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

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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.