Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition: April 2011

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Grooming Day: A Pampered Wally

Pretty much a light, fluffy day for Wally. We really didn't do much of anything today, just let him sniff around and get loved up on by his "friends" the little girls that like him so much - and outside of that, just a lot of walks and enjoying the nice spring day.

Later on in the day, he went in for a grooming. He got bathed and got his nails clipped. Perhaps, this wasn't so "pampered" for him, especially since there was a HUGE black dog also getting his nails clipped and his paws shaved. Wally isn't keen on big dogs or black dogs, and this dog was both! I'm not sure what breed she was. Added on to this is that Wally isn't so keen on going to the groomer anyway. I guess he knows he's going to get left behind, or perhaps it's the smell.

However, he's always wonderful so whatever issues he has with the place, it never translates out on the groomers or any other dogs because they always love the way he behaves and working on him.

Afterwords, he was all excited of course and got to love the rest of Petco! He even met a therapy dog in training that he wanted to play with and the other dog was interested too. Even more interesting is that he was named Wally as well! This dog (the one we met) looked a lot like a dachshund and was very gentle. It was good to see Wally acting good around the dog and enjoy the interaction. Before leaving, I got him some new shampoo and a couple bags of treats. I have to get used to the feel of petting short-haired dogs, as stupid as that sounds. Call it years of having a fluff ball!

Below are some pictures of what he looks like now. Forgive any "psycho" looks. It can't be helped!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Storms, Ball Pushing and Training Schedules

With the storm threatening to hail and rain and tornado us at any moment, our training was confined to the indoors, and of course, I had to deal with a wet Wally when we had to go out for him to do his business. Let me tell you, it's great he doesn't really care about storms (even when he was really fearful, storms were NOT one of things that would set him off), but sometimes it can be something of a curse to have a dog that will happily sniff all day between vigorous shakes.

Wet Wally equals tons of energy, zoomies (and flying water) galore, and a dog staring at me like he's trying to tell me "hey, I'm all wound up, what do I do about it?".

So we decided to revisit something else I've gotten away from: pushing the soccer ball. We had started this before with the big blue exercise ball, and have since moved to his soccer ball since it's less tempting for him to use his paws as I want him to use his nose only. It's also easier for me to make sure he keep his paws off, as well as not trying to pick the ball up.

As usual, I started with some warming up, trying to see how much he remembers. No problem here as Wally went right up to the ball and poked it with his nose. Great, that's what we want. However, the bounding energy quickly reared it's head and Wally immediately picked the ball up and "threw" it. Oh boy, this is going to get interesting. Looks like I was too slow getting things going, so he took it to be like a "oh I can do whatever with the ball!" game.

I picked the ball up and waited for him to settle down. He sat down in rapid speed (he does everything three times as fast when wet) and then I put the ball down. He poked it again, and I quickly marked and rewarded the nose touch. This got him to push the ball again quickly, and again - each time barely giving me time to get my hand back in my pocket for another treat.

This, of course, gets him even more roused up. I added the cue we put on before, "push", and he poked the ball. I kept doing it, trying to keep up with how fast he was going, then held out. This really got on his nerves and he kinda "gruffed" at me and started rapid fire poking the ball! This was actually closer to what I want him to work on, keep pushing the ball when I say "push" until I gave another direction.

We did start getting that kind of thing going, getting two or three pushes, but the next thing I really need to do is truly emphasizing "pushing" instead of "poking". I think that's where I'm letting things down. Of course, this gives me another excuse to find a Spanish word! Yay...er...right, he'll learn it faster like with every other time I did this.

It was also time to try to put some kind of point to this, such as pushing the ball to a certain place. I had him push the ball down the hallway, giving him the mark and reward only when the goal was reached (but encouraging him along the way to keep him going and not thinking he was doing it wrong), and then did it once more before calling it done for this session.

 Also on the list for things I need to do is come up with a training schedule of sorts. This will probably help me keep things from falling by the wayside for too long and risk being forgotten or getting rusty. On the other hand, what if there's lots of things going that you want to work on? Should a day be devoted to a task? Should "review" tasks be crammed in one day? Anyone have any kind of schedules you use to organize the things you're teaching your dogs?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wally's Art Lesson 4: From Yellow Card to Yellow Cone - Stretching Out "Amarillo"

I decided to try something. I have 13 cones, 12 blue ones, 1 yellow one.

So I wanted to see if Wally could find the yellow cone. However, this will probably be down the road, at least for all twelve of them.

First, I wanted to show him that yellow doesn't just exist on flashcards. I got the yellow cone out and when he naturally touched it, I said "amarillo" and then clicked and treated him. I kept doing this for about twenty times.

Then I moved the cone back at some distance, so that he'd have to go to it and touch it when I said amarillo. I did this about twenty times as well. I gave him a break and we went out for a walk.

Once we came back in, I repeated the above two exercises. Right now, I'm wanting him to get the idea of "amarillo" meaning the color of the object, not just the name of the object. The color will be the one constant. Hopefully, this will help him learn and get the concept down. After doing this, he had dinner and his usual post-dinner nap, and he was sleeping all hard again, maybe processing all of this information and recovering from any brain drain.

Before taking him out for the last time, we did the exercises again. The distances were more varied and started getting a bit farther away. Otherwise, the process and task was the same, go to the cone and touch it with his nose.

I'm planning on this leading into me eventually putting all the cones out, and he'll have to ignore the blue ones to touch the yellow one. I suppose after that, I'll have to scrounge the internet to find a set of yellow cones or some other color so I can do the same with the blue ones.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" VII: Left, Right, Back, Up, Down

As planned, Wally and I worked on directions and I could see that he's gotten rusty with it, but he did still remember a decent amount of it.

I didn't play any variation of "Rapid Cues" with it after seeing that he's not quite as sharp as before, but we did play the "Directions Game" and did an activity with the dumbbell to help him understand the direction in the concept of a turn. We also did some blind retrieving (inside) as planned.

First game, I put out three targets for him, one to his left, right, and behind him. He had to go in the direction and touch the target with his nose. If we did that, he got a click and a treat (his bread balls - the usual). If he was heading to the wrong target, I would cue "wait" (and reward his stopping, sitting, and looking at me) and give the direction again. I don't consider the 'wait' cue as a correction, but just a "reset" so that he'll be aware of the direction.

He was getting a good idea of this again, probably starting to remember us playing this before. We played this for a while, and gave him a break while I went to shred more bread.

The next thing we did used his dumbbell. I stopped at an "intersection" where a room met the hall, allowing for a left or right turn. I would either place or toss the dumbbell with him sitting beside me (finish position), and then call out the direction. He had to go get the dumbbell and bring it back.

This seems to help him. It seems that he can understand a direction better with a target to go with it. If I just ask for the direction and a signal he'll turn and go a couple steps and look up at my hand, but with some to look at/for, he'll keep going until he gets it.

What's interesting is doing this helped him with the blind retrieving to a degree. He was much more willing/able to keep going in a direction, maybe thinking he'll come across the dumbbell. This made it much easier to guide him around to find where I hid the dumbbell. I also hid it in different levels of the house so that's where the "up" and "down" come in (I need to look up left, back, and right and Spanish, note to self).

During our walks, I did a little with the dumbbell "target" around turns, and he did them pretty well then too. I also continued with saying the name of the turn as we make it during walks and sometimes just practicing calling turns and having him make them with me randomly.

In all, it was another pretty good Monday. He was happy and wanted to keep going, but once he hit his bed, he turned from eager dog to sleepy-time dog, and took a long three hour nap. Or I should say a deep all-out, barking-in-his-sleep, "nap".

Monday, April 25, 2011

Plans for "All-Positive Monday VII" - Using an Old Madden Mini-Game as Inspiration

What is this madness? A double post?! I promise it won't happen often (unless you all like it?) but I wanted to mention plans for the 7th "All-Positive Monday".

Sometime in the '90s, I played a version of Madden NFL for the Super Nintendo. Played it to death. There was this mini-game for when you made your own player in the game that set the player's intelligence. The "coach" would give a pattern of directions like "left" or "up" and you had to push that direction on your game pad. It would go like:

1st set: Left
2nd set: Left, Up
3rd: Left, Up, Left
4th: Left, Up, Left, Right
10th: Left, Up, Left, Right, Left, Down, Up, Down, Right, Up

And so on until you miss one and that ends the game and sets your player's intelligence rating.

So what does this have to do with Wally?

I plan to work on directions in a similar manner. It's like the "Rapid Cues" game mixed with the "Directions Game" I mentioned in the one-and-so-far-only Gameday Tuesday.  I probably won't do it exactly like in the Madden game at this point, but perhaps it can be something of an inspiration for coming up with something.

Also, I plan to do some blind retrieves which will require him to use the directions to find his way to the hidden treat (or I may use his dumbbell instead).

So if all goes as planned, tomorrow will be filled with working on directions.

You Know, That Walking Beside Me For The Last Three Years? It's Called...

Yes, I just now made any kind of effort to teach the actual cue "Heel" (and, no, I don't know a good Spanish word for it, yet!).

You read that correctly. No, this doesn't mean I don't require Wally to walk at heel position. I just never made any sort of verbal or hand signal for it. I just expected him to do it, and taught it using the "be a tree" method, and marking and rewarding him for coming back into position on his own. He would also get marked and rewarded for maintaining position while we're on the move.

The reasoning is that at the time I had just learned about "default behaviors", a behavior the dog will choose first time, every time when presented with the situation. Using sit as the default behavior helped him master sitting before being let out or coming back in, further cementing the idea as a good one.

So I wanted to extend that to heeling. I wouldn't need any cues because it would just be the default, automatic behavior. "We're walking? I get in heel." That's what I wanted him to think. Nothing to cue because he's already doing what I would be telling him to do. When he would wander out of position, I usually just redirect and stop moving (which then had it's own default attached, coming back to my side), though I did use "keep up" for when he's lagging, and "slow down" for when he's going too far ahead, and he picked up on the meanings of these cues by mark/rewarding when he gets back into position.

For the longest, I didn't see the need for a "real" cue for heel. Staying in position is the default. If he gets distracted or something, I can use "keep up"/"slow down". Then for some reason, I just decided to start putting the cue while he's doing it and marking and rewarding (easy, since he's already doing it, I'm just telling him what it's called). When he wanders out of position, I would say "heel". He probably didn't know what it meant (or did he?) but since he always before just come to my side, he'd do it and get rewarded.

I don't know why I just got it in my head to do it, but...there it is.

I guess the real question is: "What's the cue for 'heel' in Spanish?"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Jumping Good Time

Today, Wally spent the day jumping around. For some reason, Wally was really frisky and energetic right from the start. I guess he got a really good night of sleep or something. So after the obligatory morning "play ritual" (and it's funny how when I let him in, he's looking over at the bed where we play like "yeah, yeah, good morning and all that - let's get the game on!") I gave him his morning walk and started on the jumping.

Wally usually isn't all into jumping, especially if he can just simply walk or "high step" over it - or walk around it. Today, though, he was really into it and jumped with enthusiasm. I didn't think to get any treats, but he didn't need them, he was just jumping around with me egging him on. He didn't miss any opportunity to jump and over anything he that had some height on it.

Once we got back inside, we stayed with the jumping theme. I made a makeshift jump obstacle and had him jump over it a lot. This time I did get the treats out since he's a little less enthusiastic about jumping across it still. He did make the jumps though and got himself a lot of treats. Then I stuck a little retrieving in the mix with putting the dumbbell past the jump and then he had to jump over it to get it and bring it back.

I thought this would do it, but no, Wally still was all eager and alert. So I sat in my gamer chair and got some really enticing treats. I stuck my leg out and made him jump over it, then I teased him with the treat a little and lifted it way up. I wanted him to jump up to get it.

Did he ever! He was in a sit in front of the chair, and when I was all like "get it! get it!" and moving the treat around, he put his front paws on my legs jumped (or I guess I should say propelled) his hind end up into the chair in a perfect sit position! I don't know if he realized what he did but while I was a bit in shock at the move he just pulled, he was climbing all up on me to get the treat. I hurried up and gave it to him.

I cued him to jump off my lap - and then repeated the whole thing again. A couple times, he tried to climb into my lap (which he typically does) but I had my "slippery" jogging pants on so he had a hard time making progress, so he did the same leaping move again.

The third time, he seemed like he remembered (or realized?) what he did because he did it again. I would have kept going (this time, I wanted to keep going) but he was starting to get worn out and panting pretty hard since it was a pretty humid and warm day. I sent him to his bed in my room so he could get some water and rest.

It was quite a fun day for him with all the jumping. He looked like he was satisfied, like some kind of need was fulfilled. He still didn't really sleep so much - just sort of laid down and rested - his "real" nap came only after he got his dinner.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Retrieve: Multi-Object Mode

We haven't done this quite yet, at least not "formally", but I'm thinking of taking retrieving up a notch. Or at least take it along a different path of sorts. We've worked on directions and used retrieving to help teach him that (something ELSE we need to get back to), but I've also thought about having him retrieve multiple objects.

He wouldn't try to get all the objects at once, but get one, come back, go get the next one, come back, etc. This would be a different spin on it and something that would challenge him in another way. He would have to remember where the objects landed (and so will I for that matter, and now that the grass is getting longer in the fields and such...) and go and get them as I indicate the direction to start in.

This sounds like it's going to be quite the challenge for the both of us, so starting off slowly is a certainty. Slowly as in two objects only and in an area with the shortest grass possible!

Then as something of a bonus, if he gets mixed up, we can work in directions as I try to guide him to it (which is going to be an adventure since we haven't exactly mastered that too much, but at least he's not completely clueless of the concept). Always nice when one activity can focus on one skill and then mix in another one as well.

I can also imagine throwing in that color discrimination here too. Have go find the blue or yellow card or object (can't wait until he gets good at the colors - lots of ideas).

But first, I have to get him into going after multiple objects. Shouldn't be too hard, but you just never know. Some things I've thought would be easy for him weren't and some things I thought would stump him, he picks up fast. Just never know.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Go-Arounds Revisited - "Station to Station Game"

We worked on go-around again, where Wally has to go-around an object I point out and then come back to front position. We worked on this before with some...interesting results and I thought of something of a game to maybe spice it up a bit and teach the concept some more.

We went to the neighborhood playground and I mapped out where the "stations" would be. These were locations where there's something for him to go-around pretty easily. I would go to the different places and cue a go-around, click and treat when we did it right, then run over to the next station. Do the same thing, then go to the next station, and so on.

To begin with, I got him going all excited and eager for the game. Then we went to the first station and cued go-around. He ran around it and came to the front. He got rewarded and I sent him around again. Another reward and then we went to the next station. We did the same thing there. While going to the next place, I played with him some more, had him jumping up and down, and then went on.

This time, I made him wait a bit, and this got him staring at me like "send me already!" I cued a sit first, which had him take a some steps before he realized what I said. He did sit and then I sent him around and he shot around the pole and came to front. Did it again, and this time I cued him to go-around again right after he finished the first one, which he did. Let him come back for his reward, and the ran off to the next place.

At this station, I stopped further away and told him to go-around. He did it. Gave him his reward and started like I was running to someplace else, but I stopped fast and told him to go-around again, pointing at the signpost. This mixed him up a bit, and he did the same motion but not around the object, but I cued him again, and this time he got it.

We did this a few more times and then just jumped around and had some fun and he ran around like a crazy dog, looking all happy - he loves to run - and I guess that used up some leftover energy or something because then he looked at me at my side waiting to start walking.

Hopefully, this helped him learn or cement what the go-around is. He did it very well especially considering the whole exercise/game was completely different, and usually games do help him pick things up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

You Done Brushing My Teeth Already? Come On, A Little More?

Just got a new toothbrush and toothpaste for Wally as he really didn't care for the last one (and it really didn't seem to be all that good anyway). I had ordered it some days back and it arrived today. I was expecting to fight with Wally as he usually doesn't like me even taking a look at his teeth. It is supposed to be flavored like poultry (no, I wasn't brave enough to taste), and it really didn't have a smell to me.

So I was ready with the treats and prepared to do some desensitizing and the whole nine yards. Let him smell the toothbrush and the packaging and then the tube with the cap on. Took the cap off and he stuck his nose all up on the opening. Obviously, he's picking up some scent from it and he seemed to like it. I took the advice of the packaging and squeezed a little on my finger to let him taste. He wasted no time licking it off and started sniffing around for where more might be.

At this point, I put some on the toothbrush and geared up for the resistance and had all my "good boys" ready to go.

Wasn't even necessary.

He wasn't exactly overjoyed at the thought, but he wasn't shy about trying to lick the toothpaste off while I was trying to brush his teeth. I did praise him as I was doing it as he wasn't pulling away, but this went far better than I had thought it would go.

Of course, the toothpaste was not supposed to be the "treat" to go with the praise! I think he had other plans in mind.  I did only brush a few of his teeth just to get him used to it, but he was looking at me with "that" look when he just got something tasty from me complete with licking his lips. He was following the hand with the toothpaste in it and following me around.

Hopefully, this enthusiasm will continue with future brushings, making this surprisingly easy attempt something that I can expect from now on!

Whoever thought of meat-flavored toothpaste gets two-thumbs up from me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Excitement Training and More Spanish

Earlier today, we did some more work on following cues while wound up and super excited. We had started working on this earlier and today we did more with it.

It's easy to get him excited, and adding to it was some more kids running around. While he doesn't particular care about kids doing their own thing, it did add more stimulation to the environment. I also brought out food that wasn't just his beloved bread balls. This time, I brought out meatball pieces I had broken up. I was making some for lunch, so I sacrificed a couple for training purposes.

Once he was sufficiently psyched up (read: play growling while chasing me and with that wide-eyed wild look on his face), we started the training. At first, we worked on drops (lying down) and he still took quite a lot of time to get focused on my cue. I got the zoomies going on again, but then he went down. Gave him a treat and started running around again.

While chasing me, I threw in a stay cue. He froze and when I walked around him, he was zoned in on me and the more I walked around him, I could see him trying hard not to move. I saw those paws lifting up like he was just itching to move. I walked in to him to give him a meatball piece and then started the chase again. If he would have moved, I would have just stopped and not looked at him, totally disengaging, for a little while.

Time to up it some more and to put more intensity into things, I started batting at him playfully and "bouncing" to him which made him take evasive action and come back at me. Getting him even more agitated. I gave another stay cue. He froze (after some steps), and then I threw another twist. I gave a drop cue. This was completely the last thing on his mind! He took off running. Then he was like, "wait...what did you say?" and he froze and look at me again. I gave the cue again, and he almost took off again, but lied down. I called him too me, give him a lot of meatball pieces and that was that.

Later on today, I worked on more Spanish with him. We had worked on these words before in addition to "abres" and "cierras". These two words were for going up and down the stairs.

For going upstairs, I used "arriba" and for downstairs, I used "abajo". One interesting thing I had no idea I was doing at the time is using a lot of words that start with "a-" (azul, amariilo, arriba, abajo) so it will be interesting if he can keep these sounds straight going forward. So far, it looks like there won't be a problem.

I noticed the same effect with "abres" and "cierras" - a very rapid connection to the behavior and the sound with no confusion. This was especially noticeable with going upstairs. Before, he would hesitate or do something else (usually barking for some reason) when I tried to get him to go upstairs. With using "arriba", he quickly put things together and now he shoots up the stairs! Once again, Spanish helped him make a connection (and it was again words form Dora the Explorer! Wally's fetish strikes again. I wonder if it wasn't the Spanish that got him into it..I wonder why he's making connections this fast - what is it about the sounds of Spanish?)

For "abajo", there was a little initial hesitation because he was waiting to hear "downstairs" as I used to say. (To his credit, he knew I didn't say it and he would "false start" - make a move to go down but then stop like "hey! you said something different!") It took a little bit to get over that hesitation, but now, no problem.

So now Wally knows four Spanish words. Abres, cierras, arriba, and abajo. He's learning two more, the colors azul and amarillo. Certainly keeps the training interesting for us both if nothing else!

"All-Positive Monday" VI: Go, Pick Up, And Carry

Some of the things Wally picked up today. Not pictured is a credit card and a roll of tape. Only usual one is his dumbbell.

As planned, Wally and I worked on picking up and carrying various items that he normally doesn't get to interact with. He did some carrying with the items as well. Overall, Wally did much better than expected, considering he normally resists carrying or taking things he's not used to working with. That set a good tone for the rest of the day, and it seemed to be a very good success!

The start of the training was getting him to pick up the object. He had to figure out how to get the object and a lot of times it slid around as he was trying to get his mouth around it. A couple times he looked back at me when he couldn't get it, to which I encouraged him to "get it!" in an upbeat voice and that got him going again, especially after a few successes and getting bread balls for a reward.

The hardest items for him were the thinner ones, the credit card and the thin remote control. He had a hard time getting his teeth low enough to grasp it and pick it up. After a few tries, however, he was able to do it pretty well, seeming to remember how he succeeded the last time. The stuffed Catbert was also hard for him because of the weight and how awkward it was for him to hold. He failed on one item because of weight. This one was a thicker remote. If he lifted it off the ground at all, he got a click and treat and I put that item out of play.

After working the pick up for some repetitions, I added in the carrying part of the training. I worked it as a bit of retrieving, since bringing the object back is really the carrying behavior anyway. Kept the distance short, about 3 or 4 feet, and cued him to go get it. I took the opportunity to introduce a bit of a hand target for bringing it back. Perhaps someday down the line, it will become something of an environmental cue so that someone can hold out their hand, and he'd bring the object to the hand.

Sometimes, I would also throw the objects up on the bed (we practiced this in my bedroom) so he had to hold it while jumping down. Distance was still short, but just a new "obstacle" to deal with. He did this just fine.

We went through all of this with each of the objects, rotating them and giving him breaks in-between.

For the evening walk, I used the dumbbell only since this was going to be something he's not done before. I wanted to use a very familiar and positive object to him for this.

What he had to do was carry the dumbbell all walk long. He could only put it down during the "potty breaks" and then he could drop it, do his business, sniff around a few more seconds, then get the dumbbell and continue the walk. Most of this was in the beginning of the walk so the vast majority was with no break at all.

He also had to do all the things he normally does during our walks: staying in heel position unless directed otherwise, stopping and sitting at street corners (while continuing to hold the dumbbell), and follow any directions like wait, left, right, etc.

And, as fate would have it, the cosmic 20-sided die rolled up some distractions for us, and these would also be dog distractions. One was a ever-so-tiny puppy that was ridiculously cute that Wally wanted to greet. I directed him to stay in position and praised him as he walked past the cute critter. There would also be another dog distraction I'll get to in a bit.

As the walk continued, we got to about the halfway point. At this point, he got another "potty break" and then we did some retrieving. This is where the other dog distraction happened. Another ridiculously cute puppy was being walked and this start barked at Wally. Wally wanted to go over but he didn't break his position (he was in front position as he just finished a retrieve). To Wally's credit, he wasn't nearly as focused on the dog as he usually is. He got many rewards for continuing to "work" and focus on his task pretty well.

At the end, I think he was getting tired - perhaps physically more than mentally, or maybe some of both - as he was starting to let the dumbbell drop - and it wasn't like he just put it down. I cued him to get it encouragingly and just ignored the drops.

Overall, he did an excellent job and it was the most "work" he's done, especially with carrying. He gave a good effort the whole time, and I was quite proud of him. He got a big reward when his job was done (bringing the dumbbell back to my room and lying on his spot), and a nice meaty bonus in his dinner!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wally's Art Lesson 3: First Go At Color Discrimination

Having introduced him to both colors for some days and then let him take a break from colors training, I felt it was as good a time as any to give him a run through with both colors and calling each color out randomly and he has to indicate the color in some way (pawing, nose touches, picking up, etc).

To begin, I refreshed his mind with the colors. I left both flashcards out and then called for just one color. We did this before, so this was a review of sorts and to bring the concept back to the top of his mind. It would also warm him up for the next exercise by getting him used to looking at both colors again and picking out the right one.

As usual, I would change the positions of the flashcards after some repetitions. I'd send him back to his bed for a bit while I switch the cards and get some more treats out. Did this for some sets and then sent him back. At this point, we would start the first testing of his color discrimination.

The cards were set out again, and I'd start calling out the colors. No pattern to them, and I'd go slowly. I gave a few "hints" (a soft 'ah-ah') if he went to the wrong color, and a click and treat if he picked the right color, even if it wasn't on his first try. After a few trials, the "hints" stopped and it was all on him.

At this point, I would simply, re-call the color name if he went to the wrong one. He seemed to pick up on the fact that if he got the click, he picked the right one. If he got the color name again, he was choosing the wrong one. He was getting better at picking the right color on the first try after about a dozen repetitions.

There was still some going to the wrong color (this happened especially with the blue flashcard, perhaps there's something there I should explore), and some of the problem was that he wasn't waiting for the color called out. He would pick the color he just got rewarded for - something else I'll have to think about as well.

It looks like he at least is getting the idea and wasn't bad overall. I think he can get better with this, and, as usual, he'll probably show me any "glitches" in the previous training that I need to iron out as we go forward.

Tomorrow will be the sixth "All-Positive Monday" and I need YOUR help! (is it wrong that I "heard" that in my mind as Dora's voice?) I know one thing I will be doing and that's the picking up. We'll be working on picking up objects. Any other good ideas to try that might could be taught/introduced in an all-positive (meaning only using positive reinforcement) way.

I'm looking forward to hearing some ideas!

Observing the Dog is Both Listening To Him and Learning About Him

Since dogs do a lot of their communication with their bodies, it's almost like communicating with someone who 'talks' using sign language. Looking at them is then the equivalent to listening to them, because that is how you receive their signs to understand what is being 'said'.

It might also be part of why they want so much attention. It is how they 'talk' to us, so they want us to 'listen' to what they have to say. Unlike human sign language, dogs only have so many possible signals they can send, so it can be difficult to pick up on their message. This makes it even more important to observe the dog to start to understand when and why he uses certain signals or combination of signals. These aren't just calming signals, but things like certain body positions, the angle/orientation of his ears, what his tail is doing, and so on.

Once you start to put together a mental profile of sorts, you start understanding his "accent" of sorts on the universal dog communication. Sometimes, even other dogs have to do this since no two dogs are completely identical, including in their communications.

But observation is also for lots of fun things too. You can see what things will make him happy and which things he really enjoys. You can use this to have fun with him, come up with games based on these things, or see what would be really rewarding during training.

I've found some really unusual things about Wally this way. For example, is love affair with Dora the Explorer. He totally gets fixated about the show when it's on. He whines at the tv until I let him go up and "say hi" to his "girlfriend". I've used this as a reward during training to help him lay calmly beside me. If he's lying down, he gets to see the show. If he doesn't, well - Dora suddenly "disappears". I'll ask him to lie down again, and when he does, she "reappears". Dora likes good dogs LOL.

Other more mundane things such as which tree he likes to "leave p-mail" on or which areas he likes to investigate and "read the news" and "leave a message" of his own. Things like this I also use for training rewards.

Observing the dog can also show you his play style when romping with other dogs, which doggy games he'll play (Wally loves to chase and tries to instigate it when he's with a dog he's interested in), and what things he doesn't like in social situations and how he deals with it.

Looking at your dog with a curious and careful eye, you can learn all kinds of quirky and fun things about your dog as well as get a better insight on how he communicates and what's he's trying to 'say'! Have fun with it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rough Grooming and Rougher Little Girls - Wally's Bad Day

It's that time of year. The weather is warming up and the days are getting longer. This means that Wally is starting to change his coat to his summer coat...

...and makes it ten times harder to keep ahead of the mats!

When they mention about how the Coton just doesn't shed, what they don't mention is that the hair still comes out and just doesn't fall on the floor. It stays in the coat and just makes mats, mats, and more mats. Not just little balls here or there, but clumps of hair that just is a pain (literally in Wally's case) to get out. Luckily, Wally is willing to endure the rougher combing, but it doesn't make it any more pleasant for either of us. It's a necessary evil and a small "glitch" in the grand scheme of things, but twice a year, it shows up - more so in the Spring.

So every other day, it's a comb out and more tangles and squeaks of discomfort. I gave him treats for putting up with it because I know he could act far, far worse (I've seen the fits of protest dogs have put up at the groomer on the few times Wally goes in to Petco for a groom) and I know it's not pleasant for him. Color me soft but I don't think he should just take the discomfort for nothing. Yes, he has to stay there, but he should get rewarded for compliance in spite of the pulling.

On top of that, the warmer weather just brings out more and more kids - which means *cue scary music* rabid attention from every little girl in sight distance. Some of these girls get overly touchy with him and these last few have actually been rough with him, pushing him around, chasing him, pretty much trying to pounce on him. This was one of the few times I've interfered while keeping Wally under control.

What sometimes annoys me is that the parents will say (from a distance) to be more gentle but never actually remove the girl in question. What's with that? If you have to tell her "Be gentle!" five times and she's still harassing and pouncing on the dog, remove her. Please. Fortunately, I never let myself be completely surrounded, so we've had a way to escape so Wally doesn't totally lose his composure and I can take him away without being mean to the kids, especially the calm ones that just want to pet him and maybe feed him a few bread balls if I brought some out.

It's funny because there's one that he'll hang around and be cool with, even if she comes straight at him. (This is the one I think he originally mistook Dora for. She does look a bit like Dora - especially when she wears the same pink shirt and purple pants. Either that or his fetish with Dora has transferred to this girl for the same reason.) With this girl, he'll actually sit touching her and looking at me and the other girls. Pretty interesting.

It wasn't the best of days for him. I bet he'd curse the fact he has long, soft, "pet me!" hair - if dogs could think that way! Doesn't help he's one of the few white dogs in the neighborhood so he's instantly recognizable. We'll just have to get used to it. Wally's not getting any less pet-inducing or girl-attracting, and the "outdoor season" has just gotten started!

Calming Signals: The Way Wally Would First "Talk" To Me

One of the "advantages" to having a fearful dog is that you get to see a lot of what's called Calming Signals. These signals are often used when the dog is feeling overly anxious as a way to diffuse a situation or to try to maintain some composure within himself, or perhaps both.

These signals would help me first see that he's starting to "lose it" or that a situation that he was okay in but now he's feeling worse about it, and so on. With this communication, I was much better able to take him away from things that worry him more proactively, before the fear escalates over threshold and any behavior modification would no longer be able to take place.

However, I would come to learn that these signals don't just take place in negative situations.

I would discover that he will use them when he's also excited about something that's happening or he thinks will happen.

This opened me up to see them as actually a full part of his language and communication. He can express that he's also super excited and is trying to compose himself so he can stay focus and perform what's needed and to contain himself. Seeing this was great. Not only did it mean his emotions were swinging to super positive side, he taught me something else.

As time went on, I noticed he would also use or express the signals differently when using them in a positive expression. I noticed he chose to shake his body more when super excited. He'd also do a lot of yawning and sometimes stretching as if he was doing a play bow, but would then stand up square again.

Signals that tended to "go away" when he's in this positive state would be look-aways, blinking (especially of one eye and usually a quick blink), moving slowly, nose licks (though sometimes they would still happen), and "fake sniffing" of the ground. When in a more uncertain or anxious state, the reverse is true - I saw more nose licking and look-aways especially. Blinking was more frequent and slower, and sometimes his eyes would almost go into a squint. Moving slowly would often occur - unless he was that afraid or anxious to the point it would make him move in a rapid/skittish way.

Wally doing a look away because the camera is too close for his comfort. 

I would also notice them during training and in "normal" situations as well. Nose licking occurred frequently in both of these situations, especially in normal or neutral situations when I'm moving towards him. Just about anytime I walk towards him, he'll nose lick. If I'm getting too agitated during training, I'll get a lot of moving slowly or lying down. Sometimes I would get yawns during training or the "fake sniffing", especially if he's coming towards me. (Interesting that he diversifies his signals based on him moving to me or me towards him.)

One signal I got just one time was him turning his back to me, but he'll do it if he's really trying to make a point. Usually it happens to other dogs instead of to people for some reason.

Observing the use of calming signals in all situations really opened my eyes to his language and how often he really expresses when his emotions are getting too high, be they positive or negative emotions. It opened a new world of understanding of him.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wally the Picky Picker-Upper

Wally was carrying stuff nicely, so I was thinking of making that a job for him. He can be a "third hand" for me as well as his opening and closing doors that he does. Okay, so he carries the duster, can pick up and carry his toys to another room, and watches the kitchen (read: barks whenever something beeps in the kitchen so I can come check on it). All seemed well.

Ah, but dogs a great that showing you the bugs in the training you've done, and Wally found one.

He only picks up certain things

Well that's not going to work out so well, so I try to have him pick it up again, but he just won't. I hold the thing in my hand, and ask again. He puts his paw in my hand instead. At first, it seemed like he was confused, perhaps I was sending mixed signals.

But, if I put, say, his dumbbell or rabbit toy in my hand and ask for a 'take it', he grabs it like it was nothing. So what's going on here? Why is he not taking the other object?

It turns out it's more a textural thing. In other words, he doesn't like the feel of the object in his mouth. He'll eventually take it and either drop it immediately or just barely have it in his mouth, like he's holding it with just one of his small teeth.

After a lot of coaxing, he'll eventually hold on to it and carry it, but that's not good enough. Other objects he struggles with, like my mom's glasses, because he has a hard time getting a grip, literally. I think, overall, it's a case of more practice and getting him to be more mouthy/more willing to offer mouthing behaviors on objects.

I think I have my idea for next week's "All-Positive Monday", though! Practicing picking things up! We'll attack it from a shaping direction to see if that doesn't help him get more of an idea.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Less Respect, More Motivation - A Paradigm Shift That Helped Me Help Wally

When I first dove into dog training, I read a lot that told me about the importance of a dog's respect for you and that you should watch out for when a dog doesn't respect you. Well, being completely new, I started to analyze everything Wally did under that light.

I would be wondering if he's jumping on me and stretching while doing so a lack of respect (it was one of the first posts I ever made on a dog forum), if he did this or didn't do that, was it because I wasn't earning enough of his respect and what I need to do get him to have more respect for me, and so on.

Added on top of that was the fact I didn't know he was fearful at the time, so much of his refusals or "ignoring" my directions was viewed in the light of him having less respect for me.

Then as things started getting better between us, he was working more with me. At the time, I had started getting into "clicker training" (I now hate this expression - I prefer to call it marker training, since that's what it is - the clicker is just the marker in use), and then the thought was: Is he doing it because this is helping me gain his respect or because he's getting stuff from me?'

After pondering that for some time, I said to myself: 'Who cares - he's working with me.'

Hey, boss! Will this get me something I like?

I think the new enthusiasm I was seeing got me thinking even more about what makes a dog do things they do (or don't do). A common thread I was seeing is that the dog is basically doing whatever he does because he's motivated to do so by some reason he's seeing. This is what I mean by "Less Respect, More Motivation". I'm not saying dogs shouldn't respect their people, or people in general. I don't know if they do or don't. Personally, I think their social mindsets are behavior oriented and 'respect' is as much a concept as it is any set of behaviors. I'm saying that we know they think in terms of motivation/motivators. Using that approach is what helped me help Wally significantly more.

When I started thinking in those lines, my questions became 'okay, what motivated him to do that?' In some cases it was the fear issues he had (and still has to a much lesser degree), a lot of times it is the prospect of a reward he really wants to get, or perhaps something/someone that is attracting him, like a dog whining playfully or a squirrel in the field, or some scent on the ground.

Looking at his actions in terms of 'what motivates him?' let me observe him and get some insight into what's going on in his mind. I could then utilize these motivators during our training. It's the basic thrust of the Premack Principle, which can be very effective when it can be utilized safely/reasonably. Obviously, he's not going to be allowed to run across the street to meet a dog or go after a squirrel, or tread on someone's yard to investigate a smell, or anything like that.

This mindset let me be more of a participant in his thought processes, letting me getting what I would like wedged in as the means to the end he wants. This in turn will motivate him to go through me instead of just acting on his own, teaching impulse control and making him willing, if not wanting me to give him the 'answer' to how can I have/get/keep doing whatever it is that's the target of his current desire.

And if you wanted, it can be said he "respects" me/my directions more if only because they could lead to what he might want, or something good happening. I do think "respect" is too much of a human-centric way to frame it, meaning that I think it's oriented too much around how humans think about relationships and such. Using a motivation orientation puts it back on the dog and how the dog is more likely to be thinking and, at least to me, simplifies the picture significantly. You can observe what the dog is desiring just by looking at him. You can see what his goal is by observing his behavior and the target/orientation of that behavior. These things are then easier to act on from the human side and more available to be utilized in shaping the dog's mind.

I like to think of it as "dogs do what works, training is showing them what works."

Monday, April 11, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" V: Of Colors and Looking at Kids

Today, we worked the colors a lot. The day started with working with yellow and doing some more of the usual show->call->he touches->mark and reward procedure and getting him "into the game" so to speak.

But this time, I also introduced a new scenario using them.

While we are still working on the teaching of the colors, I started introducing both colors to him in the same session. Not so much of discrimination just yet, but alternating which one I show him to get his mind used to thinking about both colors at the same time.

I randomly displayed a color and called out it's name, and he touched it as usual. To keep him from just zoning in on which side the color was on (the cards were in my lap each resting on one of my legs), I would switch them around a few times every so often before showing him a color and calling it. I also changed up how fast the colors displayed so he didn't get into a timing rhythm either. Hopefully, it also made his mind shift gears a bit from waiting to seeing the color, to waiting again, making him focus attention and stay alert since he never knew when I'd show a card.

After a little bit of a break, both to give down time and let his mind process what happened, I went back to one color, but added a new dynamic: distance. I put Wally in a sit-stay and moved some distance away, then showed the color and called the name. He had to come and touch it as normal, but after getting the mark and reward, I moved back more and called the name again. This put a spin on the game while also getting him into the swing of seeing the color/card from a distance and on the move, not just while largely stationary and only a foot away from him. At the end, I even did a couple where I went completely out of his sight. This was something of a challenge for him, but it was a taste of the next level, so to speak.

The other part of the day was playing the "Look At That" game, but only with kids. After seeing still some hesitation and uncertainty around kids, especially ones that tend to run to get to him, I decided to devote the outdoor portions of the day to this. With Spring looking like it is actually here to stay (maybe - never know with April weather!) and Spring Break coming up and the longer days, kids will be out more often when we go walking and some might come to pet him or just the general activity and movement from their play near where we happen to be walking. It will be good to help build his "resolve" around kids some.

I'm also going to have to remember to have treats in my pocket, both for the Look At That game and for letting them offer him the treats. I noticed that the girls (and I say girls all the time because it's ALWAYS been girls) that he's taken treats from before, he seems to warm up to faster, even if they startle him a bit, so that seems to be a winning strategy.

After that it was dinner time and time for him to get some much deserved rest. He had a rather mentally challenging day.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Girls Luv Wally, Practicing the "Mat", and thoughts on Shaping

Today was rather eventful. I thought about multiple posts, but I don't want to spam anyone so it gets all stuck together (let me know if you would have rather it been multiple posts, I can go either way). First event happened during one of our walks. We often walk by the neighborhood playground, and a couple little girls saw Wally (one of which "knows" him since she's seen him more than a few times), and they came up to Wally as usual and started caressing him and cooing over his fur. I was in something of a hurry but I couldn't bear to stop the little girls. Guess I have a soft spot for them, plus it's more socialization for Wally, which he could use.

Wally recognized the one he knew and met her when she came up and started sniffing her and accepted petting from her quickly. Her friend that day was not known to him and she was...forward with touching him. She wasn't hurting him, but she was holding the sides of his body as much as petting him.

Wally wasn't too keen on that but I let it go on to see how he'd handle it, and plus, he needs to learn to accept kids. They don't always approach/do things "right" with dogs, but he needs to not feel overly defensive about it. I also know he's not going to bite anyone, he'll just be sticking close to me and looking at me more than the kids and that's how I know he's had enough, so neither he nor the girl was going to be in harm's way. For Wally's part, he did sit still and started investigating the girl once the initial "Who are you?" type reaction passed. I think he also smelled the girl's dog too (she mentioned she had a dog) and that might have been half of what the sniffing was about!

If I would have been on the ball, I'd have put bread balls in my pocket and given them to both the girls to give to Wally. That was a bit of a wasted opportunity on my part.

Once I had some more time later on and before time for dinner, we did some more working on him going and settling on his "mat". I put mat in quotes because it's not so much a mat as it is "any rectangular shaped piece of cloth on the ground". We did more practice via shaping to refresh the behavior. We had done this a couple times before, but like with other things I tend not to ask so much for, it gets left behind a bit. With some shaping, though, he quickly remembered how it goes and he did a pretty good job of it overall.

Eventually, we won't be limiting it to rectangles - and we'll try it using the round rugs (like those kind you can get from IKEA), but for now, we're sticking to rectangles since that's the shape of the towels and blankets that's easy to get at.

While doing the shaping with him, I started to wonder why it works so well with Wally. It's unbelievable how he just took to it once he got over his initial fear about the method and gave it a shot. I read something that said visuals help speed up learning in humans significantly (the book, in the introduction of a computer programming book no less, said 89% faster memory and learning). I wonder if shaping doesn't "make it visual" for Wally - or dogs in general. Perhaps "visual" gets replaced with "behavioral" or that the step-by-step approach helps also form the mental images in his head about how to do the behaviors.

Marker training is also considered to act "like a camera" to "take a picture" of what the dog was doing and where and how. Shaping combines markers with "more pictures" and perhaps that is what really can help a dog speed up his learning if the trainer decides to go with it and can get the dog to buy into the process as well.

No idea if I'm not way off base with this line of thought, but it was just something interesting that popped into my head while thinking about how the "mat" session went and how fast he recalled it during shaping.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wally's Art Lesson 2: Amarillo means Yellow

The weather was a bit better (at least it was dry) so we did go out for a long walk and do some retrieving. Then we did a little more training inside and had lunch. 

The highlight for today, though, was starting work on the second of his two colors, yellow, also known as "amarillo" in Spanish. Since this was the introduction, we pretty much duplicated the same process as we did for introducing the blue color. Wally was again eager, after waking up from his nap. He also was thrown off a little because I didn't say "azul" so he was like "okay, what is this and what are we doing?" I think the combination of the interrupted nap and the change up caused him to get off to a slower start.

I also wonder if the yellow card was a little harder for him to see, at least with the lighting in the room.

When we got to the point where I put the card in various places and he has to look around to find it and touch it, he was looking a little more lost than with the blue card. That was interesting to see. Sometimes, he would pass right over it, as if he was looking for something else. I wonder if maybe he was still thinking about the blue card?

He did eventually find it and didn't get discouraged (and I offered no more help than saying "amarillo" again. I did use a different location this time, putting the card on top of the bed. There were a couple other of his toys up there two, and he almost picked up his raindrop squeaky toy, but then corrected himself to get the yellow card instead.

I moved the pace of the training faster than it was with the start of introducing the blue card. I figured that the overall exercise was basically the same and it would help him learn to start to look/search more quickly for the color and also to make a bigger deal out of the whole exercise - putting something of a sense of urgency in the mix.

After the exercise, he went to resume his nap, which he extended for three hours. After that, we went out for our pre-dinner walk. This walk was a looooooong walk as it's time to get back into the swing of longer walks with Spring being here and all - and before the oppressive summer heat that will surely invade in a few months.

Not sure what we'll end up doing tomorrow. I will likely save more work on "amarillo" for All-Positive Monday V. Something will come to us. Usually does - either from just thinking of something, or a "teachable moment" coming up during the day.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Give Me The Dumbbell Anyway: A Wet Wally Moves Fast.

Well, as expected, rain rain rain. Rain. More rain. And chilly too - feels more like March than April.

However, Wally was still eager for his outdoor training, which isn't entirely unexpected. And of course being wet, he's hyper. So I sucked it up and did some retrieving outside. He was certainly in high spirits, charging after it and bringing it back, perhaps TOO fast! He was going so fast he had a hard time coming to the front position (he would sit, but come in on the side of me or once he went all the way around me) and that was mostly where things got a bit sloppy. It was because of the energy - and not even the rain, which is what I thought would be the biggest distraction, causing him to shake a lot, etc.

It was good to see him charging back and forth, though, because for a while, he was hesitating on the retrieves, like he had to remember what to do. Perhaps, being this wound up will help him remember what it was like and make him more excited again for retrieves. I know being excited and having fun helps dogs remember things, so I think it was good I decided to man up and brave the "hostile" elements for some outdoor training. 

Another positive was that it was another exercise in staying (somewhat) under control to perform a task while excited, this time with the rain "giving" him the excitement. He carried his dumbbell back from the playground with no problem, so he did some 'working' as well.

Of course, him going at about triple the speed is no big surprise. Wally always gets hyper and fast moving in the rain or even when he's just wet like from a bath. I don't understand it, and have seen just one explanation of it that I don't know would apply too much, or at least I can't envision how it works in my mind at least. All day, he was moving at super speed like someone gave him too much caffeine. He wouldn't settle down as easily, was super alert to anything, and played hard even indoors.

I was going to introduce the yellow flashcard to him, but he was too much in "gotta move" mode that it wouldn't have gone over too well. So instead, we just played some indoor games like hide-and-seek, find it, and worked on opening and closing doors some more.

Perhaps tomorrow will be a calmer day and we'll resume working on the colors again. He's actually and finally sleeping after his dinner (let your food digest, Wally!). It only took two hours longer than usual!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review of Basic Training: Wally Goes Back to the Basics

Having learned my lesson from before, I revisited our earlier/basic training today. I didn't want to lose behaviors again like before so we worked on formal retrieving a lot outside (and will do some more before bedtime) and a lot of drops, some beginning shaping, and targeting indoors - though we did some drops outside too. Since this is review, we moved pretty quick from one thing to the next to help keep him excited and to work it in with the performing while excited as well.

One thing that made it interesting for targeting is that I only took nose touches since those can be really useful for a lot of the things we're working on at the moment. I may end up coming up with two separate targeting cues to help him keep the difference between paw and nose touches more easily instead of him trying to guess. Using "push" for nose touches might do half the work already since that's already connected to using his nose (to push a ball). I think I'll "revive" the cue 'paw' for paw touches (Yeah, I know, so very creative), and that should take care of that. Should.

Fortunately, Wally isn't one of those dogs that tends to get bored of things, so reviewing is easy with him. I think it also helps that he's severely food motivated (almost unnaturally so!) and that helps keep him going and excited and alert. Also with the rewarding, I throw in some jumping up on me and let him bounce around between exercises (which he just enjoys for whatever reason), also keeping his spirits up and him wanting more.

I think I'll make Thursday "Back to the Basics" day, or at least "A Day of Review". Nothing totally new gets introduced, but old stuff we've done before gets "revived" to help keep it fresh in the mind. Not sure what we'll do tomorrow. The weather is going to be going downhill overnight and be a rainy, somewhat chilly day. Wally won't too much care, but I'm not going to be too motivated to do any outside work. Too bad a click and treat won't have the same effect as it does for him! We'll figure out something to do.

Getting More Excitement Out Of Him

Since I'm endeavoring to improve his responsiveness and awareness while wound up, I want to be able to get him hyped up and keep it going and going and going until he's pretty much as wound up as he's going to possibly be. Of course, running around and playing chase will do it, but maybe I want to get him psyched up inside too. After all, more time he's hyper, the more time I can work on this.

So what does he love more than play? Food. Why not combine the two, make him "fight for his treat" so to speak? So I tried it and the results were very good! Wally got super alert already from the smell of the food, and then making him chase and pounce and claw at my hand (I need to find a way to protect my hands I think!) will gets him into it. Then when I start "fighting back" by pulling a bit on his hair, his paws, trying to get at his underside, putting my hand on his back and pulling - all of this gets him really going and some mix of agitated and playful. Getting play growls and lots of dodging and twisting and him grabbing at my arm with his paws, and just a good time all the way around.

Then when he's in super psycho mode, I pull the food away and give a cue (like "drop") and when he does it, we start it up again. I repeat this a few times of varying lengths of time of play and lengths of time of where he has to wait for the cue. After a few times, we go again, but this time I like him get the food at the end. Then, when he's focused on me with those wide, shiny eyes, and wagging tail, I give another cue and then we start the whole thing all over again.

Wally is loving it! He's getting all into everything and he starts moving fast with the cues and starting to bark and whine when I make him wait. One advantage (and which will be something of an issue outside) is that there's not a lot of room for him to get "zoomies" and just release all that energy. While we go out and walk/play after we're done with one of these sessions, outside, he'll be able to just charge around in a circle around me or hop or dart in and out at me, etc. This will put a new challenge for both of us in play, me in getting his focus again and controlling that energy and how high it rises and on him to try to keep it at that level while he's getting to play and eat and praise and fun interaction from me.

It's going to be fun, though, and he'll be getting out a lot of physical energy, which is good for him (so much mental work lately, can't forget about the physical side of him either).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Training Wally To Stay Focused While Excited

One thing we haven't worked on in a long while is Wally staying aware of my instructions even though he's super wound up and excited. It's been a LONG time since we've had some good running and chasing and that probably was part of why I ended up getting more zoomies and less focus.

After a while, I did start to get some measure of focus, probably once he realized I was actually make a sound that wasn't a bark or a growl! I think if we start working on this more, we'll be able to get some more control and awareness together even while he's about as amped up as possible. I will also try to include this during indoor play, especially during our "morning play ritual" now that he's super into it and even whining at my door to get in so the fun can start.

What I'm going to start doing is using a lot of stationary cues or controlled movements (including the "go arounds") which is probably the LAST thing he's going to want to do, which means he'll have to get himself under control. I'll probably throw in the "rapid cues" game we play, which will make him have his mind (and ears) open and being aware to what behaviors I'm calling out.

Increasing the excitement even further will be the fact I'll be giving out bread balls for correct responses. The rewards will be things he loves (running and food), and he'll likely get both (give him a bread ball, wait until he swallows it, then start running around) after each correct response, and we'll keep it up as long as I can actually keep running and have the breath to talk, and maybe even when I don't by using what few hand signals we have.

This should be a lot of fun for us both, and the weather may well cooperate (sunny, not too hot) and with the kids in school, no interference from them either.

I can't wait to get this going! We might can expand on this even more over time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" IV

The fourth "All-Positive Monday" included the color training as planned. We did some more reviewing mentioned in this post with a little more added challenge in that I bypassed the showing him the color. I just went straight to putting the flashcard somewhere, and telling him "azul" and he had to go find it and touch it (or bring it back). I believe he's getting the idea of the name as there were times where I put it almost right under him (he couldn't see it and didn't think to look under his own body) and he was looking around in previous locations for the card, scanning for the card. When he found it, he moved quickly to it. I think this is a good sign of progress. I also introduced the card being attached to an object at about eye level and continued to reward him touching the object, creating another little twist and another way to get him familiar to how the card might be presented.

Doing this kind of work with him might have shown me one place where going all positive reinforcement could be easily viable - creating associations. In this case, it's between a familiar object (blue flashcard) and a name ("azul"). Creating the initial attraction/attention on the object also was nothing but positive reinforcement. Basically, just marking and rewarding any attention he pays to the object and I let him just go with it in terms of how he wanted to interact. The other association case I can think of is connecting a name or signal to an existing behavior. For example, during "touch" training, Wally would reliably offer putting his nose on the object. Just before he completes the behavior (before the nose hits the object), I would say "touch", then mark when the nose hits the object and give a reward.

Then of course, there's the "charging the marker" which is creating that first association that the click (or whatever reward marker(s) you choose to teach) signals that the dog earned a coming reward.

It may be time to give "azul" a bit of a break and start introducing "amarillo", the yellow flashcard. Or perhaps I'll try transfering "azul" from 'off the flashcard' and onto a blue object, and have him retrieve it by it's color - well, that might be too ambitious, but the card maybe could be mixed in with another object, increasing the challenge a little more. We'll see. Part of me wants to let "azul" rest for a few days to settle in his brain. As always, thoughts are welcome.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Around and Around He Goes...Eventually

Gave him a break on the colors today. I'll likely use part of tomorrow's "All-Positive Monday" to do that, since at this point it's definitely no point to correcting him or setting up a problem with color so hard that he could even get it wrong.

Today was more with doing something I named "go around" where Wally has to go to an object I indicate, pass it, go around it (where the name comes from) and come back to me - unless I give him another direction, like going around it again or staying put or anything else. The problem comes in with the turning motion, not that he can't do it, but that he does it while not near the object.

I drew a crude ASCII drawing on one dog forum I visit (dogforums.com) that illustrates the problem:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wally's Art Lesson 1: Azul means Blue

Wally's color training began today and we worked on blue. At this point, the main focus is trying to teach him the name of the color and how to indicate the color.

Of course, I'm using "Azul" which is blue in Spanish. The process is pretty simple at this point:

  1. I show him the blue flashcard and say "azul".
  2. Wally already knows nose-touching and he goes up to the card and pushes it with his nose.
  3. I mark and reward that (using a clicker at this point, though I'll use my voice eventually). 
  4. After doing 1 through 3 for about 20 times as fast as I can to keep him alert and engaged, I start moving the card around so he has to move to get to it.
  5. After doing step 4 about 20 more times, I put the card down somewhere in a not-right-in-front-of-him-but-not-hidden place and say "azul".
  6. Now he has to look around for the thing he's been touching upon hearing "azul". Hopefully, this will further emphasize in his mind what the color looks like, since he has to actually find it to get the reward.
  7. Upon finding it, I accepted any indication that he was deliberately stopping and interacting with the card. I would take a deliberate paw touch, a nose touch, or he can pick it up and bring it to me (which is what he ended up doing after a while). Just brushing his nose past it or stepping on it in passing did NOT get him a reward. 
  8. If he looked lost, I gave no indication of where the card was. If he looked at me for more information, I would calmly re-state "azul" to him. That was the only information he was going to get. He had to find the card on his own.
  9. I did steps 5 through 9 about 20 more times before giving him a reward for working with me and then I let him unwind. He went to sleep in my lap not too long after that and slept for a good 3 hours straight!

Friday, April 1, 2011

When In Doubt, Use a Foreign Language?

This may well be just placebo effect, the idea that something is having an impact when it really isn't, but it seems that ever since I used "abres" and "cierras" for opening and closing doors, it just clicked with him.

Perhaps it's just because the sound is so distinct, there's no "processing time" wasted trying to parse the sounds. He hears nothing else that sounds like that, so it registers quickly and exactly to the behavior. Or perhaps it just clicked in his mind as things sometimes just do for him. Or maybe using his obsession with Dora the Explorer in training got us both picking up some Spanish - for me, new words to try (and a new found interest in Spanish in general), and for him, he's familiar with the sound, since the words were spoken on the show. It may not be totally unknown. Maybe that helped it click - like "oh, I've heard that before and now I know what to do when I hear it!" It would be funny if every time Dora says "abre" on the show, he goes and opens the door!

In any case, I'm not going to let this thing go just yet. That's just the way I am. Soon, I'll be started with the color training in earnest and I'm thinking of using the Spanish words for blue and yellow, "azul" and (or should I say "y") "amarillo", respectively. (Who knew Wally's Dora fetish would come in handy! LOL)

I figure it's worth a chance. Perhaps the sounds of the Spanish language will be so different to him that it will help him learn the colors better, making for a clearer connection. Or perhaps it won't do anything beneficial at all. It can't hurt to try. All it would end up costing is a slice of bread and some time. Wally won't care about the "waste" of bread - considering he'll be doing the eating, and what's a little time in the interest of trying to expand his knowledge?