our metal object was the end of a whisk, I wanted to challenge her...whatever, she loved it, she even jumped up to touch it in the air.

Her LL is going really well and we are doing alot of work making the "walk past a treat" better than it's written. Last night she walked over the top of a chicken bone on the sidewalk (yuck!) without looking at it. She saw it before I did and snatched it up, I had her "out" and "leave it" and then we walked past it once and over it once and she didn't even look at it. Something I have been trying to avoid in our Zen work is that tendency to steer WAY away from something. I would like for her to feel confident enough to walk right next to it without touching or looking at it, so she doesn't start to worry about the thing that I asked her to leave. So far so good. If I tell her "leave it" she will back away from "it", but if I then ask her to walk over or right by "it" she does so cheerfully and confidently. LOVE IT!

One thing I have to say about her LL is that her LL is not so lazy. She is what I call a "leash leaner". She doesn't "pull" really she just sort of keeps a slight pressure on the leash all the way up to a moderate lean at the end of the leash. Through our L2 LL the percentage of time she leans is going down and the amount of time and distance she has a U shaped leash is increasing, but I think the biggest hurdle is that I don't really care. If I can hold the leash in my hand and stuff my hand in my jacket pocket and remain there comfortably I'm pretty happy, even if that means there is some pressure on the leash. If she puts a little too much pressure I can clear my throat as if to say "excuse me I'm still here" and she'll correct her position.

In most situations she doesn't use leash leaning to actually get anywhere, she just keeps that slight pressure on it so she doesn't have to think about where I am, she knows because she can feel it. She is still walking with me, she matches my pace, goes the same direction, stops when I stop, she's just lazy (or efficient) and has decided that paying attention to the leash pressure is way easier that paying attention to exactly how far away she is from me.

There are some areas, like the stretch of road leading up the field we play in, where she gets a little overboard so I have started addressing those specific sections and I'm seeing marked improvement. That stretch of road has gone from infuriating, to frustrating, to mildly annoying, so it's just a matter of time before we get it all the way down to enjoyable.

Because she has arousal(excitability/reactivity) issues I am working more diligently on improving her LL because anytime I can improve self control in one place will help with self control across the board, but in general I am very happy with her leash manners on our daily walks.

Her behavior overall is improving immensely. We had some guys at the house the last couple of days putting a fence up and she has been totally cool about them being there, she's not even interested in playing LAT, she'd rather take a nap if that's okay...fine by me!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Trial and Success

We went to an agility trial yesterday!

No we didn't compete, but we did spend a whole hour wandering around the parking lot, walking past dogs in crates, dogs on leash, in cars, barking, sleeping, get the idea...and no reactions!!!

When we got there I was a little nervous. I have never been to an agility trial either and the sheer number of people and dogs was a little intimidating. I promised myself I would keep Reyna under threshold and we found a parking spot.

I opened up the back of the car and let Reyna out, fully prepared for her to start scanning since there were at least 4 dogs in front of her when she jumped out...nope...she reoriented and sat with eye contact.

I was so taken aback I had her jump back in the car and do it again. Same result!!!

We started wandering around playing LAT and Pattern Games, she was so cool about the whole environment I would have thought we did this everyday. I even released her from the structure for a couple VERY short sessions so she could look around on her own and that's exactly what she did...look...not scan, look!!! Reactive Reyna was casually taking in the surroundings!!! Then when I asked her to re-engage she did with no problems. We walked by dogs just a foot or two away. We passed dogs head on. We even watched a dog get all revved up (from a distance) with no major issues.

She did go over threshold a few times, and by that I mean heavier breathing and some aroused tail carriage. When that happened I just lowered criteria and she came right back down. She did bark at one dog...right as we were leaving she was sniffing a corner and a little Border Terrier came running around the same corner. She didn't "knee jerk reactive" bark though, we both quickly walked our dogs in opposite directions and at about 40' or so she looked back and gave one "woof"...oh well.

We played around for about 30 minutes, back in the car for a 15 minute break, and then out again for another 20 minutes or so before heading home. We went through her entire breakfast and dinner of kibble, and some dog treats, along with bits of ham, cheese, and bread, but all that tells me is that she had just that many markable moments!

Did you notice I said kibble?! Reyna....REYNA...ate kibble as a treat at an agility trial and stayed focused!!!

I think it's time for us to enroll in some private lessons :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Holy Sit!

Reyna has a 30 second sit on the wood floor!

It took a couple weeks to get her up to 20 seconds and then all of a sudden she shot up to 30 seconds with no problems. I tested it, I tested the comeafter, I turned the page to see what exciting thing was coming next....1 minute sit...UGH!

Now I know why Reyna dislikes duration behaviors, it probably has something to do with the fact the I dislike duration behaviors...they are BORING. But they're also very important and working on them is helping Reyna's ability to deal with less feedback from me. She has much more faith in the system now and honestly so do I.

So we jumped right in and started working 1 minute sit stays. It took her two days to build all the way to 1 minute on the wood floor...WHAT?!? two weeks to get to 30 seconds and two days to get to 1 minute???

That's Reyna for you.

We're not ready to pass the test yet as it still takes a couple shorter stays to get her in the mindset before she's ready for a longer one.

In the meantime we are working LL also just to mix things up. To start with I asked her to sit and then reached to put the leash on, she stood up....hmm...maybe LL just morphed into sit stay practice after all. Sit, move leash one inch treat, two inches treat, three inches...she stood up, chute back to start...

Looks like despite my best efforts I am actually learning something....that sneaky Sue Ailsby!!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Getting it vs Got it

Holy shuffling feet...I wish I had the New Levels books when Reyna was a puppy. We are STILL on Level 2 Step 2 Sit. I could ask her to stay while I ran away from her with problem...but to sit for 30 whole seconds? Well that's just unheard of! This is harder for her to grasp than the 1 minute down because at least for that one she had a history of remaining in a down for long periods of time with Relaxation Protocol.

We just keep chuting back to 1 second. We are making progress though, she is up to 15 seconds on the wood floor and 25 seconds on carpet. She no longer shuffles her feet on the carpet and her sits there are much prettier. She is super lazy on the wood floor though,  I know she can sit without sliding because she does it while we eat dinner, but if I ask her to sit she immediately starts sliding backwards and her feet follow. It is getting better though, and I took the cue off for now....we are up to 15 seconds without sliding but progress is VERY slow.

On the upside all that work with did with down/stay is really paying off. It took about two weeks to get her to stay down for 1 minute, but only two days to have her stay down for 1 minute while I went and got my shoes and put them on. Then we didn't work it for about a week and the other morning I was going to take her for a walk, I cued down, it took me two minutes to put my shoes on (I hadn't had coffee yet) then I got up, walked over to her touched her collar and then released her. And last night I was tired of working sit so I asked for a down in a different room, walked through the bathroom into the next room, stood where she could see me, counted to 1 minute, returned, yes/treat.

So as frustrating as this whole stupid sit thing is right now I know once she's got it she's really really got it. And if she doesn't I'll slow down and remind her.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Just a few notes...

Her one minute down while I put on my shoes went much faster than I thought...worked on it in two training sessions and then tested it cold yesterday morning - pass! In fact she flew through the rest of L2 Down last night...even a comeafter of  "down while I walk 20' behind her, stay for 1 minute, and return" she had her head twisted the whole time to watch me, but didn't shift her position!

The "retrieve" continues its usefulness as 2 year old David gave her a pack of gum he had found and she trotted right over and handed it to me with no cue.

I love Leslie McDevitt's new Pattern Games DVD and so does has added even more tools to pull from for dealing with her reactivity.

On a related note, I'm starting to see how reactivity might one day become a thing of the past, don't get me wrong we have a long way to go, but every time I put her into challenging situations she proves more and more that she is slowly turning from a reactive-anxious dog to a generally excitable dog.

Her food drive has improved beyond belief now that her stress levels are coming down. I used to have to do a full session of RP before each meal to get her settled enough to eat, she'd go days without eating otherwise. Now she works for kibble even in the face of triggers.

The online rally class is going well, before we started her left side heel was super sloppy and her right side was pretty sharp, now they've flip flopped. I do need to spend more time working on a perch to keep her inside pivots improving and she needs a lot of work on duration on both sides. I need to write out a plan, be more specific with my criteria, and do a 5 mark max on it for a little while.

Her excitability when people are playing in the yard definitely needs work....time for "kids playing with a soccer ball zen"

That's all for now!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Handing and new Heights

Busy weekend...the Reyna related highlights are...

It's hard to remember back when I thought Reyna service retrieving was a thing of dreams. We were cleaning the house today and I had the baby in the backpack, it's incredibly convenient, but it makes it very difficult to pick things up off the floor. Never fear...Reyna is here!!! Here a list of just some of the things she picked up and handed to me on cue...

-Dish cloth
-Burp cloth
-David's hat
-Penelope's rattle - she balked once because she didn't know it would make noise but quickly recovered and confidently handed it to me the second time
-Small flash light
-Piece of scrunched up foil
-Hair band
-Metal spoon
-Piece of junk mail
and my absolute favorite...
-A business card that was laying flat on the wood floor...delivered in perfect teeth marks!

Hard to believe two months ago I was just asking her to nose target a fork!!!

In other news this weekend...

I built two bar jumps! It took a couple trips to Lowes and a long afternoon cutting PVC, but well worth it! About 10 months ago, while we were taking an intro agility class I taught Reyna to go around jump uprights inspired by the work we were doing in class and Sylvia Trkman's Cik & Cap demo videos...didn't actually buy the dvd, but probably will...or not...haven't decided. Aaaanyway our "jump uprights" were a pair of logs stood on end and we worked on her wrapping tight and wrapping the cued direction.

So now nearly a year later I actually have a jump. Given that it has been so long and that actual jump uprights look nothing like logs I started from scratch to shape the behavior like a good trainer would...


I asked her for the full behavior running toward the jump and cueing the wrap from about three feet away...she targeted the correct pole, went around the correct way, and came flying out of her turn so fast she tore up grass!!! I'm spoiled day I'm going to have a dog that doesn't generalize as well, and then where will I be?