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.