October 7-14th, 2017

Between Thanksgiving, midterms and assignments due this week, there was no videoing of training sessions. A quick run down of things worked on this week:

Perrin: Wrapping different objects, discerning the difference between wrapping clockwise and counter clockwise. He also goes along for the ride when Sei works on sits, downs and stays.

Sei: Sei has really got shaping figured out, so now we are playing with ALL THE THINGS. So far this week I have played with shaping front foot targets, ‘be sad’ (face on floor while laying down), holding objects, shaking a paw and we also shaped a bow and started putting it on cue. We also work on sits, downs and stays over the course of the day. Play skills continue to be worked on, specifically bringing back a toy that has been thrown to me rather than dropping it part way back. I’ve been looking up different solutions, but am still trying to decide what approach to try first.

Other revelations this week is that my big goals I made a few weeks ago are just not that helpful to me right now. With so little time in the day, I need to have better planning than a far away goal in order to get anything productive done. I need specific ‘Today I am going to work on sits’ or ‘Today I am going to shape the nose touch portion of a mouth hold’ type steps. So, back to the start on coming up with a cohesive training plan. I also need to decide to focus on something rather than flitting around from flight of fancy to flight of fancy if I want to make any concrete steps towards anything.

There is so much to be worked on too, some of it life skills, some of it ‘fun stuff’: co-op care, stationing skills to make working with two dogs easier (I really need this), life skills for Sei like loose leash walking, stays, happy crating, etc, ‘fun stuff’ with Sei like learning how to shape, tricks, agility foundations, etc., Perrin’s skills work on rally/obedience/tricks, competition skills with Perrin like reducing reinforcement, ring confidence, chaining behaviours, etc, working on Perrin’s online titles for parkour, rally, tricks and freestyle, working towards Sei’s trick dog title… Decisions decisions…

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Sei Frustration Musings

Before I picked Sei up, one of the many things his breeder told me about him was that he would demand clarity in training. While that became clear in our other training endeavors, it has become glaringly, in-your-face obvious now that I am attempting to use a frisbee or a ball as a reinforcer. Im suspecting there are two big underlying reasons for this:

1. In shaping and capturing, I am using food as my main reinforcer. Food and toys encourage very different arousal states for Sei, and the arousal state produced by a toy is much more active, energetic, demanding, and less patient. Perfect for teaching many behaviours, but less forgiving of mistakes. Which leads me to…

2. My lack of skills using toys as a reinforcer. Perrin never really liked toys enough or consistently, so they didn’t really come into his list of useful reinforcers. I am just starting to learn what training a dog in a ‘toy arousal’ state looks like: which behaviours lend themselves best, which type of play (chase, catch, tug, etc) works best for which behaviours, where to deliver reinforcement for which toys and which behaviours, which types of reinforcement/delivery locations need different marker words, etc. It’s a bit of a steep learning curve with both theoretical/judgement skills and mechanical skills to learn.

3. I am better at shaping and capturing because I have done it more, so I make fewer mistakes and set up better training plans. This leaves fewer gaps for Sei to be frustrated in.

I’m trying to do my best for Sei by learning as fast as I can, but there are going to be a lot of mistakes for a while. I am going to have to up my planning game and stop setting  Sei and myself up for failure by going into training sessions unprepared.

I’m not skilled at using toys for reinforcement in training yet, but I am just so happy that I at least had the knowledge to identify the likely problem when Sei suddenly started jumping up and biting my arms in the middle of toy training sessions. Knowing even less than I do now, I would have likely put that behaviour down to a ‘lack of self control’ around the toy, rather than recognizing it as a frustration behaviour initiated when I was being confusing and his path to reinforcement was unclear. The pieces of the puzzle that made me think frustration were:

  • It was not happening in the beginning of the session, but in the middle after the novelty of the toy had worn off a bit
  • He doesn’t do it when we are just playing with toys (and I didn’t think what we were doing looked much different than that. It was high on the playing and low on the asking for skills. Clearly Sei disagreed)
  • His body language and bark is different when he is really excited versus when he is frustrated
  • It was only happening when I was trying to cue newer behaviours that had never been practiced with a toy (and quite frankly were not on the verbal well enough for me to be trying it with him so excited and focused on the toy).

This seems childish to me, but I am also happy that I was able to think logically when he was biting me, rather than applying an emotionally driven answer (‘he is an entitled little brat thinking he can just take the toy from me!’), or lashing out when he hurt me. That is progress from where I was three years ago. The last reason is actually one of the reasons why moving to +R philosophies made my world a happier place. I find that the only time +P methods tend to pop into my head as an option is when I am extremely frustrated or in pain (usually the triggers occur in the form of constant barking or being nipped, respectively). And at that point my decisions weren’t logical, or based on behaviours science, its strictly an emotional lashing out. Then I would feel so bad because Perrin would be so sad and I was mad at myself for making him feel that way, and also for letting my emotions take over to the point of lashing out

While I may not know what to do all the time, I’m finding that I am more and more able to at least identify the problem (or at least a short list of likely ones). Which means I can think through them and try a new approach or go out and find more information on the problem. I’m slowly making progress!

So, back to the disc incidents. I continued to use my three different markers for toys that I have so far (catch = the toy is going to be tossed into the air for you to catch, tug= come to me and tug the toy in my hand, chase= I am about to throw this ball/disc/whatever for you to run after), which I think makes a big difference. He clearly knows what each of them means. I also put more thought into what I was asking him to do, where we were and how he is feeling. Rookie mistake assuming that what he can do in the house for food, he can do in the yard for a toy. After re-adjusting my criteria and ensuring I was consistently using the correct markers, I am happy to say that I haven’t been bitten since.

Its a shame for poor Sei that he had to yell so loudly (bit me twice) before I understood the troubles he was having. I will work harder to be better for him.

 

 

October 5/6th, 2017 Training Log

More disc for Sei over the past few days! We did more two disc game, and I started using a disc or a ball as a reward rather than just playing. And I got some frustration behaviours due to some poor choices and lack of skill on my part (thats another post coming up soon, lots for me to pick at, muse about, and unpack there). We stopped for a bit and I put some thought into what was happening, when it was happening, and what was the likely reason why. Once I had answered those questions, we came back to it, and I’m happy to say that he hasn’t bit me out of frustration again. Admittedly, thats a rather low bar to be measuring our training by, but its a step in the right direction.

He is now starting to be able to do some pretty nice stays, sits and spins using the disc or a ball as a reward. Nice engagement, snappy behaviours.

Perrin is still not feeling quite right, so we have just done some nonsense shaping and he has been getting lots of cuddles. The fact that I need to clip his face, and that he is likely not going to let me do that is highlighting the fact that I should have been working on cooperative care activities before I need them. Something to add to our training plan going forward to reduce this sort of unpleasantness in the future.

October 4th, 2017 Training Log

Sei worked on a bit of the boring stuff today (downs, hand touches, waiting while we eat, etc), but the fun part of today was disc!

Disc with Sei is just so fun! I bring the discs out every now and again to see how he feels about them, and last night he decided that he liked them WAY more than before! We worked on some out of hand takes with two discs (he takes one disc from my hand, and another one appears! So he comes back, dropping the first to get the second, so I pick up the first. Repeat). Then I was just throwing some for him to fetch. Normally the disc hits the ground before he gets to it, but this time, he jumped way up in the air and snagged it! His first disc catch! I don’t want him jumping like that regularly at this age, and now I will be more thoughtful with my throws in the future knowing that jumping wildly for discs is in his behaviour repertoire, but it was pretty cool to see him do!

This morning we worked more on the two disc game, and I started adding a short little floaty toss right in front of me instead of holding the disc. This added a number of complications. One, I had figure out where Sei was, and how fast he was moving to determine when I needed to toss the disc in the air such that he had enough time to see the disc, understand to catch it instead of taking it from my hand, and figure out what he needed to do with his body to catch it. Two, to make that process easier for Sei, I wanted to give him a cue in advance of tossing the disc, so he knew where it would be going. This cue had to be timed right too.

Not shockingly, I quickly learned that my timing is pretty awful.

I was late with my catch cue a lot, which led to Sei missing the disc, jumping wildly for it, or running into it with his feet or chest. Poor boy. I found it really hard to judge his speed when he was running towards me. We haven’t played this kind of game enough for me to have a good feel for his gait (not to mention he is growing and changing continually at this stage). He also is not practiced at this, so needs more time to process than an older dog might. I’m also still learning how to throw the discs with any kind of proficiency, so I don’t have a good feel for how long it takes me to execute a throw, and how long a disc will hang in the air.

After some messy rounds, we got a few really nice catches strung together with a beautiful flow. That feeling is the same way I felt when I started Perrin in agility. Team work, and partnership. Both halves of the team are working together with different skill sets to make it happen. Those couple of catches have made me happy all day.

We worked a little bit more when I got home. It wasn’t quite as good a session (he was a bit worked up after being let out for the first time in 5 hours), but Im going to put it here for future reference. It is unedited except for trimming the ends off. My video editing and storage computer had an unfortunate run in with some liquid, so until (or if) it is back up and running, video will be minimal.

Perrin worked on a few tricks that he knows like leg weaves and hitting a bass drum, but not anything new, or overly fun for him. Poor guy is still recuperating with his hot spot.

October 2nd, 2017 Training Log

Perrin had to go to the vet today for the horrible hot spot under his ear. Vets offices can be a hard place for Perrin, with other dogs in a variety of arousal states from calm to excited to scared. We lucked out on only having one other dog in the waiting room for a short period of time, so he could just relax. He behaved delightfully and charmed everyone there. Hopefully we now have the meds to get this nasty hot spot cleared up.

After Perrin got his pain killers, he was in a very chipper mood. I decided to shoot another TEAM1 run through when he was feel a bit better than yesterday. I’m not going to pick this one apart, most of the issues from yesterday are still there  (naturally, we didnt do any training to work on them or studying of the rules to avoid rule violations) and my camera died at the end, so we didn’t get quite a full recording. The point of this one was for me to get a feel for if the exercise was too long and we have to work on duration, or if Perrin’s lack of enthusiasm yesterday was because he was feeling sick. Given the enthusiasm he gave me the whole time today, I think yesterday was an outlier due to illness. (Ignore Sei, he thought it was the height of unfairness to be in his crate while Perrin was working).

No video for Sei today. We worked on some loose leash walking, foot targeting a pivot platform, nose touches, wrapping a cone and downs.

October 1st, 2017 Training Log

Perrin and I did our TEAM1 baseline run-through today. We did it completely cold: first training of the day, no working on any of the skills today (in fact most of the skills we haven’t practiced specifically in months, with the exception of the nosework, cone wrap and vertical target).  It was a bit of a mess on all fronts.

Technical Issues:

  • Area is too small
  • One of my cookie throws takes Perrin out of frame
  • Can’t see the corner where I set up the cone/target/distraction bowl
  • Over time (over 7 mins)

Handler Mistakes:

  • I forgot to put my reinforcers in my pocket before I began.
  • I did not plan out where to put the pivot platform. Once I stood next to the platform, Perrin did not have room between the platform to move
  • On the ‘find heel’ exercise, I couldn’t manage to throw the cookies in the right order/direction then ended up doing an extra one just to test the skill. I messed up the first exercise, so figured I would spend the rest of the baseline video seeing what he knew even if that violated the rules. Part of that is because I didn’t know how to handle a mistake and keep filming. Normally I would stop and re-set/re work on the skill, but I wanted an honest baseline from start to finish.
  • Moved my body to help a crooked ‘find heel’. I also should have cued my ‘find heels’ because it is a skill that is actually on cue.

Training Problems:

  • Holy crooked fronts batman! We haven’t done fronts in a LONG time (also the cause of the lack of an auto sit on the fronts). Maybe I should use a platform to help clean these up a bit.
  • Target the target stick, don’t retrieve it.
  • He kept getting distracted by Sei barking outside wanting in. Focus to be worked on. Probably could have helped the situation by using a better reinforcer than basic kibble.
  • Work on position changes at a distance. This one surprised me, because we had worked a lot on this in the past at much greater distances. However I have noticed Perrin’s ‘sit’ cue has gotten generally bad lately in so many contexts that I want to rule out a medical issue.
  • Need a better set up for ‘back up’. Once he understood what I actually wanted to do, he did surprisingly well, but he was confused before that.
  • Not sure what he was waiting for on the return of the cone wrap. We had been practicing this with an around finish to heel. Maybe he was waiting on my hand signal for that? Not sure.
  • Nosework took a long time, but was correct.

And more, but I felt that I picked at the video enough for the time being.

In terms of good notes, his engagement at the beginning was lovely, the stay under distraction was solid, he backed up better than I thought he would, and his pivot was nice.

There was a definite drop in enthusiasm from start to finish. I think there are several contributing factors to that. I’m not normally so formal/quiet and I think that was throwing Perrin off. I didn’t plan how to reset mistakes to keep enthusiasm, and failed to come up with a good solution on the spot. That is not a typical training session set up for us, and to make that even worse, we have mostly been doing shaping lately which makes this set up even stranger. I don’t think my reinforcers were worth that length of work that is not shaping (Perrin’s favourite) just yet. He is also headed to the vet tomorrow for a nasty hot spot in a spot I can’t get the hair out of well enough. I hope that hot spot isn’t bothering him enough to be the reason for that.

Lots to work on anyway!

Sei worked on loose leash walking, downs, sits, spins, I introduced the pivot platform and ended up accidently working on the beginnings of muzzle training (‘put your face in something’). Only the last one is caught on tape, because apparently some days I am rather technically challenged (forgot to press record on the camera).

September 29th, 2017 Training Log

Morning:

Today before I left for class, I worked on nose targeting a target stick with both dogs. This particular target stick came with the Manners Minder and has a base that makes it into a verticle target (although I may stick it into something else, because the base is tippy and it throws both dogs off after an enthusiastic nose touch).

Perrin understood immediately that the game was about the target stick, and that it involved his face. The only problem is that he thought that he should take it, rather than touch it with his nose. We had to step backwards from where I thought we could start, to clean up the nose touching. I want nose touches of the foam target only. No grabbing the stick, no biting the foam ball, no licking. Once I clear up that understanding, I think the rest of the training (adding it to the base, moving the base around, adding distance, adding a cue) will likely progress more smoothly as Perrin is fairly familiar with those things. Well, other than adding a cue. I never assume that will go well. (NOTE TO SELF: check TEAM rules to see if I can set up the target stick when I need it. Then I can just use the context cue of the target stick being in the training space for the time being).

Sei picked up the nose targeting super duper fast. He has a very limited repertoire of behaviours at the moment, none of which has a huge reinforcement history behind it. However nose touches with my hand have one of the stronger histories (second only to sitting). His first guess on what to do with the target stick was to nose touch it, and he was quickly following the stick around to new positions to touch it. Good start!

September 28th, 2017 Training Log

Perrin:

Today we did a few more key retrieves. I didn’t hide them under anything today, but we moved into the kitchen. He also practiced some basic stays with Sei.

I also went through TEAM1 requirements to see what holes/skills I need to work on with Perrin to put the whole performance together.

  • Vertical Target: I have taught a general nose touch, and he will foot target just about anything as a first shaping attempt, but nothing vertical. I think I will take the vertical target from the Manners Minder and work on putting a vertical target behaviour on cue
  • Backing Up: Perrin knows how to back up but he does it in fits and starts rather than cleanly if he is backing away from me rather than in heel position. I will likely have to re-teach it to get it clean enough.
  • Sends: Another thing that he knows, but just is not as clean as I would like it.  I think that my cue is bad, because he offers it beautifully if I set a cone down to shape with it, but he is slow and unenthusiastic if I cue it. I will have to refine this one a bit.

Other than those, I think the behaviours are solid. That does not mean it will be easy to get it all together into the videos. It will require many takes. I will screw up. Perrin will screw up. Sei will cry too loud to hear me in the video. This will likely be a winter project. Maybe this weekend I will do a mock run through to establish a baseline.

Sei:

The boring basics were the name of the game today. Discriminating between ‘sit’ and ‘spin’. Sits. Sit stays. Adding a cue to a down when I could capture it. We did a little shaping for targeting a platform, which he did great with! He just seems to understand shaping now in a way that he did not before. He is much more intentional in his movements, and you can see the wheels turn in his head; he is starting to actually understand how the game works.

September 27, 2017 Training Log

School has gotten busy and we had house guests over the weekend, so my recording of our dog activities has been anything but consistant.

Perrin has been continuing to work on his fitness activities, and some fun things like working on ‘find my keys’. He is so happy doing service dog type tasks. I’m not sure why exactly, but asking him to go retrieve my mittens or my keys is done with much more joy and enthusiasm than he has if we try to play fetch with a ball for fun. I wonder if it is me. When he does something for me that helps me out, I am genuinely appreciative on top of letting him know “hey, that thing you did was super cool!”.Maybe he feels that and it works as a reinforcer? We also started hidden keys for the first time and he rocked it! Way better than what I had prepared him for (which, to be honest, was nothing).  Who knows. We are still waiting to get his novice parkour results back, but after seeing a video on the facebook page that was failed because of a lure, I realized that I did something similar in several of my clips. Basically having a treat in your hand counts as a lure depending on where you are standing, regardless of if you are using your hand motion or just standing there. Good to know! Maybe we will work on it again later when I have access to environmental features again.

Sei has really reached a brain growth spurt or something. Ever since he came home, he has been super clear about when he is ready to work on things. I can push and break things down tiny and work on a skill for weeks, and get very little accomplished, or I can wait until he reaches the right developmental stage and he picks it up in moments. His most recent ‘readiness’ has been verbals. I had been working on adding a verbal to a spin that was on a hand signal for weeks, and never made any progress. Downs I was working on adding a verbal to by capturing with similar results. On Friday, he suddenly put it all together and now CONSISTENTLY has spins AND downs on a verbal cue! I was shocked! Perrin learns verbals much differently, and it takes quite a lot of work with him to get anywhere near the level of consistency that Sei had within 10 minutes of doing the behaviour on a verbal cue for the first time. Its really interesting to compare their different learning styles and strengths. He also suddenly understood shaping this morning in a way that he did not before. We have also been working on sit stays, tugging and a tiny bit of loose leash walking. I really need to get him a collar to start teaching pressure yielding.

I think that Sei is going to be a lesson in ‘waiting until the dog is ready’. I feel like we are behind other dogs his age, but trying to push training was sucking the fun out of it for me and frustrating him, so I had quit working on specific things and started just playing and working on life/house skills. I struggled with feeling guilty/behind/like a bad trainer over not teaching him all sorts of new skills in that time while other people and their puppies were doing all sorts of cool tricks and foundations for their sports. But now Sei is learning those things at warp speed and with joy instead of frustration. I just need to trust him to let me know when he is ready and we will get where we want to go 🙂 I keep reminding myself that Perrin didn’t know anything beyond pet things until he was almost 2 and he learned all sorts of amazing things in a year. It really takes the pressure off.