Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition: September 2012

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Monday, September 24, 2012

"All-Positive Monday 29" - Back it up, Wally!

Today was a mix of some P.E. for Wally as well as an All-Positive day.

I wanted to revisit his rear-end awareness, something that had gotten lost over the months amidst all the other things that we've been working on.

He already has some idea of how to back up, i.e. walking backwards. To begin, I get him warmed up a bit with just requiring a few steps. I think mark (I use a clicker) and reward him and start again. I try to keep everything as flowing and fast-moving as possible to keep him highly engaged and making it seem more fun.

After the warm-ups and seeing that he still remembers how to do the behavior, I keep each trial lasting longer. I want more steps out of him. As usual, each success is greeted with the reward marker and a treat. At this point, I'm going to start increasing the challenge further in some way.

For today, I wanted to work on speed. He's going to be moving all kinds of ways trying to keep himself going backwards - fine for now. I want to work on just one thing at a time. Using speed should help him get used to moving his back legs more quickly and make him more able to control them.

Marking and rewarding is different as I don't really want to stop the action. As he is moving backwards and keeping pace with me moving forward at him, The rewards are coming, all in stride if at all possible. At the most, a one or two second break so he can chew it if he needs be (which means I need to make them smaller so he can just suck them down without getting choked).

It was funny watching him curve around as his back legs just kept moving him in reverse but no idea how to keep going straight! That's something I'll be having to work on in the future. Another further step would be to have him do so just on cue. I could say "back up!" and he just starts walking backwards.

But those are goals off in the distance and difficult for me to figure how to do in a completely positive way (though shaping figures to be a big part - may not be completely positive, but that's a very large component). Guess I should have called this 'segment' "Mostly-Positive Monday"!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rainy Day For Whistle Training

wally ready for lunch
Wally waiting to get his lunch after a rainy day of training.

A rainy, windy day hit us today, but, for us, that means another day for training the whistle in new conditions. We've not worked on this in other weather conditions, not to mention contending with the "I'm soaking wet so I want to run and play and be hyper!" mindset that always happens when he's wet.

He did a pretty good job in the beginning, still able to follow the whistle and concentrate, though sometimes the rain was a distraction. I don't know if it was the sound of the rain hitting everything along with some mild wind gusts or if it was just being in the rain in general.

The rain got heavier as well while we were out and that really made things tough on us both. I was having a harder time getting him to respond, even when he was just waiting for the recall whistle. I had to lower the frequency of the whistle to get him to respond. He did, however, perform the behavior and with lots of energy.

Giving treats became a challenge, too. He did eat his soggy pieces of bread for treats - but what was left in my pocket was not very pleasant! Nothing worse than soggy bread in your dripping wet hand. Ugh.

Overall, I think it was a good, albeit short, session. It wasn't long until we both wanted out of the rain!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The "Four Corners" Game - Trying To Teach Whistle Recalls

Tonight, we worked more with the whistle and doing whistle recalls. I wanted to work more at distance to get him used to it. I also wanted to start letting the whistle be the only signal as much as possible, though I know I'll still need to help him with the meaning using one of already known cues.

Even with that, though, I made a change.

To play the game, we went to the black top in the neighborhood field/playground,  and started I would go from corner to corner, calling him with the whistle. He had to come to front, sit, stay put while I went to the next corner, and then call him again with the whistle.

At first, I let him get all his 'business' done so that wouldn't be pressing on his mind. Then I went into some 'warm up' with the whistle recall at short distances. Gave him a little sniffing break and then played the game.

Did another short warm up again and then went into it.  For the first round, I used a snap of my fingers as I did the third tweet (the whistle call is three short tweets). I praised him and went to the next corner. Kept this up for a couple trips around the black top, then gave him another break to walk around and such.

When time for the second round, this time it was just the whistle. I would do nothing else. This was sort of like a "quiz". I would give the whistles and that's it. He had to remember what to do. When he started coming to me, I would praise and encourage him (to start), and then that stopped. Soon, the game went like this: I go to corner, give the whistle, he comes front and sits, I praise and move to the next corner. The only sounds I made were the whistle and the 'good boy' (which he knows as much as a verbal reward marker as much as just praise - kinda rolled up in one I suppose). It let's him know he's doing it right, so he gets feedback while keeping him in a focused frame of mind.

After a few trips around the black top, I ended the session and had some play time with him. He did pretty well, and I think we both felt like we made progress. And, of course, we both enjoyed the play time! :)

Given how it went this time, I think we'll keep playing this game. It's like a variation of the "Station-to-Station" game we played to work on "go around", and it seems we might be on our way to similar success with the "Four Corners" game.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Whistle Wally, Day 2

Another day of working with the whistle and the learning curve is there for the both of us to be sure!

I'm still trying to make my signals consistent so that he can have a clear signal to pick up on. Meanwhile, he's still get used to the concept that he won't hear my voice give the signal and that he can't just key off my body or movement to get 'hints' on what to do.

That said, I did give the voice cues in an effort to teach him what the whistle sound means. That seemed to work before, but tonight, it seemed to regress a bit. After getting some mixed results and starting to see a few signs he was getting confused and uncertain, I decided to try another strategy.

Since I have a hand signal for staying while walking with me (he stops while I keep moving) and for the 'front' (where he comes from where he is to sit directly in front of me), I decided to throw those while giving the end of the whistle signal. So the stay-while-walking signal get tossed out while the long signal tweet is going on and the signal for 'front' comes just before I stop the third short tweet.

This seemed to make more sense to him and he started to respond more quickly and more sharply. He didn't look confused either and I saw that eagerness in him pick up again. While this might have been something of a set back, it's things that let us find more ways to communicate and work together so he can have success again.

One behavior that's still strong is the 'stay' while he's going after something. I did it twice, got him all hyped up and send up to go 'chase' something (there wasn't anything, but he went out and was searching for something and sniffing and all that), and then I gave the 'stay' whistle, and he stopped and looked at me. Great! Then I took the chance to bring him back with hand signal + whistle strategy and he came back nicely. Maybe we're on to something on which we can build on.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wally and the Whistle

It's been a while, but Wally and I are still working together and the next thing we'll try out is whistle training. It's been something I've wanted to try for a while and we're going to give it a shot.

It just came today and I was hoping it came with instructions on how to get started with it on your dog. No, just telling me stuff like "don't start beyond 6 months" (about 4 1/2 years too late for that!) and pushing on his butt to make him sit (something I wouldn't do since I can capture/shape).

So we're going at it on our own and maybe finding some websites on the topic (which has been more difficult than I expected).

Until then, I'll be going with the standard "teach a new cue" rules. New information first, then the currently known cue, then rewarding the behavior. Then keep that up until he has the new association. I don't know if that's the 'correct' way in regards to teaching the whistle, but, we'll find out over time.

Of course, I had to blow it at least once to see how (or if) he'd react. The instructions did suggest using the second setting at first. So I put it on that and gave it a blow. Wally immediately looked over at me with a very alert look, just staring at me like "What was that?! I never heard you make that sound before!" So it looks like I have the frequency I want to start with.

This should be interesting.