Thursday, 21 May 2009

CU class Week Six

(sorry I missed out on week 5 - its been hectic!)

Pics to come later - can't find my camera cable at the mo.

Tonight's goals were to increase Max's levels of relaxation while also increasing activity and movement. I suggested that Trish work through the Relaxation Protocol (Karen Overall) stages right from the beginning of class, and whenever he was getting too hyped up to return to their mat and keep going with the RP. This was on the basis that Max has been settling very well doing the RP on a mat at home. Based on the fantastic results tonight Trish & Max are going to take their RP practice 'on the road' to help him develop calm focus in lots of situations.

First stage: Max practiced RP on his mat nearby, Farah and Mirri worked on parallel game, using two cones for 'touch' and a mat as another target, gradually we increased the speed and excitements levels.

Stage Two: Max worked in the box (two touch targets, a mat and a 'go round' target) while Mirri carried on - no dog right beside Mirri or Max. Then introduced Finn. Max was a little distracted, but used the Give Me A Break game to allow him to sniff Finn calmly through the barrier, then everyone went back to working. Max was mostly off leash!!
Developed this by having Max and Mirri (dogs who have the most work to do) working either side of a barrier, off leash, doing various targeting tasks. FANTASTIC!

Stage Three: one dog recalling while other relaxes (with barrier), then both dogs recalling slowly at same time. Moved to walking head on and passing close by with no barrier - all dogs managed this beautifully!

Great session, everyone was clearly progressing nicely and I hope that by transferring the RP outside Max and Trish will be able to make a big jump forward. Planning a socialisation walk for this weekend to keep the vibe going.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Living with a fearful dog...the reality and the heartbreak

Today I went home for lunch as usual, time for a quick training session with my dogs. Farah had great fun doing some freeshaping but Finn just couldn't work with me. Standing and staring, panting a little, tail curled under and moving from place to place.


Because it's raining today. Yup, it's raining. Heavy showers so a little like pre-thunder rain which unsettles him (although he loves being outside in the rain) combined with some distant low-flying plane sounds which could be a little like thunder. Finn has been noise-sensitive since I adopted him, especially to rain and thunder storms. Some time in the first year he was with me, he linked storms/rain and planes together and nothing I have done has really gotten rid of that association. Collies learn so fast but that's not always an advantage!

Finn is better than he was originally - no longer does he have to pace obsessively, drool great streams of saliva or jump at every sound. But he's not comfortable with rain which makes going camping rather tricky. I can honestly say I would give almost anything to make his life easier and less scary. We use valerian extract to help balance his anxiety levels, and we have tried many many other options but for Finn, it seems to be such a deep rooted sensitivity that the best I can hope for is to ease his reactions.

My gut feeling is that irrespective of whatever happened to him before I adopted him, I think that Finn was born with an overactive nervous system - he's just wired a little more tightly than many other dogs which combined with the natural collie sensitivity makes it hard for Finn to cope with our human world.

So today we just hung out together, did a little massage and TTouch, gave him some homeopathic spray and sat quietly. At least he seems to take comfort from my presence now instead of being oblivious to anything apart from his fear.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Thoughts on training methods/philosophies

I'm sort of starting this thread because I've been thinking a lot about it recently. From ending up in a discussion about choke chains with a woman who attended a clicker training workshop (she thought 'check chains' were really good if you knew how to use them properly) and then following up comments/discussions online about using e-collars and the like, I feel like my brain is going round in circles.

Some of the issues I find swimming around in my head:

  1. there are several straight forward laws of learning, which describe how pretty much anything with a nervous system and brain makes associations, learns to perform or not perform behaviours, and connects consequences or emotions i.e. classical and operant conditioning which give us precise terms such as positive/negative/reinforcer/punisher
  2. there are some behaviours that certain people consider to be 'pack' related or 'dominance' related and therefore are not about training or lack of, but should be prevented from occurring, or gotten rid of via aversives
  3. its difficult to choose between training methods based purely on the apparent outcome of training as we have no insight into the dog's mental state (assuming you believe such an insight would be useful or relevant)
  4. 'calming signals' as a term has become more and more accepted, but even for these behaviours there are multiple possible explanations for them, we are making assumptions about internal states based on our observations.
  5. some people have moral positions on whether it is appropriate to use aversives when teaching; for children, dogs, any other adult too! This seems to lead to very emotional discussions, and of course exactly what defines an aversive may well vary between person/dog/etc
  6. and sometimes we might have philosophical principles which guide how we interact with the world and people/animals
  7. almost any tool can be used as an aversive in training, but some are inherently designed to do so.
  8. Humans often get very caught up in and emotional about their training relationships, taking things very personally which increases stress levels - possibly leading to punishment in the normal sense of the word, seeing it as confrontational?

Like I said I've been reading and watching clips about folks that train with 'remote collars' - and mostly I'm left just not understanding why these methods would be a first, second or even a last choice? They claim, and appear to show that in some cases the stimulation level is very low, more of a vibration than anything. So presumably its acting as an interruptor? Fair enough, but still not convinced its needed! But once these things move onto higher levels....why train with pain?

I have used
  • flat collar
  • limited slip collar (not too tight though)
  • various harnesses
  • headcollars, various
  • vibe collar - well we're trying it anyway for my deaf dog

While the headcollars were useful when Finn was really reactive in terms of being able to hold onto him, and we did loads of work to get him happy wearing it, I don't particularly like using them. Essentially except when they are used as backup control for a very strong dog, they work IMHO by being aversive. i.e. dog pulls, headcollar tightens and pressure on face is uncomfortable, dog stops pulling, pressure releases and all is good??

I don't think I ever 'make' my dogs do anything. I only ask them to do things that they are capable of, and when I know I have successfully helped them understand the cue. If Finn didn't happen to recall straight away in a new park, I would assume that I have not yet taught a strong enough recall in the position of very exciting distractions. By thinking of that as 'disobediance' or 'stubborness' I'd be setting up a confrontational situation and presuming that Finn had made some kind of a choice?

Do I use 'no'?? Yes, actually I do, but I'm careful to make sure that 'no' means "don't do that, or even think about it, look at me to see what to do instead".

I guess I have underlying principles about trying not to use force/coercion on anything or anyone, about being non-confrontational, trying to communicate clearly and compassionately, building relationships and co-operation, being willing to listen to the other I find it hard to understand where someone is coming from when they think it is appropriate to use choke chains, prong collars, leash pops, e-collars, harsh voices, physical intervention/violence. But does that mean its wrong for them to be using methods that fit with their principles and philosophy???

I am very aware that I'm posting this on a motivational, rewards-based type forum :laugh: but its helpful for me to type it all out! And no I'm not planning to 'convert' to any of the more aversive methods, but teaching beginners classes is forcing me to think very hard about all this!!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Car work part one

(note to self: also need to blog about Finn and Farah's amazing achievements this morning and at training class!)

We started the car work today with Finn, just a short 10 minute session.
  • Finn sitting on folded down seats in back of car - means I can reach to treat him
  • click and wads of food for just being calm
  • clicks and wads of food for choosing to lie down nicely, no panting
  • nose touch and paw touch for click + treat
  • engine on/off = click + treat
  • engine on, change gears, move handbrake etc - click + treat for staying calm at all stages [all going really well and clearly shows the previous work we did has 'stuck']
  • throw handful of food, click and move car forwards slightly, stop car before finish eating
  • repeat
  • repeat but reversing car (two reasons, not much space on my street and we need to work on reverse as well!)
  • stop car properly, click + treat for calmness
  • end session

Will see how it goes but may repeat this evening using his dinner kibble.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Our amazing weekend - clicker training fun day

Back at work after a fab day out at the Fun Clicker Training Day yesterday.

I am the proudest dog mom in the world right now, Farah was perfect, utterly attentive, super keen depsite having to work off lead in front of an audience (has been a problem lately) and Paddy said she thought we could crack the formal retrieve in just a few sessions. In the afternoon she learned to nose a football toward me, and then to put front paws on a skateboard and move it!!!

Finn officially achieved my most important goals for him. It may have taken five years but its been worth every single heartache, shed tear and difficult moment. This may not sound much to anyone with more normal dogs....but he walked into the hall on a loose leash and could turn back for a treat. We walked calmly past four strange dogs and he went straight into his crate. He coped with other dogs running about, even with someone playing tuggy and being excited. He worked off lead for me in front of everyone, and then in the afternoon was able to learn exciting things and play tuggy/ball even though another dog was fairly close to him.
Even more amazing - he was working for a friend of mine in the afternoon and he was totally chilled.

Which gives me even more hope that we will crack our remaining challenges: car travel and children+footballs :)

Thursday, 7 May 2009

CU Class Week Four

Our goals for this evening were to introduce Mirri (reactive lurcher) to the parallel games, work on group relaxation and find a way to help Max with being less distracted around dogs and other excitements. Both Mirri and Finn find it difficult to cope when other dogs are being excited, moving quickly etc and typically would bark/lunge in varying degrees of intensity. We are hoping to use the parallel games to gradually expose both dogs to increasing levels of stimuli in a controlled manner. Max on the other hand just finds movement of dogs/people really exciting and goes over threshold pretty easily - for him its less about fear/anxiety but produces very similar reactions.

[Pictures to be added later]

We started off with a modified version of the CU Campfire exercise: doing passive relaxation on mats in a circle/close by one another. Our version started in our respective corners, then moving one at a time closer to one another, always separated by the ring gates. Within about 5 minutes we were all within 6 feet of each other *big clicks*

Moving onto parallel games we alternated between dogs to build up the criteria. Initially one dog stays stationary and plays Look-At-That while the other works on heelwork and attention, swop over, then both moving calmly. Any other dogs are relaxing and watching from the sidelines. Main achievement was having both Max and Mirri doing short recalls simultaneously!!

Last week we briefly tried a variation on the Give-Me-A-Break game where Max would play Look with Finn, then be released to go play. When any sign of reorienting to handler lots of rewards etc. It didn't work basically because a real dog was just too this week we tried using 'stuffies' - life size stuffed dogs. This is an idea borrowed from TTouch, because for some reason dogs always seem to respond as though they are real, initially at least. For Max we started with me as the object of interest, he played great Look games and when released only jumped a little, and did reorient. After 4-5 repetitions he was switching back to Trish so fast!!! Repeated the same process with the stuffies, while Mirri watched from a safe distance.

We did the same thing for Mirri with the stuffies, and then introduced a real dog (my deafie Farah). The interesting thing was Mirri was clearly thinking the whole time, and was much happier staying by Janet. When she did approach Farah it was lovely and calm. Another big success!

Next week I hope to do more movement work, and plan to have two dogs relaxing on mats while another heels around them - will see if we need barriers or not!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Introducing Farah: Training and shaping with a deaf collie

Meet Farah - my very special little girlie! She is about 3 and a half years old and came to me via Wiccaweys Border Collie and Working Sheepdog Rescue. Farah was originally handed into a pound by her family (her collar tag read "My name is Farah and I am a good dog, but very hard of hearing") and unfortunately was due to be put to sleep (PTS) at just 4 months of age. Thankfully a small Irish rescue stepped in, and she found her way to the UK and Wiccaweys. Just 2 months later she came to live with me and life has never been quite the same.

Farah is, as far as we can tell, completely deaf. I haven't pursued BAER testing because she seems so profoundly deaf that its unlikely she can hear much at all. She knew 'thumbs up' as a good girl sign when she came to me but nothing else. Despite being so young, Farah was very worried by feet and just lifting your foot to put on a sock caused her to run out of the room in fear. Thankfully we are mostly past this stage and I'll tell you more about that in another post!

We train using reinforcement methods and as far as possible I have tried to use clicker training and similar principles. We have a special sign for a 'click' and also use a small led keyring as a 'flicker' marker. (will try to post videos of our signs at some point) We found the DDEAF website incredibly helpful, but were surprised by some deaf dog owners/trainers who felt clicker didn't work. It became a personal challenge to build Farah's confidence to the point where she could offer behaviours including anything where she wasn't watching me directly. One of the bonuses with having a deaf dog is you are forced to be entirely hands off otherwise she can't see your signs!!

I'll post more about our training style and signs soon, but for now I just wanted to introduce my lovely little girlie and tell you about our latest project! Having mastered the bow - if I bow at her she offers a bow back, we're now attempting to teach 'cross paws'. Using an idea from Kay Lawrence, I have adapted my target sticks. I have one with a ball on the end = nose touches only, and another with a large bulldog clip = paw touches only. We introduced the paw touch target tonight.....first hurdle was that she offers multiple superfast behaviours i.e. nose bump, paw touch, bow, nose bump and it took a couple of attempts for me to get my timing right - also dependent on her seeing the sign or torch light of course! She is now targeting with her paw from a stand/sit or down so we're pretty happy with that. Next step will be to selectively reinforce just one paw - probably the left since she seems to be a left pawed dog!

Lots more updates to come soon!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Control Unleashed Class Night Three

We were a little smaller for this session since Janet (TTouch trainer) and Mirri couldn't make it. However that did mean we could try out some more demanding exercises because Max is pretty familiar with both of my dogs.

We revised look at that and the 'leave' game - Max is happily ignoring several treats even when thrown past his face so we're starting to add in the verbal cue now. Farah is pretty good and Finn is getting there - moral is that I need to practice more!!

We spent much of the night doing variations on parallel games - hopefully there are a couple of pics showing the set-up we used: basically we set up the trellis' to divide up our hall longwise.

Activities we played with

  • relax on mat - one dog either side of gates, getting progressively closer, playing Look At That each time the other dog moved

  • one dog relaxes on mat, other dog works on stationary active attention (tricks/targetting etc)

  • Both dogs work on relatively stationary cues

  • one dog on mat, other dog heeling

  • one dog active attention on the spot, other dog heeling

  • both dogs heeling

  • moving towards barrier simultaneously

  • one dog relaxes and watches while other recalls slowly, then faster: swop tasks

We mixed up short bursts of these activities with the other CU games, plenty of breaks for dogs and handlers etc.

Max coped incredibly well and is doing well learning his on/off switch at long last. Farah was a little star as always, totally unfased by anything anyone might be doing and just so keen to work its like she has lasers instead of eyes. Working a lot on send-to-mat activities with her just now.

Finn was superb, chilled out in his crate when he wasn't needed even though Max was running around (a major trigger) and watching calmly while Max recalled when Finn was on his mat. *super proud mum moment*

Next week I hope to increase the parallel games to two dogs running simultaneously and help Max do more off leash work too. Will be interesting bringing Mirri back in, but this is definitely the work she seems to need so fingers crossed.