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.