Vito in 2012

The Toller's review of the past year.

Vito had just started seeing a behaviorist about his anxiety issues and had started a new drug last November.  We also decided to decrease his Prozac and hope that his separation anxiety wouldn't come back.  Unfortunately it wasn't long before it was very evident that Vito needed the much higher dosage.  Even after the increase it took a long time for Vito to be OK with being left alone again and it seems as though he will always need a regular schedule of 1-2 short absences per week before he can be left for a long, 5hr, time.

His car anxiety has been a bumpy road.  It's been a year and a half since it came out of the blue and decided to stay.  Clonidine was started at the initial behavioral appointment and we saw immediate improvement.  Unfortunately it seemed as though Vito was developing a tolerance for it and started progressively building back up to full attacks.  In July of this past year we had a recheck with the behaviorist and added in Diazepam (Valium) to his list of drugs.  His anxiety immediately shot down and Vito started to even close his eyes in the car, but then it came back up again to low levels.  After a few months and an increase in the dosage, Vito finally seems to be on a stable track.

As for his general anxiety, Vito had actually gone weeks without having a vocal reaction to people.  The move to a new cubicle at work helped to decrease the stimulation a lot and he has been sleeping a ton even when I'm not at my desk (which is often).  He had a very rough week the last week at work when I was hardly ever at my desk (17 puppies, ahh!!) but I am hoping our return will be back to normal.  Vito still gets overstimulated easily and it can spill into anxiety but since it typically only happens at gatherings that aren't dog trials, it's not a regular concern.

The year started out a bit rough as I tried to figure out ways to keep Vito connected with me warming up and walking into the ring.  With advice from Loretta Mueller and Silvia Trkman's Ready, Steady, Go dvd, I worked hard on finding that magical routine.  I found his favorite trick was a reverse chest vault and played with that before going into the ring.  I finally taught Vito to bark/scream on cue and encouraged it on every start line in practice and trials.  It took a long time and when June hit I felt it was all for nothing.  I was able to keep Vito focused on me instead of looking at people to stare at, but his intensity in warming up and on the course was still way down.  But in July it finally started to click and in the few trials since then I've never been prouder to have the obnoxious screaming dog at the start line.  Vito even started to run a bit on courses that didn't have the contact obstacles in them and we finally moved out of novice jumpers!  I now have high hopes that Vito will continue to enjoy competing in agility with me.  Our last trial was in October but we have a USDAA trial next week.

Training wise, my focus has been on 4 areas.
1. Rewarding weave poles a lot more since those tend to suffer the most when Vito is running slower.
2. Powering out of wraps.  Vito gets sticky on me on turns and has a hard time going back to extension running and obstacle focus.  When I remember to practice, I've been working on tight wraps and then chasing after me/a thrown toy.
3.  Stopped dogwalk!  For now, I've given up on my inability to practice turns after Vito's running dogwalk and added in a stopped option.  We started our training in August and for the most part the stop is fully trained.  I still have to do lots of release proofing but the actual stop vs run part is good.
I am extremely happy with this decision for us.  Either full extension, or full collection, no more in between stuff for Vito.  I've yet to cue a stop in a trial but I'm guessing I won't be using it that often.
4.  Trying to figure out how to keep Vito more obstacle focused instead of being so sticky on me and pulling off jumps.  Vito does very well and can even do distance quite nicely but he does not like it if I have to send him and then go.

Vito is still in a semi-retired state.  After a great private lesson with Nancy Little, Vito and I have worked extensively on ring entrances and long waits in heel position.  We did a few days of CDSP obedience and a day of APDT rally this past year solely because of the ability to reward in the ring at those venues.  I learned that only 1 run per day is plenty for Vito; the 2nd run was always too much although I didn't try a 2nd day of trialing to see how that would go.  Vito earned his CDX-C this past year with scores in the mid 190's.  My absolute favorite run of his was in July when Vito did one run of APDT lv3.  It started out rough with Vito glancing everywhere once I stepped into the ring, but after the first 3 seconds of heeling Vito decided everything was OK and he was happy to play with me!

In October I thought we would try our return to the AKC ring, in rally of course.  It started out rough with Vito again needing to check out the environment as we walked in.  Our ring entrances/setups seemed to help but unfortunately the first sign was a moving down walk around and it was too much for Vito.  Perhaps if it was later in the course he would have had more of a rhythm going and been ok with it but so early on it was a no-go.  On the positive side, I was able to transform into complete no-care mode and ran Vito around the rest of the course.  It worked and Vito finished the rally course forging, bumping, and prancing :)

There will be another CDSP trial in January that I am planning on entering Vito in Open again, but I guess we will hold off on more AKC for awhile.

His favorite sport!  Vito was able to show off our work on impulse control by his ability to not only walk onto the field without screaming and punching but to also make eye contact with me when holding a disc!  We were starting to master leg vaults and reverse chest vaults; 2 things that dictated where Vito took off for the disc.  In all other tosses of the frisbee, Vito still was a maniac and leapt from directly underneath the disc and spiraled.

In May we attended another Pawsitive Vybe seminar in hopes that Ron and Apryl could help me to keep Vito safe.  They laid an extensive plan involving set point drills, cavalettis, and other things to get him to collect sooner.  Many dogs have a similar problem to Vito, but in fixing the degree of severity that Vito was exhibiting we were in new territory. I was a guinea pig and one inexperienced in the world of disc.  After a terrifying accident at a competition in June where I purposefully tried to keep all tosses low to the ground to eliminate his take off decisions, Vito entered a state of semi-retirement.  We worked on our set point drills but saw little improvement without the equipment.  Although with disc being 3rd on our list of priorities I can't say that I put full effort into the plan.  In August Vito entered full retirement and at this point I don't have any hope of pulling him out.

Off and on work with the following tricks:
  1. Foot stall.  Been wanting this for a long time but it's SO hard for Vito.  We went back to 4ft on a small book but then had to shape Vito to step on it front feet first, THEN back feet. Vito prefers to get the back feet on and then back up the front feet and I think that's part of the issue with the foot stall.  Then upside down trash cans were mastered and now we're to the point where he'll jump on Adam's feet as Adam likes on his stomach, feet up.  I'm still having to help balance Vito initially.
  2. Itchy.  I love this trick!  Vito learned how to scratch his ear with his back foot.  Shaped off course, since I don't capture :)  Not fully mastered, like all our tricks.
  3. Crawling leg weaves.  Vito crawls as he weaves forward through my legs.   Not fully a new trick as he already knew crawl and already knew leg weaves.  It's not a smooth trick yet as I still have to bend over and point to keep Vito from standing up.
  4. Jump into my arms- from the SIDE.  Had to reteach Vito's jump up to me trick as the previous version was taught from the front.  Even as a puppy this was wiggly and scarey!  My real reason to change it though was because Vito would get confused with the reverse chest vault he learned last year and would no longer want to be caught.  Now it's more clear to him what behavior I'm asking for.
  5. Moon.  I'm working with Vito on moving from a down to a bow so it looks like he's mooning the audience :)  Essentially it's just his "tada" cue proofed from a new position.  It's actually been quite hard!
  6. Scratch board.  Our most useful trick!  Vito files his own front nails on a board now.  Still haven't been able to shape the back feet into any scratching motion though; all I'm getting is marching of the back feet. 


Lance in 2012

A look back at Lance's year in training.  (video from the last post is here, if you missed it!)


Lance had just earned his UD in December of last year.  Going into this year I wanted to get half our legs for our UDX, well that didn't happen!  We only did 9 days of AKC this past year and Lance only got one coveted double q that was sadly obtained the first time we tried.  Since then, Lance has NQed on 7 out of the 9 utility attempts, usually on one little thing.  Most of those little things have been on the signal exercise which oddly was his best exercise when we were still in the A class.  And of course in the open ring Lance went down on his long out of sight sit stay 4 out of the 9 attempts.

Despite those issues, I am feeling confident for the upcoming year.  Lance is still figuring out the B classes and he sure is trying hard!  I am always amazed with his happy attitude in the ring and cherish that above all else.  The stay issue we are having again is what worries me the most.  I do not know how help Lance through what I see as the only time in the ring he stresses.

Lance also did some CDSP this past year and earned his UD-C.  He also did one run of APDT rally level 3 to earn  a leg towards the 3X title.  

Training wise, I have finally gotten a sit box to help with finishes.  It blew Lance's mind in the beginning as he would come around to heel only to discover that his front feet were off the board;  Imagine that, forging corgi!!!  The other issue that we have only started tackling these last few weeks have been getting rid of all the cookies in the ring.  So far I have only done a few sessions at the club, but it has gone drastically better than I had imagined! 

I am happy to say that Lance has had only 1 change in his contact criteria this past year!  At the beginning of the year I had decided to do managed contacts with Lance since I felt so bad about messing up yet another attempt at running contacts in 2011.  Lance was happy with the decision :)  Then he got too happy with the decision ;)  I re-x50-trained his contacts to a 2o2o on the dogwalk and 4on for the aframe.  Stopping the corgi has been successful, although he is not always completely sure what type of option I would like, surprise!  Occasionally Lance slips back into the 4on the floor which is what started these last 2 years of re-training to begin with.

This year was also the first time I have seriously addressed Lance's jumping issues.  Previously I have done a few jump grids off and on but not long enough to know if they would help or not.  I was also reluctant because Lance wasn't having difficulty doing the bounce style of jump grids I was doing.  I started Lance in a test study this past July for a program called Hit the Ground Running.  It has been a tremendous help to Lance in gaining confidence.  We are still working through the program and I know that even when we finish the exercises it will still be a continued work in progress.  I had dropped Lance down to jumping 4 inches in practice and competitions right before starting the program and there is a good chance he will stay there forever.

We have been working off and on for the following year:
  1. Frog legs.  Sigh.  Surprisingly hard to put on cue for a dog who does this all the damn time.  I need to get better at capturing!  But I have managed to shape this decently well.  Lance doesn't have it on a verbal only cue, but if I very lightly touch his butt while he is in a down he will kick the back legs out now.
  2. Limping in between my legs.    Lance can now limp and spin in a circle with me while in between my legs!  One direction/foot is way easier than the other though.
  3. Scratch board.  I also taught Lance to scratch the board and grind down his own nails.  Unlike the toller, I'm also having good luck teaching him to do the back feet too.
Goals for 2013
  1. Make Lance's obedience training in practice look closer to trials.  Meaning get rid of his dependance on food in order to perform.  I've talked a lot on this subject already in past posts, but I want to reiterate that I do not plan on using any type of physical punishment in our training.  Training will always be his choice. 
  2. Continue to practice our finishes using the sit board.  I am hoping it will help him be straighter and less forged.
  3. Continued work with the HGR jump program.  Also practicing and proofing Lance's stopped contacts to help him gain confidence and trust that it is what I really want.


2012 Video in Review

The magic of editing: 2012 in good part's only.

Actually 2012 was a pretty decent year.  Vito certainly thought it was better than 2011 and Lance at least got some attention instead of being overshadowed.  Reflections on our goals coming later.


Using corrections, positively

I consider myself a positive trainer.  I also use corrections in my training.  Here's the deal, a correction does not have to equal "punishment."   Training has come a long way, even balanced trainers shout out against abusive techniques such as kicking, stringing a dog up, and alpha rolls. 

Many positive trainers use negative punishment; removing access to the reward.  The dog doesn't sit?  Don't give the dog a treat, don't throw the ball, don't open the door to go outside, ignore the dog...  But I think that for sport dog training that isn't enough.  Your balanced trainers will agree, saying that you can't train a dog to reliable levels by simply withholding the reward.  Now don't misunderstand me.  I think you can get really far in training by simply setting up your training so that you have great control of the rewards available AND have taught your dog a solid foundation so that he knows how to gain access to those rewards.  Without the use of any physical OR verbal corrections you can train a dog to do some pretty remarkable things among very heavy distractions.  The dog develops self control versus being told what to do all the time.

However, I still think that sticking to the negative punishment quadrant is 1. severely limiting when you get to advanced levels and 2. almost impossible.   At some point when a dog understands the exercise you need to start diminishing the dog's reward schedule.  Of course where a balanced trainer defines a dog as "knowing" something and where a positive trainer defines this line is often drastically different.  But regardless of where that line is defined, one has to think about fading the food/toys.  In agility where the runs last about 30seconds and the activity is much more fast paced, this rarely becomes an issue.  But in obedience where a team is often in the ring for 4 to 8 minutes, or even longer outside the U.S., it needs to be addressed.  Positive trainers often suck at this aspect, thus my vow to work hard in the New Year to increase the value of my personal play and severely limit external rewards in Lance's training.

Back to my point, when a behavior is past the shaping phase a dog needs to know if he was correct or not and the lack of reward can NOT be the defining marker.  In the ring, silence has to equal good so training otherwise invites a whole host of problems.  I know I initially struggled on this with Lance when we first started trialing and Lance thought the absence of a treat meant he was wrong. The great news is that the more positive your training becomes the less harsh your corrections need to be.  Even Bubba the Schipperke who could care less in the beginning what I thought of his actions, became quite sensitive as our relationship grew.  But only to me of course, to others he repeatedly gave the finger :)

In my training, I can think of 2 type of corrections for the dogs.  First, I prefer to interrupt the wrong behavior immediately.  Apparently what usually comes out of my mouth is an "oh buddy!" or my similar phase of "dude!!!"  Said in an upbeat voice, the sole purpose is to let the dog know we're going to start that attempt again and it's often accompanied by clapping or even some light playful pushes on the dog.  A happy interrupter.  In technical terms, I think this type of interruption is positive punishment.  It doesn't use pain, even mildly, but it is an aversive to the dog.  I think of it as slight nag, albeit a happy one.  In some cases this is followed by me quickly running back to the dog to replace them, like when doing signals or directed jumping.  And then on activities where the dog is positioned around me such as heeling, fronts, and finishes, I like to quickly exaggerate their error so the dog now has to work harder to be right.  Crooked front or finish- I side step the other direction.  Lagging- I speed up.   Look away for a second- I'm likely in the opposite direction by now.  I think you get the idea.

The other correction I use, although not very often is pressure.  Stepping into the dog's space, even if you're across the room, can be highly effective in training.  I use a little bit of pressure on Lance's heeling by doing a sharp left turn into him whenever he forges. I don't touch him, but now he has to back up quite a bit to get back into position and get out of my way.  I also use pressure as a correction for getting the signals wrong or moving on them, by taking a step towards the dog and often telling them to back up.  I think as I develop into a better trainer I use pressure less often and corrections in general less often.

I should also add that in my training the dog always has a choice.  I will not force a dog to do an exercise or to train with me.  If the dog wants to leave training then I would take a serious look at my training to see why.  I consider it MY job to try and make obedience fun for the dogs.


Lance- Hit the Ground Running!

I mentioned a few months ago that Lance had been invited to be a part of a test study for dogs with jumping issues.  Devorah Spencer had an "ah ha" moment when she realized her dogs seemed to have preferred landing spots too close to the jumps, regardless of their take off point. She developed a new jumping program designed to encourage dogs to choose better landing spots on jumps.  She named it Hit the Ground Running as it's philosophy aims to increase dog's confidence and speed with less emphasis on perfect jumping style and teamed up with UK agility handler Dawn Weaver.

The small group is now 2/3rds of the way through the program and the difference has been remarkable.  Some of the dogs stuttered badly, some took off very early, and all dogs lacked the confidence to run full out.  Lance wasn't the worse in the bunch.  There were a few dogs who stuttered and took ghost jumps even when running through empty pairs of wings in the beginning!  But I think you can see the difference in Lance has been remarkable.

This is one of Lance's latest practice sessions.  Lance could always do bounce grids before the program, but having to do more than 1 stride in between jumps was always rough!

We still have a long ways to go in the program but Lance is having a blast learning.  Just before we started the program Lance dropped down to 4in.  I don't know if we'll be moving back up to 8in this next year or not, but I'm in no rush if it will even ever happen.


Denise Fenzi Seminar pt2- Lance's work

For those who missed the last post, I attended a Denise Fenzi seminar recently.  I was originally going to work Vito but then decided that I pretty much know where I am at in his obedience career.  We'll keep on training and having fun together and maybe at some point he will tell me he's ready.  So Lance got to go for the problem solving day!

Oh Lance.  It seems as though he was intent on making a liar out of me.  Oh no, I never forge!  Yes, heeling was the main thing I wanted to work on and Lance would not cooperate.  He did forge a ton when Denise heeled him at least.  On the positive side she was really happy with all the things I am currently doing to try and teach Lance to remain in proper position.  I currently feed behind my right leg, do lots of big right circles to try and incite him to forge, do hard left pivots when he does forge, and rarely heel in long straight lines.  The negative is that because she was mainly going off of what I was telling her, she had no real suggestions as to why his forging has been so persistent.

We then looked at Lance's go outs and my comment that he goes out straight and then does a wobbly, cute, little S after the jumps, before the sit.   Of course he didn't do it.  But we pretended and I'm going to start using some guides to help him be right.  She made a comment that he doesn't always know what he's doing but I'm running! and just can't stop!  I know he needs lots more practice on doing go outs in different locations.

Moving/signal stand I got some useful advice from watching her work another team whose dog moves the feet after she walks away.  Lance isn't as consistent about it and it's usually a trial only thing, but I think I'll still play with addressing it similarly.  She had the handler randomly walk backwards towards her dog (all the way back at first) so that the sight of the handler's back didn't always mean the dog was being left, and had the reward pre placed behind the dog.  I did one moving stand under Denise's guidance and of course Lance was an angel again!

I also talked to Denise about Lance's most recent problem of anticipating the down on the drop on recall.  She confirmed that I was on the right track by continued practice of the DOR versus doing a ton of straight recalls only.  I don't like avoiding issues :)


Denise Fenzi Seminar!

I respect anyone who can make obedience fun for their dogs.  And doing so while avoiding force guarantees that I love you!  I had the opportunity to go to a Denise Fenzi seminar this last weekend and even snagged a working spot.  I had been to her seminar here a year and half ago and was super excited to hear her stories again.

What was really pounded into my head is something I've been thinking continuously about since the last time I saw her; the dog needs to work for the love of interaction with you versus food/toys.  Denise never forces dogs to work for her but the goal is to make your training so much like Disneyland that the dog would be crazy to choose not to.  I've gotten a ton better in my training.  I'm a lot more thoughtful about what I choose to reward with food with Lance, I've worked on making the dumbbell, articles, and gloves little toys, and I've used a ton more personal play.  But I haven't yet made that leap into asking Lance if he will work for just ME- no extra toys, no food, and of course no physical corrections forcing him to participate.  I think part of the reason I haven't done is because I get stuck in sciency trainer mode and really want to reward the best responses.  Lance isn't perfect yet on behaviors and I feel like I have to reward those great ones and that morphs into reward every mostly correct response.  The problem is that Lance is never going to be perfect on everything :) but why can't that reward for those perfect responses be acknowledged through the reward of me?!

I admit I'm also a chicken about diving into that.  I will not be forcing Lance to come into Disneyland with me, so I'm going to have to work hard to keep the rides open and get used to rejection.  Denise brought up the fabulous observation that for many dogs, getting rid of the toys/treats is not just a neutral experience for the dog but is actually seen as a punisher.  It's not just the absence of the food but the LOSS of it and until the dog stops comparing the experience to his expectation of eating, it's going to be rough.

Since January is when Lance's obedience trials start up again and I know I can't go through this process in a month, I will be delaying the start of this big change.  In the meantime I'm going to vow to be even more thoughtful on what I reward with food and will at least commit myself to not having the food on my body anymore when in a ring environment.  Of course, Denise doesn't advocate using no food or toys in the learning phase, although the handler should always be a part of that package, so I will continue to use food for some things!

Lance did have a working spot in the seminar so I will continue my seminar thoughts in a few days!


Foundational Tricks!

Today's dog agility blog day is on backyard agility.
I live in a tiny duplex with an even tinier yard that is fenced to be even smaller due to the aggressive and always unleashed neighbor dog.  The few agility equipment I own is stored away until I one day own that perfect big yard; flat and without trees of course.  At least I live in Minnesota where for half of the year most everyone else is in the same position as me!

Backyard agility not so much.  But there are things I consider crucial to our agility training that I can do inside.  Tricks! Tricks are a great way to work on problem solving skills, body awareness, and to build a dog's strength and balance.  I believe that a dog with a range of tricks has an easier time learning and performing in dog sports.

You don't have to be a great trainer to teach tricks and many don't even require the precision of a clicker.  There are so many great tricks out there and lots of great trick tutorials out there; I can't wait to watch some of Silvia Trkman's DVDs on the subject :)  I wasn't sure where to go with this topic until I started thinking that I know many people who get overwhelmed with it all and don't know where to start.  They seem to get stuck with #1 having the time to do it and #2 not knowing what to train first.

Well the good news is that trick training doesn't take that much time.  You don't need space and you don't need any extra equipment for most tricks other than a phone book or box.  As I mentioned 2 weeks ago in my #1 advice for puppies, I train with my dog's meals whenever possible.  This forces me to make time to train and it takes only 2-10 minutes per dog.

As for not knowing where to start, I've come up with a small list of what I consider the most important foundational tricks for agility.  Meaning that once these tricks are mastered it should be easy to delve into others.

1. Front feet on a target.  Wrap a phone book with duct tape so you start with a big flat surface.  Lure or free shape, it doesn't matter how you start!  But progress until the dog can offer to step on it from at least 5 feet.  From here you can now dive into one of several other tricks such as:
- crossed paws
- drumming
- walking on your feet
- pivoting:  highly recommended.  I would have made it a foundational trick except that it can be more complicated to teach.  Scratch that, it's my blog so this is now
1B. Pivoting.  Teach the dog to move it's back feet around an object while the front feet stay on.  SO important for hind end awareness and leads to super cool tricks such as:
- backward circles
- backwards weaving
- cool heelwork

2. Back feet on a target.  Yes, this is just a 2o2o.  But expand on it to obstacles other than the dogwalk such as a cooler, the couch, the wall!  This trick allows you to build into adding height to the 2o2o for your handstand and hind leg lifts, or provides a great target for teaching backing up.  Again, great hind end awareness!
- backing up (to the target)
- backing up stairs
- hand stands
- hind leg lifts

3. Beg.  Balance and strength are worked on with this trick. 
- squats (beg-up-beg transitions)
- penguin/ backwards penguin (moving in position!)
- hugging a toy
- beg-down-beg transitions

So there you go.  3.5 foundational tricks that are easy to do in a small space and guarantee fun.

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