Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition: 2011

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Settling Down Some

Well, we're finally out of the hotel and into our temporary housing and got internet back.

Things are trying to settle back in to something resembling normal finally. That will be good for everyone involved, including Wally.

The first few days with Wally saw him do a lot of whining and being scared to be alone. It must have been yet another sudden change and being in a house again with so much empty space and its all new. I tried to give him a room that we weren't going to use so he could have it, but he would have none of that. Whimpering and whining like a kid scared of the dark. It was a bit heartbreaking to see him regress a bit like this.

I let him stay in my room for those nights and that helped him out. I was able to buy him some things to use for his little area in another room like he used to have - a place that was his in the room/house and he could go lay on it and such. Made him another spot on the lower level. He became much more settled after that. It was like he didn't know where he fit in with this new place and it made him uncomfortable and anxious.

Now that he's calmed down, we're getting back into some of the training groove. A lot of it is revisiting walking off-leash, since he was on-leash the whole time he was out in the hotel. He sort of got used to it again and lost his own keeping up with me. It's starting to come back to him. :)

So at least we're looking back up. It's not home, but at least it's more like home with a neighborhood and being in a house and GRASS for him to walk on and sniff.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Displaced By a Fire. Much Is Lost But Wally Stays Strong

There hasn't been much training going on of any kind lately, thanks to a recent house fire that has forced us out of our home. Many of Wally's and mine things are gone, as are many of the notes and articles we were using to train with.

So much of what we were doing is stopped since things like the blue rug and such are no longer around. As such, we've been just going through the basics and mostly trying to keep Wally as stable a possible so he can make an adjustment as well.

To his credit, Wally has been quite stable and adaptable through it all. He had some nervousness, as can be expected, and the first couple days were a challenge of sorts, especially in the case of using the bathroom in this strange place he's never seen before and not seeing his home and familiar sights and scents.

Now, he's adapted to the hotel we're currently staying at quite well. He's pretty much taken to it like home. He's sleeping peacefully, enjoying walks again, and getting to go in the car a lot more than usual since I don't want him in the way of the housekeepers when they come by to service the rooms.

This is quite an achievement for him, given the way he used to be. At first, there looked like it would be something of a regression, but it was mostly initial anxiety and confusion. Of course, we'll be moving on from the hotel eventually, and on to a temporary housing while our home is being repaired. That may well create another adjustment for him, but I think he'll be just fine after how he took this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All-Positive Monday 26 - Quest of The Blue Rug

The blue rug remains the focus of our training so far, and we're still working on a making it a place he will want to go on and thus make it a very attractive place for him to go to.

We worked more on shaping and then just getting the spot being a trigger for a reward even when not making it an explicit target of training. If he walks on it during the day, he gets a click and treat. If he walks on it while playing, I'll praise and give him a treat. If he lays on it, sits on it, plays on it, whatever, he gets rewarded.

I think doing that - getting him rewarded for being on, or stepping on, the rug is a good first step to getting him to offer it on his own during shaping. I've done something similar before - teach him a behavior outside of shaping, then have him refine, master, and fully reinforce the behavior during shaping and games.

Also found the Spanish word that I'll link to the rug, 'tapete'. Then I'll use "¿Dònde està tapete?" to tell him to find the rug.

That is the first "formal" game we'll play with the rug.

The other side effect of this is he'll get more "mat work" as well. The things learned here could carry over to that exercise as well, since the concept is the same idea: get to the spot where the "mat" is.

So that's where we are with the rug and our continuing practice in working with it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Square Blue Rug

I'm trying to think of things to do with the blue rug I had bought for him some time earlier. At first, he was
using it as part of where he laid in my room, but now that his new bed is there and the rug moved to the floor in front of his crate, I'm trying to think of new things to do with it.

Right now, I'm shaping him to sit and lay on it, and he got the idea pretty fast. But I wonder if that's all we can do with it. Perhaps I should see what else he comes up with. Maybe leave something he can pick up near by and see if he thinks of anything.

Or perhaps take what he's doing now and playing some sort of game where he needs to get on the rug to win. Things like that have always helped him. I think first I need to teach him what that's called (put a name to the behavior we've shaped), and then start to use that to play the game, helping him learn both the new cue as well as make the rug more important and rewarding for him to be on and get on.

Sounds like a good idea for next Monday, actually. Certainly can do that in an all-positive way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spanish for Wally: Adentro y Afuera 2

Wally is starting to get the idea of the words, and mostly I use them when I would use "inside" and "outside", respectively. 

One thing that is interesting is that when I said "Afuera", at first he hesitated. The reason was because I didn't say "outside". I was under the impression that he did not understand "inside" and "outside", and perhaps he doesn't, but he knew it was one of those two words. Pretty interesting. 

Still, he is getting "afuera" pretty quickly. He trots outside like no problem. "Adentro", though, still seems to be confusing him sometimes. He hesitated, and still does once in a while, but only on "adentro". 

I am not sure why that is. I have to use a hand signal to gesture him inside when I say the word. Perhaps he can't hear the word too well, or perhaps I'm not saying it consistently (entirely possible, not a native Spanish speaker and just learned the words myself). 

One day I will need to practice sending him in and out, and perhaps even use the clicker to mark the correct behavior to help him really understand. 

Then after that, it will be time to give a "test" to see where he is in understanding and where more practice is needed. 

So far, I think he's learning pretty well overall. Seems like using Spanish is still a good way to expand his "vocabulary", and introduce new concepts or reteach old ones.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" 25 - Balancing On My Back

Trying to get him to look at the camera.

The latest thing we tried was born from a play session. Normally, we have a bit of a play session in the morning - sort of our morning ritual of saying "good morning" to each other. Sometimes, he'll "jump on my back" and I'll pretend like he's pinned me down. The picture above was from a few days back where we were practicing just him staying on my back and me standing still.

Well, one day, I tried to get him actually to get on my back. That sort of worked, but he was certainly unsure of the situation (and probably my back).

Then he got comfortable with it and that was a start I could work with. Long story short, he got on my back and I was able to get up and he would stay on while I sort of crawled around.

Today, we kept practicing that but with me actually walking and moving around while he stays on my back. I armed myself with some beef and got him up on my back with me lying down. For now, this part is still something of luring, though I detest using luring in training.

Once on my back, I slowly got up to a "standing" (my legs were standing, the rest of me bent at the waist), and I took a couple steps and then feed him a bit of beef. A couple more steps and more beef. Repeating this for a while to make the interest of being up there even stronger. I'm willing to bet he is still a bit nervous of the whole idea, especially once I start moving around.

Eventually, made my way to the stairs. Dare I try it? I did. This was something of an adventure for the both of us. I'm certainly not used to moving around like a hunchback and he was like "we're doing what now?", and I could feel those paws digging in a bit more as I started up the stairs (felt like little pin pricks - more an unusual sensation instead of a painful one).

Every couple stairs, I praised him and fed him another bit of beef.

Then we made it to the top, I slowly knelt back down and bent forward some, as if touching my head to the floor, and cue his "get off" behavior. He jumped off just fine (which also felt funny) and was happy and excited.

Below are a couple more pictures just to give an idea how it looks. I apologize in advance for any poor quality. Taking these by myself with a dog on my back is not something I've done before!

Admiring the view from his perch.

I think he's enjoying this. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Spanish For Wally: Adentro y Afuera

It's been a while since I've tried a new Spanish word to teach Wally. I decided to look up "inside" in Spanish, and the word that popped up is "adentro". Outside popped up "afuera"

With how often I call him to come inside and go outside, these might be words he picks up quickly.

The way I'll likely teach is pretty much the same I taught "inside" and "outside". I say the word and then use a hand signal to direct him in or out.

This time, though, I will try to take it to the step I never bothered with for "inside", "outside" - teaching him that each means a certain thing. For example, coming from outside to in the house is only "adentro". If I say "afuera", and he comes in, that's not right. I don't let him in.

And of course, the reverse - "afuera" is going from in the house to outside. If I say "adentro" then he can't move. If he does - he doesn't go out.

This is will be an interesting twist. I'm not sure why I didn't try it for "inside" and "outside". I couldn't tell you. Maybe I didn't think of it at the time, and then just figured to let it go.

But this time (once I learn how to say the words consistently myself) we'll go all the way with it, or at least try it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wally Rendered In Pencil

I did not do these drawings. A talent named Canyx did it. She drew other dogs as well, all of them well done.

She captured Wally perfectly.

Here's the images.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" 24: Beginnings of Roll Over

Sounds funny, but Wally doesn't know how to do "roll over", perhaps one of the quintessential tricks for every dog. It's not something Wally seemed to enjoy even trying, let alone starting to learn.

Then, not long ago, he started flipping partly over on his own during our daily morning play sessions. He would get all wound up and excited like he always does, and then suddenly, flip! He was on his side. So seeing this, I rewarded it with a treat immediately and started trying to coax it out of him again.

It took a while, but he started to get the idea of what I was trying to lure him to do, and when he did, I gave him a treat. Then I wanted him to get more upside down and on his back so he can get used to the feeling and how to control his body to better perform the flips.

He's getting the hang of it a lot better, and he readily will go on a flip, and even will do so on his own now if I hold out on him, like during shaping.

I do still do the luring-type actions, especially during play to continue encouraging him to work with his body overturned like that. He doesn't mind it at all and is very excited just like all the rest of the time during play! In fact, I can really mess with him and scratch him on the back of his head and he's trying to get me and just having tons of fun.

I have some pictures of the luring part of a play session.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Walk Like A Human...

Lately, I've gotten into getting Wally to walk (and sometimes he'll hop...) while standing on his back paws. He's pretty much mastered just standing on his back paws. He will keep standing and standing, keeping himself balanced and focusing intently. He even will bark or stretch out his paws.

So, to take this further, or at least try to, we've started with walking on his back paws. He has some capacity for it, but he gets uncertain around objects or trying to turn corners. He'll go back down on all fours and look around, and then get back up, but by then, he's all out of position and often standing in front of me. We can use that (and we will!) but that's not what we're working on.

For now, I'm using a bit of luring, both to get him up to a standing position and mostly giving him a point to focus on (the treat) as he walks forward. Hopefully, this will help him learn how to find his balance while walking forward and take his mind off the surroundings.

The hopping comes in if I walk too fast for him to keep up on by walking. It looks funny (it freaks my mom out!) to see him hop. Not really ready for that yet, but I do still reward it, especially if he keeps it going and keeps up with me. Plus, it's not his fault if I walk too fast!

That's one thing that's in progress. Still trying to teach him to "read", which is something I need to get back to.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why I Like Teaching Via Games

When I do training with Wally, I always want to make up some kind of game to play to teach him whatever it is, or at least keep things moving fast and him excited all during training.

I find this helps us during training in the following ways:

  • He learns what we did much faster. I've read a few reasons for this that I'll get into later.
  • It keeps him from feeling uncertain if he makes a mistake. This helps him keep his mind engaged on trying to win the game instead of worrying about if I'm upset or if he's confused.
  • It builds a positive emotional association with training. Of course, this helps with all training in general. Whenever I grab the clicker, he's already excited and alert. 
  •  It keeps training interesting for ME. Hey, I'm important too. The more I want to train, the more I'll train, which means the more things he'll have an opportunity to learn.
  • It lets me test his progress in a lighthearted way. If he's winning easily, it's a skill he's either learned or at least it's time to up the challenge. 
  • And lastly, in keeping with the challenge point, increasing the challenge just means I've made the game harder. It's less of a shock than a whole new set-up scenario he has to re-figure out before trying to solve the problem.

Perhaps the most interesting and hardest to see of these is the first point, he learns faster. Of course, it's no big secret that play can enhance learning. We use play to teach human children. The whole industry of "edutainment" games and TV shows follows this idea. Play in and of itself is learning-in-process. From social skills to learning about rules and what is or isn't acceptable in groups, and so on. Much of the same is true in dogs, really. And probably in any social mammal.

But another reason is possibly the emotional connection, at least in dogs. It is said that dogs have heightened emotions and energy during play, making anything learned have a stronger imprint, so to speak, on the mind. While this is true in the negative sense, such as with intense fear or pain, it also works on the positive side.

In addition, games often engage the dog's prey drive, which makes it close to hunting-type behavior. Dogs will always remember how to get food. That's just instinctive. Tapping into this always helps. If "hunting" equals closing doors or stopping on a dime and laying down, then they'll do it and remember it.

So, in addition to being pure fun, I like games to help tap into his emotional state and use more of those instincts of his to teach him whatever I would like him to learn.

Has anyone else noticed a strong success when teaching their dogs by using games?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Opening and Closing the Door II

Tapped out on new things to try with Wally this week, I decided to see if he knew how to open and close the door...with me being on the other side of the door. It sounds silly, but this is a big change. Usually I'm already through the door.

Sure enough, he got mixed up. He wasn't sure what to do. I put a small opening in the door, like I usually do for him to open it, gave him the "abres" cue, and he closed the door! He did the wrong thing out of his confusion. Same thing for telling him "cierras" to close the door.

So we have a new thing to work on soon. I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier. Another thing to try is doors that open from different sides. The bathroom door opens from a different position so he has to figure that out. Again, seems silly to us, but to a dog, it's a big deal.

I think I know how I'm going to do it, and, as usual, will try to make a game out of it - or at least keep it moving fast and exciting.

Other than that, we've been rained out most of the week and he's been in no real mood to do much of anything, and neither have I, really. He did do some catching on one rainy day when it wasn't so bad, but once the pouring rain came, he and I both just wanted to get back inside as soon as possible. And once inside, he just wanted to dry off and get warm and I was pretty much in the same mindset.

At least now, we have something new indoors to try.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 23" - Day of Games

Today, instead of trying to teach him something new, it was just a day of playing lots of different games with him, and having some fun.

First game as letting him try to "hunt" and "kill" some "prey". I put a treat in my hand and held it closed while moving it around on the floor. He had to find my hand (sometimes I would hide it under something, or use my non-treat hand as a decoy scent by holding the treat in it for just a second) and then he had to "catch" it by putting a paw on it.

I moved my hand around quickly in erratic movements, sometimes freezing for a couple seconds, then start moving again or let him pounce and move at the last instant so he didn't get it. To add to the excitement, I pulled on his paws a little. That really got him going! He really really wanted to get my hand now, and then I'd put it on his back and hold on and he would try to get it off. He even stood on his back legs and put his front paws around my arm! That earned him a treat right there.

I did the same thing, except this time with a piece of rawhide. He's getting the hang of it by now and he's slapping at it with his front paws, making contact more often. When he earned the "kill" he got to chew on it for about 30 seconds.

Next up was some fun with the ball. We did some catching, but also some retrieving and having him look for the ball. To do the last part, I distracted him with his reward for getting the ball, and tossed the ball while he wasn't looking. I'd then say "Pelota! Dónde está pelota?" Getting him to look around for the ball. I didn't point the ball out to him, he had to find it - and when he did, he got a nice batch of treats for his efforts.

Since we were already outside, we revisited the Station-to-Station game we made up for teaching "go around". It's been a while since we last played it, so I was wondering if he remembered - and he did. We had a lot of fun with it. I think he really enjoyed the running too, not often he gets to run.

By this time, it was time for his dinner and a well-deserved nap after all that fun! He didn't want to quit, but with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, he was definitely tiring. He laid himself out and is sleeping soundly as I type.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Spanish For Wally: "Bueno" or "Bien"

Of all the words I've taught him so far, I don't know why it didn't dawn on me to tell him he did well! I mean, of all the things...something as basic as "good dog" or similar escaped me...D'oh.

So I'm on the way to rectifying such an oversight.

Next Spanish word he's going to be introduced to is "bien" which means "good" in the sense of describing something as good (like good food) as opposed to how something was done (like good fetch).

The question is..which? Well, it doesn't really matter to him (he doesn't know what meanings to words are anyway. I could tell him "grass" for all he cares) but it would help me remember. I think I'll go with "Bien" because I'm describing the thing he just did, though "Bueno" sorta rolls off the tongue. Argh. I might just teach both!

The method, no matter which I pick, will be the same as when I taught him "good boy" or what the click from the clicker means. I will just say the word (say, "bueno") and then give him a treat. That's it. Then when I use it in the "real world", I'll say "bueno" and then give him a treat. I know he has it when I can say "bueno" and he immediately looks for the treat to appear.

It's been a while since I've taught him a new Spanish word, so this will be fun.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 22" - Building Desire In Catching And Carrying

With Wally more and more interested in catching things, and getting a bit better at it, I took part of the day to have Wally like the ball even more.

I want him to do anything he can to get the ball in his mouth. To do this, I turned to shaping-type activity.

The behavior I want is him getting the ball in his mouth. Once he did this, he got a reward for it. Nothing happens with any other behavior. Nothing else is good enough, no pawing, poking, pushing the ball, just picking it up.

I went through about a dozen of these and then switched to a more active scenario. I rolled the ball, and he had to go get it, but without me saying so. I want it to be the default behavior. See ball moving...get ball in mouth.

Our prior working on retrieve training interferes with this as he is used to waiting for the cue to go after whatever it is. I want to frame this differently, so he can understand the difference between the two activities. That is something for me to think on.

After doing this, I held the ball in my hand and moved it around. He had to try to grab the ball. Again, all of this in an effort to get him to go into "Must. Get. Ball. In. Mouth." mode. Each time he succeeded, he got a click and a reward. I also kept getting him and keeping him excited the whole time, which had him increasing his efforts.

However, it didn't stop with just the ball. Also on the agenda was developing his "pick up and carry" desire. Since we had been working with getting the ball in his mouth, this would be a good follow up since it's also involving getting objects in his mouth.

This is a little more difficult since he's not as apt to carry a lot of things, but I used the ball again. Instead of catching the ball, he had to pick it up and carry it to me. Success netted him a game with the ball. That would be the reward I used for this set of exercises.

After getting him warmed up with the ball, I used other light household items, like a duster, balled up napkins, stirring spoons, and so on. Hopefully, this could be the precursor to other actions like putting the object in a box and moving him further along in becoming something of a "housework dog".

Saturday, August 27, 2011

English For Wally: "Speak"

While a lot of plans for training today are halted thanks a lot to Irene, we did get to do something with reading.

We worked on "Speak". I held up the card to Wally and said "Speak!" when I did. If he didn't bark, I showed it to him again, moving it to get his attention and said "Speak" again.

Eventually, he barked which got him a reward. Did it again, and again he wanted to touch the card and all of that. But he did bark - and again another reward. He started barking more often after this point, and I wanted him to bark at the card so that he's looking at it while barking and getting the click.

I am hoping that helps him make the connection between what's on the card, what I'm saying, and then he's able to get it. Of course, it's going to be an on-going process and this is just start of getting him into the exercise in general, let alone getting the concept.

This also gave him something to do with all that energy and how he usually gets when he's wet...which is hyper. He's been more subdued overall. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to care at all about the storm, which is good. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wally To Ground, "Please Stop Moving."

You probably heard about the earthquake that hit Virginia. Well, being in Virginia, not terribly close to the quake center, but close enough to feel it significantly, Wally went crazy when it started.

He didn't want to walk at all, even after it was over. He was scared it would start moving again. Fortunately, he was able to calm down about a couple hours later.

While it was going on, I took his mind off what was happening as best as possible (not easy with house rattling and ground shaking). We played some games, tried to get him into his catching, which worked a bit. We also did some simple training, just anything to get him to think about something else but the quake as much as possible.

Then the aftershocks. While they aren't much to worry over for us humans, he's still looking at the ground when it happens. (One just happened as I'm writing this, but luckily, he's sleep and it was quick so he may not have felt it). They don't worry him as much, but they catch him off guard.

Wally certainly does not like the ground under him moving. I don't even like to move a rug while he's on it, or his bed while he's on it. That might just be a dog thing in general, not liking their feet moving or the ground under them moving - it might be something all us land-based creatures don't like.

For what it's worth, the fish in house didn't really care about the whole thing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 21" - Saga of the New Floor

Well, Wally's world got thrown upside down a couple days ago. My mom (Wally's owner) changed her floor drastically, and it confused Wally completely. While he didn't get into full fearful mode, he was noticeably uncertain.

So much of the last few days has been spent getting him comfortable with the floor and showing him that nothing really changed in regards to him.

It also didn't help that she put some rocks along the entrances of the rooms and had me put down a new tile design on the floor. That added to things to get him used to. Fortunately, though, he's come a LONG way from the way he used to be, so this was not nearly as hard as it could have been.

Much of the training was playing lots of games and getting him to eat tidbits of food off the rocks and the bench on the side of the hall. I also wanted to get him to move eagerly along the hall so that he could understand that the floor tiles and such are still easy for him to move on. I think over time he will love the floor, since the more slippery linoleum is gone.

This was a case where "all-positive training" really works. It technically is not under operant conditioning, but more desensitization, part of classical conditioning (think Pavlov's dog).

The work was successful as now he's sniffing the rocks as he goes by, just in case there's some food there! We kept up with the having him walk on just his back paws as usual, and all his usual routines and jobs are still there, though the change in the floor color did create a screwing up with his keeping out of the kitchen behavior.

What happened is that "dividing line" to him was, in part, the change between the white linoleum flooring and the brown tile of the kitchen. Now the floor is brown and it looks too much like the kitchen tile, so it's a bit confusing for him at the moment. We'll have to reteach it, so he can pick up on another landmark.

In all, it wasn't hard, but it was something of a setback and something to deal with a bit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

PE for Wally 3: Wally The Outfielder?

Today, we did more with catching, and this time I used a new object. For this session, we played with a black and white baseball.

Immediately, I noticed a more keen reaction to the ball. Perhaps the different colors on the ball made it easy for him to track the baseball's movements. With the disc, sometimes it seemed he couldn't pick it up very well.

It may be a height issue as well. With the ball, I throw it underhand, so it may enter and stay within his vision for longer time, helping him track it in the air. Whatever the reason, he was going after it aggressively in the air.

He has a harder time grabbing it, sometimes it pops out of his mouth, or he misjudges it, and it bounces off his nose. Sometimes, I swear he's trying to catch it with his paws! He seems to be coming up with a way to catch it more reliably, by moving towards it a bit. Perhaps he's trying to understand how to catch the ball at it's highest point.

His enthusiasm is still strong when I do shorter tosses (short as in: about a foot from him, if that). He jumps up high, sometimes making a twisting landing. He hangs on to the ball, though, and I started doing some of those tosses in more rapid succession. He liked doing these, so I'll definitely do more with him. These shorter tosses are easy to do indoors as well, making for more chances to practice.

I've considered using a smaller ball (like his tiny soccer ball) so it's easier to catch, but then again he can catch this ball. He just has to learn to judge it and adjust to the throws.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 20" - First Word: Sit

The beginning of 'reading' for Wally began with using the "Sit" card. I picked this one as it is a behavior that is simple and beyond learned.

This is also makes it a very good exercise for an all-positive session since he is unlikely to get a sit wrong as this stage of things.

We began with showing him the card and when he was looking at it, I cued "sit". There's some refinement to make later because he came up to the card, sniffed/touched it, then sat. I click and treated and will worry about the refinements later on.

This went easily. Click and treat when he sits and use his touching the card to get him to stand up again, so I can cue another sit. Click and treat again and then repeat. I think part of him is trying to figure out what's going on because he's moving somewhat slowly, but not because he's scared. I think the whole situation is confusing him and he might be wondering why he's having to sit.

I think he will get the idea, especially with more repetitions. I hope to get some time to really drill this in his head and fill up his brain with this.

The early returns indicate that he will be able to pick this skill up, and that's all I'm looking for on the first day. It's a very promising sign!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

English For Dogs: Can Wally "Read"?

An idea I have gotten lately is to try to teach Wally to "read" words on a card and perform the behavior written on them.

I'm curious to see if I can teach this to him, and how well Wally will be able to grasp this. I haven't started yet as I'm thinking of way I want to do it. I'm guessing the most direct way would be the best, as in: show card, say the verbal cue, and then reward when (if) he does the behavior.

Then again, the shaping approach is always pulling at me, but I don't think it would work for all of them, and it may slow down learning in this case. We shall see, I suppose!

The first four words are pictured below on the "cards" (I printed them on the shiny side of 4" x 6" photo paper.)

Wally's first four words to read.

I'm excited for this! I may hold of until Monday to do it for the "All-Positive Monday" (I know I missed it this week - circumstances out of my control, unfortunately) and it would give me a couple more days to think and do some research on methods others have used.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wally's New Bed: A Dog's Life?

Not too long ago, Wally finally got a real, legit dog bed.

Wally, the Coton, resting after training sessions with the amateur dog trainer.
Here, see the Coton, named Wally, resting after a long day of messing with the amateur dog trainer's (read: my) head during training sessions.

As you can see, it's a nice-sized bed.  He took to the bed immediately, which is unusual since he is usually wary around large objects. With the bed, though, he warmed up to it immediately ever since he first put a paw on it, literally. He put a paw on it, paused for a moment, and then climbed on and promptly lied down.

Wally looking up at me after taking the last picture, awakened by the flash of the camera.
It looks like the camera flash caught the attention of Wally, and now I have drawn his interest. I can only wonder what is in his mind.
Even when I picked up the bed (after having to coax him off of it!), he started following the bed, and when I stopped to open the door to take it downstairs, he kept sniffing the bed. This is really out of character or him because he very rarely shows interest in big things picked up and moving around. This bed really has captivated him.

Wally is curious, but is staying on his bed.
While his interest is aroused, Wally is reluctant to move from his comfortable resting spot and watches with a slightly-lazy curiosity.

He sleeps on his nice new bed almost as much as his favorite corner in my room. Almost. I guess comfy beds are great and he'll gladly take it, but nothing beats an old, familiar spot he's slept in since he's been here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

PE for Wally 2: Catch Practice

I recently discovered that Wally has shown an interest in catching and isn't terrible considering we've never really put much interest into it. Still, though, he seems to want to catch things and gets all excited about the chance to do so.

To that end, I got him a small blue disc, designed for dogs of course, that is rubber and soft on his mouth.

First thing I always want to do with him is introduce the object in a calm way and praise for interaction with it. Then slowly increase excitement level and play around with it with him. I want to do this to remove any concerns he may have about the object and have him desiring the object. This will come in handy.

Fortunately, he took to the disc VERY quickly. This is surprising to me, but I'm glad for it! He's already trying to grab it when I hold the disc in my hand. If I move it around, he's trying to bite it and all of that. A lot of desire for the disc already.

With that out of the way, I'm "throwing" the disc from a very short distance. This serves a dual purpose: 1) I can see how he tries to catch, tracks the object, and how he prefers to make the catch. 2) I can learn how to deliver the disc to give him a higher chance of success. This is a new thing for me, too, so I have stuff to learn and improve on as well.

This is where we are at now and we're both having fun with it. Hopefully, this gets us off on the right foot.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

PE for Wally 1: Hopping and Jumping

For the first attempt at bringing in physical aspects for him, I decided to try his hopping and jumping, and trying to get him to get better at both.

Hopping is just a matter of trying to capture it, but he needs to do it more consistently to make that more likely. For now, he still needs something to motivate him to try reaching. I didn't want to use food as the lure as this is a good chance to make an object more rewarding and desirable.

I used one of his rabbit skin strips, and he was certainly attracted! After a bit of teasing, he stood up on his back legs, but didn't make any hops.

I encouraged him to "get it" and he did start hopping. I lifted the object up more and moved it around to get him really tracking it. Once he hopped up to get it, I let go and let him shake it. Then I gave him a click and a treat and started again. Now, he was twice as into it, and started getting higher off the ground and hopping more steadily. Still need some work, but this was a good effort, and I didn't want to wear him out for the jumping.

Now the jumping, that's a different story. He wasn't certain of it, and I think part of this is because he's lost judging the distance past the jump. I think he was as much uncertain of that as he was of the hoop again.

He tried to go around the hoop, like he did way back in the beginning. After much urging, he started jumping through the hoop. I clicked while he was in the air going through the hoop, and rewarded him when he landed.

He got more motivated, but still, he was hesitant. Looks like this is something that will really need to work on to get him back where he used to be comfortable with the hoop.

He also used to jump "in" the hoop and then back "out" the hoop if I held it a little above the floor and flat. This time, though, he totally refused.

That's good, though, because it shows me where he needs work and what we need to keep working on, and that means more chances for the both of us to grow.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 19" - Reading For Wally?

I got an idea from this post on a dog forum I visit often, and it made me want to see if Wally could get started with this.

I figure that it could be another way to teach object discrimination to him as well, and who knows what other cool things.

First, though, we have to start at the beginning. The first thing to do was make him look at the paper. So, every time he looked at the paper, he got a click and a reward. I kept working on this where he got a click and treat every time he looked at the paper and did nothing else.

Hopefully, this will be both a reward history around being shown a sheet of paper (gets him anticipating doing something for the reward) as well as draw his eyes to the paper instantly and with focus. This is going to take some time in all likelihood since a piece of paper is not going to be the most exciting thing ever.

This is a good thing to work on for an "All-Positive" day, since there's nothing to really correct. If the dog isn't looking at the paper, then just move the paper around to get his attention with the motion. He'll get the point over time. I don't want to rush this step because this is the foundation of the whole skill. It would be like trying to read a book without having enough focus to read the pages or motivated enough to read the book and your mind and eyes start wandering.

With some patience and time, maybe Wally can start 'reading' :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Object Immersion 2: Fielding Groundballs With Pelota

Another day of object immersion, this time with the ball. Still in an effort to teach him the names of these objects and still using Spanish for the cues.

The usual grabbing and giving took place and making getting the object part of his "work day", but the highlight was the outdoor play, since it wasn't as oppressively hot today.

The game was a spin off from retrieving with a little controlled excitement taking place. I made sure to get him wound up and excited about the ball and in general and would "throw" the ball along the ground, making it roll and sometimes bounce and saying "Pelota!" to get him to go after it. I used the object name instead of "go get it" to make it part of the object immersion.

This was a lot of fun for him, and I think he could feel it's been a while since he got to bounce and run like that. As the game went on, he started play growling and getting really intense, especially when I "attacked" him with the ball and pulled on his hair a bit. Each time he came back, he jumped against me, getting pretty high off the ground, and was more than ready for the next throw.

At that point, I had him lie down and wait. I'd then give him another "ground ball" and called out "Pelota!" and he took off after it. Of course, one time, he got distracted and he didn't see where it went. I kept saying "Pelota!" as he looked around for the ball. When he found it, I made a big deal of it and got him charging back to me, and then we'd do it all over again.

Once I saw his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth, I figured it was time to stop as he was getting fatigued and it was still a pretty hot day out. We went back inside, and, once he got back to my room, he immediately went for his water bowl and lied down on his blue carpet. Once he cooled off, he took a bit of a nap before dinner.

A nice rousing day for him, and a chance to burn up some physical energy for once!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Mystery of the Scary Dog Bowl?

This is something "new" that's come and gone a few times in the past. I have no idea what caused it or why it isn't consistent, but there are times where he will RUN from his food.

I've tried to come up with ideas for why he does this sometimes, but at least I can get him to eat if a put my finger in it and let him lick a little off, or just point to the bowl and be insistent about eating. I wish I knew what this was about.

The sporadic nature of it makes me think there's something else other than the bowl at work, but something about the thought of eating at that moment is something he wants to avoid - but what dog does NOT want to eat?

The first few times it happened, I thought he needed to go out to do his business; so, I let him out, and he did relieve himself. However, when coming back in, he still displayed the same behavior. If I take him out repeatedly, he won't go and can get even more anxious.

He is healthy otherwise and has his normal personality (once he calms down) and activity level. This makes me want to rule out any illness as I've seen him when he's was fully sick/stomach upset and he's lethargic and nothing like his usual self.

It happened again not too many days ago, but I did get him to eat. Tonight, I didn't get to take him out before dinner, so I'm sure he could have used a bathroom break, but not out of the unusual happened. He scarfed down his food in 25 seconds like usual.

For now, I'm going with some kind of upset stomach or something out of balance a bit (like mild constipation or something) and have trimmed back his food a bit. He's been good since so maybe that's done it.

I don't know. Sometimes, this dog really has me scratching my head! Wally, why you so quirky?

Monday, July 25, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 18 - Another Fearful Object To Battle"

The boxes I had bought at IKEA along with those stuffed animals to work on object matching with presented another challenge to us.

Not with using the boxes, but just approaching them. He avoided the boxes and was very reluctant to come up to them. He got so scared, he started to shaking again, just like he used to.

Things like this are perfect for an all-positive approach. For any interaction with the box, he got a click and a reward, this time a piece of deli ham. I wanted to give him something that he likely finds more enticing than even his beloved bread balls.

This got him at least looking at the box and stretching his next out towards it. I approached this as a shaping exercise, so no cues from me, just clicks and ham or nothing. I wanted him to approach or give attention to the box on his own. I didn't want him to feel like I was pressuring him or to add any more anxiety to what he was already feeling.

Working on this took a lot of energy out of him, something I remember from working on fear issues before. He needed a break, so I took him out for a leisurely walk (more sniffing and marking than walking) and then he took a nap when we got back in and settled (and cooled off).

This is something we'll have to keep working with so he can get over this as well.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Outdoor Plans Ruined By Heat

I was planning on getting Wally outside and having another round of physical play and activities. However, the heat was just too much, even early in the day. Wally pretty much started panting about 5 minutes of being outside...let alone in the sun.

The black top was also out of the question with it being over 130 degrees (yes, I measured, and that's...over 50 degrees for those who use Celsius) and that's just out of the question. I don't want to fry Wally's paw pads.

So, we had to make do indoors, and it was still relatively okay, but not nearly as many options. Most of the physical play was around him running up and down the stairs while playing hide and seek, which is mostly mental anyway.

Having him try to catch some of his toys adding some physical play and did take a lot of him because I make it pretty challenging for him. He has to stand up on his back paws and try to trap the toy, and I make it "attack" him, which gets him dodging and getting even more into the game.

I also had him jump through the hoop again, and that's something he evidently got rusty with. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson about letting skills get rusty since this has happened before. Fortunately, I got him going through the hoop and raising it up to increase how high he needs to jump. That might have been the most physical part of the day.

Unfortunately, the heat is not going to let up at all...Another hot day is expected tomorrow, and maybe through next week. Ugh.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Object Matching and Naming

Today, we worked more with matching objects.

I used two pairs - the white bears and the blue dogs. At first, I showed the blue dog and threw the other on the bed when he wasn't looking along with the bear. I still have to move the object around to get him to keep looking at it.

I whipped it away and had him go find the match. I made some changes as well in terms of rewarding him. I didn't use the clicker this time, but instead I used a "good boy!" which got him charging back to me with the object. Then I gave him a treat, and tossed the object while he was getting it.

I think using my voice sort of helped him out. Even if it didn't help him remember, it kept his spirits up, which is always a plus in training - especially for hard skills like this.

I also worked him on learning the names of objects. I used the ball ("pelota") and the bone ("hueso") this time.

At this point, I noticed he seemed reluctant to pick up the object. I don't know why, but this is something that I hope doesn't continue.

Just a little testing him on the objects this time, but basically just some review as it were. There wasn't much done with this as he was really worn out from the matching. Still, though, he got into it. When I did "test" it a bit, he was pretty good with getting the correct object, even when I switched.

And, after it all, he was tired and went to sleep - after sniffing out the crumbs from the treats of course!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 17" - Another Twist to Object Discrimation

This video of a dog performing object discrimination is the inspiration of this week's All-Positive Monday. 

Yes, that's not something new, but this is a new way to approach it. Instead of trying to have Wally match by name (not that we are going to give up on that), but instead by appearance.

In the video, it goes through how she taught her dog this.

So, this week's All-Positive Monday had us working the beginnings of this, the foundations as it were.

First, I started with getting him interested in the objects in general. These were all new objects to him (I bought some small stuff animals from IKEA), so he wasn't familiar at all with them. I want him to have a good interest in these objects, which frees him up from worrying about them or being curious, and can focus on the training.

Next, I worked on him just looking at the object. For so long, we've been working on him going up to objects and trying to interact with them. Now, I just want him to look - and that's it. No grabbing, no trying to get it, just look at it.

And not looking at me. That's another thing. He's used to looking at me and not what he wants (derived from part of "leave it" training and self-control). Sometimes, that makes him turn from the object to look at me. I'm going to have to put a cue to it to have him look at the object. We did this today as well.

Believe it or not, this drained him pretty good. I didn't think this would be too much of a challenge for him, but it worked him mentally it seems. He was crashed out after this session.

After a nap, I started with some basics of matching. I used just one pair so I had one object and the match was some distance away from us. I cued him to look at the object (and worked on that) and then used our "Dónde está?" cue to have him go finding the match.

Now this, I can see being quite the challenge for him. He had no choice but to succeed, since the only object there was the match. He picked it up and brought it back, and earned a reward. After a few trails with that pair, I switched pairs. Still the same exercise and cue.

After being drained some more, he crashed out again and sleep a LONG time this time around. I had to wake him up to eat! I really taxed his brain and between that and dinner, he slept really well all night long.

I suppose there's no better ending to an all-positive training day than a good night of peaceful sleep!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Grooming Day For Wally

Not much training or such today as he spent today getting pampered and spruced up by the groomer.

As usual, he was great for the groomer and she loves working on Wally. He looks especially good today and he even got a nail trim for free - that was unexpected, but definitely appreciated. No more click-clack while walking on the tile floor.

Here's how he looked just before bedtime:

I know I look good. Make sure this photo is going to do me justice!!

Decided to get a photo just before putting him to bed for the night.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Phys Ed for Wally? Trying To Come Up With Ideas

I played with him with my foot today and while doing it, I thought about thinking of games that are more physical in nature to try teaching him.

The game with my foot was where he had to "slap" my foot with a paw or put his paw on my foot hard solidly. Every time he did, I gave him a treat. He got into after a few tries, but seemed to not be sure what he was supposed to "get" at other times. Still, it seemed like the start of some silly little game.

I would like to start adding this to Wally's "curriculum" to go along with his "Art", "Spanish", and "Shaping". (Too bad dogs can't count, or I'd put "Math" in there! Maybe learning shapes could go under "Math". Hmm!), but coming up with some fun and "educational" type games that are physically-oriented is hard for me. The few movement-type games are still mentally challenging.

Doing something like agility would be out of the question - no place to take an agility class or any way to even start him learning the idea. Seems like there should be something we can do, though, between the balls, cones, the hoop and other toys and objects.

If anyone has some ideas, feel free to leave comments with suggestions! I'm open to pretty much any idea at this point.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 16" - Canine Creativity?

This was something different. Today, I took Wally out to an open field and just waited for him to do something. When he did, I tried to go with it and see if I couldn't get him to extend it.

He started with his usual, the typical sitting and such that usually gets him rewarded, and I did reward it here as well. After a while, he was like, "hmm....what's up here?"

I pretended to ignore him and he sat next to me. I kept acting like I was looking at something and then he stood up on his back paws. I kept looking in the distance and he waved his paws up and down like "hey, I'm over here!". Turned and clicked and gave him a treat. He kept standing up. I held out for a little while and he started with the paws again. Another reward.

Next, the tail started going. Usually, this is a precursor to his barking (he always "winds up" his tail before he starts barking). It wasn't quite a bark, but he did make some vocalization. That got him another reward.

Then, I went back to "ignoring" him. He sat down for a moment just looking at me. He sort of "gruffed" and started looking around. I suppose he was looking for an object to grab or poke. He went over to the monkey bars (we were near a playground) and pawed the base. I rewarded that. I was hoping he'd act as though he'd climb them, but he didn't.

He came back. He sat, but I had gone back to the pretending again. He lied down. Still nothing. He tapped my foot with his paw. I looked at him and rewarded him. He did it again. Another reward. Again, but this time - nothing. Next, he put both his paws on my foot and barked. That got rewarded.

After that, we had some fun just running around before going back in because we were both getting quite hot.

Next time, I will have to do this near a light pole to see if he incorporates that into the things he offers!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Object Discrimination 5: First Attempt At Three Objects

Tonight, I upped it to three objects. All three objects where down, including a new one, "perro" a little stuff dog. This was different in lots of areas and would present a challenge to Wally.

At first, I introduced him to "perro". I pointed to "perro" and when he touched the little stuffed dog, I clicked and rewarded him. I repeated this multiple times and then put out two other objects, his first new ball (still using "pelota") and the same bone as before, the soft, big one.

Once done, I called for "perro" again. He did go to the dog toy again, but then again, it was in the same spot and the same object he was rewarded for, so it follows that it would be his first choice. I called for "hueso" next, his bone. Now that confused him. In fact, the bone was a hard object for him to find! I don't understand why that was, but he just was at a loss to find it.

He did eventually find the bone somewhat consistently, and then I threw in "pelota". Another bit of confusion and he went back to the bone a lot. The ball was just sitting there, in plain view and he wouldn't turn around to find it. I think what happened was that his usual search pattern kicked in. Too bad for him, the ball was in the opposite direction!

Wally did get the ball, and now it was time to have him looking for an object at random. He was challenged, at times he seemed to want to give up, but I wouldn't let that happen. I don't know if I was pushing his limits, but with encouragement, my constant calling out the object, and the rewards I used (the new treats I got at the last trip to Petco) kept him going and he did find the object I called out for.

After that, I gave him a two minute break. I stroked him slowly and gently while he sat in front of me and just let him have a little time to recover and unwind.

Then I tried to add 'dónde está?' so I would say 'dónde está perro?', for example, and he had to at least go to the proper object, the dog toy in this case. Once I did this, he got the object a couple times and brought it to me, but I think it was too much. Also 'dónde está?' is the "find it" cue so that might have entered his mind. A positive (at least in my view it's positive!) sign is that when I said 'dónde está?', he was ready to look, but waited for me to stay the object name. He may have been waiting for the object name to know what to go looking for - something for me to watch going forward.

I switched to "go get _____ " and that helped him. For now, I think I'll stick with that, at least for these exercises.

We had been working for about 30 minutes, so I ended the session, let him jump up on me and let him unwind and process things (he's currently sleeping next to me).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sorta Light Day For Wally

I thought he deserved another break and since I needed to go to Petco anyway, I brought him along. No surprise that he enjoyed the outing, sniffing everything like he's just come to his most favorite place ever in the whole world.

No dogs in the store, though, and I was hoping there would be so I could do a little socialization work. But I did get to do a lot of work with trying to control his excitement and having him stay under control. He did a pretty good job overall, considering the situation. We mostly worked on simple stuff like positions and stopping when I stopped.

He did show interest in people going by, sniffing them as they passed and not shying away or shrinking back. I rewarded him for that and it is a part of socialization so we got a little of it in.

At one point, I think I overstimulated him. I found another cute little ball with some interesting colors while also being "floss" for his teeth (not that he'll likely chew on it, but I figure if I play with it with him and making him bite and pull on it to get it from me...) and I was telling him to get it and getting him excited, and he was slipping around on the floor trying to change directions and get the ball and looking around! He was just super excited and wound up - eyes all big and just didn't know what to do with himself.

Of course, he loved being around the food aisle and sniffing the bags of treats. I don't know if this counts as object discrimination, but he got to pick out which treats he liked best. He kept showing interest in one pack first and most often, so that's the one I bought for him. When I gave him some, he certainly liked them.

So it was a kind of a light day. No "formal" training, but threw some in and he got out of the house and to explore a fun place. He was pretty tired from all the excitement.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 15" - Dealing With Fireworks

*sigh* It's that time of year again. While I love a good fireworks show as much as anyone, especially on the Fourth like today, it drives Wally mad. This is one of the few real major fears he's got left and every year, it just brings back too many memories.

Fortunately, he's still more stable but today I focused on making him as happy as possible during everything going on.

Basically, what we did is described as the "Look At That" game mentioned in the book Control Unleashed.

Since we where working with fireworks sounds, every time he looked in the direction of the sounds, I clicked and treated him. I definitely made sure to use a very high value treats, in this case some cornbread chunks.

I made sure to use the clicker since he's going to be key on sounds so it would likely "break through" the noise and capture his attention.

One thing this accomplished was get him more focused on me. He started looking at me as we walked, though he was still skittish and had a hard time staying in position because of all the nervous energy inside him.

I started branching out what I would click for, this time clicking for looking at me. I didn't care about position, just if he was focusing on me as that's effort in itself if he's scared/anxious.

Even then, there were still signs that he was too anxious. He didn't want to do much in the way of relieving himself. He did only what he couldn't hold and that was it. That's a clear sign since he usually loves to mark and sniff on walks. His tail stayed low and he was lower to the ground as he moved.

He was also doing behaviors I usually like. This is something he often does when he's anxious, and sometimes I wonder is it because it makes him feel safe ("I'm sitting at his side so I know nothing will happen to me.") or if he is trying to get me to help him feel better ("If I do this, he'll be happy and then something good can happen for me.") It's one of those times I wish I knew what he was thinking.

I also wonder if there's something I can do to further desensitize him to fireworks. Perhaps I can turn to youtube again like I did with dogs. Hmm...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day of Shaping Puzzles

Today, we tried a little something different with shaping. Well, it's not shaping, per se, but more a test of how much he remembers from tasks we've gone through via shaping - and maybe a little shaping type responses from me (i.e. no direct commands)

First, I put the scale out to him. I didn't do anything else. He had to get on the scale and sit-stay on it. After that, I would act as though I'm checking his weight and he had to stay until I told him it was okay to get off.

When I put the scale out, he kinda looked at it strange, but then must have remembered something because he stood on it with his front paws and the back paws were on the floor.

I didn't say anything of course, just stood there looking at him. He saw no reward forthcoming, and tried something else. After a few tries, he got it and sat on the scale. I then did the rest and had him stay on for a little longer. Once finished, I rewarded him and let him off.

Next was his soccer ball. Since this is probably easy for him, I made him do a couple different behaviors. He could paw it, pick it up, poke it, or push it. Any of those, but he had to do at least two.

He did the poke almost immediately. Not surprising since that's one we've worked on quite a bit. I rewarded the poke and waited for something else. He kept wanting to give me pokes, but I wasn't paying any attention to those any longer. He tried some other stuff like sitting near me, but the picked up the ball. That was good enough.

Lastly, I had a towel laid out. This was for him to lie down on as if doing the "mat" training. This one he got pretty quick. At first he sat on it, but then he lied down and solved it quickly.

Not to bad, considering it's the first time I had him switch like this and had him basically to remember the whole thing from scratch and on his own.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Push, Push, Push!

Today, I wanted to take the ball pushing to another level and put a goal to it. This would be doing the behavior like a job and something that has to be done to finish the job.

The ball wasn't his soccer ball. I tried that, but it was much too small for this. His head had to go to low to actually push the ball instead of just tapping the top of the ball. So that was out. That left it to the big blue exercise ball. That one is probably too big, but, hey, he had to deal with it.

Initially, he thought this was just the ball pushing "game" where he could push the ball once and get rewarded. Once he found out that wasn't it, he turned less happy.

I kept up with it, he had to keep pushing the ball. That was the one of the hardest parts for him to understand. He had to push it. With me telling him multiple times, he thought he was getting it wrong. He started even shaking, but he would keep taking treats so he wasn't stressed out that bad. As such, I ignored the shaking and all that and kept him working.

Then I opened the patio door and made that the goal. He had to push the ball out of the door. This is the other part he had a hard time understanding. The goal was to get the ball out of the door, but he just thought about trying to push it when I said "push".

As such, I started directing him to try to give him the best chance to push the ball in the right direction. This helped quite a bit, but also threw in another instruction for him to keep track and be aware of. This really worked him both physically and mentally. I also wanted him to move quickly and keep going.

He did manage to do so, and we repeated the exercise several times. He seemed to get better at it, and at the least pushed the ball harder.

After that, we went outside and pushed the ball around out there too. On the grass, he had to push it harder to get it moving, so I went easier on him. Still, he had to move the ball, and push it multiple times. I also had him push the ball back inside the backyard gate before we went for a walk right after.

All in all, it was a pretty exhausting day for him. From the mental and physical demands of doing the "work" and then going for a long walk. He had a lot in his day and now he's crashed out for some well-deserved rest.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 14", Paw Gaming

In an effort to continue improving his eye-paw coordination, today we played a paw game.

The game we played was where I had a treat in my hand and moved it around, saying "get it, get it" (note to self, look up a shorter word for 'get it' in Spanish instead of the one I found before) and he, of course, tried to grab it. I don't have a name for it but I'll call it "Slap the Hand" for lack of any other creativity!

Later, I'll work on eye-mouth coordination, but this time I wanted him to use his paws to "slap" my hand. When he succeeded, I would praise him and give him the treat. For the first few times, he was still trying to grab with his mouth, but then he started realizing what was working.

At that point, I moved my hand a little faster and more erratically. I saw him use his paws more, trying to slap my hand and predict its movements. He kept getting better and I had to keep moving faster to make it challenging. I also changed height with the hand. He responded by using his "sit pretty" pose (pictured below) in an attempt to slap the hand. Dang smart dog!

He's not begging for food, but to play "Slap the Hand" again!
I don't know where he got that paw crossing from. He just came up with it.

Once that happened, he started going into the pose on his own even before I started the game. I took this and made it the signal that he was "ready" to play.

He got so good, I had to move my hand much more quickly and randomly. I included some start-and-stop movements, "jerky" movements and changing height much more frequently. He was having quite the time playing, and it was tiring him a bit it seems as his tongue starting hanging from the side of his mouth a little! I guess it's the combination of focus and concentration (tracking the hand with his eyes and his trying to predict the movements) and physical effort (taking the pose, moving quickly in short direction changes) along with of course the drive to get the food.

Later, I turned it into a bit of him not trying to get the food from my hand, but put a paw on it, leave it there, and then look at me. This might take some doing, but maybe the foundation of an idea formed in his head. For today, I simply delayed giving him the treat when he hit my hand (I also slowed the movement down and kept it more predictable). He clawed at my hand (I suppose that could be an indicator too, he could claw at the object hiding the treat), but then realized that wasn't working. He looked up at me wondering "what's up?". I moved the hand a little and he pawed it, and then just held it there.

That was a start and he got the treat. Next time, he did it again, and got another reward. Now I waited for him to look at me. I could see a bit of thinking on his part as he put the paw on my hand and was like "now what do I do?" he slowly looked up at me, which got rewarded. He did it a second time, and after that, I ended the session on that success.

It was great and quite a different activity. We'll be playing this again for sure!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Do Some Dogs Learn More With Shaping Than Others? If So, Why?

I have pondered this question on occasion.

As those who have followed this blog for a while may know, I'm in love with shaping. Part of this is from its use being the key to unlock the beginning of our relationship and part of it is the sheer success the method has brought to our efforts.

The trade off for this is:

  • Time - shaping takes a lot of time for complex tasks. The trainer also has to be able to break things down, sometimes prior to the session, taking more time.
  • Difficulty - even Wally has gotten somewhat frustrated or confused with some sessions. That is likely my fault in some degree, and some of the blame lies with his past or his personality, but the effect is there.
  • Randomness - there's some measure of uncertainty with what a dog will do when left to his own ideas. This isn't so much a problem for me, but it's something that's often inherent to the process. Tracking progress is mildly difficult since the dog may 'stall' at different points in the process, seemingly for no reason.
  • Minimal Guidance - again, not typically a problem for Wally and I, now, but there are times where I have to remember not to "give hints" or outright redirect him. This may well prove a challenge for a newcomer (either dog or human or both!) to the method. In the beginning, this was the first obstacle Wally overcame.

And for that price, I wonder if there's something extra that's getting learned.  Personally, I believe there are some "extras" that get learned along with the end task. These "extras" often build up even if reaching the goal doesn't happen that session. 

"Extra" benefits of shaping:
  • Creativity - When the dog faces a new challenge, or a twist on an old one, he is more likely to try something since that has brought good things in the past.
  • Confidence - I always say dogs teach themselves when asked about shaping. They are putting the clues together to solve the mystery. I believe this gives them more confidence.
  • Less Pressure - With the lack of guidance can come the lack of worrying about "doing it right" and more about "hmm...what if I try this?". For less confidence dogs, or ones with softer/submissive personalities, I think this is a very good benefit.
  • I don't know how to sum this up, but the dog tells you what he knows. He knows he should have got a reward. He knows something worked last time and wonders why it's not working. I think that's developing some part of his intelligence/logical thinking.
  • Fun - there can be no "point" to shaping and still be fun and helping the dog learn how to learn using shaping. It can be random, free-form, just "whatever", and the dog is still practicing the process.

So I certainly still believe there's a lot of benefits to shaping, but do they all manifest to all dogs? If not, why and can they develop the potential positives of the method while minimizing experiencing the potential downsides? Would it be worth it to "convert" dogs who are learning decently without shaping to learning with shaping training? Is a "mixed" approach to shaping viable? For example, introducing a task using other methods, then refining or fully teaching using shaping?

Is there some personality of dog that tends to do better with shaping? Could it be related to breed traits? Perhaps herders do better with shaping since their job requires on-the-fly thinking and less "overbearing" guidance? Perhaps an independent breed, like a Husky, would do better since it seems like "it was their idea all along?" 

Not to mention trainer personalities. Are there some human personalities better suited to using shaping, or is shaping more a skill than a style and as such is not really impacted by personality?

What does everyone think? Has anyone had experiences trying shaping with multiple dogs? For those who have, could you tell the results were different due to personality or other traits, or were the results basically even? I'm interested in hearing what everyone has to say!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Training In the Garden

He knows boundaries in the house and when around on walks, but we never did it for the garden in the backyard.

At first, I didn't worry about it. He's usually interested in sniffing the grass or listening to what's going on all around. Sometimes, he sniffs the wind or such. However, today, he relieved himself in the garden! Fortunately, it was on top of some weeds and not on any vegetables or herbs.

Another thing is that there's tomatoes growing, and I don't want him to lick or take a curiosity-bite of a tomato leaf, which could hurt him and make him sick - not to mention the chance that he could break some stems and vines, which would hurt the garden.

As such, today, we worked on boundary training with the garden. Just like with the other scenarios, there's (typically) a clear division between the garden and the rest of the yard (motivation to keep that grass trimmed I guess!!), and I can use it to help him explain the differences between the yard area and garden patches.

To do this, I turned to shaping again, and caught him doing the right thing first, staying away from the would-be boundary. As long as he stayed behind "the line" then he would get rewarded. He also pawed it, which was rewarded and then I held out for him lying down. Once he did that, he got rewarded heavily and he kept offering it like he does when we review this in the kitchen.

The familiar nature of the task helped him, and he quickly took to it. It's a matter of practicing more so he can continue to learn where the off-limits areas are.

In addition, I wanted to teach him the paths he can walk on, so he can learn how to get around the backyard. It was a mix of the boundary training (if he went across the boundary, he got redirected), and mixed in some recall so he could get used to coming around the paths even while excited. To increase the challenge, I put central garden area between us, so he can't take a straight route, but had to use the paths to get around the garden.

We will have to keep practicing, but he did quite well for the first day of being exposed to the "new rules".

Monday, June 20, 2011

"All-Positive Monday: 13: Object Discrimination, Wally's Choices

For this All-Positive Monday, I did some object discrimination, but this time, I let Wally make the choices.

Really, I didn't do anything except just observe. What would Wally choose when allowed to interact with which ever object he wants. I put out some of his toys and other objects out and rewarded him for touching/picking up any of them.

I did this kind of thing a long time ago where I just said "go get it" and he went to a pile of objects and could get any one he wanted, but for this he'll have some objects all around to choose from.

I'm interested in seeing if there's some kind of indication or preference he might have for certain objects, or what's going through his mind if ALL the objects are "legal", what will he pick, and if there's any sort of pattern to his choices.

I also changed up the objects, leaving the one he seemed to like the most and replacing the others with different things. I went with three objects.


He often picked out his new ball. After that, he picked out the soccer ball the most. So the balls seemed to be his preferred objects this time around. I took the balls away completely and put his dumbbell out, and he went for it exclusively. This choice I can understand because he and I have worked retrieving with it frequently, so the object "suggested" to him what to do, go pick it up. When the balls or the dumbbell weren't there, he choices were much more random, and it became difficult to tell if there was any favorites among them or if there's any kind of pattern.

This tells me to try this again, but without the balls or using the dumbbell. Give him more time with the objects he showed no clear preference for (or against) and see if there's any kind of pattern that emerges. Also, I'll go with three essentially unknown objects (he might have seen them, but they don't have any names or much of any interaction with. I'll also try with the colors again, the blue and yellow cards, and see what he might pick most often.

I'm always interested in seeing how he thinks when left completely up to his own choices (in case you couldn't tell that by now). Hopefully, I'll learn something that can tell me how he thinks/relates to objects, and maybe give some insight on why he makes the mistakes he does during the "real" object discrimination training.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blend of Object Immersion and Discrimination

Not sure what "catchy" title to call this. It's not just object discrimination or object immersion, but today we did some of both, with also giving him his first all-Spanish "sentence": 'Donde está ____ ?' which sends him looking around for the object in the blank.

Where's That Bone?

Since the bone, 'hueso', is the object we've spent the most time with, that was the first object. I pulled out his big soccer ball (not his new ball) and put that in the floor. I tossed the bone a little past the ball, so he'd have to cross the ball's path to get to the bone.

As I thought, he would try for the ball a lot. After some simple "nope" whenever he would even try to interact with the ball he started looking around. He found the bone and that got rewarded heartily (with homemade cinnamon banana bread).

Now that he's all hyped up because there's now a super reward attached to this, he kept going for the ball again! This was likely excitement combined with the fact that in the past we've worked only one object at a time - so the concept I might be wanting something else has a hard time sinking in so far.

But, once he got some more "nope" from me, he started looking for that bone. I kept calling "hueso! hueso!" and he kept looking around. After some successes with the bone in one spot, I tossed it somewhere else, again so he doesn't just get used to going to that spot.

He got into the groove and I hid the bone behind my back and kept calling "hueso!". I wanted to see if he could recognize the bone wasn't there at all. I wanted confusion because that means he's looking for the object, can't find it, and he's looking around and "asking" for help. Once I saw that and he wasn't looking at me, I'd hold the bone out. Once he turned around and saw it, he came running up to it, and I rewarded him.

Then that's when I threw in "Donde está hueso?". He already knows "Donde está?" as his cue to find it. So hearing that question will already put him in the "find it, find it!" mode. This time, I specified "it", the bone - hueso.

He looked around, and a few times wanted to go for the ball, but didn't! He pulled away and kept looking around (the bone was on the bed, not hidden, but not in plain sight). Initially, he was confused, still looking around the floor, but got a thought to try the bed. He jumped up and found the bone, brought it back, and got his reward.

Did this for about 10 minutes or so, and then switched objects.

Now, where's the ball?

For this trial, the soccer ball was replaced by his new ball (this would be the target) and I put down one of his favorite toys and another random object as the decoys.

To help his mind change gears, I did a quick touch exercise with the ball (pelota). I said "pelota" with the ball right there near him, so it was easy for him to touch it. What's interesting is the first few times, he was tentative - as if he knew that before he wasn't supposed to get the ball! That was interesting to watch.

Once he was touching the ball eagerly. I tossed it up on the bed (while he was getting the reward so he couldn't see it) and called "Donde está pelota?" He looked around and didn't see the ball. He went for his favorite toy, drawing a "nope" from me. He brought it to me anyway, and I just took from him and tossed it back and called for the ball again.

After a little more searching, he found the ball and retrieved it. He didn't try to bring back the other objects too often, which was good to see. A few times he went for his toy, but that was it.

Observing His Search Pattern

While he looked for the objects, I watched his searching. Often, he searches the same area repeatedly before thinking to move to a new area. It seems he's also broken down the room into three parts: the area with the bed, the area around his favorite corner (with the TV as well), and the area between the two. I'm not certain why he searches the same area multiple times - perhaps he thinks it will appear or show up and he doesn't want to miss it.

Of course, once he finds the object in an area, he will go back there the next time, usually as the first place he looks. He did go look in the "TV part" of the room a few times, but not particularly often (mostly when looking for the ball - wonder why).

Perhaps that could be the next thing down the line, trying to improve the efficiency of his searching. That sounds like a real big challenge!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Object Immersion 2 - Bone, Generalized Indoors

Today, we continued the theme of immersion with the bone, making the object a part of whatever he and I do if at all possible. 

The next progression in this will be getting him used to this concept everywhere he is, not just in my room. First, we'll begin indoors where there's less distractions but still more "environment" for him to deal with and a little more "terrain" with stairs and the like. 

First, we started in the hall and I had him retrieve the bone several times using "go get ___ " with the blank filled with "hueso" the name of the bone (I haven't forgotten the "canine programming language" idea). I also threw in the "give" cue today. So I said "give hueso" instead of just the generic "give". 

In addition, we played around with the bone and did the same "hueso! hueso!" as before when starting the immersion with the bone. He responded as eagerly as always, and he's learning the constant is the object. 

After the bit of play, I put in another cue, "take", this time calling for "take hueso" with the bone in clear view in my hand. Now that he has it in his mouth, he can get some practice carrying it around (something we need to get back to...), and can start doing things while holding the bone, like opening doors. If he has to put it down for now, that's fine as it gives another chance for him to practicing "take" and another chance for me to use "take hueso". 

Eventually, we'll take this outside and continue the same things (sans opening doors, of course). Being outside will add challenge for us both, especially now with kids likely to be everywhere with school out for the summer (here's hoping for a lot of family vacations in the neighborhood!)

Also want to add in "hueso" (or any object name) for cues like touch and paw. This might give him another way to indicate the object and another action for him to perform on it during shaping practice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Object Immersion 1: The Bone

In an effort to get the objects further into Wally's head, I'm going to try making the object a focus of any games or training we do.

The games aren't anything fancy. This afternoon, I just moved the bone around on the floor and while he was trying to get it, I kept saying "hueso! hueso!" while he was focused on it and trying his hardest to grab it. When he does get it, of course he get a reward. Then we do it again.

I also would hide the bone behind my back and ask him "Donde está hueso?" to get all wound up and trying to find it. Once he's looking everywhere (and away from me) I'll subtle hold it out and repeat the question. He then sees it and comes over to grab it and get the reward. A variation of this is for me to throw the bone up on the bed while he's still distracted by the reward. I then ask him "Donde está hueso?"again and he starts looking around. I only keep repeating to keep him eager.

I probably shouldn't have done this, but I also threw in a new spanish word "obtengas" form of the verb meaning "to get". I do want to turn "get it" to a spanish cue too, but I might not should have done it while also trying to focus on the bone. Anyway, I worked it with throwing the bone and saying "obtengas hueso" and rewarding when he gets the bone and brings it back to me. (I know that might not be exactly right, but it works for him - teaching him one word for the object is hard enough to get even more complex with it!)

Continuing to work this with him will at the least immerse him in the object's name and shape. From there, I am hoping he will be able to make the connection between the name and object.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 12" - Letting Wally's Creativity Run Wild

Today for the 12th All-Positive Monday, I brought Wally to an open area and just let him do anything he wanted to get a click and treat. I hesitate to call it any form of shaping because it wasn't towards a final behavior or chain. It was more like "free writing", canine style, where we could "write" about whatever he wanted how ever he wanted. Perhaps it's some kind of game as well - though games usually have some structure or rules.

Any movement action he took earned him a click and treat. If he did a stationary behavior, I would click and treat if he held it for a second or more, showing he was really maintaining it, not just in thought of what he should do next. I also put a pillow out so he could have an object to interact with if he wanted. The objects easily accessible to him:

  • A large mirror
  • His crate
  • A pillow on the floor
  • The freezer
  • Me (i.e. he can offer behaviors to/at me)
  • The black place mat his food and water go on in the morning

The area we worked in. Not pictured is the freezer. I couldn't get it in the shot.

There are also some the objects around that he can't really get to, but he could try to get to them if he wanted. The patio door was open as well, so any sounds he decided to focus on would get clicked and treated also.

It was, basically, just go for it, Wally! Do whatever strikes your fancy. I wanted to see what he would decide to do given no task to work towards or no cues of any kind.

It went well. Wally got into the game after a few clicks and first worked on the pillow. He pushed it around with his nose and then put his front paws on it. After that, he play bowed on it a couple times before going back to pushing it and then going on to something else.

Next, he saw the mirror. He looked at it and then moved to doing some behaviors at me. He did a sit and then moved to a down. From the down, he then put a paw on my foot, then both paws. He stood up again and then looked at the mirror more.

He started getting fascinated by the mirror. The more he looked at the mirror and got clicked and treated for it, he got more curious. I don't know if he knew that was "another dog" he was seeing, but he did start going up and sniffing the mirror, so I wonder.

He also seemed to notice my hand moving in the mirror. I did it once and he turned and looked directly at my hand. I let some time pass and when he got intent on the mirror again, I moved my hand, and he did the same thing. I wonder if he can use the mirror to see what's going on around him...

Another freaky looking thing was his reflection looking at me. Like directly at me. It's like he could line up my eyes using my reflection and would look at my reflection looking at him. This is starting sound like a plot line in Inception, and perhaps I was imagining it in the end...I will have to figure out some kind of ways to try to test and use this...

Sometimes, he would focus on some sounds outside, which also got rewarded. This didn't happen often though (somewhat surprisingly, given how nosy he is). Other times, he would offer things like sitting pretty or using the place mat like we were doing mat training. He even shifted his position while in the downs, which is a behavior, so it got clicked and treated.

In something of a surprise, he was quite tired once he got to settle down. I would have thought with there being no real goal or puzzle for him to figure out, it would have been a pretty light-on-the-brain activity. He had plenty of fun and was dog laughing afterwords, always a sign he had lots of fun, but he was laid out on his side not too long after. Interesting.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wally's New Ball

Today, I was out and about, but before coming in, I stopped by Petco to see if there was anything I could get for Wally. It was on my way after all so I figured, "why not?"

New ball vs soccer ball.

At first, I didn't think I would find anything of interest. Well, aside from treats which he already has plenty of for now. And food. Plenty of food. Too much, perhaps. (Wally would likely say "you can never have too much food!")

But, as I was walking out, disappointed, I found a nice colorful ball for him. It has short, raised nap to help him grip it (and he often grips it by the loop it hung on in the store), and is pretty fat for his size and feels like it's durable. It's different than his soccer ball in that it's firmer, has a squeaker in it to get his attention (he can't make it squeak, though, I don't think he's strong enough, but I can squeak it), and with it being fat and more compact, he can carry it easier. His soccer ball hits the ground because it's much bigger, knocking it out of his mouth.

Wally trying to keep ball still
so he can grab it.

Wally took to the new ball quickly and seemed to like the nap. He still has a bit of trouble picking it up, probably still needs to learn how to grip it, but he enjoyed going after it and pawing at it when he got to it. The size makes it easier for me to throw as well and I can make it bounce a little, throw it in different ways, or toss it quickly past him if he's close by or after getting him wound up trying to get it out of my hand.

Unfortunately, the heat and humidity were in full force today so I couldn't have him run around for long. Didn't want to risk any heat sickness or the like. Later on, played with the ball indoors and I was able to get some pictures of his play.

Wally carrying the ball back to me.