Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why I don't believe in training with force

Before you say "You forgot to post about Tori's last Control Unleahsed class!" let me just say that I've had computer problems, and all in all it was an uneventful class. We practiced Off Switch games, going from playing tug to lying on a mat, Tori aced it. We worked on Look At That dog while the other dogs in place were moving around and playing, Tori aced it. We worked on Whiplash Turns, which she didn't quite ace (mostly because she was being distracted by Cathi, whom she loves), but still did very well. Classes where basically nothing happens is exactly what we want...she is working under threshold, and is happy with the environment. That makes me very happy.

Now back to why I don't believe in training with force. This morning I let Shadow and Pirate outside to go potty before I left for work. I went back to get them about 10 minutes later, only to find that the gate had been left open, and they were running around the neighborhood. Pirate, who has been trained primarily with positive reinforcement, came running back at my whistle. Shadow was a different story. For those who know anything about Shadow, they know that his roaming habit has been a problem for a long time. It has been better lately, partially because of training, and partially because he is getting older and doesn't feel like running off quite so often. Today, because he had already been wandering for some time when I called him, he made it quite clear that there was no way he was coming back. Honestly I don't blame him. When he was a puppy we took him to local obedience classes, where we were instructed to put choke chains on our dogs, walk to the end of a 6' leash, call the dog, and yank him toward you if he didn't immediately move toward you. Shadow has an independent mind for a Border Collie, and this just didn't suit him (do ya blame him?). He very quickly learned that when he was not on leash, he wasn't under my control, and because I was such a jerk (literally!) to him when he was on leash, he didn't really want to stick around. I was lucky to only be 15 minutes late to work this morning, and luckier to work in the dog industry, so my tardiness was well understood. I had to bribe Shadow to get into my car by throwing treats out the window. He also woke up most of the neighborhood by making all the neighboorhood dogs bark...although I didn't feel that bad since they were the ones who left their dogs in their yards.

My two girls, Layla and Tori, also have awesome recalls, and neither have ever been at the end of a choke chain. When they see me, they don't think "Haha! You can't get me!" they think "Mom may have cookies!". While some traditional trainers argue that your dog shouldn't be working for food, my younger dogs are infinity safer than Shadow has been throughout his life because of my liberal use of food rewards. They are very unlikely to be hit by a car...Shadow is missing his tail because of a car. They are not going to be shot on neighbor's land for chasing livestock...I've worried countless times about that very thing happening to Shadow. They live better lives simply because they are willing to come back to me. I think I'll keep the cookies.

- Megan

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blogging Unleashed

Since I can't seem to actually update this thing, I decided that if I made a point to blog about Tori's newest training class then at least I would be updating once a week, and can hopefully get into some sort of habit. Tori and I are taking a "Control Unleashed" (CU) class, based on the fabulous book by Leslie McDevitt. I have been totally sold on the ideas in this book since I first read it a few years ago. I was a member of the CU_Dogs email list almost since it started, and almost cried when Leslie decided that she was disbanding the list. I have also attended a seminar with Leslie, but I took Pirate instead of Tori because I was worried about her ability to cope with the seminar environment. Tori and I have practiced many of the exercises at home, giving her a great foundation, but I've always wanted to be able to practice her skills in a class environment. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited when my good friend and trainer Cathi Wester told me she was offering a class for some of her previous students who would really benefit from it. Tonight was Tori's first class, and it went better than I expected.

When I got to class I left Tori in the car to go in and set up my CU station (her crate, mat, and a chair). She was a little wild going inside, pulling on her leash, but this is kind of understandable considering she recently got spayed and is still on crate rest at home. The first thing we worked on was relaxation on the mat. I had a really hard time keeping Tori calm when I tried using only massage, so I switched to rewarding her previously learned behavior of laying down with her head down. I rewarded any calm behavior I saw, and she did pretty good at being relatively calm. Then we did some work on the dog offering to lie on the mat. Tori was a star at this, which is not surprising given that she is very clicker savvy and has done mat work before. I rewarded her like crazy for being on the mat, and then released her, and she would immediately fly back to the mat. She wasn't even distracted by the other dogs being released from their mats, which really impressed me.

Next, we worked on reorienting coming out of the crate. This is an integral part of CU, which requires that the dog enter a threshold and immediately reorient to you. The reason this is so important is because the new environment is going to be very exciting, and you want the dog to ignore the environment and focus on you. This means that coming out of a crate, or entering a training building or trial, the dog is focused on you instead of all the craziness going on around them. I haven't done much reorienting with Tori coming out of a crate, mostly at doorways, so I was totally shocked when she aced this behavior as well! I would ask her to wait in her crate, stand off to the side of the crate, and then release her, and she would come flying out and whip right around to face me. A couple of times she broke her wait out of the crate (I was using a soft crate with the door wide open, so I couldn't really close it to stop her), but she still immediately reoriented. I didn't reward that, but it was nice to see that she was only breaking the wait to keep playing the game.

Then we practiced the Look At That! game, a revolutionary idea that Leslie came up with, where you actually click the dog for looking at other dogs/humans/whatever. Believe it or not, this actually decreases the amount that they want to look at other things, and they are soon doing a quick glance at whatever was worrying them before and whipping back to you for their reward. Tori has already played this game, and was even offering it from the beginning of class whenever something exciting happened. Cathi was trying to get the dogs to look at a neutral object (a toy), but Tori was playing with the other dogs in class instead, which was fine with me.

Finally we worked on Doggie Zen, where the dog has to look away from your handful of treats and give you eye contact to get the click. Tori got the hang of this pretty quickly, and I worked on some more advanced versions, including putting the food at eye level.

I was so pleased with how well Tori coped with the class environment. There were a couple of barks when something would happen when I wasn't expecting it (a dog getting up, someone moving around, etc.), but she was relatively quiet. One hilarious moment came when we took a potty break. We were coming back into the training room, and there is a window at floor level next to the door. Before I had a chance to open the door, Tori smashed right into the window. I started laughing hysterically, and Cathi peeked out the window because she heard the 'thunk' her head made when it hit the glass. It took a while to compose myself before re-entering class.

I am so excited to see Tori's progress in this class. A huge thanks goes out to Leslie McDevitt for writing this fabulous book, and of course to Cathi for holding the class. My biggest thanks is to Tori for being such a good girl!

- Megan

Friday, June 11, 2010

I am officially the worst blogger in the world...

Actually since my last post about moving to a new house, we have not had internet, because the new house was outside the service zone for all the major internet providers. The months since that move have been a living I'd rather not talk about it.

We've moved again, and this time I will be much more cautiously optimistic than I was about the last move. We have moved into my parents' house, while my parents are living in Pennsylvania for the next couple of years.

The dogs are settling in, although Tori has adopted her mother's love for taking "walkabouts" through the neighborhood...not good. Shadow is finally feeling better after a scary emergency vet visit where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Pirate is working on finding all the toys in the house and yard, and Layla is just being her typical bitchy self. We have another addition to the household, which is Pirate's half-brother and nephew Chance. Chance is Sadie's son, and I am showing him some this summer. He already picked up his first point at the first show I showed him at...and we hope there will be more soon.

I promise I will try to keep up with this thing....I really do.

Friday, July 17, 2009

We're Moving!

Today we went over to look at the house that we are planning on moving to at the end of this month. We were told by our landlord of 4 years that she was selling the house, and we needed to find somewhere to live. This is not an easy task with 4 dogs, all over 30 pounds (well Tori is soaking wet) which is a common limit for rental properties, who generally only take two dogs. We have had people laugh and hang up when we tell them we have 4 dogs...others just hang up. One lady told Jason "That's not a family of dogs, that's a kennel!" Really. When's the last time you went to a kennel? Small kennels have around 10 dogs, and regardless of numbers, the dogs are kept in kennel runs - hence the name. My "kennel" sleeps on and under the bed, and sits behind my computer desk, and gets told to get out of the kitchen at least 4 times a day.

This rental property service does not charge pet deposits. This is wonderful news, as we are very poor, and we really need a company that loves dogs and understands our needs. We had been told the yard was huge, but it is really HUUUUUUGE, favorite part....includes a tennis court. When I told Jason how excited I was about the tennis court (which is covered in weeds and small trees, and hasn't been maintenanced in years) he said "Why, it wouldn't even bounce a ball in there"..."not to play tennis! I hate tennis. For training, silly!" I can't believe he thought I wanted to play tennis. Anyway, there is enough space in there to set up some agility equipment, if I ever get brave enough to weed wack the place.

So I am actually including pictures, for the first time, that I took today while the dogs were in the backyard playing. While I'm sure they will have incredible adventures in the new backyard, we will all miss this shady haven and the cool rock firepit/grill which we not only use for cooking, but as you can see, the dogs use as a playground. Enjoy :)

Shadow and Layla hunting squirrels

Pirate remembering all those tasty hamburgers we cooked here.
Tori will probably love having a place in the country, neighborhoods are too hectic!
Layla will miss having this grill to her advantage in her squirrel hunts!

I'll include some pictures of the new place once we move in!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Finally, something to blog about!

So, I haven't been doing much training, and while I did go to Dog Scout Camp, that just seemed much too wordy to blog about...and I was way too tired when I got home, and apparently for weeks afterward...anyway, it's got to say something about me that I finally found something to get jazzed up about enough to get my lazy ass over here to post something. I know, you're thinking, what could be more exciting than Dog Scout Camp, where Tori jumped twice her height in the high jumping competition (known as the Puissance Jump) to be the first dog to earn the newly created badge....or where Pirate learned to jump off the end of the dock....where I got to spend two whole weeks thinking about nothing other than dogs?!? Well, something is more exciting than, when I fed the dogs breakfast, Tori delivered me not one, but all four of the dogs' bowls to my hand.

A little backstory....for some reason I am totally obsessed with the idea of having a dog that will bring you the dog dishes. This may be because of my inherent laziness, and hating having to crawl in the back of crates to grab the bowls....or the Chesapeake Bay Retriever I used to take care of that brought me her bowl....but, whatever the reason, I've always dreamed of owning a dog who did that. Well, the Chessie did it because of her natural love to retrieve, and her love of food, and in her mind bringing me the food bowl just sped up the whole process of eating, so why not? Pirate loves to retrieve, but he does not love to that's right out. Shadow loves to eat, but does not love to retrieve, sigh. Layla will have none of that nonsense....but, I thought, Tori had promise. I clicker trained her to retrieve a bowl to my hand, and she was doing pretty well, but has not refined the skill (she's just learning that having her paw in the bowl is counterproductive to picking it up). I haven't worked on the behavior for quite a while (since camp back in May), and wasn't really expecting her to do it.

I went to feed the dogs this morning, and Layla was doing her typical "she finally understood what all my whining was about" dance, and just trying to see how wound up I could get her (great for training, I know...) I was encouraging her to grab her bowl, thinking she might just be desparate enough for food that she'd consider it. Tori was sitting in her crate waiting for her food, and she suddenly said to herself "Damn it! I know how to pick up a bowl" and in her typical Hermione attitude, decided to show Layla how it's done. OK, so the first one was kind of rough, but it was a bigger bowl than she'd worked with, so I praised her for putting it in her mouth, even though she was still standing on the other edge. I then encouraged her to get all the other bowls, and she picked each of them up and gave them to me. I was so excited....this was actually worth sharing with you...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hey, I wanna drive...I'm alright if you're alright

Tori and I had a great lesson out at Val's today. After our performance at the trial, we have taken things back a few steps and are really working on control. I am making Tori listen the first time I say it, and if she doesn't do it the way that I want, I chase her back and make her do it again. It's really hard for me, as an avid positive dog trainer, to be so hard on her. However, I've found that if I really get on to her once for doing something I don't like, but make it very clear what I do like, I don't have to do it again. My constant nagging at her, but not following through with any kind of correction, was what was making her so crazy. Now that the rules are very clear, she is really settling down. Val suggested that I develop what I call the "bad mama" look, which I give her right before I go chase her down. That way, she can correct her own behavior before I have to when I give her the look. This is working pretty well, and I can often just glance back at her and she will slow down.

We worked on driving a bit today toward the end, and it went much better than I would have thought! We are just having her push the sheep past us a short ways, so that she is not tempted to flank around and catch them if they move further away. She is confused, but working with us, and trying to figure out what it is we want.

Val keeps asking me "Are you feeling better about this?", to which my only answer it "Of course, my dog is actually listening to me!"

If you haven't heard Drive by Dispatch (where my title comes from), I'd recommend it. I plan on making a video of Tori driving with that as the background someday...unfortunately YouTube would probably just strip it off.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I'll take two Advil and an icepack....

Well, things didn't go well but I did have a great time at the herding trial. I have determined that we pushed Tori too far too fast, and she has picked up some pretty bad habits because she's figured out that I can't "get" her. The first day she got through most of the course (it wasn't pretty, but we were there), and then coming out of the cross-drive the sheep darted for the draw, Tori couldn't cover them, so she got all worked up and split sheep everywhere and we ended up getting the big "Thank You" for gripping. I was thankful that she does have a good "That'll do" and I was easily able to call her off the sheep while the stock handlers let the sheep back in the pen.

The second day, we had the most awesome judge, Tracy Miller from South Dakota. I knew of Tracy through the email lists, and she turned out to be SO awesome! Even though things kinda went to hell with my run, starting with Tori overflanking, to her gripping at the Z-chute, and ended with me on my backside after tripping over a sheep (which actually had nothing to do with Tori), Tracy had really nice comments about Tori. She said we just need to work on control, but Tori had the heart and intensity to always keep trying. She guessed correctly that Tori was a fun dog to live with, always making me laugh and doing silly things. I bruised my tail bone pretty badly, and will probably end up going to the doctor to make sure nothing is really hurt. I told everyone that I saw the sheep plotting this after Tori ran them through the was like the prank where someone kneels down behind you and someone else pushes you over.

The coolest thing about the herding trial was that I still had a great time, even though my dog was clearly not ready to be trialing. My friend Casey won 1st and 2nd place in Started, and Reserve High in Trial on Saturady, and then pulled off 1st and 3rd in Started with her 1st place dog Jade (the rockstar) going High in Trial with a 97/100! See the High in Trial winning run on YouTube: We had Casey over on Saturday night for beer, awesome bratwursts, and a long night of talking about dogs and whatever else came up. We were both a little blurry eyed Sunday morning! Luckily there were donuts, and breakfast burritos for a little morning pick me up.

Shortly after we got home, our new roommates started to move in. They have two dogs, bringing the total to 6. More on that later....