November 17, 2017 – Learning Puzzle Prequel

The Brain Games project continues!

So apparently I missed this part originally, but I went back to fix that. These are basic ‘getting to know your dog’ exercises.

Left or Right Pawed-threw a ball or cookie and watched which foot was taken off with first for numerous repetitions.

Chest Hair Curl – does the swirl on their chest curl counterclockwise or clockwise?

Yawn Copy – does the dog yawn back?

There was also a test to see which eye your dog prefers to work off of, but it involved desensitizing a blindfold and sending the dog over a jump, among other exercises. That would be a long term project for Sei and Perrin, so we skipped it.

These traits were then compared to some service dog studies.


Left or Right Pawed? Left? Ambidextrous? There was a slight preference for left, but it was not very strong. Not sure if the difference is statistically significant.

Chest Hair Curl? Clockwise

Yawn Copy? No


Left or Right Pawed? Right

Chest Hair Curl? Counter-Clockwise

Yawn Copy? No

With the yawning, I have tried this quite a lot over the last few months. Neither Perrin nor Sei yawn if I yawn, but I often yawn if one of them yawn.

The other two characteristics are kind of interesting, compared to the service dog studies. They found that there was a correlation between right-pawed dogs and twice the success rate in service dog programs, while dogs with a counter-clockwise chest whorl were also twice as successful in service dog programs. Clockwise whorls were more likely to be anxious. The idea behind those was that right pawed dogs are bolder and inquisitive, while another study suggested that right pawed dogs had an easier time understanding language while left pawed dogs are more fearful and reactive. Perrin can be a bit dog reactive, and he isn’t terribly verbal, however he is certainly bold and inquisitive. Sei on the other hand is much more cautious and prone to anxiety. I wouldn’t go so far as to say fearful or reactive, but he is definitely less bold and confident than Perrin is. Sei is however, much more verbal than Perrin, even at Sei’s young age. These differences do seem typical long Sei’s and Perrin’s breed characteristics though. Sei is a more observant, sensitive, thoughtful herding breed, while Perrin is a bolder, confident sport breed mix.

I’m not sure how useful comparing any individual dog to those studies is, however. I don’t actually know where to find the original studies, so don’t know how they were done, or on what dogs they were done on. I would guess that this study was looking at the differences in left vs right pawed dogs and the whorl direction in dogs of the same breed/type (to my knowledge the most common service dog breeds are labs and goldens, both sporting breeds). I would bet that the differences between dogs of different breeds are much larger than the differences between dogs who are left/right pawed or with different whorl directions.



November 16, 2017- Learning Puzzle 11

We have been working on lots of things lately, but nothing worth commenting too much on. I am still slowly but surely plugging away at the brain games as I get the chance. Some are more elaborate to set up, or need many many repetitions to complete. This one however was very easy.

I sat the dog in front of me, giving eye contact, then turned and looked at a doorway and acted surprised, then recorded what the dog did.

Here is Perrin and Sei:


Turns out the answer was: not a whole lot! Perrin did look in the same direction briefly both times but then quit, and Sei preferred jumping on me. I plan to try this again with Sei using a doorway where something interesting occasionally happens, and see if he has the same reaction.

ETA: I tested this a few more times with Sei in various places in the house, and this is pretty representative of his reactions.

November 6, 2017- Training Log

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day coming up with 8 week outlines to work with to use Perrin and Sei as case study dogs for my canine fitness trainer course.


Its not quite done yet. I need to come up with the verbiage to fill in the specific goals section for a ‘general conditioning’ intention.


Today we did our prescribed exercises for the day and did the necessary recording, as well as take baseline photos.

Sei played in the laneway today! Sei’s play is awesome in the back yard (the floors in the house are really too slippery to be safe for much play), but I have known for a while that I really need to get out of that space and start building those skills in new environments.

From past experience in new environments, and having watched how Sei’s toy/play drive developed in a familiar environment as he aged, I knew that when entering a new environment the following would likely happen:

  • I would have personal play/chase me play first. This seems to be the last type of play Sei loses the ability to do in new and or distracting environments.
  • I would have chasing a toy. The next easiest type of play for Sei. He will chase a floppy tug toy, and lightly grab it, but with no strong hold or tug. A ball or a frisbee rolled on the ground would be chased and pounced on, but not picked up or carried around.
  • In really comfortable environments, Sei will intensely go after a tug/ball/frisbee following me and his toy around with strong focus, often jumping up, barking at me.

Each of those categories have ranges as well, from having to be convinced that the type of play in question would be a fun thing to do, to laser focused on that play and playing intensely.

For on-leash trips out, I had only taken a tug before, mainly for user-friendliness reasons. Right now, tug ranks above balls, but below frisbees. When out in the suburbs, he will chase them and bite at them, but he hasn’t done any good tugging yet (class settings is a different story).  Today I took a disc out to the laneway to see how that went.

At first, Sei was more interested in sniffing than me, but I got him chasing me around fairly quickly. Then I got him chasing the disc in my hand, then doing tiny catches so he had to move to catch it. And he really got into it! He did some spins and sits for catches, and by the time I had to run to get my bus, he was super in the game! We were only out there for 3 minutes! Whoohoo!

November 5th, 2017- Learning Puzzle 5

We finally finished the two cup game today! I did take video, but it takes forever to edit, and there isn’t much value in watching that many repetitions. Today we did the:

  • Pointing at cup with stick
  • Tilting head at correct cup
  • Looking with just the eyes
Game Sei Perrin
Tilting Head



Pointing with Stick



Looking with Eyes



They both did really well on the point with the stick and the head tilt. I was kind of surprised on the head tilt, that seemed more subtle than the elbow point that the struggled with. The only difference between them in this whole thing was the looking with the eyes. Perrin didn’t really understand that, while Sei definitely did understand. Interesting!

From their overall result on all variations of the game, I would think that it is safe to say that both of them are certainly paying attention and understanding my human gestures in this context.

November 4, 2017 – Training Log

Today Sei and I worked on some more basic shaping things. The start of leg weaves, go arounds, going into his crate. Outside we worked on some disc as we had a brief reprieve from the rain. We worked on Sei going around the back of me to set up for another disc throw, and he did great! My roller throws need to get a lot better though. Unfortunately it will be the last day for a while. Even today the yard was a bit too slick and we are going to get even more rain

Perrin and I worked on some heeling basics. He was SO enthusiastic today, I wish I had it on video.

Neither of the dog’s sessions were planned, and for that reason, not much concrete progress was made, but we all had fun and some energy was burned. I do need to get better at planning before I train though.

I need to just pick a couple of small things and work on them. Trying to come up with a whole training plan is overwhelming and feels really restrictive (even though I can just change it at any time). I’m thinking small steps will breed better habits.

November 3, 2017 Training Log

No video today.

Today when I got home for class I got a bag of hot dogs, a clicker and went to the basement to do some training. We relocated the wire crate to the basement, so its easier to work with Perrin because Sei now isn’t able to do his best to destroy the soft crate.

Perrin and Sei both worked on backing up. For Sei, this was mostly just rear foot targeting. Perrin’s current back up is not continuous and he won’t go very far so I am reteaching it with the platform. It was originally taught with body pressure. Sei also worked on shaping going into his crate, and a bit of unstable front platform fitness work.

November 2, 2017- Training Log

Today Sei and I did our first shaping session on ‘back up’. I needed to get my shit together and not mix training methods in a single session, and keep an eye on the time so I don’t run a single session too long, but Sei did really well! He really understood what we were shaping, impressively well for a first session! Going forward, I will be teaching the rear foot target properly, and staying close to the mat, only putting very small increments of distance between Sei and the mat at a time. This will encourage a confident and continuous back up, as well as a straight one through muscle memory. What I did here (some horrible mix of targeting and free shaping) resulted in a noodly back up that is a bit hesitant (mostly a result of my bad timing, clicking when he wasn’t moving because I was getting greedy for distance, and also because he isn’t sure how much backing up is what I want).

I will be honest that there was a bit of an ulterior motive to doing this the ‘quick and dirty’ way rather than the right way today. Back up was the last trick we needed for Sei’s intermediate and advanced trick dog title, and I wanted to get an acceptable rep on video. Which we did! And our video was accepted! (I was able to submit both together because so many of the tricks overlapped). Sei is now Avid’s Say Geronimo ATD. I can also now submit this for his AKC title as well.

I am not super satisfied with this title. We did meet the requirements of the title, but I don’t feel that any of the tricks were ‘advanced’ for me to teach or Sei to learn. The only trick that that took more than a session or two to teach were the distance work and the peanut roll. The trick lists can be a bit wonky on difficulty, so I took advantage of that in order to get Sei’s advance title before the AKC grandfathering ends. It saves me money, but I wonder if I should have waited until I had taught tricks that I am more proud of, because I kind of feel like we didn’t meet the spirit of the title.

November 1, 2017- Learning Puzzle 5

We are continuing on with puzzle 5 from the  Brain Games- Puzzles for Canines   course (see previous post for details).

Game Sei Perrin



Tapping the Cup



Pointing with Foot



Both dogs really understood all of these gestures, consistently choosing the correct mug. Only 4 more to go to complete this game, but they are hard ones!

October 31, 2017- Learning Puzzle 5

We are still flooded out of the backyard, so I am continuing to skip the puzzles that need an outdoor space. Today’s puzzle from the  Brain Games- Puzzles for Canines   course is meant to test the degree to which the dog follows different kinds of human gestures.

The set up:

I am using two identical mugs to hide treats under, so I can execute the following scenarios.

  1. The pretest- this will be completed only once.With the dog in a sit stay in front of me, I pretend to put a cookie under both cups. I only put a cookie under one of them. Look at your feet and release the dog. Record what the dog does.
  2. Tap the container with a cookie under it  and release the dog.
  3. Point at the correct container. The rest is the same.
  4. Point with elbow. The rest is the same.
  5. Point with foot. The rest is the same.
  6. Point with a stick. The rest is the same.
  7. Face body towards it. The rest is the same.
  8. Tilt head towards it. The rest is the same.
  9. Look at the right one with the eyes only.
  10. Put on sunglasses and repeat the last test.

Each test (except the first) is repeated at least 5 times and the results recorded. These take a really long time given how many reps there are. Especially as Sei’s sit stay isn’t really proofed to this level yet and we are working that concurrently, so his turns take twice as long as Perrin’s. Today we got the pretest done, along with pointing with arm and elbow. Here are the results:


Sei and Perrin both went right to the correct cup.

The Rest

Here are the rest of the results from today in chart form:

Game Sei Perrin
Pointing with Hand



Pointing with Elbow



On the first go with the pointed hand, Sei was hand targeting for a bit until he understood the game, but he was consistent on the understanding that the hand side is the paying side. Perrin also understood the pointing well.

Neither Sei nor Perrin really understood the elbow pointing. Not sure if it was something I was doing wrong or if they are both just similar that way.

October 30, 2017 – Learning Puzzle 4

Day two of working through the learning games from Brain Games- Puzzles for Canines  course. We have to skip around the order a bit, because our yard is flooded out (also meaning no rally for Perrin today, so he played this game with Sei and I instead). I figured that snorkling for cookies might disrupt the intention of the outdoor experiment! So today we are doing Puzzle 4, which is a barrier challenge like yesterdays puzzle.

To complete this game, I set up Sei’s x-pen in a V shape against the wall, with a gap on one side. This is done in a different room than the first game. Several variations are completed:

  1. A cookie is dropped on the inside of the x-pen while the dog watches (handler stays outside the x-pen). The dog is then timed for how long it takes them to find the gap in the x-pen to get to the cookie.
  2. Exercise 1 is repeated, but the side of the x-pen that the opening is on is switched while the dog is out of the room.
  3. The handler walks around the barrier, puts the cookie inside the x-pen, walks back to the dog and releases them to go get the cookie. The dog is again timed.
  4. Exercise 2 is repeated, but the side of the x-pen that the opening is on is switched while the dog is out of the room.

During the experiment, I also added my own scenario out of curiosity. I pulled the x-pen away from the wall so that the dogs could go either way around, then let the dog watch while I walked around, placed the cookie and walked back. I was interested to see if they went the same way I did when they had the option to go either way.



Sei really only looked at me at first to see if I was going to be the source of the treats. After he figured out the game he searched very independently without any input from me. For the first set up, he had times of 20 seconds,  and 10 seconds. He also cheated once, by pushing the x-pen in until he could reach the hot dog bit through the bars. I added an old frying pan to contain the treat after that to prevent it from happening again.

Because Sei’s sit stay isn’t quite up to snuff for this yet, my partner held Sei while I set the cookies, then let him go once we were ready. For the second set up, he had times of 3 seconds, and 14 seconds.

The part of this that is really, really interesting to me is that during the alternate set up, Sei consistently went around the same way I did. Out of 6 trials, he went around the same way I did 6 times, even when I mixed up the order.


Please excuse Sei’s noise. He gets very upset when it is his brother’s turn to work.

Perrin looks at me a lot, and requires some encouragement to keep searching instead of staring at me. I suspect that this is partly personality (his brother Dex would definitely just stop and look at you to make something happen), and partly a factor of training impulse control around food and eye contact. He took 28 seconds, 13 seconds, and 38 seconds to solve the first puzzle.

The second puzzle he was considerably faster with times of 5 seconds and 20 seconds. He also doesn’t want to get out of his sit stay to find the cookie in the x-pen because I had more treats in my hand. I think he needed convincing that this wasn’t some sort of proofing exercise before he went off exploring.

With the alternative set up, there wasn’t a strong pattern to which side he was choosing. It was about 50/50 with the side I came around, and he seemed to have a slight preference to the left side. I would have to do more trials to get any useful info.

His tail just looks so happy whatever we are doing!


Perrin and Sei had very different approaches to the puzzle. Which is not surprising given how different in personality and thought process they are. Perrin definitely wanted more handler support than Sei needed, and I think Perrin was a bit confused about what he was supposed to do with the set up (should I get the cookie or ignore the cookie? Which is the purpose of this exercise?). I will be interested to see how/if this changes as Sei ages and we work more on impulse control around food (of which he currently has very little as we haven’t worked on it much). Sei clearly was doing some sort of tracking of me, because even when he could go around the barrier either way, he always went the same way as I did. Perrin did not have a strong pattern of doing this. Perrin usually solves puzzles that involve me (shaping), and doesn’t opt into much puzzle solving on his own (trying to get things he wants around the house for example). This is consistant with him looking to me to solve the food problem rather than going off to figure it out himself immediately.