Tuesday, November 26, 2013

WWIDD? What would Ian Dunbar do?

In a crazy twist of fate, and work, and friends who are attentive to upcoming seminars, I had a chance to attend two seminars given by Dr. Ian Dunbar last week.

I could write a long, winding post about how I felt to finally meet my idol, and make a check on my bucket list. In fact, I tried to, but it was cheesy. So let's leave it at this: 18 years ago, I picked up a book by Ian Dunbar for the first time, and it set me on the path I am on today. Getting to hear him speak, and finding that he is even more engaging and interesting in person, with so much information to give, was life-altering. Also, several of us took him out for drinks after the second seminar, and he's just as funny and magnetic in a casual setting. Since then, I've tried some new things, at work as well as with my own dogs. Here are some of points I am keeping in my head when I'm faced with a dilemma and I wonder, "What would Ian Dunbar do?"

- Talk to your dogs. Don't get so technical that you forget to just notice your dog being wonderful. - Give information to your dogs. Saying "no" or "off" doesn't necessarily communicate information; yes you can redirect, but you can also give more information with one word. So dog jumps: "sit". That tells the dog not only to stop jumping, but what to do instead. We practiced it with a 6 month old Lab today... it was a revelation. A slow-moving, "retriever time" revelation but he got it right!
- Repeating commands is okay. Repeating commands is okay. What? It is. This has blown my mind.
- If you use a correction, you better have excellent timing and have a strong training history. Most of the time, if you feel you have to correct with a leash jerk or similar correction, you probably have not trained enough/trained for that scenario/whatever. Basically, if you feel the urge to correct, go back and train instead.
- HOWEVER. It's all well and good to say that you know a better way, especially on the internet. But it has to be proven. Can you train a dog to do the task faster and better using positive techniques than someone using a shock collar? Great! The shock collar trainer should listen to you. But don't start telling the shock trainer that he or she is wrong unless you have been at least as successful at what they are teaching.
- An emergency recall really is two behaviors: stop running away or towards that traffic, and come towards me. So teach an emergency "sit". "Sit" in a calm voice = kibble. "Sit" in a louder volume = liver treats. "SIIIIITTTT!" = steak. Teach that increased volume means increased speed and urgency, as well as better rewards.
- Don't forget to be "jolly" with your dog. If your dog reacts to other dogs, start dancing and singing backwards. Also rhythm helps to counteract fear, so if you are nervous around dogs (because of your dogs reactivity, or the other dog's response... or both, ie - ME), sing a song or recite a poem while you dance backwards. The dog will look at you, puzzled, turn away from the other dog, and the situation will begin to defuse. Also, associate another dog in the distance with a game of tug. BRILLIANT, since I have a tug machine.
- I asked him a question at the end, having been pondering it for years. The question was, why do neutered males appear to target intact males, when the intact males have not been rude or weren't even paying attention? The answer was so simple that I actually slapped myself on the forehead and exclaimed, "It's so simple! Augh!" The reason is that males tend to target other males; an intact male smells like a male dog... a neutered male doesn't. The neutered male doesn't register as a male, let alone competition.
- You may have to reward behaviors you don't like for a while in order to reward the behavior you DO like.
- Later, while I picked his brain over beer and cocktails, I asked about Scorch's whining/vocalizing in the ring. I've never subscribed to the bark/quiet way of working on a barking problem, possibly because I never gave it enough thought and because I didn't teach "quiet" properly. Ian had me willing to give bark/shush a try (he likes shush better because it's hard to say it angrily). We talked about the possibility of teaching whine on command (challenging, but it's easy to elicit from him so I think I'm up for the challenge), and then properly teaching shush. In obedience practice, we can work on "heel, shush" and then wean off of the shush. (We also discussed teaching a different word for each glove position... good stuff).

I have lots more to write about what I've worked on so far, but I had a big breakthrough today. Scorch knows how to bark on command, sort of, but I don't like it because he has to get himself worked up to do it and then he starts barking at every word I say. So we went outside to work on it. While we were heeling, he was barking and worked up, so we stopped heeling so I could give him permission to bark.

When told to bark on purpose, Scorch's eyes lit up:

Really? You WANT me to bark? Even though I'm a maniac?

Yes Scorch, yes I do. And I am going to reward you even as you ricochet off of my chest. Ow. Here's a treat.

OMG BARK BARK BARK!!! *spit flying everywhere*

Treat treat treat. Ow. My fingers. OK Scorch, let's calm down. Heel up.

*heels up while barking* Ooookkkaaay. Heel.

*heels while barking and spitting*

OK. Time to work on shush.

*shows Scorch a treat* Shush.




Okay this isn't working. What would Ian do? (*British voice in my head: "put the treat right under his nose as you say 'shush'. Lure the behavior you want.") Okay. *treat under nose* Shush.


HOLY CRAP. Repeat. Alternate. Use the treats to get the answer I want. Walk around. Practice Suzanne Clothier's relaxation protocol. Bark. Shush. Heel. Bark. Don't treat the responses where Scorch leaps into the air. Bark. Bark. Shush. Wait three seconds before rewarding. Shush. Bark. HE'S GETTING IT. OH MY GOD HE'S GETTING IT.

We've done three training sessions. Scorch still takes some working up before he will bark... he's only starting to understand that one can bark without being wound into a frenzy. But his command discrimination is progressing at an amazing rate. Holy hell, it's working! He is SHUSHING. And he is amazed that he GETS to bark. Which is my favorite part of all... I love it when my dogs think working with me is one of the best parts of their day.

Stay tuned for progress, and also for Norman's new job that he's thrilled to be allowed to do: carrying paper towels. Channeling his tendency to want to put alligator jaws on discarded paper towels has been a world of difference.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Video correction

I accidentally posted the same video twice. So here's the actual CDX-earning run:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Scorch CDX RE

This post is super-late in coming, probably because of the break we've taken from any serious training.

But we did it. We achieved the goal of the Companion Dog Excellent title.

The CDX title was always just tantalizingly out of reach. With Jack, we never finished the (UKC) CD title due to his health cutting his career (and eventually his life) short. With Wolfie, we never even started the CD due to his hips. Both dogs were trained through Novice level obedience, but both dogs only knew bits and pieces of Open work, and Wolfie cannot hold a sit for 3 minutes, so we never got that far with it.

But Scorch, my Novice A dog, has taught me more than I ever imagined. I can't believe that we conquered Open A.

We showed in Orlando in April. We got hit pretty hard for vocalizations, but other than the whining, Scorch kept himself under control and put on some of the best performances of his life. In fact, if it hadn't been for the 10 point hit we got for whining on Sunday, we would have had a 198. I'm EXTREMELY proud of that performance. His 191 and 188 still earned us 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.

With two legs down and one to go, we showed in Lakeland. We hadn't been to IPOC before, so I knew we'd be battling some anxiety demons. As it happened, Denise Fenzi had achieved a positively-trained OTCH just before our show. Some well-known local trainers were there bitching about it. It went on ALL. WEEKEND. I was stunned. One of the women, who is a fan of prong collars and "correcting every little mistake in heeling until the dog figures out where they're supposed to be", did at least say that she respects any OTCH and that no one can buy that kind of honor. But in the same breath, she also went on about how many years it took Denise to get it. Really?? The dog was busy achieving Schutzhund titles at the same time.

One of the trainers, another well-known local man, called his dog "that little shit" after their Utility performance. Then immediately went back to abusing positive training techniques. Talk about scapegoating. Bryan took to calling the group "the knitting circle" and actually got aggravated with the attitude of "the dog HAS to do the WORK".

So our first day in the ring started out OK but Scorch did become too jazzed up. I knew the second that we walked into the ring that I barely had him. He turned in a nice heeling performance that looked great, but it FELT wrong... and sure enough, when I went to pet him before the figure 8, I felt him vibrating and he was not interested in my touch at all. He NQ'd by going around the jump and also by hitting the broad jump.

Day 2 was better as soon as we walked into the building. Scorch knew where he was and what he was there to do. We did lots of down-stays near the ring and tried to get into a zen-mode. I had great attention from him, without the edge of frantic that had marked our warm-up the day before. We went into the ring and I KNEW that I had him.

We turned in a score of 195 and got 1st place. I cried a little as we celebrated after the broad jump... I was a nervous wreck during the out of sight sit stays, but after he aced that, I was completely relaxed (but in shock) during the down stays.

I didn't know our placement, but I suspected we placed. I wasn't expecting first though... and the tears started again.

My little border collie, my heart dog:

Next comes Utility, although after the adrenaline rush that was Open, I was happy to take a breather and focus on the basics for a while. Now we're starting to pick up the training again, and I can't wait for the next leg of the journey. I'll probably enroll in our 3rd Utility class in the fall and see where we're at. Maybe we can start showing again in late winter. I am so proud of my boy.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jackpots, tugging, and breathing

I had an opportunity to speak with a trainer I really look up to earlier this week. I sent an email to Willard Bailey, author of Remembering to Breathe and OTCH Dreams, as well as the Willard Unleashed Blog. Even my mom has read his books, and Bryan is used to seeing them in various locations around the house. I emailed him asking for his input on the tugging issue I wrote about the other day. To my surprise, he responded back quickly and said to call him to discuss it further.

The conclusion we reached after lengthy discussion was that tugging amps him up too much, and I should not be tugging with him before going into the ring. I'd been using it thinking it would get out some energy, but it seems to have the opposite effect. He also didn't think I would get anywhere trying to put out the tug toy and trying to work him around it. He recommended continuing the calm, quiet petting between exercises; then, when we're done training or out of the ring, heel a distance away from the ring or outside the building, THEN use tugging as a jackpot.

We also talked about ring nerves, and he recommended giving as much attention to my dog as I expect from him. Hopefully that will help me tune out the audience, and it will help keep the connection strong between me and my dog.

I felt so much better after talking with him; some of what we talked about were things I considered, but having it organized and laid out was so beneficial to me. I feel like we have a plan now, and the difference since then has been incredible. We've had a few training sessions using tugging as a jackpot. He doesn't get the tug toy though until I've decided we've completed the last exercise, and we have to heel over to it. He has been in control and confident, rather than losing his mind in the middle like he was before.

At Utility class on Wednesday, several students and my instructor commented that Scorch seemed confident and well-composed. (They all are yelling at me to "breathe!" when they catch me holding my breath too) We also had a tremendous breakthrough with one of the games our instructor had us play.

She put gloves out. Glove 2 (middle) was one glove. Gloves 1 and 3 (corners) each had 3 gloves lined up. We sent to the corners only, which was nice since the middle is a bit of a magnet for Scorch.

I sent Scorch to Glove 1 first, but he had trouble taking his focus off of 2. He finally got it, and I called him as soon as he thought about picking up the first glove (so he didn't "shop" all three). He brought it back, I took it and finished him, then immediately asked him to look again and sent him. He got through the gloves in corner 1, and on the third one, something seemed to click.

We pivoted to Glove 3, and he immediately focused in. I sent, he came storming back, I took the glove, finished, and immediately focused him and sent again. All of a sudden, we were on fire. It was the very first time I really saw him focus and channel his drive, instead of just being energetic and galloping through the exercises. He didn't vocalize, and his fronts and finishes were great.

We did heeling and signals, with all the other dogs milling around. He reacted a little to the intact Golden, but otherwise stayed focused. He did great with directed jumping over the bar, but had a bit of trouble with the high. He's graduated to a sit box for go-outs and was fantastic. And above all, he was QUIET. After we finished class, we had five minutes of intense tugging before going home.

We've done some run-throughs at home and he's been QUIET and we've really had fun! Will we qualify in Orlando? I sure hope so, but at least I know we're well on our way, and we've really improved our working partnership.

So here's what I did to him at work today (I'm lucky he's not easily embarassed).
Scorch flower

Scorch butterfly

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To tug or not to tug?

So I tried a little experiment last night.

Scorch and I were practicing obedience in a parking lot in Lakeland. We worked a couple of heeling patterns and the figure 8. I had the dumbbell out in sight and he was reasonably quiet. We broke off from heeling for a reward, except instead of a treat, I allowed him to tug for a few minutes.

I put the tug away and we moved on to dumbbell retrieves. He was much more on edge and even barked. He was also grabby with the dumbbell and I had that "barely contained" feeling that marked so many of our runs.

He loves tugging even more than treats. He'll go into my training bag and ignore an open bag of salmon goodies in favor of a felt tug. But it sends him over the edge.

What do I do? Do I stop tugging altogether for a while? Save it for the end? Tug and then try an exercise and put him away if he vocalizes? Practice exercises with the tug toy around but don't let him have it?

What do I do when his favorite reward makes him bonkers?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Open update

Well, we're officially going to try Open again.

Scorch and I are signed up for Orlando on April 14th and 15th. I haven't been pushing the jumping issues much; we've spent a lot of time working on calm behavior around the dumbbell or other stimulation. When we get into "work mode", he's doing a lot better keeping the vocalizing to a minimum. But he is still engaging in his high-pitched keening at other times, which worries me a bit.

We went to the Marina again yesterday. I taught a private lesson first to a student whose dog was getting reactive on lead. We walked around the park and worked on his attention, then I brought out Scorch. The dogs are buddies, but he reacted out of excitement when he saw him too. Anyway, as we walked around, Scorch would occasionally start his keening when we stopped. He was overstimulated I suppose and that's what brought it on, but it's very hard to get him to "come down" when he gets like that.

But after some more walking and some obedience, he settled so I suppose there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

When the lesson was over, I did a mini run-through with Scorch. I didn't do much warm-up, and his heeling was terrible at first. We did an L-shape starting with a slow (he hates that), left turn, halt, about turn, right turn, fast, halt. We did the entire, unsatisfactory pattern, then re-did it. He was nicer the second time, although forge-y.

We did a figure 8 around two dumbbells. Again, the first go around was crummy but after that he was on. He heeled a bit wide at times but I liked that better than bumping and interfering.

I left the dumbbells on the ground and we moved to a drop on recall. He's having trouble with that one and dropping late. So I've started moving towards him when I call "down" and weaning off of the movement.

We did 2 retrieves on the flat and he was AWESOME. No whining or carrying on, went right out and came right back. His turns are a little wide after he picks up the dumbbell, which is probably part of the problem with retrieve over the jump. In practice, I'm calling "jump!" on his way back and hopefully we can drop that soon.

He did some nice stays, even with all the dogs walking around and people watching us. We have some work to do but I'm hoping we can polish those rough edges that have come up. We also practiced some Utility gloves; he shakes the glove on the way in so we tried a friend's glove with pebbles in it to break the shaking. I've also been balling our gloves up and he's not shaking them as much.

Scent articles are still on the pegboard but Lisa wants me to graduate to string instead of zip ties. Scorch still makes occasional "honest mistakes" when the wind is blowing or when my helper puts the scented dumbbell very close to the unscented. He'll sometimes pick up the one right next to the correct answer... but he's sniffing carefully and I'm not even scenting my hands with treats. It is absolutely amazing to watch him work through this.

Goals for this week are entirely centered around jumping. We have our new, lightweight broad jumps to try out, and I'm going to work hard on directed jumping and crooked retrieves.

So this entry isn't entirely photo-less, here is a picture of a Silkie chicken at our county fair. I. WANT. ONE. I want chickens anyway for eggs and because they make great pets, but this breed is just amazing to look at.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Marina Sunday

Let's talk about ring nerves for a minute.

I feel like Scorch has made a lot of progress with some of his over-the-top-ness when we're doing run throughs. However, he is still vocalizing. I fear that it may be a constant battle, that whining in conjunction with breathing that he seems unaware or unconscious of. I think when the pressure goes up, and we start working through more difficult exercises, he starts to escalate. Right now, it's staying at a low hum. I've practiced breathing techniques and calm touches. He's definitely better, but we can't seem to get over the hump.

I'm planning on showing him in a few weeks in Orlando, which is a venue he is GENERALLY more comfortable in. We still occasionally have retrieve-over-the-jump demons, and he's sometimes late on drop on recall. But he's not losing his mind AS MUCH during the heeling and figure 8s (during which I've had the dumbbell out).

We've been mostly training longer sessions at home or at the training building. Out and about have been shorter sessions, so today we went to the marina to work for longer. I didn't want to do too much of a run through because of the risk of piling on the stress, so we worked a couple of exercises at a time before running for the treat or toy. I also didn't haul out any jumps, so we just did heeling, figure 8, drop on recall, and retrieve on the flat.

He did ok. I like training there because there are heavy dog and people exposures, but it's not quite as hectic as the dog park and we have options for walking around. I might try the same thing at Arlington park; there is a dog park there that is quiet, but Scorch is very stimulated by it. At the same time, there's a walking trail where we can get out some of his tension.

His drop on recall was VERY late and we redid that one a few times until he improved. I'm lucky to have a dog that doesn't mind drilling at all; I mean, I try to keep it interesting and involved, but it's still several repeated exercises and some dogs wouldn't want to keep working. He stays checked in without a problem... other than overenthusiasm.

Other than that, he had a pretty nice run, and it was on a grassy patch with lots fo smells. He kept attention nicely and although he vocalized, he didn't feel manic.

The bay was absolutely gorgeous, so I couldn't resist setting Scorch up for some pictures. His tongue is pretty ridiculous, which I think depicts him better than the more "normal" shot I got.