Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nosework news and other stuff

Well I was really hoping everybody else was slacking off on their 1,000 treat challenge so I would feel better about having only trained a few sessions, but nooooo Eileen has to be out there making progress...fine....I'll get back to work

Reyna is doing well in the very few sessions we have had. We have a college student working with us now so she is going to help with some of those comeafters in the levels we had to skip because we didn't have anybody to work with her. I'm really excited about it. 

On her CGC stuff we have been practicing a lot of self control like crate games, and also spacing out reinforcement more as well as working basic behaviors in more distracting situations like around the feral cat feeding stations. I need to start translating her crate games into mat work games to improve her understanding. Even though its not directly a CGC requirement, the skills she is learning in crate games is really helping. When we went to the campus today three people stopped and petted her and she held her sit cold each time! 

We are exercising a lot more these days. Having Sam here really showed me how much better Reyna does when she gets a 2-4 mile walk each day, I do great for a little while and then slack off again and forget how important it is to her baseline behavior. 

Along the same lines as crate games helping her CGC stuff, we have not been training Nosework specifically,because she knows how to find birch. What she can't do is walk on weird surfaces like decks, stages, bridges to find birch...way too stressful (btw- she grew up running around on decks and bridges so I don't know where or why this fear cropped up). So we have been taking the time we would normally spend on hides, to find every bridge, stage, or deck possible. I did not want the fear linked with Nosework at all, so just like when she was afraid of boxes and I played fetch with her ball near, around, and eventually in, a pile of boxes, this time we are just going for walks and "oh lookie there, a deck how cool, let's check it out....oh wow where did all these treats come from, they are EVERYWHERE! Okay let's go now." I kept that up and then having Sam here really helped her make some big leaps in her confidence levels.

Yesterday I took her to Home Depot with some hamburger, left her in the car and hid treat pieces in the sheds. Some very close to the doors some all the way in the back. Then I got her out of the car just on her regular collar and we walked down the row of sheds when we came across a shed with treats in she would find it, eat it, and then I would put her back in the car just like in a search environment. Then I'd get her back out and we'd walk down the line again. I never gave her a cue, or encouraged her to go into the sheds. At first she was a little hesitant, but by the end she was practically dragging me over to the sheds.

All these forces combined until tonight....drumroll please....Reyna searched for birch confidently on a low outdoor stage she has never been to before!!! AMAZING!!!! I am beyond proud of her, and I am so glad I didn't push anything! We will continue to work on her confidence outside of Nosework and just throw some hides out from time to time to keep her nose sharp, but I just cannot tell you the joy I had in watching her search that stage...if we don't title in march I have already won. Just like the CGC "failure", this is a benchmark of where she is and how far she has come! 

Coming soon I promise....videos of Reyna and Sam. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Canicross Fun!

Just in case you thought we didn't do enough different things with Reyna!

We really enjoy canicross, which was a major factor in deciding which harness to pick for her Nosework. We wanted something that would work for everything, and we ended up going with the Nordkyn Skijor harness. We absolutely love it, and in addition to being great for Nosework, it suitable for Canicross, scootering, bikejoring, etc. We have been training her to pull in her harness off and on for a few months now and this weekend has been a total blast!!!

We have Reyna's friend Sam staying with us for the weekend (videos and pics to follow). I have taken them out for two walk/jogs so far and Sam is picking up on driving cues quickly, plus Reyna works a lot harder when she has Sam trotting next to her. She leaned into the harness as soon as we headed out, and didn't slack off for the whole 4 miles! What a good girl!!! She absolutely loves it and clearly differentiates between pulling in the harness and walking on her flat collar.

It was so much fun to have both of them out in front responding to the verbal cues to turn, speed up, slow down, or screech to a halt. And let me tell you, with two shepherds on the line there is no hill too steep for me :) 

Another plus is that Reyna is much more confident when Sam is with her, so I have been running the girls up onto decks, ramps, staircases, and even the infamous stage in the gym that Reyna thinks will eat her. She hesitates for a second, but with Sam leading the way she overcomes her fears and quickly gains the confidence to run on and off by herself. Now whether that experience carries over when Reyna is by herself remains to be seen. But for right now I am just trying to get them onto any crazy surface I can think of! 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nosework Scavenger Hunt!

Holy smokes was this a learning experience! Amber Burckhalter with K-9 Coach invited us up to Smyrna for the first ever Nosework scavenger hunt. There were 40 hides over 5 locations within a fourish mile radius. What a blast.

Reyna had an opportunity to work in lots of new and distracting areas with dogs and people wandering around and all kinds of smells. This was the first time Reyna has searched that many places in one day let alone in the two hour time frame we were given. I'm sure Reyna benefitted from the experience, but I think I took away even more than she did...

The first thing I learned is that I still put WAY too much pressure on her. We are light years better than we were before, but I still need to work on backing off and listening to her. At the end of the day we found 24 hides in the two hours allotted. Other teams found over 30, the main difference I think was that they accepted when a dog couldn't find a hide and they moved on to a new area. I stayed in one location until Reyna found all the hides there. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but when Reyna is clearly showing signs of stress or frustration and I put pressure on her by remaining in the search area it does nothing to improve our efficiency and communication as a team.

Second is...if I won't ask for heel work until I have her full attention, why do I think it's okay to chant "go find" repeatedly when she is obviously distracted? I don't normally do that during our training, in fact it is extremely rare that she needs a re-cue, and usually it means something unexpected happened to disrupt her pattern. But today, because of the pressure we already talked about I started saying "go find....go find....where is it?" Which only furthered her stress and frustration because repeating the cue when she is too distracted to work does not suddenly diminish the distraction. It is just another way to pressure the dog.

Third...I need to work more table top hides. She really had difficulty alerting on a tin that was just sitting on top of a table!

Don't get me wrong, we had a really great time. When I realized she couldn't handle 5-6 hides in a row I slowed down, I stopped focusing on the number of hides, and made sure that she got breaks to play, drink water, rest for a few minutes etc. one great thing about Reyna, is even when she is absolutely fried, and can't do another thing, give her a 10-20minute break and she will be back on and ready to rock! I think that will serve her well at the trial in a few weeks!

Some things that went really well were...

One search area was bordered by somebody's back yard. As we started to search the area a massive dog charged the fence in full blown reaction!!! What is good about that? Reyna jumped out of her skin when he first charged, but didn't react even though she was right beside the fence!! Her hair puffed up for a second but then without any treats from me, she immediately settled back down and got to work locating all three hides in that area! What a brave girl!!!

Then in one search area she missed a hide around the outside of a house because she was too worried to get on the deck (big surprise, hope they don't have a hide like that in the trial or we are hosed!). But as we were searching for the second hide Reyna gave a clear and confident alert on a spot on the ground. I know Reyna well enough to go ahead and reward without looking for it, because when she is that sure, it's there. Sure enough there was about a 1/2" stick of a q-tip laying on the ground. no cotton on it, just the stick piece. The cool part is that this was not one of the hides for the day! There is no telling when that was dropped there. It was probably just yesterday, but still, that is a pretty old and small hide for her to pick up on and alert! Way to go!!!!

Reyna also did great on the container search so, I feel pretty good about that one too. I feel like if we miss the NW1 title it will probably be because a hide was placed somewhere Reyna was not confident enough to go.

I did take Reyna for a nice long walk today (I told you 10-20 minutes and she is ready to go again) and I found a low deck that we could work on. It only took her a few minutes to decide it was safe enough to run and tug on, but I still don't think she would have sourced odor there. Need to do some more work...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

1,000 Treat Challenge Day 2

Well I have stopped counting treats for the challenge. I'll just know that when I am done with the bag I am halfway there, and then I'll count out the other 500. We started off day two testing step 2 of Lazy Leash Level 3. Reyna did not pass step 2 the first time out so below is our training session. Except to cut dead time this is our whole session.

I did not refresh my memory of Sue's directions for this step, and I did not start with a plan in mind. You can definitely see that in the first part, Reyna is fairly confused by the whole thing and I am not very clear with how I wanted to approach it. Also notice that when Reyna hits the end of the leash she licks her nose...she REALLY wants that ball. But when it is her choice to turn away from it there is no lip licking.

When I follow Sue's instructions and click her when she turns with me we progress much faster. Also I switched to a verbal marker and made the food more of an event and less just stuffing a treat in her mouth. All of that seems to improve the session overall. Reyna still manages to snatch the ball once, and comes close a second time. And you can also tell that while Reyna is being a really good sport through the whole process, her main focus is always the ball. Even when she is looking at me it's only to say..."if I do this can I have the ball?"I love that at the end she doesn't fetch it, she just takes off ...silly can't throw it by yourself :)

So for the next session we will lower the distraction a little bit to make it easier for her until she understands the pattern better, and then add the ball back in as a distraction. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1,000 Treat Challenge - Day 1

Okay for our first day of the 1,000 treat challenge my goal was to video tape a short before clip of Lazy Leash L3S1.

So we counted out 500 treats (it was way too much work to count out 1,000 at once!)


Then I reread the step 1 walks through an exterior door on a loose it! I picked the front door first and I set up the camera, we were ready to roll. The first rep was without warm up, without clicker, and without treats, the goal was to show a starting point. 

She passed!!! We did it again, and again no tight leash, in fact now she got wise and thought it was a zen exercise, I had to call her through the front door.

Okay now I'm going to challenge her...we'll use the back door, this is the door we let her dash out of to chase squirrels...nope lazy leash all the way. Even on the first rep there when she goes out ahead of me she leaves plenty of slack on the leash.

Hmmm okay, the garage door...surely she will try and slip out the garage door and make a run for the strollers...nope...pass again. And in case your wondering, no that is not heaven just past the dog crate. It's our laundry room which is basically the same thing as far as Reyna's concerned since that's where her treats and toys live. So much for a before video. Thanks to Sue's Level 3 Zen Reyna passed Lazy Leash L3S1 and S1 ComeAfters on the first go round. Here's our unedited complete video...we went through 5 treats in out first session....995 to go!

Now on to step 2...Walk 10 steps towards a single distraction. I'm trying to think of good distractions...treats, her ball, a stroller since she likes to rush over to the strollers. I think David or Penelope might make a good focal point. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nosework practice

I haven't been doing much lately in the way of Nosework practice. Maybe an interior hide here or there. My biggest concern is how she hates weird surfaces. Especially raised weird surfaces. We are working on it and he is making progress, but as of today if her NW1 hides are on a deck or stage we are screwed.

Well we took a break from all that today and had a big group get together for some actual Nosework. We me a bunch of folks from Atlanta at the ORT and Melanie did a get together with them two weekends ago but I was at a conference and missed out. This weekend we practiced in Carrollton and had a great time!

11 dogs, 6 or 7 handlers, some on birch some on anise, at very different stages. It is was a huge learning experience. We did interior, exterior, containers. And the pouring rain made for a great challenge.

Reyna did really stellar. I don't often get to do blind hides, especially true blind hides where I can't see the container when she is alerting. I was a bit nervous that hr alert would not be strong enough for me to call it on a true blind hide, but she nailed it!

I won't go through each hide since we did about 6-7 searches totally about 12 hides, but some of the highlights were...

A chair search that I thought would be easy all of the dogs struggled with. It was a bunch of plastic chairs with metal legs and I stuck the birch underneath one. Something about the air current in room made all the dogs want to come at it from the front of the chairs where it was inaccessible. And then even when thy came around to the back side of the row they all wanted to alert on the top front left corner instead of the bottom right rear....wired. But all the dogs worked through it. It was a lot tougher than planned. It just goes to show how something we perceive as easy may have unseen factors that make it quite challenging.

I was thrilled with Reyna's container search. I have to admit was nervous since we hadn't been working on it, and boxes were a weak link before the ORT. But our Pre-ORT pattern work seams to have stuck. Even though e had just done a bunch of interior searches, she locked onto the boxes right away and did a clear paw touch/nose touch on the hot box the first time through GOOD DOG!!

It was raining during our exterior, which made for chilly handlers, but a great learning experience. Reyna found one buried under leaves in good time, but a second one in the area was very tough. Harder than anything we'll see on trial day. She worked hard, but it was our next to last search, she was tiring and the hide was difficult. A single q-tip in a closed plastic container stuck in a crack in a wall in an alcove. Tough stuff. The current must have been moving the air up because several dogs wanted to try sourcing it from the top of the retaining wall directly above the hide. I hadeto ask where it was and restrict Reyna's search area to a 10' radius around the hide to help her source it, but she did it and I am SO proud!

We did two extremely blind hides in the bathrooms because the people that knew where the hides were had dogs searching other areas. I thought I'd give it a go anyway and just trust Reyna. I rewarded as soon as she alerted with nobody to verify it and she was right both times. I wouldn't recommend that exercise to anybody, but it really showed me I could trust my dog and it was a Great way to end the day!

It was a whirlwind experience getting that many dogs to that many hides in 2 hours, but we did it, and I think it may have replicated a trial environment to some extent...dogs everywhere, different stations, delays between searches, and then scrambling to get your dog watered and pottied for his next run. It was a total blast!!!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The 1,000 Treat Challenge

We failed our CGC because of self control issues. Reyna cannot walk on a loose leash. It's 100% because I don't care enough to fix it. Even when she's "pulling" I can still hold the leash with one finger so we've just been letting it go. But she CAN walk on a loose leash. On our regular walking route there is one 1/2 mile section where she maintains a loose leash every idea why but she does.

The main problem with accepting a "leash lean" is that it is an indicator of self control issues. So I am determined to pass Level 3 Lazy Leash. AND I think I can do it in two weeks. That's the challenge that is sweeping the Internet....Madeline Gabriel's 1,000 treat challenge . Now it may take longer than two weeks depending on how many treats we go through in each session, and if we miss days, but still I think when used with purpose 1,000 treats could go a long way!

We will continue to work on Reyna's Sylvia Trkman behaviors, and her confidence on surfaces for Nosework etc. but I figure we might as well take this challenge and hopefully check off a level 3 behavior at the same time!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Stepping backwards to move forward

We went to the park today to work on one Level3/CGC stuff.

My plan was to only stay about 15 minutes and work on some relax and lazy leash around the dog park.

We got there and Reyna hopped out of the car and made eye contact. What a great start! Then it sort of fell apart. She wouldn't walk on a loose leash even in the parking lot, I couldn't drag her nose off the smelly ground to save my life and she was completely disconnected. I was angry. We had come out here,I had a plan and she was blowing me off. I almost shoved her back in the car and went home.

Then I stopped to think...

What do I have to have for this to be a successful session? I want her to walk on a loose leash with high distractions...okay so lets look at the chain in reverse. The we will keep stepping back until we hit something solid we can launch off of.

To be able perform under high distractions she first needed to be focused...nope
Okay can she focus under moderate/easy distractions? Nope
So this is not a distraction problem it's a focus/engagement problem
Can she focus when I stand still? No
So lets work on active engagement...
Will she engage with a tug? No
With food? Nope
With food if I run around with it? YES
With her orange ball? YES

Okay now we have a starting point and we can begin working our way back up the list. We worked in our Yes category which is very small at first until we had built enough engagement. Run with food, toss the ball, run with food, pause for a default sit, treat *gasp* she just took food while stationary...we were one rung up...

Play with food, play with ball, stationary food, throw ball, throw tug, she retrieves it but doesn't play with it. Repeat the stuff she will do for a minute, present moving tug...YES another rung up.

Played with food, tug and ball interchanging and then stop and stood still...riveted focus...we're almost to the top...

Now I start asking for some work before I will play. I gradually asked for more work under more distractions, giving her the "go sniff" cue to check her engagement levels. Before you knew it we were heeling in short spurts with other people and dogs nearby, with total focus. How long did it take to get all the way from the bottom to the top? Less than 8 minutes. Plus we had a blast!!!

And to think I was so irritated we almost went home and missed that amazing training session!

Friday, February 1, 2013


Things we have going on...

Continued work on levels, we are chipping away at level three. I have taken a new approach to teaching the relax, because the laddering was just getting quite frustrating. Reyna kept waiting and waiting for a treat so, while she would hold the position she wasn't relaxing the way I would like. I read on Denise Fenzi's blog about her passive stay and decided to start incorporating some of that o help her calm down and it really seems to help. She is already up past 3 minutes so we need to start working distractions now. We have a long way to go on lazy leash and relaxing on a vet table.

Nosework- we are training for her trial in march. I am focusing less on finding birch because she does that very well, and focusing more on her confidence with strange surfaces. It's been a busy couple weeks since the CGC so I haven't had much of a chance to work. Right now we would miss out on NW1 if they put a hide on a deck, or in a shed because she hates going in to places like that.

Crate Games - fell off this wagon a touch, but restarted and she is doing very well driving to her crate. I'm going to start using her mat and ring gates outside to start building some generalization. I think she really needs this and it fits very well with the levels work we are at right now.

Sylvia Trkman tricks - LOVE this!!! We have been having a blast teaching tricks for balance strength and coordination. I have 3 feet in her food bowl...I'll try to get a video of that soon. This has just been really fun little tricks to work on with no pressure, gives me something to do when we need a break. I don't have a timeline or goals, we just practice a few of the tricks and gradually Reyna is getting stronger and her balance is improving. I'm also hoping this will help her confidence. Also it's a testament to how much more sane she is, because we can shape the same trick for 5 minutes with no frustration and whining. I'm sure it helps that I am a better trainer with clearer criteria, but she is also just learning how to deal with failure and frustration and to work through it instead of shutting down. We are really having fun!

Other stuff- trying to figure out how to play with Reyna without toys and food. I need to get Hannah Brannigan's video on obedience maybe. I am definitely getting better at engaging Reyna, but without guidance it really is difficult to know what to do.

Am I Crazy to have all this going on at once? No I just own a working dog :)