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

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Doing Battle With Sandy

Wally has had to endure Sandy all day today since he has to go out and such. However, he's been a trooper and actually seeming to enjoy it. The last time we've been through tropical, Wally could not stand the wind and the sound of the trees blowing, and was noticeably worried. During windy thunderstorms, much of the same, though that might be the thunder more than the wind.

This time, though, he's been his usual self inside and acting like it's just a normal day. No impact on his eating or resting at all, and he's done his business every time, showing no anxiety about being in the elements. I'm glad to see this, especially as it might be going strong for another day.

Of course, we've been doing what training we can indoors, but mostly it's been drying him off and trying to keep him warm. That's the one thing that's really surprising with this storm, the fact it's more like a coastal storm and merged with a winter-type storm, making it a cold day complete with bone-chilling rain and a real wind chill.

Overall, though, it's been about as good as you could expect. Still got some ways to go yet, but definitely could have been far worse.

Most important is that Wally has been more than fine and is happy and well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

All-Positive Monday 32 - Manipulating Objects: Opening a Bag

I figured I'd try something, trying to get him to do something with an object.

In this case, I wanted him to figure out how to open up a bag that has been twisted closed (no ties or knots) and see if he can unwrap it to get a treat out without biting through the bag or otherwise tearing it.

Interestingly enough, he didn't even try to rip the bag. It was as though he just followed the scent down through the bag, trying to move the bag out of the way to get to the goodies inside.

I captured this on video. It is embedded below.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Nightmare of a Night, Literally

I don't know what his nightmare was about, but whatever it was, it gripped him hard.

Poor dog was thrashing around, not just the twitching paws but his body flailing around, growling, biting at the air, it was intense. Took several minutes just to wake him from it, and when he did, he wasn't aware of anything in terms of where he was or who I was - even growling at me while I was holding him.

He settled down a little bit and started to recognize where he was and who I was, but he was still terrified. I set him down and gave him some room as he was panting very hard and visibly shaken up. He started looking at me as I moved, but he still didn't want to get up. When he did, he wanted to go hide in his other spot in my room.

Whatever it was scared him so much he had peed on himself and he had an accident trying to get outside. Still scared and skittish, but moving around and following me a bit. I took him out for some air and to let him just clear his head. The walk eventually started settling him down and he got back to his usual self more.

While outside, just wanted him to get back to his usual self and we played some and such. He started relaxing and shaking his body (calming signal, usually a "whew, that was intense" or "glad that's over" type signal) and quickly started coming around to himself again.

I hope he doesn't have to go through that again, though I guess if it happens again, I know what to do to help him out of it and settle his mind.

Scary Moment With a Harmless Cause

Just got a scare not long ago - thought something was going majorly wrong with Wally. He was thrashing about, freaking out, never seen him do anything like that before.

I was thinking he was choking on something, maybe sneaked and ate something or something had gotten in his throat and couldn't get it out, and any number of things.

I got him still enough so that he wouldn't hurt himself with all that thrashing and looked in his mouth. Turns out it was nothing more than a strand or two of his hair had gotten inside his mouth and it was a longer piece so it must have tickled his throat and was triggering some reflex and serious frustration in trying to get it out.

Never before seen him do anything like that! All these years of having long hair everywhere and nothing like that happened and now it does. Scared me out of my mind.

Suffice to say that I got the scissors out and trimmed that hair down and will do so from now on. Every time I give him a bath or a good brushing, I will be checking the length of that hair around his muzzle and jaws. 

Ugh - don't scare me like that, Wally!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

All-Positive Monday 31 - Wally The Cornerback

With football season in full swing, and Raiders bandana attached to his collar, I thought it would be fun to have Wally "play cornerback" and try to "cover" me as I run. The goal, of course, is for him to stay near me no matter which way I move and turn and, like a wide receiver, I could go in various patterns.

He would get a click and treat if he's within a certain distance of me within a certain amount of time, say a few seconds. If not, we just line up and try it again.

The game is an attempt to teach him to watch me and keep his attention on me in a more fun and lively way. I figure this would get him psyched up and eager since it's like a game of chase to him (and in a way, it is) while also getting some treats along the way. It'll also be some exercise for the both of us. 

Is this all-positive? I think, overall, it is. Sure, he might not get a treat each time, especially early on, but he's going to be having fun the whole time. I won't be giving any corrections/redirecting/no-reward markers - none of that, we just keep the game going.

Also, I'll keep it simpler in the beginning, as per usual. Make it easier for him to earn the reward so he can get an idea of what the objective is.

Friday, October 5, 2012

English for Wally - Pondering Prepositions and Adverbs

Getting back to attempting to use a sort of canine programming language to communicate with him in a new way, I've been considering how to teach him "adverbs" (i.e. how to do something) and "prepositions" (i.e. where to perform an action). I'm thinking "adverbs" would be the most difficult to teach him. Can a dog learn how to perform a behavior in the sense of walking quickly or speaking quietly or even loudly? And then, can a dog learn to do so on cue?

Sure, dogs have louder and softer volumes on their voices. Sometimes Wally whines loudly and sometimes it's softer. Same for his barks and other sounds. Thing is - that's driven by his internal emotional state. If he's really excited or driven for something, he'll bark louder. If he's really hungry, he'll whine louder, but if he's more uncertain or wanting attention for something else - the whines are different.

Emotions aren't logically determined, though, which is what he'll be doing when I'm cuing this and teaching it beforehand. That is where the challenge will be - getting him to purposefully do something differently and then teaching him that's what got him the prize. For example, if I do speaking softly (something like "Wally - Speak - Quietly") how will I be able to communicate to him that the quietly part is what got him rewarded? That's the challenge in "adverbs".

"Prepositions" are probably going to be a bit easier. Where to do something is more obvious to see at work and for the dog to pick up on. Obedience training incorporates this. Heeling, finish, front are examples. Teaching things like laying on a mat is using "prepositions" (the object is the "where" in this case - Lie where? On the mat.) I realize it's not prepositions in strict human language terms (technically, I'm teaching the location, the preposition is "on" in the prior example), but it works for this, especially since dogs don't know anyway.

So Wally already has some exposure to "prepositions", though some, like "front" will take on new meanings - making him have to parse the difference between "Front" (come and sit in front position) and "Get - Ball - Front" (get the ball that's in front position). What also gets interesting as that some will be relative to me and some relative to him. "Front" is relative to me. "Back" would be relative to him (go back/behind you and...).

The other challenge will be getting him to freaking wait and listen for the whole instruction! He's going to hear "get" and be like "okay, I see something, I'll get it!" and just grab something. Going to need patience.

Will be pretty fun and interesting to try, though! Maybe he'll surprise me and catch quick. He caught on to the whistle quicker than I thought.

Monday, October 1, 2012

All-Positive Monday 30 - Left and Right

Today, I decided to revisit left and right, maybe this time, we'll have better luck in getting this skill down!

To start, I will have two identical objects placed to the left and right of Wally with him sitting front. I'll signal with my arm outstretched as well as voice cue, the ever so creative choices of "Left" and "Right" (I know, such a stroke of artistic genius, right?).

This will set him up to succeed in a lot of ways. He can follow the arm to get a clue to the direction. He has a target on the ground that looks very different from the environment, and there's the voice cue he can use if he wants to pick up on that.

Using a target also gets him into the idea that he's supposed to go until he "hits something" or is given another instruction. The first time I tried this, he went as far as my arm stretched and that's it (because I treated him from the hand there - taught him a bad concept).

I am still giving him the treats, but I'm marking him when he gets to the target (eventually, I'll put the treats ON the targets). That should help him get the concept down.

After each attempt, he has to come back to front position. This resets him and lets him get used to the movement of going left and right. This is opposed to him maybe facing left and then turning around to go right.

The session went well. As he continued to succeed, I mixed up the timing of when I gave the next signal. This helps practice focus and patience to wait for the signal, especially as he gets excited and wants to go for the next target.

Out on walks, we should be able to try something similar. We can either use the targets or pick an object like a street light and position him so that he can go left or right on the signal to the object.

Eventually, we will go with this on retrieves. I'll throw the dumbbell left or right and signal and use the "left" and "right" cues and arm signals to have him go get the dumbbell. Also planned is working the same exercise above with the targets, but with me at a distance from him.