Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Measure of a Dog

Or..."How Reyna Failed Her CGC"...

Reyna had really been doing well in class and practice sessions out and about. Melanie was sure Reyna would pass the test. I had my doubts but held out hope that she could put it all together on game day.

We Failed. Blantantly, spectacularly, beautifully failed. I couldn't be happier with her performance.

We met at Home Depot and warmed up, she was relaxed and focused. Then came test time. She hopped out of the car and saw Melanie...she LOVES Melanie....Melanie is made out of bacon and nobody can convince Reyna otherwise.

Reyna was over threshold without a doubt. I probably could have taken a few minutes to calm her down, but there was no guarantee that she would calm, and there was a pretty good chance she would ramp up more. So we went for it. Reyna was totally unfocused and only cared about getting to Melanie.

We walked into the aisle with four people and two dogs plus Melanie. Reyna obeyed commands to sit, nose touch, down, and give eye contact, but she couldn't maintain it for any length of time. She slobbered all over the friendly stranger, wriggled, wagged and licked all through the petting and grooming, and had to be pulled away from the neutral dog.

Total failure!

She aced the supervised separation which used to be very difficult for her. The sit stay, recall, and noise distractions where pieces of cake.

Some things that I did wrong were...

1. I should have done some advance and retreat instead of just plowing through the exercises, but I didn't you could.
2. I should have given Reyna more leash to work with. I knew she was distracted so I shortened up the leash, but that never helps her calm down, so I dont know why I tried it.
3. I need to condition a secondary reinforcer that I can use when ood and toys aren't around. She needs that feedback, but since I had not conditioned one I had nothing to give after each exercise if she had done well. In normal circumstances a smile with a  "gooooooood" will help bridge between primary reinforcers, but I haven't specifically worked on building that into the tool box and spacing out food and toys more. I need Denise Fenzi to come out with a book!

On the positive side...when I walked back in to be part of the crowd for the next team everybody commented on what a sweet dog she is, just a bit puppyish still. As over threshold as she was she never growled, or puffed up, or got nervy. She was genuinely in a great mood and super excited to be there, she just wanted to say hi the everybody. I really can't believe that we were in a narrowish indoor space with five people and two dogs, and Reyna's biggest problem was that she was "a bit puppyish still".

None of the other class dogs passed, they all had the same issues....lack of self control. It is really exciting to see that Reyna fits right in with all the other dogs. Forget about the fact that it took two years of intense work to get us here. We made it.

I am not disappointed at all with the result of the test. I believe it is an accurate measure of where we
are and what we need to work on. I feel like I've been given a second chance, Reyna is back to where
she was at about 7 months, before the reactivity reared its ugly head. She is an excitable dog with a tendency for her brain to go out her ears. This time we are going to do things right and fix the self control issues first and foremost.

I have learned so much through this journey from neurotic beast who couldn't relax, to the joyful happy dog I have now. We have so much more to learn, and Reyna will always be a sensitive dog who is harder to handle than the golden next door. I wouldnt trade her and her lessons for any dog. I cannot thank her enough for all that she teaches me, and for this second chance at ....everything!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Distractions in Nosework part 2

Unfortunately it was too difficult to manage the video camera and still pay 100% attention to Reyna for the very first steps since the hides where paired. So here are the first unpaired hides with the plastic container with hotdogs involved.

I could have rewarded her the first time she went to the cabinet and drawer with the birch, but I am trying to find that right balance of "accept less to get more" and while I know the hotdog smells were an added distraction I wanted to at least get her oh so subtle ear change that tells me she is sure. I didn't wait for the full focused response because of the hotdog challenge, but the drawers and cabinets are not new to her so I felt it was a healthy choice at the time.

I also did not correct her for a false alert or redirect her. I do not want a "zen field" to develop around food/toys in case a hide is near them...I just want her to learn they are just white noise in the background.

Lastly, after I rewarded her with the toy, we had a quick tug to the kitchen for some hotdog pieces. My goal is that this will help avoid conflict in her desires. She won't have to decide if she feels like searching for birch and a game of tug, or if she'd rather have the hotdog...if she alerts at source she gets both, if she false alerts she gets nothing until she moves on so she might as well stick to her job. Another hope is that by training it that way tasty smells in the search area will just encourage her to drive to source.

We are just doing a few right now and then lots of regular hides, but as she gets used to having more distracting smells I hope to have food, toys and strange new smells be a part of her regular sessions. I would hate to have her alert on a box of Tide laundry detergent just because it was new and different in a trial!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Distractions in Nose Work

Adding any of the Ds (distance, duration, distractions)can cause challenges. Much of what I've read and heard is to introduce distractions in Nose Work like you would in other dog sports....slowly.

I chose a different route. Everybody has to pick their own and this is mine...

Nose Work is very different from other sports, but one thing it has in common is that there are many ways to teach a dog to find, and alert, on a source of odor. So I didn't limit my research to just NACSW information. I watch videos on SAR, beginning police K9 training, Andrew Ramsey's Nosework  videos, medical alert dog training...etc. I learned a lot and got a lot of ideas from that, but one thing I picked up from watching some of the narcotic detection training is how quickly they introduce distractions, specifically with the Randy Hare box method...

Okay I definitely don't want Reyna tearing somebody's car apart at a trial, but this did give me the confidence to introduce distractions early in our training and to teach Reyna to obey target odor over her toy or treat. **look up Randy Hare box method for more videos of dogs further along and their ability to handle distractions

We started with her ball in a mostly closed drawer and the odor and ball in another mostly closed drawer. If Reyna were easily discouraged in searches I would have started with the paired hide all the way open and the ball drawer mostly closed, but she is very persistent and driven when it comes to her toys. 

I asked her to search and I intentionally set up the hide so she would get to the ball only drawer first. She pawed, and pawed, and stared, and pawed, and then sniffed in the direction of the source odor...I 
opened the drawer with the paired hide and we had a party!!!

I did that a few more times but after maybe the third I couldn't fool her...she didn't even glance at the ball drawer, she went straight to the paired. The next session I did one like this with no issues so I did the next one with the ball drawer and an unpaired problem. We had just separated the target odor from the ball odor, and made the target odor more important!!! 

Now to increase distractions I started closing the odor drawer more and opening the ball drawer more  until she could easily snatch the ball. She did once, I didn't fuss, I just took it away and asked her to search again, which she did successfully. The next time we repeated the exercise and she went right past her ball to the odor. ( it's important to have a duplicate or equal/greater value reward for when she alerts on the target odor)

We have since moved to tug as a reward, I haven't done the same distraction training with the tug but we will be working on that and food distraction this weekend...I'll get a video up tomorrow if I can. 

Also another thing i learned in my research is that I really want one of these toy launchers!....

Monday, January 7, 2013

NW1 Here We Come!


So extremely excited about how Sunday turned out!

I have to admit I was pretty darn nervous before we got there. It was a three hour drive from Norms parents where we were staying for the weekend. 1 hour to Melanie's and another 2 hours to Birmingham. Melanie and I caravaned over. Not the best for fuel efficiency, but neither of us wanted to stress our dogs out by adding in too many variables. Plus Biba can be grouchy and Reyna is a pest so they aren't exactly best of friends.

We arrive about half an hour before registration and got the dogs out to play and stretch. There were ball fields there so the dogs got some off leash play time. Melanie brought Rey who Reyna adores and everybody had a good romp before folks started showing up. We moved to the far end of the parking lot where it was quiet and that ended up being an awesome spot to spend the day. Far enough away that I could Reyna out periodically with worrying about tons of other dogs wandering around.

The ORT was very well set up and ran extremely smooth. The briefing started right on time. As we did the walk through somebody said something about converging air currents...*gulp*...then we went by the recovery case the dog struggles the recovery boxes provide an opportunity for a quick success to end on a positive note for the dog...I sure hope we don't need those, was all I could think.

The warm up boxes were set up in easy access to everybody with a set for Birch and a set for Anise. It was really a great layout, you could work warm up boxes as long and as often as you needed (being respectful of other people who may need them of course).

After the tour they called "first dog on deck!" and we were off!!!

Reyna and I were number 30ish out of about 40 people...we had a wait. So I used that time to get Reyna in and out of the car, walk around the area, do some levels work, run the warm up boxes, and then rest again. We did that about three or four times and by the end Reyna had settled into the pattern of come out, work a bit, play a bit, back in the car. So after the first few times she hopped out ready to work.

The first time we ran the warm up boxes she alerted right away and I threw the tug...she half heartedly looked at it...hmmm better bring out the good stuff...

I had brought her ball just in case she needed that little extra something to keep her focus. It worked wonders! Her alert is much stronger for the ball. She is driven and consistent with the tug, but the ball is still the holy grail as far as she's concerned. As soon as she figured out she was working for the ball any doubts about her ability to focus disappeared, now I knew my job would be to stay out of her way and give her time.

When they called our name we were ready as we'd ever be. I was super confident in Reyna and I hoped she felt the same. Then we walked into the building...

The floor was rubber, Reyna splayed her feet and crawled across it like it would swallow her whole... CRAP! I had trained for everything but the floor texture!

She perked up a little as we walked through the ring gates, we've done a lot of positive associate with walking through ring gates, then she saw the boxes and her ears came back up. There were strange people everywhere, and at first I thought that would be a major distraction, but looking back I think the comforting site of a bunch of boxes in a row helped her like a security blanket, she knew what her job was.

We walked up to the start line, Reyna's nose may have crossed early, I don't know, but we did our regular routine where I pulled back her harness and say reeeaaaddddyyy????? Go Find!

She was so clear headed it blew my mind, she methodically sniffed every single box. She did a double take on one but no alert, walked all the way back around still checking each box diligently, but got back to the first box with no alert. I took a deep breath and reminded myself we had 3 minutes and not to stress. On our second trip around we came back to the double take box and she confidently laid her chin and a paw on the box. It was so clear I had to laugh as I yelled ALERT! They said Yes and we whooped it up all the way out. I barely noticed the judges, I was too busy smiling at Reyna...she did soooo amazing!

The was our first dog event of any kind so I cant even tell you the high when we bounded past the recovery boxes and grinned like cheshire cats! Reyna and Rey had a well deserved celebratory romp in one of the fenced in ballparks.

We went to lunch with a group of folks from Atlanta and talked about our dog aerted correctly in 8 seconds, another dog made three or four trips around the boxes in 26 took us 34 and we only went around twice! It was a wonderful group of women, and I hope we get together again soon!

After lunch it was time for the long drive back to Canton and then home was 10:30pm before were wall settled back in at home. A totally exhausted, but beaming me crawled into bed last night...

NW1 dreams dancing in my head.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Upcoming ORT

I can't believe we only have a few more days until our K9 Nosework ORT!

When we did a mock ORT before the break it took forever for Reyna to stop trying to search the room and to focus on the boxes. Clearly we have not spent enough time on box drills!!!

At first I thought if I only put the hide in the boxes she would "get it". She didn't. She continue to search the room and was getting increasingly frustrated with the game. So we took a break for several days so I could come up with a plan. I wanted her to develop a specific pattern for searching the containers so that she doesn't miss one...hmmm...who do I know that teaches Nosework this way? Andrew Ramsey! He teaches a methodical search pattern using drawers. The same should work for boxes.

So I lined up four boxes and since this is drive building I put her toy in the box also. We hadn't done paired hides in a long time so we should probably do that anyway. The odor and the toy went into the first lid. Of course she ran right out and grabbed the toy...well actually she hesitated with her nose on the odor tin until I said "okay", clearly we haven't done paired hides in a while.

We did that two more times until she would run straight to the box without looking at anything along the way. Then I put it in the second box and sent her with fingers crossed. She was focused and checked the first box, when it wasn't there she moved to the second BINGO! She was delighted. Since I want to keep her focus on that first box so she doesn't bypass it we did one more in the second box, then back to the first, then back to the second, then on to the third. Two hides in the third and then back to the first, then the second, then the third, then the fourth.

This may seem like a lot for one session, and for some dogs it may be. For Reyna this is easy fun, fast paced stuff. The boxes are open, the odor is paired and she gets plenty of tug time...what's not to love?

Next it was time to close the boxes...I'm using shoe boxes by the way...sturdy, easy to open, minimal venting, and free from a local department store where they were only too happy to hand their trash over to the crazy lady with the plastic bag! I definitely want to get official ORT boxes, but it didn't work out for right now.

Back to the training...

We closed the boxes this time, still with the toy inside, and started over with the odor box first. She blasted right past on a suggestion from my friend Lisa I removed all the boxes except the odor box until she would head straight for it, then I kept the odor box in the same spot, but added a second box to the line and kept that until we have 7 boxes...she stayed focused on the line of boxes and didn't start wandering around the room. If she got to the end of the line she turned right back around and searched them again, this time indicating on the correct box. We redid the box open drill with the boxes closed...she's doing GREAT.

Tomorrow we will redo the drill but with odor no pairing. After that I'm just going to mix it up with lots of pairing to keep her really super focused on those boxes. Her indication is clear, she freezes in place and if I don't reward right away she sets her chin or paw (or both) on the's just getting her to keep checking boxes and not get caught up in Interior Search mode.

I'll keep you posted...the ORT is Sunday...