Plans for the Next Class Session

The August term of Fenzi classes ended yesterday. Taking two golds, two in person classes, and a bronze, all while starting back at university left me little time to document here too. I’m finding I am a little burnt out! So I decided that for the October session, I am going to take my first semester off since I found FDSA. I figure with over 25 courses in my library, I can find something to work on.


This was hard. There are so many classes we could work on right now. Get Focused, Relationship Building Through Play, Engagement, Shaping, Toys – Developing Cooperation and Play, Empowerment, Co-op Care, Baby Genius (because it kind of slipped off the radar in August. Oops), Obedience Starter Games, so many choices! To narrow it down, I decided to choose one from each of these categories:

  • Relationship Building
  • Life Skills
  • Training Skills

This let me narrow it down to

  • Toys – Developing Cooperation and Play
  • Baby Genius
  • Shaping
    • I have done a bit of shaping with Sei, and have observed that his brain works much differently than Perrin’s (unsurprisingly, they are very different dogs!). I also learned that a lot of my ‘shaping skills’ are actually ‘how to shape Perrin’ skills. I decided that it would be beneficial for all three of us for me to go back and re-do the class that started it all, and work through it from the beginning with Sei rather than relying on my Perrin-specific mechanics.

I may sneak some quick nose work fundamentals in there too, because I have a sneaking suspicion that Sei will enjoy it. I wanted to run through the whole course, but we have more pressing things to be working on.


Perrin’s interest in training sky rocketed once he was no longer the only dog in the house. He has been a little short changed lately with the puppy, so I want to get some plans going for him as well. I have just finished up the last class portion of the Canine Fitness Trainer program, and need to start on my case studies. Perrin has a lot of ‘in the works’ things: I would like to finish up his novice parkour title, get started on his cyber rally and cyber freestyle skills and videos, start shaping the last few tricks for his master trick dog title,  start filming his TEAM 1 videos, as well as make some progress on cooperative care skills. Looking at what is likely to happen between now and the middle of November, as well as what is the most pressing, I decided on:

  • Completing Perrin’s case study as one of the four I need for my Fitness Trainer Certificate
    • This will require me to decide which area’s I would like to work on with Perrin, develop a program for him, follow it and document his progress and his results. I would like to get this done before it snows, because I do not have much in the way of indoor equipment.
  • Shaping 1 new trick for his master trick dog title
    • This will go well with me going back to basics with Sei’s shaping in terms of time commitment
  • Finish the videos for Perrin’s novice parkour title.
    • I have most of the videos taken, and even though I don’t have much access to different environmental features here, I have enough video footage ‘in the wild’ that I can meet the title requirements by finishing the last few skills in my back yard.

I have goals, whoohoo! Now to make a schedule and a plan…


Reframing the Question

Sei and I have been working on free stacks in an ultra casual way since he came home. They have not been something we are making much progress on. At first, I was getting a LOT of sitting (really the only thing that had a reinforcement history at the time). I quit working on them for a while, and moved onto other things, one of which was learning how to effectively lure, for other classes.

Both the original way I learned free stacking, and the method taught in the local class we are taking are fairly similar in practice. Hold food out in front of the dog’s nose, quickly take it a short distance from their face, and reward stillness. Well, this was very contradictory to all of the work I had JUST done on teaching Sei to drive into a lure. I could see that it was really confusing to him: “Before I was getting rewarded for driving into your hand with food in it, but now that isn’t working and I can’t see any difference in what we are doing, so why don’t you want the same thing?” To make matters worse, I realized I was using the food to lure Sei to a stand when he sat, and then expected him to leave it alone the next second once he was standing. Not good.

I tried changing how I held the food: if I hold my hand like THIS, drive into it; if I hold my hand like THAT, stay away from it. Turns out, I am not consistent enough to do this in daily training. I may need to simply lure him away from something in day to day life (say, an oven mitt on the floor), and in that split second moment, I have no idea what I am doing with my hand.

This was starting to frustrate me. Why can’t I follow these simple steps that work for many people who follow this method, and get the same results? And I realized I was asking the wrong question.

How would I teach this behaviour (at this stage, it is really just a stand stay) if I didn’t know how it was typically taught? What methods work best for me? For Sei?

For the last two questions, I can unequivocally take anything that resembles luring off of the table. One of my biggest issues with luring is that I can’t seem to split behaviours when I lure. Not sure why, other people have no problems with it, but somewhere in my brain “theory does not compute!” And that is definitely going on here. Things I am currently lumping together:

  • Standing rather than sitting or laying down
  • Standing still rather than moving
  • Standing in a particular relationship to my body positioning (perpendicular to me)
  • Standing with his head in a particular direction (to my right rather than my left)
  • Looking forwards (rather than up or down)
  • Looking straight ahead (rather than at me or at something else)

Okay, thats definitely a problem!

So, here is a guess at a training plan to maximize shaping and clarity. We will see how it works:

  • Taking a cue from the luring for making a functional hand cue in the ring, shape eye contact on a specific hand gesture (in this case, a finger held out perpendicular to the dog). No food should be in the hand making the gesture.
  • Increase the criteria from eye contact with the hand, to standing while looking at the hand.
  • Increase the criteria such that the highest-angle standing orientations are weeded out. So, maybe everything from perpendicular to the hand gesture to 85 degrees are rewarded, then only up to 70 degrees, etc. This would theoretically allow me to remove my body position from the equation, I just have to put my hand in the right place.

ETA 1: I have just taken the food out of my gesture hand, and this has already made a huge difference in Sei’s frustration levels. Whoohoo! We will see how the rest goes.

ETA 2: I think we are getting somewhere! It is still a baby behaviour, but the frustration level is way way down (the most important thing), and I am starting to get some standings still.

I love it when thinking through the problem and analyzing it from a different angle gets me where I was hoping!

Cyber Freestyle – 90 Degree Foxtrot Training Plan

I recently found Cyber Rally-O and their Dance Division. This is an organization that allows you to obtain titles in Rally and Freestyle via video submission. I was really excited by these, and thought that the preliminary dance patters (which are just heeling) would be the perfect kick in the ass to start to build duration into Perrin’s heel. I am bad at following through with training plans if I don’t have a goal to meet. I love teaching new things, so finishing old behaviours sometimes falls to the wayside.

The challange: the heeling patterns are much longer than what Perrin and I are capable of right now. Perfect, we need to build that anyway!

There are three heeling patterns that need to be completed to get the Preliminary title: 90 Degree Foxtrot, Figure Eight Waltz and Scenic Route Tango (all can be found here). I don’t yet have a space big enough to film these in (or, more honestly, an area big enough to film these in where Perrin is currently comfortable working), so until I get that peice into place I figured I would put some thought into how I am going to approach training these (I keep saying I need to do more of this, so here I am starting). I decided to start with the 90 Degree Foxtrot, as it seemed like it will be the easiest for Perrin with his current skills.


I have been thinking about how to approach this for a while. I still keep Perrin’s heeling sequences quite short and with an abundance of pivots or small circles. Cyber Rally O does allow you to use food rewards at very specific times, but honestly, I find the rules confusing and am not confident on when I can or cannot give a food reward without being NQ’d. It is clear that you can stop between exercises to give a food reward, but stopping in the middle of a pattern that is supposed to flow would both confuse me for what is coming up next and drive my A-type side insane. I figured that it isn’t a bad idea to try to build a whole pattern without. I can always add reward points in later if I need to.

That led me to my next dilemma. If I am not going to use treats in the middle of the sequence to break the pattern up, then I need to physically break down the sequence into bits. I have been thinking of the best way to approach this.

  1. Break several sections out, practice each seperately, then chain them together?
  2. Work sequentially through the pattern, adding one more station as the last becomes proficient?
  3. Same as number 2, but going backwards through the sequence?

I think that all three are valid and would work. Number 1 would be perfect if there were certain sequences of behaviours that I would like to group together frequently, however most of the 90 degree foxtrot is essentially the same sequence: heel forward, left (or right) pivot, so I didn’t see much value in this approach for this particular heeling pattern beyond practicing lots of left and right pivots (which we already do). Of the remaining two choices, I am going to try number 3. This is just good old back chaining.

The reasoning behind the advantages of back chaining are well understood in the dog world in general. The reader’s digest version is that by practicing the last (already fluent)  behaviour in the chain first, each additional (fluent) behaviour becomes a cue for the next, all of which the dog knows are going to lead to the reward with the last behaviours having the greatest reinforcement history (for an infinitely better explanation try this).

The Plan:

So in the game plan will be to start with station 16, and have an awesome toy/treat/play event to reward. Once that is the way I want it, then I will add 15 and do the same toy/treat/play party at the end. Then add 14 when we are ready and so on, always having a big party with lots of treats at the end. This will be done when I am at the training building where Perrin is comfortable working with excellent attention. After we have built at least a few stations in I will take it on the road and try it other places, while moving back to station 16 and building it up again.

Problems I may run into:

  • Individual behaviours breaking. Perrin knows how to do all of the behaviours in this pattern, but as I lower the rate of reinforcement by back chaining, their quality may begin to degrade.
    • Plan: Continue practicing the individual components at other times to keep them strong. If a behaviour does break, stop with the pattern for a while, go back to practicing the individual behaviour until it is solid again, then return to the pattern but start at an easier point (e.g. if the behaviour broke at 10, go back to 14 and start working backwards again).
  • Perrin starts to lose interest and disengages. Rate of reinforcement is too low. Too many behaviours were added too quickly.
    • Plan: Step backwards to the beginning and add behaviours more slowly. Consider upping the value of the end reinforcer if appropriate.

Once I test how this approach goes, and see what kind of skills Perrin gains, and lessons I learn and then I will come back, adjust this plan/hypothesis with my learnings and then plan for the other two patterns!