May 5/6/7 Training Log

Once again, I am behind recording Perrin’s and my weekend work.

Friday and Saturday were light on training and heavy on packing and organization. We went for some trail runs instead, which Perrin really enjoys.

On Sunday we did some work on nose touches on a target on the floor. Perrin has struggled with this in the past, as he initially thought a foot target was the right answer to the question. So I picked up the target until he was consistantly nose touching it, then slowly moved it closer to the ground, which seemed to be working. I had stopped working on that for a while and came back to it on Sunday. I started with the target in my hand and moved it to the floor, then started going for a more sustained nose touch rather than a ‘drive-by’. Perrin had other ideas though, and started picking the target up. I tried clicking earlier to head that off, but I just couldn’t get my timing right so I cut my losses and decided to think it over a bit. I decided to try using a hand target on the floor. Perrin understands a hand target, but we had never tried moving it to the floor before. I think that worked really well, and I will continue with that track until Perrin understands that nose targeting something on the floor is a pay-able behaviour.

I needed to pick up some packing supplies and Perrin was getting restless after a couple of days with little mental simulation, so Perrin and I headed over to the local dog friendly Canadian Tire to kill two birds with one stone. Perrin absolutely rocked it! The store was pretty busy, with lots of people and a few other dogs, but he wasn’t fazed. His heeling was spot on (awesome pivots, side steps, straight lines and a bit of backing up), his focus was impeccable, his enthusiasm was high; he was just the picture of joy and teamwork. It was amazing! I wish I had a video of it. His happy face drew lots of looks, but his mind was all on the task at hand. What a sweet fluff!

 

Backpacking with My Dog I: Perrin’s Gear

Spring has finally arrived! The alpine will still be snowbound for at least another month and by the time it frees up I won’t be near the mountains anymore. So naturally I am obsessed with the hiking and backcountry camping that I won’t be able to do. I figured I would use that angst productively to write something up about hiking with Perrin. When people find out that I do fairly long backpacking trips with my dog, I usually get a lot of questions!

I love backcountry camping, especially solo where it is just me and Perrin. Over the past few years we have done hundreds of kilometres of trail through all kinds of different conditions, and have loved every single one (okay, maybe not EVERY single one…). Perrin is an amazing trail dog, and through our hiking trips we have seen some incredible landscapes and made unforgettable memories.

This is Perrin at Mount Robson:

 

Mount Assiniboine:

And various peaks in Willmore Wilderness Area:

 

There tends to be a large proportion of gear heads in the hiking world (especially in ultralight hiking), and much thought goes into every piece of equipment that is brought into the backcountry. Hiking with Perrin has dramatically changed the hiking equipment I choose for myself, but much thought also had to go into his gear as well. Here is a quick rundown of the dog-specific gear that I take when hiking with Perrin:

  • Backpack: This is optional gear, but Perrin does carry one. It is important to make sure that the pack fits him and does not chafe. I check it periodically as he grows and changes shape to make sure it is still comfortable for him. A backpack also needs to be balanced properly (which can be a pain on the trail) and it must not be too heavy. I have seen different guidelines out there for maximum weights for adult dogs, but I choose to be conservative and keep under around 10% of body weight. Even less if it is very hot out, if we are moving very quickly, or if the hike is very difficult. There have been very hot days where I have chosen to take Perrin’s pack off him and carry it myself. I have seen guidelines that suggest 25% as a maximum, but I am personally not comfortable with that. I just couldn’t fathom Perrin carrying 25lbs all day; I seldom ever carry that much!
  • Water and Food Containers: On the trail, Perrin mostly he drinks out of my camel back, or his collapsable bottles (so if that grosses you out, don’t ask me to share my water with you!). This does waste a lot of water and would probably not be the best choice in areas where water is scarce. Perrin does so poorly in the heat, I would likely avoid hikes in those conditions anyway. I avoid putting food directly on the ground because we hike in bear country and I do not want to attract critters big or small, so I use a ‘portable sink’ that came with my pot set as his food and water dish when we are in camp. It collapses down to nothing and has held up really well for something I was just going to throw out.
  • Bug Spray: I normally wouldn’t carry it for myself in the places that I hike, as I tend to wear long pants, shirts and a buff. But Perrin needs it for his groin, armpits and nose. He would need even more if he weren’t so hairy. I carry a natural based bug spray, because DEET is not good for dogs.
  • A Collar Light: This is indispensable! I originally bought it just incase Perrin got loose at night, but it has been a life saver! On one hike, I had planned to hike halfway up a mountain, camp overnight (in February), then summit the next day. However around 5:00pm I was getting a bad vibe, so decided to hike the 5 km back to the car. This was fine, except that it was almost dark. The trail was steep, rocky and icy and my headlamp wasn’t strong enough to see the trail well. It didn’t take long for me to be  going off course repeatedly and having to back track, with Perrin following along behind me on a leash. By this time I had gone less than a kilometer, it was very windy, and about -15C. I was considering just setting up camp and sticking it out, when I decided to see if Perrin could follow the trail. I freed him of the leash, and off he trotted, collar light leading the way down the trail. At every place I had to scramble down and at every icy patch, he stopped and waited for me to catch back up before continuing on. He never once turned wrong and I followed him the way out to the car. I couldn’t have done it without his light to follow. What a dog!
  • Break Away Collar: For hiking (and going to the kennel) Perrin wears a break away collar. If he were to ever get caught on anything by his collar, it will just pull off instead of strangling him. I keep it on as somewhere for his ID, and occasional leash use (although I use the ring on his backpack more often).
  • Food: When you are carrying all of your food, the weight of it becomes much more important. Perrin is raw fed, which makes this much more challenging. A kibble fed dog could just carry their regular food, but raw meat in the wilderness was just not going to work for us. I ended up settling on a dehydrated raw food, which has ingredients that I like and is even lighter than kibble. The downside? It is very expensive and Perrin eats ALOT. Because I dehydrate my own meals for camping, Perrin’s hiking food costs much more than my own.
  • Winter: In the winter I have several pieces of gear that we add. If the terrain permits, Perrin pulls a toboggan instead of carrying a pack, and I bring a sleeping bag and a foam mat for him. Not that he likes the sleeping bag, he won’t get in it until it is below -17C.
  • First aid Supplies: I do carry a certain number of extra things for the pup incase of accident. These include Benadryl (for me as well), vet wrap (again, a multi-species item), Metacam (or other vet approved pain killer), and hot-spot cream (Perrin often develops hot spots from hot damp weather and from licking bug bites).
  • Strong Basic Obedience Commands: Okay, so this isn’t technically gear, but I wouldn’t hit the trail without them! If Perrin couldn’t walk nicely on a leash, we wouldn’t be able to leave the house. Many of the places that we hike require dogs to be on leash. I usually hike with him on a 4-6 foot nylon leash looped to the hip belt of my pack, and clipped to the attachment point on his harness. This system works for us to keep him close and keep the leash out of our way. A bombproof recall is imperative for when Perrin is going to be off leash, and is highly recommended incase he end up free anyway. Other skills I have found useful are well proofed stays (standing/down/sitting), a ‘wait for me’ command in off leash areas, leave it (for icky things on the trail or passing other hikers), a distance stop (or sit or down stay). I do wish that we had a ‘quiet’ cue and a ‘defecate on command’ cue, as they would be useful too, but I have never taught them. Crate training is a surprisingly useful skill, as in my limited experience it seems to transfer well to a tent. Basic training sets dogs free. Without these skills, Perrin could not come out into the woods with me, among many other things we have enjoyed over the years.

Thats it for equipment! I will do another post later on about other considerations that I take into account when hiking with my dog.

May 4th Training Log

Today was a relaxation day!

At lunch Perrin and I cuddled and played some tag, biteyface and tug. Tonight we went for a lovely long walk in the woods and investigated the prairie crocuses that are now coming up, as well as a funny bush with teeny tiny pinecones. Perrin sniffed around to his heart’s content and also was a perfect gentleman when a little off leash dog ran up to him and started barking in his face. So proud! (Normally he barks right back).

May 3 Training Log

Lunch time training today consisted of conditioning work. We worked on several variations of shoulder exercise, but I haven’t got the video edited yet. I will add it here when I do:

After my riding lesson, Perrin and I headed to the park as we were invited to be a distraction dog for the service dogs in training. They were working on ignoring big, bouncy, friendly dogs who want to come meet them while out walking.  Perrin provided a challenge for the first few loops (he really wanted to visit!), but soon settled in and was wonderful for the rest of the hour working on that exercise. We then moved on to some settling work and Perrin did awesome at that; just chilling out in a down stay. In between I worked on some little Rally bits; his ‘swing into heel on cue’ is getting really solid! I am very happy with it thus far. Perrin’s favourite part of the evening was when he met a new friend: the security guard at the park pavilion. Perrin thinks that he was really good at giving butt scritches.

 

 

May 2 Training Log

Lunch time training consisted of heel work.  Pivots left and right, side steps to the left and swinging into heel down the hall, and then some simple pivots and swinging into heel out on the lawn of the apartment building.

Evening training consisted of more heel work, but we started with working on retreiving frisbee rollers (he did really well!). For heeling, I worked on picking up my pace to a more  normal walking speed (I seem to slow down to an artificially slow speed if I don’t actively think about it), tightening up pivots, big gradual circles, and lots of left turns and circles. We also worked on a bit of agility work: jumping from the back side, threadles and weave poles. He did well at that, but the amazing part was that we were able to work off leash in the same space as his Lab friend! Perrin has been doing really well at off leash work around other moving dogs as long as he is in a down stay. He was doing really well, so I decided to try working off leash in a situation where I know both dogs get along and there was a high probability of success. Perrin rocked it! He didn’t try to run off and play, even when they were moving quickly quite close together. I even had Perrin in a sit while I was re-adjusting weave pole spacing when Perrin’s Lab friend started running up to him and got to within a couple of feet before going back to his work. And Perrin didn’t break his sit! I was shocked! He then got almost half of the treats in my bait bag. Jackpot!

We ended the evening by going out for a run/walk/hobble through the woods where Perrin got to sniff around as much as he wanted. I am ready for this mud to dry up and for spring to be over!

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.

Capture

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!

April 28/29/30 Training Log

I am a little slow recording this weekend’s activities.

On Friday we worked on some agility equipment for the first time in quite a while. Perrin is a positive annoyance on a teeter because he love to slam it down and make a whole bunch of noise. At least he isnt scared of it! I didn’t intend to work on 2o2o contacts, but while I was standing and chatting, he started offering a rear foot target on the teeter, so I rolled with it! We also got some really awsome disc practice in. He was readily chasing a roller, and he even put his first hole in the disc!

As for attention around other dogs, he blew me away when we let him and his Lab friend out to play, and Perrin chose to play and work with me instead! I didn’t expect that at all and I didn’t ask him for it either; he asked me!

Not a lot of training happened on Saturday and Sunday. We went for some off leash walks in the woods and did a little bit of disc practice for me (my throws are definitely improving, but there is a lot of work to be done yet!). I helped out with the judging of a 4-H regional show on Sunday which was an interesting experience.

Even though it wasn’t an exciting weekend for Perrin, it seems that he still doesn’t like Monday mornings.

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April 27th Training Log

Finally back to lunch time training!

Today we worked on some of our homework for the canine fitness course. Today’s work was getting some sits-to-stands videoed. The first part of the video is a portion of our lunch work, and the rest was filmed earlier for the course homework.

Perrin is looking much heavier than I would like. I did a quick rib/spine feel, and he doesn’t feel any heavier, but he looks like he has gained weight. This is a bit odd as he has been getting much more exercise now that the weather is nice, and he has been eating less. So I went to the vets office and weighed him. He was 108lbs, so 4lbs lighter than the last time he was in. Weird. I will continue working at weight loss, as 98lbs is a better weight for him.

I also worked on some quick position changes with Perrin at my side on the front lawn of the building with lots of traffic distractions.

Tonight we went for a lovely run (jog? hobble? crawl? I am not a runner) out on the forest trails, then worked on some disc stuff. My throws are improving! Using real discs (rather than dollar store toys) helps immensely. I mainly worked on improving my vault throws, and Perrin even managed to get in on it once or twice, but he wasn’t in a very boisterous mood this evening.

After that we met up with two friends to do some dog training in the local Canadian Tire. All three dogs are young, so we worked on being calm in public, walking side by side nicely and not trying to play with each other the entire time. We spent about two hours there, and they all did really well!

April 26th Training Log

Perrin’s discs came today! Whoohoo! Naturally I couldn’t wait to try them out. Unfortunately I don’t have any video of it because I forgot my camera at the office today.

Perrin doesn’t like fetch, and has little toy drive in general, so I was really just going to go out and start practicing some throws while he ran around and sniffed things to his heart’s content. Which he did! But after, he started coming to me and showing some interest in the discs, so I tossed a few (terrible) vault throws and he was trying to catch them! I worked on him just taking the disc from my hand and tugging it and he loved that! I can work with this! We still won’t be working on any jumping stuff due to his hips, but I will see if we can build a little bit of the flat work.

There were some unexpected discoveries with the discs though. They are so hard to hold onto when Perrin is tugging with them! I bought a couple of soflite’s because I thought part of Perrin’s dislike of discs was due to how hard they are. I think this was partially true, but even beyond that, they were much easier to tug with because they bend. Also, discs get really slobbery! That definitely doesn’t help with the grip when tugging. Perrin tugs hard (which is kind of funny. I spent a lot of time encoraging his tug, and now he tugs so hard that I can hardly keep on my feet. Be careful what you wish for!), so that is going to be tricky.

I was super surprised by how soft Perrin’s bite is. The soflite disks are made of a very soft material, and the Hero disc I got is not one of the durable ones, but none of them had any teeth marks in them at all after we were done. Even after Perrin tried to snack on one. Hopefully that means we will go through fewer discs! Our only large source of destruction will be from Perrin pouncing on downed discs (because he thinks they are foot targets that I want him to stand on) and deforming the tops .

I am excited to work with Perrin more on this, and to start improving my throws!

April 25th Training Log

There was no lunch training today, as I had to stay at work for a meeting.

Tonight at the training building we worked on more swing finishes, lots of stays with the distraction of Perrin’s Lab friend running agility close by, and then worked on some agility ourselves. I had two jumps set up and worked on some back sides and the beginnings of threadles and serpentines. Perrin did amazing! I am truly the weak link here. I consistently cue him too late, so I was actively working on that today but I still made many mistakes. I don’t use voice cues often, but I am half heartedly working on adding them. He mostly follows my body language, and I think I am just going to commit to that. If I am going to commit to a silent handling system, I need to practice running sequences without the dog so that I don’t confuse Perrin with so many of my own screw ups. No voice cues really well for us, I have done very little training with this and he just picks it up so fast! I really wish I could do agility with Perrin, but alas, I do not want to push his hips lest it cause him problems later in life. Hopefully I can find some NADAC trials out east so we can do hoopers.